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To Russia With Blower Doors

By David Saum, Peter Armstrong, and Yurij Matrosov

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This is a draft of an article that was published in the September/October 1995 issue of Home Energy magazine.

Russia may soon be the scene of one of the world's largest building energy retrofit projects, design of which is currently being developed by the Russian Government with support from the World Bank and other agencies. During the Soviet era thousands of apartment buildings across Russia were constructed when energy was thought to be almost free, due to the seemingly limitless natural resources of Russia and a centralized system of allocating economic resources that was generous to the energy production sector. Now that Russian energy prices are rising to world levels, these buildings turn out to be very expensive to heat.

The high cost of heating apartments is impeding Russian efforts to restructure the privatization of state enterprises. In the Soviet era, a "company town" was built and run by each enterprise to house and provide the basic social needs of its workers and their dependents. Enterprises paid for all utilities, including energy component, which accounts for over half of the total costs of operation and maintenance. Enterprises are now required to divest "social assets", such as housing, to municipalities. However, rising costs of operation, especially energy costs, represent a major disincentive for cities to accept the housing. Although a timetable exists for raising residential tariffs to recover 100% of the energy costs, the cities currently spend a significant portion of their budgets in subsidizing maintenance and utility costs.

To solve this problem the U.S. Department of Energy supported a scoping study last fall. From this initial effort the Ministry of Economy of the Russian Government, with financing from the U. S. Trade and Development Agency, contracted with Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratories to develop a retrofit strategy for improving the energy efficiency of apartment buildings. In April, 1995, Battelle formed a team of energy experts to collect data from a representative set of apartment buildings located in the Moscow suburb of Zhukovskij. This international team consisted of Americans Peter Armstrong, Dave Winiarski, and Ray Reilly from Battelle; David Saum from Infiltec; Russians Yurij Matrosov, Vladimir Zhuze, Yurij Dashevsky, from the Center for Energy Efficiency, Igor Butovsky and Lena ??? from the Institute of Building Physics, and Oleg Komorov, local consultant; and IVO-Group engineers Ulo Mets from Estonia and Jarkko Olkinuora from Finland.

Buildings and a heat substation were instrumented to begin long-term monitoring of energy and water use and indoor and outdoor conditions. Short-term tests included wall U-value determinations at about 40 locations in 11 apartments. The bulk of the team's activity, however, focussed on blower door testing of 50 occupied apartments.

Tens of thousands of Russian apartments have been mass produced since World War II using a few standard designs. The Zhukovskij blower door testing involved standard 14 story, 9 story and 5 story designs. In these designs a typical one- bedroom apartment contains a kitchen a bathroom and one sleeping/living room totalling about 33.5-m2 (370-sf). A typical 54-m2 (580-sf) two-bedroom apartment has an additional sleeping/living room and a typical 73-m2 (790-sf) three-bedroom apartment has two additional sleeping/living rooms. Most of the common areas such as the lobby, stairwells, halls and elevators are poorly maintained and barely lit, but the apartments were comfortably furnished.

The buildings tested in Zhukovskij were all constructed of precast concrete panels. In this type of building there are many joints that must be sealed after the panels are lifted into place. There are no insulation cavities in the side walls of the Zhukovskij buildings so that the total wall insulation value is provided by the 14-inch thick exterior concrete panels. Our heat flux measurements from Zhukovskij showed that the effective R value was about R-3, as expected for 100- lbm/ft3 concrete. All windows are wooden casement, double-pane, with no effective weatherstripping; windows cover over 16% of the total wall area and represent about 10% of the apartment floor area. Apartments in regions further north than Moscow were reported to have triple-pane windows. Most of the residents used foam rubber, newspaper, or tape to seal up their windows as much as possible around October 15 each year and unsealed them around April 15. This helped make up for the lack of effective permanent weatherstripping on the windows.

Heating is delivered by a radiator located below each window. The radiators receive hot water via an extensive distribution system from a central district heating plant. Apartments generally do not have individual controls or metering and furthermore, individual controls and meters cannot be easily retrofit in many buildings because radiators are typically plumbed vertically in series. Heat delivery is controlled by varying the hot water supply temperature with daily temperature at the central plant.

Ventilation is provided by a passive vent chimney system with separate vents in the kitchen and bath/toilet, or by window opening. The behavior of this type of system requires that it provide excess ventilation in cold weather in order for it to provide adequate ventilation in moderately cool weather. The Russian building experts said that the design air-change rate induced by the pre-1985 passive ventilation systems was 4 ACH when the outside temperature was -28 C! The building code of 1985, calling for 0.8 ACH at 5 C, will still result in 2 ACH at -28 C.

During our typical day at Zhukovskij, three separate blower door teams would each test two or three apartments. Each team had at least one Russian speaker so that we could ask apartment occupants about ventilation and comfort issues. Julia ???? from the city of Zhukovskij housing administration arranged for all our apartment visits, and her help was invaluable in the success of the infiltration tests.

At each apartment, three blower door tests were made: leakage as is, leakage with the ventilation ducts sealed, and leakage with the duct sealed and all the window and door cracks sealed with masking tape. This sequence led to the discovery of ventilation problems (some vents were completely blocked) and provided estimates of the leakiness (ELAs) of existing windows. The residents where generally extremely helpful and they often gave us tea and cookies when we were through.

The next phase of the project is to analyze the measurement data, model the heat loss and ventilation rates, and determine the cost effectiveness of retrofit strategies. Some retrofits with high energy saving potential, such as installing exterior wall insulation or wholesale replacement of window units, may not be cost effective based on domestic fuel prices that will have to be estimated out to the analysis time horizon. Preliminary results suggest that life-cycle cost- effective retrofits may include:

1. Modification of the passive stack ventilation system to reduce the flow during low-temperature periods.

2. Effective permanent window and door weather stripping.

3. Measures to reduce stack-induced infiltration by repairing or weatherstripping access doors, dampers, and panels, and by sealing around conduits that provide leakage paths to stairwells, elevator shafts, garbage chutes, smoke exhaust risers, and electrical and plumbing risers.

4. Attic and crawl space insulation.

5. Control of heat delivery at the distribution substation level, at the building level, or, possibly, within buildings at the perimeter radiator risers or individual radiators.

6. Repair leaks and insulate distribution piping.

7. Low-flow plumbing fixtures.

Installation of a more comprehensive and equitable energy metering and cost-allocating (billing) system, though not an efficiency measure in the strict sense, is also expected to yield cost-effective energy savings.

Plans call for measurements in more Russian cities before next winter, and installation of some retrofits in selected buildings so that their performance can be monitored over the 1995-96 winter.

Large-scale installation of efficiency measures will begin once the true costs and performance of retrofits have been demonstrated. The World Bank expects to finance about two- thirds of the cost of retrofitting up to half a million dwelling units (some seven thousand apartment buildings) in six Russian cities. Cities are competing for these loans on the basis of their progress towards institutional and policy reforms. Implementation of these reforms is critical to improving municipal financial accountability, developing a competitive and affordable housing sector, and being able to meet loan payments during the Russian economic transition. Representatives of the cities pursuing this difficult path believe it to be the only viable route to a healthy, sustainable economy.

David Saum
Consultant, Infiltec Air Infiltration Control

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