Tag Archives: cost


Has the cabin fever set in by now? If so, let me lead a quick expedition into the hot and muggy summer months. Even though we may yearn for summer heat at this time of the year, once it is upon us, we are rapidly looking for ways to keep cool. How do you keep cool?

I dislike the typical excessive air conditioning we exercise, but I am a big fan of ceiling fans.

You could argue that any ceiling fan would do a good job as it is most likely to operate more efficiently than a conventional air conditioning system. This comparison is somewhat unfair as the product of air conditioning is different from that of a ceiling fan. But then again, humanity is famous for buying products that are non-essential.

We needed to make a decision about what ceiling fans we should acquire for our deep energy retrofit. I started by looking at the extremes. On one end there is the $25 product, cheap but flimsy, “delightfully” humming along while it moves air (for all those lovers of white noise), and dumping the one thing from the motor and light that we want the least – heat.

On the opposite spectrum is … well, other than expensive, I don’t really know. This is a good time to consult the EnergyStar product list for ceiling fans.


EnergyStar rates the efficiency of ceiling fans by how much air they move (cubic feet per minute or cfm) with one watt of energy. If you download the list of certified ceiling fans in Excel format, you can easily sort for the most efficient EnergyStar certified models. Here is a summary of the top three contenders as of February 2014:


There are plenty of other efficient ceiling fans on the EnergyStar list. But after my big time-waste tracking down an EnergyStar efficient range hood, I acquired an attitude. If I can’t find a product listed on the EnergyStar list in a simple online search, I move on.

Back to the top three contenders that were all easy to track down. The Haiku and MidwayECO are built with the efficient and very quiet electronically commutated motors (ECM’s). I assume that the Aeratron is also powered by an ECM, but couldn’t find corroborating information in the specifications.

The Aeratron is a ceiling fan unit only, while the Haiku can be fitted with a 1,500 lumen LED light module. The Midway ECO comes with a light module that takes four LED or CFL bulbs with the GU24 pin base. Tthe typical light output would be around 3,600 lumens. The Haiku can be dimmed as can the Midway ECO, as long as dimmable LED or CFL’s are used.

Prices for the models vary widely as of February 2014:

  • Haiku from $825 to $920
  • Midway ECO from $476 to $529
  • Aeratron from $224 to $349

Because we need dual functionality from our ceiling fans (air movement and light), the Midway ECO emerged as the best contender, even though it is still a very pricey piece of equipment.

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Price check, and – surprise!

I needed more rock wool insulation – a whole lot more. It’s for the second floor exterior walls and the attic.

My primary rock wool supplier, the Chicago Green Depot, went out of business about a year ago. I needed to find a new supplier!

Back in the day, the Chicago Green Depot had the best priced rock wool. I got the last batch in early 2012 for around $35.00 per bundle (60 square feet of 3 1/2 inch rock wool batts). All other sources I contacted, including your typical big box home improvements stores, always came in more expensive.

This time around, April 2013, didn’t seem to be any different. The Home Depot had the bundle of rock wool listed for around $43.00! I thought, though, that it couldn’t hurt to double check the pricing for 120 bundles at the Pro-Desk in my local store.

The printout I was handed listed a total of $3,340.80. That breaks down into a unit price of $27.84 per bundle plus tax (or $0.13 per board foot). That is a considerable price drop from the listed $43.00 … around 35%! This is even less that the first batch I bought for the basement installation.

Do I need to say that I was a very happy camper?

Why that 35% price drop? If I go to the Home Depot and place an order over $2,500, I am referred to – what they call – the bid room. Because I am buying in bulk, I have access to a different pricing structure. That said, I would be surprised if that 35% discount will last for long; this may be part of a current promotion.

The significance is that this is the first time that I bought a substantial amount of building materials from a typical big box home improvement store. Materials for a deep energy retrofit like ours were in the past not available, hard to get special orders, and/or too expensive.

Is this a sign that green building materials are on their way into the mainstream?

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Painting, equipment and sidetracking

Thanks to our friends Scott and Carlos, priming the drywall was like eating cake! And – because we got the priming done so quickly – I now can shift gears and start with the proper paint.

While looking for a suitable zero VOC paint product, I ran again into the issue of finding something that has a price point of $30/gallon or less and is not a special order.

After some back and forth, we settled on Behr Premium Plus Interior Eggshell Enamel. It meets our price point and zero VOC requirement, and is labeled low odor.

I found out that low odor does not mean odor free. Don’t get me wrong – it is not obnoxious. In fact, it is really nice to paint without being engulfed in the fumes of other conventional paints that still contain some level of volatile organic compounds (VOC’s). But, as I said, it is not odor free.

While I was in the store, waiting for the color to get mixed, I browsed through the various rollers that were on display. I picked up a rather pricy one to give it a try.

To my surprise, it lasted through the entire paint job, and it still in such good shape that I probably will use it on the second floor. Compare that to the cheap rollers I started with. They lasted for one day and had to go into the trash.

That got me thinking – about the trash we produce because we fall for a lot of cheap stuff. Plus, economically it made sense to get the expensive but good quality roller. By now it has paid for itself, outlasting God knows how many cheap rollers.

It is also a microcosm of what happens with green buildings and deep energy retrofits like ours. A lot of people shy away from the green or more energy efficient option because it appears so expensive when compared the the conventional (cheap) options.

But if green building technologies are executed wisely, they begin to pay for themselves – and may even begin to save some real money at the end.

Wow, I really had a lot to say about painting – didn’t I?

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1st floor priming

Our freshly restored hardwood floors are all carefully covered up, because its time to start painting.

There are two components to this task: the straightforward and the not so straightforward parts.

Getting the paint on the wall is what I would call the straightforward part. Actually, we won’t start with paint. We’ll start by priming all the drywall.

The not so straightforward part has to do with the product choice. We are set on zero VOC primer and paint products. This is non-negotiable, as it has an direct impact on the indoor air quality (IAQ).

Back when we painted the garden unit, I sourced the primer and paint from the Chicago Green Depot, which has gone out of business since. With that, I lost a convenient and affordable source for zero VOC paint products.

“No problem, there must be other products and suppliers.” Yep! But few of them are conveniently accessible (i.e. brick and mortar business), and even fewer have zero VOC products at a reasonable price point.

I mean, if you look around and online, you can find coolest products under the sun out there. But we are not about to spend $60, $50 or even $40 per gallon for paint or primer. Our threshold is at $30/gallon, or preferably less.

That really begins to narrow it down!

For the primer we settled on Bulls Eye Zero Primer-Sealer by Zinsser. Even though it is water based, it has a really thick consistency – almost too thick. We diluted it to the maximum recommended ratio, and it still was thick, but we were able to get a few additional square feet of coverage out of it.

Thank you to our dear friends Scott and Carlos who master roller and brushes like few others do!


Floor coating – cost fuzz

Sanding our old hardwood floors was the easy part. Particularly for me, as my job was just to watch and learn, to get stuff out the way and to manage the power cords.

Getting things set up for the floor coating was a lot more complicated. Mainly because it involved a lot of research.

Most common floor finished are polyurethane based and have a very high VOC (volatile organic compound) content. Something that was not acceptable to us, as we are very conscious about managing indoor air quality (IAQ). And like with paint, we were looking for a VOC free option.

Well, the first thing I learned is that there currently is no such thing as a zero-VOC floor coating. But there are water based products that have very low VOC levels.

The current LEED system, which can be used as a guideline, permits a VOC content up to 275 g/l (grams per liter) for floor sealers. Some water based products are at the 275 g/l threshold, others have a lower VOC content. A look at the specifications usually tells how the product performs on the VOC spectrum.

The next lesson was about the product costs. Your typical polyurethane/high VOC products run around $40 per gallon. The water based options ranged from $40 to $120 per gallon.

Needless to say that I immediately focused on products at the lower price range. That didn’t last long, for two reasons. First, the products reviews that I found were non-conclusive. Second, our flooring contractor, Frank, flat out refused to use any water based product that was not two component based, i.e. did not come with a catalyst.

All right – this will need some more dissecting:

Frank likes quality work and has a good business sense. He knows that using a economic product that has a limited performance span will eventually nip him in the butt. That explained his refusal.

What I learned is that the more economical water based products do not come with a catalyst (also referred to as hardener) and apparently wear off pretty rapidly. Only the higher priced options come with a catalyst, which is mixed into the sealer just prior to the application. These have the reputation to last a few years longer.

Still, the purchasing decision was anything but straightforward. Using the most economic two component water based product with the lowest VOC content would be the logical choice. Except that we ran into supply problems.

Water based floor coatings are not that commonly used, because of their price point. Retailers are hesitant to keep them stocked, because they have to purchase the product by the palette and then sit on it for several months, if not over a year, before it is all sold.

We had to investigate all the products that were locally available, and see which one was stocked at the quantity we needed. We finally settled on Arboritec Avenue, but had to source it across three different retailers to get the quantity we needed.

Here is a quick summary of the few products we investigated:

Arboritec Avenue
VOC content: max. 200 g/l
Coverage: 350 – 400 sf/gallon
Drying time: 1/2 – 1 hour

Bona Traffic
VOC content: max. 210 g/l
Coverage: 350 – 400 sf/gallon
Drying time: 2 – 3 hours

Bona Traffic HD
VOC content: 125 g/l
Coverage: 350 – 400 sf/gallon
Drying time: 2 – 3 hours

VOC content: max 250 g/l
Coverage: 550 – 700 sf/gallon
Drying time: 2 – 3 hours