Green Building: Air Leaking, Utility Bills and a Caulk Gun

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Infrared Camera shows heat gain from open cavity behind medicine cabinet

“Ah-ha moments”, those times when something is triggered in one’s mind that opens up a new understanding or way of seeing things. Day three of West Coast Green 2009 brought together some of the brightest minds in the “green building” movement and provided the platform for the cross-pollination of innovation and ingenuity that led many to “ah-ha moments”.

One attendee, Jason Lear of Batt + Lear Designers and Builders who traveled from Seattle, Washington to attend the show shared some of the information that led to a complete rethinking for the way he conducts projects at his family-run business. During a previous show, Mr. Lear sat through a presentation given by Rick Chitwood, President of Chitwood Energy Management. The presentation by Mr. Chitwood was so simple yet so powerful, it changed Mr. Lear’s business overnight. The subject of the inspiration; properly sealed attics.

You may wonder: “Properly sealed attics??? Who gives a crap and how is this relevant to me?” Think about it, you are sitting in a room right now and most likely somewhere in the structure you inhabit, there is an attic. If your structure is anything like the millions of structures built without proper air sealing (filling all the cracks and holes that allow air to escape from your home into your attic) and insulation, chances are your heat is rising up through your rooms, finding small holes and leaking into your attic and out of your roof. Mr. Chitwood explained that when this happens, the air you pay to heat or cool is replaced with unwanted air which increases electric bills, reduces air quality and make a home less comfortable. The average home leaks the equivalent of having a two foot by two foot window open every hour every day of the year.

According to Mr. Lear, “I walked away from his presentation and said, if he can do it, we can too.” From that day forward Batt + Lear began to pay much more attention to all the little spaces that normal builders don’t think twice about. He found that sealing all the holes, gaps and spaces made his clients’ homes more comfortable, healthier and required much less energy.

During this year’s West Coast Green, Mr. Chitwood provided another shocking presentation. This time around he described the results of his company’s work in the build of a luxury show home. During this project, his team focused on making the home as airtight as possible throughout the building process. This is important because it means that the air someone has paid to heat or cool will stay inside the house. Proper air sealing also means that all seams, spaces, and holes which typically exist during the building of a home are filled with insulation, foam or caulk. Additionally, duct sealing means that the air ducts running from the HVAC to the vents throughout the home must be sealed completely rather than to code (code in California allows for 6% leakage in newly built homes). The average house is California has 30% duct leakage. The result of Mr. Chitwood’s  attention to detail? Without all that air leaking through the walls, the home was able to downsize its HVAC from a 4-ton unit to a 2-ton unit. That meant two less horsepower chugging away to provide cooling or heating and two less horsepower to pay for unnecessarily.

A less expensive HVAC unit? Less wasted energy? Lower utility bills? A more comfortable home? All from air sealing properly? Ah-ha.

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  • http://beckgroup.com Melissa

    It’s amazing how the little things make such a big difference. Don’t forget that when the house is sealed that tightly, fresh air will need to be provided mechanically to avoid sick building syndrome.

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