Linda Wigington – The Nexus of Energy Conservation & IAQ – Reducing Outdoor Contaminants in Indoor Spaces ROCIS

Air Date: 11-11-2016| Episode: 437

This week on IAQ Radio we welcome energy efficiency and building science expert Linda Wigington. Through her company, Linda M. Wigington Associates, is involved in initiatives to evaluate and redefine the process, scope, and value of residential energy reductions…

Full Description:

This week on IAQ Radio we welcome energy efficiency and building science expert Linda Wigington. Through her company, Linda M. Wigington Associates, is involved in initiatives to evaluate and redefine the process, scope, and value of residential energy reductions. She is demonstrating the feasibility of achieving deep reductions (beyond 70%) in existing dwellings through North American Thousand Home Challenge. Some listeners may know her better as being the founder of and being associated with the Affordable Comfort Conference from its inception in 1986, (when she worked for ACTION-Housing), through 2013. As program director, she convened the program committees and confirmed the agendas for over 50 North American and regional conferences. These events have been instrumental in promoting an integrated approach to health, safety, durability, and energy performance. Linda has also been a technical consultant for residential utility programs. She was a founding member of the Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS) board of directors (2009) and is a board member of Community Solutions based in Yellow Springs, OH, and Cornerstone Care, a community health center serving several counties in southwestern PA. She has led the Reducing Outdoor Contaminants in Indoor Air ROCIS initiative since its inception in June 2014, and the ROCIS Low Cost Monitoring Project since it began in September 2015. . In the past Linda served as an advisor for Habitat for Humanity International’s Green Team and is currently on the Editorial Board of Home Energy magazine. She received the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy’s 2002 Champion of Energy Efficiency Award. LEARN MORE with Linda Wigington this week on IAQ Radio!

Z-Man’s Blog:

Be for something

Linda Wigington is involved in initiatives to evaluate and redefine the process, scope and value of residential energy reductions. She is demonstrating the feasibility of achieving deep reductions (beyond 70%) in existing dwellings through North American Thousand Home Challenge ( More recently she has been the team leader for the ROCIS initiative ( (Reducing Outdoor Contaminants in Indoor Spaces) based in southwestern Pennsylvania..

As a teenager, Linda Wigington was interested in environmental issues. Her mom admonished her -“don’t just protest – be for something”. It became clear that facts or concerns about safety and the environment did not appear to carry much weight if, as a society, we were committed to accelerating our growth of energy and resources. She decided that it was more important and effective to address the root issue – our relationship to consumption, and positive choices we can make on both a personal and professional level. The focus of her graduate study at West Virginia University in the Program for the Study of Technology was residential energy efficiency and alternatives and community energy education.

Nuggets mined from today’s interview:

Linda started thinking about these issues in her own life: what do we need to live well, to have health, wealth, with minimal impact on the environment?

She practices what she preaches. She lives in a 1940s home. Improvements she made include insulation, air sealing, mechanical ventilation, ductless heat pumps, heat pump water heater, LED lights,baseload monitoring, and movable window insulation. She has achieved close to net zero energy in her all electric home with a PV array that produces 3,600 kilowatt hours of energy annually. She estimates that her energy use related to good air quality – the use of portable air cleaners, a dehumidifier, mechanical ventilation and air quality monitors is her biggest load – not heating, as in most homes.

Reducing her energy use has resulted from a combination of efficiency and behavioral choices – Creative comfort – achieving comfort without just relying on a more typical thermostat setting helps increase the impact of energy efficiency investments.

How did your experience with Passive House shape your views regarding what could be achieved?

Linda – It caused me to re-examine what I thought was possible regarding energy use in buildings – and levels of building insulation and air tightness that could be achieved. Climate change is real. It became apparent that the typical reductions we were seeing in residential energy efficiency programs (25% of heating energy use) did not come close to meeting the reductions needed in the long-term to achieve climate goals.

The experience of the Passive House Institute provided insight on the value of the PHI process – In response to the Passive House Standard in Europe, products and components were being developed to make it easier to insulate the outside of masonry buildings. Creating the standard helped to redefine what was possible – and the experience gained helped to make it more practical.

The Passive House approach brings a wholistic set of principles to guide a project, incorporating energy efficiency, air quality, durability, and comfort.

What about the costs for testing and constructing an energy efficient home?

Linda – There can be a huge range of costs. If you and the trades are early on the learning curve, and you are just beginning to develop systems it can be very expensive. Getting the cost down comes with experience as well as system optimization. Regardless it is critical to be on a path that incorporates verification, feedback, and continual improvement.

It is more cost effective to achieve the Passive House standard in new construction or in multifamily building such as masonry buildings in cold climates that are undergoing major rehabilitation. In those cases, the added cost may only be 5 – 10% of the budget.

I was challenged to explore how we can achieve the same reduction in energy use in existing homes without the level of insulation and air tightness required with the Passive House standard. That is what I have done in my home – which does not come close to meeting the standard, but is net zero energy. I have achieved this through a combination of efficiency, behavioral choices, and renewables.

What is ROCIS?

Linda -ROCIS- Reducing Outdoor Contaminants in Indoor Spaces is an initiative funded by The Heinz Endowments in Pittsburgh, PA that began two years ago. The mission of ROCIS is to reduce the impact of exterior environmental pollution in southwestern Pennsylvania to improve healthy and energy efficient indoor environments where we live, work, and learn. We began by bringing together a diverse stakeholder group (environmental advocacy, sustainability, energy efficiency, affordable housing, healthy housing, monitoring, home performance, health, research, etc.) to learn from each other and redefinethe paradigm of what it takes to achieve good air quality in buildings.

The conventional view — to get good air quality you need to control indoor sources and provide ventilation is not adequate.Bringing in outside air to dilute indoor pollutants is a common practice, but what if the outside air is dirty? Or if water gives off emissions when you shower?

There is significant as Pittsburgh is among the worst cities in US for PM2.5. The State of the Air Report by the American Lung Association ranks Pittsburgh as the 9th and 10th worst cities in terms of 24 hour and annual particle pollution (PM2.5).

ROCIS started the Low Cost Monitoring Project a year ago. There are three objectives – 1) Gain experience with low cost monitors to better understand how to empower rather than overwhelm occupants as well as practical insight with different equipment; 2) Gathering baseline data; and 3) Explore the impact of technical and behavioral interventions to reduce exposure.

We have up to ten participants using the equipment for a 3-week cohort. Our primary focus is on particles and the relationship between outdoor and indoor counts.Each participant receives two Speck and three Dylos particle monitors. Dylos 1700 measure particles on two scales – >0.5 microns and >2.5 microns. Speck measures particles in the range of .2 to .4 microns.We also monitor CO (down to 10 PPM), CO2 and provide 2 radon monitors. The equipment is installed in either the participant’s home or workplace. The emphasis has been on homes.

Key takeaways:

Historical radon data indicates that 40% of homes in Allegheny County, PA exceed the EPA radon standard of 4 pc/l. What we see is consistent with that. Interestingly, two of the highest levels of radon were in two newer homes, both of which already had passive radon systems. They have added fans, and now have very low levels.

If order to reduce exposure to particles, it is critical to have a wholistic approach that embraces both reduction of interior sources, filtering, and exclusion of outdoor particles.
We believe that our group process, the shared data, and providing our interpretation of data add value over what an individual would gain from using monitors in isolation.

To date our data analysis has focused on analysis of Dylos small data set. We have looked at the median and distribution and compared indoor and outdoor data. The implications of re home/workplace characteristics has not been analyzed with statistical analysis.

In terms of interventions our focus has been on proof of concept and understanding the degree to which different applications could be deployed and their potential for impact. This is not intended to be a rigorous scientific research project.

What activities raise particle levels?

Linda – The consistent, high levels of particles given off by cooking, even under vented exhaust hoods, is a surprise, and the single most common indoor source. Vented exhaust hoods help, but not as much as one would expect.

Any activity tends to stir up particles – we see the lowest levels when there is no occupancy or when everyone is sleeping. Houses with more kids or more activity – cause elevated counts – often across the range of all of the sizes of particles we are monitoring.

Ultrasonic humidifiers using tap water create high levels of particles, distilled water should be used in these devices. Hot surfaces such as toasters and coffee makers can generate particles. Vacuuming, pets, kids, candles, and fragrance emitting devices cause spikes. The amount of particles generated from walking on hard floors was surprising.Periodic thorough and deep cleaning, (such as that done after lead remediation) is recommended.

Using monitors for a few weeks can give an occupant a good idea of what causes the spikes. However, part of our concern is that one may not see clear solutions – “Just not an option to get rid of my kids or quit cooking”. Or, a person may not have any idea how their readings compare to others, and what opportunity exists for improvement. If you are only using an indoor monitor you may be confused by indoor variations caused by changes in outdoor counts. As soon as you open windows when the outside air is poor, the indoor air is poor too.

There is a 10 to 1 difference in median (Dylos small) between the homes with the lowest and highest indoor particle counts (Dylos small). Based on the Dylos Corporation scale, the median outdoor air quality (Dylos small) is in the poor range for the majority of our participants. The indoor median is in the “Fair” range for the majority, with only a few achieving “very good” as a median. It is clear that continuous filtration makes a big difference.

What filters do you recommend?

Linda – What we have seen is that the most important variable is how the filters are used in terms of the operation of an air handler. There may be an impact with high MERV filters in HVAC equipment, but we have not seen it when the air handler is only on when there is a call for heating or cooling. When the air handler is on continuously there is a significant impact – particle counts are much lower. But there can be significant liabilities energy use, external static pressure and equipment operation.

We recommend a high quality 4″ MERV 13 pleated filter recommendations over a one inch pleated high MERV filter. If used continuously, a one-inch high MERV filter can work well at knocking particle counts down, but they are consistently too restrictive even with a brand new filter in the duct systems we have tested. In SW PA housing stock we see mostly sheet metal ducts. HVAC systems are typically located in basementsand there is the return air drop parallel to the HVAC system, then a 90 degree turn going through the filter into the blower compartment.

If you set the air handler to “on” at the thermostat, the air handler runs continuously – but nearly all of the equipment we have checked is set on the factory settings, and “on” is the highest blower speed! Over a 1/3 of the 15 air handlers we checked used more than 1000 watts, and a few clocked in at 1500 watts. So with continuous air handler use you could be using 36 kWh/day – over $100 dollars a month. In addition, with this blower setting the external static pressure is significantly above the ESP on the nameplate. That can lead to equipment durability issues.

When outdoor air is good, indoor air is much better than when outdoor air quality is bad – . When there are indoor sources, good outdoor air dilutes them more quickly. Good outdoor air is the solution to good indoor air. My take away is that every home needs a way to clean the air, and it needs to be affordable to use

What are implications for energy efficiency or Home Performance contractors and healthy homes?

Linda – Home performance and weatherization programs have had a consistent focus on health issues – but those have focused on combustion safety, house depressurization, building tightness, and moisture sources. We have not looked at particles. It is possible to incorporate better filtration and simultaneously address the equipment performance, distribution system, and air handler energy use, particularly at the point when and HVAC system is being installed or replaced.

Final words:

et the air handler blower setting right for the HVAC system performance and potentially ideally with an option for continuous air handler operation then there is a need for filtration.
When HVAC systems are installed or replaced there should be accommodation for a 4 – 5 inch filter, ideally horizontally in the return drop, so that air flow, energy use, and external static pressure is improved. The conventional filter location right next to the blower is not

ECMs may offer significantly lower energy use over conventional blowers – particularly at lower settings.

Filters need to be routinely replaced. This is a big issue. Occupant engagement is critical.

Today’s Music:
Energy Conservation for Kids- Song (Horizon Utilities) YouTube
Z-Man signing off

Which of the 50 American states consumes the most power for household?