Build smart now & benefit for decades
Updated: May 2, 2019
I'm pretty pumped up today guys.
We recently did an energy audit on a 12 year old home. And the house was awesome.
I LOVE seeing well built homes.
Not only does it show a builder, an electrician, a mechanical contractor, and a whole lot of other tradesmen that are dedicated to their craft, but it is just incredible to see something so complex be put together in a beautiful, efficient & effective way.
(Important note: I get pretty pumped seeing perfect dovetail joints, well crafted chandeliers, and comfortable & smooth rocking chairs...I'm a sucker for high-quality work and skilled craftsmanship)
Anyways, we did our inspection, and were blown away by how well every aspect of the home was performing, even 12 years later. I'm telling you that the blower door score was better than most new homes; the duct blaster score would meet Energy Star standards right now; the wall insulation was great and had literally only ONE anomaly.
So that means you get to share in my musings of this home and how you can have similar results.
The house was fully outfitted with cellulose insulation. The walls, the attics, all of it. And it had not had any touch-ups on the insulation. Like I said above, there was only one anomaly in the walls, and it was smaller than a frisbee. Everywhere else looked great.
The insulation in the attic had settled a bit and had been blown about a bit so it wasn't evenly spread anymore, but it was still working pretty well.
Here's why cellulose insulation is so great:
relatively high R value (about 3.5 per inch)
relatively cheap (estimates say you can get a 1,500 sq ft home done for about $500
you can add more—in the home in question, he'll be able to add more cellulose insulation to the attic and get it working perfectly well
DIY capable—you don't have to be a construction pro to be able to do this yourself...but if you don't have the DIY bug, its affordable to have an insulation pro come in and do it for you
it is actually great for the environment—its made almost entirely from recycled paper, so it actually diverts almost 1 million tons of waste from landfills every year.
Part of the reason this homeowner was so successful with the insulation was that before the drywall was put up, all the joints in the framing were sealed. This extra step of air sealing can have a huge impact in home performance and keeping the insulation working well.
Attic hatches are holes
Your attic hatch is just a hole cut in your ceiling. Instead of having insulation, you have a sheet of plywood, with a gap around it that let's air flow freely.
But in this home he'd put insulation on the attic hatch. And it was working. When you looked at it with the thermal camera, you could clearly see that the door itself was not a problem.
Now, it wasn't air sealed, so there was still free-flowing ice-cold air coming from the attic into the house, but that's an easy fix. To seal the attic hatch, you can put on some weather stripping or you can order (or build) an attic hatch cover.
What is an attic hatch cover?
It's exactly what it sounds like. Essentially you take rigid foam insulation and make it into a box (four sides and a top, leaving the bottom open). Attach everything, seal the seams, and put weather stripping around the bottom. Boom, you have an attic hatch cover.
Now every time you leave the attic, pull that hatch cover over the hatch, and then raise the stairs back up.
In the photo on the left, you can see all that hot, unconditioned air (the orange outline) around the hatch door. Meanwhile, you can see how the hot spot around the hatch is much more controlled in the photo on the right. That's what it looks like to seal up the hatch.
Also, note the good dark green color of the hatch door itself. That is exactly why you need to have that door insulated. It now performs similarly to a wall, instead of just as an uninsulated piece of plywood.
Air seals do fade with time
Everything else fades, so it makes sense that these would, too. Since can lights are another open hole to the attic space, it is important that these are sealed.
Consider replacing these seals to be standard maintenance, akin to changing a lightbulb. Its inexpensive and its super effective in making your home more efficient and controlling interior temperatures.
If you don't have air sealed lights, then that should be one of your top priorities. Sealing these up and the attic hatch are low-hanging fruit and super effective.
Energy audits can be used like a checkup at the doctor
I think I've already expressed how well this home was built, and the owner had been proactive throughout his time with the house in striving for improved efficiency. But 12 years is a long time and a lot can change in a home in that time.
I thought it was so great that he brought us out to do an audit on the home. He didn't do it because there was anything noticeably wrong with the house or because he had one room that was disastrously uncomfortable (though those are both great reasons to have an audit done)...he called us out to be proactive. He wanted to find where he should be putting his money and time.
There's an old saying: "If your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."
Sure, he could have brought an insulation specialist out, and a mechanical contractor, and a window expert, and a lighting guru and the list goes on and on... and they each could have found ways that they could help.
But by using an energy audit like you would a physical or a check up at the doctor you can actually get an unbiased & comprehensive list of repairs and upgrades that can/should be made...they can be prioritized and priced out...and you can keep your home performing well, keep it comfortable, and keep your bills down without spending tons of money.