Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’


Where there’s light there’s heat!

April 12, 2014

Just in case you didn’t know, a heliostat is “an instrument consisting of a mirror mounted on an axis moved by clockwork by which a sunbeam is steadily reflected in one direction.” In the video the light is directed in a way that spreads it onto an area of a building that would otherwise be in shadow due to either location or adjacent buildings.

Light is reflected off of the curved surface of the mirror in a way that all the reflections intersects at a single point.  This is  where the solar collector is mounted in order to harvest the maximum amount of energy.

Light is reflected off of the curved surface of the mirror in a way that all the reflections intersects at a single point. This is where the solar collector is mounted in order to harvest the maximum amount of energy.

This is a somewhat unusual application of a heliostat as these are more often used to concentrate rather than spread light out.  Which they do based on the optics of the impacted surfaces. Any child with a magnifying glass can tell you about how this is done. My brother started a brush fire like this once.

solar cartoon

I guess this could be called a modified heilostat as the light is first magnified, which is probably a misnomer as it is really being concentrated by the optics of the glass through which it passes. When the light gets concentrated so does the heat.

It all comes down to a basic rule about light, taught to architects in school, which states that, for specular reflection, the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection.  This concept has always provided me with a source of entertaining mental gymnastics, not so  much for the ability to move light into unexpected places, as for the accompanying source of heat.  I kept thinking it would be a way to heat the house.  At the time, I was a student, and my son just a child.  We sometimes meandered through the neighborhood speculating on how a big magnifying glass might be installed in some roof  so that the heat from the concentrated light might be directed toward an interior pool.  My son loved the idea of a pool in the living room and I thought that it was really just hot water heat.  When we describe the idea to my husband, he said were apt to set the house on fire.


Solar Epiphany and an Octopus

March 2, 2014

Gravirt Feed FurnaceAny one who has looked at my professional website  knows that I have a longtime interest is responsible building.  Since I started this blog I have been intending to write about some of these subjects.  Not wanting to be repetitive in a field already stricken with information overload, I have delayed until I could find a fresh approach, which may or may not be now.

Either way, here  is an image of what I consider to be my first real and pivotal experience with all things green.  It is a gravity feed furnace, which, if the heating blogs are to be believed, should be disposed of posthaste.  I was raised in a house, previously discussed, with one of these in the basement.  It was complete with huge asbestos wrapped ducts that reached up to the floor supply diffusers located in every room.  It had few moving parts, plus the added advantage of staying on even if the power went out.  The one in our house was converted from coal to gas.  As children we warmed ourselves by standing on the supply vents after coming in on freezing winter days.  The house was a converted barn made tight with asbestos siding and warmed by natural convection.  I never remember a draft or temperature fluctuation.  We simply trusted that our house would be warm and comfortable all during many miserable Great Lakes winters.  Of course the house has long been sold but it is actually possible that this furnace is still chugging away after what could be something like 70 years.

OM Solar solar hot air heating system in Winter

OM Solar solar hot air heating system in Winter

OM Solar solar hot air cooling system in Summer

OM Solar solar hot air cooling system in Summer

It wasn’t long of course before I moved on with life and entered the world of forced air furnaces, air conditioning units, and rattling radiators.  Until, that is, 911 sent me, in an effort to save the world through architecture, running to a American Solar Energy Society trade show in Reno, Nevada where I found out that the convective heating system that I had taken for granted as a child had a modern day counter part in the form of a building integrated solar hot air heating system called OM Solar.  I was hooked.  Here are some diagrams.  Follow the link to read more about how it works and I know these don’t look anything like the old furnace in the photo.  Just stay tuned.  There will be more later.


Catching a Sense of Liberation

August 24, 2013

I was raised in a barn.  No kidding.  A common solution to the economic woes of the depression was conversion,  meaning any standing building was made into rentable living quarters, and any multistory house became multistory apartments.  Our house was converted from a civil war barn into a two family house in about 1930.  We moved in around 1955.  At the time, all I wanted was to move down the street, where there was a, still beautiful, neighborhood made up of prewar architecture on streets with curbs, sidewalks and fenced in yards.  To avoid a trip down nostalgia lane, suffice it to say that as the years have gone by, I have come to appreciate that barn to the extent that it has formed a kind of subconscious repository of my notions about what a house ought to be, and I bring it up here because the house in the photo seriously activated a few of these.

If you care to follow the link you will see that the featured house was included in an article about “Eco-Friendly Housing,”  which got me thinking about how my childhood home was the very definition of recycled.  The original post and beam structure was only visible in the attic, which was really the original hay loft.  It was huge, soaring almost 20′ from the floor framing to the ridge.  I lived in the house for almost 20 years and was never in that attic.  So how, one might wonder, did I know what it looked like?  There was an unfinished room on the second floor with no ceiling.  It offered a view of the old post and beam structure, the random width boards that formed the sheathing under the slate roof, the cavernous space replete with possibilities.  Because of the multicolored recycled wood siding, the house in the photo somehow catches that same sense of liberation, suggesting  that the real living space is outside instead of in.


Simply Elemental

July 9, 2013

Mini House by Jonas Wagell – Dezeen.

In Sweden people are allowed to build a “Mini House,” like this one, on their property without a permit as long as it is not bigger than161 sq. ft.  (15 sq. meters)  How cool is that?  Most places in the US allow residents to put a garden shed in the back yard sans permit, but I am not at all sure that inviting our adult children to stay in the shed for a while would be very will received by the local building & zoning department! 4295754214_198a2e9a3d_o(1)Just think, it would only be necessary to visit the local builders supply where you can have one of these delivered completely assembled and installed for around $2000.  Well ok, I know it is not finish inside but considering that the Swedish version will run you about $15,000 without the kitchen or any heat, it is still a deal.  I have visions of of somehow combining one or two of these, a single wide and a carport into a really great country retreat.  It is simply elemental, don’t you think?


Is “Green” a rich Man’s Concept?

June 11, 2013

I have found that many of the ostensibly sustainable building projects published these days are marginal in that  they are expiriments and very often partial as they focus on some special technology or strategy.  This is not to say that they lack value which, in my very humble opinion, is the operative word defining all things green.  In fact they render this project of special interest because it is real and as such offers insight into how the various peices and parts of what we think of as responsible building might manifest.   One has only to glance at the buzz words attached to the project for a protypical summary:  geothermal, net zero, solar, Leed.  These are all thought of as good and desirable things for the environmentally conscious homeowner.  Indeed, were it not for that tricky little concept called value,  many of the elements and strategies used to build this house are where I would have found myself starting had I been designing such a project.  Finally though it would have become necessary for me to ask, can a house costing $700,000 really be green?  If so, then to a very large percent of the world’s population “green” is a rich mans concept.


Celebrating Earth Day, Wishing for Space

May 11, 2013

A few post ago, I wrote, somewhat disparagingly, about biological concrete, leading someone to tell me that the “forests are returning to the cities!!!” A fact, presumably, based on the necessity of absorbing increased man made CO2, and one that will most certainly affect the practice of architecture. I suppose this is true, but not, I am afraid, very motivating.

A.  Not so typical middle class house.
Photo used with permission from photographer.

Jane Auel, author of the now famous, Clan of the Cave Bear, first in the Earth’s Children series, might be considered and expert on the historical choices humanity has made when it comes to shelter.  She builds an image, based not a little on actual and scholarly research, of life in a prehistoric cave, offering moments of imaginary refuge for all those over worked, over housed, over crowded individuals who happen upon her work.  She writes in compelling detail about space and everything else that has sunk in the stream of progress.  We know all about life in house B.  She tells us what it is like to live in house A.

Typical middle class houses USA

B.  Typical middle class houses USA

Perhaps we would do well to wish with care as the house in A. looks like a buried “star ship” and the sea and sky easily extend to endless space.

I’m in pursuit of a more earthly place, where A. and B. become tangibly one.  Oh wait!  Can it be?  Please tell me that it’s something in which biological concrete has no part.


Silly Architect

March 14, 2013

Architects like toys too. Sustainable Holiday Home by Tjep.

Don’t laugh!  A lot of architecture projects start out this way.  I wonder if industrial goods, like cars and cell phones, do as well?  The goal of this architect was to mimic product design.  Follow the link to read the article and you will see that he embraced sustainability and portability, not to mention, cute-ability.  Is that a word?  Interesting that the article is entitled “Sustainable Holiday Home” because the house actually looks like it should hang on a Christmas tree.   Imagine the attention it would attract while being towed down the freeway on the back of a flatbed truck?  I wonder about the livability part though, maybe not so much, but who cares when it looks like such fun.