Fun with salvaged items

From the start, Rae and I had planned on using salvaged or recycled items in as many areas as we could, but things didn’t turn out quite that way. Nothing really jumped out at us in the local yards we visited, and a couple things we did like were beyond our budget even at this stage in their lives.

We’d given up hope of finding some stained glass for use inside the house above the bathroom doors and the idea of finding a set of cool looking lights for the kitchen, but then on a return trip from Boston we visited and hit the jackpot!

Amazingly we found both – a simple set of stained glass windows from England and a pair of exterior “ship type lights” from India.

Mechanical Systems

It’s nice to finally see the various mechanical systems in the house connected.

Here’s a breakdown of what we’ll be running:

• Lifebreath Model 155 Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV)
– The “mechanical leak” for the house
• Lifebreath Turbulent Flow Precipitator TFP3000
– Filter system that works with the HRV. Removes 99.97% of particles such as pollen, fungus spores, dust, animal dander and dirt
• WaterFurnace Envision Series Geothermal All-In-One Heat Pump
– Main heating and cooling for the house
• Superstore 45 Gallon Coil Booster Tank
– Water storage tank that collects the “waste” energy from the WaterFurnace, and provides us with 100° hot water.
• Eemax EX190TC On-Demand Electric Water Heater
– The “booster” unit to heat our 100° hot water in the tank to a pleasant 120-130° for showers, dish washing etc.

So…a little detail on HRVs.

When you build a super-insulated house you can’t always rely on opening windows to bring in fresh air, especially in Vermont where outside winter temps can drop to 30 below! This is where an HRV comes in.

As a “mechanical leak” for the house, the HRV automatically exchanges the inside air for fresh outside air, but the cool part is it “recovers” the temperature of the inside air and applies it to the new air coming in. Lifebreath claims 83% effectiveness for this unit, though we’ll have to wait to see if this is true. The advantage in winter is that you don’t lose your warm inside air as you bring in cold outside air, which also means less runtime for your heating system.


My father built his first house in the San Bernardino Mountains when he was 29, and now over 20 years later we’re working together in designing and building a new house for my girlfriend and I.

I wanted the house to be as eco-friendly as possible, a “green” home, and you can accomplish this in many different ways. Unfortunately this method of building is fairly new in the US, unlike most of Europe, with only small pockets of varying building designs cropping up across the country. Due to increased awareness of climate change however, more and more people are becoming aware of it, and I hope that we’re now reaching a tipping point towards more widespread use in this country. The next few years should be pretty interesting.

House Design:
The main goal is a super insulated house, that requires minimum energy to run. The overall design of the house and placement on the land takes into account passive heating and cooling, reducing the mechanical systems that we’ll need over the changing seasons. Vermont can have extremely cold winters, as well hot and humid summers, so the systems used need to cover a large range of temperatures. One aspect that was very important to me was to see if we could reduce our fossil fuel use, meaning no natural gas (which is scarce in VT anyway), propane (widely used), or oil (also widely used). An all electric house however can skyrocket utility bills, depending on what you’re running, so we decided to offset this with a geothermal heat pump system for our main heating/cooling and hot water heating. Regarding electricity, Vermont is lucky that a very high percentage of its power comes from either hydro or nuclear, two very clean sources (nuclear has larger implications of course), as well as “cow power” at a slightly extra cost, and so all electric seemed to make the most sense.

As it stands now, a geothermal system will be combined with an HRV (Heat Recovery Ventilator) and hydronic heating/cooling furnace, similar to traditional forced air systems. An HRV however is a air circulation system that provides constant filtered fresh air from outside, while at the same time removing the stale air from inside. The “recovery” part is that it transfers the temperature of the inside air back to the new air coming in, keeping it warm in the winter and cool in the summer. What this type of system gives us is excellent indoor air quality year round, and the ability to heat or cool the air cleanly via its hybronic coil.

General House Specs:
• Super Insulation – R40 walls, R50 roof, R20 slab.
• Triple-Glazed windows on all sides, except south, which will be double-glazed for south facing passive solar heat gain in winter.
• Deep roof overhangs for sun protection in summer.
• All materials – sustainable, researched materials and from local sources as appropriate.
• High Energy Star rated appliances, kitchen and bathroom fixtures – all sourced from socially responsible companies.
• Energy Efficient – geothermal heat pump.
• All lighting to incorporate CFLs.
• Striving for 5 Star Plus Energy Rating and LEED certification.