Tuesday, August 31, 2010


The nature of the illness is throwing around the word "performance" and stating that improvement of "performance" is so key, that its practitioners should drive the weatherization wagon. Performance improvement, as used in acronyms BPI and PTCS, is only the little good someone in a clean shirt can do in an hour or so of attempted tightening of a house envelope against infiltration or HVAC duct leakage, rarely for energy savings of more than $20 per year. The performance practitioners blessed with "certification" attend classes, pay large fees and maybe take tests, and can then call themselves "professionals." There is no checking back to show they are honest or do good work, as any employer would require.

The performance word, as blower door reading, is so indeterminate, that in fact only change of reading has meaning. This then mandates a "before" test, fudged as much as possible to be a high number, and, worst, serves as a preventive of air sealing. Someone seeing a problem can't fix it until its blower door consequence is recorded, and won't fix it, or does at five times the cost. If the fix will have no consequence to a blower door test, as with an attic floor pit, why bother? This is absurd. It is very costly in maintaining waste of energy.

I am heartened at finding a large majority of HVAC contractors warning of the misbehavior of BPI, and others, attempting to corrupt HomeStar legislation, for self-interest. I now feel freer to speak out.

I thought Bonneville Power Administration, Oregon and Washington had a lot to do with the BPI/ Home Performance phenomenon, nationally. I'm right about Oregon. Oregon is third in the nation, just a little worse than Virginia, in per-population acceptance of BPI certification. Most states have none.

And who is spreading it?

In Oregon, forced by publicly-funded BPA and its child, Regional Technical Forum, pressure to get with the program is intense. In Washington, it is only PTCS that has been enforced. I will hope to understand the forces for conformance in New York and New Jersey.

The claimed-biggest "trainer" is Everblue Training Institute, location unknown, perhaps Charlotte NC.

Numbers in red above include "service providers" franchised by WellHome.

WellHome, Masco Brands:

Isn't that scary regarding intent to steal public resources through HomeStar?

Building Performance Madness

Letter to the City of Portland person responsible for Clean Energy Works, sent 8/20/2010:

You saw the full depth of the problem in the well-meaning man who spoke with you, just before I did, at August 3rd Green Drinks. "I have nearly finished my BPM (sic) training. How can I become part of your Program?" I imagine his "training" is with  ECONTC , upon which I comment.

I took little of your time, mentioning that I have construction skill and insights useful to Clean Energy Works, in my opinion. As a sole proprietor, I can't be all things, rejecting BPI investment, properly the realm of full-time professional furnace mechanics. The real skill of fixing things is missed when money and project control is directed only through BPI-Certified contractors. I mentioned "diligence," and other ways of administration.

You saw that BPI Certification very often is unrelated to the ability or wish, to fix anything.

I am trying very hard, to have a voice and a role in state and national implementation of up-front financing, as the progressive way to do weatherization, putting the money in the hands of consumers, for qualifying projects of the very greatest worth and integrity. My Insulation Math is far more useful than a blower door.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Diligence En-Masse

The skylights slideshow supporting the previous post, notes $94 per year heat-cost savings in one row home of a large complex, with investment payback in only two years. Diligence in application to neighboring units would net this same savings more than thirty times over. I have the method, and the interest of one neighbor who oversees the maintenance of all units. How shall society efficiently get the work done? 

Here is my pie-in-the-sky. I imagine real implementation of Oregon's HB2626, where I could clear a project for all residents, with 100% up-front financing. HB2626 was NOT imagined as a tool to empower select big businesses (regardless of their record of diligence) and to hand over any profit to overseer BPI general-contractors as "aggregators." The money must be available for any Oregon RESIDENT or resident association, not contractor, for diligence-proven qualifying projects.

We have hardly begun to define a working version of HB2626, and seem to have abandoned leadership for the nation, of Oregon Senator Merkley's S1574.

What is wrong here?

Distress that prompted the previous post might not be understood, without direct posting of relevant photos and captions.

The knee wall at left is insulated to R30, and I am in conflict with this rule, in not covering it with a vapor-permeable air barrier, "vpab." If I were to comply, I could apply drywall, or least-costly wood, perhaps 3/8" plywood. I would NOT use house wrap. But why? Why? Why? The knee wall is better and more-stably insulated than the adjacent exposed wall of a bathroom, not a knee wall, and not commanded to have vpab. For that bathroom wall I placed an over-fill of 2x4 framing, with quite-well-retained unfaced R19 batt insulation. I took the picture for good reason, though I struggle now to express that reason. With some consciousness, I did NOT do the R30 thing with this wall.

This is found insulation of a typical skylight shaft, in a row-house complex with 2x4@24" oc attic trusses. Insulation is all pretense, stapled crazily over framing and not preventing complete bathing of shaft drywall, in convected attic-temperature air. Construction was in 2002, and the installation would not pass inspection, then or now. At least sixty skylights are visible in satellite photos of the row-house village. Attics are poorly insulated in other ways, missing the R19 cover of loose-fill in the lee of any object, and at any point of maintenance. A bath fan installer might think rebuilding of fragile insulation is futile.
Here is the skylight with R11 fill among 2x4 on-flat side wall frames, and found R21 kraft fill among 2x4 upright end frames. Crossing R15 batts, and the first-layer insulation, are retained by 2x3@16" oc added framing, and screwed-on wood lath. Overall R-value a bit under R25. If a vpab is needed for insulation security of all knee walls regardless of R-value, a vpab would be demanded here too. It is not demanded, and I think no one has bothered to set standards for skylight insulation. Someone should, and, please let there not be call for a vpab.

Finding this consulted on 1/20/2016, I want to retract that last "vpab, vapor-permeable air barrier." Do let there be an air barrier, employed in better retention and protection of insulation. A hard covering is justified, over all insulation, then to be confined all-around for best insulation value, no convective air circulation.

Here is a growing photo album of hard-covered skylights:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Rules Without Reason

I am subject to rules of my rebates organization, that I must break in correct service of my customers.The rules that have troubled me most are the call of a vapor-permeable air barrier on the exterior side of knee walls, and the 100% rule for vapor retarder placement.

1. Vapor-Permeable Air Barrier:
(From July, 2009 Insider, for example)
Quality control tip of the month: vapor-permeable air barriers
A vapor-permeable air barrier is required to receive Energy Trust’s insulation incentives in human-contact areas and for kneewall projects. Insulation in attics, basements, garages, storage areas or other areas where occupants go for routine maintenance or storage must be covered with a vapor-permeable air barrier to limit occupant exposure to insulation fibers. Kneewall insulation, whether new or pre-existing, must be covered with a durable, vapor-permeable air barrier material to prevent air penetration of the insulation and to ensure the insulation is held in full contact with the wall cavity. Kneewall areas are often designed to have passive ventilation, which promotes air movement behind the kneewall.
Since insulation is most effective when air movement is static or trapped, the vapor-permeable air barrier minimizes wind-washing, and promotes optimum R-Value and energy savings. The key to a vapor-permeable air barrier is using a product that allows vapor transmission but blocks air movement. There are several new, inexpensive woven-nylon-sheet products available at big box stores and professional suppliers. For more information on installing complete insulation measures, view Energy Trust’s 2009 Weatherization Specifications Manual. 

One clue of error in reasoning, is the application only to human-contact areas. The real and only purpose, applicable even in a hard-to-crawl, small knee wall alley, is to keep ill-sized, non-retained batts, from falling down. Isn't it?

Another clue of error in reasoning is the practical exclusion of non-air-barriered low-density, loose-filled attic floors, from enforcement. That fact is proof concerns are neither wind-washing, nor protection against dust. I have challenged my enforcement contact to find an insulation manufacturer spokesman who will say there is special concern of wind-washing in a knee wall, or that there is any consequence to R-value, of wind-washing on an attic floor.

I break the rule, where the expected compliance is stapling up a few hacked pieces of house wrap. That won't even retain a batt that wants to fall. It certainly adds no air-tightness. I was very disappointed in my one experiment in thus-compliance. I don't think any house wrap is sold with a useful tape to join panels, and bond to other structures. I had heard some contractors are complying, where anyone might check, by stapling up visqueen, and slashing it. My contact denies this would be approved. I'm not convinced it doesn't happen. Slashed visqueen is in fact not inferior as hold-up band-aid, to pieces of house wrap. My careful framing and double-layering is NOT a band-aid. R15 and less is NOT ENOUGH, where more will fit.

I seek change to an "R30 Rule" for knee walls and all permissive vertical walls, in part by example in my work.  Please see my discussions and experiments, here, and here. My recent post on insulation of skylights inspires this fresh summary. Rules on security and amount of vertical-wall insulation, where thickness is not constrained, must apply equally to knee walls and to skylight shafts. Would there be any virtue in stapling some house wrap to try to stabilize precarious skylight insulation? Much better to use containing framing and crossing batts, for a standard R30 minimum.

2. 100% Rule for Vapor Retarders:
This is stated many times in 2010 Energy Trust Specifications, for example, here:
In attics with no pre-existing insulation, vapor retarders shall face the heated area of the building. Do not install new insulation with a vapor retarder on top of pre-existing insulation. There should only be one vapor retarder in the assembly, and it should be in contact with the heated ceiling. If existing attic insulation has a vapor retarder on top surface, slash with razor knife every 6 inches before adding more insulation.

I apply the common Two-Thirds Rule. Please see discussion here, and here.

My excellent examples of better service to customers by use of a Two Thirds Rule, are numerous. I don't like to break rules. It teaches disrespect. It makes me seem to be disrespectful, and in that I am being abused.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Bath Fan Sealing

Noted poor installation of a bath fan had a few reporting errors.

There were two fans, both Panasonic FV08VQ3, a very common, excellent, extremely quiet 80 cfm unit that in fact is very easy to install. Light from bathrooms could be seen from the attic, corresponding of course to heat loss.

From below, installations seem to be tidy. The installer probably thought he had followed directions, and has probably done many similar installations.

Directions do not consider the most-common need, remodel installation through existing drywall. Here openings were enlarged, to replace silly American noise-makers.

Begin with knowing the guts of each fan must be removed. All screws are Phillips drive. Collect four that release the lightweight cover plate. Three more are machine screws that release the motor assembly, not dropping out.
In each case, the fan body flange was traced, and drywall was cut through to reveal half of the width of a truss bottom chord.

Drywall scraps, and the dead fans, were tossed into the trash heap of loose-fill insulation above.
The solution available to me, with the flexible grout I offer, was to reset scraps  in properly-framed openings. This was possible in part because drywall was strong, 5/8" fire-rated, for condominium construction. The repair is as-new on three edges with wood backing. I will adequately glue the unsupported side, with flexible grout.
Here are the two openings, ready for fan insertion. 2x3 frame sides spaced 10 1/2" are attached to truss chords, with 3" deck screws. The openings in the other direction are 10 5/8".
Fan adapter assemblies, still wired, stand securely, with bottom flanges engaging the underside of the drywall.
Each fan body is pushed through from below, and is loaded against 2x3 rails, with 2 1/2" deck screws.

Complete reassembly of fans can happen now, ready for paint.

The adapter assembly top clips are rotated onto fan bodies, completing tight assembly, from above.

Foil-tape the ducts, and reset cable staples.

The above is an exercise in blogging, further learning what is possible with the free resources of I think this sharing of experience is a necessary investment to fight installation error, and waste of energy. I have started another blog as another way of trying this. I think an installation methods forum of some kind is needed, and will hope to at least be a contributor.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Better Insulation of Skylight Shafts

Please start out with newer posts .

Here is a captioned slideshow:

Slideshow examples are with Johns Manville batt insulation in the pretty white form sold through 2012. We must get used to results with a now-brown color. Here is a before and after example, done July 2013. Captioned photos are in a web album.

The found skylight is dressed up with Owens Corning R21 batts, but is in fact insulated at all, only at spot contact of batts with 2x4 skylight framing. Fifteen percent, including area of interference by an attached HVAC duct, lacks even the dressing.

The completed skylight has new brown Johns Manville R25 batt insulation visible. R8 batts from scrapped HVAC flex ducts fill in the depth of on-flat 2x4 framing. Added framing gives 2x4 upright depth for containment of covering batts. The total of insulation is called R30.

Responding to a call from Fine Homebuilding/ Green Building Advisor, photos from this job are freely offered for their publications. I understand they will call for complete air barriers on all attic wall insulation, in using the photos. I caution though, if walls, then why not the floor insulation too? Full air barriers everywhere would be difficult. In the conversation though, we might move away from reckless low-density loose-fill floor insulation, generally degraded by wind-washing and subject to prompt ruin in dangerous and necessary visits to the attic.

Please read on, to newer posts, Label: 

Thursday, August 12, 2010


I think I deserve thoughtful feedback, for provocative thinking on weatherization policies, and invention of methods. I don't understand the person(s), probably threatened, who comment with Chinese pornography. This post was inspired by thinking, well, no Chinese pornography yet, and silence from Saturn Resource Management professionals, on this, and the parent revision of my business objectives here.

But, there is no commenting to my web site!

So, have at it!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Diligence Almost Thwarted

 I post the content of a message to a customer. The exercise in math and logic may clarify my problem with any blower door testing, as prerequisite and director, for maintenance. I hope it will raise Diligence Honored, as a replacement for almost all Home Performance testing.

I monitored the conversation with your condo-complex General Contractor, about the 110 CFM Panasonic fan in your master bathroom. This fan is presumed 12” by 16” through ceiling. In fact the cut is 14” by 18”. The gap is hidden by the fan cover, but is unobstructed as a house infiltration path. 
The involved flow area is 14*18 - 12*16 = 60 sq in. 
CFM50 = 7.5 * (Path Area, sq in) = 450 cfm. CFM = CFM50 / 20 = 22.5 cfm

The annual cost of this leakage at fair $2 per therm, is 0.074 * CFM50 = $33 per year.

The 22 5 cfm constant flow is equal to fan flow running 22.5/110 * 24 = five hours per day.

Would you intentionally ventilate this much, or is this objectionable and involuntary?

Energy Trust would rebate half of the cost of fixing the gap, say $50 times half = $25. The rebate would require blower door tests before and after, surely in separate-day unhappy visits for you and the tester, at cost of several hundred dollars. The tests and rebate are of course absurd.

The general contractor did not give good advice.

A lesson for all of us, is that diligence must happen, at fair least cost, without a fuss, and without bad feelings because someone would pull the public string. All “performance” conditions for rebates, and all rebates should end. They are just a disadvantage to this good person, who will not abuse the public trust.

My customer liked this advice, and I will fix his fan installation. No testing needed. The math is far more accurate than testing, for any one repair. 

The repair is not insignificant, and that is why an electrician or handyman walks away from his error. I will fully remove the fan, and rebuild the opening with real plaster, total job time about an hour. I will help anyone to be comfortable using plaster (not mud!), here Structolite. Weatherization sponsors should step in to require repair of installer error. Repairs should not be left to the rare capable weatherization person, and must not be rebateable.

I belatedly admit a simplification, and over-estimate of this problem. I well know that Panasonic fan housings are bottom-flanged, to align on and seal against the ceiling. That flange blocks the flow path, probably by about two thirds. This detail does not change resolve to do the repair. It does nothing to justify attendant testing.