I've noted that friends outside the US (South Africa, UK, Canada) have installed these units years before they became popular in the US. In some cases they have run ten years (with annual service) without issue. LG, Panasonic, Fujitsu, etc. - all the big names have something. The installed cost elsewhere seems to be about US$1500 for a "room" size unit (10- 20K BTU). I've considered one of these for my intermittent-use cottage in Maine, but installed cost looks to be about $3000 - $4000 for the same size unit. Obviously someone is making quite a profit somewhere. My install would be very straightforward - it's a SIP post & beam, so as long as you miss the posts, the lines can go anywhere. It would also be within 20' of the electrical entrance (plenty of space for its own circuit). The exterior unit would hang on the wall above snow level on a gable end (no falling ice/snow damage). I think part of the problem is that there are some gov't grants available to encourage the use of high-efficiency heat pumps, and the installers increase their prices to take a larger slice of the money. I will report back but wish these threads had a "subscribe" link like many other forums.
Posted: 04:50 pm on May 21st 2014
Heat pump vs "HVAC" I'm a tiny bit confused by the terminology used here. I'm sure many standard home central AC units have these electric heaters, as do true heat pumps which "harvest" heat from even cold air to heat homes. This doesn't really change the overall message of the article (Check the Obvious) but it sort of muddies the water for me on the correct use (if it exists) of AC and "heat pump". To me, an AC unit only cools and any toaster element is a supplementary addition. It's not a heat pump. A heat pump (again, my understanding) can work "both ways" and both cool and heat, with the heating much more efficient (depending on outside temp or water temp if used). A heat pump may also have a "toaster element" but that's only used as a last resort. Reading the article again I see it's not the article which is the problem - it's the headline. The article is pretty obviously talking about a central AC with a supplementary heater. It mentions heat pumps only to point out they would be more efficient at heating. So the "Heat Pump Problem" in the headline isn't the problem described (it;s an "AC heater" problem) and may not even exist (I'm not sure how easy it might be to wire a heat pump up incorrectly).
Posted: 09:58 am on June 2nd 2014
1200 sq ft??? I can't for the life of me understand how the "before" picture shows (according to the caption) a 1200 sq ft house (on one level, as indicated). That would be 12' X 100', 24' X 50', etc. unless I have been measuring square footage wrong all my life. I'm assuming it is 1200 sq ft *after* the additions? Forget rain - if this is in a snowy climate, the basement stairwell will be full of snow, which will slowly melt against the door, causing leaks and possibly rot. If the house is not heated (i.e. unoccupied) it will just drift in and freeze solid. Finally - how about a picture of the front of the house "after"? Very hard to compare and judge without that. I certainly agree on skylights - the only thing better than one is none. (esp. in the snow belt)
Posted: 08:01 am on June 10th 2014
Certifiable Thanks for an interesting column. I am merely an interested layman with a sensitivity toward good construction. I have owned more homes than average, on (so far) three continents, so I have been exposed to quite a variety of building techniques and seen my fair share of mistakes. I am reminded of various ISO certification schemes in industry where many businesses lost sight of customers and products in the drive to comply with some "standard". Many of them (both businesses and schemes) no longer exist. One has to wonder if there is any real relevance beyond some trickle-down effect once a practice is found to be either a "no-brainer" or conversely idiotic. It sounds like the 200-year-old Dingle stone cottage is still standing and in use, so that's quite testament to local builders using indigenous materials. Pretty good bang for the buck. Passivehuas? I'm not at all certain. I don't think I've ever seen a "real" one - just read about them. What percentage of new-home construction would meet a similar standard? I go to Germany a few times a year but the new houses I see would be unlikely to meet the standard, I suspect. I often see huge houses built with huge budgets and all the latest tech but with so many show-off windows they may as well have skipped the insulation. Because efficient (in both energy use and construction costs) houses often look a bit poky, actually.
Posted: 05:57 am on November 1st 2014
EU standards Thanks Martin. I'm currently involved on a small renovation in the UK and I must say I will be amazed if that EU country achieves anything similar to Canada's R2000 standards (which I built to in 1990) by 2020. Currently, levels of insulation are being upgraded, but only where they do not (much) affect building practices. So lofts (attics) get extra insulation depths but walls are the same as 25 years ago - sometimes uninsulated. Passivhaus-style structures exist, but which would never meet the standard even in this (southern UK) temperate climate. Thermal bridging and vapour control are ignored by most builders entirely. In other words, they change things that require few changes in traditional construction techniques, instead of doing the things that provide the best return on investment. No doubt this is partly due to the difficulty in changing trade practices. When I think of my travels in Europe, with very high-quality Scandinavian homes (expensive heating) to southern European homes with little attention paid to energy use (Mediterranean climate) it is very difficult to see how such a "dictatorship" of standards could be written - let alone enforced. But if anyone could do it, it would be Austria (population 8 million - about that of metropolitan London).
Posted: 11:30 am on November 1st 2014
Followup to #45 EU Standards by James Morgan "...the per capita annual energy consumption of the Brits is way lower than that of the Germans. And lower than most of the rest Europe too. " No doubt there are many factors, but the first I would consider is that UK homes are among the smallest in the EU. The population is also very urban - my expectation would be that city-center apartment blocks and "terraced" (attached) homes are more energy-efficient ignoring other factors. http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Percapitaft22.gif http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/housesizeft21.gif
Posted: 01:33 pm on November 3rd 2014
I think the most telling I think the most telling comments are those that equate the choice with cost - crawl spaces are chosen when they are "comfortable" (i.e. used traditionally) and when they result in less cost. Otherwise, it's hard to see the attraction. No doubt the subs like it - easy to run services and they don;t have to live there ("We cashed your check. Thanks!") I have owned houses with earth-floored crawl spaces, on slab and with full basements. Obviously, in a flood-prone area, a house on stilts would make more sense (or even better - off the flood plain). But a crawl space is just a hassle anywhere with humidity, IMHO. It will be cooler, and it will condense moisture. You can pay t heat that out, dehumidify it or "condition" it, but you will pay, or pay with damage. Critters are a lesser problem but I was in a friend's new-build crawl space in NJ last summer - what is it with the camel crickets? There must have been 50,000 of them in 500 sq. ft. Weird.
Posted: 04:48 pm on December 8th 2014
Mail it back? "sponsors a mail-in recycling program" I wonder what the uptake is on that offer? Seems more likely just to make its environmental impact that much worse
Posted: 07:41 am on December 13th 2014
Simple test Would it be worthwhile to tape a square (as large as feasible) of clear poly down against the basement floor (or flooring) and see what (if any) moisture condenses on the bottom?
Posted: 01:49 pm on February 23rd 2015
Prize-winning rant Yes, this man has used Passive House and the word "simplicity" in the same sentence, and in a non-ironic way. I am awed :-) In tropical Maine, getting a builder to actually use any sort of air sealing (forget about attention to details) is often a struggle. And we still see plenty of new-build (less than 10 years old) construction failing from rot and water ingress.
Posted: 08:13 am on February 26th 2015