Cold weather Cold house No More

Cold weather Cold house No More

Do you have a cold house? This cold snap has been a great reminder of all the things you can do to your home to stay warm and comfortable. From air leaks to missing insulation to old windows, there are many things that can be improved in most homes.

Even if you are not ready to call in the contractors, there are simple things that you can fix on your own to make your home more resilient.

Stop the air leaks around every electrical outlet and light switch.


thermal image of outlet.


That’s right, air leaks exist around every electrical outlet and light switch in your home! Yes, your windows are also a source of air leakage, but first you need to stop these points. You probably have a lot more linear leak potential around outlets than you have window problems.


Seal around light fixtures and window trim.



Sealing around your light fixtures and window trim is also an easy way to help your home, and you can do this yourself. Caulk those joints where two materials come together. Here is more on how to pick the right caulk.


Think through other air leak areas.



Basically, you’re doing it right now because you’re reading this blog. Think about where the air leaks could occur think about all the places drywall was cut to install a vent, outlet, access panel, window, or light.


Good insulation is key!



  1. Adding the right insulation in the right place is critical. Start in the attic, that “extra blanket you put over the house to keep the warm air inside“.
  2. Add insulating curtains and open them when the sun is warm and close them when you want to trap the warm air in your home.Utilizing natural light is a great way to save you money.
  3. Once the attic insulation is right, you should have someone conduct an energy audit to determine where else you need insulation corrections.

What is an energy audit?


Indoor Air Quality


ductwork, foam, and beams


Thinking about your indoor air quality will help you stay well during these cold months when you’re spending more time indoors.


More Winter Considerations

Other winter considerations to cut your electric bill while staying warm are your fireplace, outside mechanical systems, windows, and duct leakage. All of these things impact your comfort and energy usage. If you have single pane windows you can add plexi inside of them or cover them in plastic for now – replacement is a longer term solution. If you have air leaks and missing weatherstripping, replace it. If you have insulation falling down in your crawl space put it back into place until you can encapsulate your crawl. If you have pipes coming through walls with air space around them, seal it up.

On cold days like this, I am very happy that we choose to focus on building science solutions that are proven and tested for our client’s custom homes. I know that they are comfortable in their dream homes.




Should you install Solar PV on your Roof? Part 2

Should you install Solar PV on your Roof? Part 2

Here is part 2 to answer should you install Solar PV on your roof? Check out part 1 as well as one of our architects, Charles Hendricks and Eric with Green Hill Solar answer your questions.

Charles, how does this Solar PV thing work, will my house be “on the grid?”

You will still use the grid and should pay a usage charge to the power company to be connected – this pays for the grid quality and your access to power at night – even when you are producing what you need or more than what you need – you are using the grid. There are no battery solutions that I have seen yet that are affordable and reliable. When there are, you will not need the grid.


Eric, I understand I can get “free solar” from some companies – how does that work? What about adding Solar to my commercial building? Are there still tax benefits to adding solar PV?

Be aware of the “free solar” statement. There really is no free solar. The current financial benefits are tax oriented. Private individuals and businesses will qualify for a 30% federal tax credit that can be taken over 2 years. Businesses and Farms can, additionally, depreciate their solar equipment. “No money down and no upfront costs” usually refer to a “no money down, loan”. If your project will be financed with a solar loan, understand any “dealer fees” that are being passed on to you. They are used to help bring down the loan rate. When you pay out of pocket for your system, you should evaluate annual production, Return on Investment (ROI), years of payback, and always the environmental benefits. When you pay with a loan, the key metric is comparing monthly payments to your average monthly electric bill.

Charles, should I have my existing roof replaced before adding solar PV?

If your roof is not newer, you probably want a roofer to evaluate the life in it before installing solar. You don’t want to have to remove solar to replace a roof before you have gotten the value out of the solar PV.


Charles, now that you have answered a lot of our questions, where do I start?

Start with this website to determine if your roof has good solar potential.

If the answer is yes, then collect your utility bills for the past year for the solar PV company you decide to reach out to for a quote.

Ask someone like Eric Beck with Green Hill Solar to give you an estimate for installation. The way I would look at it, cost vs value – is to finance the system through a bank with a 15 – 20-year loan (panels will last a long time, but usually have a 25 year warranty). If your payment to the bank is less than your current electric bills, then you should have solar PV. If you can also use the tax credits that is icing on the cake. Solar PV does add value to your home so if / when you sell you should be able to get most if not all your money back out of the system.


Eric, final question, how long does it take to get the system up and operational once you get started.

An average residential installation should take 2-3 days. The utility application and approvals on the front and back end can take up to 30 days, so be ready for patience. Solar PV has been well designed to be very low impact and easy to retrofit on most homes, so the impact on the lifestyle of the occupants is minimal. Ultimately, be comfortable with the installer and their abilities, as you would be with any contractor. And understand, despite the rewarding nature of solar work, the unique challenges of solar work include navigating long utility review processes, local building departments, and physically demanding technical work.

What questions do you have that we can give to Charles and Eric to consider?

sunsetting and birds flying over roof solar panels of Casa Cielo

Photo above of Casa Cielo solar panels by Susan L Beck with Green Hill Solar.

Should you install Solar PV on your Roof? Part 1

Should you install Solar PV on your Roof? Part 1

Over the last couple of weeks, several people have posted questions on social media about adding solar photovoltaic (PV) to their home. So, should you install Solar PV on your roof? We asked one of our architects, Charles Hendricks, and reached out to the owner of a Solar PV company, Eric Beck, with Green Hill Solar to help us understand.

So, Charles, should we all have solar PV on our rooftops?

Solar on south-facing unshaded roofs that are financed with an equity line will cost you less per month than you pay now for power (in most cases). The equity line is a loan so you must qualify for the loan and will have debt until the loan is paid off. This will eliminate some that don’t have enough equity or others that don’t want to carry debt. However, you could look at your monthly power bill as a “loan payment” the same as an equity loan payment. If solar PV is cheaper or even the same price as grid power, I think the answer is yes, we should all have solar on our rooftops.


Eric, what are your thoughts about solar PV on our rooftops?

Distributed solar is increasingly becoming viable for many more people as technology improves and costs decrease through improved collection and other market incentives. Distributed solar is generally photovoltaic (electric production) and located on rooftops or ground mounts. They are very simply small electrical plants that are connecting to the grid across the country. A south-facing roof is ideal! Even if a roof is not exactly south facing (azimuth), solar collection has improved so dramatically that even East or West facing roofs can make sense.

solar panels overlooking mountains

Charles, how do you decide what Solar PV company to use to install this clean energy source?

There are many companies that are good quality trusted options in the area – I know most of them. There are benefits to full-service companies that will finance the system for you but they have more risk, so they get more reward. There are companies that have a better customer interface – again – you pay for that warm fuzzy feeling. Then there are companies that are average on warm fuzzy feelings that don’t finance the systems that cost less up front to. Your roof will need to be analyzed to be able to hold the added weight – all the companies will offer this service. Some of the companies will also do an energy audit and offer weatherization to cut use before installing the solar. Interview and select the company that you trust to provide the best value.


Eric, what are some ways to evaluate a Solar PV company before you hire one?

Because I’m in the business, I can sometimes lose perspective of what it’s like to be a customer.  Below are some excellent questions that I have been asked recently by our customers when we were assessing their homes and offering our design/proposals.

  • Why have the companies chosen their type of solar panel and inverter?  Always look for Tier 1 panels, and the differing inverters offer their own pros and cons.
  • What is the equipment warranty period and how are the solar companies warranting their labor?  You should be getting a warranty of at least 25 yrs. for all rooftop components and understand how the warranty on installation works.
  • Is my roof or our property good for solar?  Most salespeople should be able to outline how your property compares to an ideal orientation, and how much your solar production will be impacted by shading from trees, roof features, or adjacent roofs.  In the Shenandoah Valley, there can be shading impacts from close valleys and ridges as well.  Fortunately, your roof doesn’t have to be oriented in the perfect way to benefit from solar.  Solar collection has improved dramatically and makes it possible for many to realize the environmental and financial benefits of solar.

Part 2 coming soon, check back for more answers.

Air Quality in the Home: VOCs and Envelopes

Air Quality in the Home: VOCs and Envelopes

Recently, Charles spoke at “Living Well in Your Lifetime Home,” a workshop featuring three certified aging-in-place specialists and industry experts: Charles; Amy Homan Depoy, OT/L, founder and owner of Cardinal Care, LLC; and Gabby Koontz, principal of Rendered Homes. This event was sponsored by VPAS in partnership with Harrisonburg Parks and Recreation. What a wonderful opportunity to share with the community. 

While Charles discussed a wide range of designs and considerations, he highlighted indoor air quality as a very important design consideration for everyone. This is especially true as you age because you can become even more sensitive to poor air quality. 


Charles speaks in front of people sitting at tables about Aging-In-Place design.


There are many considerations when it comes to indoor air quality, and one is VOCs, which are present in all of our homes and potentially hazardous to our health.

VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compound. Many products used in home construction have these chemicals that are released into the air post-installation, called off-gassing. You might be surprised to know that VOCs are in every house and can be found in many common products including paints, lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials, printers, correction fluid, and glues. This is something to be taken seriously. VOCs can trigger asthma, eye irritation, cough, dizziness, and other adverse long-term health effects, and they are known to cause certain cancers. 


Envelopes and Energy-Efficiency

Concentrations of VOCs are often found to be higher indoors than outdoors (an obvious conclusion looking at air circulation and volume of space). To compound the problem, the level of these chemicals could even be higher in an energy-efficient’ home that does not have a dedicated fresh air system. 

This is because the more air-tight a building envelope is, the more likely it is energy-efficient. (A building envelope refers to the walls and other materials separating the indoor air from the outdoor air). Creating an airtight home reduces energy leaks at all the gaps and cracks in your home’s walls (around windows and doors, where materials meet, plumbing penetrations, and more). This traps the air inside the home and doesn’t allow in outdoor air. While this prevents energy loss (or gain depending on the season) it also prevents the house from “airing out.” Air pressure around the home and in the home also plays a part in that, but that is for another blog on another day.


What should you do?

So what should you do if you want to save money with an energy-efficient home and you want to decrease VOCs and their harmful effects? Is this a catch-22? As scary as this may sound, it is not all doom and gloom, and there are ways to mitigate the amount of VOCs you will come into contact with in your home.

  1. In the construction stage, carefully select products. VOCs can be found in many products including paints, lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials, and glues. We typically select products that have low to No VOCs in them for our clients when possible.
  2. Include a dedicated fresh air system integrated with the heating and cooling system. This will draw in conditioned and filtered air into your home rather than relying on leaks in your home for “fresh” air.
  3. Open your windows occasionally (if your allergies are not too triggered by the pollen levels).

Until products are no longer made with VOCs, these strategies will not eliminate 100% of VOCs, but they will diminish a known health risk to your family. 

7 Summer Energy Saving Tips

7 Summer Energy Saving Tips

off-white curtain fabric
The sun is shining down this summer and the weather is heating up out there. I’m suddenly more aware of my AC system… and the large amount of money it might be taking out of my wallet. These 7 tips can help you stay comfortable in the hotter temperatures and save money on your electric bill.

7 Tips to save energy and money:

  1. Adjust your thermostat up a few degrees. This is one we hear a lot. The Department of Energy recommends that you keep the temperature at 78 degrees while people are indoors. It may not be realistic to keep your thermostat set this high for everyone, but try raising the temperature by just a few degrees and see what it feels like. When the temperature inside is close to the outdoor temperature, the less your HVAC system needs to run, saving you money.
  2. Use those curtains! The sun beating through those gorgeous wide windows of yours can create significant heat in your house. On especially sunny days, draw the curtains and pull down the blinds to block the heat.
  3. Let your shrubbery grow. The shade from outside landscaping (or inside, pictured left) can block the sun from sunny windows. Plants who prefer full sun do well on the South-facing side of your house, the side that gets the most sun and heat. Their flourishing growth will block your windows from the hottest direction. Your plants will love you and you will feel more cool!
  4. Replace your HVAC filters. It can take about 2 minutes. Simple as that.
  5. Use a clothesline instead of a dryer.
  6. Take shorter, colder showers to save on the water and electric bill. Better yet, install a low-flow shower head.
  7. Use a ceiling fan instead of turning on the air conditioner. The air moving around the room improves comfort without using a lot of energy.
close up of lemon tree in front of window. small green lemons are forming.

Meyer lemon tree from Edible Landscaping grown indoors.

7 Spring Energy Saving Tips

7 Spring Energy Saving Tips

As Spring sweeps in, temperatures change and your house has different needs. Here are 7 Spring Energy Saving Tips that will help to lower your bills.


  1. Utilize Sunlight from Windows: On chillier spring days, save money on heating and lighting. Open the blinds and let that sunlight in in the middle of the day! Be sure to close your insulating curtains before sunset to trap the warmth inside so you don’t lose your gains as the sun sets.
  2. Utilize Window Blinds: Spring in Virginia has temperature ups and downs, so conversely, on hot days, save money on your AC bills by closing the blinds to the windows to block out the heat. Honeycomb blinds work best to stop heat gain into spaces.
  3. Program the Thermostat: On warmer days, set the thermostat higher when you’re gone to save energy. Remember if you have a traditional heat pump, more than a 2 degree change may cause your system to call for emergency heat which is very costly. If you have a newer system that uses a variable speed compressor this is not an issue.
  4. Hang Clothes to Dry: As the temperature warms up, string up a clothesline outdoors to use the sun’s heat instead of the dryer.
  5. Stop hand washing your dishes: Say no more! For larger loads, most modern dishwashers actually use less water. Letting dishes air dry can save more money and electricity.
  6. Replace your HVAC Filters on a regular basis: bonus points for having a performance contract with your HVAC company to make sure your system is running in perfect order.
  7. Assess your home: Check on air leaks, windows, insulation, water, etc. Read more about 5 things you can do for a spring house assessment here.