Oldest Net-Zero House in America

  • Matt and Kelly Grocoff have taken the last major step to turn their 110-year-old home into the nation's oldest net-zero house, and Michigan's first. (Photo courtesy of Matt Grocoff)

The Environment Report has been following an effort to make a Michigan house the oldest net-zero house in America. That means in a year the home will produce as much energy or more than it uses. Lester Graham reports… the owners are at the point where they can reach that goal.

Matt and Kelly Grocoff bought an old house in a historic neighborhood in Ann Arbor a few years ago. Matt wanted to show that making an older home an energy efficient showcase made more sense than building new. He wanted to use it as an example for others. Kelly was just a little skeptical.

“When we first bought the house and Matt was talking about what he wanted to do and what some goals might be, part of me was sort of like yeah, yeah, you know. Matt’s a dreamer. He likes to think big. And it’s really happening.”

Assess your own home’s energy efficiency

Related Environment Report stories featuring Matt Grocoff


Matt has worked with new technologies, new approaches, struggling with bureaucrats getting permits, working through red tape of the utility company. There were some mistakes along the way in trying to make the old house really efficient and now producing energy. But showing how it could be done was part of the idea.

(sound of solar panel installation)

On the day we were visiting this fall, the final major element was being installed… solar panels.

Matt says this is going to take the house from being super energy efficient—to actually producing more electricity than it uses.

“I actually read the other day, Newsweek had a quote, that solar panels will return 15-percent every year. Now, last time I checked savings accounts were zero-percent, CDs were 2.9-percent which is actually zero-percent after inflation, and the S & P 500 stock was under 3-percent. Investing in your own home is the best thing you can do right now especially in this economy.”

He says he’ll get his money back on this system in eight years.

But… that wouldn’t have been possible without some incentives. His utility company offers incentives and government tax credits covered 30-percent of the cost. While tax credits for things like insulation and other efficiencies end on December 31st, tax credits for solar enegy systems, geothermal heat pumps, residential wind turbines and fuel cells will be in place until the end of 2016. In the end… he’ll have out-of pocket expenses amounting to about 19-thousand dollars for a 56-thousand dollar solar installation.

“If it weren’t for those incentives, the payback would be much, much longer, but would still be beneficial. I also want to make the point that the systems are coming down in cost every year. I’m paying less than someone who installed solar two years ago. “

And experts predict the cost of solar panels will continue to go down.

“Four years from now, they’re saying that solar will be on par with coal as far as a per-kilowatt cost. That’s when these incentives may not be as necessary going forward.”

Now that those solar panels are installed, on average, Matt’s electricity bill will be zero dollars. And he’s being paid by his utility for producing renewable energy. Score!

All it took was some determination, some creative financing, and a view to the future.
Kelly Grocoff says it’s been an interesting learning experience.

“There are more resources than people might think. It’s just hard to find them. But, if we can do it, anybody can do it, almost anyone.”

Matt is quick to note… much of what they’ve learned is now online at his website, Greenovation-dot-TV, where you can see the house and a lot of information about how to do it yourself.

The Grocoff’s say they’ve preserved an old home, honoring the past in a way that stops energy waste and contributing to global warming, their way of honoring the future.

For The Environment Report… I’m Lester Graham.

Getting Fresh Air Into an Air Tight House

  • How an air exchanger works. (Diagram courtesy of Matt Grocoff)

For the past couple of years, we’ve been visiting Matt Grocoff’s house in Ann Arbor. He’s been working to make it the oldest net-zero home in America. That means when he’s finished, the house should produce as much energy as it uses. Lester Graham has an update:


Matt Grocoff’s home is 110-years-old. It was originally heated by coal… and had no insulation. Coal was cheap… so you could stoke that furnace all day long without much worry about heat escaping. These days energy is more expensive… and there are concerns about using fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

So, Matt is heating and cooling his house using a geo-thermal system. It uses a fraction of the energy that a gas or electric furnace would use. And… I’ve watched as Matt as worked to seal up every nook and cranny of the house. From attic, to walls, to windows to basement he’s insulated, caulked, used spray foam or found some other way to seal up his home. But… with everything so tight… he’s now got a bit of a problem. If it’s closed up, as during the winter, not enough fresh air can get in like it used to through drafty areas. That can cause the air to get stale.

MG: “A phrase I heard was ‘Insulate tight and ventilate right.’ If you’re sealing up your house so tight you’re no longer getting good quality fresh air in there, you’ve got to provide some mechanical ventilation when you’re running your air conditioner or heating system.”

LG: That would seem to defeat the purpose to me because now you’re going to be using electricity to ventilate a house because you’ve gotten it so tight.

MG: “Ahhh, that’s exactly where the energy recovery ventilator comes in. In a normal house what you’ll have is like a little bath vent that’s going to be sucking the stale air out of your house. But, with that stale air, you’re also blowing right out through your roof vents really warm, conditioned, expensive-to-heat air during the winter time. With the energy recovery ventilator, you can actually recover some of that lost energy and pay for the energy that it’s costing to run those fans.”

The energy recovery ventilator is not that big. It fits in a small space in his attic. It works kind of like a heat pump. As the contractor, Doug Selby explained it to me… it draws air out, but before it goes outside, the unit recovers much of the heat… and it’s the heat that costs you.

DS “With an energy recovery ventilator or a heat recovery ventilator, you can recapture up to 95-percent of the energy that you’ve already paid for once. And you can do that infinitely. The fact of the matter is, yes, these homes do need to breathe. But, the worst way you can do it is just by having an uninsulated, loose house that loses most of its energy out the attic and out the basement. And, you still end up with poor interior air quality and you’re not getting any benefit from that from an energy standpoint.”

So, you get fresh air… but you recycle almost all the heat.

Matt Grocoff says he’s spent quite a bit of money during the past couple of years reducing his energy consumption… but he looks at it as an investment. He says he’ll save money at a rate that’ll out-perform the stock market. In other words… the money he’ll save on energy costs will pay back the cost of the equipment and then some.

Now,he’s about to change gears. All this time he’s been working to reduce his energy usage. The next step… he’s going to produce energy.

MG: “Yes, we are now ready for solar panels because we will be efficient enough to produce more energy than we consume.”

LG: That’s Matt Grocoff with Greenovation-dot-TV. I’m Lester Graham with The Environment Report.

HOST TAG: The next time we visit Matt… we’ll bring you the story of putting up those solar panels… the final chapter of his work to become net-zero.
That’s the Environment Report for today. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Greenovation: A Hot Roof and a Cool Attic

  • Ann Arbor based Meadowlark Energy sprays foam onto Matt's attic ceiling creating a "hot roof" which ironically keeps the attic much cooler in the summer. (Photo by Matt Grocoff of Greenovation.tv)

What happens if you seal up the leaks in your house… add a bunch of insulation… and then find out it’s too tight?

For a while now, we’ve been telling you about an attempt to make a 110-year old house in Michigan the oldest net-zero home in America. Net-zero means it uses no more energy than it produces. Lester Graham has the latest installment in our ongoing story.

A site where you can find an authorized energy auditor for your home

Matt Grocoff’s website, Greenovation TV

Tips on adding attic insulation from Energy Star

A Greenovation Story: New Storm Windows

A Greenovation Story: Fixing Old Windows

A Greenovation story: Spray Foam Your Home


Matt Grocoff is getting close to his goal. He’s been sealing up his drafty old house, restoring and tightening the windows, insulating everywhere possible. But he’s got to make a change. The house is so tight, he now needs an air exchanger to get some fresh air circulating, otherwise, the air would get too stale – too much CO2 and not enough oxygen.

He kinda knew eventually he’d have to have one, but wasn’t exactly sure what kind or where he’d have to put it. It turns out the attic is going to be the best space because of easy access to return air ducts. Since this project is all about energy efficiency, the air exchanger is a fancy energy-saving unit. We’ll talk about it more in our next report.

But first the attic has to be insulated at the roofline.

I’ve climbed up a stepladder to lift myself into the attic and peek at what’s going on. A guy in a hazmat-like suit and filter mask is spraying insulation foam on the underside of the roof.

If you think of the attic as the triangle shape at the top of the house… you’d usually insulate the bottom of the triangle to keep the rooms below warm. But, because of the new equipment Matt will be installing… the angled sides of the triangle need to be insulated. This is called a ‘hot roof.’

Doug Selby is with Meadowlark Energy. He’s the contractor for this job.

DS: “With a ‘hot roof,’ what we’re able to do is to insulate the actual roofline itself. So, it creates a conditioned space in the attic and what that does for us is seal a lot of the places where a house leaks naturally and it also creates a space where we can run our mechanicals without fear of losing a lot of that energy to the atmosphere.”

We’ll get to why that’s important in our next report on the energy efficient air exchanger that they’re installing.

But for now… let’s just say… it’s kinda cool to see this sticky foam sprayed on the underside of the roof… expand for a bit… and then harden into a sort of styrofoam that’s sealed every nook and cranny. Matt Grocoff says this is easier than it might sound.

MG: “You’re right, we’re spraying it into the rafters rather than laying the stuff onto the floor. And if you look for Greenovation TV on our Facebook page, you’ll be able to see some photographs that we’ve got up there and you’ll be able to see exactly how this stuff is installed and sprayed in and what it looks like when you’re done.”

It’s making a whole new usable space out of an attic that was not usable for much of anything.

Matt can finish it off with drywall, paint it, and then put down a floor. Voila! New space.

MG: “Well, that’s one of the cool things, is that we’re kind of fantasizing now about what we’re going to do with this extra space. And what we think we’d like to do is just have this little cozy space, we’ll put a little pull down ladder up in the attic and have a little yoga space or a little place with some cushions where we can read and stuff like that. And just make it a really cozy, quiet getaway up there in the attic that will be conditioned.”

LG: Matt Grocoff the Greenovation-dot-TV guy, doing yoga in his attic. Alright, thanks, Matt.

“My wife is the real yoga expert.”

We’ll look at the new air exchanger the Grocoffs will install in a small part of that attic space… next Tuesday on the Environment Report. I’m Lester Graham.

If you’re wondering how to make your house more energy efficient…. Matt recommends first getting an energy audit to find out where the leaks are in your house. You can find out how to do that and you can catch up on Matt’s adventures on our website: environment report dot org. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Greenovation: Solar Panels Hit Some Red Tape

  • An artists rendering of the solar panels to be installed on Matt Grocoff's historic home. Matt is working to make his home the oldest net-zero-energy house in America, but he had to get by the historic district first. (Image courtesy of Matt Grocoff)

We’ve been following Greenovation TV’s Matt Grocoff recently in his attempt to make his home the oldest net-zero-energy house in America. That means the house would use no more energy that it produces. Reporter Lester Graham found out that Matt recently faced a big hurdle.

National Trust for Historic Preservation’s position statement on solar

American Solar Energy Society

More from the Greenovation Series


Matt Grocoff already has done a lot to make his home energy efficient. He’s insulated, tightened, and installed really efficient heating and cooling in his 110 year old house in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Having reduced his energy use, he was ready to start installing a way to produce energy: solar panels.

But Matt faced an obstacle. His home is in a historic district. Before he could install solar panels, he had to get permission from the historic district commission.

Historic district commissions across the country have really balked at solar panels on the roof. Generally, they frown on modern elements that can be seen from the street. Matt wated to cover almost all of his south-facing roof with solar panels, and yes, they would be visible from the street.

He did his homework and sent detailed drawings and illustrations to the commission. Got the least obtrusive (and more expensive) kind of solar panels, and got the historic district’s attention. Lisa Rozmarek was the first commissioner to speak:

“It’s good for the environment. It’s good for our city. And I think we should promote sustainable building practices within our historic districts. It’s the only way we can move forward into the future instead of being accused of staying in the past.”

When Matt go up to testify, it was looking pretty good. He knew the commissioners were concerned about how it would look, but they seemed open to the idea of allowing renewable energy installations:

“And I’m really excited because not every historic commission has been this progressive. There have been some cases where historic commissions have demanded that someone remove a $60,000 system from the roof.”

The commissioners had some pretty good questions about different types of solar panels and their appearances and Matt had brought along the solar panel sales guy to handle some of those questions.

After the vote, the solar panels were approved. I caught Darren Griffith with Mechanical Energy Systems in the hall and asked are all historic district commissions were that receptive:

“I think as more commissions around the country realize that the energy savings really add money to preserve more structures, I think you’ll begin to see change loosening a little bit from some of the commissions.”

That might be a little optimistic, but the homeowner, Matt Grocoff, was pretty happy boy.

He thinks one of the things that worked in his favor was this: some homeowners want to put up the solar panels first, before they do what they can to make the home energy efficient, like fixing windows, adding insulation. The want what Matt calls “green bling.” Putting up those solar panels as a statement, letting everyone see they’re green. Matt says you have to reduce your energy consumption first:

“Reduce, reduce, and then produce.”

Lester Graham: “I think one of the key elements for them wasn’t so much the aesthetics or the appearance, but the fact that you weren’t going to be doing any permanent damage to the structure.”

Matt Grocoff:“And yet there’s a lot of historic districts throughout the country now who are actually denying people permits to put solar on the roof when you can see it from the street even though it’s not a permanent part of the structure and I think it’s a really bad way to go. And it’s a great thing here in Ann Arbor that we’ve got this very, very progressive commission that’s moving forward. And frankly, I think they’re going to be setting an example for the rest of the country on this.

Lester Graham, The Environment Report.

Greenovation: New Storm Windows

  • Matt Grocoff’s 110-year-old house was recently painted with eco-friendly paint and new storm windows cover refurbished wood windows. Grocoff is attempting to make his house the oldest net-zero energy home in America. (Photo by Lester Graham)

We’ve been following Matt Grocoff with Greenovation.TV as he tries to make his home the oldest net-zero energy house in America. Last time we talked to him, instead of replacing his windows, he was refurbishing the 110-year-old wood framed windows. Lester Graham checked to see just how well that worked.
More from Greenovation.TV
The Clean Energy Coalition
Repairing old windows


The old windows in Matt’s house were drafty, but he didn’t like the idea of all the resources, energy and cost that replacing the windows meant. He got some help and took them apart, got them working right, painted them, and sealed the window panes the gaps. Today is the big test.

(blower sound)

Nick Helmoholdt with with the Clean Energy Coalition. He’s conducting a blower door test to see whether the Grocoff house is any tighter.

LG: “What kind of improvement did just refurbishing the old windows do for the house?”

NH: “Roughly two-thirds the air infiltration was reduced.”

LG: “Is this typical when you see a house just replace the windows?”

NH: “I have never seen this before. I am very impressed with the amount of leakage that was reduced from this repair. This is really, really impressive.”

So a 66-percent reduction in air infiltration by just fixing up the old windows.
Matt Grocoff is pretty happy.

MG: “I think it’s a lot better than new windows because we’ve proven you can make these old windows way more energy efficient and for a lot less money.”
LG: “But that’s not today’s project. Today’s project is putting these storm windows on which, I have to say, really look nice.”

MG: “It looks great! The house looks amazing right now, and especially in a historic district, putting a good storm window on is accepted by a lot of historic associations. The big bang for the buck that we’re going to get out of these storm windows is the Low-E glass that we have and a little bit of thermal insulation by creating a secondary glazing. What that means is that we have almost the equivelent of a dual-pane window.”

LG: “You mentioned Low-E glass. What’s that and what does it do?”

MG: “Low-E stands for low emissivity and what that means is that Low-E glass is just an invisible coating that keeps the heat from coming into your house and heating it up like a greenhouse. I can show you right here. If you put your hand here, we’ve got just a single pane up right now.”

LG: “Yeah, I can feel the sunshine coming through.”

MG: “And you can feel the sill, and you switch this up, pull the sill down with the Low-E glass, you can feel almost instantly how much cooler it is. You don’t get that greenhouse heat coming through.”

LG: “Cool.”

MG: “The other cool benefit is that it filters out all the UV light so it prevents your furniture from getting bleached and everything. We’ve got that red sofa over there facing a south wall. So, we could use all the help we can to help our furniture from fading.”

I don’t know about you, but when I think about storm windows, I think of those old bare aluminum windows that just weren’t all that attractive. Those days are past. Bill Trapp with the George W. Trapp Company supplied these new windows… and he says they come in a lot of colors to match paint schemes.

BT: “And we have people from all over the country calling us right now, getting storm windows in grey and red and green and all these different colors. And also, there are different levels of storm windows as well and I like to think we make the tightest one out there.”
LG: “Well, I can’t verify that, but they did pass the ole Matt Grocoff test, so Matt that’s the windows. Thanks, and I’ll talk to you on your next project on the house.”

MG: “Thank you, Lester, and here’s to staying cool.”

That’s Matt Grocoff with Greenovation.TV. I’m Lester Graham with The Environment Report.

Greenovation: Fixing Old Windows

  • Matt and Kelly Grocoff's house. They're trying to make their home the oldest net-zero energy home in America. That means it'll produce more energy than it uses. (Photo by Matthew Grocoff)

Out with the old… in with the old.

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

There are a lot of ads out there encouraging you to replace those old drafty windows and get new energy efficient windows, but if you’ve got an older house, you might be able to refurbish your old windows, save some money and save energy. Lester Graham talked with Greenovation.TV’s Matt Grocoff. Grocoff is working to make his house the oldest net-zero energy home in America.

More from Greenovation.tv

See Other “Greenovation” segments

More on repairing wood windows


The windows in Matt’s home are drafty.

MG: “They’re really leaky. I mean it’s a 110-year-old house.”

Just how bad? Nick Helmholdt is a home energy auditor with Clean Energy Coalition. He set up a blower door test.

NH: “We get a number of how much draft the whole house has. The number we got from Matt’s house was 4400 cubic-feet-per-minute. LG: On a scale of one-to-ten, how bad is that? NH: “Nine-and-a-half. Bad. Too much is going out the window.”

So, time to replace the windows, right? Matt Grocoff decided rather than throw his old windows away… he’d recycle them. That means learning all about sashes and jams and weights and pullies. Sounds pretty complicated.

MG: “You know, at first I thought this was going to be really complicated as well. But then Lorri Sipes explained to me that this is something that is just so elegantly designed and really simple that once you understand how to do it, it’s a long, but doable do-it-yourself project.”

Lorri Sipes. She’s an architect. And she runs a business called the Wood Window Repair Company.

Now… this is where Matt starts thinking if he could get Lorri to hold a class… and the class used Matt’s windows in the lesson… well…


So for a weekend… Matt’s living room became a classroom… and Matt’s windows the project.

Doug Bernardin was one of the students. His house has already won an award from his historic district commission… but he’s got window problems.

DB: “And I’ve lived in older homes for most of my life and have never had top sashes that come down (class laughs). So, it’s a goal of mine to make that happen.”

And for the weekend… students like Doug helped make it happen at Matt’s house. Lorri Sipes says refurbishing one of these old windows is just not that complicated.

LS: “So, we take the sash out. We strip all the paint off. We strip the glazing, the glazing compound. We repair any wood that’s damaged. And then we re-paint the window. So, it’s nice and clean and looks gorgeous.”

Before it’s installed, bronze weather stripping is put in the jam and a silicone tube seal in the sash. Sealed pretty tight. Sipes says this is not just a matter of aesthetics. It’s about fixing up perfectly good windows.

LS: “How much energy does it take to make all those replacement windows? How much energy does it take to transport them all over the country? Even the best ones only last 25 to 30 years. In this house, which is over 100 years old, somebody would have to have done that four times.”

Sipes says if you have someone do it for you, it’d cost about $400 a window. But, if you do it yourself… or maybe get some help from, say, some students… Matt Grocoff says it’s cheap.

MG: “I will tell you first: it is a simple process. But, I’m not going to tell you it’s a short process. Once you understand how to do it, it’s a matter of time and labor. To do the entire house, the materials cost is only three-hundred-dollars. So, all of the cost is in your time in doing it.”

I stopped by after the weekend class… and Matt showed me a sash that had been stuck for decades.

(sound of Matt opening the window)

MG: “After 30 years of never opening, now it opens with one finger. Can’t get any cooler than that.”

But the windows are still single-paned. That’s why Matt’s getting new energy efficient storm windows. But… that’s a story for another day.

For The Environment Report. I’m Lester Graham.

You can see a photo gallery of Matt’s window project at environmentreport.org. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Saving Energy With Auto Switches

  • According to the EPA, sixty-percent of lighting actually goes to lighting unoccupied rooms. (Photo Courtesy of Vincent Ma CC-2.0)

Saving energy can be as simple as turning off the light switch when you leave a room. But in most homes… that doesn’t happen all the time. Lester Graham reports… motion sensing light switches are becoming more popular because they’ll switch on and off automatically.


Saving energy can be as simple as turning off the light switch when you leave a room. But in most homes… that doesn’t happen all the time. Lester Graham reports… motion sensing light switches are become more popular because they’ll switch on and off automatically.

In some families, Dad stomping around the house, turning off lights and yelling to no one in particular is legendary.

“How many times do I have to tell you, turn off those lights.”

Don’t burst a blood vessel there, pal.

Well, Dad might have had a point. Matt Grocoff with Greenovation.TV says he’s been poking around the Environmental Protection Agency’s website and found this:

“Sixty-percent of lighting actually goes to lighting an unoccupied room, hallways, bathrooms, your bedroom. Drive by any neighborhood house and you’ll see eight rooms lit. How many of those houses have eight people in them.”

Matt says there’s a solution. Motion-sensing light switches. They can be set to turn on when you walk into a room and turn themselves off when you leave… staying on for a minute or two… or five… or a half-hour. Whatever you set it to.

There are a lot of different types. Laurie Gross is President of Gross Electric in Ohio and Michigan. They’ve been selling lamps and lights and switches for one-hundred years.

She says there are light switches that turn on when you enter and off when you leave, others that you have to turn on and they turn off when the room is empty. Different technology works –well– differently. Gross says passive infrared works well for pantries or kitchens because they detect motion.

“Then there’s ultrasonic which doesn’t need a line-of-sight. So, those are good in public bathrooms so when it senses heat, when go in there, it knows you’re there and turns off if you take a little longer than expected to take.”

And there are switches that use both infrared and ultrasonic… good for places like big office spaces.

You can expect to spend 50 – 60 bucks or more for a good one, depending on what you want. There are cheaper sensor light switches out there… but in this case, you really do get what you pay for.

Now… these switches use a tiny bit of power themselves… so the best place for them is in a room where leaving the light bulb on is not likely to be noticed for a while. Matt tells the story of forgetting to turn off a light in the garage during vacation. That bulb burned for two weeks. A sensor switch makes a lot of sense in a place like that… or in a closet… or a room you don’t use a lot.

Matt Grocoff and his wife Kelly are working to make their 110 year old house the oldest net-zero energy home in America. And he says he loves having motion sensing switches in key areas for the convenience as well as the energy savings.

“We open the door in the kitchen and come through the door with loads of groceries and the light comes on automatically. You don’t have to do the elbow dance.”

His wife Kelly says for her… it’s avoiding a little childhood terror.

“I have a little PTSD from when I was younger and my Dad was constantly harassing us to turn the lights off. Now, I know if I leave the room and I don’t turn the light off, it’s going to go off eventually instead of having my Dad chase me down and giving me some lecture about turning the lights off, saving energy, saving money, blah, blah, blah.”

Funny story about that. Kelly’s Mom, Jane Casselman was visiting when I was at the couple’s house… and she started laughing about Dad lecturing about the lights.

“’Cause in the evening, yours truly would turn all the lights off before going to bed.”

Heh– busted.

For The Environment Report… I’m Lester Graham.

Related Links

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.


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.”

Related Links

Greenovation: The Great Floor Debate

The popular eco-friendly products are not always the best solution. Lester and Greenovation.tv’s Matt Grocoff drop in on Matt’s neighbor to help him with his hardwood floor dilemma.


In home improvement projects, the popular eco-friendly products are not always the best solution. Lester Graham has the story of a home improvement intervention.

Kevin Leeser was not happy with the floors downstairs in his one-hundred year old house.

KL: “Well, we’ve lived here five years and just over the five years they’ve started to get grayer and you can tell that the finish was –in the high traffic areas—you could tell where we were walking it looks like we were hamsters walking through this place.”

LG: “This is maple, right”

KL: “Pfft. Yeah, that’s what they tell me.”

Kevin toyed with the idea of finishing the maple floors… but that sounded really involved.

And then the in-laws visited during the holidays.

KL: “My mother-in-law was like ‘Why don’t you get new floors.’ (laugh) And I was like well, yeah, it would be easier, ‘cause the things I was concerned about were sawdust, and ‘cause I have a newborn, just dirtying up the house and figured just getting some clean stuff, cutting it outside, sticking it down and be done with it.”

LG: So, wanting to be eco-friendly, he thought he’d put down bamboo flooring. Bamboo is renewable and it grows fast… and it’s pretty popular these days.

Then his neighbor stopped by. Matt Grocoff… the eco-friendly home improvement guy with Greenovation-dot-TV who had some –eh—thoughts about Kevin’s plan…

MG: “And, I, like, practically smacked him in the face and I said ‘What are you thinking? This is a gorgeous floor. Go rent yourself a sander or even hire someone for a few hundred bucks to strip the floor and then refinish it.’”

LG: So…You’re not a big fan of bamboo?

MG: “Bamboo is a great product if you have to do something new. You have to ask a question: do you need that new product or do you have something that works now and just needs to be renewed.”

Oh, yeah. Reduce. Re-use. Recycle. So, Kevin’s wife, Lauren and their baby were away for a few days. Kevin rented a sander… …and then started looking for an eco-friendly sealant for his maple floors. Matt had an idea for that.

MG: “Kevin’s using a natural oil from BioShield which is a mixture of tung and linseed oil that is so easy to use. It’s easier to use than even a low-VOC or zero-VOC polyurethene finish and easier to maintain in the long run.”

And in the end… renting the sander, buying sanding pads, buying the floor sealant, paint brushes and all that stuff… ended up costing Kevin about HALF of what it would have if he put down bamboo. Not a bad deal.

But… the big question… what did his wife, Lauren, think of the refinished old floors.

LM “It looks absolutely beautiful and we didn’t have to get new floors. Win, win. We love it. Beautiful.”

Matt Grocoff says he was sure Kevin and Lauren would be happy, because he did the same thing at his house.

MG: “The first thing that I did when we finished with our floor is I took a glass of red wine when we were celebrating and I poured half a glass of red wine on the floor and my wife was like ‘What are you doing!’ And I was like, look, we’re going to spill wine on it eventually, let’s see what happens now. The wine beaded up on the floor. We took a little sponge, wiped it clean and it’s gorgeous, five years later.

LG: “That’s Matt Grocoff with Greenovation-dot-TV. Thanks, Matt.”

MG: “Lester, this is always so much fun. I’m glad to be doing it.”

LG: “That’s The Environment Report. I’m Lester Graham.”

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Greenovation: Eco-Certified

  • When doing home improvement projects, WaterSense, EnergyStar, GREENGUARD, and FSC certifications are some to keep an eye out for. (Photo by Michelle Miller-Freeck, courtesy of FEMA)

When you’re planning a home
improvement project, you can
be overwhelmed with decisions
about the right materials, the
right quality, and the right
design. Trying to keep it eco-
friendly on top of everything
else just adds to the confusion.
Lester Graham reports it can be
as simple as finding a label:


When you’re planning a home
improvement project, you can
be overwhelmed with decisions
about the right materials, the
right quality, and the right
design. Trying to keep it eco-
friendly on top of everything
else just adds to the confusion.
Lester Graham reports it can be
as simple as finding a label:

Julia Weinert and her boyfriend like the idea of making their place nice, but even something as simple as painting causes concerns.

JW: “We want to support environmentally friendly options and we just don’t want to be smelling it for three days out and have to be running the fans. We just want it to be convenient and we think it would be an easy thing to do.”

LG: “Well, you’re in luck. We’re at the local Home Depot and we just happen to have Greenovation.TV’s Matt Grocoff here. Matt, you’ve got some advice for her.”

MG: “And it’s really, really simple. When you’re trying to find a paint that’s healthy for you or another product, you shouldn’t have to be a chemist when you go to the store. There’s a really simple thing you can look for. Just look for the simple GREENGUARD label. GREENGUARD is an independent organization that lets you know with a simple label that that product is safe for you.”

So, none of the really strong paint smells that mean polluting chemicals are being released. GREENGUARD Environmental Institute sets indoor air standards for products and buildings. Julia and I sniffed a can of paint WITH the GREENGUARD label, and then one without.

LG: “I’ll let you sniff first.”

JW: Okay. Oh! Yeah! Oh my gosh! That is ridiculous. I mean, it smells so much stronger than this one. You can’t even smell that one compared to this one.”

A gallon of paint with the GREENGUARD label DOES cost a few dollars more, maybe as much as ten bucks.

Matt then herded us to another part of the store, the plumbing section, where Julia and I were confronted by all kinds of shiny chrome and brass faucets.

JW: “There’s a whole wall, a whole aisle of faucets here and I just don’t know which ones to look for.”

LG: “So, Matt. You got any fancy labels here?”

MG: “Absolutely. Again, if you’re looking for that eco-friendly option, a way to save yourself some money and some water, it’s simple. Just look for the WaterSense label. The EPA does EnergyStar labels for appliances. The EPA also does WaterSense label for plumbing fixtures.”

WaterSense means the fixture – whether a faucet, shower head or toilet – will use less water but still works well.

As we wandered over to the lumber section of the store, Matt told us the last label he wanted to show us is the most ignored label – and it might just be the most important one.

MG: “FSC stands for the Forest Stewardship Council. And what that means is they’ve made a commitment that they’re not going to be tearing down forest and clear-cutting them in order for you to build some bookshelves in your home. This is one of the biggest causes of greenhouse gases is that we don’t have these forests capturing this carbon any more. Instead of having to have a PhD in forest management, you can just simply look for a piece of wood that has an FSC label on it.”

So, labels. Julia says, works for her.

JW: “It’s going to be great, taking my boyfriend around the store and showing him all these cool things I can get to make our home improvements a little more cheap and environmentally-friendly.”

LG: “Alright remind me, go over this again. What am I supposed to be looking for?”

MG: “It’s very simple. If you’re looking for paint, look for GREENGUARD. For plumbing, WaterSense. For lumber, FSC, Forest Stewardship Council certified.”

LG: “That’s Matt Grocoff, Greenovation.TV. Thanks again, Matt.

MG: “Lester, it’s always a pleasure. Thank you.”

For The Environemnt Report, I’m Lester Graham.

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