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Illinois Country Living


Airflow Audit
The Whole House Approach to Energy Efficiency

By Ed VanHoose

Blower door test

Testing the air tightness of a home using a special fan called a blower door can help to ensure that air sealing work is effective. Often energy efficiency incentive programs, such as the DOE/EPA Energy Star Program, require a blower-door test (usually performed in less than an hour) to confirm the tightness of the house. (Source: www.energysavers.gov)


There are two types of blower doors: calibrated and uncalibrated. It is important that auditors use a calibrated door. This type of blower door has several gauges that measure the amount of air pulled out of the house by the fan. Uncalibrated blower doors can only locate leaks in homes. They provide no method for determining the overall tightness of a building.


The frame should attach the flexible panel material snugly to the door frame.


Infrared camera

One of the first steps in performing an energy audit is to use an infrared camera to detect air leaks invisible to the human eye. As you can see from the photos (inset bottom), there is a significant amount of leakage from the kitchen soffit.


Caulk

Caulk forms a flexible seal for cracks, gaps, or joints less than 1-quarter-inch wide. You can use a caulking compound to seal air leaks in a variety of places throughout your home, including around windows and door frames.


HVAC

Turn off the HVAC power to avoid bubbles in the caulk. Caulk the seams and joints of your duct work using caulk mastic. Use a putty knife to adequately cover the seams and joints. For areas you cannot get your caulk gun into, use foil tape; its acrylic adhesive will bond better than duct tape. Check the caulk tube to find out how long it needs to cure before you turn the power to your HVAC unit back on.


Blown in cellulose

Blown-in cellulose insulation is an environmentally friendly way to insulate your house. The main ingredient in cellulose insulation is recycled newspaper. Chemical additives make it fire retardant. It is acoustically superior at blocking noise. It fills in gaps reducing air infiltration and energy loss.

 

 

Winter is becoming a memory, but your energy bills are still haunting you. With summer just around the corner, what can you do to cut down on your future spending? According to Brian Kumer of Thermal Imaging Services, Inc. the first line of defense against high energy bills is to seal all of the air leaks within your home. In order to find leaks, he recommends an energy audit prior to performing any work.

Kumer says, “The first thing that should be done is to find and seal the leaks. That should be done even before insulating the attic. Otherwise, you simply won’t see the return in energy savings from insulating.”

The method Kumer employs is a blower-door system. A basic blower-door system includes three components: a calibrated fan, a door-panel system, and a device to measure fan flow and building pressure. The blower-door fan is temporarily sealed into an exterior doorway using the door-panel system. The fan is used to blow air into or out of the building, which creates a small pressure difference between inside and outside. This pressure difference forces air through all holes and penetrations in the building enclosure. The tighter the building (e.g. fewer holes), the less air is needed from the blower-door fan to create a change in building pressure.

“Once the blower door is in place, then an infrared camera can be used to see where air is coming in or out,” says Kumer. “Once we find the leaks, then they can be sealed with caulk and spray foam insulation.”

After sealing the internal leaks within the building, then insulating the attic and basement ceiling will have the greatest impact upon the bottom line of your energy bills.

In order to determine the type and amount of insulation needed for your home, the Department of Energy has added a Zip-Code Insulation Program to their website (http://www.ornl.gov/~roofs/Zip/ZipHome.html). The interactive module allows home owners to enter the first three digits of their zip code, and information about their home to find the suggested amount of insulation needed in a particular area, based upon factors such as climate, home type and home age.

Kumer says the average home in Illinois requires an R-value anywhere from R39 to R50.

According to the DOE, R-value simply refers to how insulation is rated in terms of thermal resistance, which indicates the resistance to heat flow: The higher the R-value, the greater the insulating effectiveness. The R-value of thermal insulation depends on the type of material, its thickness and its density. In calculating the R-value of a multi-layered installation, the R-values of the individual layers are added.

Kumer adds, “When purchasing insulation, check the label. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has rules about the information that must appear on labels of packaging for residential insulation.”

Regardless of whether you use a professional auditor or choose to perform a self-guided energy audit, you should choose a “whole-house” approach to upgrades. By looking throughout your entire home for air leaks and then adding insulation where needed, you can find real savings on your energy bills.


Quick Tips to Save Energy

Interested in saving energy? Try conserving with this list of 10 ideas provided by Touchstone Energy.

Replace Your Light Bulbs

Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs) are 70% more efficient than incandescent bulbs and cost about $2 a piece. Payback? A few months.

Insulate Your Attic

Attics can be sources of heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer. Payback varies by region, but it’s usually within two years.

Programmable Thermostats

The average home will spend more than $1,000 a year on heating and cooling. Programmable thermostats adjust the temperature during unoccupied hours. Payback is within a year.

Maintain Your HVAC System

Heating and cooling system equipment runs best when maintained. Change your filters on a regular basis and have it serviced annually to make sure it’s running efficiently.

Unplug

Check around the house to see if devices are unnecessarily plugged in. Cell phones, iPod chargers, plasma TVS, entertainment systems, computers and appliances are still drawing power when not in use.

Weatherization

Weatherizing your home means sealing out air around doors, windows and places where pipes enter the home.

Conduct Your Own Energy Audit

Do you really need two refrigerators? Is there a fish tank with no fish? Is your house so hot in winter that you need to wear a Hawaiian shirt? Walk around your house to check for wasted energy sources.

Replace Your Single Pane Windows

Upgrading to more energy efficient windows can help control temperature and air infiltration in your home. It can be costly but payback may be just a few years.

Save With the Stimulus Package

Homeowners can take advantage of the efficiency tax credit of up to $1,500, or 30 percent, of the cost for new energy upgrades. Check out http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=tax_credits.tx_index.

Contact Your Local Touchstone Energy Electric Cooperative.

Many electric cooperatives offer energy audits and rebates on the purchase of new more efficient appliances. Check with your electric cooperative.

 

For more information on energy efficiency tips, including links to helpful resources, please visit www.touchstoneenergysavers.com.

 

© 2014 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives

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