Tale Of A Deep-Energy Retrofit: Q&A with Cador Pricejones
When Production Manager Cador Pricejones talks about the latest energy-saving techniques, he sounds a little like a surgeon talking about the latest life-saving techniques. It isn't far off the mark because a Byggmeister retrofit project can give a home a new lease on life, and in this case, even bring a family closer.
Deep-energy retrofit sounds like some sort of extreme makeover. What is it and why would a client want to do it?
The standard for a deep-energy retrofit is to reduce a home's typical energy consumption by 50 percent or more. We recently worked on a project in Belmont where the homeowners bought a two family house that needed a lot of work, and energy efficiency was a priority for them. National Grid provided generous financial assistance for this project. (For more information on their incentives, visit www. powerofaction.com/der)
While Byggmeister has always been energy-efficiency minded, the last couple of years we've taken it to a much higher level with retrofits where we do better than 50-percent reductions. Residential housing accounts for 20 percent of our country's energy consumption and we feel as builders we have a responsibility to help our clients decrease their carbon emissions substantially. Besides, by remodeling, you are really giving your home a whole new lease on life in the order of 50 or 100 years, so you should give it the best you can.
This house was built in the 1930s. How do you increase energy efficiency by more than 50 percent in a house that old?
Well, when you buy the worst house on the block, you can make a big impact. This house wasn't the worst, but it was in poor condition and the homeowners knew it was going to take a lot more than just weatherization to make it energy efficient.
So, it takes more than just rolling out the pink insulation?
There were a lot of details like a solar thermal system that preheats the water going into their hot water tanks, exterior doors and window replacement, and changing the heating system from a boiler to a furnace that is 95 percent efficient. Of course, insulation does make a very big difference in sealing the house as tightly as possible, which we did by blowing dense cellulose into the exterior walls and then using rigid insulation as well under new siding. By the way, we didn't use that fluffy, pink stuff.
Can you seal a house too much? We need to breathe fresh air, right?
Absolutely. When you seal a house that well, you need a ventilation system, but you don't want to have cold air coming in, so we use an energy-recovery ventilator that exhausts air from inside the house and as that air flows out, it transfers its heat to the fresh air coming in from the outside.
What were the goals for updating the interior?
The layout was typical 1930s. It wasn't very open and there was a funny hallway that ran down the middle of the house. We removed walls and took out two chimneys to make it much more open and contemporary.
Isn't open space less energy efficient? What about heat zones?
That concept of heat zones doesn't work to help efficiency much. You want to keep the whole house a constant, comfortable temperature. So, if you keep a seldom used room colder, that is just going to be siphoning off warmer air from the rest of the house, which creates drafts and does little to save on heating.
There was a family component to "greening" this project wasn't there?
One of the reasons these homeowners bought a two-family was to have the grandparents live on the first floor and the immediate family would live in the top. They embraced the idea of going from two homes to one, which reduced the family's overall carbon footprint.
Were there any big hiccups along the way?
In the eight months it took, there was nothing serious, but with all the choices between the two units: five bathrooms, two kitchens, all the living spaces, six bedrooms, heating systems, appliances; the number of decisions that had to be made was really pretty mind blowing.