It’s easier than you think to warm up your home, just click over to some of the products mentioned in the episode in the resources.
Insulating Curtains and Drapes
Everyone thinks you need to replace your windows. But simply adding insulating curtains or drapes can keep the cold air out.
Caulking under the window jams and where the windows and frames meet the drywall can stop the cold air from coming in.
Temporary Window Films
These easy-to-use films allow in all the light without allowing all the air to blow in.
Adding weather stripping around your windows and doors to seal up the cracks can really make a difference in how much cold air is getting in.
These are great to put at the bottom of your door to keep the cold air out.
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Podcast Audio and Transcript:
Marla Esser: Welcome to The Green Gab. This is Marla Esser Cloos the Green Home Coach, chatting with my eye pig, y’all haven’t heard that one in a while. I knew it’d make him laugh. That is intellectual partner in green and my … Are you a sidekick?
Tony Pratte: I guess I am.
Marla: I think you’re in charge.
Tony: Oh, I’m definitely not in charge. I know better.
Marla: You’re Tony, right? Tony Pratt.
Tony: I’m Tony Pratt from The Sound Room. How are you today Marla?
Marla: You know, being here always makes me better. It always makes me smile.
Tony: Well, that’s because we’re in good company.
Marla: That is so true. We spend so much time chatting we have to remember to get the podcast recorded.
Tony: What podcast?
Marla: Oh, right.
Tony: Do we record?
Marla: Yeah, we record here.
Tony: Oh, that’s why Sam’s here.
Marla: Yep. That’s why Sam’s here. Sam’s our technician, by the way, for those of you that hear us talk about Sam. He makes all this magic happen for us.
Tony: He makes us sound really good.
Marla: We’re blessed to have you Sam, thank you.
Tony: You’re the man.
Marla: Today we wanted to dive in to some more cool stuff about a house and helping people to understand some of the terminology that may get bantered about if they’re in a remodel, or building new. I wanted to really hone in on energy efficiency.
Tony: Well, actually that’s a pretty good topic. That’s a very important topic, actually.
Marla: It’s a pretty good topic, really?
Tony: Well, you know what, I can’t tell people, “My God, we’re going to jump in head first and talk all scientific today.”
Marla S.: Well, it does kind of go along with some of the episodes we’ve done on Building Science because this is where it really all comes together is in the benefit of energy efficiency, right.
Tony: This is rubber meets the road here.
Marla: It is. And this is where, I think, most people when they think things to do to their house the first thing they think is energy efficient.
Tony: Well, yeah. Whether it’s appliances, whether it’s HVAC or heating/cooling for the lay people, you hear a lot of energy efficiency. Whether it’s coming out of Department of Energy, whether it’s on regular commercials.
Tony: Utility companies, they all talk about energy efficiency.
Marla: Yeah. They do. I think energy efficiency, if nothing else, gets talked about a lot because often times it’s the easiest thing to see for making changes. Because you can impact your utility bills as one big benefit, but I think the benefit that’s becoming much more evident to people is comfort. We are creatures of comfort.
Tony Well, sure. You know, the idea it used to be if you wanted to cut your utility bills what’d you do? You dropped the thermostat five, 10 degrees and put on a sweater.
Marla: Yeah, right.
Tony: Now, with every-
Marla: I remember those days back in the 70’s. I know, I just dated myself.
Tony: Right. But now, if the house is built properly and you have the proper equipment-
Marla: You don’t need to do that.
Tony: You don’t need to do it.
Tony: So why don’t we talk about that?
Marla: Well, and that’s a great place to start because I think when we were talking Building Science we talked about how the building envelope, or the structure, the shell of the house is really like our skin is to people. It’s what protects the house and its residents from the elements, from outdoors. Keeps the inside comfortable so that the residents that live there have a better living experience, a healthier and a safer one. Because I don’t know anybody that really wants to live wet and cold inside their home. I know that sounds extreme, but I’m making a point, right.
Tony: Oh, absolutely. Well you have to look at the house as if you look at the framing of the house that is our bone structure.
Marla: That is the bones.
Tony: If you look at how the house is wrapped and sheathed in brick or siding, or whatever around it, that’s more like the skin.
Marla: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tony: Now, the trick is the science that comes into play here is the air movement. Air is always going to want to go from hot to cold.
Marla: Oh, we got to remember back to basic science, okay. Heat flow.
Tony: And from wet to dry.
Marla: To dry.
Tony Pratt: So the idea is the barrier that we put on the outside of the house has to keep the hot air out when it’s cold inside, and has to keep the moist air out when it’s dry inside.
Marla S.: Yeah. That’s a lot to remember, but this is why we have energy efficient green consultants and builders that understand building science. I would caution folks, if you’re builder or remodeler doesn’t understand these basic concepts you may want to have some further conversations with them. A lot of times understand that these conversations may not come up with the builder or remodeler because they may think it’s too technical for a lay person. And it’s not, folks. This is pretty basic science if you remember back to grade school and high school. It’s not as scary as it seems. But the end result is what we as consumers really need to make sure that we’re asking for, right.
Tony: Oh, absolutely. I mean it starts from something very simple in the framing process. Just asking the builder, or the framing contractor, “Hey, do you caulk your joints? Do you seal everything?”
Marla: Okay. So what does that mean? So caulk, which kind of looks like-
Tony: We all see the caulk-
Marla: A cross between toothpaste and glue.
Tony: Yeah. We’ve all seen tubes of caulk in the hardware store. Basically when they are putting together the walls and they do the framing whenever you have two walls joined together-
Marla: Or two surfaces.
Tony: Or two surfaces it creates a seam.
Tony: So the more high energy efficient builder is going to seal that so airflow and moisture can’t get in through the seam.
Marla: What’s so important about that is sealing all those seams is like sewing up the seams or zipping your down coat.
Tony : Correct.
Marla : You can have the best down coat in the world but if you’re leaving it unzipped-
Tony : Or you have a hole in it.
Marla : Or you have a hole in it you’re not going to be able to take advantage of the air sealing and the insulation. So this is a fact that I think is really starting to hit home with more people is air sealing and insulation go hand in glove. The two work together.
Marla: But they need to be thought of together. I know an awful lot of people when they’re retrofitting in their homes often think of insulation but don’t know, necessarily, to ask about air sealing. That’s the first piece.
Tony: Right. When you seal the house you’re keeping the air flow from moving through.
Tony: Really the insulation is supposed to block the air from moving out and moving in as well. But, if there’s a seal that the air can get into more air is going to get through the insulation. It’s not going to be as effective.
Marla: Yeah. So your air seal and insulate is important. Thus, your structure consists of the walls, the bones, or the framing as you said, insulation and air sealing. It also consists of some kind of barrier to keep water out of the walls.
Tony: Moisture barrier.
Marla: An some kind of sheathing.
Marla: Brick, siding. Again, to keep the elements out as well as to look beautiful. Then, of course, windows and doors play an important part of the envelope of the home.
Tony: True, because any time you cut a hole in a wall what you have done is you gave air and moisture a chance and a pathway to come in.
Marla: Right. And walls are a … windows are a conundrum aren’t they.
Tony: They are. Well, so are doors too. But they’re necessary. They’re necessary evils.
Marla: We have to … Well, we as people need views, we need natural light. So we’re always balancing this trade off between enough windows for the psychological benefits, yet not too many windows that we’re taking away from the science and from the efficiency of the wall construction.
Marla: So it is a balance point. The cool things about people that are in the know, like green and energy efficient consultants, is that there are formulas that can be used. This is kind of techie but these formulas can help to determine the best window/wall ratio. Better yet, they can even take it down to which direction that wall is on. So a North facing wall may have a different window and wall ratio than South facing wall.
Marla: If you really want to get into optimizing your efficiency if you’re in a home, you can get into that level. A lot of times that’s way more than we’re going to get into. But it can get that deep.
Tony: Well, it’s all about the mathematics of building, right.
Marla: Yeah. That’s the building science. Well, okay, so we’ve just kind of scratched the surface with energy efficiency. I want to talk more, we’ll finish up on the structure and then the systems. What goes inside.
Marla: So, join us after break and we’ll talk a bit more. Await gab.
Marla S.: Hey, back on The Green Gab this is Marla.
Tony Pratt: And Tony.
Marla S.: And Tony. We’re gabbing around today about green homes, green living and green companies. Actually, we’re just really talking about green homes in full transparency. Not to mention our crazy lives.
Marla .: Oh, my gosh, some day we’re going to have to do a blooper reel.
Tony : Oh, no, no, no, no, no. Though, the stories I tell people already kind of know about them, so.
Marla: Yeah, well. That’s all good. Anywho. I feel like we’re in a doll house today talking about taking apart the house.
Tony: That’s a good analogy for it.
Marla: Isn’t it.
Tony: It’s like being in a little bitty tiny house and just … Not a tiny, tiny house but a miniature house.
Marla: Well, I used to have, actually back in a former company, we had a doll house that we had labeled with all the different components of what would go into a green home. We’d use that in shows and we’d use it when we’d go talk to school kids. It was a great visual.
Tony : Yeah, it’s a great way to demo everything.
Marla : I really ought to think about doing that again, now that I say that out loud. Funny how those things come back to you, huh. So, we’d almost gotten through the house. We got the walls, and then talking about the wall assemblies and how important that is. Then kind of the same really goes true for the bottom, which depending where you live might be a slab, might be a cross base, might be … Here in Saint Louis we have basements mostly.
Tony : Old basement, right.
Marla : Which I love because we have extra space. But, a lot of people don’t insulate their basements, or the rim joist. Which, okay, techy word, which is where the top of the house … Or, not the top of the house. The bottom of the house sits on the top of the foundation. Or the basement wall. There’s another big seam there, right.
Tony : Well, and a lot of builders have started automatically just doing spray foam insulation on that. That’s starting to become-
Marla : Thank goodness.
Tony: A large trend.
Marla : It’s standard practice. Yeah, that is. And that’s definitely a best practice.
Tony : Oh, absolutely. You get so much more benefit out of it if you can spray foam that versus an Owen’s Corning fiberglass insulation kind of deal.
Marla : Yeah, yeah. And there’s lots of options out there for different companies that offer great solutions. But, again, whole idea of seal and insulate does extend to the basement. I know a lot of people that will insulate underneath the floor of the basement, or the slab, which keeps that floor much more comfortable.
Tony Pratt: Mm-hmm (affirmative). There are a lot of people that go to the next step and wrap the foundation itself in a foundation blanket.
Marla S.: Yes. There’s all different kinds of ways to do this. But you can retrofit with a foundation blanket, you can build out the walls and put in insulation. You can also buy different products that go in when the foundation’s being poured. Lot of different options.
Tony : Yeah, there’s a lot of ways to do it.
Marla: Okay. So lastly, let’s go up top. Since the heat in our homes escapes up, as I’m making my hand signals like everybody can see.
Tony : I can.
Marla : This is super important because if your attic, and most homes have attics, is not both air sealed and insulated-
Tony: Oh, that is your biggest opportunity for what we would call heat transfer.
Marla : For savings.
Tony : Absolutely.
Marla : And for comfort.
Tony : Absolutely.
Marla : If your home is uncomfortable and your energy bills are high this is the first place to look.
Tony : Go up to the attic and you can tell right away do I need insulation.
Marla : A lot of the utility companies will offer a free, or discounted, energy audit. As well as financial assistance in low interest loans or other financing packages to help address this issue. It is that critical. This is very, very common in many of our homes. This is where probably the biggest bang for our buck comes is getting that attic well insulated and well sealed. I know, like when I’m down in Oklahoma they have a lot of HVAC heating and cooling systems that are in the attic. If that attic isn’t conditioned, isn’t sealed and insulated-
Tony : That’s another problem right there.
Marla : Yeah.
Tony : Because if you’re putting a furnace or an air conditioning HVAC unit up in an attic, now you’re putting it in this super warm environment.
Marla : Or cold in the winter.
Tony : Or cold environment and all it’s going to do is run, and run, and run, and run, and run.
Marla : And work harder.
Tony : It’s going to work harder, it’s going to use more energy, it’s going to increase your bills and it’s going to fail sooner.
Marla S.: So, one of the things we look for in a green certification, or an energy certification like Energy Star, is the heating and cooling unit in conditioned space. By conditioned space we mean a place that is treated as a living space even if there’s not finished quarters.
Marla : So, is it inside of the insulated and air sealed envelope of the house, and that’s exactly why. Because it doesn’t have to work as hard. It’s going to give a lot better efficiency and do a lot more of what it was intended to do when it’s in a good operating environment.
Tony : Right. That is the trick.
Marla : Kind of like leaving your pet in a car. Sorry, that’s a bad analogy.
Tony : Very bad analogy.
Marla : But, I mean, it heats up in an attic really fast.
Tony : Right, right. Especially you figure in in Saint Louis it could be 100 degrees outside. Well, it’s 120, 130 in that attic because you have no airflow and that heat is trapped.
Marla : We have some, because attics are typically vented. And there’s two types of attics, right. There’s vented and there’s completely sealed.
Tony : But even if they’re vented it’s not enough.
Marla : Right, right.
Tony : You got a guy up … I’ve seen it many times, guys working in the attic on a hot summer day. He’s not up there long.
Marla : Yeah, sweat pouring off of him. So this is a biggie. If there is one thing that I can stress in all homes. Unless you know that your attic is well sealed and has plenty of insulation, and by plenty I mean at least an R38, which is a measure of insulation capability, that’s typically about a foot or more of loose fill insulation. This is worth getting stuff checked out. Because this makes a big difference.
Tony : Absolutely. You’ll see a larger return on your pocketbook with your energy bills than anywhere else.
Marla : So the next spot is heating and cooling, which dovetails right in. A lot of times units are oversized, but if we’re already in a house most of us don’t want to replace a unit just because it’s oversized. The key is not to have a system that’s mismatched with the house.
Tony : Right. A professional heating and cooling company, especially on the construction side, they’re going to look at your house and they’re going to do the calculations. Sometimes it’s not one gigantic unit it becomes maybe you have a two story house, two right sized units. They can control it into more of a zoned heating and cooling.
Marla : Yeah. The one thing I see often times with this is that heating and cooling contractors are not aware of the extra energy efficient measures that have been taken in the home. They don’t take that into account in their calculations. Therefore they end up calculating for a much bigger heating and cooling load because they think the house needs a lot more help than it really might. So I encourage people to make sure that their heating and cooling contractor knows the specifics about their home. Especially if it’s a new home, and can take those into account when they’re running the sizings.
Tony : Well, and I would think too if you are building a house and you know it’s going to be a more energy efficient house.
Marla : Or renovating, right.
Tony : Those specs are usually up front with the builder to the contractor.
Marla : Right.
Tony Pratt: So they know. But, if you’re just replacing units and you’ve had a lot of work done and you’ve had insulation put in and you’ve sealed the house, you do need to make sure that you’re HVAC contractor understands all this so he can really effectively do the calculations. Because he’s only going to calculate what he can see.
Marla S.: Right. I’ve had this issue with my home because I’ve done some energy efficient upgrades. They’re bits and pieces, its not been wholesale ones. But it’s enough that it needs to be taken into account.
Tony Pratt: It can skew the calculations.
Marla S.: It can skew the calculations. I’ve sealed my duct work, which is another big piece inside of the heating and cooling world. Again, we want air to go where it’s supposed to go.
Tony Pratt: Not everywhere else.
Marla : Everybody says, “What’s the big deal if it leaks out in my house? My house needs to have that air any way.” But, think of drinking through a straw with holes poked in it. It’s not a very efficient way to drink. Same thing happens with our duct work.
Tony : It was just like in our cooking episode. Radiant heat. Extra heat just going everywhere else.
Marla : And there it goes. Hard to believe that, that has gone so fast but we’ll be back to talk more. Await gab.
y Pratt: Yeah. We can make any topic fun.
Marla S.: Yeah, I’m really good with that. You know, and energy efficiency is, I think, to a lot of people kind of the foundation principal of the whole green home idea. It’s a great place to start because everything can build from there.
Tony : Well, it was the easiest to market because it was the easiest benefit to first see. Lower utility bills. Everybody likes that idea.
Marla : And energy efficiency was around, I think, how many of our listeners are old enough to remember, but back in the 70s when we had the first whole energy efficiency movement. What was interesting is that a lot of people didn’t take into account the holistic nature of the home and sometimes made choices for energy efficiency that weren’t so great for other factors in a house. Maybe for moisture management, or for ventilation.
Tony : True.
Marla : So, that’s one of the things I love about the whole idea if green homes was that they’re holistic approach so that any given efficiency or set of practices or ways of thinking is a part of it.
Tony : Right, it’s not just how the house is built but it’s what goes into the house and then once the house is completed how the house is operated by the homeowners.
Marla: Yep. That’s near and dear to my heart as you know since I came into [crosstalk 00:23:08]-
Tony : Yes it is.
Marla : From the owner education side. So, we’ve kind of been through the structure of the house. The skin, or what we call the building envelope. Then the heating and cooling systems, which along with hot water are really the biggest systems in a home. And our biggest opportunities to impact being efficient.
Tony : Right.
Marla : You know, you can choose more efficient traditional fixture … Or, fixtures. Equipment. But you also may choose something that’s a whole different technology, right.
Tony : Sure, you could go like-
Marla : Solar water heater for instance.
Tony : Solar water heater. You could go a geothermal. You could go a tankless water heater. There’s a lot of different choices.
Marla : But you don’t have to do that. This is part of what I have so many people ask me, “Well, if I put a geothermal heating and cooling system in then I’m green, right?” It’s like, well definitely one piece is green and that’s awesome. But that’s not the only way you can do it. You can still achieve a home that is very green and balanced and comfortable and safe and healthy with more traditional systems like forced air heating and cooling. A house that looks just like all the other houses in the neighborhood if that’s what you want.
Tony: Well, the big thing is not every system is made for every situation.
Marla: Right. You need to have choice.
Tony: You have to sit there say, “This is the house, this is the lot I sit on. This is … ” You have to take everything on the site and the house design and then say, “These are the things I want. How do I get there?”
Marla S.: That’s why a team approach is so critical.
Tony : Absolutely.
Marla : When you are planning a new build or a renovation you want to have all those different trains of thought into the design side of it. So you want an architect, or a design principle, you want the key equipment people in there that are going to be working with and installing and sizing those equipments. You want the builder, or the remodeler. You want all those people as well as the homeowners or the people that are going to be living in the house because all those different sides need to be represented in what comes out the end product.
Tony: Well, not only that if you have more of the team approach than all it takes is that one expert to say, “I know you wanted to do this but you can’t because of that.” It could be something that the builder, or the architect, missed because they don’t have that specialty knowledge that maybe the HVAC person does who sees the one little detail that says you can’t go this route you have to go that route.
Marla : So like everything else in our like life the more brains we can put on it the better.
Tony : Absolutely.
Marla: And the more time we spend planning a really great end result up front, the better chance we have of working plan successfully. Getting to where we want to get with less time and effort spent having to re-work it all. So back to plan the work and work the plan, hmm.
Tony : Sounds like a plan.
Marla : Oh, there’s a social media tidbit.
Marla : Well, the last component of energy efficiency that we really haven’t talked about is what I call plug load. So all the other electric things that we have in our homes and boy are those adding up.
Tony : Oh, yes.
Marla : So lighting is a huge one. Oh my gosh this is so easy to impact, folks. So many of us are not taking advantage of this.
Tony : LED lighting.
Marla : LED. LED stands for … Oh, you don’t remember.
Tony : No.
Marla : Light emitting diode.
Tony : That’s right.
Marla : Well, you know where they started, right?
Tony : Well, I know we’ve been dealing with them in the electronics industry for quite some time.
Marla.: And automotive, yeah. So the little blinkie lights you see in your TV or your car often times are LEDs. Then what the industry figured out was how to take that concept, and it’s actually almost like a … It’s an electronics versus like a traditional incandescent light has gas in it. It actually fires up and that’s why there’s so much heat that comes off of them. Because only about five to, give or take, roughly 5% of energy that goes into our traditional incandescent light bulb actually comes out as light. That’s why I could bake a cake with an Easy Bake Oven when I was a kid.
Tony : That’s true. Oh, that’s a great example.
Marla : Yeah, yeah.
Tony : It wasn’t a real motor in there, it was a light bulb.
Marla : There was a light bulb. I can’t remember if it was a 60 watt or a 100 watt. But yeah we could bake a cake with a light bulb.
Marla.: So lighting’s a great place to start. LED bulbs have come way, way, way down in price. Typically most people find they start recouping their cost within a few months just by their savings on their electricity.
Tony: Once again, law of unintended consequences. You’re cutting heat as well.
Marla: Right. So you’re going to cut back on your air conditioning bill too. So you get a twofer. So there is no reason, don’t even wait till your incandescents burn out. Because they have to go in the landfill anyway. Just do it. It’s just not worth waiting. You’re just paying money you don’t have to. And if you’re remodeling you can get fixtures that are optimized and are even Energy Star fixtures. They look awesome.
Tony: Oh, yeah.
Marla: There’s some amazing ones.
Tony: Pretty soon those’ll be the only fixtures you can get are LED fixtures.
Marla: It’s coming fast, yeah. So appliances is another one. We actually had a podcast a few weeks ago talking about energy efficient appliances. This is another place to make a big impact. What’s the one biggest appliance you think makes a big difference?
Tony : Oh, I would say either dishwasher or stove or oven.
Marla : Mm-hmm (negative).
Tony : Which one?
Marla : Refrigerator.
Tony : Oh, that’s right. Refrigerator.
Marla S.: Yeah. I have a teenage son who likes to open both doors of the refrigerator and stand there for awhile deciding what he’s going to eat. I know, people are laughing.
Tony: He’s a thinker.
Marla : Yeah, well he’s a teenager. Having an energy efficient refrigerator at least helps. But it’s running all the time.
Marla : So it’s constantly running so the efficiency in it is huge. Actually, refrigerators today are so much more efficient than the ones manufactured 10, 20 years ago. Even if you don’t buy an Energy Star you’re likely going to get a big step up.
Tony: Yeah. I think Jones said it was over like 130% efficient nowadays.
Tony: That’s just crazy.
Marla : This is why the recycling programs exist to get rid of your old refrigerator because the old ones are big time gobblers. Folks, I know you feel like you should reuse that old refrigerator that’s 20 or 30 years old and put it in the garage. But you’re hitting a double whammy. Not only are you using a energy guzzler to begin with, you’re also putting it in a space where it’s got to work up to twice as hard because it’s not in a heated or cooled space.
Tony : Right.
Marla : So it’s a double whammy. It sounds great to have one in your garage, but it’s not such a great idea. If you got room in the laundry room, you might actually be better off to buy an inexpensive second refrigerator. Run the dollars because it’s worth thinking about.
Tony : Good advice.
Marla : You know, and then we got all the stuff we plug in. I think this is the one that behavior comes into being and that’s a whole nother conversation.
Tony: Oh, yes it is. That’s a fun conversation though.
Marla.: Right. We’re going to actually, we’ve got a couple of podcasts on home technology and how they can affect behaviors and we’ll be doing some more. But that’s the other big way to affect your loads. That really wraps it up for energy efficiency.
Tony: Yeah, it’s more automating. Automating behavior.
Marla : So, energy efficiency basics all in 27 minutes. How’s that?
Tony : Not bad.
Marla : Green Gab is on Facebook so check us out there. You can follow our episodes and get our episode information as well as the links that we talk about here on the show. So, Facebook/thegreengab.com I believe is our-
Tony : That’s is correct.
Marla: Our handle if that’s correct. But, hey, this has been a ton of fun. It always goes so, so fast. Thank you for joining us on The Green Gab today and make it a blessed day.