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.