Tuesday, July 20, 2010

New Building Materials Called Into Question

The Madison Fire department recently called into questions new building materials saying they can accelerate fire damage after a fire on the far East Side of Madison. See this recent article in the Wisconsin State Journal.

The loss of property is always tragic. Thankfully, in this new home built to modern standards, there was no loss of life.

Thanks to modern construction materials, building products perform better than ever. We no longer log old growth forests to get 2x12's like we did in the 1960's. We build stronger and greener using trees created for the purpose of engineered building materials. Clients actually get a stronger, better performing home thanks to modern materials.

Besides, this is a green building practice to farm & harvest materials in our own part of the country as opposed to logging old-growth forests in the pacific northwest and Canada to get the big 2x12 joists, which can still burn!

When it comes to life safety, homes built since the Uniform Dwelling Code was implemented in 1978 all have smoke detectors. They are now required to be interconnected so they all sound no matter where one goes off. The deaths from fires occur in old homes and old multi-family buildings. New homes are safer than ever thanks to fire blocking, smoke detectors, fire doors to the garage, etc.

I wonder if ALL the smoke detectors in this house were working? And, what was stored in the basement that was the source of this fire? The building alone could not have caused the fuel for this fire. Something else had to fuel it to cause that much destruction.

There is so much missing from this story that we don't yet know. I look forward to a full report after the cause of the fire is determined. Unfortunately, almost a month later I have seen no follow-up and limited discussion.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Ban on multiple shower heads?

The Department of Energy is considering a ban on multiple shower heads as reported by the NAHB. Good or bad? Most of you know us as proponents of wise energy use and Green Building techniques, but it concerns me from a standpoint of personal liberty as well.

In fact, there are several reasons why I actually think multiple shower heads can be more efficient than the alternatives. I encourage you to consider:

A nice shower with a body spray system can often take the place of a large, water-guzzling whirlpool tub. You can enjoy your body spray shower every time you use it, and you can use it for as short or as long as you wish.

By eliminating a whirlpool, you can save on the square footage of your home. Not only do you not need a $1500 - $5000 whirlpool, you can save between 20 and 60 square feet of floor space by not needing to oversize your bathroom further.

While some shower systems can use as much as 10 gallons or more per minute, this is rare. And,you have the opportunity to still get a refreshing shower with as little as 4 or 5 gallons per minute with greater bursts of water when needed. Or, switch on the single shower head for average use of 2 gallons, and then go to full blast when you rinse your body.

In almost any case, a 10 minute shower is going to use less water than a 70 gallon fill-up of your whirlpool. And in any case, water conservation and energy conservation is up to you. Choose to live your life responsibly. Enjoy it, but why waste it?

I hope that if we all make wise decisions, and bit by bit take personal responsibility, we can avoid misguided, overreaching mandates by the government that intrude into our daily lives.

Your thoughts are always welcome!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Choosing an efficient air conditioner

A friend asked me about choosing a replacement air conditioner. He wonders about what SEER rating to choose in order to get best payback for the added cost of a higher SEER efficiency.

Until about 3 years ago, the minimum standard was 10.0 SEER. New minimum requirement is 13.0 SEER. It is a linear scale, so 13.0 is 30% more efficient than 10.0. You can get them as 16, 18, even 20 or more.

Typically, the highest efficiency units are a Hybrid Heat Pump which will run the AC summer & in the winter to provide heat. It runs "forward" in summer, and "backward" in winter. Then when it gets too cold in winter for the heat pump to be efficient, the gas furnace kicks on. The combination of the electric heat pump and the gas furnace is what makes this a Hybrid system.

Now, to analyze efficiency. If you use the AC a lot, then the quicker it will pay back for you, and the higher the SEER you should get. If the AC is running almost constantly, then the more money you are saving with a high SEER unit every hour it runs! The money you save goes toward paying back the higher upfront cost.

But if you don't use the AC often, then the efficiency hardly matters at all. Think about it - if you only drive 5 miles to work, then the gas mileage of your car hardly matters. On the other hand, if you drive 60 miles each way, the savings of an efficient car really pays off. The same goes for AC: the more you use it, the more important efficiency is.

And, if you are going for a high SEER AC then it might make sense to also get the Hybrid Heat Pump version of it. The heat pump will generally save you money on winter heating bills, and it gives you the flexibility to fine tune your gas and electric use in case of a massive fluctuation in the price of one or the other.

My own house uses a 14 SEER AC unit, and it was built 4 years ago when 10 SEER was still standard. So it was an upgrade at that time, but now it is just slightly more efficient than the minimum standard. We are not heavy AC users. But even though we don't use the AC too much, if I was building a house now I probably would use a hybrid heat pump. The extra expense would be justified by the winter savings, and as a added benefit I would save on the summer AC costs as well.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Hemp Underwear?

My colleague and advisor Robin Pharo has a new book with a different take on how to be green. To find out more, take a look at her promotional video. The video itself is fun. Now, it is time for me to read the book, soon!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Did you remember to claim your tax credit?

I am a little late in telling you this, for most of your 2009 taxes. But in case you forgot to claim your ARRA federal tax credit, here is a link that will tell you how. You can always file an amended tax return, or, you may be able to claim credit on your 2010 taxes.

Remember the tax credit it typically for materials only, and you need purchase receipts or documentation from your contractor of the material price. It generally applies to insulation and energy efficiency improvements in your home.

Contact me with any questions, and, if you wish to make improvements to your home to claim your 2010 tax credit!

Claiming the Tax Credit: About IRS Form 5695 - Tax Credits, Green Policy, Legislation - Remodeling Magazine

Monday, July 5, 2010

Post #5 - Opt out clarifications

Comments about whether you can opt out from Lead Safe Work Practices lead me to post clarification:

You need to PROVE that you are free of lead coatings in order to not use lead-safe work practices. Or, you need to prove that your home is built 1978 or later. To prove 1978 or later, a building permit or real estate record will serve as proof in most cases. They say it must be a legal/municipal record of some sort.

If you are in the Dane County WI area, I can help you to get the testing done. Otherwise, look up your state's list of Lead Risk Assessors and one of these consultants can do the testing on your home.