A Passive House certification is one of the highest available for energy-efficient homes. And this residence hall in Belfast, Maine demonstrates that, “space heating costs for TerraHaus are less than $300 per year ($30 per student), a big improvement from the two poorly insulated housing units it replaced, each with an annual space heating cost of about $500 per student.”
That is a 94% reduction in energy bills – helped out by the rooftop solar panels. The dorm sleeps 10 students and features chemical free building materials and durable fixtures to survive many school years. There is a solar water heater, an ultra-efficient (88%) HRV system that circulates in fresh outdoor air, and windows that absorb and keep in sunshine during the winter (50% solar heat gain).
The walls and roof were constructed to minimize any heat loss during the winter. They were measured for thermal efficiency using R-values and the walls achieved a value of 50 and the roof 80-100. The typical home has R-values ranging from 18-25 for walls and 50-60 for ceilings.
It’s an impressive home and worthy of the Design Award it received.
A home profiled in Wired has six very interesting zero-carbon elements, but it’s the last two that fascinate me – thick walls and ultra-efficient windows. Thick walls mean “two 8-inch-thick concrete layers that protect the interior from outside temperature fluctuations. On hot days, the concrete absorbs and retains heat, keeping rooms cool; at night it slowly releases that heat to maintain steady temps around the clock.”
And the windows, “three coats of glazing give these windows more than twice the thermal resistance of standard double-paned glass.”
Both focus on the thermal energy efficiency of a home. With the goal of completely insulating a home – no heat lost or gained, no cool air lost or gained. Several homes are being built with the goal of 100% efficiency and that completely alters how a home functions. Things like the heat created by our 98.6 degree bodies become important. Facing a home in the sun (cold climates) or away from (hot climates) becomes essential.
And a lot of this can be accomplished with simple building materials, like concrete walls – which can easily be incorporated in building new homes. And the more complicated materials, like nanotech windows discussed in the article, can be placed on existing homes:
There’s some revolutionary nanotechnology that’s about to go into the glass—different kinds of coatings that make them five to 10 times more energy-efficient than double-paned windows. These windows are as energy-efficient as walls.
With these improvements the energy costs of heating and cooling should plummet, and traditional heaters and HVACs can be downsized or turned off for weeks at a time.
There are many who dream of owning the smallest home they can find; a strong reaction to those who dream of owning a two-story mini-mansion. Here is a CNN profile of a young couple who did just that – moving their two kids, cat and dog into a 168 square foot home (on 3 acres of land):
“The things we have are beautiful, enriching our tiny space. We got rid of so much and kept the beautiful things,” Hazi Berzins said. “Freeing ourselves from consumer debt and living mortgage-free has cleared the clutter to help us see what is truly important: our relationships, our happiness, each moment.”
And Mayor Michael Bloomberg agrees – or he wants to improve the city’s studios – as he announced a contest to design and build 1.8 million studios in Manhattan. Each unit is to be less than 300-square feet and contain a kitchen and bathroom.
New Yorkers love their studios, young quirky families love their tiny homes, how about you – do you enjoy your small or large space?
My kids adore our Casa Cabana House (below), which has magically survived 5 years of play. The Kidsonroof Rocket would definitely get my son’s imagination going. Here’s your ticket to being superaunt or superuncle!
Doubtless, the dour Victorian author would have wanted us to celebrate the day exploring the city he loved and hated, London.
Dickens’ London was a magnificent and horrendous place. At the height of the British Empire, London was the envy of the world, by far the most majestic city anywhere. Unimaginable wealth passed through its gates every day.
The Charles Dickens Museum is in Bloomsbury, right in central London, and is housed in an actual Dickens residence. Visiting it gives you a sense of exactly what it was like to live in Dickens’ house – if that house were stuffed with hundreds of thousands of artifacts, manuscripts, and other historical objects.
With roots going back to the Middle Ages, this pub is tucked away from Fleet Street up a narrow alley. Fans of the pub tout its mention in A Tale of Two Cities, although Dickens never mentions the pub by name. Apparently, though, it’s a great place to grab a pint or two after you’ve been acquitted of treason.
You won’t find this cathedral mentioned anywhere in Dickens’ works. That’s because in his time, it was just a plain ol’ church (named “St Saviour’s”).
The cathedral – one of the oldest churches in London – appears in a classically Dickensian sentence from Oliver Twist: “The tower of old Saint Saviour’s Church, and the spire of Saint Magnus, so long the giant-warders of the ancient bridge, were visible in the gloom.”
An interesting concept for a beach home is profiled in the LA Times. The house is built into a cliff using “rammed-earth,” concrete slabs, and recycled materials.
D’Acosta and Turrent began their two-year construction project by digging a foundation into the cliff, then constructing a perimeter of 3-foot-thick rammed-earth retaining walls. They called the inner structure of earthen tunnels an “hormiguero,” or ants’ nest. A concrete slab hearth supports the weight of the wood floor and roof, “like a huge column supporting a bridge,” D’Acosta said. The result is a 2,300-square-foot house with bohemian flair.
Another component of the home is recycled 100-year-old redwood planks from a bridge in Northern California. The couple bought 200 of the timbers, each 27 feet long and 1 ton, from a salvage yard in Rosarito Beach.