Blower Door Home Visit

Jon is an architecture student who rents in Canberra. As part of ‘Home Truths’, Better Renting worked with Jon and his housemates to measure the air leakage of his home and implement quick, cheap, and easy improvements. In this post, Jon reflects on the experience.

I’m a renter in a period of rising electricity costs and increased awareness of the value of living sustainably. So it’s often frustrating to know that it’s my landlord who controls the factors that influence how much heating or cooling my home needs.

Looking for a healthy home

When my partner and I have looked around Canberra for a place to call home, the harshness of the local climate is always a key part of our decision, especially the winter days where the top temperatures struggle to reach double digits. At the same time, it’s hard to be selective as a renter.

My partner and I walked through monocrete houses where you could see your breath indoors. We inspected a house with what seemed to be a permanently shattered window. We experienced multiple houses where the mould spores hit you as you walked through the door and had everyone sniffling and rubbing their eyes on their way out. The house we ended up with is an old ex-govie in the inner north. It’s fitted with ducted gas heating but no cooling, and while the double brick walls help to retain heat in cold weather, the aged timber windows and minimal insulation mean that winters remain icy.

We live in a share house, and since three of us often work or study from home, we usually find ourselves setting the heater to 16 degrees during cold days – and, of course, wearing many layers. The heater runs almost non-stop to work against the cold air sneaking in. At night, we let the temperature drop to 13 degrees in an effort to keep our bills as low as possible.

The home visit

We contacted the Better Renting crew after seeing that they provide help for renters caught in inefficient homes. Not too long after signing up, they came by to help us seal up all our windows and give us some extra energy efficiency tips. Not only that, but they also arranged for Andrew, a specialist builder with Aerotight, to come and test exactly how much our house was leaking!

Andrew performed a ‘blower door test’ which basically involved installing a huge fan in our front door, sucking all the air out of the house, and measuring how quickly new air was pulled in by the vacuum. While Andrew was getting his numbers, he lent me a thermal camera, and I ran around the house in utter amazement at both how much air leakage was impacting temperatures inside and how friggin’ cool thermal imaging is. Windows and doors were clearly the worst offenders, followed by the points where the floorboards met the walls, and then fixtures in the ceiling.

Once we’d seen just how leaky the house is, we started sealing up all the windows and doors. To do this, we used a combination of foam and rubber sealing strips which are readily available at hardware stores. Installing them took a little bit of time, but the extra hands were a huge help. We also placed a type of contact sheet over all the old unnecessary vents in the walls and ceilings, and we made sure all the external doors had door snakes. Once this was done, a second blower door test revealed that our work had reduced the overall air leakage of the house by 25% which is potentially between one and two hundred dollars off a winter’s heating bill. Not bad for a morning’s work.

Feeling the difference

After the house was sealed up, we instantly noticed a difference. The house stays warmer for longer, internal doors no longer rattle on windy days, and the bathroom, which we keep shut off from the rest of the house, is no longer a permanent icebox. We also have one window in the living room, formerly a permanent cold spot, that we can now comfortably sit in front of.

This old house was built in a time before energy efficiency was a priority in residential construction. Unfortunately for renters, there is a disconnect between who is responsible for upgrading a house’s energy efficiency versus who has to pay the bills and endure the temperatures. I was thrilled to hear that the ACT government is proposing to set minimum standards for energy efficiency in rental properties as this is an issue which harms all renters, from students like myself through to the most vulnerable people in our community.

Better Renting is not currently running home visits. However, you can make your own changes using our "Energy Efficiency Guide for Renters".