Renovating for energy efficiency can boost savings, comfort and even health

When it comes to energy efficient renovations, there's a lot to know — including when to go it alone and when to get professional help.

A designer and green building expert shares inside tips for efficient home energy renovations

Tyler Hermanson is a design and home energy efficiency advisor in Calgary. (Ellis Choe/CBC)

With the cold snap Calgary just endured, many homeowners are looking for ways to seal every little leak that lets the frigid air into our homes. Because right now, homeowners are likely noticing every single draft — and dreading that energy bill.

Tyler Hermanson, director of 4 Elements Integrated Design Ltd., says many fixes for energy leaks can be handled yourself.

"There's no such thing as a house that's too tight. There are houses that are under ventilated and they're two separate issues," he told the Calgary Homestretch on Friday. "When you think of a submarine or a space station, those are houses that are … tight, but they have very good ventilation."

Hermanson said the first thing to tackle is air leakage, which makes up 20 to 30 per cent of energy loss from a typical home.

"When you look at the way we build our houses, we leave little gaps and cracks where things come together, and air is very good at finding those little pathways and sneaks into our house," he said. "So we need to find those gaps and see where that cold air is coming in."

Hermanson recommends heading up to the attic with some spray foam, tape and caulking. Next, he said to head down to the basement and — especially if it's unfinished — look at the rim joists, between the floor, and any areas where water lines or vents go out.

And then of course there are the windows — one of the most expensive things to change out. But Hermanson has a cheap, effective fix.

"You can make a big difference in the comfort of the windows by putting that plastic film on," he said. "You know it's not pretty, it's a little bit finicky to put it all on maybe, but really does make a difference to seal up all those little gaps and cracks that come with a window."

In some cases, it may be worth the upgrade to get new windows.

"You know when you're sitting next to that older window you're getting that cold draft on the back your neck, your body is really sensitive to that kind of cold and you'll feel really uncomfortable, even if the room is actually a normal temperature," he said. "So we have to look at how the body's interacting with the house, and the cold surfaces and air leakage all together."

Cold, dry air seeps in

Speaking of comfort, Hermanson recommends a humidifier — one of the newer, more efficient ones — to increase the comfort levels in the home during the coldest months and prevent static electricity and dry throats.

"It goes right back to air leakage, it's that air leakage that's making the house so dry — that cold, dry air leaking in. So once you get control of that air leakage you're actually seeing humidity levels start to come back up," he said. 

"When you look at a humidifier most of them are attached to the furnace itself. There are newer humidifiers that are a little bit more water efficient, need less maintenance. We're used to the old humidifiers that take a lot of maintenance and tend to calcify up. So there are some better options out there but the air leakage is actually the problem."

If you have a cold spot on the floor, it may be due to one little area where insulation was missed, or a bit of ductwork that's moving cold air right under that spot.

And frozen pipes are an expensive, harrowing experience.

"This is an extreme test for our houses, right? This is the Olympics of your house, if you're going to break something you're going to break it this week," Hermanson said.

Sometimes, pipes just don't get enough heat from the house. To prevent it, you need to look at either limiting the heat loss with insulation or increasing the isolation of those pipes — pulling them off the cold surface.

Hermanson said homeowners can pick and choose which energy renovations to tackle. 

Deep energy retrofit

Best case scenario for a drafty home, he recommends a deep energy retrofit — "where we look at the house as a whole and we really do a full, new envelope around the whole thing. That is a big expense, but if you're already doing the siding and the roof needs to be done already, that might be a good time to look at that."

On the other end of the scale, Hermanson says there's a lot you can accomplish with some basic home maintenance.

"Making sure your furnace is tuned up, changing the filter, those are all going to save you energy and are very cost effective to do," he said.

Tyler Hermanson is set to speak on the main stage Sunday at 11 a.m. at the Calgary Renovation Show at the BMO Centre.

With files from the Calgary Homestretch.


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