Building Science Summer Camp 2013

It’s that time of year again where some of the greatest minds gather in Massachusetts for The Westford Symposium on Building Science, or better known as Building Science Summer Camp.  This event is hosted every year by Joe Lstiburek, PhD. PE and his wife Betsy Pettit, FAIA.  This camp is an all-out building science geek fest where some of the top researchers present studies and new building products and systems in an effort to help design and build more energy efficient and healthier homes.

As this is an invitation only event, I am left glued to my seat to follow and decipher the presentations live, 140 characters at a time from its 430 attendees by following the twitter hashtag #bscamp.  However social media has increased access to this event yet again.  A big shout out goes to Michael Anschel and Stephen Davis for broadcasting live the now famous tweet chat in Joe’s crawlspace via Ustream. Follow their channels here & here.  Thus if you have any interest in the latest building science research, I encourage you to watch last nights crawlspace interview of Joe and to follow the #bscamp twitter chat as today is the last day of the symposium.

Video streaming by Ustream


Building Science Sunday – Knowledge & Practice

I recently read an article (here) from Dr. Joseph Lstiburek.  It wasn’t his overly technical type of writing diving deep into building science, it was more of his personal story of how he began his career and some of the great building science minds of the 60’s & 70’s that he had the pleasure of meeting and learning from.  Yes I did write the 60’s & 70’s.  Building Science is not a new thing, the topics Joe has been presenting have been done before, but no one was doing it and to this day building science is still a mystery to most of the design and construction industry.

Now what I took from that article is not the name dropping of who he met early in his career, but more of what he did with those connections and new found knowledge.  He applied it, he took what he learned from those individuals and put it into his then home building practice.  And to this day he is still refining some of those early construction practices. Read the rest of this entry »

Poor Planning

Recently I went to perform a home energy audit for a homeowner that was looking to take advantage of rebates from the local gas utility program that I work for to do air sealing and insulation work for the home.  Now when I arrived, the furnace was sitting in the front yard and there were 3” holes on the interior of the home in every wall cavity in preparation for wall insulation to be installed.  Not to mention the large holes in the ceiling for the new duct work to be installed.

So what is the issue you may ask? They made my job easy right; I have a clear view into the wall and well, to the underside of the roof as well as a matter of fact.  However it is the fact that when I showed up to the home the entire interior was gutted; the old furnace that was sitting in the basement is now on the front yard with a new one in the attic and brand new flexible duct work ready to be installed throughout the attic.  This is poor planning on the homeowners’ part that is going to cost them over the life of the home now.  Yes, they are going to be reducing the utility bills of the 1920’s home by insulating the walls and attic.  However it is not going to be to the fullest potential.  First there was no plan to provide any air sealing work that could reduce any potential moisture problems with air infiltration.  Secondly, by moving the 80AFUE furnace from the basement to the attic, it is going to reduce the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the furnace, air conditioner and distribution system as it is all going to be sitting in unconditioned space and see the extreme hot and cold temperatures.

Now all of this work is being done with a short time table, and from my brief time in the home, it looks like there was no overall plan.  By working with an architect and even an energy auditor before knocking down the first wall, there would have been a clear plan and better final product.  So it pays to take a little extra time to have a clear and concise plan because in the long term, the home will not only perform better, but function better for your lifestyle.

Home Energy Spiderweb

With Halloween approaching and seeing all the spider web decorations, it has gotten me thinking of home performance and how tangled of a web your home actually is.  Then I read an article a couple weeks ago about how a dual flush toilet could save on your energy bills.  You read that correctly, not your water bill, you energy bill.  In the home performance industry, it is taught or known that the house is a system and it works together as a sum of all its parts.  And as home performance professionals we try to educate our customers and clients that by changing one thing in a home such as air sealing to close some of the air leaks will have a positive effect on your utility bills & reduce the potential for moisture issues, but could negatively affect the indoor air quality if sealed too much and is not addressed.

So I am going to dig a little deeper and not focus on the big energy savers such as air sealing and insulation.  But the little things in the home such as your ever running DVR or cable modem.  Did you know that the box sitting below your TV is affecting both your gas and electric usage when it comes to heating & cooling your home?  Most by now should know about vampire loads (the continuous use of energy even with the units off), and of course they vary by product.  But any devise in your home that uses electricity also generates a small amount of heat.

Even when off the DVR is drawing power & producing heat.

As you can see from this infrared image of a DVR and cable modem.  This unit is off and it is still at 90 degrees.  So it is warm to the touch.  Now this obviously benefits your home in the winter time as it heats your home, but in the summer time it is producing heat that needs to be removed from the home.  One of my design clients experienced this after renovating their upper level of their Cape Cod home (Pictures) when they super insulated the kneewalls and ceiling.  Their gas bills went down because it held the heated air in the home better, but their electric bill went up because it trapped the heated air in the home which needed to be removed.  WHAT!?

Now if you are a mechanical engineer working on commercial buildings, this is no surprise  There is a point where the primary cooling load on the building is not the actual conditions outside, but all of the equipment and people inside that are generating heat and moisture.  But this goes well beyond the DVR, think of your refrigerator.  In the winter when you typically lower the house temperature when leaving for work (Well you should be), it is reducing the temperature difference between the inside of the fridge and the interior of the home, so it runs less.  However it has the exact opposite affect in the summer time when we let the temperature rise in the house when we are not at home.  Because now the temperature difference is much higher, so the fridge runs more.  That is why the electric company does not like to see refrigerators in garages as they typically can’t keep up with the extra heat in the summer time, it is best to keep your extra fridge or freezer in the basement as it is typically cooler and at more of a constant temperature.  For you numbers geeks, check out this article on about seasonal electrical loads. Therefore if you go around your house you can find many items that generate heat such as incandescent light bulbs, phone chargers, TV’s & video game systems to name a few that provide small amounts of heat that can affect your heating and cooling bills.  And yes, your toilet can cool your home.

 However I am looking forward to the next couple of months in my house as it is a heavy baking/cooking season, so that extra heat to bake all those cookies and dinners, along with the extra bodies in the house for the holidays are going to help heat my home and reduce my gas bill.

Now I know, some of this is small and insignificant and quite random of a topic.  But that is the way my brain works and as I do energy models every day and watch my customers usage jump up and down as I plug in all the different systems my brain just starts wandering.  So I really just needed to share, because quite frankly I think my wife has already suffered from information overload, especially since she originally did not know what was involved with our application into the 1000 home challenge and we will be taking these loads into consideration as we move forward.  So thanks for listening!

Why I Hate My Job

Well not much really.  But let’s be honest, would you have even had interest in reading if the title was “Why I Love My Job”?  So this is basically my year in review of working for Conservation Services Group performing home energy audits and to share a little more about my job that I did not get to share during the panel discussion at the AIA Ohio Valley Region convention in Dayton, OH last week.

So let’s stick with the title and what I do not enjoy about my job.  First, 90+ degree days, it makes for very uncomfortable working conditions as the attic is 100+ degrees.  However that is a condition of the job and is only an issue of comfort.  The hardest, as well as worst part of the job is delivering news to customers as I was reminded of today.  First is the customer that already has decent levels of insulation and based upon calculated paybacks and program goals do not qualify for very attractive incentives for energy efficiency improvements through the utility rebate program that we do work for.  I get a lot of eye rolling, but that is easy to handle, just lots of additional table talk which can add a lot of time to an appointment that only allows 4 hours to inspect, test, generate a report and present it to the customer.  However the absolute hardest part about my job is telling a customer, especially an assisted customer that is getting free work done that cannot have any air sealing or insulation work done until combustion safety issues have been resolved such as back drafting water heaters, or high CO levels.  This can really tug on the heart strings when you are in a home that has little to no insulation and you can see they would greatly benefit from lower utility bills and truly cannot afford to make some of the repairs necessary, yet their income level is not low enough to qualify for weatherization assistance that would actually make these repairs.

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