Ask the Contractor: Blower test can determine how airtight a house is
By YAVAPAI COUNTY CONTRACTORS ASSOCIATION
Originally Published: October 15, 2009 10:05 p.m.
Question: I have heard the term "tight house" and am wondering what it means.-Rich in Dewey.Answer (by Troy Koski, owner, TDK Comfort Systems): There are many factors that go into determining if the home you live in has been built "tight" to cut down on heating and cooling loss and energy costs. Wind speed, location of the forced air duct system, window types and vapor barrier protection are components to determine if your home is "tight." Every home is unique and needs to be treated as such. The best method for locating leaks in your home is to have a company who has a certified analyst from the Building Performance Institute (BPI) perform a blower test on the home to measure the rate of infiltration into the home. This device is a calibrated fan that blows air out of the house to create a slight pressure difference between the inside and outside. The pressure difference forces air through all holes and penetrations in the exterior envelope. The fan is energized to a certain pressure and, through the machine's components, the company is able to determine the amount of air leakage the home has. Once the leakage is pinpointed, recommendations are then made to stop and/or minimize the loss, thus saving you money. This blower test can also estimate the amount of leakage between conditioned space and the garage/attic and crawlspaces. The repairs show big dividends in energy consumption and overall comfort of the home. Natural air leakage in and out of the home varies with the outside temperature and indoor temperatures and wind speed. Uncontrolled air leakage can result in high electric bills and failure of some of the home components. Building practices have changed over the years and there is a demand for more energy-efficient homes. Builders are building with house wraps, tight-fitting exterior sheathings, vapor barriers, caulking, foams and sealants. All of these items are part of the construction standard. It is important to know how "tight" your home is before you consider investing in a high efficient heating and cooling system. Question: What are some easy things to do to help save money on my heating bill?-Shaun in Prescott.Answer (by Steve Voevodsky - Energy Savings Heating & Cooling): First and foremost, change your filter monthly. Furnaces consume less energy and heat your home faster with a clean filter. Caulking around doors and windows, checking for leaky ductwork in the attic, inspecting your weather stripping and sealing around holes where pipes and wires come into the house are great inexpensive ways to save energy. Make sure your fireplace damper is closed when not using the fireplace. Install a programmable thermostat to set the temperature up at night when you are sleeping or not using one side of the home. Make sure all of your supply registers are open, even in rooms that aren't being used. It is also sound advice to have a heating and air conditioning contractor inspect your furnace to make sure the gas pressure is correct. Reverse ceiling fans to insure air is being pushed down as hot air rises.DID YOU KNOW?Using dimmers on incandescent bulbs increases bulb life and decreases the energy used.If every American home exchanged the five most-used bulbs with Energy-Star qualified bulbs, 1 trillion pounds of greenhouse gases would be kept out of the air providing a savings of $6 billion in energy.Americans have saved $20 billion on energy bills with the help of Energy-Star.Question: I would like to know more about window replacement. Michael in Prescott ValleyAnswer (by Mike DeSoto, President, MI Windows): Window makers want people to think of replacement as a downgrade... in terms of energy consumption. Generally, window replacement means adding a new look to a home or a simple act of upkeep. Many consumers are in the dark when it comes to a replacement window as an energy saver. There is a savings of $400-$500 through Low-E glass. The energy-efficient factor is so important. You can go after high value but not worry about the wood grain and the recessed locks. That sizzle can cost you an extra $400 a window. You should be able to install a great value window taking care of the energy concerns for $400 to $500 even less. So you get into a two-year payback on a replacement window job. Most consumers are not aware of this. There are windows on the market that bring in green features. Windows that run low-E are becoming standard gear for any green-minded household, but soundproofing is making noise in the market as well. Several manufacturers are offering windows with 30 percent less noise. Also, there are windows that come with SunCoat, a clear Low-E coating applied to one side of the glass in dual-pane windows. This thin coating filters the sun's energy in the summer and reduces heat loss in the winter. Question: I have noticed cracks round my windows and doors. Do I have a foundation problem? - Caroline, Prescott ValleyAnswer (by Rosie Romero of www.rosieonthehouse.com): In Arizona, our biggest worry is our soil, which can cause problems with the foundations of our homes. Fortunately, most problems caused by bad soil can be repaired. A lot of soil-related problems arise because homeowners assume living in a dry climate means the soil is dry, sandy and stable, so they do not think twice about planting and watering near the house. In many areas of the state, the soil contains a high percentage of clay, meaning it is neither sandy nor stable. In fact, clay-based soil expands when it gets wet and shrinks when it dries. Soil is moisture-sensitive, and as long as it is dry, there is no problem. Water changes everything. As soon as moisture fluctuates, during a monsoon storm or if your neighbor plants a yard full of thirsty greenery, the problems begin. When clay-rich soil comes in contact with water, it expands, causing the soil particles to push upward. If that happens right under your house, it can damage your foundation. Expansive soil is among the most expensive geologic hazards and causes $300 million a year in damage to homes. Problems associated with expansive soils include foundation cracks, cracks in floor slabs and walls, jammed doors and windows, ruptured pipes and cracks in sidewalks and roads. The best prevention is to keep water away from your house and keep the soil dry. The most drastic cure: You might have to get your damaged foundation repaired and replace the expansive soil with a non-expansive alternative. Sound expensive? It is. Not all soil is Arizona is expansive. Some is collapsible, which means it is loose and dry, and will collapse and compact when it gets wet. This kind of soil can cause your home to settle rather than heave, but the symptoms are similar to the heaving brought on by expansive soils, cracked foundations, floors and walls. If you suspect the cracks around your windows and doors are bigger and more numerous than normal, it might be a good idea to consult with an engineer who can evaluate the soil on your property and determine whether you need to take drastic measurers. Bottom line: Keep water away from your house. The drier the soil is, the fewer problems you will see. DID YOU KNOW?Washing your clothes in cold or warm water can save a lot of energy. A whopping 85-90 percent of the energy used by washing machines is for heating the water.There are two simple ways to make your dyer more energy-efficient: Replace any flexible hosing with rigid piping to help reduce air flow restrictions and increase the drying capability. Verify that the outside vent flap is functional and clean; often it is found to be partially open due to lint build-up or mechanical damage.Yavapai County Contractors Association (YCCA) is a professional association representing licensed, bonded and insured contractors, suppliers, distributors and business entities. For referrals, call 778-0040 or visit our website at www.ycca.org.Submit your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and watch for your answer in the weekly real estate section of the Daily Courier.