Monday, April 17, 2017

Questions for my wife

Questions for my wife

Many times during tours questions come up that are best answered my by wife. The questions are generally asking for a different perspective from mine. It makes sense. I am, after all, selling Passive House Design and Tradesman services through Airtight Services. So how much can you believe from a salesman?

 My wife Brianna has offered to answer some questions from our most recent open house. Here you go! These questions are in no particular order.

Hi Everyone! Brianna here. Before I go into answering these questions just know that I am not a designer, architect or engineer. Many of the finishes in our house I found on pintrest. Some of these questions are hard to answer, but I will do my best.

What was the biggest challenge with the layout / floor plan in order to keep it "Passive"?
  • Definitely working within the "simple shape" I am really not good at visualizing how large a space will be from the prints, so we ended up with bedrooms on the 2nd floor that are too big in my mind. I would love to move some of that square footage back to the 1st floor. No fireplace was a challenge too when it came to decorating the family room / dining room area. I've always had a fireplace but we never really every burned anything. But losing the focal point in a room is a challenge. 

What is it like to cook on an induction cooktop?
  • I have cooked on standard electric and gas, but I really like the induction. You have to really watch it. The days of turning the pot on to boil 30 min early are over. If you boil a lot of things, you will boil something over. It is really easy to clean up though - since the water doesn't burn into the cook top like on a standard glass top. A damp cloth will clean it right up every time. There also is no gas smell in the house when the burner is on.

What was it like dealing with the Amish for your kitchen? Why didn't you have them do your bathroom cabinets also?
  • Working with the Amish was certainly an experience. It really gives you an appreciation for ALL of the modern day conveniences. There was no show room, there was no photos of previous work, there was no "options". When we sat down with them in their shop the piece of paper was blank. We had our "design" and photos of the style we wanted, a color sample we liked and that was it. We could have anything. I suppose this was the start of the endless decisions you get with a custom home. 
    • Choice of wood - Oak, Maple, Poplar, Cherry, Hemlock, Rustic Hickory, Walnut, Pecan... you name it. 
    • Color - stain color, paint color
    • Style - inset drawers, full overlay, etc. style for sides of cabinets not tight to a wall, etc.
    • Design - We were working around 2 load bearing posts, and had to tie them into the island. We also could choose from any of the kitchen cabinet gadgets like spice drawers, garbage drawers, hidden areas, adjustable shelves. They really wanted us to utilize every inch of possible space.  
    • We put in our order, wrote a check and just had to trust that they would deliver
  • If I could do it all over again, I would have them stain the lower cabinets and have our painter paint the cabinets. The Amish don't have a "clean room" so the finish on the paint is kind of rough - but they have been great working with us, and are always happy to "rebuild" cabinets if necessary. I also would have used a less expensive wood for the painted cabinets. We used maple on the lower cabinets
  • We put in our kitchen order with them very early in the process, and totally missed our window to have them build our bathroom cabinets. We may have saved a little bit of money on the bathroom vanities since we bought ALL of them on the clearance rack at like 50% off, we certainly got an cheaper product.  
  • I have told Matthew to write a blog post on our dealings with the Amish, since he is the one who took 3 or 4 trips down there to meet with them while they were building them. He has some good stories.

Are all of the rooms really the same temperature?
  • No. This winter the kids bedroom was about 2-3 degrees cooler than the master bedroom. We have a thermometer in there to make sure they didn't get too cold. We also opened up their door when we go to bed. The basement was also 3-4 degrees cooler than the 1st floor. 

How are you dealing with all of these open houses?
  • Thinking positively, it forces us to keep the house clean and any "projects" we are working on have to be done before the next open house. 
  • It can be difficult, particularly for the Veterans Day Weekend when we do a multi-day open house. But if we can bring in some donations for the area veterans, it it worth it! 

What is the biggest difference in this house from other houses you have lived in?
  • This is a hard one. It is definitely quieter, not only from outdoor noise, but there wasn't a loud furnace that kicked on every so often. Everything is quieter. I also grew up with a bedroom over a garage - and it was ALWAYS cold. There is no room in this house that is ever cold.

What is the biggest drawback from building such an efficient house?
  • Reduced options for appliances (no gas) - I am not complaining at all about the dryer, but we did need to buy a ventless one and there was only 1 choice. We also needed to have an electric stove, again not a big deal, and I LOVE the induction cook top. And designing a focal point in our family room that is not a fireplace is hard. We will end up building a fake one where we can burn candles or something. 

Where did you get your kitchen floor from?
  • Phew, an easy one! Matthew showed me an ad in one of his builder magazines for Armstrong Architectural Remnant Line. There was a local company in Rochester that is a dealer for that line of floor (Rochester Linoleum and Carpet One). Once I saw it at the store I knew I wanted it! Much of the color scheme in the house is based on the floor. I was going to be VERY UPSET if that color, or line was discontinued. I am not sure what would have happened if the floor had to be changed. Our kitchen cabinet color was based on that floor color, our paint scheme was based on that floor color, the stair tread stain color was based on the the floor color. The day we placed the order I was much happier! 
  • Here is the exact flooring: Armstrong Architectural Remnant Natural L3103
This was fun! Send me more questions!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

RESNET Cross Border Challege

2016 RESNET Cross Border Challenge Winner!:

For those of you who don't know, RESNET (Residential Energy Services Network) is the independent organization founded to help homeowners reduce their utility cost. They do quite a bit nationally to promote building efficient buildings utilizing tools such as:

HERS Index - Essentially a MPG for a house

Energy Efficiency Mortgages - Mortgages that Credit a homes energy efficiency in the home loan (you can spend more to build the house because your utility bills will be lower)

Energy Audits and Home Energy Ratings - a much more involved energy audit that one offered by Home Performance with Energy Star. It would probably be a great idea for anyone buying an existing home to have one of these audits done. It is far more comprehensive and can uncover some important information for the prospective home buyers

A RESNET Rater is one who is responsible for all the necessary field work and energy modeling for a new construction Energy Star Home. They have all of the skills necessary for any of the 2015 Code Requirement Testing and they can also be tasked with PHIUS field verification.

Canada has a similar organization - CRESNET for homes built in Canada

Back to the Cross Border Challenge...

Each year for the past decade or so the 2 organizations have had a friendly competition to see who can build more efficient homes:

The Cross Border Challenge is simple - Lowest HERS Score wins. Now there are a few categories:

Lowest HERS Score by an American Production Builder (>49 HERS Ratings per year)
Lowest score American Mid Size Builder ( 10 to 49 homes HERS rated per year)
Lowest score American Custom Builder (< 10 homes HERS rated per year)
     -Rochester Passive House was entered in this category
Lowest score Canadian Production Builder (> 49 homes HERS rated per year)
Lowest score Canadian Mid Size Builder (10 to 49 homes HERS rated per year)
Lowest score Canadian Custom Builder (< 10 homes HERS rated per year)

Net Zero Award American Builder
Net Zero Award Canadian Builder

In 2015: 190,180 homes were rated in the USA. The winner of the lowest HERS Score in 2015 was a house 26

In 2016:  206,583 homes were rated in the USA. The winner of the lowest HERS Score in 2016 was ROCHESTER PASSIVE HOUSE with a HERS score of 22!

While it is possible to get your HERS score down to 0 or below (net zero homes) they are incorporating some kind of onsite renewables - solar panels or wind turbines. Almost any house can be a net zero house with enough solar panels.

Just because a home is a net zero home, it doesn't necessarily mean it is energy efficient. 

Rochester Passive House achieved the lowest HERS score without the use of onsite renewables  of any home submitted in 2016 (and 2015).

This award is certainly a compilation of efforts from:
Airtight Services - Matt Johnson, Bill Labine
Garbacik Construction - Tad Garbacik
Grater Architects - Tim Burke and Bill Grater

Great Job Everyone! I will be getting all of my paperwork submitted to PHI for certification by the end of the month! Keep your fingers crosses!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Rochester Passive House UPDATE!

Rochester Passive House UPDATE!

We are planning out next open house for:
April 1st from 10-3. 

340 Quaker Meeting House Rd
Honeoye Falls, NY 14472

Wow, time has FLOWN by! I can't believe it has been 4 months since my last post. So much has happened since my last post!

 I have been holding open houses fairly regularly to those looking for a short walk though.

I will be presenting at the following conferences in March:

  • 2017 Finger Lakes Building Officals Association - March 14th in the afternoon

  • RIT Students and Faculty Location TBD on 3/23 around lunch time

  • NYSERDA Event in the Buffalo on 3/28 at the Millennium Hotel

I have an exciting announcement I will be releasing the 1st week in March. I will send out an mass email as well.

Now - How has Rochester Passive House Performed over the winter?

October     - 345 Heating degree days - No Heat Needed
November -  572 Heating degree days - 124 kWh for heating energy -  $11.29
December -  1051 Heating degree days - 453 kWh for heating energy - $40.69
January    -  1052 Heating degree days - 453 kWh for heating energy - $46.18

So far in February we have used 301 kWh (Roughly $30)

Our total heating bill for the winter is $128.16. I would be shocked if we spend over $150 for the year!

The house has maintained about 70 degree on the 1st and 2nd floor and about 66 in the basement where there is no heat to speak of.

We have maintained our CO2 levels at or below 600 PPM all winter (with the exception of a large 30 person party where we pegged 1000).

Stay tuned for my update in a few weeks!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Video Compilation

 I have compiled a list of video's I shot during the construction of Rochester Passive House.
All of the Video's can be found by searching "Rochester Passive House" in Youtube


One of the 1st Video's I took was during the window delivery. They are heavy! We unloaded the container with a skid stear and had to push them into an on site storage container.

This group of 3 video's shows what we needed to do to raise the outer wall of our double wall assembly when the inner wall was already built

This video shows the setup and plumbing of our drain water heat exchanger.

This video shows the installation techniques of damp spray cellulose. This wall is an interior wall for sound deadening, but you can see the installation from both sides of the wall.

This video shows the technique we used to complete the insulation of our attic when we cannot see the levels of insulation. We need to maintain at least 24" of blown cellulose in the attic.

 Here is a video I created a week or so before we moved in.

Finally, Here is a video of the blower door set up and test

Hope you can make the Open House!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Open House Tour!

Open House! - UPDATE

We will be collecting Hats and Gloves and any warm clothing for Homeless Veterans. Many of our contractors (and myself) that worked on our house are veterans. Since it is Veteran's Day Weekend it would be a great opportunity to thank those who won't be as warm this winter! Please bring something to donate for a wonderful cause. 

Rochester’s 1st (to be) Certified Passive House
340 Quaker Meeting House Rd. in Honeoye Falls
Friday November 11 1pm-6pm
Saturday November 12 10am-6pm

I will perform a Blower door test at 5pm on Saturday, bring your smoke sticks and IR Cameras!

If you are thinking of building or renovating you won’t want to miss this!

Come see 1st hand:
  • Passive House Design
  • Super Tight Construction
  • Heat Recovery Ventilation
  • Super Insulation
  • Passive House Windows

We will be on hand to answer questions and give tours

If you cannot make this Open House contact me at:
to set up a time to come check it out!

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Passive House Experience - Experienced / Water Heater Install

We've Moved In!

So, where do I begin. It has been so long since I posted anything...

What have I learned from living in a (soon to be certified) Passive House?
  • It is QUIET! We don't live in a noisy area, but when you close the door you can actually FEEL the quiet. 
  • When something is sound proof, it keeps the outside sounds OUT, but also keeps the inside sounds IN. My 6 year old takes piano lesson. the piano is LOUD!
  • The ventilation system works great! Smells don't linger at all. My biggest "complaint" with it is when the boost button it hit, you have NO indication it is running any faster. There is no light or sound to suggest it is on high - you just have to believe it. 
  • We have had as many as 15 people in the house on a hot sunny day and didn't over heat the house.
  • The box elder beetles are BAD this year. We don't have any in the the house - no air leaks means bug proof as well.
    • We do get some fruit flies but I think they come in with our fruit
    • Horse fly's get in also when you open the door, 
  • The LED Bulbs are very BRIGHT!
    • We wanted to make sure we had plenty of light in the house when it is dark outside. We are thinking about putting dimmers on all of our bathroom switches because it is blinding 1st thing in the morning!
    • We typically don't need the lights at all, in any room, during the day.
  • We LOVE the induction cook top. 
    • We can boil water faster on the stove than in the microwave. 
    • We have much better control than on standard electric
    • There is no gas odor from cooking with gas
    • The cook top is easy to clean (since it doesn't get hot, nothing gets burned into the top)
  • The condensing dryer works great!
    • We don't notice any longer of a drying time because we have 2nd floor laundry, we can do a load of laundry every other day, so the drying time doesn't effect anything
    • The clothes and towels and sheets are dry when we take them out.
    • The only lint we see in the room is from us dropping some on the ground while cleaning the 2 filters 
We have installed our Sanden CO2 Heat Pump Water Heater:
This is my educated guess of where it would be located

Here is the front view of the outdoor unit

Here is a side view of the outdoor unit

The top red pex line feeds hot water to the tank at 160F, and the bottom red pex line takes "cold" water off the bottom of the tank to the heat pump outside

All of the heat pump heat transfer takes place outside, and just a water line is running between the heat pump and tank.

This is a photo of the tank set up
  • The bottom T is the cold water from the drain water heat exchanger and the hot water circulating pump feeding the tank.
  • The upper connection is the outlet of hot water to the loop in the house
  • There are 2 more inlets on the right side of the photo
    • The bottom is water out to the outdoor unit
    • The top is water in from the outdoor unit
    • There is a black conduit also to run communication between the tank and heat pump
1250 kWh per year!

A few notes: 
  1. Heat tape and pipe insulation is still needed and is not pictured here
  2. Because it is a "closed system" check valves into and out of the tank (as per the installation instructions) we needed to install an expansion tank per Code.
  3. The communication wire comes from the factory the maximum length allowed between the heat pump and tank (16.5 feet)
  4. A mixing valve came with the system to bring the tank water temperature from 160F to 120F at the faucet.
I will be publishing out blower door test in a video shortly, and will be posting a tour schedule soon as well! Stay tuned!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Passive House and Radon

Passive House and Radon
Let me 1st start by saying - I am not Certified in anything Radon. I don't know what goes into the analysis in the lab and I only followed the instructions on the package. 

Here is what I do know:

  • Radon is a radioactive soil gas that can cause cancer. 
  • Radon is a "heavy" gas
    • Molar weight of 222 g/mol vs 44 g/mol of CO2

  • The major sources of Radon in homes (mostly basements) can be attributed to:
    • Open Foundation Block cores
    • Dirt Floors
    • Cracks in your foundation
    • Open Sump Pump Crocks
      • When your drain tile is not filled with water, it is filled with soil gas (ie Radon)
Basically direct any connection between the soil and your home can lead to Radon in your home.

Mendon, NY has been identified as an area with high Radon levels (39-51% of the homes have greater than 4 pCi/L). It was certainly a concern for me from the start. A passive house is suppose to be super tight, thermal bridge free, and properly ventilated, but if Radon seeps into the house it could be a huge problem!

       In a typical home for this area you would see a Radon Mitigation system installed constantly removing the air from your drain tile with a constantly running fan. This would hurt our auxiliary electrical use for certification, and I was unsure how it would effect the overall ventilation system inside the house (if at all).
      You would also see a sump pump inside the house. I couldn't figure out how to make a sump pump crock "Thermal Bridge Free", nor air tight (to the Passive House level of air tight).

     As I have written about before - we elected to Passively prevent Radon into the house with proper fabrics, air tight construction from the slab up and eliminate the interior sump crock (We moved the sump pump to the outside)

     We are finally at the point where we can perform a few Radon Tests to ensure we are Radon Free.
I conducted 2 tests, 1 in the basement and the other in the exterior sump crock.


For the sumps crock test I dropped the test canisters into the sump crock with a long string. I measured it to be a few inches above the sump pump. There were 2 tests, one was about 3 inches above the sump pump and the other was about 12 inches above the sump pump.

In the basement I simply set them on a box a few inches off the floor and a foot or so away from the walls (as the test instructions told me to do)

I did deviate from the instructions in 1 way. I left our Zehnder Ventilation system operating - as it is needed to provide the house with fresh air 24/7. It was only running in Medium, and there is no exhaust in the basement - only 1 supply, The extracts are on the 1st and 2nd floors. I understand this will effect the tests, however I am most interested in finding out how high the radon is under "normal" conditions. There is no reason to ever turn off the Ventilation system.

 What about a long term Power Outage?? Well - for those who have a powered radon mitigation system I'd have the same question. I think Radon in that case would be much lower on my worries list. We have basement windows. I'd be more concerned with the food in the refrigerator or the hot water.

ANYWAYS.... Back to the test results:

According to Pro-Labs:

Sump Crock Canister #1 (Closest to Sump Pump) - 2.4 pCi/L
Sump Crock Canister #2 (12" Above Sump Pump) - 0.8 pCi/L

Basement Canister #1                                          - 0.1 pCi/L
Basement Canister #2                                          - 0.1 pCi/L

While Radon many not be a huge problem - I am very pleased to see such a low number in the house!

 I would certainly not have changed anything with our design - it may have saved a few dollars but the use of the Radon Barrier in my mind is totally worth it!