Friday, July 24, 2015

Home Construction in the Wild West - so you want to buy a home in the Southwest

I decided to write an article about recent posts on Green Building Advisor (my favorite website) which covered examples of construction practices on homes in Arizona. The initial author of the posts took pictures of several homes during construction and they are absolutely horrifying in terms of quality. I suggested to this author that there needs to be a website (Facebook, blog, whatever social media that will reach people) showing these practices as one method of educating future home buyers. When homebuyers start looking at homes in these areas, this website will come up during their computer searches and become a source of information on buying a safe, secure home. So in an effort to back up my suggestion with action I decided to write one or more blog posts about this situation. That is what follows.

If you want to buy a home in the Southwest, you will be looking for an attractive home that will be comfortable and safe for your family. This article covers some of the construction details that you need to look for or ask about when you buy a home. It shows what is hidden details that you wouldn't be able to see.

One of the most important issues in making a comfortable home in this area of the country is energy efficiency. You want to be protected from the elements which can be brutal. For example in Phoenix, Arizona July 2014, the high temperatures reached above 100 degrees every day. The lowest temperature during the entire month was 80 degrees. Your home has to protect you or you will spend an exorbitant amount of money air conditioning the home.

How does a home do this? By the building enclosure also called the building envelope - the parts of the building the separate the inside conditioned part of a building from the outside elements.

The photo below shows what is called "open framing" where the the wood structural panels are only on the corners to prevent the home from moving. The walls in the center will be covered with a weather resistant barrier and covered with a one inch foam sheet, then stucco on the outside. The inside consists of fiberglass and drywall. In other words, there is not much separation from the elements. Also you see the flashing around the windows? Flashing is supposed to be taped to something solid so that any water that gets behind the siding will drain away from the wall. If the tape just hangs in the wind, it is unable to direct water away from the components in the wall. We call this "air flashing" or a waste of tape.

Photo courtesy of Green Building Advisor 
A better view of "Air Flashing" a Window
Air flashing as seen from the inside of the home
You can tell that the air flashing will not stop any water from getting into the wall of the home.

And what about things like bugs? Does this construction method keep bugs out?

Interior wall detail showing air gaps and the green pest tube
You can see light at the base of the wall. The paper is not remotely secured to the wall. Bugs have an easy time getting into the walls. So how do you fix that? "Pest tubes" are hollow tubes where high pressure insecticide is sprayed into the walls. I would prefer a more robust wall to keep bugs out in the first place.

Addendum 7-26-15: My cardboard halloween houses are more secure than this. Do you see daylight leaking through the seams? Even the windows are sealed all around with glue and tape.

How can you tell if you are purchasing a home built so poorly? It may not be easy. You might get distracted by the pretty finishing features like granite countertops, but you need to try because these construction details significantly impact how comfortable you will be in the home. You can push on the exterior wall and see how easily the wall gives. When you tour the home, see what the temperature is set on and what the inside temperature is. If the air conditioners can't even reach the set temperature, that's one clue that the home isn't built to energy code standards. If there are completed homes in the neighborhood, you may be able to ask the power company what the average home's electricity bill is in that area. Ask the builder how is the home insulated and is it insulated to at least building code levels. He (or she) will be shocked that you even asked, but that will be a good thing.

This is a just a brief introduction to poor construction in the Wild West. Other examples to follow, but also we will cover some excellent building practices in the west as well.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Black Hat Inn Continued

More photos of the Black Hat Inn - it is really coming together.

This photo shows the paper mache base with the top off so you can see where the tea light goes. When I finished this step, I was worried that the paper roots wouldn't really look like roots, I was counting on the paint to convey my idea of tree roots.

Here's how the Black Hat Inn fits on the now primed base. The door is temporarily in place. I'm thinking at this point that the roots are starting to look like roots.

And here is the first coat of paint on the base and I do think they are looking like roots. I will add some darker color for shading and contrast to look more like tree roots. Obviously I have to repaint the hat because I got primer on it and I have to paint the area around the hat rim black. The door is still temporarily in place. I will put the entire base on a larger piece of cardboard to give me more room for signs and a fence and decor for the Black Hat Inn.

That's where I am on this hot day in the South. I should go walking now before it gets into the 90s again.

Monday, July 13, 2015

When it's hot like this, you need to stay inside and CRAFT.

This is my excuse for my continuing obsession with making my Halloween houses - it's too hot to do anything on the real house so we work on pretend houses.

Here is the latest house called the Black Hat Inn - still in progress.

I am going to put the round base on some cardboard and then paper mache around it like it's a tree stump with roots. The hat comes off the base so you can insert an LED tea light to light the triangular dormer windows. 

I posted this idea on the Halloween section of the Cardboard Christmas forums  and one of the very kind members of the forum suggested that I make some flying witches for the hat. I've made a rough prototype that won't fit on this house, but it's kind of cool though still a work in progress. 

It's an automata - a simple machine that makes the design move. There are 2 cams in the base that rotate the stick in the middle. It's pretty rough but fun. I have to do more work on it before I incorporate it into the house. 

I'll try to post a video that shows it in action.  

Not quite working yet.


This one is much better. I had to secure the center dowel in a straw so it wouldn't fall out of place and crash like it did in the above video.


What do you think? I think it's kind of fun.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Energy Benefits from Attic Insulation - June numbers

I got my Duke energy bill yesterday. My electric usage continues to be much, much lower than last year. I did have 3 more people here last year though. The one point I would like to make about that though is that none of them really ran the air conditioner more than I would have. My sister and her husband got cold in my house and my brother lived in the basement which is substantially cooler than upstairs. There were 3 TVs in the house at that time that was probably a significant energy drain. I don't have a TV. Also my computer and my router are on switches that are turned off when I am not using them.

Anyway, here are the numbers from June which was a very hot month. Days were often right at or above 100. I was very comfortable in my home.

Usage less than half compared to last year. I am very pleased with that and the improved comfort level.