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Green Building Curmudgeon

What Fruit Flies Taught Me About Sustainable Living

The profit motive and our love of convenience vex our efforts to be more sustainable

Except for periods of extreme heat and cold, my doors and windows are open for most of the year. I close them off and on during the day, and use my HVAC only minimally most of the time.
Image Credit: Carl Seville

Last summer my house developed a fruit fly infestation, due to the fact that I had a lot of fresh fruit sitting around ripening on my counters. I recall once using aerosol bombs to get rid of them, but I figured this time around I would look for a slightly less toxic solution.

A quick web search turned up details for a standard fruit fly trap, consisting of a jar with a little cider vinegar and dish soap, covered with clear plastic with a few holes in it. The flies are attracted to the vinegar, fly in, get coated with dish soap, and drown in the cider.

This works pretty well, but only if you don’t leave any fruit (including pits) lying around, or leave any fruit scraps in the garbage. So I bought a mesh tent to cover my ripening peaches and started collecting all my fruit scraps in a container in the refrigerator instead of putting them in the garbage.

In a few days, the fruit flies were gone. I keep thinking how inconvenient the whole process was, but it did get rid of the flies without resorting to any chemicals.

Packaged food is more expensive and less healthy than fresh food

I frequently write about food, because I like to cook and eat, and I see many deep-rooted societal problems based around our growing, shopping, cooking, and eating habits. A lot of money is being made on prepared, packaged foods. Look at any supermarket – there are endless packages of food – dry, hot, cold, and frozen, that make it easy for us to eat “tasty” food quickly.

The downside is that these foods are almost always more expensive and less healthy than meals we prepare ourselves, and, in my personal opinion, home cooked food usually tastes better. They also produce a lot of packaging waste, much of which cannot be recycled. They are designed and marketed because they generate big profits for the manufacturers who work hard to convince us that we should buy their prepared products instead of cooking our own food – directly or indirectly leading us to spend more money, create more waste, and often degrade our health in the process.

So exactly what do fruit flies have to do with anything?

So, you may ask, what the hell does this have to do with green building? Well, I’ll tell you.

Most readers of GBA probably agree that we should build and operate our homes so that they are healthy and efficient. A good building envelope with occupants who are willing to turn off the HVAC and open windows when the weather is nice is critical to energy efficiency and long-term sustainability.

Too many people never open windows, running their HVAC all year long, even when the weather is lovely outside. Whenever my windows are open I can hear my neighbor’s heat pump running. I know that I tend to live at the outer edge of comfort compared to most people, but as I am writing this, it’s about 75 degrees inside my house and my neighbor has their air conditioning running. This behavior is due to the state of their home (old and inefficient) as well as their unwillingness to open windows and manage temperature by anything other than HVAC.

This behavior is encouraged by codes and the building and HVAC industries, creating homes that, provided there is energy, never have to be open to the outdoors.

Convenience is trumping conservation

Since energy costs tend to be low and equipment reliability tends to be high, we are willing to pay for the convenience of not having to open and close windows. I admit that managing natural ventilation can be a pain, but I don’t mind, and I have the time to do it. Most people aren’t interested or don’t have the time to manage a home this way, but by not doing so they use more energy than necessary, leading to more power plant emissions that use more natural resources and ultimately degrade our air quality. And when the weather is nice (and pollen count low) breezes through windows beat out air coming out of ducts any day.

Most conveniences that we have become accustomed to were developed because someone can profit from them. These conveniences are created, marketed, and, if we buy them, continue to be sold to others, at least until something better comes along.

What we lose when we opt for convenience

These ruminations led me to assemble a list of behaviors that most of us engage in that trade convenience for money, a compromised environment, or both, and in most cases create profits for the business that creates or sells the products involved.

Driving instead of walking, cycling, or taking transit. In most places, driving is faster, but in more dense areas where traffic is bad and parking expensive, alternatives can be more convenient. Many trolley systems in US cities were bought and removed by GM and Firestone in order to sell more buses and tires. One of the more egregious examples of the profit motive manipulating people’s opportunities to live sustainably.

Using a clothes dryer instead of a clothesline. This takes time and is weather dependent, but it not only saves energy but avoids heating up the house in the summer. Appliance manufacturers profit from selling us their products and utilities from selling us energy to operate them.

Wearing street shoes inside instead of taking them off at the door. No profit motive here, but we could keep our interiors much healthier if we did this.

Installing carpet instead of a more durable hard-surface flooring. Carpeting has a lower first cost, but profits are made by cleaning and replacement businesses.

Buying instead of growing our own food. This takes work, but it can be cheaper and is frequently healthier than buying all of our food in stores.

Forgetting to turn off lights, fans, and equipment. This takes effort but saves energy. Using more power increases utility profits.

Running sprinklers instead of installing water-efficient landscaping. Better landscaping plants and features have a higher first cost, but it result in long-term water savings and lower utility costs.

Discarding or disposal instead of composting. Takes effort, but it can reduce landfill volume and food waste that clogs sanitary sewer systems. Provides free compost for the food you can grow yourself. I find it interesting that much of what we view as waste is seen in other cultures as agricultural nutrients.

Throwing away instead of recycling waste. My town recycles for free but you have to pay for bags to throw away trash; this is a good system to encourage recycling.

Installing a ground-source heat pump (GSHP) instead of simpler equipment. A GSHP has high first costs and debatable total efficiency compared to a high-performance air-source heat pump; and if you manage your ventilation well, the amount of energy needed to heat and cool can be reduced dramatically, making the ROI for a GSHP very long.

Installing batt insulation instead of better options. I’ve been known to rag on batts, but the real problem is the quality of the installation. Manufacturers and retailers make money selling them, subcontractors make money installing them (usually improperly), and far too many contractors and homeowners don’t know or care that they aren’t installed properly.

Confession time

Some of these things always I do (turn off HVAC and open windows), some occasionally (shoes off in house, use clothesline instead of dryer, walk instead of drive), some I aspire to (grow my own food and compost food waste), and some I may never do.

Many people will pay for convenience because they can afford it; saving effort takes priority over saving money or the environment. We pay a price for this convenience – in money, waste, and environmental issues – and we are sold many of these conveniences primarily because someone can make money from creating and selling them to us.

I don’t expect to see much change in the status quo, at least until money and resources become so scarce that people are forced to. In the meantime, I will continue to listen to my neighbor’s heat pump run whenever I open my windows.


  1. charles3 | | #1

    Hey Carl, clotheslines don't have to be weather dependent if you install them indoors. I like the folding frames at

  2. EnviroNerd | | #2

    Opening windows
    In hot humid climates, it is often better to leave windows closed in conjunction with using an ERV. This helps maintain healthy air quality while actually reducing total energy consumption over time. Opening windows (especially in the southeastern USA) can dramatically increase the latent heat load from the humidity and cause systems to have to work harder after the windows are re-closed. So even if there is a comfortably cool day, opening windows and letting all of the humidity in is not necessarily reducing your energy bill.

  3. Expert Member
    CARL SEVILLE | | #3

    Opening windows
    Luther, you are correct in theory, but if you watch the humidity levels indoors and out, and close windows when they are high, you can still use less energy. I have yet to turn on my AC in the Atlanta area this year, kept my windows open when the climate is moderate, closing them mid day and occasionally using the dehumidification setting on my mini splits to dry things out. I almost always open them at night and keep them open in the morning. The RH in my house floats around 60% which is manageable most of the time. Like I said, it takes a lot of management which most people aren't interested in or don't have the time to do. Convenience trumps everything. We live in a society seeking absolute comfort all the time and we are willing to pay extra for it- unfortunately the result is more power generation and air pollution and an increasing intolerance for any temperature variations. The fact that so many people can't tolerate temperatures outside a 2% range is patently absurd. We can live comfortably almost anywhere between 65 and 85 degrees provided we have the right combination of sunlight, clothing, air movement, and relative humidity. Unfortunately most people want to cool their bedrooms so they can huddle under blankets at night instead of living with reasonable ambient temperatures.

  4. jackofalltrades777 | | #4

    Clotheslines & Comfort
    Almost all areas that have HOA's and CC&R's will NOT allow outdoor clotheslines. So unless you live in a neighborhood that is 50+ years old or you live in the middle of nowhere, most likely you will not be able to use a clothesline.

    As far as comfort goes. There are so many variables out there like a persons health, their age, medications they take, etc. Here in the USA there are 5 million hotel rooms and each room has it's own PTAC unit so there are 5 million PTACs or wall units in use. Guests will set the temps down to 65F and run it 24/7 during the summer. There is plenty of waste there but nothing can be done because it's the hotel owners who flip the bill and the guest paid for the room and they can set the temps to whatever they want.

    I don't mind some sweating in the daytime inside my home but at night I need to get a good nights rest in order to be productive the next day. I can't sleep well if I am sweating in my room at 80F. The AC has to run to keep it cool down to 75F so I can sleep. There is no opening windows when it's 95F at 11PM.

    Comfort for one person is uncomfortable for another. There is no way to quantify it and if the homeowner wants to run their AC 24/7, that is their right and they pay the bill. As the saying goes, we shouldn't be trying to regulate what people do in their own homes. I am libertarian leaning so I don't believe regulating what people do in their own homes. I don't fault them or pass judgement on them if they want to keep their home at 85F or at 65F during the summer, it's their home, they can do what they want.

  5. Nate Adams | | #5

    Windows, control, and South Park
    Carl, normally we are on the same page about things. I wholeheartedly agree that our eating processed crap is having substantial negative societal effects. I agree that we give a lot up when going for convenience, in general.

    I’m not really a harsh guy by nature, but I definitely thought of the fart sniffing smug episode of South Park when you spoke of listening to your neighbors AC running through your open windows. It’s really funny, have a look: ​

    I understand you make recommendations with good intentions but I see no measured savings here. In fact I disagree strongly with the suggestion that opening windows saves energy, and wish you wouldn’t put your good name behind bad practice. By opening windows you completely give up control of the enclosure. As a member of Allison Bailes’ Building Enclosure Control Freak Club, this bothers me.

    The expectations of behavior and timing are unreasonably high. I commonly see that people forget to close windows when the weather changes, or the weather changes unexpectedly and they can’t. Does that open window through a winter or steamy summer save money? I submit that forgotten open windows give back the mild summertime day “savings” many times over.

    Do you watch humidity and only open windows when dew point is below 42 degrees? (I did not see this recommendation.) Even if you made it, would you honestly expect consumers to vigilantly follow it? I would mess it up sometimes, and do, in fact.

    Have you considered the springtime ramifications of your advice when someone has a basement? Hot goes to cold. Wet also goes to cold. That moist air now pouring in your open windows fuels mold growth in the basement or enclosed crawlspace. If they have a dehumidifier, that open window causes that dehumidifier to attempt to dry the whole of the outdoors. Where did your energy savings go?

    That concentrated wetness coming in contact with cold basements and crawlspaces, leads to health problems on epidemic levels in this country, all because of well intentioned but flawed advice from experts. Even IF energy was saved but asthma develops because of it is the harm greater than the good?

    Imagine your neighbor with the AC running that you were so judgmental about has horrible allergies. How you feeling now? Now imagine they also use less energy than you. Less per sf, or less per occupant. And they dust less, they have a mold and dust free indoor environment.

    How those farts smelling now?

    If you step back and really consider this recommendation it becomes clear it is not well thought out. The likelihood of harm greatly outweighs the specious “savings” all this silly effort is supposed to net. What of your good intentions now? As a person of integrity I suspect this makes you uncomfortable.

    Being leaders in this field, I feel it is really dangerous to make unqualified prescriptive recommendations like this. John Kennedy said:

    “The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie--deliberate, contrived and dishonest--but the myth--persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought."

    If we educate the public incorrectly, it’s that much harder to undo.

    Being smug is not going to get us anywhere. Designing homes that require constant attention and adjustment to “save” energy is bad design. We need to design houses that are SIMPLE to operate. Houses that manage latent, sensible, and fresh air ALL the time without requiring the operator take a two week course.

    A tight house with mechanical ventilation and controlled humidity is not expensive to run. The air is nice inside, and humidity levels are kept where they need to be, and the temperature is always comfortable. Open windows and all bets are off.

    Give them cold beer and hot showers, as Amory Lovins is prone to saying. Give them a really nice to live in, comfortable home with clean air, and keep it simple.

  6. Tedkidd | | #6

    This type of idiocy makes my job harder, thanks a bunch!
    Hey Carl, there's a quarter on the ground. You gonna pick it up? Oh yeah, I'm not going to tell you if it's in front of you or 2 miles away...

    "Luther, you are correct in theory, but if you watch the humidity levels indoors and out, and close windows when they are high, you can still use less energy. "

    Less energy. Less energy? Prove it. How much "less energy"? Do you really believe telling people they aren't doing enough if they don't open windows is anything but obnoxious and ignorant? Patting yourself on the back for your "sacrifice" of opening windows. Feeling superior because your neighbor keeps his windows closed. Ever think maybe his kids have allergies?

    And if his house uses less energy than yours, less per sf, or less per occupant, how you feeling now?

    "Watch humidity." Really? Does that sound completely absurd to anyone other than me? "Turn AC off, open windows". Run, run, run. Chase that quarter 3 miles away, be so busy you can't see the dollars being wasted at your feet. Spend your life worrying about pennies instead of fixing real problems and saving real money. Oh, and stock up on Zyrtec, but good thing you saved 4¢ on that electric bill, that'll really help pay for your medications! Nice work you are doing, for those who have Exxon stock or big pharma.

    The way to fix this energy thing is design solutions that manage themselves. Teach people to STOP doing these stupid pet tricks chasing imaginary savings. Give them what they want, homes that don't require pilot's licenses to operate. Homes that they can set and forget, that don't have to be dusted, that don't have moisture problems, that PROTECT them from the outdoor environment of moisture, heat, cold, dust, and allergens.

    How many different homes energy bills have you actually looked at? I've seen hundreds. DO YOU KNOW HOW LITTLE ENERGY A HALFWAY DECENT HOUSE USES DURING SHOULDER SEASONS? So why do you think there is big opportunity to save here? Talk about taking focus off where it matters.

    Some hypothetical and unmeasured "less energy" is your goal, or do you believe in measured savings? My clients save by NOT messing around, and I've improved their lives. Do your really want to get people chasing their tails until they are exhausted and give up? Seriously, and now the kids contract asthma because you don't manage dust, allergens, and have a moldy basement. Really nice work.

    Don't distract people into thinking they should operate their Hummer of a house differently. That's exceedingly bad advice. Good advice would be to improve these houses from a 12 mpg Hummers to a 50 mpg Prius', and NOT to worry about gaming an extra mpg at great effort and unmeasured expense.

    Simplistic advice harms and blocks progress. Opening windows is not the solution, in fact that thinking is part of the problem. Stop recommending fools errands.

  7. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #7

    Response to Nate Adams and Ted Kidd
    Nate and Ted,
    You both raise some important points. But this is one dispute that doesn't have to be resolved.

    Some people are like Carl -- they want to keep their windows open as much as possible.

    Other people have allergies -- they want to keep their windows closed.

    I think we can all agree that these are two different approaches, and the difference between the two approaches (in terms of energy expenses) is measurable but is relatively small.

    For many designers and builders, though, it's worth keeping Nate Adams' principles in mind: "Designing homes that require constant attention and adjustment to 'save' energy is bad design. We need to design houses that are SIMPLE to operate."

  8. Expert Member
    CARL SEVILLE | | #8

    Thanks for the feedback
    Guys, I appreciate your input and respect your opinions, but if you think I really expect to change people's behavior you have more confidence in my influence than I do. In retrospect, I did refer to energy savings a bit more than I should have. It's more about how I want to live than saving energy. I appreciate that a well designed, simply managed home or building should/could provide the highest comfort and lowest energy use, but given the state of the architecture and construction industry, it is very unlikely that we will get there any time soon, if in our lifetimes. Do I save some energy living the way I do? I think so, but primarily because I am willing to live outside many other people's comfort zones. When I was a contractor I once had a client who liked to keep his windows open all day in the summer then complained when the house couldn't get down to 72 degrees as soon as he got home in the afternoon. We had to explain that we put in cooling not refrigeration. I don't let my house get overloaded with moisture like that, I take the time to watch the indoor and outdoor temperatures and RH, and open it up when its nice out. I could keep my house closed up, run my HVAC at a moderate setting, use my ERV, and never open my windows and probably not increase my energy use by much, but I don't want to!

    I'm not self deluded enough to think that the dozen or so people outside the industry who read this blog will suddenly change their behavior, but we do need to think about how people operate their buildings and their lives. I believe our society has a problem when people live in their sealed heated and cooled homes, drive in their sealed heated and cooled cars to their sealed heated and cooled offices - wearying heavy clothes in the summer and light clothes in the winter because their office temperature settings are out of whack with the seasons. How many of us have seen people use space heaters and wear sweaters inside in the summer because their offices are cooled to oblivion?

    Although you focused on my unique (some might say warped) HVAC management style, my post was actually much broader than that. Do you feel the same way about walking vs driving, using natural vs. chemical pest control methods, clotheslines vs clothes dryers, composting and recycling vs throwing things away? I write opinion pieces, guys, lighten up. And Ted, I'm kind of sad that you think opening windows is a problem - I have to disagree with you on that one. I'm sitting here writing this with my windows open, it's about 70 degrees outside and beautiful after a heavy rain last night. Is the RH a little high? Maybe, but I much prefer this to closing everything up and running my mini splits and ERV. I'll do that later today when it warms up.

  9. Nate Adams | | #9

    Reply to Carl and Martin
    Carl, you said, 'How many of us have seen people use space heaters and wear sweaters inside in the summer because their offices are cooled to oblivion?'

    I totally agree! We do the same, or similar things, in our homes. I see a lot of space heaters, and I'm sure you do too. They address a comfort problem. Why not design for comfort first and let efficiency follow? It turns how we've done things for years on its head. I certainly have done it wrong for years.

    While you may underestimate your influence, please don't. There aren't a ton of leaders in this space, so those of us playing around on GBA have more influence than we likely realize. The GC on the DER I'm working on reads it religiously. My ventilation page on my website pulls a huge chunk of traffic, and it's wrong according to my current thinking, I will change it soon.

    So your implication, which you confirmed in your comment, that your ac has a lot of dehumidification to do could lead people to an incorrect conclusion: 'Maybe, but I much prefer this to closing everything up and running my mini splits and ERV. I'll do that later today when it warms up.' So your minisplits have to remove that latent load once you close the windows. Do I chafe against the 'closed up' piece of this? Yes! It's been hard for me to work through. But consistent humidity, consistent temperatures, and clean, filtered, low particulate air can be very healthy if we take time to design it to be that way.

    Yes, it is your preference, and mine is opposite (although I don't have AC and suffer with seasonal allergies, so I identify with your neighbor...) But if we stick to straight energy savings, keeping the house closed up without adding latent load in shoulder seasons is more efficient - and more comfortable.

    Martin, I understand your point that we don't have to agree on the open/closed thing, but if we are going to design buildings that are easy to operate, comfort-first, and efficient, it will take thinking like this to get there. I view it like a carburated vs. fuel injected car. When is the last time you pulled a choke? When did a car stall on you? Those are controls at work. You can still adjust the controls, but system failure is effectively engineered out.

    Similar to Lstiburek's ventilation argument about 62.2 - give a basic ventilation level and then allow occupants to up it when they deem it necessary - design houses to operate simply and automatically, and let occupants adjust as they will. If indoor air is awesome, it's pretty likely occupants won't mess with the settings, so they won't miss that choke.

    I'd love to see our messaging be more along these lines in a consistent manner. But heck, I'm just some BS dork in Ohio... =)

    Carl, yes, I bit onto the humidity thing like a bulldog and shook it to death, but I do agree with you about the thrust of your argument personally. Professionally, I know the limits of behavior modifications I have over clients are pretty narrow, I want to use that influence to change things that matter from a comfort and efficiency standpoint. Opening/closing windows, drying on clotheslines and the like is too much to bite off.

    Thanks for being a really good sport. And yes, Ted hits a lot harder than me, I've been hit by him too... Like I said on FB, I just posted a blog article yesterday, feel free to leave a snarky comment on it about one small point I make - fair is fair!

  10. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #10

    Response to Nate Adams
    One more point: don't forget that every climate is different.

    I live in a climate where almost no one worries about latent load. My house doesn't include any equipment capable of addressing indoor humidity levels, unless you count the wood stove (which certainly tends to lower the indoor humidity level).

    Like most Vermonters, I open the windows in the summer. Whether I am introducing a "latent load" into my home or not by opening my windows is irrelevant, since I don't see any equipment here that's going to change anything one way or another.

  11. Expert Member
    CARL SEVILLE | | #11

    Sad state of affairs
    Nate it's a sad commentary on our society when opening windows is too challenging. Are we all turning into the bloated people in the movie Wall E?

  12. Tedkidd | | #12

    Delivering on promise. Deliver measured savings.
    Which makes more sense to you?

    CONSERVATION - turning your thermostat back, being uncomfortable. Maybe saving 5-10%
    ENERGY EFFICIENCY - leaving your thermostat where everyone is comfortable. Saving 30-70%

    If we encourage people to "manage" their Humvee homes maybe going from 13 mpg to 15, what is the point? That's fundamentally opposed to fix and forget design approach upgrading to a Prius home. The prius home get's 50. But it requires putting stupid pet trick behaviors to bed. These homes don't have the power to jerk sensible (or latent) around and MUST be left alone.

    I saw this today:

    "Debating empirical evidence using your personal belief is like skydiving using a fishing net for a parachute. It's not going to work and you look ridiculous doing it – and, ultimately, you're not going to like how it ends. "

    Imagine building a house without a design plan. Imagine being a carpenter and not using a tape measure. A blower door is a very common tool, not using it is a sign of ignorance, low integrity, or both. It is building a house without a tape measure, without a level.

    We NEVER presume we "know what a house needs" or what a homeowner needs, or what they can afford. That is a very low integrity process that may have been unavoidable in the era of "leaches and bloodletting" but the world is no longer flat, and ignoring this truth is ignoring that best practices evolve, and that what was best practice yesterday is 180° wrong today.

    We need to stop with the half-assed advice that has neither promise nor accountability, or we are doomed. EE is highly predictable with modest due diligence, and people will spend money on bigger projects that yield dramatically better results if they have confidence they aren't being screwed. When they don't go deep enough, results suck. Results are sigmoidal:

    We now have tools to measure and model that allow us to do design optimization that meets the needs of the homeowner and the home. The big cost is getting the opportunity at the home. The opportunity is the big cost, being lazy, not being thorough is wasting that opportunity. Selling small jobs because they are easy, that is a badge of dishonor. Not serving the clients needs. Shortsightedness.

    end rant.

    NATE - nicely written. Another point, the weather can be unpredictable. Even if you think opening windows for the evening will make sense, that thunderstorm could occur while you are at the movies. Now you've just loaded all your interior air and furnishings with moisture that will need to be removed. Now you've blown your savings and then some.

    This doesn't begin to touch on how you must oversize to recover. Sizing equipment so it rarely shuts off save HUGE energy in cycling costs, allows for continuous filtration, humidity management, fresh air injection, and mean radiant management.

    MARTIN - Yes, because every climate is different prescriptive recommendations are likely malpractice. Let's simply say that if you have climate control in your structure, attempts to make those shelters be "outdoors" are complex and energy intensive. You either heat and cool, or actively manage with windows and fans. Both strategies are not complementary. You need to commit.

    CARL: Laggards only got touch tone phones because they stopped making rotary phones. "Sad about windows" is like being sad about rotary phones. We have greater outdoor air pollution, and lower willingness to suffer unnecessary discomfort. If we can live more comfortably with a lot less energy, why go to the trouble of chasing pennies and risk throwing all our systems out of whack?

    It's not the opening that's the biggest penalty, it's the not closing. I've seen high tech buildings that don't allow HVAC to come on with windows open, and alarm when outdoor dew point gets too high. Not very KISS. I think it's simpler and more effective to simply provide very high quality fresh air, all the time.

    It's like fireplaces, if you are comfortable why pay the energy penalty? If you want a fire, go ahead, but don't claim you are being green. If you make people comfortable, they won't open windows, and a lot of energy will be saved.

    I would encourage both of you to follow Robert Bean. He has a brilliant grasp of all these issues and a nice "comfort calculator" that teaches what comfort really is.

    I would also encourage you to follow Rick Chitwood. He has integrity. He measures savings, and in doing so he knows what measures save. I don't think you'll see him prescriptively suggesting people open windows to save energy.

  13. Geoff_Briggs | | #13

    Dont' forget the other half of the country
    There are lot of good points being made here. But if you live west of the Rockies many of these prescriptions are wrong. Out here on the coast, up in the mountains, in the desert, there are many places where natural ventilation works well. So while I agree with design that maintains comfort, air quality, and efficiency when closed up, I disagree that "you need to commit", at least not for those of us lucky enough to live where there is not a lot of humidity.

  14. Tedkidd | | #14

    "Works well," is that related to "SAVES LOTS!"?
    Cousin to "good enough?"

    Sounds like a used car pitch. I can't measure it. Are words like "nice" and "good" your idea of empirical evidence?

    Look, you are welcome to drive a hummer, but don't dislocsate your shoulder patting yourself on the back and claim you are doing something more meaningful than your neighbors because you set your cruise at 65.

    Show us the money. Show us the numbers. We can wait til your shoulder heals. We can start with your house. Share sf, annual electric, annual frackgas, how much opening windows saved, and how you measured the savings.

  15. Nate Adams | | #15

    Reply to Martin
    Martin, I'll challenge your assertion about humidity in VT, see the attached pic (hopefully it works). July-October RH is high enough that a cold basement wall could cause issues. Here in Cleveland, it's similar.

    I grant that out west RH is usually lower.

    Open windows do still give up control of keeping airborne bad stuff out - like my allergies, or the road grime from the state route in front of my house, or the smog that my county has more of than all but 5 of the 80-odd counties in Ohio. These can all be true for the rest of the country. That said, I like open windows, too, I just wonder how much of it is because my IAQ is crappy.

  16. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #16

    Reply to Nate Adams
    I never claimed that the humidity is low in Vermont. I just said that during the summer, we open the windows and let the outdoors in. We don't have air conditioning.

  17. Nate Adams | | #17


  18. Geoff_Briggs | | #18

    Yes it is.
    I haven't run any HVAC in about 2 months, so yes that works well and saves some, if not lots. Which is not to say I wouldn't like my home to perform better when it is closed up. And I bet the way I'd do that is similar to many others who contribute the GBA.

    Boradly, I hope this forum can be about sharing experiences, and opinions, and encouraging each other, not just trying to prove you know more. I see plenty of qualitative expressions and metaphors in other posts. I didn't know they were cause for derision. More specifically, the claim that sealing all building types 24/7/365 in all locations is the only way to ensure energy efficiency is pedantic, unrealistic, and frankly ridiculous.

  19. Tedkidd | | #19

    it think, I believe, and pigs fly...
    Geoff, you are the advocate for prescriptive, bland, generic recommendations, not me. I advocate a diagnostic custom tailored approach. If people really want to open windows I educate them about consequences if they are incautious, and suggest they do it for real reasons not made up ones.

    I don't need to prove I know more than you, I'm attempting to help you see that your thinking is bad. "Experiences and opinions" without expertise are incredibly dangerous and harmful. You appear make decisions based upon emotions rathern than science and measurements, encourage others to do the same, then pat your ego and say " what a doo gooder I am".

    Again, put your money where your mouth is. Share details about your consumption. Share before you implemented your efficiency measures and after so we can see how meaningful your results have been.

  20. Tedkidd | | #20

    When I say "bad thinking" it's not a shot at you, it's how most think. I know the thinking intimately, it's how I thought for a long time.

    I now quite painfully see how poor quality it is.

    You can't manage what you don't measure. Advances in tools, modeling, and measuring has come a long way in a very short time. Negawatts are measurable, so we need to stop with the unmeasured promises.

    Nate Adams does a really nice job of explaining this in this blog post:

  21. Geoff_Briggs | | #21

    Thanks but no thanks
    Ted, I have made no recommendations at all, only observations about where I live. And you, other than stating so in your last post, have not advocated anything custom tailored. Nor have you offered up any of the numeric justification you hold so dear. I don't know you and you don't know me so comments about ego, emotions, or expertise are likely wrong. What I do know is that I have zero HVAC costs and a comfortable home for many months of the year, and I know that it is quite easy to design for the same in my climate. So I would say the burden is on you to justify an active ventilation system under those circumstances.

  22. Expert Member
    CARL SEVILLE | | #22

    Thanks for showing me the right path, Ted
    It's been a long weekend - sealing all my windows shut, putting locks on my thermostats, and removing the control switch on my ERV. Now I can sleep soundly knowing that I can't ruin my air quality by opening windows and I will be confident that even though my mini splits will be running almost continuously, instead of only infrequently, that I must be saving energy. And all those pesky allergies I currently don't have won't suddenly appear due to all that nasty outside air I won't be letting into my pristine indoor environment.

  23. Expert Member
    MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #23

    Narrow focus
    We take the typical North American House, do not adapt it to the climate it is to be built in, and then try and make it perform by altering the efficiency of its envelope. The narrow focus of the discussion leaves us with no wider range of choices than open or shut the windows based on how much energy we save.
    No other culture has ever done this. Houses were designed so that their basic form was a response to where they were built. And large numbers of houses, never mind whole cities, were never built in hostile climates where they could only be made habitable by throwing energy at them.

    The discussion also ignores that houses and the degree to which they open to their surroundings plays a larger cultural role in connecting us to our communities, our neighbours and nature.
    If the goal really is simply to design as efficient a house as possible, leaving aside any other considerations, (like that we might be trying to make a place to live out all the significant events in our lives) then none of the houses surround us would look anything like what they do, inside or out.
    When I tell people involved in other branches of science or disciplines like anthropology that builders debate whether we should be able to open our windows they seem quite worried about the state of the profession.

  24. STEPHEN SHEEHY | | #24

    fresh air
    I'm reading this stretched out on my window seat, enjoying the breeze through the open window, listening to the birds, chipmunk, frogs and assorted creatures. It's a rare hot day in June here in Maine, about 83 or so. Inside temp is 78. I don't have air conditioning, so the only climate control I'll be employing till September is opening and closing windows. In my new house, currently in design stage, if we go with air source heat pump, I suppose A/C will be an option, but I doubt we'll use it much, if at all.
    Air quality? Who knows? I'll take the risk and enjoy the breeze and whatever comes with it.
    Life is too short to stay indoors, whatever the climate or weather.

  25. Expert Member
    MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #25

    Please stay exactly where you are. A building scientist has been dispatched to take measurements to make sure you are being both rational and comfortable.

  26. Mtnlyon | | #26

    disapointing responses
    I wasn't going to comment on this until I read the visceral complaints and borderline personal insults. Carl, thanks for writing this and sorry you took the grief you did. It was underserved. Honestly the way some of these people describe outside air, makes me think they really hate the inhospitable atmosphere the rest of us simply call Earth. Allergies are a drag, but I seriously worry about people who want nothing to do with interacting with the world they live in.

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