Home Energy Magazine Publisher Tom White Discusses How to Improve Home Energy Efficiency

Written by AnonymousSeptember 7, 2011
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Home Energy magazine publisher Tom White discusses how to improve home energy efficiency from high-tech product choices to simple low-tech solutions

Home Energy magazine disseminates objective and practical information on residential energy efficiency, performance, comfort and affordability. Both published bimonthly and online at www.HomeEnergy.org, the magazine covers residential comfort issues and trends with a systems engineering approach. Home Energy’s content comes directly from professionals in the field who are researching and employing innovative design, building and remodeling practices and products. They are experts using the latest and best building techniques with an emphasis on implementing sound building fundamentals and “curing” sick buildings.

Home Energy continues to evolve with changes in building science, covering all the most relevant home performance news for their subscriber base.  We recently spoke with Tom White, Publisher of Home Energy magazine to discuss some of the latest innovations in home energy efficiency and what homeowners can do to improve the efficiency of their homes from high-tech product choices to practical, low-tech solutions. 

RWFD: The mission of Home Energy Magazine is to disseminate objective and practical information on residential energy efficiency, performance, comfort, and affordability.  Can you tell me more about Home Energy Magazine and what you provide to your readers?

TW: We’ve been the leading trade magazine for home energy professionals since about 1984. We are published in print, bi-monthly, and have been online since 1993. Some of our readers refer to us as the Bible of the home performance industry. We’re published by a small, California-based non-profit organization and you can find us on the web at www.HomeEnergy.org. The magazine is available by subscription only and is not intended for the homeowner or DIYer community. Our audience has always been the home energy professional, the residential remodeling contractor or energy efficiency program manager. We cut across a number of industries; HVAC, roofing and insulation and in particular, our readers are people who are interested in a whole house approach to energy efficiency.  They know that what they’re doing in one part of the house affects what’s happening in another part as far as how energy is used. The building envelope is a big part of making a home more energy efficient and comfortable, and doors and windows are a big part of that.

RWFD: What are some of the most significant new developments in energy efficient windows that benefit homeowners?

TW:  There are some new technologies that DIYers can take advantage of in terms of different types of windows. In terms of the glazing or the glass unit themselves, there are recent developments in high performance windows and the core of the modern high performance window is the insulating glass unit. That’s the sealed assembly of two or more coated layers of glass and often they’re constructed with inert gas in between the panes that provides insulation.  Sometimes they have films applied or even four layers of glass depending on the insulation value that you’re going for. There are also new coatings that are being applied to lower the emittance of the radiation coming through the window and you can choose spectrally-select coatings which are often referred to as low E coatings.  So if you want to have light coming in on the west side of your house but you are concerned about increasing your air conditioning bill because it might get too hot, there are types of spectrally-selective window coatings that will let the visible light in but will block the infra-red light spectrum, which is what we perceive as heat. There are also new types of window frames that are low conducting. Typically, aluminum framed windows have a very high conductance but vinyl and composite frames have lower conductance and therefore higher insulating value.  So there have been improvements in the framing as well as in the insulating glass unit and the types of glazings and coatings applied to the glass itself.   

RWFD: What are some simple things a homeowner can do with the windows in their homes –short of replacing them-- to save energy and money?

TW: A lot of older homes have windows that just need a little bit of tightening up –perhaps the wood has shrunk over the years or the house may have settled some. So you may just need to add some v bronze metal or some other type of weather stripping or air sealing in the window channels. You can also apply felt to the window ledges to keep air out. The primary concern with older windows is that they’re a source of air infiltration so if you can keep the sides of the windows plumb that helps to seal them. If the windows are not well aligned with the frame and the putty that holds the glass in the frame is not tight, you may be getting air in from around the glass itself. Plus there are films that can be applied to windows that will lower the amount of conductance and lower the heat gain. In order to provide more insulation,  you can add things like storm windows or shutters on the outside of the window and there are even window quilts which you can use to both lower  the amount of air coming into the home and improve the window’s insulation value. 

RWFD: for homeowners looking to hire a qualified window installer, what tips would you gives them?

TW: You’d want to make sure that the sales person is explaining the different insulation, solar heat gain and visual transmittance quality of the window because you will want to have different values for those windows depending on their location on your home. You’ll also want to understand the energy performance of the window as a whole which includes the frame, as compared to the insulation qualities of the actual glass unit. Be sure to ask about expected savings and payback periods for the windows and do they apply window to window or to the house value as a whole. And when asking about lowering your utility bill, ask what kind of model are they using when they project savings as compared to what you can expect from YOUR house. Another question to ask is what is the expected life of the product, particularly if the frame is vinyl. Find out what the installers’ credentials are and whether the warranty on the window will be affected if you use your own installer. If you’re using your own contractor to do the installation it can adversely affect warranties offered by window manufacturers.  And finally, be very aware of the flashing details they’ll be installing which are a part of any installation.  Make sure window installers are experienced with flashing of details so that no water or air can enter around the newly installed window.   

RWFD: Home Energy Magazine has partnered with Home Energy Saver Pro to create Home Energy Pro. Home Energy Pro is a global social network whose purpose is to connect Home Energy professionals in order to share resources, education and knowledge.  Can you tell us a bit more about this group and how it benefits homeowners in the long run?

TW: The group is a networking tool for professionals to share best practices and get answers to questions they encounter in the field.  In the long run it benefits homeowners by  providing the professionals they may hire with a peer to peer network to learn what other professionals are hearing from their customers and how they’re solving those problems for customers around the country.

RWFD:  On the topic of educating homeowners on how to improve their home’s energy efficiency, what advice would you give to homeowners on things they can do to improve their home’s energy efficiency?

TW: Some of the basic things that homeowners can do to improve their comfort and lower their energy bill can be as simple as installing an awning or planting a tree. You can often increase the energy efficiency of a home by planting a deciduous tree on the south side of a home which helps cool the home in the summer and lets the sun come through in the winter months. Or installing large awnings or overhangs which shade windows when the sun is high in the summer, and in the winter when the sun is low in the sky, it will let the sunlight through into the living space. Or if they are adding a new window, consider which direction the window is facing.  Is it going to get a lot of south-facing sun which will require them to keep the curtains closed all day because it makes the house too hot? It also makes sense to consider how the house is situated on the landscape and where the sun comes in. If their home is affected by other houses nearby or tall buildings, they probably create a lot of shade which will help keep the home cooler in the summer months. Just be aware of the light available to them in the area around the home and then maximize the amount of natural light they can bring into home which will save on energy bills.

RWFD: Home Energy Magazine focuses on many aspects of residential energy efficiency, how important are energy efficient windows in the overall effort of creating an energy efficient home?

TW: It’s important to think of windows as part of the building envelope and they are part of the larger system that includes the walls and the doors and your attic, roof or basement. The placement of windows is obviously very important for light and ventilation and there are reasons you want these kinds of openings in your building envelope besides just to let in light.  But you don’t want a situation where you’re creating unwanted ventilation in the wintertime or a lot of heat in the summer. A lot of the efficiency of your windows has to do with sometimes just fixing initial building designs where you have maybe too much window area or not enough. Windows are an integral part of the building envelope and anytime you’re puncturing a hole in that envelope, you want to be aware of how it’s going to impact the house as a whole.

RWFD:  Tom, thank you for talking with us today!                  


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