Category Archives: Insulation

Question about Builders

google_adwordsGoogle Adwords is one way to promote a product or service.  I have used their approach in the past and currently have an ad campaign going. This campaign promotes New Home Buyers asking Builders ‘What is the HERS Score!’  The HERS Score is a transparent method the Builder can use to educate the buyers, appraisers and others essential to a success of the sales transaction.

I saw an interesting Google Referral today that is worth Blogging about.

The search term used was:  “Best HERS Rated Builder in Wichita”

The short answer is, there isn’t a best builder. That is because a HERS Rating is for a specific home, not for a builder.

images-1A HERS Rating looks at the features of a specific home and evaluates how well they are installed. The builder can specify a great furnace. The quality of the workmanship that is put into installing that furnace will effect the HERS Score.  Insulation is treated the same way.

The HERS Score shows the difference between two or more homes.  A new home buyer may be best served with a HERS Index in the low 90s.  A second new home buyer may be best served with a HERS Index in the upper 70s.

That reasoning, on the best Index Score, is best covered in another post.

HERS-scaleVAny builder can choose to build with either HERS Score above. Using one or the other does not make a builder better, it means the builder is meeting the needs of the buyer.

The HERS Score is a way of demonstrating transparency from the builder to the buyer to the realtor, the appraiser and others involved in the transaction.

What % Of The Cost of a New Home Cost, Does The HVAC System provide? 5%, 10% ,15%???

This question was raised this morning on one of the professional discussion forums. Below is my response. Included is a link supplied by Richard McGrath in another response.

Let’s use a water bucket and a faucet for an analogy.

Take a page from the British Navy a few hundred years ago. They learned to tar the joints of their wooden hulled ships. Perhaps that’s why British Seamen are called ‘Tars’.

taringshipIf you build your bucket with wood, you do something to stop the leaks. To use the bucket, you have a faucet to put water into it. If you put less money into the bucket stopping the water loss, you will need to put more water into it all the time, and need a larger capacity faucet. That will cost more money. The reverse is also true.

The question is ‘what should our faucet cost’? Most people would look at it and say not much! For a half million dollar house you might get answers from 2-4%. Some would say less. A faucet system is not just the part you see sticking out of the wall? The system includes pipe from the source of water to the house, to the various rooms where water is needed. You can’t buy a $10 faucet and claim to have a faucet system.

For this question, you can’t buy a furnace and AC unit and claim that is the system. You must have a Thermostat and some way to get the heat and cool to the various rooms of the home. For an effective faucet system, you put some thought and effort into the design. The same goes for an HVAC system.

What is the bucket in our house? Sometimes it is called the thermal envelope, sometimes Thermal Enclosure. It is formed by a continuous thermal boundary that is aligned with a continuous air barrier. Pretty simple in concept, Not as easy to execute. Put some time and effort into the design; then put some effort into the execution.

Choose your insulation types and amounts carefully.  Each have advantages and disadvantages. Air seal the building. All fibrous insulation types allow air to flow. That flow will decrease or eliminate the value of the insulation.

Properly flash and seal the openings for windows and doors. Specify the U-factor and SHGC for the windows. Calculate the correct overhang for the eaves. You want to have them cast a shadow over the whole window at noon on June 21st.

Properly air seal the home. Install your WRB (water resistant barrier) correctly. That means following manufacturer’s directions. Wrap types mean gasketed nails, properly lapped and taped with approved products. You can use factory applied WRB to the OSB or a site applied liquid to the house. Air sealing doesn’t stop there. Fill each 1 inch hole the electrician drilled with caulk or foam, most wires running through those holes are about 1/2 inch. Then seal the joints of the wall and ceiling drywall on the attic side. Caulk or froth pac work. You can flash 1 inch of CC SPF also.

Now your house, bucket, is not very leaky. So you don’t need a big faucet. Big faucets relate to size of the HVAC system, they also directly relate to the cost to install. You also have the cost to operate.

After you have a well built air leakage controlled envelope, then you can consider the HVAC system. ??Two choices to start with: Hydronic or Forced Air. Forced air is most common in this area, we will persue that route.

After choosing Forced Air, you can choose gas fired heat or an electrically driven heat source. Again 2 choices. ??With a gas fired heat source you will have conditioned air leaving the ducts at 100 – 110° F. With an electrically driven source the air will leave the ducts at 85 – 95° F noticeably cooler. That will make or break many people on their choice and ultimate satisfaction with their HVAC system.

Gas fired comes in primarily Natural Gas and Propane. Availability is the key here. ??If you choose a gas fired system – go sealed combustion on the furnace and either sealed combustion or fan assisted drafting on the DHW.

If you choose to go with an electrically driven system, you can choose a Heat Pump or an electric furnace. If you choose an electric furnace, IMO you will not be pleased with your operating costs. They will be through the roof and you will invest any capital cost savings in operating costs very quickly.

That leaves a heat pump with Two Choices. You can choose an Air Source or a Ground Source. ??With a well designed and built duct system, meeting the standards for leakage and design for the Energy Star 3.0 program; a ASHP with variable speed ECM motor (which may be overkill) including actual Manual J, S, and D work ups around here will cost between 9 – 15 K. A gas fired system will be very similar in price, as would a dual fuel system.

If you opt for a typical closed loop Ground Source set up, including all of the above, wells and piping your capital cost will run between 25 – 35K. (noted for the next 27 months a 30% tax credit is available, but not considered in this article.)

In this area new construction homes range from 125,000 to 7 million. ??So the lower end is in the 7 – 12 % range. The more reasonable price of 500,000 for a high end spec home in the area results in the 3 – 7% range.

The question of percentages is silly. Builders may like them, but most homeowners will have their eyes glaze over if you bring this up. The goal is to sell homes, not HVAC systems. A home is supposed to be comfortable. Many new ones are not. This link goes into depth on this issue. http://www.healthyheating.com/Thermal_Comfort_Working_Copy/comfort.htm#.Uj9kLr7D_5o

The equation of importance is capital cost to operating cost. Those are best approached with some modeling. I recently completed a model for a 3K sf home with R-25 ICF V 2×4 16OC construction. The operating costs were in the $1,500 range for our utility rates. The HERS Score was 54.

Substituting a GSHP brought the operating costs down by $200 per year and increase the capital costs by 10K. ??The customer opted for the ASHP and ICF over the GSHP and typical construction. He chose where to put his money.

I see a trap in logic using percentages. I provided new construction pricing around here. My cousin in California deals with homes on the bottom range in the neighborhood of 500,000. That makes a hugh difference in the % equation. So try rephrasing the question to get some more accurate results. Leave out the percentages.

Earth Day 2014

Everyone seems to have something good to accomplish on Earth Day this year.  Twitter and Facebook have had regular comments all day. Energy Star had a Tweet Up going online with people from all over the country.  GE donated some LED lamps for a give away.  So to get in the spirit, here is what I  accomplished.

image001Wichita Habitat for Humanity builds Energy Star new homes.  One of the requirements is to limit duct leakage, by strictly following Wichita City Code and all manufacturers instructions for materials.  The professional standard established by the Air Conditioning Contractors nationwide is 6% of system air flow. Energy Star requires 6 cfm (or less) of leakage with a duct pressure test for each 100 square feet of floor area.  This home tested at 50% of the Energy Star Requirement.  The system tested at 5% of system airflow.  Great work!  The mechanical contractor on this house is Cook’s HVAC of Wichita.

BDThis afternoon, I did a Blower Door Test. This test measures the energy loss due to infiltration.  This again, was new construction and the first HERS Rated Home in Wichita for the season. Wichita / Sedgwick County have not adopted the Energy code. If they were enforcing the 2009 version, this home would have exceeded the requirement by almost 50%. It is 20% above the requirement for an Energy Star New home.  Great Work! This shout out goes to a number of contractors.

1 Inch HoleAir Sealing has many pieces.  Framers, electricians, plumbers can all cause many problems for this test.  So when they cooperate to help achieve the end result, it is a good thing. Fibrous insulation (Rockwood, Fiberglas, Cellulose), by itself does not effect infiltration. Air will move through all of them. The insulators must install the insulation correctly. They must caulk many places. I observed much of this during my pre-drywall inspection.

IMG_6793I am sure Wade will pipe in here for a comment and a shout out for these subcontractors.  Wade Wilkinson is principal of GJ Gardner Homes of Wichita.  This home will be their entry in the Wichita Area Builders Association’s Spring Parade of Homes. You can read my Post on the WABA Parade of Homes

 

IMG_6788

 

Verifying good workmanship by builders and contractors is a great part of being a HERS Rater.  What did you do for Earth Day?

Features Most Likely to Show up in Typical Single-family Home in 2014

The National Association of Home Builders has a great research department.  I’ve learned a lot about building technology and marketing from some of their reports. They published another one today.

You can see the original on NAHB. 

Guess what The Energy Guy picked up on?  Only one guess now!

Features 2014

 

Five of the 18 items relate to Energy Efficiency. That is 27%.  One more study that shows the importance of Energy Efficiency to Home Buyers. The article is fairly clear there are many more features surveyed that ranked below this, these are the features a builder needs to provide and point out.

The last one lists ‘Insulation higher than required by code’  –  Since Wichita/Sedgwick County has not adopted an Energy Code this is up for grabs.  Until last year the recommended code for Attic insulation was R-38.  Most builders in the area only install R-30 or even less.  I’ve had several builders tell me they put R-38 in the attic and when I get to the attic, I see the Insulation Company’s Attic Card showing R-30.  One reason that Independent 3rd party Verification is important.  This is an important part of a HERS Index on a new home. The current code recommends R-49 in the attic. As energy prices go up, it makes more sense to have additional insulation.

There are two window items of interest.  First is the desire for Low E  windows.  This is a type of coating on 1 side of one of the panes of a double or triple pane window.  Which side and which pane it is on is very important.  On the wrong pane, the window is designed for Brownsville, TX not Wichita, KS.

Second is the desire for Energy Star certified windows.   Window requirements change with the climate.  If you are in Minnesota, your weather requires a different window specifications than the weather in Kansas. Keep in mind, that Oklahoma is a different climate for certification than Kansas.  I have found a number of new homes in Wichita, that are built with Energy Star windows, if you are in Oklahoma.Climate zones

Finally,  a Lo-E coating on the window helps in the summer time with solar heat gain.  Lo-E is part of the recipe for building a window. Residential windows are certified to Independent Standards and should carry an NFRC Sticker.  Again, checking the NFRC sticker for specifications is part of the Independent Third Party Verification that is part of the HERS Index.

Ask to see the HERS Rating on all new homes you look at.  If there is not a HERS Index, ask the Builder to place a rating on their work.

Fresh Air, Your Home, Your Health

It has been said over the years that houses need to breathe.

One of the first times that came up, according to Bill Rose in ‘Water in Buildings’ was during the 1930’s. It had become an argument between the house painters and those pesky Energy Efficiency Folks that were beginning to install insulation in the walls of homes. The 1930’s found our country in the middle of the Great Depression and who could blame folks for trying to save a few bucks! The painters were having problem with their paint peeling.  So they started refusing to paint houses with this new fangled insulation.  If you haven’t heard, insulation in the 1930’s was not new.

John PooleAs an Energy Auditor, I have audited some old houses.  This past year, I did one that was build in 1912 – 100 years old! And a beautiful 1887, two and a half story Victorian. My friend John (on the left)  from Derby, CT works on old houses. He has found insulation in houses that are older than any houses than I’ve worked on. People have lived around Derby CT, for a few years longer than they have Derby, KS. John really likes his old homes.  He would tell you that one built in 1887 is still somewhat new.  His current project is reported to have been built in 1700, or it may have been 1667.  He is still trying to figure that one out. In some of his old homes, he has found original insulation. He is not sure about the R-Value.  That of course would depend on how well it was installed.  What were they using way back then for insulation?  Good question!  Since Derby, CT is near the Atlantic Ocean, they were using Seaweed!  An original all natural insulation! And, if it got wet, it doesn’t mold!

So the painters were slightly behind the times in refusing to paint houses with that new fangled insulation in them. They thought the insulation was stopping air from moving into the house. And that was causing the paint to peel. Actually, the insulation was not stopping the air movement in or out of the house. You can buy furnace filters made of fiberglass as you can find fiberglass insulation.

I think the phrase ‘houses need to breathe’ is somewhat misleading at best. It is the things we all cherish in our homes need fresh clean air.  So somehow, we who operate the building, we call home, need to make provision for a proper amount of fresh air.

hallway Yes, air can come in when you go in and out the door. Maybe the question is, where is your door.  Does it go to a hall way in a high rise apartment building?  How about the attached garage?  What kind of fresh air might that be?  Can you open a window? Yes – many of us do!  Is that enough fresh air? Do you do it every day? Is it really fresh air?

What about your window?  My bathroom window opens. When I do open it, and the dryer is running, the dryer exhaust comes right in?  How about that dryer sheet smell and the moisture and the lint?  Got a swimming pool, or several water features in your yard? What about living near a large pond, lakeside or near a creek or river? The higher humidity in these areas can actually be measured and can get trapped near the soffit of a nearby home. Is that part of your fresh air?

1 Inch HoleIf you don’t make the plan of where and how much fresh air your home brings in, who does make the plan?  My guess is everyone does! Fresh air moves into your home, where it can find a hole. Since most attics are vented, they can provide a hole, then the electrician just drills his one inch hole and puts the half inch wire through it! And you have a hole. The plumber runs a sewer stack up the wall and out the roof. Did he seal around his stack? What about the furnace tech?  He runs a flue up through that attic, or out the rim joist. You can add Larry The Cable Guy, the IT Tech running Cat 5 cable, and the list keeps on going!

You choice now is:

  • Allow the fresh air needed by that which you cherish to come into your home any ol’ way someone lets it!
  • Seal all those accidental unplanned air movement pathways and decide for your self and those you cherish where and how much fresh air to bring in.

A Home Energy Audit — The Value

There is lots of discussion about Home Energy Audits. Utility companies may be providing them to their customers. You can find sources locally and nationally to provide you with one. There are sources online, and several outfits that will sell you a kit to ‘Do It Yourself’!   What should you expect from and audit? Is it worth the expense? Today’s post covers one audit and the results.

A homeowner called wanting to get a handle his old drafty 2 story all brick home.  He thought insulation in the un-insulated walls would help with heat and with the drafts.   He also wanted to know what else might work, and he was interested in how quickly any investment in his home might be recovered with savings from heat or cooling bills.

My visit revealed a nicely maintained home, with minimal energy efficiency beyond the current building practice of 90 years. There had been a few things done in the 1930’s and in the 1980’s that helped.

In discussing the concerns of the family, it was clear they liked their home very much. They had lived there long enough that through re-decorating, gardening and life – it was their home. Comfort issues were not the first concern. There big question was ‘what can we do to save some money?’.  In discussing that, the living room was mentioned as the room that was hot in the summer and cold in the winter.

The audit visit collected data from observation, my tape measure, some pictures.  I looked up in the attic, down in the basement as well as out and around. The furnace, AC and water heater were inspected. The manufacturer had issued a ‘Heat Rise” specification, so testing for that was part of the audit. There was a conventional water heater, and we did a ‘Worst Case Combustion Air Zone” test.

Finally, we would use a Blower Door and an Infrared Camera to measure and locate the potential drafts.

I found some insulation in the attic spaces, and confirmed the homeowners concern of un-insulated walls.

The furnace was within specifications heat rise.  The Worst Case Combustion Air Zone test passed.  The details on these tests and their meaning for a homeowner will be the subject of future posts.

We ran the Blower Door Test.  This test allows us to simulate a 20 mph wind on all 4 sides of the home and the ceiling at the same time. After running the test, standardizing the numbers for temperature difference, and accuracy; the house tested with a Natural Air Exchange at 1.3 times per hour.  The recommend rate without any type of added ventilation is 0.35 times per hour.

With the data collected, a computer model of the energy use in this house was created.  This showed insulating the basement would return the cost in about 5 years. Sealing the leaks revealed by the blower door test would pay off in about 10 years. The leaks were in the basement near the 1st floor; between 1st and 2nd floors and at the ceiling of 2nd floor or 1st floor where it was attic above.

Increasing the R-15 to R-60 in the attic would take 11 years to pay off. Improving a wall on the 2nd floor between a hall and the attic about 20 years to pay off.  And the exterior walls to be insulated would take about 99 years to pay off.  These periods all use the current utility rates, with no price inflation.

The homeowners contacted several contractors to obtain actual prices on the various improvements.  They chose to do some air sealing, insulate the basement walls, the attic, and the wall between the hall and the attic, and to install a new furnace and air conditioner.

After the work was complete, I returned to do a verification audit of the work. The new Blower Door test showed the planned 25% reduction was reached.  The HVAC installation included a new return line to the living room, which has reduced the temperature difference, so the room is no longer shut off on warm days in the summer or cold days in the winter.

BeforeBelow are two before and after infrared images. They show the 2nd floor hallway from the same point. The before picture was taken in February about 11:30 am.  This hallway is on the east side of the roof peak.

 

AfterThe after picture is taken in June about 5:00 pm. The February outside temperature was 46 degrees; the June outside temperature was 98 degrees. Both images were taken with the blower door moving air from inside the house to the outside; simulating a windy day.

 

 

The center of the clipped ceiling (diagonal slope) measures  78 degrees  in the before picture. In the after picture it measures 97 degrees.  So the outside temperature of 45 degrees before  work translated to a 33 degree increase passed through the deteriorated insulation.  After work 98 degree outdoor temperature translates to a 0 degree increase passed through the air sealed and new insulation.

If you look closely the air sealing could have been improved. The planned 25% decrease was accomplished.  It would have been nice to exceed the plan.

What good are the results?  The increased insulation is allowing the AC to work a whole lot less!  If the home had a 33 degree increase in June as it did in February – summer in Wichita would have been miserable in that home.  Also when the new furnace was installed the contractor running the new return to the living room, found a old return in the room that had no duct work. So he hooked up to that return grill for less than planned.  The living room is now comfortable.

Will your Home Energy Audit achieve these kind of results?  Perhaps it will!  If you would like to find out – give us a call.  We would be happy to discuss in more detail how your Home Energy Audit would work.

Water Pipes Freezing and Cold Weather is Predicted — What should I do?

When the recent cold snap with below Zero temperatures approached, I had several calls about the potential for freezing pipes and what a homeowner could do.  This blog post has compiled all those answers and some other information for easy access.

Things you should know about your water pipes.

Location:  Where are they?  Interior walls?  Exterior walls?  Typical plumbing runs pipes through the wall to the cabinet under (or behind) the sink, shower or tub.

If it is an interior wall, you have less chance of those pipes freezing, then if they are in an exterior wall.

Location:  Where do the pipes enter your home?  Into a basement?  Into the crawl space? Under your mobile home?

This can be a problem area.

The weather forecast says “Your Water Pipes Might Freeze Tonight! Knowing where your pipes are enables you to take some simple preventative action.

Open the cabinet doors by the pipes on exterior walls.  This allows the warmer air from the room into the cabinet area.  Check to see and remove any cleaners etc that a child or pet might get into.

Open a cold water faucet at the sink and let it drip slightly.  Moving water does not freeze. It doesn’t need to move a lot, just a little.  If you do this you may need to replace the faucet washer later. Small price compared to frozen pipes.

Don’t lower your thermostat temperature.  Bypass any setbacks on the thermostat. The amount of energy will be a minimal cost compared to frozen pipes.

Don’t leave home in the winter for any length of time *and* turn the heat down.

If your water supply comes in through a vented crawl space, close the vents.  Check to see that insulated pipes have intact insulation and that it is not wet.  Wet insulation is worse than no insulation. This also applies to mobile homes.

If your water supply comes in to a basement that is not heated, check as if it were a crawl space.

You get up in the morning and there is no cold water at one sink.

First try the other faucets to see if this is just at the one sink, or perhaps where the pipes come in.

Leave each frozen faucet open.  As the ice begins to melt, the water will begin to move and that is good.  Moving water will melt the ice faster.

How you identify the area where the pipe is frozen may vary, you will find it in an area that feels cold, and it seems logical to you that no heat is getting there.

You will have to search for the frozen section(s) of pipe. You can do this with your hand. If you touch the pipe and it is really cold,  you may be close or there.  Normally, water coming from a pipe that is under ground, will be between 50 and 55 degrees F. You will feel the difference with a frozen section or close to frozen section of pipe at 32 degrees.  You can also use a contact thermometer.

If you find no water at all faucets, then your frozen section is probably at a point of entry to the home. Older homes, prior to the 1940’s, that were built before running water was brought into the home, will have many varied places to look. If you have lived there very long, you probably already know. Otherwise, it will be in a basement or crawl space, or perhaps an exterior wall.  If you live in a home that is built on a concrete slab, your odds of a frozen entry pipe happening are minimal.

To Thaw the frozen section. Use heat!

Use a blower dryer, a heat lamp, some type of portable heater. You can use a towel soaked in very hot water, and wrung out well.

Do *not* use any type of open flame.  Pipes are almost always close to parts of the home that burn, and that is not a good thing.

Second, stay with your heat source and the frozen pipe.  If the pipe starts to leak during the process, you need to know so you can shut off the water.

When you get the pipe section thawed, and you have no breaks or leaks, great! If you get any type of leaking, get it fixed.

Prevention for the next cold snap.

You should follow the simple preventative steps listed earlier.

For a more permanent solution, you need to create a situation where the pipe section that froze is kept warmer. That means you add heat or insulation and stop cold air movement.

Pipe insulation from the big box or the hardware store could help.  Buy the correct size, it comes molded for 1/2, 3/4 and larger pipes.  This is a foam that you can easily compress.  So, fasten it snugly, but not tightly.  It should fit more like a nice sweater on your arm instead of a tight rubber band.  Since it is squeezable, it is open cell foam and will allow air movement through it. So I would wrap it with something to stop the wind. Tape would be easy, but you could use something rigid, like small pieces of plywood. For tape, you could use packing tape, or duck tape.

Depending on the location of the pipe section, some rigid foam, blue or pink board type, might work better. Typically this would be a pipe near an exterior wall, with room to put the insulation between the pipe and the wall.  You can fasten it to the wall.

Most of these will also benefit, and some instances will require additional heat.  So opening a cabinet door is something you might have to continue. Modifying any type of duct work is not recommended for directing heat at this type of problem.

This leaves those section in an unheated basement or a crawlspace.

You could add a heat tape.  Make sure you have easy access to this to turn it off after the cold snap and to turn it back on for the next one.  If you don’t, you will probably leave it on all winter and that is expensive. You also need to carefully check the sizing of any extension cord. If in doubt, hire an electrician to add an outlet, so an extension cord is not needed. Adding this type of fix is also something to keep your eye on and check regularly. It is a Fire Hazard.  I would not recommend a used heat tape.  Buy a new on and replace it annually, until you get a more permanent and safe resolution.

Permanent and Safe Solutions

These require some thought and planning. They may take a contractor to implement. You may find through the planning process, other problems that will be fixed.

Give me a call, if you have frozen pipes and want a permanent solution. I can develop a solution for you. Since I don’t sell the products you might use, I can come up with a solution that works for you! Not one that moves my merchandise.

What percentage of residential new construction cost do you think a high efficiency HVAC system should be? 5%, 10% ,15%???

This question was raised this morning on one of the professional discussion forums. Below is my response. Included is a link supplied by Richard McGrath in another response.

Let’s use a water bucket and a faucet for an analogy.

Take a page from the British Navy a few hundred years ago. They learned to tar the joints of their wooden hulled ships. Perhaps that’s why British Seamen are called ‘Tars’.

If you build your bucket with wood, you do something to stop the leaks. To use the bucket, you have a faucet to put water into it. If you put less money into the bucket stopping the water loss, you will need to put more water into it all the time, and need a larger capacity faucet. That will cost more money. The reverse is also true.

The question is ‘what should our faucet cost’? Most people would look at it and say not much! For a half million dollar house you might get answers from 2-4%. Some would say less. ??A faucet system is not just the part you see sticking out of the wall? The system includes pipe from the source of water to the house, to the various rooms where water is needed. You can’t buy a $10 faucet and claim to have a faucet system.

For this question, you can’t buy a furnace and AC unit and claim that is the system. You must have a Thermostat and some way to get the heat and cool to the various rooms of the home. For an effective faucet system, you put some thought and effort into the design. The same goes for an HVAC system.

What is the bucket in our house? Sometimes it is called the thermal envelope, sometimes Thermal Enclosure. It is formed by a continuous thermal boundary that is aligned with a continuous air barrier. ??Pretty simple in concept, Not as easy to execute. ??Put some time and effort into the design; then put some effort into the execution. If you are building with 2x4s use 24 inch centers, ladder connections for interior walls and 2 stud corners. Fill the extra room with insulation not wood. NAHB pioneered this in the 1970’s because of the high cost of framing material. ??You can install R-13 batts in those 2×4 walls, or you can use a blown in system. If you get the correct density and verify it, you can get R-15. You can choose a hybrid system with a 1 inch flash of CC SPF and blown in FG or Wet Sprayed Cellulose. R-17 or 18. ??Insulate the basement walls, crawl space walls and the above ground walls. ??Properly flash and seal the openings for windows and doors. Specify the U-factor and SHGC for the windows. Calculate the correct overhang for the eaves. You want to have them cast a shadow over the whole window at noon on June 21st.

Properly air seal the home. Install your WRB (water resistant barrier) correctly. That means following manufacturer’s directions. Wrap types mean gasketed nails, properly lapped and taped with approved products. You can use factory applied WRB to the OSB or a site applied liquid to the house. ??Air sealing doesn’t stop there. Fill each 1 inch hole the electrician drilled with caulk or foam, most wires running through those holes are about 1/2 inch. ??Then seal the joints of the wall and ceiling drywall on the attic side. Caulk or froth pac work. You can flash 1 inch of CC SPF also.

Now your house, bucket, is not very leaky. So you don’t need a big faucet. ??Big faucets relate to size of the HVAC system, they also directly relate to the cost to install. You also have the cost to operate.

After you have a well built air leakage controlled envelope, then you can consider the HVAC system. ??Two choices to start with: Hydronic or Forced Air. Forced air is most common in this area, we will persue that route.

After choosing Forced Air, you can choose gas fired heat or an electrically driven heat source. Again 2 choices. ??With a gas fired heat source you will have conditioned air leaving the ducts at 100 – 110° F. With an electrically driven source the air will leave the ducts at 85 – 95° F noticeably cooler. That will make or break many people on their choice and ultimate satisfaction with their HVAC system.

Gas fired comes in primarily Natural Gas and Propane. Availability is the key here. ??If you choose a gas fired system – go sealed combustion on the furnace and either sealed combustion or fan assisted drafting on the DHW.

If you choose to go with an electrically driven system, you can choose a Heat Pump or an electric furnace. If you choose an electric furnace, IMO you will not be pleased with your operating costs. They will be through the roof and you will invest any capital cost savings in operating costs very quickly.

That leaves a heat pump with Two Choices. You can choose an Air Source or a Ground Source. ??With a well designed and built duct system, meeting the standards for leakage and design for the Energy Star 3.0 program; a ASHP with variable speed ECM motor (which may be overkill) including actual Manual J, S, and D work ups around here will cost between 9 – 15 K. A gas fired system will be very similar in price, as would a dual fuel system.

If you opt for a typical closed loop Ground Source set up, including all of the above, wells and piping your capital cost will run between 25 – 35K. (noted for the next 27 months a 30% tax credit is available, but not considered in this article.)

In this area new construction homes range from 125,000 to 7 million. ??So the lower end is in the 7 – 12 % range. The more reasonable price of 500,000 for a high end spec home in the area results in the 3 – 7% range.

The question of percentages is silly. Builders may like them, but most homeowners will have their eyes glaze over if you bring this up. The goal is to sell homes, not HVAC systems. A home is supposed to be comfortable. Many new ones are not. This link goes into depth on this issue. http://www.healthyheating.com/Thermal_Comfort_Working_Copy/comfort.htm#.Uj9kLr7D_5o

The equation of importance is capital cost to operating cost. Those are best approached with some modeling. I recently completed a model for a 3K sf home with R-25 ICF V 2×4 16OC construction. The operating costs were in the $1,500 range for our utility rates. The HERS Score was 54.

Substituting a GSHP brought the operating costs down by $200 per year and increase the capital costs by 10K. ??The customer opted for the ASHP and ICF over the GSHP and typical construction. He chose where to put his money.

I see a trap in logic using percentages. I provided new construction pricing around here. My cousin in California deals with homes on the bottom range in the neighborhood of 500,000. That makes a hugh difference in the % equation. ??So try rephrasing the question to get some more accurate results. Leave out the percentages.

What Tools do you carry in your Tool kit?

I have all sorts of small items in mine; a list would include flashlight,  screwdriver, hammer, tape measures, wrenches, my blower door and infrared imaging camera.  Plus a bunch of flashlights. Yep!  A bunch of flashlights.  I like those everywhere, usually two at a time.flashlights

What kind of tools do you carry?

furnaceAn HVAC Tech might have the first part of my list, and a set of pressure gauges and thermometers instead of my specialized equipment.  Yes, I don’t really need his specialized equipment.

An Install Tech for an Insulation Company would probably have the general stuff and some specialized tools like an insulation blower, staple guns, and an air compressor.

Yes, the work you do requires certain tools. Most tools are fairly general and found in almost everyone’s tool kit, some are specialized to the work we do.

Now that I have pointed out the obvious, everyone maybe wondering why I’m thinking about tools and home performance. So lets connect the dots a little.

First, what happens if you get to the job and you can’t find a screw driver?  It has happened to me more than once!  I just hate that!  How many knife blades have we broken on our pocket knives when we find ourselves in that position?  We still have a job to do and the wrong tool takes longer, sometimes with banged knuckles.

What happens when the products or services we provide to our customers, can perhaps meet their need, like the blade on a pocket knife, but do not meet the need like a screwdriver?  That is the position many in the building performance are find themselves in.  They have a customer that is uncomfortable in their own home or a business with uncomfortable employees and customers.  How does the management design a solution for their techs to implement and thus satisfy their customer, making them comfortable again.  As a business, we each try to provide the solution to the customer from our stock.  That is how we get paid. You don’t pay the mechanic that fixes your car, when the plumbing needs to be fixed.  You pay the plumber, after the drain works again.

So you have a room that is Hot in the Summer and Cold in the winter?  Who do you call and what solution do the problem do you implement?Insulation Blown

If you call a Heating / Cooling contractor, they have equipment on the shelf, probably not insulation. So you will have a proposal to change your equipment for bigger units or perhaps to add a unit. The proposal will certainly involve equipment.  After all, if your mid size car gets you to the store, a larger car will get you there with more comfort.  Would you expect your HVAC contractor to recommend insulation?

What is the actual answer to to your comfort situation? Larger equipment with more punch or some insulation?  What if your solution does not involve either equipment or insulation?

Now we are back to the tools of our Trades!  What tools do you have?  Equipment, Insulation, Air Sealing, Windows?  The solutions you provide must involve the tools of your trade. That is why a savvy homeowner might consult with more than one contractor.  That is a great argument for savvy contractors to partner with contractors and others that work on changing the energy use in your home or business. Why should a good contractor limit themselves to providing only part of the solution.

Air SealingThis is happening in many areas of the country.  Contractors are partnering with others in their area to build home performance teams. There are contractors in Wichita that are moving in this direction.  I think that is great!

Deciding on the measures that will solve your comfort concerns, while bringing down your energy costs, involves a team that includes all of the contractors and a Energy Specialist that does not have a product on the shelf to sell you. The ability to recommend, without having a financial interest in the products, has been valued by many home owners. An Audit by Efficient Energy Savers, provides you with the independence in evaluation, and recommendations needed to get the answer you are actually looking for.

 

Build Your Own Home Energy Audit

A comprehensive Home Energy Audit takes time and covers a number of areas. It provides lots of information and recommendations.  A homeowner may choose to limit the inspection to those items of their concern.

The energy efficiency of each home combines an analysis of the components of the home and how well they are installed.  Think of a bucket of water, the bucket is the walls and ceiling of your home. A pinhole in the bucket will drain the water from the bucket and the heat from your home!

A Home Energy Audit looks at the ability of each building component to resist the transfer of heat. The air tightness of each component is also reviewed.

This post covers a description of each part of a comprehensive Home Energy Audit.

Pricing, previously contained in this post, is posted separately.

Utility Analysis

The actual usage over the last 12 months of Electric and Gas is compared to the home size and evaluated. This requires information from the Utility Companies.

Infiltration Testing                 

(Multi-point Blower Door Testing with Thermal Imaging and Indoor Air Quality Analysis)

Everyone has felt a cold draft at one time or another. Since the air blew in and the house didn’t pop like an overfilled balloon, the air blew out somewhere else.  This test simulates a 20 MPH wind on all four sides of the home at the same time. It allows an actual measurement of leakage and it identifies the leaks. This allows a specific plan for the leaks in your home to be fixed.

The recommendations will include effective measures to improve indoor air quality, not just install what the salesman has in-stock. If you have de-humidifiers running this Testing is important.

Ceiling Evaluation:

The ceiling and attic areas are examined for insulation, ventilation and thermal bypasses. This is done from the outside of the home, the inside in all rooms and from the attic. It may involve remote camera usage. If Infiltration Testing is part of the package, information from the Thermal Imaging portions are applied to the ceiling Evaluation.

Foundation Wall Evaluation (below grade):        

In most homes a major source of heat loss is from the crawl space, the slab or the basement walls. There are generically referred to as the foundation of your home. Traditionally, builders have confused the thermodynamic principles involved, with hot air rising and heat loss, to falsely assume that basements cannot be kept warm.

Wall Evaluation (above grade):

Homes over twenty years old, or homes with a major insulation failure may benefit from a specific wall evaluation for walls above grade.  It is part of a comprehensive  energy audit. All wall evaluations are conducted with Non-Destructive-Test Methods to start. Depending on the home, the type of construction, access to various areas, further testing that involves minor holes being drilled will be discussed with and approved by the homeowner before the end of the evaluation.

The condition and energy efficiency of your exterior siding is done at this point.            

Equipment (furn. AC, hot water):                    (Includes safety checks on Gas Fired Equipment)

Your heating and cooling equipment is a large investment. What are the efficiency ratings on your existing equipment and what is available on the market? How does a home owner sort out fact from sales pitch.  This inspection includes safety testing for gas fired equipment. Furnace, Heat Pump, AC, Hybrid Heat Pump, are included.

Windows and Door Evaluation:           

Windows are advertised everywhere.  On the Radio, TV, the newspapers and other print media all carry large volumes of sales pitch for replacement windows. The FTC has fined some window companies for outlandish claims on energy savings.

Are your windows an energy problem? Can those energy problems be fixed or should the windows be replaced? What is the best for my home?  Low E, argon filled, double pane, triple pane? How does a double pane window save energy?  All these questions and more are answered. And you get the answers from someone that does not have a financial interest in your purchase or non-purchase of a product.

Windows and Doors are both holes in the wall.  From an energy loss standpoint there is not much difference. Doors are not as heavily advertised, but they are pushed after the salesman gets to quote your home.          

Computer Modeling and Reporting

The Comprehensive Home Energy Audit provides a complete energy usage model and reporting of problems, recommendations and solutions. Interactions between building components are considered in the computer model. You can go from the report to soliciting firm prices from a contractor or doing it yourself with this report. This reporting will qualify for applying for and Energy Improvement Mortgage if you are buying a home, or refinancing your current home.

If you choose various parts of the Home Energy Audit, written reports and recommendations will also be provided. These will all you can go from the report to soliciting firm prices from a contractor or doing it yourself with this report. The reports are limited to the selections made. Interactions between building components are not considered.

Duct Leakage Testing Not included in the comprehensive audit.

Some comfort and energy loss issues involve improperly installed ductwork. Testing is easy. Fixing these problems can vary in complexity depending on the home.      

Lighting and Appliances Not included in the comprehensive audit.

Incandescent, halogen, CFLs, LEDs, which is best for your home?  Not every fixture needs a high efficiency light! Should I get a new fridge or other appliance?  All these are part of the Lights and Appliances.

Bonus Room (over the garage, or in the attic) Included in the comprehensive audit.

Rooms placed over a garage or in the attic are a special case. They are part of a comprehensive audit. They can be an individual item, with infiltration testing, due to the unique construction problems with them.

For more information or to schedule a Home Energy Audit:  

V / T  316 641-5258  or  email:  info@efficientenergysavers.com