Q&A - Doing a solid for the Earth

One of my biggest goals with this project has been to reduce, whenever possible, my impact on the environment during all of the stages of my project. If you remember back to the very first episode, I walked through the woods on my property and made a promise to myself to keep sustainability in mind for the project.

I'd like to say that I've done a fairly good job at this so far. When I cleared a portion of my 2.2 acre parcel to begin building, I tried to minimize the need to remove trees and other vegetation from the property. When it came time to start building, I used a lot of recycled commercial grade insulation for the building envelope.

The real savings and benefits for planet Earth will come when the home is completed, and I can minimize my use of fossil fuel powered electricity by utilizing PV solar panels for a lot of our electricity. I may not be living "off the grid", but maybe "off the electrical grid" or a variation thereof would be a more appropriate term.

I'm still curious about using recycled materials for a project, though. I wonder how many other people do the same thing, and what kind of an impact it has on protecting our environment. A lot of my contractor friends prefer to buy new, but I know that there are a lot of materials out there that can be reused.

So, that's why I'd like to hear from you - when it comes to using recycled materials for a project, what are some best practices that have helped you? Join the conversation and let us know!

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Fire prevention - protecting your life and your investment

I have a friend who worked in the news media for a while, who covered all types of disasters, among other things. From floods to blizzards to tornadoes, this friend of mine told me about the times he witnessed the carnage that mother nature inflicted on building structures, and in turn on people’s lives.

The one type of disaster my news reporter friend covered the most, however, was fire. Apartment fires, house fires, and commercial structure fires. They happen every day, all the time for all kinds of different reasons. A faulty electrical system, improperly placed insulation, a child playing with matches. I could fill the entire page with a list of hypothetical scenarios.

The ever present danger of fire has me thinking about the best ways I can protect my investment - our eco-friendly home is in a precarious stage of construction in which the inner wooden skeleton of the structure is exposed and permanent fire prevention systems have not yet been installed. Fire prevention is something I take seriously - once my home is finished, you’ll see a menagerie of fire prevention features including a commercial grade sprinkler system, and an array of heat, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors as well as fire extinguishers.

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What happens underground...

A septic system is something many people really think about, or choose not to for obvious reasons. Whether or not you have a septic tank probably depends on whether or not you live in an urban area with town sewers. If you live off the beaten path like I do, every time you peel a vegetable in the sink or rinse off in the shower after a hot day in the sun, wastewater goes down the drain into your septic tank.

I know what you’re thinking, that wastewater should be out of sight, out of mind. While the “out of sight” part might be true, I think that everyone with a septic tank should understand how they work. That’s why as I install my system at my new home, I took the time to have a conversation with the man who dug the hole and installed it. I’ve been working with foundation contractor Mike Evangelisti for many years on a variety of projects, and he has advanced knowledge of just about everything that happens underground.

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Q&A - Protecting your investment

It’s hard to put a price on the time and effort that I’ve put into building my new home so far. Some people have told me that when it comes to a project like this, there is no greater investment you can make than the time you spend on the project itself. Indeed, from all of the man hours I’ve spent consulting with licensed professionals to the hours I spend each week at the job site, a project like this definitely requires a significant time commitment.

Just like any other home builder, I worry about unforeseen circumstances affecting my project. These circumstances can range from a colder than usual winter, theft of materials, and unscrupulous contractors to fires, floods and other natural disasters. It’s completely necessary to my wits about me and an eye to the sky.

I want my new home to last a long time, so I’m curious to see if any of you homeowners or homebuilders out there have any recommendations for any one of these scenarios. I think sharing information like this is one of the most powerful things anyone can do to protect their investment, as well as the time and effort you put into a project.

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Drilling the perfect well



Right now, I have a lot of different parts of my homebuilding project happening simultaneously. I’ve begun taking a look at some options for home automation, and I’m continuing to work with a local electrician to install the wiring in my new home.

Now that the framing of my home is basically done and most of the construction has moved inside, I can finally get a drilling rig into the back yard and drill the hole that will become our well.

I have a few things to consider here for this portion of my project. The first, of course, is price. Prices for drilling are usually quoted by the foot, and the costs vary depending on whether you’re drilling through sand, clay, or solid rock. The well I’m drilling will probably be more expensive because we’ll be drilling through granite in order to reach the aquifer.



Another consideration is hiring somebody you trust to drill your well - this is kind of a one-and-done deal, you don’t want to have to go back and drill another hole because somebody made a mistake. So, I’ve hired Larry Sima of Sima Drilling to take care of this for me - I’ve worked with Larry before on previous projects, and the Sima family has been drilling wells in the Connecticut area since the 1950s. Sima’s well drilling experience spans over 20,000 wells, so I trust them to get the job done right.

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Q&A - Kids in the house

Usually when people think of "designing a home with kids in mind", images of brightly colored rooms with lots of toys come to mind, maybe building a bathroom where there's an extra step built in so your little ones can reach the sink a bit easier.

Even though my children are grown and out of the house, I know there are lots of parents out there who are interested in projects like mine who have kids living at home or are designing a home and have children to take into consideration.

So, how do you design a kid-friendly/eco-friendly home? I've discovered that there aren't as many resources for this particular question as I thought, but the resources that are out there are fairly good. Calgary's Child has a good article that addresses many common questions parents might have about eco-friendly building design as it pertains to children.

According to Calgary's Child, one of the biggest items parents should keep in mind when designing a new home is what kind of chemicals are used in the manufacture the furniture and interiors of your new home. Did you know that particleboard furniture is often manufactured with formaldehyde and can emit toxic gasses over time? Did you know that laminate countertops can potentially contain toxic materials?

When I was growing up, most parents did not really take these details into consideration. But nowadays it seems like more parents are educated about the toxicity of the materials that surround us every day and want to make the best decisions for their children.

I'd like to hear what you think - aside from chemicals, what else is important to keep in mind when designing a sustainable home where your children will grow up? Join the conversation and let us know!

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Comfort at the push of a button

Everybody remembers the stereotypical “home of tomorrow” reels from the 1950s. We’ve all seen them at one point or another. The ones that showcase how all of your home conveniences will one day be a push of a button away, all in stunning grainy black and white photography. Or technicolor.

Over the years, many of the home conveniences that people envisioned 50 years ago have come true, perhaps not exactly in the way that people at the time envisioned. I don’t think anyone could have pictured the rise of the internet and a world of connected devices, but here it is. Want to control the temperature in your home at the push of a button? You can do that. The button may not be made of steel on a control board the size of a refrigerator chest, but that’s okay.

As far as today’s home automation industry goes, it can be a mind-boggling experience to try and wade through all the different options that are available. Before I make any final decisions about what to automate, I have to ask myself a few important questions. What do I want to automate? What makes the most sense? Is home automation worth spending money on?

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Green Comfort Fridays

Happy springtime everyone!

I just wanted to give you all a heads up that our episode release schedule has changed. Our bi-monthly eBlasts will now go out on Fridays! Hopefully, this gives you all something to look forward to on Friday, besides Friday being the day before the weekend.

Our eBlasts contain links to our episodes and other exclusive content. If you haven't signed up, just enter your email address into the form on the right hand side of the blog.

 

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Underfloor heating - building a comfort system

There’s an old industry saying about concrete and underfloor heating systems. The saying goes, “friends don’t let friends pour concrete without PEX in it”. When I was up in the air on whether or not I was going to install underfloor heating in my basement and garage, one man paid me a visit to talk to me about it.



His name is Dave Holdorf, one of our industry’s foremost experts in underfloor heating and a menagerie of other HVAC topics. Dave’s a residential trainer for Taco Comfort Solutions, where he passes along his knowledge and experience to contractors, reps, service technicians, and business owners and facilitates the growth of a healthy industry.

The foundation of Dave’s knowledge and expertise is in radiant floor heating and cooling. Before Dave worked at Taco, he worked for Uponor for 15 years and knows just about everything when it comes to underfloor heating, PEX plumbing and controls.

As far as the radiant system I’m designing goes, I’m including five zones in the main part of the house. Four will be downstairs, and the fifth is the whole second floor. I don’t plan on doing much with the second floor, since my daughters are grown and the rooms will be mostly unoccupied. I’ve zoned the master suite, master bath, great room/kitchen, dining room, and study/laundry room.



I also have PEX tubes in the garage slab and basement slabs. This is a fairly common and popular feature of radiant systems, since the only additional cost is purchasing the tubes - you’re going to pour the concrete anyways. There’s no better feeling than bare feet on a warm concrete.

There’s more to indoor comfort than radiant heating - cooling, humidity and ventilation will all be part of my system as well. Stay tuned to see what I’ll be doing for the other parts of my system to create comprehensive indoor green comfort!

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Picking up advanced knowledge

I always like to keep tabs on what other eco-friendly homebuilders are doing here in Connecticut. Even though I’m pretty particular about what I’m doing for my own project, I like when somebody takes a novel approach to building a home or incorporates features into their structure that I may have glossed over or not thought of.

The Connecticut Green Building Council has a design and build competition for folks who want to build eco-friendly homes. Contenders try to build homes that don’t consume a lot of energy, produce their own power on site, have lower emissions, and the like. The Council awards cash prizes to its winners and provides educational materials to other people who attend the show and read about it online.

I’m looking forward to attending next week’s awards ceremony for the 2016 winner. I went to last year’s awards ceremony and spoke to the Torcellini family, who were tied for top prize. During my conversation with Paul and Julia, I learned that the devil’s in the details - for example, Julia picked her kitchen countertops because they were manufactured using toxin-free processes and did not contain materials that give off a “new counter smell” odor, which she said can be toxic.



I can’t wait to see what I learn from this year’s event. The awards ceremony is on Thursday, April 20. You can find details about it here.

Our Q&A for this week is related to my quest for advanced knowledge. There are a lot of online resources out there that cover the fundamentals about eco-friendly homebuilding. But, I can’t help but think about my experience with the Torcellinis last year, when I got to hear Paul’s words of wisdom and meet his family, who are ultimately the beneficiaries of Paul’s advanced knowledge.

Where can I go to pick up some advanced, maybe obscure knowledge about eco-friendly homebuilding? Is there anything off the beaten path that you would recommend? Join the conversation and let us know!

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