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} greenlifesmartlife.com 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)

Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative forms to foster adoption of the smart grid

Washington, DC –To help build consumer acceptance and use of the smart grid, a group of smart grid leaders today announced the formation of the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC).   The founding members of the SGCC include consumer electronics and technology companies, retailers, consumer advocacy groups, and utilities dedicated to maximizing the value of the grid for consumers.  Launched at DistribuTECH, which is the nation’s largest gathering of energy utilities and technologists, the SGCC will work to understand consumer needs and preferences, reach out to build awareness and educate consumers about the benefits of the smart grid, and share best practices for consumer engagement and empowerment.

The SGCC has three priorities:

1. In-depth research on consumer awareness, acceptance, and use of the smart grid with emphasis on their needs, preferences and priorities 2. Outreach and education to allow consumers to better understand the smart grid, its issues and its potential 3. Development of  best practices to involve and empower consumers  in the roll out of smart grid technologies

The federal stimulus program for the smart grid will reach more than $4 billion and by 2015, nearly half of all North American consumers will have next generation smart meters.   The SGCC wants to ensure these investments engage consumers and deliver the energy efficiency and the savings promised.  Consumer adoption of the new technology and services being deployed is the key to the success of the smart grid.

“For many reasons — energy independence, energy efficiency, integrating renewables, accommodating electric vehicles, and global competitiveness — we must modernize our electric system. But we can’t do that without the support and involvement of the ultimate customer,”  said Jesse Berst, acting Executive Director of the SGCC.  “We formed the SGCC to bring important stakeholders together to do the necessary research, education and collaboration to make sure we include the consumer in the conversation.”

The cross-industry initiative started after Control4, a leader in affordable IP-based home control systems and newcomer to the smart grid space, recognized a common concern emerging from partners, customers, and smart grid conferences; that the industry wasn’t equipped to understand and support consumer reactions to the technology upgrade.  In just a few months’ time, the concept to bring industry leaders together to take on smart grid consumer education became a reality in the formation of the non-profit organization, the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative.  The broad representation of the group and support from established smart grid and consumer advocacy organizations reinforces the importance of the SGCC’s mission.

“There’s been intense work and focus on the technology, energy efficiency and economic advancements the smart grid enables, but if we as an industry don’t turn our attention to the consumer, to drive participation and acceptance, the real promise of the smart grid, energy independence, can never be realized, ” said Richard Walker, President, Control4 Energy Systems.

“The smart grid is of critical importance to the future of the United States.  The Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative will help its member companies to further the transformation of our power grid by focusing specifically on the energy consumer,” said Guido Bartels, General Manager of Energy and Utilities at IBM.  “Along with our utility clients we have long been looking at ways to empower consumers to make informed decisions, so taking on a founding role with this collaborative is a logical next step for IBM.”

“Around the world, countries, including the United States, are realizing the clear need to modernize our electrical infrastructure to support the energy demands of our 21st Century society,” said Bob Gilligan, vice president, GE Energy Services. “A smarter electricity grid will enable us to integrate and optimize more renewable energy such as wind and solar, as well as plug-in electric vehicles. It will also increase power reliability and operational efficiencies to deliver greater productivity both for the utility and the consumer.  It will empower consumers to manage their energy usage and save money without compromising their lifestyle. To make this smarter grid a reality, informing and engaging consumers is critical. The SGCC is an opportunity for key stakeholders to work together to better understand consumer needs and articulate the value and benefits of a smart grid for consumers.”

“It is crucial that all stakeholders can work cooperatively to move our industrial-age electric grid into the information age,” said Katherine Hamilton, President GridWise Alliance.  “We have reached a point of deployment where consumers are as important an ingredient as the technology that backs the system and the dollars that fund the modernization of this nation’s new energy economy.  The GridWise Alliance is looking forward to participating in the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative to help consumers reap the benefits of the smart grid.”  The GridWise Alliance is a coalition of 125 organizations advocating for the deployment of a smarter grid for the public good.

“There is a tremendous amount of change going on in the electric world,” said Janine Migden-Ostrander, Ohio’s Consumers’ Counsel. “The availability of carefully designed programs that can benefit residential consumers is key to providing them additional choices and giving them more control over their energy consumption.  But education will be a key component to making the smart grid a useful consumer tool. We are excited to work with the SGCC, to share our knowledge and draw from the expertise the collaborative will offer.” The Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel (OCC), the residential utility consumer advocate, represents the interests of 4.5 million Ohio households in proceedings before state and federal regulators and in the courts.

Members from Industry to Consumer Advocacy The SGCC launched today with founding  member companies that span key stakeholder groups, including utilities, technology  and consumer electronics companies, retailers, and consumer advocates.

•     Magnolia/Best Buy

•     Control4

•     Ember

•     General Electric (GE)

•     GridWise Alliance (GWA)

•     IBM

•     NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

•     Ohio Consumers’ Counsel (OCC)

•     Silver Spring Networks (SSN)

Additionally the Demand Response and Smart Grid Coalition (www.drsgcoalition.org) and the Future of Privacy Forum (http://www.futureofprivacy.org/) have  joined as affiliate members, contributing resources to the SGCC.

For more information about the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative,  visit  www.smartgridcc.org.

CNET’s Best of CES 2010 Green Award

Control4 was one of three nominees in the Green category for this year’s CNET Best of CES 2010 Awards.  At CES, Control4 showed its Energy Management System (EMS) 100, which received the nomination.

The EMS 100 is comprised of the EC-100,  a touch-screen home controller that allows you to monitor your home’s energy and the WT-100, a wireless Zigbee-enabled thermostat. This allows people to track their energy usage and find ways to reduce it; you can also set up the device to automatically do it for you. The system not only allows you to monitor your home’s energy but you have the ability to control lights, locks, and more. Other applications can be added to the system through Control4’s newly launched app store called 4Store.

To get the whole story you can click here: Read More

The winner in the Green category this year was Tenrehte Technologies for their Picowatt Wi-Fi smart plugs.

According to the article on CNET, Tenrehte Technologies has a grassroots vision for the smart grid. Instead of relying on a utility-installed smart meter to help consumers ratchet down their electricity bills, the Rochester, N.Y.-based start-up is building Wi-Fi-enabled smart plugs. A few strategically placed smart plugs, called a Picowatt, will provide many of the benefits promised to consumers by the smart grid, including a real-time read-out of electricity usage and the ability to control appliances from a central point.

The Freeloader Pro, which was the other Green nomination, is a handheld charger made up of two small solar panels and integrated lithium ion battery.

Like the dozens of solar chargers on the market, the Freeloader Pro can charge up cell phones, GPS devices, and other small gadgets. What makes it versatile is the accompanying CamCaddy, an adjustable device for charging different sized block batteries for digital cameras, camcorders, or digital SLRs.

Posted by: Megan / Follow me on Twitter

Home Entertainment’s Take on the Green Life Project

Read more: http://www.hemagazine.com/Green_Living_Smart_Living#ixzz0aSCNvSPt

Demand Response and Smart Grid Coalition Adds 6 New Members

The Demand Response and Smart Grid Coalition (DRSG) announced that six companies have joined the trade association and will contribute to its efforts aimed at developing markets for smart grid technologies and smart grid practices like demand response. The new DRSG members are LG Electronics USA, Electrolux, Control4, HomeGrid Forum, Midas Medici Group Holdings, Inc and CABA.

“The growth in DRSG membership reflects the growing market for smart grid technologies and the increasing interest in how to provide the technologies, as well as demand response and other smart-grid practices, to utilities and consumers,” said Dan Delurey, Executive Director of the trade association. “Their expertise and experience is a welcome addition to the DRSG, and we look forward to having them as part of our organization.”

LG Electronics USA, Inc., based in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., is the North American subsidiary of LG Electronics, Inc., a $45 billion global force and technology leader in home appliances, consumer electronics and mobile communications. In the United States, LG Electronics sells a range of stylish and innovative home appliances, home entertainment products, mobile phones, air conditioners and business solutions, all under LG’s “Life’s Good” marketing theme. For more information, visit www.LGusa.com.

Electrolux is a global leader in household appliances and appliances for professional use, selling more than 40 million products to customers in more than 150 markets every year. The company focuses on innovations that are thoughtfully designed, based on extensive consumer insight, to meet the real needs of consumers and professionals. Electrolux products include refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines, vacuum cleaners and cookers sold under esteemed brands such as Electrolux, AEG-Electrolux, Eureka and Frigidaire. In 2008, Electrolux had sales of SEK 105 billion and 55,000 employees. For more information, visit http://www.electroluxusa.com/welcome/.

Control4, the operating system for the connected home, brings home automation and control to the broad market. Control4 technology is at the heart of an expanding ecosystem of leading consumer electronics products designed to work together with ease. Control4 Energy Systems, an operating division of Control4, leverages the company’s expertise in developing compelling consumer product experiences to deliver innovative home area network (HAN) solutions for utilities, advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) vendors and service providers that engage homeowners to manage their energy use. From essential energy management to effortless entertainment and whole-home control, Control4 is the platform for managing all the pieces of today’s connected life. For more information, visit http://www.control4.com/energy.

Midas Medici Group Holdings’ subsidiary, UtiliPoint International, has more than 500 clients worldwide and is a leading provider of research and advisory services for the energy sector. The company consists of industry experts from around the world with diverse backgrounds in utility generation, transmission and distribution, retail markets, mergers and acquisitions, new technologies, venture capital, information technology, outsourcing, renewable energy, regulatory affairs and international issues. UtiliPoint International, Inc. is headquartered in Albuquerque, NM. For more information, visit http://www.utilipoint.com/.

HomeGrid Forum is a global, non-profit trade group promoting the International Telecommunication Union’s G.hn standardization efforts for next-generation home networking. HomeGrid Forum promotes adoption of G.hn through technical and marketing efforts, addresses certification and interoperability of G.hn-compliant products, and cooperates with complementary industry alliances. For more information, visit www.HomeGridForum.org.

The Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA) is a leading industry association that promotes advanced technologies in homes and buildings in North America. The organization is supported by an international membership of nearly 400 companies involved in the design, manufacture, installation and retailing of products relating to home automation and building automation. Public organizations, including utilities and government, are also members. CABA’s mandate includes providing its members with networking and market research opportunities. For more information, visit www.caba.org.

“In joining DRSG, these companies will also have the opportunity to be a part of the Smart Green Grid Initiative (SGGI) — a new effort recently initiated to demonstrate the significant role that the smart grid will have in the achievement of climate change goals,” Delurey said. “SGGI is an official UN-approved participant in the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP-15) in Copenhagen in December 2009, and a number of DRSG members will be attending and helping to carry our message to the climate change community.” More information about SGGI is available here www.smartgreengrid.org.

posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter : newscaster

Electrical wiring considerations in a LEED project

If you’re building a green home, there’s one subcontractor that is going to have a harder time adopting green building methods than the others, and that is your electrician.

Why you may ask?

These guys are generally old school, the young guys who work for them, they learned the old school way. That means wires everywhere, overrun everything just in case and to cover the electrical code and challenging inspectors. They’re also used to homeowners (wives in particular, not that I am ackowledging my issues) who change their mind on the locations of fixtures.

But having just gone through this process, and working with an old school electrician guided by my young, eco consciuos electrical systems contractor (ESC), I’ve learned you must always work with subs who share your vision because if you don’t your project will never quite come out the way you intended.

For electricians who find themselves working on a green building project there are a number of areas we’re they can approach jobs from different perspective:

  1. Layout: Establish your 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. Planning for everything from lighting to appliance to equipment ahead of time can shorten wire runs, material usage, and time on a job.
  2. Materials: Wire for present day code and wiring needs, but run conduit for future proofing especially in homes or projects that are getting spray foam insulation.  Plan your wire runs so you aren’t left with extra wire that will be wasted in a back room, just to be tossed becaase wire is one of the least most recylable materials on a job.
  3. Lighting specs: get up to date on today’s lighting – from dimmable LEDs to new ballasted CFLs, there are lighting products that can save your customers energy and money, and may even increase you profit line on materials.
  4. Lighting Control: Be at the forefront of a hot industry. Lighting control systems require an electrician for installation and wiring, get certified, companies like Lutron and Control4 have certification programs that can bring lighting control into your business – again an opportunity for profit for you and energy savings for your customers.

Last tips, be clean. Electricians are notoriusly messy on jobs and leave behind the plethora of carboard, wire cuts, shredded peels and anchor nails wherever they may fall. Getting these scraps into the proper recycling containers means your contributing to the waste management program on the project.

The way I see it, this isn’t just about electricians opening their eyes to whole new practices but evolving, as the rest of have, into an era of responsibility and competition.

Time to step up.

posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter : newscaster

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