Modece Architects

It’s been over a week that I’ve had the website for Modece Architects open in my browser. I really enjoyed the website – it feels like an authentically green site – one that actually walks the walk. Particularly I’ve browsed back and forth endlessly in the sustainable-construction gallery which has been quite an eye opener. For example …

This image hints at the potential of using quality timber framing together with hemp construction – which I was just wondering about…

or this image that demonstrates that loose hemp!!! can be used in floor insulation:

… or this image of a do-it-yourself solar panel:

… honestly, every picture in their gallery is like a magical doorway into knowledge.

But what really tickled my fancy was that as I was revisiting that must read book on hemp-lime construction I recommended a while back – I made the connection that the hand-drawn illustrations starting on page 31 were contributed by Ralph Carpenter of Modece Architects … and I am thinking “yeah, that’s the website I’ve got open in my browser” … so it seems that the world of hemp-lime construction is still a nice and intimate community 🙂 Great fun!!!

House Heating Requirements (revisited)

IMPORTANT: this note was added after the post was published but seemed important enough to be inserted at the beginning of the post. I am just now realizing that my perception of heating requirements are based on experience of poorly insulated homes. This is why I expect stoves to be lit numerous times a day. But, in a properly insulated home the need for heating should eb drastically reduced. If this is true – then all our elaborate plans to use stove-heating may be irrelevant – since the stoves may not be lit long enough to generate hot water. Having a super-energy-efficient home may lead to us to simpler, existing ready-made solutions. We don’t know, and we don’t know yet someone who knows … so for the time being it’s all up in the air.

Some weeks ago we described an imaginary-heating system and since then we’ve come across numerous resources and refined our understanding a bit.

I think there are two core ideas that shape and guide our understanding and wishes of a heating system:

  1. Most of the time we can shower when hot water is available – though it’s comfortable we don’t really need hot water to be available on demand.
  2. Enough direct heat is generated by our wood-stoves to indirectly supply most if not all of our heating needs.

So what we can say about our envisioned heating system?

  1. It will be an integrated water-based system – the same systems is used to generated running hot water and water for a radiant heat system.
  2. The system relies as little as possible on electricity – we would like to have a warm house and hot water even during a complete power-out (though it may run better when powered with electricity).
  3. The system will include an indoor cold-water container that will bring the water to room temperature.
  4. The system will include a central hot-water tank (not a boiler!) that supplies both the radiant heat water and flowing hot water to facuets and showers.
  5. The primary source of heat will be classic Romanian-village-style terracotta wood stoves. We expect to have one or two primary stoves in the living-space and kitchen. We both work from home a lot and cook a lot so these stoves will already be working.
  6. We would like to design and build the wood stoves to include an efficient coiled water pipe that is connected to the radiant heat water circuit and feeds back into the central hot-water tank.
  7. We would like to install a on-demand gas water heater on the running water hot-water circuit as a backup in case the water in the hot-water tank is not yet hot enough.

Following are someuseful web-resources:

Timber Framing

Introduction

A few weeks ago when I began exploring the world of framing it (and I) was dominated by a fairly straightforward technique of wood-framing – using standard 2×4 lumber with nails and metal connectors to construct a home frame. But then I came across a blog where someone spoke of another building method – one that relies on creating elegant joints between wood joints that are fastened together with wooden pins (kind of like huge nails) – an all wood structure.

I encountered all kind of terms I didn’t know like dovetails and tenon joints. So I did some more searching and came across this abundant resource that had way more information then I could possible want about techniques for joining together pieces of wood. I discovered an entire art of wood-joints … which actually blew the wind out of my sails. I thought that was just too much to attempt to muster on a project with limited time and resources. So I set it aside.

Timber Framing

I am now entering a second round of inquiry into wood framing – the straightforward “nail and connecing plates” kind this time going into more detail. Then, a  few days ago I came across Northern Lights Timber Framing and a single image on their home page blew my mind. This is what timber-framing looks like:

Most of the structure (except for some of the supports) is made from massive timber beams that are crafted into a carefully planned puzzle. There is an entire carving process that takes place away from the building site during which all the pieces are meticulously crafted and tested. Then they are brought to the building site site and with the help of cranes, assembled into a monolithic structure. It is an artful process shimmering with quality and inspiration. It is very different then wood-framing. Here’s another images from Northern Lights – this time an indoors view of a timber-framed house:

The Northern Lights site listed a link to the Post n Beams blog, written by a student that trained with the folks of Northern Lights. It is a great and informational blog to read with excellent, detailed and informative images. This images from the blog further demonstrates the elaborate art of Timber Framing:

This is very different from wood-framing:

We Will Probably Build with Wood Framing

From where I stand now I am somewhat sad to say that we will be building our house with wood-framing and not with timber framing. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. The overall framing process, as I understand it, seems to be more complicated and longer then wood-framing.
  2. It seems like a more expensive building method (tools, materials).
  3. It requires refined skills and workmashinp – making it less relevant as a do-it-yourself project.
  4. Most of our wall-framing will remain hidden from sight as it will be emdedded inside the hemp-lime walls.
  5. Hemp-lime masonry needs studs to support it.
  6. Except for a living-kitchen space, energy concerns are leading us to smaller more heat-efficient spaces – so the benefit of an open-floor structure are marginal.
  7. Most of the roof will also be highly insulated with hemp and other materials.

Yet …

I would love to incorporate into our building process some of the qualities of timber-framing. There is more to it then meets the eye. I wonder if, for example, similar joint techniques can be employed when framing with 2×4 lumber?

I am no expert but my instincts tell me that timber-framing delivers a superior structure (to that of wood-framing) and the fact that it is all-wood (no chemical interactions with metallic parts) give it a better shot at longevity (though in our case this may be mitigated by the hemp-lime encasing).

A part of me hopes that we come across a magical local timber-frame builder that will change my mind 🙂 I would love to live in a structure that was built with such masterful craftsmanship.

Other Power + Costs

I came across this really useful website on alternative energy. It looks like it’s been gathering dust  and it’s design is somewhat outdated but it’s information seems timeless. Whether you want to go about doing it yourself or to use commercial solutions – their website is a great resource of information – check out Other Power.

Through their website I found two other useful links:

  • One is the US Department of Energy – though the information is presented a USA context – some of it is global and useful. Specifically I found the area on eletrciticy to have useful overview explanations of eletricity generating systems and their components.
  • The other is Bergey – a manufaturer of products and systems. Specifically their Packages pages provides tangible understanding of (a) the potentially high costs of commercial systems and (b) the relative costs of components that are needed to put together an entire working system.

Here is an example of a system that delivers: 400 – 1,500 Kilowatt-hours (kWh’s) per month (depending on wind resource), 24 hours to over a week of back-up power (depending on load and wind).

7.5 kW BWC Excel-R/48 w/VCS-10 $26,870
100ft. guyded latice tower kit $14,145
Tower wiring kit $1,615
DC Power Center, 9 circuit $850
84 kWh, 5 String, Battery Bank $15,000
7.2 kW Inverter system $6,676
Total costs $65,156

The most expensive elements are the turbine itself, the tower and the batteries. The price of the batteries was informative to me because they are needed regardless of how you generate electricity (wind, solar, hydro… ).