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The Columbian Article: Sealing a home increases comfort

Energy Adviser: Sealing a home increases comfort

A cold and drafty attic housing mice in the insulation changed how Robert Brierley thought about home heating, insulation and sealing homes. In 2004, after sucking out the insulation and closing up the holes to improve a vintage home's warmth, the homeowner told Brierley the house was warmer and more comfortable since his company, Revival Energy, had "fixed" the problem. Brierley was confused, because he hadn't blown any insulation back in yet. An engineer by training, he didn't believe there could be any improvement. After all, it was the insulation that kept the heat in the home, wasn't it?

Brierley, a certified building analyst and heating specialist, was convinced his customer was wrong and set out to prove it. So, he experimented with his own home, replicating the attic "fix" his customer claimed worked so well to keep in warmth. His result was the same as his customer's. Why is a house warmer without insulation than with it, he wondered?

"Insulation is like wearing a wool sweater in the wind," he said. "Windy air comes through the sweater and you're not as warm. Putting a windbreaker over a sweater closes the knitted fabric air leaks, making you warmer. Sealing air leaks in the attic made both homes warmer, even without the insulation."

Since then, Revival Energy has focused its efforts on communicating the value of sealing the home envelope.

"We see homeowners adding more and more insulation to increase the R-value (a measure of thermal resistance) of their homes without improving home comfort," Brierley said. "We give customers a free air leakage test to show that they might have bigger gains by sealing air leaks."

Lingering among homeowners is a persistent myth that homes can be too tight and that tightness means poorer air quality.

"After testing more than 1,400 homes for air tightness, I have only seen two I'd consider too tight," he said. "In general, the reverse is true. Sealing up air leaks improves air quality."

Easy temperature test

If your home has cold spots, Brierley recommends a quick easy test to measure the temperature difference. Simply hold a thermometer next to your thermostat for a minute or two. Note the temperature and check to see if it matches your thermostat. Then, move to the cold area. Lay the thermostat on a piece of furniture for a couple of minutes. Check the temperature and calculate the difference between the two. If it's more than 2-4 degrees, you have air leaks. Brierley says he often sees eight degrees difference on the same floor of a house and as much as 15 degrees difference between two floors of a house.

Sealing a home can improve family health, too. One of Revival's customers includes a boy who was on medications for asthma. After his parents sealed up their home, the air quality improved and he no longer needed daily asthma medication.

If you can, seal your home before adding insulation, because then the sealing will cost less and give you a significant boost in comfort. Removing ceiling insulation to seal a home and then blowing it back in after costs more.

Brierley says he's not against insulating homes, but a sealed home will need less insulation, as well as a smaller heating and cooling unit. Well-sealed homes with the appropriate amount of insulation and mechanical ventilation systems put less demand on the furnace, which adds to its lifespan.

"You can increase the life of a furnace from 10 to 20 years if you reduce the number of cycles it has to run to keep your home at a comfortable, consistent temperature," he said.


Full article at http://www.columbian.com/news/2014/aug/21/sealing-a-home-increases-comfort/

Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.