At TC Legend Homes, we have dedicated ourselves to pursing the vision of zero-energy homes for all. We strive to be pioneers in energy efficiency, seeking to create a healthy and clean carbon neutral future that allows the next generation to thrive. Our history of excellence in reducing or eliminating the operational emissions of our homes speaks for itself. Through extensive energy efficiency measures, quality craftsmanship, and a combination of passive solar design and rooftop photovoltaic, we have created a building model that allows us to make our affordable, zero-energy home vision a reality. Over the past 7 years, we have built more than 20 homes and ADU’s that are zero energy ready at a minimum with more than 12 of the 20 being net positive homes. Now it is time for TC Legend to expand our focus to address the other element of emissions in buildings, the embodied carbon.
The carbon footprint of any building is comprised of two elements: the commonly focused upon operational carbon and the less commonly addressed embodied carbon. Since our building model has successfully addressed the operational aspect of this footprint, we are now expanding our focus to addressing the embodied component while still maintaining excellence within the operational emissions.
What is Embodied Carbon and Why does it Matter?
You might ask, “What exactly is embodied carbon and why do we care about it?” Simply put, embodied carbon is the upfront “carbon footprint” of a product. For buildings, you can think of it as the emissions that are produced to create the parts of the building, encompassing all emissions that occur before it is functioning as a home. This includes all emissions from material production and those produced during construction. In contrast the operational carbon of a home is the emissions released to heat, cool, and electrify the home over its lifetime.
Figure 1: Carbon Foot Print Formula
Since embodied carbon emissions are “stored” in the home before it is operating, the embodied carbon sets the baseline for the total footprint of the home. Even if a house is exceptionally efficient, producing little to no operational emissions, the total carbon footprint of the house is not zero because of the upfront emissions. This is why embodied carbon matters. If we solely focus on operational carbon and the future emissions of the home, we do not consider the significant portion of emissions being released NOW. And, according to the 2022 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, drastically reducing emissions now is what will have the greatest impact on avoiding the most severe elements of climate disaster. For years, scientists have warned of the catastrophic results to the climate and environment if the world reaches an average temperature of 1.5-2° C above prehistoric levels. The 2022 IPCC report notes that we are on a trajectory to reach the 1.5° C in the next two decades, highlighting the only way to stop this impending disaster is to focus on emission on the today-10 year timeline. Since the majority of building emissions occurring in the first 10-15 years of a highly efficient or zero-energy home are embodied emissions, these need to be our focus moving forward. While we do not want to give up operational efficiency, we need to focus on reducing the embodied carbon emissions that are produced now, and work to reduce the overall emissions of our buildings.
The below graphs illustrate how a reduction in the embodied carbon has a significant impact on the total emissions of a home on the ten year time horizon, given that the majority of emissions on this time scale are from embodied carbon. House #1 and House #2 demonstrate two houses with the same design, producing similar operational emissions. However, if we are careful in selecting materials with lower embodied carbon, we can see a significant difference in the total emissions of a house, as demonstrated by the house #2 graph. These two graphs illustrate a high efficiency home designed without a focus on embodied carbon (house #1) vs one where there is attention given to reducing embodied carbon (house #2).
Figure 2: Total Emissions of a Home on the Ten Year Time Horizon
As a company that strives to create a healthy future for all, it is our responsibility to do our part in the next 10 years. By expanding our focus to better address our homes “now” emissions through modeling and decreasing our embodied carbon, we are working to be part of the necessary change. Tackling the biggest issues and working to refine our model to achieve excellence in both areas of home emissions is our newest goal, and one we hope that through education of the public and adjustment without our own building model, we can help lead the building industry in the right direction.
We will share additional posts on the topic of embodied carbon with more details on what embodied carbon is, how its calculated, and how we are making changes in the coming weeks so stay tuned!
In our last blog about indoor air quality (IAQ), we discussed what influences IAQ, what effects it has on humans and nature, and how to create healthier IAQ in your home.
As a recap, IAQ is measured by the quantity and type of pollutants in the air within a building. The pollutants that decrease the IAQ (make the quality worse) can be anything from biological pollutants such as mold and mildew, bacteria, dust or pollen, to carbon monoxide or volatile organic compounds (VOC’s)4. These pollutants can cause a wide variety of health problems for humans and animals, from mild skin irritations all the way to damaging internal organs and causing cancer.2,5
While ventilation is just one of the many factors that affect IAQ mentioned in our previous blog, it is a multifaceted topic and requires a deeper dive than we were able to give.
We’ve already established that healthy IAQ is important, but how does ventilation impact it and what are the current shortcomings of code-standard ventilation systems?
Firstly, IAQ can be 2-5 times more polluted than outdoor air quality6; therefore, it is vital to expel a greater quantity of indoor air and intake more outdoor air to increase a building’s overall IAQ.
However, not all ventilation systems are made equally. Often, with forced air-heating and traditional air-conditioning systems, the main method of ventilation is infiltration or purely natural ventilation (opening windows)3.
This is problematic, because there will not be a great enough flow of air to expel the polluted indoor air and the outdoor air comes into the building’s envelope untreated. While outdoor air is generally less polluted than indoor air, it would be counterproductive to bring in smoky, smoggy or pollen filled air, for example, and should still be filtered before entering the building.
When mechanical ventilation is installed in a simply code-standard building, the typical system must be manually turned on and off and doesn’t have the capacity for higher airflows or continual airflows. For this reason, conscious builders like TC Legend Homes go above and beyond the less-than-optimal code-standard systems and always uses a Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV).
HRV units allow for continual filtered airflow. They are also capable of utilizing smart technology with sensors to detect CO2 and humidity within the house, allowing the system to automatically adjust air flow.
The humidity tracking and management is a huge advantage because it creates a more comfortable environment to people, pets and indoor plants alike and helps keep mold and mildew growth in check. On top of increasing airflow and managing humidity, the HRV also contains HEPA air filters to ensure the incoming air is stripped of as many pollutants as possible.
Of course, the extra benefit to these systems beyond increased IAQ is that they “recover up to 90% of the heat and contribute to an energy savings of up to 50%.”1
This means HRV systems save money by lowering the overall energy bill, as well as decrease the building’s carbon footprint by using energy more consciously resulting in less consumption of energy, fossil fuels and other precious materials.
In all, choosing the best ventilation system can mean creating a healthier home, as well as reducing your wasted energy consumption and having a lesser impact on the environment.
2“Biological Pollutants’ Impact on Indoor Air Quality.” United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), EPA.gov, https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/biological-pollutants-impact-indoor-air-quality. 2/10/2022.
5“Volatile Organic Compounds’ Impact on Indoor Air Quality.” United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), EPA.gov, https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/volatile-organic-compounds-impact-indoor-air-quality. 2/10/2022.
SIPs are wall, roof (and sometimes floor) panels. Fabricated from a slab of foam sandwiched between two plywood sheets. Actually, it’s not ply it’s OSB (oriented strand board).
The sandwich-panels can be up to 24’x8’ and are made in the SIPs factory, in our case Premiere-SIPs in Puyallup. The doors and windows are cut-out in the factory, a stack of pre-fabricated house panels are loaded onto a trailer and arrives on-site where the SIPs are assembled… a bit like Legos.
Because TC Legend Builds affordable Net Zero energy houses, we use our crew to assemble the wall panels, man-handling them into place, but a crane can be used for walls. We do use the crane to set to thicker, heavier roof panels.
Our goal with SIPs panels is to create a continuous foam box, surrounding the inside of the home. When you remember that there’s 4” foam under the concrete slab, the 6” foam walls and 10” foam roof trap all the heat inside the house.
The ‘S” in ‘SIP’ stands for structural and the panel-system carries the load of the house, floors and roof, and does not need the sticks of vertical lumber you see in the walls of a conventionally framed house.
How are SIP panels joined? We’ll use the walls as an example:
The SIPs panels typically have the interior foam held-back to form a 1.5” gap at the panel edges. Two panels are joined by setting a ‘spline’ into the recessed gap on one panel, then sliding the second panel over the spline, nailing the connecting spline in place through all four edges. Splines can be made of 2×6 lumber (L-spline), foam mini-SIPs (called S-splines), or an insulated TJI spline (called an I-spline).
Because a 2×6 lumber splines touches both the warm inside of the house wall, and the cold exterior of the house wall, they are said to cold-bridge. A cold-bridge creates a poorly insulated pathway for the warm inside energy to travel to the cold exterior. There a many cold-bridges in conventional framing and that’s why we don’t do it. We aim to minimize L-splines as they have an insulating value of R7.8, compared to R29 for our Neopor graphite foam 6.5” Premiere SIPs wall panels.
Last week the TC Legend Homes crew finished off the SIPs roof structure on the Lake Stevens house.
On average we take about (2) days to assemble the 1st floor SIP wall panels. We build the 2nd floor-level TJI and sheeting floor system over the succeeding (2) days. The upper level walls take a day or so, and then it’s roof-day!
On roof-day the crane arrives early, and the roof panels are rigged, swung up, and screwed in-place by Ted and Norm. The crew have pre-assembled the boundary supports, so we don’t use more crane time and belch more diesel than necessary. The boundary support is a continuous 2×10 that seats into the 1.5” perimeter recess & connects together the outside edge of the roof panels.
SIPs are very fast to assemble and incur almost no waste material onsite because everything arrives pre-cut. Most excess off-cut foam is recycled back into the process during factory fabrication and the Premiere software nests the required panel shapes for maximum efficiency, making Premiere more streamlined, more profitable and more environmentally responsible.
Air sealing is very, very important for energy efficiency.
Imagine a fast, cold wind blowing over the building and all the warm air streaming out through the construction cracks. The Lake Stevens house is modeled to need a maximum of 12,500Btu/ hour to heat in midwinter, if we air-sealed the envelope to 0.6 air-changes per hour. (Note: (1) air-change-per hour assumes the entire volume of the house has the air replaced once within (1) hour).
If we air-sealed the Lake Stevens house to 5.0 air changes per hour, code minimum, we’d need 19,000Btu/h of heating for midwinter! So you can see that air sealing to reduce the air-changes per hour can give over 35% reduction in heating load.
SIPs are a pre-sealed sandwich, and compared to typical construction there are far fewer construction-joints in a SIPs building due to the large SIPs panel size. The standard SIPs assembly process includes installing beads of specialist mastic to air-seal and adhere the panels to each-other. SIPs have a measurable dollar advantage with that high level of pre-sealing and easy panel-to-panel air sealing. Meaning you can buy and run a smaller heat pump. And we haven’t yet examined the standard R29 insulation in the equivalent 2×6 wall!
Here at TC Legend Homes, we are excited to ring in the New Year! We kept busy in 2018, but we were not as active as we would have liked in keeping our “fans” updated on our recent projects. So, while we’re committing ourselves to doing better in the future, this post is an attempt at bringing everyone up to speed on some of the happenings of 2018 in a (relatively) short summary:
One home completion (started in 2017) in Seattle.
Four complete home builds; two in Bellingham, one in Redmond, and one in North Bend.
Construction initiation on two ADUs; one in Sumas, and one in Bellingham.
All projects were Built Green 5-Star Certified, EPA Indoor airPLUS certified, and met DOE standards as Zero-Energy Ready Homes.
Ted presented at the Built Green Conference 2018 in Seattle. He shared the podium with homeowners Andri Kofmehl and Veena Prasad. Their topic, Bridging Innovation and Affordability: How to Build the Greenest House Possible Without Compromising on Aesthetics or Breaking the Bank, featured our 2017 Emerald Star home. More details on this can be found at this link to our portfolio.
Craig and Thad did a little San Diego couch surfing to attend a Builder’s Round Table, composed entirely of 2018 Department of Energy Housing Innovation Award Winners, where we learned a little about the future of high-performance building.
We participated in the Whatcom County Showcase of Homes, featuring the second home shown above – a great example of an affordable net-positive home in Bellingham. You can also read more about it in our portfolio.
Ted and Thad spoke at the Northwest EcoBuilding Guild’s annual Green Building Slam about how building net-positive can actually make it easier to afford more home while preserving quality of life.
We “expanded” our business operations into a SIPs Tiny Office (above).
Ted wrapped up his speaking engagements in December, at the Sustainable Connections Green Building Slam, with a talk about why we need to embrace sustainable building – because Our Kids are Going to Need a Place to Live.