Musings of an Energy Nerd

Impressions of Ecuador

Posted on August 25, 2017 by Martin Holladay

For the last year and a half, my son Moses has been serving in the Peace Corps in Ecuador. He teaches English at a high school in Cañar, a town in the Andes with a mostly indigenous population. Recently, my family traveled to Ecuador to visit him.

My wife Karyn, our son Noah, and I flew to Quito. Moses met us at the airport. After two nights in Quito, we took a bus to Cotopaxi National Park, where we stayed at a rural hostel. The following day — three days after leaving Boston — we hiked to the top of a 15,489-foot volcano named Rumiñahui.

An Introduction to Pressure Diagnostics

Posted on August 18, 2017 by Martin Holladay

When it comes to understanding heating systems, most of us are comfortable with the basics. To warm up your house on a cold day, you need a source of heat in your living room — say, a wood stove or a radiator. To keep the heat in your house, you need insulation.

That’s the way most builders understood heating from 1935 to 1980. Somewhere around 1980, however, building scientists began to realize that the old picture was imperfect.

Stair Design Basics

Posted on August 11, 2017 by Martin Holladay

Stair design requires attention to all of the usual rules of residential design. Stairs should be graceful, useful, and comfortable. In addition, stairs must also be safe. Clearly, safety is more important for stair design than for most design issues (for example, ceiling height or window orientation).

Once you understand the basic principles of stair design, you’ll probably notice that lots of stairs lack a graspable handrail, or have inconsistent riser heights, or are dimly lit. Examples of flawed stairs are unfortunately common.

Ten Common Mistakes Made By New Home Builders

Posted on August 4, 2017 by Martin Holladay

Designers and builders who do their homework before construction begins have few problems. Unfortunately, some projects happen backwards: the design and construction are well under way before the homework begins. That type of project can be problematic.

At, we see examples of the latter group all the time. Designers, builders, or homeowners who are in the middle of a construction project will post basic questions on our Q&A page. “I’m looking at the rafters and trying to decide how we should insulate the roof,” they write, or “We’re trying to figure out the best place to put the 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. .”

Can Carpeting Be Green?

Posted on July 28, 2017 by Martin Holladay

In the green building community, carpeting has a bad reputation. While hardwood flooring is the honor student who sits in the front of the class, carpeting is the kid in the back row, shooting spitballs and ignoring the teacher.

Does carpeting deserve its bad reputation? Or has it been unfairly maligned?

Crawl Spaces vs. Skirts

Posted on July 21, 2017 by Martin Holladay

Many older homes in rural areas have pier foundations. The piers may be made of wood (for example, creosoted posts or pressure-treated lumber), poured concrete, CMUs, or bricks. The space between the dirt and the underside of the floor framing may be enclosed or may be entirely open to the wind.

Air Conditioner Performance In Extreme Heat

Posted on July 14, 2017 by Martin Holladay

During the last week of June, many major U.S. news outlets sent reporters to Arizona to issue updates on the area’s extreme heat wave. Outdoor temperatures hit 119°F in Phoenix. Some airplanes were grounded because the hot air was too thin for small jets to take off. Car steering wheels were so hot that some drivers wore oven mitts. VinylCommon term for polyvinyl chloride (PVC). In chemistry, vinyl refers to a carbon-and-hydrogen group (H2C=CH–) that attaches to another functional group, such as chlorine (vinyl chloride) or acetate (vinyl acetate). records delivered by mail arrived warped. Emergency room physicians reported an increase in burn cases: hands were burned when people touched their cars, and children’s feet were burned when they went barefoot outdoors.

PV Systems That Divert Surplus Power to a Water Heater

Posted on July 7, 2017 by Martin Holladay

In some U.S. states, electric utilities refuse to offer a net-metering agreement to owners of PVPhotovoltaics. Generation of electricity directly from sunlight. A photovoltaic (PV) cell has no moving parts; electrons are energized by sunlight and result in current flow. systems. Instead of a net-metering agreement — an arrangement that provides a homeowner with a one-for-one credit for every kilowatt-hour (kWh) of PV-generated electricity fed into the grid — these utilities want to sell electricity to users for 12 cents or 15 cents per kWh, while buying it back for only 4 or 5 cents per kWh.

R-Value Advice from Building Science Corporation

Posted on June 30, 2017 by Martin Holladay

To reduce energy use, green builders often install above-code levels of insulation. Thick insulation is expensive, however, so it’s sometimes hard to know how much insulation is optimal.

To help guide builders wrestling with R-valueMeasure of resistance to heat flow; the higher the R-value, the lower the heat loss. The inverse of U-factor. questions, I wrote an article in May 2016 (“How Much Insulation Is Too Much?”) reporting on R-value recommendations from three energy experts: David White, Marc Rosenbaum, and Rachel Wagner.

In Praise of Scientists and Scholars

Posted on June 23, 2017 by Martin Holladay

Most educated Americans still listen to scientists and believe in established methods of scholarly inquiry. That said, a strange side effect of our country’s recent slide into extreme political polarization has been an increase in the number of Americans who reject the conclusions of scientists and scholars.

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