Thermal Imaging by the Barrie Home Inspector
Home inspectors have been adding Infrared Cameras to their arsenal of tools used to find any hidden deficiencies that might not be visible to the naked eye. Some of the most common items found with the use of a Thermal Imaging camera are; missing insulation, hot spots on electrical panel and moisture penetration. Most home inspectors advertise that Thermal Imaging will help in identifying electrical issues; missing, damaged and/or wet insulation; heat/cold energy loss; moisture intrusion that could lead to mold; hidden roof leaks; damaged and/or malfunctioning radiant heating systems; plumbing leaks; overheated equipment, etc.
Unfortunately Thermal Imaging technology is subject to many variables such as quality, on-site conditions and, last but not least, the ability of the inspector to accurately interpret the data. The Barrie Home Inspector was the first Professional Home Inspector in Simcoe County to offer Thermal Imaging with an Infrared camera. The use of Thermal Imaging has become so common place now that the Barrie Home Inspector now offers Free Thermal Imaging scan with every home inspection.
Infrared Thermal Imaging (ITI) is a non-invasive, non-destructive way of evaluating conditions below the surface. This allows us to detect small, but crucial differences in temperature throughout the house within the building materials. No matter what the temperature is on the outside or inside a good Thermal Imaging camera will pick out wall studs and ceiling joists. Heat loss and drafts are quickly detected and identified.
Plumbing leaks are quickly found and using Infrared thermal imaging is a quick, non-invasive method of investigation, which will confirm moisture migration paths, whether it be from internal plumbing, condensation or from external weather related leaks.
Commercial building roofs which have no visible leaks can be quickly assessed to find any penetrations that have started but not yet fully penetrated. Leaks around vents, ducts, HVAC penetrations are quickly identified. Air leakage is the primary source of heat loss in a commercial building envelope. A complete thermal scan of your building can identify where and causes of air infiltration.
Thermal Cameras will not work unless there is a difference of temperature of at least 18 degrees between the inside and the outside of the building. Most roof inspections are done in early morning before the sun has an opportunity to warm the roof. When the roof is cool any areas of moisture will cool at a slower rate than the dry areas showing up as a warm spot at night. If conditions are ideal the thermographer will be able to see the wall framing which will allow him to identify areas of thermal bridging or cavities where insulation is missing.
Energy Savings for Your Home. When comparing your average North American home to an energy efficient house, it’s possible to reduce annual energy bills from 40 percent to 50 percent. Energy conscious homeowners should consider developing their own energy conservation plan for their home. This is both an environmentally friendly and economically sound action which the whole family can participate in. Get the kids involved by using charts and graphs and showing them the money and energy saving results.
Although we all have to do it, most people don’t realize that heating your home constitutes your largest energy expenditure. Even a little conservation of heating fuel goes a long way toward achieving a lower utility bill. Dialing down the thermostat one degree during the winter can result in about 1 to 3 percent less fuel use, and a similar reduction in your heating bill. Your furnace should be cleaned, lubricated and have regular maintenance to ensure it is running at its peak efficiency. A dirty air filter can make your furnace run longer to heat your home and should be replaced on a regular basis. Setting back your thermostat at night or when nobody is home will also add to your savings. Most professionals do not recommend a washable air filter for high efficiency furnaces as the air movement restriction will force your furnace fan to work harder and make your furnace less efficient. Use as a minimum a pleated air filter with metal strips to create a electrostatic effect.
When doing laundry use cold water and save from 85 to 90 percent of the energy you would normally use. Front loading machines use less water and energy, up to fifty percent. Also wash full loads to ensure you are fully utilizing energy being consumed. Most newer detergents are suitable for cold water washing.
You can make a lot of progress toward improving the energy efficiency in your home by simply plugging the many places through which air can get in or get out. Plugging your home is called “air sealing,” and it is one of the most important first steps to take when weatherizing your house to increase its energy efficiency.our windows and doors allow a lot of energy to escape which is costing you money. Ensure all your window frames, door frames and sills are caulked using a silicone based sealant. Make sure your heat registers are not being blocked by furniture.
Water heating is the next largest home energy load after heating and cooling. The best way to reduce water heating energy use is to ensure your water heater’s thermostat is set to 120°F (you no longer have to set your water heater to a higher temperatures to sanitize dishes if your dishwasher has a booster heater). Improvements such as installing low-flow faucets and shower heads, and insulating hot water pipes will also help you save money on water heating.
Most central air conditioning units last about 20 years. At 12 years old, your air conditioning unit is passing its mid-life point. Even if your air conditioner is only 10 years old, you may save 20-40 percent of your cooling energy costs by replacing it with a newer, more efficient model. The most efficient models have a SEER rating of at least 15.
Ensure your Home Inspector is up to date on energy efficient systems and methods. When buying a home in Barrie ON call Roger Frost, the Premier Barrie home inspector
The History of the Blower Door.
Perhaps no piece of equipment has changed the way energy professionals look at buildings more than the blower door. Over the past 15 years, entire diagnostic procedures have evolved around this relatively simple device that can make subtle, but measurable, changes in house pressures.
The blower door as we know and love it today springs from technology first used in Sweden in 1977, where it was actually a blower window. The idea migrated to the United States with Ake Blomsterberg, who came to Princeton University to do research in 1979. “We started using it because we were trying to understand infiltration,” says David Grimsrud, who was a researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in Berkeley, California, at the time.
According to Grimsrud, the Princeton researchers decided to mount the fan in a door because door sizes are more uniform than windows. Ken Gadsby (who was and still is at Princeton) recalls that they based the height of the lower door panel on his inseam length! With the help of the blower door, the researchers discovered that hidden leaks accounted for a much greater proportion of air leakage in a home than the more obvious culprits, such as windows, doors, and electrical outlets–a giant leap forward in our understanding of how a house operates (and malfunctions). Researchers at LBNL began to see how useful the blower door would be in weatherization and retrofitting work.
Blower door companies started springing up to serve the new market. LBNL energy researcher Max Sherman even got into the business of manufacturing blower doors for a short time. “The Department of Energy put out a solicitation to buy ten blower doors, so my father and I started a company and bid on the contract and we won,” Sherman remembers. These were big, heavy, clunky blower doors, made of plywood and Formica.
“We were all working out of our garages,” recalls Gary Anderson, cofounder of the Energy Conservatory. In 1986, Home Energy (then Energy Auditor and Retrofitter) identified 13 blower door manufacturers, with combined revenues for sales and testing nearing $10 million per year (see “A Healthy Outlook for the Blower Door Industry,” EA&R May/June ‘86, p. 6).
estimated that blower door sales alone reached $1.2 million in 1985. The focus at that time was on making more powerful fans in more manageable sizes.
And Then There Were Three
The industry has consolidated today, with only three North American manufacturers–the Energy Conservatory, Infiltec, and Retrotec–now vying for sales in a growing market.
The Energy Conservatory
Of the three, Energy Conservatory (manufacturer of the Minneapolis Blower Door) is easily the largest, selling 800 to 1,000 blower doors per year, along with Duct Blasters, digital pressure gauges, and other diagnostic tools and procedures.
The Energy Conservatory was hatched over lunches between partners Gary Anderson, then an auditor in St. Paul, and Gary Nelson, an engineer at the Minnesota Energy Agency, during which they would discuss the latest discoveries in residential energy efficiency. The blower door was one advance that captured their imagination.
“It got to be an expensive hobby,” Anderson recalls. The pair retrofitted a two-story garage to use as a calibration chamber and strove continuously to create a design that would be more practical for mainstream contractors. That meant it had to be less expensive, lighter, and easier to use. They worked to make blower door testing more friendly, accurate, and efficient, and helped develop protocols for weatherization programs to prioritize air sealing efforts.
In the late 1980s, the Energy Conservatory was involved in research that led to the understanding that duct leakage is a big problem–not just for energy waste, but also because pressure imbalances caused by the duct system can result in backdrafting and indoor air quality problems. This realization led to the development of a duct leakage testing fan (the Duct Blaster) and a digital manometer for more precise pressure measurements.
Infiltec sells blower doors, in addition to developing energy software and conducting indoor air quality studies for the Environmental Protection Agency.
“We sold our first blower door in 1980,” says Infiltec’s David Saum. Saum got into the business when his retired father was looking for ways to make his home more energy-efficient. Saum did some research and found articles on the Super Sucker, the window-mounted unit being used in Texas. “We decided that we could do better,” Saum says. In addition to blower doors, Infiltec now sells duct testers, mostly for testing ducts in new construction. Infiltec has recently taken its blower doors to Russia to test multifamily buildings there (see “To Russia with Blower Doors,” HE Sept/Oct ‘95, p. 8).
The Canadian firm Retrotec concentrates on selling units for testing fire protection systems, and on teaching HVAC contractors how to use the blower door to boost their business (see “HVAC Contractors Discover Blower Doors“). Retrotec has also been in business since 1980. The founders originally opened their factory because they needed blower doors to use in research projects for Natural Resources Canada (the equivalent of the U.S. Department of Energy).
“At the time, you couldn’t buy a blower door,” vice president Brendan Reid says. Retrotec now offers seven models–all different configurations of the same equipment. Four of these are used in testing industrial fire protection systems. The company offers an optional panel system made of molded plastic sheets, which Reid says installs faster than the standard doors and looks better, although it is less adjustable. Retrotec also sells a sealed smoke puffer, and a duct leak testing system for new construction. With nine employees and two independent sales contractors, the company has annual revenues of just over $1 million.
Old-timers in the industry can best appreciate the evolution of blower door technology over the years. They’re the ones who remember struggling with a heavy, bulky fan and door panels. “We had a chance to use one of Max’s blower doors,” Gary Anderson recalls, “and when we’d lug the blower door out there, two things happened. We’d be blown away by what we were learning, but at the same time, we were frustrated by how long it took.”
“Our first blower door moved 4,200 cubic feet per minute (CFM) maximum flow, weighed about 55 lb, and was about 28 inches long,” says Anderson. “Then we made a 10-inch long fan that moved 6,400 CFM, increasing flow by 50% with a shorter fan.” Refining the frame was the next major improvement in the blower door, and the Energy Conservatory went to a cloth-covered aluminum frame.
Infiltec’s design also evolved over time, switching from a DC to a much less expensive AC motor. They also introduced a flexible door panel and started using fan rpm instead of just pressure drop to measure flow, improving the accuracy of calibration.
HVAC Contractors Discover Blower Doors
’s readers are familiar with the use of blower doors for weatherization. HVAC contractors are also beginning to recognize the value of using blower doors to improve the quality of their work and to distinguish their company’s service in the market. Many have found that they can make more profit by fixing the problems than by selling higher-capacity equipment to provide thermal comfort in a leaky house. The blower door helps them do that. It also improves their ability to address such issues as backdrafting and indoor air quality.
People like John Tooley of Natural Florida Retrofit and Larry Palmiter with Ecotope have played an important role in bringing blower door testing to the HVAC industry. Since they and others learned of the hazards that can be caused by pressure imbalances in homes and ducts, they have worked to get the message out to people who work on houses. The energy waste and safety problems that can be diagnosed with pressure diagnostics are substantial, and contractors in many areas now understand that it’s good business to use blower doors in their work.
Blower door manufacturers provide training for those who will use their equipment. For example, Retrotec has specifically targeted HVAC contractors with a package that includes seven days of training, with manuals, videos, brochures, and telemarketing scripts. As Reid says, “We realized that if they didn’t have the training and support, they almost never used the blower door.” He adds that the 160 contractors Retrotec has trained in the last four years use the blower door to differentiate themselves from the competition and to add value to a proposal in a way that doesn’t cost them a lot of money. “We’re trying to show that a higher price is often a better value.”
Mediterranean Heating and Air Conditioning
Mediterranean Heating and Air Conditioning, in Canoga Park, California, owns five blower doors, and it didn’t take long for their investment to start paying off. “The first week after we got the blower door, we tested my house and found 500 CFM of leakage,” representative Mike Gardner relates. “I looked up in the return air chase and found it was open to the attic–a 12 inch by 30 inch space, open to the attic. The more houses we tested, the more we found that that’s common. Systems are losing 30% to 60% of capacity on the hottest days, and that’s normal!”
Gardner uses the blower door as an educational tool, to help customers understand that they are losing air. “We use Polaroid cameras in the attic to show them where the duct leaks are,” he says. After the Northridge earthquake, Mediterranean staff could easily verify whether ducts had been damaged.
“We’ve really had a shift in emphasis in what’s important in the HVAC business,” says Gardner. “Now the most important factor in how a system works is the integrity of the air distribution system. You have to ensure that integrity, so that people get the performance they expect from the equipment you install.”
Gardner’s company goes into about 10,000 houses a year. Blower doors will one day be a necessity in his business. “If you don’t understand the problems associated with duct leakage, you’re not going to be in the business,” he says. A year ago Gardner knew of only one other contractor in the Los Angeles area who had a blower door, “and it sat in the closet.” Now he knows seven contractors in the area who use them. “It’s an incredible competitive advantage.”
Holt Service Company
Before they started using blower doors in their business, “we could not find the problems because they were hidden under the insulation,” says David Holt, president of Holt Service Company in Columbus, Georgia. Holt, the third generation to oversee the operations of the family business, says his company has used blower doors for three years. “It makes us money and it solves a lot of problems for the customer. The true benefit to consumers is health, safety, and personal comfort. The financial aspects are nice, the icing on the cake.” He relates the story of a woman who had serious respiratory problems for years, which disappeared after he sealed her duct system. “Within about ten days, she called and said, `For the first time in ten years I’ve been able to sleep without getting up and getting my respirator.’”
“What’s it worth for you to sleep comfortably in your home all night and not wake up all clogged up?” Holt asks potential customers. “You don’t have to breathe all this dust and mold, don’t have to deal with all the moisture; you’re breathing cleaner, fresh air; and there’s no backdrafting.”
“The equipment has pretty much evolved to optimum,” says Anderson. “The fan weight has dropped from 60 lb to 35 lb, at the same time increasing flow.” The next step is toward computerization and improved error analysis. A computerized, digital blower door will make data more accurate and repeatable at lower house pressures. It will also make it easier for researchers to track a wide variety of conditions. For example, David Grimsrud is now at the University of Minnesota, where he is conducting blower door tests by remote control, tracking measurements by computer to study backdrafting in buildings. His studies use the newest development by the Energy Conservatory: a 16-channel data acquisition system that processes input from carbon dioxide monitors and pressure and temperature sensors.
Super Sucker, the Sequel
In another interesting development, a monster blower door that takes the name of the window-mounted unit used in Texas all those years ago is being used to test large residential and commercial buildings in Canada. The Super Sucker is a whopping 55,000 CFM fan that is 40 ft long and 5 ft in diameter. It is transported to the site on a flatbed trailer, and it takes a team of five people to hook it up (to a pair of double doors) and perform the test.
A Blower Door for Windows
At the other end of the spectrum, the Canadian consulting firm CanAm Building Envelope Specialists Incorporated is marketing an individual window depressurization testing kit, called the MiniLab, which is used to identify and quantify air leaks around windows. This mini-blower door allows retrofitters to demonstrate improvements in air leakage when they replace or seal windows, and enables new home builders to specify and measure the performance of their windows.
The History of the Blower DoorWindow leakage is tested by installing 6-mil plastic on the inside around the window frame, cutting a hole in the middle of the plastic and attaching and sealing a tube in the hole. The hose is then connected to the blower, which pressurizes the space between the plastic and the window. The device has flow meters and a Magnahelic gauge, like a blower door, to measure flow in CFM at a given pressure. New standards in Canada require windows to meet air leakage ratings at 75 Pascals (Pa) of pressure.
“The market has changed from year to year,” says Infiltec’s Saum. “Originally it was entrepreneurs during the energy crisis; then it changed to utilities and weatherization agencies; and then a few years ago, to the fire protection business.” Blower doors are used to test fire protection systems that use halon gas instead of water (to prevent water damage in case of a fire). These systems used to be tested by setting them off and timing how long it took the halon to dissipate. The EPA banned this procedure when “it was found that halon was the worst ozone eater by a factor of ten,” says Saum. With a blower door, contractors can calculate how long it will take for the halon to leak out of a structure without actually releasing it into the atmosphere.
“To some extent, we have begun to saturate the weatherization market,” Anderson says. However, the blower door is also a valuable tool for HVAC contractors and builders. “Everybody who goes into houses and changes the way the houses operate wants to be sure they don’t do damage. HVAC contractors are becoming more aware than builders; they are much more familiar with the problems that can arise.” Retrotec’s Reid agrees, “There’s high potential because of the numbers,” he says, “with about 50,000 HVAC contractors in North America.”
“We’re moving to a time in housing construction when we’ll see more mechanical ventilation systems,” adds Grimsrud, requiring the near elimination of infiltration, and heralding a demand for infiltration testing in the construction industry.
Anderson points out that most of the people who stopped by the Energy Conservatory’s booth at a recent builders’ show weren’t familiar with blower doors, “but just about every one of them talked about moisture problems, backdrafting, fireplaces that won’t draw–all of which have to do with the airtightness of the envelope.”
“They definitely will benefit from this technology,” Anderson continues. “The option is to build the house and then deal with the problems that show up. A blower door gives builders some control over these problems, because they know how tight the house is, how to deal with duct leakage, and how to size a ventilation system.”
“The most important legacy of the blower door,” concludes Anderson, “is the evolution of the understanding of the house as a system and how you can characterize and diagnose the problems using pressure analysis.”
Visit the Barrie Home Inspector’s tips and maintenance site for more information on energy saving for home owners..
Secure The Future and Save Energy. Saving energy such as the use of wind power generators may not be one of the things that you are thinking lately. Unless you live near Shelborne, Ontario where wind turbines dominate the landscape. But once you figure out what is currently happening in the environment, you will come to think of about it over and over. It can immediately climb up on top of your list. And you will find yourself busy searching for ways and means where you can save energy.
Finite Sources of Energy
The energy we use to run our appliances at home such as the coffee maker, bread toaster, over, TV, washing machine, laptop or PC and electric iron is produce from fossil fuels. Each time we use these appliances, we are consuming energy generated by fossil fuels which can no longer be replaced unlike the renewable energy that we can get from wind power generators. As we do it every day, fossil fuels will soon run out. Fossil fuels based on facts, are one of the finite sources of energy. This further means that a fossil fuel that has been used will never be restored.
Another source of finite energy is the oil reserve which is found out to be only lasting for 40 years unlike windmill power than can last until forever. We cannot have it for longer time like coal which is also discovered to be good only for 20 years. By keeping the current rate of our energy usage, we can stick to this projected amount of years for the sources to be usable. However, the world’s population is always increasing. More and more households are in need of energy to power their houses. This calls for a need to use renewable and safe energy like wind power energy.
While shredding our natural sources of energy for our energy consumption, we are at the same time slowly destroying the climate patterns. If we don’t use windmill power and continue our reliance on fossil fuels and coal, we are destroying the balance of nature. For every fossil fuel that is burned, carbon dioxide is being released into the air. It goes into the atmosphere where it interferes with the climate and weather system. While the natural system is destroyed, we experience frequent flooding, melting ice caps, dearth and other unexpected weather conditions. We experience abnormal behaviors in the change of weather conditions. This explains why we currently experience severe climate change.
If we continue using energy in this routine and not consider wind power energy, climate change will get worse. Drastic environment reactions will occur such as the coming of major floods, the rising of sea levels beyond normal point, experiencing higher risk of exposure to higher amounts of Ultra violet light and leading to extinction of animals and plants. Environment’s revenge can absolutely kill a lot of people in a matter of seconds.
Think for a Better Tomorrow
A period of 40 to 200 years will surely give you enough time to live. But if you come to think of your kids and grandkids, this range can never be enough. Like you they need to survive and live life. By considering using other sources of energy which is renewable like for example the wind power generators, you can guarantee them of a good future.
There are various alternative sources of energy that are now made available such as windmill power. Meet these alternative sources and learn to use them. Valuing them is like valuing your kids’ and grandkids’ future. Don’t wait any longer as soon as you have discovered the importance of renewable sources of energy like wind power energy. The sooner you realize and start to use, the better. Take part in saving the environment now before it’s too late!
Home energy saving ideas offers a complete package for all your energy saving needs.
Observations for Home Energy Audits
Observational Diagnostics, Section One
There are many Observational Diagnostic techniques and experiential knowledge that have been learned by many individuals through the time that they spend in buildings which, in general, may not have made its way into the typical building evaluation resource materials. This Observation Diagnostics, Section One document was created as a way of collecting and disseminating an initial set this useful knowledge for those interested in developing their building diagnostic skills. This document is also a beginning effort to bring some key pieces of information together in one place from a dispersed set of resources.
Fan or building caused negative pressure can cause spillage of flue gases, accelerated introduction of carbon monoxide into the conditioned space, and flame roll out from
atmospherically vented combustion appliances that are located within the negative pressure field. For unvented heaters and gas ranges that have correct combustion adjustments the dominant concern is the amount of water vapor contained in the by-products of combustion which can be the equivalent of one gallon of water per 100,000 Btus burned. The dominant safe combustion feature built into direct vent furnaces and water heaters is that they are atmospherically uncoupled from conditioned space.
When trying to determine if the air handler that is connect to a forced air duct system is a heat pump look for items that can indicate an alternative system. If gas piping for propane or natural gas, fuel lines connected to a fuel oil tank, or water piping connect to a water heater are attached to the air handler, it is not a heat pump. If there is a heating and cooling thermostat and an outside compressor unit connected to the air handler through a refrigerant line set you are close to your identification. The last item to confirm is that the compressor runs during the heat mode and thus you have confirmed that heating is not provided solely by electric strip heat. For an air handler connected to a forced air duct system you can determine that it is an aerodynamically uncoupled, 90% plus efficient furnace system if there is a gas line connected to the air handler and there are two PVC pipes connecting the furnace with the outside environment. To fully document a split system, furnace and air conditioner forced air heating and cooling system you need to find and record three model number plates, one on the furnace, one on the a/c coil, and one on the compressor. A name plate on a gas furnace will include a variety of information including among other items the input Btu/hour, temperature rise range, type of gas, model number, manufacturer name, and manufacture date. An 80% plus efficient natural gas furnace can be identified by observing that is has a fan on the furnace that draws a metered volume of combusted gases through the heat exchanger. It will not have a drain to remove combustion condensate, have an open draft diverter, or be connected to one or two PVC pipes. A “package” gas furnace and air conditioning equipment unit is designed to be located outside the building and can be found placed on the ground or on the roof depending on local practices. It should not be located in a close crawl space, in a vented attic, or inside a mechanical room.
Incorporating building cavity air paths into a forced air duct system is most often associated with the largest amount of measured duct leakage. In regions where air conditioning is used it is not uncommon to find insulated supply duct systems, which are located in unconditioned spaces, on which the exterior vapor retarder has not been completely sealed. The most damaging potential outcome is that water vapor can enter the duct insulation and condense on the surface of the supply duct and drain down to the inside surface of the vapor retarder where it cannot escape. Thus it saturates the duct insulation resulting in insulation with very little R-value. The simplest method that can be used to identify the presence of condensed water vapor in duct insulation during the cooling season is to place the back of your hand against the vapor retarder at the bottom of the duct and feel both a cool temperature and the weight of water in the duct insulation. The simplest method that can be used to identify the presence of duct liner insulation inside a sheet metal duct system is to thump on the metal duct and listen for a dull sound.
The four most common types of material used to convey supply air in duct systems for homes are flex duct, thin gauge metal, duct board and building cavities. Inflatable tubes are being used in some commercial establishments but are not in general use in homes.
The best indicator of previous duct sealing is that mastic is present for a representative sample of connection locations across the return ducts, air handler, and supply ducts. A customer showing a receipt for a new system, the fact that a service tech has been on site, or that there is mastic at the air handler will not give you the information that you need.
Stairs leading from the home’s main floor to a below grade space indicate that the home is constructed on a basement foundation.
To determine if a home has a crawl space foundation look for the presence of a crawl space entry. Depending on the local construction practices, the entry may be a door in the exterior perimeter foundation wall which may be outside or from within the garage, an access built into the main level floor, or through an interior wall on some split level homes.
One way to determine if a home is constructed on a slab foundation is to determine that there is an absence of a crawl space entry or stairs to a below grade space.
For an existing home that has been determined to have been built on a crawl space foundation to be further classified as a properly closed crawl space it must include six design elements. It must include moisture management and drying mechanism(s) that meet the moisture load, safe combustion appliance operation, correct thermal performance, correct fire safety materials, radon management, and applicable pest management standards. Additional elements may be present. The difference between a raised slab foundation system and a crawl space foundation system is that the slab is poured on top of fill that is inside a foundation wall that is one or more course of block above grade. There are suspended concrete slab floors built over crawl spaces which are a completely different type of construction.
You will know that you are looking at a gas range that falls into the oldest category of gas ranges if you determine that the oven burner ignites using a standing pilot. New gas ranges use
electronic ignition. Observing that there is a glass window in an oven door will not tell you whether it is standing pilot or electronic ignition. Open the burner drawer and look for a pilot flame. Electronic ignition is also indicated by a clicking sound just prior to oven burner ignition. A variety of resources confirm that refrigerators with top freezers are the most energy efficient style. When you compare start with Energy Star units and to look at units that are the same size and have the same options. A variety of resources including ACEEE confirm that a currently manufactured refrigerator will use ½ the amount of energy as a refrigerator of the same size, style, and set of options that was manufactured in 1990.
Horizontal-axis (usually front-loading) style clothes washers have been determined to have the best potential for efficient operation. This includes both water and energy efficiency. Plus the spin cycle performance of these units reduces the water retained in the clothes thus reducing the dryer run time. One quick tip for identifying the age of an appliance is to look on the appliance name plate because the manufacture date is often listed. The Energy Star appliance label indicates that an appliance meets a set of standards for using significantly less energy than standard products of the same type.
Visual Indications of Condensation
In homes where the owner has installed a vent free heater(s) and turned off the forced air heating system which has its ducts located in the attic there is the potential that water will drip out of some of the ceiling supply registers. Spillage and or back drafting of combustion by-products from atmospherically vented water heaters can be identified by the visual identifier of corrosion built-up on the water pipes at the top of the water heater, especially on the cold water line. When mould growth is found only behind a chest of drawers located at an exterior wall it is an indication that the wall surface temperature has been or is at or below the dew point for the water vapor present in the interior air.
If in the basement of a home with a T-bar ceiling tile system the tiles are sagging down in the middle, there is the potential that during the cooling season warm, moist outside air is entering the space above the tiles, condensing, and being absorbed.
Moisture staining patterns can be observed in attic insulation around ceiling penetrations because during the heating season stack pressure is moving interior moist air from the home through the ceiling penetrations and into the attic where it condenses at the top of the insulation and is absorbed. Warm, moist air circulating above the floor insulation in a vented crawl space foundation home can result in rust and rust balls on nail ends that are penetrating through the sup-floor into the space above the floor insulation when it is not properly installed next to the sub-floor.
Soot markings or heat stressed metal near the gas burner location are evidence of previous flame rollout for atmospheric venting furnaces, water heaters or space heaters.
If air current smoke will not enter the draft diverter of atmospheric venting combustion
equipment during operation it is an indication of a blocked chimney.
Space conditioning or water heating equipment is combustion based if a gas line and a vent pipe are present and connected to the unit. A gas range is an unvented combustion source when no range hood exists, the hood is a recirculation type, or the hood is not turned on during range use. An 80% plus efficient natural gas furnace can be identified by observing that is has a fan on the furnace that draws a metered volume of combusted gases through the heat exchanger. It will not have a drain to remove combustion condensate, have an open draft diverter, or be connected to one or two PVC pipes. Sealed combustion appliances are recommended to replace unvented combustion appliances such as space heaters.
The expected life of a new gas furnace that is not located in climates with corrosive salt air coastal environments is 20 years. This assumes proper installation and reasonable maintenance during its service life.
Kitchen and Bathroom Exhaust Fans
Exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathroom serve the important purpose of removing moisture created in these areas. The concern with these fans is whether or not they are properly vented to the outside and exhaust the correct amount of cfm of air flow.
The International Residential Code states that the bathroom exhaust should provide 50 cfm of air flow when in operation. The kitchen exhaust fan should provide 100 cfm of air flow. The issue is that often the fans do not exhaust to the outside. Bathroom fans are sometimes installed such that they are vented directly into the attic space above. Kitchen exhausts fans can be purchased that simply remove the moisture away from the cooking surface and exhaust it into the kitchen air. In order to determine whether the bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans are actually exhausting to the outside a number of items can be inspected. First, the presence of duct work from the fan leading to the outside is a good clue that the fans are intended to exhaust to the outside of the building. Vent registers on the outside of the house [walls or roof] can also be a clue that the fans are vented correctly.
Confirm that the damper is not taped shut. When inspecting kitchen exhaust fans a person can turn on the fan and feel with their hand above the edge of the hood. If you feel air flow the hood is a recirculation type and does not exhaust to outside. Another approach is to access the duct work for the exhaust fan in question and follow it to the point at which it exits the building. Or turn the fan on and off and observe if the exterior damper opens and closes. Remember, sound level does not necessarily equal cfm air flow. If you are not formally measuring air flow, a relative assessment of cfm air flow can be made by placing a material over the fan air intake and observing if the cfm air flow creates enough suction to hold it in place. Three different items, toilet paper, paper towel, wash cloth, have been used to indicate different cfm air flow amounts. If the lightest item, toilet paper, falls down you have noise but totally inadequate cfm air flow.
Fluorescents Lights and Mercury Scare? The poster-child for the anti-fluorescent bulbers is Brandy Bridges, a mother in Maine who broke a bulb in her daughter’s bedroom a couple years back.
Bridges, aware the bulbs contained mercury, called state officials, who came over, did tests, and told her to have the room cleaned by a hazardous waste crew – to the tune of over $2,000. Maine officials eventually came to her house and cut out the carpet.
This story has been widely circulated on the Internet, and sharp criticism of the government mandate continues today from email chain letters to rants on Capitol Hill.
When it comes to safety, they say the amount of mercury in a fluorescent bulb is so small it should not present a health risk. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average fluorescent light bulb contains about 4 milligrams of mercury, over 100 times less than found in an old mercury thermometer.
Consumer Reports just did extensive testing of the bulbs and found that many contain even less mercury – some had just 1 milligram.
“It’s not something to panic about,” said Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman, deputy home editor at Consumer Reports. “Tube fluorescents like we all have in our offices and schools have mercury too, and it’s not like they evacuate a school every time a bulb breaks.”
Still, the bulbs should be handled with care if broken. EPA recommends several steps including cleaning up the glass with cardboard or another item that can be disposed of after, opening the window, and putting the remnants in an outside garbage can.
If your town collects other household hazardous waste like batteries, paint or cleaning supplies, then you should dispose of the bulbs in the same manner. Home Depot and Ikea will recycle any old fluorescent bulbs, no mater where they were purchased.
Also, if the light is close to small children or pets that may easily knock it over, it’s probably best to use another type of bulb. Efficient, mercury-free incandescents like halogen lights, as well as LED lights will still be available after the new efficiency standards kick in.
The benefits of using fluorescent bulbs, experts say, far outweighs any mercury risk.
When it comes to mercury content, a fluorescent bulb ends up putting far less mercury into the environment compared to all the extra electricity required to run an inefficient bulb – four times less mercury, according to Noah Horowitz of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
If the whole country switched to fluorescents, says Horowitz, it would eliminate the need to build 30 new coal power plants and save as much electricity as used by all the homes in Texas.
Then there’s the cost savings. Consumer reports estimates that each incandescent replaced with a $1.50 fluorescent will save an individual $56 in electricity costs over the life of the bulb.
“You’d be hard pressed to find a better deal for your wallet or the environment,” said Horowitz.
Still, some people remain unconvinced.
For starters, many say if fluorescent bulbs were really better, people would buy them on their own.
For her part Bridges, contacted at her home in Maine, says she’ll never go back to fluorescent bulbs and has little faith in experts telling her what’s safe.
“Remember, at some point lead paint wasn’t a big deal either,” she said.\
For more home owner tips and advice, visit the Barrie Home Inspectors blog on Home Owners Tips and Maintenance.