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Sunset Green Home

Go Green! How to Choose Your Wood Products Wisely...

By Kim Erle and Louis Caiola

Wood. It's Everywhere.  Wood pilings.  Wood framing.  Wood sub flooring.  Wood sheathing.  Wood flooring.  Wood cabinetry.  Wood paneling.  Wood doors.  Wood shingles.  Wood roof.  Wood decking.

Deforestation has been found to be responsible for 20-25% of global warming
— World Preservation Foundation

According to the World Preservation Foundation, “deforestation has been found to be responsible for 20-25% of global warming, due to the massive release of CO2 that had been captured and stored in the trees. To get a picture of just how much CO2 is being released, deforestation releases as much CO2 into the atmosphere in one day as would 8 million people flying from London to New York.”

With so much wood integrated into the Sunset Green Home project, we've given a great deal of thought to where our wood components come from and what we can do to minimize our impact on the environment. 

Here are some of our strategies:

  1. The LEED for Homes program prohibits the use of tropical hardwoods that do not carry Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification.  There's a reason many people choose tropical hardwood for exterior decking.  These woods are not only beautiful, but they hold up well over time.  However, according to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, "15 percent of annual anthropogenic (human-caused) carbon emissions come from tropical deforestation."  FSC certified wood products come from well-managed forests whose owners go through rigorous certification and continuous oversight to ensure minimal environmental impact.  Sunset Green Home selected Walk Green Products' FSC-certified cumaru, which was provided by Sterritt Lumber, a 2014 recipient of the FSC Leadership Award.
  2. Nantucket Beadboard medium density fiberboard (MDF) paneling and Tru-Stile MDF doors will also contribute to the project's LEED credits.  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.  Sunset Green Home's team specified no added urea-formaldehyde MDF for both the doors and the paneling, 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.
  3. The kitchen and other millwork in the home have been constructed from Decospan's Shinnoki and Querkus products.  Decospan is dedicated to environmental stewardship and healthy products.  Shinnoki veneers are FSC certified, as is the MDF used in the base boards.  The adhesives and finishes contain zero VOCs and are manufactured without added urea-formaldehyde.
  4. Sunset Green Home's ZIP System sheathing and AdvanTech sub-flooring qualify for LEED credits in the program's Materials & Resources credit category because the wood used in both systems was grown, extracted and processed within 500 miles of the project.  The same goes for the pilings that support the house.  By using regionally grown and processed wood products, we are reducing the environmental impact from transportation.
  5. The country grade wide plank white oak floor is gorgeous and sustainable.  Woodwrights Wide Plank Flooring is a local company whose mill is only 15 minutes from Sunset Green Home.  The floors were milled and finished locally, which minimized the cost and impact from transportation.
  6. We chose Certi-Label taper sawn western red cedar roof shingles supplied by Anbrook Industries and Certi-Label side wall shingles supplied by Liberty Cedar. The Cedar Shake & Shingle Bureau's Certi-Label program ensures that the shingles meet third party quality and sustainability standards.  Sunset Green Home's use of thicker taper sawn shingles, while slightly more expensive than more commonly used Perfection shingles, means that our roof will last longer.  And a longer life means less waste over time.  We met with Brooke Meeker, Anbrook's CEO to discuss her company's products.  Watch our video interview of Brook to learn why sustainable forestry is so important.

You can probably tell that we undertook a tremendous amount of research to get Sunset Green Home's wood products sourcing right.  It's important to know where your wood products come from.  The next time you're in the market for building materials, furniture or other wood products, take a moment to learn where they come from.  You’ll be armed with the information you need to make a sustainable choice!

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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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Progress Update: Pool House Nearing Completion

It's baseball season, so a baseball analogy seems fitting.  We seem to have rounded third and are heading for home.  And while it has been great to see all of the advanced technologies and sustainable products that comprise the Sunset Green Home's "infrastructure," watching the finishes come together makes us feel like the house is really almost done.

Sunset Green Home's Pool House with Beacon Wall Mount Light from Teka Illumination

Sunset Green Home's Pool House with Beacon Wall Mount Light from Teka Illumination

From where I'm sitting in the nearly finished pool house, I can see four different light fixtures from Tech Lighting.  They're all energy efficiency LED fixtures that emit really beautiful light.  The Admiral Simple Wall Sconce is drop dead gorgeous and is an elegant interpretation of a nautical bulkhead light - perfect for a coastal home.  Tech Lighting's Envison LED spotlights blend into the ceiling on which they're mounted - which is exactly what we wanted.  The ceiling is sloped and we were looking for a way to light up the wet bar without using low hanging pendant fixtures. 

We have also had the chance to try out the features of our new ENERGY STAR qualified Big Ass Haiku fan.  The pool house is not air conditioned.  But the Haiku, with its SenseME technology, still managed to keep us cool.

And the exterior is illuminated by Teka Illumination's Beacon Wall Mount LED fixture, which looks great now and will develop a beautiful patina over time.

We were looking to keep the walls fresh and simple - so we painted everything in the pool house with Sherwin-Williams Snowbound (SW-7004), a cool white that we've had a chance to see in sunny and rainy weather...and it looks great regardless of the light conditions.  But, more importantly, we chose to use Sherwin-Williams Harmony paint, a formulation with no VOCs (volatile organic compounds) - which helps us maintain healthy indoor air quality.

The floors are tiled with a stone-look porcelain tile from Daltile (City View Seaside Boardwalk).  We love that on hot days the tile will still feel cool underfoot...and its strength and durability means we don't have to worry about sandy feet damaging the floors. 

We have also begun to use our water-saving bathroom fixtures, which so far seem to be delivering great performance with lower environmental impact.  The pool house has the only working bathroom right now, so we've had a chance to put the Duravit dual flush DuraStyle toilet to work.  We like the dual flush feature for its water-saving properties.  With an average water use of less than 1.1 gallons per flush, we are earning the maximum possible LEED points with this attractive modern fixture.  And we are equally happy with the Duravit Vero sanitary ceramic vanity top, which looks great and is extremely easy to clean.  The Hansgrohe hand held and regular shower heads, with water saving flow rates of 2.0 gallons per minute, look great and work well too. 

So what remains to be done in the pool house before we can declare victory?  A comfy sofa and chairs from Kravet have been ordered, as have solar shades, wood blinds and decorative window treatments from The Shade Store.  A unique etched glass shower surround by Cardinal Shower Enclosures will be delivered next week and will provide privacy in what we envision as a bath that will have more of a "locker room" feeling (cubbies and changing area, separate WC, Samsung stackable laundry machines, etc.).  We're still waiting for cabinetry to be installed - the pool house wet bar will feature sustainable Shinnoki wood veneer cabinets and counter tops in Caesarstone's Raw Concrete, a new color that was launched this year.  But while we wait for the cabinets to arrive (before July 1st, we're told), we've already plugged in and have started to use our compact ENERGY STAR qualified 24" Bosch refrigerator

We're just a couple of weeks away from completing the pool house.  Check back for more photos of the finished look!

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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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Progress Update: Garage Doors and Resiliency

Today was an exciting day at Sunset Green Home.  A Better Door, Sunset Green Home’s garage door contractor, arrived on site and installed Sunset Green Home’s Clopay Canyon Ridge garage doors and LiftMaster’s Model 8550 Elite Series garage door openers.  This slide show has the installation highlights:

You may be wondering what either of these products has to do with Sunset Green Home’s resiliency.  The answer is “a lot” as it turns out.  Here’s why…

If you've been following the Sunset Green Home project, you know that the house replaces a home that was made uninhabitable by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.  And you may also recall that Sunset Green Home has been built atop more than 100 pilings that elevate the home two feet above the code-compliant base flood elevation.  So what do we do with all of that space under the house – which may flood in another bad storm?  That’s where we've put the home’s garage. 

We consulted with the technical product team at Clopay, and they recommended two garage door styles that would work well in a coastal environment subject to periodic flooding – the Canyon Ridge insulated steel door with composite cladding and the Avante aluminum and glass door.  Both feature corrosion resistant materials.  We used Clopay’s Door Imagination System to overlay the doors onto Sunset Green Home’s façade and asked our followers to weigh in with their preferences.  Over 700 people took a look…and the winner was Canyon Ridge!

Canyon Ridge includes other features that make it a resilient door for a coastal application, and a good choice for Sunset Green Home:

  • Clopay’s Intellicore insulation contributes to the door’s rigidity and strength.  During Hurricane Sandy, large pieces of debris were pushed by the storm surge into the foundation and siding of the old home.  An uninsulated door does not have the same ability to withstand denting as an insulated door
  • While the Canyon Ridge door’s wood-grain composite cladding looks like real wood (Sunset Green Home’s doors came pre-primed and will be painted), its assembly (composite cladding over steel) resists warping – which may become important during a flood

The LiftMaster 8550 Elite Series opener is an equally smart choice from the perspective of resiliency and durability.  Each of Sunset Green Home’s garage doors is nine feet wide, which makes them very heavy.  Sunset Green Home’s neighborhood lost power for a week following Hurricane Sandy.  The 8550 Elite Series garage door opener features a battery backup system that will enable us to open the doors automatically in the case of a power outage.  The opener uses belt drive technology, which has the quietest operation (in comparison to chain drive openers) and requires less maintenance (no need to lubricate a belt drive).  In fact, LiftMaster offers a lifetime warranty on the opener’s motor and belt.

Sustainability encompasses many qualities, like energy- and water-efficiency.  But it also includes durability and resiliency – qualities that are very relevant to Sunset Green Home’s garage doors and openers, which are below the home’s base flood elevation and must be able to withstand the forces of nature that we've already seen on the site.  We’re confident that we've made good choices, and plan to report back once we've had a chance to take them for a test drive!  For now, we’re happy that they’re installed and ready for action!

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Progress Update: A Beautiful, Sustainable Wall Takes Shape

If you've been following our progress, you know that Sunset Green Home was required to elevate the project's sanitary system to where its base would be three feet above groundwater.  Because of the property's high water table, doing so required creating an elevated septic field bounded by a sizable retaining wall

Sunset Green Home's retaining wall and footings during construction.

Sunset Green Home's retaining wall and footings during construction.

The wall runs the length of the driveway and along the street.  We'll be installing native plantings at the base of the wall, and Sunset Green Home's lawn at the top.

We had many choices for finishing the wall - stucco, natural stone, and architectural manufactured stone - to name a few.  We selected Eldorado Stone's manufactured lightweight concrete Nantucket Stacked Stone for its sustainable properties, natural stone look and ease of installation. 

Because Sunset Green Home is seeking LEED Platinum certification at completion, our team is very concerned about the sustainable characteristics of the materials that are used in the project.  The Nantucket Stacked Stone panels we used were manufactured in Pennsylvania - well within the 500 mile radius that the LEED green building program targets for "regional" materials.  Eldorado Stone weighs roughly half the weight of natural stone, which means fewer resources were expended in transporting it to the site.  The lighter weight also translates to faster, more cost-effective installation.  Made of concrete, Eldorado Stone is completely recyclable at the end of its life (but with a 50-year warranty, we're not expecting to retire the stone wall anytime soon).  

Installation of the wall began on a rainy day, so the team used tarps to keep the work moving along!  Photo courtesy of Chris Mensch, Coastal Management.

Installation of the wall began on a rainy day, so the team used tarps to keep the work moving along!  Photo courtesy of Chris Mensch, Coastal Management.

In fact, the Nantucket Stacked Stone was so quick to install, Sunset Green Home's concrete retaining wall went from bare to finished in two short weeks!  Now that the wall is complete, let the planting begin!

Two weeks later, the wall is finished and capped, and the area around it is ready for planting!  Photo courtesy of Chris Mensch, Coastal Management.

Two weeks later, the wall is finished and capped, and the area around it is ready for planting! Photo courtesy of Chris Mensch, Coastal Management.

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Progress Update: Finishing the Pool House

This is what the Sunset Green Home pool house looked like two weeks ago today...

And here it is this sunny morning...

So how did we get from there to here in two short weeks?  

With a lot of hard work by a well-coordinated group of different trades.  Here's a summary of our progress over two weeks:

It started with our plumbing and electrical inspections, which had to be completed before the walls could be closed.  Note that the plumbing inspection went off without a corrections required, thanks to the good work of John M Kubisa Plumbing & Heating.

As soon as the inspections were done, Cary Insulation arrived on site to install CertainTeed's SMARTBATT insulation in the walls and ceilings.  If you've been following our blog, you know we've written a lot about indoor air quality.  In an earlier post, we highlighted Sunset Green Home's application of CertainTeed's FortiCela mold inhibitor that is sprayed onto the interior wall cavity after framing and sheathing is complete and before insulation is installed, to prevent mold growth on structural framing surfaces.  SMARTBATT is another product Sunset Green Home is using to minimize the potential for mold-producing moisture-related problems within the pool house walls.  With an integrated smart vapor retarder, SMARTBATT blocks moisture from entering a wall cavity when humidity is low inside the walls, and allows the wall to "breathe" when it senses humidity within the cavity. 

After the walls were insulated, Chris Mensch's crew from Coastal Management started installing M2Tech moisture and mold resistant drywall, and Type X fire-resistant drywall, also manufactured by CertainTeed. They spackled and taped all of the seams.

And that gets us to where we are today...with the tile subcontractor installing a "mud" bed (mortar) and wire mesh - the ideal underlayment for tile because of its stability and support characteristics - which we'll need this week when we start to install a large format 24" square City View porcelain tile on the pool house floors.  

Check back with us for updated photos when the floor is installed next week!

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Progress Update: AquaSAFE Fire Sprinkler System Installation

When Hurricane Sandy left the previous home on the site of Sunset Green Home "substantially damaged" we knew we would be required to rebuild in compliance with current building codes.  The old house stood at five feet above sea level.  Current code would elevate the new home to 12 feet above sea level.  But, having seen the destructive nature of the Hurricane Sandy storm surge, the Sunset Green Home team opted to go even further and to build the house at 14 feet above sea level.

So what does that have to do with fire sprinklers?

First, a bit of background...The International Residential Code (IRC) is a comprehensive building code that governs one- and two-family dwellings.  The version of the IRC that was adopted in 2009 calls for homes to include fire sprinkler systems.  While the IRC provides building code guidelines, states and local municipalities have the option of adopting the code in whole or in part. 

New York State adopted the fire sprinkler recommendations for homes with three stories.  Homes with two floors of living space may be characterized as three-story homes - requiring compliance with the IRC fire sprinkler requirements - if the first floor of livable space is high enough above grade that the basement area is considered a "story" itself (there are three "tests" - which you can read about here).

Sunset Green Home's elevation came within inches of the three-story home characterization, despite the home only having two floors of living space.  While fire sprinklers were ultimately deemed unnecessary, our research led the team to go beyond the requirement and include a fire suppression system nonetheless.  Building codes are changing, and we believe that eventually all new construction will include fire sprinklers.  We would like the home to remain compliant even when the building code is changed. 

More importantly, however, our reasons for electing to include the system include the desire to

  • Provide extra time for occupants to exit the building in the event of a house fire and protect first responders who may have to enter a burning building.  Because fire sprinklers activate immediately upon detection of a fire, they may contain a fire long enough for occupants to exit the building.  Similarly, sprinklers may also reduce the intensity of a fire during the crucial period between a fire's outbreak and the arrival of fire fighters and other first responders.
  • Reduce the amount of damage to the home should it experience a house fire.  Fire sprinklers only activate in the vicinity of a fire (each head is individually activated by the heat of the fire), enabling fire suppression with minimal water damage.
  • Protect the environment.  A 2010 study by property insurer FM Global found that the volume of wastewater generated fighting a sprinklered fire may be 50% - 91% less than the amount generated in a non-sprinklered fire.  The study also observed that "fewer persistent pollutants, such as heavy metals, and fewer solids were detected in the wastewater sample from the sprinklered test compared to that of the non-sprinklered test."
  • Reduce the home's operating cost by earning insurance premium credits, which may be as high as 13% for sprinklered homes.

Having decided to include a fire sprinkler system, Sunset Green Home reached out to Uponor about its AquaSAFE system, which integrates into the cold water plumbing loop.  Uponor's in-house Design Services group designed the system based on Sunset Green Home's architectural plans and water pressure data.  Uponor offers this sprinkler system design as a value-added service to AquaSAFE clients.  The company provides a 25 year warranty on the pipes and fittings. In addition, through its manufacturer's representative, Wales-Darby, Uponor provided its AquaSAFE Levels I and II classes with classroom and on-the-jobsite training to John M. Kubisa Plumbing & Heating, Sunset Green Home's licensed plumbing subcontractor.

As of this Progress Update, all of Sunset Green Home's sprinkler heads have been installed, and the plumbing loops have been completed.  The local building inspector will conduct a pressure test before the ceilings are enclosed with fire-rated gypsum board by CertainTeed.

Stay tuned for additional updates as the installation and testing of Sunset Green Home's fire sprinkler system is completed.

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Progress Update: Let There Be Lights!

Sunset Green Home's ceilings are complicated.  They're packed with:

  • 3" ducts connecting to the home's ComfoAir mechanical ventilation system by Zehnder, which supplies fresh air to the bedrooms and living areas while removing stale air from the bathrooms and kitchen
  • Short duct runs that connect to the five air handlers that comprise the home's Mitsubishi Hyper Heating INVERTER multi-zone heating and cooling system
  • Circulation loops and sprinkler heads for Sunset Green Home's AquaSAFE fire sprinkler system by Uponor.  

And, as of this week, the ceilings now include Sunset Green Home's ELEMENT LED down lights by Tech Lighting. 

If you have ever shopped for recessed light fixtures, your know that your options are extensive.  There are fixtures for new construction and remodeling; housings for insulated ceilings and non-insulated ceilings; trim options in multiple sizes and shapes; wet-rated fixtures and those intended for dry locations; down lights and wall washers; a wide range of apertures; and numerous lamping options, including LED, incandescent, fluorescent and halogen.  

So what are we using in Sunset Green Home, and how did we choose?

With Sunset Green Home's aggressive energy efficiency goals, our top priority was to select LED fixtures for all of the home's lighting.  While we could have used LED bulbs in non-LED fixtures, we wanted fixtures that had been designed with native LED technology.  Each of Sunset Green Home's ELEMENT LED downlights uses approximately one-fifth the energy of an incandescent bulb with comparable light output.

Four ELEMENT LED adjustable recessed down lights in with square trim in the TV room

Four ELEMENT LED adjustable recessed down lights in with square trim in the TV room

We specified 4" aperture fixtures throughout the project for design consistency.  The bathrooms will feature round trim, as there will be round sprinkler heads and round exhaust ducts for the Zehnder ComfoAir ERV system also in the bathroom ceilings.  Elsewhere, we specified square trim for a more contemporary aesthetic.  

Two round wet-rated recessed fixtures for the guest room shower

Two round wet-rated recessed fixtures for the guest room shower

Our lighting design includes multiple layers of light, which come from recessed down lights and wall washers, surface mounted lights, sconces and lamps.  The ELEMENT LED downlights provide general lighting, while wall washer styles illuminate larger walls and direct light out toward the perimeter of the rooms.

Wall washers in the guest bedroom

Wall washers in the guest bedroom

Recessed fixture housings for insulated ceilings (IC housings) are generally more expensive than non-IC housings, but must be specified where fixtures will come into contact with insulation.  Sunset Green Home's second floor ceilings are not insulated (insulation in Sunset Green Home's building envelope is at the roof rafters instead of in the attic floor).  To control cost, we chose non-IC housings for the first floor as well, electing to restrict the use of sound-dampening insulation to the ceiling bays that do not contain recessed fixtures, and substituting SilentFX drywall by CertainTeed in those ceilings where we need additional noise attenuation.

Wall washers in second floor uninsulated ceiling

Wall washers in second floor uninsulated ceiling

The award-winning ELEMENT LED downlights by Tech Lighting have all of the characteristics that Sunset Green Home's team sought for the project's recessed fixtures.  ELEMENT has been designed for maximum flexibility:

  • Adjustable lamp positioning to manage the tradeoff between maximizing light output vs. minimizing glare
  • Flexibility to swap out light engines from below the ceiling as the technology evolves or if changes are ever required
  • Multiple trim options (Sunset Green Home is using ELEMENT's die-cast seamless aluminum Flanged Bevel trim)
  • Compatibility with several models of Lutron dimmers; Sunset Green Home will use Lutron's dimmers and switches throughout the project

Now that the light fixtures are in, we'll be finishing the fire sprinkler system, installing insulation where appropriate and getting ready to close up the ceilings. Stay tuned for more progress updates over the coming weeks!  


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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

  • 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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Preserving the Manufacturer's Warranty: Lessons from Sunset Green Home's Chimney System

Building a new home is a complicated process that requires the coordination of myriad trades, products and technologies. Any single building system may incorporate products from multiple manufacturers, which have to work together for optimal performance. Add to the mix an installer who may not have been the specifier of a component, and you introduce potential for inadvertently voiding a manufacturer's warranty - despite all of your good intentions. But, if you know the right questions to ask, you can set your project up for trouble-free implementation.

DuraTech chimney components by DuraVent

DuraTech chimney components by DuraVent

Thankfully, with the case of Sunset Green Home's fireplace, we had the professionals from DuraVent, the manufacturers of DuraTech chimney pipe, helping us understand what questions to ask.

It all started with our choice of fireplace. For the fireplace itself, we knew which questions to ask, as we were being guided by the LEED® for Homes green building program. In several of our past articles, we've written about the strategies that Sunset Green Home is undertaking to ensure healthy indoor air quality. According to the LEED for Homes Reference Guide, "the leakage of toxic combustion exhaust gases into the home can cause poor indoor air quality and human health impacts, particularly in homes that are well constructed and well sealed." LEED for Homes defines selecting an EPA qualified fireplace or one that is listed by an approved testing facility such as Underwriters Laboratory as a "better practice" for which a project may earn one point toward certification. With this in mind, Sunset Green Home's project team researched EPA qualified fireplaces and selected an Italian manufactured wood burning fireplace - the Light06 by Caminetti Montegrappa - that is the highest rated EPA qualified fireplace, with low particle emissions of 0.59g/kg.

Chris Mensch of Coastal Management, Sunset Green Home's builder, solicited installation bids from his preferred subcontractors. As the team reviewed the proposals, we reached out to DuraVent, the manufacturer of the DuraTech chimney pipe that one installer specified in his proposal. And that's when we received an education about how the various fireplace and chimney components interact, the nature of product warranties, and that it's important to know which questions to ask.

DuraVent's chimney system including DuraTech chimney pipe, flashing, storm collar and chimney cap

DuraVent's chimney system including DuraTech chimney pipe, flashing, storm collar and chimney cap

Howard Berman, DuraTech's Mid-Atlantic Regional Sales Manager, asked me to send him the parts list for the chimney.  After reviewing the list, he remarked that the subcontractor had not specified a chimney cap. In fact, the subcontractor had planned to build a custom chimney cap for the project. Howard noted that, without a DuraVent chimney cap, the warranty for the entire chimney assembly would be invalidated. Underwriters Laboratory (UL) had tested and certified DuraVent's DuraTech double wall chimney system in its entirety; by picking and choosing from amongst the available components, we would no longer have the full "system" and would therefore have inadvertently voided the warranty.

The second question Howard asked me pertained to the fireplace with which the chimney would be integrated. Howard asked if the fireplace was UL listed and, if so, to which UL standard the fireplace was tested, remarking that the 10" galvanized chimney pipe system that we were specifying was tested and warrantied according to the UL103 standard. Howard asked us to make sure that the fireplace itself would be compatible with DuraVent's DuraTech Class A chimney pipe. An inquiry with the manufacturer's representative for the fireplace confirmed that the fireplace is UL listed and that the DuraTech UL103 compliant chimney pipe system was appropriate.

So what would have happened without the expertise of Howard Berman and his colleagues from DuraVent? We would have had a chimney system without a warranty. And, by using a custom-fabricated chimney cap, we might have been at greater risk for a malfunction of the system itself.

What are the lessons learned from this experience?

  • When purchasing any product or system, ask for details about the warranty, including the conditions under which a warranty would be invalidated
  • When two or more products are connected to create an assembly (such as a fireplace and a chimney system), ask each manufacturer if the other's product is compatible with the manufacturer's warranty and safety requirements
  • Ask the installer to confirm that the installation method meets the requirements of the manufacturers' warranties

By asking the right questions, you have a much greater chance of purchasing a high-performing system backed by a valid set of manufacturers' warranties. That's the lesson we learned from the professionals at DuraVent.

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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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Progress Update: A Flurry of Activity to Finish the Year

While a lot of businesses are slowing down for the holidays, work at Sunset Green Home is in full swing.  I arrived for my weekly site visit to find the roofers from J.P. Hunter working on the pool house's ATAS standing seam aluminum roof.    

Pool House Roofing 1

By the time I left in the afternoon, they had completed the cupola and a section of the main part of the roof.  Several people on the J.P. Hunter crew were installing shingles on the main house.

Pool House Atas Roof

Chris Mensch's crew from Coastal Management were busy on the south side of the pool house installing the horizontal cedar boards that will enclose the piling area underneath the structure.

Pool House Lattice

Inside, the crew from Cary Insulation were spraying FortiCel, a protective coating by CertainTeed Insulation that inhibits the growth of mold on structural framing members.  

Applying FortiCel

The attic had been sprayed with open cell polyurethane foam the previous week, so Flanders Heating & Air Conditioning was able to start the HVAC installation by setting in place several of Sunset Green Home's Mitsubishi Electric Multi-Zone Hyper Heat system air handlers.

Mitsubishi Electric Air Handler

Flanders has also started to install the project's Zehnder ComfoAir 550 ERV system, by running individual ComfoTube flexible air distribution pipes from the ERV unit to each room that will be served by it.

Zehnder ComfoTube

The interior space is starting to shape up.  Here we can see:

  • Blue FortiCel on the exterior framing and sheathing
  • Open cell spray foam insulation in the roof, which will receive an "ignition barrier" in the attic and will be covered by CertainTeed AirRenew gypsum in the living space and cathedral ceilings of the bedrooms below
  • ComfoTube piping leading from the ERV to each of the bathrooms and bedrooms on the second floor of the house 

As 2014 comes to a close, we thank the terrific crews who have helped Sunset Green Home take shape this year.  We've come a long way since March, when Details, a division of non-profit Humanim, "deconstructed" (click here to watch the video) the home that Sunset Green Home replaces, and which was made uninhabitable by Hurricane Sandy two years ago.  

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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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How are Your Walls Performing?

What Makes a High Performance Wood-Framed Wall for Sunset Green Home?

21st century building scientists have developed new technologies to ensure that wall assemblies control rain, air, water vapor and heat, which makes new homes today more airtight and watertight than ever.  And tighter building envelopes can lead to healthier and more energy efficient homes.  With a goal of LEED Platinum certification, Sunset Green Home needs to have a high performance wall assembly.  Here’s a look – from the outside in – at Sunset Green Home’s exterior wood-framed walls.


Exterior cladding is a home’s first line of defense.  The best performing cladding is designed to resist wind and water, and is made of renewable or recyclable resources.  Sunset Green Home has purchased G&R “Choice Brand” #1 R&R (rejointed and rebutted) Western Red Cedar wood shingles from Liberty Cedar for their high quality and consistency with the historic shingle-style homes in the region.  Proper installation is critical to prevent moisture from penetrating the walls. 

Partial installation of Sunset Green Home's Certi-grade Western Red Cedar shingles from Liberty Cedar

Partial installation of Sunset Green Home's Certi-grade Western Red Cedar shingles from Liberty Cedar

Drainage Plane and Rigid Sheathing

Even the best cladding is vulnerable to water intrusion, so building scientists recommend including a drainage plane (also known as a water resistive barrier, or WRB) behind the cladding.  Behind the WRB, a layer of rigid sheathing provides structural integrity for wind-resistant building.  Traditional wood frame construction typically includes a sheathing layer of plywood or oriented strand board (OSB).  Experts recommend sheathing of at least ½” thickness to protect the building envelope from damage by wind-borne debris in a severe storm.  Sunset Green Home is using ½” ZIP System sheathing from Huber Engineered Woods, which includes a WRB integrated into the structural sheathing.  When sealed with ZIP Flashing Tape, the assembly is water-tight and airtight.

Sunset Green Home's 1/2" ZIP System sheathing with integrated water resistive barrier

Sunset Green Home's 1/2" ZIP System sheathing with integrated water resistive barrier

Advanced Framing Techniques

It is difficult to meet the insulation requirements of increasingly stringent energy codes using conventional 2x4 framing.  High performance wood framed wall assemblies like the one found in Sunset Green Home use at least 2x6 framing.  Sunset Green Home has also used material efficient framing techniques, such as ladder blocking where interior and exterior walls intersect, to allow for greater insulation to be placed in the walls.

2x6 framing with ladder blocking at the intersection of Sunset Green Home's interior and exterior walls

2x6 framing with ladder blocking at the intersection of Sunset Green Home's interior and exterior walls

Mold Inhibitor

Sunset Green Home has included a protective mildewcide coating to inhibit mold growth inside the walls.  Cary Insulation has applied CertainTeed’s proprietary FortiCel™ product, a mold inhibitor that is sprayed onto the interior wall cavity after framing and sheathing is complete and before insulation is installed, to prevent mold growth on structural framing surfaces. 

CertainTeed's FortiCel protective mildewcide on Sunset Green Home's interior framing

CertainTeed's FortiCel protective mildewcide on Sunset Green Home's interior framing

Insulation and Smart Vapor Retarder

Insulation minimizes heat transfer through the wall assembly and contributes to a home’s energy efficiency.  A high performance wall assembly will include high R-value wall insulation to meet the home’s energy efficiency goals.  However, while insulation will reduce heat transfer through walls, it cannot prevent mildew-causing moisture from moving through a wall assembly.  21st century building science has given birth to smart vapor retarders that allow a wall cavity to dry out under humid conditions and deter moisture from moving into the walls under dry interior conditions.

Sunset Green Home’s walls will be insulated to R-21 with CertainTeed’s innovative SMARTBATT™ insulation, which combines insulation with a smart vapor barrier in a single kraft-faced fiberglass batt product and eliminates the need for installation of separate insulation and vapor barrier products.  By blocking moisture from entering the wall cavity when humidity is low and allowing the wall to breathe when humidity is high, SMARTBATT helps reduce the potential for mold and mildew growth.   

CertainTeed's SMARTBATT with smart vapor retarder will be installed to R-21 in Sunset Green Home's exterior walls (photo courtesy of CertainTeed)

CertainTeed's SMARTBATT with smart vapor retarder will be installed to R-21 in Sunset Green Home's exterior walls (photo courtesy of CertainTeed)


Gypsum board is interior sheathing that acts as a fire-resistive barrier and encloses the home’s framing and insulation.  Specialty gypsum products have been designed to reduce noise transmission, fight mold and mildew, and withstand abuse in high traffic areas.  And, a high performance wall assembly can even actively contribute to healthy indoor air quality.  Sunset Green Home has selected one of the most innovative gypsum products available.  AirRenew by CertainTeed uses a patent-pending, independently tested, technology to clean the air by absorbing Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde that may be present in other building materials or home furnishings.

Sunset Green Home will use CertainTeed's AirRenew gypsum throughout the project (graphic courtesy of CertainTeed)

Sunset Green Home will use CertainTeed's AirRenew gypsum throughout the project (graphic courtesy of CertainTeed)

Low/No VOC Paint

Paint is Sunset Green Home’s final line of defense in its high-performance wall system.  Earlier generations contained VOC-emitting solvents with associated health risks.  All major brands now offer GREENGUARD certified low/no VOC interior latex paints.  Sherwin-Williams’ Harmony paint with Formaldehyde Reducing Technology may even reduce VOCs from other sources in the air.  In spaces where Sunset Green Home doesn’t have AirRenew gypsum, formaldehyde reducing paint could be a helpful final layer.  And choosing paint with integrated mildewcide will complete the high performance wall assembly in Sunset Green Home’s bathrooms and laundry rooms.

If you're renovating or building a new home, make sure you understand what's in your walls!  Harness 21st century building science to include a high performance wall assembly.  Want to learn more?  Check out the slide show we wrote for What Makes the Ultimate Wall?

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Where Does Your Fresh Air Come From?

This week’s post is going to be a short one…really just an announcement of sorts.  But it comes with a preamble.  Here it is…

Have you ever thought about where the fresh air in your home comes from?  If your windows and doors are closed, how are you getting fresh air and expelling stale air?  If you live in an older home, air seeps in through cracks and crevices in your building envelope.  While envelope leakage is detrimental in terms of energy efficiency and possibly occupant comfort (for example, if your home is drafty), in fact, air infiltration can be helpful in terms of indoor air quality.

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at

But if you live in a new home, whose envelope is airtight, you run the risk of trapping toxins inside your home if you don’t have an explicit means of refreshing the air.  What do I mean by toxins?  I described it in detail in an earlier post.   In a nutshell, toxins find their way in on the bottoms of your shoes (dirt, fertilizers, etc.), as a byproduct of cooking and combustion appliances (like your fireplace), from your furnishings (carpeting, sofa cushions and other furnishings may release volatile organic compounds – VOCs – into the air), and even from your cleaning supplies (check out my earlier article on green cleaning).

New homes – and those that have gone through deep energy retrofits that include air sealing measures – need to use balanced mechanical ventilation to bring fresh air inside and expel stale air to the outdoors.  Mechanical ventilation systems can run through existing ductwork or their own separate ducts (there are significant advantages to this latter design).  I’ll be writing about Sunset Green Home’s ComfoAir system by Zehnder in future articles (which will include installation photos as well). 

But for now, I’ll close with our announcement that we’re co-hosting a two-day workshop next week with Zehnder and Sunset Green Home's builder, Coastal Management, on ventilation systems for energy efficient homes.  The first day will include a three-hour classroom-style presentation on mechanical ventilation and system design.  The second day will be a three-hour installation demonstration at the Sunset Green Home site.  The event is free and open to the trade and industry professionals (CE credit available).  If you’re going to be on Long Island on Tuesday November 18th and Wednesday November 19th and are interested in participating, please send us an email at so we can forward the details to you.

Join us!  You’ll breathe easier if you know more about where your fresh air comes from.

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Progress Update: Sunset Green Home Gets Windows and a Roof

Nearly all of Sunset Green Home’s windows have been installed as of this chilly Friday morning.  And the roof of the main house is almost complete (we’ve had a few rainy days recently, and nobody wants the roofers on a slippery wet roof!).

Jim Hunter of JP Hunter Co., Sunset Green Home’s roofing subcontractor provided some terrific aerial photographs of Sunset Green Home’s roof under construction.  The photos show the beauty of Anbrook Industries’ taper sawn Western Red Cedar shingles.

Photo courtesy JP Hunter

Photo courtesy JP Hunter

But we also got up close to see how the roof was being constructed and the windows installed. 

Roofers and Window Installers at Sunset Green Home

In an earlier article, we discussed in detail the many layers that comprise Sunset Green Home’s high performance roof assembly.  The slide show below shows the materials that comprise Sunset Green Home's beautiful, energy efficient and durable roof.

Up on the roof we were able to see how all of the components interact.  In this photo, lead coated copper flashing is installed in the valleys and around the chimney to defeat the forces of gravity, wind and surface tension on areas of the roof that might be susceptible to water intrusion.

Roof shingles and flashing on Sunset Green Home

Underneath those durable taper sawn Anbrook shingles, and atop the lead coated copper flashing, the roofers have installed Grace Ice & Water Shield at rakes, eaves and other areas where ice damming might occur.  They installed a layer of Ventgrid12 a product made from post-consumer recycled content that acts as a drainage plane and air gap - allowing the shingles to breathe and letting any water that gets behind the shingles drain downward and away from the roof structure.

Sunset Green Home roof components

While JP Hunter's team has been up on the roof, the crew from Coastal Management, Sunset Green Home’s builder, has been in the house installing the home’s impact resistant Integrity Wood Ultrex windows by Marvin.  The photo below shows windows in various stages of installation.  The opening at the top center has received a layer of Grace Ice & Water Shield at the sill, which is installed before the window.

Sunset Green Home Window Installation

The window crew installed flanges (also known as nailing fins) around each window, and the structural brackets that are required for the special impact-resistant windows used in the project.

Installing Hurricane Clips on Sunset Green Home windows

The team applied a bead of caulk around the exterior of the window and lifted it into place. Working in pairs, one person leveled the window while another secured it to the home's framing.

Window Installation on Sunset Green Home

Finally, ZIP System flashing tape was installed around the window flange to create a watertight assembly.  Not shown here, but equally important, the window team applied a custom sill and casing fabricated from Boral TruExterior trim to each window.

Integrity Windows with Zip Flashing Tape

When the insulation work begins next week, the insulation company will install expanding polyurethane foam to the gap between the framing and the window, leaving Sunset Green Home with a completed window assembly.

We'll leave you with another aerial shot that shows the changing face of Sunset Green Home's neighborhood.  The beautiful home under construction next door by Joe Burns Contracting is another Hurricane Sandy rebuild.  Two more homes in the neighborhood have been elevated onto pilings to keep them above the flood plain.  I recently wrote about the transformation of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans.  All you need to see is the construction activity in the vicinity of Sunset Green Home to know that our neighborhood is changing too.

Photo courtesy JP Hunter

Photo courtesy JP Hunter

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Sunset Green Home Progress Update: Constructing a High Performance Roof

Sunset Green Home's roofing subcontractor, J.P. Hunter Roofing, arrived on the scene yesterday!  So over the coming weeks we will start to see the finished exterior of the house take form.  I'll post updates as the work moves forward, but today's Progress Update focuses on Sunset Green Home’s strategy for creating a high performance, durable coastal roof.  There are many possible high quality roof assemblies - ranging from ENERGY STAR rated asphalt to durable slate to metal roofing. 

But one type of roof - natural cedar - is traditionally found in the coastal areas of Long Island.  Sunset Green Home has elected to use a natural cedar roof on the main house (stay tuned for a post on the standing seam metal roof we're installing on the pool house).  A natural cedar roof has the added benefit of being energy efficient and resistant to wind. 

So what does Sunset Green Home’s roof assembly include?

Roof Sheathing

I’ve written over the past few weeks about Huber Engineered Woods' ZIP System sheathing, and how it helps Sunset Green Home achieve an airtight shell (a “must” for a LEED certified home) and provides continuous sheathing required for wind-resistant construction.  ZIP System sheathing is the base layer of Sunset Green Home’s roof system.

Huber Engineered Woods' ZIP System  sheathing on Sunset Green Home's roof

Huber Engineered Woods' ZIP System sheathing on Sunset Green Home's roof

Ice & Water Shield

Grace Ice & Water Shield, a self-adhering rubberized asphalt underlayment is the next important layer, as it is “designed to protect homes from wind-driven rain and ice dams.”  Installed at the most vulnerable areas of the roof (e.g., at the eaves, rakes and valleys), it helps to prevent ice damming and also forms a watertight seal around the nails that are used to adhere the roof shingles to the sheathing, thereby reducing the likelihood of a roof leak.

Rolls of Grace Ice & Water Shield for Sunset Green Home's roof

Rolls of Grace Ice & Water Shield for Sunset Green Home's roof


Lead coated copper flashing is another important roofing component and is used for its ability to hold up against the elements as well as its ability to be soldered.  The product is used at the connection of the sloped roof to the sidewalls (with "step flashing" to the walls where the walls are terminated with "apron flashing").  It is also installed around the chimney area and is custom fabricated into roof boots for all plumbing vents that protrude through the roof.

Sheets of lead-coated copper flashing

Sheets of lead-coated copper flashing

Drainage Plane and Air Gap 

Ventgrid12™ is the third underlayment on Sunset Green Home’s roof.  Made of recycled - and recyclable - polyolefin, Ventgrid12™ is a rigid sheet in a 2” grid pattern that acts as a drainage plane and air gap between the roof deck and the roof shingles.  According to Ventgrid, “the sun’s intensity has increased dramatically in recent a result, unprecedented heat build-up commonly occurs between the shingles and the roof sheathing causing degradation in the form of splitting, cracking, curling, warping and cupping resulting in significant openings for water to pour in." In addition to providing an air gap for heat control, a "secondary benefit is the drainage plane that is formed by installing Ventgrid12™ behind the roofing materials, thereby creating another layer of protection for the structure itself.”

Ventgrid drainage plane and air gap, made from 100% recycled material

Ventgrid drainage plane and air gap, made from 100% recycled material

Roof Shingles

Sunset Green Home’s roof will be finished with SFI certified 5/8” thick taper sawn Western Red Cedar shingles from Anbrook Industries.  The butts of taper sawn shingles are thicker than a 3/8” thick cedar perfection shingle, which is often used on a cedar roof.  Because of its additional thickness, a taper sawn shingle will perform better when subjected to the sun’s UV rays and the moist weather conditions of Sunset Green Home’s coastal location.

Anbrook's durable taper sawn shingles with 5/8" butts

Anbrook's durable taper sawn shingles with 5/8" butts

In addition to their SFI certification, Anbrook’s shingles carry the “Certi” label, which indicates that the mill manufactures its products according to standards set by the Cedar Shake and Shingle Bureau (CSSB), a non-profit industry organization, and voluntarily submits to random inspections by agencies contracted by CSSB. 

"Certi" label on Anbrook's Western Red Cedar taper sawn roof shingles

"Certi" label on Anbrook's Western Red Cedar taper sawn roof shingles

Stainless Steel Nails

The shingles will be attached to the rest of the roof assembly using Simpson Strong-Tie’s type 316 Stainless Steel nails, which resist corrosion and are manufactured especially for seaside applications. 

Simpson Strong-Tie type 316 Stainless Steel nails for coastal applications

Simpson Strong-Tie type 316 Stainless Steel nails for coastal applications

Taken together, the elements of Sunset Green Home’s roof form a durable, energy efficient and environmentally friendly assembly – and a beautiful roof that Sunset Green Home will enjoy for many years to come.

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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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