Something New and Something Old

Something New and Something Old

FutureHAUS at the NAHB IBS

I first started attending the National Association of Home Builders International Building Show (NAHB IBS) back in 1982 when it was held in Las Vegas, as it was again this past January. When you attend the massive trade show nearly every year, you see many things change, and many remain the same, though every so often, there are truly inspirational ideas that resonate and push the industry forward.

The Kitchen Cartridge of Virginia Tech's FutureHAUS

The Kitchen Cartridge of Virginia Tech's FutureHAUS

From my first show in 1982, out of the 50 acres of displays at the time, one exhibit stood out for me. The NEST (New Experimental Prototype of Tomorrow) House was an exhibit with a long line to tour a small model. The home reminded me of what we now call a tiny house, but it was uniquely created so that an owner could add modules or units to create a larger home to better suit a family or as needs changed. At that time, interest rates were at 18%, and those of us in the design industry saw this revolutionary new housing type as a way for young families and couples just starting out to become homeowners. 

Several years later in 1988, the Smart House was introduced to the building community, and many national brands supported the promising technology. Seeing the very concrete possibilities in housing when builders and designers think differently and use new technologies to impact how we live our lives is one of the most exciting things about home design, making how we live smarter, safer, and more sustainable. 

Structurally Insulated Panel (SIP)

Structurally Insulated Panel (SIP)

Although 35 years of time and economic transitions have passed since first seeing these groundbreaking ideas, my latest trip to the 2016 IBS convention brought back many of those same feelings when I saw an exhibit of what the design students and professors at VirginiaTech have been up to. On display was an example of their FutureHAUS, taking the concept of modular, pre-fab homes to the next level by incorporating cutting edge technology. They do this by creating “cartridge” units for kitchens, bathrooms, and living areas that are constructed in a factory using precision digital printing and SIPs (structurally insulated panels). Upon assembly, each cartridge is installed with advanced technology and sensors that allow every surface and device to send and receive information. 

The technology is impressive, and what really caught my eye was the the display of the bathroom cartridge, with features allowing for personal customization and aging in place as well as video projections on the shower door. Now over the years we have placed TVs behind mirrors in master suites and I have seen the holographic images from Disney to Michael Jackson that look so real you think that person is actually there. It’s exciting to imagine the possibilities ahead in our own daily lives.

As the Millennial generation begins to make their mark on the housing industry, I hope they continue to embrace and expand these emerging technologies. We Americans have a tradition of building on past achievements and reaching beyond, a good reminder being to look at the milestones noted in the 75th anniversary issue of Professional Builder Magazine, such as when MIT announced “America’s First Sun-Powered Homes” way back in 1939. The future looks exceedingly bright as we develop new ways to sustainably house people. My only hope is that at least some of the new housing will continue to carry timeless architectural style. I love the sleek, contemporary, utilitarian feel of Apple stores, but I still enjoy the enduring warmth of a Craftsman home. 

Check out the videos below to learn more about FutureHAUS.


It's funny what you notice when you live with, travel with, and work with architects, designers, urban planners and landscape architects....  Larry Gilland and I came to Grand Junction for him to attend some classes, and me to wander the streets, (and get some work done too).

I don't know the Urban Planner "Lingo", but the streets of downtown Grand Junction were designed in a way so that the traffic moved from one side of the street to the other in a serpentine fashion with bits of diagonal parking on one side or the other depending on which way the way the traffic was flowing.

There were lots of great sculptures along the way, and it made for a very nice, pedestrian friendly downtown (except for the 100 degree temperature the day we were there).  John Olson and Colorado Springs Urban Intervention would be proud of me for noticing that you could sit either way on the benches, facing into the street, or into the shops.

It's always fun to explore what other cities have done with their downtown areas, and I'm excited to see what is happening in Colorado Springs.

While we were there we drove to the Gateway Canyons Resort for dinner, and the scenery was stunning.  There is only ONE who could design the structure shown behind Larry in this photo.


Do you live in a cold-snowy arid climate? Do you struggle to keep your plants alive? Would you like to have your own permaculture-based indoor oasis for you and your plants that is warm everyday? It might seem like a fantasy, but this is the scene you can create in a tropical permaculture greenhouse of your very own. 

Permaculture gardeners embrace Mother Nature’s systems and attempt to replicate her genius and efficiency in their designs, and there are a number of permaculture practices on display throughout forest gardening, maximizing edges, capturing and harvesting energy (see our article on Photovoltaics), and producing no waste. Minimizing the miles your food travels, eating fresh produce and spending time around green living things doesn’t have to stop with the end of summer. A greenhouse is not only a microcosm of plant life but also a testing ground for permaculture principles and your imagination. 

In a permaculture greenhouse, the ethics of caring for the Earth, caring for the people and sharing of the surplus overlap and support each other in every design element. You can kick back and relax while enjoying the fact that your self-indulgence is a self-sustaining ecosystem. Besides, who does’t like to taste of homegrown foods that you can watch grow?

Home Energy Rating’s Explained

When first getting into the realm of Home Energy Ratings, the lingo can be slightly confusing. HERS, the Home Energy Rating System is based on a home’s energy rating, which is an analysis of a home’s energy performance that includes energy modeling with accredited software. The HERS Rating is based on the HERS Index, the official number that comes from the rating. A home that just meets code has a HERS rating of 100. For every point above or below 100, the home is that many percentage points less or more efficient than the same home built to code. Lower numbers are better, they mean the house is more efficient. For example, a HERS Rating of 30 means that this home performs 70% better than the same home built just to code. A HERS Rating of 0 means it is a Net Zero Home which means it produces as much energy as it uses each year. 

How can you improve your HERS Rating?

A HERS Rater can do a comprehensive rating on your home to assess its energy performance. There energy rating will consist of a series of diagnostic tests using specialized equipment, such as a blower door test, duct leakage tester, combustion analyzer, and infrared cameras. These tests will determine the amount and location of air leaks in the building envelope. the amount of leakage from HVAC distribution ducts, the effectiveness of insulation inside walls and ceilings, and any existing or potential combustion safety issues. Some other variables that are taken into account include floors over unconditioned spaces (like garages and cellars), attics, foundations, and crawlspaces, windows and doors, vents and ductwork, water heating system and thermostats. These tests will allow you to fix any problems that may be decreasing your HERS Rating. Using these tests will give insight into potential issues in your home. For more information on common issues during the building process, check out our other articles on Building Sciences. 

Once the test have been completed, a computerized simulation analysis using RESNET Accredited Rating Software will be used to calculate a rating score on the HERS Index. 

Whether building a new home, remodeling an old home, or if you are just curious about the rating and efficiency of your home, the HERS Index is one of the most widely known and used tests around.  


Photovoltaics, also known as PV Panels, are used to convert solar energy into direct current electricity. A photovoltaic system employs solar panels composed of a multitude of solar cells to supply usable solar power. This form of energy has been long seen as a clean, sustainable energy technology that draws upon the planet’s most plentiful renewable resource, the sun. Direct conversion from sunlight to electricity occurs without any moving parts or environmental emissions, making it an eco-friendly alternative to common fossil fuels and natural gases. 

Since the first designs of solar panels more than 50 years ago, the efficiency and price of PV Panels have greatly improved. After hydro and wind power, solar power is now the third most important renewable energy source in terms of globally installed capacity. More than 1000 countries use solar PV regularly. Large installations are often ground mounted, however, typically they are built into the roof or walls of a building for residential and commercial use. 

In 2013 alone, the fast-growing capacity of worldwide installations of PV Panels increased by 38% which is sufficient enough to supply about 80% of the electricity demand worldwide. China, followed closely by Japan and the United States, is the fastest growing market, while Germany remains the world’s largest producer, contributing almost 6% to its national electricity demand. Using PV Panels is a highly powerful step toward the future of our planet. 

Photovoltaics are best known for generating electric power by using solar cells to convert energy from the sun into a flow of electrons. The photovoltaic effect refers to photons of light exciting electrons into a higher state of energy, allowing them to act as charge carriers for an electric current. The solar cells must be protected from the elements and are often packaged tightly behind a sheet of glass. 

The first practical application of photovoltaics was to power orbiting satellites and other spacecraft. Today, however, the majority of photovoltaic modules are used for grid connected power generation, although many are using PV Panels to reduce their grid dependencies, in hopes of going “off-the-grid”. Electric vehicles are also well known for trying to integrate the useful system. 
As technology improves, photovoltaics will be less expensive and more efficient to use on an every day basis. They are the next up-and-coming idea for the future of power and clean, green energy. 

Bungalow Style

Bungalows are very convenient for the homeowner in that all living areas are on a single-story and t
here are no stairs between living areas. A bungalow is well suited to persons with impaired mobility, such as the elderly or those in wheelchairs.

A bungalow is a type of building. Across the world, the meaning of the word bungalow varies. Common features of many bungalows include verandas and being low-rise. In Australia, the California bungalow was popular after the First World War. In North America and the United Kingdom, a bungalow today is a residential building, normally detached, which is either single-story or has a second story built into a sloping roof, usually with dormer windows. Full vertical walls are therefore only seen on one story, at least on the front and rear elevations. Usually the buildings are relatively small, especially from recent decades, however, early examples may be large, in which case the term bungalow tends not to be used today.

The term “bungalow” originated in India, deriving from the word baṅgalo, meaning "Bengali" and used elliptically for a "house in the Bengal style". Such houses were traditionally small, only one story, and had a wide veranda. The term was first found in English from 1696, where it was used to describe "bungales or hovells" in India for English sailors of the East India Company, which do not sound like very grand lodgings. Later it became used for the spacious homes or official lodgings of officials of the British Raj. It was well known in Britain and later America, where it initially had high status and exotic connotations, and began to be used in the late 19th century for large country or suburban houses built in an Arts and Crafts or other Western vernacular style—essentially as large cottages, a term also sometimes used. Later developers began to use the term for smaller houses.

Neighborhoods of only bungalows offer more privacy than similar neighborhoods with two-story houses. With bungalows, strategically planted trees and shrubs are usually sufficient to block the view of neighbors. With two-story houses, the extra height requires much taller trees to accomplish the same, and it may not be practical to place such tall trees close to the house to obscure the view from the second floor of the next door neighbor. They are a very cost-effective way of living. On the other hand, even closely spaced bungalows make for quite low-density neighborhoods, contributing to urban sprawl. In Australia, bungalows have broad verandas and as a result are often excessively dark inside, requiring artificial light even in daytime.

Craftsman Style

The American Craftsman style, also known as the American Arts and Crafts movement, is an American domestic architectural, interior design, landscape design, applied arts, and decorative arts style and lifestyle philosophy that began in the late years of the 19th century. As a comprehensive design and art movement, it remained popular into the 1930s. However, in decorative arts and architectural design it has continued with numerous revivals and restoration projects through present times.

The style developed out of the British Arts and Crafts movement that had been going on since the 1860s. Many of the typical architectural features in a Craftsman home are low pitched roof lines, often gabled or hipped roofs, deep overhanging eaves, exposed rafters or decorative brackets under the eaves, a front porch beneath an extension of the main roof with tapered, square columns supporting the roof, double-hung windows, hand-crafted stone or woodwork, and mixed materials throughout the structure. 
This style has many influences from styles such as the bungalow and American Foursquare styles. This style refuted the ornate and elaborate for strong construction and beauty through simplicity. The home and interior design were accomplished through subtlety and dignity of style. Today, these homes continue to be popular because they are low cost without lacking exceptional high quality.

"The Craftsman" designs are meant to be site related or augmented to an individual site. The house is built with materials found in the local region, and the architecture designed to enhance natural features outside through ample use of recessed porches, terraces, pergolas, and entrance ways. While space is utilized as economically as possible, the basic function becomes essential to the interior design. Structural elements are often exposed for decorative detail and local materials (perhaps a stone fireplace in Connecticut) were enhanced by slight changes to the basic design. This, of course, means that these Craftsman Homes were all customized by local builders to meet local resources and individual needs.

Tudor Style

No other historic architectural style has as many alternative names as the Tudor Revival does; Elizabethan, Jacobean, Jacobethan, Queen Anne, Old English, and Cotswold are a few. Although there are many names referring to the same style, Tudor Revival has become the most accepted term in the academic community and in general for its immediate association with the structures that are their source of inspiration - the medieval buildings of Tudor England. Classic characteristics of Tudor homes include elements such as steeply pitched roofs and gables covered in slate or imitation thatch, bays of casement windows of diamond-paneled leaded glass, lustered chimney stacks, interiors of wood paneling and parted ceilings, and especially half-timbered and stuccoed facades. 

The Tudor Revival style developed in America between 1890 and 1930. Culturally, this style was meant to be patriotic; a style with roots in America’s colonial past and even farther back in late-medieval Britain with its associations of aristocracy, genteel living, stability, and dynasty. At a time where American cities were overflowing with immigrant groups, those born here, the Anglo-Americans, wanted to set themselves apart as suggested by the Tudor style. 

The expensive materials used to build Tudor homes - copper, slate, and stone - made it a symbol of economic and social status originally. Tudor houses were adaptable to additions such as garages, studios, and verandas. Unlike the symmetrical designs of the Colonial period, rooms could be oriented as desired with windows placed wherever appropriate to take advantage of sunny exposure or views of the landscape without upsetting the architectural symmetry. The handcrafted half-timbering construction appealed to the Arts and Crafts movement’s anti-industrial ideal made popular by the writings of John Ruskin and William Morris. 

The first authentic American versions of Tudor homes were built in the 1880s. The styles were originally drawn from humble medieval cottages. Designs such as the low doors and windows with thatched roofings from the Cotswold stye led owners toward the Tudor style through the years. Tudors can still often be seen in suburbs from coast-to-coast. 

Building Science: Air Flow and Temperature Difference

In his building-science presentations, John Straube often talks about how skyscrapers co-evolved with revolving doors. This is because of the stack effect: Warm air rising in a tall building creates a pressure difference that makes opening a ground-level swinging door very difficult. The taller the building, the greater the pressure difference and, as a result, the harder it is to open the door. A similar relationship exists with temperature: The greater the temperature difference, the faster the heat flows to the cooler space. 

This explains why in hot, Southern climates, the International Residential Code (IRC) requires  less insulation. Even on the hottest of days, there is only a 40 to 50 degree Fahrenheit temperature difference between indoors and outdoors. This contrasts to the far North, where there may be a 70 to 80 degree Fahrenheit temperature difference between indoors and outdoors on the coldest day. 

With a larger temperature difference, more insulation is needed to effectively slow the movement of energy. This concept also informs how and where we insulate. For example, it makes more sense to insulate an attic floor than it does to insulate a basement ceiling. The attic floor separates the living space from the unconditioned attic, while the basement temperature is much closer to the temperature of the living space. 

It makes more sense to add insulation where the temperature difference is greatest. Vented attics over living spaces experience the greatest temperature differentials, so it often makes the most sense to boost insulation levels there. This is one reason that fully inspecting your home for leaks is important. Preventing the flow of heat and air into areas that are unnecessary is wasteful and not energy efficient. Taking advantage of building sciences is an efficient way to productively protect your home and your wallet. 

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Building Science: Your House Is A System

When you make changes to one part of a house, you may create problems elsewhere. Rising energy costs and federal subsidies have encouraged homeowners to swap conventional furnaces for high-efficiency, direct-vent models. Unfortunately, the atmospherically vented water heater is often left behind. These orphaned water heaters are now venting into an oversize flue that was once shared by two appliances. Half of these orphaned heaters won’t have enough draft to get flue gases outside the house. 

One solution is to install a chimney liner. These flexible liners, which are fished down the existing chimney, reduce the size of the chimney for better draft. Another solution is to install a power-vented water heater, which has a built-in fan that forces gases outside the home. Both of these solutions cost hundreds of dollars though. Another possible solution is to seal all the air leaks between where the water heater is located and the attic. Sealing these holes often improves draft because it means the water heater’s flue pipe is no longer providing the makeup air that the stack effect is moving into the attic. 

Overall, a house is a system. This is just one example of a system in a home that needs to be cared for. It is important to keep in mind the unseen systems in a house to prevent issues that building sciences can fix. 

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