Can you improve indoor air quality with an energy audit?  You bet.  Recently our company was asked to do some troubleshooting on a 50 year old home in Northwest Arkansas.  The occupant has environmental sensitivity and respiratory issues, and was having difficulties staying in her home due to her physical reactions and symptoms.  The homeowner suspected the culprit was cellulose fibers from attic insulation added several years previously.

 

We showed up with our diagnostic equipment, surveyed the house carefully, and started testing.  We found that there was indeed some duct leakage from the returns in the attic that probably introduced some cellulose fibers into the home.  However, it was our conclusion that the primary source of airborne contaminants was the crawl space.  The supply ductwork was all located in the crawlspace.  The ducts were disconnected in several spots, and unsealed everywhere else.  The crawlspace floor had no vapor barrier, there was active condensation running down the foundation walls, and the presence of literally thousands of water crickets was noted.  It was not a healthful environment, to say the least. The building envelope was moderately leaky.  With the very leaky supply ducts, and the numerous unsealed floor penetrations, there was a continuous flow of air from the crawlspace into the home.  Paydirt, as they say. 

 

The point to be made from this investigation is that this is an all too common condition in homes in our area.  While the primary intended benefit of an energy audit is to improve a home's energy efficiency, it may be that for many homeowners the resulting improvement in their indoor air quality may have greater value to them than the savings on their utility bills.  It has also been our experience that most homeowners either do not even suspect that they have poor indoor air quality, or if they do, their solutions to the problem miss the mark. 

 

This post originally appeared on Home Energy Consultants' House Whisperer Blog.

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Tags: energy audit, indoor air quality

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Comment by Gary Kahanak on January 12, 2011 at 6:37pm
@John Milligan--This is a work in progress.  So far the supply ducts in the crawlspace have been repaired and sealed, and all floor penetrations have been sealed.  This was the quickest and least expensive way to limit infiltration of crawlspace air into the home.  A recommendation was made to properly install a vapor barrier on the crawlspace floor at their earliest opportunity.  An insulated, unvented crawlspace can be a good solution for some homes, but humidity and moisture control is critical.  Attaining it can be very difficult, and expensive, in some retrofit situations.  If one cannot be assured of excellent moisture control, it's usually better to go with a vented crawlspace, and put the money into air sealing and insulating the subfloor and ductwork.
Comment by John Milligan on January 12, 2011 at 5:37pm
How did you resolve the crawlspace issues? Did you decide to bring crawlspace into conditioned space or did you seal off at ceiling of crawl space. I have heard mix opinions on what to do with unvented crawl spaces.
Comment by Jon LaMonte on January 5, 2011 at 10:16pm
Gary, I agree with you.  Here in Atlanta I have made comfort and air quality the main issue with energy efficiency as an added benefit.  I think that too many auditors get caught up in the technical side of things and forget that most people just want a comfortable, healthy, and durable home to live in.  This approach has changed my marketing strategies and homeowners have responded to it more favorably, especially at quote time.  Good job.

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