Home Performance – Where Is Your Home’s Thermal Barrier

Headed out on a home energy audit last week and I would like to share some of the things I found that were unusual about this home and what can be done to make this home more energy efficient.

However, before I get into that, I would like to share my frustrations with freeway traffic that is no longer a freeway but more of a parking lot. No accidents in sight, no flat tires, no county mounty with a big rig pulled over, but apparently, just too many cars.

I needed to get going and had not planned on waiting in line on the freeway, so I took a side road that ran along side the freeway so I would be able to race ahead and see how far the plugged up freeway extended. Might be able to get ahead of a wreck or something that was causing the problem.

Trouble was, the car in front of me had the same idea; they took the exit and proceeded down the side road too. Now, there was no place to safely pass on this two-lane side road, so I was stuck behind this car and 40 miles per hour was all this renegade could manage. Now, I am double frustrated.

By the time I reached the next on ramp where I can get back on the freeway, the freeway traffic was going faster than I was. This is called, cannot win for trying. Hope I have better luck with the audit.

The Home Energy Audit

Older part of town, one of those housing developments that was the latest and greatest back in1934. Despite its age, this house has been well taken care of, upgraded, and remodeled several times.

This house is a prime example of paying more attention to the paint job than what is behind the paint.

The upstairs has been remodeled and refinished making room for three bedrooms and a bath. Very nice remodel with a door from the master bedroom directly into the bathroom and a couple neat rooms with low-ceiling balconies for the kids.

There are a number of attic spaces and an equal number of attic access openings.

The Thermal Barrier

I open the first access opening of one of the knee wall attic spaces and find that the homes thermal barrier is not very well defined. This means there is some insulation on the floor of the knee wall, in another area there is insulation on the knee wall itself and yet in another area there is insulation installed between the roof rafters on the ceiling.

To be energy efficient;

  • The homes thermal barrier should be identified and consistent.
  • The air barrier, which should be touching the thermal barrier, should be sealed to stop air leakage.
  • The home is wrapped in a well defined, continues layer of insulation.
  • By randomly insulating different walls, floors and ceiling areas, the nice warm coat that is suppose to wrap this home is fragmented leaving thermal bypass areas and loss of energy efficiency.

The problem with many older homes that have been upgraded and remodeled is:

  • The hardship of determining where the thermal barrier is located.
  • Air sealing the air barrier with limited access.
  • Adding insulation to areas that are now very difficult to get to.
  • At this point, with this home, to adequately insulate the home, some areas with a great new paint job may need to be removed in order to have access to all areas needing air sealing and insulation.

The homeowner feels the furnace is too small for the home and often runs continuously night and day and is interested in installing a larger furnace. Perhaps a better answer to heat this home would be to address the homes insulation needs by defining the air barrier, the thermal barrier and adding necessary insulation.

There are several things you can do to make your furnace perform bigger than it is:

  • Air sealing, stop the air leaks, including the heating ducts.
  • Define the thermal barrier, What’s inside the home and what’s outside the home?

Add insulation

If you are planning an upgrade or remodel project at your home – before you install that new wall covering and that fresh coat of paint – take some time to make sure you have considered the home’s air and thermal barriers and insulation requirements. Hopefully, you can have a great project, a nicer home, and not need that bigger furnace after all.