|Teach Yourself Environmental Home Inspecting|
Although energy-saving measures do not per se relate to healthy home issues, with few exceptions, some of the recommendations made throughout this site also may be linked with certain energy-related measures. Here’s an example:
There was mold in an attic and, as part of the remediation process, old insulation would be removed and new put in. Here’s a tidbit that I learned at an energy rating course that could save the homeowner a lot of money before putting in new insulation:
If holes were plugged up between the living area and the attic, and if insulation were also designed to go over the hatch to the attic, there could be as much energy savings with the new insulation as from putting in solar energy. And, a corollary to that is that unless such holes are addressed first, adding extra insulation may not deliver the anticipated results.
How about that?! The instructor at the energy rating course said that if you have pulldown steps to the attic, and there is no insulation at the top of the steps, you have a chimney for the release of your heat in the winter time.
How would you find out where the air leaks were, and what could be done about them? Go to the website of the Building Performance Institute to locate certified energy raters and certified energy contractors for your area. I would avoid calling in a local company offering a free energy rating. Too often, these can be come-ons to sell you something, and you get only a partial energy rating inspection.
Information is available at www.bpi.org, but as I recall from class, here are several components of a full evaluation.
The energy rater would work with a thermal imaging camera to pick up on temperature differentials from air leaks, lack of insulation, and areas needing attention between the living areas in the attic.
The energy rater may do a blower door test to see what can be learned regarding the tightness of the house.
The energy rater may do a duct tightness test to determine the significant leaks in the heating and air-conditioning system.
HIRING ENERGY RATERS
As with mold inspectors and remediation projects, it can be a conflict of interest to do both the inspection and the remediation. However, in this area, there can be benefits from having a knowledgeable rater/contractor do both. A reputable weatherization contractor typically should offer to “test-in and test-out;” in other words, they should use blower-door testing to demonstrate that the job has been properly done. This provide you with data to prove they’ve achieve the air sealing results they promised.
BPI inspectors have to go through classes for both building performance and energy rating, but hands-on knowledge of building performance is a plus.
Often there are different options for addressing the deficiencies that are found. Some options can be pricey, top-of-the-line when top-of-the-line may not be needed. Getting a second opinion may prove to be useful.
(If you find a helpful source for a second opinion, please let me know, and I will post it here.) Here is one that I have had some familiarity with, and warm reactions to, over the years:
Energy Auditors, Dillsburg, PA, Kevin Miller, (717) 943-2582, energyauditors at hotmail.com. Kevin is busy with on-site energy ratings but he also offers a second opinion service (fee) for reviewing energy rating reports and recommendations and offering suggestions for less costly alternatives if available.
Sad story about mold and an energy rater:
I got a call one Saturday night, and the man on the other end said, “You should know my story.” It turns out that he had had a job as an energy rater. As part of his job, he frequently had to climb up and down to open and close vents and take measurements. He said that no one had told them to wear respirators in doing this work.
He ended up with Aspergillus growth in his brain. An operation to remove the Aspergillus left him with epilepsy. Then Aspergillus was found in his lungs, and no anti-fungal medication worked until a new one came out, something that sounded like V-Fend. (This call had to be 15 or 20 years ago, so surely new medications are available today.) He didn’t know how long the V-Fend would work for.
INTERSECTION OF ENERGY SAVINGS AND A HEALTHY HOME
A large area has to do with the heating and air-conditioning system. If a homeowner plans to upgrade the heating and air-conditioning system due to mold contamination, this is a perfect time to incorporate steps for energy savings. Becoming good friends, figuratively speaking, with Nate Adams, the House Whisperer, during the planning process could lead to significant energy savings. Google “Nate Adams electrify”
Each October, I attend the Healthy Home Summit outside of Pittsburgh, and Nate is always a speaker and always impressive. I’ve been told that Nate could command a high salary working in industry, but instead he chooses to do research on residential levels and come up with recommendations for improving energy efficiency.
Another topic related to Nate’s approach has to do with the type of fuel. Maybe getting off oil and gas would be a good thing, health-wise as well as greenhouse gas-wise.
Then there is the matter of solar or geothermal energy with EMFs. This subject is addressed in the Dirty Electricity tab.
Ventilation, having a chapter all its own, relates to the heating and air-conditioning system. Some mechanical methods for ventilation are more energy efficient than others. However, if the energy efficiency is associated with technology that fosters mold growth, the whole picture may need to be reconsidered. See the Ventilation tab.
Mechanical ventilation also ideally should result in a positive pressure in the house. Positive pressures don’t suck stale wall cavity air into living areas. Negative pressures could not only suck stale wall cavity air into living areas but also draw in car exhaust fumes from an attached garage.
The energy rating project should also concern itself with making the garage airtight against the house, so that car exhaust or gasoline fumes from power lawnmowers, etc., are not drawn in to the house. Not only should the entry door to the house from the garage be examined, but also any air infiltration pathways into wall or ceiling cavities from the garage.
I’m sure there are more applications linking healthy home concerns with energy efficiency, but these are some that come to mind. You are welcome to send me more examples.