Archive Monthly Archives: January 2012

Reuse and Recycle

January 30, 2012

I want to roll back the calendar a couple of months to share some thoughts on re-use, recycle and diverting waste from landfill.  You know, it takes resource and energy to make “stuff” whether it be kitchen appliance, table, chair, television, clothing, etc.  When we throw stuff away because it is broken, old or got replaced with a newer model the stuff becomes trash taking up space in a landfill.  On both ends of the lifecycle of “stuff” there are some cost and some limits.  Natural resources are limited and the space for storing our trash is limited too.  In fact, when I look at our utility bill from our local municipality the largest component of the bill is for garbage — It costs more to have my garbage hauled away than the cost of clean water and sewer service!

By the way, in chapter 7 of Scott Huler’s book, On The Grid, you can satisfy your curiosity on what happens to the trash and recycling material after they are picked up by the garbage truck.  If are really curious about systemic impact of the stuff we consume I invite you to take a look at The Story Of Stuff.

So, if we can maximize the use of our stuff or lengthen its life we can avoid taking up space in the trash dump site and also reduce the demand on natural resources.  Makes sense, right?  This means re-use of stuff is good and recycling of stuff is good.  Reuse means that the stuff gets a new life under a new owner.  For example, the cute antique O’Keefe and Merritt gas oven/stove has a new life in someone else’s kitchen rather than going to a landfill.  Recycle means that the item is processed and transformed to another useful item.  For example, some of the wood removed in the deconstruction of the house will be mulched and will begin its new life on someone’s landscape.

Again, reuse is good, recycle is good and we want to avoid sending stuff to the landfill.  [end of rant, thanks for your patience]  Below are some examples of reuse and recycle of of stuff in our project.

Furniture
The non-profit organization, Furniture for Families, took our dining room table, chairs, bed, dresser, television and microwave oven.  This all volunteer furniture bank provides qualified clients who are referred to them by caseworkers from social service agencies familiar with the specific needs of the clients.

Dining Room Table and Chairs

Appliances
We gave away the washer and dryer to someone we knew that had a broken one.  Listing the items for $5 each on Craigslist was quite effective in getting the refrigerator and gas oven/stove sold and hauled in a couple of days.  The toaster was donated to Goodwill.

Refrigerator and Antique Oven/Stove
Window and Door
One of the people who came to take a look at the antique gas oven/stove, an antiques dealer, didn’t like the stove.  But he ended up buying the front door, window and the desk.  You just never know what they’re interested in.

Front door

Reuse
Some of the lead weight removed from the double hung windows went to our Passive House air sealing consultant, Terry Nordbye, for use in one of his projects.

Lead weights from double-hung windows

Recycle
The recycled wood is mulched at the dump. The reclaimed wood is still on site in the form of skip sheathing that we can use for this project or others.  All the interior trim was salvaged and is now in the shed.

Wood for mulching

Deconstruction
The crew of Santa Cruz Green Builders did a terrific job of deconstruction and separating various items to be recycled.  Huge dumpsters were delivered to the job site.  The summary from the receipt from the city of Santa Cruz shows 82.6% recycle/reuse percentage by volume.  Details in cubic yards are:

Recycle/Reuse  (95 cubic yards)
20 concrete and plaster recycled
42 clean wood recycled
4   metal
3   sheetrock recycled
3   concrete rubble reused
20 dirt reused at another site
3  wood reclaimed

Garbage (20 cubic yards)
20 painted wood (cannot be recycled) and garbage

Wood for recycling
Trash

Salvage Company
Whole House Building Supply and Salvage runs a pretty neat operation where they offer 3 different options for helping you give your stuff a new life.  It’s a good source for reuse items.

Drainage

January 21, 2012

We’re finally having a good winter storm!  We’ve been having drier than normal weather since construction started last month and this was lucky for us.  Up until the arrival of the rain the crew was busy installing a perimeter french drain and ensuring drainage under the house.

As you’ve seen in the photos of earlier posting, excessive water can cause the wood to rot and cause structural problems as well as invite mold to grow.  To prevent water damage and keeping the house dry for comfort we have specified french drain and crawl space sealing.

French Drain
The perimeter french drain was dug down 18″-24″ deep along the perimeter of the house about 16″ away from the foundation.  Mirafi drainage fabric (filter fiber) is used to line the cavity and drainage pipes (perforated PVC) are placed.  Drainage rocks fill the cavity and topped off with soil.  So, when it rains the water will eventually find it’s way into the drainage pipe and the drainage pipe is sloped towards the back to fill the water garden by gravity.  The perimeter french drain helps prevent the water from pooling under the crawl space.

Digging along the perimeter of the house

Note that there are 2 pipes in the trench.  One of the pipe is perforated and will take in water — this is for the french drain.  The other one will be connected to the downspouts to route the water from the roof to the rain water harvesting tank at the corner of the property.  (By the way, the installation of the rainwater tank will be done as a community workshop coordinated through the local Resource Conservation District.  Stay tuned for that workshop in the late summer or early fall!)

Notice the drainage pipe is placed above mirafi fabric and gravel
French drain and rainwater harvesting pipe in the trench leading to back of the yard.

An interesting tidbit:  What’s the origin of the term, “French Drain?”  Well, I initially envisioned some clever drainage system in France.  It turns out the term is attributed to a lawyer named Henry French in Massachusetts who popularized the concept in his 1859 book, “Farm Drainage.”

Crawl Space Work
For a few days the crew got into their jump suits and crawled around to dig out drainage path under the house, install some pipes and sealing the dirt floor with plastic.  They had a cozy work space with lights and music under the floor.

You can see that there is a little carved out channel to direct the water beneath the plastic

Sump pump is installed under the house to pump out any water that pools under the plastic.  Note the electrical line coming out from under the plastic.  The sump pump will eventually be connected to an outlet.

This view is from the cutout in the kitchen floor looking down into the crawlspace

At each pier the plastic liner was taped to the concrete using Siga tape.

View of the sealed crawlspace

Rain Garden Pit
The water from the perimeter french drain as well as any overflow from the rainwater storage tank will go into the rain garden.  This was dug about 5′ deep.  The plastic “thing” (I don’t remember what it’s called) is a way to store larger volume of water than simply having drainage rocks covering the pit.

You can get a sense of the size of the pit with a really tall guy walking in it

When we get to the landscaping stage the area above this pit will have appropriate plants for rain garden.   For now it is covered up with soil and it looks like any other part of the yard.

Rain Garden pit is covered up

Other Work While Digging
Water line and sewage line from the street to the house were also replaced while all the digging was going on.  You just never know what you find when you dig.  The water line from the street to the house was a PEX pipe!  This is a flexible pipe that is used for indoor plumbing but not for external work.  The sewer line was made out of clay.

Fragment of old sewage pipe

Unforeseen Items

January 13, 2012

Here are few pictures of items discovered during deconstruction that were unexpected.

Chimney hidden behind the kitchen.  When measurements were taken to draw up the as-built plan we were wondering what this “dead” space was.  It was unaccessible earlier because the water heater was strapped on to the little “ironing board” door.  The bricks were removed and stashed on the side for re-use.

Rot on skip sheathing and rim joists.  These were on both east and west sides of the house.  Why did these appear on east and west sides only and not on north-south sides?  Well, these rots appeared below windows so very likely the windows leaked and the water traveled diagonally down the skip sheathing.  It didn’t occur on the north side of the house because it’s protected with the porch and on the south side of the house the roof overhang probably protected the windows from the rain more.  The highest point on the roof corresponded to the east and west sides so the windows were more exposed to the rain.  

Rot behind the concrete stairs.  These were found on the south door and the west (mudroom) door.  Concrete wicks water so anytime concrete comes in contact with wood it can damage wood.

Mudsill not attached to skip sheathing.  You can see that in the first picture below that the sheatinga nd mudsill are flush.  In the second picture you’ll see that the Mudsill was trimmed by 3/4″ so that the new sheathing can be attached to the mudsill.

Midorihaus Passive House Windows

It’s important readers! High performance windows tuned to the climate and the compass orientations of the building envelope area are a critical part of the Passive House architectural approach. In our case the glazing area comprises [290ft2/ 1700ft2] or about 17% of the total wall area. The holy grail of window thermal performance is R factor, which is a measure of heat resistance related to the heat transfer per unit area per degree temperature difference from interior and exterior. In the US it has units of (ft²·°F·h)/Btu and is known as R-value. In the rest of the world, window performance is quantified in metric units by a measure of thermal transfer efficiency known as U-factor which is inversely proportional to R-value and whose units are W/(m²·°K). You can see the impact of windows’ thermal performance (R-value) on the overall wall assembly as a function of % glazing area from this graph:
The process of choosing our Passive House windows was quite involved. We were not only trying to achieve the best cost-performance from the window itself but were also wishing to improve the Bungalow aesthetic of our home by adding simulated divided lites (SDLs) known in the past as “muntins.” The original 1920’s architect employed single pane windows throughout the house without muntins. Divided lites are however a key stylistic hallmark of the Bungalow. The opportunity to add this important Bungalow stylistic feature made removing the old single pane lead crystal less regrettable.
Throughout our project we wanted to source materials as locally as possible. However the very best performing windows are European. This also means they have a huge embedded energy resulting from the considerably long shipping distance. High quality European triple glazed windows are generally fabricated from timber sustainably forested in the EU. Wood windows may have as little as 1/6 the embodied energy compared to fiberglass windows and 1/10 the embodied energy compared to vinyl windows. However even with this high performance their total life cycle back time would be largely compromised in the short term because of the embodied freight energy.
Lower cost domestic vinyl windows not only have very high embodied energy but also have significant environmental impacts on air quality (dioxins) during manufacture. Other American windows such as Marvin (wood) or Serious Windows (fiberglass) either offered lower thermal performance or a more limited range of coating options for tuning the glazing to the installed compass orientation to maximize passive solar heat gains for our project.
To complicate matters further there is a significant difference in window performance testing and verification between the continents. European windows are rigorously modeled for performance. However in Europe a physical example of the window is not actually tested by a 3rd party for performance verification as in United States via the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) certification. One cannot understate the importance of physical verification of modeled performance.
The graph below (ZehnderUSA) shows the overall cost efficacy of the subcomponents of Passive House features. The Specific heat consumption numbers shows that, after building orientation, window performance constitutes the largest chunk of energy savings for a building. The cost efficacy units in blue are FR/kWh/a or (Swiss Francs per kWh per annum) savings and show that investing in the best possible windows is a no brainer from the perspective of energy efficiency payback.
We also see that after the investment in high performance windows, increasing the insulation of the exterior shell and employing a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) or energy recovery ventilator (ERV) are the next wisest dollars spent.
Yes, investing in high performance windows is a good investment provided they can provide a lasting energy savings over less expensive but lower performing windows. However the coastal climate of Santa Cruz involves wide swings in outdoor relative humidity levels, precipitation, drizzling fog, and extended intense direct sun & UV due to generally high ambient air quality. This is a stress factor for wood window frame materials and necessitates more frequent resurfacing/repainting even though wood frames are the most sustainable material for window frame fabrication from the perspective of embodied energy. Termites need also be considered as a risk factor with wooden windows.
This is a graph from the Canadian manufacture of pigmented fiberglass windows (Cascadia) we ultimately chose for the project. It is vendor-formatted data you have to take it with a grain of salt but I believe is in general faithful to the facts. It compares many performance attributes of the four different windows frame material types commonly available.
So why did we choose this vendor Cascadia over the rest? This can be seen from the graph below which compares cost and various performance criteria for several vendors:
Simply put, energy efficient buildings minimize reliance on artificial lighting. To achieve this they maximize the amount of natural light admitted into the building interior through their windows. As a result energy efficient buildings enjoy high natural lighting efficacy. Energy efficient buildings also need to retain interior heat very efficiently at night and during cold seasons. For windows to accomplish all this at once requires special optical coatings which transmit in the light we see (visible light) while controlling or reflecting invisible heat energy (short wave infra-red) from the inside out and from the outside in. Different vendors offer different solutions but generally a thin layer of metallic silver is deposited onto the inner surfaces of the outmost glass and the cavity is filled with an inert gas such as Argon to prevent future tarnishing of the silver. One exception is Serious Windows whose products offer good thermal performance but rely on an inner polymer film to control Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC). SHGC is the measure of the amount of short wave infrared that passes through the window from the exterior. If the SHGC is too high and there is no effective roof overhang or shading this can contribute to high summertime HVAC loads, especially in climates with a high CDD (Cooling Degree Day) load. You learn more about HDD and CDD here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heating_degree_day. Maps for the US are here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:United_States_Heating_Degree_Day_map,_1961-1990.jpg and here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:United_States_Cooling_Degree_Day_map,_1961-1990.jpg.
In the case of the Serious Windows approach, the windows were dimmer that other vendors with comparable SHGC. In quantitative terms this means they are lower in natural lighting efficacy due to lower Visible Transmittance or VT, which is the ratio of the light ultimately getting through the window expressed as a fraction of the total visible light reaching the exterior of the window. Serious Windows uses internal, non-ceramic thin films between the outer glass panes, which are also absorptive in the ultra-violet band. Ultra violet light chemically alters many hydrocarbon-based materials over time. This approach may not prove as durable as triple glazed with all ceramic glass although, however in all fairness, Serious Materials offers a life warranty on their windows. The Marvin triple glazed windows are not as well performing as either the Cascadia or the other European triple glazed offerings. The Cascadia windows offer a higher Solar Heat Gain Coefficient, higher VT (more light gets indoors), and somewhat better thermal performance (lower U value) than the Marvin Windows but to not quite attain performance the European vendors. It should be mentioned the Marvin Windows had some nice features such as optional built-in bug screens and SDLs that looked very nice in the show room.
The European windows we saw on tours were, as expected, beautiful and extremely well built. Many offer an aluminum cladding over the wood frames. The Sorpetaler windows were quite impressive as seen in two other Bay Area Passive Houses. However, all of the European windows would have been burdened with very high embedded shipping energy. Since we also considered global warming potential when selecting our insulation materials we thought being consistent with the windows too would serve the overall desired project outcomes. The Cascadia windows were the best overall balance of desired outcomes at the time of our project. However this will likely change and hopefully more domestic alternatives for Passive House projects will become available domestically. The American made wooden H and H windows were very cost competitive to Cascadia. From a sustainability perspective H and H seemed an ideal choice with lower transport embodied energy (made in the US) and lower embodied manufacturing energy (wooden frames). But at the time of our project H and H had no NFRC certification. That was too high of a risk to assume since we would only learn of any shortcomings in air sealing after installation. A final vendor comment..the Inline window rep kept trying to steer us away form triple pane and towards a high performance double pane option.
This brings us to a final discussion point. Why triple paned in the comparably mild climate of Santa Cruz CA? Three reasons (1) enhanced street noise attenuation (2) enhanced winter comfort due to higher indoor glass surface temperature (3) best bang for the buck in energy savings. The fact of the matter is that once you are working with a vendor who can satisfy the air tightness requirement and window frame R values needed for a Passive House you are in a price range where much of what you are paying is for the overall build quality and engineering. The marginal savings of a few thousand dollars do ‘downgrade’ to double pane glass didn’t seem with it when considering the ancillary comfort benefits.
Getting your Passive House windows right will be an in depth exercise for the homeowners and designers requiring tremendous attention to detail and patience in working with the vendors. It is critical to ensure that the correct coatings are incorporated in each window to ensure that window’s performance relative to its compass orientation NSEW. Customer service is sometimes lacking. Be fore-warned! Our issues involved trying to avoid the ‘grilles between glass’ or GBG with our SDLs. We were unable to get a different color SDL adhesive (which adheres the SDL bar to the exterior glass surfaces). This meant using aluminum bars between the #2 and #3 glass surface to avoid the awkward visual gap when looking though the windows from an angle. The Cascadia GBG bars are thermally broken as they intercept the divider at the edge of the glass. We have been told the thermal performance as modeled by the glass unit manufacture (Cardinal USA) is not appreciably affected. We have yet to receive the exact modeling for our project..story continued.