Impact of Eco-Conscious Living Series: Ventilation

Impact of Eco-Conscious Living Series: Ventilation

Ventilation

In our last blog about indoor air quality (IAQ), we discussed what influences IAQ, what effects it has on humans and nature, and how to create healthier IAQ in your home.

As a recap, IAQ is measured by the quantity and type of pollutants in the air within a building. The pollutants that decrease the IAQ (make the quality worse) can be anything from biological pollutants such as mold and mildew, bacteria, dust or pollen, to carbon monoxide or volatile organic compounds (VOC’s)4. These pollutants can cause a wide variety of health problems for humans and animals, from mild skin irritations all the way to damaging internal organs and causing cancer.2,5

While ventilation is just one of the many factors that affect IAQ mentioned in our previous blog, it is a multifaceted topic and requires a deeper dive than we were able to give.

We’ve already established that healthy IAQ is important, but how does ventilation impact it and what are the current shortcomings of code-standard ventilation systems?

Firstly, IAQ can be 2-5 times more polluted than outdoor air quality6; therefore, it is vital to expel a greater quantity of indoor air and intake more outdoor air to increase a building’s overall IAQ. 

However, not all ventilation systems are made equally. Often, with forced air-heating and traditional air-conditioning systems, the main method of ventilation is infiltration or purely natural ventilation (opening windows)3.

This is problematic, because there will not be a great enough flow of air to expel the polluted indoor air and the outdoor air comes into the building’s envelope untreated. While outdoor air is generally less polluted than indoor air, it would be counterproductive to bring in smoky, smoggy or pollen filled air, for example, and should still be filtered before entering the building.

When mechanical ventilation is installed in a simply code-standard building, the typical system must be manually turned on and off and doesn’t have the capacity for higher airflows or continual airflows. For this reason, conscious builders like TC Legend Homes go above and beyond the less-than-optimal code-standard systems and always uses a Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV).

HRV units allow for continual filtered airflow. They are also capable of utilizing smart technology with sensors to detect CO2 and humidity within the house, allowing the system to automatically adjust air flow.

The humidity tracking and management is a huge advantage because it creates a more comfortable environment to people, pets and indoor plants alike and helps keep mold and mildew growth in check. On top of increasing airflow and managing humidity, the HRV also contains HEPA air filters to ensure the incoming air is stripped of as many pollutants as possible.

Of course, the extra benefit to these systems beyond increased IAQ is that they “recover up to 90% of the heat and contribute to an energy savings of up to 50%.”1

This means HRV systems save money by lowering the overall energy bill, as well as decrease the building’s carbon footprint by using energy more consciously resulting in less consumption of energy, fossil fuels and other precious materials.

In all, choosing the best ventilation system can mean creating a healthier home, as well as reducing your wasted energy consumption and having a lesser impact on the environment.


1. Diagram depicting how a Heat Recovery Ventilator transfers heat and air. Source: AttainableHome (https://www.attainablehome.com/the-10-best-heat-recovery-ventilators/).

Sources:

1“Benefits.” Zehnder America, https://www.zehnderamerica.com/ventilation-benefits/. 2/14/22.

2“Biological Pollutants’ Impact on Indoor Air Quality.” United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), EPA.gov, https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/biological-pollutants-impact-indoor-air-quality. 2/10/2022.

3“Improving Indoor Air Quality.” United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), EPA.gov, https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/improving-indoor-air-quality. 4/14/2022.

 4“Indoor Pollutants and Sources.” United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), EPA.gov, https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/indoor-pollutants-and-sources. 2/10/2022.

5“Volatile Organic Compounds’ Impact on Indoor Air Quality.” United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), EPA.gov, https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/volatile-organic-compounds-impact-indoor-air-quality. 2/10/2022.

Wallace, Lance A., et al. Total Exposure Assessment Methodology (TEAM) Study: Personal exposures, indoor-outdoor relationships, and breath levels of volatile organic compounds in New Jersey. Environ. Int. 1986, 12, 369-387. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0160412086900516.

Impact of Eco-Conscious Living Series: Indoor Air Quality

Impact of Eco-Conscious Living Series: Indoor Air Quality

Impact of Eco-Conscious Living Series: Indoor Air Quality

Just as you may think about the poor outdoor air quality on a smoky day or the smog that surrounds large cities, every building has its own body of air with varying degrees of quality and pollution that make up the indoor air quality (IAQ). IAQ is incredibly important for your own health and is, unfortunately, frequently under accounted for by mainstream building practices. It is, however, an attribute of eco-conscious building techniques for its impact on human and animal health, interlinked outcome of house longevity, and subsequent decrease in environmental footprint.

Taking a deeper dive into what IAQ actually is, IAQ can be anything from biological pollutants such as mold and mildew, bacteria, dust or pollen, to carbon monoxide or volatile organic compounds (VOC’s)5. Each pollutant effects humans, animals and the environment differently and the effects on humans can also vary depending on personal sensitivities. Exposure to just biological pollutant could lead to “skin irritation, sneezing, watery eyes, coughing, shortness of breath, dizziness, lethargy, fever, and digestive problems”1. Other pollutants, such as VOC’s, can cause more severe symptoms such as “eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, loss of coordination and nausea, damage to liver, kidney and central nervous system,” with some VOC’s known or suspected to even cause cancer in humans or animals6. For information about all the individual indoor pollutants and their sources, visit https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/indoor-pollutants-and-sources

Many of these pollutants are unavoidable as they can occur naturally, but we can take steps to reduce them to levels that will be less harmful or eliminate them almost entirely. If you hire TC Legend Homes, then before you even step into your house, we have already been working on increasing your home’s IAQ by using low toxicity products such as SIPs, low/zero VOC paints and finishes, low toxicity flooring and more. The SIPs we use eliminate the ozone depleting chemicals HCFCs and CFCs, as well as reduce moisture in between the walls that lead to mold growth.2 This, accompanied by the superior heating and ventilation installed, will set your home up for much healthier air. The next blog post in this series will discuss the details of ventilation and its impact.

Once moved into your new home, it is still important to take daily steps to maintain a healthier IAQ. Be sure to vacuum and dust regularly, clean fabric items frequently, reduce household clutter3, avoid harsh cleaning products, maintain a lower humidity level, repair leaks, run your exhaust fan during and after showering, maintain your ventilation system and change the filters frequently4

Many eco-conscious building methods and results are interconnected, including IAQ, house longevity and environmental footprint. The nature of obtaining and maintaining good IAQ, means ensuring your home is being fixed of any issues which will result in the deterioration of your home and therefore cause indoor pollutants such as mold and mildew. Immediately fixing smaller issues that come up, like leaks or a filter in need of changing, will decrease the likelihood of the issues becoming so large that it is irreversible or will require more replacements to the system or surrounding area in the future. To this same note, upkeeping your home regularly and fixing issues as soon as they turn up, means using less resources in the long run, as replacement will be less frequent. As we know, using less resources helps to lower your overall carbon footprint. Moreover, maintaining good IAQ requires use of less toxic materials including those containing toxins and pollutants that are harmful to the environment such as greenhouse gases like VOCs or potent chemicals like pesticides. This in turn reduces the negative impact on the environment.

Taking all these steps to obtain and maintain your IAQ, will not only help you and your family’s health, but help reduce pollution outdoors and increase the longevity of your home.

Written by: Nicole Miller


Sources:

1“Biological Pollutants’ Impact on Indoor Air Quality.” United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), EPA.gov, https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/biological-pollutants-impact-indoor-air-quality. 2/10/2022. 

2“Building With Sips Creates Healthier, More Comfortable Interiors.” Insulspan, https://www.insulspan.com/advantages/health-comfort/. 3/2/2022.

3“Easy ways you can improve indoor air quality.” Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/easy-ways-you-can-improve-indoor-air-quality. 2/10/2022.

4“Improve Indoor Air Quality to Set Up a Healthier Home Environment.” AAFA, Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, https://www.aafa.org/healthier-home-indoor-air-quality.aspx. 2/10/2022.

5“Indoor Pollutants and Sources.” United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), EPA.gov, https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/indoor-pollutants-and-sources. 2/10/2022.

6“Volatile Organic Compounds’ Impact on Indoor Air Quality.” United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), EPA.gov, https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/volatile-organic-compounds-impact-indoor-air-quality. 2/10/2022.

TC Legend Typical House

TC Legend Typical House

Ted & Jake did some virtual conference speaking last summer.

The subject was how to build an affordable Net Zero home. The Built Green footage is here: ­­­­­Videos | TC Legend Homes,  and the NW Eco Build footage should be along shortly.

The principles are simple. Here are the notes:

Design

Simple, rectangular footprint, Conforming to the formula for the Pacific Northwest the rectangular footprint is; 1.6 units long on south wall, 1 unit deep east and west walls. No wiggles or bump-outs as they increase cost and reduce energy efficiency. The long side faces south to harvest winter passive solar heat. Short east and west sides are minimized to reduce exposure to hot, low angle sun.

Formula for glazing. To avoid overheating during summer, large east and west facing widows are avoided. South-side glazing is heavily preferred as there we can shade the hot, high summertime sun with eaves and shades, yet allow the low wintertime solar heat to enter.

Daylighting. Rooms needing great daylight: kitchen, dining room, etc. are located on the south side behind the plentiful south windows.

The low-light-requirement rooms: mechanical rooms, bathrooms, staircases etc. are to the north.

Correctly sized clerestory windows can bring daylight deep within the interior of the house.

Pitched roof. A huge south roof, pitching to the south collects solar power from roof-mounted PV panels. Often the south roof is asymmetrically large, to create space for the maximum number of PV panels, achieving Net Positive and powering an electric car. This is a new aesthetic – Environmental Modernism!

Right sized rooms: Interior spaces and rooms that are exactly big enough to thrive within, but no bigger. Well placed exterior doors access the outside when you need more space.

Energy modeling. Modeling the building during the design process ensures it’s on-track to meet Net Zero, and allows precise evaluation of the cost/ energy advantages of the various construction components, including the HRV.

We use the WSU component performance worksheet. It’s a free excel spreadsheet, specific to WA state.

Detail: Post & beam structure.  Fine-finished structural posts and beams enrich the interior at low cost, and allow easy remodel as no interior walls are loadbearing.

Detail: Slab-on grade. Fine finishing the concrete slab-on-grade floor gives a modern, durable interior at low cost. Not compulsory though, the slab can be covered with engineered floating floors.

Site selection

Flat lot: Lower construction costs by avoiding steep lots with expensive retaining walls, excavation, soils trucking and geotechnical involvement.

Utilities: Power, water, sanitary drainage/ septic, driveways. Utilities can cost over $80K to install on remote rural lots. The ideal lot has all the utilities stubbed-out in the street or on-site.

Solar exposure: An ideal site would have a clear sky to the south, down to the horizon so the building can harvest low, wintertime passive solar heat. If there were deciduous trees to the east and west, those trees could shade the east and west walls / windows in summertime but allow valuable winter light to penetrate once the leaves have all fallen off!

Critical Areas: Water in all forms is heavily protected in Washington State. The presence of wetlands, streams, lakes and ocean all add to the complexity and cost to build.

Construction

SIPs panel construction: Highly insulated R29 walls, R49 roof are fast to build and are inherently very air-tight. The thick roof panels span far and make vaulted roof space as standard.

ICF formed stemwalls: Insulating the stem-walls adds R24 below grade, preventing the building from leaking heat at the slab edge.

4” under-slab foam: R20 foam below the slab as standard.

Triple Pane windows: Standard.

Mechanical

Heat recovery ventilator (HRV): Delivering fresh air is essential in super-sealed modern buildings. HRV ventilators recover over 90% of outgoing heat, whist providing constant fresh exterior air, filtered to HEPA standards with particulates removed.

Heat pump. Electric air-to-air (Fujitsu), or air-to-water (Chilltrix) heatpumps are highly efficient and provide cold air conditioning in addition to heating.

Concrete floor: The slab-on grade is inside the energy shell (above the 4” R20 foam) and serves as a thermal heatsink; storing the house’s warmth, or cool, within the concrete. Protecting the heatpump from short-cycling and preventing temperature swings, even during a multi-day power-outage.

Energy star appliances: As standard.

Solar panels: As standard to achieve net zero, or net positive if an electric car will be driven.

How $200/ square foot?

The economics are made possible because the house is explicitly designed to achieve net zero and to cost $200/sf. The shell, mechanicals and living quality are best-of-breed, the finishes are durable, solid materials, and modest.

There is an economical point (~1200sf) where the house has to become two story to remain in this cost bracket.

Small houses below 1500sf cost closer to $250/ sf as the basic elements (heating, kitchen, bathroom, etc.) all still have to be present and are not reduced as the floorplan reduces.

$200/ sf is possible (for a NetZero house with solar installed) with a 2,000sf house.

If you want a small (e.g. 800sf) NetZero house for $200/ sf: Think about duplexing with your friends, triplex, multiplex! Co-housing……..

zero energy plans

2018 Year in Review

2018 Year in Review

Here at TC Legend Homes, we are excited to ring in the New Year! We kept busy in 2018, but we were not as active as we would have liked in keeping our “fans” updated on our recent projects. So, while we’re committing ourselves to doing better in the future, this post is an attempt at bringing everyone up to speed on some of the happenings of 2018 in a (relatively) short summary:

Homes:

  • One home completion (started in 2017) in Seattle.

  • Four complete home builds; two in Bellingham, one in Redmond, and one in North Bend.

  • Construction initiation on two ADUs; one in Sumas, and one in Bellingham.

  • All projects were Built Green 5-Star Certified, EPA Indoor airPLUS certified, and met DOE standards as Zero-Energy Ready Homes.

Events:

  • Ted presented at the Built Green Conference 2018 in Seattle. He shared the podium with homeowners Andri Kofmehl and Veena Prasad. Their topic, Bridging Innovation and Affordability: How to Build the Greenest House Possible Without Compromising on Aesthetics or Breaking the Bank, featured our 2017 Emerald Star home. More details on this can be found at this link to our portfolio.

  • Craig and Thad did a little San Diego couch surfing to attend a Builder’s Round Table, composed entirely of 2018 Department of Energy Housing Innovation Award Winners, where we learned a little about the future of high-performance building.

  • We participated in the Whatcom County Showcase of Homes, featuring the second home shown above – a great example of an affordable net-positive home in Bellingham. You can also read more about it in our portfolio.

  • Ted and Thad spoke at the Northwest EcoBuilding Guild’s annual Green Building Slam about how building net-positive can actually make it easier to afford more home while preserving quality of life.

  • We “expanded” our business operations into a SIPs Tiny Office (above).

  • Ted wrapped up his speaking engagements in December, at the Sustainable Connections Green Building Slam, with a talk about why we need to embrace sustainable building – because Our Kids are Going to Need a Place to Live.

Accolades: