THE PROBLEM WITH WINDOW, PART II

windows, replacement windows, vinyl windows, double hung, double pane, insulating, triple glazed, double glazed, ancient, rotten, putty, compound, air infiltration, insulation, efficiency, old house, blues, energy audit, this old strainerThe second problem with windows is their many edges. The older the windows, the more edges they tend to have, and each edge raises the probability that winter is coming into your house.

(The first problem with windows, as we learned in a recent post, is that they allow architects and others to work indoors, where they forget about things that could interact negatively with their constructions, such as the Sun.)

But this cold day reminds me that windows often get a bad rap for the wrong reason.

Many people think an old, single pane window is a gaping wound in a home’s “envelope,” bleeding heat into the frosty world. And they’re right: The basic window glass has a R-value of 1. One. Uno. Next to null.

The horror!

So swap that antique out for a vinyl double-hung unit!

Except: The is the R-value of a vinyl replacement window is perhaps R-3.

Yay, you tripled your insulating power across those 18 square feet.

Boo, the current standard for roofs is usually R-38. So you’ve just spent a boatload of money for a nearly-inconsequential improvement in a tiny percentage of your home’s envelope.

When I had an energy auditor go through my windy bungalow, he showed very little interest in my windows. He groaned over the vent pipe for my gas fireplace. He crawled into the upstairs crawl spaces, where I could hear him growl with disgust. It was gusty in there, where the roof met the walls in only a casual fashion. He backed out, shut the cute little door, and held a lighter up to the door frame. He scowled at me as the gusts flattened his flame.

Infiltration ranks above insulation, in the efficiency world. Insulation is great, if it’s in a sealed cavity. But air that can slip around insulation just hauls its frosty molecules straight into the house. “Filterglass,” the auditor called my insulation. It wasn’t stopping the cold air, it was just straining out some of  the dirt.

So back to windows. Each edge, where wood meets wood offers an opportunity for leakage. As wood frames age, they shrink, no longer fitting snugly into their sashes. Wind finds these failures, and exploits them.

If you would like to feel really, really good about your windows, without buying replacement ones, assemble two items: a roll of cling wrap; and a small, metal putty knife.

Wait for a windy day, and address your first window. (Cold storms typically come from the west and north, so you might concentrate your powers there.)

Moisten the back of your hand, in the interest of not burning things up with a lighter. Slowly move your damp skin around the wooden edges of the window. You’ll know it when you find a leak.

Pull out two inches of cling wrap and tear it off. Collapse this two inches to a loose “string” of wrap. Place one end where the leak begins, and use the putty knife to work it into the narrow gap between the two pieces of wood. It will disappear. So will the wind. You will feel powerful like Zeus. Adding two layers of “window treatment,” such as venetian blinds and a curtain, will amount to a replacement window.

Repeat as needed, around the frame and where the upper and lower sashes meet.

There are a few things cling wrap can’t cure. On my north-facing windows, too much water and not enough sunlight had frankly rotted the wood. Panes of quaint old glass dangled in thin air, held to rotting wood by an antigravitational force yet to be named.

Those, the auditor said, I could replace. But only those. And then I could crawl into my crawl spaces and spend every cent I might scrounge up to unite my roof and walls.

Art note: That little bonsai tree in its massive prison is a little disturbing.

THE PEDOMETER WITHIN: ACCURATE, AND PERVERSE

walkability, neighborhood, real estate, hannah holmes, portland, maine, green, environment, www.hannahholmes.net“Walkability scores” have permeated real estate in recent years, as Americans make the gradual, glacial, oceanlineresque turn toward a less car-centered lifestyle. But our onboard pedometer is not impressed. A new study of walking patterns shows that the brain is counting steps, and that its motto is: Less is best.

It’s a simple, real-life study: Researchers monitored walking patterns in shoppers as they navigated mall walkways, both in China and the U.S. They tallied the turns people took, and the evasive maneuvers they made when on a collision course with a fellow human.

There was no spooky tendency for humans turn right when faced with a choice.

There was a strong tendency for humans to keep right in the U.S and mainland China; and to keep left in Hong Kong, presumably due to habits acquired while driving.

And there was a strong tendency among all humans to conserve energy.

When people encountered an obstacle took the minimum number of steps possible to avoid collision.

And that is the problem with “walkability.” We inhabit bodies that have spent hundreds of millions of years honing their efficiency for life in a world where acquiring calories was a treacherous undertaking. We’re good at saving calories. It’s a no-brainer. Hence, a walkable neighborhood is only as good as the walker’s motivation.

 

 

 

 

THE PROBLEM WITH WINDOWS

[[pdpp wikimedia 462px-Emperor_Aurangzeb_at_a_jharokha_window,_two_noblemen_in_the_foregroundIn_1710_San_Diego_Museum_of_ArtThe problem with windows is that they allow people to stay indoors. 

Prior to windows, if a human being wanted to see what she was doing, she had to work outside. With the invention of the window came an increased tendency for humans to perform their labors removed from the immediate forces of Nature. 

“So what,” you might say. “One can grind grains into flour just as effectively indoors as out.”

Granted.

But one, as demonstrate so ably by architect Rafael Viñoly, cannot design skyscrapers as effectively indoors as out. 

Viñoly, a famous architect, got even more famous this week when his London skyscraper became a solar oven and casseroled a couple of cars parked nearby.

The tower is a brickish thing that Frank Gehry might design if he were a tepid and uninteresting architect. One of the glass sides is slightly concave. This probably looked great indoors, sculpted from foamcore and ringed with Q-Tip trees and miniature… Minis.

Ah, but Viñoly had forgotten about the Sun, the center of our solar system, of which our planet is inextricably a part. When the Sun interacts with this shiny, concave surface, its energy is concentrated and redirected. This architecturally enhanced sunbeam has cooked substantial elements of a Jaguar and a delivery truck this week.

(So I guess that’s another problem with windows. They can reflect, as well as transmit.)

I had to look him up, this man who forgot about the planet on which he plants his giant structures. 

“My design philosophy is rooted in the development of architectural ideas that are powerful, distinctive, and relevant to the specifics of both program and context.” That’s what Wikipedia says he says. 

“Architecture that is relevant to the specifics of context,” you say? 

Context. It’s hard to hold onto, isn’t it? It is so easy to lose the forest for the trees. A million builders a year place houses in a way that fights the Sun instead of working with it. A billion humans a day leave open curtains that would cool their sweltering houses, were they only permitted to. We all lose track of the Context from time to time. Windows just make it that much easier. 

Oh, this reminds me of one of my favorite places on earth: In Cappadocia, Turkey, people once carved cathedrals underground, where they could worship without interference from Infidels, Heathens, Persecutors, et al. They carved “windows” into the soft rock walls of these cave churches, and then applied “stained glass” made of fresco. The whole point of a window was subsumed, overwhelmed by the point of “pretty places where you paint Biblical Things.” Check out the row of “windows” high in this arched room.

800px-Turkey-1877_(2216688786) [[pd]] wikimedia dennis jarvis

My real estate business is over here: www.hannahholmes.net

MY FANTASTIC MIDLIFE CRISIS, BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE NEW ECONOMY

[[pd]] wikimedia hanging, gardens, babylon,  green city, green building, shelter, human, territory, needs, wantsI became a writer in part because I believed it was my duty. I had the ability to explain cause and effect, even when they got complicated. I could map out the links that connect the future of the polar bears to your habits of hand-washing. Time was, a nonfiction writer could make a living doing such service.

Publishing changed. It’s complicated. The result isn’t: Now nonfiction writers, like novelists, need to have other means of support.

Having paid my dues once, and having failed miserably to save the polar bears, I admit to some self indulgent moping as the publishing paradigm shifted. OK, a lot. A ton of moping, really. I grew fairly depressed as the paradigm refused to reverse course and restore my familiar manner of living.

But then, thrown out of my own profession on my ear, as it were, I realized I would be one of those rare and irritating people who get to fulfill not one big dream, but two. I was free to enter the house business.

I had dreamed about it, both figuratively and in actual dreams, for years. Decades. But the actual business of houses — realty — didn’t seem sufficiently noble, not quite save-the-worldy enough, for my fretful soul. Now here I was, on my ear, and feeling peevish. Feeling kinda entitled to a little self-indulgence. I took the course. I took the test. To take the edge off, I took a vow that 10% of my income on every transaction would fly to Haiti, where it would build houses under the direction of the world-saving saints at the Matenwa Community Learning Center.

(www.matenwaclc.org. It’s been so long since I blogged, I can’t recall how to build a link.)

It takes a surprisingly small number of realty transactions in Southern Maine to build an entire house in Haiti. And it is absurdly rewarding. Last week I helped a fabulous teacher and her wonderful husband find a place to live so she could start the school year with a short commute and a washing machine. They were a joy to work with. Their transaction allowed me to send a tidy chunk of house winging toward a family in Haiti. And when the doorbell rang the day after the closing, and a man delivered flowers, I felt I really must be dreaming. I get to help wonderful people solve their problems? And in addition to paying my mortgage, this generates housing in Haiti? AND NOW FLOWERS?

I am not accustomed to this much enjoyment. I have tended to choose the rocky trails through life, and as I scrabbled up them on hands and knees I have tended to suspect that I wasn’t trying hard enough. I became a writer because I was good at it and people consistently urged me to do more of it. It was sensationally difficult, so I thought it was probably the proper thing to do. And I don’t regret a minute of it.

Some day, maybe soon, I’ll get back to writing regularly. Maybe this week. The questions of ideal human shelter, and territorial behavior, and wall gardens, and green roofs, and why the word is roofs not rooves, and the carbon footprint of cement fiber siding, all these rattle around in my brain while I work.

And when I do get back to it, it will not be out of duty.