Building “Green Homes” saves GREEN!

30 Jan

Welcome back… to “Ronin’s Rules of Homebuilding!”

This is where we take a look at what smart people are doing, when they design and build their own energy efficient and affordable homes!

Now, I know I took a little left turn there, to rant about “Un-Americans,” but it’s just the way I roll, and sometimes things just have to be said! Deal with it! LOL!

Okay… back to business!

Over the last few posts, we’ve been exploring ways to build a home that will work WITH you, and not AGAINST you, as you and your family travel down life’s roads…

Now, me? I’d much rather the “Tra-la-la”path, to the “Man, where did all these bills come from?” path!

So, we’ve already talked about using the sun to heat your home, using SIPs (you remember what those are, right?), and increasing the mass of your home.

Any or all of these things will work with you, and help your home save you money. And, most of the things I’m recommending that you consider, are even (gasp!) green.

In this day and age, working WITH the environment isn’t just fashionable, it makes good sense. It doesn’t mean you have to hug trees, or live in a tiny little house (unless you like them), or even be nice to your neighbors. It just means that   embracing the gifts that the environment gives you allow you to give better gifts to your family. After all, you’ll save money, and you’ll have less work to do at home.

(SSShhhhhhhh! But, don’t tell my wife that! I have her convinced that building a “cost effective, energy efficient, affordable, solar, lean-green-machine of a house” means I’m gonna have to work and toil constantly, to keep it running! That way, I get to spend more time in the garage playing with my toys!) LOL!

We’ve already talked about orienting your house, to harness the sun’s rays. And using the sun is green, right?

Okay, the sun ain’t green, it’s yellow. But… it’s green. If that concept confuses you, well… you might as well stop reading now, because it’s just gonna get more confusing. LOL!

SIPs are green. Even though they’re made of wood and foam, they are GREEN. Why? Because SIP panels are made using woodchips, and parts of trees that aren’t used for lumber. They’re like a big pressboard sandwich, hold the mayo! And, they are completely recyclable.

Increasing the mass of your house is… green. You use concrete, once. No maintenance, no muss, no fuss. A one time expenditure allows your house to store energy forever, and then… give it right back to you, when you need it most! And I’ll add that it doesn’t even have any moving parts.

Today, we’re gonna talk about another way to heat your house:

Using radiant in-floor heat in all living spaces… or you’ll die.

Okay, you won’t die, but you’ll make your significant other mad, and they’ll kill you. After all, nobody wants to live with an idiot that just throws money out the front door, right?

(At least, that’s what my wife says… but then again, she always wants to kill me… Remember that guy who used to lurk about, jumping out of the shadows to kick the Pink Panther’s butt, every time he came home… Well… picture him in  skirt… It’s something like that.) LOL!

Using Radiant In-Floor Heating  is probably the most energy efficient and (long-term) cost effective way to heat your home. Radiant In-Floor Heating should be installed in concrete in all floor levels, and should be the sole or at least primary heating source for all areas of the home.

If you watch cable TV, you see Radiant In-Floor Heating used on lots of homebuilding and DIY shows. It’s not all that complicated.

infloor-manifoldOkay. It’s a LITTLE bit complicated. Here’s how it works;

It’s all about heat transfer. The physics surrounding heat transfer are not complex. The primary law is that heat moves from warm to cold. Any object or thing that is warmer than another nearby will give up its heat to the cooler object. This is the reason we feel cooler when walking down the frozen food aisle at the grocery store. It isn’t that the food cooler is giving off cold air; rather, our body is radiating its heat to that cooler object.

If you stayed awake in Physics Class, you already know that there are 3 ways heat is transferred: conduction, convection, and radiant heat transfer.

Conduction is how heat moves through solid objects, or from one solid object to another when they are in contact. When we reach for an item in the frozen food aisle it feels cold to the touch because we give up heat from our hand to that object. Similarly, when we stand on a cool basement slab or a tile floor, we give heat up from our feet. Thus, it feels cold to us.

Convection is the manner in which heat moves from a solid surface to a fluid or gas (such as water or air). Motorcycle and lawn mower engines cool themselves this way. The engines have fins around the hot areas which disperse their heat into the air. Hot-water baseboard heating systems do the same thing. Hot water is circulated through a copper pipe, which itself gets hot, and the heat is given up to the air. The pipes have aluminum fins along their length which speed this process up significantly by increasing the contact surface area. By physics, warm air (not pure heat) rises, and draws cooler air toward the bottom of it as a result. Baseboard heaters have an opening at the top and the bottom for just this reason.

Radiant heat transfer is infrared light moving through space from one object to another, and no contact between the objects is needed. The best example of this is the sun, which emits enormous quantities of infrared light. This light travels uninterrupted through the 93 million miles of space to the earth, where the radiant energy from the light rays is absorbed by the earth’s atmosphere and the earth itself. We only feel the heat from the radiant energy when we absorb it ourselves. Infrared light shares at least one very important characteristic with visible light. It travels in straight lines, regardless of direction, at the same speed, 186,282 miles per second.

Wow! I just channeled Carl Sagan! Brrr! LOL!

By creating a radiator out of the entire floor surface, the surfaces of all objects in the room, including people, are gently warmed. The air in the room is also warmed. The results in terms of comfort are unsurpassed. Because the floor and other inanimate surfaces are warmed, the rate of heat loss on the part of the occupants is largely eliminated. The occupant feels neither too warm nor too cold. This is called “comfort.” Air temperatures at the floor are slightly warmer than at the ceiling, yielding two significant results. One is that with air temperatures slightly lower at head level than at the feet, most people generally feel more alert. The second is that less heat is lost through the ceiling and roof, which means energy savings and lower operating costs. Operating costs are also mitigated because boilers are able to heat with lower water temperatures. Additionally, rooms are comfortable at lower air temperatures, air temperatures are less stratified, and air is not pressurized, meaning there is less warm-air leakage.

Radiant floor heating does not limit placement of furniture and décor. It is also silent, clean, and hypo-allergenic. Dust, germs, and odors are not circulated throughout the building. The system is thermally luxurious and aesthetically elegant.

Here’s a hint: Do not “staple-up” radiant to wood subfloors if you can avoid it!

Radiant Floor Heating isn’t all that expensive. It’s pretty popular, and that’s driven the price down, significantly. The minor extra cost will pay for itself in very little time in energy savings and increases comfort by holding much more stable temperatures in your house.

And, no matter what the carpet salesman tells you…

Avoid putting carpeting over these newly heated slabs! Why would you put padding and insulation over a heat source? Duh!

Putting hardwood over Radiant In-Floor Heating is fine, but lemme’ tell you that tile or finished concrete is even better!  Tile or concrete will hold heat, and that’s mass. No matter what Jenny Craig says, mass is good! I know that I’m telling you to build “hard floors.” If you need some “break” in your room, use some floor rugs to soften up the rooms as needed instead.

Radiant Floor Heating isn’t just for the ground level of your house. On above grade floors, lightweight, gypsum, or thinner concrete slabs should be poured over wood subfloors, but the more concrete the better in all cases – the cost for 3” vs. 1.5” of concrete is generally not high if structurally considered in the design phase. Not only are you creating mass (remember rule #3?) you’re adding strength, and warmth to your home. Plus, using RFH upstairs will help insulate your house from sounds traveling up and down…

Here’s some things to consider: When you’re installing your Radiant In-Floor Heating on that ground level, allow a few extra bucks for blue board. All slabs on grade should be insulated with 3” EPS (blue board) and the slab itself should be 6” thick, not the 4” that contractors like to shoot. The extra cost of the concrete isn’t going to break the bank. Think about it as an investment, and then consider the insignificant increase in costs as a % of the scope of your project, so it ‘won’t be so hard to swallow. It really will pay itself off, quickly.

Radiant Wall and Ceiling Heating

Yep, you read right. You can even use Radiant Heat in walls and ceilings!

radwallRadiant heat travels in any direction, so radiant wall and ceiling heating is also very useful and practical. The exact same principles utilized in floor systems apply to walls and ceilings. Hot water is circulated through tubing behind the finished surface and the entire area then becomes a radiator.

This method is particularly appropriate when access to the floor is restricted or unavailable, in situations where you have pre-existing “slab on grade” construction, and in certain retrofit and remodeling situations.

Radiant wall and/or ceiling systems are an excellent solution when a room will have carpet and pad or some other thermally resistive finished floor. Some rooms, such as kitchens and bathrooms, have much of the floor occupied by base cabinets, islands, fixtures, appliances, and other objects that reduce the usable portion of the floor compared to the room as a whole. These rooms usually have largely unobstructed ceilings which provide ample heat to the room. The heat is absorbed by objects below, such as the floor, countertops, bath, shower surfaces, and occupants.

Your house is getting more comfortable, and you’re saving money… Who could ask for more? Hmmm?

Next time (unless somebody else pisses me off!), we’ll talk about using High Efficiency Condensing Boilers to provide the “muscle” for your Radiant In-Floor Heating and even your domestic hot water needs.

Stay tuned!

The Renaissance Ronin


4 Responses to “Building “Green Homes” saves GREEN!”

  1. wildkitty January 31, 2009 at 9:51 am #

    I hope you never delete this blog. My frail mind gets boggled reading some of this stuff, so I hope it’s still here to refer back to when I win the lottery and build my house. LOL.

    • renaissanceronin January 31, 2009 at 1:20 pm #

      Well, I probably won’t delete it on purpose!

      And, the idea here is to show people how you can incorporate GREEN into your abode, for just a little cash (sometimes it’s just the WAY you do something) so that life gets easier. GREEN doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. That’s what kids are for!

      I am so sick and tired of watching these GREEN shows on television that show “Green” builds, where the owner spent hundreds of dollars a square foot, to be “fashionable.” If I have to spend $400 a square foot to build the damned house, I’m already sunk!

      After all, if I was rich enough to spend like a madman, I wouldn’t flinch at the utility bills, right?

  2. David Summer January 31, 2009 at 5:14 pm #

    what happen’s if a nail pierces the tubing when someone is trying to hang the drywall, a picture, or any other wall mounted item?

    • renaissanceronin January 31, 2009 at 8:01 pm #

      Hi David!

      You have to be careful! LOL!

      Seriously, most of the “Radiant Walls” that I’ve seen were completed without much trouble. You know where the tubing is, and you aim around it.

      And, you make sure that the homeowner knows how much damage they’ll do, if they pierce the tubing. So, the best route for artwork and other framed pieces is to hang them from cables mounted in the ceiling, gallery style.

      If you think it through, it still looks cool, and your “warm wall” is safe…

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