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Paul LaGrange

Tune in to "The Home Improvement Show" for tips on how to make your home quieter, healthier, more energy efficient and much more!

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Posts from August 2014

Paul: You don't need experts to air seal your home
When discussing energy efficiency and indoor air quality, many people bring up insulation, heating and cooling systems, windows, and several other complex assemblies used to create an energy efficient home. However, many homebuilders and homeowners neglect a very important, yet simple step in making a home energy efficient and comfortable. That simple step is AIR SEALING.  

According to the Department of Energy, “A home that is not sealed for air infiltration will be uncomfortable due to drafts and will use about 30% more energy than a relatively airtight home.” 

Air infiltration is responsible for bringing extra heat, dust, and humidity into the unsealed home. Additionally, when air leaks through insulation, it reduces the R-value of the insulation and increases the chance of moisture accumulation. The good news is that air sealing can be done by the homeowner during remodeling or new construction using lots of polyurethane sealant and one component foam in the can.  

There’s no need to hire an expert to perform this important step.  You just need to be familiar with those key areas that are famous for allowing air into our homes.  Here are some steps: These steps should follow the installation of the insulation in the walls and precede the installation of the attic insulation.

1. Air seal the soleplate, aka "bottom plate" or "green plate," to slab or wood sub-floor. 

2. Air seal all exterior wall penetrations. Anything that penetrates the walls such as wiring,  pipes, etc. need to have sealant around it and must be properly flashed on the exterior of the wall to prevent water infiltration.

3. Air seal all top-plate & ceiling penetrations.  Anything that passes from the attic into the house such as wiring, pipes, light fixtures, speakers, chimney, etc. creates a hole that needs to be sealed.  For any penetration that may get hot, use a fire-rated caulk.

4. Weather-strip all operable openings to the exterior; including doors and attic accesses.

5. Air seal around all doors and windows using non-expandable foam or caulk. Be sure to check with the manufacturer’s specifications so as not to void the warranty of the window or door.
Click here for even more details from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and happy sealing!
For more info on how to save energy and improve comfort levels in your home or office, visit LaGrange Consulting’s website at www.lagrangeconsulting.com  or call us at 985-845-2148.
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Paul: Operating a window AC unit costs more than you think
Don’t let the low initial cost of a window AC units fool you!  Before you know it, the high cost you will be paying for that cool air could be more than it would be with a properly performing central unit. 
Most people go to a big-box store or appliance giant and purchase $250 window units and pay tremendously high energy bills for inefficient equipment.
Some of the things I hear people say why they use window units…
Because their bedroom is just too hot. 
My wife likes it very cold and the central system doesn’t get the house cold enough.
My central AC system is broke and I can’t afford the repair cost
I like the sound of the window unit and use it as “white noise.” 

Some of the above reasons may seem reasonable at first; perhaps the hot room is at the far end of the duct run and doesn’t have enough airflow; the repair costs of the broken central unit maybe more than your budget and you have a strange appreciation for expensive white noise. 
Most window AC units are purchased on the presumption of “what is the largest window unit can I buy for 250 bucks?”  The window unit is most likely oversized for the space and waste energy.  The energy efficiency rating of most window units is EER 10 and the best unit only has a EER of 11.2.  This is a far cry from the minimum efficiency standards of 13 SEER for central AC systems. 
Additionally, the installation of window units is poor at best. The thermal gain due to air infiltration around the unit and extra heat that enters the house through those plastic wings on both sides is pretty high.  When all of the window units are on, the cost to operate the inefficient units and extra heat and moisture from poor installation is equal to the total cost of central AC system over the useful life of the window unit. 
To be fair, it’s not uncommon for a home that uses only window units to use less energy than a home that has a central unit.  This has a lot to do with how and when the window units are operated.  If the occupants only use the window unit while in that room and the other units are off when the rooms are unoccupied then that approach can be effective at saving operating costs.  However its been my experience that most folks leave all of the window units on during the day and night. 
I know that its hot and muggy in the Gulf South but before you rush out and purchase a bunch of window units, take a moment and consider the cost of installing a properly designed and installed central ac system.  I think that you will find that economically it’s the better decision.
For more info on how to save energy and improve comfort levels in your home or office, visit LaGrange Consulting’s website at www.lagrangeconsulting.com or call us at 985-845-2148.
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Paul: When it comes to raised foundations, fiberglass just won't do
So you’ve confirmed that water is not pooling underneath your home and installed your 6 mil polyethylene ground cover below your raised house to reduce moisture.  You have a decision to make - what method are you going to use to insulate the underside of your floor? 

“Don’t you just cram some of that ‘pink stuff’ in between the floor joists,” You ask?

Well, that is not such a great idea. In fact, it’s not even a good idea.  There are several reasons why installing that “pink stuff” (or yellow or white) – fiberglass insulation is a risky product as a subfloor insulator, especially in a hot humid climate.  Let me share a few of those reasons with you before you proceed with the insulation process.

1.     In order for the fiberglass insulation to be somewhat effective, it needs to be installed directly in contact with the bottom of the subfloor and between the floor joists with no air space between the insulation, subfloor and floor joists. More specifically, no gaps, voids, or compression can exist between the insulation and wood framing/floor. This rarely occurs because the insulation is usually thinner than the floor joists and tends to sag onto whatever is holding the bottom of the insulation to the subfloor (i.e. netting, chicken wire, vinyl siding, etc.)  Installing the fiberglass insulation properly is also challenging because of the other obstacles within the floor assembly such as drain pipes, electrical wires, HVAC ductwork, etc.. The insulation R value (thermal performance – separating the indoor from the outdoor conditions) will not function very well if any of the installation flaws exist.

2.     The sagging between the wood flooring and the top of the insulation causes another performance problem, which is that the air spaces caused by sagging now give way to the passage of air and moisture though out the floor joist cavities. When air flows through fiberglass insulation, it significantly reduces the r-value (resistance to heat flow), rendering the insulation fairly useless.

3.     If “tiger teeth” are used to hold the insulation in place, each piece of insulation is compressed in the center. Also, improper installation can cause compression in uneven spaces, and around pipes, piers, and wires. Compression drastically reduces the r-value of insulation.

4.     Small animals also want a nice warm place to stay in the winter. The space between your fiberglass insulation and your subfloor makes a cozy living room for any creature small enough to crawl in between your floor joists.

5.     Wind and animals can cause irreparable damage to fiberglass insulation in a subfloor.  In many cases, after several years have passed, much of it has fallen out or been blown out in a storm.

6.     Finally, and most importantly, fiberglass insulation is NOT an air barrier, so even if it does happen to insulate the subfloor from heat and cold, it is still incapable of blocking the outside humid air from traveling through the insulation and into the home through the subfloor. Over time the moist air travels thru the insulation and air from the crawlspace meets the cool flooring because the a/c is operating. Presto! We have moisture.  Once this occurs the fiberglass insulation becomes moist and its performance is greatly affected.  This is where homeowners see problems with mold, buckling wood floors, (possibly termites) and high humidity in their homes, not to mention, higher utility bills caused by air infiltration.   

Using fiberglass insulation in a crawlspace is not only energy inefficient, it greatly affects the moisture levels inside your home. It could also be a very costly mistake to correct.

I know that many homeowners tend to make decisions upon what they have seen others do in the past. For years, fiberglass has been a staple for insulating subfloors, but do yourself a favor and consider using different insulating products more suited for insulating the underside of the floor assembly in our hot humid climate.  In order for the insulation to be effective, protect our homes from moisture, and keep the outdoor conditions outside it needs to have the following performance characteristics: Air barrier, Thermal barrier, and Vapor retarder.  All of these control layers must be installed on the underside of the floor assembly and must be continuous and uninterrupted. 

For more info on how to save energy and improve comfort levels in your home or office, visit LaGrange Consulting’s website at www.lagrangeconsulting.com  or call us at 985-845-2148.
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