Monday, October 29, 2012

Building Science is not really science; it is more of a concept. While the concepts were developed by scientists the system itself is not really hard science. The concepts are generally employed by building analysts and construction professionals. While I consider myself a student of building science I do not consider myself a building scientist. I am simply a tradesman with special training. While some in the field might have different opinions about their role in this industry I am comfortable with my statement above.

Building science is easy and yet complex to explain, most of the concepts are simple scientific principles. We take the basic principle such as the laws of thermal dynamic and apply them and how they work within a building. We can easily determine that heat moves from hot to cold and that we want a barrier between our home and the outside. Not exactly hard to conclude.

Where we differentiate ourselves is through testing. We figure out through our blower door test how much is leaking and attempt discover where. As we seal the home we continue to test. We use our training and experience to try to determine if these changes will effect others systems within the house.

You will often here that we look at the house a system. We want this system working for you and not against you. How is the stack effect complicating the efficiency of your air conditioner? Why the house is going into negative pressure when the heater is turned on? Why does your bath fan not work? How can we get these systems working in concert, to provide safety, comfort and energy efficiency?

While some really smart people figured these concepts out. They tinkered, they theorized, they failed and they succeeded. They used this data and shared it and came up with a process to convey this complex information and boil it down into a simple system that could be taught.

I am one those that has studied these principles and has been taught the system. You never look at the house in the same way after this training.

Be Careful what you post

Reading this article simply supports my opinion of internet and social media postings. There was an incident with local high school students that gained national publicity which also involved facebook posting.  I often drive my children and the neighbor to High School and Middle school. In the car this subject came up regarding the high school students and the postings on facebook that made this a short lived national sensation.

My advice was simple “If you don’t want your parents to read what you are saying on facebook don’t post it, they can see it. Also future employers might see it. It’s just not a good idea to post something you might regret, be careful.”

The article in this morning’s paper is another example of this same subject. While the reporter takes the side of the young woman whom was terminated I do not. Her wreck less and inflammatory language posted on a public site was simply a poor decision. The fact that she is an aspiring teacher further exasperates the poor decision on her part.

While I agree with her premise that teen pregnancy is not a good idea, I disagree on many levels of how she supported this opinion from the brief explanation from the article. I would also question the wisdom of having a person that cannot convey an argument intelligently teaching children. Furthermore I would hope that teachers are smart enough not to post inflammatory comments online for the whole world to see including their students.

While a harsh way to learn a lesson I do not think the reaction was unfair. Actions have consequences. While I do not wish her ill in the future and I do think that she should be given another chance but not at this school district. I support the school district and agree with their statement. I applaud them for making the difficult decision.

The question that Mathew posts at the end of the column directed at the outraged citizen I feel is way off the mark “The questions stand: Does Gutterud see herself as a role model? Do you?” This question appears to be an attempt to bully a concerned citizen that objects to behavior that many in society would deem to be unacceptable. I would hope that if Gutterud did not act someone else would.

I will in turn ask Mathew that do you deem someone that proudly and publicly proclaims  “I ------ all through high school and because i was ‘RESPONSIBLE’ I never got knocked up!!!”” on a thread called “I Hate Teen Moms” an excellent candidate to teach children? 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why was the plug pulled on Google PowerMeter?

Why was the plug pulled on Google PowerMeter? 

Google’s philanthropic branch launched Google PowerMeter in February 2009. Its goal was to put the power of seeing electricity usage into the hands of the consumer. The idea was born of a study that showed that those that had access to daily energy data reduced usage by 10 percent. A powerful concept that information delivered could have such a great effect.

I was lucky enough to live in SDG&E territory and smart meters have been installed. I received a postcard from SDG&E inviting me and 100,000 of my fellow San Diegans to join Google PowerMeter. I also receive emails from the CCSE ( so I was in the loop. I installed the software and awaited the launch.

The data was excellent. It would show always on usage so you could see your baseline make changes and see immediate effect which in turn is immediate satisfaction in my estimation. You could look at hourly charts, daily charts, weekly charts, yearly charts. The ability to set goals was also part of the system and you could see when you met these goals with a star designation on that day of your data. I had it on my Google home page and it was up every time I booted up my system as I have Google as my homepage.

All this data for the price of nothing, zilch, nada, neinte, ingting.  The price was certainly right. The product performed well. It was available to a large city whose utility promoted the service. With all this going for it why did it fail?

 On September 16th 2011 Google pulled the plug on PowerMeter.
A criticism I had right away was that it did not include gas to which is also billed from the same utility with smart meters also installed.  How hard would it be to track both and make the tool twice as powerful?

With PowerMeter shuttering its door there are many theories.
Not available on a Universal scale.
The 24 hour lag time and no access to real time data.
The Utilities didn’t want it to succeed and buried it into obscurity
Pressure from Wall Street to stop “wasting money” on unpopular projects
Lack of access by third party developers 
Lack of commitment by Google

While I can agree with the first point that it was not available on a large scale out the gate I am not sure that is reason enough for its failure. The immediate data is a good point but does that cause you not to even use it? That the utilities buried it into obscurity sound a bit conspiracy theory like and  does not make sense. SDG&E has a watered down version available on the web immediately after Google shuttering its door. It is called Energy Charts and is not as sexy as PowerMeter but is quite good and the data is there. If they are attempting to hide it then why spend money to keep a version of it.  I seriously doubt that Wall Street dictates anything to Google. When Wall Street has that power I would suggest you dump your shares if you are holding it. Third party developers felt left out but there is a privacy issue as well. If Google couldn’t give it away where was the market for the third party developers? Google has increased its investment in green technology to over 700 million so far in 2011. That shows a pretty strong commitment to me.

So why did it fail then?

I think the answer is quite simple really. Energy Costs are not painful enough for most to show interest. It is a strange commodity in the sense that every customer is more willing to accept the bill as the part of the cost of living. And we all have to live. While families will often cut back to save for whatever reason the power bill is often overlooked and or the last place they look to save. It seems only the folks who are already interested in saving electricity costs are the ones that signed up to use PowerMeter. According to Wiki, about six percent of SDG&E customers signed up for PowerMeter or a total of 11,000 homes.
I would contend that with a two year run and a six percent penetration the market is clearly apathetic. That apathy, more than anything else is the reason I believe is responsible for the failure of PowerMeter.

Is it all doom and gloom for the energy efficiency market?

Hardly, I will take the half full glass please.  94 percent of the market is out there waiting for the news. It is easy to save on power consumption with the right information. The costs are low and the paybacks fast. Real energy savings work every day and night of the week rain or shine. The house as a system approach leads to a healthier more energy efficient environment where we spend a great deal of time, our home. The market is there undeveloped

Saturday, October 6, 2012

What does the the N factor stand for?

I have a theory for what the N stands for in the N factor but really no clue. I understand what the n factor intends to do and how to use it but fail to understand how it applies in the real world and in particular to San Diego.

The N factor is a correction number that smooths the data for blower door numbers in multiple climate zones of homes of different size and height and brings the homes into a level playing field. We then can use this number to determine ventilation rates and put everyone on the same page.

Using the N factor is rather simple. We take the number and plug it into a formula. See my MVG page*.
It’s simple its slick and it is easy to use. It is even been updated in a new ASHRAE formula that I learned about in a training session that I was fortunate to attend taught by ventilation guru Paul Raymer, great class and very informative. At one point the class went to using the new N formula. We did the math for our climate zone plugged the numbers in and Voila, our 2500 sq ft 2 story home here in San Diego needs ventilation at 2778 cfm50. Paul asks for what number should we shoot for a tight home? 2500 the answer comes from the back.

I sat and said nothing but inside I was screaming “2500 cfm50 is not a tight home! It’s a %$#^&* colander with a roof and a door!” Paul had allot to teach and the class was moving fast so I kept it to myself. This conversation is not for this class.

So as we use the N factor and on face value it says if your home meets a certain tightness limit you need mechanical ventilation. Now I have no issue with the mechanical ventilation part but have some major issues with the factor N tightness thresholds. As we explain this we contend if your house reaches a certain tightness level you need Mechanical Ventilation. Right or wrong explanation it is one I have often heard. Why is my tightness level so out of whack and not tight at all?

I have a basic MVG calculator* that I use from the BPI standard that uses the LBL N factor and the one that most of us have been trained in. I will use it for this discussion. First there are four climate zones for the United States. Really? Only four? Heck we have 16 climate zones according to California standards and four right here in San Diego County. Fine let’s accept four and move on.

So we will figure out a 1000 sq ft shielded one story home and the MVG for each home in the following

Zone 1 Fargo ND                  MVG=  871
Zone 2 Ellenville NY             MVG= 1039  Fargo plus 19 percent
Zone 3 Miami Fl                   MVG= 1207  Fargo plus 39 percent
Zone 4 San Diego CA           MVG=1376 Fargo plus 59 percent

Ok so lets take this data and bring into basic blower door formulas***and estimate the size hole we will have for each home at this MVG I am using a basic formulas for comparison. I got these formulas from a post on JLC by Martin Holiday** of Green Building Advisor but I plugged it into a excel spreadsheet a long time ago. I think I might have gotten a couple of others from other locations as well. I did not develop any of these on my own. While these numbers might not be precise they should serve for comparison.
                                       Natural Infiltration      ACH        EqLA        ELA
Fargo  ND                        43.5                                 6.5           87.1         48
Ellenville  NY                   52                                    7.79         104           58
Miami       FL                  60.35                               9.05          121          67
San Diego   CA               68.8                                 10.32         137          76 

So let’s look at our houses Lets say they are 25 wide by 40 feet long we then have a surface area of 3040
Fargo ND    We have a total leakage of 2.875 percent or a window open at all times of about 7x7 open
Ellenville NY we have a total leakage of 3.425 percent or a window open at all times of 7.5 x7.5
Miami FL we have a total leakage of 4 percent or a window open at all times of 8x8
San Diego CA we have a total leakage of 4.5 percent or a window open at all times of  8.5x8.5 and that this is where I am considered a tight house

I would argue that none of these homes are tight. But why does the home in San Diego require ventilation at almost 60 percent higher rate of leakage than Fargo ND? This is rather counter intuitive. I am certainly more inclined to have a window open in the winter, spring, fall and summer than my neighbor in Fargo due to weather conditions. The chance of me getting fresh air from an open window for natural ventilation year round are greater in my area than any other in the US. We have little to worry about with humidity. I heard a comedian once refer to San Diego as a huge unfurnished apartment. I am simply lost when looking for reason for this standard. Why are we required mechanical ventilation before any other climate zone but more importantly why are we considered tight at such a loose state?

Quite honestly it is not the mechanical ventilation I have issue with. it is simply a good idea. Seal it tight and Ventilate it right.

 What makes this tricky in my minds eye is that we use this formula as a delta of which homes are loose and which homes are tight. My main concern of course is in my territory. How do I convey to my customer base that the national recognized standard is pretty much laughable and that almost any home can reach the tightness level by simply closing their doors and using a can a spray foam in a couple of key areas here in Americas Finest City. That when we reach our “tightness” level we are looser than a nut without a bolt. Our infiltration rate in a “tight” home is unacceptable and should be thrown out into the trash and moved on down the road buried and forgotten.

I don’t know what the answer is but I do know I don’t like it when I have to label a home with somewhere around 10 ach and more than a 75 sq ft hole in the structure as tight. I know I want my customer’s homes far below that level before I would entertain the thought they are tightened up on their envelope.

And while I respect the folks at LBL and recognize that they probably forgot yesterday more than I will ever know about blower door data I am not in love with the N factor. 

I think it stands Necromancy.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Dubious Marketing

Dubious Marketing

I was perusing the Home Energy Pros post as I often do and ran across a post regarding a radiant barrier insulation product Costco was offering.
There were some negative comments from the group regarding claims of energy savings and product selection. I did not disagree with them but looking at the video I thought the workmanship looked pretty good and thought that while they were only adding R-11 it might do the home owner some good if they performed some duct sealing, air sealing and insulation realignment before applying the product.

I then found their website and looked and thought nice slick and easy. Well put together and easy to get around. I notice they have a number of products such as insulation, air sealing, a refrigerant charge check. Although many of these things are using proprietary name brands with some dubious marketing, however solid recommendations and not all smoke and (see radiant barrier) mirrors.

I then move to their FAQ page an find this little gem

Why don’t building codes specify E-values as well as R-values?

In the last century, the only cost-effective insulation for the home was mass insulation like fiberglass, cellulose and foam that reduced heat transfer by convection and conduction. The was the measure of how good a job those insulators did. Yet R-value measures only the smallest part of residential heat transfer. E-value is the measure of emissivity, radiant heat transfer, the principle source of energy loss. New technologies make it practical to achieve extremely low emissivity in window glass and in a reflective film ideal for the attic. As these low-E technologies advance, the codes will catch up and E-value will replace R-value as the primary measure of energy efficiency

Ok now I have a bit more of an issue than my original glance at their product offering. 

The above statement was pulled straight from the website is for lack of a better word is ridiculous. Why would intelligent people print this statement? Is it so difficult to sell their product that they have to take solid science and twist it into half and even non truths and then push forward with serious leaps of faith for conclusions?

As we push forward in this industry I think that good marketing is important. I personally lack this ability as I have struggled with finding my groove. If in order to sell my service I need to misinform and practice dubious marketing I choose not to play.

Glen Gallo
Red E3