Tag Archives: Green Building

Proper venting is more than blowing off steam

Q: My sewage vent on my roof gets clogged with ice when it gets really cold outside. This creates a sewage smell in my home. A cap of snow often forms on top of the vent.

I wonder if this snow contributes to the icing, either directly or by slowing down the exit of warm air. What can I do?

Sewer vents can ice up when condensation and warm air coming up through the vent meet the cold air outside. Finding a solution to this problem can be cumbersome because of its reoccurring nature, plus the fact that you have to climb on your roof in wintertime.

Simply applying an open-sided cap runs the risk that condensation might form on the underside of the cap and worsen the problem as air is now forced to take a less direct path to the atmosphere.

Another tactic is to hang a copper tube on the edge of the sewer vent.

Soldering a copper tee across the top of copper pipe will ensure that it will rest across the top of the vent and not fall in.

The theory is if the copper should extend far enough down the vent and get into the heated space, then it is conductive enough to stay warm and keep the vent thawed out all the way to the top.

However, this tactic has mixed results. This tip also requires that the vent pipe go straight down to the heated space, which is not always the case.

If you have an accessible attic, the first, and usually easiest, fix for a freezing vent would be to wrap a thick layer of fiberglass insulation around the pipe all the way to the roof deck.

This approach solves the problem most of the time.

It will keep the escaping air warmer and cut down on crystal build up inside, and possibly melt any snow that collects on top, too.

If the portion of the pipe on the cold side of the roof is really tall, you may try cutting it down so it is closer to the roof flashing, to limit the amount exposed to the exterior.

Note that the city of Fairbanks building code requires a that the top of the pipe be at least 10 inches above the penetration in the roof.

It is possible ice crystals forming inside the pipe are also serving to support the snowfall. If the vent has a two inch diameter, consider upsizing it. Current code requires a three-inch minimum stack vent.

On some occasions it may even be necessary to go to four inches.

Another method is to purchase a non-frosting vent cap.

These are well-insulated caps that use a heating element, similar to heat tape, to help warm the top of the vent and keep it free of ice.

These caps can be purchased online.

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

Deadline for Federal Tax Credit on Energy Efficiency Upgrades Nears

There is only one month left to purchase and install items that qualify for the Federal Tax Credits for Consumer Energy Efficiency.

As a reminder, these items need to be both purchased and installed by December 31, 2010.

From energystar.gov:

To qualify for the tax credit, the product needs to be “placed in service” by December 31, 2010. The IRS defines “placed in service” as when the property is ready and available for use. It’s not when you purchase product, but the day installation is complete, and you are able to use your new product.

These tax credits will be claimed on your 2010 taxes (which you must file by April 15, 2011).

For more information, visit http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=tax_credits.tx_index.

Fairbanks churches try energy audits to save money

From The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Monday, November 15, 2010:

It’s a sign of the times in religious circles — caulking and sealing parties.

This new congregational activity will soon begin at Christ Lutheran Church and University Community Presbyterian Church.

Both houses of worship underwent sanctuary energy audits this past week, and as soon as they receive itemized reports, they will begin performing the simpler energy-saving tasks to reduce their energy consumption. Some larger projects might have to be contracted out.

“We found we were leaking like a sieve,” said the Rev. Susan Granata, pastor at Christ Lutheran.

Each church was motivated to take a closer look at its aging buildings for both stewardship and financial reasons.

“It was kind of a hard decision to have this audit. It was not inexpensive,” Granata said.

The financial drain of fuel and electricity costs became painfully apparent a couple years ago, when oil prices skyrocketed.

School renovation is a lesson plan for Weller Elementary students

From The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Tuesday, October 26, 2010:

The students at Weller Elementary School initially had mixed emotions about the renewable energy project in their backyard because it caused some trees to be cleared outside their windows. But they seemed to have come around by last Thursday, when engineer Robbin Garber-Slaght gave an interactive presentation to about 100 fifth and sixth graders on the ins and outs of the ground source heat pump and solar thermal system installed in September.

“I learned that it was worth it to destroy the trees,” said fifth grader Chase Wagner. “It will help the school be green. I’m worried about the planet. It will cut down on oil and it will save money.”

Students showed their impressive knowledge of energy efficiency and power generation, as dozens of hands waved in the air to offer thoughts and ask questions in the school’s common area.

“That was a really fun group. They’re up on their science,” said Garber-Slaght of the Cold Climate Housing Research Center, which collaborated with the school district and other contractors on the experimental project.

Doyon Ltd. proposes hydroelectric project for Denali National Park

From The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Tuesday, October 26, 2010:

Doyon Ltd. wants to build a micro-hydroelectric project inside Denali National Park and Preserve to power Kantishna Roadhouse, a backcountry lodge the Fairbanks Native Corporation owns 100 miles inside the park.

The National Park Service supports the project, and Alaska’s two senators, Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski, introduced legislation last month — the Kantishna Hills Renewable Energy Act of 2010 — that directs the park service to issue a special-use permit to speed construction of the project and authorizes a 10-acre land exchange between Doyon and the NPS.

Doyon is proposing to build the hydro project on Eureka Creek, a small fishless creek near the roadhouse in the non-wilderness section of the 6 million-acre park. The project would include a 50-kilowatt power plant, a small impoundment dam and a small pipeline to carry water. Doyon currently uses a diesel generator to power the roadhouse.

Free class on cold-climate building to be offered in Bethel

From The Tundra Drums, Friday, October 14, 2010:

A free class will be offered in conjunction with Bethel’s second annual energy fair.

The Advanced Cold Climate Building Techniques will take place Oct. 28 and 29, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in room 118 at UAF’s Kuskokwim University Campus in Bethel.

For those who wish to earn CEUs, or Continuing Education Units, the cost is $45. This class gives licensed builders and construction folks a residential certification. (This is a $480 class in Anchorage.)

Continue reading: University offers free class on cold-climate building

Think of houseplants as winter indoor air cleaners

From The Anchorage Daily News, Wednesday, October 13, 2010:

Alaskans have always had a different view of things, and that includes houseplants. There are many of us who still have cuttings from grandmother’s plants (or some other Outside relative) that we grow, because they have become our connection to family left behind. Others grow houseplants given to them by departing friends or purchased because they are a reminder of “home” — Outside.

We grow houseplants, too, because we need them during the long winter. Not only do they mentally help us through the long winter, they also clean the air indoors. Those studies NASA did in the ’80s that showed certain houseplants removed toxins such as benzene, formaldehyde and ammonia from the air, apply even more now that conservation has resulted in airtight homes that don’t refresh the indoor air like our old, leaky ones did.

According to NASA, 15 to 18 houseplants in containers 6 to 8 inches in diameter can really improve the air you breathe. Best of all, there are lots of familiar plants on the list of recommendations from NASA. As you would expect, all have good leaf area. What you might not suspect is all are extremely easy to grow.

Continue reading: Think of houseplants as winter indoor air cleaners

Don’t forget the proper foundation 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: How do I insulate my foundation and how much is enough?

Insulating a foundation is an important step in both retaining heat during the winter and reducing heating costs. Concrete or concrete block — the material used to build most Alaska home foundations — is very conductive. If not insulated, it will transfer heat from a crawlspace or basement directly to the surrounding soils or outside air. Many Fairbanks homes, especially older homes, do not have insulated foundations. Putting insulation on the outside of the foundation will slow that heat transfer and ultimately save energy and money.

The most commonly used insulation for new homes and when retrofitting older homes is rigid foam board that is rated for below-grade application. If an insulation is rated for below grade, that means it is less susceptible to water absorption and is not damaged as easily.

Another option is to hire a professional to apply spray foam to the foundation, which has similar insulative and water resistant capabilities.

Building code requires that new homes have R-15 of insulation installed on a foundation. That amount is equivalent to about 3 inches of rigid foam board. Insulation should be applied to the outside of the foundation all the way down to the footer.

Spray or foam board can also be applied to the interior foundation or crawlspace walls. This method saves effort because the entire perimeter of the home does not need to be dug out; the down side is that this method consumes interior living space.

Be sure that any interior insulation is either fire rated or is covered with a fire rated surface.

Q: I have wastewater pipes that have recently become frozen. How should I thaw them out?

Frozen wastewater can cause backups that can lead to a messy situation.

Heat tape will slowly thaw frozen pipes, but could require months of thawing.

There are ground-thawing machines that can be rented, but they are often difficult to use. The safest option would be to hire a professional to thaw the areas that need work.

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.

Air exchangers work but study up on them


By CCHRC StaffQ: I understand it is important to get fresh air into my house, but exchanging air in my home means the warm air is going out and cold air is coming in. I pay quite a bit to heat my home and reheat all that air coming in. Can air exchangers help to solve this problem?There are several types of air exchangers on the market, but not all of them capture heat from the outgoing stale air.Q: When should I start plugging in my vehicle?

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.

Commercially available exterior wall vents combined with a fan designed to operated all the time will provide fresh air for a home.

These devices are the least expensive, but provide no heat recovery feature.

A heat recovery ventilator (HRV) is a more expensive device that has a heat exchanger inside, where the air flowing out of the home passes by the air flowing into the home, without mixing the two. As the warm air moves out, it transfers some of its heat to the cold air moving in.

The heat recovered by this process is in the 60 to 75 percent range, which is significant because any amount of heat that is recovered represents air that the homeowner does not have to pay to reheat.

As the cost of fuel increases, this savings will be more significant.

An energy recovery ventilator recovers heat and moisture as well. Unfortunately, these systems cannot be used in the Fairbanks area because extremely cold air will freeze the device.

Many Interior Alaska residents are retrofitting their homes now.

Adding insulation and tightening a house makes ensuring you have good indoor air quality more important than ever. Insulating a home will conserve heat and adding an air-exchanging device will clean the air.

But only an air exchanger with a heat recovery option will do both.

Be sure to consult with a licensed professional to help design and or install any ventilation system.

Many of us will start plugging in our vehicle right away when it gets cold but plugging in will have an unfortunate affect on our electric bill.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation provides the rule of thumb: plug in for at least a couple hours before starting the vehicle when it is 20°F or colder.

At that temperature, you can get by plugging in for less time, and as it gets colder you need to plug in for progressively longer.

If you find you need to leave your car plugged in substantially longer than these guidelines before it starts smoothly, then you car may need maintenance.

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.

Elementary school tests heating technology novel to Interior Alaska

From The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Friday, September 17, 2010:

Large rolls of black tubing sat like super-sized balls of yarn next to the playground outside Weller Elementary School Wednesday. The sun shined brightly on the south-facing hillside, where a bulldozer carved out a 12-foot hole.

The balls, which are actually polyethylene ground loops, were then rolled out and buried in the ditch, where they will harvest heat from underground to use in the school during the winter. In the summer, six solar thermal panels soon to be mounted on the school will replenish heat to the earth through the same tubes. The system will not only reap savings on heat for the school district but also will test a technology that is young in Fairbanks.

“I would like to see a system that would work well in the Interior and that the public can utilize and save dollars,” said Larry Morris, projects manager for the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District.

The project is an experiment to see how well the systems work in tandem and to collect data on ground source heat pumps, which are common in the Lower 48 but rare in Fairbanks.

“What we’re trying to do here is pair that system with a solar system that will recharge the heat you take out of the ground. In warmer climates, the sun can recharge how much you take out,” said Aaron Sirois, an engineer for PDC Engineering. “We were trying to come up with a solution that’s kind of adapted to Fairbanks.”