Tag Archives: Retrofit

PORTAL and ACHP to host consumer workshops

Learn how to do or direct your own energy efficient improvements. Attend an informative workshop FREE TO THE PUBLIC! Workshops are brought to you by Alaska Housing Finance Corporation.

The following workshops will be held from 6-8 pm at the Cold Climate Housing Research Center, 1000 Fairbanks Street, near West Valley High School and the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Call 907-457-3454 for directions.

February 1, 2010: Building Science Basics

February 2, 2010: Air Tightness

February 3, 2010: Ice Dams

February 4, 2010: Lighting & Appliances

February 8, 2010: Heating & Hot Water

February 9, 2010: Doors & Windows

February 10, 2010: Insulation

February 11, 2010: Ventilation

Frosty rooftop vents might mean trouble in the attic


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: I have a cold roof. The other day I noticed frost on the vents that are high up on the end walls of my house.

What should I do?

Frost on roof vents of a cold roof indicate you might have air leakage and moisture coming from somewhere inside the house, more than likely through the ceiling. So you have warm air getting into the attic, then out through the vents where it condenses and forms hoarfrost. There are a lot of places this leaking can occur. You could have a chimney or plumbing penetrations going through the ceiling that aren’t sealed properly, poorly sealed can lights, holes in your vapor barrier, or bathroom vents and fans that are broken or not properly connected to the outside.

When it warms up, crawl up into the attic and take a look. If there is so much frost that it is building up on the outside, then there could be some moisture damage inside.

Q: Are there any cautions for replacing windows in the winter?

Flanged windows, especially vinyl ones, get brittle in the extreme cold, so handling them takes a bit more care. Also, expanding spray foam, used to seal the gaps between the window and the framing, doesn’t cure well in low temperatures. The can instructions are pretty specific in this regard, and if you install a foam backer rod into the gap first, which stops the airflow from the outside, then you can spray the foam and it should work.

Q: What are some general rules on when to plug in your automobile?

The rule of thumb that the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservations provides is to plug in for at least a couple hours when it’s 20°F or colder.

I think most of us have realized that if it’s 20°F, you can get by plugging in at a lesser amount and if it’s quite a bit colder you need to plug in longer. If you find you need to leave your car plugged in substantially longer before it starts smoothly, then you car may need some maintenance.

Q: I hear the word “retrofit” being used a lot in talks about fixing up an old house.

What’s the difference between retrofitting and renovating?

Renovating simply means restoring something, making it look new again, or repairing it.

Retrofitting is modifying something old with new technology. In a home, upgrading an older energy system, using a new technique to insulate walls or replacing outof- date windows with new ones are examples of retrofitting.

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.

Get the most out of that energy-sucking kitchen device: Your refrigerator


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: Refrigerators are expensive to operate. How can I make sure mine is using less energy?

In terms of energy efficiency, refrigerators are often ignored but use a large percentage of a home electricity budget. And typically, a new refrigerator with automatic defrost and a topmounted freezer uses about half the energy of a 1990 version.

So use that as a benchmark. If your refrigerator is old and needs repairs or is close to the end of its expected life (which could be around 15 years), then it makes good sense to replace it.

In terms of maintenance, check door seals. Sometimes the seals get brittle or lose their compressive memory which can cause small gaps. As a rule of thumb, you do not want to be able to take a piece of paper and slide that between the seal and the refrigerator case. Another method is to close a flashlight inside the fridge. If you turn off the lights in the room and can still see light coming out of the fridge, then it’s probably time to replace the seals.

Also, the refrigerator compartment should be between 36F and 38F and the freezer should be between 0F and 5F. You can’t always trust the dial in the fridge to do that, so if you really want to be sure, put a thermometer in there and use the fridge dial setting as a point of reference to make sure the temperature is correct. Another important thing to look at is cleaning the condenser coils once a year. Those coils are at the back or bottom fridge. When coated with dust they make the fridge work harder and thus use more energy.

The location of your fridge is key. If the refrigerator is in the sun, next to the stove, or any other warm space, it will use more energy trying to stay cold.

A fridge in a cool space will help save energy.

When you’re preparing food to go into the fridge, let it cool down fully before storing away.

Remember, a refrigerator is a temperature-regulating appliance. Hot food will raise the temperature inside the compartment and the fridge will have to work harder to bring that temperature down to the proper level.

If you are looking into buying a new fridge, top and bottom units tend to be more efficient than side-by-side units. However, the bottom line when buying a fridge or any appliance is to look at the yellow Energy Star tag.

Energy Star information will tell you kilowatt hours per year for your model, which you can compare with other models.

Q: Why is it so important to seal around fixtures like vents, can lights and such?

If these areas are in an exterior wall and not properly sealed, air and moisture will easily move through these areas. You don’t want to be losing heat, or pushing moisture into walls or the roof. Moisture getting into a roof can cause rot, mold, ice jams and a variety of other problems.

Typically on new construction these areas are sealed. Even more convenient: many new building materials have gaskets that seal to the vapor barrier. However, older homes have electrical boxes, recess lighting, exhaust fans and other components that often were not sealed when installed. Air can easily pass into the attic space through these gaps. To seal, use spray foam or caulk which should seal these areas well.

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.

Got icy window panes? Your home might be too humid


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.

Q: I have double-pane windows. Every year I get large amounts of frost buildup on the pane facing the interior of the house. I thought these were fairly nice windows since the house is only five years old. I’ve tried the shrink wrap window plastic, but that only works if I use it around the frame — in which case I can’t close my blinds. Can you explain to me what is wrong and the steps to fix it?

A: There are a couple of things that could be going on here. You might have high humidity levels in the house, especially if you don’t have an adequate ventilation system in your home. Target indoor humidity levels for human comfort and health are between 30 and 50 percent. You should be able to buy a digital hygrometer that will help you monitor your indoor conditions.

The windows are one of the first places you will see condensation forming because they are one of the coldest surfaces in the house. Here’s the bottom line: the higher the humidity and the colder the surface, the greater the condensation potential.

Several factors that will contribute to excess humidity in the home are: a crawlspace that doesn’t have a good ground vapor barrier; appliances that aren’t properly vented to the outside, particularly dryers and range hoods; aquariums; inadequate bathroom ventilation; firewood stored indoors; and high occupant loads to name a few. As an example, a family of four will produce roughly 10 pounds of water per day through respiration and transpiration.

The reality is that in a properly ventilated house in Fairbanks, levels of 30-50 percent humidity are difficult to achieve because the climate is so dry here.

In terms of condensation potential, this works to our advantage. With a tight under-ventilated house, however, it is quite possible to attain high humidity.

In periods of extreme cold, the indoor humidity levels should be lower to reduce condensation problems.

As you noticed, the shrink wrap plastic is effective as it essentially turns your window into a “triple pane,” improving performance. The other option is to insulate the exterior of the window. Rigid foam board is crude but effective, but that also has its obvious disadvantages. The easiest approach is to target the indoor humidity and identify potential problems in this area first.

Q: What types of boilers are out there, and what do I look at? How do I know which type of boiler is the right one to get and what size? A: Alaska is a cold and faraway place, but even in Fairbanks, we have a wide variety of boilers. Some common brands include Weil-Mclain, Burnham, Slantfin, Monitor FCX Condensing Boilers, Triangle Tube, Viessman, Buderus, Energy Kenetics, Low Mass Boilers, Quietside and even direct vent hydronic hot water heaters are pressed into service as radiant heaters for the home. Look for the AFUE efficiency and get recommendations from mechanical contractor and homeowners.

The best way to find out what size boiler you need for your home is to look at a heat/loss calculation for your specific house. You can have this calculation done by a plumber or through a home energy rating among other places.

The calculation takes into account the R-values of walls, windows and roofs, and the exposed surface areas of each, then estimates how much heat will leave the building at a specific temperature.

For Fairbanks, -40 F is often used. The right size boiler will offset the heat that is expected to leave the building. There’s an old rule of thumb that uses the square footage of your home to calculate the right boiler size.

Unfortunately, this will often call for too large a boiler. A boiler that is too large for your home will operate inefficiently.

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.

Alaska weatherization, rebate programs stimulate economy

From the Alaska Journal of Commerce, Monday, November 16, 2009:

A statewide weatherization program with the potential of reducing energy costs in thousands of Alaskan residences will improve some 1,740 homes in 2009 alone, and Alaska Housing Finance Corp. expects to more than quadruple that number by 2011. The goal is to weatherize 4,000 homes in 2010 and 7,500 homes in 2011, said Bryan Butcher, public affairs director for the state agency, whose mission is to provide Alaskans with quality affordable housing.

“We can show there are average savings of 25 percent on energy right now, and we are hoping it goes up,” Butcher said.

Click here to read the full story.

Homebuilding workshop Oct. 24 in Fairbanks

Cooperative Extension Service housing and energy specialist Rich Seifert  will teach his Cold Climate Homebuilding Techniques workshop Saturday, Oct. 24th in Schaible Auditorium on the UAF campus. The free workshop will run from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and includes a manual and a CD.

The workshop will focus on insulating homes and will cover options for retrofit, ventilation, indoor air quality and permafrost and foundations. It is also designed to help homeowners who plan to participate in the state’s home energy rebate program.

Call 907-474-7201 or 907-474-6366 to register.

CONTACT: Cooperative Extension energy and housing specialist Rich Seifert at 907-474-7201. Debbie Carter, CES public information officer, at 907-474-5406 or dscarter@alaska.edu.

How green is your shelter?

From the New York Times on Wednesday, June 11, 2009:

Environmental savings can be elusive, and the benefits and costs confusing. To help households wade through the information, consultants armed with stepladders and gadgets are selling advice on energy efficiency, indoor air quality and even methods for creating an eco-conscious wardrobe.

The field of personal and home eco-consultants is relatively new. GenGreen, a Colorado company that offers a national directory of businesses marketing themselves as green at gengreenlife.com, says it has just over 3,000 listings under the umbrella term environmental consultants, up from 657 when the database was started in 2007. They include energy auditors, health and wellness experts, interior designers and “eco-brokers,” real estate agents who specialize in green homes. While real estate agents can get training and certification as “eco” or “green” by trade organizations, and states like New York run energy audit programs with accreditation rules, there are no industry standards for most eco-consultants, who can range from environmental engineers to the self-taught.

Click here to read the whole story.

Stimulus money for homeowners

From treehugger.com on February 20, 2009, retrieved on 3/6/09:

The stimulus bill has finally been passed and signed into law—and now it’s time to help put the thing into action. Which shouldn’t be tough to do: tucked into the thousands of pages of confounding language, there are tons of fantastic new tax credits you can get simply for buying great green stuff. Here’s what our government’s blowout sale’s got in the catalog.

Click here to see the list.

Energy efficiency projects very popular thanks to stimulus bill

From the New York Times on Wednesday, February 25, 2009:

The money in the bill is enough to pay for a tremendous expansion of efficiency efforts across the country. But as with other parts of the stimulus package, the efficiency plan is creating tension between spending the money quickly, to get rapid economic stimulus, and spending it well, to do the most good over the long run.

“There’s enormous opportunity here for expansion of energy efficiency in this country,” said Lowell Ungar, the policy director for the Alliance to Save Energy, an advocacy group. “But there is certainly the potential for waste.”

President Obama signed the stimulus package into law on Feb. 17, hailing it as a shot of money big enough to help shake the economy from its lethargy while advancing many of his campaign priorities. Accelerating the country’s energy transition is at the top of his list. Many experts in the field agree with him that carefully chosen investments in efficiency will ultimately save more than they cost, by cutting energy bills.

Click here to read the whole article.

Click here to read what CCHRC has to offer for homebuilders and homeowners who want to make a home more energy efficient.