Side Note: Meditation Room

meditationroomWhile this post has little to do with Green Building, I wanted to point out a few features of the house to show that you can still have some amazing spaces and features while building Green.

We wanted a Meditation Room designed into our space and Architect Kelly Mitchell gave us exactly what we wanted.  The room is about 11′ X 13′, with a small closet.  The room was built with a feng shui sense, so the interior door to the hall has a glass panel, and the door to the upstairs balcony is basically a wall-sized slider.  The room will have a wall-mounted TV (energy star rated!) and the sound system will share a channel with the studio.  And before you say, “TV in the meditation room?” keep in mind that the Meditation Room will also be used for yoga and tai chi so the TV will be used to watch and follow instructional videos!

The room is a very basic open space (see the photo above), but we added insulation on the wall it shares with the living room to cut down on noise.  We also had to design and have constructed a special jump duct vent to help reduce HVAC noise and to allow us to place the HVAC return in the ceiling.

The Meditation Room gets little-to-no direct sunlight in the summer and just a bit in the winter.  It also shares the upstairs balcony with the living room….it will be a great get-away!

Indoor Environmental Quality (LEED EQ Category)

The EQ Category is probably the most complicated LEED for Homes category – at least to me anyway!  It deals with HVAC, contamination control, moisture control, etc.  These are all things I’m no way near an expert on.  And as you probably guessed, there’s a separate checklist that can apply to this category, too.  Here’s the deal:

There are two, somewhat alternative paths in this category.  You can choose to follow the Energy Star Indoor Air Package (IAP) path or you can attempt to get your points by complying with multiple individual LEED subcategories.  The reality is that both of the paths share a lot of requirements – the IAP path is a bit more stringent…and of course that’s the one we’ve chosen to follow.

The Energy Star Indoor Air Package (IAP) is a detailed list of requirements that addresses the following indoor environment concerns:

  • Moisture Control – foundation, walls, roofs, plumbing systems,
  • Radon Control – wasn’t an issue in our area (North Texas)
  • Pest Barriers – minimizing pathways, termite prevention
  • HVAC Systems – equipment, ductwork, ventilation, air filtration

The IAP is a yes/no point-getter.  While there are a few optional requirements in the IAP, you either comply or not with the standard as a whole…no partial credit!  We were told by our Home Provider that few builders actually get the points for complying with the IAP.  We believe we will be compliant, although it took a lot of advanced planning and attention to detail.  I couldn’t have worked through this section without our builder’s and our HVAC guy’s help.  If you need a good HVAC specialist, call Greg Gannon at Tempo Mechanical Services.

So, we expect to have the points for the IAP (a whooping 13 points!). 

We are also eligible for a few more points in this category.  Two points that we’re hoping to get are awarded for an advanced whole-house ventilation system.  Our core HVAC came with a ventilation system (basically, whenever the blower runs a motorized damper opens and pulls in fresh air).  However, the system can be upgraded and made more efficient by installing a heat exchange system.  The system works basically the same except that the air coming in from the outside runs through a heat exchange before mixing with the indoor return air.  That way when it’s 104 degrees outside and 75 degrees inside, the 104 degree air gets cooled in a very efficient way BEFORE mixing with the 75 degree air in the return air mechanism.  The upgrade costs us $1600, but we have an issue…the HVAC guy wasn’t told to install it when he was installing the HVAC system and we need to add it back in.  I’m waiting to see if that’s going to be possible.  Yes, it was a mistake!

Indoor Environmental Quality expected points:  20 out of a possible 21.

Energy & Atmosphere (LEED EA Category)

The Energy & Atmosphere category can be a little confusing.  USGBC has created alternate paths to earning points for Energy & Atmophere.  Our Home Provider only supports the path that requires a rating using the HERS Index.  According to the government’s Energy Star website, a HERS Index is

a scoring system established by the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) in which a home built to the specifications of the HERS Reference Home (based on the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code) scores a HERS Index of 100, while a net zero energy home scores a HERS Index of 0. The lower a home’s HERS Index, the more energy efficient it is in comparison to the HERS Reference Home.

Each 1-point decrease in the HERS Index corresponds to a 1% reduction in energy consumption compared to the HERS Reference Home. Thus a home with a HERS Index of 85 is 15% more energy efficient than the HERS Reference Home and a home with a HERS Index of 80 is 20% more energy efficient.

Our preliminary HERS Rating is a 69.  Our rating could have been lower if it wasn’t for the number of windows and lights in our home.  When performing the preliminary rating (which is based off of plans and a conversation about design and use of the home), our Home Provider also gave us a list of things we could do to get a better rating.  We have agreed to incorporate better insulation in a few areas and to upgrade our windows in the front window tower.  But upgrading the tankless hot water systems would cost significantly more so we chose not to do that, neither did we choose to reduce the window-to-wall ratio.  We have a ratio of 30% now, and to get a six-point decrease in our HERS Rating we’d have to reduce it down to 22% – given the fantastic design of the house, that just wasn’t feasible (although we did go through the exercise to see if it was possible).

One more point to make about the HERS Rating:  they take into account not only how the house is being built (windows, doors, insulation type, HVAC type, construction methods, etc), they take into account the heat gain of the items in the house.  So every appliance or component that emits heat is measured – refrigerator, stereo, computers, etc. – because the heat that they generate has to be countered with cool air, which requires electricity, which is energy, which is what we’re trying to use less of.

While the EA Category for us focused primarily on the HERS Rating, there are a few other areas where we could gain points.  We obtained points for our hot water distribution system.  While we didn’t upgrade to the super-duper tankless heaters, we are using tankless throughout the house.  And we got points not only for the tankless heaters themselves, but for the fact that the heaters are located close to the faucets they serve (no more than ~30 linear feet).  The idea being that when you turn the hot water on in the shower, you don’t waste water or energy waiting for hot water to travel the pipes to the shower head.  We also get a point for insulating all hot water pipes 90 degree bends…apparently that’s where hot water pipes lose most of the heat of the water.  We also got points for refrigerant management.

To get a good sense of the practices that you will end up using regardless of whether you use a HERS Rating or not, look at the alternate path in LEED.  The following categories are addressed, and we could have gotten a good number of the points in that path.  Let me know if you have any questions about these categories:

  • Insulation
  • Air Infiltration
  • Windows (we struggled with windows and I’ll blog about them separately)
  • Duct Tightness
  • Space Heating & Cooling
  • Domestic Hot Water
  • Lighting
  • Appliances
  • Renewable Energy 

Pointwise, the EA category is our weakest, again mostly due to the amount of windows and lights in the house.  We may earn a few more points if we get a better final HERS Rating, but the category will still be our weakest.

Energy & Atmosphere expected points:  18 out of a possible 38.