Would You Like 3″ of Insulation with that?

I think everybody has experienced an upsell. Upselling is a time tested way to increase the size of the sale. And don’t we all love french fries. However, an upsell on insulation just might not be what you need. We are going to look at the issue of upselling insulation but first I have to make fun of companies that pitch insulation as part of some other upgrade. Get a new roof. “how about an extra layer of insulation while we are here?” Get some A/C work in the attic.  “let us add some insulation while we are here.”

Simply put, this is not a good idea, unless your attic has been retrofitted already to stop air leaks. Air leaks are a serious defect. Especially in the attic which can be cut up with lighting and plumbing chases and chimney chases. Many older homes have cut up ceilings from extensive remodeling. These add gaps through which air leaks gallop.

chimney chase diagram around block chimney

This look down vertical view  illustrates the chimney chase which provides the actual gap required between the ceiling joists and the brick fireplace chimney. This is a huge air gap and must be sealed properly to prevent air leaks of conditioned air. The actual joint configuration is trivial and not representative of actual construction. 

Adding insulation without solving the air leaks just makes it more difficult to solve the air leaks later, because insulation has to be moved to treat the areas leaking. More on air leaks here. Oh, and air leaks contribute to an unhealthy home. Like making people sick, and sick or unhealthy people sicker.


Selling up in this situation is good if there is a sound basis for implementation based in building science. Selling up for an air leakage test and sealing air leaks and adding insulation in the ceiling is good- is righteous work, helping, if administered as part of a professional energy assessment.

Home performance is a new term here – home performance relates to how much air your home leaks, how well it is actually insulated as per real measurements and building science. Seeing your home through “home performance” eyes, means understanding why your home has a problem with being too hot or too cold, or understanding your home might have a  moisture problem in summer through the principals of building science and not just time for a bigger A/C unit or a new dehumidifier. This is important… and you need to be able to separate the facts from the BS…. you have to pick out the contractor offering you home performance not “would you like some insulation with that”

That clarification made, I will go back and continue my bashing. The “add-on insulation with that” is becoming a staple in the services industry perpetrated by the big insulation companies- Owens Corning- they sell the blowing equipment to service companies and give them a deal and they can add on an easy “profit center” and you get the 3 inches of insulation and the shaft.

The proper application of insulation is important and there is an optimum level to the insulation you might need. If all these concerns are addressed, then maybe some insulation with your order of a new roof makes sense. But make sure it works for you and not just to creating a new “profit center”

Oh, and addressing the air leaks and lack of insulation at attic access door is critical move. Make sure you understand what is good for you, and not just what is good for improving profits for the service company. We will all small companies profits, but a profitable existence based on servicing customers actual needs.

Any questions, any comments, feel free to add them below.

Posted in air leak perils, energy saving strategies, Finding Quality Service People

How do you parse your relationship between an energy auditor and a AC service company? 

This is an excellent question and no easy or glib answers should be accepted. We will be constantly working on this website to clarify the issues for you of which you need to be aware. However, the exact expert you use will be based on whom you trust for a good share of what will happen.  All issues mentioned here are important and we need to beware the man with the hammer who sees all problems as a nail.

There are issues here that are the bailiwick of the HVAC technician. Other issues need to be dealt with by an energy assessor who might be working as a sub for a HVAC service company. It does not matter, just do not let someone glib turn you away from fundamentals and sell you something that makes a great sale but is not in your best interest as a consumer.

You need a trusted HVAC tech for regular maintenance of Mechanical Equipment.

You will need to depend on your trusted HVAC technician to help you stay abreast of how well your HVAC equipment is doing longevity and performance wise. HVAC mechanical systems are sophisticated and highly tuned pieces of machinery under constant stress of load bearing mechanical motion and the stresses of heating and cooling. They need regular attention. You need to understand the merits of a regular maintenance plan. LINK

But an energy assessment of your home is a critical part in the design of your next HVAC system.

It doesn’t matter who does it but an assessment needs to be done, and the results integrated into the design of your next HVAC system strategy. Making sure air leaks are minimized, and  insulation levels are optimized and any issues with solar heat gain are addressed. These critical  structural defects must be removed, before you invest in HVAC systems because the heat load and  cooling load directly impact the optimal design configuration for your home.  Proper design impacts the effectiveness of your system, your comfort level and the increased value of your smart investment in your HVAC system.

You must choose your expert to help with duct issues.

You also need to choose the expert, HVAC service company or energy assessment to understand how well your duct system is performing. There are lots of issues with ducts which too often get ignored.

related: Have you already taken an exploratory adventure into your attic to look at your ducting? or maybe the ducts are in the crawlspace? Crawlspaces have their own challenges for you.

You will also depend on your trusty HVAC technician to test your differential temperatures from the heating source- your air handler to the temperature of the air delivered to the vents of your home. This is a critical measure of insulation in the ducts and is also a function of the ability of air to travel effectively through the duct system.

Air balance is a big issue too. Proper air flows are essential to keep you comfortable and to properly handle moisture issues in your home. We talk about air balance issues when we talk about how experts assess the actual HVAC system.

We have not really given any definitive answers about whom to call here, but tried to outline some critical issues that need proper attention. The actual layers of expertise in these matters crosses over between technical approaches, but the fundamentals must be addressed and do not let anyone give you short shrift on topics that lay at the peripheries of their prime focus.  We discuss the issue- just whom should you call with a comfort problem here and you get to parse these issues yourself.

We talk through a useful process for deciding when to upgrade an air conditioner here. LINK

Do you have a question? Do you have an opinion? Feel free to add it below.

Posted in HVAC - Heating and Cooling, link needed Tagged with: , ,

You need a schematic detail and a useful work specification in your next Contract

Whenever you hire someone to work for you, you need to have a complete understanding of the work specifications. This often gets overlooked in the happy talk and the verbal promises made and you then end up with what actually what is included in the signed agreement.

Proper specifications are essential as to what quality trade practices demand; and help you make sure that is what you are getting. There are things you might feel are too trivial for this, and that is your decision; but a written spec adds clarity, alleviates unrealistic expectations, and certainly helps with verification. Of course, this is just one key step in finding the right contractor. We discuss selecting contractors here.

Even simple projects like adding a new entry door, replacing windows- there is a manufacturer’s specification that comes with it. You need to include these in the contract, you need to understand them, and you need a method of verification that the installation specs were met.

The conscientious contractor will be happy to oblige. They like it when home owners call out skill and details rather than a fixation on lowest price. They are proud of their skills and customer care. It is too bad, but caring about customers is not as commonplace as you might think- I am talking about actions here, not happy talk. Actions speak louder than words when you pay attention.

When you address work specifications, you are underlining that you care and are aware.

Keeping leaks out of windows have become such a problem in the last decade or so, that building standards have really ramped up to keep water out of walls. Engineered wood is loved by mold, and mold finds a wet leaky section of wall a lovely place to grow. We go into exceptional detail on openings in the walls here.

The water control layer in your home is a perfect example of the necessity of work specifications. There is an exact spec for sloped roofs and for every type of protrusion through your roof and a detail for every transition to siding or roof ending. You can check out roofing details here as an example.

Roofs do not leak that are built to the specifications of the National Roofing Contractors association or our own local branch- the North Texas Roofing Contractors Association or the specifications of the Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association. The trouble starts when the contractor you hire makes their own rules and sets their own standards. We discuss roofing in much greater detail here.

Sidewalls in Texas also have problems with leaking and creating mold in walls. The design of the water shedding layers on a wall is called the drainage plane. We discuss the drainage plane again when we are talking about the ways water gets into your home structure.  When stuff gets done for expediency and convenience and speed vs. the long term reliability of your home; problems occur.

Problems happen because someone is working without a specification or not being held to the specification. Bad stuff happens more often when people get in a hurry and are not held acountable for the quality of their work.

Your level of concern and your degree of pickiness, of course, will relate to the degree of risk involved- putting brick borders around the oak tree incorporates less risk than brick repairs in a sidewall of your home… and this matters. This is your choice, but accurate building specifications, understood by you, with a plan in place to verify; will give you fewer headaches and not hurt the feelings of the quality contractor at all. In fact, he or she will be pleased that you care and that you noticed.

The quality of the work that gets done depends on whom you hire. We discuss a to-do list before hiring a contractor or remodel here.

Have a question or a comment? Add it below.

Posted in Finding Quality Service People, Home Structural Issues, roofing Tagged with:

Some basic Roofing Mistakes to Avoid

There are several routine crimes committed against roofs out of expediency that should never be done. They do get done, because a homeowner wants to believe a fantasy, and a contractor is willing to do something mediocre just to get the job. So don’t do these.

Existing roofing should never be covered over in a reroofing situation.

You see this done with asphalt shingles to ostensibly save a few bucks now and then, but it is against code, it covers up potential problems with the decking and the roof just does not last as well.

Critical flashing areas can just be nailed over rather than properly flashed with proper flashing metals. A chimney flashing will be much worse off after a recover than with the original roof. The valley flashing on a chimney is a critical point of risk and adding a recover here is at least doubling your chances of really serious problems right from day one of a recover.

Asphalt shingles work really well when it  is well supported against a solid  flat deck.  Recovering over the existing levels the new shingles poorly supported over the roiled surface of the existing shingles.

The recover can trap moisture, cause the new materials not to lay properly and, if push comes to shove, you basically have no warranty.

We also have to be very sensitive to slope.

Any slope flatter the 3:12 which means a 3 foot elevation gain for every 12 feet of surface run… is the flattest slope that works with the standard spec for sloped roofing. You see roofers on occasion flirting with low slopes. Maybe it is s remodel, and the roofer is a roofer in name only, but you see people putting on roofing and adding an extra layer of underlayment, maybe, to help keep water out.

Once upon a time there were roofing specifications for low slope roofing that called for a double layer of underlayment.  But you don’t want this. If you get into a low slope situation, you want a waterproof specification just like for a flat roof.  With a low slope spec, you are hoping the water runs off before the water soaks through. Particularly, if you have a lot a long slope to drain, makes the situation even worse.

There are new self sticking membranes used in sensitive areas of the roofing that reseal themselves around nailheads, but this is not as good as using a roofing spec designed to keep out water.

Your good old standard roof spec can run into low slope situations as part of the roof slope configuration. Different slopes can be tricky, particularly in a situation where a roofer is moving at high speed; say, new construction. Make sure you also see the discussion on getting the roofing details right.

You might want to check out the page on the problem home.  If you have a chronic problem and the contractor is making excuses, then you might have a problem home with unique little structural traps build right in. Check out the at risk  home here.

What did I miss? 

Do you have a question or a comment; feel free to speak up. What you say might help someone make a better decision.


Posted in roofing

Climate Zone Information for North Texas

This website discusses home comfort issues as they relate to Texans living in North Texas. See the map below for a general geographic grounding. We are discussing zone 3 on this website. This climate zone is considered warm and mild in nature. Weather on any day can get wild, but on the average, our zone is described as warm and mild.

It is essential you know and understand your climate zone and the implications it has on your comfort level and the ability of your home to keep you comfortable without wasting energy.  A critical attribute of zone 3 is high humidity. Now, South Texas is much more humid, but we are impacted by humidity here in North Texas. More on this below. And North Texas is a cooling dominated climate. We spend more energy for cooling than heating. More on that later.

Here is a climate zone map of  North Texas from the 2009 IECC – International Energy Conservation Code. Cities and zone information have been added for orientation.

It is important to know, if you are visiting outside this zone, the information on this website might not be appropriate for you. Also, be careful at other websites. Make sure what you are reading makes sense to you where you live. You can find helpful information at the IECC site

Here in the United States we have huge variation in climates. We can’t get much colder than an iceberg called Minnesota. It doesn’t get much more balmy than South Texas, Southern California and South Florida. Here is Texas we can live in any of 5 climate variations. Therefore each zone has climate characteristics that must be addressed. In the south it is hot humid conditions. In the North, the big issue is nasty cold weather.

The climate you live in impacts the challenges you face to protect your home and save energy. Your climate determines  how big a moisture problem you have, how big an energy challenge you have during a heating season and/or a cooling season.

Your latitude relates to length of daylight and the inclination of the sun over the year. The location of the sun and your own solar orientation in your home and window layout impacts the solar loading of your home and your comfort level and should impact home design.

The critical issues that make a difference here are based on temperature and average humidity.

A little orientation-  an energy load for a particular climate is rated in heating degree days and cooling degree days.

The daily average temp is taken from the high temp and low temp, then averaged. That number is subtracted from 65 degrees – the chosen temperature of comparison- and that number is the degree day. If the average temperature is hotter than 65 that number is added to the list of Cooling Degree Days, and if the daily average temperature is below 65 degrees it is added to the heating degree days.

Ten days of daily average temperature of 40 degrees would give you (65-40) x 10 or 250 HDD – heating degree days. The CDD is similar but would be calculated on the temperature above 65 degrees.

Humidity needs special attention here.

Here in North Texas, we are in a cooling dominant climate- which probably does not surprise you. Humidity is another big factor to take into account in North Texas Here is a chart of average low and high relative humidity taken from average data from the DFW Airport weather reporting station over the last several years.


The daily average low (blue) and high (red) dew point with percentile bands (inner band from 25th to 75th percentile, outer band from 10th to 90th percentile).

The daily average low (blue) and high (red) dew point with percentile bands (inner band from 25th to 75th percentile, outer band from 10th to 90th percentile).

I swiped this great humidity map from WeatherSpark.com.  This implications of high humidity are huge. How well your home- your structure and your mechanical systems handle moisture dictates how healthy your indoor air is- how comfortable you are in your home and contributes to musty smells. You can gain a valuable perspective on moisture and humidity and dewpoint here.

Your home is unique. It is essential that changes you plan for your home reflect the climate we have in North Texas, the solar issues we face, and that solutions offered to you address these given conditions.

Beware of canned solutions and magical products. We discuss this issue here. 

Any questions or thoughts?  Add your comment below.

Posted in energy saving strategies, Moisture and humidity Issues
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