Musings of an Energy Nerd

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.

All About Dehumidifiers

Posted on July 26, 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

An energy-efficient home in a hot, humid climate should have a tight envelope, thick insulation, energy-efficient appliances, and low-solar-gain windows. If you include these features in a new home, your air conditioner won’t run as often as your neighbor’s. That’s good.

But there is a downside to the fact that your air conditioner runs rarely: during the hours that your house has no active cooling, it also has no active dehumidification. As a result, your indoor relative humidity is going to rise.

Do Cars Perform Better Than Houses?

Posted on July 19, 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Houses last much longer than cars. While the average car might last about 13 years, a house can easily last for 100 or 200 years.

Garage Door Openers Are Always On

Posted on July 12, 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

If your home has a garage, there is a good chance that you have an automatic garage door opener. Because these electrical appliances operate for only a few minutes per day, they don’t use much electricity to open and close your garage door. But there’s a catch: most garage door openers use three to five times more energy during the 1,437 minutes per day when they are “off” than they do during the 3 minutes per day when they are on.

Keeping Cool in a Two-Story House

Posted on July 5, 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

I was recently a weekend guest at the house of some friends who live in Climate Zone 5 (a zone which includes Nebraska and Massachusetts). Since I have no interest in embarrassing anyone, I won’t mention any names or the home’s precise location. The story, however, is true.

The weather was hot. The two-story house was built in the 1980s; it included a single-zone split-system air conditioner that delivered cool air through ductwork to every room in the house.

How Much Fresh Air Does Your Home Need?

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

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAEAmerican Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). International organization dedicated to the advancement of heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration through research, standards writing, publishing, and continuing education. Membership is open to anyone in the HVAC&R field; the organization has about 50,000 members. ) has had a residential ventilation standard since 2003, when ASHRAE 62.2A standard for residential mechanical ventilation systems established by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers. Among other requirements, the standard requires a home to have a mechanical ventilation system capable of ventilating at a rate of 1 cfm for every 100 square feet of occupiable space plus 7.5 cfm per occupant. (“Ventilation and Acceptable Indoor Air Quality in Low-Rise Residential Buildings”) was first approved for publication. (For more information on providing fresh air for homes, see Designing a Good Ventilation System.)

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