Saturday, March 31, 2007

Insulation Machines

There are many types of insulation machines, from the small portable blowers that you can rent from major home improvement stores, to the large truck mountables. The larger truck mounts are more powerful and less prone to issues.

For those that want to insulate their attics on their own, the rented units do an adequate, although not a great, job. The type of machine that our company uses is the Krendl. The Krendl has a long history of success behind it. Behind every success is a company that can service it. We are lucky enough to have a major player in Ohio, Applied Energy Products of Canton. They offer outstanding service, and our Krendl has yet to be down more than one day for a tune-up.

When evaluating doing it yourself versus hiring out, remember that a good weatherization company will go the extra step of air sealing. It also has a better machine (able to reach tough places) and can obtain cellulose for a lesser of a cost. So you may end up paying more; but the job done by a true weatherization company will outperform and out-save the average person.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Compact Fluorescent Bulbs

HZG has touched on CFLs in the past; however in this time of "Al Gore", California legislation to eliminate incandescent bulbs,'s time to address the effectiveness of the bulbs again. Thanks to Energy Star for providing the following information.

ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs:
* Use at least 2/3 less energy than standard incandescent bulbs to provide the same amount of light, and last up to 10 times longer.

* Save $30 or more in energy costs over each bulb’s lifetime

* Generate 70 percent less heat, so they’re safer to operate and can cut energy costs associated with home cooling.

* In addition to other quality requirements, must turn on instantly, produce no sound, and fall within a warm color range or be otherwise labeled as providing cooler color tones.

* Are available in different sizes and shapes to fit in almost any fixture, for indoors and outdoors.

Where to Use CFLs:
* To get the most energy savings, replace bulbs where lights are on the most, such as your family and living room, kitchen, dining room, and porch.

* Some CFLs have trouble operating in enclosed fixtures. Check the CFL's packaging for any restrictions on use.

How to Choose the Right Light:
* Matching the right CFL to the right kind of fixture helps ensure that it will perform properly and last a long time. Read the packaging to be sure that the type you choose works for the fixture you have in mind. For example:

* If a light fixture is connected to a dimmer or 3-way switch, select CFLs that are labeled for this use

* For recessed fixtures, it is better to use a 'reflector' CFL versus a standard-shaped bulb.

* Choose the color that works best for you. For example, while most CFLs are created with warm colors for your home, you could choose a cooler color for task lighting.

* To get a CFL with the right amount of light, choose one that offers the same lumen rating as the light you are replacing. The higher the lumen rating, the greater the light output. Use the table below to see how lumens can generally be compared.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Wet Basement Seam Issue

Today, HZG got a little dirty. OK, a lot dirty.

I was called to the home site by a prominent builder to help diagnose a basement issue that had been worked on in the past by a different company. The first issue was easy to diagnose; it was hydrostatic pressure coming from earth over waterproofing. There was approximately 6" of earth over the board with no waterproofing - easy to fix.

The second leak (see picture) was one of those "bad feeling" leaks. Digging down at the corner, I noticed that the protection board butted at the inside corner - not overlapping. Water was able to hit the corner of the block with no issue, traveling down to the footer and into the basement. Without putting an inside system in, the only recourse is to excavate down to the footer and re-apply properly. Major mess; major expense.

The moral of this story is that the job needs to be done right the first time.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Hole Cutters

What a useful tool the hole cutter is. For those of you not familiar, you can pick up one of these items for as inexpensively at $5.00 or as much as $50. Both price ranges can be picked up from your local or chain hardware store.

Having trouble determining if you have insulation in your walls? Buy one of these hole cutters, insert into your drill - then find an inconspicuous place to drill.

HZG recommends:

1) The 2" hole cutter - large enough that you can plainly see inside of a wall cavity; small enough that you can plug with a Styrofoam plug and spackle.

2) Choosing a closet that shares an outside wall. This way you can easily see the wall while not trying to match wall textures in an interior.

The only downside is the dust - so if you have issues with breathing, wear a dust mask.

A great tool - and a lot less expensive than an infrared camera.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Fun Energy Facts

Now that I have the stink off me (see yesterday's writing), I thought I'd share some fun energy facts with you:

* Amount of extra gasoline consumed in the US due to low tire pressure: 730 million gallons per year

* Amount that fuel efficiency can be increased by driving 65 miles per hour instead of 75: 15%

* Average life expectancy of aluminum windows: 15 to 20 years. For wood windows: 30 years

* Increase in the amount of garbage produced by Americans between Thanksgiving and New Years: 25%

* Percent by which a radiant barrier in the roof can reduce heat gain: 25%

* Amount of CO2 that Americans generate during the holidays just from shipping: 600 million tons - more than the entire annual output of Canada

That's it for today!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Trash Dumpsters

Today was a "yuck" day. Every spring, if you are in the rental business, is trash pick-up day. I have a block of duplexes that in the winter do very poorly. By very poorly, I mean that people cannot seem to find the dumpster no matter what. So every spring, once the snow melts, is pick-up the trash day.

I'm constantly trying to think of how to stop this issue to no avail. The city won't pick up due to the volume of homes, or apartments. The trash company won't put the dumpster in the best location due to the driveway narrowness. The tenants are lazy. Bad combination.

So...owning apartments is great, but sometimes you need to get a little dirty. Kind of like today...

Friday, March 23, 2007

Above Grade Insulation Needs

We've addressed this before...however pictures sometimes are worth 1,000 words. The area at the band joist / above grade block is one of the least efficient areas for heat retention.

The infrared photos attached is a prime example of the glowing heat loss of the home. The best thing that I've recommended is the masonry foam core insulation, 3 courses down (2 courses exposed). This raises the R-value of the block from approximately 2.4 to approximately 8.2. Energy savings at its finest.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Waterbeds and Energy

A waterbed typically uses nearly as much electricity as a refrigerator, costing about $77 per year to heat. The 17 million waterbeds in this country consume the electrical output of five large power plants.

If you have a waterbed, here are some tips to reduce its energy costs:
1) Make the bed and cover it completely with a thick quilt. A quilted cover can halve your waterbed's heating bill. Insulate.

2) Use one-inch foam or reflective wrap beneath and around the sides of the mattress (make sure the reflector is rated for your water heater temperature).

3) Plug the heater into a timer and set it to turn off an hour or two before you get up and to come back on a few hours before you go to bed.

Personally, I like a hard mattress for spine reasons. Had a waterbed; surfed too much when sleeping.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Electrical Wiring Booby-Traps

Today's attic inspection was one for the books. I felt like a soldier going through a mine field. I have never seen this many wires running through an attic. The picture above is about 1/50th of what I saw today.

Part of being involved in an energy field is not just knowing how to weatherize, it's knowing how to diagnose a cluster - ****. This was a mess...

This client had run speaker wiring, outlet wiring, security system wiring, can lighting wiring, wiring for wiring, wiring for get the picture. Besides the obvious penetration issues, there is the extra effort to secure the wiring out of the way - as well as pricing the job extra due to the time involved avoiding it.

The largest issue I saw was a security wiring bundle running down the chimney chase way (6" x 8'). I pointed out to the client that I could follow the wiring throughout the house, from attic to basement.

Bottom careful in attics; there are mine fields everywhere...

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Blower Door - Revisited

We've touched on the blower door in the past - it's time to touch on it again. The blower door is a great tool to detect air leakage, NOT insulation.

The blower door is used to set the bar for the tightness of a home. A home should not be completely tight - however is should be to a certain level. 2,750 CFM50 is where "optional" air sealing begins.

The last house I tested came in at 2,195 at CFM50 with an A-ring. The clients were astounded when I said they had minimal issues. Minor caulking to be done along the sill plate in the basement - but that was it. The biggest issue the client had was with a hole cut into a wall - this had nothing to do with air sealing.

So...the blower door is a tool, not an all-saving answer...

Monday, March 19, 2007

Xypex Basement Waterproofing Paint

Normally HZG doesn't recommend a specific product or brand. Today is not one of those days.

Too often we hear the words "Dry - Lock" when discussing sealing a basement's wet walls. Dry - Lock is little more than a strong interior paint. I personally despise it, for "a", it masks the problem; "b", if there is a water issue it will eventually bleed through and "c", it will discolor.

Xypex is a good waterproofing agent for basements. It is a little more expensive, but the results are much more satisfying. Xypex MUST be applied when the walls are wet; this gives it a serious leg up on any other product. It typically comes with a 5-year warranty - more than most interior products. It will not last forever, however it is the best line of defense for continual wet walls.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Vermiculite Insulation

Vermiculite insulation can been seen in many attics of older homes. This material, while not providing the best R-value, is very fire resistant. With the discovery of the hazards of asbestos, vermiculite is now a dangerous material that will never be installed in attics again. The best advice HZG can give to you if you discover that you have vermiculite in your attic is:

DO NOT DISTURB IT. Any disturbance has the potential to release asbestos fibers into the air. Limiting the number of trips you make to your attic and shortening the length of those trips can help limit your potential exposure. EPA and ATSDR strongly recommend that:

• Vermiculite insulation be left undisturbed in your attic. Due to the uncertainties with existing testing techniques, it is best to assume that the material may contain asbestos.

• You should not store boxes or other items in your attic if retrieving the material will disturb the insulation.

• Children should not be allowed to play in an attic with open areas of vermiculite insulation.

• If you plan to remodel or conduct renovations that would disturb the vermiculite, hire professionals trained and certified to handle asbestos to safely remove the material.

• You should never attempt to remove the insulation yourself. Hire professionals trained and certified to safely remove the material.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Green Energy Facts

Fun Energy facts, supplied by Green Builder Magazine...

* Number of times you could circle the globe each year with discarded magazines, by laying them end to end: 60

* Percent of energy that is wasted by air infiltration and exfiltration in most homes: 40% - 50%

* Amount of idling time needed to warm up a car, even on winter days: 30 seconds

* Percent by which humans are consuming the planet's resources faster than the earth can renew them: 25%

* One reason noncommercial US vehicles are using at least 938 million more gallons of gasoline annually than they did in 1960: drivers are heavier, on average, by 25 pounds

* Amount that energy consumption could be cut over the next 15 years, if households and industry use current products and technology, and government encourages efficiency and savings instead of consumption: 50%

* Number of Boeing 747 airplanes that could be built each year with aluminum from cans discarded by the US airline industry: 58

Fun facts - we can all do a little better.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Air Nailers

When you are working with a large quantity of wood - such as installing a 7,800 square foot ceiling - an air nailer is indispensable.

Air nailers use a compressor to drive nails "rapid fire" to connect two surfaces. When purchasing a nailer, it is important to purchase a quality gun - one that can connect two hard surfaces together without jamming the gun.

Nailers are fast and easy to use - and you can pick a reasonably good one up for $200 - $300. The labor saved will easily cover the cost of the tool with the first average sized job.

The also make great weapons...just kidding...

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Frustrating Job Change

This issue can apply to anyone, not just HZG. It's the "so here's how the job is going to go and the price that goes with it. Oh wait, you mean we have to do it a different way that will add 3 days to the job?"

Yes, that is what happened today. The photo is not HZG - but it represents how I felt (on the inside of course; never let a customer see your reaction.)

We were in the process of installing a ceiling in a warehouse when the electrician came up and said, "You can't move the conduit." Well, that's all fine and dandy except that we priced the job based upon not having to make a million (or 2 million) cuts. The extra cuts will add 2-3 days to the job (and 2-3 days worth of a boom rental - 23 foot high ceiling).

I'm still debating whether to go back to the client and charge additional funds. My quote stated what we were going to do - however it didn't get to the specifics of "what would happen if we couldn't do the job based on another contractor."

With this being said - lesson well learned - be EXPLICIT with all quotes - and don't get to angry with yourself if it doesn't go your way.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Telescoping Ladders

Have you ever seen a product that you thought was neat, but were skeptical at the same time? The telescoping ladder was my most recent intrigue / doubt.

The concept of the tool is great. Yes, a ladder is a tool. A 3' tall ladder than can expand to 12'. Compact enough to put in the backseat of a car, yet capable of reaching most attics. After getting tired of lugging a ladder around on sales calls, I finally broke down and spent the $170 and purchased one. The results are...

It's worth the investment if...

1) You need the space savings (I did)

2) You are tired of lugging a ladder around (I was)

3) The attics necessary to get into have a minimal lip to lay the expanded ladder up against (most do)

4) You are tired of manipulating a ladder around tight corners (I was)

It's not worth the investment if...

1) You are a big person (more than 225 pounds). The ladder is safety rated, but it get a bit of a bow in it at heavier weights.

2) You work in a tar or "goo" environment. The telescoping ladder slides within itself - so anything sticking to the ladder will gum up the works.

3) You need the ladder in areas where you cannot lay it up against something.

Overall - worth the investment.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Downspout Lines

HZG witness today one of the worst downspout line installations of all time. The homeowner wanted to blame the waterproofing for his wet basement. However, upon noticing water stains around the downspout leaders we popped the caps. Low and behold, standing water in the downspout line.

Upon digging the lines up and seeing the puddles of water around all the broken lines (standing water, freezing), we pointed out...the backwards pitched lines. It would matter if you had a powered pump discharging the water, it would roll right back.

Downspout lines should be pitch to drop a quarter of an inch every eight feet (or so). The only way to correct this situation (due to the run) is to raise the sump discharge above grade and have a portion of the line exposed...and then put a mulch bed over it...

Monday, March 12, 2007

Face Masks

No, not a foul called in football; nor a Halloween outfit. We're talking about a face cover that allows you to breathe normally in a very dusty environment.

HZG has addressed many aspects of insulation and weatherization. What hasn't been addressed is safety. Go figure.

The face mask is the most important piece of apparel for HZG - partially due to being allergic to dust. What AM I doing in this field.

The face mask is inexpensive (no need for the canister type). Simply pull the rubber bands back and put over your head and adjust on your nose. I kind of sound like an airline steward explaining the seat belt. This mask, if used properly, can be used for several applications. Just don't allow the dust and dirt to get into the inside of the mask. The mask itself will allow you to breathe properly and not feel restricted by a full respirator mask. I would also highly recommend wearing goggles to keep the dust out of your eyes as well.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Green Building

What is Green Building? The following is a brief description of what green building is. In upcoming blogs (not everyday, but periodically), we'll reference different techniques and building materials one can use to "go green."

When applied to construction or renovation, the word “green” (or “sustainable”) can mean different things, but generally the term “green building” refers to lessening the environmental impact and improving the long-term economic performance of new construction and renovation projects.
Key to this practice is looking beyond “first” costs and incorporating life-cycle analysis and resource conservation measures into the site planning, design, construction, and operational stages of a project.
While most green buildings look similar to conventionally built buildings, their operational costs are often lower because of the use and integration of high-quality, energy-efficient materials and products. Other benefits of “going green” can include better indoor air quality and increased occupant comfort and productivity.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Air Leakage Chart

When you are searching for areas to seal off from air leakage (and heat / a/c loss), the chart listed shows the largest areas to concentrate.
Number one is "Floors, walls and ceiling". This is the most obvious, however the least done due to the mess of crawling in an attic and knowing where to look.
The next on the list, surprisingly, is the fireplace. Not so much the fireplace, but the damper. HZG goes into many homes each year and would estimate that only 10% have properly functioning dampers.
Ducts are areas that most people do not think about. Earlier we referenced using mastic to seal of the air leakage - not from the outside but internally. This makes your furnace run more smoothly.
Plumbing penetrations (band joist), doors (weatherstripping and sweeps) and windows (caulking around frames) would be the next and most obvious areas.
Lastly, Fans and vents and outlets. Fans and vents should be properly connected to termination kits - outlets should be address through the attic and wall insulation.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

OSB Board

OSB board stands for Oriented Strand Board. This is the next generation of wafer board, brought to life in 1978. Whether you're remodeling or weatherizing, OSB board is a good alternative to plywood (and the cost that goes with it).

The advantages over plywood are:

1) OSB is generally more square and has smaller dimensional tolerances.

2) It can be manufactured into panels larger than 4' x 8'.

3) There are no soft spots such as those that can occur in plywood.

4) OSB is made from smaller (often farmed) trees, reducing the demand for old growth timber.

5) OSB has greater shear strength than plywood.

6) It can be $3 to $5 a panel less expensive.

The major disadvantage of OSB is that if it gets exposed to significant amounts of water or moisture, the edges expand by up to 15%.

With this being said, OSB is HZG's preferred source of lumber panels.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Painting over spackling

When working on your interior walls, remember that you may need to repaint the entire wall to properly match the look. Spackling blends well surface-wise, however painting over the patch typically does not. If you have a lighter color wall to begin with, painting over the entire wall should match properly. However...

If the wall color is darker to begin with, you will more than likely have to primer the area first. Otherwise, the color applied new will be brighter and clearer. Be prepared financially and time-wise to apply a minimum of two coats - primer and paint or 2 paints.

Short writing tonight...I have to go to Sherwin Williams to buy some paint.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Programmable Thermostat UPDATE

How poetic that within the past month HZG does an earticle on the value of the programmable thermostat when - BAM - it has been taken off the Energy Star recommendation list. Yep, what I believe in is gone. The reason that Energy Star removed it IS a good one, though...

It seems the programmable thermostat is the new "VCR." A great tool, IF you know how to use it. The dropping from the list of the thermostat is based upon the consumers inability to properly use it and all of its settings. I guess this makes sense. If you are simply using it to lower and raise temperatures manually, the thermostat has no value (except it looks way cooler than the dial thermostats). The savings when not used properly is non-existent, according to the article (Home Energy Magazine is a wonderful publication.)

Sooooo...the moral of the story is that even when something is great and works wonders for you - the general population must agree for it to become a staple or value.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Knob and Tube Wiring

Before insulating or working in an attic, it is important to know what type of electrical service you have. Knob and tube wiring exists in many homes, for this was the type of electrical service used in homes built between 1880 and 1930. It was fine for the times, but higher technology resulted in additional stressed (and hazardous) loads.

Knob and tubes' disadvantages are that there is no ground wire, limited surge capabilities and brittleness over time. Homes with this type of wiring should be update prior to insulating or protected in advance. HZG ALWAYS recommends having the wiring checked prior to insulating.

With the advent of breakers, the fuse box went away. Unfortunately, so should of the knob and tube...

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Real Estate Tenants...and Their Friends

Today's topic is how rentals can truly be a pain - part one of 1000 (or so...)

At a small complex I own - lower income, great people - the usually calm environment has been met with vandalism. In the whole area of town - there has been vandalism, so I didn't think that it could be coming from anyone at the complex. I was half right...

Within the last 2 weeks, a tenant had her car windows smashed (there was a good $2.00 in change inside), her TV stolen (her window was unlocked) and $10.00 taken from her counter. Her neighbor that lives above her called me with her concern for her safety, for she has 3 little boys living with her. I stated to keep her eyes open and call the police if she sees ANYTHING suspicious. Well, I received a call today, but not from this tenant.

Another tenant called to say that a vacant unit was broken into - nothing taken but damage done. And he CAUGHT the kid. A 17 year old punk...who confessed to everything - including the car windows, money stealing, etc. He has been coming over to help babysit the woman with the 3 children. While the woman was at work, the punk was plotting and planning what to do - and then did it when he knew he could get away with it.

So just when you think you've got it figured out - you don't. Sometimes rental properties can be a great investment...but not on days like today. But it will get better...

Friday, March 02, 2007

Sump Pump Issue and Saturday's Post

Today's post is regarding a very serious water issue in a basement that had a unique diagnosis - however one that has been seen before.

The home owner called in distress regarding an inch of water on his basement floor from the snow that was melting in conjunction with the rain that had fallen. Upon inspection of his basement, he was right. There was water coming in at the floor joint, there was water sheeting down the walls in some areas, and there was a hole in the wall at the top of the first block on the footer that was peeing. Yes, peeing a stream of water continuously (2 hours prior to my arrival, 1 hour while I was still there.) The sump pump had one bleeder with running water, the other with a drip. The sump discharged every 1 minute.

The immediate thought when you see water coming out on the floor is that you have improper drainage - either exterior or interior. However, one of the walls (closest to the sump crock) was sheeting water - meaning the water could be brushed from the wall with your hand. We decided to look outside to see how much snow was on the house itself.

There was zero snow up against the house; however there was water staining where the leaders of the downspouts were - up to the siding. At the bottom of one of the leaders was a 6" puddle, not draining. We continued to walk around to find this issue at each leader until we got to the sump discharge hole - yes, hole. And the 2' of water that was in this hole...created by water. Yep, a stream. We then pulled the leader caps off to find standing water in the leader. Somewhere, there is a crack in the downspout lines. The sump pump was operating, and recycling the same water through. The ground never had a chance to remove the water for it was always there.

The first course of action we are going to take is to re-route the lines into a gravel pit with a proper pitch. This was a new addition that had improper pitching so that the water would not leave. When the ground froze (the line was not that deep), our best guess is the the standing water cracked the pipe. Go figure...

Tomorrow's topic is energy conservation. I'm conserving energy by not writing it. I'm going to one of those once in a lifetime experiences - UFC 68. There will be lots of energy there. At least I can say that I saw it - once.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Fiberglass Idiot Mistakes

It's been a long day, and the last thing HZG needed was to crawl through a 3' high attic space and see idiot mistakes - for the 4th time today.

When installing fiberglass batts - regardless if you are installing in an attic, walls or floors - it is IMPERATIVE that you install it with the paper / barrier side towards WARMTH. This last attic had an entire ranch layout with the insulation installed upside down. Try explaining that to a homeowner. Especially a home owner that installed the insulation himself. Well, it is always a fun conversation...

Now that the insulation has been installed incorrectly, prior to further insulation being added we must slice the vapor barrier so that the moisture will not be trapped.

Sorry for the rant - and the short write - it's been a long day...