Matt and Sean catch up on new home tech, Matt moving into his new net zero home, and what feels right (or wrong) about it.
Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, I Made A Mistake Building My New Net Zero Home https://youtu.be/SSN-np71d0Q?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi7FwYRnWkpCSkAeFOzrgh5h
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Well, welcome to Still TBD. I’m Sean Ferrell. I’m a writer. I write some sci fi, write some stuff for kids, including my most recently released The Sinister Secrets of Singe, available in bookstores now. And with me is that Matt from Undecided with Matt Ferrell. He is also that brother. Who is my younger one.
You can tell
I’m a writer by how eloquently that sentence came off my
lips. I was going to say younger, but I still feel like an old man right now.
Moving will do that to you. Moving does everything it can to make you regret every decision you’ve ever made that led to the move itself. So let’s jump into it.
Matt, you are currently sitting in your new home studio and you mentioned in our previous conversation This is not the final iteration of what the studio is going to look like. You are still developing things But one thing I will note it is highly unlikely that you and I will be interrupted any longer by noises from the kitchen from the cat calling for food from your wife clanging pots and pans as she’s preparing to feed said feline because you are at a remote location from the rest of the house and I can tell very nicely soundproofed behind you.
You want to talk a little bit about the studio
itself? Sure. Yeah, my studio is off the back of our garage and we designed the house this way specifically because I wanted to make my studio as disconnected from the main house as I could. So my studio is along the back of the garage, which leads into my little tiny little home office.
And then there’s like, there’s a literal exterior style door, you know, the gasketing, everything thick, chunky, like meaty door. It’s like, it’s like an airlock. So there’s like this hallway that has our washer and dryer in it that has a door on its own. So if I close all the doors, there’s three doors between me.
And the main house, and then even then you’re walking down a hallway to get into the main house. So there’s like these anti chambers and like when I close my main door to my office, it sounds like an airlock closing because it’s cool as I close it shut, it makes this kind of suction sound. It’s kind of amazing.
Um, but the studio itself, you can’t see, it looks decent on camera right now, but if you look around the room, it is just. You like it? I think it looks great.
I just didn’t… Yeah, I mentioned before, compared to me, I’m in my son’s bedroom, so, like, who am I to criticize? You call that a studio?
Everything is temporary.
I’ve got, like, light stands everywhere, I’ve got boxes everywhere. It’s complete chaos outside of the frame of the screen, so it looks nice and neat here, but it is a mess everywhere else. I still have a lot of setting up to do. But it’s
coming together. So if the 45 degrees. If the camera swings 45 degrees one direction, it’s just a trash can fire, raccoons in the background.
You know, the, the, the gif of the guy sitting at the desk and the flames, and it’s like, everything is fine. It’s that’s how I feel right now. I’m sitting at the desk, everything’s on fire, but everything looks fine right now. Everything’s good.
So some quick comments that were on one of your most recent episodes in which you talked about the home.
And some of the things you realize that you may have made mis-calls on. There were comments like this from GamerPlayerWT who said, I think an additional problem is that many contractors aren’t familiar with the new technology, so they wouldn’t know better how to do these things. Was there any experience you had where you were like, I think the newness of this is playing a part in how this is coming together?
And I say that without asking you to call out contractors specifically.
No, no, I’m not going to throw anybody under the bus here. Let me make this very clear. My team that built this house is amazing. I have, you know, it hasn’t been perfect. There’s been hiccups, but they’re great. My general contractor is great.
She’s fantastic. Her company’s great. The people that work for her, the sub contractors are, they’ve been fantastic. The electrician’s awesome. Like. Everybody’s amazing. I have overcomplicated this house. It’s, I, I’m throwing myself under the bus with all the problems we’ve run into. It’s mainly me and you’re a hundred percent correct.
The electrician actually said to me at one point, he said, you know more about this than I do at one point. Um, because the stuff I was having him put in. Like he’s never done span electric panels before. This is the first time he’s ever done that. Um, he’s running into problems with, uh, the span EV charger because it seems like it might be broken.
So they’re sending us a new one. And it’s like, there’s all these problems, like with all the tech that I’ve been putting in this house that they’re not familiar with. I had an extensive home network put in with security cameras and things from Ubiquiti. And, uh, they had never, you know, they’ve done this stuff like this before.
It’s not an electrician running. Ethernet lines is not new, but the actual hardware was new to him and he was kind of impressed with it. But it was the first time he had done that. So it’s like kind of blazing a trail with these guys. Um, the plumber, I’m having him put in a whole home water, smart water meter.
That’s an emergency shutoff. So it detects how much water you’re using. It can detect leaks anywhere in the house. And if it detects a leak, it will automatically shut off the valve. So it’s like, he’s never installed that specific model of what I’ve got, but he gets the concept. So it’s like, he’s going to have no problem putting it in.
But it’s like. I’m doing things in this house that are kind of like, I don’t want to see people rolling their eyes at me. They’re like, they, they know why I’m doing all this. They know who I am. They know the whole backstory of why I’m doing all this stuff. And they’re, they’ve been very gracious about it.
But I have made a lot of problems for myself by, I’m an early adopter. So a lot of the stuff I’ve got is very early adopter kind of stuff. And uh, it’s, it’s taken, it’s taken me explaining to them, here’s what this thing is, here’s how it works, here’s how it’s supposed to be hooked up. And I’m telling them and they’re like, Oh, okay.
And then they’ll go do it. So it’s, it’s, it’s created, it’s created some problems. Yes. For sure.
Early adopter is an interesting phrase here. How long do you think it’ll be before some of this stuff is more commonly known in building new homes? Is this, are we looking at some tech that might not ever be commonplace because it just is maybe overkill?
It’s a sledgehammer for a mosquito? Or do you think we’re looking at a 5 or 10 year window where, yeah, builders are going to be incorporating a lot of these things a lot more common in the same way that I, as I’m talking about, I’m thinking about like HC Sys, AC systems built into new homes where it’s centralized air conditioning.
At one point it would have been like, what do you mean centralized air conditioning? Now that’s commonplace. So things like that. Are we looking at a five, 10, 15 year window for certain things like you mentioned the device, which is going to detect leaks anywhere in the home. That’s an important piece of tech.
It could save somebody’s home from severe damage. And. The idea of a drip, drip, drip somewhere on the second floor and nobody knows it’s going on until suddenly the ceiling falls out in your kitchen, that kind of stuff does happen. So, do you see this as, like, you’re an early adopter, but you know it’s going to get traction?
Or do you think you’re an early adopter and you may be one of the only person, person, people in Massachusetts who has this in their home?
I think it’s both. I think there’s definitely some things that I’ve done. That may stay very niche forever. And then there are things that I’m doing that feel like it’s on the cusp of becoming mainstream in a decade.
Uh, like I brought up the smart electric panels. Smart electric panels are really new. Uh, Span was one of the first ones, but now in the market available today, there’s three or. Three of five that I’ve come across that are really good options for smart electric panels. That’s going to become the norm in the next five to 10 years.
100%. I have no doubt about that because the costs will continue to come down. It’ll become more accessible and it allows homes that are getting upgraded. So if you have 100 amp service to your house, you don’t have to upgrade to 200 amp service. You can just upgrade your electric panel to a smart panel and it can.
Adapt what’s happening inside your house to not exceed its amp limit. So there are reasons why this technology will take hold. Uh, but then the other things, like you just mentioned, the, the smart water meter, if you’re not asking for it, you’re not going to get it. And if you don’t know about it, you know what I mean?
It’s like, it’s just that kind of stuff feels like it’s always going to, it’s going to be for the person like me. Who’s like. You know, always in the know of like, what, what new tech is out there for this? Oh, that’s cool. The water meter that can turn itself off. Yeah, I want that. It’s like, I’m doing the research and finding that stuff out.
If you’re not like me, you’re never gonna know about this stuff. And most plumbers may not really know about this stuff and it’s not their fault. It’s just the way, you know, nobody’s asking for it. You’re not learning how to do it. And if you’re not a proactive plumber, that’s teaching yourself about this stuff to sell your clients on it.
It’s just going to keep doing what we’re doing. It’s going to stay the course for a very long time.
So it’s a question of the current state of tech. How much is tech too far? And how much is tech not enough? You talked a bit about the tech too far. Are you finding any places where you wish you had gone a little more tech savvy in a choice?
Or in other words, are you looking at like, oh, maybe the water, smart water System is a little overkill, but I wish I’d gone a different direction for a higher end thing here.
Yes, um, I’m laughing cos there’s a lot of stuff in my house that’s still getting finished and is not right. Um, we’ve run into problems on a lot of stuff. And one of the things we’ve been running into problems with is the HVAC system, the ERV, and the geothermal desuperheater is, it’s taking the excess heat that’s generated by the HVAC system, and it basically heats hot water and stores that hot water in a desuperheater tank.
And then a desuperheater tank Feeds into a regular water heater, that heats it up the rest of the way and gives you hot water. And so basically if you want, for easy math, a desuperheater system can supply you roughly half of your hot water needs just by itself. And then if you have, I have a heat pump hot water heater and that’s, you know, heat pumps 300 percent more efficient than a typical electric resistive water heater.
So it itself is incredibly efficient and saving you a lot of money and energy. So it’s like when you have this thing that’s supplying you half your hot water and then this super efficient It’s going to cost you a
third as much money to heat your hot water and then cut that by half. Yeah.
Yeah. The estimates for how much I’ll have to pay for hot water over the course of a year is like, I think it’s less than a hundred bucks.
It’s like, it’s a, it’s insane. It’s like, it’s virtually free. So you’d be crazy not to have the
hot water tap on right now.
Just leave it running all the time. Just leave it running all the time. So it sounds great, sounds great, but, uh, in the building of the house, there was miscommunications that had happened and the mechanical room is not very big and they put a second span smart panel because we didn’t have enough circuits into the mechanical room and there’s code restrictions for how much space has to be around an electric panel that required We have no room for the desuperheater tank now.
It’s like, but I bought it and it’s sitting in my garage. Uh, uh, that was the whole point. I wanted to get the de superheater tank thing and for my, you know, to save all this money on this hot wat what? I can’t put it in here? So there’s been a whole bunch of stuff like that that’s been happening. Um, and trying to troubleshoot stuff.
And if I had. Gone back in time, there’s different technologies I probably would have looked at for my mechanical room given the space constraints. And one of the companies I had actually reached out to is called Sunamp, and they make this Uh, hot water heater. It’s called the Thermino and it uses phase change materials.
I did a video on phase change materials a while back and talked about Sunamp. Um, if I had done this from day one, I might’ve considered doing a Sunamp Thermino water heater. Cause it’s like, it’s like a gigantic, like. suitcase. It’s like 14 inches wide, big rectangle, and it could have been square away in the corner, plenty of extra room around it so that you could put a nice big de superheater tank in there next to it and done something like that.
Um, we were considering that as part of the solution, but suddenly the costs of doing that would have been outrageous to retool everything for that. And the amount of the cost wouldn’t make sense for the energy gains. Uh, of doing that. So we’re trying to find other solutions. So there are things I wish I had done differently if I could go back in time with a little more cutting edge tech that is really kind of cool.
I love the phase change visual stuff. It’s, it’s really, it’s really neat. Um, very cool. I would’ve, I would’ve gone that route if I had, I mean, part of the reason I never considered it was Sunamp was not available in the U S until just basically now. So it’s like, I couldn’t have. I didn’t consider it because it wasn’t easily available to me, but now it is becoming available.
So timing was also an issue, but yeah, there’s definitely things that would have changed. So
overall, this sounds like, this sounds like a typical building experience to me. It doesn’t seem like there’s any way to avoid, like I’ve done this thing and it’s audacious because it’s from scratch and I’m going to make all these choices and.
Inevitably, there’s going to be hiccups. That’s part of life. So any kind of, yeah, I was going to say like, jump off from that. What kind of guidance would you have for somebody who’s considering this kind of thing? Like, is it really just remember to breathe? Remember to take things in stride. Well,
it’s because there’s no perfect planning, is there?
No. Somebody left a comment on my last video saying, if you had done a little more careful planning, you could have avoided all this. And my response to that is, no. No, no, no. The best laid plans. You know, I mean, it’s like it’s, you could have every little I dotted and T crossed at the beginning, and guess what?
Half those plans are going to get erased halfway through because guess what? Things happen that nobody expected and it’s like, well, crap. So now we have to call an audible because that plan no longer works because this thing that nobody expected just happened. Now what do we do? Like you want to get geothermal and they start drilling and they’re like, we just hit a ledge and like, whatever it is, it’s like, we can’t drill the hole the way we thought.
So what do we do now? So it’s like, you have to roll with the punches. So it is literally a take a deep collective breath. You’re going to have to make some compromised decisions. And in my case, I made some compromised decisions with my wife that have kind of bit us in the butt again and again and again.
The whole span panel where the electric panels are located, it created a whole host of problems that just kind of spilled out from there. And they’re still biting us right now. And then there’s things that will hit you like just this past week, our solar was getting installed. Guys are all over the roof, putting solar panels everywhere and they get up there and they start, they’re going, Hey Matt, do you know that you have a screw sticking through your roof?
Over here and just just a random screw just coming up from the underside through the brand new metal roof And I was like what they’re like, look We have no idea why this is here and they took some pictures of what it was Happening underneath the roof and like there was somebody had made this thing that was holding this foam thing in place to hold back insulation and they just stupidly went through the roof instead of going into the joists They just went up instead of over and it was like, who, who, nobody, whoever did that was not thinking straight.
Like, that’s the roof. Maybe I shouldn’t put it through this way. So what ended up happening is now my solar has been delayed. They have all the solar installed everywhere else except for this one section of roof that they’re waiting for the roofer to come out, replace that section of roof so that they can come back and then finish it.
So it’s like, it’s. Stuff happens and you gotta, you gotta roll with it. Yeah. Um, so yeah, it’s, it’s been a rollercoaster ride of, uh, emotions, stress, exhaustion. And looking at it now, I would never build another home. I don’t know. Never do it again. I mean, I’m glad I did it. I’m glad I did it, but I would never do it again.
it goes back to the commenter who said, if you just plan better. Yeah. My recommendation to everybody who’s thinking about building a home, we just had the 75th anniversary of Mr. Blanding’s Builds His Dream House, a Cary Grant film. One of my favorites. It is a favorite of everybody in our family and is a very often.
Uh, frequent rewatch, uh, unfortunately it’s not available for free streaming, so if you haven’t seen it and you want to check it out, you can rent it. It is available on most streaming services that rent movies like Apple and Google and, and, uh, YouTube and stuff like that. So you can find it out there, but it is about the best laid plans.
It is about the folly of the pursuit of perfection. And it is also very, very funny. So I strongly recommend that. And I know Matt recommends it as well. Finally, there’s this comment from Jack Odds, who gives a bit of advice that I’m suggesting, Matt, you, you take this to heart, even though you’re. Home has been tested for, you just recently said like you got so excited because your home was air pressure tested and you’ve beaten the goal that you had as far as the efficiency in the home.
But Jack Odds points out a particular thing to keep in mind. Jack writes, I suggest from my own experience of having a house built to allow a lot of ventilation even in winter, for the first 12 months despite energy loss. The building materials, sealers, paints, varnishes. Out. gas. An unhealthy amount. And I did not do that. And my wife got very sick over the first few months.
She works at home, so she was home 24 7. Sort of a chronic fatigue syndrome that disappeared in spring when the windows were opened. For both you and your wife, both of whom work from home, I just wanted to make sure I shared that comment with you because I would hate to think you guys move in and all of you and the cat all just spend your time lying on the living room floor going Why am I so
This is, this is something that’s actually very much on my mind. We chose a lot of like no VOC paints, things like that, trying to eliminate as much of that as possible, but it’s unavoidable. So it’s like, yes. Uh, and we have an ERV system that’s constantly circulating the air in the house with fresh air from the outside and injecting the stale air.
And we have a whole home dehumidifier that’s going to help keep things very consistent throughout the next year and forever. So we are. I also have air air quality monitors all over the house already that check for VOCs, particulate matter, all that kind of stuff. I’m, I’m very tuned into this because I have very bad allergies, as Sean knows, and Sean shares some of those bad allergies.
Yes, I do. Yes.
And I’ve got the swollen triceps from allergy shots to prove it. Thank you for the comment. I think it’s very good guidance for anybody who’s building a new home, Jack. Thank you for jumping into the comments with that. And I just want to invite all of our listeners, jump into the comments, share your thoughts about this discussion or go back to older videos.
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