What we have learned
We have learned a lot from building, showing and living in The House on Third Street. There are of course some small things we would do differently, but there is no question about it, we really appreciate and enjoy our home. The warmth and quite make it an extremely comfortable place to relax and enjoy one another, especially on a cold and windy winter day.
We believe in the value of building extremely energy efficient homes and buildings….. and there are many ways to approach it. The combination of materials and technology we used provide just a few examples of how you can approach building energy efficiently. We want to wholeheartedly encourage others to make the choice. We also want to encourage you to do your research and to be your best and staunchest advocate. The building industry resists change….and you will find resistance. Some contractors and even architects only want to do what they already know how to do and are not interested in changing. They will try to talk you out of using modern methods and products …and they can be intimating.
Styrofoam has some incredible qualities that make it a great product for building an energy efficient home or building. The Styrofoam walls, the Styrofoam insulation under our floor and the multiple types of Styrofoam we used to insulate the ceiling… all play an important role in making the home energy efficient and extremely comfortable, but they are just one part of a system. Note: Fiberglass and cellulose are archaic products, don’t waste your money.
The type and the efficiency of the home’s heating system is just as important. We chose an in the floor radiant heating system because of how efficient and comfortable it is. In essence our concrete floor and the ceramic tile laid on top of it, act as a heating element and heat storage system. 1/2″ pex tubing was laid in a pattern over a 2″ layer of Styrofoam. The concrete floor was then poured over top of the Styrofoam and tubing. Eventually we laid ceramic tile throughout the house. The concrete and ceramic tile not only act as a heating element – combined…. they form a 33 ton solid mass that very effectively stores the heat from the warm water generated by the tankless boiler and circulated through the pex tubing. There is just isn’t a simpler, more efficient or more comfort way of heating a home or building. It surprises most people that the floor isn’t very warm. The ceiling and the floor in our home are the same temperature. In fact, every cubic foot of the house is the same temperature. In our case, everything throughout the house, including the people in it are 72 degrees. Therefore, the floor is 72 degrees and feels neutral – neither warm or cold.
The biggest miscalculation we made was in the amount of humidity that is created in a home. We understood that our home would be so tight that air and humidity wouldn’t get in or out, so we installed a whole house air filter and a HRV (Heat Recovery ventilator). We were told that in addition to managing the fresh air, the HRV would also manage our home’s humidity levels. But we found that it is a much more complicated equation and balancing act. The HRV brings in fresh air and exhausts stale air to the outside. HRV is engineered to use the warm air being exhausted from the interior to warm the cool fresh air that is being brought into the house. In the process the incoming air temperature is increased by about 50%. That means cool air is still being brought into the house, it just isn’t as cool. The longer the HRV runs the more cool air that is being brought in. Because cool air cools down the house, the heating system must operate to make up the difference. The issue is in how the HRV reduces humidity. The HRV uses cool air, cool air tends to be dry air, to reduce the homes humidity levels. To accomplish this, the system must run frequently. This means the system brings in a lot of cool air and therefore the heating systems must run more to warn the incoming cool air. This is very inefficient, requires energy and it also assumes that the incoming air is cool and dry, which it frequently is not.
To cut down on how often our ventilation systems operates, we installed a Co2 switch, so the system only runs when the C02 levels are above a thousand parts per million. If we aren’t home, no Co2 is being created, so the system doesn’t operate. When we are home, the HRV only runs long enough to bring Co2 levels down 1000 parts.
This is a great concept, but it creates another problem. The ventilation systems duct work is in our unheated attic. While the duct work is highly insulated, it still will cool down if warm air isn’t moving through it. Since are ventilation system runs so infrequently, the air in the ventilation system’s duct work is stagnant for long periods. The air warm air cools down and condensation forms inside the duct work. Although our duct work was sealed, the ceiling still sustained water damage.
To solve the problem we installed a very sophisticated whole house dehumidifier and controller. The Ultra-Aire whole House Dehumidifier and the company’s DEH3000 controller were the only system on the market that we could find, that would allow us to tie the dehumidifier into our existing ventilation system.