House DesignTips, Part Two, Getting Started

By now, you should have your land or know what you are looking for. Hopefully you are aware of the land use by-laws pertaining to your area.

The next step is to produce a floor plan. You could do a rough drawing only, and hire a draftsman or architect to do the rest, but if you are like me, You will want to be hands on for everything.

If you are doing detailed drawings, then a good first step is to purchase computer program. There are many good home design products on the market. They range from expensive architectural tools to open source drawing programs. Some are easy and intuitive to use. Others are complicated and require considerable study or training. My own preferred choice is a low-cost home design program that is easy to use. I spent about 100 dollars. Check the reviews before you buy and if possible, use free trial copies. Never give your credit card number to obtain a free copy.

a slightly unusual house that blends well into it's setting

a slightly unusual house that blends well into it’s setting

Many home design programs have catalogues of home furnishings and appliances. You can incorporate these into your plan to see how things fit. measurements of the items can be modified to match your actual choices. Most will also generate a materials list. I have found these to be of little value because of regional cost differences and construction standards.

There are many other features to these programs that you may, or may not use, but exterior and interior views can save you from straining your imagination.

Placement of windows and doors are important. They can be important visual feature of your home. Strive for balance, both inside and out. The front of your house, the side facing the street, is the one most seen and deserves the most attention. It is likely the first thing you will see whenever you come home as well. It should be attractive and welcoming. Well planned landscaping, however, can  enhance any facade. Do not neglect a pleasing view.

If you are placing many windows on the south of your house, consider the solar gain, a good thing in winter but not so for summer. On a single story house, this can be alleviated by placing the windows a little higher and providing 24 inch or more for eaves. At least at higher latitudes. Landscaping with deciduous shade trees to the south can also help considerably. A low E coating for your window glass is almost a must, no matter what side the windows are on.

I cold climates, try to avoid large, north facing windows. Even the best windows have poor thermal properties. On the north side of your house the temperature differential is the greatest and therefore subject to the greatest heat loss.

The fields are in bloom in Alberta

The fields are in bloom in Alberta

You must have one exterior door, but most houses provide more than one. They should be placed for convenience, and for easy escape routes in an emergency. They should be at least 32 inches wide. One door 36 inches wide, or more, is a good idea for ease of moving furniture and appliances in and out. It should provide straight in access. A visually appealing door can add a lot to the front of a house.

Don’t forget security. If possible place doors and windows so they are visible from the street or at least from the neighbors. Higher windows provide less easy access to criminals.


Don’t forget toallow for your pets

Consider resale value. You may think you will live there forever, and you might, but people’s lives and circumstances change. There is no point building more than you need or want simply for resale value. It is, however, a good idea to build so that a house is easily expandable. It might even be you, that needs more space in the future. Try to place windows and doors where they will work for expansion. A  window 40 inches, or more, wide is easily converted to a hallway entrance and the header is already there if needed. Think of how heating and cooling can be provided. Use trusses for the roof structure so interior walls can be easily moved or removed. I have seen a few 3 bedroom homes that have been converted to 1 bedroom when the kids are grown and gone. There is usually a developed basement to accommodate guests.

Today most people like to have a deck or patio for outdoor living. normally the best location for a deck is on the East where you have morning sun and the house provides afternoon shade. North may be better in hot climates. If you have other sources of shade,you can utilize that. A deck should have easy access from the kitchen or dining area. It is a big help when entertaining or dining outdoors. Plan for a natural gas hook-up for a BBQ if NG is available in your area. If you can build your deck within a year or two you may be able to avoid the cost of extra permits by including it in your house plan and site plan.

Garages are almost a necessity in cold or hot climates. It is not necessary to heat or cool them to the same degree as your house. They actually save energy over idling your vehicle to heat or cool it. They also protect the finishes and interior of your car from sun damage. An attached garage is very convenient and protects you from the weather as well. If it is outside your budget right away, design so it is an easy addition.

Think of the environment. Net zero energy homes are possible, almost anywhere. The capital cost will be greater but operating cost will be much lower. Especially on a larger house. A smaller house, however can be extremely efficient without spending much extra.



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House Design Tips, Part One – Property Considerations

House design tips is meant to help you design your home or to modify existing plans. They can also be of use for major renovations. Siting, capital cost, usefulness, environmental issues, operating cost and maintenance are the main issues dealt with. I will also deal briefly with designing tools and methods.

We are going to make the assumption that you already have the land on which to build and are aware of development by-laws for the area. Choosing a location is a whole subject in itself.

choose your location

choose your location

It is important that your home design is well suited to the location. If you are stuck on a particular design, then you must search out a suitable property. Make a drawing of your property showing dimensions and orientation. Note the prevailing winds for the area which may be different in different seasons. Consider the angle of the sun for different seasons (More important at high latitudes). Note the location of all services. With a builders level, or a water level, determine the topography of your property. Map it out in 2 to 4 ft. (1/2 to 1 meter) increments. With this information you can decide to work with any slope or to spend extra for leveling. Remember that footings should rest on undisturbed soil, with the top-level of organic soil removed. It is difficult to compact fill enough for secure footings. Dig a little and determine soil composition. It is important to plan footings sufficient for support on your soil type. Determine the water table, allowing for possible variations. Ask around the neighborhood about basement water problems which may be the result of a high water table. You may want to design your house without a basement. In my experience, wet basements is a common problem, and usually expensive to remedy. Don’t assume that because you are on a slope you are immune from water problems. Water often travels freely through sand, gravel or coal. Look around and note the styles of neighboring homes. Try to choose a house design that will fit in seamlessly. A two-story house can look a little odd in a group of ranchers. A little variety is fine, but your house should look like it belongs there. The front of your house (the side facing the street) should align fairly closely to the neighbors on either side. The most attractive and interesting side of the house should also face the front. On a corner lot, you have the problem of two sides that will be often seen by the public. You can either design two attractive facades or plan for screening with fences or shrubbery.  Curb appeal is important for resale value.



You will need to determine driveway location. Do you have a back alley. Will you have an attached or detached garage. Do you need space for  an RV or other vehicles. Consider your neighbors in this case as well. Is it going to be possible to preserve existing trees or other landscape features? Do not forget the root area of large trees. Consider the danger from blowdowns. Finally, design for the climate in your area. It is advisable to plan for extreme weather events that may be possible. Insurance may cover damages, but it will not alleviate the pain from injuries or loss of life. Nor does it really compensate for inconvenience.

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A 200 Day Review

We have now lived in our new home for over 6 month, so it is time to do a 200 day review.

A view from our deck

A view from our deck

What would I do differently? Well actually this home suits us almost perfectly. An attached garage would have been nice, but I couldn’t warrant the cost with a garage already on the property. It is not a major fault. The constricted entry is a bit of an annoyance, when several guests arrive, but once again it is not a major issue. I could be solved with an added porch. Our patio door is a 60 inch. A 72 inch would be better for wheelchair access, if that ever becomes an issue. A pantry would have been nice, if I could have found space for one. It is only an issue because we live rather far from major supermarkets and need to stock up a bit.

All our systems worked nearly perfectly. The underfloor heating was very comfortable. It did shut down twice, but a tap on the flow sensor fixed it both times. probably caused by a bit of debris that had not cleared the system yet, I have filters on the water inlet, so no new debris should enter.

The heat recovery ventilator was very successful at keeping the humidity under 55 percent and at providing fresh air. I operated it both manually and on automatic humidistat control.

A nice feature is our hot water circulation system which keeps hot water at our taps almost instantly. It took me a little while to figure out how to adjust it.

The house is quite efficient. Our natural gas bill was under $100.00, except for one month, when the price spiked due to a cold snap in the U.S. and Canada. Natural gas provides the fuel for our heating, cooking, hot water, and BBQ. Delivery costs are about half, so our heating cost is pretty minimal. I will have a better idea after a few summer bills.

Our barby

Our barby

I managed to get the deck built a couple of weeks ago. We have enjoyed the BBQ a few times. The East facing deck is excellent. It is nice and sunny for morning coffee and nice and shady for that evening beer.





Gage is getting a little fat and sassy without much supervising left to do.

The laminate and vinyl floor are easy to clean. A good feature with pets, and without sidewalks or grass as of yet.

Our location is excellent with low traffic and nice views.

Everything considered, the house suits us almost perfectly. We have never been this satisfied with any of our previous homes

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Unfinished Business, Spring Projects

We had some unfinished projects from last year when snow came a little too early. These are spring projects that included decks, finishing the siding and landscaping.

Now the winter is finally over. Trees are getting leaves and flowering. Nature is beautiful.

Crabapple blooms

Crabapple blooms

As always we are operating on a very limited budget. Of course, one of our goals is to see how inexpensively we can build a home.

We hired a contractor for the first time. I wanted continuous gutters which require special equipment. The contractor was an old friend and installed gutters on the house and garage, including leaf screens on the garage. The total cost was 850.00. Our rain barrels have been filled with valuable rainwater that we are using liberally for new plantings.

We also installed our surveillance system. It was one I had purchased a few years ago and never installed. It works perfectly, giving us 360 degree views of our property

New gutters

New gutters

We built the 10′ x 24″ deck with outdoor wood. The joists are 2 x 8 and the decking is 5/4 inch outdoor wood. It is attached to the house with joist hangers and rests on 5 concrete deck blocks. This allows for some movement without damage and is easily adjusted in the future. This method is fine for a low deck, but a higher deck should have posts securely attached to concrete pilings.



The railings are PVC that I was given for free. There was far more than I needed, so the rest (still a full truckload) was donated to the local legion.

Notice the blocking used to reduce deflection.


A ramp was added to the driveway side and steps to the garden side.


Railings assembled easily once I figured it all out.


The deck, mostly finished, still needs skirting. I think i will use white PVC lattice.

I installed our natural gas BBQ and now we need to purchase a patio set. It will have to wait until after taxes are paid and I accumulate a little cash. Material for the deck cost me about $1400.00. Good thing the railing was free.

We spent about $200.00 on trees (mostly fruiting) and plants. Some trees and perennials were moved from our last house and others were gifts. We have seeded some patches of grass but most will wait till next year We fell that sod would be too expensive, although it would speed things up considerably.

Now all we need is some guests enjoy the deck with us.

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Save Cash, Reduce GHGs and Save the Planet

Reduce energy bills, reduce GHG emissions, save the planet

Can you help save the planet and gain a dollar advantage at the same time? Are you concerned about global warming, air pollution or just your energy costs? Here is a list of things you can do to your home which can cost little and have excellent returns. The list starts from the least costly and is suitable for existing housing.

Typical costs are based on a specific Canadian location in Canadian dollars. They could vary widely. Do your own research and calculations.

Caulking, a cheap way to help save the planet.

Caulk everywhere there is any chance of air leakage

Number one. Caulk, caulk and more caulk. Whether you live in a heating or cooling climate, air leakage is a large energy cost. Caulking is cheap, typically a couple of bucks per tube. Watch for sales. Use paintable or clear product that is suitable for indoor or outdoor use.Fill every crack and space that has even a remote chance of air leakage. This has the added advantage of reducing hiding spaces for insects. If cracks are large, repair or stuff with a suitable material before caulking. Typical cost $10 to $50. The short course on caulking.

Angie changed the 312 furnace filter
Collin Anderson / Foter / CC BY

Number two. Maintain your equipment. Keep furnaces, air conditioners.refrigeraters and freezers operating at peak efficiency by cleaning heat exchangers and changing filters regularly. Anything that looks like a radiator and has a fan needs to be kept clean as well as any radiating surface. Use metallic tape to seal any leaks in ducting. Arrange furniture so that it has a minimal effect on heat distribution and does not block ducts. Do not install restrictive filters in an attempt to clean the air. They effect efficiency and can damage a furnace. Good maintenance reduces replacement costs.Typical cost for filters is about $25 for a year in colder climates. The best furnace filters to buy.

Keeping your furnace clean can help save the planet
Keep your furnace cleanslworking2 / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Number three. Use less cooling or heating. Turn the heat or air conditioning as low as possible if no one is going to be home. Lower the temperature at night in cool climates and use more covers on the beds. Turn heating and cooling completely off if there is no possibility of freezing or other damage. You can do this manually or you can purchase programmable thermostats (or smart controls) that will allow you to raise or lower temperature just before you need it to prevent temporary discomfort. Typical cost $0 to $100. Learn more about thermostats.

Number four. Use less lighting. Make certain everyone in the house turns off lights when not needed. Replace bulbs as they burn out with lower wattage bulbs or replace high usage bulbs immediately with LED or CFL bulbs. Prices are still fairly high for more efficient bulbs but in

LED lights can help save the planet.

LED lights are the new efficient lighting.

many cases the payback time is very rapid. I just bought 4 Led bulbs. 2 were 6w to replace 40 watt and 2 were 10.5w to replace 60w incandescents. My total cost including taxes was $60. You can likely find them for as little as 1/2 that. Pretty pricey but I did a calculation for one much used light. At 6 hours use per day the LED would pay for itself  in 1.5 to 2 years. that’s a good investment in my book. Our electrical rate is $.08 right now and higher rates would effect a higher return. I am very impressed with the LEDs. They are practically instant on. The light is pleasant and at least as good at replacing incandescent as advertised. A 10.5 watt actually gives as much light as the 60w it replaces. Typical costs $0 to $500. I tried to find a good link to information about LED bulb. Everything I could find was outdated. Development in LED technology is proceeding at a lightning pace

Baths use a lot of hot water
Baths use a lot of hot waterwester / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Number five. Use less water and heat less water. Showers typically use much less water than baths. A shower can be installed in most bathrooms for as little as $200 if you do it yourself. A new bath spout with a flex hose and shower head along with a shower curtain may be all you need. A tub surround or tiling may be needed as well in other cases. A lot of energy can be saved by doing laundry in cold water and drying you clothes on an outdoor clothes-line when weather permits. A more expensive option is a front load washer. It is worth considering if you have a large family and are replacing your existing unit. When replacing water heaters, consider high-efficiency models. There is really not a typical cost here but some options cost practically nothing while others can run into the thousands.

Sufficient attic insulation can go a long way toward saving the planet.
This attic obviously does not have enough insulation for cold climates.zieak / Foter / CC BY

Number six. Increase attic insulation. In many heating or cooling climates, attic insulation up to about R60 is cost-effective. Have a look. If you have less than 16 inches of insulation you likely have room for improvement. Although a bit of a pain, do it yourself installation is not difficult. Adding 10 inches of loose fill insulation to a 1000 sq. ft. attic can cost under $700. This is an increase of about R30. 

Insulate your basement for heating efficiency..
Insulate your basement for heating efficiency.Paulgi / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Number seven. Basement insulation is important and inexpensive if the space is unfinished. Often neglected is the at the top of walls between floor joists. Insulate to at least R20 and pay close attention to sealing against moisture on the inside. There are several different possible methods of insulating this area with wide range of efficiencies and cost. Necessary in any cold climate but probably not effective in a hot climate.

To help save the planet use use energy efficient windows when replacing.
Choose energy efficient windows when replacing your old ones.Joe St.Pierre // / Foter / CC BY

Number eight. Replacing old windows and doors with new and more efficient ones. This is one I don’t recommend for energy-saving reasons alone. It is very costly and the payback is long. However, if you are replacing for appearance or for functionality, use at least a double paned glass with low E coating. Vinyl or wood frames allow the least energy transfer.

These last two may be out-of-order but costs can vary from very little to very much so I have placed them at the last. They are not always a possible solution in all situations

 Orient your house to take advantage of the sun or shade
Foter / CC BY-SA

Number nine. Consider your home orientation to take advantage of natural, passive heating or cooling. This is easier with a new house, but use of awnings, heavy drapes or cross ventilation can be effective with older homes.

Trees can go a long way towards saving the planet
Trees can go a long way towards saving the planetblmiers2 / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Number ten. Use trees for shading and wind breaks. They also tend to lower the temperature in their immediate vicinity on hot days. They have the added advantage of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The result is stored carbon and released oxygen. In my area winters are very cold and the prevailing winds are from the north and west. I would plant evergreens to the north and west for windbreaks and deciduous trees to the south for summer shade while allowing sun through in winter. Varieties require careful consideration. Planting large trees can be very costly but  some varieties grow rapidly and can be used while waiting for slower growers to mature. Time is rather irrelevant here as it is the future we are trying to save. Facts about trees.

You can do your bit to reduce greenhouse gas emission and pollution while padding your pocket at the same time. It doesn’t matter if you believe in global warming or not. The cost of fossil fuel and thus energy is bound to escalate in the future, perhaps rapidly. The Idea that recoverable reserves have increased due to technology is misleading. Oil prices have increased 10 fold in recent years in spite of increasing production. We may not be in danger of running out soon, but costs are increasing rapidly.

You may notice that i have not included any alternative power options in this post. That is because it is pretty complicated, especially in our northern climate. Regulations for connecting to the grid vary widely as well. The economics requires a detailed study for each situation. It deserves a post of its own, and I don’t feel qualified to write one, until I have completed a lot more research.

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Climate Change, Environment, Resource Conservation

If you are a regular reader of this blog you may be confused as to where I stand on climate change, the environment and conservation of resources. Perhaps I can clarify my thinking just a bit. This might be a little difficult because my normal state is confusion.

Climate change may effect the way we live.
A Guy Taking Pictures / / CC BY

On conservation of resources, I am a hawk. One thing is certain. Many of the  natural resources we depend on for daily living are from finite, non renewable sources. Many are already becoming harder to find and as a result expensive. Prime examples are petroleum products, many metals,  water, and arable land. Another bloggers outlook.

Our stewardship of the environment requires our utmost diligence. Keeping our surroundings clean, healthy and pleasant is essential for our quality of life.This does not mean I am unwilling to accept change, whether natural or caused by human presence.

Sea levels may rise as a result of climate change
Theophilos / / CC BY-NC-ND

A more complicated issue is climate change, or more specifically, global warming. Do I believe global average temperatures are increasing? I definitely do, at least in the short-term (using thousands or millions of years as the terms of reference.) Do I believe human activity is the cause? Yes, at least in part. Natural causes may be part of it, but our numbers are so great that the impact on our planet is profound.

A much bigger question is what the results of warming will be and if we can effectively do something about it.

Scientists are predicting anything from mild results to catastrophe. Alarmists such as Al Gore or David Suzuki, are virtually predicting the end of the world. I think their crystal balls are cracked.

Climate change puts coastal cities at risk.
Climate change puts coastal cities at risk.Werner Kunz / / CC BY-NC-SA

A scientist can safely predict outcomes when they have past observations or positive experimental results for reference. For example it is pretty safe to say the world will end as a charred ball when our sun expands in a few billion years. An astronomer can look back over billions of years and see billions of examples of a star’s life cycle. Of course, the assumption still has to be made that no other catastrophe will happen in the meantime, and It really doesn’t matter if the prediction is wrong.

Our climate is so complicated, and the earth so large that no laboratory experiment can have much relevance. Even computer models have little chance of true accuracy. There are too many assumptions in the data used and even tiny errors can make huge differences over long periods or large scenarios. I suspect that many predictions reflect the modelers bias.

The other problem, is that there is little past experience to draw from. We have no examples from the past of similar planets with over 7 billion people. In fact changes are happening so fast that we have little chace to analyse or even digest them. In my lifetime, earths population has increased from approximately 3 billion. There were many dire predictions for the future when I was a youth. Almost none have come to pass, although, a few still might..

Climate change, will it cause more flooding.
Gregg Jaden / / CC BY-NC-ND

I do not believe quick, effective, action can be taken by governments outside of encouraging less use of products with a large carbon footprint and helping industry to lessen emissions. Drastic action could have unforseen effects and most certainly would be harmful to economies. I do think that markets will effect an answer as more people demand clean power and cleaner transportation. Aternatives are rapidly becoming less expensive.

  A tax on carbon  would supposedly encourage industry and people to use less carbon producing energy. I don’t think it would have any effect, except to increase the cost of subsidies to poor people. The income of richer people simply seems to increase as the cost of living increases. The key is to reduce the need for fossil fuel. 

Energy is already a huge cost to industry. Reducing cost increases profit. Profit is the reason for industry, so it follows that industry already has a big incentive to reduce energy usage. It seems that incentives to further reduce consumption would be more effective than taxes and be less damaging to economies.

Cap and trade policies could be a little more effective, but how do you apply them to the whole world? They only effect consumption by increasing the cost of energy. “Grandfathering the privilege to pollute would take money from low-income consumers and give it to the predominantly wealthy shareholders of energy companies.”  This is a quote from a document advocating cap-and-trade. There are dangerous assumptions here. I don’t think low-income individuals are the biggest consumers, it is pretty obvious the wealthy are. Shareholders of energy companies are often pension plans and funds, the beneficiaries of which are usually lower or middle-income people. Of course this is by our standards. Low income to us is quite rich to much of the world. Once again, the key is to reduce the need and the desire for polluting products.

You may not be aware that large amounts of cash are given out as subsidies for the use of fossil fuel. Don’t blame the developed nations entirely here. It is emerging nations that give direct subsidies (about 480 billion,according to the IMF,) mainly so the poor can afford fuel.

Upper Kananaskis Lake, Kananaskis Country, Alberta
Beautiful Albertamadlyinlovewithlife / / CC BY-NC-ND

Some seem to think that curtailing oil sands operations would be beneficial. It probably would only hasten the depletion of conventional oil and perhaps encourage the development of more harmful sources. Opposition to pipelines is another tack that some seem to take. Again this leads to far more dangerous and more carbon intensive forms of transport. The Bakken oil produced from North Dakota is seen as an alternative to Alberta oil sands. This actually may be more harmful. Much of the produced gas from this field is flared due to a lack of infrastructure to collect it. Burning it produces carbon emissions and any that escapes unburned contains considerable methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas. Alternatives are not always as benign as they seem.

This is an article in Forbes magazine about Bakken flaring which uses some identical arguments to many I have heard defending oil sands emissions.

The developed nations, with the USA and Canada leading the pack, use by far the most fossil fuels and produce the most carbon emissions per capita. That means we could have the most effect on an individual basis. I firmly believe that we should make every effort to reduce our personal use of energy. That goes further than just driving less or building more efficient homes. It means an overall reduction in our acquisition of consumer goods. This would also be damaging to economies. Perhaps that could be countered by more investment by governments, and industry, in alternative energy sources, and in carbon capture and storage..

Arctic scenery may alter with climate change.
Alessio Mesiano / / CC BY-NC-ND

Crude oil has largely been singled out as a villain in carbon emissions. The fact is that several other industries have huge impacts. Coal fired power plants seem to be often overlooked. Sad, since their emissions are more localized and more conducive to carbon sequestration or storage. Cement plants are similarly huge emitters. The real villain, though, is our own individual excessive use of energy. 

In the words of the late Jacques-Yves Cousteau ” Overconsumption and overpopulation underlie every environmental problem we face today.” Well we are certainly the villains in overconsumption and need to address it. Third world countries are where most of the population increases are coming from. Some, such as China are trying to address this problem..

Do I think there is effective action that can be taken by governments? In a word, no. That doesn’t mean that I think we should not continue trying to reduce our impact. It means that I think we would be well advised to prepare for changes that may happen. Build stronger houses that are more energy efficent. Gradually move human occupancy away from flood prone areas and away from coastlines at risk from rising sea levels. Use more renewable resources to replace non-renewable. Clean up our world through personal committment. Plant trees. Plant a garden. And, most importantly, use and waste less of everything.

A climate change strategy.
Many rewards in planting a garden and it aids the environmentvanherdehaage / / CC BY-NC-SA

The beauty of this approach is that it does no harm. It is a personal choice that should not create enemies or even create discomfort for your neighbors. If the dire predictions turn out to be wrong, then no harm has been done and less valuable resources will be consumed. If enough people followed this route, carbon in our atmosphere may be reduced or at least increase at a slower pace.

Living with fewer toys or less possessions does not mean a lower standard of living.

Do I walk the walk? I am trying, but I know there is room for improvement. I only wish I had done more, sooner. I don’t buy tickets to see jet setting celebrities who use more than their share of resources to tell us what we are doing wrong. Many have increased their wealth by crying wolf.

If you agree with most of this article, please share it. If you disagree with any part, or have suggestions, please comment. I can still learn, even at my age.

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House Tour

Thought you might like a house tour now that we have substantially finished the interior of our house.

We will start our house tour with the kitchen

Our kitchen

 We will start with our kitchen. Not large but convenient and open. All the appliances were purchased used. All were like new for a fraction of new cost. Sink and faucets were found new for $150.00. Retail is about $1000.00 Counter tops are floor tile, grouted with silicone caulk. Cabinets were a Home Depot special that I finished myself. Cabinet pulls came from Habitat for Humanity Restore. The Kitchen Aide mixer was a much appreciated gift. Love our natural gas range, with its convection oven. We wanted to add a pantry but found we did not have room. The area is well-lit by both natural and artificial light.

Next on the house tour is the dining area

Our dining area

Next on the house tour is the dining area. Very roomy. By adding a second table and more chairs we were able to seat 12 for Christmas dinner.

Our living area from the kitchen

Our living area from the kitchen

Our living area is well-lit and roomy.

The living are is included in the house tour

Living area

Another view. The suite was found free on kijiji. In new condition but may be a little dated. Well, me and Bobbi are a little dated to.

living area view

living area view

Once more.

My office is included in the house tour

My office is only a little separated from the living area.

My office is well-lit and has a good view from the window. This is where I spend most of my time when at home and in the house. You can tell that I am technically addicted from all the equipment scattered around the house.

Our walk through bathroom

Our walk through bathroom

This bathroom is very convenient with access from the master bedroom and from the Back door. It includes a four-foot walk in shower with sliding doors. The sink with faucets included was $50.00 at Restore. Our toilets are double flush to save water. They have high seats to aid us old duffers in the dismount. Bought on sale, of course. Vanity tops are wall tile grouted with silicone.

Laundry and bath

Laundry and bath

Our second bath is combined with the laundry. I still need to in install cabinets over the washer and dryer. It has a one piece tub with wall. Used less, we have a shower curtain. Our bath faucets are single lever for ease of use.

The washer and dryer are not the most energy-efficient, but they only cost a $100.00 for the two. With only two of us in the house, the pay back time for the difference in cost would likely be more than 10 years.

The guest bedroom is included in the house tour.

Guest bedroom

The 6 foot windows provide good natural light to the bedrooms. Notice that they are placed high for privacy and to allow easier furniture placement. We haven’t finished installing curtains yet.

Another view of the guest bedroom

Another view of the guest bedroom

For a techie fan, every room must have a television. This room doubles as a sewing room.

This deer seemed to want a house tour to.

A visitor

Looked out the bedroom window while taking these pictures and spotted this curious guest.

Master bedroom

Our master bedroom

Our master bedroom is roomy and bright. Will have to get some drapes before the days get too long.

Every house tour must include closets


Closets are fairly large. Notice the chandelier we used in the bedroom for interest.

With under floor heating there are no heat vents to hinder furniture placement. The floors are always warm so we have used no carpeting. It is much easier to keep clean with vinyl and laminate flooring.

The cabinet doors to your left conceal the electrical service center.

We have painted all the walls in the house the same color for fast completion. We will add more color later.



This is the only bit of hallway in the house. Mirror adds a dimension. The grill at the top is the ventilation inlet. The exhaust is in the kitchen.

Overall it is a very comfortable and pleasant home. we are very happy with it.

That concludes our tour for today folks. Enjoy the rest of your day.

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Controlling Humidity in your House

Controlling humidity in your house is important for several reasons.  Comfort is one reason, but preventing rot and mold is likely more critical.

A pretty picture but does not have much to do with controlling humidity
Ian Sane / / CC BY

In cooler climates moisture must not be allowed to pass through the walls from the inside to the framing and insulation. Humid air will condense in the wall space and create conditions for mold and rot. In extreme cases, insulation can become saturated, or even frozen into a solid block.

The usual solution is to provide a moisture proof barrier under the interior finishing board. This is usually 6 mil polyethylene. Extra care must be taken to seal against all possible leaks. Electrical and plumbing penetrations are common problem areas as well as laps in the poly.

The Icy Explosion
Stuck in Customs / / CC BY-NC-SA

Moisture escaping into the attic can form frost on the underside of the roof. When the weather warms this will melt and can saturate insulation and stain interiors. Good attic ventilation can help to clear moist air that may escape into the space but the poly barrier is the best solution.

Moisture can also condense on inside walls and create an environment for mold. This often happens behind furniture on north walls. Areas with inadequate insulation also create a problem. Forced air heat often does not reach into closets and behind obstructions, hindering drying. Under floor radiant heating is better in this regard. Diagrams of simple radiant systems can be found here.

Too little indoor humidity is not a huge problem but you may be more comfortable if it is maintained at 50 to 60 percent. Older houses with substantial air leakage can have a very dry interior environment in cold weather and a humidifier can add comfort. Too dry air can cause static electricity and dry throats.

controlling humidity can prevent undue window frost
Pretty but can be a problemmonteregina / / CC BY-NC-SA

Modern houses are normally well sealed and the opposite often occurs. Moisture added from bathrooms, cooking, laundry and even occupant respiration can raise humidity. Attached garages may add humidity from wet cars or snow and ice melting from car undersides. Un-vented gas cook stoves add considerable humidity as a by-product of combustion. Too damp an environment can cause mold growth and windows may frost up in cold weather. Damage can occur when this frost melts. I have even seen door locks freeze solid and become inoperable.

In cold drier climates the best solution is ventilating with outside air. A heat recovery ventilator keeps heat loss to a minimum. This is the method I use in my house. It has the added advantage of replacing stale air with fresh and reducing odors. So far it has been easy to maintain humidity to between 50 and 55 %.

Many contractors will install complicated ventilating systems with many inlets and outlets. I do not think this is necessary and could be very difficult to balance. One or two well placed inlets and one or two outlets should be adequate for most houses. You should also install bathroom exhausts and a kitchen range hood that exhausts to the outside. You may need a separate make up air inlet for these. It is a good idea to wire the bath exhausts to turn on with the light. People will often forget to turn fans on when needed.

You won't need this large a fan for controlling humidity / CC BY-SA

Ventilators are usually controlled by a humidistat. You may at times want to control it manually to provide fresh air.

You may need a de-humidifier in humid climates or in especially damp basements. Air conditioners normally reduce indoor humidity in hot climates. Humidity makes hot weather much more uncomfortable. The ability of your body to cool itself by sweating is impaired by high humidity.

Most ventilators available today are probably a little larger than is needed for a smaller house. A smaller unit run more or less continuously may be a better answer.  The one in my house is quite large but does not create any real problems except for a slight draft when it is running. Not much of a problem as the moving air is not cold.

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An Efficient House

If your goal is to build an efficient house the devil is in the details.

L'il Devil
Darwin Bell / / CC BY-NC

Not paying close attention to the little things can result in a lot of little inefficiencies. if you expect the lifespan of a house to be in the 200 year range, these little inefficiencies add up to a lot.

The main concern here is energy efficiency, but I also want to touch on construction efficiency and on living efficiency. By living efficiency I mean time, money and effort spent on maintenance as well as everyday cost in time and effort.

One of the factors I have probably mentioned too many times already, is size. It is only common sense that a larger home is going to be less all around efficient than a smaller one built to the same standards. If prestige is the goal, my feeling is that there are far better ways to gain it.

Very careful planning is where efficiency starts. Use care and common sense in evaluating your needs. Think into the future. Are you building space for children that will be gone in a couple of years? Are you considering special needs you may face as you age.

Swain House, Fort Street, Detroit
Not so simplesouthofbloor / / CC BY-NC-ND

Keep it simple. Complicated designs tend to have higher costs and contribute to both energy and construction inefficiencies.

A simple rectangle is the most efficient design for energy efficiency. It provides the most space with the least exterior surface.

The insulating value of the walls and especially the ceiling is very important if you live in a cold or hot climate. If you are lucky enough to live in area where daily average temperatures stay in the comfortable range then thermal mass is probably more important. The ceiling is easier to insulate to higher R values and has a reasonable payback even to R50 and higher. Most homes have a certain amount of heat layering which increases the temperature differential between inside and out at the ceiling and the tops of walls. More insulation is required at these locations for the same results. Blow in insulation works well. Normal rafter configurations make the area above exterior walls difficult to insulate well. Special rafters with a raised “heel”  solve this. The extra cost may be worth it. How to measure heel height.

Rafters today are usually manufactured trusses which are enable fast and efficient construction. Click here for a truss diagram and a glossary of terms. A n excellent and more detailed explanation of trusses is available here.

When calculating paybacks it is important to remember that fuel and electricity will likely become more expensive in the future. This will be partly because of scarcity and of environmental concerns.

Heat in the attic is not your friend no matter what your climate. Be certain of good insulation and ventilation. Choosing a light-colored or reflective roof covering could be beneficial.

192/365 - Help, I'm Alive, My Heart Keeps Beating Like A Hammer
Helga Weber / / CC BY-ND

Even the best windows have poor insulating properties. Design with this in mind. Don’t neglect the use of natural light for energy savings.

A two-story house or a basement can add living space  at a lower energy cost. Providing staircases can reduce this benefit considerably. Stairs can be problematic for small children and seniors. There is an element of danger to everyone. My own opinion is that it is best to avoid the risk of falls if possible.

One of the most common housing problems I have encountered over the years, has been wet basements. Providing a full depth basement that is completely waterproof may be more costly than the space is worth. This link is to a commercial site, but they do list a lot of the common basement problems.

An efficient house must be as impervious to air movement through the exterior envelope  as possible. Pay extra attention to sealing around windows and doors. Don’t forget to seal where plumbing and wiring penetrate the building envelope.

Energy efficient lighting is a consideration. Flourescent and LED lighting uses less electricity than incandescent. In a climate like much of Canada it becomes a little more complicated. incandescent bulbs lose efficiency by generating heat. In winter, in Canada, that heat is definitely not wasted. In summer the days are long and little light is needed. Other considerations are how that electricity is generated and what fuel you use for heating. My own guess is that  the extra cost of flourescent or LED bulbs may not be justified in all cases. Our government here is taking the decision out of our hands by prohibiting the sale of incandescent bulbs. Probably an effort to make Canada look better to the rest of the world through climate change action. Follow your own consience.

an efficient house has efficient appliances
Corie Howell / / CC BY-NC-ND

Choose energy-efficient appliances.  Front loading washers are presumably more efficient than top load. The capital cost, however, appears to be almost double. They do use less water and the cost to heat that water is, of course, lower. There is little reason to heat the water to wash clothes, though, so much of the advantage is lost. I think the jury is still out on this one.

A clothesline is an inexpensive way to use less electricity

A garage may seem like a bit of a luxury. Actually a lot of fuel can be saved by not having to warm or cool your vehicles by idling. An attached garage has at least one less wall for heat loss. There is no reason to heat a garage above 40 degrees fahrenheit. The latent heat of a vehicle just off the road is enough to provide most of the heat needed for a well-built garage. In hot climates, just keeping the sun off your car makes a huge difference.

Design your house for safety and ease of use. Make certain that bathrooms are easily accessible from all areas, Kitchens must be designed to reduce workload. Large closets are good in the master bedroom, but do you really need them in guest rooms? I never could see the logic of two sinks in a bathroom. Do you really want to carry togetherness to that extent.

Minimize hallways. They are largely wasted space. Do not use doors where they are not necessary.

Place windows higher for privacy and to maximize space for furniture.

Do not use more interior walls than you need. An open concept is efficient and pleasant.

Vaulted ceilings add interest and an illusion of space, but are not very energy-efficient and may make your home more difficult to insulate well.

To reduce the environmental cost of building your efficient house, there are a few considerations. Cement and steel are huge greenhouse gas producers so it follows that they should be used carefully. Calculate carefully so as to not waste concrete. Building on a crawl space reduces the need for concrete and reinforcing steel considerably. Both products have a long life and this reduces impact somewhat. Review each material and design choice for its energy use and environmental impact. Environmental cost of building materials.

Source as much of your material as possible locally, to reduce the impact of transportation.

Last House on Holland Island, May 2010
An unsafe locationbaldeaglebluff / / CC BY-SA

Build strong and build in safe locations. Replacing or repairing homes damaged by flood or storm is not very efficient or environmentally friendly.

Use labor and trades that are nearby if possible. If doing much of the work yourself, see if it is possible for you to live on site during construction. This is a huge time and energy saver.

Choose your water and space heating equipment carefully. Eliminating a chimney saves considerable space and material. consider the space used by the equipment. Using a tankless water heater for both space and water heating eliminates the need for a chimney and much of the space requirements. Follow the following links for more information. Hydronic radiant heatingHeating with a hydronic radiant system.

Finally, the home that has a long practical use is more environmentally friendly, So build well and with forethought. Avoid fads.

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An Oilsands Perspective

I feel I must make some response to Neil Young’s recent hyperbole which is even further from the truth than feel good propaganda from industry sources

These links are satellite images from space. Most are to the same scale. This is an attempt to put some perspective into the oil sands controversy.

They will open in their own tabs for easy comparison. Please take the time to look.

Neil Young 2008 Firenze
Neil YoungAndrea Barsanti / / CC BY

Fort McMurray oil sands mining projects.  Not as extensive as some people would have you believe

City of Edmonton  Probably about the same area

Long lake in situ project  Yes it is in there, including a upgrader. Zoom in to find it.

City of Ottawa  Not sure of the carbon emissions but lot’s of hot air comes out of here.

In situ projects near cold lake  Although not as extensive, in situ projects do have an impact on the surface.

Los Angeles area, USA  The scale is different on this one. It should actually appear larger

Vancouver area, BC  The scale is different on this one as well. It should also appear larger.

Which would have a larger carbon foot print, Edmonton or the oil sands mines?

Some believe that forcing governments and industry to reduce or eliminate oil sands production will have a significant effect on worldwide carbon emissions. I believe it may have the opposite effect by forcing more production in less environmentally conscientious jurisdictions. My belief is that encouraging and perhaps legislating less consumption at the consumer level is the only way to have a significant effect.

The pressures from population growth, and emerging nations, will make actual reductions extremely difficult. A good example from the developed nations, however, can only help.

A comparison of Canadian and Venezuelan oil sands.

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