I am not an architect. I am not a contractor. I am not an efficiency expert. And yet the folks at Efficiency Vermont were more than happy to have me attend the 10th annual Better Buildings by Design Conference in Burlington, VT this past week. This organization (Efficiency Vermont) is fantastic and the conference was incredible. I learned so much and really relished spending an entire day talking with others about what has captivated my life for the past year...building green. I really did feel like a kid in a candy store in the exhibit hall. So many choices! Did I want to talk to the folks at Vermont ICF or the representatives from Foard Panel? Should I start by visiting the Andersen display or the Marvin? Interested in solar power? Choose from groSolar or Solar Works Inc. I honestly had to tear myself away at the end of the day. The workshops I attended were also inspirational. Energy experts from all over the region offered sessions on topics ranging from total energy conscious building to lighting design.
One of the most important lessons I learned over the course of the day was the distinction between conservation and renewables. Basically, the goal is to minimize your energy load by reducing the size of the house and constructing as tight a building envelope as possible (also by installing high performance windows and energy efficient appliances). Once the load has been been brought down to a low level, then it's time to begin thinking about producing as much of your remaining energy needs as you can through renewables. Our budget doesn't allow, at this point, for some of the pricier options like geothermal, photovoltaics or wind. However, one renewable option that many presenters characterized as a "no brainer" cost-wise is solar hot water. With currently available state and federal incentives, it seems like a basic system would run us about $7000-$8000 and would provide up to 60% of our hot water. This seems like a really exciting possibility for us. If the budget does not allow it upfront, we'd like to do whatever we can during construction to fit the house for future renewable add-ons.
A couple of vendors I met at the conference were especially helpful when I spoke with them in the exhibit hall. I want to mention them here so that others know where to turn for good information about green building options. These companies and their representatives were more than willing to talk to an owner-builder and treated me as if I was important as the guy behind me who was planning to build an entire development. I expect that they offer great customer service to all of their clients based on my interactions with them at the conference. So I would highly recommend:
Vermont ICF: Jesse Wing and Joel Baker were both interested in our project and very helpful in explaining their particular barnd of ICF blocks and how they work. They are distributors for Amvic (a Canadian company) and everything I have read online indicates that Amvic is a superior block and held in high regard by many green builders. Vermont ICF is based in Waterbury which is great for our project. I have heard from others that they provide wonderful local support for their builds. I look forward to having them bid on our project when we have the go-ahead to begin construction.
groSolar: The representatives from groSolar provided me with a lot of information about solar hot water options and were great about answering all of my questions. I enjoyed speaking with them and definitely plan to touch base with them again once we have a more concrete budget and can explore renewables. Their corporate headquarters are in White River Junction, Vermont so it's nice again to support a Vermont company.
Curtis Lumber: Curtis Lumber is largely a New York company but has two stores here in our area of Vermont, one in Burlington and one in Williston (both were previously Gregory Supply). The representatives from Curtis Lumber, especially Mike Landers, were wonderfully helpful at the conference. Mike took a good 30 minutes to talk with me about our project and how Curtis Lumber might fit our needs. Curtis offers many of the supplies we will need including wood siding, engineered roof trusses, drywall, etc. I was particularly appreciative of his willingness to talk about his own home construction project and the decisions he and his family made in that process. If the customer service at Curtis Lumber is anything like that offered me by Mike at the conference, I think we will be in great hands with these guys.