Thursday, March 31, 2011

Passive House Design in Canada Series of Articles Coming Up

Hi All,
I plan to begin a series of articles discussing Passive House design and general house design together.  I will be using our own project its specific design challenges and ideas to highlight concepts.  Here is the latest rendering of our design to date.  More to come on this.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Preparing the Garden for Construction

Although this long winter seems never-ending, we know spring is just around the corner! To remind us of the greenery that is surely on its way, here are some photos of the garden in preparation for the eventual demolition of our house, and with it, much of the yard.  We spent a sweaty afternoon last June moving our beloved tree peony to a corner where we hope it will be out of harm's way during construction.  In a few weeks, we'll know if the many transplants survived the winter...


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Why Stairs are Next to Front Entries

I often wondered why in so many house designs the stairs are placed in the front entry, and I was not alone in this bewilderment.  Family and friends have sometimes fumed at it.  Why would a designer place a stair to the bedrooms (a private place) next to a front door, (a very public place), sometimes so close there is hardly a place to take your coat off.  Plus, you have to tip-toe past this dirty area in order to go to bed or to come downstairs for breakfast......Sheesh!

Now that I'm the designer, here's the other side.

Reasons for having the stair in the front entry:
  1. This often helps in making the top of the stair end up in the middle of the upstairs.  Why should this be so?  Because bedrooms are legally required to have a window to the outdoors for egress purposes.  (The most dangerous time when occupying a building is when the occupants are sleeping - so if there were a fire, sleepers have a window nearby as an escape alternative).  As such, all bedrooms must be placed against exterior walls.  Therefore, to make best use of space, the upstairs hall should be placed in the middle of the floor, and all the bedroom doors open from this hall.  One way this is made possible is by having the bottom of the stair near an exterior wall.  If the bottom of the stair is in the middle of the main floor, it can be a waste of space in the upstairs to create a long hallway to get to the middle of the upstairs, which will generally be required.  Now downstairs, there is already a circulatory area near the building extremity which is lightly used - the front entry - therefore, from a space planning perspective, it is often an ideal spot for a stair.
  2. To put shoes on, it is nice to have a bench, but in terms of smaller houses, to make best use of space, the stair can double as a bench for putting shoes on.
  3. The stair is the one place in a simple home where there is relatively more architectural interest.
Often, it also makes sense to place a stair close to an exterior wall, since it introduces an opportunity to have another entrance to the building from a different exterior grade, especially at a landing.  This is another good use of space....although space use efficiency need not always be the final determinant in design of buildings.  Check out this hardworking front entry to a Farm house - plans available on  Stairs, full size closet, bench and shoe storage - all the needed items, plus two ways to get to it.  And, you don't really have to get your feet dirty to use the stair.  The only improvement I can suggest would be for the stairs to be in the reverse sense so the stairs to the basement are closest to the entry.  The entry is so well used, there is no space for a powder room door, or for windows.  Bringing light in from the Entry door's sidelights is therefore important.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Prices of Vacuum Insulated Panels

I was amazed to find a corporate website giving prices for their VIP's online - but I think its such a good idea.  The lack of price information on the internet is the major obstacle to optimizing designs of any products, including buildings.  Here is the link.  Price ranges from a minimum of about $30/SF USD, but goes by the number of panels.  Each panel is about $345, at a max of 30"x35", and $600 for a max of 60" x 70".  Glacier Bay also provides an excellent primer on this technology:

Given this information, I feel a vacuum insulated door with a window should be possible to market for about $2000.  I recently received some pricing for the Frostkorken VIP door and the price seems astronomical at something like 3times that number.  Major market niche is possible here for NA.
The other company providing VIPs is Nanopore.