Building Science Super Powers
Here in Chicago, 2015 is opening much like 2014 – bitterly cold with subzero temperatures. As I write this blog, we have an -8 degree night with wind chills in the -30's. An arctic blast would be sure to freeze your face within 30 seconds of a brisk walk. It’s a perfect day for building science!
Harsh winter days are a great time to bring out a little of the building science/energy nerd in all of us, and can make you feel like a building science super hero! If you find yourself staying inside more, here are some fun things to do at home that will help keep your mind off the cold and on the heat:
1) Feel air leaks like a blower door! With bitter cold air and harsh wind blowing, it’s the perfect set up for a free blower door test on your home. You can easily go in and around your basement, attic, chimneys, pipes, doors, recessed light fixtures, soffits, and even electrical outlets, to feel sources of major air leakage with the back of your hand. You'll typically feel more air coming in at the lower levels (i.e. basements), and more air going out through the top floor. This effect is what we typcially recreate with our blower doors during an Eco Achievers Comfort Audit.
Since air leaving your home is harder to detect, we suggest using something like an incense stick to see how quickly the smoke is pulled out. And while you're there, mark any spots of concern with blue painters tape or something similar to remind yourself to address it later with caulk or spray foam (its best to wait until above temps reach above freezing to allow a material bond).
2) Listen for the Furnace. On a super cold day, your furnace should be running 24/7 continuously. Wait, what? Isn't that bad? Actually, in cities like Chicago, the coldest days are used to determine how large a furnace's capacity should be. And similar to Goldilocks and that well-tailored suit, you want your furnace to fit your home just right. But why? Isn't bigger usually better? Or can’t you just use a rule of thumb? Some contractors may try to sell you on this, but right-sizing your HVAC results in a system that operates efficiently, with the appropriate amount of capacity, air flow, and humidity to keep your home consistently comfortable. Folks in homes with correctly sized HVAC systems experience fewer drafts, while their rooms maintain the desired temperature better, with fewer cold or hot extremes.
If your furnace is frequently going on and off during a frigid day, it’s a sign that it is too big. If the system is old and going to be replaced, ask that the new furnace be properly sized to meet your building's specific heating/cooling loads. And it’s hard to think about now, but don’t forgot the AC! That, too, must also be properly matched and sized to prevent comfort and performance issues in the summertime. Read this HVAC replacement guide from the Dept of Energy for details.
3) Use Your Infrared (IR) Camera-Like Vision! As you walk or drive around the neighborhood, note your neighbors’ roofs and see like our IR cameras see. Today will be a great day for this in Chicago, as it’s been so cold that the 2" of snow we received a few days ago should still be on most peoples’ houses. This scenario is perfect for looking at various homes and seeing where common energy issues are happening.
Like is seen in the picture above, any areas where snow is melting means there is a lot of heat loss. Roof rafters are common, as well as horizontal bands under attic knee walls. If you see a clear roof, while the rest of the neighbors still have snow, let us know. That sounds like someone who could really benefit from an energy audit!
4) Channel Your Inner Elsa! For you Frozen™ fans out there, did you know you don't have to be the Queen of Arendelle to have “Frozen” powers? Grab a pot of boiling water and toss it in the outside air for some fun! They’re even doing it in Siberia!
Finally, be safe! In addition to keeping gas tanks full, be careful of any supplemental heating devices, overloaded electrical outlets, and keep an eye on your water pipes. Also, don’t forget to check in on elderly or needy friends and neighbors who might not be able to properly help themselves.
Stay warm, friends!