Affordability & Deep Energy Upgrade/Passive House Retrofit in Berkeley, California.

We have a small 1940s single level house (1005sqf) in Berkeley, California that is in need of a deep energy upgrade. Our plans include making the envelope air-tight, increase insulation, make use of solar orientation by changing the interior layout and exterior glazing. The kitchen and bathroom also need to be upgraded, along with the electric wiring and plumbing. Yet, the foundation is good and so is the roof. We like the location, which allows us to walk everywhere and enjoy the mixed use neighborhood. The best part is our garden and open space that we love.

Now the question: How might we do this affordably? We have a limited budget and it is even made smaller due to the very high construction and remodeling cost in the Bay Area. We are ready to put in our own sweat labor but how do we find people who would like to work with us? Any other hints, tips, suggestions etc that would also be helpful to others in similar circumstances.

Many thanks,
Kaushal.

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Kashual,

It is difficult to try to convey meaningful information to you. I am not sure why you ask questions at all at this point as you seem to have all the answers.

 I not only answered your question but gave you the instances of when there was a variance on the code for using AAV. I also explained why even with the variance of code it might not be approved.

From a building science and very basic plumbing point of view the AAV so bad on so many fronts I could fill an entire page of the shortcomings of this product. However the point will not be made by me at this time. It would simply fall on deaf ears and is not worth my time.

Good luck with your project

Glen,

Again, I didn't ask what people think of AAVs. I am not here to poll opinions on this issue. The question was rather does Berkeley allow AAVs? This is a matter of fact question. It is not a question of taste, i.e. I didn't ask how you feel about AAVs. To the former question, you replied that you didn't know. I gladly accepted that honest answer. There is nothing more to be said. 

So at this point, we still do not know whether the city at present allows the use of AAVs or not. In 1999, the city issued a letter to an AAV manufacturer, stating that it does allow it. I am just not sure what the current status is. Does anyone know?

Thank you! I appreciate keeping your comments on this issue relevant to the question asked. 

Thanks Graham for sharing this! I'll be sure to tune in. 

There is a different PH standard for upgrades called EnerPHit which is probably more appropriate in your case. It allows a maximum of 1.0 air changes per hour instead of 0.6 which can be difficult to achieve in existing buildings. It doesn't seem to a have been used much in the US as yet but it may answer some the questions with regards to financial viability.

Hi, Kaushal.

I can relate, as we were in your position regarding our circa 1900 San Francisco home a couple of years ago.  You've received many thoughtful comments, ranging from very general to quite-detailed recommendations. Ultimately, however, what's optimal for your home will be unique to your combination of system needs, desired amenities, priorities, and budget.  No matter how deep your retrofit ends up being, there's no overestimating the value of beginning with an informed understanding of where you're starting from (accurate load calculations, energy use history, comfort, etc.) and where you'd like to end up.  From there it's an iterative process of what is most practical, comfortable, energy efficient, cost-effective, and important (to you).  And not necessarily in that order.  There are a lot of paths that will lead where you want to go. 

To echo others, our climate is mild, mild, mild.  This results in lower loads to meet but also lower 'payback', energy or cost-wise, for aggressive/intrusive improvements, including those usually necessary for Passive House.  In my home performance evaluation and design experience with Bay Area homes, typical cost-effective paths include targeted (depending on the home) envelope improvements combined with appropriate system and distribution efficiency upgrades.  Pushing further is of course fine, but usually not necessary for deep energy impacts.  For many reasons, less intrusive options should be considered first.  Typically the more intrusive a retrofit strategy is the longer it will take and the more it will cost.  In conjunction with a package of other improvements, and in our climate, the incremental energy impacts of very aggressive strategies are often small.

A lot of planning went into our retrofit.  Our budget was also not unlimited  Based on load calculation and energy modeling, as well as knowledge of our comfort needs and energy history, I developed an improvement plan involving the following: crawlspace vapor barrier (phase 1), floor and attic air sealing, floor and attic insulation retrofits, targeted wall insulation retrofits, and heating/water heating system and distribution improvements.  We didn't move any walls, and we didn't alter at all the exterior.  But we did transform the guts of the house.  Is the house at Passive standards?  No.  But I would definitely call our effort a 'deep energy retrofit.'   The day-to-day comfort, both thermal and IAQ, as well as overall energy use improvements are dramatic. I believe that is ultimately the test of a successful, practical retrofit. 

Glad to discuss with you directly in more detail, should you be interested. Best of luck with your planning.

Thanks,

Ryan

(P.E., Pxt Consulting)

Hi Ryan,

Thank you so much for your response; very thoughtful and helpful! I would love to learn more bout your project. I will send you a message and let's connect. Thanks again!

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