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Facts - Frequently Asked Questions

What does “House as a System” mean?

Why is it important to develop a team approach to homebuilding?

What is HERS?

What is the IECC?

What is Building Science?

Define Building Envelope?

What are the IECC recommended insulation levels?

Why do I need a home energy rating?

What is a Blower Door Test?

What is a duct system?

What is duct leakage?

Why is duct leakage a significant problem?

What is a Duct Blaster?

Does HVAC size really matter?

What is an AirAdvice?

Explain IAQ and its significance?

Where do odors and chemicals come from?

What is particulate matter and how does it affect my health?

Should I be concerned about carbon monoxide?

What is relative humidity and why is significant?

Why Energy Efficient Mortgages (EEMs)?

What are the benefits of Energy Improvement Mortgages (EIMs)?

Are Energy Star Homes the only homes that qualify for the Texas Veterans Land Board (TVLB) program? 

Q: What does “House as a System” mean?

A: The "House as a System" or "Systems Approach" to homebuilding simply means acknowledging that all of the parts, products, and materials that go into a home interact in the design, construction, and, ultimately, the performance of that home. These components too often are considered separately and their interrelationships are often overlooked, leading to many of the problems that we face in homes today. Some examples include; high energy bills, moisture problems and poor indoor air quality (IAQ). 

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Q: Why is it important to develop a team approach to homebuilding?

A:
In order to apply the "House as a System" approach to homebuilding, we must first accept the fact that all the components and subcontractors responsible for those components interact in the home. Understanding this basic fact, we MUST coordinate with the entire design and construction team to make sure that each subcontractor, design element and material be considered regarding its impact on the overall performance of the home. For that reason, it's essential that we get the "Team Members" talking early on in the process to yield a successful project.

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Q: What is HERS? 

A: HERS (Home Energy Rating System) was created as a part of the 1992 Energy Policy Act. This act enabled Congress to mandate the U.S. Department of Energy, HUD, and the mortgage industry to develop a nationally recognized system for measuring the energy performance of new and existing dwellings. The result was HERS. This system is based on the 1995 Model Energy Code and is one of the most widely used methods of rating energy efficiency in homes. 

HERS provides a standardized evaluation of a home's energy efficiency and expected energy costs.  A home energy rating can qualify a homeowner or homebuyer for an energy efficient mortgage (EEM) or an energy improvement mortgage (EIM).  An energy rating can maximize the value of the largest single investment most homeowners are likely to make in their entire lifetime.  

A few reasons a home owner or buyer might consider a HERS rating are: 

  • A need to isolate drivers for high energy bills
  • A need to improve indoor air quality (IAQ)
  • A need to get more home for less money
  • A need to qualify for a more favorable home mortgage
  • A need for a higher quality, more comfortable home
  • A need to reduce negative impacts on the environment

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Q: What is the IECC? 

A: The International Energy Conservation Code is designed to meet the needs of our country regarding the reduction and/or savings of fossil fuel consumption. By addressing the design of energy-efficient building envelopes and the installation of energy efficient mechanical, lighting and power systems, the IECC code establishes minimum regulations for energy efficient buildings using prescriptive and performance-related provisions.

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Q: What is Building Science? 

A: Building Science is a systems’ approach to homebuilding that considers the relationship between a home’s components and its environment. The goals of building science are to optimize occupant health, comfort and safety as well as to maximize energy efficiency and structural durability, while reducing building failures. 

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Q: Define the Building Envelope? 

A: The building envelope is the boundary between the conditioned air in your home and unconditioned external elements. It consists of two elements: an air barrier and a thermal barrier (insulation) that must be continuous and contiguous in order to be effective.

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Q: What are the current minimum IECC required insulation levels? 

A: See the matrix below to see the current Energy Code standards. For the most effective and cost efficient prescriptives please contact us for an analysis of your homes specific needs. 

Ceiling

Wall

Floor

Basement Wall

Crawl Space

R-value

R-value

R-value

R-value

R-value

R-30

R-13

R-11

R-5

R-6

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Q: Why do I need a home energy rating? 

A: Without performance diagnostics it is unrealistic to offer solutions to your homes problems. Quantitative testing provides third party measurements of building envelope and ventilation leakage in cubic feet per minute (cfm). The purpose of an Advanced Home Energy Audit utilizing quantitative measurement is to isolate building needs, and quality of work that will reliably impact energy use. A good quantitative diagnostic tool has the following features:  

Repeatable results - so inspections will produce nearly identical readings.  

Accurate information - so technicians can immediately distinguish work resulting in high-energy savings from work that has little or no effect.  

Quick Process - so technician time can be devoted to all aspects of the Home Energy Audit. 

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Q: What is a Blower Door Test? 

A: A blower door is a powerful fan that mounts into the frame of an exterior door. The fan pulls air out of the house, lowering the air pressure inside. The higher outside air pressure then flows in through all unsealed cracks and openings. (The auditors may use a smoke pencil to detect air leaks.) These tests determine the air infiltration rate of a building. There are several reasons for establishing proper building tightness:  

  • to reduce energy consumption due to air leakage
  • to avoid moisture condensation problems
  • to avoid uncomfortable drafts caused by infiltration
  • to analyze the risk of poor indoor air quality and contamination by pollution

There are two types of blower doors: "calibrated" and "uncalibrated". TexEnergy Auditors use a calibrated door. This blower door, allows the auditor to quantify the amount of air leakage and the effectiveness of any air-sealing job

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Q: What is a Duct System? 

A: The duct system connected to your air conditioner/heater is responsible for moving conditioned air throughout your house. Typically, the duct system is located in the attic of your home, though it can be in the crawl space underneath a home built with a pier and beam foundation. Occasionally, ducts are located in fur down spaces or lowered ceilings built specifically to accommodate them.  

Duct materials range from expensive galvanized sheet metal, to coated rigid fiberglass duct board, to flex-duct, which is a coiled wire tube covered with tough plastic, insulation and radiant shield. Because it is inexpensive and easy to install, flex duct is the kind most commonly used today. All ductwork should be insulated to prevent heat transfer between the conditioned air inside the duct and the surrounding air. This is especially true of ductwork in an attic, as attic temperatures in the summer can reach as high as 130 degrees Fahrenheit or more. Duct board and flex-duct have insulation built in, but metal ducts usually need to be insulated, though some come with insulation built inside. All ducts can be wrapped with additional insulation, and they can be covered with blown-in insulation in the attic or protected by a radiant barrier installed in the attic. However it is done, it is important to minimize heat transfer through duct walls. 

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Q: What is Duct Leakage? 

A: You might be surprised to learn that leaking and improperly insulated duct systems cause losses of 15 to 50 % of conditioned air in a typical home, with a 30 % average loss. If the supply ducts are leaking, heated or cooled air can be forced out via unsealed joints and thus wasted. In addition, unconditioned air can also be drawn into return ducts through unsealed joints. In the summer, hot attic air can be drawn in, increasing the load on the air conditioner. In the winter, your furnace will have to work longer to keep your house comfortable. Either way, your energy losses cost you money. 

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Q: Why is duct leakage a significant problem? 

A: Duct leakage will significantly reduce system performance and increasing kilowatt consumption. Since the air in a duct system is under pressure (most ducts move 1000 to 2000 cubic feet of air per minute), even the smallest leak can waste a lot of cooled or heated air, as well as take in a lot of unfiltered and unconditioned air. If there are leaks in a duct system, closing interior doors can triple the air moving through these leaks. If the air return plenum is isolated from a significant portion of the needed return air, as when registers are closed or interior doors isolate a room from air movement, then pressure imbalances are created that are usually made up from very hot, humid attic air, or dusty, pollen-laden outside air. Air can be drawn through spaces in both interior and exterior walls that are open to the attic or through plumbing penetrations or spaces where the walls are attached to the foundation. Air can even be “back drafted” from your furnace, hot water heater, or fireplace. Back drafting can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, in severe cases allow combustion flames from the water heater, for example, to come rolling out of the combustion chamber looking for oxygen. “Roll out” can cause catastrophic house fires. 

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Q: What is a Duct Blaster? 

A: A Duct Blower or Duct Blaster is a device that is similar to a blower door and is an accurate tool for measuring the tightness of the ducts. The duct blaster is used to pressurize the duct system when all the registers are blocked. Measuring the air flowing through the duct blower’s fan housing gives an accurate measurement of duct leakage. By pressurizing the house and the ducts at the same time, we can measure the amount of conditioned air that is leaking outdoors. This test provides measurements of duct leakage in cubic feet per minute (cfm). They estimate neither the actual leakage from the ducts when the system is operating, nor the leakage across the leakage sites when all sites are at the same pressure. The purpose of a production quantitative measurement is to obtain quality work that will reliably impact energy use. 

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Q: Does HVAC size really matter? 

A: When your HVAC system is sized correctly, it can be as much as 40% smaller than a typically oversized system. Smaller systems usually run longer to achieve the same temperature, but their total energy consumption is still lower. The equipment runs more efficiently and last longer if it is not short cycling (frequently turning on and off). Just like a car motor, it’s in the start up that most of the wear and tear occurs and it runs the least efficiently. Latent heat (humidity level) is the real “comfort buster” and the longer a system runs the more humidity it removes from your home thus providing better comfort. 

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Q: What is an AirAdvice? 

A: The AirAdvice IAQ System offers a complete IAQ diagnostic and monitoring solution.

This monitor collects data regarding five aspects of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ): fine particulates, temperature, relative humidity, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.  

Air samples are taken every minute and stored for automatic nightly upload to the web based data center using a standard phone line. The monitor has sufficient memory to collect, store and later transmit up to 14 days worth of data if no phone is available in the test area. 

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Q: Explain IAQ (Indoor Air Quality) and its significance? 

A: Many factors will affect your home's indoor air quality, such as its age, duct leakage, infiltration, humidity, floor coverings, heating and cooling system, and your family's lifestyle. Today, we spend over 90% of our time indoors. There are several reasons why people are interested in air quality today. Some are sensitive to allergens or pollens and wish to improve their comfort. Others seek a cleaner, more comfortable home – one with less dust, consistent temperatures, and comfortable humidity. If any of your family is sensitive to airborne allergens, such as dust, pollen, or spores, minimizing the airborne particles will help reduce their effect. Household activities usually add microscopic airborne particles into the air; your HVAC system should be removing them. If your system is not providing the clean air you deserve or if you are feeling uncomfortable in your home, call us for IAQ testing and solutions today. 

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Q: Where do odors and chemicals come from? 

A: Odors and Chemicals can come from several sources in the home: including paint, aerosols, harsh cleaning products, pressed wood products, tobacco smoke, fuel burning appliances, hobby supplies, carpet and carpet padding and glues. Some negative health effects include: eye, nose and throat irritation, allergic reactions (including: skin rash, fatigue, wheezing and coughing, headache, nausea and loss of coordination) and central nervous system, liver and kidney damage. Some organic compounds are suspected or known to cause cancer in animals and humans.

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Q: What is Particulate Matter and how does it affect my health? 

A: Particulate Matter (PM) is microscopic material that is often suspended in air. It is a complex, changing mix of fine solids and even liquids that are often inhaled through the sinuses into the lungs. This mix may include allergens such as: dust, plant and insect fragments (especially from dust mites and cockroaches), fungi, pollen, and human and pet dander (skin flakes). It can also include viruses, bacteria and potentially toxic substances from external sources such as car exhaust and other fumes. You should be concerned with controlling particulates in you home. These substances may trigger and increase symptoms of allergies and asthma; they can also potentially worsen general health. This consideration is important for sensitive people such as, people with circulatory, respiratory or other health concerns, pregnant women, the elderly and children. Indoor particulates may be elevated as a result of pets, cigarette smoke, dust from carpeting and furniture, cooking and infiltration of outdoor air pollution. Cleaning practices and activities in your home heavily influences particulate levels. You can take action to improve the level of particulates in your home. Vacuum frequently with a good vacuum cleaner; dust with a damp rag; remove shoes at the door to avoid tracking in dirt and harmful substances; avoid smoking indoors; wash bedding weekly using hot water; dry clothing and bedding using high-heat to help remove allergens; and properly install and maintain heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

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Q: Should I be concerned about Carbon Monoxide? 

A: Carbon Monoxide (CO) a colorless, odorless gas that can pose a significant health risk. CO is a byproduct of burning fuels such as gasoline, wood, oil, kerosene and charcoal. When inhaled, CO enters the blood stream and decreases the blood’s ability to carry oxygen to the body's organs and tissues.  

Exposure to moderate CO levels can cause severe headaches, dizziness, reduced mental function, nausea, or fainting. Exposure to low CO levels low can cause shortness of breath, mild nausea, or mild headaches. Some of these symptoms may be misdiagnosed as flu, food poisoning, or other illnesses. Exposure to high CO levels can result in death. Because CO is colorless and odorless, a CO alarm provides immediate warning of very high CO levels and should be considered essential. Moderate CO levels in a home are also dangerous, but will not trigger most CO alarms. The source of these elevated levels should be identified and corrected as soon as possible. You can take action to reduce CO levels and keep them below an unhealthy level. It is important to follow all manufacturer ventilation and maintenance guidelines for any heating, cooking, or fuel burning appliance used in the home.

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Q: What is relative humidity and why is significant? 

A: Relative Humidity (RH) is directly related to temperature - warm air holds more moisture than cool air. Relative humidity is an indicator of the moisture level in the air. This is why condensation forms on cool surfaces such as exterior windows. Why is relative humidity important? Extended periods of high indoor humidity could facilitate the growth of molds, mildews, fungi, bacteria, viruses and dust mites. These contaminates and the substances they produce can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, shortness of breath, dizziness, lethargy, fever, digestive problems, asthma, or influenza and other infectious diseases. Extended periods of low RH can also affect the human body. Breathing dry air depletes body fluids, which can worsen problems associated with asthma, bronchitis, sinusitis, nosebleeds and general dehydration. Low humidity can irritate and dry the skin and eyes. Extended periods of low RH can deteriorate wood and other objects in the home and increase static electricity. Low RH also makes the air feel cooler, so a higher thermostat setting is required to achieve the same level of warmth, thus increasing the cost of home heating bills.  

Common sources of excess humidity are water leaks, poor insulation, people and household pets, poorly maintained humidifiers, air conditioners, showers, baths, outside air infiltration, insufficient ventilation, and indoor-vented clothes dryers and cooking ranges. Venting humid air into the living space or attic can cause moisture buildup. Typical signs of excess humidity are wet or moist walls, ceilings, windows, and furniture.  

The water + wood equation

Dry Wood + H20 > (30%) + DECAY
Dry Wood + H20 < (20%) + DECAY 

We can tell you what’s going on with your home and how to improve it. Can you afford to wait until you find out through building degradation?

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Q: Why energy-efficient mortgages (EEMs) 

A: Houses that meet prescribed energy standards can qualify for favorable mortgage terms, ranging from higher borrowing limits with little or no down payment to cash-back features. They can be used to purchase a new or existing home or to finance energy-related improvements. The FHA, VA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac all sponsor energy-efficient mortgages (EEMs) for homes that are certified as energy efficient by an accredited energy rating system or independent consultant. These mortgages allow consumers to buy more home either through a traditional 2% stretch, which adds energy savings to income to qualify buyers for 2% more debt, or through flexible loan-to-value ratios of up to 100% of home value. There are standard EEMs with no upper income restrictions and ones for borrowers who are at or below 100% of area median income.

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Q: What are the benefits of Energy Improvement Mortgages (EIMs)?


A: Energy improvement mortgages allow buyers of older homes to roll the costs of making energy improvements right into the mortgage. An energy rater inspects the property and recommends cost-effective improvements—such as duct improvements, increased insulation levels, and/or more efficient windows. The lender places the money for those improvements into an escrow account, and when the improvements are made another energy rating is taken. If the work was performed satisfactorily, the funds are released to pay for the work. For specifics on loan requirements and terms, go to the Web sites of the various mortgage sponsors including Fannie Mae,
www.efanniemae.com Freddie Mac, http://www.freddiemac.com, the FHA, www.hud.gov/progdesc/energy-r.cfm, and the VA, www.homeloans.va.gov. 

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Q: Are Energy Star Homes the only homes that qualify for the Texas Veterans Land Board (TVLB) program? 

A: Yes, the new program requirements state that the home must be Energy Star to qualify. The Texas Veterans Land Board (TVLB) will purchase the tract of land in which you are interested directly from the seller.  The TVLB then resells the land to you by a 30-year contract of sale.  It takes approximately 90 days to close a loan, provided all-necessary documentation is submitted timely and there are no unusual situations associated with the purchase. 

When the terms of the contract are fulfilled, the TVLB will issue a deed to the property to you.  The Texas Veterans Land Program is self-supportive, funded by bonds and the fees submitted by each Veteran purchaser. 

The Veterans Housing Assistance Program (VHAP) will provide financing up to $150,000 toward the purchase of a home to qualified Texas Veterans.  The term of the loan can be 15, 20, 25, or 30 years. There is no maximum sales price restriction with the VHAP; however, the Board can only invest $150,000 toward the purchase of the home. 

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