Friday, July 31, 2009

Natural Lighting and Other issues

This is a reprint of an article in Fine Homebuilding regarding the use of Daylighting a home for both natural light and passive solar gain. The push in Green Build is to do a site analysis and understand the natural layout of the sun's trajectory and the home's placement for maximum gain of both. But what about an existing home and retrofitting that to make the most of a lot that has dreaded Western or Northern exposure while taking advantage of the desirable Southern aspect.

Well that is one ADVANTAGE of an existing home you have already mature landscaping that probably accommodates most of the natural shading/heating issues. If you don't that can be done. The current windows may be upgraded and changed to meet better solar gain and heating loss. Windows DO NOT have to be the same throughout the house. And again thinking about adding simple overhangs and other structures that can make the most of the original design without making the most of the budget.

And finally redesigning the interior to make the most of light and use of the house. No one says you have to walk into your home immediately into a living room, altering that design aspect can provide unique opportunities to make your home livable for YOU NOW.


Sun: Passive Heating and Daylighting
Design Around the Sun to Lower Heating and Lighting Needs

The sun moves, but houses stay put
The sun is a lot higher in the sky in summer than in winter. You can use overhangs and trees to block the sun's heat in summer. In the winter, when you want the benefit of the sun's warmth, the sun's rays shine below the overhangs and the leaves are gone from the trees.

Siting can keep a house warm and cool

How a house is oriented to the sun has a dramatic impact on heating and cooling costs — the largest energy load in most homes.

As promising as photovoltaic (PV) and solar hot-water collectors are for reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, passive solar design alone can lower heating costs tremendously. Much of the reduction is available without spending an extra dime.


Existing landscape
can affect how well your site design works for your house.
Drainage patterns of a site can affect landscape choices and foundation durability.


Shade walls with roof overhangs
Direct sun eats up siding faster than anything else. Even small roof overhangs provide shelter for walls, and deep overhangs can shelter the whole wall.
Collect sun, block sun
Use deciduous trees to shade summer heat while letting winter heat in. Roof overhangs can do the same job if designed with the sun's seasonal path in mind.


Windows mean free heat and light, but they also amount to a big hole in the wall that must be leak-free. Problem is, many windows aren't leak-free.
Skylights can bring daylight into dark interior rooms, but like windows, they too can amount to leak-prone holes — in the roof! They also let in unwanted heat in the summer.
Window placement should work well inside and look good outside. The balance between what looks good inside and what looks good outside matters because people tend not to take care of unattractive houses.
Sunlight can affect a thermostat, a good thing to keep in mind when deciding where to install them. A thermostat will do a better job of regulating indoor temperatures when it is kept out of direct sunlight and placed in a central location.


Start your design with a compass.
Think about how the sun moves through the day and through the year when you start designing your floor plan. Selective siting, shading, and construction strategies can save money on lighting and heating bills. Also, a house with plenty of natural light is more pleasant to be in.

Design floor plans to use sun all day long. Think of a house as four distinct quadrants, each with its own potential for daylight and free heat, depending on the sun's position during the day.

Morning sun is dominant in east-facing rooms. Locating the dining room or breakfast nook and the kitchen on the east wall makes the most of light potential early in the day. It's also a good place for a dense floor that can soak up some solar heat for the day. Bedrooms with east-facing windows will be great for early risers but terrible for people who like to sleep in.

Sunlight is strongest on the south wall. This is the right quadrant for the living room and other spaces that will be used throughout the day. For heat gain, rooms with south-facing windows are another good choice for dense materials like stone, brick, or concrete.

Early evening light from the west is at a low angle. Because the sun is so low in the sky, west-facing windows get direct sunlight blazing through them. This makes west-facing rooms a bad choice for TV rooms because strong light makes screens harder to see.

In cold areas, this is the last chance of the day to soak up some sun; in hot areas, it's the most important window to shade with trees. A west bedroom is good for people who like to sleep in because the room is very dark in the morning.
North rooms have the least natural light. They also have the greatest potential for heat loss through windows. This is a good place for bathrooms, utility rooms, entries, and other rooms where natural light isn't as important. That said, painters and artisans might appreciate generous north-facing windows because of the quality of the light.

Of course, cooling a house can be expensive, too.
The sun's orientation is just as important for houses built in the Sunbelt, where controlling heat gain in the summer lowers cooling costs and creates a more comfortable indoor environment.

You can lessen temperature swings in houses in all climates by using dense materials in key areas. Siting a house thoughtfully can make these areas inviting rooms.


Find other ways to let in light.

Not every room in a house can have generously sized windows that admit natural light. Rooms at the interior core of a house as well as those facing north sometimes get shortchanged.

Open floor plans allow light from skylights and windows to penetrate deep into a house. Skylights over stairways, for example, can bring light into the center of a house.

Skylights are a simple way of introducing light to rooms right below roof level. Both fixed and operable skylights are available.

Angled (splayed) walls broadcast the most light, and placing skylights near a wall creates a pleasant light-washing effect on the wall surface.
Skylights have a negative trade-off, however: a high potential for energy loss because even the best have a higher U-factor (lower R-value) than well-insulated walls and ceilings.

Skylights also can produce unexpected glare and uncomfortably warm indoor temperatures unless they have shades. With this in mind, in most climates it is wise to limit skylights to north roof slopes. At least consider the path of the sun throughout the day when picking skylight locations.

Tubular skylights incorporate a plastic, roof-mounted dome, a highly reflective rigid or flexible tube, and a light diffuser mounted in the ceiling. As long as there is good attic access, a tubular skylight can be easily installed in most existing homes. Tubular skylights are expensive replacements for lightbulbs, but they offer natural light over artificial light, and you won't waste energy if you leave the "light" on. They’re a good option for dark interior spaces like bathrooms.

Ridge skylights, dormers, and clerestories can add natural light to interior spaces where windows are not an option or where more natural light is desired. A clerestory—a band of windows installed between the ridge of an upper shed roof and the ridge of a lower shed roof—can throw light far into a room. Operable windows improve air circulation.

Light shelves, located directly below skylights or clerestories, bounce light back toward the ceiling and provide good indirect lighting to a large room. Light shelves can also block glare from overhead sun when skylight placement options are limited.
Consider interior colors, too. Light colors reflect light more easily than darker shades. Interiors painted in light colors will feel larger and brighter, and make it easier to use daylight as task lighting.


Place a house on the site so that light is managed easily.
Let light in by angling the house properly, using trees or awnings to shade the windows during the heat of the day, and sizing the overhangs to admit winter light while blocking the hot summer sun.

To balance light, shape the house so that light can enter every room from at least two sides.

Four-square styles are a traditional way of evenly admitting light. Adding a courtyard, atrium, or skylight can illuminate an interior from above. Also, an H- or C-shaped house offers many rooms that can let light in from two sides. There are trade-offs to consider, however; H- and C-shaped houses are less compact, and therefore less energy efficient, than compact rectangular houses.

Where light from a second side isn't possible, provide light from above.

Skylights and clerestory windows are two ways to sneak light in from up high. There are many ways to bounce that light around to dim corners such as light shelves and flared skylight shafts. Remember, though, that skylights are a weak link in a home's thermal envelope, and should therefore be used sparingly.

Shape and locate each opening to suit both the climate and the room.
Does the space need bright task lighting or warm ambient light? Are the windows more important for lighting or solar heat gain? Would large windows be a liability in an otherwise well-insulated space? Such questions that require careful evaluation of the site conditions and the home's needs.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Domestic Goddess

I am a big lover of being outside and having people over. This way the maintenance and ease of party planning is simple and low and actually better to manage. Having a very small home getting people in and entertaining them comfortably is not as fun. With the summer I can throw chairs cushions and even the garage into an interesting place to congregate and have fun. Its all possible.

I think that is why I love Rachel Ray. She gets "it." Unlike Martha Stewart the doyenne of all things fantastic, Rachel is her fun little sister who does things for the everyman or in this case the "everyday."

Rachel's magazine, "Every Day with Rachel Ray", is packed with simple fun and affordable ideas on how to throw the great outdoor event.

Beat the Heat:

· Create a cooling mist: Set out a sprinkler near the party so the light mist will cool the air.

· Prevent slippery glasses: Use colorful rubber bands around glasses to prevent accidents with slippery hands.

· Keep bus away: Place glasses of water mixed with sugar syrup around the parameter, and leave bug repellent near the party entrance.

Rain, Rain Go Away!:

· Ride out the storm: Pick up a tarp from a hardware store to keep in the garage to tough out a light shower.

· Rain check: Include a rain date on the invite… just in case.

Worrisome Winds?

· Keep decoration low: Avoid balloons which can tangle.

· Anchor flyaways: Weight napkins with festive paperweights such as a seashell or a small coconut (they can also double as party favors).

· Stay warm: Have cover-ups and jackets handy for chilly guests.

Include some rain-, heat-, and windproof party accessories like steel mesh food covers to keep bugs out of dishes, or colorful paper hand fans to cool guests off.

Visit for other summer party tips, and be sure to grab this issue of Every Day with Rachael Ray for more great summer treats.">

Heat Wave

This past few weeks Seattle has been the bearer of a heat wave culminating in over 100 degree heat unlike anything in its history.

As I don't live in a green home or in fact well built although new home I can personally attest to the reasons why we must start to move forward about making what is "green" build standards, build standards. This is especially in regards to insulation.

If my roof had sufficient insulation to R60, walls to R40 my home's internal temperature would drop. Add triple pane windows, a larger roof overhang or even a retractable shutter on the western facing windows my home would remain cooler. Add a ceiling fan in the bedroom, an HRV system and I would not even think about being miserable and my dog would be much happier.

These are the concepts that need to be embraced for future energy efficiency and better built housing. The costs for many of these upgrades would be $2000-5000 and make the property value, affordability and efficiency huge. Coupled with my own conservative behavior the paybacks would be immense on my pocketbook and my environment. Right now I am running 5 fans and 4 ventilation systems and have water standing in my tub to act as a de-humidifier. I am also thinking of getting another fan to put in the attic direct to drop temps. This is all extra electrical and water use that could easily be eliminated with proper ventilation and shading techniques.

Which brings me to the two articles today in the NY Times. One about white roofs the new "hot/cool" trend in roofing. There is of course a trade off and you should understand the entire principle before running out the door to do this to your home or business. The other is about the stimulus package and the need for retrofitting homes for energy efficiency. As I illustrated in my story. I don't own my home and simply my landlord feels its not his "problem."

Well it is when people will not buy the home when they can find one that will meet better needs than his. And if you are looking to buy ask about the insulation and make that part of your package. A good home inspector would know and if they don't demand an energy test to determine the basics of the home.


By Degrees
White Roofs Catch On as Energy Cost Cutters

Published: July 29, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO — Returning to their ranch-style house in Sacramento after a long summer workday, Jon and Kim Waldrep were routinely met by a wall of heat.

A white roof has helped cool Jon Waldrep’s Sacramento home.

“We’d come home in the summer, and the house would be 115 degrees, stifling,” said Mr. Waldrep, a regional manager for a national company.

He or his wife would race to the thermostat and turn on the air-conditioning as their four small children, just picked up from day care, awaited relief.

All that changed last month. “Now we come home on days when it’s over 100 degrees outside, and the house is at 80 degrees,” Mr. Waldrep said.

Their solution was a new roof: a shiny plasticized white covering that experts say is not only an energy saver but also a way to help cool the planet.

Relying on the centuries-old principle that white objects absorb less heat than dark ones, homeowners like the Waldreps are in the vanguard of a movement embracing “cool roofs” as one of the most affordable weapons against climate change.

Studies show that white roofs reduce air-conditioning costs by 20 percent or more in hot, sunny weather. Lower energy consumption also means fewer of the carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming.

What is more, a white roof can cost as little as 15 percent more than its dark counterpart, depending on the materials used, while slashing electricity bills.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a Nobel laureate in physics, has proselytized for cool roofs at home and abroad. “Make it white,” he advised a television audience on Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” last week.

The scientist Mr. Chu calls his hero, Art Rosenfeld, a member of the California Energy Commission who has been campaigning for cool roofs since the 1980s, argues that turning all of the world’s roofs “light” over the next 20 years could save the equivalent of 24 billion metric tons in carbon dioxide emissions.

“That is what the whole world emitted last year,” Mr. Rosenfeld said. “So, in a sense, it’s like turning off the world for a year.”

This month the Waldreps’ three-bedroom house is consuming 10 percent less electricity than it did a year ago. (The savings would be greater if the family ran its central air during the workday.)

From Dubai to New Delhi to Osaka, Japan, reflective roofs have been embraced by local officials seeking to rein in energy costs. In the United States, they have been standard equipment for a decade at new Wal-Mart stores. More than 75 percent of the chain’s 4,268 outlets in the United States have them.

California, Florida and Georgia have adopted building codes that encourage white-roof installations for commercial buildings.

Drawing on federal stimulus dollars earmarked for energy-efficiency projects, state energy offices and local utilities often offer financing for cool roofs. The roofs can qualify for tax credits if the roofing materials pass muster with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program.

Still, the ardor of the cool-roof advocates has prompted a bit of a backlash.

Some roofing specialists and architects argue that supporters fail to account for climate differences or the complexities of roof construction. In cooler climates, they say, reflective roofs can mean higher heating bills.

Scientists acknowledge that the extra heating costs may outweigh the air-conditioning savings in cities like Detroit or Minneapolis.

But for most types of construction, they say, light roofs yield significant net benefits as far north as New York or Chicago. Although those cities have cold winters, they are heat islands in the summer, with hundreds of thousands of square feet of roof surface absorbing energy.

The physics behind cool roofs is simple. Solar energy delivers both light and heat, and the heat from sunlight is readily absorbed by dark colors. (An asphalt roof in New York can rise to 180 degrees on a hot summer day.) Lighter colors, however, reflect back a sizable fraction of the radiation, helping to keep a building — and, more broadly, the city and Earth — cooler. They also re-emit some of the heat they absorb.

Unlike high-technology solutions to reducing energy use, like light-emitting diodes in lamp fixtures, white roofs have a long and humble history. Houses in hot climates have been whitewashed for centuries.

Before the advent of central air-conditioning in the mid-20th-century, white- and cream-colored houses with reflective tin roofs were the norm in South Florida, for example. Then central air-conditioning arrived, along with dark roofs whose basic ingredients were often asphalt, tar and bitumen, or asphalt-based shingles. These materials absorb as much as 90 percent of the sun’s heat energy — often useful in New England, but less so in Texas. By contrast, a white roof can absorb as little as 10 percent or 15 percent.

“Relative newcomers to the West and South brought a lot of habits and products from the Northeast,” said Joe Reilly, the president of American Rooftile Coatings, a supplier. “What you see happening now is common sense.”

Around the country, roof makers are racing to develop products in the hope of profiting as the movement spreads from the flat roofs of the country’s malls to the sloped roofs of its suburbs.

Years of detailed work by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory have provided the roof makers with a rainbow of colors — the equivalent of a table of the elements — showing the amount of light that each hue reflects and the amount of heat it re-emits.

White is not always a buyer’s first choice of color. So suppliers like American Rooftile Coatings have used federal color charts to create “cool” but traditional colors, like cream, sienna and gray, that yield savings, though less than dazzling white roofs do.

In an experiment, the National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn., had two kinds of terra-cotta-colored cement tiles from American Rooftile installed on four new homes at the Fort Irwin Army base in California. One kind was covered with a special paint and reflected 45 percent of the sun’s rays — nearly twice as much as the other kind. The two homes with roofs of highly reflective paint used 35 percent less electricity last summer than the two with less reflective paint.

Still, William Miller of the Oak Ridge laboratory, who organized the experiment, says he distrusts the margin of difference; he wants to figure out whether some of it resulted from different family habits.

Hashem Akbari, Dr. Rosenfeld’s colleague at the Lawrence Berkeley laboratory, says he is unsure how long it will take cool roofs to truly catch on. But he points out that most roofs, whether tile or asphalt-shingle, have a life span of 20 to 25 years.

If the roughly 5 percent of all roofs that are replaced each year were given cool colors, he said, the country’s transformation would be complete in two decades.


Efficiency Drive Could Cut Energy Use 23% by 2020, Study Finds

Published: July 29, 2009

The biggest opportunity to improve the nation’s energy situation is a major investment program to make homes and businesses more efficient, according to a study released Wednesday by the consulting firm McKinsey. An investment of $520 billion in improvements like sealing ducts and replacing inefficient appliances could produce $1.2 trillion in savings on energy bills through 2020, the study found.

The report said such a program, if carried out over the next decade, could cut the country’s projected energy use in 2020 by about 23 percent, a savings that would be “greater than the total of energy consumption of Canada,” Ken Ostrowski, a senior partner in McKinsey’s Atlanta office, said at a forum in Washington on Wednesday. It would also more than offset the growth in energy use that would be expected otherwise.

“The scale is vast if we can put together the means to pursue it,” Mr. Ostrowski said.

Homes account for about 35 percent of the potential efficiency gains, according to McKinsey, while the industrial sector accounts for 40 percent and the commercial sector 25 percent. The report included only efficiency improvements whose long-term savings would outweigh the initial costs. It did not consider the potential environmental benefits of cutting energy use.

The report acknowledged substantial barriers to achieving the savings, foremost among them the initial costs. The $52 billion annual investment envisioned by McKinsey is four or five times more than the nation currently spends on energy efficiency, and would have to be maintained over a decade. The economic stimulus package passed in February barely makes a dent; by McKinsey’s estimate, it contains $10 billion to $15 billion in spending on energy efficiency.

Some home or business owners may not have the money to finance efficiency improvements, even if they would pay off in the long run. Other barriers include inertia (a homeowner may simply not feel like replacing an old air-conditioner); and poorly aligned incentives (a landlord who does not pay the electric bill has no economic reason to replace the old air-conditioner).

The potential gains are also spread across millions of homes and businesses, so getting widespread participation would be a challenge.

“No question, the potential is there theoretically,” said David G. Victor, an energy expert at the University of California, San Diego, noting that he had not yet seen the report’s details. “It’s really, really difficult to achieve that full potential in the real world.”

To achieve $1 trillion in savings, Mr. Victor added, would require “a lot of people and a lot of complex organizations to change their behavior.”

The McKinsey report’s recommendations include providing education and better information about the potential savings from energy efficiency, tighter building codes, stricter efficiency requirements for appliances and greater financial incentives for making efficiency improvements.

The Obama administration has been pursuing many of these avenues — for example, some energy-efficiency funding in the stimulus bill requires states to promise to strengthen their building codes. President Obama has also made stricter appliance standards a priority.

Jon Creyts, a McKinsey partner in Chicago, said that energy efficiency presented the “most compelling” way to combat climate change, as well as to achieve energy security and affordability. It is not, however, a panacea, he said.

“Energy efficiency is an important and compelling low-cost option,” Mr. Creyts said, “but there are reasons that we need to innovate and continue to develop clean sources of energy.”

Peter Lehner, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said even greater savings were possible. The McKinsey report made conservative assumptions, he noted, and it did not account for savings from changes in behavior — people turning out lights in empty rooms or turning down the thermostat in winter, for example.

Nor did the $1.2 trillion figure take account of a possible cost for greenhouse gas emissions, which could be capped under climate legislation pending in Congress, and could bring about increases in energy efficiency.

“Even if we don’t get a climate bill this year, it’s extremely conservative to think there will not be a price on carbon in the next decade,” Mr. Lehner said.

The study was partly financed by McKinsey, and by a group of co-sponsors that included the Southern Company, a utility holding company, as well as the United States Green Building Council and the Department of Energy.

A separate study released on Tuesday by the National Research Council cited potential energy savings of 15 percent by 2020 and 30 percent by 2030 if more efficient technologies were adopted. Unlike McKinsey, the research council included transportation, acknowledging that it would be a difficult sector to transform quickly.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Good Article...

I took this from my friend, the Green Building Inspector. I thought it was worth a read.

I would very much like to see us moving forward in advancing the concepts of ENERGY EFFICIENCY in Residential retrofitting and with banks and City building departments also moving towards a better policy and code plan to expedite that type of improvements both in funding and permitting. We really need to focus that side of remodeling at the present with the tax credits in place it is a great time. And many of these projects are very affordable, have a very high rate of return and will ADD value to the home despite the current markets.

Energy Efficient Mortgage Encentives on the Increase
By guest

Story from the Los Angel0s Times…
You’re probably familiar with some of the federal government’s incentives for home energy efficiency — heftier tax credits for solar panels, solar water heaters, geothermal heat pumps, heavy-duty insulation, windows, air conditioning and the like.

But these are just the beginning of an unprecedented push by the government that’s getting underway for energy conservation in housing.

At the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a new generation of mortgages designed to encourage energy efficiency is being rolled out, starting with Federal Housing Administration loans that offer 5% larger mortgages to people who plan on making energy-efficiency improvements.

For example, if you qualify for a $300,000 FHA mortgage, the FHA might now be able offer you an additional $15,000 if the extra money is used to substantially lower the property’s annual energy consumption.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan wants the FHA to offer additional incentives. One of the possibilities: Give loan applicants credit on their qualifying incomes for a home loan in exchange for documentable savings in annual energy expenditures.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has passed a massive energy conservation and emissions control bill. Though the American Clean Energy and Security Act is better known for its more controversial “cap-and-trade” carbon emissions program, the bill also contains a section devoted to creating incentives for consumers and federal agencies to build and finance energy-efficient dwellings.

Among the key housing-related provisions in the bill:

* The FHA is directed to insure a minimum of 50,000 new energy-efficient mortgages during the coming three years. An energy-efficient house is defined as one in which energy consumption is reduced by 20% following renovations.

* Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are directed to develop mortgage products and more flexible underwriting guidelines to reward energy-conscious borrowers and builders.

The two companies also would be required to help establish a secondary market for energy-efficient and location-efficient mortgages for moderate- and lower-income home buyers. The new generation of loans would increase the qualifying incomes of applicants by at least one dollar for every dollar of projected energy savings from renovations, green construction or efficient design.

Similar concessions on loan applicants’ incomes would be extended for properties located in areas close to employment centers or mass transit lines. No concessions would be made for homes in far-flung neighborhoods that eat into family incomes because of long commutes, which would add to carbon emissions.

* Real estate appraisers would be required to take energy improvements and the money they save into account as they value houses. For example, if you spent $30,000 on a series of major upgrades, an appraiser would need to consider the annual cost savings in energy produced and the effect, if any, on market value. States would require licensed appraisers to undergo additional professional training to equip them for their new energy-efficiency valuation responsibilities.

* Federal financial regulators would be directed to support the establishment of privately run “green banking centers” inside banks and credit unions. The centers, which presumably could be unmanned kiosks or staffed offices, would help consumers understand how best to obtain financing for energy-conserving home improvements, second and primary mortgages, and energy audits and ratings.

HUD would also be authorized to conduct “renewable energy home product expos” to educate the public about the latest technologies and financing concepts.

* State governments would be required to ensure that homeowners whose energy technologies allowed them to get “off the grid” — no longer fully dependent on utilities to provide them power — are not denied property hazard coverage by insurance companies.

With all this emphasis on energy efficiency and reduction of real estate-related emissions, is there any evidence that home buyers will take part? Will they use mortgages that encourage energy efficiency or even pay more for houses that are loaded with the latest energy-saving technologies? The jury is out because much of this is prospective and hasn’t yet been signed into law.

But maybe there’s going to be some extra green in green.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Meeting and Greeting

Part of any one's job is networking, building relationships, fending off nutcases and basically trying very hard to build a strong client focused business. So in that vein I have to meet vendors, clients, trades people and those simply interested or curious.

I ended up meeting a Landscape Architect and given my propensity to distrust or easily be annoyed by anyone possessing the "title" Architect in their profession I know its likely going to be a "rocky" event at best. Although sadly I was disappointed or happy to meet two completely NORMAL and professional men on Friday who dispelled my total frustration with the profession. Sometimes getting disappointed is a good thing. But I also liked their work and that is really what matters. Connection on professional level and liking them personally has always been very important to me but the trade off is I do lose work if I don't think we "click"

So when I spoke to the Landscape "person" it was regards to his interest and concept of developing work in regards to Green Roofs and Living Walls. Now I like them in their idea and think green roofs just are simply great on big commercial urban structures. For no other reason than aesthetics and opportunity to have some living green spaces wherever we can find them. As for a "living" wall I think that is again one of those niche things that will be largely for a custom request and not the mainstream.

Of course telling him that and the fact that I think LEED and the USGBC should simply be an educational and research organization founded to build concepts and science around the study of green build, etc and not one "awarding" points and stars as a way of validating a buildings "greeness." He naturally did not agree and our conversation already challenged began to go further downhill from there.

He of course being just shy of Napoleon in both size and attitude may have contributed to his demeanor. He kept interrogating me why I felt this way and I cited of course my mentors everyone from the Building Science people to the simple and affordable contractor, Fernando Ruiz. I like keeping things simple and affordable and that is my place in the world. I also want to avoid litigation thanks.

I should of known that when you personally vest in something you really don't want to be criticized for that and especially from a woman who towers over you (and for the record I am 5'5" and I had on three inch heels) Call it short man complex. And the fact that he was just a weirdo. Anyone who hides behind a wall when you are going to meet them at a coffee shop and describes themselves as tall and dark haired (I actually went up to the wrong person not thinking to check behind a wall) when they are short, fat and gray usually means they are there for different reasons and/or delusional. As asked before did I have a problem with men in the trades and the answer is almost always unequivocally "NO" its the related industries where I take offense. And when you are often with anyone of a type of specific group, in this case "green" there are no more nor less people with intense passions and interests.

I knew right away that perhaps this was not going to be a meet, greet and chat. And I have no problem meeting in coffee shops, etc and frankly I like to get out. We all don't have offices. And I respect that many are like me working out of home space and well its just not suitable. Although I have had meetings in my garage to look at samples and see some of my experiments with products I don't do it often. But when I meet anyone at a Starbucks or wherever I approach it as a genuine meeting with the intention of purpose and exchange of information. I rarely make personal connections with professional contacts but I prefer that but certainly not adverse to it, I just like to keep things in one category over another.

After the required hour or so chat I realized that this was not "business as usual." Again, when calling someone try to remind yourself why you are there and proving your smarts is not necessary as they will reveal themselves over the course of a conversation. Also having an agenda to shove down someone's throat or an ulterior motive perhaps also not a plan.

So compared to the following day meeting professionals in a professional setting it was a relief. I know the economy makes for strange bedfellows but I also don't need a bedfellow. Its difficult to fully recognize who is genuinely interested in you and your business or just you or are well just nuts. I also received an email from a vendor this week saying "how are you Tamara." Well I don't know how Tamara is but thanks for asking. Again this is NOT a time to waste your time or others, to use it wisely and find those of like mind. And yes I do think you have to like them or it will not work. That is a luxury that I still believe for me is something I do hold onto when all else seems to be sinking.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Building Green should be just BUILD GOOD

Last week I went to a seminar held by Building and it was a chance to meet LEED arch rival and nemesis Joe Lstiburek and partner John Straube (more on that later) discussing the concept of Green build vs simply SMART build. And I concur that you should be doing it.. awards, stars and certificates are nice and all but if you need to do that in order to do it tham are you really Green?

That said, using LEED promises to market your building is inappropriate. Just call it what is... smart, energy and resource efficient with the latest and newest in interior Eco friendly finishes and products. Sounds good to me.

And I just read this article today in the Nashville Post about LEED and the future of litigation an issue that is why I discontinued third party verifications. In fact I just had a discussion with a former Contractor who just didn't "get" what a third party means... so you can see there is still a long way to go when it comes to seeing outside the box when it comes to building. I am more than happy to review all the recommendations of any program, LEED or otherwise and see if in fact that it will benefit the project with regards to cost and/or performance but I don't make promises that I am right or presume they are either. The tried and true methods that have worked are there and available, accessible and affordable and I think those are always a great place to start.

We are a litigious society and that fear is one of the reasons that many Builders tend to stay reliant on the proven prescription much to their and their products detriment. Innovation does require risk and change is hard but it must be done to improve the quality of building and its long term costs to the environment.

The article is below for your review but I think it confirms what I have said for some time... I am not a LEED AP because I cannot guarantee the claims and the work of those involved. Its not about LEED for it has a place but they don't pay my liability insurance. Its that simple.


When green goes bad

By Kyle Swenson

As far as industry fashions go, it's no secret why a green wave is washing over the building industry. With sustainable practices now not only a sign of environmental consciousness but a proven way to slice operating costs down the line, green is going from specialty to industry standard.

It also makes a good selling point.

Today, when plans are unveiled for a Class A office development or luxury residential tower, the design's likely to incorporate sustainable features. Beefed up by the U.S. Green Building Council's stamp of approval, a LEED-certified design makes an attractive option for potential tenants and buyers drawn to cutting edge spaces with an eco-friendly aura.

However, what happens when a development invests time and money into the LEED process, only to come up short in the end?

As the number of LEED buildings across the country rises, so does the number of failed LEED projects, buildings that set out to hit the target but, because of some snafu in the development process, are denied the desired distinction.

And this trend begs the question: When projects fail, who is legally accountable?

On new legal ground

The liability involved in beached LEED ambitions is new legal ground, largely because there's yet to be a court judgment on the books to set a precedent.

"There's been very little litigation out there, and litigation is what drives contract drafting, rule making, risk control and insurance coverage," said Jeffrey R. King, an attorney with Stites & Harbison, and also a LEED Accredited Professional. "We're not really there yet in the cycle."

But just because the courts have yet to see such a case doesn't mean the issue isn't brewing.

When a project fails to meet LEED requirements, the builder and developer work to settle the issue out of court – often until the statute of limitations ends in two to six years. At the end of that period the battle moves to the courts. With the number of certification attempts growing in the last three years, King predicts that a number of disputes over bungled LEED plans are in the works.

This means now is a critical time for the building community as it identifies the ways owners, architects, engineers and contractors can protect themselves from the potential fallout of a failed project.

Credit catch

There's a catch to "green" building. Despite the intentions announced when the building breaks ground, an owner and his or her team don't know whether or not a building passes the LEED qualifications until after a structure is built.

LEED certification is based on the number of credits a building racks up in the construction process. Credits are awarded for everything from meeting certain efficiency standards to using sustainable building supplies. But when a building fails to reach the credit total needed for certification, it can have a significant financial impact on the project.

A 2008 Maryland lawsuit – later settled out of court – may well be a harbinger of what's ahead on the legal landscape. In that case, Shaw Development sued a contractor for $1.3 million after the company's condo project failed to achieve LEED Silver certification. The company had budgeted the project to include a tax break contingent upon the certification – a break it didn't end up getting.

Legal questions also can arise when tenants and condo owners pre-lease on the assumption they are buying into a building up to USGBC standards.

"If it's an office building, to get a loan you've got to have a certain amount of pre-leasing. If it's a condo project, you've got to have a certain amount of presale," King said. "Part of your marketing is going to be if you're a green building. That has a certain cachet."

Again, the question of where the responsibility falls is unclear. The industry-standard contracts drafted by the American Institute of Architects do not specify how LEED liabilities are to be handled, meaning all parties are open to finger-pointing.

According to King, design professionals, contractors and owners are the most likely targets for breach of contract lawsuits or negligence claims in these situations.

For example, if an engineer designs an HVAC system and it's installed properly, yet the system fails to achieve the desired reductions, fault is likely with the design team. However, if on paper the design is flawless, but a problem occurs in the installation, contractors will be targeted.

"Potential suits against design professionals are likely breach of contract or malpractice cases, professional liability cases," King said. "There [are lots] of questions as to whether the existing professional practice liability policies of some of these professionals cover these particular risks."

The insurance companies are currently crunching numbering to calculate the potential coverage they can offer the building industry and the appropriate premiums. But without a court decision to solidify the issue, the companies are holding back from committing, King said.

Communication is key

The key to successfully pulling off a LEED project is clear communication between all elements of the team involved, according to Stephen Rick, a LEED AP (accredited professional) with Street Dixon Rick. Having hit LEED qualifications for all the structures it has aimed to certify, included the LEED Gold Vanderbilt Commons, Rick's firm has experience translating a LEED design to the construction phase without issue.

"Like any other project, the key is managing goals and expectations, a clear understanding of what you're doing and to make sure everyone understands the impact of decisions" Rick said. "Probably, if there are some expectations that are not being met, it's because somebody didn't understand something along the way."

That clarity needs to extend into the contractual agreements that bind all the participants. King suggests when contracts are drawn up, more attention must be paid to the fine print than on usual projects.

For example, when hiring a contractor, the owner should specify exactly the type of supplies that must be used on the project, such as low VOC paints, specially certified wood or efficient electrical systems.

"You need to make sure that whatever you deem to be your exposure or risk in the project that you've got the coverage, or you figure out a way to address them with indemnifications from whoever is promising the performance you need."

Monday, July 20, 2009

Green means Pay

Today marks the FINAL increase in the Federal Minimum Wage to well 7.25 hour. I am not sure what to make of a Government where the pay scale is lower than most states pay and we already know that those rates are still well below a LIVING wage.

This is what I love about "greenies" carrying about the global impact of shipping products from overseas, sweatshop production and of course running amok with gleeful excitement because Wal-Mart is suddenly embracing "sustainable" business practices. Does that also include paying their crews a UNIVERSAL LIVING WAGE, proper health care, benefits such as an IRA? Remember when Wal-Mart used to be "Buy American." Well that is long gone as I doubt there is a single item within their stores manufactured from start to finish in America.

The article I reprint states the average wage at 18.52/hr. RIGHT! I think its closer to 12-15 and no to minimal benefits. This will not increase in the next decade as it will take that long for those unemployed to return to work (yes Virginia, those national unemployment rates are a little low in reality we are well past 10% just ask well Oregon at 24% or Michigan at 15%) and another 10 for wages to rise to appropriate levels prior to the recession. And it is not expected to get better.

Raising the minimum wage is OVERDUE by about 20 years it remained stagnant while the rich got richer and the poor well they stayed poor. This is just a blip in the radar. When I lived in San Francisco our minimum wage was 10.77 and they made it mandatory for employers to provide health care. I had a part time job at Macy's and they were fighting tooth and nail to prevent health care for their largely part time staff and the union, you know the one helping employees, did little to circumvent that.

I am pro union but of late I have to ask if Unions are truly prepared to step up and fight this battle. They have been so weakened over the last 20 years that labor is the next to socialism as dividing the country.

If you are sustainable you would be working to build a nation of productive innovative workers who in turn are vested in the long term growth of the business. But that is okay we figured that by sending that side of the business to China we can have the profit and the productivity and well let China figure out the rest. Well they are doing a great job. We have helped them raise their workers standard of living on the backs of ours. I am not a Xenophobe but its the truth. That is that "trade off" thing I often write about with regards to doing one thing that affects another.

We can't have a living wage, we can't have consumer protection, we can't have living wages? Well then what can we have? Help me here cause I can't see the green jobs or any other in this big forest of saved trees.


By Allison Linn

On July 24, the federal minimum wage will increase from $6.55 to $7.25 an hour, the final stage of a three-year plan to raise the lowest pay rate allowable for hourly workers.

Economists say the nearly 11 percent raise will provide a substantial boost in spending power for some workers but also could hurt some small businesses and job seekers because it will make the cost of hiring and retaining workers more expensive. Overall, however, many expect the economic effect to be minimal, in part because so few employers actually pay workers that low rate.

“At the aggregate level of the economy, it’s not something that would have a huge impact,” said Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist with IHS Global Insight.

The effect is lessened in part because 21 states already require employers to pay wages at or above the new federal rate, including large states such as California. In addition, employers in the other states have known for several years that this latest boost was coming, and therefore have had time to plan for it.

“A lot of states moved a long time before the federal government moved on minimum wages,” Gault said. “The federal government is now catching up.”

Also, most workers make substantially more than the new minimum wage. The average hourly wage for U.S. workers is $18.52 an hour, according to seasonally adjusted data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Still, there are pockets of the economy where the wage hike could have a significant impact. David Wyss, chief economist with Standard & Poor’s, said those include rural areas or states where wages tend to be lower.

In addition, Wyss said, it also could be another blow to the already tough job market for teens and young adults, who have been among the hardest-hit during the recession. While the overall unemployment rate was at 9.5 percent as of June, it stood at 24 percent for 16- to 19-year-olds and at 15.2 percent for 20- to 24-year-olds.

Phyllis Knueven and her husband have long employed teenage workers at the Save-A-Lot grocery store franchise they own in Batesville, Ind., and currently have seven teenagers on their staff of 25.

But once the minimum wage hike goes into effect, Knueven said she doesn’t think it will make sense to hire more teenage workers at the $7.25 rate when, for as little as $8 an hour, she can hire an adult worker with more experience and flexibility. A teenager, on the other hand, can take longer to train and will be restricted in doing things like selling alcohol or working certain hours.

She said it’s even more difficult to justify hiring teenagers at the new, higher rate during a time when sales are down 20 percent from a year earlier because of the recession. The drop in business has meant that the company has been forced to lay people off for the first time in its history.

To make ends meet without raising labor costs, Knueven said her entire family is working at the store, including her older in-laws who should be retired but instead are working without pay.

“I don’t think, unless you’re in it, you can imagine what a stressful situation it is,” she said.

About 3 percent of hourly workers, or 2.2 million people, earn the current minimum wage or less, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many of those workers are under 25, working part-time and employed by restaurants or bars, according to BLS research. Some of those workers’ base pay is augmented by tips or commissions.

Heidi Shierholz, economist with the Economic Policy Institute, estimates that a larger group of about 4.5 million workers will be affected by the minimum wage increase. That’s because she said it also will impact everyone making somewhere between the current minimum wage and the new one, plus some people who are just above the minimum wage and may see a comparable boost.

Still, Shierholz said there’s no consensus among economists as to whether a minimum wage increase helps or hurts the economy — only that most don’t think it has a significant impact one way or the other.

Even small business trade groups such as the National Federation of Independent Business, which have traditionally opposed minimum wage hikes, say it can be hard to find a business that actually pays the lowest legal rate. Still, they argue, a minimum wage hike often has a ripple effect on employers who are paying more than minimum wage, forcing them to raise their wages in order to stay competitive. That, in turn, leads to an increase in business costs, a slowdown in hiring or other cost-cutting.

Robert Mayfield, who owns five Dairy Queens and an independent burger restaurant in the Austin, Texas, area, said he pays his approximately 100 workers between $7.50 and $12 an hour because that’s what’s necessarily to get and keep the best workers.

When the new minimum wage law goes into effect, he expects he’ll have to raise wages as well in order to stay ahead of competitors. He said that also means he’ll likely raise prices for customers.

Although the recession has made the job market extremely tough, Mayfield said he can’t risk keeping wages down because then he will lose workers as soon as the economy picks up.

“We might save a little bit of money, but the risk would be that if we just try to pay minimum wage, then those people would leave,” he said.

While a minimum wage hike can be a big hit for businesses like Mayfield’s, Shierholz said the increase in spending power can be significant for those on the other side, who now get a pay raise. According to EPI’s research, more than half of the 4.5 million lower-wage workers have a total family income of less than $35,000.

A person working full-time would earn $15,080 a year under the new minimum wage, compared with $13,624 under the previous minimum wage. That's still far below the Department of Health and Human Services' poverty guidelines for a familiy for four, which was $22,050 for 2009.

Gault, the economist, said there are legitimate concerns that employers will be more cautious about hiring, making it even more difficult for young or inexperienced workers to get jobs and adding to costs for struggling small businesses. But, he said, that problem pales in comparison to the many other economic issues the country is dealing with right now, such as the credit crunch, housing crisis and financial industry troubles.

“Normally, the very, very deep recession would not be the time that you want to be bumping up the minimum wage, but relative to everything else that’s going on in the economy it’s a relatively minor event,” Gault said.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Homework is not Just for School

I read this on MSN today and while it makes some valid points I want to counter with thoughts on my own (they follow in bold) and why I think this is also a message to Contractors as well as Customers.

And I want to point out that some of these are also client focused as in the sense that by being a better client, most if all of these problems can be avoided. Hiring Construction Coaches are great ways to truly save money and make the project of your dreams stay that way. Part of my business is offering that type of consulting - I stop at Project Management, I prefer to educate my clients to do this themselves but there are many Contractors who again if you are looking to diversify your business this is another option that can help you be better at your job, develop another skill and simply give you another revenue source.

10 things contractors won’t tell you

Learning a few tricks of their trade will help you ensure you get the job done right and at a fair price.

By SmartMoney

1. “My license is laughable.”

When you hire a general contractor to build an addition onto your house, you probably assume you’re getting someone who has spent years learning his craft, giving him the proper credentials to saw a hole in the side of your den. In reality, you could be getting a madman with a toolbox who answers to no one. That’s because only 27 states have any state-licensing requirements — and where regulations do exist, they vary. In California, one of the stricter states, aspiring contractors must have four years’ experience, prove their financial solvency and pass a written exam to become licensed, whereas in South Carolina, they need only two years of experience along with an exam and submission of financials. Maybe the disparity helps in part to explain why the Better Business Bureau received 1.1 million inquiries in 2006 from people seeking “reliability reports” on specific contractors — to ensure they were trustworthy enough to hire — ranking them third among industries for that request, according to the Council of BBBs.

Do not think strict licensing and tests make a "good" contractor. The amount of litigation and problems in California show that they are not any more exempt from the problem of "bad" contractors. Reputation is built and earned and no tests can test for poor business management issues.

So how should you shop for a contractor? Ask for and check references, of course. One good resource is Handyman Online, a referral service that can connect you with contractors in your area who are legitimately licensed, carry liability insurance and have at least three references. And Tom Pendleton, owner of McLean, Va.-based consulting firm The House Inspector, offers this advice: “Close to 95 percent of home-improvement contractors go out of business or change their name within three years” due to consumer complaints or mismanagement, he says, “so you want a contractor who’s been in business under the same name for more than three years.”

That advice is pretty much true of everyone and now unfortunately its difficult to know what is an acceptable time frame for business anymore. The new shingle contractor may be because his "old timer" retired or simply went out of business himself. As a result the new guy may be just the one for you. He may need more time and care but he also knows the value of this job as he tries to build his business and reputation. That and his rates and markups may be much lower so in turn your costs will be less. Don't devalue the newer company just make sure to have a solid contract, payment schedule and good project management in place.

I have already discussed in MANY blogs about referral services and will not do so again here. You would be better off driving around your neighborhood and seeing who is doing work there and leaving a note in a mailbox to the owner than using these services.

2. “Our contract favors me …”

When it’s time to sign on the dotted line, most contractors will present you with a boilerplate agreement based on one created by the American Institute of Architects. It lays out the job’s details, including its scope, materials to be used and a payment schedule. Not surprisingly, according to Mark Levine, co-author of “The Big Fix-Up,” a consumer guide to home remodeling, some contractors will set up a schedule that puts your payments ahead of the work. “When (a contractor) has received 50 percent of the money for 25 percent of the work, that’s when he stops showing up as often,” he says.

Levine suggests a plan such as paying 10 percent down, 25 percent when plumbing and electrical work are done, 25 percent after cabinets and windows are finished, and 25 percent for flooring and painting. “And don’t hand him the last 15 percent on his final day,” Levine says. “It’s called ‘retainage,’ and you should keep it for 30 extra days just to make sure everything is working the way it should.” In addition, if the job is big enough — say, $50,000 or more — Levine suggests investing in four hours of attorney fees to devise a contract that includes a fair payment plan, with retainage, and stipulates that disputes will be settled through arbitration (the quick and easy way to do it).

Legitimate and professional Contractors are using Attorneys to write their contracts. This is a two way street in a litigious society so it is highly egregious to think that copying one off the internet or buying a standard copy is sufficient to meet the demands of local laws that also dictate how payments, warranties and service is to be performed. And this also does not excuse anyone from READING a contract and understanding the fine print. And if you don't understand the legalese spending a few hundred dollars upfront by hiring an attorney to assist you in this effort can prevent many problems and money later on.

3. “ … so I can take your money and run.”

Mark Zarrilli decided to enhance his Wall, N.J., home by putting a new path around his swimming pool. It was an $11,000 job, and he paid $7,000 upfront to the contractors — supposedly for materials. “They brought somebody in to do the preliminary brickwork, then played a duck-and-run game for three months,” Zarrilli says. “They’d tell me the truck broke down, the wife was sick, the cement company couldn't’ deliver. I’ll never get my money back.” Zarrilli took the dispute to the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s office, who charged the contractor with theft by deception. (The contractor eventually pleaded guilty.)

Mark Herr, former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, calls this alleged scam “spiking the job,” and it’s one of the worst possible outcomes when you’ve signed a contract that includes a front-loaded payment schedule. “By completing a little bit of the work, they can face only civil rather than criminal charges,” Herr says. You might get sucked into such a scenario if your contractor tells you — like Zarrilli’s did — that the upfront cash is for materials. “Typically,” Herr says, “that happens because the guy needs to pay upfront for goods since he has no credit, probably because he screwed up somewhere else.” Your pre-emptive strategy: Offer to have the materials delivered to your house and to pay for them C.O.D.

I encouraged this often. The downside is that by relying on the customer to buy the appropriate and sufficient materials is a challenge. That means buying exactly what is specified (spec'd) on the plans and willing to place them in a secure storage facility. I liked this as that took the burden of costs off my credit, the time to do the purchasing and simply allowed me the time to do other work. Running around and picking up stuff and getting materials was not always the most productive way of a single shingle to work effectively. However, the downside is the customer's unfamiliarity with exact materials, the sudden inclination to change and the improper storage that often contributed to damage. So in these cases, my contract specified that warranty only covered installation and not materials. Again everything is a trade off and needs to be well established by effective communication between all the parties of who is doing what.

The next option is the one spelled out in the contract issue above. Clear deposits and payment schedules are always arranged in reasonable amounts with reasonable expectations and time frames. But again this is about the Contract and knowing that the Contract is a good and fair one to BOTH parties

4. “Bargains don’t exist in my world.”

Before hiring a contractor, you’ll probably solicit various bids. If one comes in much lower than the others, it’s natural to think you’ve lucked out, but that’s not necessarily the case, says Lisa Curtis, former director of consumer services for the Denver district attorney’s office. Because of the fixed costs of materials and labor, a stunningly low bid is a red flag.

Common tactics include starting a job based on a bargain-basement price, then telling the customer that the work is more complicated (and more costly) than originally thought. Then there’s the contractor who quotes a price that includes windows he knows are of poor quality; once the job is under way, he’ll present his client with what is clearly a better window and talk him into upgrading. “Ultimately,” Curtis says, “you may pay more than you would have with a reputable person who started off at a reasonably higher price.”

BIDDING is an antiquated and bad idea in residential remodeling and puts the onus of responsibility on the Contractor to hit the number right off the bat and PRESUME that all the "estimated" costs by the time start of the job will be stagnant and stable and the other that a Client has a general idea of what costs are in the first place. It works in Commercial as everyone is on the same page with information.

5. “I’ll be back when I feel like it.”

So you found yourself a good contractor. Terrific — but here’s the bad news. When contractors are busy with multiple jobs, as the best in the business inevitably are, you can pretty much expect the schedule for completing your job will go out the window. “If the contractor’s got too many jobs going,” Pendleton says, “the workers might only be in your house for two hours when they should have been there all day.”

One way to guarantee that your job won’t stretch to Wagnerian lengths, he says, is to hire a contractor with a lead person or project manager, “a working supervisor who is on the job from beginning to end.” If the job drags, the contractor still has to pay that person, so it “becomes in the contractor’s interest to finish the job,” Pendleton says.

That is all well and good but most contractors are single shingle dudes working from home. They are their own Project Manager so that is irrelevant. You as the owner must take that on by establishing a clear schedule with an outline of what is being done and by whom on what date. With the understanding that delays can occur and what the options are regarding those. You can also establish a penalty fee if completion is not made by a certain date beyond the reasonable expectation for a job of this size.

6. “Your last-minute changes are my retirement fund.”

Steve Velasco, now a project manager for a Southern California civil engineering firm, once worked as a carpenter on a residential job in which the homeowner, just after the house had been fully framed, pointed to a peak in the roof and casually asked, “Wouldn’t a window be nice there?” As Velasco recalls, “The architect told us to go ahead and do it, and suddenly, he had spent $10,000 of the homeowner’s money.” Why so much? Because making changes in the middle of construction is the most expensive way to proceed, since work has to be undone and redone to accommodate the new plan. Indeed, Baker has described “while you’re at it” as “the four most expensive words in the English language.”

Architect Richard Hornberger advises that you spend time on the front end devising a plan, then commit yourself to living with it. And if you need to make a change, do it the way architects do: “Give the contractor a proposal request, in writing,” he says. “Then, in writing, you get back a change order that lays out what will be done, how much it will cost, and how much additional time it will take.”

This is the best advice that relates to this. Try to NOT make changes to what you originally planned and only do changes if they relate to structural/code or inspection issues. Know the markup for a change order as that may be significantly higher than the one used by the Contractor initially. And yes you have the right to ask what his/her markup is. Mine was fully disclosed.

7. “If it looks good, I don’t care if it’s done right.”

Unless you have X-ray vision or the time to spend days watching your contractors in action, all you may ever know about your job is whether it looks good in the end. Evelyn Yancoskie, director of consumer affairs for Delaware County, Pa., knows of at least one family in her area who got a new roof that, indeed, looked just fine. But the roof was lacking a key element: an ice shield, a three-foot- wide rubber lining that’s crucial for a roof in this part of the country. “The contractor figures that nobody will miss it anyway,” Yancoskie says. “But if you get a cold winter, any water that gets into the gutters will freeze, back up onto the roof, and go underneath the shingles. Without a shield, the ice under the shingles melts and leaks into your house.”

Contractors may also cut corners by skimping on insulation, but packing it with care so that it looks filled in; leaving out plumbing lines and pumps that give you hot water fast; and using low-quality wood, but laying it beautifully so that you don’t notice. “Guys will use substandard plywood, shingles, siding,” Herr says. “In situations where homeowners aren’t likely to ask what’s going on, contractors use subpar materials.” Or just do a subpar job.

What can you do to prevent this sort of behavior? Check with your state’s department of consumer affairs to see if, like New Jersey, it requires its contractors to be registered —meaning they’re insured, must use certain approved language in contracts, agree to list specifics about materials being used, provide start and end dates for a project, and generally operate with full disclosure about their practices. “Registration (with a state board) is really key legal protection for consumers,” says Jeff Lamm, a spokesman for the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. Otherwise, you should always get multiple estimates on a project and never settle on a contractor without checking references carefully.

All of this can be eliminated by simply hiring PROFESSIONALS. People who can articulate how they work and what needs to be done on a project in a clear and concise matter. If they just say "yeah we can do it" without providing you a written detailed plan, scope of work and itemized lists of materials, costs and labor time then don't hire them. This is often people trying to get by on the cheap and you should again talk to at least two, I recommend three different providers to see what each said. I call it the Three Bear approach to find someone "just right."

8. “I delegate to novices.”

Herr recounts the tale of a family that wanted their kitchen redone in time for Easter. One night before the holiday, a subcontractor was sweating to install the garbage disposal. When asked why the job was giving him so much trouble, the worker replied, “When they showed me this morning at Home Depot, I thought I understood.” The story points out a big problem: It’s not just your contractor you have to worry about but also the subcontractors whom he hires to do the actual work. “You need to know in advance who the subcontractors are,” Herr says. “You can’t let the contractor sub anything out without your permission.”

Levine suggests taking things a step further: Visit homes in which your contractor’s carpenter has done the finishing work, and if you like what you see, get it in writing that that particular guy will be hired. “Look to see if there are tight joints in the molding, if cabinets are screwed into the walls rather than nailed, if margins between doors and frames are even all around,” Levine says. “Those are signs of a good finish carpenter, and they serve as a litmus test. A general contractor who has a real pro doing his finish carpentry is probably hiring real pros to do other stuff as well.”

I know for a fact NO ONE will do this and really are you kidding? Does the average person know even what they are looking for? No. As for subcontractors its the perils of the business. I loathed having to use them and that is the mark of a great GC finding the great team. And then when you need them they are busy and trying to schedule and coordinate is the most challenging aspect. So homeowners have little say and this just won't work. Sorry but you again are going to have to rely on the GC and ask them who they are using how long they have been using them and if you want to know more get the names of them and call them that is about the best advice I can say. But again I doubt this is something anyone should or want to do.

9. “If I come knocking, you’re better off not answering.”

Courtney Yelle was in his Bucks County, Pa., yard raking leaves when a gleaming pickup truck pulled into his driveway. Yelle says that a clean-cut workman emerged and told him it looked as if his driveway needed to be repaved — which, Yelle admits, was the case. But before he would commit, Yelle, former director of Bucks County Consumer Protection, said he’d need a written estimate along with the worker’s phone number and address. The guy said he’d leave it in the mailbox, according to Yelle, then backed out of the driveway and disappeared forever.

Yelle says that the “worker” was a seasoned scam artist who approaches people’s homes offering to do jobs at bargain-basement prices, often on the premise that he has leftover materials from a nearby project. In reality, if he does the job at all, he’ll do shoddy work with low-grade materials, says Wendy Weinberg, former executive director of the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators. While it sounds like common sense to be suspicious of solicitors, clearly these curbside con artists can be convincing: Curtis estimates they bilk homeowners out of $20 million per year in Colorado alone.

This is very different than canvasing which many Contractors do. They don't TELL you what needs to be done. If they leave information or come to your door they are simply offering a service which YOU DO NOT have to do. Does it mean throw it out... no. Ask if they are working in the neighborhood and if they are get the address, drive by and leave a note in the mailbox asking the homeowner to give you a call and that is a FANTASTIC way to find a good Contractor.

10. “I’m an environmental disaster.”

Say you have a contractor in your home, replacing those ugly acoustic tiles that have covered the rec room ceiling for 20 years. Early into the job he realizes that the tiles contain asbestos. If he’s responsible, he’ll insist that the poisonous materials be taken out by a licensed asbestos-removal contractor. This will take time and could cost you thousands of dollars; if he’s less than honest, he’ll ask for an extra few hundred bucks to do the job himself.

What's your home worth?

The problem with the latter solution: Even if the contractor doesn’t make a mistake and release particles of cancer-causing dust into the air in or around your home, the long-term repercussions are serious and may have legal consequences — for you. Contractors who aren’t licensed to deal with such materials can’t dispose of them at licensed (and, thus, safe) facilities, says Ross Edward, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. If hazardous materials aren’t disposed of properly, they could leach into soil and ground water. And if your contractor gets caught dumping toxic materials this way, you may be liable, since the pollution came from your property. “These days,” Edward says, “the homeowner has just as much responsibility for the environment as any factory owner.”

This is true. It is still on code that homeowners can remove many hazardous materials themselves. So if you are not sure that the tiles, insulation or whatever is hazardous a qualified home inspector can and will check and give you the appropriate names of those who specialize in remediation. Any qualified Contractor will not do it for many reasons and should not. But they also may not know. This is an ever changing issue and falls to people to be well informed. We still have no cohesive policy regarding mold so it falls to you to make those decisions by doing some research.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

National Standards for Building..RIGHT!

This morning the New York Times (and yes its my FIRST paper of choice and well soon and most likely the ONLY paper of choice) had this article about the growth of Energy Inspectors to make housing more efficient. Ironically I had gotten an email from Ron Jones, NAHB Green Build "expert", decrying the cost complaints about why homes are not built "efficient." (It is reprinted below the article) I have to love that the Green arm of the NAHB is complaining when in fact the NAHB has stalled many energy efficient requirements, such as SEER ratings with regards to AC units and offers in their green build program performance path as an OPTION.

When you can't get the current Congress to agree upon the Health of the nation, the Climate of the World and the state of the Economy we are now going to add Building codes onto the list of policies and procedures that must be Legislated to FORCE people into doing what is simply the RIGHT THING!!! You can see why the right and the middle suddenly feel we are going Socialist. Well this is what "free market capitalism" and State rights have done. A myriad of different laws, influences and erratic policies that contradict each other, help those in influence and do basically little for the greater good. No wonder we need a strong pimp hand in the Government. Whoops the PC police might think I mean Obama, I mean he's black and everything and well that is what it means, right? Um, NO.. That phrase for those in the outer white burbs is often referenced in "urban" music. As for Obama's "pimp hand" well let's put it this way.. its wearing a velvet glove so it don't hurt the bitch much when you slap it.

Builders, apparently the proclaimed voice of the consumer, had no problem building shitty crap at outrageous prices and found no problems with banks willing to lend those desperate, scared, greedy or simply those who wanted homes at any cost. So why build them well with proper insulation and performance capabilities.. hell no that costs approximately 2,000 bucks more (and that could easily be brought down with production build) because their clients don't WANT it. I see the exchange as this....

Builder: "Do you want this shitty house for 400K or this "green" house for 600K?"
Client" "I will take the 400K house that green shit is just a fad"

They neglect to mention that the ultimate long range energy savings and quality of indoor air and overall sustainability of the home with likely fewer "repairs" will be immediately repaid sooner than later. Of course notice that what cost 2K managed to also add 200K to the house. Or the fact that the 400K house cost less than 100K to build, but no one asks for specifics.. we are a bottom line kind of nation.

I agree that we just simply must do this for the good of all and yes it may cost a few bucks more but what is the problem with it 2K or not.. lose the goddamn second Plasma TV and you will be much happier in the long run. Technology changes and with that it means it gets cheaper.. your home is NOT a TV maybe that is why builders build shit because they think you will just run out and get a new one like you do when your Ipod dies. Well then to that caveat emptor.


A New Enforcer in Buildings, the Energy Inspector

Published: July 17, 2009

AUSTIN, Tex. — Peering behind a bathtub in a newly built house, an inspector, John Umphress, spotted a big gap in the wall insulation. “Somebody took a lunch break!” he complained to the builder, who sheepishly agreed to patch the hole.

With the fix, the house, already a model of energy efficiency, will use even less energy and save its residents money — for decades.

But that small catch would not have been made in many American towns. Mr. Umphress is a particular kind of inspector, an energy auditor, and Austin, with one of the toughest building codes in the country, requires an energy inspection before a building can be occupied.

Climate scientists and architects say that no single policy change could do more to save energy over the long run — and reduce the nation’s contribution to global warming — than building codes that make saving energy the law.

Since the energy crises of the 1970s, the United States has known it has an energy problem. Yet today, the energy requirements in building codes remain weak across half the country, and at least seven states have virtually no rules. That means that in many places, particularly the nation’s heartland, almost every new home, store and factory that goes up locks the country into unnecessary energy use for years to come.

The problem is not just construction defects like the one Mr. Umphress caught, though those are plentiful. In many places, builders are still using too little insulation. Citing cost, they have not adopted the most energy-saving water heaters, roofing materials or window panes.

The Energy Department reports that buildings and the appliances inside them account for almost 40 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted in the country.

Stricter codes have been fought bitterly by politically powerful builders’ lobbies, which contend that they can add $2,000 or more to the cost of a house. But in a few places, including cities like Austin and entire states like California, tough new rules have been adopted.

The efforts of these localities show that no new technology needs to be invented to make major gains in saving energy. Products already available permit the construction of homes at least 30 percent more efficient than the national average. With enough political will, a new law can be put in place anywhere with the stroke of a pen, and made even more potent if it is coupled with tough oversight, as in Austin.

“If you build a building well, it’s an asset for 100 years; conversely, if you build a shoddy building, it can be a 100-year liability,” said Hal Harvey, chief executive of ClimateWorks, a group seeking to tackle global warming. “Energy building codes are the single biggest opportunity to save the environment while saving the consumer money.”

Mr. Harvey estimated that if today’s best building practices were applied in new buildings across the United States, the country could cut its total emissions of carbon dioxide, a principal global warming gas, by about 11 percent by 2030, compared to what it would otherwise be.

As global warming has become a pressing issue, sentiment has developed in Washington to push the country toward more stringent building codes. The Obama administration’s stimulus package, enacted in February, required states to pledge to adopt stronger energy building codes as a condition of receiving more than $3 billion in funding for various energy programs.

Energy legislation moving through Congress would go further, setting binding federal targets for efficiency that would require most states to adjust their codes. The proposed legislation aims to achieve an efficiency improvement in the next few years of at least 30 percent in states that already have up-to-date codes, and even more in states without them. That requirement would gradually tighten through 2030.

“A national building code is the key for getting our greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption under control,” said Ed Mazria, executive director of Architecture 2030, an organization that researches building efficiency. “As you begin to level off emissions from buildings, you can begin to phase out coal plants as they age.”

Studies suggest that updated codes produce substantial gains, including savings for homeowners over the long run. In Austin, for instance, the municipal utility estimates that it takes about five years for the typical homeowner to save enough money on utilities to pay for the initial upgrades, and hundreds of dollars a year in savings continue after that. In places where energy costs are higher or codes are weaker, the savings could be even greater.

Strong codes are helping states reduce the growth in their electricity use — sometimes to the point that per capita consumption has leveled off, as in California.

California reports that it has reduced energy consumption in new houses and commercial buildings by 75 percent over the three decades that codes have been in effect there. Likewise, a new home built today in Florida, a state that also has a strong energy code, is nearly 70 percent more energy-efficient than a home of the same size built when codes were first enacted in 1979, according to the Florida Solar Energy Center, a state-supported research institute.

But builders warn that tough energy building codes would further harm the housing market and encourage people, particularly those with modest incomes, to live in older homes that are less efficient. “It’s extremely difficult to market and sell efficiency in a new house as an incentive,” said Harry Savio, executive vice president of the Austin Home Builders Association.

Despite the opposition, political sentiment in many places has shifted toward making more efficient use of energy. Even in the absence of binding national standards, stronger building codes are making headway in most states of the Far West and the Eastern Seaboard, as well as in some cities.

But even so, a majority of the states follow codes that are out of date or leave it up to local communities to decide how efficient they want their buildings to be. The states that have no statewide mandatory codes, or perfunctory ones, include Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming, according to the Building Codes Assistance Project, a research group that supports codes.

Amory Lovins, founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute and one of the country’s leading voices on energy efficiency, estimated that if every state had a building code as tough as California’s, energy consumption in a typical new home could be cut as much as 75 percent.

Here in Austin, which has had progressively stronger building energy codes since 1985, the typical home has decreased its annual energy use per square foot to 6.5 kilowatt hours, from 8.95 kilowatt hours, an efficiency gain of 27 percent, even though residents now own more computers and larger television sets. As a result, the municipal utility was able to avoid building a coal-fired power plant that had been in the planning stage.

Last year, Austin sought to leapfrog California with a code that aimed to increase the efficiency in new buildings by 65 percent, with requirements gradually tightening from now to 2015. It requires reflective heat barriers below roofs, installation of efficient lighting and windows, and better wall insulation, and also requires that new homes constructed in 2015 or later be built in a way that makes it easy to install solar panels or other types of renewable energy. (Builders estimate that in a typical 2,100-square-foot house, the roof heat barriers cost them around $400 while each of the 20 efficient windows will cost an extra $20.)

The code couples strict requirements with tough enforcement. For instance, it obliges builders to hire private inspectors to do energy audits before they can get a certificate of occupancy that allows them to sell new homes. “The buyer gets a better house,” said Mr. Umphress, the Austin auditor.

The day after he spotted the missing insulation behind the bathtub at 2105 Antone Street, he oversaw an energy audit at a pretty yellow house across town at 3013 Sea Jay Drive, just before it was to go on the market. The house had all the markings of an ecologically friendly structure. The insulation surpassed code requirements, the water heater was the highly efficient tankless type, and kitchen counter tops were made from recycled glass.

But when the inspectors ran a test of the duct system, they found leakage more than twice that allowed in the energy code. The crew and Mr. Umphress climbed into the attic and found leaks from duct connectors and around the wires on the air blower.*** see editors note

“This is why we test,” Mr. Umphress said. “Otherwise we would never catch this and this house would have been leaking dollars and contributing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for decades, or until the ductwork fell apart.”

Editors note: ***with the claims of being energy efficient still putting duct work in unconditioned space a big no no even for Energy Star rated homes(the easiest of ratings in home build) is one thing apparently missing from this strict this is not so perfect either.********

Not On Price Alone

Ron Jones, Green Builder Magazine

Ask any home buyer or homeowner how many leaks in their roof or spewing plumbing joints would be acceptable. What about gas leaks or faulty electrical circuits? How many doors or windows are allowed to be left out? How large a hole can the builder or remodeler leave in the ceiling, wall, or floor and still call the job complete and satisfactory?

Now, ask that same consumer how much of the energy and water that they pay good money to bring into their homes they are willing to waste every month because of poor design, obsolete products, shoddy workmanship, mediocre materials, and inefficient mechanical systems. (Never mind the fact that their lifestyle and habits will have just as large an impact on these resources—if not more—than the sum of the building quality.)

Most of the studies I have seen estimate that as much as 30% to 40% of the energy brought into American buildings, including residences, for space heating, air-conditioning, ventilation, water heating, and operating appliances is never put to its intended use. It is simply wasted. As for water, these waste estimates range from 15% to 35%, and even higher in some parts of the country.

Does anyone reading this newsletter believe the cost of traditionally produced energy is going to go down? Does anyone on a public water system anywhere in the country think they pay the true cost of sourcing, treating, and delivering a gallon of safe, potable water to the tap? Does anyone know of a city council, a county commission, or other government body that has the political will to charge the electorate the real cost of anything, fearing that people mostly vote their pocketbooks, when they can instead externalize portions of these costs and cloak them by a variety of means?

I am always amazed when I hear builders and remodelers say that their customers are not willing to pay extra for higher quality or performance or that they are only willing to spend more if an acceptable payback can be assured. Sorry, that simply does not fly with me. If this were true then there would only be one model of each product, the cheapest version possible. And somebody please tell me what the ROI is on a brand-new big-screen HD television. Sure, price matters but people don't make purchasing decisions on price alone.

No, my experience across the 25 years that I delivered homes to my customers was that they invariably chose to buy the best product, component, or system that they could afford. Sure, there were trade-offs. It was regularly necessary to balance the level of performance or price point with the overall budget until an acceptable bottom line was reached. And often they looked to me for my advice on what parts of the project they should prioritize, not only for the sake of resale value, but to help them understand where they could economize with the least impact on their quality of life.

Today, homeowners and home buyers are beginning to look at the long-term ramifications of their selections. They are realizing that operational costs, replacement rates, maintenance expenses, reliability and durability—not just the initial purchase price—are all keys to their ability to afford any dwelling over the long haul.

They are also carefully factoring insurance costs, property taxes, and the soft costs associated with their chosen type of financing vehicle (especially in the case of adjustable rate mortgages) with a keener awareness that keeping the lights on, the appliances running, the water heater fired up and the living space comfortably conditioned all come at a price, month after month, and must be transparent in the calculation.

Industry groups and individual building professionals have got to abandon their outdated circle the wagons mentality when it comes to attempting to forestall regulations requiring higher levels of performance and put an end to the monotonous messaging of denial and fear that only tell part of the affordability story. Trade associations, like NAHB, are not speaking for all of their members when they lobby lawmakers to limit increases in performance regulations to no more than token increments.

Many builders, remodelers, and contractors are already delivering performance that well exceeds the embarrassingly low minimum requirements held forever sacred by the foot draggers. It is time that the achievers are represented and rewarded rather than continuing to protect and defend those who make up the lowest common denominator.

Any building professional who believes it is possible to succeed going forward on the basis of price alone, or that higher building performance will remain voluntary, is in for a rude awakening. At the end of the day, a level playing field, an understanding that the market paradigm has definitely shifted, and a genuine determination to deliver the best performance and highest quality product possible are the keys to successful building, satisfied customers, and a brighter future for everyone.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Profit and Share

I liked this concept in the idea that if you earn a reasonable profit you share that with your employees. I only wish I was a Goldman or Chase employee as they seem to really be doing a lot of each. And I also would like to know that since it was MY money that allowed for it where exactly is my share?

It is like Unemployment benefits. I pay in them therefore I should be able to get them. I do not. I cannot earn enough in my Consulting business. Its that simple. And by enough I mean at all. I am tied to the housing market and my customer is not a rich fat cat building a dream green home, my customer is the average rank and file home owner who may or may not be one of the following:

1. Risk of losing job and/or declining wages
2. Home is de-valued or underwater
3. Cannot get loan to improve home as Chase, etc are not lending.
4. Too scared to do anything
5. All of the above

So I substitute teach and now its summer and I have ZERO income. In that case my government bailout should come in the form of Unemployment Insurance. The thing that I pay into each month on the off chance I cannot work. Well I cannot work, there is no school. And yes this is the "perk" of the job but unlike full time contracted teachers when I don't work I DON'T GET paid. And when I don't get paid I don't eat, live or whatever. But gee that is not a problem right? Aren't most substitutes aware of that or are retired, married or do other things to make it work? Otherwise why sub. Well yes and well no. I have a business that for all purposes exists but profit or even income is non-existent. So I need income from where - my ass? If I pay into something I should receive the benefits. Therefore why are banks seeing profits, paying outlandish salaries on said profits, when I can't figure out exactly how those were generated without oddly me paying into it? So maybe they can pass some cash my way. (Actually they are in the form of a cash advance credit loan which still means they win ultimately)

I went into this work to help people. I saw the snake oil salesman in the guise of "green builders" and knew that this was one area that those who could do were doing it all along and those that saw green saw it there. I can point to two that I know from personally meeting and seeing their "projects" that is very much the case. (In all honesty do I think they are "crooks?" No, I think they are arrogant, ignorant and have tech money a deadly triple threat)

If you are doing green you are doing what has been on the pipeline for years. There are some new products that are making things even better but ultimately a responsible builder and more importantly a remodeler knows what has to be done to improve a homes performance, effectiveness and ultimately its value for the home owner. Its that simple and that easy so just DO IT. Adding special labels, names and fancy stars and platitudes isn't really going to make it better its just making it more expensive and therefore defeats the real purpose. Making it less expensive for everyone. Now really do I want the great unwashed having a nice green clean home? No, because it makes my Net Zero/Passive/Leed/4 Star home LESS valuable in my eyes and the eyes of greedy real estate brokers and tax assessors. Having few of something means its better right?

This economy is NOT improving. Anyone who believes the stimulus package will help those in energy retrofitting, building infrastructure and getting people BACK to work are too afraid to admit its a failure because they don't want to be seen as "Republican" or against Obama. No its realistic and actually necessary for people to see what it was and comment on how its working or in this case not. When the ONLY people benefiting from the bailout are those who put us there in the first place ask yourself is that what it was for?