How a Heat Pump Works

  • Home Winter Snow
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    LESLIE: Well, a warm, toasty home comes at a price. But the best way to keep those utility costs low is by making sure you know how to winterize home.

    TOM: And there are many ways to do that, including some new ones that are kind of high-tech. Here to help us sort through the options is Richard Trethewey, the plumbing-and-heating contractor on TV’s This Old House.

    Hi, Richard.

    RICHARD: Hello, guys.

    TOM: So, listen, many people hear that term “winterizing home” and they think about the traditional ways of sealing out drafts, like weather-stripping and perhaps adding more insulation. But as technology advances, there are a lot of new options that can help make those investments to winterize home smarter, right?

    RICHARD: Yeah. And I want to just amend one thing: it’s not just winterizing; it could also be summerizing (ph). It’s trying to keep the heat in in the winter and the cold – the cool – in in the summer. And it’s a question of how do I make my building tight? It starts by knowing where the leaks are.

    So, you could do an energy audit. That can be done in a casual way or you can have a professional group come in. What tools they have now. In the old days, you’d come in and you’re sort of thinking – you try to find ways …

    TOM: Best guess?

    RICHARD: Oh, my gosh. It’s best guess. With this, they have infrared cameras now that you literally – it’s as if you can see inside the wall and you can now see the power of good insulation. When you look where the electrical outlets are, you can see the big hot or cold spots. You can see where every – around every window or around every 2×4 stud. So these infrared cameras have really unlocked it. And it’s become so affordable now that even the casual HVAC contractor can actually afford to have it, which is great.

    LESLIE: And I think you, as a homeowner, can even rent one from a home center to winterize home.

    RICHARD: Yeah.

    LESLIE: Not that you might know what to do with the information that you glean from having one but that kind of puts the power at hand.

    RICHARD: Yep. Right. They have one that sticks on the end of your smartphone.

    TOM: Yeah.

    RICHARD: Totally cool. Totally. Yeah.

    TOM: Yep. Fantastic.

    Now, aside from the infrared cameras, what about – not necessarily brand new but I think more commonly used today is this device called a “blower door,” when you actually can inflate or deflate your building, so to speak, and find those leaks.

    RICHARD: Sure. Yep.

    TOM: Can you talk about how that works?

    RICHARD: Yeah. You seal up everything you can and you turn on this blower. And you either pressurize the building – generally, you put the building under pressure and then you go around with a smoke stick to see where that smoke will escape. And it can tell you so much. The infrared camera is not going to tell you where those infiltration leaks are. The blower door will. And you’ll actually go up in the attic and you’ll see it coming up through where there’s a plumbing stack pipe or you’ll see it going all sorts of places where it shouldn’t go, so …

    LESLIE: So it sounds like a combination of the two would really give you the best tools to say, “I need this type of insulation in this area or your best plan of attack.”

    RICHARD: I think so. Correct. Right. The second – the blower door will actually tell you – quantify – just how much the building’s leaking. So it’s great. You can do this test beforehand, then go around with a sealant – both foam sealant around doors and windows and things like that. But the other thing we’ve got to talk about it is actually sealing the ducts in your house.

    Now, ducts leak terribly. They’re done on low bid, supposed to be duct-sealed but they generally aren’t. So now we’ve shown this product through the years called Aeroseal, a brilliant invention. Just brilliant. You can spray in this atomized mist into the duct system and it will go and find any leak inside the duct system up to about 3/8-inch. So it literally – and then you go do your blower-door test or you do your pressure test afterwards and you see that that thing is just as tight as a drum.

    TOM: Yeah. Shockingly, duct tape is not really designed to fix ducts.

    RICHARD: No, it’s not. Because the one place you shouldn’t use duct tape is on ducts, sadly.

    TOM: We’re talking about how to winterize home with Richard Trethewey, the plumbing-and-heating contractor on TV’s This Old House.

    Now, even the thermostats have become much smarter today. It’s not just the standard setback thermostat but the newer thermostats can actually measure and predict your patterns, correct?

    RICHARD: Yeah. The only tool we had before was programmable thermostats that everybody – half of them on the wall were just flashing 12:00 midnight. They didn’t – they weren’t even doing setback. And now, with all these new ones, they can actually feel when you’re occupying the space. Now, it has a motion detector and then it says, “OK. Now, I see what time of day you’re joined to it.” So it programs itself. And then what people really want is a combination of that and the ability to be at their office or away from the house and be sure that the building is turned down, be sure they can – it can dial in and see the current condition of their house from a temperature standpoint. And that’s what people really love is this ability. I’m not sure why. It’s like voyeurism. They want to be able to – they’ll be at the office and see if anybody’s …

    LESLIE: Right. Because the whole goal is when you’re outside of the office is to be home and make sure the house is under control when you winterize home.

    RICHARD: That’s right. That’s right. Right.

    LESLIE: And the second you get home, you want to leave.

    RICHARD: Right.

    LESLIE: So you’ve got to be able to monitor.

    RICHARD: And the other thing that’s high-tech is this thing called “geo-fencing.” I don’t know if you talked about it but geo-fencing is pretty cool that when you walk back into the building, your phone communicates with your heating system when you get within X number of feet. Then you program it and it’ll activate the heating system to the higher level. Then when you leave, it’ll go back down automatically.

    TOM: It can even be sent, not only for when you walk in the building but it could be – “When I get three miles away from my house, turn my heat down.”

    RICHARD: Correct, correct.

    TOM: “And when I get three miles into my house, turn it back up again.”

    LESLIE: Right back up.

    RICHARD: Right. That’s right. But then you just don’t know what to do for your poor mother-in-law who’s visiting.

    LESLIE: We don’t want her to be too comfortable.

    RICHARD: That’s right. She’ll stay too long.

    TOM: Well, I don’t know. If you want her to leave, maybe you should.

    Great advice on how to winterize home. Richard Trethewey from TV’s This Old House, thank you so much for stopping by The Money Pit.

    RICHARD: Always great to be here.

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