We’ve moved

I’ve relocated to the warm humid south – to Florida to be exact. So haven’t kept up this blog about Green Building and will likely discontinue it. Partly because, much as I’d like to be, I’m not really doing anything practical in sustainable building, and partly because this blog was mainly about my LEED Silver certified house in Media, PA. So that house is sold, though I hope the new owners will still be amenable to showing it for open house tours etc.
Sustainable building is still really important, just that it’s a different ballgame her in Florida. Lots of sun for example but where are all those solar collectors and solar panels?
I have a new blog called Greensense, to look at some background issues around the logic and theory of sustainability.http://greenbau.blogspot.com/

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THE PYRAMID of Conservation… IS A BASIC SHAPE…

This is a good general guide to the logical steps in making a home more energy efficient. It starts off with knowledge, knowing what you are doing and why does seem like a good idea. Above that are a bunch of things that are free, mainly lifestyle changes. then we go for the very inexpensive things. Notice that in a logical world (where’s that again ?) The complex and expensive things, like solar electric, are the final tip, after all the measures with better payback have been addressed.
This diagram is only about Energy. Water conservation could also be slipped in there, somewhere around the level of appliances.
thanks to Chris Martin for finding this.

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Smart Appliances – dumb consumers

Dishwasher Control Panel

Control Panel of Dishwasher

It was hard to find a model of dishwasher that had an option for heating water or not.

The electric element at the bottom of most or all residential dishwashers heats the water to a predetermined temperature to make for a more effective wash. I wanted to be able to control this feature. It is cheaper to heat water in the gas water heater than with electricity, and for many washes our water is hot enough out of the tap. But very few models let you have any control over it – it will just turn on and heat the water while you are blissfully unaware, or at least unable to do anything about it.
I was able to find this model with an optional Added Heat button (I think its discontinued now) So I run the water hot out of the faucet, or run the dishwasher when we’ve already been running hot water for pans etc,. and forgo the electric resistance heat.
With the stainless steel interior it’s also an amazingly quiet machine an dries dishes very well with no heat for that either.
We should definitely be able to control our machines an the amount of energy they use. Unfortunately the trend always seems to be in the opposite direction

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Smart Appliances – the future

When we have smart appliances...

We are going to have smart appliances that will save energy (or even it out and save us a little money) by ‘talking’ to the smart grid and fine tune electrical consumption

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Hooray for the Vestibule

Entry Vestibule


A flip-up seat makes it easier to change shoes


The house has an entry space, a vestibule that serves several functions. In cold weather, closing the inner door helps to keep the heat in when people go in and out.
It’s a privacy barrier on occasion if unknown or unwelcome people come to the door.
It’s a place to take off wet or dirty shoes; and the tile floor can stand to have wet shoes, umbrellas and the like put on it. The little seat folds up against the wall. Its useful to sit on or just rest your foot on, to make it easier to put shoes on. To further encourage the inhabitants to take off outdoor shoes, there is a built in shoe store, which can be seen behind. Like all the custom millwork I made for the house, the seat and the closet door are made from the cherry wood harvested from the trees that formerly grew on the site.
Having a way to help prevent dirt from being tracked into the house is part of the Green agenda.

Cabinet showing house construciton, and LEED Certification diploma


There is also a little display that shows part of the wall construction, with the closed cell rigid foam insulation, the certified wood framing, and low-VOC products. Alongside are the Energy Star information and the LEDD for Homes Silver certification

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Those Phantom Loads

We often hear about how all the little chargers and electrical converters for our numerous gadgets waste electricity. The total amount of energy wasted by these always-on or always-plugged-in gizmos, throughout the world, must indeed be a lot. I tend to obsess with wastage like this so thought I would check it out in my Green house…

Temperature reading, kitchen wall


One way to get a rough idea of the scale of energy wastage is to look at the temperature. More electricity flowing, more heat given off. I use an infra red thermometer. You aim it at the surface, aided by the laser spots that shows the center of the area measured, press the button, and it shows the surface temperature. It’s good for many things such as finding cold spots on exterior walls.
In the first picture the plain wall has a temperature of 63.3 (its a cold day).

Temperature reading, stove control panel, no cooking


The second picture shows the temperature of the control panel on the gas stove. No cooking had been done for a long time, since the day before, but the temperature is appreciably higher, showing that electricity is being wasted even by this appliance that does not have an obvious ‘always on’ charger. But it has a clock and the controls are ready to spring into action, so there has to be electricity.

Temperature of portable phone charger.

Then I looked at the most obvious culprit, or at least the wall device that gets the hottest. This is the wall charger for the portable phone; it’s a whopping 95 degrees. And the charging cradle and the phone itself get warm, so there’s some electricity flowing through here.
To put this in perspective, though, I am measuring that outlet’s electricity use with a Kill A Watt meter, a neat little device that enables you to check the consumption of any individual device. In 330 hours, nearly two weeks, this used 1 kWh (kilowatt hour) of electricity, for a cost of $0.16. Well it certainly would be better to save $0.30 – 0.35 a month, but in the scheme of things this is not a major culprit. We can do more by turning off lights, not having the refrigerator cooler than necessary and making sure its seals are good and the coils clean. And by turning off the computers and internet router when not needed.

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High Efficiency Furnace – Repairing the Pump

A small condensate pump


It’s obviously more sustainable to repair something, such as a piece of equipment – so long as it can perform efficiently -, rather than throw it away and replace it. So when a condensate pump at a duplex we own broke, this time I took the time to look for the problem and repair it, rather than heading off to Home Depot or wherever and buying a new one. These pumps are needed for high efficiency gas furnaces and boilers. The high efficiency means that a lot of the heat is captured from the burning gas before the exhaust fumes go out of the flue. That means that the exhaust is as cool as it can be, having given up a lot of heat. And that means that moisture condenses out of the exhaust as it cools. that moisture runs out of the equipment as water, which has to be piped to a drain. So these little pumps are often at the side on or near the floor. The pump collects the water as it drips out, then when the little reservoir fills up, the pump turns on and swoosh! the water is pumped up a little clear plastic drain tube.
So on this occasion, I found that the plastic float was partly full of water. With water in it, it’s not going to float, so it’s not going to turn on the pump motor as the water rises. The water keeps on dripping, keeps on rising, and spills out over the basement floor. I could have been wasting my time – conventional wisdom would just buy a new pump for $50-$60. In fact I was fairly easily able to open the float, empty it, seal it up again and put the works back together. Having dealt with a few of these babies I am now familiar with how they work. The total time it took was probably no more than it would have taken me to drive to the store and back.
In this case, re-use and not throwing away was a winner. For now at least.

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