Tag Archives: Retrofit

Know your home rebates



The “Ask a Builder” series is dedicated to answering some of the many questions Fairbanks residents have about building, energy and the many other parts of home life.

Q: Many people are fixing their old home and getting a rebate from the state. Is there still rebate money available for building a new home?

The statesponsored Energy Rebate Program for new construction is still active, although continuous longterm funding is uncertain. Any homeowner who builds a home that meets the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC) 5Star Plus energy standards is eligible for a $7,500 rebate, however there are some important details that determine who qualifies and a specific process that must be followed.

The program operates from a statewide waiting list on a firstcome, firstserved basis. So the sooner you sign up, the better your chances are for benefiting from the program. The first step is to get on the waiting list. Locally, the staff of CCHRC’s Portal on Retrofits Training and Loans (PORTAL) can guide you every step of the way.

Call 455HEAT (4-328) or contact the AK Rebate Call Center tollfree at1-877AKREBATE (1-877-257-3-228). Once your name reaches the top of the list, AHFC sends out two forms: “5 Star Plus New Construction Energy Rebate Encumbrance Request” and the “5 Star Plus New Construction Energy Rebate Form.” As an ownerbuilder, when you submit the completed forms, you must also include a copy of an energy rating taken from the building plans that validates that the home will meet 5 Star Plus standards, which can be found on the AHFC website: www. ahfc. state.

ak. us. Once AHFC receives and approves the forms, $7,500 is set aside for one year during which the house must be completed.

There are several criteria to meet to be eligible for the program.

Only the original owner qualifies for the rebate, and the home must serve as the primary residence.

If the home is purchased from a builder, it cannot be more than one year old at the time of the first sale. Ownerbuilders can qualify too, however the home cannot be occupied for more than one year from the date of completion.

To qualify if you are an ownerbuilder , you will have to submit the right forms to the state once the home has been completed. These forms include the “Building Energy Efficiency Standard Certification (BEES),” which certifies that the home was built to meet the 5 star Plus thermal and ventilation standards. The form can be signed by a certified home inspector , engineer , energy rater , architect, or the builder if he/ she is approved to certify and has met the current BEES training and testing requirements.

A “Summary of Building Inspection” form must also be submitted, which validates that the home was built in compliance with local building codes. This form must be signed by a statecertified building inspector who has conducted all the inspections during the construction process, starting with the building’s footings. For this reason, it is important to begin the rebate process and hire an inspector before breaking ground on the home. Finally , the finished home must also have an energy audit.

These three forms must be completed, signed by the appropriate authorities, and submitted to AHFC with the reimbursement form. Although this process may sound complicated, the new home construction rebate is a great opportunity for an ownerbuilder or new homebuyer to offset a significant portion of the construction costs, and ultimately enjoy the long term financial and environmental benefits of building an energy efficient home.

Alaska HomeWise articles promote home awareness for the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC). If you have a question, email us at akhomewise@cchrc.org.You can also call the CCHRC at (9-07) 457-3-454.

Energy rating program still available for Alaska homeowners

By CCHRC Staff

The “Ask a Builder” series is dedicated to answering some of the many questions Fairbanks residents have about building, energy and the many other parts of home life.

Q: A lot of people are participating in the rebate program to make their home more energy efficient. I was under the impression that program had ended but it seems there are still people doing it. What is the case?

At this point, the rebate program is being sustained by money that was “set aside” for homeowners, but never collected — perhaps they decided not to continue with the program, did not make their 18-month deadlines or only collected $5,000 of the $10,000 the program set aside for them. In these cases, the money goes back into the “pot” and new participants are allowed in.

You can still get on the waiting list for an energy rating and participate in the program. When you sign up, Alaska housing will confirm there is funding available for your rebate. If there is, you will be assigned an energy rater. That person will come to your home and perform a blower door test to determine the efficiency of your home. Once you have the report and required documents, submit that to AHFC (Alaska Housing Finance Corp.) and the money will be set aside in your name.

As soon as you have your energy rating done you can start making improvements.

Those building or buying new homes can also still apply for the 5 Star Plus new construction rebate.

This part of the program gives homeowners a flat $7,500. These folks must call the PORTAL to get on the wait list for an application.

If there is money available, it will be encumbered for you after AHFC receives your application and a preliminary rating from your building plans, along with other required documents.

After you have completed your new home, or home improvements, you will submit a copy of your second energy rating along with the required documents and paperwork in order for AHFC to take that available money and release it to you within 60 business days.

If you want to sign up for the program, or have any questions, the PORTAL is available locally to answer questions about the rebate program. Its office is open at the Cold Climate Housing Research Center, Monday through Friday (call 455-HEAT for an appointment). You can also sign up by visiting www.akrebate.com.

Q: I’m building a new home. Can I strategically orient my home in a way that will save me money?

The money-saving benefits from orienting a home center around passive heat gain. “Passive” means no mechanical system is producing the heat. Passive solar is a viable method of heating, as the sun just comes in through the windows and heats the home. Many south-facing lots in the Fairbanks North Star Borough see a decrease in oil usage when the sun comes back in late February and March. The same benefit takes place in the fall, but there is a more noticeable difference in spring because a homeowner can turn down the thermostat rather that up.

Facing a home towards the south and strategically placing windows on the south face of the home will maximize light intake and support passive heating.

Alaska HomeWise articles promote home awareness for the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC). If you have a question, e-mail us at akhomewise@cchrc.org.You can also call the CCHRC at (907) 457-3454.

Stock up that refrigerator — it could save you money

Ask a Builder

By Cold Climate Housing Research Center Staff

 Q: I heard a full refrigerator uses less electricity. Is that true?

When it comes to fridges and freezers, always try to keep them full. These appliances measure the temperature in the storage space and adjust to keep that temperature below a certain level. The more empty space, the more energy needed to keep that space cold. Since it is not always possible to keep your refrigerator or freezer full, it helps to fill up old milk jugs with water and put them inside to take up space.

Q: What are my options for putting insulation on the outside of my house?

Locally sold rigid foams work quite well. White foam, which is expanded polystyrene, or EPS, and blue and pink foams, which are extruded polystyrene, or XPS, all work well. Foil-faced foams also work well and have the highest R-value. The foil facing also makes them impermeable to moisture. 

Remember, any time foam is applied to the outside of a home, it will make the home much “tighter” — the building will have fewer cracks and holes.

The “Ask a Builder” series is dedicated to answering some of the many questions Fairbanks residents have about building, energy and the many other parts of home life.

How You Can Help to Make HOME STAR a Reality

From efficiencyfirst.org:

HOME STAR is proposed new legislation to create jobs in existing industries by providing strong short-term incentives for energy efficiency improvements in residential buildings. The program will move quickly, with a minimum of red tape, and will act as a bridge to long-term market development of existing industries. This initiative establishes a $6 billion rebate program to encourage immediate investment in energy-efficient appliances, building mechanical systems and insulation, and whole-home energy efficiency retrofits. HOME STAR will rapidly create jobs in both construction and manufacturing, while saving families money on their energy bills. It will build on current state programs and existing industry capacity for performing both retrofits and quality assurance, using federal standards and incentives as a common platform to lower program costs and increase consumer awareness.

Click here for more information on how you can help to make Home Star a reality.

Prevent heat loss with exterior insulation

By Cold Climate Housing Research Center Staff

The “Ask a Builder” series is dedicated to answering some of the many questions Fairbanks residents have about building, energy and the many other parts of home life.

These days, it is popular to put foam insulation on the outside of buildings.  How did all this come about? 

      A building loses heat through its framing, which is called “thermal bridging.”  Wood has less insulative value than any kind of insulation.  For instance, a wood stud has an R-value of 1.25 per inch.  If a building has a standard framed wall, whether it is 2×4 construction, or 2×6 construction, the studs span from the interior of the wall to the exterior of the wall. For a 2×6 wall, that would give you an R-value of about R-7 where the stud is located.  If you were to take all the studs in a wall and stack them side by side, you would have a wall that is 11-25% wood depending on how it is built.  Even if a wall is full of R-21 fiberglass insulation, the insulative value of the wall is dramatically worse when you average in the less insulative value in the wood.

      At least 20 years ago builders began experimenting with putting insulation on the outside of homes as a way to stop heat loss created by thermal bridging. Adding foam to the outside of a wall “wraps” your home in a continuous layer of insulation, thus preventing other building materials from conducting heat to the outside and cutting down on the air leaking out of your house.  This technique has been used in many cold climate regions.  The PERSIST (Pressure Equalized Rain Screen Insulated Structure Technique) is an exterior insulation technique that has been used in Canada for many years, while the REMOTE (Residential Exterior Membrane Outside Insulation Technique) Wall System is popular here in the Interior. 

Where can I recycle glass in the interior? 

      Recycling glass is a challenge because the material is heavy and difficult to ship out of Fairbanks and then out of Alaska.  Also, Anchorage recently ended their glass recycling program, in part because the market for glass is currently not very good. 

      Here in Fairbanks, there are a few small artisan-type businesses that are reusing glass, but they cannot handle large volumes and typically have more than they need already.  However, the Borough Recycling Commission is looking at ways to use glass here locally potentially as road fill and construction fill.  These plans will take time to develop, so if you have any input, contact the Recycling Commission through the Fairbanks North Star Borough at 459-1000. 

Alaska HomeWise articles promote home awareness for the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC).   If you have a question, e-mail us at akhomewise@cchrc.org.  You can also call the CCHRC at (907) 457-3454.

Ventilation is key when fighting condensation around your home


By CCHRC Staff

The “Ask a Builder” series is dedicated to answering some of the many questions Fairbanks residents have about building, energy and the many other parts of home life.

Q: How can I keep condensation off my windows in the winter?

Condensation is a product of the relationship between humidity and temperature.

The warmer the indoor air is, the more water vapor it can hold. When the air moves next to a window it can no longer hold the same amount of water vapor because the temperature is colder close to the window. This is when you start seeing condensation forming. As an example, if your indoor temperature is 70 degrees and outdoor temperature is 0, then moisture will begin to condense on a single-pane window when there is roughly 15 percent relative humidity in the house. A double-pane will be subject to condensation at around 25 percent to 40 percent humidity, and a triple-pane will fall into a range of around 30 percent to 50 percent. These number ranges are based on average window insulation values.

A really good triple-pane window may be able to withstand significantly higher humidity levels before condensation occurs. The target humidity levels for occupant comfort in a home range from about 30 percent to 50 percent, however the lower end of this spectrum is considered safer in cold climates such as ours, due to concerns with condensation within walls and ceilings. When the humidity is really low, some people become prone to respiratory infections. Of course high humidity can cause similar problems with bacteria and mold growth in the building. As the winter air in Fairbanks is so cold and dry, it is usually difficult to attain anything close to 50 percent humidity in a properly ventilated house.

To keep condensation off windows, make sure your home is properly ventilated.

The presence of excess moisture around windows is a good indicator of the effectiveness of ventilation in your home. Shoot for the low end of the target humidity range, to keep both you and your home healthy.

Q: Can I face repercussions if my home is violating building code or it is out of date?

In Fairbanks, building inspectors primary focus is on new construction and remodels. When you are remodeling a home that is not built to code, inspectors only require that any new work meets current code.

Older parts of a building that are not involved in the remodel are not subject to same requirements, unless the inspector sees a situation that could jeopardize the life and safety of the occupants.

When it comes to code compliance, it is important to be aware that building codes are updated and revised on a regular basis. If your home is not up to date, do not panic.

Inspectors are not police that travel around town making sure residents bring their houses up to code. But remember, building codes exist to ensure the health and safety of the occupants, so a compliant house is a safe house. Furthermore, if you plan on selling your home, a buyer or lender may want an inspection before the sale is final. Any code violations will likely have to be corrected at that time. It would be better to deal with those issues before selling your home.

Alaska HomeWise articles promote home awareness for the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC). If you have a question, e-mail us at akhomewise@cchrc.org. You can also call the CCHRC at (907) 457-3454.

How to cope with outside insulation


By CCHRC Staff

The “Ask a Builder” series is dedicated to answering some of the many questions Fairbanks residents have about building, energy and the many other parts of home life.

Q: What are some of the risks with adding insulation to the outside of my home?

It is a complex issue, and what works in one part of the state may not necessarily work in another. The key to successful exterior insulation is to keep moisture from entering the wall from the inside and from the outside. If you cannot ensure this will not happen, then you are insulating at your own risk. If too much moisture moves into your walls or ceiling, then you could end up with mold and rot.

For years, people in Fairbanks and other parts of the state have been applying various amounts of foam insulation to the exterior of their houses. However, this method can also contribute to moisture problems if not done correctly. These problems can originate from inside or outside the house.

In local building code, cold climate construction requires a vapor retarder, placed near the interior wall surface. Most times this consists of a well-sealed layer of polyethylene under the sheetrock.

This barrier membrane is designed to prevent indoor moisture from getting inside walls where it can condense. When you have heat and humidity inside, and a leaky vapor barrier, moisture may get inside a wall. If there are not enough outside layers of foam insulation, this moisture will cool, condense and begin causing problems. Having the proper ratio of insulation on the outside of the wall to insulation on the inside of the wall will help solve this problem.

Also, if you have a good existing interior vapor retarder and add exterior foam, you are creating, what many call, a “double vapor barrier,” as the foam is also relatively impermeable. Should enough moisture find its way into a wall under these conditions, it may have a difficult time drying out.

In some environments, there is the possibility that rain water can work its way into the wall, especially in combination with wind. To minimize these problems, your home may benefit from large overhangs, gutters and proper drainage. Another option is a good draining type of house wrap installed in combination with adhesive or metal flashings, which are applied before putting on the foam. These steps will ensure that if any water gets behind the foam, it will drain down into the ground rather than soak into your framing.

If you put exterior insulation on your house, it will become much tighter. As a result, your indoor humidity levels may increase and the house may no longer receive enough fresh air, making it necessary to better ventilate your home.

An early indicator of elevated indoor humidity levels are your windows. If you are seeing a lot of condensation, especially on a good quality doublepane or triple-pane, that is a good reason to look for a cause.

Q: Are electric stoves more energy efficient than propane ranges?

Strictly, electric energy is very efficient in a range, but it depends on what the cost of propane is, and what the cost of power is in relation. You would have to figure out how much energy, in BTUs, you are getting out of your propane and what you are paying for your kilowatt hours, and compare the two.

Alaska HomeWise articles promote home awareness for the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC). If you have a question, e-mail us at akhomewise@cchrc.org. You can also call the CCHRC at (907) 457-3454.

Tuck offers homeowners help with energy upgrades

From Alaska Dispatch, Sunday, January 17, 2010:

An Anchorage lawmaker says he’ll file a bill offering middle class homeowners — strapped for cash and still reeling from high energy costs — a back door into energy efficiency upgrades.

We reported recently on the lack of follow through by thousands of Alaskans who started a home energy efficiency rebate program, funded by the Legislature and managed by Alaska Housing Finance Corp. Those who start with a baseline efficiency audit have 18 months to fund repairs, schedule an audit of efficiency gains, and apply for up to $10,000 in state reimbursements. That window is running out for many folks.

Rep. Chris Tuck, an Anchorage Democrat, talked with people in his district and discovered some who have been hit pretty hard by the 2009 economic collapse. The families make too much too qualify for a low-income state weatherization program, but are dealing with high credit card debt, receding retirement accounts and investments, and, at times, negative equity in their homes.

Those circumstances can make it pretty tough to pay several thousand dollars up front for efficiency upgrades, even with a state reimbursement likely down the road, Tuck acknowledged.

Click here to read the full story.

Windows offer more than a view, but you have to know what you’re installing


By CCHRC Staff

The “Ask a Builder” series is dedicated to answering some of the many questions Fairbanks residents have about building, energy and the many other parts of home life.

Q: What windows are preferred for a passive solar home, double- or triple-pane? With or without coatings? Which coatings? What type of glass? Assuming standard building insulation, what is the sweet spot for percentage of glass area?

A: The idea for a passive solar home is a good one, but offers some significant challenges in our climate.

Based on a 1970’s study by University of Alaska researchers, in Fairbanks, for every month of the year besides December, a net energy gain with south-facing windows is possible, but only when the sun is out.

Given that our winters are very cold and have much longer periods of darkness, the heat losses through windows during the dark periods are much greater than the gains we make when the sun is shining. The solution here is a system of insulated exterior shutters. Then, even here in Fairbanks, you could have a house which benefits from a net solar gain for 11 months.

Unfortunately, a perfect heavily insulated shutter system has yet to be invented, but people have built their own shutter systems in typical Alaska style — anything from putting on a piece of 2-inch blue foam to a raise-able shutter that can be engaged with a hand crank from the inside. Keep in mind that, as with all sources of energy, you will make maximum use of solar gain by having an extremely well-insulated building shell. If you have an underinsulated, leaky house, you won’t get the same results.

In a cold climate, we want a window with a low U-value. The U-value represents the rate of heat transfer through the glass. The U-value is usually listed on a sticker on the window or is available from the dealer.

Currently, Alaska Housing Finance Corporation requires a “5-Star Plus” home in Fairbanks to have a window with a U-value of 0.25 or lower, which typically means a triple-pane window.

When it comes to glass and coatings, because we are primarily interested in optimum thermal performance, nearly all windows geared toward our climate will have some variation of low emissivity (low-E) coating designed to reflect radiant heat. Low-E glass usually has some type of metallic film bonded to one of the faces.

For a window with good insulating value, we want a coating that allows some of the short wave infrared energy from the sun to enter the house while minimizing how much of the long wave infrared radiation escapes from the heated space through the glass. This is a balancing act that is dependent on the types of coatings used, and which side of the panes of glass they have been placed on. Coating technology is improving steadily and it is worth the time to research the performance for any type of window line you are considering for purchase.

When it comes to finding the sweet spot of how much surface area should be glass, this varies too, depending on what you are trying to achieve.

In order to comply with the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation “5-star Plus” home requirements, the total window surface area should not exceed 15 percent of the above-grade wall area. The Fairbanks City Building Department uses the same standard. If you go over 15 percent, you will have to make up for those energy losses somewhere else. Often this means adding more insulation to another part of the building. The location of the glass also factors in: south facing works best while north facing should be minimized.

There is much more information on the subject than covered here, but an excellent resource is “A Solar Design Manual for Alaska” written by Rich Seifert from the UAF Cooperative Extension Service.

The book is readily available and accessible online.

Also, Seifert usually teaches a class on solar design in the spring, which is highly recommended to anyone interested in the concept.

Alaska HomeWise articles promote home awareness for the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC). If you have a question, e-mail us at akhomewise@cchrc.org. You can also call the CCHRC at (907) 457-3454.