green basics

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Things You Do Not Need

And a few things you do

Posted on Feb 9 2018 by Martin Holladay

Houses are changing. Anyone buying a new home in 2018 expects the home to be quite different from one built in 1918, of course.

What “new features” is the typical buyer of a new home seeking out? It depends. Some buyers are looking for a foyer with a 20-foot ceiling and a master bathroom with a big Jacuzzi. Others, including the typical reader, are looking for low energy bills and superior indoor air quality.

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Image Credits:

  1. Image #1: Midwest Construction

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Are Tankless Water Heaters a Waste of Money?

The energy savings you’ll get from a tankless water heater are usually too low to justify the high purchase price

Posted on Apr 6 2012 by Martin Holladay

Although tankless water heaters are, on average, more efficient than traditional tank-style water heaters, they’re also more expensive — so expensive, in fact, that many potential customers wonder whether their high cost can ever be justified by likely energy savings.

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Image Credits:

  1. John Eisenschenk

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How to Choose Insulation

In this excerpt from their textbook, Green Building, Carl Seville and Abe Kruger discuss insulation and air sealing

Posted on Mar 13 2012 by Carl Seville

[Editor's note:This is an excerpt of the “Insulation and Air Sealing” chapter of Carl's new textbook, Green Building. Carl's publisher, Cenage Learning, has allowed us to make the whole chapter available as a free download.]

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Image Credits:

  1. Cenage Learning
  2. Cengage Learning

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Is the Pretty Good House the Next Big Thing?

And what might one look like in a mixed-humid climate?

Posted on Mar 7 2012 by Allison A. Bailes III, PhD

I love the Pretty Good House concept! The folks up in Maine who've been developing this idea in their monthly green building discussion group (Steve's Garage) have struck a chord with a lot of us who design, build, or verify green homes. The growing complexity and expense of green building and energy programs has ledLight-emitting diode. Illumination technology that produces light by running electrical current through a semiconductor diode. LED lamps are much longer lasting and much more energy efficient than incandescent lamps; unlike fluorescent lamps, LED lamps do not contain mercury and can be readily dimmed. to growing frustration.

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Image Credits:

  1. Energy Vanguard

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Fiberglass versus Cellulose

Fiberglass batts are inexpensive and widely available, but dense-packed cellulose does a better job of reducing air leakage

Posted on Mar 5 2012 by Erik North

The two least expensive and most commonly used residential insulation are fiberglass and cellulose. Granted, fiberglass is about 50 times more common — but a distant second is still second.

Unless the homeowner opts for spray foam, the insulation choice usually comes down to fiberglass vs. cellulose. So what are the advantages and disadvantages of each one? How are they similar and how are they different?

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Image Credits:

  1. Erik North

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The High Cost of Deep-Energy Retrofits

A pilot project generates cost data on deep-energy retrofits of four buildings in Utica, New York

Posted on Mar 2 2012 by Martin Holladay

How much does it cost to perform a deep-energy retrofit at a 100-year-old single-family home? Thanks to a recent study in Utica, New York, we now know the answer: about $100,000.

The research was sponsored by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), an agency that administers programs funded by public benefit charges tacked onto electric utility bills. The program paid for deep-energy retrofits at four wood-framed buildings in Utica, New York.

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A Santa Fe Adobe Gets a Modern Addition

Santa Fe, NM

Nov 20 2011 By Michael Grant | 0 comments

General Specs and Team

Location: Santa Fe, NM
Bedrooms: 3
Bathrooms: 3
Living Space : 2400 sqf
Cost (USD/sq. ft.): $250/sqf

Completed August 2010

- Excellence in Green Remodeling from Hacienda's Parade Of Homes (2010)
- Best Design from Hacienda's Parade Of Homes (2010)
- Exemplary Site Utilization from the New Mexico Green Building Council (2010)

Architect/Designer/Builder: Michael Percy Grant,
Percy Home Design, LLC
Structural Engineer: David Grabiel, QPEC


Roof Type 1: R-49 (torch-down roof over 7" polyiso rigid, unvented)
Roof Type 2: R-56 (standing-seam metal over 2" polyiso over 12" TJI w/ cellulose, unvented)
Walls Existing: R-10 to R-15 (plaster/stucco over 2-3" polyurethane spray foam over 14" earth adobe)
Walls New: R-29 (James Hardie clapboard siding over 2" XPS over 2x6 @ 24 o.c. w/ cellulose)
Floors, existing: 8" inaccessible & uninsulated dirt crawl space, old vents sealed up, exhausted by HRV
Floors, new: R-10 (Concrete slab over 2" XPS throughout, isolated from stem walls for thermal break)
Windows: Serious 725 series windows w/ suspended film glazing (U-0.16) and Pozzi wood-clad windows (U-0.28)


Passive solar: 250-sf sunroom oriented 16º east of south
5" black slab fully isolated from soil and stem wall by 3" rigid XPS
12" cellulose ceiling plus 1.5" polyiso for R-52 roof

Boiler: Laars Endurance unit for DHW and space heat combined
Heaters: Myson hot water radiant wall heaters
AC: None needed

Water Efficiency

Laundry hoist: Rack that hoists to the ceiling on pulleys to dry clothes; also humidifies our room in our dry climate (see photo)
Rainwater cistern: 1,750-gallon buried tank collecting from 1,500 sf of roof, distributed by a Grundfos pump to drip irrigation
Graywater: Two graywater lines from half of kitchen sink and from master tub, with 3-way diverter valves to feed either landscaping or city sewer in winter

Indoor Air Quality

Whole-house mechanical ventilation: Ultimate Air RecoupAerator HRV runs full time (HRV both provides fresh air and exhausts radon from dirt crawl space)

This addition has a tight envelope, thick insulation, a heat-recovery ventilator, and a roof that harvests rainwater

Michael Grant has been building, renovating, and designing high performance homes in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for almost two decades.

My wife Julia and I stumbled upon this dumpy little adobe home in Santa Fe, NM, which was for rent back in 2003. I thought the place had hidden charm; she was skeptical. After all, it still had double-hung single pane windows that dust could blow through, a smelly gas wall heater, and no insulation to speak of.

Lessons Learned

Like many designers and builders, I have suffered my own slow growth curve and mistakes around building balanced homes: homes that optimize energy performance, spacial function, and artistic form.

My most recent passion is Germany’s 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. approach, for which I should become a certified designer by next month. My current favorite wall system is a thermal-bridge-free, airtight, high-performance wall consisting of a two-by wood-framed structural inner wall that bears on a raft slab, sheathed to be airtight, and including TJI studs resembling Larsen trusses. The entire wall assembly is then insulated from both sides.

Our home doesn’t have this gorgeous wall system, because I didn’t know about it when we remodeled, which leaves my home, much like me, with room for improvement. But I guess this is also pretty much where I am happy to be.

Michael Percy Grant

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Image Credits:

  1. Michael Grant

2011 Solar Decathlon is in the Home Stretch

Winners will be announced October 1st at 2:00 pm

Posted on Sep 30 2011 by Patrick McCombe

After being in the construction business in one form or another for more than 20 years, I often feel jaded by our lack of progress in building long-lasting, energy-efficient homes despite decades of trying. Well, my trip last week to the 2011 Solar Decathlon has given me renewed hope. The young people who designed and built the 19 homes in the event had more smarts and enthusiasm than I could ever have anticipated. And they made really nice houses, too. Even the designs and features I was skeptical of proved thought-provoking and interesting.

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Image Credits:

  1. Patrick McCombe

Mid-Century Gem Revived in Austin

Austin, TX

Aug 30 2011 By Peter Yost | 0 comments

General Specs and Team

Location: Austin, TX
Bedrooms: 4
Bathrooms: 3
Living Space : 2612 sqf
Cost (USD/sq. ft.): $101/sqf

Total square footage involved in the project was about 3,105 sq. ft., so depending on how you run the numbers, you get $101 per sq. ft. for total square footage involved or about $130 per sq. ft. of living space.

Architect: Stuart Sampley
Builder: Jason Miars, Miars Construction
Rater: Austin Energy Green Building


Foundation: slab-on-grade
Above-Grade walls: wood framed
Roof: wood, rafter framed


- Cavity insulation: Demilec Sealection 500 open-cell spray foam
- Windows: Marvin Integrity
- Water Heating: Rinnai sealed-combustion tankless water heater (exterior mount)
- Air conditioning: Carrier Infinity system (including programmable thermostat)
- Lighting: Cooper Halo CFL lighting

Water Efficiency

- Toilets: Kohler Eco Cimmaron
- Showerheads & Faucets: Hans Grohe Water Sense
- Clotheswasher: Whirlpool
- Landscaping: City of Austin Grow Green drought-tolerant plants
- Irrigation: Texas Green Water rain barrels

Indoor Air Quality

- Garage: detached
- Exhaust fans: Broan Energy Star 80 cfm
- Ventilation: central-fan-integrated supply ventilation system with AprilAire 8126 control


Austin Energy Green Building program 5-Star project

A leading Austin architect touches a modern classic design as little as possible while undertaking an affordable green remodel

Just after World War II, Austin architect A.D. Stenger began designing and building what would amount to about 100 custom homes in the Austin area. These Eichler-esque single-story homes had low-slung roofs, exposed roof beams (extending right through to extensive overhangs), characteristic clerestory windows, and really big wood-burning fireplaces.

Lessons Learned

Sampley credits his perspective on his renovation work to an undergraduate degree in history and the start to his building career: taking apart — deconstructing — dozens of homes. “My favorite part of any project is when the ‘bones’ of the project are revealed,” relates Sampley. “Seeing how a structure is put together reveals all of the possibilities.”

And Sampley does not dabble in green. “Since opening the doors 5 years ago, green design has been a linchpin of my work. I let my past projects drive my new work, using the internet (a website and strong Facebook presence) to speak for our green and business sensibilities.”

And Sampley keeps active in the Austin Green Building program, teaching courses for the program and maintaining his relationships with staff. “We build on each other’s strengths and opportunities.”

Stuart had one final short story to relate as he thought back on this project and his work on it. "One afternoon, an elderly gentleman walking slowly with a cane came by the project (a man, as it turns out, who had his own home in the neighborhood designed by AD Stenger). He stopped and asked me, 'You Stuart?' I said yes, and he replied, 'If he were alive today, AD would be proud of what you are doing with this home.'"

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Image Credits:

  1. Patrick Wong
  2. Stuart Sampley

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Job Sites in Maine, Part Three

The last two stops on my Maine tour were visits to new energy-efficient homes: a large one in Freeport and a small one in Bath

Posted on Jul 15 2011 by Martin Holladay

To end my three-part report on my trip to Maine, I’ll describe my visits to two new energy-efficient homes — an elegant home in Freeport, and a compact 1,000-square-foot home in Bath.

The Freeport home was designed by architect Chris Briley and built by Dan Kolbert. Since the owners of the home haven’t moved in yet, the rooms are still empty of furniture.

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Image Credits:

  1. Martin Holladay

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