Up In the Air

12391566099?profile=RESIZE_710xOur house in Orinda has been “up in the air” since November. It’s jacked up because the foundation had partially collapsed. It didn’t happen all at once. The house was built in the early 1950s, and we think the foundation was exposed to water that undermined the un-reinforced concrete. When we started the remodel, we noticed that one corner of the house was 4 inches below the rest of the house. That was our first clue that there would be some twists and turns in our project to create an energy-efficient, solar-ready, durable, all-electric house that will last another hundred years.

My wife, Michele, inherited this house from her mother several years ago. It’s where she and her sister grew up, and it holds many memories. During her mother’s final years, Michele, already working remotely, moved her office into her Mom’s spare bedroom. She was able to have lunch with her mother every day and often prepared and served her dinner at the end of her workday. We were so happy that she could live out her final years, up to her mid-nineties, in her own house, which was her sanctuary, surrounded by her daughters and friends. After her Mom’s death, Michele and I wanted the house to be our own. We aren’t adding square feet to the house but have other priorities: We want to age in place and have a home that is easy to get around using a walker or wheelchair; we want to make a broader connection between inside and outside the home and better use the space inside; and we want a low-maintenance, simple, healthy, and beautiful place to live.

We started remodeling last Fall. We talked with several contractors and designers before settling on a family-run builder and remodeler in San Leandro. We plan to open the kitchen, add a guest bathroom, and install a heat pump water heaterand heat pump air cooling and heating system. We have already purchased an induction cooktop and other Energy Star-rated appliances. We’ve also purchased low-flow toilets and other plumbing fixtures. Here’s the hard part: confessing that we are keeping a gas fireplace that we don’t plan to use that often. It replaces a wood-burning stove that Michele’s family used as a heat source in their living room.

We want to add solar and eventually buy electric cars, but those will have to wait. The concrete tile roof is at least 40 years old but does not leak. We can plan for a new roof and solar panels in a few years. The reason for going (almost) all-electric is to prepare for when all our electricity will come from wind, solar, and hydro sources and not gas, which is highly polluting.

The Energy Star appliances were easy to find, as well as the induction cooktop. Heat pumps are getting more and more popular in California and elsewhere. We’re looking into the rebates and tax breaks offered for heat pumps and heat pump water heaters. So far, this is what we’ve come up with.

Here is something I didn’t know when we started: Heat pumps work well now in most, if not all, climates. Heat pumps draw heat from the air and move it inside or outside a building, depending on the need for heating or cooling. The newest heat pumps can draw heat from outside air, even at freezing temperatures. So far, it’s a no-brainer. The systems are very efficient and costly. However, the evidence is that there is a significant cost benefit over the appliance’s life. Hopefully, once we have lived in the house, I’ll do the calculations to see if this bears out.

Our contractor showed us around the job site this week and explained how, very soon, our house would be lowered onto a mostly brand-new foundation. Then comes the rough framing, electrical, and HVAC installations.

To be continued...

Photo by Jim Gunshinan.

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  • Excellent article that personalizes sustainability in the home! Good luck to you and Michele!
    • Thanks Allison! I'm glad I can chronicle the journey through SCOCO's newsletter.
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