Quinn Creek mid-October update is about details and understanding craftsmanship

Quinn Creek mid-October update is about details and understanding craftsmanship

deckbracket and window frame

One of the greatest challenges in designing and building new homes is: How do “we” as designers come up with a design that is recognized by all that work on it throughout the project as worth putting their thought and care into? We, at Greenovision, believe that there are a number of factors from the beginning that set this in motion. For one, the site itself is a source of inspiration. In some cases like, Quinn Creek, this is simple- the environment is absolutely beautiful. This environment inspires those who work here, well, at least when its not cold, rainy, or windy.

Exterior from W all

2. Keep the design clean. This makes it easy for all that work on the project to maintain a thorough and civilized workmanship.

Emily on roof

3. Have a good attitude when we visit the site. This joyful spirit usually is contagious.

Exterior from E S E

4.  Keep everyone involved throughout the process. In this picture, we have the homeowner, the excavator, and the roofers all together.

Metal workers Andy and Jon

5. Encourage craft through understanding. Too many designers don’t do this, but it is mandatory in our opinion. Talk to those involved in the construction. Ask what they like about the design and most importantly, what could have been better about it. This cross pollinates into everyone feeling not only appreciated, but also as experts at what they do. We have learned a lot from the subcontractors and will implement their suggestions to help improve future designs.

exterior outlet box

6. Understand details. When designers don’t fully understand their own product, they lose credibility with the construction team.

Lower Exercise room

This is an example of what we mean… This is a construction site, yet it as clean as a whistle. The insulation team caught the spirit of the job site!

Main view

A beautiful place to work!

Netting for cellulose


7. Give the subcontractors enough room to work. This plumbing wall could have been a nightmare for Marc if we didn’t provide him adequate wall space to work his thorough and meticulous craft. Again, ask the subcontractors questions. When we asked Marc if he was happy with the space he had to work in, he mentioned that the tightness of the craft that occurred before him made his life easier. Marc did mention one issue that he had difficulty with and we we able to quickly address this before the construction advanced any further.

pressure check

radiant boiler manifolds etc

Example of Mike, the heating specialist’s, well organized layout. This, again, is accomplished by giving subcontractors adequate space to work their magic.

small windows and boxes

8. Allow subcontractors to have interpretation of design. This exterior siding job shows that the spirit of the design was understood and then elaborated on. The windows were designed to have a rhythm. What was not designed were all of the outlet and light fixture block-outs.  The builders took the spirit of the design and integrated this rhythm into what could have been a mess. This creative interpretation should be encouraged as it elevates not only craftsmanship, but also the spirit of creativity which is often ‘not allowed’ by some designers.

Standing seams

9. Understand and eliminate unnecessary complexity. Most roofs of today are a nightmare for subcontractors to work on because they have extraneous hips, valleys, ridges, and intersections.  This roof juncture is about as complex as this roof-scape is. This encourages clean and simple execution by the metal workers, making for a tight product. Designers need to ask themselves, “Is this necessary? Who will enjoy this? Will this cost more? And most importantly, Will the subcontractor hate this detail?”


The spirit of keeping things neat.

Terminationl trim


Tie down

Details that often are not understood by designers create installation nightmares. This tectonic structural tie down was given adequate space in the framing plan to be installed. Framers need to be considered in what they can and can’t do.

caulk that joint

Modern homes, in order to meet high energy efficiency standards, need thoroughness in execution. Here you have wall plate and stud junctures caulked appropriately, which reduces unwanted air and moisture infiltration. Even though this site is located where it doesn’t have to be code compliant, the workmanship of the insulators continues common sense and thorough sealing application.

Upstair Interior from West

window frame

10. Think ahead. This window detail with a cedar frame that the metal trim butts up to, considers future window replacement. All too often designers don’t think about what it means to have to make replacement simple and possible in the future. With this detail, the windows can be removed without touching the siding. The siding will outlast the windows!

exterior from southeast below

11. Lastly, use materials that are beautiful and durable. This promotes better craft and workmanship because all involved know that what they install or build will be there for a long time if they do their job correctly. This eliminates a sense of futility that contractors feel and experience when they are knowingly installing ‘junk’ materials or 15-20 year exterior products. Unfortunately, the use of low-quality materials has become rampant in the design and construction of new homes. Greenovision advocates the use of long lasting, low maintenance, and highly insulated exteriors. Spend the money on the building envelope initially and not on expensive counter tops and fixtures. Those interior products can be simply remodeled out over time. Remodeling the exterior, on the other hand, is not only risky, but expensive.

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


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.

Latest . manifolds..concrete, ceilings, and cellar insulation


And for those wondering about the pics of me and the guys sitting around from last blog entryno we don’t just sit around all day drinking beer. That’s an after work duty. Next 67 Grey st. Blog Here

‘Grizzly Discoveries’ a reality show about Historicism

Historicism or Hystericalism

Well a couple weeks into the project and we have come up with a new reality show.  Either ‘This old house’ or ‘Grizzly Discoveries’.  Jon and I joke about it pretty much every day…what grizzly discovery awaits for us today?The first grizzly discovery occurred when we talked with the liaison for the Historic preservation board. She said that we would have to save the front two chimneys, and replace windows with comparable looking 6 X 6 pane double-hungs.

First of all the chimneys are what I call ‘done’. They are bent over; precariously leaning over the house and for how long will they stay this way?I guess they have been precariously leaning for some time.So rebuilding them will have to wait…budget will hopefully make it through modernization of utilities, heating, electric, insulation, plumbing, and windows alone might blow the budget.


Now the windows, what a situation, the existing windows are the originals, 170 years old, and no amount of putty and paint is going to get them to go any longer. The Historical folks believe that these old windows are just great and that the preference for them would be that we just suffered with these decaying portholes of yore.But reality is they are an energy sieve. On researching new windows with external mullions and similar sill profiles lead to a very expensive window. Of course the Historic folks want it their way, but I would argue that ‘their way’ is rather contrived…Let me explain…the reason mullions exist is not just an aesthetic discussion, that they look nice this way, but more that it was the technology of the time. The 6 X 6 configuration has a lot to do with the availability of glass at the time…thicker glass, more expense, and thinner glass cheaper…so the mullions reduce the size of each pane so that the pane can be thin and cheap. These windows were what I would call the ‘contractors model’ of the time…they were never great, well made windows…they were cheap…so now we have to replace them with expensive, fake mullioned replicas of technology inefficient and obsolete.

The simulation ‘old’ windows are not to be clad with vinyl even though every surface in Portland Maine is covered with it.
They must have fake mullions that make cleaning difficult.They must be twice as expensive as a decent more honest double hung window with no mullions.

Grizzly discovery of the day….on removing plaster around one window in the front corner of the building leads us to find no insulation anywhere and ‘K’ bracing in the corners.

This means that there would be very little good in pumping the wall cavity full of insulation…the cellulose would never make it into all the voids, the K brace is in the way.
So this we began the long, dusty grimy process of plaster and lathe removal…Two, three, four days later and three dumpsters…we are still removing the stuff.
In the
end though we will have insulated walls with the proper thickness to make insulation affordable (insulation cost has a lot to do with thickness…to get R value it takes space or it takes expensively thin ‘space age’ insulation).  In the end the walls will have new windows in them, and the heaters wont have to run full tilt throwing ridiculous amounts of energy into ‘This old House’.

Grizzly discovery of the day….the forced air heating system was installed by a guy the wore a #2 hard hat and a size XXL jump suit.He took out main support columns in order to run his inefficient duct work…found this Grizzly discovery while examining the slumping floor system.Remedy. …remove crappy heating system and replace columns.Actually the place had not one but two heating systems…Force air ran the first floor, and a boiler ran the second floor…both oil burning monsters…efficiency was not in the vocabulary of heating men of this time.

Today we will drain the water from the system in the basement, get the sawzall out and remove miles of copper pipe…none of it insulated which we are glad of …could be worse …it could have been insulated with asbestos.More later….See next blog Here

Portland, bums and old buildings

Well back to Portland Maine, arrived with the warmth, or brought it with us. Great to be re-united with old friends. Jon Morrill has a project for me. A 170 year old house in the historic district of Portland. Its a real fixer-upper if ever I spied one. Yikes! Take a look, this building has seen so little maintenance over the years other than some quick masking tape and nailed up asphalt shingles.

Our strategy here is to get this building insulated, it has none. A new heating system, it has two heating systems now that are ancient. It needs new windows, electrical system, plumbing…you name it this building needs it…especially some TLC. Yesterday we met with the liaison for the Historic preservation board, she was glad this building finally fell in the hands of someone who cares. Its going to be a long summer of dust here but Jon’s Nephews hopefully will pan out as help, so far so good, I have already showed them how to rip down old plaster and lathe quickly…cant say painlessly, part of the ceiling fell on

my head as I tried in vain to save an old plaster ceiling lamp ornament.

This is not exactly a dream job, but its my best friend and he really needs a hand. So far I have measured and drafted up the building. More to come later. Next 67 Grey Street blog Here