Category Archives: Crawl Space

Indoor Air Quality Evaluations

The quality of the Indoor Air of our homes and offices is an important part of our health and comfort.

There is not much sense in putting a lot of good insulation into a building if it is:

  • Not Structurally Sound
  • Not Healthy

What types of things can be done to improve the Indoor Air Quality of any home or property?

  1. The immediate environment of the structure must be kept separate from the inside.
  2. The required fresh air that is needed, in every one of our buildings, should be filtered and otherwise treated for comfort and to remove pollutants.
  3. The pollutants that are created during the normal operation of our building must be eliminated, removed, replaced, diluted or neutralized.
  4. Moisture in any form must be controlled , and then removed avoiding any accumulation.
  5. Any and all accumulations of moisture damage or animal infestation must be cleaned up and damaged building components replaced.
  • A Full Indoor Air Quality evaluation must address all of those concerns.
  • Full interior visual inspection
  • Full exterior visual inspection
  • Testing of the building enclosure to ensure the outside stays outside
    • Infrared Evaluation as part of the above testing
  • Inspection of HVAC Duct Work and systems that move air.
  • Combustion Safety Inspection on open combustion appliances
    • Moisture, Carbon Monoxide, N02, SO2 and others
  • Infrared and other testing for moisture accumulations.
  • Sample Collection of suspended and/or deposited material that are potential pollutants or irritants.
    • Examination and Evaluation by a certified Microbiological Laboratory of these samples.

This evaluation is typically completed in two visits to the home or business. Level I Evaluation and Testing is non-destructive and not invasive.

Level II Evaluation and Testing involves invasive inspections. These may be as simple as drilling a few holes for visual inspection or sampling. It may involve removing obviously damaged building material, that requires replacement, for example wet drywall.

Contact The Energy Guy for further information about an Indoor Air Quality Evaluation.

Water Pipes Freezing and Cold Weather is Predicted — What should I do?

When the recent cold snap with below Zero temperatures approached, I had several calls about the potential for freezing pipes and what a homeowner could do.  This blog post has compiled all those answers and some other information for easy access.

Things you should know about your water pipes.

Location:  Where are they?  Interior walls?  Exterior walls?  Typical plumbing runs pipes through the wall to the cabinet under (or behind) the sink, shower or tub.

If it is an interior wall, you have less chance of those pipes freezing, then if they are in an exterior wall.

Location:  Where do the pipes enter your home?  Into a basement?  Into the crawl space? Under your mobile home?

This can be a problem area.

The weather forecast says “Your Water Pipes Might Freeze Tonight! Knowing where your pipes are enables you to take some simple preventative action.

Open the cabinet doors by the pipes on exterior walls.  This allows the warmer air from the room into the cabinet area.  Check to see and remove any cleaners etc that a child or pet might get into.

Open a cold water faucet at the sink and let it drip slightly.  Moving water does not freeze. It doesn’t need to move a lot, just a little.  If you do this you may need to replace the faucet washer later. Small price compared to frozen pipes.

Don’t lower your thermostat temperature.  Bypass any setbacks on the thermostat. The amount of energy will be a minimal cost compared to frozen pipes.

Don’t leave home in the winter for any length of time *and* turn the heat down.

If your water supply comes in through a vented crawl space, close the vents.  Check to see that insulated pipes have intact insulation and that it is not wet.  Wet insulation is worse than no insulation. This also applies to mobile homes.

If your water supply comes in to a basement that is not heated, check as if it were a crawl space.

You get up in the morning and there is no cold water at one sink.

First try the other faucets to see if this is just at the one sink, or perhaps where the pipes come in.

Leave each frozen faucet open.  As the ice begins to melt, the water will begin to move and that is good.  Moving water will melt the ice faster.

How you identify the area where the pipe is frozen may vary, you will find it in an area that feels cold, and it seems logical to you that no heat is getting there.

You will have to search for the frozen section(s) of pipe. You can do this with your hand. If you touch the pipe and it is really cold,  you may be close or there.  Normally, water coming from a pipe that is under ground, will be between 50 and 55 degrees F. You will feel the difference with a frozen section or close to frozen section of pipe at 32 degrees.  You can also use a contact thermometer.

If you find no water at all faucets, then your frozen section is probably at a point of entry to the home. Older homes, prior to the 1940’s, that were built before running water was brought into the home, will have many varied places to look. If you have lived there very long, you probably already know. Otherwise, it will be in a basement or crawl space, or perhaps an exterior wall.  If you live in a home that is built on a concrete slab, your odds of a frozen entry pipe happening are minimal.

To Thaw the frozen section. Use heat!

Use a blower dryer, a heat lamp, some type of portable heater. You can use a towel soaked in very hot water, and wrung out well.

Do *not* use any type of open flame.  Pipes are almost always close to parts of the home that burn, and that is not a good thing.

Second, stay with your heat source and the frozen pipe.  If the pipe starts to leak during the process, you need to know so you can shut off the water.

When you get the pipe section thawed, and you have no breaks or leaks, great! If you get any type of leaking, get it fixed.

Prevention for the next cold snap.

You should follow the simple preventative steps listed earlier.

For a more permanent solution, you need to create a situation where the pipe section that froze is kept warmer. That means you add heat or insulation and stop cold air movement.

Pipe insulation from the big box or the hardware store could help.  Buy the correct size, it comes molded for 1/2, 3/4 and larger pipes.  This is a foam that you can easily compress.  So, fasten it snugly, but not tightly.  It should fit more like a nice sweater on your arm instead of a tight rubber band.  Since it is squeezable, it is open cell foam and will allow air movement through it. So I would wrap it with something to stop the wind. Tape would be easy, but you could use something rigid, like small pieces of plywood. For tape, you could use packing tape, or duck tape.

Depending on the location of the pipe section, some rigid foam, blue or pink board type, might work better. Typically this would be a pipe near an exterior wall, with room to put the insulation between the pipe and the wall.  You can fasten it to the wall.

Most of these will also benefit, and some instances will require additional heat.  So opening a cabinet door is something you might have to continue. Modifying any type of duct work is not recommended for directing heat at this type of problem.

This leaves those section in an unheated basement or a crawlspace.

You could add a heat tape.  Make sure you have easy access to this to turn it off after the cold snap and to turn it back on for the next one.  If you don’t, you will probably leave it on all winter and that is expensive. You also need to carefully check the sizing of any extension cord. If in doubt, hire an electrician to add an outlet, so an extension cord is not needed. Adding this type of fix is also something to keep your eye on and check regularly. It is a Fire Hazard.  I would not recommend a used heat tape.  Buy a new on and replace it annually, until you get a more permanent and safe resolution.

Permanent and Safe Solutions

These require some thought and planning. They may take a contractor to implement. You may find through the planning process, other problems that will be fixed.

Give me a call, if you have frozen pipes and want a permanent solution. I can develop a solution for you. Since I don’t sell the products you might use, I can come up with a solution that works for you! Not one that moves my merchandise.

Build Your Own Home Energy Audit

A comprehensive Home Energy Audit takes time and covers a number of areas. It provides lots of information and recommendations.  A homeowner may choose to limit the inspection to those items of their concern.

The energy efficiency of each home combines an analysis of the components of the home and how well they are installed.  Think of a bucket of water, the bucket is the walls and ceiling of your home. A pinhole in the bucket will drain the water from the bucket and the heat from your home!

A Home Energy Audit looks at the ability of each building component to resist the transfer of heat. The air tightness of each component is also reviewed.

This post covers a description of each part of a comprehensive Home Energy Audit.

Pricing, previously contained in this post, is posted separately.

Utility Analysis

The actual usage over the last 12 months of Electric and Gas is compared to the home size and evaluated. This requires information from the Utility Companies.

Infiltration Testing                 

(Multi-point Blower Door Testing with Thermal Imaging and Indoor Air Quality Analysis)

Everyone has felt a cold draft at one time or another. Since the air blew in and the house didn’t pop like an overfilled balloon, the air blew out somewhere else.  This test simulates a 20 MPH wind on all four sides of the home at the same time. It allows an actual measurement of leakage and it identifies the leaks. This allows a specific plan for the leaks in your home to be fixed.

The recommendations will include effective measures to improve indoor air quality, not just install what the salesman has in-stock. If you have de-humidifiers running this Testing is important.

Ceiling Evaluation:

The ceiling and attic areas are examined for insulation, ventilation and thermal bypasses. This is done from the outside of the home, the inside in all rooms and from the attic. It may involve remote camera usage. If Infiltration Testing is part of the package, information from the Thermal Imaging portions are applied to the ceiling Evaluation.

Foundation Wall Evaluation (below grade):        

In most homes a major source of heat loss is from the crawl space, the slab or the basement walls. There are generically referred to as the foundation of your home. Traditionally, builders have confused the thermodynamic principles involved, with hot air rising and heat loss, to falsely assume that basements cannot be kept warm.

Wall Evaluation (above grade):

Homes over twenty years old, or homes with a major insulation failure may benefit from a specific wall evaluation for walls above grade.  It is part of a comprehensive  energy audit. All wall evaluations are conducted with Non-Destructive-Test Methods to start. Depending on the home, the type of construction, access to various areas, further testing that involves minor holes being drilled will be discussed with and approved by the homeowner before the end of the evaluation.

The condition and energy efficiency of your exterior siding is done at this point.            

Equipment (furn. AC, hot water):                    (Includes safety checks on Gas Fired Equipment)

Your heating and cooling equipment is a large investment. What are the efficiency ratings on your existing equipment and what is available on the market? How does a home owner sort out fact from sales pitch.  This inspection includes safety testing for gas fired equipment. Furnace, Heat Pump, AC, Hybrid Heat Pump, are included.

Windows and Door Evaluation:           

Windows are advertised everywhere.  On the Radio, TV, the newspapers and other print media all carry large volumes of sales pitch for replacement windows. The FTC has fined some window companies for outlandish claims on energy savings.

Are your windows an energy problem? Can those energy problems be fixed or should the windows be replaced? What is the best for my home?  Low E, argon filled, double pane, triple pane? How does a double pane window save energy?  All these questions and more are answered. And you get the answers from someone that does not have a financial interest in your purchase or non-purchase of a product.

Windows and Doors are both holes in the wall.  From an energy loss standpoint there is not much difference. Doors are not as heavily advertised, but they are pushed after the salesman gets to quote your home.          

Computer Modeling and Reporting

The Comprehensive Home Energy Audit provides a complete energy usage model and reporting of problems, recommendations and solutions. Interactions between building components are considered in the computer model. You can go from the report to soliciting firm prices from a contractor or doing it yourself with this report. This reporting will qualify for applying for and Energy Improvement Mortgage if you are buying a home, or refinancing your current home.

If you choose various parts of the Home Energy Audit, written reports and recommendations will also be provided. These will all you can go from the report to soliciting firm prices from a contractor or doing it yourself with this report. The reports are limited to the selections made. Interactions between building components are not considered.

Duct Leakage Testing Not included in the comprehensive audit.

Some comfort and energy loss issues involve improperly installed ductwork. Testing is easy. Fixing these problems can vary in complexity depending on the home.      

Lighting and Appliances Not included in the comprehensive audit.

Incandescent, halogen, CFLs, LEDs, which is best for your home?  Not every fixture needs a high efficiency light! Should I get a new fridge or other appliance?  All these are part of the Lights and Appliances.

Bonus Room (over the garage, or in the attic) Included in the comprehensive audit.

Rooms placed over a garage or in the attic are a special case. They are part of a comprehensive audit. They can be an individual item, with infiltration testing, due to the unique construction problems with them.

For more information or to schedule a Home Energy Audit:  

V / T  316 641-5258  or  email:  info@efficientenergysavers.com

The Foundation of your Home: Slabs, Basements, and Crawl Spaces

What is under your home?  I hope you have some solid ground.  If you do great!  Now how did your home builder get to solid ground?

The first of a multi-part topic.
Left: Slab on Grade ready for walls. (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

That can be done with a slab on grade construction. It can be done with a basement.  It can be done with a crawl space. A home can use a combination of methods. It is not at all uncommon to see homes with 3 of the 3 approaches.

Above Right: A slab on Grade shows heat loss through the slab. This is under the front door. Inside temperature is 72 degrees, outside is 14 degrees. The cold (blue) pile is snow.

Basements are generally a below ground space that contain living area and is capable of being heated.  This does not include below ground spaces that are for storage or storm shelter. Basements may be full, view out, or walk out types.

Left: Typical craw space, showing rim joist. This has about 30 inches of concrete and a 2×8 floor joist.

Crawl Spaces are below ground space with no living area.  They are generally low head room spaces, hence the name – Crawl Space.  Some you can actually walk in.  I have seen several crawl spaces that are only 12 – 15 inches high, most are 30 – 48 inches high.  Crawl spaces generally have duct work for the HVAC system, plumbing, and wiring. Occasionally the furnace will be in the crawl space.

Below Right: This addition has 2×10 floor joists with support beams. It provides about 8 inches of clearance between the floor and the beam.

Many homes have a basement with crawl space. Builders in one geographical area tend to build with the same approach.  Another geographic area will find another approach being common. In places where the water table is only a few feet below ground you would be hard pressed to find a basement.  In places with large rock formations near the surface, the builder could use any of these approaches depending on how deep the rock is on the building site.  In tornado alley, basements are always welcome for a storm shelter, and some families use their crawl space.

How do these spaces impact the energy use in your home?

Depending on the age of the home, the below ground walls of the house could be of stone, block, rubble fill or concrete.  These are hard materials that have similar physical properties.  They have high thermal capacity; they will stand extended periods below ground in contact with dirt and moisture.

Thermal Capacitance

Thermal Capacitance is the physical characteristic of a material to hold heat. How long does an object stay hot after being heated? The longer is retains heat, means a higher thermal capacitance.

Above Right: The Rim Joist is where the basement window is. Note the heat transfer through this area. It is somewhat diffused by the brick veneer. Outside temperature is 20 degrees, inside temperature is 68 degrees about 10 pm.

Growing up in Southern Nevada, I lived in a house constructed of concrete blocks.  My bedroom was on the east side.  An 8 foot fence stood 4 feet from my bedroom wall. The sun did not shine directly on my bedroom wall until about 11:00 AM and by 1:00 PM it had passed over. I would go to bed at between 10:00 PM or 11:00 PM and the wall would still be well over 100 degrees. So that wall loaded enough heat during that 2 hour period, to still be over 100 degrees 9 hours later. If a material can hold heat like that, then it can also hold the absence of heat, or cold, in the same way. Concrete, and stone have a high thermal capacitance.

Any basement or crawl space wall will extend both above and below ground. It is not uncommon to see a wall 1 and ½ feet above ground and the rest below ground.  If that portion of the wall is un-insulated, the heat will flow through the wall. Heat will flow in during the summer and out during the winter.

The Infrared Image (Above Left) shows a concrete basement wall. The upper part is showing relatively cooler and the bottom relatively warmer. The mid-point of this image is about 4 feet below the top of the concrete wall. The outside temperature is 45 degrees. Imagine the difference at 20 degrees?

What can the homeowner or the builder do to these walls for energy savings?

Insulation is the obvious answer. What kind of insulation is a better question. I would specify the insulation, you choose, to be installed correctly, that it be durable and properly protected from damage.

Before we actually get the insulation, we need to make a stop.  Air movement through and around the insulation will significantly impair the effectiveness of the insulation.  So lets tighten up the area.  The first area to look at is the Rim Joist.

This is on the Rim of the foundation wall. The floor joists, 2×6 or larger or a truss system rests on the top of wall. If you look at any of your rim joist area you will see a number of things.

(Right) An IR image of a Rim Joist. Outside temperature is 70 degrees. This is a south wall and the sun has been shining on it. Lots of solar loading.

Usually your outside faucets come through here. The gas line enters the house at this point, the air conditioning copper tubing, and perhaps other utilities.  I’ve seen dryer vents installed here, and even the flues of conventional hot water heaters.  Those are usually easy to spot because the flue then goes up the side of the house above the roof.  If you have a tankless hot water heater, the PVC flue may well exit the area through the rim joist.  Then you have joints, knot holes and it is not uncommon to see actual holes where something was there and has been removed. All these holes and gaps need to be sealed up.

Remember that insulation does not stop air movement. Caulk is great for stopping air leaks.  You can use caulk straight from the caulking gun.  Some gaps, may need  backer caulk also called rope caulk.  This is ½ inch strands of caulk like material that you can push in by hand. Then come back over it with the caulking gun.  Smooth the caulk with a tool, or your finger to make it go a little farther, make it look a little better and to eliminate any bubbles that might have formed.

If the gap is larger you may wish to use some of the foam in a can. This one part expanding foam uses moisture to cure. Use along a rim joist would probably have enough moisture to cure properly. Take seriously the caution, to not wash with water if you get in on your hands or elsewhere.  Water will cure it.  It will take a couple of weeks to wear off.  If you don’t ask how I know that, I will not turn red in the face!

You can also use rigid foam on larger openings.  Just remember to caulk the edges.  Also remember to caulk the joint between the sill plate and the concrete. New builders use a gasket now,  a bead of caulk is always helpful.

If the rim joist has insulation, you can remove it to do the air sealing.  You can replace it after air sealing, just be sure to install it properly. It is most likely a fiberglass batt, it may have a paper backing on it, it may not.  The paper backing may be facing the inside or the outside. I’ve observed all these in the same house.  The paper backing is a vapor retarder. It should face the warm in winter side of the wall in this area of Kansas.  (Climate Zone 4)  The batt insulation should fill the space between the floor joists, the concrete rim and the subfloor. That space is probably 8 inches deep, 16 – 24 inches wide and 6 ½ to  24 inches high.  Most common would be 8x16x 7.5 inches.

Since the Rim of the foundation wall is usually 8 inches wide, that would allow, at R-3 per inch, insulation of R-24.  I see R-19 batts commonly used here, older insulation jobs or homeowner installed jobs will show R-13, or even R-11.   If you have a ceiling in your basement, you may only have access to part of this area.  You can work in the accessible area and make a difference.

To remove a finished ceiling and then replace after the air sealing and insulation is completing will probably not be cost effective, even if you do not consider the effort of the Do It Yourself labor.

This is the first of a multi-part topic. We will look at Basements, both finished and unfinished, crawl spaces, and slab floors each in more detail.