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Posted at 05:30 AM ET, 04/30/2012

My Home Demolition: Heating and air conditioning

My name is Mary. I’m an aging person with an aging house. I’m going to tell the story of transforming my house from something I don’t want into something I do...

In weighing options to heat and cool my house, I have to consider how tight the construction should be.

But do I want a tight house with no interchange of outside and inside air or do I want a house that is not so tight with drafts and leaks? The answer is neither. A perfectly tight house can result in sick building syndrome, and a drafty house is expensive to heat and cool. What I want is a tight house with controlled air exchange. My architect, Peter, and our green building consultant, Jason, explained that the ideal interior space should exchange its air with the outside at the rate of 35 percent an hour. You get the perfect kind of control with a system called an ERV, or Energy Recovery Ventilation. In summer, the system pre-cools and dehumidifies, and in winter it preheats and humidifies the air. I’d like to know what this looks like, but it sounds good so far.

So if the house is going to be built tight, how do I achieve that? Everything gets insulated. During my visit to the green building supplier Amicus Green, we talked about insulation materials and what to put in all the places from the bottom of the basement to the underside of the roof. I had never thought about insulating underneath the basement floor before, but in order to have a basement floor that is not clammy, it is a good idea. We’re going to have to re-excavate the basement of the house, anyway, so insulating it will be possible.

The Amicus Green consultant, Jason Holstine, told us about the closed cell foam insulation product as contrasted with the open cell type. Even though closed cell insulation contains a harmful gas (that isn’t as “green” as we’d like), it is the best product to use underneath the basement. Apparently it doesn’t crumble, get saturated, or settle. It also sticks to both sides — the soil as well as the concrete. It is expensive, but there may not be other desirable options. My contractor had also warned me against a styrofoam product that used to be trendy until people learned that it created a perfect habitat for termites. (Another consideration I would never have thought of.) For the rest of the house, we might be talking about a kind of fiber rock wool insulation product.
Rock wool insulation

I had heard about ductless air conditioning systems, but I thought they were too good to be true. Jason, the Amicus Green consultant, says they are getting more and more popular. Each room can have its own unit, but they are not obtrusive on the exterior of the house like traditional window or wall-insert systems. Instead, they are connected to the exterior condenser by a small tube that is threaded through the walls. No ducts. No ugly things poking out of the side of the house, and very efficient. They are heat exchanges that can serve for cooling or heating. The problems are only that each unit requires a separate outside condenser. So in theory, there might be a little row of condensers on the ground along one exterior wall. The other downside is that none of the products available are made in the USA.

This question of American-made brands came up again as I thought about wood-burning stoves. I would like one or two that are as efficient and safe as possible. Jason promotes a brand called RAIS that is made in Switzerland. I wonder if Vermont Castings and other American products are so much less efficient.

The Amicus Green Web site has a link to a TV show called Renovation Nation in April of 2009. I watched it intently and later told Peter, my architect, and Ed, my contractor, “Jason Holstine has even been featured on TV!” Ed looked at me out of the corner of his eye. He adjusted the toothpick he had in his mouth and said, “Yeah? Well, so has Newt Gingrich.”

Still, we’re sold on the services Jason can provide. I signed the contract and sent in my down payment of $1,350. I’ll owe $695 after the report is completed.

A visit to Amicus Green

The architecture

Wrecking and recycling

Check back here for next week’s Home Demolition.

Do you have a home demolition story to tell? E-mail Olga at khazano@washpost.com.

Follow @postrealestate on Twitter.

By Mary McCutcheon  |  05:30 AM ET, 04/30/2012

Tags:  realestatepage; renosaga

 
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