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 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

Green Building Perspectives: National Lumber Company

national-lumber-logo1Green Life Smart Life is sourcing lumber, as well as exterior and interior building materials, from one of the most environmentally-conscious companies in the field, National Lumber Co. of Mansfield, Mass. You can read about National Lumber’s green initiatives here.

We spoke with Mike McDole, National Lumber’s vice president of sales, to learn what he thinks of our project, as well as green’s overall impact on his company’s business.

What do you think of the Green Life Smart Life Project to date? What interested National Lumber about the project?

We are very excited to be a part of it. The project has been moving along at a good pace, especially considering it is being built along the Rhode Island coast during winter.

Kudos to Bob Leonard and Mark Lubic of Merchant Construction for doing such a fine job. Credit also has to go to the homeowners, Kim and Joe. They did a tremendous amount of research and pre-planning prior to putting a shovel in the ground, which paid off once construction started. They had multiple pre-construction meetings with Tom Wickham, our Contractor Outside Salesperson covering South County (R.I.), to choose the various green building products they wanted to use in their project. As a result, the building materials were on the job site when needed, which helped keep the job flowing smoothly.

What really attracted us to this unique project, besides the fact that it is in my neighborhood, is that National Lumber is a huge supporter of green building and environmentally-friendly building practices throughout New England. We are a third-generation family-run business, and we care very much about smart building practices in all of the neighborhoods we service. In addition, Kim and Joe’s passion about building an environmentally-friendly home, and their knowledge of green products, also contributed to our extreme interest in this special project.

Where does National Lumber see green building going in the next five years?

It is estimated that green building products and services currently represent about $40 billion, a figure that is estimated to grow to $140 billion in 2013, with $90 billion of that in products alone. Several factors are contributing to this enormous growth. One, the public wants to be more environmentally-friendly. Two, an unprecedented level of government incentives are available. Three, there have been improvements in sustainable materials.

According to the EPA, buildings account for 39.4 percent of the total U.S. energy consumption, with residential structures accounting for 54.6 percent of that total. Also, building construction and demolition account for approximately 136 million tons per year, which is approximately 60 percent of all non-industrial waste generated in the U.S. Americans want to reduce their energy usage and their waste to protect the environment for not only themselves, but for many generations to come.

How is your company evolving to address green building?

National Lumber has been involved in green building practices for approximately five years now. We were the first lumber company in New England to be able to supply FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) Certified Lumber along with the Chain-of-Custody Certificate, which assures that the lumber comes from a responsibly managed forest. Even now, in February 2009, we are one of only four lumberyards in New England with FSC Certification and Chain-of-Custody Certificate; there are currently no lumberyards in Rhode Island with these credentials.

In addition to the lumber, National Lumber partners up with building materials manufacturers who also are interested in green building.  Such manufacturers are Andersen Windows, Marvin Windows, Boise Engineered Wood Products, Huber (Advantech & Zip System), SBC White Cedar Shingles, Owens-Corning Roof Shingles, kitchen cabinet manufacturers and more.   

What challenges does National Lumber face in the evolution of green building?

The biggest challenge, I think, is “green-washing,” which is what corporations do to make themselves and their products look more environmentally-friendly than they really are. Real standards are needed that must be met before a company can call its products “green,” and right now, no real standards have been accepted by the construction industry.  However, a few strong organizations such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), US Green Building Council, and NAHB’s (National Association of Home Builders) Green Building Program are making a difference.

The second-biggest challenge is the fact that it is slightly more expensive to build green. However, I believe that the more green building there is, the cost spread will be reduced over time.

Do you think green building will ever dominate your business?

I don’t think green building will ever “dominate” our business, but I do believe it will continue to become a larger and larger percentage of our overall sales. I certainly could envision green building becoming 25 to 33 percent of our total lumber sales within the next five to seven years, which would certainly be significant.

Anything else you would like to add about the green building market or the Green Life Smart Life project?

We truly appreciate that Kim and Joe picked National Lumber Company to be their supplier of lumber, along with their exterior and interior building materials, on this unique and exciting project. We are very proud to be a part of it.

g Green Design Center

At the beginning of the month I wrote a post about Green Depot, and I thought I would fill you in on another place to check out when greening your pad. g’ Green Design Center is a green building supply showroom and design center. I love to spread the word about these places because I think that they are going to be what makes a significant impact on green living by making green shopping consumer friendly and easy. Sometimes people (myself included) want the work done for them, and making green shopping easier will make the whole movement pick up momentum in my opinion. They have a great website to poke around in and are intent on making green building and design easier for us average Joe’s. Yay! It’s easy to navigate and each product has a description telling you how it works, what it is, and why it’s green. Skimming through their long list of products I was most impressed by all of the building materials available, including kitchen countertops, cabinets, flooring (wood, carpet, and miscellaneous other options), insulation, roofing, deck supplies and windows. When it comes to alternative and renewable energy ‘g’ keeps it local by recruiting contractors and installers from the neighborhood. Yay again! We love local! Building materials aren’t the only thing you’ll find at ‘g’, they also sell wall coverings, HVAC, lighting, home decor and goodies for yourself! All of it eco-friendly. As of right now ‘g’ has one location in Massachusetts, but they are working on expanding (hopefully soon to Lil’ Rhody!). We will definitely keep you posted!

Published by: Ashley (intern)

Today’s Lesson: Compost

Besides interning here at Caster Communications I also work as a receptionist at an insurance company. I asked my co-worker Tracy what I should write a blog about today and she said composting. I’m kind of glad she said that because I have always thought that when I have a house of my own I would like to compost, and now that I think of it, I have no idea how its done. So Tracy, this ones for you… and me… and anyone else who is not in the know.

So what is composting? Well composting consists of turning organic waste into soil by means of decomposition. Recycle Works puts it this way: anything that was once living will decompose. Why is this beneficial? Because while the organic waste is decomposing it leaves nutrients in the resulting soil, which is great for your lawn. It also diverts some of the load that is brought to the dump. Which brings me to my next point…

Why not just throw it in the trash if it can decompose at the dump? Because a compost pile needs oxygen to get the job done. A dump is just more garbage piled on top of garbage with no turnover, causing methane gas which is bad. This post at Sustainablog explains.

How do you compost? Well there seems to be a number of different ways. The most common type of composting is the compost pile which can consist of dumping your organic waste in proper ratios and rotating it, or just dumping your organic waste and waiting. This method can be frustrating if you take the lazier route  because it takes a lot longer to turn to finished compost. A hot compost pile recquires a bit more effort but is faster and the most effective form of composting. By using the correct ratio of materials ( mixed with the right amount of soil and moisture the microbial organisms that consume the materials start to heat up, reaching temperatures of up to 140°F and killing off any weed seeds in the pile. To learn about vermicomposting (worms!) or trench composting (for gardens), check out

I think alot of people assume that they could never maintain a compost pile because of where they live or how busy they are, but there are alot of options to consider whatever your situation may be. Vermicomposting is better for those who live in apartments or where there are several months of winter, and hot pile composting is more for the hard core composter. Another good website to make composting a little easier is

For those who have time and space it seems ridiculous not to compost, there are so many benefits…it adds nutrients to your soil organically, saving your lawn and those who use it (pets and kids) from the chemicals used in other fertilizers. Studies have shown that chemically enhanced fertilizers cause cancer in animals and humans. Not to mention it works better than the chemicals, introducing the microscopic organisms that help aerate the soil and prevent plant disease. Composting also reduces what goes into your trash can by about 30 percent, meaning less trips to the dump and less trash in said dump. Its all around better for us and the planet, and now that I have proved there is no reason to wait until I have my won home I’ll have to get off my lazy rear and start composting.

Published by: Ashley (intern)

Green Depot

I just found a blog post on about Green Depot opening a new store in New York and I’m wondering, when do we get one? This place looks pretty awesome, I poked around the website and now Iwant to completely renovate my living room. The site divvies up its products between commercial and residential and they have everything you might need for fixing up around the house, or starting from scratch. Carpeting, wall paints, heating/cooling, lawn/garden, lighting, wood, cleaning, flooring, the list goes on. When you check out a product there is a brief listing as to why its green, so you’re background check is a little bit easier and they also give a little blurb about the company that makes the product as well as the products uses. Green Depot was founded by Sarah Beatty in 2005 and Carmen Arguelles hopped on to help in 2006. They have stores in Boston, Brooklyn, Greenport, Newark and Philiadelphia, but none in Rhode Island! Hopefully they’re working on that…

Published by: Ashley (intern)

Rethink Your Water Heater

The longer this recession drones on, the more we all should seriously investigate the options available to us in every facet of our lives. This is particularly true in terms of the nature and expense of how we heat, cool and otherwise maintain our homes.

Today, for example, let’s consider water heaters, which you usually don’t notice until they break.

How many homeowners are tired of the same-old, same-old: gas, electric and oil water heaters that not only can be operationally temperamental but also are increasingly expensive to use on a monthly basis.

Personally, I’m intrigued by tankless (on-demand) water heaters and solar water heaters.

In the case of the former, I like that water is heated only when it is needed, as opposed to sitting in a tank on standby and periodically reheating itself just so it’s ready when you turn that hot water knob on your sink. That’s just a lot of needlessly wasteful energy consumption, and a tankless heater would eliminate it. With tankless, you also get the benefit of not losing heat from water just sitting, stored in tank waiting to be used onkly to be re-heated at the time of use.

In the case of the latter, I love the concept of using the sun’s free and freely available energy to heat water rather than continue to fork money over month after month to the oil company and the electric company.

Now, in both of these cases, you’re going to pay more up front than you would for a traditional water heater. But consider how much less you’ll pay going forward on a monthly basis to utilities. And consider how much better solar energy in particular is for the environment. As for those costs, substantial state and federal tax breaks are available for many of these products in many areas, which can really help alleviate the sticker shock you might get when you first explore your tankless and solar options.

I encourage all U.S. homeowners to research this topic. A great example of an average American taking the solar water heater plunge can be found here. As far as info, a good place to start could be this pretty awesome microsite about water heating available from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Keep in mind that, depending on where you live, one particular water heater strategy might be a better idea than another might be.

Good luck, rethink your home energy options, and best wishes for a warm, toasty, prosperous 2009!

Posted by Joe Paone