Fans of the James Bond books will recall that in The Spy Who Loved Me, author Ian Fleming “discovers” on his desk a manuscript written by a woman who had met 007 when her life was in grave danger. Fleming steps back and simply presents the manuscript to readers, allowing “Vivienne Michel” to tell her own tale about her experiences with the suave British spy.
Taking a cue from Mr. Fleming, Contracting Business.com would like to present a Quality Home Comfort Award in a unique way: by allowing the homeowners to tell their own story.
The homeowners, Gary and Bobbi Walker, turned to Eric Kjelshus, president of Eric Kjelshus Energy, Greenwood, MO, when their comfort was in grave danger. And like a certain secret agent, Kjelshus stepped in and performed his own brand of heroics
By way of background, the Walkers’ home is an unassuming, 2,400 sq.ft. structure located in a rural area about 45 minutes east of Kansas City in Napoleon, MO. Built in 1984, the home was plagued with numerous comfort problems, which was particularly appalling to Bobbi Walker. For the past 20 years, Bobbi has been on a quest to construct and live in an energy-efficient, sustainable home. She is the mastermind behind the website www.playhavengreen.com and the author of the blog at www.playhavengreen.blogspot.com.
“The whole point of the website and blog is to show ordinary people all the cool things they can do in their homes from a sustainability standpoint,” Walker says.
Bobbi had met Kjelshus years ago through an energy auditor, and when the time came to address the home’s HVAC system, there was only one man for the job.
Here, in Bobbi Walker’s own words, is the story of the project.
“(November 2011) This summer (late June) we discovered water on the floor in the basement around and under the water heater and furnace. The water heater is pretty old and we figured we’d need to be replacing it sooner than later, so we assumed that was the reason for the water on the floor.
“I called a plumber, and he agreed that the water heater was nearing its end. But, lo and behold, it wasn’t the reason for the water.
“The air conditioning was the source of the water. Our coil had frozen and the water was the result of it thawing out. A frozen coil meant low refrigerant, which meant we must have a leak somewhere.Unfortunately, we were not in a position to replace the unit or even spend the money to find the leak and have it repaired. So, while it pained me to do it, we had the system recharged and just had to live with a leak for the time being.
“I started researching the problem, and called the person I trust the most when it comes to heating and cooling: Eric Kjelshus. I really just wanted to pick his brain.
“Eric offered to come out and evaluate the house. That is exactly what he did on July 16 . . . one of the hottest days of the year. He brought his energy audit equipment and did a blower door test, used the hood to check the supply and return. He even had his infrared camera.
“We learned that to make our house perform better and to get an adequately sealed house and effective ductwork, it needed:
- the crawlspace under the master bedroom insulated
- the crawlspace under the front hall insulated
- the rim joist in the basement insulated
- a return added in the master bedroom
- a return added from the second floor
- correction of the supply ducts to the master bedroom.
“After my research, Eric’s visit, and talking with my husband, it apparent that it didn’t make sense for us to spend a bunch of money to do a partial solution.
“I have always wanted to go with a geothermal system (ground-source heat pump). We priced the difference between an air-source system and figured in the various incentives for each. Either way, we would have to take out a loan, so we decided to get what we wanted and spend a little more upfront, to save more in the long run with the geothermal system.
“After we got rid of the water in the crawlspace under the master bedroom, the insulation contractor sprayed closed-cell foam on the crawlspace exterior walls and on the rim joist in the basement. Then he came back another day and filled the cavity between the old concrete floor and the wood floor of the front hall with dense-packed cellulose.
“Next, the geothermal trench was dug, the tubing laid, and the holes drilled through the foundation walls (and sealed again after the tubing was inserted, of course). This part of the project was SO fascinating to me. Because we have lots of land to work with, our installation was very straightforward and simple, but don’t be discouraged if you have much less land to work with. It’s possible to put in a geothermal system almost anywhere these days due to advanced drilling and trenching techniques.
“Lastly, Eric’s crew came out and fixed the ductwork and installed the equipment. George, the team member in charge of the ductwork, went to work shaping the metal into an extension of the main return to add the return vent from the master bedroom. We had him put it in the wall between the bedroom and the living room, where we knew it wouldn’t be affected by any future remodeling.
“Then, he had to cut through the rim joist between the crawlspace and the basement to get enough space to add the three separate runs of ducting to the three supply registers. Previously, there was one run with a ‘T’ to divide the supply to one register in the bathroom and the two registers (using a second ‘T’) in the bedroom. In the crawlspace, he used insulated flexible tubing to each register. There’s now one complete run for each register off the main supply in the basement, and we can certainly tell the difference in the air supplied to the master bedroom.
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“After the propane water heater was removed, the chase where the vent stack went up to the roof was available to turn into an additional return duct from the second floor. Since the chase is open not only to the attic but the wall cavity and space between each floor as well, Kjelshus’ team inserted an insulated flexible tube and put a boot at the vent so that it would work as a return correctly. That was connected to a metal duct that connected into the main return in the basement.
“Once everything was connected and done, George sealed everything using a special caulk designed specifically for sealing duct work.”
Thus ends Bobbi’s part of the tale, but not the story.
For his part, the always low-key Kjelshus begins by stressing the importance of having a well-trained and highly qualified team. “I’m a huge proponent of North American Technician Excellence (NATE), and all of my technicians are NATE-certifed,” he says.
He then recounts his work on this project, from starting with thorough heat loss and heat gain calculations, to carefully crafting proper duct and geothermal loop designs, to testing, testing, and more testing throughout. His description of the project reads like a report back to “M”, the head of the British Secret Service:
“When we got there, the house was in a bad way. The 108,000 Btu, 60% furnace was providing very little heat to the master bedroom, and there was no air conditioning to that room,” Kjelshus says. “There was no return to the master bedroom and not enough on the second floor.
“In addition, by using AirAdvice, we identified a low-level carbon monoxide problem caused by a water heater that was backdrafting whenever the blower was on.
“We upgraded the supply and return to lower the system’s static pressure and reduce stratification.We took out a 6.5 EER air conditioner and oversized furnace, and put in four, 750-ft. geothermal loops. After super sealing the house and adding rim and attic insulation, we put in a 27-SEER two-stage geothermal heat pump.
“We also provided proper combusion air and venting to address the backdrafting water heater and ensure a safe indoor environment for the homeowners.
“The Walkers were very enthusiastic about the project, and very pleased with the final results,” he concludes.
Like James Bond, Kjelshus is a professional, and to him this was simply another successful mission — because there cannot be any other kind.