Category Archives: Uncategorized

Follow Up Thought for Friday’s Summer Cooling Tips.

DeeDee and I started outside. The info from the back deck did not make the cut and I let it slide when i did the blog summary of her story.  So …

Shade Works

This is an Infrared image on one of my first new homes.  The 2 foot cantilever bay clearly shows the effect of the shade. There is a 20° F difference in the temperature between shaded and unshaded areas of the wall. The high temperatures on the side of the house are in the area of 128° F.  It is 97° F when I took this one.

Shade works.  Building a new home with a south facing set of large windows. It is worth your money to have a deck with a roof, or pergola over it. If you have an existing home, the Pergola is a great idea.

Concepts like this have been recommending in my Home Energy Audits.

Quality Installation and Maintenance of HVAC Equipment

The news this month has multiple stories about Heating and Air Companies being very busy with units not cooling or not cooling enough.Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 8.49.56 AM Driving around town, I see most of these contractors have a sign out front looking for help. The wait time is up to two weeks.  In the 7 homes I’ve been in this week.  One had no working AC, one home was on it’s last legs, and two other homeowners were very concerned. For the 1st time in 7 years, I’m getting calls from my website asking if I can fix their AC unit.

This morning I found a report on HVAC Problems, Problem Identification and Repair.  I have scanned this 27 page report and these are the things that jumped out.

Background:  California has some of the toughest energy requirements for buildings, both new and remodeling of existing buildings. These is a direct result of the problems they had 15 years ago, with not enough electricity.  They resulted to black outs, (Utilitys were allowed to shut off electricity to various geographic areas).  and brown outs, (Utilities were allowed to provide only part of the electricity needed to a geographic area).  Both are not good.

These energy codes are generally referred to as Title 24.  A large part of the work in California the last few years has been testing and measuring how well the requirements are being met.  This report is just one small piece of that process.

Title 24 refers to the problems, their identification and repair as “Fault Detection and Diagnosis” or “FDD”

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 8.51.18 AM

The Report was working on the answers to these questions

  • Is FDD worth the investment, and what is the savings potential?
  • How effective are available FDD methods and what do they cost to implement?
  • What training is needed for effective FDD and is it being provided?
  • Are codes and standards working?
  • What are the major gaps and how can they be addressed?

This particular session and reporting was limited to:


  • System Types–new and existing residential only
    • Air conditioners
    • Heat pumps
    • Furnaces and air handlers
  • Fault Types
    • Low airflow
    • Refrigerant system charge, restrictions, and contaminants
    • Mechanical and electrical faults and faulty installation
  • Repair vs. Replacement Issues
    • Cost-effectiveness of FDD
    • Replacement refrigerants for R-22
  • Human Factors
    • Training and quality of maintenance
    • Homeowner knowledge and expectations.

The reporting included tests applied with standard AHRI methods. The tests were designed to determine the impacts on efficiency and capacity of a variety of conditions, including:

  • Airflow of 250 cfm/ton reduced energy efficiency ratio (EER) by 12% and has the potential to produce a false overcharge diagnostic due to freezing of the coil (the asterisk denotes an unofficial EER)
  • Liquid line restrictions (e.g. due to clogged filter-dryer or metering devices) reduced EER by 30% to 36% for non-TXV and TXV systems respectively
  • Only 0.3% Nitrogen in the refrigerant reduced the EER  by 18% with no TXV and 12% for the TXV-equipped system

Discussion pointed out that California Title 24 charge verification methods, which only measure superheat (for non-TXV) and sub-cooling (for TXV) systems, and ACCA Standard 4, for which only 3% of the procedures are related to energy performance. Also covered were  how improperly maintained vacuum pumps, test instrument error, and poor service practices such as use of rules of thumb contribute to the introduction of non-condensables, improper charge, and other faults.

John Proctor, PE presented a case for making improvements to California’s Title 24 standards, John worked with a team to inspect a large number of recently built homes to identify HVAC installation and performance issues. He began his presentation by defining an “incremental effectiveness ratio” that divides benefits of maintenance by the incremental cost to diagnose, repair, and ensure quality, which is fundamental to the question of the value of HVAC service. He proceeded to show a series of graphs from his experience and other studies that illustrate the deviations from the ideal for airflow, charge, duct leakage and efficiency, and non-condensables, as well as the incidence of occurrence of these defects.

For example, his graphs show:

  • 50% reduction in airflow reduces EER by 25%.
  • A refrigerant charge that is 70% of the recommended charge reduces EER by about 55%.
  • Leaving Nitrogen in the line set and coil at 20 psig before charging with refrigerant reduces the sensible EER by about 45%.
  • From his 2003 survey, more than 60% of the houses checked failed on refrigerant charge, airflow, and duct leakage, and more than 95% failed overall.

Many of these issues result from a lack of training and a lack of follow up by supervisors.

They had some specific things that could be done by builders, HVAC Contractors and home owners to ensure these items do not get missed.

I will read the report in more detail and have further comments.

You may read the entire report.

A Healthy Home Part 2: The Home Starts Out Clean

This should be a no brainer!  Have you ever walked into a brand new home and found it dirty?  I haven’t.  The larger issue is really two things:

  • What gets designed into the home to assist the homeowner to keep it clean?
  • What goes on in the home before the cleaning service arrives?

Is there a small dirt factory installed in each new home when the builder isn’t looking?  No?  Well how does all that dust and dirt get in there?  If there is no conspiracy among the cleaning products industry to put dirt factories in our homes, then the dust and dirt must come from outside.  If that is the case,  a clean home should attempt to stop the dust and dirt at the door!

Mat A sidewalk, driveway  or patio should be included to enter the home. This can be swept or hosed off from time to time. It also provides a place for you to put your Welcome Mat!  Having one by each door is optimal in keeping your interior clean. Everyone in the family should learn to leave the gritty stuff in the mat.  It also needs to be cleaned regularly.

The designer should provide some type of entry area for people to remove and store coats, out door type shoes or boots, like a mudroom, hooks, baskets, or entry closet. Some type of seating for smaller, and experienced people, would be a nice touch.

laminateInterior design should utilize easy to clean materials. Floors, window treatments, wall finishes that are easier to clean will get cleaned more. The current trend with hard surfaces, like laminate and hardwood, are perfect examples of cleanable materials.  The move from the shag type carpet to the berbers and other short napped carpets is also great for being easier to clean.

The use of semi-gloss latex paints instead of flat or matte finishes is helpful, because such surfaces are easier to clean using mild soaps. I know some interior designers will want to use the flat or matte types. Those should be limited to places that small peoples fingers do not try to decorate. If flat paint finishes are inevitable; wiping the areas down with a set sponge instead of a rag will help keep the finish intact.

Hole In WallThe other place to keep dust outside are the holes in the house.  Windows, places pipes, wires, and other parts need to go from inside to outside.  These should be sealed.  Most builders do a great job on these places in the walls.

Instead of covering the outside of the framing with 1×8 boards, as my home was, they use 4×8 sheet goods today. These provide structural strength and cut down on the holes for dust to get in. The use of house wrap type coverings also helps with dust control.

Infrared Image Infiltration in Knee WallThe remaining area is the attic.  This is a challenge for most builders. Some of it can be done before the drywall is up. That part is fairly easy.  Some of it must be done after the drywall is in place.  Attics are not exactly a great place to work. The work must still be done. The Infrared image on the right show air leaking into a home from unsealed attic joints. Yes, it is a cooling problem in the summer, it is also an opening for dust to enter the home.

1 Inch drillGap Not SealedHoles in the attic don’t have to be small.  The picture on the left shows one type of hole. These can be filled before the drywall is hung. They are some of the easier holes.  Electrical, plumbing and others need these holes. They also need to be sealed.  A little caulk or foam in a can does the trick. Other holes are smaller, and this picture shows them also.  Look carefully at the 2×4. On each side of the wall is drywall, (the white stripe) This needs to be sealed also. These holes occur on both interior and exterior walls. Both types of walls need to be sealed. Where do the wires go, light switches and plug outlets.  You have seen the foam gaskets sold at the home supply sections for these.  Sealing at this point is better, and in new construction is easier. The image on the right above, is a better image of drywall gaps. There are clearly two.  The first I saw from the attic side, because light from the room below was coming through. These were the small holes you see on top of the edge of the drywall. The flash on the camera makes them show as dark spots. The larger gap between the drywall and the top plate must be sealed also. Drywall Air leak

The thermal image above shows both types of leaks. It was taken during a blower door test from inside the home. The picture in the attic, above right, was the other side of this vaulted ceiling.  On the right side of the wall ceiling joint the air leakage is very defined, these are the small holes noted above. Climbing a ladder with the blower door running, allows you to feel the air movement.

The left side of the image shows the effect of the gap on the back side. The air movement fills the whole wall cavity and degrades the performance of any insulation present. This wall separates the garage from the house and was insulated. Because the attic was not properly air sealed at construction, the infiltration from air leakage, was causing the walls to leak heat as if they were not insulated at all.

The way to verify these holes, the big ones, and the small ones, are not left, is a Blower Door Test.   One of the last steps in finishing any house should be a blower door test.  The builder can use these results to verify the quality of workmanship from all subcontractors on the site. The homeowner can rest assured the builder testing all homes with a Blower Door is not getting a house with big holes. And the house doesn’t have very many little ones either.

A Blower Door Test is part of a HERS Rating on the house. The current cost of a new home in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, the cost of a blower door to the builder is rather minor, compared to the peace of mind that results from a job well done.

A short Blower Door Video on You Tube. This will open in another tab. It is less than 3 minutes.

This post on one in a series on Healthy Homes.



Using One HVAC System for Two Areas

My first audit was triggered by the homeowner concerned that the upstairs was several degrees warmer than downstairs. Since we all have experienced Hot Air  goes up, it makes some sense.  In this case the difference was 15° F at 8:00 am, rising to 20° F by noon that August morning.  Yes, it was hot.

4 square craftsmanThere are a number of ways to help this out, for existing homes. Which one is best depends on the specific home, the existing setup and the homeowner.  For new homes, it usually falls to the HVAC guys to work out.

In a new 2 story home, it is common to see two HVAC units.  One in the basement for most of the home and one in the attic for the second floor.  Some builders, concerned with cost, or space considerations, will try a Zoned System.  You can also find Zoned Systems in single story homes, with the master suite on one zone and the rest of the home on another zone.

furnace bypass zoneTypically, the set up uses a bypass and several dampers to control the air.  The wisdom of this approach is that changing the air flow through the unit costs a lot of $$$$.

In the video below, John Proctor, goes through the measurements and calculations of using or not using a bypass and dampers to figure out exactly what is happening.  His conclusion:  The Bypass Damper set up costs 22% – 32% more.

This video is primarily written for HVAC contractors and others interested in the details and workings of air conditioning.  If all the numbers make your eyes glaze over, that is OK.  All you want is comfort, a Bypass dampened system may do that at a cost. It may have the cost and not do that.  So if you are considering a Zoned HVAC system,  tell your contractor —  ‘No Bypass Dampers’!  And refer them to this post.

Turning a Bowl, Thought, Process and Life Lessons

Most posts on this Blog relate to Energy Efficiency and Homes.  One post pointed out how I depresssurized after a Home Energy Audit by running a Blower Door Test.  Another way for me to relax is to go out to the shop and work on a bowl or other turned item.  I enjoy turning wood. I remember doing some woodworking with my father growing up.  I enjoy the fresh smell of cut wood and the look is always unique.  I recently re-organized my shop and have been able to easily work in shorter, and more productive, sessions.

Last night I was working on a bowl.  Above Right on the right. This was was from maple that had spalted. During an Energy Audit, I look for the potential for mold to grow and make recommendations to eliminate that process. Spalting wood is a process where I want the mold and fungus to grow.  You get some really interesting patterns in the wood.

Left is Maple, right is spalted maple. Finding a piece of wood that has begun the spalting process is always neat.  The piece is usually wet or very damp. It is not in the bright sun. It looks stained or crumbly on the outside. The bark may be gone or partly gone. The best spalted wood, for turning, is still fairly solid on the inside.  This is very much like finding mold or a fungus in a home.  You just combine water, and a food source, usually wood.  The mold or fungus spores are always around.  So it starts growing. Remove the water or the food and it stops.  In a home we call that remediation.  I don’t know if wood turners have a name for it.

Each piece of wood is unique and each seems to have a mind of its own.  Last night I had removed the tenon that held the bowl on the lathe. I had started sanding the bottom. This bowl suddenly started to show its own mind.  Right. The center of the bottom, was not getting smoother, so I moved to a rougher grade of sandpaper.  Not much change, I moved down another grade.  Not getting any better. Geez, this is just a little spot, less than a inch in diameter. A little frustrating.

A look over to the side shows me this piece of a bowl. This one went flying when the hidden crack went ‘Crack’.  It went away from me.  See the second picture.  Yes, wood has a mind of its own.  Remembering the other bowl, tells me it is time to stop.

Tonight, I will work on it again.  Bowls, among other things, don’t like to be hurried.  I started this one in 2006 or 2007. It spent several years drying. Another 24 hours will not make much difference.  The wood has taught me that patience is rewarded. I have learned that lesson, and last night it was retaught again.  Not only with bowls, but homes, families and all over society, one must learn, and practice, that lesson.  If not, it will be retaught.

Addendum:  The next day.  Last night, I put the bowl back on the work space and worked some more on that troublesome spot.  It worked out and patience paid off.  When the final finish is applied and cured, I will post a picture.

What Type of Hot Water Heater Do You Want?

Vent 3Most homes in this area have a gas fired natural draft hot water heater. They come complete with a draft diverter.  The purpose of the draft diverter is to send the exhaust gasses (containing Carbon Monoxide, Sulphur Dioxide etc) into the home if the chimney or flue doesn’t allow them to go up. Left is a picture of a properly installed heater with a draft diverter. Note the space between the tank and the flue. That is the design that allow the noxious gasses to back draft into the home.

Some have been replaced with a power vented unit, which like your new furnace has a fan that starts the air going up the flue before the burners light. Some have been replaced with a Tankless Gas Fired Hot water Heater. Some people choose to use an electric hot water heater.  Any of these are safer then the designed to fail builders grade low priced natural draft hot water heater.

Now General Electric has come out with a Heat Pump Hot Water Heater. In the past they have been great for warmer climates than Kansas. The improved models now available are great for Kansas and other cold weather areas.

GE is going after the New Construction Residential Market with these units.  Over 50% of the homes built in the US in 2013 were trusted by the builder to obtain a HERS rating.  The attached video (advertising) from GE shows how this unit will lower the HERS Scores and thus the home buyers energy bills.

GE and other companies are planning to meet an April 15, 2015 deadline for increased efficiency in Hot Water Heaters.  This is the start.

GeoSpring for Energy Efficient Homes

If you have questions,  leave a comment here.




An Energy Star New Home

What is an Energy Star New Home?  It can be a lot of things. It is durable, the energy efficiency is built in as the home is constructed. It is a comfortable home.

In South Central Kansas, no City or County has an Energy Code in place.  There are fire codes, building codes, electrical and plumbing codes. There is no requirement for insulation, air sealing or other efficiency measures.

If you are interested in finding out more about an Energy Star New Home, you can visit the Energy Star Website.  You can also contact EES.  We do the Independent Third Party Inspection of your home during construction, to ensure the insulation and air sealing measures are in place, that durability is not compromised and that everything in your home works together. Our goal is not to sell you a home, our goal is to help you sort out the sales pitch from the reality of energy use in your new home.

For more information about an Energy Star New Home

V / T  316 641-5258  or  email:

Wichita: 2012 Energy Codes and Federal Energy Policy

Westar Energy 

Free Energy Efficiency Seminar 

2012 Energy Codes and Federal Energy Policy

On March 5, 2013, two sessions of this Seminar will be held at the Wichita Area Builder’s Association, 730 N. Main in Wichita.

7:30 –  9:30 am includes a Continental Breakfast

11:30 am – 1:30 pm  includes a Box Lunch

These sessions are intended for Builders, HVAC Contractors, Insulation Contractors and others involved in Residential and Commercial Building.

Discussion will also cover:

Appraisals of Energy Efficient construction and getting the recognition of the value built into the home.

Construction Details including the costs and health benefits.

IECC (Energy Code) Development from 2003 – 2012.

Internal Revenue Code Section 45(L)

Voluntary Programs for Builders to work with and find additional buyers.

CEU Credits Pending

These sessions are facilitated by John Nicholas, HERS Rater and Thermographer.

RSVP: Karen Smith 316 261-6570

Or  Visit

Ductless Mini Split Heating and Cooling – Is it any good?

I’ve had the concept of a Ductless Mini Split HVAC unit brought up recently. I’m out doing a home energy audit, I’ve been asked on Twitter and in other contexts several times.  A discussion on a Professional Linked In group and my follow up comment has resulted in this post.

First – What is a Ductless Mini-Split?  The simple answer is ‘One type of residential HVAC equipment’.  Other common types of residential equipment are Single Package Unit and a Split Package System. An example of a Mini Split on the right by LG Electronics USA Commercial Air Conditioning. The top image is what you see inside. The bottom two views are of the outside unit. LG is one of many mini-split manufacturers.

If you are building to Energy Star, your HVAC contractor must perform various calculations to figure the size of the units, set up the duct work and select the unit. These calculations are specified by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) an industry trade group. Known as Manuals J (size) D (ducts) N (equipment selection).

If the process and calculations, especially Manual N will show a Ductless Mini Split as fitting the need, great! An example of a Single Package Unit on the right. Outside both summer and winter.

If you are not building the Energy Star – the 2012 recommended Energy Code requires the same process.

If your jurisdiction has not adopted the 2009 or 2012 Energy Code, the prior Residential Mechanical Codes require ACCA calculations or similar. The outside condenser of a Split System on the Left.

Heating and Cooling equipment is routinely oversized in existing homes and in new construction. This approach avoids the math and fits the American image of ‘bigger is better’. It also avoids after hours service calls concerned with the home not heating up or cooling down fast enough.

HVAC equipment, just like your car, operate most efficiently traveling at a constant speed. For your car a highway speed without starting or stopping in city traffic is the efficient speed. Note the Fuel Economy Numbers show the best and the worst MPG figures for each model. At the right is an example of the inside unit of a split system.

Due to the variations in climate from South, with little heating and lots of AC; to the North with a lot of heating and no AC; ACCA uses a design temperature in the calculations. Essentially you can figure the design temperature for your area. The National Weather Service publishes the daily highs, lows and average temperatures for each weather station. The report you want is monthly and is referred to as a J6.

How to figure that is a little much for this post.

A properly designed HVAC unit, like your car will run constantly at or in excess of the design temperature. So these hot summer days, most of us are above the design summer temperature; your AC is OK if it runs all the time. Preventive Maintenance is needed for the HVAC equipment, not sleep.

All that aside; a ductless mini-split is a great choice for a smaller space. My experience with specifying these for Homeowners is that HVAC manufacturers and contractors dearly love them. They are priced accordingly. At the left, the outside duct of a Single Package Unit, typically with no insulation.


The Mini Split gets away from the use of ductwork to distribute the conditioned air. That is the strength. Most ductwork in our homes is not designed correctly, it leaks and requires too much fan capacity to distribute the conditioned air. In the right sized space, going without ducts has many advantages.