Net Zero Home Energy Rating (HERS)

What is a HERS score? An organization of mortgage lenders was formed in the 80’s to study the value of home energy efficiency. Their efforts became RESNET in 1995. They were hoping to add value to homes that would save the owner utility bills. In 2002 the first HERS index was introduced. It developed standards based on a complicated formula to quantify energy efficiency and estimate value in terms of walls and foundations, insulation, air leakage, heating and cooling, installed appliances and lighting. These standards were used to qualify homes for Energy mortgages, a reduced interest rate based on the home’s energy efficiency. The equation used in this process is figured by software after the home information has been entered.

HERS Index equation RESNET
HERS Index equation RESNET

Homes are rated against the 2006 energy building code standards. A house built to that standard would rate 100. Most existing homes were built 30% less efficient than that for a score of 130. Energy Star, a federal program to help homes become more energy efficient developed standards that typically resulted in a score of 70 or 30% more efficient. More particulars about how a HERS index is determined and applied to an Energy Mortgage.

HERS Formula Information
HERS Formula Information

The LEED qualifications require a meeting at the beginning of the project to determine the scope and points that are being pursued. I had hoped for a HERS rating of about 40 which was the low end of LEED for Homes typical scores. My evaluator told me that was unlikely without adding energy production. At the time I did not want to consider solar panels. Most of our roof faces north so it seemed an unlikely plan. The prediction based on early modeling was a score in the 60’s. That would have been good for a LEED home. If we had only met Energy Star requirements our home would have scored about 77.

Dibble HERS LEED Estimate
Dibble HERS LEED Estimate

Some homes are so energy efficient they generate more clean energy than they draw from the grid. A negative rating represents the additional clean energy the home is putting back into the grid, based on the scale of 100 for what a standard new home uses. Each negative point (-1, -2, -3, etc.) represents 1% of what a normal new home would use being returned to the grid. A score of -43 indicates that our home has the capacity to return 43% of that energy back to the grid. Some of that is by not needing it at all.

LEED HERS Rating
LEED HERS Rating

I was surprised that the Net Zero rating was -43. That is quite a bit lower than zero and the lowest score example I could find online was -58 in 2017. The house is in Florida in Port Charlotte designed and built by Anthony Fiore Construction.

Net Zero Ready HERS -58
Net Zero Ready HERS -58

It was rated Net Zero Ready by Energy Star which is a different rating from HERS that calculates the home before energy production is included. There are several different rating and certification programs to prove buildings are energy efficient. LEED is one of the most famous and a large part of the point system depends on the HERS score. Passive House does not use HERS but its own modeling equations. It is a more stringent standard for the home’s thermal envelope but does not include as many healthy living indicators as LEED does. Some other standards are in this graphic.

Dibble HERS Comparison
Dibble HERS Comparison

One of the reasons I was surprised is that an important test for energy efficiency is the amount of air leakage into the house from various small holes and cracks in the building envelope. We worked very hard to seal everything from the studs out. But we still had a large leakage issue from areas of the house that I had not been able to check under blower door pressure. So the Air Changes per Hour at 50 pascals of air pressure (ACH50) were higher than desired for a LEED Platinum home.

I looked for data that would explain the low HERS score with higher air leakage. I found a 2019 report from Ekotrope one of the major vendors for HERS software. They studied the characteristics of HERS rated homes using their software. Our ACH/50 was a little under 5. ACH/50 is the CFM/50 divided by the home’s volume.

HERS score by ACH50
HERS index by ACH50

The lowest HERS scores had ACH50 ratings below 5. But some homes around the 5 rating were below net zero. Adherence to the other factors such as building core, appliances, and lighting helped make up for the higher ACH50 score. I also wondered how much the solar roof added to our final score.

HERS score by Solar KW
HERS index by Solar KW

Although it is clear solar was helpful, a score of -40 even with over 15KW of solar is an outlier. That means that the solar helped but the other factors were just as important.

Posted in -Chronological Recent Posts, Air Intrusion/Thermal Envelope, Energy Efficiency, LEED Project | Leave a comment

RV AC

The last time we camped the air conditioner would not start. It moaned a bit but didn’t kick in. A complication to the air conditioner breakdown is that I bought repair insurance for the first year of ownership because I did not inspect the RV at all when I bought it. I didn’t even test drive it. I just looked in the cabinets and overhead area and checked for obvious water leaks or delamination and said I’ll buy it. An extra $700 plus $500 deductible seemed like a good idea.

The major cost the first year was a rear brake job but it was maintenance and not covered by the policy. I was not annoyed because that made sense to me. The caveat of the policy is that work on it has to be done by pros. And maintenance records must be kept. That meant that all of my electrical upgrades and solar were no longer covered. I did the work, I could fix it if something broke.

The problem with professional repair of the air conditioner was that every shop in our area was booked solid all summer. Also there are a couple of things I could try for way less than the $500 deductible. I was advised on rv.net to replace the “start” capacitor. Some Coleman Mach air conditioners have three capacitors, run, fan, and start. But when I opened ours, I found only a run and fan capacitor.

Only two capacitors
Only two capacitors

I replaced both and the fan ran on low and the compressor ran the AC at that fan speed. But the high speed fan didn’t run and neither did the compressor on high fan. I tried to figure out that issue thinking that in Indiana we may need high level air conditioning.

I removed the thermostat and tested the wiring from the equipment. When I applied power to the high fan speed wire it sparked instead of turning on like the others. It seemed that connection had a fault. I could not tell whether the fault was in the wire or at the control board. But after all this experimentation I re-installed the thermostat and the compressor no longer ran on either low or high.

At first I could not find the correct model of Coleman air conditioner on the Airxcel website. I was not using the search function well. My model is a Mach 15 but there are multiple types of the Mach 15 model. Once I found the correct information I had to determine what applied to this model.

Coleman Mach 15 Model Information
Coleman Mach 15 Model Information

I tried ordering a fan selector switch listed in the parts information, although I didn’t know what it looked like or where it was located. I had read a tip about restoring fan levels with this part.

Coleman AC parts diagram
Coleman AC parts diagram

I figured if I actually had the part I could find where it was located in the AC. Of course the fan selector switch is for an older model so there was no location for it. Instead the fan is connected directly to the control board.

No selector switch direct wired
No selector switch, it’s direct wired

I thought that the digital thermostat may have been compromised so I removed it and wired in the old analog thermostat but the result was the same. Now I am waiting for a new run capacitor.

I also found out that the air compressor is one speed only. Just the fan has two speeds. So running the air conditioner on just low fan speed probably works about as well as high. Also the impeller on our unit has a crack in one of the blades but it does turn freely and the fan motor seems to be OK.

Fan impeller chipped
Fan impeller chipped

I have a diagnostic appointment on July 19th. I started calling in May! This date is before we leave for our next trip but if they can’t get to the job, hopefully another new run capacitor will fix the issue for our trip. I won’t wire the high fan because the surge from the sparking wire may have broken the new run capacitor. If repair facilities are not available for months the repair insurance is probably not worth the cost. I’ve been reasonably successful repairing the equipment myself.

Posted in -Chronological Recent Posts, Maintenance and Repair, RV Camping | Leave a comment

LEED Platinum!

I got confirmation today from our evaluator at Energy Logic who emailed that the USGBC has agreed with their evaluation and will award our house the Platinum LEED level! This is an exciting end to our quest for LEED certification. We began this journey ten years ago with our goal being the highest level of LEED.

We had no idea what the path would be or how long it would take.

Our House Leed Platium Certificate
Our Target

We almost lost heart a few times as the rules for a gut remodel seemed to be beyond our reach. But we kept going, agreeing to any stipulations that would allow us to qualify. The two back bedrooms, were not demoed to the studs. But we were able to increase the insulation by having it blown in tightly to eliminate any gaps.

Qualifying as a gut remodel was the biggest obstacle along with eliminating air intrusion. For the rest we always chose the most energy efficient and technically advanced products we found. We were dedicated to reuse and recycling building materials. I studied building science and learned as much as I could about the energy and water conservation and healthy environment principles that LEED required and recommended.

We decided to add a Tesla solar roof as an upgrade to our garage roof solar panels. That 16.2 Kw of power is what put us over the top as a net zero house and earned the maximum number of points in energy and atmosphere. I’m keeping track and analyzing data from our systems so that the house will have records of performance.

Throughout this blog I’ve shared our efforts, our ups and downs, advances and delays. There are currently 670 posts and several pages of documentation. I enjoy telling the tale so the blog will continue. We don’t intend to stop improving the energy efficiency of the house and the development of homestead projects. We also have interior finishing to complete and of course ongoing maintenance and repair. I have been branching out to other projects and family times which I labeled distractions. But now they will become more central to this blog. This is the time to celebrate how far we have come in fulfilling this dream.

Until we get the actual certificate this revision of our original target certificate will have to do.

Met our target Platinum certification
Met our target Platinum certification


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Front Trombe Wall Trim

I put up the rest of the logs for the front window trim. I noticed some of the pvc lattice trim tends to bow in the heat so I just shot several more nails into it to hold it down. Then I used the 3M tape to close the gap at the top between the edges of the trim that hold the glass frame with a strip of more plastic lattice.

The logs for the large trombe wall expanse were already cut so I only had to drill the screw holes and screw them in. I didn’t have any nine foot long logs so two logs overlap at 45 degree angles in the middle.

Ready for log trim
Ready for log trim

I used the same method for closing the gap on the Alpen window as I did on the east facing south wall. White 1/4” PVC quarter round cut to fill the gap between the window and the exposed edge of the siding. The rainscreen siding assembly was so thick at the window frames that the siding edge was revealed. Someday I’ll paint it so it’s not so obvious.

I had to cut a couple of remaining half logs to length for over the Alpen window and the single pane side of the wall. I had enough half logs though. I still have a few round logs if I need them.

Holding the logs up while drilling and screwing was a muscle challenge. But my sore thumb was not needed.

Log trim installed
Log trim installed

The front trim installation is now finished though perhaps all the white pvc could be painted. And I have not decided how to enclose the sides of the solar panel. But finally this is a completed Trombe wall.

Posted in -Chronological Recent Posts, Construction, Reduce Reuse Recycle, Trim, Trombe Wall | Leave a comment

Closet Shelves

The family room closet has been used as a catch all with no organization or room for storage. I have an urgent need for more storage in that room so I checked off one of my summer to do list items and built shelves.

Family room mess
Family room mess

The closet is 30 inches deep so I wanted to put in wide shelves. The top shelves needed to be narrow enough to put items above the door frame. I had saved the sides and back of a large pine cabinet that I bought for its curved top for over the stove.

Panel frame
Panel frame
Large cabinet panels
Large cabinet panels

The cabinet doors and sides had large panels in thick frames. The panels were the perfect size for the shelves. Although thin they are real pine boards so very strong.

Panel for shelf. Routed side installed down
Panel for shelf. Routed side installed down

I located the studs with an iphone stud finder app. I have lots of leftover trim pieces from the window sill install. These pieces were perfect for nailing in shelf supports.

18” upper shelves
18” upper shelves

The lower shelves are wider. I used 21” panels and just took off a little from each side.

Finished shelves
Finished shelves

I completed the shelves but it was the end of the work day. I wanted to put one more shelf in the second family room closet. This one was an odd shape. I was tired by then and the shelf I chose had a lip on it. I had to turn it over to cut through the lip and unfortunately also cut into my thumb. Ouch!

Table saw injury
Table saw injury

There is a first time for everything. Thought I was more careful than this. The cut will slow down progress on other projects for awhile!

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Spa Trouble

Every couple of years there is a major expensive problem with the exercise spa. And another chance for me to make mistakes. I was happy to finally get the new spa cover and we unpacked it and installed it. Dave cut apart the old broken cover and discarded it piece by piece in the trash. Then I started to fill the spa with water. It seemed to be taking a long time to fill and I found that it was leaking at the pump connection. Once I fixed that it started to fill again but still taking a long time.

Filling the spa
Filling the spa

Then overnight it leaked below the jet that had been leaking last year. I tried a new type of pipe goop and wrapped it with silicone tape. I took the jet out and sealed it again with silicone. I thought the seam in the pipe might be leaking. But it probably isn’t.

Tried a silicone sealer
Tried a silicone sealer

In the meantime the spa had filled at least temporarily and I tried to start the pump system. It started only briefly and then blew the circuit breaker. I went and checked the equipment and it all seemed hooked up OK but I tried it again and it instantly shut off. Then I could hear water running out somewhere. I took apart the whole front side and removed the wet insulation. There I saw the water was streaming from the spa pack itself.

Hole in spa heater container
Hole in spa heater container

I tried to close the gate valves as I took the spa pack out but the water poured out anyway. The rear of the heater container had burned right through. I can’t understand how that happened with just a few second of power. My guess is that the 50 amp fuse got turned on by accident while the spa was empty and the heater burned through. I should have disconnected the control. Next time.

I had the old spa heater from the last time the heater burned out the control board. I didn’t know if the old heater worked but I figured the new heater did since it seemed to burn the container. So I put the newer heater into the old container and put the spa pack back together. Then I installed it and of course had to fill the spa with water to test it.

New heater in old container
New heater in old container

The spa pack did nothing. It did not come on for even a few seconds. It was getting 240 volts to the contactor but nothing on the other side. I had replaced the contractor once before on the old pack when the issue actually was the board. But I ordered a new contractor anyway and of course the new one made no difference. I could have ordered a heater like last time and then found out that the board was bad and return that to buy a whole new spa pack. So even though the pack is just two years old, I just ordered a new spa pack.

Unfortunately despite sending the old specifications to the company and them giving me the quote, I had to fill out the order page and I made a mistake. I didn’t change the electrical connection type from L1, L2, Ground to L1, L2 Neutral, Ground. So when it came I asked why it was missing the neutral and they pointed out that is what I had ordered. Darn!

I did have it right in the written order but wrong in the actual order. So I had to pack up the new pack and send it back for repair before I even used it. At my expense and pay for the repair and return shipping. That is another $150 extra for the system for shipping both ways and the repair.

In the meantime I thought the remaining water needed to be circulated through a filter to keep it from turning green. I had shocked it with chlorine but that is never enough. So I hooked up the filter pump from the old pool. Not the sand filter but a cartridge filter that came with the pool but was too small to actually filter it. Of course it took me some time to put together the adapters and connectors required for this feat. I used the side pipes that send water through the purifier. They came with two 3/4″ outlets and the purifier only uses one. I will use these pipes to attach the thermal solar water system that I hope to set up one day.

Temporary pump set up
Temporary pump set up

The day after I refilled the spa even with my pipe repair the water leaked out to below the jet. So I took the jet apart again and tried a pool putty on the jet body where it meets the fiberglass both inside and on the outside. Then I tried to screw the jet back in and it would not go back in. I used a pipe wrench and the jet went in crooked and I could not straighten it. So I just took it back out and have contacted a company that sells spa parts and hope they can match the jet I need to replace.

Epoxy putty around the seam
Epoxy putty around the seam

Of course it is not a common type of spa jet. So far the closest I have seen is a Balboa, HydroAir assembly. I may have to change the entire piping system to install a new jet. I sent photos of the jet as they offer the service of trying to match older equipment. So I am waiting to hear from them.

Jet body with roughed up edge
Jet body with roughed up edge
Balboa/Hydrojet jet assembly
Balboa/HydroAir jet assembly

The next day the temporary pump stopped working. It had rained overnight and that triggered the GFCI in the outlet but apparently it broke the GFCI on the pump cord. I was able to order a new plug GFCI from Lowes and change the plugs. That repair worked so the pump started running again.

I am also running the fans in the spa cover. The water that is left in the spa has increased in temperature from 55 degrees to 71. But the days have been very hot too. It’s been over 90 for three days and almost 90 today. There is not enough water in the spa to have the cover thermostat in the water so it seems to run as long as there is heat from the sunshine on the cover. One problem with the spa cover though, the rubber button that is pressed to adjust the amount of heat going to the spa fell off and I can’t seem to get it reconnected. That is a disappointment. I should call the company tomorrow and ask about it.

In the meantime I just have to wait for parts and the repaired spa pack and hope the spa stays clean.

Posted in -Chronological Recent Posts, Electrical, Maintenance and Repair, Solar, Spa | Comments Off on Spa Trouble

New Spa Cover

Five years ago at the 2017 ASES Conference in Boulder, I heard a presentation about a new type of spa cover. The company, Modern Spa Covers, manufactures the covers in my own town of Arvada. I was determined to buy one when the time came. I followed the web page at the time and contacted the supposed distributor in the area but I never heard back from them.

Modern Spa Cover in Brown
Modern Spa Cover in Brown

Last fall our spa cover had completely worn out. The vinyl was cracking, the styrofoam was waterlogged, and the top was bent from kids sitting on it. So I contacted the company directly and they were taking online orders. The covers are custom built and they are not covered in vinyl or filled with regular styrofoam. Instead they have a steel and polycarbonate frame insulated with polyisocyanurate insulation. They have small fans inside that transfer the heat from the sun hitting the dark material into the water of the spa. The cover is an outdoor canvas like sunbrella. It is just an additional heat source and not meant to heat the entire spa. The small fans can be run by solar panels but my order had the 110v transformer instead. I can always add a small panel sometime in the future.

Solar Spa Cover
Solar Spa Cover

Not only is the construction unusual, the cover is more highly insulated than normal. I also included the higher weight bearing option since I never know when kids are going to climb up there to sit!

Spa Cover R Value
Spa Cover R Value
Spa Cover Construction
Spa Cover Construction

The company sent a diagram of the proposed cover and I made a few changes. I only have one open side on the spa. One side is against the decking wall, one has the ladder and the opposite side has the access to the equipment so I had to have the fold orient the length of the spa instead of the width. I also requested that the plug for the fans be close to the electric cord I use but that was probably unnecessary since the cord it came with is so long.

Modern Spa Covers DrawingA
Modern Spa Covers Drawing A
Modern Spa Covers DrawingB
Modern Spa Covers Drawing B

While I was creating the order for this spa cover we had the vendor show for the Metro Denver Green Homes Tour. We invited Modern Spas to exhibit and there was some interest in this new design. Later this year I hope our home will be on the tour and the company representative will be here to explain the design of our cover.

My Spa Cover in Brown
My Spa Cover in Brown
Open spa cover
Open spa cover
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Camping with Grandkids

The kids are going to Korea for most of the summer to visit their aunt and other friends. We are hoping they become more fluent in Korean because they will be immersed. But before they leave we took them for a summer campout at the Sterling Reservoir about three hours north of us.

RV At the Beach
RV At the Beach

We chose the campground that was closer to the lake but further from the beach so we parked near the beach a couple of times. It is nice having the facilities with us wherever we go. We had fun inside and outside during the trip. It rained and was windy part of the time but there is lots to do anyway.

Travel entertainment
Travel entertainment
Reading books
Reading books

We spent some time at the lakeside just below our campground but there was not much sand. Made a fishing pole with some line found on the path and a rock for bait. It was fun and we caught about as many fish as we do with better equipment.

Pretend fishing
Pretend fishing

And of course our six year old practiced his rock skipping skills.

Skipping stones
Skipping stones

While little brother worked to collect dirt and twigs in a bucket.

Lakeside bucket and shovel
Lakeside bucket and shovel

The beach offered all the usual lakeside fun and an opportunity to play with other kids. A nice layer of sand and lake water that was a bit cold but not too muddy.

Sand Dams
Sand Dams

Even though the water was chilly the kids spent some time in the floats.

Dinosaur floating
Dinosaur floating
Floating Shark and rider
Floating shark and rider

We left on Monday and returned on Thursday so about three days of camping fun. That was probably enough for grandparents and kids of these ages but it was a wonderful time together. We are going to miss them this summer!

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Energy Logic HERS Rating Below Net Zero!

Our Energy Logic rater and project lead finished the final report on our LEED project. I had to log in to USGBC to pay the certification fee. Again nothing is easy and the first several times I submitted my credit card information the site hung up. Since we were camping at a lake it could have been that cell service was too slow. I tried again about 11 pm and the card info went through so they were able to file their report the next day.

I could hardly believe the points awarded for Energy and Atmosphere after the poor blower door test. I had been hoping for a score near zero because of our solar roof and other improvements. Our HERS rating was -43! Design rating for an Energy Star home the size of ours would be 77. (“This is an admirable score. Although this home is 30% more energy efficient than homes built according to the 2006 IECC requirements.”) The -43 rating is quite a bit below zero. (“This home is a Net Zero Energy Home. This means that this home produces as much energy through renewable resources, such as solar panels, as it consumes. Only a Net Zero Energy Home can score 0 on the RESNET HERS Index.”) That’s fantastic!

The LEED energy budget for the house was 174.1 MMBtu/year and our design was rated for -127.4 MMBtu/year. That is 173% lower than the baseline. The HERS score and energy reduction from baseline earn the full 36 points for Energy Efficiency. That is very exciting.
As far as the other points I was a little disappointed in several that I did not earn. I sent a spreadsheet of points I was planning and a few were in question. I thought if some had no questions they were being submitted but some were not.
On the other hand I did not know Regional Priority points were available and the project gained 3 points there.
I decided that the total points did not matter as long as we had enough for Platinum but then I did not realize that USGBC could challenge the report and might not allow points. So I still have to wait and see.

LEED Summary submitted June 9, 2920
LEED Summary submitted June 9, 2920
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Plan for the Summer

We are taking the grandkids camping this week but then the family is leaving town for the rest of the summer. That gives us some unbroken time to do some finish work on the house. I have not made a planning list in a long time but now that I’m waiting for a decision on LEED I feel the need to make a summer plan. I will just start with this list in no particular order. This is just about every project I’d like to do eventually.

  1. Finish outside front trim
  2. Build shelves in family room closet
  3. Add handle to family room closet
  4. Fix insulation in attic ceiling over ERV
  5. Add xps to rear attic hatch door
  6. Spray insulation on outdoor utility room corner
  7. Spray insulation under middle bedroom sill
  8. Spray at corner of front patio door trim
  9. Spray insulation on crawlspace exposed wall
  10. Seal rear of closet loft
  11. Build insulated box around chimney
  12. Clean,reseal, and polish concrete floor
  13. Sand and glue rear bedroom floor
  14. Clean and paint baseboards
  15. Install baseboards
  16. Install corian shelf
  17. Install siding at back door
  18. Fix pergola where tree limb fell
  19. Cut back pergola for spa cover
  20. Install alternate filter pump on spa
  21. Fix spa leak at jet
  22. Install new spa pack
  23. Disconnect flashing erv control
  24. Repaint front door trim
  25. Repaint garage
  26. Clear out excess materials in garage.
  27. Finish patio edging
  28. Put up log pergola and install rubber tile floor
  29. Create path to playground
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An Induction Cooktop

We wete not using the griddle side of the gas cooktop. It was difficult to heat up and the flame tended to go out because the downdraft fan came on high automatically and pulled at the flame. It just became a place to put extra pots and rest lids. I have been reading about reducing gas use to fight carbon in the atmosphere. Some cities have outlawed the use of natural gas in homes. I was blissfully unaware of this when I bought a gas boiler/water heater and installed our used gas cooktop.

I finally decided to try to replace the gas griddle with a two burner induction range. There are many more choices now than a few years ago. Most two burner units are arranged horizontally but there are a few vertical units. Of those I had to find one narrow enough to fit in the burner space. I also did not want to wire another 240 volt electrical breaker so I needed a 110 volt plug in appliance. The new ”hob” arrived the other day. The instructions call it a hob, European for hot plate.

Induction “hob” with digital controls
Induction “hob” with digital controls

The temperature readings are in Celsius but there is a simple 1-9 level that comes up first. There is also an up to two hour timer function in minutes.

In addition to the small size of our gas range, a full size induction range would cause us to lose the use of a beautiful set of copper pots. Plus we have a few aluminum and copper bottom stainless steel pans that we still use. This limitation made a full induction range undesirable for us. We have several cast iron skillets and a magnetic stainless steel soup pot and we use these often so we can use induction with those pots.

Uses only magnetic cookware
Uses only magnetic cookware

The griddle opening was only 10.5 inches wide and the whole left side of the stove only 12.25 inches wide. Front to back the opening was 18.75 inches wide. That limited the choice of cooktop. After it arrived I had to remove the rubber feet to sink it partially in the opening. I used narrow electric plate screws left protruding instead to brace it within the griddle space. Then a small block of wood behind secures it tightly in the cutout and there is room behind for the cord. It was practically a perfect fit and does not slip around. The gfci outlet is right over the toaster so the installation is convenient even though the cooker is elevated above the level of the stove.

Installed on the gas cooktop
Installed on the gas cooktop

I think I will remove the gas handles and install blank plates to prevent turning on the gas on the induction side. We have never done this with the griddle but just to be safe it seems like a good idea.

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Last Push before LEED Rating

We returned from our camping trip late Tuesday and I had about two days to finish several projects for the LEED final rating appointment on Friday. It was not easy to prioritize. I found an article that mentioned the 10 biggest issues passing a LEED rating. I had already had a blower door test to find some of the worst air leaks and had applied foam and insulation to the areas we discovered. I also bought extra door weatherstripping but only had applied it to one of the doors! The biggest project before the rating had been installing the glass on the Trombe wall so it would provide more radiant heat to the uninsulated block wall.

1. Manual J Equipment Sizing Calculations. I thought I had this covered. Even though I did the calculations at the start of the project and could not know all the final design details, it came pretty close.

2. Duct Leakage. No HVAC ducts but the ERV ducts were giving me problems. This turned out to take the most time to solve.

3. Air Flow ERV airflow was less than design. I had shortened the pipes to get the fresh air moving.

4. Air Filters Good here, have MERV 12 in the ERV and Radiant heat does not use air filters.

5. Bath and Kitchen Fan Exhaust. Good here too. Great Panasonic Whisper Green fans in two bathrooms, ERV in the other.

6. Ventilation and Exhaust Controls. The bathrooms have the humidstat controls that work wonderfully.

7. Air Sealing. This was a big concern so I did what I could to reduce places I knew about. It wasn’t enough.

8. Insulation. Had additional insulation blown into the rear of the house and had already passed the big insulation inspection.

9. Project Team Communication. The most difficult thing was being sure the vendors followed the requirements and design of a LEED home. But most of that was done years ago.

10. Documents and Submittals. A huge job and one that I have spent hours completing. But I’m pretty sure I can deliver any documentation that is required.

It was obvious to me from the list that my ERV needed the most attention as well as any extra sealing I could do. So I took those last two days to concentrate on improving the ERV ducting and air flow. I had purchased a vent fan that had a speed control and was not high wattage (46w on high). So I was determined to add it to the ducting system.

AC Infinity Duct Fan
AC Infinity Duct Fan

The long arm of vent on the right side of the layout had been disconnected and that junction is where I installed the fan.

Duct Layout
Duct Layout

The day was warm and working in a small space in the attic was tight. The pipe on the left is the central vacuum run. Also notice the mini-split refrigerant pipes and the electric junction box. The ERV is on the right side of the radon pipe. Lots of stuff in a small space. I took out the temporary elbow and reinstalled a duct tee so that the air could feed both arms of duct on the right hand side of the diagram.

Had to squeeze between the radon pipe and the wall to connect pipes.
I had to squeeze between the radon pipe and the wall to connect pipes.

It was much easier to take a ladder to the top of the refrigerator to reach the duct there. That is how I installed the duct fan. And I ran the wiring through to the attic space. The fan had a plug and the controller was on the electric cord. It was easy to connect. I’m running the fan on medium. This was another big job that took most of two days.

Easier to reach the duct from the top of the refrigerator
Easier to reach the duct from the top of the refrigerator

It was still hot when I taped the joints of the solar tube in the rear bathroom attic and relaid the insulation there to get better coverage around the tube. It was miserably hot in the attic but the tasks did not take long.

The next day in late May, the rater was scheduled to arrived and it turned cold and snowed. He came about 2 pm so I had installed the weatherstripping on the doors that morning. The night before I got an email with several questions about points that I was pursuing. I had the documentation and just had to spend time attaching it to the email. I lost three points I had hoped to gain, first because the mudroom shoe storage and bench were not considered permanent. I quickly built the little bench I had planned to build for months over the plumbing in the mud room corner. Then I cleared off a shelf for shoes in the closet but I’m pretty sure I still won’t get that point.

Small shoe removal bench
Small shoe removal bench

The other point I seem to have lost is EPA certification for the boiler fireplace. It has EU certification and it is an imported stove so I thought that would count. There is a disclaimer for foreign applicants that if the US regulations don’t apply those of the country of origin of similar type would count instead. The EPA did not have a category for wood stove boilers and they were exempted at the time I installed the stove. But the letter of the law is EPA. Rats another point that I needed and tried to gain. Apparently we don’t get a point for planting a tree for shade either because there are already trees? I don’t understand that but our aspen may not have made it this winter anyway.

So the final rating day came at last. Dave bought me a special t-shirt for my birthday that I almost forgot to put on. The rater was far too young to really appreciate the humor, although he had heard of Green Acres.

Green Acres Shack
Green Acres Shack
Mr. and Mrs. Douglas on Green Acres
Mr. and Mrs. Douglas on Green Acres

The rater was very nice and even complimented some of my work. But the blower door test was a big disappointment. Since late November when Nancy did a blower door and got 2700 cfm/50 I had worked to tighten the house in places we found that day. But it wasn’t enough. The rater got a low of 1900 cfm/50. Technically that does not pass Energy Star requirements. But he said a remodel might be different. They are much more difficult to reduce. Our chimney was leaking air at an astonishing rate and despite my application of foam there were still leaks at some windows and doors. The energy audit in 2012 started at 3250 cfm/50. He said that was a huge reduction so I might be OK because of all the other work I have done.

I completed the forms for Energy Star HVAC efficiency and water management and sent them back. So now I wait to hear the verdict. I’m sure it takes a lot of time to enter all the information on the USGBC site. Then the organization needs time to evaluate all of it. I have my fingers crossed and will continue to work on the tightness of the house even though it won’t affect this rating.

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Birthday Camping

We had a nice vacation taking the grandkids camping at Boyd Lake for my birthday! I had a few things to do on the RV to get ready. Much of the clean up of the mud room was undone when I unloaded several boxes from the wedding trip in February. So it goes.

I also had to fix the light strip that fell off during that trip. I used 3M tape to put the strip holder back up and found that the strip had broken so only a few of the lights were working. I ordered a replacement strip to put on someday.

Fixing the light strip
Fixing the light strip

I had to dewinterize and fill fresh water. The hot water heater drain valve was open and it took me awhile to find that. Of course it needed a good cleaning as well and all the sheets and comforter duvets were washed and dried. Its fun to get ready to camp though. I repacked with chairs and canopy and new sand toys. We also brought inflatable floats but that was wishful thinking.

Packing the RV
Packing the RV

Although the weather was warm the lake had not been refilled. So the beach was quite a bit further from the water than I had envisioned. We played in the sand but the beach playground was a big draw. It was about 1/4 mile away from our campsite. Kids liked the wagon ride.

Ready to ride to the playground
Ready to ride to the playground

We had a lovely campout and really enjoy taking a break in the RV. The wind was calm so we could even have a campfire! And of course the fireside treat of s’mores.

Fireside
Fireside
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Last Four Windows are Trimmed

It was an exciting day, all the windows and doors in our house have trim! The handymen returned to finish the windows. Each window is slightly askew so measuring and cutting each board had to be precise.
The handymen started at the rear bedroom and worked forwards.

Rear Bedroom.
Rear Bedroom.

The long window in the rear bedroom was trimmed at the bottom edge with a rougher board because we ran out of longer trim boards. Unfortunately it split on one end and I did not have another 80″ trim piece to replace it with so I tried to glue and renail it. Maybe I will replace it with a purchased trim board eventually. I hate to say I had to buy a board though!

The ”escape” window in the middle bedroom was complicated by the lower area concrete that was a different width. We decided to just eliminate the bottom trim board and used a board that had a bit of a decorative edge.

Middle bedroom
Middle bedroom

I also found a shelf board that had a nice natural edge for the bathroom and we decided to make it a bit more of a ledge, but the installers cut it first not thinking about the overhang. So the sides don’t match a lower trim board like on the other windows so they just left it off. I think I’ll have to remove the board and cut it to the same width in order to trim the bottom. The unfinished look of the side trim bothers me.

Master Bathroom
Master Bathroom

The last window was in the family room. I could hardly believe the windows were all finally trimmed. Of course there is still so much more to do.

Family Room
Family Room

But it’s a milestone! I couldn’t have done it without the handymen. Thanks to Scott and Robert!

Unlimited Service Solutions Handymen
Unlimited Service Solutions Handymen
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New Patio Furniture

Last fall we realized that the free wicker furniture I picked up several years ago was getting too fragile to use. This type of furniture was not even meant for outdoor use but we got it from people who used it outside and we continued to use it outside.

Old rattan patio furniture
Old rattan patio furniture

I moved the old oak bench out to the patio early this spring when I was trying to organize the garage. So when I looked for new patio furniture I was looking for something that would complement the lines of the bench.

I chose a couple of sets of chairs and a long low couch/daybed in rot resistant mahogany. The brand claimed that the wood was legally harvested. This type of mahogany is considered a sustainable hardwood second only to teak for duribility in outdoor furniture.

I neglected to change the shipping address on my Overstock account so the furniture arrived at my son’s house. I went over and dragged it into their garage and later took the truck over to pick it up.

I was not ready to put it together so I covered it with a tarp and left it there for a few weeks. Finally the weather began to cooperate and I opened a couple of boxes and bolted the seat to the back and put on the legs and arms. I temporarily left the plastic covers on the cushions.

Oak bench with first new pieces
Oak bench with first new pieces

The black circular thing is an outdoor gas fire ring that I need to convert from natural to propane gas. I bought the kit but I have to get some time to figure out the conversion. This fire ring I bought from a craigslist ad and it had never been used.
This morning my grandson enjoyed helping me put the last two chairs together. I got out the old cushions that desperately need to be washed or recovered and we are now ready for guests!

New patio furniture
New patio furniture

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Plant Loss and Re-plant

Two of the xeriscape plants we planted for the front walk border survived for two years. Just two. That is a sad loss. Probably not enough watering to keep them going in their second year when they were supposed to be established.

What survived? I believe a blue penstemon and a Rocky Mountain Blazing Star which was not even on our receipt and must have been a substitution.

Penstemon Blue Buckle
Penstemon Blue Buckle
Rocky Mtn Blazing Star
Rocky Mtn Blazing Star

This spring I am trying a different approach. I planted herbs in the border. These are all plants that rabbits are supposed to avoid.

Herb border
Herb border

Herbs Planted in Order from Daffodil

Sage Bergerten (2)

Thyme?

English Lavender

Rosemary (2)

Lavender

Purple Sage (2)

Blazing Star native perennial that lived

Lavender

Oregano

Mother of Thyme

Lavender

Mother of Thyme

Lemon Balm

The next day I mulched the plants with real cedar mulch.

Cedar mulch
Cedar mulch

In the driveway side bed I also planted four strawberry plants and mulched them but some leaves are turning brown and I don’t know that they will survive. Some of these herbs may overwinter if they are protected. I’ll have to look into that in the fall.

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Original Carpet Recycled

Early in the Deconstruction I searched for a way to recycle all the materials we were replacing in the house. Only the family room was carpeted. I was able to find a carpet recycler in Denver to get the large room of carpeting recycled.

One room was carpeted
One room was carpeted

I removed the carpet and the tack strips and rolled up the carpet to take it to the recycler.

Recycled Carpet
Recycled Carpet

At the recycler there was carpet in large piles and mine was just added to the pile. The man who worked there showed me that the carpets were shredded and then the shredded fibers were reused in carpet manufacturing.

Carpet Shredder
Carpet Shredder

I searched the blog but apparently in the early days I didn’t write about every step. Turns out this one is an important step to show since carpet is one of the four waste streams that I used.

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A-B Polyurethane Spray Insulation

It seemed that the best way to insulate the rear wall of the utility room would be spray on insulation. Most of the wall is below grade so I knew it was insulated on the exterior but the top 11” is at least partly above grade. This area is closed in with plywood and it was leaking a lot of cold air when I had the blower door test done.

Leaking air was especially bad around the pipes that went through the ceiling. I wanted to fill these holes and also cover the styrofoam above the concrete side walls and the plywood behind the pipes and boiler on the back wall with a layer of spray on insulation.

As an experiment I bought two kinds of two component spray foam canisters. this type of foam is better than single component cans for sealing large gaps and has a higher R value. Both of the brands I ordered are rated as low GWP (global warming potential) with no harmful CFCs (chloroflourocarbons). The Dap Touch and Seal brand was a little less expensive and claimed a sprayed volune of 15 board ft the other was Froth-Pak, at 12 board ft. Both are high expanding low pressure closed cell foam with about a 6 R value and are fire resistant. It took a few months before I got around to this project. I ordered the foam in January. Cleaning up from the disconnected dryer vent was the first unanticipated step to spraying the upper sides and back of the utility room.

Unfortunately the Dap brand canisters were held together by delicate plastic straps that split from the triggers when I accidentally dropped them. Holding the plastic connection up was supposed to hold both triggers in an open position, instead when the plastic broke off the triggers didn’t work. I even had Dave try to squeeze the triggers for me but the mixture went as far as the nozzle and no further. How disappointing.

Dap Touch n Seal
Dap Touch n Seal
Froth-Pak
Froth-Pak

The next day I unpacked the Froth-Pak box. The whole system was better quality and better thought out. The bottles screwed into a dual cap piece and had a shoulder harness. They were designed to empty upside down. There were three nozzles in hard clear plastic instead of two soft plastic nozzles. The directions were clearer calling for the bottles to be well shaken. The handle was the only spray controller unlike Dap that required both the triggers on the bottles and the hand sprayer. I was elated when the mixture actually sprayed out of the nozzle.

Spreading it evenly was another matter.

Clumping foam
Clumping foam

The more I tried to fill the holes the more foam dripped down away from the hole. I ended up with quite a clumpy mess. And the bottles emptied way before I got the wall sprayed.

Uneven spray
Uneven spray

Since I had a lot left to seal I went to work on the Dap kit after learning from the Froth Pak.

Re-engineered Dap bottles
Re-engineered Dap bottles
Pvc scrap 2x2 cut to hold both triggers in place
Pvc scrap 2×2 cut to hold both triggers in place

I taped the bottles together so they resembled the Froth Pak set-up. Then I taped a small piece of 2×2 between the triggers. I had to notch the edges so the triggers would not rotate away. I cleaned the foam from the soft plastic nozzles to reuse them. Then I shook the bottles and held them upside down and squeezed the triggers together while holding the spray gun handle down. The foam left the nozzle!

This foam seemed more liquid than the Froth-Pak but I was able to fill the gap at the top of the plywood.

Sealing with the Dap foam
Sealing with the Dap foam

I pushed the foam as far into the corners as I could. As I filled the upper holes the foam seemed liquidy and wanted to drip even more than the Froth-Pak.

Drippy foam
Drippy foam

When the Dap foam no longer sprayed out it seemed the bottles still held some liquid but I think one side ran out before the other. I could not tell that there were 3 more board ft in the Dap bottles although they were taller. I was just glad I was able to use most of it and did not have a total loss of $50.

The upper corner still felt cold so I added some leftover rock wool to the space. I will have to open a new package to fill the other side. But I hope I sealed it enough to help with the blower door results.

Rock wool insulation after edge sealing
Rock wool insulation after edge sealing

The foam is too difficult to control to spray behind the pipes on the rear wall. I ordered more Froth-Pak but plan to use it in the crawlspace.

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Dryer Vent Debacle

My next project was to close the leaky area in the utility room. I started by cleaning off dust and taping the Siga membrane to the back header.

Loose ceiling membrane
Loose ceiling membrane

I had expected to get the drywall fixed on the ceiling but the drywall guy said it wasn’t worth it. Too much work for small fix. I bought spray on insulation for this area.

Taping the membrane
Taping the membrane

There was a lot of air coming from behind the washer and dryer. These machines are really heavy and Dave helped me push them out enough to get behind them. To my dismay I found the dryer vent pipe was disconnected at the ceiling! I had disconnected it at the dryer to clean it out but was surprised there was little to nothing in the pipe. I went out to the roof and took off the vent cover and put the snake inside but it stopped only 3 or 4 feet into the pipe. That’s when I found that the vent was completely disconnected and the whole area coated with dryer lint! That was bad news.

Disconnected dryer vent
Disconnected dryer vent

At first I could not figure out how to get high enough to push the vent back in. The six foot ladder was too long and wide to fit through the gap between the wall and the machines. Overnight I remembered I had a foldable ladder from the old RV. It folds vertically so I could get it into position and then open it. Then I had to get my legs over the 3’ high gas pipe and squeeze between the air conditioner lines and the wall. I had barely enough space to drill a new hole to put in one screw and retape the joint. Then the next pipe joint came apart too. It had been held with just tape. I also drilled a hole for one screw in that joint, retaped and secured it with a pipe ring clamp.

Reconnected dryer vent.
Reconnected dryer vent.

I didn’t think to take a closer photo, I was too cramped. And I had to vacuum all the dryer dust from inside the little alcove. It coated the drywall below and above and on the walls. Luckily my son-in-law left an ancient but small shop vac that worked perfectly for this.

Reconnected and reinforced. Note stainless braided hoses.
Reconnected and reinforced. Note stainless braided hoses.

Then I stretched the pipe to connect to the dryer again and reinforced that connection with a little more vent tape. Now I can address the actual task at hand back there-to eliminate drafts. It is such a slow process.

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Trombe Wall Panel Failure

We were out of town for about two weeks visiting our daughter and family in Germany. While we were gone there were several days of high winds. Since I left the Trombe glass panels stuck on with just the butyl tape and no trim we returned to find one panel on the ground. Miraculously unbroken.

Fallen Pane
Fallen Pane

The bottom frame piece fell out of the L hooks and turned 90 degrees.

Bottom channel sideways
Bottom channel was sideways

After straightening the bottom frame piece, I applied more butyl tape and we lifted the frame back into place. Then I nailed on a trim piece to hold it. I went to the other windows that were not trimmed and pushed them back into place where the butyl was loose. But I was not exaggerating about the wind.

Very windy in the last couple of weeks
Very windy in the last couple of weeks

That evening I saw another pane had fallen!

Casualty number two
Casualty number two

The next day, with more butyl tape and straightening the frame and we lifted this one back into place too. But I realized that trim was absolutely needed to keep the windows from falling and possibly breaking.

Reinstalled and trim to hold it on one side
Reinstalled and trim to hold it on one side

At first I thought of some gray bamboo trim I have that is meant for interior floor transitions. I bought a few boxes of it from Repurposed Materials. But not only was it difficult to use the trim nail gun to nail it to the wall but it chipped badly from the nails.

I also have a big pile of PVC lattice edging that I bought from Repurposed Materials. They are in all colors but the dark brown matched the front the best. As I was using this for the framing and then for the trim I realized that this is the color that has the fewest pieces. So I’m using practically every last one. I suppose that is good because I need to use up materials I have around the place.

Also repaired and reinstalled
Also repaired and reinstalled with edging between frames

There were just a few double sided trim pieces in this color and I realized I could cut off one of the edges and have an overlapping piece to hold the panels. That meant I could replace the bamboo that was not working with the PVC. The big problem was not having enough. I decided I could use other colors if I ran out. I used a little bit of gray instead of brown for the West side window. Then I cut several overlapping trim pieces and fit them beside the outside edges of the panes. I used the multitool to cut these and it worked perfectly although the blades got dull quickly.

Trimmed on the sides needs top trim
Trimmed on the sides needs top trim

Then I bridged the pieces between the frames with the double edge piece by cutting the two edges apart creating a nice 2″ wide top trim.

Nothing is easy about this project though. The siding has the waterway drainage layer so it overlays the panels and the tops of the windows. The cut logs I thought I would use for the top trim don’t hide the edge of the siding. I wanted to continue to use PVC around these windows except for the header logs so the work stalled while I drove to Home Depot for a solution.

I returned with some 12′ white pvc quarter round. I was worried about nailing into the fiberglass window frames so I used 3m tape to hold the quarter round into place and I screwed log headers above the windows. These match the interior of the house.

Log Headers
Log Headers

The last piece to replace was the long narrow area that did not fit standard patio door size glass. I tried to buy twin wall polycarbonate from Home Depot but they had their coloplast plastic cardboard marked as polycarbonate. So I decided to check Colorado Plastics in Louisville. I was able to get a piece cut to the correct measurements for about the same price as a sheet from Home Depot (if they had the right product). It was ready in a couple of days and I picked it up.

I made the same frame from the brown lattice edge pieces that I made for the glass windows. Then I installed the L shaped hooks and used the butyl tape to hold the panel in place. I still need to trim this window and put headers on the second section but I’m not going to be evaluated on headers or trim so I moved to working inside again.

Installed polycarbonate twinwall panel
Installed polycarbonate twinwall panel
Posted in -Chronological Recent Posts, Finishes, Maintenance and Repair, Trombe Wall | Comments Off on Trombe Wall Panel Failure