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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

INTEGRITY & DURABILITY---Old Fashioned Values....or New Concepts?

The building profession- for the past 30 or so years-has been,not unlike the proverbial drunken sailor, staggering along the line separating the old,comfortable world of traditional building standards-those of our Fathers and Grandfathers- to the sometimes impertinent and cold face of modern building science. We are on the edge of this line-no longer staggering- and poised to step across it into a new golden age of building.....today.

My wife and I, during one of earlier trips to Europe in the late 70's, were filling the fuel tank on our borrowed Dutch friend's car...when, we nearly dropped in a faint, as the fuel pump ticked off the gasoline in liters-literally flying by us at fan-like speed.....and at over $5/gallon U.S.---in the 70's!! What were we paying for gas in 1979 in New England--certainly no where near the $5 mark! So, as we watched the counter flying through liter after liter....and---gulp----dollars flying as swiftly....we began to see why our friends owned small,lightweight cars and rode their bicycles to work, to the market, and to church and saving the car for holiday trips.

Our Dutch friends were dumbfounded at the thought of our behemoth,gas-guzzling cars and pickup trucks (and there were no SUV's....at least, they weren't called that back then). A year or two passed and our friends came to the States for a prolonged visit---WOW! they exclaimed... about the vastness of our New England landscape...and the great distances to run to town, for the post office, a loaf of bread--market day?..Oh, you mean the supermarket!? Oh, I see why you need the big cars..everything is so far away.

That was the late 70's... an older world,not a wiser world...but filled with the potential for great changes in building,in the auto industry, in science....and we fell asleep. The not so distant OPEC oil embargoes evaporated from our consciousness, the world was in another upheaval--American hostages in Iran---and the news was alive with ideas for change...and we savored our slumber. And we continued down this primrose path of good n' plenty with no apparent direction or course to follow---energy is energy...Hey! I won't pay nearly $4/ gallon gas..not here in the U.S.of A.!!!

Some say we need to develop a national energy policy.......and why won't we do it??? It's simple...we don't have to. Yeah, okay..we're spoiled..we can be selfish... and, we ARE independent- in mind, body and spirit. And this can make us great, and it does. But, it is time for us to wake from our hypnotic slumber.....really? Do we, can we give up our 18 mpg super-size pickups (and that's being generous), our gas-powered toys, our multiple vehicles. Sure! you say... I'd love to see 29 mpg ratings for my truck or my SUV....but, give it up? And for what and why? Are we really willing to give up anything, to sacrifice anything for so-called energy independence, do we want to have to make radical changes to our lives? We're not ready for it-not yet.

And how about a government sponsored energy independence policy...nope-you're better off waiting through several cycles of global warming and global cooling before that happens. So how are we going to do it here in the U.S.- by individuals like Duncan Syme who designed and co-created Vermont Casting's initial offering..the Defiant, then the Vigilant, the Resolute and the Intrepid-the classiest,most classic wood-burning appliances to ever grace our home and hearh; Amory Lovins and his Rocky Mountain Institute-creators of one of the first super-insulated housing systems in North America-in 1984. And you get countless others who do things, who try things, who fail-and bounce right back up with even better ideas. You get passionate and creative about what you do, what I do,and you build momentum with others and how to do it...and to just 'do it!'---simple.......it's will, it's will power, it's not will we?...it's when we will it and we do it. Here are quotes from two Swiss energy efficient building specialists-about Americans:
    "A huge change of attitutde has to take place in the USA. But I think Americans will only start to 'insulate their energy' when it gets seriously more expensive."
  --Bernhard Alpstaeg-CEO of the Swisspor Group -specialists for sustainable bldgs
   ".....there is an immense distance between the American building standard and that of Switzerland. On top of that,there is a difference in mentality. A young Swiss pair wants to stay in their newly built house until they get old; an American builds for the next five years. An American can only be convinced with these arguments: energy efficiency,comfort and health."
  --Ruedi Kriesi- leader of technology at the Zehnder Group,etc.

Change is in the air...it's here...it's quiet...it's out along ancient hedgrows in smaller houses......solar hot water panels in the suburbs...pv panels on office buildings?...yeah..it's here---slowly, but surely..step by step. I guess it comes down to 'how do want to live?', what kind of effort are willing to make?....is it worth it-----yep.

Integrity and durability...they always trump the rest of the deck- no matter how the cards are stacked. So let's shuffle the deck.......and play!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Life's too short to be uncomfortable....or having your bloomers in a bunch...

Yes....more about the Passive House idea--again. Why do I keep harping about this Passive House 'thing'?
      It's simple-one word...comfort.
      You cannot hire just any builder-no matter how talented they might be-to go out and build a Passive House. The philosophy and the technical aspects have been honed for nearly 50 years of research,trial and error, engineering and thousands of Passive Houses that have been constructed and monitored.
       So...is it difficult? The design/build/engineering comes from the co-operation of all three disciplines and the Passive House consultant. The PH consultant,in some cases, is also the builder. The knowledge and expertise required is in the form of the Passive House Planning Package-PHPP for short. The PH consultant is versed in the necessary design calculations and software optimization to implement both quality assurance and to create a true Passive House that' works' according to the principles outlined by the Passive House Institute US (PHIUS).
       Okay now, so how does this relate to comfort-easy----let's look at some of the examples that help to make the PH......comfortable:
        TEMPERATURE- the people living in a Passive House like the warmth of it during the winter-typically around 70-75 degrees (and with very little in the way of a traditional heating system..and a Passive Power House can help generate more power,more hot water...). And in the summer the house is comfortably cool-without the aid of typical air conditioning.
         DRAFTS/ DRAFTY FEELING-nope..not in a PH. The design and construction incorporate controlled living space ventilation for systematic changes with fresh air-not recycled,stale air. And the house is built to air tight standards, coupled with extraordinary windows and exterior doors.
         YOUR POCKETBOOK- on average a PH has been discovered to cost about 8-10% more than if you were to build a comparably sized well insulated house. A Power House would be a bit more because of the added photvoltaic,solar hot water,etc systems. A PH can easily save you in the neighborhood of from  $1100 to $2100 in running costs per year. (Based on the Austrian PH-converted from Euros).
         CLEANLINESS-the mechanical 'brain' of the PH is the Energy Recovery Ventilation (ERV) or the Heat Recovery Ventilation  (HRV) system. Either sysytem is designed  to balance outgoing stale,moist air with incoming fresh air, and in the case of the HRV, to capture the heat from the outgoing exhaust air and blend the heat-only with incoming fresh air- so you are recycling the old for the fresh..all the time. Bathrooms and kitchens are outfitted with humidity sensors to control and to exhaust unwanted dampness from the house. Because the incoming fresh air is filtered,HEPA filters can be installed on most ERV/HRV units. So are you stuck in this super -insulated box with mechanical ventilation???.....No. The Passive House Institute (PHI) recommends that every house design has windows that open. This way you can enjoy the best of both worlds.
         MOLD & MILDEW-because the house is air and wind proof,has excellent thermal insulation characteristics, is thermal bridge-free (those ice cold windows-usually metal-that ice up and drip water all over--that's a thermal bridge--the cold 'hops' into the house via the window frame..and stays), has excellent windows and doors,and with high quality air and moisture changes----it leaves no place for mold and mildew to grow. So, you and your family stay healthier.
         COSY-yep....cosy....because of these sterling characteristics; the interior use of VOC-free/low VOC products; 'clean' carpets,draperies; and the use of sustainable interior finishes like wood,stone,
tile,bamboo; insulation materials such as cellulose and 'clean' foams...you just 'feel' cosier,safer, and
healthier. And when Mother Nature is howling outside with cold , January snow squalls..you can sit comfortably and cosier in you new Passive House.
         In a sentence...the house is good for you,your kids or grandkids, your pets and it can sure help your pocketbook.
    (Thanks to: www.oesterreichhaus.at ; the Czech Passive House Centre; http://www.max15.sk--a/ Passive House architectural firm in Slovakia; and  "Homes for a Changing Climate"/PHIUS)

     

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Life's too short for a cold,drafty.....and ugly house.......

 We've been running this ad in some of the local papers lately....the rest of the ad continues with:

  The Passive Power House-the "not as big" cozy cottage that can reduce heating energy use by (up to) 90%- the smart house that creates more energy than it consumes- and....it looks absolutely fabulous!

   Designed-Fabricated & Built by Longfellow Builders&Co.....

   Hm-m-m-m...Passive Power House?  Yeah-okay...but, what is it?
 The Passive House- Its primary components:
       1-Thick insulation
       2-Few or no thermal bridges
       3-An airtight envelope
       4-Insulated glazing
       5-A balanced energy recovery ventilation system
   So what's the big deal? We've seen so-called air-tight,superinsulated,double envelope and passive solar houses before- some are still performing well and with good indoor air quality-and,some.....not so good. Like some of the passive solar houses-nice and toasty warm on a cold,sunny winters' day....until sunset and b-r-r-r-r-r out come the roller /heat trapping shades and screens..and all that wonderful 'free' heat is whisked away.
   Why then is the 'new' Passive House better? The concept was created by a Swede-professor Bo Adamson- and German physicist Wolfgang Feist in 1988. Sweden had just created rigorous energy standards for all new construction that same year. This brainchild of Adamson/Feist initially met, then exceeded the tough new regulations.
   This is not a 'new' system per se-it is the consolodation of years of research, construction and prototypes built here in North America and Europe-and developed with strict performance standards by the Passivhaus Institut,Austria (and in the U.S. by PHIUS- www.passivehouse.us). The years of research have led to the best possible construction packages. These are based on energy efficiency,installation expense and sustainability and, add to that, good looks.
   The Power House-its primary components:
        1-Within the platform of the Passive House, you add in solar water panels,photovoltaic systems,wind turbines..and because of the stingy energy demands of the house, you sell the surplus back to the utility company.
   Here is an excerpt from  ODE MAGAZINE-June/July 2009-from an article entitled"Power House..":
        Rolf Disch-architect and environmentalist in Freiburg, Germany-
        "What if each house became a power plant,if it created even more energy that it used internally?...He built on the ideas of the 'Passive House' movement that started in Europe in the early 90's. Instead of relying on the electricity grid for power, a Passive house taps available energy sources-sunlight,the body heat of occupants,even the thermal gains created by ordinary domestic activities such as cooking,bathing and using electrical appliances. The building is well insulated and air tight so it retains most of this energy and, through highly efficient heat-exchange ventilation technology,uses it to cool itself in summer and heat itself in winter."
   The Passive House/Passive Power House is a working,living,breathing home. Thousands have been built or renovated to Passive House standards across Northern Europe since the early 90's. An increasing number have and are being designed and built here in the U.S.........Isn't it time to start building scores of these cozy,comfortable,clean homes right here in Vermont...and the entire Northeast......

 -Additional notes from HOMES FOR A CHANGING CLIMATE-PASSIVE HOUSES IN THE U.S.-available from http://www.passivehouse.us/