Installing Zola Windows

I was on-site last week (Jan. 9-10) for the installation of Zola windows. This was both exciting and nerve-wracking for a few reasons:

  • Installing the windows correctly is critical to both the water management strategy and air tightness of the house. I wanted to make sure the details I had drawn actually worked out in practice.
  • The windows are massive. Each panel of the large lift-slide doors weighed 1000 lbs., and the second floor study window was 800 lbs.
  • The windows are one of the most expensive line items for the entire house. The possibility of damaging them was a bit scary.

Further complicating the process were extremely cold temperatures, and one day of rain (just enough to cover everything with mud).

In charge of the installation was Harry Schilling of Schilling Construction. I was incredibly pleased with Harry’s work and would highly recommend him for other projects. He and his team were fast and efficient while also paying close attention to detail. Harry also taught the owner and his assistant how to perform the installation, so they could help out with many of the steps, thereby reducing the labor costs.

Here’s how the windows were installed — both in theory and in practice.

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Incorporating Analysis in Concept Design

I incorporated energy and daylight analysis as part of the conceptual design for the Iowa Nest Residence. This meant that early design discussions encompassed both traditional topics like floor plan layout, siting, and aesthetics, as well as performance criteria. The addition of analysis added a trivial amount of time, but proved incredibly valuable. Here’s how I did it — and what I will do differently next time.

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Can We Avoid Air Conditioning?

Iowa, like much of the American Midwest, has a treacherous combination of deep, cold winters and hot, humid summers. Could we overcome this with good passive design? Could shading, natural ventilation, earth berming, and the like obviate the need for air conditioning?

Here’s how I went about answering this question. This analysis was done in early design so that the answer could inform basic design moves.

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Is Concrete Durable?

One of the goals for this house is durability: a lifespan of 200 years or more. Is concrete an appropriate material to achieve that aim?

First, some background: It’s not the concrete itself that’s problematic; it’s the rebar embedded in concrete. This rebar tends to corrode over time, and as it does, the rust increases the diameter of the rebar slightly, spalling the concrete, and eventually causing the concrete to fail. This is the main reason why Roman concrete (which had no rebar) has lasted for 1000s of years, whereas contemporary concrete’s lifespan is typically measured in decades.

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What Passive Strategies are Most Cost-Effective?

Once we evaluated which passive design strategies were most important when it came to energy use and thermal comfort, we asked the question: which will give us the most bang for our buck? Rather than engage in a detailed (time-consuming) cost analysis at this early stage, we did a simple overlay on our existing sensitivity analysis — which provided some key insight for remarkably little effort.

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What Passive Strategies are Most Important? Using Simple Box Modeling to Inform Design

Before I ever put pen to paper for this project, I wanted to answer a deceptively simple question: What passive design measures are most important? What basic strategies did the design need to employ to be successful? —to maintain human comfort with a minimum of added energy?

It’s important to answer this question before design begins in earnest for two reasons:

  1. With a limited budget, it’s important that we invest in the right things; and
  2. If we know the most important strategies before we start designing, we can incorporate them into the DNA of the design—often more effectively and at lower cost than if they were afterthoughts. For instance, if thermal mass or natural ventilation is important, these things will begin to dictate the construction or interior layout in ways that are difficult to “add on” later.

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Webinar: Achieving Net Zero Energy

This webinar from December 2015 provides an overview of the design processes and analyses that were used to set the project on track toward Net Zero Energy during Conceptual and Schematic Design. The studies include “simple box” energy modeling to determine the best passive design measures, comparison of design options, analysis of shading strategies, and optimization of envelope parameters like R-values and glazing. I used a variety of tools including Climate Consultant and the CBE Thermal Comfort Tool — but mostly I used Sefaira Architecture. (Full disclosure: I worked for Sefaira for nearly five years; that’s where this webinar comes from originally.)

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