Written by: Craig Race
1. Smart Thermostats
Smart thermostats do not change the amount of energy your home needs to stay warm/cool. They restrict the amount of time your furnace is on. This conserves energy, but usually results in user discomfort – like if your thermostat thinks you are at work, but you stay home sick, or it’s a holiday Monday. More importantly, a smart thermostat can’t save you from freezing in a winter power outage. Only insulation and passive design can! Passively designed houses don’t need smart thermostats because they retain their indoor temperature without mechanical systems. Instead, they use solar gain, thermal mass, cross-ventilation, and an efficient building envelope. Smart thermostats are only needed in dumb houses.
We regularly get clients who say, “I need a 2,000sq.ft. house!” But when we dive into their programmatic requirements, we can accommodate their needs in far less space. Today’s efficient, open-concept floorplans can accomplish more with less. Homes with simple, efficient built-form and open concept plans are more efficient to heat and cool, and they make more efficient use of space. To get more benefit from your design professional, describe the quality of spaces you need, and let them compose those spaces into an efficient form.
100 years ago, brick was the load-bearing structure, building envelope, and cladding material for houses. A layer of lathe and plaster was applied to the inside as a finish, but other than that, brick solved all problems.
Today, we prefer to add insulation to our walls because we like to feel warm in the winter. And using wood as our structural system saves time, money, and natural resources. So brick has become nothing more than a very expensive and very heavy cladding material. It requires a thicker foundation to rest on, which creates thermal bridging. Most importantly to us here at STO, it prevents us from using thick layers of exterior insulation! Wood, metal, plastic, and cement-board siding options are less expensive, faster to build, and more resource efficient. Plus, they reduce thermal bridging, and allow forward-thinking builders to use lots of exterior insulation.
Everyone thinks they need more windows! Establishing views and providing daylight is a very important part of the architectural process, but windows also create weaknesses in the building envelope, compromising insulation and air-tightness – both of which have a majorimpact on your personal comfort and energy bills. All houses, traditional or contemporary, look and perform best with 15 – 35% window-to-wall area. Any less and your house is too dark and stuffy. Any more and your house wastes energy and experiences glare.
A home with thoughtfully-placed windows will take your breath away with views and sunlight, and keep you feeling comfortable.
5. Pot Lights
Everyone thinks they need more potlights! But when it comes to potlights, less is more. Not only do pot lights tend to consume space where insulation is supposed to go, but orchestrating light requires subtle artistry.
Most room needs three types of lighting;
- feature lighting that illuminates important surfaces
- hanging fixtures to define space (these are easy to change over time as styles change)
- ambient lighting if/as needed
Always remember - don’t light space, light surfaces!