Tag Archives: cost

1st floor priming

Our freshly restored hardwood floors are all carefully covered up, because its time to start painting.

There are two components to this task: the straightforward and the not so straightforward parts.

Getting the paint on the wall is what I would call the straightforward part. Actually, we won’t start with paint. We’ll start by priming all the drywall.

The not so straightforward part has to do with the product choice. We are set on zero VOC primer and paint products. This is non-negotiable, as it has an direct impact on the indoor air quality (IAQ).

Back when we painted the garden unit, I sourced the primer and paint from the Chicago Green Depot, which has gone out of business since. With that, I lost a convenient and affordable source for zero VOC paint products.

“No problem, there must be other products and suppliers.” Yep! But few of them are conveniently accessible (i.e. brick and mortar business), and even fewer have zero VOC products at a reasonable price point.

I mean, if you look around and online, you can find coolest products under the sun out there. But we are not about to spend $60, $50 or even $40 per gallon for paint or primer. Our threshold is at $30/gallon, or preferably less.

That really begins to narrow it down!

For the primer we settled on Bulls Eye Zero Primer-Sealer by Zinsser. Even though it is water based, it has a really thick consistency – almost too thick. We diluted it to the maximum recommended ratio, and it still was thick, but we were able to get a few additional square feet of coverage out of it.

Thank you to our dear friends Scott and Carlos who master roller and brushes like few others do!

Floor coating – cost fuzz

Sanding our old hardwood floors was the easy part. Particularly for me, as my job was just to watch and learn, to get stuff out the way and to manage the power cords.

Getting things set up for the floor coating was a lot more complicated. Mainly because it involved a lot of research.

Most common floor finished are polyurethane based and have a very high VOC (volatile organic compound) content. Something that was not acceptable to us, as we are very conscious about managing indoor air quality (IAQ). And like with paint, we were looking for a VOC free option.

Well, the first thing I learned is that there currently is no such thing as a zero-VOC floor coating. But there are water based products that have very low VOC levels.

The current LEED system, which can be used as a guideline, permits a VOC content up to 275 g/l (grams per liter) for floor sealers. Some water based products are at the 275 g/l threshold, others have a lower VOC content. A look at the specifications usually tells how the product performs on the VOC spectrum.

The next lesson was about the product costs. Your typical polyurethane/high VOC products run around $40 per gallon. The water based options ranged from $40 to $120 per gallon.

Needless to say that I immediately focused on products at the lower price range. That didn’t last long, for two reasons. First, the products reviews that I found were non-conclusive. Second, our flooring contractor, Frank, flat out refused to use any water based product that was not two component based, i.e. did not come with a catalyst.

All right – this will need some more dissecting:

Frank likes quality work and has a good business sense. He knows that using a economic product that has a limited performance span will eventually nip him in the butt. That explained his refusal.

What I learned is that the more economical water based products do not come with a catalyst (also referred to as hardener) and apparently wear off pretty rapidly. Only the higher priced options come with a catalyst, which is mixed into the sealer just prior to the application. These have the reputation to last a few years longer.

Still, the purchasing decision was anything but straightforward. Using the most economic two component water based product with the lowest VOC content would be the logical choice. Except that we ran into supply problems.

Water based floor coatings are not that commonly used, because of their price point. Retailers are hesitant to keep them stocked, because they have to purchase the product by the palette and then sit on it for several months, if not over a year, before it is all sold.

We had to investigate all the products that were locally available, and see which one was stocked at the quantity we needed. We finally settled on Arboritec Avenue, but had to source it across three different retailers to get the quantity we needed.

Here is a quick summary of the few products we investigated:

Arboritec Avenue
VOC content: max. 200 g/l
Coverage: 350 – 400 sf/gallon
Drying time: 1/2 – 1 hour

Bona Traffic
VOC content: max. 210 g/l
Coverage: 350 – 400 sf/gallon
Drying time: 2 – 3 hours

Bona Traffic HD
VOC content: 125 g/l
Coverage: 350 – 400 sf/gallon
Drying time: 2 – 3 hours

VOC content: max 250 g/l
Coverage: 550 – 700 sf/gallon
Drying time: 2 – 3 hours

An expensive gap – or not?

Great! We had invested quite some time in cleaning up and restoring the 100-year-old oak trim around the doors, windows and window sills only to discover that we were quite a bit short of trim around the windows.

We actually realized that a while back, but it became acute at this stage.

What do we mean by being short of window trim?

The original trim fit the depth of the original walls, which had no insulation. To reduce our energy needs, we will add insulation to the walls. To be precise, 6 1/2 inches of insulation. That means that the wall moved by 6 1/2 inches into the building (plus the drywall depth).


This is a gap we have to plug. With the nicely restored original trim, we have little choice but to turn to oak again.

I almost had a heart attack when I looked at the prices for oak board in the lumber yards and home improvement stores. This was about to become a very expensive restoration project indeed!

To introduce what happened next I would need a sound track that announces the arrival of super hero figure: The RX man (or woman for that matter).

On one of our frequent trips to the ReBuilding Exchange (RX) we began to poke around in the trim section and found a bunch of old oak trim of various dimensions that could help us plugging that gap.

We will have to see if we can fit the trim and remove the paint and stains from the pieces that need extra care.  But they will have a similar character with similar imperfections to the original oak around the windows.

Clean trim-onomics

While we are talking about salvaged materials and their reuse, let me mention the trim we bought at The Rebuilding Exchange. Although it was very economic, it required some time-consuming prep work.

As one would expect, used trim is typically stained, lacquered or painted. To remove the paint, Cathy took out the Silent Paint Remover and suspended it from a couple of saw horses.


This ‘industrial setup’ allowed her to crank out spanking clean trim at an intimidating speed.

Although the Silent Paint Remover works great on paint (as the name suggests), we found that lacquer and stain is better removed with the Soy Gel product. A couple of coats and a little scrubbing typically do the job.

What we appreciate about the salvaged and cleaned up trim is that it has character. Unlike new material, it has history and tells a story.

Picking an ERV

With the ducts in place and sealed it’s time to think about the energy recovery ventilator (ERV). Actually the thinking, i.e. the product selection, already happened a few weeks back.

How does an ERV work?

The ERV is basically an air to air heat exchanger. The idea is to achieve effective air exchange in a building while minimizing the heat energy losses.


Image source: Little Deschutes Lodge

The heat exchanger in the ERV transfers heat energy from the exhaust air to the incoming, fresh supply air. In other words, fresh, cold winter air will be preheated by the exhaust air, while hot, incoming summer air will be cooled down.

While the ERV is yet another gadget drawing electricity, it actually contributes to substantial energy savings through its ability to reduce heat loss, not to mention the auxiliary benefits of maintaining good indoor air quality (IAQ) and moisture management.

To maximize the energy savings benefits, it is important to us to find a highly efficient unit, efficient in heat recovery and efficient in its operation.

The Motor

An ERV, or for that matter a heat recovery ventilation (HRV) requires a blower motor that can run at variable speeds to meet the specific ventilation requirements.

The typical motor option is the PSC (permanent-split capacitor), which provides the variable speed option and runs on alternating current (AC).

A significantly more efficient option is the ECM (electronically commutated motor). It also runs at variable speeds but is powered by direct current (DC).

With the knowledge of these two motor options at hand, I limited the product search to ERV’s with ECM motors only.

The product options

I came across an ERV called the ComfoAir HRV/ERV System by Zehnder America.

This rather expensive unit has all the bells and whistles I could wish for.

It runs very efficiently, has a very high heat recovery rate and comes with a summer by-pass cooling option. The cooling option basically turns the heat exchanger off once its senses that the outside air is cooler than the inside air. It also comes with the option of geothermal preconditioning, also known as earth tubes.

My problem is that this unit has been developed in Europe and not yet re-engineered for the North American market. As much as I liked the bells and whistles, I was not in the mood to accommodate the 220 volt requirement and deal with the metric connections.

There is a North American alternative I stumbled upon. It is the UltimateAir RecoupAerator. At the writing of this post, it appears to be the most efficient HRV readily available on the market, particularly at the lower airflow rates.

  • 50 watt draw to deliver 65 cubic feet per minute (cfm)
  • 75 watt draw to deliver 100 cfm
  • 250 watt draw to deliver 200 cfm
See also: Product performance data

GreenBuildingAdvisor.com lists anther metric that rates the UltimateAir efficiency at 2.04 cfm/watt.

The heat recovery rate is listed at around 80% or 95% for sensible recovery efficiency and apparent sensible effectiveness, respectively.

The UltimateAir also comes with bells and whistles, including a number of controls and an EconoCool option that senses cool summer night air and delivers it into the building.

One of the optional features that caught my eye is a Water-to-Air Coil Module or heat exchanger. We could upgrade our ERV system with this module if our indoor air becomes too hot and muggy, despite our airtight and well insulated building envelope.

I might come back to the Water-to-Air heat exchanger sometime down the road.


The price point of the UltimateAir fits our budget. It meets our energy requirements, in terms of heat recovery and electrical usage.

What I particularly like is the flexibility – the option to provide additional cooling and dehumidification if required with the Water-to-Air heat exchanger module.

Well, all what’s left is to place the order, wait for the delivery install the ERV.