I am sure we have all seen graphics like these, giving us a pretty picture of what is one of the primary contributors to climate change, as buildings contributed nearly half of all the CO2 emissions in the united states in 2010. Not to mention it gives us an idea of what kind of pace we are using our fuel sources, and as they become more difficult to obtain, costs will just continue to rise. Energy usage in our homes is becoming a big deal as energy codes are becoming stricter and utility companies are being required to produce a certain percentage of their product by renewable sources and provide energy efficiency programs for their customers.
Related to home energy usage, I have noticed a lot of press on Net Zero Energy Homes and even attended a webinar by Matt Grocof who renovated a home built in 1901 and is now the oldest home on record to be a Net Zero Energy home. Now most Net Zero homes are new homes as it is easier to build new rather than retrofit energy efficient systems into an existing home, hence the reason for my attendance on the webinar. With more than half of the 113.6 Million homes in the United States, over half this number was built before 1980. This leads to a huge potential of improvement in energy usage with our existing housing stock and that is why organizations like the Affordable Comfort Institute (ACI) have created the 1000 Home Challenge to create case studies of how to drastically bring the usage of our existing housing stock. Therefore I was hoping to learn more about some of the retrofit strategies that were used to obtain net zero.
Not everything about green or sustainable homes is sexy. The majority of what makes a structure green or sustainable you don’t even see. That is the case for the first big project we tackled after we purchased the home in 2005. We decided to first air seal and insulate our attic because the existing levels when we bought the home were anywhere from 0”-4” of blown fiberglass which is an insulating value of R0-10. Now back in the 60’s when the house was build and energy was cheap this was an acceptable level, however not by today’s standards. Now after working in the field performing home comprehensive home energy audits for a little over two years I understand the majority of homeowners do not know this or fully understand what it’s purpose is and how it works. They just know their bills are high and they are not comfortable. And as a young door to door sales girl asked me one time, “How many inches of insulation do you have in the attic”. Which to my surprise, many people do not know the answer to that question, and of course for the professionals reading, the answer in part is it depends on the type of insulation that is up there that determines the overall thickness that should be in the attic. So the general rule of thumb in the attic is if you can see the ceiling framing, then you don’t have enough insulation. Now since my wife and I are in the design and construction industry we knew at the time we started the projects, buildings we were designing required and R-30 for attic insulation. So we did not have to have a home energy audit performed on the home to know by adding insulation to the attic we would save money on our heating and cooling bills. So our decision was to install an additional R49 to bring the overall insulation levels up to an R55.
By the numbers:
Adding R-19 expected to save – $346 yr
Additional R-30 expected to save – $93 yr
Total estimated yearly savings of – $439yr
Savings estimated utilizing REM/Design
Now insulating the attic was a two year process, as the decision was to split it up into 2 phases by air sealing and installing a layer of 6” R19 fiberglass blanket insulation in-between the ceiling framing in phase 1. Then with the energy savings from that project, it helped offset the cost to purchase and install an additional insulation layer of R30 running perpendicular to the first layer.
Therefore, a couple of years ago now I wrote an article stating my interest in participating in the 1000 Home Challenge to use my home as a case study to find strategies to reduce an existing homes energy usage by 70-90%. In August of 2012 my home was accepted into the program. Why the 1000 Home Challenge instead of a program like LEED for Homes? At the time that my wife and I began the journey of “greening” our 1965 ranch home the LEED program did not make it easy to certify an existing home without completely gutting the home and that was never our intention. Sym-Homes’ mission was to show homeowners affordable strategies to make their home more energy efficient. As not everyone can afford, or is up to the work that is involved with taking the exterior walls down to the bare studs. Also the LEED for Homes and other energy efficiency programs are a onetime test and certification that is based off of energy modeling and tests/inspections of installed measures. With the Thousand Home Challenge there will be a one year monitoring period of the utility bills to verify that improvements are performing as expected and that the homes overall energy usage is meeting the set targets.
I recently read an article (here) from Dr. Joseph Lstiburek. It wasn’t his overly technical type of writing diving deep into building science, it was more of his personal story of how he began his career and some of the great building science minds of the 60’s & 70’s that he had the pleasure of meeting and learning from. Yes I did write the 60’s & 70’s. Building Science is not a new thing, the topics Joe has been presenting have been done before, but no one was doing it and to this day building science is still a mystery to most of the design and construction industry.
Now what I took from that article is not the name dropping of who he met early in his career, but more of what he did with those connections and new found knowledge. He applied it, he took what he learned from those individuals and put it into his then home building practice. And to this day he is still refining some of those early construction practices.Read the rest of this entry »
We are a week into the New Year and it is time to set some goals for 2013, both professionally and personally. If you read my last post, I have accepted a new full time job designing affordable housing, so there is some new direction for myself and Sym-Home. So here are a few goals I am setting for 2013.
Finish my Architectural Registration Exams (ARE): This is by far the most important goal of the year. I have four of the seven exams to finish and the 5 year rolling clock is quickly approaching. So it is time to pull the study materials out and hit the books hard for the next few months. I am considering doing it like the old days and just finish them in one week time. I have a few friends from architecture school that did this and was successful with this strategy.
Obtain the LEED for Homes Credential: This is a certification that I have personally wanted to obtain for a few years now, but was unable to justify the cost of the exam since I was not doing much in terms of residential design work and not in the architecture field full time. However my new employer is pushing me to obtain credential within a year. So no better excuse than that now. I do have the LEED AP BD&C credential due to my past work experience and since I have been a LEED AP since 2004, I may pursue the LEED Fellow now that I qualify.
Publish a blog post at least once a month: If you have followed my blog for any length of time, you may have noticed that I can be pretty active some months with posts, and then the blog could sit dormant for a few months. So now that I will have some more free time in the evenings with the new job, I am going to push myself to publish at least one article per month. (Sweet, guess I have January taken care of now.)
Get better organized: How many of us have set this one before. Well this is the first time for me, and well is appears to be a pretty important one this coming year. My wife and I have a lot of ambitious goals for ourselves both personally and professionally. After many discussions with her, I just lack organization to accomplish them all. Therefore I am going to start listing my goals and activities and prioritizing them to make sure that tasks get done in a more timely and productive fashion. Here is a great article just published on the Entrepreneur Architect website on this very matter. So I am going to start using Evernote to help organize myself. So if anyone has suggestions on the best way to use this program, I would greatly appreciate it.
Start a regular exercise routine: 2012 was a horrible year with friends, family and even myself at the end of the year in terms of health and body issues. So with that, I am going to try my best to stay physically fit with a regular exercise routine to keep myself healthy. Thanks to my lovely wife we already eat very healthy. Actually in 2012 we challenged ourselves as a family not to eat any fast food. With the exception of a couple of times due to me being out of town for my job and not being able to prepare my lunch for the day, we were successful.
Cut out the TV: Well not completely. Until 2012 I use to watch a lot of television in the evening. 2012 there was a significant cut in television watching just due to my previous job and the work that I needed to do each evening. However I was probably watching shows 3 or 4 nights a week, for 2 or more hours. But I would like to cut out all TV shows Monday-Thursday. There are so many more productive things that I could be doing with my time such as studying or writing articles instead of watching TV. Fridays I don’t want to give up because that is my one night of the week where I stay up late watching movies. As I explain to my wife, that is my decompression time. My brain shuts down and recharges.
Get involved: Before working as an energy auditor, I was highly involved in my local and state AIA Chapter as well as the green building community. So with the more flexible time working in an office again, I look forward to renewing my membership with the AIA and local USGBC chapter.
So those are the big goals for the year. There are many more that I would like to accomplish such as revamp the Sym-Home website, renovate our kitchen, learn to play guitar, become a HERS Rater, learn Manual J, and the list goes on. However those are not high on the priority list, and remember I am going to prioritize my tasks now. Thus hopefully I will become more efficient and will accomplish more of my goals in 2013. So here is to a good, healthy and productive 2013, and I would love to hear what some of your goals are for the New Year.