Infiltration

Infiltration or air leakage can have a significant impact on the required heat load for a house and in some cases can have a bigger impact than insulation values. This shows up in both energy modeling and in actual retrofit improvements to existing homes. (see below for FAQ on infiltration)

There are 5 equally important items that are required to achieve successful results to minimize air leakage:

1) An initial infiltration and ventilation strategy: It’s not only important to have a plan to minimize air leakage in a house, it’s equally important to have a strategy to bring in fresh air and exhaust stale air in a house (ventilation will be the next blog post).

2) Material selection

3) Installation and construction techniques and process

4) Training and / or experience

5) Attention to detail and mindset to do it right and take pride in the work being done

After window and cellulose installation and air sealing at CreekSide Net Zero, we achieved an infiltration rate of 0.28ACH50 which is 53% lower than the Passive House Institute target and 15% lower than our initial blower door test which was conducted earlier in the process.

It is truly an example of excellent collaboration, communication, coordination and attention to detail. There were 3 companies that worked together to achieve this excellent result:

– New Energy Works who were responsible for the pre-panelized double wall and roof I-beam construction and installation, exterior zip wall and interior zip ceiling air sealing  as well as the window installation

– Airtight Services who were responsible for the cellulose insulation installation and window foam

– CreekSide Energy Solutions who were responsible for window, door and other envelope penetration air sealing

All of these companies have a ‘do it right’ culture that sets them apart from other contractors and construction companies.

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Intello air and vapor barrier in double wall cavity and ‘floppy bits’ being installed across top plate with Roxul

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Acoustical sealant used to air seal around rim board, another good example of attention to detail.

 

 

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Mark from New Energy Works carefully installing Intello ‘floppy bit’ across top plate to transition air barrier from outside wall to inside ceiling.

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Brad, New Energy Works construction manager, installs Solitex Mento Plus at interface of future poured concrete porch and first floor deck. Brad is certified in Passive House construction.

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Kevin from New Energy Works installing Inline fiberglass window. A bead of silicone sealant was first applied around the window opening, the window was installed in opening with screws and Zip tape was then applied on the two sides and top of window fin.

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View of Intello Vapor membrane detail between double walls prior to cutting out window opening. Nice job Mark from New Energy Works!

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Transition of Solitex Mento Plus and Tescon Vana tape for air sealing

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475 Extoseal Magov tape used to air seal Mitsubishi line set wall penetration

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Skilled and experienced in high performance building techniques: New Energy Works construction crew (clockwise from top left) Mark, Kevin, Scotty (missing – John).

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Blower door test result after insulation and air sealing!

Background FAQ

Why test for infiltration? All other factors being equal, a leaky house will have a significantly higher heat loss than a tight house.

How to test infiltration? A calibrated blower door assembly with a fan and manometer is mounted in a doorway and the fan either blows air out of or into the house to either depressurize or pressurize the house. The manometer will control the fan speed to meet required pressure and also provide a readout of the infiltration rate.  Either a smoke stick or infrared camera can then be used to identify leaky areas.

How is infiltration rate measured? XACH50 = X air changes per hour at 50 pascals based on the volume of the house, 50 pascals is approximately equivalent to a 20 mph wind blowing on all faces of the house being tested.

What is the infiltration rate target for an Energy Star house? 4ACH50 for climate zone 5 (Pulaski, NY)

What is the Passive House infiltration rate target? 0.6ACH50 (A high bar set by the Passive House Institute to meet their stringent criteria, and a good indicator of performance)

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Rubber Roofing

There are three typical considerations when selecting a roof. Price, durability (how long it will last) and aesthetics. In our decision process, we added another factor – sustainability. That is, the impact on the environment, either in the production of the product, the life of the product, and or the disposal of the product after its life cycle.

The two immediate options that came to mind in our selection process were asphalt shingles and metal roofing – and there is a wide selection of each. We were leaning toward a metal roof based on the sustainability factor, but the price tag for the standing seam, which we liked the look of better, was higher than we expected. In my day to day job, I manage projects that involve the building and remodeling of restaurants.  So in a conversation I had one day with my client, the topic of a rubber roof came up. I hadn’t heard of that before and began my research. I was intrigued to find out that they were made out of up to 95% recycled material – primarily tires, and it is also recyclable at the end of its life. The thought of keeping old tires out of the landfill was exciting, and the benefits didn’t stop there – long lasting, eco-friendly, hail resistant, maintenance free, and fire resistant to name a few.

The initial pricing that I received from one manufacturer scared us, but my gut said this was the right thing to do. Plus, I always hated the way the asphalt shingles looked dirty after a while and the steel roofs can be noisy and dent. And, of course, the nice looking metal roofs have a nice high price tag. I kept searching to prove to my “other half” that the rubber roof was a viable solution for us and stumbled on Euroshield EuroLite Slate. When Tom and I did the ROI and factored in the 50 year warranty, it was actually equal to, or a little less than, two 25-year asphalt roofs (including the cost of installation). So my GC, (who is actually my husband) arranged the details with Euroshield and a local roofer, Tom Trump, who was interested in trying out a new product. Euroshield rubber shingles are manufactured in Canada and the US rep, Lesley Gustafson is very knowledgeable and was great to work with.

We love the look of the roof and people are amazed when we tell them it is actually rubber. Because we are in snow country, we also added the ice shields to prevent sheets of ice sliding off and causing damage. Not unlike what you need to do with a steel roof. Click here to find out more information on Euroshield’s roofing products.

Euroshield "Euro Lite Slate" roofing

Euroshield EuroLite Slate rubber roof shingles

Rubber Roof from front view before windows were cut out.

Euroshield EuroLite Slate rubber roof from front view before windows were cut out.

Euroshield EuroLite Slate 4 tab shingle and roof cap

Euroshield EuroLite Slate 4 tab shingle and roof cap

Underside of rubber shingle showing ribs and alignment tab.

Underside of rubber shingle showing ribs and alignment tab.

Closeup view of Euroshield EuroLite Slate rubber roof cap.

Closeup view of Euroshield EuroLite Slate rubber roof cap.

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Timber Raising

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We’ve never experienced a timber raising and weren’t sure what to expect. It was a beautiful day and friends, family and neighbors came out to take part in this milestone moment of our journey to build a more sustainable life.

There was a small crew from New Energy Works, but it was obvious they were well experienced as they quickly got to work laying out all the precut Douglas fir timbers and organizing them for their new “home”. We really appreciated that everyone on the crew was friendly and willing to take the time to answer questions and explain what they were doing. The timbers were impressively large and perfectly cut to fit together like a puzzle with wooden ash pegs driven in to secure the joints. As part of the NEW tradition we passed around one peg for signing and it was strategically driven in a section of the frame, symbolizing the importance of family and friends as part of our home’s framework.

As each timber section was raised and put in place, we could really begin to see our home take shape. As our house is a relatively small hybrid timber frame house, everything was in place by 2pm. We had goose bumps when the timber with our quote was put in place.

Although we didn’t have a “ceremony” per se, at the end of the day when all were gone and we were there alone standing under the timbers, we were filled with a spiritual awe as we quietly reflected on our engraved quote: “Let nature inspire your soul.” Looking out across the water, touching the warmth of the timber and feeling the gentle breeze wash over us like nature’s breath made us feel so alive, connected and at peace with everything.

Now, keeping this same inspiration, we move onto the rest of the details.

Getting the timbers ready and organized.

Getting the timbers ready and organized.

 

 

 

 

Driving in pegs.

Driving in pegs.

 

 

 

 

 

The first timber set being raised!

The first timber set being raised!

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The amazing raising!

The amazing raising!

 

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Lots of food and fun.

Lots of food and fun.

 

Let Nature Inspire Your Soul.

“Let nature inspire your soul,” our engraved quote for our timber frame, may it inspire the generations to come.

View from future living room.

Reflecting on the day’s activities and the view from our future living room.

 

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Envelope Design Concept

We’re back! A lot has been going on but we are committed to writing on a more regular basis. We’ve actually started foundation work but I’d like to describe our envelope design concept and then follow up with the actual site work in the next post.

To start with I think it is helpful to understand the envelope design—one of  the most important aspects of our energy efficiency. I’ve spent a lot of time researching green building and high performance houses and visiting informative sites such as Green Building Advisor, Fine Home Building and Building Science Corporation. It’s amazing how much information is out there and it can easily turn into a journey of ‘one more click’ over many hours. This is one of the reasons that I decided to sign up for Marc Rosenbaum’s class on designing a Zero Net Energy Home. What better way to learn about a subject than to be guided by a widely recognized subject matter expert who has already ‘walked the talk’ and can provide the speed tips and practical knowledge based on experience. One of the most important criteria of a good design is implementing a good air barrier to enable a tight building envelope. It was during Marc’s class that I started focusing on using a 12 inch double wall construction for CreekSide Net Zero. Below is the sketch that illustrates the initial design concept that Todd Campbell and Ty Allen at New Energy Works started with as they developed the detailed drawings.

If you’re not into technical details then here’s the summary:

Sub-slab insulation: R15.6

Foundation walls: R24

Walls: R41

Ceiling: R60

Infiltration target: 0.6 ACH50 (air changes per hour at 50 pascals)

How do we get to these values?

Sub-slab insulation: R15.6, 4 inches of EPS foam board (2 – 2 inch thick layers with staggered seams) under 4 inch concrete slab

Foundation walls: R24, 2 inches of Thermeze EPS on inside of 10 inch poured concrete wall (R3.9/ inch), 4 inches of mineral wall board (R4 / inch)

Walls: R41, 12 inch double stud wall with a continuous layer of Intello Plus variable vapor membrane on outside surface of inside wall, 8.5 inches of dense pack cellulose (R3.5 / inch) in wall cavity outside of Intello, 3.5 inches of damp spray cellulose in inside wall cavity

Ceiling: R60, Vented roof, 18 inch I beam with 16.5 inches of dense pack cellulose (R3.5 / inch)

Infiltration target: 0.6 ACH50, careful attention to air sealing, primary wall air barrier is the exterior Zip board sheathing with all seams taped, primary ceiling air barrier is Zip board sheathing with all seams taped mounted to the underside of the I beams

Design concept sketch:

Envelope Concept

The technical info:

The walls: The double wall consists of two 2×4 inch walls separated by 5 inches to provide an all important thermal break between the two wall surfaces. A typical 2 x 6 wall framed 16 inches on center with R19 insulation actually has an overall R value of only about R15 due to the thermal bridging that occurs every 16 inches where the wall studs are located. Using a double wall construction these thermal bridges are eliminated with the open space between the walls.

Filling the entire wall with dense pack cellulose at R3.5 / inch results in an overall R value of R40. However, one of the concerns with the double wall construction is the risk of condensation building up and increasing the moisture content on the inside of the exterior sheathing.

Initially, it seems counter intuitive to think that the thicker the wall the less likely there would be a problem. However, because the wall is thicker and there is less heat escaping, the exterior sheathing is actually colder and thus any vapor that contacts it is more likely to condense. As a result, it becomes very important to control air and vapor movement through the wall. With our double wall design the primary air barrier will be the exterior Zip board sheathing with taped and sealed seams. This design does not address the potential for warm interior air and vapor that will condense if it comes into contact with the cold sheathing. This is where the team from Airtight Services out of Marion, NY made a significant recommendation to modify the design during one of the initial design reviews. The company is owned by Matt Johnson and his two primary co-workers are Matt Bowers and Bill LaBine. They’re certified Passive House consultants and they are very knowledgeable in building science. Their recommendation (which we’re implementing) was to install a continuous vapor retarder membrane called Intello Plus on the outside surface of the inside wall. Pro Clima Intello Plus is a smart vapor retarding membrane that has varying vapor diffusion depending on the season. If the Intello was installed directly behind the drywall it would be susceptible to cuts and tears as the drywall and electrical were being installed. By installing it on the outside surface of the inside wall we’ve effectively created a service cavity within the inside wall that can be filled with damp spray cellulose after the electrical and mechanicals are complete.

During the design process we had a few design enclosure meetings with both the New Energy Works and Airtight Services teams to discuss the implementation details for the envelope design. It was pretty cool to see the collaboration and building on ideas to improve and modify the design to enable NEW to pre-build the walls and ship them to the site in sections.

Here’s a photo of the first prototype double stud wall that the NEW team built to help prove the concept. Left to right in the photo: Todd Campbell, Brad Hall, Bryan Bleier, me (I didn’t get the black jacket memo) and Ty Allen

NEW Double Wall

The Ceiling: I focused on using I beams in order to get enough depth to get to an insulation R value of R60 with an air channel above the insulation to enable a cold roof. When doing the calculations with Marc’s thermal bridge calculator it turns out that we need an 18 inch I beam when sheathing is installed between the beams on the bottom of the upper flange to provide the air channel. Another key component of the energy design is that the primary air barrier will move from the exterior sheathing on the walls across the top sill plate to Zip sheathing which will be installed inside the house on the bottom of the I beams. No can lights for this energy efficient house!

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Designing Our Floorplan

Designing our floor plan seemed like an exciting project to undertake. Secretly, I always wanted to be an interior designer/architect. I remember as a kid spending hours drawing floor plans on graph paper and cutting out pictures of decor items from magazines and gluing them to shoe boxes to make my dream house. In my current position, for the past few years, I have had the opportunity to manage restaurant projects that allowed me to work with architects. Coupled with my art background I felt naively ready for the task at hand. I mean I watch HGTV, how hard could it be?

We began our endeavor by perusing hundreds of floor plans online. We also read The Not So Big House by Sarah Susanka and similar books and articles that guided us in the principles of designing a house that was the right size for our needs. Through our research, it was clear that there was not a ready-made plan that met our specific needs and criteria of building a net zero energy home. Plus, we had a site location that made the layout challenging, so we knew it had to be custom. We purchased a relatively inexpensive software program to begin to design our “dream” home. Of course there was a steep learning curve and countless hours trying to figure out a simple move in the program. It didn’t take us long to realize that designing a house is much more than positioning rooms on a floor plan. There were rooflines to consider, window heights and placement, and we realized everything on the inside seems to affect the exterior view. We definitely needed to hire an architect, and preferably one that shared our passion about net zero energy building and sustainability.

We had long been friends with Jonathon Orpin, owner of New Energy Works, and respected his opinion, shared his values on sustainability, and loved the beautiful timber frame homes his company built. We didn’t consider using his company to design or build at first, because we figured it was out of our price range, plus we weren’t sure a timber frame home met the criteria of a net zero energy home. However, after talking with Jonathon and his wife Maxine, over dinner one night, they suggested we at least meet with Ty Allen, his lead architect to discuss options. We met with Ty and his associate, Todd Campbell, and discussed a timber hybrid home. Together, we brainstormed ideas of how we can design to help keep the price down. They were excited about the prospect of designing the company’s first net zero house. In the end, we signed an agreement with New Energy Works and have been very grateful for their knowledge and guidance. We began our work with them by outlining our wants and needs and they were patient and creative in trying to meet all our criteria. To summarize, there were four major considerations that drove the layout of the house.

  1. Simple shape–  The first rule of thumb we tried to follow was to keep the design very simple, staying as close to a rectangle as possible. Eliminating nooks, cut outs and dormers not only keeps the building cost down it also eliminates potential leaks, and areas for air infiltration. As Tom will explain in his energy modeling section in greater detail, a tight envelope is one of the most important factors in achieving net zero energy.
  2. Sun orientation–  In order to optimize the heat gain in the cold winter, we need to maximize our southern exposure. So the length of the house, with essentially the bulk of the windows, should face south, give or take 15 degrees. However, we also want to be careful to make sure we don’t overheat in the summer, so Ty and Todd designed large overhangs and included exterior window shading over the kitchen windows to prevent too much heat gain in the hot months.
  3. The view– We purchased the property because of the beautiful natural habitat, so we want to make sure we could enjoy that view in as many rooms as possible. Our challenge is that the view faces north, which is not where you want your windows in a net zero energy home. Tom has been doing some energy modeling calculations to help determine different window recommendations and sizes so we can still get away with north facing windows in the great room. As usual, I tell him what I want, and he figures out how to make it work. We’re a great team!
  4. Room Usage– We had to really think about how and when we would use each room as it relates to the site position and proximity to other rooms. We began by making a list of desired rooms and what time of day they would be utilized. I thought about the rooms of our current living space and how I feel in each room at certain parts of the day. I gravitated to the sunny rooms, so that became key to the layout. Below are the priorities we identified and the rest of the house was designed around these elements like a puzzle. Not an easy task.
  • Waking up to sunshine – That means our bedroom had to have an east facing window. However, we also wanted to have a nice view and that was north. We ultimately worked out a design that shifted the garage forward to allow us windows to the north and east.
  • Lots of natural light – Eventually, this will be our retirement home, so I envisioned myself working in my studio, reading in the great room in the afternoon, or cooking in the kitchen during the day. So, I wanted bright sun light for those rooms.
  • Open floor plan that is flexible–  We wanted to implement the “not so big house” concept with an open floor plan designed for three, but with flex space that functions just as easily when entertaining a large group of family and friends.
  • Age in place – We designed this with a first floor master suite that could be used for an elderly parent with a caretaker suite on the second floor enabling a multi-generation age in place house.
  • Workshop/studio– We both like working with our hands, Tom loves to work with wood and I love to do pottery and paint. At first we wanted a shared workshop studio space, but we ended up having to split the space to meet the footprint constraints.
  • Screened porch with a fireplace – We love the outdoors, but hate mosquitos, so having a screened porch was important to us. We also love campfires and fireplaces, however, having a fireplace, or open flame in a net zero house, is not a good idea. We decided a fireplace on the screened porch would be the perfect solution. Also, having the screened porch on the west side provided natural shading for some of the western windows.
  • Wine room or closet – We enjoy a nice wine and like collecting a few bottles, so having a temperature controlled area to store them was also important to us. Originally we wanted a room, but in the end because of space constraints, we settled on a hidden wine closet. Tom’s challenge is to come up with a creative way to minimize the energy needed to control the environment. He has a few ideas up his sleeve, more to come later on that.

Below is our floor plan and a perspective drawings of our house from New Energy Works. (Click the picture to view larger) We never would have come up with something like this without the team at NEW. They have been wonderful to work with and extremely patient with us as our ideas evolved throughout the design process, which ultimately meant making some last minute design changes. The documents are almost final. We are currently working on the construction document details. We definitely feel lucky to have such a great team to work with.

South-west elevation our our house plan.

South-west elevation our our house plan.

Main Floor

Main Floor

Second Floor

Second Floor

 

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Drilling for water

In early February I visited the site with Robin Caster from Caster Well Drilling out of Fulton, NY to get an idea of where we might be able to drill for water. It was my first time seeing someone dousing for water (aka well witching) and it was pretty interesting to watch. Having an engineering background I always want to understand the physics when trying to solve a problem or when figuring out how to do something. I really don’t understand the science of well dousing but I’m a believer that it works. When I was at the site earlier this week with Robin’s brother, Darrin, he let me hold one side of the branch and there was no question that the branch moved downward as we walked around the property and crossed over a water vein.

Darrin and Robin’s son, Ryan had the rig all set up when I arrived on Monday morning and they started drilling around 9:30 am. It was really interesting to watch the entire process and Darrin was great in explaining as they went along. There really is a lot to drilling for water. Having someone experienced like Darrin is critical to a successful outcome and finding good water. I was also impressed at how important it is to be good in math. Darrin uses the well diameter and a stopwatch to calculate the flow rate after raising the drill and then slowly lowers it the point were the water flows into the well.

Well location on southern  part of site

Well location on southern part of site

Shovel with rock fragments from the well

Shovel with rock fragments from the well

Darrin Caster with rig in the background

Darrin Caster with rig in the background

We hit a water vein at approximately 30 feet and Darrin drilled the well to 48 feet deep so that we’d have a good reservoir with the calculated flow rate of 4 gallons per minute. Very cool stuff and it looks like we’ve got good water!

Here’s a link to a YouTube video with Darrin explaining well drilling:

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Understanding Net Zero

When I retired from Xerox in July 2013 we knew that we wanted to build an energy efficient house but we really didn’t know what that meant. I’ve always been interested in energy efficiency and solar energy so those were areas where I started my research. I’ve got a mechanical engineering degree and over the years I’ve undertaken numerous remodeling projects in our existing house. During my research I came across Green Building Advisor which is a great resource for building energy and building science advice. When I found the NESEA site I was really excited because I was drawn to the idea of a community of building energy professionals.

I’ve always been excited to learn new things and ideas so I was immediately drawn to the Building Energy Masters Series. I ended up signing up for and completing Marc Rosenbaum’s course titled ‘Zero Net Energy Homes’ in the spring of 2014. The course has a lot of good information and steps through the building science, design parameters, and considerations to design a net zero energy house. Marc’s energy model that’s included in the course has inputs for the parameters required to ultimately size a PV solar array to get to net zero.

I also attended my first NESEA conference at BE14. After the conference there were three main things that really stuck out in my mind : 1) I was really developing a passion for all this building energy stuff; 2) there were a lot of very smart people at the conference and there was a great culture of trying to do the right thing for the environment; 3) there still seems to be a fair amount of discovery that is taking place with building science. An example of this is the varying opinions on ventilation rates, which rooms to provide supply air and which rooms to pull exhaust air and whether to use an ERV or HRV.

In the fall of 2014 I attended HERS rater training at Performance Systems Development (PSD) in Ithaca, NY. The course was taught by two very knowledgeable instructors, Ethan MacCormick and Emelie Cuppernell, who had numerous real life examples to support their review of building science in addition to training the use of REMRate software.

About the same time that I attended BE14 I decided to start a company to do residential energy modeling and consulting in order to put my new knowledge to work and to help people make informed decisions with respect to their energy usage and carbon footprint. I continued my learning by attending BE15 with the New Energy Works Timber Frame Homes team of Ty Allen, Todd Campbell and Jonathan Orpin, who we are working with to design our home.

Building our CreekSide Net Zero house will allow me to ‘walk the talk’ and to put my new learning into practice.

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Site work begins–October 2014

site location pre-sitework

Site location for our house before site work.

After a long wait, (about one year) we finally received site approval from the DEC to move forward with our plans. We never anticipated it taking so long, but it gave us time to think about what we wanted and time to do our homework. Tom retired about a year ago and was able to spend a lot of time researching and educating himself on understanding net zero. We both felt strongly about trying to use local contractors for the work. Our first point of contact and help was a local civil engineer, Mike Lasell of MBL Engineering, who we ended up hiring as our site engineer. He put us in touch with a lot of great folks to talk to for the site work. After a few interviews, we agreed to use Bob Coffin, who owns Coffin’s Gravel and Excavating. He had the right equipment to remove the old foundation and bring in the required fill. It took him approximately three days to complete the project, which we both thought was impressive. Tom was there during the site work and captured some great photos (below). We wanted to save as many trees as possible, but we also wanted to open up the south side of the house for solar gain. As it turned out, we needed to take down six trees, four of which had rot in the lower section of the trunk: four white oak, a black cherry and a beech tree. We contacted Lakeshore Hardwoods, a local mill, to help us find someone who could help us harvest the wood for use in the house. We ended up using Ted Aubin who brought his portable mill on the property and cut the wood for us. We kiln dried the wood and it is currently stored in the shed on our property. We already have a long list of projects and ideas slated for it, including benches, counters and tables, but first we have to build the house!

After sitework, cleared and ready for construction.

After site work, cleared and ready for construction.

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4/4 black cherry and white oak kiln dried, stacked and stored for our spring construction project.

The portable mill at work cutting slabs of wood for future projects. We wanted to make sure that we kept the natural live edge of the wood.

The portable mill at work cutting slabs of beech for future projects. We wanted to make sure that we kept the natural live edge of the wood on the 8/4 boards whenever possible.

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Site Selection — a “family” connnection

It isn’t easy finding the right piece of land to build your “forever” retirement home. It had to be suitable to aging in place, allowing us access to the things we enjoy most– nature, kayaking and spending time with family. With three kids in three different states, that wasn’t an easy decision. There were many factors to consider, but we ended up looking for property in Pulaski, NY near our oldest daughter. We decided on property that borders a state park on one side and the Salmon River marshes on the other side near the outlet of Lake Ontario.

Another cool factor of the property, besides being near family, is that it has a family heritage.  Our son-in-law, Andy, told us about some abandoned property his uncle owned. It originally belonged to Andy’s grandparents– who actually honeymooned in the cabin, now a storage shed (shown below) that is still standing on the property. The camp that they had built burned to the ground over twenty years ago. The property was left abandoned, overgrown and in need of a lot of TLC. We loved the view and had a vision of what this could look like. So began our dreams of our net zero home.

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