Archive for the ‘Energy Efficiency’ Category

I was at the 2012 Green Build Conference and trade show (http://www.greenbuildexpo.org/expo/for-attendees) this afternoon, looking for products that will help me create longer-lasting, more energy- and resource-efficient—in a word better—buildings.  Better homes for my clients, better construction projects for the contractors, easier-going on the planet.  (It is, after all, the only planet we’ve got).

My goal in searching out new products/systems is, install once and because the best was in the specifications, the callbacks just don’t happen.  Let the other designers and contractors deal with callbacks.  Our goal is to never have them.  Among the questions I ask:  How long has this particular product been in installed use?   How many installations have you sold?  What sorts of certifications can you provide?  What is its installed cost ratio compared with current industry standard?

The expo floor itself was mammoth, more booths than I recall having seen at any construction industry trade show here in San Francisco.  Usually I can cruise the floor, find and stop to learn about the products that will be useful to me and my clients, and be gone in an hour or so.  Today, three hours later (and I am highly efficient and targeted toward what it is I need) I finally made the last important contact that I had in mind and hit the road.

The most exciting product of the day?  Unico low-diameter FAU systems.  (http://www.unicosystem.com/Home/LandingPages/InteractiveHouseMedia.aspx) high-velocity This is a unified system, so your HVAC installer may be resistant at first, but the installed-costs are comparable (according the rep on hand), and the long term savings remarkable.  My suggestion:  visit their website, give them a call, let them sell you on it as they did me.  They work with first-time installers to get the system in right.

Or maybe it was the puncture-proof underslab vapor barrier that sidesteps all the conflicting information about where does it go and how do you keep it intact while your workers lay the rebar grid?   Try Raven Industries VaporBlock 10 (http://ravenefd.com/products/vaporblock/)

Paint-on sound reduction for existing or new gyp board walls?  Low to zero VOC paints?  Reflective exterior paint solutions that reflect up to 30% of the sun’s heat?  A duct-sealing system that fixes only the leaks, done-in-a-day with before-and-after leakage readouts that give the proof.

Ya gotta be a geek about this stuff.  More on all these issues in future posts.

I would suggest that for all those east-coast homes that just took a beating, since you may have to rebuild some of your systems and may have FEMA money to work with, why not look into rebuilding to a standard that will work to the highest level, if the costs are comparable?  Ask them my questions for yourself, or ask your own, see if you are satisfied with the answers.

Disclaimer:  Just because I recommend something here does not mean I warrant any product or system to operate as indicated.  You make the contact, talk to their reps, get the pitches for yourself, and then decided whether you want to have the best, most efficient projects under your name, or if maybe someone else should take that on.


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If every attic in America were insulated to the standards mandated by the state of California, the United States would no longer need to import foreign oil. That is only one measure of the amount of fossil fuel energy wasted nationwide. But energy efficiency is about more that just conservation, it�s about comfort in our homes whatever the weather might be outside them. Innovative concepts like Net-Zero Passive Homes in Germany that have no need of a furnace, or properly insulated homes in Sacramento that have an annual heating/cooling cost of $250/year, are quick examples of energy-efficiency that involves no unusual construction practices or expenses. With a photovoltaic array and a solar water-heater on your roof, you can say goodbye to utility bills. And if we can collectively reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases, we may yet save the polar icecaps.

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The Passive House is the future of homebuilding. It’s not the same as the passive solar concept from the seventies, but it’s not new. It’s a design system that is just starting to come into its own. Imagine this: a house that is so well built that it doesn’t need a heating system.

That’s right. Does not need a heater, no matter how cold the climate might be. From Fairbanks to Foster City, from Tahoe to Tiburon, every single new home that is in the planning stages right now can be designed using the Passive Home principles that have already been created. Over the last twenty years thousands of these homes have been built throughout the European Union, most of them in Germany and Sweden, where the winters get cold enough to put the design principles to a real-time test.

In recent legislation, the European Union has mandated that ALL new homes, and ALL renovations, meet the Passive Home standard. That is to say, by 2020, every single 2000 sf home on the drawing board will be so well built that its entire heating demand, even on the coldest day of winter, can be met with a hair dryer. That’s right, an ordinary hand-held hair dryer.

There is nothing magic about this, nothing unduly expensive or complicated except getting builders and designers to pay really close attention to certain details of construction. The essence of Passive Design is in very the well though-out and executed sealing air barrier between the interior and the exterior, including flawless insulation of the foundation, walls and roof.

There is more to it, of course. A perfectly sealed house needs a carefully designed ventilation system, one that transfers heat from exhausted air to incoming air, so there needs to be a “heat recovery ventilator” (HRV) installed. Sure, this equipment costs money, about the same as the heating system that you now don’t need to install. But, think of it: for the entire lifespan of the house, there will be no heating bill.

There are new insulating materials and wonderfully airtight windows available that make the Passive Home possible. They don’t have to add significantly to the cost of construction for a well-built home. The real difference is in the attention to certain details in the design and construction phase. The hard part might be in changing business-as-usual in the construction industry, by holding each segment of the industry to a higher professional standard. The results can be astounding. Think of it: NO HEATING BILL. End of story, at least, it could be. For more information, check the website http://www.passivehouse.us/ or ask your building designer about it. The future is already here.

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“Things are not getting better. In fact, they are actually getting worse. From 1990 to 1999, global carbon dioxide emissions increased at a rate of 1.1% per year. Then everyone started talking about Kyoto, so we buckled up our belts, got serious, and we showed ’em what we could do: In the years 2000 to 2006, we TRIPLED the rate of global carbon dioxide emission increases, to an average increase of over 3 percent a year! That’ll show ’em we mean business! Hey, look what we can do when we’re serious–we can emit even more carbon faster.” (Nate Lewis, California Institute of Technology, quoted (page 214) in “Hot, Flat, and Crowded” by Thomas L. Friedman)

“Hot, Flat, and Crowded” is the book to read, if you want a deep look into everything that is driving the increase in global energy use and carbon emission. Not a pretty picture, and the choices involve–oh my God!–using less energy, not more. Mostly by being smarter in how we go about it.

Don’t expect your governments to be much help, as long as their decisions are driven by industry lobbyists instead of common sense. Let’s hope Copenhagen’s success doesn’t match Kyoto’s.

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Why Green? Why Now?

Sometimes it may seem that everywhere you look in the media–now more than ever before–there is some reference to “eco-consciousness” and “green building”. “Global warming” seems to be on everyone’s mind. Rising energy costs hit us all in the pocketbook last year. All of it is news, but the real news, while not as compelling, was made in Sacramento with the passage of “AB32” in 2006. This legislation, the first of its kind in the US, targeted emission reductions from greenhouse gas sources via regulations, market mechanisms and other actions.

The specifics of regulation, at least concerning building and development policies, are best left in the hands of local governments, and local governments all over the Bay Area are taking action. From San Rafael to San Jose, fifteen cities and counties have adopted building policies mandating energy- and resource-efficient design for new construction. More local jurisdictions are jumping on board all the time. Pacifica is considering its own green building ordinance right now, with a goal of formal adoption by late summer 2009.

Keep in mind, “green” is a very big word in this context. It is overused and misused to the point that its true value as a concept has become blurred. BuildItGreen.org, one of the main proponents of this “new” idea, sets out five principles, all of which must be incorporated into residential building design. Energy-efficiency and resource management are two everyone knows. Water conservation is a big issue, but so are healthy homes (indoor air quality), and each homes place in a well-designed community. Taken all together, these principles incorporated into our housing concepts today, will help make a better world for tomorrow.

This column is the first of a series that will help explain “Green Building”, and show how greener, healthier homes can be built or remodeled using simple principles and basic materials, at little or no extra cost.

© 2009 David Hirzel

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