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COMFORT SAGA: The journey to being comfortable in my own home.

It’s fall outside; the leaves are turning, the kids just went trick or treating, and the furnaces are firing up for the first time since early spring.  I come inside from taking down the Halloween decorations to find the rest of my family curled up in front of the fireplace with a mug of hot chocolate.  I only get a moment to bask in this familial bliss before the reality of their fireplace huddle becomes painfully clear; “my room is freezing,” “the floors are cold,” “The thermostat is set to 68 degrees but it feels like 60 degrees in here.”  The hopes and dreams of my young family are dependent on me to get our older house up to snuff.  It definitely helps that I’m a co-owner of a home performance contracting business.  Like many mechanics who keep their customers’ cars running perfectly, I need to become a customer myself.  With flashlight in hand, I set off to answer three questions that have the greatest impact on our indoor comfort level during the winter months.

 

QUESTION #1

HOW WELL CAN MY HOUSE HOLD IN THE HEAT?

I have a gas furnace, so essentially I’m heating the air inside the house to heat everything else.  Naturally I want to keep a hold on this heated air and not let it escape to heat the great outdoors.

  • Making the house air tight is the foundation of any other work relating to comfort. That draft from the door weatherstripping you feel when you’re sitting in your easy chair is air leakage.
  • Insulation only works when the heated air sits on the drywall and conducts its heat through. If the air just flows right out of the house, what good did the insulation do?
  • Air is sneaky so you have to be as well in order to figure out where it’s coming and going.

Insulation levels are also really important to the comfort equation.  In my case I have only 4”-6” in the attic, the walls have about 1.5,” and the crawlspace has nothing.  No wonder the kids are cold!

  • Getting those levels up to par will keep the interior surfaces of the house warmer, keeping our bodies from trying to do that.
  • We give off our body heat if the walls and furniture around us are colder, and this also makes us feel cold!

QUESTION #2

IS THE HEAT DISTRIBUTED EVENLY THROUGHOUT THE HOUSE?

Heat distribution in my house is done via metal ducting in the crawlspace and attic that carry the air back and forth to the furnace to be heated.  The problem for me is that this system of ductwork is made up of many smaller pieces, each with seams and connections that leak air when the furnace is running.  That means I’m paying for the furnace to blow heat into my crawlspace instead of inside the house.

  • Keep the heated air in the duct work by sealing the seams and connections of all of those individual pieces.
  • The ducts are made of metal which is a great conductor of heat in a cold crawlspace. By the time the air gets all of the way back to my master bedroom, it’s cooled way off.  Insulation on the ducts helps the air stay warmer while on its way to the final destination.

The most surprising fact is that I make the house perform worse just by closing doors!  The door closure stops some of the air flow from getting back to the return ducting.

  • Keeping doors open is the best thing, but if they are to stay closed make sure that there is a good ¾” gap between the bottom of the door and the floor so you can still have flow.

QUESTION #3

IS MY INDOOR HUMIDITY A PROBLEM?

Our skin is very sensitive to the humidity of the air around us.  You’ve heard people say “It may be 90° outside, but at least it’s a dry heat.”

  • Low relative humidity (drier air) makes us feel cooler because the sweat from our skin easily evaporates.
  • Most of us prefer the humidity to be around 45-55% to be comfortable. In the Pacific Northwest we’re usually in that range.
  • If it is out of that range; it can be because there is a water leak, large amounts of air leakage, or improper ventilation.

It’s important to always remember that the house works as a system; a highly efficient furnace doesn’t make much of an impact if the ducts leak like crazy and there’s no good insulation anywhere.

  • There is also no such thing as a cure-all that will solve the comfort challenges for everyone.

WHAT CAN I DO?

  • Have an inspection done by a Home Performance Contractor who has your best interests in mind.
  • All houses are different. They can help you determine what your house needs – and then create a prioritized ‘punch list’ of measures to make your indoor comfort level just right.
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