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Green Roof in Austin

John Gaines park has a commitment to follow which is to maintain sustainability and green building. The newly opened pool building has been featured in UT’s Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in their recent article on the merits of a green roof.

John Gaines park is known to be beautiful and besides that fact, having a green roof adds a living element to its structure and comes with its own host of benefits as well.

The green roof is a very sustainable installation that will be helping in the absorption of rainwater and provide a natural insulation for the building. This will result to less water runoff and less energy used for heating and cooling.

john-gainnes-green-roof

More green space will also help keep the ambient temperature cooler by breaking up the concentration of heat absorbing materials that are usually found in urban areas such as the sidewalks and streets. The roof will also help slow down and collect rain water through a water barrel collection system that serves to supplement the irrigation.

The plant life will provide a natural wildlife habitat for lizards, geckos, and insects that are very important to a diminishing ecosystem. In addition to this, the plants will effectively utilize their natural functions to treat the air helping us all breathe a little cleaner.

Green roofs in hot climates have come a long way in the past years. There has been a dramatic spike in demand for green roof projects since 2009. Due to the continuous research and experience, these green roof projects have been proven to work.

Feel free to head on this article if you are interested in knowing about the pool in John Gaines park and other pools in Mueller.

If you think you wish to know about green homes here in Austin, please don’t hesitate to call 512 215-4785.

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There are many ways to measure how green your green home in Austin is, and given that Austin is the birth-place of the green home rating programs (starting in 1991), I’m going to use that as a measure of where the new green homes are here. Makes sense, right?

In Austin Energy’s Green Building Annual report there’s a great diagram of where the 2010 rated homes were built. The blue circles depict different magnitudes of single family home building per zip code.

Green Austin Homes

Green Rated Building in 2010

Of 1909 single family homes that were built in Austin, 38% participated in the rating program. 78723 was one zip code which did well for commercial and residential projects, and Mueller Austin features in the commercial projects to watch with the Austin Children’s Shelter, Mosaic, the Greenway Lofts, The Wildflower Terrace and the Mueller House Condominiums being featured as projects to watch. The large blue circle means over 151 homes green homes were added in 78723 – more than any other area. The full key for the above diagram is in the annual report – check it out.

In less than 4 years, all new homes built in Austin are planned to be net zero capable, according to the Austin Climate Protection Plan‘s ambitious goals. The 38% rated projects in 2010 are not all net zero, but it’s a step in the right direction. Builders are learning to work in new ways with new materials, and to figure out what elements score points in one rating program. There’s still a big leap to making the holistic choices that make an entire building net zero.

If you’re interested in more Mueller Austin homes for sale in 2013 and beyond, you can stay up to date at my other website. Or feel free to get in touch and ask me about what’s after Section 6.

 

 

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Garreth Wilcock is an Austin EcoBroker®

Specializing in: New Green Homes in Austin.

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Who doesn’t want to use less energy to heat and cool their home? Conventional wisdom may be to seal your home and to add a more efficient central air conditioning unit, but given that your ducts leak and your Central HVAC sucks if you’re remodeling a home without existing central air, you should consider a ductless mini-split system.

Here’s a quick video of Kristof Irwin – who has been spearheading some of Austin’s net zero capable green construction and building performance testing.

Why are these systems more efficient than a regular central HVAC?

  1. No leaks. They don’t move cold air around leaky ducts, they move refrigerant around pipes. Given that even newly constructed air ducts typically leak around 10%, you’re already saving by having a transmission system that doesn’t leak.
  2. Condition only what you need. You can configure the spaces to cool or heat independently – not all rooms in a home are typically occupied at the same time, so it allows for only using energy to bring your desired climate to the rooms you’re using.
  3. Variable energy usage. You have a throttle on your energy usage. As Kristof mentions in this video, you can run your system at 10% capacity up to 130% capacity. Compare this to your typical central system which is either on or off, and you can see it’s easier to control temperature and humidity more accurately with the mini-split system. Some days you only need a 10% effort, so you don’t use as much power, and the unit doesn’t cycle on and off so much, leading to longer service life of the components. This is better for the grid too which no longer has to account for simultaneous spikes in usage as compressors cycle on and off.

One comment I often hear about ductless mini-split AC systems is that they’re more expensive, and they have big old head units in each room. Neither of these is true. As mentioned in the video, it is possible to have supply and return vents in the ceiling of your home while the head unit is in the attic – this appears to the building users to be central air, though they may notice a proliferation of thermostats allowing them individual control on a per-head basis.

As for expense, there are certainly federal incentives to reduce energy usage through the purchase and installation of high-efficiency AC systems. There are four fiscal costs of a typical HVAC system – initial installation cost, running costs, maintenance and replacement costs and external costs (costs to the environment and supply grid).

It’s certainly worth getting a HVAC installer to do a cost benefit analysis for you of a traditional system for your needs versus a mini-split system. You might be pleasantly surprised that the system which gives you more fine-grained comfort control and lower bills works out to be the best for your situation.

 

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Garreth Wilcock is an Austin EcoBroker®

Specializing in: New Green Homes in Austin.

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Your Central HVAC System Sucks

If you have central air conditioning in your home, with ducts routing air from the condenser to the rooms, your system sucks. Don’t just take my word for it, ask Austin home performance expert Kristof Irwin.

Kristof and I were discussing his choice to use ductless mini-split systems in a net zero remodel he performed in South Austin, and he took me back to HVAC boot camp to explain the fundamental issue that ducted HVAC systems suffer from: ducts leak.

All ducts leak as anyone who has experienced an ECAD Audit in Austin can attest. The ECAD form even explains that average duct leakage is 27% in Austin. Even new construction experiences cold air loss in summer though current code in Austin requires less than 10%. So the largest component of the average Texan utility bill is their HVAC system. And over a quarter of the cold air they produce in the typical ducted system is blown into the attic. Isn’t that crazy? A quarter of your frosty cold air is just wasted.

That’s not the only issue though. Think about the three systems – house, HVAC system, and outside, shown in the sketch below.

HVAC Sucks

If your ducts leak 10% the replacement air has to come from somewhere

The HVAC fan pulls air from your home through return air ducts. The air is blown across the condenser, loses heat and humidity and then blows back into your living space, minus whatever leaks from the ducts. So the system is effectively depressurizing your home. The low pressure in your home then attracts the heat and humidity outside your home, and sucks it into your home through any leaks between the inside and outside.

So the by-product leaky (which means all) ducts, is that the very air you are trying to keep out of your home (hot, humid) is sucked in. What’s the solution? Check back to see How to Make Your Home Suck Less

 

 

Search For Green Homes In Austin Find the market value of any Austin home

 

Garreth Wilcock is an Austin EcoBroker®

Specializing in: New Green Homes in Austin.

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Austin homes’ energy efficiency get a potential boost this month as the Austin City Council approved a change to the Energy Conservation And Disclosure (ECAD) Ordnance. In summary:

  1. ECAD Audit reports have to handed over 3 days before any buyer’s option period ends
  2. Condos now require ECAD Audits in addition to single family homes

Before the changes, the main implication of the ECAD ordnance was that sellers of single family homes over 10 years old served by Austin Energy that hadn’t had sufficient energy improvements had to pay for an ECAD Audit. The resulting report had to be handed over to the buyer “at some point” before closing.

Now, the audit must be performed and the report handed over while the buyer still has some time to do something about it. The new rules mandate an audit be handed over to a buyer three days before the end of their option period, or before contract execution if there is no option period. During the option period, it is possible for the buyer to terminate their purchase contract for any reason. That reason could be an inability to negotiate successful energy efficiency improvements with the seller.

Do people negotiate over the ECAD audits? So far, my experience has been that No they don’t unless something terrible is revealed. Most people hone in on duct leakage as it’s a relatively simple thing to understand – expensive cold air escaping where it needs to be is an obvious waste of resources.

The other reason is that I have always told my home sellers to get an ECAD audit before they put their home on the market. That way if there are items that need addressing, they can be done before the home is on the market. The most successful negotiating strategy, and the way to get the highest net for your home is to negotiate from a position of knowledge. If you know what you’re selling and you disclose it ahead of time, a buyer can’t reasonably come back and say that they want something fixed or a cash allowance. If they do, they’re not being reasonable, and there are ways to negotiate with the unreasonable which I won’t go into here.

Helpful FAQ / resources:

Do I need an ECAD audit? Use Austin Energy’s self-check site to determine if your 10+ year old home is exempt

How long is an ECAD Audit valid? If I get one now and sell next year, will I have to get a new one? The Audit is valid for 10 years, which is quite frankly ridiculous, but means there’s no reason not to schedule one today.

Are condos exempt from the ECAD Audits? No longer – condos do require ECAD Audits from May 2nd 2011.

Search For Green Homes In Austin Find the market value of any Austin home

Garreth Wilcock is an Austin EcoBroker®

Specializing in: New Green Homes in Austin.

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As a participant volunteer in the Pecan Street Project – a smart grid demonstration project which includes Mueller, Austin in it’s five year study, I invited some folk into my home tomorrow to test ZigBee. Until today, I had no real idea what that meant.

ZigBee

In technical terms it’s a “specification for a suite of high level communication protocols using small, low-power digital radios based on the IEEE 802.15.4-2003 standard for Low-Rate Wireless Personal Area Networks (LR-WPANs)”. Thanks wikipedia. What that means is alarmingly simple – it’s a standard way for your light bulb to talk to a light switch, no matter who has built each.

“Isn’t that what wires are for?” I hear you ask. Well, in a traditional sense, yes. If you want to do something a little more fancy then you could use one of the ZigBee standards – e.g. ZigBee home automation. If this is all a lot of gobble-de-gook at this point, let’s look at an example.

Say you want to monitor how much energy is being used by a specific power outlet / plug socket. Which you may very well want to do if you’re trying to pinpoint energy usage in your home and find ways to reduce unintended or unwanted usage. You attach a ZigBee Smart Energy plug socket from one manufacturer into your electrical supply. It sends information to a small energy portal which also collects electricity tariff information from your utility provider. You see a simple chart showing usage and cost information for each socket on the portal. Simple!

On your portal, you notice that you’ve inadvertently left the lights on in three rooms, which your ZigBee Home Automation occupancy sensors tell you are empty. You tap the portal and the ZigBee controlled lights are all turned off. Or say you notice that you’re currently in peak summer pricing time from the utility company, and you have all three zones of your HVAC system set to cool, and your plug-in hybrid car is about to charge. You might elect to turn off cooling in the downstairs portion of your home as everyone is hanging out upstairs, and draw energy from your car rather than charging it to avoid peak tariffs.

(note: Austin Energy right now doesn’t have different Time Of Use energy rates, though it does have different tiers of energy pricing – different prices per kWh for different bands of monthly consumption. Both Austin Energy and the Pecan Street Project are investigating Time Of Use pricing).

So when I started this article, I was talking about a set of high level protocols called ZigBee. They allow device interoperability from long battery life devices connecting to one another over a short distance, such as in a building or home. I then got a little carried away talking about using energy from your car to power your HVAC, for one simple reason. It’s like having the internet for the devices in your home. Which kind of excites me.

The article here represents the views of the author and not Austin Energy, The Pecan Street Project or pretty much any one else.

Search For Green Homes In Austin Find the market value of any Austin home

Garreth Wilcock is an Austin EcoBroker®

Specializing in: New Green Homes.

specification for a suite of high level communication protocols using small, low-power digital radios based on the IEEE 802.15.4-2003 standard for Low-Rate Wireless Personal Area Networks (LR-WPANs”)
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5 Star Green construction can certainly run at a premium and people often ask me if they can get such a high performance home in their price point. I took a look at the market today and came up with the following answer: yes.

There are a couple of challenges in finding them yourself – there aren’t all that many agents who use the primary listing database fields correctly. Green Building Scheme Rating is an optional field, and some agents don’t fill it in correctly. The other challenge is that new homes aren’t always in the MLS. So even if you find a site that shows “5 star green homes” it tends to reflect a portion of the market.

5 star green

Correctly labeled in the MLS too!

There are a few condo developments which meet the criteria, one being the Lakeline Square condos up near 183 and 620. You can get three story town homes for around 150k there – over 1300 sqft with 3 beds.

If being close to town is more important as part of your sustainable lifestyle choice, there are the Pedernales condos on E6th Street – right by the Lance Armstrong Foundation. These were built in 2005 and start at around $120k for a 1 bed unit.

From time to time other small condo developments pop up too – from small duplex conversions to new builds.

For single family detached homes in the city, the only place is SOL Austin – right now they have a 1300+ sqft 3 bed home for around $250k.

Inventory turns all the time, so get in touch if you want an updated list of 5 star green homes in your price point.

Search For Green Homes In Austin Find the market value of any Austin home

Garreth Wilcock is an Austin EcoBroker®

Specializing in: 5 Star Green Homes in Austin.

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Air humidity is one of the key factors for comfort at home, and can sometimes be unexpectedly high in a brand new “green” build. I spoke to Positive-Energy‘s Kristof Irwin and found out one method he uses – psychrometric testing – to help identify issues with discomfort in the home.

Austin Psychrometric

This little gadget logs temperature and humidity

The type of comfort we’re talking here is thermal comfort, and the following factors which are most frequently controlled by your HVAC play into that:

  • Air temperature
  • Relative humidity – we lose heat when we perspire, and the amount of water vapor in the air determines how fast we can cool
  • Air movement – moving air feels cooler

A side effect of your HVAC system is the reduction of humidity as it cools air. This is great as keeping the humidity down within an acceptable range is important for you to feel comfortable.

The challenge for builders of energy efficient homes is that building envelopes are getting tighter – there are less places for water vapor to escape. So if you’re cooking and generating steam, or taking a shower without an exhaust fan, your traditional HVAC will have to expend a great amount of energy to dehumidify the air.

There’s a sweet spot at which air temperature and air humidity feel comfortable for most of us. The interesting thing from an energy efficiency standpoint is that you don’t need to run all of your HVAC to dehumidify the air. You can simply add a lower power dehumidifier to your home, and use less energy on HVAC operations to achieve a feeling of comfort.

So what goes wrong? If your relative humidity remains high (even at a lower temperature) the combination doesn’t feel right. And if the relative humidity stays above 60% for too long, fungal spores can germinate. The EPA advises maintaining a relative humidity of 30-60%

What starts off as feeling uncomfortable can end up being unhealthy. So that’s where Kristof gets called in. He uses psychrometric testing:

“By logging humidity and temperature over time, you can learn where the air moves,” says Kristof. From there he can understand your home and figure out what needs to be addressed.

Little data loggers can be placed strategically around the home to test theories. I’m adding two in my home just to see, and I’ll report back what we learn.

Search For Green Homes In Austin Find the market value of any Austin home

Garreth Wilcock is an Austin EcoBroker®

Specializing in: New Green Homes in Austin.

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Geothermal HVAC in a home – can it be done in Austin? This was the question I was posed on the phone last week, and the first thing that sprung to mind was the net zero capable community of SOL Austin which features geothermal HVAC options. I checked the MLS home sales in the City of Austin in 2010, and just 3 of 9694 sales were labeled as having geothermal HVAC – all of them above $325,000.

The next thing that suggested itself was calling in the expertise of Kristof Irwin of Blue Heron Builders – he specializes in remodels and construction of net zero capable homes in Austin. His answer was surprisingly simple – yes!

He said he could build a 1500sqft home with geo-thermal HVAC for under $300,000 – possibly $275,000. The system is around twice the cost of a regular HVAC, he explained. The ground is used as a heat sink for the refrigerant used to cool the home, so rather than having an external unit using a motor to compress refrigerant from a gas to a liquid, you use a hole in the ground. The refrigerant is pumped into the heat sink where it cools down sufficiently to begin the heat exchange cycle with your home once more. The energy required to pump is less than the energy required to compress a gas, so the net result is lower energy bills.

Kristof then went on to explain that he wouldn’t necessarily choose a geo-thermal HVAC to attain the goal of a net zero capable home – one which through provision of on-site electricity production could produce the same amount of energy as it consumed over a year.  (In short, a high performance home without the pesky burden of energy bills) He said that he would also look at ductless mini split heat pumps which eliminate the challenge of duct leakage in a home and allow a more fine grained control of the zoning. You only condition the rooms you are in, so save on conditioning the whole house.

He also pointed out that the ductless mini split systems can also improve the humidity control in a house, which is crucial as building envelopes become tighter. I’ll talk more about the perils of humidity in a new green home in an upcoming post.

Search For Green Homes In Austin Find the market value of any Austin home

Garreth Wilcock is an Austin EcoBroker®

Specializing in: New Green Homes in Austin.

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SOL Austin – Update

Modern high-performance homes in Austin:

SOL AUstin Home

Good looking and green

SOL Austin is the KRDB project 3.3 miles East of downtown Austin which has been swelling in the last few years with geothermally powered eco-abodes. I took a quick walk around today and shot a few short videos to give an idea of the completion status. There are two homes currently under construction, and nothing in the MLS.


Here are a few quick updates on the project.

  • 17 homes are sold, of 38 lots.
  • Prices are below $200/sqft (as low as $171/sqft)
  • It’s 3.3 miles if you’re a commuting crow, 4.1 miles if you adhere to more conventional transportation options (according to google maps)

You can check out the available SOL home listings at my website (there aren’t any at the present time), or give me a call if you want to check them out in person.

Search For Green Homes In Austin Find the market value of any Austin home

Garreth Wilcock is an Austin EcoBroker® with Keller Williams Realty.

Real Estate Agent Specializing in: New Green Homes in Austin.

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