New and Notable

November 01, 2012
November/December 2012
A version of this article appears in the November/December 2012 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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NCHH Shows Impact of Lead on School Performance

Recently, the National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) released new findings on the impact of low-level lead exposure on school performance. The issue brief, Childhood Lead Exposure and Educational Outcomes, summarizes new research connecting small amounts of lead in a child’s blood to problems in school later in life.

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In May of this year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidance on the level of lead in a child’s blood that it considers harmful. Children with a blood lead level of 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) are considered by CDC to have more exposure to lead than 97.5% of their peers. This policy changed CDC’s long-standing guidance, which recommended action at 10 µg/dL.

The NCHH issue brief outlines evidence from a growing body of recent studies revealing the strong relationship between slightly elevated blood lead levels in young children and decreased test scores in elementary school, and the contribution of childhood lead exposure to the widening achievement gap in the United States.

One of the studies summarized included more than 57,000 children and found that blood lead levels as low as 4 µg/dL at three years of age increase the likelihood that a child will be classified as learning disabled in elementary school.

Another study of 48,000 children found that children were at least 30% more likely to fail third-grade reading and math tests if their blood lead level was over 5 µg/dL. Third-grade test scores are a strong indicator of school success, since low scores are highly correlated with high school dropout rates.

The evidence shows that children with higher blood lead levels are less likely to place into advanced and intellectually gifted programs. These results hold true even when race, family income, and other factors that might affect learning-disabled status are taken into consideration.

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Download the full issue brief at

Lead exposure also accounts for important differences among racial and income groups. In a study of North Carolina schoolchildren tested for lead, three in four black children had a blood lead level above 3 µg/dL, compared to two in four white children.

“This should be a wake-up call for our government agencies and educators—you can have extraordinary teachers, small classes, and first-rate curricula, but if your children come to school with a history of lead poisoning, they have the deck stacked against them,” says Rebecca Morley, executive director of the National Center for Healthy Housing.

“The findings show the need for a long-term commitment to lead poisoning prevention on the part of schools, parents, and all levels of government. Investing in the prevention of lead exposure will keep our schools and ultimately our country competitive,” says Anne Evens, adjunct professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago School of Public Health, and one of the researchers whose work was cited in the new brief.

Right Image(left) Window film being installed. (right) Window film saves energy and money. (IFWA)

Window Film Gets Respect in California

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IWFA is a nonprofit industry body that facilitates the growth of the industry by providing unbiased research, influencing policy, and promoting awareness of window film. For more information on IWFA and window film, visit

To download the IWFA Consul study, visit

Visit to read a Q&A with IFWA Executive Director Darrell Smith.

Recently the California Energy Commission (CEC) put window film on the fast track to get it into the new building code—to be effective in 2014. As the first state in the nation to place window film in its next building code, California has officially recognized window film as a legitimate, cost-effective energy saver.

This change in thinking is due to recent reports and studies that show just how effective window film—a thin polymer adhered to the inside of glass—is. One such study is Energy Analysis for Window Films Applications in New and Existing Homes and Offices, which was conducted by the International Window Film Association (IWFA) and Consol Energy Solutions. Their research used processes similar to those used by the CEC to analyze alternative measures for energy savings.

The home modeled in their study was a 2,123 ft2, two-story, single-family detached unit, representative of new-construction housing in California. One finding of the study was that for existing homes with single-pane glass, window film could save more energy than putting R-38 ceiling insulation into an attic.

Roof And Attic Design Proves Efficient In Summer And Winter

A new kind of roof-and-attic system field-tested at DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory keeps homes cool in summer and prevents heat loss in winter, a multiseasonal efficiency uncommon in roof and attic design.

The system improves efficiency using controls for radiation, convection, and insulation, including a passive ventilation system that pulls air from the underbelly of the attic into an inclined air space above the roof.

Right ImageA new roof system field-tested at Oak Ridge National Laboratory improves efficiency by using controls for radiation, convection, and insulation. (ORNL)

“Heat that would have gone into the house is carried up and out,” says Bill Miller of ORNL’s Building Envelope Group. “And with a passive ventilation scheme, there are no moving parts, so it’s guaranteed to work.”

The new roof system design can be retrofitted with almost all roofing products. The heart of the design is a foiled covered polystyrene insulation that fits over and between rafters in new construction or can be attached on top of an existing shingle roof system. Homeowners don’t have to remove old shingles, which saves money.

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The paper, “Prototype Roof Deck Designed to Self-Regulate Deck Temperature and Reduce Heat Transfer,” was published by the National Roofing Contractors Association. The paper can be downloaded at

Poorly sealed HVAC ducts leak conditioned air into an attic, which typically costs homeowners $100 to $300 per year based on ORNL computer simulations.

To address the problem, some homeowners pay $8,000 to seal the attic with spray foam, which can save upwards of $460 a year. For less initial cost and the same number of payback years, homeowners can retrofit the attic with the new design for about $2,000 and save $100 a year.

Looking to the future, Miller and colleagues are working on designs with lower initial installation costs, and greater cost-effectiveness overall.

Right ImageA recent study done in New York examined 19,000 affordable housing units that had undergone energy efficiency retrofits. (Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation)

Study Clarifies The Energy Savings In Multifamily Retrofitted Buildings

Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation, a philanthropic arm of the German bank, and Living Cities, a nonprofit partnership of 22 foundations and financial institutions, recently completed a report, which examined nearly 19,000 affordable housing units in New York City that had undergone energy efficiency retrofits. Results of the report show that these retrofit changes resulted in a 19% savings on fuel bills and a 10% savings on electricity across the portfolio. This translates into $240 in fuel savings and $70 in electrical savings per apartment every year.

Building scientists, auditors, enlightened building owners, and contractors have been retrofitting multifamily buildings in New York City for many decades, but the retrofit industry has largely relied on public subsidies, a limited resource that has constrained the industry’s ability to scale. Private capital, if it could be deployed for retrofits, could prove transformational in achieving significant carbon reductions while upgrading multifamily buildings and stimulating much-needed job creation.

This study has tried to address a key bottleneck for private capital: the lack of confidence in energy savings for lenders to underwrite loans against. A long tradition of New York’s public-private partnerships enabled the project to be stewarded by hands-on group of practitioners from city and state housing agencies, community development intermediaries, utilities, energy program incentive providers, and other mission-driven nonprofits.

The project team analyzed the 230-plus building dataset to assess total savings achieved and savings as a percentage of projections. These data-driven findings suggest a rationale and methodology for underwriting against fuel savings projections.

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Read the report, “Recognizing the Benefits of Energy Efficiency in Multifamily Underwriting,” at

Download the full issue brief at

The next step toward market transformation will be proof of concept, executing transactions that show how underwriting against energy savings projections can be a viable financing practice. The study provides a starting point for an underwriting methodology. A 2012 follow-up grant to the New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation by Living Cities will permit taking this next step, utilizing the Deutsche Bank and Living Cities dataset to pilot new underwriting guidelines and the development of complementary resources through an initial series of transactions with affordable housing lenders.

Right Image(Comfort RX)

Right Image(Comfort RX)

Right Image(Comfort RX)

Comfort RX Helps HVAC

For HVAC contractors looking to expand their service offerings, adding a home performance contracting arm can help boost business, reduce outsourcing, and increase profits. Comfort RX, a business that works to provide contractors the most effective air seal products, training and business services, is helping HVAC contractors make this business enhancement simple and profitable by offering one of the best available air-sealing tools—low-pressure spray polyurethane foam (SPF).

The HVAC contracting industry is exploring weatherization and ACCA has even launched a new Building Performance Council to help members thrive in the building-as-a-system approach.

“The most successful contractors are thinking bigger about the systems they service,” says Joe Nichter, past chairman of ACCA and president of Comfort Systems USA Southwest. “They are looking at whole homes and whole buildings. They recognize they need to be masters of the system, not installers of boxes.”

Comfort RX is trying to make this transition easier by providing affordable ways for contractors to add value by including low-pressure SPF weatherization capabilities in their business. For less than $3,300, HVAC contractors can purchase a professional, low-pressure reusable foam system. The price also includes all of the training and equipment needed to get them started.

Designed to be user-friendly, the Comfort RX low-pressure SPF system offers quick setup and shutdown. And the system is designed to be low maintenance and low hassle, needing little in the way of replacement parts or repair. In addition to selling tools, Comfort RX is dedicated to providing proper training for the organizations and contractors it works with.

Training from Comfort RX focuses primarily on the proper set-up, use of the equipment, and on various spray techniques. The company spends time discussing the principles that are taught in BPI Building Analyst trainings with HVAC contractors. These principles include, for example, using the blower door to identify air infiltration; and air sealing first the attic, then the crawl space or basement, and then any large holes. The company also explains how can light covers, baffles, attic hatch insulating kits, weather strip, and outlet gaskets can be used in conjunction with spray foam to help make a house more airtight. Contractors are trained to use the correct personal protective equipment when spraying foam. Lastly, Comfort RX stresses the importance of measuring in and measuring out to verify that the house meets ventilation requirements and teaches contractors that, when necessary, mechanical ventilation must be installed.

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For more information about Comfort RX, visit or phone (877)446-5451.

“We are excited to offer this business expansion opportunity to HVAC contractors,” says Kristen Lewis, Comfort RX program manager and BPI Certified Building Analyst. “This is the perfect fit for these contractors, because they’re often already in the home servicing a comfort issue. Offering air sealing is another way to increase their sales and solve their customers’ problems.”

Average U.S. Household Energy Expense Rises

The average U.S. household had $2,024 in energy expenditures in 2009, up 11.8% from $1,810 in 2005. Those are new findings from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS). The survey attributes the increased expenditures to increases in the size of homes, size and number of home electronics, and number of major appliances per household. The survey results also break down household energy expenditures by region and by state. The Northeast had the highest expenditures at $2,595 (up 11.9% from $2,319 in 2005), and the West had the lowest at $1,570 (up 5.3% from $1,491 in 2005).

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Read the full survey results at

This latest RECS—the thirteenth since 1978—was conducted in 2009. The survey collected data from 12,083 households in housing units statistically selected to represent the 113.6 million housing units that are occupied as a primary residence. Data from the 2009 RECS were tabulated for the four census regions, the nine census divisions, and 16 states; the states vary in geography, climate, and population size. EIA also released information about the changing mix of energy uses within the home.

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