November 6, 2012
The good news is, here at the Weekly we have gas furnaces. The bad news is, we have gas furnaces.
That's what LEED Project Administrator Levi Jimenez said, with a straight face, when I asked for an update on the Weekly's LEED certification process back in August.
You may have noticed that this blog has stalled for a couple months. That's because a problem with those furnaces brought Weekly owner Bradley Zeve close to scrapping the whole damn thing.
"Are you f#$%ing kidding me?" he asked Jimenez when he learned of the problem. "You must be f#$%ing kidding me."
Here's the deal: The exhaust flues from four of the building's gas furnaces are closer to the windows than the 15-foot minimum LEED requires. "As the exhaust goes outside, it's being sucked right back in the window, filling our work space with carbon monoxide," Jimenez says.
Zeve had to correct the problem before his LEED Platinum application could move forward. One option: capping the four furnaces. But that would make the building chilly again, and the alternative—electric heating—is both more expensive and less energy efficient than the gas wall heaters we already have.
"The idea of going to electric [heating] is so counter-intuitive," Zeve says.
The logic gap: If the gas wall heaters are on, the windows should be closed, right? Not under state building code, which requires a certain amount of fresh air per unit of gas combustion. In other words, if the heater is on, a window's gotta be at least cracked somewhere nearby.
But that standard's made for airtight buildings, and this non-insulated office is anything but. Jimenez says BuildingWise has simply abandoned the room directly over the carport because the heat loss is so intense: "You could literally feel the cold in your shoes."
What we're left with, he says, is a "war" between thermal comfort and indoor air quality, at least when it's cold out. The LEED certifiers at the U.S. Green Building Council want evidence the building's occupants are getting fresh air without contamination. But Jimenez says he's determined to make it work: This is his first, smallest and most challenging certification.
Good news came a few weeks later, when an HVAC technician assessed the building. It turns out two of the flues are above the windows, so the 15-foot rule doesn't apply. That left only two heaters to deal with, both on the BuildingWise side. Just this morning a technician (pictured above) pulled one of them out. Zeve took care of the other by having the window sealed.
A final issue—a bathroom vent too close to the kitchen skylight—was easy enough to fix by re-routing the duct in a different direction.
Jimenez is finishing up a 7-page explanation of the fixes, which he'll send to the USGBC this week. Now all that's left is to wait for the final LEED review. It's almost as nerve-wracking as the election today.