Posts Tagged ‘Attics’

Leaving the Door Open – I Cry Fowl!

April 6, 2012

GHAOne of our top advisors a few years back had a unique experience on an assessment visit.  Leaving the doors open to his vehicle, he unknowingly acquired some unwanted guests.  It made me think about our homes and another unwanted “guest”: uncontrolled airflow via attics and elsewhere in the home.  (A great resource if you haven’t seen it already can be found in our learning center)

When we test airflow in homes we use cubic feet per minute as a unit of measurement.  Ideally this can help people visualize how much air moves through your walls ceilings and floors.  The large fan we place in the doorway of the home measures this flow and allows us to compare the amount of leakage in your home to others of similar size. Many of us don’t often think in terms of cubic feet, but you know, I’d guess it’s about the same as a good sized chicken.

You would be surprised by the amount of leakage in the average home when you can’t see the holes.  They are hidden behind walls and floors, connections in the ceiling.  In places we don’t really think about.  Every chicken’s worth of air that moves uncontrolled in or out of your home costs, not only in terms of money, but also comfort.  There could be GHAhundreds of them entering or leaving your house every hour.  Not sealing those leaks is like leaving the door open all year long.

Keep the chickens where they belong.  Close the doors.



Photos courtesy of John Scipione Branch Manager, Syracuse NY.

The Sweetness of Home Performance

January 24, 2012

 Coming from New England, I find winter on the West Coast is a different beast.  The lack of snow is not really it.  I think it’s the fact that there are citrus trees in many back yards.  My recent visit to one of our fine GreenHomes America partners, Residential Energy Pros  in San Jose, California, reminded me that no matter where you go, remodeling changes our homes in ways we are never sure of, often not for the best and often in a way that sacrifices our comfort or costs us money we shouldn’t be throwing away.

I constantly preach the importance of air sealing (watch some videos here), and on a home assessment during my visit, we were pleasantly surprised that the home was not as leaky as many we see.  This home originally had a flat roof and at some point a new one was built over it.  This old roof created a fairly good air barrier but there were still leaks as well as a lack of good insulation, creating rooms that can get very hot and uncomfortable in the summer, and too cold and uncomfortable in the winter. And blindly tightening a home without paying attention to important details and considerations like moisture and combustion safety isn’t smart either.  Despite its relative tightness there were still some issues with this home.

Like many homes out West, this house had a crawlspace.  And with crawlspaces, we often see a lot of indoor air quality issues (homes with basements or slabs are NOT immune!).  For this home, air from the crawlspace was constantly being drawn into the home and filtered through the carpet at the hatch! This doesn’t just dirty the carpet—it means the homeowners were breathing in crawlspace air all day, but since the hatch was right in the bedroom, more concentrated air where they spend 8 hours a day.   

Something else we noted was that the home also had a lot of condensation on the windows.  Too much moisture was sticking around in the home in the form of high humidity.  This is a problem because, the condensation pools at the sill, starts to rot the trim, and even the underlying framing.  High humidity can also promote mold and mildew growth elsewhere.

Some of that moisture could be dealt with by installing good spot ventilation, especially in the kitchen and bathrooms.  Even when you are opening the windows during large parts of the year it is good to control indoor air and moisture.

All of these things are problems we look to address with home performance, no matter where the home is located.   Maybe some suffer through some discomfort and high energy bills in the short term in California since they have the luxury of plucking lemons from the back yard.   But why settle for lemons when with a little bit of work you can have lemonade?

Report from the frontlines: Know Air Flow (or Seal for the Real Deal)

October 10, 2011

Riding along on a few comprehensive home assessments with some of the team in our Syracuse office, I was once again reminded of the importance of air sealing and how it can still be a mystery even for folks who are savvy to the inner-workings of a home.

The fist home was older and although solidly built, suffered over the years a lack of insulation as well as a great deal of air-leakage.  The homeowner, a retired fireman who was remodeling the place, called us because he wanted insulation and a new heating system.  

Attic airleaks filtered through insulation

Firemen know about homes, and they know about the importance of airflow.  It’s a key component in combustion after all.  So it was easy to explain why it was necessary to tackle air leaks before adding insulation.  But really the evidence was laid out before us.

The turned over fiberglass lying on top of loose blown in insulation was blackened from airflow all over the attic.  Essentially, lot’s of air was moving through the ceiling and into the attic.  From the chimney, from open walls from wires and pipes, everywhere this attic could leak it did.   And the fiberglass didn’t stop the air—that’s not what it was designed to do.  It did clean the air a bit as the air raced through.  So, this home really didn’t have effective insulation, but rather a big air filter up in the attic.  How nice to clean the air that you’re throwing away to the outside right along with the heat that it carries!

Being a fairly old leaky home with no insulation in the walls it had more heating than necessary. Baseboard and radiators were laid out everywhere! The homeowner joked he was going to turn the boiler downstairs into a camper it was so big!  After we properly air seal and insulate, and then size a new boiler appropriately, he won’t be burning through heating fuel so quickly this coming year.

The second home was a modern one built more recently.  This tri level home was well taken care of and the homeowner, being quite handy had recently spent a great deal of time adding some nice finishing touches here and there. 

Their son was off at college but came home for his final year and they offered to turn the heat up since they were keeping it low to save money.   For him the rental home on campus was leaky and un-insulated, anything was better!  Certainly this new home should be a comfortable home for the most part but they were sacrificing comfort to save money, they knew there was room to improve.   

Again the request was for more insulation and here’s another savvy homeowner asking.    Their concern was comfort and high energy bills, and since he’d crawled around in the attic a few times, he knew more insulation wouldn’t hurt.   And he’s right, kind of.  More insulation would be good, especially covering the bare spots like the one below.  But, again, only AFTER air-sealing.   

Big opening in an attic that leaks inside air

He had put gaskets over the light switch plates and had new windows installed.  What he was missing were sealing the big holes in the attic, and these are the ones that cause a great deal of heat loss, not just in this home, but in most.  With the various levels of the home all connected in the attic, we find the worst offenders, the stuff that needs sealing shut before more insulation is added.   Even for such a modern home our testing revealed that that home was twice as leaky as it should have been even though it looked like it was in good shape.

In these homes, and in the majority that we see, comfort is a big sacrifice on top of too-high heating bills. The good news is they’re we’re able to find the problems.  And we’ll be sending out crew to make the fixes in the next couple of weeks.     And new or old, most homes  need some buttoning up.  Does yours?  For both of these savvy homeowners, this winter should feel a whole lot better with no air flow…now they know.

Visit our video library to learn more about the importance of attic air sealing and other topics that will help you save money and be more comfortable.

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