Posts Tagged ‘Passive House’
It was very exciting yesterday to attend the 2nd annual regional meeting of Passive House Northwest held at Evergreen State College. Last year at the 1st one, we had about eighty people attend. This year my guess would be well over three hundred. This didn’t surprise me because the movement is really picking up steam in the US. And why not, who doesn’t want to live in incredible comfort, have a home with minimal carbon foot print, as save a ton of money in the process. And because they are so energy efficient they only require about a quarter of the solar panels of a code built home, to supply all of you energy needs. Imagine never haveing to pay a power bill again.
The conference featured several talks on methodology, along with case studies of actual homes that have been built in the northwest. The speakers ranged from building scientist, builders and passive house consultants, to even the home owners of Passive House’s. The talks were very detailed, and incredibly informative. Also there where many vendors promoting the latest advances in things like windows, Heat Recovery Ventilators and air sealing tapes and fabrics. For me the most telling reason of why this is the right approach to home building was hearing the home owners, the folks who actually paid for and live in the homes, explaining how wonderful there new homes where.
I celebrated having attended the conference by meeting with my design team and the homeowners of what will become our first Passive House. We settled on a floor plan and will meet at the Patterson Lake site next week to review elevations and exactly how the home will sit on the sight. It very exciting and I will try to keep you updated as we move through the process.
According to certain estimations, the average person flushes 35 gallons of water down the toilet, everyday. Considering you’re a family of four or more, you can safely presume that nothing less than 300 gallons of water are being used just to flush toilets, other uses of water notwithstanding. Although water is not really expensive in the US (so far) it’s only a matter of time before we begin to feel the pinch. And the ironic part is: despite the fact that it is as cheap as it is, no amount of money can buy or create water, when it’s gone, it’s gone.
So what can we do to prevent this bleak situation? Get new toilets. Conventional toilets use about 5 gallons of water per flush, significantly more than the new toilets, which use about 1.6 gallons. Going by that estimate, you can save phenomenal amounts of water, anywhere between 8000 to 20000 gallons a year, depending on your current usage. This translates into some nifty savings on cash too, upto $100 per year.
The 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf) limit is the newest upper limit enforced by the EPA for toilets, which means there are also toilets that use lesser amount of water, some even lesser than 1 gpf. Many homeowners worry that such ‘low-flow’ toilets will also be low on efficiency. However the latest generation of toilets are high on efficiency while being low on water consumption. Watersense labeled toilets are some of the best you can find today in this category.
Cost is another factor that bothers many homeowners when we suggest low-flow high efficiency toilets. Although these toilets are expensive than normal toilets, the annual savings on water bills pretty much offset the initial costs. In fact, according to certain estimations, the ROI on water efficient toilets is about 50%. Altogether, this makes water efficient toilets a very sensible option if you’re going to remodel your bathroom.
Sometimes getting the U-Factor, SHGC and VT values right is not enough. Often, the installation of the window itself, i.e. the entire window assembly can have flaws. These flaws result in air leakage – one of the main obstacles in trying to achieve energy efficiency with the help of windows.
If your house is built on the Passivhaus principles; or you are looking at seriously reducing your HVAC requirements (and thus the bill) then air leakages through windows can punch a large through your plan. Some energy efficient windows specify the AL value (expressed in cubic feet of air passing through for every square foot of the window assembly) between 0-1. The lower the value, the lesser the leakage. The industry-accepted value is 0.30.
Another problem for insulation is condensation. If you live in cold areas, you’ve probably seem frost or dew on the edges of the windows. Looks quite ‘Christmassy’ but it only means that much more heating load. Condensation happens when inside warm air comes into contact with cold panes and glass, which essentially means your windows are not doing such a good job insulating.
With condensation and air leakage, there aren’t fixed ratings to go by. However, certain materials and window technologies work better. For example, if you’re opting for multiple pane windows, looks for stainless steel spacers, or thermally improved spacers made from silicon foam or butyl tape. These spacers might be more expensive, but they are better are insulating, sealing and thus preventing unwanted heat transfer, while at the same time allowing from seasonal expansions and contractions in panes. Similarly, opting for energy efficient windows with two or more panes or glazing reduces condensation even at indoor humidity levels of 45-60%. This is especially true of windows with argon/krypton glass filled windows.
It is very evident that the larger your window, the more natural light it will bring in. Depending on the positioning of your windows, and its visible transmittance (VT) value, your windows could provide you with enough natural light to greatly minimize if not eliminate electric lighting requirements during daytime.
VT values are generally given between 0-1. A rating of over 0.70 is the highest you can get with clear glass windows devoid of any coatings or tints. The more the number of panes, coatings and tints the lower the VT value.
A high Visible Transmittance has another advantage – it eliminates the cooling function which is usually required in a house that uses electric lighting. A high VT value is especially important when a home is built using passive house principles or design.
However, one thing to consider when it comes to VT, is that a window with a high VT value, will also admit that much more solar energy (heat) inside the room. Thus, a clear glass window with a VT of 0.8 will also have an SHGC of over 0.60 – something not at all desirable in a warm or sunny climate.
To get around this, one can use Low E coatings, which are invisible, and yet block heat gain considerably. These coatings also protect indoor furniture and upholstery from the damaging effects of UV rays. Another way is to have operable windows that you can open up to air the room out frequently. Needless to say, a good ventilation system is important when you have large windows and a sunny climate.
For windows that are low on SHGC and high on VT, look for a high Light-to-Solar gain ratio. This determines how much more light is let in without adding to the heat.
There are two ways that windows help in heating and cooling – by preventing heat loss from the room, and by taking in heat from the outside. The former is measured by a window’s U-Factor and the latter by SHGC. U-Factor measures how much heat is lost through the window. The actual math gets quite complicated – U-Factor tells you how much heat is lost in one hour for one square foot at a certain temperature. A low U-Factor value (usually of 0.35 or lesser) means less loss and thus better insulation. Conversely, some windows may even mention an R-value, which is a measure of insulation. A low U-value corresponds to a high R-value.
SHGC is a value between 0-1. The lower the value, the less the amount of heat a window admits. Depending on the climate and your heating/cooling requirements you will need to pick a window with the right combination of SHGC and U-value. In cold climates, you want a U-value lesser than 0.35 combined with a high SHGC of around 0.60 or higher. This will considerable reduce the load on your heating system. For warm climates, you want the opposite – a low SHGC of less than 0.40 with a high U-value.
Does this mean you will have to change windows to match the seasons? Not necessarily. A metallic oxide layer (called a low E coating) applied on the outside keep the heat out, lowering the SHGC and when applied on the inside decreases the U-value. Even tints work well, though they only reduce the SHGC value.
Does material matter? Very much so, windows made of wood are not very good on insulation, while vinyl and fibreglass frames have the lowest U-values. Metal should be your last option when looking for insulation.