Home Designing Service, Ltd

Residential Design Specialists serving Connecticut and beyond

IRC 2009 Revision: Air Sealing and You

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So it’s that time again. IRC revision time. Woooo! Break out the booze and the confetti, it’s gonna be a party. And, by “booze,” I mean air seals and, by “confetti,” I mean wind bracing. Of course. What else would I have meant?

You probably know what the IRC is, but maybe you don’t. It stands for International Residential Code, and it governs how one- and two-family houses should be put together. It basically makes sure designers and contractors are keeping up with current practices and the people who employ them are getting the best for their buck. Every few years, things get changed, everyone has a couple years to freak out and pretend there’s absolutely no way they can build a house under the tyrannical new guidelines. Then the changes go into effect, everyone settles down and it’s repeated a few years down the road. We builders are an exciting lot.

But honestly, as crazy as it can get when stuff gets technically more difficult, by the time a change is made, it’s often after that change has become common practice anyway and the technology is already there to facilitate an easy transition. It also shakes off those amateur crazies who are more interested in swindling customers than making a functional house. We here at Home Designing Service are not too keen on swindling, so we’re going to go ahead and talk about some of these IRC changes.

One of the biggies, and the subject of today’s post revolves around air sealing. Arguably more important than insulation, air sealing is a huge hurdle to jump when finishing off a house. Making sure there aren’t huge gaping holes in the walls is one thing, but keeping the air out from tiny cracks around windows and doors, or from pouring into the attic and then into the house, those are entirely different matters. For the IRC 2009, the magic number you’re looking for is 7.

End of blog. Everyone go home.

Seriously, though. Air sealing is more than drywall or the vapor barrier. It’s more than making sure the windows are in and closed. We’re talking more than fiberglass batts for insulation. And air sealing should be tested at several points during the construction of the house, because, basically, once the insulation’s in, doing a proper sealing becomes much more difficult. For Energy Star ratings, there’s a LEED checklist that needs to be gone through before drywall is even up. This gives builders a chance to find leaks before fixing them requires that a wall be ripped into. They can go around and do targeted air sealing on pipes and wires, corners where stuff might not be entirely lined up, etc. Then when everything’s mostly together, they do a blower door test. And they hope for that 7 I mentioned earlier.

So, this blower door. It’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s a door. With a blower in it. It depressurizes your house and then, using the kind of math where there are almost no numbers and it’s all funny symbols and letters, they determine how many times the fan and suction of the vacuum was able to replace the atmosphere within the house in an hour. Seven ACH, or air changes per hour, is the max. It’s also kind of a big number. Quality builders who trip and accidentally make a house are going to hit a 5, a 3 if they actually try a little. California’s code requires a 3. Energy Star Canada wants a 2-2.5. And then there’s PassivHaus. PassivHaus is, if the name didn’t tip you off, primarily a Swedish and German company, although they’ve been seeing a recent popularity surge internationally. PassivHaus requires a 0.6. Which basically means when you turn the blower door on, your house crushes like a tin can because there are no leaks. I’m pretty sure they use ancient technology dredged up from lost Atlantis to make this possible.

Joking aside, air sealing covers a wide range of needs. Want to stay warmer and have less/no drafts? Want to save money? Want to reduce your carbon foot print, use less energy and help save the planet? I mean, we’re not exactly in “For just 50 cents a day, you can save a child in Africa” territory, but we’re pretty close. We at Home Designing Service know our stuff. Give us a call, come in, email, whatever you like, and there’ll be a specialist here to go over all your air sealing and non-air sealing needs. We might even let you flip the switch on the blower door.

Fundamentals of Fun Heating

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Perhaps you’ve been living under a rock for the past month or so, which, if you’re reading this, means the home you’ve made for yourself under this rock has internet, which is almost never a bad thing. But if you haven’t been living under a rock, you may or may not have noticed it’s winter.

Now, as a home design business, you might expect us to offer advice on how to winterize your home before it actually gets cold, but you can get that sort of information anywhere. Instead, we decided it would be funnier better to remind you of things after the fact. I won’t be going over the big stuff. Obviously, if you were so inclined, you’d get new windows, or insulate your house or set fire to your furniture to stay warm through the winter months. Instead, we’re going to look at some easy stuff you may have simply forgotten.

Right off the bat, I’m going to deviate from my expressed purpose. This tip isn’t going to make you warmer so much as it’ll save some money. Maybe my focus group had the wrong people in it, but it’s my understanding that people don’t get excited about their thermostat. I have never personally heard two guys discussing the latest model over cold beers, but there’s so much more to them than leaving it somewhere between 68 and 72. New thermostats can be programmed to lower the heat during certain parts of the day, say, when you’re at work or in bed, and raise it so it’s warm when you’re up and about. Most studies have savings between 6 and 12%, which can end up being several hundred dollars. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how many trips to Starbucks that is.

This next one’s even easier. Do you have a ceiling fan? If you answered no, skip this paragraph. If you said yes, go find it and bring a step stool or something with you. Somewhere around the base, there’ll be a switch. Flip it. During the summer, you have your fan set to pull up hot air, which cools the room. In the winter, though, by flipping this switch, you’ll push the hot air back down into the room. It’s like having another heater in the house. You’re welcome.

Here’s one I’m personally guilty of forgetting. Throughout the year, the filter on your furnace… uh… filters out icky stuff from the air so you don’t breathe it in. But that gunk slowly reduces the air transfer rate. And like a vacuum doesn’t suck stuff up when the filter is covered in dust and hair (I’m looking at you, ladies), a furnace doesn’t do a great job circulating warm air when the filter is covered in a nice, thick layer of… whatever it is it traps. I tried to make a habit of changing the filter on the first day I needed to turn the furnace on. Sometimes I even remembered. It was great. But the difference is pretty incredible.

Another way to keep your rooms warm is to close off the ones you don’t use and make sure your ducts are nice and sealed. Spare bedrooms, random extra bathrooms, libraries, that exercise room that’s already doing nothing more than collecting dust? Shut the vent and close the door. By reducing the amount of space your furnace has to heat, it makes it easier to warm the ones you want, and cheaper too. Just make sure there are no leaks in your ducts. Warm air shooting into your basement is not a good way to heat your living room.

This last tip won’t be for everyone. But the ones who respond well to it, I feel like it will change their lives forever. It’s the thing that, up till now, they’ve been seeking without success. To those people, you owe me nothing. I’m just here to help.

Build a greenhouse around your existing house.

It’s like all the perks of global warming, without all that doom and end of the world stuff.

That’s a geodesic dome. They’re super cheap and easy to build. And they can turn any area into an immediate greenhouse. Just like that. Don’t like the winter? Reject the season and make your property live in perpetual summer. All year round! And with my very inconclusive search on the internet, I can tell you with a minimal amount of certainty that you can cover your house in one of these babies for as little as a thousand dollars. Then you’d never have to turn your furnace on again. Windows open in the middle of January. Flowers blooming all the time.

Genius.

For those who’d like help building their geodesic dome, or for those who’d like to build a house from the ground up that’s built to be very efficient with its heating and cooling, give us a ring. We’d be more than happy to help.

Evolution of the House: Part 4 – Where No Walls Have Gone Before

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Over the last few weeks, we’ve taken a look at the history of housing, where it originated, the path it took through the centuries and where it is, more or less, today. It’s been a long, bumpy ride with many cool discoveries (like indoor plumbing, that was neat), but the houses being built now, some of them on the very edge of new technology, are the craziest things yet.

 

But before we get into that, how about a look at slightly more regular improvements with today’s houses. Sustainable and zero energy houses are becoming more and more popular, with systems like LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and Energy Star in place to rate how effective they are.

Neat!

First LEED Platinum class house in East Asia. Completely self sufficient.

 

The most used process is good insulation, or building in a way that maximizes surrounding features to hold onto or shed heat faster, such as wind currents, positioning of the sun and shade and building layout that either increases or minimizes surface area. Past that, though, is energy reclamation, passive and active solar power, wind turbines and heat pumps among other things.

 

Existing homes can be modified to function at or near sustainable levels, but zero energy or energy-plus houses depart significantly from traditional construction practice, so must be created new. Zero energy homes use all the features previously mentioned but to a higher degree and contain superinsulation techniques. Energy-plus homes are actually constructed in such a way that they generate more energy than they use, benefitting the local community.

 

But who cares about all that, right? Bring on the high-tech gadgets. Like that $13 million home in Telluride where you can control temp and humidity, multi-room audio-visual systems, alarms and outdoor video monitoring from an iPad. Or the house in Portugal that makes the most out of its smaller space by being able to actually move its walls and produce hideaway flatscreen tvs with a touch of a button. Better yet is a Los Angeles home that incorporates the iPad control from the first home with the ability to also use it to change the colors of interior and exterior walls.

 

And let’s not leave out the possibility of living off-earth. In a few years, maybe the cutting edge of housing includes geodesic domes on the moon or Mars, maybe they’re little space stations orbiting Earth or large ships making use of breakthroughs in physics to seek out other planets like ours. Seems pretty hard to believe, but fifty years ago, changing the colors of all the walls in your house with a magic sheet of metal and plastic probably seemed far-fetched too.

Space Ship

Welcome mat not included.

 

So if you’re looking for something, whether it’s a well-appointed tent in up-state New York or a gigantic mansion that runs on classified technology and doubles as a generator for the surrounding city, Home Designing Service is where it’s at. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, we are no longer able to design space ships. We offer our sincere apologies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rebel Design Fights Industrialism

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Imagine England, the bustle and sweep of a country in the midst of its push towards industrialism. Turning momentarily from Crusading and beheading to house design, King and Country decide to focus on making their grand castles a little smaller and easier to build. Industrialism, with its promise of steady production, becomes quite popular.

To celebrate progress, the country stages the Great Exhibition of 1851, first of a long series of self-congratulatory World Fairs, where they show off their new toys to all the other children. Everyone revels in the quickening march of progress.

But all is not well. Enter the Arts and Crafts movement. A vast portion of the populace is unhappy with the unfeeling, factory-made pieces that pull work out of the hands of trained artisans who rely on that wage to survive. The resulting work, say the artisans, denies the truth of the material and has a more commercialized, generic feel.

So the Arts and Crafts movement begins designing with materials built by artisans, in many styles, some of which gain much popularity. One of those styles is Tudor Revival. Tudor Revival homes, although quite impressive, are meant to invoke a more humble rustic feeling, like a cottage. Steep-pitched roofs, half-timbered upper floor, herringbone brickwork on the lower, beautiful high windows, tall chimneys, an overhanging upper floor, dormer windows with supporting consoles. Not exactly what comes to mind when thinking simple, but the important fact is that they show each material used for what it is, unblemished by the touch of industrial machinery.

Simple, right?

Simple, right?


The style is a huge success. Even the Rothschild family gets in on the action, boosting the popularity immensely. After World War I, the style spreads to the US and Canada, but, ironically, becomes its own worst enemy. Starting as a rebel design against quick-built, cookie-cutter homes, its popularity takes all the authentic aspects and throws them out a window in favor of production.

Today, the style has fallen out of popularity, but is still so unique that it stands well next to other homes. While other European or modern buildings may now be the go-to design preference, there are few choices that impress a sense of homey elegance more than Tudor Revival.

If you are interested in a home designed in this style, contact us at:

 

Home Designing Service, Ltd

25 Meadows Rd.

Windsor, Connecticut 06095

860-724-5522

inquiries@homedesigningservice.com

 

 

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