Category Archives: Home Retrofit

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.

The Conversation Continues!

My last posting as part of the ongoing Deep Energy Retrofit #DER conversation regarded a definition of DER.  I made the argument for using a threshold of 30% savings. The specific conversation is in regard to historic homes. There have been several Bloggers involved in this conversation and others reading. You may read my first post HERE.

Sean at SLS Construction has a post that he is maintaining as a startingpoint and links to updates in the conversation. John at Birmingham Pointe is the Preservationist among us? He actually owns and restores these treasures of times past! Peter Troast of Energy Circle has been involved!

Most recently Sean posted some definitions about Historic, home ownership and compliance width various agency requirements!  After reflecting on the discussion It is time for me to pick up the pen for the next post!

During an energy audit of a existing home, I see any number of things related to the efficient use of energy. As I make my list of observations for further examination, I have learned to keep several parameters up front. These would be, in no specific order, Budget, desired outcome, safety, durability, and comfort. I also find it Imperative to remember that I am not in charge, the homeowner is in charge.

There are a number things that I routinely run into during an audit, that are not the most energy efficient. Some are predictable because of the construction techniques used during construction, or the type of construction, or the era in which it was built. Is the house timber framed? Wood stud? Brick clad? Is the house a craftsmen style from the early years of the 20th Century? Masonry Block? Post WWII tract type? Each of these have unique features as well as common improvements that relatively small changes will save some insignificant amounts of Energy. The improvement I can see and model may seem like a no brainier to me, but to the homeowner it becomes almost an insurmountable problem.

One of my first audits was a 1960 ranch with full basement. The homeowner is a young couple and he works construction. Their goal was to get plan of work for him to complete during his down time on the winter. One of the fastest returns for their money was to put some insulation on the basement walls. No problem with blowing into the finished walls. When the recommendation also included 3 inches in the storage areas on the bare walls, my easy to install efficient improvement ran right into the homeowners impression that giving up 3 inches of storage would be a major problem!

Anyone working in the energy improvement field must keep in mind: You must meet the needs and perceptions of the homeowner or nothing happens!  You can have the best ‘fancy dan’ plan with all sorts of neat figures , printouts and scientific backup, if you don’t meet the homeowners need, your plan is worthless.

Another audit was a very large home, 2 story, full basement, 3 bedrooms, 6500 sf!  I spent a full day on this audit. Presented the plan over 2 hours, and another 4 hours in follow up field work. The comfort concern was the 2nd floor rooms on each end of the home were hot in the summer and cold in the winter.  I fixed up a ‘fancy dan’ plan for him. Dropped his $6,400 annual energy bills to $3,200.  Solved his comfort problem with a recommendation to increase the return air in the effected rooms.  Estimated cost for the additional returns was $200.00

He cherry picked the added attic insulation, because he could see the problems.  He did it fast, and soon.  It met his real need which I finally discovered on the 4th visit.  He really didn’t think his energy bills were that high.

Therefore, anyone wishing to complete a DER for a home, must have the Home Owners Approval, and that approval meets the perceived needs of the homeowner – it will not necessarily meet the perceived needs of the ‘Energy Guy’ writing the plan.  You should think of this as “Rule #1”, when all else fails remember Rule #1.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Second Point of this post is about the Deep in a DER.  Deep Energy Retrofits should meet some type of savings across the board.  The Twitterverse lit up last night when @EnergyVanguard was Tweeted for people to give him a percentage.

Let’s look at Retrofit.

The implication is certainly not a rebuild, or a gut rehab. That would involve taking most of not all the exterior walls back to the studs or other type of internal framework and then rebuilding. If a DER was a Rebuild or a Gut Rehab, why would it be called a Retrofit.

Could you substitute reduction for retrofit? – Yes.  What about rework? Remodel?  Restore? All of those work for me.  They also all imply that the work is more of an improvement to the structure instead of a rebuilding of the structure.

Now that the “R” in DER has been established as improving as opposed to rebuilding, we can move on.  “E” of course is Energy.  Which leaves “Deep”.

Asking how deep is deep reminds me of the wood turning question about gouges:  “How sharp is sharp?”  We have established some limits on Deep.

We know the structure is not going to be rebuilt, we know the structure is not going to have major removal of visible material, only for the purpose of installing energy efficient components, such as insulation.

We also can use ‘Deep’ as meaning not shallow.  Therefore Deep must involve a plan of systematic improvements that total to deep.  This plan will only be implemented as the home owner has the money/time/desires.  This may be over a period of years.  If a deep plan cannot take place over a longer period of time, then I must send you back to read  ‘Rule #1’!

So, deep means more than doing one or two things. It means having a plan.  A plan of improvements that can be phased over a period of years, if need be. A DER would not just involve equipment change out or windows, as most sales types would lead you to believe.  And deep doesn’t mean rebuild.  It therefore falls in the middle.

In the middle means a 50% maximum reduction.  Not being a one or two item improvement plan also means that it should be at least 30% reduction.  Which leaves reduction in what.

We are talking about historic homes.  These homes have history and therefore we know what the energy costs are.  The reduction must be calculated from historical that applies to that home.  Trying to bring in code becomes an exercise in futility.  We have already ruled out rebuilding. We also need to remember ‘Rule #1”.  How does this work out.

If we start with a home built in 1800, with a historical usage of $5,000 annual energy usage, what are we talking about in reductions of usage?  30% would end with a $3,500 annual usage, and 50% would be $2,500.  If you look at a reduction from code, then you introduce an additional step.  You first have to arrive at a code usage; then make the reduction.  So, if the code usage on this home comes in at $3,200, we have range of $1,700 – $2,250; if the code usage comes in at $4,000 the range would be $2,000 – $2,800.

That means we define our DER as:

  • A 30% or more reduction in usage compared to historical.
  • It means the DER is a plan that uses the concept of the ‘House is a System’. It must address the construction of the actual structure. It cannot just consist of generalities. Timberframe is different from Balloon Framing which is different from a 50 year old American Suburban ranch.
  • It allows various parts of the plan to be implemented in phases.
  • And last, but really first – we acknowledge ‘Rule #1’. The home owner is in charge.

 

Deep Energy Retrofits – A Twitter Conversation

My first Twitter Follower was SLS Construction.  He posted on his blog tonight about a Twitter Convo that I was participating in.

You can read Sean’s Blog Post here.  He does a great job for homeowners in general and for Energy Efficiency.

I jumped into a conversation between my friend John Poole of Derby, Connecticut and Peter Troast of Energy Circle.

John lives in a Derby that is very old.  In Connecticut they have houses that are 200 – 300 years old.  I live in Derby that is not so old. In Kansas and we do not have houses that old. John has a blog about preserving those old houses.  You can read John’s Blog here.  He has a neat Point of View and some very good experience.

Peter is CEO of Energy Circle. They work at explaining problems in building science, and providing real, actionable insights for homeowners to increase the energy efficiency of their homes. Energy Circle also provides energy efficient devices and products for consumers and marketing services to Energy Raters and Auditors.

Others that were mentioned in this convo were Chris Laumer-Giddens and Energy Vanguard.  Chris is an Architect and Energy Guy, Energy Vanguard, a twitter handle for Allison Bailes, is a physicist, energy guru and a juggler of some fame.  They hang out in Atlanta and other places, where Ya’ll is common.  You can find them at Energy Vanguard.

Here is a shot of part of the convo, just before I jumped in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Somewhat later, John (from Derby, CT) posted a link to the Wiki definition of a Deep Energy Retrofit.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_energy_retrofit

Wiki uses a 30% reduction in energy use as a line to define deep as in Deep Energy Retrofit.  I can accept a 30 % reduction for deep.

That level of reduction eliminates, in my climate zone (4), moving from an old 60 AFUE furnace to a 95 AFUE furnace, or a new AC unit, or spending a couple thousand dollars on windows, none of which will reduce an annual energy bill by 30%.  At this level, it would require air sealing work to reduce infiltration, insulation and then take a look at the equipment.

Any discussion of Energy Efficient Improvements, for me, also must involve some type of significant savings to cover the cost, and probably some work that will significantly improve the comfort, quality and durability of the home and the lives of the people living there.

Without going into too much detail in this post, that means most of the cost should be returned in energy savings in a reasonable time frame or work is done for the sake of doing stuff right.  Stuff is safety related, like fire safety, electrical safety or indoor air quality.

When the Twitter Convo seemed to hit the limits of the 140 char blog, Sean suggested that we draft our friend Leah Thayer to help out some how with the issues.  Leah runs the Daily 5 Remodel site and is a connector of people and ideas.  Sean threw out some ideas for a Blog Off type of pushing the 140 limit or perhaps some type of round table to do the same.

This post was to throw out two points on Sean’s wonderful idea and to keep the ball rolling

First the definition of DER – use the Wiki at 30%.  Second, the pushing of the 140 limit should be documented for ourselves and others.  I am open to the options, and look forward to continuing the extended convo.

Speaking of others, at some point AFF got involved with a comment about leakiness.  We all know and appreciate Alexandra’s and Kymberly’s efforts to keep us fit as a fiddle. AFF with her twin KFF are fitness and exercise (please excuse my use of the ‘E’ word?) gurus.

Thinking About Adding a Solar Panel to your Home?

Last weekend, I spent some time at the Wichita Area Builders Association Home Show at Century II.  I had been invited by Nick King of King’s Solar Wind Plumbing to help out and answer questions about Home Energy Audits.  I got to visit with a lot of interesting people coming through the Home Show. I also got to listen to Nick, Mark, Lee, Tom, Nelson, and Ellsworth about Solar Power for residential and other uses.

I went in with a lot of questions and got the answers.  For this post I decided to take what I learned and put it in a Q/A format for the readers of the blog.  So pull up a chair and read through the questions and the answers.  Then think about the potential of adding solar on your home or business.

Q: What type of energy do Solar Panels provide?

A:  Some panels use the heat from the sun to warm air. This can be circulated into the house; it can be stored in a thermal mass.  This would be a Solar Thermal type panel.

Some panels use the heat from the sun to heat water. The water can provide hydronic (water based) heat or hot water or both. This would also be a Solar Thermal type panel.

Some panels use the heat from the sun to generate electricity. This would be a photovoltaic  (PV) solar panel.

Q: How long does a Solar Panel last?

A:  Many existing solar panels were installed 30 years ago or more. These panels provided hot water or hot air.  Many are still in use and are expected to continue with minimal maintenance for years to come. There are no moving parts on a solar panel.

Q: There are Hail Storms in Kansas!  What happens to my expensive solar system when it gets hit by hail.

A: The solar panels are made of tempered glass. They are rated and tested for a one inch hail stone.  A couple of years ago, a commercial solar array in Texas was hit with a hail storm and stones the size of tennis balls.  A total of 600 panels on this system had only 2 panels damaged.

Q: How do you take care of the batteries, so you don’t have to pay the electric utility?

A: Actually, you want to stay hooked up the to electric utility so you can use them for your battery.  That means no replacements, maintenance expense or other cost.  Kansas Law now requires a 1:1 exchange. When you generate more than you use, the two-way meter, sends it out to your electric utility to deliver to someone else. When you need one, it trades one back.  The planning key is to know what time period your utility uses. Some run the trades for a month and then each month starts with a clean slate.  Some Utility Companies use a different length period, which could be as long one year. Other states may have very different requirements, so check first!

Q: Would my home be worth considering solar?

A: It depends on the solar conditions on your property.  A house with a small yard is best set up for solar by having a south sloping roof.  The sun lower in the winter, a south slope on the roof, helps maximize your solar generation. The other solar condition to consider is shade.  Some parts of your roof may be shaded by parts of your house or by nearby trees.

Q: Do you put one big solar panel or a lot of little ones on the roof?

A:  Most residential PV panels are 39×65 inches.  A typical installation may be 10 to 30+ panels. The actual number depends on your utility usage and your goals.

Q:  How do you figure out how many panels to put on a house?

A: How much electricity do you use? Then how much of the existing electricity that you have been paying for, can you eliminate through efficiency improvements? In this way, you can buy a smaller more efficient system.

Q:  What type of improvements that are energy efficient do you recommend?

A:  Efficient Energy Star appliances are a good place to start. You can look at your refrigerator, deep freeze, the garage refrigerator, and others.  You can look at your vampire loads and look at ways to drop these ineffective or wasteful uses.  The larger savings may be in having your home ready for solar by installing enough insulation or sealing up all the air leaks, and choosing the HVAC system that best matches your needs to efficiency.

Q:  What is the best way to make these determinations about the existing efficiencies of my home?

A:  We recommend a comprehensive Home Energy Audit!  It should include a Blower Door Test with an Infrared Camera testing for air infiltration.  Your auditor should computer model the energy usage on your home as it stands now, and demonstrate the savings of various improvements.

This video from the Department of Energy describes a good Home Energy Audit.

Q: How do I find a good energy auditor?

A: You can check with your Electric Utility Company. You can check with the Kansas Energy Office. You can also check in Kansas and nationally for an auditor with RESNET. If you don’t live in Kansas you can check with your state’s Energy Office.

Q:  I am renting right now and will start building a new home in about 6 months.  How do I make sure my new home is ready for solar?

A:  To start with you should begin planning your home to meet Energy Star Standards.   This would require an Independent Third Party to first review the plans for the home and then to inspect at various times during construction to verify the plans are being followed. As of January 2012, no city, county or other code enforcement authority, in Kansas, has adopted any Energy Code.  If they do in the future, a code requirement for energy would be a minimum requirement, and many of the better builders prefer to build a house that is better than the code minimums.

You can exceed Energy Star Standards to build a new home by having your contractor meet the requirements of the Department of Energy’s ‘Builder’s Challenge Program’!

Q: What if my roof is not the best candidate to mount solar panels on the roof?

A:  You can do a ground mounted system.  It depends on having ground around your home that is not shaded from trees or buildings. You can also calculate the amount of reduction in Solar Efficiency the shading causes, then you can determine if you wish to go ahead.

Q: How many volts does each panel generate?

A: Solar panels are becoming standardized by most manufacturers. A 39×65 inch panel, usually will provide 235 watts of power. You buy electricity from your Electric Utility by the Kilowatt Hour. That is 1000 watts over 1 hour. That means that 5 panels will generate about 1 Kilowatt Hour of electricity each hour the sun shines at peak value.

Q: Why do you say about?  Isn’t it exact?

A: The electricity generated by the solar panel is direct current.  It must be changed, with an inverter, to alternating current to match the electric set up in your home.  The efficiency of the inverter can vary by manufacturer.  The efficiency can be as low as 75% or as efficient as 92%.  I use a 92% efficient inverter.

Q:  Why do you say peak value?

A:  The solar panel generates the maximum power when everything works together.  At 9:30 the sun shines on the panel more directly then when it first started shining on the panel and thus the panel generates more electricity.

Peak Value or Power is also affected by clouds and shade from trees or buildings.  Ten years after you install your solar panels, the neighbor’s trees will grow and perhaps are casting a shadow on your panel. This will change over time.

Q: If a tree is shading my panel part of the day, how much would that really help in the winter after the leaves are gone?

A: The branches would average about 50% of the summer shade value in the winter. The exact amount would depend on the type of tree, how far away it is, and how large it is.

Q;  What is ‘Net Zero’ ?

A:  ‘Net Zero’ is a term that shows your home takes no energy from the utility grid over a period of time, usually a year.  It allows you to trade KWH back and forth, with the end result of no net purchases.

‘Net Zero’ does not mean you are not hooked up to the grid.  That would be termed ‘Off Grid’.

Planning for your home to be ‘Off Grid’ or to become ‘Net Zero’ is the same process with quite different approaches, efficiency parameters, costs and results.  ‘Off Grid is an approach that would appeal to a much smaller number of families than ‘Net Zero’. ‘Net Zero’ is much more affordable at this time than ‘Off Grid’!

Q: Do you have to have an All Electric home to achieve a “Net Zero” status?

A:  No, you can calculate how much extra electricity that your panels produce over your electric needs to offset the natural gas or propane used.

In Kansas, you only get credit for the number of KWH that you trade in and then take back out. Generating more KWH and sending to the grid is a nice thing; but to do this your array is more expensive and thus you have a ‘green payoff’ instead of a ‘cash payoff’!

 Q: Where are solar panels made?  Overseas, like everything else?

A:  You can buy Solar Panels made overseas.  You can also buy panels made in New Mexico or California. Those made here in the US are of the same quality as the imports and the same of better cost.  Also, the energy used to transport them to your home is much less, because they are closer to start with.

Q:  What do I get from adding Solar to my home?

A:  Take your pick!  Save Money!  Go Green! Cut the carbon footprint? It is the right thing to do!

What you get is up to you. You may choose to add Solar for one of these or another reason. The value is for you to appreciate.

For an additional view on Solar, here is a Blog post from Martin Holladay, blogging as ‘The Energy Nerd’.

Common Approaches to Heating Your Home: Part III

This is Part III of a 3 part Series.  Part 1 is here; Part 2 is here.

Hybrid Heat Pump

This choice is sometimes referred to as a Dual Fuel Heat Pump. It utilized both gas and electricity to heat your home. The efficiency of a heat pump is because at most heating temperatures, it moves heat from outside to inside.

Think about your refrigerator. When the inside warms up to 40•, the food risks going bad, so the fridge finds the heat and pumps in out.  Your food stays refrigerated. At 40• outside, a heat pump can find heat and efficiently bring it inside. This costs less than consuming natural gas, propane or electricity to produce heat in a furnace.

At much lower temperatures, a heat pump will need a boost to maintain the heat. This is an electric resistance strip heater. It is used in emergency and back up situations.

A hybrid heat pump uses a conventional furnace for emergency and back up. This is less expensive than electric resistance heat.

Your Choice

In our climate zone; I believe the rank of these approaches should be:

  1. Geothermal
  2. Hybrid Heat Pump
  3. Traditional Furnace / AC
  4. Air Source Heat Pump

This ranking is based primarily on Efficiency Issues with overall comfort issues second.  This rank considers only long term operating costs. It does not consider capital costs (installation).

There are two primary considerations for all of the installation and ultimately comfort issues.

  • The home must be ready for an efficient heating/ac equipment installation.  This means the thermal envelope must be sealed and well insulated. Your thermal envelope is defined as the basement walls, or crawl space walls, the wall above ground, the ceiling.
  • The calculations for equipment size, and selection must be done professionally. The use of a recognized computer program authorized by the ACCA (Air Conditioning Contractors of America); showing the Manual J calculations of the improved home for determining heat loads; and the Manual S calculations to select the equipment. You may wish to have your ductwork reviewed and perhaps resized.  This would call for calculations with ACCA Manual D.

The choice to go with Geothermal or ASHP would mean very little gas usage, only the hot water heater. That could be converted to electric with the ASHP. With a Geothermal Unit, you could utilize a system of hot water that is known as ‘de-superheating’.  It uses otherwise wasted heat from the Heat Pump unit to heat water.

The capital costs of these units in the Wichita area are estimated at:

  • Geothermal:               15-25,000 (open or closed loop)
  • ASHP:                           7 -10,000
  • Hybrid Heat Pump:    7 – 10,000
  • Furnace/AC                 7 -10,000

The Geothermal unit is considered to be a renewable energy source and carries a 30% tax credit, with no limit.  It is available through 2016.

Comfort Note: Conventional Furnaces blow heated air into the duct work at temperatures from 105 – 150; depending and the design factors of the furnace.  If you have come in from the cold and stood neat the supply register of a forced air furnace, you feel the heat.  A heat pump type of heating does not create heat to be blown into the duct work at these high temperatures, a heat pump typically blows air into the ducts at 85 – 105 degrees.  This change can cause people to not like a heat pump; air source or ground source. A hybrid heat pump would provide the same range as a furnace with lower outside temperatures.

Please post your questions below as comments!

I’ll Give You the Title to my Car for Some Heat!

It is cold here is Maine, there is snow on the ground and more is coming. My house is old and fuel oil is high.  I’ve had two loads this winter and my tank is dry. I’m using the oven with the door open and the dryer for heat to cut down on the amount the boiler runs. I have disconnected the dryer vent so the heat comes into the house. My wife is disabled and cold. Our Social Security doesn’t cover food and drugs and heat.  So, …. I’ll give you the title to my car for some heat!

That was the story in last Sunday’s NY Times article by Dan Berry.

Let’s bring this to Kansas.  This couple has started through the winter with an unpaid heating bill of $700.  It is not uncommon in that part of the country for homes to cost $2,000 to heat with fuel oil.  Most homes in Kansas heat with natural gas, their typical cost for heating the home and water heating is between $550 and 700 per year.  The cost of fuel oil has risen 18% from January 2011 to January of 2012.  The cost of natural gas is about the same, perhaps down slightly.  If you have propane instead of natural gas, the price range might be in the $700 – 1,200 range.

This is Tuesday night.  The Hartford’s situation has been pinging around some corners of the internet.  Energy Auditors, Insulation Contractors and others that work with improving home performance and lowering energy bills have not only been reading and discussing this story.  They have taken some action.

The first update is from Energy Circle and Peter Troast.

Wonderful news and potential progress for the 60 hours since we started reading the story.  I reading through this I see several takeaway points:

  • This couple will use less heat next year because their house will have additional insulation and air sealing of leaks.  That means it will cost less.
  • The generosity of some people across this country will provide payment for some outrageous heating bills for others that are unable to pay in that community.
  • Other homes need insulation and air sealing so they also can use significantly less heat.

There are some other articles out there.  Read what others are saying.

An Elderly Couple in Maine Offers to Trade Their Car for Fuel Oil, by Allison Bailes, PhD on the excellent Energy Vanguard Blog.

‘America has a heartbeat:’ Donations pour in for home heat, by Erin Cox, Sun Journal

Maine Freezes While Washington Snoozes, by Raymond J. Learsy, Huffington Post

This is the situation Tuesday Evening.  Future updates will be posted below.

 A Letter to the Editor NY Times from the Governor of Maine  Did he really say ‘Don’t blame me or the government?’

What is that I smell? Indoor Air Quality!

 

Improvement of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is of interest to many of the people that are pursuing an Energy Audit.  Over the last 40 years, many of the worst outdoor air pollutants have been controlled, reduced or eliminated as a problem.  New understanding of air pollution, new technology and new approaches have all had roles in these improvements.

As the improvement has been happening outside, people have begun to take a stronger look at what is happening inside their homes. Again new understanding of how a home works, new technology, and new approaches to handing indoor air have a role in improving IAQ.

In building a new home, following the Indoor Air Plus specifications, part of the Energy Star program, provides for long term Indoor Air Quality basics.  Following many of these specifications gives each homeowner a guideline to apply to improvements in an existing home.  It is easier and less expensive to build a home with these features. It is also possible to incorporate many of them into an existing home.

The list and discussion below provide information to homeowners about those improvements that are cost effective to implement and can be done over time or immediately. These are all improvements that will improve or maintain the indoor air quality and at the same time will improve the durability of the home.

 

Radon Control

Air Infiltration

Moisture Control

Pest Control

Heating and Air Conditioning System

  • Ducts are sealed in all accessible areas.
  • Pressure Balance Supply to each room and Return from each room. Use Jump or transfer ducts as needed to maintain balance.
  • Install a whole house type ventilation system to meet ASHRAE 62.2.2010 specifications.
  •  Spot exhaust fans in bathrooms, kitchen, laundry, dryer, central vacuum systems are exhausted to the outside, not into the area between floors or the attic. Use the specifications of ASHRAE 62.2.2010 here as well.
  • Adjust HVAC to maximize dehumidification in the summer.
  • Do not run HVAC blower on ‘On’ or circulate; use the Auto setting.

Combustion Pollutant Sources

  • Change furnace to sealed combustion unit
  • Vent Fireplaces outside and have them checked to verify they meet emission standards.
  • Install a Carbon Monoxide Alarm in each sleeping zone and in any room with a standard gas hot water heater or gas range.
  • Consider changing conventional atmospherically drafted hot water heater to electric or Tankless Demand with sealed combustion.

The Attached Garage

  • Air seal all common walls and ceilings in the garage. Maintain the air barrier by repairing holes, cracks in the drywall.
  • Install an automatic door closer on any doors into the home, from the garage.  A spring loaded hinge will meet this item. Do not prop the door to the garage open or use this opening to bring fresh air into the home during spring or fall.
  • Consider installing a ventilation fan to the outside, rated at 70 cfm in continuous use. Provide make up air source with this improvement.

Materials used in any Future Remodels

  • Certified low-formaldehyde pressed wood materials (plywood, OSB, MDF, cabinetry.
  • Certified low-VAC or no-VOC interior paints and finishes used.
  • Carpet, adhesives, and cushion quality for CRI Green Label Plus or Green Label testing Program

Air Filtration

The last step in any Indoor Air Quality program is filtering the air.

Most people start with this step.  It is really the last step.  If you keep stuff from getting in, you don’t need to filter it out.  Somewhat like closing the barn door after the cow is gone.

Duct Cleaning Services

Due to the varied construction of heating and air ducts, the heavily advertised duct cleaning service presents unique problems. The use of panned body cavities within walls and floors means ducts are not smooth inside. Flex Duct with increased friction losses, possible tight bends and up and down runs also creates issues.  The EPA advice is without compelling visual evidence of an extreme problem, duct cleaning is not advised. You may view the entire EPA Web Page http://epa.gov/iaq/pubs/airduct.html

Where Do I Start?

Get some Professional Advice.  This should involve a complete review of your home. It can be done by someone that is selling a service.  The assessment can be done by someone that doesn’t not have a financial interest in a product or service that may be recommended after the assessment. It is your home, it is your choice!

Efficient Energy Savers can do this assessment. It can be done stand alone, or with a comprehensive Home Energy Audit.  Call or e-mail for more information.

My Nest Labs Thermostat – Week 1 Ends

 

 Last Saturday, I installed my new Nest Thermostat. You can read how that went   at http://bit.ly/yNhq3x .  It is billed as a “Learning Thermostat’, so I promised to let you know how the first week went.

Saturday and Sunday we just watched, as related in the previous link. On Monday night, we noticed the schedule had been filled in to some extent. The Nest was learning from our use over the weekend.

 

 

From the web interface here is the schedule the Nest thought we were following after two days of use.

Here is the schedule after I tweaked it a little. I filled in a few blanks and evened out some times.

My wife is somewhat more comfortable with the system.  She is checking it on her phone and even showing it to her friends. Last night she told me the wall unit is displaying some type of message. When I checked it today, the message said learning at home had started “Push Continue”. The next message said “Ready to Learn Away Schedule”, I pushed and the Nest will do it’s thing.  I’ll have to check regularly to see what it does next.

What have I learned so far?  The iPad or the Web Interface is the easiest for me to use to set and view the schedule. The phone is very handy to check the setting, to watch the outside temperature and to keep an eye on things.  On the smaller screen of the phone, turn from portrait to landscape view to see additional controls other than just temperature settings.  Under Settings – Technical, it will give you a reading of the interior Relative Humidity Level.

Monday through Thursday, we watched the settings change as scheduled.  The Nest was learning the settings for its ‘Away’ function.  Two times this week we have come home and found the Away setting triggered.  My wife is on my case. I need more info about exactly what that away function is.  I have the idea it should be like a vacation mode.  I am beginning to think it is more of a ‘not at home for a while’ mode. After reading a few other posts, I am wondering if it has to do with the function that turns the wall unit on, when you approach it?

Got up early Saturday morning.  I thought Tori might knock on the door selling those Wonderful Girl Scout Cookies! This is the weekend that Girl Scout Cookies can be sold! Headed out the door to see my dad and head for Woodturning Club.  Checked the Nest on the iPhone.  It is in away mode again!  So just 2 clicks and the temperature is set where I expected it.  LOML is still having a slow start Saturday.  Especially nice after her Fast Start Friday!  About 10:00 am from Turning Club, I checked the Nest and the temperature is up a degree.  LOML is up and around.

I just listened to the video on the Nest Site about the Learning Mode.  Away is when the Nest thinks the home is unoccupied.  During set up, you were asked to put in a Hi and a Lo.  So that is what is being used.

Following up on the video, I looked at the actual Nest!  The video went through doing everything from the thermostat, not from a remote device.  There are some differences in the interface, the ease of use was amazing.  You either turn the dial either way, or you push to click.  No double clicks.  The turning is not all that sensitive.  I actually under turned for a couple of tries. This is where you can change the Away Settings, not from a remote device. Right is a shot of the Nest with one click showing the menu.

 

 

One of the sub menus under Settings is Energy.  Here are two different shots of the Nest under the Energy Tab.

Sunday Morning, we were at church and the Nest went into away mode.  Nice to be able to control this on the phone.  The other blip was Sunday afternoon, the Nest lost the Wifi Connection. I ended up resetting the router. Nice to watch the Nest work as a regular non-Wifi thermostat also.

This is a thermostat that one week after installation, could be left with a parent living alone and a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease. In this case they could still run the ‘stat’ and see what they were doing.  You could observe from a distance, if you hooked up the wifi connection. Your parent could also control their thermostat. Here is the schedule that has been set from the tweaked schedule shown earlier. (These three images are from Laptop Screen Shots.) Also an image of the schedule on the iPhone.

 

I still like this item!  It is learning! It is easy to see the schedule on multiple interfaces.  It is not the small buttons with clumsy fingers, or a screen that is hard to read.  It is fairly intuitive.  If you do Time Share vacations, and come across one, it will not be a problem.

I have a few further thoughts on improvements, but those will wait and see if I can find some others. It also makes for another post.

And last but far from least, my neighbor Tori will get here!  I will get some Girl Scout Cookies.  Then I can show her my Nest Thermostat!

Insulation: Properly Installing Fiberglass Batts

The last two posts have concerned issues of properly installing Fiberglass Batt type insulation.  That discussion revolved around newly installed insulation.  Inspections were done after the insulation was there and before the drywall was installed.

In this post, I would like to address some of the problems I see after the home has been in use.  The Batts in these cases were installed anywhere from 10 years ago to 40 years ago.  We all have experienced the issues of time. What changes does time bring to a Fiberglass batt?  This leads to ‘Why proper installation is so important.”

I have audited home that were built more than 100 years ago.  My friend Bud, has discussed auditing homes that are much older, 150 – 250 years. A home lasts a long time.  Every month the home gets Energy Bills.  Are the Energy Efficient Features of the home keeping those bills at the level they were planned?  If a feature was improperly installed, probably not.

Best Practices for installing Fiberglass Batt type insulation include:

The insulation must be in contact with the Air Barrier.  In our Climate Zone the Inside wall is the Air Barrier.

This means the batts must be stapled to the face of the framing material; not to the side.  If you have the batts stapled that way, then they are not in contact with the air barrier.  This is illustrated in the Infared picture. Note the cooler colors near the top that are rounded and follow the framing down the wall, and the dark hole in the top of one wall cavity.

 

Batts showing air movement, not in contact

Batts not incontact with Air Barrier

A Fiberglass Batt must be covered on each of the 6 sides.

This one seems simple, in an exterior wall, the top plate, the bottom plate, the drywall, the exterior sheathing, and the framing constitute all 6 sides of the batt.  Now think about the wall that is formed between the end of the vaulted ceiling and the attic?  OK;  Drywall, Yes!; Bottom Plate, Yes; Top Plate, not usually; Framing, sort of; exterior sheathing, usually nothing.  So, we have 2.5 on these types of walls. Below is a picture of the end of two knee walls with no framing on a corner of a vaulted ceiling.

Knee wall from Attic Side

Solutions on Knee Walls:  Cover the top, back and the sides of the batts at the corners with an encapsulating material.  House wrap installed according to manufacturers directions is a good choice for an existing home.  Easy to get into the area and then apply.

A Batt should not be compressed.

OK!  Think about all the things running in walls.  Electric wires, pipes, CAT 5 cable; phone lines, cable TV, security system cables.

Poorly installed Batt Insulation

Poorly installed Batt Insulation

First, you have the installs that are done before the insulation is installed; typically the electric and plumbing.  The insulator can deal with these easily. The batt can be sliced, partly through, to allow the obstruction to pass through the middle, instead of stuffing the batt behind or pushing the batt into place on top the wire or pipe. It can be carefully cut to allow an electrical box.

Good Installation of Fiberglass Batts

Good Installation of Fiberglass Batts

For those tradesmen that follow the insulator, everyone else on the list above, it is not quite so easy. If they come before the drywall is up, then you may find holes in the kraft paper, and wires compressing the batt as it runs from 2x to 2x; or you may find something else. If they come after the drywall, your guess is as good as mine as to what the wall will actually be.

The infrared image below shows air infiltrating around improperly installed fiberglass batts on the other side.

Infrared Image Infiltration in Knee Wall

 

If you are renovating a wall in your house, and you choose to insulate; fantastic!  It will save you money.  Lots of insulation choices available, if you choose Fiberglass Batts, follow these concepts and you will maximize the effectiveness of your insulation.

 

The only other item you should do, when renovating and insulating is to air seal and stop those cold drafts. That is a subject of another post!

Thermographic Imaging

If you’ve been reading about Home Energy Audits, you’ve probably seen a thermographic picture of a home. These color pictures show temperature differences. The windows show up as white or red, the walls show a darker color. They’ve even been part of some TV Commercials.

Earlier this month the National Standard for Thermographic Imaging was published. The purpose of a national standard is to enable two different energy auditors to obtain valid results with the camera on the same building.

The use of a difference in temperature to show where a house is loosing energy is very interesting. It can be skewed, if the picture is not, taken with a proper understanding of the limitations and potential external causes of temperature changes. Wind can cause a change in the temperature difference. Is the wind blowing from the East and you are taking a picture of the North wall, so some of the temperature difference is blown away. If the wind is from the south, is the difference increased?

The answers to these and other questions will be revealed for me this week. I will be in Manhattan at the Kansas Building Science Institute, working on my certification as a Level 1 Thermographer.

I will try to post some information during the class, so you can follow along my journey.