Do You Practice Sustainability? Home Renovation Can Be Done Sustainably, Too

Tonight is the fifth in Golden Real Estate’s Sustainability Series. Previous sessions were about home insulation (January), home heating technology (February), solar power (March), and electric cars (April).

This month, the topic is sustainable renovation. Our presenter is an expert in sustainable practices when it comes to home renovation.  His name is Steve Stevens, and he has been my mentor regarding sustainable practices for nearly two decades.

A retired scientist from Bell Labs, Steve has made a lifelong project, it seems, out of reducing the carbon footprint of his 1970s brick ranch in South Golden.

Retired and living on a fixed income, he has developed several habits/practices that are not only sustainable but also have saved him a boatload of money.

For example, he only buys cull lumber from Lowe’s, and he buys returned products (typically mis-ordered) such as windows  and doors, which are then sold for a fraction of their original price.

Steve also seeks out salvaged goods such as windows and doors. As with buying cull lumber and returned products, collecting salvaged products means zero new carbon footprint for doing your renovation. 

Steve, being a scientist by training and passion, always considers the embedded carbon footprint of products, whether it’s food or building materials. How much energy is used to transport the goods you purchase?  For example, are you buying slab granite mined and shipped from Asia, or an alternative material mined or created closer to home?

Steve will share his shopping and construction tips that save money and are also sustainable.

For example, he emphasizes insulation, which should always be your first measure when it comes to saving energy. But what products should you buy, and where should you start?

The session will be held tonight, May 16th, from 5 to 6 pm in the Golden Real Estate office at 17695 S. Golden Road, Golden. There are still seats available. Reserve yours by emailing me at Jim@Golden RealEstate.com

Each of our sessions is video recorded by our friend, Martin Voelker, from the Colorado Renewal Energy Society.  You can watch videos of the first four sessions at Sustain-abilitySeries.info.  This session will also be recorded and posted there.

Sustainability Series Session #1: The Many Facets of Insulating a Home

This Thursday, January 17th, is the first of Golden Real Estate’s 6-part Sustainability Series. The topic this week is home insulation. Allow me to introduce the presenters and to share some of what I myself have learned from insulating my own homes and office, and from 17 years of selling homes and being active in the sustainability arena.

We have two great presenters at this month’s session. One is Steve Stevens, whose passion since retiring from Bell Labs has been the conversion of an energy-wasting 1970s brick ranch into a showpiece of sustainability through solar power, energy efficiency and super insulation. In addition to having insulation blown into his attic and walls, he had layers of poly-iso and structural insulated panels added to his exterior walls.  Then he went so far as to dig out and expose his home’s foundation walls so poly-iso insulation could be applied to them. He also constructed “air locks” on all entrances, and built a greenhouse on his south-facing exposure — both extremely effective insulating techniques.

Several years ago when Steve’s home was on the Golden Solar Tour, I shot a 40-minute video in which Steve described his home’s sustainability features — by far the longest of all the videos I have ever created for homes on that annual tour. A link to the video is at JimSmithColumns.com

The other presenter is Dennis Brachfield of About Saving Heat. I’ve known Dennis for over 25 years. His company insulated an office building I owned in Denver as well as a couple homes I have owned.  Dennis is bringing a blower door to this evening’s session in order to demonstrate its function. Using a fan to depressurize a home, a blower door helps to identify the location and extent of air leaks in a building.  Another tool Dennis will illustrate is an infrared camera. By pointing it toward ceilings and exterior walls, the camera shows the difference in surface temperatures, indicating areas that could benefit from air sealing and/or additional insulation. 

I’ll never forget the time 15 years ago when Dennis blew insulation into the exterior walls of a 1945 wood-frame bungalow I had purchased. The home’s gas forced-air furnace kept the ambient temperature at 70 degrees easily enough, but occupants still felt cold.  Dennis pointed out that even if there was insulation in the walls, voids surely existed, due to a combination of sub-par installation and years of settling. I was amazed at how much more comfortable the house was after having insulation blown in to fill all those voids. What I learned from that experience was that cold walls radiate coldness just as effectively as warm walls radiate warmth. Thus, a room with 70-degree air but cold walls feels cold in comparison to a room with the same air temperature but with walls that aren’t cold.

My current home was super-insulated by Bill Lucas-Brown of GB3 Energy.  I invited Bill to join us tonight, but he had a previous commitment. On www.GB3Energy.com, you can watch a Golden Solar Tour video I shot in which Bill describes his weatherization work, which included insulating the crawl space and the rim joist area. It’s very informative.

Here’s a simple way to determine how well insulated your home is.  When you go to bed on a cold winter night and turn your thermostat down — let’s say from 71 to 67 — look to see how quickly the home cools to that lower setting, triggering the furnace.  If it’s less than a couple of hours, you could probably benefit from improved insulation of your home. I’ve started turning our thermostat down an hour or more before bedtime and I’ve found that the temperature doesn’t drop enough to trigger the furnace until 3 a.m. or later.

When your home is that “tight” it’s important to ensure the introduction of enough fresh air to maintain good indoor air quality. For that, consider installing an “energy recovery ventilator,” or ERV. This device replaces a standard vent fan with a heat exchanger that warms incoming fresh air by extracting heat from the interior air that is being exhausted.

The ERV’s function will be explained in our session — or you can Google “energy recovery ventilation.”