Where to Look For Construction Flaws and Energy Waste

by Don Ames,  www.detectenergy.com

Construction flaws waste energy, reduce comfort, and encourage building deterioration. A little knowledge about construction methods can help you locate and correct these flaws. Let's face it, homes were not created equal, homes are the result of a hundred hands belonging to fifty different people that will never live in the house, but, never-the-less, have great influence on the final product and the final energy efficiency rating.

It's not only contractors that account for building flaws, but also the professionals with degrees hanging on office walls. The contractor that actually pulls the wires, hammers the nails, and sets the furnace has many opportunities to mess up a home. But the professional architect with the architectural design and the Engineer with the structural calculations can also sabotage the energy integrity of a home. Along the way, there is just too many opportunities for Construction Flaws that result in energy waste.

After the professionals and contractors are done providing their own personal energy flaws, the building materials take over and provide their own brand of energy waste.

All building materials have different thermal characteristics:

1.  Metals, like aluminium conduct heat rapidly.

2.  Insulation conducts heat slowly, like fiberglass and plastic foam.

3.  Wood, masonry, and plastic are medium rate conductors of heat.

Plain Box Home

The simplest homes to build are often the most energy efficient. They are just large six sided rectangular boxes. The building shell has six components - four walls, one ceiling, and one floor. In this type of square or rectangular construction, there are few things to go wrong.  The architect has a simpler job and so does the plumber, etc. When it comes to an energy audit, the auditor has a simpler time assessing a nice square box.

Each component of a home - walls, ceiling and floor - usually has two layers with a space in between the two layers. As an example, a wall has an exterior siding layer and an interior drywall layer with a space between the two. The ceiling has the flat ceiling of drywall and the roof with the shingles or metal. The space between the layers is usually reserved for insulation.

The building shell has seams and connections that include edges, corners, and openings that are thermal weak points within the home. These thermal weak points contain heat conductive materials, broken air barriers, leaky joints, open holes and missing insulation.

Penetrations through insulation and air barriers are major flaws concerning energy conservation. These penetrations are provided courtesy of the builder, electrician, plumber, and HVAC Contractors. Here again, the contractor is not planning on living in the home, only planning on getting their work done and moving on to the next home.

An irregular shaped home has additional corners, seams, and areas where the air barrier and insulation is not continuous. Irregular areas include bay windows, dormers, porches, pop outs, second story decks, recessed entrances, doors, and windows. Building shell irregularities can allow air leakage through the building shell and allow air convection currents within the building cavities.

Dormers Are Wasters

Some favorite home energy flaws:

It is in these areas where energy saving efforts should be focused.

1.  Shafts containing chimneys and pipes.

This is particularly a problem in two story homes. Too often the shaft or chimney chase is not sealed to the adjoining ceiling or floor. Penetrations are not sealed completely. Air can rise from the basement to the attic and back again.

2.  Roof Overhangs.

Roof overhangs can provide an irregularity in both the wall and the adjoining roof. Look for thermal barrier and air leakage problems here.

3.  Crawlspaces and basements that connect the home to the outdoors.

Rim joist construction can provide the irregularity that results in air leakage and thermal breaks.

4.  Suspended ceilings between floors and cabinet soffits.

These are irregular framing designs that are prone to leave unsealed connections between the indoor space and the attic. It takes a conscientious builder to address these problem areas during construction.

5.  Concentrations of plumbing pipes or electrical wires.

Get a number of plumbing pipes or electrical wires running through a wall in the same location and the contractor is liable to cut a much larger hole than really needed. Does the contractor return and air seal the hole? Probably not.

Chimney Chase

6.  Building cavities used as heating ducts.

It's faster and less expensive for the heating contractor to use a wall or floor joist space as a heating duct. Problem with this type of heating duct is the fact that the duct usually ends up in a place that leaks air to the great outdoors.

Recognizing construction methods allows you to concentrate energy saving retrofit's on areas of your home most likely to  contain building flaws that waste energy. So, if you live in a super cute home that is cut up like a tree house designed by Dr. Suess, there is a real good chance you are paying for your cutie with excessive energy waste.

This is the place for a trained and experience home energy auditor. A simple square box of a home may not offer the challenge required for the pro to keep inspired and sharp on the job. So, if your having a hard time keeping up with the power bill and you don't know a chase heating duct from a cabinet soffit, give your power company a call and ask them for the contact information on a home energy auditor.

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

More from Don Ames and Detect Energy at www.detectenergy.com including the FREE eNewsletter, the Energy Spy Insider

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Tags: auditor, conservation, construction, energy, flaws, savings, waste, weatherization

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