Letters Home

Posted on 16. Aug, 2014 by in Architecture, Building Science, Caring for your Home, Eco-Inspector, Energy, Ethics, General, Healthy Home, Heating and Air-Conditioning, Nature, New Homes, Older Homes

Moore’s Law in practice: Duct system zone control motherboards that used to cost 9000 are now 400

Inspectors typically work Point of Sale transactions.  A lot of what we do gets lost in the buyers rush to negotiate, move and settle. Here are my reasons to schedule aMaintenance Inspection every 6-9 years.

The science of how we build and live in homes is changing.  Materials, methods and lifestyle all have an impact on function and durability.

 

The Whole Enchilada: Electric code now requires upgraded mains, panel, breakers, wiring and fixtures. Main panel should have been moved during this kitchen renovation

IT makes for affordable components and systems. There’s no reason to assume that the way we build homes will remain unchanged while the world around us is speeding along at the rate of Moore’s Law

Because of bureaucratic hassle obtaining a building permit in metro Atlanta may be considered an option, not a requirement.  Most Building Codes are updated every three years.  Significant codes changes respond to major disasters or building component failures.

 

Dirty cooling fins reduce efficiency and appliance life

A home built or renovated to code is worst structure you can legally build. Go below that minimum at your own risk.  Exceed it and you’ll benefit in the long run.

Systems and components last an average 6-15 years.  Simple and easy maintenance extends service life

Latent, long-developing defects due to sunlight, heat and moisture are less noticeable and, eventually, more costly to repair

 

 

Moisture wicking through foundation wall makes a moldy basement and reduced wall strength

Additions, renovations and energy upgrades alter the movement of heat, air and moisture inside the home. Good time for an inspection.  Not going to move?  Don’t count on it.  I inspect Never-gonna-move-again homes all the time.

The culture of how we build communities is changing:  http://wabe.org/post/what-do-you-do-broken-suburb.  Keeping up with the Jones is more about re-sizing and lifestyle options.

 

 

 

Not Good Housekeeping. Are you using your mechanical closet for storage?

Lost in Translation:  “the idea that houses can loved and beautiful…..has been reduced to a grim business of facts and figures, an uphill struggle against the relentless urge of technology and bureaucracy, in which human feeling has almost been forgotten.”  Buildings, especially homes, should speak the character and aspirations of their owners.  A home can be more than just new countertops.

Homeowners, builders and realtors may not know all that is, and is becoming, aboutHow Homes Work. That’s my job, let me help.

 

 

House-smart realtor Peggy Desiderio noticed a knothole-split deck stair stringer

Applied Building Science. Adjacent crawl vent feeds moist 93F air onto a 55F supply air duct. The result: 100% saturated subfloor and mold

New methods, durable materials. Moisture barrier and weather-resistant stainless steel exhaust housing

 

 

Cool in June

Posted on 17. Jun, 2014 by in Architecture, Building Science, Caring for your Home, Eco-Inspector, Energy, Healthy Home, Heating and Air-Conditioning, Nature

The Streetlight Effect: convenience trumps reality

Thermostat Wars and The Streetlight Effect

Too much A/C gives me sinusitis, too little and I can’t sleep.  You may be comfortable at 79, but it’s 78 for me. Family beach week is a constant battle between the 70F-crew and grumpy uncle Dan.
Individual comfort depends very much on the specific needs of the comforted. How homeowners solve cooling deficiencies depends upon their understanding of the problem. When I see a fan in every room during an inspection I consider the Streetlight Effect.

The Streetlight Effect 

The easy fix is tempting.  The quite human tendency to accept the most convenient solution is known as The Streetlight Effect
http://io9.com/5983112/how-the-streetlight-effect-keeps-scientists-in-the-dark

Ceiling fans (Air velocity) is just one of six comfort metrics. 
http://www.hse.gov.uk/temperature/thermal/factors.htm

Common Cooling Fixes: 

More fans may be a simple answer but not the right solution

Appliances:  Rule of thumb load calculations and latent discomfort

Rule of Thumb vs Load Calcs
Determining appliance size and duct layout with default measurements from what was done on the previous job is a Streetlight Effect shortcut.  Make your HVAC installer perform appliance and duct load calculations to determine the correct amount of energy it takes to heat and cool.  Too big, small, fast or slow may compromise comfort. Software makes the math easy.  Meet the Code, do load calcs 

Over-Loads: 500 square foot vaulted west-facing addition with 12 windows and 3 skylights

 

It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity  Latent heat control is the key to comfort.  Opt for dehumidifiers and variable speed appliances. Unmanaged humidity is conducive to mold.
http://www.buildingscience.com/documents/bareports/ba-0214-conditioning-air-in-the-humid-south-creating-comfort-and-controlling-cost

Building Enclosure:  Don’t let living large=costly discomfort

Fouled filters are the HVAC equivalent of going for run with sock stuffed down your throat

 

Big homes don’t have to be energy-expensive and uncomfortable.  Atlanta has a corps of energy-savvy design and installation experts trained to fix problems like:

  • Energy-hogging FROGS (family room over garage)
  • Hot-topped, cold-bottomed split level homes
  • Vaulted, glass-walled, skylit BIG ADDITIONS 
  • Burning Hot Poptop attic conversions

Atlanta’s Southface http://www.southface.org/ is a clearing house for energy efficient, healthy design

Use industry standards for comfort and health

Don’t monkey around with Ducts

Obsess about furnace filters.  Dirty filters are bad for airflow, equipment, and air quality
Balance airflow with larger, strategically located return air openings
Support and straighten ducts. Crushed and sagging ducts slow airflow and dehumidification. 

Holes in pressurized duct systems blow your dollars away.   Secure and seal ducts and plenums
Take it inside  Ducts and equipment in 150F Hotlanta attics are 45% less efficient than those in conditioned space

Cooling comfort is attainable and sustainable.  Contact a comfort-smart independent inspector who knows his BS……before you buy that next fan.

2014 Atlanta Home Trends

Posted on 22. Apr, 2014 by in Architecture, Building Science, Caring for your Home, Eco-Inspector, Energy, Heating and Air-Conditioning, Intown Neighborhoods, Nature

These real-world trends in the Atlanta market are worth a look. Thanks to agent Peggy Desiderio and landscape contractor David Curl for your knowledge and advice

 

Boomer-town Decatur is popular with the 50 and over crowd

Walk To Pizza

What was once a lifestyle decision is now an economic necessity.   This nation-wide trend holds for Atlanta, ITPand OTP.
http://www.theatlanticcities.com/jobs-and-economy/2012/05/why-you-pay-more-walkable-neighborhoods/2122/

 

 

Walkable Neighborhood: Jazz night in Oakhurst

Sprawled Out
Hell on Wheels Atlanta traffic has put the brakes on outward expansion

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take the Last Train to Boomerville 

Ranch-condo quads for the 55 and older set are hot properties if they have the right features:  lock ‘n leave maintenance, water and energy efficiency, big kitchens, good detailing and NO STAIRS!

Seaside, Florida designer Andres Duany explains
retirement communities:  http://vimeo.com/6517061

Icycylene foam insulation helped transform this 100 year old crawl into a dry, conditioned basement-like space

New Science for Crawl Spaces

Cleaning, sealing and conditioning your crawl space works. I know.  I’ve done it at my house.

http://www.crawlspaces.org/

Direct, Efficient Solutions

Direct vent gas appliances allow installers to draw air for combustion and dilution from outside, a logical choice where finished basements limit available air and in older homes to bypass failing masonry chimneys.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjZa-S-b7F4

Killing Two Birds with One Foam

Icycylene foam forms an efficient pressure and
thermal barrier.  Foam keeps moisture and bugs out while increasing R-values in roofs, walls and floors. The nature of the material allows it to fill irregular spaces traditional materials cannot.

 

Hardscaped Outdoor Room Fire pit, sit wall, water feature, Cherokee stone patio

Hardscapes and Edible Gardens 

Landscape clients spend more on patios, sit walls and fire pits than on trees and shrubs.

Many prefer kitchen gardens with fruit trees, berries and herbs and designs that reduce water use

On the Way Out……

Road Warrior no more  Commutes over 30 minutes are no longer the norm.

Chimneys don’t make energy sense.  Switch-activated gas appliances provide convenient, safe heating.

Rarely used jetted tubs are giving way to the oversized stall showers.

Made for another era furnace humidifiers, whole house, attic exhaust and ceiling fans often do more efficiency and air quality harm than good.  Better to have a tight building with a designed ventilation system.

http://www.panasonic.com/business/building-products/ventilation-systems/index.asp

Open Up

Posted on 12. Mar, 2014 by in Building Science, Caring for your Home, Eco-Inspector, Healthy Home, Heating and Air-Conditioning, Nature

Rotting windowsill on a not-so-old house

For 28 years I’ve seen the windows of neglect: bound with paint, sashes screwed shut, locked-never to be opened, damaged hardware and screens, rotted sills.

No matter what type home, town or country, big or small, rich or poor, black or white, folks do not open windows.

 

Windows are designed for the simultaneous and independent control of:

Natural illumination

Natural ventilation:  The subject of this newsletter 

View out

View in

Passage of insects

Passage of water

Passage of heat-radiant, conducted, convected

Lots of un-opened windows

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is up to five times worse inside your home than outside.  The situation is getting worse as people spend more time inside and tightly built homes limit infiltration

Spring and Fall are the shoulder seasons, the interim between cold/dry and hot/humid.

The Japanese understand and appreciate ventilation.  Their building codes guarantee access                                                   to sunlight and wind, nature’s cleansing mechanisms

Designed for ventilation and ease of operation. Will the owners trouble themselves to open the slider doors?

Americans are special.  We love to mechanize our solutions.   Ultra-violet lights and ozone air purifiers emulate the healthy effects of sun and wind.

House deodorants, scents and candles emulate the smell of freshness.

Poor ventilation and filtration worsen your indoor air by trapping air pollutants.   Open windows on opposite sides of your home for ten minutes daily and the cross ventilation will improve your indoor air quality

 

Kiwis think so too.  http://www.energywise.govt.nz/your-home/ventilation

 

There’s something deeper to this than neglected windows

 

Building Science informs us that homes are environmental separators that provide a designed environment for human use and occupancy.

 

In these hectic, uncertain times homes have become psychological separators.  They are our castles, our place of refuge.

 

Windows stay closed to separate us from the outside of traffic, nosy neighbors, pollen, criminals, darkness, dogs barking, leafblowers roaring, planes ascending-from the craziness of a world we don’t want to let in.

 

At Villa Curl I’ve found pleasure in the sounds of wind-shuffled leaves, of trains and planes, church bells sounding the hour and the pastry-sweet smell the local pie factory.  Yes, the traffic is noisome, dogs bark, the world can have sharp edges.   I’ve come to accept these things.

 

Try opening windows ten minutes each day.  It’s guaranteed to improve your home and your health-and it just might improve your peace of mind.

 

Nature Strikes Back

Posted on 08. Jun, 2009 by in Eco-Inspector, Nature


Eco-Inspector’s brother Matt was bitten by a Copperhead on his pinky toe. If you think he was grubbing around in the woods you are mistaken: he was taking a stroll down the sidewalk of his upscale subdivision near Lawrenceville in Gwinnett County, Georgia

Matt’s encounter with the snake is one unfortunate result of the end of our regions’ four-year drought. The rains have rejuvenated dormant animal populations and the predators that feed on them.

Another unforseen result is more power outages. The crowns of drought-weakened trees are full of new leaves making them perfect sails. Even modest winds topple trees and power lines

So here is our lesson for the day: every event has a consequence.
That includes wearing flip flops while taking a stroll

Matt spent five days in the hospital. Snake venom is nasty stuff: in addition to attacking the nervous system it “tenderizes” the flesh of its’ victims. This can lead to a number of complications.

We should be happy our long, dry spell is over and prepare for more snakes, downed trees and mosquitos.

One final comment: I am REALLY keeping my eyes open during inspections these days. You never know when a snake might bite or a tree might fall.

Dan