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“Please hold the clean water, I’ll have the Italian marble.”

One of the (many) unavoidable truths of construction and home improvement is that the budget is always finite, and the desires will outweigh what is possible within that budget. In the residential world, the client’s dreams have typically gone on for a very long time. The project is the culmination of years of making good decisions, saving when others spent, binders of clippings and favorites online, and a budget developed by watching what a reality show host can do with $1,000, a sledgehammer, a glue gun, 48 hours, and a tearful reveal. But then someone suggests the unthinkable…compromise. I’d like to make a few suggestions of where you should start and where you shouldn’t.

Here are the headlines first, then check back for a full post on each:

Building Envelope and Insulation Methodology

Picture showing zip wall on a house under construction. Home Improvement

A good building envelope and insulation methodology will make your home more comfortable and:

  1. save utility costs

  2. improve your indoor air quality

  3. help prevent pests without chemicals

  4. decrease the overall size and cost of the HVAC equipment

  5. improves sustainability

  6. dampen external sound

An envelope and insulation strategy is the most important money you will spend on your home for long term energy efficiency, comfort, and indoor air quality. There are several ways to accomplish this in new construction and in existing homes.

HVAC Design and Verification

HVAC design and verification will ensure that your home is comfortable but not in the way you might assume. Equipment has to be “right sized” for your home to accomplish both sides of comfort: humidity control (latent load) and temperature (sensible load). The proper, and per code, way to size the equipment it is with a Manual J. In the commercial world, verification is called commissioning. Put simply, commissioning confirms that your HVAC equipment was installed as specified, and it actually performs as planned. If typically installed (like 7 out of 10 times) …your 18-SEER equipment may very well perform as a 12-SEER because it was not properly installed.

Put the V Back in HVAC

V stands for ventilation. When you install a tight building envelope, it is important to introduce “fresh” air to the home to prevent the buildup of different indoor air pollutants that can occur like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and humidity. So why build a tight building envelope and then introduce outdoor air? Because air will find its way in [not my fault…2nd law of thermodynamics], and that air will contain outdoor air pollutants, will be hot and humid in the summer and cold and dry in the winter. To the point, in the Southeastern US add dehumidifying ventilation to your home that will filter the air for particulates, temper the temperature, and most importantly, dehumidify. This is my favorite unit right now that is a great stand-alone option, can be retrofitted into an existing system, or can be designed into a new system.

Water Filtration

Tap water pouring into a glass. Home Improvement

Similar lists often leave off water filtration. The benefits are multifaceted and include health implications for your body and your home. Check out the health implications for your body first at this link from EWG (Environmental Working Group) a reasonably unbiased source for health implications. Type in your area code and find out what is in your water that should be filtered out. Then add a whole house filtration system that targets those concerns. This will result in bottled-water-quality at your tap.

You don’t buy that? Check out this 2018 report that speaks to the fact that most bottled water is municipal. The byproduct of introducing whole house filtration to your home is the health of your plumbing fixtures and appliances. By removing (some) minerals from your water, you will not experience scaling. Scaling occurs when minerals build-up causes water to become constricted. Like when your shower head starts spraying water at odd angles or stops spraying from several of the small holes? The same thing occurs in your ice maker, dishwasher, and your refrigerators drinking water supply. This is also the primary fail point for tankless water heaters. All of this is dramatically reduced or eliminated with whole house filtration.


Automation has earned a spot on the list. It is just too easy to install during a new-build or renovation and will be a regrettable missed opportunity later. What is automation? There are 3 categories to consider. I’ll refer to the first as Convenience, the second as Audio Visual (AV), and the third as Monitoring and Health.

Convenience covers lighting, doorbells, entry hardware, garage door openers, thermostats, appliances, etc. These allow remote and local control from conventional switching, a control panel, or app.

AV is television TV, speakers, Wi-Fi, cloud-based audio controls (Alexa, etc.).

Monitoring and Health are security systems, cameras, motion, indoor air quality monitors, flood monitors, etc. All of these systems can collectively connect to your smart phone to create convenience in the modern home. An example; with a swipe, your home knows you are on vacation. Until you swipe again, HVAC will be set to “away” minimums and maximums, lights will turn on and off to make it appear that you are home, motion detection at your door knob will turn on the foyer light, notification will appear when cameras detect motion.

Why now versus later? Because you need to decide on a hub that everything “speaks” to, buy devices that speak that common language, and prewire your structure, so your life isn’t further complicated by constantly charging devices. Planning up front can make everything flow beautifully at the end.

In the coming few weeks, we’ll add an in-depth article for each of the suggestions above. If you’d rather not wait, contact me to talk shop.

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