September 15, 2008

....Kicking and Screaming into the 21st and 1/2 Century

How difficult could it be to retrofit an 80 year old two-family for state-of-the-art energy efficiency? Really. Stuff a little insulation here, a little caulk there, replace a few light bulbs and yell at the kids to take shorter showers......and you are done.
These are all great ideas, and by all means caulk away, but they won't get an 80 year old house (or any house already built) ready for 2050 when our carbon budget will be 80% less than it is today. You need to do more, more than can be accomplished with caulk, more than can accomplished by insulating the 3-1/2" deep cavities of your 80 year old walls, more than can be accomplished by screaming at your kids through the bathroom door. Trust us.

There are several competing ideas out there as to what "MORE" means, and this Pilot Project explores one of them in detail. We will be applying insulation to the OUTSIDE of a home, correcting for decades of incompetent cellulose installations and the cavities, gaps, and leaks those contractors never found as well as solving the problem of the 25% of any house made up of studs, joists, rafters, knee walls and beams which are never insulated.

Beyond learning the methods, materials, costs and performance of this retrofit, the more important results of this project will be an understanding of how super-insulation can be accomplished in stages. Super-insulating the roof when re-roofing, super-insulating the walls when residing; defining a path where most of the cost to upgrade insulation is already covered by a home's large though infrequent maintenance.

This Project would not have been possible without the support of:
Mass. Dept. of Energy Resources (DOER)
An agency filled with capable, empowered and entrepreneurial people who saw this project both as a tool for quickly building a real world knowledge base in super-insulation retrofits as well as an important part of Governor Deval Patrick's conservation initiative. Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles said of the project, "This super-insulation project in Arlington promises to be a model for the type of innovation in the building industry that the Patrick Administration hopes will soon be widespread across Massachusetts."

NStar Gas and Electric
NStar is a regional utility which generates and distributes electricity and natural gas and is committed to the goals of efficiency and conservation. NStar's VP of Customer Care, Penni McLean-Conner said of the project, "This pilot project is a perfect example of how Massachusetts is quickly becoming a leader in energy efficiency." NStar is a principal partner with the state's other utilities in rolling out the Governor's far sighted Green Communities Act which eliminates many of the obstacles to both large and small scale alternative energy production and distribution. NStar get's it.

Pella Corporation of Pella, Iowa
Pella is a manufacturer of some of the most stylish windows anywhere. They knew what we needed before we knew what we needed. They were way ahead of us with their recommendation of their Impervia line of fiberglass-framed double-pane Low-E windows, which last forever, are Energy Star rated, which eliminate the nasty thermal expansion problems of vinyl windows, and yet are stronger than steel (by weight). As an added benefit, the windows are priced competitively to vinyl which fits the overall project goals of finding economic paths to super-insulation.

NuCedar Mills of Chicopee, Massachusetts
Manufacturer of a classy, highly engineered, highly advanced family of pre-painted clapboard and trim which simply revolutionizes the way houses will be sided in the future. A baked-on paint which resists scratches and lasts decades but which can be repainted, a fastening system that eliminates face nailing, a trim system which eliminates caulking, a cellular PVC clapboard "virtually indistinguishable from painted cedar", all locally made here in Massachusetts.

Dow Building Solutions of Midland, Michigan
The world leader in foam insulation products was an early partner on the project and is our exclusive supplier of rigid foam. Dow's Tuff-R and Thermax lines of foil faced polyiso rigid foam were chosen both for their exceptional insulation properties of R-6.5/inch, as well as their superior compressive strength of 25 lbs/in2.

Atlas Roofing of Franklin, Ohio
Atlas Roofing has grown from a single factory in 1981 to 15 production locations throughout the United States. Their products include all grades of residential and commercial roofing products as well as many forms of rigid insulation. Atlas recommended their high performance, StormMaster Slate line to meet our requirement for a Lifetime product. We specified their lightest color option, Chalkstone Slate, to reflect more light and heat into space, to reduce roofing temperature and extend shingle life, and in a teeny tiny way reduce global warming. You're welcome.

Anderson Insulation of Abington, Massachusetts
Anderson Insulation is one of the region's long time suppliers of insulation and insulation services. Nobody else has this much experience. They answer their phones, they do a good job, they stand by their work. They also are an endless fount of technical and building code information to make sure that both you and your building inspector stay on speaking terms. On this project Anderson will be blowing in the Urethane and Icynene Foams in the nooks of the attic to seal off the knee walls and other leaky gaps, as well as the basement ceiling and basement rim joists.

Fantech of Sarasota, Florida
Fantech manufacturers a myriad of ventilation products including blowers, ducts, and other air management paraphernalia. Fantech will be supplying 2 small boxes which will go a very long way to making sure that this much tighter house will still be a pleasant environment in which to breath. Fantech is providing 2 Heat Recovery Ventilators (HRVs) which will continuously exchange stuffy inside air for fresh outside air while simultaneously warming the incoming air from heat salvaged from the outgoing air. HRV's go hand in hand with tighter construction.

Lemieux Doors of Windsor, Quebec
Bridgewater Mill Works (BWI) of Leominster, Massachusetts
Arlington Coal and Lumber of Arlington Massachusetts
The heavily cracked and damaged entryway doors necessitated full replacement. While Pella had some great insulated doors, the project's odd size and short landing before the stairs required a custom door size. Rescuing us from our door plight was 102 year old Canadian manufacturer Lemieux Doors which uses state of the art techniques to design and manufacture classic solid wood door styles. In partnership, BWI, will frame and pre-hang the door for a pre-tested fit and performance and simplified installation. Arlington Coal will make it all happen.

Onset Computer of Pocasset, Massachusetts
Where the rubber meets the road 1. Onset Computer manufactures equipment to monitor environmental conditions, water levels, weather, and electric energy use. Onset is providing the project with programmable USB connected HOBO data loggers which will record temperature and humidity every 15 minutes outside the building, AND on all 4 floors inside the building. Two additional loggers will be deployed in two adjacent similarly constructed homes for use as a control.

VisiTank of Ansonia, Connecticut
Fawcett Oil of Cambridge, Massachusetts
Where the rubber meets the road 2. The VisiTank technology allows home heating oil delivery companies to monitor their customer's daily usage of heating oil. With this technology your neighborhood heating oil company would see how full your tank is without the back of envelope guessing that goes on now.
Result: Fewer deliveries. Bigger deliveries. Fewer miles on the trucks and the drivers. Doesn't take a genius to see the benefits.
For our project, VisiTank is unique in its ability to economically provide day by day oil use data.

Combining the VisiTank oil use data with the Onset Computer temperature data, we will learn how efficiently this super insulated structure retains heat, how efficiently it is brought up to new temperature set points, and how well the heat is distributed throughout all 4 floors. This data will also be used to compare the oil use (corrected for external temperature conditions) against the consultant's projected oil usage and actual historic oil usage.

Synergy Companies of Leominster, Massachusetts
Who but the folks at Synergy to pull all of these moving parts together under the watchful eye of the media, political leaders, and a program manager & home owner who's had one coffee too many? Gary and David are the cool craftsman of insulation; fashioning, cutting and sealing the hundreds of rigid panels to fit together just so. Synergy specializes in zero and low energy construction and remodeling and may be the most experienced specialists in New England.

Marin Strategies of Arlington, Massachusetts
For weeks we marched around blind, making things up as we went, executing our own PR plan. We had some success, but we made it 3X harder than we had to.
When Marin Strategies joined the team they brought a knowledge and a professionalism that blew us away, and a rolodex that includes everybody who is anybody. So that's what it looks like when you know what you're doing?


Pir said...

Kudos on your project, and setting an example of what needs to be done to as many buildings as possible -- there's no reason that we couldn't all do what you're doing -- provided that there is least a little help for those willing to bite the bullet and go for it, at least for the "early adopters" -- since the more this kind of thing gets done, the easier and less costly it will become. Maybe we'll even see it become common for new construction, when it's much easier to do.

I actually have been saving up for a few years to do exactly what you're doing: "super-insulating" the exterior of our home. I'm sure it won't be cheap, but ultimately it will be worth it, both in comfort (no more cold drafts!) and in heating costs. After the insulation project I'd like to add a passive solar-preheating system for our forced-hot-water, and probably be able to not run the furnace at all except in the dead of winter.

I'm interested in hearing about how you went about getting funding and sponsors for your project, as I have the finances for about half of the project I want to do, and if I could find a matching grant or something like that -- I could start it this year, instead of having to wait another 3-5 years to save enough pennies in my piggy-bank (so-to-speak)

And then there's the catch-22 of potentially increasing heating costs, making it more difficult for projects like this to get off the ground, if people aren't able to afford them.

Congratulations on being a Super-Insulation pioneer!

Cliff Ageloff said...

Nice project; the reality is that is cost-prohibitive for most people.

Thanks for an informative piece.

Cliff Ageloff
Certified Energy Manager
MA. Construction Super