Healthy Homes

May 14, 2016

Marissa Harshman, a writer for the Columbian, published a great story this week about the health, or lack there of, in homes.  Most of the marketing of Green building promotes energy savings and sustainable products.  However, one of the greater benefits of these building systems is the improved health of the indoor environments and it gets the least promotion.  In my opinion, it should be the top benefit followed by durable sustainable products, reduced maintenance, energy costs and consumption.

Marissa writes, “A person’s health can be affected by numerous things — diet, physical activity, family history, lifestyle choices. But one factor people don’t often consider is their home.”

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Green homes, use low voc (volatile organic compounds) paints and caulks to prevent harmful off gassing that traditional paints and caulks emit.  People often say they like the “new” smell of a home or car.  However, they are really enjoying the smell of harmful gases that are being released into the air.

Every Marnella Home has an indoor environment built to EPA’s indoor airPlus compliance because we agree with the importance of maintaining a healthy home.

“Some of the most common causes of sick homes in the Northwest are ventilation systems not working properly, water entering wall cavities and causing mold growth, and unsealed spaces allowing air from crawl spaces to enter the home.”

Our vented rain screen siding system helps prevent moisture from entering in through walls and is installed on every home we build.

All of our HVAC systems are installed within the conditioned space (inside the home and not in the garage, attic or crawlspace) to provide superior performance and efficiency.

Green homes also have very low air leakage which minimizes outdoor contaminates from making their way into the home and incorporate mechanical fresh air exchange equipment which continually exchange stale indoor air with fresh outside air.

I encourage you to read Marissa’s story and consider the benefits of Green and performance homes when looking to buy or build.  Remember, what is behind the sheetrock is just as important, if not more so, than what is in front of it.

Living large in Meriwether

August 13, 2014

The Willamette provides large open spaces both inside and out.  The large livable porches, both front and back, provide for year around outdoor enjoyment.  This home has 4 bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, lounging loft, bonus room, iSpace and drop zone.The WillametteGathering roomDropzone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This home accommodates space and comfort as well as energy performance. It is built to Earth Advantage Platinum, EPA WaterSense and indoor airPlus standards to deliver monthly energy costs of only $28!  That’s gas and power!

High ceilings provide an abundance of light throughout the home to the many spaces available for family activities.  All baths have tiled counters and floors with the master having a full tiled shower.  Pre-wiring is in for security & sound, plus pre-plumbing is in for central vacuum.  The garage is a “true” double car garage that can accommodate full size trucks and SUV’s.

Master BathKitchenBackyard from alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If your next home requires 4 bedrooms and extra rooms for media, hobby, work or study, The Willamette can accommodate all of your needs. You can see more community details at http://www.marnellahomes.com

As the name of the community implies, this quiet and intimate neighborhood of Hiddenbrook is where freedom from yard work and maintenance is where our residents call home.  Tucked out of the way, but still close enough to walk to shopping, coffee and restaurants.  Our residents will enjoy the freedom to spend time hiking, biking, kayaking and all the outdoors of the Columbia River Gorge and Clark County have to offer.  Instead, of spending time doing yard work and exterior maintenance.

Spacious Gathering Room

Spacious Gathering Room

At Hiddenbrook, everyone owns and end unit since only one acoustically engineered wall is shared.  Marnella Homes is excited to offer the only two town homes that are currently move-in ready, The Yakima and Columbia.  Both are 2108 square feet, 3 bedroom, 2 1/2 bath town homes featuring spacious open gathering room/Kitchen/dining areas, iSpace, drop zones and large double garages with extra storage.  9′ ceilings on all floors and tall windows provide light and airy interiors that will be much appreciated on our dark northwest winter days.  All offer energy bill guarantees for 3 years of only $80 a month in total energy costs, gas and power, through Earth Advantage.

Of the 28 homes in this community, only 12 opportunities remain.  There are two finished homes, ready to move into.  So, sell the lawnmower and yard tools and enjoy the freedom that Hiddenbrook has to offer.  Not to mention the comfortable, quiet and energy saving benefits that all our homes offer.

If not, it should. There are two typical siding installation processes here in the Northwest, Rainscreen and “vented” rainscreen. Rainscreen is a siding installation process which allows the water that can get behind the siding, to drain out, with the help of a “drain wrap” house wrap, at the bottom near the foundation. Which is an improvement to old methods because it isn’t a question of whether water will get behind your siding, it ‘s what is it going to do when it gets there. However, vented rainscreen is a system that allows the siding to breath by installing the siding material on top of furring strips of apx. 3/8” – 1/2” in thickness and providing venting gaps at the bottom course and at the eave.

wood-with-labels_lgThe reality is wall systems used to breath. A lot. Older homes were not built tight so air flowed in and out which allowed them to breath. However, when your entire home breathes on it’s own, your home will be drafty and you have no control over your energy usage and indoor comfort. So, as the homes have become tighter, we have had to find ways to mitigate the tightness with the good ventilation that has an effective purpose. At Marnella Homes, every home we build has a vented rainscreen siding system. We feel this is a superior system to the drain wrap method, due to the fact that it does not rely on gravity and tiny water channels to get the moisture to eventually drain out (you hope). It allows air to circulate behind the siding to more quickly dry out any moisture that finds it way back.

It is my belief that as the siding manufactures press for this method of installation, it will be seen as the minimum standard for siding installation in the years to come. It is already a requirement on most commercial applications.

Another benefit besides the drying of moisture is that siding will retain paint and sealant longer due to the siding material being allowed to stay dry. If the siding material is continually wet it will become more difficult to adhere too. So, an added benefit to this system is reduced maintenance.rainscreen

So, if your builder isn’t installing siding this way, ask him why.   The reason is usually because they don’t believe in it or think it is too expensive. Do your research and you will see that having to tear off siding to repair rot is much more expensive than installing the correct way the first time.

I recently walked through a building of townhomes under construction and was amazed to see that the builder was actually running his subflooring under the common walls through to the connecting home without any break in the flooring.  I have seen this in apartment construction, but not in condo or townhome construction in a long time. With the amount of knowledge we should all have about acoustics, I don’t see why that would be acceptable to anyone.

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We have built many condos and townhomes and appreciate that sound mitigation is paramount to the indoor environments of our homeowners.  Not allowing a break in the subfloor creates a conduit for sound transfer under the party or common wall.  It won’t matter how well the wall is insulated sound will still transfer from home to home.  The floor transfers laterally the sounds from subwoofers, kids jumping and running, etc.

This is another classic illustration of why at Marnella Homes, we encourage new home buyers to research how a builder builds their homes and visit the builder’s homes under construction.  Nice fixtures, flooring and detailing could only be decorative masking for poor construction.  As this market heats back up again, some builders will start to pull back on elements of their homes because it may not be necessary to include them to sell homes or the buyer may not be paying attention.

However, after a homeowner moves in, they will notice a poorly insulated and constructed townhome.  Trust me, Sharknado was bad enough to watch the first time, let alone listening to it again from your neighbor’s home.

The Few, The Deserving

August 16, 2011

After receiving a comment, on a post I wrote about home performance from a builder, that all new homes were ENERGY STAR certified. It occurred to me that if someone in my industry didn’t understand the facts about the ENERGY STAR new home certification then I needed to clarify this further. I agree that the energy codes for new construction have been elevated significantly in recent years. However, so have the requirements for the new homes programs of ENERGY STAR, Energy Trust of Oregon, Earth Advantage and the like.

ENERGY STAR rated homes perform to a minimum of 15% up to 30% more efficient than code built homes. These are homes that have real performance and energy efficient features and practices built in. These homes are built using higher standards for the building envelope and HVAC system. These higher standards and additional measures are verified through third party inspections utilizing duct blast and blower door testing. In addition, if the builder is serious about performance, he will have had his homes rated with one of the performance measuring systems like EPS (Energy Performance Score) or HERS (Home Energy Rating System). Here in Oregon we mostly use EPS.

The actual number of new homes certified in the United States each year is less than 20%. Here in the northwest, the 2011 year to date percentage of new homes certified in Washington State is 12.7% and in Oregon it is 14.2%.

The bottom line is, don’t be fooled by “Green” marketing and assume that a new home is certified by one of the new homes programs. Ask questions, have the builder or sales broker show you their certification. The builder might have simply installed an Energy Star rated dishwasher and recycled the cardboard from the box.

heat-recovery ventilatorDoes the quality of air in your home rank up there with the finish level of your counter tops? Maybe it should. To certify a home for even the basic level of Green or Performance building certification, a fresh air exchange is required. This is usually a fan in a utility room that is just blowing out stale air from the interior of the home and pulls in fresh air from the exterior. The downside to this is that on a 30 degree day, it is pulling in 30 degree air to your already comfortable 72 degree home. This makes your furnace work extra to heat up this cold fresh air. In addition, these fans are not balancing an equal amount of air being pulled from the home with an equal amount of air being drawn in. This can pressurize the home, potentially pulling air through unintended areas.

What you should be asking your builder for is a Heat-Recovery Ventilator or HRV. The HRV also brings in that 30 degree air, except it uses the heat in the outgoing stale air to warm up the fresh air. Depending on the model, HRVs can recover up to 85 percent of the heat in the outgoing airstream, making these ventilators a lot easier on your budget than opening a few windows.

Using a small fan, the HRV system maintains a continuous flow of filtered outdoor air in the home. To avoid pressurization the system removes an equal amount of stale, used air from the home, especially the kitchen and bathrooms where moisture and odors are heavy. These systems can change the entire air system in a home in under 3 hours.

HRVs are ideal for tight, moisture-prone homes, like here in the Northwest, because they replace the humid air with dry, fresh air. That is why an HRV is a standard feature in every Marnella Home. For the long term health of your family and home, shouldn’t you expect this of your next home?

If your home has a furnace installed in the garage, it most likely is. At one of our Construction 101 classes at Volare our Town Home community in Happy Valley, this came up. We have been installing our entire HVAC systems inside the conditioned space of our homes (meaning the interior living area of the home). We realized the obvious benefits of: improved performance by reducing the length of duct work for the air to travel, by not installing ducting in the attic or crawlspace spaces as they are much hotter or colder than the air we are providing to the rooms that need it. Another benefit is, if the duct system leaks air it is only leaking into your home not the outdoors. However, it never occurred to us the air quality benefit of a furnace in the home versus the garage.

The furnace unit that is installed inside the conditioned space is a “Sealed unit” this means that the cabinet of the furnace is entirely sealed up. Unlike, most furnace units that are installed in a garage. Most people can recall being near a furnace in a garage when it started up and seeing the flame burning through the venting of the front of the furnace cabinet. What probably didn’t come to mind was that when the fan motor started up it was pulling air from within the garage. This could be including the exhaust from the car, gas fumes from the gas can, bag of yard fertilizer, etc. Anything off gassing in your garage could have its fumes spread throughout your home.

The great benefit of a Marnella Homes system being entirely with the home is that it is only pulling fresh air from the exterior of the home with the assistance of the HRV (Heat Recovery Ventilator). The HRV periodically exchanges stale interior air with fresh outside air. This provides interior air quality that is superior to any traditionally installed HVAC system. This should be especially important to anyone with children that have asthma or any other respiratory health issues.

So, should you be stuck with a traditionally installed system in your home, consider this when you are letting your car warm up in the morning and you might want to find a better place to store the gas can, fertilizer bag or anything that you smell when in the garage. However, if you are looking at buying a new home, you owe it to you and your family’s health to consider how your next HVAC system is installed.

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Performance rating for new homes is equivalent to the Miles Per Gallon (MPG) rating for a car. Whether you chose your next car specifically because of it’s MPG rating or not, in most cases it at least makes up some part of the decision making process. Especially, if you were buying a car last summer. The building industry believes that energy efficiency, utility costs and environmental impact are factors to consider when buying or building a home. They can affect the real and perceived value of a home. The Energy Performance Score (EPS), developed by Energy Trust of Oregon, provides a clear and quantitative way to compare a home’s energy use and costs. The lower the score, the more efficient the home is and the lower your estimated utility costs.

A home energy rating involves an analysis of a home’s construction plans and onsite inspections. Based on the home’s plans, the Home Energy Rater uses an energy efficiency software package to perform an energy analysis of the home’s design. Upon completion of the plan review, the rater will work with the builder to identify the energy efficiency improvements needed to ensure the house will meet ENERGY STAR performance guidelines. A home’s EPS is based on many factors such as the home’s size, level of insulation, air leakage, heating and cooling systems, major appliances, lighting and water heating. The rater then conducts onsite inspections, typically including a blower door test (to test the leakiness of the house) and a duct test (to test the leakiness of the ducts). Results of these tests, along with inputs derived from the plan review, are used to generate the EPS for the home.

Marnella Homes, as an Energy Star and Earth Advantage Certified Master Builder, is using this rating system. Our homes have an EPS as low as 42 up to 52 which rates our homes as some of the most efficient new homes built in Oregon (as Compared to an average home score in Oregon of 81). Our homes have an estimated average monthly energy savings of $40 – $50. Our home owners realize that choosing an energy-efficient home not only benefits the environment, but can also help you save money.

We see this as a “separating the wheat from the chaff” on the over used “Energy Star Certified” claim that too many builders use. We see many builders that state that they are building homes to Energy Star Certification. A consumer doesn’t know whether they build 100% of their homes to this certification or 10%? Do they just meet the bare minimums to achieve the certification or are they truly committed to Green Performance building and exceed the minimum. As I have stated in an earlier post, whether a builder is doing just the minimum or much more, their homes usually have quality controls that are inherent to building to any level this certification. Which makes a “Certified” home in most cases still a better value than any “Uncertified” home. However, this rating system will clear away this confusion. The score will tell a consumer, if educated on what it means, all they need to know.

So, whether a low EPS score is the deciding factor in the purchase of your next home or just “a” factor, it will be made available to you by participating home builders. Our industry hopes that this rating system will be easy to understand and will be adopted by consumers much the same way as the MPG rating is in the auto industry. As this becomes more main stream it will become one more tool that consumers can use to make informed decisions on their home purchases.

No it isn’t what my sons do and giggle or what happened in that embarrassing situation in the elevator.  Offgassing or outgassing is what we tend to call the “New Home Smell” or “New Car Smell”.  We think we want it, but do we?  This smell is actually gases emitting from the materials in our new homes and cars. Like, carpet, vinyl, paint, etc. and even furniture. 

The Energy Star New Homes program requires that builders within their program build at a minimum of 15% above the code requirements.  However, Marnella Homes is building to 30 – 35% above code requirements with 100% of the homes we build.  Improved indoor air quality is one of the criteria that we must address. This begins by using materials that have low volatile organic compound (VOC) content.  VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short and long-term adverse health effects.

To meet the requirements of the New Home program’s indoor air quality criteria, we use Green Sealed Certified carpet and low VOC content paint and caulking.  Since these products contain much less VOC they don’t emit as much VOC as similar uncertified products.  This is amazingly noticeable when walking into a home built with standard products without the indoor air quality consciousness compared to a home that is built to the Energy Star indoor air quality standards.

Whether you already have health concerns that require this attention to indoor air quality or not, you owe it to you and your family’s health to educate yourself on the importance of it. So, when looking for a new home, look for the Energy Star label.  Ask questions and investigate what, if any, indoor air quality features the builder is offering.  These features will not only benefit you as an occupant of your new home, but will provide lasting value to you when you resell in the future.

Your comments are welcome.

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