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.
Not everything about green or sustainable homes is sexy. The majority of what makes a structure green or sustainable you don’t even see. That is the case for the first big project we tackled after we purchased the home in 2005. We decided to first air seal and insulate our attic because the existing levels when we bought the home were anywhere from 0”-4” of blown fiberglass which is an insulating value of R0-10. Now back in the 60’s when the house was build and energy was cheap this was an acceptable level, however not by today’s standards. Now after working in the field performing home comprehensive home energy audits for a little over two years I understand the majority of homeowners do not know this or fully understand what it’s purpose is and how it works. They just know their bills are high and they are not comfortable. And as a young door to door sales girl asked me one time, “How many inches of insulation do you have in the attic”. Which to my surprise, many people do not know the answer to that question, and of course for the professionals reading, the answer in part is it depends on the type of insulation that is up there that determines the overall thickness that should be in the attic. So the general rule of thumb in the attic is if you can see the ceiling framing, then you don’t have enough insulation. Now since my wife and I are in the design and construction industry we knew at the time we started the projects, buildings we were designing required and R-30 for attic insulation. So we did not have to have a home energy audit performed on the home to know by adding insulation to the attic we would save money on our heating and cooling bills. So our decision was to install an additional R49 to bring the overall insulation levels up to an R55.
By the numbers:
Adding R-19 expected to save – $346 yr
Additional R-30 expected to save – $93 yr
Total estimated yearly savings of – $439yr
Savings estimated utilizing REM/Design
Now insulating the attic was a two year process, as the decision was to split it up into 2 phases by air sealing and installing a layer of 6” R19 fiberglass blanket insulation in-between the ceiling framing in phase 1. Then with the energy savings from that project, it helped offset the cost to purchase and install an additional insulation layer of R30 running perpendicular to the first layer.
These styles of homes are ones that I visit regularly and they are typically built between the 1950’s-70’s. With most of them, besides high utility bills, there are comfort issues and I typically get the same story from each home owner.
“We replaced all of the windows and installed a new furnace and air conditioner. Yet it is still hot/cold in our house.”
Now they may have seen some kind of utility bill reduction when the windows went in depending on the type and condition of what was replaced, as well as the quality of the installation, but not nearly what the manufacturers claimed, as the FTC recently ordered 5 manufacturers to stop making exaggerated claims on replacement window performance (See article here). And without doubt their heating and electric bill dropped with the new high efficiency furnace and A/C unit. However the comfort issues never went away.Read the rest of this entry »