This article was originally published in the September/October 1999 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.


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Home Energy Magazine Online September/October 1999

in energy

Affordable Comfort Reaches New Heights

The annual Affordable Comfort conference, which took place this spring in Chicago, was an occasion to indulge in information overload and have a bit of fun. Out of 83 full-day and half-day short courses in the four-day conference, as well as almost a hundred workshops in the two-day core conference, there were too many valuable learning opportunities to fairly choose just a few to describe. But of the small sampling that were attended by Home Energy staff, every one was a winner (get a copy of the Program Book, as well as the Selected Readings, for more details on what was offered). The in-field trainings we attended were especially good--a not-to-be-missed opportunity to get hands-on knowledge of home performance issues. Even the shorter (90-minute) conference sessions provided tons of good information, while the exhibit hall offered a chance to view all kinds of new and unique home performance products.

On day three, the main conference started off with a bang with keynote speakers Perry Bigelow of Bigelow Homes and Avi Friedman of McGill University. Bigelow presented information on his suburbs, which are designed for families (not automobiles!), featuring traffic-calmed streets and wide front porches. Friedman talked about the modular homes he has designed that sell for little more than the price of a luxury car--$40,000--and come with a homeowner's manual.

Of the sessions and short courses, the one on venting or not venting crawlspaces, led by Don Fugler and Bill Rose, was packed. The update on lighting by Brad Steele showcased new products that would get the attention of even longtime fluorescent lamp advocates. Chris Benedict from New York City presented the systems approach she uses when rehabbing older buildings there--an approach she adopted after hearing a presentation by Paul Knight and Maureen Davlin at a previous Affordable Comfort conference on their work rehabbing row houses.

On a slightly more somber note, Jim Davis, Larry Harmon, and David Penney gave participants an excellent short course on carbon monoxide testing. Penney, a PhD at Wayne State University, pointed out that the medical community and the popular press have focused on acute cases of CO poisoning, but have not studied chronic CO poisoning nearly as much. He noted that chronic CO poisoning can produce a myriad of debilitating effects that can continue for days, weeks, months, and even years.

Jim Davis, an HVAC specialist from Cincinnati, introduced a draft CO protocol that he hopes can help combat the growing CO problem. His protocol offers participants comprehensive guidelines for CO testing instruments, proper inspection procedures, and best practices testing for individual appliances.

Larry Harmon from the Building Performance Institute, which has been on the cutting edge of training individuals in CO detection, introduced to the Affordable participants some individuals whose lives had been drastically affected by chronic CO poisoning. Their presentations were moving and illustrated vividly the dangerous problems CO can cause.

Focusing on another growing problem in homes, Advanced Energy's Frank Vigil (see Black Stains in Houses: Soot, Dust, or Ghosts? HE Jan/Feb '98, p. 15) presented new findings on black stains caused by candle soot, including a discussion of field sleuthing and experiments he has performed with white plastic plates in a makeshift laboratory. Rick Karg and Allen Zimmerman (another Home Energy author--see Building Science Professor Puts Theory into Practice, HE Mar/Apr '99, p. 41) team-taught a hilarious workshop entitled Concepts in Thermal Comfort. To demonstrate the differences among conductive, convective, and radiant heat exchange, respectively, Zimmerman asked participants to pass cups full of (make-believe) water from hand to hand, pour water from cup to cup, and throw the cups across the room! Karg topped this stunt when he fooled participants into thinking he was about to splash water on them--but it turned out to be just confetti.

The plethora of reliable information and detailed analysis at Affordable Comfort was no joke, however, and the staff at Home Energy is already looking forward to the 2000 conference in Columbus, Ohio. When you're ready to make your plans to go too, give Affordable Comfort a call. And if you just can't wait until next year, check out Affordable Comfort West, which will take place in California this fall. Meanwhile, keep your eye on the pages of Home Energy--many of our feature articles slated for the months ahead will feature more details on the exciting research that was presented at Affordable Comfort this spring.

--Mary James, Louis Rasky, and Colleen Turrell

For more information:
Affordable Comfort; 1030 Washington Trust Building; Washington, PA 15301; Tel:(724)223-7750; E-mail:; Web site:



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