WARNING – THE FOLLOWING GIVES INSTRUCTION ON HOW TO WORK ON PART OF THE ELECTRICAL SYSTEM IN A HOME. IT IS TECHNICAL IN NATURE AND NOT MEANT FOR EVERYONE. IF YOU DO NOT FEEL COMFORTABLE TAKING YOUR LIFE INTO YOUR OWN HANDS, OR POSSIBLY DAMAGING YOUR HOME, READ ON, AND THEN CALL A PRO.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. Insulating your home is only half the battle when it comes to saving money on your energy bills. The other half, and some would argue the most important, is that you must air seal the outer walls/ceiling. This is also known as the building envelope. We must stop air movement from the living space and the outdoors too.
The Science Of Building Heating and Cooling
In physics, the second law of thermodynamics says that heat flows naturally from an object at a higher temperature to an object at a lower temperature; and heat doesn’t flow in the opposite direction of its own accord. This means hot moves to cold on its own. In the winter, your hot air air is trying to escape the house, and in the summer, the hot air outside is trying to get in. It’s a never ending battle. Every little crack and hole in your house is a path to losing money, comfort, and is making your furnace/air conditioning work harder.
Take a Peek
Behold the beautiful wonder of thermal imaging! I love my thermal camera. It has made me a hero more times than I can count during my home inspections. Thermal Imaging Inspections take inspecting to a whole new level. You can see in the image below, an electrical outlet in my house. I’ve marked the hi and low temps to make it easier for you to understand the colors. The blue area is all the cold air leaking in around the edge of the electrical box, and the holes where the wires come into the box.
Stopping these leaks is a small piece of a larger puzzle, but still a piece nonetheless. The first thing you do is kill the power to whatever you are working on. Don’t try any of this on a live circuit or you could electrocute and kill yourself. Don’t be stupid. Now that you’ve turned off the power you’ll want to remove the receptacle itself. GENTLY pull it straight back and out of the box. If the person who wired your house left the wires too short in the box to safely pull the receptacle up and out of the way, stop now. You could pull the wires off the receptacle, break a wire, etc… Call in a pro to have your wires extended. If you can pull out your receptacle and it looks like the image below, carry on.
Seal It Up
Now that we can work without fear of breaking wires and/or electrical shock, I use caulk and expanding foam to seal the box. Using a high quality painters caulk, caulk the edge of the electrical box to the drywall itself. I got lucky and the drywallers did a decent job of cutting out for my boxes, so the gap is not very large. Your mileage will vary on how much caulk it takes to seal this up.
Now that the box-to-drywall connection is sealed, let’s focus on the wire penetrations. You may have one, two, or even three sets of wires coming into the box itself. This number will vary on how outlets/switches are in your box. Treat them all the same here. I have two sets of wires coming in to deal with. A small shot of spray foam around each wire is all it takes. You can see here how the foam will spread itself around the wires and seal them up.
Expanding foam in the disposable cans can get pricey. Once you crack the seal on them the clock starts before it becomes useless. Remember, a little goes a long way with expanding foam. This stuff will grow and grow once you squirt it out. If you get trigger happy and get too much in the box; just let it cure and dig it out. Don’t try to touch it wet. You’ll just end up with a sticky mess on your hands. One can will likely do your whole house. So if you have to buy these types of cans, you may want to tackle the whole house at once to save on foam.
Here is another thermal image pic showing the improvement we made. This area is a full 6.1 degrees warmer. But more importantly, we have stopped the airflow from getting into the living space of the house. That airflow cost money and comfort 24-7-365.
But Ben, why is the area still blue and cold you ask?
Understand that what we are working on is air sealing of this box , not the insulation around it. We are still seeing cold temps and blue coloring because the insulation around this particular box is non-existent. This receptacle is above my fireplace where most builders do not attempt to insulate. I”ll tackle the insulation another time.
This procedure is good for just about every penetration in your home’s envelope. All your receptacles, light switches, hard wired smoke detectors, ceiling lights, ceiling fans, and any other hole you may have. It’s a quick process. Takes me about 2 minutes per box to seal it up, and you reap the benefits instantly.
As a very hot summer comes to a close, heating your home may be the last thing on your mind. But with winter coming (for my fellow GOT fans) I’ve got some great news for you. There is a little known program available that can save you a lot of money. How does a 20% savings on your utility bill sound? But hurry, the clock is ticking…
From the KHP website: KY Home Performance is a partnership between Kentucky Housing Corporation (KHC), Kentucky Department for Energy Development and Independence (DEDI), and Kentucky Finance Administration Cabinet. With support from DEDI, the Finance Administration Cabinet, utility and other partners, KHC administers the program. Together, certified industry professionals will perform a comprehensive energy evaluation, make the necessary improvements you approve, and perform a quality assurance evaluation to verify the quality of the work to help protect your home investment.
What does all that mean? It’s simple really. All KY home owners are eligible for great financing or cash back rebates for energy improvements done to their home. The program does have a few stipulations that your home must meet before you can take full advantage of it.
- Air Sealing – Hot air moves to cold air, that’s just how it works. So you have to make sure you stop the unwanted air flow between conditioned spaces (that’s a fancy way of saying air that you pay money to heat or cool.) Keep the hot air inside (winter), keep it out (summer).
- Duct Sealing – Sealing your ducts to keep the air that you paid good money to heat/cool is a must. You’ll be shocked to know how much air your house leaks out everyday. It’s literally sucking money out of your home.
- Insulation – To take advantage of this remarkable program, you have to have a certain level of insulation in your home.
If your home doesn’t meet the minimum numbers, getting them up to the standard must be part of the scope of work done to your home. And in all reality, these are the most important things you can do. They are relatively cheap, and they make the biggest difference. It’s all about return on investment (ROI).
How does it work?
Your first step is bring in a BPI-Certified Building Analyst. There are only a few, like me, that have been selected to be part of the KHP program. The initial analysis will determine what steps you need to take to save money. It’s called a Test-In.
With specialized tools like a digital blower door, thermal imaging camera, pressure pan, and combustion analyzer, I’ll put your home through the ringer. The blower door is the meat and potatoes of the audit. It’s more or less a big, powerful, digitally controlled box fan that mounts in an exterior door. It sucks all the air out of the house, creating a negative pressure inside. Since mother nature doesn’t like this, she will constantly try to equalize this pressure difference. This will make all the leaks amplified and much easier to find.
The fact is that unless you have a 25 year old furnace and air conditioner, a new HVAC unit is typically not the best place to put your money. Air sealing and insulation give you the biggest bang for you buck. Most homeowners see a positive return within just a few short years. And the best part is that it doesn’t go away. If you have it done correctly the first time, it will still perform 20 years from now.
Fixing the Problem.
Once the test-in has been completed, you must have a KHP qualified contractor perform the work that has been recommended to be eligible for the awesome incentives. You have two options; an unbelievable low interest rate loan of 3.9% fixed for 10 years, or a cash back rebate of 20%, up to $2,000.00. Yeah, you read that correctly, 20% discount for using a KHP contractor. Incredible right?
Once the work is done, a third-party BPI guy will come out and perform a Test-out. It’s this guy’s job to make sure the work was done correctly, and the contractor who performed the work is held to the highest standards. That’s the beauty of the whole program. You as the home owner know that you will be getting top notch work completed, because every contractor is pre-screened, and a pro.
I’m ready to get started.
If you are ready to save money and live more comfortably, your first step is an KHP-BA analyst. The cost for the initial analysis ranges from $200-$600. The cost depends on the size of the home. However, KHP has stepped up again and is offering the first 1,000 homes a cash back rebate of $150.00 toward the cost of the Test-In. So, you get a huge discount on the audit as well. There is absolutely no commitment. You have every right to have the Test-In done, and go no further with the program. You still get the $150.00.
Give us a call @ 502-938-5190 to get more info on KHP, and how we can help you. Remember, the clock is ticking. The free money and financing is going to end in early 2012. Don’t drag you feet on this one.