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Posts Tagged ‘energy efficient remodel’

With all the talk about building green these days, you would think it is something new, maybe solar panels on the roof and high-tech solutions with complicated circuitry and untried ideas. The truth is, you can reduce the energy consumption of a new home or retrofit by as much as 70%, with conventional construction done right.

Think of it. If all the standard energy-saving measures like insulation and caulking were done with the same care and attention to detail as the cabinetwork and finish carpentry, the air you pay to heat would stay in the house and keep you warm, instead of finding its way outside through the walls and attic.

There is a standard of proper wall and ceiling insulation, but the truth is very few of those people whose job it is get it right. This is partly because it is one of the lowest-paid jobs in the business, and the workers are often paid by piecework. It is also because too few people–including owners, contractors, and building inspectors–insist on a good job of installation. The result is–yes the work is done cheaply and quickly. It is the building owners who pay for it over the years, in excess energy bills that need never have been so high.

The standard is known specifically as “Quality Insulation Installation,” or QII. When I asked an insulating contractor if his company provided QII, his answer was, “We train our installers well.” It was his business, and he hadn’t even heard of the standard!

Here is a part of the procedure, paraphrased from Energy Star (energystar.gov):

a. Wall stud cavities should be caulked or foamed to provide a substantially air-tight envelope to the outdoors, attic, garage and crawl space. Top and bottom plates should be continuous and have any openings sealed. Special attention should be paid to plumbing and wiring penetrations through the top plates, electrical boxes that penetrate the sheathing, and the sheathing sealed to the bottom plate.

b. Pay special attention to installation of air-tight air barriers for walls adjoining exterior walls or unconditioned spaces, including walls behind showers/tubs and behind fireplaces, insulated attic kneewalls, staircase walls, the intersection of porch roofs and exterior walls, and skylight shaft walls.

c. Fill each cavity side-to-side, top-to-bottom, and front-to-back. Batt insulation should be installed to fill the cavity and be in contact with the sheathing on the back, the studs at the sides, and the wallboard on the front – no gaps or voids.

Before you spend money on new windows, or blow-in insulation to the walls of your older home, do these two things first. Go in your crawl space and attic, and air-seal every opening you can find with spray foam insulation, and insulate the attic to R-30 or better (have an electrician take a look up there first, to be sure your any lighting or wiring is suitable for burial in insulation). You’ll be surprised and the new-found comfort. Some people will tell you doing these things is a waste of money, but the truth is they are the cheapest investment you can make, with the best results in savings and comfort.

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With all the talk about building green these days, you would think it is something new, maybe solar panels on the roof and high-tech solutions with complicated circuitry and untried ideas. The truth is, you can reduce the energy consumption of a new home or retrofit by as much as 70%, with conventional construction done right.

Think of it. If all the standard energy-saving measures like insulation and caulking were done with the same care and attention to detail as the cabinetwork and finish carpentry, the air you pay to heat would stay in the house and keep you warm, instead of finding its way outside through the walls and attic.

There is a standard of proper wall and ceiling insulation, but the truth is very few of those people whose job it is get it right. This is partly because it is one of the lowest-paid jobs in the business, and the workers are often paid by piecework. It is also because too few people–including owners, contractors, and building inspectors–insist on a good job of installation. The result is–yes the work is done cheaply and quickly. It is the building owners who pay for it over the years, in excess energy bills that need never have been so high.

The standard is known specifically as “Quality Insulation Installation,” or QII. When I asked an insulating contractor if his company provided QII, his answer was, “We train our installers well.” It was his business, and he hadn’t even heard of the standard!

Here is a part of the procedure, paraphrased from Energy Star (energystar.gov):

a. Wall stud cavities should be caulked or foamed to provide a substantially air-tight envelope to the outdoors, attic, garage and crawl space. Top and bottom plates should be continuous and have any openings sealed. Special attention should be paid to plumbing and wiring penetrations through the top plates, electrical boxes that penetrate the sheathing, and the sheathing sealed to the bottom plate.

b. Pay special attention to installation of air-tight air barriers for walls adjoining exterior walls or unconditioned spaces, including walls behind showers/tubs and behind fireplaces, insulated attic kneewalls, staircase walls, the intersection of porch roofs and exterior walls, and skylight shaft walls.

c. Fill each cavity side-to-side, top-to-bottom, and front-to-back. Batt insulation should be installed to fill the cavity and be in contact with the sheathing on the back, the studs at the sides, and the wallboard on the front – no gaps or voids.

Before you spend money on new windows, or blow-in insulation to the walls of your older home, do these two things first. Go in your crawl space and attic, and air-seal every opening you can find with spray foam insulation, and insulate the attic to R-30 or better (have an electrician take a look up there first, to be sure your any lighting or wiring is suitable for burial in insulation). You’ll be surprised and the new-found comfort. Some people will tell you doing these things is a waste of money, but the truth is they are the cheapest investment you can make, with the best results in savings and comfort.

First published in the Pacifica Tribune 3/24/10

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If every attic in America were insulated to the standards mandated by the state of California, the United States would no longer need to import foreign oil. That is only one measure of the amount of fossil fuel energy wasted nationwide. But energy efficiency is about more that just conservation, it�s about comfort in our homes whatever the weather might be outside them. Innovative concepts like Net-Zero Passive Homes in Germany that have no need of a furnace, or properly insulated homes in Sacramento that have an annual heating/cooling cost of $250/year, are quick examples of energy-efficiency that involves no unusual construction practices or expenses. With a photovoltaic array and a solar water-heater on your roof, you can say goodbye to utility bills. And if we can collectively reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases, we may yet save the polar icecaps.

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Believe it or not, there are still some people out there who think that global warming is just a great big scare tactic. That we can just keep on business as usual, burning up whatever fossil fuel we need to just to keep comfortable. When wintertime comes, we just turn up the thermostat, live with the fact that some parts of our houses are hot, some cold, some drafty, none of it exactly comfortable. That’s winter, right?

No.

Chances are, your old furnace and poorly designed ductwork are to blame, because once these details are taken care of, comfort in your house in wintertime comes back to stay. Never mind that you might be using less gas and creating less carbon emissions—global warming is a myth, right?

So how about this—house warmer AND you spend, oh ,I don’t know, 25% less of your money heating the great outdoors. Money in your pocket, do you believe in that?

Well, you have to spend some. Not a lot, as dollars go these days, and you’ll get it all back in less than ten years in fuel savings. Maybe less than seven.

Case study by Building Solutions in Redwood City California (where the winters are by New England standards, pretty darn mild). Take an older house, 1850 sf, built before insulation was thought necessary, so there is none in the walls. It has its original 80% efficient gas furnace, and the original ductwork that went with it.

One key to understanding energy efficiency for older homes is the idea of “Test In”, meaning with blower doors and duct blasters, you find out up front where the warm air is leaking out of the forced air system, and through penetrations in the walls and plates. You find those leaks in the walls, and you seal them with spray foam insulation. Simple enough. Then you replace the old ductwork with new sized for delivery, and the old furnace with a new 95% efficient one, also correctly sized (both by the ACCA manuals, more on these later). Then you “Test Out,” for a data-based hard look at the results of the work done.

Results for the case study:
• reduction of heat loss through sealing up air infiltration 11%
• reduction of air leakage from new, well sealed duct system 23%
• reduction of lost heat load 7%
• increase in owner satisfaction with comfort level of house—priceless

This without insulating the walls!  Still don’t believe it?  Contact  Levi Blankenship at BuildingSolutions.com for how they did it.

My point is this: You can do part of an energy-efficiency upgrade, for a relatively low cost—in this case about $5,000—and reap great results. It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. Look for a BPI (Building Performance Institute) certified energy efficiency contractor in your area. Call them, see what they think they can do for you.

Or, you can hang an extra sweater by the door of your coldest rooms, and pay more than you have to for gas or fuel oil indefinitely into the future.

Your choice.

© David Hirzel 1/28/10

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“Things are not getting better. In fact, they are actually getting worse. From 1990 to 1999, global carbon dioxide emissions increased at a rate of 1.1% per year. Then everyone started talking about Kyoto, so we buckled up our belts, got serious, and we showed ’em what we could do: In the years 2000 to 2006, we TRIPLED the rate of global carbon dioxide emission increases, to an average increase of over 3 percent a year! That’ll show ’em we mean business! Hey, look what we can do when we’re serious–we can emit even more carbon faster.” (Nate Lewis, California Institute of Technology, quoted (page 214) in “Hot, Flat, and Crowded” by Thomas L. Friedman)

“Hot, Flat, and Crowded” is the book to read, if you want a deep look into everything that is driving the increase in global energy use and carbon emission. Not a pretty picture, and the choices involve–oh my God!–using less energy, not more. Mostly by being smarter in how we go about it.

Don’t expect your governments to be much help, as long as their decisions are driven by industry lobbyists instead of common sense. Let’s hope Copenhagen’s success doesn’t match Kyoto’s.

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Why Green? Why Now?

Sometimes it may seem that everywhere you look in the media–now more than ever before–there is some reference to “eco-consciousness” and “green building”. “Global warming” seems to be on everyone’s mind. Rising energy costs hit us all in the pocketbook last year. All of it is news, but the real news, while not as compelling, was made in Sacramento with the passage of “AB32” in 2006. This legislation, the first of its kind in the US, targeted emission reductions from greenhouse gas sources via regulations, market mechanisms and other actions.

The specifics of regulation, at least concerning building and development policies, are best left in the hands of local governments, and local governments all over the Bay Area are taking action. From San Rafael to San Jose, fifteen cities and counties have adopted building policies mandating energy- and resource-efficient design for new construction. More local jurisdictions are jumping on board all the time. Pacifica is considering its own green building ordinance right now, with a goal of formal adoption by late summer 2009.

Keep in mind, “green” is a very big word in this context. It is overused and misused to the point that its true value as a concept has become blurred. BuildItGreen.org, one of the main proponents of this “new” idea, sets out five principles, all of which must be incorporated into residential building design. Energy-efficiency and resource management are two everyone knows. Water conservation is a big issue, but so are healthy homes (indoor air quality), and each homes place in a well-designed community. Taken all together, these principles incorporated into our housing concepts today, will help make a better world for tomorrow.

This column is the first of a series that will help explain “Green Building”, and show how greener, healthier homes can be built or remodeled using simple principles and basic materials, at little or no extra cost.

© 2009 David Hirzel

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