The most recent blogs at Green Building Advisor

Connecting to the Grid Can Be Expensive

Posted on November 18, 2014 by Alexi Arango in Guest Blogs

As they set out to build a single-family 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. on Potwine Lane in Amherst, Massachusetts, Alexi Arango and LeeAnn Kim asked themselves, “Is it possible to live without burning fossil fuels?” One measure of success would be meeting their goal of net-zero energyProducing as much energy on an annual basis as one consumes on site, usually with renewable energy sources such as photovoltaics or small-scale wind turbines. performance. This is the eighth blog in a series.

Straw-Bale Walls for Northern Climates

Posted on November 17, 2014 by ben graham in Guest Blogs

The mechanical baler was invented in the 1850s (Reynolds, History of Hay Balers), and it's been a while now since those folks in the Midwest put up a couple of bale houses. You would think that by now we would have very refined construction techniques for straw-bale construction, given that some of those original buildings are still standing. Well, we are getting there.

All About Basements

Posted on November 14, 2014 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor in Musings of an Energy Nerd

Foundation discussions can get heated. For some reason, builders often dig in their heels when the topic of slabs versus crawl spaces versus basements comes up. It’s time to declare a truce.

It’s perfectly possible to build a great house on any one of these three foundation types, as long as everything is properly detailed. Each type of foundation has advantages as well as disadvantages. If you have a foundation type that you prefer, that’s great. I’m not going to try to change your mind.

The Largest Passivhaus Building in the U.S.

Posted on November 13, 2014 by Mike Steffen in Guest Blogs

In Portland’s western suburbs, a structure is on the rise that could change the face of affordable housing in America. Situated adjacent to the Orenco Station light rail transit stop in Hillsboro, Oregon, the Orchards at Orenco will provide 57 units of housing. The project sponsor, REACH Community Development, is aiming to achieve 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. certification. When complete in the spring of 2015, Orchards at Orenco is slated to be the largest Passivhaus-certified building in North America.

Calculating Heating Degree Days

Posted on November 12, 2014 by Allison A. Bailes III, PhD, GBA Advisor in Building Science

Let's say you did some work on your home to make it more energy-efficient: air sealing, more attic insulation, and a duct system retrofit. You've got your energy bills for 12 months before and 12 months after you did the work, and now you want to see how much energy you saved. So you sit down with all 24 months worth of utility bills, convert everything to a common unit if you use more than one type of fuel, and take a look at the numbers.

A First Look at the Official WELL Building Standard

Posted on November 11, 2014 by Carl Seville, GBA Advisor in Green Building Curmudgeon

When I first heard about the WELL building standard, in a New York Times article, I was both amused and offended, and trashed it appropriately in a blog.

An Energy Upgrade On a Budget

Posted on November 10, 2014 by Scott Gibson in Q&A Spotlight

Christian Rodriguez has taken an important first step in improving the energy efficiency and comfort of his 1880s home by arranging for an energy auditEnergy audit that also includes inspections and tests to assess moisture flow, combustion safety, thermal comfort, indoor air quality, and durability.. With the results in hand, his first step was to air-seal the attic and add 20 inches of cellulose insulationThermal insulation made from recycled newspaper or other wastepaper; often treated with borates for fire and insect protection..

"This made quite a difference both in comfort and heating bills," he writes in a Q&A post at Green Building Advisor. Now comes a difficult decision: what to do next.

Borrowing a Cellulose Blower From a Big Box Store

Posted on November 7, 2014 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor in Musings of an Energy Nerd

Back in the early 1990s, I worked for a nonprofit agency, overseeing renovation work at several old wood-framed buildings in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Each of these century-old buildings had between two and five apartments; after renovation, they were rented to low-income families at subsidized rents.

Comparing North American Window Frames to European Frames

Posted on November 6, 2014 by Stephen Thwaites in Guest Blogs

[Editor's note: The author of this article, Stephen Thwaites, is a window manufacturer. His company, Thermotech Fiberglass FenestrationTechnically, any transparent or translucent material plus any sash, frame, mullion, or divider attached to it, including windows, skylights, glass doors, and curtain walls., is located in Ottawa, Ontario.]

A Best Practices Manual That Can Help You with the Details

Posted on November 5, 2014 by Allison A. Bailes III, PhD, GBA Advisor in Building Science

When I was building a home in 2001, I came up against a gazillion little things that I needed guidance on. I'd never built anything larger than a bookcase, so new home construction was quite a big step.

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