Being the Executive Director at an organization that promotes and trains on residential green building, Brett Little decided to put his money where his mouth was and commit to green remodeling in his first home purchase. Brett and his wife Laura wanted to commit to the up and coming city of Grand Rapids Michigan, which was easy to do with all the past few years of recognition and grow (Most sustainable mid-sized city, beer city USA 12′ and 13′, top ten place to find a job, most LEED building per capital and etc etc. ). The project is a prime of example of how one can use GreenStar on a small remodel / weatherization job without being too invasive to the home.
The 2 story house circa the 1920s was aesthetically in great shape, had a newly remodeled kitchen, intact wood windows and trim, good paint, half finished the basement and very well kept landscaped (turf) yard.
What the house was missing was quickly shown in the inspection and energy audit. They revealed a lack of any decent insulation/air sealing, chuck full of incandescent light bulbs, inefficient water fixtures, noisy bath fan old and oversized heating/cooling systems along with a dinosaur of a water heater and no garden in the perfectly south facing fenced in backyard.
The target was LEED Silver certification through a Gut Rehab, but we quickly had determined that exposing the exterior or interior walls to air seal plus removing the shower and tub surround to add in a non-paper face drywall would go way over our budget. While LEED may fall more in line with a Deep Green Retrofit, we opted to do a Moderate Green Retrofit.
From there it was clear that the once called MNGreenStar program would make the most sense and they used it to document the existing conditions and come up with our goals to make the home better. As you can see in the initial energy audit in which they used was the HERS Model (think an MPG sticker for your house) and came out at 175. You can see a little more on results we got here. This number was on track with the old homeowners energy bills which we acquired during the audit. Their overall order of importance to the home upgrades was Energy Efficiency, Indoor Environmental Quality, Water Conservation, Landscaping and then Material Conservation.
They came across a unique financing that allowed them to do a lot of work in the up front while getting a longer return on investment, MI Saves had partnered with their gas company DTE to allow a $2,500 kickback to those who could show a performance plan of gas savings of 30% with an upgrade. Trane/WellsFargo also had a fantastic deal with a 0% 5-year loan that allowed other products outside of their brand to make up 50% of the costs.
Key achievements for GreenStar Certification
- Insulation + air sealing
- New Storm Windows
- New fiberglass energy star door + weather stripping old door
- 96% Efficient, modulating and right sized furnace with ECM
- 90% Efficient Hybrid 20-gallon water heater
- Sealed all exposed ducts and hot water pipes
- Programmable Thermostat
- Mostly LED’s, some CFLs with some Dimmers or Motion sensors
- Air changes per Hour (ACH): 5.1
- Final HERS: 65
- Final Energy Performance Score: 24,000 KWHe
- Home Energy Score: 10
- 181 Points in E.E
- Ultimate Air Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV)
- New Panasonic Exhaust Fan
- Closed Combustion Furnace & Water Heater
- Vented Hood Range
- No VOC Paint In Basement
- MERV 10 Filter
- Asbestos Removed from heating ducts
- Radon Test (negative)
- Whole House Carbon Water Filtration
- 46 Points in IEQ
- Water Leak Test
- .5 GPM Bathroom Aerator
- 1.6 GPM Water Sense Shower Head
- Niagara Stealth Toilet at .8 Gallons Per Flush (half of a normal toilet!)
- Plan to not water lawn during the day
- Reduced Turf
28 points in water conservation
- Installed Food Garden & Raised Beds
- High Walkscore of 80 out of 100
- Compost and Recycle almost all waste through the city & organic cycle
- 24 points in Site and Community Impact
Because this was a light remodel and weatherization they did not score too many material points. Materials are mainly for extensive work being done and refurbishment in existing homes.
Our blog details 1 years worth of utility date & costs associated with the project. It also features lessons learned. They will be keeping it up to date by monitoring the performance, durability, comfortably and maintenance.
They plan to achieve Silver Certification within 2 years by converting more of the backyard to a food garden and the entire front yard over to a mix of drought tolerant and native plant species along with raised bed food gardens. Adding rain barrels and fixing the gutters. We hope to achieve more points by painting the exterior of the house with carcinogen free no VOC paint.
Other current issues – No return ducts in the 2nd floor and some older ducts still panned in the joist may be causing temp swings in the second floor and higher summer humidity. We have an idea of opening up the kitchen to connect to the living and dining and during that time we could potentially add return ducts and seal the current ducts.
While sitting in his living room, spending the day documenting his home to verify all the measures and requirements for GreenStar, I showed Matt Grocoff the GreenStar checklist tool and manual to give him an idea of what was needed for his project. After looking through it, his immediate response was, “I wish I would have known about this when I started.”
Back in 2010, Matt began a journey. He purchased a 110 year old home in Ann Arbor, MI that has led him on the international road promoting net-positive homes and buildings. When he bought the home, he reviewed the LEED for Homes program but decided against it. He found it to be too invasive for what he wanted and could afford to do to his existing home. Matt, in partnership with Meadowlark, was a pioneer in the world of Green Home deep energy retrofits in the Midwest and has helped influence what can and should be done to bring an existing home to net zero energy.
Despite lacking a good tool (like LEED or GreenStar), Matt and his family persisted on with the renovation. First they underwent a home energy assessment utilizing the HERS index. The results were off the charts – far above 100. “From there we needed to work backwards. Using the PV watts calculator, we determined we could get roughly 9,000 kwh of solar given size of our roof and available technology. For 9,000 kwh to be sufficient, we realized we needed to improve the home’s HVAC, insulation, air sealing, appliances, lighting and other areas to get us down to that level without sacrificing comfort or a normal lifestyle,” Matt explained. Through the detailed but simple measures listed below, Matt’s home is a proven Net Zero home – even while driving a Chevy Volt and charging it at home! They plan to add a little more PV so that they can update their vehicle to a Tesla and still remain net zero.
One thing that I learned while sitting down with Matt and discussing the push back to an all-electric home is the claim that it’s a waste because of electric line loss of up to 10% energy. Most utilities and even the HERS score incentivize the use of Natural Gas. Matt enlightened me to a partnership between Google and the Natural Resource Defense Council that is utilizing Google vehicles to show major natural gas leaks in gas lines all over the country. These leaks are not accounted for in line loss of energy, while electric is.
Beyond energy, Matt and his family were inspired by the Living Building Challenge (which they are pursuing) and are now, in partnership with U of M Blue Lab Engineering and a Ford Foundation Grant, exploring Net Zero water. The goal is to be able to design a system that captures 100% of rainwater off the roof, stores the water, and cleans it to potable and non-potable standards. The final step would be attaining approval by the municipality to install the system. One interesting challenge the Grocoffs must overcome is that their asphalt shingle roof has been proven to contaminate runoff water toxins such as lead. These toxins are very expensive to remove. However, the cost to seal the existing shingles or replace the shingles may prove cheaper in the long run than maintaining a clogged water filtration system. Another element that Matt and his family are working on is to prevent 100% of the home’s storm water from getting into the city sewer. This could be done partly by capturing water from the roof, partly by adding rain gardens. The most unique idea is a partnership with the city that would replace the sidewalks in front of the house with a system that will direct rainwater from the sidewalk to his rain gardens. If it works, replacing sidewalks this way could model in Ann Arbor and in other cities around the country how to reduce the expense and pollution caused by run off and storm water.
Even though we live near the Great Lakes and have access to more water than we need, it’s no secret that quality and quantity of water is diminishing. “While all the news media was going on about California this year, much of Michigan was experiencing a major drought and lack of underwater aquifers. It’s important that we have deeper conversations about water in our state and how to protect it through simple things we can to do our buildings,” says Matt.
Because of Matt’s diligence during the renovation process, his home was easily back certified to GreenStar standards. He blew the gold standard “out of the water.” explained Brett Little. We also are grateful to work with him to develop recommendations for existing homeowners using the GreenStar tool to achieve our new zero energy certification. We are very excited to award Matt and the Mission Zero Home with the GreenStar Gold Type 1 Remodel Certification and to induct him before anyone else into our Zero Hero Hall of Fame. We will be monitoring Matt’s house and following his case study as he supplies us with Return on Investment, future energy use, water use, indoor air quality testing data, and other interesting aspects as he continues to do more to his home.
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Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Living Space: 1300 sq. ft.
2,600 sq. ft. of conditioned space
General Contractor: Matt Grocoff, Thrive Net Zero Consulting
Whole-House Performance Contractor: Meadowlark Energy
Greenstar checklist submittal with full details on the home.
Website: Happy Home How! http://www.happyhome.how/
Attic Insulation/Air Sealing: R-30Demilec Sealection 500
Wall Insulation: R-13 Farmers dense-packed cellulose insulation
Rim Band Joist: Air sealed and insulated
Windows: Trapp low-e storms
Air Tightness: 4.75 ach50
Alternative Energy: SunPower 8.1 kW photovoltaic system
Heating/Cooling: 3-ton Water Furnace Envision
Window Restoration: Wood Window Repair Company
Lighting Controls: Watt stopper motion sensor light switches
Power Strips: Smart Strip Power Strips
Window Treatments: EcoSmart Insulated cellular shades
Water Heater: Geothermal + Air Heat pump
Dryer: Heat pump technology
Appliances: Induction Cooktop
HERS Index: 37
Residential Energy Performance Score: 61 (rated at 9,000 kwh/year)
Toilets: Caroma Dual-Flush
Showerheads: Bricor 1 GPM (HET)
Faucets: Bricor .38 GPM!
Irrigation: Rain barrels (salvaged from St. Jullian’s Winery)
No Garbage Disposal
Whole-House Ventilation: Ultimate Air ERV
Furnace Filter: MERV 8
Paints: Zero VOC – Benjamin Moore Aura, AFM Safecoat, Sherwin Williams Harmony
Floor Finish: Bioshield Hard oil #9
Molding Finish: Hock natural shellac
Bedding: NaturePedic mattress
Flooring: Mostly wood through out
Knob & Tube Wiring Removed
Salvaged Doors: Habitat for Humanity ReStore
Picture Frames: Urban Ashes
Salvaged Wood Stock: Urban Wood
Outbuilding: Chicken coop salvaged from neighbor’s playhouse
Carpet: Wool stair runners from G & K Flooring
Retained Existing home through minor remodel!
Perimeter plantings kept up to 24 inches away from the home.
Milwork, countertops, cabinets, trim, floors, and windows all refurbished and reused.
Site & Community
Conventional turf grass reduced
Home recycling and compost center
Walk Score – 70 +
Public transportation and biking is good
65% of undeveloped site is permeable
40% native / drought tolerant plantings
Rain gardens to stop storm water run off
*Some of this list was borrowed from Matt’s house being featured on Green Building Advisor.
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