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GreenHomes America | Jason Todd

Jason Todd is the Home Performance Training Manager at GreenHomes America, the nation’s leading provider of Home Performance Contracting (HPC) services. Jason is BPI certified as a Building Analyst as well as Envelope Professional. Read energy-saving tips for homeowners, industry commentary, HPC news and more on the official GreenHomes America blog: blog.greenhomesamerica.com

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tv crew

Home Improvement on Television

There’s nothing wrong with a good TV remodel, although tearing into a home and seeing it magically transformed in such a short time doesn’t really reveal all the trials or expense incurred, but we can dream can’t we? TV is all about escape isn’t it? Since our focus is on comfort, health, safety and energy efficiency our projects tend to be a little less flashy and smaller too. We don’t turn a house upside down just to improve it. Over the last few years we did have some significant projects as part of a Deep Energy Retrofit study in upstate New York. It was the stuff of TV for sure, retrofitting exterior walls over existing ones, adding new siding, windows, high tech heating and ventilation equipment, working top to bottom, we even dubbed the projects “extreme energy makeovers.” This isn’t our everyday kind of work though. Sadly that’s not as interesting for TV audiences, but, go figure, many people from California to New York, thousands in fact are doing them. Home Performance contracting is all about increasing comfort, assuring health and safety and lowering your utility bills. The install work on a GreenHomes America TV show might not feature the attractive and charismatic Ty or Nicole swinging a sledge hammer, and there would be no new marble counter and fancy cabinetry with elegant lighting, unless it was already there in the first place. It also wouldn’t be quite as destructive as some shows out there since we don’t have to tear into every surface of the home to find problems, or to fix them. I picture a family gathering in the same undisturbed living room from the start of the show, this time in complete comfort. No more suffering through a cold winter under blankets on the couch, or a hot summer wondering why the AC isn’t strong enough. I picture a family no longer suffering from allergies due to poor indoor air quality from a damp crawlspace and leaky walls or cold like symptoms because their water heater was back-drafting carbon monoxide. Sounds pretty good actually, maybe we should start filming?
within the law

Working Within the Law

Certainly we as contractors are need to follow laws, codes and local regulations when it comes to working on homes. Just as important are the laws of physics, and paying attention to building science when improving homes makes for effective and lasting improvements. Attic insulation is only effective when we seal air leaks. Since there are pressures in a home acting on those holes we can lose conditioned air to the attic very easily. The same pressures can pull unwanted air from an attached garage, or back draft a chimney. Control air flow, manage moisture and heat, and a lot of good can be done. Ignore the laws of physics and homeowners miss out on comfort, energy savings and health and safety.
Screen Shot 2013-10-30 at 2.31.30 PM

Aging in Place for Homeowners

Accessibility certainly comes to mind, but there other very important things to consider in preparing homes for our elders, such as comfort and energy efficiency. The extreme heat of the summer and cold of the winter have very significant impacts on our health as we grow older. More efficient HVAC systems in a home can make a difference on the utility bill, but we also need to consider more efficient buildings so we don’t “efficiently” lose conditioned air to the outside! What better time to improve a building for comfort’s sake, but when planning a remodel. Insulation helps protect our homes and us, from temperature swings. Air sealing helps in that regard as well, it’s like wearing a wind breaker over a sweater, or keeping the lid tight on a cooler, we need both insulation and an air barrier for comfort and for efficiency. Un-controlled airflow in a building doesn’t do anyone any favors. Sealing up leaks between our inside space and attics, garages, crawlspaces and basements makes that inside air all that much better since our “fresh air” won’t come from unsafe areas. Fresh air is important, and while there are great air exchangers out there, a simple ventilation system like a bath fan on a timer helps bring in the right amount of fresh air for us and our buildings. Go figure, what is good for our homes and for us in our later years, is good for us throughout our lives!
historic home

Expert Tips for Historic Home Owners

The first rule of remodeling in my book is, do no harm. That means to you and your family and also to your home. Older homes are wonderful things but keep some cautions in mind. Lead paint, asbestos in some building and HVAC insulations, older plumbing, and wiring are all concerns when remodeling. Older homes were also built to perform a certain way and as we change them to improve them, we can at times make things worse not taking into account things like, air flow and moisture. Most preservationists don’t want to change windows in older homes, for aesthetic reasons and in some areas there are ordinances against it. This is just fine by me, for efficiency reasons it’s not the first concern, even though some consider windows first for savings. Drafty they may be, but the house as a whole can be improved to reduce drafts as well as improve insulation, as many are at best poorly insulated. This means air sealing in the attic, and tightening up the walls. Historic Homes or well loved old ones can use a holistic approach to improvement. Consider how a home performs and how it benefits its occupants as well as how it will be preserved. Home Performance will keep you and your home healthy and happy.
Seasons

How do home businesses adapt to changing seasons?

One of the reasons local HVAC companies partner with GreenHomes America is to address the rollercoaster ride of work as the seasons change. After all, it makes sense that a heating and cooling company might be affected by the seasons! There is no reason for it to happen if you take a whole house approach to comfort. I can only speak to the HVAC and Home Performance industry but I think there is a story that is relevant for any business. I think it has to do with the tools we carry. With some diversity in our offerings our locations are able to service their customers year round and keep their employees busy. It can be Southern California, or Seattle, Washington, South Carolina or New York State, the seasons are different, but the need for comfort and energy efficiency is the same. In broadening the ways we provide that comfort and efficiency, everyone wins. For a cooling contractor, summer is the peak season and they are busy installing and servicing equipment, the inverse happens for a heating contractor, they are busiest in the winter. Down time is the opposite time of year, a great time to do other related comfort work such as insulating attics and walls. Our locations have sales advisors who perform home assessments, but everyone in the company is aware of the benefits of all of the types of work we do, HVAC, health and safety testing, and insulation and air sealing. Those folks going in to service equipment year round are a conduit of information for homeowners. An HVAC service call can lead a homeowner to what they may really need. The surprise may be, especially coming from an HVAC company, that it’s not bigger or even new equipment, it might be improving the home’s insulation. If you only have a hammer everything looks like a nail right? It’s good to have a well stocked tool box.
2013 trends

Top Home Trends Predicted for 2013

Trends? I’m guessing smart survival instincts kick in this year for homeowners looking to improve their homes performance and comfort. You can install a thermostat that learns from your behavior and charts your energy usage online, but first we must keep in mind the simple things. How we use our homes has been changing, and the need for improvement is stronger than ever. There are well over a million homes in the U.S. and many need updating. Consider too that many new homes being built today are only our home performance problems of tomorrow. As costs to heat, cool, and power our homes rise and, budget minded families and individuals continue to consider remodeling over building new, making them a safe haven is the right thing to do. Remodeling with the idea of protection from the elements when the power goes out adds yet another level of importance and value to Home Performance. It may be protection from the heat of summer or the cold of winter we seek. As others have mentioned, grid failures in the summer can put folks at risk as much as an ice storm in the winter does. Our aging infrastructure and increased demand for energy means we are taxing the grid, and our aging housing stock. Given the recent events from Hurricane Sandy and the hottest year on record for the U.S., there is no better time than now to improve homes for health and safety, comfort, energy efficiency and weathering the storm! Thanks, Jason
new homeowners

What essential skills should every new homeowner have?

Some are more hands on than others when it comes to our homes, but for all of us it is a matter of protecting our investment and ensuring our homes are safe places. I think they should be efficient too since that can save you money as well as increase comfort. Getting to know a little about your home, or how things work in it, is a great idea. There are many books out there that help explain the basics, and if you need to read up to figure out how to shut the water off in an emergency I encourage it! Since knowledge is a powerful thing, here are some resources I think all homeowners should know about to really empower them: Energy Star (http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=products.pr_save_energy_at_home) has some great information for homeowners on saving energy, tuning up equipment and some do it yourself guides as well. The Building Performance Institute (http://www.bpi.org/homeowners_benefits.aspx) explains how a house is a system and the importance of treating it that way. BPI certified contractors understand homes and can help make it a safe, energy efficient and more comfortable place to live in. I say learn what you can and do what you are comfortable, seek out experts you can trust for everything else.
building codes

What Homeowners Need to Know About Building Codes

A contractor you intend to hire should be knowledgeable about the codes concerning the work you would like to have done. It is after all, their job to understand how to do it right. If you plan to do it yourself, it is your job to understand the code which can be somewhat complex, but the intention is to insure that what is done, ends up being safe. What we often fail to recognize is that building to code is building or installing to the minimum standard. It is a passing grade really. Ignoring the code is asking for trouble most of the time. As a Home Performance contractor, diagnosing problems in existing homes, we come across code violations, and find things that need to changed or updated. We also come across building science issues that make the home under perform, unhealthy or unsafe. Sometimes the minimum building codes don’t address these issues. This is one reason why we follow the Building Performance Institute standards and test for health and safety. Using specialized equipment and looking at a home with an understanding of building science, may reveal a code that doesn’t help the occupants, and it’s a dilemma for sure. It doesn’t mean the code should be broken, but it may be time to challenge it or change it. I think safe, healthy, comfortable and energy efficient are good reasons for codes, and more!
winterize article

How to Winterize Your Home

No matter what season is up next, it’s best to be prepared. Winter certainly affects some more than others, and for those that dread another winter, and wonder if the roof will last as the ice dams return, it's time to take action now. Ice dams are the poster child for home performance problems. They are obvious issues, and there are all sorts of options to “fix” them as an article in the Wall Street Journal talked about. Fixing the problem, and not just the symptom, is really what needs to happen. Our solution for this customer, featured in the article, was to add insulation AND air sealing to the home. Regardless of the season or the climate, starting with a Home Energy Assessment will give you a plan of action that makes sense. It will help you provide an “ounce of prevention” instead of having to come up with a “pound of cure” later. As a plan of action it also will help you prioritize. We all have limited resources and time, and as the seasons fly by there’s nothing better than the peace of mind that we can settle in and enjoy the comforts of home. That’s how winter should be!
green certification

Evaluating Green Home Certifications

Buyer beware! That is the saying right? There should be a healthy dose of skepticism for new certifications or promises of savings or being greener than the neighbor. The UCLA study speaks to homeowner’s desire for healthy and efficient homes, of being responsible and living with those choices quite literally. They proved this by consumer’s choice based on labels. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, these labels are often directed only at new homes. There are plenty more, the lion’s share of the market, that are already built. This is where we can make the greatest impact, whether or not you are selling your home! With state incentives found in California, New York and elsewhere, I can’t stress enough how beneficial it is to capitalize on them! Financial incentives for energy improvements will only increase the return on investment. Even without incentives, investing in comfort, efficiency, and health and safety benefits the homeowners now. Label or not, I’m certain it helps with the resale value later. Retrofit a home and make it a high performer? As they say….Priceless!
energy efficient cash

Energy Efficient Upgrades

GreenHomes America performs energy efficiency retrofit work across the country. We find in many areas there are a variety of incentives available for this work a central database for this information can be found at http://dsireusa.org/. Incentives include, but are not limited to, tax incentives, grants, loans, rebates, industry recruitment/support, green building incentives, and performance-based incentives. The funding can come from government (state, federal, or local) or regional utility companies. But more importantly is the fact that there is no doubt that properly installed energy efficiency upgrades will save money, regardless of a subsidy or rebate. In fact, investing in energy efficiency can pay back in spades. I would caution homeowners who would try and only capitalize on “free.” Free audits, often offered by utilities are fine, but they don’t always tell you the whole picture. Free light bulbs are great and by all means take them. And if it’s time for new appliances look for the most efficient models for sure. But the real savings are gained in taking action on recommendations from a comprehensive home assessment. These are recommendations by a certified energy auditor who suggests measures such as insulation, air sealing, improved heating and cooling systems, and windows—often in that order. The benefits go way beyond savings. It means increased comfort in winter and summer. It means better indoor air quality by reducing dust, mold and other irritants. And the savings from these kinds of efficiency upgrades, means it might cost a little but will save you lots.
stay cool

Stay Cool, Save Money

For as long as there has been sun to hide from, people have sought cooler spaces to wait out the worst of the summer heat. For many, popping in a window AC unit has been the quick answer. Others have central air, and some pull the shades down, turn on all the fans. No matter how you cool the air, the trick is to keep it cool, or not let it get hot in the first place. Designing for shading can help increase our comfort greatly. The angle of the sun is different in the summer than the winter, and proper shading with structure, or plantings, can reduce the amount that hits the home—especially windows. I’ve heard it said that if engineers designed houses there would be no windows. So we sacrifice a view for some heat transfer. I like the view. The real secret for staying cool is related to the fact that we live in boxes. Unfortunately, boxes that are more often like steamer trunks than beer coolers. (Ever try keeping a block of ice from melting in an old trunk? Good for old quilts but not your preferred cold beverage.) We need to focus more on the beer cooler model. When the surrounding air is hot, ice will melt. A cooler will slow melting in two ways: First, insulation resists the transfer of heat, in this case into the box. This illustrates the need for insulation in our walls, our attics, and maybe our floors too—likely more than you think. The other benefit of a cooler for keeping drinks cold is the option to keep the lid closed: that controls airflow. Every time you open that lid, warm air washes through the cooler. The same goes for our houses. We need to go in and out of our houses, but we don’t need all the air exchanges from the many small leaks in the attic, the floors, and in the walls. They add up. Stay cool; insulate and air seal. You may not need the AC at all.
managing projects

What’s the best way to choose a home improvement team?

How many energy geeks does it take to screw in a CFL? When it comes to comfort improvements for your home, really making a difference often requires more effort than, adding some weather-stripping to a door, or an extra layer of insulation in the attic. These are good things, but may not make much of an impact. It’s best to look at the whole picture. Hiring a professional energy advisor is a critical part of improving a home, since their assessment can become your road map to success. Determining what is wrong with a house can be revealed in a matter of hours, with the right equipment and a strong understanding of how homes work, or should work. Still, understanding common household problems are only part of the battle. Knowing we are sick does not make us healthy. We often have to do something about it. Drink lots of fluids, rest, vitamin C. Or it might be more than that. We might need a prescription or even surgery from a specialist. Comfort improvements can be complicated and that is why the installer or installers of the measures are just as important as the advisor. We are talking about air sealing that others didn’t see as critical or helpful, insulation that others thought was enough that really isn’t, moisture issues, indoor air quality and complicated HVAC systems. Clearly it works best when these advisors and installers work together and communicate well. At GreenHomes America we do it all under one roof, which helps things go smoothly. At the very least a homeowner would do best to stick with one contractor that understands all aspects of a comfort project and even if they didn’t assess your home, understands the assessment process as well. It is possible to have a separate HVAC, insulation, window, or siding contractor….but what is lost is the common goal, fixing the problems in your home. Each one will tell you their work is what you need, and is where comfort and savings really lie. And there is the lie, or the fib. Each part is important but more important is how they interact together. Houses are complicated; having one contractor who understands that, follow through, is where the real savings as well as the truth are revealed.
Construction

How are you using sustainable materials?

Sustainable is a favorite topic for us at GreenHomes America. One of the most sustainable actions is to use the resources we have, to use what exists, and if we need to “consume” something, consume less of it. This is the essence of what we do. Customers acting on energy assessment recommendations, not only making a home more energy efficient, but more comfortable, healthier and safer is one of the most sustainable things they can do. A material we often use in retrofits, cellulose insulation, is great because It is recycled newspaper after all. But the battle is not won solely “sustainable” materials. Recycling and reuse are great but there are greater gains to be had. Sometimes the materials we use are not on the “green” or “sustainable” list. Here is why: Improving existing houses (I won’t say “old” as some can be quite new) by increasing their efficiency is huge in conserving our resources. Homes are great consumers and we need to improve them to be sustainable. In fact residential homes consume 30% more energy than our cars. No commercial anything here. Just folks like you and me living and driving. Do you get a Prius or do you fix your house. Both are good, you can guess which one I did first! Sustainable is how we should live. I suggest starting right at home.
home improvement technology

What emerging technologies are making your jobs easier?

At GreenHomes America we love new gadgets and on a daily basis we use high tech calibrated fans, heating and cooling testing equipment, specialty leak detectors and Infrared cameras. This equipment isn't new to us, but over the years it has improved. Infrared Cameras help us identify missed insulation or building issues by showing us heat patterns. One of the latest cameras allows us to transmit images to a tablet or computer. Good stuff when the advisor is in the attic and the customer is (justifiably so) not interested in following! Mobile devices, our phones and tablets, have become a lifeline as they help us transmit information about the home, keep our appointments, and communicate with the homeowner as well as the office. I think that is the case for many of us across the industry. Our advisors in the field may use the latest technology, but mostly they constantly need to adapt to what they see and apply what they know. There is nothing like good old fashioned learnin' as the best “emerging technology,” which is why we constantly train and educate our people. As William Butler Yeats said “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” We like our folks to be fired up about making our customers homes the best they can be.
home estimates

How should homeowners interpret estimates?

It has been said here already, estimates are free. And by their nature, estimates are guesses. So an estimate could be seen as something with no value based on a guess. That's not what I want when considering an improvement on my home. A homeowner should base important decisions about their home, armed with as much information as possible. A solid proposal comes from a solid assessment of the home's current condition and how it should be improved. Not often free, but very worthwhile. When we start looking at estimated savings in energy modeling, it is still a guess, although an educated one. Energy modeling gets complicated very quickly. The variables that affect results include things like weather and occupant behavior. Even with significant energy savings measures, a homeowner might not see the savings the following year if it's an extreme season for heating or cooling or if the crank up the thermostat even with efficiency improvements. In reality of course without the improvements they would have spent even more for that year! Greater accuracy can be obtained with estimating savings, but we try and steer clear of creating research projects out of people's homes. We focus our time on creating solutions to high energy bills, discomfort or health and safety concerns. When we provide a proposal for work to be done, the homeowner sees what it will cost as well as what will happen, that doesn't change once the work starts.
historic home

What should homebuyers know about older homes?

Here at GreenHomes America we love older homes, but let me clarify, because to us “old” is quite a broad category, in fact you might think of some of them as new. We have found homes only a few years “old”, new to many, suffer from the same problems we provide solutions for in much older ones. I suggest that in some ways new or old, it's all the same thing. How a home performs is important no matter its age. Home Performance contracting, what GreenHomes America is all about, is a critical look at a home, and how it performs and more importantly, It is about pulling together all of the home's “parts” and making it a more comfortable, safer and more efficient system. That's the best part. Bringing together all of the parts of a home and making it work is no easy task. True craftsmen put together some beautiful homes long ago which are still standing and likely will for a long time to come with good care. This is certainly a benefit of an older home. They can be solid and well built as well as have a bit of character. Keep in mind some of these were built before modern style heating and insulation systems, before teenagers took hour long showers and we all stayed up with all the lights on to watch late night television. And yes, I did say insulation systems. New or old, insulation works only when it's installed right, in the right place and combined with critical things like air-sealing. Builders today carry on the age old tradition of bringing so many different pieces together, but things have become more complicated, materials have changed, what we do in homes has changed, even what comfort is to us has changed. And modern builders still overlook things like air-sealing insulation and moisture issues. So don't think you are always trouble free with new homes. Before you consider buying any home, knowing what you are getting into, new or old is an excellent idea. Home inspection is a good place to start, but I'd go a step further, think of how it will perform and a home energy assessment will help you with that, and a good one will provide the solutions you need to make a good home new or old a great one.
2012 trends

What are the home improvement trends for 2012?

As with all New Year's resolutions that fade in the coming months, we soon forget the discomfort and cost of the heating season as spring arrives. Much like the things we resolved to change, our troubles come back again in the next season. To include those who live in warmer climes, the same issues happen for the hottest days in the summer, as the sun beats down on our under-insulated attics, and the air conditioner struggles to keep up in a leaky house, fighting as it tries to cool the great outdoors. Energy Efficiency is no passing fad, and for that matter, nor is comfort. And they say there is nothing new under the sun. Sure, we come up with better technologies and products to make our lighting cheaper, or our walls better insulated, but sticking to the fundamentals does us a lot of good. Stuff won't save us, but how we use it will. Make your home perform well and you will be rewarded: insulate, air seal, manage moisture and the quality of indoor air, and reduce electric loads in lighting and appliances. Not too glamorous, but good stuff nonetheless. Often we can't do it all at once. With a plan in hand, such as a comprehensive home assessment, every remodeling project can have a deeper and more satisfying result. A new kitchen can mean lower utility bills, a small addition can mean more comfort, as well as space. Keep in mind that comfort, health, safety and efficiency are the quiet, but all so important, underlying trends we should consider but too often regret, when we forget them in improving our homes.
save money

What are the best ways to save on bills?

Houses are complex and so are people. So when we ask, how can we save money on heating, hot water or electricity bills, the answer will likely not be so simple either. For example take conservation: a commitment to using less. If it is the only thing we do, it is often cast aside like a failed New Year's resolution when we realize it means being uncomfortable too. Are you handy? Great, but fix one thing in your home such as some insulation, or a window, you might miss crucial air sealing or an almost dead furnace. Like I said, houses are complex. It's been said that knowledge is power but I say only when it results in action! I will also add that action without knowledge can lead to trouble or at least a solid waste of time! That's why a home energy assessment is such a great investment. Keep in mind though, that assessments on their own have never saved anyone a penny. Fixing the problem does. It has also been said that the home is where the heart is, right? So let's pretend houses are like people. When you have chest pain do you go to a surgeon and get your heart swapped out for a new one? Or maybe, to save a few bucks, find a fly-by-night specialist that will do it for half price? Of course not, you get a check-up first, maybe a physical. Hey, maybe its heartburn (we tend to eat a lot this time of year). A physical helps establish a plan of action. Consider starting with a home energy assessment, one that means something, not a rating or a clipboard audit, a physical for your home, one that you can act on! Some fixes might be as easy as grabbing the antacid. But keep in mind fixing just one thing can be like taking medicine, you have to watch the side effects. Take a look at the whole picture, for efficiency and comfort's sake!
toolbox

What is the best tool in your toolbox?

At GreenHomes America we take great pride in the tools we use, and since we use all sorts of gadgets Infrared cameras, combustion analyzers, gas leak detectors, It's hard to pick just one, but I think the Blower door would be the best. For those who don't know what a blower door is (don't worry you are not alone) it is a big fan that gets set up in a door of your home and draws air out. When I describe it like that it doesn't sound too exciting, but bear with me. There's a rule when it comes to the air in our homes: what goes out must come in. Capitalizing on this, the blower door measures how leaky your home is overall. The fan won't suck the cat out when you turn it on, but it is strong enough to recreate the effect that a 20mph wind on all sides of the house would be like. A lot of the time we as homeowners know about some of the leaks in our home; the door that won't close right, the drafty room in the back of the house or some of our windows for example. The blower door reveals these leaks but also helps to show us the rest, some we can't see or immediately feel. It captures the total leakage for a house and highlights the leaky recessed lights, the interior wall that is open at the top to the attic, the big space around the chimney connected to the attic and the basement. I know I was only supposed to pick one tool, but if you add an infrared camera to the mix as our energy advisors do, you can actually “see” the cold outside air making its way through areas we thought were sealed up.
kid construction

How can you keep a remodel safe and kid-friendly?

I want a home to be people friendly no matter what age they are. Outlet covers and cabinet locks for the little ones for sure and that's the stuff we take care of after. I think our homes and our remodeling projects should be safe for all of us. Unfortunately sometimes they are not. Really, How we consider health and safety for our children should be the benchmark for us all. Make sure the remodel will be handled well: Lead Paint, vermiculite, asbestos are all materials that can be in older homes. Professionals identify these items and handle them appropriately. A certified home energy advisor looks out for this when looking at a home and when considering remodeling it's a wonderful time to have a comprehensive home assessment. Reconsider what is ‘safe” in the home already: cleaning chemicals under the sink, or stored in a closet. It's part of the air we breathe and that really matters to us at GreenHomes as it should for your kids as well as the entire family. Heating appliances and Carbon Monoxide: furnaces, boilers hot water heaters and ovens can all produce CO. It's good to have them checked by someone who is informed, and to have CO detectors. Certified individuals and companies make this a priority. Make sure that whatever is done is done right and handled well. I always encourage folks looking at remodeling to not lose sight of the big picture, health, safety, comfort through efficiency, all things we want for our kids even us grown up ones!
home improvement career

What career advice do you wish you had been given?

What an exciting question to answer! When it comes to Home Performance, I can honestly say I love the line of work I am in and would encourage anyone interested in following the same path. There are elements in Home Performance that are like detective work or solving a puzzle and you get to provide hands-on solutions for home owners they really appreciate. Home Performance Contracting broadens the traditional definitions of the trades as most people understand them and is focused on improving existing homes for better comfort, health and energy efficiency. There is incredible opportunity right now since it is still a relatively young industry and it certainly feels good to be part of one that actively helps to reduce energy usage and improve the environment. Affordable Comfort Inc. is an organization that has promoted the Weatherization and Home Performance industry and has for over 25 years and is a great resource. They hold regional as well as a national conference every year. The website (affordablecomfort.org) also holds years' worth of presentations from industry experts. Good for folks starting out, looking for a change or are always willing to learn. There has been an increase in the number of training providers available as States develop programs at the local level. I also have seen an increase in courses at the vocational level. Not a training organization, but a notable certification and standards organization the Building Performance Institute (bpi.org) its worth investigating. Of course like in most of the trades, one of the best ways to learn is under the wing of a successful contractor. The same goes for businesses such as HVAC companies who are looking to branch out into Home Performance, consider looking into GreenHomes America, it's what we do. What I know now that wasn't so clear ten or more years ago is that with so many existing homes needing help and new homes being built with the same problems there's no mystery or puzzle to solve, Home Performance is here to stay.
Reuse

How can you creatively reuse or recycle in the home?

Recycle? One of my favorite things is newspaper. It's not a do it yourself project I'm talking about here, its cellulose insulation and we love the stuff. GreenHomes America uses tractor trailer loads of recycled newspaper in the form of cellulose insulation. It is one of the finest retrofit insulations out there because it is inexpensive, is recycled, and can be blown into walls and attics and can really make a difference. Not only will it help insulate, but when installed densely in walls and floors it can help slow down drafts in a home. Another great thing to recycle in the home is all the heat from your shower. There's a nifty device that replaces a section of the drain waste line in a house's plumbing with a copper piece that has a smaller copper coil wrapped on its exterior. After you start your shower and are running hot water down the drain in the process, that copper coil preheats the cold water on its way to the water heater in your home. Instead of dumping all the heat from your shower down the drain now you can preheat the water you are heating up. Here's one that's strange but true: Air. We waste so much in a leaky home. We all need fresh air, but the average home in need of upgrading leaks 2-3 times as much as necessary. Ok maybe this isn't like a soda can that gets recycled into something else, but when we are cooling or heating the air in our home we ought to consider getting a better handle on it keep it where we want it at least. I have to say the biggest thing to retrofit is the home itself. There's no reason to leave behind all of the great homes that have been build in this country. In fact new ones can be just as inefficient and uncomfortable. If we are recycling to save the environment consider a few statements coming from energysavy.com: “For half the cost of a new nuclear power plant, we can retrofit 1,600,000 homes for energy efficiency and save the same amount of energy. Retrofitting the houses would create 220,000 new jobs – that's 90 times more jobs than you'd get from the replacement nuclear power plant” “Retrofitting 75,000 houses would save as much energy as in the Gulf spill.” Maybe not for do-it yourselfers, but if you ask me it's worth doing it for yourself.
buy home

What do home buyers need to know before buying?

We've all heard the phrase “more than meets the eye” and it sure can apply to houses. The decisions we make in choosing a home can be very personal if we intend to spend any time there which is what a home is supposed to be after all. Those outside influences such as neighborhood and community are important but we are often rudderless when it comes to those things that are not easily seen such as the “health of the home”. Home inspectors can tell us a lot but not everything about a home. They are trained to look at many of the components and identify problems. I think of this like getting a basic physical from a doctor. This is an excellent idea and it's a quick overview of a complicated system, your body. A builder is a specialist, so is a plumber so is a heating technician as are most of the trades they can each see what is right or wrong within their specialty. Sometimes we see specialists for particular problems. Do the components of the home work together in unison or fight each other? How do you see comfort? That's right, you can't it is something you feel. Trained GreenHomes America advisors have the ability to assess and describe comfort. The tools and knowledge they bring to a Comprehensive Home Assessment paints a picture of how it all comes together. This is exactly what is not always seen but is definitely felt. I recommend a Comprehensive Home Assessment for every home. Certainly Its about efficiency but just as important it is about your health and safety as well as comfort whether it be hot day or cold night. This kind of assessment really does works for any home because newly built doesn't automatically mean trouble free. Before you commit to a place called home, get a look into your future there and really get a sense of what it might feel like to live there as well as whether or not it might break the bank just trying to stay comfortable.
media home improvement

How does the media portray home improvement?

As far as I can tell “reality” is not synonymous with “television”. And “reality TV” is really an oxymoron, like “jumbo shrimp”. I suppose home improvement shows can help you learn how to do something or maybe hire someone to do something for you, but what I find missing is the good thinking behind it all. What is really important in a place we call Home? Not to downplay the importance of aesthetics in our lives, but most of the home improvement I see on TV or in magazines is focused on some form of eye candy. The nitty-gritty world of fixing a home is not often discussed. And even though President Obama declared insulation sexy a few years back, not too many seem to agree. And that's only half of it, insulation isn't the only thing we might need to put on a good show. In Home Performance Contracting GreenHomes America Partners focus on aspects of home improvement that many contractors don't, such as heating systems and insulation and ventilation and how they interact. Do windows really make you more comfortable or are there greater gains for less money to be had elsewhere? That's the nut to crack: What makes us comfortable and how can we afford it. With that, improving our homes needs to include health and safety as well as energy efficiency considerations. Too often we remodel, saving all our money for the frosting and unwittingly made a horrible cake in the process. The result is a home that is uncomfortable, expensive to live in and potentially dangerous but hey it looks good! Buildings are complicated and remodeling by nature is too, maybe we could change the way home improvement is portrayed on TV with a little flash and sex appeal? I'm thinking trained building scientists talking shop in revealing fiberglass apparel… on second thought, maybe not. Media may not focus on what is really important in a remodeling a home, but I'm happy to be stay in the ugly duckling category. Comfortably!
natural disaster

How can homeowners protect from natural disasters?

Mother nature negatively impacts our homes and indoor environment in many ways, and certainly building or retrofitting to deal with these extreme cases is important whether it is for protection against fire, high water or seismic and wind loads. More subtle and possibly more dangerous is the impact on our indoor environment. A recent study from the Institute of Medicine identifies how climate change affects the environment in our homes which has an impact on our nation's health. It is Ironic that when the weather gets worse, we seek shelter indoors from extremes outside and in doing so still potentially put our health at risk. It is also reassuring that as a Home Performance contractor our work on homes is just what the “doctor ordered”. Most of the issues raised in the report are exactly the things we keep an eye out for with health and safety in mind. Every job we do starts and finishes with testing to ensure your home is a safe haven. The report identifies 5 major issues: Indoor Air quality: People don't think all the cleaning chemicals under the sink amount to much but they can. We tend to leave all sorts of chemicals in our homes, leave connections to garages full of thing we shouldn't breathe. We also have combustion appliances in our home which left un-checked can cause issues with CO. Our advisors keep an eye out for these conditions, it's an integral part or health and safety for us. Dampness and Moisture: Extreme weather conditions outside lead to more frequent issues in our homes as water gets in where it shouldn't. Cooling systems can contribute to moisture issue if not handled properly and certainly basements and crawlspaces do too. There are fixes for spaces with moisture issues that we sometimes ignore until it's too late. Bugs and Bugs: weather and climate change can influence infectious diseases and pests and expanding the area where they flourish. A new “bug in town” will lead to new exposure for some of us and possibly an increase in pesticides previously not used before. Moisture in our home can lead to issues with mold and other pests. A home should be a healthy haven not a petri dish. Thermal Stress: High heat especially for those not prepared or more susceptible such as the elderly, will experience thermal stress almost exclusively inside. With temperature extremes come power outages compromising our ability to run cooling systems. Treating our buildings by insulating against the heat helps buffer your home. Building Ventilation, Weatherization and Energy use: As we experience climate change and weather extremes it gives us good reason to weatherize but it must be handled with expertise and always with a mind towards health and safety. No longer can we tighten up a home or insulate it without thinking about the whole house. GreenHomes America makes sure that every home is left a healthier home at job's end. Fixing “old” buildings with new methods can create new problems. Being a BPI accredited company means we are committed to quality and accountability. A comprehensive Home Assessment with solutions provided to you from our team of experts will offer the safest answers to the ever changing environment inside.
obligation green

Should professionals promote the green movement?

You might think GreenHomes America would offer nothing but pure “greenness” for our customers and cry out from the rooftops trying to convert the masses. We work darned hard to educate consumers. But we temper it with focused and realistic goals. We're home improvement specialists, not public transportation or organic farming experts. “Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing the right thing.” ~Isaac Asimov. We do offer “greenness” for our customers. That said, there are times when our recommendations for a homeowner might not align with what others consider green. And it's not just about what materials you choose. Healthy and safe, energy efficient and long lasting solutions to homes are what we promote. These are also important green attributes. In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current. ~Thomas Jefferson Taking a whole-house approach, we have the practical ability to reduce most homes' energy use by 50%, and by pushing things, by up to 80%. We think almost every home should aim for significant reduction to perform better. But what if they can only afford the first step, rather than the whole enchilada? What if they only want to make a few improvements rather than everything possible? What if, to correct a health and safety issue, we actually have to increase energy use? These are easy questions for us to answer. As long as we make our customers' homes better, safer, more comfortable, or more energy-efficient, we see it as the right thing to do. Our obligation is to give customers good information and help that act on it. Spending a lot of time trying to push homeowners to recycling, riding their bikes to work or supporting local farms isn't something we're good at. We like these things, but we're neither the right nor the most effective messenger. As a company we have to pay our employees, pay our rent, and keep our own (fluorescent) lights on to start another day and save more energy in another home. We realize we can't do it all, and we're comfortable in that skin. Do we practice what we preach? In our own homes, many in our company are truly pushing the envelope of what's possible in home energy upgrades. At work we just completed a lighting upgrade in our Syracuse office. Despite that fact that we're in leased property, we're working with our landlord to improve the overall efficiency of the building. We recycle. We know we can do even better, and we continue to find ways to do just that. And that's the right path forward.
home improvement technology

How is technology affecting the way we live at home?

The clapper never quite worked for me. I'd knock a book of the side table or the dog would bark and the room would go dark, but it sure seemed like a good idea. I will say there are technological advancements that do work, some that we recommend on a regular basis. Many of them seem to be things we're not supposed to notice. Lighting we do notice and it gets better every day. For efficiency sake CFL's are great but LED technology has moved along greatly CREE makes a recessed light kit that works well looks great and reduces electrical use, we like these and have mentioned them many times in our regular blog. Heating systems certainly get better all the time. High efficiency boilers and furnaces have fairly complicated controls on the inside and this allows them to reach efficiencies up in the 90% range. Thermostats with controls that allow for setback work well and have been around, but there are now options to control all sorts of things in your home from heating and cooling to lighting as well as other devices. For the energy geek there are plug in meters they allow you to be your own energy police. that will display usage in real time. The end goal is possibly tying this into or using a smart meter to keep tabs of usage. Raw data may not be too interesting to most, but the promising future will be smart usage that we don't need to tend to and home control that interacts with a "smart grid". It is here now, and for the right investment you can control you whole home from your phone, just incase you forgot to turn off the coffee pot.
renters

How will our homes change in the next 5-10 years?

If we ask the question what will the price of heating oil or natural gas be in the next 5 or 10 years or electricity if we start using more electric cars, we get a sense of what we need Design and Construction in our homes to be. If we don't change how we look at what is important in housing we may not be able to afford them for the long term. As a Home Performance contractor, we find the same problems in new homes you might expect to see only in older ones. Air leakage, lack of or poor insulation, comfort issues, inefficient heating systems with poor distribution are all common in the newest of construction. There has been change in design and construction towards efficiency, comfort and conscientious building. We are finally coming to a point where outside pressures such as limited building resources, illness indoor air quality issues, as well as the instability of the price of heating our homes may force us to reconsider what is important. I hope design and construction will take a turn for the better for our health, safety, comfort as well as our wallets when he heat and cool these homes, it needs to happen. Put the fancy counter-tops and other luxuries in later. What we need are homes with good insulation and air barriers, deal with moisture well, have efficient heating and cooling equipment sized to accommodate the reduced demand because of an exceptional building envelope. This is our goal when we fix existing homes and can really only be achieved when we take a house as a system approach to building. I do not wish for the construction of homes to continue in the ‘just adequate' fashion that potentially creates un-healthy and inefficient buildings. Building to code is the bare minimum standard. It might be seen as good for business for GreenHomes America to carry on in the usual fashion since each home built this way is one that we could fix in the next 5 to 10 years, but the fact is there is plenty of work already for many years to come. The future holds comfort, health and safety wrapped up in efficiency. Homes as they should be: a safe haven new or old.

Awards

Home Expert Awards: Home Improvement on Television

There’s nothing wrong with a good TV remodel, although tearing into a home and seeing it magically transformed in such a short time doesn’t really reveal all the trials or expense incurred, but we can dream can’t we? TV is all about escape isn’t it? Since our focus is on comfort, health, safety and energy efficiency our projects tend to be a little less flashy and smaller too. We don’t turn a house upside down just to improve it. Over the last few years we did have some significant projects as part of a Deep Energy Retrofit study in upstate New York. It was the stuff of TV for sure, retrofitting exterior walls over existing ones, adding new siding, windows, high tech heating and ventilation equipment, working top to bottom, we even dubbed the projects “extreme energy makeovers.” This isn’t our everyday kind of work though