Tri-Energy – Update

After seeing the system presentation last year, and having had the endorsement from Jon Eakes, I considered adding the Tri-Energy system to my heating system, partly to get a better level of comfort, but primarily to reduce the overall cost of heating.

The system has been installed by Martin and his people, and we’re obtaining some experience with the operation.  I’ve chosen to have the Ecobee 3 thermostat (wifi-enabled) in addition to the electronic relays (some of the upgrades to the basic system).

We’re now starting to compile the usage data.

The basic system is a high-efficiency oil furnace as the primary system (distributing the heat through a central air ductwork), with the heat pump delivering the majority of the heating and cooling when above the critical temperature (of -12C). The Tri-Energy system added a third element (the auxiliary heating coils), along with the Tri-Energy controller and the EcoBee 3 thermostat.  The heating system also has a built-in humidifier.

We like to reduce the heat overnight, and raise it in the morning, so we have the thermostat set up with three settings:  night-time, day-time and “away”.  In the past, the older system would often sense that the heat needed in the morning is insufficient, and would switch to oil to raise the temperature to the target temperature quickly.  That would then generate a pulse of hot air, before the temperature would settle to the target temperature.

With the new system, the auxiliary heating coils kick in, eliminating the need for the oil heat for quick temperature increase in the morning, and the Tri-Energy controller modulates the amount of heating needed by the auxiliary heating coils so that the temperature rise is very even.   Of course, it does depend on how much heat can be delivered from the heat pump, so that there is more auxiliary heat needed on cold mornings (below 0C but above the critical temperature of -12C).

A recent innovation that Martin built into his system features a “pulse” feature on the oil heat.  The usual operation of the oil furnace is full-on until the target temperature is reached.  The new feature that Martin built in, pulses the oil furnace, so that it runs about 2 minutes on the burner, and then three minutes on the fan only.  Since oil usually generates a lot of heat, this heat then builds up in the ductwork, and by the time the hot air is moving into the living space, there is a lot of heat stored in the duct system.  With the new pulse feature, the running of the fan without the oil burner allows the air to run through the heated ducts, transferring some of the heat in the duct system, to the room air.

Compared to newer homes, we are still using more energy, and that can be traced to the lack of air sealing and insulation, something that we will have to improve over the next few years.  However, we have the benefit of much more even heat, and hopefully, lower operating costs over the years.


Spray Foam – good or bad?

Closed cell-spray foam used as insulation, has been on the market since about 1979, and has gone through a number of evolutionary steps.  The product is a solid plastic, formed by the chemical reaction of two primary components:  an “A” side which is isocyanate, and a “B” side which is usually a mixture of oils, stabilizers, fire retardants, blowing agents, and colouring agents.  The reaction is exothermic (ie, generates a lot of heat), and the materials form a solid within seconds. The blowing agents are the compounds which produce the low-conductivity gas that forms the bubbles in the foam, and thereby form the primary insulation.

When applied to a minimum thickness of 50mm (slightly under 2 inches), the material acts as  insulation, vapour barrier, and an air barrier.  Newly-installed foam has R-values of R-6 to R-7.5 per inch, but this diminishes to about R-5 per inch over time as the insulating gas dissipates.  Compared to other insulation products like fiberglass bat or mineral wool bats, the product has more insulating value per inch, and resists the loss of heating value that sometimes occurs with loose insulation due to air convection with extreme temperature differences.

The ability to prevent air and vapor movement is generally a good thing, except in situations where moisture can enter a wood structure, and then cannot get out.  Therefore the short answer to the question in the header is “spray foam is good when PROPERLY installed, and BAD when installed in inappropriate places or in an incorrect manner.  There are also issues of the impact on the environment, and potential impact on the health of the people living in the homes where the product is used.  The rest of the post touches on some aspects that inform whether the installation is good or not.

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The Stack effect and roof leaks

During the month of January, I’ve been called to diagnose roof leaks on an almost daily basis.  These leaks have a common characteristic – they show up when it’s cold.  That usually signals that there is some form of accumulation of water on the roof, usually behind an ice dam, and that the waterproofing is insufficient to stop the water from forcing its way it.  The existence of an ice-dam almost always means that there is excessive transfer of heat to the roof which melts the snow on the upper sections, and the resulting meltwater refreezes on the lower section over the soffits.  To reduce this heat transfer, we rely on insulation (to reduce the amount of heat leaking into the attic) and ventilation (to dissipate the residual heat before it melts the snow on the roof).  However, there is another player in this game, and it can cancel out the efforts at insulating and ventilating.  That player is air leakage.

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A non-roofing post – Tri-energy

Why Tri-energy?

As readers of my blog know, I focus on the system approach to analyzing issues, because many of the issues that come up are due to an incomplete understanding of how various elements of a system work together to give the desired end result.  So when someone uses the same approach to analyse another aspect of owning a home, I pay attention.  I was privileged to be present at a discussion organized by Jon Eakes, a well-known advisor to homeowners (forty years, I believe), about the benefits of a system called Tri-Energy, developed by Martin Janssen of ABC Hybrid Energy Inc.  This meeting was held on January 12, 2017, at the Holiday Inn Pointe-Claire, and was open to anyone who had an interest in the subject.  A number of homeowners who already had installed the system were present to talk to other homeowners about their experiences.  Simply put, the system benefits homeowners by using the equipment most homeowners already have, in a much more intelligent and efficient manner, thereby improving comfort, and reducing operating expenses.

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