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Top Mistakes People Make With Home Performance

Last updated 6 years ago

As professionals, Progressive is often faced with situations where homeowners evaluate a home situation and come up with a conclusion not warranted by the facts. If the original evaluation is pursued, not only are resources (time/money) wasted, but it also leads to dissatisfaction as the real need isn’t met. What are some typical mistakes? Here’s a short list.

Simple or System? -- The concept of a house seems so simple that homeowners often fail to realize the complexity of home performance systems. Homeowners feel problems from the level of personal experience. They know the back corner bedroom is hotter than other bedrooms and make a preliminary guess as to why that is the case. But is the evaluation correct? Without knowing exactly what is causing the problem, time and money are spent for a solution that is partial and dissatisfying. Simple air-flow testing and IR camera investigation will pinpoint the nature and location of the real culprit so that a full and satisfying solution can be offered.

Bigger or Tighter? -- The homeowner feels the heat of summer penetrating his home and assumes the solution to be a bigger AC unit. The AC vendor will confirm the need for a bigger AC unit, pleased to make the sale. No one speaks of air leakage in either the ducts or walls or floors or ceiling. If the air cooled by the AC unit is only partially getting into the house due to ducts that are leaking at 50%-80%, a bigger AC unit will still fail to produce satisfactory results unless the leaky ducts are corrected. Once the cooled air is in the house it can quickly dissipate if there are points in the floor and ceiling that draw the cool air to the outside through the stack effect. Also, a superheated attic absorbs a lot of cool air. The need is not a bigger AC unit but a tighter house!

Attics Only or Whole House? -- The homeowner has heard that 80% of homes have attics that are under-insulated. Knowing that heat rises, they project from this one accurate idea a partial solution: “The warm air from my heater is escaping through the attic so I need to have more attic insulation.” There is no consideration given to the other five sides of the thermal envelope or the issue of air leakage. While greater insulation in the attic is important, if there are penetrations in the ceiling, roof and walls that allows uncontrolled air flow, the insulation becomes a filter and doesn’t perform as insulation.

Does One Size Fit All? -- Each home is unique. Homeowners may be led to think insulation follows the common rule of “one size fits all,” not realizing that homes perform differently. Combinations of structural circumstances make the home unique. A cathedral ceiling. A flat roof. A combination of cathedral in the front and flat in the back. One set of building standards used for the original house and another standard for an add-on. Aesthetic consideration overriding the need for an air-tight house. To get the best out of the insulation systems in the home, a home profile will help to define the steps to take. The days of rule-of-thumb have given way to that of building science and home performance.

Is Newer Better? -- There is a perception that bigger and newer is better. The latest method or product gains consumer attention over standard efficiency. There is the potential for the homeowner to opt for an expensive product with questionable factors of safety. Denim or cotton insulation costs more than old school cellulose, but doesn’t perform better when installation is the same for both. Some new spray foam products, more expensive than standard fiberglass insulation, also come with off-gassing qualities that are harmful to humans. Imagine your AC unit in the attic with the spray foam product! But because it is a new product recently developed, a homeowner may opt for this without considering a more standard solution that is more cost effective and allows resources to develop a complete solution.

Does Air Quality Affect Health? -- Air leakage is resolved through the control of air flow – air tightness. Another benefit of controlling air flow is an increase in the quality of interior air. Homeowners will typically assume that the air inside their home has as much or more quality as the air outside. However, testing demonstrates that air quality inside a home is typically three times worse than that outside. Motivation to save energy AND develop comfort is strengthened when the homeowner realizes that air quality often means fewer problems with asthma and allergy. Progressive works with a certified pharmacist who is able to make the connection between health issues and air quality.

Which Comes First? -- There is a natural sequencing of events when considering home performance. Efficiency is first. Before deciding the size AC unit or the number of Solar panels, the home must be made efficient. By insulating and air-sealing, the size of the HVAC unit needed to maintain a comfortable temperature in the home is reduced. A smaller HVAC unit also reduces the amount of energy needed to maintain heating and cooling at a comfortable level. By reducing the amount of energy used, you don’t need as many solar panels to be energy neutral. The CPUC set a goal in October 2007, that by 2020 all new homes would be energy neutral – producing as much energy as they used – and that this would be accomplished through “advanced insulation systems.” The sequence is efficiency first, then other systems.

A concept Progressive commonly uses to encourage homeowners to think about their needs is, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Ask questions. Be open. Learn what you don’t know and make a wise investment in your home.


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