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Energy Vanguard Blog

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A Great Success: Classic 1970s Passive Solar Home Turned Net Zero

 
passive solar house richard levine kentucky 600

I've been in Lexington, Kentucky this week at the Midwest Residential Energy Conference. It was great! (And I played nice - I didn't mention in any of my talks that I'm a Florida Gator.) One of the many highlights for me was getting to visit Richard "Dick" Levine's 1970s passive solar house. It's not like any other house I've seen, and I've seen other passive solar houses.

These Ain't Yer Grandpappy's Heat Pumps

 
heat pump outdoor unit cold climate 500

Earlier this month I went to NESEA's Building Energy conference, and I think I heard three terms more than any others: heat pump, net zero, and passive house. (The second most popular trio was beer, wine, and whisky, but that may have something to do with the folks I was hanging out with.) So let's get right to the important question here: Why do these people in the cold climate of New England love heat pumps so much?

Why Are Heat Pumps So Dumb About Frost?

 
heat pump frost defrost cycle outdoor coil

Heat pumps can get frosty when they run in heating mode. It doesn't happen all that often, but it's a fact of life when you're trying to extract heat from cold, outdoor air. Sometimes the outdoor coil goes below the dew point, and frost results. There's nothing wrong with that. Every heat pump comes with a built-in defrost system so it will keep running smoothly. Unfortunately, the defrost system in most heat pumps is just plain dumb. And fortunately, I have a smart friend named Mike MacFarland who's come up with a way to overcome that liability.

Frost on Indoor Walls - A Dramatic Insulation Failure

 
frost indoor wall building enclosure insulation failure humidity

Not long ago, Erik Henson an energy auditor with HD Engineering and Design in the Kansas City area, posted the photo below on LinkedIn. As you can see, frost has formed on the walls and ceiling inside the house. It's not uncommon to see frost on windows in cold climates. But walls? That's a rarity. What's going on here?

Are We Off Track With Combustion Safety Testing?

 
water heater combustion safety flue pipe exhaust in house

Burning fuels inside a house can lead to serious health and safety problems. Energy auditors do a variety of combustion safety tests to find potential hazards and recommend fixes. A couple of weeks ago at the Dry Climate Forum, I heard Vi Rapp, PhD of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL) make an argument for changing the way we do combustion safety testing. It turns out that one of the tests we do may not be as helpful as many people think it is.

Why Does My Heat Pump Frost Over?

 
heat pump hvac frozen outdoor unit winter kentucky

The outdoor unit of a heat pump (that metal noisemaker that disturbs the peace on so many otherwise nice summer afternoons) will occasionally grow frost around the outside of the unit when it's in heating mode. Is this OK? If so, how much is OK? What about the amount of frost on the unit in this photo?

Does a Gas Furnace Dry Out the Air in Your Home?

 
atmospheric combustion gas furnace

I get asked from time to time if a gas furnace dries out the air in a home and makes a humidifier necessary. I've written about humidifiers and psychrometrics before, but it's still worthwhile making this point explicitly. Even some people who work in the heating and air conditioning industry get confused by it, so let's take a look.

When It Comes to Ice Dams, You CAN Fix Stupid!

 
roof ice dam attic heat loss cute house

They say you can't fix stupid. They're wrong. When it comes to ice dams, we know how to fix what is the most common cause. If you know a little building science, you can look at the photo below and know immediately what's going on here. Right?

A Day in the Life of an Air Conditioner Service Professional

 
air conditioner filter hvac dirty flow cooling performance

Many of the problems that people experience with cooling their homes are pretty straightforward — simple to fix and often simple to prevent. Of course, there are also bigger problems, like bad insulation, air barriers, and duct installations, but today my focus is (mostly) on the immediate concern of cooling off homeowners whose air conditioners aren't cooling.

Tips & Trivia for a New Air Conditioning Season

 
Air conditioning tips and trivia

It's summer here in the Southeast. Yeah, I know we haven't reached the official beginning of summer marked by the summer solstice, but air conditioners are roaring here, and that's official enough for us. With that in mind, here are a few tips and trivia about air conditioning as we celebrate the beginning of a new cooling season here in the Northern Hemisphere. (If you'd like to learn more air conditioning, check out our upcoming webinar.)

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