2010.02.02 - Groundhog Day
Seal the envelope (14). Windows (more). Windows are likely the
worst-insulated part of your walls. Insulated window coverings are one way to
reduce the heat loss associated with our windows. Here's a piece I have written
elsewhere on insulated
window coverings. From the looks of things outside, the groundhogs will
be forecasting 6 more weeks of winter, so there's still time to benefit from
warming up the inside of our windows.
Mary, we're pulling for you, and hoping the day goes as well as it possibly can.
Shopping Tip: Skip the drive-through lane. I'm not suggesting that
we sleep-deprived Canadians take to the wheel without our caffeine hit. However,
if you make that first coffee at home, it will cost you less, and reduce our
use of disposable cup and lid by one, every day.
If you still want/need to go to the coffee shop to start your day, park
your car and walk up to the counter. The fuel you don't burn stacked up in the
drive-through lane will reduce your GHG emissions.
Better still, take your re-usable travel mug in with you. Most coffee shops
will give you a discount on your beverage (typically 10 cents). Reduced emissions
and a small savings on your morning coffee - now that's the way to start your day!
Shopping Tip: (2010) This week, Staples (Office Depot) has their house brand
recycled copy paper (both 30% and 100% post-consumer material) on sale at
20% off the regular price. Stock up for your needs for 2010. Not only will
you save 20% on the money side (double our 10% objective), but it will cut
the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the paper you use. Using
recycled paper means that fewer trees are cut down, moved to a pulping plant and
processed from raw wood to pulp to paper. That means less chainsaws,
skidding, trucking and process energy used. Since almost all that energy
comes from fossil fuels today, that cuts greenhouse gas emissions.
No householder tip today - I'm still too furious about
Prime Minister Harper's comments yesterday regarding climate change at the
Arguing that we can't take any action on climate change because the
technology isn't ready yet is shameful. It's the equivalent of Britain saying we
won't live up to our treaty obligations in 1939 because we haven't built up our
military inventory yet. The way we encourage action is to set the targets, and
follow up by actually doing something. Further, we don't need any additional
technology to get started, we have technology sitting on the shelf that we have
not come close to exploiting to its potential.
If we want a habitable planet for future generations, it is in our own self-interest
to start taking action now, at least on taking the easy wins. Finishing may not
be as easy, but putting off getting started will only make the completion of the
task more difficult and take much longer.
Seal the envelope (12). Finding the holes (still more). Infra-red
imaging. A relatively new development in the past few years, thermal imaging
devices can take a heat picture of your home. Best done on cold days (or nights), so the
contrast is more stark. Used outside the house, hot spots are usually the
indicator of points where heat is escaping from your building. Used indoors,
cold spots are the likely trouble points. The professional cameras are still
a bit spendy ($2,000 or more). However, you may be able to hire the job out,
rent or borrow a camera. Another option is to use a thermometer gun, usually
a couple of hundred dollars. This is much more time-consuming, but if you have
a candidate in mind, it may suffice to prove the point. I have also heard that
military surplus night-vision goggles or binoculars can be somewhat useful for
Seal the envelope (10). Finding the holes (more). A couple of other ways
to detect breaches in the integrity of your fortress against the elements.
Tape a single ply of toilet paper or very fine tissue paper to a piece of
dowel (or a long pencil), and carry this about in front of you as you move
about the structure. Movement of the paper is an indicator of a draft or
Another means of detection is to look for cobwebs. Not only do they
tend to waver in the breeze of a draft, their very existence is a clue.
The webs are often placed by spiders in a gentle air flow which can move
their prey in the the web. Some of the webs will only indicate a convection
airflow in a room (which is why they are often in corners close to the
ceiling). However, other locations may be a clue to a subtle draft.
Seal the envelope (9). Finding the holes. As it is windy day as I
write this entry, it comes naturally to think of using that to advantage.
Take a walk around your house on a windy day, and listen and feel for the
breezes that are penetrating the envelope of your house. Take note of
where they occur so you can figure them out and address them later.
Personally, I have not resorted to the incense stick trick to find
drafts; I simply cannot stand the smell of them. However, it that is not
an issue for you, I have read that you can put 2 or 3 together to increase
the amount of smoke to help visualize the air movement.
The usual suspects are around windows, doors, ducts, pipes that penetrate
the building exterior, chimneys.
Seal the envelope (8). Vents. There are several holes in our houses
that we put there intentionally: kitchen fan vent holes; bathroom fan vent holes;
clothes dryer exhaust; combustion air intakes (for carbon-fuel furnaces); whole-house
attic ventilation fans; soil stacks and so on. In most cases, the job of these holes
is to eject warm (and frequently moist) air from the building. During the heating
season, this is not necessarily beneficial, as we could use that heat and moisture
Where these vents exhaust through a wall, they frequently have one-way flappers
to prevent reverse flow when not in use. It is worth checking these flappers
periodically to ensure they are working correctly. If not, they are simply holes
in your house letting heat escape.
During the heating season it is also worth trying to use these powered vents
(bathrooms, kitchen) as little as possible. If your bathroom vent is controlled
from the same switch as the light, it may be worth trying to separate the circuits
so they can be controlled separately, to save electricity and heat loss.
Finally, if a vent won't be used for a season (e.g., electric clothes dryer),
consider opening the duct pipe close to the vent and inserting an insulating 'plug'
to block airflow and provide additional insulation.
Seal the envelope (6). Outlets and switches. In the typical house,
electrical outlets and switches that are installed in exterior walls are
energy holes. First, they put a thermally-conductive box where insulation
should be. Second, they create a physical hole in the interior skin of the
wall. Third, they puncture the vapour barrier. Fourth, they create a path
for cold air to enter the structure. Fifth, outlets and switches mean wiring
inside the wall, which usually leads to poor insulation installation.
What can we do about them? When doing renovations, additions or
new construction, try to avoid putting wiring, outlets and switches in
exterior walls. However, that doesn't help us with existing homes that
already have outlets and switches in exterior walls. For that, we need to
wield a screwdriver and some appropriate materials. Most hardware stores
will stock gaskets and insulating spray foam. In this case, we don't want
the stuff that expands to 7 to 10 times its original size, but foam that only
Flip the circuit breaker or pull the fuse
for the circuit(s) you will be working on, to de-energize the circuit(s).
Remove the cover plates from the outlets and switches. If it is obvious
that there is no insulation around the box, use the long nozzle to spray some
foam behind and around the electrical box. Try not to imbed the adjacent
wires in case of future maintenance or renovations that might need access.
Spray a little foam to seal the edge of the electrical box and the wall.
Move to the next outlet or switch box to be done (get all the foaming done
first so you can seal up the can, and only have to seal it once for the
Go back to the first work spot, and clean up any foam that has expanded
to places you don't want it. Then, take an appropriate foam sealing gasket
and fit it over the outlet face or switch, and put the outlet or switch cover
back on. Repeat for all the work spots.
Turn the circuit breakers back on.
Remember, the focus is exterior walls. There is very little benefit to
sealing up the electrical boxes in interior walls. This exercise will
reduce the drafts in your house, reduce the amount of heating energy you
use, and as a result reduce your heating bill and your greenhouse gas
emissions, possibly by 1 or 2%.
Seal the envelope (5). Interior doors. If you have rooms in
your house that don't need to be kept as warm as others, keep them
closed as appropriate, and seal them up a bit. For example, if there is a
door to your attic, treat it as if it were an exterior door, perhaps even
going as far as installing a 'storm' door with the existing door. Add a
bottom door sweep to seal the bottom of the door. Consider
attaching some foam board to the back side of the attic door to increase its
insulating value. Put a cloth cover over the door knob to reduce conductive
heat loss through it. Put the foam weather-sealing tape to work on the
door lips. If you have a cold cellar (as opposed to a heated basement),
consider giving the door to it similar insulating and weather-sealing
For doors to regular rooms which may be kept closed on a regular basis,
consider a door 'snake'. The door snake is just a weighted tube of
insulating material wrapped in fabric which is the length of the bottom of
the door. It sits on the floor against the door, blocking air flow.
The fabric exterior prevents scratching flooring material, provides a
flexible edge to improve the seal against the door, and adds some insulating
value. Also helps reduce noise transmission under the door. There are 'U'
shaped versions that put insulating strips on each side of the door
bottom, and move with the door when it opens and closes. Don't work so
well on carpeted doorways. There are commercial versions of both types,
you can easily make your own.
Foam weather-sealing tape may be overkill
for regular interior doors, but not out of the question in some situations.
Seal the envelope (4). Exterior doors. While they're critical to
letting you in and out of your house, they're also a portal for your heat
to leave the house. It's tough to make an airtight seal around your
doors, however, that should be the target. Where feasible, take an
airlock approach to your building entrances. That is, create two separate
doorways some distance apart so that it is unlikely both will be open
at the same time. This greatly reduces the volume of air exchanges
when the doors are opened. This was the real function of foyers and
vestibules in older architecture. It's also a good channel to line with
closets. Not only because they provide convenient storage for coats
and boots, but they also act as a thermal buffering space between the
the living space and the building exterior.
However, even if you can't take on the construction of a new airlock
this week, you can still likely improve the air-tightness of your existing
doorway. If you don't have a two-door system now (i.e., a main 'security'
door and a 'storm' or 'screen' door, definitely look into rectifying that.
The conventional sealing of a door is based on the fit of the door to
the doorframe, a bottom sealing 'sweep', the door frame lip, and sealing strips.
Ensure all of these are in good order, and repair or install/replace as
appropriate. However, this may still not be enough. Weather-sealing foam
tape on the inside of the door frame lips can make a big difference in
reducing air infiltration around doors. A strip gasket at the bottom of
the outside edge of the main door goes a long way to stopping that pesky
under-door draft (however, it can present a tripping hazard, so weigh
the benefits and issues before installing that one). Make sure the
sweeper on the screen door is set to the proper depth to mate with the
door sill when closed, and the gaskets around the edges are in good
order. Repair and replace as appropriate.
Seal the envelope (3). Attic insulation. So, how much insulation is really
in your attic? And is it uniform and complete to the edges? It's worth
checking. When we bought our house (built in the cheap energy early
1970s), two building inspectors went through it as part of the sale;
first for the vendor, then another for us. Neither reported what I found
later - there was no ceiling insulation at all in one corner of the building.
It appeared that the original builder simply quit laying fibreglass batts
when they got to one corner. Even where there was insulation, there was
only 3.5 inches of it (nominally R-12, but more like R-10 in reality.)
Worse, none of it covered the joists, which acted like thermal bridges
as a result, and the original installation was sloppy, not getting batts
up to the edges of the runs between the joists.
The resolution to this
was to buy a bunch more batts of ceiling insulation (20 cm or 8 inches thick), and install it.
I also bought one bag of the 3.5 inch insulation and used that to fix the
original issues before layering in the thicker batts. I laid a first layer
of the thicker R-19 batts cross-ways to the joists, and then another layer
perpendicular to that, making sure to leave space for air flow under the
roof. Result, nominally R-50 throughout most of the attic space, and
up to R-70 over the upstairs hallway. That resulted in a major drop in
our heating bill the following winter (about 30%), and a corresponding
drop in our household greenhouse gas emissions.
The financial payback was roughly 2 heating seasons. This one did
require a significant investment (hundreds of dollars) and a couple of days
of my time to do the installation. (I'm not a professional at this, I was
fixing previous issues and being meticulous, and putting in more
insulation than most people would.) As a result, we are maintaining
the same level of comfort as before, but with less energy used.
Follow-up note: yesterday, while buying more foam tape to seal my
attic hatch, I noticed that my local Canadian Tire had the duct switch box
for directing electric clothes dryer exhaust indoors or outdoors on sale
at 25% off (around $8). This is not in the current CTC flyer, and the sale ends January
22nd, 2010. I mentioned this free heat technique in my January 11th entry.
Just thought you might like to know.
Seal the envelope (2). Attic hatch. Most houses have an entry point into
the attic, be it a doorway or a hatch. In most cases, this passage is
poorly sealed, and not insulated. In other words, it is a chimney, taking
warm air from your living space and ejecting it into the attic, where it
provides no benefit, and from there into the atmosphere via roof vents.
Get some foam weather sealing tape, and use it to create an air resistant
gasket around the edges of the hatch or doorway. That will reduce the flow
of warm air from the living space into the attic. The foam tape is cheap,
and in this application, it will last a very long time (assuming this
door or hatch is not used frequently).
While you have the hatch open anyway, apply a few layers of extruded
polystyrene foam board to the
top side of the hatch panel. 20-25 cm (8-10 inches) of thickness is the target,
to get us up to at least R-40 worth of insulation. That's the minimum we want
above our living space as insulation.
Reducing the air flow and the heat flow via the weather sealing and
insulation will reduce the amount of heating fuel used, and in turn reduce
the associated greenhouse gas emissions. It will also reduce your fuel bill.
Finally, while you can poke your head into the attic space, have a look
around (likely requires a flashlight), and see how much insulation is up there,
and what kind (e.g., fibreglass batts, rolls or blown; blown cellulose; rock
wool) and how deep it is. We'll continue tomorrow.
Seal the envelope (1). Fireplace. In previous posts I have presented several
ideas on how to obtain free heat. Now, I will shift the focus to how
we can keep the heat in.
The outside of your building - the walls, doors,
windows, roof, foundation, etc. - is called the building envelope. It's what
goes around the package of value - your home. Unless you have one of those
rare homes designed to be energy-efficient, odds are there are a lot of small
holes in your building envelope. Added up, they constitute a big hole,
typically a square foot or more in size. That means you are heating a lot
of air that is leaving the building, costing you money and providing you
with no benefit. That hole also represents a draft that likely makes you
feel cold, causing you to turn up the thermostat, further increasing your
If you have a fireplace, the chimney is a large hole in your roof. Warm
air will exit the building by rising up the chimney, abetted by any winds
that effectively suck heated air out the top. Blocking that hole is the
best solution. One way to do this is to build a solid barrier that you can
place in front of the fireplace opening, and creating a seal against drafts.
One approach is to start with a piece of plywood larger than the opening
by at least 5 cm (2 inches) on each side and the top. Cut extruded polystyrene
foam boards to fit the inside of the opening, then attach those to the
plywood (centred side-to-side and flush at the bottom). Go as thick
(deep) with the foam board as practical, even if that
means 2, 3 or 4 layers of foamboard. Dress the back side of the 3 edges
with gasketing material, or crushable fabric. Decorate the front as
desired, possibly adding handles to make it easier to insert and remove
the covering. This fireplace cover will greatly reduce heat loss through
your fireplace by providing an air barrier and insulation. If you currently
have an open fireplace, this measure could significantly reduce your
heating fuel use, your heating bill, and greenhouse gas emissions.
Free heat: know what isn't. It's only free heat if you aren't paying
extra for its use. So, while your television may be kicking 10 or 20 watts of
heat into your house when it is supposedly 'off', that's not free heat. You
pay for the electricity that produces that waste heat, even though you get no
benefit from it. So, instead of wasting that electricity, disconnect your
'instant-on' from the power source so they are really off, and reduce your
household electrical use, the associated electrical bill, and the upstream
greenhouse gas emissions created to produce that electricity.
Driving energy tip. If you drive a vehicle with an automatic transmission,
when you are stopped at a red light, and will be for some time, shift into park.
When the light for the opposing traffic turns to amber, in preparation for your
green, shift back into drive. Based on my experience in the past couple of days
with the ScanGaugeII, my fuel consumption drops by at least 10% when I am
in park, compared to being in drive with the brake on and not moving.
I know it's not where you consume the majority of your fuel, but it is
a place where you can easily save 10% of your greenhouse gas emissions by
reducing your fuel consumption with a simple driving behaviour change - no
investment required. You are not getting any additional benefit from burning
10% more fuel while you are not moving anyway.
Free heat from decor. Decor is largely a matter of aesthetics and personal
taste. However, in your rooms with sun-facing windows, you can enhance your
solar gain. As sunlight strikes lighter colours and glossy surfaces, more
of it is reflected than absorbed, and some will be reflected back out of the
room. However, when sunlight strikes dark colours and matte surfaces, more
of the light is converted to infrared (heat) energy. By putting darker
colours where the sun strikes, and lighter colours on the walls around
the windows, there should be a small heat gain as a result.
Send the heat where it is needed. If you have a central heating system,
adjust the airflow by room via the registers. For example, we have small bathrooms,
but they get the same size registers as the larger rooms in our house. So,
we adjust the registers in the small rooms to reduce the air flow there.
There is also a walk-in closet which gets the same register size as the large
bedroom it serves. So, reduce the closet air flow, but let the bedroom get
full air flow.
It's common practice to put registers under large windows, because windows
tend to be the coldest places in the house. However, some window coverings and
treatments extend out to cover the register. In those cases, use an air
deflector to push the warm air into the room, instead of trying to heat the window.
The deflectors are typically less than $5 at hardware stores, or you can
fashion your own. The key to effective use of the heat you are paying for is
to benefit from it. As you don't spend your time between the window and the
curtains, there is no value in putting the heat there. Send it into the
room where you are.
Winter driving energy tip. Don't wait for your car to warm up.
On these cold
winter mornings, it's so tempting to push a button to start your car, so it's warm
and toasty when you get into it. However, modern cars don't need to warm up before
being driven. The engine and drive train will loosen up more quickly when being
driven - that's when they produce more heat, and the motion will heat up the
transmission fluid and engine oil more quickly than idling.
As for that pesky frost build-up on the inside of your windshield, just leave
the driver door window down a crack when you park your vehicle. This allows the
moist air in the heated cabin to escape while the car is parked. Next day,
no interior frost build-up.
Of course, it does mean dressing for the weather, and not summer-time
conditions while driving. I hope if more people are dressed for the actual
outdoor conditions, perhaps they'll actually take 2 minutes to clear the snow
off their windows. Removing the snow will reduce vehicle weight and improve
the aerodynamics, improving your fuel economy. It also means you won't be
creating a mini-blizzard for those behind you for the first couple of kilometres
that you drive.
An engine running at high idle will burn 3 litres
of gasoline, or more, per hour. (My van uses over 4, according to my
ScanGuageII.) If you let your vehicle warm up for 20 minutes
before driving away, that's 2.3 kg of CO2 created each time. With gasoline at
$0.966 a litre (the price I saw yesterday), that's about a dollar out of your
pocket each time you indulge in that little luxury.
If you burn a litre a day warming up your car for 90 days out of the year,
that's $90 in your pocket, and possibly almost a 5% reduction in your vehicle-related greenhouse
gas emissions for the year (assumes 2,000 litres annual gasoline consumption for
the vehicle, averaging 10 litres/100 km, and 20,000 km driving per year).
Still more free heat. Laundry day. It's not a day conducive to hanging out
laundry to dry; cold and snowy. So, the electric clothes dryer will see duty today.
It is vented indoors into an air space in our basement during the winter. That way,
we are not sending the heat energy we paid for outside, when we can benefit from it
and the humidity inside our home. Do NOT do this with natural gas dryers due to
carbon monoxide poisoning issue. Also, take care to point the hot, humid dryer
exhaust to an open space to avoid condensation issues. We also use an additional
lint catcher (old pantyhose) to reduce the lint dust coming into the basement.
(2010) Editorial aside. Read this
editorial comment titled 'Green, but not lean' by Lorrie Goldstein in today's
Ottawa Sun. Regarding the bit about the hydrogen buses, well, the best I can
do is refer you to my book, The
Emperor's New Hydrogen Economy. As for government good intentions,
that's the reason this Web site is aimed at consumers and citizens, not policymakers
(Thanks for bringing this one to my attention, Harry.)
Still more free heat. Now that the sun is shining (at last, after 14 straight
days of overcast here), draw back the curtains from your sun-facing windows
and let that solar heating
energy flow into your house. Of course, when the sun sets, you have to close
the window coverings again to try to keep some of that heat in.
Windows are a major point of heat loss in most homes. While contractors
will happily sell you replacement windows (and that may be justified in
many cases), it's a major expense and not necessarily the best return on
investment for your energy saving portfolio.
Instead, I recommend that you invest in some
removable window coverings with
an appreciable insulating value. Some of these approaches are not even
particularly expensive to implement.
Still more free heat. Cook at home. You can save
money by cooking meals at home rather than grabbing another fast food meal.
You can make a more nutritious meal, and save money on the food costs. You also
save on GHG emissions you likely create by driving to the restaurant or take-out
However, during the heating season, you also get the benefit of two uses
of the heat used for cooking. Not only does it prepare your food for consumption,
it displaces the heat your furnace or other heat source(s) would have produced.
That saves on your heating bill, because it's heat you were producing for
another reason anyway.
One thing to watch for if you use an electric stove, and are subject to
time of use (TOU) pricing, also called interval pricing. Try to do your major
cooking at off-peak times (e.g., weekends and holidays), and limit your range
and oven use at peak price times (e.g., weekday dinner times). If you can shift
your electrical usage time to off-peak times, you will save money, and in much
of Canada, use a less carbon-intensive fuel for electrical generation as a
More free heat. Anybody in your household take showers or baths?
Do they use hot water? Put the stopper in the drain hole, and collect that water.
Leave it in the tub until it cools to room temperature, then drain it.
This will allow the heat from the water to move into the building,
along with humidity, which is usually welcome indoors in the Canadian winter.
This idea does have a few drawbacks. Don't do this if you have mobile
and unsupervised toddlers with access to the tub, as it presents a drowning
hazard. It may require some additional tub cleaning periodically due to
bathtub rings. It won't work in most dedicated shower stalls. If you have
a regular humidity problem during the heating season, this may contribute to it.
However, if you do try this technique, it may surprise you to see just how much water
you actually use when you do take a shower!
Free heat. Want some? Look around your house for it. When you are
cooking potatoes, vegetables, pasta or other things cooked in water,
instead of pouring the heated cooking water down the drain, drain it into
a large bowl. Let the bowl sit out until it has cooled to room temperature.
It will provide heat and humidity (usually welcomed in Canadian winters)
into the house. Use it for watering plants or other purposes after it
has cooled. Better than giving your plants cold water shock with water
right out of the cold water tap. I have used large vegetable juice tins
or coffee cans for this purpose, so I don't have to wash an extra dish
after. Then, when the can has done its time, it can just be recycled.
Casting back to my original posting on slippers and
socks, we restocked on slippers for the family today. If you have a
Snow removal and heating. OK, after 13 straight days of precipitation
and darn little sun, I need to talk about moving snow. First, let's
start looking at options other than 5 to 12 hp, small gasoline engined
contraptions that deafen the neighbours and belch smoke and toxins
into the air (including greenhouse gases).
Our house, like most in my experience, was laid out with zero
consideration for dealing with snow removal. Postage stamp front lawn,
large driveway, a convoluted walkway, and front door shelter that harvests
every drifting snowflake for metres around into a drift at our front door.
The drift is of course surrounded on three sides by 2-storey walls, and
the only exit point is into the prevailing wind.
Over the years, we have collected a small arsenal of snow moving
weaponry. This includes a selection of scrapers and throwing shovels,
a small, corded electric snowblower, and an electric garden tractor with
a plow and a snowthrower. Look Ma, no gasoline! No GHGs at point of use!
However, many people don't realize that snow is a good insulator.
That's why it works for igloos. So instead of just pushing it all down to
street creating a visibility hazard, take some of it and pile it up around
the walls of your house. It will add to the insulating effect of the structure.
And if you are moving it and placing it manually, the exercise will help
warm you up, too.
More on programmable thermostats. Yes, they really do save on your
energy use and fuel costs. My own experience was almost a 20% year over
year saving the first winter we had ours (and I would play with the previous
manual thermostat daily). This is because heat loss
is proportional to the difference in temperature between inside our home
and outside it. Because it gets colder at night outside, the difference
increases, and so does the rate of heat loss. Dial down the inside
temperature at night, and the heat loss rate is reduced.
Experiment with the timing of when the heat goes down and back up, to
get a feel for latency duration. It takes time to cool down and heat up
the interior of your home. So try turning the heat off 30 to 45 minutes
before you normally go to bed, and before the first person usually gets
up in the morning. If your house is well sealed and insulated, you may
find you can turn the heat down even earlier in the evening, and later
in the morning.
Here's an article on [Sorry, article has succumbed to link rot:
how to install a programmable thermostat, so
you can save by not having to pay someone else to install it.