Holliston LEED House

This is the story of a family who built the first LEED "green" house in Holliston, Massachusetts. We were trying to spend no more than it would take to build an ordinary house,and maybe even succeeded. The dust is still settling.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Utility economics 101

In our previous (2200 sq ft antique shown here), we had oil/steam heat, gas boiler with FHW in the carriage house, water bill, electric bill. In the new 2800 sq ft house, we will have higher electric bill (due to well, etc.), no water bill, small gas bill (just a little propane for stove and dryer and hot water heater), and IF we can swing geothermal—no heating bill. From around $600+ a month annualized in the old house to around $250-300, sweet. Maybe we won’t have to live on beer nuts after all (although I might want to).

We are exploring geothermal option with a one-hole open loop system that someone used in Narragansett, RI, but we’ll have to make sure it will work. Anxiously awaiting water testing results, due tomorrow, which will tell us a lot.

Currently sniffing around for quality kitchen cupboards in Mass. to be demo-ed, been looking on Craigslist and other places for possible targets for The Boss and Budman (who didn’t like his screen name so now we’ll call him Ironman, much more accurate by trade and strength). Of course, now that they’ve seen them work, GreenGoat has tapped our team for some deconstruction of their own… but we knew them when. You go.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Hoo boy

Who wouldn't want to be going for financing just when the market crashed due to real estate debt? Hmm. Fearless Leader said today that banks are wanting double assets to loan value when it comes to construction. We are breathlessly awaiting the lab results from our new well to see if it's "potable"--then, we'll grab our sheaf of papers and trip lightly to the bank who will, naturally, welcome our project with open arms (and wallet, we trust).
Wave your crystals, burn your feathers, spells welcome.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Ah, HVAC systems...

While waiting to find out how much geothermal really is, we’re now looking at the Freewatt™ from Climate Energy (www.climate-energy.com), a micro combined heat and power (Micro CHP) system. You start with a high-efficiency propane furnace with appropriate ducting. Then, you add on another piece—a generator that produces power. Sure, not too much (like 1.6 kilowatts) but it’s going in the right direction. (More information on this technology at www.epa.gov/cppd/climatechoice/technology.htm)
The furnace part is around $5,000, then the generator part is more, about $11,000. Plus the ducting, I’m sure. And you won’t have AC, but with an SIP-built home like ours you will have a whole-house fan somewhere, which mostly does the trick up here in New England. And jeez, you can’t have everything, can you?
So we start with the furnace, and maybe next year can graduate to the generator. Since we have no natural gas, just propane, none of the systems is picture perfect.
One thing’s for sure, I’m learning more about HVAC than I ever really wanted to know. Construction financing is next. Can’t wait.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Green Grouse

Today it’s bothering me that as merely a person building a house I am not eligible for many of the “incentives to green building” currently favored by our national and state governments.
If I put in a geothermal heat pump, I am eligible not to pay 5% state sales tax on it. If I put in a solar array, I can get a $2000 tax credit for spending $45,000. Big whoop. And If I register my house to qualify for Energy Star, I pay $250 and get back around $1500. Awesome. To get my house LEED certified, I pay over $2000 and get back… nothing. It will definitely cost me more to build “green” than if I ignored the whole thing and built whatever I pleased. And that is just wrong.
Why does our country dis-incent people to build better? Heck, I just read that Spain is going to require solar panels on new buildings.
I am going to do as much as I can anyway, simply because I should. But now, I can afford to do less because I have to fly solo on this. Where’s my support?
Maybe I’ll feel better tomorrow, but right now I’m getting quotes for geothermal that are more than twice what I have budgeted for our heating system, and I have to take away the PV system before I can even begin to think about it. And I’m not building with fancy kitchens and marble baths, either.
As an old friend says, “feels like pxssing up a rope.”

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Doors, Doors, Doors

Thanks to greenGoat (greenGoat.org), the green salvage organization in Somerville, Mass, we found out that a shingle style house in Newton was being deconstructed before demolition. So we called out the troops--Boss, Budman, Flip and Erin--and went in on Sunday to take 18 beautiful interior doors, complete with frames, to use in the new house. Sure, they'll need to be deleaded but what are friends for? If that wasn't enough, we also got two sets of tall, skinny french doors (see photo) and a bunch of great wainscoating. Fabu and another half point on our way!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Can a regular person build a 'green' home?

This is a blog about a family trying to build "green," while not being members of the super-rich, in Holliston, Massachusetts which lies in Zone 5-6 approximately 24 miles WSW of Boston. The first couple of segments are just catching us up to where we are today.

Erin--mom and graphic designer
Flip--dad and lecture agent
Mook--ten year old girl
Va--six year old girl
Fearless Leader--construction manager/contractor who will run the job
SCPB--South County Post and Beam who is designing and erecting the SIP house

September 2007. Found a great lot--two acres within a short walk of home. Should we buy it? Flip has always wanted a "green" home, built to high energy efficiency and environmental standards. But can we afford it? We hear it takes a lot of "green" to build green.

November 2007. The land is too perfect. Bought it. Start freaking out.

December-January 2008. While real estate market tanks, we prepare our home for sale. Continue freaking out.

February-March 2008. Showed it, sold it. Whew.

April 2008. Moved out of our home of 15 years with two children, a dog, two gerbils and fish into an apartment in the town center while we build. Real estate market still tanking. Start discussions with SCPB on house design. We want to use Structural Insulated Panels for tightest envelope.

May 2008. We find Fearless Leader, who will be our construction manager. Looks like we can use his advice on clearing, grading, foundations, all those things we've never done before. He finds tree man Mr. Matt.

June 2008. Mr. Matt clears the level portion of the lot of white pine. Leaves hardwoods, of which there are...2. We have had to clear approximately 60% of the land due to the fire and wind hazard trees. We are still left with lots of 80' white pine, but now it is along the road and ledge, and above the hillside. It looks like a wasteland, though. If I were a developer, I'd now name the area after what I've destroyed... something like "Whispering Pines."
Still working on the design of the house. Looks like we'll end up with a 2-story box with a 1-story ell. Kit barn for Flip's home karate studio with roof aligned for southern exposure. Still hoping for solar panels.

July 2008. Fearless needs an amended site plan to include the barn, the house, septic, well placement, drainage plan. We go to engineers, who are all on vacation. Delays.

August 2008. Engineering done, goes to board of health. More delays. Flip & Erin meet with SCPB to determine if we can get a LEED home on our budget.

September 3, 2008. SCPB gives us a budget for LEED home that adds almost 20k to our budget in additional drawings and administrative hours. No LEED for us, it seems. Don't think we can afford solar panels, either, but we'll see.

September 4, 2008. Fearless and Erin go to SCPB to discuss current plans and cancel the LEED certification plans. We're going to go straight to engineering while we wait for board of health. On the way home, Fearless hears from the board of health that our site is approved! Much celebrating.
Hurray! In Mass, we can't have financing or building permit until we have potable water, so this has been a big holdup. Breaking through is a Big Step. Flip calls LEED rater, finds out we can do it ourselves. Why not try for it?

September 5, 2008. Well Wizard is booked and drilling will commence 12 Sept. Then, we have to have the water lab tested and we'll be ready to submit when we have the building engineering and foundation plans. Whew. So far, we have spent $13,200 in site preparation expense, and all we have is a cleared lot, driveway access and partial driveway (up the hill to the ridge). We will be paying the well guy around $5,000. Still haven't installed a septic field, but now that we have approved plans can get pricing on that. Not including septic, we'll probably spend around $25,000 in just site work (clearing, grading, driveway, well, etc.). And we don't even have a foundation yet.