Capitalizing on energy-saving opportunitiesBy the same token, small decisions that can add little or no cost when a home is being designed, like how it is oriented toward the sun, have huge benefit and are impossible to do later on. Once a home is built, you are left with much smaller opportunities, like plugging air leaks.Here’s to small opportunities! This week we complete to our two-part series on finding and fixing air leaks in existing buildings (read Top 10 Air Leaks in Existing Homes — Part 1). After downplaying the importance of this topic I’ll say that I consider attention to air leaks in existing homes and buildings an essential issue, for reasons I covered last time: huge effects on durability, heating and cooling costs, and air quality. Getting an energy audit and sealing air leaks can reduce heating bills by a lot and help you breathe easierYour caulk and spray foam can are ready to go — where to look for leaks? The first five noteworthy air leaks I named were: 1) The chimney case, 2) Light fixtures and plumbing, 3) Interior wall cavities, 4) Windows and doors, and 5) Basement masonry and sills.Now we’ll look at the rest , in no particular order. 8) Attic hatch or doorIt’s very common for an attic door to not have any weatherstripping, and to badly leak air due to the pressure dynamics just discussed. Getting that door really tight through weatherstripping or other means should be a top priority in any home. 9) Behind stuffNearly every home has a place, or several, where the drywall or plaster on an interior wall is missing, and a lot of air is leaking through the exterior sheathing and the insulation. If you’re saying “not in my home,” think about not the obvious places, but behind stuff. Three common places: behind a bathtub, or tub or shower surround; above wall cabinets in the kitchen soffit; or inside any built-in cabinets. If you have a chance to access these spots and add drywall — great. If you can’t reach them, try isolating them from the interior with caulking, foam, and other tools. 6) The floorLeakage point #6 harkens back to #3: interior walls. Because of how houses are framed, particularly balloon-frame houses (built up until the mid-1950s), interior walls communicate with the floor structure, which communicates with the exterior wall, often at a location with no insulation or air seal. Floor systems, particularly at the second story, communicate with exterior wall cavities, and often these areas are uninsulated or poorly insulated.If insulated with spray-in cellulose, for example, an installer has to take special care, often with the “grain bag” technique, in which an empty bag is inserted along the floor joist cavity, just inside from the exterior wall, and filled with cellulose, “plugging” the joist cavity. Without the grain bag, that part of the wall is likely to go uninsulated.If your floor not only feels cold but you also get drafts of air blowing at you through cracks or through old heating vents, consider hiring a contractor to look at insulation, and use using caulk, spray foam, rigid roam pieces, or simply floor repair to reduce those issues. From an energy-efficiency standpoint, the trouble with owning an old home is that you’re stuck with whatever bad decisions the previous owners made, and historical trends also tend to work against you. The trouble with building a new home is that you are the one that is going to make the bad decisions.The best opportunity to make important decisions that will deliver energy efficiency for the life of the home is during design. There is rapid diminution of these opportunities during construction and then during use of the home. 7) Wall penetrationsHoles cut in the wall, both interior and exterior, for electrical boxes and other penetrations are often responsible for a fair amount of air leakage. If this is a problem for you (and on a cold, windy day it should be easy to tell), it’s easily worth a few bucks to buy foam inserts at the hardware store to tighten them up. (For more on this, and some debate, see More Energy Myths.)If you don’t notice a problem and it’s not a windy day, the reason may be something called the neutral pressure plane. Because warm air rises, air is trying to force its way out at the top of your house (positive pressure), while air is trying to force its way in at the bottom (negative pressure). Somewhere in the middle of the house, you have neutral air pressure. At the neutral pressure plane, you could open a window (or have a leaky outlet) and not notice any air coming or going.The location of the neutral pressure plane changes all the time due to wind and other factors, but in general there is more air moving in the basement or attic, and electrical boxes in the middle of the house are a minor (but noteworthy) issue. 10) Wood-to-wood connectionsAnywhere wood meets wood in a home is a place where air can move. If you can’t see light, that doesn’t mean it’s tight. Common culprits are wood paneling on cathedral ceilings, the crack between the baseboard and the floor, and where pieces of window trim meet each other or the window. Delving deeper into the walls, common problem areas (if you can access them) are at the top and bottom plates, where wood framing meets other wood framing components. Again, get out that caulk gun and go to town — looking especially for problem areas that are high or low within the building.Feeling cold? Send in your questions and comments!Tristan Roberts is Editorial Director at BuildingGreen, Inc., in Brattleboro, Vermont, which publishes information on green building solutions. You can learn more at www.BuildingGreen.com.
PACE financing has friends and foesProponents of PACE financing point to billions of dollars worth of energy efficiency improvements it has made possible. In a guest blog published last year, Jim Barrett of the American Council for an Energy-Efficiency Economy said PACE loans have paid for $3.3 billion in energy upgrades since the program began in 2009.Barrett was responding to an article critical of the program published in The Wall Street Journal, which, he said, compared PACE to the subprime mortgage crisis that led to a crippling recession in 2008.“To date, not a single home has been put into foreclosure because of unpaid PACE assessments,” Barrett wrote. “And less than 1% of homes with PACE assessments have gone into foreclosure for any other reason, a lower rate than the market average. There is not even a shadow of the subprime crisis to be seen.”PACE loans, however, have raised concerns with both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which insure residential mortgages. The Mortgage Bankers Association also has sought changes in the program, and last December, the Federal Housing Administration said it would stop insuring new mortgages on homes with PACE loans because of concerns of inadequate consumer protections for borrowers. Los Angeles County and two private lending partners have been sued by attorneys representing homeowners who say they were talked into taking out loans for energy upgrades but can’t afford them and now risk losing their homes to foreclosure. The Los Angeles Times says the loans were used to pay for solar panels and other efficiency improvements under the Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, program. Loans are repaid with an assessment added to property tax bills, but here the lawsuits claim both the county and the lenders charged inflated interest rates and ignored rules designed to protect borrowers from predatory lending.The two lenders are Renew Financial, which didn’t offer a comment, and Renovate America, which said it found no merit to the complaints. Los Angeles County didn’t respond to a request for comment.The report didn’t say how many separate claims have been filed, but the complaints say the loans amount to financial elder abuse. Borrowers are “living hand-to-mouth to hold onto their homes, fearful of what is yet to come,” the lawsuits allege. Many borrowers have low incomes, are older, or don’t have English as their native language. Rules were toughened in CaliforniaLenders said they checked whether borrowers had previous bankruptcies on file, or missed mortgage payments in the past, but based loans mostly on home equity without checking on how much income borrowers had. Lenders are now required to ask about income and make an effort to confirm that borrowers would be able to repay the loans.Lenders also are now required to talk with homeowners by phone before they sign the loan to make sure they understand the terms.But some homeowners say those protections were not in place when they decided to borrow. The newspaper interviewed Reginald Nemore, described as a disabled, 58-year-old former bus driver who took out a loan from Renovate America for solar panels and attic insulation two years ago. Nemore claims that the contractor who did the work got him to sign for the loan with a smartphone, did not explain how much he would have to repay, and promised a $7,000 government check that never materialized.“If they had let me know from Day One this is what [you are] going to get into … there is no way I would have signed,” he said.Nor did Nemore apparently understand that failing to make payments could lead to foreclosure. Income for Nemore and his wife totals $2,475 in Social Security disability a month, while payments on his PACE loan are $240 a month for 25 years.Although foreclosure is a possibility, both of the lenders named in the suits have said in the past they have never foreclosed on a borrower for non-payment of a PACE loan. Lawyers want class-action status for borrowers who took loans in a three-year period ending last month. The complaints ask that loans be canceled and that any money homeowners have paid on the loans be returned.“We can’t keep up with the number of complaints about this program,” Jennifer H. Sperling, an attorney with Bet Tzedek, told The Times. “This is a systemic problem.” RELATED ARTICLES Congress Weighs Changes to Rules on PACE LoansWhat the Wall Street Journal Got Wrong About PACESetting the PACE for Consumer ProtectionThe FHA Problem with PACETransforming the Real Estate Market
Former Australia captain Michael Clarke said Jasprit Bumrah has the potential to become the best bowler in the world. On Friday, Bumrah rocked Australia with a six-wicket haul which bundled the hosts out for 151 on Day 3 of the Boxing Day Test.Bumrah’s pace was too hot to handle for Australia who crumbled on a deteriorating pitch at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to hand India a massive advantage. India had declared their first innings after scoring 443 for 7.Despite taking a 292-run first innings lead, India chose not to enforce the follow-on. Batting again, India were reduced to 54 for 5 with a lead of 346.Like Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Mayank Agarwal, and Rohit Sharma, India owe their strong position to Jasrpit Bumrah, who has taken 45 wickets in his first year in Test cricket.He is ranked No.1 in ODIs but is 28th in the ICC’s rankings for Test bowlers. But Clarke felt certain that would change soon.”He must be a great guy to play with and to captain. He doesn’t mind the pressure or the expectations. He wants to learn and is a workhorse – not too long before he will become the best bowler in the world,” Clarke said.Former India pacer Javagal Srinath also had rich praise for Bumrah and said his spell on Friday was one of the best ever bowled in Australia. “This would definitely be one of the best spells bowled in Australia. That is what my opinion is. He was unplayable all the way through,” he told MyNation.advertisementSpeaking to the media after the end of day’s play, Bumrah said the wicket was “really slow” in the first session before Rohit Sharma suggested he bowled a full”When I was bowling there [first session], the wicket had become really slow, the ball had become soft, nothing was happening. The last ball before lunch, Rohit [Sharma] was at mid-off. He told me ‘you can try a slower ball like you do in ODI cricket’,” Bumrah told the media in Melbourne on Friday.”I thought, ‘yeah I can give it a go’ as nothing was happening. We thought some of their guys play with hard hands and we wanted to try that and the execution was good on the day.”I was trying to bowl a full, slower ball. I thought maybe it will dip or go to short cover. That was the plan and it worked.”Also Read | Bumrah talks up India domestic cricket after Kerry O’Keeffe’s controversial remarksAlso Read | Jasprit Bumrah does what Waqar, Wasim and Vaas could not doAlso See: