The Green Home

Top 4 comfort issues in your home that can be fixed

Posted October 21, 2011
Updated October 29, 2011

In June, Energy Star announced that over 25% of homes built last year in the United States were Energy Star Certified for efficiency, saving home owners over $48 million dollars in utility costs. While that’s great for new home buyers, but what do you do if you have an older home? Are you stuck with drafts, poor air quality, and comfort issues that are a thing of the past on new homes?

Fortunately, the area of energy efficient retrofits has expanded rapidly in the past decade and there are many problems which you might be living with in your home which CAN be resolved, often quickly, easily, and with a minimal cost.

Problem #1 – Drafts

Drafts were once considered the hallmark of historic homes, but even homes built in the last 30 years have their share of comfort issues. Many homeowners put up with a drafty home, preferring to layer on another sweater in the winter, rather than investigate the problem and resolve it.

Older homes used to be built with the theory that the house’s envelope needed to “breathe”, to reduce the chance of moisture and mold build up. Today’s home builders know that this isn’t the case; that homes should be built with a sealed envelope, ensuring air is only introduced through controlled systems like the HVAC. A home which has a dozen small drafts might not sound like a serious problem, but just think of it as the equivalent of a 6” diameter hole punched through the center of your living room wall – pretty uncomfortable year-round.

A simple Energy Audit including a blower test on the door to the home can give you a concrete measurement of how much air is being leaked throughout the house. Resolving air leakage and draft issues is then a matter of identifying the areas and sealing them with appropriate materials, whether it’s replacing older doors and windows or simply applying some sprayfoam insulation, which provides the dual benefit of sealing and insulating in one, leaving your home comfortable for the whole family.

Problem #2 – Too Hot/Too Cold Bedrooms

One of the most common complaints I hear from homeowners is that it’s difficult to regulate the temperature on the top floor of their homes. In the summer, the heat rises to make sleeping uncomfortable, no matter how high the air conditioner is set. In the winter, homeowners put on socks to get into bed, knowing that by morning, the top floor will have cooled dramatically, even if the furnace was running all night.

The most common cause of these problems isn’t an underpowered HVAC system, but in fact poor or inadequate insulation in the attic space. In North Carolina, the Department of Energy recommends a minimum R-Value of 49 for attic spaces, however most homes have far less than that. In older homes, my team often finds that the insulation is decayed or shifted, creating large gaps of bare ceiling that’s completely uninsulated.

Fortunately, insulation in the attic or ceiling space of a home is an easy solution – a wide variety of insulation products now exist, including recycled cotton batt insulation, the previously mentioned sprayfoam insulation, and new radiant barrier insulation, which serves to work with existing insulation to reflect heat out of the home in summer, and into the home in winter.

Problem #3 – Cold Living Room Floors

The trend towards hardwood floors in the past 10 years has left a number of homeowners will cold feet in North Carolina, as they gingerly step across the main floor of their home in winter. In fact, one homeowner we worked with reported that he wouldn’t let his 6 month old baby crawl on the main floor of his house during the winter, because the poor kids hand’s turned almost blue with cold seeping up through the floor.

Again, this problem goes back to the old philosophy of a “breathing” house, when crawl spaces were deliberately built to be unsealed, in the hopes of preventing moisture build up.

We know now that the best way to reduce moisture, prolong the structure of home, and also be more comfortable, is to seal the crawl space of the house. In an unsealed crawl space with no insulation, the cold damp air of the ground is in direct contact with the floor boards, and enters the ground floor, creating not just comfort issues, but also concerns about air quality.

Sealing and insulating a crawl space is a minimally disruptive process for homeowners, and provides a double benefit of creating warmer floors, as well as improving air quality and reducing energy consumption through the HVAC system.

Problem #4 – Home-Based Allergies

Anyone with allergies will tell you it’s a frustrating condition; frequently you’re not sure exactly what it is that’s making your eyes itch and water, or giving you a raspy voice. Many people escape to the air conditioning of their homes to try to minimize systems. But what if it’s your home that’s causing it?

Air-born allergies in the home can be disheartening and homeowners are often overwhelmed when trying to nail down the cause. Fortunately, experienced home contractors can assess the home and identify problems in the attic, duct system, or crawl space that homeowners themselves might overlook. The solution may be as simple as introducing a higher efficiency furnace with better air filtering, replacing older decaying insulation, or performing regular duct cleaning to identify and resolve minor mold issues that, left unchecked, cause big problems.

We’ve identified the top 4 comfort complaints that the Green Horizon team most commonly hears from homeowners, but it’s important to note that there’s virtually no home performance issue which can’t be addressed, if examined by an experienced contractor. Your home is your castle, your largest financial investment, and the safe haven for your family; you deserve to have it be healthy, efficient, and most importantly, comfortable.

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  • bcde Oct 23, 9:36 p.m.

    In problem 3, paragraph 1 it should read poor kid's hands.

About this Blog:

Bobby Ferrel, founder of Green Horizon oversees The Green Home blog. Ferrel is co-founder of Green Horizon, with offices in the Triangle and Charlotte, offering home owners and builders a one-stop shop for energy efficiency and green building. Services include home performance assessments, weatherization, closed crawl spaces, all types of insulation, HVAC and geothermal installation and maintenance. Reach Bobby directly at bferrel@greenhorizon.com or visit him online at www.greenhorizon.com