"If Only I Had Known!" - Energy Smart Home Renovations.

Gail Lawlor* has been working to help people seal up their houses and save money on energy bills for about 27 years.  She is a dynamic and good humored person, but she's getting a little bit frustrated. This is in part because her air sealing education hasn't made the kind of progress and reached the number of people she'd hoped it would have by now, and partly because consumers are taking the brunt of the creeping pace.  This blog is the first of several that stem from a conversation I had with Gail about the hurdles home owners face when we want to improve the energy efficiency of our homes. It is titled, "If only I had known," in honor of... people like us. 

We recently renovated our house using a reputable contractor who stripped our bathroom to its bones, put in duct work, and converted our duplex into a single family home. One thing he did almost not at all: insulate. This is a painful admission made only slightly less so by the knowledge that we are in very good company. Most people who renovate their homes rely on a contractor who knows little to nothing about energy flow or conservation. If you are thinking this is a small matter, think again. I started paying the price for our contractor's omissions in February, when our ice dam made itself known, and I will keep paying every season until I make it right.

Here's the conversation that did not happen:
Contractor: While you are sucking in dust and have most of your house down to bones and wires, would you like me to add some insulation to your attic floor? insulate your ducts?
Me: How much will it cost?
Contractor: A couple hundred bucks - maybe a thousand. And you'll save a bundle in bills and feel more comfortable.
Me: And what if I don't do that?
Contractor: you'll have an ice dam that requires emergency repairs and causes a leak that damages the wall you're about to paint that lovely butter color, and may destroy those books. Plus, you'll pay more in utility costs, and probably experience some premature roof rot. Other than that, no biggie.

Here's the conversation that did happen:
Contractor: How big do you want the shower stall?
Me: About like this.
Contractor: That'll be nice.
Me: Thanks!

Gail is making the rounds, teaching contractors building science, and making sure as many people as humanly possible get their hands on  the free download at National Resources Canada (heat flows just the same way south of the border).  This is an article worth YOU reading. Because chances are, your contractor will not have a firm grip on (or, perhaps interest in) your house as a system. And the consequences of that lack of knowledge may be dire. My uninsulated attic floor enables warm, moist air to rise through the house to the roof, where it helps form a massive chunk of ice. I have photos. I have bills. I also have a hydro bill that tells me that the money I've spent to heat my house has been going, quite literally, through the roof.

Until Gail and people like her train contractors in your neighborhood in how to view your house as a system, it's going to be your job. Over the next few days in this blog I will dissect that topic in terms that make sense to me, and hopefully you, so that you can help out your contractor, and feel truly marvelous about the improvements you make to your house.

*Gail Lawlor (Pickering, ON) has been involved in the residential energy efficiency industry through her consulting firm Energy Matters for over 25 years in a variety of capacities including as an air sealing contractor, retailer of energy products, and building science and IAQ trainer to a variety of audiences. Gail’s vision is the development of a retrofit contractors’ accreditation program to ensure effective deep energy reductions in our existing housing stock.


Good News! RONA Inc which is Canada's largest home improvement retailer is offering Gail's seminar to its Pro Service Contractor accounts. RONA recently launched a program in Ontario called RONA U (University). This program is designed for professional contractors and offers evening seminars that tackle issues like air sealing and insulation as well as business training.
We look forward to working with Gail in the future. Contractors that are interested in attending can e-mail ronaprobdt@rona.ca to find out the dates and locations of these seminars.

Brian Pol
RONA Business Development

Brian--thanks for the comment. Everyone--Gail rocks. Highly recommend any chance you get to attend one of her programs.

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