Coming from New England, I find winter on the West Coast is a different beast. The lack of snow is not really it. I think it’s the fact that there are citrus trees in many back yards. My recent visit to one of our fine GreenHomes America partners, Residential Energy Pros in San Jose, California, reminded me that no matter where you go, remodeling changes our homes in ways we are never sure of, often not for the best and often in a way that sacrifices our comfort or costs us money we shouldn’t be throwing away.
I constantly preach the importance of air sealing (watch some videos here), and on a home assessment during my visit, we were pleasantly surprised that the home was not as leaky as many we see. This home originally had a flat roof and at some point a new one was built over it. This old roof created a fairly good air barrier but there were still leaks as well as a lack of good insulation, creating rooms that can get very hot and uncomfortable in the summer, and too cold and uncomfortable in the winter. And blindly tightening a home without paying attention to important details and considerations like moisture and combustion safety isn’t smart either. Despite its relative tightness there were still some issues with this home.
Like many homes out West, this house had a crawlspace. And with crawlspaces, we often see a lot of indoor air quality issues (homes with basements or slabs are NOT immune!). For this home, air from the crawlspace was constantly being drawn into the home and filtered through the carpet at the hatch! This doesn’t just dirty the carpet—it means the homeowners were breathing in crawlspace air all day, but since the hatch was right in the bedroom, more concentrated air where they spend 8 hours a day.
Something else we noted was that the home also had a lot of condensation on the windows. Too much moisture was sticking around in the home in the form of high humidity. This is a problem because, the condensation pools at the sill, starts to rot the trim, and even the underlying framing. High humidity can also promote mold and mildew growth elsewhere.
Some of that moisture could be dealt with by installing good spot ventilation, especially in the kitchen and bathrooms. Even when you are opening the windows during large parts of the year it is good to control indoor air and moisture.
All of these things are problems we look to address with home performance, no matter where the home is located. Maybe some suffer through some discomfort and high energy bills in the short term in California since they have the luxury of plucking lemons from the back yard. But why settle for lemons when with a little bit of work you can have lemonade?