Musings of an Energy Nerd

A Leaky Old House Becomes a Net-Zero Showcase

Posted on May 14, 2010 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Jane Bindley had a dream: to turn her 1978 ranch in central New Hampshire into a net-zero-energy house. How hard could that be?

As it turned out, pretty hard. But with help from a dedicated team of experts and a generous budget, Bindley achieved her dream.

Best Construction Details for Deep-Energy Retrofits

Posted on May 7, 2010 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

A collection of experts working on deep-energy retrofits recently attended a brainstorming session to share design tips and propose topics for further research.

The conference, formally titled the “Expert Meeting for Details for Deep Energy Retrofits,” was held in Boston on March 12. The meeting was funded by the Department of Energy’s Building America program and hosted by the Building Science Corporation.

Energy-Efficiency Retrofits: Insulation or Solar Power?

Posted on April 29, 2010 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

For our country to achieve the carbon emission reductions necessary to avoid a planetary catastrophe, many experts contend that almost every house in the country will need to have retrofit work that achieves deep cuts in energy use.

There’s a major stumbling block, however: deep energy retrofits are frighteningly expensive —in the range of $80,000 to $250,000 per house. With costs so high, many homeowners are asking: how long is the payback period for a deep-energy retrofit?

Building Houses and Saving Energy in Nicaragua

Posted on April 26, 2010 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

There's a reason this week's blog is late: I just returned from a week in Nicaragua.

I'm posting a few photos from Central America. My next blog should appear on schedule at the end of the week.

A ‘Magic Box’ For Your Passivhaus

Posted on April 16, 2010 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

By designing a tight envelope with thick insulation, Passivhaus designers work hard to whittle a home’s space heating load to a bare minimum. Many European designers strive to get the heating load so low that all space heat can be provided by raising the temperature of the ventilation air.

Airtight Wall and Roof Sheathing

Posted on April 9, 2010 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

In the early 1970s, residential builders knew almost nothing about air tightness. The first residential air barriers were installed in Saskatchewan in the late 1970s, when pioneering Canadian builders began sealing the seams of interior polyethylene sheeting with Tremco acoustical sealant. The Canadian builders (and their American imitators) went to a lot of trouble to weave the interior poly around framing members at rim-joist areas and partition intersections.

Researchers Predict U.S. Furnace Industry Is Doomed

Posted on April 1, 2010 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

OAK RIDGE, TENN., April 1 — According to Andrei Constantinescu, a senior researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, it won’t be long before new American homes no longer require central heating. “Every year, the heat produced by electronic gadgets is increasing,” explained Constantinescu. “By 2014, most new American homes won’t need a furnace.”

As televisions get larger, their heat output increases. “Four plasma TVs can heat a house in Kentucky,” said Constantinescu. “If you throw in a set-top box and two or three computers, you should be fine as far north as Maine.”

Choosing Triple-Glazed Windows

Posted on March 26, 2010 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Since 1977, when Sweden introduced its stringent energy code, almost all new homes in Sweden have been equipped with triple-glazed windows. Here in the U.S., where energy codes are more lax, triple-glazed windows are still rare.

For a minority of U.S. builders, however — especially cold-climate builders of superinsulated homes — triple-glazed windows are considered essential. Since few U.S. manufacturers offer high-solar-gain triple-glazed windows, most Americans get these windows from Canadian manufacturers.

Forget Vapor Diffusion — Stop the Air Leaks!

Posted on March 19, 2010 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Last week’s blog answered some common questions about vapor retarders. This elicited a comment from Bill Rose, research director of the Building Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois in Champaign. “We might imagine a future in which the building code sections that address the vapor barrier would all go blank,” Rose wrote.

Vapor Retarders and Vapor Barriers

Posted on March 12, 2010 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Although building science has evolved rapidly over the last 40 years, one theme has remained constant: builders are still confused about vapor barriers.

Any energy expert who fields questions from builders will tell you that, year after year, the same questions keep coming up: Does this wall need a vapor barrier? Will foam 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. trap moisture in my wall? How do I convince my local building inspector that my walls don’t need interior poly?

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