Monthly Archives: July 2012

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.

Are You Going to Pay Me to Install Your Product? – Sales Claims!

I read a Blog Post from my friend Allison Bailes earlier today. He writes for his company Energy Vanguard.  You can read his Blog.  Lots of good stuff.

He ended the post today with this paragraph.

Really now. If a ground source heat pump is a renewable energy source, then so is a refrigerator. Can you see why this drives me crazy?

A few minutes ago, I was reading through my Twitter Stream. I ran across a Tweet that used a phrase, to quote Allison ‘This Drives Me Crazy!” Here is the Tweet:

     “If your central AC unit is more than 12 years old, replacing it with a new model  

       could save you 30%”

My question is 30% of what?  Your total gas, water and electric bills combined? Just your electric bill? or maybe just the cooling cost of your electric bill?

OK!  So, if it is probably a percentage of the cooling cost; where are they in this great country.  If they are where my friend Bud Poll can do their audit, well he says they don’t see too much AC in Maine! Down in the Texas Hill Country, they use quite a bit more! My friend Bob can do your audit down there. He says they don’t get much use out of their furnaces.  So which is it?  Wouldn’t it be nicer if these folks would give you a $$ figure?

Confusing, yes!  Now consider the other claims you hear!  A new furnace saves X%.  Added insulation can save you y%.  And let’s not forget those window guys! The will save you the most percent! If you believe the TV commercials.

Percentage Claims are meant to sway you to do something! They appeal to your emotions.  Because of the ambiguity they are not logical. Consider recent action over misleading and unproven claims by Window Manufacturers.  The Federal Trade Commission is charged with investigating complaints about Truth in Advertising. You can find the News Release and other info with a simple search on any of the search sites. Just use ‘window’  and ‘FTC’.

Window Marketers Settle FTC Charges That They Made Deceptive Energy Efficiency and Cost Savings Claims

Companies Must Have Scientific Evidence Before Making Marketing Claims

The release goes on to specifically target the percentage claims.

So when someone calls, knocks on your door or otherwise makes a claim that the product they are selling will save a percentage …..   think about it.

When I’m faced with claims on Twitter, mail coupons, TV commercials telling me how I can save 40% and 30% and 35% of my energy bills, I just have to ask:  “Are you going to pay me?”   Can you see why this drives me crazy?

Did the iPhone Change Your World? A Twitter Conversation continued:

In anticipation of the 5th Anniversary tomorrow of the introduction of the iPhone; there has been a lot of hype and retrospective pieces on what the iPhone has done.  At least two of those pieces claimed the iPhone changed the world.

Then in the Twitterverse here in the Wichita area a conversation developed.  @BaileyBlair posted one of those items.  So I read it. Then @seancamore disagreed.  And the tweet fest was on.  Later on @MWestMillennial entered to convo.

Interesting convo’s when you are limited to 140 characters.  Short, sweet, abbreviated.  Fun, but not really the type of writing I’ve enjoyed over the years.  So I thought I continue the conversation here on my blog.

I have attempted to reconstruct the conversation from my timeline and from my Mention Page below:  Read it and then my comments.

@BaileyBlair @EESavers Whatever. The WORLD has not changed. The way we communicate MAYBE but even then, only for participants.
The world we live and work in has changed. Speed of Communications! @seancamore: @BaileyBlair @EESavers Whatever. The WORLD has not changed.
“Our lives and our bodies respond to the stimulus around us. @seancamore: @BaileyBlair @EESavers Whatever. The WORLD has not changed.
@EESavers @BaileyBlair As per my original Tweet the way we communicate has. The world has NOT. Namaste.
@seancamore @baileyblair When people change their response to the people around them, the world has changed. Speed of Comm causes change.
The way we respond to faster comm. changed, the world changed. @seancamore: @BaileyBlair As / Twt the way we comm has. The world has NOT.
@seancamore @EESavers I concur. There was abundant asshattery before technology, we just didn’t broadcast it so loudly.
@EESavers @baileyblair No. Regimes and currencies falling change the world. The tactics for/speed of sharing that news don’t.
@EESavers @baileyblair You are not going to convince me. No communications tool since the first trans-Atlantic cable has changed the world.
@seancamore @baileyblair When people change their response to the people around them, the world has changed. Speed of Comm causes change.
@EESavers @baileyblair Right. The WAY we respond has not changed because of your iPhone. The tool you use to communicate has. We done here?
The way we respond to faster comm. changed, the world changed. @seancamore: @BaileyBlair As / Twt the way we comm has. The world has NOT.
@EESavers @BaileyBlair Did the world change w/ the arrival of delivery pizza? No. How we dealt w/ hunger did. You love the iPhone. I get it.
@EESavers Twitter etiquette, John. When altering a Tweet to shorten content, use MT. To change context DON’T. Do you know the difference?
@MWestMillennial Yep. Just ask @EESavers
Naw!  140 is a pain on this. So I’m thinking about a blog post! RT @seancamore: @baileyblair . We done here?

What changes the world?  Sean’s argument includes the Trans-Atlantic Cable, Regimes Falling and Currencies Falling.  He rejects our response to the speed of news because those are “tactics for/speed of sharing news”.

What?  The Trans Atlantic cable allowed news to pass from Europe to North America via telegraph in a period measured in hours. Previously the news was carried on sailing ships in a period measured in days or even weeks.

Then a few tweets later, Sean makes the claim that the way we respond has not changed because we use an iPhone.

I disagree with his premise and his examples.  I will also posit that trying to make an argument that hangs together in 140 character bursts is not conducive to logic, and consistency.

What is your world?  My world consists of the people in it and how they react!  Specifically how they react that causes an effect on me.

The people in my world are my family, friends, neighbors, and people I interact with every day.  Those writing a letter to the editor of the Eagle; those friends on Facebook; those that are in my Twitter Stream; those that read my blog; are all part of my world that day.

Some of what those people do effects my world.  Some of what they do doesn’t effect my world.  My neighbor comes over and visits for a while, it effects my world. When he mows the lawn, not really.  How much effect on my world did that conversation with him have depends on the subject. If we just talk about day to day stuff, it effects but doesn’t really change my world.

How would my neighbor’s visit change my world?  He could tell me something major.  The knowledge he imparted then causes me to something.  So what is major?  Tye:  “Hey John!  Did you know we’e got some poison ivy growing along the fence?”  Me:  “No!  Where?”

Since my wife reacts to poison ivy when she gets within 10 feet, I would be doing something. A lack of doing something, would change my world. Doing something would change it as well.

A few years ago, that information from a neighbor actually made that comment.  Gaining the knowledge caused me to attempt to eridicate the poison ivy.  My daughter was young enough and played in the yard, I didn’t want to chance it.  She did fine.  My wife on the other hand, came within 10 feet and reacted.

That incident has meant that I do all the gardening in the back yard.  Change my life – You bet!  If the neighbor had not passed the information on, I wouldn’t have tried the eridication and none of the rest would have followed.

I would suppose you could split a bunch of hairs or just one hair a bunch of times and say it wasn’t the information exchange, it was my actions.  That ignores the cause and effect of the information on my action.

Now the issue is not a neighborly over the fence visit.  It is the news traveling fast and the increased volume of news the iPhone has enabled.

Like the Trans Atlantic cable, people have many sources of quick news.  The claim is that currencies falling changes the world, but not the iPhone.

So lets look at Greece, real problems with their currency over the past year.  Has it fallen?  I don’t think so.  The problems with German currency in the 1920’s were much more severe than what Greece has been through lately.

The question is: What is your world?  My world consists of the people in it and how they react to the news about currency probems in Greece!  Specifically how they react  to those problems that causes an effect on me.

In the days of the Trans Atlantic cable, the news would have come to America the same day. With the speed of the cable, the news would have probably included several stories from different points of view. Those financial types in NYC would then read the news and the various stories and make some decisions and eventually the impact of those decisions would make their way to Kansas and effect me.

In the days of the iPhone, news would still arrive the same day.  News includes even more points of view.  Each of those points could come from an established source such as the governments and news papers of several European Capitols.  That would have been the source in the days of the cable.  Now, each blogger, tweeter, and so on; with the iPhone (or other smart phone) comment and offer a point of view.

The larger difference from the cable is the recipients.  Instead of a few NYC financial types reading the news the next day in one of two or three NYC papers; every banker and stock analyst across the country can read it.  They can read a variety of sources. They can read from a limited list of sources.

More to the point, they receive the info daily, or even multiple times per day.  They don’t have the buffer of time, the buffer of filters, they read it direct.  How much is wrong?  How much is slanted or spun?

One more example:  My wife interacted with her mother weekly. They wrote letters.  They bought stamps, and the mail came.  Great Stuff!  Now my wife keeps up with our daughter via the iPhone.

They text, they call, they use facebook.  All on the iPhone.  My wife knows much more about what her daughter is doing on a daily basis. Much more than her mother knew.

When my wife would talk in person to her mother, she would have to explain who this or that friend was.  My daughter doesn’t go through that.  She and her mother is friends with many of the same people on Facebook.

Has the iPhone changed our world.   Yep!

Shivering And Bowl Turning are not Compatible!

When I am not out auditing homes, or working with builders on Energy Star New Homes, I enjoy Woodturning! Making a bowl or other turned object is fascinating; it takes my mind from serious things and to important things. It lowers my blood pressure!

I have been using my garage to work with my lathe and the wood! It keeps my head from getting sunburned, and keeps the sun and weather off the wood waiting to be turned.  My. attached garage is 57 years old. The common wall between the garage had unsealed drywall on the garage side!  The exterior walls are open studs. The house is old enough the wall and  roof sheathing is 1x material. You could see the boards that were used to form the basement walls.  That is one form of recycling!

The use of 1x material, despite the recycling, is not the most green approach that could have been used. The garage has not really been usable in the cold, so 4-5 months are lost. I have tried various types of heating to allow work to proceed. It works with warmer, less windy days. This is Kansas and there aren’t many of those!

One of the personal goals involved in my becoming an energy auditor was to learn how to make my shop workable 12 months a year. My study of insulation types, heat loss, installation methods and costs, all applied to my quest!

I looked at installing Fiberglass Batts, inexpensive.  I thought about adding rigid foam, also inexpensive. I could do the labor on each of these.  Each of those would require a covering, at least for physical protection of the insulation, and ignition protection of the rigid foam. The same problem, of a protective covering would apply to blown in rock wool, fiberglass or cellulose. And yes, I could do those or contract them out.

Each of these choices must also have the insulation in contact with the Air Barrier, to work at the rated R-Value. In our climate zone, the air barrier is the lath and plaster, or drywall.

The other option, slightly more expensive than the others is commercial 2 part Closed Cell Spray Foam.  This product at 1 inch thickness provides an air barrier. The manufacturer’s material shows R-6.5 per inch.  So 2 ½ inches is about R-15.  And the air barrier and the thermal barrier are in contact thus forming a valid thermal envelope.  The underside of the roof deck and the walls could be done.  The actual time to install would be less than one working day.

So one March 1, the Foam Installer was here and sprayed the foam.  Following the weather in March we had several days the low temperature was in the 30s, with highs in the 50’s or 60’s.  By April the lows moved into the high 40s and 50s.

Now it is July and we have had highs in the triple digits or close for about three weeks.  Lows in the 70’s, a few 80s and high 60s.

How is the insulation performing?

The temperature in March never dropped below 50 degrees, even on the days with a low of 35.  One night I left a window open and the low of 40 did not drop the temperature below 55 after a 65 degree high.  That seems very satisfactory to me.

Since our high temperatures hit the 90s and then into the triple digits, I have observed a 5 – 10 degree delay in the temperature inside the garage.  I don’t have any AC there.  So a 103 degree day like today, the temperature in the Garage was 93.

I have two fans to create air movement.  One is a squirrel cage fan I purchased at a garage sale.  The other is a box fan.  I also can turn on the air cleaner hanging from the ceiling and it will move air around the garage. Use of the fans with doors and windows providing a source of air movement have made those triple digit days seem much more like 80 in the shop.

My choice to insulate my garage for use as a shop was not simply based on this type or that type of insulation.  It was based on how the wall would work with an air barrier and a thermal barrier in contact.

I could have used: Fiberglass, Rockwool or Cellulose with drywall covering. The time involved with any of these would work using a contractor or doing it myself and would have taken several days to a week.  Going the Closed Cell Spray Foam approach took less than a day, and I was done.

When winter comes, as it always does, I will watch and comment again. The old furnace is now installed in the attic of the garage to kick on if the temperature drops below 40 degrees.

One goal is to have a shop that is warm enough to work in all year round. Another is to keep the shop equipment above Dew Point.  That is the temperature when the humidity begins to condense on cold objects. In the summer we think of our cold beverages sweating .  Today the Dew Point was 59 degrees and any cold beverage, including tap water is colder than that. If the temperature of the equipment goes below dew point, the condensation will cause rust.

Rust on the shiny steel of the saws or the lathe is not good. So here is to keeping the shop above the dew point, and your cold beverage below dew point.