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8 Energy, HVAC, & Building Science Horrors to Scare You on Halloween


halloween scary stuff energy hvac building science homeBOO!

Not scared? OK, well let me take another hack...uh...I mean, tack. Here are 8 things related to energy, HVAC, or building science that should scare the heck out of you...or at least irritate you once you understand them.

  1. Bonus room building enclosure problems. If your house has a bonus room (a finished room over a garage), it probably has comfort problems because of problems with the insulation and air barrier.
  2. An HVAC industry that doesn't do things right. From rampant oversizing to duct leakage to potential health and safety problems, the heating, ventilating, and air conditioning equipment in homes can be terrible and terrifying. Yes, there are some companies that not only know what they're doing but willing to do things right.
  3. Solar storms that knock out our electrical system, including...gasp...the Internet. See Martin Holladay's article on this scary topic.
  4. Unvented natural gas space heaters in your home. A big no-no.
  5. Remote start cars in your garage. Although it appears the carbon monoxide death in Raleigh, North Carolina last year may not have been due to a remote start button accidentally being pushed, it's only a matter of time before it happens (if it hasn't already).
  6. A peak oil induced Long Emergency, Great Disruption, or outright collapse. See my review of James Kunstler's book.
  7. Power attic ventilators. They waste energy. They can create moisture problems. They can cause backdrafting that puts carbon monoxide in your home. There's a good reason the Georgia energy code has banned power attic ventilators.
  8. Dryer vent problems that can burn your house down and kill you. The ducts in your heating and cooling system aren't the only ones you need to maintain. Keep your clothes dryer vent clear. (Here are a few dryer products that can help.)

halloween clothes dryer vent duct house fire


Photo at top by St0rmz from, used under a Creative Commons license. Photo at bottom by Ada Be from, used under a Creative Commons license.


The older unventilated gas space heaters didn't have ANY pilot light. The burner was connected to a simple ball valve on the gas line. If the flame went out the house quickly filled with unburned natural gas. Surprised more people weren't killed by them.
Posted @ Monday, October 31, 2011 6:35 AM by Bob
Most remote start cars have a timeout if the car isn't entered within a certain amount of time. This probably has saved lives as well as saving gas.
Posted @ Monday, October 31, 2011 6:36 AM by Bob
Bob: You're absolutely right about the dangers of having no pilot on unvented gas space heaters. My grandparents had them, and we used to go to sleep at night with them turned on, which is scary just to think back on. I think it's pretty hard for them to go out once they're lit, but it would be easy to turn on the valve, get distracted, and then not light it. 
Regarding the remote start timeout, I'd still be afraid. My wife's car has the little alarm to let her know if the lights are on when she tries to leave the car, but it's suddenly stopped working. A dead battery is one thing. A dead body is another.
Posted @ Monday, October 31, 2011 7:13 AM by Allison Bailes
Allison: After a full year of reading all the scary articles you regularly post here, I thought there was very little left to scare me. But I was wrong. So in the spirit of Halloween, here's a scary tale to share with everyone. 
We talk a lot about energy and energy efficiency here. But talk less about basic survivability. As you may have heard in the news, New York and New England was just hit with an early winter storm this past Saturday. CT alone has about 700,000+ homes without power (mainly because trees still bearing leaves were subjected to extra snow loading, and branches snapped and brought down power lines). And the utility companies say it will be at least a week until most power is restored. 
What's scariest about all this to me is not so much the loss of electricity, but how heating and water are also affected. Folks with oil- and gas-fired appliances don't have heat because electricity is still required to operate them. People who rely on well pumps have no water. A good many schools have cancelled classes and are now serving as emergencies shelters, and probably will be for a good many days now. 
What blows me away about all this is thinking how our society is so technologically advanced, and so strongly predicated on the constant availability of key services from providers. And yet a simple snow storm three weeks too early can bring us to our knees.  
Something is dreadfully wrong with this picture. We talk about energy efficiency and energy security, yet our basic services are extremely vulnerable to relatively simple events that would've meant nothing to people living over a hundred years ago. 
Anyway, I make these comments here not looking for any particular answers, but perhaps just to try to encourage others to think of the survivability issues surrounding home energy, in addition to efficiency. 
So, Happy Halloween to all! And hope I haven't scared anyone (well, not too much, anyway :-)
Posted @ Monday, October 31, 2011 7:29 AM by John Poole
John P.: Did you read Martin's article? If you think a snow storm that knocks out power to localized areas is bad, imagine a solar storm that wiped out power around the globe! As with peak oil, we've all grown up in this little bubble believing that, because things have always been like this, it has to continue on the same way. 
Nature doesn't care about our beliefs.
Posted @ Monday, October 31, 2011 7:34 AM by Allison Bailes
Hi Allison: I'm aware of Martin Halladay's article, just haven't read it yet. But yeah, exactly. The situation here in CT is kind of like that, albeit in microcosm! :-)
Posted @ Monday, October 31, 2011 7:43 AM by John Poole
Excuse me. Did you say I might loose my internet?
Posted @ Monday, October 31, 2011 8:29 AM by christopher cadwell
Allison,just stumbled across your website. Great reading and information. Question for you and your readers after your topic of why the hvac industry doesnt do things right.Almost all the homes i go into in chicagoland have incorrectly sized ducts. Usually to small,but nobody seems to ever address this problem. The loss in efficiency is got to be huge.
Posted @ Tuesday, November 01, 2011 4:21 PM by Chris in Chicago
Chris in Chicago: Yes, ducts are a huge problem in HVAC. I've written many articles here on the problems with them. Here are a few: 
A Bad Duct System Trumps High Efficiency HVAC Equipment 
Helping an Asthmatic HVAC System to Breathe 
The Ductopus or the Centipede - Which HVAC Duct System Is Better?
Posted @ Wednesday, November 02, 2011 7:49 PM by Allison Bailes
Thanks for mentioning the dryer vents! So many people do not clean them every single time they are used - this has always been a point I drive home to my kids because our dryer caught on fire when I was kid. Such a small thing to remember, but could have killer consequences!
Posted @ Tuesday, November 29, 2011 9:22 AM by Kim
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