Thursday, May 31, 2007

Idiots and Lead Based Paint

Today HZG encountered a first in idiocy - a terrified Lead Based Paint home owner.

Our crew was out to perform an easy weatherization job. We were told up front that the client was a neat nick - no problem; and that their house had lead based paint, but it was abated. Although it was abated, the client still believed that lead based paint existed.

The client very politely asked that whomever we sent in the attic to do work NOT come in their home due to your children. She did not want them to be exposed to the potential lead dust. Since the access to the attic was through an exterior gable vent, we'd come in contact with the abated paint that was not abated... Since the customer is always right (unless their dead wrong), we complied. I sent a 3rd crew person to the job to ensure that we had enough people inside of the home.

This is where it gets interesting. The guy we had in the attic did his job. As he was blowing the attic, we had one of the guys on the bottom rung of the ladder with the remote to hand up to the person. The client saw this. Apparently, lead based paint can travel via osmosis through the ladder to the person on the bottom rung. She asked the guy at first to make sure he washed his hands...then changed her mind and asked him NOT to come inside. Lead based paint via osmosis... Good thing we had a 3rd guy to run the final tests.

On a secondary humor note, the client also sent back religious literature for anyone in our office that needs a spiritual awakening. Why does this information always land on my desk?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Tankless Hot Water Systems

The new "rage" is tankless hot water systems - "new" being in the States for the last 20 years. European countries have had these systems for well over 40 years.

Tankless heaters have pros and cons, just like everything else. They can supply an endless supply of hot water, and can save energy. However...

They are limited in the amount of hot water that can be produced at one time and they are more expensive to purchase than a conventional storage type water heater.

They also make it take longer for you to get your hot water, since they don't start heating the water until you turn on the faucet. This problem can be solved by using a specialized pump, which in combination with the tankless unit can get your hot water to you at less than half the time it would take running the faucet full blast.

The tankless water heaters also cause an increase in water wastage since you have to let the water run longer to get your hot water. This problem is also solved when using the specialized pumping system. Water conservation is an important advantage to the pumping system.

Tankless hot water heaters save energy and thus money. Water heating accounts for 20% or more of an average household’s annual energy expenditures. The yearly operating costs for conventional gas or electric storage tank water heaters average $200 or $450, respectively.
Storage tank-type water heaters raise and maintain the water temperature to the temperature setting on the tank (usually between 120° -140° F (49° -60° C). Even if no hot water is drawn from the tank (and cold water enters the tank), the heater will operate periodically to maintain the water temperature.
This is due to "standby losses": the heat conducted and radiated from the walls of the tank—and in gas-fired water heaters—through the flue pipe. These standby losses represent 10% to 20% of a household’s annual water heating costs.

Unlike "conventional" storage tank water heaters, tankless water heaters heat water only as it is used, or on demand. A tankless hot water heater has a heating device that is activated by the flow of water when a hot water valve is opened. Once activated, the heater delivers a constant supply of hot water. The output, however, limits the rate of the heated water flow.

HZG was at a seminar recently, sitting enjoying the silence. Two people next to me were in a discussion - loud enough to be heard so I wasn't eaves-dropping. A new complaint regarding the system came up - and I had never heard it before. Some systems have a "minimum" amount of water flow necessary to turn the system on. This gentleman was having issues with not running a faucet full force, for the heat wouldn't turn on.

Sometimes we learn something when we least expect it...

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

House as a Thermos

HZG hopes everyone had an enjoyable Memorial Weekend.

Many thoughts passed through HZG's mind this weekend (along with deciding not to do a stitch of "job" work). As the temperature steadily rose and hit 88 degrees, I felt it was time to re-address the value of insulation.

Yes, we typically think of insulation needs in the winter, with the price of gas being what it is. However, we all too often forget the extreme value of insulation in the summer months. While electricity is currently less expensive than the price of gas, it is still an expense.

Insulation's purpose it to keep the "hot, hot" and the "cool, cool." There is nothing better than coming home in the summer and walking into a home that is cooler than the outdoors - and the AC isn't even on. When the extreme summer temps get here and the AC does run, you'll notice that it runs less.

One side-perk is that you can usually get an insulation / weatherization contractor in your home quicker during these "down" months. Until people realize the house is a thermos, the summer months bring slower weatherization times.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Seminar "Nuggets"

Yesterday HZG attended a conference on "Homes that work." Energy stuff, you know...

Some nuggets jotted down for your perusal.

* 20% of customer satisfaction is determined by the warranty service program

* Wet spray cellulose does not work in a humid climate as well as a dry climate...if builders encapsulate in drywall too soon. Mold issues...

* Large overhangs provide great solar control, saving energy

* The new CFL may become the incandescent light; in process is the development of the LED and the Cathode Ray

* Water can climb in concrete in excess of 1,000 feet

* Capillary breaks on footers should be completed to stop water from rising

* A single pane window has an R-value of .92. An 8" concrete wall has an R-value of .62. Go figure...

* 19 independent tests were done on exhaust fan ventilation. Out of the 19, it was shown that all 19 will installed / vented incorrectly - resulting in a 50% capacity of operation.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Air Leakage Hint...

Today's topic is short and sweet - due to the fact that it was an 85 degree day in the attics...

When you go into the basement, one easy sign of air leakage detection is...


Typically a sign of poor housekeeping (excluding Mrs. HZG, of course), cobwebs can also lead you to air leakage. Why? Spiders build their webs close to fresh air sources to attract bugs. Cobweb - air leak.

Just a little tip from your Uncle HZG.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Roofing Quotes Gone Bad

Sometimes in the weatherization field (and home retrofit) we run into bad roofs. Getting quotes on roofing can range from $3,000 to $14,000 - on the SAME roof.

Besides the obvious - shingle style and life, chimney / stack flashing, etc. - there is a blatant area that should be looked at on EVERY single job. This area is the roof decking.

Too many quotes are generated from ground level. Even walking on a roof sometimes is not enough.

Before hiring any roofing contractor - AFTER checking all references - if the roofer does not go into your attic, do not hire this person.

In the attic is where you can truly discover decking issues, rot, mold, poor framing, etc. If the roofer doesn't check, you are likely to get hit with a DISCOVERY fee. This is a fee that the roofer will charge for discovering an issue not included on their quote. What are you going to do once your roof is half off - not have them finish the job. That's right - they've got you.

Sooooo, make sure all of your quotes are all inclusive of ever issue that may occur - and have them sign a statement such as "The quote given includes are issues - seen and unseen. The quote will not be adjusted upwards for any reason." The roofer that does not flinch is the one to hire...

Monday, May 21, 2007

Old windows and one easy fix...

Today, HZG had an opportunity to go on a weatherization sales call in a century home (100 years and older). Although this was a century home, we've seen this problem exist in 20 year old homes.

This home had many issues, the most visible being old, leaky windows. As part of the weatherization quote, we added "caulking the window panes."

Caulking window panes can be the easiest and least expensive fix out there. With a $4 silicone caulking tube, you can stop air leakage in approximately 5 average sized windows.

If the window "rattles" upon touch, it needs - at minimum - caulked. Simply run a bead around the inside perimeter of the window pane and frame, trowel smooth with your finger and let set. 90% of the time it will solve a "leaky" window issue.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Siding Issues and Water

You've heard me say before that water is the "Devil." OK, maybe in not those exact words, but close. Not only can water be a home issue for basements and roofs, but siding as well.

HZG had a sales call over the weekend due to a mysterious leak in a living room. During the last rain storm, a couple of drips of water plopped on the home owner's head while on the couch. Right above the room was a bedroom - not running water.

After measuring from the edge of the house to the leak spot on the interior, I proceeded to go outside to correspond the measurement. Low and behold, at the exact same level as the leak, there were not one but two issues.

The first issue was blatant - a new cable line inserted into the room above. The cable installer forgot to caulk the hole - exposing the opening to rain.

The second issue was a poorly sided home. Aluminum siding has notches that are hidden when properly overlapped. The installer must not have measured properly and had the notches exposed to the air. As rain would cascade down the siding, it would wick into these notches.

HZG suggested the home owner spend $10 on caulk and fix it himself. Hopefully the day's good Karma will come back.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Wheelchair Ramps

Today, HZG was at an energy sales call when the topic of wheelchair ramps came up. The client was interested in weatherizing their home for the summer's air conditioning needs (yes, weatherization works year round). Their parents were moving in with them due to a disability, and they wanted the home as comfortable as possible.

While the client was talking, they mentioned that they were going to have a wheelchair ramp built on their deck. Being extremely inquisitive (a.k.a. nosy), I asked where they were going to put the ramp. She showed me - and I asked if the ramp was going to be code in the location she pointed out. Bewilderment. I explained that in the location she was looking to have the ramp, the slope would be 1:4 at best - and that the person in the wheelchair had better be an ex-bodybuilder.

The average code around the country is 1:12 for wheelchair ramps. The higher the second number, the better. The "1" stands for the rise, the "12" stands for the run. What does this mean? For every one unit of height (inch) you need twelve units (inches) of run. The slope is the line that connects the two. So you can see that a 1:4 is a SERIOUS slope.

Sooooo...if you don't know, ask somebody that does. Or leave the door open for an INQUISITIVE person...

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Copper Piping

When your hot water tank finally goes...and it WILL go...this is the opportune time to replace your piping.

The 3 most common piping that HZG sees in homes is copper, galvanized and PVC.

Galvanized is commonly found in older homes and will eventually rust and rupture. If you are buying a home that has galvanized piping, realize that there will be an expense - if not now, down the road.

PVC piping is commonly found in "inexpensive" new homes and existing "I done repaired the plummin myself" homes. HZG HATES PVC plumbing - for it doesn't function as well as it should and will eventually give out.

Copper piping is the most reliable and functionable (is that a word?) out there. If your hot water tank goes bad, start here.

NOTE: If you own a rehab house, guard the copper piping like it's gold - it worth almost as much. In lesser income level areas, copper piping has been ripped out of homes and sold to scrappers.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Insulation Oops...and the mild aggravation that followed

A walk-through of HZG's home after the dense-packing revealed that even my trainer needs additional training. Shame on me - shame on him.

As was stated earlier, the home was built in 1952. Weatherization during the fifties was no more than insulation - and very little at that. Architects did not view a home as a system - meaning the HVAC did not coordinate with the insulation.

Well...while dense-packing the walls (which the newbie did a good job), 2 exterior return air panning runs were dense-packed. The trainer walked through the home (as he should have), however did not check behind bookcases or in a closet. Both spots had return air grills.

Spot one was discovered when HZG junior went to feed his fish at the end of the night and discovered the fish was NOT happy with the cellulose covering his bowl. Upon moving the bookcase away from the wall - there was cellulose poofing out from the vent.

The second area was not discovered until the morning - when Mrs. HZG went to her closet to get out her shoes for work. Let's just say that she is NOT a fan of cellulose shoes.

The clean-up involves not only sucking the cell out of the wall cavity, but opening up the return air panning in the basement to remove fallen cell. This is a chore amongst itself.

At the ACI conference, a lecturer stated that he was one of the smartest people out there - because he made many mistakes and learned from them. We're well on our way...

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Final Sidewall Numbers

Well, we completed the lower level of sidewalls today. No injuries or deaths...

The most recent blower door reduction was 204 @ CFM50 for the lower level. This brings the overall reduction from 2,778 @ CFM50 to 2,344 @ CFM50. In essence, the sidewalls brought the blower door reduction down 434 @ CFM50. This reduction is equated to closing up a 4.5" x 4.5" hole in the wall to the outside.

So not only will the home retain heat and A/C better - the overall draftiness will be greatly reduced.

Remember, anything BELOW 2,750 @ CFM50 is to be optional air sealing. We are now below the optional.

The only thing that is "left" to do - and I haven't decided to at this stage - is to pump foam into the above grade masonry block to stop that air leakage and insulate to the frost line. The hesitancy is due to only having 3 small areas to insulate due to ground height (it's above almost to the sill plate).

Monday, May 14, 2007

Sidewalls and Air Sealing

So far, so good.

The initial blower door reading this morning was 2,778 @ CFM50. Per Ohio Weatherization standards, 2,750 is OPTIONAL air sealing. To begin, this is a fairly tight house.

The crew worked on the upper level today - we're training semi-experienced personnel to dense-pack. We started on the upper level simply to give them additional experience on a ladder.

The final blower door for the day was 2,548 - a 230 CFM drop by simply insulating the walls.

We'll let you know tomorrow (pending completion; they're calling for thunderstorms) the final blower door reading.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Sidewalls and Air Tightness Experiment

Tomorrow we will begin a training / experiment on what effect dense-packing sidewalls has on air leakage. We will run a pre-blower door, a blower door once the upper walls have been completed and then a final blower door once the lower level walls are done.

The home is a 1952 colonial style, approximately 2000 square feet. The attic has been air sealed and cellulose blown to an R40. The basement has had the addition crawl insulated, and the main portion has had the band joist stuffed and foamed. The exterior is vinyl sided; the interior is drywalled.

This past winter was frigid - however the gas bills during the heating season averaged $150 - proving the attic is the "place to be."

Over the next few days we'll check in with the blower door readings...

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Glass Block Windows

If you have a basement or crawl space with windows - hoppers, if you will - consider switching them to glass block. Glass block offers the obvious - safety. You can go with clear, frosted or glass angled, depending on your privacy needs. However they also offer energy efficiency, with an R-value of 1.96 - almost twice the R-value of a 1/8" pane of glass.

Glass block windows can come pre-made or custom made. HZG recommends that if you have 2 windows in a space, make one of the glass block structures vented. In our basement, we have 4 (2 per side) and we vented the two that were across from each other.

The cost of installing GBW ranges from $125 - $200 for non-vented, $175 - $225 for vented.

Besides the advantages listed above, the maintenance is great - no more cleaning the panes - just squirt with a hose.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Easy Energy Saver - Window Sash Locks

If your home is one that is older (and has old windows), one of the easiest and least expensive energy savers is the window sash lock.

The window sash lock will ensure that the window is shut tight. It will do nothing regarding the leakiness of a window in general, however it WILL stop unnecessary air flow.

A sash lock runs about $3.00 and can be installed within 10 minutes.

Easy Speezy.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Stupid, Stupid, Stupid - Bad Room Temperature

It must be getting close to the weekend, for my tolerance is once again dropping for stupid people. Of course, they never see my anger - just a Curious George smile.

Today's call was a "comfort" call. The client stated that their bedroom is never warm in the winter or cool in the summer. Typically, HZG would start in the basement and then go to the attic in search of the reason. However, this day I felt giddy and thought I'd start in the room itself.

Low and behold, the issue was simple...and stupid.

The bedroom was located close to the middle of the house, so I felt the supply run was not the issue. I was right, it wasn't. The bedroom has 2 supply registers for its size. Normally, that would be enough. Not in this room though. Here comes the stupidity...

There was a dog's bed (big fluffy circular bed) located directly OVER one of the registers. The other register was covered by a dresser. So, in effect, this room had NO registers.

I pointed this out to the owner. I suggested a new furniture arrangement.

Maybe it's the cost of gas ($3.07) that's getting to me when I drive to someone's house and find stupidity...

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Weak Generators Kill Krendl's

From the desk of "Don't believe everything a salesman tells you," come this little dity.

Today HZG was approached by a generator salesman. I explained that we had no need at this time for another generator, however he just kept on a selling. He explained that his generator could drive our Krendl's without a problem. I hate the uninformed.

I pointed out that his generator would blow our machine due to the lack of power. He disagreed. I then proceeded to get our supplier on the phone (speaker) and asked him the non-leading questions "What happens if we use a generator without the proper power output, and what is the proper output for our machines?" His response was that we'd have to buy a new Krendl. I thanked him and politely hung up.

I then looked at the salesman with his red face and said I would buy today if he put in writing that if our machine explodes that he would replace it at no cost. He stated that he couldn't do that. I stated that I couldn't buy it.

The salesman slithered to the door...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Opinions Vary...

Today is a brief post - it's late and I'm tired (and sweaty)...attics in 90 degree heat are no fun.

The last sales call today was interesting. I was the last person to view this attic - and sometimes it's good to be last.

The various attic values given to this home owner were..."You should install up to R45", "You should install to R50", "You've only got 3" (when in reality it was 7").

Of course, I recommended installing to an R38 level and the home owner was shocked. I explained that I'd be more than happy to install an R50 and take his money - but I wouldn't do it.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Interesting Facts

Courtesy of Green Builder Magazine...interesting environmental facts.

* Percent of US business schools that now require a course in environmental sustainability or corporate social responsibility: 54%, up from 34% in 2001.

* The warmest January ever recorded: January 2007, 1.53 degrees warmer than normal.

* The dollar equivalent of the amount of energy and cost savings delivered by the Energy Star Program in 2005 to US businesses, organizations and consumers: $12 billion.

* Typical number of diapers used per baby in the United States, depending on when toilet training occurs: 5,000 to 8,000.

* The US burns 10,000 gallons of gasoline a second.

* Amount of time it takes to change a lightbulb: 18 seconds. Amount of CO2 that can be averted each year when that incandescent lightbulb is replaced with a compact fluorescent: 104 pounds.

* If just 25 percent of US families used 10 fewer plastic bags per month, we would save more than 2.5 billion bags a year.

* Every ton of recycled office paper saves 380 gallons of oil.

More useless trivia for your next party...

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Shower Curtains for a Healthier House?

A shower curtain can contribute to a healthier house, you ask? Yes. Even more so if you own a rental property.

Shower curtains, when properly used, keep liquid moisture IN the shower - not letting the water hit walls and flooring. When the curtain is NOT used properly, well, you get moisture on the walls and floors, followed by BLACK MOLD. Actually, mildew - but tenants have a tendency to exaggerate a bit (sometimes a lot).

Make sure the curtain is attached with the proper amount of bar clips. This keeps the curtain from sagging. Mold-resistant curtain exist for under $15.00. When showering, make sure the curtain is pulled over completely so that it can adhere to the surround or tile. If you have a gap, water will find it and go outside your shower. After showering, make sure to shake the curtain before opening it back up - the curtain should not be left folded, for you are increasing the likelihood of shower-cheese.

HZG had to explain how to use a shower curtain to one of the dimmer tenants. It was hopeless - we're installing a plastic shield so she can splash away...

Friday, May 04, 2007

Roof Vents Used for Exhaust Venting

Although a sealed termination kit is what is recommended for exhaust (bathroom and kitchen) venting, roof vents will do in a pinch. Many home owners want the cheapest route to go, and a roof vent can cost less that $12.00 versus a termination kit for $40.

The reason termination kits are recommended is that they do not share ANY air with the attic space - the exhaust is vented directly outside. The roof vent will allow the air to go outside, however their is residual exhaust left in the attic.

Today HZG experience a client that did not want those "zits" on his roof. Instead, he wanted us to run the exhaust to a gable - some 22' away. I explained that the best exhaust is the shortest exhaust, however he would have none of that. Soooo, I had him sign a form stating that he did not want the shortest vent run possible in favor of cosmetics.

Win some, lose some...

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Sound & Cellulose

One usage of cellulose that few people think of is as a sound barrier. Sure, cellulose is one of the best insulation R-value materials out there. However, it also has a sound barrier (retarder, more like) capability.

Today, HZG went to a local police / courthouse that was in need of a sound reducer. Whenever the client had a private meeting, well, it wasn't so private. This is where the art of dense-packing comes in.

Our proposal was to dense-pack the interior shared walls to reduce the sound infil - exfil-tration. There isn't a value to the R-factor, simply noise reduction.

Soooooo, if you have a room in your office or home that needs to be quieter, consider the option of cellulose in the wall.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A little gravel goes a long way...

Idiots, idiots, idiots...

This is a quick blog - frustration is high...

I think HZG needs a vacation - or in need of refreshing clientele...

I ran into a builder that said, "We don't need gravel on the footer tile...code doesn't require it." Gravel is an excellent water diffuser - and will help prevent hydrostatic pressure. Damp proofing,'s only as good as the drainage down the wall.

This builder states that he's not worried. I'm drying to prevent future issues...however I will gladly take his money and say (in parenthesis)..."I told you so..."

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Mold, and why I sometimes hate tenants...

Today I received a phone call from one of my tenants..."I've got MOLD under my daughter's bed and in the bathroom. I had to buy 3 dehumidifiers. My rent will be short this month."

Of course, mold is to be taken seriously when it's real. The key word is "real."

We immediately (within 2 hours) went to her unit to discover a small mossy mold under her daughter's bed...reminiscent of a juice spill. Of course, this could never happen. In the bathroom, there was indeed "mildew" behind the toilet, next to the bathtub...with the look of "water splashing." The tenant thinks that since there is mold in the lower unit (it's unoccupied, in the state of demo) that the mold has come UP through the ceiling and into her daughter's room. Well, the ceiling in the room directly below hers was a nice, pristine white.

We are going to take care of the bathroom issue by installing a plastic shield directly up against the tub so that the tenant will not have to worry about splashing...and then cleaning.

On a side note, there were not any "new" dehumidifiers in the unit...Must be still in the car...

AMAZING what tenants come up with when rent is due (and overdue...)