Friday, January 16, 2009

Define Your Shade – Indoor Air Quality

Last evening, I attending an interesting session with my local chapter of the USGBC. The meeting was an introductory session on LEED for Homes with a great deal of time spent discussing Indoor Air Quality.

Improving indoor air quality is important to the overall health of the occupants. Whether at home, work, church or shopping, the air we breath indoors is often more detrimental to our health because of these wonderfully tight structures that trap all the contaminates, dust, and bacteria inside. Our challenge is to find effective ways to prevent contaminate infiltration and to filter and remove any particulates that end up indoors.

This can be done in a number of ways, but here are a few options:

Burning Fuels
– Unless you are in an all electric home (which is one way to guarantee improved air quality), location and venting of gas fired appliances is critical to indoor air quality. Keep all furnaces and indoor air handlers out of the garage. Any leaks in the ductwork is a potential for car exhaust to enter the system an eventually the home. Install water heaters in the garage when possible. If a furnace or water heater must be installed in conditioned space, place it in a sealed closet with fresh air vents and combustion air vents.

Fireplaces – Wood burning fireplaces can be very inefficient. Installing doors, additional flue dampers, and better seals on the unit will reduce air loss to the outsides as well as reducing smoke and fumes from infiltrating the home. All gas fireplaces should be sealed units, vented to the outside, to prevent adverse affects on you and your family. The best case scenario is to just not install one if it will not be used.

HVAC Installation
– While sealing the ducts and plenums is typically talked about in energy efficiency, it is also vital to indoor air quality. Without properly sealed ducts, the air handler will inevitably draw air from the crawl space, attic, floor system or other unconditioned space into the air you breath. A commonly missed area is the return air duct, especially if building cavities are lined to act as the duct. Ensure proper sealing of all HVAC components.

– Filters are important to the system. The most important advice on filters is simple, replace/clean them regularly. Filters can be an entire discussion on their own and will be covered in another article.

Fans & Exhaust
– Removing air from the house is also important. This can be as simple as a 50cfm fan in each bathroom or as complicated as a whole house fan on automatic timers or a humidistat. If fresh air is added to the house, venting air from the house is vital as well. Fans should always be run after showers, baths or other excessive use of hot water.

– Chemical usage can also affect the air quality. During construction, utilizing products that have no noxious chemicals or low/no VOC sealant/paint. Following closing, encourage homeowners to find alternatives to bleach, ammonia and other chemical based cleaners.

This list is in no way all-inclusive, but it does give you some ideas where to start. As part of a green program, there are many affordable options to ensure better air quality. However, if the homeowner does not use the features, they will do little to improve the overall home health. Many innovative product reviews to come in the near future on this blog, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Define Your Shade – Water Efficiency

Today we are looking at Water Efficiency. By definition, water efficiency is accomplished by completing typical tasks using the least amount of water possible. As with energy efficiency, the idea is not to completely change behavior, but to change the mode in which water is delivered.

In order to reduce the amount of water used, many companies are developing new, viable products that accomplish the same tasks using much less water than their predecessors. Some of these products include:

Dual Flush Toilets
– Unlike a typical toilet, Dual flush units have an innovative system that allows for two different amounts of water based on need. The first flush typically delivers about .8 gallons of water, saving about 1 gallon per flush. The second flush delivers 1.6 gallons, the normal amount of water a typical toilet delivers. In a given day, a family of 4 can save about 20 gallons of water, depending on usage. (Additional Cost ~$70-120 depending on manufacturer and wholesaler)

Low-flow Shower head
– Delivering about 1.75 gallons per minute, technology has dramatically improved over the past few years to deliver the water in such a way as to not feel like you are stepping into mist, as opposed to a shower. Water savings is about 30% over a conventional unit, saving about 20 gallons of water for a family of 4. (Additional Cost ~$20/shower)

Low-Flow Faucets
– Faucets typically flow at about 2.2 gallons per minute. Their slim sister reduces flow to about 1.5 gallons per minute. Side-by-side comparisons show little difference when used by consumers and industry professionals. Water savings will vary greatly depending on your typical usage, for our purposes and to complete the example above, we will use about 10 gallons for our sample family per day. (Some faucet manufacturer include this feature at no cost beginning this year, otherwise about $2/faucet)

Innovative Options
– The list so far are items that will not really change the way in which you use these features in your home. Other options are available, however, to be effective, you must change habits and behaviors. The following is a short list of optional features:

  • Recirculating Pump – delivers hot water immediately eliminating the need to run water for it warm up.
  • Composting Toilets – Waterless toilet system that converts human waste into usable compost/soil.
  • Low-water Irrigation Systems – System that use rain collection systems, non-spray (drip) systems, or special timers and moisture sensors.
  • Specialty Faucets – Motion sensors, shut-off valve or pedal-activated faucets.

In summary, if you implement only the first three items, you average monthly savings for a family of four will be about 1500 gallons of water. Remember this is without changing any behaviors or standards of living.

Next week is the International Builder Show in Las Vegas, NV. During the show, many products will be demonstrated to show the newest technologies to save water and reduce usage. Stay tuned for future product reviews and options to save water.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Shades of Green Blog Launch

I have launched a new blog today, Shades of Green. Different from this blog, Shades will focus more on the Political and Socio-economic issues facing the Green Building movement in our world today. The first article discusses Global Warming and Climate Change.

Here is the Link:

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Define your Shade – Energy Efficiency

Let’s begin by defining efficiency. This is a term that will surface throughout our discussion on green and understanding what it means will help facilitate more meaningful discussion.

Efficiency is a measurement of the amount of output given a certain amount of input. To increase efficiency, you must find a way to do more with less. All of us know we have 24 hours each day with which to live our lives. Some days we are very efficient and accomplish a great deal of work or output. Other days, we sit on the couch, watch the ballgame and accomplish very little. Both days had the same input, 24 hours, but one day was filled with work and the other was not. Organizational tools can increase our efficiency as well.

In terms of energy efficiency, there is a fair amount of debate as to what truly defines energy efficiency and how can you do the same tasks using less electricity. Don’t confuse efficiency with conservation. Conservation is the act of turning things off or just not using electricity. Important, but not the discussion today. Conservation suggests you live without something, no lights, no water, and no additional features. Efficiency is doing the same things you have always done, only use less. An example is driving an inefficient car less or driving a hybrid vehicle, conservation and efficiency, respectively.

Replacing incandescent lighting is one-way builders can increase the efficiency of their home. High efficacy lighting still provides light, and in most cases the same light, using a lot less electricity. Energy Star rated appliances still allow the consumer to wash clothing, refrigerate food, and clean the dishes. The appliances work, for the most part, like any other inefficient model. The savings comes by completing the same task with less.

A big obstacle many builders face in selling green is the idea that it requires you to sacrifice (or conserve) the comforts you are accustomed to having in your home. Some choose to take efficiency to that level, but others choose better items for their home. The follow list is examples of energy efficient features:

  • High Efficacy Lighting (Fluorescent or LED lighting)
  • Higher R-value Insulation
  • Housewrap
  • ENERGY STAR Appliances/Furnace/Windows
  • Sealants, Weatherstripping and Caulks to reduces leaks
  • Dimmers and Sensors for Lighting
  • Geo-Thermal Heat
As builders, a number of options are available to meet the requirements of a green program. Consumers can rest assured knowing there are options and if one product does not meet their needs, there are alternatives to ensure an energy efficient home without compromising your lifestyle.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Define your Shade - Introduction

For those that followed my blog in the “early days”, my articles were split between this blog and my former employer. Following my departure, the original articles were removed and along with it, my first blog about what green is and what it means to builders and homebuyers alike. Given my last article and several conversations of late, I am revisiting the topic here, only in more depth and in greater detail.

For purposes of this forum, my commentary will focus on defining and explaining green for the home industry, applicable to both existing and new construction.

When discussing this topic with consumers, the definitions are varied. Some say it is merely energy efficiency. Others think of high tech energy systems with plants on the roof and waterless toilets. A rare few think the whole thing is a hoax to charge more, which is rather ludicrous given the current market and the state of the economy. At the end of the day, it still begs the question: What is green building?

Green building can be many of the things mentioned above. Green building is the process of building homes that have less overall impact on the environment than existing homes. This is accomplished not only by the end product, but through the construction process as well. While each program varies and attains the status of green through different methods, most green programs include the following components:

  1. Energy Efficiency - Design elements and equipment that utilize less energy and require less electricity then typical homes on the market.
  2. Water Efficiency – Faucets and fixtures that utilize less water to accomplish the same task as traditional fixtures.
  3. Indoor Air Quality – Building homes that breath as designed and reduce the amount of dust, contaminates and chemicals in the air, thus improving the overall health of its occupants.
  4. Site Layout – Placing the home on the site/lot in such a way as to reduce cooling loads and the environmental impact of the structure.
  5. Resource Efficiency – Employing construction methods that reduce waste and utilizing better construction materials efficiently in the home.

Over the next few weeks, I will discuss each of the above sections, providing examples of methods, materials and best practices to accomplishes some of the requirements for each. Much of what I will share is derived from the NAHB Green Building Standard, as released in February of 2008.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Resolutions: Light Green or Emerald Green?

I spent a couple of days on the road this week looking for new opportunities. With the housing market still in the tank, building professionals are uncovering any means necessary to survive this down turn. My focus is on moving green forward as a viable movement with the building industry.

I meet with a company this week that focuses on consulting homebuilders through the process of simplifying their company and saving money. Lean operations are the name of the game. As a builder, I was fortunate enough to work with them last year and see how “Lean” our operations could be. Whether saving money, increasing efficiency or reducing waste, everything they do is directed at showing homebuilders a better way to do what has been done so many times before.

Green consulting, in housing, is a largely untapped market. As compared to the entire nation, buildings with a green story are relatively few and far between. Not only are few builders doing anything to be green, their operations are skinny with few or no additional employees. Sharing of ideas and knowledge through green consulting can help bring the industry up from the stone age.

After my meetings in Detroit, I spent an evening with family in Indiana. As the question of employment came up, my brother asked me what all this green stuff meant. More specifically, did the green I talk about include planters on the roof, solar panels, no flush toilets, etc. As I explained green starts long before those products, we quickly realized that many in middle America have a false sense of what green really means.

Initially, his sentiment on green focused on the negative aspects: expensive, inconvenient, and difficult to do without professional help. I realized I am not doing enough to share my own message of Shades of Green. In our conversation, he quickly learned that going green is not only the big changes, but all the little decisions we make everyday,

I submit my resolution to you. This year, I will spread the message and teach anyone who will listen, and even some that won’t about Shades of Green. This year, I will move shades closer to the green I want to be.