Chimay & other P&B dwellers RE: UTILITIES

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bitzala
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Chimay & other P&B dwellers RE: UTILITIES

Postby bitzala » Sun Nov 27, 2005 10:23 pm

Just wondering if those who live in post & beam homes have found that low e dual-paned glass cuts electricity use in the summer and gas use in the winter?

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Postby Chimay » Sun Nov 27, 2005 10:41 pm

Hard to tell for us. Probably, but we were only in our house for a few months before we started the renovation. It was very hot in the house that summer, and it seemed less warm this summer. But maybe that was just the climate.

We have low-e rated double-paned windows and patio doors on our south side (the side facing the backyard). If we come home after a very hot day and the house has been closed up, it's still pretty uncomfortable in the house. But as soon as we open windows and doors on both sides and get a breeze going, it's not so bad.

I suspect lack of insulation in the roof is the biggest factor in that.
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Postby Joe » Sun Nov 27, 2005 11:09 pm

what does post and beam have to do with your post?

I have installed low-e dual pane glass everywhere, except the clestories, and added R-30 rigid insulation into the ceiling. But the biggest blessing has come from installing VCT through out the house and removed the carpet. My radiant system is much happier (so is the wife).

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Postby bitzala » Mon Nov 28, 2005 9:09 am

Thanks, Chimay. I agree-- non-insulated ceilings must factor into the equation significantly. Just hoping to take a swipe at the problem by replacing old dual paned glass with solar band low e.

Joe-- I specified post & beam architecture because these homes usually have more glass, attracting more radiant heat during the summer. And with higher, uninsulated ceilings, I figure they require more energy to heat or cool and lose a lot of the heat or cold (whatever you're trying to keep inside) through the roof.

Although I realize that the glass isn't the only issue, I am hoping that replacing the glass with solar band low e will take a bite out of our ridiculous energy bills and wanted to get perspective from P & B dwellers who have the same set of variables.

Unfortunately, R-30 insultation is not an option, nor is radiant heat. We may just use space heaters in the rooms we're sleeping in at night if our gas bill continues to be as high as it was last month. (From Sept. 28 through Oct. 28, our gas bill was $580. I'm calling the gas company to see if the biggest offender was the one day we heated the pool for our son's birthday party.)

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Postby JXBrown » Mon Nov 28, 2005 1:59 pm

You can't put a foam roof on your house? If you can, it should be more cost effective than replacing windows. Low-e glass improves heat transmission a bit, but it doesn't substitute for insulation. You can also put up low-e film until you put in double pane windows.

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Postby Joe » Mon Nov 28, 2005 2:50 pm

got ya.

Glass is usually too expensive. in most cases, what you spend on glass, you will not recoup in heating/cooling cost. You need to ask yourself how long you intend to stay in the house and do the math. Sometimes it's not worth upgrading the windows, unless it adds up.

whatever you do, do not swap out high, clestory glass. thats where hot, summer heat escapes. it really isn't an issue during the winter.

Do consult with glass companies to see it you can simple swap out the glass, rather than the hole window. Glass companies will sell you glass, window companies just want to sell you the windows they have in stock.

As for insulation, I guess I am lucky my P&B home uses 6 inch joists on 16 inch centers for cross beams and plywood decking, leaving the ridge and side beams exposed. No ceiling to expose and 6 inches to space to insulation.

For folks with exposed ceiling, consider adding two inches of rigid insulation on top when you re-roof. Two inches won't ruin the aesthetics. Be sure you have a white, silver, or light grey roof to reflect the sun's hot rays. A foam roof is another possibility. If your roof is tar and gravel, sweep up the existing rocks, put down yo rigid, resurface with hot tar, and re-top with white rock. You may need to rip off the existing tar in some cases.

Heating options... if you are considering new flooring, look into low voltage radiant heat systems like Step Warmfloor electric radiant heat system. This low voltage system may be able to be powered by solar? Something to look into. While this system could be used as a primary heat system, it could be used to supplement a current system.

other thoughts... Don't be so concerned with your ceiling. most heat dissipates by the time it reaches your head. You make better insulation gains with window glass and doors.

WARNING... Most homes from this era were made to breath. Over insulating, or incorrect insulating can lead to mold issues. If you're plugging empty spaces in walls and ceilings, be sure you allow space to circulate air. Good crossventilation and hardsurface flooring can make for a much cooler house in the summer.

Finally, windows have been discussed many times here, so use the search function to find more.

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Postby dentedvw » Mon Nov 28, 2005 7:49 pm

Hey, that warmfloor looks pretty good. :D My toes are chilly right now.
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Postby bitzala » Tue Nov 29, 2005 9:52 am

JX Brown-- thanks for that. I know nothing about foam roofs, but will now look into that as an option. You're saying that the non-insulated roof is the main "culprit" in our high energy bills? If, so, then we will put our money on the roof.

Joe-- thank you for the detailed response. Do you think rigid insulation on the roof is better than foam, in terms of energy efficiency? (We have a roofer coming next week for a small repair, so I'll inquire when he comes.)

Regarding the windows, Joe... the windows are all plate glass, so it's just the glass we are replacing, plus 10 feet of sliding glass doors. We found a company that will remove and replace the glass for about $24 a square foot. Since we plan to stay in the house as long as possible, the math be in our favor.

It looks like you are saying that glass and doors are the biggest "culprits" in energy inefficiency, not the roof. We need to get to the bottom of this question (glass > roof?) with some solid numbers before moving forward, so I just emailed the Lawerence Berkeley National Laboratory, Environmental Energy Technologies Division to hopefully get some hard data on windows vs, roofs. They are part of the Window Efficiency Collaborative, so they should have some reliable data that we can use in our analysis.

Thanks so much for the insight, Joe and JX Brown.

b

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Postby JXBrown » Tue Nov 29, 2005 11:13 am

Last edited by JXBrown on Thu Dec 01, 2005 9:48 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby egads » Tue Nov 29, 2005 7:57 pm


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Postby bitzala » Wed Nov 30, 2005 10:45 pm

JX Brown-- thanks, again. Your explanation on roof vs windows and how to get the most bang for our buck in terms of insulation was most helpful. Also, great links. (Efficient Window Collaborative was how I found the Berkeley Lab that I contacted... )

We'll be talking to a roofer on Saturday about foam and rigid insulation.

Unfortunately, the utilities plot has thickened... I learned yesterday that our water bill for last month was $530; alongside our $580 gas bill, it's starting to look like a hot water leak. So, a plumber will be visiting. (The first two bills are making our $300 electric bill look good :o)

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Postby JXBrown » Thu Dec 01, 2005 9:35 am


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Foam Roof

Postby Josquin » Thu Dec 01, 2005 2:52 pm

We have a foam roof on our post and beam in Tujunga. We probably suffer from the same conditions as you bitzala. We have little to no insulation in our walls and single pane windows, but our house is about twenty degrees cooler in the summer than our foamless neighbors and our winter heating bills are far less. It is interesting to note, our neighbors have insulation in their walls, but because of the heat gain and loss through the roof their situation is much worse than ours. I highly recommend it.

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Postby bitzala » Thu Dec 01, 2005 10:10 pm

egads-- interesting. I was hoping to avoid window coverings, but may have to take that option more seriously. I've heard that Silent Gliss & Roll Star are decent too. Will check these out.

JX-- you are a font of information. Thanks.

Hey, Josquin-- glad to hear about your experience. It looks like the roof should be where we focus for the moment. Do you have a roofer that you like?

bitzala

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Foam Roof

Postby Josquin » Fri Dec 02, 2005 7:59 am

Bitzala,
The foam roof was put on about 7 years ago. I can't remember who put the roof on, but I'll check in the archives for the receipt and send you the reference. You do have to do some maintenance on the foam. About every five years you should put a elastomeric coating over the foam. This helps to fill in the cracks and abrassion caused by normal wear and tear.

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Postby bitzala » Fri Dec 02, 2005 8:34 am

Thanks-- Josquin. You're kind. If it's not readily available, please don't go to any effort. I know someone who knows someone. (The roofer coming this weekend is not someone we hired-- he's repairing something under warranty.)

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Postby scowsa » Fri Dec 02, 2005 12:22 pm

Regarding foam roofs -- coincidentally, both this week's "Dream House" on HGTV and "This Old House" on PBS showed foam roof installation.

The Dream House was foam underlay with sprayed overlay and the TOH was a foam underlay with a rubber sheet overlay.

I think both programs get repeated (in our area, TOH is shown later on a different PBS channel) in case you missed them.

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Postby bitzala » Sun Dec 04, 2005 4:06 pm


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Postby Jamal » Sat Dec 31, 2005 10:33 am

bitzala - did you ever get to the bottom of your huge gas bill?

Ours are similar....but the original architect of our house says the heat loss on our home should cause nowhere near that high a gas usage according to his original heat loss calculations. and since then the prior owners added a poly iso 4" roof. we have a newer 78% efficiency furnace (mid eff - not high eff) and insulated glass - but not thermally broken windows...

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Postby bitzala » Sat Dec 31, 2005 12:15 pm

Jamal-- I was just sitting down to post a question on the very topic! Thank you for asking.

Our most recent gas bill was $650-- up from $580 the month before. And we're freezing cold in our house! Even though the thermostat reads 69, most of the house is below that at about 65.

(Our water bills continue to be high too at $200 to $300 a month, but water company says there's no leak. We'll have sprinkler people come out and check our auto-timer next.)

We had a leak detection specialist check for a hot water leak; they found nothing. The gas company came out-- they found two dirty filters (kind of sad), blew out the pool heater's pilot, but found no leaks.

We noticed that the air that comes out of the vents in the ceiling (newer part of the house) feels warm, but the air from the floor vents doesn't feel very warm. An AC/Heat guy came yesterday and found that the unit is fine, but agreed that air coming up from the floor is not "warm" enough, suggesting a duct leak. So we'll have a "duct test" run by some other specialist, ASAP.

The original duct work in our house is all embedded in a slab... no crawl space. I'm not looking foward to the prospect of them diagnosing and repairing this-- imagining that they'll have to tear up our wood floors.

I'm curious, Jamal.... do you have duct work that comes up through a slab in your house? Do you have any theories on why yours is so high?

b

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Postby Jamal » Sat Dec 31, 2005 1:06 pm


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Postby Jamal » Sat Dec 31, 2005 1:12 pm


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Postby MoneyPitModern » Sat Dec 31, 2005 6:59 pm

Bitzala & Jamal-

Have you asked your gas companies to give you a 2 to 3 year history by month of the BTUs used to heat your houses? It would give a good historical baseline to determine if something has gone haywire in your respective HVAC systems.

Can you describe your air supply vent and return duct situations? i.e. Number of rooms, supplies and returns in each, location of thermostat.

An imbalance in the ratio of supply air to return air can wreak havoc with heating or cooling a house. If you have more return than supply in a space, you've created negative air pressure in that room, and you'll pull in outside air. (Bitzala, in your case, if your ducts are leaking under the slab you could be pulling in cooler air from there, which could explain the difference in temp from the overhead ducts.)

If you have more supply than return, or no return in a space, you're creating positive air pressure. That means either your furnace cannot push enough air to heat or cool the room, or you are pushing conditioned air to the outside, or both. Ideally, you should have neutral air pressure in a room. There are some ways to tweak it with dampers on either side, or perhaps the installation of an additional return or supply.

As for figuring how much each improvement in insulation or glazing may help, the best way to know is to invest $49 in a program called HVAC-Calc: http://hvac-calc.com/main.asp It's a limited life (I think 60 day) version of the best HVAC calculation software around. The commercial version costs $389.

HVAC-Calc measures heat loss and gain for each factor in a room, and gives the total required to cool or heat the space. You can try different scenarios of insulation and window characteristics to see exactly how much difference each would make to your home's heat gain/loss. Separately from the program, you can roughly extrapolate the improvements into energy dollars saved based upon your local utility's rates.

This program saved me years of grief. When the new air conditioning system that my HVAC contractor designed and installed late last summer would not keep my house cool, I became quite skeptical of his "calculations," especially when he repeatedly broke his promise to bring them to the job site. Frustrated, I looked on line and found HVAC-Calc, did the relatively simple input to the program, and found he had undersized the system by better than a third.

After being confronted with fact, he confessed that he had just guessed, based upon his "30 years of experience." Fortunately for him, there are two separate AC systems, and the way the calculations worked out, he could replace just one of the units. He also had to run quite a bit more ductwork, as the system is a Unico mini-duct one. The larger the size of the unit, the more outlets that are required.

I think this has fixed the problem, based on one warm day's results, but he didn't get the work completed soon enough to test it against a run of very hot days. I'll pay him the difference in the equipment cost when summer weather arrives, but the additional labor is at his own expense.

Don't take anything a contractor says as gospel. Independently verify, if possible. This situation taught me that sometimes when someone says they have thirty years of experience, it really means they just have one year's experience thirty times.

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windows

Postby MarinModern » Sun Jan 01, 2006 4:46 pm

Check out http://www.MarinModern.com and http://www.eichlerforsale.com for great MCM homes in the San Francisco Bay Area!

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Postby bitzala » Sun Jan 01, 2006 10:14 pm

Jamal-- sounds like you've got yourself a challenge as well. Good luck with your bedroom experiment. Like you, our issue seems to involve multiple factors. We don't have window txs either-- dual pained glass, but not low e. We're in the process of researching energy efficient roller blinds.

What's a high-e furnace?

MPM-- Thank you for taking the time to post your thoughtful analysis! We do have a year's worth of utility figures from the previous owners. Their average gas bill was $82-- their highest month was 149 therms. Last month we used 390 therms.

Here's what's changed since we bought the house. We took down all the shades along a 40 foot stretch of glass facing south east. We removed the original cottage cheese ceiling in the master bedroom, exposing the t&g. (The rest of the house was already exposed, except for two bedrooms.)

Your comments on the return/supply ratio are really interesting! I'm wondering if removing the ceiling in the MA bedroom may have messed with the ratio in some way? (No returns were removed, but we increased the cubic feet in the room that needs heating.)

Master Bedroom: 1 floor supply vent, no return (t & g ceiling)
Master Bath: No vents
Studio/Playroom: 3 floor supply vents, no return (t & g ceiling)
Guest Bath: No vents
Hallway #1: 1 return vent in ceiling; no supply vents; thermostat
Hallway #2: No vents
Bedroom #2: 1 supply vent in ceiling; no return
Bedroom #3: 1 supply vent in ceiling; no return
Bathroom#3: 1 supply vent in ceiling; no return
Great Room (Living/Dining/Office/Den): 4 floor supply vents; 1 return (t&g ceiling)
Kitchen: 1 floor supply vent; no return.

The two returns in the house are centrally located and are within 3 feet of each other, even though they're in 2 different rooms. The house is 2700 sqft.

Tonight, I experimented by closing off the dampers in the ceiling supply vent in one of the bedrooms that has ample warm air. For the first time ever, the air coming out of the 9 floor supply vents in other rooms felt truly warm instead of neutral.

Thanks so much for the tip on the HVAC program too. You have given us a lot to chew on... we will definitely need to hire someone skilled to help us figure this out.

bitzala

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Postby bitzala » Sun Jan 01, 2006 10:15 pm

MarinModern-- why do you say that foam won't work on a roof that's less than 10 years old?

thanks,

b

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Postby MoneyPitModern » Sun Jan 01, 2006 11:36 pm

Bitzala, for the very same square footage, to heat your house is costing twice as much as mine in an Illinois winter. Unless you're using the pool as a hot tub, there's no way that can be correct.

More questions:

When were the three bedrooms added on? From what I'm understanding, you only have one furnace, correct? Where is it located? Is the plenum, the sheet metal box attached to the furnace that the supply ducts branch off of, on the top or the bottom of the furnace?

Do you know if a larger furnace unit was installed when the addition was added? Do you know if the system was installed in the summer or winter? Was the second return also added then?

Do you usually keep the doors in bedrooms 2&3 closed? They're off hallway 2, correct? Is hallway 2 on the opposite side of the house from hallway 1?

I'm thinking your problem may be easier and much cheaper to solve than you're thinking it is. Based upon what you said about closing the damper in the one bedroom's ceiling vents warming the temp of the floor supply air, it's sounding as if the ducts were never balanced at the takeoff (connection) from the plenum. That's something the HVAC contractor should have done when it was installed.

Hot air is lighter than cold, so it will naturally go upward. Unless a damper is restricting how much air goes into the overhead ducts, thereby forcing more hot air downward, the cooler air drops into the floor ducts. If the plenum for your furnace is on top, that would only compound the difficulty of trying to push the hot air downward, but it can be remedied.

I suspect the wing with the thermostat in the hallway is supplied by the colder floor ducts, so the thermostat never reaches its 69 degree setpoint, thereby keeping your furnace running 24/7, and causing the gas meter to spin like a slot machine.

Please don't spend a nickel on "duct tests," foam, glass or shades just yet.

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foam roof

Postby MarinModern » Mon Jan 02, 2006 7:24 am

You can definately use a foam roof on a newer roof but why replace a perfectly fine roof that has replaced the original one? How long do you plan on living in your home? Are the 6 high bills year worth the $15,000-$20,000 you will be spending to replace a roof that was already replaced?
Check out http://www.MarinModern.com and http://www.eichlerforsale.com for great MCM homes in the San Francisco Bay Area!

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Postby bitzala » Mon Jan 02, 2006 3:35 pm

Thanks again, MPM, for your thoughts--

Oddly enough, our furnace does not run that much during the day or evening while we're awake... in fact, it's off more than it's on.

Two bedrooms, a hallway, and a bathroom were added by previous owner in 2003. The new hallway and original hallway are parallel to each other and meet up at one end, like a horseshoe. The original hallway leads to laundry, guest bath, master bed/bath and studio/playroom.

The carrier furnace, added in 2003, is in a closet at the intersection of the two hallways. The plenum is at the top of the furnace. The thermostat is in the intersection as well. I assume that the hallway return was added in 2003.

For the last two weeks, we've been closing off the great room (front of house) and the studio/playroom (back of house) from the hallways. (Floor vents in these rooms are closed too, but air still leaks out.) All bedrooms, baths and hallways are in the center of the house. The master BR door and our little boy's BR door are left ajar at night so the hallway sensor can read the temps in these rooms.

You must be on to something in your discussion of heat rising, plenum height, and the ceiling supply vents catching most of the heat (which is why the new part of the house feels much more comfortable than the old). But, I still can't figure out how the previous owners pulled off an $82 average with the same heating system? (They had two young children, so I can't imagine that they kept the heat any lower than we do.) I assume that something has changed, impacting an already precaroius system-- new duct leak and/or window tx removal and/or ceiling removal?

At the risk of making your head spin, here's one more clue: This morning, I noticed what appears to be pieces of decaying leaf (something crispy and brown) in one of the floor vents. The floor feels kind of gritty around the vent too-- could be a housekeeping issue, but maybe suggestive of a leak?

Thanks for your kindness in entertaining our plight :o)

bitz-a-tedium

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Postby bitzala » Mon Jan 02, 2006 3:39 pm

Thanks for your reply, MarinModern. I see your point. I'm still researching the foam roof solution. I haven't yet talked to the Dura-foam roofer in the Bay area, but I understand his solution includes foam on top of your existing roof. Another roofer told us this was a poor solution.

We plan to stay in this house for good-- not looking to move ever, if we don't have to.


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