An essential component of the renovation process was obtaining green building certification with third party verification. From the start, I wanted to practice what my company preaches to our clients – incorporating green into all decisions from design through construction and ultimately occupancy. We tested the ductwork and envelope multiple times to maximize building performance. Today I’m pleased to announce that the Green on Gift home was awarded EarthCraft Platinum certification with one of the highest point totals in the program’s history!
Southface, an Atlanta-based environmental nonprofit, and the Greater Atlanta Home Builders jointly developed the EarthCraft program 15 years ago. Since then, over 30,000 multifamily units and homes have been certified across the southeast. While there are numerous green building certification options available, the EarthCraft renovation program is by far the most robust and flexible option for builders; and as a former Southfacer, it felt good to support the program.
Window replacement typically has a poor economic payback, which I am very aware of as a green building consultant. I tell clients that windows are replaced primarily to improve comfort and aesthetics, and that’s been mostly true for my house too! The existing wood windows were single pane and in pretty rough shape. Since we were already gutting the house, the incremental costs of window installation were relatively modest. The new windows certainly help improve the home’s energy efficiency, but they also look much better and help the house feel more comfortable.
The Green on Gift home presented several challenges when it came to replacing the windows. For one, the sizes are not standard, so we had to special order the new windows. Because the house has a complicated history with water, we wanted to select windows that were as durable and rot-resistant as possible to further prevent any potential issues, especially for the windows in the showers. Finally, the existing windows were also supporting the bricks above them, since the original builder neglected to install traditional supports like steel angles or lintels. As you might suspect, windows by themselves are terrible structural supports. We came up with a creative way to solve this problem, but that’s another (future) blog post!
Master bedroom pre-renovation
I must say the new year is off to a pretty great start. The Green on Gift renovation is officially complete! There is still a fair amount of work to do on the landscaping, but the interior of the home has been finished for a little while–sorry for the lack of updates! To help commemorate this milestone, we just received our rebate check from Georgia Power’s Home Energy Improvement Program, which we nearly maxed out!
Georgia Power offers a range of rebates to help their customers reduce their energy consumption. There are two pathways to savings. You can either select improvement measures à la carte through the “Individual Improvements” path or go the “Whole-House” approach. Individual improvements can include air or duct sealing, installing a programmable thermostat, or upgrading your home’s insulation, among other things. The whole-house approach includes a detailed home energy assessment with estimated energy savings. This is a service my company, SK Collaborative, provides, so of course I had to try it out on my own home!
The energy model estimates that the renovation will reduce energy consumption by 53.1% and that we’re saving $1,235 annually. Below is the breakdown in how we’re achieving these savings.
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
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.
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.”
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: http://sinsofgreenwashing.org/