Guest Blogs

Grumpy Architect Time

Posted on February 26, 2015 by Robert Swinburne

I’m not normally a grumpy architect, but when I am it is usually because of something on this list.

1. If your house is adequately insulated there should be little temperature differential between the ceiling and the floor.

2. “Adequately” differs from code. Remember, a house built to code is the worst house you can legally build.

3. If you choose not to build an Energy-Star-certified home, please give your poor starving architect the $2,000 (the value of the Energy StarLabeling system sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Energy for labeling the most energy-efficient products on the market; applies to a wide range of products, from computers and office equipment to refrigerators and air conditioners. incentive) that you obviously have to spare.

Minisplit Heat Pumps and Blizzards

Posted on February 19, 2015 by Marc Rosenbaum

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A blizzard (a severe snowstorm and sustained winds of over 35 mph) is a challenging weather condition for a minisplit heat pumpHeating and cooling system in which specialized refrigerant fluid in a sealed system is alternately evaporated and condensed, changing its state from liquid to vapor by altering its pressure; this phase change allows heat to be transferred into or out of the house. See air-source heat pump and ground-source heat pump.. Recall how an air-source heat pumpHeat pump that relies on outside air as the heat source and heat sink; not as effective in cold climates as ground-source heat pumps. works: the outdoor unit has a compressor and a fan that blows air across a coil with refrigerant. In heating mode, the coil is colder than the outdoor air. As air is drawn through the coil, it gives up heat to the coil and leaves the other side colder.

Convincing Clients to Upgrade to Pretty Good (or Better)

Posted on February 10, 2015 by michael maines

How do you convince clients to upgrade from code-minimum (or worse) construction to Pretty Good House, or better, levels of performance?

How do you ventilate a commercial-style range in an airtight house?

If your house was a car, what kind of car would it be?

What do these questions have in common? They were all discussion points at a December 2, 2014 conference in Maine, co-hosted by the Maine Indoor Air Quality Council (MIAQC) and the Maine Association of Building Efficiency Professionals (MABEP).

Insulating an Old Brick Dormitory

Posted on February 5, 2015 by Oliver Klein

Countless historic masonry buildings dot the American landscape, a large number of them falling under some form of aesthetic scrutiny prohibiting exterior insulation. The only option to make these buildings energy-efficient is to insulate them on the interior.

Radon and a Passive House

Posted on February 3, 2015 by Paul Honig

Let me start out by stating that I am neither a radonColorless, odorless, short-lived radioactive gas that can seep into homes and result in lung cancer risk. Radon and its decay products emit cancer-causing alpha, beta, and gamma particles. expert nor a Passive HouseA residential building construction standard requiring very low levels of air leakage, very high levels of insulation, and windows with a very low U-factor. Developed in the early 1990s by Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist, the standard is now promoted by the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany. To meet the standard, a home must have an infiltration rate no greater than 0.60 AC/H @ 50 pascals, a maximum annual heating energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (4,755 Btu per square foot), a maximum annual cooling energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (1.39 kWh per square foot), and maximum source energy use for all purposes of 120 kWh per square meter (11.1 kWh per square foot). The standard recommends, but does not require, a maximum design heating load of 10 W per square meter and windows with a maximum U-factor of 0.14. The Passivhaus standard was developed for buildings in central and northern Europe; efforts are underway to clarify the best techniques to achieve the standard for buildings in hot climates. expert. That said, I do have experience with radon gas in a Passive House that I'd like to share.

Heat-Pump Clothes Dryers

Posted on January 29, 2015 by Joe Rice

Whirlpool announced it back in July; I was able to order it in October; and it wasn't delivered until January 21st — but I now own a real live, made for the U.S. market, heat-pump clothes dryer. It's officially the Whirlpool HybridCare Duet Dryer with Heat Pump Technology.

Zip Sheathing Tips

Posted on January 26, 2015 by Matt Risinger

This past year I had the opportunity to build a SIP(SIP) Building panel usually made of oriented strand board (OSB) skins surrounding a core of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam insulation. SIPs can be erected very quickly with a crane to create an energy-efficient, sturdy home. and timber-frame house designed by architects Aamodt & Plumb and built in conjunction with Bensonwood Homes, the famous timber-frame company in New Hampshire. (Side note: I first heard of Bensonwood while watching This Old House in high school. It’s a dream come true to build a house with their timber/SIP package.)

Bensonwood has been using Zip System sheathingMaterial, usually plywood or oriented strand board (OSB), but sometimes wooden boards, installed on the exterior of wall studs, rafters, or roof trusses; siding or roofing installed on the sheathing—sometimes over strapping to create a rainscreen. in their SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels) for a few years now, and has really liked them for several reasons.

An Off-Grid Solar Community

Posted on January 12, 2015 by Ajahn Sona

Birken Forest Monastery is a retreat center in the mountains of British Columbia. It's located at an elevation of 4,000 feet at Latitude 51, and experiences about 9,000 heating degree days (Fahrenheit) per year. The buildings are about 15 years old.

We are off the grid. The nearest electricity line is 4 miles away, and it would cost about $200,000 to bring grid power in. (Then, of course, we would still have to pay for the electricity.) So off-grid it is, and will remain.

Interior Paint and a Back Porch for the Potwine Passivhaus

Posted on January 6, 2015 by Alexi Arango

As they set out to build a single-family PassivhausA residential building construction standard requiring very low levels of air leakage, very high levels of insulation, and windows with a very low U-factor. Developed in the early 1990s by Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist, the standard is now promoted by the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany. To meet the standard, a home must have an infiltration rate no greater than 0.60 AC/H @ 50 pascals, a maximum annual heating energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (4,755 Btu per square foot), a maximum annual cooling energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (1.39 kWh per square foot), and maximum source energy use for all purposes of 120 kWh per square meter (11.1 kWh per square foot). The standard recommends, but does not require, a maximum design heating load of 10 W per square meter and windows with a maximum U-factor of 0.14. The Passivhaus standard was developed for buildings in central and northern Europe; efforts are underway to clarify the best techniques to achieve the standard for buildings in hot climates. on Potwine Lane in Amherst, Massachusetts, Alexi Arango and LeeAnn Kim asked themselves, “Is it possible to live without burning fossil fuels?” One measure of success would be meeting their goal of net-zero energyProducing as much energy on an annual basis as one consumes on site, usually with renewable energy sources such as photovoltaics or small-scale wind turbines. performance. This is the twelfth blog in a series.

The Potwine Passivhaus Gets Insulation and Drywall

Posted on December 30, 2014 by Alexi Arango

As they set out to build a single-family PassivhausA residential building construction standard requiring very low levels of air leakage, very high levels of insulation, and windows with a very low U-factor. Developed in the early 1990s by Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist, the standard is now promoted by the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany. To meet the standard, a home must have an infiltration rate no greater than 0.60 AC/H @ 50 pascals, a maximum annual heating energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (4,755 Btu per square foot), a maximum annual cooling energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (1.39 kWh per square foot), and maximum source energy use for all purposes of 120 kWh per square meter (11.1 kWh per square foot). The standard recommends, but does not require, a maximum design heating load of 10 W per square meter and windows with a maximum U-factor of 0.14. The Passivhaus standard was developed for buildings in central and northern Europe; efforts are underway to clarify the best techniques to achieve the standard for buildings in hot climates. on Potwine Lane in Amherst, Massachusetts, Alexi Arango and LeeAnn Kim asked themselves, “Is it possible to live without burning fossil fuels?” One measure of success would be meeting their goal of net-zero energyProducing as much energy on an annual basis as one consumes on site, usually with renewable energy sources such as photovoltaics or small-scale wind turbines. performance. This is the eleventh blog in a series.

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