Monday, May 30, 2011

Insulation: Are we saving money?

A huge part of our renovations is the upgrade to the insulation.  In every room we work on, we remove the existing drywall and insulation, and install new Roxul and rigid insulation.  We know it increases the insulation for the room but how much will it reduce our energy bills?

We have just completed our heat load calculations.  This is a pre-requisite for LEED homes: to know how much energy is being consumed in heating and cooling each room.  It is important information to know in order to properly size your furnace and ducts. The results?

Pre-renovation our home required 67,000 BTUs at peak demand.  Pretty typical for a bungalow our size in Montreal.  When we have completed the whole house: 36,000 BTUs.  That is with upgrading the insulation in the walls from R-8 to R-24 and in the ceiling from R-30 to R-50. So a reduction of 45%, but does it save money?

I estimate that the material costs per foot of wall is about $18.  This includes the Roxul, rigid insulation, drywall, vapour barrier and a couple dollars for screws, mud and paint.  To re-insulate the entire house it is then approximately $6390*.  Our heating bill should go from roughly $1500 a year to $825: a savings of $675 a year.

If we were to add that investment to our mortgage and then paid it off with the savings it would take approximately 13 years to pay back.  Not bad ... but it could be better.  If you were really looking for the best bang for your buck: forget the basement.

Because the basement is underground there is minimal air leakage and it is not subjected to the same temperature extremes: your basement floor is probably the same temperature year round.  On top of all that you already have 8" of concrete separating you from the outside world.  Not the best insulation but better than the 1/4" OSB sheathing on your main floor.  So financially, if your basement is already insulated, upgrading it doesn't produce as significant a savings.  Don't get me wrong it is worth doing (and essential if it is currently uninsulated) but not as critical as the upstairs and attic.

For our house 50% of the cost is in insulating the basement, but only 20% of the energy savings. So if we were doing only the upstairs the cost would be $3195 and a savings of $540 years.  That drops the payback period down to only 7 years.  That is a pretty good return on investment.

*one thing to keep in mind I am basing this all on material only as my labour is apparently free

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Half way there...

So with the addition of our new toilets, we estimate that we now have 23.5 points towards LEED status.  The base certification is 44 points so we have broken past the half way mark!  Unfortunately, I am not sure we have done half the workload though as 10 of those points came solely from our homes location.  Either way it is a nice milestone to pass.

For those interested in the gritty details, we have added a new page called "Our Points" that shows which points we have attained, which we are planning on getting and which ones we are steering clear of.

The two big blocks of points that are left are the landscaping and the indoor environment quality.  Indoor air we should start to see some points in the next couple weeks with our new bathroom fans.  The landscaping.... maybe 2012.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Proficiency: Canada's Most Efficient Flush Toilet?

It might make me a dork, but I am really excited about my new toilets.  We picked up two "Stealth" toilets from Niagara Conservation.  Actually here in Canada they are marketed as "Proficiency" from Water Matrix.  It is hard to find them though.  They are only currently carried in Ontario / Alberta / and Manitoba so I had to get mine from the Lowe's in Ottawa. 

In picking a toilet, there are two numbers you should pay attention to: Performance and Efficiency.

The Maximum Performance or MaP test measures how well toilets actually flush away waste.   The test results are in grams and represent how much latex encased miso paste the toilet can consistently flush down.

250 g -  Average male bowel movement
350 g - Minimum performance allowed
600 g - Average performance (on par with old-school non-efficient toilets)
1000g - Top end of measurement scale (if this doesn't work for you, you should probably see a doctor)

The stealth toilet is rated at 650 g and at least one independent test put it at 800g.

Water Efficiency
How many litres per flush (lpf) or Gallons per flush (gpf) does the toilet use?

13L  / 3.5 gpf - Typical pre-90s toilet
6L    / 1.6 gpf - Maximum North American flush volume since 1992 regulations
4.8L / 1.3 gpf - High Efficiency Toilet
4L    / 1    gpf - Pressure Assist Toilet or Liquid flush on dual flush toilets

Stealth toilet:  3L / 0.8 gpf!! 25% more efficient than pressure assist toilets and half the government standards.

How it pulls this off is pretty ingenious.  Traditional toilets just use the weight of water to flow through the bowl and push the waste out.  When low flow toilets became standard, some people were disappointed with the performance so manufacturers started to produce pressure assist toilets.  These toilets use pressurized air to force the water out of the tank and into the bowl at higher speeds.  This gives the toilets their distinctive whoosh noise and also gives a bigger push to the waste.

The Proficiency (or Stealth) toilet is a vacuum-assist toilet.  So rather than just push the waste it also pulls it.  When the water drains from the tank, the resulting vacuum is used to suck the water out of the bowl and down the drain. (They explain it much better and with pretty graphics on their website.)

So does it work? We now have both installed and our review is all positive.  It is so quiet and uses so little water that you actually don't expect it to work.  When it quickly clears the bowl, I find myself thinking "oh it got lucky that time".  But it gets lucky every time.

The Savings?  Changing our old 13L toilet to a 3L will reduce our water consumption by almost 78,000L a year.  That is enough water to fill up a very large backyard pool.  That would also save the average Canadian homeowner $70 a year.  Our water is un-metered (we don't pay based on usage) so we see none of that savings, but for a $200 toilet that would be a pretty good return on investment.

The toilet also got us 2 points towards LEED certification for meeting the Very High Efficiency Standard of <=4.1 Lpf and 350g MaP.

I have added a brief follow-up review after 18 months of use.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Framing with Reclaimed Lumber

The fact that we are trying to minimize our waste and re-use as much old material as possible has been mentioned a couple times in the blog.  Part of this was saving and re-using lumber.   As I have now been using some of our "saved" lumber, there are some tips I can share.

Half the battle is in the actual deconstruction or salvaging of the lumber.  When taking apart a wall, the main goals are to remove the nails and avoid damaging the wood.  Try to avoid knocking the studs out sideways or twisting them out.  While these are good demo techniques, they will wreck the stud ends.

The technique that I found worked well was to try to free up the top plate. Using the reciprocating saw, I would cut the nails between the top plate and the joists (carefully so as not to damage the joists). Do not cut between the stud and the top plate though, doing so makes it nearly impossible to remove the nails.

I could then tilt the wall in (you obviously need to free the ends as well) and knock the top plate up off the end of the studs.   Using a pry bar, I would then pull the studs up off the bottom plate.  As a result, the nails are being pulled out the same path they came in and not damaging the wood any further.  Use a pry bar or demo hammer (my single favourite tool) to pull any remaining nails out.

I do not bother removing staples, mainly due to the quantity in my lumber.  I would guess there is probably 100 staples per stud in some cases and I am not that patient. I just tear off any trapped paper / poly and hammer them all flush with the surface of the wood.

Warped Lumber - the other end is flat on the floor
Now that you have your lumber, evaluate it.  My first thought when I took the insulation out of the basement walls was that it must have been framed when people still drank on the job. Taking a look at some of the lumber after the fact, I am willing to cut them a little more slack. Some boards were badly warped and twisted.  My advice on using warped lumber in your new wall: DON'T.  If the board bulges out it will show after drywalling. Sideways warps make it harder to properly fit insulation.  Bottom line it will make become a pain.

I have found techniques for straightening boards which I will try this summer (they usually require a hot day). Otherwise the worst wood gets quarantined.   There are still some uses for some of it, bracing for example. They are often not warped for the entire length so they can be cut and used for shorter lengths.

Regardless of the quality of you demo work, you will want to trim the stud ends if you can.  Just to ensure a flat square board end and because the ends may be split or start to look like swiss cheese with all the nail holes.

Best case scenario, you are doing what I am and using studs from upstairs in the basement where the wall height is a couple inches lower.  If you are re-using in the same height wall one thing you can do is add a double top plate.  This would give you an inch and a half total to trim off the two ends.

Be very careful when cutting the wood, despite best efforts there may still be metal hiding in there.  I have had my mitre saw find broken nails, finishing nails and staples in wood I thought was clean.