Our team will share thoughts about the process of building the Village Park Eco Home demonstration project. We also will share some thoughts and information about living the eco-friendly life and probably even more. As in all blogs, the author is fully responsible for the thoughts and content.
Shedding light on “green” Christmas lights
Pat Bradshaw Seaman PR
November 25, 2013
Do you wonder how environmentally conscious it is to use Christmas lights during the holidays? Yes, Christmas lights are a tradition. But do you remember the year that the Christmas lights were rarely seen? There was an oil embargo and everyone was encouraged to save electrical power by not using Christmas lights in their displays.
In the news today: A family in Australia reclaimed the world’s record for number of Christmas lights – 502,165 in total – 31 miles of lights! According to CNN, the family's monthly electric bill is expected to swell by $2,500, with the local electric company handling the cost by using renewable energy. Click here for the full report and a video.
Energy Star says that if all decorative light strings sold in America this year were ENERGY STAR qualified, we would save over 700 million kWh of electricity per year and reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from about 100,000 cars!
Should we spread holiday cheer with energy-consuming Christmas lights even if the power is produced with renewable energy? Can Christmas lights be a part of a green, sustainable, high-performance house like the Village Park Eco Home? The answer is yes, but with a change from incandescent to LED and perhaps a bit of restraint.
I am not suggesting that you throw away perfectly good strands with incandescent bulbs. Do use them until they are beyond repair. Then, when you shop for new lights, make them LED – maybe Energy Star qualified LED lights.
In 2011 Consumer Reports did a comparison of LED light strands and incandescent light strands. Here is what they reported:
Price (VPEH note: the study was in 2011. Some LED string prices have gone down). It’s a toss-up. Per string, LEDs can be a bit more expensive than incandescents. The C7 and C9 sets we bought had the same number of bulbs as incandescents, but the LED were shorter (16.7 feet vs. 25 feet), so we needed three strings for a 50-foot wrap, vs. two incandescent strings. As a result, it cost $30 to $40 more to wrap a tree in C7 and C9 LEDs. Mini LED strings we tested were the same length as incandescents (25 feet) but cost $6 more.
Energy use and costs. LEDs won. They used 1 to 3 kilowatt hours of energy, compared with 12 to 105 kWh for the incandescents, saving $1 to $11 (VPEH note: savings will differ depending on how much you pay for electricity).
Durability. LEDs won. All LED bulbs were working even after 4,000-plus hours, while each string of incandescents had one or more bulbs burn out before 2,000 hours. The LED bulbs we bought were also plastic and therefore less likely to break than the glass incandescents.
Brightness. Incandescents won. The C9 and C7 incandescents were five to six times brighter than the LEDs, though the mini incandescents were slightly dimmer than the mini LEDs.
Consumer Report’s take. LEDs are better for the environment; run much cooler, reducing fire risk; should last longer; and could save money eventually. But it’s apt to take more than one holiday season for the savings to kick in, and you might not realize any savings if payback takes more than three 90-day seasons.
Energy Star says that their approved light strands:
use less electricity -- Light sets approved by the program use 75% or less electricity than standard incandescent lights.
can last up to 10 times longer than traditional incandescent strands
are cool to the touch, reducing the risk of fire
do not have moving parts, filaments or glass, so they are much more durable and shock-resistant than other light strings
are available in a variety of colors, shapes and lengths
come with a three-year warranty, meaning fewer light string replacements
are independently tested to meet strict lifetime and electrical requirements
are subjected to weathering tests to received labels for outdoor use
offer some models with features such as dimming or color shifting.
How much can LED strings save? Check this site for the mathematical equation and some really interesting comparison tables. They compared tree and foliage lighting plus roofline perimeter added to driveway and sidewalk outline lighting in both incandescent and LED lighting. Based on the numbers their example, they found that the LED house would use only 237 watts costing $9.00 per season compared with the incandescent house using 2,800 watts and costing $105.75 per season.
This site gives you more information and the mathematical equation:
Even though LED strands cost more, be careful what you buy. Look for a product that is backed up with a long warranty by a company that has been in business for some time or are Energy Star labeled.
When shopping for outdoor lights, make sure they are labeled: weatherproof. Each bulb in the strand should be sealed.
Shopping online may offer the best choice of quality LED light strands. Here are some possibilities:
We can still be “green” with a multitude of colorful lights decorating our homes and yards. However, perhaps consideration should be made to just how many strands and lighted decorations we use – even LED’s. That is unless you are trying to break the Guinness World Record.
Pat B. Seaman PR
A proud member of the Village Park Eco Home Team
Armored Frog: Old Wood, New Designs
Barbara Gilbert Interiors
Posted on 29 Nov, 2013
When does furniture go beyond form and function to become a piece of history?
When the material used in its construction is part of history itself. At the Armored Frog, each
one-of-kind piece is steeped in history, crafted exclusively from old growth woods recovered
from rivers and historical structures throughout the southeast United States.
Wood for an Armored Frog original may come from a deadhead cypress log discovered in a
local river, planks pulled from an old sawmill or beams salvaged from a turn-of-the-
century home; and this makes their furniture the perfect fit for the Village Park Eco Home!
We’re so excited to be working with them to design furniture for the Eco Home. The company’s reverence for the environment and passion for superior craftsmanship couldn’t be more fitting with the project’s goal of constructing a high-performance home with minimal impact on the environment.
Why advanced framing?
Pat B. Seaman
December 6, 2013
Utilizing advanced framing rather than conventional framing is a way to maximize energy efficiency and reduce the amount of lumber used for framing. As the house is being framed, additional steps are being taken to provide protection against high winds. Advanced framing is one of the features of the Village Park Eco Home demonstration project. The following is a brief review of our basic framing:
First we started with “J” anchors around the perimeter of the slab to receive the sill boards.
In many cases, the top of a concrete slab foundation is irregular. The irregularity results in gaps between the sill board and slab creating ways for air, moisture and insects to enter the house. Plus, they allow expensive conditioned air to escape. To solve this problem, we placed DOW Building Solutions Sill Seal Styrofoam Insulation under both exterior and interior sill boards.
Exterior walls are 2” X 6” studs placed on 2 foot centers. The extra space allows us to add more exterior insulation for energy efficiency. It reduces the possibility of insulation voids and uses less lumber.
We also used less material framing our windows and doors. Interior and exterior wall intersections will be insulated the same as the rest of the exterior wall. The cavities over doors will be filled with foam insulation.
Only one top plate was necessary because we used stacked framing. Stacked framing means that each roof truss and rafter is lined up and framed on top of a stud creating a direct load to the slab. The result is a stronger structure with fewer framing members subject to stresses.
Using advance framing allows us to cut framing material by up to 30 percent while reducing framing installation labor. It also means fewer cavities for insulators to fill and a reduction of construction waste.
The Village Park Eco Village Home is framed with LP engineered wood. The studs are LP SolidStart Laminated Strand Lumber (LSL). They install like traditional lumber, but are straighter, stronger, and can handle longer spans.
On the second floor our framers installed LP® SolidStart® I-Joists. They are straighter and more uniform in strength, stiffness and size than traditional lumber and provide a strong, sturdy floor.
Engineered wood uses small fast growing trees that can be replenished more quickly than older, larger trees and uses low-emitting, safe resins rather than formaldehyde. The process also utilizes the entire tree – no waste is produced.
In addition to bolting the sill board to the slab with the “J” anchors, the sill plate is also bolted to the slab with 1/2" X 6" Simpson Strong-Tie bolts. Simpson Strong-Tie galvanized-steel hurricane ties have been added to every other stud and rafter. Hurricane ties help keep the roof from lifting up during high winds.
The Village Park Eco Home is a green, durable, high performance project in sustainable building. Advanced framing is one part of the process. For more information and photos check out our News and Gallery pages here.
Why shouldn’t I have a fire in my fireplace?
Pat B. Seaman
December 7, 2013
When I step outside my door, I can smell the wood burning in my neighbor’s fireplace. I admit it, I love the smell and after all, it is very cold and very icy outside today. Plus there is just something very comforting lounging in front of a fire watching a movie or maybe even toasting marshmallows or making s’mores.
Our house was built in the 70’s with a typical vertical-back chimney on an exterior wall with an open front. We installed glass fireplace doors to help save on our energy use when the fireplace was not in use.
Why the hesitation? There are so many not-so-attractive considerations.
1. Wood fires have to have air to burn. A chimney is a giant vent for the air in the house that I have paid to heat – that means my energy dollars are flying out the chimney. And it also means that cold air is being drawn into the house through small cracks and crevices around doors and windows – more cold air that I must pay to heat (yes, there are some places that need new caulking). At least, when we go to bed tonight, we can shut the glass doors to prevent more heat traveling out the chimney all night.
The Department of Energy says that between 80 and 90 percent of the heat produced by wood burning in an open fireplace is lost up the chimney. That means that for each $100 I spend on wood I get $10 – $20 dollars in heat.
One expert provided this excellet visual: A basketball is approximately the size of one cubic foot of air. A conventional fireplace exhausts as much as 24,000 cubic feet of air per hour. Can you visualize 400 basketballs shooting out your chimney every minute?
2. Should I burn wood harvested from our forests? Wood is a renewable resource. And, some experts say burning it can be carbon neutral. Along with other groups, the US Forest Service helps to monitor the excess timber harvested and they also work to ensure that wood cutting companies are utilizing sustainable cutting practices. I am contributing to the economy by buying wood from businesses that pay employees, who pay taxes, shop, pay bills, etc. Those businesses also contribute to the economy.
When buying wood, make sure the wood is dry or “seasoned.” Wet wood can create excessive smoke which is wasted fuel. The EPA recommends checking wood with a moisture meter. Properly dried wood should have a reading of 20% or less. In addition, the type of wood that you burn can make a difference. The harder the wood the more energy per cord.
There seems to be confusion about what a cord of wood is. If you buy one, you should end up with a stack of wood 4’ W X 4’ H X 8’ long. Face or Rick cords are generally 4′ high x 8′ long and on the average about 16″ wide. Since the name given to a cord of wood can vary, it’s always smart when buying firewood, to confirm the stack size or amount of firewood you are actually buying.
3. Can I turn down my thermostat, to prevent an increase in my bill by heat going up the chimney while enjoying the fire? Yes, but the rest of the house could get very cold. That’s okay if everyone can stay in the room with the fire. If not, then there is more wasted dollars up the chimney. It is often recommended to opened a window a bit next to a fireplace so it will draw its air from the outside rather than from throughout the house.
4. Is it safe? In anticipation of sitting in front of a fire this winter, I had my chimney inspected and cleaned of the debris left by many wood fires in the past. Fire burned in the fireplace leaves a creosote residue on the walls of the chimney that can start burning with fire spreading to the whole house.
The inspection was very important because of its age and because some foundation problems on the fireplace wall might have affected the fireplace. The inspection revealed that the firebox was intact without cracks or missing mortar and that the chimney was sound. It also revealed that the concrete holding the chimney cap in place had deteriorated and had to be repaired — noted and done.
Yes, I am going to go build the fire with some very dry oak logs. First though, I must remove the balloon we have inserted in the chimney to close up the giant hole to the outdoors. The damper in the fireplace does very little to prevent the loss of heated air up the chimney when the fireplace is not in use or to insulate during the summer cooling months. We make sure the flue is closed and use a product called a fireplace pillow or balloon to seal the chimney. You can buy yours at a variety of retail stores and online. It can be easily removed when you want a fire.
Now, it is definitely time to get some hot chocolate and nestle in my comfy chair in front of my fire!
Footnote: At least the owners of the Village Park Eco Home demonstration project house will not need to concern themselves with these considerations. Garage Door Services (GDS) is installing a Lennox louverless, electronic ignition, high efficiency, sealed direct-vent gas fireplace that does not require a masonry chimney. You can see it during open house and tour events in April, 2014.
A direct vent fireplace consists of a double-walled pipe, or pipe-within-a-pipe. The inner pipe provides venting to the outside, while the outer pipe pulls fresh air from outside the house into the fireplace. As the outside air is sucked into the venting system, it’s heated by the hot central venting pipe, improving efficiency. They can be vented horizontally through a wall or vertically through a roof and minimize heat loss through a chimney. This allows them to be very flexible in terms of placement. By-products of combustion are isolated from the home as they exit to the outside.
If you are building or remodeling but still want a fireplace, consider a direct vent unit with glass doors.
Structured Plumbing with Demand Controlled Pumping
The Village Park Eco Home plumbing plan was designed by energy specialist and president of the California-based consultancy Affilliated International Management Gary Klein. The objective of the plan is to conserve water and energy by minimizing the time it takes to deliver hot water to a fixture.
Simplified, the Structured Plumbing System includes a
hot water circulation loop. A wireless remote signals
the demand-controlled pump to send water to the
Water in the loop, generally warmer than incoming,
is sent to the ajacent tankless water heater to be
It takes less time to heat the water to send to the
fixture. We have two heaters -- one in the bedroom
area and one for the kitchen/laundry room.
All water is moved through insulated, flexible pipe with
few couplings or 90 degree elbows. No fixture is more
than 10 feet from a hot water loop and serviced with
a maximum 1/2 inch diameter line.
Here are links to several papers authored by Klein
explaining the Structured Plumbing layout and benefits
of demand-controlled pumping like that installed in the
Village Park Eco Home.