Finally, 14 months after it was shot, our episode of Renovation Nation with Steve Thomas was broadcast on the Planet Green Channel (a subsidiary of the Discovery Network). Anywho, our 30 minute episode was pure entertainment. I was labeled a "green bully", the downstairs neighbor was labeled "unconvinced by the project", while my wife was wise enough to head to work. Both families watched together over pizza and enjoyed our onscreen personas. We could hardly wait to see what we would do next!!
The temperature dropped below 62F inside for the first time this year. A combination cloudy weather and lack of cooking drove the fall in temperature while a sick kid, and a wife raised near pineapple farms, drove the raising of the thermostat..........ok, but just one day. A warm weekend is forecast.
I'm continuing to fail getting a whole house electric meter working. The Blue Line Power Cost Monitor is supposed to be fastened outside on the electric meter and then read and transmit wirelessly to a indoor station. Why? Because we can....or thought we could, but so far we can't. I had hoped to be able to nail down what the hardwired and 220V appliances were using (dishwashers, dryers).
The average 12 month oil usage pre-construction was 1300 gallons between the two units. The June 2008 - June 2009 oil usage was 738 gallons. This was the construction year that started in October and included full removal of roof and siding and windows and doors, and contractors trapsing into and out of the house. The insulation itself was not completed until mid-January. This year should be better, because it couldn't be worse. If we are able to upgrade our heating system with a smaller unit, it could be much better. We'll keep you informed.
Mass. Dept of Energy Resources Commissioner Philip Giudice took his first tour of the house (see VIP link to right for photo). Phil is a special friend of the project having given the final OK for the state's participation.
With temperatures dipping below 40 F for the first time this year, we experienced our first heating events. Unit 1 has an oil fed steam boiler which produces both heat and hot water. The hot water component has never shut down, but the heat has been effectively off since March. The thermostat dropped low enough to kick on the steam heat for the first time October 14.
Unit 2 has an oil fed steam boiler, but since November, hot water has been moved to a tankless in-line system. Without it's hot water component the boiler has slept since March. Boilers hate that. The Unit 2 is thermostat driven, but it's been manually shut off as well. Today we turned the unit on for a test, not entirely sure that the boiler was going to be in the "mood" to be "on"........but our worries were misplaced.......our lovable boiler jumped to action and pumped out 30 minutes of heat. We switched the unit back off, hopefully for a few more weeks.
We'd like to keep the heat off until sometime in November. Temperature October 16 Outside: 35 F Inside: 65 F
So many tiny projects to finish up. Can you bear with me as I just quickly run through them? They may look small, but they still included contractors tromping through the house to use the bathroom.
New back steps new back trim........who likes to paint? Drywalling all 3 basement entrances (1 for each unit + the exterior entrance) covering the spray foam......because we're worth it.
Installing the two new Velux skylights into the holes which had been roofed over since October 2008
Adding lead to seal the chimney. I love lead ! What the heck did we have instead of lead for the last 10 months. Probably best not to ask. Enclosing the ugliest deck roof ever.
Rebuilding the entire front entrance with new cylindrical columns and Ipe decking that won't splinter. We have some Ipe guilt (comes from some warm place), but somehow we convinced ourselves that it was the way to go. Wait until you see the finished job. And the beginning of the clean up.
After months of insulation working through one of the worst winters in memory, we come to where the butter hits the toast. Sort of. We are performing the blower door test to see how tightly the house has become.
Larry Masland arrived from the Department of Energy Resources, Gary and David arrives from Synergy Construction, Kohto arrived from Building Science Corporation, plus two guys from Conservation Services Group which will be performing the blower door test.
For the blower door testing, we closed all windows and doors, put these lovely red frocks on the back doors, engaged the fans inserted within said frocks, and started sucking the air out of the house to reduce the internal pressure. For those of you concerned about such things, the fan was not of a power to make us gasp for air, boil our blood, bulge our eyes, or make us float around the room.......which would be more of a gravitional problem.....ANYWAYYYYYY
Here's what the test looked like.
How'd we do? Here are the results.
The results are not official, but the house is around 60% - 65% tighter. The walls and the roof were not really serviceable. They were as tight as they were ever going to be. But air still flowed into the basement, and therefore somehow up into the house through the basement ceiling. With the fan drawing, with some smoke pens, with a few cans of insulation foam, we should be able to walk around the basement, and then track and kill each tiny ceiling leak. But this was not to be, as everyone's schedule would not permit. Big disappointment.
UPDATE: To answer the comment from Jerry Marin: "So what was the cfm? Enquiring minds want to know." With the basement door open the leakage was 2825 CFMs (cubic feet per minute) With the basement door closed the leakage was 2275 CFMs (Explanation: These leakage rates are during a highly de-pressured test, not during normal usage.) The original pre-project leakage rate in August was 7800 CFM (more or less until I track down the exact test result). The team was very pleased with the results, but I know that we can do better. I am confident that with 60 minutes we could bring that result south of 2000 CFMs. The disappointment here is that the basement ceiling is completely at hand and reachable. I will attempt to get some sort of de-pressurization using the building's 2 kitchen fans and 3 bathroom fans, get some incense "punks" (are they called "punks" anymore?), armed with a can of foam. Only problem is that we will never have a new reading of the results.
If you plan on taking a house from the age of leakyness-as-virtue to the new age of super-insulated energy efficiency, one imagines that you will occassionally run afoul of the laws of unintended consequences. And so we have......at least a little. With the addition of super-insulation, and the conversion of hot water to a gas on-demand unit, our 25 year old boiler was firing up less often and for shorter burn duration. By the end of March, we weren't firing at all, so we shut it down. But when a cold snap hit in April, we couldn't get it back on.
The Fawcett Oil servicer informed us that these units were never designed to be cold, never designed to have the hot water portion removed, that by removing the hot water we had essentially signed its death sentence. (evidently Fawcett servicers are very protective of their boilers). I was to learn that to maintain boiler health, the boiler needs to reach full operating temperatures to clean out its pipes and eliminate condensation.......or something like that. Long story short, we were warned to have our boiler cleaned twice a year, September and January, instead of only once. I guess that's not so bad.
Anderson Insulation, who were here for 10 hours in December, fit us into their schedule on short notice for a final foaming touch-up prior to the blower door testing which will mark the end of the insulation phase of the project. We needed to fix the areas where the cable guys, the plumbers, and the electricians did their damage, as well as get at an area we didn't have access to in December, and a window that was removed. December 2008: Window still in place April 2009: Window removed. It's a storage area, who needs a window? On the other side of that window cavity is 4" of rigid foam. April 2009: The Anderson folks having finished the foaming.
More work in the basement. Particular attention to the areas where the cable guys, the fiber guys, and the electricians were ripping and tearing at the foam to get their wires in place.
Two Fantech HRVs (Heat Recovery Ventilators) are installed for unit 1 and unit 2 to bring in fresh air, exhaust stale air, AND salvage the heat from the stale air to heat up the fresh air. The Unit 1 HRV is installed in the basement. Since the bottom of the unit is below grade it was going to be something of a challenge to get the condensation drain out of the building....but then who knows how much condensation is expected in winter. We decide to drain into a bucket and see if evaporation can keep up with condensation.
Unit 2 had its own challenges. To reduce breaks in the envelope, the HRV for unit 2 would exhaust through the 2nd floor bathroom exhaust duct. At the same time the 3rd floor bathroom, which never had ducted ventilation, also was going to be connected to the 2nd floor bathroom exhaust duct. It's a busy duct. This image is looking up to the 3rd floor soffit. The vent on the right is the exhaust damper for the 2nd + 3rd floor bathroom and the Unit 2 HRV. The small hole on the left has a small clear hose protruding so condensation can drip out. The HRV was designed to pull from the 3rd floor back room and vent into the 2nd floor back room. Because the connecting staircase is in the front of the house, the air circulates throughout the house. The air intake is not visible as it is hidden within the new soffit. Normally this might be fine, but the soffit is fabricated from a PVC material, and I'm not comfortable having our fresh air filtered through a solar heated PVC box.......of course I could be nuts.
We get our exterior water spigot back, while finally solving that mysterious leak in the wall. This is just in time for spring grass re-seeding.
We got the bulk of our backyard back as the contractors start pulling materials and equipment out. The mason arrived to fix the foundation which had split. This shows the opening the Mason made to fix the guts of the wall. Here we're all finished. Anderson foam is coming in for a final spray to fill in the few areas ripped out by various electricians, plumbers, and cable guys and to spray an area where the drywall had not been removed prior to the main spraying back in December.
The final trim piece is installed by Rick and Mike, closing off the last nesting spot for the irrritated birds. We started on the walls on November 17, and now some 120 days later, the walls are finished.
Dryer vents are removed from the window and built into the wall. There's nothing quite like a dryer vent through the window to mark one as hmmmm something less than fully cultured.
Bathroom dampers are finally reinstalled for the 1st floor bathroom.
In a moment of unplanned excitement, Mike lost control of his coffee, spilling it down the wall. Mike is house broken though as can be seen in the photo.
Since we started on the roof before the walls, there were many educated guesses taken as to where the wall surface would be when finally building the soffits. You win some and you lose some. Here we are adjusting the length of the roof to balance the left and right side. I'd been looking at the bloody roof line for 2 months and never noticed anything, but seems the contractors in Synergy had, and swore a blood oath to fix it. Three hours later and we were only more perfect. I really should be more demanding. You have no idea what this is I'm sure. There is an icicle there in the photo at the bottom that grew between the Tyvek and the foam. Somewhere on the wall water is leaking into the wall behind the foam. The only place for the leak is the window. The flashing above the window will have to be corrected. UPDATE: OK, there may be another reason. This is coincidentally the exact location where the exterior water spigot was located before it was temporarily sealed up and the siding went on.
February 23: A stupid little roofing project The team re-roofs the tiny back deck so the shingles match.
Boring, but its gotta get done. The more interesting story was the 8 year old roof it replaced. That roof was installed by an octogenarian, Gino, and Angelo, 72, who do handy projects to get out of the house. Why would I send 2 nice old guys on the roof? Well....they used to be full time roofers, but more importantly, better them than I. The morning they were up there was a beautiful day, September 11th, 2001, but otherwise the worst that I had ever lived through. I stuck my head out the window and reported the news as it unfolded, the events, the theories, the horror, and finally the cloud of dust. These guys never came in to look, didn't seem particularly shocked, and never missed a nail. When they finished up there they popped in for a quick peak at the tube, and then headed home. Building runways across the South Pacific while under fire seems to really toughen you up some.
The Subcommittee on Energy & Environment held a hearing titled: “Energy Efficiency: Complementary Polices for Climate Legislation” 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, February 24, 2009 with Chairman Ed Markey
Excerpted Testimony of Philip Guidice Commissioner of Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources "Let me give you some examples of what is happening in Massachusetts as a result of this activity. A homeowner named Alex Cheimets is in the final stages of a major renovation. This started – as these things often do – with a small water leak, and ended with a bold project that is expected to reduce his energy use by half or more, through thorough air sealing of the building envelope and adding four to six inches of foam insulation to the sides and roof of his house, as well as installing an air to air heat exchanger and monitoring equipment. His is a typical Massachusetts home – an eighty-year-old two-family house which leaked badly but now will be a model of what is possible."
We protected our tiny patch of lush green grass against the harsh winter by compressing it under tons of construction waste. Now with the Dumpster leaving for good, we are once again free to fully enjoy our backyard............
The last 100 square feet of wall are tackled all at once. The last two windows (excluding basement) are removed and replaced, the last shingles stripped off, the last wrap is taped up, the last layers of 4" rigid foam insulation are carved to fit and fastened down tightly with 6" screws through the last firring strips. The pointless 2" x 6" rakes are removed from the center roof line showing what the roof thickness will look like in the end. It's really a sleight of hand trick though, which avoids a roof of bizzarro thickness. The rafters will no longer be in that volume behind the soffits, behind all the architectural cues which scream, "Here's the Roof!!!", but instead will be hidden under it all. Everything that looks like the roof, is really sitting on top of the structural "roof".
Before the Beginning of the Beginning of the End The Beginning of the Beginning of the End The End of the Beginning of the End This small stretch of wall is not expected to have a measureable effect on the home's performance in comparison to the 96% of the house already battened down. Nonetheless, February 20, 2009 marks the completion of the insulation phase of the project. Data analysis has already started based on the 96% of the project completed as of January 29, and will continue on through the end of the heating season. The project was envisioned being completed by December 15, 2008 to allow a nearly full season of data collection, but the abbreviated schedule should be more than enough.
Their credo is: The original frugal, green living magazine, founded in 1976. Natural Life is trustedby readers around the world who want to learn how to create a greener,healthier, more self-reliant lifestyle for themselves and for their families.
Did you really think that a 6" edge of insulation would become a permanent detail of the roof? Though if we were to leave it uncovered, it would hardly be the ugliest feature up there. No the ugliest feature would be, hands down, the rotting rafters which slowly shed paint chips upon the lawn. The neighbors have put up with alot from us. Enclosing the soffits and hiding the rafters has been an obsession haunting my every thought since moving in. Covering the 6" edge of insulation? Well I guess that's nice too. Prior to the start: Rafters are cut and extended 2x6s are fastened to the rafter extensions to provide strong, wood support for gutter attachment. NuCedar fascia is fastened to the 2x6s and NuCedar bead board is fastened to seal the bottom. Completely enclosed soffit, sans gutters. Only about a hundred feet of soffit to go.
The pace of visits and tours increases, there being 1 or 2 fun filled foil faced weeks left until we revert to just another boring house.
-Members of the Energy Smackdown joined members of Sustainable Arlington to visit during biting cold spell on January 31. Also toured by: -Arlington High School's Ted Fiust and both his Engineering and Environmental Science classes.
-Heather Clark of the Winn Development Company and a member of both the Energy Efficiency Advisor Council and the Governor's Zero Net Energy Task Force dropped by along with her colleague David Thunell.
As the week progressed, my tours got less and less pleasant as the flu took over the controls of my life, and sleeping became the goal of my every waking moment. You know the feeling.
Just after dark, with the moon overhead: 15 seconds exposure