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Addition + Remodel Design of an 1890’s Home

Addition + Remodel Design of an 1890’s Home

Here’s a sneak peak of an addition/remodel project that we’re currently designing and drafting. This home was originally a log cabin built in the 1890’s that has seen numerous additions over the years. There is a small shed roof addition in the rear that is un-insulated and has asphalt shingles causing severe ice damming and damage to the roof & entryway. The current upstairs space is seldom used because it is too small and poorly designed, plus the stairs are too steep and narrow. This addition solves a number of problems for this home: 1) It fixes the ice damming issue, 2) It creates safer stairs that meet code, and 3) It creates a more comfortable and spacious upstairs space that can serve as a guest room. This addition improves the livability of this home and increases resale value.

This addition is designed to fit the clients’ budget as well as compliment the existing traditional style of the home. The pocket windows add a fun modern flair to the traditional design. This addition along with the added insulation to the existing roofs will greatly improve the energy-efficiency and overall comfort the entire existing home.

The current entry to the home in the rear of the building has no overhang, which during rain and snow events is not a pleasant way to enter and exit the home. The addition is designed to include a new roof over the entry.

These images show the elevations of the new upstairs spaces. An addition to an 1890’s home not only requires careful design, but also a set of detailed plans are required to obtain a building permit. Construction drawings provide instructions and other important information for the builders and subcontractors.

The new upstairs will include a half bathroom, a living/guest room area, built-in shelving, and built-in desks. The addition will also provide a new, spectacular view of the mountains to the east.

Phase 1 of this project is the upstairs addition, however, we are also designing Phase 2, the remodel of the downstairs kitchen.

These are more detailed floor plans of the Phase 2 kitchen remodel design.

These are the 2nd story floor plans for both the current and new spaces. Many of these drawings look askew because the existing home is not square!

The homeowners will be the general contractors and construction of this home improvement project begins this Summer 2017.  Please stay tuned as we share updates of the progress!

Hawk Ridge Home Construction Updates: May 3rd &10th

Hawk Ridge Home Construction Updates: May 3rd &10th

Construction of the Hawk Ridge Home in Paradise Valley is well underway! This home is designed to be sustainable and energy-efficient with “Sun Smart Radiant Heating” (combined passive solar and radiant hydronic heating), passive cooling, a well-insulated and tightly sealed building envelope, solar electric panels, long-lasting exterior materials, interior finish details made from reclaimed lumber, and other green features. It’s Greenovision’s greenest home yet!

These first four photos were taken on May 3rd and snow the plumbing and electrical conduits being installed under the slab.

The next six photos were taken on Mark’s site visit on May 10th. You can see the radiant floor tubing laid out and the slab being poured; both are important components of the design and energy efficiency of this green home. The concrete slab floor is the “thermal mass” which stores and helps regulate the passive solar heat gain during the winter. The radiant system actively distributes the passively collected solar heat for an even temperature throughout the home and is also an efficient back-up heating system for long stretches of sunless days.

Thanks to the excavation, concrete, electrical, heating, and plumbing crews as well as the general contractor for all of your excellent work so far! We’re thrilled to see this home coming along… More construction photos can be seen on our Greenovision Facebook Page.

Crimson Bluffs Exterior Photos Update

Crimson Bluffs Exterior Photos Update

I just got back from taking interior pictures of the the Crimson Bluffs Home and couldn’t help myself from taking some exterior pictures of how nicely the siding is weathering.  This home is basically like land camouflage. From a distance you can hardly pick it out of the landscape as the colors and textures blend so well. Interior Pictures coming soon!

Passive solar home in Montana

Passive solar home Montana

modern meets rustic mome montana

modern rustic home in Townsend Montana

rustic corrugated siding on Modern home Montana

Crimson Bluffs May 29th Construction Update

Crimson Bluffs May 29th Construction Update

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We spent a few days at the Crimson Bluffs home recently.  Things are moving along.  Often at this point in home construction, contractors can get frustrated because of subcontractor overlaps and time schedules not matching up.  Its a very busy time of the year in general.  This is why we always recommend to our clients to look at the design and construction process to be lined up well in advance and to understand that having your dream home designed and built should take time and not be a rushed endeavor.  Below are some images of all of the various details that are going on at once at this time on site.  Awnings being built, radiant floor being prepared for gypcrete pour, interior wood ceiling installation, exterior being completed so that final dirt grading can be completed.  The tile is being laid on the lower level.  We spent a very early morning taking some pictures to give a feeling for what its like to wake up on this site.  Hope you enjoy the images.  More later.

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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.

Follow up on 67 Gray Street Remodel

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I recently returned to follow up on 67 Gray Street remodel to photograph the results.  There were a number of talented finishers that all helped to make this design become a very nice home.

Dining room Before

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Dining room After

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dinning2   dinning4      dinning3   porchview   ceiling2

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Ceiling with old beams, new pine ceiling and drywall soffits

Kitchen Before

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Kitchen After

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Living room Before

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Living  room After

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New Hall and staircase

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New 3rd Floor Office and Bedroom

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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. 

A Small Home That Grows When You Do

The following images are Greenovision computer generated models

Small home design

Why build a small home?  There are many reasons.  In my past blog, I discussed the construction cost reasons; see that blog here. Just keep in mind that the “American Dream” of owning a home should not indenture you for life to a bank.

Plan to build small with the option growing as your needs and budget grows. Plan to save materials before the home is built. Plan on using quality recycled materials by designing them into the home and saving them before construction begins. Building an affordable, functional, and beautiful home is all dependent on design.

The home I am designing for myself employs these principles. The “tiny home movement” is valid in that it teaches people to live simpler and in smaller spaces with less clutter, however, it does have its short comings.  I have friends that started with tiny homes (10′ x 9′) and it worked for a while, but guess what?  When it came time to have someone over there was no room to ‘entertain’ them.  These homes were just too small and were not designed to be added on to.  So, they had to start over and build something larger.


This is where I am heading with my small home design- how to build small to get on a site affordably, but how to plan for addition of space as funds and more spaces are needed. The top rendering shows Volume 1 as the main volume, which is two stories.  The other volumes can be added on later. This does take some planing so that wiring and conduits won’t have to be rerouted.  Also, with good planing and design, windows come out and an interior door goes into its hole making passage to the new addition.  Another area of concern is where the new roof meets the old wall. This can be built into the exterior wall with flashing and ledger so that when it is time to add on, no siding has to be removed.  Some siding looks rather nice as an interior wall, such as a vertical cedar board v-match or ship-lap.

open interior space of living area

 

Loft bedroom and desk

I have come up with several key ingredients to a small home design.  One is, don’t make it too small. Create a main space that gives ample room for a kitchen, a place to eat, and a place to entertain, meaning some nice seating with pleasant outdoor views. Such seating can as act as a place to sleep if a guest stays over if the couch is a ‘fold out’.  Give room for stairs that meet modern codes ( 7.75 inches of rise to 10″ of tread usually).  Have a loft above or a second story where you will sleep and can have a desk and closet space.  Having a second story saves on roofing, insulation, and foundation.

By making this main volume tall, the home is prepared for lower, smaller additions to be easily added on later. Such additions can be another bedroom on the first floor, a mudroom with increased storage, and laundry and counter top space for gardening projects or household tasks that you don’t want to be doing on the kitchen counter.  Also, a main bathroom could be added to another side of the building at a later date or at the beginning.  Which volumes you choose to begin with all depends on your initial start-up budget.  Remember: building too small will make it harder down the road for adding on.

Don’t forget that with good design, built-in shelving and storage can use space that once seemed unusable (under the stairs, etc). Efficient storage space is important in a small home. Many small homes never a plan for enough storage. This simply doesn’t work and the residents often end up storing their stuff outside in the weather, cluttering up their site.

My home shown here starts out with a main volume that is 16′ X 24′  with a second story, or 768 square ft. The additional spaces are a bedroom at 12′ X 13′-6″ (162 sq ft), a mudroom at 8′ X 10′ (80 sq ft), and a bathroom at 8′-6″ x 11′ (94.6 sq ft)  for a total of 337 sq ft more. All of the volumes together gives the plan a total 1105 sq ft. This is a very comfortable-sized home for a couple or small family.

The design of my home will change a bit when I find a specific building site.  This home is designed for passive solar gain; there is a concrete slab floor to the south.  Depending on the site, the concrete can either be slab on grade or a slab over a typical joisted floor system. I will configure some of the building to have a full basement for utility and washer/dryer if the site is conducive to this.


Cheaper land often has ledges, which makes a basement expensive. In this case, there will have to be an additional volume built for utility and laundry.  Some of the foundation can be on piers, some can be crawlspace foundation, but those issues depend on the site.

I have posted this project under a new section on my website, www.Greenovision.com, that is dedicated to small home design. Check it out here. To see a similar small home that I designed and built in Maine, check out Liberty House.

The computer images and drawings shown on this blog were created by Mark Pelletier and are property of Greenovision, LLC. Beware of the copyright monster!

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.