Today's Power Trip - Weatherization and Infrared Camera

by Don Ames,

Got a phone call from a Son today, he was down at the local Mall looking to exchange a shirt he got for Christmas. This is one of those times when I wish that cell phones would just go away. Why do we need to be in constant touch with everybody all the time?

"Yes son, I bought the shirt there and I don't know why I cut the tag off and I don't know what happened to the receipt after Grandma exchanged her boots. Please try to not drive around too much, gas is expensive."

Anyway, I liked the shirt and don't know why it needs to be exchanged for one I probably won't like.

I am sitting here at home, listening to my refrigerator hum away. You do remember my refrigerator don't you? I am thinking about the work specifications I need to write tomorrow for the home I visited this afternoon. It is a single wide manufactured home with a number of problems that should be addressed to make the home safer and more energy efficient.

I am going to share some infrared pictures I took today, I find them very revealing and demonstrate the need for weatherization and air sealing.

Front Door Heat Loss

Not everyone lives in a nice, well insulated home. In fact, I think a whole lot of people simply live in a home that fits their needs and their income. A single wide manufactured home can be very comfortable and cozy. And in many ways, carry the title of "Family Home" just as well as the big home in the gated community.

The problem with a lot of manufactured homes, or any home, is they have been recycled a number of times. From one owner to the next, things that affect energy efficiency seem to get set aside and not well maintained. I spoke about my refrigerator that hums along like a diesel truck, well this home has a furnace fan that sounds like a two year old on a set of drums.

One thing I will add to my list of work spec's for this home is to have the furnace serviced. I am pretty sure the bearings are out in the furnace fan and a new fan motor is in order. The squirrel cage fan that is in most furnaces gets very dirty and dusty over the years. Add a little more dust on one side of the fan then the other and the out-of-balance fan will help the bearings wear out.

Now that the bearings are out and the fan remains out-of-balance, the fan can strike the side of the fan housing and produce a real thumping sound. Like  a two year old with a wooden spoon and a cooking pan.

I thought the homeowner would be worried about the clanking coming from the furnace, but they didn't seem to be concerned. Maybe it is like my refrigerator, after a while, one gets used to the noise and simply ignores it.

The Infrared camera includes pictures of the louver style windows, the front door, and an electrical outlet. In the picture of the window, you can see the difference in surface temperature that indicates how much heat is being radiated from the warm window to the cold outside. Louver windows are one type of window that is always cost effective to change for new, double pane windows.

By changing all the windows in this home, I will expect to get at least a 30% savings in heating costs.

Electric Outlet

The picture of the front door clearly shows the lack of sufficient weatherstripping around the door. The brighter colors are areas of warmer temperatures. In the picture of the door, the area around the door is warmer because the door does not seal well against the door frame which allows warm air from inside the home to escape to the outside.

Of the three infrared pictures, I like the picture of the electric outlet the best. This picture, of course, was taken from inside the home where the other pictures were taken from the outside. The dark color cascading below the outlet is cool air from inside the wall, entering the home from around the outlet and then falling down towards the kitchen counter. Cooler air is heavier than warm air and tends to move downwards towards the floor.

Most people are amazed to witness the amount of air that can leak into and out of a home by way of electric outlets and light switches. This picture demonstrates the reason why foam gaskets are made for outlets that can help stop the flow of air.

My work specifications for this manufacture home will include a new roof, servicing the furnace, new windows, new door weatherstripping and a refrigerator. Yes, a refrigerator.

Currently this home has two refrigerators and neither of them work. They won't even hum like a diesel truck. In fact, one of them has a freezer compartment that has gotten so hot, it melted the plastic lining. I guess you could say, this is one refrigerator that turned itself into a heater.

Thanks for stopping by Detect Energy, please come back soon, but I won't leave the light on for you...

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Comment by Brion Battin Black on January 3, 2012 at 4:32pm

Don, I have a question for you and fellow HERS folks.

Last summer while conducting blower door tests (-50pa) I noticed something odd.  The outside ambient temp was about 100 degrees F, attic about 120 degrees, crawl space 68degrees and on the interior walls, not connected to the outside, were reading nearly 90 degrees.  These walls were within the air conditioned house with about ambient  80degree temps (even with air leakage.)  These walls were glowing a yellow 92 degrees, on my Flir.  I assume this heat is being pulled down from the attic through the interstitial cavity of the walls.  Which means heat also must go up the same way in winter.  Does this seem accurate to you?  How would it be corrected? Sorry, I no longer have the photos.

Comment by tedkidd on January 3, 2012 at 4:05pm

Wow, that flows over me like a warm shower after a cold hike.  

Nicely written Don. It's wonderful that you don't try to one call close your clients. 


 Everything I see developing in the NY program seems to place no value on design time, collaborate time, or what I call "think time", so please keep pushing for this more thoughtful, RESULTS instead of PRODUCT oriented comprehensive approach!!  

The "I am thinking about the work specifications I need to write tomorrow for the home I visited this afternoon." is being squeezed out of our program.  It has me very upset. 

I can't tell you all the times a picture has uncovered something critical to good design that was not seen by the naked eye.  I take 100 pictures, ask lots of questions, and need to review the pictures on my big computer screen while thinking about the things the homeowners told me while I build my design.  I need to play with the improvements in the model and build packages that fit all those disparate criteria.  

This is not fast food, yet the people at the throttle seem to think it is.  They make these crazy adjustments as if driving a water ski boat, then act surprised that their Valdez is on the rocks.  

What seems not recognized is the importance of think time behind building well designed, tailored to fit the home AND homeowner, improvement specifications.  People who have never done this work think it can be performed just as well by banging out the recommendations at the audit and selling them on the spot - and they are building the program around that broken assumption.  They are trying to make energy efficiency something served at McDonalds.  

Since almost nobody tracks results there is no way to know if I'm wrong about this, but I suspect the McDonald's approach doesn't come close to delivering the savings promised.   I don't think they WANT to know!  If it were know that for every $1 promised only 50 cents were delivered, wouldn't that be fraud?  

(No surprise that nobody tracks, it's a LOT of work.  I do track some of mine at a fair uncompensated effort, and when everything is done well the software can deliver on it's promise of savings.)

Do I sound distressed?  I am.  I have no interest in being a one call high pressure salesperson.  I want to be a designer and efficiency consultant, which I believe takes think time.  I like to sleep on this stuff, but the program pressure is away from that approach.  The original designers understood the big picture, those at the reigns now don't seem to.  

Comment by Bryce Cramer on January 3, 2012 at 3:21pm

Just two comments; I would guess the out-of-balance fan is not due to more dust being added to one side, but rather dirt finally coming loose from one side or from a fin, causing the fan to be out-of-balance. Secondly, I would suspect the issue with the outlet is more due to a lack of insulation behind the outlet box (I've seen fiberglass batt insulation torn into a v-shape to fit around a square box!) and cold air falling down the inside of the wall cavity.

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