True Tales: An EnergyWorks Examination, Pt. 4

As this month's GRID Issue Release Party is nigh, it's time to reveal the winner of the contest (outlined in Part 3 of this series) to guess how leaky my house is.  Drum roll, please!  The winner is Jim Rude, who said that my house registered on the "swiss cheese meter" at 2689 CFM.  I know it's hard to believe that my house is that leaky, but here's the truth—even Jim, with his seemingly outlandish guess, was off by about 3700 CFM.  That's right.  The air leakage rate for my house registers at a whopping 6400 CFM!  Let me take this opportunity to remind you that normal air leakage rates for a house of my volume are 471 to 674 CFM.  My house leaks air at around ten times the amount of a normal house.

I doubt this is terribly uncommon for most old Philadelphia rowhouses.  So here's the question:  What can I do about it?  Since we're on the topic of the results of my energy audit, it seems like the perfect time to discuss the rest of what I learned from the audit and what my next steps are.  And Jim, you can claim that tasty beverage at this Thursday's Issue Release Party at Hawthornes Cafe (738 S. 11th Street, 5 to 7 pm).

Let's dive into the results, shall we?

In Part 3, I mentioned that olive oil had been congealing in my kitchen, and the infrared (IR) camera had revealed that parts of my North-facing kitchen wall were as cold as 51 degrees. The picture to the right illustrates exactly what was happening.  This is a portion of my kitchen wall above the cabinets.  The dark bluish-purple areas of the picture are the coldest (where air is indiscriminately leaking), and the red arrow points to a stud, which is marginally warmer, as indicated by the yellowish color.  In the final report I received from Eric Lowry of Lowry EcoSolutions, there were no fewer than 15 similar pictures that he had taken in various locations in my house, and I suspect these only represented a handful of the pictures he actually took the day of the audit.

Not surprisingly, one of Eric's main recommendations was to air seal the attic and basement.  This would reduce the amount of heating energy that is currently bleeding from my house, and consequently, my comfort level.  Another main recommendation was to insulate the attic.  Like many Philly rowhomes, my attic has no insulation in it.  The situation is further complicated by the fact that I have no access to my attic, and my attic is filled with knob and tube (K&T) wiring.  Because K&T wiring (shown at left in my basement) is air-cooled, placing insulation around it is a fire hazard.  Therefore, before I can have a contractor insulate my attic, I will need to have the K&T wiring removed, which adds expense.  Eric estimated costs to air seal and insulate my attic (without K&T wiring removal cost) at $900* and $2500, respectively. 

In addition to these recommendations, other big ticket improvements include insulating my basement ceiling ($1,800), insulating radiator and hot water pipes ($650), and replacing my water heater ($1,500) because it failed the spillage test, which indicates that there is a problem with the heater's ability to exhaust combustion gas.  A number of cheaper recommendations include installing weather stripping around doors, adding radiator reflectors behind radiators (a good DIY project), installing a carbon monoxide detector (already completed for $17.78 at Lowe's), and adding a cap to my chimney flue.  The worst-case total estimate to implement all recommendations comes to $9,980, but the great thing is that low-cost loans are available through the EnergyWorks program for these projects, and there's no requirement that I take on all of the projects at once, either.

Now that I'm armed with this vital information, my next step will be to start contacting contractors about completing the work, as well as investigating the EnergyWorks loan program.  I plan to move forward with all of the insulation and air sealing work because, even though winter will be over soon, summer is just around the corner, and the insulation and air sealing will help prevent my house from becoming the usual raging summer inferno.  The great thing about the energy audit report that Eric provided for me is that it includes a helpful section at the end on working with contractors, so I'm ready to get started.  Next up: choosing a contractor and starting the loan process.

*All estimates given are worst-case.