Musings of an Energy Nerd

Martin’s Energy Quiz — Third Edition

Posted on October 18, 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

GBAGreenBuildingAdvisor.com published an energy quiz in 2009, and another one in 2011. It looks like we're overdue for another installment.

Answers are provided at the bottom of this column; don't peek until you've finished the quiz.

1. True or false: In freezing climates, a drainback solar hot water system circulates ordinary water (without any antifreeze) through its solar collectors.
(a) True.
(b) False.

All About Radon

Posted on October 11, 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Several colorless, odorless gases can injure your health. For example, carbon monoxide can kill you in minutes. RadonColorless, odorless, short-lived radioactive gas that can seep into homes and result in lung cancer risk. Radon and its decay products emit cancer-causing alpha, beta, and gamma particles. takes longer — usually decades — to kill you, and (fortunately) death is less certain.

A Backyard Test of Peel-and-Stick Flashings

Posted on October 4, 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

More than 12 years ago, I wrote an article on peel-and-stick window flashing. The article, “Choosing Flexible Flashings,” appeared in the June 2001 issue of The Journal of Light Construction (JLC).

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.

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