Attention to Detail and Air Sealing

By Megan Kramer, Performance Homes Consultant

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The contractor paid special attention to all air sealing details. We checked for leaks before the drywall was installed with an additional blower door test and he was able to seal anything that was missed. He also installed Zip-System sheathing with tapped seams on the exterior. This home meets the criteria for a 4-STAR Built Green Home, a rebate from Pacific Power and an official HERS Index of 56.

PACFIC POWER REBATE - $1500

HERS INDEX - 56

  • Zip System Sheathing

  • Energy Star Appliances

  • Extensive Air Sealing

  • LIFEBREATH HRV

  • Inprocess Testing

  • Tankless Water Heater

  • 100% LEDs

Choose Energy Star Appliances

By Megan Kramer, Performance Homes Consultant

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A code compliance blower door test turned into a hefty rebate for these homeowners! This owner/builder made a lot of choices with energy in mind. Rarely do you see a home with ALL Energy Star appliances. They called me for a code compliance blower test and when I saw the home I knew they could qualify for the new PSE High Performance Homes Rebate.

PUGET SOUND ENERGY REBATE - $1500

  • Heat Pump Water Heater

  • High Efficiency Heating System

  • Increased Insulation and Air Sealing

  • South Facing Passive Design

  • All Energy Star Appliances

  • Smart Thermostat

Smart... Affordable... Efficient...

By Megan Kramer, Performance Homes Consultant

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This affordable duplex incorporated a tankless water heater, high efficiency furnace and innovative use of materials to qualify for a 3-STAR Built Green Certification and a rebate from Cascade Natural Gas.

CASCADE NATURAL GAS REBATE - $2000 rebate per unit

BUILT GREEN - 3-STAR Certification

  • Tankless Water Heater

  • High Efficiency Furnace

  • Insulated Slab and Stem Walls

  • Above Code Insulation and Windows

  • Native Landscaping

  • Minimum Site Impact

  • Advanced Water Management

  • LED Lights

  • Carpet Tiles

  • No Urea Formaldehyde

  • Durable. Repairable, Cleanable Surfaces

  • Minimum Construction Waste – 90% Recycled

Leaving Money on the Table?

By Megan Kramer, Performance Homes Consultant

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There are very few homes in central Washington with performance certifications such as Built Green, National Green Building Standard, Earth Advantage, LEED-Homes and ENERGY STAR. Even more significant is the lack of third-party performance testing, verification and Home Energy Ratings. I have heard repeatedly from local industry professionals that clients are not looking for this service and that the electricity rates are too low to justify the added cost.

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In fact, people want comfortable, durable, well designed, healthy homes. They understand the added value and are willing to pay incremental costs. New and existing homes that receive a third-party rating or certification are priced higher and sell quicker. There are a variety of incentives that can drive construction of high performance homes including direct utility incentives, lowered operating costs, additional financing options and even improved heath. Builders and homeowners who are not taking advantage of these programs are leaving money on the table now and in the future.

 

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Homes that use between 10%-20% less energy than a code built home can earn up to $2500 in rebates depending on how the home is heated and cooled. You can see more specifics about each program here: Chelan PUD, Pacific Power, Puget Sound Energy, Cascade Natural Gas.

If you do not see your local utility on this list, I encourage you look into potential rebates for items including ENERGY STAR rated kitchen and laundry appliances, water heaters, heating and cooling systems. These rebates are often available to new and existing homes!


There are some simple and cost effective ways to improve the current housing stock and move toward high performance homes. Proper orientation, advanced framing, improved distribution systems, and increased air sealing improve home performance without much additional cost.

Take it a step beyond energy savings through water conservation, indoor air quality, materials use, waste reduction, even site preparation and landscaping. There are certifications available that include all of these strategies.

With the industry booming and new homes built every day, now is the time to act and create a legacy of high quality homes for generations to come. The clients are interested and the builders are capable. Resources can be found on social media, industry publications and specialty websites.

Start educating yourself today! Here are a few resources you can use to get started:

 https://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/

https://zeroenergyproject.org/

https://homeenergypros.org/

https://www.energyvanguard.com/

https://www.youtube.com/user/MattRisinger

https://www.youtube.com/user/GreenDreamGroup

https://www.finehomebuilding.com/?s=energy

Is there plastic in your wall?

By Megan Kramer, Performance Homes Consultant

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Vapor retarders are one of the most confusing aspects of building any home. There are state, county and sometimes city codes to follow, multiple inspectors to please and potentially a high performance certification program specification to meet.

I was surprised to see plastic in the wall assemblies of almost all the homes I have rated and wanted to find out more. Here are the various codes, what building science professionals have to say and some alternate products.

What does the code say?

WA State Prescriptive Checklist

2012 International Residential Code: R702.7 Vapor retarders. Class I or II vapor retarders are required on the interior side of frame walls in Climate Zones 5, 6, 7, 8 and Marine 4. Exceptions include:

1. Basement walls.

              2. Below grade portion of any wall.

3. Construction where moisture or its freezing will not damage the materials. 

Washington Climate Zones

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What Class is Your Vapor Retarder?

Class I Vapor Retarder: ≤ 0.1 perm (called impermeable). Also referred to as a vapor barrier, examples include: Sheet Polyethylene, on perforated aluminum foil.

Class II Vapor Retarder: 0.1 to 1.0 perm (called semi-impermeable. Examples include: Kraft-faced fiberglass batts.

WA State Energy Code

Vapor retarder. Wall assemblies in the building thermal envelope shall comply with the vapor retarder requirements of Section R702.7 of the International Residential Code or Section 1405.3 of the International Building Code, as applicable. Water-resistant gypsum board shall not be installed over Class I or II vapor retarder in shower or tub compartment.

Washington Administrative Code

R402.1.5 Vapor retarder. Wall assemblies in the building thermal envelope shall comply with the vapor retarder requirements of Section R702.7 of the International Residential Code or Section 1405.3 of the International Building Code, as applicable.

 

What do building scientist have to say?

Matt Risinger a leading building scientist discusses vapor barriers and sites a few resources.

Those resources along with some additional articles on the topic an be found below.


Energy Vanguard (one of the best blogs covering building science, heating & air conditioning, energy efficiency, and home energy audits) states, “You Don’t Need a Vapor Barrier (Probably).” Allison also introduces a few scenarios including: “In cold weather, a sheet of poly on the interior side of a wall probably won't cause any problems.” But, “Plastic on the outer surface of a wall in cold weather could cause problems.”

Building Science Corporation presents an article on vapor barriers by Joseph Lstiburek where he states interior vapor barriers such as polyethylene should never be installed in an air conditioned building — even one located in very cold climate.

Incorrect use of vapor barriers is leading to an increase in moisture related problems. Vapor barriers were originally intended to prevent assemblies from getting wet. However, they often prevent assemblies from drying. Vapor barriers installed on the interior of assemblies prevent assemblies from drying inward. 

Martin Holladay sums it all up in an article in Green Building Advisor:

  • The main reason to install an interior vapor retarder is to keep a building inspector happy.

  • If a building inspector wants you to install a layer of interior polyethylene on a wall or ceiling, see if you can convince the inspector to accept a layer of vapor-retarder paint or a “smart” retarder (for example, MemBrain or Intello Plus) instead.

  • Although most walls and ceilings don’t need an interior vapor barrier, it’s always a good idea to include an interior air barrier. Air leakage is far more likely to lead to problems than vapor diffusion.

What are the options?

Since there seems to be some question among leading professionals about the use of plastic in walls. We should start investigating and implementing alternate strategies. The most important thing a builder can do is make sure there is no air leakage through the walls in the first place. If there is no air leakage there is no way for bulk moisture to move through your wall system and no condensation potential in your wall.

After you have sealed the home, there are 3 ways to ensure you have a barrier against vapor.

  1. You can paint on your barrier for the same cost or possibly even less than primer. There are no additional labor costs and you get complete coverage without seams or gaps according to Applegate Insulation.

  2. Use a membrane technology such as Intelllo Plus or MemBrain. These products achieve the same goal as plastic without the possible complications and work well when combined with a blown-in insulation product.

Walls have the greatest surface area by far as compared to the floor or ceiling and therefore have the greatest impact on shell efficiency. As our homes get tighter, any moisture created has a greater chance of causing problems. We must be diligent with spot moisture control, air sealing and vapor retarders. We need to look at the whole system and ensure building integrity and occupant health.


And Away We Go!

By Megan Kramer, Performance Homes Consultant

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I am fortunate to be working with Cornerstone Homes out of Yakima, WA on my first two official HERS Ratings since getting certified!

The Gall Home

The Gall Home incorporates a variety of unique features including spray foam insulation, Heat Pump Water Heater, ICF Foundation, and an HRV.

This 2500 sqft home meets the criteria for a Built Green 3-star home. This home has large overhangs to accommodate the large windows on the east side of the home installed to take advantage of the incredible views.

The Liner Home

The Liner Home went a little more above and beyond. This home incorporates Zip System sheathing which I was excited to see first-hand. We did a blower door test on this home pre-drywall which was incredibly informative and showed some interesting opportunities for improvement. Where the garage connected to the home, Zip System is no longer aligned, there were large air sealing opportunities. It was exciting to know these could be corrected before drywall was installed. After this was corrected, the home tested at 2.1 ACH@50 upon final inspection. The duct system tested low, but the builder is exploring ducts inside approaches and non-ducted systems for future projects.

This home incorporates better than code insulation a tankless propane water heater, above code windows, Energy Star appliances and LEDs throughout.

The Liner home earns the 4-star Build Green certification with a HERS Rating of 56. This home could have potentially been certified through Energy Star® as well. Unfortunately, we were not able to make that happen. Cornerstone is committed to Energy Star and is working toward that goal on future projects.

Is this Grade I?

By Megan Kramer, Performance Homes Consultant

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Since my background is in existing homes, I have years of experience evaluating floor and attic insulation, but did not have the opportunity to look inside the walls very much. The walls of a home have the largest surface area, so poor insulation installation in the walls can have the greatest impact on efficiency.

A common misperception is that heat rises, so the attic insulation is most important. In fact, heat moves toward cold. It will migrate through the path of least resistance to an area that is colder. Any connection to the outside world in a primarily heating climate allows for heat transfer. This includes thermal bridging through framing members and sheathing materials not just air leaks. Proper installation of insulation in the walls is incredibly important.

This is where your third-party verifier comes in. We need to determine if the insulation is Grade I, II OR III. When entered into REMRate this Grade can impact the final HERS Index and eligibility for a variety of certifications and program incentives.

Liner Home - Yakima, WA

Liner Home - Yakima, WA

I was recently out to a home and decided even though there are a few places where you can see the framing members when the insulation is lightly compressed, this still qualifies as Grade I. Do you agree? Here are the resources I used to make this determination:  

RESNET Standards                         

Insulation Institute 

WA State Energy Code

www.Insulationinstitute.org

www.Insulationinstitute.org

It is not just up to the verifier to make sure insulation is installed correctly. The builder must also understand the importance of proper install and work with a insulation company that offers high quality work. Like most things, it is the relationship building that is most important. We need to work together to create an exceptional team to do the job efficiently, effectively and economically!

It is also important that the insulation be enclosed on all six sides as stated by Insulation Training. “To attain a rating of "Grade I", wall insulation shall be enclosed on all six sides, and shall be in substantial contact with the sheathing material on at least one side (interior or exterior) of the cavity. Exception: the interior sheathing/enclosure material is optional in climate zones 1-3, provided insulation is adequately supported and meets all other requirements.”

Sheathing, Gaskets and Barriers Oh My!

By Megan Kramer, Performance Homes Consultant

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There are many products to consider when air sealing your new home. Like so many things, it is great to have choices, but it can also be overwhelming. I have put together a list of resource I found most helpful.

I always enjoy reading what Bruce Williams and his team at Zero Energy Project have to say. This is a fantastic overview of how to "Super-Seal the Building Envelope."

This video provides insight on the entire wall assembly and includes a Zip-Sheathing system. Hammer and Hand is a leading builder in Portland and Seattle. They build  Passive and Net Zero Homes.

One of the more common products being used on high efficiency new homes is the Zip-System. This is a system of sheathing and tape. They have a variety of products for different applications. This product was showcased on “This Old House.” 

In addition to the Z-System and other sheathing products, there are many ways to deal with penetrations in the building shell and leakage between framing members. These range from simple pipe gaskets, to framing gaskets and products like this one from the makers of great stuff - a leader in spray foam technology. 

Many of these options are tried and true being used across the globe with proven time-tested results. However, in the constant search to make air sealing less time consuming and more effective comes innovation.

There is a new product on the scene that is getting a lot of attention. It is just as controversial as AeroSeal for duct sealing when it first came out. This product is AeroBarrier. It involves using a blower door to depressurize the home to force tiny air sealing particles into all of the air leakage pathways. 

This product is extremely controversial from what I have read. Reactions to this product range from calls of #greenwashing and #epicfail to very positive first-hand accounts of success with very low ACH numbers, Here are some take-aways from what I have read:

  • Seals cracks up to 5/8th inch and will be most effective after all major items on the thermal bypass checklist have been addressed.

  • Essentially making a tight home tighter without a lot of time and labor.

  • Convenient and time-saving - but that does come at a cost.

  • Lack of transparency surrounding the chemical make-up of the product, but it is a GREEN Guard Gold Certified sealant.

So, it may not be the silver bullet the manufacture claims but may be a good product to keep in your quiver. You can read many industry experts debating this product on Green Building Advisor and LinkedIn. I am excited to hear more as AeroBarrier gains traction in the market.

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On the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of labor and speed, this DIY homebuilder offers an incredibly detailed account of his Passive House project including air sealing details. He also provides great insight into decision making and the turbulent process of working with subcontractors. Check out Kimchi and Kraut for some great tips!

 

A House at Trails End

By Megan Kramer, Performance Homes Consultant

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Trails End Lane in Yakima has fantastic views and some topography challenges. This home incorporates both with a daylight basement and abundance of natural light. Some interesting features of this home; currently under construction by Cornerstone Homes; include a super insulated ICF foundation, a Lifebreath HRV, efficient windows and a well designed and sealed duct system. Kelly Coons with Cornerstone Homes invited me out to the job site along with Jonathan Jones of Tri-Cities HBA to check out the progress. At this stage in construction we could see the duct design which included a few interesting adaptations; 1. An engineered opening in an I-Beam was incorporated to allow for optimal air flow; 2. Electronic dampers were installed to target air flow and accommodate potential expansion of the conditioned space; 3. All of the supply and return ducting, in addition to exhaust ducting were well designed and sealed. 

Cornerstone Homes does an excellent job of setting expectations for professionalism on the job site. This is posted right at the front door and makes it very clear what is required of everyone who works on this home. 

Cornerstone Homes is one of the top energy efficient, sustainable builders in central Washington. Many of their homes are certified through both the Built Green and Energy Star certification programs.

 

 

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We were joined on the job site by the Tri-Cities Home Builders Association HERS rater Jonathan Jones in his fancy new car! Our goal was to do some preliminary testing of the duct work to determine if anything could be improved. We also discussed the retroactive 2017 tax credit and potential options for air sealing this and future homes. 

 

While in Yakima, I stopped by the Leading Force Design Center right downtown. They have an impressive showroom of sustainable materials from countertops to flooring, clay finishes and cabinetry. There is an excellent display that demonstrates the various types of wall systems. They offer a rare opportunity to experience these materials to determine what would work best on your project. 

Reducing the impact of the built environment on the natural world...

By Megan Kramer: Performance Homes Consultant

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While Living in Bend, Oregon in the early 2000's I was frustrated at the towns rate of growth and the skyrocketing housing prices. I decided to get involved with a tour of "green" homes that was taking place to learn more about how town could be developed in a better way. I met some incredible designers, architects, builders and other early adopters of efficient building practices. 

After heading back east and completing graduate school at Carnegie Mellon University where I earned a Master's in Green Design I found myself packing my Subaru and heading straight back to Bend where I had been offered a job with 3EStrategies coordinating the annual home tour that had sparked my interest with efficient building a few years prior. This event is now run by the High Desert Branch of the US Green Building Council, a group I was fortunate to be a part of since inception along with some exceptional local leaders in the industry.

When I moved back to Bend in 2006 the economy was suffering and a lot of folks were loosing their homes, they certainly were not building new ones at the rate everyone thought was an inevitable constant just a few year before. I was hired by Energy Trust of Oregon to recruit and train contractors, educate homeowners and conserve energy in the existing homes market. The opportunities were limitless but I had to face my fear of crawlspaces, learn to walk very carefully in attics and train contractors how to test homes using diagnostic equipment, air seal, duct seal and insulate while ensuring the heath and safety of the occupants. 

After a few years of program work, Mountain View Heating brought me on to implement Home Performance with Energy Star at their firm. We tested houses, partnered with an insulation company and taught duct sealers how to air seal. I developed a great respect for the industry and learned to communicate with installers, size equipment, design distribution systems and mediate homeowner expectations.

When I was offered a position managing a low-income weatherization program, I took the opportunity to expand my knowledge and experience by working with a different housing stock, client base and funding structure. I continued consulting with Neighbor Impact when my husbands job brought us to north central Washington. I am fortunate to be based in a small town while offering support to clients on a global scale.  

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I started Megan Kramer Consulting and started with just a few client. I made some local connections with the Sustainable Living and Farming Tour which lead me to Upper Valley MEND and the community land trust model specifically the Meadowlark project. I worked with their team to write a grant application requiring efficient design. I was geared up to offer HERs ratings and get the homes certified through Energy Star when MEND decided they were not in a position to implement the project as planned. I also work with Wenatchee River institute promoting events such as the Sustainable Living and Farming Tour and Bird Fest.  

On the commercial side, I am working with Freedom Energy Corporation reducing the energy use of public schools in California. We are fortunate to be tapping into Prop 39 funds through the California Energy Commission. From lighting upgrades and shell measures to full heating and cooling equipment retrofits we evaluate existing conditions, recommend upgrades and secure funding.

UPDATE: I am now a HERS Rater with over a dozen completed projects earning Utility Rebates, BuiltGreen Certifications and even the EnergyStar Homes Certification.

What the Heck is a Charette?

By Megan Kramer, Performance Homes Consultant

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It was probably back in 2010 - when these two articles by Green Building Advisor and Building Science Corporation were published - that I was chatting with a framer who had just completed the home we were at. They were holding an event showcasing the home as an example of energy efficient construction. I asked him about his experience with advanced framing and his response stuck with me over the years.

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He said that the advanced framing seemed like a waste of time and resources. He had to learn how to do things differently but no one ever told him why. We chatted about thermal breaks and increased insulation. I was shocked no one had informed him earlier. Little did he know he had just been trained in a highly marketable skill and was ahead of the game in this ever evolving industry.  

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Another conversation I had regarding advanced framing was with a good friend who is also a finish carpenter. He was frustrated with new framing techniques due to the lack of backing. As his team was installing kitchen cabinets they realized the framing was not in "the right" place. This cost time and money tearing open the wall and installing the proper supports. You can't help but ask, had he been consulted earlier could this have been avoided?

A type of workshop where project participants indulge in brainstorming, discussion, and strategy development to create a shared vision. Participants in these workshops usually include the owner, architect, consultants, contractors, landscape architect, commissioning agents, etc.
~The LEED definition of a charrette~
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I know of numerous examples of plans neglecting to include chases for HVAC distribution systems, particularly that pesky cold air return. The solution tends to be taking square footage from a closet when the house is already framed and the HVAC crew finally shows up. Well, folks generally like closets, they are important parts of a home design and a very disappointing thing to give up when you are having a custom home built.

In this example, when the owner refused to allow them to relocate the furnace into their coat closet to accommodate a return in the center of the home, the return was installed at the far end directly above their dining room table on the wall adjacent to the garage where the furnace was installed. A single return of the proper size could not be run above the vaulted ceiling and the HVAC crew has no other solution to offer. The homeowner even suggested multiple smaller returns and was told that was not possible!! The back bedrooms were the families two young children sleep are incredibly uncomfortable... This house has been a warranty nightmare for this builder who just did not take the time to do it right.  

These are just a few examples of how lack of communication between the various trades is a major stumbling block for advancement of the building industry. Spending time up front talking about a project is not high on the list of priorities for many builders, but it can save an incredible amount of time and materials. It also shows your client that you are organized and proactive. This process supports all of the trades allowing everyone to perform at their best and have pride in the final home. Many certification programs including LEED, Energy Star and Built Green support this effort

Was your home built to last?

By Megan Kramer, Performance Homes Consultant

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One of the primary sustainability objectives is to build for longevity. Using high quality materials, mitigating moisture and aging in place are all parts of that equation. I was drawn to the following quote:

When we build, let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight nor for present use alone. Let it be such work that our descendants will thank us for; and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that people will say, as they look upon the labour and wrought substance of them, “See! This our parents did for us!

I saw this quote in Brett Dillon's, "Home Energy Rating Systems" while studying for the HERS Rater exam. I appreciate his candor and efforts to add levity to what can be a dry subject... Good thing I enjoy math and have been doing these types of calculations for years. It is a great refresher though and I am humbled by the breath of information presented.

This quote and much of what we do always come back to the common definition of Sustainable development as defined by the Brundtland Commission of 1987.

Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

I am looking forward to the day when I can start verifying new sustainable, efficient homes. I am excited to learn what is being done to integrate longevity into buildings in Washington State.  Although, today I am ok with studying in front of the computer while the snow accumulates outside.

Some thoughts on Indoor Air Quality

By Megan Kramer, Performance Homes Consultant

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The quality of the air we breathe while in our homes is impacting our health. There is an incredible amount of research on this topic and more is being discovered every day.  For example, some families spend thousands of dollars per year on asthma treatments. Between 2001 and 2009 the number of people in this country diagnosed with asthma increased by five million(1). Two of the main causes of asthma are Nitrogen dioxide from combustion appliances and chemical odors from paint, solvents, pesticides, adhesives, particleboard, vinyl flooring and tiles, dry-cleaned clothes, toner from photocopiers, and cleaning agents (2).

In this region, wildfire can also have a major impact on our lungs and potential dire consequences for asthma sufferers. The general recommendation for lung health during wildfire is to stay inside. This assumes good indoor air quality and lack of smoke infiltration into the home. This issue was especially concerning with the recent Santa Rosa fires causing toxic smoke to fill the sky. Many were questioning how to filter their air, if they should replace the soil in their yard and most importantly - How to rebuild better! Home Energy Pros shares an in-depth evaluation here. This hit our family personally as Grandma and Grandpa are currently living with a host family from their church trying to determine next steps after loosing everything. Although this an extreme example, better buildings can buffer our exposure to adverse health impacts of wildfire and needs to be addressed.

Asthma is just one impact of poor indoor air quality. During a home assessment we look for moisture, asbestos, combustion gases and potential contact with hazardous materials from garages, attics and crawlspaces. When it comes to building new - this issues can be eliminated through material choice and better building strategies. LEED, Living Building Challenge and Built Green among other building certification programs address health and safety. The EPA and ASHRAE  provide guidance as does the WELL Building Standard. This standard looks to go beyond health and safety. It has seven areas of concentration, called Concepts, which are air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind.

Better buildings start to be very cost effectiveness when health and safety is taken in to account, even in this region where utility rates are quite low. I look forward to exploring this more and developing strategies to improve the indoor air quality for existing and new homes in 2018!

Resources: (1) American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, (2) Asthma Initiative of Michigan

Utility Incentives

By Megan Kramer, Performance Homes Consultant

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Updated Utility Incentive Information: https://www.megan-kramer.com/blog-1/2019/6/19/are-you-leaving-money-on-the-table

Where do you ask is the nation’s cheapest, cleanest electricity? Central Washington of course – Chelan PUD boasts 97.13% of the fuel mix is from hydro. In addition, since the PUD operates and maintains its own damns, they are able to keep costs down. This is great for Chelan PUD clients, but at 2.7 cents per kilowatt hour it is hard to make the case that efficiency measures are cost effective. Of course, we know that the cost of our energy is not the only factor for building an efficient home or updating the one you have. Comfort, Heath and Safety are greatly improved through a retrofit or by building better homes. It is very hard to put a price on these things, but several medical journals have published articles attempting to quantify the health impacts of better buildings and ask anyone with cold feet how nice it is to get your floor insulated and air sealed. 

Even with low utility rates, the folks at Chelan PUD have a thriving conservation program for residential, commercial and industrial clients. They can make the case for energy efficiency and they are willing to pay you to improve your existing home. They are also considering an incentive for new homes that meet efficiency criteria. Some people income qualify for some free upgrades through the local Community Action Agency. In central Washington check with the Chelan-Douglas Community Action Council.  

Puget Sound Energy is coming out with a new homes incentive in February of 2018. This mostly affects folks in Kittitas County in this region. They have a robust conservation program already and are adding to what they already offer by incentivizing new homes. The PSE new homes program in the works is modeling the incentive structure on the Built Green program. This program offers a guide for building with conservation in mind. They have a checklist and a point system that equates to a 1 - 5 star rating. It is pretty straight forward and similar to the LEED checklist. You can get points for including all stakeholders in a design eco-charrette during the design phase and the home must be verified by a Built Green verifier. Megan Kramer Consulting is planning to offer eco-charrette guidance and Built Green verification services by March of 2018!

Built Green Qualifying Credit Categories:

  • Built Green Team

  • Site and Water

  • Energy Efficiency

  • Health and Indoor Air Quality

  • Materials Efficiency

  • Operation, Maintenance & Homeowner Education

Let's Talk About Filters

By Megan Kramer, Performance Homes Consultant

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Ask yourself... When was my furnace filter last changed?

  • If you have a general idea - great you are better than most.

  • If you have no idea - well, you are not alone.

  • But - you may be off the hook because not all homes have a furnace filter... If you are not sure - get in touch - I can help you figure it out!

  • If you have a ductless heat pump or a heat pump water heater you also have a filter just a different kind.

Check out this furnace filter I saw the other day. Someone did write the date on the side, so we know it was last changed on 7/1/2015. That means there is about 2.5 years of crud on this filter! I also found a dead rodent in the plenum and the filter was installed upside down...

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So... I decided to share a little bit about furnace filters.

With so many aspects of this industry taking place behind the scenes - it is nice to offer a clear, easy to understand, inexpensive DIY tip that can instantly increase the life of your equipment and improve the indoor air quality in your home. 

****Please Note - If your system has not been serviced recently, you do not know where the filter is or you are not comfortable doing this task, please call an HVAC expert. A filter change is part of regular maintenance just like when you get the oil changed in your car. It is a great idea to have an HVAC professional out on a regular basis to service your equipment. You can often find a list of companies through your local utility.**** 

But, for the DIYers out there...

 Quick, Easy Cost Effective Filter Tips:

  1. Find your filter - There are only 2 possible locations for your furnace filter either the return air grill in the wall or ceiling or at the actual furnace.

  2. Find your furnace - Common locations include basements and garages. It may be in a closet or laundry room. It could also be in the crawlspace or attic, in which case you may want to call a professional depending on how comfortable you are accessing these areas of your home.

  3. Check your filter - If the filter is located in the return grill you will probably have to get out a ladder or step stool and unscrew the cover which will swing out on hinges. If your filter is at your furnace, it may be in a special cabinet attached to the furnace, it may just have a small metal flap holding it in place, it may even go into the furnace cabinet itself. You may need to get out the manual...

  4. Record the filter size - write down the length x width x height and put the filter back in even if it is dirty. If it is really dirty you may want to turn the system off and head straight to the store for a replacement. Purchase 2 or 3 filters so you always have a new one available.

  5. Change the filter - When you change the filter write the date it was installed on the filter for future reference. Also be sure to position the filter so the air flow arrow is pointing toward the furnace cabinet.

  6. Change it again - Check the filter in a few months and change it again if it is dirty. A good rule is to change your filter every 6 months but you need to find what works for your home. If it is dirty, change it. If you find the filter is clean you do not need to change it as frequently.

  7. Instant Improvement - Your furnace will not have to work as hard and will run smoother with a clean filter. In addition, your indoor air quality will be improved.

All For just a few minutes of your time and about $20 plus a trip to hardware store. 

Ice Dams Beware

By Megan Kramer, Performance Homes Consultant

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When I started in the energy efficiency field my first supervisor told me that I would never look at buildings the same again... Well, Dave, you were right. Driving around in the winter it is easy to examine roofs throughout the neighborhood and get a sense of what efficiency challenges the home is experiencing. 

Ice dams generally are areas where warm air from the home is coming into contact with the roof and causing the snow to thaw and then freeze again forming ice. This ice then creates a dam and more ice builds up behind it.

The question is - the warm air from the home coming into contact with the roof. We need to examine the insulation and air sealing details of the home. Some basic observations and one simple test with a very fancy name, zonal pressure diagnostics, can help.

What are the possible air leakage culprits in the home pictures above? Well it all comes down to different aspects of the knee wall attic.

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This is one example of how a knee wall area can be insulated. This essentially puts the attic area outside of the conditioned space of the home. 

Thank you to Green Building Advisor for this image. They are an incredible resource for all building details. You can even download a file to include in your own CAD drawing! 

 

 

 
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Primary Suspects for Air Leakage

  • Can Lights: If not rated as Air Tight and for Insulation Contact these lights can act as holes in your ceiling and need to be replaced.

  • Kneewall Blocking: If not blocked properly, the insulation will allow for air leakage.

  • Kneewall Access: The door between conditioned and unconditioned space allows for massive air leakage

A simple blower test helped us figure this one out. The can lights did not leak at all while the attic access created a mild wind storm. Upon further inspection it was pretty obvious that this access was not sealed or insulated. Zonal Pressure Diagnostics revealed the conditioned space of this home was connected to the attic and needs to be separated.

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As you can see, the access was insulated and sealed with basic pressure fit foam board and weatherstripping. A new ZPD was done and indicated there are no more connections between the conditioned and unconditioned space so the heat will stay where it is supposed to and the ice dam issue will be solved. 

Winter is here and I am excited to see the results when the snow flies! 

 

 

Test Don't Guess

By Megan Kramer, Performance Homes Consultant

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The diagnostic equipment has arrived! A blower door, duct blaster, 2 DG-700s and all the accessories. I am excited to start guiding home improvements and assess new homes. It is amazing how increased comfort, improved indoor air quality and energy efficiency go hand in hand.

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Homeowners generally have a pretty good idea where the issues are in their home. The drafty window, cold or warm room, location of ice dams, or a bathroom where the moisture sticks around long after running the fan. However, homeowners often need strategies for making improvements or even just some help prioritizing. Diagnostic testing in combination with a visual assessment and a thorough understanding of the homeowners goals can inform a strategy for improvements. In many cases, a noticeable difference can be realized in a short amount of time. 

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Homeowners generally leave things to the professionals in a new construction home. Third party testing can be a fantastic way to ensure they did their job to meet agreed upon expectations. If you are working toward a certification for your home, testing is generally necessary. You may be interested in certifying your home to ensure it is healthy, safe and comfortable while using the least amount of energy possible.

Just a few home certification programs include LEED, EnergyStar and Passive House. A great place to start researching these is the Whole Building Design Guide. In Washington State there is also Built Green which is prevalent in the Seattle area and expanding to the rest of the state.

To find out more about some basic diagnostic testing here are some great resources. I have blog posts under construction for each of these...

Zonal Pressure Diagnostics

Blower Door Test

Duct Blaster Test

We Make Buildings Better

By Megan Kramer, Performance Homes Consultant

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This is a space for keeping you informed about what Megan Kramer Consulting is up to and a way to keep myself accountable. It is a chance to put into words my ideas and thoughts, but also to share things that are of interest. It is a place to reflect on and organize my thoughts around projects, discuss road blacks and share solutions. I can't claim to be a talented writer so I will do my best and I hope to look back at this blog in a year and think - wow, I accomplished a lot!

I hope to measure my success in relationships made, information exchanged and at least a few better buildings both old and new through:

  • Connecting with designers, builders and contractors with consulting services at every stage of the process.

  • Working with homeowners who want to improve their existing home or want to build a new home and are not quite sure where to start.

  • Supporting regional programs working to improve housing stock.

  • Offering resources for DIYers and professionals about challenges and solutions.

Thank you for reading!