Category Archives: R-Value

Hey! It’s Hot Out There! — A conversation with@KWCHDeedee

Interview

 

 

DeeDee from Channel 12 KWCH called Friday morning looking for someone to talk about holding the line on cooling costs as the summer heats up.  We met Friday afternoon at a home in NW Wichita. This 4 year old home was larger than most in the Wichita area. 1800 SF on the main floor with a full basement. The Heating and Air is provided with a ‘Geothermal’ Heat Pump.  This system uses the 55 degree water under ground to provide heating, air conditioning and during these oppressive heat days in July, 2016 – de-humidification.

When I got there, the HVAC techs were there working on the system. It had shut off. The temperature in the home was 80° F and the relative humidity inside was in the lower 50% range. They reported the system was now running and during my time with DeeDee we felt and saw the system working. After a couple of hours, the temperature had dropped to 78°F and the relative humidity was down to 48%. The outside conditions at 2:30 pm, while I was there were a temperature of 98° F and a relative humidity of 45%.  Remember that humidity is relative, thus a higher temperature has the capacity to hold more moisture.  At 8:30 am Friday morning the outside temperature was 81° F and the relative humidity was 75%. Much higher than the inside RH at the same temperature when I arrived.

Not Comfortable

Not Comfortable

I think everyone was glad that the air conditioning had been restored.

DeeDee wanted some quick, easy to do, items for any one to help hold the electric bill down during the hot days of summer.  So we went around the home and we looked at some simple, low cost, easy to implement changes that could be made. These would work in you home as a home owner or in a rental home or apartment. We also looked at several improvements that should be considered.

Where does our energy get spent? Here is a graphic that was in my training text.
HHPie

The variations in percentages are due to differing house sizes, energy costs and types, and lifestyle choices.

Under the quick and easy category, people usually look at lights, electronics, and the thermostat.  Each of these requires the person in the home to do something. Turning out the lights, or turning the TV off, or setting the thermostat higher in the summer.  All of them save energy and thus lower your bill.

I classify all of these and others under the heading of Conservation. Then there are those that fall under the heading of Efficiency. These are things like adding insulation to your home, replacing your weatherstripping on doors/windows, or replacing a furnace / ac unit that is over 15 years old.

The difference: Conservation is changing how people work! Efficiency is changing how things work!  Both are important.

A quick summary of the summer conservation items would be:

  • Turn things, like lights and electronics, off when you aren’t using them.
  • Turn the temperature in the house up and turn a fan on.  Ceiling fans are great. If you need some ideas on ceiling fans, I wrote about them.
  • Reduce or eliminate excessive heat sources in the home. Turning off lights is great. Changing an incandescent to a CFL or LED saves energy and reduces the heat put into the home.
  • Another Heat Source is the Water Heater.  Turn it down to 120 degrees. Most people take a shower at 105° F. A 50 gallon tank with a medium flow shower head will provide 1 person with a shower of more than 30 minutes, with a typical mid efficiency recovery time.
  • Cooking inside produces heat and moisture.  Use a kitchen exhaust fan to remove both of those. They make your AC work longer.
  • Use the fan in your bath room to remove the heat and humidity when you shower.
    • if your fans noise level bothers you, replace them with a quiet fan. In Wichita the bath fans are selected and furnished by the electrician. The code requires 50 CFM to be removed from the bathroom.  Since electrician’s are trained in volts and amps, our common practice, means the person selecting your bath fan will bring the least expensive one. You might consider telling your builder on a new home, to have the HVAC contractor bring a quiet fan that will actually remove 50 CFM.
  • Move tasks that generate heat, such as baking a cake or washing and drying clothes to cooler parts of the day. In the morning or after nine at night are good times.
  • Use a clothes line to dry clothes, instead of the dryer.  In the summer do not dry them inside. That will just increase the humidity and make your AC work more.
  • At least one area electric utility has a demand charge for using electricity in the hot day times of the summer.  It is not Westar Energy. If you use another electric Utility, check your bill inserts, check their website, call customer service, and know when not to use electricity. A demand charge is an extra charge for usage during a specific time. Instead of 15 cents, you could be paying several dollars per unit.

Turning electronics off, such as your TV or computer, also involves the various accessories.  Computers have a printer, and sometimes other items that are plugged in. Along side your TV is a cable box, a DVD player, and other plugged in accessories. using a smart strip will help. A smart strip is a power strip that is controlled by the main device in the group.  So you plug your computer into the primary, and the printer, the monitor and other accessories into the other plug ins.  Now when you turn the computer off, the smart strip shuts the accessories off.  The same with the TV, or a game center.

The longer term changes you make to your home, cost more, and can have a larger impact.  These are the efficiency items.

  • Buy Energy Star certified appliances when you replace your refrigerator, washer and other appliances.
  • If your refrigerator or deep freeze is over 12 years old, I would strongly recommend that you look at replacing it.  The technology is changing fast and competition is holding prices down. Those made in the last 2 years use considerably less electricity then older models.

The largest portion of your energy use from the Pie Chart (above) is heating and cooling your home. The chart shows 45 – 55% of your energy use for this.

The simplest, and easiest to work on, would be the insulation in the attic. Others would include replacing less efficient equipment, considering the use of an exterior solar shade, or other improvement. After the work is done, you can sit back and enjoy your home.

Exterior Shade is a great thing, sometimes easy to do. Trees placed with shade considerations are great. Sometimes the builder can build some shading features into the home.  A wider eve for example. 30 inches instead of the standard 24.  Then the gutter, all work to extend the shade. The link below is to an Infrared image of shade from some builder included features.

Follow Up Thought for Friday’s Summer Cooling Tips.

We did take a look in the attic.  I found an attic that could use some attention. Some levels were in the 14 inch range, some were in the 10 inch range. One place had obvious density problems.  Insulation should be installed consistently level, certainly not lumpy. The fibrous insulation, fiberglass, cellulose, or rock wool, must be installed to the density specified by the manufacturer.  If not, you are not getting what your paid for.

attic

This is the attic from the KWCH video camera. I am reaching into a hole in the insulation and I can see the ceiling at the bottom of the hole.

I found no insulation card in the attic.  I can tell it is fiberglass and it is white. In the past two weeks, I’ve seen 5 different types of white fiberglass insulation.  If you install Johns-Manville Fiberglass, the three products I’ve seen in the past two weeks require 20 inches, another 16 inches and another 11.25 inches of thickness.  These depths would provide an R-49 level of insulation. This has been the requirement for attic insulation in our climate zone.  Since there is no legal requirement for insulation in South Central Kansas, most new homes are insulated to R-30 or less.

Call IR

This was the Infrared Image you saw in DeeDee’s video. I have reproduced it here with the visual light picture to help understand what it is showing.

I would like to thank DeeDee and Betty and Jack Call for their hospitality and seeing their home. I offered the Call’s a no charge Utility Usage Analysis for their hospitality. I will go back with that when I get the gas and electric usage from the utility companies.  Jack expressed some interest in adding some insulation to his attic so I will get some quotes for them to consider.

You can view the story DeeDee wrote and the video shown on the 6:00 news at the KWCH website.

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

 

Insulation In Your Walls

Poorly installed Batt Insulation

Poorly installed Batt Insulation

I’ve been working with a local builder on his insulation.  He decided to upgrade his standard package of insulation for the walls in his homes. Most homes in this area are built on site with 2×4 walls.  Insulation is almost always installed in the cavity between the studs. The insulation most commonly chosen is a Batt Type insulation.  I’ve seen some mineral wool batts installed during construction in Wichita, most batts are Fiberglass.  They come in white, pink, yellow and a brown.  Color is from the manufacturer, think advertising.

I’ve been working with a local builder on his insulation.  He decided to upgrade his standard package of insulation for the walls in his homes. Most homes in this area are built on site with 2×4 walls.  Insulation is almost always installed in the cavity between the studs. The insulation most commonly chosen is a Batt Type insulation.  I’ve seen some mineral wool batts installed during construction in Wichita, most batts are Fiberglass.  They come in white, pink, yellow and a brown.  Color is from the manufacturer, think advertising.

The concern with a batt type insulation is how it is put in the home. Workmanship is always an issue.  Is it installed to hold the price down?  Is it installed to maximize the Energy Efficiency. There is no code in the Wichita area requiring insulation.  Until two years ago, the recommended code for our climate was R-13 for walls located above the ground. In 2012, the recommendation changed, primarily due to increasing energy costs. The change was increased to R-20. While this a large change of approach for builders that have not had to comply with a code, it is not unreasonable given the cost increases of energy, since the R-13 was set back in 1992. Batts

Here is a typical FG batt wall, from 2013.  Notice the compressed and poorly cut areas on the bottom of the right side. Not the gap along the right edge from the top to almost the bottom. Insulation is missing in places. This home had 74 square feet of missing insulation, because batts are hard to install with maximum energy efficiency in mind. How many places on this wall is the insulation not going to touch the drywall.

Batt sideThis is a shot of a wall built in 1965 with batt insulation.  Not much different from today. The installers stapled the batt to the side of the framing. You can see the gap along the side of the 2×4.  This space allows air to move inside the wall and prevents the insulation from working as intended. This can be a lack of training, supervision, knowledge or in some cases trades working against each other. Some drywall installers will not guarantee their work if the batts are face stapled.

This raises the question the builder was asking.  How do I install insulation to maximize the energy efficiency and maintain the drywall guarantee and not drastically change the costs.

The answer was a Blown In System.  Using a loose fill fibrous insulation the contractor can blow the fibers into a netting material stapled to the studs.  There are contractors that do this regularly with mineral wool, cellulose and fiberglass, the three main forms of fibrous insulation. The insulation contractor uses a Blown-In-Blanket© System.  These certified installers receive training and certification based on Professional Standards published by the High Performance Insulation Pros.  Here is their website.  BIBS Sink

This picture shows Blown-In-Blanket© System on a kitchen wall.  I chose the kitchen wall because all of the electrical and plumbing running through it  Very hard to properly install batts. Very easy to install BIBS and maximize the energy efficiency.  BIBS blown in at 1 pound per cubic foot in a 2×4 wall provides R-13 insulation. At a density of 1.8 pounds per cubic foot it provides R-15 in a 2×4 wall. These ratings have been verified using testing standards from ASTM C.665, and C.518. How does the builder know it was done right. Visual inspection helps and the contractor can weigh a cubic foot taken right out of the wall.

In my case as an Energy Rater, the HPIP Association has provided me with a Density Checking Kit to also verify compliance with their professional standards.

I leave you with two Infrared Images.  The Right is a wall with Fiberglass Batt Insulation. The Left is a wall with a BIBS installed insulation.  If the Heat Transfer Resisting properties are consistent over the entire wall, the color will be the same or close.  Take a look and decide for yourself which works better.

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 5.09.57 PM

 

 

 

 

 

Builders and Efficiency Advocates Reach New Homes Energy Code Change Agreement

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Press contact: Chris Potter, (202) 525-2883 x. 311, chris@imt.org

Builders and Efficiency Advocates Reach New Homes Energy Code Change Agreement ?Efficiency Rating System Proposal Would Lead to the Largest Triennial Energy Use Reduction in U.S. History

WASHINGTON (August 21, 2013) – Three energy efficiency proponents interested in stronger and more cost-effective residential energy codes have reached an unprecedented agreement with the Leading Builders of America, which represents almost 40 percent of the new single-family home market, to support a proposal that could save homebuyers about $850 annually and give builders greater flexibility to meet energy-saving targets.

Today’s announcement by the Leading Builders of America (LBA), Institute for Market Transformation (IMT), Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Britt/Makela Group comes in advance of next week’s (Aug. 26) publication of proposals to be considered by the International Code Council (ICC) in October, when code officials vote on proposed changes to the 2015 edition of the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC).

Duke Energy, Air Conditioning Contractors of America, Insulate America, and Masco Home Services have signed on in support of the agreement, along with almost 90 other utilities, custom home builders, energy efficiency service providers, homeowner warranty providers, and other organizations from around the country. (To see the full list of supporters, click here).

“This agreement is an example of what can be accomplished when diverse groups work together to achieve a common goal. The result in this case will benefit literally hundreds of thousands of homeowners for decades to come,” said Steve Hilton, Chairman and CEO of Phoenix-based Meritage Homes and chair of LBA’s Energy Working Group.

The groups are supporting standards to reduce energy use in new homes by about 20 percent in 2015, taking energy efficiency to a new level and representing one of the largest triennial reductions ever under the U.S. model building energy code. The agreement gives builders the ability to use a “whole house” approach known as an Energy Rating Index (ERI), which is a consumer-friendly benchmark that will allow buyers to estimate annual energy savings and compare efficiencies between homes in each of the eight U.S. climate zones.

 

“This is the first time that the nation’s foremost home builders—both large and small—have joined forces with efficiency advocacy organizations in support of stronger building energy codes,” said David Goldstein, co-director of NRDC’s Energy Program. “This shows that builders are responding to what new homebuyers want – houses that use less energy while keeping their occupants comfortable and saving them money on utility bills.”

Under the agreement, builders who select the Energy Rating Index option would meet specific mandatory envelope and hot water (such as pipe insulation) requirements, but have the flexibility to achieve the target ERI by the most cost-effective means available. One of the most common examples of an energy rating index is the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) administered by the Residential Energy Services Network. Over the past three years, “Certified Home Energy Raters” have used the index to estimate energy consumption of well over one-third of the new homes built. LBA reports this type of approach would add only $1,300 to the cost of a typical new home compared to $3,000 for meeting the current prescriptive standard.

If the ICC adopts the code change proposal (RE188) as part of the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), the HERS Index system could be used to assess compliance. The updated code would save utility customers an estimated $300 annually for a typical new house compared to the 2012 IECC, which has been adopted in only a few jurisdictions, or $850 compared to the widely used 2006 IECC.

“This would be a win-win for both builders and the people who buy new homes,” said Ryan Meres, IMT’s Code Compliance Specialist. “By using this simpler, consumer-friendly rating system, a homebuyer can understand the efficiency of the house and compare House A to House B. Meanwhile, this also would give builders more flexibility in meeting market demand for more energy-efficient living.”

For more information, see David Goldstein’s blog  or download the fact sheet.

I have written some comments in a subsequent post on the Blog, you can read here!

The Foundation of your Home: Slabs, Basements, and Crawl Spaces

What is under your home?  I hope you have some solid ground.  If you do great!  Now how did your home builder get to solid ground?

The first of a multi-part topic.
Left: Slab on Grade ready for walls. (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

That can be done with a slab on grade construction. It can be done with a basement.  It can be done with a crawl space. A home can use a combination of methods. It is not at all uncommon to see homes with 3 of the 3 approaches.

Above Right: A slab on Grade shows heat loss through the slab. This is under the front door. Inside temperature is 72 degrees, outside is 14 degrees. The cold (blue) pile is snow.

Basements are generally a below ground space that contain living area and is capable of being heated.  This does not include below ground spaces that are for storage or storm shelter. Basements may be full, view out, or walk out types.

Left: Typical craw space, showing rim joist. This has about 30 inches of concrete and a 2×8 floor joist.

Crawl Spaces are below ground space with no living area.  They are generally low head room spaces, hence the name – Crawl Space.  Some you can actually walk in.  I have seen several crawl spaces that are only 12 – 15 inches high, most are 30 – 48 inches high.  Crawl spaces generally have duct work for the HVAC system, plumbing, and wiring. Occasionally the furnace will be in the crawl space.

Below Right: This addition has 2×10 floor joists with support beams. It provides about 8 inches of clearance between the floor and the beam.

Many homes have a basement with crawl space. Builders in one geographical area tend to build with the same approach.  Another geographic area will find another approach being common. In places where the water table is only a few feet below ground you would be hard pressed to find a basement.  In places with large rock formations near the surface, the builder could use any of these approaches depending on how deep the rock is on the building site.  In tornado alley, basements are always welcome for a storm shelter, and some families use their crawl space.

How do these spaces impact the energy use in your home?

Depending on the age of the home, the below ground walls of the house could be of stone, block, rubble fill or concrete.  These are hard materials that have similar physical properties.  They have high thermal capacity; they will stand extended periods below ground in contact with dirt and moisture.

Thermal Capacitance

Thermal Capacitance is the physical characteristic of a material to hold heat. How long does an object stay hot after being heated? The longer is retains heat, means a higher thermal capacitance.

Above Right: The Rim Joist is where the basement window is. Note the heat transfer through this area. It is somewhat diffused by the brick veneer. Outside temperature is 20 degrees, inside temperature is 68 degrees about 10 pm.

Growing up in Southern Nevada, I lived in a house constructed of concrete blocks.  My bedroom was on the east side.  An 8 foot fence stood 4 feet from my bedroom wall. The sun did not shine directly on my bedroom wall until about 11:00 AM and by 1:00 PM it had passed over. I would go to bed at between 10:00 PM or 11:00 PM and the wall would still be well over 100 degrees. So that wall loaded enough heat during that 2 hour period, to still be over 100 degrees 9 hours later. If a material can hold heat like that, then it can also hold the absence of heat, or cold, in the same way. Concrete, and stone have a high thermal capacitance.

Any basement or crawl space wall will extend both above and below ground. It is not uncommon to see a wall 1 and ½ feet above ground and the rest below ground.  If that portion of the wall is un-insulated, the heat will flow through the wall. Heat will flow in during the summer and out during the winter.

The Infrared Image (Above Left) shows a concrete basement wall. The upper part is showing relatively cooler and the bottom relatively warmer. The mid-point of this image is about 4 feet below the top of the concrete wall. The outside temperature is 45 degrees. Imagine the difference at 20 degrees?

What can the homeowner or the builder do to these walls for energy savings?

Insulation is the obvious answer. What kind of insulation is a better question. I would specify the insulation, you choose, to be installed correctly, that it be durable and properly protected from damage.

Before we actually get the insulation, we need to make a stop.  Air movement through and around the insulation will significantly impair the effectiveness of the insulation.  So lets tighten up the area.  The first area to look at is the Rim Joist.

This is on the Rim of the foundation wall. The floor joists, 2×6 or larger or a truss system rests on the top of wall. If you look at any of your rim joist area you will see a number of things.

(Right) An IR image of a Rim Joist. Outside temperature is 70 degrees. This is a south wall and the sun has been shining on it. Lots of solar loading.

Usually your outside faucets come through here. The gas line enters the house at this point, the air conditioning copper tubing, and perhaps other utilities.  I’ve seen dryer vents installed here, and even the flues of conventional hot water heaters.  Those are usually easy to spot because the flue then goes up the side of the house above the roof.  If you have a tankless hot water heater, the PVC flue may well exit the area through the rim joist.  Then you have joints, knot holes and it is not uncommon to see actual holes where something was there and has been removed. All these holes and gaps need to be sealed up.

Remember that insulation does not stop air movement. Caulk is great for stopping air leaks.  You can use caulk straight from the caulking gun.  Some gaps, may need  backer caulk also called rope caulk.  This is ½ inch strands of caulk like material that you can push in by hand. Then come back over it with the caulking gun.  Smooth the caulk with a tool, or your finger to make it go a little farther, make it look a little better and to eliminate any bubbles that might have formed.

If the gap is larger you may wish to use some of the foam in a can. This one part expanding foam uses moisture to cure. Use along a rim joist would probably have enough moisture to cure properly. Take seriously the caution, to not wash with water if you get in on your hands or elsewhere.  Water will cure it.  It will take a couple of weeks to wear off.  If you don’t ask how I know that, I will not turn red in the face!

You can also use rigid foam on larger openings.  Just remember to caulk the edges.  Also remember to caulk the joint between the sill plate and the concrete. New builders use a gasket now,  a bead of caulk is always helpful.

If the rim joist has insulation, you can remove it to do the air sealing.  You can replace it after air sealing, just be sure to install it properly. It is most likely a fiberglass batt, it may have a paper backing on it, it may not.  The paper backing may be facing the inside or the outside. I’ve observed all these in the same house.  The paper backing is a vapor retarder. It should face the warm in winter side of the wall in this area of Kansas.  (Climate Zone 4)  The batt insulation should fill the space between the floor joists, the concrete rim and the subfloor. That space is probably 8 inches deep, 16 – 24 inches wide and 6 ½ to  24 inches high.  Most common would be 8x16x 7.5 inches.

Since the Rim of the foundation wall is usually 8 inches wide, that would allow, at R-3 per inch, insulation of R-24.  I see R-19 batts commonly used here, older insulation jobs or homeowner installed jobs will show R-13, or even R-11.   If you have a ceiling in your basement, you may only have access to part of this area.  You can work in the accessible area and make a difference.

To remove a finished ceiling and then replace after the air sealing and insulation is completing will probably not be cost effective, even if you do not consider the effort of the Do It Yourself labor.

This is the first of a multi-part topic. We will look at Basements, both finished and unfinished, crawl spaces, and slab floors each in more detail.

Insulation: Properly Installing Fiberglass Batts

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

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

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

Best Practices for installing Fiberglass Batt type insulation include:

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

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

 

Batts showing air movement, not in contact

Batts not incontact with Air Barrier

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

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

Knee wall from Attic Side

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

A Batt should not be compressed.

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

Poorly installed Batt Insulation

Poorly installed Batt Insulation

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

Good Installation of Fiberglass Batts

Good Installation of Fiberglass Batts

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

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

Infrared Image Infiltration in Knee Wall

 

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

 

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

Insulation: How To Do Business with Customer Service in Mind!

I do Home Energy Audits. When I am collecting the data from the home, I look at many things that effect energy usage. Equipment, Solar Orientation, Infiltration and the building shell (includes doors and windows), and Insulation are the major components.

I like insulation. A home with lots of insulation is like waking on a cold morning and feeling the warmth of the bed with the covers pulled up tight. Stick you pinky out or have the covers pulled and BRRR! Same with your home.

I like lots of insulation. The more the better. The only limit seems to be how many years will the current utility rates provide a payback. I try to keep my recommendations in the 10 – 20 year range. Beyond that, you can better spend your money for other improvements.

What insulation is best? All of them! I have yet to meet a bad type of insulation. All forms have their advantages and disadvantages. Some work better in one place, others in another place. Some work well in several places.

What differentiates the different types of insulation?
The color of the insulation?
NO!
The Manufacturer!
Probably not!
The installer hired to put your insulation in place!
Yes!!!! You’ve got it.

A good installer will install the insulation correctly! That means according to the specifications of the manufacturer and Industry Best Practices. Manufacturers specifications can be found on the Manufacturers website. Industry Best Practice can be found at Energy Star; Dept of Energy; and the Building Science Corporation.

When looking at different types of installed insulation – which is the one I see most often installed incorrectly? Fiberglass Batts!

Poorly installed Batt Insulation

Poorly installed Batt Insulation

This image shows an example. Compressed, miscut, uneven, stapled to the side of the 2x not the face.

Why are these problems not either following the Manufacturer’s Recommendations or Industry Best Practices? To maximize its effectiveness, Fiberglass batts need to be installed with no compression. The insulating value is their air pockets between the strands of fiberglass. Anything that results in compression degrades the performance of the installed insulation. In many cases badly installed insulation is no better than no insulation.

Good Installation of Fiberglass Batts

This image shows fiberglass batts installed correctly. The batt is cut around the electrical box, the wires do not compress the insulation, it is stapled to the face of the 2x and it is cut to the correct length.

So, what are the white spots in the photos? I took the brand name out. Why? My friend and fellow HERs Rater, Allison Bailes of Energy Vanguard recently received a letter from the lawyers for Guardian Insulation complaining that his blog post, similar to this one, defamed their product and their company! Why, because he left the name of the company on the picture of the batt that was installed in error of the manufacturer’s specifications.

    Why is the first reaction of some people to ‘call the lawyer’?
    Is that good business?
    Is that good for business?

I don’t know! No! No!

What could Guardian have done differently?

They could have supported their own manufacturers recommendations and worked to educate the installer to do a better job next time.

They could have a responsive technical assistance department to assist those installers and others who ‘want to get it right the first time’! Other manufacturers of Fiberglass Batts have these people – and they work well with those who ‘want to get it right the first time’!

Will Guardian continue with the lawyer track or move to a customer service track? Only time will tell.

For more information on the letter from Guardian and the story of batt insulation installed incorrectly you can go to Allison’s Energy Vanguard Blog at http://bit.ly/ueocQo

or Martin Holiday’s Blog at http://bit.ly/rs7HhK

The Unglamorous Conservationist

This article is a Guest Posting. I read this yesterday and thought it was very timely and appropriate with our current heat wave!

Originally Published: August 13, 2010 by kathrynkfletcher

Going green is trendy. Everyone is doing it. ‘Green collared’ jobs are the way of the future. Even oil companies are spending millions to convince us that they are green at heart. So we should all jump on the bandwagon, right?

Right.

But Scott’s post last Friday (Pruis vs. Home Energy Retrofit) brings to light an important issue – the best ways to go green are not necessarily the sexiest ways. Sure it is cool to drive around in a shiny, sleek new hybrid vehicle, but if you haven’t done the basics around your house it just doesn’t make sense. Which brings me to the unfortunate paradox when it comes to energy and water efficiency…

Even though it is fashionable to be environmentally friendly, some of the friendliest things you can do for the environment aren’t fashionable.

You can’t show off the new insulation in your attic to your friends, and I’m guessing that your neighbors aren’t going to find your on-demand water heater a particularly fascinating topic of conversation. Unfortunately, unplugging electrical devices when they’re not in use isn’t going to help your public image one iota, but all of these examples are very green… unglamorous, but green.

But there is an up side to energy efficiency that flies under the social radar … $ in your pocket, and I’ve never heard anyone argue that money isn’t sexy!

Dr. Kathryn Fletcher is with GreenHomes America [http://greenhomesamerica.com], a leading home energy retrofit company.

Energy Mortgages Part IV

Q: What training is required for certification as a HERS Rater?

A: The written standards are available on the RESNET website. Training includes principals of thermodynamics; evaluation of purchased energy amounts and usage; evaluation of building components such as walls, ceilings, roof, floors, fenestrations (doors, windows, skylights), crawl space and basements, ventilation standards, HVAC equipment efficiency determinations, and other types of building science. Diagnostic Testing includes Air Pressure Testing of the building using a Blower Door, and pressure testing of ductwork using a duct fan.

Q: Are there other National Organizations that can offer the type of HERS Rating required by Lenders?

A: RESNET is the national organization for certifying a standardized HERS Rating accepted by the Home Mortgage Industry, the IRS, the DOE and the EPA.

Representatives from the National Association of State Energy Offices and the Home Mortgage Industry formed RESNET in 1995 to standardize energy measurements and energy improvements to homes. Prior efforts had resulted in varied programs in some states and not others, and some municipalities.

Q: How is an improvement to a home calculated by the software as a cost effective improvement?

A: The software compares the projected cost of the improvement to the calculated annual cost savings. If the cost of installation and materials result in a favorable rate of savings in energy cost, the improvement is generally recommended. For example, the cost of $2,000.00 to insulate the walls of a 1960 era home and add insulation to the attic resulting in R-13 in the walls and R-50 in the attic could show an $800.00 savings annually. This shows a payback of the improvement in 30 months. Many simple improvements such as insulation, shell sealing, installation or replacement of weather stripping can show immediate results. After calculating these changes, it may become cost effective to replace the HVAC equipment with newer more efficient models that are correctly sized for the improved house.