light reading

Mark and I had a date at the library last Friday.  There is the sweetest little library only about a mile from us (if you knew me, you’d know how often I use the phrase “only about a mile from us”; it could be a drinking game, seriously) and I know that we are terribly fortunate to be able to walk to it. We had a delightful time and Mark was a real peach.  He even let me pick out some books for myself after I tore him away from the mega-blocks and board books in the children’s section.


From the top:

Being Perfect by Anna Quindlen

The American Barn by Randy Leffingwell

The Green Home by Bridget Biscotti Bradley and the editors of Sunset Books

The Complete Guide to Designing Your Own Home by Scott Ballard, AIA

Can you tell where my head’s been lately?  That first book, Being Perfect, is more of an essay with photographs.  I really enjoy Anna Quindlen’s writing (I think this is the third book of hers I’ve read) and this is short and satisfying.  I read it over lunch.

The American Barn?  Well, I wanted to look through all the photos for inspiration.  This is the one book I haven’t delved into yet, but that’s because I’ve been reading through The Green Home and the Designing Your Own Home books.  You may wonder why I, as an architect, would need a book like this.  Well, Dr. Jay and I will definitely build our own home at some point, and since we are making the move down south, that could potentially happen in the next few years.  We realized in talking about this a few weeks ago that despite having savings for a house, we aren’t really sure how the financing of a residential construction project works.  This book dedicates a few chapters to this subject, and though it’s from 1995, it’s helpful for me to read about the process and remind myself of all the preliminary work and decisions involved.  Knowing what to expect in advance could save us a lot of energy, and money!  This book is also written by a University of Texas at Austin graduate, which I didn’t realize until I got it home.  I think it must have been calling to me from the library shelves.

I grabbed The Green Home because I’d like to start researching materials (and pricing) for this pie in the sky home we might one day build.  Cork floors seem like the have lots of benefits (easy on the legs, a rapidly renewable material, relatively inexpensive, good for the wear and tear of a dog and children) but I’m wondering how they perform if they’ve been painted?  I was thinking that a classic black and white checkerboard pattern could be great for a kitchen, but would that work on cork?  Please let me know if you’ve had experience with this.

If I make more headway in the category of Our Future Home, I’ll certainly let you know.  Right now I divide my thinking/internet research time between that, pinning images on PInterest, and looking for places to move in Tennessee.  That’s what’s been going on here, lately.  We’re glad it’s March and hoping the winter weather and sickies are behind us!


Let’s talk about the heat


So, I don’t know about where you live, but here in the mid-Atlantic region we’ve been experiencing some of the highest temperatures and humidity rates in the history of the earth.  Well, maybe not quite that extreme, but baby, it’s hot out there and it’s the humidity that gets ya.  And yet at night I curl up with a blanket and read War and Peace watch something ridiculous on one of the three stations of tv we get because the air conditioning is blasting trying to keep us “comfortable”.  I switch between a tank-top and a sweatshirt based on whether or not the air-conditioning is running.

But there is a dramatically more efficient way to heat and cool our homes.  The use of geothermal heat pumps are becoming more and more common these days, for both renovations and new construction.  In fact, the renovation and addition our aunt in Massachusetts is working on spurred this post about geo-thermal heat pumps.  She is looking at adding one to her smaller, Cape-style home which currently has a much too old forced air heating system and window-units for air conditioning.  With the installation of a geo-thermal heat pump, she’ll get much more consistent heating and cooling throughout the year, and save between 30 and 40 percent on her heating and cooling costs.

A geo-thermal heat pump works by pulling from the earth’s constant temperatures.  Think of a cave which would maintain a consistent, cooler temperature than the outside air in the summer, and be warmer than the outside air in the summer.  Through a series of loops and coolants and compressors and fans, a heat pump would draw the heat out of your house in the summer and dissipate it back into the earth.  In the winter, it would draw from the earth’s heat and pump it into your home.  Here’s a (very simplistic) diagram that might better explain this:


There are various ways these loops can be configured underground: coiled, horizontal loops, vertical loops.  The type and length used would be based on your home’s heating and cooling loads, the soil conditions, and the severity of temperatures in your area. 

The cost for this type of system is generally more expensive upfront, due to the earthwork involved for the installation.  The extent of drilling would depend on the type of system necessary, but most of the mechanical parts of the system are located inside the house and easily accessible for maintenance.  But there is generally not much maintenance required, due to the relative simplicity of the components in the system.  The underground piping used is usually guaranteed for 25-50 years.  A geothermal heat pump is also quieter to operate than a typical HVAC system because there is not condenser unit outside humming away as it works.  Studies show that over 95% of geothermal heat pump owners would recommend the system to others.  So, for a little more money upfront, you will save money over time and probably be more satisfied with the quality of heating and cooling in your home.

You can read more about the virtues of geothermal here.  As for me, it’s definitely on the wish list for a future home.  I love the fact that it relies on a renewable energy source- the earth.  There is also a way to equip the system to heat the water used in the house as well.  During the warmer months of the summer, heat removed from the air in the house can be expelled into the loop and used to heat the water in the house.  A combination of the heat-pump loop and a regular hot water tank can reduce water-heating costs by about half throughout the year.  It seems much more efficient to make the most of the energy bubbling just below our feet.

So excuse me as I grab a sweater.  The A/C just kicked on again and my teeth are chattering.

>to think about


My friend Robyn, an architect down in North Carolina, sent me an email recently with some words of wisdom from one of her favorite local architects, Randall Lanou who works in the Triangle area.


Some Things I’ve Learned:

Making Things Is Fundamentally Satisfying

You Never Know Who Is In The Room

Learn-Do-Teach Is A Powerful Cycle

There Is Only One Way To Make Good Home Design Available To More People

Service Matters

Listen First

Design Is A Business

Building Is A Business

Even Mission-Driven Businesses Must Be Profitable

The Design-Make-Design Loop Is A Powerful Learning Circle

Expensive And Difficult Mistakes Are Well-Learned And Incredibly Valuable

Wide-Ranging Travel Yields A Healthy Perspective

The Best Choices Are Ones That Allow Your Conscience To Rest Easy

Sustainability Is An Old Idea Rooted In Frugality

Utility Often Equals Beauty

Great Projects Only Happen With Great Clients

Green Building Is Simply Better Building

Mimicry Is Not The Best Design Process, Even In A Historical Neighborhood

Memories And Stories Are More Important Than Finishes And Area

The Actual Thing Is Far Better Than A Facsimile

Parameters And Constraints Can Inspire Good Design

Doing The Right Thing Is Harder The First Time Than The Second Time

There Is No Situation Where Your Actions Are Without Consequence

An Even Balance Between Work And Play Is Critical

Relationships Are More Important Than Contracts

Life Is Too Short To Eat Bad Food And Drink Light Beer

A Formal Education Is A Tiny Part Of A Good Education

Responsibility, Fairness, And Stewardship Are Fine Guides

You Don’t Get Where You Want To Be Unless You Make Plans To Go

>File this under “That SUCKS”


Evidently if you live in D.C. and installed solar panels last year in hopes of getting a rebate from the city, you are sorely mistaken.  The D.C. Department of Energy has recently announced that it will not reimburse homeowners for their investment in solar because the allocated funds have been re-allocated to close a gap in the city’s budget.  This means 51 residents are out about $700,000 in total, or, let’s do some quick math here… over $13,000 on average.


I think I’d be a little ticked.  Or, maybe I’d realize that it’s not a good idea to rely on city government for reasons to invest in environmental responsibility.  At this point (okay, especially at this point, with the economy and real estate as shaky as it is) taking on such a long-term investment is only smart if you can already afford it or you can afford to wait until those solar panels create enough energy to negate your power bills for the next, oh, 20 years and beyond?

No pretty pictures for this post.  Hopefully I’ll be back with something inspiring soon.

Until then, keep the faith.