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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Air We Breathe

So the joy of the season hit me last week and I got a cold.  It knocked me down for 4 days and I've spent the last 3 still trying to get my strength back and stop coughing.  It is amazing how much more I notice that the air in my house has issues when I am sick.
So 2 + years ago our AC(heat pump) unit gave up the ghost and was not worth repairing.  We got a company out and of course they sold us on the higher efficiency(14 SEER compared to lowest allowed 13) unit and threw out that Lennox(the brand we were buying) was having a special on their air purifier/ultra violet light unit that cost a pricey $1300 more, but had a $1000 rebate.  I of course wasn't thinking the best and said yes thinking cleaner air must be a good thing.
Let me summarize if I can what we learned from this choice.  I actually began to sneeze everytime the unit came on.  While we did notice that cold air was now coming out from the registers(big improvement from what we were paying for before), I quickly learned that the new fancy unit was actually creating new problems. 
Over time since it was built in 1979 with the poor building standards for the time, the materials in the house start to shrink and shift a little.  It took me a year and a half later to find the largest culprit of our grief.  Going from our front room to our kitchen the ceiling goes from being drywall on the bottom of a roof truss up to a vaulted ceiling framed with 2x8/2x10's.  At the transition from ceiling to knee wall the builder had placed some nice 1x10 pine trim pieces to cover over the turn in the framing.  What was actually there(discovered luckily changing a light bulb) was a nice 1/2" gap between drywall and the trim running for 10+ feet of wall. 
So everytime our efficient heat pump would turn on it was pretty much sucking dusty old air in the house through that gap as it was seeking to find balance between return air coming in and the air blowing to registers.  HVAC guys only test the unit itself during replacement so any leaks in the ductwork do not register with the tests they do to start up the new unit.  .
Thank goodness for spray foam insulation and caulking, I think I have minimized the attic dust, but now the air battle has moved to the weak spots at the single pane windows and ceiling fixtures put in after we bought the house to get fans in each room(and lights).
So things to be learned from this are:
-  Ultraviolet air purifiers while they sound like a great thing, really aren't worth much when added to an existing home unless it has been completely gutted and remodeled and ductwork installed properly, as well as balanced.  No matter how reasonable the sales pitch, it will cost you more than help you, just trust me.
-  Ceiling fans added in rooms can reduce energy costs by running them and leaving your thermostat higher(cooling) or lower(heating).  Just make sure that ceiling box gets sealed properly on attic side below insulation and caulked to keep air from being able to pass through. 
-  If you just have to add can lights, pay the extra money and get the IC rated ones so that the attic insulation can go over them.  The little extra money up front will save for itself when your ceiling doesn't have multiple holes through the drywall with open paths for heat to travel right through.  If you have existing non IC can lights, you can still baffle over them(no insulation still though) and stop air movement.  Even the IC rated ones may have holes through them that will still need to be covered to stop air flow.   (I'll try to get some Utube video links to show how to do this)

I've learned many other things from my disaster home, time to move on though so I'll wait for the next, I'll be a lot more informed this time around, hope you can to.

Good luck saving money and being more comfortable in your home.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Goals of an Energy Audit

Each home is a unique structure that offers varying options for improvements.  In my current neighborhood I can walk down my street and I know that the same home floorplan is repeating itself every 4-5 houses (thanks to the wonder of tract housing).  Since my home was built in 1979 and still has existing insulation levels(less than 6" in ceiling, R3-5 batts at firred masonry walls) and windows that are single pane, it doesn't take long to start compiling a list of all of the places that I am gaining or losing heat in my home.  Obviously the economy is currently a limiting factor in people being able to make home improvements, but sadly most people are unaware that there are inexpensive options that can still help lower their utility bills. 
The purpose of an energy audit isn't to tell you that your single pane windows and insulation are insufficient, it is to inform you of options available to you in terms that make sense.

Electrical usage-  including what part lighting(bulbs), appliances, electronics play in that usage and the factor most often forgotten: the heat that each component produces as it uses electricity and the affect that it has on your HVAC for the house. 
Gas usage: what your appliances consume with respect to BTU's(heat in most cases) they produce, the efficiency of the combustion process and the resulting air quality that exists in your home.  Not only do we check that gas burns efficiently, but we have the tools that allow us to verify that you are not losing it through gas leaks(if occurring within home) which cost you money and create unsafe scenarios.

Just remember while a home naturally is around a lot longer than a car, it still is important that we make sure it functions properly and do those alterations that will improve its efficiency and save us in the long run from wearing out the HVAC equipment faster than its intended life span.

I like what the Building Performance Institute states on their website:
"You understand that your car is made up of interacting components and systems – when one component fails, it affects the performance of the entire vehicle. Do you know that the same goes for your house?
High energy bills, uneven temperatures from room-to-room, drafts, moisture, mold, mildew, poor indoor air quality, ice dams, pest infestations, seemingly uncontrollable humidity levels and even premature deterioration of building materials can all be the result of a breakdown in the relationship between the systems in your house – the building envelope (shell), heating and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment and you, the occupants.
If one system has a problem, it impacts the other systems’ ability to function properly. Treating the obvious symptom without knowing the real culprit behind it can actually make the problem worse or create new problems. The process of elimination approach just causes frustration as you try solution after solution – investing more time, money and energy – without resolution.
Properly diagnosing and fixing the root cause requires a house-as-a-system approach based on building science.When you choose a BPI certified professional or accredited contracting company, you get a member of the elite – someone who has proven that they have the knowledge and skills to diagnose the root cause of the problems in your house and the ability to provide solutions to fix it right the first time.
That means you get your money’s worth – a comfortable, safe, durable home with improved indoor air quality and lower energy bills."

Here is a link to quick links for energy saving ideas you can practice right now.

Mark Evans

Thursday, October 21, 2010

GE debuting new hybrid light bulb

I just found this link on another website(blog), interesting info about another light bulb option out there.  I am anxious to research a little the product.  My wife has been receiving copies of an email from somebody who works with somebody who claims a CFL bulb in their house starting smoking and almost caught their house on fire.  I am suspicious of it being more than just a fluke accident knowing personally that CFL's don't dreate a lot of heat.  I am looking into any data out there to show any proof that this is happening to more than just this one person.  I still stand behind CFL's being a more energy efficient option for majority of lighting options(unless of course you have lots of money and you can buy LED bulbs).

Monday, October 18, 2010

Welcome to my Blog

For anyone reading this blog, welcome, I hope that the information that I can provide you will be beneficial and any questions you may have about saving energy can be answered.  I have worked with and seen all types of construction in my lifetime, while I have never strapped myself to a giant redwood in protest, I do believe that each of us does have a duty to be better stewards of the earth's resources.  While throwing more into our recycling can than the trash is a good first step, it really comes down to lowering the energy consumed by the buildings, which we all spend the majority of our lives inside escaping the elements or just working and providing for our families.  So with each post I hope to address real life situations and real answers, and if you ever see the letters BP it will be shorthand for building performance, not an oil company, which we all just can turn on the news if we want to hear someones opinion about oil.

Mark Evans
BPI certified Building Analyst and Envelope Professional