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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Meanwhile, up on the roof...

The roofing system that I am using for my eco-friendly home is different than the systems used for most homes. I am using a multi-layered roofing system for the roof that’s designed to compliment the advanced framing construction techniques I used below it.

The roof isn’t quite done yet, but when it does it will pack quite an R-value punch. My base layer for the whole system is a layer of GAF underlayment to keep water out but allow the whole roof to “breathe” - that is, allow moisture to escape. I’ll place my insulation system on top of that, which for the roof consists of two four-inch layers of rigid commercial insulation.

On top of the two four-inch layers of rigid, I’m placing 2x4s spaced about a foot apart, with an additional one-inch layer of insulation. This will create an air cavity that will allow for roof ventilation. Above that goes a layer of plywood, followed by shingles.

At the very top is a ridged vent that completes the ventilation aspect of my roofing system. Adequate ventilation is necessary in a colder climate like New England to prevent the roof from icing up during a snowmelt, and to vent moisture that’s moving from the interior of the home to the attic. If you’re ever looking for a crash course in roof venting, I've put one of my favorites at the end of this article.

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Q&A - On getting your home certified

There are many angles to building an eco-friendly home. Some people are like me and incorporate environmentally friendly features into the home through advanced construction techniques and by using certain recycled building materials. Other folks might decide to make their focus on a different area altogether, like growing their own food and recycling the waste.

As far as my project goes, I have tried to cover as many areas under the “eco-friendly umbrella” that I can. I’m installing tankless toilets to promote water conservation. I’m putting a solar water heater into my system to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels to heat our water. I’m using a tight building envelope using recycled commercial grade materials to reduce our energy bills and consumption.

As the project continues, I’ve found myself looking at the various types of certification systems that are available to a builder like me. Certification systems provide owners and occupants with guidelines for the design and construction of eco-friendly buildings and a method for evaluating overall performance. If my wife and I ever decide to sell our home, having a certification will almost certainly increase its resell value and give the buyer an idea of what they’re getting for their money.

One common type of certification is LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It was developed through the US Green Building Council to certify new and existing homes and is widely used.

Another type of certification is ENERGY STAR, which typically means that a home is 15% more efficient than a typical home built to state codes.

Many cities and states across the country have their own certification programs. What certifications do you think I should go for for this project in particular? Join the conversation and let us know!

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AHR 2017 - Balancing the HVAC equation

A good HVAC specialist once told me that the best HVAC system is one that you never know is there, because it’s doing its job keeping you comfortable. For most people, heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems are something that they rarely see or think about, because the components are usually behind a locked door or in the basement and there’s really no reason to check it out unless it breaks.

However, I believe that if more people have a rudimentary understanding of what goes into an HVAC system, we could design better homes and buildings, increase the comfort of the occupants, and save people time and money.

When I was at the AHR expo this past January, I got to sit down with Dan Foley of Foley Mechanical and discuss this concept with him. Dan has many years of experience in the HVAC industry and shared with me some insights that you can only get from years of coming up on different scenarios on the job. Dan talked to me about the importance of listening to his clients and some minor home construction adjustments that could make for better systems overall. I hope you enjoy and get some good takeaways from this segment!

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Q&A - word of mouth vs. online resources

Over the course of 30 years or so, many of the contractors that I have hired to do work on my home have been "repeat customers". Generally, once I find someone who is reliable and who does good work, I tend to stick with that person for as long as possible through my various projects.

Oftentimes, somebody I work with on projects over the course of years or decades is able to recommend other people to me who do good work. One example of such a person who I've worked with for a long time is Mike Evangelisti, the foundation contractor who brought his big machines in to dig the hole where my new home will go. Not only is Mike proficient at digging precision holes, he was also able to help me with the septic system, grading, and moving topsoil to a location on the property where I can use it later.

In many instances, the contractors and specialists you'll use for a project in an area may know each other well and know who to call if you're in need of someone for a part of your project.

However, it's good to keep all of your options in mind when it comes to finding qualified experts to work with. If you move to a new area and you don't know anyone, there are some services available online like findabuilder.com that can provide you with some names and phone numbers. It's also possible to hire contractors and builders from an online classified service like Craigslist, but I'm a bit from the old school and generally don't procure my services this way.

What do you think? Have you had an experience where you've used Craiglist or another service to find a contractor or licensed professional? I'm curious to know about your experience... join the conversation and let us know!

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Looking through panes of glass

Back in our "Windows and Doors" episode, I walked through a showroom packed full of different examples of windows that I could have installed in my new home. From single to double pane, from solid glass pane to casement windows, I knew that I wouldn't be selecting just one style of window for my new home and that I would have to make some choices about what manufacturer to use.

Before I installed my sets of windows, I had the framers finish most of the frame and install our housewrap and flashing system so that I could install the windows and casements at the end of that process. Since I plan on hanging four inches of ridged insulation (2 layers of paper faced polyisocyanurate insulation) on the outside of the frame, I designed the extension jambs to protrude out about four inches so that when the insulation is hung and the siding installed, the windows won't stick out like a sore thumb.

I built the extension jambs myself out of PVC lumber. In order to accomplish this task I've temporarily converted my garage space into a miniature sawmill, with appropriate sawdust collection and ventilation systems. I feel more like a lumberjack already!

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