While I wait for an estimate from DeConstruction Services to do the tear-down of the house in an environmentally sensitive way, my architect, Peter VanderPoel, suggested we spend a Tuesday afternoon at Amicus Green, a building supply center dedicated to green products, in Kensington. I thought we were going to a mall for eco-friendly supplies. I had no idea.
On the way to Kensington, Peter began to tell me about LEED certification. The acronym stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It was established by the U.S. Green Building Council in order to evaluate how environmentally sustainable a building is. If there are any incentives at the county, state or federal level, getting a high score might help me to qualify. There are four certification levels: certified, silver, gold and platinum. The categories that get evaluated are: sustainable site selection, water efficiency, energy and atmospheric efficiency, use of sustainable materials and resources and indoor environmental quality. Meanwhile, my architect and other consultants can also get themselves LEED accredited.
Amicus Green is in an unprepossessing storefront on Howard Avenue with little outside advertising. This wasn’t the Home Depot. As we walked in and I saw the crowded warehouse-like conditions, I asked Peter, “What exactly are we doing here?”
Before Peter had a chance to answer, the owner, Jason Holstine, recognized him and introduced himself to me. I still thought we were just there on a shopping trip, but Jason asked us to sit down and wait for him to finish a phone call. On the way to the area where we were going to sit down, I marveled at the glass-shard-based countertop materials and the array of flooring materials, many of which were made of bamboo. I saw a tubular skylight and happily recognized it as something Joe Keiger, the man who sold me his house in November, had put into his house. I could save it and reuse it.
The amount of light it channels through the roof is huge and yet I don’t think it brings in heat. I might even get a couple more so that the end of my kitchen can be a green house for my plants as well as an aviary for my parakeets.
It wasn’t until Jason joined us that I realized we were not picking out stuff. Jason’s main business is consulting for people like me. What we talked about was mainly heating, cooling, air circulation and insulation. He does all the math for these kinds of systems.
Peter told me that, in our climate, we spend three times more energy heating than cooling our homes. Even though we might want to cool about as often as we want to heat, when we do heat, we are likely to be changing the outdoor temperature by more degrees than when we cool.
Jason will want to know how many cubic feet of space I have, how many square feet of windows there are, where they are facing and what shade the trees provide. With all of this information, Jason can figure out the best way to insulate, heat and cool the house.
I told him, with cocky self-assurance, that I was definitely going with geothermal. What I know about geothermal is that it taps the ambient temperature way below the ground level and requires a long length of tubing penetrating this area which then is cooler than the outside air in summer and warmer in the winter. You need to have a hole going down to the water table that accommodates this length of tubing. I had heard that some people pay for their entire systems over as little as seven years of energy cost savings. That sounded really good. But as soon as I mentioned my idea to Jason, he said, “I’m going to show you my cards now,” and he proceeded to talk me down to earth (or I should say up out of my deep hole) again.
First, he told me that average costs for doing all the digging and engineering are $70,000. Whoa. My eyes widened. Then he said that the system can be so efficient that in the summer, short blasts of cooling are sufficient to lower the temperature enough to click off the thermostat. This sounds good except that the cooling system is not kicked in for long enough to dehumidify a house in the steamiest part of summer; people end up with mold in the cool moist conditions that it creates. For houses that are drafty and are being retrofitted with new heating and cooling, it can be a good idea, but when you build a new house from scratch, it’s so tight that it makes geothermal a waste.
Check back here for next week’s Home Demolition.
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