Sunday, October 28, 2012

Your house might be making you sick

By Marge Padgitt

As people close up their homes for winter, sealing every open gap, and installing thermal windows and insulation, they may be doing more than making their home energy efficient. They might be doing things that can make their family ill.

Houses need at least six air exchanges per day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. These air exchanges are necessary in order to move out tobacco smoke, Carbon Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide, Nitrogen Dioxide, Radon, and a host of other chemicals such as Formaldehyde that off-gas from furniture, carpet and woodwork. These air exchanges bring in fresh air for the occupants to breathe.

Exacerbating the problem are appliances that take air out of the house such as attic fans, range hoods, bathroom fans, clothes dryers, and central vacuums. If the house is tightly constructed replacement air needs to be introduced somehow.

Appliances such as furnaces, hot water heaters, fireplaces, and wood-burning stoves need air for combustion, and they take house air for this purpose. Open fireplaces are only -10 - +10% efficient, and use heated air from the home, causing the furnace to work harder. Even if an outside air source is supplied to a fireplace in an attempt to use less house air, this is often inadequate, and is not the best solution. Cold air dumped on a hot fire cools it down, causes it to burn inefficiently, and to produce more CO.

High-efficiency gas fireplace inserts are 75% + efficient and use no indoor air for combustion, and wood-burning fireplace inserts and freestanding stoves are 70%+ efficient and use much less air for combustion than traditional open fireplaces do. These are good choices whether a home has inadequate air for combustion or not. Other methods to improve fireplace efficiency include installation of glass doors, use of a grate heater, and improvement in design. A Rumford style fireplace is a better choice than a standard style fireplace because it uses less air and is more efficient. Efficient fireplaces or inserts use less wood than standard fireplaces to produce the same amount of heat, so an added benefit is lower energy cost.

Health effects associated with poor indoor air quality are unexplained flu-like symptoms, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, confusion, eye and nose irritation, and in more serious cases, inability to wake up, asthma, cancer, irreversible brain damage, or death.

Another problem that can occur in larger homes or homes that are tightly constructed is unbalanced house pressure. Symptoms of negative house pressure are moisture condensation on cold surfaces, smoking fireplaces or wood-burning stoves, difficulty lighting a fire in a fireplace, CO backup from gas and wood appliances, back-drafting of appliances (and CO), CO detector alarms frequently, and cold air infiltration through leaks. Children and pets may be more affected than adults. If a person feels ill when at home, but better when outside the home, this is an indication that something is wrong with the house.

A good solution is the PlusAire whole house ventilator, which mixes cool outside air with warm air before sending it on to the furnace and the rest of the house where it is used as combustion air and fresh air for the occupants to breathe. 

Strategies to improve air quality:

  1. Install portable air cleaners
  2. Maintain humidifiers and dehumidifiers and empty water trays
  3. Replace air filters on schedule
  4. Turn on whole house fans or bathroom and kitchen fans with doors or windows open occasionally in Spring and Summer (not during cold weather)
  5. Install a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) to the furnace (assists the furnace only)
  6. Install a whole-house ventilator such as Plus-Aire to bring in make-up air for appliances and fresh air to breathe
  7. Install EPA Certified high-efficiency gas or wood-burning inserts in fireplaces
  8. Be sure clothes dryers are properly vented outdoors and vents are cleaned twice per year
  9. Use a vented gas space heater or stove rather than an un-vented gas appliance
  10. Never use kerosene heaters inside the house
  11. Have a trained licensed HVAC contractor clean and tune-up furnaces annually
  12. Have a professional CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep inspect and clean furnace, fireplace, masonry heater, and wood stove flues annually
  13. Have an energy specialist do a blower door test on the home, which will indicate leaking areas and negative pressure issues


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Masonry Heater Workshop Oct. 26-31 or Oct 28-31, 2012

Masonry Heater Workshop Oct. 26-31 or Oct 28-31, 2012
Masonry Heaters are clean-burning heating appliances that use the renewable resource of wood for fuel. They are site built, with a core that is hand-built or pre-cast.  Masonry heaters use no electricity, gas, fans, or duct work, and work by storing heat in a thermal mass, then emitting radiant heat to the living space. Find out why Masonry Heaters are the best heating option today! Masons, skilled homeowners, and contractors interested in learning new skills will want to attend this intensive training session. 
The Heater Mason Development Program(HMED) has proven to be an excellent tool to learn more about masonry heaters. The curriculum is designed as an introductory course for masons or homeowners who want to know more about the heating appliance. This course may be used as a "professional credential" good towards the Certified Heater Mason program.
The workshop is being held October 26 - 31, 2012 near Sullivan Missouri, near St. Louis. Workshop participants will learn how masonry heaters work, and participate in the the basics of heater building,  hands-on heater core building, and hands-on oven core installation. A heated bench and wood-burning cook stove are also part of the program. This workshop is an approved HMED program for those wishing to become Certified Heater Masons.
The class schedule is as follows:
October 26-27: Intensive classroom training with HMED approved credit towards Certification (Certified Heater Mason). Heater builders who wish to be Certified Heater Masons can apply credits for this course. Other builders are encouraged to attend in order to learn the basics of Masonry Heaters which is extremely important! 
October 28-29: Hands-on workshop- build a contra-flow masonry heater with bake oven and heated bench.
October 30 -31: Hands-on workshop bonus- Build a wood-fired cook-stove!
Those wishing to stay longer to assist with the exterior finishing work are welcome.
The project instructors are Jerry Frisch, owner of Lopez Quarries in Everett, Washington, Gary Hart, owner of Aaron's Ltd. Alternative Energy in High Ridge, Missouri, and Gene Padgitt, Vice President of HearthMasters, Inc. in Kansas City, Missouri. All three are Certified Heater Masons. Jerry Frisch is a master heater builder.
Cost for the four-day HMED workshop is $795 for MHA Members and $900 for non-members, plus bonus two-day cook stove workshop.  ALL 6 days!
$400 for non-HMED participants: attend any four days from Oct 28 - 31!
CEU's have been approved for CSIA and NFI. 

Visit or call Richard Smith, Executive Director, at   520-883-0191 for more information or to register for the workshops. Get your motel reservations in now! E-mail