Saturday, August 30, 2008

Green Houses Guaranteed to Save Green Backs.

An Oklahoma home builder puts his money where his mouth is

By Christina Glennon

There is a lot of noise in the green building world these days. With green being used by everyone from product manufacturers with dubious claims of recycled content, to all natural material advocates unwilling to accept anything but a straw bale house as green. Consumers are left feeling confused, overwhelmed and unconvinced that green makes sense for them. But Oklahoma’s Ideal Homes has found a way to stand out from the crowd with their Guaranteed Utilities program for all new houses. Ideal Homes will guarantee that energy used for heating and cooling will not go over a pre-determined amount during the first 25 months after the close.

This is nothing new to Ideal Homes, who for six years has participated in the Environments for Living (EFL) program which guarantees each home’s heating and cooling use. EFL homes must meet energy-use performance guidelines set by the program and verified by a third party evaluator. EFL collects load calculations from the third party evaluator, in this case Guaranteed Watt Saver Systems, Inc., and the house plans from Ideal Homes. Using this information a computer model simulates the gas and electricity energy required to heat and cool each home. If the home’s use exceeds the guarantee, EFL will pay the difference.

Ideal Homes has now added this guarantee to all of their new homes. According to Vernon McKown, Ideal's co-owner and president of sales, "Now the home that keeps you comfortable all year long also guarantees to save you money on heating and cooling costs . . . it gives homebuyers peace of mind and confirms our energy performance claims." Ideal Homes is making the green payback concrete, by quietly cutting through the green noise.

--Christina Glennon is an administrative assistant at Taunton Press in Newtown, CT

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Greening My Home, Step 1: Biodiesel

By Dan Morrison

Air sealing and insulating are a great first step, but switching fuels is a lot quicker and easier. I'll do the insulating after I get a bonus check!

Standing in the cold dark December night pouring diesel fuel from a five gallon jug into the side of my house is where I think it really clicked: Houses are a huge consumer of oil. I had always gotten up-tight about gas mileage in my cars and trucks (I had a full sized Ford pickup at the time), but it never really hit me how much our houses gobble up.

Five gallons would maybe be enough to make it through the night, but it was about 10 degrees outside and I had two young children inside. So I made a few trips to the gas station and back pondering all the gas I was chugging into the side of my house.

Thousands of people pour hundreds of gallons of diesel fuel into their house every year. Actually, we burn 5 billion gallons of fuel oil every year (or we did in 2001)

An easy way for my family to cut our carbon footprint and our foreign oil consumption was to switch to biodiesel. Even though it's a 20% blend of biodiesel, my wife and I feel 80% better about our carbon emissions.

Biofuel cost a bit more than regular fuel oil but we don't really care. Regular fuel oil is bad; biodiesel is better. Now that the price of oil has skyrocketed, the extra premium paid for biodiesel is barely noticeable. Maybe we feel 85% better now. And it feels a heck of a lot better to see the oil truck with big green leaves on the side pull up to top us off.

To find a dealer, I went to and searched their listing. Hale Hill Farm was one of the closest (Bantam Fuel is closer, but they don't sell 20% blends, only 5%), so we called Hale Hill. Even though we're a little ways away, they deliver to us because they want to spread the word.

The first time the delivery driver came, he had a look at our system to make sure the fuel was compatible with our boiler, lines and tasnk, gave the thumbs up, and started pumping. The service is excellent, the drivers friendly, and the office staff pleasant.
What an interesting way to do business...

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Classic Trim Details Do More Than Just Look Good

By Dan Morrison

Well detailed walls push water away from the foundation with trim elements. Flares, frieze boards and foundation water tables aren't there just because they look good. Their job is to protect the house from water.

(Click the "comments" icon to turn on or off the photo caption)

They look good because their proportions are well thought out. Rules for proportions were figured out thousands of years ago by Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans.

They're worth following.

-- Dan Morrison is managing editor of

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Making Buildings Better One Camper at a Time

By Michael Chandler

One of the advantages to being part of the GreenBuildingAdvisor team is an invitation to Joe Lstiburek’s Building Science Summer Camp (that's me and him at right). This is an invitation-only gathering of 200 of the top building scientists, engineers, and architects in America. Of course builders and remodelers are invited too. I was there as a member of Peter Yost and Dan Morrison’s new Green Building Advisor project. Joe is on the Advisory team too. The experience was absolutely amazing.

Summer camp seems to be largely an indulgence-of-curiosity project for Joe. He just looks at the Building Science community, asks himself “who is doing interesting research these days?” He calls them up and offers them a chance to speak about what they are passionate about. The talks can range over a pretty wide area.

  • An engineer from Johns Manville talked about how the fiberglass insulation of today is different on a micro-structural basis to the fiber glass of five years ago and why that matters.

  • Dr. Pierre-Michel Busque talked about window leaks in Western Canada and various pressure assisted rain screen strategies that can to keep the walls dry.

  • Ren Anderson from the National Renewable Energy Lab talked about the reconstruction of tornado-ravaged Greensburg, Kansas. NREL is value engineering advanced energy performance into the new homes being built there. He says they have found a way to get 58% better than code performance at no extra cost. They can get to 90% better than code at no extra cost by balancing energy savings against higher mortgage payment and factoring in a 40% increase in fuel costs.

BSC summer camp lecture for 200 from 8:30 am 'til 3:30 pm each day.

A presentation by Henry Gifford was particularly earth shattering. Recently the USGBC ( ) had published a report from the New Buildings Institute ( ) that showed the LEED certified buildings perform 25% better than non-LEED certified “CBECS” buildings ( ). Henry is a building efficiency expert in New York City and he sees these all-glass LEED buildings going up and he wonders how they can possibly perform better than the CBECS average. So he downloaded the data and discovered they were comparing mean data for all age CBECS buildings to median data for new LEED buildings. He made some adjustments and was able to demonstrate that the new LEED buildings were actually performing 30% worse than other buildings of the same age. His point was that using models to predict is a good start, but until we go back and test our work, we’re not doing building science we’re doing building theory (and getting pretty close to religion if we just take things on faith). is announced!
This was a great set up for Peter Yost to step in and announce that Building Green Inc. (publishers of Environmental Building News) and Taunton Press (publishers of Fine Homebuilding Magazine) had partnered to build One of their (our) initiatives will be to publish case studies of energy efficient and green homes; the main difference is that they’ll get the energy bills of these houses and talk about actual energy used, rather than predicted. I’m starting with four of Chandler Design-Build’s recent homes as part of the first wave. It’s an exciting project to see how the theory really works out over time as compared with other excellent builders across the country, if a little intimidating.

Energy Star for Homes’ recent spec boost is announced!
Not to be outdone, The National Director of Energy Star for Homes, Sam Rashkin, announced the latest “version three” release from Energy Star and their newest program, Advanced New Home Construction. The version three adds new ventilation, humidity control, water management, thermal bridging, HVAC installation testing, radiant barriers, and overall size limitations to Energy Star’s specs. Sam is a guy who likes to knock bee hives with a stick, and his announcement that energy star for homes was going to get a whole lot harder set the whole room to buzzing. His announcement of size limitations drew applause from the summer campers.
He went on to show what would be required to meet the Advanced New Home Construction standard; 50% better than code, triple glazed windows, super HVAC, and size limits… Even I was thinking this will work at $10/gallon, but maybe America’s not ready to go there yet. Saying “no more Hummer Houses” is one thing but it feels like he’s taking Energy Star away from the market. It’s a very interesting time to be part of the green building movement.

After class we reconvened at the clubhouse for feasting, drinking, and science discussion until late in the evening. I was welcomed to the club house by Betsy Pettit, the renowned architect/writer/speaker who is a partner at Building Science Corp ( Betsy and Joe renovated the 150 year old Massachusetts farm house into a very energy efficient building. You can read about the process at (

Is Shismaref the new Greensburg?
There was a significant Alaskan contingent who told me they are really getting hit hard by global warming. The pack ice that protects barrier islands in the northern Bering Sea is coming too late in the season. The shores, which are a composite of sand and permafrost, are exposed to fall storms that they never experienced before and the islands are melting into the sea. This is problematic when there are villages on the island.

I spoke with people who were working on the social and logistical challenge of relocating villages to the mainland. Building durable, healthy, and energy efficient homes for people who have been subsistence living on remote islands is challenging enough, the social implications are very knotty. Many of the elders would prefer to sink into the sea with the rest of their way of life. The ethical and moral complications are mind boggling and the folks who are working on them, awe inspiring. To bring home the reality of what they are dealing with they brought along a gift from the community, raw bowfin and beluga whale and seal jerky with seal oil dip. I couldn’t bring myself to sample the seal oil but the raw bow fin was quite good. The rest may be an acquired taste…

--Michael Chandler is a builder and master plumber near Chapel Hill, North Carolina. His website is

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Classic and Durable Window and Door Trim Details

For durable window details look no farther than the oldest houses on your block. Build small roofs over windows and doors; recess them into the wall if you can. The trim details can be as simple or fancy as you want. For design guidence, look at classic houses.

I was driving through Maine last week and saw great examples of water shedding details on houses that have been around for 120-250 years.

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It's like Dr. Brusque said at summer camp a few weeks ago: "they built leaky houses 100 years ago too, it's just that the pigs have been torn down by now." What's left, is what worked.

--Dan Morrison is managing editor of

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Inevitable Question: Does Green Building Cost More?

By Ann V. Edminster

Green building is more expensive because it’s better building. Learning curve, certification, and better construction details may come at a premium, but the cost will flatten out. The costs of not building green however, will keep going up.

When I teach about green building, someone in the audience always asks the inevitable question: “How much does it cost?” After answering this query several gazillion times, I’ve realized that it boils down to three questions:
1. What does a green rating cost?
2. What’s the learning curve?
3. What will it cost to change the way I build?

You pay for the rating, you get quality assurance
The first question is the only one with a simple answer. A green rating will cost whatever price is charged by the rater. It’s usually a small fraction of the overall cost of the project, ranging from several hundred up to a few thousand dollars. This depends on type of home(s), location, timing, and the amount of technical support you need.

What’s often overlooked is that most of the cost is for field verification. This is fundamentally a quality assurance activity – something that is all too frequently lacking in the home building industry. This is a good investment!

Learning curves: change: is inevitable – adapt or go belly-up
The second cost, while the hardest to predict accurately, can be addressed in a way that most businesspeople immediately grasp: organizations must absorb change routinely; this is simply the cost of staying in business. These ordinary learning curve costs come from developing new supplier relationships, recruiting and training new personnel, investigating new products and technologies, grappling with new requirements or regulations, and other things. But these costs drop off quickly.

What’s notable about the learning curve costs is that it’s common to attribute them to the particular green building project. However, in reality if you undertake the learning curve it’s because you’ve decided that green building is a sound business direction and will benefit your future market position. These costs are no different from continuing education, updating marketing literature, or developing a new website.

The bottom line depends on your shade of green
The third cost can be quantified, but there’s no one-size-fits-all answer – it depends on where you start and where you want to be. Building practices exist on a spectrum, from bare-bones and barely-legal to net-zero-energy and beyond. Getting from point A to point B is relative.

Consider a Hyundai producer who decides to convert the production line over to Honda. The products are generally comparable in size, weight, and look. However, the Honda is (arguably) more durable, better-engineered, and more fuel-efficient. The Honda also costs a fair amount more. If, however, you’re a Hummer producer and convert to Honda production, your prices won’t increase (they may actually go down), and you’ll incorporate dramatic performance improvements – at least from an environmental impact perspective.

Similarly, builders of modest homes who upgrade to green may experience a cost increase. (However, they also may command a higher selling price or faster sales.) Builders of large homes may find opportunities to incorporate efficiencies without experiencing any significant cost increase. For example, a slight decrease in size combined with better up-front design may be a break-even proposition, or better windows and insulation may be offset by reductions in the size of the mechanical equipment. The premiums, when they exist, will disappear as energy prices head for the stratosphere and the value of green becomes more of a no-brainer.

Green building is an investment, not a cost
Answering this cost question requires that you identify exactly what green building practices or products you will use that differ from your status quo, and cost out those changes. This process means gathering detailed data from staff, consultants, and subcontractors and then value-engineering based on the outcomes. This type of analysis may be essential if you’re working for a production builder with stockholders to satisfy.

In a smaller, more informal company, just understanding what changes you will need to make may be enough. Either way, you’ll need to understand where you are and where you want to be on the Hyundai-Honda-Hummer spectrum. And if you do decide to re-tool your product line, keep in mind that it may not be realistic to expect your product to cost the same, or to sell at the same price point. It’s no longer the same product; it’s a better one.

--Ann V. Edminster is an architect and Principal of Design Avenues in Pacifica, Calif. She is also a GreenBuildingAdvisor at

Friday, August 15, 2008

Are All Air Filter Ratings Equal?

By Dan Morrison

Don't let your lungs pay for bad air filters. Some 99% effective filters are only 10% effective when you change the sampling method. Particle size matters, and so does sampling method.

Our final speaker at Building Science Summer Camp (Day 2), Dr. Dieter Weyel, talked about filters, filtration, and ratings. Turns out, there are some pretty important differences. Particles, like everything else, have to obey the laws of physics. It’s just that our understanding of physics is skewed because we’re big enough that gravity affects us. Gravity affects some particles too -- when they get to be about 10 micrometers. But small particles, say 1 micrometer, can fly. Sort of. They behave like algae in the ocean; they just float around obeying the laws od oceanic currents. Algae are less dense than the salt water they float in, so they float. Small particles are less dense than the air they float in, so they float around moving in response to the air currents.

Big particles fall to the ground and you have to clean them up with a damp cloth or a duster. Small particles float around and you clean them with a filter. As it turns out, lungs are excellent filters. Problem is, clean lungs work better than dirty lungs. That’s where filters come in. There are three ways to measure the effectiveness of a filter:

  1. Count the number of particles it catches
  2. Count the area of the particles it catches
  3. Count the weight of the particles it catches

Dr. Weytal used 10 small particles (1 micrometer) and one large particle (10 micrometers) as an example. If the filter only catches the large particle:

  • Method #1 yields a 10% filter.
  • Method #2 yields a 92% filter
  • Method #3 yields a 99% filter.

For ratings, particle size and sampling method matter
HEPA filters must be judged according to method 1, counting the number of particles it catches. Counting particles isn’t very effective for particles over about 5 micrometers Weyal says, because larger particles tend to overlap.

According to Weyal, ASHRAE measures “sort of by area.” They dump particles into a duct, spray them through a filter, and probe for particles before and after the filter. They shine light through the filter; if there are a lot of particles, not much light gets through. They compare one side of the filter to the other and get a percent efficiency.

As it turns out, particles vary in density too -- a styrofoam peanut and a cork are of similar size, and they both float on water, but they have very different densities. So density matters too.

--Dan Morrison is managing editor of

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Energy Star Raises the Bar for Home Builders

By Dan Morrison
A couple of interesting announcements at Building Science Summer Camp came from Sam Rashkin, the National Director of Energy Star for Homes: New standards that raise the bar and a new program for the best builders in the country: Advanced New Home Construction.

The new Energy Star specs include the following:
  • Thermal-breaks in walls -- When studs touch the inside surface and outside surfaces of a wall, they cut the R-value of a wall significantly.
  • Installing HVAC systems correctly -- EPA calls it “best practice installation;” Poor installations slash of the efficiency of an HVAC system by 35% (or more!)
  • Efficient water distribution, particularly for hot water. Hot water sitting in a tank waiting to be used, it cools. These standby losses at the tank are significant, but according to Energy Star, the standby losses in the pipes can be the same amount.
  • Better lighting, appliances, and plug-load management -- these loads account for over half of electricity use in homes : (major appliances: 24%, lighting: 18%, miscellaneous: 14%).
  • Size limits on Energy Star homes. The Home Energy Rating System (HERS), which scores Energy Star homes, inadvertently penalizes small homes by making it easier for very large homes to meet the energy efficiency requirements (not sure on the size limit yet, awaiting Sam’s answer).
  • Moisture control -- because tight houses have less drying potential, durability details must be well thought-out

These updates lay the groundwork for another EPA program: Advanced New Home Construction which will push the energy envelope 50% past 2006 International Energy Conservation Code. To get there, builders will:

  • ‘Super insulate the walls -- 50% more R-value in an air tight wall with perfect insulation and no thermal bridging.
  • Install ‘super-efficient’ high-performance windows which can block nearly 85 percent of solar heat gain while delivering R-8 thermal resistance (typical Energy Star windows block 70% solar heat and deliver R-3).
  • Install air-tight air handlers with high-efficiency variable-speed fans. HVAC systems often leak 35% of the air they transport. Half of that leaks out of the air handler. And today’s fans gobble up 70% more energy than necessary. Sealed air handler units are currently available and super-efficient fans are about three years away.
  • Install super high-efficient HVAC equipment -- SEER 18 (rather than 13) for air conditioning, >9.0 HSPF (rather than <8)>
  • Install solar domestic water heating system -- most solar water heaters can handle 50% to 90% of the water heating needs of a household.

The Advanced New Home Construction program is not open to all builders; it has requirements for participation. As such, EPA is looking for “the nation’s most energy efficient builders seeking recognition as environmental leaders” to join the Advanced New Home Construction program.

To learn more about the program, go to next September.

--Dan Morrison is managing editor of

Monday, August 11, 2008

Day 2 at Building Science Summer Camp

By Dan Morrison

What did I do at summer camp? met with our advisors, learned about physics, ate food from from Alaska to Dallas, Miami to Maine. And there were cubans with cigars, too.

Building science summer camp is an invitation-only information and consumption festival held during the first week of August each year and hosted by Building Science Corp. Officially calld the Westford Symposium on Building Science, summer camp attracts the best and the brightest in the commercial and residential building fields. There is also very good food, beer, wine, and cigars.

Classes are held during the day at the Westford Regency Hotel and Conference Center, networking and feasting opportunities are at the clubhouse each night. The classes are taught by whoever Joe Lstiburek, one of the founders of Building Science Corp, wants to invite. Typically these teachers are amoung the best in their respective fields. This year was no different.

Opening remarks by Pete Consigli:
“They ate all of the whale blubber” (John Woodward brought whale blubber and seal oil for us lower 48-ers to try. I guess it was pretty good.)

Today's first speaker: Pierre Brusque
According to the official Summer Camp brochure:

Pierre Busque is an engineer with Levelton in Vancouver, BC. He has over
twenty years of experience in one of the most miserable places in the world to
build but one of the most attractive to live in - the building science version
of beauty and the beast. He will regale us with stories of metal roofing
in Whistler, curtain walls and the Qube, historic buildings, recladding of
schools in Sayward and a few lawsuits. He has so many images of building
porn that he is on a most watch list. The second most important thing to
know about Mr. Busque is that he is a talented guitarist - the band is in for a
Vancouver has had its share of water problems. The rotting condo catastrophe is the most famous, but there have been water problems in the area for a long time. One reason, according to Mr. Brusque, is that there is tremendous variation in rainfall, both amount and distribution, among towns in the area. From desert to rain forest, and from slow and steady rain to sideways gully-washers. But weather variation isn’t a problem if designers (architects and engineers) don’t try to impose their home town’s weather patterns on a different city.

When designers from occasional gully-washer cities underestimate the power of constant light rain, they can do as much damage as a designer from the desert underestimating a gulley washer. Brusque: “Small leaks over a long period of time will really cause your building to go to crap.” Big leaks followed by long dry spells are easier to overcome than little leaks that can never dry out.

There are four basic causes of building failure:
  • Ignorance
  • Carelessness
  • Negligence
  • Greed

Ignorance, according to Brusque, is the only one we can do anything about. Designers need to look at local solutions, talk to local experts, and don’t forget to talk to old trade contractors. Pierre showed us a sill fan flashing design that a roofer showed him -- without cutting the metal (Stay tuned, I’ll make a short video using paper as a model). “They don’t build them like they used to -- well, buildings leaked 100 years ago too, but the real pigs were torn down.” The good ones have remained. The guys that built the good ones know how to shed water.

He also offered four rules about windows:

  • Treat all windows like they are leakers, because they really are.
  • Storefront windows should only be used under cover (this includes residential)
  • Because all windows leak, a sub-sill membrane with upturned edge is necessary
  • Never fasten a window through the sill. Even if the manufacturer demands it. If you must break this rule, elevate the membrane at the fastener with a shim to direct water away when it leaks through the hole (this tip from Ray Moore in the audience).

A liquid membrane that Pierre likes is called Siplast, a PMMA membrane (polymethyl methacrylate).

More speakers to come!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Green Remodeling is a Process of Discipline and Discovery

By Tommy Strong

Some parts are up to consumers, some are up to us. We guide the discovery process and use a disciplined construction process to boost value whatever shade of green our clients aim for.

Despite the economic upheavals in the housing market, about 8 million new homes were built last year. And we’re building them greener than ever. That’s a good thing, but improving the existing housing stock will have a much greater affect on greening America than even gargantuan efforts taken on the new construction side.

When it comes to building and remodeling, green, smart, and quality, are all the same thing.
Smart remodeling (and building) is an ongoing evolution and the notions of green are simply the next step in construction evolution. As a production manager for a remodeling company, my primary task is doing my job efficiently, in smarter ways, with value added. I don’t care how you define green, as long as you let me build smart.

Green remodeling involves a balance of products and processes; there are two areas of opportunity to influence our client’s choices during the sales process, but we are limited by their level of understanding, desire, and commitment.

During the sales process we can influence product choices
We’ve been including a free duct blaster test as a part of high end remodels and this year we started offering energy audits. We look for opportunities to tie in envelope upgrades within the scope of the current and future remodel plans. For big energy wasters, we suggest fixing them regardless of the scope of work and clients never balk (would you balk at a mechanic who ignored severely worn tires because you hired him to change the oil?).

When gauging a client’s level of green, we start by showing them low-maintenance no-brainers like durable PEX plumbing systems and healthier paints. Making sure they see the obvious benefits is easy, and once they understand, then they become curious. We ask questions, exploring their living habits, and talking about water and energy conservation, we can find out if their wishes include better hot water delivery—if so, we steer them towards tankless water heaters—or super-efficient ceiling fans, in which case we point towards one rated as Energy Star. [Some follow up about desire]. Bath fans are another easy upgrade: they are bigger, badder, quieter, and more expensive than they used to be — and worth every penny. Sucking moist or stale air out is as important as circulating air for interior air quality.

To take it up a notch we’ll talk HVAC upgrades or spray-in insulation, both of which offer big benefits, but an additional level of up-front financial commitment (we are talking thousands of dollars here). For our clients committed to maximum efficiency we go beyond conservation and look towards contribution -- think photovoltaic panels, solar water heaters, rain water collection, etc.

The main point is that by following their lead on budget items we can dial in on where to lead the conversation next. We look for opportunities to sell green building, and we want to be ready to take it as far as they want.

To go deep green, we need trade partners who are up to the task: suppliers who want to help install their products, engineers and designers who will specify them and fellow contractors who will take the ball and run with it. These specialists must know the products, or be willing to learn about them. We lean on them pretty heavily because we can’t be their technical expert, and we can’t spend all our time talking people in to a different (smarter) way of doing things.

During production (and demo) we are in control of the details
Levels of commitment to the products vary wildly among clients, but our commitment to the process varies little. The tactics may change but strategies don’t. We keep consistent quality with durability and ‘best practices’ checklists learned from 17 years of remodeling. These standards and checklists help us stay focused on whatever we can do to tighten and refine the building envelope. Things like cladding, flashing, and drainage which are conditions begging for improvement. Advanced framing techniques that increase opportunity to add insulation and cut thermal transfer. Air flow management that controls temperature and humidity, and therefore, comfort.

Our systems and practices attempt to squeeze value from every square foot, no matter how many square feet there are. We do this by examining every inch of floor, wall and ceiling space for maximum benefit. Some value choices aren’t necessarily green per se, but they’re good design. For example: it often makes sense to thicken a bathroom or kitchen wall -- plumbers and electricians like the extra room to work with utilities and fixtures; designers and architects like the extra room to play with things like built-ins and pocket doors. It costs a little more but the square foot of floor space is used well.

Our demolition approach is less like tear-out and more like surgery, with instruments and masks. The attitude is remove, re-cycle, and ReStore. Old aluminum window frames and copper supply lines don’t go to the dumpster; they go to the salvage yard. And many items we take out of a particular home can find another home somewhere else. Hardware, doors and windows, even commodes are in enough demand that the Habitat for Humanities of the world will come pick them up. And it means fewer trips to the dump for us.
Surgical demolition should be mapped out with a solid 3-point plan:

  • Isolate—reduce the impact of major renovations on the rest of the home by controlling security, traffic, and of course, dirt.
  • Protect —go the extra mile, even if means 1/8 in. at a time: I’ve pulled 300’ of shoe molding so we could better protect a hardwood floor all the way to the baseboard.
  • Remove — pay attention to negative air pressure and reduce dust for the people living there and the people working there.

The next big thing in the marketplace—no matter which marketplace—is always right around the corner. Despite the fog of economic uncertainty we know some things: gas, oil, and kilowatts won’t get cheaper. Quality construction is a concept that continues to evolve and we continue to roll with it. During a green remodeling project we elevate the quality and number of products whenever we can through education and options; through our processes, we maximize value no matter what selections are made. As we do, we make the best buildings we can, those that stand the test of time--the most valuable commodity we have.

--Tommy Strong (CGR, CAPS, CLC) is Vice President of Construction Services and co-founder of Brothers Strong, a design/build firm in Houston

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Day 1 at Building Science Summer Camp

By Dan Morrison
What did I do at summer camp? Met with our advisory team, learned about physics, ate food from from Alaska to Dallas, Miami to Maine. And there were cubans with cigars, too.

Building science summer camp is an invitation-only information and consumption festival held during the first week of August each year and hosted by Building Science Corp. Officially calld the Westford Symposium on Building Science, summer camp attracts the best and the brightest in the commercial and residential building fields. There is also very good food, beer, wine, and cigars.

Classes are held during the day at the Westford Regency Hotel and Conference Center, networking and feasting opportunities are at the clubhouse each night. The classes are taught by whoever Joe Lstiburek, one of the founders of Building Science Corp, wants to invite. Typically these teachers are amoung the best in their respective fields. This year was no different.

Each day opens with a rundown by the chef, Pete Consigli, on the menu.
Summer camp participants do their best to out-do eachother each year with their native cuisenes: The Alaskans bring halibut and salmon, the Texans bring a steer and slow roast the brisket, North Carolina barbeque, Maine clams and mussels... Pete's opening comments this year: "The food at summer cam can be summed up three ways: Best quality, huge variety, and a hell of a lot of it."

Even smart people get confused.
Dr. Lstiburek likes to say that he's not a consultant, he's an insultant. Dr Anton Tenwold added another layer to the title game: Confusant.
After recently retiring from the USDA Forest Products Lab, physicist Anton TenWolde has discovered that what he thought he knew, is really stuff he doesn’t know. Dr Tenwolde's eyes lit up when someone raised a hand during his presentation to say "I'm confused."

But there's a lot to learn from the stuff Dr. TenWolde doesn't know. Here’s what I learned:

  • A lot of water in houses comes from people, but it isn’t all from respiration (breathing). A lot can come from transpiration (sweating) too -- up to 3 lbs of water per day per person. Coupled with respiration, a family of five dumps up to 33 gallons of water into a house every day.
  • Foundations add a lot of water to a house too: .4 kg per square meter per day (about a gallon per 44 square feet) evaporate from bare soil in a crawl space.
  • It takes six weeks for a sliver of wood to come to moisture equilibrium with its surroundings. And then Lew Harriman asked if we could all undlerline that in our notes: SIX WEEKS for a teeny piece of wood to come to equilibrium with its environment through sorption. So the oak flooring probably ought to be in the room for more than a couple of days before installation.

Houses can be a huge part of the solution to our energy problem
Ren Anderson works at the National Renewable Energy Lab and is interested in Net Zero Energy Houses. It's pretty well known that we can use a lot less power in houses, today he talked a lot about the challenge of syncing up local power generation with grid demands. Many houses can generate a lot of power with PV, but can they provide electricity to the grid when the grid needs it most -- during the hot part of the day when everyone flips on the AC?

I learned:

  • Today’s houses are much bigger than houses from the fifties and they use much more energy.
  • While today’s big houses use less energy per square foot, it’s total energy use that’s important because we don’t make power by the square foot, we make power by the kilowatt.
  • Small houses are more efficient at space heating than large houses -- they use a smaller percentage of total energy for space heating.
    Large houses get better RESNET scores than small houses because RESNET is based on performance per square foot. For this reason, it (and Energy Star) are biased towards larger houses (but the Energy Star bias may be changing).
  • It is very cost effective to slash home energy use by 50%. The second 50%, to get to zero energy, is less cost effective at current energy prices. If energy prices go up (which they may) higher efficiencies will be very cost effective too.
  • PV panels on houses can provide peak power needs to the grid if they’re turned to face west rather than south because their generation curve will be shifted an hour or two later in the day -- just when houses need the most electricity.
  • 80% of the houses in America are built by 20% of the builders. Production builders risk going the way of GM if they don’t lead the world in energy efficiency.

At the clubhouse, I learned that more and more regional green building programs, such as Earth Craft House from Atlanta and Earth Advantage from Oregon, are expanding. Earth Craft is in six southeastern states and Earth Advantage is moving towards New England. This may mean that the big National programs need to get their acts together and start making sense.

--Dan Morrison is managing editor of

Monday, August 4, 2008

Annette Stelmack's Green Story

Immigrant parents, hard work, and frugality formed my character, a child put sustainablity into context.

I first learned about sustainability from my parents. Both of them emigrated from Germany after World War 2, my father when he was just 17. He arrived at Ellis Island with little more than a small suitcase and a sponsor (his aunt) in Colorado. I grew up with the mentality that you didn’t throw anything away. We used things until they fell apart.

That was not all my parents passed on to me. My father was a bricklayer and later moved into building homes, my mother was a seamstress. During the year I would work for my mother, who did work for interior designers, which is how I was introduced to the trade. During the summer I would get to spend some time with my father at his drafting table looking over blueprints or out at the jobsite mixing mortar, helping with the rough carpentry, hanging sheetrock, and painting. Between my father in the construction industry and my mother’s connection to design it was as if I were destined to be involved in making the home a more beautiful and nurturing place as an interior designer.

After years of focusing on my interior design career my son was born. This changed the way I looked at everything! In particular, it made me realize just how much waste there was in the world and in particular the building industry. I started recycling and doing all that I could at home, but it just wasn’t enough. I needed to do more to make the world a better and cleaner place, not only for my son but all children.

Shortly after this, in 1998, I attended EnvironDesign2. It was here that I was first experienced firsthand inspiring speakers such as Paul Hawken, Ray Anderson, Sim Van der Ryn, William McDonough, Michael Braungart and Bill Browning. This was a pivotal moment in my life -- I decided that this is what I had to do. I was so moved that I came home from the conference on a Sunday afternoon, sat at my computer and typed all of my notes right then and there. That weekend launched the formal greening of my career and it wasn’t long before Associates III, the firm that I was co-managing, had fully embraced green design too, going so far as to form teams to implement green in all we did companywide. I was so passionate about green that I ended up being on most of the internal task forces. After completing our book “Sustainable Residential Interiors” with my colleagues at Associates III, I knew it was time to focus exclusively on sustainability. I have recently started a sustainability consultant company - working with designers, architects, manufacturers, homeowners - supporting their green journey. I also volunteer for the USGBC CO Chapter chairing the Green School Advocacy committee and am the incoming chair for ASID’s National Sustainable Design Council. My next venture will be grassroots outreach programs for kids on green issues and environmental stewardship.

What does green building mean to me?
When I look at green building and design, at its core level it is about the synergy of the project team. The key to success, no matter the type of project or effort is having a common alignment of vision, mission and goals with sustainability as the primary focus.

--Annette Stellmack is the incoming chair of the sustainablility committee at the American Society of Interior Designers