Daily Archives: April 19, 2014

What is that I smell? Indoor Air Quality!

IAQ1Improvement of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is of interest to many of the people that are pursuing an Energy Audit.  Over the last 40 years, many of the worst outdoor air pollutants have been controlled, reduced or eliminated as a problem.  New understanding of air pollution, new technology and new approaches have all had roles in these improvements.

As the improvement has been happening outside, people have begun to take a stronger look at what is happening inside their homes. Again new understanding of how a home works, new technology, and new approaches to handing indoor air have a role in improving IAQ.

In building a new home, following the Indoor Air Plus specifications, part of the Energy Star program, provides for long term Indoor Air Quality basics.  Following many of these specifications gives each homeowner a guideline to apply to improvements in an existing home.  It is easier and less expensive to build a home with these features. It is also possible to incorporate many of them into an existing home.

The list and discussion below provide information to homeowners about those improvements that are cost effective to implement and can be done over time or immediately. These are all improvements that will improve or maintain the indoor air quality and at the same time will improve the durability of the home.

 

Radon ControlRadon

Radon is colorless, odorless gas that comes up from the soil. It occurs naturally. Some areas of the country have very little. Some areas have more. Radon Mitigation System. The test then came back at “No Radon”.

Air Infiltration

AirInfil

Moisture Control

Water

Pest Control

Pest

Heating and Air Conditioning System

  • Ducts are sealed in all accessible areas.
  • Pressure Balance Supply to each room and Return from each room. Use Jump or transfer ducts as needed to maintain balance.
  • Install a whole house type ventilation system to meet ASHRAE 62.2.2010 specifications.
  •  Spot exhaust fans in bathrooms, kitchen, laundry, dryer, central vacuum systems are exhausted to the outside, not into the area between floors or the attic. Use the specifications of ASHRAE 62.2.2010 here as well.
  • Adjust HVAC to maximize dehumidification in the summer.
  • Do not run HVAC blower on ‘On’ or circulate; use the Auto setting.

Combustion Pollutant Sources

  • Change furnace to sealed combustion unit
  • Vent Fireplaces outside and have them checked to verify they meet emission standards.
  • Install a Carbon Monoxide Alarm in each sleeping zone and in any room with a standard gas hot water heater or gas range.
  • Consider changing conventional atmospherically drafted hot water heater to electric or Tankless Demand with sealed combustion.

The Attached Garage

  • Air seal all common walls and ceilings in the garage. Maintain the air barrier by repairing holes, cracks in the drywall.
  • Install an automatic door closer on any doors into the home, from the garage.  A spring loaded hinge will meet this item. Do not prop the door to the garage open or use this opening to bring fresh air into the home during spring or fall.
  • Consider installing a ventilation fan to the outside, rated at 70 cfm in continuous use. Provide make up air source with this improvement.

Materials used in any Future Remodels

  • Certified low-formaldehyde pressed wood materials (plywood, OSB, MDF, cabinetry.
  • Certified low-VAC or no-VOC interior paints and finishes used.
  • Carpet, adhesives, and cushion quality for CRI Green Label Plus or Green Label testing Program

Air Filtration

The last step in any Indoor Air Quality program is filtering the air.

Most people start with this step.  It is really the last step.  If you keep stuff from getting in, you don’t need to filter it out.  Somewhat like closing the barn door after the cow is gone.

Filters

Duct Cleaning Services

Due to the varied construction of heating and air ducts, the heavily advertised duct cleaning service presents unique problems. The use of panned body cavities within walls and floors means ducts are not smooth inside. Flex Duct with increased friction losses, possible tight bends and up and down runs also creates issues.  The EPA advice is without compelling visual evidence of an extreme problem, duct cleaning is not advised. You may view the entire EPA Web Page http://epa.gov/iaq/pubs/airduct.html

Where Do I Start?

Get some Professional Advice.  This should involve a complete review of your home. It can be done by someone that is selling a service.  The assessment can be done by someone that doesn’t not have a financial interest in a product or service that may be recommended after the assessment. It is your home, it is your choice!

The Energy Guy can do this assessment. It can be done stand alone, or with a comprehensive Home Energy Audit.  Call or e-mail for more information.

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.

Midwest AHSI Pro Home Inspectors Meeting

I have been attending the meetings of this group for about a year.  They meet every other month for dinner and a short program.  I’ve learned a lot from the group.  Information from the programs has helped with my Home Energy Audits.  I learned some things last night as well.

The Program was presented by Kerry Parham.  He has completed home inspections since 1978 and is a state licensed Geologist. He has been a home builder and a licensed General Contractor. His inspection company is “Terra Inspections, Inc” of Wichita.

He showed several pictures of roof damage, to new and existing roofs.  Some serious damage was found after he had been told the roof had been checked.

Most interesting were the pictures of electrical panels with Ground and Neutral problems. Several with his Clamp Meter showing current flowing to ground. Talk about high electric bills!  Makes a good case for proper monitoring of your electric bill on  a regular basis.

The pictures that were very similar to what I run into were about HVAC units. He showed several units that were installed in new and existing construction. There was no way they could operate and provide heat or a/c. I have found the same thing. From their reactions, the other inspectors in the audience had similar experiences.

Some of his pictures were from “Flips” and they became slightly scary, with some of the fixes.  Some of his stories were the result of well intentioned homeowners trying to fix a problem without the proper knowledge. Electrical, plumbing were two common ones, also attempted repairs to water leakage.

I also appreciated the pictures of replacement siding installed over obvious rotted exterior walls.

Thank You for the great information.  I always learn something from this group.