I suppose many architects wish for the perfect client who would allow total freedom to incorporate every feature that an "Ideal House" should have. Any one project might only incorporate one or two. A perfect house would balance many of the comfort and environmental conerns with the Aesthetic focal points. The various technologies shown below are like a tool box that any architect can draw from. When a house incorporates many of these, it can be certified for "Energy-star" or "LEEDS" based on a point system and there are various levels for each.
I'm calling this conceptual house the "G-Home" (G for Geo, Green, Gogan...) Such a home could actually be a small collective or cooperative. Many times, after the family moves on, a large house with their own formal areas, pools, fancy Rec. Rooms, Exercise Rooms, security, etc., is being shared by "Roommates" or extended family.
Most of what follows has been developed by others in response to Nature's and our pratical "Biological Needs". There are a lot more needs we have, discussed on another page "Geoff's Recent Thoughts" There is more about how a house should respond to the cognitive, affective, social, economic, and spiritual needs. We may not do it everywhere, but usually at a few focal points or features.
Trends and Technology:
"Small Houses" or "Co-Housing" As I get up in age, and my kids are several states away, I gain more respect for the idea of sharing housing. I've worked on Assisted Living Facilities where they do share all of the amenities. The economy is forcing a lot of folks to become roommates, and many are realizing it has improved their lives. We really aren't meant to all be hunkered down in our own huge houses in a little corner like lonesome Mr. "Scrooge" with his cup of tea. When family members move on, we need another way to co-habit.
There is a "Co-Housing" movement that has developed in other countries, but which is just starting here. The same goes for mass transportation, very common in Europe and Japan, but not as prevalent here in the US. We often do this for low income housing for anywhere from 4 to 20 families. The units are individual townhouses, sharing some walls, common systems, water reclamation, irrigation, pool, exercise rooms, entertaining areas, security personnel, bulk food purchases and storage, a greenhouse, shared auto ownership, looking out onto common playgrounds and gardens. Ganging together units also makes it easier to invest in more expensive Geothermal, Passive Solar, Photo-voltaic, battery backups, heavy duty inverters, supervised alarms, Emergency water storage, backup power, common internet, cable, trash and recycling etc. Whether the "G-House" is stand alone for one family, or part of a small community, sharing these features significantly reduces the impact of each person on the Natural systems, but reducing the amount of material and labor, and the number of utility accounts.
Some of these leanings date back to my camping days when Scouts would set up small camp sites for a couple dozen people, build structures that would be shared, such as eating areas.
Zero - Energy Bill - One Nice prototype here in New Jersey There are a handful of forward thinking builders, one of whom is William Asdal, Asdal Builders. He purchased and rehabilitated a building, turning it into 'The Raritan Inn", a Bed and Breakfast. He has become an experienced "'Green" builder. At either of these sites you will find a "Green Building" tab and lots of good info. Much of the technology is the same type that we and others try to use, but developing his own projects, serving as both builder and client, has enabled him to create some prototypes utilizing many of the various systems. He has also hooked up with the NJDEP and the NAHB Research Center who is monitoring the post construction performance.) The Raritan Inn was cited in one of the first Case Studies by the SEER, (Seasonal energy efficiency ratio)
The US Department of Energy has additional information that is quite educational. Also, www.buildinggreen.com
Super-Insulation. Every house could be super insulated with double the typical Roof and wall insulation. Fiberglass requires more space, so one might use Sprayed on Icynene Foam, (like "Great Stuff") spray Cellulose, made from recycled newspaper or rags, or other products. The foams provide a combined benefit of insulation, avoid some venting needs, and vapor barrier all in one. Most heat goes through the windows and doors or up through the roof. Therefore, if the budget won't support Icynene or similar spray foam insulation, it can be installed only in the attic or rafter spaces. Many homes now receive foam under the roof sheathing, providing excellent R-Value, moisture barrier, and infiltration barrier. These products do cost a lot more than Fiberglass - say $3.00 per SF for 2x4 walls compared to $ .60 for R-13, but you get about R- 25 so it does pay for itself over time. The R-value is enhanced with excellent moisture and infiltration barrier, which can save another 20%.
"Infiltration" One of the biggest sources of heat loss and gain is through the cracks in a building. As wind flows around and over a building, a Venturi affect is created where pressure is higher on one side and lower on the opposite side. The air will find its way under the siding, through sheathing, window and door joints, electrical devices, into the house, while air is pulled out the same way on the opposite side. Many houses lose up to 30% of their energy this way, for example through the gaps around recessed lighting in an unconditioned attic floor. The warm moist air will also condense on the cool structure, sometimes rotting if it doesn't dry fast enough. Most LEEDs or Earthcraft standards require extra measures to seal the house with plastic sheeting before finishes are installed. The spaces outside of such sealants must be vented. Too many houses are over sealed, and moisture that finds its way into the cavities cannot escape fast enough. We have developed ways to prevent this problem without compromising the weather barrier of House Wrap.
Aside from the outer envelope, leakage must be prevented between conditioned interior air and the unconditioned spaces inside walls, between joists in attics, etc. Typical areas are where HVAC ducts penetrate the wall, spaces behind tubs, cantilevered floors, kneewalls, and pull down stairs.
Sealed distribution systems As more research is done, the importance of preventing loss of air from ductwork has been proven. Too many times ductwork passes through unconditioned crawl spaces or attics. Leaks at the seams can lower the efficiency quite a bit. All of the newer standards require that these seams be sealed very well with special tape or with mastic material. The entire system is then pressure tested to confirm that no leaks exist.
Conditioned mechanical areas It is common to have an air handler / furnace in an unconditioned attic, crawlspace or basement. These units are subject to freezing, so the more efficient "Condensing" type furnaces which have condensation dripping back from the exhaust are avoided out of fear for freezing fluid. When the furnace is in a conditioned or insulated space, preserving some of the heat, a higher efficiency unit may be used.
Fresh Air When a house is so well sealed, fresh air must be allowed in through ductwork controlled with dampers. This air is needed to replace air that is exhausted through bathrooms and cooking hoods. Sometimes we use a PVC pipe connected to the return air duct. We can also utilize special fans with filters, and oxygen sensors.
Variable Speed Heat Pumps and Air Handlers: These are relatively new products which convert A/C power to D/C so that motors can be easily changed in speed. New spline type compressors are quieter and allow just the amount of work needed rather than the old piston type pumps that are either all the way on or off. Some of these systems are integrated with a Geothermal source in the ground or a water feature, but may also have fossil fuel backup. They are called "Hybrid" systems.
PEX Plumbing: Over the years plastics have been incorporated more and more. Early efforts had problems, but they have now been refined. It can be used for reliable radiant heating, hot and cold water, and geothermal fluids. They don't require expensive copper, solder, have far fewer joints, and are more easily worked with mechanical fasteners, and fittings. There are also nice manifolds available where you can mix hot and cold water, and send it through 3/8" pipes to individual appliances rather than having to use various size pipes depending on how many "Fixture Units" each is serving and then reduce the size as it branches out.
Electrical: The most common issue here is lighting. The use of fluorescent, compact fluorescent or best of all, LED lighting preserves a lot of electricity compared to traditional hot incandescent lamps. Certain power management features can be included such as motion detection switches and receptacles, which will turn off power to devices when not in use.
With some of the panelized structural systems, we consider the use of surface mounted "Wire mold" with individual 10 and 12 ga wires along with all data and phone. This allows changes to be made earlier.
Another part of Electrical is to reduce consumption by using Day lighting, Seasonal shading, overhangs, Low watt lamps etc.
Acoustics: Noise has become more of a problem. We have ways to reduce its transmission through walls and windows, quiet down the plumbing systems, isolate vibrating HVAC equipment, etc. We also balance open planning with the occasional need to let the kids play out loud behind a pair of French Doors, or provide a quiet reading area away from the TV.
"Off the Grid - Self Sufficiency" While trying not to become a "Survivalist" or becoming obsessed with all of the potential catastrophes, a home should be able to provide protection and services during a severe storm, power outage, terrorist attack, fuel shortage, - whatever. This requires a way to store, manage and distribute emergency or ongoing power. One product available is by Gridpoint. We try to include a sub-panel next to the main service panel. This panel would serve all critical low voltage emergency LED lighting in every room, stair and hall, Internet, Refrigeration, critical pumps, and it would be connected to a backup power source. That might be a generator, but preferably a well designed battery system automatically charged with solar photovoltaics or wind. Any excess power generated would be sold back to the utility at the prevailing rate.
There is some peace of mind in knowing that you could get by and maybe help some neighbors out. I remember that image during the wild fires in California where many houses were burned to the ground, but a few were seemingly untouched. This was intentionally planned by incorporating fireproof materials and landscaping properly. Most of these systems are more "Home grown" using individual interconnected batteries, solar panels, etc. Costco has a good deal this kit: Costco Emergency Power kit. One can also pick up a starter set of emergency food that only requires water and a heat source
Much more could be done - for example storing water on site using Brac systems tank with integral pump.
Alternative Fuel. For example in our area, many use Natural Gas for hot water, heat and cooking. If it's were interrupted, one could use a propane grill, but not for long. Other backups might be a tank of oil or propane, wood, or pellets.
Passive Solar. During outages, the sun would still be available. Reliance on Fossil fuels could be reduced if at least a portion of heat for the home or domestic hot water came from a natural source.
Wind There are wind mills, but the technology is just being scaled for smaller sites. Some new small footprint turbine types are now becoming available, but there are problems with approval by the NJ DEP as well as potential local Zoning restrictions. Bergey Wind Power has a good site and caters to smaller applications. Wind can be a good compliment to photovoltaic systems because during stormy or evening times, wind may continue re-charging the batteries, run the pumps including the Geothermal heat pumps.
Geothermal Furnaces that burn Fossil fuels - oil, gas, propane are only capable of certain efficiencies from 70-92%. Some of the energy just goes up the chimney. Geothermal utilizes all of the energy soaked up from the earth, or pumped into the earth. While a hydronic system requires pumps, the earth would maintain 58 degrees just a few feet underground. Houses have been built with earth berms, partially underground, or with passive convective air ducts that run under ground to pre-heat or cool the air. Most systems today require multiple trenches in a big yard, or several wells drilled down deep. For now refer to Asdral Builders Geothermal page and another Geothermal page
This one has a nice overview and promotes a neat underground tank. Some of the slides are included above.
"Windows and Doors" Most Energy standards such as LEEDS, Earthcraft, and Energy star require that any windows or doors resist heat transfer. Most manufacturers have developed products with low "U-Values" or high "R-Values". This might mean adding a third layer of glass, extra Low-E film, Argon gas filling, shades, etc. We have also looked as prefabricated made to order rigid foam panels that could be inserted at the upper sash of a window during the season.
I like the Jeld-Wen products, the Pella Designer or Architect Series Windows, both with triple pane U .25 windows.
There are even better ones out there, but we also want a great serviceable warranty.
Another issue related to Windows is how they resist "Wind born debris" in a storm, or impacts from other sources.
Trash and Recycling We try to provide space and containers to make this easy, not an after thought.
Building Healthy: Many people are sensitive to some of the man-made materials being used in buildings. A few such as "Formaldehyde" are well known after stories about the Trailers used for Katrina refugees. There is much much more to be considered, primarily regarding clean pure unpolluted air. This means controlling Cleaning products, Combustion gasses, Metabolic gases, Pesticides, Radon, solvents, Animal Dander, Aesbestos, Bacteria, Viruses, Dust Mites, Lead Dust, Mold Spores, Pollen and more. The key is to "Eliminate, Separate and Ventilate". Sometimes we are concerned with Electromagnetic Fields, outgassing of paints, carpets, padding, sealants etc. I've taken some special training at the New York Institute of Technology. I will include more on a separate page.
This site has a nice overview of Geo-Thermal where we pump heat from the earth into the house, or out of the house into the earth, which maintains a constant temperature of 58 degrees. This is done with a standard heatpump such as you might have in a window air-conditioner, but instead of pumping to and from the outside air - trying to pump heat out of 10 degree air, or into 90 degree air, the heat is soaked up by the earth.
There are several ways to run tubing with fluid - horizontally through trenches, vertically into wells, or in coils set into a lake or other water container. There are Federal and State Tax Credits available now, For more click here: Geo-Thermal