Energy Management Solutions
We are quite capable of doing energy audits but are rarely called upon to do so unless the customer is really looking for some answers and a scope of work to solve them. Both the gas company and the co-op have basically free energy audits. These skim the surface of what needs to be done and leave the customer with a report and the same high energy bills. We can look at the home envelope and door blower door tests and such, but the leading contributor to high bills is the heating plant in the home. You can change all the light bulbs you want and maybe you get a fuzzy feeling, but the monster in the basement is usually an energy sucking pig.
As the owner of the company I got certified to do energy audits and perform blower door tests. I wish I did this more often because it is really fun. It is always amazing how much air can leak through a beautiful home and how upset a builder gets when he finds out the home is a sieve. I really feel for the contractor because it is really hard to build a structure like that and the attention to detail is incredible. To truly build a tight structure it requires attention during all construction phases. It can be done but the customer needs to embrace the added time and cost associated with detailing the shell of the structure. Being involved when the test is being performed is important. The air leakage from your home is dollars flying out the cracks and it can be minimized by attention to detail.
Along with blower door tests we also perform “duct blasting”. This certifies the amount of leakage that your ducting has. This leakage is dollars spewing out. Most ducting, even when assembled properly, is quite leaky. If this ducting is in an un-conditioned space we have the potential for a great amount of heat loss or gain. Sealing and insulating in necessary but it is best to do a before and after test to really quantify the performance.
Pressure balancing is absolutely fascinating home and building diagnostics. Typically it is discovering differences between sections of a home or building that influence the indoor air quality or comfort of the home. The most common test in our area is the pressure difference between crawl space and the main level of the home. We have so many crawl spaces and lots of equipment and ducting stuck down there that problems occur quite naturally. Because ducting leaks, this influences the pressure in the crawl space. We measure this with highly accurate meters that read in “Pascals”. As soon as the furnace blower comes on, the pressure turns negative and all that air from crawl space gets pulls into the return. This is inefficient and potentially dangerous if the furnace is also drawing combustion air from this space.
We also check for “stack effect” which is the natural movement of warm air towards the ceiling of the home. This also puts the lower portion of the home (many times the crawl space) into a negative pressure which draws in cold air from the leaky vents and promotes further heat loss and uncomfortable people. The warm air rising will leak into the attic from light fixtures and ducting penetrations. This creates ice dams and all kinds of moisture issues in the roof sheathing. It is hard to believe, but most attic moisture issues are actually created by the moisture in the crawl space flowing up into the attic from any number of holes and penetrations.
Our connection to our heating and cooling systems and ultimately our comfort is a very important component of any type of system. Thermostats come in many shapes and sizes as well any number of functions. It is a bit silly to choose a thermostat for its appearance, but the designers try to blend in a form and function to take a liking to that little box on the wall. The round Honeywell T87F has been around so long that when you signal to someone to “crank up the heat” the hand gestures will be a clockwise turn of the palm. While that thermostat is no longer produced because it contained mercury, it outlived it design anyway.
A large majority of new heating and cooling systems are multi-function, multi-stage, and even variable signals. A typical thermostat of yore completed one wiring circuit; it was either on, or off. Equipment designers now adjust output by “staging” capacity or sending a variable signal to a modulating burner or compressor. This simply introduces a more appropriate amount of heating or cooling to a structure. Obviously you need more heat when it is colder out, so why not design a system that better matches the heat loss of the home. This type of sensing just cannot happen with a basic thermostat. A digital design thermostat is required and this does not mean it has to be complicated to use.
Most thermostat manufacturers (Honeywell in particular) have multi-function thermostats in either programmable or non-programmable. Many folks just want a button to turn up when they are chilly, and a button down when they are warming up, that’s it. Don’t confuse me with all this mumbo-jumbo of setback periods and “Adaptive Intelligent Recovery”. There are certainly the other bunch that interface with their thermostat and are quite in-tune with how it can save them operating costs and make them more comfortable. Honeywell’s flagship thermostat is the 8000 series that you may have seen out and about. It is a touch screen model that the designers really got right on being intuitive to understand. Only Steve Jobs could have done it better (Apple thermostats, coming to an Apple Store near you)?
Beyond programmable and non-programmable models are more integrated controls that the equipment manufacturers developing and using in the field. The three basic components of many systems are the thermostat, indoor unit (furnace or air handler), and outdoor unit (heat pump or air conditioner). On suitable equipped models each unit has its own control board that communicates with the others. When you start up a system such as this, the thermostat cues up a list of attached equipment and its serial numbers. If anything goes wrong with any of the units attached it sends an alert to the thermostat with a list of things to check and who to call (us). Some of these models will call or e-mail the heating contractor, or the owner, (or both) to have the system checked. The temperature control function of the thermostat is now becoming a smaller portion of the functionality of the control.
Temperature control is important but so is humidity control and indoor air quality. Honeywell’s 8000 thermostat was mentioned above but its sister is the 8000 IAQ model for indoor air quality. This model can be set to operate and adjust humidity levels in the home. It is much more than a humidistat, it monitors outside air temperature and indoor humidity levels to establish “dew point”. This term is the temperature and humidity relationship that determines when water condensation will occur. This is Extremely important to prevent moisture from developing on window sills, door jams and any other weak link between cold outside air and warm humid air inside. This model also can cycle other equipment such as fresh air fans and heat recovery ventilators to maintain good air quality inside. Many thermostats tell you when to change filters, replace ultra-violet air purification lights, and replace humidifier pads. This IAQ model does those functions with the ease of touch screen.
One more paragraph on thermostats would have to include wireless technology. This arm of thermostat design opens up an amazing opportunity for comfort and convenience. Gone are the days of the thermostat hanging on the wall in the hallway. You can operate it from a remote so you have one more thing to find in the couch cushions. Many times the hallway is not the best location for accurate control. Ultimately the customer wants to be comfortable where they are, and we spend very little time in the hallway. A movable thermostat is the solution. We upgrade systems that had only 2 wires in the wall and this will not operate anything but the most basics of systems. The wireless models fit right in and work great. Another huge benefit is the ability to do wireless “zoning”. Many homes have major temperature differences between levels and some of this can be solved by automatically turning off ducting supplies to some areas, while others remain heating. It is difficult enough manipulating the ducting to accept the mechanical dampers, but the wiring that is required often times made the job impossible. With wireless zoning, there are no connecting wires, just signals to each area requiring a change in the temperature for that zone.