Musings of an Energy Nerd

Revisiting an Energy Saving Handbook from 1979

Posted on November 28, 2014 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Rummaging through the shelves of a used book store, my son Noah came across an old paperback called Energy Saving Handbook. Written by James W. Morrison, the book was published by Harper & Row in 1979.

A brief web search failed to reveal any biographical information about the author. However, I discovered that the book was published under several different titles, and was distributed by at least four state energy offices. Morrison’s book may have been funded by the U.S. Department of Energy; some of its chapters seem to have been repurposed from government brochures.

Heat Transfer When Roasting a Turkey

Posted on November 21, 2014 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Recently I decided to research heat transfer during turkey roasting. It turns out that this issue has been extensively studied by physicists and engineers.

As with houses, there are two basic camps: those who use computer modeling and those who make measurements. Some researchers feel more comfortable at a desk with a laptop; others feel more comfortable in a kitchen with a thermometer.

All About Basements

Posted on November 14, 2014 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Foundation discussions can get heated. For some reason, builders often dig in their heels when the topic of slabs versus crawl spaces versus basements comes up. It’s time to declare a truce.

It’s perfectly possible to build a great house on any one of these three foundation types, as long as everything is properly detailed. Each type of foundation has advantages as well as disadvantages. If you have a foundation type that you prefer, that’s great. I’m not going to try to change your mind.

Borrowing a Cellulose Blower From a Big Box Store

Posted on November 7, 2014 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Back in the early 1990s, I worked for a nonprofit agency, overseeing renovation work at several old wood-framed buildings in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Each of these century-old buildings had between two and five apartments; after renovation, they were rented to low-income families at subsidized rents.

Martin’s Pretty Good House Manifesto

Posted on October 31, 2014 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

One of the presentations I attended at the Passive HouseA residential building construction standard requiring very low levels of air leakage, very high levels of insulation, and windows with a very low U-factor. Developed in the early 1990s by Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist, the standard is now promoted by the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany. To meet the standard, a home must have an infiltration rate no greater than 0.60 AC/H @ 50 pascals, a maximum annual heating energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (4,755 Btu per square foot), a maximum annual cooling energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (1.39 kWh per square foot), and maximum source energy use for all purposes of 120 kWh per square meter (11.1 kWh per square foot). The standard recommends, but does not require, a maximum design heating load of 10 W per square meter and windows with a maximum U-factor of 0.14. The Passivhaus standard was developed for buildings in central and northern Europe; efforts are underway to clarify the best techniques to achieve the standard for buildings in hot climates. conference in Portland, Maine, on September 22, 2014 was a session called “Passive House certifiers’ roundtable.” The first speaker on the panel, Tomas O’Leary, explained that he usually charges about $2,200 to certify a residential Passivhaus project. He warned the audience that certification is “quite an effort; don’t underestimate it.”

A New Ground-Mounted Solar Array

Posted on October 24, 2014 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

I’ve lived in an off-grid house for the past 39 years. Since I make my own electricity, my electricity costs are much higher than those of most Americans. Because of my off-grid lifestyle, I often lack perspective when I try to help people who ask questions about ordinary energy choices. (I’ve had to compensate for my lack of relevant experience by undertaking anthropological studies of my grid-connected neighbors.)

Dense-Packed Cellulose and a Wrong-Side Vapor Barrier

Posted on October 17, 2014 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Does the exterior sheathingMaterial, usually plywood or oriented strand board (OSB), but sometimes wooden boards, installed on the exterior of wall studs, rafters, or roof trusses; siding or roofing installed on the sheathing—sometimes over strapping to create a rainscreen. on a double-stud wallConstruction system in which two layers of studs are used to provide a thicker-than-normal wall system so that a lot of insulation can be installed; the two walls are often separated by several inches to reduce thermal bridging through the studs and to provide additional space for insulation. accumulate worrisome quantities of moisture in late winter? Several researchers are now looking into this question, and Green Building Advisor has been sharing the researchers' findings as the information becomes available.

It’s Not About Space Heating

Posted on October 10, 2014 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

If you design a “pretty good house” with R-20 basement walls, R-31 above-grade walls, an R-49 ceiling, triple-glazed windows, a minisplit heat pumpHeating and cooling system in which specialized refrigerant fluid in a sealed system is alternately evaporated and condensed, changing its state from liquid to vapor by altering its pressure; this phase change allows heat to be transferred into or out of the house. See air-source heat pump and ground-source heat pump., and an HRV(HRV). Balanced ventilation system in which most of the heat from outgoing exhaust air is transferred to incoming fresh air via an air-to-air heat exchanger; a similar device, an energy-recovery ventilator, also transfers water vapor. HRVs recover 50% to 80% of the heat in exhausted air. In hot climates, the function is reversed so that the cooler inside air reduces the temperature of the incoming hot air. , what should you do next to reduce your energy bills? Maybe aim for the PassivhausA residential building construction standard requiring very low levels of air leakage, very high levels of insulation, and windows with a very low U-factor. Developed in the early 1990s by Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist, the standard is now promoted by the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany. To meet the standard, a home must have an infiltration rate no greater than 0.60 AC/H @ 50 pascals, a maximum annual heating energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (4,755 Btu per square foot), a maximum annual cooling energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (1.39 kWh per square foot), and maximum source energy use for all purposes of 120 kWh per square meter (11.1 kWh per square foot). The standard recommends, but does not require, a maximum design heating load of 10 W per square meter and windows with a maximum U-factor of 0.14. The Passivhaus standard was developed for buildings in central and northern Europe; efforts are underway to clarify the best techniques to achieve the standard for buildings in hot climates. standard?

Wolfgang Feist Defends Thick Insulation

Posted on October 3, 2014 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Dr. Wolfgang Feist is the founder of the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany. On September 22, 2014, after Feist gave an address at a Passive House conference in Portland, Maine, he agreed to be interviewed. (For links to my two previous interviews with Dr. Feist, see the “Related Articles” sidebar below.)

Q. What will it take for a higher percentage of new buildings to be built to the Passivhaus standard?

Report from the Passive House Conference in Maine

Posted on September 26, 2014 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

The North American Passive HouseA residential building construction standard requiring very low levels of air leakage, very high levels of insulation, and windows with a very low U-factor. Developed in the early 1990s by Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist, the standard is now promoted by the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany. To meet the standard, a home must have an infiltration rate no greater than 0.60 AC/H @ 50 pascals, a maximum annual heating energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (4,755 Btu per square foot), a maximum annual cooling energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (1.39 kWh per square foot), and maximum source energy use for all purposes of 120 kWh per square meter (11.1 kWh per square foot). The standard recommends, but does not require, a maximum design heating load of 10 W per square meter and windows with a maximum U-factor of 0.14. The Passivhaus standard was developed for buildings in central and northern Europe; efforts are underway to clarify the best techniques to achieve the standard for buildings in hot climates. Network held a two-day conference in Portland, Maine, this month. The well-attended conference drew attendees from all over the U.S., as well as from China, the U.K., and Germany.

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