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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

In Greening Your House, Where Do You Get the Most Bang for Your Buck?



[Published July 2, 2015, in the Jeffco editions of the Denver Post's YourHub section and in four Jefferson County weekly newspapers]


There are so many things you can do to reduce energy consumption in your home, and some of us have done many of them — no one more so than my friend and mentor, Steve Stevens.

Often I’m asked by home owners, “What gives me the most bang for my buck?”  I think Steve would agree with me that the answer is almost always insulation and air sealing.  Reducing cold air flowing into your house is the single most effective way to reduce your heating bill in the winter, and that same insulation will reduce your cooling bill in the summer.

So, you ask, where is that cold air getting into my house?  While you can detect some of these yourself and can install weather stripping and caulk to stop drafts under and around doors, windows and other exterior wall penetrations such as electrical outlets, I suggest paying for an energy audit of your house.  I have a vendor who will do it for $120, which he’ll then apply to any insulation or other fixes he does for you. (The audit costs much more, but Xcel Energy subsidizes it.)

In an energy audit, a “blower door” test is done.  In this test a computer-monitored fan is installed in an exterior door and tries to suck the air out of your house. By measuring how hard that is to do, the computer determines how easy it is for outside air to enter your house. While the fan is running, the technician goes around your house with a super-sensitive infrared camera which detects temperature differences as little as one-tenth of a degree.

You don’t have to wait for winter to do a blower-door test. Hot days are perfect for this. “When it’s hot outside, the walls light up like a Christmas tree on the infrared camera,” I was told.

Those places identified by the camera are where you need to do air sealing.  Caulk is cheap, too, so caulking the places where air enters your house is your single best expenditure in making your home energy efficient.

If you’re willing to spend a couple thousand dollars or so (depending on the size of your house), I am a huge fan of blowing cellulose insulation not only into your attic but also into your walls — even if your walls are already insulated.  I had this done on a 1950’s house I owned, and the effect was amazing. What I learned was that it’s not about air flow alone. Your walls function as radiators — that is, they radiate their temperature, and you can feel it in the room. You’ve probably walked past a brick wall on a sunny day and felt the heat radiating off that wall. (Just walk in front of Golden Real Estate’s office on any sunny day!)

Well, walls can also radiate coldness. When I had the exterior walls of that 1950’s home packed with cellulose, the feeling inside went from chilly to cozy even though the air temperature maintained by the forced air furnace was no different. That’s because the walls were no longer cold to the touch and therefore no longer radiating coldness.

Steve Stevens, whom I mentioned in the first paragraph, has gone far beyond these simple steps. When I shot a video tour of his house a few years ago, it took over half an hour for him to lead me through his 1970’s home describing the 20 or 30 different actions he had taken to reduce the energy consumption of his house. 

Here's the link for that video tour of Steve Stevens' home: http://youtu.be/t3jvittg60I

1 comment:

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