Turns Out It's Detective Work

January 23, 2018

Part 1 of 3

 

 

I don't know about you, but I find energy audits fascinating. I always want to know what each house scores in air tightness and what the main culprits are. I'm like a soap opera junkie who can't wait for the next episode. When we complete a retrofit, I'm equally as excited to learn what the NEW score is and what percentage reduction we achieved. The best we've ever done is 73%! We hooped and hollered and cheered and had a little dance party with our kids. We just love this stuff!

 

Well, I finally had an opportunity to shadow the real, live thing - an energy audit! I thought I knew what it was all about because I've read the reports, seen the equipment and heard my husband's stories (Do most people feel like they have a relative competence in their spouses' field just from proximity?), but I had missed the mark.

The Audit

 

In my imaginings, the audit relied heavily on the equipment readout, the calculations, and the search for air being pulled through holes in the house during the blower door pressurization. Those things certainly played a role, but the bulk of it was detective work on William's part. So much of that work he was able to think through because of his construction experience. It was impressive.

 

He was fearless crawling through damp crawlspaces, into tight spots in attics, meticulously moving batted insulation to inspect the far end of the rafters. He measured and drew the house, asked lots of questions about how and when it was built and puzzled it all together.

 

For instance, this house had a garage built on as an addition, but without a door that came into the house . The home owner's bedroom closets were built jutting out into the garage addition - very unusual. William took pictures, examined both rooms and asked questions. He now knew the garage was not likely to be affecting the "building envelope" of air, the closets were extra square footage and encased in cinderblock. All of these were clues as to what was and was not causing the draftiness and chill in her house.

And it was a chilly house. It was the warmest day of many weeks and I was chilled with extra layers on. (When I got back in the van, the seat warmer was a welcome luxury.) As we went through the house, William complemented her on many of the improvements she had tried to make in her home. I was struck by how positive he was, certainly not trying to raise alarm bells and make her feel that it all had to be redone. She had made special efforts to insulate walls while renovations had occurred, seal off chimneys, add a 2nd HVAC system for an addition and have argon and extra layers of storm windows on her basement windows.

 

The home was 2400 square feet built in the 50s, in Staunton and had 2 additions added through the years - a garage and a studio on a concrete slab. The homeowner was extremely conservative in her thermostat settings, so had low heating bills. Her attic had blown insulation with batted insulation on top. The attic was accessed by pull down stairs (that creaked frightfully as we went up). The basement was half finished with an unconditioned utility room. The crawl space had batted insulation. There were 3 fireplaces, all of which were sealed. The house is heated through forced air, much to our home owner's chagrin.

 

 

 

Up next: Part 2 - quick fixes, diagnostic test, educating the home owner

 

 

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Photo Credits: Kevin Blackburn