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Weatherization Works

If you live in the Southeast, chances are your air conditioner runs full blast in the summer, but it doesn't have to. My family enjoys more comfortable (and less expensive) summers as a result of my weatherization efforts to our home. The first and most important of which is the installation of a radiant barrier in our attic. 

While I was installing the radiant barrier, I had a great learning moment when I crawled back into my attic to finish the work. Most of it was done, except a small area of the roof decking near the attic hatch. As I crawled from that space to the finished area, I noticed what seemed to be a huge drop in temperature. This was in late spring, so the outside temperature was about 80 degrees. Out of curiosity, I grabbed my infrared camera and aimed it at the finished area along the ceiling line.  It measured right at 82 degrees.  When I moved the camera to the left (approximately two feet) onto the unfinished decking, it measured a sweltering 119 degrees.  Needless to say, I was astonished!  I couldn't believe the radiant barrier had reduced the surface temperature of the attic ceiling almost forty degrees!  I checked several more times and the results were the same.  

After finishing the work, my wife and I noticed an immediate difference in the comfort level in our upstairs bedroom. Radiant barriers are a great product. They reduce heat in your attic that could infiltrate into your living area if your attic isn't properly air sealed and insulated. If your ductwork is in the attic of your home, the improvement is even more substantial because your A/C unit won't have to work as hard. If installed properly, a radiant barrier will not only reduce the heat in your attic during the summer, it will also stop the loss of warm air out of the top of your home during the winter and once again provide a less harsh environment for your duct system. 

The other project I'm working on is in the crawl space area beneath our house, covering the ground with a vapor barrier and sealing the space from outside air.  I am interested in doing this for a few reasons. If your crawlspace is sealed, it's cooler down there and that cooler air actually keeps the home's lower floor less warm, offsetting the need for more cooling.  As I mentioned with the radiant barrier, if the ductwork is located in your crawl space and the area is enclosed and isolated from ambient conditions, the cooling (and heating) unit doesn't have to work as hard.  The duct system lasts longer as well.  Another reason to enclose and seal off your crawl space is to enhance the indoor air quality. Crawl spaces are full of moisture laden air, sometimes including mold.  That air will likely make its way into your home and can affect your family's health. 

Sealed crawl spaces can be very expensive.  Are they worth it?  I think so, especially when you consider your family's health. Did you know that radon is the SECOND leading cause of lung cancer in the United States?  An adequately sealed crawl will eliminate radon from your home.  In North and South Carolina, it is relatively common, especially in the mountains. These are all things to think about. So do yourself a favor and get a couple of quotes from people who do this kind of work, or look into doing it yourself on line.  

Benton Green Energy can show you how to make the best decisions for your particular situation based on your home's unique character.  As a third party to you and your contractor, we can also verify that the work has been done properly after it's finished. So let us show you how.

  1. Replace windows
  2. Replace your refrigerator with an Energy Star rated one
  3. Replace your old A/C or furnace with a new one

Believe it or not, it's none of these. The most important thing you can do is to properly air seal and insulate your home. The reason for this is simple. When heated or cooled air escapes your home, it COSTS you money. When outside air infiltrates or seeps into your home and you have to pay to heat or cool it, it COSTS more money too. So the less air leakage and the less air infiltration, the more money you SAVE.

Sealing your home's "shell" stops this movement from outside in and vice versa. Of the areas to seal, you home's attic should be first priority. The space below the home is second and walls are third. The vast majority of air will escape through openings in the floor and ceiling, rather than through the walls. This is why windows tend to be poor investments when it comes to weatherization. As a matter of fact, most of the audits I have done show a faster payback for air sealing and insulating than any other measure, typically 3-5 years. The only possible exception is duct sealing, which I will cover later in this blog.

If you have a 1500 - 2500 square foot home, you can air seal it yourself for about $1,000 - $2,000, which includes the cost of the audit. Our $300 audit will show you where most of the big leaks are, so you can seal them yourself or hire someone to do it. We recommend qualified contractors for the work as part of our service. Having an audit done, air sealing and then insulating your home tends to reduce energy consumption by 25 - 30% in homes five years or older. So if you pay an average of $200 a month for your gas and/or electricity and you save $50 after weatherization, you can recoup your investment in two to three years. Keep in mind, this is tough work. Attics and crawl spaces can be full of fiberglass, insects, rodents, snakes and even asbestos. Always use a mask and be extremely careful. Better yet, hire a qualified insulating contractor to do the work for you. You might spend a little more money, but the savings from air sealing and insulating will still pay back your investment quickly. Plus, when you look at the big picture, that money stays in your community, keeps jobs in your community and puts savings in your pocket, so you can spend in your community. Perhaps most importantly, your home will put a lot less carbon into the air.

Besides sealing and insulating your home, another high priority is to properly seal the duct work in your home. Almost all of the homes I've seen have the heating and cooling system ductwork in the attic or below the home in the basement or crawl space. As a result, any leakage occurring in the duct system will pour the air you pay to heat or cool into the ambient air, rather than into your home. Our $300 duct system evaluation will determine where the leaks are, so you can stop the source of conditioned air loss. This work can be done by a do-it-yourselfer as well, but if the duct work is old and worn out, repair efforts might not yield the same amount of comfort and savings that a full blown duct work replacement will offer.

No matter which of these issues are addressed (or both), it is critical that you have a home auditor do follow up testing for indoor air quality. When a home is sealed, there may be inadequate air flow for good air quality and mechanical ventilation may be needed. Most homes are full of volatile organic compounds in the carpet, furniture, cabinets, etc. We need fresh air to keep this from making us sick. Also, when your dryer is turned on or your home's air handler comes on, the house may become depressurized after air sealing work has been done. When depressurization occurs and there is a combustion appliance in the house, like a gas water heater, there is the possibility that the flame can be drawn out into the area around the appliance potentially causing a fire. If the appliance isn't working properly, there is a possibility of carbon monoxide in the home. At Benton Green Energy, we test for these potential problems after you complete your weatherization projects and we suggest remedies. We also test the effectiveness of the work you had done. This third party, unbiased verification insures the highest quality work from your contractor, as well as your family's safety.

Here's to making all of the South GREENville! Thank you for your support.

- Dean Benton