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

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: 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: 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.

Related Links

Greenovation: Low-Flow Toilets

  • Rudy Wilfong, on the left, distributes Coroma toilets. Matt Grocoff, right, is with Greenovation TV. (Photo by Thore Bergman)

The Environmental Protection Agency has
a new water saving program called Water
Sense. It’s similar to the Energy Star label
for electronics. To get the Water Sense
program’s endorsement, toilets must use less
water. But, people have been complaining
about the old style low-flow toilets since they
were first required in the mid-1990s. Lester
Graham reports on what’s changed since then:


The Environmental Protection Agency has
a new water saving program called Water
Sense. It’s similar to the Energy Star label
for electronics. To get the Water Sense
program’s endorsement, toilets must use less
water. But, people have been complaining
about the old style low-flow toilets since they
were first required in the mid-1990s. Lester
Graham reports on what’s changed since then:

The problem with those old low-flow toilets is the companies didn’t really re-design them – they just made the tank smaller. Some of them just didn’t do the job.

Hugh Maquire has one in his home. He’s had a bad experience with his.

Maquire: “I had to flush my low-flow toilet six or seven times. What is that saving you?”

Graham: “ Doesn’t save you much water that way does it?”

Maquire Doesn’t save you much water at all. Plus it’s annoying. It’s embarrassing, ‘cause everybody’s hearing you flush the toilet six or seven times, wondering what the heck’s going on in there.”

So, we asked Matt Grocoff with Greenovation TV to set up a demonstration for us. Behind the Bgreen Retail Store in Ann Arbor, Michigan three different models of these new Water Sense low flow toilets are set up on five-gallon buckets so we can see what gets flushed… and what comes out.

Grocoff: “I always joke there were three things that set back the environmental movement: there was the original low-flow shower head, the original low-flush toilet and Jimmy Carter’s sweater. ‘Cause what that said to everybody was ‘You’re going to pay more for it; it was going to be less comfortable and you were going to have to sacrifice and it wasn’t going to perform as well.’ And with these new generations of redesigned toilets, you’re getting a higher quality product than even the existing one-point-six gallon or even a three gallon per flush toilet”

Graham: “Let’s see it.”

These toilets all have dual flush capabilities. A full flush is 1.28 gallons. A half flush – just 0.8. To prove how well they work, he’s just using the point-eight gallon flush. Matt’s got tennis balls, potatoes, and little rubber duckies.

Grocoff: “We got three duckies.” (flush sound)

Graham: “ Well, that seemed to work. No duckies. What’d you think of that, Hugh?”

Maquire: “I felt sorry for that ducky, but it was a great demonstration.”

And, again, that was the half-flush at 0.8 gallons, half of what the old low-flow standard was. Matt upped the ante.

Grocoff: “Two tennis balls and two potatoes. This is going to be the real challenge.” (flush sound)

Then more potatoes.

And more duckies.

Now, Matt’s demonstration is hardly scientific, but of the three brands we tested – a Kohler, a Toto and a Coroma – it appeared to me the Coroma worked best, at flushing duckies and potatoes anyway.

Rudy Wilfong is a dealer for Coroma. The toilet is made in Australia. He says Australia has had one-gallon-per-flush restrictions for 30 years, so they’ve designed them to work.

Wilfong: “And they don’t plug. They flush better than the 1.6 gallon toilets with half the water.”

And compared to the old low-flow toilets, you can expect to save about 1,000 gallons, per person, per year. They do cost more, but the pay back compared to a regular low-flow is about 2 to 2.5 years. If you’ve got one of those three-gallon-per-flush models, or even an old 6 gallon model, your payback will be a lot faster.

Graham: “Alright, Matt, I’m going to give you one more chance to impress me. What have you got here?”

Grocoff: “Alright. So, here we’ve got a full t-shirt. (flush) Very nice.”

Maquire: “Hey, Matt. I had a black t-shirt. Do you see it anywhere?” (laugh)

Graham: “Well, this was pretty impressive. Where can I get some more information about this?”

Grocoff: “Of course, you can go to Greenovation-dot-TV and you can see a video and some photographs of some of these toilets.”

Graham: “ Alright. Matt Grocoff of Greenovation-dot-TV. Thanks very much.”

Grocoff: “Alright. Thanks, Lester.”

For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

Related Links

Teaching an Old House New Tricks

Environmentally friendly architecture is
becoming very common. Architects are designing
innovative, cutting edge, energy-efficient homes,
using renewable resources. But, Lester Graham
reports on another approach that recycles an
entire house:


Environmentally friendly architecture is
becoming very common. Architects are designing
innovative, cutting edge, energy-efficient homes,
using renewable resources. But, Lester Graham
reports on another approach that recycles an
entire house:

You know, we’re always hearing about new green building construction – new homes with all the
latest. That’s nice, but it’s a little ironic to think about all those resources being used to
build new to save resources.

That’s why I kinda got interested when I read about Matt
and Kelly Grocoff. They bought a modest, century-old house and started making
energy-efficient changes. A lot of them as Matt showed me in the bathroom.

“We have the motion-sensor light. We have the compact fluorescent bulbs. We have a
dual-flush toilet that will use only (flushing sound) use point-eight gallons for a flush.
This is actually a one-gallon-per-minute shower head. It will save you at least $100 in
electricity your first year of having that because of the eleven-thousand gallons of hot
water that you’re going to be saving. (faucet sound) This faucet aerator is also point-
five-gallons-a-minute. It’s plenty of water to wash your hands. Most people will never
notice that they’re using two-gallons-per-minute less in this faucet than another faucet.”

(stairs sound)

And that’s just the bathroom. As the couple took me upstairs, they told me about the really,
really efficient geo-thermal heat. They insulated everywhere. It’s tight. But everything
was off-the-shelf. None of that, ‘oh this is custom, you can’t buy it anywhere’, type

Kelly Grocoff says if your house is a statement about you, then having a low-impact on
the earth’s resources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions is part of the statement they
want to make.

“For us, we proclaim loud and clear this is where our values are. And this is where we’re
going to spend our time and it’s incredibly important to us.”

And with all the efficiencies, all the updates, the house looked normal, comfortable. And
the Grocoff’s say that’s the way it should be.

Matt: “One of the things with building green, everyone thinks that you’re going to sacrifice
something, you’re going to spend more money and you’re not going to be as
comfortable. And that is completely not true anymore.”

Kelly: “We have made zero sacrifices. We have gained enormously. And we have no
time to waste. Your house is the number one place where you can make a significant
impact on a daily basis. For me there’s no other choice to be made.”

Matt and Kelly Grocoff say doing something about reducing energy use, reducing the
emissions that are causing global warming, and re-using old lumber and this old house
is just a start for them. They want to help other people do it too. That’s why they’re
launching an online site for do-it-yourselfers called ‘’

Matt: “Uh, through Greenovation TV, we’re going to take everything that we’ve learned from
this house and teach others about it.”

Kelly: “We need that kind of resource there as we’re going through this process. And so there was hours upon hours spent researching things. And that’s kind of the goal with this station.”

Matt: “Once you have the knowlege to do it, it’s really, really easy.”

The Grocoff’s say the one thing holding people back from making their homes more
environmentally friendly is they feel like they have to do it all or it won’t be right. They
say just take the first step. Even if it’s just changing to a lower-energy compact
fluorescent bulb, it’s a good start.

For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

Related Links