Guest Blogs

An Energy-Auditing Class in Montana

Posted on November 1, 2011 by Kathy Price-Robinson

When I arrive for the five-day energy-auditing course at the Pure Energy Center in eastern Montana, I see instructor A. Tamasin Sterner outside the main house, clapping her hands and doing a little dance.

If you know Tamasin, a veteran energy auditor who famously counseled President Obama on the need for weatherization programs, you expect this show of exuberance.

Video: Installing Rigid Foam Under Footings

Posted on October 25, 2011 by Skylar Swinford

This construction site video of the Karuna House in Yamhill County, Oregon, demonstrates installation of a geofoam foundation that will superinsulate the bottom of the building envelopeExterior components of a house that provide protection from colder (and warmer) outdoor temperatures and precipitation; includes the house foundation, framed exterior walls, roof or ceiling, and insulation, and air sealing materials. and help the project achieve Passive HouseA residential building construction standard requiring very low levels of air leakage, very high levels of insulation, and windows with a very low U-factor. Developed in the early 1990s by Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist, the standard is now promoted by the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany. To meet the standard, a home must have an infiltration rate no greater than 0.60 AC/H @ 50 pascals, a maximum annual heating energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (4,755 Btu per square foot), a maximum annual cooling energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (1.39 kWh per square foot), and maximum source energy use for all purposes of 120 kWh per square meter (11.1 kWh per square foot). The standard recommends, but does not require, a maximum design heating load of 10 W per square meter and windows with a maximum U-factor of 0.14. The Passivhaus standard was developed for buildings in central and northern Europe; efforts are underway to clarify the best techniques to achieve the standard for buildings in hot climates. and Minergie-P-ECO certifications.

Lead Carpenter Scott Gunter narrates the process of:

  • screeding out gravel,
  • back dragging with rake as needed,
  • compacting gravel,
  • marking outside foundation wall line on foam,
  • setting and aligning geofoam, and
  • drilling and pinning geofoam into place.

PV Systems Have Gotten Dirt Cheap

Posted on October 25, 2011 by Jesse Thompson

Something strange has happened to the price of photovoltaic(PV) Generation of electricity directly from sunlight. A photovoltaic cell has no moving parts; electrons are energized by sunlight and result in current flow. (PVPhotovoltaics. Generation of electricity directly from sunlight. A photovoltaic (PV) cell has no moving parts; electrons are energized by sunlight and result in current flow.) systems in the last year. PV has gotten dirt cheap.

Honestly, it's gotten cheaper faster than our office has realized, and we try to stay up on these things. Worse, we've realized we haven't been making proper recommendations to our clients because of it.

It's also shifting some of the underpinnings of our typical design analysis in strange ways, and it looks like there are some unexpected consequences we haven't yet figured out.

How to Get Good Blower-Door Results

Posted on October 13, 2011 by Ted Clifton

Our development company has been working with several builders, including our own parent company, to determine the factors that affect our blower-door testTest used to determine a home’s airtightness: a powerful fan is mounted in an exterior door opening and used to pressurize or depressurize the house. By measuring the force needed to maintain a certain pressure difference, a measure of the home’s airtightness can be determined. Operating the blower door also exaggerates air leakage and permits a weatherization contractor to find and seal those leakage areas. results.

The following list includes things we have learned to do, and things we have learned not to do, to achieve an optimal blower door test result. (We aim to achieve the PassivhausA residential building construction standard requiring very low levels of air leakage, very high levels of insulation, and windows with a very low U-factor. Developed in the early 1990s by Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist, the standard is now promoted by the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany. To meet the standard, a home must have an infiltration rate no greater than 0.60 AC/H @ 50 pascals, a maximum annual heating energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (4,755 Btu per square foot), a maximum annual cooling energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (1.39 kWh per square foot), and maximum source energy use for all purposes of 120 kWh per square meter (11.1 kWh per square foot). The standard recommends, but does not require, a maximum design heating load of 10 W per square meter and windows with a maximum U-factor of 0.14. The Passivhaus standard was developed for buildings in central and northern Europe; efforts are underway to clarify the best techniques to achieve the standard for buildings in hot climates. standard of 0.6 ach50.)

Cost-Effective Passive Solar Design

Posted on September 30, 2011 by Brian Knight

Passive solar design is one of the most attractive strategies available for energy-efficient construction and green building. The sun provides free heat, daylightingUse of sunlight for daytime lighting needs. Daylighting strategies include solar orientation of windows as well as the use of skylights, clerestory windows, solar tubes, reflective surfaces, and interior glazing to allow light to move through a structure., and a better connection to our outdoor environment. It does this for the life of the structure.

If you follow these priciples, your house will offer passive survivability, meaning it will remain livable through winter power outages. The passive elements of your home design will have no moving parts, and the only maintenance need is occasional window cleaning.

Never Promise That You Can Stop Ice Damming

Posted on September 8, 2011 by Pat Dundon

By Pat Dundon

Never tell anyone that you will stop ice.

I went to the building science conventions and thought I was bulletproof. But it turns out … not so much.

Home Energy Efficiency Pays Steady Dividends

Posted on July 26, 2011 by Ted Clifton

Have you taken the time to have a hard discussion with your investment adviser about how you should adjust your investment portfolio as you get closer to retirement age? If you have, he or she probably told you that the closer you are to retirement age, the more secure your investments need to be.

Get Rid of Your Gas Water Heater!

Posted on June 20, 2011 by Ted Clifton

I was asked to write this blog about naturally aspirated fossil-fuel water heaters in green retrofits as a response to a rather heated debate at the recent National Green Building Conference. The debate occurred in a class co-hosted by Peter Yost and Michael Chandler; in that debate, I stated unequivocally to “get gas water heaters the hell out of the house — they have no place in a green retrofit!”

A Passivhaus Rebuttal: In Defense of the Standard

Posted on April 1, 2011 by mike eliason

By Mike Eliason

To preface: these thoughts are my own and draw from the Certified PassivhausA residential building construction standard requiring very low levels of air leakage, very high levels of insulation, and windows with a very low U-factor. Developed in the early 1990s by Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist, the standard is now promoted by the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany. To meet the standard, a home must have an infiltration rate no greater than 0.60 AC/H @ 50 pascals, a maximum annual heating energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (4,755 Btu per square foot), a maximum annual cooling energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (1.39 kWh per square foot), and maximum source energy use for all purposes of 120 kWh per square meter (11.1 kWh per square foot). The standard recommends, but does not require, a maximum design heating load of 10 W per square meter and windows with a maximum U-factor of 0.14. The Passivhaus standard was developed for buildings in central and northern Europe; efforts are underway to clarify the best techniques to achieve the standard for buildings in hot climates. Consultant training, studying European Passivhaus projects (occasionally documented on our blog), modeling projects and dissecting PHPP with my brute force collaborative cohort, Aaron Yankauskas. They are in no way endorsed by PHIUS, PHnw, PHA or the PHI in Darmstadt…

Creating an Urban Oasis: A Green Live-Work Space Blooms on a Gritty City Lot

Posted on February 28, 2011 by Mike Litchfield

One of the great tests of green building will be how well it thrives in inner cities and other inhospitable environments. To put his green beliefs to the test, contractor Stephen Shoup bought a woodshop in a marginal neighborhood of Oakland, Calif., and converted it into a work-live space that housed both him and his design-build business, buildingLab. It was a tight fit; his living room frequently doubled as a lounge for his crews — but it worked while he was single.

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