This article was originally published in the July/August 1996 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.


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Home Energy Magazine Online July/August 1996

in energy

Ten Years of 
Affordable Comfort

Participants at the Affordable Comfort Conference took a tour of a multifamily building under rehabilitation in Chicago. A program known as the super insulation rehab, sponsored by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs, has increased the availability of affordable housing in the area by lowering energy costs.

For the past decade energy specialists and weatherization professionals have been meeting at Affordable Comfort conferences to share their experience and learn from others. Held in Chicago for the first time this year, the conference had the usual packed schedule, impressive exhibit hall, and abundant field trips.

Although the variety of topics covered was wide, several general themes came through. Total home performance continues to emerge as energy contractors address energy use, indoor air quality, health, safety, and comfort in one package. To support this new industry, the Building Performance Institute has been founded in New York with the goal of establishing best practices and standards for the training and certification of home performance contractors.

Keynote speaker Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute invigorated listeners and made a clear case for looking at the house as a total system. When individual changes are made to a house, the energy savings are typically small. But when measures are designed to work together to change the way the house operates as a system, the savings can be compounded, especially when major equipment is downsized. Lovins argued that good economic analysis favors a whole house approach, making multiple changes at the right time.

Several sessions concentrated on how organizations and companies can operate in today's economic climate. Presenters discussed energy financing through loans and mortgage programs, customer-pay utility programs, and private/public partnerships. In some areas, new opportunities are arising, such as a push to improve the efficiency of military housing, which could provide work for experienced weatherization companies (see Saving Energy in Military Family Housing, p. 10). The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is also increasing its focus on energy efficiency (see City Requires Energy Ratings for Loans, p. 11).

Karen Walker from Comfort Diagnostics in Sherwood, Arkansas, told how her organization has turned weatherization and home performance into a succesful profit-making venture. Her company provides homeowners with an inexpensive initial inspection, tests in and tests out, and uses its own crew of contractors to ensure quality work. The profit margin gained on the contracting work more than offsets the cost of the inspection, and the quality of service has helped increase business by word of mouth.

Other workshops focused on expanding attendees' knowledge of the complex operation of residential buildings. Renowned experts led sessions on the fundamentals of heat loss and heat gain, moisture, and combustion science, as well as teaching participants how to tighten ducts, seal building shells, test heating systems for safety, and install effective insulation.

Duct researcher Mark Modera gave a well-attended evening talk on the latest duct developments at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and elsewhere. LBNL's aerosol duct sealing device (see Fix-a-Flat for Ducts, HE July/Aug '95, p. 5) has worked well in field tests, sealing holes of up to 14 inch from the inside of the duct. Modera also discussed a quick series of house pressure tests with the air handler turned on and off that can estimate duct leakage flow.

Some organizations had new equipment to display in the exhibit area. Jim White of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation brought down an instrument called the Fanalyzer, which can be used to test fan motor efficiencies. The Energy Conservatory was there with their new automated blower door. A small computer controls the blower door to keep it at a preset pressure such as 25 or 50 Pascals (Pa). This improves the accuracy of the reading and frees up the user to test pressures across various boundaries around the house or run a simultaneous duct pressurization test. The device can also be used to control a Duct Blaster.

The Chicago location gave conference participants the opportunity to visit buildings under energy-efficient rehabilitation by Domus Plus and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs. The old brick apartment buildings have a beauty and grace that makes them especially rewarding to rehabilitate. And Maureen Davlin and Paul Knight hold their crews to high standards, with meticulous quality control of air sealing and the installation of insulation. The result is a reduction in combined rent and energy costs of $10 to $40 per unit per month-in effect increasing the affordable housing available to low-income tenants.

Affordable Comfort will return to Chicago in 1997, and in the meantime may hold regional training sessions in other parts of the country. For more information call Affordable Comfort Incorporated at (412)299-1136.

-Jeanne Byrne and Mark O'Sullivan


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