Friday, August 10, 2018

Medical Insurance $$'S for Retrofits

This is a novel idea:
               What if the dollars spent on asthma and other respiratory/sinus issues are directed at residential indoor air quality? Imagine an asthmatic child who is an emergency room super-utilizer getting a prescription for a home performance retrofit from her doctor and her insurance provider paying for it. A typical day at the ER is around $1250. An asthmatic child will trigger once a month in the "right" conditions. That's $15000 in health care that does not help the child since she goes home to the same unhealthy environment. Let's spend that $15K on a whole house retrofit and remove the asthma triggers from her home.
                This is proactive, preventative and long lasting health care that positively affects the whole family by reducing sick school days and missed income from medically related loss of work, not to mention overall improvement in productivity and quality of life. Oh, and by the way, reduced energy costs. ;-)

Thursday, August 2, 2018

2018 IRC - IECC

Of the built environment, a substantial percentage is residential housing. Based on my experience testing many homes as a HERS Rater, I know we have created a very unhealthy and inefficient housing stock through the lack of sensible building standards. 2018 code offers an excellent opportunity to resolve that problem. Not only does it address effective standards for health, safety, durability and efficiency in new construction, 2018 also address existing home retrofits by making renovations also subject to these new standards.
          Further, it seems unnecessarily complicated to have different standards for Commercial and Residential structures when the building science is essentially the same. Why force builders, trades, subcontractors and code inspectors to learn, enforce and comply with 2 sets of rules?
There are (+-) 125,000,000 single family homes in the US, the majority of them constructed without any building code. Roughly ½ of the State of Tennessee has no building code. (See attached maps link) The resultant health and infrastructure costs due to mold, rot, poor air quality and resulting respiratory ailments is staggering. Homes retrofit to 2018 standards would reduce energy loads by 50% and cut recurring medical costs for the life of the building, given reasonable upkeep.
In the world of building science, we are very close to the path of diminishing returns, R values, fenestration, ducts and mechanical equipment, air tightness levels and ventilation standards are at a level that is affordable and technically achievable. I suggest a blanket adoption of 2018 codes and a 6-9 year moratorium on code upgrades to give all parties sufficient time to get it right.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Deferred Maintainance

      Time was I witnessed something referred to as preventative maintenance. The practice of predictive repairs or foreseeing breakdown and fixing something before it broke. Its an art-form in my view because you have to predict the future and it flies in the face of "If it ain't broke don't fix it." There is a lot of deferred maintenance today in the built environment. Big time in residential homes but also in our county's infrastructure. Pot holes only get bigger, bridges only rustier, leaky roofs only get worse.      
       I once ran a small shipyard in Jamestown RI and we would find that what seemed suspicious on the surface of a hull or deck was a tiny representation of what you would uncover as you began a repair. It was ALWAYS worse than it first appeared. The retrofit business is exactly the same. Once you start digging into a problem you find there is more than first met the eye, the proverbial "Can of Worms."
      Our industry is uniquely poised to find these deferred repairs and set them right. It adds dimension to the "Whole House" perspective for Energy Audits. To grow the industry our marketing has to succeed in selling the idea that our work is essential to the future of the built environment. What we live in today is neither sustainable nor resilient and requires a reinvestment of capital and expertise by raters and builders.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Call me a dinosaur.

The older I become, the simpler I want things to be. My view of Building Science and the home retrofit business is progressing (regressing?) in this manner. A home is a shelter. Most shelters are some kind of a box. You can have a box that leaks or one that is airtight. Most climates prefer air tight, as do I. The best part of tight is control. Temperature, moisture, odor can be simply                   controlled in a tight box with little fuss and low cost. So tighter is better. Move the air around inside the box, provide a filtered fresh air exchange system some thermal modulation and voila' all the shelter needs are met.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Dumb House

Why are we pushing so much towards home automation? HiTech remote controls, on-line appliance controls, super-connectivity all seem over the top. A well designed new home or a safe durable retrofit doesn't require a lot of wired up technology. A majority of my clients want a plug and play home where they are safe, comfortable and entertained without a lot of unnecessary interaction on their part. I think most of us would prefer the KISS principle where we get the basics right and enjoy that, rather than constant upgrades for small changes. The concept of WhyTech has not yet taken hold of the home market. Like talking cars, maybe robot homes are unnecessary.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Goldilocks Effect?

      Seems that advances in building science have brought us to a question, how much is too much? I, for a long time, have advocated reducing infiltration to a minimum. Homes can't be too tight. I still believe that. However, I am seeing air tightness as a potential hazard when occupants get involved. Most of my clients who buy into "Make it tight, Ventilate right" are willing to be "involved" with their dwelling's operation. Unfortunately they are few and far between! Truly, if we are to be successful, a home is self sufficient; caring for its dwellers without them having to be monitoring and adjusting their environment to meet lifestyle and climate needs. That is the home's job.
     Pressure differentials with reference to the outside and humidity have to be controlled by an adaptive, user-friendly Ventilation system. In Tennessee we have a wide range of seasonal conditions, warm, cold, wet, dry at any day year round. Zone 4 is one of the most difficult environments to get right. So here's a list:
1.) Thermal comfort.
2.) Humidity control.
3.) Changing Pressure differentials with reference to outside.
4.) Efficiency.
5.) Simplicity of operation.
     Retrofit or new construction the goal is optimizing these 5 targets with a minimum of owner involvement. Set the controls and live happily ever after in a healthy, comfortable, efficient home, right? Sounds perfect. Trick is, every home has different requirements. One family of five with 2 dogs, an aquarium, house plants and a busy kitchen will not be comfortable in a home commissioned to accommodate a retired couple gone 6 months of the year to their mountain cabin. I typically provide a year's service to help find the "Goldlocks" setting for a given family. What happens to that home when it gets sold? Who helps new owners adapt to their "Used" green home? I have no answer for this other than it will be a business plan as more and more tight, efficient homes populate the market. In my world it is called continuous commissioning.
       The take away is that high performance homes won't stay that way by themselves, they need tuning and maintenance over their life cycle, fulfilling the needs of their occupants. Can it be done with a Thermostat? I don't believe so.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

USGBC Weatherization Day

 A Great Weatherization Day! We had a good challenge with Jesse’s home as the test-in HERS Index was 156. My target was 100 and we nearly made it, the Post Retrofit Hers Index is 104, really good. You can do the math but this will be a positive change in comfort, air quality and energy use for Jesse, all for the better!
          Our 20 + volunteers did yeoman’s work all day and the results verify the quality of their efforts. CAC’s Jason Estes and his team outdid themselves and we would not have been able to achieve this result without their expertise, equipment and hard work. Many thanks to Lowes for donating the majority of the materials to make this retrofit possible. The SEEED team showed up early and stayed to the end. SEEED volunteers dove into caulking windows, sealing ducts and attic/basement air leaks. Many thanks to Stan, the “e-mailer” ;-) and all of the hardworking SEEED crew. Please share your videos! Special thanks to Kenny Powel of Powel Construction for the much needed HVAC tune up. USGBC was represented by Jennifer Aldrich, our Green Schools Chairwoman. Jennifer lead the “Window Team” which carefully cleaned and sealed all of the storm windows to restore them to their usefulness. Jennifer also helped with the test-out set up, TVM!
          We were done by 5 and I know Jesse was happy to have her home back. I encourage everyone to stay in touch with her and encourage her to share the value of what we did today with neighbors and friends. Many homes in her community would benefit equally from a similar effort. All-in-all, another successful USGBC Weatherization Day, congratulations to our volunteers, good work one and all. Thank you for giving your time on a Saturday, we can all feel good about what we accomplished today.