Category Archives: Indoor Air Quality

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

 

And, Ladies and Gentlemen, Here Comes The Sales Pitch ….

thermal metic headerSince 2007,  all of the large insulation manufacturers and trade associations have been funding research of the Thermal Metric Project.  This project was conducted by Building Science Corporation, a respected source of independence and factually based information about energy efficiency in homes and other buildings.Batt side

The project testing Spray Foam, Fiberglass, rigid foam and cellulose. It studied batts and blown in fiberglass. You can find their final report, issued in June, 2015 on their website.  There are a lot of detailed measurements, graphs and data in the report. It is a good report that will serve well over the years.  The headlines are now beginning to show up in various social media. These are taken from the Executive Summary of the Report. When you see these in literature or social media of either insulation manufacturers trade associations, or contractors —  take the presentation with a couple of grains of salt.

So which ones will be spun for public consumption and what can one do to avoid a sales pitch. Let’s look at the main conclusions.

  • When walls are constructed with the same installed R-value in the stud space, and are air sealed, both inside and outside (i.e. there is effectively zero air leakage through the assembly), they exhibit essentially the same thermal performance regardless of the type of insulation materials used.
  • All of the tested wall assemblies were subject to thermal bridging regardless of the they of insulation material used in the stud space. Thermal bridging through the framing resulted in roughly 15% decrease in thermal performance.

There are seven more bullet points in the Executive Summary that get more technical then most builders and almost all home buyers want to know. For those that do, it is another blog post or reading the report themselves.tweet1

Here is the Tweet that I saw this morning and thought it was worth a Blog Post.

Notice the comparison is Cost.  Does this cost include the cost of proper installation and air sealing?  I have no idea. Following the links back to the website, I did find a cost of $4,000 for the batt type insulation.  Nothing about the size of the home or other details to make a reasonable comparison.

There is also no indication that batts are rarely installed according to manufacturer’s directions.  In the picture at the beginning, the batt is not installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions. In this area Dry Wall installers, will not warranty their workmanship if batts are installed according to manufacturer’s directions.

15aI included the Project’s second bullet point about Thermal Bridging.  Too many times, we hear references to an R-13 wall or R-19 wall.  This only refers to the space between the studs, not the wall.  Thermal Bridging represents the decreased value of insulation because there is wood in the wall.  Wood is R-1 per inch.  So each stud is 1 1/2 inches of R3.5 in a 2×4 wall.  This is the 15% decrease in performance.

The 15 percent also uses the recommendations from NAHB from their 1977 research on Optimum Value Framing. The National Association of Home Builders conducted this research to find ways to remove expensive wood studs almost 40 years ago.  Wood Studs are more expensive now, and still increasing. This IR image shows batts not installed according to manufacturer’s instructions (The Dark Blue Areas). It also shows the wood framing as a thermal bypass, mostly green with some blue on the top plates.

In the end, for the home buyer, a way to sort through all the sales pitch exists. For new homes of half of the new construction in 2013 was verified independently by a HERS Rater.  I do this in the Wichita metro area for builders and new home buyers.

Previous Blogs of Interest:

Installing Fiberglass Batts

Insulation in Your Walls

 

 

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.

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.

The First Clothes Dryers to Earn the Energy Star Label Now Available Nationwide

ES DryerEnergy Star Press Release Date: 02/10/2015

Contact Information: Jennifer Colaizzi, colaizzi.jennifer@epa.gov, 202-564-7776, 202-564-4355

WASHINGTON –The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today that Energy Star certified clothes dryers are now available nationwide through major retailers. At least 45 models of dryers earning the Energy Star label, including Whirlpool, Maytag, Kenmore, LG, and Safemate, are at least 20 percent more efficient and now available at prices comparable to standard dryers. 

“Dryers are one of the most common household appliances and the biggest energy users,” said U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “EPA’s Energy Star certified clothes dryers offer Americans an opportunity to save energy and do their part to combat climate change. By working with industry, we are bringing innovative technology to market that’s good for the planet.”

Clothes dryers consume more energy than any other appliance in the home, and 80 percent of American homes have dryers. But unlike clothes washers, which have seen a 70 percent drop in energy use since 1990, the energy efficiency of most dryers has not improved. If all residential clothes dryers sold in the U.S. were Energy Star certified, Americans could save $1.5 billion each year in utility costs and prevent greenhouse gas emissions equal to the electricity use from more than 1.3 million homes.

The efficiency specifications were developed with extensive input from manufacturers, retailers, the U.S. Department of Energy, and environmental groups. Manufacturers meet the specification requirements by incorporating advanced sensors that more effectively detect when clothes are dry and stop the dryer.

Energy Star certified dryers include gas, electric and compact models. The Energy Star label can also be found on dryers that feature new advanced heat pump technology and are 40 percent more efficient than conventional models. Heat pump dryers recapture the hot air used by the dryer and pump it back into the drum. By re-using most of the heat, a heat pump dryer is more efficient and avoids the need for ducts.
For the complete Press Release:

Indoor Air Quality Evaluations

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

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

  • Not Structurally Sound
  • Not Healthy

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

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

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

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

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

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!