Q&A Spotlight

How to Calculate the Value of Energy Improvements

Posted on March 7, 2011 by Scott Gibson

Adding more insulation, replacing an inefficient furnace, or performing air-sealing measures are oft-recommended strategies for lowering energy consumption and saving money.

Aaron Vander Meulen puts his finger on a key issue, however, when he wonders whether there is a way of determining exactly how much money improvements such as these will save.

How to Insulate a Cathedral Ceiling with Mineral Wool

Posted on February 28, 2011 by Scott Gibson

John Roy is building a house in southeastern Massachusetts, and at least part of it will have a cathedral ceiling. He's thinking of insulating the ceiling with dense-packed rock wool.

The president of a local insulation company tells him there's no need to install air chutes in the rafter bays before the insulation is blown in because the insulation does not absorb water. The local building inspector is prepared to go along with the recommendation providing soffit vents are installed.

Should It Be a Passivhaus or a Passive House?

Posted on February 21, 2011 by Scott Gibson

Jason Kibbe is in the enviable position of planning the construction of a new house that will be financed entirely by the sale of his current home, leaving him in new digs without a mortgage.

Kibbe plans to swap his 4-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath house in south-central Pennsylvania for a 3-bedroom, 2-bath house of between 1,500 and 1,700 sq. ft, and he's upfront about his motives:

Right Idea, Wrong Result: A Cellulose Insulation Job Goes Off Track

Posted on February 14, 2011 by Scott Gibson

Jason Shapiro took the plunge and invested in more insulation for his house: blown cellulose for his attic and dense-packed cellulose in the exterior walls. No doubt he'd like to be enjoying a warmer house and lower energy bills. Instead, he's dealing with a mess.

How to Insulate a Slab Foundation—With Straw-Bales?

Posted on February 7, 2011 by Scott Gibson

Superinsulated houses need insulation under the slab as well as in the walls and roof, and the most common choice for sub-slab insulation is rigid foam.

Is Radiant Floor Heat Really the Best Option?

Posted on January 31, 2011 by Scott Gibson

Lukas Smith, a framer by trade, is building a 3,100-sq. ft. house in southern Ontario and plans to install a radiant-floor system in the basement slab as well as the first and second floors. The house will be built with structural insulated panels (SIPs) and have R-values of 33 in the walls and 50 in the roof.

Are Masonry Heaters a Good Match for Superinsulated Houses?

Posted on January 24, 2011 by Scott Gibson

In New York City, it's been considered a real coup to land an apartment with a fireplace. Now, according to The New York Times, those once lucky urban dwellers are having second thoughts. New concerns about the environmental and health hazards of wood smoke, an article this week said, are outweighing the charm of those cheery winter fires.

Can Open-Cell Foam Waste be Used as Attic Insulation?

Posted on January 17, 2011 by Scott Gibson

UPDATED 1/19/11 with comments from Peter Yost

Open-cell polyurethane foam expands dramatically as soon as it hits its target, rapidly filling wall cavities and typically mushrooming beyond the stud line. After it's firmed up, installers trim away the excess so drywall or other wall finishes can be put up.

Is Double-Stud Wall Construction the Path to Efficiency on a Budget?

Posted on January 10, 2011 by Scott Gibson

UPDATED with an expert opinion from Bruce King

Writing from Glacier, Washington, Karen Bean faces a home-building dilemma that confronts many thousands of people: what's the best way to insulate the walls of her new house on a modest budget?

She has $150,000 to spend on the two-bedroom, two-bathroom house, which she plans to build on a foundation originally intended for a traditional house. Although the concrete-block foundation is well made, it's not necessarily well matched to the double 2x4 walls she's hoping to use.

How to Live Comfortably Off the Grid

Posted on January 3, 2011 by Scott Gibson

UPDATED: 1/3/11 with expert opinions from Mark Sevier and Peter Yost

Chris Koehn will be building a 1,600-sq.-ft. home in British Columbia for owners who want to heat primarily with wood. They envision a wood-burning cookstove and a fireplace, and they'd also like to incorporate some solar capability.

Because of its island location, the house will be off the electricity grid.

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