Monday, May 16, 2011

Triangle Green Home Builders Tour - Invaluable!

This past weekend was the first weekend of the Green Homes Tour in the Triangle area.  We visited a number of the houses (something like 7 on Saturday and 6 on Sunday).  We took away several ideas from houses along the way, including changing our primary choice for garage doors from recycled carriage house doors to aluminum/glass overhead doors.  The house where these were installed was over 6000sf and a very open floor plan. The doors we saw were Clopay Avante doors with a frosted glass option.  We also visited one house that had untreated soapstone for kitchen counters - it was a green variant with more movement than we had imagined possible in soapstone.  It was pretty clear that sealed the deal on soapstone provided we can find one like this.  One thing we did get to see was a couple of scratches in the stone but with as much movement as there was, they were hardly noticeable.  The owners were very happy with the quality and they intend to treat the stone with oil in the coming months.

 Another house we say had concrete cast-on-site countertops that were surprisingly warm to the touch.  One thing we did notice was some chipping around the sink edge but that may have been due to a squared off edge instead of a bullnose.  The eMonitor energy monitoring system installed in one of the houses was a very interesting find.  They were able to monitor the solar systems as well as the supplemental heat systems.  Talking to the builder, they were actually able to identify and correct some failing systems or mis-tuned systems to reduce consumption significantly.  The console did appear a bit "geeky" but it appeared that was due to the high level of interest by the owner and builder to monitor every power input and output from the building.

  We also had the opportunity to see some different materials used, including McNichols metal panels and fiberglass decking material.  The fiberglass used for the decking was quite acceptable and comfortable in stocking feet while the grates used for the 'hallways' upstairs was spaced a bit too far to be comfortable for out liking.  Speaking with the architect, that selection was made to carry through the open concept design and allow light to filter through to the lower levels.

  We found some accents for tile work that validated our earlier thoughts as well as finding that 9' door heights were a bit overbearing.  It was clearly valuable to see the different methods used by different builders and the 'interesting" claims made, including "insulated attic space that will be the same temperature as outside, even on hot sunny days in the summer in NC."  While the day was cloudy, it was still warmer in that attic than outside we weren't falling for that statement, especially since they had also attached insulation to the backside of the access door.

We took lots of mental notes about things we liked and didn't like for finishes.  That will help us as we have to make some major design decisions in the next several months.  For instance, we had chosen one style of interior door but saw another similar style with fewer panels (down from a 2 panel shaker door to a single panel shaker door) that happened to be supplied by the same company we are using for our doors.

  If you are intending to build a house and a tour like this happens in your area, it is well worth the time spent traveling between the houses and discussing the construction with the builders/architects.  One of our motives for visiting the houses by our builder was to gauge traffic since we expect to be on the tour next year.  Due to the location of the house being a ways from the majority we may not get the same people but there may be others that come because we are the closest to them.  The Passive House nature of the design/build will clearly draw some folks interest - as one person put it this weekend, this is taking energy consciousness way beyond putting CFL bulbs in all the lamps and calling that saving energy.


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