Let's Play Stump the Chump!

March 28, 2013

Send in your stumpers!
You know - that problem house, symptom or combination of symptoms that confounded the homeowner and challenged all your building science savvy to solve. Send BPI a description of the problem – and the solution, which will be kept secret. If it's a genuine stumper, it may be published in the next HVAC2HP e-newsletter. Send stumpers to mkandel@bpi.org.

This stumper is reprinted with permission from BPI. 

Answer to Last Month's Stumper:

Congratulations to Jeff Flaherty of Wise Home Energy in Rochester, NY for being the only person to correctly diagnose last month's stumper!

As a reminder, Marc Sardino of Comfort Home Improvement in Syracuse, NY received a call from the owner and inhabitant of a 1,900 square foot colonial house, built in the 1990s, with a complaint of moisture build-up in the home. The problem was so severe that water was dripping from most of the insulated walls. Mold was found on the roof deck and gable walls, but the basement was dry as a bone. The home had a natural gas furnace circa 1999, and proper gutters and drainage around the home, yet the issue persisted.

Jeff provided a number of possibilities in a "shotgun" approach to solving the problem, but the one that took the cake was identifying the likelihood that the furnace humidifier was stuck in the on position. This caused the system to constantly dump water directly into the cold air return, which was distributing the moisture throughout the home, causing the condensation on the walls and the mold in the attic.

This Month's Stumper:

This month's stumper comes from a chump who's actually stumped! Ed Revers of Michell Timperman Ritz Architects in New Albany, Indiana has been scratching his head about this one and is wondering if you can help.

Ed explains that he has been working on a 50-year-old house that has a 4-ton, top-of-the-line Florida Heat pump system, with all the energy saving bells and whistles (hot water de-super heater, four-zone stats on Arzel control board, etc). After 2 years of utility bills, the energy savings are nowhere near what the geothermal manufacturers claim they should be. The new energy bills (gas and electric combined) are the same as the past 20 years, during which an old forced-air conventional gas furnace was used. The mechanical contractor has come out several times to check things and reports that it is working fine. The house was super-insulated when the new geothermal system was made operational. It isn't easy to compare old to new systems equally, because an addition of about 25 percent was added to the house when the new system was installed.

Background: The house is in the Louisville, Kentucky area and is now a 2850 sq. ft. ranch with a basement. Mechanical installation costs exceeded $30K, with four grouted wells at 150' depth each. At the recommendation of the mechanical contractor, the house was zoned because the existing house limited duct work configuration options and R-values weren't equal everywhere. The new system performs well (70 in the summer and 68 in the winter), but the energy savings are disappointing. The weather has actually been pretty mild the past few years too. As a newly accredited BPI Building Analyst, Ed considers the house to be tight and well insulated; although no blower door test or duct efficiency test has been performed to verify this. Gas and electric usage is probably below average for a family of four. Any clue as to what would help lower the utility bills and make the system less expensive to operate?

Ed Revers is an Architect Intern and Construction Project Manager with Michell Timperman Ritz Architects in New Albany, Indiana, and has been with the company for over 17 years. Ed manages a variety of construction projects, ranging from initial concept to final build. This year, Ed became BPI Building Analyst and Envelope Shell certified, while also becoming a LEED Green Associate.

Think you know what the problem is, as well as the solution? Send it to mkandel@bpi.org.

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