Greenbuild 2013

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.

GreenbuildNation Read the rest of this entry »

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


The Pursuit For Comfort

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.”

Typical home styles inspected

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 »

Electricians & Cable Contractors – The Great Swiss Cheese Makers

So have you ever hired an electrician to install a recessed can light or bathroom vent fan?  Or what about a cable contractor that installed additional cable hook ups in the house that required working in the attic to run the new cable?  Have you ever gone up into the attic after they finished their work?  I mean why would you?  It’s not like they installed a new tile back splash, there is nothing really worth looking at.  Or is there?  Well it is my experience that very few home owners even go up into their attic, let alone after a contractor has been up there.  Therefore most homeowners don’t know that the electrician or cable contractor made swiss cheese of their attic.

I have inspected hundreds of homes that have clear paths of travel through the insulation to work area.  Then you get to the area where they did the work and the insulation is pushed out of the way or compressed.  Not to mention the hole created to run the cables.  These holes and the displaced insulation is a large energy penalty on the home costing you more monthly to heat and cool your home.  I have seen holes drilled into the ceiling for a single wire as large as two inches.  As stated in my post on attic air sealing, these holes allow the air that you paid to condition to easily escape, costing you money.  Even the compressed or displaced insulation is affecting your utility bills.  As another in the home performance industry, Energy Vanguard wrote about uneven insulation in their blog titled “Flat or Lumpy – How Would You Like Your Insulation?”  Now of course how much it really costs you depends on the amount of holes and actual displaced insulation.  But sometimes it can be severe, actually cause comfort and durability issues.  So what may have been a rather efficient home is now full of holes in the ceiling and insulation increasing your monthly cost to operate the home. 

As a result I would grab a can of foam and a rake to seal these holes and even that insulation out so your home can perform at least as well as it did before the contractors tracked through attic.

Energy Hog – Attic Air Sealing

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.

Here is a video series on the Fine Homebuilding magazine website on air sealing your attic that is worth watching, or check out other attic air sealing videos on YouTube.