25 April 2010

The High Performance Home - The Whole House Audit

It started with our furnace going down one cold evening a few weeks ago. I went down in the crawl space and opened her up. The diagnostic lights indicated a problem with the vacuum relief valve. I unhooked the air tube that connects to the VRV and blew through it and then tapped the valve with a screw driver and reassembled everything and wala! Things were auto-magically fixed. While I am happy to bask in my wife's sincere praise for my handinesss, I was suspicious of the fix. Things that easy to fix usually come back at the worst time.
This isn't the first time the unit has gone down and it is getting to be about 20 years old. We decided to call a few HVAC companies for quotes to replace our furnace and AC.  We got a couple of quotes and then we ran into a company whose sales guy, James, said, "Why don't you let us do a free whole house audit?" I like free. So we agreed to have James and his team  audit the energy efficiency of our house.
When they arrived and I watched them unload the gear it reminded me of those movies when the bio-hazard team puts someone's house in lock-down. The "stuff" just kept coming. Finally, the foyer of our house was filled with assorted gizmos and tools and the audit began.
The audit consisted of,
- a visual inspection of the attic and crawl space
- a burn test, in which they  lite a small smoldering flame and  look for drafts
- an infrared camera scan for hot and cold spots
- inspection of the HVAC systems
- inspection of the water heater
- ducting pressure test (we were losing 40% of our HVAC activity to the outside through faulty duct design)
- a blow test in which they seal up the house and put a big fan that pressurizes the entire living space and check for leakages
We knew we didn't have the most efficient home but the audit convinced us we needed to take a more holistic approach to going green. We asked James and the gang to come back to us with a proposal and we emphasized we were open to more innovative solutions. Check in soon to hear about the proposal.

Completed Projects

I didn't decide to start this blog right away. so, we got a few things done before this started. I'm hoping to document those projects on the website www.doyourselfgreen.com  soon. In the meantime I think there's a enough going on to keep the blog more than busy.
Here's a list of what we've done so far,
-changed all the lights to CFL
- upgraded the thermostat to a super-programmable
- changed out all the windows (all 37, ouch!)
-installed solar pool heating
We've probably done others. I'll update the list as I remember.

The Starting Point

So, about our house. Our home was built in 1992. It is one story, sort of. Our home is on a steep lot that slants toward the back of our home. So the front of the house is at street level but if you stand in back of the house, your looking up basically 2 stories. But there is only one small room  below street level that was added on after the original build (by the original builders) as a combo guest room and changing room for the swimming pool. The house is about 32oo sq. ft.. We have a crawl space under the house that, due to the slope of the lot, is minimal in front but big enough to stand in at the back. This crawl space houses all of our utility stuff, furnace, water heater, etc. We also have a a crawl space attic. Other feature; as mentioned, a swimming pool (something we would never have done if we were building from scratch but the house came with one, so cool!) We also have three fireplaces we almost never use and a 3 car garage.
Heating is a 5-ton forced air gas furnace at about 80% efficiency. Windows were dual pane aluminum. We have a HUGE water commercial size water heater for some unknown reason. I guess the original owners wanted to never run out of hot water. We have central air, again about 80% efficient.Everything is pretty standard for the time the house was built. Regulat R14 batten insultaion (you know the pink stuff.) No attic fan or whole house fan.
Our energy bills before we started doing energy improvements were averaging around $250 per month even though we were conserving like crazy, tmep at 63 F most of the day during winter months, splurging up to a balmy 68 in the evenings. Temp kept at 83 duirng the summer day dropping to 78 in the evenings
Stay tuned to see how things change.

The Backstory

My wife and I purchased a home built in 1992. That's makes it fairly new but old enough that green technology and and the high performance home knowledge have advanced a lot since our home was built. Last year we started getting serious about making our home more energy efficient and more "green."  We found a lot of good general information. But we're both engineers. We need to understand how something works before we invest in it. We've found a real lack of specific information about how do best improve our home.
This blog is about our continuing efforts to improve our home, the challenges, the learnings and the technology. In parallel, we'll be doing a website www.doyourselfgreen.com where we'll post more info, video's of our projects etc. I hope you enjoy the blog and I look forward to your comments.
About the name: FYI I called this site "Do Yourself Green" but its not "Do 
it yourself green". I'm a handier than average guy with more confidence than no how, so I'll tackle a lot of things myself but many of the things we contemplate here are just more than I have time or know-how to tackle. So, don’t be surprise when we bring in the pros.