Musings of an Energy Nerd

‘Extended Plate and Beam’ Walls

Posted on October 13, 2017 by Martin Holladay

Production builders in the U.S. love 2x4 walls. They also love keeping the cost to build their homes as low as possible.

When energy codes ratcheted up in the 1980s and 1990s, cold-climate home builders eventually switched to 2x6 studs. But most production builders are still reluctant to install exterior rigid foam or furring strips.

In Climate Zones 6, 7, and 8, new codes are forcing builders to consider the implications of the “R-20 + R-5” requirements for walls. But many builders are unhappy with current options for building high-R walls.

Building a Low-Cost Zero-Energy Home

Posted on October 6, 2017 by Martin Holladay

Let’s say that your goal is to build a simple net-zero-energy home for your family. You insist that the home be energy-efficient, and you plan to include a photovoltaic(PV) Generation of electricity directly from sunlight. A photovoltaic cell has no moving parts; electrons are energized by sunlight and result in current flow. (PVPhotovoltaics. Generation of electricity directly from sunlight. A photovoltaic (PV) cell has no moving parts; electrons are energized by sunlight and result in current flow.) array that is large enough to balance your annual energy needs.

Your main stumbling block is that your budget is very tight. Is your goal attainable?

Perhaps. Many builders have managed to complete a net-zero home that costs only a little bit more than a conventional house. If you want to take a similar approach, consider the following principles.

Henry Gifford Publishes a Book

Posted on September 29, 2017 by Martin Holladay

Henry Gifford is a plumber with a New York accent, working-class roots, and deep erudition. He’s also a well-known designer of heating, cooling, and ventilation systems.

Bathroom Design

Posted on September 22, 2017 by Martin Holladay

Americans who grew up in the 1950s or early 60s (that includes me) remember living in a house with one bathroom. There was usually someone standing outside the door yelling, “Hurry up!”

These days, most Americans live in (or aspire to live in) a house with two or more bathrooms. My guess is that we’re never going to return to the bathroom standards of the 1950s; two-bathroom houses are probably here to stay.

Low-Income Housing: Problems and Solutions

Posted on September 15, 2017 by Martin Holladay

Low-income Americans have a hard time finding housing. When families learn that market-rate housing is unaffordable, they often seek help from a variety of government agencies — some local, some state, and some federal. Unfortunately, government efforts to provide housing assistance to low-income families are unable to fully meet the need.

What’s Wrong, and What’s Right, With Residential Building in Texas

Posted on September 8, 2017 by Martin Holladay

For four days in late August 2017, the remnants of Hurricane Harvey dropped between 40 and 51 inches of rain on the Houston area, causing catastrophic flooding. Tens of thousands of homes have been severely damaged or destroyed, and dozens of people have lost their lives.

Green Cohousing Communities — and Other Options

Posted on September 1, 2017 by Martin Holladay

The typical green home featured on GBAGreenBuildingAdvisor.com is a single-family home in a suburb or rural area. This type of development — often called “sprawl” — is decried by environmentalists and urban planners, who instead sing the praises of multifamily buildings in dense urban neighborhoods.

If you are a greenie who now lives in a suburb or rural area, where is the best place to move to? In this essay, I’ll examine several options.

Impressions of Ecuador

Posted on August 25, 2017 by Martin Holladay

For the last year and a half, my son Moses has been serving in the Peace Corps in Ecuador. He teaches English at a high school in Cañar, a town in the Andes with a mostly indigenous population. Recently, my family traveled to Ecuador to visit him.

My wife Karyn, our son Noah, and I flew to Quito. Moses met us at the airport. After two nights in Quito, we took a bus to Cotopaxi National Park, where we stayed at a rural hostel. The following day — three days after leaving Boston — we hiked to the top of a 15,489-foot volcano named Rumiñahui.

An Introduction to Pressure Diagnostics

Posted on August 18, 2017 by Martin Holladay

When it comes to understanding heating systems, most of us are comfortable with the basics. To warm up your house on a cold day, you need a source of heat in your living room — say, a wood stove or a radiator. To keep the heat in your house, you need insulation.

That’s the way most builders understood heating from 1935 to 1980. Somewhere around 1980, however, building scientists began to realize that the old picture was imperfect.

Stair Design Basics

Posted on August 11, 2017 by Martin Holladay

Stair design requires attention to all of the usual rules of residential design. Stairs should be graceful, useful, and comfortable. In addition, stairs must also be safe. Clearly, safety is more important for stair design than for most design issues (for example, ceiling height or window orientation).

Once you understand the basic principles of stair design, you’ll probably notice that lots of stairs lack a graspable handrail, or have inconsistent riser heights, or are dimly lit. Examples of flawed stairs are unfortunately common.

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