A Tale of Two Rooftops

14 02 2011

The snow on my rooftop is melting much more slowly than that on on the other houses, since my house keeps the heat in! And, note the beautiful new siding!

Dr. Warm and Lascaux

7 02 2011

Okay, so now we were ready for really foaming the basement. We loved the young earnest guys sent by the bigger insulation company, but we needed someone who really got it about the building science. We found Dr. Warm (whose real name is Robert Jordan). Here he is testing the Cedar Breather to see if he could get it to not stick entirely to the foundation when the closed cell foam hit it. The idea was to create a drainage plain. He developed a spraying style that was kind of at an angle. It worked.

Testing the Cedar Breather

The "angle" style spray

More"angle" style

Spraying the first coat of the closed cell foam. This is one thing I don't think too many people would enjoy doing. But Dr. Warm loves it!

The foam is done--all 3"-plus of it

Dr. Warm's work made Liane think of the prehistoric caves of Lascaux. After we put the thermal barrier (15 minute fire protection) on the basement walls, we will consider getting some murals painted...

Guinness, Liane's long-haired Dachsund, would definitely like to be depicted on the wall ūüôā

The basement stair walls were protected and fire-blocked with conventional sheetrock. The open cell in the ceiling will get the thermal barrier paint.

Inside Foam Job cont’d

6 02 2011

When we decided to foam the basement walls, we had to make a decision about whether to put in a perimeter drain. Liane’s basement is generally fairly dry (except when there’s a plumbing leak). But in this era of climate change, extreme weather, and biblical floods–even in Somerville–we decided that the responsible thing was indeed to install a perimeter drain. We would connect it to the foundation walls by means of a drainage mat which could send any moisture coming through the walls–down¬†along the perimeter drain. A pump in a sump at the low end of the basement could pump any accumulated water out if necessary (whatever its source). So that’s what we did.

The diamond blade that cut along the perimeter of the basement

Diamond saw marks

A little (actually a lot) of drilling

Abi putting up the Cedar Breather, which actually worked as a more affordable approach to a drainage mat.

Rick and Abi with the Cedar Breather--and note that the electrical panel has been moved inward temporarily

Laying out the filter fabric wrapped, perimeter drain line which was installed deeper than what is shown here. Btw, the foundation walls are fieldstone with brick above.

Concrete covering the perimeter drain. Yes, we had to go around the Pheonix because of the switch in how to deal with the basement.

We did decide to cover the basement windows and to later foam over them. Liane only uses her basement for storage and the building systems. If she wants to have windows in her basement at a later time, they can always be cut out through the rigid and the spray foam from the outside.

and there's the sump...

No, we haven’t seen any closed cell foam in the basement yet–but it’s coming in the next post. Just wanted to let you know what we needed to do before we could foam. Dealing with moisture is probably one of the most important things in any retrofit–deep or not.

Inside Foam Job–the Attic

6 02 2011

In all fairness to the foaming guys, the HVAC fellows took a while, so the inside foaming also took a while to get started.  We had to get the HRV supply runs done in the attic for the 3rd floor apartment, before we could foam the rafters.

Foaming guy for the open cell spray foam at the attic and dormer rafters

HRV return run exhausting from the 3rd floor bathroom (supply runs are at the furthest ends, for good air mixing)

After foam job in attic--buckets were to protect vents yet to be connected

Interior view of air bypass where sidewalls meet rafters

Yes, had we been a bit better coordinated, we would have sequenced the cellulose between the attic joists after the spray foam at the rafters.  As it was, we just did the best we could from the exterior, as shown in the previous post.

Openings at roof sheathing 'before'

Another thing we would have done, and can still do, is to acoustically seal the ducts venting through the attic to the outside. Right now the big one (where a number of vents are gathered) acts like a trumpet, and Liane can hear music heralding community events such as 5K races–through her stove hood!

‘Trumpet’ inadvertently created by the venting

Air By-Passes…

19 01 2011

Ambrose, one of our DER gurus checking out the sidewall for bypasses

While you’ve got to have good air for your human lungs to breathe in a house, you don’t want to have uncontrolled holes letting air in and out, and giving an easy ride for lots of heat to exit and enter.¬† Air by-passes, thermal bridging and moisture penetration are anathema to a deep energy retrofit.¬† You’d think that with a superinsulated retrofit, we wouldn’t have an air bypass problem, but we did—because of the structure of the house. The rafters were sitting on 2×10’s laid flat across joists that protrude outboard¬†from the sidewalls like the fins on a motorcycle engine (wierd metaphor, but that’s what they reminded me of).¬† Needless to say–a “chainsaw”¬†retrofit–to keep a continuous air and water plane, became out of the question.

Joists above the southeast sidewall

Rafters and joists with structural plate in between

"Motorcycle fin" joists above southeast sidewall

"Crenellating" the rigid foam around each joist--2 layers worth...

Yes, we could have boxed everything in–but that didn’t happen. Instead, we spray-foamed the ____ out of all the air-bypasses at the joists (at least I hope we did…). And then used some nano-paint to try to “assuage” the conductive heat loss. I’m not sure the strategy really worked. An infrared scan will let us know soon enough.

Spray foam (closed cell) at the soffit joists

Nanopaint at joists but not at "joist-tails" that are just extending the roof eaves visually.

How we might have dealt with air bypasses and thermal bridging from the inside--if the attic sprayfoam had gone according to plan--see next post...

HRVs and make-up air

11 01 2011

Okay, we’re back…
Yes, we did have difficulties. The HVAC took a long time to complete, and momentum was lost…
However, it was regained, as following posts will show.
But before finally getting to the home stretch of this project, it is important to discuss the role of the Heat Recovery Ventilation units (HRVs). Each of the three apartments at Liane’s house¬†received one as part of the HVAC upgrade. HRVs basically act as the “lungs” of the house. They are mechanical ventilation systems that bring in fresh air which has been pre-heated by heat captured from the stale, return air. The old air isn’t mixed with the new air–but its heat is. This is done by means of a “core”, which looks like an aluminum cube, through which many little air-passages flank each other. Heat gets transfered but the two different air-streams never actually mix.

Fantech HRV unit–how the core works

One of Liane's HRVs (from the outside)

A tightly retrofitted house needs air because the usual leaks and drafts that one doesn’t want are no longer there. Controlling ventilation mechanically and efficiently is one of the hallmarks of a Deep Energy Retrofit. The air Liane’s HRVs bring into her house is at about 90 cfm–just like a little breath, and heat energy is saved (some extra electric does get used by the fan).¬† The air is supplied to either end of¬†each apartment, and is exhausted through the bathrooms–for a good mixing. Rigid ducts were used where possible for less friction, and programming of controls was kept simple to save on costs.

One HRV supply line
Another thing we had to do was to supply make-up air to the kitchens of the three apartments, so that the gas stoves would have plenty of air.  We also needed to vent the stoves to the outside, and make sure that the make-up air went on with the stove ventilation.  It was useful to have the new chase where the chimney had been, to install the make-up air lines behind the stoves.

Third floor chase where chimney had been

Rob from FAI installing the booster pump for the make-up air

The new chase is now conveniently behind the stoves, where the old chimney had been.

Synergy wins award from MassCEC!

1 11 2010

Synergy Construction wins award from Mass. Clean Energy Center! It was an exciting day here on October 4, as our construction company, Synergy, was one of 4 MA companies to receive $250K grants from the MassCEC. The awards ceremony took place right here on Ellington Road, and the cameras were rolling as the dignitaries rolled down from Beacon Hill right to my basement. Here are a few photos!

Alex Cheimets and Ian Bowles

Alex Cheimets accepts Synergy Const's award. Ian Bowles, of MassCEC on right.

Ian Bowles

Ian Bowles announces the awards in front of the DER


Liane Curtis (owner) and David Joyce of Synergy Const.

Liane Curtis (owner) and David Joyce of Synergy Const.


David Joyce (of Synergy) and Patrick Cloney, Executive Director of MassCEC

David Joyce (of Synergy) and Patrick Cloney, Executive Director of MassCEC


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Laura Catanzaro explains the Phoenix combined space heating and domestic hot water appliance to Patrick Cloney of MassCEC.


Liane and Ian Bowles

Me with Ian Bowles, Chair of MassCEC and Secretary, Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs