Solving a (self-created) Problem with Heat Distribution

First, some background…

Using a ductless mini-split to heat and cool a home (even a passive house) takes some thought.  One needs to think about where, exactly, the mini-split head, or cassette, will be placed, and how the warm (and cool, in the summer) air that it creates is likely to flow.  Take my home, for example.  We opted to place the “winter” mini-split head in the “living” area on the first floor (we also placed a second, separate, mini-split head at the top of the stairway to the second floor, which is essentially the second floor “hallway,” to cool the entire house in the summer).

That single mini-split head (on the first floor) heats the entire 2,000 square feet of living space (1,000 sqft on each floor) on all but the coldest days, and does the job amazingly well.  When the outdoor temperature is above 20 degrees, the 2nd floor stays within two degrees of the first floor (which, again, is at 70 degrees).  Frankly, that’s warmer than I prefer, since all we do is sleep on the 2nd floor).  But it makes my wife happy.  When it gets below 20 (and the sky is overcast during the day), the 2nd floor can drop to 66 degrees, and if the temperature drops to the single digits for prolonged periods it can eventually go a bit lower. In those instances, I’ll turn on the 2nd floor min-split, and it will periodically kick on, when necessary.

And now, the problem…

When the house plans were drawn, the architect anticipated that the entry to the first-floor office would be directly off of the living area.  He also anticipated that the first-floor mini-split would be mounted on the narrow wall between the living area and the kitchen area.  Both are shown in the drawing below:

(Ther drawing also shows an exterior door on the south wall that I decided against because it just wasn’t necessary.)

When I framed the interior of the house, I decided to move the office entry to the hallway because it unnecessarily ate up wall space in the living area, leaving no room for a T.V., for example.

I also had to find another place for the mini-split because the wall that the architect had intended to place it on was too narrow for the mini-split head; it wouldn’t fit.

Given those issues, I changed the first floor as follows:

Moving the office door to the hallway (and eliminating the unnecessary hall closet) freed up valuable wall space in the living area and widened the hall.

And as the drawing also shows, I moved the the mini-split to a wall that had suffficient room.

Here’s how it looks:

In this photo, you can see the location of the mini-split relative to the back hall:

And here is a similar view in which you can see the door to the office: 

So what’s the problem?  Somewhat ironically (at least in my view) the only problem that we’ve had is that, during the winter, the office, which is the room closest to the mini-split,  can be two to six degrees colder than the rest of the house, depending on the outdoor temperature. The only exception is during sunny days, when the office warms up perfectly.  But that leaves many winter mornings, days, and evenings when my wife isn’t happy (because the office is her place of work).  And it should be noted that she almost always works with the door fully open.

I pondered over this problem for two years.  Initially, I thought that the problem was the ERV.  More specifically, there is only one first-floor ERV supply, and it is in the office.  Why?  Because that’s where Zehnder said it should go.  And it’s consistent with the general rule; pull stale air from the kitchen/baths/laundry room and push fresh air into the bedrooms (the office could also be considered a bedroom).

But I eventually found out that the ERV wasn’t causing the problem, and had no detectable (at least by me) effect on the room temperature.  So while the ERV is constantly pushing cooler air into the room, the temperature (above 60 degrees) and flow ( about 24 cfm) of that air just isn’t enough to make a difference in the room temperature.  This should have been no surprise, as it is consistent with what the experts suggest.

So my current theory is a bit different.  First, after framing the office walls, I insulated them Roxul so my wife could work in relative peace if I chose to watch TV; admittedly a bad idea with regard to heating the room. But I also suspect that any warm air that makes it into the rear hall is probably more likely to rise up the stairs (which are to the right) than into the office (which is to the left).

The easy thing to do would have been to install some baseboard electric resistance heat in the office, which my wife (or a thermostat) could turn on as necessary.  But that clearly seemed like a wasteful overkill to me.  So what I decided to do instead was install a Tjernlund ASI AireShare Room-to-Room Ventilator fan. The idea came to me as I was painting the wall in the family area that separates the family area from the office.  Unsurprisingly, the air near the ceiling (which is almost 9′ high) was several degrees warmer than the general temperature of the house down among the living.  It therefore seemed reasonable to believe that, if I could push some of that air into the office, the problem might be solved and, since the fan only draws 25 watts at full speed and pushes the air at 75 cfm, I figured that its use would prove to be much more user-friendly and cost effective than baseboard heat.

If the intent is to move warm air, ideally, these ventilator fans would be installed with the intake high on one side of a wall and the diffuser low on the opposite side. In doing that, the bay in which the fan and diffuser are installed acts as the vent; air enters from the top and is pushed out through the bottom. However, I decided not to do that because, as I stated earlier, I had insulated the office walls with Roxul, and I didn’t want to completely remove the insulation from the bay in which the fan was to be installed.  Of course, this meant that the warm air would be brought into the room closer to the ceiling than the floor, which is less than ideal.  But the room isn’t that big (it’s about 120 square feet), so I was hoping that it wouldn’t matter.

With minimal effort, I was able to cut the hole on the intake side of the wall about a foot from the ceiling, clear out the insulation in a space of about 18 inches, and seal off the bottom of that space with a piece of 1/2″ foam board and caulk.  Prior to sealing off the bottom of the space, I fished Romex up from the basement and installed a variable speed wall switch. The intake vent and fan are located at the top of the space, and the diffuser is located at the bottom.

You can see the intake for the fan in the upper left-hand corner of this photo…

 

…and the exhaust above the chalk/cork boards in this photo (it’s a bit difficult to see because it is a narrow diffuser rather than a traditional vent)…

Here’s a better photo of the diffuser (my apologies for the temporary “flow-detector”) and the variable speed switch…

The fan has now been in service for about a month, and I am happy to say that it has performed better than I had anticipated.  So far, it has resolved the issue completely.  For example, last night the low was 23 degrees, and the entire house, including the office, maintained 70 degrees +/- one degree. While not annoying, the fan is detectable at full speed.  However, we run it at what I would estimate to be one-third to one-half speed, and it is essentially silent.

Radon Update

Back in June 2015, I wrote a couple of posts about the radon issue that I discovered in my house.  I won’t rehash the details here, other than to say that the theory proposed by Marc Rosenbaum…that the problem may have been caused by they improper balancing of the ERV…has proven to be true over the past year and a half.  If you’re interested, you can read the details about the problem, and his theory with regard to the cause, in the posts that I wrote during that time.

What I want to communicate today is, since that time, and without exception, every time the house radon level has risen, I have found that the air pressure in the house (which I measured with an appropriate manometer) had changed from positive to negative.  And without exception, correcting the pressurization issue returned the radon level to the norm of 1 pCi/L, or less.  This has happened about a half-dozen times over the past year-and-a-half.

In each instance, the change in pressurization was caused by an accumulation of bugs and dirt on the ERV intake.  The ERV is balanced to pressurize the house at +1 to +2 pascals, so it takes little to change that positive to a negative.  So, in effect, the two radon detectors that I have in my basement have proven to be a definitive way to determine, not just when radon levels have risen, but also when my house pressure is out of balance and the ERV intake filter needs to be changed.

 

ERV Pre-Filter Update

A while back, I wrote a post on an ERV pre-filter that I built.  It’s been about a year-and-a-half since I did that and I’ve learned a few things in the meantime, so I thought I’d provide an update.

To recap, I built the pre-filter for two reasons.  First, the system was sucking in large amounts of small, gnat-like bugs.  Although the internal ERV filter was catching almost all of them, that meant that the bugs were still getting into the ERV, and therefore into the house, and I preferred to keep them out.  In addition, I found that the interior of the ERV (and the duct leading to it) gets fairly grungy over time.  When I disassembled the ERV to give it an annual cleaning this summer, I found a film of fine dirt on everything, including the intake fan.  As with the bugs, my preference is to keep as much of that grime outside of the house as possible.

I also built the pre-filter because the ERV filters are relatively expensive, at over $20 apiece, and of much more substantial construction; with a hard plastic frame.  It seems somewhat wasteful to throw them out so often.  And while Zehnder says they last about six months, with no external pre-filter, I found I was getting no more than three months out of them.  By that time, particularly during the warmer months, they were caked with bugs (both dead and alive) and dirt.  So my thinking was that, if a less expensive pre-filter could catch the bulk of the particles/dirt/gnats, the internal filter would last longer.

While the original pre-filter worked as planned, it soon became apparent that I should have made it bigger.  The original system used a 12″x12″ filter; not a size that you’ll find at Home Depot, and not particularly inexpensive on the internet (even for the disposable versions).  Also, all of the disposable versions that I saw had a higher MERV rating than the Zehnder filter  I use (Zehnder makes two versions; a MERV 7/8 and a Merv 13. I use the former).  It seemed to me that the right balance between filter life and my needs would be something less than a MERV 7.

So I purchased a washable aluminum filter online.  But they are flat, rather than pleated, and therefore have a relatively small surface area.  For example, the 12″x12″ filter has about 121 square inches of surface area, while the Zehnder filter appears to have somewhere around 500 square inches of surface area due to the pleated fabric.  Because of that, within a month or so they tended to clog enough to throw my house out of balance and cause the radon level to rise.  The sequence became very predictable.  I’d notice that the radon level had risen significantly.  I’d check the house pressure with a manometer and find that the house was negatively pressurized.  I’d pull the filter and clean it.  The house would regain positive pressurization.  And the radon numbers would decline back to their norm of about 1 pCi/L.

To solve these problems, a couple of weeks ago I built a new filter unit using the same design.  However, this unit uses a 12″x24″ disposable filter, which can be inexpensively purchased at Home Depot or online.  Because these filters are pleated, I estimate that they provide about four times more surface area.  To combat the gnat problem, I am using a Merv 6 antimicrobial “3-month” replaceable filter that runs about $6 online.  In this filter, the pleated filter cartridge is glued to the peripheral interior of the outer frame, which, according to the manufacturer, prevents air (and bug) by-pass.  Time will tell how effectively it does that job.  But I am hopeful that, with about 500 square inches of surface area, I’ll get far more life out of these filters than I was getting out of the 12″x12″ reusable version.

My guess is that I might have had less of a problem (at least with the bugs) if the ERV intake was located in a higher location.  But given that the ERV is in the basement, that would have been a bit difficult.

I also suspect that some people may never look inside their ERV until something goes wrong.  Of course, in any house, that could turn out to be an expensive mistake.  But in a passive house, it could also be potentially harmful.

Here are some photos of the new unit.  Like the old unit, I built it out of 1/2″ Azek with a removable front that helps keep the rain off of the filter:

img_1235 img_1236 img_1261 img_1262

 

Certified Passive House Consultant Training

Last September, after receiving Passive House certification of our house, I decided to take the Certified Passive House Consultant (CPHC) course.  I knew that I may never put the training to actual use.  But I wanted to better understand the science behind what we built, and fortunately I had the time and resources necessary to take the class.  So I thought I’d pass on my experience for anyone who might also be considering the training.

Eligibility

There are prerequisites that must be met for entry into the CPHC program. Generally, this means some affiliation with the building industry. But it appears that there is some flexibility, as one other student in my class appeared to have no connection to the building industry, but was taking the class because he was planning to build his own home, and, like me, was interested in the Passive House standard. In my case, the fact that I was the General Contractor on the construction of our house was evidently enough to qualify.

Cost

At $1,800, the class is not inexpensive.  On top of that, if you want to be certified, it will cost an additional $300 to take the two exams; an “in-class” three-hour multiple choice exam that is accessed through your personal computer, and a “take-home” practical exam that you’re given about three weeks to complete.

The Class

The class objectives are fairly aggressive.  As PHIUS puts it:

  • Learn the principles of passive building design: heat transfer, air-tightness, thermal bridge free detailing, super-insulation, highly efficient ventilation, moisture control.
  • Learn WUFI Passive, the next-generation passive and hygrothermal modeling tool developed in partnership with Fraunhofer IBP and Owens Corning. It’s a remarkable all-in-one performance and risk management tool for building professionals. Students receive a free 8-week license to use the full version WUFI Passive! (NOTE: Other programs require students to take energy modeling as a separate module.)
  • Gain proficiency in energy modeling skills by completing an entire project including energy balancing (static and dynamic), and hygrothermal assessments of all building components and comfort assessments according to ASHRAE 55.
  • Learn to implement high performance building science principles and passive house techniques in residential, commercial, and retrofit scenarios across all North American climate scenarios.
  • Learn from North America’s most experienced and accomplished passive house practitioners. PHIUS instructors have designed and certified projects across the United States and Canada.
  • Study built examples—including mechanical systems—for each North American climate zone.
  • Learn about suitable materials and components available in local U.S. and Canadian markets, and details for passive house applications according to climate.
  • Learn the best air tightness strategies, thermal bridge free detailing and how to evaluate your design in THERM.
  • Learn how to assure quality and performance for your client from the design process through construction using PHIUS+ Certification & Q/A.

Although there are occasions where the entire training (with the exception of the take-home exam) is a traditional classroom event, for the most part, the training is divided into two phases.  Phase 1 is a series of eight three-hour virtual classes that you “attend” via your personal computer.  The sessions are live, and the attendees have the ability to ask questions via a chat function.  During the class, the instructor will read each question and provide his/her answer.  The sessions were titled as follows:

  1. Metric and Fundamentals
  2. The Thermal Enclosure
  3. Thermal Bridges and High-Performance Windows and Doors
  4. Ventilation Systems
  5. Space Conditioning
  6. Multi-Family and Commercial Buildings
  7. Retrofits
  8. Quality Control (I may be mistaken on this last one, as I forgot to put it in my notes)

A variety of instructors teach the Phase 1 virtual sessions.  In addition to Katrin Klingenberg, there were a number of other experienced trainers who I am confident are well-known within the high- performance building industry.  Each instructor taught, at least, one three-hour block.  All seemed well-versed in their subject matter and engaged in their work.

Make no mistake, the students must absorb a significant amount of information during the class, and at least during Phase 1, it is challenging (maybe even impossible) to separate the wheat from the chaff.  Of course, that’s probably because there isn’t much “chaff” to begin with.  Even the background information on the history of the Passive House movement has its relevance and serves as a foundation for understanding how we “got to now.”  If I have a criticism, it is that there is a lot packed into each session; so much so that the instructor moves at a fairly rapid pace.  So there’s not a lot of room for detail, or detailed discussions, on any particular point, which may leave the student scratching his/her head when each class is over.  The students are provided with “homework” questions after each session (together with the necessary answers), and students are free to ask questions (via the electronic class forum) even weeks after a particular three-hour session has ended. But my guess is that the Phase 1 sessions will leave any serious student wishing that the classes had been in-person. Of course, the downside to that would be limited availability and greater cost (life is about compromise!).

Because of the limitations noted above, the real meat of the training occurs during the five-day in-class sessions; so much so that I almost think the serious student could miss the on-line sessions and still learn everything that is necessary to pass the exams.  The beauty of the in-class sessions is (obviously) that questions can be discussed in depth and answers explained in detail.  And if all of the in-class instructions are as good as the one we had (John Semmelhack) there’s really no excuse for failing to understand the required concepts.  Semmelhack had a high degree of comfort with the material, an easy-going manner and the ability to simplify relatively complex concepts enough to be absorbed by (even) me.

The Phase 2 sessions ran for a fairly solid eight hours per day and basically reviewed all of the key concepts that were covered in the Phase 1 sessions (and there are quite a few). There are a lot of formulas to understand.  Ever wonder about how to determine the annual heating/cooling demand for a building?  Well, wonder no more.  How about calculating the remaining peak load?  Annual total losses?  Peak losses? Converting heating degree days to heating degree hours? Transmission losses, thermal bridge losses, ventilation losses, air permeability, energetically effective air exchange rate, infiltration air change rate, the R and U value of homogeneous and non-homogeneous sections, installed U-values of windows, etc.  Yes, it’s all here.  Everything even the geekiest among us could ask for and more.

But not to worry.  The test is open book, and a study guide is provided.  So as long as the student acquires an understanding of the formulas (both how they work and when they are applied) and takes good organized notes, the tests are passable, even for those who never went beyond high-school algebra (and did that many, many, years ago).

All kidding aside, it is really an excellent class. Ours had about a dozen students. A number were architects, some were employed in various other capacities that dealt with energy efficiency, and, as previously indicated, a couple of us were just guys interested in what it takes to build a comfortable, energy efficient house.  There was a lot of discussion during the class (and it was always interesting) and, assuming the general topic interests you, there’s no time for boredom.

In addition to all of the above, the class provided an introduction to WUFI Passive, and the instructor worked through some practical examples of using it, with each student following along on their own computer.  Unfortunately, my computer has some personal issues that prevented me from doing the same.  But it worked out just as well following along with the instructor’s computer-projected images.  WUFI is an involved program that requires a fair amount of practice to attain proficiency.  I’m sure it’s a powerful tool in the hands of an expert, and most likely a danger in the hands of a fool.  I strongly suspect that almost without exception, each student will have to learn the program if, and when, they go through their first Passive House certification.

The three-hour multiple choice exam was given on the last day of class, and results were available immediately upon completion.  Again, if you pay attention, ask questions when you don’t understand, take good notes, and organize your material, passing it is well within anyone’s reach.

The final hurdle is the take-home exam.  It’s a workout.  But again, if your notes are good and you don’t wait until the last minute, it’s totally achievable.

So, you might ask, what’s the point?  I’ve been asking myself that question for decades, but I’ll restrict my commentary to the issue at hand.  As they say in Spain, “me gusta mucho esa clase.”  The class was work, but I liked it.  I now have a much better understanding of the “why” that led to the “what.”  When we built our house, I knew that I wanted 2×6 walls filled with cellulose and about four inches of polyiso on the outside.  But I wasn’t all that sure why that was any better than any other alternative.  I knew that the house had to be extremely airtight and that we had to have a ventilation system.  But I didn’t know what the appropriate ventilation rate was or how it was calculated.  And I had a good idea that a 9,000 btu mini-split would probably heat this place, but I had no idea how that conclusion was specifically reached (nor did the HVAC contractor, for that matter).  And maybe most importantly, I had no idea of the may pitfalls that await he (or she) who assumes that they know enough to charge ahead without a solid foundation in the fundamentals (and  in my view, gaining a truly “solid” foundation in the fundamentals is beyond the scope of this class).

And that last sentence leads me to what is probably the key lesson.  The most important thing I learned in this class is how much I still DON’T know about building science.  That isn’t meant as a failing of the class or the instructions.  Rather, it’s an acceptance that like any other complex subject, it requires an ongoing commitment to learn.  But as long as each student keeps the proper perspective, there will always be others willing to help along the way.  After all, real knowledge isn’t so much about possessing the necessary facts as it is about knowing where to find them when they’re needed.

 

Update on Power Usage – One-Year of Detailed Data

As of December 7th, the eGuage energy monitor has been installed for a full year, giving me the ability to know how much energy it took to heat our house for a full one-year period.  The data was actually a bit better than I anticipated:

Total kWh used to heat the house for the period December 7, 2014 through December 6, 2015:  2,549.6534

At 15 cents per kWh (winter rate) that resulted in a total cost of $382.45 (This includes all charges on our electric bill).

Knowing that natural gas is generally much less expensive than electricity, I thought it might be interesting to compare the two.  In other words, if we heated the house with natural gas, what would the cost have been?  Here are my calculations.  Feel free to let me know if you think my numbers are incorrect:

One kWh of electricity will generate approximately 3.14 kBtus of heat energy.  Therefore, our house used 8,007 kBtus of energy to heat the house during the one-year period.

8,007 kBtus equals 8,007,000 btus.

A “therm” of natural gas produces approximately 100,000 btus and costs approximately 79 cents (of course, this varies by location).

Therefore, if our house had a 100% efficient natural gas furnace, it would have used slightly more than 80 therms of natural gas for heat (8,007,000/100,000) and that would have resulted in a cost of $63.25 for the year.

Now, of course, we can’t use natural gas for several reasons; natural gas is not available where we live, they don’t make a natural gas furnace small enough, and a Passive House is so tight that burning any fuel in it is not advisable.  But I thought the comparison would help put the energy efficiency of a Passive House in perspective for those who use something other than electricity to heat their home.

Some other highlights from the one-year data:

The water heater used 715.516 kWh; about 31 cents per day.

The clothes dryer used 634.7463 kWh; about 28 cents per day on average.

The ERV used 369.02674 kBtus; about 17 cents per day.  However, it should be noted that the ERV was off for an estimated 50% of the three summer months because we had the windows open.

Transom Window Over Powder Room Door

As previously discussed, our house is heated with two ductless mini-split heat pumps; one at the top of the stairwell to the second floor and the other in the main living area on the first floor.  To ensure that pressure is equalized between the rooms and conditioned air can freely moved into those rooms when the doors are closed, I installed transoms above the doors to the bedrooms and bathrooms.

At least for now, I don’t plan to install windows in the transoms over the bedrooms and 2nd floor bathrooms.  As I see it, this type of detail would be largely decorative, and would have almost no functional purpose.  Yes, there’s the issue of privacy (sound).  But in a 2000 square foot house with only two or three occupants, that just hasn’t proven to be an issue.

I did, however, recently finished installing the transom window over the powder room door on the first floor.  This is a necessity due to the proximity of the room to the main living area.  The room is actually off the front foyer.  But it’s still close enough to provide some potentially embarrassing or uncomfortable moments for guests.

It didn’t occur to me (until it came time to install it) that a properly installed transom window is in the same plane as the door below it.  Initially, I thought that I’d have the window open to the inside of the powder room.  But that wouldn’t have looked quite right because the door opens to the foyer, and therefore the window should do the same. At first I thought it might look odd with the window mechanism on the outside of the bathroom.  But looking at the final installation, I think the window and the mechanism add something interesting and unique to the foyer.

Also, as I understand it, ideally the window stiles should be the same width as the stiles on the door.  I cheated on this a bit because it seemed a bit “heavy” to me.

I laminated up two pieces of 3/4″ clear pine to make the frame.  That allowed me to end up with a thickness that matched the door (one and three-eights inch).

Both the construction and installation of the window are pretty straight-forward.  But the mechanism isn’t cheap, at just over $100.

IMG_1102 IMG_1101

First Year Electrical Usage and Charges

Since we’ve been living in our home for just over a year, I thought I’d post another perspective on our use of electricity; this one based on the billings from the electric company.  It doesn’t contain the detail that is achieved through the use of the eGauge tracker; only the gross kilowatt hours used each month. And unlike the eGauge tracker, the electric company totals do include the electricity that I used in my shop to build cabinetry, etc. over the past year, which skew the results slightly.  At any rate, here are the results for the first year:

Download (XLS, 39KB)

Raw Data on Electric Usage and Temperature/Humidity

In this post, I’m including links to files that contain the historical electrical and temperature/humidity data for our house from February 1, 2015 through the date of this post, October 23, 2015.  The data begins on February 1st because although I started recording in early December 2014, the heat pumps were not working correctly until late January.  My intent is to offer this data to anyone who desires to use it for analytical purposes.

The electrical data, which was recorded by an eGuage energy monitor, contains daily numbers for total electrical use, the first floor heat pump, the second floor heat pump, the combined total of the two heat pumps, the dryer, the water heater, the ERV, the well pump, and the family room, which basically includes the lights and TV in that room.

The temperature and humidity data was recorded by Hobo data loggers that were placed on each floor (basement, first floor and second floor), and outside on the north side of the house under the porch roof.

eGauge Data 2-1-15 thru 7-31-15

http://www.jeromelisuzzo.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Basement_Temp-Humidity_Data_Thru_8-15-15.xls

http://www.jeromelisuzzo.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Outside_Temp-Humidity_Thru_3-5-15.xls

http://www.jeromelisuzzo.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Outside_Temp-Humidity_Thru_10-23-15.xls

http://www.jeromelisuzzo.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/2nd_Floor_Temp-Humidity_Data_through_9-30-15.xls

http://www.jeromelisuzzo.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/First_Floor_Temp-Humidity_Data_Thru_8-10-15.xls

I will update this data on February 1st of next year.

In early December (once I have a complete year of eGuage data), I will post the yearly total electrical usage for the appliances and mechanicals that are listed above.  As I indicated, the heat pump data won’t be totally “accurate” (because they were “short cycling” until the end of January).  But the information should still provide a reasonable indication of how efficiently the house is operating.

An Alternative to Purchasing Blinds for Tilt-Turn Windows

The tilt-turn Intus windows that we installed in our house are excellent products.  They’re robust, airtight, and extremely efficient.  Nearly everyone who visits offers positive comments on them. However, from our perspective here in the U.S., they do have two drawbacks.

The first is that they open to the inside of the house, rather than to the outside, which could cause unanticipated problems.  For instance, a tilt-turn window over the kitchen sink our counter could be problematic.  It could be blocked (from opening) by the faucet, or it could interfere with a person who is standing at the sink and trying to access to the upper cabinets that are to the left or right of the sink.  Tilt-turn windows in other rooms could also be troubling if the homeowner doesn’t consider furniture placement and natural walkways.

Fortunately, this issue hasn’t been a problem for us.  Over the kitchen sink, we almost always use the “tilt” or venting option rather than opening the windows.  But I did take great care when installing the kitchen cabinet to ensure that the faucet does not interfere with the windows if we choose to open them.

IMG_1093 IMG_1092 IMG_1091

But the other issue…one that I didn’t give as much thought to…is providing privacy shades, particularly at night.  Tilt-turn windows require unique blinds. The blinds must be attached at both the top and bottom to keep them from swaying away from the window at the bottom when the window is tilted.  In addition, the blinds must be attached to the window, rather than the wall or trim surrounding the window.  Otherwise, it would be impossible to use the “turn” function to open the window or the tilt function to vent the window, when the blinds are “down.”

To my knowledge, only one U.S. company currently makes blinds for tilt-turn windows; RS-Sylco.  So the blinds can be purchased.  But there are two problems.  First, the blinds are far from cheap; typically in the area of $300-$500 per window.  That problem can be easily solved by those with enough money.  But then there’s still the second problem.

The tilt-turn blinds attach to the windows in two ways.  Either they can be attached directly to the glass with a special double-backed tape, or they can be attached to the frame that surrounds the glass by drilling holes and using screws.

I don’t like the idea of drilling holes into the window frame, so that option was out.  But I thought that the second option would do, particularly given that I only needed blinds on two windows (the second floor bathrooms).  But the problem is that our windows have a (simulated) divided light option, with the “mullions” adhered to the face of the glass. These mullions stick out about a quarter-inch, making it impossible to adhere the blinds to the glass.

Fortunately, after giving it a bit of thought, I was able to come up with an economical solution.  What I did was make a narrow frame out of poplar.  The frame is large enough to cover two-thirds of the window and is 1″ wide by 5/8″ thick (so as not to interfere with the window lever).  I gave the frame a beveled profile with a router to lighten it up a bit, mitered the corners, and assembled it with glue and small biscuits.  I then purchased a roll of shoji paper to use as the shading material, which I cut to size and stapled to the back of the frame.  There’s a lot of different shoji material out there.  I purchased mine from esojhi.   It has a durable laminated coating and can be wiped clean with a damp cloth without damage.

The shoji frames are incredibly light.  So I was able to attach them to the window frames using four one-inch squares of velcro fasteners, one in each corner.  The frames fill the need perfectly.  They move with the window, don’t permanently affect the glass or frame, and can be removed or replaced in seconds.

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Thinking about using Home Depot (Cree) LED light bulbs? You might want to think again.

About a year ago, just before we moved in, I purchased about 100 Cree LED light bulbs from Home Depot.  I was surprised that the house used so many.  But regardless, ten of those bulbs are in our kitchen area, and those are the bulbs that get the most use.  Not a lot of use.  Just more use than any other bulbs in the house.  Anyway, since installing them, five of the ten have failed.  That’s also quite surprising, particularly when Cree claimed that the bulbs would last over 20 years.  Here’s what one of the burned out bulbs looks like:

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Note the burned-out element.  First they start to flicker, and eventually they go dead.

Of course, I could send the bulbs back to Cree for “replacement or refund” (Cree’s option) (shipping is on us). Oh, and Cree may require a receipt, which of course I didn’t save.  Call me crazy, but I’ve started replacing the burned out bulbs with Cree’s new updated, slightly less energy efficient, 60 watt equivalent (10 watt actual), 27+ year LED bulb:

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Home Depot still sells the old style bulb (not that I would buy any).  But for some unknown reason, they’re more than twice the $4 I paid for them last year.  This updated bulb currently runs just under $3.  I am also saving all of my receipts.  I will be paying a visit to the Manager of the local Home Depot store if they continue to fail. Maybe we do get what we pay for.