Archive for the ‘Building’ Category

Windows: Light versus Heat Loss or Gain

July 11, 2012

Windows are the worst energy leakers you can ever have in any house. Natural light is great but it comes at great cost. They let too much heat inside in the summer and too much cold inside in the winter. Doing anything is better than nothing. Just stretching plastic over them or hanging a blanket over them is better than doing nothing.

The best way to deal with it is to get the best windows that you can and use a thermal barrier or shutter. There are attractive roll up thermal shades that are made of comforter or winter jacket like material (thinsulate, etc.). They are usually or shall I say best mounted on tracks to seal the window on cold nights or hot days. Some are manually operated (cranked up and down) and some are electrically operated. The advantage to these are the roll up storage. Cons are expensive and lower R values.

Over the last few years, I have been experimenting with a rigid, heavy sandwich type of window plug. And here is the article about them that I promised a long time ago when I answered some wiki questions. They are constructed of a 2″ foam core (Owens corning formular 150 R-10) with thin white hardboard glued to each side. I live in a condo so it has to be aesthetically pleasing and look like a shade or blind when viewing it from the outside. I left the inside facing board white (as my walls are white). You can however, paint it to match your walls or do a number of other treatments such as fabric or even put art or posters on it. Imagination is your only limit. I wish I could get some sort of high temp, white lightweight plastic instead of the wood because of all the problems I’ve had with the wood. The experiments that I’ve done with the thin white pressed wood material is reacting with the condensed water (water vapor gets in there no matter what I done so far) from each night and the brutal heat of the day to produce unexpected mold and chemical smells (produces a nice stink).

Advantage is the high R value (I will get an R12-15 with the air gap and high performance windows). Disadvantage is weight and storage. I created one piece, no hinge “plugs” for my windows. These are very heavy and clumsy to move on the big window. I have to store them behind book cases and the sofa when not in use. The advantage to this is fewer gaps and that means a greater seal and less heat loss. More convenient and attractive options are available.

So far I have found challenges with the edge seal, water vapor and heat. The edges of the plug need to be angled and weatherproofed so the unit wedges tightly so there is very little air leaking in or out of the gaps. Weatherstripping is important as I have had a huge problem with both moisture accumulation and heat buildup. Moisture trapped in the air gap condenses at night causing water to pool or even freeze in winter. Mold and other fungal problems will result if you don’t address these issues. I am experimenting with different colors and materials as well to address these obstacles. For example, I thought black would be a great color for winter as it looks good from the outside (Wisconsin winter gets very cold but very sunny days after a snowstorm and high pressure moves in) but there was sufficient heat to melt the foam even on fairly cold days. White is better since I’m not trying to duct the heat inside.  No matter how cool that may sound, the technical challenges are way beyond the scope of this simple experiment.

Unfortunately, in the end conservation is a luxury for those with the will and resources to execute it unless forced upon us or incentivised by local, state or federal cash . I have suspended testing due to the need to make more money just to survive these days.


Ugly AND Unfulfilling – Beauty is in the eye of the beholder…

April 16, 2009
Architect Kyu Sung Woo designed the three modernist metal and wood houses which allowed his family to live together in Vermont. © Tim Hursley/The Arkansas Office

Architect Kyu Sung Woo designed the three modernist metal and wood houses which allowed his family to live together in Vermont. © Tim Hursley/The Arkansas Office

I just read an article in the Wall Street Journal ( called “An extended family’s modernist, off-the-grid retreat”. They make a big deal about how “Architect Kyu Sung Woo fulfilled a decades-old promise to create a place for his family to live together when he completed a compound of three homes in Vermont last summer. It blends architectural traditions of New England and Korea.”

What can I say but not very impressive. Stacked double-wide mobile home comes to mind. As you can see in this blog, I have some previous postings on some truly unique solutions such as the houses created by Living Homes (although I prefer earth sheltered homes as the ultimate design challenge). This home has some solar and a generator. No geothermal, no wind-nada. Big deal. Oh and did I mention that all the living modules are all only 15 feet wide so they get maximum exposure on the North side for maximum energy loss?

“In 2003, Kyu Sung Woo bought 250 acres of virgin forest near Putney, a rural town of 2,600 in Vermont.” So this guy wipes out all the virgin timber and erects a modern eyesore in the middle of a pristine wilderness. A shelter that was one with nature would have been more appropriate and less an insult (think about American architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s summer home, Taliesin, near Spring Green, Wisconsin). Perhaps a home that was integrated into the countryside like an underground house or earth bermed shelter nestled into the virgin forest would have been fitting. Now that would have been an impressive feat. This is neither impressive nor unique. Since the structures are only 15 feet wide they would have been perfectly suited for a much more impressive endeavor. Being underground or earth bermed would have made this house an energy efficient architectural marvel. There is nothing really new or unique about this structure. This thing can be tossed in with all the rest of the average modernist house designs.

Come on Wall Street Journal, I expect better from you… slow news day? Don’t worry, just kidding, I love the giant wine tunnel article- “A Family’s Adventures Underground -The Palmazes dreamed of a 100,000-square-foot wine cave. The neighbors weren’t happy.”



November 14, 2008


Today I watched an episode of Wired Science on PBS.  They were talking about this super-green house that was made by a company called Livinghomes.  It was kind of an old episode so the company’s been in business for quite some time now.  It was particularly interesting to me because they incorporated a lot of my ideas into the homes that they build so I must be on the right track. Steve Glenn is the owner and he has put everything green, renewable, and sustainable that you could think of into the houses that he builds. 

He starts out with a modular constructed home that is prefabricated in a factory to reduce onsite construction costs and pollution caused by trucks.  And on the inside of the house they make sure to use nontoxic building materials, substances, paints, coatings and furniture so the house doesn’t have all the poisonous fumes and toxic molds that many of the new tight houses have associated with them.  Hopefully all houses that are built above ground will be built like this soon.

Here is a partial summary of Steve’s house from the show:

The living homes demonstration house is 2480 square foot in size.  It is 80% more efficient than a conventional structure of similar size.

It costs $390 per square foot to build, some 25% less than typical high and construction in the neighborhood (in California).  This is the first home to receive the platinum LEED standard set by the nonprofit United States Green Building Council.

Solar panels on the roof provide 80 to 85% of the energy needed for the house.  A Solar hot water heating system is also mounted on the roof.  This provides all the hot water necessary for the house including items such as the shower and washing machine.  In addition, this system also provides all the energy needed for the radiant heating system embedded in the floor of each room.

A water recycling system and a rainwater collection system provides irrigation water to a rooftop garden.



Moving underground after 2 houses burned

October 24, 2008

Moving underground after 2 houses burned

October 24, 2008 – 8:07AM
CALIFORNIA (NEWSCHANNEL 3) – A California couple who lost two homes to wildfires isn’t taking any more chances.

” This time they’re building in the landscape.  Skip and Linda Miller are building a home in the side of a hill with only one side visible.  The rest will be covered with fire-resistant landscaping.

 They watched their homes burn down in 2003 and again in 2007. The second time they escaped with just the clothes on their back.

 Going underground might seem strange for some, but the Miller’s say it shouldn’t feel that different from their other homes. “If you look at some of the models of these homes, with the use of skylights and the orientation of the building and everything, it doesn’t really feel like you’re inside than on a normal building,” said Skip Miller.

 The Miller’s say it was frustrating to lose two homes, but they’re just glad their family is safe and sound.”

Underground houses are an excellent solution to many problems.  They’d be perfect for tornado alley.  An underground house (if built correctly) is fireproof, earthquake proof, flood proof, soundproof and is naturally cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

I just wish more people would take advantage of this technology.