Home Energy Retro Fix
Spring, 2012

Join William Collins has he takes his own home through the process of dramatically improving his home energy efficiency using the air sealing technology which he has developed. Home energy retrofit projects provide opportunities to achieve energy savings and many times those savings are significant. After receiving an energy audit, it's possible to determine where the " low hanging fruit " is which is mostly about finding air leakage. So what is are the benefits finding ways to increase your home performance? By implementing energy efficiency measures, they can help you save money on utility bills, be more comfortable, increase the value of your home and effect climate change.

Energy retrofixing will usually start with a comprehensive home energy audit to identify where to air seal the building envelope, areas where there isn't enough insulation, and other opportunities for savings and increased home comfort. They'll work with you to come up with a project plan for fixing your home's biggest efficiency problems in the most cost effective ways. The challenge is to look at the home energy retrofix project by looking at the entire envelope, most importantly air seal type technologies as this will give you the most effective and affordable solution.

Stage #1 - Sealing Crawl Space

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the best approach to insulating an unventilated crawl space is to seal and insulate the foundation walls rather than the sub floor. In their consumer’s guide to energy efficiency and renewable energy, the advantages to insulating the crawl space are as follows:

  • Less insulation required (about 400 sq. ft. for a 1,000-sq.-ft. crawl space with 3-foot high walls.).
  • Pipes and ductwork are contained within the house’s conditioned envelope so they don't require insulation for energy efficiency or protection against freezing.
  • Air sealing between the house and the crawl space is less critical.

For this application, we needed to spray a air barrier that had great adhesion, was cost effective, would stop air and would be durable for the life of the building enclosure. The AireBarrier Spray Sealant from Sealant Technologies is the perfect choice. As long as the substrate is clean and dry, this sealant can be applied and will dry in a matter of minutes so the entire process is very fast. Also, contractors will find out that because this high density sealant is cost effective then this will open up more opportunities because home owners will be able to afford this solution. This sealant can only be applied through a Spray Pod 1.0.

Sealing your crawl space block wall is the first step. If sealing is not enough, then adding crawl space insulation is the next step. The cost of crawl space insulation pays for itself with its energy efficient benefits. In this home energy retrofit project, we decided to take down all of old fiberglass batts which were originally installed when the house was build in 1995 and then a closed cell spray foam was applied under the floor joints. This takes time, but we do recommend removing ineffective old insulation installed between floor joists because the efficiency of closed cell spray foam is so significant compared to any type of batt insulation.

The Spray Pod 1.0 was built specifically for home energy retrofit projects. It is designed to be portable so the contractor can find ways to get to some of the most difficult areas of the building enclosure without having to move a lot of heavy equipment and trailers. In this home energy retrofit project, the Spray Pod 1.0 was able to apply spray sealants, closed cell spray foam and open cell spray foam. All of these chemicals we able to interchange very quickly and without any waste.

Stage #2 - Attic & Duct Sealing

Many air leaks and drafts are easy to find because they are easy to feel — like those around windows and doors. But holes hidden in attics, basements, and crawlspaces are usually bigger problems. Sealing these leaks with caulk, spray foam, spray sealants or any other weather stripping product will have a great impact on improving your comfort and reducing utility bills. The challenge is that you have to have a lot of different tools in order to accomplish this objective because each project is different. Like any good craftsman, if you have have a large tool set then you can accomplish your objective quickly and within an affordable budget.

Duct Work Challenges

In houses with forced-air heating and cooling systems, ducts are used to distribute conditioned air throughout the house. In a typical house, however, about 20 - 40+ percent of the air that moves through the duct system is lost due to leaks, holes, and poorly connected ducts. The result is higher utility bills and difficulty keeping the house comfortable, no matter how the thermostat is set.

Because ducts are often concealed in walls, ceiling, attics, and basements, repairing them can be difficult. But there are things that you can do to improve duct performance in your house.

Some homeowners choose to take on duct sealing as a do-it-yourself project. Start by sealing air leaks using mastic sealant or metal tape and insulating all the ducts that you can access (such as those in attics, crawlspaces, unfinished basements, and garages). Never use duct tape, as it is not long-lasting. Also, make sure that the connections at vents and registers are well-sealed where they meet the floors, walls, and ceiling. These are common locations to find leaks and disconnected duct work.

Moving Cellulose

One of the most affordable ways to save money in your attic is to just move some of the existing insulation around. The insulation which you have in your attic is effective but it just may not be enough so before you go out and throw away what you have, consider moving it to another location in your attic.

Sealing Duct Work

Leaky ducts can reduce heating and cooling system efficiency by as much as 20 percent. Sealing and insulating ducts increases efficiency, lowers your energy bills, and can often pay for itself in energy savings. Plus, if you’re planning to install new heating and cooling equipment, a well-designed and sealed duct system may allow you to downsize to a smaller, less costly heating and cooling system that will provide better dehumidification. Also, fumes from household and garden chemicals, insulation particles, and dust can enter your duct system, aggravating asthma and allergy problems. Sealing ducts can help improve indoor air quality by reducing the risk of pollutants entering ducts and circulating through your home.

Relocating Fiberglass

In this particular home energy retrofit project, we had some extra fiberglass batts which were not located in place where they would be effective so we move them. This is a pretty simple idea but one that is effective because we are just reallocating energy dollars around as we look for ways to receive a faster energy return on investment.

Spray polyurethane foam (SPF) is better than any other type of insulation at reducing air leakage. With foamed-in-place insulation, it is relatively easy (though not inexpensive) to fill wall and ceiling cavities completely. Closed-cell spray foam provides a higher R-value per inch (6.5) than less expensive insulation types like cellulose and fiberglass (3.5 to 3.7).

Most spray polyurethane foam is called "two-component" foam. Two ingredients—conventionally called "A" and "B" components—are mixed on site using special equipment mounted in a trailer or truck. Heated hoses convey the components to a mixing gun that sprays the chemicals on the surfaces to be insulated.

A chemical reaction begins as soon as the chemicals are mixed. The liquid mixture foams, expands, and eventually hardens.

Stage # 3 - Window & Door Seal

An average home loses up to 30%+ of its heating and cooling energy through air leaks. The most significant air leaks tend to occur around windows and doors. To stop air leaks and prevent your home heating and cooling dollars from vanishing in the wind, it’s important to seal any air leaks around windows and doors.

Stage #4 - Additional Insulation

Insulation keeps your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer. There are several common types of insulation — fiberglass (in both batt and blown forms), cellulose, rigid foam board, and spray foam. Reflective insulation or radiant barrier is another insulating product which can help save energy in hot, sunny climates. When correctly installed with air sealing, each type of insulation can deliver comfort and lower energy bills during the hottest and coldest times of the year.

Blowing Additional Cellulose

Insulation keeps your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer. There are several common types of blown insulation — fiberglass (in both batt and blown forms) and cellulose. While there are opinions on both technologies, the most important aspect of using them is in the application. Yes, it is possible to go to Lowe's or Home Depot and buy some insulation and then rent a machine to apply it, but most of those cellulose or fiberglass machines are very slow so a project could take a very long time to complete. Also remember, that when correctly installed with air sealing, each type of insulation can deliver comfort and lower energy bills during the hottest and coldest times of the year.

Stage #5 - Indoor Air Quality

The Environmental Protection Agency ranks indoor air pollution among the top five environmental health risks and states "The best way to address this risk is to control or eliminate the sources of pollution…". Working to reduce or eliminate pollution at its source is the foundation of our air purification line. We provide environmental conditioning products that actively work out in the environment, taking the solution to the source, where it’s needed most. Air sanitizing is a significant part of any program.

Stage #6 - Follow Up Audit

A home energy checkup helps owners determine where their house is losing energy and money - and how such problems can be corrected to make the home more energy efficient. A professional technician -- often called an energy auditor -- can give your home a checkup. Items shown here include checking for leaks, examining insulation, inspecting the furnace and duct work, performing a blower door test and using an infrared camera. In the case of this particular project, we had two energy audits conducted. One before the project started and the other after the project was completed.

Stage #7 - General Maintenance

Maintain your equipment to prevent future problems and unwanted costs. Keep your cooling and heating system at peak performance by having a contractor do annual pre-season check-ups. Contractors get busy once summer and winter come, so it's best to check the cooling system in the spring and the heating system in the fall. To remember, you might plan the check-ups around the time changes in the spring and fall.

Stage #8 - Energy Management

An energy management system should provide a simple, affordable way to receive accurate and ongoing home energy costs. You can also add or subtract products to create a unique package that meets the needs of your home, your family, and your life. The Vivint Energy package allows you to reduce the amount of energy you use in your home from anywhere. Whether you're traveling for work or taking the kids to the park, you can manage your thermostat, lights, and small appliances all from your smart-phone or computer.

Stage #9 - Bonus = More Space

Here was an added bonus which we received while doing this project. We found areas of the attic which we could convert into an additional storage area. If the truth be told, for a little extra investment, we could have turned much of this space into a conditioned living area. For more information on that, contact our office for additional details.