Saturday, June 15, 2019

      Having canvased all of the contractors (50+) holding current 2019 COK Building Permits I am concerned by their lack of understanding regarding our new code requirements. Of the 30 that I actually reached very few were interested or understood the pressure testing they must pass to obtain their Certificate of Occupancy. Whether this is complacency or obstinance I predict a rash of angry builders whose projects fail to achieve < 3 ACH or meet Duct Leakage targets.
      There were several public meetings in 2018 about the full adoption and enforcement of the new Building Code and there is further info on the COK website. I urge builders to get on board as early as possible. I have already helped many Contractors through Energy Star and LEED projects. 2018 Code is very much the same; plan ahead, follow the process and you will pass on the first go.

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.