May 2008

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Comments

Dan Roy

Scott,
As suggested by mwgwc, geothermal heating is the shit.
I live in Sweden. It's darn cold here in the winters. I installed this system a few years back in a rather big home and have reduced my heating dramatically. I went from 40.000 kWh/year to barley 15.000. The system cost me about 10.000 USD upfront and I save about 4.000 USD/year. The system will last with it's current output for about 20 years. Go figure.
Plus, of course, it's "green" energy.

Meredith

You should really try building with insulating concrete forms. The advantages are too numerous to list. It is relatively simple to do and you can get all the information and support you might need here:

http://www.rewardwalls.com/

tms

Scott... you're engineer friend is only partly right. The windows are the weakest link typically, but if you have poorly built walls or ceilings/roof, better windows won't help a bit. I'd suggest talking to some people who know what they're doing in this arena. The only people I know personally are at http://www.construction-advantage.com. They look at all kinds of options that are environmentally-friendly, and they'll even take suggestions from you.

bubba

My house was built in Texas, in 2000. It was Energy Star certified, and the builder advertised this. He made a point of showing off the summer electric bills.

If I'd been willing to wait another 6 months, they'd have built me a new house with improved insulation in the roof. This was becoming standard.

But you live in a very moderate climate, where insulation simply isn't as cost-effective.

Dave

If you actually cared about energy efficiency, you wouldn't be building a new home.

What amount of insulation is going to make the slightest dent in the energy spent on building this house?

mr_poopyhead

the problem with so-called "green homes" like the enertia designs is that while the home itself my be carbon neutral, it promotes a very energy intensive lifestyle. just look at the lots on the website. anyone who lives there will certainly have to drive everywhere to do anything.

a green lifestyle won't happen without a huge shift in the way we live and work. designs like enertia don't change an unsustainable, energy-intensive lifestyle. it only makes is more palatable. in the long run, anyone who lives in that kind of "green home" isn't doing a whole lot for the environment.

i would hazard a guess that living in a regular home situtated in a well designed neighborhood that minimizes car use would be better off than an enertia home built in the ever-sprawling suburbs.

Doug

Scott,
This is what you want. http://www.buildinggreentv.com/
This guy builds his dream home as green as possible. It was a show on PBS.
He not only went green with straw bail walls and solar panels. He also went super healthy. He used nothing with nasty chemicals, all natural materials, etc.
Cool stuff, you have to love PBS!

Harvey

I think that this just proves that the cost of energy isn't high enough (yet) but I expect that to change. With the cost of gas approaching $4/gallon people are just starting to abandon their SUVs for more practical vehicles.

Ibid

R-value is an insulating measure created and defined by Owens-Corning. Thus O-C gets to define it as best for them so their stuff comes out best. Often it relies on 0% humidity, no wind, and other laboratory only conditions. If you can learn the K-value of a window or insulation you'll have a better idea of how well or poorly it conducts heat.
Alas, most people have a better understanding of R-value so it's much easier to get info on.

Look into SuperTherm multi-ceramic paint. It's $100/gal but a coat of paint has a 20-R value. I'm painting the underside of the living room and kitchen floors with it from the crawlspace since that seems to be my biggest heat loss during the winter.

You can get some nice triple pane Xeon filled windows but make sure they seal around them well. Anymore you'll lose more heat around the window than through the window.

Gavin

Hi Scott,
Great post, seems to me this shows a need for tougher enforced building regulations in America and Australia. Our current new building regulations have a choice of a water tank or other energy saving like solar water heating. Why not both? We need all the water we can get at the moment. Also you will find lots of good information at http://www.yourhome.gov.au/
Regards
Gavin

Marc

Maybe it's sometimes cold where I live, New Hampshire, but the house disclosures that you see when viewing houses often has the energy costs in them. The house we bought a few years ago listed both the propane gallons bought the past year and the electric use. Another we looked at had the oil and wood pellet usage. You still have to get some kind of idea on how the sellers live to do a real comparison, but it gives an idea.

greg

Scott,

You should build as much of the house as possible out of vacuum insulated walls. If it can keep your coffee hot or cold it can keep your house hot or cold.

I don't know if vacuum insulated walls exist or how much they would cost but you should look into it. To be *super* green you could recycle old thermoses and travel mugs. Everyone has a few they never use.

Greg

SA

http://www.channel4.com/4homes/ontv/grand-designs/

Channel 4 in the UK has a great tv programme about building your own house. Green issues often feature prominently.
Loads of useful info on this link.
SA

Alasdair

Here in the UK there are endless TV programs about building homes. One of the more popular ones is "Grand Designs", where each episode follows an individual building a somehow different/special house. One thing comes into play in most of the episodes, and that's energy efficiency.

Tripple glazed windows, old-newspaper wall insulation, polystyrene blocks filled with concrete, underfloor heating, solar water heaters, underground heat exchangers - watching a season or two of Grand Designs really shows you what is available on the market.

So it *is* something people take into account when building their own home, especially if the induhvidual has clue.

However, it's something homebuilders certainly aren't interested in. Most homes built in the UK these days only meet the minimum requirements, and don't go that step further. As you said yourself, buyers don't seem too interested in energy efficiency.

The suppliers are out there, you just have to dig for them. Quite a few houses on Grand Designs had their tripple-glazed windows imported from Scandinavia. It's colder there, and energy costs more, so people do take it more seriously.

Perhaps when Oil reaches $200/barrel things will change!

Clair

Don't blame the government. What have they done for us recently? I started tracking my utilty costs back in 2001 and created a log of the results. During that time I increased the thickness of the insulation, insulated the basement windows in the winter (michigan), insulated the hot water pipes, caulked all the openings around the house, changed the thermostat to one that turns down in the evening and up in the morning and changed the light bulbs to the curly kind to what end? Included in the aformentioned log were the amount of gas and electricity used by month which advises me that my total energy used is slightly less then when I started. I do not know anybody in the oil business, so the cost has risen but not so bad to desire government help. Do not, I repeat do not rely on anyone in the government to help.

steve

check out fabricated concrete homes?

Alex

Further to an earlier comment, we do now, in England, have a requirement that all houses up for sale have both an energy efficiency survey and a carbon "footprint" assessment done and published with them. Provided the method for the surveys is accurate, it's actually pretty good: there's the current grading (out of a 100), plus a projected grading if a series of listed improvements were carried out. Homesellers - and my girlfriend is one of them - are now motivated to improve their houses efficiency before going on the market. And - best of all - comparative cash values are given, for the savings in energy that a house would give.

USA - catch up! ;-)

Oli

My house is over 500 years old, Theres not much I can do to make it energy efficient. Insulation is all well and good when your walls aren't made from wattle and daub. I quite like the idea of energy efficiency and definately think it is relevant to house buying, on the other hand though it has become intrinsicly linked to the Carbon Footprint Disaster from the green parties.

It is quite interesting to note theat Carbon Footprint led lobbying has increased the speed the rainforest is being burnt down (Not logged) to make way for 'Environmentally friendly fuels'

http://www.imapundit.com

Warren Johnson

Although my site (http://www.sustainablehomedesign.co.za) has many South African references, it also contains links and info about the main US sites around sustainable home design, and all the principles apply on the site apply to any country (climate changes things, but the principles are the same). Also, you need to look not only at energy efficiency (which is achieved through building design, materials, which appliances etc you use), but also the footprint of the building - if it's built out of something that is environmentally bad, you're not solving much either.

The US has some excellent sustainable and energy efficient organisations, architects, builders etc (probably beaten only by Germany and Sweden). It's far easier to build from scratch than retrofit, but US organisations like Built Green can help either way (Built Green is based in WA, but there are similar CA based organisations linked to the Green Building Council in USA, and the US Gov has sustainable standards in place called LEED that these organisations follow and expand upon).

Robert

Hi,
We may be better off in the uk, have a look at the centre for alternative technology based in Wales (www.cat.org.uk) and there are a number of very green houses being put up by building companies.

AndyM

These German pre-fabricated houses are very efficient, if you had one in California you're probably generate a surplus of energy. http://www.huf-haus.com/gb/intro.html

Vijay

I want to build a solar home, every damned thing in the house will be powered by solar energy even if it means I will have to build a giant swimming pool somewhere in the top of the house or run a windmill!

mo

This is bizarre. It is easy to find good building solutions.
Most of them are obvious. Don't build a McMansion first off. Then go with concrete and steel. Choose your energy source,gas, electric,solar,wind..on or off the grid. Choose the cheapest you can and then make sure all your equipment from stove to computers are energy efficient and compatible with your choice. Change all your light bulbs, use a solar oven to heat your water.

A completely concrete or stone home with 2-3 ft walls doesn't require the insulation a regular house does.
Heat loss comes from the roof...install a system that recirculates that heat for heating and cooling.
Look at your environment. Landscape for energy. Roofs should be covered with plants to control water.
Weatherproofing your foundation above code, weatherproofing your roof above code.
Use recirculating grey water to heat and cool your home through the floor.
Have fireplaces installed and get your wood from a certified sustainable forest grower.
Your plumbing should be split into sewage and grey water. Grey water can be reused for toilets and for watering that garden you have growing right? If you waste all your dishwasher water, shower, sink, washing machine water you have to pay. Recycle it by only using biodegradable soaps.
Turn everything off when you aren't using it. I mean actually unplugging everything.
Think about some simple things. Can you dry your clothes outside in the summer? Then do it and unplug the dryer. Do you really need a dishwasher? Would it actually kill anyone to handwash and then reuse the grey water?
If you must have a dishwasher do you need to run it every day?
Can you not wait and do your laundry on the weekends when usage is minimal?
It's not hard.
Here in my 100 year old farm house we have one light on 99% of the time. The rest go on and off when we enter and leave.
I do my laundry at night on Sunday. I hang dry my clothes when the weather permits. I have my own garden. It's nothing exciting..just potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, strawberries, raspberries, beets and corn. All of it can be stored for winter.
I unplug things when I go to bed. It's easy because everything is on one strip..just one plug to pull.
When I want or need something I get it free off of Craigs List. My new bathroom came free courtesy of Craigs List and a lot of hard work by us.
The insulation in the basement? Craigs List.
The newest thing in green insulation is spray foam by the way.Skip the pink insulation and have a guy come in and create a complete thermal break.
Heat sinks are another new energy saver. Those who have a glassed in porch already know how hot that room can get..think about what happens if you add a door to each room of the house that opens out into that space. You can circulate the heat from that area to the whole house just by opening or closing doors. In summer all the doors can be opened to create cross ventilation cooling the house.
Having a home with normal sized rooms, no more than two bathrooms and a sensible approach are really all you need.

If you want a perfect example Holmes on Homes is on HGTV and has a website that will give you directions on how to build a green home that is also mold resistant and fire resistant with a list of reputable contractors.
For those of us without a million dollars? Well we just need to do the little stuff. Invest in a can of spray foam to insulate around doors and windows..it's not the window that is causing drafts..it's the installation. all those gaps and crevices need to be insulated. You could buy the best windows ever made and if the installer is an idiot you will still have massive heat loss.
Turn off the lights!!! Have the right lightbulbs..do you REALLY need twenty two pot lights in the kitchen?
Turn the thermostat down. It should be 70 in the winter and if you have the gall to turn the AC on before it gets to 80 you deserve to pay. Open the windows before the AC.
If you live in a noisy area then plant shrubbery to block the noise. Get that damned concrete off the driveway and the patio. It absorbs heat like crazy in the summer and heats up your house. If you absolutely must have a driveway make it very short with gravel and shade it with trees and shrubs.
Are you still running the water while you brush your teeth?
Are you still washing your clothes in hot water?
Do you flush the toilet for every pee?
Are you buying bottled water when the tap water is perfectly good?
(I have an excuse,we are on a well and I wouldn't force a serial killer to drink our water)
Are you still letting rain water run off your gutters into the storm drain when you know a rain barrel can be had for almost nothing?
Are you still using your sink disposal instead of composting?
None of this costs that much. None takes that much time.
If you check out "It's not easy being green" another HGTV show from the UK you can learn how to install a roof mounted solar heat collector that will heat all your water. You don't need to buy solar panels to do it either, just some scrap copper will do.
A small windmill can provide the power to run all the appliances.
There are tons of web sites that will sell you the entire windmill kit with detailed installation assistance or you can go crazy and follow the instructions to build your own.
Everything you need to be green is on the web. It's why Google exists.
This is nothing new by the way. Our grandparents and their parents all knew these things because their lives depended on it. We aren't creating anything new we are all just getting back to where we were supposed to be before people went bonkers and bought a 4000sq ft home for two people and the cat.
And for those of you that just have to have a "master bedroom" with an ensuite? Are you kidding me? You can't walk fifteen feet to pee? Is your sex life so damn acrobatic you need a vaulted ceiling and a 30x30 ft room to do it? Get real. A 12x12 with the bathroom down the hall is good enough for all of us. A walk in closet? For all that crap you bought but will never look at again? How about a dresser a piece and one closet for things that require a hanger.
If you really want energy efficiency stop buying so much crap you need a warehouse to store it all.All that crap has to travel thousands of miles to reach your closet. Think of the gas costs when you buy something. Are you buying grapes from South Africa and pineapple from Guyana? Are you buying food out of season?
Why are you not shopping locally? Take a moment and read the signs over the produce. Why are you buying this food? Could you not find your local farmers market and buy fresh local produce once a week?
Think about how much jet fuel it takes to get those grapes from Africa to your store, now add in the gasoline for the truck that delivered them. Now think about who picked those grapes..do you think they got paid fair market wages? Why are you supporting a literal slavery?
Support your own country, your own farmers, invest in food security. The more you rely on foreign countries to supply your food the more at risk you become to a food shortage.
Look at what happened to Cuba in the 90's and now look at what they have done to ensure the safety of their food supply.
To be truly green means every aspect of your life needs to be examined not just your house.

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