> A Greener House
> As part of the restoration of his 3,500-square-foot house, Ross
> implemented a number of energy saving techniques that he wants to
> with anyone interested in reducing their carbon footprint. One of
> basic techniques is the use of a bubble-wrap like radiant energy
> the walls and ceilings, which blocks 95% of the heat transfer,
> need for air conditioning. Ross also used other low tech
> as hydronic heating (from solar thermal panels) and cooling (from
> 15,000 gallon water tank), as well as a few hi-tech gadgets,
> lighting with special dimming controls.
> Ross will describe his efforts to reduce his family’s carbon
> and his efforts to promote the use of these techniques in new
> construction. He will also describe some of the energy use
> devices he has installed to evaluate how the systems are working.
> For more information, go to www.greenerhouse.info.
began his talk by explaining that to accomplish his goal of having an
energy efficient house he had to overcome problems from the city, the
county and the state. The entire building industry is conservative, and
laws don't always make sense. The system is set up so that it there is
little credit (for contractors) in doing creative things, and lots of
blame to be suffered if your idea doesn't pan out. Also, there are many
ways that everything about homebuilding has traditions, and many of
those are built into the habits of contractors, inspectors, and zoning
officials. Doing something else requires a willingness to do a lot of
explaining. He did it all during the renovation of his 3500
square foot home.
started by deciding to redo the kitchen and bathroom. This triggered a
clause in the city code that required updating the wiring and plumbing
and heating of the whole house to code. Since they had to tear out all
the plaster walls to do this, they had to do a whole renovation.
He showed us a picture of the interior
before renovation, and another one taken after removing the previous
interior. The after picture looked like a freshly framed building with
heating and cooling system is completely new. Heating contractor
proposals included putting heating tubes directly over slabs, which
isn't very efficient. Ross put a layer of insulation UNDER the heating
pipes, and thin aluminum plates above them so that the heat would be
sucked away from them towards the floor. He also put reflective
insulation in the walls just under the stucco and around the insulation
between the studs to bounce heat back. Because of the much greater
insulation, Ross thinks there will be little need for artificial
cooling of the place. A lot of fall/spring heating comes from
the solar heating panels, which are about 80% efficient. He compared
that to a solar electric system, which has max efficiencies of about
15%, but is useful during the summer.
the house is a wine cellar, which is neither heated nor cooled, instead
just well insulated around the top where the temperature changes. Ross
expects the thermal mass of the earth that hovers around 60 degrees to
work as a wine storage environment. He talked about his struggle to
find a vendor that would sell him just the equipment to keep the
humidity at recommended levels. The first expert only wanted to sell a
system that had expensive heating and cooling capabilities built in.
also conserved by having a heat exchanger between the shower drain and
the shower's cold water input. With a special valve that keeps the
output at a bather set temperature, this results in needing 25% less
hot water to take a given length of shower. Ross said this was one of
the few parts of the project that nobody objected to. The plumber
didn't mind getting paid to install the rare contraption, and there
were no laws against it.
gray water system, which takes water from the shower system and uses it
to water plants, was a source of controversy. The cistern Ross built to
gather runoff from the gutters and driveway for watering during the
summer was a source of controversy. The kitchen lighting system was a
source of controversy. Ross is proud that after all was said and done,
he expects to have power and gas bills about 10% of the previous owners.
During Q&A the following topics came up.
water is conserved for plants, but blackwater (from toilets, etc.) is
given to the city as sewage like every other house does.
cistern is sized so that it can hold a foot of water per year falling
on the whole area of the driveway and roofs. There is a filter that
prevents much besides water from getting into it, a UV light to kill
whatever starts growing inside the tank, and a pump to make the water
in it available for gardening.
family room lights are high efficiency LEDs. Ross had to fit them into
conventional fixtures to make them work out right. He thinks
California's Title 24 laws requiring
dimmers on incandescent light bulbs are dumb. That law results in new
construction wasting even more energy with incandescent lights...
original windows in the house remained single pane, but now use
1/4" laminated glass (like a windshield) for better
strength and insulating value. This is because our seasons aren't
extreme enough to justify the added expense to try to make double pane
work in the house's french doors. However, existing and new have fancy
reflective coatings to keep out unwanted heat, and the major south
facing windows have a trellis to keep out the summer sun.
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