Musings of an Energy Nerd

Fixing a Wet Basement

Posted on September 27, 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

A hundred years ago, homes had cellars, not basements. The typical cellar has stone-and-mortar walls and a dirt floor. Such a cellar is cool and humid, so it's the perfect place to store carrots and potatoes. If a cellar floor got wet during the spring thaw, no one cared. After all, it’s not as if anyone was playing ping pong down there.

Air Sealing an Attic

Posted on September 20, 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

If you want to improve the energy performance of an older house, one of the first steps is to plug your attic air leaks. Although many GBAGreenBuildingAdvisor.com articles address aspects of attic air sealing, no single article provides an overview of the topic. This article is an attempt to provide that missing overview.

I’ll try to explain how you can seal air leaks in a conventional vented, unconditioned attic. If your house has cathedral ceilings — that is, insulated sloped roof assemblies — the air sealing tips in this article don’t apply to your house.

All About Wood Stoves

Posted on September 13, 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

If you’ve been heating your house with wood for years, you probably don’t need to read this article. By now, you know all about the disadvantages and inconveniences that accompany wood heat, and yet you still heat with wood — either because you genuinely love wood heat, or because you love the low cost of the fuel. If you haven’t burned down your house by now, you may even have figured out how to install and operate your stove safely.

This article is addressed to a different audience: those who are thinking about buying their first wood stove.

Weatherization Funding Has Been Slashed

Posted on September 6, 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

On February 17, 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), sometimes referred to as the “Obama stimulus funding.” Among the bill’s many provisions was a $5 billion allocation over three years to the Weatherization Assistance Program. Since the U.S. Department of Energy (DOEUnited States Department of Energy.) has historically funded the weatherization program at between $210 million and $230 million per year, the $1.6-billion-per-year stimulus funding was a sevenfold increase over the usual funding level.

Return to the Backyard Tape Test

Posted on August 30, 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

In the fall of 2012, I tested the performance of 11 air-sealing tapes by attaching samples to six different substrates mounted on the exterior wall of my woodshed. A month later, I tried to remove the tape samples to determine which tapes were most tenacious. I reported my findings in the April/May 2013 issue of Fine Homebuilding. (The details of the test set-up can be found in that article, “Backyard Tape Test.”)

Fukushima and Vermont Yankee

Posted on August 28, 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

A year and a half ago, in an article on the continuing nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, I reacted with skepticism to reports that the crisis at the damaged plant was under control. I wrote, “The situation at the Fukushima reactors is still far from stable. … Since the containers at the Fukushima Daiichi are severely damaged by melted fuel and can’t hold water, Tepco needs to pour hundreds of tons of water over the molten fuel every day.”

Getting the Biggest Bang for Your Air-Sealing Buck

Posted on August 23, 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Most new homes are leaky. In the typical new home, significant volumes of air enter through cracks near the basement rim joists and exit through ceiling holes on the building’s top floor. These air leaks waste tremendous amount of energy.

Vinyl Windows and Vinyl Siding

Posted on August 16, 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Should 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). building materials be banned from green homes? Some environmentalists think so. There seem to be three categories of building materials that particularly irk the anti-PVC crowd: vinyl siding, vinyl windows, and vinyl flooring. Since there are alternatives to all of these materials, these environmentalists argue, green homes shouldn’t include any of them. (Although the anti-vinyl group sometimes mentions PVC pipe used for drains and vents, it seems that neither plastic pipe nor the vinyl insulation on Romex wiring raises as many hackles as vinyl siding, windows, and flooring.)

Rainscreen Gaps and Igloos

Posted on August 9, 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

For the past 17 years, Joe Lstiburek and Betsy Pettit have hosted an annual conference, the Westford Symposium on Building Science, near their home in Massachusetts. Informally known as “summer camp,” the invitation-only gathering attracts hundreds of builders, engineers, architects, professors, and building science researchers.

The attendees listen to presentations at a conference center during the day and relax in Joe and Betsy’s backyard during the evening.

If Only Green Homes Could Be Sold Like Breakfast Cereal

Posted on August 2, 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Just the other day, I was looking at a box of breakfast cereal. The largest lettering on the box were the three words naming the cereal: Frosted Shredded Wheat. Next in prominence came the tag line: “Contains 6 g. of fiber per serving.”

You’re probably thinking, “so what?” Manufacturers of processed food make claims like this so frequently that we’ve all gotten used to them.

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