Energy Smart Blog

A Case Study of Insulation Failure or the Tale of the Cold Addition

Epic Fail


I’m going to talk about a failure of mine and how to prevent doing it again.

If you have a cold addition that you think needs more insulation, this is worth reading.

I just got a call today from a customer who thankfully wasn’t mad. Matt is in a related industry to mine, and he called me about this time last year to fix a cold addition in the back of his house that was cold. His bills also seemed a little high.

My solution was prescriptive. It’s cold? Add insulation! So we air sealed and insulated the crawlspace of the family room. Problem solved, I’m a hero, now it’s time to get on with my life.

Except when he calls me a year later after a cold winter to tell me his wife is still complaining the space is cold. Because insulation in the crawlspace (and his attic) didn’t work.

So what’s the answer? I have suspicions, but I don’t know. It could be my crew did a crappy job sealing. It could be there isn't enough heat in the room. It could be the furnace is the wrong size. It could be any of a myriad of different things, and if I try to prescribe another 'silver bullet' I'll be wrong, because there are no silver bullets in Home Performance, just 1000 silver BBs.*

The answer is to go back, ask a ton of questions, really examine things, not just a 30-60 minute inspection of the house, take a crapload of pictures, measure things, create an energy model to do what-if scenarios with, think it over, and come up with really good recommendations. Basically, an energy audit on steroids.

Before, I solved problems with products. Or thought I solved them. I didn’t design solutions to fix a problem. That approach failed. Again. And again. And again. And a whole lot more agains. And I flogged myself (metaphorically) for those failures. No more.

Did I solve his problem then? Well no, obviously. Could I solve his problem now? Absolutely. With a Comprehensive Home Performance Assessment. And he’s checking with the boss to see if he wants to do that… because yes, it costs money.

UPDATE

My client talked to his wife. She didn't feel the problem was worth spending money on, so perhaps it bothers him more than her. It will unfortunately remain unsolved for now.

How would I solve it? My best guess would be revising some ductwork, possibly playing with the balance of flow, and downsizing the furnace and AC. I don't really know, though, because I would need to go back, ask a ton of questions about exactly where and when they notice comfort problems, take some more measurements, check out the HVAC equipment, build an energy model to determine how small I could go on the equipment, and go back to make recommendations. If that sounds like a lot, it is, but that's my process, and it is much more likely to find and solve the root of a problem than anything else I have tried.

Time for the Pitch

So do you have a cold addition? Do you want to pay an insulation or HVAC contractor thousands of dollars, like Matt, only to have it not solve the problem? Or would you rather spend some time figuring out the problem before jumping to the solution and actually fix the problem? The latter sounds better to me. Of course, I'm biased, it's what I do for a living.

Curious to find out more about what's involved?

Check out the contact us page to learn more, or give me a buzz at 330-524-6495 to chat!

* Thanks to Gavin Healy of Balance Point Home Performance for the great quote.

Photo Credit - Epic Fail by Andrew Mager - Creative Commons Flickr

Leave a comment

2 comments have been left so far

Ron Bolender

[Apr 6, 2014]

Clint

[Apr 4, 2014]

From one professional to another, great call! Building Science is just that "a science". So many time I have preached air-seal and insulate, only to miss other issues that contribute to a failure of "the system". A comprehensive study of the home is the only way to go. Too many good people fall for bad sales pitches of the easy fix. A full energy audit "or study" is the right thing to do. Great advise Nate!

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Nate Adams, founder of Energy Smart Insulation Nate Adams,
founder of Energy Smart Home Performance, is
an author and building science geek.
He has nine
years of experience in the business. He relishes figuring out how to solve complex problems.

Contributor to:

Journal of Light Construction

GreenTech Media

Green Building Advisor

Energy Vanguard

Habitat X

Speaker at:

ACI National Conference

Hiram College

See the full list of where we've been published here.

Nate holds the following training:
  • BPI Trained Building Analyst 5026211
  • Ohio HWAP BWT Training
  • Ohio HWAP Sidewall Procedures
  • Lead Safety Training
  • Ohio HWAP Blower Door Operator Training
  • 5 Years of Contracting = School of Hard Knocks