Tag Archives: Green Stupid

Pertaining to Stupidity in the application of Green, Sustainable Building processes.

Focusing on Practical Green, Sustainable Energy Efficiency or E=MC2, but how do I make toast?

Some time ago the  “Zits” Daily Comic Strip showed the main character, a teenager,  sitting in a chair contemplating equations, calculus, formula’s and other examples of our fixation with complicated solutions to all problems.  The last scene is the same teenager asking how to make toast, with the toaster in front of him.  It is analogous to the fact that we, the United States has become fixated on arriving at complicated solutions to simple issues.

Zero Energy Apartments


Daily we in the “Green” building business are inundated with messages invoking Green principles.  So much so that a normal layman having minimal knowledge of the purpose of “Green” building, or as I call it, Energy Efficient-Sustainable Building, would be hard pressed to understand what this movement or trend is about.  Everything all of a sudden is Green.  It’s kind of like a pendulum where one day we are minimally aware of Green Building and the next day it has swung 180 degrees to the point of everyone being aware with a proliferation of experts.  In this day of Green expertise, you can be a shoe salesman one day and a solar expert the next.   The real problem is who do you believe or what do you believe?

One of the greatest sources of confusion is the lack of a recognized, all-encompassing standard to begin with and venture from there.

If you work in the residential field, you have Energy Star for New Homes, Home Performance by Energy Star, Department of Energy’s Build America and Builder’s Challenge, LEED for Homes, the National Association of Home Builders Green Building Program, EarthCraft House,  Passive House, along with many other local and regional Green Residential Building programs.  This does not even include the new program working its way through Congress–the jobs/energy efficient homes bill called HomeStar.

If you work in the commercial field, the 1000 lb Gorilla in the field is the United States Green Building Council’s(USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design(LEED).  Now under LEED, you have LEED for New Construction and Major Renovations,  LEED for Core and Shell, LEED for Schools, LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance, LEED for Commercial Interiors, LEED for Retail, and LEED for Healthcare.

Besides LEED in the commercial field you have Standard 189 or 189.1 shortly, GBI America’s National Standard for Commercial Green Buildings and Energy Star’s Commercial Building Design.  These are just a few.

To tell you the truth, I am confused–I get overwhelmed.   I spend hours daily trying to keep up.  Thinking that maybe someone has discovered the missing link, but whoa, it is usually just a spin on what we already know.

I got involved in this energy efficiency business back in the 70’s.  To me, it was about improving energy efficiency in buildings.  Then I expanded to Solar thinking– this was an alternative path to weaning the US off of foreign oil or oil period, over a period of time, kind of like going to the moon.   Then I started thinking about buildings that last without substantial yearly maintenance.  Now I look and see a rush for designations by some third-party standard, that costs additional money, but at times adds no overall benefit, just the designation and I lose sight of why I am involved.

To get my bearings and focus back I have to constantly reread an article by the superhero of buildings scientists, my idol, the highly respected, practical, irreverent, tell it like it is,  Dr. Joe Lstiburek of Building Science Corporation entitled “Prioritizing Green, It’s the Energy Stupid!”  He credits the quote to Edward Mazria, the noted architect.  But reading that article by Dr. Joe brings me back to reality and why I am involved.  Frankly, we are losing the practically minded people by not focusing on the real issues that started this:  Energy Efficiency and Building Buildings that are healthier, operate better and don’t fall apart in a few years.

Tight Houses cause Water and HVAC design concerns.

Two real life, on the ground,  issues have me concerned both as a builder and purported Hi-Performance, Energy Efficient design consultant.

1.  In pre-planning a Structurally Insulated Panel(SIP) condominium quadruplex there are  practical heating and air conditioning problems to be solved.  Do you use time tested conventional approaches or install evolving HVAC equipment?

This building’s thermal envelope(exterior shell) is so energy efficient and tight that the HVAC load requirements for each unit(950 SF) are below that of the smallest sized, readily available, cost effective, conventionally ducted HVAC equipment.  This means the conventional unit is oversized, a no-no in High Performance housing.

A readily available, 16 SEER, 1.5 ton Heat Pump is almost double the size necessary to heat and cool these units.  The problem isn’t about being able to heat and cool the unit. It is how do you remove the interior moisture(humidity) consistently?  An oversized unit runs in short spurts and every time it stops, dehumidification stops. The solution is either utilizing the new mini-split, inverter technology units or adding a dehumidification system to the conventional unit.  The decision has to be based on performance and cost.  Stay tuned.

2.  A group of affordable, energy efficient houses were built with conditioned crawl spaces and a super tight building envelope. The houses have developed condensation/moisture issues on the interior of the homes.  The homes were built with no design input from experienced Green Builders or real world Hi-Performance home consultants.  They were not Energy Star Certified, so there were no third party Hers Raters involved.  This type of problem is caused by the theory of, “Make the house tight, and forget about evaluating other issues that have to be solved in designing a tight, Green Home.”   Stay tuned for solutions.

The theory to reality application is going to present issues now and into the future, as more and more builders, designers, etc. jump on this believed economic windfall Green job wagon. Many so called experts are Tin Men, just selling stuff, not economic, practical solutions.

Conditioned Crawl Spaces Misnomer!

A Conditioned Crawl Space is one that has one or more heating/ac supply ducts in it.  The underlying idea is to keep the crawl space at a slightly positive pressure.  This means that the crawl space, which by nature of its position at the bottom of a building or house, in its natural state, is usually under a negative pressure.  What does that mean?  It means in common terms– it is always sucking in moisture and air.  Crawl spaces have been verified to have sucked in moisture from 40′ away.  A crawl space under a negative pressure, naturally sucks in outside air and moisture, and this is what we want to prevent, the sucking, along with keeping the temperature of the crawl space somewhat moderate in temperature and relative humidity.  Now to do this we put in a one or more HVAC supply vents, to keep the positive pressure and prevent the sucking in of contaminants, etc.

Conditioned Crawl Pre-Floor Joists
Conditioned Crawl-Foundation and Rim

Well now some group of highly intelligent people of a nether world have made it code to now include a return duct in this crawl space.  So now we are back to the negative pressure crawl space.  We put air in, we take it out and we suck more in from outside.  This means radon, other contaminants, moisture, is now brought into our duct system purposely.

This is a prime example of Green Stupid.  Wait until someone proves that the return, because a leak occurred in a gas furnace, put in a conditioned crawl space, caused death by spreading carbon monoxide gas or bringing excessive radon into a home, there will be hell to pay.  Dumb, dumb, and dumber.