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, September 27, 2009

Sweet rain

Sorry, folks flooded down south, but we have been preparing for this day for three weeks. Days of digging trenches at a 1/4 inch drop per foot, and hand-perforating drain pipe with a drill (since it was a gift from a friend and thus, free). Finding and retrieving lots of coarse gravel and stone. Planting the perennials my generous friends gave me. Going around the ground with a pitchfork, putting holes in the hard ground. Six pickups full of loam/compost mix shoveled by hand and raked in, more Pearl's Premium eco-lawn seed, lots of lime, and now, finally, rain.

Our site took a beating from all the June and July rains before we had groundcover established. Raw, hard, reddish tan and hard as concrete, with exposed rocks and pieces of root, with the grass struggling through and a sheen of red or green moss was all we had. Soil improvement is a hard, dirty, and generally difficult job where the payoff is long-term. There are lots of reasons not to do it.

Now, hopefully, the payoff will come; with a healthier site, happier plants, and maybe next year, an ability to dig holes without a pick-axe.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Poor lawn

It is not the seed, but the soil that washed away with the spring and summer's torrential downpours that made this terrible patchy lawn. To see the poor struggling grass through the "concrete" that is all that remains of our beautiful soil is heartrending. However, because of these same downpours, we were in a race to stabilize the hillside with this eco-lawn seed.

Now that the hill is staying still, as it were, I have been bringing compost in, truckload by truckload, and shoveling it over the grass, raking it in, and augmenting the poor soil as best I can. Although I plan to lay in garden beds, first things first.


Monday, September 21, 2009

Open House report

At various times, groups came and went—we probably had around 60 or 70 in total, with about that many children (or it seemed that way) the whole time...

From top, some party scenes, the credits were posted, but we ran out of room for "gratuitous advisors," there were too many to list. Second, Red from Doug Paddock's crew, David Stoffregen from Natural Lines Painters, Paul Cook and Lloyd. Third, Bill Anderson (the mason who built it) lights the ceremonial first fire in the outside fireplace; we ended up needing it. At bottom, Bill with John Larter, drainage consultant Dean Schofield, and Lloyd.

All in all, a lot of people, a lot of yacking, a lot of kids running around, and a lot of fun. Today, a little cleanup (thanks everyone). And then, I will put in some of the wonderful plants people brought and sit still on the porch for a bit.

Some new faces I was glad to see: the Hamms, Ray Finn, Gordon Maxfield back from traveling, the Colantonios. New lessons learned: make more chili than that, don't use that eye hook to hang a swing from, and it's great to have a party before painting. Now I don't have to wipe up finger marks.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ground gutters

The last few days, I have been digging holes. First, along the porch where there is no gutter, water runoff from the roof has been cutting arroyos into the lawn area on the east side of the porch. Solution? I dug a drainage ditch so that runoff from the roof will strike a gravel trench with a large plastic pipe which I opened up at grade, then perforated with a drill as it went further under ground. Then, with Lloyd's advice on the proper angle, I run the water north to the drive where it meets the upper cut in the driveway, carrying the water over the east side of the drive.

In this way, I can bring around 15% of the water runoff to a different place than the other areas of the house, putting less stress on the swale we built on the south border. But boy does it hurt, the day after.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

OP Party Sunday 20 Sept

If you...
Built it, shingled it, roofed it, trimmed it, poured it, decked it, engineered it, framed it, supported it, plastered it, ducted it, heated it, photographed it, cooled it, caulked it, guttered it, managed it, dug it, bricked it, painted it, nailed it, planted it, plumbed it, wired it, designed it, advised it, graded it, finished it, floored it, admired it, trouble-shot it, reported or wrote about it, or just plain tolerated it...

Please come with your family (or potential clients) to celebrate your work on our home
Sunday, 20 September 2009 at an open house
noon—9 pm
rain or shine

Regrets only to Erin & Flip Porter 508-429-7110

Building team: It would be great to get your picture together if you can manage to overlap here close to 5 p.m. while it's still light.

Invited are you, your spouses and children and loved ones, your prospective clients, anyone you want to show off to. We'll have beer, wine, soft drinks and a truly welcome atmosphere with maybe a hot dog or hamburger thrown in if you get here before we run out. (Also, don't expect completion: painting will be in progress for the next ten years.)

We have an occupancy permit, and so...we have a party! Apologies to our Jewish friends, it's the only weekend that works so come as early as you can.

Friday, September 11, 2009

We Live Here

Okay, now I can state unequivocally that we live here. And how sweet it is.

We're planning an open house next Sunday the 20th* for those involved in the project. If you're following the blog and were part of our team, mark it on your calendar to come and show off to your family or potential clients, and please tell those I don't have email for (see below). Even if it's not painted, it's still swell and y'all did a fabulous job under very strange circumstance.

Emails missing and invitations include Doug Paddock, Bob, Red, Jason, Scott; from SCPB Todd, Matt, Mark, Tom; from Native Structures David Kessler; from Holliston Jeff Heavner and Bill Anderson; from Hopkinton John Larter with his son and nephew; from Richardson Wells Mike; the guys from Paradise Plaster; Jimmy and Steve from Erickson; and probably several more I will remember later on. Pass the word!

I'll post a bit later with details. *Note Date changed to Sunday due to Rosh Hashana!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Legal at Last!

The paperwork is in: We're legal.

Unfortunately, instead of swilling champagne and dancing on lawn, we will be wolfing down turkey sandwiches and listening to the elementary school principal and teachers at Back to School night.

I'm still mad at the building inspector, though: he stalled as long as he could.

Verification on two fronts

Well, we have the document that states the following Electrician's code determination:
"If the equipment is prewired and is approved by a recognized testing laboratory the Artesian Well contractor may install it into the well only." From 1986.

Pretty clear indication, but as I say, I'm not fighting today. I'm preparing LEED paperwork, which I will post in the order in which I complete it.

First section is Innovation Design, for which we are going for extra points under ID 1.2 Integrated Project Team, ID 1.4 Design Charrette, and ID 2.3 Third Party Durability Management Verification. Note that the prerequisites have been met (Preliminary Rating, Durability Planning, and Durability Management) but I must verify those as well. There are eight sections in total, some larger than others.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Peter Tartakoff, the building inspector of Holliston, is now showing his animus toward the dual use well on a personal level. In spite of our changing the level of the pump and installing the valve, inspected last Friday, he now says we did not pull an electrical permit to rewire the pump at its new altitude. Lloyd had an electrician up who will, tomorrow morning, both pull a permit and inspect the wiring on the well.

However: in 25 years of doing code electrical work in Holliston, our electrician has "never, ever installed well wiring" and has no knowledge of permits being pulled to do this. It sounds pretty clearly like obstructive behavior on the part of Mr. Tartakoff, who doesn't like being crossed by a little thing like a plumbing variance in favor of a well he doesn't like.

I have, reluctantly, agreed to withhold my ire until after tomorrow. After that, however, all bets are off and I pursue the town for my permit which, in my opinion, the inspector is wilfully withholding based not on code—but on his dislike of our well. I believe the line was crossed several weeks ago when we disconnected the geo due to regulatory conflict and he wouldn't give us an OP because then, "we didn't have heat." Now, gloves off, it's time to fight the good fight. But I promised Lloyd I would wait until after tomorrow, and so I shall. 'Til Thursday?

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Friday, September 4, 2009

As promised, conforming...

At the plumbing board meeting, we agreed to two things: 1) to get a backflow valve on the heating system, which everyone (plumber, plumbing inspector, well driller) agreed was pointless, and 2) to reset the well pump to be below the return pipe, which actually has a purpose.

When the pump is at the bottom of the well, and the return pipe with the water that goes through the furnace is at the top, any possible contaminant from the refrigerant that might get into the water (highly unlikely) will bubble up and dissipate before the water falls to the bottom and gets pumped back into the system.

In these shots, you see at top the 500' of pipe needed to drop the pump to the bottom, and at bottom, Mike reconnecting the pump so that it would draw correctly. Ignore the lengths of gutter in the background, they were for the roof. Now, we are in compliance with the plumbing board and the MassDEP and I have filed papers accordingly. But, as it is Friday before Labor Day, we won't know until Tuesday whether we need to do anything else. But we'll have a good weekend anyway!

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

We won. Here's how.

Mr. Cerutti from MassDEP wrote:
"Congratulations! I spoke to Ken Pelletier and to his knowledge you are
the first persons to seek a variance directly from the state plumbing
board. It really does appear that your efforts have brought us much
closer to having this issue resolved for future applicants. In fairness
to the board, my presentation today was probably the most detailed walk
through of the potential health concerns that has been provided over the
years that this issue has been discussed. "

This morning's meeting was interesting with the plumbing board, but the headline says it all. For those installing this type of system in Massachusetts (dual use well for potable water/standing well open loop geothermal heat pump), follow this procedure:

1. Check with your Board of Health about local requirements for this type of well. Pull whatever permits or obtain what permissions you might need.
2. Drill far enough down to obtain a water test. Test water before proceeding with an open loop, as anything but extra clean water may guide you to using a closed loop.
3. Choose a system with a dual coil refrigerant circuit. Our Water Furnace Envision uses a cupronickel coil surrounded by steel casing. Single coil circuits are not the same, and greater resistance may be found at the regulatory level.
4. Register your well with the MassDEP and get a UIC number. You will be committing to testing of the water 90-120 days after the system is running. Your well driller should do this filing for you.
5. Check with your local plumbing inspector if he is going to run into trouble with code regulations against the use of dual use wells. In our case, the plumbing inspector did not fully understand the system and we simultaneously had a building inspector who defers to the letter of the law over the spirit of the law.
6. Call Dennis Driscoll, Code Compliance Officer at the Massachusetts Gas Fitters and Plumbers Board at (617) 727- 2243 and request a "discussion" place at the plumbing board meeting, which meets the first and last Wednesday of each month.
7. Get all data (specification manual, plot plan with well drawn on, schematic for well, UIC number and all filings and well lab test results). Make 12 copies of everything. Prepare a short statement of your wish to use your well in this way, and why. Attend the meeting, be courteous and prepared, bring your well driller and if he so wishes, your representative from MassDEP. Bring the manual of your furnace that states the type of coils and automatic shut-offs for your system. We also brought the regional rep for the furnace company to answer questions.
8. In our case, after a fairly lengthy discussion, the board voted 8 to 1 in favor of a variance to this code regulation for our dual use well. The one person against was in favor of our "just digging another well."

Hopefully, if enough people do the above steps, we will get permanent regulatory change on the books going forward, if only to stop having to have hearings all the time. As it is, I believe we were the first. Let's not make it the last! Go geo!

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