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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


OK...

I've started to gather information related to my "wish list" of design features and have posted them in my blog.

I thought I would create a thread in this "Planning Phase" forum to share some of my findings and to ask questions about things I don't know, to invite suggestions for improvement, and to generally learn from others' experience while documenting and sharing my journey so that hopefully the next O-B will find the process a bit easier...

Regards,

LGW


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


Geothermal Heat Pump

I'm definitely going with a geothermal heat pump... lower energy consumption, lower maintenance costs, and very effective at keeping a house "comfortable."

If the groundwater volume allows, I may use an open-loop water well heat pump, and allow the water to help "feed" my planned 30-foot waterfall at the back of my property.  (We have unusually plentiful water in this area that is recharged by underground river systems so I won't exactly be depleting an aquifer.)  I am considering using a thermal conduction interface between the water and the heat pump so that the non-recirculating system doesn't foul my heat pump and cause maintenance problems. 

Is anyone aware of this having been done?  I'd love to hear how others have done similar things, because I am just learning about this.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


CFLs

Compact fluorescents are going to be used everywhere feasible in my house.  While LEDs can have lower life-cycle costs, as I understand it they actually consume more electricity than CFLs.  I may use some LEDs in strategic locations in the house such as hard to reach areas where I don't want to change bulbs as frequently.

Any suggestions on specific lighting fixtures that work well/don't work well with CFLs?

Are there places in my house I should consider alternative light bulb technology?


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


Energy Star appliances

All appliances in my house (even big screen TVs) are going to be Energy Star rated and energy efficient. Energy and water efficient front loading washers and dryers will be used along with the most energy efficient glass top ranges, dual ovens, dishwashers, etc. Noise pollution will also be considered and controlled with appliance selection.

What are some of the appliance selections with which you have been particularly pleased?


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


Air Tight Construction

The house envelope will be air blower tested for tightness, which shouldn't be much of a problem with the All Wall System combined with proper sealing of any penetrations, and potentially foam insulation under the roofing (assuming a steel SIP roof doesn't work out).  I'm still studying the best way to insulate under the roof deck.  I will have a finished attic, and will have no unconditioned space.

Which types of foam insulation do you recommend?  If I want to seal all penetrations myself to make sure it is done right, is there a foam system you would recommend?  I've seen good recommendations for Tiger Foam... any experiences you can share with me?

With only limited roof space that won't be ceilings of actual finished rooms or else the wrap around porch, what is the best method for insulating the roof decks?  I want to use metal SIP roofs to make this easy, but with a hip roof with dormers, the metal SIPs may not be practical.  What are your experiences with a hip roof using SIPs?


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


Siding.

The house I will be building is a progressive take on an antebellum plantation which would have been traditionally sided with white board siding.

Well insulated white (to reflect most heat) siding will be attached to the exterior of the AllWalls (While cement fiber Board is otherwise attractive, but it has very high embodied energy and must be painted.  White vinyl siding will be lower maintenance and its light weight greatly reduces embodied energy from lower shipping costs.).  i don't want to use vinyl will in any conditioned spaces.  I'm limiting the use of plastics in the interior of my home due to my heightened sensitivity to fumes.  The exterior of the AllWalls in the enclosed southern porches will be finished with Low VOC stucco.

I will probably use a rigid foam board insulation between the siding and the AllWall, or else use integral foam insulated siding. 

Most of the siding will be well protected under the 10' wide wrap around porch.  I'm not too concerned with the longevity of vinyl siding as long as it is properly installed.

Do any of you have reasons that I should consider as to why I should select something other than vinyl siding?


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


Roof.

I'm considering using steel SIPs for the roof, but others have raised concerns about using SIPS with hip roofs, and I will also have dormers.  I don't like wood SIPs because they weigh more making positioning on multi-story houses more cumbersome and dangerous, and I still don't trust glued chip board to provide long-term performance.  I also like the steel SIPs, because I won't necessarily have to do any finish work on the ceiling of the wrap around porches.  However, the industry is still researching how best to attach SIP roofs to ICF or AllWall walls (research being led by the Portland Cement Association) and I am not sure that I am satisfied with the answers that have been provided so far (pour straps and anchors into the top of the wall).  This requires further research and I welcome ideas, experiences, and input on this issue particularly.

I intend to use Energy Star reflective metal roofing (cool roofing) in conjunction with extra high R-value foam insulation for both thermal and noise protection.  I will likely use a white roof along with the white porch columns and white vinyl siding, (with stone on the exposed foundation walls) I also want the roof secured to the foundation walls in such a way as to withstand high wind uplift and sheer forces.

Are any of you aware of metal SIP roofs being used for a hip roof?  How successful was it, and which vendor was used?

What are some ideas for securely attaching a SIP roofing system to a poured wall (like AllWall or ICF)?  I'm not satisfied with merely securing lumber across the top of the wall and attaching thereto.  I want an attachment method that will withstand sheer and uplift forces!

 


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


Dormers, Belvedere, and Cupola.

If I use steel SIPS for the roof, then I will likely also use steel SIP walls for the dormers, belvedere, and cupola, particularly to reduce the weight of the belvedere and cupola.  I really prefer SIPS over stick construction because of the reduced construction waste. 

The belvedere will have to be supported by anchored poles on two corners (there are walls below at the other two corners and other wall crossings along the 4 spans of the belvedere walls), and the cupola must be merely secured to the roof of the belvedere.  Strength to acceptable weight, I think I can generate higher wind load resistance with steel SIP construction in these particular applications.  This requires further study.

Any suggestions of what to watch out for with such a roof configuration?

Any suggestions on how to ensure that the belvedere and cupola are secured properly to the house.  I'd love to be able to support a high wind load resistance like I can with the walls and thereby potentially get an insurance premium break...


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


Exterior Walls

I understand that poured concrete walls dry slowly and can carry thousands of pounds of water,and it is therefore important to let the poured concrete of a new home dry for several months before finishing the walls.  Supposedly, the walls need to dry in both directions and a vapor barrier should not be used nor impede drying.  "They" say that waterproofing technology has come a long way in the past decade, and poured walls are best for keeping water out. 

Do others typically time the installation of a vapor barrier and the installation of interior surface sealing and the vinyl siding so as to allow the concrete adequate time to cure and dry properly?  It doesn't seem like such drying is even possible with an ICF wall pour... how does an ICF wall dry properly?

How much drying time is needed after an AllWall pour prior to finishing the interior and or exterior surfaces?

Do I need to leave my basement foundation wall trenches open for an extended period of time (say two months) while the concrete dries and go on with other components of the construction project, before coming back and water and pest proofing the exterior buried wall? 

How long do I need to wait before applying plaster and/or vinyl siding to the AllWalls?


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


Interior Walls.

On the interior of the All Walls I am considering using Lime plasters which have slightly lower embodied energy than portland-cement-based plasters, and they don't include petroleum-based ingredients, as acrylic plasters do. Integral natural pigments obviate the need for painting. It is my understanding that natural lime plasters and wall coatings made from ingredients such as clay, sand, and cellulose are particularly environmentally friendly.

Where painting is required I intend to use low VOC paints.  (The apparent downside is the color choices don't seem to be nearly as vibrant, and that is particularly so for the zero-VOC paints.)  Although the VOC content of paint is often considered for indoor environmental reasons, the vast majority of VOCs are actually released by the time the paint is dry.  There is no significant long-term off-gasing from most paints so most VOCs will be gone prior to move in of a new home.  I am only even considering low-VOC materials because I am hyper-sensitive to ANY such fumes, and because low-VOC materials are more environmentally friendly in general.  Low-VOC paints/polyurethanes, and stains will certainly be sufficient to maintain IAQ.  I feel that zero-VOC paints are going farther than necessary, even for my health needs.

Where sheetrock must be used, it should have no paper backing so as to avoid mildew, or at the very least have mildew resistant backing if the treatment doesn't create VOC problems.

Have any of you used low-VOC materials?  Was it worth the cost difference to you, and if so, why?

For any of you that have experience with the AllWall System, which surface finishes worked best in your opinion, and what were their advantages?


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


Just as a clarification... When I find the answers, I am going to reply to my own questions.  I'm using this thread to help organize the research I need to do, and also to hopefully solicit some input from others.  I hope this format is OK with the forum moderator?  Because I'll certainly be posting a lot as I document every step of my planning process in this way...
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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


Flooring.

All flooring will likewise be limited to low VOC materials. Materials that off-gas for more than a couple of months (especially including the adhesives) will not even be considered for use.

Where adhesives are required I will try to use manufacturer recommended low- or zero (if long-term off-gasing is a concern)-VOC, water-based and solvent-free products compatible with the flooring.

What low VOC flooring materials and adhesives do you have experience with and would recommend?  Are their some that were less than adequate?  Do the low VOC adhesives work as well as the others?  If not what are their limitations?

The south side floors (including south porch/sun spaces) should have 3" to 4" of thermal mass.  I will probably install some kind of stone or concrete floors in the southern spaces.  The Den and Breakfast nook, which extend the length of the south side of the house, will likely have a dark matte stone or uncovered concrete surface to maximize the effectiveness of the thermal mass. I'd like to match the surface of the porch sun space so I get to "emotionally" bring the outside in and the inside out. 

Which thermal mass flooring materials have you enjoyed and why? Which would you not recommend and why?

Formaldehyde-free bamboo flooring will be selected instead of wood floors. Bamboo is RAPIDLY renewable and therefore very "Green" even if it is frequently shipped all the way from China.  I personally like the look as much as hard wood, and it definitely makes an environmental statement that I want our community to hear... People need to be thinking about resource conservation.

I've heard that some of the bamboo flooring didn't hold up very well...  I've heard others have excellent experience with bamboo flooring that has been as durable or more so than hardwood flooring.  What makes the difference and how can I ensure good value and durability when I select my bamboo floor?  Which are vendors you've had good or bad experiences with as it relates to bamboo flooring?

Cork flooring will be used in the Kitchen, and possibly in limited applications in bathrooms.  With arthritis already beginning to hurt our joints, I like the idea of the slightly softer floor surface for long periods of standing.  Hard surfaces such as stone and concrete make my hips hurt after a while.  Cork is a renewable and affordable resource, and I like the available textures.  Cork is not yet common here in Alabama, and it will make a nice conversation piece.  (Any excuse to explain green building concepts &;grin>!)

Which are vendors you've had good or bad experiences with as it relates to cork flooring? Do you prefer sheets of cork or tiles, and why?

I will likely use gravel under the basement slab, and will not use slag due to the reported incidences of oxidation and swelling of slag leading to heaving of the slab.  (I'll stick with the tried and true on this one... I posted the link supporting this statement in a previous post)  A termite proof moisture barrier system will be provided under the basement slab and for sealing below grade walls.

Any suggestions for a good spec for gravel that will give a solid, level foundation slab?  What moisture barrier systems would you suggest for use in conjunction with a buried AllWall basement wall?  What moisture barrier system would you suggest under the slab? 

I know very little about foundation slabs other than how important they are.  What critical questions am I not addressing?

 


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


Foundation and Basement Walls

A gravel (I won’t use slag tfhrc.gov/hnr20/recycle/waste) grade base that is 1.5 to 2.5 feet deep.  4” insulation on top of the gravel.  A waterproof membrane will be placed under the slab (I want to learn more about this; can anyone share some more information or links where I can educate myself?).  Use a fibermesh reinforcement in the concrete instead of rebar [Note: Be aware that it can apparently mildly accelerate the setting/workability time of the concrete and take that into your slump specifications/grade prep., etc.].  Include removing fibers that stick out of the concrete as part of the required finishing.

The edges of the concrete slab apparently needs to be three to four times the slab thickness.  When I locate the appropriate specification language I will add it to this thread.

Does anyone have a good specification language for the foundation slab?

The slab height is to be a few inches above the walkout basement height.  Rebar is apparently set into the floor slab to protrude up into the AllWall System walls which will then have concrete poured.  Floor drains are to be included in the bathrooms, the garages, in the conditioning chamber, and in the laundry closet that are on the slab.  [Floor drains will also be provided near every water heater and clothes washer in the house!]  Floor drains will be fitted with non-return valves, and removable sealing caps.  The basement floors will be sloped towards the drains.  The basement walls will be moisture sealed with an exterior waterproof air gap membrane/foundation wrap (perhaps Tremco's Paraseal membrane or DMX FlexSheet).  The basement walls will be a MINIMUM of 9’ and I’d like to go as high as 12’ [The higher the basement walls, the lower the pool will sit in my landscape (the neighbors house sits on their lot a full story higher than my lot and they have a 3 story window; I'd like to get the pool out of their line of sight), and/or the better the view (our lot is in a low spot of our ridge... if I get our house high enough I will be able to see over the houses across the street from the belvedere and see all the way into the next county!]. 

A drainage system will be installed at the base of all basement walls, and a rigid fiberglass self-draining insulation will be attached to the outside perimeter of the buried basement walls to collect water and to drain it down to the drainage tile.

What do you consider to be the best subsurface wall drainage systems for use with AllWalls or ICFs and why?  With which have you had bad experiences?

The floor drains and the exterior drainage system will drain into the gray water system.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


Pavement/Driveway/Sidewalk/Patios

I want my paving spaces to be porous to reduce rain runoff.  I will likely use porous concrete for the driveways and patios with cobblestone edging and inserts.

Does anyone have preferred specification language for a porous concrete driveway and/or patio?  Which brands have you had good experience with?  Which have you had bad experience with?

I may choose the expense of full cobblestone on sidewalks if a wheelchair can roll over it easily enough.

Cobble Systems has an interesting product cobblesystems.com. ownerbuilderbook.com/forum/messages.aspx?ID=3497.

I've seen some encouraging comments in the forums about using this cobblestone system.  As I've said before, and as I am sure will say many times again, I REALLY like any product/technology that lowers the experience/skill requirements for the installer and helps better control the labor and time costs.  I will choose spending my money on technology/product over labor any day.  I like controlling my cost via design specifications I can ACTUALLY control.  I like reducing both my labor AND my interest costs (which won't show up in the appraisal value) by speeding up the construction process with higher value products (that will show up in the appraisal).  This is a great way to enhance your O-B equity!

I'm also interested in the grass driveway systems where you embed a plastic waffle structure in the soil to keep the weight of the vehicles from crushing the grass.  I'd love to use this for the driveway down to my basement garage.  I understand the installed cost is roughly equivalent to a paved driveway.  I want to learn more about this.

Have any of you installed such a grass driveway?  Which vendor did you use?  Are there any vendors you like better than others and why?  Any you dislike and why?  Would this be viable as a DIY project post construction/post-COA for a basement garage access?


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


Radiant Heating

I will only install supplemental radiant heating in the primary bathrooms.  Since forced air system will be used to cool and heat the house (and importantly to provide effective dehumidification and air exchange), supplemental radiant heating in the bathrooms will likely be provided by inexpensive to install electric (but expensive if operated too much) heating, with timers to prevent overuse.  (If I don't have a home automation system to handle it, I may also put an "on switch" next to the bed, so that the bathroom can be pre-heated before getting out of bed.) 

My MBR will have a large stone fireplace, stone floors, and a stone shower, in addition to the thermal mass of the AllWalls.  I'm going to have to be careful to ensure the temperature can be elevated in a timely manner with so much thermal mass. 

I am investigating underfloor electric systems as well as solar heated hydronic systems.  I will also consider the wall mounted radiant heaters that pull double duty as towel warmers.

For a supplemtal bathroom heating system, which radiant heat method would you suggest and why?  Which products/vendors do you like and why? 

Since I will already have solar hot water heaters for various uses, and I will already be using PEX plimbing systems, will the hydronic systems provide any advantages for me?


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


Water System

I will use solar hot water heaters assisted by the most energy efficient electric hot water heaters I can afford.  The waste heat from my geothermal heat pumps can also supplement my hot water needs if that makes any financial sense.

I'm studying two types of piping systems and wondering if the best attributes of each can be combined...  I really like the PEX manifold systems with the "home run" piping for energy efficiency and to avoid water wastage.  Of course, hot water recirculation also makes a lot of sense, and I really like the TACO system for recirculation. 

Can the TACO system for recirculation work in conjunction with a PEX manifold system for distribution?  If they can be combined, would the additional savings ultimately pay back the added expense of combining the technologies?

At this point I feel pretty much sold on the PEX piping systems.  Copper stub outs appear to be the way to go in conjunction with the PEX piping.  As an O-B, the hardest to control cost of construction is labor.  I'm willing to invest up front on the "technology side" because I can draw and pay for "materials" relatively quickly versus the much slower cash turn of labor expenses and the much more difficult to predict, budget, and control labor expenses. [This is also why I think AllWalls, ICFs, steel SIPs, or wood Sips should be "no brainers" to Owner Builders.]  So, if I am going to use an energy efficient PEX manifold system, is it possible and does it make sense (and cents) to combine it with a recirculation control system?

I will use a minimum of 1" insulation on all hot water pipes in the house.  I presume the slit rigid foam insulation that you just pop over the pipe is the most affordable and efficient option here.  Is there some better technology that I am not aware of?

I also intend to look into the economics of installing a drain water heat recovery system.  With most of my hot water needs being covered by free solar energy or free recovered waste heat from the heat pump, would I really be saving anything by putting in a drain water heat recovery system? 


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


Plumbing Fixtures.

I intend to use low flow, venturi-effect or aerated fixtures that "feel" higher flow without wasting water.  I will also use "quiet" pressure assisted low flow toilets with dual flush capability.  Depending upon budget constraints, I may use lower cost, less water efficient toilets and sinks in infrequently used guest areas.  I will not skimp on showerheads.

I am considering using pedal or motion sensor activated faucets on sinks for hand washing where I am concerned about water waste...  With grandchildren visiting and using bathrooms we hardly ever step foot into, I want to make sure that they are turned off completely.  Motion sensor faucets or pedal faucets can help control water wastage. [Likewise, I am considering occupancy sensor controls for the lights in such rooms and their closets as well.]

What conservation technologies/techniques would you recommend?  What brands should I take a look at?


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


Windows.

When I specify my windows I will specify "whole product performance values" for U-factor and SHGC, NOT potentially more favorable "glass-only" values.  As best as I can afford, I want windows and doors to have insulated fiberglass frames.  [If I have to skimp on budget, I really don't want to skimp on the house envelope, because it has one of the greatest return on energy savings over time (along with Energy Star appliance selection) and is one of the biggest factors in comfort inside of the home.  I'd rather replace things in the future that legitimately "wear out" or go out of style, than ever replace more "permanent" windows and doors.]

Are fiberglass frames the most durable AND the most energy efficient?  What other technologies come close at a better price/performance ratio?  Which vendors do you recommend for QUALITY windows?

The following are the window performance specs I am considering using:

High (> 70%) Glass Visible Transmittance on all windows to assist with daylighting

Low SHGC windows for "HOUSE" windows facing south, east- and west; [Ideally "High Efficiency Low-e (such as Solarscreen 2000 VEI-2M™ by Viracon)" because it provides high daylighting and low heat transfer. (visible transmittance 70; u-factor 0.29; and Solar Heat Gain Coefficient of 0.37)]
Standard glazing is acceptable for north-facing windows. [Ideally "Double Pane Insulated Glass (standard clear) VT 79; UF 0.48; SHGC 0.70 (not much solar exposure on North to generate much heat gain...)]
All SAUNA windows and south-facing enclosed "PORCH" windows are intended to capture heat and not lose it in the winter and should therefore have high SGHC values coupled with low U-factors [ideally "Pyrolitic Low-e Double Glass (LOF Clear Low-e®)" VT 75, UF 0.33, SGHC 0.71; or alternatively Double Pane Insulated Glass (standard clear) VT 79, UF 0.48, SGHC 0.70 ] for passive solar gain.

see: wbdg.org/resources/windows

I want to take a closer look at Bilco ScapeWell safety egress window from the basement bedroom.

When are they required by code?  If I have a walk-out basement, am I still required to have egress windows in the non-walk-out basement bedrooms?  It would seem to be smart to have them, just like having window ladders available in upper story bedrooms is smart, but is it code required?  Window ladders aren't.

basementmaintenance.com/info17

From comments read in these forums, I will give a serious look at “Marvin Integrity fiberglass windows” I will also look at Pella, Anderson, and Milgard. 

With differences in which stock needs to be cleared when, and differences in shipping costs between manufacturers in different parts of the country, I don't necessarily put much faith in others' experience about which windows are most economical.  The forum postings show the prices are all over the place and getting quotes from all viable vendors is the smart thing to do...  Someone may give a sweet deal to clearance the overstock they have in a warehouse one hour away.

[Note: I'll explain my eccentric solar heated sauna in another post <grin>.]


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


Porch Design

My house has a wrap around porch.  In the summer, the 10 foot wide, at least 10 foot high porch roof will shade the house from the sun.  In the winter, the porch windows will be closed to create a sun room to provide passive solar heat gain to the house.  In the winter, the house windows and doors will be opened to the enclosed porch during the day to let heat in, and closed at night to keep the heat in, with the enclosed porch helping to further buffer the temperature of the house.  The stuccoed AllWall on the south porch will provide thermal mass to further buffer the space. 

Essentially, the windowed/screened south facing porch functions as a de facto solarium.  The Solarium acts as a THERMAL BUFFER ZONE – at moderate temperatures that are typically between interior and exterior temperature extremes. The south wall of the house opening to the solarium has a lot of well insulated glass that divides the Solarium / Greenhouse space from the interior of the home. Instead of having only one wall between the interior and outside temperature extremes, the house has TWO layers of glass. The engineering principle is that TWO SMALL TEMPERATURE DIFFERENTIALS PRODUCE MUCH LOWER HEAT TRANSFER THAN ONE LARGE TEMPERATURE DIFFERENTIAL.

In the summers the "screened" porch functions as a cooler, shaded area.  In the winter when the porch windows are closed it functions like a greenhouse collecting solar heat gain for the house.

Not sure that I have any questions here, but I would appreciate any comments...


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


Skylights

Typical "traditional" skylights let in too much heat when the sun is high and let too much heat escape when the sun is down.  I will not use a traditional skylight for daylighting...  However, there is a new breed of skylight that does an excellent job at daylighting without the loss of cooling/heating energy efficiency.  (You only miss out on the "view" provided by a traditional skylight...) I intend to use solatubes or sunpipes for additional daylighting in commonly used rooms and to make basement areas more "livable."  Some brands I intend to look at:
solatube.com
sunpipe.com
huvco.com

(This is a narrowed down selection)

Some of my tubular skylights will need to go perhaps up to 40 feet to the basement below.  It would seem to me that Solatube technology may handle such long lengths the best, if you can trust their marketing claims regarding the "special" reflectivity of their inside surfaces.  Any thoughts on this?

I also figure that some of my porch columns can be "hollow" and I can send the tubular skylights through them to the basement... 

I am willing to do a lot of extra framing in the middle of the house to provide paths from the roof to the various rooms of the house for daylighting.  Even where rooms have windows for daylighting, I intend on putting in such skylights in commonly used rooms to keep my wife from turning on the lights and wasting electricity in the middle of the day.  My wife prefers light from above rather than from windows, and frequently closes the blinds/drapes and turns on the lights.  With solatube style "lights" we can waste less energy.

Anyone on the list have any experience, particularly with some of Solatubes competitors?  Honestly, I've heard nothing but good things about Solatube...


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


Roof.

A reflective white metal roof will be used.   A metal roof can handle the higher roof temperatures that come with the lack of an attic space (apparently, many shingle companies won't warranty their materials when used with under roof decking insulation).  Additionally, you can directly adhere certain solar panels to a metal roof without expensive racks providing a potentially large cost savings if/when I add PV in the future [I will provide wire conduits to the roof at the time of construction for the possible future addition of PV].  The roof will be sloped specifically for ideal PV angles (between 25 and 35 degree pitch for PV panels, up to 45 or 50 degree pitch for solar  water heaters where I live in Northeast Alabama).  Although a lower pitch provides better year round solar exposure, a higher pitched solar water heater will be less likely to overheat in the summer, and have better efficiency in the winter when it needs it the most.

A double roofing system appears to be inadvisable because of noise issues with a metal roof.  Instead, I will need to insulate and completely seal the attic with foam insulation up to an "effective fiberglass equivalent" R-value (foam insulation has no gaps of coverage unlike fiberglass, so an R-16 foam provides a much higher "effective" R-value as compared to R-16 fiberglass) of ~52 above living areas.  Any attic space above living areas should be conditioned space.

As mentioned previously, I am considering using SIP panels for the roof structure.  They will be relatively sound proof and provide excellent insulation, while further structurally reinforcing the home.  Time of construction will also be enhanced, IF they can be properly and readily constructed for a hip roof.  Steel SIP panels seem to have several advantages as a roofing system, including being easier to handle.  greenbuildingtalk.com/Forums

With the majority of my "roof" having the underside exposed on the porches, the following advantage seems huge: "The underside of the roof panel automatically forms an attractive finished soffit overhang or exterior porch ceiling."  The roof will still need standing seem metal to take the abuse (hail, etc.) and prevent damage to the decking "structure," which I don't ever want to have to replace.

One question hanging out there is "Is a steel SIP roof REALLY viable for a hip roof design with dormers?

From what I understand, getting the hip roof to perfectly line up with the walls below "as constructed" can be extremely challenging.  There apparently is even the potential for the premanufactured roofing panels to not fit at all, if the wall construction doesn't meet the exact dimensions.  Modifications of the SIP roofs on site is a job that presumably takes significant experience. 

I'd love to hear from others on this, because I really would prefer to use steel SIP roofing, as long as I am not creating a financial risk by doing so with my particular house design.  What questions should I be asking steel SIP roof vendors, before ruling them out or before specifying them?

The other big remaining question is "How do you provide a structurally stable connection between a SIP roof and an AllWall System (or comparable connection with an ICF system)?  Apparently, as I googled on this topic, it appears the industry itself is doing research to come up with an answer.

[Combining ICF & SIP: silverspurconstruction.com/sip]

Has anyone found existing answers?


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


Overhang Eave Design.
susdesign.com/overhang

The formula for calculating south facing overhangs is here:
greenenergyohio.org/page

From my best efforts to use the susdesign animation linked above:
At my location, 8' south facing windows should have overhangs 2' above the windows, and the overhangs should be 3.5' long to maximize summer cooling of the porch while still enabling winter solar heat gains.  The south porches will be well shaded, except for August and September, and will have excellent solar heat gains throughout the winter, except for the end of March and into April.

The porch itself is a complete shading overhang in the summer, so we won't worry about the lack of an overhang over the lower porch, and I can easily stand to have a shorter eave if I financially need to, because shorter eaves will only cause heat gain on the porch and not the house.  When the windows are closed, a shorter eave will help increase solar heat gain in the winter. 

So, 3.5' eaves or not?  I haven't decided yet...  I'd be interested in any insights you might be able to share.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


Doors.

I will definitely use pre-hung doors.  Once again, I am willing to pay for engineered/premanufactured products, if they help decrease on-site labor costs and difficulties with on-site labor quality control, which I expect to have a tougher time controlling.

I intend to closely inspect the door and window framing and ensure that all boards are flush.  Misalignments can lead to cracking at the misalignment when the house settles.  While not a structural problem, per se, it casts structural "concerns" to future potential buyers.

Exterior windows and doors are to have insulated fiberglass frames.  I might consider insulated steel doors on certain secure entry doors.  Fiberglass Clad Doors (R-18 or higher); same window specs as posted in my windows post (as appropriate).  Sliding screen windows will be used on side doors exiting to unscreened porches.  Expanded foam caulking will be generously used between the door frame, rough opening, and threshold.

Weatherstripping will be used, or else magnetic seals if steel doors are used. (There will be no storm doors; they won't add much insulating value to a modern door.)

I will definitely put on dead bolt locks on all exterior accessible doors.  Locks will be universally keyed...

Are there other reasons why I should consider using a storm door???

Interior doors will be solid doors for all hallway doors.  I might consider skimping and using hollow core on closets, potty room, and other doors where sound insulation is not as important.

Any ideas or guidelines for door selection?  What are features you like in doors?


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


Garage Doors

I intend to use garage doors with polyurethane foam insulation (R-18 or higher), Thermal break and air seal, bottom AND perimeter weather seals.  High-quality rollers, hardware, counterbalance springs, and adjustable tracks to reduce the noise.  Pinch-resistance joints for child safety.  Because the house is so noise proof, I may install a notification light for when someone pulls into our driveway, so that I know when people get home.  I don't expect to be able to hear the garage door open anymore...
raynor.com/homeowners/insulation

Any additional performance specs I should consider?

Any experience or opinions of various brands you'd like to share?


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


Electrical and Wiring.
I am considering using 12-gauge wiring to my heavily used outlets (kitchens, bathrooms, computer desks, TVs, entertainment centers, shop/power tools, charging stations, etc.); and 14-gauge wiring for typical lights, fans, and lightly used outlets; and 10 gauge wiring only where needed such as for 30-amp appliances.  

I don't see going to all 12-gauge wiring, and from what I've experienced, 10-gauge wiring is difficult to work with inside electrical boxes.

I will embed a PVC conduit up each of two walls in every room to make pulling new cables from the basement to the attic easy.  I want to be able to keep media wires separated from electrical wires to avoid interference.  I want to provide access to the conduits at the ceiling in the middle of the house (this will provide ease of wiring for all four floors) so I will probably put easy access junction boxes in the conduits above the ceiling of the first floor. 

Is there a better way to get access from an embedded wiring conduit at all four floors???

I intend to over wire with 8 pairs of Cat-6 cable to all computer and media centers in the house.  I can always use Cat-5 connectors as needed, and change out to Cat-6 in the future giving me an easy upgrade path for the future.

I intend to install an outdoor WiFi repeater since I expect that the WiFi signal may be dampened by the dense walls of the AllWall System.

Does anyone with an ICF or AllWall house have experience with WiFi use and how badly the signal is dampened???

I intend to Pre-Wire for a DIY home automation system to be added after construction completion. 

The Elk M1 Gold system looks interesting to me: elkproducts.com/products/m1

hometoys.com/article

What home automation system would you recommend?

One other electrical related question, Is it true that 220-volt 3-phase power to an geothermal heat pump will result in increased energy efficiency as compared to standard wiring?  If I can pay a little extra to get 3-phase power to my house, should I do it?  We have a transmission line running at the edge of my property...  The neighborhood is serviced by underground utilities that don't provide 3-phase power...


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


AIR FLOW
The house will be sealed, slightly pressurized and have an air exchanger.  Pressure balancing will be primarily accomplished with jumper ducts from the rooms to the central hallway.  Where used, air transfer grilles will be baffled, sized larger than the inlet grille, and positioned in closets if possible in order to reduce noise impacts.

Almost all houses must have a whole-house mechanical ventilation system rated at 7.5 cfm per occupant, plus one cfm for every 100 square feet of floor area that can be occupied. eetdnews.lbl.gov  At the size of my house's planned conditioned space (~9,000 sf) that is going to be a lot of required air exchange.  Also, how do they determine the "occupancy."  Routinely, we will only have three people living in our house, but with the prospect of eventually finishing out 10 bedrooms (including the three in the guest house), how many "people" do I need to plan for in the air exchanges?

"With models from 75 to 450 CFM, ALDES Residential HRV models can meet the general ventilation requirements of homes from 1,100 sq. ft. to 8,000 sq. ft. based on ASHRAE 62-1989 (0.35 Air Changes per Hour). americanaldes.com/HRVRes"

Ideally I would like to have a whole-house ventilation system, as part of that the bathrooms, kitchen, and laundry room are to constantly vent externally [an energy recovery ventilator (ERV) will provide replacement air], so as to remove most moisture and pollutants from the house.  There will be no air returns from the bathrooms and kitchens to prevent odors and moisture from circulating to other parts of the house.  I have heard that it is smart to passively heat/cool the bathrooms and kitchens by drawing air in from adjacent actively heated/cooled rooms.  This prevents "blowing" bathroom air into adjacent spaces.  Is this a smart design idea???  I will definitely being asking the HVAC folks about this one.

oikos.com/esb/44/forcedair

Exhaust fans will not have a sone rating higher than 1.5 to ensure quiet operation, but will have a light showing their operational status. Potty closets will have their own continuous vent inlets.

Kitchens shall have a mechanical exhaust system rated at five kitchen air changes per hour, thereby enabling the use of unducted range hoods as needed. Bathrooms must have mechanical exhaust; the minimum requirement is a user-operable fan that exhausts at least 50 cfm (25 L/s). Mechanical exhaust is not required in toilets, laundry rooms, lavatories, and utility rooms (but I will probably put them in the toilets and laundry rooms anyway).

The vent fans in the kitchens and baths will remove air and the ERV will provide makeup air to the recirculation air (I have heard that it is a good idea to use an increased rate from its typical design value of 0.5 to a range of 0.7–1.3 in order to reduce indoor VOC).

What specs would you use for your air flow considerations???  What hasn't worked? What has worked well?


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


PASSIVE AIR CONDITIONING
I intend to install a whole house fan in the cupola. I will only open the windows and use it when the relative humidity adjusted for the inside house temperature will be 50% or below.

I may use gray water to supply misters on the roof of the house for relatively inexpensive exterior evaporative cooling.  Anyone have experience with this to know how well it works?  I know that the misting centers at Six Flags (approximately 1 hour east from here and comparable weather and humidity) SIGNIFICANTLY cools the mist area.  If such mist can actually cool the roof deck, a cooler roof deck should lower energy consumption inside the home.  The dropping cool air should also help cool the porches.  Any condensation or run off will recirculate through the rain gutters back into the gray water system.  A similar misting system can potentially be used on the hard scape of the pool deck area.  I know that a family used a misting system at their pool deck in Birmingham and it has a significant temperature impact.

Does anyone on here have experience with evaporative misters for outdoor space cooling???

Earth Tubes do not appear to be economically feasible;  there is also the consideration of moisture issues from condensation in summer.  If I were to do it, here is what I would consider doing.  4" Earth tubes (thin wall SCH 2729 PVC: thinner than DR35; or if safe from mold/mildew a heavy wall 4" or 6" clay pipe), buried with a significant slope (to easily flush and to drain condensate) and between 6' and 12' deep and six feet apart from each other, will feed intake air into the basement Passive Conditioning Chamber [a portion of the buried basement on the north side of the house under the front porch that is not actively conditioned and is isolated from the house and the rest of the basement. Intake air for the ground source heat pump will come from this room.  When the groundsource heat pump is not running, intake air for the solar chimney generated passive air flow through the house will enter through the earth tubes (if installed) and/or the basement window wells on the north side of the house.  Hopefully this passive conditioning chamber can pre-cool the air at least 10 degrees as compared to the ambient temperature during the summer.] 

The inlet to the earth tubes and the window wells will be protected from intrusion with a grate and window screening, and will angle downward to prevent clogging and blockages.  The earth tubes will be sloped to the heavily shaded ravine in order to intake the coolest possible air and so as to allow condensation to flow out of the pipe. The slope MUST be sufficient to prevent moisture build-up within the pipe so as to prevent causing mold, mildew, and fungus issues.  The earth tubes may need periodic active flushing to keep the air healthy.  I'm also considering putting a gray water supplied outdoor mister on the hill above the ravine to further cool the air in the ravine through evaporative cooling.  (The cool air should drop and moisture rise with the rising hot air.)  Anybody have an opinion on whether this will work or not work??? Due to the heavy hard wood and shrubbery cover along with favorable shading from hills, the ravine stays about 10 degrees cooler than on top of the hill. With additional evaporative cooling and cooling in the earthtubes, it could provide significantly cooler intake air for the passive conditioning chamber and as intake air into the geothermal heat pump.

Am I missing something here?  I am an absolute novice when it comes to heat pumps!

Once it becomes commercially available and affordable, a solar recharged dessicant system may be used in the Conditioning Chamber to further dehumidfy the air.  Hot air holds more humidity than cold air, thus hot air rising out of the solar chimney in the attic should further assist with dehumidifying the home. 

NOTE: Keeping the home sealed and conditioned with the geothermal heat pump may consume less energy than trying to actively dehumidify the air.  Therefore, unless a passive dehumidification system is ever affordable, passive cooling is probably not viable on days where humidity will be higher than 50% after cooling to household temps.

Passive air flow within the earth tubes (if ever installed) will be assisted with 4 inch axial fans (12 VDC computer cooling fan) in the upper end of each earth tube pipe to help pressurize the house.  (The number of earth tubes will match the number and volume of active vents from the house (i.e. "always on" bath and kitchen vent fans) +1 extra fanned tube, and +extra non-fanned tubes to match the volume of the open cupola.)  All earth tubes will terminate into a junction box in the cooling chamber.  The junction box will be fitted with a standard furnace HEPA filter.  The Air Intake from the Passive Conditioning Chamber into the home will also be fitted with a standard furnace HEPA filter.

Relative Humidity above 50% has the potential to encourage mold growth around here.  Because the average ground temp is above the dew point, the humidity will not condense out.  The hot, humid summer air in Alabama when cooled to household temps will inevitably be above 50% humidity on most days; this could encourage mold/mildew in the ground tubes.  Hot humid climates REQUIRE the temperature AND humidity to be significantly lowered by some means, 24-hours a day for most of the summer (and beyond).  This unfortunately requires active conditioning.

By building in solar mass, much of the annual heating and cooling loads can be passively achieved during the day and over night respectively.  Combined with an energy recovery ventillator, and smart ventillation practices, active energy consumption can be controlled to bare minimums, and we can avoid allowing excess humidity into the house.  However, if the heat pump is not running enough to automatically control the humidity, moisture problems can develop in the home.

If I want to save energy, properly cool the home, AND prevent moisture problems, then the BEST SOLUTION may be to somehow, cost-effectively dehumidify the intake air.  An energy efficient pool house moisture control system may be a viable option... if I am forced to go to active dehumidification.  I'd love to use a solar thermal recharged dessicant dehumidifcation system like the University of Maryland has been experimenting with, but it has not been commercialized yet.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


ACTIVE HEATING/CONDITIONING SYSTEM

Even though I'm trying my best to create a viable passive cooling system for our hot/humid climate, we will install an Energy Star rated (an efficiency rating of at least 2.8 COP or 13 EER) ground-source (geothermal) heat pump equipped with a more efficient scroll compressor (as compared to piston compressors), and equipped with a multi-zone damping system  (I found an excellent primer on zoning: http://www.hometech.com/learn/hvac.html#hp2). 

I will likely select up to 6 zones controlled by up to 6 separate thermostats (with humidity controls and compressor protector function if possible/applicable), with probably 2 separate units to prevent having to go to a less efficient larger scale unit.  As I currently invision it (prior to consulting with an HVAC expert) the southside of Floor 1 (den, breakfast nook, kitchen, laundry, pantry) will be the first zone.  The north side of floor 1 will be the second zone (parlor, foyer, bathroom, and dining room).  Floor 2 will be the third zone.  Floor 3 will be the fourth zone.  The basement will be a 5th zone.  And when finished, the guesthouse will be a 6th zone.  Zones 1, 3, and 4 will use one primary unit.  The less frequently used zones 2, 5, and 6 will share a second unit sized primarily for the much lower cooling loads [zones 2 & 5 (northside and basement) should be naturally cooler than the rest of the main house. Zone 6 will only be heated/cooled when in use;  zone 2 will receive some heat from natural convection cycles and the high solar mass; zone 5 can be supplementally heated by the fireplace in the basement and by natural convection cycles circulating warm air and its high solar mass.  Zone 6 will be built with lower thermal mass so that it can be conditioned relatively quickly upon the arrival of visitors.]

Any thoughts on the proposed zoning?  I'm obviously going to consult with my HVAC subs, because I am admittedly a novice with heat pumps and with HVAC zoning...

I intend to spend the money to get the highest viable efficiency rating on our HVAC system, because it will be the highest lifetime energy consumption of the home.  (Although payback in a very energy efficient home will take longer...  If all you care about is money, and not the environment, there will be a point of diminishing returns to consider.) I will work with an HVAC expert to specifically size the system for the expected cooling load of this extremely energy efficient house design and supplement any needed heating load with passive solar gain, and the fireplaces.  NOTE: I'm sizing for cooling rather than heating, because cooling is the bigger demand that will be harder to supplement in our climate.

A geothermal system using horizontal ground loops will generally cost less than a system with vertical loops.  However, if we drill a well for irrigation water, we can use the well shaft for the more energy efficient vertical loop system at lower cost.  [Note: as the depth to water becomes more shallow, especially in unconfined aquifers, open loop geothermal systems become less and less desirable.  A depth to water of 35 to 40 feet is usually adequate, and considering the ridge I'm on where the seasonal creek is at least 40 feet below where we will be drilling, an open loop system should be fine.]  If the water source is sufficient, I think I will use the less expensive open loop system, and discharge the used water into the gray water irrigation system, with any excess in the irrigation tank being discharged to the creek via the waterfall.  The average geothermal system will use 1.5 g.p.m. of water per ton of capacity while operating.  The only additional costs to the well will be an enlarged pressure tank or upsized plumbing to supply adequate water to the heat pump. WIth multiple gallons per minute, the waterfall should always at least have a trickle without needing a pump. 

[Note: Water-source heat pumps have a life expectancy of 19 years. The life expectancy of the ground loop is from 25 to 75 years.  Can I use a thermal exchanger to prolong the life of the heat pump by not putting it into direct contact with the well water, but only in contact with closed conditioned fluids as is the case with a closed loop system???]  So I want to consider using a heat exchanger between the well water and building distribution system to lower maintenance costs by precluding ground water minerals from potentially fouling the heat pump.  (This could potentially also be an interface for the solar swimming pool heater to supplement the heating loads of the geothermal heat pump and thereby increase its efficiency in the coldest months when I can't use the pool anyway.  Perhaps I can also increase the cooling efficiency of the heat pump by dumping heat into the swimming pool in the summer???  Anybody know of someone who has done things like this?)

I will use silent air duct dampers and work with my HVAC sub to ensure that they are properly positioned to pressure balance the home.  As I understand it so far, electrically controlled dampers tied into a multi-zone control system can direct air flow as needed to keep consistent, comfortable temperatures around the whole house.  The heat pumps will be equipped with variable-speed or dual-speed motors on their indoor fans (blowers), outdoor fans, or both.  A desuperheater can save the waste heat from the heat pump to help heat the hot water system of the house.  Is this worth doing when I will already have a solar hot water heater supplemented with a highly energy efficient electric hot water heater???  What is the energy cost of the thermal energy I will be saving (free solar thermal) versus the cost of the desuperheater?  I don't see where it would make sense to install a desuperheater, in my case, but please help me know if I'm right or if I'm missing something?

http://www.passivesolarenergy.info/

When the Geothermal Heat Pump is active, the intake air will be drawn from the Passive Conditioning Chamber.  A heat recovery venitllator will be used along with a whole-house electronic air cleaner (rather than a media air cleaner which is only 85% effecient) instead of a simple filter which is not very efficient at all.  I want to add a wireless filter change reminder, because this is a maintenance function I almost always forget to do on time.  Air quality control is a critical issue to me as I am highly sensitive.  I am specifically seriously allergic to formaldehyde.  I am interested in "investing" in an excellent air quality control system and want to control not only outdoor allergens, but also Radon/CO2/VOCs/Dust, etc.

I found the following interesting and want to research it further:  "...the energy-saving thermostat kept the compressor continually cycling, not allowing the evaporator to run for the ±2-3°F period required to remove humidity from the air. Replacing the existing energy-saving thermostats with the mechanical type is not a valid solution because the lack of control of the lower temperature limit will sharply increase energy consumption. A better solution would be to research an energysaving thermostat that provides at least ±2°F of tolerance between cycles." 

Does anyone know of such a thermostat for a geothermal heat pump???

<http://etd.gatech.edu/theses/available/etd-10222004-153001/unrestricted/meneses_ivan_r_200412_mast.pdf>

As I understand this, I should therefore, only use an energy saving programmable thermostat IF I have otherwise controlled the humdity in the house through means other than the geothermal heat pump.  If the geothermal heat pump cycles on and off improperly, humidity in the home can rise to unhealthy levels.  If I want to save energy, properly cool the home, AND prevent moisture problems, then the BEST SOLUTION may be to somehow, cost-effectively dehumidify the intake air.  An energy efficient pool house moisture control system may be a viable option... if I am forced to go to active dehumidification of the intake air.

I will definitely have sealed fireplaces with energy efficient blowers in all but the master bath.  For ambiance reasons, I will probably use gas logs in the MBR.  In any case, I will "install a sealed combustion gas fireplace or a wood-burning fireplace with gasketed doors."


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


SOLAR Considerations
Glass to Mass Ratios:
"Each design starts with 7% south glazing (net). To increase beyond 7% we must also add thermal mass, usually starting with floor mass and then walls."  It does not appear that I will be lacking sufficient thermal mass, despite the extensive glazing I plan on using, and besides most of my south facing glazing will be shaded from the summer sun by a 10 foot wide and at least 10 foot high wrap around porch during the summer...

The rules of thumb that I have found are an additional one sq. ft. of south glass may be added for every:
5.5 sq. ft. of sunlit thermal mass floor *
40 sq. ft. of floor not in direct sunshine
8.3 sq. ft. of thermal mass wall
* The maximum amount of sunlit floor is 1.5 times the south window area
The recommended maximum amount of south glass for direct gain is 12-15%

A simpler estimate is said to be provided as follows:

Every one square foot of south-facing glass must be accompanied by three square feet of 4-inch-thick masonry.

i.e. with the two south porches each having 18 sq. ft. of glass, the house needs a minimum of 108 sq. ft of 4" thick masonry.  The porch, itself, is 10 feet wide and provides more than 6X the required solar mass with a 4" masonry floor.  The porch will also have the AllWall thermal mass on the house wall...  The significant thermal mass in my house design should prevent solar gains from causing significant temperature swings.


The Solar Hot Water Heaters for the main house will be placed above the sauna at the best winter angle (~44 degrees -- or even 50 degrees) since we want to avoid overheating in the Summer.  [Note: If I am going to dump excess heat into the swimming pool or hot tub in the summer, the standard solar efficiency angle of 25 degrees to 35 degrees for my area may make sense...] An average family of four uses 80 gallons of hot water each day. Each gallon of water requires roughly one square foot of solar collector area for heating. Using this estimate, a family of four needs two 4’ x 10’ collector panels connected to a 80-gallon storage tank.  Ensure the system has freeze protection.  I may use two separate solar hot water systems with backup energy efficient electric water heaters for the main house.  I'm thinking that pipes to these solar hot water heaters should travel through the trombe wall to help preheat the water. 

These two solar water heaters will likely be tied into the swimming pool as well (heats the swimming pool in cool months and cools the swimming pool overnight in hot months). A solar hot water system may also be installed above the garage guest house to be the primary heat source for the hot tub.  Perhaps this solar water heater should be the hot water supply for the rarely used guest baths??? When guests are visiting the hot tub heater might have to work slightly harder...

south face.org/web/resources&services/publications

Since the sun is higher in the sky in the summer than in winter, the optimal pitch depends on the season in which the solar installation is mainly used. During the long days of summer, for instance, photovoltaic installations generate the highest yield. As a rule of thumb, the latitude (33.813N) less 10° is used for the installation angle for use in the summer, and for main use in winter the latitude + 10°. 

Not counting the roof space above the sauna, on the South face of the main roof line I can someday fit between 500 and 600 sq ft of PV panels.  I might manage another 200 sq ft on the roof of the garage. 

I'm thinking I'd like to assist the geothermal heat pump by pre-heating the ground water with the solar hot water.  This may be an excellent way of utilizing the solar hot water pool heater during the coldest months when the pool can't be used anyway, and when the geothermal heat pump could use some extra help to reduce heating costs...  Perhaps I can use the solar hot water panels to boost the temperature of the open-loop well water by incorporating a heat transfer system???

Let me know what any of you think...  I want to build the most energy-efficient house that I can build (within reason of course)...


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


WATER
A whole house water filtration system will be installed and connected to the city water supply.  Any recommendations on brands and techniques???  I haven't researched this one much yet???

A well will be drilled for the open loop geothermal heat pump and for irrigation needs...

I still need to learn about well drilling, well casings, and well pumps.

I want to learn more about creating a gray water system that will provide water for the toilet tanks...

How expensive is this?

I like the idea, but is it worth the cost?


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


IRRIGATION
A rain water harvesting system will be tied into an overall gray water system.  Gutter downspouts, neighborhood stormwater (the street stormwater drain dumps into the middle of my three acres...; I'm going to take a negative and make it a positive!), and certain household gray water will feed into the system.  Pumps will tie the system to the irrigation system.  Look for high-tech, permanent irrigation systems that monitor soil and atmospheric conditions to save a great deal of water simply by not running when irrigation isn't needed.  Any suggestions on such "smart" irrigation systems?  Drip irrigation systems release measured quantities of water directly to the soil surrounding the intended plants instead of spraying an entire area, using water more efficiently and greatly reducing evaporative loss.  I will look for products with intelligent sensing, long warranties that indicate good durability, and such environmental features as recycled content.

Some specific performance criteria I found:

"Low-volume, non-spray irrigation system installed, e.g., drip irrigation, bubblers, drip emitters, soaker hose, stream-rotator spray heads
4.1.8 Irrigation system zoned separately for turf and bedding areas
4.1.9 Weather-based irrigation controllers, e.g., computer-based weather record
4.1.10 Collect and use rainwater as permitted by local code. (Additional credit for distribution system that uses a renewable energy source or gravity)"


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/2/2008


Open Web Trusses with Trimmable Ends

ownerbuilderbook.com/blogs/users/ICFAnnArborMichigan

States: "I also finally found a GREAT truss company, and I will be using OpenJoist2000 floor systems. They are open web trusses with trimmable ends, the best of both worlds. They cost about the same as standard TJI's"

This is definitely something I want to look at!


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/3/2008


Chris,

Thanks for the input.  I'd really rather go the steel SIPs roofing route if I can do it without getting myself into construction troubles.

How much tolerance do the steel SIPs provide for "as constructed" variance in the wall dimensions from original plans?

What methods are used for making adjustments "on site" to accommodate such variance?  I have heard that this is particularly difficult with hip roofs...  I don't want a budget buster potentially sneaking up on me, because of having to adjust the roof for a mistake in the setting of the walls...

regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/3/2008


Thanks for the research report.  It confirmed my suspicions.

Although OSB SIPs shouldn't have such exposures if properly installed, the test results do show that OSBs will eventually degrade under heat and moisture exposure.  I wouldn't expect OSBs to last 200 years, and the test results you have shared would seem to support such an assumption.  In contrast the steel SIPs seem to be remarkably resistant to moisture and heat degradation.  I'm really pleased with the test results on the steel SIPs.

I want to build a house that will last to the benefit of future generations.  I'm convinced that a steel SIP roof, if viable for my house design, could help to achieve my design goals.

regards,

Grant


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By Chris on 8/3/2008


Grant;

All hips are cut in the field and variances are very forgiving with steel panels, if the width of a house varies a little bit, it will only shorten or lengthen the overhang.

Steel SIPs are available with just a two-week lead time and there is usually plenty of time to double check dimensions at the foundation stage.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/3/2008


Chris,

You've been VERY helpful.  Thank you.  This resolves my biggest concern with the steel SIPs and they will now likely be my preferred roof, dormer, belvedere, and cupola technology.

Now, all I need is definitive information on how to secure the steel SIP hip roof to the AllWall system (I'm still planning on using AllWall for the walls for the thermal mass benefit), and how to best secure the belvedere and the cupola to the structure of the house.  SIP to SIP securing of the belvedere to the roof shouldn't be much problem and I can wait to get the specs from the steel SIP suppliers, but before I'm completely "sold" on steel SIPs, I still want to know how to secure the steel SIP roof to a poured AllWall or ICF type wall.  I want a high wind rating on the connections for insurance purposes.

Can you suggest the proper specs for ensuring a secure atttachment or at least refer me to someone else who would know...

regards,

Grant


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By Chris on 8/3/2008


Steel SIP Hip Beam
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By Chris on 8/3/2008


Owner-Builder using steel SIPs websites:

ntm.org/don_woody/photos

Reitberger house shows SIPs on ICF wall & valley beams which are the same as an upside-down hip beam:

reitberger.org/Site/House

slickthings.com/steel


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/3/2008


Were the interior walls standard stick frame or did the homeowner have no wood in the house to get this excellent insurance premium? 

If required to cut my insurance premiums in half, I might have to consider alternatives to wood joists and wood interior walls...


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/3/2008


Sewer System

Unfortunately, my neighborhood is built on a rather hilly ridge and the city allowed the developer to install a low pressure sewer system instead of laying deeper gravity flow sewer lines. 

This means my house will require a grinder pump.  I will elect to install the larger storage tank. I also want to install a backflow prevention (check) valve at the street and at the grinder pump to prevent backflow into the home.  (I think this is a code requirement anyway, but even if I had a gravity sewer I would install a backflow prevention valve.  Flooding from sewer backups is REALLY NASTY.  A complete clean-up is expensive and difficult, if not near impossible.  Insurance does not always cover sewer back-ups depending upon the exclusions in your policy.)

I've never had a home with a low pressure sewer system.  What experiences have you had good/bad? 

I don't like the idea that when the power goes off I have limited storage capacity!


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/3/2008


VISITABILITY

My mother has severe arthritis and can't visit me at my current home because stairs make it inaccessible to her.

I intend to make my dream house handicap accessible, both as preparation for our own future, and so that our house is actual visitable by those with accessibility issues.

I found an excellent discussion regarding how to make a house "visitable" and it answered one of my questions regarding codes.

Some localities don't permit house entrances and garages to be at the same level.  There used to be concerns that flammable fumes could collect at the floor and by having the garage floor lower than the house floor such fumes wouldn't enter the house.

Whereas the 2003 International Building Code removed the requirement for a step between a garage and a house, some local codes have not been changed.

I intend to build with a zero step entrance at the walk-out basement, at the front of the house, from the garage, and at the back of the house.  I want those with ambulatory limitations to still be able to visit me in my house.  I don't want to have to spend a fortune updating our house if my wife or I ever develops such accessibility issues.  I certainly don't want to ever have to move away from my house.

As a result, I am going to make my house "visitable" from day one.  All doorways will be 36" wide (wider than necessary actually), I'm considering installing switches at a height accessible from a wheel chair.  And at least one accessible height outlet in every room.


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By Chris on 8/4/2008


The exterior walls and roof were SIPs. That insurance agent also has a steel SIP office and boasts about his electric bills.
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By Avram in Raleigh, NC on 8/4/2008


Hey,

I have never seen a complicated SIP roof but if you see the attachement it seems to be quite feasible.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/4/2008


Wow...  Very informative case history and well written with a lot of detail.  Thanks for sharing!
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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/4/2008


I've also designed a future elevator shaft into the house design.  Until someone needs an elevator, we will use the space as large 5' X 5' closets on each floor.  Building the elevator space in from the beginning is cheap.  Without such a planned space, adding an elevator later could prove VERY expensive and probably also in an extremely inconvenient location.
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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/4/2008


In an older thread here in these forums I found where Kenneth suggested using a ventilating dehumidifier such as the Aprilaire or the Thermastor Ultra-Aire APD.  Apparently one costs almost half as much as the other and the added efficiency of the other won't make up the cost difference in a reasonable payback period...  Kenneth particularly made excellent points about how long it would take to get a return on investment on an ERV, which will be particularly relevant for a highly energy efficient home like mine that is mostly heated with passive solar gain and with a fairly balanced temperature from the large thermal mass and natural convective air flow. 

I think I will prewire and even create the required holes in the envelope for adding an ERV in the future if energy costs or comfort needs ever justify the added efficiency.  As stated in other posts, my biggest energy consumption will be from humidity control.  Apparently, a ventilating dehumidifier is more energy efficient at controlling the humidity and definitely less costly than an ERV.

This is something I will definitely research further...


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/5/2008


In an older thread I found where Ivan gave some excellent advice regarding HVAC zoning.

He suggested prepping for the HVAC zones without installing the controls, but pre-wiring, installing manually controlled dampers, etc...

With my significant thermal mass throughout my building, and my expected passive convection air flow through the house, the temperatures may be fairly well balanced on their own.  Perhaps, like Ivan, I will need to make manual seasonal adjustments twice a year.  If it proves too cumbersome I can add in the electronic zone controls later (easy and cost-effective because of the pre-wiring during construction).  I'm REALLY glad Ivan suggested this.  It will likely save me a significant amount of up-front money that I can use to finish other parts of the house for a greater equity return on investment!  I can always come back later and add the electronic HVAC zone controls.  Besides, I hope to have a whole house automation system in the future and it will probably be wise to by electronic controls for the dampers that are part of the broader whole house control system installation...


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 8/5/2008


I did this as well. My HVAC is zoned into five distinct zones, I left out controller for a pretty good cost savings. I am able to adjust my dampers twice yearly to keep temperatures constant throughout the house. I went this route because I had serious discrepancy between different HVAC techs (and even a Mechanical Engineer I hired myself to perform an analysis) and airflow calculations to individual rooms. I didn't trust any of them (yes, even the ME), so I figured I better come up with a solution I could live with and would work well.

The real benefit to a zone controller is not maintaining constant temperatures, but maintaining variable temperatures to different rooms and therefore ability to utilize a smaller compressor and air handler. If you design this properly, you may well be able to install a more efficient, less compromise system for very similar capital cost, the difference in operating cost is simply gravy. For example, the bedroom should be maintained cooler (AC) at night, but during the day who really cares as it is unoccupied? On the contrary, the main area of the house should be maintained during the day when it is occupied, but not so much at night. And if like me you use one of the bedrooms as a home office, you might not want that room cooled at night and not during the day. Mornings and evenings may be different set of circumstances yet. However because you are only heating or cooling a smaller portion of your house at one time, you don't need to size your HVAC to heat and cool your entire house at the same time, thereby using a smaller unit and saving capital cost and operational cost. It is this efficiency that a zone controller buys you, and the primary reason I haven't installed one as I am over sized on HVAC and short-cycling my system isn't a very efficient way to operate - for me the hotter it gets the more apt I am to hit my ideal efficiency point of operation ;-(.

Unless you upgrade to a two-speed or two-stage AC compressor (a pricey upgrade), it is only designed to operate to one set of parameters and anything else is a compromise in efficiency, temperature, or humidity control. With a zone controller, you can under size your unit and better manage all three, again improving all three parameters and ultimately saving operational cost. With home automation, you can take the guesswork completely out.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 8/5/2008


I did this as well, I have step-less entrance at the front, from the garage to the main floor, and from the back out. It is one of those things that you smile at daily when you come home, it just works better. I have no disability that prevents me from using steps.

All hallways and staircases were 48" wide, all doors were 36" wide. The trades (try bringing in a air handler through a smaller opening, or a bathtub that gets installed after the house is framed) and the movers sure appreciated it as well. And nice size doors just look better from a scale standpoint.

I would suggest that Universal Design be an active part of your design process, especially as almost all factors don't increase installed cost. Switches, door knobs, outlet locations, doors, blocking for braces, etc. all enter into it, and even if you have no need for it today you may in the future (or if selling perhaps a prospective buyer does need it). Truthfully many elements of Universal Design are a pleasure to live with daily for people that don't otherwise need it. For example I will never go back to door knobs, I find the levers a fantastic upgrade. The downside is one of my dogs learned to operate that lever in less than a week, so things such as keeping him out of the bedroom during the day, private time in the bathroom, etc. get compromised ;-(. It doesn't bother me, but one of your guests may feel differently if they are using the restroom and a dog decides to open the door and walk in, he doesn't exactly knock first...


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By Avram in Raleigh, NC on 8/5/2008


Re: Basement Egress

See attached for the 2006 IRC's stance on basement bedroom egress.

In a quick summary all bedrooms need (2) exits; the bedroom door and a window directly to the outside.

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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 8/5/2008


Just a terminology issue, you are not looking for porous concrete but you are looking for pervious concrete (at least that is what they call it locally). Pervious concrete is basically concrete mixed without fine aggregate, and has a very open structure allowing water to basically pour through it. Granted you can't reinforce it, but for a driveway if you pour it thicker you shouldn't have a problem. They use it for parking lots, so there must be an easy, obvious, and cost effective method of using it for driveways.
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By Avram in Raleigh, NC on 8/8/2008


Hey,

     Not to fan any flames, but I wanted to point out that there is definitely some controversy regarded with fibermesh.  From what I've heard-read, etc. the fibermesh doesn't do a whole lot and for it to do its stuff you have to use the steel fibers and enough of it that it is not a cheap option anymore.  Also all it is, is extra crack prevention - which can also be done with properly spaced control joints.  While WWF does that and crack control.

See link and attachment for more info:

iccsafe.org
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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/8/2008


In case I didn't say so earlier.  Thanks... This was very helpful and saved me from having to find it later.
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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/8/2008


So far, I am sold on using some form of poured wall for my exterior wall for both durability and thermal mass benefits.  I want significant insulation of the outside of the wall, but would prefer no insulation on the inside of the wall.  Ideally, it would seem best if there was insulation sandwiched in the middle of the wall, as well.  I understood this intuitively to begin with, but the Oak RIdge Lab study confirmed my thoughts.

Thus, from an engineering standpoint, I REALLY like the design of the AllWall System.  If I use it, I will probably go one step further and add insulated vinyl siding on the outer walls.  Thus I will have:

Vinyl/Insulation/Concrete Fiber Board/Concrete/Insulation/Concrete/Concrete Fiber Board/Interior Surfacing/Paint.  The effective R-value (including the interior thermal mass effects) should be off the charts!


Today, a new forum member posted about the Omnicrete system.  It is sort of like an ICF but the forming blocks are actually AAC.  It creates a more MASSIVE wall (13" thick).  Thermal mass wise, this could be good.  I've got a large enough lot that the increased footprint to achieve comparable square footage won't impact me, but would probably impact the decision of many others. 

A prospective down side to such LARGE thermal mass is the time it takes to "change" temperature.  We restored an 1854 antebellum home with 24" brick walls and masonry floors in the basement.   It took two weeks to pull the latent heat from the thermal mass when we turned on our new heat pump!  The heat pump has never had to run hard since, and it is an extremely energy efficient building (we use it for our corporate HQ).  For a constantly conditioned primary living space this would not be a problem.  However, I would probably not use such high thermal mass in a guest area (i.e. my planned garage apartment) that needs to be rapidly conditioned when guests arrive.  If AllWall doesn't work out for me, Omnicrete could be a prospective contender.  [At the very least, it got me thinking about the prospective benefits of 4" AAC blocks for my interior walls!] With Omnicrete I will end up with the following structure: 

Vinyl/Insulation/AAC/Foil Barrier/Concrete/Foil Barrier/AAC/Interior Surfacing/Paint 

(If given the option, I don't think I would want an interior foil barrier!)

Note, however, that AAC has lots of air pockets and will have a thermal mass affect absorbing and releasing heat, but will probably significantly insulate the interior concrete from being much help with thermal mass conductivity. 

Of note: You pay Omnicrete to stamp your design, and Omnicrete must be hired to do all of the following:

· Drafting of Plans (optional).
· Seal and sign plans by our approved professional engineer. [as long as the price is right]
· Dig Footers. [It is likely that I can have this done cheaper]
· Erect stem wall (stem wall slab only). [It is likely that I can have this done cheaper]
· Backfill, bring in additional soil if needed and compaction. [It is likely that I can have this done cheaper]
· Schedule 1st rough-in under slab with your project manager.
· Backfill utility trenches inside forms. [It is likely that I can have this done cheaper]
· Schedule termite treatment with your project manager.
· Place vapor barrier. [It is likely that I can have this done cheaper and I may want a different option for a vapor barrier.]
· Placement of steel re-bar.
· Placement of wire mesh.
· Coordinate slab inspection with builder.
· Placement & finish of concrete slab.  [It is likely that I can have this done cheaper]
· Erect exterior walls.
· Placement of roof straps.
· Schedule roof trust placement & dry-in with your project manager.
· Erect interior walls.  [It is likely that I can have this done cheaper]
· Apply exterior wall coating material.  [It is likely that I can have this done cheaper]
· Apply interior wall coating material.  [It is likely that I can have this done cheaper]

This could prove to be very expensive as compared to a DIY O-B project.  If you are going to hire in all of this work anyway, then the major added expense to each of the above will be for the travel and lodging expense for the prospective out of state Omnicrete subcontractor.  Question is can the prospective/claimed construction cost savings of the Omnicrete process absorb this added overhead expense?  Or else are the added advantages of Omnicrete worth this extra expense???  I guess it is worth having them quote the job and shopping the price difference against alternative acceptable building technologies. 

Omnicrete also doesn't take responsibility for clean up after themselves when they build the envelope or when they finish the interior and exterior surfaces.  How do you control the cost of interior finishing and landscaping if you can't control the cost of clean up beforehand?  I like making my subs responsible for their own clean up, because they are thereby encouraged to find the most cost-effective balance between spending time to clean up versus spending time to avoid the mess in the first place!  Leave a sub unaccountable for their own mess and the total cost ultimately goes up!

Also, the Omnicrete website seems to suggest that they want to select the HVAC/air exchanger system for use with the house. "OMNICRETE also provides an air conditioning system that ventilates depleted non-oxygenated air from the inside with clean freshly oxygenated air, which conforms to the temperature of the dwelling. This energy efficiency is very effective in hot or cold climates as well as in wet or dry conditions." While I welcome the help in sizing the unit and suggestions on systems that work well, I want to be able to shop for savings opportunities and want to have my choice of open loop ground source heat pump, etc....  I want to purchase what I am confident I can have readily serviced by local technicians...


ICF is still a contender as well, if AllWall doesn't work out.  ICF appears to be more DIY friendly than Omnicrete...

Having looked through the various ICF blocks, I've learned they are not all comparable by any stretch.  Balancing the various performance and design advantages across vendors, along with geographic support, I'm leaning towards BuildBlock if I go the ICF direction.  Reward Walls was a close runner up...  The "engineering" features I like are the 6" spacing of the cross supports, reinforced corners, less risk of "blow out" with bigger lifts at a time (higher productivity), the markings on the ICF forms that show where the anchors are embedded, the trimming lines for creating half blocks, the reversibility of the blocks, etc.  Additionally, BuildBlock seems to have a great performance history with ease of constructibility.  Not finding any real negatives out there about the product or the available support.  Finally, BuildBlock has a mfg facility 2.5 hours from where I live, meaning inexpensive shipping, and likely access to excellent factory support and training.

Regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/8/2008


Fan away! This is how we all learn.

I'm no expert on fibermesh by any means.  However, I do have some limited experience and am getting more.  I read through the thread you provided and it is from 2000...  There have been lots of advancements in the past 8 years. 

I am on the Industry Advisory Board at a university's engineering research center.  I'm currently participating in a research project for enhancing cementitious buried structures with various types of fibermesh.  Fibermesh won't really raise the compressive strength of concrete, but it will increase the tensile strength.  I think some of the posters in that forum weren't understanding the different types of "strength" when they claimed no enhancement of strength in their posts.  Different types of strength overcome different types of competing failure mechanisms.

Proper fibermesh additives will SIGNIFICANTLY enhance tensile strength (a 2 to 3X increase is common with many cement mixtures).  The increase in tensile strength will enhance crack resistance against live impact loads.

Just a side note: With the concrete structures I deal with, they are corrosion protected via an anchored HDPE sheet.  The HDPE anchors also absorb some of the strains in the concrete thereby providing an order of magnitude enhancement of the flexural properties of the cement.  The ductility of the wire or rebar carries the strains and prevents transfer of the strains to the concrete which would otherwise cause the concrete to crack.  The fibermesh can accomplish the same sort of thing through a similar process...  Fibermesh is a routinely used technology in engineered concrete structures. 

I honestly don't understand the debate in the thread you provided.  It seemed like a lot of strong opinion from "practical field experience" but without any scientific analysis of the claims.  The science in the lab says fibermesh works.  Therefore, what variables in the field are keeping it from working consistently for these users? Have installation and quality control practices developed over the last 8 years to improve the field performance? 

I have crews that work for me that pour structurally engineered concrete structures in the field on a regular basis.  I'm very familiar with the criticality of water-to-cement ratio, curing times, viscosity, temperature of exotherm, and how adjustments MUST be made for ambient conditions at the time of installation.  It sounds to me like most people that pour driveways don't bother with scientific quality controls and then blame new technologies like fibermesh as worthless when lack of quality control still results in a failure.  Fibermesh is certainly no substitute for proper water to cement ratio!  If you don't get the required compressive strength the added tensile strength provided by the fibermesh isn't going to do you much good.

With previous concrete, which I may use to help limit storm water runoff, metal reinforcement probably isn't an option because it will degrade with such moisture exposure.  Fibermesh shouldn't have the same problem and is an affordable additive to the cement.  There are other options if your really want to ENGINEER your driveway.  For about 2.5X the price of steel rebar a fiberglass reinforced plastic (FRP) rebar can be used which is corrosion resistant and has much better deflection (flexural), elongation (tensile), and compression.

I may get my professor friend to help me "engineer" my driveway <grin>.  I'll probably use some of the specialty fibermesh that I use in my engineered structures since I should be able to add it into a large scale project and get a volume discount.

Regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/8/2008


I spoke with a BuildBlock representative today and I just learned an additional "engineering" feature of BuildBlock with which I'm very pleased.  The anchors are apparently stout enough to directly attach the kitchen cabinets!  To me, that is a huge advantage.

Regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/8/2008


I may consider using 4" or 6" AAC blocks for the interior walls, IF I can mount the electrical boxes flush and install the wiring into grooves in the block walls.

Regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/8/2008


Kitchen Amenities.

We want an appliance garage built into the wall between the dining room and the kitchen.  Outlets inside the appliance garage so that the appliances can be conveniently plugged.

We want a three-basin "clean-up sink" with a food disposal.

We want a dumb waiter to connect the basement food storage room up to the kitchen.

We want a glass top range.  I'd like an induction range, but my wife is not interested... She doesn't want something that might alter the way she is used to cooking.

We want a double oven.

We want the largest refrigerator possible with double side by side refrigerator doors and a freezer drawer underneath.

The pantry will have a standing freezer in it.

We want a garbage compactor.

We want a recycling center in the kitchen hallway.

I'd love to build a pizza oven into the fireplace.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/8/2008


Dumb Waiter.

I have a 30" X 26" walled space that can be used for the dumb waiter.  This can accommodate a 24" X 24" dumb waiter from Butlers Buddy rated at 125 to 150 lbs.

butlersbuddy.com/standard2.htm

I'd like the dumb waiter to start at counter height in the basement with a cabinet underneath, and end at counter height in the kitchen hallway with a cabinet above.

 


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/9/2008


DuctSox

I just saw this on HGTV's "I Want That!"

If my wife can put up with how these ducts look, I will give them serious consideration for at least our likely 24' high family room and breakfast nook area. Such a large space will benefit from even air distribution.

Fabric ducts are easier to keep clean.  DIY friendly.  More even distribution of conditioned air.

Additional information on fabric ducts can be found at: pavesihvac.com/fabric_air_duct.html

Apparently there are multiple brands including Q-Sox


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By Avram in Raleigh, NC on 8/9/2008


Hey, I posted the last post in a bit of hurry -- so excuse me and let me backpedal a bit. I just wanted to point out it is not a cure-all that sometimes it can be advocated as. I found and attached a manufacturers piece of literature and for this specific product it clearly lists what it does and doesn't do. For instance it lists itself as alternative to traditional reinforcement -- but on the do not specify the manufacturer clearly lists it as not replacing reinforcement which seems a little odd? (Of course as you mentioned you have to be careful with the wordings of a generic term such as strength which can be useless without qualifiers - such as a classic example of rope (or concrete) which is "Strong Stuff" but do we mean tension, compression etc etc. Around here (NC) fibermesh is used all the time; or WWF -- which when it is not installed properly can be useless. In fact NC revises the IRC to suit its own purposes -- and for residential construction in non high wind zones the building code standard for Footings are unreinforced i.e. plain concrete footings. So in summary I just wanted to try to add a bit of info out there, but did not do a good job especially with that old thread; perhaps this will clarify some?
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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/9/2008


Thanks.  Reading this document clarified a lot for me.  The ultimate load bearing strength of the concrete is apparently not enhanced by the fibermesh; only the cracking resistance is.  Of course, if a concrete cracks, its ultimate load bearing strength can diminish dramatically, so crack resistance is a critical performance variable. 

Just as further clarification, fibermesh is an alternative to traditional "secondary" reinforcements such as wire mesh, but it is specifically stated as not being a replacement for primary structural (load bearing strength) reinforcements such as rebar (and innate concrete thickness).  Rebar and wall thickness adds load bearing strength whereas fibermesh and apparently wiremesh, essentially only add crack/impact/shattering/abrasion resistance, but do not enhance load bearing strength. 

Fibermesh defnitely enhances the durability/toughness of a concrete structure!  This is what I don't think was understood in that thread from 2000 that you shared.  Thanks for your efforts to clarify this further.

regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/9/2008


Blueprints.

I found some excellent advice in "The Ridges" blog ownerbuilderbook.com/The-Ridges.aspx:

"I went to a local copy shop and had plenty of 50% reduced copies of the blueprints made, as well as 6 full sized copies.  Below are a few tips for doing this:

  1. Avoid places like Kinkos as they are exceptionally overpriced (e.g. Kinkos = $5/sheet, local copy places = $1.50/sheet).
  2. Small copies should be reduced exactly 50%, because it is easier for subs to use for quotes.  The scale is exactly 1/2 the original and most of them use architectural tools to put bids together.  If you just get 11X17" copies, the scale will be all wrong and it takes them longer.
  3. Many places would rather get emailed versions which will save you tons of time and money.  Tell your drafter you want PDF versions that are scaled to fit 11x17", or 8.5X11"."

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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/9/2008


DIY or Sub

Brett has given some more excellent advice:


"I've heard several people asking on here whether anyone does the majority of the work themselves.  We will be doing the bulk of it ourselves, but there are certain things that it makes sense to hire out.  Here is a list of things we will be contracting out, and the reason.

  1. Excavation:  We can rent a backhoe for $100/hr and I would likely take about 8 hrs, or we can hire an excavator for $125/hr and it will take him 4-5 hours.  Easy choice.  I did the surveying and staking myself though.
  2. Foundation:  I hate concrete work and the forms are expensive.  My father-in-law works for Nucor Steel, so I'm getting all the rebar for pennies on the dollar, and I talked the readymix & foundation guys down to a fair price.  Labor is at about $3/lnft for footings and $10/lnft for basement walls.  Doing it myself would only save me about $3K and it would likely take an extra couple weeks and wear me out prematurely in the process.
  3. Walls:  Ordering stick-built panelized walls.  He gets a better deal on lumber than I do so that offsets some of the labor, and he will save me about 4-6 weeks worth of framing.  The interest savings offset almost all of the rest of the labor cost.  I'll be standing the walls up and hanging all joists & trusses.
  4. HVAC:  I'd like to do this part, but I need to spend my time on electrical and plumbing where the savings are much greater.  HVAC is majority material/equipment cost.  Labor makes up the lesser part.  Plumbing & electrical are the opposite, and labor makes up the bulk of the cost.
  5. Insulation:  I was planning on doing this myself but the stay-in-place blown fiberglass bid came in for less than I can install fiberglass batt myself, and it has a better R-value.
  6. Drywall:  I'll be hanging the drywall, but I really hate tape/mud/texture.  Since I'm doing all the finish carpentry including cabinets myself, I really don't want to waste my time sanding drywall joint compound.  Besides, drywallers are starving right now with the housing slump, so they are giving me great prices.

Besides those 6 items, everything else will be done by me with the help of some friends/family.  I've been helping others build houses for the last several years, and now I'm calling in some favors."


Brett is right about 1 and 2 and that has changed my plans...  I'll be using ICF or AllWall, or comparable poured concrete system, so we will do some labor here...  I'll price geothermal systems from DIY HVAC sources and local.  I'll have day labor set the system and run the ducts as professionally laid out from the people I have shopped with...  I'll probably have a professional install ERV or comparable and do a blower test for me.  Insulation will be built into the wall and roof systems, but we will do some DIY sealing of penetrations.  I want exterior doors and windows professionally installed and sealed.  They are just too critical a part of the envelope to risk an amateur effort.  I actually enjoy taping, mudding, and sanding, but HATE clean-up.  Day labor will do clean-up.

My father is an excellent finish carpenter and makes his own moulding and baseboards, etc. in his complete wood working shop.  My father is 68, so it will be awesome to see his craftsmanship everyday for the rest of my life in my own home. 

My brother-in-law is a degreed construction manager and accomplished framer, who used to supervise framing crews at a pre-fab home factory.  I'll probably "gift" him some construction materials for improvements to his house in appreciation for his help. 

I have a good friend who owes me a HUGE favor from when I helped him to Owner-Build his house (including some financial help when he got over-extending and needed help to get to his CoO), who is a professional drywall finisher.

I have construction laborers available from my company who occasionally need work during the off-season and will work for me at such times at reasonable rates.  I had thought about using them for excavation work, but Brett is right, and the "numbers" probably don't make sense for that...

We have a family friend who is a supervisor for the consensus "BEST" custom home builder in the county who has agreed to give me leads to subs that are reliable and do excellent work, and individuals who might want to do some moonlighting off hours...

We also have a good relationship with a reputable GC (and several of his employees) who helped us remodel our current home, and who currently has laid off crews during the housing slump and knows people who would be happy to work for us.

There is a retired GC in the adjacent county who now works as a construction advisor and architectural draftsman.  He may prove useful as a project inspector and he has subs to recommend.

I'm gradually getting my plans together and I appreciate Brett's line of thought that is helping me to put a few more of the pieces into their proper place.

regards,

Grant


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By Dorothy & James in Tampa, FL on 8/10/2008


Grant,

You say that you are going to use the "neighborhood storm water (the street drain dumps into the middle of my three acres... I'm going to take a negative and make it a positive!)"?. You might be in for some nasty surprises. Storm water runoff typically contains at least some of the following and probably more, nitrate, phosphorus, petroleum derivatives, multiple types of surfactants, E-coli, fecal coliform, the entire alphabet of pesticides, air pollution residuals, etc. Are you sure you what to use that water for irrigation? Are you planning on treating and cleaning this water before you use it? I love the idea of using grey water for irrigation (I don't think it is allowed here in Florida), and I will be using all the water that comes off my roof (it will be a metal roof) but I stop at using storm water runoff. It is just not clean.

Just an opinion,

Dorothy


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By Dorothy & James in Tampa, FL on 8/10/2008


Grant,

Vinyl is from hydrocarbon-based raw materials (petroleum, natural gas or coal). Not very environmentally friendly. What about wood siding? It is renewable, it does not leach anything, and it is not a product that is being considered  being banned in a couple of European countries due to health concerns in it's manufacturing. It has to be maintained, but what products are totally maintenance free? It can probably be obtained locally which helps with its carbon footprint.  

Again my opinion.  

Dorothy


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/10/2008


Dorothy,

I appreciate your concern for the environment.  It is actually my concern for the environment that leans me towards vinyl...  The health concerns during manufacturing are overblown.  In the early 1950's there were some legitimate health and environmental issues created by early efforts to manufacture PVC, particularly in Italy and Germany.  Most of the "hype" against PVC comes from events and circumstances during this time period.  By the time we began widely using PVC in the USA in the 1960's improved manufacturing and safety protocols had completely resolved this issue. 

My father helped start the PVC pipe division of Clow Corporation in the 1960's and built it into one of the 3 largest PVC pipe vendors in the USA.  Clow invited the EPA into their plants to do air quality studies, etc. and there was absolutely no such issues at their pipe production facilities.  The same controls have been even further improved upon since the 1960's and are used in the manufacture of vinyl siding as well. 

The production of PVC homopolymer produces less than two table sugar packs worth of dangerous chemicals per year WORLDWIDE. (The "Blue Vinyl" documentary was such hype and unsubstantiated scare tactics that it made me, with my research training, absolutely appalled.  It was nothing but a propaganda film...) 

Yes, PVC production is somewhat energy demanding, but the lower weight and reduced shipping costs generally more than compensate, particularly as compared to fiber cement siding.  Harvesting, milling, and shipping wood products isn't exactly energy friendly in most cases either and most wood is not sustainably harvested thus having a LARGE effect on CO2 emissions.  Additionally, volume production of PVC actually helps lower the cost of other essential materials like aluminum by providing a financial stream for use of waste materials from the aluminum refining process.

Yes, PVC does not degrade and you don't want to send it to the landfill.  I HATE the use of plastics in short-life products.  But PVC is a GREAT product to reduce life-cycle costs and environmental impact on long-life assets (where you don't want biodegradability) such as "exterior" architectural uses and buried infrastructure such as water and sewer pipes.  Vinyl siding isn't like vinyl flooring where people rip it out of their houses and send it to the landfill every five years or so during remodels!  Vinyl siding is also used in exterior applications where VOCs don't impact indoor air quality.

Many environmental activists promote positions that have little scientific validity, but provoke emotional public reactions.  My analysis of the "science" behind vinyl siding suggests it is actually a VERY green product choice.  LEED and NAHB green building standards also agree and give substantial points for vinyl siding.  Compare the "environmental impact" of vinyl siding versus cement fiber board, versus wood siding, versus aluminum siding as scientifically considered by the USGBC and NAHB.  I think you'll be surprised.

Life cycle re-painting/re-staining of typical wood siding can contribute more harmful environmental impact than PVC and also increases life-cycle cost to the homeowner.

As far as being a hydrocarbon based product, you've sort of got the environmental impact analysis backwards.  I'd much rather see the hydrocarbons go into long-life infrastructure uses rather than burned for energy thereby releasing green house gases into the atmosphere.  Don't save hydrocarbons for people to burn them in their SUVs, save hydrocarbons to create sustainable infrastructure such as vinyl siding and plastic pipes!

Plastic pipes have done more for the long-term sustainability of our water and sewer infrastructure (my industry) than any other technology.  Plastic pipes greatly reduce losses of potable water and are much better at preventing spillage of sewage and other environmental contaminants.  Keeping our water and sewer infrastructure sustainable is more important to our standard of living and quality of life than our highways or any "fuel" use of hydrocarbons.  Water is LIFE!  Modern sanitation has done more for the health and welfare of mankind than even modern medicine.  The sustainability of that infrastructure has been greatly enhanced by plastic piping systems.  Without water/sewer sanitation systems our cities would be unlivable and our population concentrations would not be possible, thereby precluding the productivity and the standard of living of modern man (not to mention average life spans and infant mortality rates).

PVC is also critical to numerous life-saving modern medical devices.

Don't just swallow everything environmental reactionaries try to force feed the public.  As a TRUE environmentalist and trained scientist I've unfortunately found that more often than not, the "radical" positions don't usually have that much scientific support.  (And yet, I am an active member of the Sierra Club, the American Solar Energy Society, etc.)  I consider myself a TRUE environmentalist at heart, and that is one of the reasons I helped found a company to renovate sewer systems to stop environmental contamination by using plastic pipe!

Vinyl siding is actually a VERY green option.  I hope this gives you some food for thought.  I've thought that somebody should do a rebuttal documentary and entitle it "Green Vinyl."

Regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/10/2008


I do intend to have a filtration system...  By capturing, filtering, and using the neighborhood storm water for irrigation (which just going through the soil will further filter the water), I'm preventing all of those "nasties" you've described from directly flowing into the waterways and thereby contaminating them. 

What is the option to local on-site gray water treatment and use?  Let it flow into the streams and gather in greater water volumes thereby having a horrible environmental impact on our streams, creeks, rivers, and lakes?  It is simpler and cheaper to treat it at the source (and there are lots of "passive" treatment options including plants that will extract many of those nasties), while it is not as diluted rather than having "the community" have to treat much higher volumes of water downstream.

Regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/10/2008


Kim from Alaska shared a wonderful website for selecting energy efficient windows by state:

efficientwindows.org


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/10/2008


Colors.

Guy shared the following in a comment in someone else's construction journal: 

"The best advice I ever saw for colors was an article in Fine Homebuilding.  The owners walked around their lot and gathered natural elements like bark, leaves, rocks etc. and made that their palette of colors.  This made their house blend in with the lot and tied it into the land."

I REALLY like this advice.  While my exterior colors are largely set by the antebellum style of the home and to reduce heat absorption (white walls, white columns, and white metal roof), I will likely follow this advice for interior colors.  I'm definitely going to be collecting leaves for their fall colors this year!  We have a yellow hickory, bright red sourwoods, orang-ish-red maple, as well as emerald green mountain laurels with pale pink flowers, and about 30 different wildflowers on the property in the spring...  What an excellent color palette from which to choose.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/10/2008


BuildBlock has local construction crews they recommend in Birmingham (decades of experience and apparently one of their best) and Huntsville.  Although Birmingham is closer, I'll probably get a bid from the Huntsville contractor as well to keep the BHam contractor honest.

Additionally, there is a nationwide ICF installer that Lisa recommends in her Blog Kanak-ICF:

"I met this ICF guy through one of our store's employees -- almost by accident.

I've talked to three other companies that do this work in Virginia will charge you 1.5x or even more than double the cost for ICF.  One wanted to charge me $70K for a basement... I can refer you to icwalls.com -- they will bring in a crew from Florida or New York (you have to pay $75 per-diem per day), but even with that -- the cost for putting up the 8" walls (basement, plus 6" walls on upper two-stories, v-buck, deck hangers, concrete and pumper truck) was under $60K."

icwalls.com

They work with all ICF systems including BuildBlock and will quote anywhere...  That could really keep the local guys honest, particularly when Florida is not that far away and there are crews down there starving for work.

Hopefully, I'll get competitive prices when the time comes.

Regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/10/2008


I've seen recommendations to place the geothermal heat pump within the conditioned space of the house, and some have actually drilled their wells under the house. After reading the following in the Tanglewood blog, I'm going to insist on a separate well site with well house with removable roof...

"  Some day odds are that well pump will die, and we'll need to be able to pull the whole pipe out so we can replace it. He thought that was a grand idea and noted to work that into the design."

also...

"There will be a removable solar-powered vent fan over the wellhead in the event that we may someday need to pull the well pump for some reason. A drain handles well overflow and of course we'll stub out the electrical that (eventually) will run from the wellhouse to the main house."

This looks like an easy way to handle this.

Also, Steven advises: "My advice to anybody who's getting ready to build on a well--run it full out for a long time (an hour or so) to make sure your recharge rate is sufficient for whatever depth your pump is at!"

Right now Alabama is not fully recharged after a 100-year drought. This would be an ideal time to ensure my well will be deep enough, but unfortunately I'm not ready to drill...


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/10/2008


One thing I'd really like to have on my house is powered shutters that can be opened and closed by the home automation system for storm protection and for energy conservation.  I know I can't afford it.  I don't know if I'll ever afford it.  But I can afford to pre-wire for future installation. Thus I want to pre-wire electrical to all windows and separate circuits to handle the loads. I'll use the electrical to the windows anyway for outlets for christmas decorations.
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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/10/2008


If we go with ICF blocks, we need to plan for storage.  Most ICF block vendors will ship all of the blocks at once.  Obtain the cubic footage of the storage requirements with the bids so that I can make plans accordingly.  These things will potentially take up a lot of space!

I am considering purchasing a large patio tent structure to put up on my adjacent lot for materials storage.  I figure I can always use it for yard parties and family reunions in the future...


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/10/2008


Be prepared to pay significantly more for double French doors that open out.  Doors that open out require additional security features related to the hinges.

I would like 10 French double doors and only two can open inward for interior space and traffic flow considerations...

I'll have three other solid double doors.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/10/2008


Stephanie pointed out in her blog that radiant flooring should not be placed near the toilet because it can melt the wax seal.

Regards,

Grant


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By Chris on 8/10/2008


I don't think the wax has that low of a melting point? But any plumbing supply house sells neoprene gaskets.
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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/10/2008


I've heard this before, but it is good advice that I don't want to forget... I'll mark the location and specify the height I want when non-standard.

"It is very helpful to mark where all of your switches, outlets, and lights are on the floor.  So if you are looking at the wall before the drywall is put on, mark a line on the floor directly in front of the switch or outlet."


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/10/2008


I saw where another O-B had the power company design their temporary electrical service so that he could use the conduit for both the temporary power (set on a pole) and the permanent power (attached to the house and about 20 feet from the temporary power.)  I will certainly attempt this as well!

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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/10/2008


Harvesting Timber...

I am not removing enough trees from my 3 acres to have anyone pay me for it.  I'm going to have to pay for their removal.  However, I have about 10 large pine trees that are straight with few lower branches that are going to be removed to build my house and to open the view to Chimney Peak...  I'd love to put that lumber to use rather than to waste.

I'd like to learn what possibilities there are to use the lumber from these trees as part of my construction.

I may contact some sawmills in my area and figure out what I can do with the resulting lumber...

Has anyone else done this?

Regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/10/2008


When submitting plans for approvals make sure everything says "or equivalent" as much as possible.  If a good deal arises on an alternate "equivalent" or superior material such as drainage pipe, etc., I want to be able to switch out without resubmitting to the permitting agencies for approval.
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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/11/2008


Porch

The slope of the porches will be critical to ensure rain drains away from the house during severe storms.

The first floor porches will be the "roof" of part of the basement and will therefore need to be well insulated and water-sealed.  In the VilanoBeachCasa blog they said they used Seal-a-Flex on the porch and flat garage roof to seal them.  I need to look into such products further...

I am considering doing the second floor porch out of decking material (like Trex) with a membrane seal beneath the decking boards.  Once again this needs research...

Any suggestions?


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/11/2008


Tile Subflooring

The VilanoBeachCasa blog suggests: "I used 1/4" HardiBacker on the guest floor.  It is soooo much easier than cement board."

I'll look into this when I'm spec'ing my bathroom floors.  But my choice will need to be compatible with an electric radiant floor system.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/11/2008


Just a tip:

Buy some extra stone tiling to ensure you don't run short and have to get additions from a different batch that possibly won't match as well.  The left-overs can always be used in the landscape (just attach to a concrete stepping stone backing) and can serve as replacements if a tile in the home ever gets broken in the future.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/11/2008


I just saw an in-wall coffee maker, and thought that would be an amazing convenience in the MBR for those who are coffee drinkers!

This is one of those relatively inexpensive "amenities" that can REALLY create an emotional attachment to a house with a prospective buyer.


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By Avram in Raleigh, NC on 8/11/2008


Grant,
     Here is an article (see attached) on one way to build a deck over a living space.

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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/11/2008


Thanks Avram.  This is an excellent article that has given me some good ideas for my house...
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By Avram in Raleigh, NC on 8/11/2008


Grant,
      Resale Value?  I know that at least around here you do not find vinyl siding on nicer houses.  Do you have links to a certain product you are considering, because when I see vinyl it screams cheap to me, because that is what it is on (here at least). 

    The only place that it is on nicer houses, well more expensive houses is at the coast on the beach houses that are up on pilings -- but even then it looks, well, cheap (of course this can be a matter of personal taste) and the lot takes up a disproportionate value of those houses' value and with the corrosive effects of the salt and wind etc., so I suppose they have reasons to have it installed but still...

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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/11/2008


Where vinyl siding is appropriate to the style of the house, then it is a low-maintenance, value added, "green" type of siding.

Yes, brick and stone are "value added" materials, but not appropriate to every architectural style.  From an appraisal value standpoint I'd prefer brick, but I intend to build a traditional antebellum plantation style home with the big white columns, white dormers, white belvedere, white cupola, white standing seam metal roof AND white siding.  Jacksonville, Alabama is one of the earliest incorporated cities in Alabama and although most of the early 1800's homes have been lost, most of the remaining ones used traditional white siding in their construction.

I'm looking to build a house that fits the historical culture and character of my city.  I'm also making an architectural statement by returning to a local, traditional architectural style from the early 1800's which was used to passively cool homes with intentionally engineered convective air flow using the belvedere as a solar chimney and the basement as a cooling chamber.

It was generally the crawl space that shaded and cooled the air in 1800's construction, but I'm building a tight envelope house to control active conditioning costs, whereas 1800's buildings were INTENTIONALLY very leaky to control humidity/moisture problems while passively conditioning the air.  Some 1800's houses stay 20 degrees cooler in the summer and 20 degrees warmer in the winter "passively" through good architectural design generating healthy ventilation.  Unfortunately, efforts to insulate and seal such houses have actually backfired by eliminating the passive air flow mechanisms and creating moisture retention problems.  (Cool crawl space air was relatively low on moisture, whereas the rising hot air holds more moisture and would carry the humidity of the incoming air back out of the house, thus permitting a moderately effective passive humidity control system as well.)  If I had my druthers, I'd build a TRULY passive conditioned house in the old air flow style of the 1800's, supplemented by modern earth tube technology and a solar dehumidification system, but my wife is too skeptical to risk it and insists upon an active conditioning system...  At any rate, I've designed the passive air flow of the house to be able to add such energy saving features in the future.  Hopefully once its "proven" I'll be able to turn the active HVAC system off.

Brick or stone (other than on the basement foundation walls) just wouldn't fit the "style" of this house.  Nor would stucco.  Additionally, I want the reflective and added insulative values of the vinyl siding I will use.  Masonry will absorb heat, whereas I want to reflect heat.  PVC is an insulative material that does not conduct heat very well.  Only siding will do for this house, and for all of my stated reasons, I prefer vinyl siding as compared to cement fiber board siding, wood siding, etc.  As compared to brick/stone, I will also get more sq ft for my money...

I'm using new "green" construction technologies to build a modern version of an antebellum plantation home, and to thereby "out-green" the typical modern monstrosity efforts of today's architects.  I'm going "green" with an intentional respect to our local historical culture.  I don't ever intend to sell, but resale value should not be a problem.  There is a strong emotional connection to antebellum architecture in our region and few modern homes, with modern conveniences, and modern energy efficiency, are built in this style.  The demand for such a home in these parts should far outstrip the supply. (Girls around here grow up dreaming of living in Tara from "Gone With the Wind.")  The "old money" that can generally afford this kind of a house is attracted to traditional southern gentility.  Besides, this house won't become as "dated" within 20 years as all of the current "trendy" brick/stone McMansion neighborhoods that all look soooo similar.  This is a "classic" architectural style that has never completely faded.  People just generally don't build them because the porches are so expensive versus the square footage of the house.

My neighborhood has several 7,000 sf and 10,000 sf houses and not a single house in the current brick/stone McMansion style.  The only houses that aren't "traditional" brick with columns Colonial or Georgian architecture, are brick with arched windows and arched entryways.  My house design will fit well into the "ambiance" of the neighborhood, while simultaneously the solid white house with imposing two story columns will be VERY unique.

To reduce the "cheap" impression (and probably to get it past my neighborhood architectural review committee), I will likely use a high-end realistic wood grain vinyl siding.  (not the "cheap" stuff that wrinkles so easily if improperly installed!)  I will also be using vinyl railing around my double wrap-around porches.

If I could get my scanner to work I'd post the picture of the house from which I developed my design concept.  It definitely doesn't look "cheap."

Regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/11/2008


Does this look cheap???

(I hooked my scanner up to a different computer and got it working...)

 


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/11/2008


Another question I need to research out:

"What are the advantages and disadvanatges of closed cell and open cell foam insulation?"

If I use foam insulation anywhere in my house, which kind should I use and why?


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By Avram in Raleigh, NC on 8/11/2008


Not at all.

I just had to comment on the vinyl because it inspires (in me at least) the nails running across chalkboard reaction most of the time when I see it. (see as an example: fredsmithhomes.com/available) It's not even so bad from far away -- but up close... 

More than anything I was curious in the particular style of material that you had in mind.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/11/2008


I'm honestly beginning to feel a little self-conscious about this HUGE thread.  I don't think anyone else has ever used these forums quite like this.  But I figure if I'm going to do all of this research, I might as well post my questions and my findings as they happen where everyone else can see them, can learn from it, and where I can get the benefit of public peer review...

Besides it will be interesting to document the process of "researching" to be an O-B essentially from the beginning and every thought and question and process that happens all the way through to beginning construction.  Then I can document the actual construction process in my Construction Journal like everyone else has.

BTW, Thanks to those who've already left comments and questions to me in this thread.  Whether or not my opinion differs from yours, I learn every time.  Either you change my mind or else I come away understanding better why I believe what I believe.  Either way it is constructive and very much appreciated!

So, don't shy away from challenging my ideas and assumptions.  I've got strong opinions, but that doesn't mean that I disrespect the opinions and thoughts of others!  For example, I enjoyed responding to Avram and Dorothy's questions and learned from their comments...  Hopefully, their questions, comments, advice, along with my opinions will get other people thinking and making better informed decisions for themselves as well.

Let's all help each other.  If you know the answers to or know places where I should look for the answers to some of my posted questions that I haven't gotten around to researching yet, I would particularly appreciate the input.

Regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/11/2008


Cost-Estimating

I know the house I'm planning is not going to be cheap, but...

I just tried the cost-estimating software at building-cost.net and it put the cost of construction WAY HIGHER than the appraised value of any home in my neighborhood, including some that are at least 50% larger and much higher custom end...

I really hope this software is either "wrong" or that I am using it incorrectly, because I can't imagine that it could be right...

I guess I'll know when I start working with my architect and get some preliminary estimates.


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By Avram in Raleigh, NC on 8/11/2008


Grant,

I was tinkering with that website the other week and I think that there is a bug in the calculations somewhere.  I played around with it some and the cost difference was almost double between 3,100 and 2,900 sq ft heated space.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/11/2008


Assuming it fits within my budgetary constraints I would like to specify Duraplank or equal.

 royalbuildingproducts.com/duraplank

The insulation is overkill for a house that already has equivalent to R-50 walls, but it has more of the realistic "look" I'd like to have for my vinyl siding.  It will also make my siding wind rated to the same level as my roof and walls.

Regards,

Grant


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By Michael in Cave Creek, AZ on 8/11/2008


Grant,

I have noticed that you have very quickly become one of the most prolific posters here on the forum. I think you are bringing a new perspective to the site that is well worth sharing.

Your posts are well thought out and written.  You are researching many different options and alternatives that steer away from conventional building methods. I would urge you to at least begin thinking about prioritizing the unique building methods that are most important to you.  That way, once you have a plan and begin to price it, it will be easier to come back down to reality.

I too dream of building a green home. My definition of this is a house that uses no off-site utilities for lighting, heating, cooling, water heating. The domestic water supply would be an on-site well and waste disposal would be via a septic tank. Nearly all scrap building materials would be recycled.

My project is in the Arizona desert. I have the well in and am putting in the septic.  Regardless of how I do the heat load analysis, I need power from the electric utility, since I can't afford a 20+KW solar system.The good news is that I was able to shave four tons of cooling capacity off the cooling load by insulating, and using top quality windows, in comparison to the HVAC contractor's less detailed heat load analysis. I am scaling my expectations back on the no off-site utilities approach and will try to include three to five KW of photovoltaic panels in my design, with the rest coming from local utility and a 500-gallon buried propane tank.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/11/2008


Thanks Michael. 

I'll start prioritizing more after I get with my architect (a good high school friend) and get some ball park pricing.  But for now:

1st priority is the tight, energy efficient envelope.  Roofing insulation is the biggest priority here and the walls are a very close second.  All penetrations WILL be sealed with foam insulation.

I'm willing to pay for AllWalls, Omnicrete, or ICF, and metal SIP roofing, because I should more than cover the increased mortgage payment with the monthly utility savings.  (I'll likely bid these technologies against each other and compare the resulting costs.) It's merely an issue of getting approved for the resulting size of the mortgage.  With the equity we have going in -- accumulated through a series of fixer uppers and good real estate deals in the past -- and our incomes, we could probably get approved for more house than we really want to end up paying for...  I'm going to try to establish a maximum house payment, property tax, insurance, and utilities that I am willing to commit to.  "My" limit will likely be lower than the bank will approve.  That, of course, should help us secure a lower interest rate, as well.

2nd priority is the quality and energy efficiency of the windows and doors (I'm not going to replace them in my lifetime!).

3rd priority is the durability of the structure (I don't want stick frame or OSB SIPs!).  Tornado resistance is a BIG plus around here...

4th priority is the quality of the embedded utilities like plumbing and electrical.  I WILL upgrade the wiring (heavier gauge wiring on heavily used circuits).  I'll probably run twice as much wiring as is required by code (fewer outlets per breaker, WAY more outlets per room than required). 

5th priority is indoor air quality.  I'll use low VOC materials, paints, and adhesives even if I have to pay more to get them.  I hope to be able to put in the top rated air purification system from day one.  If not, I'll start with a lesser system that is readily upgradeable to the higher end system.

I'm still trying to decide how much I'm willing to spend on hot water pipe system efficiency when my hot water will almost be free anyway (solar hot water).  It sure would be nice to have efficient and immediate hot water at every bathroom.  A recirculating system or a home run manifold is very attractive.  So is a heat recovery coil on the drain pipe.  I'll run the numbers, but I'm not optimistic about any return on investment.  If the cost is too high, I'll consider adding such environmental "luxuries" later.  If I decide I'll probably want to add them later, I'll try to prep to make such additions as non-disruptive and cost-effective as possible. 

The PEX manifold system is quick and simple enough for me to run it myself with friends/family over a weekend.  It is probably less costly than traditional PVC which I would have to sub out at MUCH higher labor cost.  But this is an area I'm willing to sacrifice if the numbers turn out to favor a traditional PVC plumbing system.

Any expenses for energy efficiency that won't raise my monthly mortgage payment more than I save in utility bills, I'm going to invest in. (i.e. CFLs, Energy Star appliances, etc.).  I hope to justify the geothermal heat pump expense, but I realize when I have such an energy efficient home, the payback time could approach 20 years versus a less expensive Energy Star rated HVAC system.  But it still pays back, so I really want to invest in it.  (I might be willing to exceed MY budget limit for this one.)  I'll probably put in manual controlled HVAC dampers for "zoning" that can be automated in the future.  Moisture control is such a critical factor where I live that I want an ERV with a built in humidistat and humidity controls along with a thermostat that also has a humidistat. Humidity control will pay for itself in lower utility bills and will make for a healthier home; it is a MUST.

Solar water heaters are a no brainer... They definitely pay for themselves.  I already have one of the highest Energy Star rated electric water heaters available at my current house, and I may take it with me as the supplemental unit for the new house.

According to the Omnicrete guys AAC is less expensive to install for interior walls than traditional wood frame...  If the quotations prove that out I'll strongly consider using it.  It's a slick technology with lots of advantages.  However, I will have to be comfortable that I can use AAC and still pull all the wiring and mount all of the boxes, and the PEX plumbing myself like I can so easily do with stick frame interior walls.  If increased wiring expenses cost more than the AAC wal savings, I'll take stick frame for the interior walls instead.  Termites are unlikely to be a problem on the interior with solid concrete walls.

Wind and solar power don't pay for themselves in Alabama.  Our electricity rates are too low and we don't have state incentives.  I'll pre-wire to add it if and when it makes sense. (And I will have built to have low demand so that it will be financially possible to become a net-zero energy house if it ever makes sense to do so.)

Since I don't intend on selling, if I have to for budgetary reasons, I'm willing to downgrade certain interior surfaces and upgrade later as long as it doesn't disrupt the structure of the house or my appraisal for mortgage approval.  The laundry room floor could go marmoleum instead of stone IF I have to...  Same goes for secondary bathrooms.  I don't want to skimp on cabinets, countertops, or bath/shower enclosures, because I will never rip them out, but other features could be downgraded for initial construction.  Commonly used bathrooms will definitely have high quality, water efficient toilets and fixtures.  The other bathrooms can be more standard grade faucets, toilets, etc.   I may choose not to put the electric radiant flooring (I'd love to have hydronic but not going to happen...) into any bathroom except for the MBR. Worst case, I'll put a radiant lamp in the MBR and forego radiant floors altogether.

I can wait on finishing out the attic and parts of the basement.  I can wait to close in the southern porches until later.  I can wait to build the passive solar assisted sauna until later.  I'm already certain that the automated roller blinds will have to wait. 

The earth tubes can definitely wait, but I will likely pre-plumb underneath the foundation during construction.

If I really have to drastically cut-down my budget to get to where I want to be, I can leave off the garage structure until later.  I can also leave off the swimming pool until later.  I can also do a "basic" landscaping.  Water conservation is less critical in our climate, so the gray water tank and system could wait, as long as it is pre-plumbed to lower future installation expense.

I really want plyboo floors or equivalent through much of the house.  I could downgrade to a bargain hardwood.  I really want cork flooring in the kitchen, but if I have to I could use the same flooring I use in the dining room.  I could go with a concrete floor or masonry tile (which will still give me my solar mass) instead of stone in the den and breakfast nook if I have to.  If I REALLY have to cut deep to hit my target, countertops are not hard to upgrade later.  I could size the future kitchens in the basement and  the guest house to match the countertop sizes in the kitchen and switch out to higher grade granite kitchen counters in the future when I have the budget to add the additional kitchens.

During initial construction, I'll sacrifice the "bling" for energy efficiency and "good bones."  I can always add the "bling" over time.  I'm still a moderately young man.

Basically, I'm trying to plan what my house and landscape will become over the next 20 years, so that I don't have to rip out, un-do, re-do, or waste.  I may not get it all during initial construction, but I've got 20 years to turn this house into what I want it to be. Planning now will make that transition affordable.  With such good bones, I'll be able to finish out the basement, the attic, and the garage structure to build SIGNIFICANT sweat equity over time.  I'm not building to attract high-end buyers.  I'm building a structure that will optimize my ability to develop sweat equity over time.  If I build the bones right, this house will eventually be 10,000 sf like my neighbors' houses.  By the time I reach retirement it will have the square footage, and the bling to put me in a STRONG equity position.

This is a good thought exercise for me...  Thanks.

Regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/11/2008


DIY PEX costs

In the Arkansas-First-Timer blog Jack said the following:

"I don't have my receipts handy at the moment so these numbers are all ballpark figures.  I ordered fittings and manifolds from PexConnection.com for roughly $430.  The manifolds accounted for about $300 of that cost but they were still less expensive than I had found them anywhere else.  The pipe was very inexpensive and I picked it all up from Home Depot and Lowe's for $25/100 ft rolls (1/2").  3/4" was a little more expensive but still not bad.  Oh yeah, the pipe cutter was about $10 from Home Depot.  I think that was about it other than miscellaneous fittings purchased on an as needed basis from Home Depot and Lowe's."

"I decided to use PEX for my water supply and I ran it myself.  I found it very easy to work with and quick to install.  I bought most of my pipe and my tools from Home Depot and Lowes.  Home Depot seems to have the best prices between the two stores, at least in our city, but Lowes has a better selection of fittings.  The actual pipe coils are the same price and brand at either store.  I bought most of my fittings and my manifolds from PexConnection.com for considerable savings and the service was pretty good too.  I checked with local plumbing supply companies but they didn't carry much in the way of PEX products and what they did have was way overpriced.  Our city inspector was very impressed with how neat the installation looked.

I installed two manifolds, one for the south end of the house which takes care of the two main bathrooms and the laundry room and another at the north end which covers the half bath and the kitchen.  I stubbed all of the sinks and toilets out through the wall using 90 degree mounting plates made for that purpose and I brought the fridge, ice maker, washing machine and showers straight up through the wall to the fixtures.  Even though I don't have to put separate shutoffs on the sinks and toilets (because the manifolds have individual shutoffs), I'll probably do that anyway after the sheetrock goes on and the cabinets are installed.  Right now, I have all supply lines plugged off for pressure testing."


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/12/2008


Waterproofing the Shower

Arkansas-First-Timer gave some compelling arguments for looking into the Schluter-Kerdi Shower system for water-proofing a tiled shower.  This may be something that I want to spec to ensure a good tile job.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/12/2008


Note to self: Remember to pre-shop prior to construction and spec every detail of every item, such as threshholds on doors, deadbolts, hardware, doorbells, etc.  Planning ahead of time and shopping for value will save money over last minute choices under a time crunch.
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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/12/2008


Lisa's LittleLakeCorner blog mentioned the use of the Integrity Gasket for reducing floor and frame noises for a quieter house.

It sounds like an interesting product.  Not sure if it will be worth paying extra for, BUT as I spec out and price materials I will give it a look.

integritygasket.com


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/13/2008


Sizing a Solar Water Heater From Mother Earth News:

"In cool climates, a system is sized with 20 square feet of collector and 20 gallons of storage capacity for each person in the household. For large families, this can be reduced by 10 percent for each person over four members in the household. In warm climates, a system is sized with 15 square feet of collector and 25 gallons of storage for each person in the household, with the same reductions for larger families. These sizing methods will give the best return on investment. Systems smaller than these certainly will work well, but your savings will be less."

So for my family, we need a minimum of 45 sq ft of collector and 75 gallons of storage. (My wife, granddaughter, and I.)

For the full article see motherearthnews.com/Go-Solar-for-Free-Hot-Water.aspx.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 8/14/2008


BuildBlock is not the only ICF rated for this.
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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/14/2008


What are some of the others?

I'm looking for:

  • The ability to hang the cabinets directly to the ICF. 
  • 6" bracing to strengthen the blocks and to provide more attachment points for wall coverings. 
  • A strong interface between blocks based on the interlock design.
  • Strong corners to reduce bracing requirements and risk of blow-out.

Nice features: The BuildBlock has built in measurement lines so that the installer doesn't constantly need a tape measure.  The BuildBlock can be cut in smaller increments...

I'd love to know which blocks others feel are comparable.

Regards,

Grant


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 8/14/2008


I used Amvic. Truthfully, my selection of ICF was based on what my subcontractor preferred. As to ease of cutting either vertically or horizontally, my architect designed my house to minimize both. Sure, my ceilings are 10'-4-1/2 inches on the main level, but this is a 10' stud with a single bottom plate and double top plates, and this didn't phase the sheetrockers one iota, as they hung the sheetrock to finish horizontal joints instead of vertical (less visible to the eye, but mine was level five skim-coated anyway). In addition, adjacent walls have different levels for the vertical joints, again less visible. And when they showed up with 20' long panels, you realize they really don't like to finish more joints than necessary.

Amvic is reversible, has the webs clearly visible every 6", has vertical cut lines every inch, (which we didn't need to use because we had good design), interlocking horizontal interface, etc. We had rock-solid pours with no blowouts or movement, floating, or compacting of the forms. However my subcontractor also braced every four feet, and glued every joint both horizontally and vertically. Overbuilt or too much labor, probably, but this is how he does it on every job he does. All this bracing also ensures straight, plumb, and true; all somewhat rare for ICF construction (just ask your siding installers, probably one reason for EIFS systems on ICF). Truthfully I don't think 6" vs. 8" vs. 12" (TF Systems) really matters much.

As to ability to secure cabinets directly to the ICF, the ICF industry has enough solutions to this problem that it isn't a problem anyway. I can with Amvic, but this was hardly an important selling point or decision factor. Truthfully I didn't realize it until my cabinetmaker pointed it out, and also identified how to mark the locations of the webs for him to screw into after the sheetrock was up.

My selection of ICF would be based on service after the sale and the supplier I was dealing with. Remember that the supplier is trying to sell you something, they might be a little bit biased based on the product they make a commission from vs. similar products they don't. ;-).


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/14/2008


Use a monolithic slab.

In the OwnesNewHome blog Justin said, "I think I'll ask my designer to do a monolithic slab next time (if I have the desire and survive this one first). Instead of three inspections (footing, stem and slab) and three times for the concrete contractor to come out we'll just do it once and save a week or so."

This is excellent advice. Pay more for materials if necessary but reduce time and labor costs and you will usually come out ahead of the game as an O-B.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/14/2008


Air Handler Placement

I've planned on putting the air handlers in the basement, probably in the passive conditioning chamber. But Juston makes some valid points that I will discuss with my HVAC vendors...

Justin on the OwensNewHome blog stated: "Originally we had the air handlers in the basement but after speaking with my HVAC contractor and a HVAC rigid sheet metal guy they recommend putting the air handlers in the attic rather than trying to push cold air up from the basement. After checking with my inspector he said he wouldn't have a problem with it as long as the trusses were engineered for it. I then met with my truss supplier and had him locate all of the air handlers in the attic. This will save ductwork and should provide for a better system having the cold air come down from the insulated attic vs. pushing it up from the basement."

My question is... which will save more energy: not needing to push the cold air up to the attic rooms or having the intake air come from the cool north basement area? 


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By Terry in Phoenix / Oracle, AZ on 8/14/2008


I would recommend against putting your HVAC equipment in the attic for several reasons.  First, it is difficult to access, service and, maintain there.  If you have to replace the unit for some reason expect to pay extra for disassembly and removal and more to get the new unit installed.

Next, an attic unit requires more in the way of drip pans and a drain system for condensate.  This again adds complexity and cost to have installed.  If it isn't done properly you can end up having problems with water damage from overflow and leaks from the pan.

Third, you are adding a lot of heat load into the attic.  This is not good for the equipment, the house, or efficiency.  You also have to consider the noise that is generated by a system in this location.  That too may become an issue.

I would recommend a split system using piping run in underground chases into the house.  This sort of system is much easier to maintain and service.  It can be placed almost anywhere along the perimeter of the house and in many cases it is walled into a small equipment yard out of sight.  I would think any HVAC contractor worth his salt would offer this sort of system up front before recommending an attic unit.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 8/15/2008


I considered doing this as it seemed ultimately a labor and cost savings, but when I ran the numbers I found it was actually roughly even money. I paid for a concrete pump truck to show up for footings and stem walls, and a telebelt for the underslab crushed stone and concrete placement. This was actually two separate subcontractors as the ICF subcontractor poured his own footings, but the flatwork was a different subcontractor. Anyway concrete pump trucks and telebelts are not inexpensive, and you get to hire them for a 3-hour minimum and pay drive time on top of this. For the footers, the concrete pumper operated maybe 30 minutes and was able to make his afternoon appointment with plenty of time to spare, at my expense. Eliminating two concrete pump jobs seemed like a nice opportunity to save some money. Sure my concrete costs increase, but a couple yards of concrete in cheap compared to that pumper.

 

So why didn’t I? Several reasons, but basically it simply didn’t work for me:

1)      My ICF subcontractor was adamant about pouring his own footings, ICF needs level footings and the only way he could control his part of the job (ICF) was to control the part of the job that occurred before him (the footings he puts his ICF on). Sure I had other ICF subcontractors I could have used, but I had pretty much made up my mind on using Dean, and this was a condition of him accepting the job. On the other side, my ICF subcontractor didn’t do flatwork, and a monolithic slab requires flatwork.

2)      While this was not unusual in my locale, it was also not typical. I was a new GC (had my license, had absolutely zero background with the building department inspectors) building using unusual technique, I was subject to enough scrutiny from the inspectors. Throwing that monolithic slab at them first thing wasn’t exactly how I wanted to start.

3)      My plumber doing the underslab plumbing wasn’t enthralled with the idea. He likes to use solid reference points (and footers provide these), because you really only get one chance to put that toilet flange and bathtub flange in the right place before the concrete gets there. Relocating it later takes a jackhammer. Sure I could have hired a different plumber, but again I was pretty set on using John.

4)      My real issue was thermal performance though. Concrete in direct contact with the ground gets cold in the wintertime, like wool socks and insulated boots cold just to walk across the floor. Sure you use underslab insulation, but that slab still has direct thermal contact through the footer to the ground. With ICF stemwalls, the concrete slab can be easily thermally isolated. I have two bedrooms in my walkout basement, and let me tell you that this thermal isolation works. Barefoot in the middle of winter across this floor – no problems.

5)      And truthfully, the bids I got to do this with a monolithic slab were even money. My subcontractors were happier, it was even cost, and I was more confident about the thermal performance of an isolated basement slab.

 

Your situation may well be different, as this is definitely not a one-size-fits-all (or even one-size-fits-most) proposition. The nice thing about discussion boards such as this is the information sharing. Some of these ideas might work for you, others won’t, but you never have the opportunity if you don’t have the information and desire to learn and do something better in the first place. One advantage O-Bs have is that we take a fresh look at things.

 


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/15/2008


Mark made the following suggestion: "Instead of a plant shelf above the front door, we chose to avoid dust gathering by enclosing the space which now forms a "secret passage" between youth bedrooms upstairs. When little ones visit, they seem to make a beeline for the secret passage."

I've got a dormer coming off the open foyer area below that is going to be a "dust collector" but I do want the light to come into the space so I am not going to wall it off.  But I think I may put a rail across the end and put in a "secret passage" from the playroom closet out to the dormer.  This will make Christmas decorations easier and if I feel it is "safe enough" for my grandkids to venture out there it will certainly excite them.


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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 8/19/2008


Grant,

After getting many outrageous bids for radiant geothermal heat, I have decided to DIY it. I found a company that sells the heat pump and pipes in a kit. It was very reasonable. My septic installer is going to do the excavation as I am putting in a vertical closed-loop system. I have done a lot of research and have heard of a few problems with the open loop system. Also -- in my area. I would have to dig a fairly deep well, which would be very costly. My whole system will run about $11K for the pump, geo lines and excavation. Then another $6K for the PEX radiant tubing. I am getting a 6-ton unit and it will heat and cool my 5,200 sf home. Starting install in about five weeks -- will let you know how it goes . BTW -- my bids ran from $80K-$110K.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 8/19/2008


fab-form.com/products/fastfoot/mono-pour.html
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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/19/2008


To keep things simple for the framers, I'm probably going to have my roof designed with a 4:12 slope (roughly a 33 degree angle).  It appears that by extending my wrap-around porch and adding in a 3' eave, I can get the exact distance (~27') necessary to hit my desired slope for the 9' height of the attic while also providing adequate summer shading for my rear southern porch.  (The resulting length of the standing seam roof should be ideal for adding adhered PV panels in the future.)

I'm sloping for the future PV so that it can be adhered straight to the standing seam roof.  I figure I will need mounting hardware for the solar hot water arrays anyway, so I will adjust the angles of the solar HW heaters separately as needed...

The Uni-Solar PVL product is field applied and perhaps can be installed on an existing standing seam metal roof.  uni-solar.com.


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By Chris on 8/19/2008


A 4/12 pitch is 18-1/2 degree angle and a 33 deg. is closer to an 8/12 pitch 
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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/19/2008


Things to "build in" for future solar system:

PV

Design space for inverters and disconnects near the main service panel for future PV.

Make sure the main service panel has space to handle a power input breaker

Pre-wire or install empty metal conduit from the roof to near the main service panel to handle wires from the future array to the future inverter. 1" conduit would support most residential systems. A conduit will also be needed from the inverter location to the main service panel. If you are preparing a very large house you may need to run two or more conduits from the roof.

Provide enough room in the breaker box for a double-pole 30 A breaker (solar electric feed).

Provide a vertical wall area to mount an inverter in the mechanical area of the house.

Minimize the distance (wire run) from the array to the inverter. (some sources say to try to stay within 20')

Install an electric disconnect switch for a potential future solar electric system.

If stand-off mounts or racks are needed, install them before the final roofing material is installed to ensure proper flashing.

Solar HW

Ensure that the roof structure is strong enough. Design structural support into the roof to handle the weight of a rack-mounted solar HW heater system. (Probably nothing more necessary with the steel SIP roof I hope to install, but will double check).

Install 3/4" copper pipe for both cold and heated water from the roof to the space where hot water storage tanks would be located. The pipe will need to be capped and accessible on the top. The bottom should dead end until the solar system is installed. Insulate the pipe

Run sensor wires parallel with copper pipe. Electric cable may be needed for a potential pump.

Allow space near the water heater for necessary equipment including hot water tanks, valves, pumps, heat exchangers, expansion tanks and other needed equipment.

If stand-off mounts or racks are needed, install them before the final roofing material is installed to ensure proper flashing.

The full report is available at: eere.energy.gov/41085.pdf

 


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/20/2008


Central Vacuum.

Well I didn't think I really needed one but after learning the benefits from other forum participants I've decided that a central vacuum probably is a good investment.  It will provide better control of indoor air quality by sending all of the dust and nasties outside of the conditioned envelope of the house.  It will improve the home appraisal value at least as much as the cost (probably more if I install it myself), because it is such a "high demand" amenity in new homes.  Apparently the hoses retract and stay in place and the central vac is apparently more powerful than your typical quality upright.  So, I'm adding it to this thread as another item for which I need to research and plan my specifications and budget estimates.

Anyone have experience (good or bad) with various brands?  You are welcome to comment and save me some future research effort <grin>.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/20/2008


Self-Cleaning Air Filter for HVAC

energywisestructures.com/filter.html

This appears to be somewhat "pricey" but VERY intriguing to me.  Cleaning the HVAC filter is such a pain and so easy to forget!

I've got serious allergies so indoor air quality is particularly important to me. I doubt it will fit into my budget though...

Regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/20/2008


Faye,

You've clearly done your research on a variety of topics and I really enjoy reading your posts.

I did see that the expected life of an open loop system was not as high as for a closed loop system, presumably because of deposits from the water contaminating the heat pump.  A closed loop system doesn't get such deposits.  I would imagine that if I use a thermal transfer system in between the loop and the heat pump, that I can eliminate such a problem but with a reduction in efficiency and increase in cost.  But I haven't priced the cost difference of the thermal transfer vs. the cost of the closed loop.  I'll have a well anyway, and I have a good use for the waste water so emotionally I want to use an open loop, but it may not be the best solution after I do a full analysis.

From an energy efficiency standpoint, the closed loop system makes considerably more sense than the thermal transfer "fix" to the open loop problem.

I'd love to hear about the open loop problems you have encountered.

Regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/20/2008


Some aspects of elevator shaft planning I hadn't thought about including 240V as well as 120V electrical access.  Additionally a TELEPHONE line is needed! 

I found a good primer on planning for an elevator shaft at the following link:

doityourself.com/stry/elevators


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/20/2008


When we do the wiring I'm making a note to remember to put disconnect switches at every major appliance. While the following quote relates to HVAC, I would presume a comparable value would exist for work on other major appliances as well (hot water heaters, dish washers, etc.)

"The code requires that there be an electric disconnect switch near your air conditioning unit. The purpose of this requirement has nothing to do with performance, but rather with safety. It enables a repair technician to turn off the power at the work site, with the assurance that no one will turn on the power while his hands are engaged with the internal components of the system.

It's easy to understand why your contractor would like to see a switch at the required location: It could save his life. My advice is to have this condition corrected by a licensed electrician."

doityourself.com/airconditionswitch

 


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/20/2008


I've never heard anyone in my county talk about radon problems so I just assumed it isn't really an issue in this area.  Surprise!  Calhoun County is a Zone 1 for radon with high risk...

You can look up your location at epa.gov/radon

Looks like I may need to build radon mitigation measures into my foundation after all. 

One additional measure I may take, however, is survey my future neighbors regarding if they have tested for radon and what their results were.  If they are as clueless as I am about radon, I may offer to put test kits in their basements to test for radon.  This will give me an idea of how much I should plan on budgeting for radon control.

Radon test kits are relatively inexpensive.  I will use long-term radon test kits.  Consumer Reports recently tested various radon test kits and reported their findings. consumerreports.org/lead-radon-test-kits

The CR "best buy" The Accustar AT 100 is only $28.  It might be worth volunteering to put one in the basement of every neighbor to decide how much I should potentially spend for radon control...

Regards,

Grant


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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 8/20/2008


Grant ,

First let me give you some info about my property. I have 10 acres with a large deep ravine running through the center, I will have a well and the home is 5,250 sf. So I checked out both open and closed loop systems. After thinking about a open loop, I decided not to do it because of the vast amount of water that would have to be pumped from my well. I did not want to risk running the well dry or replacing expensive pumps. I know the water quality is not good and I was also afraid of the geo lines getting clogged and corroded. I live in the Midwest so I would need a great deal of flow to heat my house in the winter. You may not need near as much as I do. Space for the geo lines was not an issue -- so horizontal closed loop was the way to go for me.
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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/20/2008


I have three acres with a relatively deep ravine leading down to a forested dale with a seasonal creek with plenty of excess capacity (i.e. no downstream flood concerns).  I won't run the risk of a dry well as water is still plentiful from wells here during the current 100-year drought period. I am concerned about pump maintenance issues, clogged and corroded lines, and impact on the geothermal heat pump maintenance. 

Space is not an issue with me either, so I may consider a horizontal closed loop as you have done.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/21/2008


Another contender...

tfinsulatedconcreteforms.com

betterhometech.com/ICF.html

TF Insulated Concrete Forms are vertical ICF panels that install more like traditional concrete form works and are supposedly faster/simpler to install than ICF block systems.  The panels can apparently be at least partially pre-assembled off-site verticalicf.com/PreFab and then trucked to the site with window openings already built into the walls.  This could enable productivity even on rainy days preparing panel walls indoors.

Less trimming and less waste would also seem to be an additional benefit.

If anyone has experience with this technology and this company please let me know.

Regards,

Grant

 


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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 8/21/2008


Grant,

It sounds like you may also be using a septic system. I was going to rent a backhoe to dig the trenches for the geo pipe but I spoke to my septic guy and he is willing to dig them for $75 an hour. He's providing the machine, fuel and operator for that. I couldn't rent the machine that cheap. We figure about 16 hrs to bury the pipe. Something you might want to consider when figuring your costs.
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 8/25/2008


Nice way to involve "unconventional" subcontractors and not be limited to the book. There is no reason any subcontractor with excavation equipment couldn't dig the trenches to install geothermal, so why not use your septic installer? I know electrical installers (mainly installing underground service) that have excavation equipment too, and why not a swimming pool installer as well? The HVAC subcontractor probably has an excavator they subcontract this portion of the install out to anyway, why not take direct control and subcontract it yourself?

Please keep us posted on this.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/25/2008


(Thanks Chris.  You saved me from an embarrassing gaff when I turn my house design over to my architect friend in October.  You've also given me time to make the necessary design adjustments to get the pitch I want on my roof line.)

OK!  I clearly don't know much about roof framing.  I "assumed" (without bothering to check the math) that if I rise 4" for every 12" in length that I'd be at roughly a 33 degree angle.  I guess I haven't paid attention to geometry since I took it in 9th grade... and hardly ever need it these days for what I do day-to-day.  My "practical math" is a bit rusty.  I'm too reliant upon spreadsheets and calculators these days.

So that others don't make the same "boneheaded" ignorant mistake, here is a link to a table that shows the equivalents between roof pitch and degrees:

roofgenius.com/roof-pitch-degrees

regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/25/2008


In another forum thread, Gordon said, "I had a separate panel installed for those circuits I expected to run on PV"

I like the idea of adding an additional breaker box with all of the "essential" electrical loads that I will want to power "at all times."  Whether it is power from a back-up generator or power from future PV panels...  when the grid goes down, this way I can very simply turn off all of the other circuits and continue to power the critical circuits (freezer, refrigerator, basic essential lights and critical outlets, fans and pumps for the climate control and water systems, etc.)

regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/25/2008


OK, I actually need an 8:12 slope to hit the desired angle.  Thankfully, I have a simple solution.  I will adjust the roof line up the belvedere in order to achieve my desired pitch.
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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/8/2008


Wax wouldn't have to melt, but merely "soften" to cause easier shifting and thereby leaking.  The elevated temperatures from a raidant floor would seem possible to sufficiently soften the wax enough to cause problems.  Having heard someone raise this concern, I will err on the side of caution.  It won't hurt anything to leave the PEX tubing further from the toilet seal.
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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/8/2008


The more I research it, the more I actually want radiant floor heating: even, comfortable, low-energy expense heat that is kept at a stable temp by the thermal mass in the home.

Of course, having recently learned about Passive House design that doesn't use ANY active heating or cooling systems to stay comfortable, and looking at how close to a Passive House design I've already come, I still wonder, "Do I really NEED radiant floor heat in addition to the passive solar heat gain I will receive, and the fireplaces in the house?"  Besides, my wife insists upon a mechanical unit anyway, which in order to supply the required cooling loads in our environment will be oversized for our heating needs anyway.  Perhaps, radiant floor only in the basement...??? and the Master Bath as previously described for "comfort" reasons.

As I will have a basement slab, it will likely make sense to at least pre-plumb the PEX tubing before pouring the slab to add radiant floor heat later, as needed.  Since the basement will be naturally cooler, perhaps I won't need cooling in the basement and can get away with ONLY installing the PEX radiant floor in the basement together with an air exchanger (ERV/HRV) to keep the air from getting stale.  This could significantly reduce the size of my active conditioning unit, as the basement is roughly 70' X 70' (4900 sf).  (I figured I might actually have needed a separate unit for the basement!)  Maybe I'll just plan for the "possible" addition of a mechanical system for the basement, and then size it and add it "if needed" in the future.

Once again, I'm thinking out loud and welcoming the input of others.  When all of my decisions are made, I will record those decisions and the outcomes in my blog.  But I'm trying to also record my education and thought processes in this public discussion forum. 


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By Chris on 9/8/2008


The use of an ERV/HRV will increase the HVAC load
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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/8/2008


Balancing my "wants" with my "priorities."

OK, I'm questioning myself again.  It is all part of the learning process.

I've recently started studying the European Passive House concept.  The high thermal mass, high insulative value in the envelope, and passive heating completely obviates the need for an active mechanical HVAC system.  All the Passive Houses need is ERVs for the required air exchange and filtration, and humidity control systems.  No heat pump required!  The ERVs can be equipped with small supplemental heating systems (and I presume also cooling systems), as needed, to maintain a comfortable home temperature.  Air is removed from IAQ concern zones (such as kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms) and recirculated into the house in the bedrooms, and living rooms.  (When ERVs are used with such ventilation in addition to a separate HVAC system, the ERV return air is frequently returned to otherwise stale zones such as closets to improve air circulation.)

With the mean annual temperature in Alabama just slightly on the cool side of comfortable (with humidity controlled), a properly designed Passive House in Alabama may not need any cooling...???  At least not if I can keep my latent heat gain low (with proper daylighting to avoid excessive heat from lights and proper ventilation in heat generating rooms like kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, etc.; I will also need to consider controlling heat gain from computers, TVs, and other home electronics.)  I know basements around here generally don't need cooling.  If I can sufficiently control interior heat gain from people and appliances, then air conditioning loads will be very low.

Having said this, a Passive House maintains a relatively constant temperature throughout the house.  This is not necessarily a comfortable thing.  Many people prefer a cooler bedroom and a warmer family room.  The additional heat in a kitchen, bath, or laundry frequently requires a separate conditioning zone to keep it "comfortable."  Unless passive airflow is carefully considered, the north side rooms of a house without a mechanical air system can end up significantly cooler than the south side of the house.  Comfort and energy efficiency don't always go together.

Active conditioning systems can be "zoned" to maintain comfort in each part of the house.  Passive Houses, as constructed in Europe, don't seem to attempt to provide active controls for such "comfort" considerations.  Even still, in a Passive House such supplemental cooling and heating needs result in very low loads...  So with such low cooling loads, why pay soooo much more for a geothermal heat pump cooling system???

If I want to keep my peak loads low enough to have smaller sized future on-site power generation, then at first glance it would seem that a high-efficiency geothermal heat pump (as I originally said I wanted) makes financial sense, because such an energy efficient system will cost less to buy than the larger on-site power generation required for peak loads with a less efficient HVAC system.  However, I have a grid-tied home...  I am not required to size my PV or back-up generator for peak loads.  I can supplement from the grid much more cost-effectively.  And if the grid goes down, with a Passive House design, the active energy consuming systems that cause peak loads higher than the PV array can handle, are just for "zonal comfort," and not an issue of "livability" anyway.  If things ever get so bad that the "grid" is down, I can always adjust my lifestyle to handle the less than ideal temperature differences between rooms.  (If my wife thinks the Master Bedroom is uncomfortably hot at night, then under such crisis circumstances we can always sleep in the bedroom in the basement!)

The more I think about this, with a properly designed Passive House, I don't REALLY need an energy efficient HVAC that will cost more than I get in savings out of it.  A standard (relatively low cost) Energy Star HVAC system may be more than sufficient.  The difference in the lower mortgage payment may more than make up for the difference in energy costs from the less efficient mechanical system that won't need to run that much or that hard to supplementally achieve "zonal comfort" anyway.  If energy prices ever spike so high that we can't afford to run it for "zonal comfort," then so be it... 

So instead of putting in the high-end geothermal system and even paying extra for whole house radiant heat, I think (at least I think this way today <grin>) it may be wiser to invest in the kind of higher-end ERV's they are using in the European Passive Houses.  After all, I'm already committed to investing in the super-insulated envelope construction and have already incorporated the passive solar design.  I have actually already designed a "Passive House."  The things I am quibbling over are how to ensure zonal comfort.  Why was I considering spending so much extra on that??? 

I need to prioritize better!  So what really are my priorities???  This is a good exercise for me...  (Many of these "priorities" interact and can't really be perfectly ordered...)

My 1st priority is to achieve a design that is "sustainably affordable" so that my family has the security of forever having a roof over our heads no matter what happens to the economy and to energy prices.  A big part of this is investing in durable, energy efficient envelope materials.  Insulated poured concrete wall system, energy efficient windows and doors, and an energy efficient roof, with every inch leak tested and properly sealed.

My 2nd priority is that I want to make my house "sustainably livable & healthy."  I will attempt to control air quality by limiting VOCs, by incorporating filtration and ventilation systems.  I will attempt to control radon with my basement slab design.  I will ensure adequate daylighting for health and comfort as well.

My 3rd priority is to make the house "sustainably durable & low maintenance."  Durability and required maintenance will be considered in the selection of all long-life materials from the envelope to the interior surfaces, to the M/E/P, to the major appliances.  As a sub-set of this, my wife and I will not spend the time to actively, daily adjust the flow of air for passive cooling and heating.  At best, we will make seasonal adjustments to dampers.  I am therefore relying upon self-regulating design elements.  Where active regulation is required, I want to design in the ability for home automation.  Although I may not initially install electronically controlled dampers to the various zones of the house, I will pre-wire to achieve this level of automation in the future.  Eventually, I hope to have a home automation system to control the opening of ventilation windows in the basement and the belvedere and cupola as per humidity and temperature considerations.  I also want the home automation system to control the ventilation of the solarium between the exterior and the interior of the house.  I want to design in features that will save water and energy, like closet lights that turn themselves off and plumbing that doesn't waste water.

Beyond that, I will design in comfort as best as I can afford.  And I will look for ways of "building green" that won't otherwise compromise my priorities.  I will use recycled/reclaimed materials where appropriate and not cost-prohibitive.  I will use sustainable materials like bamboo and cork flooring where appropriate. 

As much of an environmentalist as I can be, pragmatism ultimately drives my priorities.  Reality is I am not going to live in a 1,000 sf home in an inner city, near public transportation, in order to reduce my environmental impact.  I'm also not going to reduce the comfort and aesthetics of my home by spending "extra" on energy efficiency and green design elements that don't meet my ultimate priorities or otherwise pay for themselves.  That's why solar PV is going to have to wait, and why a rainwater cistern may have to wait (although thinking pragmatically with the cost of landscaping a cistern is inexpensive insurance against drought and water bans), and why I'm not even considering reliance upon a composting toilet!  Even if I was more committed to such environmentalism than I am, my wife wouldn't let me (particularly not the composting toilet) <grin>.  Pragmatic comfort and security will ultimately drive the decisions.  I think this is the case with most other O-Bs as well.

regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/8/2008


These statements regarding the cost-effectiveness of an ERV are in relation to a system that is primarily reliant upon an active HVAC system for conditioning of the air.

If an ERV together with dehumidifying/conditioning of the intake air can keep a home's temperature and humidity sufficiently constant to avoid constant running of an HVAC system, then all of a sudden the cost of the ERV makes sense.  If HVAC is only needed supplementally for "zonal comfort" controls, then the size and cost (efficiency isn't as big of a concern if it doesn't run often) of the HVAC can be dramatically reduced.

A properly designed "Passive House" with an ERV can remain livable even without running an HVAC at all.  This seems promising to me. 

I am "flip-flopping" again.  I am once again considering the prospective viability of investing in an ERV...

regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/8/2008


"passivHaus" design

I searched the Forums and only found one brief reference to "Passive House" (or the German "passivHaus") design.  This deserves more attention so I am going to provide some relevant links from my research:

en.wikipedia.org

100khouse.com

greenlineblog.com

 

The above links provided excellent jumping off points for deeper research...

Anyone building a super-insulated home is already on the path to "Passive House" design.  The European "real world" experience and scientific analysis of the ideal design for such homes is quite informative.

regards,

Grant


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By Chris on 9/8/2008


Grant;

unless you are building in europe, these links are of little value. As I recall you are building in a humid climate?


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/8/2008


Don't be so quick to dismiss this just because it "wasn't invented in the USA."

Actually, there are several houses in the USA that have been built to the Passive House standard and function quite well.  Even in Europe, the climate is different in different regions.  The performance criteria remain the same, but the methods and technologies are adapted to the local climates to comply with the performance criteria.  In the case of a humid climate with hotter summers, dehumidification will need to be employed on the intake air for the ERV.  Otherwise, the conditioning principles remain essentially the same. 

Once you reach a steady state in a super-insulated home, you only have to account for new energy released from or into the system.  (i.e. opening a closing doors, passive gains from windows, heat from appliances and fixtures, heat from humans, etc.) 

The ERV conditions the intake air as needed, and it doesn't take much energy input for the conditioning.  The high thermal mass stabilizes most of the intermittent swings in temperature from passive gain and from briefly opening the doors to enter and exit.  As large as our house is and as few people who will typically be present, we won't be overheating the house with our bodies. 

As per Passive House design we will need to carefully vent heat and humidity from bathrooms, laundry rooms, and kitchens, particularly during the summer months.  The use of insulated solar daylighting strategies and cooler lighting fixtures (like LED can lights) can also help limit thermal gain.

Where I live in Alabama, we have a maximum mean temperature of 73.4 degrees F (ideal when dehumidified) and a mean annual temperature of 62.4.  A building with high thermal mass and controlled ventilation will "settle" to the mean annual temperature year round.  In other words, once I control humidity and thermal gains to within reason, northeast Alabama is actually an ideal climate for passive conditioning of the temperature.  The minor conditioning done with an ERV in a Passive House design as per the European guidelines may be sufficient without a big energy-sucking HVAC system!  Basements stay comfortably cool in my county, so with a sufficient thermal mass, proper insulation of the envelope, and a good ERV, the rest of the home should as well.

As I stated in another post, however, I will probably want to incorporate an active system for "zonal conditioning" anyway, just to make the home more comfortable.  But by following the general Passive House criteria, the loads required for "zonal conditioning" can probably be kept very low.

regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/8/2008


The following is a link to the "mean temperatures" in my area:

cirrus.dnr.state.sc.us

I was actually surprised to note that there are more heating degree days than cooling degree days in my area... I had just "assumed" the opposite.

Heating Degree Days (F): 2763

Cooling Degree Days (F): 1836

The maximum heating degree days is in January with 675.

The maximum cooling degree days is in July with 467.

With proper passive solar design I can let the heat in in the winter and keep it out in the summer.  I can balance this out to the annual mean temperature with sufficient thermal mass and by ensuring a tight envelope with controlled/conditioned air exchange with an ERV...


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By Chris on 9/8/2008


Munich, Germany

Heating Degree days (F) 6520

Cooling Degree days (F) 358

Does not seem similar to me?


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/8/2008


Or eliminate the ERV entirely and use an Ultra-Aire APD. You get ventilation and dehumidification in one unit, however no energy recovery. You will need to couple this with ventilating fans (perhaps bathroom, laundry, and kitchen, but you need these anyway). For the budget minded, Aprilaire makes a similar unit (at about 1/3-1/2 the price, but not nearly as nice), but actually cheaper than an ERV.

As you have so correctly pointed out, when you build the box correctly the most energy efficient appliances no longer make financial sense. Conventional wisdom is that you NEED an ERV, when what you truly NEED is ventilation and humidity control, and the ventilating dehumidifiers do both of these and better than the ERV ever could. Energy recovery is gravy, but gravy is only good if it is ultimately saving you money. Now then, control the humidity independently and you also open up options for cooling, such as cool water through your radiant floor? I wouldn't want this to be my primary cooling source, but for supplemental cooling I don't see why it wouldn't work. And this leaves you without the redundant air handler/AC system, making radiant that much more practical. Granted you still need ductwork for your ventilating dehumidifier, but this is so small compared to ductwork needed for your furnace/AC combination.

I had a Mechanical Engineer size my HVAC and also run a life cycle cost analysis to determine not only the correct size but the most cost effective. The most cost effective (at the time) was a 10 SEER central AC (which you can't even buy today) with a base 80% efficient furnace. My HVAC tech upgraded me to a 90+ furnace at no additional charge since he didn't have to vent the HWH and could direct vent the furnace. I also upgraded to the most efficient still using R-22 (R-22 operates at lower pressures than R-410a, and while R-22 is being phased out it is still cheaper, is not a blend, and has a number of other beneficial characteristics according to my HVAC tech).


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/8/2008


Check out the FluidMaster 7500 wax free bowl gasket. This uses a neoprene o-ring sealing system. It is especially forgiving for the DIY installer.

From what I understand, most experienced radiant installers run about double the amount of tubing adjacent to the toilet. Think about it ;-).


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/8/2008


With a tight, highly insulated envelope, how much of the heating/cooling loads are created by the air exchange occurring without an ERV?  Obviously, a dehumidifier will greatly reduce the required conditioning expense (I've read that as much as 50% of the cooling load on an poorly sealed typically constructed home in hot humid environments is dehumidification...), but without an ERV, heating and cooling loads will still be significantly increased.  The increased loads will require a larger HVAC system and higher energy consumption over the life of the home.

I haven't run the numbers, but seeing that the passive houses in Europe completely heat their homes with nothing but an ERV with minor supplemental heat (and in locations with a high number of heating degree days), it would appear that the savings from an ERV could be substantial and could be well worth the added expense if you are in an environment that has a high number of heating and/or cooling degree days (particularly heating degree days, as supplemental heat to the ERV should be very easy to implement and cost efficient).  Even in northeast Alabama, we have significantly more heating days than cooling days...

I like the ventilation and dehumidification unit.  I looked at this when you suggested it in a previous thread.  I was just about convinced that this would suffice without an ERV.  With a relatively temperature-stable high thermal mass home, the dehumidification will remove the majority of the conditioning expense in a humid environment.  However, how much cooling/heating expense remains once the dehumidification is handled???  This is an issue of how much heat is lost or enters the envelope via ventilation, doors, human bodies, lights, appliances, solar gain, etc.  Venting conditioned air and pulling in outside air that has only been dehumidified is going to be a significant energy "dump" that has to be replaced with an active system.  Even minor leaks in an envelope cause HUGE energy waste.  A ventilation system is a major "intentional" leak if it doesn't have an ERV.  With an ERV, this energy loss does not occur and the temperature of the house stays more stable.  According to the European data, in a harsher heating climate than my own, the ERV is sufficient within a super-insulated tight envelope house to stabilize the temperatures without an active HVAC system.  This is exciting and encouraging and is why I shared the links!

Granted, passive heat gain is a lot easier to accomplish in a cold environment than avoiding heat gain in a hotter environment (Europe versus the southeast USA).  But it tells me that an ERV should essentially drop my heating loads to near zero in my tight envelope, superinsulated home...  I will also have to design for cooling loads, but since my average mean climatic temperature is a comfortable living temperature range, my high thermal mass house should want to stay in that range as long as I avoid summer solar gains and don't ventilate heat into my house in the summer.  With my house having an ideal rear southern siting, windows shaded by porches and low SGHC, high-efficiency windows, avoiding solar heat gain shouldn't be a big problem.  That leaves heat entry from opening doors (and all my entrance doors will be under heavily shaded porches), and heat generated by bodies, appliances, and fixtures.  This is a relatively negligible amount of heat as compared to constant entrance of unconditioned exterior air via the ventilation system. 

The ERV helps establish a steady state so that there isn't a constant energy expense to fight the energy losses of ventilation.  The result is lower HVAC sizing requirements (and perhaps no need at all) and lower energy bills, as long as adequate dehumidification is handled as well.  If you don't dehumidify the intake air in a humid climate, you will be forced to constantly run a HVAC unit to pull moisture out of the air, thus not gaining much energy savings.

Recognizing this limit of ERV's I just did a Google search for "ERV's with dehumidification" and learned that in the past year, some new ERV products have been brought to market, such as Munters DryCool ERV product which handles ERV and dehumidification in a very energy-efficient manner.  While this is a commercial unit, the concept is what I am imagining as the most energy-efficient option for a home.  Munters also makes pool house dehumidifiers and small space dehumidifiers.  From reading their brochure, such a system as their DryCool ERV could prospectively provide supplemental heating, cooling, and dehumidification.  In all likelihood, a passive house with such a combination ERV/dehumidification system would need no additional HVAC system, just as has proven to be the case with the passive house designs in Europe and here in the USA.

I still think it is worth investigating...  If the intake air of the ERV can function as a sufficient supplemental heating/cooling system (and the passive house research suggests it can with a tight envelope, superinsulated, high thermal mass home for all the reasons stated previously), and if it resolves the humidity problem, the cost for adding an ERV with dehumidification is definitely worth the potential construction and lifetime energy savings of completely eliminating the need for a traditional HVAC system!

regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/8/2008


I found this right after posting:

"Commercial cooling systems often have desiccant systems to dehumidify the conditioning air. Desiccants are materials that attract moisture and can be dried or regenerated by adding heat supplied by natural gas, waste heat, or the sun. Currently, there are no mass produced commercially-available desiccant systems for residential applications, but efforts are underway to develop this technology. The promise for desiccant systems is that they are more economical to operate than conventional dehumidifiers."

"A combined ERV and desiccant cooling system is projected to cost about $1,700"

Considering this may be the only conditioning system needed in a relatively "steady-state" super-insulated, tight envelope home, such a price is an absolute bargain even if you weren't considering the life cycle energy cost savings AND the reduction in on-site power production requirements to become a net-zero energy home!

But it looks like my theories are slightly ahead of the curve.  Companies are developing such systems for the residential market currently, but none are actually currently available for purchase.  I hope to begin construction in about 18 months.  Maybe they will be readily available for residential use by then.

regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/8/2008


touche! or should I say tush-y! <grin>

I think I will go with the non-wax gasket if I use the radiant flooring in my bathroom.

All of the little details an O-B wouldn't consider without reading a forum like this...  OBB really is a GREAT resource!

regards,

Grant


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By Chris on 9/9/2008


10 SEER no longer meets the minimum code requirement
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/9/2008


I am well aware of that. However at the time 10 SEER was the minimum to meet the code requirement, was the least energy efficient, and yet was also the least cost from a life cycle cost analysis including capital cost, operating cost, maintenance cost, and reasonable return on investment. Point is, the least energy efficient was also the least overall cost, probably not the expectation from many people.
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/9/2008


I must remind myself that my 1,000 (actually a plural belongs on that) hours of planning ended several years ago. I have been living with my completed product for just over three years now, so I am at least four years off of the latest technology in residential construction. Actually an ERV with dessicant technology at $1,700 would have been a no brainer, as a basic ERV itself was $1,700 when I was building, and the Ultra-Aire was more (but the Aprilaire was less, you might guess which unit I wanted vs. which unit I purchased).

I can tell you I left out the ERV, and my energy costs (as previously posted) are quite low. Would an ERV save me HVAC costs, it most definitely would. However it still wouldn't save me the cost of the ERV over its lifetime, at least the "primitive" units that were current when I was building. Now then if I could have removed the dehumidifier cost, my conclusion would have been different.


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By Jim in Beverly Beach, FL on 9/9/2008


Grant,

You have asked about how to determine occupancy relative to how it affects requirement for fresh air in a tight house. You have also talked about having positive pressure in your house and the use of an Energy and/or Heat Recovery Ventilator. I myself have grappled with these concepts and costs. Unfortunately, the soft Atlanta real estate market has made me put my project on hold for now but I still study building science and keep an eye on ownerbuilderbook.com

Grant, you will find this article to be very interesting regarding these issues:

chandlerdesignbuild.com/ventingStandardsComplete.pdf

This quotes part of the article:

"Some builders believe in "pressurizing the building" by constantly blowing a small amount of make up air into the building but this doesn't take into consideration all the bath fans, dryer vents, and range hoods that have one-way pipes with exhaust-only dampers leading to the outdoors. It is difficult to pressurize a home when the windows are open. Some builders rely on Energy Recovery Ventilators, generally using them in place of bath fans and this is a very valid solution if you can locate the filters in easily-accessible locations and if your client can handle the $1,500 additional cost. But it is important to remember that the clothes dryer needs 300 CFM on average of make-up air and a range hood can need anywhere from 100 CFM to as much as 500 CFM . Regardless of whether or not you have an energy recovery ventilator you still need a supply-only filtered intake vent."

Chandler has a very elegant and tested solution; and it is very affordable.

He also has some interesting articles about solar energy and tank-less and tanked backup heating along with hydronic heating. I think that the capital cost of hydronic heating in our climate (Beverly Beach is between St. Augustine and Daytona) does not make financial sense in BevBeach, FL and maybe not in Jville, AL.

chandlerdesignbuild.com/demandWaterHeaters.pdf

Other good articles by Chandler on his home page:

chandlerdesignbuild.com

and here:

chandlerdesignbuild.com/index

You are certainly a prolific poster as another poster mentioned. I welcome the ideas and discussion. I haven't had so much fun on the forum since Jason & Cara, Lisa in Groveland and Dave in Orlando and others were posting like mad on the Florida forum.

You asked if we thought posting all your thoughts in one thread was a good idea or not. Personally, I like it. One-stop shopping for all that crazy Grant stuff!!!!!!!     ;) and lol.

Do you have an estimate or budget on your cost per square foot? With all your bells and whistles it's going to get up there. I am shooting at around $100/sq ft or less. Of course I know it depends on amount of self-work, level of finish, cabinet quality, etc. etc. etc. With 9K sq ft you are looking at a million+ dollar house. All the bells and whistles typically won't figure into the bank's appraisal of your plans. I know you have mentioned lots of DIY and lots of friends with special skill that can help you out gratis or at low costs and I hope you can make up the difference with that and the equity that you have mentioned that you have. I know you keep a sharp pencil and have renovation experience but your project, as you know, is several orders of magnitude more complex. Watch out for the burnout factor on all the self-work, I plan to do a lot myself too but you don't want to become a total slave to your project and end up dreading the responsibility. I love a challenge and am looking forward to it. I just can't believe that you could survive sheetrock, tape and mud on a 9K sq ft house. I have got to sub out the sheetrock and I am only looking at a 3K sq foot house.

Regarding dehumidification, have you considered an HVAC system with two-stage compressor and variable-speed fan coupled with thermostat/humidistat? My understanding is that when only dehumidification and not cool is called for, the compressor runs on low and fan runs on low too. This allows for only one piece of equipment instead of one for dehumidification and one for heating/cooling. Air exchange is taken care of by the ChandlerDesignBuild concept mentioned above. Keep It Simple.

I look forward to reading and exchanging ideas. Sorry my post ran so long.

Jim
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/9/2008


When I read Myron Ferguson’s Build It Right, I was surprised at the wealth of seemingly tiny details, many of which didn’t add cost, and how they make living with your house so much easier (please note Myron has a newer version titled, Better Houses, Better Living). After three years of experience living in my O-B house, there are some things I would do differently next time but by and large I have never lived in a place that just fit so perfectly. I simply don’t notice these minor details and the frustrations they prevent, until I go to other people’s houses and realize that not everyone has this same opportunity. It is only after I go see new houses (it's Fall Parade of Homes time in Kansas City, all the builders roll out their best) that I realize they really don’t know how much difference these seemingly minor details might make in daily life.

 

Sure I could have easily picked a stock house plan, focused on shopping and subcontracting, and saved some good money. But the devil is in the details, and it is those details that are so nice if you intend to live in your house long term. Do I see ICF – no. Do I notice how quiet it is any more – no. When I go tour new houses do I notice how noisy they are – yes. HVAC, do I notice how well it works – no. Do I pay attention to my monthly bills – yes. Do I notice inadequate humidity, ventilation, or temperature control in other structures – absolutely. I could go on, but the point is the same. And this applies to upscale houses too, well in excess of what I could ever afford (which is what I visit during Parade season and especially frustrating when you think that housing at this level would have much less compromise). Living in a structure that works seamlessly is amazing, and the number of details that have been incorporated that I can’t imagine living without is staggering. But after living here, these are now only appreciated when they are removed (say visiting relatives). While I have never lived with radiant heat (I couldn’t justify the redundant system), I imagine this is one of those details that once you live with you never live without again and will definitely be included in my next build.

 

The cumulative knowledge on these forum pages, all free for the taking, is truly staggering.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/9/2008


You are apologizing about the length of your post to me???  You must be trying to send me a subtle (or not so subtle) message <grin>...

Seriously, this is the kind of information I'm on here to get.  Thanks!  This is great information and I have nearly a year to analyze all my options and make final decisions.

As far as the size and cost go, keep in mind, I don't plan on finishing the giant basement or attic as part of my mortgage.  Depending on budget limitations, I may not build the attached garage structure at first, but use the basement garage only.  Most of the attic won't be finished immediately as well. 

I can get my CoO finishing the first and second floors as a 3BR/3BA house (even though it will only rarely be used as a guest room with a hide-a-bed couch, the parlor is intentionally designed with a closet and attached bath and double doors into the foyer so that it can "function" as a third BR for such appraisal purposes) ~5,000 sf house. 

I have enough cash and equity available to make up the appraisal difference as compared to the cost of constructing so much unfinished space.  I can get around to "finishing" the basement and attic on my own time and have plenty of adult children (five; most with some decent skills) and their spouses to hopefully help out, along with a brother-in-law who is a construction superintendent.  I've also helped several families with their homes who hopefully will return the favor as I finish out the rest of the house.  I won't be trying to "rush finish" 9,000 sf to get a CoO and roll the construction loan into a permanent mortgage.  After mortgage closing, we will do a room at a time, probably starting with the basement bathroom off the pool area, and then adding a bedroom and bath in the attic.

In other words, the most space I will likely completely finish as part of my mortgage is a little over 5,000 sf...  That will be what the bank bases my mortgage appraisal on, and all I desire to mortgage [even though I can get approved for a higher mortgage if necessary, I'd like to keep my mortgage below the Freddie/Fannie cut-off ($417,000 + maybe $8,000 in energy efficient upgrade considerations for roughly $425K) to get the most competitive mortgage rate].  I will have to absorb the upfront expense of enclosing the unfinished space and the roughing of MEP (to save expense later) that the bank probably won't be willing to include in the appraisal, but I think I can financially absorb such "additional costs" outside of my mortgage.

Yes, I do dream of turning this into a $1M+ home over a period of 5 to 10 years (Can I keep the tax appraisers from figuring this out???).  But I only want it to appraise for less than $600K when I build it, and am intentionally trying to keep the appraisal down in order to keep my tax assessment as low as possible.  As far as the future additions go, I can hire my own crews from my company between projects when they would otherwise be laid off, and mobilize 5 to 10 skilled laborers cheaply to finish out new basement and attic rooms as money and opportunity permit.  (Year-end bonuses tend to correspond with a three-week Christmas/New Year's holiday for my crews, during which time many want to pick up some extra work...) 

Previously, a good friend and his wife and young kids had to leave their sold house even though their O-B house was behind schedule and still unlivable.  They didn't have a contingency budget for rental housing and had financially overextended themselves pouring every dime of cash flow and available credit they had into their under construction house in an unsuccessful attempt to get it livable in time.  I assisted them in getting a roof over their heads and helped them finish their house.  He is a professional and highly skilled sheetrocker, and he will certainly help me with my house any time he is available.

Additionally, I'm thinking of scheduling my construction plans so that the bulk of the interior finish work can be completed between Thanksgiving and New Years when I should be able to have a lot of my employees available to work for me, and when relatives are also off to come help as well.  The first two or three weeks of January tend to be slow for me if I need to take additional time off work to finish anything running behind schedule.

I think with careful planning I can do this and I can even get the primary living spaces finished with my available cash, equity, and a Freddie/Fannie level mortgage...

regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/9/2008


I've got the same mind-set with what I'm hoping to build.  My wife seeing how much time I am already spending and dreading the construction phase keeps asking, "Can't we just buy a prebuilt house?"  Then I ask her about all the features we are going to be building in and ask her if she is really willing to live in a production house from the Parade of Homes.  She then agrees once again that there is no other way than to custom build. 

I tell you though...  I'm worried about her "frustration" with the time I'm spending planning the house.  If she can't handle this, how bad is it going to get when we are actually constructing.  Our marriage is strong and stable, but so many past O-Bs on this site talk about the strain it creates on their marriage.


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By Frank in Lunenburg, MA on 9/11/2008


Grant,

Why would you need slab insulation in Alabama, especially if you have a below ground basement?  Alabama ground water is about 60 deg. F throughout the year, which seems really nice to me.  Then again, I live in MA, though I'm originally from AL.

Best regards,

Frank


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/11/2008


I'm planning on eventually finishing my basement and I want it to be "passively" comfortable in the winter (60 is not quite comfortable to me) as well as the summer, and I definitely don't want it to be a source of energy loss from the home.  I'm building a super-insulated envelope, and I don't won't my slab being the "weak link" in the insulation chain <passivhaustagung.de>.  My basement slab is going to be a VERY large surface area for prospective thermal transfer (about 4,900 sf).  A 70-degree air temp and a 60-degree floor temp could create thermal losses and an uncomfortable basement in the winter.  While I can use embedded radiant floor heating to solve the comfort issue, it will still be a significant energy loss.  I want to build a home that can viably become a net zero energy home (ZEH) with the future addition of a reasonable amount of onsite PV power generation.  In other words, I want a super-insulated passive house with energy efficient fixtures and appliances.

There's an additional somewhat relevant consideration...  My county is prone to radon gas.  I'm on a rocky ridge next to the 3rd highest point in our county.  In other words, I'm in a zone that is likely to have underground fissures and a risk of radon gas coming through the slab.  While I'm going to ask to place radon testing kits in neighbors' basements to get a feel for the risk, whether or not I find radon, I may choose to put in a "barrier" anyway.  I'm in a seismic zone that is 100 years overdue for a significant earthquake.  I'm not a geologist, but my gut instinct tells me that although I may not test radon today, living right on the foothills of the seismic zone, that could change after a good earthquake... 

(Interestingly, we have no earthquake resistance building codes in our area; that is something I'm going to research prior to building and see if their are affordable structural changes I can design into my home to make it more earthquake resistant.  Currently, I'm building a VERY rigid structure and my gut tells me that may cause some earthquake problems.  I can probably increase the resilience of the concrete walls and slab with an adequate rebar design.  Perhaps fibermesh would make sense to increase crack resistance in the slab.  The concrete in the walls will be encapsulated between concrete fiberboard if I use the AllWall System, or Styrofoam if I use ICF.  I may look at the relative structural resistance to earthquakes.  In the case of the AllWall, I am thinking that the fiberboard encapsulation should allow the structure to maintain its load bearing strength even if the poured concrete between the panels were to ultimately crack from seismic activity.  The encapsulated concrete, even if cracked, should be restrained from movement and the compressive strength shouldn't be too adversely affected, should it???  These are questions I will likely discuss with my architect and a structural engineer.)

I just don't see the cost difference to add the extra protection from gases and thermal transfer through the slab as being too high.  Maybe my opinion will change as I crunch through my budget and eliminate some "wants" to ensure getting all of my actual "needs."  But the slab can't be easily or affordably altered in the future after the house is built.  If I'm going to choose to "cheapen" my house design, I will probably choose to "cheapen" something that I can affordably come back and upgrade later (like countertops, floor surfaces, even cabinets) without disrupting the whole house.

regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/11/2008


I just located this excellent primer from Penn State on calculating heat loss.

I am ignoring the assumption that loads should always be calculated with an internal temp of 65 degrees, because I am not sizing a heating unit in this case, but looking at how to keep a "steady state" of 70 degrees in my home in winter.

Using the provided equation:

Heat Loss Equation for a Wall Section

To calculate the hourly rate of heat loss, we use the equation:

Q = U·A·(Ti - Ta)

where

Symbol
Meaning
Units
Source
Q Total hourly rate of heat loss (Btu/hr) Calculated from equation
U Heat transfer coefficient (Btu/hr-ft2-°F) Look up for materials used
A Net area for heat transfer (ft2) Measured on the drawing/building
Ti Inside design temperature (°F) Always use 65°F
Ta Outside design temperature (°F) Look up for location

 

Where the U of a concrete slab is 1.67 Btu/hr-ft2-°F (a roughly calculated conservative estimate for a 6" 3,000 psi concrete slab.) 

Where the net area of my slab is 4,900 ft2

Where the inside design temperature is 70 degrees F

And where the outside design temperature is the expected slab temperature of 60 degrees (makes the math easy, to be more precise, I would use the mean average annual temperature of my city which is roughly the constant temperature underground unless there is temperature elevating geothermal activity in your region.)

Thus,

1.67 X 4,900 X -10 = -81,830.

"To determine the annual heat loss, divide the energy loss rate by the design temperature difference (next to last column in the table above), and then multiply it by 24 hours per day and the number of annual degree days that you looked up in the table for that location."

-81,830 / 10 X 24 X 2763 = -542,631,096 BTU/yr

Assuming heat is only costing me $10 per million BTU, this amounts to $5,426 a year in energy losses through an uninsulated concrete slab.  Suppose I used a slab with a U = 0.83, then

-40,670 / 10 X X 24 X 2763 = -269,690,904 BTU/yr

resulting in $2,697 a year in energy losses through an uninsulated concrete slab.

Even if I use the recommended 65 degrees for a 5 degree temp diff. I end up with $1,348 a year in energy lost through an uninsulated slab.

No matter how I look at it, even in a relatively mild climate like northeast Alabama insulating the slab will pay for itself over time in saved energy consumption.

What's the saying, "pay me now or pay me later?"

regards,

Grant


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By Chris on 9/11/2008


The problem with your theory is, after a few days the slab will become the same temperature as the inside air and maintain that temperature thru thermal mass of slab and earth below.

$2,697 is twice my utility bill for an entire year for a 3,000 sq. ft home built on an uninsulated slab.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/12/2008


But how many square feet is your slab?  I'm looking at a slab that is almost 5,000 sf...  Is that probably at least 3X the size of your slab?

The earth is a MIGHTY BIG heat sink.  And when it is at 60 degrees underground, you won't heat the house enough to get the soil to 70 degrees.  Instead you will fight (wasting a lot of energy in the process) to get the house above 60 degrees. 

Also, is your uninsulated slab part of the conditioned space, or mostly part of an unconditioned space like your garage?  If you aren't attempting to condition it, you aren't losing much energy...

Now, if the slab is insulated from the earth, the slab will reach the inside temperature and help to stabilize the inside temperature.

Maybe I did the math wrong.  I've never run those equations before and I don't know what is normal.  But my guess is that you are comparing apples to oranges by comparing to your own energy bills.

Instead, run the equations I provided for the square footage of your slab that is in conditioned space and determine what kind of energy consumption the equations suggest...  If that number is way out of line with your utility bills then I'll definitely presume I did something wrong.

regards,

Grant


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By Chris on 9/12/2008


Total slab is 4,500 sq. ft. wuth 3,000 sq. ft. being conditioned space

When checked with infrared temp gun, slab temperature in tiled areas is always the same as air temperature in room; slab temp does come up to interior space temp.


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By Avram in Raleigh, NC on 9/13/2008


Grant,

     I'm very curious on this topic - I can't find hardly anywhere promoting fully insulating the bottom of the slab and not just edges detailing of some sort is on Radiant Heat sites and only on specific conditions. 

Here's a link to one such website:

radiantcompany.com

I know you are going way beyond normal construction practices which I think is as it should be, but any normal construction practice details, links etc. do not even begin to address this,  I would love to have more light shed on this.

nothing that I found in the below informative links:

energycodes.gov
ornl.gov/roofs+walls/foundation.pdf

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By dave in Santa Barabara, CA on 9/15/2008


In this day and age, we don't have time to make mistakes. We went with an particular electrical designer for our green home and we could not be happier. I'd suggest you do the same.  His website was peidesign.com. I believe he only takes 5 or 6 jobs a year and only takes referrals.

Dave


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/15/2008


There is a similar current discussion on hanging cabinets from ICF over on greenbuildingtalk.com in the ICF forum. Let me please add a disclaimer to my experience, I used custom cabinetry with full structural plywood backs. My cabinet installer could basically screw anywhere in the back of the cabinet and be assured of a solid connection with the structure of the cabinet itself (and he used a lot of screws). This is not necessarily how cabinets on the mass market are constructed – before you take my advice and screw your kitchen cabinets to the ICF, and then load them with your finest antique china, make sure you know what the manufacturer of both the cabinets and the ICF recommends. YMMV.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/15/2008


Well, this is why I am here to be educated...  Despite the math, it appears in further study, the only thing I can find as well, is the need to insulate the perimeter of the foundation and not underneath the whole slab...

apps1.eere.energy.gov

"Slabs lose energy primarily as a result of heat conducted outward and through the perimeter of the slab. Therefore, in most parts of the United States, insulating the exterior edge of the slab can reduce heating bills by 10%–20%."  Insulatng underneath the slab would cost significantly more and presumably not provide even a 10% savings on heating bills, thereby not providing adequate return on investment. 

I'd love it if someone can share the theory and the math behind why this is so.  The earth itself is a heat sink and with a typical 10 degree variance between the earth and the interior conditioned space, there should be significant heat loss as shown in the math.

The above link also provides good information about vertical requirements, termite protection, etc.

regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/15/2008


If I do decide to "invest" in a slab insulation, Insultarp and "the barrier" look interesting:

Because it is not a "rigid" insulation, it will be a little more forgiving of imperfections in the grading and less apt to rupture than foam board.  It is also an excellent moisture barrier, and I would presume it also provides radon control.

Insultarp appears to market primarily to those using radiant heat floor systems as an energy conservation measure.

575 sq ft of coverage is provided per sheet, enabling quicker install.

As I get closer to making final budget decisions, I will probably contact this company to get answers regarding energy losses from the slab to the earth as contrasted with the slab perimeter.  They should have good (albeit biased to their sales pitch I am sure) data on the "math."

regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/15/2008


OK, I just read an excellent "primer" article from the Radiant Slab Association that addresses the debate of whether or not to insulate the slab:

radiantpanelassociation.org

I'm gathering that in my relatively mild climate the direct energy cost savings from underslab thermal insulation will be negligible...  There are a few advantages worth still considering, however:

1.) The underslab insulation will also serve as a moisture and radon barrier, both of which are significant concerns where I live.  There is a significant energy savings from preventing moisture from entering the conditioned space which takes a lot of energy to remove.  However, a cheaper barrier that does not provide thermal insulation may prove a better budgetary decision.

2.) With under slab insulation, my basement slab will thermally adjust quicker than without it.  This is a convenience and comfort issue, to which it is hard to put a dollar value.

regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/15/2008


Here is an interesting data collection research project regarding the value of underslab insulation:

naturalspacesdomes.com

Note that bubble wrap by itself is not sufficient.  You need insulation with multiple layers that stops all three methods of energy loss.  Contrary to their conclusions, I am not convinced that foam board is really the proper solution...

I found the following publication by the Reflective Insulation Manufacturer's Association which organization should prove to be another excellent resource for researching this further:

rimainternational.org

regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/15/2008


A member of the EngineeringForum shared the following enlightening comments:

"USA Department of Energy (DOE), USA Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and other organizations or universities, seem to advocate perimeter slab insulation. They also recommend at least 100 mm (or an absolute minimum of 75 mm) of coarse, washed gravel (without fine particles) underneath the entire slab floor, plus a polyethylene plastic vapor retarder sheet (having a minimum thickness of 0.25 mm, or an absolute minimum of 0.15 mm) placed between the gravel and slab. I haven't yet encountered a scientific explanation of why perimeter slab insulation is adequate. They seem to indicate that the cost of insulating the foundation center would greatly exceed cumulative energy bill savings.

We can note, though, that the 100 to 150 mm thick layer of gravel underneath the slab would prevent water from being in contact with the slab, which would prevent high conductivity and thereby provide an insulating effect."

I did encounter a few admissions that insulating the full surface area underneath the slab is of course slightly more energy-efficient, especially if one is wasting energy with in-floor heating, dissipating a large amount of heat into the underlying soil. But they seem to indicate this is not required and not particularly cost-effective.


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By Frank in Lunenburg, MA on 9/15/2008


Grant,

If you really think you might encounter radon gas, you might want to think about having a crushed stone layer underneath the slab (and perhaps the foundation as well), along with perforated PVC pipe on the inside of the foundation that can be used to create a negative pressure differential between the basement/1st floor and the area underneath the slab.  Paying attention to the drainage will also reduce heat loss, since water underneath the slab will wick away heat faster than the air space between the crushed stone, especially when it's moving. 

That barrier you mentioned in another post looks interesting, and much more appropriate in your climate than foam.  BTW, living here in NE, I think 60 deg. F sounds like nice sleeping weather;-)  With oil the way it is right now, 60 deg. F might be the temperature we set our thermostat to this winter - no joke. It's gonna be a cold one.

A crushed stone base should also help with distributing the weight of the house and foundation, especially if you're on red clay.  However, since you've said your area  has a radon problem, I guess you might be on a hill that is in the foothills of the Appalachians.  We have big issues with radon here in NE, but a lot of us are are actually building on granite bedrock (a.k.a. ledge).

I wouldn't think that earthquakes would be much of an issue where you are, but I could be wrong of course.  I think that one of the reasons that Alabama has a landfill for hazardous waste is that there aren't  many faults, as well as the fact that the red clay is excellent for sealing the bottom of the landfill.  I had a cousin going to the university there in Jacksonville (Jacksonville State maybe) to study handling of toxic wastes, but I think he may have gotten called up to go to Iraq.

In any event, good luck, and

Best regards,

Frank


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By Avram in Raleigh, NC on 9/15/2008


Grant,

SI Units! we cant take that post seriously.

(Joking)

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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/15/2008


Yep, Jacksonville State University is right here in my backyard.  I can hear the marching band practicing in the evenings. 

The Appalachian mountains were formed by two tectonic plates coming together.  It is an older and less active fault than elsewhere, but it is more than 100 years overdue a major earthquake.  As I understand it, that fault runs through my county.  We've had some very minor tremblors over the years.  Someday a big one may hit.

regards,

Grant


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By Chris on 9/15/2008


What are Radon-resistant construction techniques?

The techniques may vary for different foundations and site requirements, but the basic elements are:

house cut away
  1. Gas Permeable Layer
    This layer is placed beneath the slab or flooring system to allow the soil gas to move freely underneath the house. In many cases, the material used is a 4-inch layer of clean gravel.
     
  2. Plastic Sheeting
    Plastic sheeting is placed on top of the gas permeable layer and under the slab to help prevent the soil gas from entering the home. In crawlspaces, the sheeting is placed over the crawlspace floor.
     
  3. Sealing and Caulking
    All openings in the concrete foundation floor are sealed to reduce soil gas entry into the home.
     
  4. Vent Pipe
    A 3- or 4-inch gas-tight or PVC pipe (commonly used for plumbing) runs from the gas permeable layer through the house to the roof to safely vent radon and other soil gases above the house.
     
  5. Junction Box
    An electrical junction box is installed in case an electric venting fan is needed later.

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By Avram in Raleigh, NC on 9/15/2008



     Grant,
     I do not have the applicable code in front of me, (and it varies by jurisdiction of course) but I glanced at the IRC the other day and for ICF's at least - if you only follow the prescriptive requirements outlined in the code it suprised me that they are good to go up to 150 mph wind zone and seismic zones a, b, c, d1 and d2 (with d2 being the worst of these zones) which actually covers most of the country.

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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/16/2008


Avram,

Thanks for the seismic zone classifications.  From the various websites, I have presumed that most of the SIP and formed concrete wall technologies would be at least moderately seismically resistant.  Living in a tornado prone region that is overdue an earthquake is just more reasons to use these value added construction materials.

regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/23/2008


The Aqus System

I am considering using recycled/filtered bathroom sink water for toilet flushing to save water. I am also considering tying the rainwater system into the toilets as well. However, the goal is to send LESS water to the treatment plant and create less of a burden on the collection system. Adding rainwater does not assist with this goal. Reusing water that is already going to the sewer system does! 

Additionally, since my neighborhood is on a pressurized system and I have to have a holding tank, the less water I send to the holding tank, the more reserve capacity hours I will have during a power outage. 

Does anyone here use an Aqus or comparable system that can share experiences and/or make recommendations?

How often does the filter screen in the reservoir need to be cleaned? Is it a maintenance hassle?


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/23/2008


Induction cooktop and ventilation options

I'm looking at an induction cooktop in the kitchen island.  Induction cooktops release less heat into the house during cooking.

With the cooktop in the island (to keep it in the coking triangle without having to face a wall while cooking), I am having a tough time deciding how to ventilate.  I can make room in one of my walk-in MBR closets for an overhead vent to the roof.  However, for an overhead vent to be efficient, it needs to be low enough down over the cooktop.  With the high ceilings, I'll REALLY have to drop the vent down.  Most critically, in order to not put it too high to be effective, it will be so low as to cause a line-of-sight problem for the design.  I don't want the kitchen dominated and "closed in" by an island vent hood.

In looking at downdraft vent options, I'm still a bit confused.  I immediately recognize that the tallest downdraft I can afford (downdrafts are expensive, and tall downdrafts more so) is a wise investment.  Shorter downdrafts let too much heat and steam escape into the room.  Also, downdrafts are naturally less effective than overheads. Further complicating the issue, I will have a fairly long duct under the kitchen and mudroom floors and out to the sidewall. 

I'm considering buying a downdraft hood and actually purchasing a separate higher power fan (probably less expensive than the integrated less powerful fans) installed under the floor near the exterior wall outlet.  On the upside, with a distant fan pulling the air from the kitchen, such a more powerful fan will be quieter in the kitchen.  On the downside, the long length means even a more powerful fan won't really be as effective as I'd like.  But it is bound to be more effective than an island mounted integrated retractable downvent hood fan.

I can't find where anyone has done this, but I am thinking of adding a relatively inexpensive fan with kitchen filter flush to the ceiling above the island to pull any heat and steam that escapes the downdraft fan and rises to the ceiling.  Maybe I can combine this flush ceiling fan with the downdraft fan to get the best of both worlds...  With the overhead fan, I get rid of the heat and steam that rises; with it flush to the ceiling I get the unobstructed line of sight, and combined with the downdraft fan, I make up for not having the overhead fan sufficiently close to the range.

Has anyone done this?  I know I am multiplying costs with such duplication, but what do you think?  Shouldn't such a combined ventilation method work effectively and not ruin the look of the kitchen?  This way I can also ensure that I can easily reach LEED level ventilation volume requirements for the kitchen.


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By Chris on 9/23/2008


Grant, exhaust hoods over cooktops  are not required by code, although it would be nice to exhaust smoke if something burned. It could be accomplished with a simple exhaust fan in the corner of the room


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/23/2008


I found a good online article regarding window shading options and their relative R-value...

theblindspot.biz


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/24/2008


I have a downdraft cooking vent, a Kenmore Elite (made by Broan, 500 cfm, 7” above the cooktop). I have the cooking station on the island, and it faces both the dining area and the great room (basically one large area). I did this because we entertain frequently and the gathering place is the kitchen, I wanted to move people out of the kitchen yet still be connected. Given this situation, an overhead hood wasn’t going to be practical – too much separation. The only solution was a downdraft.

 

My experience with the relatively low-rise Kenmore (I say relatively because the Jenn-air units are built into the cooktop itself, and the higher-end downdrafts rise as much as 11” above the counter) is that it works pretty well with the two back elements. I can put an 8-quart uncovered stockpot full of boiling water on the back element (perhaps cooking pasta), and the downdraft will get most of the steam. Go with a taller pot, not so much. Move that pot to a front element, not a chance. Now skillets and sauté pans on the front element, results are satisfactory but not great. Deglaze a red-hot sauté pan on any element and you don’t have a chance at getting the steam. Reducing a sauce, try this on the back elements. This is at max speed, which while rated at 500 cfm I don’t have any idea what it is actually flowing.

 

I think if I were doing this differently, instead of installing the downdraft on the back of my cooktop I would install it on the side. I would install another downdraft on the other side, but not install the motor (I notice some of the higher-end units the motor was sold separately from the downdraft hood itself) and I would use this for the makeup air. To use, I would raise both downdraft vents, using one of the units for makeup air and the other unit for venting, I think this would establish good airflow across the cooktop and increase effectiveness. This would also ensure you get the full 500 cfm your vent is rated for, not to mention not pulling your house into negative pressure. Given the cost of a good range hood, this downdraft solution isn’t out of line.

 

As to aesthetics of the downdraft, it can’t be beat.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/24/2008


If you are looking for greywater reuse, I found one of the best internet resources to be oasisdesign.net.
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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/24/2008


Thanks for the great suggestion.  At first, I thought it was a bit extreme of a solution, prospectively greatly increasing the cost.  Upon deeper thought I REALLY like it. 

I'm definitely in the pro "positive pressure" camp.  I already knew I needed to provide make-up air for the kitchen and laundry vents, which aren't tied into an air recovery mechanical system, and must have separate air intakes in order to prevent negative pressure.  I just hadn't fully thought out how I was going to do that. 

Neutral pressure is ideal, but is essentially impossible to achieve in a tight house with air flow volumes varying with random use of separate vent fan systems...  "Positive pressure" as compared to "negative pressure" is definitely the lesser of the two evils.  With "negative pressure" any leaks in the envelope pull unconditioned air into the house, whereas "positive pressure" pushes conditioned air out of the house.  While loss of conditioned air is not a good thing, it is preferable to the prospective IAQ impacts of the entrance of unconditioned exterior air.

When exterior air is pulled into the house by negative pressure, it negatively impacts both interior moisture and temperature and will cause the conditioning system to work harder.  By itself, this could be considered an equal "wash" with the net energy expense of conditioning the replacement air for air lost to "positive pressure."  But all entering air from "positive pressure" losses is filtered and conditioned to desired IAQ levels.  Entering air from "negative pressure" is NOT conditioned and impacts the homeowner until it gets conditioned.

Not only is air pulled into the house by negative pressure not conditioned and subject to outdoor air contaminants, it also prospectively enters through leaks in the envelope that carry the air through nooks and crannies.  Frequently, such nooks and crannies are subject to the settlement of dust and nasties in places where they can't be cleaned.  The leaks pull these contaminants into the house having a detrimental impact upon IAQ.  Additionally, as the exterior air first blends with interior air in these nooks and crannies, there is the potential for hidden moisture problems to develop leading to the growth of mold and mildew in the walls, which will also be pulled into the interior of the home with such air infiltration.

Furthermore, from my experience with pipe design, most "seals" tend to be directional in nature.  A seal designed to prevent infiltration is frequently incapable of also being very effective at preventing exfiltration (and vice-versa).  If a gravity sewer pipe is super-pressurized by a flood such as occurred in New Orleans, the rubber seals in the joints of the pipe that were designed to prevent infiltration get ruptured as the internal pressure forces exfiltration (which they weren't designed to resist).  On the flip side, a drained pressure pipe subjected to tremendous exterior hydrostatic pressure will have its seals likewise rupture.  Thereafter, the joints infiltrate and exfiltrate.

I'm not as familiar with the design of window and door seals.  However, I would presume that if constant pressure is to be applied to a seal, that I would prefer that pressure would be exfiltration pressure; a rupture from negative pressure leading to air infiltration would more likely open a pathway for water to infiltrate into the envelope as well.  Water infiltrating through leaking window and door seals can prospectively degrade the structure of the house in addition to causing IAQ problems.  This is much less likely with a house under positive pressure.

[Note (i.e. another rambling tangential thought): It would also seem that a house with "positive pressure" would benefit from exterior doors that open inward.  This way the pressure helps the door seal to become more effective.  With an outward opening door, the pressure will prospectively reduce the quality of the seal...  Inward opening doors have the downside of consuming interior space, but the upside of being less expensive (the location of the hinges are secure, and therefore additional expense to secure exterior outward opening doors is not required).  Unfortunately, space, required furniture placement, and traffic flow issues are requiring some of my double french doors to open outward onto my wrap-around porches.  (It is soooo important to thoroughly think through such things BEFORE buying the doors!)  But I am going to take another look at this as a means of further tightening my envelope and lowering costs...]

With a "positive pressure" house, the majority of the entering air is controlled, conditioned, and filtered for air quality.  Those controls prevent moisture problems as well as health issues.

Here is where I begin to get back to the current thread topic of kitchen ventilation (but not actually quite yet; I have another related tangent first <grin>)...  The kitchen and laundry vents are generally not allowed to be tied into an ERV or a conditioning system.  When the kitchen or laundry exhaust fans run, the primary mechanical systems do not automatically provide the necessary make-up air volume to prevent the house from becoming "negatively pressurized."  Of necessity, make-up air has to be provided via separate air intakes.

For this reason, many energy efficiency experts suggest that if a dryer is to be used, the laundry area should be in unconditioned space, such as the garage, to limit the volume of condition air allowed to exit and the replacement unconditioned air allowed to enter the living space.  Unfortunately, my family isn't patient enough to use an energy efficient and more clothes friendly "solar dryer."  Even if we were willing to spend such time (and we can hardly seem to find the time to switch loads and to empty the dryer in a timely fashion), our neighborhood covenants prohibit the use of clothes lines.  So we do and WILL have a dryer.  While I MIGHT be willing to go to the garage to do laundry, my wife certainly would not be willing to leave conditioned space to do her laundry.  Besides, laundry in our house is a very DISORDERLY process and I don't want the garage being as chaotic as our laundry room always is. (Yep, as bad as garages can get, I consider our laundry room worse!)

As a result, I've tried to design a means of limiting the energy losses caused by having a dryer inside the conditioned envelope.  In an ideal world, I would directly use exterior air as the dryer intake air and vent the exhaust directly outside.  This doesn't seem to be an available option, however.  In searching for such a system, I did find patents outlining such technology, but have yet to find commercialized products, for whatever reason.  As a result, I am building a double-doored laundry closet (similar to what is generally built off of a kitchen) inside of my spacious, walk-in laundry room.  I am providing an air intake from the south side of my house into the laundry closet, and the dryer exhaust to the west side of my house.  (I don't want to risk recirculating dryer exhaust air which is frequently contaminated with fine particulates.)  The south and west corners are separated by an attached garage so that effectively no air inter-mixing can occur between the intake and the exhaust.  [Note: this side of the house is effectively isolated from ALL air intake vents for ANY house system, including the heat pump, and ERV air intakes.]  I am putting an air filter on the air intake.  When the dryer is running, I will close the double doors of the closet and the unconditioned intake air won't circulate through the rest of the house, but will be merely limited to the closet.  Thus most of the dryer exhaust air will be the unconditioned air, and my energy losses from having a laundry in the conditioned space will be greatly controlled.

All of the long-winded above, prior considerations are why I REALLY like the suggestion of the cross-ventilation for the cooktop.  To me, this LOOOOONG post was worth re-writing to share, because I think this is really important.  The make-up air for the cooktop vent has to be pulled in as unconditioned air from somewhere.  Why have that "too low or high" moisture, "too hot or cold" air circulate through the house and lower the IAQ of other living spaces???  With the dual vents on each side of the cooktop, the make-up air is directly supplied to the exhaust, so that the amount of unconditioned air circulating in the living space and the resulting energy losses are better controlled.  It's just like my laundry closet!

So, I think I will follow Kenneth's advice and get two of the downdraft hoods.  I'll provide a south side air intake (with a larger filtered inlet and larger intake pipe to make-up for the resistance of the filter and the longer distance that the air must travel) feeding to the "inactive" downdraft vent on one side of the cooktop, and on the other side of the cooktop I will install another downdraft vent that has a pipe over to an exhaust on the west wall.  Instead of buying an integrated fan with the downdraft vent, I may purchase a more powerful and variable speed fan and place it near the exhaust outlet so that the noise will be away from the kitchen.  (Sadly, too often we don't use adequate ventilation in the kitchen, because we dislike the noise pollution more than we dislike the thermal, moisture, particulate and odor air pollution.  Additionally, with the cross-ventilation the loss of conditioned air will be greatly minimized so I won't mind venting at high volumes quite as much.)  I'll also sound/vibration insulate the pipes and any attachments to further quiet the system.

[Why the "hot" south side for the air intake?  Well, the east side of the house is too far away.  The west side of the house has all of my contaminated exhausts.  The North side of the house is further away and is generally downwind from the exhaust (winds tend to blow northeasterly around here), and we having more heating degree days here than cooling degree days.  The south side is upwind from any prospective household exhaust contaminants.  The intakes will be near the southwest corner and the western exposure is protected by the long garage, meaning afternoon/evening temps will be relatively cooler and dust and pollen from the northeasterly breezes will be generally blown elsewhere.]

Once again, thanks for the great idea.  Talk about an all around "wow factor" for the kitchen.  The aesthetics of the dual rising and lowering downdraft vents will be really cool... with a little explanation, their functionality and practicality are even cooler.

I hope my budget permits such an "amenity."  I also hope to get the high rising (11") models so that I can properly vent over tall pots.  I keep telling my wife that the envelope and energy efficiency of our house need to be our top budgetary priority.  As I've explained above, I think this defintely should be made to fit into the budget.


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By Jon in Ellicott City, MD on 9/24/2008


It seems to me that the dual side-draft fans might work quite well, or it might be less effective than a single unit. 

 

What you’d need is a gentle, laminar flow across the cooktop, from input side to the output side.  The flow into the exhaust side will be naturally laminar, but the input side is a problem.  (Think of pulling a rope, as opposed to pushing one.)

 

If the input air travels directly to the exhaust side, I can see this working like a champ.  But, if you get a turbulent flow from the input side, you might actually mix the contaminants with the ambient air and direct them AWAY from the exhaust fan!

 

My guess (and it’s just that – a guess) is that you’d need some pretty strong fans to connect the input and output flow. That flow might be so strong that you’d get convective cooling on the pans you’re trying to heat.

 

Given that several companies are not shy about offering cooktops that cost as much as an economy car, I’d think they’d offer this configuration if it worked. 

 

Then again, this could be one of those “Why didn't I think of that?!?” ideas.

 

It would be a fun idea to test.  If anyone tries it, I hope they report back with results.


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By Jim in Beverly Beach, FL on 9/24/2008


Grant,

I would agree with Kenneth on the downdraft. We have a nice Dacor downdraft on the island at our Atlanta house. Same setup and concept as Kenneth. It is somewhat limited in it's efficacy when you're cooking up a storm. By the way, on the Dacor the fan and motor is mounted remotely, where the ducting exits the house so sound is not a problem. Another point is that these uppy-downy downdraft units are mechanically and electronically a little more complex. We have had to replace the circuit board on our unit. It has also gotten a little balky with responding to button pushes; it's 13+ years old, the contacts are probably greasy. The more doodads though, the more chance to break down.

Linda and I were watching Candice Olsen on HGTV. She is a wonderful Canadian designer who does those makeover type shows and she handled a similar island line of sight issue with a really cool looking free-hanging unit with a glass hood. Very contemporary and very unobtrusive. I don't know anything about Master brand, but check out the scanned attachment, I got the catalogue at a home show or somewhere.

We are planning a galley style kitchen, with a parallel peninsula and wall sited set of cabinets and appliances. The peninsula will have an eat-on bar. We are torn over putting the cooktop on the peninsula or putting the sink on the peninsula. I agree that cooking is the more social activity, compared to cleaning up. We also want to use an induction cooktop. Any of the smooth-topped cooktops, resistance or induction, will certainly look better near the eat-on bar compared to a sink. That's two votes for cooktop on the peninsula. Because we are building on a slab, I don't think that we could do the down draft. Does anyone know if you can run ductwork under a slab (before you have the slab poured of course)?

Jim

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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/24/2008


I was thinking that the air intake would be passive and that the power of the exhaust fan would "pull" the air from the air intake.  On deeper thought, with so much air available from the room, would the air actually pull in from the intake?  Sure, I'm building a blower-tested house, and the only readily available replacement air "should" be from the kitchen and laundry room air intakes. And the kitchen air intake should be the most readily available, least resistant, source of air (once I get to negative pressure from the kitchen exhaust).  But will this work?  I don't guess I have an answer.

Flow should be laminar by "pulling" the replacement air with the exhaust fan.  I see your point that turbulence created by a forced air intake (pushing the replacement air) would probably prevent laminar flow into the exhaust and interfere with the whole purpose of the exhaust fan...  So I probably can't "ensure" air from the kitchen intake by supplementing with its own fan...

So either the "passive" air intake works or it is a big waste of money...  With a super-insulated "tight" envelope, I think it should work as long as all the windows and doors are shut.  If the weather is pleasant enough to have windows or doors open, the replacement air coming from elsewhere is no big deal.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/24/2008


Modern won't work in my house...  Just too traditional of a design.  So I am still left with a "line-of-sight" obstruction or a downdraft.  And quite frankly, I'd love to eliminate the ceiling mounted fan.  If I do use a ceiling-mounted fan, I'd still like to run it to the west wall (top of the first or top of the second story) rather than the ceiling, because there isn't really a direct route to the roof without going through a planned future bathroom in the attic.

I really think the downdraft is my best option, but the reliability and life cycle operation and maintenance cost is well worth thinking about.  I was considering giving up the "supplemental" flush ceiling-mounted ventilation grille with filter, but maybe I should still keep that as not only a supplement, but as a back-up during maintenance problems...  While I know code may not require such "quality" of ventilation over the cooktop, energy efficiency is my goal, and a cooktop exhaust vent too far away from the cooktop just won't function adequately.


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By Jon in Ellicott City, MD on 9/24/2008


Active exhaust/passive intake is probably the way to go.  A fan on the supply side would probably blow smoke/grease/steam all over your kitchen.

For the passive side, you may not need to buy an expensive down-draft unit.  Maybe you could experiment with a simple supply duct with a flush-mount grate.  It may not be as important on the supply side to get the duct up in the air.  

The idea has a lot of merit, but it's difficult to predict how well it would work.  It's easy to say that a "tight" house would only allow make-up air through the supply duct positioned by the stove, so direct air flow from supply to source is inevitable.  But I'm not so sure.  Are you installing active dampers on your bath fans/ERV/dryer/furnace cumbustion air supply?  If you have those vents, and they are not closed off, they'll compete with your stove supply.  "Tight" is a relative term.

If energy efficiency is truly your top priority, I'm not sure the downdraft is the right idea.  I believe that an overhead hood, especially with the stove and hood against a wall, will work more effectively with a much lower volume of air than a downdraft in an island.

 


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/24/2008


First, there is a BIG difference between "my" priorities and my wife's priorities <grin>.

To some extent, I am walking a tightrope trying to stay balanced.  She doesn't want us to be facing a wall and not interacting with the family while cooking AND while cleaning.  She expects more people to continue interacting post-cooking than pre-cooking, so the clean-up station is on the bar closest to the action... that is the "open" south side of the kitchen.

Having an "open floor plan" is a serious compromise, because I prefer an isolated kitchen where the cooking and clean-up noise doesn't impact the TV watching on the more typical non-party days! But, since "open floor plans" are more market desirable anyway, I relented quickly on that one.  I also like that the dishwasher and cabinets for the routine place settings are all close to the breakfast nook.  (Faster, more convenient setup and cleanup.) 

The refrigerator is placed for quick and easy trips to the fridge from the table and from the family room by being on the south end of the east kitchen wall.  We don't want it on the far north or west side of the kitchen.  (OK, we are lazy... <grin>.)  We want counter space next to the fridge to make grocery organization easier.  That leaves no room for a cooktop and vent hood on the kitchen's east wall.

We like the cooking triangle to be a secondary traffic route, i.e. the far side of the island, to limit "interference" with the cook.  The double oven is on this far kitchen wall between the kitchen and the dining room.  That wall also has extra space available behind it to hide a large appliance garage behind the countertop.  We can put all of the various countertop appliances that make cooking more convenient in the appliance garage for easy access.  We will also have a pop-up shelf from the lower cabinet with our KitchenAid mixer mounted on it.  Unfortunately, that doesn't leave room on the north wall for a cooktop and vent hood. 

To maintain the cooking triangle and reduce total walking required, that means the cooktop needs to be on the island!  The west wall would put the cooktop on the opposite side of the island from the refrigerator. 

If someone can suggest an alternative kitchen lay-out that meets all of our goals I'll be happy to listen...  But like I said, even if we actually had room on the north or east walls, my wife doesn't want to stare at a wall.  She wants to face south when she cooks and wants the south end of the kitchen open to the family area...

This leaves us with the downdraft model on the island.  As far as the flush mount air intake vent goes, if I did that I'm not sure the air would go up and over the pots to the pop-up downdraft exhaust vent.  But I can see it easily going straight across with a laminar flow if it comes out at the same height...

Additionally, even though my house is too large to be LEED certified, I do appreciate their guidance...  LEED and ASHRAE 62 both require (recommend?) a high ventilation rate for a kitchen to vent heat and moisture and have a healthy home; as such, the "higher volume" if required with a downdraft is more of a positive than a negative.  And if the exterior air is leaving quickly out the exhaust with the cooktop IAQ problems with it (and without sucking out my conditioned air), all the better...

But I think I see another potential "catch..."  The idea behind kitchen ventilation rates "IS" to circulate the kitchen air.  It might not be considered ASHRAE 62 code compliant if the only air my downdraft vent circulates is from one side of the stove to the other!  After all, the stove isn't the only source of IAQ problems in a kitchen.  The kitchen vent is supposed to circulate kitchen air to vent out ALL of the IAQ problems (volatiles and humidity from cooking AND garbage, food, sinks, dishwashers, etc...). 

As I understand it, ERVs are generally not recommended for use in the kitchen, because of the grease impact on the filtration system.  Am I wrong about this???  Previously, someone suggested that ventilation of a cooktop wasn't even required, but I think compliance with ASHRAE 62 DOES REQUIRE a cooktop vent... Or is that like an oven, where the vent is only required if it is a "gas" cooktop??? 

Would ASHRAE 62 preclude me from using the downdraft vent contraption just for the stove where most of the grease occurs, and then tie the kitchen ceiling vent into an "always on" whole house ERV which is already going to be connected to the bathroom above???  The additional connection to the kitchen ceiling shouldn't cost me that much more, and the continuous ventilation of the ERV system should improve IAQ in the whole kitchen.  The ceiling vent shouldn't get much grease, if the downdraft vent is used properly.

My laundry room "closet" idea will probably still fly with ASHRAE 62, because I can call the "closet" the actual laundry room... Perhaps I should add an ERV ceiling vent in the room housing the laundry closet and connect it to the bathroom above as well?  This is just going "above and beyond" ASHRAE 62, and shouldn't cause me any problems, right?  I'd provide better ventilation of all of the IAQ issues in the laundry (always lots of chemical smells!), without sucking out and losing as much of my energy from my conditioned air.

As long as I have dampers to prevent the ERV from opening the outdoor air intakes for the cooktop and the laundry closet when the appliances aren't operating, then this shouldn't waste energy should it?  Or can I not put a separate ERV vent in the kitchen and laundry areas without risking sucking open the outdoor air intakes?  I am sure my HVAC guy will help me answer such questions and design the ideal system...  But I'd love to get your input so that I can talk to him more intelligently when the time comes.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/24/2008


Since so much of this discussion depends upon my floorplan, I thought I'd add it to the thread for reference. 

[I've put them in my journal blog at SouthernEcoHome]

I will have adjacent bathrooms above and below the laundry room, and a bathroom above the kitchen.  Whole-house ERV ventilation should be readily accessible as appropriate.  The direct exterior intake and exhaust vents for the cooktop will need to go under the floor to the south wall and either under the floor or above the ceiling to the west walls of the house, respectively.  Likewise with the laundry room...

Here is my current rendition of the first floor and the second floor, which is what I will finish at the time of construction (3 BR, 3BA -- counting parlor as an optional BR).  Later I will finish a kitchen, a BR, 2 BAs, a Food Storage Room, and a Home Theater in the basement.  The basement also has a two-car garage.  (Heck, I'll just attach all of the images.)  Later, I will also finish the attic to include 3 BRs and 1 additional BA.  There is also a Guest House over the garage that will be finished later. And a guesthouse on the floor level of the garage that will be finished later.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/24/2008


Here is a document I just found from the Home Ventilating Institute that does a good job estimating how much ventilation is needed in different applications.  Thought I'd share.

 


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By Chris on 9/24/2008


The "always on" whole house ERV does not work; I tried it on my home, and as the outdoor humidity rises, so will your interior humidity.

The best solution is to set on a percentage timer or a humidistat.


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By Jon in Ellicott City, MD on 9/24/2008


I know better than to argue with what wives want, even if there's a good reason to do things a different way.

I suppose the odds of this ventilation plan working as planned depends on just how tight your home is.

I think that most of us here strive to build tight homes.  Part of the reason we take on this task is the desire to build a home that's better than average construction.  So, we research like crazy and try to implement as many "best practices" as we can.  One of those practices is to minimize air infiltration. 

But each of us has a different idea of how tight is tight enough.  While some may build homes in which your ears pop when the front door is opened, most of us stop short of such a Tupperware-like envelope. 

If you have a bath fan with a normal exterior vent, there's nothing to stop air from passing through that opening when the fan is off.  As far as I know, the same is true for ERV's.  They have static dampers that are partially closed to balance the flow, but I don't think they have active dampers to completely block airflow when the unit isn't running.  Likewise, the dryer vent, fireplace, exhaust flue for a gas water heater or furnace, and vents for outdoor combustion air can all allow airflow into and out of the house.

Now, maybe you are way ahead of me here and have all of those paths blocked.  (I've been trying to find active dampers that would close vents when I'm not using them.  If you've figured that out, please share!!) 

But if you haven't, then the air intake on the side of your stove is only one of many paths for makeup air.  If your house isn't super-tight, I don't think you're going to get the kind of performance you want out of this cooktop vent.

 


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/24/2008


If I go with an "always on" ERV it WILL have an integrated humidity control system.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/24/2008


OK...

A few thoughts.  Back flow prevention dampers are common practice for outlet vents such as dryer vents, flues, etc. I don't see any reason why a back flow prevention damper couldn't be added to an ERV outlet if appropriate. Adding them to the inlet vents could also prevent exfiltration of air from a pressurized interior as well.  The appliances, including the supplemental water heaters (primary heat will be supplied by solar water heaters), will be electric, so there will be no appliance flues.  The only gas in the house will be to the fireplaces (for easy starts and occasional lazy fake log fires), unless we decide that the insurance premium reduction for having no gas into the house is worth going without.

This post does bring up an important tangential thought as well.  My fireplaces are going to be near the kitchen and in or near bathrooms where the ERV will be active.  I don't want the ERV exhaust to cause backdrafts to come down the chimney.  The chimney flue can be closed but chimney flue seals are rarely reliable.  I previously told my wife it was more energy efficient to have an enclosed fireplace with glass doors and a blower.  She prefers the romantic look of an open wood burning fireplace. With such a tight house, this may be one area I can't afford to compromise on.  We can't afford infiltration of air from the chimney, and I don't want to give up the greater energy efficiency of the fireplace blower system...  Several people with super-tight ICF homes have complained about air being pulled into their homes down the chimney when the kitchen vents are running!

In reading on GreenBuildingTalk, posters have suggested that an ERV acts like an open pipe with a fan in it.  If the house is under positive pressure it exhausts more than it intakes.  If the house is under negative pressure it intakes more than it exhausts.  The exhaust pipe could be prevented from leaking under negative pressure with a backflow prevention damper.  But what do I do with the inlet pipe?  Do they make an inlet with an active damper that only opens when the ERV fan is on?  Such active dampers are used with zoned HVAC systems, so couldn't they be readily adapted to an ERV system?  Even still, if I use an "always on" ERV to help achieve my healthy air exchange rate goals (as per ASHAE 62), it will always be running and "open." 

So, with the ERV inlets far away in bedroom closets adjacent to the bathrooms, will they be the path of least resistance for the laundry and the cooktop exhaust make-up air?  I wouldn't think so, with a viable passive air inlet adjacent to the exhaust fans... 

Do I actually need a passive air inlet in the kitchen and laundry room if the air can be pulled in through the ERV anyway?  I think so...  The ERV inlets will be far away from the kitchen and the laundry, and I don't want such freshly conditioned air immediately vented out of the house, so I don't want the ERV inlets to be near any outlet vents.  Furthermore, with the "lag" caused by the distance of the ERV inlets from the kitchen and laundry exhausts, without the proposed passive air inlet, the exhaust efficiency will suffer, and the house is likely to suffer from negative pressure which will increase the risk of air infiltration from uncontrolled and undesirable locations.

I am building a super-tight house (hopefully it won't have a Tupperware pop <grin>).  Air exchange is critical to my IAQ goals.

[Note: I've heard that ERV inlets should never be placed in bathrooms, kitchens, or laundry rooms.  And by placing the inlets in closets, otherwise "stale" zones are refreshed and any sound from fans is buffered from the primary living areas...  My wife HATES louvered doors, so we will probably place jumper ducts over room doors to balance the pressure throughout the house. I initially wanted operable transoms over the doors for the historic integrity to the design of our house, but realized they likely wouldn't be properly used and would be paths for sound pollution.] 

[Note: With a super-insulated house and an ERV with built in humidistat and humidity controls (beyond PassivHaus design standards), the regular HVAC system will hopefully hardly ever need to run.  But the HVAC air vents will be distributed throughout the main living areas with manually controlled dampers.  I will pre-run wiring for active zone controlled dampers for the HVAC, in case I ever decide that automation is a worthwhile expenditure.  The zoned HVAC can help keep comfortable temperatures across the various zones of the house without running much or running very hard.  With humidity primarily controlled at the air intake stage, the HVAC will not need to run continuously for comfort.  Without the separate humidity controls, the HVAC would have to be designed to run nearly continuously for comfort and IAQ, thereby wasting a lot of energy. I hope to avoid that.]


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/24/2008


Apparently, having the intake air near the exhaust vent is fairly common.  Numerous places on the Internet comment upon this as standard practice.

I found the following comment interesting:

"A more complicated solution involves a fresh-air duct connected to the furnace air-return plenum. The fresh air passes through the HVAC system, where it gets heated or cooled before ending up in the house. Some systems even have an electrically-controlled damper on the fresh-air duct that opens when the hood is turned on."

Note the "electrically-controlled damper on the fresh-air duct that opens when the hood is turned on."

Apparently, such active dampers do exist...  They should be modifiable, programmable for such purposes.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/25/2008


And therein is the crux of the situation. Seems like it might work and actually working are two very different things. I imagine it would work, but I also imagine you would have to install one as a pilot project to learn how to make it work properly. Is it important to elevate the intake to the same level as the exhaust, or would a vent in the countertop be sufficient? Would it even draft from the intake you want it to vs. other intakes in the house (probably a bit of both, but can you further isolate the intake)? How much cooling (or heating) would this provide (certainly some, but is it significant to introduce 500 cfm to immediately exhaust at least most of the same 500 cfm)?

I can guarantee the second time I did it would work remarkably better than the first. This is definitely a type of idea you need a pilot project to learn from. Next time I do it differently, but I really like the aesthetics of the downdraft. The question is, "who wants to be the guinea pig?"


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By Jon in Ellicott City, MD on 9/25/2008


My current home is a typical Ryland POS.  All of the exterior vents, for bath and kitchen exhaust, have plastic louvers.  I suppose these louvers are intended to stop backflow, but they don't. 

I haven't chosen the vents for our new house yet.  I've looked, but haven't found what I want.  I'm sure higher quality vents are available, but I've never seen one that offered a reliable seal.  Again, if you know where those are available, please point me towards them. 

I have found motorized dampers for HVAC zoning.  They would help, but I wonder if they'd provide an adequate seal at the lower flow rates you're talking about.

IAQSource Motorized Dampers

Again, your house may be tight enough to force the majority of make-up air to come from your cooktop supply vent.  But I doubt that most tight houses are that tight. 

I'm no fluid dynamics guy, and it's been a heck of a long time since I had classes in the topic, but I do recall the pressure differential falling off quite steeply as you move away from a low-pressure source.  The pressure drop at 10" is dramatically less than at 1", but the difference between 36" and 120" is not nearly so big.  (That's why it's so critical to get these downdraft exhausts as close as possible to the contaminant source.)   If I'm remembering that correctly, the pressure drop at your cooktop intake (maybe 32" from the exhaust) will be greater than that at exhaust fan in your bathroom (35' away), but it won't be an order of magnitude greater.  Given that the flow rates will be proportional to pressure drop and area, it wouldn't take that much area - the sum of all the breaks in your envelope - to seriously compromise the connection between cooktop intake and exhaust flow. 

It sounds to me like your cooktop location is set.  Given that, the only variable here is the supply vent.  Once your shell is complete and before work starts on your kitchen, you could always build a crude mock-up of the cooktop and exhaust fan and experiment with some different supply designs.  You'd get much more definitive and reliable results than listening to some anonymous yahoo (me) on the Internet.


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By Chris on 9/25/2008


Jon,

the worst culprit was the fireplace flue, no good way to close off tight, my next house will have a gasketed fireplace box with its own combustion air inlet, gas dryers or water heaters need an unrestricted supply vent by code.

Bath vents usually have at least one and sometimes two dampers; they are usually no problem.


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By Jon in Ellicott City, MD on 9/25/2008


Thanks Chris!

  I've had a little Google time today, and have learned quite a bit about backdraft dampers.  I've asked this question a couple different times in a couple different forums, but never got an appropriate answer.  It was never the top of my priority list, so I didn't spend a lot of time pursuing it.  Thankfully, you and Grant educated me in time.

  I was also reading a bit about kitchen exhaust design and the Canadian R-2000 program.  For a cooktop exhaust fan with a passive supply vent, they recommend 60 sq. inches of supply duct area for each 100 cfm of the exhaust fan.  For a 500 cfm fan, such as in a downdraft exhaust, you'd need a 20-inch diameter round duct to supply sufficient makeup air to prevent backdrafting in the furnace or fireplace.

Always more to learn.

 

 


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/1/2008


Swimming Pool

"Green Homes" don't usually have swimming pools.  LEED really frowns upon them.  However, for various personal reasons we want to have a swimming pool.

1. We have a large family with lots of grandkids and the swimming pool is a great way of entertaining them when they visit without the house getting destroyed.

2. I'm developing arthritis and a swimming pool is my best long-term exercize option.

3. A swimming pool tends to make a hot Alabama summer a little more bearable.

4. A swimming pool is a form of mass water storage for emergency use.

Since we want to invest in a swimming pool, I want to build the closest thing to a "green" swimming pool as possible.  I have considered salt water pool systems (very low salinity, not like an ocean or salt water fish tank), but I think I actually prefer the "CL Free" type pool systems.  They seem to be less of a maintenance headache, and the water is actually potable.

I'd love to invest in an enclosed pool, but I just don't think the numbers make sense.  I recognize that some passive house designs claim that an enclosed, attached pool can help moderate household temps and thereby make the cost of the enclosure VERY worthwhile, but I need to research that further.  With an enclosed pool, I particularly like the idea of the CL Free pool system which has less of an impact on IAQ,

I intend to use my swimming pool as a solar water heater "heat dump" to prevent over-heating during the summers.  If I don't use the solar water heaters to cool my radiant floors overnight, then I may use them to subsequently remove that heat out of my swimming pool during summer nights.  During the winter, the solar water heaters will be used to extend the swimming season by a couple of months.  During the coldest periods when the pool can't be kept sufficiently comfortable for outdoor use and when the house simultaneously needs supplemental heating, the solar pool heater can be diverted to the radiant basement floors.

I will have a powered pool cover to limit water evaporation and energy loss and to help keep the pool as clean as possible.  I also intend to invest in automated pool cleaning equipment to lower maintenance requirements.

I'd love to hear about pool design features other O-B's have used, and particularly on construction cost saving ideas, and energy/maintenance cost saving ideas as well.

regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/1/2008


Composting

NatureMill fully automatic indoor kitchen composter

I saw this product in a recent magazine ad and REALLY like what I've seen so far. This makes composting so simple I think I can get my family to actually use it for kitchen waste...

For my lawn debris and larger scale composting needs I think I will invest in a ComposTumbler.

The ComposTumbler accelerates composting so that it can be completed within 14 days or so.


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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 10/1/2008


Grant, my home does have an indoor swimming pool. It is 16x33 free form - 4'8" all one depth. The room it is in is 40x40 and has a woodburning fireplace. The flooring is concrete slab with radiant heat. I am using a 98% efficient tankless pool heater for my pool heat. I am using a saltwater pool system. As far as costs - what do you mean when you say the numbers don't make sense? In Illinois we only get about three months of swimming pool weather and the extra cost I would estimate at about roughly $40K for the enclosure. So for me, it made a great deal of sense.

My home also utilizes geothermal heat. I bought my fiberglass pool through a company called Waterworld Pools. They have a site with prices listed. They delivered it and set it up (leveled it ). Then I built the house around the pool. We did the pool plumbing ourselves and our electrician is doing the electrical. Right in the middle of hooking everything up, so I'll let you know how it goes. Here's an earlier photo of the pool.
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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/2/2008


Faye,

Here in Alabama we have a much longer outdoor usable season.  With supplemental solar heating we can be swimming outdoors from at least April and into October (i.e. 6 to 7 months of swimming time).  So I'd be building the enclosure for 5 to 6 months of extra use. 

As far as not making sense goes, I'm trying to avoid a "jumbo loan" and the higher interest rates that entails, so I am intentionally trying to force myself to stay within a Fannie/Freddie loan limit of about $425k in my area of the country.  An additional $40K at the time of construction would preclude finishing additional interior living space (loss of prospective guest rooms), which with our large family is the higher priority for us.

How are you constructing your enclosure?  From the picture it looks like the swimming pool will be in the basement.  We're thinking more of a glassed in solarium type enclosure attached to the walk-out basement of the house, so it requires additional walls and a LOT of extra glass that we wouldn't otherwise be building.  We want to take full advantage of the views of the hills surrounding us from the swimming pool. 

I was leaning towards a salt water system until I discovered the CL Free system, which further enhances the pool's additional function as a large emergency potable water supply. 

What are you doing to control humidity inside your enclosure?  Are you using a dehumidification system, and if so, what type?  Humidity entering your house envelope without control mechanisms will GREATLY increase your summer cooling loads.

With an attached solarium we can keep the pool open to nature and unconditioned for at least half of the year and only fully enclose it, with the resulting humidity concerns, for the coldest months of the year (when humidity control is generally less of an IAQ issue).  Water is an excellent thermal mass, and will actually help to passively heat the home in the winter.  If I enclose the pool, we will likewise include radiant heat in the pool patio slab.  And the pool solarium will greatly increase the opportunity for household passive solar gain in the winter. 

regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/2/2008


Pool Enclosures

If and when I can afford a pool enclosure, I am thinking of using something like the Aquashield type enclosure.  Ideally, I will use the Rainbow Sun Room model (attached length-wise to the western 10' high retaining wall and width-wise to the walk-out basement wall with the bathroom and basement doors and the garage door) with two 26'-10" length X 22' width X 10' height telescoping units meeting in the center of the pool.  I will put a door in the far-end of the Aquashiled to exit to the kid's playgorund area. 

This is slightly less than 1200 sq feet, and the units are said to have costs starting at $20 per sq ft.  I am hoping that since the structure of a sunroom model is actually smaller (no arch needed where attached to the existing wall), that it is only $20 per sq ft.  That would make the enclosure cost roughly $25,000.

Pros:

  1. O-B/DIYfriendly.  Comes pre-assemnled and installs very simply/quickly.
  2. The pool can be completely open to nature during warmer months.
  3. These enclosures are retractable and can be open and closed in mere minutes by one person.
  4. The pool can be enclosed quickly in the event of inclement weather.
  5. I'll probably enclose the pool when cutting grass.
  6. They are effective at retaining heat.
  7. The opaque cover can also serve as a privacy screen when we feel like skinny dipping <grin>.
  8. The end piece can be "clear" so that it will not block my southern view out to the kid's playground area.
  9. I can attach it directly to the wall of the house and use the house door to enter the enclosure when it is closed.
  10. Attached directly to the wall of the house, the enclosure can provide passive solar gain for the house like a solarium.
  11. Because it is a temporary structure, it can't be included as part of the home's tax appraisal.
  12. The AquaShield is designed to prevent condensation.  Also, since it is attached to the exterior of the house and is easily opened to periodically ventillate, humidity control for the home should be less of an issue.

Cons:

  1. The covers which are large enough to cover a swimming pool are somewhat opaque, obstructing the view of the scenery when closed.
  2. It is either opened or closed.  There is no scenery and breeze available while closed.  There is no real shade offered from the sun even when closed.
  3. The individual sections are 6'-10" long.  This means the "nested" sections at each end of my pool will probably take up this large of a footprint.
  4. I presume there will be cleaning issues with the track system.
  5. It is not as stylish as a permanent enclosure.
  6. It doesn't improve appraisal value/equity as much as a permanent enclosure.
  7. Warranties are only 10 years, and I can't find data regarding long-term durability.  Will the AquaShield be as durable as a permanent enclosure?

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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/2/2008


I'm going to start a sub-thread related to my landscape planning...

I have about an acre that I want to turn into a Japanese Garden.  Unfortunately several of the key trees including the Indian Marker Tree have recently died from the drought.  But there is still a lot to work with, including a whole hillside of 4 foot to 7 foot tall Mountain Laurel.

I'm wanting to have a traditional gate into the Japanese garden off of the lawn leading from the pool patio area. I hope to eventually have a Japanese Garden Wall surrounding much of the garden.  Today, I thought about making the wall out of straw bales, plastering, and then capping it with a traditional Japanese wall roof.  I googled and not only found where someone has done this before, but Landerland actually gives workshops to teach people how to do traditional Japanese mud plastering, etc. I have attached pictures of a mud plastered wall, and then one turned white with lime plaster.

 


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/2/2008


Here is a traditional Japanese garden wall


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/2/2008


I just found an almost perfect photo of what I want to build...
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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/2/2008


Somewhere in the garden I'm going to work in a simple Shinto Tori Gate...  Probably near small Shinto and Buddhist shrines worked into the gardens.
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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/2/2008


Attached is my Indian Marker Tree which was going to be the centerpiece of my woodland/shade/moss zen garden.

Unfortunately the drought has killed it and several other trees and the dale is no longer very shady!

I'm trying to preserve this massive twisted trunk.  A log cabin company told me how I can preserve it.

I wanted to have a chainsaw artist make a carving out of the massive tree next to it that also died, but alas the guys I hired to cut down the dead trees jumped the gun.  He cut the tree down and chopped it up. Nothing left for a chainsaw artist to work with... 

They ended up working at a neighbor's house and decided to come take care of my trees at the same time.  Without calling me.  Without having finished negotiating some additional work we had already planned on a site visit for.  And without even having set a "final" price.  They also only took down three of the four trees they had previously agreed to remove. <groan>. 

They did remove the broken trunk above the 45 degree bend on the Indian Marker Tree as I wanted done.

 


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/2/2008


Has anyone built a straw bale wall before?  With the sides of a garden wall more fully exposed to the elements, what additional measures need to be taken to ensure its durability?
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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/8/2008


Cold Room

At the Alabama ASES Solar Home Tour this weekend, I got to tour many unique homes.  One of the features I REALLY liked was a DIY built super-insulated (around R100) "cold room" in the basement.  The owner lets in cold air in the winter and only runs an energy efficient cooler for the room to supplement in the warmer months.  The super insulation holds the heat out allowing the room to keep a fairly steady state so long as the door isn't open too often and as long as hot items aren't placed directly in the room.

Instead of a second refrigerator to store bulk produce, etc.  I'm going to build a comparable cold room in the back of my basement food storage room.  I'm also going to look at making "ice buckets" during winter freezes and storing them in the cold room to help reduce cooling costs in the winter and into the summer.  (In antebellum days, the plantations here in Alabama had root cellars they filled with ice in the winter and then used to keep the room cool year round, as well as a source of ice in the summer.)


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/8/2008


Stairs

I saw some interesting stairs at the ASES Alabama Solar Tour this weekend.  One was the use of a steep staircase with off-set cut-out stairs.  I will use this instead of the planned ladder for access to the Belvedere loft.

At another home, they used one of the cleared tree trunks to build a wooden spiral staircase.  It was quite beautiful and had a great "story" that added interest to the house.  Additionally, it was much less expensive than a traditional spiral stair case.  To stay within my available and affordable DIY skill set, I will either make the rail from rope supported by attached metal posts, or else I will create a mesh "cage" around the spiral staircase. 

I was planning on coming back after construction was complete and "adding" a spiral staircase from the basement to the breakfast nook and up to the 2nd story "bridge." While I have adequate stair access elsewhere, the spiral staircase will provide much improved traffic flow and improved air flow from the south side of the basement to assist with the household convection cycle.

I expected this to be a budget buster that I would need to save up for and add years down the road.  With such a DIY spiral staircase maybe not?


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/8/2008


Solar Oven

I've seen these in magazines and TVs over the years and thought they were interesting.  I saw them in use cooking meals at 3 homes during the solar home tour and got convinced.  They were like a crockpot.  You put them out in the morning, faced for afternoon solar gain.  They sit and wait all day while you are at work, and then begin cooking in the afternoon.  When you arrive home, you have a cooked meal waiting for you.  Well, as long as you had a relatively sunny day!

The nice thing is, its cooked with solar power and the heat doesn't enter the envelope of the home!  You can also cook a meal during a power outage without doing it over a campfire and without having to be out in the weather while it is cooking.

There are various types of DIY constructable solar cookers.  I like the parabolic hot dog cooker made by attaching mylar to the inside of an umbrella!  I made such a parabolic hot dog cooker in my high school physics class.  For routine cooking, I like an insulated solar box cooker that can hold the heat from the day long enough so that my cooked meal is still adequately warm when I get home.  For ease of cleaning and durability, I may buy a commercial solar box cooker, but they are easy to meet.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/8/2008


Outdoor Kitchen

When I get around to adding the pool area, which may or may not be at the time of home construction depending upon my budget, I intend to add an outdoor kitchen.  I intend to sink the outdoor kitchen into the patio next to the shallow end of the pool, allowing for a swim up bar area at the same height.  I will attach bar stools into the pool water for seating. The tracks for the retractable pool enclosure will be between the pool and the kitchen, so I will have a removable "bar counter" that will sit on the tracks when the cover is open.

I already have a high-end, portable stainless steel grill.  I have three acres and will have various entertaining areas, so I want to keep this grill portable and propane. 

For the outdoor kitchen, I want a built-in natural gas grill with comparable features to my portable grill.  I want enough space that I can pull my portable grill nearby to double the cooking capacity for large gatherings.

I also want a natural gas Hibachi grill in the outdoor kitchen placed for easy serving to the swim-up bar.  (I lived in Japan for two years and love Hibachi cooking, but it is not something I do every night to want to take up space in the indoor kitchen.)

Additionally, I hope to be able to build a pizza oven into the attached outdoor fireplace.  The fireplace will face the exterior patio, and the pizza oven will face the outdoor kitchen, but they will share the same stone-veneered structure.

This is dreaming REALLY BIG and I may not get it built for 10 years after the house gets built, but I am going to plan for the layout and the structural requirements from the day I build my home, so as to limit the future costs and disruption.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/8/2008


It turns out that one of the local homes here on the ASES Alabama Solar Tour was a straw bale insulation with structural log beam supports (provided by trees cleared for the construction) and with plastered walls.  The family built it themselves with help from neighbors.  I defintely hope to learn from them when I go to build my strawbale Japanese garden walls.
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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/8/2008


I keep going back and forth on the geothermal heat pump...  With a Passiv Haus design, the energy savings will be minimal and the time for additional cost recovery MUCH longer than usually presumed.  However, during the ASES Alabama Solar Home Tour, the home in Hoover was equipped with a geothermal heat pump that was installed VERY cost-efficiently.  Apparently there is a local contractor that specializes in geothermal heat pumps and has his own field line installation crews.  This MAY be a game changer and bring me to seriously consider a ground loop geothermal heat pump. 

Of course, I'd love to have such an energy efficient system, but the cost-benefit analysis has to make sense beyond the "warm fuzzies" of saving the planet from additional carbon emmissions.  I'm doing my part in other ways already.  But if I can manage the geothermal heat pump, the electricity requirements during peak hours will drop dramatically, and Alabama Power is preparing to go to peak/off-peak rates shortly.

With a competitively priced system and soon to be higher peak rates, it may be worth investing in the geothermal heat pump.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/8/2008


PV angle adjustment

During the ASES Alabama Solar Home Tour I saw a unique ground mounted DIY PV rack that allowed the owner to very simply and within a few minutes change the angle of the PV panels from optimal for summer to optimal for winter.  As he explained, he originally tried to make additional height adjustments, but quickly learned that the few weeks between manual adjustments wasn't worth the slight energy gain.  The sun stays in the winter angle and the summer angle much longer that it transitions through the intermediate modes.  So with two simple seasonal adjustments to the panel angle per year, he gets about a 10% increase in PV electricity output.

 


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/8/2008


What currently blocks solar power from viability???

I'm not planning, so far, on installing PV the day I build.  I expect the cost of PV power generation to rapidly fall with some new technologies being commercialized, and so far, the cost/savings don't pan out.

With new peak usage rates being implemented by Alabama Power, that will change soon.  Also, the Alabama state legislature just passed a law that prevents homeowners from having to buy insurance for a grid-tie system.  Previously, homeowners in Alabama were required by Alabama Power to purchase a $1 million insurance policy to grid-tie.  In other words, you were forced to pay thousands in insurance premiums to get back $100's in electricity savings. Ridiculous!  Thankfully, that new law stops this.  Unfortunately, it came at a high price. The state legislature specifically precluded net-metering apparently in order to win electric power company and coal company support for the bill.

So now Alabama Power pays 4.5 to 5.5 cents per kWh sent to the grid from a PV system, but charges more than 11 cents for power consumed.  Additionally, Alabama Power actually charges over 20 cents per kWh for "green energy," but gets to pay homeowners a mere fraction for the excess "green energy" they produce.  Furthermore, Alabama Power is reaping the benefit of additional electricity feeding to their grid during the peak demand periods when they charge their highest rates.  And with more capacity in the grid during "peak demand," Alabama Power has less need to build excess capacity to handle the sky high peak loads.  Alabama Power seemingly reaps a financial windfall...

So with all of these ancillary benefits to Alabama Power of allowing grid-tie systems, why does Alabama Power fight more favorable "net-metering" laws and seemingly do everything they can to discourage home power generation, whereas California power companies and Florida power companies actually "pay" incentives to homeowners to encourage them to contribute to peak energy production?  Because in those other states, state regulations make building more environment polluting power plants extremely difficult and VERY expensive for the power companies.  The power companies actually come out financially ahead by reducing their power plant capacity needs by encouraging decentralized PV systems feeding into their grids, thereby reducing peak demand and peak capacity requirements.  Stopping rolling brown-outs can also be a major motivation, because they don't earn revenue when their grid goes down. 

But in Alabama, excess capacity and burning more coal is still relatively cheap and VERY profitable for them due to a lack of regulatory intervention and no "true costing" of the "common" environmental impact of power production pollution.   Alabama Power has no financial incentives to downsize their peak capacity needs, and apparently limited moral concern for the environmental impact of their business operations.  Alabamians need more power?  Well, then Alabama Power is more than happy to build more non-clean coal power production plants. [Clean coal is an oxymoron!]

About the only thing that will currently break this "gridlock" on decentralized solar power production is regulatory action, and Alabama Power and the coal lobby in Alabama (Alabama is a big coal producing state) have too much influence in Montgomery to allow this to happen.  Eventually, as energy costs continue to rise and as PV energy production costs decline, there will be a cross over point where the homeowner will save money by installing PV, despite "subsidizing" the power company's profits with their grid-tie systems.  Only then will the gridlock that precludes PV viability in Alabama be broken.

At least now, those with a "moral conviction" to spend a little more for "green energy" can do so in Alabama at a significantly lower cost to themselves.  For most homeowners, the 4.5 cents to 5.5 cents will manage to cover the "monitoring fee" charged by Alabama Power for allowing a grid-tied system.  Maybe, with new higher peak rates, the homeowner's reduction in peak power consumption will manage to break even with the up-front cost of installing a grid-tied PV system, but not likely when considered within the perspective of a present/future cost analysis.

Even still, if after investing in all of the energy conserving technologies I can manage to afford (such as tight envelope, energy efficient appliances and fixtures, etc.) AND after buying the lifestyle amenities I want (such as the sauna and swimming pool investments in my health), if I still had money left over (which I don't think I will), I'd be interested in "giving back" by purchasing a PV system today.  Unfortunately, even for a grid-tie non-battery back-up system, I don't currently have that kind of "excess" money to spend.

When power rates rise and PV panel costs come down and the "payback" crossover happens, then I'll be RUSHING to add PV panels as quickly as I can scrape together the money.  We, as a nation, actually got MUCH closer to that "goal" last week as a result of the modified "bailout" that Congress just passed into law.  Not only did the solar tax credit that was scheduled to expire at the end of the year get extended for another 8 years, but Congress actually removed the 30% tax rebate "cap" on PV installations!  Whereas you used to only get back $2,000 on a potential $30,000 or higher expense, now you get 30% back no matter how much you spend.

I felt sort of sorry for the man on the ASES Alabama Solar Home Tour who just last month installed a 15 kw array (likely more than $100K) and only got back $2,000.  If he had waited to next year, he would have saved more than $30K!  Alas, there was no way to know and the "smart advice" was to buy before the incentives expired and while manufacturers were trying to dump excess inventory.  But he didn't do it as a smart money move anyway, he did it to "give back" and to personally limit his impact to the environment.  Unfortunately, IMO, he spent that kind of money on an array, when he could have had a comparable impact on the environment by spending $30K towards tightening the envelope of his house and improving the energy efficiency of his home.  He didn't even install a solar hot water heater, but instead built a big enough PV array to ALSO heat his electric hot water...  I have to say his intentions were honorable and good.  And his installer tried to talk him out of it (and even talked him into reducing the size of his array from his original plans), but he wouldn't listen!  He wanted the biggest residential PV array yet installed in Alabama. [Note: His house doesn't face true south either and his PV array therefore doesn't reach peak possible production...  A new home with an energy efficient passive solar design and facing south with a smaller PV array would probably have cost him less money and actually lowered his monthly cash flow requirements.]

At any rate, over the next 8 years with the "boom" in expected PV sales in states where peak capacity is a concern and local incentives are available, PV sales will be significantly "further" boosted by the GIANT new tax rebate.  And as PV production economies of scale ramp up, the cost of PV panels will begin to decline.  With the PV market showing expected high growth, investment capital will also speed commercialization of promising new PV technologies that increase output and lower the cost per kWh.  Within a few years, the viability of PV will no longer be gridlocked even in a poorly regulated state like Alabama.  In fact, in states with local incentives on top of the 30% federal tax rebate, homeowners may shortly become cash flow positive from their investment in PV panels.  What a HUGE game changer!!!

For those of you who live in states with local incentives (from power companies and the state), the new uncapped 30% rebate will probably make PV make sense today!

Regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/8/2008


Standing Seam Metal Roof with PV panels

One of the reasons I intend to install a 16" standing seam metal roof is because it will simplify the future addition of solar panels.  I'm going to pre-wire my house "PV ready."  I used to think my best option was to come back and install the stick-on PV sheets made to fit between the standing seams.  However, during the ASES Alabama Solar Home Tour, I found out that with a standing seam metal roof, you don't have to have a rack system with larger, heavier PV panels either (which cost less and take up less space per kwh produced).  All you need is a simple clamp to mount the panels to the roof!

Additionally, I learned that the reduction in thermal gains from the "white" high reflectivity roofs versus "light colored" high reflectivity roofs isn't really that great.  Combine this with much of the southern exposure of the roof planned to be "shaded" with PV panels and the insulative advantages to a reflective white roof become even less compelling.

While a white roof will look perfectly fine with my white walled house, the numbers just aren't compelling enough IMO to put a white roof on a dark walled house and mess up the aesthetics... 

Regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/8/2008


During the ASES Alabama Solar Home Tour I visited 4 homes with solar hot water systems and they ALL had drain back systems!  Very simple, extremely low maintenance, and relatively CHEAP.  One of the homeowners had been using their's for about 20 years with no maintenance problems!  The more complex glycol systems are now off the radar.  Unless I learn something new, I'm going with a drain back system for my potable hot water.  I will likely go with closed loop drain back systems using distilled water in the system.

If I install a PEX radiant floor system, which I am leaning towards doing at least in my basement slab, I think I want to keep it completely separate from my household "potable" hot water, shower water, etc.  Since I also intend to use solar water heaters for my hot tub and swimming pool,  I may tie my pool and hot tub into the radiant floor system as a heat dump for in the summer, spring, and fall, when the radiant floor isn't being used.  That way, I can heat my hot tub during the day and use the SWH's to cool the swimming pool at night.

 The coldest (one maybe two?) months when my home needs some additional heat in the basement, I'll divert the heat to the radiant floor and stop actively heating the swimming pool and let the electric heater heat my hot tub.

Unlike typical glycol systems, drain back systems don't have to worry about "dumping" excess heat and can withstand higher temperatures.  When the temperature in the water heater gets high enough, the SWH drains into a nearby drain tank (inside the conditioned home envelope) and empties.  No risk of freezing.  No risk of bringing the water to a boil.  When the water heater temperature drops and the SWH kicks back on, a pump sends water from the drain tank back through the SWH and gets it flowing again.

After seeing such a system mounted on a frame attached to a house wall, I'm thinking I can save some roof space for additional future PV panels, by mounting drain back SWH on the trombe wall that heats my solar sauna.  This could likely supply the hot water needs for the east side of my house.  As a bonus, this "hot" trombe room should further increase the efficiency of the drain back SWHs (the body of which can likely handle 250 degrees F or higher).  However, pulling heat from the trombe room to heat water (particularly during heavy hot water consumption periods), is apt to reduce the temperature of the sauna above.  Before I build, I need to run some energy flow calculations to decide if this is a good idea or not.

I intend to mount the solar hot water heaters to supply the west side of my house on angle adjustable frames on the flat roof of my garage, accessible from my wrap-around porch.  I'll probably also mount a SWH for the hot tub on the roof over the garage and share it with a prospective radiant floor system for the master bathroom.  I'll zone the MBR floor with a thermostat to keep it at a constant temperature.

The swimming pool and basement slabs are going to be so far below any roof structure that I haven't quite figured out where I'll need to place the SWHs.  These CANNOT be mounted on the wall of the trombe room because I don't want to superheat my swimming pool in the summer while "dumping" heat and thereby cooling my sauna.  I suppose that with a big enough pump capable of overcoming the head losses, I can mount the panels on the roof (about 35 to 40 feet above!)

This weekend, I also read an article from HomePower Magazine on designing a SWH with the pump powered by solar panels and it broaches such pump efficiency issues.

During the ASES Alabama Solar Home Tour, I met a solar consultant who has reasonable rates who I will hire to help me make such system design decisions.

Regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/8/2008


Solar Sauna

I guess its time to explain my somewhat eccentric "solar sauna" idea.  I REALLY like saunas.  I love going to the Therme spas during my business trips to Germany.  But saunas cost a lot of energy to operate (particularly if they are built for more than one or two people) and I don't want to spend a lot of time and energy pre-heating the sauna for use, because I can never seem to plan ahead of time as to "when" I'm going to manage an hour in my hot tub, for example.  SO... I want a routinely ready, minimal cost of operation sauna.

Hearkening back to the 1970's passive solar design concepts, I remembered a high school science project where I designed a passive solar house using the trombe wall principle.  One of several down-sides of trombe walls is that they can tend to overheat most homes here in the southeast, and because of their thermal mass, it can take a long time to make adjustments up or down in resulting household temperature.  I figure I can take that tendency to over-heat and turn it into an advantage for a solar sauna.

My house design has a walk-out basement with two wrap-around porches above which are enclosed as solariums/screened porches on the south side of my house.  On the southeast corner of the house I am going to build a 3 story glassed in trombe wall to intentionally superheat the air to rise up to my sauna that I am going to build into the southeast corner of the top wrap-around porch.  I will put an air return from the northwest corner floor of the sauna back down to the bottom of the trombe wall in the basement.  This way I hope to create a natural convection cycle to circulate the air and heat it hotter and hotter while the sun is shining, and then close the trombe room off from the sauna at night as the temps fall.  I also hope to do a SHW radiant floor in the sauna room as well.  A drain back solar hot water radiant floor system can be designed to automatically kick-off when the sauna gets too hot and kick back on when supplemental heat is needed.

The rear wall of the trombe room will be high thermal mass and painted black to absorb as much solar thermal energy as possible and then release it into the evening for as long as possible.  I intend to put water barrels under the benches inside the sauna to add additional thermal storage capacity so that the accumulated heat will last longer into the evenings.  I hope to be able to keep the sauna always hot enough that only minor supplemental radiant electrical heat from the ceiling will ever be needed. 

If I can't keep it hot enough through such solar thermal methods during bad weather periods, then I will drain the water barrels from the sauna during those times so that I can quickly raise the temperature in the sauna with the supplemental electrical radiant heat mounted to the ceiling of the sauna.

I think I can accomplish an essentially "always ready" sauna that takes hardly any electricity to operate...  I intend to use commercial sauna grade enclosure materials and equipment to better handle the constant temperature exposure.

While I would like to have a cool water tub in the sauna (like the one I love at Valley View Hot Springs in Colorado), unfortunately that just isn't practical for my available space or resources; but I do intend to install a shower and drain inside the sauna so that I can cool down my core body temperature temporarily and thereby be able to stay in longer and not have to open the door as often.

I will also have the ability to open a vent from the sauna into the family room of the home so that I can circulate some of the heat into the house as desired during the coldest months.  For such occasions, there will be a replacement air intake vent out of the basement game room into the trombe wall room.

Considering that the sauna and trombe wall will be outside of the conditioned house envelope and living space, I can use relatively inexpensive glazing for the trombe wall windows. I'll only want operable windows at the top and bottom for when I want to "flush" the system with fresh air.

Any thoughts or ideas how I can improve my concept???  I thought about using a wood stove instead of the roof mounted electric radiant heaters,  but I want to conserve floor space and I want simplicity and speed of operation.

Regards,

Grant


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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 10/9/2008


Grant, You seem to have a lot of unique features in your plan and "green " technology can be quite expensive. Do you mind if I ask what your budget is? Do you think your upfront costs will make a big difference in your monthly utility bills? Also -- are you planning on doing a lot of the work yourself? When do you anticipate breaking ground? Please send photos of your progress.
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 10/9/2008


Alternating Tread Stairs, I hadn't seen them until recently. Apparently readily used in manufacturing environments.

That picture you have looks like the prefab units made by Arke, specifically the Karina model - arkestairs.com/karina.php. They are actually made in Italy (Arbini and Fontanot) and distributed in the U.S. by Arke (to give appropriate credit where credit is due). I leave code compliance to you and your local officials.

These type of stairs are used more widely in industrial applications, and are quite space-saving as illustrated in the photo below.

alternating-stair-logic.jpg


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By Chris on 10/9/2008


Don't know if this is the same one but others may want to check out:

energypeak.com


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/9/2008


I am a RESEARCH ENGINEERING type... I've started my research very early. Time to break ground is probably 18 months, but somewhat contingent on when my father repays me the $45K he still owes me. I'm having my first meeting with my likely architect over breakfast tomorrow and then we will visit my land.

The land is paid for and has sufficient equity to eliminate PMI even without the $45K and without the equity in my existing home. I'm going to stay within the Fannie/Freddie mortgage limit to avoid "jumbo loan" status and higher interest rates (i.e. $417K in Alabama + ~$8K for energy efficiency allowances). I can build the envelope and finish the 3-BR/3-BA main living space with my "ready to build" land + a $425K loan + a minimum of $75K that I will have available (I have more if needed in investment property equity that I'd rather not tap into).

In other words, I'll only be borrowing $425K and plan to contribute more than $150K in cash and land equity. I hope to keep the appraisal down to the $500K range so that it is high enough (20% equity) to keep me from paying PMI on my ~$425K loan, but not higher so as to limit the property tax impact. As a result, I will finish as little of the attic or the basement as required to reach my appraisal goal, then get my CoO and my tax appraisal, and then move in. If need be to reach my appraisal target, I can EASILY and INEXPENSIVELY finish two more BRs to make it a 5-BR 3-BA home. Afterward, I will gradually use my available labor pool to finish out the basement and attic rooms, one room at a time, using my remaining available cash. Eventually, it will be a 7-BR/7-BA home. Big enough for all five of our grown kids and all of our grandkids (8th due in April and many more presumed for the future) to comfortably stay over the holidays. 

I expect to eventually finish and add on to the property sufficient to reach a ~ $1,000,000 appraisal. But clearly, I won't finish 9,000 sq ft the day I build with my mere ~$500,000 expected "budget." Obviously, my landscaping plans for the three acres will happen over the next 20 years!

Once I finish significant additions in the attic and basement I will get the home reappraised and get a home equity line of credit established so that I can leverage my equity. Even if I never draw on it, for a small annual fee the open equity credit line will give me a very large unused available credit limit which will enhance my credit score and give me better credit terms on anything else I ever do. 

Yes, building "green" CAN be expensive... BUT, general construction material costs and labor costs are going down with the current reduced market demand. Having a GC build my home here in Alabama with this level of customization and high-end features would likely cost $175 per square foot, whereas many "typical" homes in "nice" neighborhoods are currently being built here for only $75 to $80 a sq ft. I'll know better once I price out my materials and labor and set my budget, but I'm guessing that "I" can easily build this house around here for an average of $100 per "finished" sq ft and readily get a $150 per "finished" sq ft appraisal + land value (but I hope the tax appraisal will come in at the $100 per "finished" sq ft level, and I will petition for a tax appraisal at my "cost." )

Finishing the attic and basement will cost me MUCH less (it will be pre-wired, pre-plumbed, and already conditioned as part of the initial construction costs). My appraisal versus construction costs will dramatically improve as I finish more of the home after my CoO. Most of my O-B equity will be created as I gradually (inexpensively) finish the home over time.

I have lots of cost-saving advantages that the typical O-B doesn't have. 

I'm the VP of a company that is a GC in Alabama (although utility scale water and sewer focused, we are a GC that "can" get a building loan approved). With my Board's approval, I will build the house under the GC license of my company and will O-B by hiring subs. This will probably be cheaper and easier to get construction financing approval than as an O-B. 

My company has concrete mixing and pumping equipment and has skilled personnel for large-scale concrete pumping jobs. I can likely buy the concrete with the same bulk prices we get for our large scale jobs. I'll time the initial slab pour and wall pours for a slow week when the crews would be off work and thereby utilize our equipment and get "bargain priced labor." Same goes for pouring the driveway. I can probably pour concrete walls cheaper than I could have traditional stick-built walls constructed.

I'm considering using the All Wall System or a panel (probably not block) ICF system. On bad weather days our crews frequently can't work. I may hire my "bargain-priced labor" to pre-fab the walls with all of the door and window cut-outs at our large work shop and then take them to my property for rapid house envelope raising.

Considering how "relatively" inexpensively I can pour concrete, I'm also going to take a close look at pricing out SPEEDFLOOR versus a more traditional floor construction. If I can control the cost sufficiently, this will be a WONDERFUL upgrade. A DIY radiant floor in poured concrete will improve property value far much more than it will cost me to install, making that VERY tempting. 

I plan to personally install the distribution plumbing (and radiant floor plumbing if installed). I have a son-in-law who is a plumber who will likely help. I also have employees at work with plumbing experience and I will probably get them to help with the drain plumbing and landscape storm water pipes (and geothermal loops if installed).

I plan to personally pull the wiring and hang the electric boxes. I have a crew superintendent who is an electrician by original trade who can help finish and prepare for the electrical inspection. 

My brother-in-law runs our construction division, and he has a degree in construction management and used to be a framing supervisor at a pre-fab home production plant. He will also help, as I have helped him many times in the past.  In addition to being family, he works for me <grin>.

I've laid tile before and for personal satisfaction reasons MAY decide to do some signature tile work in the master bath, kitchen, or both. I can finish sheetrock as well as anyone can, and a professional sheetrocker friend owes me a BIG favor from when I helped him get into his O-B house before winter hit and after he had run out of funds to finish and no money for rent either. His family was about to be homeless, so I volunteered time, equipment, and money and helped him to get a roof over their heads. While he needs the money and I wouldn't expect or even allow him to pay me back with free labor, I'll be shocked if he doesn't give me a "return the favor" price to help me finish my walls and help me keep my budget. 

As much as I've done in the past on prior homes and may WANT to do, at this point, my arthritis leaves me in frequent pain and may limit my personal labor contributions. Realistically, my biggest contribution will be my planning, bargain shopping, existing resources/relationships, and project management skills.

My father has a complete woodworking shop at his home and has all the equipment to make high-end crown molding and baseboards from bare wood. I've never seen a craftsman that can make a better corner joint than my father. I may also challenge him to stretch his skills and make some built-ins for us as well. I would like to spend the rest of my life in a home that has my father's handiwork in it. It will mean more and more as time goes on.

Other than planning and architectural drawings, there won't be much progress for a while. I could make photos of my property to share, but I don't think they would be very interesting at this point.

Regards,

Grant


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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 10/10/2008


Sounds good Grant -- Like you, I'm a huge research fanatic -- which I think is extremely important for O-B's. I also have arthritis but have found that I can do a lot if I take my time and don't overdue it.

With your concrete walls you may want to consider stone veneer. I was able to buy 2,400 sf at a building materials auction for 1/3 of the retail value. I got a bid for the labor to install on front of my home (1st 4 ") and it was $12K. I decided to DIY it and am very happy with the result. I am a 39 yr. old lady, so because of the arthritis I had my teenage sons help with the heavy lifting and I purchased a electric cement mixer to mix the mortar. It took me about 12 days to do 1,200 sf.

I am also DIY'ing the geothermal, radiant and plumbing. My bids for geothermal and radiant ran $80K-$120K, but the materials and excavation are going to end up being $22K. If I hadn't found the DIY kit, I would never have been able to do the geo because it would have taken me 20 yrs. to recoup my initial investment. I am going with modular manifolds that can be added onto at a future date -- should I decide to add on.

Have you already got a good idea of the house plan already? I drew my own and had a draftsman put it on AutoCAD for me. Please post your floor plan when your architect gets done. I haven't really considered solar because I am in Illinois and we don't have a lot of sunny days but am just starting to look into wind power. Have you done any research on this? If so -- can you recommend some sites? My lot is ideal for wind but again I don't know if it is cost effective.

Also, you were talking about a future pool. Mine is indoors and I have decided to go with a tankless pool heater. It will take up a lot less space than a heat pump and does not have to be vented outdoors. It is also supposed to be extremely efficient.

I envy you your father -- with the woodworking tools! I have picked up some books on custom trim and built-ins and plan to add some after we move in. My home has been "in progress" for three years now, but I already have a home (on same property) and I'd rather take my time and get it just the way I want it. I tried to build it without a loan the first couple of yrs, but have now broken down and borrowed $100K to finish.

I am concerned about the inspectors, because they seem to know nothing about non-traditional technologies. When I told them I was using PEX for my plumbing they asked me what it was! I dread their reaction when they find out about the geothermal - LOL. One thing that has gone up a lot is trucking costs because of the fuel prices. I had to haul a lot of gravel and it cost me double what I had originally budgeted. Look forward to seeing your progress - Faye
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By RogerC in Phoenix, AZ on 10/10/2008


Hi Faye,

I like your stone veneer.  It goes very well with the wood color of those beautiful doors.  Good choices!  (I couldn't get your Construction Website link to work directly from your forum post, but I got there with a little tweaking of the URL.) 

Are you saying that you got quotes up to 120K for geothermal, but you're doing it yourself for 22K total?  Is your system going to provide the heating and cooling of your home exclusively, or is it supplemented with an alternative system?

Being in Arizona, I'm definitely planning to incorporate solar.  My initial budget may not let me do everything I'd like to with it, but I really like Grant's idea of designing my house plans for future applications.  

Although at this point, like you, I'm not sure where to begin researching wind, I also want to look into it.  My land sits in a valley at the bottom of a large desert mountain.   There's often a breeze coming from the valley directly onto my property, so I really need to educate myself on wind. 

Keep us posted... and the inspectors educated! 


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/10/2008


Faye,

Wikipedia is always a good jumping off point for research.

Somewhere in the forums I previously posted a website that has a nationwide wind zone map.  You should look at the Illinois Wind Resource Map.  You need a wind power classification of two or higher to generally be viable.  Most of Illinois is a three with some regions of two.  You should definitely be looking at wind power as an option.

If you have reliable 5+ mph winds in your area, wind power is one of the most cost-effective power sources available (micro-hydro with a good creek being about the only thing competitive with wind power).

There are two primary options with wind power: horizontal axis or vertical axis.  Horizontal axis are more widely used, generally generate more power per available wind, but generally must be mounted on a tall pole away from the home and can be noisy.  Vertical axis turbines are an option for rooftop mounting "IF" you have a sturdy structure and "IF" the vibration is not more than the structure can handle. 

If you are going to use a roof top vertical axis turbine, pre-wire to save installation costs later and plan your structure to handle the forces created by the wind turbine.

HGTV's "Living with Ed" did a show on vertical axis wind turbines. 

Regards,

Grant


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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 10/10/2008


Thanks Grant, I am in central Il. and my 11 acres sits at a higher elevation than most of the land around. They are building quite a few wind farms in my area -- which is what gave me the idea. I am thinking of using the horizontal type on an area of my property that is not too close to the house. Our electrical rate here is quite high and my entire house is electric. I saw that episode on "Living with Ed " -- it was the one with Jay Leno, right ? I did not think about pre-wiring but maybe I should check that out now because my electrician is starting in a couple weeks. Thanks for the info.

Faye
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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/11/2008


I just found an internet posting from Nick Pine that describes the calculations I will need to get my solar sauna temperature into the appropriate range. 

I have planned on using water barrels under the benches in the sauna room as heat storage batteries.  A good suggestion I picked up from this posting is to use a fan blowing under the benches and through the barrels to "rais(e) heat flow rates and lower air film thermal resistances," thereby making the water barrels function more efficiently.

Turns out my "solar sauna," which I thought was a relatively unique idea, is really a modification of the "solar closet" idea.  There is nothing new in the universe! <grin>. [Thankfully, because that means the thermal calculations for a proper design have already been determined for me!]

Regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/12/2008


Whereas I've been aware that there was a "debate" regarding the merits and demerits of closed-cell versus open-cell foam, I hadn't realized how potentially serious of a distinction this was until I Googled the topic today to study up and educate myself.

Whereas I had "liked" the concept of Icynene, and especially soy foam insulations, after reading many well-documented SERIOUS horror stories regarding moisture, mold, mildew, shrinkage (soy), and rot problems with open cell foam, I have decided that "IF" I use foam, it will be a rigid "closed cell" foam insulation with a "proven" track record of no moisture problems.  Furthermore, I will get samples, submerge them in water and subject them to steam, and run a weight-gain analysis myself before I will trust ANY foam insulation for use.

All I can say is wow, that is some seriously scary stuff that has happened to some poor unfortunate home owners.  And to think the sales pitch for Icynene that I heard at the Green Building Show in Atlanta had me oh so convinced of the merits of that product.

Ideally, my insulated poured concrete walls, and my metal sip roof, can have penetrations sealed with a rigid water-proof closed cell foam system!  We shall see.

Regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/12/2008


Whereas CFL fixtures in the Solatubes are an "okay" solution to nighttime lighting needs, I really want to use low-voltage LEDs that can someday be directly powered (no efficiency losses through an inverter) by the DC power generated by my future PV panels.  Also, the LEDs generate significantly less heat, thereby reducing my cooling costs in the hot Alabama summers.

I was thinking that it should be fairly simple to drill holes in the flashing of the SolaTubes and insert LEDs all around the flashing for a DIY "LED fixture" built into the Solatube. 

BUT if I were to alter the solatubes in this manner, I would be creating an electrical light fixture without a NRTL safety certification, and I'd also lose any Energy Star compliance certification, and I'd have to really jump through hoops to pass electrical inspection...

Maybe I can convince Solatube of the wonderful market opportunity they are currently missing...

Or maybe I will just settle for installing separate LED fixtures.

Regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/12/2008


Once again, I just learned something new... at least to me...

Whereas I was vaguely aware of the availability of T8 LED tubes to use in place of standard T8 fluorescent tubes, I had no idea that they make LED "bulbs" that fit in a standard E27 screw-in socket.

It appears that I can put an LED "bulb" inside a standard Solatube fixture, instead of using a CFL "bulb." These bulbs are designed for standard AC 120V or 240V fixtures, and not necessarily DC power...

These are EXPENSIVE, but use exceptionally low wattage (5 watts for the 70 LEDs putting out 200 lumens) and emit very little heat into the home.  From an environmental standpoint, they are not only energy efficient, but they contain no mercury and last MUCH longer than other bulb types.

--------------------------

On a related note, whereas white light frequently attracts bugs, LED lights in other colors won't attract bugs in the same way.  LED lights come in numerous colors including red, yellow, and blue, which can be excellent outdoor lights at night, providing atmosphere and visibility without attracting bugs.  I will probably use colored LED lights on my porches.


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By Avram in Raleigh, NC on 10/14/2008


Grant,

I know the discussion on this died away a a bit ago but. I had some information that I misplaced and just found.  First here is a fireplace manufacturer that produces a prefab "Rumford" open wood burning fireplace with a ceramic glass pull down door. renaissancefireplaces.com  A note to anyone who reads this is that if you do some research "Rumford" style fireplaces claim to be the best open wood burning fireplace and have many advocates.  (two fireplace etc links: rumford.com and hearth.com

Next I recently picked up a book Builders guide to Structural Insulated Panels - for All Climates by Joseph Lstiburek. (I picked it up used on amazon at a great price of 10 bucks or so) That really is fantastic in regards to many of the thoughts on ventilation that were being kicked back and forth.  He has a multitude of diagrams on different ventilation options and "hard numbers" on some of the items that are being discussed.

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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/14/2008


Avram,

Thank you very much for sharing this...  I hope that all parts of this thread will continue to solicit such active input from the OBB community all the way until I break ground and build.  This thread is my "research file" and any public contributions like yours certainly enhance my efforts.  That is exactly why I threw this giant thread out here like I have.

I had not heard of "Rumford style" fireplaces before, and I am very glad you have informed me.  After reading the relevant physics, I will most probably be building my outdoor kitchen fireplace as a Rumford.  Hot air dissipates quickly outdoors, but radiant heat keeps you comfortable for longer.

I need to research the air flow issues a bit more before I decide to use Rumford fireplaces indoors.  If the theories hold true, then my wife prospectively gets her open hearth and I manage to at least partially control air losses out of the chimney.  I am convinced that a Rumford fireplace design is more efficient at radiating heat and loses "less" air up the flue than a standard modern fireplace design. That is good!

With further thought, however, most tight, PassivHaus designs do not have fireplaces, for several reasons.  1.) The ERV does a sufficient job at keeping the home comfortable in winter months with minor supplemental heating.  2.) The tightness of the house combined with the active ventilation systems increases the risk of back drafting down the chimney flue causing air quality concerns. 

But I "want" fireplaces for the "mood" even if I don't "need" them for energy efficiency.

LEED for Homes "requires" fireplace enclosures for both IAQ and energy conservation reasons.  Of course, these "standards" were developed in consideration of a more typical fireplace firebox design. 

The solution to back drafting in an open fireplace (even a Rumford) is to provide fresh makeup/intake air into the home.  This, of course, undermines the intent of a PassivHaus design, which is why fireplaces probably shouldn't be used in a PassivHaus!  Much of the energy gained from the fire will be lost by having to condition the make-up air as discussed in detail on the Rumford website you pointed me to...  Maintaining a comfortable "steady state" temperature with an ERV supplemented by Passive Solar Gain and further supplementation with a solar water heater radiant floor is probably actually easier without the air losses of a fireplace.

So let's look at each of my fireplaces...

Master Bath Fireplace

The MBa fireplace will mostly be used for "mood" setting.  With active venting of the bathroom, the MBa fireplace is not an ideal location to force heated air into the MBR (although the ERV will capture the MBa heat and likely recirculate the "conditioned" replacement fresh air into the MBR closets which will then passively flow into the bedroom).  At any rate, thinking a bit deeper about this, an enclosed fireplace with blower probably isn't practical for the MBa fireplace anyway.  The radiant heat of an open Rumford fire would be much more comfortable in a bathroom setting, and the "mood" of an open fire across from the soaking tub would be nicer as well.  I'll just need to carefully control airflow and household pressurization to avoid back drafting down the chimney. With the MBa being at the middle elevation of the house, I'm less likely to suffer from back draft inducing negative pressure, as long as my bathroom vents have adequate available make-up air.

Master Bedroom Stove

The MBR will likely be supplementally heated with a soapstone stove, so I don't need to be blowing hot air around the corners from the MBa (which would unacceptably circulate poor IAQ bathroom air into other rooms anyway).  I want a stove so that the comfortable radiant heat can be started early and will last overnight with less time tending to the fire.

Kitchen Fireplace

The Kitchen fireplace is a bit more complicated.  It is at the lesser-used end (in the breakfast nook) of a VERY long and very tall room.  Whereas the radiant heat of the Rumford would be more pleasant in such a "tall" space, I'm not convinced it would circulate the heat across the "length" of the space as well as a hot air blower might.  I also count on the hot air rising from this room to generate a natural convective air flow throughout the whole house.

I'm hoping to have radiant floor heat in this space already (assuming I can afford it), so hot blowing air, which would circulate into other parts of the house, might be more beneficial to whole-house comfort.  Additionally, I am more apt to suffer back draft issues with this fireplace which is nearest to the powerful kitchen exhaust.  A sealed fireplace blower enclosure, therefore, sounds preferable (at least as far as I have thought it out today) for the kitchen fireplace, even though I now recognize that I lose the significant radiant heat advantages of an open fireplace.

Basement Fireplace

I'm thinking I should use a sealed fireplace blower enclosure for the basement as well.  The pressure in a house tends to naturally stratify, with positive pressure at the upper floors, neutral pressure at the intermediate floors, and negative pressure at the lowest floors.  While the very tall chimney flue from the basement will help further prevent the risk of back drafting, the greater risk of negative pressure in the basement should likewise enhance the risk of back drafting.  I'm not sure which will win...  An enclosed fireplace as called for in LEED for Homes requirements, would eliminate this issue.

The basement will have radiant PEX tubing in the slab, so once again, the ability to blow and circulate hot air may be preferable for the basement.  With the hot air from the fireplace rising up the southern side of the house,  it will also help drive the convective air flow to passively circulate the conditioned air through the whole house.

-----------------

Once again, those were excellent resources and thanks for sharing!

Regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/14/2008


Passive Survivability

As I've previously described, I'm designing my house to be "comfortably livable" even if the utility grid and the public water supply goes down for an extended period.  I had no idea that the design concepts I'm incorporating are part of a broader concept dubbed "Passive Survivability" as espoused by the folks at BuildingGreen.com.

Apparently, I have designed a "dual-mode" home capable of "passive survivability."

I guess its nice to know that my ideas have already been "labeled" and are even under efforts to become "codified." <grin>


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/14/2008


I've identified multiple metal SIP manufacturers in Florida, which is probably the closest for shipping to Alabama.

Several people in other parts of the country (including my architect in Idaho) have expressed an interest in metal SIPs, but didn't think they were available where they live. 

I just stumbled on a manufacturer in Grand Junction, CO that should be convenient to service the Mountain West.  When my daughter and son-in-law go to O-B in Duchesne, Utah area, location-wise, this would be an ideal supplier for them.  Same for my architect in Idaho if he should so choose.

Jobsite USA


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/14/2008


Ceilings

Most of the living space on the first and second floors will be smooth finished sheetrock ceilings.

I'd like to put tin tile roofs in the parlor and formal dining room, but my wife doesn't like the look.

I'd also like wood beadboard ceilings in the high ceiling family room, but my wife just likes smooth sheetrock!

The attic ceiling will likely not be finished; we will merely allow the metal SIP roof sheeting to serve as the ceiling in these "bonus" grandkid rooms.  The metal SIP sheeting will also serve as the ceiling on the upper wraparound porch.  Not super attractive, but good enough for kids' rooms, and it meets fire code requirements.  Kind of HGTV "Beyond the Box" style creative thinking.

In the basement, I want to use a grid ceiling for easy access to wiring and plumbing.  ACP makes a surface-mount grid system called CeilingMax, that isn't a "drop ceiling" hung from wires.  Instead, it can attach directly to the joists and allows easy insertion of standard ceiling tiles.

Someday, off in the future when I "finish" the basement, I hope to use such a grid ceiling system in conjunction with "decorative ceiling tiles."  The possibilities of my basement walls painted like a beach scene with "printed" ceiling tiles to look like a sky at the beach gets my mind running in double time.  It would really make for a wonderful game room off of the pool patio; not to mention it would completely eliminate that "basement" feeling.

I may do fabric-covered tiles (to help with sound quality) in the home theater with LED lights for a "starry sky" effect.  But the "printed" ceiling tiles give me all sorts of ideas for "themes" for my home theater ceiling as well.

Regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/14/2008


For a high resolution, higher-end look, the Sky Factory has some really interesting image options for walls and ceilings, but they aren't cheap.

 


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/14/2008


Solar "Hot Spring"

This is another of my screwball ideas <grin> that I hope to get around to within the next 10 years.  There are no hot springs near Alabama, and I am a bit of a hot spring fanatic (I've been to more than 60 hot springs around the world).  So, I want to make my own...

It is not uncommon to create a solar-heated wood soaking tub, using a wood fired heater with the water passively circulating in a "thermosiphon."  It is also not uncommon to use the thermosiphon principle with drainback solar water heaters.  Occasionally, people have attached a solar water heater to a wood soaking tub to heat the water.

What I'd like to do in a private area on the back of my property, is build a naturalistic stone pool like I've soaked in at Japanese "rotenburo" (outdoor hot springs) over the years and heat the water with a solar water heater circulating the water via thermosiphon.

All I have to do is position the SWH below the stone pool area so that the hotter water rises from the SWH into the stone pool and the cooler water drops down to the bottom of the SWH to be heated.  On a sunny day, I should be able to solar heat the water to "hot spring" temperatures. 

However, I don't like the idea of having to drain the water between uses, but I also don't want to contaminate the water with chemicals.  At the very least, I'll supply the "rotenburo" with rain water from my cistern.  Better yet, I hope to be able to pump up the natural spring water from the creek below.  Maybe I'll figure out a way to affordably tie in an ozonator or some other non-chlorine/non-bromine purification system for the water, so that I don't have to drain it as often, and so that it will be more readily usable.  As long as the water stays hot, snakes and other critters shouldn't get into it.

Anyone have any ideas how to make this practical? Do you know of someone making something like this before?

Regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/15/2008


Earth-Sheltered Guest House

Once our primary home is built and we move in, my wife and I have discussed having our daughter and soon to be son-in-law (wedding on October 24th) build our guest house (probably three years from now) in exchange for getting to live there for free until they choose to buy their own place.  We will purchase/acquire the materials, and have our son-in-law along with his MANY construction worker relatives (they are Mexican immigrants and he has LOTS of cousins) build the guest house.  My son-in-law and his cousins appear to be all quite interested in learning how to affordably build an earth sheltered home with alternative construction practices.

My "extra" lot used to be a drainage ravine for the hill side.  During the neighborhood construction they filled in the upper part of the ravine near the street with over 300 dump truck loads of rocky dirt.  The leveled area will make an excellent ball field, but I'd be nervous to build on top of it. 

Below the in-filled area is a 10-foot slope down to the remaining ravine, which should permit a 40' wide guest house.  With a south-facing opening and significant hardwood shading, it makes the perfect location for a passive solar, earth-sheltered guest house. 

The garage will have stairs down to the guest house (thoughts: the stairs could go potentially down between the MBR and MBa) (also, maybe I can provide "closet space" for a potential future elevator down to the deck to ensure accessibility); only the garage will be visible from the street or even from our house, and it will be designed to compliment the architecture of the main house, with the intention of looking like a detached garage/shop.  Depending upon available funds we "might" make the garage two-story with a "bonus" mother-in-law suite above (with an elevator closet in it as well).

The roof of the garage will be positioned for ideal Solar Water Heater mounting.  Maybe I can also build in a cupola to function as a "solar chimney" and pull air from the shaded ravine into the guest house and up and out through the garage structure.  The 3 BR/2 Ba guest house below will have complete privacy and will overlook the planned koi ponds and Japanese garden in the ravine below.  A deck off of the guest house will extend over the upper koi pond. The guest house will initially be covered with a "green roof" tied in with the large lawn to the north, but eventually, I'd like to build a combo tennis court/basketball court above the guest house. 

Architecturally, I want the south "opening" of the guest house to have a modern Japanese style to go with the Japanese gardens.  However, ideally, I want the buried walls to be constructed from tires and rammed earth like "earth ship" construction.  (proper drainage around the structure will be CRITICAL.)

The guest house will be designed for passive solar gain in the winter.  The south facing opening for the kitchen/den area (in the middle of the guest house) will essentially be a wall of glass (perhaps at least one more glass garage door <grin>).  The roof overhang will provide additional summer shading.  

The kitchen will probably be modern from IKEA.  Space-saving built-ins from IKEA will be designed into the bedrooms and the bathrooms.  The guest house will probably also be furnished with affordable IKEA furniture.  In other words, minimalistic, affordable, modern decorating.  I like modern architecture and it won't be visible from our more traditional home, so I get the best of "both" this way.

The MBR will be on the west wall with double glass doors out to the deck.  The MBa will be on the North side of the MBR.

The other two smaller ("cozy") bedrooms will be on the east wall with an east facing egress window well on the north bedroom and double French doors to the deck on the south bedroom.  The bathroom will be between the two bedrooms with an additional door to the den. 

I'll have my architect do the final design.

When the guest house is finished, we will be able to show both an "affordable" solar home as well as our "higher-end" solar home during the annual ASES solar home tour.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/16/2008


Lawn

[Keep in mind that I plan to spend 20+ years perfecting my three-acre landscape plan...  Don't knock me for over-reaching; believe me I know...]

Lawns are VERY resource intensive; even though they are the color green, they are far from environmentally "green."

My wife LOVES a large green lawn.  Particularly a lawn under trees.  She isn't involved with the maintenance and doesn't really mind what it takes to get her what she wants <grin/groan>.

I'm "eco-conscious" and don't want a BIG lawn.  So I'm trying to find a compromise we can both live with.

Ball field area

We have a large, flat in-filled ravine that will function as our grandkids' ball field when they visit.  Along the edge of this field, we may also have a secondary play ground.  The "typical" thing to do would be to make this area a LARGE grass lawn.  But I don't want to cut it every week, and slow grow lawns like fescue don't usually hold up well as ball fields.  Besides, lawns are frankly HORRIBLE on the environment, no matter how pleasing and peaceful the green view is.

So I'm thinking about planting a "native meadow" for the ball field and only cutting it when the grandkids want to play...  The ball field is far enough away from both the house and the street (and at a significantly lower elevation) so that it won't look high and unkempt.  I'm thinking of using the native wildflower mix that Alabama DOT puts into some of the interstate medians around here.  When they aren't playing ball, the grandkids will enjoy picking the flowers for bouquets. 

Also, we have two shallow muddy creeks crossing the nearby power line.  Butterflies require such shallow muddy water for survival and breeding.  We already have a significant number of butterflies in the power line area.  Hopefully, I can eventually seed the power line as well.  With such an ideal habitat area, the flower meadow will undoubtedly be filled with butterflies in no time.

I've attached some random pictures of Alabama wildflowers found on FlickR.  Note that I have identified a few dozen varieties of wildflowers (flowering weeds <grin>) growing natively across my property.

Front and Side Lawns

We are also required by neighborhood covenant to have a strip of lawn in the public right of way along our over ~300' long street curb.  Closer to the house, we will have a small front lawn behind a tree'd planting area.  To the east of the house, we will have a "grass driveway" down to the basement garage that connects with and flows between the trees into the small front lawn.  I hope to use a plastic "grass paving grid" under the grass drive to protect the roots and prevent "rutting" and soil compaction.

Backyard Lawn

To the east of the swimming pool patio, we will have a lawn sized for badmitton and volleyball that extends over to the Japanese garden wall and gate and extends to the side of the eventual covered "outdoor den" patio.  The covered patio will be flanked by existing five-foot tall mountain laurel helping frame in this "lawn room."  There will be a fence separating the grass drive from the backyard lawn with a gated fence entrance behind the basement kitchen/game room door entrance.

Private Meditation Garden

On the back of the property near the 30' bluff to the creek below, there is a lawn sized clearing surrounded by 5' to 7' tall mountain laurel which I intend to turn into a meditation garden.  This area will be "walled" from the house and the neighbors by a garden berm to the north and by existing "walls" of mountain laurel on the other sides.  The entrance may be through a narrow path through a bamboo forest on one side, and through a "secret entrance" under the branches of a willow near the Japanese Iris pond garden, accessed by crossing a shakuhachi bridge.

The private meditation garden is where I hope to build a solar heated natural hot spring "rotenburo" sometime in the future.  I also hope to eventually put a Balinese style outdoor day bed in this area.  I may also put a traditional Muskogee (Creek) Indian style stadium seating structure in this area for group get together. (This was Creek Indian Territory that was ceded to America after the first battle with Andrew Jackson about 15 miles to the southwest.  Thus the City of Jacksonville was the first city founded in this region. 15 miles to the northwest was the national border between the Cherokee and Creek nations.)  (If only I knew which clan my ancestors were.)

In this area I will intentionally blend my adjacent Japanese garden with a more "new age" meditation garden, including a rock labyrinth

This part of my yard will intentionally be a serious blend of various cultures (just like me)!

With soft treading, The Private Meditation Garden will be planted with a slow growth, drought resistant (probably fine leaf fescue) lawn.

A shaded stone step path (overgrown with mountain laurel on each side) will lead down the bluff to the Zen Garden area.

Secret Zen Garden

As you come out of the stone path angled down the 30 foot hill through the mountain laurel, the view opens up immediately prior to crossing the creek.  This is where the remains of the Indian Marker Tree stand.  The banks of the creek are covered with moss.  The hill sides of the dale are strewn with large pieces of red marble and covered with mountain laurel and wild azaleas.

I hope to make a lawn of moss in this area along with moss between the stones of a stone patio, if the moss continues to survive after the recent removal of several big trees that died and the drastic increase in sunlight into the dale. We will see how the area evolves.  The dale is a natural triangular "room" with hills on the three sides.  Where dense mountain laurel isn't present to complete the "wall" I intend to plant dense shrubbery walls around the edge of this room.  I will build a japanese garden wall with a culvert through it where the creek enters the dale, and a japanese bamboo fence and gate on the trail along the creek where the creek exits my property. 

This "Secret Garden" will not be visible from any part of the yard, and will have extremely restricted entrance and exit.  I hope to plant lots of ferns, hosta, and hydrangea to compliment the moss, and give a real woodland garden feel.  The hedge border of the "room" may be planted with native holly trees and perhaps with some camelias and over sized azaleas on sunlit slopes.

[Note I am VERY inspired by Callaway Gardens and love woodland use of azaleas...]

Lawn Summary

The over arching theme is we want swaths of green "lawn," but we just don't want the time and expense of maintaining it. 

We will have some traditional "lawn" in the front yard and near the pool that will be no larger than a traditional home lawn (and much smaller if my wife will allow in the front yard; the backyard will be hidden by a fence if I'm late cutting it or if it gets invaded by weeds).  Other areas will be "low maintenance" lawns as described above than can be ignored for all but a few times a year. 

The moss garden will require nearly fanatical removal of leaf debris to keep it "lush," but that is "meditative therapy" in a shaded dale, and not hot, sweaty pushing around of a fume emitting lawn mower!

Electric Mower

Speaking of that!  I really like Neuton battery powered mowers, and I hope to get one someday.  I just saw one on the ASES Solar Home Tour this month after reading about them earlier this year.

If I could afford a mower the price of a car, what I'd really like is a Robomow which is like a Roomba for your lawn. Hopefully the price will come down some day! [Although I'd probably only use it unattended in my fenced backyard to keep thieves at bay...]

Regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/16/2008


My architect highly recommends against vinyl siding.  He said that ants and spiders love making their homes in vinyl siding, and it will make my porches less comfortable due to such infestation.  Honestly, I've seen such bug infestations on vinyl siding walls before, and he's got an excellent point and I'm glad he raised it.  I want my next house to be a bug free zone as much as possible.  [There are so many bugs in Alabama that you are likely to step on one at any given moment, and you almost can't avoid inhaling them.]

If my neighborhood HOA will approve the use of a durable stucco finish on the exterior walls, that may be a better solution.  But as I recall from reading the neighborhood covenants, stucco can only be used for accents like dormers, and not as the primary wall surface.  [There has been a lot of failed drivit in our area, and "such coatings" are now considered a "cheap" and non-durable building material in our area.  You generally only see it in low-end neighborhoods or as accents on cheaply built McMansions. I really don't think my HOA will go for it, even if I can find a stucco coating that is durable.]

I'd really hate to brick this house.  It is not the look I am going for and it would significantly increase my costs.  Besides, EVERY house in my neighborhood is bricked, and I want to add some architectural diversity that still manages to fit in with the neighborhood. 

I may be forced to use cement fiber board, if it doesn't have the same bug harboring issues as vinyl siding.

Any thoughts or suggestions from the forum on this one?  What is an affordable, durable alternative siding material that I could consider using to get the white "antebellum plantation home" look that I am going for?  If my wife would let me trend this house design more "modern," I'd be tempted to use reflective white tin siding on the walls as well as the roof <grin>.  But then again, I would expect that our very "traditional" furniture would be COMPLETELY misplaced in a home like that. [And my traditional Southern neighbors who run the architectural review committee would likely balk anyway.]  Other than a few Frank Loyd Wright inspired 60's ranches in the area, there is no real "modern" architecture in our county.  Ideas anyone?

I like "modern" so please even suggest your off-beat ideas.  Maybe I can find a way to make it work and get my wife and the ARC to go along with it.

Regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/16/2008


I always search google when I have a question, and usually find interesting ideas.

Has anyone used or heard of "liquid vinyl siding?"

They suggest that it costs approximately the same as vinyl siding to install, can be applied directly to Hardiboard (I'll be using cement fiberboard if I go with AllWall), and they provide a lifetime homeowner's warranty from the manufacturer...

It looks interesting to me.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/16/2008


Stenciled Concrete instead of Stone

Here's an interesting thought:

The company that provides the "liquid vinyl siding" also offers stenciled concrete that has the "appearance" of stone.

This may provide a reasonable compromise between my wife and I regarding our den, breakfast nook, and solarium floors.  She wants stone.  I don't want the expense when a concrete floor is a perfectly suitable solar mass on its own.  I figured we could stamp and stain the concrete floor.  She doesn't like the look and keeps telling me she WANTS a stone floor in the main living areas and will only allow the concrete floor in the basement rooms. 

Could such stenciled concrete floors be the answer?  They have more of the stone tile look that my wife wants...

 


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/16/2008


A suggestion appropriate for current events that I just stumbled onto at GreenBuildingTalk:

"Sort of a side topic but don't forget to post a simple sign stating the fact that you are using PEX tubing. Why? Because it just might save you the headache of having your insulation ripped out when copper thieves rifle the site for copper plumbing."

It still won't keep them from ripping out the copper wiring, but it might save some headaches.  If nothing else, maybe it will cause them to look for a more lucrative home to raid.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/17/2008


I'm attaching an early draft of my landscape concept from when I first bought my property almost 1.5 years ago.

I've since updated some ideas that haven't been digitized, and when my plans are more mature I will update it.

Regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 10/17/2008


OOOOps, I attached an older "first draft"...

Here's the one I intended to attach (cross my fingers) along with a Google Earth image of my two lots and my neighbor's home to the west.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 11/1/2008


SIP Roof to Concrete Wall Connection

HUD has just published its "Prescriptive Method" for connecting SIP roofs to concrete walls. 

I thought I would share...


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 11/1/2008


If I lived in the Chicago area, the Dukane Precast Double-Wall system is something that I would SERIOUSLY consider.  It is essentially a concrete SIP with the insulation in the middle and thermal mass exposed to the interior for additional thermal stability and improved energy efficiency.

This has all of the thermal mass and interior insulation benefits of a product like the All Wall System, with pre-manufactured quality control, faster on-site construction times, and a highly-engineered well-developed system.  Much of their quality-controlled fabrication technology was developed in Europe and has been time-tested and proven.  This looks to me to be about the best wall system I have found.

Unfortunately, shipping costs would make it impractical except near the manufacturing facility, which is in Chicago.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 11/1/2008


ICF is ubiquitously available, and may end up being my best choice from a construction experience/constructability standpoint in my area.  However, I'm still giving serious consideration to the All Wall System since it does provide the interior thermal mass I'm looking for along with an insulated wall.  Additionally, with my winter solarium room, it will be nice to have insulation in the middle of the wall and thermal mass on both sides of the wall!  This will help my solarium have more controlled, time release of heat into my house in the winter, thereby preventing overheating in the daytime, and heat longer into the evening.  I'll have a more stable, consistent temperature throughout the temp swings of the winter days.

Fabrication of the All Wall panels is not that complicated, all that is required is space (and access to the patents <grin>)...  If a local All Wall fabricator/vendor isn't available, I am under the impression that All Wall will consider allowing a competent O-B to be trained to fabricate their own panels.  The downside is the construction-materials risk appears to land firmly on the shoulders of the O-B with limited risk sharing from a supplier (after all you will basically be buying cement fiberboard and insulation sheets from a supply house, and sourcing your own cement for the pour). You have to be very competent in your ability to fabricate the All Wall panels properly.  But like I said, it doesn't appear to be very complicated, and training for installation as well as fabrication is available.  Like ICF blocks, the raw materials are locally available in any market (unlike the prefab insulated-panel wall systems).


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By Frank in Lunenburg, MA on 11/6/2008


Grant,

You'll probably want a drainage plane or a rain shield (look at benjaminobdyke.com).  These should provide some relief from infestations under siding, fiber cement or stucco.  I think cor-a-vent.com also makes vents for the top and bottom of walls that stymie insects.

That said, I hate vinyl siding, and I suspect that the life would be short in a place as sunny as Alabama.

Best regards,

Frank

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By RogerC in Phoenix, AZ on 11/9/2008


Hi Grant,

I've noticed you mention rammed earth a couple times in your blog.  I'm seriously considering rammed earth construction for my 4,000 sf build in Phoenix, Arizona.  I found the videos on this site to be helpful in explaining the general process...

rammedearthhomes.com


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By Steven in MN on 11/14/2008



Have you looked at the Shotcrete insulated panel systems?    They'd be a good option if you are hooked up with concrete crews and seem to offer benefits of a passive solar energy efficient home.

metrockscip.com



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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 3/12/2009


It's been a while since I've added to my thread...  I'm still debating between All Wall, SIPs, and ICF.

Currently, I kind of like the idea of a cement-fiber SIP... but with my own little twist.

First let me share how I came to this idea... My wife wants the house clad in "red brick."  She doesn't want white siding of any kind...  Having to brick significantly raises the cost of construction.  It also takes away from the cost efficiencies that have so excited me about the cement-fiberboard "skins" of the All Wall System and certain SIPs, or the metal-skinned SIPs.

Now I'm thinking it would be even MORE material and labor cost-efficient to make the outer cement-fiberboard surface out of Nichiha Brick and Stone panels. This way I'd have a very nice finish with no extra materials or labor!  I can't find where anyone has done it before, but I can't imagine why it couldn't be done.  It definitely ought to be possible with the All Wall System, and if the SIP vendors are willing to work with a supplier other than James Hardie, I don't see why it couldn't be done with a cement-fiberboard SIP. 

With such a "finished" exterior cement-fiberboard SIP, it would only require a coat of natural clay plaster on the inside surface to have the walls effectively finished!

If there is a reason this wouldn't work please tell me.  I know I'm getting out into the "extremes" with my ideas, but hey, it's fun!

I don't like OSB SIPs!  I don't trust their integrity if they get wet, and if the OSB gets wet, the entire structural integrity of the house could be compromised.  I've never been enamored with ICF blocks and having to place a finish layer on top of the styrofoam forms.  I also don't see that the thermal mass of an ICF wall can do much to moderate in-house temperatures when the thermal mass is on the other side of the insulation.

With a super tight, well-insulated envelope and an energy-efficient ERV, I also don't see the need for the "extra" thermal mass with the All Wall System when it comes with the added expense of multiple concrete pours as I raise four floors.  Both All Wall and cement-fiberboard SIPs are quick to finish the surface with stucco or plaster with no firring required, no sheetrock, no nothing.  In fact, cement fiberboard is apparently fire rated "as is" and the unfinished attic and basement would not require having the interior walls finished until I'm ready with the cement fiberboard.  This could be a major initial construction-loan/mortgage savings, when it keeps me from having to finish the walls on over 4,000 sf of "bonus" space.  With OSB and certainly with ICF styrofoam, I'd have to finish the walls of my "bonus space" before I could move in.

I'm just imagining how fast the exterior of the house would be "finished" with the Nichiha brick panels as the exterior skin of a cement-fiberboard SIP.  Just about as fast as the walls can be put up!  Then the interior of the walls can likewise be finished very quickly and with very little additional material cost.  I like the idea of brick-panel cement-fiberboard SIPs.  Now I just need to find someone who makes them, or is willing to make them.

Any suggestions???

Regards,

Grant


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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 3/12/2009


Grant, it sounds like you have done a ton of research so far. What stage are you currently at? Design stage, bid stage? Have you been able to get a cost yet? I'm interested to see how much a true "green" home would cost.
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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 3/12/2009


In looking further into the radiant floor options, I am very intrigued with the admittedly premium-priced WarmBoard radiant heat subfloor. While the cost seems high, there are a few differences from other products that must be recognized.  Most critically, the Warmboard is "the" subfloor, not merely placed under or over the subfloor.  So it is only a premium above the existing subfloor price.  For that premium price difference, you get aluminum tracks designed to make perfect contact with PEX pipes so as to conduct as much radiant heat into the floor as possible.  The "hang-beneath systems" just don't get as much thermal conduction.  The higher thermal conduction means you can reach comfortable room temps operating at a lower radiant floor temp.  This makes it more efficient and makes the available hot water from solar hot water (SHW) more viable without nearly as much supplemental heat!  This takes me that much closer to making this a viable near net-zero house someday...

If the budget permits, I'm seriously considering using Warmboard in key bedrooms and bathrooms in the house (it will be night time when I will need the most supplemental heat, and these rooms are most likely where we will be), and in my sauna...  From all of the passive solar gain information I've been reading, I really don't think I will need radiant heat available in every room of the house.  I am going to be getting significant passive solar gain from my solarium which should easily heat the south side of my house.  However, I like the idea of being able to provide a zoned, thermostat temperature control in key bedrooms and bathrooms, particularly on the north side of the house, where supplemental heat in the radiant floor can turn on and help precisely control the desired temperature, particularly overnight. 

I intend to put PEX tubing into the basement slab...  I likely won't finish the radiant floor system in the basement (intentional unfinished space) the day I build, but will wait to see the thermal performance of the house first.  (The basement will primarily be a game room in the summer, and perhaps when family visits for winter holidays. My father's comparable daylit basement stays almost too cool throughout the summer, so air conditioning will likely not be needed.)  As I now understand it, radiant heat primarily heats objects, not the air, so it does not cause a significant amount of hot air to rise.  Initially, I had thought that if I used radiant floor heat in the basement and let it rise through the rest of the house, that it might keep the other floors comfortable as well.  I am now questioning that theory.

At any rate, there will be a Rumford fireplace in the basement (and in the breakfast nook and the Master Bathroom) to help provide supplemental heat.  I'll eventually also add the Manabloc and a hydronic heat source for the radiant floor in the basement.  I'll get the radiant floor dealers to help me decide whether to tie all of the floors into one giant thermal water system with numerous zones, or else use different thermal water systems for different floors, each with their own zones.

With no active cooling system and no forced-air system, my bigger concern is humidity and IAQ control in the basement. I am going to super-insulate the slab and walls, and I am going to install exterior moisture and radon barriers on the basement walls.  When I finish the walls I am considering using natural clay plasters over the likely cement fiber board walls so that they can "breathe" and prevent moisture trapping.  Even still, in a cool basement on a hot summer, moisture condensation is likely inevitable.  When the time comes, I am going to consult with my ERV vendor about IAQ control in the basement along with the rest of the house.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 3/12/2009


I'm actively in the design stage hashing through my "wants" versus my wife's "wants."  I'm trying to keep priority on the quality of the envelope and the items that are harder to change out in the future.  My wife just wants something that looks like the parade of homes houses we visit <grin>.  She does like the "concept" of an energy efficient home with excellent IAQ, but she really doesn't want to think about the details that are required to get there.

We were close enough to beginning costing, that we had started to engage our architect...  Honestly, however, I'm a bit more concerned about the cost as a result of the current economic climate.  I certainly don't want the extra interest rate of getting into a jumbo loan, and I could do without the higher monthly mortgage payment as well.  I therefore want to stay within the Fannie/Freddie limit ($417,000 or $425,000 with the bonus allowed for energy efficiency), which means I have to put down a considerable amount of equity to build this house. 

The lot is paid for and pretty much by itself should put me over the 20% equity status to avoid the PMI on a $425,000 loan.  Much of the equity I had planned to put into the house is tied up into investment properties which I'm not even bothering to put up for sale under current market conditions.  They are cash-flow positive, but I had hoped to leverage their equity in order to build...  How fast the real estate market can shift.  Prices haven't fallen much, but properties just aren't selling.  Nobody is buying.  Too many people can't get loans approved around here. 

My father was supposed to sell a commercial property he owns to pay me the ~$40,000 he owes me.  I am also sitting on ~$40,000 worth of equity (current market value) in the house we are in.  With a glut of houses now for sale in this neighborhood and each taking several months to sell, I don't think I can count on using this equity now as well.  So, becoming more realistic, I don't know when I will be able to access over $100,000 of the equity that I had planned on contributing to my Dream Home project.  And that is especially frustrating, because now is the perfect time to build...

That currently leaves me with about a $475,000 "available" construction budget (without the inaccessible $100,000) to stay within the Fannie/Freddie limit, and I don't think I can get this house to Certificate of Occupancy for that amount (that would require the "finished" 5,000 sf to be completed for ~$65 sq ft, which for a "green" house is probably equivalent to $52 a sq ft).  So I have been intentionally taking my time now that we have hit this recession. 

With the land worth over $80,000, I'm figuring any house I would build for $475,000 in construction costs should EASILY appraise for over $550,000.  Therefore, with the equity as an Owner-Builder making good budgeting decisions, I might can build a $600,000 "appraisal" house without accessing my likely inaccessible $100,000???  That would still be a nice house, but we'd have to scrap this house plan and build without all of the unfinished "bonus" space we planned for future expansion...  And ultimately, all that bonus space can be cheaply turned into MAJOR sweat equity over the next 5 to 10 years...  I was (still am) looking forward to space for a home theater, a game room, guest bedrooms with a second basement kitchen off the swimming pool patio, etc...  This house with a $425,000 mortgage could easily be turned into a nearly $1,000,000 appraisal home.

I haven't looked into this yet, but if I take a 2nd loan to keep me under the Freddie/Fannie limit, I could access some of that additional equity to build even more house, if needed.  But I want to keep my mortgage debt (and monthly payment) reasonable anyway (to keep the best possible interest rate), that's why I'd rather be able to access and use that other $100,000 of equity in my other properties.  Someday my wife would like to choose not to work full-time <grin>.  She's a Hospice Nurse (RN) and loves her job, but... she won't want to continue at this pace for another 30 years <grin>. I want to keep the mortgage to what "I" can afford to pay without her salary...

From what I've read, all of the "green" features I want for the envelope result in a 20% premium.  High-end "regular" houses around here are currently being built by GC's for ~$75 a square foot... So $100 a sq ft "sounds" like a reasonable expectation to me.

I "feel" like I could certainly finish the core 5,000 sf of this house as high-end and green as I ever would want to along with the large unfinished basement and attic for $650,000. (a fairly generous around these parts $100 a sq ft for the core living areas, and an additional $30 a sq ft for the unfinished attic and basement.)  To keep the house under the Freddie / Fannie limit, I was really trying hard to control my construction costs and try to build for $575,000...  (tapping all of my available real estate equity, including the now currently likely inaccessible $100,000).  With the cost of the unfinished space already at rock bottom (almost $150,000 at $30 a sq ft counting porches into such space), that would leave me trying to "finish" with high-end "green" construction, 5,000 sf for $425,000, or in other words down to ~$85 a sq ft.  At a 20% premium in costs, that would be comparable to trying to O-B a "regular" house for $68 a sq ft. A major "challenge," but from what I have read here, likely doable...

Now this is all "feelings" and "gut instinct" without much research to support at this point in time, but I do think that would be "doable" for "me" with my available construction resources.  But unless I am willing to access that additional required $100,000 by dipping into the equity of the planned house with a 2nd mortgage, or else a "Jumbo Loan," then it isn't viable at this time.  I'd like to "prove it out" by pricing and bidding everything, but until I figure out how to make up the inaccessible $100,000, then there really is no point right now.

I would honestly like to leave the extra equity in my Dream House untouched so that it can be tapped as "emergency funds" to complete the project if the unthinkable happens... or if my budget and bids end up blowing up in my face with unforeseen site conditions.

There is a chance that my father will be able to pay back the $40K he owes me before the end of the year.  He has a prospective buyer for one of his commercial properties.  If it sells, he might even be willing to loan me the rest of what I need until I can access my equity in my properties. (Surely he'd be willing after he had $45K of my money tied up for over 10 years...)  Additionally, one of my adult children has expressed interest in buying the house we are in.  If they are willing to wait until we can move into our new home, but commit in writing to purchase, then I'd sell it to him at a discount, and access $30K instead of $40K...  So it "might" could happen by the end of the year.  But right now, I'm not counting on it.

I've been floating the idea to my wife of going ahead and building a smaller house (~2,500 to 3,000 sf) and saving our dream house for a few years down the road.  Unfortunately construction costs and interest rates will likely be higher in the future, so if we don't build now, we wonder if we will ever get to build it...  I may try to just eliminate the giant unfinished basement (and its passive cooling benefits) and plan on gaining that extra guest room space, etc. in a future guest house...  That would likely reduce construction costs by at least $75,000, and maybe up to $100,000...

If anyone has any interesting financing advice for current economic conditions, I'd be interested in hearing it.  I'd hate to scrap this plan and start over.  I've invested my heart and soul into it.  I dream of living in this house!  (At least I wasn't relying upon wall street assets to fund my build!  It will be at least 10 years before those funds come back!)

regards,

Grant

By the way, the guys at the 100Khouse.com are building LEED Platinum for between $100 and $120 a sq ft in downtown Philly.  That's the same cost per sq ft as any other home being built in downtown philly, and they are employing architects and engineers in the design process...  Done "right" "green" doesn't cost more.  The added cost of the better envelope pays for itself in reduced mechanical equipment requirements.  Smart selection of construction techniques like SIPs reduces labor costs, making up for increased material costs.  Use fiber cement board SIPs, and labor and ancillary material costs can be lowered even more.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 3/12/2009


Last week, I got to see the pipes and the trenches dug for a Rehau Earth Tube system being installed on a LEED platinum project in downtown Philly. 100khouse.com

These guys are doing some amazing things...  The silver embedded into the PVC pipe for "anti-microbial reasons" seems like "marketing hype" to me.  Many if not most of the Rehau earth tubes in Europe seem to just be using plain old PVC pipes.  But Rehau does have some really good fittings for air inlets, outlets, and moisture/condensation purging... 

The Rehau earth tube design, along with its successful use in Europe, makes earth tubes look promising to me again.

I have a sloping lot where I can easily wrap the earthtube around the buried wall of my daylit basement.  (Note: If you are not using ICF, which is already insulated, the buried basement walls need added insulation to keep from interfering with the functionality of the earth tubes.)

The data suggests there is rapidly diminshing returns for lengths longer than around 120 feet, so there is probably no point in the much higher cost of extending the pipes to the very back of my property where the shaded dale is.

regards,

Grant


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/13/2009


It is my understanding (I looked at Nichiha, but there wasn't anything in closer than two states away) that Nichiha like their siding installed as a rainscreen, with a gap between the structure and the siding (very similar to traditional brick veneer). Not to say you couldn't install it differently, but you may certainly void the warranty (not that big a deal), but more importantly you may not get great technical support from them outside the box.

I really like the sandstone, that was truly my first choice. Not having a local (and by local I mean within 250 miles) example, not liking the "local" distributor, and ability to order product (getting initial product not tough, but what if I need six more panels, or three boxes of clips?) made my decision fairly easy.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/13/2009


Earth Cooling Tubes, very nice. I considered these for my makeup air (open loop), but the engineer I talked to really didn't have a feel for how long or how large or how much benefit I might receive.

Since then, I have found a couple of studies. This first one doesn't have much concrete data, and the guy is somewhat a flake, but it does have some interesting concepts (Link 1). These other two actually show some promise on open-loop systems, including all important data to help with design (Link 2, Link 3). I would be interested in your links for this type of system as well, I am trying to learn here.

With radiant heat, have you looked at radiant cooling options? If you can control humidity, I would think that supplemental floor cooling might work. Not ideal, but if you don't need much I would think it could work. If you don't mind a parallel system, Edwards Engineering has a valence system for radiant cooling.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/13/2009


I haven't spent much time investigating All Wall simply because I always thought it was a CIC system (and it is, but I digress) with 1" of concrete on the interior and exterior, and a 4" chunk of foam in the middle. Now as someone with ICF, I knew the difficulty was in getting steel in the headers. All Wall appears to actually be post and beam construction with only the portions between the posts with the CIC concrete skins and foam middle, there are concrete columns (that could be a source of thermal bridging, I leave that to you to sort out) and the top horizontal is a concrete beam, you actually have 6" width of concrete to get your steel into, which should be more than sufficient.

Now a couple of issues:

1) First off, the All Wall website has a comparison between them and ICF, much of this information simply isn't factual. If you have specifics, I can respond. However do your own due diligence and don't rely on website hype as your primary information source.

2) Your concrete mix to get good flow into a 1" (inside and outside skins of All Wall) might be a challenge you get to face. Consolidating this concrete might be a challenge as well. Think about it, for ICF you drop a 1" stinger into the wall to consolidate the concrete, you aren't very well going to get this 1" stinger into a 1" space. Where I needed a bunch of steel, it was difficult enough getting the concrete to flow around the steel with 6" of ICF. Now then the downside to voids here is that it really doesn't matter, as long as the voids aren't in you columns or beams, the rest is really just veneer. Your structure is the column and beam, what is between the column and beam appears to be secondary.

Please note that I still haven't seen an All Wall installation, so some of this information may not be correct. If anything is incorrect, let me know. However these are questions I would want answered.


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By Chris on 3/13/2009


What is the cost?
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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 3/13/2009


The Nichiha HQs is only a couple of hundred miles from where I live.  I called them today and they returned my call and gave detailed answers to all of my questions.  I also just noticed yesterday that the restaraunt built about 6 months ago here in my home town is clad in Nichiha brick panels...  Getting it locally with local installation experience shouldn't be a problem for me. 

As far as SIPs go, the panel sizes and clip joining system apparently doesn't lend itself to the manufacture of cement fiber board SIPs, so my idea won't fly!  If I go with ICF or metal SIP construction, I'll probably use the Nichiha brick panels for the rain screen.  With ICF, firring strips apparently have to be attached to the mounts with the Nichiha panel clips attached to the firring strips.

 


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 3/13/2009


Thanks for sharing these great links...

I'll try to dig through my "favorites" and share links I've found some time in the future.  One of the key complaints I've heard about earth tubes during long cooling seasons is that the tubes gradually warm up the earth and the COP goes down over time...  Same thing about cooling the earth in long cooling seasons.  Most of these studies don't show long-term decline in COP perhaps because the study period is too short or the study site is too ideal.

I haven't used it yet, but Rehau has free software for analyzing performance with local ground temperatures. "AWADUKT thermo pipes free computer software is available."

Here is another link that I have found useful that I don't believe you shared.

regards,

Grant


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 3/13/2009


Very interesting thoughts about All Wall, definitely worth following up on...

Honestly, I keep seeming to move more towards ICF and/or metal SIPs.  Cement-fiberboard SIPs would still make the inside finishing easier, BUT I'll have to see if it can cost-compete. And my wife has nixed stucco exterior walls... so one of the advantages of cement fiber board is already gone. Yeah, as I believe it was you who suggested, we might could make stucco look like brick, but it is labor and skill dependent, and that is always difficult to control the results. I'm going to have enough headaches as an O-B; I'm going to limit as many as I can in the house design up-front. I don't want field construction variables to cause me anymore wasted stress and hours of follow-up and checking behind than is absolutely necessary.

 


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By Chris on 3/14/2009


Grant,

I did a fiber cement install for the first time and they were very brittle, and hard to handle. Some even broke in half before they got off the truck. I question their structural integrity.


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By Chris on 3/14/2009


more pics
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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 3/14/2009


I can't say that this suprises me after my visit to the Philly site where they were using Hardie Board as the rain screen.  I noticed that the edges had a lot of unsightly dents and dings that they were going to have to "touch up" as they sealed the seams.  Apparently, it didn't take too much to knock dents into the edges of the cement fiber board.

Thanks for the pics.  Very informative!


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 3/14/2009


I found an architecture website, dennisrhollowayarchitect.com, where it provides USA charts for determining:

Potential for passive solar heating

Locating true (solar) south

Conservation factor (CF)

Geometry factor

Load collector ratio (LCR)

 

This site has more in-depth "design" considerations than I've seen at other similarly concise overviews of passive solar design, such as:

"To distribute the warmed air from the sunspace to the rest of the house, openings are strategically placed in the common wall between the sunspace and the interior living space. Heat is transferred by the "thermosiphoning" circulation of the air. Warm air rises in the sunspace, passes into the adjoining space through the opening and cool air from the adjoining space is drawn into the sunspace to be heated as the cycle repeats.

If the openings are 6'8" doors, the minimum recommended opening is 8 square feet of opening per 100 square feet of glazing area. If two openings are used--one high in the sunspace, one low--with 8 vertical feet of separation, the recommended minimum area for each opening is 2.5 square feet per 100 square feet of glazing. "

 


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By Chris on 3/15/2009


Grant:

Another obsevation was after a rain; several panels were laying on the floor in 1/4" of ponded water. The Hardie became soft and pliable, and could be easily bent with your fingers.


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By TJ in Bellingham, MT on 6/20/2009


I share your concern for VOCs and will actively avoid them as well.  I often am suspicious of information about VOCs from vendors, but find little other information about specific products to counter or confirm their claims about VOCs.  A prime concern for me in considering a timber frame home with SIPs is the foam core.  Have you discovered any dependable unbiased and independent information on VOCs and specifically the foam used in SIPs?
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By Chris on 6/20/2009


IF the core is EPS foam, there is no off-gassing. On the other hand, if the core is urethane it will off-gas for several months, shrink with age, and loose its original R-value
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By Steven in Colorado Springs, CO on 7/27/2009


I'm sure this is well past OBE by now, but what you're describing is exactly what our builder is going to do.

My initial design called for a SIP roof over the main area of the house (second floor) as my assumption had been this would be more efficient.  Turned out that after he examined it he showed me that I could build a more conventional scissor-truss roof, put in a couple of inches of the spray foam to seal it, and then pack the rest with blown insulation (we haven't decided what kind yet).  It would cost around $21K less than the SIP option, be faster for the builders to work with, and add roughly 50% R-value to the insulation.

Didn't take much to sell me with those numbers!

I'd be curious what you decided to do here Grant (though once I finish reading this very long thread I might find out!).

Steven in Colorado Springs

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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/4/2009


My wife is rather insistent that she has ALWAYS wanted a red brick house.  Three years ago, she greenlighted the white Colonial idea.  She also used to insist that she HAD to have a wraparound porch, and now she says that is a feature she doesn't care about.  She also used to say she HATED houses with "pointed" rooflines because they reminded her of churches.  Lately, the houses she has shown me she likes are the same kind she HATED 5 years ago <grin/groan>.  "Fickle, thy name is Woman."  I know my wife is going to read this someday, and when she does, I'm going to spend at least one day and night in the doghouse; so I guess I will plan to design a very comfortable one.

We've reached a somewhat "stable" agreement that the priorities of the house design are going to be energy efficiency, interior health, environmental impact, etc.  Form WILL follow function.  If I can adjust the form to her preferences, without reducing the function, then I'll adjust.  She has agreed that we can continue with the plantation design with the wraparound porches.  She doesn't really like the look of the cupola and belvedere, but is willing to allow them because of the view they will provide of the surrounding mountains, and the solar chimney, passive cooling of the house.

So back to the brick... I've been looking for a sensible and affordable solution to her desired look.  Honestly, many of the comparable antebellum plantation homes in our area were constructed of red brick along with their wraparound porches, so it is not a major architectural departure.  BUT... with an ICF house the walls are already amazingly thick, and masonry on top of ICF walls just for aesthetics seems like serious overkill!  So how do I get the brick look with a "sensible" solution?  I looked at Nichiha panels, but upon speaking to their technical representatives it has its limitations.  However, today, I think I found a viable O-B friendly (even DIY friendly) brick solution.  Novabrik uses thin interlocking bricks, requires no masonry expertise, can be installed by a DIYer, provides an air channel behind the bricks (reducing the risk of mold, mildew, etc.), and installs very well on ICF applications at a fraction of the cost of actual bricks and with a thin profile that reduces the total thickness of the wall.

It will cost more than stucco or cement fiber board siding, but the maintenance will be lower, and the low maintenance and brick look will increase the appraisal value in our area.  With this solution found, I can gladly compromise on this issue.  I don't get the reflective white, but most of the bricks will be under the wide wraparound porch and won't absorb much heat anyway.  The heat-island effect should be limited. And the cost will be much lower than actual brick.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/4/2009


Also, although it is not stocked locally here in Alabama, I have found that it is stocked and displayed at the Lowe's stores in Chattanooga, TN (roughly two to two and a half hours from here).  It should be simple enough to get it here.
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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/4/2009


I'm probably going to go with the SIP roof, because I'm finishing the "attic" and the SIPs will leave me with cathedral ceilings with no structural beams or supports in the way.
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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/4/2009


Over at GreenBuildingTalk I found a thread where an O-B used Novabrik and posted photos of the construction.  It took 4 to 6 completely inexperienced DIYers three weekends to brick three sides of the house.  This looks like an opportunity for some MAJOR sweat equity!
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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 8/4/2009


Sorry I didn't reply sooner.  I haven't had much time on this site recently.

Yes, there are several academic, unbiased rating systems for green building products.  One of my favorites is GreenSpec from BuildingGreen.com.  They don't just list anyone that applies but give strict reviews and criteria before accepting product claims.  One of the issues they rate is VOCs.


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By Grant in Blacksburg, VA on 9/7/2009


Home Theater Design

I stumbled onto a new resource today that I wanted to make note of and to share. It's a spreadsheet for calculating ideal viewing distance for different screen sizes, among other features.

carltonbale.com

"The spreadsheet contains calculations for the following:

  • Recommended viewing distances for a given screen size – for both flat panels and projectors (based on THX and SMPTE standards)
  • Recommended viewing distances for a given display resolution – 480p, 720p, 1080p/1080i, 1440p, etc (based on Visual Acuity standards)
  • Various screen aspect ratios (4:3, 16:9, 1.85:1, 2.35:1, custom ratios, etc.)
  • Projector screen size and screen brightness with guidelines for recommended values (based on projector brightness and screen gain)
  • Projector screen size and projector mounting location (based on min/max projector throw distances)
  • Seat locations, a second row stadium seating platform height calculation, and a few other goodies."

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By J on 12/13/2015


So I assume this house was never built? 
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