Final blower door test!

Blower door testing helps determine how airtight a home is and can help a homeowner reduce energy consumption and avoid moisture, drafts and other problems. In my case, since I have constructed an envelope that's designed to be super tight, blower door testing is an integral part of my process. Once the diagnostics are complete, we can see for ourselves how well the envelope stacks up in regards to the home's overall energy efficiency.

During our first blower door test, George Keithan and Paul Sekas of CES came to the jobsite and went around the house with an infrared gun looking for air infiltration. Although I did a pretty good job of constructing the envelope the way that I intended, there were still some areas that needed improvement. Our second blower door test is meant to confirm that all areas needing improvement have been fixed and that the building envelope is nice and tight.

I'm pleased to say that the test went well. I don't have all of the numbers on hand yet, but I will post them once CES is finished analyzing the results. During our conversation at the jobsite, George did tell me that he thinks the final result will be fairly close to a net zero energy home. While my home will use a small amount of energy, my energy use will be offset by a tight building envelope and the use of renewable energy in the form of solarthermal and PV panels.

This is one of the last components to my project. I'd like to thank George, Paul and the rest of the CES staff for helping us through these portions of our project, as well as providing consulting services on renewables. George's experience and expertise has been invaluable throughout the course of our project, and I would highly recommend CES to anyone in need of these services.

Next week, I'll take you into our basement for a final look at the multi-zone heating system that we are finishing up. Stay tuned!

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Dial up the savings and efficiency

From day one, I’ve envisioned my indoor comfort system as a pipeline of different systems that work together to create an optimal scenario. You’ve had a chance to watch that pipeline come together, in the form of advanced wall construction techniques, underfloor heating, and mechanical systems that are conducive to saving energy and keeping occupants comfortable.

The final piece of that indoor comfort system pipeline is the thermostat. A thermostat is a small but important piece of any comfort system, and it’s important to select one that corresponds with the requirements of your system. As I was saying last week, there is no better time to be a home builder than the digital age, because integrating different systems in your home is easier than ever before.

Compared to when I was growing up, the variety and technological advancement of products have come a long way. Everybody remembers the first programmable thermostats, with a menagerie of buttons on a front panel with a black and white display. It’s hard to believe that some of those types of products are now 20 years old, but the smartphone age shouldn’t leave any doubts that thermostats have changed. Take ecobee, for example - they’ve created a smart thermostat that mimics the functionality of a smartphone, so that using all of its features is intuitive and easy. It’s also wifi ready, which means you can control it from your smartphone. The benefits of this are obvious.

A smart thermostat should be easy to use, but not just from a convenience standpoint - if a thermostat isn’t intuitive and gets installed into a home or building, users may configure it to one setting that ends up wasting a lot of energy, defeating its whole purpose.

For any builder or home enthusiast, this week’s episode is packed with kernels of knowledge from my conversation with Jay Kress of ecobee, who I had the pleasure of having at the job site.

What is your favorite smart thermostat? Join the conversation and let us know!

 

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Staying connected in a world of connectivity

Every time I visit a hardware store, I’m reminded by the aisle full of different switches and control panels of how lucky we are to live in an age where the options are virtually limitless. Building convenience into your home is easier than ever before, and achieving near-complete control over your home’s systems is much more cost effective than it used to be. As our project reaches the finish line, I wanted to touch on this one more time - I’ve been building homes for several decades, but developments in connectivity and home automation have come relatively recently in the scope of my experience. Like any passionate home builder, I’m always on the hunt for what’s new so that I can get the most value out of my project.

To cap off our conversations about connectivity and home automation, I invited Nate Fischer of Taco Comfort Solutions to the job site to take a look at the project. Nate is Product Manager of Applied Technology Deployment and has a background as a system design engineer for high quality audio and video systems. For anything related to connectivity, Nate is an excellent person to talk to.

In deciding what features of my new home to automate, one big takeaway for me was the necessity to take into account other people who will be in and out of the home or living there permanently with me. I’m a bit of a tech junkie, so I didn’t want to design a system that would be too difficult for my wife or daughters to use. To me, that’s one of the most important takeaways when it comes to home automation - designing a system so that everyone in a home or building can use it easily.

 

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The world of interior trim

One of my favorite parts of doing this project is the opportunity to share with you a variety of information on a range of subjects that fall under the umbrella of home construction. As we get closer to the finish line of building my new home, I wanted to take the opportunity to revisit one of my favorite sources of knowledge - Ring’s End Lumber. If you’re like me, hardware stores and lumberyards are places you enjoy visiting. If you hang around these places long enough, you’re bound to learn something or meet someone willing to share their knowledge.

If you’ve been following along, you’ll remember that we first visited Ring’s End Lumber when it was time to select windows and doors. In that episode, I spoke with David Lee, a 30-year company veteran who has made his mark on countless home construction projects. He possesses a wealth of knowledge and expertise, and I would highly recommend him as a source of knowledge to anyone who is installing windows, doors or interior trim in the eastern/central Connecticut area.

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Finishing up the interior

A lot of changes have happened since our last episode! Now that the walls of my new home are all painted up, I’ve been working on four key areas of the home’s interior: the flooring system, the kitchens, the bathroom, and the master bedroom.

The hardwood flooring system that I’ve selected is perfect for this project. The floor panels have a very thick true hardwood top layer on a plywood substrate. This has the effect of making the floor dimensionally stable, which is important for underfloor heating applications. I like the look of hardwood, but I don’t want it to shrink, dry out or bow. Engineered hardwood is an ideal choice for this project, because my plan is to heat from underneath the floor by attaching heat transfer plates to the subfloor.

Many people purchase a pre-finished hardwood floor, but for this project I purchased the panels unfinished. My plan is to sand it down and stain it in a gray tone to match other elements of the house.

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Interior paint done the right way

I’ve found over my 30 or so years of homebuilding that finishing a home usually takes more thought and preparation than you think. It’s easy to get excited during the final stages and want to powerhouse through it, but I am taking special care to not rush through important details and make sure each step is done the right way, so that I don’t have to go back and do it again.

Putting a good finish on the interior walls of a home is more than just slapping paint on a wall and calling it a day. Generally when it comes to working out the details of an interior paint job, I like to consult with someone who is knowledgeable about interior paint and make sure that I am doing it the right way. Every home is different, and so is every paint job.

When it came time to start thinking about my paint job for this project, I began by asking myself some simple questions: do I want bright colors, or something a bit more conservative? Do I want the rooms to be contrasty or flat? Shiny or opaque? In other words, how do I want the rooms in my new home to appear once everything is painted and decorated?

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Dave's Tips - Exercises in homebuilding readiness

Unforeseen items can come up during the course of any homebuilding project. Any number of plot twists can come up during the course of construction - from weather-related to logistics to unexpected costs. Some are relatively minor, and others can significantly affect your project timeline.

As my home nears completion, I find myself thinking back to some of the times during my project when I had to make adjustments to my plan or find a different way to do things. During the framing stage of my project, I discovered that I couldn't determine the elevation needed to complete framing between the main part of the house and the garage. Luckily, I was able to find a workaround relatively quickly thanks to my friends over at Point One Architects - having a network of experts to fall back on is a crucial piece to the puzzle and can help you make the best of a situation.

If you are dealing with an unexpected roadblock in your project or a cost that you didn't anticipate, my advice is to remain calm and take some time to assess the situation. Homebuilding is a system, and so is problem-solving. Being able to think on your feet is important, but being methodical about your plan and the associated problem solving that's sometimes needed can turn a good project into a great one.

What are some unexpected items that have come up for you during your project? Join the conversation and let us know!

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AHR2018 - Industry change and new regulations

Now is a critical time for the HVAC-R industry as education about energy usage and efficiency spreads and the U.S. government moves to regulate commercial and residential pumps.

This became especially apparent to me at this year’s AHR Expo, where I noticed that many companies had products on display that had a new addition to them - an efficiency label produced by the Hydraulic Institute.

The Institute’s new labels are sort of like the efficiency labels that you sometimes see on consumer products, except they’re for commercial products that aren’t sold in stores. This is a big deal for the industry, because the new efficiency labels offer an apples-to-apples comparison of different pumps and enable the downstream partners of pump manufacturers to identify energy efficient pumps and make the choice that’s right for their system.

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Turning up the heat

There’s always a trade-off to doing drywall during the wintertime. I want to be able to finish off the taping process quickly, but it needs to be warm enough inside my house for the installation to go smoothly.

As part of my commitment to keeping this project eco-friendly, I’m trying not to use kerosene or fossil-fuel powered heaters inside while we tape. While my multi-zone primary heating system is under construction, I’ve devised a stop-gap solution to keep the temperatures inside my new home reasonable.

Behind my garage, I’ve installed a SANDEN CO2 heat pump water heater. I’m a big fan of these units because instead of using regular hydrocarbons or refrigerants, it uses CO2 as a refrigerant, which is much better for the environment. The unit is highly efficient, with a COP of 4.5 - phenomenal for an air to water heat pump device. This unit will silently purr away and keep us from freezing as we cement the drywall into place. I plan to keep the SANDEN unit as a backup for my domestic hot water, just in case.

My primary heating system is about 50 percent complete, but once it’s done it’s going to be fantastic. For the primary system, I’’m incorporating Taco’s VR1816 00e® Series for air handler and underfloor heating functions. The 00e® is the right choice for this project, since I want to be able to dial in the exact flow that I need.

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Catching up with Harris-Dudley at AHR

What a whirlwind these past few weeks have been. For us, preparing for the AHR show is a lot of hard work for everyone involved. The weeks leading up to the show always go by so fast, then before you know it you're there on the show floor, trading stories with other folks from all around the world. If you work in the HVAC-R industry, then you know that AHR is a great place to catch up with old friends and business associates. That's how you know our industry is doing well - this year's AHR in Chicago was packed full of exhibits and people eager to see the very latest and learn from each other about industry developments.

That's the other thing I like the most about AHR, is that it provides a snapshot in time of what HVAC-R companies, big and small, are working on and what technologies are coming to the forefront. At the Taco booth this year, connectivity was the dominant theme for this year's show. Most of us are constantly connected to the internet through our mobile devices, and more people want to cash in on the benefits that their device has to offer. So, Taco has developed new products that make life easier and interact more seamlessly with smartphones, tablets and computers.

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