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Rosenfeld Affect

 

Art Rosenfled

I was impressed by this little tidbit in a recent Title 24 Seminar I attended.  Sometimes the California energy codes seem behind the technology and sometimes overly technical and expensive, requiring expensive gadgets and fixtures, but look at the energy savings!!!

Here is the whole story from the California Energy Commission.

 

 

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Aalto’s summer house, Muuratsalo, 1953 – brick experiments

I love bricks. The scale of a brick to fit in a human hand allows you to imagine the wall being built one brick at a time. I probably read that somewhere rather than invented it myself, but it’s right. Bricks can also create nice patterns. This photo is of a wall of Alvar Aalto’s summer house on Muuratsalo and maybe was a test palate for different brick options.

I looked up this project up in my one Aalto book, Alvar Aalto by Richard Weston, 1995.  Weston has several pages on these “brick experiments”

“The brickwork is also painted white externally, while inside the courtyard the brick and tile experiments create a rich patchwork-quilt on the walls and floor, which suggest by turn De Stijl-like reliefs, or old walls with redundant door and window openings bricked up and patched over time. The experiments were as much aesthetic as technical: we are in the world of metaphor again , for what are these walls if not imitations of ‘ruins’ – past, or perhaps to come? Is this tiny piazzetta, the atrium of a Pompeian patrician’s dwelling, or the (de)relict room of a large, old house, which has lost its roof and been recolonized as a picturesque courtyard? All these possibilities come to mind: the image is too general to be pinned down to a specific interpretation – it would lapse into kitsch otherwise – and can still be contemplated simply as an abstract collage. Memories of Pompeiana probably played their part. As did those of Italian piazzas. I like to think Aalto intended the walls to be seen as the arch-empiricist’s ironic commentary on the fate of the strict geometric compositions then coming into favor in Finland under the influence of the arch -theorist Aulis Blomstedt, with his pythagorean fascination for number and proportion on the basis of beauty. ” Pg 119-121

There are several more paragraphs of discussion of the meaning of this brickwork in Weston’s book. I think I will let you read the book rather than transcribe it here.

 

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thermal image of tight house

I stole this photo from the website of Fabrica718. It is an image taken with an infrared camera of a block of Brooklyn brownstones. The blue one is the one they remodelled….blue because its envelope is so well insulated that very little heat is escaping. Pretty cool. I’m not sure why most of the other houses have blue second and third story windows. I can’t imagine that the whole block has been upgraded to triple pane. Any ideas?

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Well's underground office entry

Appraisals make me grumpy. It seems brutal to reduce the value of a house to square footage, numbers of bedrooms, and whether the bathroom floor has tile. There are so many intangibles that contribute to the value of a house. For example the two large trees in front of my house that shade my bedroom in the summer with their dense greenery then turn bright orange yellow and red in the fall.  Of course there has to be some way to quantify a house’s worth for banks.

One guideline that seems pretty silly is the rule that square footage that is even slightly below grade is not counted as square footage.  This realestate agent’s article has some funny comments.  One guy actually seems to have hired a bulldozer to unearth his house so that he could qualify for a loan. Another homeowner determined that he has no square footage because his entire house is dug into the earth.

I thought of one of the inspirations of my youth, Malcolm Wells. He was an architect in Massachusetts who built most of his buildings underground.   Here are some of his words about this way of building (from his website):

“…By letting our structure hog all the sunlight wherever we go, we stamp out much of the natural riches of our land. Weather is not kind to building materials. They need to be protected by a blanket of earth. Otherwise, ice cracks the freeways, water rusts bridge structures, floods rage because water cannot soak into impervious ground….”

“…We live in an era of glitzy buildings and trophy houses: big, ugly, show-off monsters that stand—or I should say stomp—on land stripped bare by the construction work and replanted with toxic green lawns. If the buildings could talk they would be speechless with embarrassment, but most of us see nothing wrong with them, and would, given the opportunity, build others like them, for few of us realize that  there’s a gentler way to buildIt’s called underground.”

Here are some nice pictures of one of his houses

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compost heater

A simple diagram taken from this site….full of a lot of similar concepts for sustainable living.

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drawers with cut out pulls

I have always liked this simple and affordable way to open cabinet drawers. This is a bathroom cabinet for a project here in Berkeley, CA.

Remodelista just posted a collection of some other nice examples (follow the link)

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My client would like a surface mounted track light over her bathroom vanity.  I wanted certainty that code would allow a fixture rated only for dry locations in a bathroom.  I found this article written by Mark Ode, a staff engineering associate at Underwriters Laboratory Inc on the website for the UL Company.

According to Mark, a dry location luminaire must be installed in a location that is not normally subjected to dampness but may be subjected to temporary dampness. With the proper ventilation, above a bathroom vanity fits this qualification.  Inside the shower of course, where water can easily splash on a fixture, a fixture must be wet rated.

His article also explains the difference between wet, damp, and dry UL ratings, as well as a few less common ratings for light fixtures.

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Yesterday I attended this lighting showcase at the Pacific Energy Center. Most of the lights on display were LED technology. Here are a few highlights:

http://www.nudnorthamerica.com

http://www.usa.lighting.philips.com/connect/LED_modules/inteGrade-LED-systems.wpd

http://alvalight.com/

http://www.cooperindustries.com/content/public/en/lighting/brands/shaper.html

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The building energy code for California is getting stricter in January 2014 and the new rules have been published.

The real goal is for all new homes to be net zero energy by 2020.

One of the biggest hopes for energy savings is LED lights, and the CEC is cracking down on the industry demanding tighter tolerances and standards so that consumers can trust that they are getting the amount and color of light and the longevity that they are paying for.

I just got home from a presentation of some of the latest in LED lighting technology by Param Electric at Laner Electric Supply. I learned a few new tricks and I have some of their product recommendations to share.

1) You can add a current limiter to a track lighting system so that it can pass inspection in a kitchen where lights are required to be high efficacy

2) This one isn’t strictly for LED lights: MR16 fixtures need filters to diffuse the light and eliminate spotty wallwashing

3) The amazing new Cree “A Lamp” only dims to 40%. The new Title 24 for 2014 will require it to dim to 15%, so hopefully Cree will be able to make that happen. These sorts of LED bulbs that can screw into traditional sockets are a great and simple solution for energy savings without throwing out the whole fixture. Beware that overheating is a problem for these bulbs. Many cannot be installed in enclosed fixtures and some cannot be installed facing up. Most are directional, which can be a good thing, but doesn’t work so well in situations where you want light to shine up and down and all around.

3.5) I have used Cree recessed LED lights myself for at least the last 5 years with success, but learned from these specialists that Cree has good quality control and makes the lamps for many of the more high end LED fixture manufacturers. Cree itself keeps it simple and is able to produce basic recessed lights for a very affordable price. If you want something with more bells and whistles you will need to go to their competitors, Juno, Halo, Tech lighting and more. Many of their more expensive competitors are using Cree lamps in their own products.

4) Creative Lighting Systems makes a 2″ diameter recessed light that puts out 800 lumens for 11 watts. (Laner sells the whole package for about $220, the 4″ version is about $160) You can get lenses to change the lighting effect/ beam spread. According to Param, the color of CSL LED lights is not well controlled. You might get one where the color is off, otherwise they make great lights.

5) The color in Kelvins of LED light varies a lot. There has been poor regulation of this standard, but this is one of the things that the regulators are cracking down on. Soon the LED manufacturers will be held to a higher standard of accuracy. Read this for more info on color temperature in lighting.

6) Tech Lighting makes very high quality recessed lights and they are the only option if you need something that puts out a lot of lumens.

7) Diode LED makes very user-friendly strip lighting. A remote driver is required, but it can be far away and it isn’t very big. I have one of these strip lights over the door to my office. I love it so far…been about 3 years.

8) Max Light and Phillips Color Kinetics both make some good self-contained LED fixtures for undercabinet, closet, cove etc that do not need remote drivers.

9) RAB makes some great exterior LED fixtures. I can vouch for these myself.

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A friend recently recommended this book:

Good House Cheap House – An Adventure in Creating and Extraordinary Home at an Everyday Price by Kira Obolensky.

The main premise of the book is that you can build your dream house for below market rate prices through creativity, salvaged materials, and hard work.  I will start by saying that I like the idea and I really like a most of the houses that she features. I also agree with Kira that the architect should not be eliminated as a cost saving measure. But now I will pick apart the strategies that she puts forward.

1) Salvaged materials – Generally this is not a viable or significant cost saving measure for most people. It is hard to find and store quantities of building materials. Using used windows doesn’t make sense in most climates because used windows are mostly not up to current energy efficiency standards. Using used framing materials often requires that they be re-certified to prove they can still perform.  Additionally, Labor costs in the United States are usually a bigger share of the budget than the materials….so it doesn’t make sense from a financial standpoint to have paid labor removing nails and cleaning up salvaged materials.  That said, if you do have a place to store materials out of the weather and access to good salvage yards, craigslist, and other places to buy used materials, money can be saved. There is often also character and charm in using salvaged materials..and of course it can be more environmentally sound. The same is true of saving parts of an old building rather than tearing it down and starting from scratch. Unfortunately, it is often cheaper to start from scratch.

2) Creativity – Kira shows many examples of ingenuity and unconventional uses of materials. Honestly, for most people with a hired contractor, I can’t imagine that this saves any money. The idea would have to be communicated from architect to client to builder, or from client to architect to builder or maybe just from client to builder and this often is a challenge.  Frequently new creative ideas scare builders who have to put a price tag on things ahead of time.  Many of the houses in Kira’s book are architects’ own houses. Its much easier to be creative on your own house. You can experiment and don’t have to spend time creating drawings, models, or other tools to convince the client of the idea.  These architects probably did some of the building themselves, eliminating communication altogether.  That said, much of the construction budget goes to finish materials. If you like the aesthetic of plywood as a finish floor or various sheet goods rather than tile for your shower and bathroom floor, curtains instead of doors for the shower and some closets, then you can save money.

It is wonderful to create something beautiful through creative use of basic materials. In my mind this is way cooler than making something beautiful by spending money on expensive tiles, carpets, and other architectural elements.

3) Hard work –  In my opinion, this is the only sure winner, but it also has to be smart work.  Experienced builders and architects and engineers are often more efficient and have tricks of the trade. Doing your own work, design or construction, can sometimes lead to disappointing results.  The hardwork that makes the most sense in my opinion is spending the time to carefully select your architect and builder, spending the time to have your needs and desires and budget thought through, assisting the architect where possible and being available and giving schematic plans sufficient thought and consideration and getting preliminary pricing before moving along to the more detailed construction documents. It is often a good idea to pick a builder early on so the architect and builder can work together for an efficient collaboration. During construction there is plenty to do. Some builders are open to clients helping with the work, others typically bigger companies, want no part of this.  I have had several projects where a small builder was happy to have the owner operate as a carpenter’s assistant. This is a great way to learn and get your hands dirty while having an expert on hand to guide the project. Home owners also frequently help with clean up and dump runs – labor intensive and low skilled parts of the job. Painting is often done by the home owners, but it is often more efficient to paint before finish electrical and plumbing, so it might be inconvenient for the contractor to wait while the homeowner does their own painting. The most important thing that a homeowner can do to make the job more efficient is to be available and spend the time to make decisions as quickly as possible. If every door knob has not been selected prior to construction with the architect, these things will have to be selected during construction. There are a lot of small decisions like this and it is crucial that they don’t cause delays.  It is even more important that you don’t change your mind about certain decisions. changing things late in the game can be very expensive.  Beyond making decisions, keeping your eye on things is always helpful. Even an untrained eye can detect issues and help things go more smoothly.

4) Simplicity – A cost saving measure that Kira does not mention is simplicity. For example: Most kitchens these days have recessed lights, under-cabinet lights and a decorative light in the middle of the room. If you have high enough ceilings to make it work, stick with one big light in the middle of the room. (if your ceilings are not high, you might not get enough light on the work surfaces.)  Every switch and fixture costs money. Complicated roof lines can be very expensive in labor and materials.

5) Lifecycle costs – It is also important to consider the lifetime costs of the building. Incandescent bulbs might be cheaper, but LED bulbs will save you money in the long run. Durable materials will last longer. Money spent on extra insulation will usually save money down the road.

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