Snippets – Trade-Offs


Today, a couple stories about trade-offs in the built environment.  Martin Holladay (the Energy Nerd) weighs the benefits and costs of deep energy residential retrofits and questions the value in terms of energy savings and cost of significant amounts of additional insulation rather than solar photovoltaics (via Via NPR, a story about the trade-offs between having power lines above ground, where they are vulnerable to the elements, or underground. 

Thermographic Infrared Maps


A program in Belgium is using aerial thermographic infrared maps of neighborhoods to give folks a contextual sense of their home’s heat loss. On the image above, the blue homes are losing much less heat than the red ones and are better insulated. Viewing this kind of map gives folks a sense of how their home’s insulation levels compare to that of their neighbor’s home.

You can click the image above to watch the video (it will take you to another page), or watch it here. Unfortunately, you will have to watch a brief ad before you can see the video clip.

This post is part of our Friday video series.

Home Energy Improvements


Thermal Imaging of a House in Cambodia (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

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Grist recently ran a piece on lessons learned by by shadowing a home energy inspector. The author highlighted a number major lessons, including:

  • It’s a social job.
  • Comfort matters more than pocketbook savings – for some homeowners.
  • It helps to see it and learn firsthand (especially for the blower-door test).
  • Thermal imaging cameras are nifty.
  • Attics should get insulation first, then walls and basements.
  • Most progress depends on the homeowner.
  • Utilities are driving the retrofit industry right now.
  • Renters have split incentives.

You can read the entire article, including the explanations of the lessons learned, on the Grist website here.

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Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) has a fairly new website called Driving Demand for Home Energy Improvements.

The website lists a number of reports and case studies about how to improve demand for home energy improvements, and findings from utility and government retrofit programs.

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Substandard Workmanship in Weatherization


The New York Times Green blog reports on a recent audit by the Department of Energy’s inspector general:

An audit by the inspector general focused on some work done by the Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County, one of 35 agencies in Illinois that are expected to share $91 million over three years. The audit looked at 15 homes and found that 12 failed final inspection “because of substandard workmanship.” In some cases, technicians who tuned up gas-fired heating systems did so improperly, so that they emitted carbon monoxide “at higher than acceptable levels.”

In eight cases, initial assessments of the houses and apartments called for “inappropriate weatherization measures.” In one case an inspector called for more attic insulation but ignored leaks in the roof, which would have ruined the insulation, the audit said. And for 10 homes, “contractors billed for labor charges that had not been incurred and for materials that had not been installed.’’

You can read the entire story here.

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Advanced Framing


This post is part of our definitions series on “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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Also called Optimum Value Engineering (OVE), advanced framing is a way of  framing a house to reduce the amount of wood used. Careful design can both reduce the lumber needed and the waste generated by using standard material dimensions, increasing the spacing of framing members to 24″, adjusting the location of windows and doors, and adjusting the way corners are framed.

Aside from the benefit of reducing wood use and waste, there is the additional benefit that removing wood from walls creates additional space for insulation, improving the thermal performance of the envelope, especially in the corners.

A few specific examples of the difference between standard and advanced framing techniques are here and here.

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What exactly does “sustainability” mean? How about “green”, “eco” or “environmentally friendly”? The truth is that these terms are just vague enough to mean many different things to many different people. With the staggering array of “green” products, ‘lifestyles’ and concepts being promoted by marketers and environmentalists alike (as well as the necessary coining of new terms to match new ideas) our definition series aims to make sense of the rising tide of “eco-lingo” and technical terms.