By Michael S. Weil
Eric Kjelshus (left) and installer Darrin Fisher take a break.
The Greg Misse family home is located in Olathe, KS.
Comfort is now even throughout the house, especially upstairs.
Greg Misse shows off his two dogs, Ferris (being held) and Shelby.
Kjelshus had to suspend the air handler horizontally because it was too tall to stand vertically in the basement space.
It's not often that you willingly buy a house that makes your hair stand on end — like it would when you watch a movie and the main character sees a ghost. But for Greg Misse and family, the four-bedroom, two-story house in Olathe, KS actually could cause your hair to stand up.
Olathe, a suburb of Kansas City, is known for a number of things: it's home to the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop and Farm, which is listed on the National Register of Historical Places as the last remaining stagecoach stop on the Santa Fe Trail open to the public. Olathe is also the birthplace of the original cowboy boot! It's NOT known for hair-raising ghosts.
For Greg Misse, Olathe is an ideal place to live, so when he saw the house on West 149th St., and found out that the price was half what the home was worth, he had to have it. You see, the house was originally build in 1977 and only had been owned by three previous families. Though it needed some work, the house was better than a fixer-upper and the price was just right.
The only problem was that the place was draftier than any building he'd ever been in. Air seemed to flow upwards to the ceiling (thus the hair comments), and he had a tough time controlling the comfort levels. And as the seasons moved toward winter, the energy bills grew larger and more formidable.
SOMETHING HAD TO BE DONE
Misse, a licensed pharmacist, sat down at his computer and began looking for a prescription to solve his energy and comfort issues. At the suggestion of a friend, who is an engineer, he targetedhis research on geothermal heat pumps — a technology his friend told him was more expensive up front, but ultimately would be the key to solving his energy use and comfort issues. He discovered the American Geothermal website and found the names of a number of contractors who were listed as being proficient at performing geothermal system design and installations. So Misse began working the list. That's how he eventually found Eric Kjelshus Energy.
"The American Geothermal product line just caught my eye," Misse says. "I called them up for more information on their product line and asked for recommendations on who the best design and installing contractors were in my area. They recommended Kjelshus and two others. I interviewed them and asked for bids.
"Eric was the only contractor who asked me about my comfort issues and energy issues. He explained how my energy problems were part of an overall house issue that included windows, doors, and lights. He was very knowledgeable and thorough. That was impressive. He was the only contractor who didn't seem to be there just to sell me something. So I chose his company for the job."
Kjelshus is a residential/commercial contracting company, located in Greenwood, MO, which grosses around $1 million in sales/year. Company owner Eric Kjelshus started the company in 1972 which, at that time, was primarily a solar energy business. Today, the company employs five people and focuses on residential (60% of their revenues) and commercial (40%) HVAC contracting.
"The house was in pretty bad shape from a mechanical system standpoint," Kjelshus says. "When it was originally built, it actually had won a silver standard energy award. After 28 years and three owners, things had taken a turn for the worse. Unsealed can lights had been added to the attic space - 42 of them - and they acted in unison like a chimney. Air flowed up and out, taking the conditioned air with it."
Kjelshus, who is NATE (North American Technician Excellence)-certified in all areas, adds that when he arrived at the house, he conducted a complete home survey – following many of the proscriptions of the National Comfort Institute. This included doing a room-by-room heat lossheat gain study, a blower door test, as well as an air balance test.
"In addition, I did a detailed heating and air conditioning economic analysis. It took more than four hours to do this and make all the measurements. That was how I discovered the unsealed can lights and a number of other problems," Kjelshus says.
As it turns out, those lights turned out to be the biggest problem. "They acted like a giant chimney putting much of the house under negative pressure. They were literally sucking the conditioned air right out of the home," he says.
Kjelshus explains that the existing system in the house consisted of two sets of equipment totaling 9.2 tons of air conditioning and 340,000 Btuhs of heating. The furnaces were very old and were operating at a mere 63% efficiency. One of the air conditioning units was also old and quite inefficient.
Furthermore, the ductwork was rated at six tons of supply and three tons of return. Basically, the house didn't have enough air return. In fact, according to Kjelshus, most of the return air dumped to the basement. "So there was a serious need for duct sealing and weatherizing of the structure," he says.
All this added up to a costly system that provided little comfort.
According to Misse, he was paying $2,300 per year for natural gas heating, plus an average of $135/month for electric.
YOU DESERVE COMFORT
In his proposal to the Misse family, Kjelshus explained his objectives for the project. He wrote, "Your heating and cooling system can play a vital role in maintaining good indoor air quality. One of the deciding factors we should note, is that a properly installed and maintained system, during its lifetime will greatly exceed the cost of the initial purchase.
You have a right to expect even temperatures throughout the building, not have varying hot and cold rooms. For example, we will control humidity levels and have no dampness in the air when the air conditioner is in operation. It's important to remember that your heating and cooling system plays a vital role in maintaining great indoor air quality. We will accomplish the goal of efficient indoor air quality with proper filtration and sealed ducts systems and reasonable utility bills, and most importantly, no big surprises during hot or cold weather."
It was this kind of communication that Greg Misse says was the hallmark of Kjelshus Energy and another reason he decided to hire the company.
After studying the results of his tests, and getting Misse to agree to the work, Kjelshus explains that the first order of business was to remove or seal the can lights. Misse himself installed boxes on the lights to seal them. Then, in response to Misse's requests for geothermal, Kjelshus opted to remove the gas-fired comfort appliances and install 20 kW of strip heat (supplemental), with the main system consisting of a five-ton American Geothermal DX 600 ground source heat pump, and a Trane Air-Tite variable speed air handler, controlled with two programmable thermostats.
For the geothermal system, the company drilled wells 42 ft. deep. The DX 600 is a thermal expansion system, so the loop was charged with around 30 lbs. of refrigerant.
Kjelshus says, "We also added a manual damper to each duct supply. The customer had some allergy issues and we addressed those, as well as other indoor air quality issues by using two Honeywell Enviracaire Elite whole house electronic air cleaners and filters. We also installed UV lights in the air conditioning coil to zap airborne germs and prevent mold spore growth."
The company's design included an air exchanger and HEPA filters to keep the inside air clean.
Every contractor knows that not every job goes according to plan and for Kjelshus, the Misse project was no exception. When the air handler arrived on the jobsite, the installing crew discovered it was too tall for the space. The solution: install it horizontally. Says Kjelshus, "I've installed these units horizontally many times in the past with excellent results. Doing so on this project enabled the unit to deliver the proper amount of airflow to make the system work properly."
Though sealing the can lights was paramount to the success of the project, Kjelshus says the building envelope needed work, as well. He made a list of recommendations for Misse and advised him what to buy and how to install it.
Says Misse, "One of the best aspects of working-with Kjelshus Energy is the insight and advice they provided me. Eric recommended I do a number of repairs to the house, including replacing some windows, upgrading the insulation in the attic, and either replacing or covering a skylight. I followed his advice in every area and the result is a house in which my family and I are now very comfortable."
After completing the work, Kjelshus did another complete survey of the home, taking measurements, doing a room-by-room heat loss-heat gain study, a blower door test, as well as an air balance test. The end result: the installation hit the numbers as designed.
"The key to this project was comfort and efficiency," Misse reiterates. "When we bought this house, the previous owner told me that they used to have to be in sleeping bags to watch TV during the winter. There is absolutely no need to do that now."
After the project, Misse says his utility bills were cut by nearly one third. In fact, the average monthly utility bill now is just $140. Period. The total cost for the project was just over $22,000 and that included a three-year service agreement.
Was the cost worth it? "You bet," Greg Misse says. "I love it. I got exactly what I was looking for - lower utility bills and an excellent level of comfort. On top of all that, the environmental impact is that my home comfort system uses less resources than it did previously."
And best of all — when you walk into the home, your hair no longer reaches for the ceiling. And that's no ghost story.
ERIC KJELSHUS ENERGY