Archive for August, 2015

Nichter Cellar 2The beautiful Nichter Wine Cellar, built by Semmes & Co Builders, Inc. was featured in an article published by the Tribune. Taking a look inside four different SLO County Wine Cellars, this article shows all the ways one can enjoy a wine collection.

Nichter WineCheck it out here.


turko with hat

by Turko Semmes

In the past, I have written before about Passive Solar Solutions for buildings. And still they are an important way to reduce energy costs and increase comfort levels. There are four components that must be considered when applying passive solar solutions to a project. They are Orientation, Ventilation, Insulation, and Mass (OVIM). Each part of the solution is used in different ways depending on the climate where the building is being built as well as certain site, budget and human factors. But by applying these applications appropriately, the building’s energy use can be greatly reduced. The comfort levels can be raised even in severe climate zones, sometimes at little extra cost.

Today, I want to talk about Mass, sometimes known as Thermal Mass. In particular, let’s discuss Phase Change Materials (PCM’s). The Thermal Mass role is to act as a battery to moderate the temperature of the home through the daily and seasonal cycle changes.

There are two applications of mass. One is direct gain where the sun strikes the material directly – think Trombe Wall systems.

The other and more common application is indirect gain. This is where the temperature of the mass is affected by the room temperature – think all surfaces in the building. We try to incorporate standard high mass materials into buildings to achieve this, but it is not always practical. Some of these materials are concrete in the floor, walls and counters. Also used are extra layers of drywall, fireplace facings, etc.

But for years, we in the industry have thought it would be super to have a material that can store more heat than its actual weight or volume. Now that material is here and it’s called Phase Change Materials (PCM). PCM’s can store 5 to 14 times more heat per unit volume than conventional storage materials such as water, masonry or rock. They do this by changing from a liquid to a solid (much like Freon does in heat pump/air conditioning systems). The trick has been to find a way to incorporate them into buildings in a format that can be standard for all buildings.

Now, the National Gypsum Company in partnership with BASF has ThermalCORE PCMmanufactured a drywall that has small capsules – beads of phase change material within the board. The drywall is installed and finished in the same ordinary way. The only extra cost is the material itself. But, don’t jump up and run down to Home Depot or Lowes. This material is in the economic and marketing development stages. However, I do have some samples, and they are performing quite well, as specified.

Soon, this material will give your energy analyst another tool to help design your building to be more energy efficient and comfortable. All without adding additional systems, complications or maintenance. Since drywall is used on most buildings, one can place it strategically to achieve the comfort and energy savings desired. This is just one more reason Passive Solar Solutions should be applied to their maximum potential before any active or complicated systems are considered.

Phase Change Materials for
Building Applications



Jessica by Jessica Steely

Imagine a power outage in your neighborhood, but your lights are on and your refrigerator’s running. Or perhaps you don’t have to buy expensive peak-day electricity? Elon Musk’s new Tesla Powerwall, released in April, promised these luxuries. The sleek and futuristic look of the wall-mounted batteries was designed to be affordable for the average homeowner. It’s available if you have a solar array or not, whether you want to use the battery on a daily basis, or have it available for a backup situation.

So, is the Tesla Powerwall a fiscally responsible choice or an expensive novelty?

Let’s take the case of the daily use model. Say, you’re on a net-metering program with your local electric tesla-powerall - tah-dahutility company. This summer’s peak rate is .32 cents per kWh (May 1 through October 31: Weekdays, 1-7 PM) and the off-peak rate is .13 cents per kWh. The winter partial-peak rate is .15 cents per kWh (November 1- April 30; Weekdays, 5-8 PM.) There’s no peak rate in winter, and the off partial-peak rate is .14 cents per kWh. The Powerwall designed for daily use, holds 7 kWh and costs $3,000. If you use the Powerwall battery during peak-times when electric costs are higher, you will save $1.33 per day during the summer and .07 cents per day through the winter. At this rate, it could take you over 16 years to break even. The unit has a 10-year warranty, so even within the projected product lifespan you can’t expect to break even.[1] But with upcoming new regulations on power production, energy costs are likely to increase and the price recovery period could change significantly.

Now, let’s look at the units designed specifically for backup usage. These models carry 10 kWh of backup Tesla Powerwall -Housepower with an available average draw of 2 kW. Their cost: $3,500. These batteries are compared to a small generator that runs on gas or propane. A generator that produces equivalent output can be bought from your hardware store for $500 to $1,500. With propane at roughly $2.24 per gallon and gas at $4.25 per gallon, the cost to run these backup generators is variable. Again, it is likely to take longer than the 10-year warranty period to break even on the unit.

A couple of additional caveats to consider: If your demand surpasses the needs of a single battery, each of the models of the Powerwall can be installed in a bank of up to nine batteries. They can also be installed in conjunction with a solar electric array. But if the unit is installed outside of a solar electric system, you will have the additional cost of purchasing an inverter to convert the electricity from AC to DC for usage and storage. It is worth acknowledging that the battery, designed to cycle on a daily basis, could provide the added utility of serving as an emergency backup.

From a financial perspective when compared to the alternatives, the Tesla PoTesla Powerwallwerwall is not the most economical response…yet. However, the sense of being part of a progressive movement, having a renewable energy backup and helping to reduce the strain on our utility grid, has attracted more than 38,000[2] reservations for the Tesla Powerwall in the first week of its announced release. It’s projected to be sold-out by mid-2016. I doubt we have seen the last from Tesla’s technology center, but I do look forward to what’s next.


[1] Rates are based on PG&E Tier 1 Residential Time-Of-Use Service Electric Schedule E-6 effective March 1 2015

[2] Bloomberg Business Tesla’s Battery Grabbed $800 Million in Its First Week, 5-8-2015

MargieAn editorial by Margie Schuler

I recently came across a Houzz article entitled How to Fix a Stinky Garbage Disposal and was interested enough to read on.

I know everyone says just grind lemon or citrus peels in the disposal but I’m not a fan of that method. When I’ve done this in the past, a few days later my disposal smells like rotting peels which is not an improvement. I clean the rubber gasket regularly which helps quite a bit but have often wondered if the inside of the disposal needs cleaning too.

There were three disposal cleaning methods discussed in the Houzz article. Furthering my intrigue was the second method which uses vinegar and baking soda. My fascination with vinegar started when a co-worker said adding a cup of white vinegar to the clothes wash removes soap residue and whiten whites. I was quite pleased after I used it on my partner’s work clothes and the vinegar removed the chemical smell thus saving the clothes from being thrown away. There seem to be many uses for cleaning with vinegar* and I love that it’s natural, not a chemical. Additionally baking soda is also natural and while it doesn’t dissolve, it will react with some liquids by foaming/bubbling which made me think it would reach all the nooks and the top inside of the disposal.

 Tropical Landscape by Azusa Garden & Landscape Supplies Monrovia

Method #1: Clean Mama’s

  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • ¼ cup baking soda
  • Mix together to form a paste.
  • Pour down disposal and let sit for a few minutes.
  • Run cold water and turn on disposal for up to a minute.

I tried this method first. While it did eliminate odors and left the disposal with no smell, I felt this method was a bit lacking. The baking soda and lemon juice bubbled and foamed while being mixed in a bowl (which incidentally did not make an actual paste) and I expected more bubbling and foaming once in the disposal but heard and saw nothing. I associate the bubbling and foaming with cleaning so while the mixture was sitting silent in the disposal, I questioned its effectiveness. But the disposal was left with no smell, so I can only assume this method must work.

Method #2: Doctor Rooter’s

  • ½ cup baking soda
  • ½ cup vinegar
  • Sprinkle baking soda down drain into disposal.
  • Pour in vinegar.
  • Let sit for five minutes.
  • Run hot water down drain for 30 seconds with disposal on.
  • Repeat if smell persists.

I tried this method the second time. Since the baking soda and vinegar were mixing directly in the disposal I had high hopes for more of the bubbling and foaming. I envisioned the bubbles and foam would be cleaning the entire inside of the disposal, reaching all the way to the top. The reaction between the baking soda and vinegar was less spectacular than I hoped it would be. I was hoping for a reaction more similar to Mentos in Diet Coke:

Or a science project volcano but without the explosive mess. But, there was only a small amount of foaming in the bottom of the disposal and once it subsided I noticed a pile of dry baking soda to the side so I added more vinegar but I never got the reaction I was looking for. On the positive side the disposal no longer had odor.

The second time I tried this method I doubled the amounts hoping for a big reaction. The reaction was larger but never touched the top of the disposal. Again this was the only downside as my disposal was left with no odor.

Method #3: One Good Thing by Jillee

  • Vinegar
  • Lemon
  • Ice cube tray
  • Cut up lemon and place one slice in each ice cube mold.
  • Fill each ice cube mold with vinegar.
  • Freeze fully and store in zip-top bag in freezer.
  • Feed a handful of cubes into the disposal every few days, running disposal with cold water until cubes are crushed up.

To be thorough I listed this method but have no plans to try it due to my aforementioned aversion to lemon peels in the disposal. Plus I don’t have an ice cube tray and there’s no instant gratification since you’re waiting for the cubes to freeze. However, I would be interested to hear feedback regarding this method, if someone was so inclined.

I think either of these three methods would work well and best when done regularly. For now I’m going to stick with the second method and scrubbing the gasket with a toothbrush and dish soap only when absolutely necessary because I’d much rather be outdoors riding my bike or hiking than inside cleaning.

Have a wonderful summer and enjoy lots of outdoors time!

*As a former member of the natural stone and tile industry I feel compelled to share that you DO NOT use vinegar (straight or diluted) on any sealed natural stone slab, tile or sealed grout. Vinegar is so acidic it ends up eating off the sealer, instead always use a ph. neutral natural stone cleaner. Continue Reading →

TomAn editorial by Tom Moore

“It cost exactly what you guys said it would.”

How many times have I heard that? Well let’s see, in the last 15 years I’ve heard it about once a year. I’m not the kind of person to cross the street when I see someone that decided not to have Semmes and Co. build their home. In fact, I will go out of my way to say, “Hi.” And ask them about their construction experience of their home or remodel.

Recently I asked a couple about this and their response was, “It’s over budget and over schedule.” They went on to explain that several parts of the home were more difficult to build than anyone had anticipated. Well, almost anyone. We spent many hours discussing the challenges of their building with subcontractors and among ourselves in the office; exactly about the same issues that they spoke of.

At Semmes & Co. Builders, Inc., we spend a lot of time pouring over plans. AMatt & Franknd we’ve been taught to locate the tricky parts and figure out the most effective way to do them properly. I like to think that we deal in dreams, not in fantasy. Many people believe that quality custom homes should still be built as inexpensively as they were 10 or 15 years ago. But there is inflation within the building industry, just like everywhere else.

Building codes have changed over the years as well, and add more expense to many upgrades thaSkill sawt we’ve been doing for years. Many subcontractors that we use, we have known and worked with for as long as I have been here. And we use them for good reasons: We know exactly what we will get. While many say they have to charge us more than other general contractors (since we are so picky about the finished product), so be it. You do get what you pay for.

Using an untried, unknown subcontractor simply because his price is lower can lead to disappointment and discontent. We use subcontractors that pay their workers a living wage and offer employees benefits. Much of the time the person with their name on the business is on the job site working alongside their crew. We also like to use local vendors. We know the business owners, we like to keep the money in the community and we know we’ll get service when we need it.

Semmes & Co Builders, Inc. has been synonymous with energy efficiency and Jesshigh quality since 1978. We strive to give our clients the best value for their money and a home that will serve them and their children well for generations. Quality comes at a price. And quality should be paid for. Building a quality custom home should be an enlightening experience. The relationship throughout construction should be enjoyable and the final result, a pleasure for a long, long time.

And that earlier conversation? Often it ends something like this,

“Well, we’ll see you around. Wish we’d used Semmes to build our home.”


Kevin-HauberSpecial editorial by Kevin Hauber, Green Mortgage Consultant
The Mortgage House – San Luis Obispo

Remember all the claims made by solar companies about the value of rooftop solar systems? Well, it turns out they were right. And a study out from the US Department of Energy and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory backs that up. The study is called “Selling Into the Sun: Price Premium Analysis of a Multi-State Dataset of Solar Homes.”

What they did was look at tens of thousands of sales over eight states from 2002-2013, including properties that had solar systems installed at the time of sale and those that did not. What they found was that both new and existing homes sold for $15,000 more on average with a solar system than those that did not have one.

That is a noticeable number. It’s one of the first times substantial figures have been offered to quantify solar homes for the market. It says that if you can lower the operating costs of a home and provide energy independence, that’s worth something.

Selling into the sun

Selling into the Sun

So, everyone knows this. Right?

No, in fact very few people take this into account. If you are going to buy or sell a property with a solar system, you need to make sure the people involved in the transaction are familiar with how to give the system value. That includes the listing agent, the selling realtor, the lender, and the appraiser. The appraiser will use a form called the energy addendum to help quantify the value of the solar system. As well as any other energy related improvements on the property.

You would be surprised how many appraisers have no idea about this, and how many lenders and realtors don’t even know to ask. Since energy costs are becoming an increasing consideration for owning property, make sure you are working with professionals who know what they are doing in this regard. This includes familiarity with the incentives and financing available for energy-related improvements.

By the way, the figures quoted in the study are only for purchased solar systems that are part of the real estate. Leased systems were not included in the study, so this is an important distinction to make. Leased systems have become popular in the last few years, but there are still many questions to be answered. Such as the assumption of leases by subsequent buyers, and the appraised value of the system at the end of the lease. (The appraiser is usually hired by the leasing company). The effects of these leased systems remain to be seen.

Now this research concludes what we’ve assumed all along: people who have purchased solar systems for their homes and businesses have made a substantial investment that has lasting value.

Hilltop-Adobe-16-1024x682 The beautiful, sustainable home designed by owner, Richard Soundy and built by Semmes & Co Builders, Inc. was featured in the Tribune. The article gives a great description of the home and all of it’s passive solar features.

Check out the design and its views here.


Semmes & Co Builders, Inc is a proud sponsor of Via dei Colori – the SLO Italian Street Painting Festival benefiting scholarships and art educational programs for local students. If you would like to become a sponsor, volunteer or an artist, please contact  Via dei Colori SLO.

They would love to hear from you!

Via dei colori ad