Last week we had the chance to attend the United State Green Building Council (USGBC) Greenbuild International Conference & Expo in Philadelphia. Let me tell you, it was a physically and mentally draining week, yet we return rejuvenated and inspired to continue on our path. Attending a conference like this always lifts your spirits as you are surrounded by 30,000 like minded professionals.
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.
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 »
Beginning May 1st, 2013 80 AFUE, also known as induced draft atmospheric furnaces will not be installed in cold climates, such as here in Ohio (article) as determined by the US Department of Energy (DOE). The new minimum AFUE requirement is 90 AFUE, which means the unit is a sealed combustion unit. All combustion is contained inside of a sealed chamber and a powered vent fan is used to exhaust all of the combustion gases. The DOE reason for the new change is to set a new higher minimum efficiency standard; however I like this new requirement for safety reasons. It practically eliminates the potential of backdrafting.
I would like to see the same kind of requirement for water heaters. In my professional opinion atmospheric water heaters do not belong in today’s homes, even the older ones that are getting weatherized. New homes and even older ones that are getting sealed and insulated are getting tighter, and this could have a negative effect on the atmospheric water heater. How do you ask? Well as we tighten things up we have less air infiltration into the home which means fewer holes to allow air to replace the air that is being pulled out of the house by running bathroom or kitchen exhaust fans. Because the adage is for every bit of air you pull out of the house, it has to be replaced. Why does this mater, how does it affect your water heater? Well your water heater has a 3-4”, sometimes larger hole to the outside known as the flue. So when you turn on your exhaust fans or even use your fireplace, this is the path of least resistance and can be a harmful one pulling combustion gases and carbon monoxide back into the home. Because when your water heater is running, it relies on the buoyancy of hot air to travel up the flue pipe to exit the home and it does not take much to pull that hot air back down the pipe along with the carbon monoxide.
The first of our home improvements projects to cut the energy usage in the home was air sealing in the attic. Now I have to admit that when I started doing the work in 2005, I did not fully understand the importance. Now that I inspect homes or follow up on insulation contractors’ work, I see firsthand how important air sealing work really is.
A simple explanation of what air sealing is, it is the work performed on the home to reduce the amount of air infiltration into the home by sealing small and sometimes large gaps and crevices. I utilized the DO–IT–YOURSELF Guide to Sealing & Insulating with ENERGY STAR to perform the air sealing in the attic before installing insulation. These holes in the home can waste approximately 25% of the typical homes heating and cooling cost and is almost always the most cost effective improvement that can be done to most homes to reduce the utility bills and increase the indoor air quality (IAQ).
Air sealing not only helps reduce your heating and cooling costs, but sometimes more importantly, air sealing helps to improve the indoor air quality and durability of the home. Tighter homes typically have less dust because not as much gets pulled in through these cracks; they are typically more durable because excessive air and moisture does not enter the walls or attic that could cause mold and rot.
The goal of air sealing your attic is to make the ceiling as air tight as possible to stop any air movement. Now most home owners don’t think of their attic being full of holes. However it is full of them, plumbing stack penetrations, wires, can lights and other ceiling fixtures. If you hold your hand over these holes, you can feel the hot or cold air from inside your home making its way into the attic, costing you money. Because as this conditioned air leaves your home, unconditioned air is being pulled into your home through other gaps or crevices in your home, typically in the basement (more on sealing the basement in a future post). When your home has low levels of insulation, it is easy to find these holes. However if you have good levels of insulation, you can find these holes by looking for discolored insulation, as most insulation types are air filters and the discoloration is a sign of air movement. So review the air sealing guide, buy a few tubes of caulk and cans of Great Stuff and seal up those holes and start saving.