Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Basement Finishing

In an earlier post, I talked about a basement finish job that I was bidding. This originally included adding a basement egress window with window well enclosure by Bilco and was to have a bath.
The  job was downsized to an basement office. This sketchUp drawing is showing the components that explain the building science involved to make this a warm and dry space to work. To get a closer view, click on drawing.
Basements in Northern Michigan are typically cold in the winter and damp in the summer. Generally the soil is sandy with good drainage. We have to keep these things in mind when designing systems to make this space a pleasure to use.
  1. A 2 x 6 sill plate on a 8" block wall allows air flow from inside of block cores into basement space cooling floors above the block and the basement as a whole. I glue in 2"cuts of 1" foam on top of block. I then glue  4 x 8 sheets of 1" ESP foam (R-4) on the block surface. The reason I use ESP is it allows the walls to dry to the inside. It costs about $4.-5.00 a sheet ($1.00 per R factor rating). 1" EXP foam is R-5 and is quite pricey. Up north, it is difficult to get EXP without the moisture retarding skin and that would not allow the walls to dry out. All seams are caulked (as is the perimeter) and taped.
  2. 2x4 stud wall on 2' centers goes up next. Use a treated plate. This is needed for running electrical and heat runs easily. 
  3. Run heat runs in stud bays as close to floor as possible. Make sure you add cold-air returns equivalent to heat.
  4. Insulate stud bays with R-13 insulation.
  6. Drywall lifted off concrete slab. This prevents any wicking of moisture from floor. Caulk bottom gap.
  7. Prime and paint with latex paint (NOT OIL). This will allow the walls to breathe and continue to dry to the inside.
  8. Flooring is next. Because of the dampness of basements in the summer, the flooring choices are limited. Carpet gets musty and damp in summer. Glueing wood to cement is not a good choice. Tile is about the only good choice but would be cold in winter. We put DriCore panels down after it was painted. It was amazing the difference your feet felt between the concrete slab and the DriCore surface. DriCore claims about a 6 degree difference. Well worth the $5.00 per panel cost.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Don't Spend Economic Stimulus at WalMart

Here's an idea that should grow into a cause, then a movement. 
I recently received a letter from the IRS, excitedly informing me that the check's in the mail! (or will be starting in May) I won't even start on the fact that it's borrowed money or that if spent wrongheadedly we'll likely stimulate the Chinese economy. Oh, I guess I did.
Instead of buying a flat screen TV at WalMart or putting a down payment on that Hummer, we should use this money to make energy/water improvements to our homes and lives. Let's call it, Green4Green or Re-bate/Re-Place. There are so many good, inexpensive improvements we could make and stretch those checks and benefit from the investment. If you do decide to replace anything, (doors,windows) please consider either recycling or taking it to ReStore. Carpet manufacturers such as Shaw Contract Group will recycle old carpet.

Here are just a few-
  • Caulk and seal any leaks (air and water)
  • Replace drafty window(s), door(s)
  • Replace incandescent bulbs with CFL's or LED's
  • Replace Toilet(s) with dual-flush toilets
  • Low flow faucets and shower-heads   
  • Get more insulation in attic
  • Have furnace cleaned and serviced.
  • Replace noisy bath fans with quiet, energy efficient fans
  • Replace old deck surfaces with recycled-content composite decking
  • Insulate basement
  • If your carpet's old and needs replacing, replace with wool or recycled-content carpets. Watch the VOC's. Better yet, replace with Forbo, engineered (and sustainably harvested) wood. Recycled-content tiles are a good choice too.
These are just a few ideas. Congress is still trying to extend the energy tax credits for home improvements from the Energy Act of 2005. See here. If extended, you may qualify for tax credits. So, let's get on the bandwagon and spend and save at the same time.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Green Education is Key!

I was fortunate to attend a green building seminar on March 5, 2008 in Traverse City, MI at Northwestern Michigan College. It was sponsored by both- 
  • the Home Builders Association of the Grand Traverse Area, Inc. A few words about the HBA. I'm not a member (so this isn't being said to promote "my" group or association) but they are really concerned about those issues that confront us as builders and consumers. They've been at the Green forefront and are leading the charge in our state. 

  • The Traverse City branch of the AIA. 
The presenter was Doug Garrett, CEM, and his expertise is HVAC. His website is here. I've been to several of these and it's really interesting how, depending on the presenters expertise, the focus of the day can change. His focus was on not only heating and cooling but Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). He talked about getting the HVAC supplier involved in the design process to size the heating and cooling equipment correctly and getting the venting equipment just right. The building is a system and every component will have an effect on the performance. Insulation type, windows/doors, even wall sheathing will affect the decisions that need to be made to get   the best total home package. He mentioned that HVAC vendors consistently oversize equipment to cover themselves so get them involved early. IAQ is so important! Allergy and asthma sufferers have suffered for years in tightly built homes that don't have the correct number of air changes per hour that are needed. "Sick building syndrome" is the moniker that describes this phenomenon. Heat Recovery ventilation and Energy Recovery ventilation are crucial for exhausting stale indoor air and introducing fresh air. The HRV picks up heat from the exhausting air and the ERV picks up the heat and humidity before the stale air exits.
He also talked about Radon and how easy it is to exhaust that. The slide show can be viewed here