Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Greenday (building, that is)

This weekend after we finished our chores (ie the 8th coat of varnish on our doors!), we headed out to the Build it Green Home Tour in Alameda county. None of the houses were actually in Alameda, but several were in Berkeley and Oakland and we made it to 6 of the 8 in the area. One telling similarity among all the homes on the tour was that they were owned by someone who had a green service to sell to homeowners. It made it a little like a commercial that we had the privilege of paying to see.

Our first stop was an amazing place in the Oakland hills.. I took pictures of the green roof and the impressive solar array, but I found out as we were leaving that the builder/homeowner is launching his own website this week, so didn't want anyone taking pictures, or certainly posting them online. This place was a showroom of every green product/practice you can get when money is no object.

Every house we went to had hydronic radiant heat (it's apparently THE green thing), so it was helpful to talk to people about how difficult it was to install and how happy they were with it. The universal opinion was that it's the best way you could possibly heat your house, and no one we talked to would go back to a forced air system.

In fact, the only negative we heard (and it's related, but not even about the radiant heat) was about using the same solar hot water panels for heat and household hot water (for showers, laundry, etc.) I'd always thought that would be an efficient use of space and resources, but it makes sense that the uses/needs are so different, that to optimize the system for both would not be possible.

We got to check out LOTS of manifolds, and more than a couple boilers, hot water heaters, and storage tanks. One person was using a pretty fancy hot water heater as a storage tank because it was so well insulated.
This house was using an on demand (tankless) water heater to heat water for both the radiant heat and the household hot water. That was another thing I was interested to hear about, and unlike the issues with the solar water doing dual duty, this seemed to be going very well. Thanks, I'm sure, in no small part to the super-insulated storage tank.

So I didn't take any pictures of the fancy recycled countertops, or cork floors, or plyboo cabinets.. but look at all the pretty (and clearly labeled in this case!)

I did manage to tear myself away from the boiler room of this house long enough to get pictures of the radiators we're planning on for our master bedroom. I didn't even notice them in this room, Dan had to point them out to me! Of course, that has a lot to do with the fact that the walls are white, which is not something that will happen in our house (once the top-to-bottom, end-to-end coat of gloss white oil-based paint is eliminated, that is..). We might just need to pick an acceptable color from the radiator line, and paint the walls to match. I was a little less excited when they were taller and a different color than the walls.

I somehow managed not to get any pictures of my favorite house on the tour - a bungalow that actually looked and felt like a family could live there. But I did get a shot of the toy they had out back!

<-- How's this for a supergreen incentive to exercise?! Apparently you can rent these from a guy in Berkeley!

It was an interesting day, even if some of the products and practices seemed well beyond our monetary means.. The website for the Build It Green organization does have tons of resources on their site that look really helpful, and hopefully the education they and their members can provide to builders, homeowners and others in the housing industry will make a dent, and start bringing these ideas into the reach of the average joe.


Kitt said...

Neat! I can't believe the guy didn't want you taking or posting pictures. So much for free publicity, dude.

Tish and Brian said...

We were going to go on that home tour, but looking at the guide, nothing caught our interest enough to go and see it. It did seem like a lot of money went into most of those houses. Still it's interesting to see what people do and what's out there. Thanks for posting your experience.