Frequently Asked Questions
What follows are a number of questions about our Design process, and about Green and Sustainable Design. But you will also find other practical matters considered here. Perhaps one of them is your addresses your own question or questions. But if not, Please, feel free to contact us! All of our contact information is on our Home page, our About Us page, our Contact Us page, as well as on several other pages! I am always happy to answer any questions you might have!
Q. What is the difference between Green Design and Sustainable Design?
A. Simply put, Green Design is Design that does not harm the planet. Sustainable Design goes further. It includes Green Design, but also includes design that the planet will be able to sustain, given finite resources, expanding population, and other considerations.
Q. What is "Green" Home Design?
A. Green involves a whole host of concepts. Among them are the following:
Design and placement of your home so as to maximize benefits from solar heat gain in cool seasons, yet minimize heat gain in warm seasons.
Design with very high energy efficiency, thus conserving your financial resources, and our earth's resources.
Design with your health in mind, using building materials wisely, so toxins and other pollutants and their effects on your health are reduced.
Design using natural light and indoor air quality to full advantage.
Design using materials judiciously so that the drain on our earth's resources is minimized.
Design & building so as to minimize waste during the construction process itself.
Design using renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, and water power, where feasible.
Your Green Design can incorporate one or more of these and many other features.
Q. Where can I find out more about Sustainable Design"?
A. There are many resources you could use to find out more. Here are 2 links to sites you will find very informative:
1. This is a link to the Building Green Suite, a well respected, and excellent source of information on Sustainable & Energy Efficient Design, and a Directory of Green Building Products:
2. This is a link to the AEC Store, a good source for books and other information about Sustainable Design, Building, and Remodeling:
3. You will also find other helpful links on our "Links to Energy Sites" page. They are all unbiased resources.
Q. What is "Integrated Design"?
A. Integrated Design is Everyone involved, and Every part involved in the Design of your home working together. For example, we don't use a very high efficiency heating system, to the neglect of putting enough insulation in your home. That over simplifies it, but hopefully, you can see the point. We want every part to complement every other part. We want you to end up with a very high efficiency home, yet where all parts are balanced with each other.
It may seem that any home is like this, but really, it is not. Almost all homes suffer from inefficiencies, or imbalances, that greatly reduce their energy efficiency, make them less durable, and make them cost much more to heat, cool, and maintain.
The ironic thing is that the benefits of integrated energy design can often be achieved with little or no increase in first costs. Added to that, homes designed this way cost less to operate; are easier to maintain; and are more attractive, marketable, and comfortable than buildings designed in the traditional way.
For example, because we design your home "from the ground up" to need much less energy to heat it, we can reduce the size of, or even eliminate your heating system, while still keeping you very comfortable. This multiplies the benefits you receive. This can reduce your first costs for your home itself. And then, because we have reduced the energy needs of your home, your annual energy costs are greatly reduced as well!
Every part of your home plays its part, working together to accomplish this goal. At the same time, we can reduce your home's impact on the environment. Your family's health is a prime consideration too, as we design with materials that enhance indoor air quality, among many other things.
All of this happens, because when we are designing your home, we "Integrate the Design". The Design is one unified whole. It is not just a generic house plunked down onto a generic lot with generic systems inserted into it like any other house. Your home is designed specifically for your site and with your specific needs in mind.
Q. Why is a "Green" home reportedly healthier for my family?
A. Green homes are healthier for a number of reasons. Among them are:
They use materials that are less polluting in our homes.
The EPA tells us that Americans spend around 90% of their time indoors. Airborne contaminants can be two to five times worse inside than outside, so indoor air quality is important. Because tightly built homes do not allow vapors from construction & other materials to dissipate as easily, pollutants tend to build up. Our goal is to use materials in our designs that reduce the level of pollutants. This makes for a healthier indoor environment.
And then, we use a Heat Recovery Ventilator, or HRV, to remove any pollutants that might collect, and replace them with fresh tempered air. That means a helathier indoor environment for you!
Q. What could I do to reduce energy costs in my existing home?
A. There are many things that can be done, from low and no cost on up. Here we break your work into sections to make it easy for you to pick and choose:
For Low and No Cost Solutions, that many of you will be able to do yourselves, while some may choose to have done by a professional, clicking on this link will take you to a list of solutions on our site.
For Bigger Energy Projects, that some of you might be able to do yourself, but many would choose to have done professionally, clicking on this link will take you to a list of solutions on our site.
If you would like to Remodel Your Home to really improve its overall energy performance and incorporate other upgrades as well, click on this link.
Q. What energy efficiency measure or measures should I consider first?
A. Without question, the first measure you should consider for increasing the energy efficiency of your home is Insulation&Air Sealing. Note that this is a two pronged measure.
The reason for this can be illustrated if you imagine yourself being outside on a very cold and windy day wearing a good sweater on for warmth. The sweater might otherwise provide much of the protection you would need to keep warm. But on a windy day, you would still feel the cold air blowing right through it. The same thing will happen with your home if you only insulate well. Air infiltration is responsible for about 40% of a typical home's heating bill. When compared with Insulating & Air Sealing, insulating alone will do relatively little to keep your heat in your home where it belongs. The same same rule works for cooling as well.
What to do? Well, if you put a windbreaker on over the sweater, you will feel considerably warmer than you will with only the sweater for warmth. Likewise, if you Insulate & Air Seal your home, you will feel considerably warmer, there will be an absence of drafts, and your heating, (and cooling) bills will be much lower than they would otherwise be.
The really big benefit you will realize though, is that Insulating & Air Sealing your home makes possible all of the other measures you can now consider. All of these together will add up to all of the benefits we talk about on our Home Page. Greater comfort, Reduced energy bills, a More durable home, a Healthier home environment, and other benefits are all made possible when we first tighten up our homes by Insulating & Air Sealing them.
Q. What type of heating system do you recommend for my home?
A. That depends on your particular needs. For many homes that already are set up to use a boiler or furnace, we recommend what is called a "Direct vent boiler". This is a type of heating system that needs no chimney, saving you that cost, and, needs no specially designed room or air supply, saving you that added cost. They are available for different fuels, and efficiencies as high as 98%! Some are what are called condensing boilers, which means they can operate at very higher efficiencies. A boiler can also supply your hot water needs, again, saving you the cost of a separate hot water system. Since water also is a better conductor of heat to your home, a boiler is more efficient than a hot air furnace, and costs less to operate.
However, since boilers and furnaces generally use fossil fuels such as oil or gas as a source of the heat they produce, we are now steering people toward one of the following options which use no fossil fuels.
If you are building a new home, or replacing your entire heating system, you could consider a Geothermal System, a system that takes heat or cooling from groundwater to heat your home. This type of system will involve a higher initial cost than the formerly more popular boiler or furnace system. However, this is one of the most energy efficient ways available to heat and cool your home, and in addition, supply your hot water needs. Think of this: NO FOSSIL FUELS are used, so you are not subject to ever higher oil or gas prices!
Another option is a cold weather heat pump that can also provide heat, hot water, and air conditioning all in one package. This type of system is not the one that you may think of when the words "heat pump" are mentioned! It is specifically designed for cold weather climates, and is a two stage system that is designed in such a way so that its backup electric heat unit seldom if ever comes on. This is an economical system to install upfront, and is said to have operating costs significantly lower than a conventional boiler or furnace system. Like the Geothermal System, with this system, NO FOSSIL FUELS are used, so you are not subject to ever higher oil or gas prices!
If you have paid much more attention to insulating and air sealing your home to make it much more efficient, and the heating load is very low, you could consider what is called a Minisplit system. This is a system where one piece of it sits outside, something like a small air conditioning unit, and the other part is inside. The only part between them are insulated refrigeration lines, also like an air conditioner. The beauty of these systems is that they can provide cooling and heating.
And finally, if we Design a Passive Home for you, you will likely need no heating system at all. We still will include a very small electric baseboard unit as a backup. Never fear, although "electric heat is an expensive heat", you will need so little of it, you won't even notice! And we always recommend electric radiant floor warming in the bathroom, which in our opinion should always be the warmest room in the house. These systems use a programmable thermostat to turn it on when you need it, and off when you don't. Warm floors are wonderful!
And there are many other factors we consider with you to design a home heating system especially suited to your needs and comfort.
Q. What are "indirect hot water tanks"? Is it true that they are more efficient than the older style "tankless coils" in boilers?
A. For years, people used what is called a "tankless coil" in their boiler to supply hot water to their homes. This meant that their boilers had to be hot even in the summer when there was no call for heat. This was very inefficient.
Then someone came up with the idea of using a separate, very well insulated, "indirect hot water tank". Yes, they are indeed, a much more efficient way of heating your hot water used for things like bathing and washing dishes. And depending on your situation, they could be used as well as for heating your home. Instead of having to keep your boiler hot 24 hours a day all year round, your boiler only has to run when there is a call for heat or hot water in the tanks. That means you will save money for heating and hot water.
Q. I have heard a lot about radiant heat and how nice and efficient it is. Is that for me?
A. Again, that depends on your particular situation. But I can assure you from personal experience, that it is a wonderful way to heat your home. It is reportedly the healthiest way to heat for many reasons. Your feet are warm while the air you breathe is not overheated. This means that the temperature can be kept a little cooler than you would keep it otherwise. There is nothing like stepping out of the shower onto a warm tile floor. Husbands will want to take their shoes off when they come in from the cold, just to feel the warm floor underfoot! And pets may prefer to sleep on your floors rather than on your upholstered furniture!
Q. What is a Heat Recovery Ventilator, (HRV), and will I need one?
A. A Heat Recovery Ventilator, or HRV, is just what its name implies. It "recovers heat" that would otherwise be lost, and, it "ventilates" your home. We always include these units in our designs. We do this for many reasons.
When we design tightly built homes, we control the heat loss very well. The HRV helps to keep the heat where we want it, in your home. A good HRV, like we use, recovers 75% or even more of the heat that would otherwise be lost through drafts in an ordinary home.
An HRV ventilates your home to provide tempered fresh air for you to breathe 24 hours a day, year round. This is a very important feature of any energy efficient home. This makes your home a much healthier and more pleasant place to be.
Because an HRV ventilates your home continuously, there is no build-up of moisture or pollutants in your home. This means your home is healthier on two counts. Your home never becomes a humid place where mold can thrive, and the air is healthier to breathe with fewer pollutants.
By the same token, the air never dries out like it might do in a conventional home. Your furniture will be in a more stable environment, and will hold up better. Our home always stays around 45% to 50% humidity all winter. No need for humidifiers, or for dehumidifiers!
Copyright 2012 Ronald Sauve All Rights Reserved
This page was last modified on April 06, 2012
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