Musings of an Energy Nerd

New Books on Green Building

Posted on September 19, 2014 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

If you are a cold-climate architect looking for a reference book that provides guidance on designing energy-efficient superinsulated buildings, I strongly suggest that you buy William Maclay’s The New Net ZeroProducing as much energy on an annual basis as one consumes on site, usually with renewable energy sources such as photovoltaics or small-scale wind turbines. Calculating net-zero energy can be difficult, particularly in grid-tied renewable energy systems, because of transmission losses in power lines and other considerations.. It’s the best book on the topic by far.

All About Attics

Posted on September 12, 2014 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Most six-year-olds can draw a house. The typical child’s depiction of a house shows a rectangular building with a door and a few windows, topped by a gable roof.

This type of house is fairly common in most areas of the U.S. If the house was built 100 or more years ago, it usually had a cellar or basement underneath the first floor and an attic above the top floor.

All About Microwave Ovens

Posted on September 5, 2014 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

A microwave oven uses less energy than a conventional oven. Even though this statement is broadly true, a microwave oven isn’t always the most efficient way to cook.

So what appliance should you use to heat up or cook your dinner: A gas stovetop? An electric-resistance stovetop? An induction stovetop? A gas oven? An electric oven? A countertop toaster oven? A crockpot? Or a microwave oven?

If all you care about is energy efficiency, it’s possible to come up with an answer to this question — but the answer will depend on the quantity and the type of food you are cooking.

Get Ready for Smart Appliances

Posted on August 29, 2014 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Utility executives and some energy-efficiency experts have been dreaming for years of a smart electricity grid connected to smart appliances that can be remotely controlled. In many North American cities, however, the installation of smart meters has faced strong opposition from some homeowners. The resulting fallout has amounted to a public relations nightmare for electric utilities.

Geothermal Energy and Narrow Streets

Posted on August 22, 2014 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Everybody seems to love geothermal energyHot water or steam extracted from reservoirs beneath the Earth's surface; can be used for heat pumps, water heating, or electricity generation. The term may also mean the use of near-constant underground temperatures by ground-source heat pumps to provide heating and cooling.. That's why many American homeowners brag that they heat their house with renewable energy, saying, “I've got a geothermal system that extracts heat from the soil in my backyard.”

Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but you've been misinformed. You don't have a geothermal system. All you have is a 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. that runs on electricity.

Just because the heat-pump salesman told you that it’s a geothermal system, doesn't mean it is.

Bathroom Exhaust Fans

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

Older homes often lack bathroom exhaust fans. In the old days, if the bathroom was smelly or steamy, you were supposed to open a window to air it out.

This isn’t a very logical ventilation method, especially when temperatures are below zero, or when the weather is 90°F and humid. Yet this time-honored method of bathroom ventilation is still enshrined in our building codes. According to the 2009 International Residential Code (sections R303.3 and M1507.3), a bathroom with an operable window does not need to have a bath exhaust fan.

A Canadian Editor Questions Passivhaus Dogma

Posted on August 1, 2014 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Today's brief blog — a departure from my usual practice of writing in-depth articles — was inspired by a recent editorial by Richard Kadulski, the editor of a Canadian newsletter called Solplan Review.

What Should I Do With My Old Windows?

Posted on July 25, 2014 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

If you’re trying to lower your energy bills, you have probably plugged many of your home’s air leaks and have added insulation to your attic floor. Now you may be wondering, “What should we do about our old windows?”

Unfortunately, there is no clear answer to this question. Sometimes it makes sense to leave old windows exactly the way they are. Sometimes it makes sense to repair the windows’ weatherstripping and add storm windows. And sometimes it makes sense to replace old windows with new energy-efficient windows.

The 2012 Code Encourages Risky Wall Strategies

Posted on July 18, 2014 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Builders who follow the prescriptive requirements of the 2012 International Residential Code (IRCInternational Residential Code. The one- and two-family dwelling model building code copyrighted by the International Code Council. The IRC is meant to be a stand-alone code compatible with the three national building codes—the Building Officials and Code Administrators (BOCA) National code, the Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI) code and the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO) code.) in Climate Zone 6, 7, or 8 are required to install a minimum of “20+5 or 13+10” wall insulation. What does this mean? According to an explanatory footnote in the code, the “First value is cavity insulation, [and the] second is continuous insulation or insulated siding, so ‘13+5’ means R-13 cavity insulation plus R-5 continuous insulation or insulated siding.”

Every House Needs Roof Overhangs

Posted on July 11, 2014 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Many residential designers pay too little attention to roof overhangs. Roof overhangs have several important functions: they can protect exterior doors, windows, and siding from rain; they can shade windows when solar heat gainIncrease in the amount of heat in a space, including heat transferred from outside (in the form of solar radiation) and heat generated within by people, lights, mechanical systems, and other sources. See heat loss. is undesirable; and they can help keep basements and crawl spaces dry. A house with improper overhangs can overheat in the summer, can suffer from water entry problems at windows and doors, and can have premature siding rot.

The most common design error is to make roof overhangs too stingy. It’s also possible (although much rarer) for roof overhangs to be too wide.

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