BENNINGTON — Homeowners do not have to choose between aesthetics and energy efficiency.
The Bennington Area Habitat for Humanity purchased 334 North Branch St. in December and invited Jim Goodine of Blue Heron Construction to perform an energy audit. Habitat also has plans to establish five more homes on the adjacent lots for qualifying families.
On Thursday, Goodine conducted a home energy assessment to evaluate how much energy a home consumes and find ways to reduce energy loss. In an attempt to reduce the energy bill, Goodine spoke with Habitat volunteers and other interested folks about how to seal gaps and where the most air can escape, especially in an old home.
The North Branch Street home, said to be built in the early 1900s, was purchased in 2006 without a full basement or kitchen. The owner has since expanded those areas and after selling it to Habitat, the organization is now doing minimal rehab on the rest of the home for a qualified family.
Goodine narrowed down a few ways that air can escape in a home and tools used to stop it include spray foam, which is done professionally, gun foam, and a caulk gun. This particular house has 12-foot support beams that started in the basement and went all the way up to the second floor, which allows for a lot of air to travel from the basement and up to the top.
The most important thing, and least obvious thing to take away from Goodine's assessment, was to buy child safety plugs for electrical outlets.
"If there's one thing you can do for your house, go to Home Depot and get a packet of the foam gaskets and go around and put gaskets on all the outlets in your house," he urged. "It's absolutely the best return you'll ever get on your dollar."
He explained that in the past, a homeowner had complained about air leaking out of outlets on the lower level floors, but not at the top. This is due to the fact that the air enters through the basement and escapes through the top floors, Goodine said.
"The idea is to stop air from moving from the basement up through the house and from the first floor to the second floor," Goodine explained. "Ten years ago, one of the guys doing a presentation at Efficiency Vermont said the first thing you ask your builder is if they own a foam gun. If they don't, you can show them where their pickup truck is and tell them to leave."
According to Goodine, a squirt of foam is placed between every two pieces of wood that come together when new houses are framed. The estimated lifetime of the few foams used is 100 years if not more, he said.
"DOW donates a dozen cans of the spray foam and a gun for every house Habitat builds," Curt Merrow, site supervisor said.
The Dow Chemical Company provides chemical, plastic and agricultural products to consumers.
Merrow added that Yale Locks & Hardware donates a set of locks for every house as well as Schneider Electric installing every house's circuit breaker.
Because of the house's original structure involving 12-foot beams from foundation to roof, Goodine said a balloon framing technique was utilized. This means that the long studs are uninterrupted and rely solely on nails to secure each piece of wood, according to Old House Web. Among the horizontal boards that support upper level floor joists, a diagonal board acts as a stud brace flush with the wall's surface.
"There's a space that runs from the basement up to the top," Goodine said. "There is some insulation there but it's not tight, so you've got air moving. Air just follows the whole height of the wall."
In order to mend the construction style, Goodine advised sealing up the basement with spray foam and insert more insulation.
On the second floor, a master bedroom opens up to a hardwood entrance with small side closets and sloped ceilings. In an effort stop air flow, molding strips were used to cover the cracks between the ceiling and the wall in the closet, but Goodine said it was wide open behind the molding. From there he would either pull it down and tape and caulk it, or just caulk around the molding.
While becoming more energy efficient is a primary goal for homeowners in respect to the environment, it's also a mission of reducing the cost of heat as it aimlessly escapes through cracks and holes unseen.
"We had one house that we reduced it [the heat bill] by 63 percent and we were not after reducing the heating bill, we were after comfort; you couldn't be in the house without slippers on and couldn't walk around in a t-shirt," Goodine said. "It was so drafty. We changed all the windows and weather stripped the doors, sealed the attic and spray foamed the whole basement and put gaskets on the outlets."
A question was raised whether a house could be sealed too tight and not allowing any air to enter or escape. Goodine said the situation is possible and can be cured with a fresh air system that runs 24/7 at a low volume.
"It's warm air going out through a heat exchanger and cool air comes in," Goodine said. "Warm air going out is warming the cool air coming in. You're reclaiming 80 percent of the heat out of the air. It runs very low volume and you're introducing fresh air in the places you need it."
Goodine suggested installing a fresh air system in a hallway near bedroom doorway entrances and to pull the stale air out from the kitchen, bathroom or laundry room.
For more information on Habitat for Humanity's projects, visit www.benningtonareahabitat.com.