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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.

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