Archive for the ‘Construction Journal’ Category

Introducing IntelliStructures Blog


Dear All,

Since the Arlington Passivhaus is now at an end.  We will be moving our new content to a new blog for IntelliStructures Inc.

If you enjoyed what we wrote about here, please visit us here for discussions on Passivhaus, high performance enclosures, SIPs structures and more.

Thanks for reading!

Roger

We are keeping it!


Okay, I admit getting emotionally attached to a house is not a great thing for a builder.  Let me just lay out other perfectly logical reasons for keeping it.

Value

Looking at this home from an investment perspective, we should keep it.  Columbia Pike is undergoing some very serious changes as we speak.  We talked about some of this in a previous post http://arlingtonpassivehouse.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/barcroft-and-columbia-pike/.  Changes are already underway, the Columbia Pike Documentary Project  http://cpdpcolumbiapike.blogspot.com/ has been doing a great job documenting the changes along the corridor for years.  We think that recent developments will really add to the value of properties in the area.

During the early hours of July 24, after a marathon of a board meeting, the Arlington County Board approved two very important initiatives.  First, the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Area Plan http://www.columbiapikeva.us/revitalization-story/columbia-pike-land-use-housing-study/ and second, the County accepted a modern fixed-rail street car as the preferred mode of public transportation through the Pike Transit Initiative http://www.piketransit.com/.  Revitalization of the area has been underway for quite some time and there are already several large scale mixed-use developments along the pike.  However, without an adequate public transportation system and a good plan designed for transit-oriented growth, I feared that the Pike was just going to be a congested road with expensive stores on the two sides.  With these two initiatives in place, the future of Columbia Pike is bright.  The Neighborhood plan would allow for higher-density development along the corridor while the street car system will give this corridor an opportunity to enjoy “smart growth” development, creating walkable mixed-use neighborhoods.  I think that is very smart and have faith in what is to come on the corridor.

The Arlington Passivhaus benefits by being only four blocks away from the pike, giving whoever lives here the connectivity to all the good things a mixed-used community has to offer while still enjoy the single family home, the 2-car garage, the garden and the immediate neighborhood.

More to Learn

In the past two years,  we learned so much from designing and building of this home.  It’s really only been operational for a little more than a month.  There is still a lot to learn about this house as an operating home.  I think anyone who has built or lived in a PH can tell you, it just behaves so differently from a typical home.  I believe there are plenty of things to improve upon for our next project but we need more information.  Short of moving in ourselves, leasing it out to a family of four is the next best thing for us to know how the home functions.  We’ll also be able to visit our baby from time to time.

We officially took the home off the market on Friday and signed a leasing contract with a very nice family of four.

Signing off for now…

Here’s a video that takes the project from the beginning to end, a sort of birthing story of this brand new home that we hope will be here for a long long time.

 

On Market!


With a slightly heavy heart, we are here to announce that the Arlington Passivhaus is on the market.  The blog will continue because we are still going to be testing and monitoring this home’s performance while the home is on the market and will continue to report our findings.

We will also continue to hold tours for anyone who is interested in learning about the Passivhaus and how to actually build one.

This is not the “end of an era” but we want to drop a quick “Thank You” to all our readers, advisors, advocates, neighbors, friends, family, the Arlington County, the Passiv House community and everyone who had a role in making this project possible for their support up to now.  We will continue to need it as we move forward.

Here’s our virtual tour slide show http://slideshow.mris.com/slideshow/slideshow.htm?ListingKey=97644934782

See here for the full listing http://mrislistings.mris.com/DE.asp?k=2642483X57T5&p=DE-170125771-38

Here’s D.C. Curbed’s article on our house http://dc.curbed.com/archives/2012/06/arlingtons-first-passive-house-officially-on-the-market.php

Oh! Almost forgot.  OPEN HOUSE this Saturday (6/16) 1-4pm

4616 8th Street S., Arlington VA 22204

Sneak Preview


The landscaping is almost complete.  We are almost done inside too.  Eric and I are seriously having mixed feelings.  We are relieved that this home is built but at the same time, we are getting really attached to it….  Well, it’s almost time to let it go.  We plan to put it on the market next week and have our official Open House on Saturday June 16th from 1-4pm, so if you are in the area, be sure to stop by.

Here’s a sneak preview and some highlights of our landscaping.

Front View

Front view 2

Our extensive landscaping, carefully designed and installed by Scott Brinitzer and his team really help accentuate the modern design of the home.  The trees soften the hard/straight lines of house while the hardscape reinforces the orientation of the different parts of the building.  Using little bamboo plants and sedums as ground cover, he created connections with the extensive interior use of bamboo and the sedums on the green roof.  Scott’s design also incorporates a very smart storm water management technique by guiding excess storm water through various parts of the yard and allows the soil to soak up storm water along the way.  By slowing water down and absorbing it as much as possible, this yard significantly reduces storm water runoff.

Here’s a full frontal:

Full Frontal

Here are some nice landscaping details:

Pea Gravel Path

Using trees as fencing, the boundary with the neighbor is softened.  The pea gravel walkway offers a path to slow down and truly enjoy the garden.  Plus it really gives you that Zen feel.  The steel edging around the path gives the path a very crisp feel.

 

Pea gravel path

Views from the top

From the Green Roof

 

From the Green Roof 2

It’s only been a couple of weeks but the sedums on the green roof are really thriving.

Green Roof

Green Roof 2

Here are some new interior shots

Kitchen

Living room

Stair Case

MBA Shower

Foyer “Genkan”

Arlington Passivhaus Art Gallery


Today, we are not featuring energy performance, mechanical systems, or building science.  Those things are what makes a house operate but they do not make it a home.  We believe a truly good home is one that stands in the intersection between art and science.  This is not a new idea, Apple’s entire product line is based on that concept. We need the science for the performance but we always need the art to evoke our imagination and feelings.

We’ve decided to feature art work that we have a strong connection to.  If you come visit our project, you will see these oil paintings done by Dr. Jesun Lin, a prominent physician and increasingly noted abstract painter living in Taiwan.  He is also our dad.

Hmm, perhaps that’s where our contemporary taste came from…

Upper Gallery

With these paintings, the space really comes alive.

“Sunshine” in the kitchen

Lower Gallery

Dad practices medicine in Changhua Taiwan, he is most well-known for his innovative surgical techniques in hypospadias repair.  His paintings have exhibited at the Salon d’Automne and Salon du Printemps in Paris, France.

We got Gold!


This past Sunday, we had the great honor to host the Arlington Green Home Choice Program’s annual awards ceremony at OUR house!  It was an awesome success.  Arlington County uses this opportunity every year to recognize the home owners, builders and the homes that voluntarily participate in the program to build and retrofit homes to a high performing level that is “healthy, comfortable, cost efficient and reduces energy and water usage and protects the environment.”  Helen, the manager of the Green Home Choice Program works tirelessly to engage builders through the entire process from design, construction to commissioning.  She certainly kept us going through the hard times with her encouragement and her frequent site visits tell us how serious she and the county are about promoting green homes.

We really like the program because of its prerequisite that the home be Energy Star qualified.  Even though Energy Star isn’t the most stringent standard out there, it is a great starting point and more importantly, it is performance based.  This also means a Green Home Choice building will perform significantly better than a conventional home.  Additionally, as Energy Star continues to tighten its standard, Green Home Choice homes will also improve in energy performance.  Modeled after the EarthCraft program, Green Home Choice uses a score card to determine other sustainability features of a home, such as water use, site design, etc.  Here’s the 72 page score sheet. http://freshaireva.us/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Arlington-Green-Home-Choice-Guidance-Manual-1-01-12.pdf  It’s also good to look for ideas in during the design process.

For this year (2011-2012), twelve homes were certified in the Arlington Green Home Choice program.  Out of which 6 received”Certified”, 3 “Silver” and 3 “Gold” awards.   This is the first year, Arlington has given out the “Gold” awards.

GHC Certified Homes

Here’s our gold!

Matt Fine and Jake (Zavos Architecture and Design), me, Jay Fisette (Arlington County Board Member), Charlie Byrd (Intellistructures), Ricardo Leon (Leon Home Improvement), Helen Reinecke-Wilt (Manager of GHC)

Special thanks to Helen Reinecke-Wilt,  Joan Kelsch for organizing this successful event.  To Jay Fisette for his support and commitment to a sustainable energy future.  Congratulations to all the other Green Home Choice participants.

Stay tuned and be sure to come visit us on June 3rd for the 10th Annual Arlington Green Home and Garden Tour.  For more information, click below.

http://www.arlingtonenvironment.org/be-green/live-green/gardentour/

Does Your House Breath Air or Drink Water?


Andy from Elysian Energy came out to do our final blower door test.  We knew that we had a 1 ACH 50 from John’s test at the Meetup event with 30 people walking around and playing with the windows and doors.  After taking some significant measures to air-sealing the windows and joints, Jim and Andy came for a second test which had a result that I thought was too good to be true but we felt comfortable enough to proceed with drywall and everything else.  I think there was a discrepancy in how the total air volume was calculated…

Last Friday, Andy did our final testing the ACH at a number of different pressure levels and our final number was 0.52 ACH 50!  The number is not 0.33 but we think it is a very respectable one for our first attempt at Passivhaus.

Final Blower Door Test

Air-tightness really is a difficult thing to achieve if you do not plan ahead.  I think to get the air infiltration number even lower, air sealing must be done in conjunction with construction, i.e. tape as you build.  I know of a builder that tapes up each nail hole right after the nail is hammered in so as to not miss any.  It is obsessive but I am not sure if that effort is really excessive.  Air-tightness is a quality of construction issue.  We’ll never get to a 0 ACH 50 unless you build a house with a balloon but we can certainly get darn close…

The Importance of Air-Tight Construction

I know this is a huge topic but in an effort to share information and help me articulate the issue I must dip into the importance of air-tight construction.  We had previously talked about this but we only talked about what we need to achieve but never explained why.  Here are some of the “why”.

1. Energy conservation:  Did you know that you can have all the insulation in the world and the build can still perform poorly? A leaky building envelope means “uncontrolled ventilation”.  This means conditioned air can leak out and hot/cold air can leak in; thus decreasing the effectiveness of the insulation.

This is an illustration of air-infiltration from http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca

As you can see, air can leak in and out at a variety of places.  This is “uncontrolled ventilation” or what some typical builders talk about when they say, “You don’t want a tight house, your house needs to breath.”  Our retort is, “Your house does not need to breath, you do!”

2. Indoor Air Quality: Air can carry pollutants, moisture, odor and other undesirables into the building through these leaks.  If you cannot tell where the air is leaking in from, you have no idea what pollutants are being carried into the indoor environment.  As I like to say, “you are breathing like a frog.”  I love Kermit the Frog but we are mammals, so let’s have a tight skin (air-tight building envelope) and breath through a dedicated respiratory system (an Energy Recovery Ventilator or Heat Recovery Ventilator) that brings in fresh air through a controlled path and filters it before we consume it.

Do you want to breath the air that passes through this window?

3. Vapor Penetration

Air carries a large amount of vapor or moisture.  Each air leak has potential to cause water intrusion which in turn causes mold and structural damage if the moisture does not dry out.  In well insulated buildings, this problem can get worse because there is so much material that can trap moisture.  Therefore, air-tightness becomes even more important as building envelopes get tighter to keep water out in the first place.

This image from  Building Science Corporation paper RR-0412: Insulations, Sheathings and Vapor Retarders http://www.buildingscience.com/documents/reports/rr-0412-insulations-sheathings-and-vapor-retarders gives us a dramatic visual of how moisture laden air behaves with air-tight building envelopes and leaky building envelopes.  Over just one heating season in a cold climate, 30 quarts of water enters into a 1in sq hole in a building envelope whereas in an air-tight building envelope, only 1/3 quart of water enters into the envelope through diffusion.

Water is the biggest enemy of buildings, keep it out.  By building an air-tight envelope, water intrusion becomes water diffusion.

So, we’ve concluded that a house does not need to breath and does not need to drink water either.

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