A brand new look for a brand new year

There's no better way for me to kick off this new year than with a home that's getting to be almost ready to move into. We've finished installing the interior insulation, and now we've moved into installing the drywall system. It's a lot of trowel swinging, but it's a step towards making the interior as beautiful on the outside as it is on the inside.

One cool thing about this episode is that you have a chance to see what different drywall configurations can end up looking like - for example, it might be hard to imagine what the drywall for a cathedral ceiling might look like. I've incorporated several features like that into my new home, so I hope that you take a look and that the new views are of some benefit to you.

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Happy Holidays from the Green Comfort Blog

As we wind down the calendar year, I just wanted to thank you all for following me through this project so far. Over the course of my home building project, I've met a lot of quality people who helped the project along. I am especially thankful to our subscribers - your contributions are part of what make this blog a unique, fun place to visit and learn from. I enjoy reading and replying to your comments and learn something new each time.

We have some quality material coming up over the next few months. Our next episode is a departure from the previous episodes in the sense that my new home is going to look a bit different than you remember it. Over these upcoming episodes, you'll really get to see the whole project take shape.

One thing to look forward to for January is that we'll be attending AHR 2017 in Chicago, where we'll meet with cutting-edge professionals and industry vanguards to have some lively conversation about what's new in the HVAC industry.

I think it's a fitting way to start off the new year - I can't wait to show you where the project takes us and what the finished product looks like. If you haven't already, sign up for the biweekly eBlast by registering on the page.

I wish you all a happy holiday. We will see you in January!

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A race against the cold

As far as winters go, we’ve been pretty lucky over these past several years with fewer snowstorms and milder temperatures overall. But it looks like this winter could be a colder one, and I need to get the insulation on my new home buttoned up before the snow arrives.

Luckily I’m working on the last piece of my insulation system, which would be the interior insulation. As you know, I’ve been using advanced wall construction techniques in the design of my new home. When the system is complete, I’ll have an envelope that allows for near-complete control of the indoor temperature, which means my wife and I will have a better seat at the table when it comes to facilitating indoor comfort.

For the interior insulation, I’m using a product called Roxul ComfortBatt. It’s a mineral wool product - that is, an inert material made from ground up stone. Roxul is a great product - it doesn’t absorb moisture or support combustion, and mold and mildew don’t grow on it. In addition, it’s also great for colder climates. I want moisture to be able to work its way out of my home, and Roxul will facilitate that. It’s also not itchy like fiberglass insulation.

Once the interior insulation is complete, all of the space inside of my new home, from the basement to the roof rafters, will be conditioned space. My mechanical systems and ductwork will be in conditioned space too, which will put less of a strain on the systems and allow me to optimize my indoor comfort.

I think we’ll definitely manage to beat the cold. What do you think about my insulation system? Join the conversation and let us know!

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Beachstone at BuildingEnergy Boston 2017

Trade shows and conventions are a great place to meet people and network with folks who appreciate the same things that I do. As an eco-friendly homeowner/builder, anyone who builds a product that reduces carbon footprint and improve people's lives is someone I'm interested in striking up a conversation with.

I went to the BuildingEnergy Boston 2017 show for two main reasons. The first reason is because I like to learn from as many people as I can at the show and bring new knowledge back to my job site. The second reason is because I'm always on the hunt for products that intrigue me. While I don't sell products, I specialize in the design of electronic control systems. So, I know a thing or two about the general design process. That means that I have a deeper appreciation for when I meet someone selling a truly interesting product.

One company that I came across that fascinated me is called Beachstone Sustainable Products. This company manages to combine resourcefulness, available materials, and proprietary knowledge to create a product that looks nice and benefits the environment by removing glass from the waste stream. Beachstone takes seashells and post-consumer glass containers and combines them to create an eco-friendly countertop surface. I got to check out a few samples, and I'm definitely thinking about using Beachstone for my project.

The man behind Beachstone, Aron Buterbaugh, started the company because he wanted to make a difference for the environment and saw a market for these types of counter tops. It's rare to find a company that covers so many angles, but the surfaces that Beachstone makes are beautiful. I highly recommend visiting their website and taking a look through their pictures!

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The holiday season begins

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend and got a chance to relax and spend time with your families. We stayed local - mainly because I didn't want to stray too far from the job site. Right now, we have a lot of materials in the yard and I've got guys coming in and out to work on the siding and interior, so I wanted to be available and keep an eye on things.

We're working our way into the wintertime, and also into the later stages of this project. So far, you've had the chance to follow me through the planning and primary construction stages of my project. Over the next several months, the focus of this blog will shift to interior details and finally to the finishing touches. We'll be covering some good topics in the episodes to come, including smart thermostats, interior insulation, connectivity, and more on the heating system that I am installing. There will be others, too - stay tuned and see how it all comes together!

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The Proof is in the Siding

Winter’s around the corner, and we’re on a race against the clock to get most or all of my siding system installed around the outside of the house. Even though homewrap offers a degree of protection against the elements, I want to get the siding done before the cold sets in. Winter is never a fun time to be working outdoors for an extended period of time.

The system I’ve chosen is called Ecoshel. This smart shingle system is a pre-painted cedar shake material. It comes in real wood sheet panels that are interconnected to speed up the installation process and ensure consistent spacing.

The main reason I ordered this system is actually on the back of the shingle - the shingles have grooves in them so that the system can “breathe” - there’s nothing worse than shingles that trap water behind them. What appeals to me the most about the system is the way that all of the design elements work together - the more beneficial features that a system has to offer, the further up my list it goes.

In the past, I’ve used the ledger board method to install siding systems. The system I’m installing saves time and labor by incorporating a nailing surface onto the top of the sheet panels. This way, I don’t have to worry about filling in nail holes and marring the finish.

These time and labor saving features mean that my siding is going up faster than it would if I were installing a conventional system. Compared to other parts of my project, this part is fairly straightforward. After going through all the effort to use vapor permeable materials in my exterior wall construction, this siding system really is the icing on the cake.

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Special feature - BuildingEnergy Boston

There’s nothing quite like a sustainability conference - as someone who’s interested in all facets of green building, I’ve found myself walking the show floor of various conferences more than a few times. One conference I really like is BuildingEnergy Boston - at this year’s show, I got to meet some other high performance builders and folks from the industry to trade stories with and learn the latest from.

One particular company that interested me at this year’s show is SANDEN. They manufacture scroll compressors and high-performance heat pump water heaters - I actually have one of their heat pump water heaters installed at my new home, so I’m pretty excited that I got to meet some folks from the company that built one of my home’s key components. I got to speak with John Miles of SANDEN International, who shared with me some good information about the systems they’re making.

These small units are becoming more common in different construction applications. If you like the idea of of an energy efficient alternative to an electric or gas water heater, these systems have a lot of potential to save money and they eliminate the production of carbon monoxide. Check out our conversation and tell us what you think!


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Solar thermal super feature

After some careful consideration, I’ve decided to install a solar thermal system onto the roof above my garage as part of my project! I think that a solar thermal system will be a great addition to my array of eco-friendly features - a solar thermal system will work out quite nicely in conjunction with the PV panels I’m installing on the other part of my roof. The more my systems lower my carbon footprint, the better.

I’ve decided on a solderless drain back type system,  with three foot by eight flat plate collectors. The system I’ve purchased is manufactured by HTP, and is a full-plate, laser-welded product. Each 150 pound panel has one inch ports on the top and bottom, with quick fast connections so that no soldering is needed. Right now, I’m planning on installing three such panels on the southeast facing roof over my garage - the system also includes a 115 gallon stainless steel tank with an electric backup.

I think the system will come together pretty easily. There are a couple different ways to mount these systems depending on the type of roof that you have. One way to mount solar thermal panels is to use universal mounts - the panels get attached to the roof by adjustable feet attached to the mounts, which allows for some legroom as far as being able to tilt the panel to an angle different from your roof incline. On my roof, I have an angle that’s pretty ideal for the circumstances - for my application, we’ll use a direct foot mount that bolts directly into the roof. We’ve already calculated out where we’ll need to position the panels so that our rain gutter systems function effectively.

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Dave's Tips - Knowing how the savings work

As an eco-friendly homeowner/builder, I frequently find myself wondering what the true savings will be on any energy-efficient system I install into my new home. Since a goal of my project is to balance comfort and energy efficiency, I want to make sure that I don't sacrifice too much of either in order to maximize the value return of the other.

Over the years, a lot has changed when it comes to building and designing more energy efficient structures and systems. There have been a lot of positive developments over the past 15-20 years - some visible, like the government phase out of many types of incandescent light bulbs, and some not as visible - when it comes to the authorities that manufacture energy efficient products and set standards for measuring energy efficiency, some of the most important work they do involve the logistics of making it all possible. 

Equally as important as having energy efficient products and systems is the ability to quantify that efficiency in the form of savings. The U.S. Department of Energy has an excellent resource portal that anyone can visit - the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy mission has a ton of information on their website about the efforts to establish uniform energy efficiency measuring standards, as well as information on how to quantify savings over the long term. I'd highly recommend checking it out!

To me, learning about the mechanics of energy efficiency policy is another bow in the quiver of information I can use to be a better builder. What do you think about this resource? Join the conversation and let us know!

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Increasing efficiency with solar water heating

You probably know by now that photo voltaic solar panels have been part of my master plan for this home since day one. Utilities are expensive, especially electricity. My wife and I are usually pretty good about turning the lights off when we leave a room, but the bills can still add up.

My goal in doing this project is to keep energy costs down and minimize my carbon footprint while maximizing indoor comfort. There’s a complimentary technology available that I’ve been considering installing on the roof adjacent to the one where our 42 PV panels will be installed.

Solar thermal panels are a bit more expensive than PV panels, and there are a few differences. PV panels use the sun’s energy to generate electricity, while solar thermal panels use solar energy to generate heat. The heat generated by a solar thermal panel can be used to heat water or other fluids and can power solar cooling systems. That means, when I turn on my hot water, the system would be pre-fed with solar-heated water. This type of system would reduce the amount of electricity needed to heat hot water, which would further drive down my utility bill and carbon footprint.

Solar thermal systems are great because they don’t require any fuel and they’re predictable. Under optimal conditions, solar thermal panels can generate power 24 hours a day - you can probably see why I am excited at the thought of installing such a system onto the roof of my new home.

As with all systems though, there’s more than one type of solar thermal panel and some intricacies that I have to get through before I make a final decision. For this two-part episode, we will be joined by Rod Hyatt of HTP Comfort Solutions - he’s been working in the field for many years and should be able to give me some insights into what type of system to install and what the material requirements will be.

In part two, I’ll make my final decision about whether or not to include this system. Stay tuned!

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