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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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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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Lobby for Building Stimulus

There’s a great plan put forward by Ed Mazria of Architecture 2030 to use stimulus funds not for public works, where they do not generate additional tax revenue or leverage a lot of jobs, but for energy efficiency measures in private buildings.  Ed originally prposed the challenge to architects and engineers to reduce energy use in new construciton by 50% by the year 2030, hence the title.  This latest proposal is an extension of that, and it makes a lot of sense.   Money used to reduce energy use in homes would allow the mortgage to be renegotiated and for example paid off faster from the savings in utility bills.  Meanwhile a huge amount of jobs would be generated, property values would rise, and the energy security of the country be improved.  Why not go to the website and lend support by clicking to send letters to representatives?

http://www.architecture2030.org//home.html

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Pellet Stoves eligible for federal credits

Contractors and homeowners alike have a reason to warm up to pellet and other biomass-burning fireplaces and stoves. Homeowners may qualify for a federal tax credit of up to $1,500 if they purchase and install a 75-percent efficient wood- or pellet-burning (biomass) stove in 2009 or 2010. Thirty percent of the total cost, including the appliance, installation and piping, can be claimed.

According to the HPBA, pellets burn cleaner than virtually any other biomass fuel and produce low particulate matter. They are made from compacted sawdust, wood chips, bark, agricultural crop waste and other organic materials. Combustion is achieved through an electrically controlled, high-temperature burner with ample oxygen and sufficient burning of gases before they are exhausted.

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Recycled Cherry

Fireplace mantel

Fireplace mantel

We regretted having to cut down two mature black cherry trees on the site to make room for the house.  But having them turned into lumber and using this handsome wood throughout the house was a thrill.  Apart from a whole floor in the main bedroom, I used the wood for trim and built-ins throughout the house.  The mantel shown here is an example;  my carpentry skills may not be very advanced but they suffice for built-ins like this.

The logs had to be cut short enough to fit in the truck available, and taken away to be sawn and kiln-dried.  That took a while , but meanwhile the house was under cosntruction.  Originally I thought of having mobile sawmill come to the site, and then air dry the lumber.  So glad I didn’t.  For one thing, the site is way too small. 

The whole operation was not cheap. But is is a thrill to have ones own wood, especially cherry – and the address of the house is Cherry Street….  Plus it was a good reason to buy myself a new planer and a router, and a better table saw.

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LEED Silver!

I have just been notified – finally – that the house has been certified LEED Silver.  LEED for Homes is the pre-eminent rating system for Green Homes – at least it is currently the most demanding and hardest to satisfy.  To get there, it had to be approved first as Energy Star rated.  In addition to the energy efficiency rating, there are various things that contribute tot the LEED rating. 

I was only aiming for basic LEED certification;  in fact with a little more effort (and some expense) we could have qulaified for Gold certification.  Beyond that is the highest rating, Platinum.  That generally takes some serious money, as well as a house that is significanlty smaller than the average, to achieve.

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