Building a Green Home, a Look Back

When my husband and I embarked on this project I believed green living and a tech lifestyle could co-exist, what I found was that technology helped us be more energy efficient, more connected and smarter in the way we designed, built and live in our home.  Looking back on the 24 months we have invested in this project, I have learned so much and have enjoyed sharing what I’ve learned with you, our daily readers. Today marks the final blog entry on Green Life Smart Life but I will continue to blog on green and energy topics on our Caster Blog and hope you join us there. The site and the blogs will remain intact for your future reference and I wish you well in your green building projects, feel free to email me at info {at} if you have any questions.

Here is my final entry and an overview of what we did.

When we decided to build our new home in April of 2008, we also decided we wanted to build it green. We wanted a home that captured the incredible views of Narragansett Bay and the Newport Bridge; integrated sustainable design with durability measures that would handle the harsh weather elements of the Northeast corridor; and incorporated smart home technology to enable us to live in a high-tech, high-touch, entertainment driven environment.

We were dedicated to building the home to achieve LEED for Homes certification, and despite our 4,529 sq/ft of living space, our home achieved 92.5 points. From energy management to water conservation and from high performance building techniques to a systematic waste management plan, our team worked together every step of the way to bring Gold to this project.

The Nantucket style home was stick built and framed using FSC sourced lumber whenever it was available, FSC-certified white cedar shingles flanked the home’s exterior, with Versatex specified for all eaves, trim and moldings for their long life in the salt ridden air. Being built in a 120-mph coastal wind zone, we selected Pella’s Hurricaneshield windows for both their impact resistance and their ENERGY STAR ratings. With spray foam insulation filling the building envelope the home received a HERS rating of 58. The extra steps that we took in building our foundation included french drains and a sump pump really paid off for us when RI encountered the recent historic flooding; as neighbors pumped their basements, our home stayed completely dry through and after the storms!

We are thrilled with our decision to install a five-zone geothermal HVAC system, including a dedicated heat pump for the wine cellar. Our electric bills are coming in just slightly higher than our previous 2,200 sq/ft oil heated home, but we have no monthly oil or gas bill to pay. The system also included dual water tanks for holding hot water, two Environmental Recovery Ventilators, and a water pump for diverting water from the well to the 5,000 gallon rainwater harvesting system should their not be enough rainfall (looks doubtful) and eliminating any exterior municipal water for irrigation. Our water bill to date has been the lowest we’ve had in years, with no excess usage charges.

I really enjoyed working on the interior finished of our home which included 200 year old reclaimed barn wood floors, a wine cellar with racks made from the reclaimed Point Judith County Club deck, recycled countertops, sinks and tile, low-flow plumbing fixtures including 1.0 gpf toilets, 1.75 gpm showerheads and 1.5 gpm faucets; locally-made FSC early-American cabinetry and zero VOC paints and finishes. Wood scraps were used to make the custom closets, shorter floor boards were relegated to closet sections and even the lavette sink was crafted from leftover materials, but you’d never know it to look at the design of our house. Even our furniture and fabrics choices were sustainable!

One of the real unique attributes to the project was the complete integration of smart home technology to monitor and control every subsystem in the home. We really pushed the threshold of innovative technologies with the goal of saving energy while not forgoing our lifestyle. The design included a Control4 system for integrated management of HVAC, irrigation, Lutron lighting control, security and state-of-the art entertainment. It also includes an energy management system that aggregates data and communicates areas of consumption that can be lowered to conserve energy, which was really important when we first got into the house to help determine if we were hitting our energy goals (and budgets).

I know our home is big and we’ve taken our share of flack for that. But honestly, this is an affluent, waterfront community and a small house would have been both out-of-place and a bad investment. I truly feel our home could be anyone’s home, whether it is in whole or in part.  One of the things I learned during this process is you don’t have to do everything but you can do something and that was the point of this project, to inspire everyone to do something that makes a difference for our environment.

I hope you enjoyed reading us because I certainly enjoyed sharing. Happy greening!

posted by Kimberly Lancaster, founder Green Life Smart Life project (Twitter | newscaster)

GREENER PRODUCT approves 3rd party certifications for green building products


GREENER PRODUCT approves 3rd party certifications for green building products

CHARLESTON, SC – January 20, 2009 – According to a recent published report by the BBMG Conscious Consumer Report: Redefining Value in a New Economy nearly one in four U.S. consumers (23%) say they have “no way of knowing” if a product is green or actually does what it claims, signaling a lack of confidence in green marketing and revealing a widespread “green trust gap,”.

“There is a lot of green-washing in sustainable building today” according to Peter Rundle, Greener Product LLC. “As architects, designers and contractors develop more LEED certified buildings there is a growing need for an easy, fast and inexpensive method to find qualified “green” building products manufactured by environmentally responsible producers. We believe the Greener Product search engine provides a solution” stated Rundle.

The Greener Product platform utilizes the most successful method ever developed to connect the manufacturer directly to the end buyer. The recently introduced search tool, powered by the Greener Product proprietary software is an online service that allows building product manufacturers to “tell their green story” directly to 100,000 LEED APs, 200,000 architects and 5,000 of the most influential architectural companies. “Manufacturers can easily demonstrate how their products contribute to a green building project, help in providing valuable environmental answers and make it easy for their sales force to more clearly define their commitment to green building and customer service” stated Mr. Rundle.

Approved 3rd Party Certifications for LEED and NAHB rating standards

Forest Stewardship Council – FSC is an independent, non-governmental, not-for-profit organization established to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests. Established in 1993 as a response to concerns over global deforestation, FSC is widely regarded as one of the most important initiatives of the last decade to promote responsible forest management worldwide.

Sustainable Forest Initiative – SFI Inc. is an independent, non-profit organization responsible for maintaining, overseeing and improving a sustainable forestry certification program that is internationally recognized and is the largest single forest standard in the world.

Green Guard Institute – The GREENGUARD Environmental Institute (GEI) is an industry-independent, non-profit organization that oversees the GREENGUARD Certification Program SM. As an ANSI Authorized Standards Developer, GEI establishes acceptable indoor air standards for indoor products, environments, and buildings.

Blue Angel – Celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2008, The Blue Angel is the first and oldest environmental label for products and services in the world. Since 1978 it has set the standard for eco-friendly products and services selected by an independent jury and approved by the German Government. This standard requires that the product contains no carcinogenic or halogenated organic compounds, no presence organic compounds or formaldehyde, and a low-level of hazardous flame-retardants and moth repellents

Scientific Certification Systems – SCS is a global leader in independent certification of environmental, sustainability, food quality and food purity claims. Over two decades, SCS has developed internationally recognized standards and certification programs aimed at spurring the highest level of environmental improvements, social accountability and product performance.

Composite Panel Association Testing and Certification Center – CPA was the first Third Party Certifier (TPC) in the world to be approved by CARB. Since May 14, 2008, CPA has been certifying manufacturers to the CARB rule. CPA is now certifying North American manufacturers of particleboard, MDF, and hardwood plywood for CARB.

NSF International – NSF is one of the most widely-respected and recognized global third-party certification providers. As such, NSF is uniquely qualified to evaluate your products and systems.

Floor Score – The FloorScore® program, developed by the Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI) in conjunction with Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), tests and certifies flooring products for compliance with indoor air quality emission requirements adopted nation-wide.

Green Label – In 1992, CRI launched its Green Label program to test carpet, cushions and adhesives to help specifiers identify products with very low emissions of VOCs. CRI has recently launched its next series of improvements called Green Label Plus for carpet and adhesives.

About Greener Product LLC

Greener Product has developed the world’s first online platform that creates a marketplace for the analysis of green building materials. Greener Product, LLC provides architects, builders and the public a quick and easy online platform for searching and evaluating “green” products according to the internationally recognized United States Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) rating standards.

For further information please contact

Greener Product Team

Tel: 843 576 0112 x 121

LEED for Homes Point by Point – Awareness and Education

Awareness and Education – 2 points achieved out of 3 points available::

So if you’ve been following our project then you know what we’ve done for both education and awareness. But we did go through extensive trainings with each of our key subcontractors like Newport Geothermal for our HVAC system and Robert Saglio Audio Video for our home, lighting, entertainment, irrigation and energy systems. I spent hours with John Carter understanding what it would take to keep our lawn healthy by minimizing water, eliminating chemicals and using organic fertilizers and treatments.

Our homeowners manual is more than 6” thick and covers every system and subsystem in our house, outlines the warranties and maintenance programs and lets us know who to call for help.

Our public awareness, well, you be the judge. We have blogged about the project or a topic relating to green building every single day since October 2008. We have had more than 60,000 people to our blog during that time and even earned an AllTop rating for best green blogs. We’ve been covered in local, regional and national media. We’ve always had signage on the home, and on December 12th we hosted our fourth and final open house on the project.

With a final rating of LEED-H GOLD, with a score of 92.5, I am proud of what we accomplished. I hope you enjoyed our project as much as we did and know that our goal now is to follow and find other projects, cover other case studies and help homeowners find the best products for their project. Feel free to submit your ideas!

Posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter: newscaster

LEED for Homes Point by Point – Indoor Environmental Quality

Indoor Environmental Quality :: 13 points achieved out of 21 points available ::

We followed the prescriptive path for Indoor Air Quality and I have to say of all the section I actually thought this was the toughest.  IEQ measures the moisture control, outdoor air ventilation, distribution heating and cooling, use of low emitting materials, air filtering and contaminant control during construction.

We achieved 2 points for installation and the performance of our dual environmental recovery systems (ERVs). Our enhanced local exhaust which was based on occupancy sensors that exhaust air to the outdoors as well as the continuous operation of one of the ERVs, achieved an additional two for the points.

We also achieved additional points by installing a Vacuflo central vacuum system (which is awesome and so easy to use!), designing and installing a gorgeous and uber efficient mudroom to store shoes, reducing household contaminants and installing filters with a MRV 10 rating. We did really well in minimizing pollutants from the garage through our spray foam insulation, CO2 detectors, and painting of the garage walls, as well as the installation of an exhaust fan which turns on based on an occupancy sensor installed in the garage.

With the goal of really improving our home’s indoor air quality to keep our house free of allergens, contaminants and VOCs, I’m pleased with performance of the systems we’ve installed.

Posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter: newscaster

LEED for Homes Point by Point – Materials & Resources

Materials and Resources ::  12.5 points achieved out of 16 points available::

With the intent of designing durable buildings and limiting waste, MR 1 addresses the framing order waste factor, of which we achieved less than 10%.  We also used framing efficiencies which included extensive pre-cut framing packages sizing headers for loads, blocking for the installation of drywall and cabinetry, and other high performance building techniques. We did not get points for our detailed framing documents because we did not have detailed designs for every wall including interiors and due to this, we forfeited 1.3 which is detailed cut lists and lumber orders – although I have to give a call out to Dave Pearson of Pearson Woodworking, Jay Smith of Smith Ingram and Mike Anderson of Anderson Woodfloors for their incredible use of materials. Dave and Jay achieved a less than 2% waste on interior finish wood work, creative using extra boards to build custom closets, shelves, and even cubbies for my kids’ rooms. Mike did an amazing job with managing waste from our Carlisle wood floor installation. We had so little waste, that we were able to install wood floors in the mud room, wine cellar and AV equipment use with assumed waste factor. Amazing and it brought my cost per sq/ft down incredibly!

MR 2.2 addresses Environmentally Preferable Products (EPP) which in addition to FSC certified products, really addresses product certifications, VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) content and local production or products used inside the home.  This following is the breakdown of what we applied for, surpassing the maximum of 8 points in this section.

  1. Exterior wall: framing — FSC Wood 92% from National Lumber, COC listed on orders – ½ pt EPP
  2. Exterior wall: siding – 100% FSC White CEDAR shingles from Liberty Cedar, COC supplied — ½ pt EPP
  3. Flooring: Carlisle, reclaimed hardwood floors of 3150 sq/ft plus 100 sq ft, for 71 % of floor, finished with low VOC compliant umber stain and Tung oil finish, factory applied. Additional ½ point for all LOW VOC for all flooring including Fireclay Debris tile (50% recycled materials), Marmoleum which is SCS FloorScore certified. – ½ pt EPP  and – ½ pt low emission
  4. Carpet: Mohawk CSI Green Label Plus Certified “green” low VOC, recycled content, BiOH Low VOC eco pad, recycled content – ½ pt low emission
  5. Floor Framing: Engineering floor system from Boise Wood – see VOC reports – ½ pt low emission
  6. Foundation: Cement with up to 30% flyash for all poured foundation, footings produced by Richmond Ready Mix in Wyoming, RI. – ½ pt EPP and ½ pt local
  7. Interior Wall Framing: 100% of interior 2x4s used were FSC certified from National Lumber -– ½ pt EPP
  8. Interior wall, ceiling, millwork: paint — All interior surface coatings for primer and paint were Sherwin Williams ZERO VOC Harmony paint — – ½ pt low emission
  9. Landscape: 100% of front and rear porch and decking is made from Accoya FSC certified wood – – ½ pt EPP
  10. Cabinets: Cabinets locally made by Crownpoint cabinetry using locally harvested 100% FSC maple, zero UREA formaldehyde (Kitchen and bath) — – ½ pt EPP; – ½ pt low emission and – ½ pt local production
  11. Counters: Paperstone kitchen counters made from 100% recycled content, ZERO urea formaldehyde. EcoTop bathroom counters with recycled content and ZERO urea formaldehyde, reclaimed hardwood countertop with ZERO urea formaldehyde, bathrooms counters with integral sinks are Kohler cast iron made of 93% recycled iron with no urea formaldehyde — – ½ pt EPP
  12. Doors – Installed all Masonite FSC– certified 2 panel interior doors – ½ pt EPP
  13. Trim – 100% of millwork and wood trim was FSC-certified pine, also used FSC certified Centurion for board and batten and beadboard, and wood ceiling in media room — – ½ pt EPP
  14. Adhesives and sealants – 100% of all adhesives and sealants on the project from wood floor glue to calk, to putty to mastic to sealers were require by the subcontractor to meet the LOW VOC requirements. Support documents included. (We would spot check materials regularly) — – ½ pt low emission
  15. Window Framing – All window framing was built using FSC certified framing lumber with COC. — – ½ pt EPP
  16. Insulation — Western GacoGreen 052 Wall Foam with VOC of 30.4 g/L — – ½ pt low emission
  17. Sheathing: 100% of our sheathing was Advantech which SFI certified (competitive to FSC and same exacting standards) –should count. – but no points because it’s not FSC, but I thought Advantech deserved it.

The last portion of materials and resources included our construction waste reduction program. We had a fairly intense waste program onsite include, at all times a wood recycling and mixed waste bin. Throughout the job we also brought in metal recycling (during HVAC) and cardboard which we would bring to the site when we needed it, stacking and storing cardboard in the garage to minimize the dumpsters onsite and the soil compaction. Over the building period of 14 months, we only sent two 15-yard mixed waste dumpsters to the landfill, in total diverting 87% of our construction debris to recycling. This totaled just 1.2 lbs of waste per finished area (average is 4.5 lbs).

Had we not achieved all of our Innovation & Design points, we could have applied for an additional 1.5 point for Exemplary performance in MR 2.2, but we only applied for .5.

Posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter: newscaster

LEED for Homes Point by Point – Energy & Atmosphere

Energy and Atmosphere: 21.5 points achieved out of 36 points available::

The overall goal of EA is to optimize energy performance of the building. We opted to follow the performance path which meant our world be rated according to the ENERGY STAR for home standards (the document can be found here). ENERGY STAR was simply the pre-requisite which everyone in LEED-H is required to meet; your points only begin to accumulate for exceptional energy performance. HERS stands for Home Energy Rating Standard and is based on a performance scale of 100. Based on a 100 point scale which is an average home, a home achieving HERS 85 is 15% more efficient. If you are familiar to the term NET ZERO, it is a similar scale, where NET ZERO means the home consumes zero percent more energy than it produces annually.

In our case, our preliminary HERS rating based on our building envelope leakage rate of less than 4%, our windows, our solar gain, our roof’s solar reflective index (SRI), our sprayfoam insulation, our geothermal HVAC system, and all of the design elements placed us at a HERS of 58, making our home 42% more efficient than an average home. This achieved us 19.5 points under EA 1. In addition we achieved 2 points for the efficient design of our hot water system which included compact plumbing runs achieved thorugh back-to-back bathrooms and a superheater added to our hot water tanks.

Posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter: newscaster

LEED for Homes Point by Point – Water Efficiency

Water Efficiency :: 13 points achieved out of 15 points available::

Water efficiency is all about the way your home and landscaping use water. Achieving 13 points in this category was by no means an easy feat, in fact, our landscaping and rainwater harvesting system cost nearly as much as our entire HVAC system and accounted for 10% of our overall budget.

We installed a rainwater water harvesting tank that holds up to 5000 gallons of rainwater, we designed our system to collect rain from more than 80% of our 3866 sq/ft roof. We are collecting from nearly 100% off the roof or 2319 gallons from a 1” rainfall (this formula is based on a collection of 600 gallons for every 1000 sq ft of roof space. RI has an average rainfall of 47.98 inches and July has an average of 3.2 inches). Our irrigation system is not connected to any municipal water sources; the system is designed so that if there has not been enough rain and the tank needs water for irrigation, it calls to our geothermal well for filling. This rainwater system achieved three points but the additional no municipal water design was our own doing because water is a precious resource and not to be wasted. Our design is a constant renewable resource of use as necessary, filter through the earth, replenish from the rain. All totaled between our landscape and irrigation design, our system uses 63% less water than a similar sized and landscaped lot.

Inside we used all high efficiency fixtures and fittings in the home. Our Kohler toilets have an EPA Water Sense® rated flow rate of just 1.0 gpf (gallons per flush) per toilet. Having just traveled across the country and back, I can’t tell you how much of savings this is. The LAX airport has toilets that have an average flow rate of 3.5 gpf and handles millions of passengers every single day. Annually this change will save 93,000 gallons of water in our home when compared to homes without high performance plumbing fixtures. All of our bathroom faucets have a 1.5 gpm (gallons per minute) flow rate and each of our showerheads also have a flow rate of 1.75 gpm.

In an era where scientists and resource specialists say freshwater scarcity, even in unexpected places, threatens farms, homes and growth as well as increases business expenses and drains local treasuries, I am glad that our family was able to contribute to keeping our local water supply the best we can.

Posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter: newscaster