We’re fortunate to have a small cottage in north central Michigan. Nothing fancy, but we love the area and the feel of being away from it all. With no Starbucks within 60 miles, nesting loons on the small lake, and galaxies worth of stars at night it’s just about perfect for us.
Except, it needs a new roof. And our cottage happens to be a 45 year-old A-frame, beautifully crafted with rough sawn cedar interior walls, pine tongue and groove ceilings, half-timbered exterior walls and a very large cedar shake roof.
I guess we shouldn’t complain, as we coaxed 25 years out of a roof that was only supposed to last 20 years. We didn’t want to put cedar shakes back on it because of the cost and the relatively limited life span. Plus, the woodpeckers in our part of Michigan see wood roofs and seem to all line up at the cedar buffet.
We also wanted to find a roofing material that was environmentally friendly and would last at least 50 years. We look at asphalt and metal, and some interesting composites, even a plastic shake or two. But nothing seemed right for an all-wood home with a major part of the exterior comprised of the cedar shake roof.
Then, while attending Greenbuild, I came across a unique solution: a roofing material that was made from recycled automobile tires. When I stopped in the booth I made a joke about the roof coming with a 250,000-mile warranty (like they never heard that before.) But after 30 minutes I was hooked.
The shakes are thick, and they look remarkably like perfection shingles (they also offer a rough sawn version, but I felt the perfection shingle looked the best.) The cost was about the same as it would have been for cedar shakes…but they are warranted to last twice as long as cedar.
I had samples sent, and showed them to the roofing contractor, who was not familiar with them. However, he got on the website and got educated. They are called EuroShakes, and they’re made by GEM Inc. in Calgary, Alberta. www.euroshieldroofing.com.
I was a little concerned about shipping them such a long distance because of the fuel consumed, but since there was no other product that fit our cottage like this one, we decided to go for it.
Gordy Shields, our roofing contractor, made all the arrangements, including a fork truck to take them from the semi up our road to the cottage. Another cool thing Gordy did was have a guy on site when he was taking the shingles off the roof who made sure there were no nails whatsoever in the old shingles.
When all the shakes were off, they used a chipper and 100% of the ground up shingles went into several landscapes as well as a walking trail right in our area. And, 95% of the nails were saved, and went to build a barn in the area.
I was also surprised about how little waste there was on the jobsite. Gordy and his crew were meticulous in keeping the site clean. The biggest part of the waste was the old tar paper (felt) underneath the old cedar shakes. But we used Titanium, a new, high performance sheathing product that will produce dramatically less waste when it is recycled many years from now.
Another great thing about this roof is that because it is at least 75% recycled material, it can be easily recycled to make new EuroShakes. Oh, and when it storms outside, hail just bounces off.
Posted: 10/22/2012 9:46:16 PM by
Heather Wallace | with 0 comments
News flash: Geothermal heat exchange systems ARE NOT a source of renewable energy. And it’s OK with me.
Lately there have been a number of articles and blogs questioning the efficiency and energy savings of geothermal (ground source heat pump) systems. Several of these articles “exposed” the shocking fact that these systems are not renewable energy sources like wind, solar and hydroelectric.
Why aren’t geothermal systems renewable? Seems the answer is because they use electricity. So, if that electricity isn’t generated by wind, solar or hydroelectricity, then it is probably using a non-renewable resource like coal, natural gas or nuclear to create electricity.
I installed a geothermal system two years ago, and I have been monitoring my energy usage to see how I’m doing in the energy saving department. The performance has been gratifying: reducing my overall energy consumption by 55%.
Now, I expect there will be future years where the savings go up a bit or down a bit, but I’m pretty happy with 55%.
Would I like to offset the electricity used to to run the two small Grundfoss pumps that circulate the fluid? Of course I would. But in the meantime, I continue to look at other easy wins to reduce electricity usage.
As for the performance of the geothermal system, I couldn’t be happier. Through a huge heat wave this summer with temperatures reaching into the low 100’s, and 98-degree days a regular occurrence, my actual electricity usage is comparable (a bit less actually) to pre-geothermal summers. And in spite of the heat, our home remains a comfortable 75-degrees or 78 –degrees, depending on the zone setting.
Of course, every home is a unique story. The contractor that installed our system was very experienced in geothermal design and installation. We did the whole insulation and interior/exterior sealing of the building envelope. Added humidification control for winter and summer, and introduced a fresh air vent, which has contributed to a comfortable indoor atmosphere.
But the bottom line is: the geothermal system is operating in a delightfully comfortable and efficient fashion….and it even heats the water for the whole house…no extra charge.
Posted: 8/2/2012 6:37:18 PM by
Heather Wallace | with 2 comments
Typically, I’m not much for keeping statistical track of things. There are a few things that I do keep a close watch on (blood pressure, cholesterol, that kind of stuff). So, several years ago when I started paying real close attention to the energy consumption and livability of both our home and office I decided it was the right time to measure a few things.
At home we started with an energy analysis, including blower door test, duct blaster test and in-depth inspection. The news was pretty discouraging. Our 60-year-old home was a disaster. I mean, it looked nice, but was a huge energy waster. But thanks to the guidance of two energy efficiency experts, Ray Dick of Comfort Solutions, and Roger Clearman of Air & Energy Products, they did an admirable job guiding and educating me about the right things to do to make the home more energy efficient and livable.
Then the work began: insulation blown in to attics, spray foam around the entire home where the walls and the sill plate of the foundation met, and batts of fiberglass insulation in any vertical wall we could access. We sealed every place the blower door indicated we were getting air infiltration, inside and outside the home.
Then we installed a geothermal system (it had been pre-planned). All this was completed by April, 2010. Working with historical energy usage figures provided by the utility, here’s how the energy consumption looked:
2009 (pre-energy upgrade) gas/electric combined: 94,589 kWh
2010 (4 months of upgrades) gas/electric combined: 71,328 kWh
2011 (a full year with upgrades) gas/electric combined: 43,041 kWh
The good news is that our old, 4600 square-foot mid-century modern home has shed more than 50% of its energy consumption. But there’s room for improvement. One thing we learned is in the winter, the back-up electricity would come on even when we didn’t feel a temperature drop. Our system service tech said the best way to conserve energy was to switch off the circuit breakers for the back-up electricity. We switched it off, and haven’t turned them back on yet. That should help some.
We also added pleated shades on windows, which is supposed to help add a little R value (I’m not so sure about how big a difference they make in the winter, but they do a pretty good job of blocking solar heat gain.)
Next project: lighting. We have plenty of CFLs, and the halogen lights are all on very low dimmer settings. We’re evaluating opportunities to switch to LEDs, which we already use on the exterior floodlights, but would like to use them on smaller yard lights and also on lamps inside the home. We have found that replacing a few at a time makes the sticker shock a little easier to manage.
Posted: 4/16/2012 7:38:40 PM by
Heather Wallace | with 0 comments
With Earth Day celebrations scheduled for later this month (April 22) it seems like an appropriate time to check on the sustainability/green movement and see what kind of shape it’s in. Here’s how I’m seeing it:
The developed countries are realizing that the rest of the world wants the economic lifestyle that we enjoy. And these countries – lead by China, India and Brazil – are also experiencing huge population growth. By mid-century our 7 billion people will have 2 billion more people to feed, clothe and shelter. Oh, and provide automobiles, consumer electronics, appliances...plus food and water.
If you think gas prices are volatile now, my guess is “we ain’t seen nothing yet” when it comes to energy of all kinds. Let’s not kid ourselves. The era of inexpensive carbon-based energy is over.
All the oil, natural gas and coal that is easy to extract is just about gone. That leaves us with deep-water drilling, tar sands extraction, fracking (hydraulic fracturing) for natural gas; and of course drilling in politically unstable and environmentally fragile parts of the world (Nigeria, Venezuela, Siberia, ANWAR, etc.). Add middle-east politics and the picture gets even uglier.
After the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami damaged several nuclear reactors, Germany took the bold step to phase out all of their nuclear power plants. Great news.
Closer to home, there is good news. As a society, even though half of Americans don’t believe in global warming, we are making real progress by developing hybrid and extreme fuel-efficient vehicles…a long way to go, but huge advances in the right direction.
Our homes are getting more energy efficient. So are our office buildings. Still lots of room for improvement, but the results are heartening and headed in the right direction. Let’s just speed things up a bit, though.
We have stalled a bit on solar and wind applications on individual buildings, but are managing to develop some pretty impressive large utility-grade wind and solar farms. Let’s keep it up. Hey, if the UK and Germany can make solar photovoltaic panels work in these traditionally cloudy countries, why can’t we get it together?
On the bad news side, the country’s water system is falling apart. It is estimated that old, broken and inefficient water systems waste enough every year to meet the needs of 60 million Americans. Ouch. My guess is that water will be the “oil crisis” of the second half of the 21st century.
In summary, my feeling is the green/sustainability movement isn’t running out of steam, but it sometimes feels like a game of “Whack-a-Mole.” Every time you feel you’ve made a little progress another nasty, moley problem pops up. But we’ll keep whacking, ‘em. Happy Earth Day.
Posted: 4/3/2012 11:44:42 PM by
Heather Wallace | with 0 comments
Now that we’ve been living in our “new” more energy efficient sixty-year-old home for the last year or so, we’ve noticed some changes in our behavior.
The most interesting is the temperature at which we set the thermostats. Humid summers in Indiana was accompanied by a cold and clammy 70-degrees indoors. The home felt more like a damp, cool basement – all over. Now, it’s a different story. Summers mean the home stays at 40-50% relative humidity, and thermostats are set at 75- and 77-degrees respectively, for the two zones in the house. And it is very comfortable.
Winter used to be 70-degrees and sweaters and wool socks. Not any more. Now thermostats are set to 70-degrees and 68-degrees respectively, and it’s comfortable enough to wear shorts. We keep experimenting with adjusting the temperatures for different times of the day, and see is we can find an optimal 67-68-degree setting that is comfortable when we are home.
Another change: we turn off lights more often when we leave a room, or don’t turn them on in the first place. On a sunny day the home gets plenty of natural light, so we’ve stopped turning on so many lights. I have no idea why we didn’t do this years ago.
We continue to NOT water the landscaping, and not only are we saving huge amounts of water, the landscaping seems to be doing just fine, in spite of almost three months of hot, rainless weather this past summer.
And speaking of water, we’ve directed virtually all of the water to be absorbed by the vegetation, which helps keep things green when we do get rain.
However, we have also identified some areas where we could definitely improve. One is in recycling. Oh, we recycle everything we possibly can, but the main culprit is corrugated packaging…and the cause is online shopping. It’s amazing how much solid waste is generated from “innocent online shopping.” It makes one wonder about just how green all this online shopping can be.
And we still haven’t found a solution for the small branches that break off during storms and windy days. They really add up, but we haven’t figured out a good way to deal with them. Don’t want to burn them, or leave them for the trash pick-up because they probably end up in a landfill, which is a big waste. I’ll keep searching for a solution.
Posted: 1/6/2012 2:06:37 AM by
Heather Wallace | with 0 comments