Archive for the 'Green Construction Topics' Category
Rainwater Harvesting – we’re trendsetters!

See this article posted on cnn.com today.

Dallas – Hurry Up Already!

dallasphoto04142009Dallas:  Big Hair, Big Cars, Big Egos….but apparently not big on getting ready for the Green Housing boom!

This past week has been an eye-opener.  We’ve gone through multiple conversations with the City of Dallas inspectors regarding our use of reclaimed rainwater for irrigation and for washing clothes.  We’ve had visits from Building Inspectors and Zoning personnel who have all admitted that they really don’t yet have a handle on how to manage many green building features.

As mentioned, we’re attempting to use our rainwater in our washing machine.  Our contractor set up our washing machine just as they had done for other customers in surrounding cities – all of which approved of those installations.  However, Dallas didn’t know what to think of it!  The Inspector first wanted a separate “double check back flow valve” (or something like that), then he didn’t understand the filtration system.  Finally, they told us that they were not going to approve the use of reclaimed rainwater for the washing machine.  We were told to dismantle the water delivery mechanism and try later when they were ready to tell us what they would approve.

While our Rainwater Harvesting contractor made a huge mistake by not clearing the use of the system BEFORE it was entirely installed (lesson learned!), the City of Dallas is clearly not ready yet for innovative Green building techniques.

We’ll reconnect the washing machine when the City catches up to us – and I suppose this whole ordeal is the price we’re paying for being on the cutting edge (at least in Dallas, anyway) of Green building!

Turf and Termite Control

cedar_concrete_gravel_grassWe are receiving most of the points in the Sustainable Sites category of LEED for Homes.  Three of them come from SS2.3(a) for the use of nonconventional turf (we actually get the points from limiting conventional turf to 20% or less of our softscapes…we’re at 0% of conventional turf).  We have chosen to use Buffalo Grass.  It is a grass native to the Central Plains “from Mexico to Montana”.  It requires little irrigation, little mowing, and little attention.  It has a great blue-green color and spreads easily throughout the lawn, but is easily removed from flower beds. 

And while we may not be receiving a specific point for this feature, you can see from the photo above that we have installed an 18″ gravel border around the entire parameter of the house.  This is to assist with pest control, and closely aligns with avoiding plantings 24 ”  from the structure as outlined in SS5(d).

Furnishings

e1logoI’m not going to list every piece of furniture that we’ve chosen for the house, but I wanted to quickly highlight our master bedroom furniture.

We’ve chosen a bedroom set (seen here) that is very environmentally friendly.  It is made of FSC wood and has received the European E1 rating.  This rating is “a European Union certification system that states that the materials used in the construction of the furniture do not off gas formaldehyde or other dangerous fumes.”  Think of it as the furniture equivalent of low- or no-VOC paints. 

Also, the mattress we’re using is an all natural latex mattress.  According to the website, “Latex does not off-gas toxic petrochemicals as does memory foams or synthetic chemical mattresses. Latex is naturally hypoallergenic. Bacteria and dust mites cannot reside in natural rubber.”  So again, no off-gases, no petrochemicals.  The mattress cover is unbleached cotton.

The furniture is shipped from Colorado, so that is a little troublesome, but given the other benefits and the fact that it is exactly the look that we wanted, we decided to buy it.

Paints and Finishes

primerlowvoc02072009I can’t believe that anyone reading this wouldn’t have heard of low VOC paints and varnishes.  VOCs or Volatile Organic Compounds are what makes paint have that “freshly painted” smell.  The EPA broadly describes them as “any organic compound that participates in atmospheric photochemical reactions.”  VOCs commonly used in the home are found in carpets, paints, varnishes, dry cleaner solvents, and household cleaners.

You can learn more about VOCs and how they can contribute to “sick building syndrome” by clicking here.   These are pages on a website from the EPA that do a great job of outlining the many contributors to sick building syndrome, including a listing of 12 common indoor polutants.

We have avoided VOCs in several ways:

  • No carpet (we actually get a LEED for Homes point for having no carpet!)
  • No VOC Paints.  We’re using Sherwin Williams’ Harmony series for our paint and you can see from the photo above, our primer has no VOCs either)
  • We do dry-clean some of our clothes, but we get our clothes without plastic bags.  The plastic bags concentrate the VOCs and don’t allow them to dissipate (and we avoid throwing away dry cleaning bags every week).
  • We have specified formaldehyde-free plywood and formaldehyde-free binders on our plywood finishes and furniture.
  • Our cleaners are natural.  We like the Seventh Generation brand.
Cabinets and Wood

cabinets01032009Our cabinets started getting delivered this past week over the holidays.  They are really spectacular-looking and (you guessed it) environmentally friendly (photo is of the master bathroom vanity).  The cabinets are locally produced here in Dallas.  The Materials & Resources category of LEED for Homes allows us to claim points for using a local supplier.  So think of it this way:  we could have cabinets fabricated in, say, California.  The fabricator would ship them to Dallas.  When they are shipped, however, most of what is being shipped is air because the cabinets are mostly open space.  With the cabinets made in Dallas, the wood can be locally sourced from the forests in Arkansas and Oklahoma and shipped to the fabricator in stacks so that more material is shippped at once.  Then the cabinets are made and brought the final 10 miles to us – much more efficient.

Had our cabinets been constructed with tropical wood, we would have had to use FSC-certified woods.  The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that was created “to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests.”  Basically the organization creates standards that allows the end buyer (us!) to be assured that the wood we’re buying has been grown, harvested and transported in both an environmentally-friendly and a human rights-friendly manner.

Section 2.1 of the LEED for Homes Materials & Resources category requires the use of FSC-certified tropical woods.  We’re having a bit of a hard time finding a supplier of garapa, which is what we’re hoping to use on our upper balconies and bridge.  There is wood available that is not FSC-certified, but its use would negate any LEED certification….obviously not desireable!

Exterior Finishes

I wanted to create a short post to talk about exterior finishes and why we chose them.

dsc_0191

  • Brick – a green material that is highly durable.  Brick can last for decades with minimal maintenance.  Our brick was made locally so transportation costs were minimal both in dollars and carbon footprint.
  • Concrete board – also a green material and highly sustainable.  This product looks contemporary, can be used for multiple applications (both on the outside walls and in the exterior sofits).  This material is also very affordable and easily replaced if a board gets broken.  The photo above shows the concrete board and Cedar Siding on the garage/studio structure (I decided I had posted too many photos of the front of the house lately!).
  • Cedar siding – a fairly green material.  We debated about how much wood to put on the exterior.  The result was a moderate amount – enough to make the home’s exterior aesthetically pleasing.  This material is sustainable and long-lasting.  Also, we opted for a “non-clear cedar”, meaning we decided to have a large number of knots in the wood.  While the prevailing wisdom is that clear cedar is more pleasing to the eye, I like the more informal look of the knotted cedar that we used.
  • Metal – green and durable as well.  We have metal windows, a metal roof, and metal sheathing around the top of the house and around the front window structure. 

These selections – along with our energy-efficient windows – create an environmentally-friendly fascade that is also aesthetically pleasing. 

The paints and stains on the exterior of the house are not low VOC.  We decided to use low VOC on all interior paints and stains, but not on the exterior.  We were looking to save a little bit of money and chose to go traditional.  LEED is very concerned with interior air quality and not so concerned with exterior finishes.

Lots of Windows!

dsc_0016We wanted lots of windows.  Our architect’s first designs were all good, but we were drawn to what we chose due in large part to the amount of windows in the space.  We love the outdoors and love bringing in tons of natural light into our space.  We ended up with a dilemma, though:  how do you have that many windows (our house is 30% windows!), but keep your house as green as possible.  The answer is found in the two key energy ratings of windows (with a really good longer explanation here):

  • U-Factor – measures the rate of heat transfer through the window.  The lower the U-Factor the the lower the amount of heat loss.
  • SHGC (Solar Heat Gain Coefficient) – measures how well the window blocks heat from the sun.

dsc_0036Because we have so many windows, our U-Factor and SHGC ratings had to be very good.  We struggled with our windows and searched high and low until we found what we were looking for.  We used a company called Thermal Windows in Dallas to provide our windows.  But we had to opt for triple-paned windows in the front window tower and in one large window in the studio that faces southwest.  The triple-paned front windows facing northeast were designed to focus on the U-Factor rating, which the triple-paged windows in the studio were used to deal with what the SHGC measures.  The windows were expensive just because there’s a lot of windows!  But to upgrade to the triple-paned only cost about $2500 more. 

Our first LEED inspection occurred about 2 weeks ago, and the inspector was impressed with the window ratings…and so were we.  However, there was one small, unexpected glitch:  two of the sets of windows were installed backwards.  Apparently there’s a specific side of the windows that must face outward in order to take full advantage of the window’s designed efficiency.  We’ll be getting those reinstalled before the final inspection!

Hot Water Heaters

We are using tankless hot water heaters for our house.  We actually have three:  two in the main house and one for the studio.  We aren’t installing hot water in the outdoor bar area (I hear it’s traditional that you don’t have hot water at a bar sink…who knew?!).

Gas tankless hot water heaters are the most efficient to use, heating water only when the appliance senses water flowing through it.  And while the heater gives a huge blast of gas-powered flame to the water as it flows, you’re not paying to keep a 50 gallon tank of water hot 24/7. 

Our house design is very conducive to efficient use of tankless heaters.  The north side of the house accommodates the master bath (downstairs) and the kitchen (upstairs).  The south side of the house accommodates two guest baths and the laundry room.  By installing two heaters – one on the north wall and one on the south wall – we minimize the length of the pipe runs from heater to end-use faucet or appliance.  LEED awards points (in the Energy & Atmosphere category) for keeping the pipe runs under 20 feet for 1 story homes or 20 feet + ceiling height for 2 story homes.  So for our 2 story home, we’re allowed runs of 29 feet.  Our longest run is approximately 20 feet.  The photo above is of the interior/backside view of one of the tankless heaters.  Ours install on the outside of the house…and you’ll note that it backs up into the master wet area that houses our tub and showers.  We’re very close to our hot water source…which will be nice on those rushed or chilly mornings.

We’re reusing one of the hot water heaters from our old house.  We loved it, had absolutely no issues with it and would recommend it to anyone.  It is a Noritz.

Insulation

It’s late November and we’re finally getting our insulation!  We have an interesting situation with our insulation.  We had originally wanted to utilize “whole house encapsulation” with a product called Icynene.  Icynene is best described as that expanding foam stuff you can buy in a small can to fill in voids in your wall or around a window.  We saw the stuff used in an attic of a LEED Platinum home over a year ago, and the attic looks like a winter wonderland with mounds of the stuff sprayed over all the walls and ceiling.  But we found out that a 6″ covering of icynene has an R-factor of only 19.  We wanted a higher R-factor so we went with a new product called JM Spider.  It gets a R-23 rating when used in 2X6 cavaties.  Read more about JM Spider here. The photo above is the JM Spider product being installed in our studio walls.

We are using icynene in our exterior ceilings.  BUT….when the insulation contractor sprayed the icynene they didn’t spray it evenly and there are large parts of the ceilings where the foam is less than 6″…and it looks like some places where it’s less than 4″.  Our contractor is bringing that fact to the attention of the installer so it can be rectified (yes, another delay!). 

We still get our “whole house encapsulation” because the insulation contractor sealed all of seams and voids in the exterior walls and ceiling of the structure prior to installation of the JM Spider product.

One other point:  we made the decision to insulate our Meditation Room and our Master Bedroom to take advantage of the foam’s ability to deaden noise.  And the contractor insulated the entire laundry room…which wasn’t planned.  I can’t decide if that’s fortunate or unfortunate…it will certainly make the washer and dryer noise completely hidden throughout the house!

With the insulation installed, the walls are starting to look like walls and the house is suddenly quieter inside…which makes us feel that much closer to moving in!