Celebrating Earth Day by Volunteering in our Community

Happy Earth Day!

What better way to celebrate Earth Day than by volunteering for an event in the community you live.

Everyone has an expertise and what better way to benefit the Community in which you live than by volunteering that expertise to the benefit of others.  We have always believed that it is important to be engaged and active in your community.  We have had two opportunities recently to volunteer our time and talents.

Just this past Sunday, we organized Earth Day activities at our church.  Our church recently received Energy Star Certification and is one of 50 churches Nationwide who have received such designation.  Our church has also recently created a “Green” Team to focus on Energy Efficiency and Sustainability within our congregation.

All Saints conducted a $9,000 Level 2 energy audit in May, which with rebates from the program was free to the congregation.

Our activities for this past Sunday, included programs for both Children’s Sunday School and Adults.

Our Children’s Sunday School activities included talking about the Energy Star Certification (some of the kids were really well aware of what it means!), talking about where food comes from and planting cucumber seeds in peat pots for the kids to take home.

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For the Adults, we had a presentation and display set up between Church services from CSG (Conservation Services Group) who administers both Columbia Gas and AEP (American Electric Power) Energy Audits for residential customers.  These Audits identify areas in a home that could be improved upon from a air leakage standpoint (insulation or air sealing), systems (furnace and a/c), electrical (light bulbs) and plumbing fixtures (low flow faucet aerators).

CSG presentation

For two years now, we have volunteered to participate in Green Apple Day of Service.  Green Apple Day of Service is a National Event sponsored by the Green Schools program through the United States Green Building Council.  The Green Apple Day of Service gives parents, teachers, students, companies and local organizations the opportunity to transform all schools into healthy, safe and productive learning environments through local service projects.

We helped to implement a rain garden at a local Elementary School.

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New Online Green Building Products Database

The USGBC and The Home Depot have partnered to generate a database of green building products at http://leed.homedepot.com/ that will contribute towards points in the LEED® for Homes rating system.  The database is currently a list of more than 2,500 products sold at The Home Depot stores and online.

The user interface is a rather simple one to use to locate products.  A dial listing product categories with a featured product will bring you to a list of all the products that could assist in LEED certification.

The database will be a good resource, for home builders, architects, designers and home owners in the material selection process of a new home or renovation projects of any size.  The only improvements I can really see that should be made to the database is how the products will assist in obtaining LEED points.  Most materials will be claimed under the Materials & Resources category, however it would be beneficial to highlight the environmentally friendly features such as Low VOC, FSC certified, or in general what makes it an Environmentally Preferred Product.

Green Home Construction On The Rise

Reports lately have been showing that green home new construction and remodeling are on the rise, with 17% or 17 Billion dollars worth of residential construction in 2011 with green remodeling & renovations surpassing new construction growth (article).  Sym-Home has been on the forefront of this movement in Ohio for almost a decade now.  Sym-Home was first created as an educational tool to help educate home owners how to “green” their home on a more modest budget before transitioning into a design & consulting business for homeowners, builders and architects.

Our roots started in Cleveland while working with Jim LaRue & at the time Cleveland Green Building Coalition, by developing the first Emerging Green Designers Symposium, which taught young aspiring architects such as myself how to design green/energy efficient homes and taking building science into account.  This symposium generated three home designs that were and are still being used by Cleveland organizations today.  When the move to Columbus, Ohio was made and our first home was purchased, this is when Sym-Home was born.  I also brought my drive, new found knowledge and dedication to a local non-profit and housing authority and volunteered a lot of time and services to produce the construction documents for what is Ohio’s first LEED for Homes Platinum Project.  Not to mention the first affordable platinum project in the Great Lakes Region.

Now green homes don’t have to be rated on a scale, they just need to be designed well, energy efficient and healthy for the occupants.  All considerations that are taken with every project when working with Sym-Home.

Residential Energy Modeling

Energy modeling is becoming more common place with the design of commercial buildings.  However it is primarily used by the mechanical engineer to design and size their systems.  Very seldom is it used in the early stages of a project as part of the design process for the entire building to maximize the energy efficiency.  In the residential sector of design and construction, energy modeling is rarely used.  It is more common place with Energy Star rated homes, even then it is only used to show compliance with the requirements of Energy Star standards, not a part of the design process.

Energy modeling in new home design, construction and renovations can be a very effective tool to weigh the cost effectiveness of any design strategy used to improve energy efficiency in a home.  Actually most energy auditors use some form of energy modeling to show their customers what kind of financial payback they could expect when implementing any of the recommended improvements.  So why is this tool not used more within the design industry?  Energy modeling is a standard service I provide with any new home design work that I do and encourage it for renovations and additions, as well as a service that I provide to other design and construction professionals.  I offer this because some jurisdictions do require an energy compliance certificate.  Granted most design professionals and builders use REScheck as their preferred method.  However, REScheck will only demonstrate compliance using the trade-off approach and the prescriptive packages approach as described in the energy conservation codes.

More advanced software packages such as REM/Design which I use takes this a step further.  REM/Design and other software packages will not only provide you with a compliance certificate, but it will provide design loads along with estimated energy usage and cost to operate the home.  This can be helpful as a preliminary sizing tool for your heating and cooling systems.  What is also valuable about this feature is it gives you the ability to weigh the cost effectiveness of “upgraded” insulation levels or more efficient systems.  The software will even break up the loads into building components, so you know where most of your energy is being lost in the homes envelope.  For instance a recent project I was consulting on, I was able to determine that the six skylights the homeowner wanted in their passive solar home were more of an energy penalty than an overall gain.  So there was a compromise and the number of skylights was reduced to 3 as a day-lighting strategy instead of one for heat gain in the winter time.

Component loads

In an article posted on the American Institute of Architects website (Sustainable AIA: 2031–Why Energy Models Don’t Predict Actual Energy Use), it discusses the criticisms that energy modeling does not predict the actual energy usage of the building or home.  To some degree that is expected, energy modeling simulates the energy usage of a home to determine design loads based upon your geographical region.  Each software package takes into account occupants; however they cannot take into account occupant behavior which has a huge impact on the performance of any building or home.  Of course each software package has its flaws and performs some calculations better than others.

 In the coming weeks, Chris Laumer-Giddens with LG Squared, Inc. in Georgia who is a licensed architect and HVAC designer will tell us the basic differences in some of the more widely used energy modeling tools.

Do you walk the walk?

In a blog post by Heather Beal over at THRESHOLD, she asks “So what’s prevented the “yes-in-my-backyard” (YIMBY) attitude toward sustainability from spreading like wildfire among green professionals?”.  She even offers up a three tiered approach to having a greener home on a budget.  But really I think as green building professionals we should be held to higher standard and move beyond the three tiered approach.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has their Walk The Walk campaign advocating for all design projects within the office to be green/high performance projects.  But that is focusing on what a design professional should be considering when designing/implementing projects.  But it does nothing for advocating our lifestyles and what we do with our own home improvement projects.  We should be leading by example.  If you truly believe in the mission, you should be taking what you do in the office and bring it home.  So the question is, with some of the details that you draw/build for your projects, would you use them on your own home?  In essence if you consider yourself a green building professional in any way, you should bring you knowledge and expertise to your own home projects and use your own home as a living laboratory.

Yes, like some of our clients, we may have limited budgets, and also cursed with seeing all these great products or cool ideas that we would love to use.  However that should not stop us from spending few extra bucks to improve the efficiency of our home, or buy the low VOC paint, adhesive or other materials.  Because we know the benefits these stratagies have on lowering our utility bill and carbon footprint, as well as improving the indoor air quality and the quality of our families lives.

So follow me as I lead by example with my own home.  Turning my energy hog home into a lean, mean, green machine.  Improving the energy efficiency, the indoor air quality and the overall lifestyle of my family.

-Josh