Home Performance Simplified
Home Performance is the belief that buildings can and should be made safe, comfortable, durable, and energy-efficient. Putting building performance into practice requires a whole-house perspective. Having a certified contractor measure, calculate, and analyze a building, allows them to better understand the way your specific structure works and operates in order to recommend the best way to improve it without off-setting the balance of how it effects you.
“If you don’t test, you don’t know.”
Ask an insulation contractor, a heating tech, and a window salesperson the best way to warm up a cold room, and you may get three different answers. But a building performance contractor takes a whole-house perspective to assess the problem’s causes and propose the most effective solution. Understanding the “house as a system” also allows building performance contractors to solve problems like chimney back-drafting that arise from interactions between the building’s shell and mechanical systems.
Building scientists use a diagnostic approach to problem solving. Experience and observation, coupled with pressure diagnostics, infrared imaging, and combustion analysis, allow them to diagnose and correct the most challenging building performance problems.
The difference between an average house and a high-performance house often comes down to a contractor’s willingness to “sweat the small stuff” that the customer never sees like air sealing, insulation, and ductwork.
The core concept is an emphasis on measurable results from performance testing. Performance testing also assures the customer that they have a safe, comfortable, durable, and efficient building when the work is completed.
Brief History of Home Performance
Soaring energy prices, increasingly violent weather patterns, indicators of climate change, and global initiatives make it clear that sources of sustainable energy must be tapped and utilized. Our technologically advanced society can, and should, use its collective intelligence to develop long-term solutions that preserve our planet and its ecosphere.
Efficiency and Reduced Consumption
Immediate impacts on energy use can be realized by implementing energy efficiency measures. When properly applied, reducing building energy use can increase comfort, health, and safety of building occupants. Lifestyle changes are sometimes required for the reduction of energy consumption, but the combined benefits of reducing energy cost and global impact are compelling reasons to make small changes to a daily routine. Increasingly, technologies are available to help with these changes: remote control systems can automatically shut off power to reduce phantom load (a contributor to baseload energy) , and programmable thermostats can be used in a sophisticated way to reduce heating and cooling loads when a building is unoccupied and the energy is not needed.
Applying Energy Efficiency
Specifically for buildings, applying energy efficiency means taking a whole-building approach to how energy is consumed. This process is applicable to buildings of all sizes.
The Whole-Building Approach
Energy within a building is consumed as part of a whole, and changing one element of a building’s energy use can impact others. For example, weatherizing a building by applying air sealing and insulation will reduce the heating and cooling loads. This, in turn, can enable the use of smaller heating and cooling systems, which use energy more effectively and further reduce the energy load of a building.
The thermally conditioned area within a building (its envelope) needs to be properly insulated and its air flow controlled before other measures involving air exchange are taken. This critical step can include modifications to doors, windows, wall or attic insulation, or weatherstripping.
Baseload is the consistent energy load of a building, independent of outside temperature (heating or cooling). It is useful to separate baseload from temperature-dependent loads to identify which energy loads are greatest, and determine where to target energy-reducing measures. Some contributors to baseload could be appliances, lighting, and cooking equipment.
Heating and Cooling
Depending on geographic location and building use, heating and cooling can be a significant part of a building’s energy use. These loads are directly tied to the performance of the building envelope, and efforts to increase efficiency in heating and cooling often result in a marked improvement in the comfort of a building’s occupants.
When targeting energy reduction with the goal of reducing impact on the earth’s climate, it is important to consider which portions of a building’s energy comes from fossil fuels. To produce the biggest impact on carbon footprint reduction, the priority is on the reduction or elimination of fossil fuel consumption, in addition to reducing consumption overall. It is easier to convert some types of energy (electricity, for example) to renewable sources than others.
Geothermal, biomass, solar, wind energy, and hydropower technologies are continuing to be developed to replace fossil fuels as primary energy sources. To enact the energy goals of President Barack Obama for the United States to use 10% of its electrical energy from renewable sources by 2012, and 25% by 2025, these technologies will require substantial additional development to be adopted into the mainstream. We expect to see continued innovation in available technologies, both for energy generation and its application to our buildings, vehicles, and overall energy consumption.