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Top Ten HVAC Problems

The Green on Gift house has presented no shortage of challenges. I’ve already discussed some of the moisture problems and wall framing issues. In honor of David Lettermen’s recent retirement, here are the top 10 problems with the home’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. The problems range from no exhaust fan in the bathroom to a heat pump that wasn’t operational.

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Reducing Construction Waste

One of the goals of the Green on Gift home is to minimize the amount of construction waste sent to the landfill. This has taken different forms throughout construction. To widen the master closet we had to move a structurally unnecessary beam. That beam found new life as the header for the closet opening (photos below). Other times, we simply used curbside recycling for construction material boxes and beverage containers.

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Quick Update

Last week we hit a number of big milestones. The house has new ductwork, is completely insulated, and the crawlspace encapsulation is almost finished. Mitch Sosebee with Sosebee Services replaced all of the ductwork on the heating and cooling system. The old system was poorly installed and incredibly filthy, but is now in good shape. I’ll publish a detailed post about that process soon.

The house is also insulated! I’m not going to lie, it was beginning to feel like this day would never come. We’re using spray polyurethane foam (SPF) insulation along the roofline, exterior walls, and crawlspace walls. The spray foam is from Premium Spray Products and was installed by Advanced Energy Insulation (AEI). GreenShortz is producing a short video about the spray foam, which should be online soon.

Tom Mills with GreenShortz interviews Moody Ozier with Premium Spray Products.

Tom Mills with GreenShortz interviews Moody Ozier with Premium Spray Products.

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House Flipping is Not For Me

Renovating the Green on Gift home has made it very clear that I would be terrible at flipping homes for maximum profits. There may be people out there who can renovate and sell homes profitably without compromising quality, but that tends to be pretty rare. While I was house hunting, I saw many homes that were clearly renovated to sell quickly while ignoring or, most commonly, hiding major structural and building performance problems that are costly to correct down the line.

One such example of corner-cutting to save cash is the old porch that was previously discussed. During the renovation, we discovered that one of the wood framed walls of the old porch had no structural sheathing (Figure 1). In new homes, structural sheathing is generally 4’x8′ sheets of plywood or OSB installed on the exterior of the wall framing (vertical and horizontal studs). The combination of sheathing and wall framing is what gives the wall its strength. The Wood composite siding was attached directly to the wall studs and then covered with vinyl siding, which has not held up well over the years. The vinyl shows signs of melting, either from a grill or the reflection from the neighbor’s windows (Figure 2). Another wall of the old porch is finished with fiber cement siding. I don’t know why they opted to use two different types of siding, but it definitely looks junky. Read more

Fun with Ventilation

There has been a flurry of activity out at the house recently. We installed two new Panasonic bath exhaust fans and a whole house Panasonic Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV), all three of which were generously donated by Panasonic. Bath and kitchen exhaust fans are essential in ensuring good indoor air quality by removing pollutants from the home. They are also Energy Star certified, so they will be both energy efficient and quiet.

Bath exhaust fans rarely provide the amount of airflow that they are rated for due to poor duct installation. Installing small exhaust ducts with lots of elbows and long runs seriously restricts the airflow, but they are very common mistakes. Instead, the duct should provide a short and direct route outside of the house, and the ductwork should be pulled tight. As though they were trying to prove my point, I had to ask the electricians to rotate both of the bath exhaust fans because the initial installation positioned the exhaust port much too close to the ceiling joist, leaving no place for the duct to connect and run to the exterior. Once they were corrected and facing the right way, we used a combination of hard metal piping and flex duct (see photo below). We’ll do airflow testing at the final to verify the exhaust fans are providing the rated performance.

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Wall Framing

Okay, I’ll admit it. What we’re doing with the exterior walls may seem a little odd. Since the house is structural masonry there is no easy way to insulate the exterior walls, let alone add electrical outlets or light switches. We’ve opted to fur out the walls on the interior to provide space for insulation and utilities.

Framing these walls, however, posed an interesting problem. On the one hand we want to keep the new framing separate from the brick wall to prevent moisture wicking into the wood. We also want to use the smallest dimension lumber possible maximize the space for insulation in the walls and to stay within budget. We’re insulating the walls with spray polyurethane foam insulation (SPF), which is great at filling in small cracks and works well when the substrate is uneven (in this case a combination of plaster and exposed brick). It also provides some added strength to the wall by “gluing” the components together. SPF is a combination of two liquids that when combined rapidly expand, similar to shaving cream. Unlike shaving cream, it’s rather forceful and can actually bend, twist, and bow wood. So how do you install 2x3s approximately 1 inch off from a brick wall that will be insulated with spray foam?

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What’s Green?

It seems like everything these days is striving to be “green.” It’s hard to avoid advertisements and TV commercials publicizing green product features. Some of these claims are genuine and based on third party verification, but many are questionable at best and fraudulent at worst. Is a disposable coffee cup green because it contains 10% post-consumer content? Should we believe an insulation’s claim to be “green” without any proof?

The growth of questionable environmental claims has led to a new dictionary entry, “greenwashing.”

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Green-wash (green’wash’, -wôsh’) – verb: the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service. From:

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Porch-to-Bathroom Conversion

A significant element of the Green on Gift renovation is the conversion of the enclosed porch into a second bathroom. At some point, a previous owner converted the back porch, accessible through the living room, into a storage room. They likely did this to increase the square footage of the house, but the transformation was incomplete–an exterior window remained looking into the second bedroom, and the floor became uneven over time.

Left: The original bedroom window was removed and the opening converted to a doorway. Right: The enclosed porch pre-renovation.

I decided to convert this unusual porch/storage room into an en-suite second bathroom. Early in the demo process, we created small holes to see if the walls were insulated. The wall on the left was, but the back wall was not, so both walls will be insulated with spray polyurethane foam insulation.  Read more

The Joys of Demo

To help reduce costs and get a better understanding of how the home was constructed, I opted to gut the house with myself and a cadre of great friends. We were able to peel back the layers to see how it was updated over the years, revealing a lot of shoddy craftsmanship and lessons in what not to do when renovating a home. Since the previous owner used the house as a low-cost rental, the maintenance and updates over the years were poorly implemented, to say the least.

My favorite example of this is the living room window. One of the great mysteries of the house is odd shape of the windows; they almost seem like afterthoughts, and the sizing isn’t consistent within the home. These non-standard sizes require custom windows, which the previous owner clearly did not want to pay for. Instead they simply installed one that was too small for the opening and blocked off the top with plywood and spray foam (photo below).  In addition to looking cheap, this is not a durable solution since the spray foam will degrade over time from exposure to sunlight and rain.


Instead of ordering a custom replacement window, the previous owner installed one much too small for the opening and blocked off the top with plywood and spray foam (right window in photo).

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New Video: Structural Brick Surprise!

Here’s the latest video explaining the big surprise we discovered in the walls… the Green on Gift home is constructed of structural brick! Please subscribe to the YouTube channel to get video updates.