PORTLAND — “Look at those icicles,” energy analyst Ben Todd said Saturday as he jumped out of his black Toyota pick-up in the driveway of a modest two-story home in a dense residential neighborhood. “Please let this be the place we’re auditing.”
It was: 105 Caleb St., the home of Milt Calder, whose 16-year-old daughter, Julia, was one of several Casco Bay High School juniors working with Yarmouth-based Investment Engineering on two home energy audits last weekend.
The audits were the culmination of a week-long intensive class at the expeditionary high school, which emphasizes hands-on, experience-based learning to teach traditional subjects like math, literacy and science.
During the so-called intensives, students learn about a particular profession or subject area by immersing themselves in it for about six hours a day. The curriculum includes classroom lessons and field work and partnerships with local experts.
This year, students learned about marketing by organizing an event with the Portland Pirates and film criticism by working with a University of Southern Maine professor. Some also learned about boat-building, theater and photography.
At the end of the week, students must make an in-depth presentation about what they have learned.
For Julia Calder, Charlotte McDonald and Kai Patricio, their week-long course culminated in assisting Investment Engineers, which conducted home energy audits in Portland and South Portland. In advance of the audits, students learned about energy efficiency technologies incorporated at USM’s Abromson Center, which uses geothermal heat and is certified by the U.S. Green Building Council for Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design, and at Oakhurst Dairy, which harnesses solar energy.
While the energy audits cost homeowners $300, the money went toward the school’s Junior Journey, where students work on a Habitat for Humanity project during April vacation.
Saturday’s audit began with Investment Engineering President Matt Holder, whose son Max attends CBHS, taking infrared photos of the exterior of the home. Inside, meanwhile, students cranked up the furnace to 90 degrees to allow Todd and fellow energy analyst Scott Pinyard to test the furnace’s combustion efficiency.
Todd and Pinyard then surveyed the basement, pointing out areas that were insulated with fiberglass insulation, which was installed around the windows and between the foundation and the wall.
“Here, they recognized the problem,” Todd said of the previous home-owner’s conservation efforts, “but they used the wrong product.”
The analysts, who affectionately referred to fiberglass as “filter glass,” since it still allows air to pass through, suggested that Calder, who bought the home in September, use foam insulation, either in board or spray form.
“I wish you guys had done this before I bought the house,” Calder said.
From there, the students tested the efficiency of the shower and faucet heads by collecting the water over a predetermined time period. The results showed that a low-flow shower head flowed too low, even by conservation standards.
“You’d have to take an hour shower,” 17-year-old Patricio said, noting that shower heads that flow too low actually waste water, since longer showers are typically needed.
Once preliminary tests were conducted, Holden brought in the infrared camera inside the home, where he first demonstrated the camera’s sensitivity. Holden put his hand on the wall, then viewed through the camera, which showed the hand print glowing red for several seconds. Likewise, when testing the floor, footprints were easily discernible for several seconds after someone crossed the floor.
“You have way cooler equipment than we do,” joked Calder, who is a police lieutenant in Cumberland.
The infrared camera found substantial heat loss through small crawl spaces in two upstairs bedrooms. That heat loss, Holden said, is creating the icicles and ice dams outside of the home, which in turn can back up underneath shingles and cause water damage.
Once the initial survey was done, the crew hooked up a blower to the front door, which sucked out air from inside. By depressurizing the interior of the home, inconspicuous air leaks become more pronounced, Holden said, especially when viewed through the infrared camera.
Julia Calder, using a less high-tech instrument, noted the substantial air leaks around the fireplace (despite its closed flue) by using a hand-held smoke stick. With one gentle squeeze, the stick produced a puff of smoke that quickly dissipated from the drafty fireplace molding.
When the 90-minute audit was over, Milt Calder said that the $300 spent on the audit was well worth the information he received about his home.
“It really gives you a different insight,” he said. “… We’re not talking about a lot of money. A lot time maybe, but not a lot of money.”
The audit was also educational for his daughter, who wants to become an urban planner. Of course, with knowledge comes a certain loss of innocence – Calder said she’ll never look at icicles with wonder and admiration again.
“When I look at those icicles I know that means leaks in a house,” she said. “Everywhere I go I’m always looking for the flaws.”
Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The dark areas of this infrared image show substantial heat loss around the fireplace.
Casco Bay High School junior Julia Calder, 16, tests for air leaks around the molding of her family’s fireplace using a smoke stick.
Energy analyst Scott Pinyard, of Yarmouth-based Investment Engineering, works the controls of a blower designed to expose air leaks within a home.