Catskills House:
Deep Energy Retrofit
Deep in the Catskill Mountains
    Eco - Energy Test Bed


Drumroll please...

30% in Energy Savings so far !!!!!

Now at 50% - It's a deep energy retrofit!
5 BTU per SF per Degree Day !
Aiming higher, 3 BTU per Degree Day and I'm Superinsulated
(fyi - Current code homes 5 - 10 BTU per Degree Day)

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Rehabilitating a 100 plus year old house for the 21st century.
An era born admist increasing energy costs and a rapid change, requiring flexibility, even for buildings - to adapt to returning children, elder care and even earning it's own keep or providing supplementary income.
Starting - by chance at the depth of the recession, just before becoming one of it's victims - just adds to the challange, and provides a great learning lesson for millions of similarly economically challanged Americans.
Three years into the experience and I've managed to:
1.  Salvage, stabilize, and make maintainence easier for over $100,000 of property enhancements (pond and barn) - just before each was doomed.  A stunning reversal of enthropy!  A huge return on "investment"!! 
2.  Add and improve 2,000 SF of grounds plantings and gardens, all self maintaining or extra - ordinarily care free (I'd know, I've been weeding and trimming since I was, well, forever.)
3.  Build out $60,000 plus of enhancements to the main house, providing accessible bathrooms and creating more flexible occupancy possible. (Must do for anyone with older family - walk in / sit down shower - a huge hit and a big life saver in hot summers)
Not too shabby going on 4 years of the worst recession in America since the Great Depression, and I was only unemployed for one and under employed for another.
In detail..........

To boldly go......

  • Deep Energy Retrofit - the latest geek speak for aiming high when saving energy - and I thought Super Insulation was the geekiest terminology in the industry.  What is a Deep Energy Retrofit.  Well, Wiki says it's cutting 30% of the buildings energy, I've seen 75%, and 50% and 60%.  I think like so much, IT DEPENDS.  Is the building uninsulated, then 75%, was it well built in the 80's, then 50%.  I'm calling it at 50% for me since the house was energy retrofitted back in the late 80's. 
  • Air to Air heat exchanger 24 x 7 to enhance indoor air quality without increasing energy use. --10%--
  • Solar Porch:  An - enclosed porch for low temperature (hence high efficency and low cost) solar energy, 70 - 110 degrees, during the heating season.  It'll be a bit warm for an activity space, though, might be a place to start the summer tan a month early.  The extra heat will also make it a great drying room for laundry.  In cold weather, when the air temps might only be in the 70's, it will be a welcome - and BRIGHT (very important to the psych) activity space.   Store excess heat in plenum under house and porch in contact with earth.  10%
  • Water - Use and re-use of water from springs, house run off for thermal energy via the GSHP's Indirect Open Loop, maximize heat conductivity at buried GSHP loops by keeping moist with runoff and overflows.  Use water to assist in trenching out for GSHP ground loops, and for fill required to fill ever morphing topoplogy - high water flow through your property is bothersome.
  • GSHP loop buried under garden walks as they are rebuilt, with loop buried 18 inches down and with insulation and pavers in lieu of typical 4 feet additional you'd bury the tubes.  The runoff from garden paths is directed and drained onto the loop tubes to enhance thermal conductance.
  • GSHP Indirect Open Loop under a reflecting pool installed over the old pond.  The old pond will become a weather protected cistern, consolidating and springs and run off for re-use and thermal energy.  Repair 20 yrs of neglect, install loops and reflecting pool.  50%


The final frontier......

- with -

  • Retrofit insulation buffet - using one of the shed conversions to highlight a modular retrofit frost protected shallow foundation system, aero-gel stud insulation, interior glass wool retrofit insulation, exterior glass wool retrofit insulation, and of course, the beloved Larsen Trust superinsulation system.  Why, so I can get FLIR (Infrared camera) photos of all the different retrofit insulation schemes and see which work best at breaking thermal bridges.
  • EPA compliant low emission wood stove with separate air supply burning waste wood from local recycling center and waste wood from grounds maintenance.
  • Composting toilet - as a demo only - at 3G it is NOT cheaper than conventional plumbing if you have access to septic / sewers, and it would need to be buried under a frost protected shallow foundation, insulated basement, equiped with a heater etc. to not freeze solid in the winter.
  • Ultra low flush toilet (6 oz water).
  • Solar heating for composting toilet / low flush toilet combination to eliminate need for auxiliary evaporative heating and enhance composting activity in cold months.
  • Solar heat to pre - heating hot water.
  • Glazed porch to temper air for house in winter, provide additional exercise area in winter, cool, and inclement weather.

Mirco Climate

This house is at the top of a deep narrow valley in the Catskill Mountains.  The micro - clime is a good 7 - 10 degrees lower than local forecasts call for, and 10 - 15 degrees lower than the near by Hudson Valley 7,000 degree days, over 15% colder than it 'should' be for it's latitude.  Temperatures match Glenns Falls NY - which is what I use for degree day and other climatic data for energy calculation, – Thanksgiving week 2012 – 20 every night, Xmass week 2012 – 24 was the HIGH.  Why so harsh, high mountains, narrow valley.  Winter sun rises after 10 AM, sets 3PM.  Oh, ever hear of avalanches in New York State, we have them in the next valley around the bend in the road (some great ice climbing there too)! 

Hence, the extreme micro climate.


Building History


There isn't a piece of this building less than 75 years old, and some of it's over 100, we suspect the oldest section, the small basement, might be about 125 years old.  It's part of the three building complex the first landowner built when the forest was first chopped down.  The crawl space under the house isn't insulated, and varies from one inch to the bottom of the joists to 3 feet, with loose stone walls


It was lightly rehabbed and insulated from the rim joist up 10 years ago.  Luckily, the walls and windows were upgraded to good mid 1990 standards, so they can be left as is.  When rehabbed,  I shaked, ratteled and rodded mortar between the loose rubble stones of the foundation stopping most of the wind, vemin and insects from coming indoors.  I later added a frost protected shallow foundation system to keep this surface laid rubble stone foundation from shifting, and to save energy.


Three and half years later...............

  • 150 sacks (6 pallets) of gravel mix moved, mixed and placed in pond repairing foundation and putting in steps, inc. removing an equal amount of ruined concrete or soil and rock that had to be dug out to put the concrete in.
  • 160 feet boxed out around house foundation as part of Frost Proof Shallow Foundation system.
  • 80 feet quad layer foam catwalk in attic.
  • Custom insulated attic access enclosure.
  • Repaired and patched attic insulation damaged and dislodged by elec. work then added more until I had a superinsulated attic.
  • Tarred flat roofs a couple of times, flashed roofing into gutters, then installed 12 inch high flashings around flat roofs where GC left them out.
  • Fixed mom's and sis's computers a few dozen times.
  • Tranplanted a few dozen  shrubs, a hundred weight of bulbs, tuber and roots.
  • Reconfigured and dug 300 x 3 feet garden beds.
  • Installed temporary DWS system from spring.
  • Dug out 30 foot of flooded ditch creating 2 foot berm alongside.
  • Shoveled a couple of cu. yards of moss, leaves etc. from shallow slope roofs, again and again.
  • Wacked down a few thousand feet of head high brush, weeds, brambles, 10 - 20 foot saplings.
  • Diggin out a couple of hundred feet of NYS road ditch gratis for the State - State has cleaned our ditches exactly ONCE in 70 years.
  • Sifted out a construction debris into component pieces for burning (for heat), burying as fill, recycling or dumping.
  • Shoveled out from a dozen snow storms, the walk is the easy part, the driveway isn’t so bad either, the pain are the flat / nearly flat roofs – can’t hurt the roof, and sure don’t want to hurt myself falling off!
  • Replaced a half dozen garage door springs and automatic openers.
  • Trash management every trip, sorting and bagging for trash / recycling.
  • Unloaded from dropped pallets and stacked away 3 truck loads of building supplies, then another, and another, and I've lost track now..
  • Hauled said supplies - seems to be about 1/2 the work really, moving supplies!
  • Built and mounted (4) 4 x 8 glazed panels for vestibule / breezeway at main house entry.
  • Crap loads of hand and tool weeding, touch up painting at interior leaks, repainted outbuildings and porch once and they need it again.
  • Divided one room into two for new bathrooms, built out new walls, replaced ceilings, walls and floor, cored and saw-z-alled a half dozen holes in floors and ceilings for vents and pipes.
  • Installed 40 feet exterior sanitary to septic tank, inc. replacing drain into septic tanks, all trenching by hand.
  • Part of 3 man team replacing 200 foot pump by hand.
  • Ran all interior sanitary and supply for 2 bathrooms, relaid exterior sanitary.
  • Replaced pressure tank on DWS.
  • Installed plumbing fixtures for 2 bathrooms.
  • Fought back mother nature from retaking a hundred feet, big job, weeds head high.   You do know back in buffalo days the greenery on the great plains was head high, to a buffalo!  Relaid a hundred feet of tubing from the spring, to cut winter freezing, make mowing and keeping mother nature at bay along the property perimeters.
  • Installed permanent weed barrier along 100 feet of perimeter, then another 100 feet, and another 100 feet is now mulched with leaves yearly, to eliminate twice yearly battle to keep mother nature in check.
  • Back at ye ole pond, installed phase 1 of new side wall at pond, setting rebar and a WP membrane in concrete, lining with foam support sheeting.  Filled in more opening pour joints, week points from springs, coated bottom, finished segmenting barriers on bottom to aid in cleaning.
  • Custom tiled the shower.  Completed valve installations and temp. finishing of tub area.
  • Laid some carpets, cutting and taping in place.
  • Rug washing, 2000 sf home, most carpeted, it IS a significant task.
  • Dug out more ditches, snaked out 3 inch site drains.
  • A new closet, of course, at an angle and with custom shelving up the sides and back to maximize utility, salvaging the origional single panel door, which out weighs modern metal doors, and is far more sound proof.  Salvaged all the trim, stops and of course, the funkiest hardware you can find!
  • Bathroom exhaust system, 2 fans, sealed water proof / indestructible PVC pipe for duct and out through a new dampered opening and didn’t fry myself, didn’t come close.
  • A couple of platform beds, for long delayed guest rooms.  Platform as I needed the storage for ton of construction supplies, equipment not installed, tools rarely used, piles of old sneakers and boots kept around for the mud time, when 2 or 3 changes of footware a day are not just a fashion statement.
  • Super insulating attic 75% done on the main roof, R60 plus peak, aiming for avg R50 and completly air sealing, the biggest single source of heat loss, along with cutting back the accompanying moisture migration.
  • Digging out more ditches - lots of ditch digging at 'ye ole home.
  • More plumbing work - a day to salvage a thermostatic valve to save a the cost of a new one - but sigh, it would have been so much easier and faster to just get a new one - which is the story of so much salvage / re-use / recycling.
  • Dug out and shifted another half dozen cubic yards of mountain side that washed into the drainage ditches around the property and buildings (raised some low spots nicely - making lemonade out of lemons - it's alot of work, but it's free fill)
  • "Invented" a new multi - layer plastic and woven weed barrier system for the garden beds to maximize night time soil temps, minimize day time soil and air temps at plants (110 to 120 summer days, 45 - 55 summer nights)  and got the best tomatos in 20 years, not to mention beans, squash, kale, greens, AND NO WEEDS.  Really, weeded once, took an hour.
  • Improved 100 foot of infant hedge rows, removing 2 - 3 feet of entrenched weeds / encroaching forest, and installing multilayer weed barrier to help the lilacs, iris, and other ornamentals establish.  This will save days of my time weeding, gallons of gas weed wacking, etc.
  • Down at the old barn , excavated and shored up a collapsing side shed.  Waste not want not.  Really, same labor to stabilize, and then someday re-use the building, vs. landfilling it.  Win - Win.   Redug the front drain trenches and expanded, protected lower front from splash back by roof run off with WP membrane, protected rear from washout from roof run off with new fill, rock and leaves, sorted and distributed cleared material to create holding / filtration areas to ensure runoff wouldn’t gully area.  40 feet of roof replacement, another 40 feet to go.  Sorted and salvaged yards of waste into clean fill, construction, and landscape materials.  Spliced together 3 foot split in main post that had opened up to 1 inch wide, EKKKKKK!  Next step, bracing rear of building to grade to stop this movement and then installing interior shear walls and cross bracing - yep, survived 100 yrs without these, but apparently needs 'em now.

And the seated work……..

  • Building this web site with over 50 pgs and 400 images.
  • Sending out over 200 resumes after researching firms and customizing replies.
  • Making myself more marketable with nearly 200 hrs of continuing ed, ACAD, LEED, lectures but mostly classes for my Certificate in Green Building Design from Cooper Union. 
  • PT job that became full time, mostly, working OT when allowed to get a bit ahead on the yearly heating oil bill.
  • Tallied up the hours for 2012, and it looks like 3,300 between all I do to get ahead.  At an avg of 60 hrs a week, it explains why I FEEL like I haven’t seen my wife in a long time.  The semi – tragic part is I’d so much rather work that time at my chosen vocation, ARCHITECTURE, and take the money to pay others to dig, paint, build, clean, etc..  Wouldn’t be richer, but I’d be happier.


50% Reduction in Energy use !!!!!


What's the big deal?


Energy conservation and cutting your energy use are is the first steps towards using more diffuse renewable solar, earth, and wind energy to power your life.


Think of it this way, if you want to protect the enviornment by powering 100% of your life with solar cells, it'd be a contradiction to have to cover not just your house, but cut down a half acre of trees out back and cover that with solar cells too, just because you use so much energy in your uninsulated glass house.


It was no mean feat.  The truly low hanging fruti had been picked.   The house had been insulated to 1980 - Early 1990 Standards, batt in wall, 1/2 inch foam under vinyl siding, 12 inches of batt in the attic.  Though as was typical for the time, the foundation was still uninsulated in that project.


Most of the energy savings are from simple energy conservation, superinsulation,  hot water tank superinsulation, recovering heat from dryer exhaust, the frost protected shallow foundation system. 

The house is now super insulated up past the first floor rim joist, 3 feet out from the building, and the attic.



No guesswork, no theoretical models, just the facts m'am, just the facts.


Not stopping here -- going for 3 BTU per HDD!!!