Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Passive Solar House

The Complete Guild to Heating and Cooling Your Home


James Kachadorian

Finished Reading: 03.2010

The Passive Slab system, developed by Kachadorian in the 1970's, includes a poured concrete slab over standard concrete masonry units. The voids in the CMU's (which are placed side by side, on their sides) are used for air circulation and the movement of heat into the home. With the help of a small fan for air movement, the resident of a passive solar house can enjoy a moderate temperature year round without the use of a active heat source! The light from the sun comes in through the windows, and the heat is trapped because the home is constructed tightly with minimal leakage. Window coverings can help keep the heat from escaping through the glazing at night.

Kachadorian is writing from his experience building homes in the Northeast, in places like Vermont and Connecticut, and based on most of the examples given, assumes we are going to build our solar house in a very cold climate. His houses seem to be built out in the middle of nowhere, but this doesn't affect the design at all, and a solar house can be built in the city or anywhere - in a cold or mild climate. In areas with fewer days of sunshine, it is still beneficial to collect the solar rays that do fall on the site, though it may not be enough to eliminate back-up power.

He includes very detailed instructions on how to calculate the sizes of windows, slabs, and to see how much energy will be gained and lost throughout the day. This method varies some from other Passive House designs, which concentrate rigorously but simply on maintaining a tight envelope with proper air exchange, rather than a fancy slab and operable window coverings. Importantly, whatever type of house is being designed, the architect should consider the location of the sun, and use that ball of gas burning billions of miles away for as much free heat as he can get from it. Keep that electric heater off!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Green Building Fundamentals

A Practical Guide to Understanding and Applying Fundamental Sustainable Construction Practices and the LEED Green Building Rating System


Michael Montoya

Finished Reading: 03.2010

LEED sounds really cool, but I have been unfortunate in my lack of involvement and influence by this green building standard. Though I have been in the architectural field for a number of years, I have not had the opportunity to work directly with anyone who is really interested in building a LEED building, nor have I worked with a LEED building in anyway. So I picked up this book to do a little research and hopefully learn something.

I found this to be a very significant guide to green building, and not intimidating at all. In addition to general, practical information, this book includes a section on preparing for the LEED accreditation exam. Various green building practices and methods are described in clear, concise detail, serving as a good introduction to the uninitiated and as a valuable brush-up for those who are familiar with this sort of environmental stewardship (me), but have not committed it fully to heart. The overtly LEED portion of the publication appears only at the end, so someone wanting to gain knowledge in general sustainable building practices who isn't preparing to take the test will find this text accessible.

Major green building fundamentals addressed include site development, managing water runoff, energy efficiency, renewable resources, and indoor air quality to name a few. Each building fundamental is presented clearly and the possibilities are explained with examples of project implementation.

Upon completion of this book, my interest in becoming a LEED accredited professional has increased, more than my skeptical inclinations previously allowed. The process is now clearer. I feel the greatest benefit of LEED is in the accreditation of individuals responsible for the designing and building of structures, providing structured access to knowledge, technology and common sense that can be used in every project - whether the project achieves LEED certification or not. I am still skeptical of the value in actually assigning these points to particular projects by adhering to a checklist of green accomplishments, but I have yet to experience that first-hand.

There is nothing worse than trying to learn something by pasting bits of knowledge together from many sources, only hoping that you have found the relevant pieces and have them in place before the glue drys. This publication, while not containing all knowledge on the subject, brings together much of what we need to know.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

J.K. Rowling

Finished Reading: 02.2010

Sigh. I really don't know what to write about Harry Potter anymore. This book is very good, just as the others are very good. Each one might actually be getting better, but there isn't anything very deep to comment on, though I was thoroughly entertained. You might even call the book gripping, really. I could comment on the characters, but we know the main ones pretty well by now, and I don't have much more to say about an old rat that turns into a greasy little man, a black dog that turns into your uncle, or a deer that stares annoyingly at you from across a lake - except, cool. Very cool. You get 'em Harry.

I like secret underground tunnels and mysterious treasure maps with disappearing ink. The Marauder's Map is like Google Latitude, except on parchment. It took the muggles ten years to figure that one out for themselves. The big question now, leading up to the next book, is who will be the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher? Of course, you knew that would be an issue. Now if only I could gaze at the Marauder's Map to see him approaching...