3 years and going, and still our fruits and veggies in MA are often from CA! “If You Think the Water Crisis Can’t Get Worse, Wait Until the Aquifers Are Drained” http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/08/140819-groundwater-california-drought-aquifers-hidden-crisis/
Category Archives: green
20 green “strange thing” gotchas when building a custom green house (or, how I learned why things end up costing so much)
Most of these can be avoided if one chills out and builds 90% of a green house, or perhaps by working with a very experienced green architect (or ideally I think?) a design-build company that gets both sides.
Some strange things include:
1- no-VOC products
2- TJIs used in walls
3- dealing with innie or outie windows in superinsulated walls
4- unusual windows with R-5 or R-6
5- HRV systems and proper balancing and inside placement of intake/exhaust vents
6- sizing and choosing placement of inside heads in a minisplit system
7- custom design & specs instead of stock plan
8- insulating properly behind a bathtub on an exterior wall
9- how to add interior light block shades to outie-windows (it’s problematic, take my word for it!)
10- foundation brine loops for pre-heating/tempering HRV air
11- exterior framing and sheating all flush (no overhangs) and taped. overhangs applied after air-sealing
12- hot roofs
13- worrying about orientation (solar south) (too much)
14- things that people are used to which might be missing in your design (a fireplace/mantel, a basement, a garage, a formal dining room, a master bathroom, a paved driveway)
15- composting toilets
16- cellphones and radios and TVs might not work well in a house with foil-faced PolyIso insulation
17- not having a furnace or boiler that can very quickly heat or cool the house if setback temps used (usually with minisplits, they are slow to catchup, so best to not use nighttime setbacks)
18- you maybe found land in a weird spot farther away from things
19- smaller than typical houseplan with things like:
open plan, limited wasted space like hallways, no loops for kids to run-around, big furniture
20- big windows in awkward spots (and none in others) if trying especially hard to do passivhaus
21- special parts that take a week to order to repair a strange thing
22- strange things that are difficult or expensive to repair or troubleshoot
23- strange things that are done (products used or designs) to save money (but don’t or else else cause other side effects that undo the savings)
Who is affected by your stange choices?
– the building inspector has to approve of strange things
– the builder might have difficulty in sourcing products and/or pricing labor effort for strange things
– beware a builder who is not used to or doesn’t like doing custom projects rather than spec houses
– the contactors who have probably not done strange things or used strange things
– you (the owner) not having lived with strange things
– difficulty in finding contractors nearby to repair or maintain strange things (for instance, a radon removal system for potable water) or redo work they did on strange things that weren’t done properly in the first place.
– the future buyer when you move — they won’t appreciate the strange things as being awesome, just different, and maybe even annoying.
In upcoming years you will be hearing more and more about how climate change and global weirding changes what kind of houses we build. Issues that come to mind based on my own experience living in houses in New England for a few years now:
1. downpours — more and more we get rain in extreme events. No rain for a long time, the a downpour where it rains 2 inches per hour. Implications include inadequate gutters, more people wanting to store roof runoff for lawns/gardens.
“The Northeast has experienced a greater recent increase in extreme precipitation than any other region in the U.S.; between 1958 and 2010, the Northeast saw more than a 70% increase in the amount of precipitation falling in very heavy events (defined as the heaviest 1% of all daily events).”
–the regional Northeast report from the National Climate Asssessment in 2014
2. tornados — it is becoming a common occurrence that we get storms with tornados. I am not sure what that means for home design, but probably something. hurricanes too will probably be more likely, which combined with general sea level rising means it’s getting a little crazy to live on the coast.
3. snowstorms — I believe I’ve read that over the next few decades that precip (including snow) will be above average. Combined with events like the “polar vortex” events that are also happening more (due to shifts in the artic) then this means that we will likely have more and more periods with deep snowpack — weeks where it snows, stays cold, snows again, stays cold, etc. So the amount of snow on roofs will pile up and we’ll have to deal more and more with roofs collapsing and ice dams.
4. heat — more and more we get very hot weather and it doesn’t cool off at night, which means for miserable sleeping if you don’t have AC and/or ventilation in each room. All sleeping rooms (especially) need ventilation air directly in the room. Otherwise (in my direct experience) what happens is the house thermostat might be set at 77 or 78 (typically comfortable in summer clothing) but the bedrooms will get warm when the doors are closed and there are bodies giving off heat, making the room warmer.
We have experienced this both in our traditionally insulated home and our superinsulated home in spring and summer.
What am I forgetting?
“All of America’s well-publicized problems, including obesity, depression, pollution, and corruption are what it costs to create and sustain a trillion-dollar economy. For the economy to be “healthy,” America has to remain unhealthy.”
The Real Reason For The 40-Hour Workweek
“Do not drop out. Instead, try to stop yourself from committing suicide until you can find a job that is so non-hellish that it does not make you suicidal, and then stay at that job, or an even better one if you can find it, for several decades. Grab what fun you can on the weekends, save up money, enjoy your retirement, and you will have lived a pretty good life.”
“…coal produces more than 40 percent of the world’s electricity, a foundation of modern life. And that percentage is going up.”
My 2 cents on mini-split Air Source Heat Pumps (ASHPs) for heating is:
1) if you calculate the source energy usage, it’s pretty much equiv to using nat gas directly because of the efficiency of power plants being ~33%. So 33% * whatever COP you get from thre ASHP (let’s say 3 as a seasonal winter avg) then you are back to ~1.00. Same as using a 95% efficient gas furnance or boiler in terms of primary energy/source energy.
2) Money wise, you’d also have to do the math with electricity vs gas prices. Because even if the energy use is equivalent, perhaps the price of electricity vs gas/oil is mismatched.
3) And of course, if you source the electricity for the ASHP from wind/etc then that’s better too.
4) But one could also skip the ASHP and just buy New England Wind Fund credits to offset heating energy too.
5) Comfort wise: it’s point-source heat, so if your house doesn’t already have heating zones, then putting one where you spend a lot of time would allow you to drop the temp in the rest of the house.
6) But they are slow to heat up a space, so you can’t really use set-backs you can like with furnaces/boilers that blast! Maybe they wouldn’t work that great for point source heat since it’s not like a hot woodstove.
7) The compressor makes noise outside and you need somewhere to put the thing and shovel snow away from it occasionally
8) Another thing to break
9) Holistically: In addition to Wind Fund offsets, one could also insulate the house more, eat less meat, drive a prius or more efficient car, or move closer to work so you can walk, bike, or drive less. Or fly less.
10) ASHP will also give you AC. So that might be nice.
We built an “almost passive house” a few years back, lived in it for 3 years, but then decided to move. Here are some observations after living in our current “normal 1958 house” for a year.
our almost passive house
+ even temps. all year round. in every room.
+ cheap to run — pretty much zero maintenance, utility bills after solar panel offset were $400 and more like $-1100 after Solar SRECs (versus if you add up our January bills… gas+electric+water+sewer+ice dams it is well over $400 for ONE MONTH!)
+ not even close to an ice-dam (steep roof, smallish overhangs, and very insulated and tight)
+ large dedicated kids room (but since in the attic, our young kids didn’t want to be up there on their own much yet)
+ no need for humidifier in winter or dehumidifier in summer. Always pretty much perfect
+ 105 gallon hot water tank meant less likely to run out of hot water with baths and dishwashing and laundry
our normal 1958 house
+ insanely close to the boys school and friends (so huge savings in time and money/CO2 in driving)
+ closer to grocery shopping
+ closer to Boston
+ just generally closer to lots of things
+ the town we are in has much less sandy soil so easier for gardening
+ if one does feel cold (or hot), the traditional gas-fired furnace is obviously much faster to respond and increase the house temp by a degree or two than the mini-splits in the passive-house. But this only probably happened like once.
+ since we are in a more densely populated place, the house has town water, nat. gas, and sewer. Meaning we could probably actually cook, use water, and have hot water in a power outage.
It I were to do it all again?
Not sure. Maybe by a really inexpensive fixer-upper split level ranch really close to the kid’s school and do a deep-energy retrofit? The problem is: it’s impossible to find such a thing normally. So I dunno. No regrets!