Friday, December 26, 2008

Re-BUILDING America

Over the past few weeks, several articles have addressed subjects ranging from how to fix our country, the economy and our environment. Many suggest it is necessary to infuse a great deal of tax dollars into research and development. Other support an additional tax system to encourage more viable energy sources. With so many theories and strategies, each approach offers a different solution and fits a different agenda. The real question is how does this affect housing and future of the industry.

On
Green Building Law Blog, Shari suggested that an increase in the Gas Tax is necessary to ensure the development of alternative energy sources. You can read my comments on her blog. To sum up my thoughts, increasing the gas tax to ensure gas prices remain high enough to make alternative energy viable is the wrong answer. Gas companies will be less likely to drop prices, in spite of the price of oil, and will reap the benefits in profits. For housing, this will continue to increase the cost to build through higher freight costs and fuel surcharges from contractors. The new alternative energy sources, while important to long term viability, will have little short-term impact on housing.

The right solution is for companies to continue to develop energy sources that are viable and cost effective. Necessity is the mother of invention. As a nation, we are in need of viable, affordable energy. This might require new technologies, new building methodology, something different to make new sources work for housing in the future. This opens a new opportunity to build homes better suited to newer technologies (i.e. –
Window Solar Panels). Evolving technologies will bring a new wave of both new construction and remodel work to encourage growth and alternative energy sources.

In another article in the
New York Times, Columnist Thomas Friedman suggested we are not in need of a bailout, but a reboot. His comments are pointed at a very important issue we face. As a nation, we have lost our ingenuity. We are consumed with making money through a life of ease, not through work and invention. As a country we seemed to have lost our edge when it comes to new technologies and implementation of those technologies (implementation is the key).

The housing industry is no exception. As an industry, housing has always been slow to change and take up new technologies. Homes today are built much as they were 20 years ago. Even with changes in technologies to improve windows, housewrap, insulation, or lighting fixtures, most homes are still using technologies developed more than 20 years ago. Some manufacturers are implementing better methods to make old products, but the underlying products are the same. Most homebuilder do not begin to change until a code changes, a forward thinking owner takes charge or market conditions force a change to keep pace with the industry.


As an industry, we are at a crossroads where market conditions are forcing many builders to think and act beyond the code requirements. Green building is the next evolution and, as homebuilders, we are only on the first step of our journey. Over the next decade, homes will see dramatic changes and builders who change early will be better prepared for these changes.


As Mr. Friedman put it, we need to “
stimulate the private sector to catalyze new industries and new markets.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Shades of Green

Please visit my article posted on EcoHome Magazine. Thank to @KTOM17(twitter for you non-tweets) for all her help on getting this article on their site. I will post follow-ups to this article in the future here on my blog.

http://www.ecohomemagazine.com/news/guest-commentary-shades-of-green.aspx

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Green Your Home – Appliances & Maintenance

I finished up a few lingering items this weekend. Some would be considered typical maintenance items, and others are bigger items. So, without further adieu.

About 2 weeks ago, my wife asked me about the warranty on our dryer. It was taking progressively longer and longer to completely dry a load of clothes. So, this past weekend, I pulled out the dryer to check the vent pipe. With the dryer out and the pipe disconnect, I quickly saw the problem: a blocked vent.

This is an issue for several reasons.

  • First, it is a fire hazard. Lint in the pipe prevents hot exhaust from escaping and can potentially heat up and catch fire.
  • Second, it reduces the efficiency of the dryer and can take 2-3 times longer to dry clothes, utilizing a lot more energy.
  • Third, the long term effects on the dryer could cause damage to internal parts and shorten the lifespan of the dryer.
To correct the problem, I began by disconnecting the pipe from the wall outlet. The outlet promptly fell out of the wall, indicating the pipe was not properly installed in the first place. So, I removed the pipe and cleaned out the cover and the surrounding wall cavity. Replacing the items was a little more complicated.

For starters, with the dryer moved, I would probably have been divorced if I didn’t thoroughly clean the area behind the dryer before replacing it. So, a tip for the married gentlemen out there, completely remove old lint, socks, etc that have fallen behind the washer & dryer. Next, using UL181 foil tape, make any repairs to the outlet to ensure a proper seal. Reconnect both ends of the pipe and move the dryer back into place. If you have a side outlet, like the picture, I recommend installing a 90 at the dryer outlet instead of turning the flexible pipe.

The water heater in your home, unless you have upgraded to a tankless alternative, should be maintained once a year. Typically, this consists of connecting a hose to the spigot, located and bottom of the tank, and draining the tank. As water is heated, minerals free themselves from the water molecules and collect at the bottom of the tank. Over time, this can reduce the efficiency of the heating element and can reduce the amount of water heated in the tank.

By draining the tank, you allow the minerals to leave the tank and maintain efficiency. If you are concerned about the water you are wasting, drain it at a time of year when you can allow the tank to cool off and use the water on plants in the yard. You can also use this time to add insulation to the tank to reduce heat lose.

Replacing HVAC filters is a vital part of maintaining your furnace and A/C system. There are many options as to the filters you can purchase. More efficient filters can cause your blower to work to hard, reducing the efficiency of the fan. Less efficient filters will work against indoor air quality. There are also washable filters that do not have to be replaced, just washed as needed.

Replace filters per the packaging. More efficient filters boast a longer life. Typical filters should be replaced every 30 days. Washable filters should be washed monthly, unless otherwise specified by the manufacturer. If your filter cover starts to show signs of dust build-up, it has probably been to long since you replaced it.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Green Through Sustainable Store

Often, greening you home is not always about buying the greenest products available. Sometime it is buying products from sources that find a home for unused or excess products that still have a useful life. For clothing and home d├ęcor you can check your local Goodwill, Salvation Army, Deseret Industries or any number of local thrift stores. For construction materials, there is no better place then your local ReStore by Habitat for Humanity.

Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit, Christian organization dedicated to providing safe, affordable housing to families in need ready to make a change in their life. Habitat is dependent on the generosity of people like you and me to help move their cause forward. One way this is done is through local ReStores. A ReStore is a store that accepts donations from individuals and organizations and sells them to generate capital for home construction. Accepted donations include construction materials and home furnishings.

I visited my local store this week in Williamson County, Tennessee. The store is a great place to find many products that are new, still in the original package. From plumbing supplies to trim, and paint to cabinets, there are many great items available to improve your home at a discounted rate. Local builders will donate excess materials from jobsites that might otherwise find their way to a landfill or recycling center. By purchasing these items from a ReStore you are supporting a great cause and utilizing products that might otherwise go unused.

Visit the ReStore online to find your local store at: http://www.habitat.org/env/restores.aspx.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Green Your Home – Sealing Doors, Windows and other openings

I have worked my way though more than half of my list and am getting a lot closer to a more energy efficient home. This article will focus on eliminating air leakage from the home to the outside/unconditioned space. We will start at the front door and work our way around the exterior of the home.

The front door can be a huge leak factor for the home. In my earlier list, I shared that door seals and sweeps are great place to find energy leakage. Looking at my front door I saw two immediate problems that needed correction: 1. Light was visible around the door where the door seals meet with the door; 2. The door sweep is falling apart. Both are easy to correct as it only requires replacing these items. When cutting the seals to fit, be careful not to cut them too short (this is why my door seals needed replacement).

For the sweep, if you are unsure what type of sweep to purchase, the u-shaped type is univer
sal and can be installed on any standard width door. You can also purchase sweeps and seals that install on the door frame or the face of the door. A combination of these products will suffice if you cannot find seals and sweeps that match your door configuration.

Over time, cau
lking around windows will begin to crack, causing a potential area for leaks. Whether your home is Energy Star certified or not, this is a common maintenance item that needs to be completed by every homeowner. Simply remove any caulk that is cracked with a razor blade (this allows for a clean surface for the new caulk to adhere) and replace with either an elastomeric latex or silicone caulk. Some touch up paint might be required depending on how cleanly you can add the caulk and how much you needed to remove.

The next source of leakage are your outlets and switches. Any electrical box on an exterior wall needs to be sealed to prevent air leakage. Because it is cost prohibitive to check the housewrap (exterior water & air barrier), as brick or siding removal is required, it is more cost effective to seal the interior of the home against air loss (if you have a water leak, consult a professional for proper correction). Two methods exist to seal these openings: 1. Caulk the electrical box to the drywall; 2. Install foam gaskets under the cover plate (both pictured here).

As a general note, it is not recommended to caulk any cover plates to the wall, electrical or HVAC. If you ever need to service that outlet, you will need to remove the cover plate. It is also not as effective as sealing to the drywall at the junction box.

The last openings are in your floors and ceilings, the HVAC outlets. At every vent, a boot passes through the floor or the drywall. Unless properly sealed, a lot of air can be lost at this location. To correctly seal these, start by removing the grill and inspect the current connection. With the grill off, you can then caulk the boot to the drywall or subfloor and replace the grill. Again, we are not trying to stop airflow around the grill, but back through the drywall or subfloor, so always seal the boot, not the grill.
When building an Energy Star/Green home, all of these methods are common construction techniques to obtain these ratings. By retrofitting your home using these methods, you are taking one step closer to a more efficient home.

If you have any questions or comments, please post them, or email me directly at: thegreendecoder@me.com.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

'Tis the Season

Breaking from the normal tradition of my blog, I think it is appropriate to share a few thoughts about the season ahead. Only one day into the holiday season and my thoughts are returning to seasons past. In many ways, the current economic climate reminds me of the most memorable Christmas of my childhood.

Christmas was always a special time in my home. As one of 7 children, we always had holiday activities and anticipation for Christmas morning. One year, money was very tight and in preparation for the holidays, my parents explained we would have a very different Christmas. We still had a tree with decorations, parties at school and church, and a holiday filled with songs and stories, however, instead of the typical presents, my parents gave Christmas gifts I will never forget. Next to the needed clothes and a small trinket, where a number of unusual gifts. As I opened each gift, I found not toys, games and books, but rice, pasta, flour and salt. My parents had the foresight to buy the things for our family that we needed, not just the many things we wanted.

Over the years, other Christmases brought many wonderful, beautiful, expensive gifts, but the one I remember most was this one. We moved back to the basics and found time together as a family. Years later, I saw the great love my parents had for our family because they did what we needed and not what was popular for Christmas.

As a country, we face economic trials like most have never seen. Many are unemployed or underemployed. Many are struggling to keep their homes. With so many challenges, we should all look to simplify the season, whether comfortable or struggling. Here is a list of little things we can do this year to simplify our lives and remember the meaning of the Season:

  • Give what is needed – Instead of spending on the many things you want for the season, look to the things you need. Improve your home through energy efficient upgrades. Give to an organization helping others. Avoid debt by resisting the urge to buy fad toys that will be forgotten tomorrow.
  • Spend time with your family – Create lasting memories while working with your family. Teach them a new skill: Cooking in the Kitchen, Playing the Piano, Improving your Home, or Building something together. One year for my son’s birthday, I built a small toy box with scrap lumber and trim from previous projects. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to spend time together as a family.
  • Give of your time – Volunteer with your children. Every year I hear stories of families that worked in a soup kitchen, handed out food and gifts to the needy, or donated time at their church or shelter. Become a “Secret Santa” family and anonymously take small gifts to someone who has made a difference in your life. Make the season about others and it will return to you 10-fold.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or nothing at all, simplify the season, give of yourself and your time, and find opportunities to be green.

A few places to visit to give this holiday season:
http://www.youthencouragement.org/
http://www.salvationarmyusa.org/
http://angeltree.com
http://www.ehow.com/how_10120_donate-food-soup.html
http://www.shareittoday.org/index.cfm

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Green Your Home – Crawl Space & Attic (Part 3)

On Monday, I inspected my crawlspace because of a mouse problem. When I was in the crawl space, I found an incomplete repair of the HVAC system. From the builder, I learned after closing there had been a problem with a duck in the crawlspace that died in the ductwork and was eventually removed and damaged items were “repaired”. When I did the inspection for the mouse problem, I found uncorrected damage, pictured here.

So, with a couple of assistants out of school for the week (my 7 and 5 year olds), we took our supplies and went under the house. Upon further inspection and preparation, we also found a disconnected duct to the utility room, an area always difficult to heat and cool since it was not getting any air. So, we set to work on the two repairs. First the hole, then the disconnected duct.

To fix the hole in the trunk line, I began by covering the entire hole with foil tape (UL 181 tape, the same type used for Energy Star Homes). With the hole covered, I wrapped the trunk line, including a previous repair, with duct insulation and completed with foil tape to secure it to the trunk line and seal off any holes/leaks.

The disconnected duct was easily repaired as well. After cutting the end of each line, the two ends fit more closely together. With the foil tape and a little maneuvering, the two lines came nicely together. As I was completing the repair, the air turned on in the house and I was able to check the reconnected line for leaks. While checking, I noticed several other ducts where the duct tape had deteriorated enough to allow air to freely flow from the seams. I resealed those with foil tape as well (if I had mastic – a sticky sealant that will seal the lines air tight – it would have been an easier fix).

After a few more tests and cleanup below the house, the crawlspace was as good as new and will be a little cooler next time I go down there.

I also completed the insulating foam on the attic stair. This will reduce the amount of air loss around this opening.

Next article will discuss indoor sealing techniques.

Green Your Home – Preparation (Part 2)

The list is complete, so it is time for a trip to my local Home Depot. I spent about an hour at the store recording items, alternatives, costs, etc. I quickly found that with less than $100 I could do most of the work that needs to be done on my home. You can also do your shopping online, if you so desire, to save the time driving to and walking around the store, although some items are not available online at HomeDepot.com.

The items I purchased are as follows:

Great Stuff Gaps & Cracks – This is expanding foam that can be used in any openings, holes, and cracks in the exterior shell of you home. Be careful where you us it because it will expand. Great Stuff should not be used around window frames, as it will affect the opening and closing of windows by pushing on the frame. This is great for any holes not filled in from electrical or plumbing lines entering the crawl space, garage or attic. [Price: $4.98/can]
Caulking & Sealants – I found two products I like for this. DAP makes an
Elastomeric Latex sealant which will stretch with the moving and settling of you home. [Price: $3.37/Tube] You can also purchase GE Silicone II Window & Door. [Price: $5.82] Some people swear by silicone and prefer it to any other sealants on the market. It will cost a little more, but provides the peace of mind it is silicone. Personally, I prefer latex because it is easier to paint after it dries. I buy this product by the case and use it for a number of projects around the house.
Rubber Foam Weatherseal – It comes in a number of sizes depending on the application (I purchased ¾”x5/16”x10’). This can be used to seal any doors, whether to unconditioned space or an unused room/closet which will not be heated. Simply apply to the frame where the door will close and you have a better seal against airflow. [Price: $2.88]

Replacement Door Seals – Most entry doors have weatherstipping that can be removed and replaced. This product will breakdown overtime allowing both air and, eventually, little critters (bugs and spider) easy access to your home. [Price: 3.99/strip]
Replacement Door Sweep – This product attaches to the bottom of your door and serves a similar purpose as the above Door Seals. Many types are available. If you know the slot configuration on the bottom of your door you can purchase a door specific replacement to match your current sweep. [Price: $8.99] There is also a U-shaped Sweep which will fit all standard doors. It attaches around the base of the door. [Price: $9.47]

Duct Insulation – For un-insulated or damaged insulation, you can install new insulation very easily, provided you have access to the ducts. Several versions are available (I purchased foil faced 12”x2”x15’). I recommend foil faced as it provides the best insulated value. [Price: $10.97]
UL181 Duct Tape – Different from typical duct tape, this is a foil tape specially designed to not breakdown overtime, or with heat/cold, as typical duct tape will. This product is used to seal any seams, gaps or tears in duct lines. [Price: $14.75/Roll]
Air Filters – Replacement filters are important to the overall performance of your system. I will not go into great detail here as filters can be a discussion all of there own.

Your overall cost will vary depending on how much you purchase and what you need for your home. The associates at Home Depot were very helpful, so when in doubt ask for assistance.

Now the work can begin. Stay tuned as I bring you pictures, tips and tricks to using these products effectively in Greening your Home.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Green Your Home - The Audit (Part 1)

A couple of weeks ago, I shared some tips to prepare your home and property for the winter. As I worked through some of those steps on my own home, I realized doing a “green inspection” on my home would help identify keys areas to help me go green. So, I set to work making a list of items that affect the energy efficiency of my home, without completely rebuilding or breaking the bank.

This is the first article in a series. Over the next few posts, I will share with you my own experience of inspecting, planning and completing steps to make my home more energy, resource and water efficient. I will also share the cost of doing the work yourself, purchasing the products at Home Depot, not through construction industry contacts. The Home Depot has been very beneficial in my research, as shown in other posts.

To the list, and steps taken to make that list.

1. Front Door Insulation – While my front door could be better, that is an expense I am not prepared for today. However, standing back and looking around the door, I realized I could see small areas of light where the weather-strip was damaged, missing or cut short.
2. Outlets and Switches – I have about 40 switches and outlets on the exterior walls of my home. On cold nights, these electrical outlets are perceptible colder then the rest of the wall and allow energy loss.
3. Windows – While most of my windows are sealed fairly well, there are areas around several windows where the caulking has cracked and needs to be replaced.
4. HVAC Ducts & Openings – In both the floors and ceilings, the duct boots are not sealed to the plywood or the drywall. Upon further inspection, some ductwork is need of re-sealing in the attic and crawlspace.
5. Attic Access – There is no weather-stripping or other seals in place to reduce air-leakage at the access.
6. Filters – My filters are in much need of replacement.
7. Toilets & Faucets – All toilet tanks are filling above the fill line and utilizing more water then needed. Faucets and showerheads are standard fixtures.
8. Exhaust Fans – Fans are installed, but not working properly or drawing enough air to properly ventilate bathrooms following a shower.

For informational purposes, several energy saving items have already been built into my home or replaced previous to this audit. Most of the incandescent lights have already been replaced. Programmable thermostats are also in use to save energy in heating and cooling. Where applicable, ENERGY STAR appliances are also installed in the home.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Where to look for information

I have been asked recently, how do I stay up-to-date and gather pertinent information about green. Thanks to a number of online resources, product research and personal experience, I have learned about green and am able to share the knowledge with you, the readers. Over the past few weeks I have broadened my reading and research to include a number of new sources. I have also added a number of websites to my blog. I will share with you a few of my favorites.

EcoHome Magazine is a business periodical for the construction industry giving news specific to the construction industry on green building practices and projects that qualify as green across the country. Work is timely and keeps you informed about the changing trends in the construction industry.

eBuild is also a business publication which provides information about new, innovative products for the construction industry. If you like you home to be cutting edge, this is the place to go and ready about the new trends and products available. Filled with great reviews, tips and green ideas, don't miss an issue of this great publication.

Everyone knows The Home Depot, but did you know they post a number of quick how-to's and instructional videos to green your home and your life (if you read my last entry you would know that already). This has been a good resource online to do research, and as I visit the stores to see the products and determine what will work in my life and home.

Earth Promise is a fun place to learn about what others are doing to be more green. Create an account and you can commit to do something new, change something in your life to be more green and make new friends who are doing the same.

All links are in my Sites/Blog of Interest list. Happy reading and come back often to see what else I am looking at.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Greener methods to winterize your home

Preparing for winter can mean a number of things. For some it is pulling out your winter clothes and determining what you need to buy to fix your wardrobe for the season. For those that are financially fortunate, winter means closing up your home and migrating south for the winter. For the rest of us, it is preparing our home, landscaping and property to weather the winter months ahead. The following list is some ideas to winterize your home and property for the months ahead:

Winterize your yard

  • Plant for the spring – Many spring flowers require planting in the fall so they will beautify your yard in the spring. Visit your local Nursery or home improvement center for more information and types for planning a beautiful yard in the spring.
  • Prepare you lawn for winter – It is getting late in the season to over-seed with a winter grass, like rye. If you still plan to do so, visit your local garden center to learn the best techniques to be successful. Otherwise, be sure to remove any weeds before the end of the season to help prevent more weeds in the spring. Aerating your lawn is still a great idea to allow more moisture into the ground in the spring. For more tips on lawn care visit: http://landscaping.about.com/cs/lawns/a/fall_lawns.htm
  • Hoses and other watering tools – All hoses should be disconnected from the hose bib, drained and stored for the winter. If you do not have frost-free faucets, protect your pipes from freezing through a shut-off valve or hose-bib cover.
  • Winterize sprinkler system – Sprinklers are not buried deep enough to withstand freezing temperatures during the winter. Contact a reputable landscaper in your area to flush the lines with are and shut-off valves to prevent damage to pipes through the winter.
  • Fertilizers – There are many opinions on fertilizing for the winter. If you are using a chemical fertilizer, use a balanced formula to help your lawn recover in the spring. Organic fertilizers are becoming more readily available and are a great option if you want to protect your family from harmful chemicals. Most organics are specified for the spring or fall. Check with your local nursery, or order from one of many sources online. (http://www.groworganic.com/browse_fertilizer.html)
  • More tips for your yard: http://landscaping.about.com/cs/lawns/a/fall_lawn_care.htm

Check your HVAC System – Typically overlooked by many (I have been guilty of this in the past), getting a system check on your furnace can ensure a warm home for the winter. The cost is minimal, $100-150 for your home and the value is huge. Many companies offer maintenance agreements that cover both a spring and fall checkup (i.e: http://www.greentrucks.com/max-maintenance.html). Routine maintenance can ensure your system is working properly and keep you warm throughout the winter. Be sure to change your filters each month – this not only improves air quality, but uses less electricity as your fans will not have to work as hard to move the air.

Install a programmable thermostats – Most homes are vacant for the majority of the day. You can purchase inexpensive programmable thermostats at any hardware store and program the system to setback when you are routinely away from home, during the day and on weekends. Honeywell offers an online wizard to help you program some thermostat models: http://yourhome.honeywell.com/yourhome/Applications/Wizard/Wizard.aspx. Set the thermostat low if you do not use most rooms in your home and use efficient space heaters or fireplaces to stay heat the rooms you use to a more comfortable level. (Visit: http://yourhome.honeywell.com/Consumer/Cultures/en-US/Products/Thermostats/Default.htm for thermostats or http://www.edenpurestore.com/ or http://www.vornado.com/ for more information on space heaters)

Check doors and windows for cracked caulking and leaks – Doors and windows are the primary sources of heat loss in the winter. Look for gaps around windows where caulking has cracked allowing air to enter and escape the home. Look at the weather-stripping (sides, top and the sweep below) on your doors and replace it if it allows air and light to pass through. Keeping blinds and curtains open during the day, to allow the sun to heat your home, and closed at night to insulate from the cold will make a big difference in your comfort and energy bills. Visit the Home Depot for more information: http://www.homedepot.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ContentView?pn=SF_MS_KH_Seal_Your_Home&langId=-1&storeId=10051&catalogId=10053

Monday, November 10, 2008

Musing on Green

In media, various definitions exist and we will explore some of those definitions here.

At the simplest level, green has been adopted as a symbol of environmentalism and social justice.[1] Green products surface all over, each claiming to be environmentally responsible, recycled, energy efficient or all of the above. Green has been added to logos, corporate symbols and ad campaigns to show the world a company’s commitment to the environment and the planet.

In some industries, Green is a symbol of environmental responsibility and eco-friendly practices. Not only can you find products in abundance, but you can also find numerous companies in the wings waiting to show you the path to green for a fee. Going Green is not only about the environmental impact, but it also speaks of the money to be made as companies go green or the dollars saved by consumers who make an efficient choice which leads to savings in energy, materials or other resources.

Green has become synonymous with sustainability, which is to utilize products that are recycled, recyclable or permanently viable. Sustainability permeates beyond products and includes businesses contributing to “an equitable and ecologically sustainable economy.”[2] The impact of product reuse and recycling demonstrates many companies commitments to a growing need to, if nothing else, appear concerned about the environment.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Welcome...

Welcome from The Green Decoder. I have spent the last two years sorting through and deciphering what is Green and how does it really work in the home building world. There are many resources available on the internet, each claiming to have all the answers. While I am not sure anyone has all the answers, I do know how a lot of what is out there truly works in the real world.

I recently came across a blog called The Lazy Environmentalist. While I am not sure I completely agree with the title, the premise of his blog is very mainstream, yet not popular in the media. Most people want to be responsible, but they do not want to interrupt there lives. Here we will explore the options to make your world green and still do the things you love.

Come back often, ask questions and share your own experiences. I look forward to hearing from you!