Happy feat: make your home Power Smart and comfortable

Nina Winham

The Sechelt townhouse Peter Golbeck and his wife bought a few years ago offered energy efficient appliances and light fixtures, good ceiling insulation, and double-glazed windows. Best of all, Peter says they enjoyed energy bills that seemed remarkably low.

But one thing bothered the couple. Walking around on the main floor, they often found themselves reaching for a pair of shoes.

"In the winter months, it was really cold on the floor, noticeably cold," says Peter. "We have a crawl space under the house, and a tile floor. It was not comfortable with your socks on. Even in the bedroom we noticed cold spots."

A discovery in the crawl space

The mystery was solved when Peter was storing items in the crawl space and noticed that there was no under-floor insulation, despite being a ventilated, "cold" crawl. Heated crawl spaces operate differently and do not have under-floor insulation by design.

Surprised, he started doing some research, talking to BC Hydro and a local building inspector. His inquiries led him to install insulation under his floors, first to R-12, and now to R-24. The R-value is a measure of how well something resists the transfer of heat. A higher R-value indicates more effective insulation.

Insulating the floor, for $304

Peter says installing each layer of insulation took him about eight hours (he's almost finished the second layer), and the total project will cost $304 for eight batts of insulation. Since his insulation upgrade, he's noticed a 10% drop in energy usage – despite a colder winter this year. But the best reward isn't financial.

"You can walk around in your socks on the coldest day and it's very comfortable," he says. "My wife used to keep turning up the thermostat because it just didn't feel right –but she's happy now."

"Peter Golbeck did a good thing. He analyzed his home, he asked questions, and he got the information he needed," says Greg Morandini, an energy management professional with BC Hydro's Power Smart engineering group.

Greg says it can be tricky knowing what steps to take to improve your home's energy efficiency. For example, insulating a crawl space can raise issues related to managing moisture, or ensuring water pipes are kept warm enough that they won't freeze. (Peter has been careful to monitor his crawl space temperature to protect his pipes.) That's why Greg recommends getting an energy audit.

Why get an energy audit?

"There are two reasons to get advice," says Greg. "First, to get the best bang for your buck – whether it's exterior cladding to insulate your walls, sealing up cracks and crevices, or even replacing drain tile, so water isn't held against your foundation drawing heat away."

Greg suggests getting an energy advisor through LiveSmart BC – a provincial program that helps people make better environmental choices. The program offers various rebates for home upgrades, including insulation.

"They give you a ranking about what might work best for you first," says Greg. "The specifics of your home and your budget need to determine what will give you a good result."

"The second reason to seek advice is that you have to think of your home as a whole system. When you change one thing, you may affect others – sometimes the best approach is to upgrade a few smaller things at once instead of doing one major thing."

Before you spend money...

Greg notes that often people are keen to invest in new technology, such as a new furnace. He says the first step, however, is to address your home's envelope – where it loses heat through windows, cracks, and walls – and then move on to upgrading heating or cooling technology.

"The more you can reduce what you're losing, the more Power Smart your home is," says Greg. "If your insulation and leakage is not fixed, you'll save energy with more efficient equipment, yes, but you won't be saving as much as you could be."

"That's because you'll need to install higher capacity equipment – for example, a larger furnace – to produce more heat because you're losing part of it. If the home is more efficient in the first place, the equipment doesn't need to work so hard."

Whether you're upgrading an old home or buying a new one, Greg says there's one principle to remember.

"Using less energy makes you Power Smart," he says. "That's the true baseline for improving sustainability in anything you do."

Nina Winham is a Vancouver-based writer and sustainability consultant.

Source: BC Hydro News