Thursday, October 4, 2007

Renewable Energy Roundup Thoughts & Lots of Green Goodies

Yeehaw, that was a great roundup in Fredericksburg! I didn't bump into anyone I knew, but I met some people and learned a lot in the 2 short days there. It went fast and furious, and the people were very interesting. I was overall impressed by the level of advice and amount of information that was presented for so little money ($20 for all 3 days!), which is very much what we believe in. This information should be had by all! We also felt the hippy vibe there, and everyone was friendly and really wanting to share the information in true Texan spirit.

Here are some highlights of the event. Jan and I tried to split up and cover as much ground as possible. He leaned towards the highly technical parts and landscaping lectures, and I towards the more understandable and design lectures :-).

  • The LEED program - (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) A non-profit agency created to rate your home based on a number of criteria such as location (how and where you build, close to public transit, amenities, agriculture areas?), sustainability (site stewardship, landscaping, non-toxic pest control, surface water mgmt.), water efficiency (water reuse like graywater and irrigation system), indoor environmental (humidity control, combustion venting, no VOC paints), energy and atmosphere (Energy Star home, light fixtures), materials and resources (home size compared to number of inhabitants, local sources of building materials, material efficiency), and site recycling and reuse (materials that can be reused for landscaping, driveway sidewalks, building materials). It costs a few thousand dollars to be LEED rated and the criteria can be tough, but it might raise property values or make it more desirable to prospective home buyers since you are getting an official "stamp" on your house for green design building and sustainability.
  • Sizing the A/C in your home properly - 30% of all homes in the U.S. have airconditioning units that are oversized for its home. ACCA studies have shown that the average A/C installed is 150% bigger than what it should be. When you shop for an A/C unit, the "normal" standard A/C guys will quote you is 300-400 sf of your airconditioned space in your house per ton (A/C units go by number of tons, for example, 3 ton A/C unit), but depending on your windows, insulation values, etc, you can sometimes go 600 and up sf/ton of your home or even 900-1200sf/ton for a foam home. Our home will be made of SIP walls and roofs and have low e windows, so we can get away with probably over 900 sf per ton!!!! You should always do a manual J load calculation, a software program that is used to measure your A/C load and has a built in 15% buffer. This means that you shouldn't round up too much. Also, the main reason you don't want to purchase too big of an A/C unit is that it will not dehumidify the air properly if it shuts off too quickly. The A/C unit must run for at least 15 minutes before it can properly remove moisture from the air. If your unit is too large, it will cool and shut down too quickly, not allowing the time to dehumidify. Moisture is a big no-no, because it can be uncomfortable, inefficient and cause mold in your home. The big misnomer in A/C design is "bigger is better" but its simply not true. Even A/C installers don't know or don't want YOU to know about this. One other thing to check for is duct leaks, because 25-30% of the air can be escaping from leaks in ducts. This will also lower the A/C efficiency by a considerable amount. The lecturer, Doug Garrett, highly recommends you go over seals, seams, and joins with MASTIC tape, not duct tape. You should try your hardest to have a tight home and good ventilation to greatly improve energy efficiency and lower bills.
  • The Unforeseen movie, directed by Austinite Laura Dunn and produced by Robert Redford, this film is a moving and beautifully filmed story about the rise and demise of Austin developer, Gary Bradley, and how his development detrimentally impacted a natural spring, Barton Springs, and the areas around Austin. It showed how the laws were changed and how development encroached on a simple farmer who wanted to be in the country but found himself in a suburban jungle. What was also shocking to see was people marching for property rights who don't want to follow the protection laws of natural preserves and this ridiculous woman saying "human first, then birds, then reptiles". DUH.... I felt our evolution cycle back a few hundred years when I heard that one. >:-( Then the icing on the cake was to see Baby Bush lift the law that says that developers can basically build whatever and wherever they want and can grandfather back in order to circumvent the current environmental laws. Argghhh... that's FRUSTRATING!!!!!
In addition, we visited booths covering everything from German rainwater filters to creating a wildlife habitat in your own backyard to a SIP manufacturer to looking at chem-free products to viewing eco-friendly and healthy materials and seeing cars that run on corn oil or electric. They also had all natural/organic food and drinks and cooking presentations. There were a few bands playing music too. It felt like a county fair there but much more informative! We got a chance to find a good metal roof for our garage port, which is safe for drinking water and rainwater collection. Also, they displayed the latest in LED lights (that use VERY little energy and last forever), where they now come with dimming options! There was also a Geothermal guy there that seemed smart and will be giving us a quote on our system. We covered a lot of what we need for the house, so I'm very happy.

Ted, our architect, also came with us, so he was able to help guide us to some great lectures. We ate dinner at the Nest, which seemed like a perfect ending to a very glorious day.


Max said...

sounds like an action (and knowledge)-packed day. what a great deal. That AC lecture sounds particularly interesting. It amazing me how much is going on in Texas wrt green building, seems even more than in the bay area.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you have the HVAC down, but for the average person building, it's not a bad idea to have an HVAC engineer review the plans and make recommendations.