Proving the Worth of Green – Gas Bill

AtmoslogoI just got our gas bill for the month that straddles August/September.  It is $21.29.  We used 700 Cubic Feet of gas.  If you’ll review my post from a couple of weeks ago, you’ll see how we keep our gas bill down.

I also wanted to note that the charge for our actual gas usage was only 43 cents of the $21.29.  The rest of the charge is made up of a Utility District Charge (25 cents), Taxes ($1.45), a Rider Charge ($4.69), and a “Customer Charge” ($14.47).

Amazing how 43 cents worth of natural gas costs me $21.29!

New Pictures on Website

We’ve posted many new photos of our house on our website.  Go here and click on the Gallery link.

Tour de LEED: Homes

leedlogo2This coming Saturday ours is one of three homes being toured by the North Texas Chapter of the US Green Building Council.  We moved in 3 weeks ago and are hustling fast and furious to get the house presentable.  We’ve given our builder this Thursday as their deadline to be done and out (we’ll finish anything remaining undone after that).

The tour is featuring one LEED for Home certified Platinum house, and 2 LEED for Homes registered Platinum house.    Sign up quickly!  They’re limiting the tour to 60 participants!

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!

Side Note: Green Cities Ranking

Visit this site:  www.sustainlane.com.

It’s a ranking of cities based on their performance in 16 areas of sustainability.  Dallas is listed as #24.  Austin is #13.

Rainwater Harvesting

I mentioned in earlier posts that we’re going to be harvesting our rainwater.  I wanted to do a small deep dive into this subject because it’s such a new Green concept.  Our contractor is [NAME OF CONTRACTOR DELETED ON 5/18/09] – they’re the premier rainwater harvesting company in North Texas.

I will touch on a couple of topics:

How much water do we think we can get?  We’re collecting from our entire roof, which is roughly 2900 square feet.  The accepted calculation is that 1 inch of rain on every 1000 square feet of roof yields 600 gallons.  So for every 1 inch of rain, we’ll collect about 1740 gallons.  We are installing two 2500 gallon cisterns, so a good 3 inches of rain and we’ll be full!

How much does it cost?  The quote we got from our rainwater harvesting contractor was about $8800, but keep in mind that includes not only the downspouts, plumbing and cisterns, but also a filter/purification system that will enable us to use the rainwater in our washing machine, too.  We’re paying for gutters separately.

How much will we save?  Our former yard was almost entirely Saint Augustine grass.  We were watering every second day during the summer and at least twice a week during the winter.  Our water bills were anywhere from $200-$300/month.  We expect to save anywhere between $100-$200/month between having a drought-friendly landscape and using rainwater.  With a fairly conservative guess of $150/month, the rainwater harvesting system will be paid off in about 5 (or less) years.  Not a bad Green investment!

How is it put together?  Basically the gutters are installed first.  Then our contractor places the 4″ downspouts.  The downspouts run from the roofline, into the ground, across the property and up into the cisterns.  As long as the cisterns are below the roofline, gravity will feed the water into the cisterns.  Of concern with these systems are leaves and other roof debris.  We’re using a foam insert in our gutters – the idea being that the water soaks into the gutter while the leaves, etc stay on top and get washed off.  There is a filter into the cistern, and another going out of the cistern.  There is a pump that we’re installing in our crawlspace that feeds both the irrigation system and the washing machine.  Before the water goes into the washing machine, it goes through a very fine filter and then through an ultraviolet purifier.  If the cistern gets too low, a valve opens to fill the cistern with city water.  Our washing machine will be set up to be able to switch between cistern and city water…so we’re not stuck without the ability to wash clothes!  The cisterns also have an overflow into the landscape in the event we get too much rain and the cisterns are full.

Aesthetics.  Our cisterns are being installed above ground.  Obviously having them installed below ground would solve the aesthetics problem.  However, in our installation we have a side of the house that is fully utility – it will house the two cisterns, two air conditioning units and the electrical box.  It will be fenced in and hidden from the entertainment portions of the house and the neighbors.  So, for us there’s no aesthetics issue.  There is a house outside of Dallas that has a 10,000 gallon cistern in the backyard.  Some designers see it as a Green architectural design feature while others have criticized it as too much exposed utility.  Decide for yourself here:

We’re told that maintenance on the system is infrequent and simple.  Does anyone with a rainwater harvesting system agree or disagree?

Side Note: Hardships of Renting

I think I mentioned before that we are renting the house next door to the lot we’re building on.  Our neighborhood is heavily wooded and the rental property has over 60 trees on 1/2 acre….plus lots of shrubs (and weeds).  We’re also about 1/4 mile from a creek.  We have a fair amount of wildlife in the area even though we’re right by Love Field inside the Northwest Highway loop of Dallas. 

Long story short:  Our rental is really falling apart, and as you can see from the photos, we’ve had raccoons and a opossum in our attic.  And in true environmentally-friendly fashion, we had them caught and released by a reputable wildlife handler.  Our landlord wanted us to place poison in the attic to kill them, then expected us to dispose of the carcasses….that wasn’t going to happen. 

Our landlord’s handyman came by this past weekend to close up the hole in the attic so no more critters can visit that closely.

Sustainable Sites (LEED SS Category)

As I mentioned before, our lot is what sold the original house – we love it.  It’s about .4 acres and very deep (about 250 feet deep).  LEED awards points for taking care of the land and preparing it to be water-wise and safe.  Here’s how the points worked for us:

We’re required to do basic erosion control during construction.  We investigated using burlap and shredded wood, but were told that the City of Dallas inspectors didn’t like that method, so we went with traditional plastic with wooden stakes.  We weren’t thrilled, but given the fits the inspectors had already given us during the foundation phase of the project we decided not to tempt fate further.

There are several points for basic landscaping design and techniques.  We have a landscape architect, Jim Martinez, engaged in the project who has a ton of experience with drought-friendly yards.   He was able to design the yard using native and adapted plants.  The LEED calculation lead us to expect a 66% reduction in irrigation demand, and that gave us a whopping 6 points.  That’s a lot in LEED-speak!  We left one point on the table – a point that would have required us to remove a large privet hedge.  I know some folks would pay money to get rid of their privets, but these had been on this property for more than 50 years.  They house the breeding site for our lightening bugs, provide cover for birds and other wildlife, and provide a year-round noise cushion between us, the neighbor’s pool, and Love Field traffic.  We just couldn’t bring ourselves to rip them out. 

French Drain installation

Other points can be earned by managing surface water.  Here are some of the design features we used to avoid as much stormwater runoff as possible:

  • Rainwater falling on 100% of our roof will be directed into two 2500 gallon cisterns to be used for irrigation and clothes washing.  I’ll talk more about this feature in a later post…we’re very excited about it!
  • Swales (or berms) in the back and front yard to create rainwater gardens that will capture and hold rainwater while it soaks into the ground.
  • French drains (being installed in the photo above) to direct water from the uphill side of the property around the structures and into the swales.  
  • Driveway runners versus a full concrete driveway – we’re creating concrete ribbons for our front yard drive with grass growing in between.  These look a bit old-fashioned, but they create a space for more rainwater percolation versus the rainwater running into the street.
  • Permiable driveway in the back of the house – it will be gravel so rainwater will soak directly into the ground versus running off of a concrete drive.
  • Patios made of poured concrete pads with space between them (versus solid slabs) to allow rainwater to run between them and soak into the ground
  • A lot of trees and bushes being added into the landscape to hold the dirt and reduce natural erosion

Other points we’re getting are for using non-toxic pest controls – things like making sure you don’t plant new plants within 24″ of the structures (we actually have a 24-36″ band of gravel around the structures, so no plants will be planted close to the house or garage) and sealing all openings with calk or wire mesh. 

We didn’t earn points for “Compact Development”.  The denser the population the less impact on Mother Nature, so LEED provides credit for denser developments.  Because we live in an area with lot sizes from .25 to 1.25 acres we were just out of luck.  To be eligible for points, you’re required to have a maximum lot size equivalent of 1/7 of an acre (and the smaller the better)….oh well!

Expected Sustainable Sites points:  16 out of a possible 22.

Getting Started

Welcome to our Green Labron blog.  Our intent with this blog is to track the design, construction, decision-making process of our home on Labron Avenue in Dallas, Texas.  We intend to build Green – meaning we’re targeting a Platinum LEED for Homes Certification from the US Green Building Council.  We’ll explain what that all means in future posts, but for now….Welcome and check out our links to learn more about USGBC and LEED.