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Energy HOME: Common-Sense Solutions to Common Problems

September 15th, 2011 · No Comments

Every day, I strive to Make Energy CENTS from the Home to the Globe. Whether programming the thermostat to low temperatures overnight to providing comments on national energy policy drafts to opening discussions as to Energy COOL technologies and concepts, my efforts to Energize America to a prosperous, climate friendly future cross a broad spectrum.

To be clear and blunt: there is NO SILVER BULLET solution. In my own life, every year sees more ‘investment’ in energy efficiency, new ways to think about / execute conservation from what food we buy to our travel choices, and ways to help remediate the damage I inevitably cause to the planetary system’s ability to support my children’s children to the seventh generation and beyond.

As part of this journey, I am on the lookout for paths that “make energy cents” and especially appreciate opportunities for common-sense solutions to common energy problems.  With a rather old home (1958 construction), there are seemingly a limitless set of opportunities to discover challenges that require addressing.  While some can easily be solved with the flick of the switch, too many seem create too many annoying hassles for this moderate do-it-yourselfer to solve.  Happily, a little while ago, I stumbled across a site teeming with ways to solve items that had been been put onto the backburner ‘to-do’ list:  Battic Door.  Open that site created an “I want that … that and that …” Energy HOME moment.  At the American Comfort Institute’s (ACI) incredible annual conference, I had the chance to spend time with Battic Door in the trade show.   And, we agreed that I would take a look at some of their Energy COOL items and see just how well they met the dabbling do-it-yourselfer’s need to ease energy efficiency improvements. 

See after the fold for some of these products.

Here are some of the products that I’ve put in (in my or others’ homes) with some thoughts as to what impacts they have had. (Note: I have not done formal before and after performance testing and, well, some of these are more ‘comfort’ rather than direct fiscal implications.)  Many of these items, to test the ease of installations, were installed by a few teens who needed help on how to use a hammer.

Attic Stair Cover:  An attic can be a wonderful thing for storage (in our cluttered lives with many life transitions) while the entry points can be truly horrible for energy efficiency reasons. With R-38 (plus) insulation through the attic, my DIY path toward sealing the stairs (a door with some insulating board) simply didn’t meet up to the overall standard.  How to reduce air leakage while improving the insulation?  In stepped the Attic Stair Cover.  With assembly and installation led by a pre-teen who’d never put something like this together, total installation time under 20 minutes.  That ‘ease the DIYer’s burden’ test passed with flying colors.  And, while we haven’t done formal testing, the ‘candle smoke’ and comfort test (put housefan on and didn’t feel hot air coming in from the attic as had been the case before) certainly suggest that this is working well.  And, getting in and out of the attic (not an everyday event) with it in place is a breeze. 

In-Line Duct Back Draft Blockers:  That bathroom light and fan combination claimed to be ‘energy efficient’ really didn’t feel that way with all the hot air that would flow into the bathroom in summer and, likely, hot air that left in winter.  .
About a 15 minute annoying (and dirty) work effort in the attic installing this in the duct and, voila, the problem seems to have disappeared. The fan still works to get moisture out of the bathroom and the summer backdraft has disappeared.

Clothes Dryer Vent Seal:  Another path to cut dryer backdraft is to provide a better seal where it vents outdoor.  As I have a horizontal external venting and this works with a horizontal, this item went into a friend’s house.  Before installation, we turned on the house air conditioner and put our hands by the dryer. Warm air washed over our hands.  A few minutes (okay, 15, it was behind bushes) of installation and the same test … no warm air. 

The Fireplace Draftstopper:  America’s fireplaces are, for the most part, massive energy drains. Inefficient wood burning and air flows means that fires actually create more energy demands rather than heating the house.  And, well, the situation isn’t any better when there isn’t a fire:  fireplace dampers don’t seal the chimney and provide essential zero insulation.  While my high-efficiency insert obviates the need to seal the chimney, this problem is one that aggravates me and the inflatable Fireplace Draftstopper looked like such an easy solution to this annoyingly common problem (that almost no homeowners realize exists).    Thus, into a friend’s home having two young girls putting it together and installing.  With some giggling and a few minor missteps that they figured out, they got it together and worked to put it in the fireplace.  However, despite assistance, it simply didn’t fit into this fireplace.  And, well, this fireplace is painted white and has rested unused for 10+ years. To help assure that one doesn’t accidently lit a fire with the draftstopper in place, there is a black plastic pole that helps keep the draftstopper in place.  That black stood out strongly with the clean white paint. Didn’t fit well (e.g., must measure fireplace before purchase) and didn’t meet esthetic requirements. Sigh … The next day, another kid’s team put the draftstopper in another house.  It fit and the poll is not casually visual against the black bricks.  And, the homeowner is happy with this solution.  Honestly, if the fireplace isn’t ever used, “then block off the chimney with a piece of rigid insulation from the hardware store that fits snugly into the space.”  On the other hand, for the Fireplace Draftstopper provides a good answer to the draft and insulation challenges of chimneys when there isn’t a fire … just make sure that you get a good measurement and order the right one.

Furnace Filter Magnetic Strip:  Most furnaces have filter systems and those systems almost always have some form of crack/air leakage.  Since we need to be able to switch (or clean) the filter, putting in caulking or some other form of (near) permanent seal (‘duct tape’ as savior?) simply doesn’t make sense.  This product seals off those crack. And, in this case, I did a simple candle smoke test.  Smoke noticeably went into the furnace without the strip and the flow into the air conditioning system from the room disappear with the filter.  I can’t imagine an easier household energy efficiency measure to take.  Including walking down to the furnace, total installation time might not have hit one minute. 

Concluding thoughts …

While there are some caveats to consider, testing their products reinforced the online impression of ‘common-sense solutions to far too common household energy problems’.  For each of these, ‘do-it-yourself’ solution paths exist but Battic Door delivers solutions to problems that the average homeowner isn’t aware of and is even less likely to act to solve.  Sensible, easy solutions to help an Energy Home make cents.

NOTE:  Again, Battic Door provided their products to me for review … at my request.

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Tags: Energy · energy cool · energy efficiency · energy home · product review