Friday, December 13, 2013

Leave The Mt Soledad Cross Alone

I grew up in a line sight less than one mile from the Mt Soledad Cross in University City. It has been a landmark for me personally in five separate decades. More than forty years ago as a child I remember asking my older brother about it and was told that it was a memorial that had been built to honor men who died in war. That his friend's father helped build it as he lost friends in that war. I remember maybe incorrectly that this friends father came to class to  share this. I understood. The Cross had meaning for me. Now as an adult I fail to understand.

Now those that know me and my beliefs will not be surprised to hear while I believe in God I am not particularly religious. While I identify myself more as a Christian I ascribe that to geography more than dogmatic belief. I had no religious guidance in my family as my Father was agnostic. His moral compass was strong, his religious one not so much. I appreciate religion has no geography in essence but in practice does. Given my background had I grown up in Tel Aviv I would most likely identify myself as Jewish; In Varanasi  a Hindu; In Rome a Catholic; In Riyadh  a Muslim; In Tibet a Buddhist.

As the few try to disassemble this tribute to fallen soldiers against the wishes of the many. I would argue that this is not a religious symbol. If it were a Star of David,  a statue of Buddha or a Star and Crescent instead of a Cross I would make the same argument. Leave it alone.

For those that rally to remove the Cross I would ask you how different is it to the Taliban destroying the Buddha's of Bamiyan? How is it that we a society will criticize the destruction of symbols elsewhere yet demand the destruction of our own right here?

I don't get it. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Over Ventilating for Compliance

I was at a training seminar for the new title 24 2013 measures. The subject of ventilation came up and how it was required. The new code roll out requires that cfm is tested. I was a bit disappointed when I heard a comment that was then agreed with by the presenter. Simply over specify the fan during design and avoid problems later.

With the recent change in standards for 62.2 v 2013 has brought prescriptive ventilation standards up quite a bit. In fact they are  about 13 percent more than the 1989 standards which were thought too high by many. Take the 2010 standard and add a whopping 62 percent. I realize that the "infiltration credit" will bring the numbers down but who will honestly know that number during the concept phase. So how will a builder or custom contractor comply? Over sizing the fan will be a good strategy for compliance.

I took the percentage numbers from my home and in 1989 I was required 76 cfm, in 2010 53 cfm, in 2013, 86 cfm. So the best strategy will be a fan between 100-120 on paper for compliance

As we tighten our home and increase the ventilation are we doing the right thing? I think the 62.2 committee misses this one. They are encouraging high ventilation rates and not prescribing how we ventilate. Certainly a balanced system approach is best practice but more expensive. The most cost effective and straight forward solution will be a exhaust only fan oversized.

Will the homeowner accept this as a IAQ solution or will they simply turn the fan off because of noise or perceived energy waste? In my opinion as we move forward only balanced recovery systems make sense. It is difficult to convey that leaving a bathroom or laundry room fan on 24/7 will increase ones health. I think it will be seen more as an annoyance and will simply be turned off. Furthermore I believe a  separate system which is designed for IAQ will be perceived as such and will be more likely to be left on.

If our goal is truly indoor are quality a oversized bath fan does not seem like a solution.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Delta Q Duct Testing

At ACI California I had the chance to introduce myself to Ian Walker of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. I mentioned I used Delta Q Duct testing on some homes and thanked him for his work. He said that RESNET was considering it as an accepted protocol for duct testing in the future. I have used it on projects that are not HERS or any program related. I like it as it differentiates supply and return leakage which is handy for repairs.

The Beginning

LBL developed the test back in 2001 I believe and here is the link to the paper published directly below

The Formula

So for those of you that are not familiar must be asking what is a Delta Q duct test? It is a test where you perform a multi point blower door test (10 points) scaling pressure down as you go at positive and negative pressures with the air handler off and on for a total of four tests or forty points. This information is then plugged into a excel spreadsheet an viola you have the data and a cool little report. It is buried in an obscure little corner of the LBL website archived and no longer maintained. Link below

At the top of the page there are some links to Delta Q. The page itself is also not a bad little bit of information on its own for those that know little of duct testing and repairs.

The Test

I was once told that Delta Q duct testing was kind of like the dark arts of duct testing. Necromancy if you will. It is really not but I think it is a great tool especially for homes with wall cavity returns. First off there is no tape to worry about. One simply sets up a Blower Door test. If you have software great if not no problem. One must take points from 50 to 5 If you download the spreadsheet you will see this. I start off with negative air handler off. I take my ten points and enter them in the spreadsheet. Negative 10 point BD test air handler on enter data, Positive BD 10 point test air handler off enter data, Positive BD 10 point test air handler on enter data.

You need solver on your excel spreadsheet and enable macros and hit solve. You now have a test and report. It shows return leakage, supply leakage, pressure differences and ELA. Not too shabby no blue tape no clean up and your done and you have both your BD and DB numbers.

How does it work?

For me it works like this Caveman performs BD tests like told, Caveman enters data like told, Caveman hits solve like told, Caveman have report and is happy. I referenced Necromancy above did I not did I also mention the PFM factor? Now for a math challenged individual that I am I will try to explain in simple terms that I have gleaned out of the papers. It is based on the fluid dynamic of pressure difference within the different points and conditions ie negative and positive handler on and off.  The dynamics are affected system use changing by the pressures of the handler being on. These are recorded and compared by the formulas plugged into the spreadsheet.  I am sure took allot of time to develop and my description is a bit primitive. There is a bunch of math which is not fuzzy to Ian, David, Max and Paul and many others but is to me.


Chances are you are going to have to change you range. In fact with the study linked below it suggests that for accuracy you must change your range. With a very leaky house it might behoove you to find out if you can test at 50pa or 5pa before you start as this can be annoying if you run tests and then cannot reach platforms. In other words don't assume it is going to work and don't leave your duct tester and blue tape at home.  The spreadsheet allows you to manipulate pressure numbers and plug them in but I am not sure this provides the needed information for a true test. Further if I can which step up or step down figures are acceptable. It does not like windy days

Is it Faster?

My experience has been yes, maybe and no. Some jobs it goes smooth and quick others not so much. The main issues is being at the end of the fourth multi point test and not being able to maintain a steady pressure in a leaky home. This can cause a total redo. Leaky homes are a challenge and especially so on windy days. This is true with all BD test so no surprise there but the need to ramp with accuracy can be a problem that is exasperated by 4 multipoint tests. The searching for a steady point to enter can be elusive in some conditions and or points. Because of this the speed of the test can vary.


I really like the test for retrofitting, fixing and analyzing very leaky duct systems. I think we have all had that test where we could not touch 25pa. This tool is excellent because it can help identify whether or not you should be looking for a supply disconnect or attend to a really crappy return or even both. Like all of our tests it is not an end game it is just one more tool that performs better than others under some conditions we see in the field. I personally would not use it for new system verification.

Glen Gallo

Saturday, November 23, 2013


When I saw ACI was heading for San Diego I knew this is one event I would like to attend. I did not sign up for early registration to which I am glad as Monday  I was working and there were little or no options as this project needed to move forward. 

I decided on making it Tuesday and made it to the show. As I looked at the workshops I saw Mike Rodgers was performing a marketing seminar. I have always felt that less than two hours is hardly enough time for a workshop so I decided that Mikes was a good fit. His workshop was running the entire day. I sat through the first part. It was well organized moved at a good flow and Mike is an excellent speaker. I wrote down some key notes. I felt the unit was more geared toward businesses larger than mine however. I understood much of the concepts as in a former life I have performed the leadership role and had a crew to run, customers to satisfy, vendors to follow up on, questions to be answered  and egos to be soothed. His point is well taken one must know how to delegate or tasks can simply not get done. 

However so far this Performance Contracting business has been a tough nut for me to crack. It is probable I am not spending enough time to grow it properly.  However the bills must be paid and my income streams that are working deserve more bathing time. I am sure the market part which Mike presented was fantastic as well, but I felt my time could be better served elsewhere. I look forward to having the material when it becomes available and reviewing it. And Mr. Rodgers I have no plan and that was an excellent point as Yogi put so well I might not get where I want to go without one. I would venture to say it is time for one, and for that alone the time was well spent. I got a chance to introduce myself to Mike as well. It is always a good thing to put a face on a name.

At the break I spent some time at the Vennmar booth and made a contact. I liked their products online and it was good to see one on the table in front of me.  I  have a package coming of pricing and equipment models. Very nice stuff, it was running on the table very quiet and the rep was able to answer all my questions. The fact that it one unit  boasts a hepa filter in the line makes this product even more attractive for IAQ.  The efficiency of the units is impressive. I understand the need for the oval return/supply save space on the unit but I am a fan(funny) of hard piping ventilation. The answer I can strap a band with flex falls a bit short for me. It would be nice to have an adaptor on the unit for ease of hard pipe installation.

 I spoke directly with Mr. Tamarack next. I really like the simplicity and price of three of the products. Two of which I had viewed on line and one I never heard of. It is nice to get something in your hands rather than view it on line. The two I knew of where the door vent and the jump duct. While I am not sure how many folks will want the door vent because of ascetics, the design and  idea is really fantastic. It looks way better up close than on the web. If form follows function  this product should be in every home. Most  air flow and pressure problems are solved with this simple slick product.  Don't want to cut your door? The jump duct solves that problem. What is kind of  neat is the baffles let air in but should be effective of reducing or eliminating light coming in. Looks like a heat vent adjustable sealed and pretty damm slick.  Both well designed and well priced effective solutions to pressure problem closed doors cause within a home.

What I was really excited about was the passive dampener. The display was very cool. My concerns of blockage and operation was overcome by Mr. Tamarack with good answers and a short education on materials and how they act in an air flow. This product is the proverbial build a better mouse trap. Very cool stuff.

I next went to a workshop with Ian Walker. It showed California homes and how the deep retrofits were done and what the results were. I was surprised at how much energy some of these homes consumed both before and after retrofits. I think Ian brings allot to the table not just with his experience but with his perspective. He was not shy to critique certain systems or techniques. He seems to favor simple solutions. I also liked how he was realistic about cost to tighten a home and where the diminishing returns might begin. 

 He was also realistic about the uniqueness of homes and their occupants and that there is no one size fits all.
It was interesting but honestly I might have been better served in Mikes class for this session as he was diving into marketing. Given his background I think he brings some push to the table in that arena. While I was not bored with Ian's presentation I also was not excited and could have gotten this from a pdf.

After lunch I followed Ian to his next presentation in a groupie like fashion. I was not stalking him just um ... really I wasn't.  A overview of the new 62.2 v2013 version explained by the Vice Chair of the committee I felt was worth a peek. This presentation was excellent. Ian was very deliberate in his approach in getting the material across.

He went over 2010 and what was different in 2013.  I now have a better understanding of what goes into the thought process of the guidelines. Also much to my dismay the California Special is what I need to learn.  Crap why do we have to be special, why oh why? At the end of the day it was not all that special and easy to grasp.

I did not raise my hand and ask if he thought the new standards were too high. I think that fight has been well vetted. Many of us know that there is still controversy and it might even fly in the face of best practices. It reminds me of what John Tooley referred to as herding cats. Bunch of smart folks in disagreement with their hair up claws out and way past backing down. While many of us in this industry find this fascinating and well worth discussion as do I. However we had very limited time and I felt this was more about learning what is in the code and why rather than fighting over the code. I think Mike Rodgers has a great analysis working  Alison Bales, Martin Holladay, Paul Francisco, Max Sherman and Joe Lstiburek in his blog There is enough of a breadcrumb trail for those that don't know of the debate it in the link above to go further as well.

This session was very useful as I have a better understanding of the code and what goes into it
He explained how the 2010 code did a poor job of accounting for very tight homes and that the weather data was refined and modernized.  He was quite clear that the guidelines were set to be a minimum and not failing.  The session was well organized and Ian has the ability to boil things down and make complicated point simpler. I wish there was a handout of the presentation for at least the formulas and key points.

 I introduced myself to Ian after the session. I thanked him for his work on Delta Q duct testing as I have used it many times. He said that RESNET was considering it as an acceptable test method which I think is great. I find it  useful especially on existing systems with unconditioned returns.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the conference and met with a few folks including Andy Wahl. I still am optimistic about my future in this field and hope to have it become my mainstream income. Now to drawing a map.

Monday, November 11, 2013

AB 327

So I met a man from SDG&E yesterday. It was a chance meeting as he was explaining to a customer how he was being charged for electricity. He was very informed and I picked his brain with a few question trying not to be to intrusive.  He explained some of the new changes in charges that will be forth coming. Not always keeping up on any trend I was unaware of it. 

The great Enron Crisis of 2000 caused sweeping changes in rates and how we as consumers we are charged for electricity. Deregulation of the industry caused greed on a scale that seems unreal when we look back at. The idea of deregulation was that with competition that lacked in this regulated industry would naturally bring prices down. It did not work. The epic failure was manipulation of natural gas prices at the border of California forcing the utilities to charge at an exorbitant rate for their product. This was made me interested in energy and saving energy way back when

The result was Gray Davis who was not in charge when deregulation took place was forced from office as a shamed Governor. Enron collapsed and took down a wide range of companies with it in a heap of financial wreckage. The CEC stepped in with sweeping changes for the electricity costs in California. The utilities no longer charged for electricity but for distribution. They still billed and collected but their profit was to maintain the lines provide administration and were effectively out of the selling of electricity  as a business.
What took place was the basic cost for electricity was fundamentally changed.  Part of the idea was that consumers had a right to a reasonable cost for base electricity.  So the tier system was put in place. While I cannot speak for every utility I am familiar with SDG&E. The residential billing works like this.

Tier 1 Baseline 0-278 KwH usage current cost 15 cents
Tier 2  270-361 KwH  usage current cost 18 cents
Tier 3 362-556 KwH usage current cost 37 cents
Tier 4 557-? KwH usage current cost 39 cents

This system which has been in place since 2000 has seen very little in increases in tier 1 and 2 and significant changes in tier 3 and 4. The general idea was those with fixed incomes that were conserving would have a predictable price for electricity moving forward. Higher users contributed at higher rates. This tier system helped fuel the California Solar initiative as those with heavy tier 4 cost could eliminate those through PV production reducing the pay off for a system

I found a document that puts the average* for California Electricity usage at 564 kwh that seems a bit low from what I have seen but I will use it. That makes the monthly electric bill at $ 133.00. I think it is reasonable to add another 30 dollars as a minimum for gas year round bringing us to about a $ 163 per month average. Now it is important to note in this average the customers sees some tier 4 pricing. So for every 2.5 kwh over this 564 average we see about a $ 1.00 more on our bill. So a heavy user with a pool, a couple of refrigerators, incandescent bulbs etc let's say up to 1000 kwh is paying over $ 300 per bill. So there was a real tangible incentive to save. Of note when I took the cost of our 564 KwH user of all the tiers based on todays prices it averaged to 24 cents, coincidence?

What is now being worked out is averaging the tiers and having one cost for electric. So as he explained that he thought the price would be close to 24 cents the average user like above would see no change with a 135 dollar bill. However I would see a significant increase as would any who have made efforts to conserve. I would see a 50% increase in my 310 kwh 25 month average from $ 47.00 to $ 74.00. Our 1000kwh user however sees a decrease of about 20 percent and the electric bill drops to $ 240. Not only that but every kwh used above that amount they are seeing a 45% savings from the current rate structure. Of note when I took the cost of our SDG&E 564 KwH user of all the tiers based on todays prices it averaged to 24 cents, coincidence?

So why is this happening? California Assemblyman Perra from the Central Valley introduced AB 327 many clamored for a more fair system. There is no doubt that what Perra was looking for is more than noble it was the right thing to do for his constituents. The Central Valley has a couple of things that caused them to feel unnecessary pain. It gets wicked hot and damm cold. Housing stock especially for the hard working farm community is in poor condition. Heating it and cooling it is expensive for the constituents and often pay is low. This is the bread basket of California and some of the most diverse productive farms in the world. This is not about being uncomfortable this about it not being unbearable.

I do not disagree, there are other communities here in California that could use this help as well. But I question is this the wisest way to fix this problem?  Can they not come up with reasonable tiers in areas of harsher climate so that the average family that is not living over the top can be in a livable condition without being gouged? Can we not still provide a system by where those that choose to use more electricity will pay a premium for that luxury.

 I think they got this wrong for a few reasons.

1) The original price is a lost leader because if there is no profit in electricity rates and you just gave most Californians a break which appears to be priced to low on it initial offering. With lowering water in the pool which it appears on the surface to be the case. The only way to fill the pool back up would be higher costs.

2) Jevons Paradox The efficiency of a resource tends to increase rather than decrease  the consumption of  that resource. In this case money is the resource that became more efficient so if this follows to be true as it often does then we can expect that many will buy more electricity as it is more affordable. Which would be fine if the goal was to use more electricity.

3)  The grid weak as it was with San Onofre  being pulled off  line crippling it further. Increasing use will push the grid against the wall. If demand goes up the probability of the rolling brownouts is real.

While on the surface it seems we have the best intentions with AB 327 but I am not sure it was thought all the way through. I think at the end of the day costs will go up for some and down for others but at the end of the day in my opinion use will go up and a raised rate cost will naturally follow.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Why I refuse to participate in Energy Upgrade California


When I first heard of Energy Upgrade California I was excited. Energy upgrade packages for existing homes with rebates sounded awesome. I attended the ACI conference in LA which was the kick off. The event was interesting as we heard from program developers of how the program would be initiated. I also attended some orientation sessions at the CCSE. I liked what I heard. As my business is primarily residential repairs and upgrades I thought this would be a perfect fit.

What I have found is the program is not what I expected.  I have sat on the sidelines refusing to critique or participate in the system. I think I have given it a long enough run and now I will explain my concerns.
The upgrades are consistent with Energy Pro calculations that estimate energy savings. Now to be fair I know a base has to be somewhere and Energy Pro is certainly a capable program. But the estimates are just that estimates. Living in San Diego and having the most mild climate makes modeling savings a challenge. While our money from the Utilities and the State of California is taken at the same percentages our rebates are severely compromised. We get less of the pie but no less of our contribution to this pie. This is simply not fair.

The system is very much geared toward equipment. An example would be that often duct sealing and air sealing have very low margins but replacing a HVAC has a high bar. Water Heater upgrades from the standard tank to a tank less have large margins. These margins often do not reflect real world savings.
Those that do not currently have HVAC and are looking to replace legacy furnaces and upgrade to AC see no benefit as an AC system was not in place to begin with and therefore may not be modeled. Because of this they might chose a less efficient model based on the rules of the program which is not the spirit of the program in my mind.

Work scope is controlled by an outside group. As a contractor this is what I find really problematic. I have to stand behind a  work scope not of my nor my customers choosing.  My initial audit is rendered useless as  program administrators duplicate the same process and then provide me with the accepted work scope. This duplicity makes no sense and our tax/utility dollars are wasted in the process. The original audit should simply be performed by the outside service if they control the work scope. Furthermore as the contractor I am married to a work scope that I might not agree with and responsible 100% of any liabilities that might arise in the future. I personally am not comfortable with such as system.

I must note that is not the CCSE I am criticizing.  I have always held a high opinion of CCSE here in San Diego and still do. The staff has always been responsive and eager to help. They have provided training classes and opportunities to connect with other professionals. They still provide this high level service as well as countless others. They listen to concerns and attempt to be as proactive as they can. I would have been far more comfortable with them running the program which sadly is not the case.

As we move forward control of such programs to ensure that tax/rate payer dollars are not wasted, upgrades are performed and provide reasonable work scope is imperative.  However having a quasi government organization with autocratic control over the entire program and 100 percent QA does not seem like a wise nor cost effective way to proceed in the future.  Furthermore rebates should be equitable for improvements regardless of weather conditions. 

This system is sadly broken. In conclusion I chose not to participate and see no reason to in the future. 

Washington's Spirit is Failing

 The spirit of George Washington has failed in the city that so proudly bears his name.   Freedom and Democracy that this great man be quested to all of world to witness and walked away from power to the amazement of the world.  King George III asked his American painter, Benjamin West, what Washington would do after winning independence. West replied, “They say he will return to his farm.” “If he does that,” the incredulous monarch said, “he will be the greatest man in the world.”

This selfless act for the greater good of the citizens of this United States lit a fire of freedom and self governing that still burns bright in the world today. . But the stench and burning of these very principles by our current Senate, Congress and President have left the light dim, the air hard to breathe and the world mocking us. They are laughing at the petty squabbling, the lack reason and love of power by those that represent us.

They forget this is the United States, United we stand Divided we fall. Not only are they steadfast in being divided but they care little for how far we fall and are committed to take us all with them into the abyss. This does not represent the principles of my family my friends or my neighbors and certainly does not represent my Country

I think I am most disappointed with the President Obama. I had so much hope when he was first elected. He promised how he would reach across the aisle and unite us all. I was inspired by his speeches and thought this was the turning point we needed as a country.

Instead we are burdened with a man in love with a legacy that he does not even own yet. So full of pride and the power of his office that he refuses to negotiate unless  he gets what he wants. How is this negotiating? Does he even know the meaning of the word?

I also have no love for the Tea Party and Speaker Boehner who are leading the charge straight into a Washington Political Massacre. They have thrown all their weight into a fight with no defined goal  based purely on opportunity and having the power to do so and could care less of the casualties it causes. A reckless ill-conceived battle plan based on indignation with little hope for any.

We need leaders. Somebody needs to step up and stand down for the greater good. George Washington would as would most Americans. We know that the need to be right is not noble but to do the right thing is. Our leaders have either forgotten this or never knew it. I hope they can either remember it or learn it for the sake of us all.