Sunday, June 26, 2011

Safety Tips for the DIY Dad

With summer shortly upon us, it’s a great time to be reminded about home-reno safety. It’s the time of year when many fathers are on the cusp of getting (or getting out) tons of tools, renovation gear and outdoor products and ready to tackle home projects after being cooped up all winter. These home-reno dads (and divas too) may likely have toddlers and small children around them watching what mom and dad are doing. It’s the perfect time to set a safety precedent while they are doing their home repairs!
DIY’er are most likely making their “to do” lists – and checking it twice – ready to tackle the home and yard projects that have been put off all winter. Itching to get out the circular saw, nail gun or drill, what most DIY’ers often forget to grab is the important safety gear that should be top of mind before flicking the “on” switch or getting started on the project.
For years it’s been “drilled” into our minds to wear seat belts in the car or a helmet when on a bike ride, yet when it comes to wearing protective eye gear or ear muffs when using dangerous and loud equipment like a saw or running a compressor, weekend warriors have an invincibility attitude when it comes to home repairs.
Too many times even the simplest home project go awry, most of which could have been easily prevented with some sort of safety gear. What DIYers fail to remember is that no project is too small – it can be the smallest piece of wood that can puncture an eye, a loud sound that could damage hearing or miniscule dust particles that could affect a respiratory system.
Wh’Eye Not?
Do you like to watch the beautiful sunset? See your kids play at the park? Well, something as simple as throwing on a pair of safety glasses* can ensure a lifetime of sunsets and smiles from loved ones. From mowing the lawn to cutting baseboards your eyes are valuable – why not protect them?
Say What?
The Canadian Hard of Hearing Association says one in 10 people in Canada have some degree of hearing loss, and for people over 50, the number increases to one in five. Why increase your chances of early hearing loss simply because you didn’t want to throw in a pair of plugs or wear sound muffs*? Toss on a pair of so you can drown out the lawnmower or table saw in style!
Often home projects involve some use of toxic fumes like paint, adhesives, sawdust and other nasty particles that will weave their way into your system as you work – it’s as simple as throwing on a mask to prevent this from happening – not to mention looking super cool while you work! Become a home-renovation fashionista in your multi-purpose respirator*– ok you might look more like Darth Vader but your kids will think you are the best!
Other tips to consider when home safety is involved:
· Before you start a project prepare – know what you are going to need in terms of tools and make sure you have the appropriate safety gear on hand to compliment the project
· Remember to set an example – your kids are little sponges – show them that you care for them by caring for yourself and make it a standard to be safe
· Remember that you aren’t just a handyman doing some work around the house –you are also a sibling, friend, spouse, parent, or supervisor and those “someone’s” are counting on your safety
· Learn about the materials you are going to be using for your project, and the best way to work with them
· Make sure you concentrate and stay focused when working with tools or machinery – even a moment’s distraction could lead to harm
· Don’t get in “over your head” – if the project is too large or too complicated for your skill level, either take a course to upgrade your skills, or trust in the experts
· Don’t take your health and safety for granted; all it takes is a simple slip or error

Friday, June 24, 2011

Understanding Permits

building permit Understanding Permits
As a homeowner, you are not legally permitted to perform your own renovation work, with the exception of the electrical, but it is strongly recommended amateurs not do this as disastrous results can occur.
You are legally responsible for obtaining any building permits required. However, your renovator should look after this on your behalf, specifying which permits are required and who will get them. You will need to provide a letter of authorization before your renovator can apply for a permit for your renovation.
A reputable contractor hires licensed trades to do your work.
Any structural, heating, plumbing, electrical, gas or sprinkler changes require a building permit from the City. Avoid any contractors or designers who tell you otherwise. They must have a Building Code Identification Number to apply for a building permit.
A permit is for your protection. Permits are based on building codes to promote health and safety, and structural integrity.  Some minor cosmetic changes may not require a permit. Confirm with your renovator or check with your municipal building permit office to be sure.
When do I need a permit?
Generally, a building permit is required for renovations that involve changes to the structure or systems of your home.
Types of Permits
Whether you are building or renovating your home, there are basically five types of permits that may be required.
Building Permits
Permits may be required for many repair, renovation and addition projects in existing homes.
Renovating a Strata Lot
If you own a condominium or a townhouse, you may be subject to your strata bylaws and restrictions.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Wireless Thermostats

Hard-wired (Line voltage) connections between heating/cooling equipment and thermostats have many limitations that can now be overcome with wireless technology. Wireless thermostats add the flexibility to control the temperature in one or more locations of your choosing. They are ideal for equipment retrofits, additions, and for overall improvement in HVAC performance in new home construction. Wireless systems typically consist of the wireless thermostat (sensor) itself and a receiver. Most come with one or more remote controllers.
Wireless technology is replacing hard-wired components in almost every area of our lives. The wireless thermostat is no exception as attested to by the offerings of several manufacturers. The typical set-up includes the wireless thermostat itself plus one or more receivers and/or remotes. The receiver can be a wall mounted device connected to the equipment or it may be integrated into an AC plug controller. The systems on the market also offer variety in their configurations. For example, the basic system comes with the thermostat and a receiver. The wireless thermostat can be located anywhere in the home. More options can then be added to increase the level of control and convenience. Multiple thermostats or receivers can be added to allow control of a single HVAC system from multiple locations, or multiple pieces of equipment could be controlled from the same system (e.g., multiple window units or baseboard heating units).


Affordability The less complicated systems will operate similar to a conventional thermostat system. In either case, there will likely be initial installation cost savings, especially for retrofits.
Energy Efficiency The manufacturers claim significant savings in energy use due to better control over the system. Depending on the system you are comparing, the complexity of the system and corresponding level of control, claims of energy savings can exceed 20%.

Ease of Implementation
Wireless thermostat products are widely available through local HVAC suppliers and direct from manufacturers over the internet. The contacts below will be helpful in obtaining specific information about individual products. A search on the key words "wireless thermostat" at or another internet search engine will yield numerous additional contacts.
The main limitations with wireless thermostats appear to be on the user side. Homeowners will need to become accustomed to periodic replacement of batteries. Likewise, some of the set-up programming may be intimidating to users.

Initial Cost   Less than comparable products
The cost of wireless thermostat systems varies by system and the desired level of control and convenience. Several of the basic systems with one remote and one receiver, used in much the same way as a conventional thermostat (controlling the entire home or one zone from one location), retail from just over $200. As more control (number of zone, remotes, or pieces of equipment) is added, the systems quickly become much more expensive.

Operational Cost   Greater than comparable products
Unlike line voltage thermostats, periodic replacement of batteries is an added cost of wireless thermostats. Types of batteries vary by manufacturer. Two "AA" lithium batteries used to power several of the thermostats have a life of six to 12 months and cost about $7 a pair retail. At least one system has an optional plug adapter to eliminate the battery requirements, although this feature reduces the flexibility of the system by limiting the locations for installation.

U.S.Code Acceptance
Any wiring of low-voltage receivers should meet the National Electric Code or other appropriate code requirements. Likewise, plug-in devices should be listed by a code-approved organization. These requirements are similar to those for standard-line-voltage thermostats. However, the wireless feature introduces some Federal requirements. Wireless thermostats on the market are required to list that they comply with FCC Rules under Part 15.

Field Evaluations
Not Applicable

The installation of a wireless thermostat depends on the complexity of the equipment and the desired level of convenience. In a very basic retrofit installation of a central heating/cooling system, a receiver can be wired directly to existing wiring from a line-voltage thermostat. The wireless thermostat can then be placed anywhere in the building and is easily wall mounted with screws. With some systems, the wireless thermostat does not need to be mounted at all. It can be placed near your bed, on a table, or in any location of your choosing. Control of window units or baseboard units can be accomplished through plug controls offered by various manufacturers. For new homes with a central furnace or AC unit, a receiver is typically located in the utility room and wired to the equipment.
Control of multiple pieces of equipment or temperature control from multiple locations usually only requires wall mounting of additional wireless thermostats or insertion of plug controls. In these cases, the most complicated part of the installation is the programming to set up the system for operation, not the physical installation of the receivers and sensor units (thermostats).

Warranties are anywhere from 1 to 5 years depending on manufacturer.

The convenience of installing a system with wiring behind the walls is one the largest benefits of this technology. Another is the flexibility to place the thermostat in any number of locations. A third benefit is the ability to add higher levels of control without much effort. The manufacturers also claim significant savings in energy use due to better control over the system. Depending on the system you are comparing, the complexity of the system and corresponding level of control, claims of energy savings can exceed 20%. The less complicated systems will operate similar to a conventional thermostat system. In either case, there will likely be initial installation cost savings, especially for retrofits.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fed Chief Says Depressed Housing Slowing Economic Recovery

Someone in Washington seems to have noticed the connection between housing and the disappointing performance of the U.S. economy.
In a recent speech, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke noted that “the depressed state of housing in the United States is a big reason that the current recovery is less vigorous than we would like.”
These remarks were made as the economy stumbled into another “soft patch,” unable to maintain the momentum that appeared to be building at the end of 2010. Economic activity has been weaker than expected this year, with housing, at best, “bouncing along the bottom.”
One of the bright spots since the beginning of the year, the labor market lost momentum in May, with a big falloff in job growth and the unemployment rate edging up.
Surprisingly, residential construction added jobs in May, stemming from an increase in home improvement and maintenance, sectors that also supported an increase in residential construction spending despite further declines in single-family and multifamily construction spending.
Falling house prices — a major factor behind weak housing demand and housing production over the past 12 months — remained a problem in the first quarter of 2011, with Case-Shiller house price indexes sinking to new lows; 12 of the 20 cities in the Composite 20 index fell to their lowest levels yet in the current housing cycle.
Housing and the economy face more hurdles in the months ahead with the second round of quantitative easing set to end at the end of June and lower GSE (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) and FHA loan limits scheduled for the start of October. Both are likely to further depress the housing market by increasing the cost of mortgage financing and putting additional downward pressure on house prices.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Housing Starts Gain 3.5 Percent in May

Nationwide housing starts rose 3.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 560,000 units in May, according to newly released figures from the U.S. Commerce Department. The gain partially offsets a larger decline that was registered in April.
"While the upward movement registered in today's report is somewhat good news, housing production continues to bounce along the bottom near historic lows, and is only running at a level necessary to replace dilapidated or destroyed units," said Bob Nielsen, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from Reno, Nev. He also noted that "Amidst this fragile marketplace, the nation's policymakers should be aware of a recent poll that confirms the strong value that most American voters continue to place on homeownership and housing choice."
Conducted this May on behalf of NAHB by Public Opinion Strategies of Alexandria, Va., and Lake Research Partners of Washington, D.C., the poll asked 2,000 likely voters about their attitudes on homeownership and housing policy. It found that the vast majority of current home owners are happy with their decision to own a home and believe that owning their own home is important, while nearly three-quarters of those who do not now own a home consider it a goal of theirs to eventually buy one. Additionally, the poll determined that 73 percent of owners and renters believe the federal government should provide tax incentives to promote homeownership. Details on this poll are available at
"Like consumers, builders remain very concerned about the pace of economic growth and are awaiting signs of improvement before moving forward with new projects," noted NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "The relative bright spot in new-home construction is on the multifamily side, where improving demand for rental apartments is spurring gains in that sector. However, access to construction credit remains a limiting factor for new building."
Single-family housing starts rose 3.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 419,000 units in May – their strongest pace since this January. Multifamily starts rose 2.9 percent to a 141,000-unit rate in May.
Regionally, housing production rose 1.5 percent in the South and 18.1 percent in the West, but declined 3.3 percent in the Northeast and 4.1 percent in the Midwest in May.
Issuance of building permits, which can be an indicator of future building activity, rose 8.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 612,000 units in May. This was the strongest pace since December of 2010. Single-family permits were up 2.5 percent to a 405,000-unit rate, while multifamily permits rose 23.2 percent to 207,000-units – their best pace since October of 2008.
Permit issuance posted double-digit gains in the Northeast and West in May, rising 35.6 percent and 15.1 percent, respectively. The South also posted a gain, of 3.5 percent, while the Midwest registered a 1.1 percent decline.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Programmable Thermostats

Programmable thermostats save energy by permitting occupants to set temperatures according to whether the house is occupied. These thermostats can automatically store and repeat settings daily with allowance for manual override. By eliminating manual setback, which is easy to forget, they allow the setting of more comfortable temperatures in the morning before occupants wake. Temperature setback can be adjusted for both heating and cooling seasons.
Programmable thermostats can be set to adjust the temperature setting according to a user's schedule. These thermostats typically have a digital interface that allows more precise temperature control and a wider range of options or features.
Programmable thermostats typically offer a number of programming options:
  • Daily programming that allows one schedule to be used each day.
  • Weekday/Weekend (5/2) programming that allows adjustment of timing for setbacks with different settings for weekdays and weekends, and with 5/1/1 programming that permits separate schedules for Saturday and Sunday.
  • Full seven-day programming that permits a different setback schedule for each day of the week.
Other special features depend on manufacturer and model and may include the following:
  • Vacation Override, which allows temporary override of the programmed settings.
  • Keyboard Lock, which prevents unauthorized changes to the preprogrammed settings.
  • Low Battery Indicator indicates whether the battery used to hold the programmed schedule is low.
  • An Energy Monitor that can keep track of how many hours the HVAC system has run for any selected time period.
  • An Auto Season Changeover that automatically provides heat or cooling at the onset of the heating and cooling season.
  • A Filter Change Indicator that goes on after a pre-set time period to remind when it is time to clean or replace the filter.
Different types of heating/cooling systems may require different types of programmable thermostats. For example, heat pumps require programmable thermostats that minimize the use of less efficient auxiliary electric resistance heating. Only a few companies manufacture line-voltage setback thermostats that directly control 120 volt or 240 volt line-voltage circuits connected to electric baseboard electric heaters. When purchasing a programmable thermostat, it is necessary to insure the thermostat is compatible with the HVAC system.

Affordability While some thermostats can appraoch $300, the money saved can offset the initial cost of the thermostat over a year or two's time.
Energy Efficiency By allowing the homeowner to program a schedule, these thermostats turn off the HVAC systems when they are not needed. This reduces the energy consumption of the home by not conditioning the house when it is not needed.
Environmental Performance In addition to saving energy, ventilation can be programmed into the thermostat's setings to provide fresh air to the house at important times.

Programmable thermostats are readily available from various HVAC contractors/suppliers and home centers. The EPA maintains a list of ENERGY STAR® labeled programmable thermostats.
In order to receive the ENERGY STAR® label, thermostats must have at least two programs (one for weekdays and one for weekends), four temperature settings (two "normal" settings and two set-back settings for each day), a hold feature that allows users to temporarily override settings, and the ability to maintain room temperature with 2°F of desired temperature.

The cost of programmable thermostats varies from $30 to as much as $250 or more, depending on the desired features. Models designed for heat pumps are more expensive due to the need for two stage heating.

Not Applicable

Utility companies or government agencies in some areas may provide incentives or rebates for installing programmable thermostats.

The technology "Programmable Thermostats" has been evaluated by PATH. The hyperlink for the field evaluation is listed below:

The installation of most programmable thermostats is relatively safe and simple because they are connected to low-voltage wiring, but may become complicated if such wiring does not already exist. Only qualified electricians or HVAC contractors should install line-voltage programmable thermostats for electric baseboard heaters because the wiring carries higher voltages.

Programmable thermostats typically come with a 1 year limted warranty. However, Honeywell offers 5 year warranties for thermostats that must be installed by a professional.

Energy savings depend upon the extent of daily variation in local temperatures and the setback settings. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates, however, that cost savings of approximately 10 percent per year are possible for heating and cooling by setting temperatures back to ten to 15 percent of the comfort level eight hours each day. Electronic-programmable thermostats are far more accurate than older, manually programmed thermostats, and provide better control and comfort. For example, manually set thermostats might allow temperature variations of up to five degrees, while newer electronic thermostats are generally accurate to within a one degree.
Limitations on use vary according to HVAC system type. For example, turning the heating temperature back in heat pumps will often cause the auxiliary electric resistance heating to turn on, defeating any potential energy gains. The digital interface for some electronic thermostats can be somewhat complicated to program, although manufacturers are making programming easier.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Most clients have difficulty visualizing how their remodeled space might feel so Mike Beganyi, a Burlington, Vt.–based designer and consultant, began using a free online program to help him share 3-D models with clients.
In his nearly seven years of presenting work to homeowners via the Web, Beganyi has found that not everyone wants to load a 3-D modeling program, nor do they have the technical know-how to get around in new software. The solution: He exports the model as a 3-D PDF. “Ninety percent of most newer computers have some form of PDF reader installed — which means most folks can open these drawings with basic computer knowledge,” he says.
Beganyi develops a 3-D model of a project by roughing out rooflines, windows, doors, and structural components using AutoCAD and Google SketchUp. SketchUp allows him to shade the model and present the client with what he calls “soft and sketchy” drawings that “take the hard edge off the typical 2-D paper printed plans that most folks have a hard time reading.” To share these models with clients Beganyi uses a plug-in ( with SketchUp to generate the 3-D PDF.
He sends clients instructions so they can wander through their project virtually and usually “walks” with them over the phone. Using a mouse, clients can turn the image to get a sense of what it might be like to move through rooms, and designers can save specific views to a pull-down tab for easy navigation. Design changes can be highlighted or annotated and you can click on areas to take 3-D measurements.
Not only is it “a great way to communicate design intent,” Beganyi says, but “the clearer the picture a client has of the project, the easier it is for them to make an educated decision about the design, costs, and overall process.”

Good Word


Carpet cleaning companies, gyms, and cable companies do it. Even your dentist does it: $25 off the price of your next teeth cleaning for each new patient you refer.
Five years ago, it might not have mattered if you rewarded those who refer you, says Beverly Koehn, author of Loyalty is Love, a book on customer satisfaction in residential construction. Today, she says, you need to give them a reason to want to. “It’s not their job to build your business,” Koehn says. “If you do an exceptional job and ask, you’ll get referrals. But if you just do an exceptional job and never make the effort [to ask for referrals], you may get some but not many.”
What you’re asking for is a favor, and a reward acknowledges the favor. What the reward consists of depends on you, your company, its resources, your clients, and what you’re comfortable with. Whatever the incentive, it should be consistent.
It takes work to create a system and work to sustain it. But the experience of many contractors shows that a well-designed and consistently managed system regularly yields leads. And the more referral business you get, the less you’ll need to spend on your overall marketing.

[Step 1]



Before you put your program together, a few essentials must be in place: a database of past customers with contact information and some assurance that the work your company does is so consistently good that just about every client would want to recommend you.
Close out every job with a customer satisfaction survey that ends with a question about whether or not the client would use your company again or would recommend you to others. Make someone — a marketing manager, office manager, or you the owner — accountable for managing your referral system.
Key to success: Track clients who refer and the outcome of those referrals (Lead? Appointment? Sale?) as well as rewards issued.

[Step 2] 

Size matters


Are you rewarding clients who provide you with a customer contact (lead), an appointment, a sale, or a job that’s officially closed out? Size matters. If your business model calls for lots of small jobs — say window or roof replacement or handyman work — and you have others selling for you, you may want to reward just for leads.
Mark Kaufman, of Mark Kaufman Roofing, in Englewood, Fla., issues $50 gift certificates to clients who refer new business, regardless of whether or not those prospects buy. “It’s up to me whether or not I sell it,” Kaufman says. “And I want them to keep referring me.”
“You can have customers, you can have clients, or you can have advocates. In today’s economy, you need advocates.” —Steve Rennekamp, owner, EnergySwing Windows
On the other hand, if you’re a full-service remodeler or design/build company set up for big multi-trade projects, you’re not looking for hundreds of leads but for a handful of high-quality prospects. Rewarding for jobs that are actually sold will help ensure that clients steer that kind of lead your way.
Key to success: Set a target in leads or in percentage of revenue, and a time for achieving that goal.

[Step 3]

Something suitable


Cash, check, gift cards, gift baskets, baseball tickets, restaurant vouchers — remodeling companies reward in many ways. Remember that beyond saying thanks, the goal is to motivate clients to refer again. The point is not to just give something away but to create a feeling.
You can increase the likelihood that people will talk you up by making the reward something memorable that clients wouldn’t ordinarily buy or do on their own. Jackson Design & Remodeling, in San Diego, rewards not leads but appointments, and offers clients who refer the company a multi-tiered “Client Adventures Program.” Accessible by password through the company website, program rewards include balloon rides or a limousine tour of the California wine country. The program “solidifies the relationship,” JDR marketing director Coco Harper says.
Ed Cholfin, of House Doctor, in Atlanta, advises a gift that “shows you’re thinking of the client on an individual basis.” As a thank you for the large job they referred, he sent a couple fond of golfing to the well-known golf resort Reynolds Plantation, in Greensboro, Ga.
Key to success: Personalize the reward with a note or a follow-up phone call.

[Step 4]

Broadcast it


Standard industry practice is to discuss referral rewards when the job is closed out. That’s the optimum time — when excitement and enthusiasm are at a pitch — but not the only one. Bob Sturgeon, at Westside Remodeling, in Thousand Oaks, Calif., talks referral before, during, and acknowledges referrals with movie tickets or a Starbucks card, more if a job results.
A good reward system should make you and your company top-of-mind to any client who knows anyone interested in remodeling. The more you publicize it, the more likely clients are to refer. All Pro Builders, of Fullerton, Calif., discusses its referral reward program in a thank-you letter to clients when the job is closed out, regularly mentions it in an e-newsletter and on its website, reminds yet again in a leave-behind packet, and spells it all out on a special business-card–size card distributed at networking functions, according to vice president Lisa Paniagua.
George Cleary, owner of The Cleary Co., in Columbus, Ohio, announces it from the get-go: “I tell people in my sales presentation: ‘I guarantee you somebody you know is going to become a client of ours,’” and 88% of the time, they do.
Key to success: Make your reward program part of the ongoing customer conversation.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

California’s Complicated New Code

California’s newly adopted green building code will have a direct impact on home building in the state, affecting energy details, plumbing, ventilation, and management of the construction sequence. But for home builders, figuring out just what the code requires could be complicated.
How complicated? Here’s one indication: When the state’s Building Standards Commission posted a draft of the new code on its Web site, they color-coded the PDF document in seven colors: black, green, yellow, violet, blue, orange, and brown.
That’s because the new green standard is a combined code that modifies the regulations administered by five different state agencies. The rainbow-like online presentation is meant to help citizens sort out which parts of the code belong to which agency (or agencies) and which sectors of the construction industry the language affects.
(“What’s interesting is that they can only do that online,” muses Justin Dunning, program coordinator for California Green Builder (CGB), a voluntary certification program founded by the state builders group. “They don’t print the hard copies of the code in color—they print them in black and white.”)
As Dunning notes, only part of the new code is mandatory. Other parts are scheduled to switch from mandatory to voluntary in future years, while additional provisions will stay voluntary indefinitely, as the state considers whether to make them mandatory. In any case, only part of the code—the sections adopted by the state department of Housing and Community Development—will apply to home builders. As it happens, however, all those residential parts are mandatory—although they won’t all take effect at once, or even at the same time.
So how do builders locate the sections that apply to them? “The orange wording is the part that is specific to housing. And the best way I have found to read the code is to look for the checklists at the back. The HCD checklist [adopted by the state Department of Housing and Community Development] is basically the residential component,” Dunning says.
Here are a few of the big changes builders will have to make.
Water Conservation. The new code aims to cut indoor water consumption (which does not include landscape irrigation) by 20 percent. “They’re doing that through the fixtures,” says Dunning. “Basically, if you take all the fixtures and reduce the flow rate by 20 percent, that reduces the inside water use by 20 percent … For a three-bedroom house, that is going to save about 10,000 gallons of water per year.” This adds up to less than the 20,000-gallon reduction over existing code required in the California Green Builder program, Dunning notes, but the CGB program includes outdoor water use. (CGB builders achieve their outdoor savings by reducing the area devoted to lawns or water-loving plants, emphasizing naturally drought-tolerant plantings, and installing high-tech irrigation controls that respond to natural moisture conditions.)
Energy Conservation. As far as homes are concerned, the new green code amounts to adopting the next version of the California Building Energy Efficiency Standards, the state’s energy code, which updates in July 2009. “Depending on where you are in the state, that will represent a 15 percent to 20 percent increase in stringency over the old code,” says Dunning. This is mostly the result of a change in window heat transmission values, or “U values” required. (The default window U-value will drop from .56 to .40.).
Waste Management. Under the new code, builders will have to ensure that at least 50 percent of the scrap and waste material generated on site is diverted from landfills and recycled or re-used.
Indoor Air Quality. The new code requires exhaust ventilation fans for every bathroom and high-efficiency filters on all air-duct systems. In addition, it lowers the allowable volatile organic compound (VOC) content for interior finishes, sealants, and carpet, as well as the formaldehyde emissions from composite products such as particleboard.
Construction Moisture Control. To keep mold and mildew at bay, the new rule requires vapor barriers under foundation slabs, and it requires builders to ensure that framing lumber is drier than 18 percent moisture content before installing drywall.
Air-Sealing Details. Joints and openings that might allow uncontrolled airflow between building interiors and the outdoors or attic, such as window edges, duct registers, or penetrations for plumbing, wiring, and gas piping, must be effectively sealed against air movement.
Site Design. All projects—even on small scattered sites of less than one acre—must implement measures to control erosion and manage stormwater runoff.
Homeowner Education. A maintenance and operation manual must be provided as guidance for building occupants.
How much will this cost builders—and home buyers? Experience gleaned from voluntary programs may be helpful.
 “For a builder who is building to today’s code—not the new green code, but existing baseline code—to get up to what the California Green Building program requires, costs on average about $2,700 per house. More than half of that is the energy efficiency portion,” says Dunning. The most costly change in the new code for many builders, he says, will probably be the low-flow toilets: “You’re looking at about a $250 premium to go from 1.6 gallon-per-flush to 1.2 gallon-per-flush.” Tighter VOC requirements will involve little cost, according to Dunning. (The new lower standards are already in effect in Southern California, where smog problems have led to strict controls). Complying with moisture control measures is largely a matter of keeping lumber covered during construction, although during the state’s brief winter rains, the new rules may cause some schedule delays. As for waste management, says Dunning, most waste haulers in the state already provide recycling or salvage for 75 percent of the waste stream or better, exceeding the 50 percent code minimum.
In the end, says Dunning, the management challenge may be the industry’s biggest hurdle: “The hardest part may just be for builders to make sure that all this stuff is getting done correctly on site.”
But the increased attention to detail may also be the source of the greatest long-term benefit, he says. “The more that the curtain is pulled back and builders can see that hey, this stuff really isn’t that hard to do — then maybe you start getting them to ask, ‘Well, what else can I do that is easy, that might give me a marketing edge?’” Dunning says. “I think the raising of the awareness within the home building community is probably the biggest impact this green building code is going to have.”

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Energy Efficiency in Remodeling: House Air Leakage


All homes, through various connections to the outside, allow some amount of air leakage. The air exchange rate is highly variable from house to house, and within a given house, depending on construction details, environmental forces (wind and air temperature), and the use of exhaust fans, dryers, etc. Homes must have some minimum amount of air exchange in order provide oxygen for people and appliances, control humidity, eliminate odors, etc. While some homes experience problems due to insufficient air exchange, most homes leak more than necessary most of the time. Very few homes have the ability to truly control ventilation rates, which is only possible with a very tight house and some form of mechanical ventilation such as exhaust fans or heat recovery ventilators.
Older houses, in particular, tend to be very leaky. While the rate of air leakage can vary greatly, it is not unusual for all the air in older homes to be replaced once each hour. ASHRAE Standard 62.2 recommends a minimum ventilation rate of 1 cfm per 100 sq. ft. of floor space, plus 7.5 cfm per bedroom, plue one bedroom. For example, for a 2,500 sq. ft. home with three bedrooms, it would be (2500/100)+(7.5*4) = 55 cfm fresh air. Very energy efficient today may have leakage rates as low as 0.05 natural air changes per hour, using controlled mechanical ventilation to ensure occupant health and comfort.


Reducing air leakage from the house envelope and ductwork is typically among the most significant improvements that can be made to reduce energy use, as well as improve comfort, health, and building durability. In winter, less cold, outdoor air would replace heated air, reducing drafts and cold areas. In summer, more hot, humid air would be kept out of the house. Pollen, dust, and radon entry can be reduced. The potential for structural damage resulting from moisture being carried into walls or attics with leaking air would be decreased. Another potential benefit associated with reducing air leakage, as with most other upgrades such as improved insulation or windows, is the ability to downsize heating and cooling equipment when it is replaced.

Factors to Consider

One factor to consider is the ultimate level of tightness desired. With more extensive air sealing, some form of mechanical ventilation may become necessary. A general rule is that exterior-vented bathroom and kitchen fans, equipped with timers, can provide adequate ventilation for homes with 0.20 to 0.35 natural air changes per hour. Mechanical ventilation provides location-specific control of moisture and odors and lower energy use. However, this approach is more expensive initially due to the additional time and material needed to tighten the house and the cost of any exhaust fans or heat recovery ventilators.
The present leakage rate of the house may also affect your decision to implement any air sealing. Obviously, the more leaky a given house, the greater the potential benefits.

Installation Issues

Ventilation - Ensuring adequate house ventilation is important. A blower door can be used to determine if a particular house meets the standard(s) mentioned above for average air leakage/ventilation rates while also ensuring it is reasonably tight to minimize energy use.
Typical leak locations - Building air leakage typically occurs at several common locations. Penetrations through the ceiling plane, for ducts, pipes, chimneys, etc., are common and are the most important holes to seal as they tend to be relatively large and the stack effect ("hot air rising") tends to drive air out of the top of the house. For homes with naturally-drafted combustion appliances, air leakage from these holes may cause backdrafting. Other typical leakage locations are around windows and doors, at the bottom of walls where they meet the floor, and the first floor/foundation wall joints.

Related Issues

Moisture - Moisture is produced by a number of sources including cooking, bathing, plant respiration, human activity, and combustion within the living space. When a home is tightened, the average level of moisture (humidity) in the home almost always increases. Controlling sources of moisture can be critical in a tight home to prevent condensation on windows, and within walls during cold weather. Sources of excess moisture may be the result of any of the following:
  • Rainwater - check condition of roof, siding, caulking, gutters and downspouts, drainage of water away from home.
  • Plumbing leaks.
  • Cooking and Bathing - are there properly vented exhaust fans that can be used during, and up to 30 minutes after, cooking and bathing?
  • Clothes drying - is the dryer vented to the outdoors?
Venting/Drafting - Proper drafting of combustion appliances is an important health and safety issue. Drafting patterns can be greatly affected by air sealing. To verify proper drafting, tests can be performed which simulate worst-case house depressurization. These tests generally involve turning on exhaust fans, opening and closing interior doors, and operating combustion appliances in various combinations to determine if and when backdrafting occurs.

Material Options and Testing

Reduction of leaks in a house involves sealing holes and cracks with a variety of materials including caulk, expanding foam, and sheet metal or other sheet materials (plywood, foam). Densely installed insulation can also be effective in reducing air leakage through walls and ceilings. In new construction, or retrofit where framing is exposed, polyethylene can be installed as an air and vapor barrier. With proper installation, drywall and housewraps (such as Tyvek or Typar) can act as a good air (not vapor) barriers.
Equipment is available that allows us to measure the leakiness of buildings and ductwork, as well as locate the source of leaks. Called blower doors and duct blowers, these pieces of equipment pressurize or depressurize houses and duct systems, allowing measurement of air leakage and identification of specific leakage sites.
A number of other tests can also be performed using this and related equipment. These include testing for proper flow of "return" air, proper operation of exhaust fans, and proper drafting of combustion appliances. This last test is very important, as backdrafting of gas- and oil-fired furnaces, boilers, and water heaters can pose a serious health risk, and is more likely in tight houses.
These tests can usually be performed in 2-4 hours and are completely non-destructive. Observing some of these tests can be very interesting and informative. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that you be present to observe these tests if they are performed.

Remodeling Scenarios

Existing Homes

Consider having air leakage testing performed early in a remodeling project. The results of the tests may help you decide what approaches to take in regard to wall retrofit, window replacement, and duct improvements. Decisions on the need for, and sizing of, new heating or cooling equipment may be affected by the results of leakage tests and any air sealing work subsequently performed. If testing is performed by a contractor offering air sealing services, the air sealing can be performed at the same time as the testing. Strongly consider having air leakage-related tests performed after sealing the house or ductwork, especially tests for proper drafting of combustion appliances.

New Construction

Compared to retrofit methods, reducing air leakage is much easier in new construction. If you are adding any new rooms to the house, you should consider including some special air leakage detailing. This detailing is easy to do and adds minimal first cost, while saving energy, increasing comfort, an extending the life of the house.
Sealing all horizontal and vertical construction joints, such as where two exterior walls meet or where a wall sits on a floor, should be considered standard practice.

Firm Launches Calif. Land Bank Program to Assist Home Builders

Greencrossing Real Estate Cos., LLC, founded and operated by two former Lennar executives, is aggressively seeking homebuilders that want to “land bank” lots in California. 
Land banking was a popular way for builders to take down lots held by a third-party during the run-up of the last cycle, but the practice largely disappeared in the wake of the worst real estate downturn since the Great Depression. 
Now, Greencrossing, based in Aliso Viejo, Calif., and headed by Tom Banks and Jason Perrin – who have more than 40 combined years of experience in real estate and together have acquired, entitled and developed more than 20,000 lots – is one of the first companies in the aftermath of the housing crisis to create a fund to land-bank properties on behalf of builders. 
“Now is the ideal time for builders who want to buy finished and partially finished lots to meet expected housing demand, but don’t want a large initial cash outlay,” said Perrin. “By participating in our land bank program, builders improve their balance sheets by keeping the land and horizontal improvements off their books until they need it with an option purchase agreement.” 
Greencrossing is looking to place up to $60 million in land banking deals over the next 12 months. The fund is primarily targeting mid-sized to large private builders and all public builders planning to construct homes in desirable California markets. 
“Everyone is aware by now that the land market in key areas of California has heated up over the past year – prices are rising and competition is fierce, especially for finished or blue-top lots,” Banks said. “If you’re a home builder with your eye on a particular piece of property, our program can provide the financial flexibility that works for your company.” 
Typically, Greencrossing’s program targets deals with 100 single-family lots or less and the property should be in some sort of a developed state. The projected peak capital including land plus horizontal improvements, excluding impact fees, typically would be between $5 million and $15 million per deal.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

If you’re building your houses to high-performance standards, the last thing you want to do is overlook the little things. The proper ventilation of the bathroom is one of them.
Because homes are so tight these days, moisture and odor in the bathroom will linger unless you remove them. “A properly installed bathroom exhaust fan will rid the bathroom air of excess moisture, humidity, odors, and other pollutants,” says the Wauconda, Ill.–based Home Ventilating Institute (HVI), a nonprofit association of ventilating product manufacturers. “It also helps to remove water vapor that has accumulated on mirrors and walls.”
Everyone can agree that venting the bath is a good idea. The question, however, is how to do it correctly. There’s more to it than you might think.
First, you must choose the right size exhaust fan. At a minimum, the fan should be rated to move 1 cubic foot of air per minute (CFM) for every square foot of space. For bathrooms larger than 100 square feet, HVI suggests CFM ventilation rates based on the number and type of fixtures in the bathroom: 50 for a toilet, 50 for a shower, 50 for a bathtub, 100 for a whirlpool.
Placement of the fan also is a big consideration. Fans should be located over or near the shower or tub and in an enclosed toilet, HVI advises. “With windows closed, exhausted air will be replaced by makeup air from adjacent rooms or forced air system registers,” HVI notes on its Web site, adding that exhaust points should be “located away from the supply, thereby pulling the supply air through the room.” In addition, bathroom doors need to have at least a ¾-inch clearance from the floor to allow makeup air to enter. Spaces with ceilings measuring more than 8 feet may require additional ventilation.
Lastly, fans should remain on for 20 minutes after use of the bathroom, though home buyers seldom do this. For this reason, manufacturers such as Secaucus, N.J.–based Panasonic and Hartford, Wis.–based Broan-NuTone are offering products that automatically activate either through moisture sensing or motion detection so homeowners will not have to worry about it. Follow these steps and your baths will remain fresh and moisture-free for years to come.

Step Outside: Unlike most vent fans, the motor for the PBW110H mounts on an exterior wall, so homeowners will not hear the unit when it’s activated. It features insulated flex duct and uses either a 50-watt halogen or a 14-watt compact fluorescent light. The unit is rated at 110 CFM, and the housing measures 5 1/2 inches. Fantech. 800-747-1762. /


Silent Whispers: WhisperGreen is outfitted with a SmartAction motion sensor that knows when a person enters the bath and elevates the fan to its full power of 80 CFMs. When the person leaves, the fan returns to a lower power level after a predetermined time, which is set by the homeowner. Fans can be equipped with light and nightlight features. Panasonic Home and Environment Co. 866-292-7292.

Sense and Sensibility: SmartSense is an ingenious ventilation system that connects all of the company’s Ultra Silent fans installed throughout the home. A master control monitors the manual usage of the fans and automatically activates and adjusts the units to achieve optimal ventilation. Fans are available at 0.3 and 0.7 sones and are rated at 80 and 110 CFMs. Broan-NuTone. 800-558-1711.

Friday, May 20, 2011


As a part of its commitment to assisting and educating building professionals, Panasonic Home & Environment Company has launched a new online resource specifically targeted to Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) distributors and contractors. The new site,, provides resources and information about Panasonic ventilation fans that meet various green building standards and improve overall indoor air quality – issues relevant to HVAC professionals.

“The demand for airtight constructions has made the HVAC’s role in building indoor environments even more critical,” said Anita So, Marketing Specialist, Panasonic Home & Environment Company. “By providing an online tool that gives the HVAC professionals an easy-to-use and immediate overview of Panasonic’s ventilation solutions – we hope to help them meet new indoor air quality standards and grow their business.”

Select Panasonic ventilation fans, such as the company’s flagship WhisperGreen models, are ENERGY STAR® rated, Home Ventilating Institute (HVI) certified and ideal for complying with ASHRAE Standard 62.2, which is the ventilation platform adopted by LEED for Homes, ENERGY STAR Indoor Air Quality Program, and California Title 24.

For more information on Panasonic ventilation products, please visit:

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Poor communication is a root cause of customer dissatisfaction

A few years ago during the height of remodeling fever, when a customer would report low satisfaction with his or her remodeler it was most likely due to communication, scheduling, and punchlist issues. “Since 2007, those same three areas correlate most strongly with an unhappy customer, though schedule has fallen to the third spot and problem resolution [which closely relates to communication] has risen to the first,” says Geoff Graham, CEO of GuildQuality, a customer survey organization whose clients include nearly 600 builders and remodelers.
Graham analyzed 10,000 customer satisfaction surveys from 2003 to 2006 and has reviewed about 6,000 surveys since 2007. Ten different reasons for customer dissatisfaction were ranked (see list below). While communication and scheduling, in particular, would seem to be obvious stress points, it’s surprising how many remodelers lack processes and procedures dedicated to those two areas.

Regular Check-In

Graham correlated that about one out of every five businesses that deliver a poor customer experience — those with a recommendation rate below 80% — fail, whereas just one out of 50 superior performers fail. “Said another way,” notes Graham in a recent blog, “superior service providers are [10 times] more likely to stay in business than poor performers.”
To remain on top, remodelers such as Peter Michelson, CEO of Renewal Design Build, in Decatur, Ga., and a GuildQuality client, says that consistency from the first sales call to the end of the punchlist is key. The company’s design team makes an appointment and follows up with a posted letter and an e-mail. During the design process, there are a lot of regular check-ins. “We don’t want people going a whole week without hearing from us,” Michelson says.
When remodeling clients are under contract but have not yet broken ground on their project, Renewal Design Build gives clients its “expectations book,” which describes the company’s communication process. Finally, during the project, the project manager sends weekly e-mails of what happened and what’s ahead. “You can never overcommunicate,” Michelson says.