Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The End of Manners and Magic Words

October 9, 2017

Did you ever think you would find yourself talking to an inanimate object?  Yelling at the TV is one thing or kicking the car in frustration.  But talking to an inanimate object that talks back and answers questions like “What’s the weather today?” or “What was the score of the Red Sox game?” and expecting it to answer in a sultry, human voice?  You can even ask personal questions like, “What are you wearing?” or “What is the meaning of life?” and get answers.

We strove to get our children to use the ‘magic word‘ when they asked for things like “Please, can I stay up?” or “Please, can I have ice cream?” rather than just demanding.  But children are human after all.  These talking objects are . . . objects?  Even if they don’t sound like objects and who knows what they are really listening to.

And what about the other bit of manners like “thank you” or “you’re welcome”?  When I thank one of these objects the voice inside never says “you’re welcome”.

So are these machines eliminating one more layer of manners like men removing their hats or caps when they come indoors or walking on the street side of their female companion?  Will people just be ordering each other around, never using the magic word?  Or is the line between animate and inanimate intelligence clear enough that it won’t cause a problem?

Words like please and thank you help to make the social world we cohabit friendlier.  They show respect.  We seem to be eliminating many levels of politeness, respect, and privacy while we have created recording devices that don’t forget anything. (You can burn a box of private letters but email is there . . . somewhere . . . forever.)  Is that really okay?  It takes a little effort to say please, or acknowledge a little respect with thank you, but that seems like a small price to pay for a civil society.  As Emily Post said, “Etiquette is the science of living.  It embraces everything.  It is ethics.  It is honor.”



Clarkson University: Clarkson University Undergrads Research Link Between Hauntings & Indoor Air Quality

April 9, 2015

Clarkson University: Clarkson University Undergrads Research Link Between Hauntings & Indoor Air Quality.

Client Satisfaction – It’s a hug!

March 30, 2015

Mrs. Schroeder met us at the door in her thin, cotton housecoat with a welcoming smile. She lives in a small, bungalow on a back street in Trenton, NJ. It is a single story house with two bedrooms, living room, kitchen, and a room that serves as the primary storage for a lifetime of magazines, newspapers, Christmas decorations, and other stuff.

Mr. Schroeder built the house – a cozy, story-tale nest for his family and a lifetime of memories. He died a couple of years ago. He believed in ventilation and bathroom fans and installed one in every room in the house venting into the attiSchroeder Bath fanc. The attic floor is covered with fiberglass insulation that had settled to a dirty, dusty, two or three inches. The furnace in the dirt-floored basement is crowded into a corner with more stuff and a washing machine and dryer.

Mrs. Schroeder lived there comfortably for fifty years. But then Mr. Schroeder died, winters seemed to get colder, money got tighter. You know, they say that if you put a frog on a pot of water that it will stay there happily. If you turn the heat on and gradually bring up the temperature, the frog will keep sitting there until it boils, not noticing the change in temperature. “It used to be okay! It was okay for years!” Mrs. Schroeder wasn’t comfortable any more. She wished that everything would go back to where it was.

This is what we face in many of the homes that we weatherize. The homeowner is comfortable for years. It’s their home – their memories, their castle, and the weatherization crew is disturbing that. The crew needs to respect that. The crew needs to respect the client’s possessions as though they were their own. Would they do a sloppy job if this was their mother’s or daughter’s house or where their grandchildren live? There are all the mechanics of measuring, testing, air sealing, insulating, but to the occupant, it is home.

As a Quality Control Inspector or Crew Chief you have to be able to communicate with clarity and empathy with the client or homeowner. You play a dual role: on the one hand you will be representing the client or homeowner in construction process. On the other hand you will be representing your company or your agency. It’s a difficult line to navigate. In the process, you will have to satisfy the client without damaging the reputation of the organization that you work for or your fellow crew members. Hopefully, you will come into this dichotomy being appreciated and respected by the crew. But you will have to establish a rapport with the homeowner. Add to that mix the noise, dust, and intrusion of the crew invading the house.

Mr. Schroeder liked bathroom fans, but they broke through both the thermal boundary and the pressure boundary and blew heat from the house into the attic. Mrs. Schroeder was proud of her husband for his skill and his cleverness. We left the fans in place, sealing in them, around them and over them. Making them into dormant ceiling ornaments.

How do you know if a client is satisfied? It’s as simple as a grateful hug. There’s more to comfort than temperature.

If you are planning to challenge the BPI Quality Control Inspector’s certification, you might find the Quality Control Inspector’s Residential Handbook helpful.

QCI Handbook Cover copy

Ice Dams and Soffit Vents

February 25, 2015
Ice Dam

Ice Dam and Soffit Vents


Right now in Massachusetts people are going crazy because of the ice dams on their roofs!  A company has arrived from Minnesota that has steam generating devices and personnel that will climb up on your roof and melt the amazing amount of ice that is collecting in the gutters, weighting them down, backing the water up the roof, and leaking into the ceilings below.  Companies have produced melting products like salt that can be thrown up on the roof to melt the ice.  Why is this happening?

Obviously because there is an enormous amount of snow that has fallen on roofs in Massachusetts!  But this really only highlights a problem that festers every year.  Before we insulated attics we didn’t have ice dam problems.  Heat from the interior of the house passed through the ceiling, heated the attic, and melted the snow evenly.

To save energy (and money) we now insulate our attics so much less heat escapes from the house which is great for a whole lot of reasons.  If air sealing was done prior to the installation of the insulation, reducing the amount of air that moves through the holes in the ceiling, transferring warm, moist air from the house into the attic AND if the insulation is installed perfectly from one edge of the ceiling to the other, there wouldn’t be ice dams either because the entire attic would be almost the same temperature as outside and the snow would melt evenly.

Soffit and ridge vents were the solution to the imperfect installation of the insulation.  The idea is that cold air pours in through the soffit vents and sweeps up under the entire underside of the roof deck and pours out of the ridge vents.  Soffit and ridge vents are there to prevent ice dams!  The building code says that you have to have attic venting.

Soffit and ridge vents are designed to solve the ice dam problem only.  They are NOT going to cool the attic.  The building code is the same in Florida as it is in Massachusetts.  They haven’t had much of a problem with ice dams in Florida.  They do have a problem with hurricanes.

For ridge and soffit vents to do their job inducing an airflow up the entire underside of the roof deck, they have to have an unimpeded path from the soffit to the ridge.  Companies make baffles or chutes to guide the air from the soffit.  These are not easy to install effectively particularly on a retrofit basis.  And when the air sweeps in from the soffit and passes through the fiberglass insulation or blows back the loose fill cellulose, it reduces the insulation value at one of the most critical points in the thermal boundary: the tops of the exterior walls.  Consequently, heat flows up the exterior walls into the attic, melting the snow on the roof immediately before the roof extends out beyond the house where it is exposed to the outside air and cold on the top and on the bottom.  The snow melts, runs down the roof, hits the cold surface and freezes.  More water from melting snow moves down the roof, and collides with the ice dam.  The dam forms a lake above it and the water works it way back in, under the shingles, and drips down onto the ceiling and into the house.

How do you fix this?

Well you can’t do much inside the house until the ice and snow is gone from the roof.  Once that wonderful day arrives, you should try to resolve the problem so that it doesn’t happen again.

  • Before adding insulation to the attic, make sure that as many of the holes between the house and the attic are sealed.  It is a lot easy to do that when they aren’t buried under lots of insulation;
  • Make sure that the soffit and ridge vents are actually open and allow air to flow through them;
  • Install effective air baffles to guide the air from the soffit vents up the underside of the roof deck.  It is very hard to see because it is a narrow, triangular space at the eave and there are nails sticking through the roof deck, but it is vital that the baffles make contact with the soffit and seal the entry air into a pathway to the ridge;
  • Then add insulation to the attic.  Blowing in insulation is like painting the walls.  The hardest part in painting and insulating is the preparation.  Once that’s done, blowing in the insulation is quick and cheap.

You could consider insulating the underside of the roof deck with spray foam.  That is a more expensive process but can be quite effective.  Any of these solutions is cheaper than hiring a company from Minnesota to keep steaming your roof time after time!



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Still to come: the BPI Home Energy Professional QCI Handbook

Homeowner’s Energy Workbook Part 5

December 16, 2012
Radiant Heat Movement

Radiant Heat Movement

So conductive heat movement is heat moving molecule by molecule for objects that are touching.  Convective heat movement is heat moving by air or water flows.  Radiant heat movement is heat moving by electromagnetic waves.

The sun radiates its energy down to us on the surface of the earth.  When you stand in the sun on a calm, cold winter day, you can feel the radiant warmth from the sun.  Back into the shade and it feels like the temperature just dropped ten degrees!  Stand facing an open fire and feel the radiant warmth.  Turn around and feel that warmth on your back.  If the radiant wave path is blocked, it won’t reach the surface.

Radiant Barrier

Radiant Barrier

I have an odd arrangement in my house with a fairly powerful wood-stove about three feet from the door of an upright freezer.  It was the only way I could get the freezer into the kitchen.  Definitely not an ideal arrangement.  Anyway I have a shade of aluminized Mylar that I pull down when we have a fire going in the wood-stove.  The radiant heat is reflected away from the freezer and the surface of the door stays cools.  Sometimes builders lay reflective material on the top of the insulation in the attic.  This will reflect the radiant heat from the roof getting into the top of the insulation – for a while, until the shiny surface gets covered in dirt and doesn’t reflect any more.

But this is about the meaning of terms so we want to reserve more insulation discussion for later on.  We do need to look at R value and U value, however.  R value is a measurement of the ability of a material to Resist the conductive flow of heat.  The higher the R value the better the insulator.  Since different materials are . . . different in their ability to resist the flow of heat.  Since we know that to reduce the conductive flow of heat to cool depends on the thickness, the number of molecular layers the heat has to move through, the R value of a material is commonly referenced to the thickness of the material, like the R value per inch.

Well if a material can Resist the flow of heat, how well does it conduct the flow of heat?  That is the opposite of the R value and is known as the ‘U’ value.  Why not the ‘C’ value, you might ask?  Because the ‘C’ has been reserved for something else entirely like Centigrade or Celsius, and we wouldn’t want to get confused.  So if a higher R value is a better insulator, a lower U value is also a better insulator.  In fact, if you want to change an R value to a U value, you take the inverse of it or put 1 over it.  An R of 5 is the same as a U of 0.2.  So if someone tries to sell you new windows with twice the U value, you would be getting a very bad deal indeed!

An R value is nice to work with if you are buying insulation in a lumber yard, but what we really want to know is how much heat the house loses on a cold winter’s day or gains in the heat of the summer.  And that, my friend, is the total U value of your house, and that is one of the key things we’re going to figure out.  Every surface of your house that protects you from the outside weather has a U value; every window, every door, every wall, every ceiling, every floor.  We can also squeeze a U value out of the convective losses and add that to the total.  So keep this R value/U value thing in your mind.  It’s going to be important.

Nature’s Choice

October 31, 2012

Oh, drat.  Internet’s down again.  Can’t do anything!  Can’t make phone calls.  Can’t surf the web.  Life sucks.

Maple Tree Down

Power of the wind

Oh, oh.  Power just went out.  Good thing this is a laptop that runs on batteries.  Good thing I have them charged.  Good thing the generator’s running.

What was that?!  A piece of a tree just went through the roof.  Gotta get that hole patched before it starts to pour.  Sure is windy up on the roof.  Not a great time for roof work.  Good thing I’ve got roof jacks and “Ice & Water” shield in the garage.

Holy phisters!  Another huge branch down.  Took off the front porch this time

Small chain saw, big branches.  Chain saw up in smoke.  Oh, well.  We’ll wait till after the storm.

Storm doesn’t seem to want to stop.  But the generator did.  Now we sit in the dark.  Not bad.  Romantic for one night.  Candlelight dinner and howling wind.  Oh, wait, now there’s a full moon.

Of all the nights in 81 years, my father-in-law chooses this one to die in.  Peacefully.  In his sleep.  In his own house.  With his wife there to mourn him.

Not everyone was as lucky in this storm.  Some people died alone.  Although some people weren’t touched.  Some people were wiped out.  Untold thousands of houses swamped.  Towns under water.  Towns burning.  Even the throb of New York City business has paused.

But I can’t help but wonder if this weather is a harbinger of things to come as the climate shifts.  I can’t help but wonder what the world will be like for my grandchildren.  I can’t help but wonder about all those towns along the New Jersey shore, all those houses with all those previously enviable views, all those people whose small businesses built up over the years that are now gone.  I can’t help but wonder at the power of the wind and the volume of the water that got thrown around like an angry child.

I can’t help but wonder at how lucky I was, how lucky my family was, as I turn and look up at the clear sky and the full moon and the brilliant stars, and breath in the warm, once again peaceful, fall air.

But the internet is back.  I’ve reset the clocks.  I still need to find a chain saw to remove the tree from the front porch.  I’m going to sock away a bucket of ‘D’ cell batteries this time.  The insurance adjuster is on his way.  The patch is holding in the roof.  And luckily the TV stations are bringing us live disaster pictures, reporters in waders, wandering through deserted streets,  sponsored by the endless political ads.

Longer Term Thinking

October 16, 2012

The U.S. was sick from a glut of personal greed.  We gobbled down the candy of high speed growth, and grabbed the goodies that dropped out of the piñata.  And we seemed shocked when the ones who sold us the candy ran off with their ill-gotten gains and left us standing around.  Nobody likes facing the music, overcoming the addiction,  or taking the medicine.  It certainly hasn’t been easy, but President Obama made us face the issues of housing and health care and energy.  We need to start taking a longer-term view of our families, our country, and our world.  People need to recognize that the only jobs the government actually makes are public sector jobs.  Public sector jobs increase the size of the government.


Among the things that have been accomplished through the millions of stimulus dollars pumped into the ARRA program, a million existing homes have been weatherized, saving home owners money and allowing them to meet their mortgage obligations and stay in their homes, saving the country a massive amount of energy, cutting out thousands of tons of carbon dioxide.


The thousands of people who have performed these weatherization projects have had jobs, been paid, learned new skills that will assist them in weatherizing the remaining 129 million existing homes.  Thousands of new, small companies with trained professional staff have blossomed all across the country to address this critical problem.


Suppliers have sold insulation, building materials, sophisticated tools, and software to provide effective energy savings.  Small innovative companies have developed exceptional training tools.  Education programs have flourished to add skills that will benefit all of us into the future, producing more energy efficient and comfortable homes.


Through VP Joe Biden’s Standard Work Specifications program we have developed a uniform and reasonable approach to meet challenges akin to preparing for battle in the second world war to reducing our dependence on foreign fuels and our full speed charge to increasing global temperatures.


The biggest source of energy that we have available to us is conserving the energy that we have.  Less fuel is needed to fill a tank that doesn’t have holes in it.  Plugging the holes is not sexy.  It’s not dramatic.  Your friends and neighbors won’t be thrilled when you drag them up through the attic hatch to show them your four feet of cellulose insulation, but just sucking down all the available oil reserves to satisfy our immediate needs is not going to be good for our children our children’s children or our children’s children’s children.


Although he recognized the unpopularity of a national health program, the president was courageous enough to finally recognize the health care dilemma and develop and push through a health plan that will help people without insurance get coverage and address the surging cost of health care.  As a Massachusetts resident, about a third of my operating costs are insurance costs.


Recovery growth has been slow, too slow for people out of work and losing their homes, but slow growth is solid growth.  Explosive growth is often a bubble, with no substance behind it. Making, selling and buying lots of stuff may be good for the economy in the short term, but closets fill up, storage facilities fill up, landfills and dumps fill up, and then what?   We need to change our thinking to a more sustainable mindset and that certainly is not popular with the making, selling, and buying state of mind.


Nobody likes the doctor or nurse that gives you the nasty medicine to swallow or sticks the needle in your arm.  Everybody loves that sweet relative that gives you whatever you want and doesn’t question whether or not it is good for you in the long run.  Our national greed and short term thinking made us sick.  We’re getting better, and I for one appreciate the doctor who is getting us there.

Just sign here! Trust me!

August 10, 2012
Lawyer on the phone

“Just sign it!”

I know this is not about ventilation or even building science, but I want to say a few words about contracts.  I want to urge people to read before signing.  A contract is an agreement between parties to do something for something.  “If you do this, I’ll do that.”  Pretty simple.  “If you paint the fence, I’ll give you a chicken.”  Could be done in a conversation and with a handshake.  Of course the parties would have to trust each other.  Custom written contracts can be pretty clear and simple too.  They are written specifically to suit a specific situation.  The parties write them, read them, talk about them, and agree to them.  If something goes wrong – “You painted my fence blue when you knew I wanted it white!” – if what would happen was put on paper beforehand  – “If  I don’t like the color of the fence, I’ll give you a scrawny chicken” – then you get a scrawny chicken.

The trouble is that people don’t write specific contracts anymore.  They use something they have used before which often consists of a whole lot of boiler plate legalize that probably doesn’t apply and may even confuse the issue if anyone bothers to read the contract.  And that is where the real problem lies.  Wait!  Here!  Read this Contract if you want this software!  Who reads those things?  The contract could say, “If you use this software, we’ll own your house,”  but no one reads those things.  Of course, the lawyers will tell you that would never hold up in court, but where’s the line?  If you sign a contract that says you will paint my fence and I throw in a clause that says that’s the only fence you can paint for the next three years, would that hold up in court?  Just sign it.  It takes too long to read it.  It’s just boiler plate stuff.  Legalize.  Everybody signs these things.

What happened to trust?  What happened to giving my word?  If we don’t read the contracts we sign, then we are encouraging lawyers to write contracts that may or may not actually apply to the project at hand.  It’s a lawyer’s job to try to construct contracts that are as broad reaching as they possibly can to protect their clients in any contingency.

  1. We need to read the contracts we sign no matter how long or how boring they may be.
  2. Both parties need to agree on the contents of the contract.  To accomplish that they need to be able to talk about the contents.
  3. These points are especially important if the contract is a generic, off-the-internet set of words.

I increasingly run into contracts that say things that I can’t agree to.  Maybe it’s because as I get older, I get pickier about what I agree to.  People might say I am becoming a curmudgeon.  But I am shocked by how many people don’t read the contracts they sign at all.  They really want that job so they’ll sign anything.  There are no negative consequences with contracts until someone screws up.  What happens then if it is a bad contract?  Maybe nothing.  Maybe a lot.  But if I agree to something in a contract, I’m going to abide by it.  I’m giving my word.  If I haven’t read it, what’s my word worth?

ASHRAE 62.2 Training

August 2, 2012

Image  I know I have way too much ASHRAE 62.2 stuff on my brain.  It is really just a stand-in for residential ventilation.  I promise to back away from it . . . at some point, but right now I have to tell you about some courses I have put together with some professional help.  (I need all of that I can get!)

I have done a fair amount of training over the years, but I think I have finally figured out how to make this work.  You have to describe stuff, show pictures, emphasize the fundamental principals, but then you have to apply all of that to a real problem.  This course does that.  It covers all the fundamental issues in the standard – sizing the system, taking into account the infiltration credit, the existing homes Appendix A, documenting and testing the system, but it makes the participants apply that information to some real houses. Admittedly they are still on paper because we couldn’t go out to different types of houses in different parts of the country, but they effectively walk into each house, survey the existing situation, and then apply the standard.  And so far it has worked well.  The solutions have been effective and creative.  It is feasible in some cases, to simply increase the size of the ducting on an existing fan, increasing the airflow and meeting the requirements.  It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive.

The course works through the sizing and then meeting the sizing requirements by choosing the ventilation products.  It then considers the installation issues – the actual plus equivalent length of the duct-work equals the effective length.  It also goes through a cost exercise.  It’s surprising how small the electrical cost is for running these very efficient systems.  (If you run a 10 watt fan 24/day 365 days/year and electricity costs you 12 cents per kWh, it will cost you about $10.51 cents.  Per year!  About the same as your door bell transformer!)  The conditioned air cost isn’t at all bad either.  It turns out that providing mechanical ventilation is quite inexpensive to operate while allowing the house to be made tighter, saving more energy.

(Here’s a read-only version of the Standard.)

Your place or mine?  We are offering the course at the Cape and Islands Self Reliance building here on Cape Cod.  We will also bring it to you.  (If we can reasonably drive there in a day, we’ll bring all the props and tools or we’ll work something out with you.)  We are also offering the course on-line through Energy Logic Academy.  This truly unique version of training allows a group of students to work together on projects, interact with each other and with the trainer, and develop some exceptional skills.  All of the versions of the course qualify for both BPI and RESNET CEUs.  Check it out on our website.

Call me and we can fix you right up.  866-389-8578

Evaluating a Residential Ventilation System

July 21, 2012

It is interesting to me that the easiest steps in the process of settling on a ventilation system for a house are about all that the majority of programs follow: sizing the fans.  It’s not so easy to apply the standard to an actual house because you have to evaluate what is there now, is it ducted to the outside, can it be ducted to the outside, how much air is it moving,  does the homeowner really want to hood on the front of the house?  It is even complex to find the right products!  No wonder people just choose one and stick with it.  But there are a lot of ventilation product choices – unique solutions to fit unique situations.  Some solutions are more expensive than others, but meeting the ASHRAE 62.2 Standard may be as simple as increasing the size of the duct for an existing fan.

The steps involved in solving a residential ventilation situation are:

1. Size the whole building system: cfm = .01 x floor area + 7.5 x (bedrooms +1);
2. Size the local exhaust solution: 50 cfm intermittent bathroom, 100 cfm intermittent kitchen;
3. Select the design for the whole building system: exhaust-only, supply-only, balanced, balanced with heat or energy recovery;
4. Select a product that is quiet, has been tested to HVI specifications, and meets the airflow criteria;
5. Design an installation that will allow the system to work properly;
6. Install the system;
7. Test the installation;
8. Document the design details.

The fact is that the math is pretty simple. Selecting and installing and testing the system are not always simple. And the documentation is pretty straight forward. One of the simplest ways to clarify this is to do an analysis of your own house. Make an inventory of what you have for ventilation now, verify that the fans exhaust to the outside of the house, measure the flows, and document the system. You can use the TEC Exhaust Fan Flow Meter for most fans. You can use a duct tester.  You could use a vane or hot wire anemometer if you have one and do a traverse test.  If you have an HRV or ERV, you may be able to use the pressure taps on the unit to measure the flows and check the balance.  If it’s connected to the air handler, you should measure the pressures with the air handler running and not running.

ImagePHR talking about adjacent spaces

If your system runs intermittently, the total airflow should be enough to meet the formula in step 1 above. If the system runs half of every hour, for example, the flow should be twice the calculated rate. If it runs 20 minutes each hour, the flow should be 3 times the calculated rate. Then you have to verify that it really works that way. That’s a lot easier to do on your own system than when you’re verifying a system in someone else’s house.

There is definitely no point in going to the effort and expense of designing and installing a good ventilation system if the occupant is not going to use it. Mechanical ventilation gives us a license to tighten up the house as much as we want. It’s the ticket to tightening! The energy saved by tightening up the house can more than pay for the ventilation system.

(I want to thank the manufacturers that supplied me with products for my latest series of ventilation trainings: Broan for their Ultra fan, Panasonic for their WhisperGreen, AirKing for the ES80, Fantech for their SH704 HRV, AirCycler for their Smart Exhaust control, Honeywell for their HVC001 bath fan control, and Tamarack Technologies for their Airetrak Advantage.)

Paul Raymer – Heyoka Solutions, LLC