Sunday, June 27, 2010

LEED Certification and More

It's been awhile but we got the good news recently that our home had received LEED gold certification. Yeaahhh!!! We are pleased and excited with the news. The actual certificate has not yet arrived but once it does, it will be suitably framed and prominently displayed. We continue to welcome visitors who are interested in viewing one of the few LEED certified homes in Utah. We welcome anyone interested in learning from our experience.
In the meantime, we have been busy with remaining projects. One of them has been the raised seed beds shown above. They are modeled after seedbeds at the Utah house. It was a lot of fun building them and they are now serving their purpose, with tomatoes, onions, beans and cucumbers. The ledges on the beds are intended to accomodate aging gardners who have lost some of the flexibility required for regular bending. We are not there yet, but they are nice to rest on while contemplating the next project. Believe me, there are more.
Behind the raised beds you can see the espalier trees. We have an apple that is primed to produce a crop of apples this year and a cherry tree that bloomed vigorously but has no fruit. Maybe next year. It has six different varieties grafted onto one main branch. Very exotic. We also have a peach on the far right that will be trained for espalier in the future.
The xeriscaping has been a real delight. Things died down during the winter but as spring made its appearance, the perrenials we put in the ground last summer and fall came to life. We are amazed at the colors, as are our neighbors. The next phase will be extending what you see around the entire perimeter. So... stay tuned.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Xeriscape: From the Greek word xeric meaning "pertaining to or adapted to a dry environment." And since that's what we have in S.Jordan, Utah, the use of "xeriscaping" rather than "landscaping" seemed the greenest way to go. Before we got started, we received frequent visits from people offering to do our "landscaping." But from observing other landscaping efforts in the neighborhood, we knew what they had in mind: put in a couple trees, a few bushes, toss in some turf and voila--landscaping. One company even advertised that they did "zeroscaping." We weren't fooled. We knew that with sufficient information and effort, we could create a truly xeriscaped exterior. And we did, driven by two desires: 1)to create an environment that would be a place of beauty that is in harmony with the idea of a green home and 2) to satisfy the S. Jordan Planning Commission so that the landscaping bond would be released. We have done both.
The photos that have been included with this blog show the initial phase of our xeriscaping effort. We put a lot of effort into what you see in the pictures since we were under a time constraint in satisfying the S.Jordan planning commission. We started with lots of lavender, a proven drought tolerant plant that grows well in this area and reminds the Francophiles among us of Provence in the south of France. In just a few months the varieties of lavender have flourished, even producing some beautiful blossoms in late summer. Following the lavender came a number of ornamental grasses, including: White Pampas grass, Dixieland miscanthus, canary grass, Morning Light maiden grass, Purple Fountain Grass (we found out too late that it is not a perennial in these parts), Little Blue Stem Grass, Mexican Feather Grass and several more. We even liberated several native Utah grasses growing on the crumbling bank of a nearby canal (therein lies a story). Along with the lavender and grasses, we started a number of low water use flowers, including coreopsis, gaillardia, evening primrose, and penstemon. One of the plants that has really impressed us has been Artemesia, which seems to thrive on a minimum of water. Other favorites include Russian sage and Blue sage. We added two native Utah species: Philadelphus microphylus and Mountain Mahogany. All in all, we are quite pleased with the first season of xeriscaping and look forward to warmer weather when we can start adding more.
What the pictures do not show is the irrigation system that supports the xeriscape. Beneath the mulch, which is several inches thick to prevent moisture from evaporating, is a drip irrigation system controlled by a timer. With some adjusting during the hottest part of the summer, we managed to keep the new plants evenly watered. By the time the water was turned off in the fall, most of the plants seemed to be well-rooted and, in some cases, even blossoming. Next season will mean an extension of the system to other parts of the exterior. Our plan now is to work our way around the perimeter, adding rock terracing, more drought tolerant plant species, especially native Utah varieties, pine trees and an expanded herb garden. To prevent soil erosion and the return of invasive weeds, we are planning to add, as a temporary measure, some drought tolerant grasses (tall fescue and buffalo grass) and wild flowers in areas where perreniels and ornamental grasses will later be added. We expect that once this step is taken we will be in line for a gold LEED certification. More on that later.
So, at the start of winter, with several inches of snow on the roof, we are still relishing the memories of this past season when we began the great xeriscape project. It will go on for many years, of course, but we look forward to watching it bloom and grow.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Living in the Green Home

Wheww! Hard to believe that we have not posted since March. Needless to say, it has been a busy time. We got the CO (certificate of occupancy) in late April and then began the hectic and exhausting process of moving in. But before we did that, we had another interesting experience on the green building path. A technician came and tested the home for air tightness. And we passed with flying colors. Posted above are some pics of how the home now looks, and one showing the blow test. The testing showed that the house is very tight, as was expected. In fact, the technician said it was about the tightest house he had ever tested. That makes the HRV system all the more important, since without it, there would not be sufficient air flow. As it is, the circulation is great.
More on living in the green home later. Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Looking Better Every Day

Quite a bit of progress has occurred on the green home since my last posting. The exterior now has stucco and stone that has made it easier to visualize what it will eventually look like. We were quite amazed the first time we viewed the show room at Harristone in Ogden and learned what could be done with concrete and color. The artificial stone looks very real and has a 50-year guarantee. It is, of course, a lot easier to work with than natural stone and, importantly, a lot less expensive. We chose a color patten labeled "Chablis" which has a mixture of brown stone with some reddish hues here and there. We are quite pleased with the look and eager to see it when installation is complete. The same stone will be used on the chimney and the fireplace in the great room. All in all, a lot of beautiful stone that will add beauty to a highly efficient home.
Speaking of energy efficiency, we recently had an unexpected visit from someone who had been testing homes in Daybreak for thermal heat loss. We were not there when the testing occurred but have heard from Dwight at PCR that the home tested very well. I will try to get more information on the nature of the testing.
The stucco color we chose for the body of the exterior is called, "barley field." Some of the trim around the windows will be a lighter color--"moon valley." Although it's a little hard to see in the pictures, the soffits and facia are a darker brown that accent the lighter colored stucco.
Inside, the bamboo flooring has been installed in the office. That's the room with dwarflike figure slouched against the wall. The bamboo is a beautiful wood and, of course, a highly renewable resource.
In the great room, you can see that much of the tile has been installed. Before it was laid down, a further step was taken to augment the passive solar heating from the southeast oriented windows. Before the tile was put in place, the surface was built up with about two inches of "gypcrete," which I understand is a combination of gypsum and concrete. This will increase the thermal mass, allowing more passive solar heat to be retained. Besides that, it looks very good. Waiting to be installed is the cork floor for the kitchen that will go in after the kitchen cabinets are in place--starting next week. The mud room will have a floor surface called Eco-surface, which I will talk more about later. The color is "chunky-monkey" and it looks like interesting stuff. The remaining floor surface in the master bedroom and stairs will be recycled carpet. More about that later.
So, a lot of progress is being made. The finish carpenters and the painters will be getting to work soon. We are keeping our fingers crossed as we look forward to possibly being finished the first or second week of April. Can't wait!!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Truly Green Home

When I published a post back in November when the very white ICF foundation was about all that was visible, a friend commented that we weren't building a "green" home but rather a "white" one. As the pictures above show, the house is now truly "green" albeit temporarily. The green color comes from a special sealant that the builders applied this past week in preparation for stucco that will follow shortly. Before the green application, all the spaces between the exterior wood panels were specially sealed. Then a mesh was applied, followed by the green-colored sealant. Then, an additional layer of insulation was attached. The end result is to be a structure that will pass the "blow test." That's right--the blow test. As it has been described to me, the LEED certification team will essentially create a vacuum inside once all the sealing is completed. They will then be able to measure when/if/where outside air is leaking into the house. They will also be checking all of the ducts to be sure that no air is leaking from them. I will try to be present when this testing is done, so as to give more precise details as to how this testing is done. The LEED certification team has already inspected the insulation, which you see this writer gawking at in one of the pictures, and determined it met the required standard. Note the extra insulation accomodated by a 24-inch spacing of the 2 x 6s.
So, a further word about LEED certification. One of our goals in building this house was to achieve as high a level of certification as possible. To back up, LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council in 1998 and has become the authority for green building. Newly constructed homes that meet LEED building requirements can be officially certified. Certification is based on scoring the required number of points in six areas: 1)Sustainable site; 2)Water efficiency;3)Energy and atmosphere;4)Materials and resources;5)Indoor environmental quality; and 6)Innovation and design process. The possible levels of certification are: Certified (45-59 points); Silver (60-74 points); Gold (75-89 points); Platinum (90-128 points). We are currently aiming at a Gold certification. Some examples of points achievable in the several categories include: water efficient landscaping (2pts.); energy optimization (10pts.); construction waste reuse and recycling (2pts.); build within 1/4 mile of basic community resources (1-3 pts. depending upon number of basic community resources available (4, 7 or 11)).
So, as you can see, this is a challenging process, but one that we are finding both educational and rewarding. Stay tuned.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Breath of Fresh Air

With the Salt Lake Valley locked in one of its regular winter inversions, this would be a good time to mention another key green feature of the house we are building. Pictured above is the heart of the Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) system that was recently intalled. The purpose of this system is to provide an energy efficient way of bringing in fresh filtered air while removing stale air. HRVs are recommended by the American Lung Association. They are especially critical in this house, since the house envelope will be "tight," much like a zip lock bag. But the problem then becomes ventilation. The HRV is intended to meet that need by bringing in fresh air from the outside (notice the vents in the outside wall in the first picture), preheating the incoming air during the winter and precooling it during the summer. The HRV provides clean fresh air while keeping energy costs low. The picture above shows the HRV unit which houses the heat exchange core.
The HRV unit is connected to existing ductwork in the house, therby enabling it to collect stale moist air from the kitchen, laundry and bathrooms. This stale contaminated air passes through the HRV and is exhausted to the outside. A separate ducting system draws in fresh clean air from outdoors. As the two streams pass each other within the heat exchanger core, heat is transferred from the outgoing stale air to the fresh incoming air. The HRV unit is able to capture up to 85% of the energy from the outgoing stale air. Filtered, preconditioned air is then delivered thougout the house.
We are excited about the possibilites for better health resulting from cleaner fresher air. Allergies have long been a nuisance for both of us and this system should have a positive effect in reducing those symptoms. One of the culprits in many tight houses is the build up of carbon dioxide just from breathing. Other pollutants include household chemicals, carpeting and construction materials. Excess CO2 can cause headaches, general lethargy and grogginess. While our green builder (PCR) is doing everything possible to reduce harmful emissions, we believe the HRV will make us breathe even easier.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Light! More Light!

One of the green features shown in this latest photo is the use of windows to achieve natural lighting. The large windows pictured here are oriented to the southeast to capture as much sunlight as possible during the winter months. A sun shelf will be installed later to shade the windows during the summer months when the arc of the sun is higher. We will also plant deciduous trees on the southwest perimeter to provide shade during the summer. We have had good experience in our previous home with birch trees and will probably be looking at them for shade at this location.
Also pictured here is the clerestory (pronounced "clear-story"), which is another important source of natural light. Clerestory windows are a critical passive solar element. They are an architectural detail found in many churches and other buildings and are arranged in rows above the main building. Because they are higher than the surrounding roof and above eye level, they do not compromise privacy while providing an entire level of natural sunlight. In our case, the row of windows is located on the eastern side of the clerestory (not visible in the picture) and on the north and south sides. They will catch the morning sunlight very nicely, thereby reducing the need for electrical lighting.
The clerestory windows will also be operable to allow for natural ventilation. That process will be augmented by ceiling fans. Given their height, they will be operated by remote control. The window on the south end of the clerestory may have to be shaded during the summer to avoid excessive heat gain, at least until the shade tree(s) reach maturity.
The other natural lighting feature that will be installed soon are the solartubes. More on that later.