Category Archives: Healthy Homes

Indoor Air Quality Indicators and Measuring Them

The issue of Indoor Air Quality in a home comes up very regularly for a Home Energy Auditor.

People work hard to keep their homes clean and to serve healthy food from their kitchens. We also want to know the air we breathe in our homes is healthy. There are a lot of things out there to spend our money on like, air cleaners, fancy filters, ozone and UV lights to start with.

What types of things cause a home to have un-healthy air?  A recent presentation to the Indoor Air Quality Committee at the EPA used this slide from a researcher at the University of Pittsburg.

Approaches

What I see as important about this list is that these are measurable. A Thermometer and a Humidity meters are commonly found in many homes. Most homes have a CO Detector for Carbon Monoxide and a lot will have a CO2 detector for Carbon Dioxide.  That covers 50 percent of the items in this list.

What is left are things like small particles, Ozone, volatile organic compounds and formaldehyde. Small particles can be a tough one because we are talking really small.  The standard size we look at is 2.5 microns.  A human hair at 50+ microns gives one a size comparison.

The others are gaseous in nature. Much of these gases can come from materials in the home or the the furnishings and are released over time usually referred to as ‘off gassing’.

As a family lives in a home, things change.  You go in and out, opening doors, windows, cooking, living, enjoying your home. How do you keep track of the air in your home? How do you know it is good, or that you may need to do something to fix a problem?

For years homes have had thermometers and humidity meters available.  Now there is a whole new series of measuring instruments to monitor these various indicators. The simple detector technology for Carbon Monoxide has been improved to respond to a range of levels and actually measure the gas. The other gasses have the same technology.

NOTE:  This measurement technology has been available for professionals at a significant price. Now the progress has made the units smaller and more affordable.

My friend Nate Adams has been doing some major work in existing homes. Nate works in the Akron Ohio area.  He has moved his business from an Insulation Contractor to a full service home performance contractor.  Recently, he has been exploring how the energy efficient features he is installing also improve the quality of the air inside those homes.

Nate has written a blog post reviewing some of these newest monitors to provide homeowners with a comparison of the available offerings.

I was challenged to write this post explaining my reaction to Nate’s Review.  My initial reaction was ‘disappointing’.  Nate’s challenge was ‘Why”.  So here is the why.

First:  While the technology for detecting has moved to measuring, it still has a ways to go.  Partly technology and partly continuing to reduce the cost.

Second: There is a very limited offering. Seven Products were reviewed and three more were mentioned, but lacking the data logging feature. I was hoping for a few more.

Third: Each entry reviewed had pros and cons.  I do not feel that any single item is a comprehensive monitoring solution.

Because I chose to wade through my reactions and thoughts, it has been a good exercise for me. Writing down my thoughts and reasons really helped me look at my initial response of disappointment and why my reaction should be more then that.

My second reaction after working through the above is ‘hopeful excitement’.  While we may be disappointed in the number of monitors and the comprehensive coverage;  we should be looking forward to the future developments and monitors that measure more.

The challenge of these developments and the potential they hold are very interesting.  What can we do?  What should we do?  I suggest that realizing the potential is in many ways up to us. Those in contact with the public, the home owners, or renters. We need to advocate for measurement and then taking action based on what the monitors reveal.

Medical Study Shows Green Homes Decrease Illness

One of the benefits of buying and living in a green home has always been health related. Energy Efficient and sustainable builders have always taken care to keep water out and to seal up air leaks.  One of the effects is to lower your energy bills. Another is to improve the health of those living in the home.

No Flashing Window

The picture above is a window that was not flashed properly. Water was going into the wall. When you have water and wood together, you get mold.  Many new homes do not have this feature. Remember, there is no legal requirement to install insulation or other healthy features in a home in Wichita or Sedgwick County.

Now, US News and World Report’s Health Day column, written by Amy Norton covers a study in Boston.  She covered the research report in the American Journal of Public Health.

“Researchers found that children living in Boston’s newer, greener public housing had fewer asthma attacks, hospital visits and missed school days, compared with their peers in standard public housing. 

Adults, meanwhile, were less likely to report symptoms consistent with a condition called “sick building syndrome” — which include dizziness, headaches, nausea and eye irritation.”

Buying a home that has green features, such as Water Management Details, Air Sealing, and a Planned Fresh Air system is a big part of the Green Home that creates these benefits. You can find green homes, featuring these benefits, in and around Wichita. Some builder’s choose to have their homes certified to a Voluntary Standard such as Energy Star or Zero Energy Ready or or NAHB Green, or Eco Select.  A certified homes have these features verified by someone other than the builder.

So as the New Home market is growing in the Wichita Area, ask your builder about these features.  Don’t accept the answer that it is not needed, or this is what everyone else does. This is about the health of your family.

Read the entire article

 

This simple table will keep your home cool

Table 1 Jean-Sébastien Lagrange and Raphaël Ménard with their Zero Energy Furniture Climatic Table.

Consisting simply of a surface and legs, the table is one piece of furniture that has remained largely the same for thousands of years. But now, a French design duo has come up with a way to turn the humble table into a means of climate control that doesn’t use any electricity. Paris-based industrial designer Jean-Sébastien Lagrange teamed up with French engineer Raphaël Ménard to create the Zero Energy Furniture table, also known as the ZEF Climatic Table. The ZEF table looks like any other with a sleek design of a solid plank oak top and angled legs — but it could hold the secret to cutting energy costs by as much as 60%.

 

Table 2A close up of the ZEF table, which could cut energy needs by as much as 60%.

 

“We wanted to see if it was possible to address climate and energy issues on a furniture scale,” Lagrange told WIRED.

Beneath the oak table are a series of phase-changing materials (PCMs) placed between the wood and anodized aluminium bottom. The materials soften when the surrounding room reaches around 71 degrees, absorbing the excess heat, and then harden once the temperature dips back below 71 degrees, releasing the trapped heat with the help of the aluminium and causing a noticeable change in the room’s temperature.

Table SpongeThat means the table is essentially working like a “thermal sponge,” as Lagrange and Ménard put it, sucking up excess heat and then releasing it once the room becomes cool enough.

According to the inventors, the table has the potential to reduce heating needs by as much as 60% and cooling demands by as much as 30%, which could save a lot of money as well as energy.

It’s a feat of engineering that makes the most sense in homes that don’t have climate control.

In climates where the temperature can drastically swing from hot to cold in short spans of time, the ZEF Climatic Table is most useful. For example, if a room heats up on a sunny day and then the temperature drops at night, the ZEF table would make the climate in that room more consistent.

The ZEF table works best in rooms that undergo significant temperature changes frequently.

The Full Article on Business Insider Australia


 

This article is reprinted in part from the above digital source. It was originally from Wired and was brought to my attention by ASHRAE. Phase Change Materials have many applications in heating and cooling. One phase change material everyone uses is water.  At 32°F it changes from solid to liquid or liquid to solid. Of interest to energy efficiency are materials that act in this way around 70°F.

‘Show Your Work’ Isn’t Just for Math Class Anymore

percent greenMy wife is a Math Teacher.  She always likes student’s papers that ‘show your work’! This NAHB Report says ‘Show Your Work’ also applies to building and selling Energy Efficient Homes.

An Early Look at Energy Efficiency and Contributory Value examined sales of homes in the greater Denver metropolitan area between January 2012 and April 2014 to determine the impact that energy efficiency has on the home buying process.

Ultimately, the authors concluded, “There is a current lack of researchable and quantifiable data … Until the data is consistently available and easy to find, it is likely that the residential appraiser’s ability to develop a credible opinion of value will be limited.

Among the observations/findings in the study:

  • The percentage of home sale listings citing “energy” increased in both local multiple listing services between 2006 and 2013, apparently indicating that such features are increasingly appealing to prospective buyers.
  • DadBabyESIn a very limited survey the authors conducted of home owners who purchased Energy Star-qualified homes, 96% indicated that if they were purchasing a home in the future, they would like the home to have an energy-efficiency rating so that they could compare it to other homes.
  • According to the authors: “Appraisers need third-party certified and verified energy-efficiency documentation.” Determining a home’s energy efficiency is “beyond the normal scope of work,” knowledge and experience of an appraiser.
  • Although the survey was not intended to estimate property values based on the presence of energy-efficient elements, in most of the case studies, the presence of energy-efficiency features added measurably to the value of the home. Several of the homes featured in the case studies were certified to the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard.
  • It was difficult, and sometimes impossible, for the study’s authors to separate the value of energy efficiency measures from other green features.

NAHB actively supports efforts to educate appraisal and realty professionals about the intrinsic value of home performance, and how certifications like the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard can help non-building professionals and their customers identify high performance homes and appreciate their benefits.

Full Report

Buying an Energy Efficient Home

HomePOHThe Annual Spring Parade of Homes is on the last week in the Wichita Metro Area.  There are some great homes out there. Lots of amenities to consider. Everyone has their own lifestyle and looks for a floor plan to fit. They all have their sense of taste and can look at the colors, finishes and visual effects.

POH_S15Every builder says they build an energy efficient home. Energy Efficiency is built in behind the walls.  It is usually not seen.  Energy Efficiency is about people and how they install the items that create the efficiency.  The specific items are less important then the way they are installed. Generally, the manufacturers install instructions must be followed.

Wichita – Sedgwick County has not adopted any code provisions for energy efficiency in new homes.  It may be legal to build a home with no insulation, but is that a wise decision? No one thinks so.  So how much is enough and is it installed correctly?  In this area we are reliant on the free enterprise approach energy efficiency in new homes.

Phoenix, AZ has an energy code, yet the free enterprise market based system has upped the game for buyers.  Here is a recent article in the Phoenix Newspaper about how a home buyer can see what is behind the walls.

Arizona-Republic-Features-of-ENERGY-STAR-HERS

Indoor Air Quality – Guideline Revision Public Comments Requested

imagesATLANTA – Public input is being sought into a proposed revision of ASHRAE’s residential indoor air quality guideline.

ASHRAE Guideline 24-2008, Ventilation and Indoor Air Quality in Low-Rise Residential Buildings, is the companion guideline to ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 62.2-2007, Ventilation and Acceptable Indoor Air Quality in Low-Rise Residential Buildings.  Guideline 24 provides information on achieving good IAQ that goes beyond the requirements contained in Standard 62.2 by providing explanatory and educational material not included in the code-intended standard.

Read Entire Article

 

A New Generation of Smart Sensors Aim to Track the Air You Breathe

AQM bitfinder

HARDWARE STARTUPS WANT TO TELL YOU ABOUT YOUR ENVIRONMENT, IN A WAY YOU CAN ACTUALLY UNDERSTAND.

New gadgets are arriving that are designed to show you in real time just what you’re breathing in, with Internet-enabled indoor and outdoor air-quality sensors.

But one of these devices’ biggest challenges, their makers say, is keeping customers engaged by making sure they understand what the readings mean and how to act on them.

“What we think is really important with this kind of product and services, is that we really need to connect on the human level,” says Ronald Ro, cofounder of Bitfinder.

Having participated in the most recent round of the Internet of Things-focused R/GA Accelerator, Ro’s company plans to release its Awair indoor air-quality monitor this summer. The speaker-sized units will share the market with existing smart indoor-outdoor weather stations from French firm Netatmo, and ultimately with wearable environmental trackers from Vancouver-based TZOA, also slated for release later this year.

The Awair will monitor air temperature and humidity, along with levels of dust particles, carbon dioxide, and a class of chemicals called volatile organic compounds, which includes solvents like acetone and benzene and a range of various other substances of varying toxicity.

(Read More – Take the link below)

I found this article on Fast Company written by Steven Melendez The link will get you to the full story.

Be Proactive for a Green Appraisal

greenlightbulbWhen it comes to getting an accurate appraisal for a high-performance home, it’s easier and more practical to take the right steps up front than to try to get a low appraisal revised after the fact.

Appraisal expert Sandra Adromatis, a featured speaker at the High Performance Building Zone during the recent International Builders’ Show, offered advice for securing an accurate appraisal of a high-performance home.

First and most important is documentation, especially of features behind the walls and other items that aren’t immediately obvious.

A good place to start is by taking a close look at the Appraisal Institute’s Residential Green and Energy Efficient Addendum. This is particularly important if the home is built to a nationally recognized program like the ICC-700 National Green Building Standard or includes additional high-performance features that should be documented within the appraisal.

This article appeared on the NAHB Blog.

For the complete article

Ms. Adomatis also presented at the RESNET Conference after the IBS Show. I furnish the Energy portion of the AI Energy Efficient and Green Addendum for every new home rating I do for a builder.  If you would like to see one or see how it would help your building plans, give me a call.

WWII and Energy Efficiency of an Office

Enigma-Machine1Occasionally, my long time interest in History and my job intersect.  Here is a news story that does. The headline “Top Secret Documents found in roof at Bletchley Park”, so I naturally read the article.  Bletchley Park during WWII was a great part of the secret  war effort by Great Britain against Germany.  It was run by His Majesty’s Government Code and Cypher School, to read coded German messages. It is named for the landed estate it was located on and has been turned into a museum. Location.  This is about 60 miles or 100 km NE of London center near the M1.

hut 3The connection to Energy Efficiency is these documents were found stuffing into openings in the roof of ‘Hut 3’  The huts were quickly built barracks type structures built early in the war, and did not have many amenities, even for the time.  Things like insulation, central heating, or probably much in the way of wall board on the inside. So these buildings leaked.  I would guess these very smart, talented folks working in Hut 3, didn’t know much about energy efficiency.  They did know when they were uncomfortable and could feel the wind blowing through the cracks and crevices.

So they took what ever was handy and stuffed the cracks full to stop the wind.  Today we call that air sealing.  These are the guys that invented some of the first computing machines. The solution was, like many of the wartime efforts, not the most elegant, but it worked.

If you would like some help locating the air leaks in your home, give me a call. I’ll use a Blower Door and a computer that is a descendant of those in Bletchley Park.

You can read the whole story here.

Passive House Verifier Training Part 1

PHIUSPHIUS (Passive House Institute United States) is one of two organizations in the US that promote and issue certificates for completion of a home that uses extremely small amounts of energy to heat and cool a home. The other organization is an affiliate of the German PassivHaus Institute.

This organization is based in Illinois. The goal is to make passive building principles the mainstream best building practice, and the mainstream market energy performance standard.

prosocoWhat is a Passive House? It is a home that people want to live in. It must be comfortable for the occupants and it must use very small amounts of energy to heat and cool; and for total energy use as well. RIGHT: A Passive House under construction.

Design for a Passive Home emphasizes energy efficient features that are installed during the construction of the home which do not have moving parts. The design relies on all parts to be installed to manufacturers specifications. These details are verified after they are installed.

Smith HouseThe idea is that insulation and air sealing are very cost effective compared to large and sometimes complex new technology in HVAC Systems. Instead of buying the expensive technology, use the money, that would usually spent on upgraded HVAC system, to increase the insulation levels. The details of how much insulation, what type and where are certainly of interested to  the builder and others involved in planning and construction. These details are less important to the home buyer, they just want things to work at a lower cost.

I am writing about Passive House construction since I just finished the training and testing to become a Passive House Verifier with PHIUS. You will hear more about the Passive House concept and how it might apply to any home.