Gregg Zuman is an entrepreneur focused on the production of transportation systems powered effectively by only human power, when necessary, and requiring zero fossil inputs to function, called Livepower™, at his business, Revolution Rickshaws. Being at the forefront of innovative design and thinking at his company, Gregg decided to experiment with Passive House building principles when renovating his own home. A goal of the retrofit project was to recreate a homestead free of fossil inputs including “soil to soil” accounting for each material. Before Gregg and his family move into their home, which he has endearingly termed a ‘Passive-Agrarian Homestead,’ Gregg walked us through how he approached this ‘unfossiled’ home with the human-powered help of G.C. Patrick Freeman (freemanbuilds.com), Ethan Timm from Figure Ground Studio (sustainable design consultant), Matt Di Francesco from Ardor Construction (insulation installer), and Bryan Quinn with One Nature LLC (landscape design).
Step 1: Building Materials
When Gregg decided to undertake his retrofit revolution, he wanted to limit fossil inputs and outputs in every aspect of the building process. Beyond ensuring the basics of forgoing “natural” gas-fuelled appliances and systems, Gregg also sought out petroleum-free building materials on his homestead. This meant looking closely at superior solutions for insulation and sheathing. Many boards and insulations contain paraffin, which is reformulated petroleum. While GUTEX wood fiberboard insulation does contain paraffin and polyurethane, upon further research Gregg found that GUTEX MUTLITHERM fiberboard is extremely low in paraffin compared to other options on the market: Made from recycled wood chips in Germany, GUTEX contains 1% paraffin, 4% polyurethane binder, and 95% wood. And GUTEX dense-pack insulation contains no paraffin and no polyurethane. After coming to the conclusion that the install would be less involved than other wood-fiber insulation options requiring the additional step of a WRB install, Gregg chose GUTEX THERMOFIBER and MULTITHERM - saving money in skilled labor in addition to minimizing petroleum-based content. He continued this process of deliberation when selecting his other building materials as well.
Step 2: Gas-Free Energy Systems
Beyond taking into account the contents of the building envelope, Gregg also paid attention to the larger energy systems installed in the home—an obvious and important factor to take into account when creating a high-performance ‘unfossiled’ energy home. For water heating, Gregg chose the Sanden SANCO2 electric heat pump water heater—a highly-energy-efficient alternative to most modern electric or gas water heaters. It absorbs heat from the outside air to heat water—reducing energy requirements, lowering monetary outlays, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Compared to heat pump water heaters that commonly use synthetic refrigerants (a big ‘no-no’ in this home), the CO2 refrigerant uniquely used in the SANCO2 has an extremely low Global Warming Potential*, and CO2, output.
Gregg also chose to pair his new outdoor food scraps composting installation with a three-story indoor Phoenix Composting Toilet by Advanced Composting Systems, which will turn human waste into fertilizer—keeping onsite yet another valuable resource instead of flushing it away.
With their Origo alcohol oven plus burners paired with his planned wood cooking stove, the Zumans will have the option to grow and harvest their own fuel for all of their cooking needs. On the roof, the standing-seam metal installation partners elegantly with new solar panels as well as a program of rainwater collection.
Bringing it all together:
Air sealing the home was tricky when it came to finding building materials such as tapes and membranes to use in the building envelope. Gregg ultimately went with products such as MENTO 3000 for his exterior membrane, DB+, for the interior and TESCON VANA (a declare label tape) for sealing membranes and windows. DB+ is an airtight, smart vapour retarder - and for the unfossiled homeowner or contractor, DB+ is a great option, as it is paper-based with recycled content.
Reaching the finish line:
Part of what drew the Zuman family to this home was the classic upstate New York feel. Although the house is being retrofitted to feature the performance available to a modern-day homeowner, the building will maintain the charm of an 1850’s New York home. Original support beams in the house have had steel (not LVL) reinforcement sisters, while Gregg’s team is exposing strategically original knee brace tenons and mortices, studs, and joists in the living room and even a bathroom. With only a month left to go before moving back in, the Zuman family is eagerly anticipating activation of their Passive-Agrarian homestead.