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)

LEED for Homes Point by Point: Innovation & Design

Innovation & Design :: 9 points achieved out of 11 points available ::

We achieved 9 out of the 11 available points in this category. ID 1.3 Professional Credentialed with respect to LEED for Homes is apparently not available yet although we are using one (I believe this is in effect for applications made since mid-2009).  We also missed ID 1.5 which is building orientation for solar design because of the number of east facing windows (it faces Narragansett Bay and the Newport Bridge) – I make no excuses for our choice.

One of the most important aspects of ID is the quality management and durability planning. From the very beginning of our project, we created a Durability Checklist; we then used that as a working document to assign Scope of Works and as a checklist to make sure things were getting done as planned. Incorporated into our building contract, the checklist did evolve as the house was built taking into account any in field changes, additions or deletions.

The third portion is ID 3 which are Innovative Design – four points that are based on truly innovative or regional practices implemented on our project. We’ve been working on 3 of these points from the very beginning. The first point is Energy Management and involves the installation of a system that provides us as the homeowner’s automated control over various loads in the house. Having installed Control4 for home automation and Lutron for lighting control, our system is comprehensive, managing both individual loads and grouped system loads. The Control4 system controls the five-zone Geothermal HVAC system. We can access, control and manage any of the five zones from any of the access points in the house. Control4 includes pre programmed set scenes, timed programming, shutdown, individual temperature control and management of every zone.

The Control4 user interface has multiple options which includes ten touch screens located in each of the following rooms (front entry, kitchen (plus on wall tablet), guest room, children’s rooms (2), master bedroom, unfinished bonus room); remote controls in the living room, master and guest room, side table tablets in the master bedroom and on any PC in the house which includes the office. The interface displays information by the top eight monitored loads broken down to primary categories including: (1) lighting control system, (2) HVAC system, (3) entertainment system rack, (4) televisions, (5) kitchen refrigerator (6) pantry refrigerator (7) entertainment system rack, and (8) charging station. The energy management point takes into account al of the access and control from above and then measures how well the information is supplied to the homeowner. In our case, Control4 aggregates energy usage hour-by-hour, day-by-day, month-by-month. Information can be reported in graphs by time or by load. The system can also recognize and communicate areas of consumption that can be lowered to conserve energy and save money. These two points we won’t officially know the decision of the USGBC technical review committee for approximately another 90 days.

The third point we applied for was our “Wiring for a Green Home” plan, which saved us 52% of the materials used on a comparable project of size, scope and system requirements as determined by our electrical systems contractor. When we were told we’d have to wait 90 days to hear about the here open ID points, we said, well go ahead and submit anyway but what else can we do and we applied for 1.5 points for exemplary performance in MR 2.2 which was our use of environmentally preferred products.

The fourth ID point we applied for was for our high performance washing machine which required both an Energy Star rating and a water factor of 3.5 . Our Whirlpool Duet washing machine helped us achieve 1.5 points for reducing water usage by 74% and energy usage by 80% over washing machines manufactured before 2004. We also received one point for exemplary performance in Sustainable Sites (SS2.5) for attaining the full six points for our conservation and our irrigation system.

Posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter: newscaster

Energy Efficiency, Lighting and Entertainment Integrate to Show Green and Technology Can Co-Exist

Green Life Smart Life - August 2009Green Life Smart Life™ has named the technology partners who will assist in creating the path to LEED®-H Innovation and Design points for  Energy Management, Energy Monitoring and Green Wiring. With energy efficiency as the foundation to the selection process, every electronic device was reviewed in terms of annual wattage, load requirements and integration with other subsystems before finally approved by the integration and design team.  The home has been structurally wired for a state-of-the-art whole house video, music, lighting, security and Internet but uses 50% less wire and materials than a project of comparable size of scope, making it both eco-friendly and efficient. 

The Green Life Smart Life home will feature the latest in lighting and HVAC control, security and surveillance, energy management and state-of-the art distributed entertainment.  Project highlights include:

  • An overall home control, energy management and entertainment solution provided by Control4.  Utilizing the Control4® Operating System to consolidate into one platform and automate major subsystems such as lighting, HVAC, security and climate control, the Control4 platform will use a ZigBee enabled device to bridge data from the utility meter to the home control system.  This energy management solution will feature:
    • Load shedding allowing homeowners to power down high energy consuming appliances during non-use period and schedule down times for max efficiency.
    • Single button trigger solutions for easy programming of sequenced power on and off scenarios throughout the home, including a “green” feature.
    • Communication system to monitor feedback from all electricity loads in the house with real-time analysis of usage and savings.
    • Occupancy, temperature, magnetic, and timed sensors as well as a self-activated “away” mode every time the security system is armed to ensure maximum energy efficiency, especially when the home is empty.
  • Integral in minimizing the home’s energy consumption, Lutron HomeWorks lighting control system will be programmed to include a high-end trim of 85% for every connected light in the house and features automatic control of motion and occupancy sensors.
  • From music to movies and pictures to TV programming, the home will feature the latest in entertainment technology from Control4 and include an n9 Media Center server from Niveus Media.
  • Whole home audio means all of your music is centralized. The home will manage their music via the NuVo Essentia E6G, the first and currently only whole home audio system to earn the coveted ENERGY STAR® rating.
  • Security and surveillance means safety for your family – Green Life Smart Life will incorporate Black & Decker automated locks through Control4 for complete protection of the home.
  • The three flat panels in the house will be affixed to the wall with OmniMount’s new OmniLite Series mounts – made from recycled materials and using minimal component parts without sacrificing quality or safety.
  • Wired to meet the standards of the CEA TechHome Rating System, Leviton’s structured wiring solutions allowed the home to be outfitted for current as well as future needs.
  • To help earn LEED points in Indoor Air Quality, an H-P Products’ VACUFLO system with Hide-A-Hose will be installed in the home.

 From centralizing the control hub to eliminating hundreds of feet wiring to specifying low-VOC conduit for future accessibility, Robert Saglio Audio Video, in cooperation with the builder and homeowners, will help create standards for future electronic systems installers to potentially achieve LEED-H points and ensure that the homeowners reach their optimal energy consumption goals.

Lutron Sponsors Green Life Smart Life

Recently we signed Lutron as the lighting control manufacturer for the home. Lighting control is an integral part of our home’s energy management solution.

The HomeWorks total home lighting control system provides unprecedented flexibility, power and versatility to home lighting and streamlines connections with other home systems, such as security, whole-house audio and energy monitoring systems. Lighting control is an integral factor in minimizing a home’s energy consumption. By dimming an incandescent light by 15 percent, which is virtually unnoticeable to the human eye, homeowners can prolong the life of the bulb by four years and save 15 percent on electricity. The Green Life Smart Life Lutron lighting control system will be programmed to include a high-end trim of 85% for every connected light in the house.

Lutron was well-suited to this project particularly because of its leadership in compatibility and control of the newest and most energy-efficient light fixtures and lamp types. Control of LED-based lights is especially challenging because they are built quite differently from traditional light bulbs, and behave differently when dimmed or linked in groups. With 70 recessed LED lights in the project, specified because of their ENERGY STAR® certification and their dimmable control from Lutron, the project saves 7730 kWh over traditional 65 watt incandescent light bulbs and 791 kWh over today’s 26 watt CFLs*.

The Lutron HomeWorks system not only helps homeowners reduce energy consumption by dimming the home’s lights, but also enables the users to create lighting scenes for optimal performance. A lighting scene readies the home for a specific event, such as a “party”, “movie time”, and “all off”. Activated by pressing designated buttons on the Lutron keypad, or through the home automation platform, the Lutron system will turn lights on or off automatically depending on the homeowner’s preference, ensuring that only the essential lights are powered on. The system will also use the Lutron “Green” button, which reduces energy consumption with a single button press.

For the Green Life Smart Life project, Lutron’s HomeWorks will be programmed to manage load shedding of high-energy appliances such as the refrigerator and will shut the unit down from 1AM to 4 AM daily. The system also features automatic controls from motion sensors, occupancy and vacancy sensors, magnetic door switches, and even a sensor buried below the driveway for security and exterior lighting control.