Window Well to the Rescue!

Bedrooms below grade need proper escape and rescue openings (EERO). In the context of remodeling a basement this needs to be taken into account if the rooms we are creating are to meet current requirements to be called a “sleeping room.”

Many older homes that have windows into the basement were never designed for escape and rescue and were there to simply provide light and/or ventilation to the basement.

Since proper escape and rescue requires that windows meet minimum net opening sizes, there are almost always going to be necessary changes to the foundation wall to meet these requirements. Besides the opening size, the bottom of the opening can’t be more than 44” above the finished basement floor. In the picture below you can see the nice escape and rescue window installed for this new basement sleeping room.

Escape and Rescue openings

Escape and Rescue openings

While the height above the floor is OK, the net opening size was only 14″ x 33″ and does not meet current EERO requirements. The absolute “minimum” size for an opening that is 33″ high would be 22″ wide (because the window is at grade it can be a little bit smaller than if it was above grade).

Once we have made our opening and that opening is below grade, window wells at the exterior will be necessary. This complicates the whole business of providing EERO to the room because there are minimum sizes for the well that must be met. If it is over 44” deep it will need a ladder and it might even need some sort of guard to prevent someone falling into the well.

All of a sudden meeting the escape and rescue requirement has gotten even more expensive.

So let’s assume that you know there has to be proper EERO and lets also assume that you know there has to be a proper window well at the exterior too. In the following picture you can see that someone went to a LOT of work to build a very nice window well for EERO that is actually big enough for two adjacent basement rooms.

Window well

Window well

There is only one rather costly problem.

It is the wrong distance between the house wall and the outside wall of the well–only 28.”  That minimum dimension is 36.”

So while they had the “idea” right, they obviously did not know all the specific requirements that would prevent them from having to tear it all out and start over. It is also an indication of work being done without permits.

Whoops!

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Hopefully, back in the day, we all got to fog up some windows!

I have blogged about this “defect” several other times, but I always find it interesting nonetheless.

Most of my readers, who have teenagers, can relate to the worry associated with them fogging up the windows on Lovers Lane on date night–when they were supposed to be home!

But lets ignore the teenagers for just a moment.

If you have garages, with overhead doors and automatic openers newer than 1982, you may know about the sensor beams/eyes located near the floor at both sides of the door.  These sensors are designed to reverse the door when a child, cat, dog or giant squirrel walks through the beam.

Surprisingly, I find this defect as many as 2 to 3 times a year.

Teenagers can be problematic more than 2 to 3 times a year.

These sensor beams are one of several reversing mechanisms required on modern automatic door openers and something your home inspector should be testing for proper function during the inspection.

It is a well know fact that teenagers apparently have no such reversing mechanisms.

One can only imagine the liability involved by installing the sensors other than where they belong–between 4” and 6” above the floor.

It is perhaps as dangerous as the teenagers in the back seat of the car—with their eyes stuck together.

 

Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

Tank type electric water heaters—hard to beat.

Super Insulated Water Heater

Me in my water heater

Everyone that knows me, knows I spend a lot of time in my basement playing with my water heater.

I have always been skeptical of the claims made about different types of water heaters and I have never had anything more than anecdote to sort out any truth of these claims.

About 6 months ago I bought an electric meter to install on the water heater so I could keep track of exactly how much electricity it uses.  This takes some of the extrapolation and guessing out of equation.

What I am writing here in no way clarifies everything but it clearly demonstrates the whole topic needs to be revisited by people with more money and testing facilities than I have.

Some of this inquiry is in answer to advertising by on-demand water heater manufacturers that would have us belief tankless-type heaters are god’s gift to water heaters and that tank type heaters are no longer a viable way to heat water. 

There are lots of pros and cons to both types.

It is my premise, if water heaters came with a LOT more insulation than is currently required, they can remain competitive in cost to operate and certainly in cost to install. 

The initial costs and maintenance costs associated with tankless water heaters is still considerably higher than tank type heaters–and lets face it, they are as complicated as under the hood of your car.

An interesting thing happens when you install an electric meter on your water heater.  It becomes very difficult to use hot water “normally.” This is because of the nagging little voice in the back of your head that questions whether you are wasting hot water while you are doing the dishes, doing the laundry, taking a shower or washing the cow.  That said, the ratio should remain similar even if the numbers end up somewhat higher.

Meaningful numbers can still be found when comparing operating costs of an off-the-shelf heater compared to one that is super-insulated.

About two months ago, my heater died.  When I replaced it, I replaced it with another tank type heater that was 15 gallons smaller than the previous heater.  I decided I would monitor costs for a period of time prior to super insulating it.  The tank comes insulated to R-13.  I would ultimately insulate the tank to R-40.

My installation is further complicated by a re-circulation loop.  I also wanted to determine the operating costs of the loop.  Just how much did it add to water heater operating costs?  In addition I wanted to see performance differences of keeping the tank and loop at 135° F and 120° F.  I suspect I could have gotten better numbers if I monitored for a whole year or several years, but I was merely looking for hints of the truth.

Super Insulated Water Heater

Insulated to R-40

At 135° F, the operating costs of the loop resulted in an additional 15 cents per day.  The loop operated for 15 minutes an hour between 6am and 10 pm. 

The loop with super insulated lines and tank also results in having a larger volume of hot water sitting in the tank waiting to be used.  The hot water circulating to the bottom of the tank mixes with the incoming cold water reducing the amount of time it takes to bring all the water up to the set temperature. 

If power is lost, I still have a tank full of hot water for a couple of days.  With the tankless you immediately have nothing.

My loop is a thermosiphon loop (no pump) and has a timer with an electronic valve to control how much it operates.  The loop to the kitchen and back to the water heater is approximately 88 feet and insulated to R-20.  I consider this cost per day to operate the loop as insignificant.  The cost is mostly offset by the savings related to not wasting water.

After insulating the tank to R-40, the per day costs to heat water to 135° F averages 92 cents per day.  Prior to insulating the tank, the average daily cost was about $1.20.  This is approximately a savings of 24%.  This results in a payback on the $152.00 cost to install the R-40 insulation of 1-3/4 years.  Over the 20 year life of the water heater (typical of my area) that could be a savings, at current electrical rates, of $2060.00.  This is the cost of more than 5 water heaters based on the $400.00 cost of my recent water heater purchase. 

I know of no comparable way to get this kind of savings with a tankless water heater and of course initial costs are much higher with the tankless.  Maintenance costs over 20 years is going to be close to the savings of the super-insulated tank type heater.  Keep in mind that estimates of cost to operate tankless water heaters do not include increased costs to maintain re-circulation loops.

I realize no one is likely to do their water heaters what I did to mine to achieve these numbers. 

This exercise is to expose the silliness of what we currently require of manufacturers. 

Manufacturers could certainly add insulation to R-40 (or higher) at the time of construction much cheaper than I can do it in the field.  This seems like a no brainer if we are serious about conserving energy. Of course this only applies to electric water heaters that can be heavily insulated at the sides, top and bottom.

Another factor that comes into play, is that the size of the tank can be much smaller, which even further reduces annual costs to operate the heater. It also deals with possible problems with replacing larger heaters that would be bigger if insulated to R-40.  There is no reason standby-costs on a tank-type water heaters can’t be brought under 50 cents a day–probably under 30 cents a day if the tank is 40 gallons or less.  With a super insulated tank, a 40 gallon tank should be more than adequate for a family of four.

When are we going to start requiring manufacturers to install more insulation on their heaters?

Temperature behind the insulation

The temperature of the tank behind the added insulation is 100° F

Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle