Building Performance with Intention

I just finished a fantastic week at the ACI conference in Austin!! Affordable Comfort, Inc., founded in 1986, is an organization whose mission is to advance the performance of residential buildings through unbiased education. They bring conferences and seminars to places across the country and we were lucky enough to host them this year!

During this phenomenal conference last week I attended 12 seminars, all with deep subject matter and relevance to building science. One seminar, presented by 2 women from New Orleans who have developed a “wash and wear” home they call Green Dream. A home that can be washed, dried out and moved into after a severe flood like the aftermath of hurricane Katrina.

Another seminar was by a woman from Germany who developed “Passive House”, a concept of building a comfortable home that does not need mechanical heating and cooling.

Another about deep energy retrofits; reducing energy consumption in existing homes by 70-90% and challenging North American homeowners to retrofit thier homes in the 1000 Home Challenge as prototypes for others to follow.

You can see this is not about solar panels and rain water collection. There is not a “one size fits all” green building answer to each individual home, budget or family. However, we can go back to the basics and put this simple prescriptive scope into place:

Design – a proper design positioned correctly to solar orientation and with a modest square footage (meaning not 4000 heated square feet!) These free design basics make more difference than money spent on green building materials and devices.

Air sealing – the type of material used is not as important as applying a complete seal to create a tight house. An experienced air sealing professional will know where all of the tricky spots are, every gap is not obvious and every gap must be sealed. Using SIPs , ICF and spray foam insulation can make this process simpler.

Insulation – again, the type of material not as important as the need for a total fill application at the outside envelope of the home. Batt insulation is capable of a total fill application but not as likely because a proper installation is not very simple or common. Blown in cellulose or blown fiber glass will give you a total fill at a good price. Spray foam, while more expensive, will give you a total fill plus provide the air barrier needed. For our climate, insulation must be installed not at the ceiling but at the rafters, creating a sealed attic.

Mechanicals – the type is not as important as the proper sizing and quality of installation. A Manual J is critical in proper sizing of your heating and cooling. With out it, your contractor is guessing and will likely guess high rather than low. This means your system will short cycle costing you money and comfort. Factor in great design, air sealing and insulation; you will likely need much less tonnage than you would think.

Air quality – Can a home be too tight? The answer is no! A tight home is best because instead of having air forced in from dusty attics and floor crevices through air leaks in the envelope we are controlling the air exchanged either by mechanical or passive means. We choose the source of fresh air.

Now we have an incredible, energy efficient green home!! But, even with this quality green design and construction we still have big energy thieves in our home. Three of the biggest are:

Thief #1 – Thermal bridging
Thermal bridging is any variation in the thermal envelope such as windows, unsealed vents or conductive material. Quality, smartly placed windows, good air sealing and insulation will help. What’s left is the building materials them selves, the studs and the slab. In conventional framing, the wood studs and roof framing at R-2 create gaps in the insulation and will conduct heat through the thermal envelope: Thermal Bridging! There are many extreme ways to combat thermal bridging but the most reasonable I have found is to wrap your exterior walls with rigid foam board insulation. This breaks the thermal bridge except for the screws. Insulate the bottom and sides of your slab with Extruded Poly Styrene.

Thief #2 – Phantom load
When you have an appliance or devise plugged in, even when not in use it can still draw power from the outlet. This extra load can be huge, up to 25% in a conventional home, 50% or more in a green home!!! You can use your electric meter to experiment with how much power a device is drawing by taking a reading, then unplugging the device and reading the difference. You can also buy a Kill-A-Watt device to save you a few steps. One of the simplest things to do is use a power strip in each room to “detach” several devices from the power source. Turn off the power strip when leaving the room.

Thief #3 – YOU!
We are the bad guys and if we have sloppy green living habits, we can make a negative impact on our energy bill and the environment. The things that make a difference are obvious: thermostat settings, CFL’s vs. incandescent bulbs, how many computers are plugged in and left running, improperly maintained equipment, using old or inefficient appliances etc…

Here is case study of 11 identical Habitat for Humanity homes in a row with identical orientation, all built with some sustainable features and with solar. The only variation is the people living inside. The difference in energy bill goes from -$40.00 up to $1200.00 per year! WOW, what an enlightening picture!

We can do more good (or bad) than we realize. Clearly YOU can make a difference!!!

Finally, do not think of solar first! This is one of the final elements to install on your home but you must do the proper design and construction or retrofit first. How much PV do you want to buy to compensate for a leaky house, poor insulation and sloppy green living? Building science first, cool green gadgets second!

The Magical Power of Electricity!!

Admit it. Whether or not you know how your home gets power, we all take for granted that we flip a switch and like magic, we get light! So, I consulted my brother and electrical engineer, Sean Jurica, to help us become more aware and appreciative of the power that magically appears in our homes. With a back ground in utility engineering, energy management and conservation, Sean can help to put some facts behind the magic of electricity.

In general, there are 3 kinds of utilities that provide power to cities. Municipal, which is city or government operated, like in Austin Energy, Electric Co-Operatives, where the people who use the power own the utility company like the Perdernales Co-op, and Public, like Oncor in Round Rock which is just a regular business providing power to customers.

Utility companies typically get their power from coal and natural gas fired power plants, nuclear power plants and renewable energy like wind and solar. Austin Energy powers us with natural gas, coal, nuclear, wind and methane from landfills. By 2012, the city should be up to 18% renewable energy sources with a contract to purchase power from a wood waste fuel plant. Austin Energy’s goal is that by 2020, we will be powered by 30% renewable energy.

Did you know that by the time power reaches our light bulb, 70-90% of the power originally generated at the source is lost? Here is a great diagram showing how the power is lost as it travels from the source to the point of use.


In the coming years we can expect to see more renewable sources of energy such as the effects from the big surge in wind power. A typical wind farm connects hundreds of turbines through a collector system to a substation which then ships power on a transmission line. Wind power is fairly predictable but energy may be generated at times opposite of when people usually use it. Solar is a viable source of power. Though typically more expensive at the utility level than other sources, solar coincides a little better with our usage patterns. It is predictable and once installed it is fairly stable in price. At the residential level, when rolled into a mortgage or home improvement loan, solar power can be cheaper than purchased power – especially with current tax credits and utility rebates.

Large solar farms are sprouting up with “concentrating solar” becoming the norm. Concentrating solar focuses the suns energy on a focal point or a focal line to increase temperature and decrease expense. A solar trough works with a long parabolic mirror focusing the suns energy on a pipe with water. As the pipe heats up, it makes steam, as opposed to hot water with a typical residential solar water heater. Another technology for concentrating solar is a solar tower which uses a large field of mirrors to focus the sun on a central tower. One more method uses a giant dish to focus the sun on a point to drive an engine. On a large scale, this type of solar power is much more efficient that the photovoltaic panels in residential use.

We can also expect to see rate changes for high usage times. Time-of-use rates are currently the norm for large consumers of power such as HEB. The most common time-of-use rate is KW demand rate where the demand price is higher during peak hours, typically summer weekdays from about 1 to 8pm. This coincides with the peak time of day is usually between 3-7pm when the heat from thermal mass is the highest and more people are using power. About a decade ago, Sean helped about 20 large clients better utilize time-of-use rates. This resulted in the clients and the utilities saving over $1,000,000 in a hot, generation constrained summer. Metering technology has advanced significantly and time-of-use rates are available at the residential level in some areas of the state. If only we could expect to save a million dollars at home!

The best way to save money on power both at home and at the utility level is to find ways to use less electricity. This is why states and utility companies give rebates for high efficiency appliances and alternative power sources at the residential level.

Sean went on to describe codes in place for our safely at the residential level. There are new codes in place for remodeling and new construction that require ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) and arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCI). A GFCI protects people from shock or electrocution. In basic terms, it looks at the current coming into a circuit and the current leaving a circuit. If they don’t match, the device will trip. GFCI outlets are typically required in bathrooms and other wet locations.

Arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCI) are required in bedrooms. An AFCI can detect arcing in an electrical circuit. Arcing occurs when electricity “jumps” across air. This is hazardous because of the heat generated when an arc occurs. In the home, an arc usually indicates wires that are not connected properly.

Another truth to the magic is that all things need maintenance and regular observation. Sean says that you should check all outlets regularly for loose or damaged looking plugs. Cords that are kinked or frayed could cause a fire and should be replaced. Electricity behaves like water. If there is a kink like in garden hose, the flow is stopped which can cause a fire.

Thank you Sean for your expertise!

Electrical maintenance and safety Tips!

I welcome inspirations and tips from your home to put into future newsletters. Email them to me; Cammi Klier. Thanks!!

Sean says the most important thing you can do for electrical safety is to let the utility company know if you see a wire dangling or on the ground. A wire on the ground is likely live and may be energized at 12,000 volts or more; 100 times more voltage than in your home. A dangling wire may be even more dangerous if it is low enough to touch or come in contact with. Do not go near a wire that is out of place, call the utility company!

The February 2010 issue of Texas Co-Op Power, the magazine of the Perdernales Co-Op printed a short article about electricity safety.
“Routinely check outlets, appliances and wiring and replace warn or damaged cords.
Be aware of danger signs and identify potential electrical hazards in your home.
– reoccurring issues with blown fuses or tripped circuit breakers.
– flickering or dimming lights
– a persistent burning smell coming from an appliance, room or area.
– the warming or discoloration of outlets, or sparks from an outlet.
– a tingling sensation when you touch an electrical appliance or other metal objects.”
Visit for more electrical fire safety information.

Manage your Energy

Today we are ever improving our methods of building better green structures and building green is becoming more main-stream. In the near future, we can fuel our homes and cars on mostly or only clean and renewable energy. This is exciting and very important but it is just not enough. Living green is such an important factor in the equation. Whether you are building, remodeling or neither; the way you live has a direct impact on the environment, your energy usage and your pocket book.

Most Austinites are savvy to recycling, using compact fluorescent light bulbs and such but let’s take this a step further. The energy usage in your home can be categorized into heating and cooling, lighting and appliances. The types of systems, fixtures and appliances we use and how attentive we are to maintaining them and turning them off when not in use can certainly make a difference in our energy consumption.

Using a home energy management system, “smart panel” or “smart grid” can be essential in monitoring and managing how you use energy in your home. If you know how much, where and when you are using energy, imagine how powerful that can be. It is like the newer vehicles that have gauges that show your miles per gallon as you are driving. It makes you realize that you can let off the gas pedal and coast a little more often. Knowledge = Power!

Scott Moser, a System Designer with F2 Technologies LLC, shared some information about the products and services that his company offers. F2 Technologies is local electronic systems and low voltage contractor. In years past they focused their services in the media and entertainment industry installing in home media systems in high end homes. As they have evolved into the sustainable industry, they offer the Home Energy Manager (HEM) to homeowners with a wider range of budgets.

The HEM, once installed, can manage your HVAC, lighting and outlets, appliances and irrigation as well as a host of entertainment and media features in the home. The HEM can track your energy usage in real time to help you see where and when you are using power. It can learn your living habits to turn on and off systems as you are accustomed to using them. It can also be controled remotely by connecting through the internet.

In my Solar Power – Change is Good newsletter, I wrote about a device called “Kill-a-watt” that can help you find your phantom load. You plug it into the outlet then plug your appliance into it to show the amount of power you are drawing whether or not the appliance is even turned on. Again, this knowledge is powerful because the typical home phantom load is about 25% !! But then what? You know all these things you have plugged in are costing you money, but how inconvenient will it be to plug and unplug each device each time you use it? Will each member of your family be dedicated enough to do that? I think this is where the HEM can offer the biggest payback. It can be set to control power to each outlet in your home. In a bedroom, for example, where the alarm clock and phone base are the only things that really need power 100% of the time, outlets that other appliances are plugged into can be turned off so they do not draw power at all until you walk into the room or when you have programmed them to. The HEM can also control the amount of power to a fixture or outlet. Lighting can have 90% power and still be operational and you wouldn’t notice the difference. A 10% savings is one that will add up over time.

There are many great advantages of a home energy management system. For a moderate sized home of about 2000 s.f., a full HEM system controlling your HVAC, lighting and outlets, appliances and irrigation will cost roughly $2000 installed. A good starter system controlling HVAC, and most lighting and outlets can be under $1000. Your energy savings averages 15% which for some of us can be as much as $500.00 a year!

Please give Scott Moser at F2 Technologies a call at 512.551.8601 or email him at

Green Living Tips!

I welcome inspirations from your home to put into future newsletters. Email them to me; Cammi Klier. Thanks!!

Have you cleaned out your garage lately?? I’ll bet you have some old paint cans, aerosol cans and other hazardous chemicals that you don’t need. You probably have some used batteries in there as well. Pile them into your car and take a quick drive to the City of Austin Solid Waste Services Household Hazardous Waste Facility just East of I-35 near Ben White and Todd Lane. I dropped off my garage waste a few weeks ago and it was very convenient. They are set up with several drive-through lanes and many smiling faces. I was there for less than a minute and a helpful person unloaded all of the things out of the back of my car, told me a funny joke and I was on my way!! I am not sure if the joke is necessarily part of their standard operation but it was a nice bonus! Please pay them a visit!

Disposable and rechargeable batteries, used compact fluorescent bulbs and old mobile phones can be taken to any Home Depot for recycling.

ALSO…visit the Hornsby Bend Bird Observatory in the coming months for their high season! It is located near Austin, Texas at the Austin Water Utility’s Hornsby Bend Biosolids Management Plant. The water activity at the plant attracts migrating birds and it is a fascinating place to visit.

Solar Power – Change is Good!

The City of Austin has had one of the most aggressive solar rebate programs in the nation up until recently. In 2008, the city received about 150 solar rebate applications, but in 2009 that number was tripled in just the first 3 quarters. This is more than the available budget so the rebate program is being revised to be more in line with decreasing solar costs and greater federal tax incentives.

Austin’s rebate program, which began in 2004, lead to 20 new solar installers and helped fund more than 900 roof top installations. So, why would Popular Mechanics Magazine, November 2009 issue, say that Austin is behind in solar innovations?

Lloyd Lee of Hill Country Ecopower has insight into this question. The energy costs in Texas are lower at .10 per KWH than 1.5 – 2 times that in other parts of the country. Therefore, we are not as motivated to go with renewable energy. While San Antonio, Dallas and Houston now have solar rebate programs, 90% of Texas’s solar installations are in Austin because of the rebate. Since Texas is behind many other states in terms of a statewide rebate program, Texans must rely on their local electrical utility’s level of motivation to offset energy production through a solar rebate program.

The change in the rebates may lead to another option to replace the existing program such as House Bill 1937. This bill relates to the voluntary assessment of property owners by a municipality to finance certain energy conservation improvements. HB 1937 is essentially a municipal loan program that enables homeowners to receive solar installations with no up front expense and pay this loan back via an increase in their property taxes. The amount of the property tax premium is expected to be equal to the annual energy savings recognized by the solar installation.

With the Austin rebates changing, installers will survive by being competitive and diverse. Lower cost equipment and new manufactures and technologies are on the horizon for better ways of getting solar power. Lloyd and other solar installers are in discussions with Austin Energy to help guide the direction of the solar rebate program. The goal of the solar rebate program is to provide enough assistance to make solar affordable for the largest number of people. The key is finding the correct motivating rebate amount which accounts for fluctuations in solar equipment pricing, conventional energy rate increases, and other financial factors. Contact Lloyd at to find out more about his company’s options for energy in your home.

In looking at other options, understanding the science is helpful. The photovoltaic process works by converting the photons in sunlight into electricity with a semiconductor, similar to those found in our computers and mobile phones, in the photo cell.

In conventional panels, the semiconductor is made with silicon but in some newer technologies, the semiconductor is made with gallium arsenide or copper indium gallium diselenide which can be made into thinner more flexible modules. These thin film modules are gaining popularity because they are cheaper to produce, more durable and less bulky than the conventional solar panels.

One advantage is that the installed angle of film in relationship to the sun angle is not important like in silicon panels for maximum efficiency and if part of a film module is shaded it does not affect the efficiency of the entire module.

At this time the technical process of film is slightly less efficient in power generation than panels, but factor in the other advantages, film is becoming a better way to collect solar energy.

Green Living Tips!

I welcome inspirations from your home to put into future newsletters. Email them to me; Cammi Klier. Thanks!!

Have you heard of “phantom load”? When you have an appliance or devise plugged in but not turned on, it can still draw power from the outlet. Yes, your clock radio and microwave have a clock so those will draw some power but I am talking about hair dryers and lamps not in use! In some cases, the devise can draw as much power as if it was turned on. Invest in an Electricity Usage Monitor to find out how much power you are using. “Kill-a-watt” is a brand name that you can find at Fry’s or on line at Amazon.

This would make a great Christmas gift for your family and share it with others when you are done!!

Choices – SIPs Building Systems

Structural Insulated Panels (SIP) are a great high performance framing product to build the thermal shell of a home and have gained popularity throughout the world because of their superior characteristics. SIPs have some competition in other types of wall systems like Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF) with their biggest competition being conventionally framed homes with dimensional lumber. With respect to competitive wall systems, SIP can offer an efficient integration with the roof design to provide a complete thermal solution. For our region there are some really good reasons to consider SIP for your next construction project.

In hot humid climates like Central Texas it is important to have a sealed building envelope, so good insulation and keeping moisture out are big hot buttons. Travis Santi, the Design Supervisor of EH Systems in New Braunfels, Texas shared some advantages of SIPs over conventionally framed homes in 3 main categories; Energy Efficiency, Structural Integrity, and Time Savings.

Energy Efficiency

– SIPs have 13 times less air infiltration than conventional stick framing and batt insulation, according to an Oakridge National Labs study of a SIP house vs. an identically designed stick house.

– Air infiltration is drastically reduced compared to batt insulation because of the solid EPS core of insulation in the wall cavity, and expanding foam sealer used at all connections. Once you factor in thermal bridging from wood studs and leaks from no air barrier, you start to wonder why we haven’t converted to SIP earlier.

– The whole wall R-value of 4 ½” SIP wall is R-14, compared to the whole wall R-value of a 2×6 conventionally framed wall of R-11-13, depending on the attention to detail of framing and insulation.

– Your A/C system load design will be reduced substantially – up to 50% of what is needed for the conventionally framed home. With this savings, purchase an ERV and/or dehumidifier to pretreat the air. The indoor air quality will be significantly better because the incoming air is filtered and preconditioned by the equipment.

Structural Integrity

– SIP have superior strength, they can span farther, soar higher, and support more load than conventionally framed walls and roof systems. The in-plane shear strength of a SIP wall is 380 PLF which is twice that of a stick framed wall with wind bracing. An 8’ tall SIP wall 4 ½” thick can support 3,700 PLF of axial load. Also, an 8 ¼” roof panel with average load can span 16’, while the 10 ¼” roof panel can span 18’ horizontally.

– The uniformly spread load of SIP shell eliminates the need for window and door headers up to a 10’ wide opening in most cases.

– SIP are more resistant to mold, mildew, and fire than stick framing.

– SIP are very durable and long lasting through quality control of the lamination process.

Time Savings

– The framing, sheathing, caulking, air barrier and insulation are done in one step greatly reducing construction time and the number of trades on the jobsite.

– The walls and roof systems are pre engineered and pre-cut, so there is a 45-55% savings in time as compared to conventional framing, according to RSMeans Estimating. The framers put the pieces together like a big puzzle with instructions.

– SIP are installed with normal wood framing tools and special screws and foams are supplied by the manufacturer. The only additional cutting that is necessary is for the plates which are also supplied by the manufacturer.

– SIP reduce jobsite waste because all the panels come precut from the manufacturer.

EH Systems is the highest quality manufacturer of SIPs in Texas. EHS has their own nationally recognized code report and SIPs have also been incorporated into the 2006 IRC in section R614. EHS is also 1 of 2 companies in the country with a TDI report; Texas Department of Insurance criteria for use in designated catastrophe areas along the Texas Gulf Coast. They are the only SIP manufacturer in Texas with these credentials.

EHS will assign a builder service representative for your job to do onsite training and advisory. EHS has a 10 year warranty on materials. Typically, there is a cost premium on SIP, but as energy costs keep increasing, your return on investment time decrease. Current return on investment times is 2-4 years through reduced energy bills, not to mention all the other benefits you will enjoy in the mean time.

Travis says that since SIP are sold by the square footage of surface area, the design is critical in order to add value. Your home can be designed in a SIP friendly way to increase the material efficiency of the SIP package. This can affect the costs for your SIP package by up to 40%. By keeping your roof simple and maximizing panel sizes, spans, plate heights your total cost can be competitive with stick framing and much less than ICF.

Travis would like to refer contact to Allen Scarborough at EHS who can provide estimates and value engineering of your design. He can be contacted at 210-287-2205,

Open or Closed?

There is so much confidence in spray foam insulation that there is not much need for convincing. More people are realizing the short and long term benefits of using spray foam in their homes. But the question remains, open cell or closed for Central Texas?

My theory based upon my knowledge is that closed cell probably acts more as a vapor barrier because it is more dense than open cell. Since a vapor barrier is not recommended in our region I reasoned that the air barrier properties of the open cell would be preferred.

My own theories on the subject are fine but to really know what is best, I wanted to find a very knowledgeable person who has worked with foam long enough to know it’s properties and how it behaves. Kurt DeRuiter of DeRuiter Insulation Inc was both knowledgeable and kind to spend some time with me on the subject. In 2001, Kurt was instrumental in helping the city establish the code of certain applications of insulation by helping them understand the properties of foam versus other types.

Kurt first explained the properties of open cell and closed cell foam. Open cell foam has water as a blowing agent which creates small open balls, like whiffle balls with holes, in the foam. The cured foam has holes shaped like those in a sponge which create an air barrier and a higher perm rating of 3.6. Water can pass through open cell foam but air does not blow through it.

Closed cell foam has a blowing agent that is made of inert gas. The inert gas is encapsulated by urethane and the result is layers upon layers of tiny gas filled bubbles. Contrary to my theory, this makes it more of a vapor retarder not a vapor barrier. For a product to be classified as a vapor barrier it would have a perm rating of .006 and 1” thick of closed cell foam has a perm rating of 1.0.

In Kurt’s opinion, the open cell foam is the best for Central Texas in most applications. The main reason is that the cost comparison between 1” thick of closed is about 4-5 times more costly than 1″ of open. The R-value of 1” open cell is R3.8 and 1” closed cell is R7 so you get more R-value for your money with open cell.

Another reason for using open cell vs. closed cell, especially in a roof system is that since close cell would permeate very little to no water, you could have a roof leak for years that you would not know about until there was extensive damage. With an open cell application, the water would permeate through and the leak would be found quickly.

There are great uses for closed cell in wine cellars and in crawl spaces. With closed cell, you would be keeping in or keeping out the moisture with the vapor retarder.

The advantages of spray foam insulation are great and the most obvious one that bears repeating is the supreme insulating qualities. In a typical attic, temperatures can reach 145 degrees with ducts running through at 60 degrees. This is a 85 degree difference in temperature and is quite inefficient for cooling. In both the summer and winter, most of the conditioned heat or cooling loss is in the roof. With an open cell foam roof and sealed attic, the temperature of the attic is within 14 degrees of the heated and cooled space. What a difference!

I am so pleased to know that my theory was not too far off target; thank you Kurt for sharing your valuable knowledge of spray foam insulation.

Green Living Tips!

I welcome inspirations from your home to put into future newsletters. Email them to me; Cammi Klier. Thanks!!

This bit of green living encouragement comes straight from the Renewable Energy Roundup that was held in Fredericksburg this past weekend. I saw many people walking around with their own water containers and very few plastic water bottles. This was a very green inspired group of people! The stainless steel container can be found almost anywhere and comes in so many options with belt loop holders or flip top lids. Go buy one for your self before you buy another plastic bottle of water!

Beyond the 3 R’s

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle are the 3 R’s of the environment. But lately I have been hearing other words to add to it: Rethink, Redesign, Redefine, Repair…can you think of more?

Simply reduce what you buy and what you use. So often, I am designing homes more for the peoples stuff and not as much for the people. The square footage is always so much less when people are realistic about what they need surrounding them. Think about what you really need. Maybe someone else could use that “thing-a-ma-bob” that you haven’t used in more than a year. Reduce the amount of square footage in your home and you will reduce your construction and operating expenses and you will reduce the impact on the environment.

When you buy fast food, do you find your self throwing away more volume in packaging than you have in food? Try to find food vendors who reduce the amount of packaging used. Also, throw away packaging on site so the restaurant can experience their own trash volume and hopefully rethink the way they are packaging their food.

Also a simple concept. Buy reused when you have an opportunity to buy and reuse what you already have. We saved about $30 on school supplies this year by looking around the house for everything we needed. Next time you need building supplies, furniture, clothing, automobiles etc. search the locale resale shops or Craig’s list before you buy new. There is an extraordinary great supply of quality used items for sale everywhere. This reduces our dependence on raw materials.

We are really good at donating to Good-Will, but are we as good at buying from them? Check out their stores next time you need a new kitchen gadget, children’s book or gift.

Austinites are doing a fantastic job of recycling. The single stream recycling that began last year increased our participation in recycling from about 60% to about 95%. The downside, at least at this time, is that in the state of our economy there is less revenue from recycled materials. This will change as our economy improves. To help on a personal level, make sure you buy products with recycled content or packaged with recycled materials.

Recycling Styrofoam is not very practical because of it’s limited uses. Be sure to keep it out of your single stream recycling bins, even the foam food boxes that have the recycling symbol. All those little bits of light foam get mixed in with the paper and can ruin a large supply of recycled paper. The best option is to try to avoid Styrofoam products like food packaging and packing materials. If you have any Styrofoam packaging to recycle, we are lucky to have one of the few Styrofoam recyclers in the nation right here in Austin. Cycled Plastics, located near the corner of Burnet Road and Rutland, recycles Styrofoam and most other types of plastics. Please call 512-339-8787 before dropping anything off to make sure that you have the right kind of Styrofoam.

Here is a comprehensive list of where to recycle most everything you can think of!! Ecology Action: Recycling Resources

Recycling glass is a huge benefit to reducing the need for raw materials. But sometimes saving something from being recycled is an even bigger benefit. Wouldn’t it be cool if we saw vendors at our local farmers market using all shapes and sizes of glass jars reused from jellies and condiments? In fact, I think that would catch our eye; what a conversation piece for those vendors. Hmmmm…

Remember when you couldn’t get out of Target for less than $100? Did you really need all that stuff? I love Target, but they are so great at marketing inside their store. They have fresh, trendy merchandise that is affordable. Rethink: Do I really need this? Do I already have one? Can I get this used somewhere? Can I make one out of stuff I already have?

Next time you have a party, ask your guests to bring their food storage containers with missing lids or bottoms. Maybe there is a match out there somewhere???

When designing your new home or remodel addition, plan spaces on your site for city or county trash and recycling bins and for onsite composting. In side your home, plan for trash and recycling bins to make it most convenient to dispose of waste properly.

Homeowners and builders need to redesign the way construction waste is managed. To save money in dump fees, construction waste should be reused on site, saved for the next job, recycled or sold to another builder.

Have you thought, “I would rather chuck this broken thing and just go buy a new one.” But this economy has forced us to rethink our old habits. Certainly repairing a broken item can be more time consuming than shopping for new, but the value or repairing is much greater than the thing it self.

In remodel construction, the flow of demolition materials should be: What materials can be reused on site –> what materials can be reused by someone else –> what materials can be recycled –> the remaining materials are trash.

In construction both new and remodel, there are phases of construction to pay attention to. For example in the framing stage, what lumber is being thrown into your dumpster? Get it all out and redefine the value of each piece to your builder. Efficient framing can leave very little lumber unused on site to reuse later for another small project or chipped into mulch. In the finish stages, there are appliances, windows, hardware and other items that are shipped in boxes that should be folded flat and recycled. Look at Austin Energy Green Building to help your builder redefine their construction waste management practices. Sustainable Building Sourcebook: Construction Waste Management

Zero Waste
For the city’s initiative to get to Zero Waste or as close as possible by 2040, we need to start changing habits on a personal level now. The waste industry is rethinking every facet of waste management. From removing carbon from the atmosphere by making Biochar; using methane gas released from land fills as fuel and making biodiesel out of brown and yellow grease from waste water, engineers and scientists have their rethinking caps on. To support this effort, visit these websites and take a fascinating tour at Austin Water Utility’s Hornsby Bend Biosolids Management Plant and enjoy the best bird watching sites in Texas. Enjoy!!

Zero Waste International Alliance
Grass Roots Recycling Network
Zero Waste Alliance
Austin’s Future: Zero Waste
Biochar by Wikipedia
Hornsby Bend Bird Observatory

An enormous thank you to Jessica King, with COA Solid Waste Services and
David Greene, P.E., with Austin’s Water Utility whose expertise presented at the Austin Energy Green Building seminar gave inspiration for this newsletter.

Green Living Tips!

I welcome inspirations from your home to put into future newsletters. Email them to me; Cammi Klier. Thanks!!

Letting your grass grow long in times of drought will increase its drought tolerance. Also, understand the dormant period for your type of grass. Some varieties can go up to 4-6 weeks with out water but the typical sleeping lawn needs about 1/2″ of water every 2-3 weeks.

Radiant Barrier – Either Here or There

A roof radiant barrier has been the industry standard for a number of years in residential construction in keeping an attic cool in hot climates. This is done by applying a low emissive foil to the bottom of the rafters in a ventilated attic. More recently, we have been sealing our attics and applying spray foam insulation at the bottom of the rafters for an even cooler attic. This is a highly effective solution to cooling attics in our climate as long as the radiant barrier is adjacent to an air space. Applying any type of insulation so that it is in contact with the bottom of the radiant barrier renders it ineffective. The insulation must not touch the radiant barrier in order for it to reflect radiant heat properly.

A radiant barrier is a material with low emissivity combined with an air space to block or reflect radiant heat gain in a home rather than absorbing it. A material with low emissivity is one that does not absorb heat, such as aluminum foil. Radiant heat, such as heat from the sun, is transmitted through space rather than conducting heat through contact with another medium.

This is why the air space is so important. The radiant barrier blocks the radiant heat as it is traveling through space. If there is contact, then the heat will continue through the foil rather than be blocked, nullifying the effects of the foil. When radiant heat is absorbed by a material, heat then moves through conduction. If radiant heat is not allowed to be absorbed then conduction is greatly reduced. The air space prevents the conduction of heat while the foil reflects the radiant heat.

A better application of a sealed attic is to create an air space between the insulation and the radiant barrier. This can be done by using baffles to create the air space or by using a metal roof installed on furring strips creating the air space. In the case of the metal roof, the metal acts as the radiant barrier.

Some people have built with spray foam insulation and a radiant barrier foil without leaving an air space. The cost of creating the air space can be a deterrent because there may be more labor and more materials involved. While the radiant barrier is ineffective, the results are still good as compared to a conventional vented attic. When using a composition roof in this application, there is no point in applying the foil if it will be in contact with insulation.

However, the metal roof is a far better choice of a roofing material than composition and the air space cost nothing extra. By choosing metal and a sealed attic, you are creating the best possible application for your home.

Green Living Tips!

I welcome inspirations from your home to put into future newsletters. Email them to me; Cammi Klier. Thanks!!

If you happened to have an unfinished beer (maybe some people don’t have that problem), sprinkle it over your compost pile and turn it over to give a boost to the micro organisms. A beer can also be flushed into a septic system for the same micro organism boost.

Case Study – Rain Screen

It is increasingly important to correct energy problems in older homes. In many cases, correcting insulation in the roof, upgrading mechanical systems and weather stripping in doors is simple. These are the most typical corrections to make. But in some cases there might be a glitch that makes it difficult.

Here is a case study of a home in Elgin. This is a small low end track home on several beautiful acres. There are plenty of trees on the lot, but no significant shade over the house. The couple had recently remodeled the interior of the home with expectations of selling, but then changed their mind and decided to sell their home in Austin and live in Elgin. The home also had very poor wall and roof insulation. The wall insulation was expected to only be about R-9.

The couple plans were to add square footage on the North side of the home, add an outdoor living patio on the East side and a front porch on the South side. With much of the roof structure remaining in tact and with the additional square footage, we specified open cell spray foam in the rafters of the roof system to handle the insulation problem in the attic. We also specified a metal roof to give the look they wanted with the added green advantage of lower energy usage that metal gives.

The walls were a more difficult challenge. With the newly remodeled interior, we didn’t want to remove sheet rock on the inside of the home to reinsulate the walls. On the East side and much of the South side, the patio cover was to give us the extra protection to the walls, but with the new North side addition, we had a long West wall with no protection. Extending overhangs gave us a little help, but we really needed more protection. The only way to correct the problem was to go into the walls from the outside, but to remove everything including the wall insulation was cost prohibitive.

We specified to remove the old siding down to the plywood sheathing and add a layer of rigid foam insulation to the outside, then a house wrap over that. With this ridid foam insulation, you can get anywhere from an R-2 to R-10 depending on the thickness of the material.

On top of that, we detailed a rain screen for extra protection. A rain screen has airspace between the house wrap and the siding. The purpose for the air space is to keep the house wrap dry, preventing capillary action from wicking water up into the wall that can sometimes happen when it rains. This also allows water from either rain or condensation to drip down out of the wall. The other purpose is to create an air flow not only for drying but cooling the wall. This is done simply with furring strips and a screen to keep pest out of the wall space. The space at the bottom and top of the siding allow for the air flow.

This detail gave us the added protection of air flow and “shade” on the long west wall and made up for the less than standard existing insulation. It is such an easy detail that we specified it on all 4 sides on both new and old walls.

Let us try it out on your house!

Green Living Tips!

I welcome inspirations from your home to put into future newsletters. Email them to me; Cammi Klier. Thanks!!

If you don’t have a grey water collection system in your home, but your dry grass is driving you crazy, buy a simple pond pump, some as low as $11.00 at Pondepot. Pump your bath water onto your thirsty grass after a 107 degree Austin day!

Green your Home

If you have been following my newsletters regularly, you will know that each month we feature a great product, service or idea. This month, it is time to toot our own horn! So far, 2009 has been quite an unusual year and in this economy we have found it very easy to become even more green. We are proud to offer 2 new services for our clients.

1.) Energy Modeling: With this technology and with certain facts about your home such as north south orientation, building square footage and size of the building envelope, mechanical systems, window sizes and locations, insulation, etc, we can predict the energy usage of your home, based on your local utility rates.

Using house plans we design for you, or with plans you already have, we input the necessary data to show you the various cost-savings options for your particular house design. Which HVAC system do you need? What type of insulation is the most cost-effective? What type of water heater should you invest in—tank or tankless? Should you do solar water and/or Solar PV?

In order to “Green” a home in the most cost-effective manner, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution for every house. Using our Energy Modeling technology, we can help you make critical decisions without guessing. We work with you to determine what to change in your home to make it more energy-efficient or even Zero-Energy!

This technology can be done for any construction project whether it new construction or remodel addition. It can even be done on an existing home if you are planning on a major energy renovation by replacing any or all insulation, mechanicals, ducts, roofing or adding additional shading on sunny windows.

2.) 3-D Modeling: This new service is not as green as the first, but it compliments it beautifully. 3-D Modeling is a wonderful way to see your home while still in the design stage of planning your home. To see a home this way will help to identify not only the look and feel, but potential problem areas that are difficult for a homeowner to see. This technique helps to reduce the cost of adjustments in the field during construction.

With 3-D Modeling, a client can even see changes made to the design, in real time, during a design consultation! As a result, our design process becomes even more of a “conversation,” with all participants being able to easily visualize the options we are discussing at the meeting. The 3-D Model, also serves a basis for the data we would need for Energy Modeling, so when these services are used together on the same project, the costs to the homeowner are greatly reduced.

It is exciting to see how this kind of technology can make it easier to be green. Let us try it out on your house!

Green Living Tips!

I welcome inspirations from your home to put into future newsletters. Email them to me; Cammi Klier. Thanks!!

I recently tried a new natural bathtub cleaner. My kids play hard and they are dirty, so the bathtub usually needs more than a one time per week cleaning. This product called Green Works Natural Bathtub Cleaner by Clorox is made with filtered water, a coconut based cleaning agent, citric acid and essential oil for fragrance. There is no bleach or phosphorus. It cut through soap scum like nothing else I have used. Let me know what you use in your bathtub!