A Word or Three on Simplicity (Part 2): Applications in Design
November 13, 2019
In order to cost effectively achieve Zero Energy for Going Street Commons, we had to start with the actual form of the homes themselves. Not their individual components or the various systems required to make a home function, but the overall form of it.
An easy way to reduce the energy losses in a home is to reduce the surface area to volume of the home. If we could build homes in the shape of a sphere, this would be ideal. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work so well, so instead the next best shape is a cube. Cubes, especially in American architecture tend to range from bland to downright ugly, so we explored the canon of world architecture and landed on the ‘Scandinavian’ style. This style is almost a study in simplicity while still being both beautiful and spacious.
Such a simple form means that the air barrier can be installed easily and without a lot of ‘origami’ leading to leakage. Exterior insulation and siding can also be installed efficiently and well. Also thanks to the form, we have given the interior the maximum amount of living space and setting the stage or a lot of “bigger on the inside” comments. Naturally, a simple form means that we greatly improve the ease of construction, which has the practical upshot of allowing for faster builds, less management and less interest payments on loans, amongst other things.
But within the framework of what could look to be little more than a child’s drawing of a house, there is a great deal of intention.
Of course, in order to maintain a stable, comfortable environment in the home, we had to contend with the ground first.
Unfortunately, the ground temperature isn’t a comfortable air temperature for people to thrive in. This may be helpful in cooling seasons, but doesn’t help in our predominantly heating climate here in Oregon. In order to free ourselves from this, we needed to isolate the house from the ground. We have done this by specifying 8” of GPS foam (graphite impregnated expanded polystyrene) continuously beneath the concrete slab that the home sits on.
Once we get the ground level sorted out, it’s time to go to the top.
The design we came up with allows for a conditioned attic within the trusses where we can place our ventilation and heat pump equipment entirely within the thermal boundary. This allows for both easy installation and ready access to the supply and return locations within the building. The system we chose and designed around was the Minotair combination heat pump/balanced ventilation system. It’s extremely efficient and only needs a single machine and single ducting system, again saving costs.
Now seems like a good time to bring up that the idea of simplicity as relative to the topic; even a simple plank woodshed has hundreds of individual parts. So, simplicity upon completion, but in order to get there, you have to get a bit complex. Join us for our third and final section where we discuss the forces of nature and designing around them.