Weatherize Your Home

This is a perfect time to make some changes to your home.  Even minor changes can have a huge impact on your comfort level and reduce your energy bills. Another benefit, you are helping the environment.  How can I do this you ask, read on.

Finding Leaks:  To get started, you need to review your home’s insulation system. Most local utility companies will visit your home and conduct a thorough energy assessment. This can include a blower door test where the home is pressurized and the number of air exchanges are measured, or an infrared camera scan which can show cold spots. Once the leaks are identified, a plan to address them is discussed.  Some common issues are inadequate door and window seals and insufficient insulation in the attic.

Ceilings and Walls:  Insufficient insulation can be hiding behind ceilings and walls. Older homes were built when the building codes for insulation were not as stringent. One simple check for proper insulation is to touch the wall or ceiling; any area that feels colder than others may be lacking insulation. Outlets and switches in exterior walls are common sources for poor insulation.  Careful use of spray foam around these exterior electrical boxes works well. Purchased gaskets can also be used that are placed under the cover plate.

Ducts:  If your basement or crawl space allows access to the duct work, ensuring the connections are good and joints are sealed can save roughly 10% by minimizing lost heating or cooling air.  Tuning your HVAC system for winter and summer can also help.  For example, in the summer, close all registers in the basement.  If you have a two story home, close the registers in the basement and registers in any first floor rooms not being used.  This forces cool air to the second floor bedrooms.

Fireplaces:  When not in use, keep the damper closed, winter or summer. Use glass doors over the opening.

Penetrations for Plumbing, Electrical, HVAC:  In most homes, pipes and wires enter the home above the ground through the band or rim joist. The band (or rim) joist is the area of the basement wall where the floor joists connect to a wood board just above the concrete foundation Check the perimeter of your home to see where pipes are exposed on outside walls. From the inside, caulk or use spray foam to seal around these penetrations.

Doors and Windows:  Gaps between a window or door frame and the wall framing is one of the biggest heat-loss offenders.  These can be corrected by removing the trim and spraying foam in the gap between the window or door frame and the wall studs.  In older homes, there is little or no insulation in this area. For an exterior door, a hollow core door is not only inefficient it is unsafe.  All exterior doors should be at least insulated steel with a lockset and deadbolt. A cracked window pane or a faulty window seal can affect the efficiency of the window and should be repaired.

Furnace Air Filters:  Filters need to be quality products, not the least expensive filters available.  Depending on the type of filter, they may need to be changed every month or at least every season.  If you neglect the filters, the furnace (or AC) will work much harder which consumes more energy and reduces the life expectancy of the device.

Caulking and Insulation: Caulking around windows and doors provides a seal against the weather.  Insulation is the best home improvement you can do for your home.  Adding insulation to the attic is like adding a blanket to the bed in the winter.  In my opinion, blown cellulose is the best insulation to add to the attic.  It is made of recycled newspapers with a fire retardant added.  Blown fiberglass should not be used in the attic as it has known issues with heat loss.  If your basement is accessible, using close cell spray foam on the band or rim joist is a great solution as it seals every crack and crevice. This area is commonly insulated with fiberglass insulation but it is not very efficient.  If you use open cell spray foam, a fire retardant paint should be applied once the foam dries.

By making some or all of these changes, you can increase the comfort level in your home and reduce your energy bills.  In some situations, just adding insulation in the attic can reduce your energy bills by over 25%.  That’s amazing!  

As always, I am here and ready to help you with any of your home remodeling needs.  If you have further questions, please go to the About page and send a request or give me a call at 734.646.8626!

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide what is it and why do I care about it?

Carbon monoxide is a tasteless, odorless, and colorless gas: a silent killer.  It is created by burning fossil fuels such as gasoline, propane or natural gas.  Symptoms are lightheadedness, sleepiness, respiratory irritation, and difficulty seeing.  When you experience these symptoms, you need to immediately get out of the building.  But what if you're asleep when you are exposed to carbon monoxide?  You can die.

This year, numerous deaths have occurred by running a generator inside the home after a loss of power.  Running a generator in this manner is never a good idea.  If you use a gas powered engine, you must run the engine outside, never inside the structure.  Here is a recent example.

Carbon monoxide can also be toxic from using natural gas or propane in a furnace with a cracked heat exchanger or a fireplace that is not vented properly.  When the gas (natural or propane) is burned, one of the emissions is carbon monoxide. 

Current building code requires a smoke detector in every bedroom, outside the sleeping area, and on every floor.  These detectors must be connected so that when one goes off, all of them go off.  Carbon monoxide detectors are also required in the home. I recommend one on every finished floor near the sleeping area.

Smoke detectors are typically good for ten years.  Carbon monoxide detectors are typically good for seven years.  If you look at the back of the detector, there should be an expiration date.  Once this date has passed, I have seen detectors falsely report an issue or randomly go off, typically in the middle of the night.  With a carbon monoxide detector, if it goes off, leave the building and call the fire department.  If you feel this is a false alarm, get everyone out of the building and open some windows.  Most detectors can be easily removed from the ceiling or wall.  Once removed, take the detector outside.  If it still alarms while outside, the detector is no longer working properly.  Note:  Only perform this step if you are confident the detector is bad.  An example would be the detector goes off when the windows are open in the summer.

Please protect yourself and your family from this invisible health hazard.  Buy carbon monoxide detectors and hook them up in your house.  Check your furnaces and fireplaces for any issues.

And remember the difference between a good night out and signs of trouble...

Southeastern Michigan Homeowner Gives Solar Panels a Thumbs Up!

Originally posted on Greenspiration in 2012 Just over a year ago, I was meeting with some fellow remodelers and we were talking about quirky clients, our teenage kids, and renewable energy.  A few of these gentlemen had solar arrays and wind turbines at their homes and spoke highly of the benefits.  Others at the table were adamant that renewable energy was not cost effective.  One remodeler in particular commented how solar was a horrible idea in the 1970s and is a horrible idea today.  That was the moment I decided to act!

After some research about installation options and costs of solar arrays, I left some plans for my own solar array on the kitchen table for my wife to review.  The original plan was to install the solar array on the south side of the attached garage roof.  At our home, the south side of the garage roof is also part of the front of the home.  The roof has a light brown shingles; the siding is beige and white trim.

The first question my wife asked… “What is the color of the solar panels?”

“Dark blue,” I said.

One disapproving look from the woman I love and I knew it was back to the drawing board.

Solar 101 Clearly a home rooftop system was out of the question, at least as far as my lovely wife was concerned.  So was a pole-mounted system, I would later learn, as the president of our homeowner’s association insisted that such would be a violation of the association bylaws.   So what were my options?

I have a nice shed in the back yard, not far from the house.  The roof faced south (a good thing for solar) but it was not large enough for more than five panels.  The solution was clear…. add a structure to the side of the shed with enough of a pitch for solar panels!  The new structure can be thought of as a pergola for solar panels.  Underneath the pergola, I installed paver bricks for a nice, shaded seating area.

Ok, now it’s time for some solar array 101.  When you are planning your array, you need to decide on a grid-tied or standalone system.  For us, the grid-tied system made the most sense. This means power created from the array powers the home and any extra power not used in the home is fed into the electrical grid. The electrical grid is what delivers power from the local power plant to the sub-station and then to your home via underground or overhead electrical wires.

I purchased (11) made in the USA, 245-watt monocrystalline solar panels from one of our local electrical suppliers. These panels convert sunlight into electricity (in nature, think of photosynthesis).  Solar panels need to be pointed to the south, mounted to a structure (roof, pole, side of the building, etc.) and clear of objects the block the sun such as trees.   We installed five panels on the shed roof and six panels on the pergola. I also purchased the appropriate inverter.  The inverter is needed to convert the DC power created by the array to AC power, which the house or local power grid can use.

Making It Look Good Once the array was installed, the landscaping was next.  In order to get power from the shed and build the pergola, we had to dig a trench and postholes, which created some damaged to the lawn.  Our goal was to create an attractive area that could be used for sitting in the shade.  Since this was a fairly large area, I used 16-inch square decorative concrete paver blocks.  These bocks were installed just like paver bricks; however, because of their size I decided to use a larger joint (3/8 inch) between them, similar to installing tile in the home.  To keep these larger joints from washing out due to rainfall, I used a polymeric stone dust.  This product is often used in walkways around flagstone.

What It Cost Me and What I Got in Return The system cost was approximately $15,000.00 to build and install.  This included the cost of the array, taking electrical power to the shed, building the new pergola, landscaping, and permits.  With the local power company incentive and the federal government rebate, my net expense is approximately $3,520.00.  I believe we will see a return on this investment in approximately 3 years.

As a remodeler and green builder, this was a perfect project to prove a number of issues.  First, it validates the technology.  Solar energy will not completely replace our dependence on fossil fuels, but it can help.  My own experiences convince me of this.  The summer of 2011 in Michigan was one of the hottest on record.  Our electric bill for the summer was approximately $50.00 (and yes, we have central air). Second, a residential solar array doesn’t have to be ugly.  With some thought and design, it can be attractive and meet those restrictive homeowner association rules.  Finally, I believe this will increase the value of our home.  As the price of the solar panels comes down (and yes they are coming down) installation costs will decrease, making this energy upgrade even more attractive.

Steve Bredernitz, owner of Bredernitz Professional Services, Inc., is a licensed Michigan builder residing in southeastern Michigan.  Steve specializes in remodeling and home improvement services.  Steve is also a part-time instructor at Washtenaw Community College where he teaches remodeling classes.