Monday, August 31, 2009

Energy Audit

The City of Austin is requiring an Energy Audit for the sale of any home. While we don't expect to sell any time soon, it raises the question of what an Energy Audit would tell us. Have I done all that I can, or is there more that I can do?

We checked with the City for the list of officially sanctioned auditors, and chose Green Footprint Solutions. They came out on 31 August 2009, and checked everything over. The cost was $499. Thomas Pardue was the inspector.

The inspector walked around the house and checked on the contents of the house generally. Specific attention was given to:
  • Appliances -- check the hot water heaters, the clothes washer and dryer, the dishwasher, the A/C system (both indoors (the fan, furnace and evaporator coils) and outdoors (the compressor).

  • Lighting -- check that all lighting was CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lights).

  • Windows -- check double pane windows.
All these checked out fine. There was a suggestion that some of our appliances, such as the A/C system, which is 6 years old, could be replaced with a more efficient system, but this is always the case.

Next, he checked the insulation in the attic. All he was interested in was if the insulation was adequate, which in our area means R-38 (12 inches of fiber glass insulation). So those places where I have more than that didn't matter.

A pressure test of the A/C duct system went well. He taped over all the duct vents in all the rooms. Then he used a fan to blow into the ducts to see how much air was leaking out into the attic. As expected (since we had the ducts sealed in 19xx), there was no problem with the A/C ducts.

The inspector did notice that the area of the attic over the garage had no insulation, and no radiant barrier. We need to finish this.

The real value of the inspection was a series of Thermographic images. These look at the temperature of the house in the infra-red range, rather than the visible light range. Actually, the camera they had did both visible light and infra-red at the same time, so it is easier to see what the infra-red image shows. Since this was August, it was pretty warm outside, so any problem spots show up as high temperatures. For example, an image of the sky light in the guest bathroom (which is hard to get to directly) showed a temperature of 108.4 degrees on the wooden frame, but this is an extreme case. The main issues are with the metal window frames and the thresholds under the exterior doors.

We might also consider replacing the interior wood doors to the attic and to the hallway utilities. If we could get these to be foam-filled, it might insulate those areas better.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Continuing in the Bamboo Grove

30 August 2009

Continued digging along the fence, and made it to the back corner.

Things were very predictable until I got to the corner. The rock base is fairly level and smooth, and only 6 to 10 inches under the ground level. There was one area where the material just about the rock was pulverized limestone; I've separated that and will get rid of it.

But the corner itself drops way down -- a foot or more. I haven't hit rock yet. I know that the utility people trenched in this area to put the underground power, telephone, and cable wires. I believe the pulverized limestone was the debris from that trenching down into the bedrock. The drop off into the corner is very sharp; in my mind it is artificially sharp, and I believe this is then the result of the trenching tool -- a big rock saw (more like a rock chainsaw).

Which raises the possibility that I am digging in the area with the buried utility lines. Just to be sure, I called the number for marking the utilities -- 1-800-DIG-TESS -- and will wait until they come out to mark where things are supposed to be. They said that would be by Wednesday, so I'll just continue digging next weekend.

Also, I'm going to cut down more of the bamboo, so I can continue with the digging, getting the rocks out of the soil, and improving the soil. I've posted on Craig's List to see if anyone wants the bamboo stalks that I have.

I got a response from Craig's List (a couple, in fact), and someone came by today (Monday 31 Aug) to pick up the bamboo. I used the neighbor's electric chain saw to cut them off just at ground level. It makes a big difference! It is much sunnier now in this area. This gives me the room needed to dig up a larger part. There is still a healthy patch of bamboo over in the other corner. I'm sure it will spread, in time, to reclaim the whole area, but, for now, I can dig up the ground and try to make it a much more fertile area -- more compost, fewer rocks, more uniformly mixed.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Starting along the Fence

2 August 2009

Worked for a couple of hours this weekend, both Saturday and Sunday. Despite the August heat, this work was in the afternoon both days. I'm starting to work back along the fence. If I keep up this pace, I think I could be back to the corner by the end of the month.

The digging is fairly unremarkable. I dig out a section and pull the dirt back into the area where I've already dug it out. As I do that, I separate out the roots and the rocks from the dirt. The rocks go in the wheelbarrow and are taken around to the driveway to, eventually, be gotten rid of. The roots go in a plastic trash can to be recycled by the City (into mulch). The dirt gets shoveled up on the pile to the left in the photo, filling in the area that I've dug out already. As the volume of material that was there is decreased by the rocks and roots, I get more space to work in.

The above photo shows the type of soil I'm digging in. There is a top layer of maybe four inches of brown dirt. This is good soil that we have brought in over the past 20 years. Then there is maybe 2 inches of "sandy loam" as it was called -- a lighter colored dirt that the builder brought in. Underneath that is 3 to 4 inches of native soil -- a combination of dark dirt and light colored limestone rocks. So the top layer has roots that need to be removed; the bottom layer has rocks that need to be removed. In the process, all the dirt that is left is mixed up, along with leaves and such, and then thrown on the pile. It should settle down as the organic material (leaves) decompose, and the soil compacts.

At the same time, on Sunday morning, I took advantage of the lower temperatures and added more insulation to the attic, over the kitchen area -- probably mostly over the utility room. I rolled out another 9 inches of fiberglass roll insulation. Should be R30. This was four packs of 15 inch wide, 25 foot long rolls of insulation. This should take it to about R90 total. The blue Styrofoam are left-over ventilation pieces and the shiny foil is an old water heater blanket. These are left over from other projects, and shouldn't hurt, might help.

My plan at this point is to get a home energy audit, since there is almost no place left to over-insulate in the attic and I'm not sure what else I can do.