Jamie Clark of Climate Control

Energy Efficiency: A Blower Door Test on a Tent

Way back in episode three, Jack Barnett told me about his super insulated house and then I said “I’m thinking about my 100 year old house and the windows in my 100 year old house and I bet that’s about every 11 minutes.”

So I started thinking that I should actually try to figure out how leaky my house really is. I asked Jamie Clark, a local geothermal and solar system designer to do a blower door test on my house.

Jamie Clark of Climate Control
Jamie Clark ran a blower door test on my house. The results were not good at all.

JC: A blower door test is a very large fan that we put on the front door of the house. We go through and we seal up every door and window to make sure that the house is as tight as we can comfortably make it and then the fan is hooked to a computer and a digital gauge called a manometer. The manometer is measuring pressure outside the house and pressure inside the house. And the fan is going to exhale to the tune of trying to create a vacuum in the home. What it’s doing is simulating a 20 mile per hour wind against all four sides of the house at the same time so it’s going to show us our worst case leakage.

DB: I’m not going to tell you how I did on the blower door test just yet. I will tell you that my windows all need to be replaced and I actually sealed some of the worst ones with clay rope last winter. That is a desperate measure and I can tell you that my wife was not very happy with it as an interior design feature. It’s just a rope of gray clay that you squeeze into the gaps. It won’t earn you a spot in Better Homes and Gardens.

Okay. On with the interview.

JC: My name’s Jamie Clark and I design geothermal systems, all types of systems really for Climate Control Heating and Air. Climate Control’s been in business since 1968, we’re one of the largest Carrier dealers in the state of Kentucky. We’ve been doing geothermal since 1987. And this year we launch our solar division. We’re going to be aggressively marketing residential solar, light commercial solar. We feel that it’s time for the early adopters to start getting into it. Within the next five years we think solar’s going to be mainstream in Kentucky, because the electric rate in Kentucky is going up and it’s going up quickly. We’re all aware that the new EPA guidelines are going to put a lot of stress on the utilities in Kentucky so we think it’s time. And it’s caught on in 23 major states. Kentucky is kind of behind the eight ball on that but with the new EPA legislation it will be here within the next five years for sure.

DB: Do you think any of our legislative obstacles are going to change in the next few years as the demand increases?

JC: There is an EPA law that they tried to pass that basically sets a renewable portfolio standard for all 50 states because the states weren’t adopting the RPS on their own. And Kentucky legislatively, there’s not a lot of motivation in our legislature to go after that. There’s a lot of opposition from lobbying groups to go after that. So it’s going to come from the federal level. That lawsuit is tied up in the courts.There are people that predict that lawsuit will go to the supreme court and then the utilities will lose because the utilities have never won a lawsuit against the EPA. Their track record is not very good. If that law goes into effect, we’re estimating somewhere around 2017, solar will break wide open in Kentucky.

DB: That’s good news.

JC: That is good news.

DB: I would say that most people know that electric rates are going up, just like all prices go up over time, but most people probably don’t really pay that much attention. I know that we have had relatively low rates in Kentucky but according to Jamie that is changing fast.

JC: Historically in Kentucky our electric rate doubles about every 10 years. If you go back to 1994 we were paying 2 cents a kWh, 2004 we were paying 4 and a half, 2014 we were paying 9, well that means that we’re probably going to double in the next ten years without any other influence. And with the new EPA guidelines that’s gonna add a lot of influence on that. So saying that we’re gonna double in the next ten years is probably a little cautiously optimistic. I think it’s gonna be a lot worse than that. The net neutrality for solar to be viable is 15 cents a kWh and we’ll be at 11 this summer so we’re not far from there. And when I say early adopters, there’s only about 580 people in the state of Kentucky that are on solar out of close to one million households. That’s not a lot. But that means there’s a lot of room for growth.

DB: Okay. So your company is kind of just now, you’re dipping your toe in on solar installations. How many have you done now?

JC: Well, we’re actively working on three. Mine was the first one. We did it in the fall. By the end of the year our goal is to have 25 systems under roof that we’ve done. The advantage that we’ve got is we’ve got a large client base with our heating / cooling business. Solar is not going to support my company. It won’t support my company for a long time. But we can experiment with it, tiptoe into it and see if we can make money at it. Obviously there’s got to be a financial reward or nobody wants to do it. But I really do believe that we can do it and do it well. With us being one of the largest geothermal contractors in the state, we’ve already got a pretty good client list of the early adopters for that technology and that’s your solar customer, you know, we’re immediately going to start appealing to our existing client base first.

DB: And now for the results of the blower door test.

JC: So we did the blower door test this afternoon and your house tested to the point that it was leaking about 125% of its air once per hour. So that means, that would be the equivalent of you having about three windows open all the time. So you’re paying to heat that air that’s just leaking out of your roof.

Your worst case leakage is 125% of your air per hour, so we don’t want to see anything over forty.

DB: Yeah, 125%.

JC: So basically your cubic volume of air, you’re losing that once per hour plus 25% more.

DB: So how would that compare with say a tent?

JC: That’s probably right on. You’re basically living in a tent.

DB: I jokingly told Jack Barnett that I probably lost all the air in my house every 11 minutes. If my math is right I am actually losing all the air in my house every 48 minutes. That’s horrible.

I imagine this winter when your neighbors had snow on their roof you probably didn’t have any because the heat was leaking out and melting all that snow. The recommended leakage for your house is about 425 cubic feet of air per minute. You were leaking 6,500 cubic feet of air per minute so obviously that’s really bad. Keep in mind you’ve got a hundred year old house with virtually no insulation anywhere other than in the upper attic and it’s not even done very well so there’s a lot of room for improvement. We could definitely put your house on a diet.

DB: Yeah. What would be the first step do you think?

JC: I would do an insulating and air sealing package. Without doing any remodeling what we would start with would be the basement perimeter where the band is there. That’s a very easy place to insulate. Fairly cost effective. Like I said you’re looking at about $1,000 to do that. I would go through all the electrical outlets in the house. Pull them out. Go in and silicone the backs of those. Each one of those has a hole in it the size of your pinky finger, four times. So you think about that and how many outlets you’ve got. You probably have a hundred plus outlets in this house. Four of that times a hundred and you’ve got a great big hole. You know? Caulking and sealing windows. You know the basement windows that don’t open anymore. You need to make sure those are completely caulked and sealed up. There’s a lot of places, you know we start small and work our way up.

JC: Your house as we’ve talked has a lot of room for diet. You know we can cut back in a lot of places. Something as simple as taking a 65 watt can light and converting it to LED, well that can save you about 55 – 60 watts in electricity. Solar on the small scale is about $4 a watt. So if I can save 55 watts with a $30 can light? That’s better than putting more solar on the roof. So the first thing that I’m gonna do as a solar installer is put your house on a diet. Where can we go through and shave the fat, shave the watts, cut it down? Heating, cooling and hot water are the three biggies that makes up 70% of your home’s energy consumption. Geothermal fits with that very very well. Insulation is huge. Insulation is gonna be your quickest return on your investment. So, I don’t care how efficient your system is, if it’s all leaking out of your house like yours is, it’s not gonna be very efficient so we want to tighten up that envelope. The goal is to build it tight and then add proper ventilation.

DB: Let’s say our water heater dies some time in the next couple of years, which it’s probably due for that. What’s the best solution for replacing that?

JC: Well, water heaters as of April 15th just changed their energy code. Electric water heaters are basically going to be the really top end, like a heat pump water heater. The gas ones are going to be going to a condensing, whereas your water heater vents with a metal flue pipe now, your furnace with the plastic one is a condensing, the water heater’s gonna go to that level. That would be the next step up from where you are. Your furnace is relatively new. I didn’t look at your air conditioner but you’ve got the greenspace to go geothermal in this house. If you went geo you’d want a water heater that paired with geo. And then normally when you do all that together you’re gonna get a tax credit on the entire system cost which is really gonna help pay for things.

DB: Is that tax credit in danger of expiring?

JC: Right now the sunset of the tax credit is December 31st, 2016. There’s a lot of lobbying groups trying to get it extended but as of right now we have no knowledge that it’s going to be extended. Everybody’s got a lot of hope but if I were going to do geo I would do it between now and the end of next year for sure.

DB: So this is the ITC that you’re talking about, right? So it affect solar…

JC: Solar, wind, hydro, but we really don’t have hydro.

DB: Would it also affect insulation?

JC: No. Insulation’s a different tax credit. The geo, solar, wind and hydro are a renewable energy tax credit. That’s an uncapped 30% federal tax credit. 30% of everything you spend is going to come back to you assuming you’re a normal tax payer. There are other smaller tax credits out there, state and federal. The Desire website, is a very good place to find out what you qualify for because even the utility companies have different credits depending on where you live in the state. The Tennessee Valley Authority down along the Tennessee border up to Bowling Green, they’re very aggressive with energy tax credits and they’re the only utility in the state that will pay you if you generate more solar than you use. They’ll actually write you a check. Whereas with Kentucky Utilities I can build a credit with them but they’re never going to pay you for that credit. So my goal with my home was to put just enough solar up there to break even.

DB: Right. And how many kilowatts did that end up being?

JC: At my house I’m 5.5. So my March electric bill. Like I said, I’m right at 5,000 square feet of conditioned space, family of four, we do a dozen loads of laundry a week and you know a lot of showers. My March electric bill was $11. So April should be in the negative and I expect I’ll be in the negative throughout the summer, hopefully all the way to September. And hopefully I’ve built enough of a credit up with that negative balance that next winter I won’t have a utility bill, I’ll just feed off of that.

DB: That sounds great.

JC: Yeah, I’m optimistic.

DB: Tell me a little bit about how you got interested in energy.

JC: The irony is I’m a former state chair of the Young Republicans in Kentucky. A lot of my Democrat friends laugh when they hear that because I’m one of the greenest guys you know. But I’ve always been motivated, you know, I grew up hunting and fishing and being very plugged into the outdoors. And as I’ve gotten older the streams that I played in are now dirty and you can’t play in them anymore. They’re full of litter and in Kentucky pregnant women aren’t supposed to eat fish that are caught in Kentucky because of the mercury in the water. And that makes me very sad and especially once I had children of my own. You know I want my kids to have a better brighter tomorrow. Regardless of your perspective on politics or climate change we all want clean air and clean water. So I think it’s been a political divisive issue that it shouldn’t have been. Honestly as a conservative I’m kind of a member of the Green Tea Party. And if you look back historically Teddy Roosevelt was one of the greenest presidents we ever had. And the environmental issues got taken away from the Republican party and I think it got replaced with money. And I think that’s on both sides of the aisle. There’s so many decisions being driven by money and by lobbying groups. I think we just need some good common sense. You know my wife grew up in eastern Kentucky. She is a princess of coal, I mean literally. And when we got our $11 electric bill last month she’s like, “I know I’m from coal country but why doesn’t everybody have solar panels.” And I said, “they just don’t realize the reality of it.” So it’s coming it’s just going to take a while to catch on.

DB: Yeah, I’ve never understood why it seems to be a partisan issue because you can think of so many different reasons to adopt renewable energy and you know a lot of them should be very attractive to conservatives and I think your average guy on the street gets that but somehow for the party rhetoric it’s been kind of pushed aside.

JC: Well and I think with both parties it’s the lobbying and the money, you know obviously the coal industry spends a lot of money lobbying, obviously the utility industry spends a lot of money lobbying. But you look at Thomas Massie, he lives off grid. You know the congressman from northern Kentucky, he’s got solar panels on his house you know, he drinks from a water well and he’s more of a prepper than I am, you know, I live in Chevy Chase and I joke, my wife got granite countertops and I got solar panels.

DB: That’s a pretty good compromise. Well I don’t know if we’re ready for solar panels or granite countertops but we could definitely use some insulation.

JC: Absolutely.

DB: Well thanks so much Jamie. I really appreciate you coming and talking to me and doing the blower door test and tell us where we can find out more about you and your company.

JC: Our company’s website is www.climatecontrolcorp.com. And then my email is jclark@climatecontrolcorp.com. And then I’ll direct them to an old YouTube video that I shared with you. I’m part of the Kentucky Home Performance Project in Kentucky where right now we’re giving low interest loans to people that are trying to upgrade their home. Your insulation will qualify for 5% interest which is a good thing. So if you go to YouTube search for Ky Home Performance and there’s a 28 minute video of me doing a full energy audit at Governor Beshear’s house.

DB: Okay, excellent. Well thank you very much.

JC: Outstanding, thank you.

DB: Well thanks for listening to another episode of Clean Power Planet and thanks to my engineer, producer and daughter Keaton Butler.

DB: If you like the podcast please share it with your friends. Just send them to CleanPowerPlanet.com. Let’s flip the switch.

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