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A Follow-up From Northern Minnesota

An architect reports on his first year in a low-energy house

Report from the field: After a year in his new house, architect Elden Lindamood reports that both the passive solar design and cold-weather minisplits have been successful.
Image Credit: Elden Lindamood
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Report from the field: After a year in his new house, architect Elden Lindamood reports that both the passive solar design and cold-weather minisplits have been successful.
Image Credit: Elden Lindamood
The electrical panel with all the TED sensors installed, ready to data-log. This pie chart shows energy use over one year. "MTUI" is the house total but does not represent all power consumption on the property. The red line shows the minisplit cycling in and out of defrost mode on a -25° night. The blue and green lines are the electric cove heaters ticking on when the minisplit could no longer keep up at 4 a.m. The yellow line represents total electrical use in the house. This is a 24 hour graph, showing the minisplit (red line) turning off after the sun comes out at 11 a.m., coming on again after sunset, and then shutting off again later on when I started a fire in the wood stove. The yellow line is the whole house usage spiking with the hot water heater and range mostly. High temp that day was -12°. Here, the red line shows the mini-split coming on and ramping up to full speed 20 minutes of every hour. I soon figured out this was happening in conjunction with the HRV coming on despite the minisplit thermostat setting being lower than the room temperature. This was proof of the problem. The fiberglass triple-glazed windows get a bit of condensation on them when it is -25° outside, as it was when this photo was taken. The windows are “outies” and I don’t take the screens out. Interior relative humidity was about 40% in this instance. Note the condensation on the frame as well as the glass edge. The house has performed as planned, and it's a welcoming spot to come home to.

Editor’s note: Architect Elden Lindamood wrote about the construction of his house in northern Minnesota in a series of blogs at GBA in 2016. The first of them was called A Low-Energy House for Northern Minnesota. Here’s his report on the first year of occupancy.

It has been over a year now that Catherine and I have lived in our low-energy house. I’ve continued to chip away at some of the items on the endless “to-do” list, but the house is complete from an operational standpoint. I’ve been compiling experiences and data, and this is what I’ve learned.

First I’d like to revisit the interior humidity issue. If you’ll recall from earlier posts, my indoor relative humidity (RH) was hovering in the 75% range much of the first summer. I simply didn’t have enough cooling load for the air conditioning to run long enough and beat it down. I also suspected I was dealing with a lot of construction moisture.

I found that if I ran a portable dehumidifier in the mechanical room for 12-24 hours, that alone would knock the humidity down to 45% for a while, so I did that periodically that first summer and even occasionally over the first winter. Since then, the indoor humidity seems to have settled down. This last winter it has hovered around 30-35%, all winter, with no mechanical dehumidification. This anecdotally verifies that there was likely a lot of construction moisture banked in the walls and slab.

For those who are wondering, I pretty much set my heat-recovery ventilator (HRV) to run 20-minutes-on/ 40-minutes-off all the time, using the high-speed override when showering. I do realize I could have affected the indoor humidity by fussing with the HRV settings more, but I didn’t want to have to do that in order to maintain a reasonable moisture level. I’d like the house to function with no more inputs than Catherine would readily offer. I could obsess and tinker with things, but I shouldn’t have to.

Electrical monitoring

I installed a TED5000 energy monitoring system on select circuits to see how things were performing, and where there might be room for improvement (see Image #2 below). The monitor has a main set of current transformers (CTs) for the line coming into the house, and then 16 CTs on individual circuits for more specific data collection (two CTs on 240 volt circuits).

This has provided me with a wealth of information, and helped me diagnose and solve a major problem with the minisplit. A pie chart and table showing the usage of individual circuits is below (see Image #3).

I should note here that there is a “farm total” electrical use number above the circuit breakdown. Because of the way we developed our farm, not all power goes through our house. The “MTU1” line on the table is the house total, but that does not include the garage/shop, the well, the greenhouse fans and heaters, or the potting shed which has lots of grow lights on in the spring. The “Farm Other” line at the bottom of the table is the electrical bill less the house usage. The pie chart represents the house circuits only.

I ran two separate energy models of the house prior to construction: One using REM/Design software, and one using Marc Rosenbaum’s calculators. The results of the two energy models were similar, predicting annual space heating load of 17.9 million Btu per year (MMBtu/yr) and 15.75 MMBtu/yr respectively. I was happy that both the calculators were within a reasonable range of similarity.

REM/Design calculated the passive solar contribution, internal gains, and coefficient of performance (COP) to be worth 6.2 MMBtu/yr, giving me a predicted annual consumption (as opposed to load) of 12.6 MMBtu/yr for heat, and 1.3 MMBtu/yr for cooling, for a total of 13.9 MMBtu/yr predicted consumption.

To check my actual consumption I combined the usage log of the CTs on the minisplit circuit, along with the usage of the CTs on my backup electric resistive cove heaters, and arrived at a total consumption of 2,092 kWh, or 6.96 MMBtu for the year for heating and cooling, so at first I was miffed at how the models could have been so far off. I had entered the heat pump modeled COP at 2.0, assuming it would be running in the extreme cold much of the time. Unless it was way better than that, or unless my solar contribution was way better than predicted, I had some explaining to do. Then I started considering the wood stove.

The wood stove factor

My partner and I did use our wood stove, but not religiously. We’d burn a fire in the evening maybe three or four nights a week, sometimes less. We lit it for ambiance rather than out of some desire for great energy savings. Because of our intermittent use of the stove, I didn’t think it could be contributing much, but I figured I should calculate that, roughly at least. I did not measure how much firewood we consumed, but I knew by visual guess that we used less than a cord of semi-rotten deadfall poplar during the year.

It turns out that contained maybe 8 MMBtu when adjusted for wood quality and a 70% efficiency wood stove. When I add that to the electrical usage, that put me pretty much right where the energy models had predicted. Cool.

So for a year’s worth of heating and cooling we used 2,100 kWh, plus some free firewood, totaling about $300 for the year for heating and cooling. This is in northern Minnesota, with 9,500 heating-degree days. Also cool.

Looking at the pie chart reveals that the minisplit was our largest consumer for the year, as I expected, followed closely by the domestic hot water heater (DHW). Although it is a simple electric-resistance storage tank heater, I found that we used quite a bit less energy for hot water than both of the models predicted. The REM and Rosenbaum models predicted use of 2,843 kWh and 3,582 kWh per year for DHW, yet my data logger says we only used 1,501 kWh. Catherine asked if that meant she could take longer showers. I simply looked at her disappointingly.

Out of curiosity I checked my data once when we got back from vacation. With nobody home, the hot water heater blips on for about 3 to 5 minutes every 14 hours or so. Not bad.

Minisplit function

The ducted minisplit has exceeded my expectations. I’ve taken the “set it and forget it” stance, leaving it set at 70°F all the time, regardless of outdoor temperature. At -25°F, it is still out there churning away and contributing a small amount of heat. Not quite enough, however, to keep the house warm on a -30°F night.

So, I keep the minisplit thermostat set at 70°F, and I have each of the six backup cove heaters set at 65°F, such that if the minisplit can’t keep up, the backups come on automatically. The line graph below (see Image #4) shows the minisplit cycling in and out of defrost mode (red line), when at about 4:30 in the morning one of the backup cove heaters blips on (green line). Over the next couple hours additional cove heaters blip on more and more to keep the house warm on a -28°F night. This is working just like I planned, and I am actually surprised at how long the minisplit can manage it before needing help.

The next line graph is a longer timeline of the day (see Image #5 below). You can see the red mini-split line running until about 10:30 a.m., when the sun warms the space enough to meet the thermostat and the minisplit shuts off. It remains off until about 6 p.m. despite it being -12°F for a high that day. Then it ticks on for a while, until I started a fire about 8 p.m. By 9 p.m., the stove is working and causes the minisplit to shut off again until about midnight. On the right, you can see the cove heaters kicking on again in the wee hours of the extremely cold night. Incidentally, the yellow line is total house use. It spikes with the use of the range and hot water. The tall spike is when we turned the broiler on to make dinner.

After getting home one evening I pulled up my data and said to Catherine, “It looks like you took a shower about 10 a.m., and had lunch about 12:30 and then did some laundry”. She told me to stop doing that.

Solving a minisplit problem

The two main disappointments about the minisplit are the power use when the fan is on, and the power use when it is off. I’ve determined it is way more efficient to circulate the warm air from the wood stove or sun using the HRV on recirc rather than the minisplit on fan mode. Also, the minisplit uses about 32 kWh a month when it is off. I could throw the breaker to kill it entirely, but I don’t consider that a reasonable expectation.

The data did help me solve a problem with the minisplit, though. In the first few months of the first winter, I felt the minisplit was coming on when it shouldn’t have. It would be 75°F in the living room because of the solar gain, and the minisplit would kick on periodically, hard and fast. I eventually linked the minisplit operation to the HRV operation with the attached graph (see Image #6 below).

Working with the equipment supplier we determined that the HRV was dumping cold air into the upstream side of the minisplit, and the thermistor in the unit was causing it to panic and ramp onto high heat to try to fix it. This caused the compressor coil to ice up badly. It turns out that out-of-the-box, the minisplit was set up to read air temperature inside the fan unit rather than at the thermostat. We went deep into the technical manual and re-programmed the unit to read the air temperatre at the thermostat instead, and it has been running flawlessly ever since. No ice-up even at -25°F.

I had originally wanted the HRV supply to be in dedicated ductwork, but was convinced to supply it via the minisplit ducts during construction. Had I stuck to my guns, this issue would not have come up. As it is, however, it works fine now. Just be aware that sometimes you might need a data graph to prove that your system isn’t working how you need it to, and that you might need the 400-page technical manual from the manufacturer to adjust things the way you want.

Other points

Other than that, things are working well, and the house is meeting or exceeding my performance expectations. Catherine has backdrafted the wood stove badly with the range hood twice, neglecting to turn on the makeup air (MUA) unit. I’ve also found that we’ll tend to open a small kitchen window a crack rather than turning on the MUA, even when it is brutally cold out. The MUA is loud, and the small window is near the range hood, so the air doesn’t cool the kitchen much.

The condensing clothes dryer takes an extremely long time to dry clothes, but I’m trying to retrain my mind to accept that. In the summer we use the line outside anyway.

The entry can get a bit cold (64°F) on cold nights, but it has the least efficient, but prettiest, door in the house. I might put more minisplit air there if I were to do it again.

The triple-pane Duxton windows will get a small amount of condensation on them when it is below -15°F out (see Image #7 below). Not bad at all, though, and only in the lower corners. If I removed my screens, that would help. That exceeds my expectations.

Another lesson is that I stupidly put a closet on an outside northwest corner, and then crammed it full of junk. I checked the lower corner wall temperatre one cold night, and the drywall was 55°F behind all that stuff. I “thinned” the junk and now leave the closet door open when it is really cold. I would not locate that closet there if I were to do it again.

Smaller carbon footprint, bigger waistline

Finally, I did a quick and dirty calculation. My previous house was in the city, and I biked most places. The house, built in 1901, and leaked like a sieve and used about 600 gallons of fuel oil a year to heat its 600 square feet with deep nightly thermostat setbacks. Our new 1,575-square-foot “mansion” uses 2,000 kWh to heat (and cool) per year, but I have to drive 26 miles each way to work with my car, which gets about 32 MPG.

Without getting too deep in the weeds, I determined my carbon footprint is now about 30% less for all my activities, even with the commute. I am also about 30% fatter now that I’ve stopped biking. PV will help the carbon footprint at least.

So, to close it all out, I’d give the following advice:

  • Passive solar works. Do it.
  • Cold climate minisplits work. Do it.
  • You can have a wood stove in a super-tight house if you pay attention 99.99% of the time, and don’t mind your house smelling like a campfire .01% of the time.

And it’s nice place to come home to (see Image #8).

34 Comments

  1. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    Excellent report
    Elden,
    Thanks for sharing this valuable information. For me, the two most important takeaways are:

    1. Lots of minisplit owners report better performance when they install a wall-mounted thermostat and adjust the controls so that the unit senses the room temperature at the thermostat rather than sensing the temperature of the air entering the unit.

    2. Dedicated ventilation ductwork is always preferable to systems that try to use the heat-delivery ducts for ventilation.

  2. Doug McEvers | | #2

    Wave Of The Future
    It is good to know a very energy efficient house can be heated comfortably by minispilts in northern MN. The Midwest is about to enter a wind farm boom in the next several years so there will be a lot of wind generated electricity available for heating homes. Large transmission lines have either been completed or are nearing completion to link the wind farms in ND, SD and MN to the grid. Many existing homes will need an energy retrofit to take advantage of the minisplit efficiency.

  3. Malcolm Taylor | | #3

    Good news
    This was one of may favourite projects when Elden blogged it because of the architecture. To hear it performs so well puts icing on the cake.

  4. User avater
    John Semmelhack | | #4

    Mini-split
    Martin - it's not clear from this blog post (it is from previous posts, though), but the house uses a Fujitsu slim-duct mini-split...all of which come with a wired thermostat.

    Regarding the temperature sensing issue at the air handler - it's pretty well known (and documented in the manual) that these units have a factory default to sense temperature at the air handler rather than the thermostat. The installer didn't do their homework.

    It's also interesting to note that the particular Fujitsu unit installed is NOT marketed as a cold climate heat pump. The engineering data only goes down to -5F. Real world experience from folks like Elden have shown that these units are operating at temperatures well beyond what the manufacturer's literature states.

  5. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #5

    Response to John Semmelhack
    John,
    You may be right that "the installer didn't do their homework."

    Here's another way to put it: Fujitsu made a design error. If these minisplits all come with a wired wall-mounted thermostat, the factory default setting should not be to sense the temperature at the air handler. The default should be to sense the air temperature at the thermostat. So I blame Fujitsu.

  6. Doug McEvers | | #6

    Minisplit Efficiency
    Elden,

    Following John's comment, have you any estimate as to the efficiency of your minisplit system? What was your kwh use for heating with the minisplit vs heating with electric baseboard only?

  7. User avater
    Jon R | | #7

    carbon reduction
    > a lot of wind generated electricity available for heating homes

    Hopefully we will also see home designs that allow "renewable-status-of-use". Ie, maximize the use of wind and solar. This is fairly easy with a tank water heater. But not with a mini-split.

  8. User avater
    Dana Dorsett | | #8

    It's really a frame of reference issue, not a design error. @ #5
    Most mini-splits in the world are controlled with a hand held remote, not a thermostat, and that is the industry paradigm. The mini-split designers don't consider the "thermostat" to be a thermostat, but rather a WIRED remote control, necessary for mini-duct cassettes because there isn't line of sight to be able to use their standard IR-LED type remotes the way their other cassettes and wall coils can.

    Only people from countries where the paradigm is central HVAC controlled by a wall thermostat think of it primarily as a thermostat. A wired remote is WAY more than just a thermostat, but in this case it has the capability to provide function as a thermostat if the user/installer wants to set up that function. But from the designers' frame of reference it's just another feature of the remote for those people who want to use it that way.

    Any installer in North .America should (in the absence of other feedback) assume that the homeowners would expect it to be set up to control from the remote's local temperature, since that's the paradigm here, so yes it's the installer's error.

    It's nice to know that it keeps chugging away a -25F though!

  9. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #9

    Response to Dana Dorsett
    Dana,
    This is a big topic -- too big for a comment section, I suspect, but worthy of an article.

    Handheld remotes to control ductless minisplits are the norm, I know, but they aren't intuitive to all users. I have stayed in overseas hotels where I'm unable to determine what mode I'm in when trying to use a hand-held remote to control the air conditioning. Fairly recently, I invited the hotel manager into the room, who was just as unable as I was to exit the "timer" mode to get the thing working again.

    The larger issue is that multi-function electronic controls with icons, drop-down menus, and multiple modes are not user-friendly. Especially for the elderly -- but really, for most humans.

    This is also a problem with digital cameras. (Don't get me started...)

    So I see this as a design problem. Last year I bought a kitchen radio with two knobs. One clicks on and controls the volume. The other knob is the tuner. There is no display -- just a dial. I love the radio.

    Here at GBA, we get regular reports of poorly functioning minisplits, and problems that aren't fully understood until noticed during energy monitoring. Many of these problems can be solved by programming the units to operate in a different mode -- but when the manufacturer says, "Just read the 100-page manual! Adjust the default setting to #31!" --- I see that response as an abdication of responsibility.

    Get a good design team to design a system that works without diagnostic intervention. That's what homeowners want.

  10. User avater
    John Semmelhack | | #10

    One other note re: the mini-split data...
    Elden writes that his mini-split system uses 32kWh/month when off. This comes out to about 42W continuous. I and others have measured far less for identical systems. I suspect Elden's 42W measurements are due to a "compressor pre-heater" that comes on at about that power level when outdoor air temperature is less than 41F and the compressor hasn't run for at least 30 minutes (that is, no call for heating). I know for certain the preheater kicks in while the system is in heating mode...not sure if it will also kick in when the system is powered off manually at the thermostat, but still has power at the breaker. I imagine this house, with its passive solar gain + super-insulation, has a really low "balance point", which would probably yield a significant number of hours in Northern Minnesota where outdoor temps are <41f and there's no heating load.

    The stated design purpose of the pre-heater is to quickly deliver warm air once the compressor DOES start....this is just one of the many ways where mini-split designs in general favor comfort (or perceived comfort) over efficiency.

  11. User avater
    Jon R | | #11

    TED accuracy
    I'm curious as to just how accurate the TED5000 is. 32kWh/month is what, a .1% error on a 200A current transformer?

  12. User avater
    Elden Lindamood | | #12

    TED accuracy
    Jon, The TED accuracy isn't as good as I would like. The main CTs on the panel feed are +/- 2%. The individual circuit CTs are +/- 7%, which is quite a bit. There was one month where the combined circuit CT data slightly exceeded the total feed data quantity indicating they were reading high. For my purposes, to know the "ballpark", and to be able to average it over a long term test is adequate. So you are correct that the 32kWh/month could actually be less (or more), but I do feel it was consistent on the months I did not use the mini-split at all

  13. User avater
    Elden Lindamood | | #13

    One other note...
    John S, I am not intimately familiar with the mini-split enough to know whether it is a pre-heater. Regardless, the months when I didn't use the unit for either heating or cooling it was set to "off" at the thermostat, and it was above 40 degrees most, if not all of the time. Given those parameters, I wouldn't think a pre-heater could be implicated in the dormant energy use. But I honestly can't say for sure.

  14. User avater
    Elden Lindamood | | #14

    Thermostat/controller
    Thanks Martin and Dana for your thoughts on the "controller". I agree with both of your points, but tend to lean toward the "Fujitsu's fault" camp. They should know their market expectations of they are going to sell a product here. The thing that pushes me further into that camp, however, is that the "user manual" that comes with the unit does not have any instructions on how to set the unit to read at the thermostat.
    There is a one line note to "contact your service technician" or some such thing if you want it to read at the thermostat. This, perhaps to their credit, at least informs you that it is reading at the fan unit, but it is frustrating that it doesn't tell you how to change that. In fact, the only way to know is to have the huge technical manual, which is only available to the folks servicing the units. It took my supplier (not the installer) a considerable amount of time to figure out how to change the setting.
    That, to me, is Fujitsu saying, "I know this is an issue, but we aren't going to make it easy to address".

  15. User avater
    Elden Lindamood | | #15

    Minisplit efficiency
    Doug, I didn't have fine grained enough equipment to determine the mini-split's efficiency. I did one experiment of using the mini-split for 24 hours, and then using only the cove heaters for 24 hours on similar days and then I looked at the data logging graphs. I can tell you the cove heaters used a good bit more, but I didn't crunch any numbers.

  16. User avater
    Elden Lindamood | | #16

    Mini-split temp ranges
    John, I did note when selecting the equipment that this particular unit was not rated to as low of temperatures as other units. I leaned on the direct experience of the supplier who had run his at much colder temps without issues. It was a risk I was willing to take for myself, but probably wouldn't have if it was for a client.
    One thing I noted was that the exterior unit paired with a wall cassette was rated to -13, but the same unit was only rated to -5 with the ducted interior unit. Is that due to efficiency loss at the ducted indoor unit, or some other reason? Anyone?

  17. Scott Wilson | | #17

    Functionality
    In addition to hearing about how all the systems work, I'd like to hear about how the house layout itself functions one year on. You mention not including a closet in an area, but did you omit anything that now you really wish you'd added? A window to an unexpected view perhaps, of the chance to install bookcases or display shelves somewhere?

    I'd like to hear more from people who discover there's something "missing" in their new home and whether it became important enough for them to add it in now rather than wait another 20 years to renovate.

  18. Jay S | | #18

    Thanks for the great article
    Thanks for the great article and the link to the TED energy monitoring system. That is a sweet unit and reasonably priced. I'll be incorporating it in my future home.

  19. User avater
    Elden Lindamood | | #19

    Functionality
    Scott, thanks for the question. Here are a few of the things that work well, or that I'd do differently.
    I am subject to the same issues as most of my clients, in that the budget was tight so we eliminated a few things to save cost. I miss some of those things, but others probably didn't matter. I wanted the whole house to be stone or brick veneer. I changed to wood siding to save $50K, but I really wish I hadn't. I am having trouble with shrinkage of my wood siding, and it is stressing me out.
    I absolutely love my screened porch, which I wouldn't give up even though it was expensive. We use it everyday in the summer.
    I eliminated all the built-in cabinets due to budget. I can still do those in the future, but kind of wish I had them now. The hodgepodge of furniture used instead isn't as an efficient use of space and just kind of feels unpolished.
    I might yet move some of the light switching. I didn't think that out enough. I didn't put a make-up-air unit switch by the wood stove, which I definitely should have. I hard-wired the ceiling fans to dimmer switches and probably would have been fine, or better off, with the remotes that came with them.
    The bathroom floor is cold in the tile shower. I could have put an electric heat mat in there to take the edge off. I might still put in a heat lamp in lieu of that.
    There are two small windows, one in the kitchen and one in the master bedroom that I love. I get sun from the east in the kitchen, and I can look into the west woods every night before bed. These were not "necessary" windows, but I am so happy they are there. Speaking of windows, the northwest bedroom is a bit darker than I would have liked. I should have made one of the windows larger, but didn't because of heat loss angst. I also love my deep window sills, and any perceived or actual energy penalty for doing that instead of middies or innies is totally worth it.
    I am not sure I'd do the polished concrete floor again. Some days I like it, and some I don't. It wasn't necessarily less expensive than tile, and the transitions to the bathrooms where I did use tile aren't great. Sound travels extremely well in the house, even where I caulked plates to the floor and installed batts in the interior walls. I can hear footfalls and "bathroom sounds" from the opposite end of the house with no problems. I wonder if tile would have reduced that some. I did put cork tile on the slab in the kitchen, and I love it.
    I only put snow retention where there is foot traffic. I might add it elsewhere, but it is ridiculously expensive. I get huge berms of snow on the ground around the house where there aren't snow retention bars.
    I roughed in a hot water recirc line to the kitchen sink, but didn't hook it up. Since we have a well, I am not financially penalized much for running the sink for a minute to get hot water, but I am morally troubled by it. I might yet connect that with a timer button to get hot water at the sink without running a gallon of cold down the drain.
    The "catwalk" in the attic above the insulation was worth every penny. I've been in the attic to mess with an antenna, and not having to wade through 24" of cellulose is sweet.
    A few other small things: I'd put side splashes on the counter tops that are in corners. I'd put in wall mounted door bumpers instead of the baseboard mounted door stops, and the ultra-cheap laundry tub faucet was a waste of time and money.
    I can honestly say everything else has met or exceeded my hopes.
    That is all the insight I can think of for now.

  20. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #20

    Response to Elden Lindamood
    Elden,
    Thanks for taking the time to describe what works well, and what you might change. These types of observations are always valuable.

  21. Malcolm Taylor | | #21

    Living in one place
    One of the things that has surprised me after living in the same house for several decades, is how quickly time goes by. The decisions I made about the longevity of materials all seems reasonable at the time, but suddenly the cedar raised-beds need to be replaced, the deck boards are showing their age, the concrete floor needs refinishing. Add to that the work required to keep up the wood elements of the exterior, taking up precious summer weekends, and I'd think a lot more carefully about the longevity and maintenance of things over time if (heaven forbid) I had to build again.

  22. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #22

    Longevity of materials
    Malcolm,
    When we are young, we have ideas and energy, but no money. Our houses therefore get cheap finishes.

    When we are older, we usually have more money, but less energy. Life is unfair.

  23. Scott Wilson | | #23

    Building regrets fall into
    Building regrets fall into several different categories. The easiest ones to deal with are the finishes. You know that one day when you have more money you can always upgrade the countertops or put up wainscoting over of drywall. Unfortunately, most of the other regrets usually come about from a lack of advanced planning.

    Thankfully, the greatest advancement in the design world has been the creation of architectural software that allows you to instantly see what the room will look like. Elden, when you were choosing your window sizes and locations did you use this kind of software?

    The other great thing about this software is that you can design the house with every feature you'd like it to have and then pare back (depending on your budget. Since you've allotted space for bookcases or built-ins it's much easier to add them in later on.

    One thing I have noticed on this site is a tendency for everyone to focus intently on a home's mechanical systems and construction details and not say much about how the interior spaces work together. I would suggest everyone who hasn't already read them already pick up a few of Sarah Susanka's books in her "The Not So Big House" series. There are about 5-6 books out now and they are chock full of great ideas on improving your home.

  24. Scott Wilson | | #24

    Corrections
    Elden, now that you've been living in your house for a while I was wondering if you were going to correct any of the deficiencies you've mentioned sometime soon? Most people don't have the insight into construction or design that an architect would have and may not even realize that there is a deficiency. They'd know "something" was wrong but they wouldn't be sure of exactly what the problem was or how to fix it.

    I'm wondering, as an architect, whether you'll feel compelled to correct things now rather than waiting 10-15 years before updating the house? Take your northwest bedroom window. Knowing that the room is a bit too dark wouldn't it be better to replace the window with a larger one this summer than having to look at it for 15 years and think "it's too dark in here?

    The same with the bathroom floor. Couldn't you rip out the floor and heat it now rather than live with cold tile for 15 years? The reason I ask is that I've found the biggest regret comes right after you've finally fixed the problem (years down the line) when you realize "I should have done this years ago."

  25. Malcolm Taylor | | #25

    Scott
    I guess I could compile a similar list of things I would have done differently if I built the same house again. Unless they really impeded the way I used the house, or my enjoyment of it, rather than just being things would fine-tune the house, I doubt it I would go the the trouble of correcting them. A of of Elden's list seem to me to be preferences rather than flaws. Would future occupants agree with all of them?

  26. Scott Wilson | | #26

    Corrections
    First off, I have to laugh at the suggestion I made to Elden on April 20th about trying out some architectural software to evaluate window locations. Of course I wrote that before I read some of his other blogs where he talked about doing exactly that.

    And yet, using the software does raise some interesting questions, like how do "mistakes" or oversights slip through the design process. Most people can't visualize how a room or building will look or function based on a set of blueprints but an architect is "expected" to catch all the errors and prevent them from being built. Modern architectural software sure makes that process a lot easier too.

    Still, the fact remains that some things don't work out. Why continue to live with them? I think fixing them now is better than living with them for years. Future occupants may not like your changes, but then again they may not like the way it looks now either. The best thing to do is please yourself. If every day you live there you're thinking "I hate this cold shower floor" then rip it out and install a heated floor. Enjoy it.

    From what I sense from the descriptions of the two main problems (cold tile floor and too small northwest bedroom window) the reasons for those design decisions were primarily based on energy modeling calculations rather than on comfort or enjoyment. I think too many people today have become too obsessed with "running the numbers" and then wind up creating a home that they don't truly enjoy just to satisfy some "energy guidelines".

  27. User avater
    Stephen Sheehy | | #27

    Can you see views with design software?
    We're quite pleased with our pretty good house. One thing we'd do differently is a bedroom window location. If we located it about four feet to the north, we'd have a better view when we wake up. The room itself is great and I don't know if any software exists that would allow us to look out the Windows from various locations. The bed can't be moved, as the headboard is one side of a built in drawer unit.
    I'd also like the pantry to be six inches deeper.

  28. Malcolm Taylor | | #28

    Stephen
    "I'd also like the pantry to be six inches deeper".

    See Elden's cautionary description of the changes to his waistline above.

  29. User avater
    Stephen Sheehy | | #29

    Malcolm
    No biking for me, so the fact that there's ten pounds more of me than when we moved in may very well be because we didn't have a pantry in our old house. Such a convenient location for snacks!

  30. User avater
    Elden Lindamood | | #30

    Corrections
    Scott, I appreciate your stance. I will "correct" a couple of things. I'll move some light switches, and ad a MUA switch by the wood stove sooner rather than later. I just need to get up the gumption to cut into my perfect sheetrock.
    I will "adapt" some things too, like adding a heat lamp in the bathroom to see if that improves the cold floor feeling. I could re-do the bathroom floor tile entirely, but feel a bit uneasy about wasting the installed material But your point us also well taken about regretting living with it for 15 years.
    I won't change the bedroom window mainly because it would cost thousands of dollars, which I don't have. To mention Stephen's comment, I do have the locations correct for the second bedroom windows, I just should have made one of them bigger for more light. I am always considering views and axis lines in window placement. The glass area is actually only slightly less than the south bedroom, but the fact that one faces north, and they both face the woods, cuts the light more than I expected.
    I think project fatigue plays a part in reluctance to change things after you've moved in too. And when the "to-do" list is still long, changing functioning things, even if not ideal, doesn't seem like a priority.
    And I did plan plenty of room for snacks.

  31. User avater
    Stephen Sheehy | | #31

    Project fatigue
    A combination of project fatigue and financial fatigue meant we didn't get to a planned countertop for our kitchen island. Instead, I had a sheet of prefinished maple plywood left over from the kitchen cabinet project. I laminated it to more plywood and trimmed it with some solid maple left over from the cabinet fronts. Three years later, it still looks pretty nice. We may keep it forever.

  32. Sonny Chatum | | #32

    "Passive solar works--do it"
    Elden, thanks for your article and the subject conclusion. I must admit, I only skimmed the article, but I certainly did not miss your conclusion on passive solar.

    It has been a long time since I've even visited this GBA website and it may be another long time before I visit again, but it was good to see your conclusion about passive solar. I very much know it works--have the house, utility bills, solar data and computer simulations to prove it-- but at the same time I was saying it works years ago, there were several people on this website diminishing its utility on a regular basis. There was never any real reason to discredit it (if it is done properly), but their position was perhaps based on and certainly reinforced by the full faith and credit of the U.S. Department of Energy and by window manufacturers from whom you can't even hardly buy windows with high SHGC any more. Technology and "progress" is often great, but window treatments and films that cut way back on SHGC and make it tougher to use passive solar energy is not really progress--our forefathers are shivering in their graves over this kind of progress.

  33. Malcolm Taylor | | #33

    Project fatigue redux
    There is a variant of project fatigue that affects builders own houses. A mixture of wanting to constantly renovate, not feeling like doing the same work at home in your spare time that you do all week, not feeling you can hire someone else to do the work, and not seeing an unfinished house as anything unusual. That's a long justification for still having no baseboards in my dining room, and incomplete kitchen cabinetry.

  34. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #34

    More on Fujitsu hand-held remotes and wall-mounted thermostats
    For more information on Fujitsu minisplit performance with hand-held remotes and wall-mounted thermostats, see Bruce Harley’s Minisplit Tips.

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