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Today I made Ted sniff a stranger's floor

Submitted by Andrea on October 1, 2011

Ted and I visited several houses today in the NESEA Green Buildings Open House Tour. A bunch of homeowners in the northeast kindly opened their doors to nosy strangers and showed off their eco-upgrades.

Many of the houses had solar electric or hot water systems, and others had superinsulation, high-efficiency heating systems, green building materials, etc. All the houses we saw were optimized for passive-solar performance. We enjoyed meeting other nutjobs green building enthusiasts, and when we paused to shut up about our own project we learned quite a lot of useful stuff.

One house was a brand-new net-zero house, which the owners moved into only last week. In addition to many energy-use upgrades, they used LEED-friendly materials such as PaperStone counters and Marmoleum floors. I was particularly interested in the floors, because Ted and I haven't yet decided what to install in the rooms where hardwood floors would be impractical. I'd been considering linoleum (which is what Marmoleum is), but it was a non-starter because of Ted's sense of smell.

Whenever I mention "Ted's sense of smell," you should imagine that the words are followed by a thunderclap or a horse whinnying. For me it's an ominous, implacable force that must be appeased. I have a fairly strong sense of smell myself, but Ted's is bizarrely strong and offended by things I can't even detect. Many times have we walked into a hotel room that seemed just fine to me but was promptly declared "reekitudinous" by the sensitive Ted. We have definitely pushed more than one hotel clerk to the limit of their "customer is always right" patience.

When I suggested linoleum floors in the kitchen or laundry room several months ago, Ted's sense of smell (speaking through Ted) nixed it, citing some stinky floors in the house where he grew up. I was under the impression that Marmoleum and its ilk are actually quite benign, but Ted wasn't interested.

So when we toured that net-zero house, and the chatelaine pointed out the Marmoleum floors in the laundry room, I ordered asked him to get down and sniff it. And lo, he declared it odorless! I should contact the homeowner and ask if it was the edge-locking Marmoleum Click or the Marmoleum tiles that need to be glued into place. But at least I can put Marmoleum back onto the list of flooring options.

This may not be the last time I make Ted sniff flooring or paint; as we start choosing interior finishes his nose's advisory role will only grow. For the moment I will resist adding it to this website's tag cloud, but I make no promises for the future.

If you could design your dream window, what would it be?

Submitted by Andrea on April 24, 2011

Marvin Windows is currently running magazine ads asking well-known designers this question and showing pictures of the pretty windows they came up with:

Marvin Windows magazine ad

I really wish they'd ask a few American green-building gurus this question, because I'm sure they'd get an earful:

  • Whole-window U-values lower than 0.17, and glass U-values around 0.10 (the window in the Marvin ad has a U-value of 0.30, which is totally lame)
  • Solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) greater than 0.50
  • Visible transmittance (VT) greater than 0.50
  • Tilt-turn operation with inward swing
  • Geeky details I won't bother explaining, such as 4/16/4/16/4mm triple-glazing and a plastic warm edge spacer of Psi=0,038

In Europe, dozens of manufacturers make windows like that, but in North America hardly anyone does. The best North American window vendors are making a reasonable attempt, but they all fail on at least one of Ted's and my requirements:

  • Serious Windows' highest-performing windows are casement, not in-swing, which means they open outwards with a little crank at the base. This is mechanically inefficient, and it also limits the size of windows they can sell. We have some gloriously big south-facing windows in our dining area, and we don't want to make them smaller. Also, their best SHGC is 0.42, which is not as good as the standard Passivhaus windows from Europe.
  • Canadian companies Accurate-Dorwin and Thermotech Fiberglass didn't sell in-swing windows last time I checked. My main complaint about out-swing windows is that the screen is inside the window, which I simply don't like. And yes, I know about retractable window screens, but I'm still not jazzed about opening a heavy triple-paned window with a crank.
  • Inline Fiberglass makes a tilt-turn frame, but they still aren't big enough for our front windows. They offered to sell us a modified doorframe full of glass, but c'mon! Also, their best windows use Serious glass, which has slightly lower SHGC and VT than the European glass.
  • I could list a few more North American vendors, but they are mostly using Inline frames and Serious glass, whose shortcomings I listed above. And you'll notice I didn't mention the big-name American manufacturers -- as far as I know, Marvin, Pella, and Andersen aren't even trying to build Passivhaus-worthy windows.

    Ted and I are therefore likely to order windows from Europe. If money were no object we'd want something like Optiwin's Passivhaus-certified three-wood window, but sadly we are on a budget, and ever-plummeting dollar doesn't help. But the high-end American windows I listed above aren't cheap either, and there's enough variety and competition in Europe, particularly from the former Eastern bloc, that we can get something good for an acceptable price.

    We haven't made our final decision yet, but we're likely either to get German windows manufactured in Slovakia or Polish-made windows. We rejected some Lithuanian windows, not because we have anything against Baltic states but simply because the importer is based in DC and we want to work with someone more local. If we're handing someone a five-figure check just to place the order, we want to be able to drive over and hassle them from time to time.

    We're still waiting on a couple more estimates, but once we make our decision I'll post all sorts of titillating window specs and diagrams for your perusal.

    [Added on 2011-10-03: It's possible I've been a little too hard on North American glass manufacturers, since there's apparently some difference in how they test glass performance in Europe, but I stand by what I said about tilt-turn vs. casement operation.]