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Net Zero Homes

You might have heard of a Net Zero home in the news or read about it in a magazine.  So, what is it?  A Net Zero home means that a house produces as much energy as it consumes. Energy consumption within a building is rated using the HERS index (Home Energy Rating System.) Reaching a 0 rating means the home is completely self-sustaining. A typical house has a HERS rating of 100-130.

 

A Net Zero house minimizes energy use within a house and any energy that it needs, it produces through renewable energy systems like solar panels.  Therefore, the house is not dependent on getting its energy from an outside producer.  It is self-sufficient.  Sound pretty nice? Well, below are some ways that you can incorporate some of the Net Zero concepts into your home:

 

Footprint:  Utilizing a modest building footprint and not over-building for your needs may be a first good step.  The larger and more spread out a building is, the more energy it will consume.

 

Climate Responsiveness:  Employ passive design techniques such as south-facing windows that promote natural heating and daylighting. Also, limiting east/west exposure in hot climates helps to reduce cooling loads.

 

Quality Construction:   Incorporating good building practices such as correct flashing, sealing, framing, effective insulation, etc. to achieve a super-tight envelope is important. Quality of the construction should be integral to the design and really helps to minimize envelope loads.

 

Systems Sizing:  Integrating and sizing systems efficiently including heating, cooling, ventilation and dehumidification can really help to optimize the building’s performance.

 

Renewable Energy:  Homes need to utilize on-site renewable/alternative energy to generate power and heat. Solar panels, fuel cells, micro-turbines, etc. can be used to make and store energy to meet critical energy loads.

 

These are just a few of the more important avenues to reach a home that is completely self-sufficient and considered Net Zero.  By studying these important concepts we can produce a house that is much less energy reliant and contains a much smaller carbon footprint.

 

Passive Houses

We all know that having an airtight house cuts down on our heating and cooling costs. But how tight do they need to be?  Is it really necessary to have an extremely high performance house or should we be somewhere in the middle?  Well, in the next few blogs I will be discussing insulation as well as air tightness and several methods that can be used to achieve the specific goal you want to strive for.

 

The first standard I want to talk about is called Passive Houses. Passive Houses are an energy standard that can bring down a building’s heating and cooling loads by 90% over standard construction. There are clearly defined targets that the house must achieve to gain the Passive House status. It uses super insulation methods along with air tightness and other methods to reduce heating and cooling loads to such low levels that the house can be operational through mostly passive measures and minimal active measures.  So, how is this achieved?  Here are the 6 main objectives:

 

Insulation:

The building envelope must consist of highly insulated exterior walls, roof and floor. This keeps the desired warmth in the house or undesirable heat out.

 

Windows:

Highly efficient triple pane windows are a must. They also need to be low-e glazing, argon-filled and have airtight frames. With these windows on the coldest day of the year, you can touch the glass and it will not feel cold!

 

Thermal-Bridge Free Design:

This means no part of the structure can act as a roadway for heating energy that can travel and escape right through your walls.

 

Super-Tight Construction:

With the Passive House standard, air infiltration can be no greater than 0.6 air changes per hour, at 50 pascals. That is a super airtight house!

 

Sun Exposure:

Orient your home so that the sun helps to heat it. Sun exposure can really help to keep your energy costs down.

 

Air Exchanges:

With a super tight house, clean fresh air is a must. By using an Energy Recovery Ventilator your house will experience 7 complete air exchanges in 24 hours.

 

So, you might be thinking that this is pretty extreme.  You also might be wondering how expensive this is. Initially the costs may be higher, but over time your energy costs would skydive. This is just an overview of the Passive House method, but it demonstrates some things that we could do within our houses to help save energy and therefore become less energy dependent.
 

Incorporating the Senses into Architecture

 

Did you know it was possible to incorporate your senses into your new home?  I will discuss our five senses and the strategies you might use to integrate these into your new space.

 

Sight:

Sight is an obvious one and definitely the most used sense relating to architecture.  To view a space is to see not only the solid forms but also the openness and space of an area.  Using both light and structure in combination can make its occupants feel comfortable. The merger of these components can also take your home from just ordinary to something special and a place you want to hang out in!

 

Hearing:

Acoustics of a building, though not initially obvious to us, can return a space’s movements and create an atmosphere that we can connect with.  Increasing sound can boost the intensity of a space just like a sound track from a movie.  To adjust the impact of sound, we can use sound absorbers or sound optimizers.  Also, the forms of the building can affect sound.  The ceiling height or shape of the room can affect the acoustics.  With a high ceiling, sound has further to travel than with a shortened height. Also, different shapes of surfaces can bounce sound in specific directions to create an interesting effect.

 

Touch:

The sense of touch within a building can create a feeling of either relating or dislike.  The touch of building materials itself can create this feeling but it‘s also possible to feel a space without touching its components. You can feel if a space is dim or bright just by being in it.  The easiest example is the feeling of sunlight on your skin as you inhabit the space.

 

Smell:

Smell is our sense that is most closely connected to our memories.  The smell of different materials or fragrances we use within a space can be recorded in our memory for a later time.  Connections to these distinct smells can be recalled later and can stimulate various emotions that we might have had while being in the space.

 

Taste:

Taste is probably the toughest sense to link to in architecture.  It has been proven though that architecture can stimulate taste through vision.  It is possible that by mixing certain colors within objects of a building, it elicits some oral sensations.

 

In conclusion, our senses are how we experience the world in which we live. Within a building we can use our senses to create special environments that are both memorable and a joy to be in.

Designing a Home For Warm Humid Climates Where Germane

 

I discussed the hot arid climate in my last blog and how we can accomplish a more comfortable living environment within our homes by following a few design guidelines. Next, I want to talk about Warm Humid Climates and what we can do to address this specific zone.

 

The main characteristics for a warm humid climate include:

 

-High rainfall and high humidity

-Temperature is relatively high and fairly even throughout the day and throughout the year

-Winds are light and even non-existent at times

-Heavy precipitation and storms occur frequently

 

The main objective with a warm humid climate is to reduce the impact of sun and to provide cooling with wind as much as possible.

 

Here are some design ideas:

 

-Provide maximum shading of solar radiation with large overhanging roofs on the north and south sides

-Try to shade every window if possible

-Minimize east/west exposure as much as possible

-Orient house on north/south axis to provide maximum ventilation and free air movement.

-Use large openings on north/south for cross ventilation

-Avoid heat storage and use reflective outer surfaces

-Use tiled floors and not carpeting

-Use vegetation to moderate solar impact by creating shade

 

These are some important ideas to consider as you begin the process of designing your new home in a warm humid climate. Shade and ventilation are really the key and by thinking about this in the beginning you will have a superior finished product in the end.

 

Designing Homes for Hot Arid Climates

 

In my last blog I discussed how the various climates that we find in North America can influence design and how the four broad climate types we find calls for varying design techniques. The first climate that I want to discuss is the Hot Arid Climate.

 

The main characteristics for a hot arid climate include:

 

-Hot dry summer and a cold dry winter

-Very little rainfall and vegetation coverage

-High temperature difference between day and night

-Very low humidity

-Desert areas include wind and dust

 

The main idea in a hot arid zone is to reduce uncomfortable conditions created by the extremes of heat and dryness. Houses must remain cool in the hot summers and warm in the cold winters.  During the summer, sun is the enemy. It is important to provide maximum shading of direct solar radiation during the day and flush out any stored heat during the cooler nights.

 

Here are some design ideas to accomplish comfort:

 

-Place windows to take advantage of cooling breezes in summer

-Have very small well shaded windows on the eastern and western walls

-Include extensive area of wall and windows on the north side

-Shade windows from summer sun but expose winter sun to interior of house

-Use compact floor plan with less external wall area to minimize eastern and western walls

-Maximize nighttime cooling with high level windows or vents to let out the hot air and draw in cooler air

-Utilize shaded courtyards with water features that draw the cool moist air into the house

-Use vegetation to increase shading

-Paint interior and exterior walls light colors

-For warming at night, capture and store solar energy in solid material such as a concrete floor or brick walls to release at night

 

By utilizing these design considerations, a more comfortable living environment can be achieved with less mechanical means and thus much less energy use.  And ultimately you will arrive at a much preferred and more comfortable home.

 

Common Floor Plan Concepts for a New Home

How do you begin describing to your architect what kind of floor plan you might want in your new home? Is there a certain type of layout that might fit your lifestyle better?  Is there a way to organize the spaces within your home to suit your specific family?

 

Well, let me begin by explaining a couple of common floor plan concepts that many homes incorporate within their overall design.

 

Open Floor Plan:  This is the most common type of floor plan over the last ten years or so.  An open floor plan caters to a more relaxed, but busy lifestyle.  Homeowners tend to entertain less formally and want to spend quality time with their family whenever possible since their life is more hectic.  An open floor plan provides a space that is both welcoming and relaxing and allows everyone to gather in the same larger space together.

 

With an open floor plan, there is typically a “great room.”  In this “great room” is contained a kitchen, a living space and an eating area.  These spaces are typically open to one another but may be delineated slightly with ceiling changes or furniture arrangements.  Sometimes a formal dining room is eliminated entirely and a dining nook serves as the family eating area.  The idea with an open floor plan is that everyone feels a part of the conversation even if one person is cooking in the kitchen, one is doing homework in the dining nook and another is watching TV in the living area.

 

Typically within an open floor plan, there are auxiliary spaces like a pantry or utility room, mud room, home office, etc. that are usually sited to be adjacent to the great room space.  Also, the master bedroom is often located on the main floor level.  Additional bedrooms may be located on the main floor level as well or may be separately upstairs or downstairs, depending on the configuration of the site.

 

Outdoor spaces are also typically located adjacent to this larger great room space and may contain an area for grilling, an outdoor sitting space or dining area as well.

 

 

Closed Floor Plan:   In contrast, a closed floor plan is one that was more common in older homes.  This concept separates spaces from one another with walls and/or doors.  There is usually a separate room for the kitchen as well as a formal dining room. 

 

The advantages to this plan are that it is easier to handle noise and smell.  By keeping areas separate and being able to close doors, unwanted noises and smells can be isolated.  Also, in closed floor plans you can more easily hide messes when guests come over.  The full sink in your kitchen can be shut off from the rest of the house.   In addition, closed floor plans offer more privacy to their occupants. 

 

 

There are definitely advantages to both floor plan concepts.  You just need to ask yourself which layout suits your lifestyle better.  And maybe, it’s even a combination of the two.    There are endless options to a floor plan layout, so the decision is yours!

Ever wonder what the difference is between an eave and a gable end roof of a house?

We have had various discussions about roofs in my latest blogs.  But, I haven’t yet discussed the difference between an eave and a gable end roof of a house.  What is the meaning of each of these and how do they differ?  Well, let’s first talk about the definition of each.

 

 

Definition:  An Eave is defined as the edge of the roof that overhangs the face of a wall.  This is the portion of the roof that protrudes beyond the side of a house or building.  In contrast, a Gable (or Rake) is the overhang of a building that occurs on the side that is topped by a gable roof. (Refer to my Architectural Roof Types blog.)

 

Function:  Now that we understand where both the eave and gable overhangs occur on a building, why do we need them?  Well, they are important features of a building and actually serve a purpose.  The primary function of eaves is to keep rain water (or melting snow) off the side of a house.  It prevents water from entering the house at the point the roof meets the wall.  Gable (or Rake) overhangs pretty much provide the same sort of protection, but at the end wall of a house.

 

Some other purposes for eaves might be to prevent erosion of the foundation footings below the house by carrying the water away from the edge of the building. They also help to reduce splatter from water as it hits the ground below.

 

In some home designs deep roof eaves and gables may serve to protect the home from solar gain.  They may also be designed to allow important sun angles in to heat the house in the winter and then keep the hot sun out in the summer. 

 

History:  In history, eaves haven’t been just about protecting a building.  They have also been a place of decoration and ornamentation to define specific architectural styles.  For example, a craftsman style home can be categorized by its large eaves and gables that contain decorative brackets.  Also, back in the days of Roman and Greek architecture, the buildings contained cornices finished with decorative molding which served the purpose of eaves.  In addition, in Chinese architecture they utilized dougong bracket systems which are unique structural elements of interlocking wooden brackets.

 

Parts:  Eaves may terminate in a fascia which is a board running the length of an eave to protect the ends of the roof rafters.  The underside of the eaves may contain a horizontal soffit fixed at a right angle to the wall to seal the gap between the rafters from weather. 

 

I hope that this discussion involving eaves and gables (or rakes) gives you a better understanding of their differences and why we need them.  Can you imagine how ridiculous your house might look without them?

Understanding the Importance of Roof Pitches

 

You are working with your architect on designing your new home and he or she starts talking to you about roof pitches.  Do you want a 4:12 roof or an 8:12 roof? How about a 9:12 roof instead of a 10:12? What is a roof pitch?  I’m so confused! 

 

Definition:

Well, the pitch of your roof is the angle at which the surfaces slope. The roof pitch is written in a ratio of inches. It is the number of inches of rise for every 12 inches of horizontal distance. For example, a roof with a 4:12 pitch rises 4 inches for every 12 inches of horizontal roof run.  To visualize this, picture the roof pitch as a right triangle.  The angled side is the roof, the vertical leg is the rise and the horizontal leg is the flat roof run.

 

Standards:

Are there certain pitch standards to abide by when designing your roof?  Not really.  Many builders consider a low-pitched roof to be anywhere from a 2:12 to a 4:12 slope.  Then, a 4:12 to a 9:12 is typically a medium pitch range and anything from a 9:12 and above is considered a steep-pitched roof.  The most common residential roof slopes range from a 4:12 to a 9:12.

 

Considerations:

Typically, the steeper your roof pitch, the more expensive it is to have installed.  Builders usually need special equipment to build steep-pitched roofs and there is also additional risks for workers.  However, a steeper roof removes water, ice and snow more quickly than its shallow counterparts and usually means a longer lasting life for your roof. 

 

Design:

So, what is the correct slope to use on your new home?  In my opinion, utilizing a couple different slopes (one lower-pitched and one higher-pitched) adds interest to the overall composition.  However, you have to be careful not to use too many different slopes in one design.  If you do, the look of the house becomes jumbled and it becomes more difficult to build (and expensive.) 

 

It’s really up to you and your architect and what looks good for your particular design.  The options are endless!

 

Understanding Common Architectural Styles

Have you ever driven by a house that you really liked and then tried to explain the exact style and what you like about it to someone else?  Did you know that a house rarely contains one single architectural style?  And by the way, what is an architectural style?  Well, architectural style is a way we classify buildings according to their features, materials and historic period.  Buildings that belong to the same style often share similar characteristics.

 

There are probably hundreds of architectural styles, but I am going to highlight just a few of the more common styles of today.  Also, some styles may be referenced by different names then I am listing below.  For example, a Craftsman style house may be referred to as a Cottage or a Bungalow.  I have placed a link to the categories that are contained on Canadian Timberframe‘s website under its “Style” section within the text of each specific style that I list below.

 

Craftsman: Craftsman style homes (often referred to as Cottages or Bungalows) get their name from the arts and crafts movement back in the early 20th century.  Designers sought a return to the time of uniquely crafted decorative arts during a time of mass production.  A common feature of craftsman style is the utilization of glass, wood and metal creating something that is both simple and elegant.  It also includes low-pitched gable roofs with wide overhanging eaves, exposed rafters, decorative brackets and porches at the front of the house.

 

Ranch: Ranch house style homes originated in the 1930s. This house combined modernist ideas with the concepts of the western ranches to create something very informal for a casual living style. Common features of a ranch house include a single story with a long, low roofline and large overhanging eaves. The exterior materials usually include brick, stucco, wood and glass.

 

Colonial: This style of home comes from the American colonial period. This style often refers to a rectangular, symmetrical home that is 2 or 3 stories with a high pitched roof and multiple dormers. They usually contain multi-paned double-hung windows placed symmetrically. The exterior materials include clapboard siding with shutters.

 

Contemporary: Contemporary homes (also referred to as Modern) got their start back in the 1950s.  They are often characterized by their odd, irregular shapes and often tall windows and lack of ornamentation. The exterior also contains unusual mixtures of wall materials like stone, wood and brick. Inside houses an open floor plan with cathedral ceiling or flat roofs.

 

Mediterranean: The Mediterranean style comes from the heritage of mission churches built by Spanish colonists. Some characteristics include adobe-like stucco exterior with a flat or low-pitched roof  and clay tiles.  There are usually balconies with wrought iron railings.  Another common feature is and deeply shaded porches and possibly interior courtyards.

 

Chalet: A Chalet is native to the alpine region in Europe.  They were introduced to North America in the mid- 1800s. They are usually constructed of wood with a heavy, gently sloping roof and deep eaves.  The front-facing gable roof is usually embellished with rustic ornamentation made of hand-hewn timbers.

 

These are just a few of the many styles of architecture, but hopefully this will be helpful to begin a discussion with your architect about what features you might really like to include in your future home.

Zoning & Municipal Restrictions

Irritating Rules and Regulations

 

Your architect is ready to begin your new home design, or so you think.  However, before he or she even puts a pencil to a piece of paper for the first time, there are certain parameters that must be followed. These terms I am keying as “Irritating Rules and Regulations.”  No matter how much of a pain they are, you unfortunately must abide by them to build your house. Some of these include:

 

Zoning:

Most land is labeled and distinguished for some purpose.  Some land is marked as being for residential use while some is only for commercial or industrial use.  The zoning may also restrict the number of units or buildings upon a specific piece of land.  This term is probably less irritating than some of them, for you don’t want to live next to an industrial plant, do you?

 

Height Restrictions:

Most municipalities have regulations on how tall you can build your new home.  This is usually spelled out in the city or county building codes.  If you own a flat lot, then this probably isn’t going to be a big deal.  However, if your site is sloped, this may be a major headache.  Personally, I find this irritating regulation one of the most challenging.  Clients commonly come to me wanting a house with a nice vaulted great room space with a loft area above and a walk out basement below.  This can be very challenging especially if the maximum height is 30-32 feet tall. 

 

Also, every jurisdiction has a different way they measure height.  Some measure from existing grade, some from finished grade, and some from somewhere in between.  Some measure to the top of the ridge and some measure halfway up the sloped roof (You’ve got to be kidding me!)  Anyway, just be sure that prior to getting too far with your design, your architect knows the exact method of measurement!

 

Building Envelope/Building Setbacks:

Almost every piece of land has a designated setback requirement or building envelope that your building has to remain within.  This is to insure that you aren’t building right on top of your neighbor and usually has to do with fire protection as well as privacy.  You are usually required to have every piece of your house (including overhangs) within the building envelope, but sometimes low decks and patios are allowed within setback areas.  Check with your local jurisdiction to be sure.

 

Easements:

Easements are imaginary lines that protect something. It may be existing utilities or even natural landforms or waterways.  Also, municipalities may have easements along roadways and streets for traffic safety, etc.  Typically, no buildings are allowed within these areas.

 

Design Guidelines:

If your home is located in a neighborhood with an HOA, more than likely they have architectural design guidelines that you must follow.  Some neighborhoods have barely any restrictions while some have quite the lengthy and costly process.  Often the design guidelines are more restrictive than what the municipality requires.  Design guidelines can regulate items such as the appearance of your house, color, landscaping requirements and much more.  Be sure you know what you’re getting into before you begin the process.

 

 

These are just a few of the irritating rules and regulations.  Unfortunately, there may be many more.  The way to conquer these annoying rules is to research and know what you are getting into before you jump in head first!

 

Breaking down architectural language - descriptions and examples of commonly used terms

Architectural Drawings

 

You have decided to hire an architect to help you with your new home design.  Suddenly, your architect starts spitting out all of these architectural terms that you have no idea what they mean!  Are we speaking the same language?  How are we ever going to design a home together when I have NO IDEA what he or she is talking about?!

 

Well, I am here to help clarify some of these architectural terms so you can carry on an intelligent conversation with them.  Let’s first discuss the basic terms for the drawing set (or blueprints.)

 

Site Plan:

A site plan drawing is a bird’s eye view of your house on the piece of land, lot or site.  A site plan sometimes shows topography which involves connecting points of the same elevation height with lines.  These lines show how steep or flat your site may be.  The site plan also shows your property lines, any building setback lines as well as utility locations or existing structures.  It may also locate any ditches, hills, waterways, rock formations, etc. 

 

When looking at a site plan drawing, typically an outline of your house as well as the driveway location is shown.  Also, if your site is sloped, some new grading lines might be exhibited.  These grading lines show how the soil is re-graded to work with your new driveway and house.

 

Your architect will use the site plan to decide how to start designing your home.  They will take numerous things into consideration like street/road location, existing neighbors‘ homes, sun exposure, building setback lines, etc. to determine the best layout and orientation.

Floor Plans:

A floor plan is a drawing showing the layout of your new home.  A floor plan is probably the most common type of drawing you think of when you talk about building plans.  A floor plan is like taking off the roof of your house and slicing about 4 feet above the floor level.  A floor plan shows the layout of exterior walls, interior rooms, kitchen and bathroom layouts, etc. 

 

There may be multiple floor plans that involve a basement plan, a main level plan or even an upper level plan.  Each room is typically labeled and may show the potential positions of furniture and plumbing fixtures.  The floor plan will also have dimensions that show the size of each room and location of each wall, window and door.

Elevations:

Building elevations are drawings that show what the outside of your house will look like. It’s a flat view of a building seen from one side. Elevations show windows, doors, roofs, decks and exterior materials.  They help communicate what a building will look like.

Sections:

Building section drawings involve cutting vertically through the house and pulling away one side to expose what the house looks like on the inside.  Sections are helpful to show roof forms, ceiling heights, stair configurations and interior room compositions.  They also help in determining floor and roof construction as well as room treatment options.

These are just a few of the more common drawing sheets involved in a building drawing set. But, you’re not an expert yet…stayed tuned for more talk about architectural language.  There’s a lot more to learn!

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