February, 2016

stack effect:  Like wind, the stack effect can move large volumes of air through a building envelope. In the winter, the warm air in a heated building is lighter (less dense) than the cold air outside the building; that warm bubble of air wants to rise up and out. The flow of air leaving the top of the building draws cold air into cracks at the bottom.

stack effect diagram .png
When energy auditor Harvey Johnson and architectural designer Rachel Conly inspected our island school in October of 2015, it was clear the the stack effect was running rampant in the structure.  Cold air was getting in through foundation walls, basement windows and an uninsulated bulkhead door, then was being heated by the thirsty oil boiler as it made its way up through the school to escape through the attic.  Harvey and Rachel’s report was shared with the City of Portland’s Public Buildings Department, which began the work of reducing the movement of air through the building by spray foaming the foundation walls of the gym and sealing off most of the roof mounted ventilators.

Thanks to Kathy Alves and David Onos of Public Buildings for initiating this work.

Some of the many ventilators on the school roof, most of which the Public Buildings Department has now been capped
Spray foam under the gym wing (vapor barrier on the earth below to improve air quality), paid for with Public Buildings maintenance funds.  The basement walls and the east wing crawlspace still require insulation.


In September of 2015, PEAT secured a $10,000 grant from the Peaks Island Fund to do additional air sealing of the school’s building envelope.  PEAT hired Thompson Johnson Woodworks.

The photos below are “before and after” shots of the additional work TJW has tackled at the school to reduce the stack effect.

basement windos
Before:  2 of 5 single pane basement windows in rotting frames.  Note the spider webs, a sign of draftiness.
new basement windows
After: new double paned basement windows with pressure treated frames and foam insulation, protected on the outside by hardware cloth.  The shadowy area above the rim joist is still very much in need of insulation, as is the brick wall below the new windows.
old bulkhead door.jpg
Before: old gray bulkhead door, no insulation
new bulkhead door
After: new insulated bulkhead door and weather stripped frame
stairs open to attic
Before:  attic stairs usher warm air up to the unheated attic.  No barrier between conditioned and unconditioned spaces led to energy waste!
attic hatch
After:  A new hatch will keep warm air from escaping into the attic.
Before:  Unsealed penetrations in the original ceiling (above the newer drop ceiling in one of the single story classrooms).  These penetrations are probably the result of work performed when a new rubber roof was installed on top of the old one, with rigid insulation was added under it. This necessitated work on the roof’s drainage system, and the old ceiling was never repaired.
After:  A Tyvek membrane, taped and sealed, now prevents warm air from escaping through penetrations in the old ceiling.
Before: The school’s exterior door frames allow cold air to enter the building.  All remaining exterior doors will be caulked and gasketed by Thompson Johnson Woodworks.  Special thanks to Mark Pollard, who has volunteered hours to the school doing this work!
door gasketing
After: new gasketing (and caulking around door frames) prevents entrance of cold air in one of the completed doors.
Mark, Chris & Shane
Thanks to contractor Heather Thompson and Mark, Chris and Shane, the TJW guys who did the work!

A new boiler and a new energy management system will hopefully be installed as early as this summer, paid for from capital improvement funds earmarked by the City of Portland and the Portland Public Schools for this purpose.  The allocation of these funds must be voted on by the City Council.  Repair work for moisture intrusion in a gym wall is also part of the proposed $500,000 allocation.

Insulation for the remaining exterior basement and crawlspace walls will hopefully come from maintenance funds in the upcoming budget year beginning July 1.

Here is the old boiler on a very cold morning, pulling in combustion air through the open louvers.   The new steam boiler should be substantially smaller and more energy efficient.

Sam Saltonstall, PEAT Board member



Hamilton, Tyler (2011-09-01). Mad Like Tesla: Underdog Inventors and their Relentless Pursuit of Clean Energy    Paul Fox

2011 Published by ECW Press 2120 Queen Street East, Suite 200, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4E 1E2

In the introduction, Mr Hamilton outlines several quotes from scientific luminaries. From example, Lord Kelvin stated that heavier than air vehicles were impossible and X-rays will prove to be a hoax.  Albert Einstein, 1932, stated that nuclear energy would not be obtainable.  Thomas Edison’s response to Nicoli Tesla was “alternating current is a waste  of time.”  These historical gross fallacies attempt to counter the naysayers who currently claim “it cant be done” pertaining to clean energy.

Tyler Hamilton, not to be confused with Lance Armstrong’s team member who outed him, was a business reporter for the Toronto Star.  He interviews seven inventors who have  developed new technologies that have the potential to mitigate or reverse climate change.   The first chapter, “More bang for the the buck, a quicker path for nuclear fusion,” details the company, General Fusion headed by Doug Richardson and Michel Laberge.   General Fusion is hoping to use their prototype plasma injector to control and utilize fusion energy to produce electricity.  For those of you who are not facile with nuclear energy, fusion is energy derived from squeezing or fusing hydrogen nuclei into helium as the our Sun does.  Unfortunately this reaction has been quite difficult to control, yet their technology seems promising.

The second chapter focuses on a solar energy mechanism housed in space.  Cal Boerman and Gary Spirnak demonstrate how their Californian company, Solaren will beam energy from space.  By utilizing a large solar mirror that is orbiting the Earth and focusing this energy on to a module of solar cells then beaming via microwaves down to the planet which will be converted to electricity.  Unfortunately hurling this massive structure 36,000 miles into space has yet to be cost effective.

Louis Michaud has come up with a rather out of the box idea in the next chapter by turn garbage into a tornado which will generate electricity.  The Atmospheric Vortex Engine is essentially a controlled tornado.  Since the average tornado produces the energy roughly equivalent to a power station the idea may have traction.  By using a heat souce at the bottom of a tower that resembles conical cylinder and utilizing fans to swirl the warm rising air into a vortex one could generate a tornado. Once the vortex gets going the fans become turbines run by the intense vacuum of the tornado.  If this is unclear I suggest you read this book and in later chapters one can glean how pond scum becomes fuel, the developement of electrical storage by ultracapacitors, and the Perepiteia Generator.

This is a hopeful manual of how we may save ourselves from the impeding doom of global warming.

Thanks for reading.

Paul Fox

Check out the Peaks Energy Action Club’s Island Institute Blog here:

For Sam Saltonstall’s blog entries related to his energy efficiency work as a CIERA participant, click here:

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