Define, Please

Definitions of the lingo used in this project, which is as new to us as it is to you!

Hydronic heating: Any heating of a house that uses hot water or steam to convey the heat.  This can be radiators along the walls or under the floor heating through tubes running back and forth.  This also includes an HVAC unit that uses a coil of hot water to heat air that is then forced through ductwork to all the rooms of the house.

Solar Water Heater: Not to be confused with a Photovoltaic Solar Panel.  A Solar Water Heating panel is a large panel installed usually on the roof. Inside the panel are tubes running back and forth containing a mixture of glycol and distilled water. As this water runs through the tubes, the sun heats it.  The tubes then are run into the house, into a large, insulated hot water heater type of storage tank. These, now very hot tubes, heat the water for the house inside that tank. Then, the tubes run the glycol water back up to the panel to be heated again. This is called a ‘closed loop’ because the fluid in the pipes never mixes with the actual household water.  The pump running this system is a solar powered pump.  The whole system only cycles when the sun shines.

The Initial heating and hot water system proposal: October 18, 2010

The water that will be used for the heating system in the house will flow in a circle. The water will start at the tankless water heater.  This tankless will fire up and heat the water to the correct temperature. Then the water travels to the hydronic heating system where, as it flows through coils, it will heat the forced air for the house heat. After flowing through the coils, the still hot water will flow down and circulate back and forth under the floors of both bathrooms and then the kitchen floor before circulating back to meet the tankless water heater again. The tankless will then fire again only if needed.  If someone turns on a hot water tap, or the dishwasher calls for hot water, the water will flow to that particular appliance. This house, itself, suggested the loop system because the closet for the tankless water heater, the closet for the heating system, and the bathrooms and kitchen are all in a very small area in the core of the house. The water does not travel far as it is a pretty small loop covering approximately 100 square feet of area. ( a rough estimate).

November: We added a solar water heater to this system to heat the water.  The tankless will now be the backup water heater for cloudy days or at night.


HERS Index or “You should never take more than you give” (Circle of Life, Elton John). This is a scoring system established by the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) in which a home built to the specifications of the HERS Reference Home (based on the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code) scores a HERS Index of 100, while a net zero energy home scores a HERS Index of 0. The lower a home’s HERS Index, the more energy efficient it is in comparison to the HERS Reference Home.

Each 1-point decrease in the HERS Index corresponds to a 1% reduction in energy consumption compared to the HERS Reference Home. Thus a home with a HERS Index of 85 is 15% more energy efficient than the HERS Reference Home and a home with a HERS Index of 80 is 20% more energy efficient. Ideally, a HERS rating of 0 means ‘all that you are taking in, equals what you are putting out.  (To qualify to be an “Energy Star Home” this index must be somewhere around 80-85).’

How many of us have had to deal with “needy people’?  You know the kind, they are always needing help or comfort, nothing you can do for them is enough. These types are never satisfied and they sap the energy and patience out of even the best of us, right?

Well, the higher a HERS index is, for a house, the more demanding and “needy’ it is. It sucks the energy and is never satisfied.  The leaks in a house to the outside are the number one contributor to ‘needy’. A house full of air leaks, either from uncaulked windows, or loose fitting ducts, too low insulation, is a very unsatisfied house. And like the demands of a needy friend, you will never keep up.

Therefore, the lower a HERS index, the more satisfied and non demanding your house is.

Manual J or “the psychiatrist”

Manual J is actually not a measurement scale. Rather, it is the calculation of load (demand) that the house is making on the heating and air conditioning system. Using the illustration above, this is the caregiver to the very needy friend.

Those math gurus in the air conditioning/heating industry, who are trying to figure out what is the problem with the needy house, are taking into account many variables as to why the house is so hard to please.  Again, there are some people, who might be really ornery based on emotional ‘baggage’ they are carrying that we do not see. Just as these people need a psychiatrist to sort them out, the house needs a Manual J load calculation to sort it out.

The neediness of the house is influenced by location, orientation, climate, surfaces inside the house, as well as sweaty humans and what they are doing in there.

Do not become an enabler: putting in the biggest system of heating and cooling in a house will not solve all its problems any more than giving a spoiled person everything they want will make them satisfied.

An oversized system will cool too quickly and cycle off without running long enough to reduce the humidity.  This leaves the house cold and clammy. The constant short bursts of ons and offs will drive you nuts. O.K. you are saving money on energy, but your house is ‘owning’ you. ( The latest theory is to do a manual J calculation and then actually buy a unit 20% under the recommended rating).

RESNET: Residential Energy Services Network.  Certified energy auditors/raters, Qualified Building Contractors/Builders

Home Star Energy Retrofit Act of 2010  H.R. 5019
As for as we can tell, this is not a law yet.
On May 6, 2010 It passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 246-161. Now it is in the Senate.
We just found out that we cannot take advantage of this law retroactively.
The Law allows for a $6 billion program
Home Star is designed to spur home energy retrofits by providing rebates to homeowners who install energy-saving products, such as insulation, windows, doors, and heating systems. Home Star includes two tracks to provide long and short-term benefits.
The Silver Star program will provide up-front rebates for the installation of specific energy-saving technologies, including insulation, duct sealing, windows and doors, air sealing, and water heaters. Homeowners will be able to receive up to $3,000 in rebates under Silver Star.
The Gold Star program rewards homeowners who conduct a comprehensive energy audit and implement a full complement of measures to reduce energy use throughout the home. Consumers will receive $3,000, or half the cost, for measures that reduce energy use by 20 percent, and can receive up to $8,000 when additional energy savings are achieved.
Home Star also creates an innovative financing program to be sure that energy efficiency investments continue after the program’s conclusion.
Home Star is expected to allow 3 million families to retrofit their homes to be more energy efficient. Consumers are predicted to save $9.2 billion on their energy bills over the next 10 years as a result of Home Star’s energy efficiency investments. And, Home Star will create 168,000 new jobs here in the United States. Construction jobs cannot be outsourced and more than 90 percent of energy efficiency technologies are manufactured here in America.

EVHA:  Energy Value Housing Award or “our Goal”: “Honoring builders who voluntarily incorporate energy efficiency in the design, construction and marketing of new homes”.  The EnergyValue Housing Award is coordinated by the NAHB Research Center in Partnership  with: The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Energy Subcommittee,  NAHB Research Center,  The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Building America Program, and  National Renewable Energy Laboratory.  Check out:

This is a competition which we wish to be competitive in.  This year, 2011, is the first year where existing homes are also competing.  We are anticipating to enter our newly retrofitted home in the 2012 competition.

R-Value or think: ‘Potholder”

The amount of insulation your house is carrying to protect it from the elements is the R-Value. Fur, blubber, haybales…all of them have an R-value. The R-value is simply how impervious to heat and cold transfer the material is.  If you grab a hot pot, the heat goes instantly into your hand, there was no resistance to the heat, you get burned. No R-Value. Use a cotton crocheted potholder made by your 5 year old granddaughter and you might have 10 seconds before you are burned. That potholder has a higher R-value.  Use one of those shiny, ‘yuppie’ mitts from Bed, Bath and Beyond and you could probably walk twice around your house and to the neighbor’s without feeling the heat.  That mitt has a very high R-value.

The R-Value is calculated per inch of thickness of the material. That is why it is better to have outside walls made of 2×6” studs, than 2X4” studs, you can put in 6 inches of whatever material you choose. (Blubber might be hard to work with.)

Note for misers;   If you think like me, you are thinking, ‘if I take a six inch thick bat of fiberglass rated at R19 but then squish it down and pack in a second strip of R-19 on top of that, I should get an R-38 insulation in my wall.’ WOW, and cheap at that!  Think again, the math doesn’t work. Why? Because you squished both strips from 6” down to 3” and R-value is based on thickness. You still have only 6” of the material. You didn’t double the R-value. But you did just increase cost of insulation.

Electrical Lighting Definitions

Quick Definitions for future reference:

IC  = “Insulation Contacting”  Can light Housing.  This simply means insulation can be put around them where they protrude into the attic.

ICAT  = “Insulation Contacting Air-Tight” Can Light Housing. Same as above with the added feature that no air leaks from the house upward into the attic.

Incandescent Light Bulb:  The current light bulbs we all use.  Measured in watts. i.e. 40 Watt, 60 Watt, etc. In use since about 1908. The life span of this bulb is rated at 1,000 hours. If you use the light bulb for five hours a day, seven days a week you can expect to replace the bulb in about 200 days.


Something we bet you didn’t know:

The Energy Independence and Security Act in December 2007 mandates the phasing out of the traditional light bulb.
After December 31, 2011, the federal ban on the 100-watt incandescent light bulb will take effect.  Two years after that, the 60-watt and 40-watt versions will disappear from stores, too.  😦

CFL:  Compact Flourescent Light.  CFLs use about a third of the electricity it takes to power an incandescent. This looks like a oddly twisted light bulb. The life expectancy of a 13-watt CFL is 8,000 hours. This works out to about 1,600 days at the five hours per day usage rate, or more than four years. Light quality is in Kelvins. The higher the Kelvin, the bluer white the light. Think cold, institutional dorm room look. Look for anything under 3000 Kelvin which seems to be soft/warm white.  A CFL is rated between 13 and 15 watts.  CFLs contain mercury and thus must be handled only by trained individuals at specified facilities. By 2014 recycling will be required. For convenience in recycling these bulbs, special prepaid boxes can be bought that will be picked up by FedEx when they are full.

LED: Light-Emitting Diode.  An 8-watt LED bulb is similar to a 40-watt incandescent bulb. Although you can expect a more than 25,000-hour life expectancy out of an 8-watt LED bulb, you’re going to pay a premium for the more energy-efficient bulb. Sylvania sells an 8-watt LED light bulb with a 25,000-hour life expectancy online for $40 — for just one bulb. If you use the light for five hours per day, seven days per week, you can expect 5,000 days of use out of the bulb — that’s more than 13 years. LEDs don’t contain mercury.



  1. How does the carbon foot print come into the equasion? Renovating existing structures leaves a small foot print. Good luck Rick

  2. Regarding the ‘Potholder’…. conventional fiberglass, think potholder with holes in it. For spray foam, think styrofoam coffee cup. In your case, in the crawl space the potholder with holes vs coffee cup: which will control moisture transmission?

  3. I’m amazed, I must say. Seldom do I encounter a blog that’s both equally educative and entertaining, and without a doubt, you have hit the nail on the head.
    The issue is something which not enough folks are speaking intelligently about.
    Now i’m very happy that I found this during my search for something concerning this.

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