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.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

One thing accomplished

The master bath is painted now. And it sure is pretty with Mom's mirror, the Mexican lights and sink, Chris's beautiful tub surround and all that nice wood. Hard to get a picture without a bad reflection of the unpainted attached bedroom, though. Patience, patience, one room at a time...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Dual use, dual message

We are awaiting Wednesday morning's meeting, where we will discover if we can adapt current code to our needs or carve new criteria or... suck it up and dig another well. In the meantime, Flip and I have been painting the master bathroom which seems to have more walls than a typical three-family home, or at least is taking long enough to be one. Anyway, I''ll let you know how things progress.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

One way or the other

This week has been a whirlwind; from Monday's disappointment of no temporary occupancy, to Tuesday's blizzard of phone calls. What's happening now?
Here we go:
September 2nd, we will be meeting with the Massachusetts Board of State Examiners of Plumbers and Gas Fitters (which is to say, the plumbing board) in Boston. There are nine members. Also attending this meeting is the regional director of Water Furnace, our well driller and furnace installer, our representative from the Mass. Dept. of Environmental Protection, the Holliston plumbing inspector, Lloyd, Flip, and me.

Why the excitement?
As Flip says, we have a "walk" and "don't walk" sign going at the same time when it comes to our type of geothermal system, which is, if you've forgotten, a standing well open loop geothermal heat pump, which is operated from our drinking well. The "walk" sign is coming from MassDEP and the federal government, the board of health and environmental research. The "don't walk" sign is coming from the plumbing board, which rules our poor plumbing inspector's license.

According to my sources, this situation has been run into approximately once per year, for a total of four times since MassDEP has been registering these systems. However, as the installation pace is increasing, more and more people like us and plumbing inspectors like Holliston's will be placed in this situation—it's legal, but it's not permitted.

So it looks as if everyone involved is eager to explore our problem and see if there is some way to create criteria for approval. Needless to say, we just want to move in. Watch this space!

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Status report

Here's where we are:
In an effort to diffuse the situation and get a provisional occupancy permit, we had Richardson disconnect the geothermal on Friday morning. However, now we can't get a provisional as we don't have a heating system! Catch-22 you say? Ah, you would be so right. Richardson Wells, Lloyd and us will be having a meeting this afternoon to outline every contingency. We will then present our plan of action to the building inspector and hope he will reconsider. After all, it IS August and we won't be needing heat for a few months.

Sheesh. This is what you get with linear thinking. However, I must say that the headline can read two ways: "Holliston town officials block green house family" or "Holliston town officials help green house family resolve code issue." Right now, the first one looks more likely than the second, but this remains to be seen.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why illegal geothermal systems exist

Well, here's the up to the minute report. Although here in Massachusetts, wells are governed by the board of health and water quality by the state Department of Environmental Protection, apparently the plumbing board likes to weigh in as well. Although we didn't know it, because our inspectors never let us know during the course of the project, the plumbing board has an outdated regulation on their books precluding the use of a well for both potable water and heating purposes.

This would not have been a problem, because for years the plumbing board has been winking at this discrepancy and there are about 100 legal systems installed like ours in Massachusetts, and they are now being approved at a clip of around 35 or 40 systems a year and growing. However, they didn't really want to say out loud that this was the case. So when our plumbing inspector pressed them for a read on it, not getting the hint he was given that this was under the radar, they came out against the dual use well.

This places us in the position of having a silver rated LEED home, clean well water, up-to-date geothermal, good plumbing, fine electric and a well built home, but no occupancy permit. We either have to put in another well (something we never would have done, would have gone solar instead) or get no permit. We considered pressuring various parties, taking this up the ladder to the governor, making a huge stink but-- this might lead to various other problems with town. Do we go ahead and put the well in, get the OP, and Then make the stink? Do we release it to the press? Do we go downtown to Boston and meet with the plumbing board and ask them why they allow DEP to hand out permits if they won't sign off on them?

Comments welcome. Also five grand, which would be the price of another well...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The waiting game

Plumbing inspector is still working with the board on this, although I believe he will fail to get anything out of them. Building inspector wants to see where we are after today; I have called for a meeting tomorrow. So we wait, while life and death continue. I am attending a funeral today.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sweet home?

Home again now, but is it, home I mean? After so many months of work, so long of a wait. After building a quality house, with approved electric, plumbing, septic, clean well water, and in a fashion ready to be awarded a silver certificate in LEED, after having the federal government support our efforts with a tax credit for the geothermal, the state's permission to use our well to drive our heat, after taking care to be transparent every step of the way, we still do not have our occupancy permit. It kind of takes the party atmosphere right away.

Our permit is being held up due to one thing. The state's plumbing board has not ruled its approval of a mixed use well (potable water mixed with geothermal). It has been nodding at this lack of a ruling for years. There are a couple hundred approved systems in Massachusetts at this point that resemble ours. All the local plumbing inspector has to do is go ahead and sign, and no one will pursue him. But because Holliston has a very formal structure, our plumbing inspector will not sign until and unless the plumbing board speaks its approval out loud.

The board won't do that. The plumbing inspector will thus not sign. And we are caught; we have done everything, and there is nothing left for us to do. The building inspector will not let us move in. And we have nowhere else to go.

I will call a meeting this week with all the personalities in play and see if I can get somewhere. But the man at the DEP assured me, waiting for the plumbing board will result in "indefinite delays." In the meantime, we must go on with our lives. We have tried to follow all the rules, and our reward is delay, shuffling, and buck passing.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Okay, but I'm away

We moved our stuff into the barn, and split. Now in a tent in Truro, Mass, on the tip of Cape Cod, I have yet not been spared from the bureaucracy. Apparently, the plumbing inspector took the issue of a one-well geothermal/potable water source to the Massachusetts State Plumbing Board, who didn't feel confident ruling about it without speaking to the Department of Environmental Protection, who requested more information from the Board of Health, who... but you get the idea.

As of right now, we are still without our permission. In the end, I'm sure we will be approved but perhaps not in our time line. Flip says "move in and let them try to evict us." He's probably right. I want to give Holliston this last few days to do the right thing before I go over the town's head on this.

In the meantime, there are worse things than surf, and sun, and sleeping in a tent, and we are certainly enjoying all of these.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Almost out

And I'll be reporting on the plumbing situation soon. We've been madly moving and now are staring at two cleanings--the apartment and the house. Tomorrow will see the end of this place, and my internet is due to be hooked up tomorrow. Forgive me if there's a break.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Moving blues

We're moving Out, as opposed to moving In. However, if I can survive getting Out of the apartment, I will be happy enough sitting on the porch of the house and knowing I no longer have to pack.

More later.