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LEED Process

Go Green! Lessons from a Sustainable Medical Office Renovation

Sunset Green Home is working on a new project – a sustainable renovation of a small medical office suite – and we’re about to order the wall coverings, floor coverings, doors and windows.  So how are we making this office a healthy place for doctors, patients AND the environment?  One way is our careful choice of the materials that will be installed in the office.  Here’s what we’re including:

 Image: Trustile.com

Image: Trustile.com

MDF doors from TruStile with no added urea-formaldehyde.  Medium density fiberboard (MDF) contains nearly 100% recycled content.  It comprises sawdust wood fibers recaptured from sawmill waste.  But not all MDF is sustainable. To manufacture MDF, wood fibers are bound together with binders and resins - and those inputs still typically contain formaldehyde, a known carcinogen.  So, Sunset Green Home's team specified no added urea-formaldehyde MDF for the doors, which makes our MDF products recyclable at the end of their useful lives and - just as importantly - allows them to contribute to a healthy indoor environment.

Carpet tiles from InterfaceWe selected carpet tiles for their ease of replacement.  If the carpet becomes worn in certain areas, we can replace a few tiles as needed rather than an entire room of carpeting – an inherently sustainable strategy for reducing waste and lifecycle cost over time.  But that’s not all.  The carpet tiles we chose have pre-consumer (post-industrial) recycled content of 44% - 54% and post-consumer recycled content of 8% - 35%.  According to the US Green Building Council, incorporating recycled content reduces “impacts resulting from extraction and processing of virgin materials.”

 Image: Interface.com

Image: Interface.com

Low and no VOC paints and adhesives.  According to the US EPA, “Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects. Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors.”  To promote healthy indoor air quality, all paints and adhesives used in construction will be low-emitting products compliant with the requirements of the LEED® green building program.

Durable wall coverings with sustainable characteristics.  Duraprene™ wall covering from Designtex exceeds the durability performance standards of vinyl, but is composed of reclaimed wood fibers and natural latex.  We sought a very durable product for this medium-traffic application that could be wiped clean and that featured recycled content and no off-gassing.

 Image: Daltile.com

Image: Daltile.com

Durable porcelain tile for beauty and performance.  Durability is another key measure of a product's sustainability.  We chose Daltile's City View porcelain for the office vestibule and reception areas for its high slip resistance and breaking strength.  It will hold up well in a medium-traffic environment. The powder room and storage areas will use Daltile's Veranda Solids porcelain tile, another durable product that includes 17% recycled content.

 

 

We’re choosing our materials carefully to contain their environmental impact while creating a durable, healthy and attractive space!  Follow this project over the coming months to learn what else we’re doing to create a sustainable office space.

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Get to Know LEED®: How to Provide Thermal Comfort in a LEED for Homes Project

If you’ve been following Sunset Green Home, you know that the LEED for Homes green building program focuses on aspects of sustainability such as energy efficiency, water efficiency, sustainable site design and healthy indoor air quality.  But did you know that following the LEED for Homes guidelines results in greater thermal comfort for a home’s occupants?

On average, Americans spend approximately 90% of their time indoors.  So the LEED for Homes green building program offers strategies for achieving healthy indoor air quality – one aspect of which is occupant thermal comfort. 

Thermal comfort, which refers to a person’s satisfaction with the temperature of his or her environment, is influenced by several factors, each of which I’ll address in turn:

  1. Air temperature
  2. Air velocity
  3. Relative humidity
  4. Radiant temperature
 One of five thermostats that control Sunset Green Home's Mitsubishi heating and cooling system

One of five thermostats that control Sunset Green Home's Mitsubishi heating and cooling system

 1. Air Temperature

LEED for Homes encourages projects to install multi-zone systems for heating and cooling, which allows occupants to tailor the temperature of a space to their own perceived level of comfort.  In the Sunset Green Home project, we installed a four-ton five-zone Mitsubishi Hyper Heating inverter-driven heat pump system (sized using ACCA Manual J calculations…more about that later).  Not only is the system extremely energy efficient, but with a variable speed compressor, it delivers an even rate of heating and cooling once its set points have been reached. 

But air temperature isn’t controlled by mechanical heating and cooling alone.  Sunset Green Home also implemented strategies to provide passive means of keeping the air temperature where we want it to be:

  • High quality windows resist solar heat gain
  • Automated solar shades made of high performance fabrics preserve the view but cut down on the amount of solar heat admitted into the house.  Sunset Green Home's shades are tied into our Elan g! home automation system, which raises and lowers them automatically
  • Insulation levels that exceed Code requirements and attention to air sealing result in a home that naturally stays cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter – without any draftiness
 Solar shades from The Shade Store use high performance fabric from Phifer to control solar heat gain.  Somfy motors tie into Sunset Green Home's Elan g! home automation system

Solar shades from The Shade Store use high performance fabric from Phifer to control solar heat gain.  Somfy motors tie into Sunset Green Home's Elan g! home automation system

2. Air Velocity

Air movement reduces the temperature perceived by a room’s occupants.  The LEED for Homes program rewards projects that install ENERGY STAR rated ceiling fans in each bedroom and in the living spaces. 

But not all fans are created equal and occupant behavior can sometimes lead to INCREASED energy use rather than reduced energy use.  According to a 2013 article published by Green Building Advisor, “The same way a breeze cools you off, a ceiling fan can make you feel cooler, but only if you are close enough to it to feel the air blowing on you. If you can’t feel it, it isn’t doing any good.”  The article goes on to assert that another hazard with ceiling fans is that some have motors that create a great deal of heat – which runs counter to the desired cooling effect that most occupants hope to achieve. 

Big Ass Fans has come up with a solution to address both of these potential ceiling fan drawbacks.  The Big Ass Haiku model is the most energy efficient ENERGY STAR rated fan available – and an energy efficient motor generates less heat than a less efficient motor.  And Big Ass Fans has developed SenseME technology, an advanced technology that “monitors the room’s temperature and humidity, adjusting fan speed when conditions change.”  

"The typical home has more than three fans, but they’re no smarter or better looking than your great-grandma’s,” said Carey Smith, founder and Chief Big Ass of Big Ass Fans. “In the past couple of years, we’ve seen smart thermostats and smart light bulbs, yet you still have to pull a chain to start your ceiling fan.  SenseME changes everything."  According to Big Ass Fans, “SenseME knows when you enter or leave a room, turning Haiku on and off automatically.”

 Big Ass Fans' caramel bamboo Haiku fan with SenseME technology provides energy efficient air movement that automatically adjusts to changing occupancy and humidity conditions

Big Ass Fans' caramel bamboo Haiku fan with SenseME technology provides energy efficient air movement that automatically adjusts to changing occupancy and humidity conditions

According to the US Department of Energy, “using a ceiling fan will allow you to raise the thermostat setting about 4 degrees without impacting your comfort.”  Sunset Green Home elected to install Big Ass Haiku fans with SenseME technology in each bedroom, the living room and den, the screened porch, and in the pool cabana, which is not air conditioned.  By installing Haiku ceiling fans throughout the home, we have been able to commission our air conditioning at set points that are several degrees above where they’d be if we didn’t have the fans.  We’re cool and comfortable, and saving energy at the same time! 

3. Relative Humidity

LEED for Homes requires a project to size its heating and cooling equipment to its actual thermal load using industry standard calculations developed and approved by ACCA, the Air Conditioning Contractors of America, a non-profit body that creates that standards for HVAC design and performance.  The ACCA system sizing calculation (called a Manual J) ensures that a home’s heating and cooling equipment is not oversized.  Why is this important?  An oversized air conditioning system will reach its set point quickly and will then cycle off until the thermostat perceives that the temperature has moved beyond an acceptable deviation from the desired temperature, which in turn causes the equipment to start up again.  This on/off cycle can lead to humidity problems inside a home. 

Ideally, air conditioning equipment should run consistently; moisture is removed from the air as it passes across an air conditioner’s coils.  But a system that experiences “short cycling” will doesn’t move enough air across the compressor’s coils to dehumidify it.  Because it was sized using the ACCA Manual J calculation, Sunset Green Home’s Mitsubishi heating and cooling system’s properly sized variable speed compressor ensures that air is constantly moving across the coils.  And the system can be operated in “Dry” mode, which keeps the coil temperature just below the dew point of the return air to remove unwanted moisture from the home. 

4. Radiant Temperature

Radiant temperature refers to the heat emanating from surrounding surfaces.  LEED for Homes addresses radiant temperature effects through credits aimed at reducing the “heat island effect” – which occurs when surfaces in and around a structure absorb heat from the sun, and then radiate that heat into the structure and into the air around it.  By minimizing local heat island effects in warmer climates, a home’s air conditioning system won’t have to work as hard – or use as much energy – to cool the house.  We can minimize heat island effects by using light-colored materials for roofs, decks, driveways and sidewalks, and by providing shading to hardscapes.  Sunset Green Home installed a light colored permeable pebble driveway to reduce the heat island effect.

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 Big Ass Fans' Haiku with LED lighting and SenseME technology in one of Sunset Green Home's bedrooms

Big Ass Fans' Haiku with LED lighting and SenseME technology in one of Sunset Green Home's bedrooms

You don’t have to seek LEED certification to make smart decisions that will deliver energy and cost efficient thermal comfort.  When you are looking to install or upgrade your heating and cooling system, consider a multi-zone system to allow for individual occupant comfort, keep the air moving in occupied spaces to allow for more energy efficient temperature set points, and keep humidity at bay by not oversizing your system.  You’ll be comfortable, your pocketbook will be happier, and you’ll be reducing your impact on the environment.  This is a win-win-win for triple bottom line principles of economic, human and environmental impact.  

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Get to Know LEED: Reduce Appliance Energy Consumption

By Louis Caiola (editor: Kim Erle)

The LEED for Homes Green Building Program awards projects up to three points for energy and water efficient appliances.  Sunset Green Home plans to capture all three possible points.  Here's how…

High Efficiency Appliances (maximum 2 points):

A project can earn up to two points by choosing from a list of four high efficiency appliances types (in fact, Sunset Green Home will meet the requirements of all types, but the LEED for Homes only awards a maximum of two points in the credit category).

  1. ENERGY STAR labeled Refrigerator (1 point):  A new ENERGY STAR labeled refrigerator can save up to 50% more energy than models manufactured prior to 1993. Sunset Green Home will meet the requirement by installing a Thermador 30” fresh food column – selected not only for its energy efficiency, but because using separate fridge and freezer columns gives homeowners the ability to choose exactly the right size for their needs. 

    Does your refrigerator model meet the ENERGY STAR standards? Click here to find out more about ENERGY STAR labeled refrigerators.
     
  2. ENERGY STAR labeled Ceiling Fans (0.5 point):  Projects that install at least one fan in each bedroom and living room earn half a point toward LEED for Homes certification.  Sunset Green Home will be using Big Ass Haiku fans throughout the home, in each bedroom, and in the living spaces. Equally important is Sunset Green Home’s use of two Big Ass Haiku fans in the pool house, which isn’t air-conditioned. In that space, the fans provide the only source of thermal comfort.  Big Ass Haiku is the most energy efficient of all ceiling fans and is available with SenseME technology, which learns a user’s habits and adjusts itself accordingly.
     
  3. ENERGY STAR labeled Dishwasher (0.5 point):  ENERGY STAR labeled dishwashers are a minimum of 41% more efficient in terms of water use than federal government standard machines and 15% better in overall energy consumption. Sunset Green Home is using ENERGY STAR labeled dishwasher models from Thermador and Bosch.  
     
  4. ENERGY STAR labeled Clothes Washer (0.5 points):  LEED for Homes awards half a point to projects that install an ENERGY STAR labeled clothes washer. An ENERGY STAR labeled clothes washer uses 18-25 gallons of water per load as opposed to 40 gallons for a standard issue model.  Sunset Green Home is using Samsung’s high efficiency laundry machines, including the model WF9100 5.6 cubic foot front load washer, which earned an ENERGY STAR Most Efficient 2014 designation.  Washing machine energy use is measured using a “Modified Energy Factor” (MEF) – and the higher the better!  Sunset Green Home’s Samsung laundry machine boasts an EMF of 3.1.  By comparison, laundry machines can be ENERGY STAR certified with MEF greater than or equal to 1.72.

Water-Efficient Clothes Washer (1 point):

A LEED for Homes project may earn a third point by installing a water-efficient clothes washer.  Projects that earn credit in the high-efficiency appliances category can earn credit for the same laundry machine in the Water-Efficient Clothes Washer category as well.  Sunset Green Home’s Samsung washing machine has an Integrated Water Factor (WF) of 2.7, a measure of the number of gallons of water per cubic foot of capacity.  To earn the point, a project must install a clothes washer with the WF below 5.5.

Click here for more info on ENERGY STAR certification for clothes washers.

Sunset Green Home is earning the maximum available points toward LEED certification for our choice of energy efficient appliances.  When you're in the market for a new major appliance, consider following the LEED for Homes program guidance by upgrading to ENERGY STAR labeled appliances to minimize your appliance energy consumption.

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Get to Know LEED: Water Efficiency and Sustainable Landscaping

In the next few weeks, you're going to see the Sunset Green Home's landscape take shape.  We have assembled an amazing team of experienced and knowledgeable professionals in the landscaping business, and have selected the highest performing products to make the landscape as sustainable as it is beautiful.

 Image: Araiys Design

Image: Araiys Design

It's hard not to notice a beautifully done landscape.  But when we're admiring a well done landscape or garden, most of us don't think enough about whether it was crafted to support a healthy environment.  The LEED® for Homes green building program aims to change that by asking us to address the environmental impact of our landscaping choices.

A project can earn credit toward LEED certification by making irrigation and landscape design choices that support a sustainable site plan.  Here are the specifics:

  • Earn up to four points by installing a rainwater collection and storage system that holds the water from a one-inch rainfall on at least 50% of the roof
  • Earn up to four points by designing and installing a high-efficiency irrigation system and performing a third-party inspection to ensure it is working correctly
  • Earn up to seven points by including "landscape features to avoid invasive species and minimize demand for water and synthetic chemicals" (LEED for Homes Reference Guide)

Getting it right requires a good deal of coordination...which is why Sunset Green Home has assembled a team of irrigation and landscaping professionals with deep experience in the industry, and also in the local environment.

With over 20 years of experience in the region, Marcus Stinchi, of Marcus Stinchi Landscaping, is a true plant expert.  Marcus will incorporate native and adaptive plant material selected for its ability to do well in the variable conditions of the site, which is often windy and occasionally subject to salt-water flooding.  As we approach the plant installation date, Marcus has been working with his wholesale nurseries to identify healthy plant material that will support the landscape design.  "We do a lot of work on the ocean, and with environmentally sensitive seaside buffers.  I like to work with native plants, which are more beautiful than invasive species," Marcus explains.  

Tim Pogue, principal of Resort Lighting, a Hamptons-based irrigation and landscape lighting company, is a LEED Green Associate and is dedicated to supporting sustainable landscaping design with irrigation systems that meet WaterSense requirements and respond to the microclimates where they are installed.  Tim advises, “before designing and installing an irrigation system the local environment, soil, plant type and water source all need to be reviewed. LEED projects provide a gateway for success in water use, conservation and efficiency."

Even the best designers and installers need quality products and materials to make their work a success.  That's why Sunset Green Home reached out to a handful of important suppliers.  

Rhizomatous Tall Fescue is engineered to provide a deep, strong rooting system that quickly becomes established. This deep rooting means less watering is required as the grass plants derive their moisture from lower in the rootzone. As temperatures climb into the summer season, the sod will stay green and lush with less water. It also exhibits a self-repairing capability because of the rhizome it creates, where new shoots are formed underground and then develop into new grass plants. There is technology in turf, and RTF sod is on the forefront.
— Scott Geiser, DeLea Sod Farms
 Rhizomatous Tall Fescue

Rhizomatous Tall Fescue

LEED rewards projects that limit the use of conventional turf (i.e., lawn), and Sunset Green Home has designed a lawn comprising less than 60% of the home’s designed landscape – which enables the project to earn one point toward LEED certification.  For several reasons, our team made the choice to install sod rather than seed the lawn:

  • Grass seed is best planted in the fall.  However, autumn is also hurricane season, and Sunset Green Home is particularly sensitive to the adverse effects of strong storms.  We believe installing sod in the spring and giving it time to take root before storm season will be the best way to protect the site against storm erosion.
  • But we couldn't have made the decision to install sod had DeLea Sod Farms, one of the Hamptons' premier sod farms, not recommended its Rhizomatous Tall Fescue (RTF) sod, a LEED compliant drought tolerant variety whose root system grows deeper than that of conventional turf varieties.  DeLea Sod's Scott Geiser comments, "Rhizomatous Tall Fescue is engineered to provide a deep, strong rooting system that quickly becomes established. This deep rooting means less watering is required as the grass plants derive their moisture from lower in the rootzone.  As temperatures climb into the summer season, the sod will stay green and lush with less water. It also exhibits a self-repairing capability because of the rhizome it creates, where new shoots are formed underground and then develop into new grass plants. There is technology in turf, and RTF sod is on the forefront."
  • Finally, it has been nearly three years since Hurricane Sandy set off the events that brought about the Sunset Green Home project.  Frankly, we're eager to see the site finished.  Installing sod gets us that much closer to the finish line!
 Poly-Mart's 1,000 gallon Rainwater Harvesting Tank

Poly-Mart's 1,000 gallon Rainwater Harvesting Tank

Creating the Sunset Green Home landscape will require the installation of hundreds of individual plants.  And, even though we have selected the majority of those plants for their drought tolerance, we're still going to need supplemental water to keep them healthy.  It doesn't make sense to irrigate a landscape with municipal water that has gone through resource-intensive purification.  According to Sean Bravo of Poly-Mart, this is particularly true in a region that receives abundant rainfall and where a rainwater harvesting system becomes cost effective.  So, we are installing a rainwater harvesting system that features Poly-Mart's 1,000 gallon rainwater cistern as the centerpiece. 

 ATAS Aluminum Roof on Sunset Green Home

ATAS Aluminum Roof on Sunset Green Home

Sunset Green Home will capture rainwater from the standing seam ATAS aluminum roof of the pool house, an ideal surface for rainwater capture according to several recent studies.  A 2011 study published in the journal “Water Research” concluded that water captured from metal roofs has lower levels of dissolved carbon and carries less bacteria (e.g., coliform) than water collected from other roofing surfaces.  But that's not the only advantage of an aluminum roof.  Chris Kroeter is a LEED Green Associate and Product Representative for ATAS International, Inc.  As Chris explains, “In addition to its rainwater harvesting properties, metal roofing contributes to a sustainable building with its durability, longevity and recycled content.  The ‘cool roof’ pigments that are used in the paint finish of metal roofing offer higher solar reflectance values, which results in a building’s increased energy efficiency.”

 Hunter Irrigation Controller

Hunter Irrigation Controller

To deliver water to the plants, we will be using Hunter Industries’ WaterSense labeled irrigation system.  Featuring the Solar Sync ET and Rain-Clik components that read actual rainfall, temperature and other site conditions, the system will adjust itself to the specific microclimate of the Sunset Green Home site.

The final element of Sunset Green Home's irrigation system is the EZ-FLO automatic fertilizing system, which will allow us to use micro-dosing of organic fertilizers and compost teas.  The benefits of "fertigation" include:

  • Enhanced control over nutrient application
  • Nutrient application timed to coincide with ideal plant growth stage
  • Lower risk of environmental damage from leaching and runoff
 EZ-FLO Injection Tank

EZ-FLO Injection Tank

In fact, we will use two EZ-FLO systems - one for the vegetable garden and one for the lawn and ornamental plantings.  EZ-FLO's National Sales Manager, Darin Brasch, explains his company's involvement in the Sunset Green Home project: "Environmental stewardship is paramount for the continued growth and success of the irrigation and green industry. EZ-FLO is proud to be a selected partner for the Sunset Green Home project. Projects such as this will only further the industry’s and public’s awareness of sustainable landscaping practices."  Click here for more information about Fertigation.

Check back with us over the comings weeks as our landscape solution is installed.  We can't wait to see the beauty that a sustainable landscape contributes to Sunset Green Home.

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Progress Update: Insulation, Gypsum Walls and Tile Floors

It's Memorial Day weekend, and things have slowed down at the project site so that the construction crew can enjoy the holiday weekend.  But the last couple of weeks have been busy ones at Sunset Green Home.

Finishing the Insulation

Sunset Green Home's insulation has been completely installed.  And we "celebrated" by performing a preliminary blower door test to make sure everything was tightly sealed (look for an upcoming post on the topic of insulation and the important role it plays in Sunset Green Home's LEED certification).

 We are using a number of sustainable insulation products from CertainTeed, many of which can be seen in the photo below:

Insulation at Sunset Green Home
  • We started by spraying FortiCel mold prevention surface treatment on all of the exterior framing of the home (seen as a blue color on the wood framing above). 
  • CertaSpray™ Closed Cell Foam (not shown above) insulation was applied underneath the house and forms a tight air barrier that also prevents moisture from entering the home
  • In the roof rafters (shown above in the attic and in the cathedral ceiling of one of the upstairs bedrooms), CertaSpray™ Open Cell Foam provides an R-38 insulation value for the roof 
  • The blue SMARTBATT shown above and installed on Sunset Green Home's exterior walls provides R-21 insulation value and "features an integrated smart vapor retarder that blocks indoor moisture from entering when humidity in the wall cavity is low and breathes when it senses high humidity that needs to be released, reducing the potential for mold and mildew growth" (courtesy of CertainTeed)
  • Interior walls were insulated with unfaced fiberglass insulation (seen above) to reduce sound transmission between rooms.

With insulation complete and small air leaks identified and sealed, it was time to close the walls!

Installing Gypsum Wallboard

If you follow us on Twitter, you may have seen the photos I tweeted last week of the many varieties of CertainTeed gypsum wallboard products on site and ready to be applied to the walls of the home.  CertainTeed gypsum may contribute to the credits Sunset Green Home will earn in the Materials & Resources credit category, since the company manufactures its products within 500 miles of the project site.

The installation had just begun at my last site visit.  When I arrived this past Friday, I was happy to see that our subcontractor Ken Silver and his team had completed nearly all of the walls. 

The following are some of the types of gypsum wallboard that we're using in the project:

  • With its patent pending formaldehyde-scavenging technology, CertainTeed's AirRenew® Gypsum actively cleans the air in the home, capturing formaldehyde from the air and rendering it inert.
  • SilentFX® gypsum contains a layer of sound dampening Green Glue sandwiched between layers of M2Tech mold and moisture resistant gypsum.  Sunset Green Home is using SilentFX in areas where traditional sound-dampening insulation has been omitted, such as walls with pocket doors and ceilings with large numbers of recessed light fixtures, and in areas where extra noise reduction is desired (e.g., the walls of the laundry room).
  • Sunset Green Home is using Diamondback® GlasRoc® Tile Backer in the bathrooms where tile will be installed.  Diamondback contains embedded glass mats for moisture resistance and a polymer surface that resists tile slippage during installation.
  • Sunset Green Home has installed CertainTeed's moisture and mildew resistant M2Tech® gypsum in the basement, laundry and other areas that are vulnerable to the effects of excess moisture.

Check out the slide show below to see the different types of wallboard installed in the home.

Tile Floor Installation

While there wasn't a lot of activity over the weekend, our tile subcontractor, Frank Caputo, decided to work on Saturday and Sunday so he could have the house to himself with no dust being produced by any of the other trades.  And he made great progress on Sunset Green Home's bathroom tiling

On Saturday, Frank and his team "mudded" the floors.  That is, they installed a carefully leveled layer of mortar with metal mesh embedded into it for stability.  Considered the best underlayment for tile floors, this technique ensures that the floor tile will be completely flat and well supported - which will reduce the likelihood that uneven pressure will cause the floor tiles to break.  Having a well-installed underlayment is particularly important in projects like Sunset Green Home that use large format floor tiles.

We are installing Daltile's Veranda Solids™ Colorbody porcelain tile in "Fog" color in all of the bathrooms except for the master.  While the format will change (linear tile in the guest bath and large format rectangular tile in the upstairs bathrooms), the material selection is consistent throughout the home.

By Sunday morning, the "mud" floors had finished curing and Frank began to lay out the tile for one of the upstairs showers.  It looked like a completed floor.  But then he started to pull the tiles out of the shower.  I asked why - and his response was that he always does a "dry fit."  He lays the tile out completely to make sure everything fits perfectly before putting down any mortar.  That way, if there's a problem, he's not pulling out mortar along with the tile.

 "Mud" shower floor with tile installation about to be started

"Mud" shower floor with tile installation about to be started

I watched while he installed the first few sheets of 3" x 3" tile (our choice for its non-slip properties).  He applied a layer of thinset mortar and then carefully replaced the sheets that he had removed a few minutes earlier.  Then he moved onto the next set of tiles in the shower.  By the end of the day, Frank had completed all of the upstairs bathroom floors.

 Daltile's Veranda Fog porcelain tile in one of Sunset Green Home's bathrooms

Daltile's Veranda Fog porcelain tile in one of Sunset Green Home's bathrooms

Before I arrived on site, Frank had installed all of the master bathroom floor tile as well.  We selected Daltile's 24" x 24" honed Calacatta Gold marble for the floor of the bathroom.  Frank had to cut the 3" x 3" smaller tiles for the shower by hand and manually sand the edges of each tile to make sure they were smooth and uniform.  It's this extra attention to detail that makes our builder, Chris Mensch of Coastal Management, so happy with Frank's work.  Later this week, Frank will cut the tiles into 12" x 24" pieces to be run up the shower and vanity area walls.

 Daltile's Calacatta Gold honed marble tile in Sunset Green Home's master bathroom

Daltile's Calacatta Gold honed marble tile in Sunset Green Home's master bathroom

Not only are the tile floors beautiful and expertly installed, but they will also contribute to Sunset Green Home earning credit toward the project's LEED certification.  The LEED for Homes green building program rewards projects that install over 90% hard flooring, which is considered an Environmentally Preferable Product.  100% of Sunset Green Home's floors will be hard flooring (either tile or wood).

When Frank finishes with the upstairs tile work, he will move downstairs to the guest bathroom and mud room hallway.  We can't wait to see the progress when we come back next week!

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Get to Know LEED®: Water Heating

According to the LEED for Homes Reference Guide, “as much as one-third of a home’s total energy bill is spent on heating water.”  That's why the LEED for Homes green building program rewards projects that incorporate strategies for reducing the energy use associated with heating water. 

Energy associated with water heating may go to waste in several places between the source of heat and the tap:

  • Inefficient plumbing design, which increases the distance that hot water needs to travel to get to the tap
  • Heat loss from uninsulated pipes
  • Inefficiency of the hot water heating equipment

The LEED for Homes program addresses each of these potential energy efficiency losses:

  • Distribution System Design. Projects that include an energy efficient hot water distribution system design may earn up to two points toward certification.  Such designs include structured plumbing systems with demand controlled circulation loops; central manifold systems that minimize the length of hot water branches from a central trunk; and compact design of conventional systems, which meet criteria limiting the length of plumbing branches and the diameter of plumbing pipes.  
  • Pipe Insulation. Projects may earn one point toward certification by installing R-4 insulation on all hot water piping.  Pipes must be completely insulated – even where they pass through the home’s framing.  Sunset Green Home will earn this point.
  • Efficient Domestic Hot Water Equipment.  The greatest point-earning potential comes from specifying efficient hot water hearing equipment.  Sunset Green Home will earn two of three possible points by using Rinnai’s tankless hot water heaters (a project can only earn the full three points by installing solar or heat pump hot water heaters – which were not practical or cost-effective for Sunset Green Home).  Sunset Green Home’s Rinnai hot water heaters far exceed the 0.8 Energy Factor required to earn the points.  With an Energy Factor of 0.95, the ENERGY STAR qualified RUC98i models installed in Sunset Green Home lead the industry in terms of efficiency.
 Rinnai's RUC98i tankless hot water heaters on the left and an insulated hot water pipe in the wall on the right.

Rinnai's RUC98i tankless hot water heaters on the left and an insulated hot water pipe in the wall on the right.

We selected Rinnai for its industry leadership in tankless hot water heating technology.  Federal efficiency requirements were enacted in 2010 with an adoption date of April 2015, just one month ago.  But Rinnai’s tankless hot water heaters already met the standard.  And Rinnai’s Ultra Series tankless hot water heaters that will be used at Sunset Green Home also meet the more stringent requirements of 2015 updates to the ENERGY STAR program.

Sunset Green Home’s builder consulted with Rinnai to design a system with two hot water heaters connected together to serve the home’s hot water needs.  The second heater will only fire if the first one is unable to meet hot water demand. 

Sunset Green Home’s hot water heaters were installed last week.  We can’t wait to take them for a test drive!

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Get to Know LEED®: Central Vacuum for Contaminant Control

Sunset Green Home is about to close up its walls.  Electrical and plumbing inspections have been completed. And installation of insulation is underway.  We're only a few days away from beginning to install the home's drywall.

On a recent visit, I snapped a few photos of an important system that is installed inside the home's walls: our BEAM Alliance central vacuum system.  Most households own a vacuum cleaner, but did you know that the LEED for Homes green building program awards a point toward LEED certification to projects that install a central vacuum system with exhaust to the outdoors? 

Here's why...

According to the LEED for Homes Reference Guide, "a majority of the dirt and dust in homes is tracked in by occupants.  Debris carried into the house from shoes often contains lead, asbestos, pesticides, and other hazardous materials...Central vacuums exhaust collected dust and particulates to the outdoors."

In last month's Practical Sustainability column, I advocated taking one's shoes off inside the house.  We do it at home, and find that our home stays cleaner and requires less maintenance.  But even when we remove our shoes, we still find that our floor needs to be vacuumed.  Conventional vacuums recirculate the air they use to draw dirt inside.  Even the best filters still exhaust the smallest particulates back into the room.  By contrast, since LEED compliant central vacuums exhaust the air outdoors, any particulates that are picked up by the vacuum will either be trapped by the system or exhausted to the home's exterior.

Central vacuum systems are easy to install in new construction (and can also be retrofitted into existing homes).  Inlet valves are installed in the walls or baseboards as in the photo below:

The wall inlet valves are connected to vacuum piping, which runs to the power unit (located in the home's mechanical room, in the case of Sunset Green Home.  Note, in the photo below, the low voltage wire that runs along the piping, enabling the vacuum handle to communicate with the power unit in a BEAM Alliance system.

Sunset Green Home will earn one point toward certification by installing a central vacuum system.  We're using the BEAM Alliance - 650SB model, which features a hose handle that communicates with the power unit located in Sunset Green Home's mechanical room.  The bells and whistles are nice to have, but what makes us really happy is the knowledge that we're installing a system designed to improve Sunset Green Home's indoor air quality.


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Practical Sustainability: Take Off Your Shoes!

 Image courtesy of PANPOTE at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of PANPOTE at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This month’s Practical Sustainability column describes how you can save money and improve the healthiness of your home – with zero investment.  All it takes is a willingness to take off your shoes when you come in from outside.

While we occasionally relax our “no shoes inside” habit when we host a dinner party, for our family taking our shoes off before we come inside is the norm.  But what does this have to do with sustainability, you might wonder?  The answer is a whole lot! 

Removing your shoes at the door extends the life of your carpets and floors.  Tiny pebbles between the treads of our sneakers can scratch our wood floors.  And dirt on the bottoms of our loafers will rub off onto our rugs and floors.  By reducing the wear and tear on our floors and carpets, we’re extending their life span – and delaying the time until they need to be recycled or sent to a landfill.

Because our rugs and floors generally stay cleaner if we remove our shoes before entering, we’re spending less time vacuuming and mopping.  We’re using less electricity to run the vacuum, and purchasing fewer cleaning supplies for mopping and stain removal.  While the financial benefits of reduced maintenance might be hard to quantify, we know intuitively that we’re keeping a few dollars in our pockets by having cleaner floors.

Most importantly, by keeping our “outside shoes” beyond the threshold of our home, we are contributing to a healthy indoor environment.  Nine years ago, our dog Ginger came into our lives.  And that was a real eye opener!  I am more aware now of what has been deposited on the city sidewalks just outside our home.  All you need is to experience one case of canine giardia and that’ll have you wiping your dog’s feet every time she comes in from a walk!

If you live in the suburbs, what you track inside on the bottoms of your shoes may be different from the toxins that lurk on city sidewalks, but they’re still potentially harmful.  Pesticides and weed killers can remain on your lawn for up to a week after they are applied.  As you walk across the lawn, your shoes are picking up those toxins.  You may also track pollen and other allergens inside after a walk in the neighborhood.  When you pass through your garage to get into the house, you may pick up oil and other contaminants form the garage floor.

The LEED for Homes green building program awards a point toward certification to projects that “design a shoe removal and storage space near the primary entryway, separated from living areas.”  The area must include seating and storage space for two pairs of shoes for each bedroom in the home.  According to the LEED® for Homes Reference Guide, “debris carried into the house from shoes often contains lead, asbestos, pesticides, and other hazardous materials…One of the most effective approaches to reducing indoor contaminants is removing shoes upon entry.”  Good Morning America found that shoe soles were “dirtier than a toilet seat” in a 2008 study conducted by the ABC News production.

Taking off your shoes at the door is common sense and costs you nothing.  But it could save you time and money on home maintenance, and can lead to a healthier indoor environment.  So what are you waiting for?  Take off your shoes at the door when you get home from work today. 

Now that’s what I call Practical Sustainability!

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Get to Know LEED®: Efficient Heating and Air Conditioning Equipment is not Enough! Get the Ducts Done Right.

If you’re considering new heating or air conditioning equipment to improve your home’s
energy efficiency and thermal comfort, you’re taking a step in the right direction. But
unless you get the heating and cooling distribution - meaning the ducts through
which your cool and/or warm air travels - done right, you’re leaving money on the table,
so to speak.

The LEED® for Homes green building program awards a project up to three points for
measures aimed at optimizing the distribution of heating and cooling. And there’s a good
reason to do so. According to the LEED for Homes Reference Guide,

“In typical new homes, duct leakage may account for 15% to 25% of total
heating and cooling energy use. Leaky supply ducts running through
unconditioned spaces may dump conditioned air outside or draw
unconditioned outside air into the home…Reducing the duct leakage rate
saves energy, but more importantly, properly designed and sealed duct
systems deliver air more effectively within the home. Unevenly hot or
cold rooms are often caused by leaky ducts.”

So what is Sunset Green Home doing to ensure occupant comfort and earn points toward
LEED certification? We’re following the LEED for Homes green building program’s
guidelines for duct design and installation.

First, Sunset Green Home is minimizing the number and size of duct runs by installing
Mitsubishi Electric’s Multi-Zone Hyper Heat mini split system for heating and cooling. The
system has a single outside air source heat pump (compressor) connected to five air
handlers, each of which is attached to short duct runs that serve the rooms in the
house. By contrast, duct work for a conventional forced air system might have large
ducts running throughout the home from a single heat or cool air source – making
efficiency losses from the duct work more likely.

  Air handler in the background with short duct runs to serve the bedrooms below.

Air handler in the background with short duct runs to serve the bedrooms below.

Second, Sunset Green Home has used industry-approved software to calculate the amount
of air required for each room based on such factors as the size of the room, the number
and size of its windows, and which direction it faces. The ducts have been designed
(sized) to deliver exactly what each room needs based on its unique conditions.

 Short duct run sized for required air flow.

Short duct run sized for required air flow.

Third, Flanders Heating & Air Conditioning, Sunset Green Home’s HVAC contractor, has
followed the LEED for Homes program’s guidelines for locating the air handlers and
short ducts runs that will serve each room. Air handlers have been placed inside the
conditioned envelope of the house. Three air handlers are in the attic of the house (which
is insulated at the rafters, and therefore part of the home’s conditioned envelope) and two
are located in closets on the first floor of the home.

 Air handler and ducts located in the conditioned attic space.

Air handler and ducts located in the conditioned attic space.

Lastly, Flanders has followed the LEED for Home’s guidelines for duct sealing and
insulation.

  • Sheet metal ducts will have their joints and seams sealed
  • Insulation seams will be sealed with foil tape or duct butter
  • Sheet metal supply ducts will be wrapped with R-6 foil faced fiberglass insulation
  • When installation is complete, all ducts will be sealed to prevent construction dust and debris from entering
 Air handler with insulated ducts.

Air handler with insulated ducts.

Flanders is also installing acoustical lining in all sheet metal return ducts. While not
critical to the system's energy efficiency, acoustical lining contributes to occupant
comfort by ensuring that the system operates quietly.

Getting the ductwork right can contribute to a high performing heating and cooling
system. If you're considering installing a new system or upgrading your existing HVAC
system, be sure to discuss the distribution system with your contractor. Limit air leakage
to outside of the conditioned envelope of your home by optimally sealing, insulating and
locating your ductwork.

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Progress Update: Still Working Outdoors Even in a Deep Freeze

Chris Mensch’s crew from Coastal Management deserved a medal last week!  Despite the deep freeze that is blanketing the northeast, Chris’ team made tremendous progress on Sunset Green Home’s FSC-certified cumaru decking installation.

In planning Sunset Green Home's porches and decks, we wanted to use natural wood decking for its aesthetic appeal and comfort underfoot.  And we were equally concerned about the deck's ability to stand up to the harsh coastal environment where Sunset Green Home is located.  We chose tropical cumaru for its hardness, insect and rot resistance, and natural beauty.  But installing cumaru in a LEED® project would require us to meet a stringent prerequisite in the LEED for Homes Materials & Resources category.  

According to the LEED for Homes reference guide, "if tropical wood is intentionally used (i.e., specified in purchasing documents), use only FSC-certified tropical wood products."  The LEED for Homes green building program includes this requirement in order to ensure that tropical wood products used in LEED projects are grown and harvested using sustainable practices.  After all, according to the Forest Stewardship Council, "deforestation and forest destruction is the second leading cause of carbon pollution, causing 20% of total greenhouse gas emissions."  The Forest Stewardship Council's mission is "to promote environmentally sound, socially beneficial and economically prosperous management of the world's forests." 

Sterritt Lumber sourced Sunset Green Home's beautiful Bolivian cumaru from WalkGreen™.  The proof of the decking material's FSC certification is a "Chain of Custody" document that will be reviewed by Sunset Green Home's verification team prior to the project's LEED certification.

Durability was also a factor in Sunset Green Home's choice of installation method and materials.  The decking, which runs parallel to the long side of the swimming pool, has been top-nailed with ring shank decking nails from Simpson Strong-Tie in 316 grade stainless steel, which is more resistant to corrosion than 304 grade stainless steel.  Choosing the right nails was critical for Sunset Green Home, as the project has been designed for resiliency in a coastal environment.

 FSC certified cumaru decking alongside Sunset Green Home's pool

FSC certified cumaru decking alongside Sunset Green Home's pool

For a long time we were practicing our "balance beam" skills and walking along the top of the deck framing members to get from the main house to the pool house.  It's great that we can now walk easily between the two structures.

 Decking extends from the main house to the pool house.

Decking extends from the main house to the pool house.

The decking now extends into the area that will be Sunset Green Home's screened porch, and continues along the water-facing side of the house.  There's only a small section of deck remaining to be installed...just in time for the upcoming delivery of our posts and stainless steel railing assembly.

 Screened porch decking installation

Screened porch decking installation

Sunset Green Home's exterior work is coming to a close, at the same time that interior work is ramping up.  Stay tuned for upcoming posts about our HVAC, plumbing and electrical installations.  

The team from Flanders Heating & Air Conditioning is already very busy indoors.  They've completed the installation of Sunset Green Home's ComfoAir 550 ERV (Energy Recovery Ventilator) by Zehnder America, have hung the air handlers for the home's Mitsubishi Electric Cooling & Heating multi-zone Hyper Heating INVERTER H2i MXZ system, and have started installing the short duct runs that will connect the air handlers to the rooms they will serve.  We'll post photos of these installations shortly.

Sunset Green Home
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Get to Know LEED®: Healthy Air and Greater Energy Efficiency – a Win-Win for Sunset Green Home

According to the LEED for Homes Reference Guide,

“Outdoor air has historically been provided through leaks in the house envelope, but energy concerns have led to construction practices with reduced natural infiltration.  Homes with insufficient outdoor air have problems with humidity, odors, and pollutants that can lead to discomfort and increased health risks.”

As a prerequisite in the LEED for Homes green building program, a project must “design and install a whole building ventilation system that complies with ASHRAE Standard 62.2-2007,” a standard developed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers that details ventilation rates and strategies for healthy homes. 

LEED for Homes awards two points to projects that go beyond basic ventilation measures and “install a system that provides heat transfer between the incoming outdoor air stream and the exhaust air stream.”  An additional point can be earned by projects that undertake commissioning to verify that the ASHRAE 62.2 ventilation requirements are being met by the system.  Sunset Green Home plans to capture all three of the available points.

To earn the points and provide healthy air while increasing the homes energy efficiency, Sunset Green Home will install the ComfoAir 550 ventilation system by Zehnder America.  In simple terms, the ComfoAir 550 ERV “pre-conditions” the fresh air as it enters the home by moving it past the exhausting air in a “heat exchanger” to capturing the warmth in the exhaust air in the winter and coolness of the exhaust air in the summer. 

Why did we choose Zehnder?  As mentioned above, we have two goals for Sunset Green Home’s ventilation:

1.       Provide healthy air to occupants, by exhausting stale air from bathrooms and kitchens while supplying fresh air to bedrooms and living spaces

2.       Improve the home’s ventilation energy efficiency

Providing fresh air to bedrooms and living spaces is only comfortable for occupants if the temperature differential between the ambient air and the incoming air is very low.  After all, in the winter, who wants fresh air in a bedroom if the temperature difference is so great that the air feels drafty?  The reverse is true for warm fresh air in an air conditioned room in the summer.  We look at a metric called Apparent Sensible Effectiveness (ASE), which compares the temperatures of the two air streams – fresh and stale – as they travel through the ERV, and predicts the difference an occupant will sense.  Zehnder’s ComfoAir ERVs are the most effective in the industry at minimizing the temperature differential between fresh and ambient air. 

But that’s only part of the story.  Sunset Green Home hopes to achieve LEED Platinum certification at completion, and has very aggressive energy efficiency goals.  So we also look at Sensible Recovery Efficiency (SRE), which factors in the energy used by the ERV to do its job. And again, Zehnder's products lead the industry in SRE.

Zehnder House Graphic.jpg

We considered other factors as well, that are not specific to Zehnder, but that represent best practice for ERV selection.  Best practice ERV design calls for separate dedicated ductwork for supply and return air, which facilitates balancing of the system.  In an existing home, installation of an ERV may necessitate using existing ductwork, which tends to be much larger than is needed for balanced ventilation.  But Sunset Green Home is new construction, so we are able to install dedicated ducts for the ERV.  Another best practice – for healthy air, comfort, and energy efficiency – is to provide continuous ventilation rather than intermittent ventilation.  By operating through its own dedicated ducts (rather than relying on a central air system to move fresh air through the ductwork), the Zehnder system is sized to always be “on” – and delivering fresh air to the home.

Sunset Green Home co-hosted a two-day workshop in November with Zehnder America that was attended by trade professionals from as far as New York City and Connecticut (the workshop took place at the office of Coastal Management, Sunset Green Home’s builder, and at the Sunset Green Home site in eastern Long Island). 

On Day One, Barry Stephens of Zehnder America lectured the group on the benefits of balanced mechanical ventilation, the various technologies employed by ERV manufacturers, and the characteristics of the Zehnder ComfoAir products.

On Day Two of the workshop, which took place on site at Sunset Green Home, Barry demonstrated how each of the elements of the system functions, and how it should be installed. 

Zehnder Workshop 5
Zehnder Workshop 3

Zehnder reviews its customers’ architectural plans as a free service and then engineers customized systems that include the heat exchanger, controls, ductwork, registers and all other required components. 

During the installation demonstration portion of the workshop, Barry worked directly from the plans with Sunset Green Home’s HVAC installers from Flanders Heating & Air Conditioning, to assess field conditions and determine any changes that would have to be made based on the location of structural framing members and other factors. 

“We’ve been designing and installing these types of systems for over a decade now,” says Doug Matz, owner of Flanders Heating & Air Conditioning. “They really are remarkable in terms of both reducing environmental impact and increasing cost-savings for the homeowner.” He adds, “To be honest, engineering ventilation for LEED-certified projects can be a challenging process. But in this case in particular, given what the owners went through as a result of Hurricane Sandy it’s especially rewarding."

Zehnder Workshop 6
Zehnder Workshop 2

Whether you’re building a new home or undertaking a major renovation, get to know the LEED green building program.  You don’t have to seek LEED certification to apply the program’s guidelines to your project.  And in the case of balanced mechanical ventilation, you’ll breathe easier knowing that your home is getting all the fresh air it needs.

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Get to Know LEED: The Bathrooms Are Gorgeous…But That’s Not the Point!

Sunset Green Home’s bathrooms will be beautiful.  Each bath will feature Duravit’s Vero bath furniture series, which was awarded a 2014 Iconic Award from the German Design Council.  Axor/Hansgrohe, the manufacturer of Sunset Green Home’s faucets and shower products, took home the “Best of the Best” 2014 Interior Innovation Award.  But in a home that hopes to achieve LEED Platinum certification, beautiful baths are nice to have, but that’s not the point.

  Duravit's Vero vanity and washbasin.  Image courtesy of Duravit.

Duravit's Vero vanity and washbasin.  Image courtesy of Duravit.

Sunset Green Home hopes to earn five out of six available points for Indoor Water Use in the LEED for Homes rating system’s Water Efficiency category.  And that’s where both Duravit and Axor/Hansgrohe will make real measurable contributions.

Toilets

To earn two points for water efficiency, a project’s toilets must have a flow rate of less than 1.1 gallons per flush (gpf).  According to the LEED for Homes Reference Guide, high efficiency toilets (HETs) achieve their flow targets “by employing improved hydraulic designs, improved technologies, better valving, and in some cases smaller tanks.”  Not all low flush products can deliver high performance, so the US EPA has created the WaterSense program to certify products that deliver at least 20% greater efficiency without sacrificing performance.

Sunset Green Home has chosen Duravit’s WaterSense dual flush Durastyle toilet.  A high efficiency toilet, the Durastyle toilet uses 0.8 gpf for liquid waste and 1.6 gpf for solid waste.  Using the LEED green building program’s weighted average flow rate calculations, the Durastyle HET toilet comes in at 1.07 gpf – which will allow Sunset Green Home to capture the maximum Water Efficiency: Indoor Water Use points available for the project’s toilets.

  Duravit's Durastyle dual-flush toilet.  Image courtesy of Duravit.

Duravit's Durastyle dual-flush toilet.  Image courtesy of Duravit.

Faucets

Faucets and showers are measured by their flow rates in gallons per minute (gpm).  According to the US EPA, “If every home in the United States replaced existing faucets and aerators with WaterSense labeled models, we could save nearly $1.2 billion in water and energy costs and 64 billion gallons of water across the country annually - equivalent to the annual household water needs of more than 680,000 American homes.”

To earn two points for faucets, Sunset Green Home must install faucets with flow rates no greater than 1.5 gpm.  All of Axor and Hansgrohe faucets include the company’s EcoRight technology, which limits their flows rates to 1.5 gpm, without any sacrifice in performance, and allows them to earn the EPA’s WaterSense label.  Using Axor and Hansgrohe's design-forward faucets not only contributes to beautiful bathrooms, but permits Sunset Green Home to capture the maximum two points available in the Water Efficiency: Indoor Water Use category for faucets. 

  Hansgrohe's PuraVida faucet.  Image courtesy of Hansgrohe.

Hansgrohe's PuraVida faucet.  Image courtesy of Hansgrohe.

Showers

The final Water Efficiency: Indoor Water Use category addresses the flow rate of showers, which must be less than or equal to 2.0 gpm per stall to earn one point and 1.75 gpm per stall to earn the maximum of two points.  Sunset Green Home has selected a variety of showerheads and hand showers with flow rates of 2.0 gpm and 1.75 gpm.  With these WaterSense shower fittings, Sunset Green Home will earn one of two possible points in the shower category.

  Hansgrohe's Raindance S150 AIR Green showerhead.  Image courtesy of Hansgrohe.

Hansgrohe's Raindance S150 AIR Green showerhead.  Image courtesy of Hansgrohe.

Most people who visit Sunset Green Home (sign up for our newsletter to learn when we will be offering house tours) will remark on the aesthetics of the home’s bathrooms.  After all, they will be outfitted with furniture, sanitary ceramics, fixtures and fittings that have won a host of design awards. 

But we know what really matters is that the bathrooms are saving water with each gorgeous rinse and flush!

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Wind Resistant Building: Protecting Sunset Green Home from the Next Hurricane

Hurricane Season in the Atlantic typically runs from the beginning of June through the end of November.  September is historically the busiest month of the hurricane season.  The Sunset Green Home team is grateful that September is over and we managed to get the house fully framed and reinforced with hurricane ties from Simpson Strong-Tie®, one of Sunset Green Home’s sponsors.  We’re lucky that – so far! – this has been the quietest Atlantic hurricane season in nearly 30 years.

If you don’t live in a strong wind zone, you might not be familiar with strategies for protecting a home against severe wind loads.  So what are Sunset Green Home’s hurricane resistant construction features?

Hurricane Strapping

For Sunset Green Home, hurricane resistant construction began with the project’s architect, Bill Heine, who evaluated the building’s vertical and horizontal load paths, and created detailed instructions for the number and types of hurricane ties required for the house to be able to resist both lateral and uplift wind loads.  These instructions were integrated into the architectural drawings for the house.  Hurricane strapping is required by the building code and, according to Simpson Strong-Tie, “is used to provide a positive connection between truss/rafter and the wall of the structure to resist wind.”

 Sunset Green Home's architectural drawings with load calculations and hurricane strapping specifications

Sunset Green Home's architectural drawings with load calculations and hurricane strapping specifications

This short video, from the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety depicts how hurricane strapping is used to create a Continuous Load Path (CLP) that enables a home to resist the force of strong wind events:

Hurricane ties come in many forms, some of which are seen in the slideshow below:

Continuous Sheathing

Installing continuous sheathing on the exterior of the home not only provides an airtight and water tight shell but, when tied to the foundation below and roof above, sheathing also acts as a barrier against hurricane force winds.  Zip System sheathing helps make Sunset Green Home better able to withstand high winds. 

Protection From Wind Borne Debris

The final element of Sunset Green Home’s hurricane resistant construction is our use of impact-resistant (IZ3) coastal Integrity windows by Marvin.  When flying debris shatters a window during a severe storm, a home is not only susceptible to water damage from rain entering into the structure, but an even greater risk arises when a window or door fails and a home becomes pressurized from the inside.  Wind pushing against the roof and walls from within a home can potentially lead to catastrophic failure – and can literally blow the roof off the house!  With reinforced sashes, frames and locking points, Integrity IZ3 windows meet International Building Codes for coastal areas in Atlantic and Gulf Coast states.

Sunset Green Home replaces a house that was made uninhabitable when Hurricane Sandy struck in October 2012.  The LEED for Homes green building program requires a project team to consider durability measures when designing a home.  We’re confident that we’ve applied the building code and have made additional elective enhancements that will carry Sunset Green Home through the next major storm.

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Sunset Green Home Progress Update: Getting Ready for the Roof

It's been a few weeks since our last progress update, and there's been a lot of activity on the Sunset Green Home site.  

Here's what Sunset Green Home looked like toward the end of August...

 Sunset Green Home on August 17, 2014

Sunset Green Home on August 17, 2014

And what it looks like now...

 Sunset Green Home on September 17, 2014

Sunset Green Home on September 17, 2014

Over the past few weeks, the team from Fay Framing has been framing the house, installing ZIP System™ sheathing, and beginning to build the home's decks and porches.  This week, the framers started to seal the ZIP System sheathing with ZIP System™ Tape to create a water tight and airtight shell.

 Applying ZIP System Tape to the walls...

Applying ZIP System Tape to the walls...

 ...and to the roof of Sunset Green Home

...and to the roof of Sunset Green Home

Progress continued inside the house as well, where the framers have been putting the finishing touches on the interior walls and ceilings, and have begun to cut out the window openings.  The job site is always left clean at the end of a work day.

 Looking up at the Double Height Entry

Looking up at the Double Height Entry

 Interior - Framed and Clean!

Interior - Framed and Clean!

While the team from Fay Framing was working on the house, the Sunset Green Home project team was busy learning about energy efficient and environmentally friendly technologies and products that might make sense to incorporate into the project.  We met with Chris Kroeter, LEED Green Associate and regional product representative for ATAS International, Inc.  Chris advised us about ATAS' energy efficient aluminum roofing and metal wall products (some of which will be incorporated into Sunset Green Home...look for our upcoming sponsorship announcement).

 BillHeine, Architect, and Tom Downing, partner at Coastal Management reviewing ATAS International's product offerings with Chris Kroeter, LEED Green Associate and ATAS product representative

BillHeine, Architect, and Tom Downing, partner at Coastal Management reviewing ATAS International's product offerings with Chris Kroeter, LEED Green Associate and ATAS product representative

Our team also met with Chris Reardon, Strategic Account Manager at CertainTeed to hear about the company's innovative gypsum products, which include AirRenew, a VOC scavenging gypsum board that permanently removes VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds, such as formaldehyde) circulating within a home while also resisting moisture and mold conditions.  We think the product is a great fit, given Sunset Green Home's tight building envelope and desire for enhanced indoor air quality.

 Kathryn Cannon, LEED AP Homes (left), Bill Heine, Architect (second from left) and Chris Mensch, partner at Coastal Management (right) learn about CertainTeed's VOC scavenging gypsum and other innovative gypsum products from Chris Reardon, Strategic Account Manager at CertainTeed

Kathryn Cannon, LEED AP Homes (left), Bill Heine, Architect (second from left) and Chris Mensch, partner at Coastal Management (right) learn about CertainTeed's VOC scavenging gypsum and other innovative gypsum products from Chris Reardon, Strategic Account Manager at CertainTeed

Our team visited an installation of Easy Roof, an innovative solar panel racking system that allows the panels to be attached directly to the roof sheathing, without a finished roof underneath.  

 Easy Roof Demonstration Installation

Easy Roof Demonstration Installation

Now that the framing is nearly complete, it's time to start on the exterior trim.  Speonk Lumber delivered Sunset Green Home's first order of Boral TruExterior® trim, a durable and dimensionally stable exterior trim product that contains fly ash, a by-product of coal combustion, and includes over 70% recycled content.  Sunset Green Home will earn credit toward our LEED certification in the Materials & Resources category by incorporating Boral TruExterior trim in the project. 

 Brian Fay Delivering Sunset Green Home's First Load of Boral TruExterior Trim

Brian Fay Delivering Sunset Green Home's First Load of Boral TruExterior Trim

That's a lot to report for such a short time frame!  Here's a slide show recap of four weeks of framing progress...

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Get to Know LEED®: Indoor Air Quality

A friend just completed an elegant gut renovation – down to the studs – of her home.  She did everything right in terms of energy efficiency – installing insulation with an R-value considerably greater than what was required by Code, new windows and a geo-thermal heat pump.  The work included new sheetrock, hardwood floors and interior doors.  A fresh coat of paint and new draperies and furniture finished off the renovation.  The end product is a lovely home that will bring her pleasure for years to come.  But right now, her renovation is just one big headache…

After living in the home for just a week, she couldn’t figure out why she was having persistent headaches.  Her doctor ran some tests.  Everything was negative.  And then he asked if she had made any other major changes in her life.  Her doctor’s diagnosis upon hearing that she had just moved back into her renovated home?  Your house is making you sick.

Americans spend 90% of their time indoors.  So, if you’re building a new house or doing work on your existing home, there are some things you can – and should – do to make sure that the air you breathe inside your home is fresh and clean.

 Image courtesy of Idea go at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Idea go at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In general, 21st century homes are very “tight,” which is great from the standpoint of energy efficiency.  We’re not paying to heat or cool air that then finds its way outside the home through leaky windows or walls.  But this also means toxins that enter our homes have a much more difficult time finding their way back out.  In fact, the LEED for Homes Reference Guide states that indoor “levels of pollutants run two to five times – and occasionally more than 100 times – higher than outdoors, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency” (EPA).

Indoor Environmental Quality is one of the major credit categories in the LEED for Homes green building program.  Sunset Green Home is selecting building materials and installing mechanical systems to ensure that the air inside the home is fresh and healthy. 

LEED proposes three strategies for creating healthy indoor environments:

  • Source Control – making sure that contaminants do not enter the home
  • Source Removal – capturing pollutants that are already inside a home
  • Dilution – ventilating a home using fresh air and exhausting pollutants to the outdoors

But you don’t need to go for LEED certification to have high quality air inside your home.  Here are some practical ways that you can apply all three strategies within your home…

Source Control.  Be aware of potential toxins and keep them from entering your home. 

Many paints, adhesives and varnishes contain Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that have the potential for dangerous offgassing inside your home.  Read the labels!  And choose low- or no-VOC coatings wherever possible.  Many of us know that a “new paint” smell is not healthy.  Low- and no-VOC paints are now produced by all of the major paint manufacturers such as Benjamin Moore, Sherwin-Williams and Valspar. 

Sherwin Williams Harmony.jpg
Valspar Ultra.png

And dangerous toxins are lurking in other materials that we don’t think about. Furniture, carpeting, wall coverings and interior doors may also emit toxic gases into your home. 

 TruStile  certified 75% recycled MDF  doors with no added urea-formaldehyde (NAUF) featured in the  2014 New American Home , co-sponsored by  NAHB  and  Builder Magazine

TruStile certified 75% recycled MDF doors with no added urea-formaldehyde (NAUF) featured in the 2014 New American Home, co-sponsored by NAHB and Builder Magazine

Take the time to learn what building materials are being used in your home, and specify those with the lowest offgassing potential.  For example, medium-density fibreboard (MDF) is a very stable material that doesn’t warp.  Given Sunset Green Home’s coastal location and proximity to the water, we plan to specify MDF interior doors.  But we’re specifying MDF doors made by TruStile that contain “no added urea formaldehyde” (NAUF) resins, as urea formaldehyde is a known carcinogen. 

 

In fact, the LEED green building program is so concerned about VOCs that many low-emitting building materials can earn a project ½ point each toward certification.

Radon gas is another dangerous pollutant that is linked to increased risk of lung cancer.  The EPA publishes a radon risk map and a Consumer's Guide to Radon Reduction, and recommends that all homes be tested for radon gas.  If your home is found to have an elevated level of radon, you will need to hire a qualified radon mitigator to install a system that will pipe the radon from under your home to prevent it from finding its way inside.  LEED for Homes requires homes in the highest radon risk areas to incorporate radon-resistant building methods and offers credit to homes in lower risk areas if they voluntarily include such strategies.

Keep mold and mildew from forming by running bathroom fans, venting attic spaces, and maintaining relative humidity in the home in the range of 30% - 50%.  The LEED green building program offers credits for projects that install bathroom fans with occupancy and/or humidity sensors that operate automatically when conditions warrant.

 Broan QT Series Humidity Sensing Fan

Broan QT Series Humidity Sensing Fan

 Delta BreezSignature Ventilation Fan

Delta BreezSignature Ventilation Fan

 Panasonic WhisperGreen Fan

Panasonic WhisperGreen Fan

Pesticides and fertilizers are widely used outdoors and can be tracked inside on the bottoms of our shoes.  One simple way you can prevent these toxins from entering your home is to remove your shoes or use walk-off mats just inside the door.  In fact, LEED for Homes awards one point toward certification to projects that create a dedicated shoe storage area just inside the home.

Source Removal.  If toxins find their way indoors, find a means to remove them. 

For example, use high quality filters to remove pollutants from the air that circulates through your heating and air conditioning systems.  Clean or replaces the filters regularly.  LEED awards points to project that use high quality HVAC filters that remove very small particles from the air that circulates throughout the home.

Dilution.  Introduce fresh clean air into your home to dilute any pollutants that are circulating in your air.  If the air outside your home is clean, open your windows to bring in fresh air.  If you live in a newly built home with a very tight building envelope, consider installing a mechanical ventilation system - an Energy Recovery Ventilator or a Heat Recovery Ventilator - that exhausts stale air and introduces fresh air into your home.

And, if you’re like my friend and have a recently renovated or new home, consider following the LEED protocols for a Pre-Occupancy Flush.  According to the LEED for Homes Reference Guide, “flushing the house removes VOCs, ureaformaldehyde, and other air pollutants that remain after construction.  These pollutants are mostly caused by off-gassing paints, adhesives, and sealants.  Flushing the home also removes some of the dust and particulates that remain from construction.”  Flush the house with fresh air for at least 48 hours by taking these steps:

·         Open all windows and interior doors (including closets and cabinets)

·         Run all fans (bathroom, kitchen and central air/heat system)

·         Use additional fans to circulate the air within the home

·         Clean or replace all central air/heat system filters at the end of the preoccupancy flush

Regardless of whether your home is LEED certified, you’ll breathe easier knowing you did what you could to improve your indoor air quality.


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Get to Know LEED®: Material Efficient Framing

In our July monthly newsletter (if you missed it, you can subscribe for our monthly update here) we wrote about capturing LEED credits for carefully documenting the project’s framing lumber requirements and then ordering only what is needed.    

Bill Heine, our architect, created detailed framing documents for the project and then Chris Mensch, our builder, translated the framing plans into a exact cut list and lumber order for the project's framing.  LEED for Homes awards two points toward our certification for including these elements. 

 A sample section of Sunset Green Home's Pool House Framing Plan

A sample section of Sunset Green Home's Pool House Framing Plan

Why are these important?  

According to the LEED for Homes Reference Guide, "a major challenge in new home construction is determining the amount of framing materials needed for a project.  Often, the amount of lumber ordered greatly exceeds what is actually needed."  In order to discourage such waste, which typically ends up in a landfill or needlessly incorporated into a building's framing, LEED for Homes rewards projects that carefully specify a framing plan and then order lumber to meet the precise needs of the project.  Not only do we earn two points toward our LEED certification, but we will also save on the cost of framing materials ordered for the project.  That's a double win for Sunset Green Home!

But ordering the right quantity of lumber is only one way that Sunset Green Home will earn LEED credits for framing.  Before we even arrived at a lumber order, Bill Heine incorporated several “Efficient Framing Measures” into the home’s framing design.  Not only do these measures save in terms of framing material required, but according to LEED for Homes, “reduced framing can reduce the number and size of thermal breaks and increase the amount of insulation installed, leading to better energy performance.” 

So what is meant by Efficient Framing Measures?  LEED for Homes identifies the following:

  • Precut framing packages
  • Open-web floor trusses
  • Structural insulated panel (SIP) walls
  • SIP roof, SIP floors
  • Stud spacing greater than 16” o.c.
  • Floor joist spacing greater than 16” o.c.
  • Roof rafter spacing greater than 16” o.c.
  • Implement 2 of the following: 
    • Size headers for actual loads
    • Use ladder blocking or drywall clips
    • Use 2-stud corners

The U.S. Department of Energy has published an Advanced Wall Framing Technology Fact Sheet, which provides illustrations and detailed descriptions of several of the advanced framing techniques that are eligible for LEED for Homes credits.

Because of hurricane considerations (the topic of an upcoming article), Sunset Green Home will not pursue some of the more material efficient framing measures (such as wider stud spacing) that might be appropriate for an inland project.  However, Sunset Green Home will earn credit toward our certification by “sizing headers for actual loads” and using “ladder blocking” where interior walls intersect the exterior walls of the house. 

In fact, the framing crew has already included both measures in the framing of the pool house.  Here’s a photo of ladder blocking in the pool house.  You can see that there is a space behind the “ladder” to which the stud is attached – and that space will be filled with insulation, giving Sunset Green Home a tighter building envelope and providing for greater energy efficiency.

 Ladder blocking where an interior wall intersects the exterior wall saves materials and preserves space for insulation to be installed

Ladder blocking where an interior wall intersects the exterior wall saves materials and preserves space for insulation to be installed

And here is a photo showing headers above the pool house door and two windows.  Header sizes depend on how great a load they must bear. This door header is constructed from two 11 7/8” LVL (laminated veneer lumber) beams to carry the load of the flitch plate ridge above (a flitch plate is a steel plate sandwiched between two wooden beams to give the beam greater strength).  The window headers, which carry a lower load, are built from two pieces of 2x8 Douglas fir lumber. 

 Window and door headers of varying sizes in Sunset Green Home's pool house framing

Window and door headers of varying sizes in Sunset Green Home's pool house framing

Together with the credits we’ll earn for creating detailed framing documents and a corresponding lumber cut list, we can add 2.5 points toward Sunset Green Home’s LEED certification.  And, having created a detailed lumber order based only on what we needed, we’re happy to be reducing the project’s waste at the same time.  

Many LEED strategies make good financial sense while they also result in greater energy efficiency and less impact on the environment.  Material Efficient Framing is a perfect example!

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Sunset Green Home: Site Work is Underway!


Site work for the Sunset Green Home project is underway.  So what is site work anyway?  

I met Tom Freund, the owner of TKF Excavating and Demolition, at the site on Friday.  Tom explained that this initial phase of site work for Sunset Green Home includes scraping and protecting topsoil for later reuse (a LEED for Homes prerequisite), driving piles that will support the new house, excavating for retaining wall footings, setting septic system components in place, importing clean "fill" to regrade the property and enclose the septic system, constructing retaining walls, and installing piping from the municipal water meter to the home.

 Tom Freund of TKF Excavating and Demolition

Tom Freund of TKF Excavating and Demolition

Our site work began with Stout Construction driving over 100 pilings that will support the house, decks, stairs and other structures that make up the site. Bob Brandt, one of Stout's principals, sourced the 10 - 12" diameter pilings from a forest in Maryland, which helps us earn 1/2 point toward our LEED certification for using materials that were grown and harvested within 500 miles of the project site.  

To ensure the piles would be driven straight, Bob used a Vibratory Hammer attached to a crane.  The hammer vibrates a piling, causing the soil beneath it to liquify, and allowing the piling to slip into the ground.

Once the piles were in place, Stout's crew tied them together with power beams as cross-bracing.  The house will be built on top of this structure.  

 Pilings with power beam cross bracing

Pilings with power beam cross bracing

As an aside, another contractor who was on site with me commented on how straight the piles had been driven, by contrast to other projects he has seen.  Thanks to Bob and his crew for starting the project off right!

 Pilings with power beam cross bracing

Pilings with power beam cross bracing

Using the site plan that was approved by the Town of Southampton, our builder, Chris Mensch (Coastal Management LLC), marked the piles at the level where fill will be deposited to regrade the site.

 Pilings marked at the level where fill will be deposited

Pilings marked at the level where fill will be deposited

While I was at the site, TKF Excavating and Demolition delivered a number of truckloads of clean fill, which was spread under and around the house in the areas where our grade is scheduled to be elevated.

 Clean fill being delivered to the site

Clean fill being delivered to the site

Tom and his crew were busy moving septic system components into place when I left the site.  

 Septic components being moved into place

Septic components being moved into place

I'll provide another update when the site work is finished.  Meanwhile, framing begins this week, so there will be lots to report over the coming weeks.

 Tom Freund (left) and Chris Mensch (right) at the Sunset Green Home project site

Tom Freund (left) and Chris Mensch (right) at the Sunset Green Home project site

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Practical Sustainability: Clean Your Filters Before You Use the A/C

There is evidence everywhere around us that spring has sprung.  Flowers are blooming, the trees are in full leaf, and my asparagus patch is almost finished for the season.  And…it’s been warm enough on a couple of days already that we’ve started to use our air conditioning.

And this reminds me that it’s time to clean my filters.  Clogged filters can lead to higher energy bills, excess strain on air conditioners and other appliances that require air filtration, and a drop in indoor air quality.

So here’s my mea culpa.  I am guilty of allowing filters all over my home to get unbelievably nasty.  And that’s why this month’s Practical Sustainability column is about spring cleaning…of all of the filters in my home.

I started with the window air conditioner from my home office, whose filter was almost completely clogged.

 My home office window air conditioner filter before...

My home office window air conditioner filter before...

 ...and after.

...and after.

And then I moved on to my daughter's through-wall air conditioning unit that contains two side by side filters.  I cleaned the one on the left.  Before I did so, it looked just like the one on the right.

 Two filters from my daughter's through-wall air conditioner - one before and one after cleaning

Two filters from my daughter's through-wall air conditioner - one before and one after cleaning

And this is what my refrigerator coils looked like.  Not so bad, since I had a service call a couple of months ago and the serviceman vacuumed the condenser area. 

 The refrigerator condenser fins before...

The refrigerator condenser fins before...

But the fan side was still pretty dirty and the coils definitely needed some vacuuming.  The serviceman warned me to turn the refrigerator off before cleaning, and to be careful not to crush the condenser fins while cleaning them.  Here it is after a careful vacuuming with the dusting attachment of my vacuum.

 ...and after cleaning

...and after cleaning

Most of our apartment is served by a central air conditioning system, whose washable filters are located near the two air handlers.  I replaced those as well.  And cleaned the dishwasher-safe baffle filters of my range hood.  I replaced the filter on our water jug.  I even cleaned the filter on the back of our hair dryer to make sure it was running smoothly.  And lastly, I replaced the vacuum cleaner’s filter! 

The best part of this month’s Practical Sustainability activities?  It cost me nothing and took only a few minutes of my time.  The LEED green building program recommends replacing heating system and air conditioner filters every 3 – 12 months (and according to manufacturer instructions). 

So what are you waiting for?  Look around your home for everything that has a filter.  And then go clean it!  You’ll breathe easier.  Your appliances will thank you.  And your energy bill will reflect the effort.

Happy cleaning!

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Sustainable Sites and Raising Oysters…What do These Have in Common?

This past weekend I attended an event sponsored by the Moriches Bay Project™ where participants helped to build oyster cages and set up an oyster farm off the dock of a local family's property.  So what does this have to do with the LEED® for Homes green building program?  A lot, as it turns out. 

 Photo courtesy of Moriches Bay Project

Photo courtesy of Moriches Bay Project

The Sustainable Sites category of the LEED for Homes program addresses issues of erosion and surface water runoff, and aims to protect bodies of water in and around a LEED project site.  Why is this important?  As people move closer and closer to bodies of water, the potential for human activities to interfere with delicate ecosystems increases.  In the case of our local bays, non-functional septic systems, the use of lawn fertilizers, and application of chemical pest controls have deposited harmful non-point source pollution into the local waterways (see boxed information from the United States Environmental Protection Agency web site).

A full grown healthy oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water in one day.
— Laura Fabrizio, Director, Moriches Bay Project

 As a result of these factors and other human activity, water quality in the Shinnecock and neighboring Moriches bays, has deteriorated to the point that the bays have experienced episodes of harmful algal blooms, and a dying off of eelgrass and shellfish populations. 

 Moriches Bay Project's Dwight Surgan, right, demonstrates how to build oyster cages and set up an oyster farm

Moriches Bay Project's Dwight Surgan, right, demonstrates how to build oyster cages and set up an oyster farm

But programs established by the Moriches Bay Project and the Shinnecock Bay Restoration Program are aiming to reverse the harmful effects of human activity in the local waterways. 

Christine Santora, Program Coordinator for the Shinnecock Bay Restoration Program,  tells me that "over 75% of the nitrogen pollution coming into Shinnecock Bay comes from waste water (meaning septic tanks). So, this is actually a solvable problem (with a lot of effort and political/community will obviously!).  We are trying to provide an 'in the water solution.'  We know that changing our land-based problems will take a dedicated, longstanding effort, and will be expensive.  In the meantime, we are implementing some positive change within the bay which will not only restore important shellfish populations and habitat such as eelgrass, but could perhaps even buy some time until land-based problems are properly addressed." 

Each of these organizations sponsors important aquaculture programs that enlist local residents to set up oyster “farms.”  According to Laura Fabrizio, Director of the Moriches Bay Project, “a full grown healthy oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water in one day” thereby helping to repair the damage caused by human activity. 

The Sunset Green Home project is located adjacent to an undeveloped waterfront lot on the Shinnecock Bay.  So what are the strategies that Sunset Green Home will use to reduce the likelihood that we cause any harm to the local waters?  We’re going to:

  • Build a new septic system that is elevated away from ground water
  • Incorporate dry wells and rainwater harvesting to contain storm water runoff
  • Landscape with drought tolerant turf, and native and adaptive plants – which require less fertilizer and water than invasive species
  • Create a 75 foot native vegetation buffer between the home and the adjacent waterfront lot, which is designed to further protect the bay from potential runoff
  • Include non-toxic pest control strategies – like non-toxic termite baiting – to reduce the need for poisons to control insects and other pests

Incorporating these and other strategies will help us satisfy LEED prerequisites and earn points toward our LEED certification. 

And, in addition, we’re talking to the Shinnecock Bay Restoration Program about setting up our own oyster farm.  I've already recruited one of our neighbors to participate.  The next thing I need to do is recruit my remaining neighbors so that we all do our part to keep our bay healthy.

Happy Farming!


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House Tours: A LEED® Gold Caribbean Idyll. And That's Just the Beginning...

 29, The Venetia, Grand Cayman - a LEED for Homes Gold certified home

29, The Venetia, Grand Cayman - a LEED for Homes Gold certified home

James Whittaker, a Caymanian with a background in finance and CEO of the GreenTech Group, a conglomerate of sustainable companies based in the Cayman Islands, has set out to green the Caribbean, one project at a time.  Completed in 2010 and certified in 2012, GreenTech's Sailfish Estate home, a LEED Silver 5,000+ square foot luxury private residence, was the first LEED certified home outside the U.S. and Canada.  Participating in the program's international pilot, it edged out a LEED certified residence in China to win this honor by mere days.  Since then, Next Design & Development, the design, management and development company in James' portfolio of sustainability-related businesses, has either built or has on the boards a handful of residential developments, each of which will seek certification under the LEED for Homes program.  His partners includes architect and LEED Green Rater, Stace McGee, a New Mexico based sustainability expert (who is also on the faculty of USGBC) who spends one week each month on the Island, and Ryan Ostendorf, a real estate and development expert and project manager.

The latest GreenTech project to achieve certification won that honor this week - at a level of Gold certification.  The residence is one in a development that requires homeowners to stick to an approved 3,000 square foot stock floor plan.  Every house looks the same from the outside, but the 29 Venetia home isn't like those that surround it.  Completed in 2013, its homeowners haven't paid an electric bill yet - in contrast to their neighbors, who spend $800 per month or more with the Caymanian electric utility.  To achieve this level of energy efficiency, the home was constructed with insulated concrete forms, and included solar PV, solar thermal and a dehumidification system to protect the home from the Caribbean climate. GreenTech provided the LEED for Homes certification services and sustainability consulting for the project. Images courtesy of GreenTech (Cayman) Limited.

Like many of us who have embraced sustainable development, James isn't only in it for the profits – although he acknowledges that green building can earn a careful developer a premium over a traditionally built home (while James estimates that a LEED home costs him 8% more to build than a traditional home, it can fetch up to a 20% premium on its selling price).  He told me "I'm optimistic that we can do a lot of really great things in sustainability in Cayman and the Caribbean." 

And those great things aren't all about designing and developing LEED homes.  James recently launched Project Green School as a pilot at the Triple C School in George Town, Grand Cayman to provide a "meaningful and fun perspective on sustainability."  The program is introducing a sustainability and renewable energy curriculum in the school.  Another of James' portfolio companies, GreenTech Solar, has installed solar panels at the school, and the students are being given solar kits.  Two additional schools are waiting to pilot the program, and once they're up and running, Project Green School will host solar decathlons and inter-scholastic competitions.  James expressed a hope that Project Green School will eventually encompass all the local schools and result in schoolchildren in the Cayman Islands growing up thinking about careers in the green economy.  Eventually he would like to see Project Green School embraced in other schools across the Caribbean. 

Another of James' initiatives is facilitated by SMART Energy, another group company, which brings sustainable energy services expertise to the Cayman Islands.  Among other essential services offered, SMART Energy transforms existing and inefficient commercial and residential buildings into highly efficient ones that become more profitable, less costly, more productive and sustainable places to work and live.  

James and I toured Grand Cayman for several hours, stopping at GreenTech Group projects at various stages of completion, ranging from empty lots to construction sites to completed homes.  James explained that one of the keys to his success is his team's deep understanding of building science and sustainability.  And when he hasn't been able to find the right green technology locally, he uses another of his portfolio companies, GreenTech, to import and manage the distributorship of the products he needs.  James cited the example of Logix ICF.  When he couldn't find ICFs locally with a high enough R-value (R26) for certain LEED Gold or Platinum projects, he negotiated for GreenTech to become Logix ICF's local distributor, thereby creating the supply chain integration that ensures the GreenTech Group can design and build to the highest LEED for Homes standards.

He also talked about his projects' durability planning elements, which are designed to protect the homes from severe weather events like Hurricane Ivan, which devastated the island in 2004 and damaged 83% of the island's housing stock.  Some of GreenTech Group's key durability measures include:

  • Designing homes a minimum of one foot higher than Hurricane Ivan's flood level
  • Installing dehumidification systems to fight the effects of coastal living
  • Using recycled plastics and composite materials on exteriors to counter the effects of tropical sun and island weather
  • Building with ICFs and steel, and incorporating double hurricane strapped standing seam metal roofs
  • Including 12"- 18" of cement board or waterproof sheetrock to minimize damage should flood waters reach the homes' interiors
  • Using the highest quality impact rated and insulated windows and doors
 James Whittaker, Founder, Next Development Group

James Whittaker, Founder, Next Development Group

Toward the end of my tour of GreenTech's projects, James and I spoke about legacy.  He expressed his desire to help transform the Cayman Islands into a "hub of sustainability in the Caribbean."  He says he has grand plans and small plans - that range from a $2 billion plan to stop the urban sprawl of the capital city of George Town to developing affordable housing to continuing to create luxury private homes, forming key industry organizations and educational programs.  While his team often talks about highly attractive projects on other Caribbean islands, James asks them to stay focused on Cayman.  "Let's focus our resources and perfect the model here first – and then take the show on the road." 



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