Yes, oil has dropped 50% in the last year natural gas has been more than cut in half in the last year, so your electric bill will go down…right? I would not count on it and given the political situation in the world today, you must consider the impact your new home or home improvement will have on energy consumption. There is also the

LED GU-10 Lightbulb

LED GU-10 Lightbulb

possibility you may face large increases in your electric bill if Cap & Trade passes into law. LED lighting is fast becoming a viable option for you to consider in the design phase for your house. LED’s have a solid history of performance in commercial applications. Most traffic signals incorporate LED’s. The typical traffic light will contain 196 LED’s and will draw 10 watts. To produce the same light requirement with incandescent lights would consume 150 watts. Replacing all 260,000 U.S. traffic signals now using incandescent would reduce electrical consumption by 2.5 billion kWh annually. This is just the tip of the iceberg of savings in this one example. Maintaining the incandescent light bulbs in all these traffic signals is far more expensive than the electrical consumption. With and average life of 2,000 hours, a typical signal will have to have the bulbs changed at least 4 times a year. Some LED’s will last 15-20 years. The cost savings from the reduced replacement cycle should justify the cost of replacing the existing bulbs, even with a unit cost for LED’s which runs 50-60 times that of an incandescent bulb. But the savings do not end here. If LED’s started to replace lighting in the broader scope of lighting both residential we would see savings from the reduced need to build new power plants, reduced emission from reduced power requirements for the plants to produce, reduced recycling cost to process the burned out fluorescent and incandescent bulbs and a host of other energy and economic impacts attendant to lighting. They could also solve the dilemma of Mercury in CFL that we al face with the demise of incandescent bulbs slated to occur in 2012. The cost of LED’s is coming down as their use spreads. To date the light output and the color rendition have been the main inhibitors to seeing them spread to general lighting purposes. Both of these issues are finding solutions through research and development. There are lighting solutions for the home now available for residential applications. Quasar makes  a fairly broad line of LED light solutions that will work for your home lighting needs. Even if you investigate them and decide they are not right for you, it appears that the industry is looking to make the transition easy once the light source gains greater acceptance. In the mean time, you should look at the possibility of using these in your new home. The benefits are very attractive for the investment. Just imagine if you did not have to change a light bulb for 20 years.

Tweet This

Icynene Sprayed Foam Insulation

Icynene Sprayed Foam Insulation

One of the important considerations in the the design and construction of your new home is considering the insulation system and its impact on other systems in the home. There are a few different forms of insulation, the more common ones:

  • Fiberglass Batt
  • Recycled Denim
  • Blown Cellulose
  • Blown Icynene

Green Aspects Of Sprayed Icynene Foam Insulation

Each has different benefits and features and we are going to concentrate here on Blown Icynene. Icynene is a chemical, sprayed in a water base, that adheres to most anything that it touches like glue and also quickly expands to a volume around 100 times the sprayed liquid. The chemicals are considered safe and non-toxic. Because the chemicals are non-toxic and the superior insulating qualities of the system, it clearly supports green building objectives.  while it is not a typical DIY project due to the very specialized and expensive equipment required to install the product, it is well worth your consideration in either your new home, or now, as a retrofit in your attic.  There are vendors now that sell the systems in pressurized tanks that make a DIY project feasible.  One such vendor is Tiger Foam.

They tout a rather unique approach to using a hybrid of Icynene and fiberglass batt to give a reduced cost method of insulating with the installation of a R-13 layer of fiberglass batt over a 1″ layer of Icynene which seals the cavity against air-infiltration while the fiberglass offers.  I have not been able to fnd any figures on what the savings may be or if this alternative is not as energy efficient as an all foam cavity.  You will have to investigate this yourself. Here is a video:

Traditional Icynene Installation

Icynene rises, much like bread dough, to fill the void completely, fill in around concealed pipes and wires, seal all air cracks and provide a solid air barrier and excellent insulator. The material itself is somewhat like styrofoam in its properties. The net result is a quiet, air leak free wall assembly that can make your home more comfortable, quiter and more energy efficient. The reduced air infiltration makes a very significant difference in the energy efficiency of the home.

This video explains the process and many of the benefits:

Other Benefits Of Icynene Sprayed Foam Insulation

Some of the other benefits that you will get with Icynene that you will not get with fiberglass are:

  • reduced dust infiltration (better if you have allergies).
  • Superior insulation and sound deadening of the underneath of floors.
  • Elimination of cracks though which insects can enter.
  • Higher energy savings.

The major downside is cost. The installed cost of Icynene is about 3 times that of fiberglass batt. In general though, the increased energy efficiency will pay this back in about 4-5 years. This is especially true if you you live in Energy Star zones 2 or 3 and have your HVAC unit in the attic and insulate the bottom of the roof deck. If you do this, your installed HVAC plant can be sized smaller and work more efficiently to heat and cool your house.

Reduced Loads On HVAC Systems

It is becoming quite common now to insulate the bottom of the roof deck. That means the space in which your HVAC system resides, that previously that would get to 140-150 degrees in the summer, is now 80-90 degrees. This means the HVAC unit works less often and will last longer.


While Icynene in and of itself, does not enhance R-Value over other forms of insulation.  It’s real benefit lies in the reduction of air infiltration, which is responsible for up to 40% of the heat gain or loss in a home.

93% of conductive heat flow is already stopped by R-13 insulation. Upgrading from R-13 to R-40 reduces conductive heat flow by only another 5%.   (Source: U.S. Department of Energy).

Icynene® delivers ideal R-value and air-sealing in one step, helping you address the most significant source of energy loss so you can take energy performance beyond R-value.

Tweet This

Vinyl Windows offer the lowest cost to performance ratio of the the three major types of windows. Vinyl has a low co-efficient of thermal transmission relative to Aluminum and while they are closer, a properly designed vinyl window (with multi-chambered extrusion) will reduce the amount of cold transmitted through to the interior of the home.

Multi Chamber Profiles

Multi Chambered Vinyl Window

Multi Chambered Vinyl Window

Multi chamber profiles create an insulation barrier of air that reduces the transmission of cold to heat. The optimal window profiles use two and preferably three chambers between interior and exterior faces. The multi-chambered profiles also increase the strength of the profile tremendously over a solid extrusion by increasing the surface of welded seam.

A typical welded profile will yield between 9 & 20 inches of welded seam. Some multi-chambered designs offer as much as 25 inches of frame and 14 inches of sash weld seam. This results in a weld that is stronger than the extrusion itself. Some manufacturers used to offer windows with mechanically fastened corners instead of welded. These would invariably separate early and begin a freeze-thaw attack or heat induced expansion that would shorten the life of the window and reduce its thermal performance. Avoid any mechanically fastened or glued corners. Always opt for a multi-chambered , welded corner window.

Colors In Vinyl Windows

Initially, vinyl windows were offered only in offered in white. This was to keep the cost down, but it was also to prevent obviating the issue of fading and color degradation. Over time, white PVC will become yellowish with age. Some extrusion manufacturers counter this by adding some blueish color to the polymers to balance this out. If you are driving around, and see some vinyl windows with a sickly looking yellow cast these were probably lower cost extrusions and you will see the result.
Additionally, the UV is the light spectrum most affecting the color degradation so the higher your altitude, the faster the process of color degradation will occur as UV at altitude is unfiltered. Some manufacturers now offer a rage of colors including darker browns. Be very wary of darker colors, especially at higher altitudes (Rocky Mountain Regions) as you will likely see a rather quick degradation of the color. There just is not a long enough history with darker colors under longer term exposure to intense UV. PVC formulations are improving, but more time is need to judge the effectiveness of the color imparting materials before taking the plunge.
That said, I have seen some beige colors under service for several years in the Colorado region that seem to be holding up quite well. One final caveat, PVC is subject to becoming brittle under long term exposure to high heat as in a desert environment. In these areas it is critical that you get a high quality, multi-chambered extrusion to counter the effects of long periods of exposure to high heat.

Maintenance of Vinyl Windows

The most attractive feature of vinyl windows is their low maintenance. Vinyl windows do not require any exterior maintenance other than washing. Do not paint them; ever, the chemicals in the paint will likely reduce their longevity…and your neighbors will want you drug-tested.
All in all, vinyl windows are a tremendous value. I have had aluminum windows, wood windows and vinyl and I preferred the vinyl windows. It is of course a matter of choice and budget.

Tweet This

PVC Form-A-Drain is a new product I ran across on while researching my page on basement foundations. TheForm a drain, Footer Form, Radon Vent and Hydrostatic drain. system is composed of a hollow PVC drains shaped like a rectangular tube. The drains serve as the concrete forms for the footers for the basement or crawlspace foundation and I suppose even for slab-on-grade foundations. The systems has corners to join the straight sections and outlet systems to connect to 4″ round PVC perforated or solid pipe to drain the water away from the foundation.

Foundation Perimeter Drain and  Footer Concrete Form

In addition to acting as a perimeter hydrostatic water drain, it can also serve as an evacuation vent for radon gas. This is what caught my attention first and foremost. You get three functions for the labor cost of a single installation. For me that made this something to give serious consideration to.

Tweet This

Many people have a negative view of concrete as a building material that supports green building objectives. It is true that concrete does take a lot of energy to produce and transport (to smaller sites where on-site batching is not feasible). Concrete does consume water during the manufacturing process. But those are narrow views that do not hold up under critical examination.

LEED sustainable design principles have five disciplinary focuses:

  • Sustainable sites
  • Water efficiency
  • Energy and atmosphere
  • Materials and resources
  • Indoor environmental quality

Concrete is recognized as a green building material in terms of qualification under LEED certification principles. The five ways that concrete can help support green building objectives:

This is a video that explains how concrete fits these principles:

  1. Concrete creates sustainable sites.
  2. Concrete enhances energy performance.
  3. Concrete contains recycled materials.
  4. Concrete is manufactured locally.
  5. Concrete builds durable structures.

For residential construction, the main guiding principle for design over the last 60 years has been on affordability. Trying to match the overall cost to produce the home to the ability of the local market’s economic base to afford the home.

This led to design decisions solely focused on initial costs that did not account for life cycle analysis that would dictate different decisions if the installed and operating and maintenance costs were analyzed over a specific life cycle. If fact, not one has ever sat down and really focused on what is a reasonable economic life cycle to build to when it comes to residential structures for the mass market.

There have been some studies, but the market has never really focused on this previously in establishing a target sustainability for building homes to. The focus has been on costs, profit to the developer, profit to the builder and profit to the financing entity. to be fair, there are so many layered costs dictated by housing regulation, that has made it almost an impossibility to make these considerations very high in priority. Part of that is attributable to the structure of regulations that deal with the development of housing for the larger market.

But, getting back to concrete. Because it creates very durable structures,  first and foremost, lands it in the sustainable category. It would be hard to argue that building a home that lasts 2-300 years is not worth the expenditure of resources required to build that home. Properly built and maintained, this is definitely an achievable goal, we have examples all over the United States and Europe towards this end. One thing about concrete is that it is not a very friendly DIY material to work with. The skills, and equipment necessary typically exclude it as a DIY project.

Next, final production of concrete occurs close to the site of installation, again this is in conformance with LEED principles. Concrete can also contain recycled concrete as an aggregate although there are greater opportunities to expand this practice. The highest profile example of large scale concrete recycling back into a redevelopment occurred in the late 90’s and early part of this decade in the redevelopment of Stapleton International Airport from the main airport in Denver into an urban mixed use suburb. All of the concrete from the runways was recycled back into this and other construction projects in the Denver urban landscape.

To be sure, there are new technologies and ways of thinking, such as precast panels used as basement walls.

Precast Concrete Basement Walls

Precast Concrete Basement Walls

So analyzing concrete as a sustainable material is perfectly valid and in the case of residential foundations and homes built in high-risk areas (Florida and coastal hurricane zones) certainly support green building objectives. There is no currently available material that can offer the durability of concrete under the stresses of soils that are subject to expansion forces that can destroy a foundation. Building a foundation that can be viable for 2-400 years allowing the recycling of the basement over that lifespan, further establishes the viability of concrete as a green building material.

Tweet This

Photovoltaic Shingles

Photovoltaic Shingles

Massive changes are coming to an energy code near you. Under a Federal Law under consideration in the Congress (H.R. 6279). The law requires the model energy codes establish minimum targets of increases in energy efficiency as mandates of the Federal government on the order of :

30 percent in editions of each model code or standard released in or after 2010
50 percent in editions of each model code or standard released in or after 2020.

The law also mandates that if the body that governs the IECC model energy code that is the basis of almost all energy codes in the various states do not achieve these goals, the Secretary of Energy is commanded (within 12 months) to institute a Federal energy code that achieves the mandates.  The law will have the effect long term of mandating that all new buildings have solar panels, photovoltaics or wind turbines installed on all new construction.

The law will also mandate the enforcement of the new mandates on states could risk the loss of Federal funds. It also does not fully fund the regulations and structure to oversee all the enforcement that will occur under this law.

Funding shall be considered adequate, for purposes of this paragraph, when the Federal Government provides to the States at least $50,000,000 in a year in funding and support for development and implementation of State building energy codes, including for training and enforcement.

Of course, the problem with all this is that what is good for one area of the country is not good for another, but the imposition of Federal regulations on issues that are local in nature many times distorts the solutions and results and brings massive inefficiency to the markets. The other problem, it adds costs to the system that will in all probability far exceed the laudable goals.

There are provisions in the code that will make it necessary for all new “buildings”  to consume “zero net energy”, by the year 2050. Well this will be enormously expensive to attain. If they include residences in this provision, imagine the cost of adding solar and wind systems and what that will do to the cost of building that home. It will exclude many first time home buyers from being able to purchase or build their own home and will drive rents up dramatically.

You should get educated about this bill. It will start to have an immediate impact in the next 2-4 years. It couls cost you personally and it is not necessarily the best method to move the country towards energy efficiency. In fact there is no technology that gets us to these goals without dramatically higher costs of energy. This bill is more about a stealth method of impsoing limits on green house gasses than it is about energy efficiency.

Solar, Photovoltaic, Wind and other methods of generation that are available to make a new building “zero net energy” have not reached the stage where they can fill this role in an economically efficient manner. The reason we do not have them in place in a massive way is that the market is waiting for the economics to change for that to take place. No amount of government intervention can force that to change. Only massive investment in the technologies and adoption that brings economies of scale that lowers the cost of these technologies can do this. Otherwise we could end up with massiv energy inflation along the lines like we have seen sscoiated with food and corn ethanol. This is the example we must all consider when moving down this road.

There are other methods of moving forward towards these goals. The better approach would be to embody incentives towards the investment in these technologies. Tax credits and other mechanisms, modulate investment into technology in a market efficient manner and avoid the kinds of distrotion you see with mechanisms like mandates and regulation.

Expanding the credit for Solar generating systems will do more towards these goals. Adding a credit for the installation of wind turbines and establishing a registry for manufacturers to concentrate information on available systems would increase the use of this technology. There is a serious shortfall on readily accessible information on wind generation systems and there is apparently a lack of independent independent research and ratings for systems that consumers like to see before committing to such a large investment. There will also have to be a change of heart in zoning commissions and HOA committees to allow expanded use of Solar Panels, Wind Turbines and Photovoltaic. This is one area that Federal Legislation could be of benefit in supporting and expanding investment in these technologies.

Tweet This

Home Building starts with the foundation. The foundation of your house is…. well your foundation. If your foundation was laid out wrong, or you are having problems with water or expansive soils around your foundation, you will see them manifest themselves in other areas of the structure. Whether your project is DIY, or you have hired a building contractor, you need to understand the terminology and the pitfalls of each foundation type to make sure you cover all the issues and account for the proper handling of water infiltration and Radon infiltration.

If your foundation does not have an adequate waterproofing system to drain excess water and you do not have a sufficient water barrier on the exterior basement walls, you will have a damp or soggy basement and subsequently, this will lead to mold. In basement foundations, water infiltration is controlled with perimeter drainage systems tied to either a sump pump or daylight drain and a waterproof membrane either sprayed on or mechanically affixed to the perimeter walls.


Perimeter Perforated Drain system - DIY Green Home Improvement

Although basements are popular with a great many people, they are not always feasible. In Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, etc. – sub-surface water is too close for portions of the year to control the possibility of water infiltration to the basement. So in these areas the preferred foundation has become the slab-on-grade.
Slab-on-grade is a foundation where you pour a mattress of concrete (usually with thickened portions at the perimeter and at interior load bearing locations). These are typically 4-6 inches thick and are both very economical and reliable and the easiest to control water issues with. They are preferred when dealing with low-bearing capacity soils and areas with water tables close to the surface (less than 10 feet). You will notice if these are the predominant type of foundation in your area. just look at the building lots in your area when construction begins and you will see what type of foundation is there.
Another issue with basement foundations or crawl-space foundations is the bearing capacity of the underlying soil and the expansiveness of the soil. Expansive soils expand as the take on moisture. If not accounted for, they can destroy a foundation is short order because of the pressures they exert on the concrete. They require special attention to drainage , backfill and sometimes the addition of caissons drilled into rock to support the walls. The caissons are drilled down to rock and the walls are supported on the caissons with a void form underneath to allow for expansion of the soils. In any event, most basement foundations will have a concrete slab for the floor.

Concrete Void Form - DIY Green Home Improvment

Concrete Void Form - DIY Green Home Improvement

Another issue that is important to the safety and health of your family is to plan to mitigate Radon. Radon gas is now recognized as a very serious threat to the health of those who endure long-term exposure. It has been linked to lung cancer and other serious illnesses. It is also present in about 80% of the country. So you need to incoprorate systems to mitigate its presence in the foundation. We will talk about this in detail later.
Lastly, if the foundation is not laid out square, you will have problems with framing the upper portions to a square condition and thus problems with interior finishes etc. It is important to pick a competent and diligent concrete contractor to build the foundation and it even more important to have an engineer design the foundation to ensure that the proper type of foundation is put in place on the site you have chosen. If you do not sufficient expereince and skill to perfrom this project, it will be best to leave it to a pro. It is highly likely, given the need for concrete forms, that you will not be able to justify tackling the foundation as a DIY project. Visit the American Concrete Institute for further information.

Tweet This