Yes … New Homes Burn Faster

Does it come as a surprise to anyone that many of those who would financially gain from re-building the home are spending heavily to lobby their state legislatures to fight laws that would prevent it from burning down?

If you are living in a recently built home or are contemplating buying one, you need to read this (click, here).

New homes are being constructed with lightweight and flammable material, and many that I have personally inspected include building flaws that increase the risk of fire.

One common example is the loose electrical wiring buried under the blown fiberglass insulation in brand new homes that is more of “the rule” than an exception to the rule in many unregulated parts of Missouri.  Another common flaw is the absence of arc fault circuit interrupters.

As stated in the linked article, above …

Designed to carry a greater load with less material, the prefabricated components are made from real or man-made wood fragments held together by glue or metal fasteners. The materials are commonly used to frame roofs and flooring. Assembled in factories and shipped to construction sites, these building components significantly cut down on construction time and cost. Builders also say the materials are better for the environment, because they use less wood, reducing deforestation.

But both real-life and test fires have shown that structures with lightweight construction burn much faster and collapse sooner than traditional solid-wood frame construction. That, firefighters say, makes fires harder to fight and shortens the time occupants have to escape a blaze.

“Not only is that second floor going to come down on your head in a very short period of time, the roof is going to collapse,” said Danny Hunt, fire marshal in Nashville, Tennessee, where he said roughly 90 percent of new homes use lightweight construction.

Caveat emptor.

Radiant Barriers – Good for Energy Savings/Bad for Fire Safety

They can cool the attic … but at what risk to the structure and the occupants?  Could radiant barriers represent a potential for harm?

Read the McDowell Owens Engineering Inc. white paper as to how “The physical and electrical properties of these materials are such that they introduce new and very serious dangers of ignition and fire.”

The summary of the McDowell Owens Engineering study is, as follows:

“1. Standard installation methods for roof sheathing with integrated radiant barrier are such that the end result is an overall environment where all of the radiant barrier material and virtually everything metal on and around the roof are electrically connected.

“2. In most cases, something in that environment is connected to earth ground. If anything in the roof environment becomes electrically energized (by lightning or any other common source) there is a high probability the current will pass through the barrier material at some point on the way to earth ground.

“3. The physical and electrical properties of reflective radiant barrier materials which we tested are such that the material in a structure provides two new and unique hazards relative to fire causation.

(a) When energized by an electrical current the material readily generates temperatures sufficient to ignite MANY materials.

(b) The barrier material itself readily serves as the first ignited material.”

If you are considering radiant barriers as an energy efficiency upgrade … if you reside in a home with radiant barriers that are installed … if you are considering a recommendation by an energy auditor or other entity to install them … read this report, first.

Energy Efficiency and Your Water Heater (Part Two)

Conventional gas water heaters present an additional challenge to the home owner improving the energy efficiency of their water heater.  In addition to the energy loss through demand, standby and distribution (as previously discussed), the conventional gas water heater will waste a greater percentage of energy than electrical water heaters due to the design of the burner and ventilation system.

The wasted energy specific to gas and oil water heaters are:  excess air, dilution air and off-cycle air circulation.

Excess Air

Approximately 15 cubic feet of air is required to efficiently burn one cubic foot of gas.  Wasted heat and combustion by-products are carried by air through the chimney and are not heating water.  Some of this waste cannot be avoided, but the more excess air that flows through the burner the more energy is wasted.

Dilution Air

Dilution air is air from within the room that enters the flue at the draft diverter during combustion to assist in providing the draft needed to carry the dangerous combustion by-products to the outdoors.  Some or all of this dilution air is air that has been heated or cooled from the home.

Off-Cycle Air Circulation

Surrounding indoor air circulates through the burner and flue, carrying the heat away from the water (and conditioned air away from the home) and up the chimney.

There are improved gas and oil water heaters that reduce these losses that are directly related to ventilation by restricting the air that flows through the flue and chimney.  Some designes have eliminated the draft diverter.

By restricting the air flow through the flue and chimney, air circulation carrying the heat away from the tank has been reduced.

None of these are modifications that the home owner should do on their own since proper drafting through the flue and chimney are necessary to ensure that the dangerous by-products and gases produced during the combustion process are safely vented to the outdoors.

Since gas is a less expensive energy resource than electricity, many home owners will want to find the way to efficiently use it as opposed to replacing their gas appliances with those using more costly electricity.  The professional who conducts the diagnostic home performance evaluation will assist the home owner in locating a qualified contractor who can safely affect these changes.

Has Your New Furnace Made Your Water Heater Dangerous?

Naturally drafting residential chimneys develop draft because the air inside the chimney is lighter than the air outside the chimney.

The source of the heated air at the bottom of the chimney burns fuel and creates a column of gases that are lighter than the outside air. The taller the chimney and the hotter the contents – the greater the draft.

Today, with the installation of more efficient heating systems that vent their combustion gases through fan-assisted plastic vents, it is often left up to the fuel burning water heater to create enough heat by itself to make a sufficient draft to vent the combustion gases through a chimney that was originally designed for much more heat provided from both appliances.

The water heater’s over sized chimney now needs a chimney liner.

The need for chimney liners is often ignored when the heating system has been upgraded and the potential for dangerous combustion gases to enter the living space is increased. Unlined chimneys and those deteriorated from acidic combustion gases should be upgraded, as well, to include stainless steel, aluminum or masonry liners.

For more information about inspections of mechanical systems for safety and efficiency, visit http://www.missouricertifiedenergy.com.

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