Sunday, November 11, 2007

Winter wins, concrete pour comes in second

The pressure is on!

Tim and Don from Johnston Masonry get the November recognition award. While I grumbled and groaned over losing slab pouring opportunities in October to wet, wet, wet, and more wet weather, they prevailed in the installation of the concrete slabs in early November. Sadly we did have to pour heat energy on to the slab due to the winter that arrived the day of the pour.

One of the challenges was to pick a color for the concrete as well as get the high performance edge details installed as part of the design. As many of you have experienced, picking colors is a painful experience. And for this pick I have to admit, I winged it. The majority of the flooring is intended to be polished concrete, this is in part for the efficiency of thermal radiant heat transfer, but also to reduce the floor finishing material required for the project. Like everything in life today, the selections are overwhelming with respect to approach and potential appearance options for polished concrete. However, when ecological awareness is part of the equation, the choice of color was to simply add an non-toxic additive to the concrete in lieu of later painting or staining with potentially harmful materials. The color we decided to use was “Beach Sand” from Prism, which is produced with a iron oxide-based additive mixed into the concrete just prior to the pour.

I had intended to have concrete samples cast with different color additives and then polished, but ran out of time and good weather opportunities. In the end, I just had to wing it with the help of Tim and Don’s crew simply hoping for the best. Don claims that if I pick my lighting right, I can have the floor look almost any color I want it to be. Not a bad idea. It looks a little like baby dung right now, but I am hoping the ugly duckling will turn into a swan, before it is all over.

Polishing concrete as a floor finish has been used more and more frequently recently for the obvious reasons. Finishes are achieved through grinding the concrete until you get the polished result you are looking to achieve. Hand grinding of the edges is needed unless, like our situation, you plan the casework, or walk-off matting and interior walls to cover up the edges. This greatly reduces the cost of the polishing process. Grinding can occur at any stage during the life of concrete; however, it is easiest to do a couple weeks after the pour.

Getting too creative with the coloring or distribution or seeding of the surface with other materials requires the gods to be with you throughout the process. Many things have to go right for you to get the appearance a precise product, concrete has a way of changing very quickly due to the slightest variable. Wind, heat, water, color, covering, cold… Though concrete is a very touchy product, if you prevail, wow, what a durable amazingly beautiful end result.

We will begin grinding once the all the exterior building envelope is complete.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Window Challenge

When aggressive goals rule, determining which window takes the “Best of Show” in the Green event was the intent of my trip to Germany this past weekend. While en route to Lautenbach, Germany I picked up Barbara Kingsolver’s book “Animal, Vegetable, and Miracle” to augment the trips goal of finding more ways to achieve the perfect ecological balance. The book turned out to be the perfect complement to the weekend’s pursuit of finding the “best” windows in the world.

Before I begin, let me introduce you to the cast of characters for this trip:

The first character is Sam Bontrager, better known to many as “Sammy,” or, if you are one of those that have been lucky enough to know him well, “Geisbock.” Sam is an architect with whom I worked for five years at SEH before he took a job with another Minneapolis firm. We have managed to collect a number of stories together through a variety of life’s adventures. Among many fine attributes, he is fluent in spoken and written German. So when I asked for his help in interpreting some technical information about the German windows, he came to my rescue. It just so happens that to satiate his desire to travel, he works for NW Airlines on weekends primarily to avail himself of free travel opportunities for employees. With one desire supporting another, it wasn’t long before he had concocted a free flight to Germany, with me covering the hotel and food expenses of the trip. Sam’s fluency in German and his 100% German DNA came in handy. (Did you know Germans call their cell phones handy’s?).

Klaus Muller, is the window expert and a staunch environmentalist. I think Klaus was green before blue and yellow were even created. Klaus owns Muller windows a small environmentally friendly window manufacturing company whose niche is creating the most energy efficient/ecologically friendly window possible. He is a 35-year-old partner in a three generation family-owned company that is nestled in the foothills of the Black Forest. It is apparent that the Fertile Crescent is still alive and well in this area of Germany. Muller Windows has partnered with several other small, local window manufactures to market their product under the Optiwin label. Their particular niche within this group is to promote these environmentally higher performance windows in the international arena, with specific sights on the US market.
Giving a Readers Digest’s version of what I discovered may not be possible, but here’s my attempt to keep is short and sweet,

Hummmmm, what is the operational definition of “finest”, “best” or “top” when discussing green or environmental friendly windows? The highest ranking requirement, at least for our project in a very cold weather climate, no surprise, is its ability to insulate from the cold. Second most important is the passive solar gain, or what Klaus taught me, the “g” factor or the energy gaining potential of a window, this a W/(mK) unit of measure. The other factors pale in comparison, but are worth mentioning:

Integration into a building design that is aggressive about reducing energy useage.
Use of sustainable/renewable materials
Reuse of waste byproducts

Isolative quality:

Kingsolver describes in her book the benefits of knowing who and how the farmer produces the food you eat. Well, after this weekend I believe these same benefits are present regarding knowing the products for the building industry as well. Sam and I spent three days with Klaus and his family getting to know them and seeing first hand how they walk the talk. There wasn’t a question that he answered without backup material and supporting data to substantiate performance. Below is a copy of the McKinsey Quarterly report that Klaus gave me to describe to us why Muller windows believes that making the insulation value of a window is of highest importance. This chart is making the argument that increasing building insulation provides the biggest bang for the buck in saving long-term operating costs and reducing our negative environmental impacts.

The Passivhaus Institute was founded by Wolfgang Feist, who Klaus endearingly calls the “Pope” of green design in Germany. The Passivhaus Institute is a non-profit, non-commercial organization that has set a very high standard for energy efficiency of buildings. You can read more about it at this web site I will henceforth refer to this institute as the passive building institute, because I believe haus in Passivehaus leaves a somewhat inaccurate impression that the institute deals only with residential construction, which is not the case. Simply put, you set an aggressive bench mark, such as 5 kBTU/ft2 yearly for conditioned spaces, this can only be acquired through very aggressive building design and construction measures of occupied space. A building is certified by Passivhaus Institute to meet these standards only after an stringent energy modeling has been completed and air tightness testing has occurred of the completed building. Over 6,000 buildings in Germany and Europe have been certified through the Passive Building Institute and one in the US. There are three more in the US in the design and or early construction phases.

In order for a window or door to qualify for the Passivhaus building certification, they have to be tested using one of the most stringent window testing labs in the world. Unfortunately for us, no North American wood window can meet or exceed these PassivHaus measures, nor do we have any US made window wood or material that meet these standards. North American windows come close with some of the fiberglass windows now being produced in Boulder Colorado and in Canada. The R factor of the Mueller window is R 7.1 the center of glass is R factor is R 9.47.

It turns out that a “one size fits all” window in terms of energy performance is the only window supplied by most large US window manufacturer (e.g., Anderson, Pella, Marvin). For these companies, it makes sense from a business model to build something that is multipurpose for the US window market, but from a user/buyer having one general all purpose window design that is best used in a temperate climate, greatly inhibits making appropriate choices for what is best in very cold weather climates such as northern Minnesota.

As of this date, my research on high performance windows has not lead me to any companies that can produce the required very high performance as an all-wood window. There is a window called Alpen Fiberglass Windows that have the highest performance window on the market, but they are made outside the US in Canada, and at least for me, they do not represent the most ecologically friendly choice regarding the material used to create them.

As a side note, during my attendance of the GreenBuild conference in Chicago this year I attended the presentation of the 2007 products of the year award session and Alpen Windows was honored with being selected as one of the top ten picks. GreenSpec and Environmental Business News sponsor this selection process. Criteria for their selection process and why they have it is described on their web site at Alpen’s window have an amazing performance of R 20 for the center of glass and R10 for the unit. See attached performance information. When I questioned Alex about the environmental friendliness of fiberglass, he supported my judgment that it is not the best material regarding ecological manufacturing processes, however performance of wood windows has not achieved these higher standards so the tradeoff is a judgment call.
Here is more specific information on the window performance values.

I am seriously thinking of using the glazing product from Alpen windows with the wood frame and sash from Mueller as an approach to our project. Interestingly, Alex Wilson, the presenter also made the statement that unfortunately there are no US windows made that compete with these performance levels.

Additionally it appears that the small, more custom fit window manufacture doesn’t appear to exist in our local market place.

PS: Apparently, low e glass is the standard for all windows in Germany, largely because it is required by law. Low e glass has a R factor of 2.84 to give you a bench mark to compare the difference in the windows.

Passive Solar gain or “g” factor:

The ability of a window to capture as much of the longer wave lengths of the sun that will reduce the heating demands of the building comes in a strong second regarding factors for quality.

The higher the “g” factor the better it will perform in cold climates and the lower the g the better it will perform in warm climates.

The equivalent “g” factor in the US is the Solar Heat Gain Coefficient and again the higher the SHGC the better the window is especially for the south facing glass.

Integrated Design

Touting R or U values, without the realistic R or U values that include the window assembly, is like judging a book by its cover. The real story is how it performs in an assembly. It is pointless to put quality windows in an assembly that greatly reduces its performance. So, unless you are committed to high performance buildings, “one size fits all” windows might be the better investment. Klaus provided data on the loss’s that occur due to the materials adjacent to the window and the need to cover part of the jambs of his windows with insulation to assure the highest R value possible. We will be changing the precast sill to a metal sill to reduce the material that is of low insulating value with a combination of materials that is higher. I will post the window details finished for your review.

Additionally, he reminded me that sealing the inside of the building in lieu of the outside is more important, this prevents the moisture from getting into the insulation and walls. He showed us a material that he uses to create the interior window framing to make a water proof barrier that is demanded by the Passive Building Design.

Use of sustainable materials

The ability to have a wood window that doesn’t need painting, use of wood that is air not kiln dried, comes from a sustainable forest, and uses cork as the insulating material is a prototype window that is hard to beat. Small amounts of metal and sealant are currently used in his windows and are not what Klaus considers as sustainable material, however, but seem necessary until we create a better way to manage the movement of water into and through wood surfaces.

Klaus calls this his ecological window and uses three different three types of wood in them: larch for the exterior wood, pine for the interior, and cork for the insulation. The natural oil finish over the fir interior surface complete the assembly in what appears to be the best answer to a achieving an ecologically friendly window that I have come across to date. My eyes and ears are still wide open though.

Production practices of the window:

The Mueller window is assembled in a factory that is heated by the by waste wood products of his wood window manufacturing process. Because he had more waste than needed to heat his manufacturing facility, he created a small “heating utility company” that serves five other buildings on his street. He sells heat to these buildings from his wood-fired boiler system. Klaus gave us a tour of his 10-year-old wood fired heating system and is shown below in this picture. He thinks he will return his investment for capital output in about 15 years with some help of local governmental support, but return it immediately regarding environmental payback. Emissions are very low using a high temperature combustion for the biomass fuel source. To inaugurate the system he threw a party with live music inside the waste wood hopper.

I need to verify if his building as Passivhaus certified. However, features on his building did include other passive design features such as solar wall for passive gain in the winter and cooling in the summer due to deciduous vines covering the wall, solar shading shutters, etc.

We were able to visit Klaus’ sister’s Passivhaus certified home and were intrigued by the by the supply air vents, the future consideration for turning the house into more than one flat for future older parent care opportunities (cradle to cradle concepts), self closing kitchen drawers that actually pull themselves inward, wood stove that keeps most the heat out of the central living area and into the vestibule, air conditioning unit being supplied by ground source heat pumps, the lack of the need for screens, the need to control fabric breakdown by UV solar radiation, bugler-proof locks, three point locking doors, exterior doors that are the same construction style as the windows thereby keeping the house and all its contents warm, not just the air in the house. We also discussed the idea of “perceived warmth” extensively and how radiant heat from the surrounding building materials can make one feel warm at a lower air temperature. Think of being on a ski hill when the sun is out and how you can feel quite warm, despite the air being very cold. Below are some of the pictures of what I have described above.

Functionality and Aesthetics:

I am going to lump all these into rating criteria, since there really is no good accounting for individual taste. Suffice it to say, the Germans do produce precision made, high quality products when comes to functionality of almost anything. The windows are a tilt and turn style, that allows the window to be open and not be in the path of the user. They have clean lines and little ornamentation to allow for ease of restoration. In my mind, they are indeed a thing of beauty that few would dispute.

Discussion points:

Buying a window 6,000 miles away, when a slightly lower “quality” product can be purchased within 500 miles is arguably a difficult decision to make if energy and reduction of carbon dioxide production is the goal. We have yet to calculate the carbon dioxide generated to ship this windows as well as the reduction in carbon dioxide generation due to it’s high performance over an estimated 50-year window life span. Fiberglass windows of comparable design are available from Canada, but lack some of the sustainable manufacturing practices that Klaus’ windows have to offer. An argument to be made is the need to create a demand for this window in our area so that improved locally produced products become available and thereby making this a more viable choice for Americans.

While Forest Stewardship Council or equivalent certification processes do not exist for German forests, the Germans, and Europeans more generally, have proven themselves by managing for several centuries their renewable forests.

Full circle

After seeing the results achievable by this small German window company, I have come to the conclusion that similar to the unhealthy outcome of our food industry due to a “one size fits all” mentality and monopolizing of the seed industry, an equally unhealthy byproduct of having only a few large manufacturing conglomerates be the sole suppliers of most building products with little variation for application in the highly varied climates in North American. Having only slow moving gorilla company’s that has no mission other than to maximize profits for shareholders as the model for long-term environmental sustainability is not in anyone’s long term best interest. The model of building an economy around the opportunities to reduce emissions in an approach that address’s the business and environmental issues together.

Toilet Selection


We are not talking about endangered feces either; this most appealing subject tends to arouse interest and eventual guffawing. We have been blessed with the most accommodating dung management site possible. To our amazement, we were able to install a gravity feed septic system (no power needed), with a drain field the size of a regulation horse shoe pit. Our soils drain beautifully, thus the idea of complicating the septic system with composting toilets or energy burdened systems did not need to play out. However, the subject is not over until you pick the toilet you wish to christen as your throne. Whew, you can not believe the level of detail you are faced with when picking this simple piece of bathroom hardware. Here’s what seems to matter most:

· Size of turd that can be flushed,

· Amount of water that it takes to flush,

· The probability of training the untrainable how to dual flush,

· How easy is it to cleaning,

· How loud is the flush,

· How high is the seat,

· How easy are they to keep from over flowing or otherwise malfunctioning,

· Are they reliable?

Takeaways from my research:

Yes indeed there are third party testing agencies that will rate whether toilets can truly flush a 100, 250, 500 or even a 1000 gram turd,

My brother flushes while he lays the big one to avoid unnecessary cleaning issues (he is in charge of this household chore),

No matter how much training occurs, the likelihood that Americans will understand a dual flush concept seems next to zip,

You can actually purchase a $5,000 dollar toilet. The amazing things it can do to your privates,

Extremely low flow toilets are making there way into the industry but there are still few choices, which is good and bad. Good because it limits the decision making, bad because it limit the decision making.

The winner was: Kohler’s 1.1 gallon highline pressure assisted high efficiency toilet.

I will post some of these rankings with this blog entry.

Back to Waste Management – Looking for ideas

After spending four hours in a 20 yard roll-off dumpster, another hour or two sorting construction site waste, and a few more hours getting all the recycling bins clearly labeled, I ended up with an interesting assortment of debris. As you might guess the rigid insulation won the volume category, the plastic sheet wrapping came in second, and plastic coated paper third. Scrap wood, while it doesn’t have the volume, wins in the weight category. Lake County recycles cardboard, numbers 1 through 7 plastics, metal, aluminum, household paper, and glass. As you can see my current top rated waste by volume doesn’t fit into any of these categories. OK time to get creative!

Lessens learned thus far:

Set up the waste management program immediately, or as soon as possible after starting construction. Sorting as you go is the best, but good luck if you are working with a wide variety of styles when it comes to waste management, especially in the north woods. Clear delineation of where you are going to pile waste by types allows you to think creatively about what to do with the waste. We are currently hoping to finish the waste management recycling enclosure this week, so that we can recycle waste products on a weekly basis in a weather-protected location that will make it conducive to participate in waste reduction efforts. Regardless of your situation, figure out your waste management, as if it is just as important as drilling your well.

Get the suppliers/manufactures of materials involved; setting up some way to determine how to keep the challenging packaging material from arriving at the construction site in the first place would go a long way in helping with the waste management.

Ferrous (iron-containing) metal products have traditionally used 30% to 35% scrap metal for their end product. The ferrous metal scrap industry sells to the steel mills that in turn sell to the metal manufacturing companies. This is great news, but what are they doing to go beyond the norm?

Ideas we have come up with thus far:

Mike had a good idea yesterday; he suggested we create a mini-questionnaire to go to all the suppliers of material for the project regarding how they are going to deliver the product and what containment style they use. When packaging choices are available, making decisions on how the supplier works with you to limit the more challenging packaging materials by reuse or other sort of environmentally friendly recycling is a smart idea and reveals how green the supplier or manufacture is.

We are planning to grind and chip the wood, EPS rigid insulation, and gypsum to be used in the project as low grade building insulation, mulch or landscape products.

The recycling enclosure will go a long way to make recycling part of the construction routine. By the way, leaving the waste product/packaging at the store where you purchase the item in lieu of taking it with you is also a means to bring home the point that we don’t want it or need it in our lives to the degree it exists today. I did this the other day at the wireless store, I asked the sales person to open the impossible-to-open plastic packaging and keep it while I took the product, instructions and sales receipt. Challenging ourselves to reduce our waste is turning into an intriguing game that gets played out nearly every hour of the day.

OK, here’s where we need ideas, what do we do with the miles of plastic wrapping material that is used to hold together bulk materials? If we compact it to a reasonable size it might be use for something? Can it be recycled? Can it be shredded?

Mike has found this web site, it seems like a great source for waste management information.


Awareness, this entire project has heightened our awareness of environmental issues to a magnitude that I did not anticipate. Be aware of the energy consumption that we misuse on a daily basis, the embodied energy of many materials, waste production and reduction, byproducts of the fuels we choose, green marketing scams, and even the simple idea that making something aesthetically pleasing is a sustainable concept. Short of offing ourselves, there is a tremendous amount of change we can make to help nature keep working in our favor.

Interesting reads on this topic: "Cradle to Cradle by William Mc Donough & Michael Braungart

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Flying to the job site

One of the guys helping install the tanconite for the thermal storage area decided to fly to the site in lieu of drive yesterday, it rounded out the what turned out to be a very unique day on the construction site.

Taconite - Back to the Earth

Yesterday taconite ironically was put back into the earth for a unique new economic business opportunity, (Jim Oberstar we told you we would do our part to help with northern Minnesota economic development opportunities). As you can see from the photos, the thermal storage area is slowly getting filled with taconite, it has a great energy density to it compared with sand, however, as you would expect, it cost more. Not to mention it is specifically unique to Northern Minnesota. The separation of the sand storage and the taconite storage was completed using 2 inches of EPS to keep the two types of material isolated. There are sensors being installed at low, middle and high points in the thermal storage area, we will be monitoring and documenting how the two materials perform over the years to come.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Project Team

  1. Brad Holmes, Rod & Sons Carpentry - General Contractor

  2. Dan Spina, Lake County Forester - Forest Stewardship

  3. Ken Johnston - Don Long, Johnston Masonry - Masonry & Concrete

  4. Gus Blumer, SEH - Landscape Architect

  5. Joe Ernest, A & J Ernest Logging, Inc.- Excavation & Thermal Storage Containment

  6. John Eckfeldt - Owner & CFO

  7. John Hill, Heating Plus - HVAC & Plumbing Contractor

  8. Justin Barfuss - Sawtooth Electic - Electrical Contractor

  9. John Hinzman, SEH - Registared Land Surveyor

  10. Nancy Schultz, SEH - Architect/Owner

  11. Mike LeBeau, Conservation Technologies - Energy Consultant

  12. Kelly Bradley, SEH, Architectural Intern

  13. Kesh Ramdalar, Larson Engineering - Structural Engineer
  14. Dave Stark, Stark Enterprises - Rainwater Collection System
  15. George Carlson, Wildfire Sprinklers, Inc. - Forest Fire Suppression System

Saturday, September 8, 2007

John Eckfeldt

I wanted you to meet the person that really made this all happen for us, my husband John Eckfledt. The picture of John attached is indicative of why we are building in Isabella, MN, we love to cross country ski and spend a good deal of our free time outdoors challenging ourselfs in one wilderness adventure or another. John is a MD PHD Pathologist the University of Minnesota and an Ellis Benson Professor and Vice Chair for Clinical Affairs. He is also our families Chief Financial Officer and as such has made it possible for this project to become a realtity. He will be posting on the web site in the near future to help with the documentation of this eco project. We are both environmentalists and highly respect the idea that nature makes it possible for us to exist and enjoy our lives.

It's all about Insulation

John and I are involved in an experimental "pay it forward" project in Northern Minnesota, we are building a 2,100 sq ft. Lake home that we hope to get LEED Platinum certification. It will be Passivhaus certified which is the European style of determining the energy efficiency of a facility. Passivhaus approaches sustainability by setting targets of energy usage for a building and then attempting to meet those in the design. To be certified a facility has to have a 5 kBTU/ft2/a energy consumption while a normal house is in the 91 kBTU/ft2/a range and an energy efficient house
is in the 33 kBTU/ft2/a range. As I mention, it is all about insulation! Ihave been using many SEH staff for the integrated design process so we can add this to our sustainability portfolio. At any rate I wanted to share with you some pictures and a few of the features that are making this a Platinum possibility. We are filling the foot print under the main part of the house with1/2 taconite and 1/2 sand ( 210 cubic yards) and then laying pex tubing every foot vertically to store the heat we will be collecting in the daylight time of the year. Calculations indicate we will not need any additional heat or energy source for the place if the storage concept does what we are hoping it will do. We hope to be the first truly Zero energy use home in our climate zone. Other features will be a green roof, 1000sq ft of PV panels, (photo voltaic solar panels to generate electricity), and German made Mueller windows and insulation that is going into the Thermal Storage Area,

Sand, Sand & more Sand - Thermal Storage System

Today was was truly an amazing day, the project construction team, Mike LeBeau from Conservations Technologies, Brad Holmes from Rod and Sons Carpentry, John Hill from Heating Plus and Joe Ernest from A & J Ernest Logging, Inc. worked together like an All Star basketball team, this team of experts were so well coordinated and orchestrated that it was a "site" to be hold! In the 20 years of working in this line of work I can honestly say that this is a rare occurrence indeed. The first three lifts of gravel/sand, followed by sand followed by welded wire fabric followed by oxygen barrier coated plex tubing, followed by more sand were installed with all layers being compacted using two hand compaction machines. A picture of the interesting combination of large machinery that was used to get the thermal fill material in the foundation is attached for your viewing pleasure. Tomorrow 100 long cubic yards of taconite will be delivered to fill the top portion of the thermal storage area. The taconite is coming from Cleveland Lifts in Silver Bay.

Waste Managment Issues

They told me that the only way to achieve an aggressive LEED project was if I understood the importance of the integrative design process. There are many times I told myself that this is an understatement to the highest degree. Example: at our remote site finding a home for waste other than in the land fill was accomplished through a creative brain dumping process that most of the team members played a part . Great ideas such as using the remnant ICF's for a tree house down the road, or grinding the wood and gypsum to go back to the ground, or using up the bar in the concrete slabs for the porch or grinding up the cardboard and plastics to go into the garage for a bit of low grade insulation only name few of the issues that benefited from everyone thinking together about the issue.

Learning more about Sustainable Forests

Today, I had the pleasure of chatting with Don Haugan of Certified WoodProducts, Inc. He gave me the mini seminar about why Northern Minnesota Forests struggles with providing wood for Green Homes in Minnesota. It turns out that during the turn of the century (1800's) we took the "cream dela cream" of the white and red pines leaving only the old and crotchety for breeding stock. As a result, while we have FSC forests we only have wood such as the fast growing aspens and balsam. Which over time was determined good for paper and not building and thus we created the paper industry that exists in Northern Minnesota in lieu of good quality building material woods. As Don put it, we can drive fast (quickly grow FSC low grade wood), but it's how good we are at driving fast that matters, (growing higher grade wood sustainably). Thus getting FSC framing lumber is a tough to do in these parts. However, we do have a reasonably good source for interior finish material wood, such as birch or basswood. He encouraged me to think ahead and find the basswood source that can be milled and dried for use at alater date.
He is a great supporter of the cause and took the plunge to start a company that provides the sustainable product that we are striving to encourage our industry to demand. His company began in 2001 and is doing well, he has completed over 200 LEED homes as of this posting. He was a wealth of information and willing to think creatively regarding meeting the spirit of LEED and going beyond to make it even better.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Integration of Rain Water, Well Water & Forest Fire Suppression Systems

Update on issue - Sept 11, 2007

After discussing the water supply sytems with John Hill it appears that collection of the rain water would first likely go through a rough filtering process of some sort, followed by a storage tank for this water. The filter or filtering would likely have some sort of back flushing component to it that would be pressurized to feed into the septic system or just manually cleaned. The rainwater would then go into another filtering process, and if the well water is in need of filter, there may be a need to send the well water through its own filtering tank, (not the same tank, need to verify). The well line would connect onto the rain water supply feed between the rainwater storage tank and the second filtering tanks with backflow and check valves, (verify this as well) Following the filtering process the water would go through either a small pressurizing tank for the rainwater or pressure tank for the well water. The well water would go to the cold water line to the fixtures in the house or through a coil in the thermal storage tank for preheating of the water for hot water. If there isn’t enough hot water then it would get a boost from the on demand hot water heater and continue on to supply the fixtures calling for hot water. The rain water would go through a separate coil in the thermal storage tank and then out to the fixture calling for the hot water. However, if we would run out of heat from the thermal storage tank then we would have a manual shut off valve with backflow prevention that would switch to the well water supply for hot water source. We will need to run two separate supply lines for hot and cold off of the main trunks to all fixtures that will receive rain water and the well water supply. We will be running copper supply lines for all the potable water sources to the Lake Home. The unknowns are related to what filtering process will be required and how to collect the rain with the least amount of maintenance. Keeping the goal in mind; the quality of the water and opportunities for irrigation are the two main reasons for pursuing this system. We will need to verify the quality of the water once the well is drilled to determine if iron rich or hard water is actually a problem to resolve. It was also determined that keeping the irrigations of the green roof separate from the forest fire suppression system is the best solution due to the need to have smaller sprinkler heads for irrigation than for the forest fire prevention system. We will be using rain water collection system for all irrigation, regardless of what is decided for the showers, toilets and laundry water supply source. See up dated diagram of this plan.

Sept. 9, 2007 entry,
I spent part of the day revisiting the idea of a rainwater collection system for a portion of the water usage for the site. It was determined that since we have the most accommodating site possible regarding porous soil/septic system and since we will be greatly reducing the water usage due to installation of extremely low flow plumbing fixtures and appliances we would not be installing grey or black water reuse systems. However, it is likely the water we will get from our well will be iron rich and hard but plentiful and not located deep into the ground. Additionally, we are planning to have food crop irrigation, thus rainwater in lieu of pumped well water is a better water source if planned into the project properly. Currently the thought is to have a storage tank of water in the area below the garage, (Dave we need to size this accordingly), take the water from the tank to a pressure tank that would be located in the mechanical room through a supply line. Then provide a check valve on this supply line followed by a branch off of it that would connect to the well water pressure tank (do we need a different pressure tank for both well verse rainwater?) The branch from the well water would also have a check value for shut-off purposes. Then have the filtering system before the pressure tank, (Dave would filtering the well water, should we run out of the rainwater supply in the winter and need to use well water, be a added benefit ?). This filter and pressurized water would then head to a cold water line or to the thermal mixing tank and be heated using an on-demand propane domestic hot water system that is integral with the solar heat collection system.(Dave, not sure of the sequence here but took a stab at it based on Mikes thoughts) This idea requires the clean up of the water so that it is potable, this would eliminate the need to have two sets of plumbing lines off the branches one for the Rainwater and the other for well water, is the cost (capital and energy load) to clean up the rainwater unreasonable? If it is cost prohibitive or is a heavy energy load then it seems that running two separate plumbing runs off branches would be the means to solve the issue and we would then need two on demand gas propane hot water heaters, one for the rainwater system and the other for potable water from the well.

Two other related items of concern, the irrigation of the green roof and the use of plastic piping for potable water consumption.

I just walked around the site with George Carlson, the fire fighting sprinkler system supplier. Interestingly, he has a water purification system in his Gunflint Trail home. (It is called Rainsoft). However, he brought up the feature of making sure that we use the, fighting sprinkler heads (three on the house & one on the garage) as the means to irrigate the green roof. If we connect this system with the rainwater collection system, we can switch to the use of the rain water collection tank when watering the green roof and then have it default back to the lake water pump when not in use. Seems like a sound idea. Additionally he mentioned that his filter system for the water is feed back into the septic system. Is this a possibility? It seems that we would have to either pump it up or located the filtering system above the septic for this to work. Anyway there are a number of questions regarding how to best integrate this system.

Additionally, Mike will be sending us information regarding the potential health hazards of the bi- products leaching out of plastics. We will be considering the use of plastics for the plumbing runs after this information has been provided.