RICHMOND, VA. — Foster Plumbing and Heating Inc. has been in business in Richmond since 1989, but the Foster family has been in the trade since 1946, with Jeff Foster just the latest to pick up his father and grandfather’s line of work.
But it was Jeff Foster’s enthusiasm for some of the newer energy- and water-saving technologies that got the company involved in the Augusta House project, a 2,100-sq.ft., three bedroom rehab/remodel that was recently certified as Richmond’s first LEED Platinum residential building.
“We were referred by Kohler,” Foster explained. “I’d been asking their rep a lot about their green products, low-flow toilets, showerheads, all that sort of stuff over the years. I think when the opportunity came up he knew it was a passion of ours and referred us in.”
The developers began the project with an expansion that more than doubled the existing square footage of the home.
“All the old plumbing had to go,” Foster said. “Some of it had been previously gutted back during a period when the house had been abandoned for a few years.”
Later in the project, some of the biggest challenges for Foster and his techs came from moving from the old side of the building to the new.
“The new side was a lot easier to work in. The old side, not so much. We had to ask them to replace the floor in the [older] bathroom because we were afraid it would not support the weight of the tub.”
Foster Plumbing installed a Navien CR-180 tankless water heater working in conjunction with a geothermal heat pump. The four-zone, fully programmable geothermal system provides both heating and cooling with extremely high efficiencies. The condensing tankless heater delivers 98% thermal efficiency.
“You select the temperature rise,” Foster explained. “If you start it off with a 35°F rise, you’ll probably get 7-GPM at the 55°F we need here.”
When the geothermal system is operating it brings in 130°F water that travels to a storage tank, and from there to the tankless unit before being distributed.
“A lot of times, if the geothermal system is operating, the tankless unit doesn’t even kick on because the temperature difference required isn’t there,” Foster said. "The building’s mechanical room is in a narrow, two-story chase. It was tight squeezing the pipe down to the loops required by LEED. We had a certain footage we had to keep them within, and one of them barely made it.”
The Augusta House is designed to save water as well as energy. In addition to high efficiency, dual-flush toilets and low-flow fixtures from Kohler Co., the project boasts a 1,400-gal. underground cistern to capture rainwater for both landscape irrigation and the toilets; it is the only home in the city of Richmond currently using rainwater to flush its toilets.
A separate contractor buried the cistern, installed the pump and ran a line from the house’s gutters. Then Foster Plumbing stepped in and tied the line in to the city’s water using a reduced-zone pressure backflow and a pressure-reducing valve.
“I think the city pressure was set down to 38-PSI,” Foster said, “and the tank is set at 45-PSI, so if the tank runs dry its pressure will drop below that 38-PSI and then the city water will supply the toilets.”
Foster had to use special purple-colored “reclaimed water” pipe so that future renovators will not accidentally tie the cistern water to the drinking water supply. Even though the Augusta House’s design emphasizes efficiency, it includes various luxuries and flourishes. For example, the tub in the master bathroom uses a laminar flow ceiling tub filler.
“It drops a column of water about the size of a quarter down into the tub,” Foster said. “Nothing particularly green about it… just pretty cool.”
The plumbing and heating systems, because they consume the most water and energy, are where most of the savings was to be found, but the entire house is built around efficiency and sustainability. Almost all appliances are Energy Star rated; the countertops are made with recycled glass; the flooring is cork and bamboo; even the landscaping is done with drought-tolerant native plants.
In addition to LEED Platinum the Augusta House is a certified EarthCraft House, an EPA Energy Star and an EPA WaterSense home, and was named the 2010 Richmond Home Builders Association’s Green Remodeling Award winner.
Jeff Foster sees the Augusta House as a showcase project, and admits there are few customers willing to go to the same extremes, but thinks the principles behind green plumbing make a lot of sense.
“We try to put it in dollar terms for the customers so they can see the payback, the benefit,” he explained. “I just think it’s the way things are going to go as water and energy prices rise.”
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