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6 Ways Our Household is Saving Water—And Energy

Posted April 8, 2014 4:59 PM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions, GreenSpec Insights

Saving energy isn’t only about using less electricity and fuel; it’s about saving water.

Our 1.75 gpm Kohler Bancroft showerhead.
Photo Credit: Alex Wilson

In this weekly blog, I’ve focused a lot of attention on the energy-saving measures at our new home—from the innovative insulation materials we used to the air-source heat pump heating system and our top-efficiency heat-recovery ventilator. What I haven’t said much about are the measures we’ve taken to reduce water use and why these measures save energy as well.

Testing Pressure-Sensitive Tapes: Rounds Two and Three

Posted April 2, 2014 3:20 PM by Peter Yost
Related Categories: BuildingGreen's Top Stories, Sticky Business

Tension and pressure, tears and creeps. The Wingnut Test Facility (WTF) gets dope-slapped in our latest round of experiments.

Peter and Dave put tapes to the test at Building Energy 2014.
Photo Credit: Walter Pearce

NOTE: Want to get into more sticky business like this? Read the whole blog series!

The Wingnut Test Facility, or WTF, conducting new PSA tape testing in preparation for the NESEA BE14 Demonstration Stages, learned how half a dozen or so tapes are performing on half a dozen different substrates. We also learned, to our surprise, that pressure, or “bellowing,” may not be as important a factor as the wing nuts first thought. (For background on WTF and its prior tape tests, see “Shocking Truth About Tapes Emerges from Wingnut Test Facility!”, and to find GreenSpec listed tapes, see Flexible Flashing.)

Dave Gauthier and I decided two things at the end of our last round of testing:

  • We needed a more-realistic, longer-term, “straight-pull” tension test.
  • We needed a test that reflected the “bellowing” pressures that tapes see in real installations, driven by wind events.

Urine Collection Beats Composting Toilets for Nutrient Recycling

Posted April 2, 2014 2:20 PM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions, GreenSpec Insights

Human urine collection and use provides a better way to recycle nutrients than use of composting toilets.

Abe Noe-Hays of the Rich Earth Institute standing in front of a urine storage tank. Click to enlarge.
Photo Credit: Alex Wilson

Just when you thought it was safe to enjoy this blog over a cup of coffee here’s an article on…urine?

Really?

Let me explain.

Urine is a largely sterile, nutrient-rich resource that can be used in fertilizing plants. In fact, according to the Rich Earth Institute, the urine from one adult in a year can provide the fertilizer for over 300 pounds of wheat—enough for nearly a loaf of bread per day.

The Rich Earth Institute is a Brattleboro, Vermont-based organization that’s at the leading edge of the little-known practice of urine collection and use—something that’s emerging in Sweden and a few other places. This past Friday night roughly 200 people gathered at the Strolling of the Heifers’ River Garden in downtown Brattleboro to hear Abe Noe-Hays and Kim Nace from the Rich Earth Institute, along with a New York City comedian/activist, Shawn Shafner, discuss the idea.

Can This Man Reinvent Concrete?

Posted March 26, 2014 5:06 PM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions, GreenSpec Insights

A California company, Blue Planet, is reinventing concrete and envisions a world in which the 8 billion tons of concrete used each year sequester billions of tons of carbon dioxide.

Pouring the foundation for our Dummerston Home; someday soon, concrete may be able to sequester huge quantities of carbon.
Photo Credit: Alex Wilson

I’ve been in the San Francisco Bay Area for the past week speaking at various conferences. (When I travel I try to combine activities to assuage my guilt at burning all the fuel and emitting all that carbon dioxide to get there. Between conferences, I’m now spending time with my daughter in Petaluma and Napa.)

I spent three days last week at BuildWell, a small conference organized by my friend and colleague Bruce King, P.E. that is focused on “innovative materials for a greener planet.” The roster of presenters included such well-known thought leaders as Ed Mazria, FAIA of Architecture 2030, who is leading an effort to shift to zero-carbon buildings by 2030; John Warner, Ph.D., the father of Green Chemistry, which is transforming manufacturing by reducing toxicity; and Mathis Wackernagel, the founder of the Global Footprint Network.

A less-recognized presenter (and attendee throughout the three days) was Brent Constantz, Ph.D., the founder and CEO of Blue Planet and a professor at Stanford University. (Blue Planet has no website currently.) Little did I know how audacious Constantz’s plans are: to reinvent concrete, transforming it from one of the world’s largest emitters of carbon dioxide into one of the most important tools to sequester the carbon dioxide emitted from power plants.

Our Green Home Cost a Lot, But Yours Doesn't Have To

Posted March 19, 2014 11:51 AM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions, GreenSpec Insights

Our house cost a lot more than I would have liked, but many of the ideas used in it could be implemented more affordably.

We picked up these two salvaged garage doors for $500 total—while new they would have cost $3,500 apiece. Using salvaged materials can save a lot of money.
Photo Credit: Alex Wilson

My wife and I tried out a lot of innovative systems and materials in the renovation/rebuild of our Dummerston, Vermont home—some of which added considerably to the project cost. Alas!

The induction cooktop that I wrote about last week is just one such example.

For me, the house has been a one-time opportunity to gain experience with state-of-the-art products and technologies, some of which are very new to the building industry (like cork insulation, which was expensive both to buy and to install). We spent a lot experimenting with new materials, construction details, and building systems. While we haven’t tallied up all the costs, we think that the house came in at about $250 per square foot.

All this has raised the very reasonable question about whether all this green-building stuff is only feasible for high-budget projects.

So I’ve been thinking about what lessons from our project would be applicable to more budget-conscious retrofits. Here are some thoughts. (Also see our recent EBN feature article, How to Build Green At No Added Cost.)

Safe, All-Electric "Induction" Cooking: Try This At Home

Posted March 12, 2014 12:14 PM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions, GreenSpec Insights

Induction cooktops respond quickly, avoid gas combustion, are tops in energy efficiency, and limit risk of burns.

Our induction cooktop blends in well with our matt-black Richlite countertop. Click to enlarge.
Photo Credit: Alex Wilson

One of our early decisions in the planning for our farmhouse renovation/re-build was to avoid any fossil fuels. If the State of Vermont can have a goal to shift 90% of our energy consumption to renewable sources by 2050, we want be able to demonstrate 100% renewables for our house today.

That decision meant using electricity, rather than propane, for cooking. Electric cooking was actually a very easy decision for us. When our daughters were very young, roughly 25 years ago, my wife and I replaced our gas range with a smooth-top electric range. I had read too many articles about health risks of open combustion in houses; I didn’t want to expose our children to those combustion products.

Heat Pump Water Heaters in Cold Climates: Pros and Cons

Posted March 5, 2014 11:41 PM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions, GreenSpec Insights

While a heat-pump water heater will save significant energy on a year-round basis, be aware that in a cold climate the net performance (water heating plus space heating) will drop in the winter.

Electricity consumption by our GeoSpring heat pump water heater in February. Note the spike mid-month when I switched the mode to "boost." Click to enlarge.
Photo Credit: here

We chose a heat pump water heater for our new house, and as I've recently discussed here, there are a lot of reasons why you might be doing the same.

Using an air-source heat pump, heat pump water heaters (HPWHs) extract heat out of the air where they are located to heat the water.

That means that a HPWH cools the space where it is located. That’s a good thing in the summer—it doubles as air conditioning—but in the winter it’s not so helpful. That’s especially the case in a cold climate in a house without a standard heating system.

Picking a Water Heater: Solar vs. Electric or Gas Is Just the Beginning

Posted February 26, 2014 5:31 PM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions, GreenSpec Insights

Why we opted for electric water heating over a solar water heater

Our GeoSpring heat-pump water heater. Click to enlarge.
Photo Credit: Alex Wilson

As we build more energy-efficient houses, particularly when we go to extremes with insulation and air tightness, as with Passive House projects, water heating becomes a larger and larger share of overall energy consumption (see Solar Thermal Hot Water, Heating, and Cooling). In fact, with some of these ultra-efficient homes, annual energy use for water heating now exceeds that for space heating—even in cold climates.

So, it makes increasing sense to focus a lot of attention on water heating. What are the options, and what makes the most sense when we’re trying to create a highly energy-efficient house?

When Weatherizing Increases Radon

Posted February 24, 2014 10:50 AM by Peter Yost
Related Categories: BuildingGreen's Top Stories

Air sealing and other energy retrofits in our homes can raise or lower radon levels. The only way to know is to test.

This blog post first appeared on GreenBuildingAdvisor.com.

Will this be on the test? With radon, the correct answer is always Yes. Photo: National Institutes of Health. Image is in the public domain.We are always trying to avoid unintended consequences of our best efforts to improve home performance. A good example of this is radon gas and air tightness levels in homes during energy retrofits. How are the two levels related, and what can we do about it?

Airtightness and radon levels

There are five main factors that drive radon levels in homes:

Insulated Vinyl Siding: Worth the Extra Cost?

Posted February 20, 2014 1:50 PM by Peter Yost
Related Categories: BuildingGreen's Top Stories, GreenSpec Insights

Two studies indicate some benefits to using insulated vinyl siding, but more data is needed to win over this skeptic.

A weather-resistive barrier combined with insulated vinyl siding had some visible, qualititative results on thermal performance in a new industry study. Image: Vinyl Siding Institute.Setting aside the overall environmental profile of the oft-demonized PVC (check our coverage in this month’s EBN feature “The PVC Debate: A Fresh Look”), I’ve been getting a lot of questions about insulated vinyl siding—the vinyl siding with form-fitted expanded polystyrene (EPS) insulation permanently built into the back side of the double-four courses of vinyl siding.

Thanks to claims being made by the Vinyl Siding Institute and specific manufacturers, I’ve been hearing questions like these:

Recent Comments


Urine Collection Beats Composting Toilets for Nutrient Recycling

Lloyd Alter says, "

I don't think it is a question of urine separating beating composting toilets; it can do both and in fact a urine-separating composting toilet...

" More...


7 Tips to Get More from Mini-Split Heat Pumps in Colder Climates

Joel Ackerman says, "

Hi,

 

I had installed two Fujitsu heat pumps, 15000 BTU models at the East and West end of my house.  The east end tends to...

" More...

mark g says, "

Bob,

Thanks for this: "For the A/C in my case there wasn't nearly as much plastic crackling".

At least i have something to look...

" More...


Safe, All-Electric "Induction" Cooking: Try This At Home

Lloyd Alter says, "

My former boss Graham Hill, who built a high end tiny apartment after he left TreeHugger, used induction in an interesting way: since they use so...

" More...


Heat Pump Water Heaters in Cold Climates: Pros and Cons

Bruce Donelson says, "

If you insulate the mechanical room, your HPWH will certainly become quiter to you upstairs. But it will have less heat available from upstairs to...

" More...