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


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Home Energy Magazine Online May/June 1999

Vermont Has Adopted 1995 MEC Vermont is not ignoring energy codes, contrary to what States Ignore Building Codes (Jan/Feb '99, p.7) implies. The Vermont Legislature incorporated the 1995 Model Energy Code (MEC) in its 1997 Residential Building Energy Standards (RBES). RBES applied to all new residential construction effective July 1, 1998. On the commercial side, through its participation in the land use review process known as Act 250, the Department of Public Service (DPS) ensures that roughly 50% of new commercial construction meets or exceeds ASHRAE/IES 90.1. The DPS has actively promoted understanding of the codes across the state. In addition, Vermont is a regional leader in advocating for energy-efficient construction and operation and maintenance practices. For more information, please see our Web site at

Tom Franks
Energy Efficiency Specialist
Vermont Department of Public Service

Mary James responds:

Thanks for the encouraging news. As I mentioned in the beginning of the article, only 36 states were included in the study. Vermont was one of the states left out of the analysis due either to lack of data or to too few housing starts.

Wisconsin Feels Left Out Your January/February issue omits Wisconsin twice, once in States Ignore Building Codes and then in Stephen Turchen's letter, Clarifying MECcheck Access. Wisconsin has adopted revisions to its Uniform Dwelling Code to bring it into alignment with MEC 95. These changes are effective May 1, 1999. By the end of February, over 1,000 builders and contractors will have attended half-day training on the code changes. By the end of March, all 1,200 code officials in Wisconsin will be trained on the changes.

For plan approval, a customized version of MECcheck--WIScheck--is available from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory or a private vendor in Wisconsin. The energy rating software REM/Rate has also been customized for Wisconsin and can be used by a rater for determining compliance to the energy code for permit approval.

With our Wisconsin Focus on Energy Program in 23 counties, we will provide incentives and other assistance for the market to build well above code. As David Osborne loves to say in Wisconsin, a house built to just meet code is the worst house you can legally build.

Norman Bair
Chief, Energy Initiatives Section
Wisconsin Energy Bureau

Mary James responds:

Thank you for keeping Home Energy current. Wisconsin's changes occurred too recently to be included in the report.

Insulation Makers Refute Stain Claims The North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA) takes issue with Dr. Lila Albin's conclusions in Insulation in the Heating System--A Source of Black Stains (Nov/Dec '99) that fiberglass-lined duct systems are to blame for black soot stains found in both new and existing homes. This is contrary to the finding of a number of studies, which point instead to emissions from candle flames as the culprits for soot deposits in interior environments. Research has linked the escalating problem of black soot deposits with the growing popularity of candles (up 400% in seven years). The studies show that soot production from candles can be significant and may cause indoor levels of airborne soot to exceed concentrations allowed in outside air by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In addition, NAIMA member companies have also examined the issue of black soot deposition and their findings indicate that fiberglass-lined ducts are not a contributing factor. It is worthwhile noting that fiberglass insulation has been successfully used in HVAC systems for over 40 years, whereas the problem of soot deposition is relatively recent. Given the conflicting nature of the available information, we would be interested in sharing our findings with Dr. Albin regarding the causes of black soot deposition.

George R. Phelps
Director, Government and Industry Affairs

Lila Albin responds:

I would expect the insulation industry to take exception to this information--just as the candle manufacturers did to data on candles. I have had many samples of black soot or charcoal-like debris analyzed over the past 11 years both from commercial and residential HVAC systems. In one case, I had samples taken from a known deteriorating insulation, from the residence where the known insulation was sampled, and from candle soot. The candle soot sample analysis was distinctly different from the insulation, and the sample from the house matched that of the known insulation. Candle soot is a much finer particle than the protective carbon-black/polymer that hardens the airstream side of fiberglass insulation.

The analysis work I've had done has been performed by an accredited laboratory by both polarized light microscopy and phase contrast microscopy. Another laboratory has examined the insulation soot and the candle soot by scanning electron microscopy.

I recognize that fiberglass has been used as duct insulation for over 40 years. Yes, the insulation is effective at its intended purpose, which is to provide sound dampening, reduce conductive heat transfer, and prevent moisture condensation. That does not change the fact that the outer coating ages and will break away from the insulation system at some point in the history of the product. Anyway, sooting from insulation is not a new event. I have data that go back 11 years, and I also have verbal reports of soot mysteriously dropping out of diffusers overnight that go back at least 16 years.

When you find actual quarter-sized pieces of the face fabric in the occupied space, it is hard to doubt insulation's role in contributing to sooting stains. Furthermore, it is extremely unlikely that candles are to blame when the home owners do not burn candles on a regular basis, if at all.

I would be happy to share my data with NAIMA or even provide them with firsthand witnessing of deteriorating insulation lining HVAC systems. If NAIMA doesn't approve of the research that I have conducted, perhaps they should have studies conducted for them by either a consulting laboratory or a university. One such consulting laboratory is Air Quality Sciences in Atlanta, Georgia. Two university contacts would be Richard Shaugnessy, Indoor Air Quality Program, University of Oklahoma at Tulsa or Neil Zimmerman, School of Health Sciences, Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Errata: The correct Web site address for information on Energy Star Torchieres (Customers Turn Out for Torchiere Turn-In HE Mar/Apr '99, p.32) is 

(The online issue has been corrected.)


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