Monthly Archives: February 2013

3 Reasons to Gradually Go Green: Healthy Homes Chicago

Gramata Development Corporation - DesignBuild ChicagoRecently I posted on the Four Categories to a Healthy Home:

1) food & nutrition 
2) furnishings  
3) finishes & fixtures  
4) systems

If one of these components is not a part of your healthy homes decision matrix then you’re probably not living a fully healthy lifestyle. Most of us are aware of the food and nutrition category but what about your home furnishings? Your couch probably contains flame retardant chemicals used on the upholstery which when absorbed can be harmful and some research indicates cancer-causing. How about your home finishes such as the volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the paint you just bought for the kids bedroom? They may contain ingredients known to cause illness too. Did you know a low or no-VOC paint is available in most cases for the same price which is a healthier option?  And what about your home systems such as your furnace? I am not talking about whether they operate but how can they be improved over time with a healthier indoor environment mind?
Some or all of these are often overlooked but critically important to a fully healthy home lifestyle and the focus of this book. Most people are not aware of this nor what options are available to them.

That is one of my goals. To make you aware of some of the options and then how to begin to implement them into your lifestyle so you can gradually go green towards a healthy home lifestyle. 

Why should we care about making our homes and communities healthy and what questions should we be asking to make sure we are comfortable that the answer is a resounding “yes”? 

It begins with awareness and knowing what important questions to ask.

Some Questions to Ask:

  • What can I do to make my home healthy?
  • How can I define my goals of a healthy home?
  • Who can I trust to help me with those decisions?
  • What resources are available to help me establish and reach my goals?
  • What decisions will have the greatest impact on my healthy lifestyle?
  • What investments or decisions will have the greatest economic return over time?
  • How can they add value to my home in addition to the health benefits?


The association between our health and our homes has been known for centuries. People spend over 90% of their time indoors including both at home and work. If your home environment is unhealthy or unsafe, it can lead to illnesses that can appear immediately or in other cases it can lay dormant and lead to illness or even death in the months, years and even decades to come.

The quality of our housing effects our quality of life. Our home can and should support both our health and our well-being for the benefit of ourselves and our communities.

Why?

According to the US Green Building Council buildings consume 14% of potable water, 40% of raw materials and 39% of energy in the United States alone consuming over 15 trillion gallons of water and 3 billion tons of raw materials annually. 

There are three general reasons to work towards healthy homes and communities.

1) Health Impact: improving our indoor air quality by reducing the emissions and chemical mixtures released by the products, furnishings and stuff we fill our homes with can have a huge impact on our lives and the development of our children. Focusing from the building envelope inwards and down to the finishes and fixtures is the only way to being the steps needed to live in a healthy home. 

2) Savings: “healthy green home systems and materials reduce energy consumption, which in turn reduce your energy bills. They can also increase asset value and profits and decrease marketing time; making your dollar go further for longer.”

3) Environmental Impact: “Implementing green practices into your home or office can help reduce waste, conserve natural resources, improve both air and water quality, and protect ecosystems and biodiversity.” 

Create a list in your daily routine which focuses on one or all three of these components and start going green over time in your life!

 

8 Elements General One-Pager.pdf

A green and healthy home supports the well-being of the people living there in many different ways. Ensure your home is clean, healthy and safe home by following GHHI’s 8 Elements of a green and healthy home.

Check out this PDF outlining these principles:

http://www.greenandhealthyhomes.org/sites/default/files/8%20Elements%20General%20One-Pager.pdf

Thank you.

Jim Gramata
Managing Team Broker
The Gramata Realty Group
@properties
www.GramataRealtyGroup.com

Mission Zero House: A Net-Zero Retrofit

http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/book/export/html/22465

A rehab project in Ann Arbor turns a house in a historic district into America’s oldest net-zero residence

There really is nothing more challenging that I can think of than taking a home in a historic district and taking it to net zero energy. But it sure helps to start with the right home.

Good bones
When I asked Matt Grocoff, “Why this house?,” the first words out of his mouth were, “Good bones!” Despite the home’s age, the foundation and structure were sound.

“But the beauty of this home goes well beyond the structure,” Matt is quick to add. “The interior finishes were original and appealing, the overall layout was classic and functional, and it’s in an ideal, walkable, neighborhood. And with the street running due north-south (as well as the eaves) and a near 45° roof pitch at 43° latitude, the home is a near perfect fit for a pretty large PV array.”

Honoring the history
While Matt and Kelly were determined to get to net zero on their home, it was definitely going to be by working with the home and its history, not against it.

“Creating energy is not the reason we live. It’s simply something that helps enable us to enjoy the things we live for: beauty, stories, joy, knowing your neighbors, honoring our interconnectedness and the past,” says Matt. “We feel connected to the families that lived here before us. Gertrude Gauss’ name [the original owner] is written in chalk on our basement ceiling. While we are here to stay, so are the Gausses as part of the stories of this home.”

Matt feels that this quote from Wendell Berry sums up their historic net zero energy home: “When looking back makes sense, we are going ahead.”

Getting to zero
Matt explains that there were two key elements of getting their home to net zero energy: vision and leverage. “We worked closely with our energy performance company, Meadowlark Energy and the non-profit Clean Energy Coalition, to analyze all the loads and map out a course. We knew our goal was to consume no more energy than we were capable of producing. Every decision we made was guided by this vision. After a few years of consumption data, we knew we were ready for solar.”

Matt describes the other key part of getting to zero as leverage. “When an opportunity arose that was part of the plan, we went after it immediately,” Matt relates. “When we began restoration, there was no tax credit for ground source heat pumps. But since rolling the cost into our mortgage gave us an immediate positive cash flow even before we had our insulation done, we took the opportunity while we could. As soon as our utility offered up their PV incentive (a $19 K upfront renewable energy credit and another $20 K over 20 years), we had The Solar Specialists calculate how many panels we could get on the roof. We could only leverage those opportunities this way because we knew ahead of time exactly where we were going and how.”

But Matt has a very strong addendum to add to the way he and Kelly approached getting to net zero. “While Kelly and I are completely committed to energy efficiency, we are not sacrificing comfort or convenience.”

For example, Matt switched out every single light bulb in his home from incandescent to CFL (and is now converting to LED), but he had his electrician Dan Delzoppo wire every light switch with LeGrand Wattstopper occupancy sensors. Matt and Kelly were all for low-flow showerheads and faucets that significantly reduce hot water demand (by over 11,000 gallons per year), but they had to be WaterSense models that did not compromise on performance.

“Another key element of this approach was to choose a home that was well-proportioned for our needs and made smart use of space. A large part of our load management is wrapped up in just 1,300 square feet of living space (2,500 square feet of conditioned space),” says Matt. “It’s no accident that the 8.1 kW of PV taking up our whole south-facing roof is just what we needed.”

Dealing with his state and local historic commissions
“Since we were not doing a gut rehab or an addition, we really started off on the right foot with our historic commissions,” says Matt. “We removed the asbestos shingles and restored the original clapboard siding. The biggest issues boiled down to our windows and the PV on the roof. We restored the original windows [see below] and used the SunPower Signature Black solar panels as the least obtrusive and best match to our asphalt shingle roof. It also helped that a gable faces the street and the PV-laden eave is perpendicular to the street view. Ultimately, the Ann Arbor Historic District Commission voted unanimously to approve the system.”

But believe it or not, Matt needed to add their conditioned attic to the list of historic preservation issues. Kelly and Matt applied to the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) to receive a $20,000 historic preservation tax credit, so the restoration needed to meet strict U.S. Secretary of the Interior preservation standards. The SHPO denied the application because of the Grocoff’s decision to use open-cell spray foam on the attic ceiling to create an unvented attic.

Matt says they are appealing the decision because “bringing the attic into the thermal envelope of the house eliminated the potential harm to the structure from the poorly vented attic (temperatures were measured at 125°F in April) as well as the danger of wind-driven rain through the gable windows.” The SHPO believed the spray foam would be detrimental to the roof structure, was irreversible and impairs the “essential form and integrity of the historic property.”

Matt says that while he does not believe spray foam is appropriate in all projects, he believes he has compelling data to support his decision that this was the best choice for his restoration.

Tracking net zero
Matt and Kelly are just about as transparent as you can get about just how their Mission Zero House performs — you can track their total and real-time electrical production from their website: Matt and Kelly’s Live Energy Production.

You can view annual and daily PV production and, with the micro-inverters you can see the performance of each individual panel. And Matt regularly posts updates on their total annual consumption: “While we are running a bit off of our projections for energy production, we are also running a bit lower on our total electric consumption. And removal of an obstructing (and invasive) Norway maple will boost our production.”

Matt is quick to add that that one maple is more than offset by the unburned coal and the seven fruit trees he and Kelly have planted. In 2012, using an eMonitor, Matt will begin posting his consumption down to each appliance.

Not really leaving the windows alone…
The trick with historic double-hung windows is to make it look as though you have left them alone when in fact you have improved their energy performance.

“I was really lucky to meet Lorri Sipes of Wood Window Repair Company,” says Matt. “Lorri set up a clinic at our home to help train others in this lost craft. Our work brought the original sashes up to fully functional, airtight performance with a 70% total whole-house air leakage reduction. After the 7 steps in Lorri’s workshop, we added to the window performance with Trapp air-tight, low-e storms. These high-performance storms have a baked-enamel color finish that blends in with the original sash.”

NOTE: I asked Sipes about how her business addresses lead safety, since I did not see anything on her company’s website on this subject. Sipes has been trained in EPA’s Lead Safe Workplace and follows all requirements to protect her clients from lead dust. She also uses EPA’s Renovate Right when working with do-it-yourselfers.

Matt and Kelly also like the way that their new EcoSmart insulated cellular shades are a perfect addition to the appearance and the performance of their windows. “Again, we really like products and systems that honor the character of our home, boost its performance, and do so with steady or even greater convenience.”

What’s next for Thrive
Matt is definitely a “practice what you preach” kind of guy; Thrive is his net zero consulting collaborative. “There has been a lot of interest in achieving net zero in existing homes. One project we are excited about is the historic Felt Mansion in western Michigan in the Saugatuck Dunes. When built in the mid-1920s, the property was powered by 16 wind turbines and even had a wave undulation machine that pumped water from Lake Michigan up to the house — in this case, we will be taking the project back to net zero!”

The Atlantic called the Grocoff’s home “sustainable perfection.” But Matt says “I won’t accept such praise until our home actually restores the environment rather than steals from it. I am also really excited by the fit between my net-zero work and the Living Building Challenge.” Kelly and I are working hard to move our Mission Zero home to zero water and waste, as well as energy — Amory Lovins says that ‘if it exists, it must be possible’. We’re proving what’s possible — so stay tuned!”

Lessons Learned

“We have a ‘wish list’ for our Mission Zero home," says Matt, "but it turns out that just about every single wish item is related to meeting the Living Building Challenge”:

  • Rain barrels to cistern: “Our rain barrels are really not anywhere close to the capacity we need to keep what we need on site. So we need to figure out a cistern system for our home and land.
  • Induction cooktop: “We need to eliminate the gas combustion and double the efficiency of the stove from 45% to 90% to keep our electrical loads down.”
  • Dual plumbing system and composting toilets: This will be a big part of controlling the size of our cistern; just need to find attractive, convenient composting toilets!”
  • LED lighting in every fixture: “Phillips and The Home Depot have really helped out here; you can buy a full range of LED bulbs now with some under $20!”
  • Green roof for front porch: “This will look great from the second floor, won’t be visible from the street and will keep the summer heat off the porch and front rooms.”

Thanks,

Jim Gramata
Managing Team Broker
@properties The Gramata Realty Group
773-270-2474
2214 N Lincoln Avenue Chicago, IL 60614
www.GramataRealtyGroup.com

LOVE.LIVE.DREAM

Mission Zero House: A Net-Zero Retrofit

http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/book/export/html/22465

A rehab project in Ann Arbor turns a house in a historic district into America’s oldest net-zero residence

There really is nothing more challenging that I can think of than taking a home in a historic district and taking it to net zero energy. But it sure helps to start with the right home.

Good bones
When I asked Matt Grocoff, “Why this house?,” the first words out of his mouth were, “Good bones!” Despite the home’s age, the foundation and structure were sound.

“But the beauty of this home goes well beyond the structure,” Matt is quick to add. “The interior finishes were original and appealing, the overall layout was classic and functional, and it’s in an ideal, walkable, neighborhood. And with the street running due north-south (as well as the eaves) and a near 45° roof pitch at 43° latitude, the home is a near perfect fit for a pretty large PV array.”

Honoring the history
While Matt and Kelly were determined to get to net zero on their home, it was definitely going to be by working with the home and its history, not against it.

“Creating energy is not the reason we live. It’s simply something that helps enable us to enjoy the things we live for: beauty, stories, joy, knowing your neighbors, honoring our interconnectedness and the past,” says Matt. “We feel connected to the families that lived here before us. Gertrude Gauss’ name [the original owner] is written in chalk on our basement ceiling. While we are here to stay, so are the Gausses as part of the stories of this home.”

Matt feels that this quote from Wendell Berry sums up their historic net zero energy home: “When looking back makes sense, we are going ahead.”

Getting to zero
Matt explains that there were two key elements of getting their home to net zero energy: vision and leverage. “We worked closely with our energy performance company, Meadowlark Energy and the non-profit Clean Energy Coalition, to analyze all the loads and map out a course. We knew our goal was to consume no more energy than we were capable of producing. Every decision we made was guided by this vision. After a few years of consumption data, we knew we were ready for solar.”

Matt describes the other key part of getting to zero as leverage. “When an opportunity arose that was part of the plan, we went after it immediately,” Matt relates. “When we began restoration, there was no tax credit for ground source heat pumps. But since rolling the cost into our mortgage gave us an immediate positive cash flow even before we had our insulation done, we took the opportunity while we could. As soon as our utility offered up their PV incentive (a $19 K upfront renewable energy credit and another $20 K over 20 years), we had The Solar Specialists calculate how many panels we could get on the roof. We could only leverage those opportunities this way because we knew ahead of time exactly where we were going and how.”

But Matt has a very strong addendum to add to the way he and Kelly approached getting to net zero. “While Kelly and I are completely committed to energy efficiency, we are not sacrificing comfort or convenience.”

For example, Matt switched out every single light bulb in his home from incandescent to CFL (and is now converting to LED), but he had his electrician Dan Delzoppo wire every light switch with LeGrand Wattstopper occupancy sensors. Matt and Kelly were all for low-flow showerheads and faucets that significantly reduce hot water demand (by over 11,000 gallons per year), but they had to be WaterSense models that did not compromise on performance.

“Another key element of this approach was to choose a home that was well-proportioned for our needs and made smart use of space. A large part of our load management is wrapped up in just 1,300 square feet of living space (2,500 square feet of conditioned space),” says Matt. “It’s no accident that the 8.1 kW of PV taking up our whole south-facing roof is just what we needed.”

Dealing with his state and local historic commissions
“Since we were not doing a gut rehab or an addition, we really started off on the right foot with our historic commissions,” says Matt. “We removed the asbestos shingles and restored the original clapboard siding. The biggest issues boiled down to our windows and the PV on the roof. We restored the original windows [see below] and used the SunPower Signature Black solar panels as the least obtrusive and best match to our asphalt shingle roof. It also helped that a gable faces the street and the PV-laden eave is perpendicular to the street view. Ultimately, the Ann Arbor Historic District Commission voted unanimously to approve the system.”

But believe it or not, Matt needed to add their conditioned attic to the list of historic preservation issues. Kelly and Matt applied to the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) to receive a $20,000 historic preservation tax credit, so the restoration needed to meet strict U.S. Secretary of the Interior preservation standards. The SHPO denied the application because of the Grocoff’s decision to use open-cell spray foam on the attic ceiling to create an unvented attic.

Matt says they are appealing the decision because “bringing the attic into the thermal envelope of the house eliminated the potential harm to the structure from the poorly vented attic (temperatures were measured at 125°F in April) as well as the danger of wind-driven rain through the gable windows.” The SHPO believed the spray foam would be detrimental to the roof structure, was irreversible and impairs the “essential form and integrity of the historic property.”

Matt says that while he does not believe spray foam is appropriate in all projects, he believes he has compelling data to support his decision that this was the best choice for his restoration.

Tracking net zero
Matt and Kelly are just about as transparent as you can get about just how their Mission Zero House performs — you can track their total and real-time electrical production from their website: Matt and Kelly’s Live Energy Production.

You can view annual and daily PV production and, with the micro-inverters you can see the performance of each individual panel. And Matt regularly posts updates on their total annual consumption: “While we are running a bit off of our projections for energy production, we are also running a bit lower on our total electric consumption. And removal of an obstructing (and invasive) Norway maple will boost our production.”

Matt is quick to add that that one maple is more than offset by the unburned coal and the seven fruit trees he and Kelly have planted. In 2012, using an eMonitor, Matt will begin posting his consumption down to each appliance.

Not really leaving the windows alone…
The trick with historic double-hung windows is to make it look as though you have left them alone when in fact you have improved their energy performance.

“I was really lucky to meet Lorri Sipes of Wood Window Repair Company,” says Matt. “Lorri set up a clinic at our home to help train others in this lost craft. Our work brought the original sashes up to fully functional, airtight performance with a 70% total whole-house air leakage reduction. After the 7 steps in Lorri’s workshop, we added to the window performance with Trapp air-tight, low-e storms. These high-performance storms have a baked-enamel color finish that blends in with the original sash.”

NOTE: I asked Sipes about how her business addresses lead safety, since I did not see anything on her company’s website on this subject. Sipes has been trained in EPA’s Lead Safe Workplace and follows all requirements to protect her clients from lead dust. She also uses EPA’s Renovate Right when working with do-it-yourselfers.

Matt and Kelly also like the way that their new EcoSmart insulated cellular shades are a perfect addition to the appearance and the performance of their windows. “Again, we really like products and systems that honor the character of our home, boost its performance, and do so with steady or even greater convenience.”

What’s next for Thrive
Matt is definitely a “practice what you preach” kind of guy; Thrive is his net zero consulting collaborative. “There has been a lot of interest in achieving net zero in existing homes. One project we are excited about is the historic Felt Mansion in western Michigan in the Saugatuck Dunes. When built in the mid-1920s, the property was powered by 16 wind turbines and even had a wave undulation machine that pumped water from Lake Michigan up to the house — in this case, we will be taking the project back to net zero!”

The Atlantic called the Grocoff’s home “sustainable perfection.” But Matt says “I won’t accept such praise until our home actually restores the environment rather than steals from it. I am also really excited by the fit between my net-zero work and the Living Building Challenge.” Kelly and I are working hard to move our Mission Zero home to zero water and waste, as well as energy — Amory Lovins says that ‘if it exists, it must be possible’. We’re proving what’s possible — so stay tuned!”

Lessons Learned

“We have a ‘wish list’ for our Mission Zero home," says Matt, "but it turns out that just about every single wish item is related to meeting the Living Building Challenge”:

  • Rain barrels to cistern: “Our rain barrels are really not anywhere close to the capacity we need to keep what we need on site. So we need to figure out a cistern system for our home and land.
  • Induction cooktop: “We need to eliminate the gas combustion and double the efficiency of the stove from 45% to 90% to keep our electrical loads down.”
  • Dual plumbing system and composting toilets: This will be a big part of controlling the size of our cistern; just need to find attractive, convenient composting toilets!”
  • LED lighting in every fixture: “Phillips and The Home Depot have really helped out here; you can buy a full range of LED bulbs now with some under $20!”
  • Green roof for front porch: “This will look great from the second floor, won’t be visible from the street and will keep the summer heat off the porch and front rooms.”

Thanks,

Jim Gramata
Managing Team Broker
@properties The Gramata Realty Group
773-270-2474
2214 N Lincoln Avenue Chicago, IL 60614
www.GramataRealtyGroup.com

LOVE.LIVE.DREAM

Awesome Healthy Homes Resources | REGREEN Residential Remodeling

http://www.regreenprogram.org/resources

REGREEN Residential Remodeling.

REGREEN Strategy Generator: This green building widget allows you to identify the appropriate green upgrade for your project. Enter the type, scope and goal of your retrofit project and allow the widget to generate the appropriate green measures to implement.

REGREEN Residential Remodeling Guidelines (PDF): The REGREEN guidelines are a powerful resource to guide your next remodeling project. Beginning with the successful approach to green remodeling and walking you through 10 different types of residential retrofit projects, these guidelines provide the information you need to make positive and impactful retrofit decisions.

Green Product Checklist (PDF): An important part of the green remodeling process is the careful selection of healthy, environmentally responsible materials and products. Let the Green Product Checklist guide your shopping decisions.

REGREEN Home Assessment Form (PDF): The first step in any holistic and informed remodel or home upgrade is a comprehensive home assessment. This form was developed by a multi-disciplinary team of green building experts to assist you in a whole-house assessment, including home performance, building systems, structural integrity, existing hazards, interior finishes, and space utilization. Use this form at the start of each remodel project to thoroughly evaluate the home’s existing conditions.

Organizations and Programs

ASID has many resources for interior designers seeking to incorporate sustainable design principles into their practice.

Green Home Guide – USGBC’s residentially focused site has a wealth of information on how to make your home greener and connect with the resources and green building professionals in your area. Be sure to check out Green Retrofit Checklist to discover how you can start living in a greener, healthier home today.

The folks at Green Building Advisor are a rich resource for building, designing and remodeling green homes and an integral part of the team that created REGREEN. Explore the abundance of green information free of charge, with the option to dig deeper into green building resources and strategies as a site member.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Star Program. Energy efficient appliance choices can save families about a third on their energy bill with similar savings of greenhouse gas emissions, without sacrificing features, style or comfort.

The Department of Energy offers extensive information on how to save energy and increase home performance at their Energy Savers website.

The Healthy House Institute® (HHI) provides consumers information to make their homes healthier. HHI strives to be the most comprehensive educational resource available for creating healthier homes

The federal Energy Efficient Mortgages (EEM) program allows homeowners to add the cost of energy-efficient home improvements to their existing mortgage. Find out more about EEMs at http://www.hud.gov/offices/hsg/sfh/eem/energy-r.cfm and http://www.mortgageloan.com/environment

The Solar Tribune offers exteinsive information on solar panels and solar thermal energy systems for homeowners.

Thank you.

Jim Gramata
Managing Team Broker
The Gramata Realty Group
@properties
www.GramataRealtyGroup.com