“We’ll cross the streams.”
Yesterday we covered ABC: eyeballing the deficiencies in the Attic and Basement. And whatever “C” was supposed to be. So for part 2 of the energy rater visit, we’re going to focus on the actual tools used to get hard numbers about a house’s energy efficiency. And then the costs involved with this bullshit, and how to fix it.
Paul had brought equipment to test how airtight, or rather, how airloose the house was: a blower door and a thermal imager. Top of the line stuff, or so it seemed to me. But we know how much I know.
First I opened all of the interior doors in the house, except for the ones to the attic and basement, as well as the cardboard-sporting door of the stairway closet. And all of the windows were closed already. Paul fitted a canvas covering over the front doorway of the house, rigged with measuring equipment and featuring a round hole in the bottom. He then put a fan in the hole, facing out of the house. This was the blower door setup:
He started up the fan to push air out of the house and, as a result, lower the interior pressure. The gadget on the door blower compared the pressure of outside with the pressure inside the house. Paul said it would simulate twenty-mile-an-hour winds blowing on the house on all six sides, which would be pretty hard to manage in real life.
Then Paul got out his PKE meter to detect the spirits in the house. Okay, no, it was a thermal imaging device, and he was detecting spots in the house where air was escaping. But, you know, almost the same thing! He walked around holding up the thing and looking through it at walls, the tops of windows, around doorframes, that sort of thing. Here’s a shot of the imager in action:
Spooky! There’s that invisible, malevolent phenomenon, caught on camera. Darker areas on the device’s screen showed cold spots where air was escaping. In this picture you can see the window in the kitchen that he’s pointing at, and the dark stream coming from the top of the frame.
If the walls had been outfitted with effective insulation, he said, they’d show up on the thermal imaging screen as dark and light stripes. The dark parts would be the beams within the walls, and the light parts would be the insulation between them. But the walls showed up as all dark, meaning no insulation. And then plenty of those darker spots to show where the air we’d so diligently tried to heat was just whistling out through the goddamn wall. To be replaced, of course, by unheated air from outside.
The blower door gave a reading of .98 natural air interchange per hour. Which meant that 98% of the total volume of air in the house is changed every hour under natural conditions. Now, Paul thought there might be a slight error in the calculation– so close to 100% seemed high– but even so, most of the air in the house has changed by the end of each hour that passes. That’s a lot of (warmer) air escaping and a lot of (colder) air coming in.
He gave me an estimate, based on the heating fuel costs thus far that we’ve paid, that we are seeing an annual air leakage cost of $914.21. Now, this number might not be accurate. The truth could be even higher. The data that I gave Paul reflected, in part, the fact that for the last couple of months we have been keeping the thermostat at 50 degrees during the day and 45 degrees overnight. In other words, far colder than we’d prefer to live.
This “lifestyle,” as Paul repeatedly called it, also accounts for the fact that the Home Heating Index number yielded for our house is not very helpful. It’s 6.16, which is considered “energy efficient,” but… we have been living like fucking wildlings to make it that way. If we’d foolishly spent thousands and thousands on heating oil this past winter, even knowing that the house was drafty and leaky, we would have yielded more accurate fuel expenditure data.
Paul estimated that a thorough, professional job of insulating and weathering the house based on what he’d seen would run into the thousands. How many thousands, of course, depends on who you’re dealing with. But he’s supposed to send a list of reputable contractors, and he suggested joining the Green Alliance, a regional outfit based in Portsmouth, to get more names (and possible discounts).
In the meantime, we can at least defray heating oil costs by going with a cheaper provider– the rate we’ve been paying, $4 a gallon or more, is a ripoff. Paul recommended Simply Green Biofuels for heating oil that’s both more affordable and a little friendlier to the planet. They have a blend called B10 that contains 10% biofuel, made from “locally collected waste vegetable oil.” I.e., the grease that your burger and fries bathed in at the Rusty Hammer before arriving on your plate.
So go ahead, get that second slice of pineapple buffalo chicken pizza at Joe’s on Congress Street. You might just be reducing carbon emissions!
(All right, fact checkers, you win. I don’t know which restaurants Simply Green gets its grease from, I’m just guessing.)
The total cost of Paul Button’s visit? $225. It would have been more if he’d done a full furnace evaluation as well, but that part didn’t seem necessary.
One thing I forgot to mention yesterday– Paul also recommended insulating the ductwork for the furnace, for both the ducts coming from and going to the furnace. Leaky joints decrease the efficiency of the system. And the duct bringing air from outside into the house could be picking up some junk along the way from the air of the basement, like paint can fumes and even radon.
I’ll have to take a break for the next few days from this to do some more catching up in my novel editing.
Why am I droning on about energy efficiency? Check out this entry to see how I’m trying to figure out ways to fight climate change on a personal level.
Also, RIP, Harold Ramis.