Archive for the 'Design' Category

Paul Rothenstein inspired sketches

We spent a few hours yesterday with local artist Paul Rothenstein at a LARAC Latham Gallery workshop in Glens Falls, NY, where he’s currently showing some of his work. His current work features a rich layering of repetitive grids inked by hand on paper. One of his techniques that I particularly enjoyed was the use of a white gel ink to re-write parts of the composition.

We talked about his process and did some sketching. At home I decided to try some computational sketching. I shifted to white grids on black. My grids are randomly generated. Size, number of columns, number of rows, obliqueness and rotation are all randomly generated and drawn. I’m also using the rewrite technique similar to Paul’s hand drawn technique. Below are some of my favorite outcomes. It’s also fun to watch it build.

paul.2016416193758I used Processing to create these images, and Processing.js for the animated example linked above.

2014 Zero Net Energy Building Award

poster in lobby

We won! Thanks to the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA) for awarding us the 2014 Zero Energy Building Award at the Building Energy Conference (BE14) in Boston this week. Gina McCarthy of the EPA gave a rousing keynote, and shortly after Jill and I were called onstage to receive the award.

At the afternoon lunch panel discussion we gave a short presentation about the house along with a few other contestants including Carter Scott. It was a great crowd with good questions.

But the best part was getting to meet a few of my energy heroes.

Marc Rosenbaum

Marc Rosenbaum

Marc Rosenbaum is EnergySmiths and keeps a great blog at Thriving on Low Carbon. His name always pops up on interesting projects around New England and he knows his data, particularly when it comes to heat pumps. I’ve followed his writings and work for several years now. It was a pleasure to meet him in person.

Carter Scott

Carter Scott

I was also fortunate to meet Carter Scott of Transformations. I was still considering large masonry stoves, radiant floors and solar hot water in late 2009 when Jill and I were kicking around plans and researching different heating strategies. Then I found an article in Solar Today (2008) about a house Carter Scott was building for the Zero Energy Home Challenge in Massachusetts. This is also how I found Mike Duclos and our energy consultants, DEAP Energy Group. These houses featured double stud walls packed with cellulose, an air-source heat pump and solar PV. I was sold on the idea.

Selfie with Warren Coolidge

Our contractor, Warren Coolidge

And speaking of heroes, I also want to thank our contractor Warren Coolidge. He took time out of his busy schedule and made the long drive to Boston to join us at the conference. Warren listened to all my crazy energy ideas and found ways to help us build the house, and keep it on budget (most of the time).  He is a true craftsman and I very much enjoyed working with him. I don’t sell anything on this site, but if you want to build a net zero house in Washington County, New York, hire this man. You won’t be sorry.

We’ll be opening up the house again for NESEA’s Green Building Open House tour in October. See the house, the goats, chickens and turkeys. I’m sure Jill will also have some home-made cheese available. Mark your calendars and come visit us!

Permit plan set

Plans submitted for permit

We’re applying for our building permit this week. We finally have the plans updated and the documents ready. We have to submit them to the local town first for a general approval, to make sure we’re following any local ordinances, then its off to the county inspector for review and approval. With luck we could have our permit by the end of next week. I’ve included the final plan set that we’re submitting for the permit. Enjoy.

June Updates

Much has happened in the last few weeks. The roughed in driveway was completed last week. We seeded and mulched all the exposed areas. The surveyors finished the property adjustment survey last week. The brush was moved into one big pile. The excavator made a cut behind the house site to level off the house site and provide drainage from the area above the house. He used some of the cut to fill in front of the house site. We also marked and cleared the location for the well.

After being stalled by spring rains, yesterday (Tuesday) we finally got word that it was a good day to dig! So they dug the hole for the foundation. They were curious to see if there was any ledge where the foundation would go. None. I told them it was a good spot. (After they cleared the site, we moved the house over about 20 feet, hoping to steer clear of a chunk of ledge. It appears that was a good decision.)

We also hired an engineer last week. I had just enough non-standard details that it was making my contractor and inspector nervous. I thought it would be money well spent. He is based in Massachusetts but is licensed in several states including New York. He will size all the structural members and do a code check on the drawings. I found him through my energy consultants.

And speaking of energy consultants, Warren and I took a trip to Newton about 4 weeks ago to go over the preliminary calculations and discuss how to improve the details. They estimated that the house would require 11,900 BTU/sq. ft/year for heating. If you multiply that by the heated area (roughly 1200 sf), you get approximately 14.3M BTU/year. I estimated approximately 13.9M BTU/year using my rough calculations. Not bad!

With the improvements we’ve since made, including insulating the basement to R40 values, adding sun shades for the first floor, Canadian windows, etc, I’m hoping to get well below the 13M BTU/year estimate. As soon as the plans are complete and ready to be submitted for the building permit, I’ll be able to get the final energy calculations for the house. I’m very confident that we will be able to hit net zero with our budget. More on this as the numbers get finalized.

We should be ready to submit the house plans for a building permit within a week or two.

April Update

Lots of updates this week. We have updated house plans. We received window estimates. We hired energy consultants and a land surveyor. We have estimates for the driveway and getting electric service to the site. It has been a very busy two weeks.

First the house plans. No big changes. Most of the work these days is in the framing details, but it’s coming along nicely. See for yourself.

House plan set

We hired an energy consulting company called DEAP Energy Group out of Newton, Massachusetts. I found them through a project featured on ‘Renovation Nation’ on the Planet Green Channel. Nice guys and very knowledgeable thus far. They specialize in PassiveHouse and Net Zero housing. They are  using the PPHP software to model the energy use and gains of the house throughout the year. Energy use includes space heating, ventilation, water heating, appliances and lighting. Energy gains include solar gain through the windows. Although we’re not aiming for PassiveHouse or Net Zero certification, we are shooting for a ‘Near Zero’ home–as close as we can get to net zero while staying within our budget. I’ll keep you posted on their findings and recommendations.

Windows! We knew the windows would be a big expense. It would be so much easier if American window manufacturers had a brain. They have finally started to produce very low U-value windows (SeriousWindows), but they also block much of the heating capacity of the sun, expressed as the Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) value. While it still earns them and the homeowner an Energy Star rating, it sacrifices free heat energy from the sun. Why would you give up free heat? (See a couple of great articles, Windows that Perform Better than Walls, and Choosing Triple Glazed Windows at Canadian windows with really low U values and high SHGC values cost 1.5 to 2 times the price of really good American made windows. We got estimates from 3 makers of fiberglass windows. Marvin Integrity (all Ultrex line), our only American manufacturer, has a low U-values but unfortunately low SHGC values. Marvin is our fallback option. The two Canadian window manufacturers, AccurateDorwin and ThermoTech Fiberglass both have low U-values and high SHGC values. AccurateDorwin came in 1.5 times more expensive. ThermoTech was more than double the Marvin Integrity windows. But with the higher SHGC factor, these windows should pay for themselves over time. I’m looking to my energy consultants to help show the expected payback period for each of these types of windows.

Driveway update! The local soil conservation representative gave us the thumbs up for our proposed driveway path. Actually he recommended a slightly different path, but we opted to stay with the original logging road path. We have the OK from the town to redo the culvert connection to the road. And we have a preliminary estimate from the excavator for the driveway. Another part of the driveway effort is the property adjustment. We are swapping land with our neighbor so that we can take the easier path to the house site. The town has already approved the adjustment. All that is needed now is to do the survey and submit it to the town planning board. Then hire a lawyer to amend the property deeds so we can submit to the county. We met and hired the surveyor last weekend. And you thought this would be the easy part? As soon as we get some dry weather, we can begin the driveway!

We also received an estimate from the electric company for running a power line up to the house site.  The big decision here is whether we want to go above ground or bury the power cable. We’re leaning toward the above ground option because it’s looking much cheaper than trenching along side the driveway. And that’s not even taking into account extra expense of having to pound or blast through any ledge we encounter. Almost a certainty in our area. Unfortunately, going above ground means we have to carve a larger swath through the woods to make room for the poles and the power easement. We would prefer to go underground, but it’s looking like it may be shockingly out of reach.

And of course the site clearing continues…

Change in schedule!

Link to first draft of plans (PDF 1.2M)

After a bit of soul searching and with a generous construction loan from a family benefactor, we have decided to start building our house this year. All those decisions yet to be made and posts unwritten, are now upon us. We suddenly have a long list of things to do rather quickly.

One of my first tasks is to finalize the plans. I started working with LayOut, the add-on to SketchUp that lets you easily layout presentation drawings. It’s not really well suited to creating working drawings, but it is easy to learn and not half bad. Click on the image above to view a quick PDF (1.2M) I put together last night to send off to the prospective energy consultants to get their thoughts on what it would take to get us to net zero status.

The plans are important because we need to submit an application for a building permit quickly. They are also used to get estimates and bids on the build components. Luckily I did my own high level estimate using Means data last month, which helped me understand the different components and general costs. Now it’s time to see how close I was.

Other tasks include getting the driveway path, house, well and septic locations surveyed and finalized.

It’s so exciting to get started now, and terrifying. But I don’t think it will really kick in till we see a bulldozer moving dirt around.

New house design

I’ve been doing  lot of reading lately about super-insulated net zero houses and passive solar houses. Not so different than what we had been planning to do in earlier designs, just with thicker walls. We were planning a <1400 sf passive solar house with radiant heat floor and masonry stove. But super-insulated houses with a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) only need a hair drier and a few light bulbs to keep them warm on the coldest nights. And that doesn’t take into account passive solar.

As the articles say, why spend tens of thousands of dollars on a heating system when you only need to spend a few hundred a year. If you super insulate, it makes sense to incorporate a right-sized heating system. So out with the masonry stove (sadly, I really like them) and the radiant floor (again, sadly). In with the small wood stove and some other small backup space heating system, yet to be determined.

One other major change was moving the bathroom upstairs, which allows us to organize everything under one simple roof and over one simple foundation. The walls are 12 inches thick, using double 2×4 walls with a cavity, all filled with 2 types of foam or dense pack cellulose, for an R rating of 40-50. The cold roof will have an R value of 60 to 70. We still have 4 inches of concrete on the first floor to absorb and temper the solar heat being generated by the south facing windows.

There’s still lots of work to be done. I’m studying up on all the energy calculations that I learned a long time ago in school, and I’m hoping to try out some the free tools online, like EnergyPlus. I want to make sure we don’t overheat in the winter when the sun is out, and that we can get by when there’s a few weeks of clouds. The roof overhang and thickness of the walls should keep out most of the sun in the summer.

We’re also exploring off the grid options. I want to have a ballpark number in mind for a solar power array, battery storage and generator backup, in case the estimate for getting power up to the house site is prohibitive.

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