Tag Archives: green rehab

On Air with Worldview

Just found your way to this blog? There is a good chance that you listened to Worldview 0n WBEZ with Jerome McDonnell and heard the segment about the deep energy retrofit of our 111-year-old masonry two flat.

The interview may have stoked your curiosity and interest. If so, can tour our building this Saturday (09/28) from 10:00 am till 4:00 pm. If you can’t make it or you have follow up questions on what you heard, this blog is the resource you want to use. To save you some time, I have composed a list of links that lead you to key posts.

This is where it starts – the building envelope

The best way to save energy is to effectively insulate and air seal the building envelope:

Electrical – saving watts

Now that the building is well insulated and air sealed, let’s take a closer look at how to bring our electricity consumption down:

Saving energy – hot water

And it’s not all about electricity. Bringing the hot water consumption down saves energy and ultimately dollars:

Staying warm

How do you stay warm during our Chicago winters? Here is what we did:

You still have questions? (and I bet you have)

Join us on Saturday, September 28th between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm to take a tour of our project.


The green smoke screen

Why this project – why this blog?

We had to answer those questions when we developed the idea of a deep energy retrofit. The articulation of project rationales served as a foundation for what was to come.

In those project rationales, I took a stab at new, green construction, voicing our frustration that it is often unaffordable for the masses and may qualify as “green”, but misses the point of sustainability.

It turns out that I am not the only one with some level of discontent on this subject matter – and that others, such as Martin Holladay at the GreenBuildingAdvisor.com, are beautifully no-nonsense in their expression of that discontent.

Read his blog post –

Musing of an Energy Nerd – Who Deserves the Prize for the Greenest Home in the U.S.?

– if you like to take a look behind the “green” smoke screen of the green building industry.

As to why this project – why this blog? Martin Holladay put his finger on what motivates us, probably without even knowing about what we are up to.


Breaking news on the insulation front

This is a very good day – for all those who own a masonry building, who are interested in a deep energy retrofit and who would like to insulate the masonry walls from the inside.

The frustration has been that there was next to no information available on the pros and cons of insulating the interior of masonry walls, or on how to go about it without damaging the structure.

The Building Science Corporation has taken another step to fill this information gap with the release of a brand new research report (RR-1105) “Internal Insulation of Masonry Walls: Final Measure Guideline,” authored by John Straube, Kohta Ueno and Christopher Schumacher.

Regular readers of the blog will remember my epic search for reliable and sound information on this subject. At the time, I came across one document – to repeat, one document – on this subject, also published by Building Science Corporation.

Do you really want to make an insulation decision of this magnitude based on one document? No, not really. But that’s all that was out there, in addition to some other documents that offered tangential information and the occasional anecdotal evidence.

We had to knit the little information we had together and hope that we got it right. I am glad to report that I see our decisions confirmed, after having read the executive summary of the new research report.

If you have done research yourself on the subject of deep energy retrofits and how to insulate, you will have noticed the abundance of information available for framed buildings or new construction. I cannot fathom why the existing masonry building stock, which is rather significant in metropolises like Chicago, is left without resources.

If we are to get serious about reducing our energy consumption and carbon footprint, we have to get serious about retrofitting the abundant existing masonry building stock. Building new and green can’t be the solution alone. We have to begin to reuse the resources we have.

I am glad that the Building Science Corporation is not shying away from this complex subject.


Plumbing installation – pipe size and fittings

At this point, and for quite a while, it is all about getting ready for the open cell foam insulation on the 1st floor.

Each unit is separated from the others by an air barrier – a two to three inch layer of open cell foam in the ceiling. There are a few tricky areas that represent a potential breach in the air barrier envelope.

One of the bigger potential breaches is the plumbing wall.

The plumbing wall is meant to be sealed between floors with spray foam insulation. That is once all the utilities (mainly plumbing) that run through it are installed. Half of the plumbing (the drain-waste-vent system) is in place. What is still missing is the fresh water or copper plumbing.

Plumbers usually know what to do with their eyes closed – as long as the project follows conventional construction practices. If you have read a few blog posts, you will have noticed that our green rehab project is miles away from being conventional.

To get over the road bump called green building technologies, I needed to be on my toes and communicate our goals and objectives frequently to my contractors.

Pipe sizes

The conventional wisdom is to have a large trunk line – one inch or at least three-quarter inch. The branches from the trunk line are typically sized three-quarter inch and run up to every fixture. Often the pipe is reduced to a half inch just prior to the fixture. These pipe sizes would assure sufficient flow rate to the fixtures and reduce the potential of undesired pressure drop.

For the sake of energy, material and water conservation we want the copper pipe size reduced as much as it is permitted by the Chicago Plumbing Code.

Pushing the code to its limits is rather counter intuitive for most plumbers, who are used to giving preference to the larger pipe sizes. Thinking and approaching the installation in terms of energy, material and water conservation did seem to take some effort.

Long sweep elbows

Pressure drop is an issue not to be ignored when going with the smallest permitted (or reasonable) pipe sizes. To reduce friction and turbulence in the piping, we have to leave the common and inexpensive 90 degree hard turn elbows behind and switch to the less common and more expensive 90 degree long sweep elbows.

Another option is to use 45 degree elbows where it makes sense.

The long sweep elbows are typically used in hydronic heating systems, not so much in fresh water plumbing. It was thus a good idea (and necessary) to check that no hard turn elbow found its way into the plumbing by accident.


2nd open house – announcement

Those who have been following the blog for a while, may have heard or even attended our 1st open house in January 2011.

Well, we decided that now is a good time to schedule a 2nd open house on Saturday, 10/22/2011 from 10:00 am till 3:00 pm.

You will be able to tour the 1st floor with all walls still open and insulation preparations in progress. We would also like to show the utility room with the efficient heating and domestic hot water system, as well as many other interesting details.

If you are interested to attend and have additional questions, feel free to leave a comment and we will get back in touch with you.

Hope to see you on 10/22/2011!