Green Lancaster header displaying a picture of an Amish buggy, and corn field, horses in a field, cows being milked, and windmills.

Educate>Common Sense Construction

Common Sense Construction

Common sense construction steps for the sustainable home builder.

The objective for the website about Longview structures is to emphasis what Jesse Pellman does for sustainable residential homes. Jesse Pellman started out working in construction. He had helped create enormous homes for people, and realized ‘why do we need all this space in a home?’ Pellman has taken his passion for the environment and transformed it into an enterprise that focuses on practical homes for sustainable living.

I will be focusing on his sustainable tactics such as locality, building orientation and changing people’s mindset of what a house should be. A video will be available to describe simple ways to make a home sustainable during the construction phase.

 

Sick Building Syndrome

Commonsense Conrtuction Steps for the Sustainable Builder

Optimize Sustainable Building

Natural Ventialltion

Daylighting

Glazing

Dimmers

Fluorescent Lighting

High-Performance HVAC

Wood

Floor Slabs

Radon

Roofing

Cellulose Foam

Cast Iron Piping

Solar Power

To sum things up...

 

Sick Building Syndrome

While considering all the steps you can take to make your home sustainable, lets talk about the importance of why. The World Health Organization reported that up to 30 percent of new remolded buildings would report complaints of indoor air quality.

Sick Building Syndrome is a term used to describe residents who have health and comfort effects that are linked to time spent in a particular building. This is not the same as building related illness though.  Building related illness is when symptoms are diagnosable and identified to airborne building contaminants.

Some signs you can look for include:

  • headache

  • irritation of the eyes, nose and throat

These symptoms then stop after leaving the house.


The main causes you can look for include:

  • Inadequate Ventilation

  • Chemical Contaminants from indoor sources

  • Chemical Contaminants from outdoor sources

  • Biological contaminants

Inadequate Ventilation

Inadequate ventilation is when there the HVAC systems do not effectively distribute air in your home.

Indoor Contaminants

Chemical Containimants in your house come from adhesives, carpeting, and upholstery. These products all give off volatile organic components (VOCs). Some VOCs can cause chronic and acute health problems.

Outdoor Contaminants

Some of the chemical contaminants from the outdoors include plumbing vents, and building exhausts. Building exhausts come mostly from bathrooms and kitchens. These can enter your house through other vents and poorly sealed windows and insulation.

Biological Contaminants

The biological contaminants come from bacteria, mold, and pollen. These can breed from humidifiers and ducts. They can also breed from poor insulation and carpeting. This is why it is important to use cellulose foam instead of the typical fiberglass foam. The cellulose foam creates such a good seal that it is less likely for viruses to breed.

Some physical symptoms you can experience include:

  • cough

  • fever

  • allergic responses - mucous, irritation and respiratory congestion.

These are some critical reasons why it is important to build a sustainable home. Not only to save energy, but for a healthier life.

 

Commonsense construction steps for the sustainable home builder.

When building a sustainable home, you want to focus on how to save as much energy as possible by:

  • Avoiding the loss of energy

  • Avoiding the wasting of water

  • Preventing environmental harm

  • Building a productive, secure home.

We as a society have not changed the way we build homes in over 150 years. We have been lagging behind in the new innovative science of building homes. There are simple ways to revamp your house into a sustainable home. Easy things you can look into, even before the building process, include climate conditions and the aesthetics of the home.

You should make sure that the location you are building in is environmentally safe to begin with. This will make sure you do minimal harm during the building process.

Windows can be the best way to keep your home sustainable. The more natural sunlight used, the less energy will be used to illuminate the home.

 


Optimize Sustainable Building

When starting to plan out your perfect home, think of how to optimize your home with sustainability in mind. Longview structures, a sustainable construction company, uses ways to orient their homes to incorporate passive and active solar strategies.
If you love natural shading, consider planting trees to shade areas of home. Make sure these plants need a lot of sunshine.

Take advantage of natural ventilation and prevailing wind patterns. This can be done by maximizing the use of natural sunlight.

You can also look into a variety of potential future developments including the areas of:

  • Solar and Wind Exposure

  • Natural Sunlight

  • Ventilation

Another easy way to really make your home sustainable would be to use the materials that are already on the property. This could be recycling existing pavement or demolition materials.

Low Impact Development

A different concept to consider is Low Impact Development (LID). LID is a strategy used for sustainable storm water management. This new concept of LID came about from the high costs of new development projects. Strict environmental regulations and strong impacts on natural resources have also contributed to the making of Low Impact Development.

This has really shifted the way planners, developers, architects, engineers, and the public approach the control of storm water and conservation of rainwater. 

The LID strategy controls water at the source. This includes both rainfall and storm water runoff. This is known as 'source-control' technology. It is a decentralized system that distributes storm water across a site in order to replenish groundwater supplies.
This is supposed to be in place of sending the storm water into a system of storm drain pipes and then to a water management facility. The LID approach promotes the use of various devices that infiltrate water into the ground. It promotes the use of roofs of your home, and other horizontal planes. This will help to distribute water into the ground and collect it for reuse.

The uniqueness of LID is the interaction of water on the site of your home. This is to create a sustainable site for water use. The LID approach handles water like the valuable resource that it is. It views the water that reaches a project site as a commodity and not just wasting it. It is then used in several ways.

The goal of LID site design is to minimize the creation of storm water runoff. It then treats the pollutants from where they came from. This is done by directing storm water towards small-scale systems. These are arranged evenly throughout the home. Since LID allows a variety of useful techniques for controlling runoff, designs can be customized according to your home.

 


Prioritize on Space

One of the best ways to start your building process is taking away all your ideas of the usual home. We need to get away from this constant designation of rooms and walls.

A normal house consists of:

  • Fourier

  • Kitchen

  • Living room

  • Dining room

  • Television room

  • Bedrooms

  • Bathrooms

  • Basement

Why all the walls and cut off space? How often do you really use that living room? Now don’t panic. We aren’t totally revamping your house, just changing your mindset of what a typical home looks like. Instead of prioritizing on materials, we are prioritizing on space.

A typical home is 1,100 square feet. We can downsize this to half that and keep plenty of space open. By adjusting ceiling lines and taking down walls the ‘new’ type of home would be one that is more open and welcoming.

You will be able to have a view of the front of the house from your kitchen, and television room. The natural air you will flow better throughout the home with all the open space.

Longview structures try to get back to the days where the whole family comes together in one big area. There should be no need for so many cut off spaces, and different rooms. There will still be private areas for rooms and bathrooms of course. There will just be more of sense of togetherness having all the open space.

 


Natural Ventilation

Almost all buildings 150 years ago were ventilated naturally. With the increase in energy costs, natural ventilation has become a smarter way to reduce energy emissions. It can also improve indoor environmental quality and can help with maintaining a healthy, comfortable climate to live in.

Natural ventilation systems rely on the pressure difference to move fresh air throughout the home. These differences include wind and temperature differences. Fresh air is used in buildings to alleviate odors and provide oxygen for people. This fresh air provides great thermal comfort for home owners.

One type of natural ventilation effects includes wind. The wind can blow air through openings in the wall and on the windward side of the building. It can also suck air out of openings on the leeward side of the roof (downwind).

In the summer, wind is used as a fresh air supply. While in the winter, ventilation is reduced to remove pollutants. It is important to remember as a home builder to avoid obstructions between the windward and leeward side of the home. This will optimize natural ventilation.

A building with natural ventilation should be narrow. It is difficult to distribute the fresh air to all portions of a home.  Each room should have two separate supply and exhaust openings.

Orienting windows across the room and balancing each window from the other will mix the air flow effectively. Another good idea would be to have windows on the tops of each door in the home. This will help with adequate internal flow.

Now if you are imagining a house made of all glass, do not fret. All these windows will be easy to operate, and will bring in tons of natural light.

 

Natural Sunlight


Daylighting is a direct use of the light from the sky. Therefore, daylighting systems come from the way your home is oriented so no other devices are needed. Daylighting is the most effective passive solar strategy in almost all types of homes. It reduces two major energy uses in the home: electric lighting and cooling.

Fifty years ago, practically all school and homes used this as their primary source of light. A house that uses daylighting will create a visually attractive room and reduce emissions by one-third.

Daylighting involves more than just adding a ton of windows to a room. There is careful balancing of heat gain, heat loss, glare control, and daylight availability. Good daylighting requires attention to both natural and artificial sources of light. A good example of this would be using diming fixtures by luminous sensors.

The distribution of the windows helps keep daylight as deep as possible on a building. This is because, in general, light that bounces off a white wall first will provide better light quality.

The glare factor is important because you want a comfortable house. A good solution to this problem would be exterior shading. This includes light shelves, overhangs and reflecting systems. Morning sun is usually not a serious heat gain problem.

 

window

Photo by Ryann Dennis

If your budget is tight, it is easier to focus on west and south window shading. The shade’s color can help with light and heat. Exterior shading systems can be either light of dark colored. They should be light colored if you want to spread the daylight across the home. If you want to reduce the light admittance but gain heat, they should be dark colored.

You can also design the building to shade itself. If attaching shading devices to the outside of your home is not what you would like to do, use the building itself for shading. This can be done by the natural environment, and window positions.

Along with window positions, setting windows back in a deeper wall section can help with lighting. You can extend the wall elements to blend with the structure of the home. An example of this would be to slope the ceiling. This will direct the light into a space and increase brightness in that space. For south windows- use awnings and recessed windows. They can also be somewhat useful on the east and west.

Not so sure about making Daylighting a part of your home? Try and control your electric lighting. You can use timers which are simply time clocks that are scheduled to turn lamps or lighting circuits off.

 


Glazing

To make sure your windows are as energy efficient as possible, you need to take careful consideration in window and glazing systems. This is because residential homes with optimum window design and glazing can reduce energy consumption from 10%-50%.

Window glass, called glazing, have really changed in the last decade. Today's energy-efficient windows come with glazing "systems" that incorporate multiple panes of glass. They also include gas fillings, and high-tech, heat-sensitive coatings. All these options can be overwhelming but the end result is worth it.

    • Single-Pane
      Very few single-panes are sold today. Windows with just one layer of glass offer little protection against heat or cold.  If you like the single-pane windows because of their traditional look, choose ones in well-made wood frames and make sure to add cellulose foam to make it air tight.

    • Double-Pane Insulated Glass
      Dual-pane glass is what most windows are today. In the glass, there is a layer of inert gas. This is typically argon or krypton. It is sealed between the inner and outer panes of glass. This gas is used because it is a poor thermal conductor which slows the passage of heat through the glass.

    • Triple-Pane Insulated Glass
      Even more efficient window are triple-pane windows. Triple-Pane windows seal two layers of gas within the frame (hence the triple pane). These windows are mainly used for extreme northern climates. This is because of the extreme thickness of the pane. However, if your home is near a highway, they can be a good sound reducer. 

    • Low-E and Heat Mirror Glass
      Adding panes and gas-filled spacers is one way to get a more efficient window. Another way is with low-emissivity (low-E) coating. This is an invisible layer of metallic oxide that reduces the amount of heat that passes through the glass. Virtually all new windows sold today offer this feature.

Low-E coatings can be personalized for the climate you live in. In the Lancaster area, it works well to let the sun's energy in especially during the winter. When you can’t take the costs of heating your home, this Low-E coatings really help maximize the amount of heat transmitted into your home. They can also help keep cooling costs down in the summer.

While low-E coatings add 10 to 15 percent to the cost of a window, research has shown that they cut energy costs by about 25 percent over plain insulated glass. Basically, low-E windows can pay for themselves in 5 to 10 years. It's possible to buy dual-pane glass without a low-E coating, but Tom Silva doesn't recommend it.

Another high-tech glazing system is called Heat Mirror. It's made by suspending a sheet of low-E film between panes of insulated glass. Superglass, the most expensive glazing system on the market and one of the best insulators, suspends two layers of Heat Mirror between panes of glass with gas-filled spacers.

Once you and your design team agree on the design problem, window and glazing options can be put in place. You best choice of window and glazing systems can depend on many factors including the local climate, utility rates, and building orientation.

 

Dimmers

Dimming gives homeowners an opportunity to save energy. It provides users with the flexibility to instantly change the characteristics of a space to make it a more comfortable and productive environment.

Occupancy controls can be used along with dimming or daylight controls. They keep the lights from turning off when a space is unoccupied, or keep the lights off when daylight is plenty enough for the room. 

Occupancy sensors serve a couple functions. They automatically turn lights on when you enter a room. They keep the lights on without while you are in that room. They can also turn the lights off after a certain amount of time.

If you want to get really fancy, you can invest in passive infrared sensors. These are triggered by the movement of a heat-emitting body. These are best for small spaces such as a small home office or a walk in closet.

dimmers

Photo by Abigail Palutis

 

Fluorescent Lighting

You can use fluorescent lamps and daylighting to gain the most efficient lighting for the architecture of your home. Fluorescent Lamps are about 3 to 5 times as efficient as standard incandescent lamps and can last about 10 to 20 times longer. 

Low mercury fluorescent lamps are available also. They are a nice resource because they can be disposed of in landfills in some states. In these states, lamps that have low levels must pass the testing procedure known as the Toxic Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) test.

light

Photo by Abigail Palutis

 


High-Performance HVAC

The term HVAC refers to the Heating, Ventilating and Air-Conditioning Controls. The use of high performance HVAC equipment can result in 10%-40% in energy cost savings.

The Lancaster area has humid summers. This should factor in when the HVAC systems are designed and indoor comfort levels set. Temperature control is one thing, but humidity control should also be taken into consideration.  Humidity can be controlled through whole-house dehumidification systems, or just by running an efficient Air-Conditioning system. 

ac

Photo by Abigail Palutis

 

Heating

Heating can be done by heating the air with a space radiator, or direct radiation. Direct radiation would include radiation panels on the floor, ceiling or wall.

Ventilating maintains an adequate mixture of gases in the air that you breathe. It also helps to control odors, and removes contaminants.  And who doesn’t want healthier, more productive air quality?

Air Conditioning

The air-conditioning aspect of the HVAC includes the sensible and latent of cooling. Sensible cooling involves the control of air temperature while latent cooling involves the control of air humidity. You can cool the air with a water loop heat pump.

Hate humidity? Air is dehumidified by reducing its moisture on a cold surface, as part of mechanical cooling. In dry climates, humidification may be required for comfort instead of dehumidification. Evaporative humidification also cools the air.
One of the main things to know about the HVAC is that the design team knows where it is headed before the constructions phase beings.

As a home owner, it would be a good idea to write a “Basis of Design” to communicate to all members of the project . This would include what your goals are for your home. This is a great tool so you are able to stay pro-active throughout the construction phase. In your BOD you could highlight annual energy consumption and costs while using high performance HVAC equipment.

 

Wood

Using wood in a home is a great way to give it an environmentally friendly appeal. When using wood products, an easy way to keep your home sustainable would be to make sure you know where your wood is coming from.

To be sure your wood is supplied from forests that practice sustainable harvesting practices, look for the criteria from the Forest Stewardship Council. The FSC makes sure that their forests are sustainable. They do this by replacing trees as they are cut. There is no clear cutting at all.

A home with tons of wooden floors and ceiling does not have to look unconventional. It also does not have to cost more.

 


Floor Slabs

The main objective of the floor slab system is to retain thermal energy and give it off throughout the day. Concrete floor slabs are also good for their ability to control, regulate and moderate environmental barriers.

The most important environmental function of the floor slabs would be the control of moisture. Moisture control is dealt with in a drainage and barrier type of design approach. The floor slabs regulate thermal aspects, moisture, insects, and soil emissions.
The most common base floor within a building is simply a concrete slab-on-grade. Most concrete slabs are made with limited design considerations for structural support and environmental functions.

The base floor can also be made of a mud or structural foundation slab. These also come with waterproofing and wearing slabs. The basic design of the slab is to carry the structure loads and maintain a controlled environment.

Floor slabs are often the source of leakage into the building. Cracks in the slabs can lead to soil gas emissions such as radon into the home. (You can purchase a home radon detection kit to protect your home).

To minimize the vapor transmissions, a two layer - 6 mil polyethylene vapor retarder can be placed between the granular drainage system and the concrete slab.

The concrete floor slab itself provides structural support for floor loads and suitable backup for floor 

 


Radon

In the Lancaster area we have a fairly high incidence of radon. This can become an issue since sustainability consists of sealing up your home for maximize efficiency.

If you're sealing up your home very tightly, you have to make sure that you're preventing a build-up of radon in the home. This can be done by venting and exhausting it. By introducing fresh air into the home, radon will be controlled through the venting in your home.

To keep radon levels in check, a radon detection kit can be purchased. You should put this in your basement because this is where radon could be leaked into.

 


Roofing

About 30 years ago, almost all roofs were asphalt or coal tar built-up roofs. Recently however, a variety of other types of low-slope roof systems began to emerge with traditional built-up roofs.

These newer roofs included modified asphalt, sprayed polyurethane foam, and metal panels. While the modified systems are related to built-up roofs, these other alternatives are radically different.

Along with new choices of materials, plastic foam roof insulations also emerged in the 1970s. There are tons of materials to choose from for roofing.

There are two categories of roof insulation you should know about: rigid and non-rigid

  • Rigid boards are typically used in low-slope assemblies.

  • Non-rigid insulations are typically used in attic spaces.

Blow-in insulation is commonly used to insulate attics spaces and roofs. Fiberglass insulation is the most common blanket insulation, and it is also available as a blow-in product. Fiberglass however can be tricky to work with. It does not always insulate as tightly as should be.

 


Cellulose Foam

Fiberglass is more like an air filter than insulator. The coldness and heat can pass right through it.. taking your money right with it.
Cellulose foam is made of recycled products. It is more able to foam and insulate than fiberglass.

Cellulose insulation contains more than 85% recycled fiber. It is made mostly of recycled newspaper. It is injected with dry and liquid fire retardant. This makes for a nontoxic environment. It also creates an environment that is less intriguing to insects and rodents, all while providing an excellent thermal barrier.

Not too long ago, homes were still built with vents in both attics and basements. This was done to reduce moisture from building up from condensation through wooden walls.

Most of the insulation materials were made of such things as Asbestos and Fiberglass. These materials were used to help keep cold air from passing. However, they were still unable to create a seal between the outside and the inside living areas.

Even now with more efficient materials that prevent cold air from coming in, the nails, and bolts can bring in air from the outside. This can cost up to 30% more in heat and cooling costs.

 

foam

Photo by Ryann Dennis

 

The idea of a "closed cell" is used to form a seal with the cellulose foam. The foam's chemical reaction allows it to stick to almost any surface and it is applied in a way to close the perimeter of what it is sprayed on. Because of this, metal fasteners are used that can conduct temperature.

Vents are also sealed. The foam seals so well that moisture is no longer a problem because of the chemical Synthetic Polymer base that Polyurethane is made up of.

You can think of this process as a Styrofoam cup. A Styrofoam cup doesn’t have condensation when full of ice water the way a regular glass does.

When your house has this seal the temperature is maintained and your energy costs are lowered. Warm and cold air is kept inside because there is no venting and the foam keeps it concealed.

This way heat is kept inside during those cold winter months. Your house doesn't have to be reheated again and again because of drafts. Then when summer comes, the house doesn't let cool air escape. The air conditioning isn’t overworking to re-cool the house over and over. Oh how you are going to love the savings!

 


Cast Iron Piping

Although cast iron piping can be more expensive then plastic piping, let’s look at some of its advantages.
First off, cast iron piping is made from 100% recycled metal.  This makes it an environmentally friendly process of building your home. The PVC pipe has minimum value as a recycled product.

On top of being environmentally friendly, the cast iron pipe has a long life. The cast iron pipe has been supplying the fountains in Versaille in France for over 300 years. I don’t see any plastics lasting that long.

The cast iron pipe also beats out the plastic pipes in strength. A cast iron pipe only 4" in diameter can support 4,877 pounds per linear foot without breaking. The cast iron density also silences plumbing noises throughout the house. Oh how sweet the silence can be.

Time is money in the building industry. Old style cast iron piping used to be a chore to install, costing significantly more money. However, cast iron piping systems can now be installed in a fraction of the time it took to install them 50 years ago. In fact, modern cast iron piping can be installed just as quickly as plastic PVC piping.

After all this, some concerns you probably have is safety. You could be asking yourself if there is still lead in cast iron piping? And are there any safety benefits to cast iron piping? Cast iron pipes are no longer made with lead. This was banned in the 70s.

In case of a fire, cast iron piping actually prevents the spreading of fire. It is much better than plastic pipe. Cast iron is not combustible. Where the fire is present, the cast iron will leave a hole through which smoke and flames can rush out a building.
On the other hand, combustible pipe such as PVC can burn away and create an opening where flames can move from one part your home to the next.

 

Solar Power

Solar panels are a great thing to use here in the Lancaster area. They’re pretty much win-win.  There grants, tax credits, and initiatives for homeowners to incorporate panels.

Longview structures has used solar panels, and claims that they are a great way to reduce a home's carbon footprint. Jesse Pellman, one of the founders of Longview, says that solar power works to create a more sustainable, healthy home by producing the necessary power on site.

Basically there aren't any real across the board things to keep in mind, other than to make sure that you can get a good southern exposure with the panels.  Otherwise, get a good installer, stick them in, and see how low you can get your utility bills.

The basics of solar power are hotovoltaic’s (PV) is the main source of using solar energy. PV starts with wavelengths of light (radiation from the sun), in the form of photons, and transforms that energy into electricity. Basically, the sun gives off photons in the form of wavelengths (radiation) and the materials in the solar panel will turn that into electricity.

Silicon is used because it reacts from the sun’s radiation. The sun shines on it and causes a voltage potential which is the drive for electricity. The electrons in the silicon become excited from this radiation and that is what creates the separation of charges (aka voltage potential).

Current comes in the form of direct current (DC). If solar panels are used on a house then an inverter changes the direct current to alternating current (AC). AC will allow the system to tie into the house’s breaker and grid. The grid then goes to your electrical plant and is used to determine your electrical bill. With AC being used it is a safer way to control the current and allow some loads such as your refrigerator to run while others are not operating.

You want to focus on how to save as much energy as possible when building a sustainable home. Main things to consider during the initial phase include avoiding loss of energy emission, the wasting of water, prevent environmental harm, keeping the home safe from toxic emissions, and get the most for your dollar.

 


To Sum Things Up....

We have been lagging behind in the new innovative science of building homes. There are simple ways to revamp your house into a sustainable home. There has not been any new ways of building in over a century. We need to go back to the days when we needed to sustain our home without electricity. Using these tactics, along with the technology we have will give you the most sustainable home.


Even the acknowledgement of trying to do as minimal harm to the environment when creating a sustainable home can make a huge difference. This is most essential during the actual building process. A main way to do this is to make sure your home uses the materials that are already on the property. This includes recycling existing pavement or demolition materials.

You should make sure that the location of your home is environmentally safe to begin with. Things you can look into, even before the building process, include climate conditions and the aesthetics of the home. Lancaster for instance is known to have humid summers. This is helpful when you put in the HVAC systems. They can be are designed for specific indoor comfort levels.

Lancaster also has a fairly high incidence of radon. This can be an issue because we want to keep the home sealed tight . When sealing up your home think about creating a venting and exhausting system. Because introducing fresh air into the home will control the amount of radon.


Windows can be the best way to keep your home sustainable. The more daylighting the less energy costs will be used to illuminate the home.

Orienting your home to incorporate passive and active solar strategies can be the simplest thing you can do sometimes. You can do things like natural shading, taking advantage of natural ventilation and prevailing wind patterns.

Other ways to keep your home sustainable come from the inside building structure. This includes using Cellulose foam instead of fiberglass. These materials were used to help keep cold air from passing but they were unable to create a seal between the outside and the inside living areas.

 

 

Back to Top


This site was created by Abigail Palutis at Millersville University of Pennsylvania

© 2010 Millersville University. All Rights Reserved.

...