Sunday, August 28, 2011

Home Energy Audit Results

Having to leave the country this spring for a couple weeks due to work, the Home Energy Audit that I won from the Crunchy Chicken blog had to be put on hold.  We were finally able to connect and get the audit done towards the end of June.  Within a week or so after the audit, the Final Report was received via e-mail.

A lot of things have been going on around here, not to mention the earthquake, so it has been slow getting this posted on my blog.  My intention was also to show you some of the energy saving tips that were recommended and completed, but that is happening a lot slower than anticipated.  Without any further delay, to the audit we go.

After winning the contest from the Crunchy Chicken, it didn't take long for John from Pro Energy Consultants gave me a call to set up an appointment.  He was very friendly and cooperative with my hectic schedule.  Since business travel was in my near future, we decided to postpone the audit.  It took me a good couple months to get back to him, and he was still ready and waiting.  Part of the reason for waiting was that the spring weather was so nice, we weren't using the heat or the a/c in the house.  The thinking was that the audit would show more "leaks" in the house if the temperature differential was greater between the inside and the outside.  John mentioned that he does do more audits in the summer and winter, but mostly because people are thinking about their energy bills more when the heat or a/c are running and people are receiving their extra large utility bills.  You know, out of sight, out of mind.  Hmmm, this may have been part of my delay too, but I won't confess to it.

John showed up on time and on schedule in his car slathered with his business information and his very appropriate license plate.

Apparently the top question on his car window explains the rush during the summer and winter months.

We did a quick walk through of the house getting some basic information, such as the size of the house and the types of rooms.  Then he quickly went to work setting up the fan in the doorway that would draw a suction on the house and expose all those leaks and tell us exactly how big the leaks were.

Once the a/c units were turned off and the windows and doors closed, John got out the thermal imager that would show us the leaks.  It didn't take long before we could feel where the leaks were coming from.

With the outside temperature into the lower 90's, and the inside temperature in the low 80's there was enough temperature differential that you could feel the heat being sucked into the house through all the cracks and crevices.  Not only that, there was a hot breeze coming down the stairs from the top bedroom suite.  It felt as though a window was open up there.  The top bedroom suite was created when the previous owner of the house converted the upstairs attic into a bedroom and bathroom.  It is a nice room, but apparently not very air tight.

The thermal imager wasn't needed to figure out where the hot air was coming from.  It was the can lights in the ceiling.  Those can lights backed into the small space between the ceiling of that room and the roof of the house.  John pointed the thermal imager up towards on of the lights and it was amazing.

The light is not on and hadn't been on, so there was no residual heat from the bulb.  That was all heat pouring in from the space just under the roof!  When I placed my hand below the can light, I could feel a hot breeze being sucked into the house.

As we went through the house, we also looked at windows and outlets.  Any outlets on the outside walls were leaking like a sieve.

You can see in the above picture the heat "spraying" into the house from the outlet.  Surprisingly, my windows were fairly tight and caulked up well.  There wasn't much leaking coming from around the windows, which is where I had expected most of the leaks to be located.  The one set of doors that I did expect the leaks to appear and wasn't disappointed, was the french doors down in the basement.

The whole audit took about two hours.  The time went really fast and it may not have taken so long if I wasn't tagging along, taking pictures of his thermal imager and asking so many questions.  But I feel that seeing is believing, and seeing the thermal imager on MY house, made me a believer that there are opportunities to save money on my energy bills.

If you take the time to read the Final Report, a lot of it is generic information.  Information you probably already know or can find on the web.  The one calculation that they figure out is how much my house is leaking.  The report shows that it is leaking slightly more than the national average, and all the leaks combined is the equivalent of having a 4.0 square foot window (2 feet by 2 feet) open 365 days a year.  When you think about it that way, it is much easier to realize how much the house is leaking and that something needs to be done.

The end of the report also listed some recommendations/correction strategies to seal up some of those leaks.  The top floor bedroom was the worst area for me, so those need to be done first, but there are not a lack of things to seal up.

Now the main question everyone is wondering, "Was it worth it?"  For me, since I got this service free from a give away, it was definitely worth it.  But would it be worth the $300-500 they normally charge? The final report was less than I expected as far as useful content, but I think that is because I followed him around during the audit, asked a lot of questions and we discussed a lot of these items, so it wasn't anything new from that.  What really made it worth while was seeing the leaks on the thermal imager.

Looking online, they cost several thousand dollars, so that doesn't make sense to buy one, and the only places that could be found online that rent the units, rent them by the month at $400-600 per month.  That is about the same cost as the energy audit, but without all the knowledge of what to look for.  So is it worth it?  I would have to say yes.

The one thing that I wish was a part of the audit, was a revisit later with the thermal imager to show how all the improvements made have helped.  This could be a part of the total audit package.  Or if Home Depot would just rent these devices by the day, it could also solve the problem.

There will be future postings as I show making the corrections/recommendations of the audit and if these changes seem to make much of a difference.  Thanks Crunchy Chicken for the Pro Energy Audit.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Batten down the hatches...HURRICANE!

Moving to Virginia from Arizona has been quite the adventure on so many fronts.  But it has been especially adventurous on the weather/natural disaster front.  As if the tornado and earthquake weren't enough, now it is time for a hurricane!  It is no surprise to anyone in the world that has any connection with the outside world that hurricane Irene is hitting land in North Carolina and heading north.

We are located just west of Richmond, so we have the advantage of having more distance between us and the coast, but according to this radar image that was just pulled off, we are right on the edge of the hurricane's outer effects.

For the most part, we are ready.  Fortunately when we bought the house, it came with a built in generator, that has proven itself useful more than once already.  That is a bonus that was never realized when the house selection process was taking place a little over a year ago.

We have taken all the patio furniture and put it into the garage.  We have left the chickens and guineas in their run so they don't get blown away, although they may be better if they were let out and went into the woods to hide from the storm.  All other loose items outside have either been put into the garage or strapped down to something secure.

Yesterday after work I took the boys and we went and strapped down the bee hives.  I used the dog run curly stakes and ratchet straps.

The one hive with the regular screened bottom board was shorter than the other, and I couldn't get a stake into the ground between the hives to ratchet each individually, so one ratchet strap went around the shorter hive to keep it together, just in case it fell over, and then a second ratchet strap went over both hives pulling them down onto their stands.  It seemed secure, so we'll have to wait and see.

The hive at Possum's garden was easier since it was one hive on blocks.  Two curly stakes and a ratchet strap was enough to hold that hive down securely.

The Good Wife took off to Texas Friday morning to help out her parents.  They both had recent surgery and she went for a little bit to help them out.  From the sounds of it, she is working more than "vacationing."  The Good Wife's sister is coming down from the DC area today for the weekend, so we will have company to help keep the boys entertained.

Right now the electricity is still on and the kids are playing in the house.  If all goes well, we will get some rain, a little wind and life will go on.  The one good thing that may come out of this hurricane is there may be a lot of firewood available.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


By now I'm sure you have heard the news that Virginia had a 5.8 earthquake that equalled the strongest quake in their history. The crazy part is that the epicenter was only about 6 miles NW of our house. You can see the location of the epicenter on this Google Map.

With all the years of travel to Taiwan and China, I have never felt an actual, full scale earthquake. There was a small 2.something this past February that woke me up at 2am, but no one else felt it.  I had to Google it to make sure that I wasn't going crazy.

We didn't have any damage at our house other than some picture frames falling and breaking. The house is still in good shape, other than the wear and tear of three boys living here.

As I was going down to close up the chicken coop for the night I heard a rumbling noise but didn't think about it.  The Good Wife was then calling me from the driveway with the boys saying there was another aftershock.  We found out later it was a 4.2 aftershock.  We were finally able to get the boys to sleep on our bed, but they are ready to move back to Phoenix.

First a tornado, now an earthquake. And this weekend, possibly a hurricane! At least there aren't any active volcanoes near by!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bee Update

It has been a few weeks since the time was taken to give a thorough looking at the three beehives. Everything was looking good at my last visit.

The two primary hives were full of bees. The brood pattern looked good and it seemed that the hives were doing great. There was a small concern about swarming as it was still early in the summer and the hives appeared to be running out of room. Because of this a honey super with a queen excluder was placed on top. Knowing the nectar flow was slowing if not done, it was more just to reassure the bees that they didn't need to find a new home and that they would continue to receive additional space as needed. After inspecting the hives at Possum's garden, the same preventive measures were taken.

Last weekend after a quick trip to the Dairy Queen down the way with the Middle Son and Youngest Son, we drove past the hives. We stopped at the two main hives because they were bearding again. A sign of strong hives and hot, humid weather.

Saturday morning time was finally available to give them a good once over.  Upon opening the first hive and removing the honey super, which the bees hadn't touched, other than to hang around on, the mass of bees was incredible. The hive was definitely strong.

However, appearances can be deceiving. After actually pulling frames out and checking, there wasn't as much honey in the upper hive body as there had been the last time I checked.  There was only capped honey in the upper corners of the frames.  These bees were using up their resources and food reserves during the dry time. They will definitely need feeding this fall to make sure they have enough to get them through the winter.

The next hive had more bees and they were in much better shape. They had full frames full of capped honey. I was able to look through both hive bodies before they started getting agitated. Apparently they do that this time of year. There isn't as much pollen and nectar to be gathered so more of the bees hang around the hive and they think you are taking their goods, so they get a bit upset. Understandable.

The hive at Possum's garden was between the other two hives as far as honey reserves and pollen. These bees have always been a bit more aggressive than the other two hives, and Saturday morning they didn't disappoint! After a quick look, I closed it up and left them alone.

The bees are going to need some TLC this fall to help their chances of making it through the winter. The going average in Virginia is about 30% losses over the winter, whether from starvation, pests, insecticides or a number of other things.  I am starting to wonder if beekeeping is for me.  Being an engineer by education, and liking everything to work according to a schedule and be logical, this may not be the hobby for me.   My bees apparently didn't get the message.  They do what they want and not according to any book. They keep me wondering what will happen next. They are frustrating and fascinating at the same time.  Although I think I will keep them around for a while, at least until we get a taste of their sweet rewards!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

And then there was one...

Unfortunately more bad news for the guineas.  Their number have dwindled from a high of eight at one time, down to two.  And now, only one left.

The last two guineas, a male and female pair, have been free-ranging for the last couple months.  They are let out in the morning and show up back in the coop at night when the door gets closed for their protection.  Throughout the day they wander all over the place, including all of our neighbor's yards and the woods surrounding and between all the houses.  They had even started laying eggs in a nest out in the pasture and had created a collection of seven eggs.  We like to think that their wandering range has expanded due to the fact they have eaten all the ticks in our yard and need to expand out to find more ticks!  

This time the neighbor's yellow lab decided she didn't like the guineas roaming into their yard and put an end to one of them.  The Oldest Son had to go over and put it out of its misery.  Not being a "hands-on" type with the animals he used his pellet gun to finish the job.  The Good Wife offered to do it, but the Oldest Son said he would do it.  I'm proud of him for that, but he is taking it really hard.  He really enjoyed the guineas and got attached to them.

Overall, it is a part of country living and having animals.  It is a part of life that a lot of people are not exposed to, especially growing up in a city.  We will all be better people for having experienced the raising of the guineas, and now the death of the guineas.

With school starting next week and being late in the season, I'm not sure we are ready to start again with another batch of keets.  If we decide to do guineas again, it may have to wait until next year.

What will happen with the last guinea?  Will it get lonely and wander away for good?  Will it integrate more with the chickens and make new friends?  Only time will tell what will happen with the last lone survivor.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Chicken Update...aka Egg Update

The chickens have finally started laying eggs as was posted previously. Small light brown. Medium dark brown. Medium light brown. And small dark brown. First it was one egg a day. Then two eggs a day. Then tree and four eggs a day. But there are seven chickens. Who was laying what?

The boys had identified a few of the layers by keeping an eye on the coop and tracking who was spending time in the nesting boxes. The Buff Orpington was the first to lay an egg. Next was one of the Barred Rock chickens. They also believe one of the Black Australorps has been spending some time in the nesting boxes.

Today we know for sure who one of the eggs layers is. It is one of the Americauna chickens, also known as an Easter Egger, due to the green and blue tinted eggs they lay.

Our first "Easter Egg."

Every day going to the coop and getting the eggs is an exciting event for the boys. They race to the coop to see what might be waiting for them. Today it was an extra special surprise with the green egg.

We still have two more chickens that need to start laying, and we are sure it will only be a matter of days now. All these weeks of raising the chickens from just day old chicks is now paying off.

One of the Americauna chickens at only a few weeks old.

Eggs don't get more fresh than right out of the coop and into the frying pan. Less than 50 yards and a matter of minutes from the egg 'factory' to the frying pan.  No nasty chemicals or processing.  And our chickens are free ranging and happy! We can tell by how they come running up to me when I get home from work.

The added bonus this week is that our friends nearby that have chickens are on vacation. So they asked us to take care of their chickens. The payment is that we get the eggs while they are away, and they have 14 chickens, although only six are currently laying. Next week they are going to take care of our chickens while we are gone for a few days, and they get to keep our eggs. By quantity and size, we get the better end of the deal. But from a good looking carton of eggs, they definitely will come out ahead!