Category Archives: Home Performance

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.

Energy Efficiency is America’s No. 1 Housing Concern

Home-Insulation-300x225Safety, affordability and privacy – it’s no surprise that these were some of top housing needs identified in a recent national survey of more than 10,000 households. But the No. 1 unmet housing concern, which the Demand Institute that carried out the poll defined as the “satisfaction gap” between what respondents actually have and what they said was important, was not as easily expected: energy efficiency.

Survey respondents were given a list of 52 housing and community concerns and asked to rank them, on a scale of 1 to 10, by how important they felt the issues were and how much their current home satisfied these needs. The result: 71 percent of U.S. households polled placed a great deal of importance on energy efficiency, but only 35 percent felt their homes were very energy efficient with low monthly utility costs (the respondents making up percentages answered these questions with an 8, 9 or 10 ranking).

Based on these numbers, energy efficiency was the housing concern with the largest gap between the rates of importance and satisfaction – beating out consumer needs and wants for updated kitchens, storage space, safe neighborhoods, affordability, landlord responsiveness and more.

Why the strong desire for energy-wise homes?

“Utilities are a significant and regular part of households’ budgets, and spending on utilities has risen more quickly than overall consumer spending – 56 percent vs. 38 percent growth since 2000,” said Louise Keely, president of the Demand Institute, a nonprofit think tank jointly created and operated by Nielsen and the Conference Board to monitor consumer demand.

To read more of this report:  The Demand Institute Poll on Triple Pundit.

The Energy Guy Gets a New Ride …

EG 4

 

OK!  Why a new car?  200K miles on the old one maybe?  Then being able to carry most if not all the equipment I need in one trip?  A moving billboard?

Yes to all of those!  So I had a Party.  Our Derby Chamber of Commerce hosts a Business to Business time once a month from 8 – 9.  Coffee and stuff that is guaranteed to add to my waist line.  They do a Ribbon Cutting when you join.  So I had mine this morning.  Here is the crew that came out for the Ribbon Cutting.EG 5Look closely, those are wooden scissors. Ceremony! So here is the next one with real scissors.EG 2Lots of wonderful people here.  Did they all come for my Ribbon Cutting?  I’d like to think so. This month the sponsor was Nova Care of Derby.

I’d like to thank the Derby Chamber, Mark and his staff Tim and Lindsi for helping out with this party.  I’d also like to thank my Ang’s  –  I had two guests today from Wichita.  Angie Tejeda and Angee MacMurray.  I posted a blog post a few weeks ago about a Twitter Conversation with Angee, take the link. I wrote about Igloo’s and my future plans.  No, I’m not building an Igloo.

Jen and Rick Brown showed up also.  I teach Sunday School with them. Thank You, Jen for the fine photography here.  And Thank You to everyone that came out to my party.  I must also acknowledge the the great folks at Mighty Wraps in Wichita.  Justin and Lori were great to work with during the design and application of the wrap.

If you see my ride around town – please Wave!

Poll: Energy Efficiency is America’s No. 1 Housing Concern

Safety, affordability and privacy – it’s no surprise that these were some of top housing needs identified in a recent national survey of more than 10,000 households. But the No. 1 unmet housing concern, which the Demand Institute that carried out the poll defined as the “satisfaction gap” between what respondents actually have and what they said was important, was not as easily expected: energy efficiency.Insulation

Survey respondents were given a list of 52 housing and community concerns and asked to rank them, on a scale of 1 to 10, by how important they felt the issues were and how much their current home satisfied these needs. The result: 71 percent of U.S. households polled placed a great deal of importance on energy efficiency, but only 35 percent felt their homes were very energy efficient with low monthly utility costs (the respondents making up percentages answered these questions with an 8, 9 or 10 ranking).

To read more continue here

World’s first 3D-printed apartment building constructed in China

A Chinese company has successfully 3D printed a five-storey apartment building and a 1,100 square metre (11,840 sf) villa from a special print material.

3D Printed BuildingWhile architectural firms compete with their designs for 3D-printed dwellings, one company in China has quietly been setting about getting the job done. In March of last year, company WinSun claimed to have printed 10 houses in 24 hours, using a proprietary 3D printer that uses a mixture of ground construction and industrial waste, such as glass and tailings, around a base of quick-drying cement mixed with a special hardening agent.

Now, WinSun has further demonstrated the efficacy of its technology — with a five-storey apartment building and a 1,100 square metre (11,840 square foot) villa, complete with decorative elements inside and out, on display at Suzhou Industrial Park.

Read More for C Net

Who Is Building an Igloo in Wichita?

It all started on Twitter. @AIAWichita @moongodess316 and I had some fun over building an Igloo.

Igloo1

I saw this Tweet and immediately thought of a quote from Dr. Joseph Lstiburek: “The Igloo was the First Passive House.” Joe is an engineer by training and has been working with buildings, insulation and energy use for over 30 years. His Building Science Corporation, based in Massachusetts, conducts research and is one of the best sources of verified information on building energy efficiency in buildings.

So I tweeted back.

Igloo2

What is the difference between a Passive House and a regular house? What is the buzz all about?

Strawbale

When you build a home you can use lots of insulation to reduce the amount of electricity and gas to heat and cool the home.

GSHP Diagram

You can use a lot of high tech equipment to reduce the amount of electricity and gas to heat and cool the home. You can also do both.

PHIUSThe Passive House was developed in Germany, so you see it referred to at times as Passiv Haus.

We know that insulation works and that more insulation works better. As the cost of electric and gas goes up, it makes financial sense to add insulation to a home or business. In 2000, the local cost of Electricity was 8 – 9 cents, the recommended level of attic insulation was R-30. Today the cost of electricity is 12 – 13 cents and the recommended level of insulation is R-49.  Both have increased about 1/3 in 1 years. We also know that air movement, cold drafts, makes people uncomfortable and causes insulation to not work as effectively.

Round Metal TubeThe sources of air entering a home are usually related to corners. Since we like living in buildings that have square corners there are a lot of them in a home. Windows do not usually cause air leakage. How they are installed can cause air leakage. The age or the quality of the window does not seem to matter when installation mistakes occur.

PHIThe primary requirements for a passive ouse certification are based on Energy Usage and creating a structure that needs very little energy for heating and cooling. These standards are effectively summarized with these two limits.

  • Total primary energy (source energy for electricity, etc.) consumption (primary energy for heating, hot water and electricity) must not be more than 120 kWh/m² per year (37900 btu/ft² per year)
  • The building must not leak more air than 0.6 times the house volume per hour (n50 ≤ 0.6 / hour) at 50 Pa (N/m²) as tested by a blower door.

In our Twitter Conversation, Angee McBustee tweeted a question about how is building a igloo in Wichita. Then I responded with the offer to run the blower door test. As you can see from the primary requirements the Blower Door result is very important to a passive house.

Igloo4

How good is a Blower Door Test of 0.6, as required by Passive House? Energy Star New Homes require a Blower Door Test of 5.0 or less. New homes in Wichita routinely test around 4.0. In the blower door testing, lower is better.

For standard construction, I have tested several homes at 1.0. There is one home that I have tested with a lower result. A custom home in Butler County is under construction. They had me do a Blower Door test after it was sheathed. No insulation, no drywall. The test result was 0.62. We were able to find several leaks using biometrics and the infrared camera. That was last September. I returned in December to test it a 2nd time, the results were so low, that I didn’t have the right test equipment to measure the result. I would estimate it to be in the 0.30 range. I now have the equipment to test a home like that.

In February, I have been accepted for training and certification as a Passive House Rater/Verifier. Christine is building the home in Butler County, I want to thank her for the push to obtain this certification.

In the Twitter Conversation, AIA Wichita came back and said they were posting an information tweet.

Thanks to Angee and AIA Wichita for a nice idea for a Blog Post.

What Counts? Product A or Product B

Blower Door Testing & Weather Resistant Barrier

Tyvek TopThe practice of covering sheathing with asphalt impregnated papers has given way to the use of synthetic fabrics, known as house wrap; or spray on coatings. There are factory applied coatings on some brands of sheathing and some types of coatings are field applied. Along with the discussions of fiberglass / cellulose in the insulating of homes, there has been plenty of discussion about the merits of one form or another of WRBs.

As with any step in the building process, I believe it is less about the product and more about the people. Products that are hard to install will be less successful then others. Installers that are not properly trained; work that is not verified in some manner can defeat the proper performance of the best products.

WRBWhat does the WRB do for a home. First it provides a drainage plane behind the siding to divert rain and other weather related moisture from wetting the sheathing. Second, when all manufacturers install instructions are followed it can act as an air barrier, reducing infiltration. For the house wrap type fabrics, this means properly lapped, using capped fasteners, and then taped. Finding house wrap installed according to manufacturer’s install directions is rare.

When all three of these directions are not followed, not only are the potential qualities of an air barrier not present, the potential for water to run behind an uncapped fastener, or an incorrectly lapped joint, which is also untaped. Repeated wetting of the sheathing over time, will eventually result in rot and the accompanying problems.

Country HollowA local Wichita Home Builder, G.J. Gardner has just finished two homes based on the same floor plan. These homes went through the independent verification process involved in obtaining a HERS Rating. These homes utilized the same sub-contractors and types of insulation. The only difference in construction was the use of a job site applied spray on WRB, in place of a house wrap type fabric.

One part of this verification process is a Blower Door Test. This test simulates the effects of a 20 mph wind on all sides of the home at the same time. Blower Door testing has been completed on homes since the late 1970’s. Energy efficiency programs and building codes have consistently recognized the value of a Blower Door test on each home.

BlowerDoorThe value of doing a Blower Door test on each home is primarily to check the work of all subs has not compromised the Builder’s plan for an energy efficient home. Many existing homes, have a test rate of 7 – 12 or higher rates of air exchange during the test. The 2012 code requirement is 3 on this scale, and lower is better.

The use of 4×8 sheet goods for sheathing and other simple, and inexpensive techniques have brought the infiltration rates down. This reduces the cases of cold drafty homes, and significantly lowering the energy use of a home.

The Blower Door test can verify the quality of work involved with installing the WRB, specifically the degree of sealing of the outside of the sheathing. In the case of the two homes involved in this comparison, there was a change of 20% in the measured infiltration rates of the two homes.

In completing the Blower Door tests, we used the ANSI / RESNET published standard of a Multi-point test. These results were entered into a software package provided by the maker of the blower door, The Energy Conservatory, Below is a comparison screen between the two Blower Door Tests.

Tectite 2 Bldg Comp Data

I would like to thank Wade Wilkinson, with GJ Gardner of Wichita; his subcontractors and their technicians for building quality energy efficient homes. I enjoy being able to verify the quality of their work.

If you would like to see this home, it is currently in the Fall 2014, WABA Parade of Homes.  It is located in the Country Hollow Development.  Between Kellogg and Harry on 127th and East to Glen Hills Court, on the corner.  Find out also about the HERS Index earned by this home. It will save you operating costs on your Energy Bills.

Passive House Work in Wichita

In the last two weeks, two national groups that certify construction for Passive House Standards conducted their annual conferences.  PHIUS was held in Portland, OR; and PHI was held in Maine. Locally, I have completed the first of 3 planned Blower Door tests for a passive concept home under construction; discussed the planned construction with another builder to start later this year; and discussed passive building concepts with another builder planning his first homes next year.

PassivhausDarmstadtKranichstein-300The Passive House concept started in Germany, with construction starting in 1990 on several homes. In German, it is Passiv Haus,  PHI for Passiv Haus Institute.  The standards followed by this concept require an attention to detail in design and construction of the thermal enclosure.  Historically referred to as the envelope, the thermal enclosure involves the exterior bottom, sides and top of the structure.

  • Higher than commonly used levels of insulating material,
  • windows meeting specific standards and very
  • Effective work on air sealing
  • Attention to the Solar Orientation of the home to maximize the use of solar heat in the winter

PHIThis results in an extremely low energy bill.  How low? In the Wichita area, this would translate to an $88 – $110 annual natural gas bill, instead of $500 – $900 bills that I routinely see on Home Energy Audits.

The passive term comes from the idea of using insulation and construction techniques to create a significant energy savings instead of relying on fancy machinery to create that savings. Dr. Wolfgang Feist of Dahrmstat, Germany founded the Passiv Haus Institut in 1996.

Smith HouseThe passive house concept arrived in the US in 2003.  Katrin Klingenberg, a licensed architect in Germany, She built a home meeting these standards, 2 hours south of Chicago.

 

Most countries have a local organization that trains and certifies homes and commercial buildings to the Passive Standard. Yes, passive concepts apply to buildings other than homes. These groups train people to apply and measure the standards. They also review the reports on specific buildings and accept or deny actual certification for a specific building.

PHIUSIn the US, this organization has been known as PHIUS.  Passive House Institute, US. Ms Klingenberg has been the leading light of this group, which was founded in 2007.  There are some things in each country that differ from the original German model of Passiv Haus.

The experience of the professionals working with PHIUS in the US has resulted in some changes to how the concept is applied in the US. For example, the metric units used in the German (and most others in the world) have been translated to the Imperial units used in the US. The collaborative nature of US business groups has been essential to moving the passive concept from being used by a relative few to becoming a market force in the US.

Because these adaptations by PHIUS to the US market, were not acceptable to the original PHI, a divide between the approaches has occurred in the US.  It is mostly technical, and both groups agree the concept is still primary.  Effective building resulting in low energy use.

Some claims have been made that these concepts are two expensive for the US market. The original Passive House in Illinois was built at a 2003 cost of $94/ sf.  That is very favorable with current US construction costs. Since additional people are using the concept and the resulting products that manufacturers are producing, the mass production will bring some drop in costs.

If you wish to read more about the two national conferences for both the PHI and the PHIUS organizations that just finished, you may use these articles.

The 9th annual North American Passive House Conference (PHIUS)

Report from the Passive House Conference in Maine

I will keep you updated on activity in this area about Passive House building activity, as it progresses.  Three projects is a great start.  I’m glad that builders are willing to try new concepts and that home buyers are willing to step up and buy these homes.

In the introduction of this post, I mentioned a house under construction with the Passive House concept. I conducted the first of 3 Blower Door Tests last week.  This test was after the framing and exterior sheathing was completed.  Insulation, plumbing, electrical and trades had not started.  The second test will be in a few weeks after these trades have done their initial work and put holes in the enclosure.  Electric wires, plumbing, HVAC and other necessary conveniences of our lives will be installed in passive concept homes. The third test will be done at the end of construction.

The PHI/PHIUS standard for Air Infiltration as measured by the Blower Door Test is 0.60 –  The current 2012 recommended code requirement for this is 3.0 — Wichita/Sedgwick County does not have an energy code in place, but the Kansas City area does. They enforce a 5.0 standard.  Typical homes built from 1980 and prior are in a range of 10 – 38 from my testing.

The goal of the builder on this passive concept home was to reach 1.5 on this first test. Then using the Infrared Camera to find areas to caulk, and fixing the penetrations mentioned above, have the next test come in lower.

Blower Door62This test, actually came in at 0.62 —  almost the standard.  Much better than the expected 1.5 .   While the blower door was running, the Infrared found some places that could be fixed.  Dan, the carpenter, was right there with a caulking gun.  We also found some leakage with biometrics. A back of your hand that is wet, will show you extremely small amounts of air movement.  Most builders like to use expanding foam to seal the actual window to the rough opening.  We found some of these foamed openings were still leaking. Again the caulking gun was a good answer.

 

A Healthy Home Part 4 – Free of Combustion By-Products

This post is written as a conversation between a homeowner and myself as it could have occurred during a Home Energy Audit. It is actually the gathering together of several conversations on different audits over the past few years.

smoky fires

 

A Healthy Home is Free of Combustion By-Products

Homeowner: Oh!  You mean no Carbon Monoxide!  I have a  Carbon Monoxide Detector.  It has had some false alarms, but it has never found a problem.

The Energy Guy: OK!  Carbon Monoxide (CO) is one by product of combustion.  There are others.

Homeowner:   So, you mean the house must be all electric?

The Energy Guy: No, not necessarily.  An all electric home, might have a fire place, and an attached garage. Both are sources of CO and other byproducts of combustion. A healthy home will deal with all of these in some fashion.

Homeowner: What other things are you talking about besides CO?

rustDHWThe Energy Guy: The one I see the most of is moisture.  Many of the flue pipes I’ve seen have rusted from the moisture.  If you have a gas hot water heater, look at the top.  Is the top rusting, what about the flue pipe or the draft diverter? Moisture from open combustion appliances also increases the humidity in the home and adds unneeded work to your air conditioning unit, increasing the bill.

There are others, such as Nitrogen  Dioxide, and Sulphur Dioxide, and various particles of all sorts.

Homeowner:  So, those are like Carbon Dioxide?  Something that is just there?

The Energy Guy:  Yes!  They are just there, with two concerns.  First the Lung Association points out the health effects of Sulphur Dioxide include:

  • Wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness and other problems, especially during exercise or physical activity.
  • Continued exposure at high levels increases respiratory symptoms and reduces the ability of the lungs to function.
  • Short exposures to peak levels of SO2 in the air can make it difficult for people with asthma to breathe when they are active outdoors.

Health effects of Nitrogen dioxide include:

  • Increased inflammation of the airways
  • Worsened cough and wheezing
  • Reduced lung function
  • Increased asthma attacks
  • Greater likelihood of emergency department and hospital admissions
  • Increased susceptibility to respiratory infection, such as influenza

Homeowner: I’m pretty healthy, but you said ‘First!’

The Energy Guy:  The second is moisture. Moisture could be a high humidity situation, or moisture from the combustion that produced these dioxides and if you inhale some of them, or moisture in your nose and lungs. Here are the basic chemical equations for those interested.

Sulphur Dioxide plus Water ends up as Sulphuric Acid [SO2 + H20 ===> H2SO3 (sulphurous acid) SO3 + H20 ===> H2SO4 (sulphuric acid)]

acid_storageNitrogen Dioxide plus Water ends up as Nitric Acid [NO2 + H2O ===> HNO3 + NO]

Homeowner: But acid eats things up!

The Energy Guy:  Yes, it does. These acids start the rust process, I mentioned earlier. The other place you can look for rust is to look at the flue on the roof of some homes. If the coating is attacked by the acids, then rust occurs.

So How do I keep this stuff out of my home and away from my family?

co detectorThe Energy Guy:  First install some Carbon Monoxide Detectors.  If your furnace and water heater are in the basement, you need one down there.  You also need one near bedrooms.

Homeowner: OK!  I’ll get that one that works with my Nest!

The Energy Guy:  That will work for one.   The Nest Protect is like most CO detectors, it will alarm at the higher amounts of CO as required by the Underwriters Laboratory requirements.   These start at 70ppm of CO for an hour. Professional organizations such as ASHRAE and NIOSH list 35ppm as the level for technicians and others to stop work, turn off equipment and evacuate the building. A low level detector is important.

Low Level CO detectors do not meet the UL requirement because they alarm at lower levels, typically 20ppm.    15-20ppm CO levels have been found to impair judgement in people exposed for short periods of time.  The UL testing does not allow a CO detector to pass if it alarms below 30 ppm. Low level CO exposure can result in headaches and general malaise.  If you are exposed to low levels over a period of months or years the effect is unknown at this time.

Homeowner:  OK!  So I’ll get a low level detector also.  What else can I do.

The Energy Guy:  Do some careful air sealing between the garage and the house. You can add exhaust ventilation to your garage as recommended in the International Residential Code. Open the door before you start the car, and then immediately back out. More information about CO and the garage. Air sealing here and a simple closer on the door to the garage will help keep CO and other pollutants from the garage out of the house.

Inside the house, you can buy smart when you replace your water heater or furnace.  Buy sealed combustion units.  These are generally more efficient units, so they will save you some on your bill each month.

95Water Heaters can be sealed combustion, such as the demand models or a power vented unit. Either of these units can be identified with the use of PVC exhaust flue, instead of the metal flue needed by traditional units. They do not need the metal, because the exhaust is a lower temperature. This has a side effect of increased efficiency. The image to the right is the flue of at sealed combustion furnace.

Finally, think about your wood burning fireplace or your gas oven.  These also create the same problems.  Here a low level CO detector would be very valuable. Following the fireplace manufacturers instructions in keeping the glass door shut and having it checked regularly are important.  For a gas range, especially with a gas oven, install an exhaust fan that vents to the outside.

 

Some of this information came from the Maine Indoor Air Quality Council

Some of this information came from the American Lung Association

A Healthy Home — The first of this series