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)

President Obama Announces Over $467 Million in Recovery Act Funding for Geothermal and Solar Energy Projects

WASHINGTON – President Obama announced last week over $467 million from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to expand and accelerate the development, deployment, and use of geothermal and solar energy throughout the United States.  The funding announced today represents a substantial down payment that will help the solar and geothermal industries overcome technical barriers, demonstrate new technologies, and provide support for clean energy jobs for years to come. Today’s announcement supports the Obama Administration’s strategy to increase American economic competiveness, while supporting jobs and moving toward a clean energy economy.

“We have a choice.  We can remain the world’s leading importer of oil, or we can become the world’s leading exporter of clean energy,” said President Obama. “We can hand over the jobs of the future to our competitors, or we can confront what they have already recognized as the great opportunity of our time:  the nation that leads the world in creating new sources of clean energy will be the nation that leads the 21st century global economy.  That’s the nation I want America to be.”

“We have an ambitious agenda to put millions of people to work by investing in clean energy technology like solar and geothermal energy,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said.  “These technologies represent two pieces of a broad energy portfolio that will help us aggressively fight climate change and renew our position as a global leader in clean energy jobs.”

Geothermal Energy
Geothermal energy is a clean source of renewable energy that harnesses heat from the Earth for heating applications and electricity generation; geothermal plants can operate around the clock to provide significant uninterrupted “base load” electricity, or the minimum amount a power utility must provide to its customers.

The Recovery Act makes a $350 million new investment in this technology, dwarfing previous government commitments. Recovery Act funding will support projects in four crucial areas: geothermal demonstration projects; Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) research and development; innovative exploration techniques; and a National Geothermal Data System, Resource Assessment and Classification System.

  • Geothermal Demonstration Projects ($140 Million)
    Funding will support demonstrations of cutting-edge technologies to advance geothermal energy in new geographic areas, as well as geothermal energy production from oil and natural gas fields, geopressured fields, and low to moderate temperature geothermal resources.
  • Enhanced Geothermal Systems Technology Research and Development ($80 Million)
    Funding will support research of EGS technology to allow geothermal power generation across the country. Conventional geothermal energy systems must be located near easily-accessible geothermal water resources, limiting its nationwide use.  EGS makes use of available heat resources through engineered reservoirs, which can then be tapped to produce electricity. While the long-term goal of EGS is to generate cost competitive clean electricity, enabling research and development is needed to demonstrate the technology’s readiness in the near-term.
  • Innovative Exploration Techniques ($100 Million)
    Funding will support projects that include exploration, siting, drilling, and characterization of a series of exploration wells utilizing innovative exploration techniques. Exploration of geothermal energy resources can carry a high upfront risk.  By investing in and validating innovative exploration technologies and methods, DOE can help reduce the level of upfront risk for the private sector, allowing for increased investment and discovery of new geothermal resources.
  • National Geothermal Data System, Resource Assessment, and Classification System ($30 Million)
    The long-term success of geothermal energy technologies depends upon a detailed characterization of geothermal energy resources nationwide.  In 2008, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) conducted an assessment of high temperature resource potential in the Western United States.  To fully leverage new low-temperature, geopressured, co-production, and EGS technologies, DOE will support a nationwide assessment of geothermal resources, working through the USGS and other partners.  Second, DOE will support the development of a nationwide data system to make resource data available to academia, researchers, and the private sector.  Finally, DOE will support the development of a geothermal resource classification system for use in determining site potential.

Solar Energy
Solar energy is a rapidly expanding industry with a double-digit annual growth rate in the United States. DOE is focused on supporting the U.S. industry’s scaling up of manufacturing, production, and distribution so the technology can become cost competitive with conventional sources of energy.  DOE will provide $117.6 million in Recovery Act funding to accelerate widespread commercialization of clean solar energy technologies across America.  These activities will leverage partnerships that include DOE’s national laboratories, universities, local government, and the private sector, to strengthen the U.S. solar industry and make it a leader in international markets.

  • Photovoltaic Technology Development ($51.5 Million)
    DOE will expand investment in advanced photovoltaic concepts and high impact technologies, with the aim of making solar energy cost-competitive with conventional sources of electricity and to strengthen the competitiveness and capabilities of domestic manufacturers.
  • Solar Energy Deployment ($40.5 Million)
    Projects in this area will focus on non-technical barriers to solar energy deployment, including grid connection, market barriers to solar energy adoption in cities, and the shortage of trained solar energy installers.  Combined with new technology development, these deployment activities will help clear the path for wider adoption of solar energy in residential, commercial, and municipal environments.
  • Concentrating Solar Power Research and Development ($25.6 Million)
    This work will focus on improving the reliability of concentrating solar power technologies and enhancing the capabilities of DOE National Laboratories to provide test and evaluation support to the solar industry.

Read information on these and other Funding Opportunities under the Recovery Act.

Day 3 of Geothermal: Installation, Well Drilling and a Look at Equipment

Installing a geothermal system is a massive coordination. In addition to the homeowner (coordinated all of these people and negotiated pricing), the project has included: the Geothermal company (all equipment and specs, overseeing it all), the well driller (the well), the excavator (trenches and backfill), the plumber (piping and connections, domestic hot water tank), the HVAC installer (duct work, blowers and all related interior vents, EVRs, etc), the electrician (wiring it all up), the landscape architect (making the well look nice), the civil engineer (location) and the Green Rater (LEED).

Here’s a photo gallery of our project the past three days.

Here’s our slurry pit.Slurry Pit That’s clean water running out. We had to dig two pits, 15 feet deep by ten feet wide to collect any water overflow. It just figures but our well was pumping water faster than the ground wanted could absorb it.




Here’s the well rigRig.









 That’s Hazard Stewart, he owns Newport Geothermal. Hi Hazard!Hazard









 That’s me, Kim (the owner) lookingworried about the noise and disturbing her neighbors.Kim All went well though, not a single complaint. All that preparation paid off!







I admit, I was also worried about the term slurry pit.
Kim 2







 That’s the well. We dug to 1,000 feet in just two days.
Well Drilling









 Here is where we hit water. The well was “making” very little water at 300’, the same till about 800’, about 1.5 gpm. The well driller achieved 8-10 gpm at a 1000’. Basically, we have a very good well for geothermal; and very little bleeding of the well water to the drywells will be required. Furthermore, the added water that we found around 800’ will allow for some irrigation.Water









 That’s the water source heat pump being installed. The well pump will also go into the basment but that is next week. The connections and final trenching is scheduled for next week.
Water Source Heat Pump









The trench to the house will be dug on Friday and we’ll do another quick post showing the final connections. We also have our next blower test for LEED and ENERGY STAR on Thursday June 11th and we’ll make sure all the connections are tight. We’re going for a <.4 leakage rate.
That’s it. We have our system. Check out our Photo Gallery for more great shots of the Geothermal system being installed!

posted by KDL |follow me on Twitter: newscaster