Photo of solar panels on houses at Wisdom Way Solar Village, Greenfield, MAPhoto of Energy Star triple glazed windowPhoto of Viessmann high efficiency gas boiler and indirect hot water heating systemPhoto of Wisdom Way Solar Village home showing solar panels for hot water and for electricityPhoto of double wall home constructionPhoto of solar panels on highly energy efficient house, Wisdom Way Solar Village, Greenfield, MANESEA Zero Net Energy 2010 prize winning houseSustenance logo


Photos: (1, 4, 6) Solar-power panels on highly energy efficient houses, Wisdom Way Solar Village, Greenfield, MA. (2) Energy efficient Energy Star triple-glazed window (3) High efficiency, gas-fired Viessmann wall-hung boiler and indirect domestic hot water heating system (5) Double wall home construction to accommodate more insulation, (7) 2010 Net Zero Energy NESEA prize-winning house.


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Fiberglass insulation manufacturers introduce non-formaldehyde binders

Fiberglass insulation has traditionally been manufactured using binders containing formaldehyde, raising air quality concerns. Environmental Building News editor Alex Wilson noted that at high concentrations, formaldehyde poses a carcinogen risk, speaking at a workshop on new green building products at NESEA's March 2011 Building Energy conference.

The good news, says Wilson, is that at a number of fiberglass insulation manufacturers are introducing insulation using non-formaldehyde binders. Johns Manville has had fiberglass insualtion with acrylic binders on the market for a number of years now. Knauf's Ecose insulation is based on a mineral wool made from recycled glass bottles, uses bio-based binders, and is free of dyes. CertainTeed's "Sustainable Insulation" uses bio-based binders (but is not yet available on the east coast) and is made using 35-70% recycled glass, depending on the country you buy it in, according to the manufacturer. Even industry giant Owens-Corning is using a non-formaldehyde binder in its EcoTouch line of insulation, although the company has not given up on its trademark pink dye coloring, says Wilson. One drawback to the bio-based binders, says Wilson, they are typically proprietary (with their composition being confidential company information), so we don't know exactly what is in them.

"Quietest flush on the planet" -- Niagara introduces quieter 0.8 gpf water-saving "Stealth" toilet

Some toilet makers have been able to get effective toilet bowl flushing using even less water than the current 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf) water-conserving standard by slightly pressurizing the flushing water. Pressurization can be achieved using a rubber diaphragm arrangement inside the back of the toilet to pressurize a small amount of air that later accelerates the water flow when flushed.

The drawback is that some pressure-assisted toilets, "the ones that scare the children," quipped Environmental Building News' Alex Wilson, can be noisier when flushed. Wilson told a green products workshop at NESEA's Building Energy conference that Niagara has recently introduced a 0.8 gpf "Stealth" toilet that uses a different, and quieter, air-assisted system. Air is forced into the trapway on flushing, bubbling the toilet water upward slightly to momentarily create a higher level of water in the toilet bowl, and then a partial vacuum in the drain line, for better flushing. The result, according to the manufacturer, is "the quietest flush on the planet."

Wilson cautions that this new Steath model is not recommended for commercial applications, and drain runs should be kept under twenty feet of exit pipe. At 0.8 gpf, says Wilson, water use per flush on this toilet is about the same as that used on the low-flush setting of a dual-flush toilet.

New ESL lighting to hit market . . . continued

The new ESL bulbs will use accelerated electrons to directly stimulate the phospors, avoiding the need for mercury, says VU1. The ESL bulbs are said to be dimmable and to have the "warmer" light spectrum we associate with incandescent light bulbs.

Fine Homebuilding's Winter 2010 issue of Energy-Smart Homes also reviews other energy-efficient household lighting products, including "cold cathode fluorescent lamps" (CCFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). CCFLs are an improvement over existing CFLs, says Fine Homebuilding, because they come in a wider variety of color temperatures and can dim down a full 90%, unlike CFLs. LEDs, long used for electronics, are now being reconfigured for home lighting units. They're out in daylight light spectrum units, and unlike CFLs, LEDs don't contain mercury, a big plus. However, current LED lighting products can be expensive and don't fit the design requirements for some home lighting uses.

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The Quiet Revolution in Housing

In the midst of the destabilization and near overthrow of the housing market, an equally significant, but quieter revolution in housing is continuing to grow.  This revolution, unlike the one led by deregulating politicians, irresponsible lenders and greedy profiteers, is a positive revolution that needs to be nurtured and expanded.  It is a revolution in the energy efficiency of American homes.  This quiet revolution is being mounted by unsung insurgents, radical architects, developers and contractors, conspiring to push the energy use of housing down to the point where there is a “net zero” use of energy to heat, cool, and power the American home.

The energy we use to heat, cool and operate our buildings accounts for about 36% of all U.S. energy consumption and about 30% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.S. EPA. (See http://www.epa.gov/oaintrnt/projects/ )  So the victory of this quiet revolution in housing is essential, not only to transform our homes, but as a critical front in the battle against global warming and for energy security in our country. 

This is a revolution of technique as much as of technology.  Builders thinking outside of the box are taking existing materials and systems and putting them together in innovative and more efficient ways (technique).  For example, existing 2x6 framing studs are used to make a thicker exterior wall cavity to allow more insulation on the sidewalls of the house. They are also installing improved heating, cooling, and ventilation equipment, and energy-efficient appliances (technology), to further push the home’s energy use down to the bare minimum.  And finally, once the fundamentals of air sealing, insulation, high-efficiency equipment, etc. are in place to minimize the home’s energy use, then photo-voltaic and solar hot water panels, or heat pumps are being added to actually make the house a generator of energy (again, technology).  

If the energy use is reduced enough, and enough energy can be generated on-site, by solar panels, heat pumps, small wind turbines and the like, the house may actually start producing as much energy as it uses -- entering “net zero” nirvana.   ("Net" zero because at any particular time of day the house may be using more energy than it produces, or producing more energy than it uses, but over the course of the year the production pluses and the consumption minuses will "net out" to zero in the home's energy budget.) The homeowner treads more and more lightly in the realm of home energy use, until his or her carbon footprint simply vanishes.  Maybe this will be our new housing “enlightenment."

Here are some of the keys to this revolutionary new approach to house construction and energy systems:

  1. Ensure the air sealing of the house is tight, because it won’t matter how much insulation you have if warm air from your house is leaking out at a high rate.  Then be sure you have properly programmed ventilation (often a low-wattage programmable vent fan is used) to guarantee optimal air venting to preserve air quality and the right indoor moisture/dryness conditions. 
  2. Insulate heavily and completely around the entire area of the home that is heated / air conditioned.  Some of these rehabbing pioneers are adding light trusswork to the outside of the house when they install new siding, to give room for up to 5” or more of foam insulation on the outside of the existing house.  2x6 or double 2x4 walls, filled with more insulation, are being used in new construction to give similar high sidewall insulation values to a new house.  Attic insulation values are being pushed up to R-50 or higher.  Basement walls are being insulated, and where feasible, rigid foam board insulation is put down under the basement slab (sub-slab insulation).
  3. Properly install double- or triple-glazed windows, to minimize heat loss / air conditioning loss through the window surfaces.
  4. Install high-efficiency heating  and water-heating equipment, that is not oversized for the heating needs of your more energy efficient home.  The Gas Networks rebates offered, for example, by Bay State Gas, Berkshire Gas and other regional gas suppliers give substantially higher cash rebates for the installation of gas boilers with an AFUE efficiency rating of 90% or greater.  At last check there were also rebates from them for on-demand tankless water heaters and high-efficiency indirect water heaters.  (Go to www.gasnetworks.com for more details.)

Peaked your interest?  Then go to our Housing Resources page to see how you can join this quiet revolution in housing. 

-- Rudy Perkins


For organizational and informational resources on housing issues, go to the Sustenance Housing Resources page.

Archived Housing pages

Page last modified: 3/27/11