Collins Residence Part II

Last month, we took you on a behind-the-scenes peek at the Collins-Ruddy project. This tri-level home was a retrofit from a 1970’s where energy-efficiency was clearly not in the original blueprint of the home. Todd and his family began a journey to improve the energy loss in their home, and incorporate Passive Haus techniques wherever possible. 

We use the word “journey” because that’s truly what it has been. They started this project in 2012 and are still to this day finding ways to improve. If you’re just catching this journey here in this article, take a look back at the first half of the journey we shared last month.

Today, we want to share more details about this project:

Biggest Lessons Learned:

  • Solar: Todd wishes he had installed more solar panels than he needed originally to account for these future needs. While they maxed out the federal incentive, as it stands, they will need to upgrade their solar system to get them to Net Zero with vehicles, equipment they have, and what they plan to have in the next several years. 
  • Entry Doors & Floors: The doors were installed prior to considering a wood floor upgrade. Because the doors were installed lower, standard wood floors were no longer possible or the door would not be able to open. Instead, Todd installed engineered flooring which is not as thick. 
  • Attic Insulation: Todd says if he had to do it over, he would have started from scratch.  Clear out the old insulation, then start with a thick layer of foam at the attic perimeter and wall connections, foam the j-boxes and any other penetrations… and then finish with a huge layer of blown cellulose. It’s more costly to do it this way, but it’s also more effective for a couple of reasons:  higher r-value at the perimeter and is more airtight. 
  • Win the Lottery: While a pipe dream, Todd jokes that he would have won the lottery before approaching this project. It sure would have made the process easier! The process can get pricey with the more costly upgrades like windows and solar panels.  

What’s Still to Come?

Remember we mentioned that this is a journey? That said, between budgets, finding quality labor/contractors, sourcing supplies, and just mere time, retrofitting a house to be more energy-efficient usually doesn’t happen overnight. 

Here are a few projects they plan to tackle in the future: 

  • Remove the siding, add an air barrier and then 3” of mineral wool continuous insulation, and finish the exterior with new siding.
  • We might consider re-insulating our walls at some point as there is only poorly installed batt insulation. The re-insulation process entails cutting holes and filling the walls with cellulose.  
  • Purchase a new heat-pump water heater.
  • Replace the furnace with a whole house heat pump when it approaches end of life.
  • Increase solar panels to get to Net Zero.  
  • Go all electric and cut the gas. 
  • Go all electric for our cars as well … and utilize our solar energy production to charge them. While we have started this process with a RAV4 prime – plug-in hybrid, future vehicles will eventually be all electric.  

Here’s the new video >>

Why Do All This? 

Sometimes they get quizzical looks from neighbors and friends as they share about their journey and projects. Why would you invest so much effort into improving so many things that you will never see? Sure, there are fun things like a kitchen remodel that you see and experience day in and day out that make a difference.  Initially, it was about their children sleeping through the night and it’s pretty easy to forget the fact that you don’t have to cover your feet on freezing floors or the fact that you can live without space heaters in the dead of winter.  Finally, Todd has the peace of mind that energy price increases won’t be that impactful on his bill. 

Their family knows the power of energy-efficiency and how it can not only save a lot of money in the long run, but it reduces the need to rely on creating more heating or cooling. They’re proud supporters of sustainability efforts that reduce their carbon footprint and energy load on the earth. If we can build a better space that asks less from our energy resources on earth, why shouldn’t we? That’s their approach. 

At AE Building Systems, we want you to know that you don’t have to be breaking ground on a brand new custom build to employ energy-efficiency into your home. Odds are, most of us reading this have purchased a home where we inherited energy-efficiency issues, thermal bridging, and other concerns in a pre-owned home. Most of us will be where Todd and his family were: faced with retrofitting and solving problems as best we can with the house we’re in. 

We want you to know you CAN make a difference in your own home. Small steps can make a BIG difference when it comes to energy-efficiency, energy savings, cost savings, and sustainability efforts. You can be part of it, and we want to help you on your own journey. 

Got questions for Todd or want to know where to start? Feel free to reach out! 

Todd Collins 720.287.4290

8 thoughts on “Collins Residence Part II”

  1. Todd, give me a call when you’re ready to rip that gas furnace and water heater out. I installed a hybrid heatpump hot water heater in 2020 and a heatpump in 2021 and I’ve got some insights I’d be happy to share. No longer having a gas meter or gas bill is a huge step toward a healthier and safer home, plus better for the planet. Furthermore, practicing ourselves what we sell to our clients shows that we believe in our products and services.

    1. Will-do Hans… the current furnace came with the house. It is not super efficient but it works and while it is arguable, it seems it might be better to keep it as long as it is functioning well and not add it to the landfill – trade-offs of attempting to be sustainable.

  2. Good article Todd. I have to comment on a reply from Part I which critiqued the ‘design’ aspects. We’ll we all have budgets and some are greater than others. Modifying the design of a ‘builder’s’ type home can be difficult and costly. We try and make the best choices given the circumstances at any given time. I applaud your efforts.

    Having just renovated my house I suggest you pay attention to details if you are considering adding insulation on the outside. Windows and doors, soffits, corners, all of that will be fussy and may not work well. I have found that removing the siding and installing Majvest properly taped and snug makes a huge difference in the indoor comfort level. Once the old siding is off if you can remove a portion of the OSB and remove the old batt insulation and then fill the cavity’s with cellulose might just be the better alternative. The cost benefit/comfort benefit of doing both cavity and filling the stud cavities may not make sense.

    Lot’s to think about and again I applaud you for doing this.

    Francis Stanisz, AIA, GC
    Certified Passive House Contractor

    1. Thanks Fran… I will look forward to picking your brain when we get to that point. There are a few reasons that this project will not be happening for a while including the siding is still in decent shape, our house projects budget is drained from our other projects and we have college educations approaching fast and furious. It will be a few (likely several) years before we embark on that phase… Hope all is well in your world.

    1. Thanks for your comments Greg. Existing stock/buildings are generally pretty terrible when it comes to energy use. While much better, we still have a fair amount of work to do on our house – to make it Net Zero eventually. It does take money and while the payback is fairly long from a “short term” point of view. “Short term” is a relative. We will all eventually pay in the form of other money to fight and deal with the fallout of climate change – not to forget the environmental impacts of what we have been doing. It is just a matter of time. Unfortunately, future generations will pay more than you and I will. Thanks for all you do!

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