Tuesday, November 20, 2012

PHIUS - Certification still in an endless loop, punchlist hanging chad

Still no certificate - we received a note from the current consultant asking for additional information.  They wanted elevation pictures, pictures of the window reveals, overhangs, and measurements of the lengths of the ERV supply and return as well as the hot water pipes in the house.  We've gotten most of that information to them so hopefully before the first of the year we'll have a certificate.  This has been a bit of a disappointment since we decided to invest the extra money to get the certification.  At this point it is not critical that we have the certificate but the longer we wait the harder it may be to finally get it certification.

We're also still waiting to get the punch-list items fixed - the plumbers are claiming we owe them over $1000 for "moving" a hot water heater. The interesting part of this discussion is they never installed the resistance heater because we saw it was the worst performing model in the Energy Ratings.  We opted to self-procure the heat-pump water heater and when they came back to work some punch-list items we had them install that heater as well as relocate the storage tank for the GSHP desuperheater.  This was important because the two needed to be connected and the HPWH would not fit in the space originally allocated for the water heater (too tall, drain pan needed would not fit).  One issue they did encounter when installing the water heater was the supply point was over the top of the GSHP so they had to do a bit of gymnastics to get the supply lines connected.    The two plumbers did not bring along a drain pan so we supplied that and overall they spent a total of about 4 hours on the job site to install the heater.  During the installation of our master bath tub the plumbers managed to ding the surface of the tub around the drain - we have complained to the GC about this numerous times and the plumbing company is now saying they won't fix the tub until we pay them their claimed charges for "moving the water heater."  I have repeatedly asked for detailed billing for the work but they have failed to provide anything other than a single-line charge for the total job.  This comes on top of the $1800 charge for the basement lift station which they failed to include in their original estimate claiming they always assumed there would be a gravity system for all the house fixtures.  From the start this house had a walk-out basement and the septic system was slightly lower than the main level but definitely not below the basement level.  

One additional problem with the plumbing we're seeing is the under-cabinet air vents they installed seem to be emitting odors.  We had installed make-up air for the range hood but had not done the same for the clothes dryer which made me wonder if that was pulling air through those vents.  Upon further investigation it appears that the current sensing relay for the make-up air had failed in the open position.  To repair that I had to pull off the cover and at that time I decided to relocate the sensor to amore accessible location.  I installed an electrical box in the refrigerator cubby so that should the relay fail again I can access it more easily.  In addition, I installed a current sensor for the dryer so that when either of the two appliances are running, there is a supply of fresh air provided to the house.  One of the risks of an ultra-tight house is you need that make-up air.  I also believe the dryer will be more efficient since it is not having to fight to pull air out of the house.  The next step in this process is to install air filters in the make-up air supply line and then to install a dryer "lint collection" system in the exhaust line.  We've seen these on home improvement shows and it seems like a great idea - the dryer exhaust transits the basement space so there is easy access to install it and that may alleviate having to crawl under the deck to pull the lint build-up off the screen at the exhaust.

Energy Bill Update, gutter guards necessary, ERV

Well, it has been 8 months since we moved in and I figured it was time to let folks know how our energy bills are going.  We have not paid more than $110 for a month of electricity.  That was during the hottest month of the year when the AC ran a bit more than it normally does.  We keep the house at 77 degrees during the day and drop it to 73 at night during the summer.  During the winter months we're keeping it at 70 during the day and setting it to 66 at night.  The temp in the house has not dropped below 69 degrees yet even though we have had nights in the 20's and low 30's.

We have decided that investing in gutter guards is going to be a necessity.  They're not very inexpensive for the gutter profile we've installed which is the 6" half-round gutter.  The fact that the leaves slide down the metal roof easily means the gutters fill up quickly with leaves and pine needles. The interesting thing about that is the nearest trees are about 40 feet from the house but they do tower over the roof so the wind easily deposits them on the roof.

The rainwater collection system continues to work well.  Collecting off about 1/6th of the roof easily keeps the two 275-gallon IBCs full.  Even in the hottest and driest periods we did not get below about 1/2 on both tanks.  I am also using the water from the 3 60-gallon pickle barrels to water the veggie garden and those plants that need water.  I have contemplated adding a 3rd and maybe a 4th IBC to the system for those times when we are getting lower rainfall.  The one thing I need to work on is how to keep the pollen from collecting in the barrels - There are systems that allow the first flush of the system to bybass the collection system so all that flotsam and jetsam doesn't pollute the barrels.  Last year we found that the pollen was prolific and actually started to smell pretty bad as it decomposed in the barrels.  I spent an afternoon powerwashing all the barrels and would like to avoid making that a regular habit if possible.

Recently the ERV started making a bit more noise than normal and it turned out one of the motors was the culprit.  I contacted UltimateAir and they were very quick to respond by sending a new unit out as soon as possible.  It arrived about 4 days later and I installed it while shipping the original unit back to them at their expense.  Frankly this has been a great company to deal with since they've been very responsive to our problems.  I do think one thing we are going to pursue is to install occupancy sensors in the bathrooms so they ERV boosts the speed for those periods when there is additional humidity (and odor) in the air.  Fortunately I have access to overhead spaces in the upstairs bathrooms and the side wall in the downstairs bath so installing the sensors should not be a huge deal.