Your Home Energy Auditor May Be A Moisture Detective!

Your Home Energy Auditor May Be A Moisture Detective!

Many types of mold are harmless, but several have been found to produce serious health complications and/or compromise the quality and structure of the home. Home energy auditors can be a great resource by looking for signs of water damage during their inspection, which may indicate a mold or rot problem.

Whether you live in a brand new house or a mid-century fixer-upper, a home energy auditor can help identify the most cost-effective modifications for your unique home. Jonathan Brown, owner of Designnine Studio, a Community Power Works auditing company, has seen first-hand some of lesser-known benefits of the energy audit process. “Homeowners frequently report that they were able to learn a lot from having a simple energy audit of their home. It’s the collected knowledge our auditors possess that makes them so valuable,” reports Mr. Brown.

Some frequent questions an auditor may hear is, “Why is water forming on my windows? Do I need new windows?” The simple answer: it depends. Moisture in the air (water vapor) condenses to form water droplets on cool surfaces. This is known as the dew point. This is the same process that forms droplets on the outside of a cold glass of water. The extent that this condensation occurs in a home is a result of the relative humidity, air temperature, and ventilation. Single-paned windows are notorious for producing condensation because they do not offer the thermal barrier, or temperature gradient, that a double-paned window provides.

Dr. Wade Ayers, a Designnine Studio auditor, draws from his knowledge of health care when inspecting a home, “We’ve seen a number of homes with moisture control issues. These moisture problems are typically linked to a lack of air-flow in a non-efficient home, and may contribute to dampness, wood rot, mold health issues, or heat loss.” “Mold is directly related to humidity, and humidity is directly related to air flow,” he adds.

Energy auditors perform many tests during their 2-4 hour inspection. “We are able to utilize technology to assess the strengths and weaknesses of a home,” says Dr. Ayers. “The blower door test depressurizes the building, allowing for an increase in air flow, and then our infrared cameras can detect the resulting differences in temperature. With this technology we are able to determine areas of the home that are compromised.”For example, during a recent home energy audit, a simple blower door test revealed signs of leakage from French doors (pictured to the right in dark purple).

Closer inspection showed dry rot on the doorframe (shown below). “It seemed peculiar to me that only the bottom of the door was showing signs of damage,” Dr. Ayers recalls.

Using his knowledge of efficient airflow and moisture control, the Dr. Ayers was able to determine that the double-paned windows were not likely to form condensation, since the inside pane is at indoor temperature and did not allow for the water vapor in the air to reach its dew point and condense. Upon further investigation, he discovered metal weather-stripping on the outside of the door that had not been properly installed flush with the wood. What was meant to be a step in the right direction had instead created a bigger problem due to incorrect installation. The dry rot had not only damaged the door, but also contributed to a large air leak within the home, making it difficult for the homeowners to keep the room comfortably warm, thus increasing their electricity usage and creating a perfect environment for mold.

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Community Power Works is a Seattle neighborhood-based building retrofit program that will achieve deep energy savings and create green jobs.