Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Twenty-Six Point Two

Give up? Maybe you should check out this water heater and see what it means. Fuel usage? Cost? Size? Some strange puzzle based on the bizarre and random thinkings of the post author?

The Marathon hot water heater by Rheem is one of the most efficient tank heaters on the market. We appreciate that it comes as an electric unit. Since electric heat is practically 100% efficient, it makes sense that an electric tank water heater should be up there. The biggest problem with tanks is their standby losses. Leave home for a week and the tank will happily use your utilities to keep the water warm for you the whole time. With efficiencies as high as 94% it is touted that water in the Marathon will stay hot for up to 2 weeks. Awe. Some.

Another interesting player in the game is the Ruud heat pump water heater. Quite a mouthful. This unit combines both technologies into one device and claims an efficiency of 200%. This really shouldn't surprise you if you understand how heat pumps work. Some of the best heat pumps are currently 350% efficient. This water heater works like a refrigerator in reverse. Rather than spit out heat, it grabs it from the air and heats the water with it. We think it would make perfect sense to install one of these next to a fridge and let them work in tandem. Your fridge might appreciate the heat transfer.

We do not own stock in, get money from, or have beers with the representatives of either of these companies. We just think their products are ubercool and we would install them in our own homes. The only thing stopping us is the money that we would get from you buying one of our plans. Of course, istockhouseplans would be happy to specify any water heater you like including a black rubber bladder sitting in the sun. It's your house after all.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Where Energy Efficiency Counts

Think you know how to save energy? Test yourself. Are the following measures efficient? (Is the payback period or energy savings worth the cost?):

Yearly furnace tune-ups: Y N
Properly sized furnace: Y N
Sealing basement ducts: Y N
Underfloor insulation: Y N
Caulking & weatherstripping: Y N
Window replacement: Y N
Tankless gas water heaters: Y N
Attic cooling: Y N

Did you answer no to any of the questions?

You get 1 point for every 'no' and zero points for every 'yes'. We were a little blown away too. Michael Blasnik with the Department of Energy has found that these measures on average are worthless and merely feel good. You can read his article to get a complete explanation of why these measures don't add up as well as a few more.

We at istockhouseplans were a little disappointed to see real world results on the tankless gas heater. Maybe electric is still okay? We've been promoting these in our homes and not setting aside a specific space for a tank water heater. Most of our homes do have enough space to put a water heater tank, either in a large closet, under stairs, or in the laundry room. Next time we'll review a couple of tank heaters that we've found to be very efficient.

Also check out our istock4kids page where we've put two more puzzles to delight and entertain.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Small Bonus Post

Found this in The Daily Oregonian from Portland, Oregon:

"I think there are two significant movements in the country," Chapin says. "One is that bigger is better; that's been the prevailing notion for the last 50 years. Another movement says small is beautiful.

"I think the first movement is moving toward its sunset, and the second is more on the rise."

Small Houses go Big-time

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Small Homes in the News

Istockhouseplans is proud to announce the release of two new plans, the Carver and the Carver A. Both plans cover 18' wide by 22' deep including the porch. Both plans are just under 300sf with a sleeping loft of almost 100sf. These are some intentional entries into the small house plan market and we are proud to showcase them.

We at istockhouseplans aren't the only ones who think small is the new big. We've found some great articles that tout small and some just lambast bombast. Click the links for further reads. Unfortunately, some publishers require a login to access the full article and we just aren't allowed to copy and paste it. Maybe you're already signed up with them and we brought this to your attention.

Fine Homebuilding.

Wall Street Journal. Be sure to check out the interactive graphics.

Los Angeles Times photo story.

San Francisco Chronicle. Some interesting comments.

You can see the rest of our tiny homes as well.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Open Contest at FreeGreen

The folks at FreeGreen are holding a design contest open to anyone. The premise is that they are looking for new talent to enter the marketplace. Contrary to most other contests, entries are not anonymous. Even if you don't win, you still get exposure on their website which is huge. The winning entries get to have their plans available for sale on the website.

Of course we are entering. Did you have to ask? Since the posting of the plan on their website is optional and also not proprietary, this will be another plan that we can add to our portfolio. This home (given the FreeGreen mission) is going to be designed to be a clear energy saver. That means the faint of heart should stay away. We are aiming for an R-50 or greater shell all around. The hope is that the energy use of the home can get to a point where only 2kWh or less of solar panels can be used to take care of the designed electricity load.

Think you can compete with istockhouseplans? Join the fun!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New Website Part the Second

You may not notice any change to our website, which is now up and running. A couple of weeks ago we told you about the issues we had when Google changed their webpage host from Page Creator to Sites. Most of the problems were resolved but we do have to go through every page now and fix the error that shows (or rather doesn't show) pricing. We may just remove this as it is redundant to the information in the checkout box. So you should be able to use the page mostly as before.

The biggest benefit is that by being hosted on GoDaddy, we have a direct URL and no more forwarding. The drawback is the advertising bar at the top of every page. To eliminate it, download Mozilla Firefox web browser and the AdBlock Plus Add-On. We have found it to be excellent at removing 99.99% of all web ads.

We will have some tiny house plans up by the end of the year. We are also dabbling with the idea of designing, building, and selling small mobile houses similar to Tumbleweed Homes. These will be one of a kind and based on the trailer that is available. As with our plan sets, we will not charge for local delivery.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New Website

Sort of... not really. We had given warnings that Google would be moving hosting of our pages from their Pages protocol to the new (and less improved) Sites protocol. The migration finally took place and our site looks awful. Well, awful compared to how it was. That, and the functionality has been engineered out of it. So now you can look at an aesthetic eyesore of a website from which you can't buy plans. Great marketing, eh?

We will be desperately trying to revive the page with as much of our intermediate web savvy as we can. In the meantime, you might want to see how the Japanese build a house in a day...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Countdown to Eternity

Good afternoon faithful blog followers! We want to let you know about some changes at the old istockhouseplans homestead. For a while we changed our checkout system to Paypal, but their inability to offer coupons sent us back to Google Checkout. With Google Checkout you can confidently purchase house plans from us knowing that we will never, ever see your credit card number. Now, whether or not you trust Google is a different story. We have also implemented a shopping cart feature which is one of the reasons we went with Paypal for a while. Sort of annoying to order a whole load of plans one at a time.

This calls for a celebration! In order to move some inventory by the end of the year, we are offering a coupon code for 50% off your order. Yes, half off everything in the store, right down to the fixtures and CFL lightbulbs. (Okay, no lightbulbs, apparently we aren't closing our doors). After you fill your cart up with all sorts of goodies, enter coupon code '2009' to take advantage of this offer.

Why buy from us? Three reasons: Our plans are simple to build; our plans are beautiful and functional; our plans are designed for energy efficiency.

After the end of the year, the rest of our coupons will still be available. (Hint: sort our blog posts by the 'coupon' label to see what else we might have). Of course if there are any questions or complaints, go ahead and email us and we'll try to give you the best customer service experience we possibly can.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tiny Houses

Much like Don Ho, Jay Shafer likes to share about things tiny. Istockhouseplans recently had a chance to attend a Tumbleweed House Workshop and to meet Jay personally. Jay's desire to live in a 100sf home for the past decade led him to start drawing up and offering plans to the public. His homes range from 65 to 500+ square feet. Smaller homes from 65sf to 140sf are built on trailers and considered mobile homes. Jay did not start out as an architect or builder. His degree is in art which gives a very fresh right-brained look at the design and building process.

Our left brains have been inspired by meeting Jay and getting a feel for his process. While we have already added some tiny homes to our portfolio, expect to see more in the future. This is a big wave and we hope to steer some of it, not just ride it. For those of you who are not comfortable with tiny houses, consider them as well thought out, amenity rich accessory dwelling units, or whatever it is that you might call them. Just don't call them shacks or shanties.

What do you think, gentle reader? Could you live in a tiny house full time? Why or why not?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Time to School You

With the start of school rapidly approaching, istockhouseplans wanted to be able to reach out to a larger audience than we previously had. We unveil to you our kids section, aimed at grade school students. The page currently has some fun activities. We plan to add educational sections shortly to teach kids about how houses are built. Yes, you can probably find these resources elsewhere, but we will go so far as to explain advanced framing techniques to kids. At some point we'd like to create short videos explaining building science.

But for now you can download and print some activity sheets for your kids in pdf. There is also a website treasure hunt that will grow with time. If your kids have questions about the design and building processes of houses, let us know and we will be happy to answer them. We may even post the answers on a Kids FAQ.

Welcome back to school!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Habitat for Learning

We recently had the chance to spend a day on a Habitat for Humanity build site volunteering our time in exchange for seeing some framing up close and personal. We were hoping to get some light framing experience in. Unfortunately the framing was already done. Fortunately the insulation and sheetrock had not been installed so we could get a good look at stuff. In a former life, the foreman had built LEED homes in Wyoming. He incorporated some of that mentality into these homes and the result is an easy build with great results.

We hope that right away you will notice the two-stud corner. Great for eliminating cold pockets. Also shown is a raised-heel truss which allows full insulation to the edge of the roof. Hopefully full blocking will be added before the ceiling is covered.

This project looks it will employ an airtight drywall approach. The interior walls have been set 1" away from the exterior walls so that drywall may pass behind and be continuous. No air leaks here or extra backing required.

Finally, an oddball built-up header. While we laud the use of standard 2x6 lumber and OSB scraps to make a substantial header, this will make for a thermal bridge. If all 3 pieces of 2x6 are needed, we would recommend 2x6,2x6,1" foam,2x6. This would allow for bearing, insulation, and a sturdy surface from whence to hang curtain rods from.

There are several more Habitat projects in our area and we hope to get in on some framing action in the next month or two. In the meantime we will continue to expand our portfolio of small homes. Visit istockhouseplans and see our latest plans, or add this blog into your RSS feed.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Shrimp, stroke, iron, roof

What do these things have in common? They all have a butterfly variety. However, which one can cause extensive damage to your home? Please assume your current neighbor does not play Ina-Gadda-da-Vida at '11' all day long.

The butterfly roof is a nightmare waiting to happen. For those of you not in the know (and we take a chance by giving you the wrong type of armament) butterfly roofs take the idea of a roof and turn it upside down. That is, the peak is really a valley in the middle of your house, and the edges are on the high side. This has the general idea of draining all the water into the center of your house. Oh sure, there are roof membranes and back-up plans and a plan C in case all else fails. But I would like to put forth to you this: Would you try to race your car at 150mph on the freeway at 3am because you have high-speed impact bumpers, a five point harness, airbags all 'round, and a million dollar insurance policy? Why invite disaster?

Now there are some of the neo-modern movement who would argue aesthetics with me. "Mies van der Rohe would love it!" Well good for Rohe. If Rohe jumped off a bridge, would you? Okay, sorry about the motherly retort.

Now, if you live in an area of no rainfall, such as Los Angeles then please, by all means, knock yourself out. But if you have transplanted yourself to the rainy northern parts of the country such as Canada, please consider for a moment your rain and snow situation.

Flat roofs? Same deal. If your drain backs up against your parapet and your scuppers are misinstalled, grab a towel and take a dip. ("What'd he say?")

In the interest of durability and creating a home that will last for you, Mr. and Mrs. Homeowner, Istockhouseplans has taken great pains to ensure that even Laurel and Hardy could build you the best house possible.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Don your Helmets

Istockhouseplans has received lots of compliments on the look of our web page. We want to say thank you to everyone who has given us kudos. If we haven't heard from you on that note, we'll assume you're introverted and have meant to. We'll thank you in advance.

To that end, we want to warn you about an upcoming change. We have been hosting our sites on Google's Page Creator utility. Unfortunately, Google is discontinuing that utility in favor of another one called Sites. Now who are we to balk at free web design AND hosting AND porting? But we have read some news that some links and features have become unavailable with the transition. In the next few weeks we expect our site to make it's final transition and we want to apologize in advance for any hiccups that may occur. While we expect everything to work fine, there could possibly be some problems. If you need information, please send us an email at info@istockhouseplans.com.

We're also in the process of updating our checkout feature to a more user friendly Paypal shopping cart. Now you can enjoy secure shopping, no hard-selling, and the protection that comes with Paypal. As always, shipping is still free. If you are interested in purchasing a plan and see an old Google checkout button, please let us know so that we can convert it to the new Paypal version. If you are interested in multiple plans, remember we do offer a discount. Email us with what you are looking for and we will put together a package price for you. Since we are going to Paypal, all of our old coupon codes may not be working. We will update as soon as they do.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Creston the Next Wave

We first mentioned our Creston plan in September of 2007 as part our courtyard housing entry. Then we promised to release it soon in October. Finally in January 2008 we made it a New Year's resolution to release the plan. Obviously we have little regard for resolutions. Here we are a year and a half later mentioning it again. It would begin to be a psychological nightmare were it not for...

The release of the Creston!

We finally sat our behinds back down and finished the darned thing up. You can see the plan here and order it at the bottom of the page. The Creston is a 3 bed, 2.5 bath home on two levels with 1500sf. When we started designing the home, there was a path 8 energy efficiency in Oregon's building code that allowed 2x4 wall construction. The caveat was that house size was limited to 1500sf and windows were limited to 12% of the heated floor area. You also needed to install R-49 insulation in the attic. Well our release took so long that path 8 was written out of the code. So our house is essentially a moot point. The other self-imposed restriction was based on the City of Portland, Oregon's minimum R-5 zone lot width of 36', resulting in a 26' wide plan.

Since the walls are of 2x4 construction, the house should follow code in most of the country. In the Northwest where R-21 walls are required, you can either bump them up on site or install R-15 batts with an inch of polyisocyanurate rigid foam on the outside, or an inch and a half of EPS foam. You could also fill the walls with r-6+ per inch spray foam.

The other drawback to the plan is the lack of front facing windows. We were going for a certain look, after all. We have another sketched version with an extra window on each level and we may release that one very shortly as the 'A' with a different facade. In any event we're finally happy to have it available to the public.

Check out the plan and give us your feedback. Remember, we're here for you!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Too Small?

Inspired by the blog at www.ninetinyfeet.com, we decided to set out with our own version of a micro house. If you didn't already follow this blog, ninetinyfeet seeks to create a shelter no bigger than the area taken by an adult laying down, 9sf. We would argue that while a chalk outline might encompass 9sf, this makes for slightly uncomfortable sleeping; more akin to an old-school coffin. The Japanese have a saying similar to, "Awake, half a mat; asleep, one mat". A mat (or tatami) is approximately three feet by six, or 36.8x71.6", or 17.8sf. This is about the size of a twin mattress. Maybe ninetinyfeet should rethink their goal, though the shelters sure do stretch the mind.

In a similar interest, we considered the queen size mattress. Picnicking on a blanket no larger than 60x75", ninetinyfeet inspired us to think about living in a 40sf minus shed. The first thing that came to mind was one tatami to sleep on, a 30" kitchen unit, and a small humanure toilet. Then we figured if ninetinyfeet could loft some of his space that we would do the same. We lofted a single bed (30x75") leaving 6'-4" of headroom. The 30" kitchen unit and the humanure toilet cover one wall leaving 24sf of floor. A permanent ladder on the opposite wall lets you reach the bed loft. The toilet can be covered by a bench seat for sitting, with a fold down or slide over or fold-down-slide-over table.

Now before you get too concerned, we are not going to start designing and selling these as our primary plans. This was an experiment to get us to think outside the box. The walls are 2x3 @ 24" o.c., filled with insulation and then covered with 1" of rigid foam. There is a 28" porch on the front. The house (?) has been more or less value engineered. If we wanted to get crazy and consider portability, we could make the porch roof hinge down, the porch floor hinge up, and everything travel in less than 8' wide and 12' tall.

In the coming months, look for some tiny homes from istockhouseplans. We are playing around with some plans sized at around 300sf-400sf, all compliant with the IRC building code. You can call us crazy, just don't call us late for dinner.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Extra, extra, read all about it!

As if our blog wasn't enough, we've now teamed up with www.free-press-release.com to release general noteworthy news items. Whenever press releases are sent out, we will link to them from our blog in lieu of our general istockhouseplans update. You can read our first press release here.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Parlez tu Deutschish?

We at istockhouseplans wish to be as accommodating as possible. After all, you are our guest. To that end, we have added language tools to our site. Can't read English? (irony realized). Simply scroll to the bottom and click on the flag of your country or language of origin. Since we have had interest in our plans from several different countries, we figured we would not be so haughty as to assume that everyone can speak a modicum of English. So we humbly submit to you our page, available in seven common languages. Missed you? Please feel free to visit Google's translation page to see what we're talking about.

Elsewise we're creating some more tiny houses. Inspired by the Small House Movement, we are adding more house plans in the less than 600sf range, even aiming for 300sf and less. Cramming everything you need in a small space isn't so hard; it's the lipstick factor. Our larger house plans look great because there's so much to work with. The smaller ones will end up looking like playhouses due to scaled down elements. 4x4 porch posts with wrap are just too large. 8' ceilings tend to take things out of proportion. Egress windows overpower the cute appearance.

Since it's been a while since we posted new plans, we're sure you're looking forward to something. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Radiant Floor Heat

It was a year ago that we promoted the Warmboard floor system as our choice of heating in homes. We have gotten comments about how expensive that floor system can be. Correct, materials and labor do make it an expensive alternative. Consider that you are removing a $4000-$5000 furnace and ductwork system. Also consider that the floor panels themselves act as the structural floor sheathing. For a 2000sf house you are saving another $1000 by not buying a couple loads of 3/4" T&G plywood. You will probably have to install a second water heater, or a larger water heater, as well as a manifold to handle your different zones.

Also consider this: If your home needs a 60,000 BTU furnace, would you install a 100,000 BTU just to be safe? No! Never! This is poor use of resources and your money. Likewise, would you install a larger radiant floor system than you need? Why? Radiant hydronic floor heat generates about 18-25 BTU/sf of floor. If your home needs 40,000 BTU to stay warm, then you would need to lay 2200sf of 18 BTU/sf system.

But many homes of 2200sf in size only need 30,000 BTU of heat (average NW home). If they are built well, air sealed well, and insulated better, that can be reduced to 20,000 BTU or less. Now do the math. You need 20,000 BTU and your system is 20 BTU/sf. Now you only need 1000sf of panels. This is less than half the floor area. Would you still lay the whole floor, just because? Why? This is akin to doubling your furnace size. Instead, save your money and lay the radiant system only where you need it. Do you need it in bedroom and linen closets? Probably not. Pantry? No. Kitchen? Probably not. The appliances in there create enough residual heat, unless you spend a lot of time cooking barefoot and want warm toes. Hallways and the laundry room could avoid it as well. Bathrooms don't need it under the fixtures. This could remove about 400sf. You could remove more by avoiding areas where furniture would permanently sit.

Since the panels are 4x8x1-1/8", they will fit seamlessly with standard 1-1/8" panels. In our previous example, we could cover half the floor with standard sheathing. Another consideration? With 1-1/8" floor sheathing, your floor joists could span 24" o.c. thereby saving you on framing materials.

And savings is what istockhouseplans is all about.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Recession Buster

Are we at bottom yet? Rock bottom? Sandy bottom? Crab grazing bottom? Let's pretend we are and istockhouseplans will help you jumpstart the economy. For a limited time (probably through the end of the year, your mileage may vary) we want to offer deep discounts on our best plans (all of them). When making an order through our website, use coupon code 'bottom' to receive 40% off any order of $500 or more. As always, there is no shipping charge.

Are we crazy? We've been called worse.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Heat Science 101

Most of the time we assume to know everything. Sometimes folks can say it better than we can. Back Woods Home magazine has an excellent article series on energy science. Why plagiarize when we can just send you there?


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Follow the Blue Star

All this prior talk about energy efficiency and well built homes made us decide to do something about it. So we went ahead and partnered with Energy Star for our home designs. All of our stock plans can be simply modified to meet Northwest and National Energy Star guidelines. What does this mean? This means that our qualified plans will carry the Energy Star logo. If your home is built with the details we show, you can achieve an Energy Star label for the home. When you order a plan, please let us know that this is your intention and we will contact you about how you want to achieve the standard. We will work these details into the plan before we send it to you.

For the national scale, this can probably best be achieved by using 2x6 walls (as most of our plans are) or 2x4 with exterior rigid foam, R-38 raised heel trusses, R-30 floors and U=0.35 windows among other things. For the Northwest, we are familiar with the four BOP paths, the most common of which is the envelope upgrade. Hawaii has its own set of rules.

Now your homes can be more energy efficient when you purchase plans from istockhouseplans. Come see our catalog today.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Golden Post

Hey how about that, we've hit 50 posts! Since June 26, 2007 we've been telling you all about our wacky ideas for building better houses. Can you believe we've been talking about 24" o.c. framing or adding exterior foam lo these 2 years now? Crazy! Ducts in the house? Ludicrous!

Not so crazy actually. All across the country, more and more builders are waking up and realizing that they are building the worst houses they possibly can without going to jail. This is called a code home. Much of this change comes from consumers realizing that there are better homes out there and that they don't have to settle for the Cheap Charlie, Get 'Em Up by Friday contractor 'specials'. Much of it has to do with the terrible housing market right now that has forced builders to either step up or go out of business. If Centex and Pulte are having issues, how are you doing Joe Q. Builder?

Just waking up? About to go out of business? Contact Istockhouseplans today and let us help you gain an edge. A razor sharp, honed, hair-splitting edge.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

His or HERS?

You may remember back in November that we mentioned our new partnership with Energy Trust of Oregon. This relationship allows us to have access to CAD details and other resources that will help any home you buy from us to be energy efficient and durable.

A new feature that we can offer due to this partnership is a HERS score or an Energy Performance Score (EPS). The HERS score is available nationally as an index of how well your home is built compared to the same home built to code. The EPS is available in Oregon only (for the time being) as a tool to show total consumption of your home compared to total consumption of other homes.

The difference? Both a 5000sf and a 1500sf house can have a HERS score of 80. This means that they are both built 20% better than code. For the Oregon EPS though, the 5000sf home is more likely to have a score of 170 whereas the 1500sf will be closer to 50. You can easily see that the 5000sf home uses more than 3x the energy (and costs over 3x to heat) than the 1500sf. This makes perfect sense given that the 5000sf home is more than 3x larger than the 1500sf home.

The upshot? If you order a plan through our website, we will work with you to create a HERS score if you wish for no extra charge. This will include giving you a preliminary score after a brief consultation on what options you would like to include in your home, customized for the area you will be building in. If you are interested in getting a final HERS certificate for the home, you will need to find a provider local to your area.

As usual, all of our plans on the istockhouseplans website are designed to be easy to build with material usage taken into consideration. Even if you aren't looking for a score of any sort, rest assured that our plans will be energy and material efficient on their own merits.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fat Walls

As a follow up to our previous post regarding Passive Houses, we would like to explore some options for making a wall more insulated. Code allows for the wall to be less insulated than the rest of the home. While a roof is R38 (all figures are for the Northwest) and floors are R30, walls are only required to be R21. This is 33% worse than floors and only half as good as roofs. On top of this, walls have all these nasty holes called 'windows' that reduce the actual value down to R13 at best. This makes the walls a full 2/3 worse than the roof.

"Well that's okay, because heat rises, right?"

No. No, and no. Hotter air rises above colder air but heat moves any direction from hot to cold. Ideally a house should be equally insulated on all planes. This means we need to get walls up to the R30 to R40 range.

First option: Standard wall of actual R13 plus 4" of XPS rigid foam board gets you to R33. Not bad, but 4" of foam really messes with window openings and requires some extra detailing.

Second option: Advanced frame 2x6 wall with actual value of R18 plus 2" of same foam gets up to R28. Not bad, but not enough.

Third option: Add U=0.20 windows (R5) to this wall and start touching R30.

As you can see, there's not much left to do except...

Fourth option: Increase wall to 2x8 advanced framing (R24 actual) with 2" foam to get R34.

Our current favorite option: Two separate 2x4 walls with a 1" air gap in the middle and 2" of XPS foam on the outside, U=0.20 windows. This gets up to an R40 and is easy to frame. One wall is built to standard advanced framing, then the second wall is built with a minimum of lumber. All it has to do is hold gypsum in place. The gap at windows and doors is bridged with plywood gussets. This means the window openings will have to be 1/2" bigger on each side. Every extra inch of gap you'd like to add will increase the insulation value by another R3-R4.

"But I'm going to lose floor space in the house!"

Really? How much will you really lose? A standard 40x40' house with a 20x20' garage in the corner has 160' of perimeter. Two and one-half extra inches of wall reduces your floor space by 33sf. We're talking powder room or walk-in closet. And besides, if you're more worried about the little amount of floor space over an energy efficient home, we'd like to have a talk about priorities.

Besides, Passive House promotes 12". We're just advocating little steps.

If you'd like to hear more about these systems, drop us a line or visit istockhouseplans website.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Passive House

Last post we discussed some interesting ways to increase the R-value of your walls while still maintaining normal and acceptable building practices. But let's say you want to take it a step further. Welcome the Passive House, a remarkable building process started in Germany and quickly becoming a popular method of building homes. Passive houses require no heating source but are generally required to have one per code.

"Wait, no heating source? No furnace, no baseboard heaters, no heat pump, no radiators?" Yup. I mean, nope, none of that. The homes are built so tight and insulated so well that they get heated every time you use a hair dryer or brew coffee. In fact you could keep the home heated all winter with a few well placed candles.

"But if the house is built tight and you're burning candles, won't you die of carbon monoxide inhalation? Shouldn't the house breathe?" Oh for the love of Pete, if your house 'breathed' you would be making monay selling tickets to an authentic haunted house. Houses don't need to breathe. The occupants inside need to breathe and yes you need to cycle fresh air through.

Performance issues first. R-values need to be 44 or better. This does not mean using R-44 insulation. This means the average value of your whole wall, including energy sucking R-3 windows, needs to be accounted for. Floors and ceilings need to achieve the same values. Currently these values are in the R-10 range for walls (using R-21 insulation), and R-30 for floors and ceilings assuming no penetrations. So the solution for floors and ceilings is simple, increase the value to R-49 in both and call it good. The walls are a little more difficult. How would you achieve an R-50 wall? One method is to use 9.5" I-joists for studs and fill the cavities with either spray foam or high-density blow-in. This gets you to R-38, and then add 3" of EPS rigid foam board to the outside. Typical windows are as good as R-3 (U=0.32), but R-7 (U=0.14) windows can be used.

Typical houses leak at a rate of 10 or so air changes per hour when you suck out 50 CFM of air. An Energy Star home cannot exceed 7 and 2 or 3 is generally considered darned good. But the Passive House must not exceed 0.6 ACH at CFM50.

"Oh the cost! This would be a fortune!". How much do you think it really is? Since R-5 windows are about the limit available in the U.S., you are looking at roughly an $8000 increase for a modest 2000sf home (foam is cheap). Not terrible, but here's the kicker. You can skip the HVAC system, so there's a $4000 savings. Instead you'll install a small HRV system to provide fresh air to the home without it adversely affecting temperature. Add about $2000. You'll also want to provide a couple of small cadet heaters so add another $1000. So you're in it for $7000 extra. But when you sell the house, market it well and you'll gain an extra $20,000 over similar homes. Why? Because the heating/cooling bills will be reduced from $200/mo to less than $50/mo. The extra $20k will finance at $120/mo. Math says that your buyers will save a few bucks a month or break even. That assumes that energy costs will stay stable. If you believe this, I've got a barn to sell you. So consider that this becomes a hedge against future energy costs and your buyer breaks even and gets a more comfortable home.

If you'd like your next house to be aggresively passive, we would be happy to detail it for you.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What a stud!

What makes the Northwest unique? Green trees, pristine beaches, and live volcanoes? Yes, but what makes building homes in the Northwest unique? Give up? It's the size of stud used. Throughout the rest of the country builders rely on the trusty 2x4. But here in the Northwest the energy code has demanded that the 2x6 become the weapon of choice. So what do we do with the 2x6? We space them 16" apart and fill the cavities with R-21 insulation. Every where else they do the same thing but max out with R-15 high density batts. Crazy! While Portland, OR uses R-21 for it's 4600 heating degree days, Minneapolis allows R-15 for it's whopping 8000+ heating degree days. Seems insane to me.

Now, let's say you want more insulation. You could use the 2x6 stud, but keep in mind your wall will still be 33% - 50% less insulated than your floors or ceiling. (That's okay, heat rises, right? Okay smart guy, if that's the case, why insulate your floor? 'Heat' does NOT rise). Digressing, you can see that your walls are seriously hampered compared to your hat and socks. How do you feel about 2x8 walls with R-25? Not well, I suppose. But what about 2x6 walls at R-21 with (wait for it) 2" of EPS rigid foam insulation? Suddenly you've come close to R-30 for your wall. Not bad, eh? And if you're still stuck on 2x4 studs with R-15, 3" of EPS rigid foam will bring you to a more comfortable R-27. Besides that, exterior foam makes a great thermal break between your studs and the outside world.

Since Istockhouseplans is a Northwest company, we've been used to the idea of specifying 2x6 studs on all of our plans. If you are a builder anywhere else, please don't let that stop you from using our plans. Simply use our blueprints and replace the studs with 2x4. Though our drawings show 6" thick walls, our details specify that either 2x4 or 2x6 are acceptable. If it's really a breaking point with your jurisdiction, let us know and we'd be happy to redraw the plans at no extra charge. That's our service to you.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Are you up to code?

Have you heard this question before? Water cooler, permit office, job site? What does up to code mean? Does it mean your home complies with code? Good. But what does code really mean? Have you ever tried to build a home below code? Have you gotten away with it? Has it come back to bite you?

Enough of the inquisition. A code home (if your jurisdiction has a code) is the MINIMUM home you can legally build. In other words, if you built a home any less than code, you could go to jail. So a code home is the worst home you can build without getting into legal trouble with the state. Is that how you're defining your company, by building the worst homes possible?

If you couldn't tell that we were in a housing slump, good for you. If you're out there trying to market your homes for 30% less than list price without success, let me tell you why. It's because your home is the worst home legally allowed. Meanwhile Joe Toolbelt has upped his ante and is putting energy efficiency features into his homes and they're selling. What's that mean, bamboo floors and low VOC paints? No, that means 24" o.c. studs, increased insulation values, a quality heat pump or 95% furnace and a myriad of other features that make your house use 30% less energy than before. "Won't that cost extra?". No, no, and no. You've made it obvious that there is a learning curve, but you've also shown me that you've broken that before. The 1992 code shattered all your ideals, but you got the hang of it. Now I'm telling you to do it again.

If you are a GC, get energy efficiency figured out, then talk to your subs. I'll bet your subs would frame in a monkey suit right now if it guaranteed they would get your framing job. Tell them how you want your house built, and tell them that you have no qualms about dropping them midway through the project if they're not doing it right. Are you a sub? Figure out the energy efficiency for your trade and market yourself for the same price as before.

If you can figure out new technology like pneumatic nailers and factory-built trusses, surely you can do better than 80% furnaces and batt insulation. Need help? Come to istockhouseplans and get our energy efficiency details with every plan.