Attempting to Live a Sustainable Lifestyle in St. Louis

Environmentally friendly decisions are tough

Assessing cold/hot spots in your house December 23, 2009

Filed under: Energy Efficiency,Green Rehab — budint @ 10:16 pm
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Last winter I was frustrated by what felt like pockets of cold air in various parts of my house.  Sometimes it was easy to confirm (like if there was a breeze), other times it might have been my mind going crazy.   This year I ordered the kintrex infrared thermometer instead of going to the psychologist and boy has it made a difference.

Use Case #1:  Take the closet in an older part of our house where the exterior wall is brick. The closet is always cold, some of which i attributed to being cut-off from heat vents.  After shooting the wall and seeing that its temperature was 15 degrees colder than an insulated wall in a different closet I immediately picked up some rigid insulation.  With the rigid installed over the brick closet wall the temp was 10 degrees warmer.

Use Case #2: a long, long duct run in my basement supplies heat to our great room.  Shooting the duct near the furnace showed the metal was around 90 degrees,  however 35 feet down the run toward the great room the duct metal was only 72 degrees.   So clearly i’m able to quantify the heat loss from the long run in the colder basement and thus this is motivating me to insulate the duct.   I’ll post the update after i do the project, but the point is that i would never have known the heat loss was so great without this device.  (see pic below)

kintrex If you’re paranoid about energy efficiency in your house and need to validate your paranoia for yourself or a loved one this is the tool. Runs about $50.

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Checking out passive house (garage) design August 13, 2009

Filed under: Energy Efficiency,Green Rehab — budint @ 2:28 am
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During some R&R in North Dakota a couple weeks ago I read this book by Dan Chiras about passive solar homes. The read really inspired me to makes some changes in my home and REALLY think about a number of design aspects in any future dwelling I build (like the garage maybe).

Much of the guidance you could chaulk up as common sense; insulation, air penetration, internal heat gain, but hearing about it in such detail really hammered home some things.  And it also prompted me to buy an  infrared thermometer so that I could understand where there are weaknesses and opportunities.

The book also made me much more aware of how the house and layout behaved during the cooling season. Ideas such as lighter color paint on the west, or best coverage of western windows constantly pops into mind. I also realized my southern overhang is overhung enough as its not protecting my southern windows during this cooling season.   Also subtly frustrated with some of the non-insulative decisions we made on the original part of the house.

All in all, it’s one of the more thought provoking books I’ve read and has really motivated me to do better next time.  And maybe next time is the garage, which we’re starting to discuss right now.

Since passive house design has that sense of being from the 70’s, I’m also trying to follow the guys at 100khouse.com to see if I can learn anything from them on their current passive house German standards design.

 

barn door project with left-over siding May 4, 2009

Filed under: Design,Green Rehab,Reuse — budint @ 1:47 am
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Our bedroom has a huge opening which looks out through sliding glass doors at our upstairs patio and onto the backyard.  This also means that the neighbors behind us can see into our bedroom

The opening also lets a ton of light in in the morning and this is annoying to us who need it dark to sleep.  None of this was a surprise and a barn door was always in the plans.

What the barn door would be made of was always a question.  We talked about colored MDF or Maple FSC plywood.  Both nice options, but we were budget conscious and a little concerned about introducing another wood species which might clash with our white oak floors.

The idea came to me as i walked around the house trying to organize the piles of excess building materials.  One pile consisted of left-over siding from our rain-screen.  Another was a pile of rigid insulation.   And obviously, i have a lot of 2×4’s left-over.

So with all of this, i made a frame w/ the 2×4’s, stuck the rigid insulation inside and sandwiched it with the left-over James Hardie cement board lap siding.  (see below and don’t mind messy bed)

barn door

The door is pretty heavy because of the cement board, but rolls really easily with the barn door hardware from Hardware and Tools.com.

We totally love the door and the ability to open the bedroom to bright sunlight or close it off for a nice, dark cave.

 

Programmable thermostats February 27, 2009

Filed under: Live Green 2.0,Mechanical Systems — budint @ 2:19 pm

No, I don’t live in the 90’s and of course I realize that programmable thermostats aren’t new.  However, the hvac sub who worked on my place must’ve met these criteria.   So finally, now that we’re getting more settled and I’m working thru my personal punchlist I’ve finally gotten around to installing one of the two programmable thermostats.

The brand I’ve stumbled upon recently and have been impressed with thus far is RiteTemp (home depot’s brand I believe).  You can tell that some market research went into the thermostat buying/installation process cause everything about RiteTemp’s packaging, instructions, toll free support numbers and all around value proposition is about ‘simple, do it yourself and compatibility.’    What I think they did above and beyond however, was to add some style.

The first one i installed was the 6030 model.  It has a straight forward look with a nice sized layout and of course its touch screen so you feel like you’re in the 21st century. (The fingerprints might drive me nuts, but you can’t really see them when the flash isn’t there).

6030 RiteTemp

The second model, which I’ll be installing this weekend, is a flush mount model 6036 which is on their homepage.   I love the look of this thing; very “Bill Gates wired home” like.  My only small, small reservation is that you have to cut a hole in the dry-wall to install this (which is fine), but what happens if this unit goes bad and I can’t find it again?  I’ll be stuck having to patch my dry-wall hole and going back w/ a non-flush mounted model.    I can only hope that this model was so successful that they’ll keep selling it year after year.

Great thing about both of these is they were only $49 a piece.  A great value in my mind.

 

Tankless hotwater, love hate relationship February 24, 2009

Filed under: Green Rehab,Mechanical Systems — budint @ 4:16 am

Been using the o’l Takagi TK-3 tankless water heater for about 2 months now and have a new perspective on these little guys.  As you know, they’re not cheap, expensive actually, coming in at around $800.   Then you have the learning curve in that most plumbers haven’t put many of these things in.  Then you also have the joy of needing to get any type of part off of the internet or trying to find a local alternative.

The delay factor

Maybe all tankless heaters are like this or maybe it’s because my plumbers ran home-runs to all of the faucets with pex tubing (or a combo of both), but the delivery of hot-water definitely takes awhile.   For larger faucets like the bathtub or shower, it happens within 10-15 seconds.  For sinks, it can take up to 35 seconds.  This is discouraging as you’re watching all of this nice cold water go flowing down the sink.    The only way I sleep at night is by thinking about our dual flush toilets, which I hope equal out the water wasted by the tankless.

Constant Heat

Once the water has arrived however, it’s hot  for as long as you’d like.  We’ve even taken showers with the washing machine or dishwasher going and have no problem.  The wife can fill up the bathtub w/ hot water (huge waste) and there’s still a constant supply of hotwater for something else.

And of course, the big benefit is that you’re not heating water the other 23hrs per day that you don’t need hot water.

Couple notes:

The required category III venting is expensive stainless steel stuff that will really set you back.  This is necessary because the btu’s giving off by these units is much more than a tanked water heater.   Because of the extreme temperatures/BTU’s, you can’t have anything flammable anywhere in the room.  So this makes it tough for a basement where you might want to do some spray painting or something.

 

Long overdue post, lots to say (got robbed, wood floors and more) December 3, 2008

I haven’t posted for a month. Busy, frustrated, depressed, not sure what it has been, but alot has happened over the past 45 days so let me give you the run down and some things I learned.

Got Robbed

On one Sunday evening after we just got the dry-wall up and started painting, some crack-heads kicked down the basement door and cut out the copper wire which hadn’t been tied into the panel yet and cut all of the line-sets for the AC units.  This was a depressing blow as we were already struggling with the budget, the timeline and emotional drain.    The kicker is that they caused so much damage, but probably only got $40 in copper.   The electric has been repaired already, but now the permanent solution is 8 junction boxes in the basement to tie in all of the cut wires (no the ideal solution).    Btw, I have a pretty good electrician whom I’d recommend.

Wood Floors

Our white oak FSC wood floors went down and then we had them finished.  That decision process was tough.   We wanted to go with a low VOC product, which would be a water-based polyeurethane, but our floor finisher would not guarantee his work w/ the water-based product.  After lots of research I determined that St Louis (and maybe all of the midwest) does not have the sophistication necessary with regard to water-based poly.   Thus we went with the oil based poly and felt a little better since the off gassing (so i’ve been told) occurs all at once and not over a period of years.

Even after going with the oil-based, the floor still had a problem with bubbles in the finish (which is abnormal) and we need to have them sealed again.

Silestone countertops

Chose silestone because of the green nature of not using some chemically processed countertop.  They were pricey, but should wear better than those paper-based countertops and look more modern than granite.

Light Bulbs

We needed lots of light bulbs. Canned lights alone are at about 40 in number.  Obviously we wanted to go all CFL, but ran into some constraints.  Some rooms have dimmers and others have motion detection on/off.   Dimmers don’t work w/ the CFL’s I buy and the motion detectors are kind of funny w/ CFL’s cause they always have some amt of electricity going thru them (they don’t work so great).  My logic though is that having lights which turn off automatically when you leave the room, just might equal out the savings as using CFL’s.

Don’t get me wrong, i’m still using lots of CFL’s. I’ve experimented w/ N-Vision from Home Depot, Great Value from Wal-mart and GE Smart Light 10 pack from Sam’s club.   The Great Value bulbs were junk; 2 out of 4 work well.  It’s also been hit or miss w/ N-Vision as I’ve had 2 of 16 burn out right away.  The GE bulbs have been solid though and the light is nice.   The 10 pack from Sam’s club was also very reasonable, so I’d recommend these over the others.

Lastly, we’re going to be pouring our own concrete counter-tops for some of our bathroom vanities. The alure is in the cost and design (but mostly cost).  Been reading that Chung guy’s book, pretty interesting stuff.

Check out the latest pics of the house at the flickr site.

 

Low VOC primer; pricey and hard to find October 10, 2008

Filed under: Green Rehab,Live Green 2.0,St Louis — budint @ 11:54 pm
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Post Written by my wife:

Well, it is about that time (the time when you think the house is almost finished, but the details stretch out forever.) Yes, we are trying to find low cost eco friendly primer do go over the dry-wall. Did you know that there was such a thing? Well, we are finding there is and there isn’t. My husband and I have been calling different paint manufacturers…Sherwin Williams, Kilz/Behr (part of Masterchem), Lowes, Home Depot, Ace Hardware…you name it and  we’ve called it. We have been searching for the rarest of paints in this  Low VOC Primer.

Yes, you might think this would be easy. It’s primer (which is simple) and low voc (which is pretty common now). But we have finally realized it is impossible. You can get Eco friendly/Low Voc paints as a primer, but you’re paying a stiff price for something like Sherwin-Williams Harmony or Benjamin Moore Aura.  Behr has a low VOC primer, but its not available in the state of Missouri. Why you ask? Because the state does not demand it AND there isn’t consumer demand for it. Sad but true. Not that I thought that we lived in California where they set their own enviromental standards for everything, but I at least thought we would be able to buy Behr’s product here.  So sad to say we will not be priming our walls with Low Voc. We do feel good that we have alternatives for our regular paint but our feeling kind of down about buying the crap stuff for the primer.   Btw, Sherwin Williams Harmony primer is 50% more than Behr’s crap stuff.  This equates to a $350 price difference for our project and that’s just on primer.  😦