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Solar Panels vs HOA

evan Filed Under: Tags: ,
Be sure to check out our post on Solar Panels vs Home Owners Associations over at the R. Michael Cross | Design Group blog. While not an issue that came up with the Augusta Project, it definitely speaks to some of the thornier issues that can impede sustainable practices.


R. Michael Cross | Design Group Blog


Thanks for reading. We'd love to hear comments, questions or suggestions either in the comments section or you can email us at blog@rmichaelcross.com

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Study: Vented vs Unvented Roofs

evan Filed Under: Tags: , , , , ,




Things are moving along at 4600 Augusta Ave: all of the windows and doors are in, and we’re quickly approaching the time to insulate. Pinning down the best method for insulation has been a surprisingly difficult process… while building science reports have increasingly advocated tight full-home conditioned envelopes using unvented roofs and conditioned attics, we’ve found contractors to be generally skeptical of the spray-foam technique, citing the lack of ventilation along the sheathing as cause for concern about shingle temperature and degradation. Shingle manufacturers themselves have expressed confidence in their products in the assembly; however, given the degree/prevalence of contractor pushback we decided to throw this one over to the R&D department here at R. Michael Cross | Design Group, and enlisted the invaluable help of Guy DuBois of Commonwealth Building Sciences for a sort of case study to examine the effect of underside ventilation (or lack thereof) on roof surface temperature.


To break this down a little, I should explain that vented attics were mandated by code for years as a means of preventing roof damage resulting from trapped moisture. In this method, insulation gets put down between the second floor ceiling joists, vents are installed in the eaves and gable ends, and the attic is left essentially unconditioned.  There are a few main thoughts behind the original mandate: preventing the buildup of moisture during the colder months by allowing it to escape, and preventing ice damming at the eaves in the winter by keeping the entire roof cold. Dominion Power further explains:


At some point, the original purpose for attic ventilation was forgotten and/or replaced, in cooling climates, with the belief that it was to reduce roof and attic temperatures, thus lowering cooling expenses and increasing shingle life. This was further compounded by the leap of faith that increased or powered ventilation would be even better. While sounding logical, there is simply no research to validate it. In fact, scientific testing has shown that attic ventilation has almost no effect on roof surface/ shingle temperatures and very little effect on attic temperatures.


 While Dominion’s research would seem to answer our question… we decided to move forward anyway. Because we’re scientists, dammit, and we need some of that good empirical stuff.


The key to unvented roof assemblies and conditioned attics is managing the temperature of the first condensing surface either with rigid insulation on top of the sheathing, or with an impermeable barrier of spray foam insulation adhered directly to the underside of the sheathing. In the case of rigid insulation, this keeps the condensing surface at the roof sheathing sufficiently warm (45°F) to minimize or prevent condensation. In the case of applied spray-foam, this moves the condensing surface from outside of the insulation (the roof sheathing) to the inside of the spray-foam, which is essentially self-insulated by the rest of the foam behind it.


This method of keeping the condensing surface below significant insulation also allows the exterior roof surface to remain relatively cool, preventing ice dams. Furthermore, the absence of direct attic ventilation helps minimize uplift pressure in high wind events.


To study the surface temperature performance of unvented roof assemblies compared to unvented roof assemblies, we constructed two 2’-0” x 4’-0” mockup sections of roof, one with two inches of spray-foam applied directly to the sheathing, one without.
 



From there we set the roof panels up at a 12:12 slope and set up matching heat lamps (250 watts). Guy spent some time calibrating the whole set-up, making certain both panels received equal heat exposure. After heating both panels for about 15 minutes, the heating lamps were turned off and initial surface temperature readings were taken.












We found that both panels had a surface temperature within 1°F of 181°F. We chose to continue measuring at intervals over the next half hour to see if the panels rejected surface heat at the same rate. 









Ultimately, the panels performed almost identically, with the unvented panel cooling slightly slower, presumably because of the foam’s thermal mass. Measurements taken behind the panel showed an expected but marked difference in hot spots, with the insulated panel performing significantly better. 







We admit that this investigation could have been more controlled, and that the panels may not exactly reflect the performance of an actual enclosed roof assembly; however this was a helpful exercise in essentially pointing towards a confirmation that unvented roofs won’t melt your shingles off. At the end of the day, we believe the positives of an unvented spray-foam assembly present a better solution for residential roofs in most situations.


We wish we had somewhat more conclusive results, and may still pursue further tests on these panels. In fact, we’d love to hear any of your suggestions and ideas for testing methods, or even general questions that you don’t think we have addressed. You can also email us at blog@rmichaelcross.com.


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The Augusta Project @ VCA

R. Michael Cross Filed Under:


Quick news
The Virginia Center for Architecture has invited the R Michael Cross | Design Group to speak about the Augusta Project: Richmond's First LEED Registered Home as part of their program series supporting their current exhibition The Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture and Design. We're flattered by the invitation and very excited to participate in this series.
The presentation is scheduled as a lunchtime lecture on November 24th from noon until 1pm and it is our great pleasure to announce that lunch will be provided by the fine people at Ferguson. Mark your calendars!

RMC

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Ducts

evan Filed Under: Tags: ,

CLICK IMAGE FOR GALLERY


A quick post on ducts: they are in. Be sure to check out Michael's images, which some describe as "happier" or "more vibrant" or "less Jersey" than mine. Well... so be it.


Deltatemp came back today to install the ducts. We designed a large utility chase into the house to allow the various systems to efficiently serve the two floors, and Deltatemp has installed an open system which will treat the chase as a return plenum instead of ducting return air from specific locations. If you look through the pictures you'll also notice the- uh- triple sealed duct joints - tape, then two coats of mastic- to pretty much eliminate air leakage. Also please note the particular care we've taken to make the ducts too small for spies, ninjas, most aliens, and/or Tom Cruise. Dennis Quaid a la Innerspace would have a go of it though- sans Martin Short, natch- until the MERV 13 filters... then he'd be stuck.




|ETM


Thanks for reading. We'd love to hear comments, questions or suggestions either in the comments section or you can email us at blog@rmichaelcross.com

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Make It Rain!

evan Filed Under: Tags: , , , , ,

CLICK IMAGE FOR GALLERY


The job site has come back to life in recent days, with windows and cisterns and actual magic, so I suppose it's well past time to fire up the ol' blog engine!


Jeremy installed the JELD-WEN double-hung windows in the new half of the house last weekend, and we're looking at two more weeks until the big units come in. All of the windows will qualify for the "Exceptional Windows" LEED-H Credit, which means that in the EPA North Central Region- which Virginia occupies (sorry secessionists!)- all windows must have a U-value of ≤ 0.32 and a Solar Heat Gain Coefficient of ≤ 0.40.


After yet another bout of massive hole digging, our 1,400 gallon cistern went in yesterday. Initially the thought was really just to catch rainwater from the roof and use it for drip irrigation; however, Richard @ Hollyport Ventures really pushed everyone to maximize our usage of this rainwater. Working with the very helpful Rainwater Management Solutions out of Charlottesville, the team developed a cistern design that will allow us to primarily flush the dual-flush toilets with rainwater instead of treated potable municipal water, and provides drip irrigation as a secondary cistern function. This should significantly lower homeowner utility bills as well as help reduce strain on the municipal storm water and waste water treatment systems. Look for future water efficiency posts as we install a structured plumbing system and low-flow fixtures.


This cistern system required Richmond City approval of a code modification request to allow use of non-potable rainwater inside the house for flushing toilets. Local government takes a lot of knocks, but the city was very receptive and responded quickly to our request, and we're really excited to see this degree of flexibility and decisive leadership downtown.


The water issue is particularly important in Richmond: the city has a combined sewer and storm water overflow. From the city's website:
"During dry weather, combined sewer systems carry all the sanitary flow to wastewater treatment plants. During times of rainfall, however, the amount of rainfall adds to the amount of flow going to the treatment plant. This heavier flow is greater than the capacity of the combined sewer system. When the flow exceeds, the capacity, the excess flow is discharged directly to the river at various overflow points in the sewer system. In Richmond, the major overflow points are found on the banks of the James River and Gillies Creek."
What's that? Are these overflow points near where you swim and fish and go on dates or take your in-laws when they visit? 
Probably.


Along these lines, the city has a recent history of both smaller and more significant floods that stem from an inability of the existing stormwater system to deal with major rainfall events. We're still seeing and feeling the fallout five years after the Hurricane Gaston flood in 2004. While the city attempts to do its part, Richmond businesses and developers have an imperative to minimize demand from new buildings on an already overwhelmed system, and furthermore have the opportunity to actively reduce demand by incorporating strategies like green roofs and rainwater collection systems into existing structures.




|ETM


Thanks for reading. We'd love to hear comments, questions or suggestions either in the comments section or you can email us at blog@rmichaelcross.com

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Geek Time

evan Filed Under: Tags: , ,
First, R. Michael Cross Design Group now has a website! Check it out using the link in the PROJECT TEAM section. Not on your iPhone though. Because it's Flash, and your iPhone hates Flash.


As you may have noticed, surmised or divined, onsite progress has slowed. This was of course inevitable. Fortunately that doesn't mean the project is at a standstill, but most of the progress right now is office progress while we wait for windows. This has given us an opportunity to get our plumbing situation in order, and we are very excited to be working with Kohler and Foster Plumbing and Heating as partners.


What has been pretty refreshing is how (a.) knowledgeable and (b.) psyched the partners have been so far. Jeff Foster @ Foster Plumbing & Heating has not only opened our eyes to even more plumbing efficiencies, but also took the effort to offset the carbon from his site visits:


It's encouraging to see local family businesses ready and eager for more sustainable practices, and I have to repeat that the local support in general for this project has been tremendous.


I think it should also be noted that the entire state of Virginia has only completed 9 LEED-H certified projects since the first pilot program in 2005, but has 29 in-progress registered projects as of today. While 29 isn't a particularly impressive number compared to the actual number of houses built in a normal year- although surely this is not a normal year- it does show exponential growth in Virginians' interest in sustainable housing.


You know what, I'm just going to geek out on more statistics here, largely because someone else has done the hard work for me. I stumbled across this blog recently and took a lot of interest in this map charting home prices against income (by Razib @ Gene Expression):
Now I'm certainly no economist, but it would seem to indicate a couple of things to me. During the period from 2005-2007:
One: The Richmond area appears highly affordable relative to, well, everywhere else in the country.
Two: The Richmond area seems primed for growth.
Who knows how all of this will look when the next set of census data comes out, but Richmond changes slowly, so I can't imagine a big change in the relative affordability of the area. I think many of us have some tales, probably some horror stories, to tell about recent rapid growth in the counties. If you're a Richmonder, you probably also have some frustrations to voice about the slow pace of desirable growth in the city. All of it really emphasizes the need for smarter growth, smarter design, and smarter everyday practices, and fortunately it looks like from residents to businesses to students, Richmond is ready for some leadership.


Alright. That's it for my proselytizing. I promise I'll be funnier next week.
Take care!


|ETM

Thanks for reading. We'd love to hear comments, questions or suggestions either in the comments section or you can email us at blog@rmichaelcross.com

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In The Trenches

evan Filed Under: Tags: , , , , ,


So when we drew up the site plans for this house we sketched out a 150 foot line around the property for the geothermal trench. On the computer screen it's this nice tidy straight dashed line that pretty much just goes around the perimeter. Well - as it turns out - trenching 150 feet of dirt 5' wide by 5' deep is a substantially more, uh, brutal process than previously acknowledged on this side of the keyboard.
There is dirt everywhere- or at least, there was dirt everywhere. It's all back in the trenches now. Here's the process:
1. Dig this hole.
2. Lay tubing.
3. Fill hole.
Marty and his crew from Deltatemp did a great job explaining the process (in much more detail than I) and science behind geothermal heating/cooling. Everyone on the crew was ready to help explain, and after a little while I could see why: people driving, walking, biking by all seemed to have a specific curiosity about the geothermal system. Sure, they see the house, it looks neat, and they come in for a closer view, but what they really want to know about is this sign in the front yard that says "this house is cooled by the earth". Even our framer has been fielding geothermal questions for a week or so now. Again, it really speaks to this issue of the common building lexicon: most people don't question a condenser in the back yard, because that's just the way it is. Well, geothermal turns the back yard into a big condenser I guess.

Essentially, during the summer a heatpump absorbs the heat from your house and expels it to the outside air outside through a heatsink (generally a fan blowing through some metal fins). Just like this friendly DINOSAUR:


This is pretty inefficient, mainly because the outside air is already hot, otherwise you wouldn't have the air conditioning on. Also, note that dinosaurs died of bad design.

A geothermal heatpump absorbs the heat from your house and transfers it into the ground via a water loop running about 5' below the surface. The ground temperature at this level is fairly steady between 50-60 degrees. Waterfurnace has some diagrams here. NONE of these diagrams have dinosaurs.

I tried to get some shots of the process of laying and splicing all of the geothermal tubing, check them out in the gallery. We also had some more filming going down- I'll give more details on this when there's more to tell. And someone found a shirt sleeve. And a road.

Actually, I'll go ahead and talk about that a little, because I always hear about these ancient cities found beneath other cities, and my response is typically "did they not notice the other city there or something? How is this possible? Gigantic dirtblizzards?" But right here in the not sooo ancient Near West End of Richmond, Virginia, the big yellow machine is just cold digging up yard, and a couple of feet down hits... a road? The old roads are already a couple feet down.... I guess the term for this would be palimpsest. Now that's a real $0.20 word.

Update: The Augusta Project: The Blog! is in the Richmond Green Drinks newsletter this week! Per the google group site:

"Green Drinks is a simple and unstructured event where people interested in sustainability can get together to network, talk shop, learn something new, share something innovative or maybe even find a job! It's a great time to chat with folks you know or to meet new ones."
The next meeting is August 20th at The Camel, and is a great resource for Richmond. Mark your calendars.

Have a great weekend everyone!
|ETM

Thanks for reading. We'd love to hear comments, questions or suggestions either in the comments section or you can email us at blog@rmichaelcross.com

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Inside Augusta

evan Filed Under: Tags: , ,




Well after another week Jeremy has almost all of the interior partitions up, minus drywall (natch). The house is entering the slower, more awkward middle-school years of construction, where we'll probably worry about whether it needs braces or is hanging out with the right kids.... 


This morning the DOW rep brought a whole crew of builders out to see the SIS panels in action, as it is a fairly new product and builders tend to approach new products with a fair degree of caution. While some described this sort of open house open-house as nervewracking, there was a lot of positive feedback. Although relatively basic, a lot of the framing efficiencies used so far just aren't part of common practice. And in the end that's really the goal of programs like LEED and EarthCraft: to try to make effecient, sustainable design part of common practice, or at least the common lexicon. The more that people ask about this sort of construction, the more builders and architects alike will start to look into it. 


We're getting a lot of great feedback from/on the blog here too, which we really appreciate.  Be sure to check out the Near West End News blog's quick write up here. I was having some difficulty deciding whether the project was in the Near West End or Across Boulevard, but fortunately Jonah over at NWEN found us!


Also for anyone with any interest in the process of becoming an architect, be sure to check out NCARB's piece on our own R. Michael Cross. His is the first in a series of interviews aimed at helping students and young architects- er, interns-  navigate the once lonely labyrinthine hellscape known as licensure.


We're hoping to have a website online AND a big fat sign on site soon, so keep your eyes peeled. 

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Thanks for reading. We'd love to hear comments, questions or suggestions either in the comments section or you can email us at blog@rmichaelcross.com

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Framing Progress

evan Filed Under:

Apologies for the delay in posting; it's been a busy week. As you can see in the photo, the second floor and the roof are already up with the blue SIS (Structural Insulated Sheathing) panels. Look through the gallery for more progress photos; while we didn't get any posts up, we still manged to get out and take pictures a few times this week.


This week has really illustrated that a huge part of designing "green" is really just designing accurately and economically. More on this later. Everyone enjoy your weekend!

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Thanks for reading. We'd love to hear comments, questions or suggestions either in the comments section or you can email us at blog@rmichaelcross.com

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Wall Action!

evan Filed Under:


Today was pretty exciting; we got to see Jeremy's progress and had a teevee camera out, just cold filmin' & framin'. Jeremy has made short work the first floor exterior walls; you can see a couple of the "advanced framing techniques" we've tried to incorporate to save materials and energy. 


Also- as you may know- today was Friday, which here at rmcDG means Ronnie's feeds us. Fridays are good days.


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Thanks for reading. We'd love to hear comments, questions or suggestions either in the comments section or you can email us at blog@rmichaelcross.com


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First Floor Framing

evan Filed Under:

CLICK IMAGE FOR GALLERY


Just a quick post to update and get some more photos up. Jeremy has framed out the first floor plate. Jeremy is a one man show, and I'm looking forward to getting some action photos up here soon: things are going to move fast over the next couple of weeks. We used open web wood joists for the spans (see gallery), which provide a lot of strength with a minimal amount of depth and material.
Everyone on this end is pretty keyed in on the prize, but for anyone else reading I thought it might be helpful to post an image of where we're heading:




This view is from Westmoreland heading towards Monument. Check the Google street view below for reference.


View Larger Map


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THE FOUNDATION

evan Filed Under: Tags: , , , , ,
CLICK IMAGE FOR FOUNDATION GALLERY

Friday the foundation was poured.  The whole schedule was surprisingly precise; I mean you see these guys in these big trucks, looking pretty sloppy, like a Hardee's commercial somehow, but what you don't know is that they're usually right where they're supposed to be. It's all part of this giant lumbering beast that is the construction process where the guy in the boom truck needs to get there exactly a few minutes before the concrete mixer, who is usually at some other job until precisely 3:00, and has to get this job done by 4:00 to go to another job.... So this boom truck, with its extend-o-trunk concrete hose shows up and - no joke - has 'schwing' painted all over it.  Who along the management chain gave this the green light?









Anyway... Glenn Turner & Johnny from Thermacrete poured the concrete into the ICF forms to make the foundation walls. If you haven't heard of it before, ICF is pretty much the love child of a beer cooler and a concrete masonry unit (see gallery), so naturally we like it. The foam formwork stacks up like legos, then stays in place to provide a pretty high insulation value. The concrete we used is a 30% fly ash mixture which is apparently crazy kinds of sustainable for reasons I will let the fly ash industry explain, but alas is NOT made out of the ashes of flies.


A minor blowout in one of the ICF forms provided the drama for the day, but everyone* stayed cool and collected. For my part, I reacted by attempting to fall into (perhaps through?) the foundation and surrounding deathmoat, but only managed to drop a couple of Michael's lenses into the footing (oops!). Michael's grandfather Dick on the other hand made several impressive leaps across the footing/foundation.


After the pour Dick, Richard (Hollyport Ventures), and Michael (rmichaelcross | Design Group) - heretofore known as 'Los Tres Cruces' - scurried around with tape measures and old 2x4s and helped the Thermacrete gentlemen shim some of the forms into place. Finally we put Glenn Turner's pocket change into the wet concrete, because Italians in Long Island do this. Take THAT Freemasons!


As of today, the first floor engineered lumber has been ordered and the mason is onsite laying the face brick around the foundation. We're hoping to get a couple of renderings up to show what this thing is supposed to turn into, so stay tuned.


*not everyone
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Groundbroken! (but not housebroken)

evan Filed Under: Tags: , , , ,
CLICK!
CLICK THE IMAGE FOR A GALLERY OF FOOTING EXCAVATION PHOTOS

After about a year of planning, designing, drawing, rigorous & varied ritual sacrifices, puppy acquisition, and precious final minutes seconds of triple checking, ground officially broke on The Augusta Project the morning of Wednesday, July 8th. Six days later, so has The Augusta Project: The Blog!

This is where we'll be posting updates, images, anecdotes - heck, maybe even some video!- docementing the renovation/construction process as well as the certification processes for LEED-H, EarthCraft, and God knows however many other merit badges our intrepid owner/builder over at Hollyport Ventures has his eyes on. We hope you're half as excited as we are... which is pretty excited.
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