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I invite you to explore my YouTube channel, where you'll see first-hand how insulation looks in dark and mysterious attics, crawl spaces, and basements scattered across Maryland. Witness first-hand how we tackle the unique challenges found in these hidden spaces, and gain valuable knowledge on how to conquer your own house.

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Wednesday, May 22 2024
Enhancing Comfort in a Cape Cod: A Maryland Residents Journey

Written by Eric Gans, Building Analyst & Envelope Professional
I'm a certified energy auditor and insulation contractor in Maryland. I used to fear Cape Cods and avoided insulating them. Now, I welcome the challenge!
 

eric gans certified energy auditor

 

The Cape Cod Life

Michael had lived in his family’s Cape Cod-style home since birth. Over the years, he experienced significant discomfort due to temperature fluctuations and high energy bills.

He sought a permanent solution and turned to Hometrust Remodeling for a comprehensive energy audit.

Home History and Challenges

Michael’s home, built in the 1950s, is a typical Cape Cod style with a conditioned basement and 2367 square feet of total living space. Initially, comfort issues were minimal on the main floor, but as Michael moved to the upper floor, the extreme temperature differences became more noticeable, especially in the summers and winters.

poorly insulated cape cod attic in maryland

Realizing the Need for a Home Energy Audit

Understanding the importance of a detailed energy audit, Michael sought professional help. He had tried various temporary fixes like weather seals and space heaters but realized a comprehensive solution was needed to address the root causes of his home's inefficiencies.

Conducting a Comprehensive Home Energy Audit

Our team conducted a thorough energy audit using advanced diagnostic tools, including thermal imaging and a blower door test. We inspected key areas such as the attic, knee walls, and crawlspace to identify significant insulation gaps and air leaks.

The audit measured an air leakage rate of 5571 CFM50, indicating substantial energy loss. One way to think about it is air changes per hour.

How many times does the volume of air inside the home exchange with the outside air in one hour? Brand new houses have to be equal to or less than 3 ACH.

Given the volume of living space inside Michael's home (18,936 cubic feet), we calculated the Air Changes Per Hour (ACH) to be approximately 17.65 ACH. This was calculated using the formula:

Here is how it works out for Michael's house:

  • CFM50 is the airflow in cubic feet per minute at 50 Pascals (5571 CFM50) x 60 (minutes per hour)
  • Volume is the volume of the house in cubic feet (2367 sq. ft. × 8 ft. ceiling height = 18,936 cubic feet)

This high ACH value confirmed significant air infiltration, necessitating extensive remediation.

Identifying Critical Issues

The audit revealed several critical issues: insufficient insulation in the attic and knee walls, significant air leaks around the foundation in the basement, and uninsulated areas in the crawlspace. These factors contributed to the drastic temperature differences between the floors and high energy bills.

Michael’s home showed an annual energy cost of approximately $2553, with significant portions attributed to space heating and electric baseload. 

 

Designing Cost-Effective Solutions

To address these issues, we recommended comprehensive air sealing and the addition of high R-value insulation in the attic, knee walls, and crawlspace. Specifically, we aimed to reduce air leakage to 3500 CFM50 and insulate key areas to R49 at the flat and R38 at the slope. These improvements were expected to save Michael $644 annually in energy costs.

Financial Feasibility and Incentives

The total project cost was initially estimated at $6334. However, with the help of the PEPCO program, which offered substantial rebates and incentives, Michael’s out-of-pocket expense was significantly reduced to $1583.50. This made the project affordable and cost-effective, with a simple payback period of 2.5 years and an annual rate of return of 40.66%.

Executing the Plan

Our team implemented the recommended solutions by sealing all major air leaks and installing new insulation. The work included treating major attic bypasses and insulating accessible knee walls with foam and air barriers.

The project was completed in two visits, ensuring minimal disruption to Michael’s daily life.

Achieving Results

Post-implementation tests showed a significant improvement. The blower door test recorded a 34% reduction in air leakage from 5571 CFM50 to 3671 CFM50. This improvement translated to enhanced energy efficiency and substantial savings on energy bills.

Michael provided feedback after the work was completed:

"They’re a lot better than last year. I bought a Google temp sensor that pairs with my thermostat, and so far, the only difference between upstairs and downstairs is 4-6 degrees, and that’s most probably from heat rising and solar gain. The humidity problem has drastically reduced, and for the most part, I can get away with just cooling off with a fan, even with it being 86 outside. Probably a bit down the line, we’ll look into upgrading the HVAC system and switching out the single-pane windows (there’s some leakiness due to how thin they are). Thank you again for everything! I will be keeping you updated as we head into the consistently hotter days/months." 

Final Thoughts and Future Plans

Michael’s case highlights the transformative impact of a thorough energy audit and proper insulation on home comfort and efficiency.

For homeowners experiencing similar issues, a comprehensive energy audit is a crucial step toward a more comfortable and energy-efficient home. By addressing the root causes of energy loss, significant improvements in comfort and cost savings can be achieved.

"It's these little things hidden behind the drywall or the ceiling that you don't think about. After seeing the report and realizing how much insulation was missing and where the major air leaks were, it all made sense. The audit helped me understand the root problems, and now the house is much more comfortable and energy-efficient." Michael - Lives in Cape Cod House

Monday, April 08 2024
Maryland Insulation Guide for Homeowners



Written by Eric Gans, Building Analyst & Envelope Professional
I'm a certified energy auditor and insulation contractor in Maryland. I have completed over 2000 energy audits and taken over 2000 trips to an attic.
 

eric gans certified energy auditor

 


 

Maryland Home Insulation Guide
 

 

An under-insulated attic is the #1 reason for poor home comfort and high energy bills. Use this guide for Maryland home and attic insulation solutions.
 



Well-Insulated Attic
3 Characteristics

 

1. No significant gaps
2. Fits in any cavity 
3. 13-18" Depth


 

a well insulated attic diagram
 

well insulated attic Maryland climate zone 4
 


 

Does that look or sound like your attic insulation?

Not likely...ENERGY STAR says 9 out of 10 homes are under-insulated, and everything I see in Maryland attics proves it. 

According to a recent Forbes Magazine article, there are approximately 124 million houses in the United States, and roughly 20% were built before 1980. Older homes mean older, outdated methods of insulating that don't measure up to today's standards. 

So where do you begin? This guide can help. It will answer many of the questions homeowners have about insulation.

 



RESOURCE TOPIC LINKS

Whole-House Assessments 
🌞 Seasonal Guidance ❄️ 
Insulation Guidance Tools
Is Insulation Worth It? 
Which Insulation Is Best?
💵 How Much Does Insulation Cost?
Home Performance Solutions
Maryland Rebates & Tax Credits  ℹ️ 

 



 

learn how to measure your attic insulation level today!

 

If your home is older than ten years, then you are likely not meeting the 2024 Maryland home insulation building code. If you see insulation, it does not mean it is working for you.

You gotta know what to look for...

The State of Maryland recommends that our attics have enough insulation to equal R-49.

The existing insulation in a Maryland attic is inconsistent for various reasons. Air sealing and insulation are essential for a tight, energy-efficient home.

 

Maryland Insulation Contractor



 

Get a Whole-House Energy Assessment
Start Your Journey

 


 

If you know you need insulation services in Maryland and are looking for a logical next step; it might be a good time for an energy audit.

Feel free to set up your Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® energy audit now and then exit this guide.

If you are not sure, I recommend exploring the resources below. You can learn more about the BGE and Pepco Programs. The $100 assessment can help you navigate to a more efficient home:
 

 Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® Reporting (Video)
-Getting a feel for how the energy audit report works and what it measures can make the "lightbulb" go off!

 BGE Energy Savers and Pepco Energy Savings Program
-Learn about how the program works to help Maryland homeowners find the right solutions.

 Approved BGE and Pepco Contractor (About Us)
-From window contractor to Building Science student - experience in the field shines through.

 Find YOUR Pathway - Dial In On Your Comprehensive Energy Audit
-Getting an energy audit is the first step in a successful journey towards improved home comfort and lower energy usage.

 5 Signs You Need a Home Energy Audit 
-Homeowners can use these five signs around the house to determine if a home energy audit is worth the investment.

 Example Energy Audits Based on the Style of House 
-Examples include Cape Cod, Colonial, with Garage, Rancher

 Home Energy Audit Takeaways - Short YouTube Series 
-Thirteen episodes do a great job of taking you through several insulation scenarios, including treatment and results.



Summer & Winter Insulation Guidance
 

Attic insulation can significantly impact your comfort, energy bill, and HVAC performance.  A well-insulated attic can make an old heating and cooling system seem new.

Insulation will gain your respect on an extreme weather day! Attic insulation in Maryland homes is vital to comfort each season.
 

Summer: Insulation improves a home's defense against the heat in several ways. Check out these resources to help you keep cool when the heat rises:
 

 Controlling Hot Upper Floors 
-Learn about modern air sealing and insulation techniques in Maryland that can help you improve hot upper floors during the summer.

 Ways to Maximize Your HVAC Performance
-In Maryland, HVAC ducts should be sealed and insulated if they run outside the living space.

 Reduce Indoor Humidity 
-Learn how to avoid blaming the wrong source and spending money on the wrong solution.

 

Winter: We place caps on our children's heads on a cold day to keep the heat from escaping, and we need to do the same to our homes. Check out these great ways to change the trend and get a hold of always being cold:
 

 Preventing Rapid Heat Loss 
-Attic air sealing is one of the most effective ways to improve home comfort and energy efficiency - learn the basics.

 Improving Indoor Air Quality 
-Learn about the relationship between indoor air quality, air changes per hour, and energy efficiency for your home.

5 Things That Are Not So Obvious to Help with A Cozier Home 
-Use these five do-it-yourself tips in 2024 to improve comfort and reduce energy bills. 

 Get All Of Your Rooms Back! 
Check out how this family strived toward a comfortable addition, but the effort fell short and made the addition unusable in cold months.  


 

Insulation Guidance Tools


Tool # 1 The R-Value Calculator
Use this helpful tool to determine your current attic R-value and assess your protective barrier's performance against current recommendations.


 

You need to take two steps for this tool to work.

STEP 1: Get Your Attic's Current R-Value

Tasks Required

1. Determine the type of insulation you have in the attic now.

2. Determine your current insulation level in inches and note any areas (up to three) with major level variants.

3. Determine the condition of your current insulation.

STEP 2: Calculate Your Attic Area

Tasks Required 

1. Measure the length and width from below for any attic area to calculate the square footage. 

2. Note the exact square footage of any area with different insulation levels (up to three). Use a laser measure to make it easy!

Once completed, you will be much closer to knowing if you are up to the Maryland building code and ENERGY STAR.


Tool # 2 The Home Self-Assessment
Use this survey to determine if getting an energy audit is worth the money.


 

If you are like most, chances are you do not want to visit your attic and dig around.

A better way to get your insulation checked is to get an energy audit.


 

Is Getting Home Attic Insulation Worth It?
 

The insulation your attic needs will depend on how much is there now. Getting it right will ensure you earn the best return on your investment (ROI) and meet the 2024 Maryland building codes.

This can be a little tricky. Calculations can be off if the information is not gathered right. The condition, coverage, and depth of the insulation are each important.

Take notice if you have any area in your attic that does not have insulation. 

One example is 18 square feet of uninsulated area in a 1000-square-foot attic. It reduces the R-value. Missing insulation will lead to comfort problems and high energy bills.

REASON:

According to Dr. Allison Bailes of Energy Vanguard, the heat flows through the bare areas fast. He says warm air leaves in the un-insulated ceiling area 38 times faster than in the insulated areas.

To learn more about this common insulation problem, look at this article about how uninsulated areas play a heavy hand in poor R-values.


 

Which Insulation is Best for Maryland Homes?

Maryland Attic Insulation Types
 

It is essential to measure insulation through a different lens. Try not to focus on which insulation is better. Instead, please focus on the proper R-value, especially for the places where it is most important.

There are two things to know about R-value:

1. How to Measure R-Value

Insulation has one job - to resist heat flow. The higher the R-value, the better the insulation resists heat transfer.
 

2. How R-Value Requirements Change

As your home's features twist and turn, insulation requirements change. R-values decrease in less critical areas. 

For example, a knee wall created by a sloped ceiling needs less R-value, but it does require special care and attention in other ways.

Knee walls are common in Maryland.
 


 

Check out this comprehensive article about attic insulation requirements and understanding the R-value, particularly for Maryland houses.

The attic is the most important place to insulate first. Other areas should also get treatment, such as:
 

 Basement Insulation (Video) 
-Sealing and insulating a basement in the right places can yield excellent results.

 Overhangs/Cantilever Insulation (Video) 
Properly insulating a cantilever in Maryland requires a contractor familiar with siding, insulation, and carpentry.

 Crawl Space Encapsulation
-Modern air sealing and insulation techniques can turn a dark crawl space into the reason your home is more comfortable.


Typical Insulation Materials Found Around Maryland Houses

  • Loose-fill cellulose
  • Fiberglass batts
  • Loose-fill fiberglass
  • Mineral wool
  • Two-part spray foam 

The values for the corresponding condition of your attic insulation can be multiplied by the number of inches you have to see where your attic falls on the scale. Learn to determine your attic insulation type, condition, and current R-value.
 


Batt Insulation: Prevalent and, unfortunately, the worst performer.

 


 

How Much Does Insulation Cost?

Home performance contractors look for insulation fixes in existing homes that will make the most impact at the lowest cost. Accessible areas are the first priority and usually the most important. Investigation and testing help shape solution decisions. Taking this approach will factor in the overall cost.

Here are important considerations if you plan to insulate your home:

 

 Insulation Misperceptions & Incorrect Solutions 
-Nobody likes to go down the wrong rabbit hole when fixing a problem.

 Building Pressure Boundary 
-Don't skip a step to save money by adding insulation without sealing first.

 Building Thermal Boundary 
-Do you need to pay to remove the insulation before adding more?

 Skilled Building Science Technicians 
-Hiring a contractor with certifications and experience is essential and worth the investment.

 Testing & Measuring Results (Video) 
-Home Performance contractors use sophisticated equipment to measure results for calculated ROI.

 

Home Energy Audit Maryland

 


Intro to Home Performance


 

ENERGY STAR® recommends examining the many systems around your home. Evaluating the "whole house" can lead to better comfort and efficiency. Their statistics show that 9 out of 10 homes in the U.S. are under-insulated.

According to the EPA, existing houses have several opportunities for energy-efficient improvements. Many discoveries go beyond replacement windows and cost less than windows.

Home Performance Categories:
 

 Attic and Whole Home Air Sealing 
-Air sealing the right places in your home will improve comfort and lower energy bills.

 Attic & Basement Insulation 
-In tandem with air sealing, insulation is a dynamic duo that will solve hot rooms and cold drafts.

 Crawl Space Encapsulation
-Learn why making a crawl space like the San Diego climate without the sun is the way to go.

 Whole Home and Attic Ventilation 
-A well-installed bathroom exhaust fan in Maryland should include testing and venting to the outdoors.

 HVAC Duct Sealing and Insulation Improvements 
-Duct leakage assessments to stop condensation issues and improve the HVAC system's overall efficiency.

 IECC New Construction Energy Compliance Testing
-Air leakage testing requires a certified and experienced technician to comply with Maryland's new construction energy codes.

 Exterior Insulation Solutions 
-Overhangs and other odds and ends.
 


 

Maryland Rebates & Tax Credits


How the Insulation Program Works

Maryland Utilities (BGE & Pepco) offers a portfolio of programs promoting energy efficiency and conservation, including rebates, education, and services. The programs are designed around a consultative approach.
 


 

Air sealing and insulation are the most critical measures to achieve energy efficiency—before windows and doors and replacing older HVAC. Getting a home energy audit is the initial qualifier for rebates

Get a home energy audit & get questions answered, such as:

Why is the room on the front of the house colder?
Do you have enough insulation?
Why is it so stuffy upstairs during the summer?
Should I remove old insulation from my attic?
Why does my HVAC run all of the time?
Is spray foam insulation the best solution for my home?
Why are my new windows feeling drafty?
Do my walls have insulation?

Learn much more about the programs designed to help YOU


 How to Unlock Maryland Utility Rebates 
-Learn how to correctly insulate your Maryland attic and unlock 2024 BGE and Pepco rebates.

 Attic Insulation Rebates for BGE Customers 
-Qualifying for BGE energy rebates depends on an energy audit through the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR Program.

 PEPCO Customer Attic Insulation Rebates
-Pepco energy saving rebates are unlocked after getting a comprehensive energy audit.

 Inflation Reduction Act & Maryland Homeowners 
-Maryland residents can learn to use the new Inflation Reduction Act.

 2024 Complete BGE Energy Audit Guide 
-Get All YOUR questions answered with this comprehensive guide about all things related to a BGE home energy audit.

 Complete 2024 Pepco Energy Audit Guide 
-Learn more about all things related to a comprehensive Pepco home energy audit.
 

 

Sunday, April 07 2024
Unlocking the Secrets to a More Comfortable Home: Basement Insulation in Maryland

The Ultimate Guide to Basement Insulation for Maryland Homeowners

As a Maryland homeowner, you're no stranger to the Old Line State's diverse weather conditions. From sweltering summers to freezing winters, ensuring your home remains comfortable year-round is a priority.

If it isn't the weather we are trying to keep out, it is the pests—spiders, stink bugs, ladybugs, crickets, and even mice and squirrels!

Proper basement insulation is one of the best ways to enhance your home's comfort and energy efficiency and close the pathways insects, rodents, and possibly even reptiles use to get in (see video below).

This comprehensive guide will explore the critical aspects of basement insulation, focusing on Maryland homes, particularly those in Baltimore, Annapolis, Rockville, Upper Marlboro, and everywhere in between.

Read on to learn how mastering a few key building science principles can transform your living space.

Understanding the Importance of Basement Insulation

Proper basement insulation is not just a luxury; it's necessary for Maryland homeowners looking to improve their home's energy efficiency and comfort.

Maryland basement insulation recommendations, including the R-value are the following: 

  • Foundation walls are to be insulated to R-11 or greater. Insulation should be applied from the top of the wall down to at least the frost line.
  • Enclosed crawl space walls should be insulated to R-11 or greater.
  • Rim joists should be air-sealed before insulating the area to R-19 or greater. 

Insulating your basement can prevent heat loss in the winter by reducing heat transfer and disrupting airflow through your house. This keeps your conditioned air inside your living space for longer periods.

It can also keep your home cooler in the summer by preventing unwanted humidity from entering the space. A dry house is a cool house.

Properly sealing and insulating the basement can yield significant energy savings and comfort gains.

Maryland Homes Need Special Attention

There are several cost-effective ways to properly insulate a basement. Homeowners need to consider their scenarios carefully to address these specific challenges. Typical types of basements you might find in Maryland include:

  • Framed Basements
  • Foundation Wall Basements
  • Crawl Spaces

Using Modern Techniques for Basement Insulation

Understanding key building science principles is essential to effectively insulating your basement. These principles will guide you in choosing the right materials and methods, ensuring optimal comfort and energy efficiency. For example, the stack effect plays a large role in sealing and insulating a basement.

Thermal Bridging

Thermal bridging occurs when heat is transferred across more conductive materials in the insulation layer, leading to energy loss. Insulating your basement walls and floors can significantly reduce thermal bridging, enhancing your home's energy efficiency.

Moisture Management

Proper moisture management is crucial in basement insulation. Choosing the right insulation materials and installation techniques can help prevent moisture problems common in basements due to their below-ground location.

Key Points to Remember When Insulating Your Basement

Keep these tips in mind to complete the project right the first time:

  1. If necessary, mitigate water issues by extending downspouts, adding drainage, and proper grading.
  2. Air Sealing is Crucial: Before you insulate, seal all gaps and cracks to prevent air leaks.
  3. Consider the R-value: The higher the R-value, the better the insulation's effectiveness. But you don't need to overdo it. Consider Maryland's recommended R-values for basement walls and the rim joist.
  4. Don't Forget the Rim Joists: Often overlooked, insulating the rim joists can prevent significant unwanted air infiltration and heat loss.

The Importance of Air Sealing

Air sealing is essential for insulation in all areas of your house. Sealing gaps and leaks in your basement can prevent warm or cool air from flowing in and out, making your insulation efforts more effective and improving your home's overall energy performance.

Feet are some of the most sensitive parts of our body. If you walk around on a cold floor on a cold day, you will probably feel cold. Often, the problem starts in the basement or crawl space and is caused by a lack of air sealing.

Which are the Best Basement Systems for Maryland Homes

Several options are available for insulating your basement. Each has advantages and considerations, especially for Maryland homes.

Fiberglass or Rock Wool Insulation

Fiberglass and rock wool are popular choices due to their cost-effectiveness and ease of installation. However, it must be properly installed and protected against moisture to prevent mold growth. This requires a balance of installation material and techniques and ventilation and indoor air quality scores.

Basement insulation Maryland

Spray Foam Insulation

Spray foam offers excellent air sealing and moisture resistance, making it an ideal basement choice. Although it can be more expensive, it provides superior energy efficiency and comfort.

Rigid Foam Insulation

Rigid foam insulation provides a continuous layer, reducing thermal bridging and enhancing moisture resistance. It's an effective option for both interior and exterior basement walls.

Focusing on the Rim Joist

The rim joist area is often overlooked but is crucial for basement insulation, especially in Maryland homes. Insulating the rim joist can prevent significant energy loss and protect against moisture and air infiltration. Spray foam insulation is particularly effective in sealing and insulating this critical area.

 

Ready, Set, Go!  "Attack" the Basement Insulation

Are you ready to transform your Maryland home with effective basement insulation? Schedule your energy assessment online at www.homeairleakagetest.com. Hometrust offers comprehensive home energy audits through the BGE and Pepco Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program for just $100. Take the first step towards a more comfortable and energy-efficient home today!

The Benefits of Professional Basement Insulation

An energy assessment is a great first step toward sealing and insulating your basement.

Professional installation ensures your basement insulation is correctly done. Local certified BPI energy auditors (like Hometrust) understand the unique needs of Maryland homes and can provide tailored solutions that offer the best protection and efficiency.

Why Choose Hometrust Remodeling?

Hometrust Remodeling specializes in helping Maryland homeowners, particularly in the BGE and Pepco areas, enhance their home's comfort and energy efficiency through expert assessments and basement insulation solutions.

With a deep understanding of building science principles, Hometrust Remodeling can address your home's specific needs, ensuring optimal results.

Tailoring Basement Insulation to Maryland's Climate

Tailoring your basement insulation to Maryland's specific climate conditions is crucial for maximizing its effectiveness. Hometrust Remodeling understands the local weather patterns and can recommend the best insulation types and techniques for your home.

Overcoming Maryland's Humidity and Temperature Variations

Properly insulating your basement can help mitigate the effects of Maryland's humidity and temperature swings, ensuring your home remains comfortable and energy-efficient throughout the year.

Schedule your Home Energy Audit Online

Elevate your home's comfort and efficiency with expert basement insulation from Hometrust Remodeling. Our tailored solutions are designed to meet the unique needs of Maryland homes. Schedule your energy assessment online right now! 

Take the first step towards a more comfortable, energy-efficient home today.

Final Basement Insulation Thoughts

Basement insulation is a key component of a comfortable, energy-efficient home, especially in Maryland. Understanding the importance of proper insulation, knowing your options, and focusing on critical areas like the rim joist can make a significant difference.

Hometrust Remodeling is your partner in achieving these goals, providing expert advice and professional installation tailored to your home's needs. Don't wait to improve your home's comfort and efficiency—schedule your assessment today.

Sunday, February 04 2024
Testing Reveals the Unexpected Truth About Windows and Home Comfort

 

Energy auditor and window specials


Written by Eric Gans

Since 2018, I have completed over 2000 home energy audits in Maryland and was a window contractor from 2006 to 2015.  
 

As a former window contractor turned certified energy auditor, my journey has been filled with many "real-life" learning lessons. 

This intriguing sixteen-month tale underscores a crucial aspect of home improvement — window replacement and its impact on home comfort. The exciting revelations unfold over three pivotal stages, each marked by a blower door test, a method used to measure a home's air tightness.



 

I hope this story may change how you prioritize your next home improvement project.
 

The First Revelation – Conducting the Assessment

In January 2022, I did a comprehensive home energy audit for a lovely young couple in Silver Spring, Maryland. The homeowners were convinced their drafty, cold experience was due to leaky windows, a notion that resonated with my past teachings as a window contractor. 

 

 

Armed with new expertise and tools, I set out to find the root causes of their complaints. After a visit to the attic, it was not a surprise that the home’s initial blower door test reading was a staggering 4187 CFM (cubic feet per minute). 

The homeowner was especially intrigued when the front window, reportedly the coldest area of the house, did not seem to be leaking nearly as much air as the recessed light in the hallway.
 

Air flowed out of every crack and crevice at the top of the basement wall, and the pull-down stair cover, which had been in place since the 1980s, did little to nothing to stop the air from streaming in during the test. 

 

 

A follow-up report highlighted several significant gaps in the attic with photos and recommended measures for improving their home's energy performance.

Section 2: The Second Test - A Lesson in Air Sealing

Fast forward one year later - to January 2023.

The couple, now parents, reached back out, ready to seal and insulate the attic and basement. The timing worked out, and we got it done before installing the new windows they had on order. Once my work was done - I decided to take another reading.

The results were astonishing — a 51% reduction in air leakage, with the air leakage number dropping to 2042 CFM.

This dramatic change is a testament to the sometimes overlooked and often-underestimated value of proper air sealing and insulation over window replacements for improving comfort and efficiency.

 

WATCH THE FULL PODCAST EPISODE ON YOUTUBE

 

 

Section 3: The Final Assessment - Post-Window Replacement

A commitment to empirical evidence brought me back to the house once the new windows were in place. It was time for the final blower door test to see how well the new windows sealed the house.

The overall air leakage number was again reduced to 1805 CFM, translating into a 6% decrease from the initial reading.

This comparison (51% vs. 6%) provided a quantifiable insight into the impact of window replacement on a home's air tightness and comfort.

 

Conclusion: Rethinking Window Replacement

Replacing windows may not be the solution for home comfort that many assume. While they can enhance aesthetics, improve functionality, and offer other benefits, they play a more minor role in energy conservation than one might think.

The key takeaway from my experience is simple: prioritize air sealing and insulation for comfort and consider window replacement for other values.

Home improvement is as much about the unseen as the seen, and a well-informed decision can lead to a beautiful and comfortable living space.

If you've enjoyed this revelation and wish to hear more about such home comfort tactics, tune into the podcast episode or visit us at hometrustremodeling.com.

Let's open the windows to a new perspective and breeze into a future of informed home enhancements.

 

Questions are welcome, and I would love to know if this article has helped you. eric@hometrustremodeling.com

Monday, August 14 2023
Crawl Space Encapsulation: The Basics

Let's face the facts about crawl spaces.  They leave a lot to be desired.  

Most crawl spaces are difficult to access in most cases they are stuffy, dusty, and full of insects.

To make matters more complicated there are so many questions about how to properly seal and insulate an open crawl space.  For example:

When should crawl space vents be open?
Does an encapsulated crawl space need insulation at the ceiling?
How much does it cost to insulate a crawl space?
What is the best way to encapsulate a crawl space?
Do I need a vapor barrier in my crawl space?
What does it mean to seal a crawl space?

As an energy auditor, certified through the local Maryland utility, it is important to properly examine a crawl space in a number of different scenarios which can be complicated.  My method of simplifying the way I think helps me figure out the right solutions and explain them in easy-to-understand ways to the homeowner.  

The information below is common insights required to make an informed decision about how to properly treat your crawl space.

 

Old School Thinking:  I See Insulation Everything is Fine

If you live in a home on a crawl space there is a very good chance that you think that this just is the way it is and there is not much you can do.

When you first moved in you ambitiously went into the crawl and you saw insulation below the floor.  Everything seemed fine.    

Maybe you have never looked in the direction of your crawl space, or any crawl space for that matter, and have no idea what one may look like.

If that is the case, have a look at this video taken during a BGE energy audit of a typical open crawl space.
 

 

When Should Crawl Space Vents Be Open?

Open Crawl Space Vent Example

If possible, crawl space vents should always be blocked and sealed.  Crawl space vents provide virtually no benefit by being open.

Creating vent openings in the foundation wall were designed to allow "fresh" air into the crawl space for ventilation.  Millions of homes have been built using this method.

The problem is that you can't control what air moves into the crawl space and when it turns hot and humid or cold and dry, the open vent solution is not the best for climates that have seasonal changes like Maryland.

You cannot count on enough dry, average-temperature days in a row to sufficiently dry out the crawl space.  Additionally, considering the vents are typically not nearly large enough or often times obstructed, your crawl space does not stand much of a chance for success and as a result, your indoor comfort and air quality suffer and your energy bills are high.

Check out one common issue due to open crawl space vents.
 

 

Open Crawl Spaces: Two Seasonal Problems


Summer Humidity

Inside look at a crawl space vent.Open vents allow humid air into the space, or worse streaming water, which tends to get trapped and migrate to unwanted places. 

So many of us plug up our dehumidifier in the summer to keep the basement dry. 

Those with open crawl spaces likely have two machines working and they may not be able to keep up with the high humidity. 

Open vents in a crawl space can have a significant impact on indoor air quality and are the main factors in high indoor humidity levels.

Eighty percent of crawl spaces in humid climates have insulation that has fallen. Wood structural flooring components should not be subjected to moist, humid conditions for long periods of time.

 

  Get a comprehensive home energy audit today!

 

Winter Issues and How Physics Plays a Role

During winter months, cold winter air is actually pulled into the vents due to physical dynamics that are at play - known as the stack effect, or chimney effect.  Insulation is unable to prevent infiltration through the floor.

Negative pressure is created in a crawl space when it is connected to the living space above.  As warm air rises and finds places to escape, it tugs the cold air from below right on in as seen in the diagram to the right.

The unconditioned cold air that migrates into the crawl space through the vents is then conveyed up through the floor and walls and into your living space.  

Therefore, as a result of this physical characteristic of most buildings, having an open crawl space is not a good solution if you live in a location with a cold season.

 

 

If You Have a Crawl Space – You Have an Energy Efficiency "Point of Weakness"

Big problems with comfort and high energy bills stem from irregularities in the building shell.  Twists and turns in a home’s design create more complex treatment solutions in locations such as:

  • Porches
  • Roof Overhangs
  • Shafts for Chimneys & Pipes
  • Protruding Windows & Doors
  • Indented Windows & Doors
  • Cantilevers
  • Garages
  • Knee Walls
  • Open Basements
  • Open Crawl Spaces

Most of the largest leaks in homes occur where framing (such as floor joists or wall studs) spans from an area inside a conditioned space to an unconditioned or vented space, such as the attic, crawlspace, garage, or roof. Appropriate blocking is needed in these instances and it requires a team that knows home performance techniques and solutions to do it right.

Does A Crawl Space Need a Vapor Barrier?

Yes.

Your crawl space needs a properly sealed vapor barrier.  Ground moisture will wreak havoc on your wood flooring, joists, and indoor air quality if left unchecked.  A fully encapsulated crawl space will always include a sealed vapor barrier.

Watch: Properly Installed Crawl Space Vapor Barrier
 

 

What to Look for In Order to Prescribe the Proper Treatment for an Open Crawl Space

No general rule should be applied to how to treat a crawl space. 

These three factors should be considered first:

1. Climate
2. Ground Dampness
3. Presence of Ducts in the Space

In Maryland, we tend to have hot, humid summers and sometimes it can be damp well into the fall.  The winters bring cold snaps, some longer than others, that can put a significant load on any HVAC system. 

Seasonal changes make sealing crawl spaces in our region a good option.  Typically, ducts are in crawl spaces in homes where this foundation type exists.

Crawl space inspections will require defining the best place to establish or re-establish the thermal boundary.

The thermal boundary can be described as the location that divides the inside living space from the outside, unconditioned space of your home.

Most crawl spaces are outfitted with insulation at the ceiling.  And, most crawl spaces are sources of energy loss and comfort problems.

 

If I Have Insulation in My Crawl Space Ceiling, Why is it Such a Problem?

In order to understand any high-performance crawl space insulation retrofit, you must first understand the three key things that getting results depends upon:

  1. Proper Installation of an Air Barrier
  2. Proper Installation of a Sturdy Vapor Barrier
  3. Proper Installation of Insulation

Typically, all three key factors are missing in a crawl space.

If not properly sealed, penetrations at the crawl space ceiling (floor inside) will lead to communication of air between the two areas.

A vapor barrier is only good if it is 100% sealed, otherwise, moisture will still migrate up and into your living space.

Fiberglass batting insulation is difficult to install in almost all applications.  The thermal performance of batt insulation is heavily dependent on proper installation.  To attain maximum R-value, the batt insulation should be in continuous contact with all the surround cavity surfaces where they are installed.  They need to be cut exactly to length because if they are too long they bunch up leaving the area to be insulated and exposed and if too short, spaces are created that promote convection.

 

Open Crawl Space vs. Encapsulated Crawl Space

Past research has shown that a conventionally vented crawl space that has been converted into a non-vented and conditioned space tends to operate similarly to houses with basements, with several benefits for the homeowner: 

• Energy savings
• Comfort
• Moisture control
• Long-term durability
• Healthier air quality


Open crawl space with insulation at the ceiling and an improperly installed vapor barrier.

 

Watch: Take a Look at a Completed Crawl Space Project Including Blocked and Sealed Vents

Reasons Maryland Homeowners with Crawl Spaces Might Not Choose to Encapsulate

  • Significant efforts can be made with ease to seal and insulate ducts, air handlers, water heaters, pipes etc.
  • Lacking any paid heat source, the crawl space is consistently between ground temp and outdoor temp which is typically above 32 degrees
  • The floor has had significant air sealing and insulation work performed already; some investment has taken place
  • The cost to seal and insulate the floor is considerably less than encapsulation for some reason
     

A Big Opportunity That Often Gets Overlooked

Too often the ducts that are running through crawl spaces are asked to do way too much. 

Not only do they need to carry conditioned air to the furthest reaches of your home, but in some cases they are expected to transport 90-degree air through a duct that is supercooled to 25 degrees on the coldest of days.

Sealing a crawl space from the outside can drastically improve the performance of your HVAC system and will contain duct leakage because the immediate barrier outside of the ducts also plays into the amount they leak.

For example, ducts that run through an open crawl space will leak much more due to the pressure dynamics compared to an encapsulated crawl space.
 

How to Properly Encapsulate a Crawl Space

It is important to not begin a foundation insulation retrofit project until it is well-drained and dry.  Drainage should be the priority if the crawl space recurring takes on water.

Next, the crawl space should be free of debris and items that might impede the ability to install a vapor barrier.  A thick plastic vapor barrier should always be installed in crawl spaces with dirt floors.

The vapor barrier should be sealed to the walls, piers and any other penetration from the ground.

Crawl space walls should be air sealed and insulated (typically by using a rigid foam board with high R-value) all the way up to the rim joist.  The rim and band joist should be air sealed and insulated.

________________

Do you live in Maryland and need advice on how to treat your crawl space?

If you are interested in making your home more comfortable and more efficient, give me a call.  We can discuss your situation and likely getting a BGE or Pepco Energy Audit is the way to go.  

Incentives through the program can be quite advantageous, particularly for those that know that they have to get this problem resolved once and for all. 

Furthermore, an energy audit can uncover other factors that can contribute to your specific issue as each home is different - even the same model across the street.

Give me a call!  I'd love to help you out!

energy audit maryland

Written by Eric Gans
I have over 2000 energy audits under my belt in Maryland.  I like to take my personal experiences with each of my audit customers and try to get the things that concern them out into the world so others can make good home improvement decisions - in the right order - according to their needs.

 

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