Q&A - Comfort and energy efficiency balance

Happy 2017 to all of you! I'm excited to see what this year brings for our project. Each year brings with it new opportunities to learn, grow, and enjoy each other's company. I hope that you all find fulfillment in your relationships and work experiences, and that you get some good takeaways from the upcoming portions of this project that I will cover in this blog.

My New Years story for this year probably isn't that exciting. I started off the new year fiddling with the thermostat at the temporary saltbox cottage where my wife and I are staying while we build our new home. Between you and I, nothing is more of a downer for me than having to get up every fifteen minutes to change the temperature on the thermostat.

For this year, my New Year's resolution is to not spend a fortune to heat and cool my home using a system that leaves me feeling too cold or too warm. Help me accomplish my goal by responding to this week's Q&A and help our audience learn from one another!

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Dave's Tips - Use the BBB!

I've been fortunate enough to build my own network of licensed professionals and home building experts that I can fall back on when I need help with a particular area of my project or if I have questions on how to make the best of a portion of my project that I may not be well-versed in. However, not everyone has 30 years of home building experience in the same geographical region and the good fortune to work with the same professionals across multiple projects.

If you're just getting started building your network of home building experts or want to be sure that the people you hire for a job give you the right value for your dollar, then one organization I recommend turning to is the Better Business Bureau. The BBB calls itself "an ethical marketplace where buyers and sellers can trust each other", and I've found this to be pretty true in my experiences.

The BBB can help you find quality contractors and licensed professionals by providing you with a wealth of information before you pick up the phone. On the BBB's website you can learn about a company before you do business with them, including a company's performance record with the BBB. The BBB also provides valuable consumer information so that you can make the best choices for your project, and provides a variety of other services that help protect consumers.

Overall, I've found the BBB to be a useful resource that supplements word of mouth references and is an excellent tool for any home builder.

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Seasons Greetings

As construction continues on our new eco-friendly home, my wife and I are waiting it out in a tiny saltbox cottage near the bottom of the Connecticut river. Over the years, Debbie and I have lived in a number of different "temporary" houses during our construction projects, and it's been an interesting and educational experience. I've lived in two-story colonial homes, bungalows, saltboxes, and cape cod style homes - each place I've lived has had a unique character to it, and in many cases I have shaped the character of those homes by adding onto them or doing renovations.

This project is something my wife and I are truly excited about because it encompasses a total application of my knowledge and the experience of everyone we are working with on it.

Thank you for following along so far and being a part of something fun and educational, and for helping me towards completing my quest of balancing energy efficiency and green comfort.

Stay tuned and have a happy new year!

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Thinking on your feet

I’ve been building my own homes for over 30 years, and in the process I’ve learned a few things that only come with experiencing a string of homebuilding projects. Building homes has been a hobby of mine that has withstood the test of time, economic changes, and technological advances in the trades.

I consider myself a die-hard homebuilder, and I’ve kept up with trends and innovations so that each time I’ve built a new home, my next project always surpasses the one that came before it. Building an eco-friendly, safe and secure comfortable home means that in addition to giving my plans a great deal of forethought, I also have to be prepared to make decisions on the fly.

One thing I’ve learned is that if I encounter a complication in a portion of my project or an unforeseen externality to building my home a certain way, I don’t have to face it alone. Rick Staub and Greg Echtman of Point One Architects have helping me plan this project from the beginning.

One of my first big “decisions on the fly” involved the availability of the person I initially chose to build my home, Bill Zdon. As my project timeline moved along, Bill became hung up on an unrelated job and couldn’t begin work at the jobsite. Even though I have a good relationship with Bill, I needed to stick to my established timeframes. So, I hired a local framer to bring the project to a certain stage. Hopefully, Bill can wrap up on his current job and consult with me on some of the insulation details.

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Q&A - Eco-friendly plumbing

Installing a plumbing system into a new home means using a variety of different products made from a number of different materials, not all of which are sustainably sourced or manufactured. The good news is, if you’re building a new home you have a lot of control over what materials and products you decide to incorporate into your system.

Installing eco-friendly plumbing has a number of benefits including reducing waste, saving water and energy, and in some cases providing performance superior to that of conventional plumbing products.

There are several different features that I am considering adding to my home’s plumbing system including PEX tubing, energy-efficient toilets and other plumbing fixtures, and water-saving outdoor watering system. Since I’m at the beginning of this part of my homebuilding process, there’s still plenty of time to work out the details.

How would you make your plumbing system more eco-friendly? Join the conversation and let us know!

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Framing walkthrough - part II

In my last post about framing my new home, I wrote mostly about the insulation techniques that I am using and the layers of protection that I am adding to the wall construction to keep the indoor temperature consistent, along with techniques that I used in building the basement and first floor.

My framing design and insulation layout will be just as important on the second story and roof. However, there are a few extra items that I have to keep in mind as I proceed. I have to pay attention to the dead space between the rafters and the top of the second story frame when I insulate - the spots where the roof meets the walls of my home is a common area where heat tends to escape in many homes. In order to avoid that, I’m making sure the insulation makes a seamless transition from the rooftop down to the foundation.

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Q&A - Speed vs. quality

There have been times during my project that I have wanted to get it all done at once. One example of this I can think of off the top of my head is wanting to get the framing portion of my project done before the cold sets in. While this may seem like a simple goal, I know from experience that getting a stage of my project done in a timely manner depends on my ability to stick to a timeline and coordinate the efforts of the professionals I have enlisted to help build my home.

But, I’m not always able to get things done as quickly as I would like to. Sometimes personal events or work-related commitments require my attention, or the professionals I work with get called away to other jobs unexpectedly. Generally, I try not to allow my blood pressure to go up in these situations because I know to expect the unexpected during the course of any project.

I’ve also found that there is sometimes a balance between doing things fast and doing things right - where a project falls on that spectrum is usually subjective and dependent on a number of different factors related to the nature of a project.

Do you think it’s important to work faster, or do you think there is inherent value in sacrificing speed for quality? Join the conversation and let us know!

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Framing walkthrough - basement and first floor

After months of careful planning with my architect, the building inspector and other members of my team, we’re picking up the pace of the construction phase of my eco-friendly homebuilding project.

I’ve completed a large portion of the framing process and construction of my building envelope. There are a lot of details that I am paying attention to that are often missed in ordinary construction techniques - the foundation has been insulated with 2 inches of XPS rigid insulation on the exterior side, and 2 inches of rigid insulation on the inside. XPS insulation doesn’t absorb moisture and is a good choice for ground-level insulation. I also surrounded the entire concrete foundation with a layer of waterproofing to keep moisture out and maintain optimal control of the structure’s indoor temperature and comfort level.

Since I live in a colder part of the country, it’s super important for me to pay attention to these details. A 10-inch thick poured concrete foundation is considered “R-1” - that is, a 10-inch thick wall of concrete holds the same heat flow resistance as a single pane of glass. Many people think that just because concrete is thick and solid that it will keep their home warm and toasty during the wintertime. However, concrete is very porous and heat is easily able to escape. So in order to increase the R value of my foundation, I am placing layers of insulation inside and out.

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Field Knowledge - AHR Sitdown with Jay Egg

My career in the comfort industry has brought me the good fortune of being able to meet a number of professionals that specialize in renewable energy. I know that as I continue on in the construction process for my new home, I still have a number of decisions to make when it comes to what mechanical systems I will end up installing, and what renewable energy options are available to me.

During my trip to the AHR Expo in Orlando, Florida in January, I had the pleasure of talking to Jay Egg, one of the foremost experts in geothermal heating and cooling. Jay is a consultant and designer of geothermal HVAC systems and has been working in the field for over 25 years. Our conversation provided me with valuable information about how geothermal heating and cooling works, and the benefits of having a system installed.

I’ve found that trade shows like the AHR expo are a great place for people like Jay and I to meet and enjoy conversations together about topics that concern all of us across the comfort industry.

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HVAC Heats Up

I know know that when my new eco-friendly home is finished, the finished structure will have a HERS rating of 5 if everything goes according to plan. With 100 representing the least energy efficient home possible and the number zero representing the most energy efficient structures, my home will be very close to net zero.

As you know by now, my plan for a tight building envelope is a big part of what is going to make this possible. Since I plan to control the flow of air into and out of my new home with multiple layers of high R value insulation, installing the right HVAC mechanical components and systems is critical to maintaining indoor comfort.

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