WABA_Home_Show

Home Showiness: Our experience at the 2018 WABA Home Show

Every year, for as long as I can recall, we have had a booth at the Wichita Home Show. Sometimes, we’ve had large, stand-alone booths. Other times, we’ve just had a 10×10 or 10×20 space in a row with other vendors. We’ve done giveaways of promotional items of all sorts; from balloons to bags, pens to stress balls. There’s also been a raffle or three and discounts off of services for finding us at the show.

There are times I wonder why we do it.

I say this because there’s a lot of work involved with being a part of a Home Show. There’s planning each year’s booth and literature, preparation of the booth, set up time (which is two or more hours for at least two people), the time spent working it (which we spread among six people) for four days and then takedown. That’s at least six days of time, plus the monetary expenses for space, booth, literature, and more.

Again, why do we go to the Home Show?WABA_Home_Show_Comfort_Wall

I’m sure the first response is “to increase sales,” and yes, that’s nominally the reason. But if we account for the costs AND hours to make it happen…let’s just say our industry doesn’t have the price tags to make that answer as clear-cut as I would like it to be.

Then there’s the fact that our services are of a “one and done” nature — to steal a phrase from college basketball. In other words, two of our three primary services (insulation and air sealing) is needed once per house and then not again at that location.

Factor in that the average homeowner lives in a home for 11 to 15 years and we’re pushing the logic in doing the show for economic purposes.

So, with all these negatives, why do we still do it?

There are a couple of pros to these cons. The first is creating or maintaining some amount of “Top of Mind Awareness” — a.k.a long-term branding reasons. When people do need our services, they’ll hopefully remember our name or logo because they saw or spoke to us at the Home Show. These needs are all fine and good, but it’s not the real reason we keep doing it.

No, we keep doing it because we like helping solve people’s home comfort, health, safety, and energy efficiency issues. Even if the solution is something we don’t install or work with, we like being able to point people in the right direction.

If you peel all the rest of it away, we just like being a resource or a guide to people having better structures around themselves. It’s why we picked the name NorthStar years ago. It wasn’t just because we could use a cute bear — that was just a bonus later on!

So, with all that in mind, we hope to see you at the Wichita Home Show next year!

Homeowner’s Handbook: The Instruction Manual

There are many steps when it comes to buying, selling, or owning a home. Should I get a professional inspection done? Will I be able to manage this all on my own? What kind of issues does this place have that I can’t even see? Even with all the tips and tricks out there about finding a home, you still need a central handbook for all these ideas. New_homeowner_handbook_guide

All these questions (plus hundreds more) are the reason we want to provide you with some tips for your home. First-time homeowners might find many things they’re unsure about. This could be from issues you didn’t even know to check on when you first bought your home. To maintain your new home, this Homeowner’s Handbook is here to help!

Maybe you have owned your home for many years and are looking for a change. These tips can help you prepare your home to be top-notch when you’re ready to sell. Or, maybe you’re in the market for a new home. If so, you probably want the best value for your dollar. In that case, follow these tips when searching for your dream home to make sure you find the perfect place.

This manual is packed full of ideas for keeping your home happy and healthy. From DIY ways to keep your home warm without a full insulation replacement to blocking harmful UV sun rays from entering your home, the Homeowner’s Handbook will be your guide. 

Whether you have a surplus knowledge of homes or absolutely none at all, we hope to provide you with further understanding and clarification throughout this manual. Here at Northstar, our expertise is what proves our knowledge of homes. Through our Building Science Principles Certificate from BPI, and more, we are here to give you the best help possible with our expert knowledge.

Re-insulating Your Attic

Sometimes, the usually unseen elements in your home can be the most important when it comes to saving money on your energy bills. When it comes to insulation, for instance, re-insulating your attic with new insulation, or by adding more, can save you between 10 to 20 percent on your energy bill every month.

If you’re wondering if this might apply to you, read on!

Check Your Attic’s Condition

If your floor joints are visible or the insulation looks compacted or well-trod upon (shown below), then yours needs improving. Pretty easy, no? Over time, some insulation settles, namely cellulose, but years and years of dust can compress fiberglass as well. If you can see the tops of the joists, for instance, you probably have R-19 in your attic, and even that may be generous. For comparison’s sake, the recommendations for homes in our area (Climate Zone 4) start at R-38.

re-insulating_attic

If your attic looks like this, the heated air in your living area is escaping upwards through thermal flow. That means the money you are spending on trying to keep your house warm is going right out the door (or ceiling), literally, as the heat continues to escape your home and cost you more money.

Wet Insulation

If your roof is leaky, has been leaky or your insulation has encountered any other kind of wetting, it’s probably time to replace it. Moldy, wet insulation not only causes energy-efficiency issues but can create health problems as well.

Replacement Options

There are two options available when it comes to re-insulating your attic. First, you can add more loose-fill insulation to what is already there. In this scenario, we would recommend fiberglass on top of whatever is currently in place, as it’s not heavy enough to compress the existing material. Second, you can remove the current insulation, air seal the attic floor and then re-install loose fill. We recommend fiberglass for this as well, primarily for safety reasons. Both of these options are guaranteed to do their job of re-insulating your attic. 

There’s a third option, but it falls on the “less recommended” side. This option would be installing spray foam on the underside of the roof deck. We don’t recommend it around here for several reasons.

First, spray foam is more expensive without being clearly better. It can negatively affect the roof deck and/or shingles; it moves the thermal boundary of your attic area which creates a much more substantial volume of air that will be heated and cooled and can be detrimental to the health of the home occupants, depending upon how the ventilation is set up for combustion appliances. That said, sometimes, particularly in much older homes, spray foam may be the only way of getting any insulation in an attic area. Also, if your attic has your HVAC equipment in it, enclosing the attic area can help your equipment’s performance.

So, if your attic insulation looks compressed and you have decided you qualify for an insulation upgrade, contact us today!

 
 
 

Questions to Think about When New Home Shopping

 

With the Fall Parade of Homes underway, I thought it might be worth some time to address some things you might not consider when shopping — or even just window-shopping — for a new home.home_shopping

What’s behind the sheetrock? 

I know it’s thoroughly predictable that an insulation contractor would start with wondering ‘what’s in the walls’ but this is more of a ‘how is the wall designed’ thing. Does the builder use 2×6 walls, for thicker walls that can hold more insulation (more common further north)? Did they stick with traditional 2×4 walls? Is there continuous insulation on the outside of the wall, which eliminates thermal bridging? What kind of insulation is there, or more importantly, what’s the R-value they’re putting in?

House orientation & Drainage plan

It’s no secret that most new home subdivisions don’t have large trees. A lack of trees is perfect for those of us that hate cleaning the gutters or raking the lawn, but the trade-off is a lack of natural shade from the sun. While we naturally think of east and west exposures as being important, don’t forget to account for the south side either. The sun may not be as intense when it’s further to the south, but those exposures do get it all day long. The north side should be Low-E windows, period.

How does or will rainwater flow off and away from the house? Most new home areas have a master drainage plan for the development, and there’s probably an easily discernable slope to each lot. However, it’s important to consider how your new home will fit in, as far as how the water will flow in and around your new home, plus how any adjacent homes are set up to deal with heavy rains.

Acoustics in the home

Have a kid who plays the drums? Will you be near a busy street? How about trying to sleep when you’re visiting relatives are arguing in the next room? Whatever the case, be sure to consider how the sound will travel in your home. You can account for it through design and materials if it’s an issue for you.

Fresh air machine?

This is very much NOT the technical term, but we’re using it anyway. The actual term is ERV or HRV, and in either case, they’re devices that make sure a home has enough fresh air when a home is built very tightly. In ‘ye olden days,’ houses leaked enough air to make sure occupants weren’t breathing stale or possibly harmful old air. As we’ve tightened up homes in the name of energy efficiency, sound control, and better building practices, we’ve sacrificed the primary source of incoming fresh air. Adding a ‘Fresh Air Machine’ solves this problem and should be installed if you’re significantly upgrading your home. In other words, don’t tighten the home shell without a plan!

Why not check the (HERS) score?

I know a few houses in this area have been getting a HERS score but, hey, why not ask about it anyway? https://www.resnet.us/hers-index gives you the scoop on what it is and why it exists.

Attic Ventilation and Sizing

attic ventilation

Fair warning: I am not an engineer. I’m not a scientist, either. I do make informal hypotheses and then use observational results to determine their merits, but using the scientific method does not make an expert. The truth is most contractors, builders, and even architects aren’t either of these things either. In fact, the whole idea of “building science” is a relatively new one, which is interesting, considering that humankind has been creating non-cave places to live for thousands of years.

I use this as a preface because the home building industry makes an awful lot of its decisions based on what we’ve done before. Whether it’s a green behind the ears tradesman learning their craft from a veteran or one contractor picking up tips from another, this industry is based on handed down learning of what works and what doesn’t, with official code books issued periodically to provide continuous guidance on how homes should be built. While I’m not about to get into how codes are changed here, just know this: neither the codes themselves nor the jurisdictions who decide how and what codes get used (adopted, in the parlance) are done from a purely scientific standpoint.

With all of this in mind, it should be little surprise that attic ventilation is a thing we do because we’ve always done it. And, even more maddening, is that the seemingly scientific way of determining how much attic ventilation a building needs was just made up back in the 1940s. So, as much as I’d love to post that using a ratio of 1:300, with 1 square foot of ventilation needed for every 300 square feet of attic area, with the ventilation balanced between the top (ridge) and the bottom (soffits or eaves) is the best solution to attic ventilation, I can’t say that it’s a 100% data driven fact.

Yet, it works. Because of course it does. Funny, no?

Really, it works because;

  1. attic ventilation, while important to do correctly, doesn’t cause catastrophic failure if

       done incorrectly

2. the original ratio, whatever its origins, was most likely based on observational data

     that correlated with homes that worked right.

I will note that one of the most well-known and trustworthy building science professionals, Joe Lstiburek, does recommend using a 60/40 split for the bottom and top attic ventilation areas, with slightly more air coming in from the bottom of the space to slightly pressurize the space. This makes good sense, as it ensures that the attic won’t be “sucking” conditioned air from the living space.

For practical purposes, we put this together 12 years ago. Note that the 1:300 ratio isn’t on here but, instead, there’s a multiplier.attic ventilation

The .24 multiplier follows the 1:300 guideline but we’ve found that a simple multiplication factor is the easiest way to do the math. And, after 12 years, it’s probably time to update this with the 60/40 information as well. Otherwise, it all still works!

Hopefully, this helps explain attic ventilation sizing some. As always, there’s more to the story, especially in how the practical aspects work, but we get to that another time.

—Jeff

Source:

How Insulation May Help Sell Your Home to Millennials

Unless you’re already in your ‘forever home’, you’ll probably be looking at putting your current home on the market. And if you’re reading this, you probably know insulation is important for energy efficiency, lower bills, and improved comfort.  insulation may also be important to selling your home to the largest group of home buyers out there — millennials.

Insulation and Selling Home

Millennials: A New Kind of Buyer

While each home buyer is going to have their own mental checklist when it comes to choosing a house, millennials tend to all have one thing in common — they want a house with proper energy efficiency. In fact, according to a recent article by Bankrate, “energy efficiency” is one of the 11 Must-Haves to Sell to Millennial Buyers.

These Buyers Want to Protect the Environment

Their belief that they need to be more “green” is one of the main reasons why energy efficiency is important to millennials. They tend to have strong, specific values and preservation of the environment is more important than material things, power, or money.

 

Morley Winograd, an author and researcher of millennials, believes millennials are the most environmentally conscious generation in the U.S., stating, “They will be interested in anything that reduces a home’s footprint on the environment, especially if it is measurable and works automatically.”

 

As a home seller, it is now your job to show millennials that purchasing your home is going to align with their values. Newer insulation means the A/C and furnace don’t have to work as hard — saving energy in the long run.

These Buyers Are Conscious of What They Are Spending

While millennial home buyers consider their environmental footprint, they are also cautious of where their money is going. Energy costs are rising, and millennials want to do what they can to avoid having to pay increased costs.

 

Again, this is where insulation can help attract buyers. Rooms will stay cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Who doesn’t want that?

 

Keep in mind, it’s better to already have upgrades such as new insulation already installed in the home when it comes time to sell. Otherwise, buyers will consider the amount that this is going to add to the price when they have to make these updates on their own.

Take the Next Step

Knowing your audience of potential home buyers is the first step in selling your home. Now, it’s time for the next step. Make those home improvements that are going to nudge buyers into believing your home is the one for them. Re-insulating your home is a step worth taking, and all it takes is a call to NorthStar. We look forward to hearing from you!

 

Energy Efficiency Leads to Better Health

Here in Kansas, it always seems to be allergy season. Your home should be a place of respite from all of the pollutants and allergens, yet this is not always the case. The good news is that having an energy efficient home is one way to start your trek to better health, especially if done right.

Obviously, insulation is a key factor in whether your home is energy-efficient or not. Chances are, in a new home, you’re in pretty good shape, or at least out to be. But if you’re in an older home, your air sealing and insulation situation could probably use some improvement. 

How do I know?

The first and most obvious way to know it’s time to look into your insulation is when the bills start to climb. Other good indicators would be rooms that never seem to get to the right temperature or HVAC equipment that seems to be constantly running (leading back to that bill thing). However, an increase in allergic responses – you know, sneezing or itching – can also be an indicator that the air inside your home isn’t great. There are also devices, like a Foobot, that can tell you the quality of your inside air. If the air has a lot of pollutants and you’re reacting to them, they’re either coming from the inside (issues like mold or pet dander, for instance) or from the outside, where all the things you’re allergic to are supposed to stay.

You keep saying insulation and air sealing like they’re two separate things.

That’s because they are! Kind of. In a gist, insulation’s job is to create a thermal blanket around the living areas inside your home. This is why its effectiveness is measured in terms of R-value, where R means Resistance to heat flow. Air sealing lacks an easily recognizable measuring tool like R-value but air sealing is all about creating a barrier between the inside and outside air. Most insulation products provide some resistance to air and many air sealing products provide some resistance to heat flow and, yes, sometimes they’re the same thing. We use a conjunction of both types of products to protect your home.

 

Ok, so how will my health improve?

With 1 in 14 adults has asthma, experts estimate that at least 40% of those were diagnosed due to exposures in their own homes.  This exposure can come from dampness in your home, unregulated temperatures and lack of quality insulation to protect you from allergens.

NorthStar-Comfort-Services-Energy-Efficiency-Health

Source: E4TheFuture

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America found that the average American spends about $3,259 on asthma every year. By improving your insulation to decrease your health risks, you will also be saving money on monthly energy bills and potentially even more lost on medical bills. At the very least, you’ll be reducing a couple of factors that can cause major headaches. 

 

7 Reasons Why You Should Tint Your Windows

Having been in the window tinting industry for more than half of our 70 yearswe are well-attuned to the benefits of tinting your windows. However, we still run into many homeowners that aren’t familiar with what window films can do for their spaces. Putting these two things together, we thought we should compile a list of our top seven favorite reasons for why you should tint your windows. And we’re pretty confident that you will find at least one reason that you could benefit from!

Reduce Glare

Ever been watching TV and a glare gets in the way? What about when you’re driving down the street and the sun causes you to squint the whole way home? These are problems that window film can easily reduce! Darker window films block the most, but all of our window films will help tone down the bright sun.

Reduce Fading

Whether you want to prolong the life of valuables in your home or want to reduce fading on items within your business or storefront, window tinting is a great solution! All of our window films block at least 99% (some even 99.9%) of the UV spectrum, which is the main cause of fading. As it so happens, the next two causes are heat and visible light, which are also reduced with window film!

Reduce Heat

Room heating up too much? Air conditioner overworking? Many window films can help! Our advice is to call us up before the summer heat arrives! Once you realize how much heat reduction window films can bring, you’ll question why you didn’t invest in them sooner!

Increase Privacy

Window films make it easier to enjoy the daylight view of the outdoors, without allowing your neighbors or passersby see inside. Home and car break-ins are more likely to happen when the thieves can see what’s inside.  Feel secure knowing that your belongings are better hidden. Traditional window films help to increase privacy during the day, whereas opaque films help all day and night!

Increase Safety

Along with increasing privacy, window tinting also increases safety as it is harder for windows to break when they are tinted. If they do break, the window film will hold the shards of glass together — keeping you from a mess of shattered glass. If safety is your main concern, we recommend safety-specific films that are thicker — ranging from 4mm to 11mm thick!

Improve Aesthetics

If you’re looking to increase the visual appeal of your home or business, window films are a great place to start! Use them to homogenize the look of your home’s windows from the street or to add a touch of richness and professionalism to the exterior of your business.

Balance Temperatures

Last, but certainly not least, use window tinting to help balance the temperatures in your home or office. Hot and cold spots can make a living space feel bipolar. Reducing the overly hot areas can help your HVAC system balance out the entire building.

 

We could go on forever about the reasons why you should tint your windows, but hopefully, now, we have you convinced! Contact us to schedule! 

 

northstar-window-tinting

Home Automation Experiments

 

Since finishing our new office up in Kechi and a highly educational jaunt to the International Builder’s Show back in January, we’ve started experimenting with some of the Home Automation devices (the skeptical might call them ‘toys’) that are available. The two devices we’re playing wi-, I mean, professionally using at the moment are a Foobot and a Nest. I thought our blog would be a great place to share some of our thoughts on them and what they have to do with an ‘insulation’ company.

Foobot  

Foobot is an air quality monitor. We’ve had one at the office since the end of last year and I’ve had one in my personal place since January. What it does is tell you (on the app, not on the device) the current temperature and humidity near it, as well as break down the air into 3 main components – particulate matter, volatile compounds (generally known as volatile organic compounds or VOCs) and carbon dioxide. Based on how much of those 3 components it detects, the lights on the device will range from bright blue, meaning great air quality, to bright orange, meaning lousy air quality. I’ll go into specifics about what we’ve found out later but it’s very interesting to notice some trends, all of which you can access on the app.

Source: Pinterest

Nest

Nest probably needs no introduction but, for those that don’t know, it is an internet-enabled thermostat. Unlike the Foobot, it requires a little work to install, as it replaces your existing thermostat. It can be a relatively easy swap, but that depends on how your system is set-up. Once installed, it works seamlessly with your heating and cooling equipment. Not only can you program it to run how and when you’d like, it also learns how you keep temperatures when you tend to be at home or away, can give you the forecast for the next few hours when you walk by AND makes you dinner. Ok, that last one isn’t true, but the rest is and is just a sampling of what it does.

The most used feature, in our experience, is the free app. With the app, alongside basic monitoring abilities, you can change the thermostat from anywhere. Cold and don’t feel like moving? Turn up the heat from your chair. Going to be home and want to crank up the heat early? Done. It’s one of those features you may think you’ll never use and then can’t live without.

Source: The New Economy

What’s insulation have to do with it?

Nothing and everything, of course! True, it’s not like you wire the devices into insulation or window film but everything we do is tied to how a building operates, for better or worse. Some insulations off-gas, which impacts air quality. Air sealing is a key component of what we do too. Window films reduce unwanted heat, so the thermostat needs less adjustment. In other words, since it’s all tied together, we’re trying out equipment that checks HOW everything is actually doing. The more we know, the better we can do our jobs, plus we can share our knowledge with our customers as well. Plus, as the cartoons of my youth told me, ‘knowing is half the battle’!

Spring Clean Your Attic

It may not seem like the most fun way to spend your spring break, but if you’re not laying on the beach in Florida, you might as well be productive, right? Cleaning out your attic is one of the best ways free up storage space for all of the random stuff you’ve accumulated throughout the years and can even make your home healthier and lead to a more efficient home too! How so? Read on!

Start By Decluttering

Before you start climbing into your attic, make sure you have a few trash bags with you. Depending on how often you venture up there, you may find a lot of stuff that can be taken from your attic to the street curb. Other things may be perfect to sell in a spring garage sale! As for all of the items you want to keep, you should try to organize everything into sturdy, waterproof containers. Plastic totes work great and don’t deteriorate or rot like cardboard boxes often do.

Once you’ve removed anything you no longer need or want and have organized the stuff you are keeping, you should do your best to remove any dirt or dust that has accumulated. Sweep the floors, and dust the entirety of the attic to help remove the allergens that make you and your family sick.

Inspect Your Attic

Once everything is looking more spacious and organized, it is time to inspect your attic to see the conditions of your walls, ceiling and roof decking. Can you feel air blowing around recessed can lights? See light coming through the rooms below? Or is there evidence of past moisture on the underside of the roof deck? All of these are signs that your home isn’t working as intended and are things that should be addressed. In the first two cases, air sealing can be done by yourself or a professional. In the second one, more research is called for to properly get to the root of the potentially serious issue.

While you’re up there, you should also check to see if any of your current attic insulation is wet (sign of a current problem) or moldy (sign of a past and potentially recurring problem). Not only can this create a mildew smell, but mold can obviously bring health risks to you and your family. Old, damaged insulation needs to be removed and replaced and the cause of the moisture needs to be fixed.

Invest in Insulation

So after cleaning the attic and checking for obvious issues, you’re now in a great position to replace or upgrade your insulation (or maybe put some up there for the first time). Obviously, we recommend contacting us for a free estimate! We’ll do a thorough inspection of your attic and help you choose the right insulation type for your home. With added insulation, you can expect to save on utility bills and experience improved comfort through the hot summer months and colder winter. Insulation is an investment that will eventually pay for itself!

At the end of a couple of hours of work and short walkthrough with our Comfort Advisor, you can feel accomplished for completing a home project that you probably would have rather put off doing! Instead of wondering about the horrors hiding up in your attic, you now know exactly what your attic looks like, know where to find everything, and can take comfort in the fact that you’ve taken steps to help your family save money, be comfortable and stay healthy!
If you’re feeling up to it, you can even put together a garage sale to sell all that stuff you were ready to part with. Maybe you’ll even make enough money to take the trip to Florida that you would have preferred in the first place!