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What is Green Building?

What is Green Building?

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I’ve been wanting to write an article for a while that is a general overview of various green building terms, energy systems, and strategies. I’ve found that as green building is becoming more popular, green jargon is seldom defined clearly for the layperson and rarely all in one place. We often assume that we know what something means, but its helpful to explore the true definition. So, here is a rather lengthy article that I’ve written that aims to demystify the popular terminology used within the green building industry. This will be published as 6 smaller articles in the EcoZone section of “The Bozone” (a local publication). -Emily Varmecky, Co-Owner of Greenovision Home Design

Green building is a rapidly growing segment of the U.S. construction industry. It is estimated that green building represented 40-48% of new non-residential construction in 2015. It is also reported that in 2015, “62% of firms building new single-family homes report that they are doing more than 15% of their projects green.” It seems that although discussions of green building are becoming more popular, green jargon is rarely defined for the layperson. My goal for this article is to demystify the popular terminology used within the green building industry. I will choose common building terms, energy systems, and strategies then define and generalize them to make them more understandable.

What is Green Building? Green building refers to both the structure and the process of construction “that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building’s life-cycle: from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and demolition.” The goal of green building is “to reduce the overall impact of the built environment on human health and the natural environment.” There are a variety of methods that may be applied to reduce this impact which may include using water, energy, construction materials, and other resources efficiently and “reducing waste, pollution, and environmental degradation.”

For many professionals within the housing and construction industry, green building is a broad term describing the design or construction of a structure that is environmentally responsible in some manner. Building professionals can interpret environmental responsibility in a variety of different ways ranging from applying a complex method of energy-efficient design strategies into their structures to simply recycling cardboard within their business. Green washing is common in all areas of business and consumerism, including the housing industry. Green washing is a form of propaganda in which “green marketing is used to promote the perception that an organization’s products, aims, or policies are environmentally friendly.” Just because a company claims to be green, they may be interpreting green in their own manner, may be applying certain green principles on a spectrum, or may not be green at all. As I continue to explore various green building principles in this article, it is important to understand that these definitions are the ideals (principles to be aimed at), but should be critically examined when construction professionals are applying them in the field or are using the terms within their business.

Sustainable Building: The word sustainable means “able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed” and “able to last or continue for a long time.” In the construction industry, it is difficult to find a definition of sustainable building that is not synonymous with green building, but in my opinion, this term is slightly different. To me, sustainable building encompasses the utilization of renewable resources, which are “resources that can be replaced naturally and can be used again.” Sustainable energy systems within a home use energy efficiently in a manner that doesn’t use up all of the energy available and allows the home to consume energy for a long time. Fossil fuel is considered by many scientists to be a finite resource, therefore although using fossil fuels efficiently within a home or building is considered green, this usage is not necessarily sustainable. In many parts of the world, however, the sun shines consistently, providing an energy source that never runs out. Solar energy systems are therefore considered sustainable.

Sustainable construction materials can be materials that are grown and produced in methods that allow those materials to be continually produced, the usage of materials that last a long time, or the usage of materials that are reused or recycled. Fast growth pine, for example, is a building material that is grown and milled here in Montana. When responsibly harvested, a pine forest can regenerate and provide lumber for future generations without significant harm to the environment. Using locally available materials also minimizes long distance shipping, another environmentally-friendly practice.

The usage of metal construction material may be considered to be sustainable because of its durability. Although ore is a finite resource like fossil fuel, metal is long lasting and can be recycled into new materials. Metal roofing on a building can last significantly longer than asphalt shingles, which generally last 15-20 years. When asphalt shingles are spent, there are few ways to recycle or reuse them, so they usually end up as trash. However, when a metal roof is finally worn out, the metal can be recycled.

Energy-Efficient: Energy-efficient is a broad term used to describe a building or system within a building that produces and/or uses energy in a less wasteful manner. It can also be described as “using less energy to provide the same service.” A variety of strategies can be used to promote energy-efficiency that may include design methods, construction methods, materials, and technologies. Some methods may be active such as radiant floor heating or an “Energy Star” dishwasher and some strategies may be passive such as passive solar heating or well-insulated windows.

Before I explore various energy-efficient and sustainable energy systems, it is important to understand how we use energy within residential homes and other structures. In Montana, the three demands for energy within a home are: heating of your home spaces (accounting for about 49% of home energy usage), electricity for lighting, appliances, and air conditioning (36% of home energy usage), and lastly hot water for bathing, doing dishes, and laundry (16% of home energy usage). Passive solar, solar power, and passive cooling are generally considered renewable, sustainable energy production methods. Liquid solar, geothermal energy, and radiant floor heating are usually considered energy-efficient systems.

Passive Solar: In passive solar design, the sun’s natural energy is harnessed to help heat a home. “Windows, walls, and floors designed to collect, store, and distribute solar energy in the form of heat in the winter and reject solar heat in the summer.” This process is passive because it requires no plumbing or wiring, just good design. There are different passive solar strategies, but typically, sunlight enters through the building’s south facing windows and is stored as heat within a concrete floor. The heat then emanates from the floor mass during the day and night. Passive solar heating also provides natural day lighting, which reduces the need for electric lights.

Solar Power: Solar power is the conversion of sunlight into electricity, using photovoltaics (PV) or concentrated solar power (CSP). Solar electricity can be produced at the structure location (on-site) with photovoltaic arrays or can be supplied through the grid (electricity produced off-site that is delivered to the building through power lines). Although grid-tied electricity is typically produced from fossil fuels, a small amount of commercially produced electricity is derived from the sun.  “Solar energy provides four-tenths of one percent of the total energy consumed in the United States.”

Solar Water Heating (AKA Liquid Solar): Solar water heating systems use the sun’s energy to warm domestic hot water. The water is heated with solar water heating panels, which are affixed to the outside of a structure similarly to solar electric panels. “A conventional boiler or immersion heater can then be used to make the water hotter, provide hot water when solar energy is unavailable,” or store the hot water. This hot water can then be used in the kitchen, bathroom, or laundry room or can be used in a variety of different methods to help heat the building spaces.

Geothermal Energy: Geothermal energy is heat that is generated and stored within the earth that can be used to produce electricity or more commonly, be used to help heat or cool the domestic water and spaces of a building. When geothermal energy is captured on the building site, a system of water-filled pipes (closed loop or open loop) runs horizontally or vertically into the earth. The earth’s temperature stays at a consistent temperature compared to the fluctuating air temperatures throughout the seasons. The water within the pipes is preheated by the earth then is further heated by an electric-run indoor geothermal HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) system that “compresses the heat to a higher temperature and distributes it throughout the building.” As an example, water within a geothermal well is heated to 50 degrees F. If the outdoor air temperature is 0 degrees F, the HVAC further heats to water to create a comfortable indoor temperature. If the outdoor air temperature is 100 degrees F, the 50 degree F water can be used to help cool the home.

Passive Cooling: Passive cooling is defined as “a building design approach that focuses on heat gain control and heat dissipation in a building in order to improve the indoor thermal comfort with low or nil energy consumption.” There are a variety of strategies in which this cooling method can be achieved within a building, but it usually combines energy available from the natural environment on-site with specific architectural design and building materials.  With stack effect, for example, warm air naturally rises and escapes through carefully positioned high windows or openings within a building and cooler outdoor air enters the building through low openings. “The pressure difference between the outside air and the air inside the building caused by the difference in temperature between the outside air and the inside air… is the driving force for the stack effect.” This method, when implemented correctly, can effectively cool and/or ventilate a building on a non-windy day and can be designed to require no mechanical systems.

Radiant Floor Heating & Cooling: With radiant floor heating, heat is supplied directly to the floor of a building and “relies on radiant heat transfer- the delivery of heat directly from the hot surface to the people and objects in the room via infrared radiation.” Radiant heating “is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because it eliminates duct losses.” With hydronic radiant heating, the most energy-efficient floor heating system, warm water is circulated throughout the floor systems of the building through a series of tubing. This water can be heated with fossil fuel based energy systems such as gas or oil fired boilers or can be heated with on-site energy systems such as passive solar, solar power, liquid solar, and geothermal energy.

“Sun smart radiant heating,” for example, is the combination of radiant floor heating and passive solar heating. With this system, the sun’s heat that is passively collected and stored within the mass of a concrete floor is actively circulated throughout the home via the hydronic tubing. When the radiant flooring is also connected to a water heater, the radiant floor provides heat on non-passive solar (cloudy) days. When a radiant floor is connected to a geothermal well, the 50 degree F water from the geothermal system can be circulated throughout the floor on hot days to effectively cool the building.

A simple Google search will show that there are many strong and varying opinions held by green professionals. There are a variety of different sustainable and efficient energy systems that can be used within a building. There are also a variety of different green design methods, construction methods, and material choices. There is a plethora of different reports and thoughts on which strategy or method is most effective, affordable, energy-efficient, easy to build, sustainable, etc. It generally seems, however, that the specific green methods implemented into a building depend on geographic location, available resources, budget, and personal preference.

Next in this article, I will discuss a few different green building strategies as well as green certifications. It should be noted that (along the lines of green washing) just because a green professional is certified to implement a certain strategy, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are more qualified than a green professional who isn’t certified. For example, even if a building is not LEED Certified, it still may have been designed and built to provide environmental benefits and may have similar features as a LEED building. After researching “Not So Big House,” I discovered that designers and builders can easily become a “Not So Big House” registered professional after paying an annual fee. Of course, there are many building professionals that practice the design and construction of quality, smaller homes, but are not registered with “Not So Big House.” With training, it is also possible to be a certified Passive House or Green Building professional (among many other green building related certifications).

High Performance Walls and Roofs: Since 49% of home energy usage in Montana is for the heating of home spaces, reducing the total amount of heat required within a home is a common energy-efficiency approach. One of the best ways to use less heat is to prevent heat created in the building from leaving the building. This is done by constructing the walls and roofs to be well-sealed and insulated. There are many different design and construction methods as well as material choices for creating “better thermal barriers and fewer air leaks,” but this is usually done by creating an envelope that has a high R-value (or insulation value). This structure can then be fitted with conventional fossil fuel-run heating systems or with sustainable, energy-efficient systems. Either way, the building is still requiring less heat than if it had less insulation.

A high performance building envelope not only prevents heat loss in the colder months, it also prevents heat gain in the hotter moths. This helps promote energy-efficiency within the building during all seasons. It is very important to incorporate a ventilation system into a building that has low air leakage to prevent moisture build-up. Just as heat cannot escape this type of building, water vapor (present in all buildings) also cannot escape. Energy-efficient ventilators that limit heat loss and gain are available.

A blower door test is one method that energy professionals use to help determine a home’s airtightness. The results of a blower door test are measured as ACH units (air exchanges per hour). As a reference, older homes, like living in a ‘barn’” have a 10-20 ACH. “Average new homes with some air sealing, but no verification and little attention to detail” have a 7-10 ACH. An ACH of 3 or lower is achievable for new homes and is recommended by most green professionals.

Passive House: A Passive House is a super-insulated and extremely tightly sealed home that achieves its energy-efficiency by keeping heat within the home, rather than letting it escape and producing new heat (and vice-versa in the hotter months). Passive House requires a blower door result of 0.6 ACH, a difficult standard to achieve. There are many different Passive House strategies; some rely more on active technologies for heat production, heat recovery, and air circulation and others incorporate passive solar heating and passive cooling design strategies.

Smaller Home: According to the 2013 U.S. Census, the average newly constructed single-family American house is 2,598 square feet, hitting a new square footage record. As of 2014, “smaller homes, of 1,400 square-feet and less, [represent] 4% of homes built” and “extremely large houses, 4,000 square feet and up… account for more than 9% of new homes.” “Houses that are a little smaller but still verging on mansion territory, those between 3,000 and 4,000 square feet, made up 21.7% of new homes in 2013.”

Not to be confused with “Tiny Houses,” smaller homes are moderately-sized homes that use less of the construction budget on square-footage and instead focus that money on quality design, quality materials, and/or energy-efficiency strategies. Smaller homes typically consume less energy and use fewer construction materials than larger homes and therefore are generally more energy-efficient and green by default. “The U.S. Energy Information Administration says homes of 2,000 to 2,500 square feet use an average 102.3 million BTUs of fuel yearly — 13% less than homes that are 1,000 square feet larger.” Terms similar to smaller house may include simplified home, down-sized home, or “Not So Big House.”

LEED Certified: LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification is a rating system for the design and construction of green buildings that is managed by the U.S. Green Building Council, a private non-profit organization. The owner, designer, or contractor of a building can pay a fee to have their structure approved by the organization and achieve levels of certification ranging from “LEED Certified” to “LEED Platinum.” LEED buildings are designed and built to provide environmental and economic benefits and requirements may include the use of recycled materials, energy efficiency, renewable energy, water conservation, etc. Additionally, building professionals themselves can choose to become LEED Certified after paying a fee and taking an exam.

Energy-Star: Energy Star is an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) rating program for energy-efficient consumer products such as computers, electronics, appliances, lighting, heating and cooling systems, and new homes. Products with the Energy Star label “generally use 20–30% less energy than required by federal standards.” A product can be Energy Star Certified after meeting energy efficiency standards and having it tested by a licensed professional (testing is paid for by the manufacturer of the product).

“Sun Smart Radiant Heating:” What is it?

“Sun Smart Radiant Heating:” What is it?

Sunsmart Radiant Heating

“Sun Smart Radiant Heating”: What is it? We typically design homes that combine hydronic radiant heating with passive solar design for maximum efficiency. With this approach, the sun’s heat is passively collected, but is actively distributed throughout the home. So in a sense, Greenovision mostly utilizes a hybrid method. We have coined this method, “Sun Smart Radiant Heating.” SSRH sensibly captures the sun’s energy on sunny days and has two added benefits. The radiant system distributes the sun’s heat uniformly throughout the home and also produces heat during long stretches of cloudy days or extreme cold. This dual heating method is not only incredibly energy efficient, it relieves any worries homeowners may have about living in a home that is heated with passive solar alone.

radiant boiler manifolds etc

How does this work? As you can see in the top picture above, the tubing on the right, which will be embedded in either a concrete or gypcrete slab, will start derive a gain in heat as the sun strikes the slab in front of the south facing windows. There is a system of sensors in the slab that pick up temperature differences throughout the home (usually north and south sensors). During typical sun capturing hours, the north end of the slab is colder than the south. The sensors send signals to start the pump system to begin circulating the fluid in the Pex tubing. This essentially begins to drive the warmed southern-captured heat to parts of the slab that are not as warm.

slab pumps and relays

This system can be set so up so that the ‘on demand boiler’ is not even running. In essence, SSRH is the modern way of utilizing the sun’s energy and moving its captured heat around the home to promote uniform heating. This has been the missing link in “old school” passive solar homes. This type of combined system needs to be designed by someone skilled in passive solar design then installed by radiant heating professionals that are familiar with the passive solar heat contribution to the total heating needs of the home.

Greenovision Spring 2015 Newsletter: Earth Month Edition!

We recently published our Spring 2015 Newsletter. In this edition, you can view renderings of our latest home design, learn about the environmental impacts of the housing industry, and read our article, “Energy-Efficient Heating Options for the Modern Home,” that was published in Bozeman Magazine.

To view this newsletter, please click here. To read our previous newsletters, click Past Issues on the top left corner of the newsletter. That top bar also has a sign up form to subscribe to our quarterly newsletter.

“Bozeman Magazine” Article: Energy-Efficient Heating Options for the Modern Home

BozemanMagazineCoverGreenovision is happy to share an article we wrote for Bozeman Magazine’s April 2015 Environmental Edition entitled “Energy-Efficient Heating Options for the Modern Home.” Please click here to view the article on the Bozeman Magazine website or read the reprinted copy below.

Energy-Efficient Heating Options for the Modern Home

Written by Mark Pelletier and Emily Varmecky

Edited by John Burbidge

Construction of new homes is on the rise again in Bozeman. According to the Sonoran Institute, a non-profit community planning organization, by 2026 Gallatin County could add as many as 26,000 new homes. As traditional fuel sources become more expensive and home energy costs rise, it is important that new homes are built to be energy-efficient now, so that we can afford to live in these homes in the future. Spending more up front on energy-efficient design, technology, and materials will ultimately result in a more affordable home over time because the yearly savings on your energy bills will exceed the costs of the additional design and infrastructure.

It is important that homeowners, not just home professionals, have a clear understanding of how their home is designed, built, and operated. Empowering yourself with the knowledge of energy efficiency will help when choosing a designer, builder, and other home professionals for the construction of your new home. The generation, distribution, and storage of energy is of particular concern to home energy specialists, so we’re going to break down home energy to help you have a basic understanding of how energy is used within your home.

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The three demands for energy within a home are: heating of your home spaces (accounting for about 49% of home energy usage), electricity for lighting and appliances (36% of home energy usage), and lastly hot water for bathing, doing dishes, and laundry (16% of home energy usage). The majority of homes in Montana have a power meter that provides the electricity, a domestic hot water heater (that big cylinder down in your basement), and a forced air furnace for home heating. In other words, most homes are 100% reliant on energy that is produced outside of the home.

These conventional “grid tied” energy systems are now considered inefficient and unsustainable for many reasons. Most conventional water and space heating systems, considered outdated by many home energy experts, are under-insulated, stored in cold “unconditioned” spaces, and lose heat through the duct systems that distribute the heat throughout the home, called a “standby loss.” These conventional heating systems are losing heat almost as fast as they’re producing heat. Combine inefficient heating with a leaky, under-insulated home envelope (like many homes have), and you’ve got a recipe for high home heating bills.

Since home heating accounts for about half of residential energy consumption in Montana, it’s worth delving into the specifics of energy-efficient heating a little further. (Methods of lowering your electric and hot water heating bills, as well as alternative methods of producing the energy for these two systems within your home, are great topics for follow-up articles.)

One of the best ways to minimize heating energy needs within the home is to comprehensively contain the heat that this is being produced. Designing and constructing your home with materials that have high insulation values is important for keeping heat in during the winter, thus reducing the amount of heating energy required. Likewise, in the summer insulation helps to keep heat out of your home reducing air conditioning costs. Advanced framing techniques reduce thermal conductivity (aka “cold bridging”) from the outside to the inside (or vice versa) and keep the home tightly sealed. Advanced, quality construction incorporated with high “R-value” insulation in the roof and walls as well as well-insulated windows and doors all help to minimize the total amount of energy that is needed to heat the home.

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Insulation will allow you to downsize your heating system and focus on energy-efficiency. Once you have a tight building envelope, you can next analyze the assets of your home site and develop ways to integrate them into the design of the home. Since we have ample sunlight in Montana, integrating a passive solar strategy can help lower home heating costs by 30-50%. In this system, windows, walls, and floors are designed to collect, store, and distribute the sun’s natural radiant energy in the form of heat in the winter and reject solar heat in the summer. In order to harvest the solar radiation, sunlight enters the home through carefully designed windows and the energy is captured and stored in a concrete slab floor. Over the course of a day, the slab is gradually heated by the sun, then throughout the cold nighttime hours, the thermal mass of the concrete floor slowly releases this heat, warming the interior space above it. This process is passive; it requires no plumbing or wiring, just good design.

If you choose not to implement passive solar strategy, there are a variety of other naturally occurring heating options. Geothermal heating is an energy-efficient option, as is electric heating powered from solar panels, but those systems are topics in themselves and we won’t be discussing them here.

Another home heating option is to use water, called “hydronic heating.” Water can be heated and distributed around the home through baseboard heaters, radiators, or a radiant floor to heat the spaces of your home. Water is a relatively good medium for heat storage because, unlike air, it has mass.

Regardless of which distribution system is used, the hot water is typically heated either in a tank or with a “tankless on demand” heater and is fueled by propane, natural gas, or electricity. The efficiency of hot water tank heaters varies. The tanks usually heat and store 20-80 gallons of water all the time, even when the water is not needed. An “on demand” system, on the other hand, heats water exactly when it is needed rather than heating the water in advance and storing for later use. Since the storage of heat (and subsequent heat loss) is mostly eliminated, an Energy Star rated “on demand” heater is usually more energy-efficient.

The efficiency of hot water distribution also varies. With baseboard heating and radiators, hot water travels in around the home in ducts and heat emanates from the water that is passing through the baseboard or radiator. Heat loss often occurs in the conduit systems if they are not insulated properly. Baseboards can be unsightly and take up space within the home while radiators can be more compact and fit on wall spaces.

Another hydronic heating system is radiant flooring. With this system, hot water is circulated through tubing (usually called “pex,” a plastic tubing) within the radianttubefloor system; the water then heats the mass of floor, which then radiates warmth into the home from the floor up. This doubly improves efficiency as there are two mediums that are storing the heat: the water and the floor.

There are two types of radiant flooring. One method is to staple the hydronic tubing within a conventional framed floor system of plywood, floor joists, and fiberglass or foam insulation. While this is a very efficient home heating system, concrete has better thermal conductivity than wood. Therefore, the most efficient hydronic system is a radiant concrete floor, which has more mass than wood and therefore more heat storage capacity. Heat is stored and emitted very efficiently within concrete or stone without having to constantly reheat it. With a thin slab radiant concrete floor, the hydronic tubing is stapled on top of the floor system and 1.5 -2 inches of concrete is poured over that tubing. With “slab on grade,” 4” inches of concrete is poured over pex sitting on top of rigid foam insulation.
There are pros and cons to a thicker or thinner slab. The thicker the slab, the more heat storage potential. However, a thicker slab can cause a “thermal lag” with hydronic radiant heating because with more mass the floor is slower to respond to heating or cooling.

If you have incorporated passive solar heating into your home and have a concrete slab, you can maximize energy-efficiency by also integrating hydronic radiant heating into that slab. With this approach, solar heat is passively collected, then is actively distributed throughout the home by the hydronic pex conduit. The hydronic heating component of this strategy acts as a good back up heating option if there is a long stretch of sunless, non-solar degree heating days. Also, if you do choose to go with a hydronic home heating system, that same heater can often be used to also heat your domestic hot water, simplifying the number of heating systems you have. Of course, with any heating system that you choose, you want to make sure that it is a very energy efficient “Energy Star rated system.”

As you can see, there are a variety of energy-efficient home heating methods that can help lower your home energy costs. Now that you have a better general understanding of home heating, be sure talk with your designer, builder, and subcontractors and ask them about their specific energy efficiency strategies.

Greenovision Featured in Local Publications

We recently did some writing for two local publications!

Please check our article on passive solar homes in the Bozeman Magpie Magazine:

Bring On the Sun: Homes keen to solar rising in Bozeman

We also wrote a tidbit on energy efficient homes for The Bozone that was printed in the March 15, 2014 edition. Unfortunately,  that edition is no longer available to view online, so here it is reprinted below:

Energy Efficiency 101

True story: We recently ran into some Bozeman friends who told us that they’ve spent $25,000 in the last four years on their home energy bills. That’s enough money for a down payment on a new home! Thinking that their electricity consumption was the main source of their high-energy costs, they purchased a solar panel array last summer. However, come winter, they saw no significant reduction in their energy bills.

They realized that it was the heating of their home that was so costly. Now they are going through the expensive and messy process of tearing apart their roof to add more insulation. They admitted that when looking for a home ten years ago, they wish they had just built a new, energy-efficient home in the first place.

In the long run, it would have saved them money and certainly would have saved them the anguish of an energy remodel. If you need to go through an energy remodel yourself or are interested in designing and building a new, energy-efficient home, here are five tips to keep in mind:

1. Design for passive solar heat gain. The sun is a free heating source, so why not tap into it? In passive solar home design, windows and floors are constructed to collect, store, and distribute solar energy in the form of heat in the winter. Through proper design, solar heat is rejected in the summer to prevent over heating. Orientation of the house to the South, correct window types and heights, adequate roof overhangs, heat-retaining mass (such as radiant concrete flooring), and air exchange are just a few of the important components of a passive solar home.

2. Design to reduce your home energy needs. While investing in renewable energy technologies such as solar panels and liquid solar arrays is important for off-setting your home energy costs, it is equally important to design your home to consume less energy in general. Think of the Three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Designing a home with plenty of well-insulated windows not only provides views of the outdoors from within, but also allows ample sunlight to enter the home. By illuminating rooms with natural light, you eliminate the need to run energy-consumptive light bulbs during the day. The same windows can be designed into the home to promote natural airflow and ventilation. This passive cooling strategy reduces the need to run electric air conditioners and fans in the summer.

3. Build with high-insulation, quality, and long-lasting materials. Building and designing your home with a high insulation value is important for keeping heat in during the winter and out during the summer. Calling for advanced framing techniques reduces thermal conductivity and helps keep the home tightly sealed. By building with quality, long-lasting materials, you reduce unnecessary repair and maintenance to your home, which ultimately saves money and is better for the environment. Quality materials also often contain fewer off-gassing toxins, which results in a healthier living environment.

4. Don’t throw beauty out the window. If you have decided that energy-efficiency is a priority for your new home, it doesn’t mean that you need to settle for a “generic-looking” house. Contrary to popular belief, energy-efficient homes can be beautiful and comfortable. Your home interiors can be designed and decorated to suit your personal tastes while being highly functional at the same time. The exterior appearance of your home can be an aesthetically engaging addition to your environment.

5. Hire a home designer that is skilled in energy-efficiency design strategies. Most designers and architects have a certain niche; be sure to find a professional that is experienced in energy-efficiency. It is always more difficult to make energy improvements on a home that is already built, so it is important to implement energy efficiency strategies and technologies while the home is still in the design phase. Spending more up front on energy-efficient design, technology, and materials will ultimately result in a more affordable home because the yearly savings on your energy bills will exceed the costs of the additional infrastructure.

Mark Pelletier and Emily Varmecky are co-owners of Greenovision Home Design. At Greenovision, we custom design beautiful, energy-efficient homes that stand apart from your neighbors. We believe that cookie cutters are for making cookies, not for home design!

 

 

 

Everyday Architecture: It’s for the rest of us

DIY home improvement, construction, remodeling ideas and thoughts

When I was in architecture school back in the early 2000’s, I found myself falling into the trap of ‘glory design’ or ‘reinventing the wheel.’  While working on my thesis, I discovered that I was missing a crucial piece of the picture, which is that most of the built-world is devoid of ‘good’ design.  Luckily, I found a book called Architecture of the Everyday, written by Steven Harris and Deborah Berke.

This book opened my eyes to a less glamor-oriented type of design, but more importantly, a typology of design for the common dweller. In Everyday Architecture, design revolves around function, form, and beauty, but with less emphasis on stylization and more on regional or local tradition (vernacular). The concern is less on newness and more on the recycling of the old as well as a reduced budget rather than a maximum budget.  Simplicity is a solution set over technological overpowering of issues like heating, ventilation, and aesthetics.

There are many reasons why architecture has been hijacked by glossy, over-stylized, expensive design practices which are not even environmentally sound.  The profession in itself tends towards elitism due to an all-consuming focus towards ‘white collar’ professionalism, first starting during education, then continuing into internship and professional careers.  Architecture has become a very expensive career. Most that follow its conveyor belt to ‘stardom’  not only need to make it pay off their education, but also have aspirations toward higher monetary rewards.

One of my neighbors exercises his creativity.

So how do we return creative, thoughtful, efficient, and affordable design to the average dweller? To start, it is important to not want what others have and instead, concentrate on what our own desires and goals are for our habitation. This sounds rather simplistic, but is very difficult for many to do in a time period where everywhere we look there is a push towards someone else’s vision of what is important, cool, or beautiful. Let’s take back our own vision and begin to create a uniqueness specific to ourselves, our family, and our needs.

Simplification of the home’s necessities is one of the best ways to allow other creativity to come through. The home need not consume every dollar of the paycheck. Many of the greatest design ideas can come from our own ingenuity if we allow time to expand on our ideas, then do the appropriate research into such ideas. As Martin Heidegger put it, ‘to dwell is to actually create or take part of the making of our homes.’  It is sad to say, but the average homeowner is restricted in this day and age to their yard. Most ‘home improvement’ consists of mowing the lawn, killing weeds, or maybe growing a garden. It was not that long ago that most home owners actually built their home with the help of an experienced carpenter. Unfortunately, the modern housing industry has become a maze of technical and codified complexities, which cause most homeowners to feel unqualified to actually make or ‘dwell’ in their own home.


Many systems like heating, cooling, and ventilation have been hijacked by technological complexity.  How many times I have asked a client what kind of heating system they have and where it is located and “they don’t know”.  This is an example of the ridiculousness of this time period. We must return to ‘knowing,’ which will empower us to take back our homes. I have shown on my site much about organizing the home plan to maximize solar gain, to minimize overheating, and to promote cooling. These are rather simple systems that we can all understand and use to drive and support our homes’ energy needs. What I am getting at is “Knowledge is Power'” once we strive to understand a system, then we can make it out own. Modern home design,however, often involves electronic gadgetry to make up for our own lack of understanding (and laziness).

I am not going to suggest that every aspect of home construction is DIY, but some are.  Builders are often the worst in staying stuck in a building method or typology. It takes time to learn building systems and it takes know-how to actually build. With that, many builders stay with what they know and have built/contracted before. It is easy for a contractor to continue to use the same building systems because they know how to bid the project and how to specify which materials and subcontractors. This can keep them stuck in certain building typologies. It takes a certain type of builder, as with the client, who actually wants to learn new systems of heating and building. An open-minded client will find more potential with an open-minded builder. In other words, its is important for a client to look for designers and builders not for their websites’ pretty pictures, but the content and hopefully some good looking design. Also, understand that not all builders are receptive to DIY or sweat equity.

A client’s ability to help with the construction of their home is a difficult one to assess.  Certainly the more a client knows about the design and construction method of their home, the better.  However, building is a skill and it takes time to learn and practice, as well as physical fitness. Mistakes will be made along the way for anyone new to building, which can be costly and dangerous. The last thing a builder wants is for their client to fall off a ladder or run their hand through a saw-blade. Along this line, a contractor’s insurance company often will not want to know that a client is working on site. However This is real dwelling.

 

Benefits of Energy Efficient Homes

sauna

The benefits of energy efficient homes

It is difficult to make energy improvements to a home that is already built, so it is important to implement energy-efficiency strategies and technologies while the home is still in the design phase. Spending more up front on energy-efficient design, technology, and materials will ultimately result in a more affordable home because the yearly savings on your energy bills will exceed the costs of the additional infrastructure. Contrary to popular belief, energy-efficient homes can be designed to be beautiful with an aesthetically-engaging contemporary edge.

There are many benefits to designing and building an energy-efficient home including:

  1. Year-round energy savings that result in a more affordable home
  2. Less dependency on third-party provided energy, which is especially important as energy becomes increasingly more expensive and less reliable
  3. A healthier living environment because better quality materials contain fewer off-gassing toxins
  4. Energy-efficiency technologies promote fresh air flow within the home
  5. Less maintenance because better-quality, energy-efficient materials are often more durable
  6. Lowering the carbon footprint of your home and using fewer non-renewable resources

Design strategies and technologies

We at Greenovision are not only experienced in architecture and construction, but we are also trained in design and technology strategies that will bring energy savings to your home. Through well-conceived design, we aim reduce material waste during the construction phase and energy waste as you live in your home for years to come. Here are just a few of the energy-saving techniques we implement while designing a new home:

  1. Passive Solar Heat Gain. In passive solar building design, windows, walls, and floors are made to collect, store, and distribute solar energy in the form of heat in the winter and reject solar heat in the summer. Although passive solar design is simple in methodology, Greenovision is trained and experienced in passive solar strategies and will ensure that your home’s solar potentials are utilized most effectively. Orientation of the house to the South, correct window types and heights, adequate roof overhangs, heat-retaining mass (such as radiant concrete flooring), and air exchange are just a few of the important components of a passive solar home.
  2. Passive Cooling and Air Exchange. Passive cooling strategies can help eliminate the need to run energy-consumptive air conditioners and fans. By investing in passive cooling design, you will save money on home cooling costs. It is also important to design an air exchange system into your home to prevent moisture build-up and create a comfortable indoor humidity.
  3. High-Insulation Materials and Quality Construction. Building and designing your home with a high insulation value is important for keeping heat in during the Winter and out during the Summer. While creating the construction drawings for a new home or remodel, we at Greenovision call for advanced framing techniques to reduce thermal conductivity. Our drawings and designs also call for high-insulation windows and other materials as well as  construction techniques that keep the home tightly sealed. In addition to hiring a knowledgeable designer, hiring a quality construction crew is key to a well-crafted and energy-efficient home.
  4. Active Solar Design and Technology. Active solar elements of a home energy system consist of solar electricity (photovoltaic panels) and liquid solar hot water heating. Designing alternative energy systems into your home will help increase energy-efficiency and decrease dependency on non-renewable resources. Active solar systems should be designed into the home from the start, making their installation easier as well making the panels more aesthetically-integrated into the home.
  5. Radiant Heating. Hydronic radiant heating is an energy-efficient method of home heating in which water, housed in tubing throughout the floor system, is heated and circulated. The water heats the mass of floor, which then radiates warmth into the home. At Greenovision, we typically design homes that combine hydronic radiant heating with passive solar heating for maximum efficiency.
  6. Bright Interiors. Designing a home with plenty of well-insulated windows not only provides views of the outdoors from within, but also allows ample sunlight to enter the home. By illuminating rooms with natural light, the homeowner eliminates the need to run energy-consumptive light bulbs during the day. Proper window design and placement is necessary to encourage privacy and prevent over-lighting.
  7. Healthy, Long Lasting Materials. All materials are evaluated for life cycle, recyclable attributes, beauty, and ability to perform multiple tasks. We promote paying more up front for quality building materials, rather than building with cheaper, low-quality materials that are usually unhealthy, energy-inefficient, and have a short life-span. By building with quality, long-lasting materials, the homeowner eliminates unnecessary repair and maintenance, which ultimately saves money and is better for the environment.

Home remodeling for energy efficiency: prepare for rising heating costs

A complete gut job will result in a more beautiful and efficient home…Eventually!

If you’re considering embarking on home remodeling for energy efficiency, think “energy savings” as a strategy. Energy efficiency perhaps isn’t the most interesting aspect of a home remodel, but it is a crucial issue.   

Let me make an analogy to a car: Many car owners want to do the fun maintenance to their car, like installing a new set of shiny tire rims or a new stereo system. But most often, their money would be better spent on having their timing belt changed and a new water pump put in.  These seemingly mundane maintenances are what keep your car on the road; without their proper function, you have no transportation.

When maintaining your home, think “function first, aesthetics second.” That is certainly not to say that some interesting architectural changes can’t happen in the remodel; some functional changes are connected with aesthetics and energy efficiency. Real-estate appraisal is gradually moving towards valuing homes in energy efficiency. This sort of home-valuing is a bit behind the times, but is slowly moving towards estimating a home’s worth not just by square-footage and number of bathrooms.

Most all scholars and analysts agree that we are now past Peak Oil and that fuel prices will exponentially rise. As we continue to turn past the apex of Peak Oil and start running into the next phases of oil depletion, many of the energy sources that we rely on now, like electricity and natural gas, will become more expensive. The current system of harvesting and refinement of energy sources relies on cheap oil.  Everything from the manufacturing of new oil wells and electrical plants, the transportation of energy, and the installation of a heating system into the home all rely on oil. This point made, lets look at your home. How we can tighten down on home fuel consumption and save you money?

Seal up cracks in barnboard

When remodeling with a focus on energy-efficiency, first look for leaks. Air infiltration is one of the primary areas of concern when trying to achieve tighter efficiency in the home.  Windows, doors, venting, and crawl spaces, are the easier areas that should be targeted. A cold, windy day is a good time to look for air leaks. Simply put your hand up to doors and windows- if you feel a draft, you have found a problem.  

When looking for replacements to your old doors, choose quality, modern exterior doors that come with triple locks (locks on the top, middle, and bottom of door). These locks make a huge improvement on getting the door gaskets to seal completely. Old wooden doors are tall and not very thick; it is common that this type of door will bow end to end along the locking side. The only way to take the bow out of the door is to pull on top, middle, and bottom, allowing the door to fully seat against the gaskets. If you have an old, architecturally elegant door that you just can’t part with, installing a storm door over the old door will help create an air space and should reduce air infiltration. 

A modern, double-hung window installed to meet historic district regulation may be expensive, but will be a huge energy improvement in the long run.
New thermal pane 6×6-
a custom-built historic model

Replacing old windows or installing them in new locations can result in both energy and aesthetic improvement. Properly positioned windows allow natural light into the home and can help ventilate the home without the use of electric fans or air conditioning, saving you money. Windows also can allow for solar gain to occur- a source of free heat. Replacing old windows can result in huge energy savings. Old, single pane windows have very little insulative value, whereas modern glazings create resistance to air temperature change by having an airspace between panes and light filters. Most old windows have no insulation around their perimeters, allowing for air leakage.  Modern windows typically have better seals and gaskets, are foamed into their hole, and are installed to be water-tight. 

Framing in new windows
Replacing windows can offer a perfect time to rearrange how your home looks. You do not need plug the same window holes with the same window types. A fresh new look can be achieved with new strategies as to passive solar gain, ventilation and window typology (casement, awning, double hung, sliding).  A rearranged window remodel plan can result in new views to the outside.   

Adding insulation to your home is another way to improve energy-efficiency. In old homes, installing insulation can be tricky; each old home has its own set of battles in retrofitting new insulation. Roofs must be insulated properly as heat rises and will exit here, however, old homes typically have little to no roof insulation. Before the development of modern insulation, old buildings were designed to have an uninsulated attic that created an airspace between lower living spaces and the outside cold. The attic was not meant as a living space- it was too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. Historically, the attic was used as storage space, however, many attics today used as bedrooms. 

Retrofit  insulated attic

In many old attics, there is often not enough head room for lowering ceilings and add the appropriate thickness of fiberglass batten insulation and required vent space. Vent space is critical because it prevents damaging condensation from occurring, which can destroy interior materials. In Bozeman, Montana, the modern energy codes require vaulted ceilings to meet R-38 and flat or truss ceilings to meet R-50. For these reasons, uninsulated attics are usually retrofitted with modern rigid insulation or sprayed foam, the latter of which has better performance, but is more costly. (Read a past blog entry about insulation here.)

Old roof off
New third floor and properly insulated roof
Bye-bye dark, cold attic
Old attic became a new 3rd floor

In some cases, it is better to completely remove the existing, uninsulated roof and reconfigure it to create a usable space. By remodeling the attic into an additional floor, you can achieve interesting, high-up views as well as appropriate insulation and venting.  I remodeled a home on Walnut Street in Portland, Maine (see write up here) where the existing attic and roof were completely removed. A new shed roof and floor system were built, creating a beautiful and spacious third floor. What had been a dismal, cold attic with no views became a penthouse with decks on each end and amazing views of Back Bay.

Insulating walls is another important home energy improvement. There are many ways of insulating walls, which are usually determined by the home’s existing wall type, such as 2″x4″ or 2″x6″. When assessing a home’s remodeling and insulation needs, I ask the questions like, “Is your exterior siding in need of replacement?” “Do you want new interior wall surfaces (drywall, plaster) because the old walls are rotted out or falling down?” There are different strategies depending on your home’s condition. Assuming that the exterior walls are already insulated, one strategy to increase your wall insulation performance is to add furring strips and rigid foam to the interior walls. This works well with 70’s style homes that were framed with 2×4’s and insulated with R-13 fiberglass batten insulation.  

‘K’ braces … blown in cellulose nightmare

Very old homes have no insulation inside the wall cavities or have blown-in cellulose insulation. Blown-in cellulose was typically installed by drilling 2″ holes into the exterior siding, then pumping the feathery, down-like material into holes at the top of each stud bay. Usually one can find evidence of this if there are bunged holes in the siding. Filling an old wall with cellulose only gives a R-value of about 13, which is not sufficient insulation. As condensation forms inside the stud space, the cellulose becomes damp, decreasing its insulatative value.  Also note the image here, ‘K’ braces in the corners… blown in cellulose will not fill these voids.  Only from the inside can one get to these places to insulate properly.

An old home’s insulation level can usually be estimated by the plaster and lathe condition, which was the interior wall surfacing before modern insulation and drywall. If the lath nails are rotted out (see this blog) and the interior plaster, usually  new windows, plumbing and electrical infrastructure are also needed. The interior plaster and lathe should be removed, then new studs should be furred out to meet the modern 2×6 wall. I remodeled a home on Gray Street in Portland, Maine where the walls are remodeled as such (read about that here). This is a expensive solution, but is really the best solution because all problems can be fixed at the same time. It makes no sense financially to remodel a home over and over again.  

Insulating crawl spaces and basements can offer energy savings. Most old buildings have uninsulated basements; the idea was that used heating system kept the underside of the floor system warm. Some argue and uninsulated basement spaces are acceptable because the earth’s temperature at that depth is warmish and that open walls and flooring makes the plumbing more accessible. However, this thought process was from the days of cheap oil. The earth is a giant heat sink with endless mass. By not insulation your basement or crawlspace, your are essentially attempting heat not only your home, but also the earth. To promote energy savings in your home, the floor system above the basement and should be insulated. If hot water plumbing is hanging down into this space, it also should be insulated. 

Foamed-over brick foundation

Insulating the basement foundation with either rigid foam or blown foam is important to prevent external ground temperature from bleeding inwards.  Keeping this space as warm as possible makes sense, but not by heating it with expensive fuel; allow the insulation to store what heat there is. If your basement has old single pane windows, you can cover them during the winter months with rigid foam board and  caulk any obvious drafty cracks.  

The warmth and beauty of stained concrete radiant

In homes with a decent southern exposure, it is possible to add a radiant floor to increase mass of the building and to promote passive solar heating. This can promote huge savings in heating costs. It is important that a designer with experience in passive-solar design develop the system are floor plan and layout to the south, as well as associated windows on that exposure. It is possible in certain situations to add an external addition on the south side of the building that has a slab on grade with radiant tubing. In some homes, where ceilings are taller than 8 feet, it is possible to install a 1.5″ slab with tubing over the existing sub-floor. This must be evaluated by a designer or builder to ensure that the floor system is sturdy enough and that it doesn’t cause elevation problems in between rooms, door heights and swings, etc.

If you are considering home remodeling for energy efficiency,  please contact Greenovision with any questions you may have. We have a lot of experience in many different areas of home remodeling and we would love to help you out. 

Why Passive and Active Solar Design? – Part 1

This is why new homes should have Passive and Active solar design integration

Homes over the last 70 years have been built to rely on the grid system. Big Utility companies or corporations have had a bonanza with making home builders think this way in order to gain a monopoly on energy sales. However in order to move into an energy independence mode we need to rethink this antiquated system. The grid system has many disadvantages today.
The image above is of a liquid solar array on my neighbors home, Adrien Tanguay, who installed this system, he works in this field.

Grid system energy has relied on several factors and lies. Factor and lie #1, cheap energy. Cheap energy is a lie because there is no such thing or “you don’t get something for nothing”. Energy in America has been cheap while it was new in the finding. Coal, natural gas, oil when first tapped were cheap because the extraction was easy, at the surface, and there was lots of it. Today we have misused these sources of energy by overly relying on them and to the point where not only have we hit the down slope on oil well reserves but we have also destroyed huge tracts of land in order to mine and extract these resource. Of course big utility corporations have enjoyed their boom years and have hijacked the way most view energy.

Lie #2 is that energy inexpensiveness has not cost something. We have entered a time period of “Global warming” no matter what the corporations would like the general populace to think. Fossil fuel burning has led to the destruction of our atmosphere and in a very short 200 some odd years. At this time we must slow the singular reliance on these non renewable energy sources. Grid system methodologies hide facts about the dirtiness of their production. Because we cant see the massive energy plants we don’t see the dirt, but our environment does and its sending us some clear messages at this time.

Lie #3 : Grid transmission of power is cheaper than making it locally. Grid transmission is only cheap because of mass numbers of customers, that is what makes it cheap as well as our good old federal government subsidizing such power for many years through breaks to the utility companies. These breaks are coming to the end with the E.P.A starting to send clear signs that stripping coal and new off shore oil wells will not be tolerated. So the resources will become more expensive and utilities will charge more in the future. Cheap electricity has relied on coal. Coal will become more expensive, and the burning of it to generate energy will become more expensive as the EPA cracks down further on emissions standards of carbon dioxide from these plants.

Lie #4: Local power production is unsightly, and noisy. Windmills, solar collectors, and wood burning yes have impacts but so has the grid system. Miles and miles of overhead power lines litter the roads, even woods, fields, and blight the landscape as a whole. At this point most of us just ignore it and don’t see it because who really wants to acknowledge it. I guess we have gotten used to it in the very brief time since its introduction a century ago. But what we do recognize are things that are new…. and wind mills and solar collectors are relatively new… so we see them, but I would argue this is just for awhile… once homes employ their own generation systems they will not be so alien to us. Have you ever heard anyone say “wow those power towers are lovely”?

Lie #5: Local power production is more expensive. Well it is and it isn’t. Much of the expense has to do with local resource availability. Heating by wood stove makes sense in areas that renewable wood sources are plentiful. Wind produces electricity makes sense where there is wind. Solar electric power and passive solar heating make sense where there is ample sun. There are combination of energy gathering systems where the region has a little bit of both. There are other energy sources as well locally available that we do not use due to our dumbed down monolithic grid system energy reliance. The expense often comes in hiring experts to assess the needs of a home in power and which systems make sense in the making of it there on site. The apparati that make the energy usable on-site are initially expensive due to installation and material but the life cycle cost brings this down over time. If our government would subsidize this type of local energy production rather than the corporate energy I would say it would in the end “pan out”.

Grid transmission of energy is fairly inefficient when you look at the losses of energy over the lengths of the power lines or 6.5% in 2007. The infrastructure is also expensive in cost, material, and unsightliness. With increased needs throughout the USA electric transmission can be unreliable found in the form of Black outs. Oil, natural gas all require shipping which is dependent on cheap oil which as we must realize will run out.

Pluses on localized energy production and utilization are that it uses locally available natural and renewable energy resources. It promotes and creates local jobs involved in home energy assessment, installation, manufacturing, harvesting of wood, and design. Using local energy keeps home inhabitants connected to their energy consumption which often promotes energy saving. When home occupants have to think directly about their energy usage they tend to me more frugal whereas with grid type energy and petro/gas utility purchase power it is more abstract by being reduced to dollars. A simple example of this is wood heating, home owners that heat with wood have a pretty good idea of how much wood they need to cut, stack and split in order to make it through the winter and they typically are good at rationing the usage of it. See my blog on radiant heat wood stove retrofit. Oh by the way some might argue that wood burning is dirty… modern wood burning boilers have come along way and do meet EPA standards see this article.
It is easier to make small energy systems less impactive because they dont require train loads of coal. Some might argue that each one of the energy producing systems need to be manufactured. This is true but with simplicity there is less infrastructure, my belief is that it balances out over shipping and grid transport. Also in this same vain your home already has furnaces, meters, wiring, etc its just that its not set up to utilize energy found nearby.

My next blog will deal with passive solar and implementation in the home. See write up here

 

Wood stove heat exchanger, pretty hot


I  want to report some news about the integration of a wood stove heat exchanger into my brother’s shop, WerkHaus (see the project here), that I designed and built.
Yep, my brother has finally finished off the heating system with the help of Norm Walters, a radiant heating tech. Its kind of exciting because its the final product of a giant experiment started about 4 years ago. To get the overall picture of the scheme of the heating system, please see this pic first. Oh, and this one, too.  These diagrammatically say a lot about the general idea we had years ago.
Originally we started with radiant heat tubing in the concrete slab and Phil used a wood stove up until this fall to heat the building using the fan systems to move heat around the building. This really was lacking though because Phil has to work on cars while on a dolly on the slab, which is really kind of cold down at that level. So, he knew that getting the slab up and running as the heat source would be the ultimate solution.

Phil is on a budget, so a typical on the wall, on demand propane condensing boiler was out of the question, at least for now. Originally Phil and I came up with an idea…What if the wood stove came with a heat exchange manifold? Would this do the trick and provide enough heat to run the slab? Well the answer is yes, but it isn’t quite that simple. Norm Walters filled Phil in on the possible scenario that might make it all work. What it comes down to is you need a tank to store the heat and this tank it was decided needed to be well insulated and preferably do some heating, too. So a couple of years ago, Phil purchased this unit.
Then he had Norm hook up his wood stove, which came with a very simple heat exchange coil by using a typical manifold and pump system like this…. Well to make along story short, he got this hooked up to the slab with a typical manifold system and ran it straight off the wood stove, but guess what? It just wasn’t enough of a heat coil on the stove to make it work or run warm enough. So, he resorted to running off the electric hot water heater, and guess what? His electric bill went nuts. So, Norm found a copper coil from some old refrigerator unit and installed it on the top of Phil’s wood stove to increase the heat capturing capability of the stove and water tank. I am making this sound all quite simple but in reality, it took some fiddling and some pumps, and gauges, and sensors, thermostats, and electric meters to make it all work, along with some rather confusing diagrams…I can’t figure it out too much, but what I do know is that Phil is quite happy with the fact that he is running his concrete slab with the wood stove and looks to save some electricity this winter. He sounds kind of excited about it and I would have to say that makes me happy. With some work, it is possible to make these systems happen and it does help to have a radiant heat techy on hand like Norm.

See if you can figure it all out from the the pictures I provided. I understand the concepts, but am not really on top of the electrical and plumbing part.  I believe with the proper research, the integration of a wood stove heat exchanger into homes could save on the heating in your home, too.