Monday, April 22 is Earth Day for the year 2013. If you want to see what folks are doing to observe Earth Day or you would like to read personal stories about the effects of climate change, please spend some time at the Earth Day website.
The economic benefits of energy improvements are well known within the energy conservation community, but probably still not adequately appreciated by the general home owning public. Large upfront expenditure still is a barrier despite the potential for great bang for a buck in terms of the net long term savings that accrues from money invested in home energy conservation. Indeed a recent US study concludes that energy efficient homes are 1/3 less likely to incur mortgage defaults.
Building on the growing movement toward including health as a key consideration for any improvements to homes, several government agencies released a new vision for healthy housing in February, 2013.
HUD, EPA, the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the Surgeon General, and the DOE jointly announced their The “Advancing Healthy Housing – A Strategy for Action”. The strategy can be summarized with the five following goals:
1) Establish healthy homes recommendations
2) Encourage adoption of healthy homes recommendations
3) Create and support training and workforce development to address health hazards in housing
4) Educate the public about healthy homes
5) Support research that informs and advances healthy housing in a cost-effective manner
More details about these goals can be found on the HUD website.
The WSU Energy Extension program will conduct a week long Home Energy Rater (HERS) training in Olympia, WA. starting Monday, July 23, 2012. This course is intended to prepare participants for the tests required to become a certified HERS Rater, an Energy Star Homes Northwest Energy Star Verifier for Version 3, and an Energy Star Homes Northwest Performance Tester. We have included a full course description including registration information in our course listings here.
In early March the Building Performance Center in conjunction with Habitat International held an Integrating Weatherization with Critical Home Repair training in Tacoma, WA. for western Washington and Oregon Affiliates.
The training was designed to introduce project leaders for Habitat to Building Science and Weatherization retrofit materials and processes. Course participants represented affiliates from Salem and Florence Oregon, and the Washington communities of Ellensburg, Whidbey Island, Bremerton, Kelso/Longview and Tacoma.
The first half day was spent in the classroom covering Building Science basics, weatherization priorities and the importance of thinking of a house as a system. After lunch attendees used training props to watch and experience proper air sealing, duct sealing and insulation techniques. Afterwards attendees worked with our House of Pressure to watch and understand air leakage diagnostics, forced air heating diagnostics and combustion safety diagnostics.
The morning of day two was spent observing and participating in a combustion safety test of a home built several years earlier by the local affiliate. The home provided an excellent example of how code compliance doesn’t necessarily assure 100 percent safety when it comes to “open” (air intake and/or exhaust not totally separate from inside living space) combustion appliances.
After testing house one we moved on to a 1911 home that provided the challenge of how to integrate home repair with weatherization. We spent over 3 hours collecting information including blower door and combustion diagnostics that would provide the foundation for a written work scope and budget. An excellent discussion followed as we determined what could be done on a limited budget to make the homeowners safe and comfortable.
Thanks to all the great work and help from the folks at the Tacoma Habitat affiliate in making this training a success. And thanks to Aimee from NCERT for her help with the House of Pressure and the filming and training preparation.
In late February the Building Performance Center in conjunction with Alaska Works Partnership and with much assistance from RuralCap held an Energy Assessor training in Anchorage, AK. This training was designed for both beginning and practicing assessors. Attendees included folks from the North Slope Borough, Aleutian Housing, Interior Regional Housing Authority and Ruralcap among others.
Two days of class time were spent investigating and studying Building Science, building energy use, diagnostic testing and ventilation. Attendees survived required homework assignments in the evenings and a quiz or two.
Field work included assessing and and writing a project scope for two Anchorage homes. Students implemented a work scope for the second house including attic air sealing and insulation. Before air sealing students verified that the house’s boiler was in good operating condition and would continue to operate safely after air tightening the house. Our air sealing reduced leakage by 700 cfm50.
The hands on portion of the training in particular seemed to be well received by the attendees. We appreciate the participation of our students and all of the great help that RURALCAP’s John Simpson, Ralph Lee and others provided to make this training a success.
Combining preventative health measures with traditional weatherization continues to make news and draw attention. Home Energy magazine posted an article this week about this practice and programs around the US that are leading practitioners. A case study insert in the article describes how such a typical project might proceed at Bellingham’s Opportunity Council, one of the originators of weatherization plus health.
How clean is the air in your home? The outdoor air in our locale, Bellingham, WA., is typically quite good (see our current air quality), but what about our indoor air? Most of us spend the majority of our time indoors. Unfortunately the quality of indoor air is often significantly poorer than outdoor air. The EPA estimates that we receive 72% of our chemical exposure at home (read about indoor air quality.) If you are interested in air quality news, both local (Pacific Northwest) and global, follow the online news from our friends at the Northwest Clean Air Agency.
What does the national weatherization assistance program accomplish? Just in terms of cash, the DOE currently calculates that the average weatherization provided to low-income residences saves $437 per year, with some variation depending on fuel costs. If you wish to read more about this program and other benefits it creates, visit the DOE website: Weatherization Assistance Program
The BPC and its parent, the Opportunity Council, have been receiving recent recognition for innovation in combining health initiatives with weatherization and energy assistance. Programs created here in Bellingham have been recognized nationally as worthy of development (see previous post here). A recent post on the National Association for State Community Services Programs website provides details about how the OC combines health programs with weatherization.
A new HVAC quality standard, developed by the ACCA (Air Conditioning Contractors of America) in cooperation with RESNET, for design, installation and maintenance of home heating, cooling and ventilation systems is now ANSI approved and EPA recognized.
As described in ACCA News:
“ACCA 12 QH-2011 was developed by ACCA in the cooperation with the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) and is the first, and only, industry-developed nationally-recognized standard that establishes how to audit, evaluate, develop a scope of work, perform the work approved by a home owner, and test completed work.”
A January 3 article from Home Energy magazine describes a number of successful efforts in Washington state to leverage recent federal funding into ongoing energy savings for businesses and homes. The BPC’s own Community Energy Challenge is described in detail and receives compliments both for overcoming various hurdles presented by such a new effort and for achieving the results the CEC has to date.
A December 16, 2011 news post on the website for the National Association for State Community Services Programs (NASCSP) emphasizes the impact of energy program budget cuts on those Americans least able to afford such cuts. Despite weatherization being an expenditure that the DOE has described as its most cost effective program, it has been reduced by 60%. Energy assistance funds which allow many low-income citizens to pay their energy bills and have heat during the winter have also been substantially reduced. more budget cut articles
In the Wall Street Journal , November 30, 2011, an article details how LEDs have become the best buys in areas of commercial lighting. And they are increasingly able to compete in other types of lighting as their costs plunge.
Blessed with low power usage and high light output, the key factor that has held recent-vintage, high-quality LED adoption back has been their high purchase price. But due to their exceptionally long life span, LEDs are beginning to take off in commercial applications where the economy of infrequent replacement trumps bulb cost. Bulb costs are predicted to continue dropping 30% per year until 2015.
BPC head trainer/BPI certification proctor, Chris Clay, was in Fairbanks, AK in late November 2011 proctoring 9 Building Analyst candidates. Chris reports that the climate dynamics there are pretty impressive. The Alaskan climate presents special challenges for the area’s energy auditors with extreme temperatures, varied housing stock, and an abundance of very tight houses. Although it was 15-20 degrees below zero and the attic access of the test house was at the end of a 20 ft ladder the experience was great because the basics of heat, air, and moisture flow are so easy to see. Chris listed some examples:
- -5 pascals of stack effect in a 900 CFM50 house
- frost on triple pane windows
- 12 pascals of draft pressure in a boiler chimney in a combustion appliance zone that measured -10 pascals relative to the outside.
Chris greatly appreciated the assistance provided by Interior Weatherization of Fairbanks in securing the certification house and from AlaskaWorks Partnership and Alaska Housing Finance Corporation in sponsoring the certifcation event.
New energy conservation legislation with bipartisan support has been introduced in the Senate. If passed this legislation will provide for up to $5,000 in home owner tax credits for the installation of energy efficient home improvements through the creation of a new 25E tax credit. The credit would require a home energy analysis by a certified energy auditing company. More details about this proposed law may be found in this fact sheet.
BPC head trainer, Chris Clay, traveled to New Mexico in mid-November and worked with the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority to provide dense pack insulation training for the Central New Mexico Housing Authority.
The trainees spent the first 1/2 of day 1 in the classroom hearing and seeing how and why dense pack insulation is an indispensable technique for weatherization. Later that day the crew put their classroom learning to work, first using a density box to adjust their insulation machine, then blowing a wall full of insulation.
Onsite the second day students tackled how to access stucco siding from outside efficiently and effectively. Previously CNMHA had been accessing wall cavities from the inside which at times had prevented complete insulation coverage. Crew leads and inspectors also reviewed combustion testing to ensure tenant safety after all insulation and air sealing work was completed.
Early in 2011 it was announced that the Home Performance w/ENERGY STAR program would be placed entirely within the Dept. of Energy (DOE) and would no longer be managed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The move was scheduled to be completed by October, 2011 and it is hoped that this move will lead to more consistency in home performance initiatives with the greater consolidation of home energy conservation efforts in the DOE which has also historically managed weatherization. There is some concern about the DOE possibly removing the ENERGY STAR brand from this program. For more about this concern, read here.
The last of the DOE’s 2011 regional Weatherization Plus Health conferences was held November, 16 – 18, 2011 in San Diego, CA. The existence of these conferences indicates the growing support and interest in the concept of leveraging DOE weatherization projects with additional improvements targeted at resident health. The Opportunity Council and BPC have been instrumental in developing and promoting this synergy of services for low-income families. Information about these conferences can be found here.
John Davies, the director of the BPC, was honored recently by a leading Pacific Northwest environmental organization. John is one of five 2011 environmental heroes chosen by RE Sources as local citizens or organizations that stand out in their dedication to the environment and sustainable community. We at the BPC congratulate and celebrate this well deserved recognition of John and his many years of environmental work and advocacy.