Category Archives: Infiltration

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

 

 

What is an Energy Audit Worth?

Hose and bucketSeveral years ago, I wrote a post about the value of an Energy Audit.

The story behind that audit was one side.  Improved Comfort. This time it is about the other side.  Decreased Cost of Operation.

An home energy audit reviews the ability of your home to retain the heated air from your HVAC System in the winter and the cooled air in the summer. The best metaphor I’ve seen is to compare the Thermal Enclosure to a Bucket of Water. The picture above is a good example.  The hose is like the HVAC System. It fills the house with hot air in the winter and cool air in the summer.  The Bucket allows the conditioned  to leave the home.

The result of the energy audit is to prioritize which holes to fix first, second and third. Some of this is about how big a thermal leak the hole is, and some of this is about cost.

Attics are less costly to insulate than walls.  There is room for more insulation, it is not a lengthy process, and there is nothing like patching holes after you have insulated.

This home had the improvements made as recommended by the audit, in February 2012.  The energy usage for 36 months prior to and now 36 months after the improvements is now available.

The 3 year average for annual energy use before the improvements is 34,972 KWH.

The 3 year average for annual energy use after the improvements is 18,940 KWH.

A decrease of 45% in energy used.  The bills are paid in dollars, so why refer to an energy measure.  Using energy measures means future increases in Utility Rates are not considered.  Will those increases happen?  Yes! Not counting on them is important. Did they happen during this 6 year period.  Yes, several times. So the results are about actual savings.

IMG_1272 copy

Here is Brian, blowing insulation into the walls. The walls before the work started were uninsulated. If this home had been stucco or brick, this step would not have been cost effective.  The material is cellulose, providing an R-13 in the wall. Cellulose is easy to install in this application. This crew had done this many times and the experience is worth a lot.

IMG_1340 copyThe image on the right is the attic. As you can see there is a little insulation in there before work started.  That meant the crew could do the air sealing first.  Fibrous insulation like the rock wool you see, or the cellulose that was added, does not stop air movement.  Warm air from inside easily goes up into the attic and outside. Good crews air seal before they insulate. They are already up there.  A caulking gun is not hard to carry along.  See those wires,  the electrician drilled a one inch hole to put the wire through.  Lots of air leakage.

Here is a picture I took last winter.  New snow the night before  on the roof of this house. Note the hole near the edge of the roof in the snow cover.  That hole in the snow is right over the outside wall and there is a light switch, or outlet on the wall below it.  Air Leak copy

 

Buying an Energy Efficient Home

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

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

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

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

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

Indoor Air Quality – Guideline Revision Public Comments Requested

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

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

Read Entire Article

 

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

AQM bitfinder

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read More – Take the link below)

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

WWII and Energy Efficiency of an Office

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

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

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

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

You can read the whole story here.

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.

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

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.

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.