Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Excellence Is Better Value

Here is one "before" picture of the job in the previous post :

The effective insulation value of settled cellulose in 2x6 joists is about R11. Improvement to R38 with high-quality batts, will give modest savings, with annual heat cost dropping from $136 per year, to $46 per year. $90 per year savings, so far.

Dark, dangerous and dirty conditions invite inferior service of a home. All wiring of ceiling fixtures in this home needed replacement, perhaps from excuse the work up there had been so awful. Several wires for added fixtures were merely wrapped onto nearby conductors, stripped. No fire yet, but such contact must degrade with time. Despite now-excellent access, electricians charged as much for the few hours of fixing wiring, as I charged for all insulation labor and materials. But, how do you value a home saved from fire? Yes, this diligence pays.

Other diligence, enabled by cheerful access, will be the major savings, at near-zero cost. 275 sq ft of wall area was exposed to attic temperature, in floor pits, two gapped bathroom wet walls, and an abandoned kitchen heater chase; now tightly sealed. One needed to toss and vacuum off cellulose, to see this. Savings: $220 per year.

Total savings of $310 per year with diligence are large relative to investment. Payback for the homeowner's investment is in from three years, to eleven, depending on how much of the cost is allowed as savings-related. Better too, that the larger investment immediately raises house usefulness and resale value, by more than the invested amount. More ignorant cellulose here, would have precluded savings, and detracted from house value.

This homeowner placed value on my diligence that my rebates organization does not see, encourage or reward. A 25% tip was appropriate, for satisfaction way beyond his imagining at bid. This gives me satisfactory earnings, usually missed in this dismal business of competition with blow and go madness. I find it hard to be paid for my diligence, where it isn't even reportable. "Failure to demand diligence is reward of sleaze," as I chide with a "Diligence Report," in my rebate applications.

I state my complaint against dissing of diligence, to customers, and raise the ire of my rebates organization, Energy Trust of Oregon. How else can I get action? Energy Trust of Oregon is a pretty good organization. Perhaps there is none better. But, they persist in regressive policies best serving the affluent. They seem unable and uninterested, in guiding customers to diligent service.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Another Really-Nice Job, Done

A well-insulated attic may also be highly functional and pristine. This well-decked floor is a solid R38, under decking, and all the way out to walls below. Still missing: I want to cover the insulation batts with cotton sheets, to further protect the homeowner from insulation dust particles. Also still missing: enough ventilation to keep the attic cool in summer. I will replace the gable vents with house-symmetric, remote-operated windows, and will install a solar attic fan. The bath fan, seen here to discharge within the attic, will be hard-plumbed to a roof vent.

Where a gas furnace is placed in the attic, efficient and safe access is mandatory. Here a furnace shutoff switch was missing, and was added.

Please see more details of this service at my web sites, for policy matters, and for access door/ ladder matters of commerce.

The insulated and gasketed wood fold-out attic ladder is a Calvert Model 1804, that I have modified for less-steep, easy deployment. Conversions for user convenience and safety are well worth a twenty percent increase of the modest cost.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Reason to Wrap Crawl Space Joists

I offered the joist wrapping of the previous post, as requisite for doing the awful work of insulating crawl spaces, in three bids. None were accepted. One reason could be offer of standard wired-up batts, at much lower cost, by more-willing competitors. The added cost of $500 to place R11 joist wrap was not sufficiently justified. This post presents the justification, with consistent use of my however-questionable math.

The previous post has inconsistent rigor, in considering thermal resistance of  framing over a crawl space. The annual cost of heat lost to an uninsulated crawl space with 2x8@16" oc framing is reckoned with a bit more rigor, as:

1.8*1000 (1.5/16/9.8 + 14.5/16/3) = $561 per year. Compare to computed $600 per year, where joists and all are treated as having the R3 minimum value.

The $58 per year heating cost for the proposed R11 and R30 batt placement is again considered with allowance for joist thermal resistance, as:

1.8*1000 (1.5/16/20.8 + 14.5/16/33) = $58 per year.

Without the R11 wrap: 1.8*1000 (1.5/16/9.8 + 14.5/16/33) = $67 per year. 

The puny difference is $9 per year. My customers should question the wisdom of paying $500 for such benefit, where I have confidence in achieving the $67 per year cost, if I would offer the work. 

The wrap is justified for any other installer, who, wiring up batts otherwise, fails to achieve full contact of batts, with floor sheathing. Such installers offend customers with lost savings opportunity, and offend subsequent service access with sharps and obstacles. Estimate the savings of heating cost by wrap placement, assuming no benefit, where R30 batts are out of contact, as difference from $58 per year ideal cost.

Cost = 1.8*100*(1.5/16/9.8 + 14.5/16(f/33 + (1-f)/3)), where f is fraction floor contact.

If batt contact is poor, it is very affordable to fix the problem by incrementally pulling down wires, and stapling R11 on joists. There should be no need of outside incentives, as in rebates, to fix a wrong installation. The incentive might be in denied incentive, where full contact is not achieved.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Insulating My Crawl Space

I've lived in my house in Oregon's maritime climate, for seventeen years. I have good attic insulation, and OK wall insulation. The energy usage in heating my home is below-average, but that may be from letting the house run cold. Much of the time in cold winter, I need good shoes and heavy socks to cope with floor temperature. There is only a very beginning of insulating the crawl space, but surely I will get the rest done soon, now that I have a likable plan:

Wrap joists with 16" width R11 unfaced batts. Complete filling with R30 kraft batts. 
There is absolute assurance batts can't fall, and less time thinking to pull batt edges down to cover joists.

Here is the math, for Portland, Oregon, with area 1000 sf:

Present heating cost is 1.8 * 1000/ 3 = $600 per year.

Wrap joists with unfaced R11 batts. Retain these batts with 1/2” staples both sides of joist, at spacing of about one foot. Do this wrap in parallel with R30 installation, beginning at the most-distant end of attic.
Place R30 kraft-faced batts as blocks 16” x 48”, Johns Manville Product K1242. These batts more-fully fill joists, and are readily defended as R30. The thermal shorting of joists is considered.
R = 3 + Reff, where 1/Reff = (1.5/16)/17.8 + (14.5/16)/30.
Reff = 28.2
Improved heating cost is 1.8 * 1000/ 31.2 = $58 per year.
Savings $600 - 58 = $542/ yr.

Cost of  insulation:
The R11 is calculated as length at 16” width, total 760 linear feet, where I will use Johns Manville AU397, sixteen 8-ft pieces per bag,128 linear ft per bag. Need six bags, at $266, retail. For a customer, I would charge $500 for the R11 installed.
The R30 K1242 insulation needed is 1000 sf/ 58.66 sf/ bag, seventeen bags, $666 at retail. For a customer I would charge $1300, installed.

Subtotal: Approximately $500 + $1300 = $1800.

Consider payback on this cost, with Energy Trust rebate, $.25*1000 = $250, and, a 30% Federal Tax credit on material at retail, 0.3*($266 + 666) = $280.
Payback = (1800 - 250 - 280)/$542/year.
Payback = $1270/ $542/year = 2.3 years. 

This kind of math overwhelms most customers, who have at least two just complaints. There is the fair cost of fuel, higher than their bills by about times 1.5. Like me, customers may also choose to not compensate, staying cold. I spend about $500 per year for natural gas heat, in a 986 sf home. Surely $350 of that is due to cold floors. At fair fuel cost of $2 per therm, my floors are blowing at least $500 per year, not much different from the $600 prediction. Maybe I am less thrifty with the thermostat, than I think, and less thrifty than that skeptical customer.

I have been foolish to not do the crawl space insulation sooner. I preserved overhead space for recent Pex-replacement of all water pipes, but could have managed all that crawling under the insulation I now propose. I have done an attitude check under my test bay, and don't feel more-confined. Head bangers are cushioned. On the other hand, where most installers would run crazy wires to "hold-up" the batts, I would have many snags to curse.

For further development of my crawl space as conditioned, please see this Fall-2012 post.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Unresponsive RTF

This message was sent to persons unknown, at RTF, on September 15th, 2010:


Please see beginning of an interaction with Regional Technical Forum, on math bases for "deemed measures."

My numbers are thoroughly and publicly derived. Measure details are real, learned in first-hand down-and-dirty experience. I assert that I am nearing maturity in a self-taught college of weatherization. I  wish to find my place among other researchers in Portland, and anywhere.

I ask to see bases for the numbers in the RTF work product.

Phillip Norman
Attic Access

It seems I am not entitled to a response. That is crummy. This is Day 35 of waiting for any response. At Day 13, I asked for support from Energy Trust, and was advised:
My guess is they’ll take your numbers into consideration. No guarantees of the outcome.

The message to RTF does imply criticism of their hugely-expensive, unfriendly and unprintable "work product." I find the RTF numbers are cruelly inaccurate, showing modest penalty for living with no insulation. I think the BPA/RTF numbers may have some basis in a sampling of actual before-and-after energy costs, considering heating season only, where lifestyle choice is not considered. "Before", we are less-productive in conditions of freezing, not affording enough heat. We are foolish if we afford ourselves air conditioning.

Any reader may make the comparisons, to judge merit in the work product paid-for extravagantly from our remittances for BPA electricity. 

Friday, October 1, 2010

Math Error Found

Sadly, the clothes line math error reported in this post is in the direction of lesser justification for savings effort. The math of Build It Solar is quite correct. Further math for understanding is correct at my web site: Convert KWH at 29.3 KWH per therm and 12 pounds CO2 per therm. About 410 pounds of CO2 results from generating 1000 KWH.  Here is one credible outside source for the conversions. The 410 number looks right for the Northwest mix of sources, mainly coal and hydroelectric. 

Numbers above are from the UC Irvine link.

Allow that my two-person household would be using 860 KWH per year with full resort to an electric dryer. Saving half of that is 180 pounds of CO2 and $30 at $2 per therm, per year. Savings are smaller (by half?) where I have a natural gas dryer.

The error found? It is in the often-cited CS Monitor articleAnnually, these dryers consume 1,079 kilowatt hours of energy per household, creating 2,224 pounds of carbon-dioxide emissions.
1079 KWH converts to perhaps 440 pounds of CO2.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

More Clothes Line Math

Build It Solar - Clothesline Thoughts

Drying clothes in a gas or electric dryer is energy intensive.  An electric dryer uses about 2.3 KWH of electricity to dry one load.  In addition, as the dryer vents its exhaust out of the house, new air is pulled into the house to replace it, and in the winter, this new air must be heated.  If the temperature outside is (say) 30F, it takes about another 2 KWH to heat this incoming air.  In climates where AC is used in the summer, air pulled in by the dryer must be cooled.  So, drying one load can takes from 2.3 KWH to 4.3 KWH for each load -- a lot.  If you do a load a day, then you probably spend about 1000 KWH per year on drying energy. 

I'll figure 200 loads in a year, for a two-adult household. Without AC, figure 860 KWH. Do the Math on that.

One therm is 29.3 KWH and 12 pounds CO2. 860 KWH is 29.4 therms and 350 pounds of CO2. If I save half of that, it is about fifteen therms, $30, 180 pounds CO2.

Where is my error?

More Thought of Carbon Footprint: Shunning My Clothes Dryer

It is time at last to curtail my luxury of mindlessly tossing laundry in my natural-gas clothes dryer. The conversion from electric heat in a hand-me-down, free dryer was ticket for ease that I let go through another Summer. What is the amount of my savings opportunity?

I refer first to one of my clothesline shopping discoveries. I will just accept for now that a two-person household, with half-time resort to clotheslines, may save 500 pounds of CO2 per year. The saving is sizable, judging by math for my total carbon footprint, about 20,000 pounds of CO2 per year. Every measure that might save another 1000 pounds of CO2, will be painful.

The cost of a durable, convenient and presentable clothesline seems to be more than $250. How does this pan out in a payback calculation, the Insulation Math?

A therm corresponds to emission of about 12 pounds of CO2. 500 pounds is 42 therms. At $2 per therm, my saving is $84 per year. A $300 clothesline cost is repaid in less than four years, 28% simple return. Worth doing. Worthy of incentives. Spending $300 will not be extravagant.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

An Especial Obligation to Honesty

Bonneville Power Administration is a rare government creation that is self-funded, with much money from too-abundant power sales, to spend as it chooses. The money is a corruptible basis of BPA influence. That is why BPA has an especially large need of public scrutiny. Actions to that end include this, of March 24, 2010: 


This report is kind to its sponsors, accepting exponential growth of RTF.

The scrutiny is not always voluntary. Among scholarly reviews, I have picked as significant, this PhD thesis, dated November 27, 2007:

The Columbia River's region: Politics, place and environment in the Pacific Northwest, 1933--present

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.