Energy Efficiency & Maintenance

Sustainable Resolutions Fit Your Home

Wondering what you can do to minimize your carbon footprint at your home?  Solar panels are great, but they aren’t a good fit for everyone.  If your house is in a shaded area, or your shingles are older but not quite ready for replacement, solar electric may not be practical for your house right now.  Fortunately, there are other things you can do. Get the right fit here…

Raising the Bar for the Quality of Home Construction

Our country could be building better quality homes, but we aren’t.  Why not?  The number of newhomes built has risen steadily in the past 5 years, and continues to do so.   Unfortunately, most of these homes will be built to meet the current building code, and not much better.  Perhaps the worst news is that many of the people buying these homes don’t know that they COULD have a house that cost less to heat and cool, is more comfortable, is more durable, and provides a healthier environment for their families, at less total cost than a similar code minimum house. Raise the Bar by Reading More Here

Checking for Icicles

iciclesjpg-a19cf9caded36de6-1

This is a great time of year to see whether you could lower your heating bills by adding insulation. If you can see the pattern of your roof rafters in the snow on your roof…Watch for Icicles Here…

Get Ready for Winter

Now that it’s almost November, you’ve probably spent some time getting your yard ready for winter by raking leaves, putting the gardens to bed, and maybe putting away some outdoor furniture. But before you get too comfy with that cup of hot chocolate, you’ll want to make sure your house is ready for winter. And fall is the best time to start planning that renovation or addition you are thinking about for next spring. I’ll give you a few tips on things you can do to winterize your home. Get Ready to Read More

Green Certification and You

So, you may ask, just what is  Green certification and how does it help in building a Green home, or renovating my existing home? 

Simply put, Green certification is a way for you to know that a new home or renovation really incorporates design and features that make it more sustainable than a home “built to code”; that the word “Green” isn’t just being used as a marketing tool.  Several  regional and national organizations have developed programs to create Green benchmarks, with the goal of encouraging more high quality, sustainable home building around the country. Read more here.

Window Condensation Problems

I had a past client call the other day with a question about their windows. This summer they had some morework done on their home in Bath, including new siding and more new windows. Recently, as the temperatures outside got lower, they had been getting condensation inside the new windows. They’d never had condensation on either the original windows or the larger triple pane ones they had installed as part of our project together, so they wondered if the new windows were faulty. Read the entire article here…

Project Rebuild

*Project Rebuild:
Making A House Built in 1915 Green Enough for LEED Platinum
 
jpeg

Photo of Project REBUILD class with project partners from Saint Gobain, Northeast Ohio USGBC, Malone University, Learn About Green LLC, and New Leaf Home Design

Who says a house built in 1915 can’t have super low energy bills, great indoor air quality, and be super comfortable to live in?  New Leaf Home Design is excited to be a part of  the Project REBUILD, Inc. deep energy retrofit of this Canton home.  We are setting our sights on a LEED Platinum certificate, which will provide third party verification that the house meets a broad range of sustainability criteria. Read about Project Rebuild here.

Battle of The Energy Audits

I recently had not one, but two energy audits done on my house. I’ve mentioned before that Dominion East Ohio is offering audits through their Good Cents program for just $50. Then at the Home & Flower

jpeg (1)Show, I learned that Dr. Energy Saver will do an audit for free. I had wondered before how the Good Cents audit compared to others, so I decided this was a great opportunity to find out. My research isn’t complete though, since I have not (yet?) had an audit from Green Street Solutions, another local company who is currently charging $250. Even at $250, an audit is a great investment, since it provides you with information that can help you save considerably more than that. Here’s what I’ve found…

The Energy Audit Saga Continues

In my last newsletter, I wrote about the two energy audits I had done recently: one through Dominion East Ohio’s Goo

dCents program, the other through a company specializing in audits. If you missed that article and would like to read a comparison of the two audits, just click below: Battle of the Energy Audits. Well, after getting all that information on where my house is losing energy, you might wonder what I’m doing about it. Read all about it here…

Energy Efficiency Opportunities when you Renovate

Last week I talked with two different potential new clients about renovating their homes.  Two

home-rigid-foam-insulationthings on both of their lists were new siding and new shingles.  I perked right up because those are both great opportunities to make a home more energy efficient, and if you pass up the opportunity it will be a loooong time before you have another.  Let’s face it, energy efficiency usually isn’t the main thing that makes us want to renovate our homes.  The need to move the Master Bedroom to the first floor, the desire for a more functional Kitchen, and even wanting to update the look of the house are the kinds of things that motivate most renovations. Read more here.

Zero Energy Ready

zeroenergyreadyIf you have been following the buzz on sustainable homes, you may have heard the term “Net Zero Home”.  The idea of Net Zero is to create a home that generates as much energy as it uses.  Since energy usage affects both the operating costs and the environmental impact of a house long after construction is done, it’s arguably the most important consideration in building a more sustainable home.  So how do you know if you’ve met Net Zero?   And what can you do if solar panels are part of the long term plan for the house but you won’t be installing them right away? Read the answer here…

Shaker Design Competition

In January of this year I had the honor of participating in a design competition hosted by the City of Shaker Heights.  Twelve teams submitted conceptual drawings for infill lots in the Moreland Heights neighborhood. Read more here…

A Renewable Energy Future Is Here

Greetings!  It’s been quite a while since I wrote, and a lot has happened for our family since then.  Last spring my parents moved from their home of 42 years in Athens to be closer to us here in Akron.  Click here to read the entire article.

Smart Sustainability – What It Meant For Us House

Smart sustainability isn’t one size fits all. It wouldn’t be smart if it were. Each situation, each house, and each family are different. And each budget. So how do you decide what are the smart sustainable decisions for you? It’s a process. I recently went through this process for our family’s heating and cooling system, and here’s what it looked like for us. Read the article by clicking here.

Home Energy Renovations: When You Can’t Go Down To The Studs

A couple of months ago I met with a client who wanted to make significant energy improvements to an older house. But because the house was occupied, it wasn’t possible to go down to the studs to do the kind of deep energy retrofit Project Rebuild is doing in Canton. (If you missed that story in The Leaflet, you can find it here in the October issue.) Still, there were a lot of opportunities to reduce the energy usage and lower their utility bills. In fact, the suggestions I made for that house provide a pretty good checklist for things you might want to consider for improvements at your own home. Read More Here…

Raising the Bar for the Quality of Home Construction

Our country could be building better quality homes, but we aren’t.  Why not?  The number of newhomes built has risen steadily in the past 5 years, and continues to do so.   Unfortunately, most of these homes will be built to meet the current building code, and not much better.  Perhaps the worst news is that many of the people buying these homes don’t know that they COULD have a house that cost less to heat and cool, is more comfortable, is more durable, and provides a healthier environment for their families, at less total cost than a similar code minimum house. Raise the Bar by Reading More Here

Checking for Icicles

iciclesjpg-a19cf9caded36de6-1

This is a great time of year to see whether you could lower your heating bills by adding insulation. If you can see the pattern of your roof rafters in the snow on your roof…Watch for Icicles Here…

Get Ready for Winter

Now that it’s almost November, you’ve probably spent some time getting your yard ready for winter by raking leaves, putting the gardens to bed, and maybe putting away some outdoor furniture. But before you get too comfy with that cup of hot chocolate, you’ll want to make sure your house is ready for winter. And fall is the best time to start planning that renovation or addition you are thinking about for next spring. I’ll give you a few tips on things you can do to winterize your home. Get Ready to Read More

Green Certification and You

So, you may ask, just what is  Green certification and how does it help in building a Green home, or renovating my existing home? 

Simply put, Green certification is a way for you to know that a new home or renovation really incorporates design and features that make it more sustainable than a home “built to code”; that the word “Green” isn’t just being used as a marketing tool.  Several  regional and national organizations have developed programs to create Green benchmarks, with the goal of encouraging more high quality, sustainable home building around the country. Read more here.

Window Condensation Problems

I had a past client call the other day with a question about their windows. This summer they had some morework done on their home in Bath, including new siding and more new windows. Recently, as the temperatures outside got lower, they had been getting condensation inside the new windows. They’d never had condensation on either the original windows or the larger triple pane ones they had installed as part of our project together, so they wondered if the new windows were faulty. Read the entire article here…

Project Rebuild

*Project Rebuild:
Making A House Built in 1915 Green Enough for LEED Platinum
 
jpeg

Photo of Project REBUILD class with project partners from Saint Gobain, Northeast Ohio USGBC, Malone University, Learn About Green LLC, and New Leaf Home Design

Who says a house built in 1915 can’t have super low energy bills, great indoor air quality, and be super comfortable to live in?  New Leaf Home Design is excited to be a part of  the Project REBUILD, Inc. deep energy retrofit of this Canton home.  We are setting our sights on a LEED Platinum certificate, which will provide third party verification that the house meets a broad range of sustainability criteria. Read about Project Rebuild here.

Battle of The Energy Audits

I recently had not one, but two energy audits done on my house. I’ve mentioned before that Dominion East Ohio is offering audits through their Good Cents program for just $50. Then at the Home & Flower

jpeg (1)Show, I learned that Dr. Energy Saver will do an audit for free. I had wondered before how the Good Cents audit compared to others, so I decided this was a great opportunity to find out. My research isn’t complete though, since I have not (yet?) had an audit from Green Street Solutions, another local company who is currently charging $250. Even at $250, an audit is a great investment, since it provides you with information that can help you save considerably more than that. Here’s what I’ve found…

The Energy Audit Saga Continues

In my last newsletter, I wrote about the two energy audits I had done recently: one through Dominion East Ohio’s Goo

dCents program, the other through a company specializing in audits. If you missed that article and would like to read a comparison of the two audits, just click below: Battle of the Energy Audits. Well, after getting all that information on where my house is losing energy, you might wonder what I’m doing about it. Read all about it here…

Energy Efficiency Opportunities when you Renovate

Last week I talked with two different potential new clients about renovating their homes.  Two

home-rigid-foam-insulationthings on both of their lists were new siding and new shingles.  I perked right up because those are both great opportunities to make a home more energy efficient, and if you pass up the opportunity it will be a loooong time before you have another.  Let’s face it, energy efficiency usually isn’t the main thing that makes us want to renovate our homes.  The need to move the Master Bedroom to the first floor, the desire for a more functional Kitchen, and even wanting to update the look of the house are the kinds of things that motivate most renovations. Read more here.

Zero Energy Ready

zeroenergyreadyIf you have been following the buzz on sustainable homes, you may have heard the term “Net Zero Home”.  The idea of Net Zero is to create a home that generates as much energy as it uses.  Since energy usage affects both the operating costs and the environmental impact of a house long after construction is done, it’s arguably the most important consideration in building a more sustainable home.  So how do you know if you’ve met Net Zero?   And what can you do if solar panels are part of the long term plan for the house but you won’t be installing them right away? Read the answer here…

Shaker Design Competition

In January of this year I had the honor of participating in a design competition hosted by the City of Shaker Heights.  Twelve teams submitted conceptual drawings for infill lots in the Moreland Heights neighborhood. Read more here…

A Renewable Energy Future Is Here

Greetings!  It’s been quite a while since I wrote, and a lot has happened for our family since then.  Last spring my parents moved from their home of 42 years in Athens to be closer to us here in Akron.  Click here to read the entire article.

Smart Sustainability – What It Meant For Us House

Smart sustainability isn’t one size fits all. It wouldn’t be smart if it were. Each situation, each house, and each family are different. And each budget. So how do you decide what are the smart sustainable decisions for you? It’s a process. I recently went through this process for our family’s heating and cooling system, and here’s what it looked like for us. Read the article by clicking here.

A Good Fit for New Leaf

At New Leaf, I’ve been working with several people on new home designs, in addition to my usual renovation projects. So I thought I’d share my thoughts about new home design, and what makes a new home project a good fit for New Leaf.

When I tell people about what I do, they often seem a little surprised that most of my projects are addition and renovation designs rather than new homes. Many people think that only big, elaborate projects warrant having an architect. It’s true that most architectural firms focus more on commercial and large residential work, but the projects I’ve done for more than 20 years provide plenty of evidence that smaller projects go more smoothly and turn out better with an architect’s help. So why does New Leaf choose to do more addition and renovation projects than new homes? What makes a new home project a good fit for New Leaf? Is working with an architect on a new house an all or nothing decision? Actually, understanding why I work on so many existing homes can help you understand the kinds of new home projects I enjoy the most. Here are the three basic considerations:

The charm of old houses

First and foremost, I love older homes. I like their craftsmanship, their detailing, and their neighborhoods. I’ve lived in a little 1925 Italian Renaissance house, a big 1930 Colonial Revival, and now my 1959 ranch. I like to find ways to keep these older homes working for us by giving them better Kitchens, more closet space, and more open floor plans. I also enjoy taking the language established by the rest of the house and continuing it so that the new areas look like they belong with the original parts of the house. For houses that don’t have a lot of character to start with, a renovation is an opportunity to create some special features: an archway, a window seat, or perhaps a beautifully crafted front porch for example.

In the original drawings for many older houses, you can see that the designers took the time to create drawings showing what the interior detailing should look like: built in book cases, wainscoting under the stairs, fireplace mantles. For new homes, I enjoy creating details that give this kind of character. This is true for any style of house, from Craftsman to Modern. The important thing is to take the time to think about what the finished space is going to look like, understand how the rooms are going to relate to each other, and design the details that will give each space a unique character.

Every renovation project is unique

The second reason I do so many additions and renovations is that each renovation project is totally unique. There are lots of stock plans out there for new homes, and since you are sharing the design cost for that plan with hundreds, or even thousands of other home buyers, these plans are bound to be more economical than a custom design. This isn’t an option for a renovation. You can’t buy a stock plan for a breakfast room addition, or to add a Master Suite over your garage, so you need an architect or designer to come up with a solution that works for your particular house.
For many people building a new home, stock plans are a good economical option. You can even make a few changes to the plan so it fits your needs better. If they are simple changes, a draftsman may be your best choice. Many stock plan companies offer modification services, or you can find someone locally to work with. You will need to purchase the drawings from the plan company in order to have copyright permission to use the design for your project, but once you have purchased the copyright release you are free to make whatever changes you want.

However, even if you are purchasing a stock plan, a few hours of advice from an architect can get you a better house. I recently had a client come to me with a stock plan that he wanted to adjust. Wali and I met and looked over the design he had been considering, and I asked whether they really wanted to have both a Breakfast area and a formal Dining Room. Since construction costs were a concern, it didn’t make sense to build space that they didn’t need. As a result, he looked over some more plans online and found a similar plan without a separate Dining Room. Like the first plan, this one included an attached Garage, so it still needed some modifications. I put together a sketch showing how the plan would work without the Garage. This process was more efficient and economical than creating a completely custom design from scratch, but I was able to provide some personalized advice and design in a way that couldn’t be duplicated over the Internet.

Quality over Quantity

The third reason I haven’t done more new houses is that until recently, many of the people who approached architects for new home designs have been interested in big houses of 4000 square feet or more, and I’m just not that interested in designing those. In the last few years though, there is increasing appreciation for new homes that are smaller while still feeling spacious and fitting their owners’ lifestyles, and are more energy efficient. It’s much more difficult to find stock plans that do these things well, and these are challenges I really enjoy solving!

Most stock plans aren’t yet detailed to provide the amount of insulation and air sealing needed for real energy efficiency for our climate. As a native Ohioan, I didn’t always realize that most of the country is warmer than northeast Ohio. That means that a house designed for the “average” climate in the U.S. isn’t a good fit for our region. And if you want walls that can accommodate above average amounts of insulation, the wall thicknesses and details in a typical stock plan just won’t work.

Also, a home intended to make the most of every square foot needs to consider the site where it will be built. If you can create a beautiful view for the Dining area by placing it on the right side of the house, you will never miss having a two story Foyer. Finding a stock plan that is sensitive to all of the site features, from lot size to views, can be nearly impossible. And of course, sustainable design means that you need to consider where the sun is coming from so you can design for passive heating, natural lighting, and possible solar panel systems. This kind of careful design customized for your family and the site where you will be building will take more time, and therefore a little more of your construction budget will need to be allocated towards design services. But good design can mean that you build only the space you need, you get more accurate estimates from contractors, construction goes more smoothly, and you save on energy bills every year that you live in your new home. Plus, you get a design that is comfortable, beautiful and enjoyable to live in.
Just as I create a new design for each of my projects, I also customize the services I provide to fit each of my clients’ needs. So if you are thinking about building a new home, give me a call and I’ll help you decide what level of architectural services are the best fit for you and your family.

Get Ready for Winter

Now that it’s almost November, you’ve probably spent some time getting your yard ready for winter by raking leaves, putting the gardens to bed, and maybe putting away some outdoor furniture. But before you get too comfy with that cup of hot chocolate, you’ll want to make sure your house is ready for winter. And fall is the best time to start planning that renovation or addition you are thinking about for next spring. I’ll give you a few tips on things you can do to winterize your home.

Home Winterization Checklist

Here are a few things you can do so your house is ready for the cold, and keeps you nice and cozy in the next few months. If you’d like to look at a more comprehensive list, check

 Easy Home Winterizing Checklist

  • Schedule a Home Energy audit. This is tops on my list for a reason. An audit is a great way to find out the best ways you can make your particular home more efficient. An auditor can help you determine which improvements have the best return on investment, helping you save on your heating bills this winter, and on air conditioning next summer. Instead of guessing what to do, an auditor will use special equipment like a blower door and infra-red camera to see where your house is losing energy. And now is a great time to get an audit. Dominion East Ohio is offering audits for $50 through their Home Performance with Energy Star Program. Find out more at:

Dominion East Ohio

Or you can look for a certified auditor through the Building Performance Institute at

Building Performance Institute

  • Storm Windows: put them in or close them up. Storm windows do a good job of making older windows more energy efficient, but they only work if they are closed! Take some time and go around your house to make sure they are in place.

  • Put in a clean furnace filter. Your furnace will run more efficiently with a clean filter.

  • Turn off your exterior faucets. Most outside hose bibs need to be turned off at the shut off valve inside the house to protect the pipes from getting damaged by freezing. Even if you have “frost free” hose bibs, you still need to make sure you have disconnected your hoses. And if you have a rain barrel, be sure to drain it and disconnect it from your downspouts!

  • Clean your gutters.  Wet leaves add a lot of weight to your gutters and add to the risk of damage from ice.  Overflowing gutters also mean you have more water against your basement walls, which can lead to a damp or wet basement.

  • Check your fireplace damper. Your damper needs to be open while a fire is burning, but after that it should be closed to keep the heated air in your home from going up the chimney. You may even want to consider a “chimney balloon” to create a tighter seal in the flue.

 

Home Energy Renovations- when you can’t go down to the studs

A couple of months ago I met with a client who wanted to make significant energy improvements to an older house. But because the house was occupied, it wasn’t possible to go down to the studs to do the kind of deep energy retrofit Project Rebuild is doing in Canton. (If you missed that story in the last Leaflet, you can find it here in the October issue.) Still, there were a lot of opportunities to reduce the energy usage and lower their utility bills. In fact, the suggestions I made for that house provide a pretty good checklist for things you might want to consider for improvements at your own home.

First, get an audit

An energy audit will provide you with a clear game plan for the improvements you make and help you prioritize the items that will have the biggest impact. Because air infiltration has such a major impact on energy use, and because holes in the air barrier can be hidden in places that are hard to see, a blower door test is important. An auditor will also bring tools like infrared thermographs, along with training in how to identify home efficiency problems. Dominion East Ohio Gas is still offering audits through for just $50, with rebates on the energy improvement work you have done from their list. You can get more information here Home Performance with Energy Star, though as of this writing they were “undergoing administrative updates”. You could also choose to work with an independent home performance consultant to get a more customized evaluation of opportunities and possible solutions. An audit will help you to develop a comprehensive game plan for your improvements, so you don’t make one improvement only to find that you’ve eliminated a better solution to the next thing you tackle.

Wet Basement? Find the causes and decide how to manage it

This isn’t exactly about energy efficiency, but you need to get a wet basement under control before you do anything else. If you seal up the air leaks in a house with a wet basement, your heating bill may be lower but the house may become much more humid, which can lead to mold growth. So check those gutters and downspouts, slope the ground away from the house, and get your footing drains flowing or have new ones installed. If the situation and budget allows, you may want to dig down to the foundation and have new waterproofing added to the outside walls along with new drains. If the roof needs much work, you might decide if you want to have deeper eaves.

Rim joist insulation

The rim joists, where the floor joists meet the outside walls, typically allow a lot of outside air into your house. Adding spray foam insulation or rigid foam insulation sealed in place with spray foam is a great way to improve your energy efficiency. If you are thinking about finishing the basement, be sure to do this first! This air sealing at the lowest level of the house will help to minimize the stack effect that draws heated air out of your house.

Basement wall insulation

Even if the stud walls in your older house have insulation, the basement walls probably don’t. According to Green Building Advisor, “if you live in Climate Zone 3 or anywhere colder, it’s cost-effective and wise to install basement wall insulation”. Our Zone 5 weather is definitely colder. Rigid or spray foam insulation attached directly to the concrete is a great way to insulate existing basements that doesn’t invite problems with wet fiberglass or rotting studs. If you don’t want finished space, you can use Dow Thermax, which has a fire resistant coating attached. Otherwise, a layer of gypsum drywall will be needed to meet flame spread requirements. You may also choose to put a stud wall between the foam and the drywall to make it easier to run wiring and attach the drywall.

New energy efficient furnace, water heater, and air conditioner

If you are building new, a conventional furnace may not be the answer, but for an existing home simply getting a more efficient furnace makes sense. Improved efficiency with natural gas appliances includes switching from an atmospheric combustion unit to a sealed combustion one with direct venting. Here’s a great article describing the hazards of atmospheric combustion and benefits of sealed combustion: Energy Vanguard You may also want to consider providing more managed fresh air for the people in the house, as you are eliminating the accidental air leaks. A heat or energy recovery ventilator (HRV/ERV) is the most efficient solution for this and a must-have for super efficient new homes. Existing homes may want to consider simply providing a fresh air intake connected to the furnace return air duct, so your fresh air will get warmed immediately rather than first running across your toes in a cold draft the way it does in poorly sealed houses with atmospheric combustion furnaces.

Do you need the chimney? If you have a chimney that was only used for the furnace and water heater which now vent through the basement wall, you may want to remove it. Chimneys often have significant air leaks and are just one more hole in your roof. If you are planning to use the top floor as living space, they also tend to be right in the middle of the attic room. So if you don’t need it, take it out!

Attic air sealing and insulation- on the floor or at the roof

Take care of both air sealing and insulating the top of your house- in that order! If you insulate first it will be more difficult to do air sealing. This is the top half of that stack effect that started down at the basement rim joists. Seal the bottom and the top and the house stops acting so much like a chimney, sending your heated air up to the sky. The system you choose for insulation will depend on whether you have ventilated, unheated attic space or if you want living space right up to the slope of the roof.

Exterior door weatherstripping This is an in-expensive one you may be able to do yourself. If you are re-siding, you might also check to see whether you even need all of the exterior doors in the house.

Maybe NOT new windows Replacement windows are heavily marketed, but they may not be the energy problem they want you to think they are. There are reasons to replace windows, but dollar for dollar, other improvements may save you more energy.

Other Energy Star appliances and WaterSense fixtures

An Energy Star washing machine will use less hot water, and the super-spin cycle will mean your dryer have less work to do too. Water Sense shower heads can also reduce your hot water usage. Water Sense toilets will reduce your water bill, and will save energy at the water treatment plant. To learn more about the WaterSense Label visit the EPA site.

The value of good planning

Most of these projects can be done without disrupting your life while you live in your home. Like all home improvement projects, you will have a better outcome if you remember the house is an interconnected system and you have a good plan in place before you begin. Afterwards, your home will be more comfortable and you’ll have lower energy costs.

The Energy Audit Saga Continues

In my last newsletter, I wrote about the two energy audits I had done recently: one through Dominion East Ohio’s GoodCents program, the other through a company specializing in audits. If you missed that article and would like to read a comparison of the two audits, just click below: Battle of the Energy Audits. Well, after getting all that information on where my house is losing energy, you might wonder what I’m doing about it.

I’m pretty passionate about the importance of insulation and air sealing, so I would have liked to have done the deluxe package recommended by the one company, pulling back all the existing insulation in the attic and getting thorough air sealing around all of the openings there. However, since I’d had the worst of the holes closed up before insulating 10 years ago, I thought the payback on that would be minimal. So I’m moving forward with adding more cellulose insulation in the attic (for a total of 14” deep), putting air tight boxes around the can lights in the attic, sealing leaks in the basement ducts, and sealing the rim joists around the top of my basement walls. I’m especially excited about the rim joists, because having this done should make it more comfortable in my walk-out basement office. The rim joists have fiberglass batts in them now, but I know that they provide almost no insulation value without a good air barrier. Here are two details of ways to insulate the rim joist.  The one on the upper left is what I had done.  If you want to do it yourself, using rigid foam as shown on the right is a good way to go.

The next question was who to have do the work. While the other company was very knowledgeable and professional, they just couldn’t compete with the rebates available through the Dominion program. By getting the audit done and then having the recommended work done by one of their participating contractors, I’ll get a rebate of 22% of the cost of the work! I’m looking forward to a more comfortable house next winter, with lower heating bills. How about you? I’ve heard that the GoodCents program may be discontinued in the near future, so if you’d like to take advantage of the Dominion rebates, now is the time! For details on the program click on: Dominion East Ohio

First published May 1, 2012

Battle of the Energy Audits

I recently had not one, but two energy audits done on my house. I’ve mentioned before that Dominion East Ohio is offering audits through their Good Cents program for just $50. Then at the Home & Flower Show, I learned that Dr. Energy Saver will do an audit for free. I had wondered before how the Good Cents audit compared to others, so I decided this was a great opportunity to find out. My research isn’t complete though, since I have not (yet?) had an audit from Green Street Solutions, another local company who is currently charging $250. Even at $250, an audit is a great investment, since it provides you with information that can help you save considerably more than that. Here’s what I’ve found so far.

Both companies were very courteous, and the auditors were very knowledgeable. Both audits took about two and a half hours. Both used a blower door to help identify air leaks. Good Cents actually had two people there, one who asked me about drafts, cold floors, & utility bills, jpeg (1)and another who took measurements and helped set things up. One thing I liked about Dr. Energy Saver was that he encouraged me to walk through the house with him during the blower door test so I could feel & see the air leaks for myself, with the help of a smoke stick. The leaks were more evident to me during this audit because Dr. Energy Saver had the fan on the blower door turned up much higher than Good Cents did. They then use a computer to convert the data to the standard 50 Pascals pressurization values. Seeing and feeling the movement of the air was a definite motivator to get these air leaks sealed up! Seeing the recommendations on paper just isn’t the same.

The Good Cents people provided a well organized written report with their findings and recommendations. Dr. Energy Saver did not provide a written report; they concluded their visit with a presentation describing the work they recommended and the costs to have this work done. If you have their complete “core” package of work done, they guarantee the work will pay for itself within 8 years with the energy you save. You would be able to see the improvement in air sealing as soon as the work was completed though, since they re-test the house with the blower door after the work is done. If you do not get the full package, they do not guarantee the return on investment, though I’m pretty certain any of their improvements would pay for themselves in that time frame.

In summary, the Dr. Energy Saver technician seemed more excited about the importance of making energy efficiency improvements, but did not encourage incremental improvements, and provided less documentation for you to follow up on yourself. The GoodCents auditor was professional, but not passionate. This is undoubtedly due at leastjpeg in part to the fact that Dr. Energy Saver was trying to make a sale, while GoodCents was simply performing a service. I think Dr. Energy Saver might do a more thorough job if you are prepared to make a significant commitment to improving your home’s energy performance and want a “one stop shop”. If you want to make more modest improvements, or do work yourself, GoodCents provides good information on how you can most easily save on energy costs. But without the strong sales pitch, and the wind whistling through those holes in your house as the blower door runs at full speed, you might not have as much motivation to make improvements, and miss out on the chance to save money in the long run.

First published March 20, 2012

Zero Energy Ready

zeroenergyready

If you have been following the buzz on sustainable homes, you may have heard the term “Net Zero Home”.  The idea of Net Zero is to create a home that generates as much energy as it uses.  Since energy usage affects both the operating costs and the environmental impact of a house long after construction is done, it’s arguably the most important consideration in building a more sustainable home.  So how do you know if you’ve met Net Zero?   And what can you do if solar panels are part of the long term plan for the house but you won’t be installing them right away?

There are quite a few rating systems out there that measure just how “green” a house is: LEED, the National Green Building Standard, and Passive House to name a few.  Each of these systems has clear criteria for certification and third party verification, but none directly address the simple concept of generating as much energy as you use, either now or in the future.   The U.S. Department of Energy is now providing a standard for building homes that are “Zero Energy Ready”.   A DOE Zero Energy Ready Home is “a high performance home which is so energy efficient, that a renewable energy system can offset all or most of its annual energy consumption.”  This allows you to build a home now that minimizes the amount of energy it will need for heating, cooling, hot water, and lighting.  Then you can add solar panels or other ways of offsetting your energy use when the timing is right for you.  It focuses on the things that are hard to change or upgrade, like the orientation of the house, how tightly the house is built, and the amount of insulation in the walls.  While the return on investment for solar panels is starting to make them something many of us should consider (for existing homes too), this program doesn’t require them for certification.  It simply recognizes that the first step in conservation is reducing the amount of energy a house will use.  It also sets standards that make a new home healthier and more comfortable to live in.  A Zero Energy Ready home must:

  • Meet Energy Star 3 standards, and include the use of things like Energy Star qualified appliances and windows.
  • Meet the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code levels for insulation.  (Did you know that Ohio’s energy code requirements are still based on the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code?)
  • Follow the latest proven research recommendations for duct installation.
  • Conserve water and energy through an efficient hot water distribution system that provides rapid hot water to the homeowner.  (No more waiting for hot water!)
  • Meet the Indoor airPlus program requirements for indoor air quality.

There are some important considerations not addressed by Zero Energy Ready, such as whether the home is located where the need to drive to schools, work, and shopping is minimized.  And it doesn’t consider the energy saved when building materials are manufactured locally.  Other green rating systems provide more guidance on these issues.  But Zero Energy Ready does reduce the amount of energy the house itself will use year after year, and it makes sure it is designed in such a way that it can take advantage of renewable energy in the future.  Rating systems establish best practices and set benchmarks for performance, and the simplicity of this system promises to inspire more homeowners expect a higher standard of performance for their new homes.  It could be the sustainable building standard you have been waiting for!  Learn more about Zero Energy Ready here:  http://energy.gov/eere/buildings/zero-energy-ready-home

Let New Leaf Home Design bring out the best in your existing home, or help you to design a new home that will save you energy, keep you comfortable, and provide a beautiful place to live.  Tell me about your project:  Hallie@NewLeafHomeDesign.com.