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.