Affordability & Deep Energy Upgrade/Passive House Retrofit in Berkeley, California.

We have a small 1940s single level house (1005sqf) in Berkeley, California that is in need of a deep energy upgrade. Our plans include making the envelope air-tight, increase insulation, make use of solar orientation by changing the interior layout and exterior glazing. The kitchen and bathroom also need to be upgraded, along with the electric wiring and plumbing. Yet, the foundation is good and so is the roof. We like the location, which allows us to walk everywhere and enjoy the mixed use neighborhood. The best part is our garden and open space that we love.

Now the question: How might we do this affordably? We have a limited budget and it is even made smaller due to the very high construction and remodeling cost in the Bay Area. We are ready to put in our own sweat labor but how do we find people who would like to work with us? Any other hints, tips, suggestions etc that would also be helpful to others in similar circumstances.

Many thanks,

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Thanks Alice. We have an architect friend who is helping us design and plan our remodel. I was curious how the city's permitting department looks at non conventional practices, which may still be to code, of course. For example, Air Admittance Valve in lieu of pipe vents, recirculation kitchen exhausts, extensive amount of insulation that far exceeds the code requirements and installation of HRVs etc. Thank you.

If it meets the code, you are fine.  All they do is follow the code.  For my project, there was nothing in the code that said I couldn't build a second wall over the first, as long as I had support for the new windows, and that the new wall would be structurally attached to the original wall, and that the drainage plane and flashing for the doors and windows was good, that's all they cared about.

People get into trouble when they don't follow the code, or don't obtain permits.  The permit is there to protect you from bad construction practices, and provide a reasonable guarantee of safety, based on the code, and the progress inspections.

Air admittance valve is not to code nor a good idea in any home.

recirculating kitchen vents do not vent nor meet ASRAE 62.2 2010 which is current code in California

The question was whether city of Berkeley allows AAVs and recirculating kitchen vents in conjunction with HRVs? This is a matter of fact question not one of opinion or preference. Thank you.

This comment is confusing. I am posing a simple question, but the response is question begging. I don't know how to satisfy the "if it doesn't meet the code" antecedent to the consequent "it is not allowed". It has already been discussed (and I take it agreed upon) that Berkeley's code is not the same thing as the state code. And its application is also a different matter. 

I am trying to understand the relationship between the state energy code and Berkeley's code. Sometimes, I am told like (Alice, above) meeting the state code satisfies Berkeley's code. And then there are other commentators (George, below) that say the city may have a different or stricter codes. So this of course means that satisfying the state's code is NOT sufficient for satisfying Berkeley's code. So therefore, I didn't think it to be useful to know what/how the state views AAVs but rather how Berkeley views them.

Again this is a matter of fact question, not a matter of taste. Nor does the question need to be so mysterious. I would have hoped an officer working for the city's planning department would be able to answer a simple matter of fact question. 

Here's an interesting info from a non energy professional: In 1999, the city issued a letter to a manufacturer of AAVs, stating that the city approves the use of AAVs with some qualification. Does anyone know of any other development with the use of AAV in residential projects in Berkeley?

Thank you.

AAV's are NOT recognized in the state plumbing code, although they are in the IRC (international residential code, not sure about the UPC, universal plumbing code). Not sure if any city's in CA allow them outright. I know of a PH project in Palo Alto that went through the process of getting approval to use them (in their project only). It's often a lengthy and costly process. I've approached the city of Oakland, and was told no way.

It would be nice if code was code, but it's subject to interpretation & miss (lack of or improper) enforcement.

Thanks George for this comment. Do you a reference in CA's plumbing code where AAvs are recognized? Thank you; would love to read up on it.

Sorry, I meant to say NOT recognized.

What the city of Berkeley will accept is beyond my knowledge. I do not work there. No City here in my area would I ever even approach with an AAV. I would have little or no confidence of it making its way through plan check which would cost my customers time and aggravation for re drawing and resubmission. I have heard codes are stricter in your area than down here in San Diego

Keep in mind that code in California is a vague term.  Municipalities have the right to enforce codes as they see fit. Likewise with individual field inspectors have the power to enforce codes as the interpret them .  Just because it went through plan check which I doubt any AAV would does not mean the field inspector will approve it. Arguments with inspectors are rarely won.

Exceptions to the AAV for CA to my knowledge

Waterless urinals. These fixtures do not need to vent do to the low flow. That does not mean the local building department will necessarily agree.

Kitchen Islands. Again this does not mean the local building department will necessarily agree. Traditionally we use a Boston Loop where that term came from I do not know but is the only way I have ever vented a kitchen island.

 The way it works is the following it runs two 2 inch lines to the island underground. One line has fall down toward drain or going down at a minimum of ¼ inch per foot or basically the outside line of the bubble in your level. The vent line shoots up at the same rate of ¼ per foot and attaches to the vent. The two lines are connected in a loop.

Why AAV are not well thought of.

It requires mechanical equipment (AAV) to perform a task that has generally been performed in a passive fixed (traditional vent line) well established method. It is not an improvement over the current venting system in any way shape or form. If it malfunctions waste water or sewer gas or both leak into conditioned space, often behind a wall or under a cabinet. 

As as far as an HRV in lieu of a vented to outside kitchen exhaust the code is clear the answer is no. The vent must be above the cook top and vented to outside.

Normally HRV are kept away from kitchen pollutants as they  are not designed for the high humidity, grease and other particles we find in kitchens. 

Your Architect if they have experience with Berkeley should have a good handle of all of this and much more and is a far better person to ask. If they do not hiring someone  that has knowledge of the local building department during your design phase will be money well spent.

Good luck.

CA modifies the National / International codes, and does not allow some things, but does others.

Each City / County has to adapt the CA code, but not always everything. City / Counties can adopt stricter standards.

Code often lags behind what we know to be right, and is a political process too.

How each City / County applies the code varies, and it varies with each inspector. Understanding of building science is poor.

Enforcement of the code is very poor, especially when we get to the energy code.

Code is always your legal responsibility, and the "worst" you can do.

It's interesting to me that ASHRAE 62.2 requires a kitchen exhaust vented directly to the interior at either 100 CFM intermittent or 5 ACH continuous, both of which are higher than the typical "hybrid" Passive House approach where a recirculating hood is used to strip smoke and grease from the cooking air and then an HRV/ERV pulls air to the outside from an exhaust register some distance away. ASHRAE 62.1, however, which applies to buildings four stories and higher, requires no kitchen exhaust - that fourth story appears to be magical! ;-)

Thank you Glen for identifying your posting to be not relevant for the question that I posed. I asked whether Berkeley allows AAVs, to which you answered you don't know. I appreciate your honesty. And also thank you for your opinion on AAVs, which although interesting but again it also does not apply to my matter of fact question. You have your opinion and others have theirs. And I have mine: AAVs are a great alternative to traditional venting which increases air leaks. 


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