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Green Workplace Challenge #2: Air, Air Everywhere

Updated: Feb 22

A few months ago, I dreamed of GASP winning the Green Workplace Challenge, a “free, yearlong competition for organizations to save money and gain recognition for energy savings and other green initiatives” run by Sustainable Pittsburgh.

(Read about my initial enthusiasm here.)

An energy auditor poked through our office, the long ground floor we rent of an old three-story building on Penn Avenue in Garfield. He gave us a list of tasks that would save us money on cooling and heating costs, and I excitedly began to cross off items from that list. The caulking in our largest room was cracked, on several windows about 12’ high. Putting my palm near the cracks, I could feel cold air flowing in.

Brrr. Old caulking out, and a lot of new caulking squished in. We then sealed the windows that opened with either window film or seam tape. I put several rolls of foam in door jambs to reduce drafts. I even put some in our mail slot. I sprayed expanding foam in gaps in a bunch of gaps around a door in the basement. This is easy! Victory is mine, I continued to dream.

And then winter got more wintery. Very cold, for many days on end. So cold that our office couldn’t get above 60 degrees Fahrenheit, even with the heater running all day.

My dreams of victory became hours of insomnia as I lay in bed, grinding my teeth over all the gas burned to barely warm our building. Starting during the cold spell and on and off throughout the winter, I plunged into our basement with only a roll of foil tape and 10

pounds of pure pluck.

Going from the furnace and following the supply and return lines out, I found many, many spots where our heated air was blasting straight into the basement, wasted, or places where the return ducts were damaged, meaning cold, smelly basement air was being sucked through those leaks back into the furnace—and thus more money to heat that untreated air.

The worst thing I found (other than the collection of over 1000 VHS tapes of movies copied off the TV) was a hole bigger than my fist, allowing hot air to rush into the basement. Next to the hole, resting on the ductwork, sat a cap. The exact shape and size of the hole. The cap was simply never placed in the hole.

Oh, and next to the rushing hot air was this old box of rat poison.


Sigh. OK, it was a hardened lump, probably 60 years old. But still.

In many places, our return “ducts” were made of a sheet of metal covering the space between two joists. The joists often had holes drilled through them to make room for wiring. Or the joists leaked air where, due to being rough, natural wood, they didn’t line up as perfectly as they should. Or the duct work just…didn’t fit. Note the cobwebs: spiders often make these near drafts of air. Look for cobwebs and you’ll find air leaks. The upshot of all this? I have been certified as an HVAC Fixer-Guy. I certified myself. I taped, nailed, capped, and sealed up every leak I could find. Also, we will not come close to winning the GWC.

All the time I had to go through the list of actions rushed away, like…hot air through a huge seam gap. More important than winning a contest, however, is understanding our heating and cooling systems, significantly reducing our heating and cooling costs, and giving our office better air quality. That’s what I’ll repeat to myself at the GWC awards ceremony, where I will sulk from the back of the room.

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