Home inspection findings by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck, Professional Real Estate Inspector TREC# 9073

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Green Home Conversion Heating and Cooling Part 2

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I wish that I had my camera on a recent home inspection to show you how badly some of our homes are insulated. This home was in the process of being remodeled, so the interior wall coverings had been removed to expose the wood frame and the sheathing for the exterior wall. There was no insulation in these cavities created by the studs. The home was built in the sixties, and there was a construction paper in place, but this set up does allow heat and air to move through the wall.

In order to make our air conditioning units more effective, we have to control what air is being conditioned, and where that air is going. The ultimate solution is to fill those spaces with insulation, and you will find companies which specialize in this process. It involves cutting holes in your walls to access the cavity to blow in insulation. Then the holes have to be repaired so you do not see a hole every sixteen inches. A homeowner may be able to rent this type of blower, and you can definitely by the insulation, but making so many wall repairs may not look good. My solution for the do it yourselfer would be to cut the holes at the top of the wall to blow the insulation down, then placing crown molding in the room to cover those holes. The one problem with this method could be that fireblocks were put into place, which would mean that some spaces would not be insulated. (You would have to run a wire down your holes to see if the space goes all the way down to the floor.

For most of us this may not be the most affordable option, so let us look at steps we can take which helps us accomplish a tight seal for our home. First look at your window frames on the interior where they meet the sheetrock (or other internal wall covering). During my home inspections, I find many spaces between these two elements. My own home had such a gap. One winter I felt a cold breeze from the window area, when I looked up I saw the gap. This was a simple fix. I bought a silicone caulk for a window. Around windows and doors, you may find gaps too. There is a foam insulation which has one side with an adhesive, so it can be stuck into place. The only problem that I have found with this material is you need to purchase the right size for your door or window. Too big will prevent you from closing the opening, while too small does not work.

A product that I just recently came across was foam insulation for outlet covers. At first, I thought this is just a gimmick; however, when I thought about air flow through a wall, I changed my mind. Think of a brick veneer on a home. At the base there will be weepholes that allow moisture to drain out from the wall (there is a one inch gap between the brick and the sheathing attached to the framing. Air could flow into these holes, and it could make its way to that uninsulated cavity. Your light switch or plug outlet is an opening where that air could flow through. For that reason, I decided to install these foam pieces on my outlet covers. I admit that you may not experience significant heat loss through a cover, but the tighter the home, the less work for your air conditioning system.

There are some spots you may not consider when looking at energy loss. Here in Texas, fireplaces are not commonly used, but I find dampers open during my home inspections. You are sending conditioned air right out of the house. Doors or windows which do not properly close leave gaps too. Rehanging a door or adjusting a window may be needed. Cracks in your exterior wall veneer. These cracks allow rain to come into the walls causing damage, but otherwise you face the same idea as the weepholes mentioned above. There are many styles of caulk or other means to seal these cracks. Along the lines of cracks are expansion joints or wall joints. I find that after five years the caulk in expansion joints need to be redone. I have even found wall joints and expansion joints that never had caulk.

Just take a walk around your home to consider each opening in the wall from the obvious (doors and windows) to the not so obvious (outlet covers). You may find quite a few spots to work on. Lastly you should turn your attention to the attic. You should have at least six inches of insulation in your attic over all living quarters. During my home inspections, I try to crawl through most of the attic to see what is going on. I frequently find that insulation is great around the attic opening, but further away it is non-existent. My favorite insulation right now are the batts which come in a plastic sheath. These are the easiest for a homeowner to handle. If you have little insulation, go with a high R-number. These numbers represent how easy it is for heat to pass through it, so the higher the number indicates that heat has a harder time. What I did in my home had to do with cost. I installed an R-32, because that is what I could afford at the time. Later, I bought batts of R-13 to place over the previous ones. This gives me an R-45 which is pretty good.

Before you move onto any other projects, insulating your home should be the first priority. A new air conditioning unit can be great, but it still would be useless if you have not dealt with tightening the seal of your home.

« « Green Home Conversion: Heating and Cooling Part 1| Home Contractors That You Can Trust » »

3 Responses to “Green Home Conversion Heating and Cooling Part 2”

  1. How To Reduce Your Energy Bills / Energy Conservation Begins at Home

    Imagine leaving a window open all winter long — the heat loss, cold drafts and wasted energy! If your home has a folding attic stair, a whole house fan or AC Return, a fireplace or a clothes dryer, that may be just what is occurring in your home every day.

    These often overlooked sources of heat loss and air leakage can cause heat to pour out and the cold outside air to rush in — costing you higher heating bills.

    Air leaks are the largest source of heating and cooling loss in the home. Air leaks occur through the small cracks around doors, windows, pipes, etc. Most homeowners are well aware of the benefits caulk and weatherstripping provide to minimize heat loss and cold drafts.

    But what can you do about the four largest “holes” in your home — the folding attic stair, the whole house fan or AC return, the fireplace, and the clothes dryer? Here are some tips and techniques that can easily, quickly and inexpensively seal and insulate these holes.

    Attic Stairs

    An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add an attic stair cover. An attic stair cover provides an air seal, reducing the air leaks. Add the desired amount of insulation over the cover to restore the insulation removed from the ceiling.

    Whole House Fans and AC Returns

    An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a whole house fan cover. Installed from the attic side, the whole house fan cover is invisible. Cover the fan to reduce heating and air-conditioning loss, remove it when use of the fan is desired.


    A recent study showed that for many consumers, their heating bills may be more than $500 higher per winter due to the air leakage and wasted energy caused by fireplaces.

    An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a fireplace draftstopper. Available from Battic Door, a company known for their energy conservation products, a fireplace draftstopper is an inflatable pillow that seals the damper, eliminating any air leaks. The pillow is removed whenever the fireplace is used, then reinserted after.

    Clothes Dryer Exhaust Ducts

    An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a dryer vent seal. This will reduce unwanted air infiltration, and keep out pests, bees and rodents as well. The vent will remain closed unless the dryer is in use. When the dryer is in use, a floating shuttle rises to allow warm air, lint and moisture to escape.

    If your home has a folding attic stair, a whole house fan, an AC return, a fireplace, and/or a clothes dryer, you can easily, quickly and inexpensively seal and insulate these holes.

    Mark D. Tyrol is a Professional Engineer specializing in cause and origin of construction defects. He developed several residential energy conservation products including an attic stair cover, an attic access door, and is the U.S. distributor of the fireplace draftstopper. To learn more visit http://www.batticdoor.com

  2. Alright, this seems too much of an advertisement, but it may prove useful to those seeking more on this topic.

  3. […] would still treat the walls inside your home proper which butt up to the garage as exterior walls. In a previous post about insulating to be green, I mentioned the foam insulation pieces that can be used behind outlet covers. If you just used […]

© Frank Schulte-Ladbeck Professional Home Inspector Houston, Texas
Frank Theodor Schulte-Ladbeck
home inspector, TREC# 9073
Houston , Texas , 77063 United States

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