Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Fall Quarter 2012

The fall quarter was used to start finishing up the house. Solar water heating will be used for the primary heat source of the house. The tubing was run in the floors and routed under the joist in the crawler. Once that was done we could look at other tasks such as tile and cabinets in the kitchen. As it turned out, the floor tubing and the kitchen cabinets were a small part of the finish in comparison to the amount of effort that went into the plumbing of the hydronic system. The solar water heating combined with the radiant heat floors was quite a challenge. Even the logistics of positioning all the equipment on the wall in a way that made sense was time consuming and made students really think about how the project went together. They did a great job and the house will be heated with non-carbon producing solar hot water. We will also have a gas furnace as a secondary heat source. Because our goal is to achieve a true zero-energy structure it will only be used during the winter months. The gas furnace was intended to provide students with the experience of appliance and air leakage testing more than act as a heat source.


The other event that happened during the fall quarter was the U.S. Green Building Council Green Apple Day of Service. This was an amazing day and we were so lucky to have volunteers come out and get involved with our project and show their support for the community. The project was to build six raised vegetable gardens that would be irrigated by the three thousand gallons on reclaimed water collected from roof run off. The produce was then donated to a local food bank. It was not an ideal time to plant but we pushed forward and surprisingly enough harvested several pounds of lettuce and various greens for local families to serve for dinner. It was a very productive quarter. With the students input and imagination, we are showing that we can build more comfortable and sustainable structures and use that technology to give back to the community.

Good bye and good building,
Dan Smith

Monday, January 14, 2013

Summer Quarter 2012

This quarter was all about air leakage and energy efficiency. In order to have an energy efficient house you have to cut off the air leakage. This keeps the conditioned air in the house that you have paid so dearly to heat. After the air leakage is cut off then ventilation air is the concern. Living beings, like people, need fresh air to breath in order to be happy, healthy, and productive. The following is the process of events leading up to the present state of efficiency for the little house.

We passed our frame inspection and started to install insulation and sheetrock. Everything on this house has been a bit of a trial and the insulation was no exception. As part of the science of the building we were testing for air leakage at each stage of construction. We first installed the insulation and sheetrock in the ceiling portion and then ran a blower door test, the result was 15 air changes per hour at a negative 50 Pascal air pressure. I was hoping for better, it seemed as though the exterior walls were not as much of an air barrier as I had expected.

Next was to insulate and sheetrock the walls. We used dense-pack blown-in insulation in the walls that was held in place with netting until the sheetrock could be installed. This insulation was chosen because the wall cavities could be filled fully without the voids and compressions that can be the result when using fiberglass batt insulation. The insulation and sheetrock went up and another blower door test was conducted. The result this time was 8 air changes per hour at a negative 50 Pascal air pressure. This number is better, but still not what we are looking for in an energy efficient home.

What can be done now you ask? Well we started to tape and mud the sheetrock. All ceilings, walls, inside corners, outside corners, transitional areas, and intersecting walls were tapped and coated. At this point we thought we for sure were going to have built the equivalent of a thousand square foot thermos on a foundation. The blower door test at this stage showed 5 air changes per hour at a negative 50 Pascal air pressure. We are still not at the 1 air change goal that we all thought we were going to be able to achieve.

So now this is getting frustrating. One thing we noticed when conducting the leakage testing was the amount of air leaking through the penetrations in the envelope. Every hole in the envelope was contributing to our very significant leakage number. I went to the hardware store, bought caulking, cover plates, insulation pads for under the cover plates, and some blue tape to cover holes that couldn’t be managed with cover plates.

We covered most everything we could find and the result was to bring the number down to 3.5 air changes per hour at a negative 50 Pascal air pressure. OK, so now were starting to approach an acceptable number. What this shows us is that the devil is in the details, and not just at one spot, but through the entire construction process. We still have some air leakage in the attic areas to seal up and I am confident that once that is done that we will be very close to our goal of 1 air change per hour.

Another thing we were very pleased to discover was that our heating system is totally within the thermal boundary, which is as planned. The significance of this feature is that if by chance there should be any leakage from the heating system, it doesn’t leave the conditioned air space. Hence, there is no leakage of heated air to outside. This house holds all the air it heats.

Once again I would like to thank all the students for their continued support and enthusiasm towards the project. Without their hard work, critical thinking, and creative ideas this project would not be able to proceed and be successful. I will leave you with a few more pictures of progress and fellowship.
Good by and good building,
Dan Smith

Monday, July 23, 2012

Spring Quarter 2012

The spring quarter was used to button up all the punch list items and get ready for the rough-in
framing inspection. We had to finish up the plumbing, mechanical, electrical, solar PV, solar hot
water, low voltage wiring, and rough framing in order to be approved to install the insulation and
sheetrock. There were a lot of little details to muddle through and they had to be done complete
and correct in order to pass on to the finishing stages. The devil is in the details, and the students
had the resolve to carry through with the tasks. They were in class and on the job site every day
and willing to put their best effort forward on each and every assignment that they were given.
From cleaning the parking lot to installing plumbing flashing on the roof, they did not complain
or shirk, and it is because of their hard work that this project is moving forward.

We passed the framing inspection on the last week of the quarter and proceeded directly to
insulation and sheetrock.

The following are some pictures taken during the quarter with captions:

 Students preparing conduit for the electrician, as you can see from the attire, it was cold that day
and they are still smiling

Insulation baffles in the upper picture and pocket door frames in the lower picture are just two of
the many details that students were completing for inspection.

Solar PV racking and the solar hot water system are being installed. The evacuated tubes were
taken off the rack after the picture because they can reach a temperature of 350*F without the
heat transmission fluid running through. They will be reinstalled when the system is complete.

The solar hot water will be generating too much heat during the summer so we installed a loop of pipe in the gravel around the house to dump heat.

The heat dissipation loop was then backfilled with 5/8” crushed rock to act as a heat sink and provide a stable base.

All the students were excited to work with the Dingo front loader machine that was provided by Bunce Rental.
We have assembled a water catchment system that will irrigate raised vegetable gardens. The students are naming them the “Victory Garden”. So it is, we will have the “Victory Garden” and donate the crop to a local food bank.

In this picture you can get the idea that it will be a gravity feed from the gutter and fill all three tanks. There is a three thousand gallon holding capacity of which one thousand gallons was collected in the first week of operation.

We took a celebratory picture of the group after completing the water system that will feed the gardens. It is amazing that so much can come from such a simple idea.

A special thank you goes out to Global Security and the students of the low- voltage class. These fine gentlemen came out on the weekend to install all the monitors and security systems in the house. With their help we will now be able to track production and consumption of power on a real-time basis. These guys are the best!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Week 8, Winter 2012

In the past two weeks we have made big strides to secure the racking system for the solar PV, solar hot water,  finish the trim painting, and locate the barrels for water catchment.

Once again I would like to thank our friends at Kelly Moore for donating all of the painting products necessary to coat and bring color to our building. All the products used will be low or no-voc products so as not to raise any indoor air quality issues.


The solar hot water rails were mounted on the stanchions and the top and bottom manifolds were mounted across the rails. We are installing an evacuated tube system provided by SJ Solar out of China. It is comprised of twenty tubes that are six feet long and we are excited to see the results of the production from the system and location.

Water and the use of water is becoming a big topic in the sustainability world. We wanted to experiment with the possibilities here at CPTC. We extended out the landscape block and leveled out a spot big enough to fit three barrels which will give us a holding capacity of three thousand gallons. We did the math and that is enough to capture 75% of the rainfall on this roof. The plan now is to use it for irrigation of the plants and flower beds, but we may find other uses that will cut down on the use of potable water for non-potable needs.

The solar equipment and the utilities soon will be connected soon, so there is a lot more to be done. Stay tuned, these are exciting times.
Good bye and good building,
Dan Smith

Monday, February 13, 2012

Week 6, Winter 2012

I wanted to give an update as to what is happening with the Zero Energy House. We are now six weeks into winter quarter and it has taken all that time to get the parts and pieces together in order to move forward.

We are limited by a 60 amp electrical service to the house so all the big loads (heat, hot water, and kitchen range), have been switched to natural gas. This took a little coordination and cooperation from sponsors but Weirs appliance and Best Choice Heating were happy to help.The electrical conduit is in the ground and covered, allowing us to run the wire from building 5 to 5a (the Zero Energy House). The roof mount for the solar PV system has been started and we should have the solar modules on the roof sometime in week seven. Brad Burkhartzmeyer of Sun’s Eye Power has been instrumental in guiding us through the solar system process and helping with permits. 

The furnace and ducting was installed this week by Best Choice Heating. This deserves special mention because the install was done at no charge. The owner of the company, Rhoan Hursh, believes so highly in the concept of green building that he has donated the install to the project. In fact the install is being done by a former student, Erik Mulholland, of the HVAC program here on campus.

If you have seen the house this week you have noticed that it has changed colors, it is no longer yellow. It is now light brown on the body and dark brown on the gable and the clearstory. The colors were chosen by the students in the Interior Design program and make the house blend with the rest of campus. Sunny Houser and her students have done a great job. The trim will be painted white as soon as we get another weather window.

The low-voltage wiring in the house is being headed-up by a student in the Electrical/Fire Security program, Fred Kincaid. He is doing a great job, we are planning for security, cameras, internet, sound, projection, television, and light controls that adjust as the sunlight from outside changes.

If this wasn’t enough, I have had the assistance of one very outstanding student that has redrawn the plan to obtain a plumbing permit, assisted with the solar hot water design, and gone way out of his way to help with the acquisition of all the plumbing for the radiant heat floors and the plumbing supply and drain in the house. This student is in Dean Lamb’s Architectural Engineering program and his name is Dan Woodard. Dan Woodard’s input has been instrumental in keeping the project on track to meeting the construction goals this quarter.  

Well, this has ended up being quite long but I thought people should know what is happening with the project. It has been a lot of work but it is giving students a chance to show off their skills and it will be something to be proud of in the future.

Good bye and good building,
Dan Smith

Friday, December 16, 2011

Week 12, Fall 2011

Week Ending 12/16/11 

Well, it has been a long quarter and I am very proud of my students and their “stick-to-itiveness”.  These guys have done a great job of getting to class, showing attention to detail, and making sure the task is not only completed, but completed correctly. I don’t have much else to share about this phase of the construction other than it is a relief to have it done and now we can move on to the really fun stuff. I will leave you with some pictures of our progress to date.

Next quarter we will be working on solar PV, solar hot water, heating, plumbing, low voltage, and electrical, stay tuned.

Happy Holidays from the Sustainable Building Science program. 

Good bye, and good building,
Dan Smith

Monday, November 7, 2011

Week 6, Fall 2011

Week Ending 10/28/11 

This week we installed the exterior trim around the windows, door, corners, and belly bands. It was great work, great fun, and gave the students a little practice at refining their skills. One comment from a student was “you would never imagine that building a little house could be so complicated”. Well you wouldn’t think so but this is a new approach to building, and turning out to be quite a process. Most every step needs to be scrutinized to make sure it is achieving the goals you have set out.

The latest step that was revisited was the rain screen. I realized we may have a problem with bugs making their way through our rain screen product so we took off the bottom baton, covered it with screen fabric and reinstalled it on the house. Now we will have continuous ventilation behind the siding that is free from bugs and worries.

The trim around the windows and doors was installed without hitch or glitch. The wrap around the windows was fastened with galvanized finish nails and has a strip of the rain screen material around it for nailing siding to. The only noteworthy item on the belly band was the use of 4” galvanized nails because of the thickness of the built-up materials. It turned out to be a good choice because everything is well secured and ready for siding.

Next week we will be installing exterior siding, stay tuned.

Good bye, and good building,

Dan Smith