Greenovation: Spray Foam Your Home

  • While there are tax credits for spray insulation, credit is available for the material only, so the contractor should separate out the material and the labor costs.(Photo courtesy of the NREL)

When people talk about making their home energy independent, they often talk about solar panels and wind turbines. But before all of that, a home has to be tight. That’s not as exciting, but necessary. Lester Graham is following Greenovation.tv’s Matt Grocoff as he tries to make his home the oldest net-zero-energy house in America.

Transcript

When people talk about making their home energy independent, they often talk about solar panels and wind turbines. But before all of that, a home has to be tight. That’s not as exciting, but necessary. Lester Graham is following Greenovation.tv’s Matt Grocoff as he tries to make his home the oldest net-zero-energy house in America:

The note on Matt’s door told me to come on in and head for the basement. Matt’s 110 year old home has what’s called around here a “Michigan basement.” Basically, cement floor, stone walls, low ceilings. Not glamorous.

Matt is spraying expanding foam insulation up in that area where the floor framing sits on the foundation. The sill plate… which is basically nothing more than one-and-a-half inches of wood between inside your home… and the great outdoors.

“There’s no insulation between your house, or your living part, and the foundation itself.”

Maybe you’ve been in the basement of an old house and sometimes you can actually see daylight through the sill plate in places. Those leaks need to be sealed. That could be done with caulk. Then the area needs to be insulated. That could be done with fiberglass insulation.

“What we decided to do is to do both at the same time, seal and insulate, is to use a do-it-yourself spray foam insulation kit from Tiger Foam. There’s plenty of professionals out there, and for most people, that’s what I’d recommend you do, go to the professional. If money is an issue or if you’re a really handy person, these spray foam kits are fantastic.”

The foam insulation kit costs about 300-dollars. It’s basically two tanks -each about the size of a propane tank you’d use for an outdoor grill. A hose from each tank is attached to a spray gun that mixes the chemicals. The chemicals mix as they come out and the make a sticky foam that expands into nooks and crannies and then hardens after several minutes.

“Way easier than I thought they were going to be, by the way. I was actually terrified. I went back and read the instructions three – four times. And when I started spraying, it wasn’t that bad.”

“You still ended up with a goof, though.”

“I did have a goof. There was a little bit of foam there, dripping, when I forgot to turn on one of the canisters, but what ya– c’mon Lester.”

Matt’s goof means he’s going to have to wipe up some of the mess and spray again. But it’s not a disaster.

If you’ve got a big job… maybe new construction or a remodel that takes it down to the studs… you might want to consider a professional.

John Cunningham owns Arbor Insulation in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He says, sure, if you’re up to it… do it yourself.

“You could assume that it’d be cheaper to do it yourself and the kits are a really good option, especially for people that have smaller projects or they’re looking to do the work in a very specific time frame or in a distant location for instance.”

But the professionals are recommended for those big jobs. And right now there are federal tax credits for spray foam insulation– 30-percent up to 15-hundred dollars. That credit is limited though.

“The tax credit is available for the material only, so the contractor should be separating out the material and the labor. Also, there are additional incentives from some utilities and more incentives coming down the pike.”

Some states and even municipalities are considering incentives.

One final note… to use the spray foam, Matt Grocoff is decked out in a white haz-mat suit, latex gloves, goggles and a respirator…

“You’ve got to take all the safety precautions. You’ve got to wear your goggles, your suit. And it also can be messy too. Any overspray that gets in your hair will stay in your hair.”

And as he zips up, I get the hint that Matt has to get back to work.

“I do. I’ve got 30 seconds before this nozzle sets up. So, Lester, thanks again.”

“Sounds like my cue to get out of here. That’s Matt Grocoff with Greenovation-dot-TV. I’m Lester Graham with The Environment Report.”

“Thanks Lester.”

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Nature on a Concrete Canvas

  • Artist Christopher Griffin, the owner of the house, uses a long smooth bone to draw a picture after each swipe of the trowel (Photo by Karen Kelly)

Sometimes cities can seem like drab, impersonal places. But every once in a
while, you see a building that stops you in your tracks. Karen Kelly tells a story about a house designed to do just that:

Transcript

Sometimes cities can seem like drab, impersonal places. But, every once in a
while, you see a building that stops you in your tracks. Karen Kelly tells a story
about a house designed to do just that:


(sound of construction and trucks)

When you first see it, you’re just not sure.

A two-story house is being covered with marks etched in concrete.

Is it intentional? Or just a layer of construction?

Then you see a large black figure on the west side of the house and realize- oh, it’s
a whale. Waves are etched in the concrete around it. Walk around the corner and
you see flocks of birds flying over roughly drawn buildings.

(sound of scraping)

And just past the birds, there are three men working silently on a platform. Two
are spreading layers of fresh concrete.

The third is artist Christopher Griffin, the owner of the house. He uses a long
smooth bone to draw a picture after each swipe of the trowel – and before the
concrete sets.

He says he has to work fast.

“They would scrape the mud on and I would be going around them, over top of
them, actually right behind their trowel and there’s no chance to stand back; there’s
no chance to second guess.”

Griffin has been a professional artist in Ottawa, Canada for almost twenty years.

Griffin’s motivation was simple: his house really needed a new exterior. But the
regular stuff that people put on their houses didn’t feel right to him.

Instead, he thought he’d try some drawings like he’d seen in a photo of mud huts in
Africa.

“It was irregular; it was organic; it wasn’t pristine; it wasn’t crisp; it wasn’t
heartless. And that sort of quality was something I was after.”

(sound of chatting and scraping)

But while Griffin had this vision of giant sunflowers and caribou, contractors had
no idea what he was talking about.

Several told him it couldn’t be done.

Dan Charette is part of a team that was willing to give it a try.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity to bring our craftsmanship to a different level. There’s
a whole other creative level to what we do here with constructive behaviors, so it’s
really a lot of fun.”

For instance, the contractors suggested adding fly ash to the cement. It’s a
byproduct of burning coal and it also makes the cement more elastic.

Griffin liked that it was more environmentally friendly.

He also recycled building materials and added solar panels. But usually that’s not
what people see.

He says what really makes him feel good is when people just stop and stare.

“Absolute strangers stopping their cars, getting out and having a look. There’s a
teenage skateboarder who stopped and said, ‘Wow, awesome house.’”

Griffin says, in that way, his house has become a public space.

In fact, he argues everyone’s house is a public space.

And he suggests people think about what they want their house to say to someone
walking by.

For The Environment Report, I’m Karen Kelly.

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One Genius of a Farmer

  • Will Allen, founder and CEO of Growing Power, Inc. (Photo courtesy of the MacArthur Fellows Program)

An advocate of urban farming will
be able to do more to get locally grown foods
to communities. Chuck Quirmbach reports:

Transcript

An advocate of urban farming will
be able to do more to get locally grown foods
to communities. Chuck Quirmbach reports:

Will Allen founded the group ‘Growing Power’. Allen says the group tries to provide healthful and affordable food to
people who really need it. He says he’s mainly focused on growing and getting food to cities.

“Our rural areas are becoming suburban areas, and cities are getting larger and
growing out into suburban areas. And we have to figure out a way to feed people
with local food, and we need to come up with a just way of doing that.”

Allen says growing food locally and getting better food to people is key to building communities.

Allen is getting help. The MacArthur Foundation has recognized him with one of its ‘genius’ grants. He’ll get a half-
million dollars over the next five years to use as he sees fit.

For The Environment Report, I’m Chuck Quirmbach.

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Rust Belt City Desires High Tech Future

  • Wheels are turning both in young minds and innovative transportation. Both could help revive the Rust Belt. (Photo by Max Eggeling)

The loss of traditional manufacturing jobs has hit Great Lakes states hard in recent years. But some business owners believe they are on the cusp of creating a new type of manufacturing base. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant spent some time in one community that’s discussing how new businesses can provide a foundation for the future:

Transcript

The loss of traditional manufacturing jobs has hit Great Lakes states hard in recent
years. But some business owners believe they are on the cusp of creating a new type of
manufacturing base. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant spent some time in
one community that’s discussing how new businesses can provide a foundation for the
future:


Not long ago, there were lots of good-paying factory jobs in northeast Ohio. But the state
has lost 200,000 manufacturing jobs in the past four years. Some business people and
academics are trying to shape a new economy for the region. Their efforts could be
symbolized by a little bird…


“I need a Sparrow, I need it…”


A sparrow is an electrically charged three-wheel motorcycle that’s fully covered in steel.
It looks like a tear drop… or maybe a gym shoe. David Ackerman isn’t sure if he’d pick
one in bright orange…


“…but look, there it goes, look at it go! Is that the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen? I
love it! It’s like something out of “sleeper.” But it’s very sleek and cool and futuristic…
Does it really go 70? Yeah, it goes 70….”


While Ohio and other Midwestern states might have a tough time competing globally in
the steel market, some economists believe innovative transportation is one way Ohio
could build a foundation for a new economy. The state has put millions of dollars into
fuel cell research, Honda is building hybrid cars in central Ohio, and newer companies
are working to make auto engines cleaner and more efficient.


Some of those business owners gathered with people from the community to discuss how
transportation technology could be part of the region’s future. Bob Chalfant of a
company called Comsense spoke on the panel. He says the technology they’re
developing could have a huge impact…


“…the benefits to Cleveland are jobs. We figure the total market for pressure sensors for
combustion applications is about 2.2 billion dollars.”


Chalfant’s company expects to create 2,000 jobs in Cleveland. But if businesses like
Comsense are going to girder the area’s new economy, they’re going to need educated
employees for their high tech manufacturing jobs. The problem is, many young educated
folks are leaving the Midwest.


Meredith Matthews is a public school teacher in inner city Cleveland. She says they’re
trying to train students for these kinds of jobs, but they need direction from these new
companies…


“I teach in the third world known as the Cleveland Public Schools. I’m introducing
myself, so that if anybody needs kids, we got ’em. If you want to stop by and talk to me,
I’ll show you how to get kids, I’ll show you how to get in the door.”


Local universities and community colleges already have some research and training in
fuel cell technology. But mechanic Phil Lane looks at Cleveland’s poverty rate, the
highest among all big cities in the nation, and wants these companies to start training kids
even younger…


“We need to grab kids in the second and third grade, particularly in the very bad
neighborhoods, before the neighborhood can get to the kid. That’s what we really need to
do.”


Lane says training poor children early would provide a real foundation for a new
economy in Cleveland. Many communities that have lost their job base are starting
similar conversations and searching for ways to fit in to the global marketplace.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Julie Grant.

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