Tag Archives: Energy Focus Articles

When is it time to replace your boiler?


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: Oftentimes, if you get an energy rating done, replacing the boiler is the top recommendation. Is it worth the money and effort?

Boilers need to be examined on a case-by-case basis, so before you do anything, speak with a heating professional.

Often, there are little things you can do to a boiler that will make them more efficient. A lot of these little fixes depend on where your boiler exhausts, if you can add an outdoor reset, how much baseboard you have and if it’s time to have your system tuned. Sometimes small changes or additions in controls can help increase the efficiency of the boiler, and sometimes it just needs to be replaced with new technology.

However, fixing your old boiler won’t help if you are trying to gain points on your energy rating. Consult your energy rating paperwork to determine if the payback from replacing your boiler is worth the effort.

Q: Since we are in an Arctic climate, are there any challenges to having a wind system way up here?

There are not a lot of problems with most homesized wind turbines and their materials caused by the cold, dry Interior climate. That being said, wetter parts of Alaska have problems with ice collecting on towers and blades. When that happens, it throws the blades out of balance.

One way to gauge the effectiveness of a wind system is to check where it is made or where this type of system is installed. If a system is successfully installed in the cold regions of Canada, it’s probably OK for Alaska. Some systems are designed for areas that do not have cold temperatures, and they may not supply the right parts or materials, such as cold-weather grease, to function well in our climate.

Q: Most double- and triple-pane windows have gas between the panes. If a pane breaks, the gas will leak out. Is this any type of hazard?

Today, most window gases are Krypton or Argon. These gases are inert, so they pose no threat to human health. Still, multiple- paned windows are more energy efficient with the gas inside. As gas leaks out, air will leak in along with a little moisture. The moisture will cause frost or fog inside your window.

On that note, a window pane doesn’t have to be broken to let the gas escape. If the seal around the edge of the window fails, the gas can leak out. You can tell when a seal is broken because condensation will build up inside the window between the panes even if no glass is broken. Again, any frost or foggy windows are a sign that you could have a broken seal. Seals break down over time due to age, building settling, hot or cold exposure and a variety of other factors. Fortunately, windows can be refilled with gas and resealed by a professional.

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

Keeping your hot water tank toasty can save you money


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: Is it really necessary to insulate my hot water tank? A: It is. The newer tanks have a high-density polyurethane foam insulation around them, but a lot of older tanks have a thin layer of fiberglass around the them, which results in lost heat called standby loss. The idea behind standby


loss is that it takes energy to keep water warm. Even if you aren’t using water, you still use energy to keep it heated. If your tank is not insulated, you are losing heat and using more energy to keep it at temperature.

Insulating the tank helps keep it warm, and you useless energy and therefore pay less as well.

You also can look up specific information about your tank online by going to the manufacturer’s Web site.

There you can find out how the tank was made and if it already is insulated.

Q: What are the advantages and disadvantages of a pellet stove?

A: There are a couple of big advantages. Pellet stoves provide a regulated and controlled burning environment with high quality, uniform, combustible material. Pellet stoves also can regulate the rate at which pellets are fed into the firebox and control how much oxygen goes into the firebox. The stoves create an optimum burning environment for the pellets.

The pellets themselves are evenly sized and look like goose food except they are made from compressed wood rather than grain. They get fed in by an auger and are sized to run through the system for optimum burn efficiency. Pellet stoves generally are easy to install. Often, they can be direct vented through a wall, which is a lot easier than trying to place a chimney from a typical wood stove. With older wood stoves, you lose heat from the chimney, but you lose a lot less with pellet stoves.

In terms of disadvantages, you have to buy pellets. That makes you dependent on the market and who is importing pellets. You also need electricity to run the auger that feeds the pellets and the fan.

If you don’t have power or suffer from an outage, your stove won’t function.

Q: I am interested in building a “green” home.

Are there any “green” contractors out there?

A: Yes there are. When we say “green,” we are talking about building a home that uses sustainable materials, is energy efficient and uses local materials. There are contractors in town who build to green standards.

The Interior Alaska Building Association would be a good place to start. If you’re looking to build using green concepts, a couple places you could go to learn, before you get started, are the National Association of Homebuilders and the U.S. Green Building Council. Both groups have Web sites that clearly break down the process into different categories.

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

In your home, let the sun shine in


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: Why is it beneficial to have south-facing windows on a home?

Because of the orientation with the sun, south-facing windows bring in both light and heat, which are important for homes in our climate. If you have a lot of north-facing windows, you’re going to lose a lot of heat with not a lot of heat gain.

The amount of heat your home gains from the sun should not be underestimated and sunlight also is good for your mood.

At the same time, some homes can become overheated in months like March, when there is no vegetation to provide shade, and the sun comes directly through your windows. Also, in the summer, the hot sun can overheat your home if your roof does not have enough overhang to shade your windows. Again, trees and other vegetation will help here as well.

Before you build your home, get a sense of where the sunlight falls in both winter and summer. If you are a morning person and you need that morning light to help wake you up, you’ll want to place your windows appropriately. If you like to entertain in the evening summer sun, then put windows in the appropriate place for that. It’s not just about getting light to see and heat your home, think about how light will affect your life in your home.

Q: I want to put a chimney in for a stove, but there are a bunch of things in the way, including a beam. How can I get around that?

It’s always frustrating when you’ve got the perfect place for a stove, but something is in the way. Ideally a chimney should be a straight shot for easy cleaning and proper drafting, but sometimes it just isn’t possible and you’ve got to put an elbow in the pipe. The best place to put an elbow is at the bottom because it allows you to scrub the chimney top to bottom when you clean it and you can still get inside the stove and vacuum out that elbow piece.

Sometimes you can run a stovepipe directly out the side of the house and up the exterior wall. How well this works is case dependent. If there is too much pipe in an uninsulated space, then the pipe can get cold and as a result, some of the smoke will get cold which can cause creosote build up and create a chimney fire hazard. Also, a fire started with a stovepipe that is cold may not draft properly so it may smoke and smolder and even introduce pollutants into your house if it’s not an airtight stove.

Q: What are the advantages of LED lights over those spiral compact fluorescents?

LEDs use less power, have a longer life and are more durable than compact fluorescents. Initially there have been some costs that have kept them from reaching the broad market, but every year brings new innovations in LED technology, bringing the cost down and improving the quality of light they produce. Compact fluorescents contain mercury, so disposing of them is a problem, while LEDs are fairly non-toxic. LEDs also work better than the average bulb in cold temperatures, which is important in our climate.

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

Use caution with attached garages


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 want to build a garage.

What are the advantages of having an attached garage versus a detached garage?

A: One big advantage of the attached garage is convenience. You get to park your car inside your house. That’s always nice in the winter, but putting a car into your home also comes with problems. If a car idles, even for a short time, it can introduce a significant amount of carbon monoxide into your home. Even a half hour after the car is gone, your carbon monoxide sensor might go off, which means enough CO seeped into your home through cracks under doors or in your walls and ceiling to trigger the sensor. The key is to effectively seal your walls, ceiling and any connection your garage has to your home. Garage ventilation also is important.


Q: Is there any new boiler technology in development?

A: They are making boilers out of different cast iron materials. Some of the boilers have what they call “eutectic cast iron,” which is a little more flexible and a little more forgiving with temperature differences between the supply and return water, so they don’t suffer the temperature shock older boilers do. This iron prevents the return water from cracking the castings, which means the return water can come back into your boiler at a much lower temperature.

Another technology is the condensing boiler. This boiler performs better because it extracts more heat from the flue gas than typical oilfired boilers. Because more heat is pulled out, the gas gets significantly colder and condenses. Propane and natural gas-fired units have offered condensing options for a long time, but now a condensing oil-fired boiler is an option. With these new boilers, you don’t have to worry about the condensate causing corrosion because they are mostly made of stainless steel and plastic parts. These condensing boilers can run about 90 percent efficiency but require a drain.

Q: I prefer to use compact florescent light bulbs, but I can’t find any that work with a dimmer. Do they exist?

A: They do, but they can be harder to find. The best way to ensure they work with a dimmer is to read the labeling. On that note, one important thing about compact fluorescents is that, when handling, they need to be screwed in by the base rather than by the bulb. That is particularly important for the bulbs that have the two little stems that wind around into an ice cream cone style shape. Instinctively, that shape fits your hands.

However, twisting the bulb that way will create micro fractures in the glass, which can shorten bulb life and leak mercury. If a bulb breaks, several local box stores have drop-off areas where you can take them to be disposed of properly.

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

When — and when not — to get pumped up about your septic tank


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 often should I get my septic system pumped? It seems like everyone has a different opinion.

A: That’s a tricky question because there are so many different variables.

If it’s a house with lots of people staying in it, then you’re using the system a lot, especially if people use a lot of toilet paper or there are other waste systems, like a garbage disposal. These will result in a lot of solids in the system and you may want to pump it every year or less. A house with fewer people that does not pump a lot of detergents, bleaches or cleaners in the tank may be able to get away with years of not pumping, because the solids in the tank degrade at a quick rate in comparison to how fast it’s filling up.

Your safest option would be to have it pumped every year, but you may be able to get by with every two years, possibly every three years at first. Talk to the person doing the pumping to get an idea of what is coming out of the tank. From there you can make a judgment on how often you need to pump your system, and adjust accordingly.

Q: I am looking at putting in some wind turbines, but I hear they can be noisy. What are my options?

A: That’s a good question and a good thing to be concerned about. There are some wind turbines that are noisier than others.

A lot of it has to do with the speed at which the tips are spinning (revolutions per minute or rpm).

The specifications of each turbine will tell you the rpms. Generally speaking, the more rugged turbines spin at a slower speed, last longer, and are easier on the ears.

Noise is a legitimate concern, so gauge how much noise you tolerate, and speak with your neighbors too.

Q: I’m looking at buying new windows. There are many different types of gas fill you can get between panes. What’s the difference, and what’s the best?

A: The two most common options after air are Argon and Krypton.

As long as the seals between the panes hold up and the gas stays in, it will provide more resistance to heat transfer than air. Krypton performs slightly better than Argon which performs slightly better than air. Krypton is currently priced out of the market in most cases so Argon is what you will typically find in windows nowadays.

The gas fill is really only part of the big picture. Every thing matters when it comes to cold climate window performance: the quality of the seals, what kind of spacers are being used between the panes, whether the window is a double pane or triple pane unit, etc.

The bottom line is the overall R-value or U-value for the window. For our climate, you want a window with an R-value of at least four and a U-value of no more than .25, which is basically a triple pane window. Either fiberglass or vinyl will do just fine, but find a company that stands behind their product with a warranty and be sure the window is designed to perform in extreme cold.

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

Conserve Energy at Work Using These Tips

Energy Focus: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner July 30th, 2009, Section A3

Not all of us are stuck in an office five days a week (or more) for work, but those of us who are can help save energy and conserve resources by making a few changes in our habits, persuading others to do the same, and lobbying for policy changes at the management level. Continue reading

Things to Look for in an Energy-Efficient House

Energy Focus: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner July 23rd, 2009, Section A3

Shopping for a home in Fairbanks can be difficult, especially if energy efficiency is a priority. With heating oil prices volatile and resale value at stake, finding the most fuel-efficient home makes sense. An efficient home also has the advantage of helping to alleviate Fairbanks’s air quality problems, which are particularly bad in winter.

Following is a list of just some of the things you should look for in an efficient home. Continue reading

Preventing, Coping With Carpenter Ants in Your Home

Energy Focus: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner July 16th, 2009, Section A3

Termites have yet to appear in Alaska, but carpenter ants can be rampant. Carpenter ants can destroy wood, which is found throughout a home, but are most pernicious in frame members, subfloors, and foundation areas where the ants’ boring activity is hidden from view and nests are located. Continue reading

Tax Credits Could Fuel Your New, More Efficient, Car Purchase

BY Adam Wasch, Energy Outreach Consultant for CCHRC and UAF CES
Energy Focus: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner July 7th, 2009, Section A3

More than you know, I am fortunate to have a girlfriend. I mean that. In no way do I wish to suggest that I am superior to her, for I would be lost without her. But even compared to my fur-covered and grubby car, my girlfriend’s car is sordid. There’s the usual refuse, recycling, and ground-in trail mix. And then there’s the plant life. A leaky water jug and a punctured bag of flax seeds have transformed her car’s backseat into a motile Chia Pet. Continue reading

The Importance of Home Orientation

Energy Focus: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner July 2nd, 2009, Section A3

Home orientation is one of the first things to think about when you are going to build a home. Most houses are designed for ‘street appeal,’ meaning they are designed to give a certain appearance from the street. Others are designed with windows carefully placed to capture a fantastic view. However, in our climate it’s important to take into account topography of the property, solar orientation, wind direction, vegetation, shade, and proper drainage. Continue reading