> Ross Koningstein                                                      
> A Greener House
> As part of the restoration of his 3,500-square-foot house, Ross Koningstein
> implemented a number of energy saving techniques that he wants to share
> with anyone interested in reducing their carbon footprint. One of the more
> basic techniques is the use of a bubble-wrap like radiant energy barrier in
> the walls and ceilings, which blocks 95% of the heat transfer, reducing the
> need for air conditioning. Ross also used other low tech approaches, such
> as hydronic heating (from solar thermal panels) and cooling (from a buried
> 15,000 gallon water tank), as well as a few hi-tech gadgets, including LED
> lighting with special dimming controls.
> Ross will describe his efforts to reduce his family’s carbon footprint
> and his efforts to promote the use of these techniques in new building
> construction. He will also describe some of the energy use monitoring
> devices he has installed to evaluate how the systems are working.
> For more information, go to www.greenerhouse.info.

Ross 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.

He 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 old wood

The 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.

Under 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.

Heat is 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.

The 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.

Gray water is conserved for plants, but blackwater (from toilets, etc.) is given to the city as sewage like every other house does.

The 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.

The 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...

All 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.

To find out more please visit: