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Residential Energy Efficiency Blog

Friday, August 28 2020
Damp in your Basement? Here is the reason.

Get to the Root of the Problem

A doctor always wants to get the the source of the issue. Let's consider a lower back ache as an example. If you hurt your lower back chances are the doctor will give you a muscle relaxer for the symptoms. A good doctor will likely give you a pamphlet on core strengthening exercises to get to the root of the problem.

Specialized Contractor Needed for Damp Basements

Some issues inside the home can be confusing and confounding for many contractors. A damp basement and high humidity are hard to solve.  As a homeowner, knowing where to turn for help might be difficult to figure out. Making matter worse, getting the wrong contractor can waste time or cost extra money.

Indoor Humidity and Seasonality

The recommended indoor humidity level - year round - is between 40-60%.

To get a handle on indoor humidity, the first thing to understand is the seasonality of indoor humidity.

In the summer the air outside is hot, humid and sticky in Maryland. We run our dehumidifiers in the basement. If you have not gotten around to attaching the hose most likely you are dumping water on the regular.  This effort pulls extra moisture from the air.

In the winter everyone talks about the Polar Vortex. Aside from being very cold, the Polar Vortex is also very dry! In winter our hands are cracking, lips get chapped and we need to introduce moisture into the inside air.  In this case a humidifier is used.

So, I will be clear. High indoor humidity is more of a summer issue.

Home Energy Audit

The key to solving a high indoor humidity issue is to look at it like a doctor. We need to find the source of the humidity in the air. We need to attack the problem. Where is the humid air getting in?  Waterproofing will not completely solve the issue.  Industrial strength dehumidifers are the muscle relaxer and treat only the symptom.

Having your home evaluated by a certified Building Analyst (BA) is a great way to identify home air leakage. It is important to understand that air leakage works both ways. Not only does air leak out of a house (exfiltration) air also leaks in (infiltration).

A blower door test can uncover air leakage points around a house.

Blower door testing in progress.

Working with a Building Analyst is a great place to start for a damp basement due to a high indoor humidity issue.

Thursday, August 27 2020
Not all BGE Energy Audits are Equal

Did you know that at any given time there are around forty approved BGE contractors to do energy audits for Maryland homes?

Providing a comprehensive energy audit is a specialized service. It takes many hours of training, hands on experience and practice to give a good all around energy audit.

With so many houses in Maryland and so few BGE auditors how can you be sure to get a great auditor that hits on all points? After all, you only get the audit one time for the discounted price of $100.

Here are the questions you can ask the company (including us) you choose for your BGE energy audit:
 

1. How many BGE energy audits has the assigned auditor performed?

2. What is the auditors background before becoming an auditor?

3. What level of detail does the auditor plan to add to the energy audit report?

4. What is the physical condition of the energy auditor assigned to my house?

5. Is the auditor a good communicator and willing to engage?


Let's explore each of these questions a bit further.
 

1. How many audits have you completed?

Collecting the necessary data points during an energy audit is important. Having the repetition and experience allows a great auditor to assign time to the issues. If an auditor is new, taking accurate measurements may be a challenge. The auditor is learning on the job.

Everyone has to start somewhere, but do you want your one-time discounted audit to be the one? A great audit can unlock amazing concepts that will put you in control of comfort and energy usage.

2. What is the auditors background?

An energy audit looks at a house in a different way than a window consultation or roof estimate. An energy auditor is a three dimensional thinker whereas a window salesman has a one track mind. And, I am not even talking about making the sale.

An energy auditor needs to know a little bit about everything around a typical house. Having a background as a home contractor helps, but also being a homeowner is important. Experiencing and problem solving around your own home generates great learning experiences. These experiences along with learned concepts can go a long way towards helping you!

3. How is the final report going to look with a mediocre BGE energy auditor?

It is going to be a complete bore. The template for the BGE energy report is well designed and the information is good.

A great energy auditor will add details that pertain to discussions you had. Your BGE energy report final copy will be something you can keep for reference.

4. Should I really ask about my auditors physical condition?

Believe it or not, but doing a BGE energy audit the way it needs to is demanding work. An auditor must be able to get in small spaces, climb in attics and inspect crawl spaces. An auditor must be in good physical condition to perform a great audit.

5. Communication Pulls it All Together

An energy auditor needs to be so many unique things and on top of that if they are not personable, then it is a waste.

An energy auditor must be able to articulate key concepts in easy to understand ways. If the auditor cannot complete this task, the BGE energy audit could end up being useless.

Saturday, August 15 2020
Black Mold on Attic Side of Roof Plywood

 

Why does Mold Form on Plywood?

Typically, condensation in the attic starts due to a moisture issue created by introducing two completely different air masses.  Here are the two possible reasons this problem is happening in your attic.

1. No air sealing at the attic floor to stop warm, conditioned air from escaping into the attic (warm air/ winter issue) coupled with a lack of adequate attic ventilation creating conditions that are right for condensation that adheres to the plywood and eventually forms mold.

2. In summer a leaking AC HVAC duct in an attic and other HVAC related inefficiency can allow air to seep out and interact with the hot humid attic air.


Warm Air Exfiltration - Winter Issue

Signs that you have an attic moisture issue problem during cold months can be seen on the plywood in some cases.

 

Winter Problems - What to Look out For

Frost and frozen droplets on the tips of nails and hurricane clips is a sign that warm, humid air is migrating from inside the home into the attic and settling in the wrong places.

Poor ventilation is trapping the air rather than allowing it to organically or mechanically be exhausted (through ridge vent or attic fan).

But, how is the warm, humid air getting into this attic?  The usual suspects...can lights and top plates!

Recessed light thermography taken at the attic floor reveals heat from the inside of the home escaping into the attic.

  
Close up of a recessed light from attic.


   
Thermal image of the recessed light taken from inside the attic.

 

Top plates are also leaky spots if not air sealed properly.  A top plate is basically the top of a wall/partition between the area below.  A top plate will exist in the hallway, between rooms and between other areas that are separated by a wall.

 


Close up of a top plate. 


Thermal image of top plate close up.

 

Summer Condensation - How it Formed in This Attic

Uninsulated ducts Randallstown MD


This example is one I came across during the attic inspection at a home energy audit.

I have been in a lot of attics and seen a lot of plywood in attics (for which I am very proud!).  I was not exactly sure on this one at first. 

I have seen small patches of discoloration due to poor bath exhaust ventilation or a disconnected duct, but I have not had a mold case.  

At first when I got up in the attic I could see the stains.  It was apparent quickly that there was an issue beyond what I usually see.

At first, I considered the possible interaction of the conditioned air in the living space below and the warm humid attic air.  A large opening or bypass?  That seamed unlikely based on what I had seen up to this point.  Then I turned around.

The poor duct was lying completely undressed and quite dirty.
 

Summer Moisture - 4 Things to Lookout For

Here is the recipe for mildew and mold growth on the plywood in warmer months:

1. Second HVAC system located in the attic.  All ducts servicing upstairs is in the attic.  Ducts are leaky and improperly insulated allowing cold air to escape.

2. Second HVAC system improperly sized.  Too large for the space/square footage it is servicing.  The larger blower is pushing cooler air through leaky ducts and into the attic.

leaky ducts maryland attic

3. The thermostat is located in an area that was reported to be a "hot spot" on the floor.  This is due to the lack of HVAC system performance and exposure to the hot attic due to a lack of proper insulation methods and techniques.

4. Poor ventilation in the attic due to improper baffle placement and insulation covering the open areas.  

Incorrect baffle installation

A baffle is supposed to act as a channel for the open soffit  intake below.

 

covered soffit vent

The soffit opening is covered with insulation not allowing good flow.
 

proper attic ventilation

 

The Solution

Control the humidity and the mold growth disappears.

Here are the precise steps recommended to solve this issue for the long term.

 

1. Remove the insulation around the soffit/eave areas - full perimeter

2. Reinstall baffles at the eaves to promote the best possible organic attic ventilation. 

3. Re-position the insulation to not cover the openings.

4. Seal the duct seams and tightly insulate the supply plenum (main AC duct) to eliminate leakage (lost energy) into the attic.

 

________________

Written by Eric Gans
I have over 1000 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.
 

Do you have something going on around the house? 
 
Not sure if an energy audit would be able to solve it for you? 


Ask Me!
I'll let you know if it is something that is included in the service.
 

I would like to hear your comments about this article.  Feel free to post something below...

Saturday, August 08 2020
Anyone ever get a

A main reason Maryland homeowners get an energy audit done is because they keep getting the letter from BGE saying that they are using more energy than their neighbors.  They don't understand why this keeps happening to them.  They swear that they turn off lights, set the thermostat right and they have new windows and doors.

They want to get to the bottom of it once and for all...
 

Here is What You Need to Know
 

1. BGE Home Energy Report Program

We all get them.  We all stopped looking at them.  But, every once in a while it pops up in an email and you see your score.  It's never good.  You ask yourself - what else can I do?  You are energy conscious.  You consistently review your energy usage habits. 

It does not add up.

Here is the thing about the Energy Report Program.  That is exactly what it is - a program.  There is an element of psychology.  Nobody wants to get beat by their neighbor and they know that.  And, it works.  It moves the needle.  People turn off more lights, upgrade appliances to ENERGY STAR and set thermostats up or down a notch or two.  It saves energy so it works.

Everyone always wants to know if there is any validity to the report and the answer is yes.  Although some information gets left out such as how many people live in the home and what are their daily habits (retired vs. work all day) the report does provide a small window into where you stand when it comes to energy usage compared to others.

2. The Value of a BGE Home Energy Audit  

To make a house energy efficient you've got to tighten your building's shell and usually the first thing that comes to mind for most is windows and doors. 

But, energy consultants know there are many other places that need attention due to physics and pressure inside your home.

Uncontrolled air leakage occurs when air moves through gaps or openings in walls, floors, ceilings, duct work, doors or windows and is often a major source of energy loss in homes.

When reviewing information from an energy audit, the story becomes much clearer in terms of where we must look to be more efficient and it is not because the lights are on too much.  Also of interest, windows and doors account for very little overall leakage when tested.

BGE Home Energy Report

The green portion of the pie chart is the baseload.  Baseload refers to everyday stuff like lights, computers, fridge, etc. Most impactful is the refrigerator so if you are already using ENERGY STAR then there might not be too much more room to save.  Efficient light bulbs will help too.

Next, look at the red and light purple.  Those show the heating and cooling costs.  This is where an energy audit and HVAC are joined (and really should be married at this point).

Consider the most important thing to understand when it comes to making an impact on heating and cooling usage/ costs:

You can put the world's best HVAC system into a leaky house and get zero results.

In other words, don't put the cart before the horse.  Sealing up holes, gaps and cracks around the "shell" of a home is a great way to really move the needle and will make any age HVAC system more efficient.  Maybe you don't need to replace the HVAC quite yet - a BGE energy audit can guide you with an unbiased energy usage review.

Conclusion

The secret to saving energy is knowing where to seal up your house.  Doing only the obvious things - like replacing windows or a furnace - won't cut it.

Get a BGE energy audit and learn about the ways in which you can passively save energy and money and live in a more comfortable home.  It makes a lot of sense and having an auditor walk you through to learn more about your house is empowering.  It will set you on the best pathway to save energy in places you might not have thought about otherwise. 

 



Do you have something going on around the house? 
 
Not sure if an energy audit would be able to solve it for you? 


 

Ask Me!
I'll let you know if it is something that is included in the service.
 


 

________________

Written by Eric Gans
I have over 1000 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.
 

Let us know how you are doing on your BGE energy report.

Saturday, August 08 2020
How to Unlock BGE and Pepco 2021 Energy Saving Rebates

You have to put a some "skin in the game" if you are a BGE or Pepco customer and you want to take advantage of the 2021 insulation rebates.  Maryland lawmakers and planners along with Excelon forward thinkers joined up with ENERGY STAR® to bring an Energy Savings Program to Maryland that is amongst the best in the nation.

Step One: The Win-Win-Win

Get an easy to understand education behind the building science that drives energy efficiency in your home.  With knowledge comes great power to quickly focus in on the things that will really help you feel more comfortable and save energy. 

Learn - Enjoy Your Home - Reduce Costs home performance with ENERGY STAR


The Energy Audit


Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® (HPwES) 

HPwES makes a lot of sense when you stop and think about how the BGE rebate program works.  A Home Performance with ENERGY STAR energy audit is like getting a doctor's physical examination of your home so proper treatment can be prescribed. 

Because the audit is performed by a trained professional, BGE insulation rebates and Pepco insulation rebates will be unlocked and available for Maryland energy customers to offset their project costs.

So, how do you start and what does it mean to put some skin in the game?  Here is how the BGE 2021 rebate and Pepco 2021 rebate works. 

Schedule Your Discounted Home Energy Audit

Did you know you are entitled to a discounted audit? You must schedule a home energy audit with a certified and accepted firm in the BGE and Pepco HPwES program.  

You can schedule with Hometrust by clicking for BGE Insulation Rebates Here and Pepco Energy Rebates Here as we are approved to conduct comprehensive audits in both Maryland programs! 

An audit will cost you $100.  That's it!  That's the skin in the game!  The BGE energy rebate program pays the rest ($300).
 

An Energy Auditor Will Share Valuable Information with You

Diagnostic Testing for Measurable Results
The initial home energy audit is a chance to work with your certified technician to understand a few key things about where to look for problems and why to look in those specific places.  A BGE and Pepco home performance contractor uses diagnostic equipment to conduct a home energy assessment.  Real time information can be shared at the time of the audit.

Rather than focusing on individual components, a home energy audit looks at how a combination of improvements - a whole house approach - can result in a more comfortable home and well as lowering energy usage and overall costs.   

By doing so, the BGE insulation rebate and Pepco insulation rebate can be calculated based on the information gathered during the assessment.

 

2021 BGE and Pepco Energy Rebates - Big Benefits!

A home energy audit can uncover great opportunities for improvements around the home that can have a real impact on your energy bill and they don't all have to be big projects that cost a lot of money.  Your properly trained energy auditor can help you find them making it almost certain that you will get your initial investment of $100 back.

If, however, you are in the market for insulation, efficient windows and doors, a new water heater, a new furnace, central air conditioner or a new heat pump, then the HPwES program is an absolute no-brainer. 

Here is what the BGE insulation rebate and Pepco 2021 rebate program incentives cover in the way of high efficiency products and solutions:

  • Air Sealing and insulation 
  • Heating and cooling equipment
         -Furnaces
         -Central Air Conditioners
         -Heat Pumps
  • ENERGY STAR® Windows and Doors
  • Hybrid heat pump water heaters
  • Duct Sealing and insulation
  • Smart Thermostats

bge insulation rebate

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can read about the incentives and any additional requirements here for BGE energy rebates and here for Pepco energy rebates.

Don't Miss Out By Not Knowing How the Maryland Energy Rebates Work

One Baltimore homeowner did not know how the BGE energy rebates for 2021 worked and replaced her heat pump with a high efficiency unit. 

She was kicking herself after learning that her BGE heat pump rebate increased by a lot through Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program, but it was too late.  At the time of purchase the HVAC salesman made a strong case for her to replace her older unit with a high efficiency machine that came with a "cookie cutter" $400 rebate.  It seemed good at the time.

BGE rebates 2020

About a year later she decided to have the audit done and it uncovered several important things that should have been considered before the heat pump purchase.  The biggest thing was finding out that the BGE heat pump rebate for the new system she purchased - the same exact one - was $2000 had she gone through the Home Performance BGE Rebate Program.

This is the part that can be confusing, but is really rather a simple idea and it helps to understand what the program is all about.  The reason the BGE energy rebate for the same heat pump was five times as great was because of one simple fact that energy advisors know:

The only way that a new efficient heat pump is going to really pay back is if the house for which it is producing conditioned air is properly air sealed and insulated.  Otherwise, the savings over time that you gain from a high efficiency replacement is pennies on the dollar.

Furthermore, consider this customer's initial reason for wanting an energy audit.  The new heat pump had been installed for a year and the house was not more comfortable. 

The increased heat pump rebate along with insulation rebates through the BGE and Pepco Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program end up covering a good portion of the insulation project, if done properly. 

By going out of order, the costs are exponentially higher and without the insulation component, the desired results of purchasing a new HVAC system - better comfort and energy savings - never come to fruition.

One Customer Could Not Believe the Amount of her 2021 BGE Rebate

Her exact words: "Hi, I’m a little confused. So the work costs $4370 and get $2000 back? So we really only end up paying $2370? Or, is that completely wrong?  It does not seem right..."

Our response: "Yes, BGE is paying half because the modeling of your home suggests it will benefit greatly from air sealing and insulation which will likely pay for itself over the life of the materials!"

BGE energy audit

Take the Next Step to Unlock Your BGE Insulation Rebate and Pepco 2021 Rebates!

Moral of the story: Put a little skin in the game!  For $100 you will not only make sure you are getting the most you can out of the BGE and Pepco insulation rebates, but you can also take advantage of working with a specially trained consultant who will guide you and help you formulate the best possible road map to saving energy and creating a comfortable, sustainable home. 

Schedule a comprehensive home energy audit through the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® program today!

 

Hometrust Remodeling - Approved BGE and Pepco Energy Contractor

What has your experience been with the BGE and Pepco rebate program?  We want to hear in the comments below.

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    Hometrust Remodeling is a licensed contractor specializing in a whole-house approach to home remodeling with an emphasis on educating our customers, providing energy efficient solutions, maintaining a network of high caliber technicians and using building science principles.

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    An Energy Auditor's Purpose 
    "Energy auditors visit residential buildings and talk to owners and residents.  They inspect, test, and measure to decide what energy-efficient retrofits are practical and cost effective." Residential Energy