Super Sustainable Saturday addressed both housing and transportation in terms of lowering energy usage, reducing waste, and reducing toxicity. On Saturday, June 7, 2014, the volunteer-based Sustainable South Capitol, in partnership with the South Capitol Neighborhood Association (SCNA) and Thurston Energy, held the first ever “Super Sustainable Saturday” at Lincoln Elementary School, and around the neighborhood in homes open for tours. The event drew many visitors on a beautiful sunny day to learn from a variety of community nonprofits and businesses that are focused on sustainability.
At the “Sustainability Hub” at Lincoln, displays included Thurston Energy, SCNA, a display of homemade nontoxic cleaners, South Sound Solar, Thurston Solid Waste, Intercity Transit, Sustainable South Sound, the Olympia Heritage Commission, the Warm Window Project, and Northwest EcoBuilding Guild.
Two companies gave hands-on demonstrations at their tables: Eco Woodworks demonstrated how to restore wood windows, and ECHO Energy demonstrated how to seal ducts (see “Duct Seal Demo” video above).
Along the home tour route, residents shared their experiences with energy efficient ductless heat pumps, tankless hot water heaters, solar photovoltaic energy systems, bee keeping, rain gardens, backyard chicken coops, and fruit trees. Some of the tours included instructional lessons given in living rooms, while others were walk-by wonders.
Said Jack Rice, one of the neighbors: “I also saw fascinating old trees, interesting and lovely yard presentations, kids playing, contented appearing adults working in their surrounds. I had a fine and most stimulating day.”
There was also a car show, as several neighbors showed how their electric cars and electric bicycles worked. The Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt have both been gaining traction as reliable vehicles, and following the path that the Toyota Prius has blazed over the past ten years as a car that is easy on the environment, while being fun and practical to drive.
Guests even enjoyed freshly made Lupe’s Hot Tamales, and the serendipitous timing and placement of a plant sale also being held at the school. All in all, it was a beautiful day to learn how to lighten our impact on the environment, whether staying put at the Sustainability Hub, or moving around to enjoy the tours.
PHOTO: Homeowner Greg Tudor (right) and Thurston Energy Manager Mark Rentfrow observe the Tudor’s historic home, and discuss techniques for removing siding, filling walls with additional cellulose insulation, and then replacing the siding.
Kate and Greg Tudor and their family moved into their historic home in 2009 and the pipes promptly froze. They quickly determined that they needed some form of weatherization, so they got an energy evaluation from Thurston Energy. “Essentially, our home was like a moderately protected carport,” recounts Greg.
So after replacing the knob and tube wiring in the basement, they insulated the underfloor with foam and sealed the ducts with mastic. “For the first time, we could actually lay on the floor without freezing,” says Greg. “And when we cleaned the ducts, we filled a 30 gallon trash bag with toys, blocks, doll clothes, a bow tie, and other things that were dropped down a vent in a child’s room over the years.”
They also insulated the room above the porch and sealed the doors, windows, and attic “to keep the wind from blowing through the house,” quipped Greg. The family has noticed that the furnace runs a lot less often, and for shorter periods of time. Next on the energy improvement list is more insulation and air sealing in the walls and attic, once they replace the rest of the knob and tube wiring.
The Story of Spree … One Lucky Dog
Sometimes there’s more to savings and comfort than simply installing energy efficient heating equipment. No one knows this better than Spree … a fifteen year old dog whose owner recently went through an energy improvement in their home in Olympia.
This home had a history of being uncomfortably cold. No matter what the owner did to try to improve the situation, she never felt that she was receiving the full heating benefit that she had paid for.
“It just seemed like, regardless of what the thermostat for the furnace said, that the home just wouldn’t heat up to a comfortable temperature.”
Generally, even the garage was more comfortable than the home’s interior.
Spree had located the vent closest to the furnace and had made a habit of camping out over it in the mornings when the furnace would first come on. However, Spree’s owner also noticed that Spree, who has a previously existing medical condition, would also start coughing when sitting on top of the register. “She was coughing and hacking so much that I thought her heart was going to stop!” she said.
With winter approaching this year, Spree’s owner was determined to take action. She had previously contracted with a firm to assess her home’s energy use and performance, but the experience left her feeling that it fell far short of her expectations without any conclusive results, thereby making more evaluation necessary. After all, the home already had a newer, energy efficient furnace and a service technician verified that it was currently working properly. The furnace performance and thermostat both checked out as normal. Still something was missing (the heat!).
Spree’s owner knew that something must not be right and decided to check inside the vent to try and locate the problem. What she saw was the tip of an iceberg. Inside of eight separate elbows throughout the home, she found fistfuls of insulation clogging the vent pipes at every turn. These vents were likely pushing the insulation fibers into the air causing respiratory problems not just for Spree, but for her as well.
After contacting an energy advisor at Puget Sound Energy about ways to become more energy efficient and comfortable, she was given a referral to contact ECHO Energy. Kyle Kennemore from ECHO arrived to provide a free PSE HomePrint™ assessment. This in-home service provides customers with a better understanding of their home’s basic energy consumption, cost effective ways to use less energy, and useful information on ultimately improving the comfort and efficiency of their homes. After spending a considerable amount of time underneath the home checking all of the insulation, duct lines and connections, Kyle emerged with photos and information to provide a synopsis of what was happening in the crawl space, as well as three different levels of resolution for mitigating the problems.
Spree’s owner was determined to do as much as she could within reason to make good improvements to her home. The PSE HomePrint™ report was the blueprint that ECHO Energy used to help her initiate changes to her home’s ducting and insulation.
“I got such a good vibe from Kyle about how passionate he was to do right by the homeowner that I decided to hire ECHO to help me complete the necessary upgrades.”
She went on to say that “from the day they installed the new ducting, Spree quit coughing.” That was the most immediate indicator that ECHO had located the source of the problems and made the appropriate fixes. The other was, of course, the fact that the house had warmer air!
The experience that Spree and her owner had with their home is unfortunately not unique. Many folks that are uncomfortable in their homes have no idea why, despite doing things “by the book.” The type of building science that ECHO Energy used to evaluate the home is what will help a contractor and homeowner identify the root causes of these types of heating issues. Whether it’s an issue of air sealing around the furnace plenum to prevent warm air leakage (something that had not been done in this garage) or sealing the ductwork to ensure that all of the warm air created by a furnace is being properly distributed throughout the home’s interior, building science diagnostic tools and techniques can often make the difference between a warm and comfortable winter or a chilly one.
“Having this type of weatherization process done on my home has given me piece of mind that I’m doing the right thing for myself and for Spree. Kyle made it pretty painless and was very comprehensive in giving full explanations of what he was doing, as well as handling all the PSE rebate paperwork for me. ECHO didn’t make me feel like they were pulling a fast one and I came out at the end of the experience feeling as positive – if not more so, than I did going into it. Kyle (ECHO’s) mantra is to really know their business, do quality work while being professional and considerate of the client. The real deal!”
Roger Horn’s house was “super leaky.” He could feel cold air coming into the room 3 feet away from duct openings, the hatch leading from a closet down into the crawlspace, and from other closets and cabinets.
But Roger learned about Thurston Energy shortly after it began in 2010, and got a home energy audit. He started by adding insulation under the floors and in crawl spaces. Later on, he decided to make more improvements. After a second energy evaluation, Roger hired Northwest Energy Team to install a ductless heat pump system, do air sealing and insulation work, and to seal the hatches to crawlspaces and attics.
“It’s a lot warmer now, and the ductless is much quieter than my other furnace, which cycled up and down frequently,” explains Roger, who also blocked the old vents to prevent drafts. Roger has completed several improvements on the house since he moved into it in 1990, and enjoys his energy efficient and comfortable home.
PHOTO: Homeowner Roger Horn and Thurston Energy Manager Mark Rentfrow use thermal imaging to observe an attic hatch through a closet, and discuss how proper insulation and air sealing keeps warm air inside a room.
I had the duct seal done on the energy audit. They found 3 ducts had fallen apart and major leaks in 5 others. I really notice the difference already. I am looking forward to a smaller energy bill this winter.
This is a great program to help us see where best to take action. Not only will this help us reduce carbon footprint and help slow climate change, but it will also save some money in winter.