Come tour our green building project on Dec. 12th

The road to getting this house build has no doubt been a long, bumpy one, but it has been a trip nevertheless. We are officially in the final stages of our LEED-H certification process. This week our final binder with our application and every piece of documentation possible went out to the fine people at Conservation Services Group (here is an apology in advance for whoever has to carry that massive box!). On the 20th we will have our final inspection, and we will be announcing our certification at our open house events in early December.

If you have some time, be sure to check out our Galleries and see the whole process take shape.

So – you’ve been following us for the past year and we want to thank each and every one of you out there. If you live in the area, we are hosting an Open House on Saturday, December 12th starting at 10am. At the open house, you will be able to take a tour through the house and see firsthand how everything came together to create this green home. More details to come, but leave us a comment if you are interested in coming!

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

The growth of green building, why ESC’s should care

Even in today’s unstable housing market, demand is growing for green and eco-conscious homes. More than 97,000 homes nationwide have been built and certified by voluntary green building programs since the mid-1990s, according to the National Association of Home Builders, representing a 50 percent increase from NAHB’s 2004 survey. Further, more than half of NAHB’s 235,000 members (representing about 80 percent of homebuilders) reported that they expect to employ at least some green building practices by the end of the year. There are more than 2,000 LEED Certified Projects and 4,000 NAHB Certified projects. With new technologies like energy monitoring and management systems emerging, as well as a growing number of ENERGY STAR and eco-conscious tech solutions available, more installers are going to be faced with installing such systems in green homes. With the February 2009 passing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, homeowners are receiving more tax incentives and rebates on both state and federal levels for installing energy saving or green systems in their homes. As these systems become more affordable and homeowners receive more financial incentives to install them, general contractors will look for sub-contractors who possess experience with green homes. Installing a green tech system can garner valuable LEED points for the homeowner. Of specific interest to custom integrators is that, trough the Innovation and Design (ID) category, energy monitoring and management systems can add LEED points to a home’s application.

Many of customers are thinking about the environment and their impact on it.

Today’s technology products can enhance a customer’s lifestyle; decreasing energy and water usage and increasing environmental sustainability. When integrated to function as part of a home control system operating throughout your home’s living and working spaces, product performance, as well as comfort and convenience, can be enhanced; greater gains in savings can be realized.

Home control systems can help reduce impact on our environment by providing you with local and remote access and control, as well as monitoring of major energy systems in your home, such as heating and cooling, lighting, hot water, your water use and even an entire home’s energy consumption.

Benefits include monitoring your home systems while at work or on travel; returning to a house that’s comfortably cool or warm; turning-off lights in empty rooms; and increasing hot water in anticipation of demand, while decreasing it off peak. Monitoring water use might even reveal problems; protecting a customer against a damaging water leak.

posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter : newscaster

Smart Technology? How about an email alert from your door lock when the kids get home from school.

We selected Kwikset SmartCode with Home Connect Technology keyless entry electronic locks for our most traversed entry doors to the home. Since the locks have  interoperability with our Control4 home automation and DSC security systems, they can communicate wirelessly with other devices in our home to deliver a variety of access and control options.

 The lock offers true remote locking and unlocking features due to its motorized deadbolt allowing homeowners to monitor and control their locks using either a Web-enabled device or their home automation system. The lock will allow us to check door lock status, automatically arm and disarm the security system, and initiate customized scenes upon entrance and exit when integrated with Control4. We can even program the locks to send out email alerts that notify us when the kids get home from school (when they get older of course) or more appropriate, notify my if my three year old opens a door he is not supposed to, such as the wine cellar.  

Using a customizable code, we can arm our home security system when the door is locked and disarm the system when the door is unlocked. Installation is simple as the lock simply replaces any existing deadbolt and operates on four AA batteries, thus eliminating the need for hardwiring. The lock even has the ability to accept automatic software updates, and all wireless communication between devices remains secure by utilizing 128 bit encryption.

 We even were able to get the locks in the antique bronze color to keep in style with the house.

I love technology.

posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter : newscaster

Selecting the best appliances for energy and water savings

Our appliances were delivered and as much care went into their selection as every other product in our Narragansett LEED house. In addition to considerations for style and performance, all of our appliances (with the exception of our stove because stoves are not rated) are top performing ENERGY STAR appliances.

As available appliances for the project will bear the ENERGY STAR label and assist us in maintaining the highest level of energy efficiency throughout the home. Additionally, the new Whirlpool Duet washer, which uses 74 percent less water and 80 percent less energy than traditional top load washers manufactured before 2004 and you can watch how it works in this video, will aid the project in its LEED-H for Gold certification quest by providing a point in the Innovation & Design category. And yes, we did pick the cranberry.

Our selections include:

Whirlpool Brand Resource Saver Dishwasher – Features the eco-friendly Resource Saver wash system and CEE Tier II recognition from the Consortium for Energy Efficiency ratings. We chose to have the custom cabinet panel installed to match.

Whirlpool Brand Duet Dryer–Uses up to 40% less energy with Eco Normal cycle when paired with a Duet washer.  A more precise set of heat and moisture detection sensors allows clothes to dry more efficiently. The Quick Refresh steam cycle tumbles 2 to 5 items, helping break down odors and relax wrinkles. Combined with the Duet washer, it is the brands most efficient laundry pair to date, providing $837 in energy and water savings over the first five years of use. Though dryer’s do not yet earn ENERGY STAR ratings, this dryer is top energy saver and when managed on the Control4 appliance module will only be allowed to run during non peak pricing hours to manage our cost per kwh budget.

KitchenAid Architect Series II Double Drawer Dishwasher – This ENERGY STAR dishwasher is able to wash 2 different loads independently or simultaneously and features 5 cycles for flexible washing options. We installed it right across from our kitchen wine bar which will be great when entertaining and keeping the glasses plentiful.

KitchenAid Architect Series II Refrigerator – The 48” main refrigerator provides the elegant aesthetics and functionality that my gourmet cook’s kitchen deserves.  This ENERGY STAR qualified refrigerator will be monitored on the Control4 appliance module for real time monitoring of energy consumption and load shedding from 1 – 4 AM daily for a projected annual energy savings of 12 percent of running costs. A second ENERGY STAR labeled Whirlpool French Door refrigerator, located in the home’s pantry, will also be monitored on the Control4 system.

As I watch our appliances get installed and I think about the months of planning and meetings we had, the product reviews I read, the color swatches I compared and the immense time I spent designing the kitchen and laundry room, I cannot tell you how muchI look froward to doing a load of wash adn running the dishwasher. Seriously.

posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter : newscaster

There’s Money Out There to Upgrade Your Home

As we head into Q4 2009 you might want to look at if you need to get some tax credits on your 2009 tax returns.   ENERGY STAR appliances, spray foam insulation, ENERGY STAR windows, metal roofs, and more, there are opportunites for you to use the government’s money to upgrade your home this year.

What is a tax credit? You don’t receive an income tax credit when you buy the product, like an instant rebate. You claim the credit on your federal income tax form at the end of the year. The credit then increases the tax refund you receive or decreases the amount you have to pay.

Tax credits vs. tax deductions: In general, a tax credit is more valuable than a similar tax deduction. A tax credit reduces the tax you pay, dollar-for-dollar. Tax deductions – such as those for home mortgages and charitable giving – lower your taxable income. If you are in the highest 35-percent tax bracket, the income tax you pay is reduced by 35 percent of the value of a tax deduction. But a tax credit reduces your federal income tax by 100 percent of the amount of the credit.

This list is for any product INSTALLED in 2009 will be eligible for your 2009 return. Our list is for deductions for Rhode Island and Federal taxes. To find out about rebates in your state, check out the DSIRE website. The ENERGY STAR website also provides great information about Federal rebates. Continue after the jump to get a list of state and federal tax credits. 

Rhode Island Tax Credits

Solar Water Heat, Solar Space Heat, Photovoltaic, Wind, Geothermal Heat Pumps :    Amount: 25% of installed cost including labor and materials

Renewable Energy Sales Tax Exemption:  Solar Water Heat, Solar Space Heat, Solar Thermal Electric, Photovoltaic, Wind, Geothermal Heat Pumps, Solar Pool Heating:    100% Exemption

Appliance and Equipment Efficiency Standards:    Credit amount is based on the product. Proper manufacturer certification will be needed to claim this credit

Local Option – Property Tax Exemption for Renewable Energy Systems for Solar Water Heat, Solar Space Heat, Photovoltaic, Wind, Biomass, Small Hydroelectric

Federal Tax Credits – visit the ENERGY STAR website for qualifying factors for each credit

Windows & Doors :  10% of cost, up to $200 for all windows, skylights, and storm windows and  10% of cost, up to $500 for exterior and storm doors

Roofing: 10% of cost, up to $500 for metal and asphalt roofs

Insulation: 10% of cost, up to $5000

HVAC:  $300 for Central AC, $300 for Air Source Heat Pumps, $150 for Gas, Oil, Propane Furnace or Hot Water Boiler

Geothermal System: Geothermal (or ground-source) heat pumps placed in service starting in 2009 are now eligible for a tax credit for 30 percent of the cost, with no maximum. These credits are effective through December 21, 2016. In order to be eligible for the tax credit, geothermal heat pumps must meet Energy Star criteria.

Water Heaters:  $300 for gas, oil, propane water heater

Biomass Stoves: $300

Solar Energy Systems:  30% of the cost up to $2,000 for solar water heating,   30% of the cost for photovoltaic systems ($2,000 cap no longer applies)

Small Wind Energy Systems:  30% of the cost, up to $500 per half kW of capacity (not to exceed $4,000)

Fuel Cells:  30% of the cost, up to $1,500 per half kW of power capacity

For our house project this is the list of tax credits we will be able to apply to our 2009 taxes:

1. Windows/Doors: $200 for our Pella Windows and $500 for our doors = $700

2. Our DaVinci composite slate roof = $500

3. Our spray foam insulation from Atlas = $500

4. Our Geothermal Heat and AC System = $1750 state (max) and approximately 30% of our cost which looks to be totalling around $100k, so that is $33k in tax credits we get to apply in coming years.

5. We get $500 for an ENERGY STAR appliance.

Considering we owe on our taxes annually this is a significant benefit to us. There’s money on the table for everyone right now, and you still have three months to have systems and products installed, so take advantage!

 Posted by: KDL | follow me on Twitter: newscaster

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