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The Sustainable House™
Construction Diary

Live Green, Live Smart's The Sustainable House™ is a LEED for Homes Pilot Project™. The home is being remodeled as an educational demonstration project for the purpose of evaluating green remodeling standards, technologies, and long-term durability. Several states were reviewed by the organization as potential locations for the demonstration, and Minnesota was finally focused on because of the climate, the large number of future potential remodels in the state, and Minnesota's eco-friendly political environment.

June 2006

The first thing we learned about our project was how much can't be predicted. We begin with a house that met all our requirements - good bones, on a high lot with pine and hardwood trees, great view, in need of updating but looking nice with its fresh coat of paint. Ordinarily it would have received minor updates, and a LEED treatment for greater sustainability would make it a great demonstration.

Architect Steve Kleineman approved, so we moved ahead with energy audits and other inspections while the purchase agreement was in place.

Jimmie Sparks from the Neighborhood Energy Connection, our LEED coordinator, does an energy audit.

A thermal camera is used to detect cold spots.

The unhappy surprise cam when our inspections and testing revealed extensive mold, which was not visible to the naked eye. We learned that potions of the house had flooded when a bathroom pipe broke while the owners were out of town, and the new paint obscured the evidence. Without our careful tests and inspections, a typical buyer would never have seen this problem with the naked eye.

Rather than use our budget to clean up this preexisting problem, we canceled the purchase agreement and spent the next six months finding a home that would meet our project and budget goals.

What we learned from this experience is test, test and test before you buy.

December 2006

The next house was spotted while driving around with a broker consultant. We liked the area and went back for a second look. We contacted the owner and did our first of three walk-throughs. We eventually settled on this home for our project. This house was finally chosen out of more than 120 houses screened.

Prior to purchasing the home a complete set of tests were conducted. A home inspection, energy audit, lead paint test, micro and radon test were ordered. The home inspection showed a few problems but the house appeared sound, the lead test demonstrated years of lead based paint on most of the trim, the radon test demonstrated high radon and the energy audit gave us a baseline to follow in the project upgrade. The furnace and AC were not EnergyStar rated, and although they worked, were not efficient. The kitchen cabinets lacked the necessary structural integrity required for removal and reuse in the new design, plus they still had minor VOC issues. The carpet was newer, but also demonstrated VOC issues. The wiring and plumbing were older and lacked basic code standards.

The team expected to find more problems as we began to remove drywall and ceilings. Before beginning the demo process the core team went to the LEED seminar for training in Grand Rapids Michigan. Then upon returning the team began to meet in groups to discuss LEED strategies and define the scope of the project. During this time SKD architects began the design of the remodel.

LEED Training was conducted by Michael Holcomb from the Alliance for Environmental Sustainability, a USGBC LEED for Homes Pilot Project™ coordinator.

January 2007

One of many team meetings discussing green design, new technology, issues in a remodel. Architect Randy Moon of SKD (lower right) asks the team about novel technologies.

Steve Kleineman from SKD working with the survey team from Anderson Engineering.

The camera crew begins documentary filming while the radon test procedure is underway. As in most Minnesota homes, radon is present. Brad Nyberg of Quality Radon Services in Minneapolis explains how his firm will mitigate radon and at the same time reduce the basement humidity problems.

Roger Hankey of Hankey & Brown Home Inspections talks to general contractor Keith Poets of Quality Builders about the issues a 1948 rambler presents to rehab.

February 2007

Deconstruction begins with Keith and his crew removing trim and walls.

The interior will be stripped down to the interior studs. All materials will be recycled, or if considered hazardous, will be sent to special managed disposal sites.

During the process the team faces many recycling issues. These issues are filmed as part of the documentary.

Even the nails were removed for recycling, studs were placed in stacks for future use.

Stucco in need of replacement was broken up, the cement sent to a paving company for reuse and the metal mesh sent to a recycler. The team-spent hours finding companies who would recycle anything and everything we couldn't reuse.

Deconstruction provided surprises. Most homeowners are unaware of what is in their walls, vents and ceilings. Mice, wasps, ants and a variety of other things that make our homes their homes were found throughout the house.

Vents were so full of hair and dirt that little ventilation was possible. Gaps in the basement insulation made it ineffective. Small amounts of mold were found on the bottom of drywall boards.

Keith removes pavers and bushes for reuse later in the project. Pavers are placed in an area away from the work site where they will not disrupt re-landscaping in the future. Great care is taken to protect trees and control erosion.

After several months the interior walls were removed and the house felt expansively open. Demolition down to the studs allowed the team to start with a clean structure and reinsulate.

As the project progressed, the team sought out houses that were being torn down, looking for components from those houses that could be reused in the project home. This is an excellent opportunity to reduce waste by recycling and to save money. With the help of the ReUse Center/Deconstruction Services in Minneapolis, flooring, countertops and cabinets were obtained for reuse in the project home. The William Hoft family donated materials that would otherwise have gone into a landfill.

Other parts of the Hoft house went to Deconstruction Services and several families in need.

Keith Poets of Quality Builders of Minneapolis and Mick Pulsifer of the ReUse Center/DeConstruction Services of Minneapolis look over flooring to see if it can be salvaged for the project house.

Cabinets and countertops were removed from the salvage home, along with oak floors to be used in the new bedrooms on the main floor.

Meanwhile, the architectural team began revisions of the plans. The team reduced the planned footprint and made technical changes to preserve as much of the original house as possible and stay within budget. The design allowed for more bedrooms, a new entryway, a new laundry room and double car garage (for two hybrid cars and the bikes).

The team continues meeting with companies and experts, discussing new technologies and better way of building green. Big and small companies offer their research and knowledge. We experience the issues all homeowners confront when doing a green project: finding green resources, accurate information, data overload and co-ordinating many decisions make a green project difficult - and we have over 35 people involved so far.

Varieties of recycled materials, which can be used for countertops, tables, chairs, and other household amenities are reviewed.

Some of the materials are made out of compressed grasses, others paper or agricultural waste. The number of green recycled building materials on the market is amazing. A countertop product made of paper looks like granite. Another product is "plywood" made out of wheat. Our goal is to find recycled, no-VOC products that are LEED-certified.

Dow™ and their local insulation distributor, Edward Sales (Glen Gakemeier and Schuyler Wallace) of Andover, Minnesota, provide the team an overview of the latest and greatest in sealing and insulating technologies from Dow. Several are selected for use in the project house - which has become known as The Sustainable House by some of the team, and as The Century House by others. Sustainability and durability are paired goals.

Meanwhile, another team explores the use of photovoltaic, solar heating, electric co-generation and heating, geothermal cooling and roof mounted wind turbines for alternative energy.

Yet another team considers certified wood products, super-insulated windows and doors, and rain gardens watered by a rainwater collection system. The process is pulling together quickly now.

March 2007

Bollig & Sons, the project excavators, meet with the contractor to review plans for digging footings for the additions. Straw still covers the ground to protect it from another freeze cycle. Buried electric lines and gas lines are turned off. Phone lines are removed and all utilities marked before digging begins. The city OKs the permits, and we are ready to go by the end of March.

Before digging begins silt fences are put in place for erosion protection and fences for protecting existing mature trees are put in place.

The excavation crew removes the front and back entry slabs. The casing bricks that can be removed are recycled for future use, and the cement slabs taken to a recycle center.

The crew does the initial work with smalldiggers to minimize damage to the property and trees. Eventually larger equipment is brought in to do the heavy work. The finished rehabilitation will install raingardens in what is now muddy ruts. To avoid compaction of the soil, smaller equipmentis used where possible, and careful planning kept large equipment from doing avoidable damage. The topsoil is separated and preserved for future use, and put back in the same fashion it was removed.The soil is primarily sand and easy to excavate; after digging the silt fences are replaced. Great care is taken to protect the trees. Small bushes that can be reused are dug up, and those that can't be incorporated into the new landscaping are removed and recycled as mulch.

Hart Foundations of Minneapolis came in with their crew and began the set up of the footing forms.The footing forms will be reused again. The orange tube, lower left, is a disconnected gas line.

Once the footings were in place Hart used General Resource Technology of Eagan, Minnesota,to formulate a 40% recycled fly ash cement mixture for Apple Valley Redi-Mix, the cement supplier.

Cement is pumped into the forms. Hart avoids compressing the yard withheavy trucks.
Mixtures and quantities were very accurate to avoid waste. The filled forms were leveled and left to set for 24 hours.

Once the cement sets up the forms are removed. It snowed overnight, and snow can be seen on the site. The special concrete is very adaptable to temperature changes. On the mound in the background the forms for the wallswait to be put in place.

April 2007

April brings more snow and cold weather. This is Minnesota, after all. It was 80F one day only a week before. The crews don't seem to mind the cold and tell us they are used to it.

Meanwhile technical and logistic issues arise as deadlines approach. It is clear we may be getting too innovative for our own good on some of the energy and construction concepts. The team takes another look at budgets while building continues. Strategic partners and sponsors offer useful suggestions, and SKD steps up to the plate with ideas for unique construction systems to both meet LEED standards and preserve the budget.

Crews put in place removable metal forms for pouring the foundation walls. The forms are sprayed with a substance to aid removal of the molds before the walls are poured. These forms get reused many times.

The pumping truck pumps cement directly into the wall forms; this method reduces waste by accurately controlling the flow of the mix and reducing air pockets. Hart and AVR have done numerous tests of the mix to insure the best density and formulation.

The cement mixed with 40% fly ash takes advantage of a product that increases the cement's strength, reduces the cost of the mix and uses a material that is a waste bi-product of coal electric energy production that would typically be landfill material. Live Green, Live Smart's The Sustainable House is the perfect place to utilize this green product.

After the forms are removed, the cement is covered and allowed to cure for four days. The walls are uncovered and coated with waterproof sealers.

Keith and Shaun add the Dow™ Insulation Board (2-inch "Blue Board") with an adhesive. Care is taken to use all of the insulation on hand so no excess is put in the trash pile.

Another early April snow slows backfilling. The soil is put back in the same order it was excavated, leaving the rich black loam for the surface.

To reduce water migration, Keith prepares the cement caps with a W.R. Grace ice and water shield.

Shaw/Stewart Lumber delivers FSC-certified wood to the site for framing.

Framing begins. Dow sill sealer and treated wood are bolted to the cement foundation.

The framing crew (Mike Carney Construction) begins the construction of the new front entryway. Cement floors are poured for the interior crawl spaces. Between the slab and the dirt are Dow 2" Blue Board to insulate and poly wrap to protect against moisture. The extra insulation is also being reused in another part of the house.

Stucco siding that was been removed for the new addition is collected for recycling into road pavement. Nothing is wasted that can be reused or recycled; our goal is no more than 2 percent of excess material to landfill.

The framing of the new garage and laundry room move ahead quickly. All the framing on the project is expected to take about 10 days to be completed. To control noxious fumes in the garage the builders will be installing a fan and a Garage Butler system from Midwest Garage Butler. This system allows the door to close automatically after several minutes and helps limit CO2 from entering the home.

Delivery of the truss system from John Johnson at Universal Forest Products.

While the outside work moves forward, final demolition of the ceiling begins. The demolition crew continues to salvage any material that can be reused or recycled. Safety equipment from boots to hardhats makes up the daily lives of the demo team.

The old garage begins to take its new shape as a new bedroom and wheelchair-accessible bathroom.

Exterior insulation from Dow™ is applied to the garage. It is 1" high-density Blue Board.

Demolition materials are sorted and put in the roll-off for recycling at a transfer station.

The truss system is put up over the garage. The additional overhang is designed to keep water away from the foundation and keep summer sun away from the windows.

Preparation is made to remove a section of the roof over the garage and join the new addition to the old house.

Erik Paulsen, the team leader from Top Notch Treecare, and Steve from SKD begin discussions on how to control damage to the trees and get them ready for spring. In the film Erik will demonstrate the best methods to control damage to tree roots using a root hormone and proper methods for trimming.

Over 200 individuals are now involved with the project. Weekly and daily meetings review every aspect of the house from aesthetics to sustainable power systems.

In this meeting the discussion is about how to manage and integrate an electrical system made up of so many disparate components: geothermal, solar, co-generation, and power from the grid. Present are Al Johnson from South Side Electric, the electric sub-contractor; Mario Monesterio of Best Power, the company installing the solar hot water system and photovoltaics; Jim Cusack of UMR installing the WaterFurnace geothermal system and the Climate Energy Freewatt electric co-generation and heating system; Keith Poets, the general contractor; Randy Moon of SKD Architects; and project staff from Live Green, Live Smart™. On the phone was Michael Holcomb, our representative with the LEED program.

Other meetings are focused on landscaping: rain gardens, water collection, and irrigation. Present are Lorne Haveruk of Irrigation Consultants & Control, Dale Gustafson of Gustafson Design, Troy Gamble of Anderson Engineering, and of course Randy Moon of SKD and Keith Poets of Quality Builders.

Keith and the crews are intent on reducing waste. Anything that can be reused or recycled is placed in a roll off container and taken to a recycling center.

The darker beams in the new roof are being reused from the house's original roof.

While the roof is being completed, crews begin tearing into the exterior wall, opening up the new entry way and exposing the old fireplace to the entry. The fireplace will be converted from wood-burning to gas for future use.

The laminated beams used in the truss system are important for structural strength.Additionally, because the system utilizes recycled scrap wood it requires lessharvested timber and is lighter to set for the construction crews.Laminated beamsare used as headers to further reduce the need for extensive framing.You can see the house's original wood beams incorporated into the new system.

What you don’t see in these photos is more important than what you do see. Almost all the new wood framing in The House is 2x4 FSC lumber, with a special exterior foil insulating foam board from Dow™.The studs are placed at 24 inches on center rather than the conventional 16 inches on center.

What you don't see in this sustainable remodel are 2x6 framing timber, exterior walls of plywood and strand board, which are traditional for construction of this kind. By using 2x4's and foil-foam insulation instead of 2x6's and plywood, we use about 30% less wood than the average construction project of this size. Utilizing an existing structure and recycling existing wood uses 80% less wood than an all-new structure of similar size. Highly efficient Dow™ spray foam insulation on the inside of the exterior walls adds strength to the structural system and gives the home more insulating value than most homes on the market today.

This is an effective framing technique for this house, but it may not work in all homes. As walls get higher you may want to use a laminated, composite or metal stud for more strength. If you have a second floor you will likely need to use a different structural method and may need to return to 2x6 construction on some walls. Being sustainable and durable doesn't mean using the same construction methods for each project. Each project must be evaluated individually. One would look at what can be reduced, reused and recycled; the distance material must be shipped; the health of the material; the sustainability and durability of the material.

Keith meets with a representative of Sela Roofing of Minneapolis to discuss the final steps in sealing the roof from ice and water and getting the shingles and gutters on.

May - August 2007 →

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