Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Introducing the Green House Detectives

Okay, so they don’t come to your door with green plaid Sherlock Holmes hats and magnifying glasses, but they are armed with gizmos, equipment, calculators and clipboards. Afshin and Meenal are once again ahead of the curve. This dynamic Mount Airy couple set out to lower their ecological footprint. They were so impressively effective at this task that in the process they realized it could become not just a personal mission but a professional pursuit. Economic analysis bears out that green job are the future. It’s hard to find a better investment than energy conservation and efficiency, so voila! Here come the Green House Detectives.

Most every house has energy-guzzling appliances, leaky windows, mysterious sources of drafts, and ever escalating bills. You can turn down your thermostat and turn off your unused lights, but unless you’re making improvements to your home’s infrastructure and investing in appropriate appliance and equipment upgrades, you will be both uncomfortable and paying ever larger bills. Their service, an energy consultation, will provide you with concrete analysis and recommendations based on their research and experience. A trial run at my house, in which we have completed many new upgrades, was very illuminating. Afshin and Meenal ran the numbers and determined that our gas usage is 40% lower as a result of all our energy efficiency and energy conservation efforts. This was reassuring, since I had just received a $665 monthly heating bill. Afshin did some quick figuring and pointed out that had we not lowered our usage, but used the same amount as 6 years ago when we started upgrading, that bill would now be running us $2250! Our electricity usage is down 10%, despite adding many more appliances and running room heaters all winter to counteract our thermostat being set at 62. It was great to document our success, but they didn’t stop there. We now have a punch list of another dozen or so leak-sealing sites. They will be able to provide the labor for these jobs. One of the previous frustrations was finding folks to actually execute the work. They will do the analysis and you can do the work yourself, or you can hire them to do it.

While I had always thought our water service charges were huge (over $150 a month), I had never seen any other household’s bill, so I had nothing with which to compare it. ("By the way, what's your monthly water bill?" just isn't a normal conversation starter). Enter the Green House Detectives. They quickly determined our water usage is low but our service charge is five times the norm. Armed with that information I called the Water Department and learned this is because we have a 1” meter rather than a normal 5/8” meter. For $450 a plumber will replace our meter and our service charge will drop by 85%, paying for the plumbing costs in just 4 months, without any negative consequences. In other words, we are unlikely to notice the difference when we turn on the tap. (Don’t worry, we’ll also try to recoup some of the 21 years’ charges for service for which we got no value.) You can see why it’s helpful to bring in the detectives! In all likelihood the cost will quickly be offset by savings. And with electricity being deregulated in Pennsylvania in the near future, any savings now will be multiplied in years to come.

Afshin and Meenal can be reached at The Green House Detectives.

1 comment:

batticdoor said...

How To Reduce Your Heating Bills This Winter / Energy Conservation Begins at Home

Imagine leaving a window open all winter long -- the heat loss, cold drafts and wasted energy! If your home has a folding attic stair, a whole house fan or AC Return, a fireplace or a clothes dryer, that may be just what is occurring in your home every day.

These often overlooked sources of heat loss and air leakage can cause heat to pour out and the cold outside air to rush in -- costing you higher heating bills.

Air leaks are the largest source of heating and cooling loss in the home. Air leaks occur through the small cracks around doors, windows, pipes, etc. Most homeowners are well aware of the benefits caulk and weatherstripping provide to minimize heat loss and cold drafts.

But what can you do about the four largest “holes” in your home -- the folding attic stair, the whole house fan or AC return, the fireplace, and the clothes dryer? Here are some tips and techniques that can easily, quickly and inexpensively seal and insulate these holes.

Attic Stairs

When attic stairs are installed, a large hole (approximately 10 square feet) is created in your ceiling. The ceiling and insulation that were there have to be removed, leaving only a thin, unsealed, sheet of plywood.

Your attic space is ventilated directly to the outdoors. In the winter, the attic space can be very cold, and in the summer it can be very hot. And what is separating your conditioned house from your unconditioned attic? That thin sheet of plywood.

Often a gap can be observed around the perimeter of the door. Try this yourself: at night, turn on the attic light and shut the attic stairway door -- do you see any light coming through? These are gaps add up to a large opening where your heated/cooled air leaks out 24 hours a day. This is like leaving a window open all year round.

An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add an attic stair cover. An attic stair cover provides an air seal, reducing the air leaks. Add the desired amount of insulation over the cover to restore the insulation removed from the ceiling.

Whole House Fans and AC Returns

Much like attic stairs above, when whole house fans are installed, a large hole (up to 16 square feet or larger) is created in your ceiling. The ceiling and insulation that were there have to be removed, leaving only leaky ceiling shutter between the house and the outdoors.

An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a whole house fan cover. Installed from the attic side, the whole house fan cover is invisible. Cover the fan to reduce heating and air-conditioning loss, remove it when use of the fan is desired.

If attic access is inconvenient, or for AC returns, a ceiling shutter cover is another option for reducing heat loss through the ceiling shutter and AC return. Made from R-8, textured, thin, white flexible insulation, and installed from the house side over the ceiling shutter with Velcro, a whole house fan shutter cover is easily installed and removed.


Sixty-five percent, or approximately 100 million homes, in North America are constructed with wood or gas burning fireplaces. Unfortunately there are negative side effects that the fireplace brings to a home especially during the winter home-heating season. Fireplaces are energy losers.

Researchers have studied this to determine the amount of heat loss through a fireplace, and the results are amazing. One research study showed that an open damper on an unused fireplace in a well-insulated house can raise overall heating-energy consumption by 30 percent.

A recent study showed that for many consumers, their heating bills may be more than $500 higher per winter due to the air leakage and wasted energy caused by fireplaces.

Why does a home with a fireplace have higher heating bills? Hot air rises. Your heated air leaks out any exit it can find, and when warm heated air is drawn out of your home, cold outside air is drawn in to make up for it. The fireplace is like a giant straw sucking the heated air from your house.

An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a fireplace draftstopper. Available from Battic Door, a company known for their energy conservation products, a fireplace draftstopper is an inflatable pillow that seals the damper, eliminating any air leaks. The pillow is removed whenever the fireplace is used, then reinserted after.

Clothes Dryer Exhaust Ducts

In many homes, the room with the clothes dryer is the coldest room in the house. Your clothes dryer is connected to an exhaust duct that is open to the outdoors. In the winter, cold air leaks in through the duct, through your dryer and into your house.

Dryer vents use a sheet-metal flapper to try to reduce this air leakage. This is very primitive technology that does not provide a positive seal to stop the air leakage. Compounding the problem is that over time, lint clogs the flapper valve causing it to stay open.

An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a dryer vent seal. This will reduce unwanted air infiltration, and keep out pests, bees and rodents as well. The vent will remain closed unless the dryer is in use. When the dryer is in use, a floating shuttle rises to allow warm air, lint and moisture to escape.

If your home has a folding attic stair, a whole house fan, an AC return, a fireplace, and/or a clothes dryer, you can easily, quickly and inexpensively seal and insulate these holes.

Mark D. Tyrol is a Professional Engineer specializing in cause and origin of construction defects. He developed several residential energy conservation products including an attic stair cover, an attic access door, and is the U.S. distributor of the fireplace draftstopper. To learn more visit