Blower doors and duct blasters sound like video game titles, but they’re standard protocol for people who want to know how much energy their house is losing.
With a recent boom in energy-efficient homebuilding around Oregon, including a spate of green building projects in the Rogue Valley, more builders and homeowners are getting familiar with these tests, along with phrases like annual fuel utilization, and volatile organic compounds.
In order to be certified under the federal Energy Star program, the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEEDS program and the Oregon-based Earth Advantage program, new houses must prove they are energy-efficient.
That’s where the duct blaster and blower door tests come in.
“Brand new houses leak 20 to 40 percent of their energy,” says Bernie Gordon, who addressed a group of Realtors, builders and contractors May 18 at an energy-efficient homebuilding forum at AmeriTitle in Medford. “We’ve seen up to 60-percent leakage on brand new homes.”
Gordon is co-owner of Spring Air, Inc., a heating and cooling company in Jacksonville. Spring Air sells heating and cooling systems, but the company is also in demand among green builders as testers and verifiers under the federal Energy Star program.
Spring Air regularly conducts blower door tests, which checks for leaks in a home’s envelope, and duct blaster tests, which check for leaks in duct systems. Spring Air technicians can determine how much energy a house is wasting and where it’s being lost.
While Energy Star and Earth Advantage certification applies only to new houses, the same tests can be applied to existing houses for people looking to save energy. Builders pay to have their houses certified, but Spring Air conducts the tests for free for homeowners of existing homes. If problems are found, Spring Air will draft a list of ways to fix them.
The company also tests for indoor air pollutants such as mold, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and other noxious gases.
“We’re trying to get the word out there that people’s indoor air quality is terrible,” says Jared Murray, co-owner of Spring Air.
Indoor air pollution problems are sometimes worsened by the focus on energy-efficiency, because extra tight houses can concentrate mold spores and other toxins. Under the Energy Star program—and other green programs—houses must be both tight and pollution free.
“We’re dealing with something you can’t see,” Murray says. “But when we go into someone’s house, and they’re sick and don’t know why, it’s real. It’s a good feeling to go into someone’s house, find the problem and fix it.”
In Ashland, the city’s Energy Conservation Department also conducts tests for homeowners. If the home is heated with electricity, the tests are free. If the house uses gas, the charge is $50 for the blower door test and $100 for the duct blaster. The city also offers financial help to fix energy problems.