Musings of an Energy Nerd

Revisiting Ventilation

Posted on November 17, 2017 by Martin Holladay

My comprehensive article on residential ventilation systems, “Designing a Good Ventilation System,” was published back in 2009. A few things have changed in the last eight years, so it’s time to revisit the topic.

Kitchen Design

Posted on November 10, 2017 by Martin Holladay

Every decade, kitchen design becomes more complicated. It’s gotten to the point where some residential designers subcontract the work to a specialist.

If you are a humble owner-builder, do your kitchen preferences even matter anymore? Of course they do. If you’re building a house, you should certainly have a say in matters affecting kitchen design — even if your ideas are different from those of the experts.

Rethinking the Rules on Minimum Foam Thickness

Posted on November 3, 2017 by Martin Holladay

When builders ask for advice about installing rigid foam on the exterior side of a wall, I usually refer them to one of my articles, “Calculating the Minimum Thickness of Rigid Foam Sheathing.” The article explains that the R-valueMeasure of resistance to heat flow; the higher the R-value, the lower the heat loss. The inverse of U-factor. of the rigid foam layer needs to be high enough to keep the OSB or plywood sheathing above the dew point during the winter. For example, a house with 2x6 walls in Climate Zone 6 would need rigid foam with a minimum R-value of R-11.25.

Living Without Electricity

Posted on October 27, 2017 by Martin Holladay

This year’s hurricane season brought extensive power outages to areas of Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. In some cases, electricity was restored in two or three days. In much of Puerto Rico, however, the electricity has been off for weeks, and may not be restored for months.

A Better Bath Fan Termination for Soffits

Posted on October 20, 2017 by Martin Holladay

Most bathroom exhaust fans are installed poorly. Because of twisted ductwork, improper terminations, and (in some cases) inappropriate backdraft dampers, the actual air flow through the exhaust fan is much less than the fan rating.

‘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.

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