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.
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.
Some of the very first projects that we did to the home even before we moved in had a great impact on our home, transforming it into a “green” machine. Now they had no impact on the energy efficiency of the home, however they have made a great impact on the Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), which is a very important issue as you tighten up the home and improve its overall performance.
The first project we tackled was removing about 75% of the wall to wall carpeting in the home. This ended up being the main living areas, hallways, as well as our expected child’s room. We did feel somewhat guilty for removing the brand new carpet that the previous home owner installed to sell the house. Especially since we removed it in July, and according to the label, it was manufactured in May of the same year. So as you can imagine, it was in excellent shape. So the larger pieces went to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore to be reused in someone else home. The remainder of the carpeting found its way into a trailer on its way to get recycled thanks to a local carpet installer.
Our primary reason removing the carpet was to expose the hard wood flooring that runs throughout the majority of the house and was hidden by the carpet. We had the floor refinished using Bona waterborne finish that has very low levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), and is very durable. Another reason for removing the carpet was we did not want our newborn child crawling on the carpet. So the carpet was replaced with an all natural handmade wool area rug in our living room. The reason being is an area rug can be thoroughly cleaned where wall to wall carpet will hold onto dirt, dander, dust mites and pollutants that people track in from the outdoors, such as oil and pesticides and can never be fully removed. A question posted after we removed our carpet here on the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) Green Home Guide website stated that the average carpet removed from a home is seven times heavier than when it was installed. This being contributed to the fact that carpets cannot be cleaned thoroughly like an area rug can.