Renovations for Energy Efficiency

 

Thermal comfort and energy efficiency are important aspects of your home’s performance. Those of us who live in a cold climate spend a good part of the year debating with ourselves about our approach to staying warm. There is constant tension between feeling warm and shelling out money to pay for heat. Do we turn up the heat or put on a sweater? Can we afford to do an energy upgrade? Can we afford not to do an energy upgrade?

Whether your motivation is personal, such as saving money for the family budget, or global, such as reducing fossil fuel use, it’s helpful to understand what impacts thermal comfort, heating expenses and how you can achieve the right balance for your home. You also need to know where to invest money and who can help with decisions. We can help you to evaluate your home, set performance goals and put together a budget for renovations.

 

How do you know that you need to make changes?

  1. This may seem obvious, but if your household is engaged in thermostat wars, there’s a problem. A well thought-out energy strategy should allow for temperature variations throughout a home and some level of individual control, whether it’s some extra radiant heat in a bathroom or an energy efficient space heater for occasional use. While 68 degrees is comfortable in the living room, it’s chilly if you’ve just stepped out of the shower.

  2. Does your house have icicles? They make great holiday décor, but icicles are proof that you are heating spaces that you don’t want to heat. You’re paying for the heat that melts the snow to make the icicle. You may also pay to replace that carpet, drywall and insulation that is damaged when the melt/freeze cycle, known as an ice dam, causes a flood in your home. You may pay for mold remediation from the minor leaking that went undetected. You may pay for doctor’s visits, allergy medicine and missed work time because you didn’t realize that you had mold in the wall from undetected melt water damage.

  3. Do you feel drafts? Drafts are caused by air infiltration that can result from drafty flues, uninsulated outlets, older or poor quality windows or even new windows installed without considering the insulation strategy for the whole house. The absence of drafts doesn’t mean that the house is functioning properly. Leaks in attics and basements often aren’t seen or felt but they result in high energy consumption and ice dams.

  4. Do you have high heating bills or a significant change in heating costs which aren’t due to changes in fuel prices? Problems with equipment can increase fuel costs. Another change, often overlooked, is the condition of the insulation. Many homeowners are surprised to learn that their old insulation has gaps or is crumpled in a heap at the bottom of the wall. It can happen as a result of leaks, by deterioration of the paper backing or by improper installation.

How do you decide what changes to make?

  1. 1. Air Infiltration and air sealing: You get the best results for your investment by air sealing and controlling air infiltration. Visual inspections, thermal imaging and blower door testing are tools for detecting air infiltration and heat loss. Fortunately, there are tax credits and rebate programs which can help defer the cost of renovations for energy efficiency. We can help you to figure out a building envelope strategy as well as what programs are currently available to help reduce the cost of renovations.

  2. Fresh Air and Controlled Ventilation: It is vital to have controlled ventilation to replace the air in your home several times a day. When you air seal, you need to be sure to provide for adequate controlled ventilation to avoid building up toxins within your home. Homes and people need to breathe.

  3. Passive Survivability and Power Outages: How well does your home perform when you lose power? Are you dependant on a noisy, fume-spewing generator? Can you limit the hours that a generator is needed? Are there opportunities for insulation, passive solar heat gain or active solar to provide for basic needs when the power is out? What are your non-fossil fuel resources?


Lifestyle Considerations

Are you pushing over a domino? Some energy efficiency renovations are straight forward. You hire an energy auditor. Their thermal imaging shows that you need to seal around windows and the eaves and you are done. For others, this work entails touching many of the building’s components. If you need new windows, new insulation, extensive air sealing or a new heat source, the chances are good that it makes sense to do any functional and aesthetic renovations at the same time. There is no sense replacing a window if you end up moving it two years later when you upgrade the kitchen, expand the master bedroom suite or add the in-law apartment. You can achieve considerable savings by going through our lifestyle assessment and incorporating these changes into your energy renovation scope of work. We can provide a master plan for completing renovations over the time frame that makes sense for your family and your budget.

 

How do you know that you’re getting value for your dollars?

A whole house approach with a well-documented scope of work is your best tool for getting accurate pricing and making sure that you are doing all that needs to be done for the performance that you desire. Too often, people choose a piece-meal approach or work with a contractor or sub-contractor with a narrow focus who can only perform part of the job. It’s very expensive to re-do work. The most energy efficient windows in the world won’t reduce your energy use if the rest of the house leaks like a sieve. The same can be said about insulation and heating systems. You can throw a lot of money at a house in this fashion without reaping the benefits in savings. What’s more, if you are planning to apply for tax credits or rebates, you need to be sure that your home can pass the required testing to be reimbursed for your renovation costs.

 

What is the next step?

Please call us at 603-487-5252 or email us to learn how we can be part of your renovation team. We will meet at your home and discuss your options. There is no charge for the initial meeting. We will provide a written proposal and a recommended scope of services suited to your needs.