1. Working with contractors – Know the vocabulary. You’ll have a better chance of negotiating successfully with builders if you know about breaker boxes, water pressure tanks, load-bearing walls, and other such construction anatomy. A good way to learn is to get a book on construction and trace your electrical, plumbing, and other utility lines from where they enter the building to their points of use. Also, when on a construction site, wear a hard hat and work boots. Aside from being safer you’ll get to see more of the work, and you’ll be treated like an overseer and not an intruder.
2. Light bulbs – Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) are not better than incandescent lights when it’s less than 60 degrees outdoors, when they’re turned on and off a lot, or when they’re on less than 15 minutes. Also, their light is worse and the energy they save is tiny compared to—only one example—the energy that your house throws out its windows at night (better to stack your chips on lowering this). But here’s a light that uses no energy at all: luminous escape route trim. Use photo luminescent tape to your baseboards and you’ll always know where you are in the dark.
3. Solar panels anyone? – On a sunny day around 9:30 a.m. climb onto your roof and see if the sun shines on it. Repeat this around 3:30 p.m. Does the sun still shine on the shingles? Did it do so every hour in between? If you cannot remove the trees or nearby buildings or hills that obstruct the sun during these hours, do not install solar panels. Exception: south facades or terrain close by that receives lots of sun during the day.
4. Buy a backup generator? Why pay $950 for a cubic yard of materials that ravaged the environment in its making, requires more money and extreme care to install (people get killed when they don’t do this right), and needs monthly testing? Cheaper, simpler, and safer: For those rare occasions when the power fails create a power-outage kit that includes a dozen candles with holders, half a dozen flashlights with extra batteries, and several large buckets (when the power fails fill them at the nearest creek or lake, cistern the water in your bathtub, and use it for flushing toilets and rinsing)—then “go camping” with the kids and canned foods before your fireplace.
5. Fireplaces – A fire in a conventional fireplace is only 20 per cent efficient. Worse, when its hearth is cold lots of fossil fuel heat sucks up the flue unless you reach way under the mantle and close the sooty damper. Better: A fireplace insert that can burn logs and paper trash, has intake and outflow vents at the bottom and top (you shouldn’t need a circulating blower), has an easily operable damper, and sports large glass doors so you can enjoy the dancing flames. A fireplace insert is 50–75 per cent efficient and easier to operate.
6. Drainage – Whether your house stands on level or sloping terrain, the ground extending from its foundation should be graded at least 1/2 inch per foot downhill for 10 feet in every direction. This contouring—even if it takes dynamite and backhoes—is not money spent but money saved. Tip of the day: always locate a house on convex, not concave, terrain.
7. Mould – If mold appears inside your exterior walls or on your exterior siding, you may be suffering from the biggest mistake made in wood construction today: airtight envelopes. Airtight vapour barriers keep moisture-laden air from migrating through the wood framing, then the trapped moisture rots the wood. Contrary to what many “experts” say today, the solution is NOT tighter construction—because you can NEVER get rid of all the moisture and wood needs to “breathe” to keep from rotting. The only way out of this dilemma is radical surgery: Choice #1: Strip the siding, replace the Tyvek with tarpaper that allows air to infiltrate between its seams, and install new siding. Choice #2: While doing choice #1, thicken the exterior walls, either from the inside or outside, with more insulated construction. Save your house first and worry about your energy bills later.
8. Furnitecture – This is efficient furniture—items like bureaubeds, shoulder-high walls, and long desk counters with lots of shelves above and drawers below. Replacing the usual fat furniture with these compact items not only will make less indoor space more useful, it can create enough room around the inside of your exterior walls to add a second wall of insulation. This is the real secret to making your home or workplace more energy-efficient in the future.
9. Efficient indoor spaces – By removing useless corners, unused crannies, gun barrel hallways, seas of circulation around islands of furniture, and other chubby cubic footage indoors, not only will you be more comfortable in less space, you may have enough room in your home to install an office, have an exercise area (instead of driving to a dues-paying health club), and store more belongings (rather than rent a storage unit miles away). One of many clever ploys: Convert the usual wasted space between a row of studs into a hallway library or similar shelving. This can be done almost anywhere indoors.
10. Fire safety – When a fire erupts indoors a hot region exists at the flames—the fire zone—and areas nearby fill with toxic gases—the smoke zone. Both are deadly. Along with installing smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and fire exit signs, fit one sink faucet on each floor with spigot threads so you can screw a hose onto it. Outdoors, on two opposite facades mount spigots with frost proof sill cocks (the water in them won’t freeze in cold weather) and beside them mount hose racks with 75 feet of hose.
|Robert Brown Butler is the author of seven books on architecture, including his new book titled Architecture Laid Bare! In the new book Architect Laid Bare! In Shades of Green, veteran architect Robert Brown Butler focuses on taking the mystery out of the challenges of green architecture. In this highly readable and comprehensive book, he explains the newest and best ideas for creating each element of a modern building’s design and construction. For more information visit www.architecturelaidbare.com.|
photo courtesy criscris1 (sxc.hu)