Attempting to Live a Sustainable Lifestyle in St. Louis

Environmentally friendly decisions are tough

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.


Some Updates on the house September 3, 2008

Filed under: Green Rehab,Mechanical Systems — budint @ 3:02 am
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Electric: rough-in is almost complete and things are looking pretty good. Last week I bought 42 air tight canned lights (ouch on cost) and they’re all in place.  I have mixed feelings about canned lighting. Part of me says, easy to install, clean look, relatively inexpensive.

The other side says boring, wasteful since you require more lights because their effective range is limited and energy inefficient if you need these additional bulbs. In any case they’re in and I’m happy for that, plus they’re air tight which means that heated air can’t leak into the floor space.

Another small item is the wall heater in the master bathroom.  You might think this is a luxury, but it’s actually a great way to place heat in a very small location where you need it the most in the winter.  With this in place, we’ll be able to keep the house relatively cool, but not feel the arctic chill when coming out of the shower (which is my biggest annoyance.)

Other energy saving electric features come later.

Plumbing: rough-in is almost complete as you can see by the maze of PEX plumbing in the basement.  We already know that PEX is fabulous because it delivers water to the faucet more quickly (thus not having to waste water while waiting for it to heat), but combined w/ our home design of having all facilities on one side, we should be able to even more quickly get the hot water when we want it.

Speaking of hotwater, the tankless hotwater heater is also going in.  We ended up going w/ a Takagi TK-3 because of the great reviews online and because if you need to expand your capacity in the future, these units can be daisy chained together.  Its a gas unit because of the crazy, crazy requirement for electric tankless products (I basically would’ve needed a small nuke power plant in my basement to produce the electricity).  I’ll take some pics of all of this completed tomorrow.

More updates provided as they happen.


ERV still works, whewwww!!! June 29, 2008

Filed under: Mechanical Systems — budint @ 1:33 pm
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As mentioned at some point, we had some water issues on the project.  The water collected up so much in the basement that it had gotten into the ERV which i had been storing down there while waiting for install for awhile.

Now with the felt paper on the roof, we started cleaning out the basement and I took out the ERV so I could dry it out and test it.  I wasn’t optimistic about the outcome since the unit was very water logged, mainly the unit’s insulation was holding all of the water.

In any case, I put a fan on it for 2 days and then plugged it in.  Whala!! It cranked up and worked as intended.

The ERV still works


I broke down and bought the Energy Recovery Ventilator October 11, 2007

Filed under: Live Green 2.0,Mechanical Systems — budint @ 2:04 am
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 So I’ve been up in the air about this ERV (ventilator) for a while now.  In our current apartment I’m reminded daily about how much I hate the smells of last night’s dinner still floating through the air for days when the windows are sealed shut.

So, when the HVAC guy said that we would be under budget by $1k, I thought “ooh, let’s buy the ERV with that money and have him install it while he’s doing the other work.”  So no longer than it took me to get home, I jumped online and bought the Renewaire Breeze BR-70 from for $600.   They say it ships from Canada, so hope that happens soon because I know the HVAC guys have lots of time on their hands with this mild weather we just got.

In the end, I think I’ve made a smart decision about getting this ventilator.  I really do look forward to fresh air in my air tight house (you know what I mean).

As a side note, these guys are also installing my radiant heat flooring, so I’m hoping that they’re rock solid.


Cold feet, no more!!! Electric radiant has arrived. September 22, 2007

Filed under: Green Rehab,Live Green 2.0,Mechanical Systems — budint @ 2:37 pm

 Our 338 feet of electric radiant heating wire arrived today. We’re using this system to warm the large concrete slab which our addition will sit on and since we’re planning to keep the concrete exposed (no carpet or flooring, just polished concrete) we’ll need a way to neutralize the sense of living on an ice block in the winter. This system will be directly in the slab.

So why go with electric radiant flooring vs. hydronic vs. the standard forced air system? Well, we still have our forced air furnace to heat the air around us, but without the floor being heated we would need to run the furnace at a much higher temperature to compensate for a cold floor.

We went with electric because hydronic requires a pretty comprehensive (read:expensive) installation and since we are only looking to heat the slab and we’re in a pretty moderate climate, we chose the cheaper electric radiant.

Had this radiant system been a primary heat source or if we lived further north, then hydronic would be preferable do to it’s great operating efficiency and ability to keep the floor warmer for longer.

Electric radiant systems aren’t very efficient. Ours, when operating at 100% requires 1.75 kilowatts of electricity; that’s a ton!!  However, your electric furnace would require between 10-20 kilowatts.  So w/ these numbers you should heat your home w/ this radiant floor, but that can’t work because the heat is really only felt while standing on the slab, so you must use your furnace as well.  The idea is that the radiant system is used just enough to warm the concrete slab (running at maybe 75% output), then your furnace can keep your house at a lower air temperature (guessing maybe 65 degrees).

Pwr. Req. Amps Watts Cable Length
220/240 V. 7.6 1750 338

To sum it up: this system will keep your feet warm and thus allow you to lower the overall temp of your house.

About the radiant cabling system:

I ordered the system from out of Utah, but it was sent from PA, and when I received it, I can see it was manufactured in Norway. Thought that was interesting.
The brand of the cable is Nexans and comes from this Norwegian cable manufacturer.

The device is well packaged and comes w/ a thermostat. Instructions in 5 languages are also included.

Radiant Heat Wire

Stay tuned for how this turns out.


ERV (energy recovery ventilator), do I need one? August 31, 2007

Filed under: Green Rehab,Mechanical Systems — budint @ 8:28 pm

Can you see a salesman going door to door selling ERVs? That’d be entertaining.

An ERV or HRV (heat recovery ventilator) is about $750 for the equipment (which is a BR70 from Renewaire), then another couple hundred to install. So let’s just call it $1k.


Why: We’re building a super efficient home. As little air leakage as possible. And that’s a good thing. However, since the house is sealed tight, you’re breathing the same air, over and over again. Similar to being on an airplane, except with out the air purifier. Now this gets even worse when you add the scents and smells of cooking to your already stale air.

How: So the ERV attaches to your HVAC system and when running brings fresh air in from outdoors while removing the stale indoor air. Bringing fresh air in is a great idea, right? Kind of a no-brainer. The problem is when the outside temp is really hot or cold. You’d be bringing in that extreme temperature air and killing your energy bill.

Wallah!! This is what the energy recovery portion does. It has a fancy way of bringing in fresh air without bringing in the extreme climates outside, so that you’re not compromising your energy efficient home. See fancy video on Renewaire’s site.

So the big question is, do I drop the $1000 and have this thing installed during the project, or do I take my chances with stale air?