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)

Green Homes Show Sales Gains in Real Estate Market, at least in the Pacific Northwest

In the pacific northwest, homes certified as eco-friendly sold for 8.5% more per square foot and were on the market 22% less time than other homes, according to the ECert report that tracks new home sales from September 2007 through December 2009. Homes that underwent the strictest certifications sold for 25% more than non-certified homes. Certified home standards included Earth Advantage New Homes, ENERGY STAR®, and the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED® for Homes  (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program.

The Earth Advantage Institute put out their own  report  citing that  green-certified homes in the Portland, Ore., metro area, sold for 12% more than non-certified homes from May 2008 through April 2009. Its analysis, based on data from the Regional Multiple Listing Service, saw a premium per square of $193 for a green certified home verses $173 for other homes. 

“The fact that the number of sustainable homes increased despite a severe slowdown shows that energy efficiency and green building will only be growing in the near future,” said Sean Penrith, executive director of Earth Advantage Institute. “In this economy, consumers are seeing the combined appeal of long-term energy savings with healthier homes that leave less of a carbon footprint.”

posted by Kimberly Lancaster | twitter

Flooring for Green Life Smart Life House

The Green Life Smart Life home is using flooring inside which are helping to award the home with Environmentally Preferable Product points under the LEED for Homes certification.  There are three particular floors throughout the house that qualify for EPP points (Materials and Resources category).

The most used flooring throughout the house is reclaimed hardwoods that have been harvested from an old barn.  There are many barns and old buildings that have been set aside to be demolished instead they are harvested and reused as eco friendly flooring.  Besides the unique look and interesting history, reclaimed hardwoods offers so much more, using reclaimed woods is the environmentally responsible thing to do; it allows the wood to have a second life and saves new trees from being cut down.

Marmoleum flooring will also be used in the Green Life Smart Life home in the laundry room as well as the pantry.  Marmoleum is extremely eco friendly and is made up of many different natural raw materials.  It’s resistance to bacteria makes this particular flooring popular for schools and hospitals.  Marmoleum is also fire resistant, very easy to maintain, hygienic, warm and comfortable to touch unlike cold tile and it uses natural raw materials.  Rosin, wood flour, cork flour, linseed oil and limestone are the key ingredients to making Maroleum.

“As long as the sun shines and the rain falls, we can produce MARMOLEUM® and ARTOLEUM®.”  -Forbo-

The third flooring that will be used in the Green Life Smart Life home is Fireclay tile.  Fireclay uses unique, affordable and green methods to produce their tiles.  Using recycled materials to make their clay makes this a great choice for the green life smart life home.  Fireclay is very green in the sense that they recycle their kiln heat, water and all of their manufacturing waste that is reused throughout their business.

Flooring was a careful consideration on this project as all products has to be safe both the environment and the family – and add to the New England cottage décor in the home.  They are all extracted, processed and manufactured within the region making them great candidates for environmentally preferable product points.

Posted by: Kate Kiselka

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

 

Blue is the New Green: Water Conservation in a LEED Home, Part 2 Outside

Continuing my post from yesterday, we put together a very agressive exterior water collection and conservation plan in an effort to conserve what we consider a very precious and diminishing resource.

6. Landscape Irrigation: Our irrigation was designed from the ground up according to the specifications of the LEED-H program. From determining how much grass we would have in relation to our overall permeability to specifying a custom local URI blended grass that is both drought and disease tolerant to designing beds that have grouped native, drought tolerant plants, trees and bushes, we have been working on this landscaping plan for nearly a year. The irrigation system is critical in the overall success of the design because we still want use as little water as possible. Right now, we think we have absolutely maximized what we can do here. From measuring our evapotranspiration rate  to measuring how much water we are using in our control system, we left nothing out. With measure nozzles and heads for accurate spray, rain sensors, and even humidity sensors, our irrigation system is a complex tool deigned to work with our land.  Our system is not even connected to the municipal water supply. We achieved such as high GPM water flow from our geothermal well, that our system is designed to call to the well for water when we haven’t collected enough water in our rainwater harvesting system. All our water is our own, that which we take out, filter and put back just keeps circulating from our well for the ultimate in blue…I mean green building.

7. Rainwater Harvesting: As mentioned, our rainwater harvesting system collects the rain from more than 80% of our roof and disperses it through an interconnected gutter system that directs all of the water to our 5000 gallon underground storage tank. We collect more than 3500 gallons from a 1 inch rainfall and here the water sits until we need to irrigate our grass, plantings or even our garden. Fitted with two floats that measure how much water is in the tank and one communication device that calls to the well when water is needed, the system, works in

8. Outdoor shower: We live by the beach and I love the days we spend sitting in the sun, riding the waves and building sandcastle-like structures. But I’m a sand-a-phobic. After living the past five years without an outdoor shower, it’s like the dark ages for me. Sand belongs outside, not tracked in to multiply on the floor, clog our indoor showers and then ultimately find its way into our beds.  My plan?  A hot/cold outdoor shower for everyone to get clean before coming in. Brilliant! Using a 1.75 gpm Kohler showerhead attached to removable outdoor shower system that is filtered and sent to our collection well for distribution into our grass and beds, it’s just another way for our family to conserved and reuse the water we use.

I realize that our approach to water conservation was aggressive. I would not expect most families to unilaterally attack each section in order to conserve water. But, everyone can do something. You can easily add an aerator to existing faucets at a cost of about $1.59 each. You can upgrade an old 2.2 gpf toilet that is leaking and past its day to a 1.28 or even 1.1 gpf toilet for a cost of approximately $550 – $750 per toilet. Rainwater harvesting system installation? All told based on size, you’re looking at about $12k for the gutters, tank, excavation, piping, communicating devices and landscaping. The irrigation system for an acre of land will run you another $10k.

 posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter :  newscaster

Blue is the New Green: Water Conservation in a LEED Home, Part 1 Inside

When we talk utilities, energy tops the list of resources people are looking to save. That electric bill and oil or gas bill crosses the mailbox every month, but water is quarterly in Narragansett and in some towns might only come once per year. If you’re on a well you may not ever think about it. But let me tell you; blue is the new green. Our water supply is not infinite.

The cost of water is expected to increase over 10% per year.   By the year 2025, if present water consumption patterns continue, 2 out of every 3 people on the planet will live in water stressed conditions as reported by the United Nations Environment Program.

We prioritized water as a resource to conserve when building our Narragansett LEED home as much as anything else.

Here’s the list from our home project of how we are conserving water:

1. Toilets – We installed 1.1 over 1.4 or more normal 1.6 gpf high efficiency toilets. That’s a savings of half a gallon of water for every flush. We have four family members and a full time babysitter at home every day.  We host family gatherings at our house and manage to have a revolving door of summer guests. Ashley practically lives with us enough that if I could carry her as a dependent I would.  With an average flush rate of 10,000 flushes per year,  we will save 23,800  gallons of water per year when compared to a 3.5 gallon toilet (pre-1992) or 8,200 gallons compared to a 1.6 gallon toilet?

2. Faucets: Whether in the kitchen or bath, we didn’t discriminate. Every faucet we have is 1.5 gpm. This is the lowest flow faucet you can buy today. All of our faucets meet the EPA WaterSense specification and come from Kohler.

3. Showerheads: Again, all products of Kohler and all meeting the EPA Water Sense requirements, every showerhead, including our outdoor shower are 1.75 gpm. They are engineered for maximum aeration so shower takers (of which I am not a huge fan) gloriously claim they maintain pressure without feeling like you are being sprayed by house or only getting that trickle of water which makes it impossible to get the soap out of your six year old’s tremendously thick hair.

4. Washing Machine: Everyone laughs at me about the fact that we are going for a LEED point for our washing machine but what can I say it saves water. The Whirlpool Duet front loading steam washer saves the most amount of water of any washing machine in its category. It provides more than a dozen settings so you can wash your clothes correcting and the machine figures out how much water you need. Now if only it put them in the dryer. It’s coming, just wait.

5. Dishwasher and Dishdrawers – Some people might accuse us of being wasteful because we have more than one dishwasher, but I completely disagree. Our dishwasher and dishdrawer combination is designed for the job at hand. If you’ve never had them, dishdrawers are amazing additions to your kitchen, easily concealed, compact, efficient and quiet, this is the second time we’ve installed Kitchen Aid dishdrawers in a home project. The beauty of them is how you can use them to conserve energy and water by washing full loads that are small. If I know the kids are only going to be eating at home for the day, then I can load the dishdrawer and not the big dishwasher. Instead of handwashing all our wine glasses after a big dinner party, they all go together in one dishdrawer. The new Whirlpool dishwasher will be our main family sized dishwasher for those cooking at home nights. Big enough to fit the days dishes plus the night’s cookware, and boasting an ENERGY STAR rating, it will handle anything our family throws at it.

This is an overview of what we’ve done inside the house, in my post tomorrow I am going to overview our exterior water conservation plan.

posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter :  newscaster

Sustainable Design Embodied in Our Stair Rail

Building the perfect stairwell is an investment in time, design, patience and yes, money. This part of our building project is heavy on design and detail but has an incredible element of sustainable design. Every piece of our stairwell rail, newells and posts are made from 200 year old pine harvested from a barn found in Wisconsin and milled by local artisans Hardwood Design. Liek teh stair bodies and treads, the wood captures the character we were looking for in reclaimed materials in our Narragansett LEED home.

Here are some photos of the installation from start to finish.

8.12.09 - Stairs

9.3.09 -  Stairwell

9.3.09 - Stairwell (7)

9.3.09 - Stairwell (13)

 

posted by KDL | follow meon Twitter :  newscaster