The Adventures of Mo and Her No Mow Lawn

I always thought the phrase ‘about as interesting as watching grass grow’ conjured a vision of ultimate boredom. That was before I attempted to grow my own no mow lawn. It turns out that watching grass grow can be a roller-coaster of emotions: the angst of wondering whether my inability to precisely follow directions would matter… the excitement of seeing the first blades of green poking up… the anguish over bare spots… and the pride over healthy, lush sections.

No Mow Lawn 1

April 2015 – The lower tier is seeded; the upper tier wall-building is still in progress

For years I advised clients to consider no mow lawns in their green homes, but I had never seen the end product through a full cycle of seasons. Friends of friends who own a turf farm expressed their interest-slash-skepticism at my undertaking, which more or less echoed the sentiments of a whole stream of landscape architects before. “Sure, you could try no mow if you really WANTED to… ” A search of local nurseries turned up nothing available. I couldn’t figure out why something that sounded so ingenious wasn’t more popular! An internet search for “no mow grass” turns up Prairie Nursery in Westfield, WI as a major supplier. A colleague used their product, and they were extremely helpful on the phone, so I ordered the No Mow Lawn Seed Mix online.
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It Can Take Years – A Market Adoption Story

Earlier this year, at the AHR Expo in Orlando, the biggest trade show for HVAC professionals, Aeroseal’s duct sealing technology was declared the Product of the Year, the top honor of the Innovation Awards. Aeroseal was recognized as “a groundbreaking solution to an industry-wide problem.”

The unique appeal of the Aeroseal technology is that it seals ducts from the inside. Walls and ceilings do not need to be removed or damaged to gain access for traditional mastic sealing. Aerosolized vinyl polymer particles from 2 to 20 micrometers are injected into a pressurized duct system. The particles stay suspended in the air stream until they reach the leaks, where they are deposited and built up at the leak edges until the leaks are sealed.

The Aeroseal technology has been around for more than two decades. It was developed at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the early nineties and patented in 1997. It has received many awards over the years including the Best of What’s New award from Popular Science magazine in 1996 and the Energy 100 award from the U.S. Department of Energy.

So what’s the big deal?

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Recalculating Solar Savings

Ten years ago, seeing a solar electric system on a building was noteworthy. Now they’re popping up everywhere. Lower cost is obviously a big driver of this solar surge; photovoltaic (or PV) system costs have dropped 50-70% in the past 10-15 years. Over the past decade, SWA has helped developers and owners install PV systems on hundreds of buildings. The systems are reliable, they have no moving parts, and they will convert sunlight to electricity for decades.

The cost effectiveness of PV, however, is not always clear. In fact, SWA has seen a concerning trend where the cost benefits of PV are exaggerated. Although costs vary with region and application, installed costs of PV are usually $3,000 – $6,000 per kWSTC.

Then there are incentives, including two key federal programs:

Photovoltaic Panels

  • 30% Federal tax credit
  • Accelerated depreciation (for businesses)

Other incentives vary greatly from region to region:

  • State, local, and utility rebates or credits
  • Sale of Renewable Energy Credits (RECs)

The Database for State Incentives for Renewable Energy (dsireusa.org) has a good summary of these regional incentives. Federal and regional incentives can easily lower PV system costs by 50% — often more.

The final piece in assessing cost effectiveness of PV is the electricity savings. With PV generating electricity for your building, you’ll obviously be paying less to the utility. But how much less? Read more

The $300 Investment Every New Construction Home Should Make

Whether code built or energy efficient, if your new home has a poured concrete foundation and floor slab, please pay particular attention to the following. While older, leaky homes result in low interior moisture levels (thus the desire for humidifiers on central furnaces); newer, tighter homes will typically have relative humidity levels in the 25-50% range naturally.

Window

Moisture from construction materials in new homes must be managed to avoid problems like interior condensation and mold.

In some cases, there is a need to actually dehumidify to maintain relative humidity below 50% during the winter. In the first 1-2 years after the home is built, concrete foundations expel massive amounts of moisture as part of the concrete curing process called “hydration”. As the concrete cures, some of the water in the concrete mix reacts chemically with the portland cement and forms the hardened concrete, and some of the water evaporates to the surrounding air. The exterior water resistant/proof coating on the below grade portion of the foundation prevents moisture from escaping that way. Typically only a 1-2 foot tall area along the perimeter of the above-grade portion of the foundation is available for drying to the exterior.  It is more likely that the moisture will be expelled to the interior of the home and therefore, must be managed to prevent deleterious moisture-related problems such as condensation, mold, wood rot, etc.  Framing lumber also contributes: lumber that starts out kiln-dried at 18% moisture levels, will eventually end up at 6%.

How to deal with that moisture? Here is that cheap investment alluded to: an ENERGY STAR dehumidifier with a built-in humidistat.  This unit should be plumbed to a drain to allow continual operation (without having the occupants empty a bucket).  In addition, the dehumidifier should be installed in the basement or crawlspace as soon as the structure has been enclosed and power is available. In terms of the construction process, it is recommended that the foundation be the last item to be insulated to allow for the internal construction moisture to be removed prior to enclosing. After a year or two of occupancy, construction material moisture levels will become stabilized at “normal” levels. In the interim, remember to “build-tight and ventilate right”, but also manage that construction moisture.

Get This: Engineer Runs House with Car!

Gayathri Vijayakumar, a seasoned Buildings Systems Engineer at SWA ,took a unique precaution against future electrical power outages…

Gayathri connected her Toyota Prius to her New Haven home’s power system.

Gayathri and her Prius

How did she do that?

Gayathri took a special inverter and connected it to her hybrid car, which created a generator. This distinctive system works by connecting the inverter to a transfer switch and starting the Prius, generating enough electricity (1600 Watts) to run the critical circuits in her house, including pre-selected lights, refrigerator, and the electric ignition to the tankless gas water heater.

The inverter, purchased from ConVerdant Vehicles, was less expensive than a standard gas generator, provides electricity by using half the fuel, and is much quieter.

Inverter

 “We were not prepared for our first power outage in Connecticut, but we were able to use the gas stove for cooking and our gas fireplace kept the first floor at well over 70F. Being without a fridge and hot water was a challenge though. Now that we have the Prius, at $4/gallon of gas, generating electricity through the inverter is still more than twice as expensive as buying it from the utility. But in a power outage situation, being able to provide basic power for three days on one tank of gas is pretty amazing” said Gayathri.

Mother Nature is showing us that even though it is critical to focus on energy-efficient building designs and renewable systems, we must include storm resiliency as another component of designing truly sustainable buildings.

Have you taken any unique precautions to protect your home/building against future storms?