Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Thinking outside the building box, some sources

My hands have been on this keyboard for 100s of hours now, researching these last details of our house. Since most of the materials, applications and fixtures are not normally used in residential applications, I've had to swim through oceans of information to find these items with the help of my architect. Jan says that most of the residential norms are crap, so we HAVE to research every little corner and crevice for the ultimate THING. Most of the stuff we want has primarily been used in the commercial sector or green building, and as Ted says, it's because those things are built to last and simply are better (sigh!)... so here we go, I am freakin' tired, but am grateful that the Internet was invented in my lifetime.

First, insulation. Yes, we are using SIPs for most everything. But because our 2nd story cantilevers (overhangs) out above our pool, we have to use something other than our beloved SIPs. So, Ted suggested using batt on the floor of our 2nd story overhang to save money, but now I want to look at this natural fibre insulation that's safe, environmental because their made with post-industrial waste (recycled blue jeans!) and they are good quality for not too much money. The advantage is that even though they are more expensive per square foot ($0.39/sf batt insulation vs. $0.89-1.09/sf natural fibre insulation), you will save in labor costs because batt has to be stapled in and handled with care because of the itch and fiberglass irritation. This stuff can be put in by hand and don't need to be stapled in, so they are quickly installed and safe to handle as you can see with the baby below.

I found this company:
Bonded Logic at http://www.bondedlogic.com/

I couldn't resist posting this adorable photo:

Then on to ventilation ducts. We learned of a system that removes humidity from our bathrooms that can be planned with fewer punctures through our roof because they share the same vent to the outside. They are quieter & better designed so that you can control 2 or more bathrooms with the same ventilation duct.

Here's some information on them:
Fantech at http://www.fantech.net
and there's even this nifty timer that can clock the amount of time the vent fan should run (it's recommended that you run it for at LEAST 20 min after a shower):

As for our roof, since we're doing rainwater collection, we had to find an application that would make our flat roof design safe for drinking water. It had to be both ANSI/NSF Standard 61 approved and be able to waterproof our flat roof. We found ONE solution! It's called Hydrostop, and it's mostly used in commercial buildings.

Also, under our stucco, we had to find a plastic rainscreen that will draw water out so that it drains down in channels called Mortairvent. It is not commonly found in stucco applications, but of course we had to have it :-). According to the website, "Current construction designs call for manufactured stone directly against the metal lathe, which is placed against the plywood sheathing and housewrap. This allows moisture that penetrates the exterior cladding to become trapped between the exterior cladding and interior plywood sheathing. In time, this trapped moisture will cause rotting, mold and general deterioration of the plywood sheathing. Rainscreen technology should be used to allow this trapped moisture to drain." So that's why.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Windows and doors, who knew

It's been a while since I posted due to me constantly having to attend to my bids on the house. We have been getting some extreme prices on certain subcontractors, so it's a matter of checking 2, 3 or sometimes more bids to see that you get a reasonable price! It's an art in itself.... but anyway, I wanted to post about windows and doors, since I learned more about them. I didn't realize the complexity, but they are a crucial part of the house and affect your energy efficiency, structural integrity, not to mention your personal style.

There are a number of different frame and door materials, and costs vary greatly. Our architect wanted us to get fiberglass windows (vs. wood, aluminum or vinyl) and I wanted to know why and what the differences were. Here's what I have found out:

Dimensionally Stable

Fiberglass expands and contracts at similar rate as glass (1/3rd the rate of aluminum & 1/7th rate of vinyl)
  • Less torsion and stress between glass and frame in cold weather
    • Reduced air leakage
    • Decreased stress on locking mechanism

Graphic: Unrestrained Thermal Bow

Thermally Efficient

  • Fiberglass is an insulating material
  • Does not require a “thermal break” as do aluminum windows
    • Even with thermal break aluminum windows not as in same category as fiberglass
  • Does Not require steel/aluminum STIFFENERS as many vinyl windows do


  • Fiberglass is a structural material that will maintain its strength in every climate
    • Strength allows slim sightlines – especially in the casement and awning
    • Larger glass areas
  • Unlike wood will not rot or warp
    • With today's higher indoor humidities wood windows often rot or at least discolor from the inside
  • Unlike vinyl will not shrink, sag or crack
    • Over time even when not painted a dark color vinyl can shrink, sag and embrittle

Although fiberglass windows and doors are not new and have been on the market for more than 20 years, they have slowly been introduced into the construction industry, due to the industry's notoriety for resisting change. The problem for us was that not all the window styles were available in fiberglass. Our second choice would be aluminum windows, but they aren't as eco-friendly because of the fact that it takes a lot of energy to produce aluminum. Vinyl windows are a lot cheaper, but then you get the warping problems detailed above. So, we have had to compromise by doing mostly fiberglass and then having certain windows in vinyl (for example, the casement windows that open like doors). Since our casements don't see sunlight (under the cantilever of our 2nd story of our house), it doesn't matter too much.

As for our doors, we are opting to do solid wood. Although we will have to probably replace or stain/paint them every so often, we wanted to keep a certain look. It's probably a small concession in the whole scheme of our green home, but I think it will be worth the extra trouble! Anyway, I finally found a cool front door and mudroom exterior door that fits our style. It wasn't easy because the internet and building supply places are FULL of those horrendously ugly beveled doors, but I guess this is a subjective topic. :-)

Here are a few pics of mid-century design doors that are made in Austin at Crestview Doors (but you can also order them online line and they deliver nationwide):

I was so happy to find these doors, as they're not too overly priced (between $1000-1500) and all the modern ones we saw were in the $6K and up range, like this fancy stainless steel door from Neoporte (which I love, but can't afford right now):

And here's a pic of our garage door that we're going to get from BP Glass Garage Doors: