Talking with any experienced carpenter, you have probably heard the phrase “a house needs to breath, you don’t want to build it too tight.” This is common folklore that has been passed down from generation to generation. Your builder tells you he is doing something that is good for your home by letting it leak a little to get fresh air and allow the building materials to dry out. These concepts need to be addressed, but a leaky house is not the solution. You do want to bring fresh air into your home, but you should do it through a planned ventilation system. You also want to allow materials to dry out so you need to know the permeability of those materials and verify that you are not creating a surface that reaches dew point in the assembly.
I was at an event a few weeks ago that focused on making existing homes energy-efficient. One attendee pulled me aside to discuss what else she could do in her home. SO I asked the basic questions, “have you had an energy audit?” Her answer was immediate and definitive, my house is very energy-efficient. So I followed up with, “what kind of insulation do you have?” Her answer made me wonder where this conversation was heading “the normal kind.”
Most houses that are built don’t take building science into account. I believe this is in large part because you cannot see many of the things that are important for energy efficiency. So what should you look for in your home to determine if you are really energy-efficient?
First, I think every home owner should invest in an energy audit. You should select your auditor carefully, look for someone who understands building science and the complexities that exist in the most complicated machine you own – your home.
Get to know your home, look at the insulation in the attic, crawl space / basement, determine what kind of windows you have, and know the age and efficiency of your HVAC system. Then talk to your neighbors and friends about how much they pay per square foot for electricity. When you host a dinner party, show your friends the things that you have done to reduce your energy bills and talk about what they have done. Call a building scientist (me) to discuss all the low-cost things that you can do to make your home more energy-efficient. We all need to find ways to spend less each month – if you have not made your home efficient, then you are losing money every month that you could be saving!