Previous Info on the Conversation
OK! Since I posted Thursday night, things are moving. People are talking to each other and it is becoming evident that a few more are involved that were not listed originally. Also, not being from Derby, CT – where they have 200 – 300 year old houses, with much historical value to preserve – I am finding that I don’t know as much as I thought – or that I don’t know how to apply what I do know.
Additional Players that have been brought forth are:
- Martin Holladay: In the Twitterverse he is known as the Energy Nerd. His blog is full of interesting stories and tidbits of knowledge.
- Carl Seville: His blog and in Twitterverse he is the Green Curmudgeon. He has his own outlook on all things Green and brings a wealth of info to the table from his experience as a builder.
- Then there is JB. Hailing all of us from Baltimore, JB is in construction and remodeling. Since Baltimore has been around since before the night when ‘Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,’ was observed and recorded; they, like Derby, CT have some of those 200 – 300 year old homes to work with! JB has a blog, Building Moxie.
Welcome to the > 140 Convo.
John P. left a comment on Sean’s Blog Post regarding some of his concerns.
- The stereotype carried by some that DER requires extreme measures.
- Not destroying historic fabric
- The concept of ‘the house is a system’ means that houses built 300 years ago, may work well as their own system, but when a new construction method for current housing is introduced, then the law of unintended consequences intervenes.
- Work on Energy Efficiency should be staged and completed over a number of phases and years.
He also discussed the definition of ‘Deep’, countering my proposed use of the Wiki definition at 30% reduction. John offered some additional criteria. Primarily he is proposing to include climate in the definition of Deep.
Updating the Conversation
I want to pose some questions and try to clarify where we are going and where we need to go. I also want to respond to John’s ideas on refining the definition of Deep.
John’s first point was stereotypes. That is my word, and I chose it specifically because when people deal with what they assume about another they are creating a stereotype. I believe the best way to deal with those is to get to know the other person or position and thus my participation in this conversation.
- It is usually not cost effective.
- It can become a distraction from the original intent.
- If you don’t like the looks of an old historic property, what are you doing working on one?
I believe his third and fourth points are inter-related. If you cause a problem with a change in how the home works, you need to be able to undo the change. Therefore, changing the exterior, by removing siding to install rigid foam insulation and then re-installing the original siding might be reversible. That would depend on how you treated the windows and doors due to the increased thickness of the walls. In the end, I think most of these types of improvements will not be cost effective in energy savings.
In my first post is had a couple of points that I believe must be kept in mind.
Significant Savings from the improvements
- Savings from improvements are probably best considered significant over a 15 – 25 year period. At the end of that time, a different property owner may be present, new methods of improvements may be available, increased prices of energy make a revision of the cost effectiveness calculations essential.
Work that is Safety Related may not have a dollar savings.
- How do you calculate the savings in replacing Knob and tube wiring with modern wiring?
- What about reductions in water presence anywhere in the building that it is not designed to be? What about comfort of the building occupants? When people are uncomfortable, they do many things. Electric resistance space heaters are expensive to operate and are unsafe.
- Other items related to Building Code issues.
Defining a Deep Energy Retrofit. #DER
The closest I have worked to one of Derby, CT’s older houses is a 92 year old home in Wichita. I wrote about that audit and the following upgrades in ‘What Good is an Energy Audit?’ The cost effectiveness I think should considered is illustrated here by the proposed improvement to the uninsulated walls. It took 99 years. Doing it for less would have involved drilling the brick exterior and leaving an obvious patch.
With the exception of the exposed insulation on the basement walls and weatherstripping on one door, none of the energy efficient improvements were visible. The total cost of improvements will be returned to the homeowner in 14 years, assuming no increase in electric or natural gas rates.
In percentage terms, this plan mets the definition of 30% or more. If you look at energy cost reduction, it figures at 36%; if you look at peak power reduction (summer) it is 41%; if you look at CarbonDioxide reduction it is 34%.
The insulation contractor on this project was Northstar Comfort Systems. @Nstarcomfort They did a good job, the home owner is very pleased and the project verification was achieved on the first visit.
John has suggested adding climate into the definition of deep. I think it is already there. If you moved this house from Wichita to Maine, the pre-improvment costs would be higher, due to weather and cost of energy. Weather is obvious, cost of electricity in KS is about 10 cents per KWH and in Maine about 17 cents. The reduction in use of BTU would be at least what it was here in Wichita.
I don’t think climate needs to be added because it is already there. The idea of savings has to be based on what the house is already spending. Weather is part of that calculation.
I think a simple percentage is adequate to define Deep. It works, it accounts for all variables and it follows the KISS principle. It works for several different metrics, dollars, BTU or your favorite energy measure, or environmental like carbon.
Comfort and Safety
I think the ideas of safety should be self evident and I would also include durability in them. If a home is aged in centuries, it must have been durable. If a home is aged in decades, it must have been durable. It is up to every homeowner to continue to maintain and improve on durability. That is why we look at a new roof or repainting our homes periodically.
Comfort is a different issue, that really doesn’t have a price tag. I have found that people living in a home they think is uncomfortable do many things to obtain comfort. They continually adjust the thermostat, they add electric space heaters, or window air conditioners. These are expensive. They sell the home and then the next owner can be uncomfortable.
The first example of comfort came when I was doing my due diligence in starting my career in Energy Efficiency. I attended a seminar at a local home show on Energy Efficiency. The presenter related one of his experiences with comfort instead of purely cost reductions.
He had done some duct leakage testing in his own home and found the duct leakage was a major contributor to the cold bedroom of his daughter. This led to an easy fix of sealing the accessible duct work. For this example, I would thank Jeff Boone @JFBoone of Northstar Comfort Systems.
Information I Need
John points out a, new to me take, on the house is a system. Building Science has always considered the house to be one system. If you change an item, something else will probably change. The corollary to this is ‘First, do no harm!’. If you make or recommend a change, you should look at what else may change and take steps to ensure the reactions to your first change are positive for the house and the occupants, not negative. Examples would include:
- Adding insulation to one side or the other of an exterior wall could change how the wall dries. That change could cause mold and decrease the quality of indoor air quality.
- Doing air sealing work can make significant energy savings. Decreasing the ventilation through infiltration could create a dangerous situation, if the decreased amount of fresh air will not support the needs of the hot water heater and furnace.
John expands on this by adding the concept that a house as a system can be specific to a type of construction. A house built with techniques in common use in 1800 would have the system effected if the improvement used some technique that is in common use today. This is something I need to know more about.
- How different do the original construction techniques need to be for this to become significant?
- Is it something that that only happens in a 200 year swing of construction techniques?
- Is it something that occurs in applying today’s techniques to a ballon framed Victorian?
The goal of this post was to advance the conversation #DER with some basis and examples of the proposed definition of Deep and to set out that energy efficiency improvements are never a goal in and of themselves.
It is not a good idea to do an improvement that will not last. It is not a good idea to ignore comfort issues. We must protect the occupants of the home from hidden dangers, such as carbon monoxide, or water damage. When improving the energy efficiency of a home, it is very easy to improve the durability of the improvement with choosing the right material, and including the protective installation, for example flashing or a drainage plane around insulation.
I look forward to following the #DER conversation in more than 140 char bites.