November 29, 2009

Blue Board and Skim Coat Plaster Instead of Drywall

Drywall, also known as Sheetrock, is the building standard in U.S. interior wall construction. But there is a better alternative based on traditional methods common before 1940: blue board with skimcoat plaster.

Bright yellow scaffolding stands at the ready in the kitchen, contrasting with the newly applied blue board, awaiting its skimcoat of plaster.

As THE CONCORD GREEN HOME's builder, Matt Ayers of Aedi Construction, explains:

"There are fundamental differences in the application and therefore construction of drywall and blue board.
Blue board receives a full skim coat of plaster. Drywall gets a low moisture tape coat of joint compound at the seams only. Because of this, drywall does not need to be a structurally sound or as capable of withstanding contact with moisture. It is less expensive because its composition does not need to be consistent, while blue board is one material (gypsum/plaster) throughout...

Blue board's consistent makeup allows it to breathe and dry. This is another advantage of blue board. If drywall gets wet, it is more prone to mold and mildew issues, whereas blue board will breathe dry over time and is much more resistant.

Lastly, with drywall and joint compound, you need to sand in between coats and that produces massive amounts of dust -- never a good thing in a healthy house."

With its dark cave-like cladding and metallic-taped corners and seams, the loft looks stuck somewhere between King Arthur's medieval court and Star Wars. It will all lighten up immensely once the off-white natural color plaster is applied to the walls.

The beautiful lighting contrasts in the loft space has me wanting to get out my paint brushes and canvas right now.

For more on the benefits of blue board and veneer plaster from Bob Vila, click here.

Click here for a Bob Vila video that shows you how the plaster is applied to the blue board.

A long view from the Office through the Great Room to the Kitchen, with a close up of the corner detail.

November 26, 2009

LEED, Energy Star and other Green certifications

THE CONCORD GREEN HOME has just received Energy Star certification for meeting strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the EPA.

When building a green and healthy home, there are several certification programs worth considering. Certification boosts resale value by providing third-party verification of the home's efficiency and performance. This benefit comes at a cost, however, in the form of certification fees and the time and money required to deliver all of the appropriate paperwork. Regardless of whether you actually certify your home, using these programs' criteria for guidance will help you create a higher efficiency, eco- and occupant-friendly home.

While THE CONCORD GREEN HOME closely adhered to these guidelines, and, for example, would have easily achieved at least a Silver Level certification from the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program, we opted instead to spend the $10,000 or so required for that official stamp of approval on adding more green features to the house.

We did pursue the Energy Star certification, because it more than paid for itself in the form of federal tax rebates.

Technician administering blower door test at THE CONCORD GREEN HOME.

Most well-known green certification programs:

U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program.

National Association of Home Builders Green Certification

U.S. Department of Energy's Builders Challenge

Energy Star

I am pleased to see growing interest in certification programs specifically aimed at the health of the home's occupants, an area only partially addressed by the green building certifications. They have excellent criteria which provides additional guidance to homeowners and builders aiming to build better. A few sources worth checking out:

Environmental Protection Agency's Indoor Air Plus

"The Healthy Home Standard" from the Institute for Bau-Biologie and Ecology

Green Guard Building Construction

This is from a relatively unknown source, but the recommendations are excellent:

Non-Toxic Home Certification

November 20, 2009

Repurposed Old Pieces as New Bath Vanities

Primitive zinc-topped console with new vessel sinks. Designed by Ginger Barber. Featured in House Beautiful July 2009.

Even if it wasn't a very green thing to do, I have always loved repurposing old pieces for new uses. A bath vanity is one of those perfect opportunities to turn an old apothecary chest, console, dresser, sideboard or work table into a beautiful new work of art.

Spotted this beautiful old apothecary on Too rich for the budget, but love the painted numbers on the many drawers. A great inspiration piece.

An antique Gustavian cabinet converted into a lovely shallow vanity by Brooke Gianetti.

Rustic wood top conversion of old metal trough-like piece by Carrier and Company.

While I am still busy sourcing the Master Bath vanity, the Hall Bath vanity is already underway for the THE CONCORD GREEN HOME. The back is removed and the prep work begins on converting this old pine chest into an adorable new vanity. It will be repainted in a pale stone color from Farrow and Ball, a naturally non-toxic clay-based paint steeped in historic tradition.

The vanity will have an undermount sink, with this wall mount faucet from Rohl's Country Bath collection, in their particularly gorgeous polished nickel finish, including the lever handles (vs. chrome and crystal as shown).

When reusing old pieces for a Healthy House, be sure that the piece is clean, free of lead paint, mold and any other contaminants that you won't want to bring into your home.

November 15, 2009

First Indoor Tour: Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing Roughs are Complete

A lone pipe awaits the future kitchen island.

Another major milestone has been accomplished.

Aedi Construction's Matt Ayers, site supervisor Patrick Hughes and their teams of sub-contractors have worked incredibly hard to coordinate and complete the rough installation of all the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. Not only did they complete specified work, they adapted quickly to changes in the plans, such as trading out electric radiant heat for an all-hydronic system (to reduce electromagnetic field loads in this healthy house), upgrading from Acrylonitrile-Butadiene-Styrene (ABS) plastic pipe to cast iron plumbing, and relocation of some electrical and lighting.

Congratulations, and a huge thank you to all, including the Zero Energy Design team for their continued support and counsel on the project.

Let the interior insulating begin!

The kitchen's range, refrigerator/freezers and wall of cabinetry will be on left wall, with cozy seating at the rear windows.

Natural daylighting and passive solar heating from the kitchen's southern exposure skylights will significantly reduce energy loads.

More kitchen light from the south in the hardworking heart of the home.

The Aquasana water filtration system under stairs,
but near access door for easy filter changes.

Wall mount sink, faucets and toilet with open shower make the first floor bath handicap accessible - enabling occupants to age gracefully in place, should the need ever arise.

Black cast iron pipes prevent upstairs water noise from
traveling downstairs to open plan spaces.

A view from the Office/Away Room into the Great Room with its new recessed lighting. Main spaces will also have ceiling fans to supplement the passive cooling features of the house.

Hall Bathroom with shower - three interior windows will borrow daylight from stair well.

Master electrical and plumbing in, with a lovely balcony facing the park.

The attic mechanical room houses the fresh air ventilation system. With its HEPA filtration and high-efficiency Heat Recovery Ventilator...

... it is the only ductwork running through the house (save the exhaust fans). This minimizes potential for dust and condensation to build up in the ducts, which can breed mold and other unhealthy contaminants.

The attic loft space.

Shed dormer windows in the loft.

I leave you with the above quote from John Ruskin that Patrick Hughes, our incredible site supervisor, keeps on his desk in the job trailer. It perfectly sums up the care and commitment with which Patrick manages the construction of this special home.

November 10, 2009

Historic Windows with Modern Efficiency

The choice of windows for THE CONCORD GREEN HOME was critically important on many levels. First, the windows had to deliver superior insulating value. Second, they had to have a high solar heat gain coefficient, which measures how much passive solar heat can pass through the glazing during the colder months. Lastly, they had to fit with the historic aesthetic of the home.

The low-e, Krypton-filled Milestone window from Green Mountain Window and Door Co., came out on top on all three counts, even compared to high efficiency windows from major brands favored by environmentally-minded architects and homeowners alike. Perhaps it is because this young firm is located in Vermont, where their windows are "Made in the Northeast for the Northeast".These windows are beautiful. Green Mountain has figured out a way to deliver high thermal performance, all while a) concealing the block-and-tackle balance and tilt-in latch systems and b) including authentic traditional details such as wide rails and narrow muntins. As evidence of the firm's commitment to historic accuracy, they are approved by the Historic Preservation Division of the National Park Service for installations meeting Federal Tax Credit Standards.

Some of my favorite features can be found on their casement and awning windows, which have a charming wood-framed screen that swings in (no fighting with those frustrating screen pins on the exterior of the house) and can be easily taken off its hinges off-season. They've also replaced the unpopular crank mechanism with a historically accurate push-out lever controlled by a friction hinge.
Casement window with interior screen on hinges.

A huge thank you to Green Mountain Window and Door Co. for coming on board as the 7th sponsor of THE CONCORD GREEN HOME. Their generous support will enable the home to have several interior windows as well, which will provide increased ventilation and cooling, and help spread daylight deeper into the home. Of course, both of these benefits will in turn deliver additional energy and cost savings.
A mix of Green Mountain double hung, casement, awning and transom windows
on the rear elevation

One awning window installed, while one awaited its turn.

November 8, 2009

The Exterior Winds Down While the Interior Dries Out

THE CONCORD GREEN HOME is finally fully clad in its white Hardiplank fiber cement clapboard. With the exception of railings, the exterior trim is virtually finished as well. Even the wide, graceful porch stairs (to right of construction stairs) seem to beckon for a friendly visit as you stroll by.

The bright pink rigid insulation that cloaked the house for weeks is now hidden, but already performing well. The house is warm inside, even though the interior insulation has yet to be installed. The radiant heat will fire up this week to dry out any residual moisture from the October rains (and snows!) before interior insulation is applied. This will ensure that there is no potential for mold to develop within the walls.

The new kid on the block is finally starting to fit in.

November 6, 2009

Historic Lanterns for the Exterior

Selected this gorgeous New England Barn Lantern from Scofield Historic Lighting to grace the front entry of THE CONCORD GREEN HOME. The finish, as shown, will be a leaded copper, to give it that authentic aged look.

Lucky for us, we are the beneficiary of several other smaller lanterns rescued from a garden building nearby that will complement the entry lantern perfectly. Recycling at its best.

Now we just need to source the right energy saving bulbs to light these beauties.
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