Reducing and Centralizing Wiring for a LEED Home

When Kimberly and Joe Hageman approached me to work on their Green Life Smart Life project, they told me their goal was to show how green lifestyles and digital lifestyles could happily coexist. Immediately, my mind focused on lighting control and HVAC control, which together account for around 90 percent of the energy consumption in an average home.

Leviton structured wiring boxes

Leviton structured wiring boxes

Traditionally, custom integrators have focused on the ease-of-use and convenience that lighting and HVAC control systems can provide. My thoughts turned to shifting the focus of these subsystems towards enabling energy-efficient operation of lights and climate control.

Kim and Joe agreed, but they wanted to go further: They wanted a green infrastructure, too.

Now here was something I’d never encountered. But it made me realize for the first time that installing a system in a green home isn’t started by making “green” product choices. It starts with the home systems’ design. It requires careful planning and coordination with the homeowner, the architect, the interior designer, and the other trades before a single wire is run.

With full knowledge that a possibly arduous path lay before us, the Hagemans and I set out to devise a green wiring solution.

These were new criteria that I hadn’t worked with before. However, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the custom business, it’s that you need to be versatile, able to make changes on the fly and, most importantly, be willing to accommodate each project and its unique requirements. This was just another in a long line of curveballs I’d encountered throughout my career, and it’s always rewarding to put the barrel on the ball.

We examined our traditional solution approach, and determined the environmental impacts. This was a highly useful exercise in and of itself, because going forward now I’ll know what impact my most commonly used products and materials would have in a green installation.

We investigated “green” cabling, which uses halogen-free plastic jackets that are still not terribly earth-friendly, but a bit less hostile to the earth all the same. Turns out, the Europeans like it, but you can’t get it in America. Believe me, we looked, and no warehouse we could find carries it.

So our attention turned to another requirement: using as little cable as possible. That meant both fewer cables and the shortest possible runs.

“Fewer cables”, of course, runs counter to the time-honored custom integration strategy of installing more wire than is necessary in order to ostensibly future-proof a system (and to cover your bases in case an unexpected change in the installation arises after the cabling has already been installed). I was lucky in this instance; unlike many clients, Kim and Joe, not only no strangers to tech but also passionate about it, knew pretty well before construction started what they wanted in each room and location. We just ran whatever the expected hardware in each location would require, and nothing more.

Centralized wire runs

Centralized wire runs

We also had another trick up our sleeve: conduit. We ran Carlon® Resi-Gard® to our critical locations and just enough cable through the conduit as we thought we needed. And if we needed to run more cable later, we wouldn’t need to tear open the walls. We could just snake it through the conduit. Essentially, the conduit makes the system inherently future-proof and cuts down on unnecessary use of cable. Additionally, you’re not going to be in a position where you need to cut into drywall later to add wiring. An empty (or semi-empty) pipe is as good as it gets.

Which brings me to my next point about green wiring (and, in fact, any wiring job): Establish your cabling pathways as far ahead of actual construction as you can. In a green home, chances are your client will be thinking about these things further out, since every amount and type of material used in the home can positively or negatively impact its LEED® for Homes (or competitive equivalent) rating. The other tradespeople will appreciate it as well, and you can build more solid relationships and channels of communication with them.

This was especially key in the Green Life Smart Life house in terms of assuring the shortest possible cable runs. Because we were involved so early in the process, we got preferential treatment for locating the head-end of the system. After evaluating the placement of the entertainment systems, we figured out a spot in the basement that would be the shortest distance from all points. As a result, our racks are located directly below the main entertainment area, which is directly below the master bedroom and adjacent to the main utility room where all of the electrical boxes and lighting control system would be housed. Everything shares a common wall.

Usually, we’re the last ones in, we run our cables after all the other trades’ wiring, venting and pipes are installed, and we have to take what we can get in terms of placing our gear. In this case, however: paradise. Because we are professionals and try to be as courteous to the other trades as possible, we made sure our impact was manageable for the other trades.

Another happy circumstance from both a green and an interior design perspective is that we don’t have any local entertainment equipment aside from displays. We centralized content and control in our head-end equipment room. This cuts down on the cabling required and eliminates excess heat generated from typical AV equipment into a finished room (which has dual benefits since we are directing the heat into the generally cool, unfinished utility space and the living spaces do not have to compensate with cooling for the equipment heat).

Lutron lighting control panels, centralized to hub

Lutron lighting control panels, centralized to hub

I was intrigued to find that the most significant impact we were able to make on this project in its course toward a more sustainable guide, was in the planning.  I was truly amazed that when we tallied the completed wire runs, and compared it to both similarly sized homes and similarly sized projects with home control and entertainment systems, we reduced the amount of wire installed on the project by 52%. By thinking about how we could take the most conservative approach, the application of a well thought plan was the most powerful thing we could do.  I was inspired to learn more about the principles of “green” design.  The project itself exposed me to the application process for LEED® accreditation, and through it, the instrumentation and measurement of the gains realized by good design.  Myself, I’ve taken an interest in the process, and l am beginning to appreciate the value that could be held as a building and energy analyst. 

My involvement in the Green Life Smart Life project was a terrific experience because it allowed me to reexamine the way in which we make decisions and re-value the criteria on which our projects and process are based. It’s certainly affected our typical project. Going forward, what I learned on this project will inform all of my future installations—and not just the green ones. This was a highly rewarding exercise and I’m happy to share what I learned with the custom integration community. Our last step, we are going to submit this plan for a LEED-H Innovation and Design point. This has no precedent so it has to be evaluated, but we will let you know the findings.

By Jeff Mitchell, Robert Saglio Audio Video and Lead Integrator for Green Life Smart Life. Jeff is a CEDIA certified installer and a member of the CEA TechHome. He has been with Robert Saglio AV for more than ten years.  Follow Jeff on Twitter : @audiojeff


Green Building Perspectives: Whirlpool

Continuing our blog series Green Building Perspectives, posts dedicated to highlighting our esteemed partners here at Green Life Smart Life, this week we feature Whirlpool Corporation.  Whirlpool will be providing the project with the latest in ENERGY STAR® rated appliances such as the refridgerator, washer and dryer and dishwasher. 

Whirlpool Brand Logo - for webWhat do you think of the Green Life Smart Life Project to date? What interested Whirlpool about participating in the project?

Green Life Smart Life is certainly a unique project, and Whirlpool is excited to be a part of it, especially since we have similar goals. Much like Green Life Smart Life, Whirlpool seeks to help families green their lifestyles with simple tips to help them be more efficient in the kitchen and laundry room. In a recent survey that Whirlpool conducted with Harris Interactive, 84 percent of consumers said that energy efficiency is most important to them in regards to appliances. And while Whirlpool manufactures energy-efficient appliances, the company also looks to help people use the products more efficiently, and aligning with this project is a great way to do so.

Where does Whirlpool see green living going in the next 5 years?  

Whirlpool always strives to develop products to meet consumer needs and consumers continue to clamor for eco-efficient products that can save money while making their daily lives just a little bit easier. The next step in this process is going to be smart grid technology. Whirlpool announced in May that all of the electronically controlled appliances the company manufactures will be smart grid compatible by 2015. This will enable two-way communication between appliances and the utility grid resulting in real-time monitoring, leading to a more efficient system. Whirlpool is continuing to form public-private partnerships to keep this initiative moving.

How is your company evolving to address green living and energy efficiency?

Our evolution can be seen in the products themselves. Whirlpool seeks to bring energy efficiency to products which match any lifestyle or value. For example, top-load laundry is still the preferred configuration among consumers, so Whirlpool developed the high-efficiency (HE) Cabrio washer so that they could also enjoy HE benefits. Similarly, conventional top-loading machines from Whirlpool are now ENERGY-STAR rated. Whirlpool is also developing products with enhanced design and features that are also some of the most efficient products on the market. For example, the Whirlpool brand Resource Saver refrigerator uses less energy than a 60-watt lightbulb making it the most energy efficient side-by-side refrigerator on the market. The best part about it is that it through advancements in technology; it is efficient and functional without sacrificing performance or capacity.

 What challenges do you see Whirlpool facing in the evolution of green living?

Whirlpool is constantly seeking new ways to help educate consumers about the latest energy-efficient laundry and kitchen products to help them save money, but it can be challenging. For example, in a recent survey, about 40 percent of consumers said they do not understand what high efficiency means with regards to laundry appliances. Additionally, few people realize that HE benefits are available in both front-load and top-load laundry configurations. Therefore, we find it essential to keep efficiency at the forefront of our conversations with consumers.

The same type of education is needed in the kitchen as well. For example, today’s ENERGY STAR qualified refrigerators use 60 percent less energy than non ENERGY STAR models made just 10 years ago. That is a tremendous advancement, but in a recent survey, more than 50 percent of consumers still labeled the refrigerator as the appliance which uses the most energy on a day to day basis. Additionally, 20 percent of consumers revealed they own a refrigerator that is 10+ years old..

Do you think “green” will ever dominate your business?

Eco-efficiency is a significant focus for Whirlpool. In a recent survey, more than 80 percent of consumers said that energy is most important to them when it comes to appliance efficiency which tells us we’re on the right track. Whirlpool always keeps consumer insights in mind when developing new products, so we are constantly looking to develop products that will reduce energy bills and save consumers money. 

Anything else you would like to add about the green living market or the Green Life Smart Life project?

While it is important for consumers to take advantage of energy-efficient appliances, they need to keep in mind that lifestyle changes are essential as well. For example, consumers should remember that pre-rinsing dishes before loading the dishwasher can use up to 20 gallons of water. Instead of using that water, they should just scrape food off the dishes and load the dishwasher. Moreover, running the dishwasher late at night can avoid peak hours andlower utility bills. Whether it’s only washing a load of laundry while the washing machine is full, or making sure pans fit the burners on a range to efficiently utilize heat, there are numerous, simple ways that consumers can reduce their impact. Green Life Smart Life can certainly encourage these practices, and Whirlpool is excited to be a part of it.

Green Building Perspectives: Kohler

kohler-logoGrowing up, I never considered how much water toilets used, let alone their brands. In fact, the more water, the better, right?

It wasn’t until recently, particularly as the economy started to slow down, that I began to think about all of that water. How much does a toilet really need to operate effectively, anyway? How much water am I wasting every time I flush? I’d already become more conscious about letting sinks run unnecessarily, but there didn’t seem to be much I could do with a toilet to cut down on water usage. I’m not quite ready to move into a world where you don’t flush after each use.

Not surprisingly, Kohler Co., which makes toilets, sinks, faucets and all kinds of kitchen and bath products, has water conservation high on its list of priorities. Founded way back in 1873 and headquartered in its namesake of Kohler, Wis., Kohler is also, interestingly, one of America’s oldest and largest privately-held companies.

Kohler spokesperson Mark Mahoney said the company is excited about its participation in the Green Life Smart Life project because it’s a good opportunity to educate homeowners about water conservation and the solutions that are out there. With Kohler products, he said, “You can help the environment and save money along the way, without sacrificing performance.”

Mahoney shares some interesting stats about those flushes we all take for granted. It turns out that toilets have already become much more efficient than they were in the past. This fascinated me. Thanks to the U.S. Government’s Energy Policy Act (EPACT), all toilets installed after 1994 use 1.6 gallons per flush. To get a handle on just how revolutionary that is, consider this: Toilets installed before 1993 used 3.5 gallons per flush. Toilets installed before 1980 used five gallons per flush. And toilets installed before 1950 used seven gallons per flush!

As you can see, we’ve come a long way, but Kohler thinks it (and we) can do better. It sees demand for high-efficiency toilets increasing, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but also because water shortages are expected to spread across the United States over the next five years. “Water conservation is still a regional issue, but we expect that to change,” said Mahoney. “Traditionally, the trouble areas are the Southwest/Southern California, but water shortage has spread to the Southeast, particularly the Atlanta area, as well at the Northwest U.S. We expect almost all of America will be touched by this problem in the coming years.” And depending on the locale and the severity of the shortage, water bills could rise rather quickly; it’s already happening in Southern California, said Mahoney.

Kohler’s products are directly helping consumers cut down on water consumption. Its dual flush toilets offer you the option of a 1.6-gallon flush or a 0.8-gallon flush. It also offers toilets that use only 1.28 gallons per flush with the help of its High-Performance Gravity technology. Kohler also offers faucets, shower heads and other products that save water while not sacrificing performance.

Kohler is a proud partner of the U.S Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program, which promotes water-efficient products and practices nationwide. Toilets like Kohler’s that carry the WaterSense label use at least 20 percent less water and perform as well as or better than their less efficient counterparts. Kohler is such an advocate for the program that it was named the one and only 2008 WaterSense Manufacturer Partner of the Year.

Kohler has various videos on its site that describe its products. You can see a run-down of its water conservation program here and its environmental philosophy here. It has even started a site called, which features water-saving ideas; Kohler even donates $1 in water-conserving products to Habitat for Humanity’s sustainable building efforts for ever visitor who takes a brief quiz. Kohler distributors are taking water conservation ideas directly to consumers, setting up tents and educating users on how they can save money, conserve water, and make the switch to more efficient water consumption.

Kohler is also doing its part internally to contribute to the greening of the planet. “It’s not just the right thing to do, but from a cost perspective, we can examine our processes and eliminate waste, which is good for business and for the environment,” said Mahoney.

Posted by Joe Paone


Green Building Perspectives: ‘g’ Green Design Center

Continuing once again with our Green Building Perspective series, this week Nicole Goldman, owner and founder of the ‘g’ Green Design Center was kind enough to provide us with some answers on their role in the project and green design.

‘g’ Green Design Center is showroom and retail shop dedicated to providing accessible, affordable and stylish green building materials, house wares, fixtures and finishes to help customers make their homes and businesses more healthy, energy-efficient and eco-friendly. ‘g’ Green Design Center’s franchise company serves homeowners, designers, architects, and building professionals, as well as businesses, organizations, and institutions with a full array of green materials and services.

What do you think of the Green Life Smart Life Project to date?
Green Life Smart Life is a fascinating project helping to bring visibility to green building which is what our company, ‘g’ Green Design Center is all about, so we are very pleased to play a part.

What interested ‘g’ Green Design Center about participating the project?
The project gives ‘g’ another opportunity to showcase our products. Placing them in a home that is slated for LEED certification is the best possible way to show off their aesthetic and functional attributes. For example, having Marmoleum in the mudroom with our FSC-certified cabinetry enhances the natural beauty of both products, while demonstrating their durability and practicality.

Where does ‘g’ Green Design Center see green building and design going in the next 5 years?
Green building will become the standard in the next 5 years. It will no longer be the fringe interest of a select few, but rather the norm for how buildings should be constructed – with eco-friendly materials, in an energy-efficient manner, and with the healthiest materials in our homes and offices, to create a better environment indoors and out.

What challenges do you see ‘g’ facing in the evolution of green building and design?
Our challenges are keeping our niche market and growing that in the face of mass market growth. We believe ‘g’ will continue provide more in depth knowledge and customer service, as well as be able to stand behind our products as truly green – no green washing here. This will help us retain and grow our core customer base.

What type of resources does ‘g’ provide to someone building a new home?
‘g’ provides everything from insulation and ventilation of the building shell to all the interior finishes from counters to cabinets, lighting, paints, flooring and more. We also have a wonderful selection of housewares from bamboo bowls to kitchen accessories, sponges, cleaners and cookware. We are always expanding our product base which make this an exciting time to be part of the growth in green building

Anything else you would like to add about the green building and design market or the Green Life Smart Life project?
As I said, its an exciting time for the growth of the green building industry; one of the fews bright spots in the economy. At ‘g’ we are looking forward to being a key player in this growth through the development of our franchise organization. We are looking forward to opening centers and bringing accessibility of these materials and products to an audience across the country.

Project Green A/V

Through our partnership with the CEA and our local installer, we are dedicated to making Green Life Smart Life a modern yet environmentally friendly dwelling.  Not surprisingly, some people tend to scoff when they hear about plans to combine the two, convinced that technology and green can never truly coexist.  Thankfully, we’re not the only ones determined to prove them wrong.

Project Green AV, based in New York, is a group dedicated to supporting and educating the A/V industry on environmental responsibility and innovation. 


In their own words:

Project Green AV is the comprehensive industry resource for Green information & ideas for the Audio Visual industry.  Project Green AV is committed to bringing together AV industry colleagues and consumers to learn about, discuss and teach environmentally responsible and cost-effective solutions for AV purchases, installation, new technology and projects. 

In addition to, Project Green AV distributes Newsletters, hosts webinars and leads forums and online groups to help promote environmentally responsible information and ideas in the audio visual and information technology industries.  Together with site visitors, subscribers and members of Our Community, Project Green AV turns Green ideas into Great ideas for our industry and our world.

We’re proud to have Project Green AV as a sponsor of the Green Life Smart Life project and continue to share common goals, interests and solutions to developing technology that is truly green and sustainable for our world.

Posted by: Ashley / follow me on Twitter

Green Building Perspectives: National Lumber Company

national-lumber-logo1Green Life Smart Life is sourcing lumber, as well as exterior and interior building materials, from one of the most environmentally-conscious companies in the field, National Lumber Co. of Mansfield, Mass. You can read about National Lumber’s green initiatives here.

We spoke with Mike McDole, National Lumber’s vice president of sales, to learn what he thinks of our project, as well as green’s overall impact on his company’s business.

What do you think of the Green Life Smart Life Project to date? What interested National Lumber about the project?

We are very excited to be a part of it. The project has been moving along at a good pace, especially considering it is being built along the Rhode Island coast during winter.

Kudos to Bob Leonard and Mark Lubic of Merchant Construction for doing such a fine job. Credit also has to go to the homeowners, Kim and Joe. They did a tremendous amount of research and pre-planning prior to putting a shovel in the ground, which paid off once construction started. They had multiple pre-construction meetings with Tom Wickham, our Contractor Outside Salesperson covering South County (R.I.), to choose the various green building products they wanted to use in their project. As a result, the building materials were on the job site when needed, which helped keep the job flowing smoothly.

What really attracted us to this unique project, besides the fact that it is in my neighborhood, is that National Lumber is a huge supporter of green building and environmentally-friendly building practices throughout New England. We are a third-generation family-run business, and we care very much about smart building practices in all of the neighborhoods we service. In addition, Kim and Joe’s passion about building an environmentally-friendly home, and their knowledge of green products, also contributed to our extreme interest in this special project.

Where does National Lumber see green building going in the next five years?

It is estimated that green building products and services currently represent about $40 billion, a figure that is estimated to grow to $140 billion in 2013, with $90 billion of that in products alone. Several factors are contributing to this enormous growth. One, the public wants to be more environmentally-friendly. Two, an unprecedented level of government incentives are available. Three, there have been improvements in sustainable materials.

According to the EPA, buildings account for 39.4 percent of the total U.S. energy consumption, with residential structures accounting for 54.6 percent of that total. Also, building construction and demolition account for approximately 136 million tons per year, which is approximately 60 percent of all non-industrial waste generated in the U.S. Americans want to reduce their energy usage and their waste to protect the environment for not only themselves, but for many generations to come.

How is your company evolving to address green building?

National Lumber has been involved in green building practices for approximately five years now. We were the first lumber company in New England to be able to supply FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) Certified Lumber along with the Chain-of-Custody Certificate, which assures that the lumber comes from a responsibly managed forest. Even now, in February 2009, we are one of only four lumberyards in New England with FSC Certification and Chain-of-Custody Certificate; there are currently no lumberyards in Rhode Island with these credentials.

In addition to the lumber, National Lumber partners up with building materials manufacturers who also are interested in green building.  Such manufacturers are Andersen Windows, Marvin Windows, Boise Engineered Wood Products, Huber (Advantech & Zip System), SBC White Cedar Shingles, Owens-Corning Roof Shingles, kitchen cabinet manufacturers and more.   

What challenges does National Lumber face in the evolution of green building?

The biggest challenge, I think, is “green-washing,” which is what corporations do to make themselves and their products look more environmentally-friendly than they really are. Real standards are needed that must be met before a company can call its products “green,” and right now, no real standards have been accepted by the construction industry.  However, a few strong organizations such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), US Green Building Council, and NAHB’s (National Association of Home Builders) Green Building Program are making a difference.

The second-biggest challenge is the fact that it is slightly more expensive to build green. However, I believe that the more green building there is, the cost spread will be reduced over time.

Do you think green building will ever dominate your business?

I don’t think green building will ever “dominate” our business, but I do believe it will continue to become a larger and larger percentage of our overall sales. I certainly could envision green building becoming 25 to 33 percent of our total lumber sales within the next five to seven years, which would certainly be significant.

Anything else you would like to add about the green building market or the Green Life Smart Life project?

We truly appreciate that Kim and Joe picked National Lumber Company to be their supplier of lumber, along with their exterior and interior building materials, on this unique and exciting project. We are very proud to be a part of it.

FSC Lumber and Chain of Custody

We just got an updated materials estimate from the lumberyard we look like we’re going to be using for the project.  We selected National Lumber.  We will probably not order every single item from them since simple economics point to sourcing goods from multiple vendors to bring costs down.  However, we are absolutely getting all of our lumber from them.  Why?  Because National Lumber has proven to be the only lumberyard in New England that not only offers FSC lumber (Forest Stewardship Council) but also offers Chain of Custody Certification.  We need FSC certified lumber to qualify under the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating program for the house to get the point for lumber. 

Chain of Custody goes beyond the sales guy saying “yes we sell FSC lumber,” it creates a paper trail of certified material moving through the operation, including purchase, delivery, inventory, re-manufacturing (such as with National’s in house mill work shop) and shipment.  Through FSC chain of custody, companies can demonstrate their commitment to environmentally and socially responsible forest management and label their products with the FSC trademarks.  Look for this FSC logo.

What was the cost?  Our last lumber estimate was in August and since prices have dropped since then the price increase for FSC lumber was mitigated by the drop in lumber prices.  The original difference would have been about 15% but the NET difference for us in the budget came to a mere 2%. 

So far we’re finding the cost of building green is not escalating the cost of the project, which is an important consideration in today’s economy and will be a critical element for families looking to build in the future.

Posted by: KDL
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