This article was originally published in the July/August 1998 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.


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Home Energy Magazine Online July/August 1998


New Problems, New Solutions at Affordable Comfort

This year's Affordable Comfort conference included a series of home performance contractor competitions. Here, contractors compete to see who is best at tightening and insulating attic bypasses.
Affordable Comfort, the annual conference of the home performance industry, took place May 4-9 in Madison, Wisconsin. The conference was attended by more than 1,000 builders, scientists, contractors, insurers, appliance makers, regulators, and financiers who shared news and views from their diverse corners of the home performance world.

Attendees had the opportunity to tour Taliesin West and other Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, and were treated to addresses by Mark Ginsburg of the U.S. Department of Energy, environmental architect Donald Aitken, and community investment banker Charles Hill of Chicago. Throughout the week, participants packed courses ranging from the fundamentals of pressure diagnostics and how to install dense-pack cellulose, to more advanced sessions on air-sealing techniques, the subtleties of unvented attics and crawlspaces, how to maintain a blower door, and how to start a quality warrantee program. Workshops on techniques for moisture prevention--in bathrooms, in basements, in attics, and in crawlspaces--were sprinkled throughout the program. The overriding theme of the conference, though, was health and safety, for both homeowners and contractors.

Jim Fitzgerald, a Minneapolis trainer and contractor (see Loud Planes Put Insulators to Work, p. 7), told the audience how he was almost killed when a computer-controlled blower door induced a furnace to backdraft, puffing 4,700 ppm of CO into his face. In a session on how to maintain diagnostic equipment, Don Jones of Residential Building Services told how overexposure to molds had left him with a long-term sensitivity to them.

Both of these home performance contractors have since developed techniques to prevent such dangers. Fitzgerald has wired his blower door to automatically turn off if high CO is detected anywhere in the house. When using blower doors, Jones now pressurizes houses, rather than depressurizing them, whenever possible. He says that pressurization disturbs less of the settled dust and mold.

Occupant safety was just as much a concern. Jim White, from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, described a recent finding that children in moldy houses suffer respiratory illnesses as often as children who grow up with smokers. Rick Karg, of R.J. Karg Associates in Maine, and George Tsongas, of Oregon's Portland State University, discussed oven and range CO production. Tsongas has found that 52% of stoves fail the manufacturers' action level of 400 ppm CO (air-free), and 25% fail the ANSI standard of 800 ppm air-free. The percentages, he says, are even higher for stoves with their doors open. He says that more than 20 million homes in the United States use ovens for heat.

The occurrence of mysterious dark stains on walls also seems to be increasing (see Black Stains in Houses: Soot, Dust, or Ghosts? HE Jan/Feb '98, p. 15). Betsy Pettit of Building Science Corporation, Westford, Massachusetts, says her company receives about a half-dozen calls per week complaining of these stains.

Affordable Comfort '99 will be held in Columbus, Ohio on April 19-24.

--Steven Bodzin



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