Turn Your Home Into a Smart House - June 9th 2007


Turn Your Home Into a Smart House


YOUR HOME AS A SYSTEM


I always recommend approaching your home as a system, not as a group of independent parts. Keep in mind that each change you make can impact other aspects of your home.

Here's how to improve the comfort and energy efficiency of your home from the foundation to the chimney.


BASEMENTS AND CRAWLSPACES

An unfinished basement can account for significant heat loss. Insulating the inside of concrete walls will help stop the migration of cold air. In most cases, you can insulate basement walls from the inside, but first check for signs of water leaks and correct any drainage problems.

Once any moisture problems have been fixed, you can insulate unfinished basement or crawlspace walls.

There are many ways of insulating concrete walls and all work very well.

Rigid-foam insulation, spray foam and either glass fibre or rock wool batt (Roxul) insulation are all options for this type of application.

The proper application process is available through Natural Resources Canada's Keeping the Heat In publication by calling 1-800-387-2000.


EXTERIOR WALLS

Exterior-wall insulation should have an R value (an R value is the measure of thermal resistance) of R20 to R22. Six-inch glass fibre is R20, while six-inch rock mineral wool (Roxul) is R22.

Insulation may come in batts or loose fill, which can be blown into place. Options for upgrading the insulation in exterior walls are spray foams or rigid-foam sheets applied on the outside or inside of the walls.

If you're planning to improve the street appeal of your home by replacing siding and windows, take this opportunity to draft-seal and upgrade the insulation by adding sheets of rigid foam under the siding.

Upgrading the insulation in the wall cavity cannot be achieved from the inside unless you strip the interior of the wall of its panelling or drywall.


WINDOWS

It's ideal to replace windows at the same time as you upgrade exterior walls. By combining these retrofits you will get added value through savings in both energy and labour costs for the installation. Replacing older, drafty windows with new Energy Star-rated windows will noticeably improve the comfort level of your home, in addition to improving the street appeal.

When choosing windows, look for Energy Star-labelled windows with low-e coating and argon.

A great rule of thumb is to look for "good, better, best" rated windows.

- Glass:

Good -- Low E Argon -- Energy Star label

Better -- Low E2 Argon -- Smart Glass, Energy Star label

Best -- Low E2 Argon -- Stainless steel spacer bar, Smart Glass, Energy Star label

- Frames:

Good -- Aluminum with thermally broken frame

Better -- PVC vinyl multi-cavity extrusion for the best thermal resistance

Best -- Fibreglass with stainless steel spacer bar


DOORS

Replace entrance doors with Energy Star-rated insulated steel or fibreglass doors.

Ask these questions:

- Is it Energy Star-rated?

- How is the frame designed under the steel or fibreglass to ensure secure mounting for locks and dead bolts?

- Does the frame have generic weather-stripping for future replacement?

- Does the door threshold have a sweep seal or bumper-tape seal?

Aluminum doors should have clad thresholds with integrated door sweeps. Ask for pre-finished "powder coated" doors for the best finish. If door is "primed painted" it must be painted with quality exterior latex paint within six months of installation. For French doors or outswing doors, hinges must have "fixed pins."


HEATING

Upgrading your furnace or boiler to a high-efficiency unit is the best improvement you can make to lower your heating costs. Today's Energy Star-rated furnaces with a variable speed motor are rated at least 90 per cent efficient. A 20-year-old gas furnace would have an efficiency of about 60 per cent, meaning that for every dollar you spend on heating, 40 cents is wasted.

If possible, draftproof and upgrade your insulation before replacing your existing heating system. When replacing a furnace, have a reputable heating technician size the heating system for both the heating load and existing ducting.


VENTILATION

As we tighten up our homes for energy efficiency, it's important to address ventilation and humidity control.

There are several ways to reduce indoor humidity, such as increasing ventilation using exhaust fans when cooking, showering or bathing.

Here are some rules of thumb:

1. Bathroom exhaust fans should be controlled by a dehumidistat exhausting air at an average rate of 105 feet per minute or one cubic foot per one square foot of bathroom.

2. If a forced-air furnace has only a single speed blower motor, have a conversion made to a two-speed motor allowing air to be circulated 24 hours a day, 365 days a year throughout your home. If after installing a two-speed motor you start to feel drafts at some of your floor registers, you should consider installing a home damper. This prevents cold air from coming in the home through the heating system.

3. With electric or hot water (radiant or convection) types of heating systems it is important to have the best exhaust ventilation system you can afford. You could install a heat recovery ventilator system-HRV which will recover up to 70 per cent of the heat in the moist stale air being exhausted from your home.

4. Many homes have insufficient insulation in attics, another source of heat loss. Fibreglass batts can be easily installed by homeowners. Cellulose or loose fibreglass is typically installed using an insulation-blowing machine. Ventilation and air sealing are necessary in attics where insulation has been added to prevent warm air leakage from the rooms below building up in the attic cavity.

5. Fireplaces are one of the worst heat-loss areas in the home. A closed fireplace damper is often the largest hole in the exterior envelope of a house. Even when dampers are closed they do not provide a good seal and are quite ineffective due to heat warping. A great way to eliminate this is the "Fireplace DraftStopper", an inflatable product designed to fit into the firebox.


Government's rebate program will pay you to save energy

Under the federal government's Eco Energy Retrofit program, property owners can qualify for grants by improving the energy efficiency of their homes and reducing their home's impact on the environment.

This program involves two visits from a Natural Resources Canada (NrCan) licensed energy advisor to conduct a full assessment of your home's energy use. You will then receive a personalized report to show you what you can do to improve the energy efficiency of your home. Once you have performed some or all of the recommended upgrades, an advisor will conduct a second audit.

Homeowners are responsible for the cost of the audits, as well as the upgrades. The rebate will depend on the completed upgrades based on a flat-rate system.

Rebates tend to range from $300 to $500.