The air we breathe and why design matters

We have never thought so much about the air we breathe as we do now. After a year of working remotely, I returned to the office this week, sharing space with four other businesses. I also had a few people drop-in, from delivery drivers to clients to friends that I had not seen in a year. This was a huge change after a year of almost never leaving my house. Of course, after this past year of a virus that spreads through airborne particles, this is a huge change. The air we breathe has a direct impact on our health and therefore the design of our buildings matters.

Chesapeake Western Depot harrisonburg

Indoor air can be very unhealthy, even outside of virus spread. Smoke, mold, and chemicals along with other people contribute to what is in your air. All of these things in your air can be harmful to human health. When you think of air pollution you often think about smokestacks on industrial building sites or car exhaust. However, that is just a small part of the picture.


The air in your home comes in and gets trapped inside. It comes in when you open doors and windows of course, but it also comes in through your walls, crawl space, and attic. When the wind blows on one side of your home that exterior wall becomes positive pressure and the opposite wall becomes negative pressure. This pulls and pushes air through every gap and cracks in your house. This makes your insulation, carpet, drywall gaps, window edges your air filter – air filters that never get changed or cleaned.

basement insulation

Air is lazy, it looks for the easy path to escape. Easy gaps like electrical outlets, light switches, attic access all become paths for air to come into the house, bringing with it humidity, spiders, pollen, dust, and dirt. Your ductwork run in unconditioned spaces also becomes a conduit for dirty air bypassing the filter intended to clean your air.

Air Leaks

Chemicals in your building products are released into your air and you breathe them in. NO-VOC paints have become really popular, but not the only option. Off-gassing from glues, furniture, clothing, cabinets, paints, cleaning supplies, detergents, and even food are released into the air of your home causing a chemical cocktail that has impacts on your health.

No VOC Paint

When we design a custom home I always encourage our clients to allow us to write a project manual setting the performance standards for the HVAC system, airtightness of the thermal envelope and protects the inhabitants of the home. This performance standard is a critical element to protect the homeowner and to set the standards for the builder to complete. Without this document, you are leaving these performance standards to the builder and his subcontractors. While they may also be very concerned about indoor air quality, their priority is to make sure you are comfortable which is the source of most client’s perception of quality. We need to raise the bar and also talk about the air we breathe and the importance of setting high standards for indoor environmental quality.

Energy-efficiency home hacks

Here are some energy-efficiency blog posts I have written over the years. I hope these will help you narrow down those vampire loads, cold room mysteries, high energy bill conundrums, and generally help you save money, live more comfortably, and improve your indoor environmental quality.

Ready for winter? Check your attic.

Tips and hints at what to look for above your living space that could be impacting your wallet and your comfort.

attic nest

Top 10 things to do this fall for your home and health

I hope you already crossed some of these off the list, but if not, get them done now.

Crossroads Farm Insulation

Simple energy fix for your home that you can do

Air leaks are a major source of discomfort and wasted money, seal these holes and improve on both.

energy audit light switch

Make your home comfortable this winter

Learn what I did at my house when we moved in to improve performance and comfort. I am saving between $25 – $35 per month in energy bills.

Check out your dryer vent to help save electricity

It can save electricity, improve performance of your dryer, and hopefully prevent a fire – check out this post to learn more.

Quality matters for insulation installation and maintenance

Ever put a second blanket on your bed in the winter, think about how the same concept works on your home energy bills.

Ice on the roof shows clear signs of energy loss vs energy-efficiency

Check out the roofs in your neighborhood on those snow days to figure out how you are doing compared to the neighbors in comfort.

broadway snow

Cold weather problems in your home

Find the problem areas and fix them to save money now.

Is your home comfortable? Energy audit follow up.

Where are the issues that need correction in your home?

Look for air leaks if your house is cold

Air leaks exist in every house, sealing them can improve indoor environmental quality and lower energy bills.

Deferred maintenance can destroy a building, call us to help correct the problems

The older we get the more problems we have, in our buildings – I am fine, not sure what you were thinking about.

Little things to make your home better

Thinking of making some upgrades to your home, remember these items.

Recessed lighting could waste energy and comfort

Recessed lighting is usually installed wrong when it comes to energy usage.

recessed light leaks

Simple changes around your house will save you money

Caulk is the answer, find out the question here.

Is your crawl space working properly?

A crawl space should not be forgotten space, it is critical to a home’s performance.

crawl space

How much insulation should you have in your attic?

Getting the insulation right in your home could be the key.

Heating and cooling supply vents are almost never installed right

Learning what should happen is key to figuring out what needs to be fixed.

What is the best water heater for efficiency?

I was surprised by the result.

Harrisonburg Custom Home

Quality matters for insulation installation and maintenance

Conducting energy audits is a great tool for finding and addressing many common maintenance concerns. Many home and business owners want to make their spaces more energy-efficient and we can assist you in this process. During these inspections, we often uncover missing insulation, air leaks, and thermal bridges. We target and advise clients on the areas most commonly responsible for energy waste: light switches, doors, window trims, and attic access points. Improving energy efficiency translates into lower monthly bills and more comfortable living spaces, a win-win in our book! Listed below are a few examples of common insulation issues we run into while conducting energy-audits.


To start, this crawl space should be encapsulated instead of having insulation in the floor. It is evident the moisture levels are high, leading to the insulation being pulled away from the surface it is intended to heat and cool. The solution? We would recommend avoiding this high moisture level by insulating both the walls and floor in addition to installing a vapor barrier.


The problem we run into above stems from the attic lacking enough insulation to meet the minimum energy code standards. This is compounded with construction debris that have been left on top of the insulation, causing it to be constricted and diminish in performance. Additionally, the performance of this insulation does not meet current code requirements. Examples like this teach us that the quality of construction materials are critical to energy efficiency.


The insulation in the above example is appropriately installed to a good depth for the age of this house. It has the proper vent baffles installed to keep the insulation in place while still allowing heat to move through the blown fibers. It is important to note that it is not airtight, therefore it does not perform as well as it could for the installation.


This open-cell spray foam is installed to full cavity, is air tight, and neat. In conducting an energy audit, this clearly shows there was care and attention towards quality control. This home will test very well in an energy-audit!

Is Your House Cold Every Morning? Learn How To Fix It

The cold weather is coming! But you might already feel it if your house is cold every morning. Do you have to add a blanket on your bed this time of year because your house is always uncomfortable? Are you dreading the winter heating bills?

attic insulation

Making your home energy-efficient also improves comfort on these cold mornings. Your home is the most complicated machine you own. So where do you start? How do you fix it? As you can imagine, this is a topic I have written about a lot over the years. I found some blog posts in particular that touch on making your home more comfortable in the cool months and listed them below.

North Fork Middle School

The summary is call me for a free energy audit. There are no strings attached. I come and test your home for air leakage and give you a list of things you can fix yourself and some names of people who you can call to help you fix them. I don’t get paid to do this service – I just want you to have the most energy-efficient and comfortable home as possible. If all architects and builders would design homes with building science in mind, this would not be a needed service, but they don’t. My payment for this service is showing you the value of building science knowledge and you telling your friends that need something designed about it. Consider it a marketing expense. I save you money and build my brand. Call to schedule your audit if you want to be more comfortable this winter. Read the blog posts below for more ideas on how to fix your home.

attic insulation

Typical home energy problems

8 steps to an energy-efficient home

Vented Attic Space

How much insulation do you need in your attic?

Add attic insulation to make your home more comfortable and energy-efficient

Proper insulation provides comfort and energy-efficiency in your basement renovation

Should you use spray foam insulation?

harrisonburg spray foam

Find the air leaks by looking at the fiberglass insulation

Comfort issues caused by poor insulation

Thinking of building a custom energy-efficient home, where do you start?

Why does building science matter and why is if left out so often?


Spray Foam Insulation: Common Questions Answered from Elite Insulation

Spray Foam Insulation: Common Questions Answered from Elite Insulation

Should you use spray foam insulation on your next project? Common questions answered by Ken Wells from Elite Insulation

A common question we face on each job is which kind of insulation is right for the goals established. I asked Ken Wells to answer some of the common questions we face.  Here are his responses:

Does spray foam insulation cause indoor air quality problems?

Any improperly installed insulation has the potential to cause or lead to indoor air quality issues.  This is why it’s very important to choose your insulation contractor carefully, just as you would with any other contractor.  There are also many other building products and home goods inside your home which have the potential to be the source of indoor air quality issues.  Spray Polyurethane foam insulation utilizes diisocyanate, which isn’t scientifically detectable after 1 hour of when the foam ins applied. Installing spray foam requires a professional certification and proper equipment to install it.  Properly installed spray foam insulation is an inert plastic and is just as safe as the plastic trash bag in your kitchen trash can.

How are R13 insulation different between fiberglass and foam?

Fiberglass works by trapping air inside tiny glass fibers that contain small bubbles of air, which slows the transfer of heat.  It’s installed by folding, wrapping and cutting pieces to place in stud cavities.  Human installation error coupled with the fact that fiberglass doesn’t hold in heat well and loses 40% of insulating capacity when outside temperatures are below 20° F make it an inferior product in comparison.  Fiberglass has been laboratory tested to lose 8% of its labeled R-value right out of the bag, and has a 28% loss in R-value as commonly installed. Spray foam is sprayed by a certified spray foam applicator, expanding into all gaps, cracks and cavities and can adapt to any structural design, virtually eliminating human installation error.  Most importantly, it’s an air barrier with excellent thermal properties for your home that seals warm and conditioned air in your home year round.

How much does it cost?

The up front costs for spray foam can be as much as three times the cost of conventional fibrous insulations, depending on your project.  The benefits far out-weigh the difference in the up front costs. With spray foam insulation, you will be more comfortable in your home, which for most is their biggest investment.  Utility bills are documented to be half as much or more with spray foam, which makes for a quick payback period.

For more questions answered, give them a call:

Elite Insulation (866-841-3034) offers:

Fiberglass Blown Insulation
Cellulose Blown Insulation
Fibergalss Batt Insulation (ask about our R-40 and R-49 Batted Insulation)
Cotton Batt Insulation
Spray Foam Insulation, Through PolyPro Spray Foam
Free, no obligation estimates