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


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Home Energy Magazine Online January/February 1998


Better Building at West Coast Conference

At CBTC in Santa Clara last September, crowds gathered around the energy performance house built by the Indiana Community Action Program Directors Association.
At some building trade shows, attendees are more interested in the new line of V-8 trucks than in anything related to green building and energy efficiency. But at the Construction Business and Technology Conference (CBTC) in Santa Clara, California last fall, Home Energy and the Journal of Light Construction, sponsor of the conference, joined forces with others to enlighten builders and contractors about the benefits of energy-efficient building practices.

With support from the California Energy Commission, Home Energy and Affordable Comfort Incorporated brought a unique energy performance house to the conference. This model house has clear Plexiglas walls, pressure gauges, and theatrical smoke to show how the pressure system and air flows in a house work. Inside the house, doors can be opened and closed while pressure gauges on the outside of the house show changes in the pressure balance. Leaks in supply and return ducts can be opened and closed to show how leaky or damaged ducts change the air flow within a house.

The house was built by Indiana Community Action Program Directors Association (ICDA) in Indianapolis. David Michaelis and Dan Hartman of ICDA gave demonstrations, using a theatrical smoke machine to show backdrafting occurring in a negative pressure zone. They showed how this can be an even more serious problem if combustion appliances are located in this zone. During the demonstration, Michaelis and Hartman showed how minor changes in pressures and airflow can cause serious health, safety, and comfort problems, as well as substantial energy losses.

Elsewhere at CBTC, presentations on energy issues were generally well received. John Tooley of Advanced Energy Corporation gave builders an introduction to home pressure systems and explained how these systems affect health, safety, comfort, and durability. Accompanied by an appropriately horrifying slide show, Tooley talked about ventilation strategies, pollution problems, indoor air quality, and the maintenance and construction of healthy homes. Overall, he drove home the need for the builders and contractors in attendance to get more training and education in home systems, and to strive for a better understanding of how problems can be avoided.

George Tsongas of Portland State University addressed problems related to moisture infiltration in his session titled Rx to Mold, Mildew, and Rot. Tsongas discussed methods of reducing moisture encroachment to the interior, such as using inexpensive polyethylene barriers in crawlspaces, extending drainpipes away from the house, incorporating spot ventilation, or, if that's not sufficient, using continuous ventilation to pull moisture out of the house.

Michael Luttrell's session on hydronic radiant heating demonstrated that builders are starting to grasp whole-house interactions. Luttrell also showed that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Hydronic heat and cooling is growing in popularity partly because it gets rid of the duct system, solving many of the problems shown in the energy performance house. There were pictures of homes where cleverly placed loops of radiant-heat tubing by the toilet or tub eliminate the need for bathroom space heaters and towel warmers, and allow lower thermostat setpoints throughout the house. However, the same presentation showed hydronics being used to melt icicles off of eaves--a clear case of throwing good money after bad due to a misunderstanding of how ice dams form.

Mike Gardner, of the Southern California company Mediterranean Heating and Air Conditioning, showed attendees how to select, size, and install AC equipment to maximize cooling comfort. Gardner discussed the problems posed by oversized equipment, which can result in cold, clammy, noisy houses that cost a fortune to cool.

Overall, this conference gave builders a greater sensitivity toward quality custom construction and energy efficiency. This was the first time the Journal has held its conference on the West Coast. The regular conference, held on the East Coast, will take place April 3-5, 1998, at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence, Rhode Island.

--Polly Sprenger


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