This was started after I replied to this post and a few people asked for an AMA.


Currently I work for an architecture firm in Chicago. Previously I worked for an architectural engineer who designed the mechanical systems for some of the most energy efficient buildings in Chicago. (1, 2, 3). I have a M.Arch degree from IIT. Prior to that I apprenticed as a mechanical engineer/contractor (I built really big complex industrial stuff 1, 2, 3).

My main interest is affordable energy efficient homes. There are many ways to make a building energy efficient, but making it comfortable, inexpensive, and attractive at the same time is the challenge. There are many people who say they can do this, but there are few actual construction companies and architects who are truly interested in this. Telling someone their home will cost 5%-15% more than a home of a similar size is not a great selling point. Also, banks rarely see the value in it, although things are slowly changing.

The main software I use for energy modeling is PHPP (passive house planning package). It's a very intense excel spreadsheet that requires a good knowledge of physics and a decent amount of coffee to operate. For drawings I use Revit which is essentially CAD 2.0.

Also, I can give advice on energy retrofits, but please be specific about where you live, what you're trying to achieve, etc.


This is all the posts tagged architecture from my blog. If you scroll down there's a picture of my degree.

Here's a post announcing this AMA.


Legally I cannot call myself an architect as I am not yet licensed. Technically I'm an intern architect according to AIA definitions. To become licensed in the US you need:

  • A professional or masters degree depending on the state
  • 5,600 hours of internship under a licensed architect (you can do about 1/3 under a licensed engineer too)
  • Pass 7 tests of which the pass rate is 60%-80% per test. If you fail one you can't take it again for 6 months. You have 5 years to complete them or it all resets. Each tests costs $210 to take.

That being said in the state of IL I can still legally design single family homes of a certain size without a license, and unlike most architects I actually build things (1, 2, 3, 4).

EDIT: I will answer everyone's questions as I get to them. There's a lot so it may take a few days. Please CTRL-F to see if others have asked the same question.

To the people who told me to do this AMA repeatedly as I rebuffed them; uh yeah I was wrong.

Also, I realize there's a typo in the title - fuck me right? But seriously, look up the definition of tact then read this article.

EDIT 2: I still have about 250 people to reply to. It may take a while but I'll get to all of you.

Comments: 1188 • Responses: 52  • Date: 

I_Ask_About_IceCream196 karma

As an adoring ice cream fan I naturally have three chest freezers large enough to hold a human body filled with ice cream. These cause large drains on my electricity bill and must be damaging my carbon footprint.

What can I do to more efficiently store my ice cream? Is there an easy solution or should I completely rebuild? I am happy to do either. Complete blue sky thinking.

For the good of the ice cream, man.

Logan_Chicago116 karma

This is fantastic. Man, I wish there were more products out there to deal with this sort of thing. I mean, everyone owns a refrigerator right?

Okay, so here's the deal. Those freezers are using the refrigeration cycle to cool off the inside of those chests. If you live in a cold environment then it heats up your house which is fine, but if you live in a warm climate then you're essentially heating up your home then using the same cycle (!) to then remove that heat given off again using your AC unit.

First fix (a little bit odd but I've seen it done) - you could use rigid foam like XPS (the pink/blue stuff from Home Depot) to cover the exterior of your freezers further. Taping, 2-layers, and thicker insulation will help.

Second fix - can these chests be located in an unconditioned area like a garage so that they don't heat up your house in the summer?

Third (unrealistic) fix - you use hot water right? Why can't that hot coil (the condenser coil) on the back of your fridge be used to heat incoming water? It'd make the fridge more efficient and lower your cooling and water heating bills all in one. The problem is that marketable solutions for this sort of thing would be complex and you'd need skilled installers. All of which costs money, so typically we just plug stuff in and deal with it.

EDIT: someone mentioned below that additional insualtion could cause a fire. If you can see the condensing coil then it shouldn't be a problem. If you have a chest freezer where the condensing coil is below the exterior sheathing then you can't add additional foam as it would cover the coils and keep the coils from dissipating heat. Basically, you'd have a bad time.

Also, don't know how I forgot this but refrigerators and appliances in general have seen great improvements in energy efficiency in recent years. If you have an old fridge chances are a new one will be far more efficient and they payback period may be fairly short.

broflovski16 karma

Is this correct from a thermodynamics perspective? Both a fridge and an A/C are heat pumps, so the amount of energy they use is proportinal to the difference between the two temperatures they pump between. This means that if the heat sink for the fridge is outside (where it is much hotter) then the fridge needs to work that much harder to keep the inside chamber cold at a certain temperature, negating the energy savings of the A/C unit. There is no free lunch in physics.

Logan_Chicago7 karma

Exactly yes. This is why geo-exchange (geothermal) systems can help to increase the efficiency of such systems by reducing the delta T.

angrydeuce10 karma

Man, the heat my PC alone gives off would be nice to harness for other uses. It would be awesome if, one day, like electricity, homes had heat networks within them, where devices that put out excess heat could feed it to devices that can use the heat to do work and even generate energy themselves to feed back into your home's grid.

Logan_Chicago13 karma

What you're referring to is known as a heat pump. It's essentially just a device that can run the refrigeration cycle in both directions. Many large buildings now have zones of heat pumps and transfer the heat around accordingly.

Also, FWIW heat given off by electricity is 3.412 BTU's per watt. A typical human gives off about 200 BTU's hour. For reference a typical window air conditioning unit is 8,000-12,000 BTU's. My desktop PC uses 175 watts so about 600 BTU's at full load. All those devices certainly do add up. I'm looking at you refrigerator.

Oh, I wrote a blog post about this a while ago that's related.

_ralph_16 karma

buy a new freezer (if they are older than 10 years, look at how much power they use and look at new ones)

the colder the room they are in the better

give them a bit room to "breathe".

Logan_Chicago28 karma

I forgot to mention this. It's hard to overstate the amount by which newer appliances have gotten more efficient. If your freezers are older than 15 or 20 years I guarantee the payback period would be just a few years.

Also, is it possible to just get one or two really large ones? This would decrease the surface area and reduce power consumption.

weenur55 karma

What is your opinion of ICF (insulated concrete form) homes? The cost to build seems to be about 15% higher in my area (US midwest), but the long term heating and cooling costs are really appealing.

Logan_Chicago26 karma

ICF's are great. I mentioned this elsewhere but my only beef with them is the interior foam. I want more foam on the exterior. ICF's typically do not have a higher R value than a typical stud wall. What they do is mitigate thermal bridges and leaky cavities. This combined with the reduced noise, won't rot, and increased protection (tornadoes, cars, bullets - I'm in Chicago) is what makes them better.

Is it worth it? I think so.

NinjaPW34 karma

So what are some design elements that help to make a house more energy efficient. Assuming you are building a new house. What's the top there things that make a difference. And can they be implemented in existing homes (built 15-20 years ago)?

Logan_Chicago54 karma

It depends on your climate and a host of variables but the list would look something like this:

  1. Air sealing
  2. Properly insulated walls with minimal thermal bridging
  3. Solar orientation in relation to location of windows
  4. Shape of building (long and thin vs. compact with no bump-outs)

Air sealing is probably the easiest way to retrofit older homes. Additional insulation can sometimes be added but it can be expensive if it's not in the attic or easily accessible. Upgrading your AC/heater is another good option (heat pumps, high efficiency water heaters, etc.).

explodingsheep4 karma


sls0303d230 karma

Air sealing lowers indoor air quality by limiting the houses ability to "breathe". Its actually believed that air tight houses are a cause for allergies ect. Energy star now requires installation of a fan running 24/7 to bring in external air in houses of a certain size.

Source: I build roughly 75 houses a year (for one of the larger home builders in the country) that are all energy star rated and independently verified

Logan_Chicago10 karma

My reply to the "the house is too tight" concern is this:

Your body needs to breath too. Do you poke a bunch of holes in yourself or do you use a dedicated system (i.e. your mouth and nose)?

An ERV or HRV should be installed really in any house but they are necessary in tightly sealed buildings. They increase air quality and save energy too.

saiyanslayerz29 karma

What is your opinion and experience with burrowed or underground homes?

How would you go about creating a high efficiency affordable home in Northern Canada?

Have you used non-conventional material like treated straw or mud for construction?

Logan_Chicago25 karma

Here's what I told someone else about earth sheltered homes:

Living underground poses a lot of challenges. For starters banks often hate the idea because of resale. There's also the fact that moving earth is very expensive. Foundations are typically the largest cost associated with a home here in the Midwestern US. There's also moisture issues. All of this can be dealt with if you find someone who knows their stuff. Instead of going that route I would opt for ICF walls (concrete walls with rigid insulation on both sides) with additional insulation on the outside.

How would you go about creating a high efficiency affordable home in Northern Canada?

PERSIST. Great system. I'd probably do a 2x6 or 2x8 stud wall on 24" centers filled with dense pack cellulose with a substantial amount of exterior foam (4"+) and rain screen. A high sloped roof to shed snow and I would keep the shape rectilinear and compact to minimize surface area. A frost protected shallow foundation could reduce foundation costs and boost insulation values too. I'd also orient the glazing to get as much southern sun as possible in the winter. You want windows with a high SHG (solar heat gain) coefficient. No low-e coatings! Double or triple glazed, argon if you can afford it. And above all - airtight with a energy recovery ventilator (ERV).

Have you used non-conventional material like treated straw or mud for construction?

I have not personally but I have seen successful projects from high design firms with those materials. Rural studio does some of this. It's possible, not really my cup of tea although I do like the look of rammed earth walls.

verarschen7 karma

This AMA jumped out at me. I'm a carpenter of some years now with an undergraduate architecture degree. I'm in Minnesota, so most of the energy I am really concerned with is regarding staying warm....or, not dying in the Winter. The houses I work on are 80-120 year old relics. Insulation is nonexistent and drafting is easily the biggest contributor to heat loss. But, if I were to build new, (concerning your answer above) I'd tend towards a double wall. That is, instead of 24" OC to reduce bridging, why not 2x12 top and bottom plates and staggered 2x4's for walls (one exterior layout and one interior layout) along the plates with dense pack cellulose for insulation? This eliminates a tremendous amount of thermal bridging and gives R-50 plus. As for cost analysis, this should not quite approach that of ICF's and nonetheless kills it regarding R-value. Granted, daylight through those deep windows could get tricky.

Logan_Chicago5 karma

You are absolutely correct. A double stud wall is typically a better bang for your buck and better insulation. Thermal bridging through your top and bottom plates will become an increaingly large portion of your heat losses as your R value increases.

If you don't do the vapor barrier right you can have some serious moisture issues with a double stud wall, but I suppose that's true of anything. The Germans use them a lot so there must be something to them. Larsen trusses work similarly - huge amounts of low cost insulation. The Passive House guys near U of I are using vertically placed exterior 11-7/8" wooden i-beams (essentially Larsen trusses) filled with dense pack fiberglass. These are hung off of a 2x4 wall. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it, but thus far it's working.

The reason I often recommend the wall I mentioned in my above post is that it's a substantial improvement over a typical 2x4 and batt wall with little added cost (save the thick exterior foam). It's familiar to builders so they're less likely to tell you to go to hell.

NoLim23 karma

What's your opinion on the LEED system?

Logan_Chicago25 karma

I view it as something that makes buildings more habitable. As far an energy efficiency goes it's kind of a joke. I do have to give props to LEED for bringing awareness to the masses though. It's evolving so we'll see. Right now it seems like they just want my money. Fees, fees everywhere.

RealRenshai17 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA!

I have four questions:

  1. Are there any real energy savings from building a house out of poured concrete?
  2. When designing a new house, how do you find a good design firm? Any reliable rating/review systems out there?
  3. When building a house, how do you find good construction companies?
  4. Most importantly, how do you make a really energy efficient house that is also zombie proof. Note: Walking dead type zombies. Not the Running dead type zombies in World War Z.

Logan_Chicago27 karma

  1. It would be more airtight so yes.

  2. Ugh, it's difficult. Find recently built buildings in your area and find out who built them. I often find these people through blogs.

  3. Usually same deal but to a lesser extent on the blog front. Also, most architects have people they like to work with and trust.

  4. I would do an ICF wall house with additional exterior insulation, and if you're serious about the zombies just get impact resistant glazing (they make them for FL) make the openings high enough or narrow enough that they can't get through. Also, shotguns. Or just hire me. I used to shoot people professionally.

RealRenshai4 karma

Thanks for the response!

  1. Interesting. Any type of ROI calculations out there displaying realistic initial up tick in cost versus long term savings?
  2. I've done that somewhat. I can find a lot of places that "look" good, but since I'm a computer geek, I don't know if it's built and designed well.
  3. Same as #2
  4. Your last sentence intrigued me the most. Then I realized you were in Chicago, so I jumped to a few conclusions ;)

Logan_Chicago6 karma

  1. Air tightness is really tricky to gauge and measure. There are standards (ACH50) but it's trickier than that. You can typically find before and after studies from retrofits though.

  2. I played paintball professionally. Weird I know. And by hire me I meant for the building or the shooting of zombies.

handsupwholikesneil16 karma

How do you feel about "earthships"? Do you think it would ever be possible for these to become commercial homes? I realize some commercial prefab "tiny houses" have already adapted some principles but most use new and synthetic materials. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earthship

Logan_Chicago17 karma

This was really the first wave of buildings that attempted to be more energy conscious, so I see them as sort of a V1.0 of green buildings. I've personally learned a lot by the mistakes and failures of these types of buildings.

In the US we're on something like V2.0 now whereas in Germany, Austria, etc. they're on V3.0.

As far as commercially viability - probably not as they're portrayed in the given link. In function, yes. Labor is the biggest factor in a buildings construction cost. Odd angles, curves, anything not standard and square adds cost. It may sound boring but shaving 1% or 2% off a construction budget can be a few thousand dollars. Also, the general public has a certain reticence to anything that looks different.

archi-joel15 karma

I'm an architecture student in the UK who is 1 year away from finishing my university masters, with intention to come over to the US or Canada to see how the process and industry as a whole is different.

What would be your advice to someone looking at moving into the US architecture sector?

Logan_Chicago36 karma

Oh man. Know people? Hit up blogs, find out who's doing stuff you're interested in and get in contact with them. Just ask.

All the firms I like are in the NW and NE US - Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, Vermont, New Hampshire, etc. Canada is way ahead of us in general when it comes to quality energy efficient homes.

If you really want to learn about this stuff Germany is the place to go.

dmukya15 karma

I'd love to get me a passivhaus.

Logan_Chicago8 karma

You and me both. None built in Chicago yet...would love to help someone out.

michio_kakus_hair13 karma

What's your dream house?

Logan_Chicago22 karma

Oh man, my fingers already hurt from all these replies.


About 1,800 SF-2,200 SF (kids before long) otherwise 1,400-1,800 SF. ICF or cast in place board formed concrete walls with 8"-12" of exterior EPS (dream house, about half that would be more practical). Hardie board or wooden rainscreen exterior cover. All cast in place concrete floors, some ground and polished others with solid ship lapped jatoba; walnut; or rift sawn white oak (expensive but you said dream house). All interior walls are acoustic (resilient channel, caulked isolated seams, batt in the stud cavity, double layer of staggered gyp, etc.). Triple glazed argon windows (Optiwin), standing seam copper or lead roof, intensive green roof area, solar panels, heat pumps, etc. I could go on for hours.


First you need a nice site. Cool part of the city, on a mountain, next to a wheat field, etc. Any of those would do. Lots of level changes, double height spaces, and nice hardwoods (walnut, white oak, jatoba, and cherry are favorites of mine).

Here's some firms I like for various reasons: Tom Kundig. Some of his stuff is a bit cold, but overall I like how he approaches projects.

BUILD does some great stuff. Nice guys too.

Here's a floor plan and south elevation I made for a friend. And the description I sent him. This is an initial concept so don't take it as a final product. It has a lot of kinks to work out.

This explanation is going to lack quite a bit because I can't properly explain it, but basically...

Interior wall to wall useable sqaure footage is 1,400 SF (square feet). Exterior to exerior (legal) is 1,850 SF. Walls are about R-50 and the roof is beyond R-80

The house is designed to meet Passivhaus standards. This means if you never turn the heat on it'll never drop below 60 in the winter. Your heating/cooling bills will be about 10% of what they are for a house of a comparable size. The walls are 6" of reinforced concrete encased in thick rigid foam insulation, so it's fire, tornado, and bullet proof. There is no basement to save on foundation costs (floating slab on grade frost protected shallow foundation). There is however a green roof above the entire first floor.

1st floor (left to right, top down):

Main entry is at the top left, you pass beneath the staircase. Steps could either be floating or have lots of storage underneath. The kitchen with island/table. The table is on casters and can roll on a track outside. Those windows at the south are panels that open up. In place it seats 6, if rolled out it can seat 10. A large pantry is on the right side of the kitchen. Guest bathroom with storage. Laundry room with folding table and storage. Living room with built in furniture on the east wall. Not sure about windows in here yet... south facing. Kids room and bathroom. They share a communal room but each have a private nooks. I'll explain this to you more in person.

2nd floor:

As you walk up the stairs the library/computer area is on your left. The entire south and west walls have built in bookshelves. The south wall has a window under a built in bench, the entire west wall has horizontal windows at about 7'6" the entire length of the building. There's also a 10' table for computers and reading. If you turn right at the top of the stairs you walk out onto an 800 SF green roof. This could be planted with grass like a lawn as well as some ornamental grasses. Party spot. If you walk straight from the stairs you're led to the master bedroom. Master bath on the left. Large shower with bench. On the right is a closet and dressing area. Beyond that is a bed and desk, all the walls have built in storage/bookshelves. This part need more explanation in person.

There's lots of run details to add and at some point I'll make a 3D model, but for now that's what I was thinking.

hornflips12 karma

What are some improvements you'd recommend for improving the efficiency of existing houses? I'm talking "best bang for your buck" kind of improvements.

I realize this depends on the age of the house and the quality of the build, so it may be better to ask what the biggest variables in efficiency would be in an existing house.

Logan_Chicago9 karma

Typically it's air sealing. It solves so many problems for almost nothing. If you want to do it really well you can do a blower door smoke test and find the leaks then plug them up.

Your next best bet is efficient appliances.

stuartrue12 karma

I live in a certified Passive House in Salem, Oregon. When we were building our house, there was a lot of excitement about green building and PH in particular. There was a feeling that PH was on the verge of a breakthrough, and while plenty are still being built, it hasn't exploded like I hoped it would.

What do you see are the trends for the green building movement? Is it ramping up quickly? What do you think is the future of the Passive House standard in particular?

Logan_Chicago8 karma

Was your place built by Hammer and Hand? Because I would move there just to work with them. They know their shit.

What do you see are the trends for the green building movement?

So far it's market dominated. Businesses and people are doing it for the financial incentives more than anything. It seems like a fairly logical path. I think the increase in comfort and other aspects are being undervalued though. Am I right to guess that your house never feels drafty? What's that worth? How does a contractor/bank/real estate agent quantify that?

Is it ramping up quickly?

Kind of. It's becoming more integrated and standard. More or less all government buildings are required to be LEED certified now and while I take issue with LEED it is a step in the right direction.

What do you think is the future of the Passive House standard in particular?

I don't want to speculate too much. It took off in Europe but they have a more temperate climate with less variability than the US and North America. I think Passive House will remain somewhat of a niche for a while. The people who seem to be adopting it are builders and one day I think a few bigger builders are going to get a hold of it and figure out how to make the energy savings work for their bottom line. After that? Who knows. I've heard of talk that PH would become the energy part of the requirement for LEED.

EDIT: I want to hear more about your house.

stuartrue2 karma

Was your place built by Hammer and Hand?

Our house was built by the awesome Bilyeu Homes. Blake Bilyeu is the Certified Passive House Consultant. They were absolutely fantastic.

Businesses and people are doing it for the financial incentives more than anything. It seems like a fairly logical path. I think the increase in comfort and other aspects are being undervalued though.

I agree on both counts, and perhaps the greater point is that there needs to be an incentive beyond environmentalism before most people will get on board, unfortunately. It's absolutely great to lower our carbon footprint and resource usage, but it's a much harder sell if it is uncomfortable and expensive. That's where good planning comes in - impact, comfort, and savings can all be achieved.

Am I right to guess that your house never feels drafty? What's that worth? How does a contractor/bank/real estate agent quantify that?

You are right. No drafts, floors are never icey, the house is quiet, the air is fresh. It's the most comfortable house I've lived in. I don't know how one goes about putting a value on that, but it is worth a lot to me and I imagine most people.

I've heard of talk that PH would become the energy part of the requirement for LEED.

I would love to see more widespread incorporation of the PH standard into certifications or tax incentive programs. There already exist incentives for solar, which is great. Conservation (insulation, solar gain, ERVs, etc) is cheaper than generation (e.g., solar), so I'd like to see it prioritized.

EDIT: I want to hear more about your house.

My wife and I maintained a blog during the planning, construction, and for some time after move-in. It's got tons of details if you're interested. We were the first Passive House on the U.S. West Coast (Vancouver, B.C. built one over the Winter Olympics there).

It's got double studded walls with roughly 10.5 inches of dense-packed cellulose with 2 inches of rigid EPS on the outside (R-45 in the walls, R-50 in the floor, R-95 in the roof), lots of triple-glazed south-facing glass (U-value 0.14), a whole-house ERV, and 5-point compression sealed doors. It's 1885 square feet (traditional method), and 1567 square feet of conditioned space. It has an ACH50 of 0.20. It even has an airtight dog door.

Logan_Chicago7 karma

Ha, oh yeah. I totally followed that blog. I more or less consume every piece of energy efficient construction literature there is. You were featured on some other blog I read and stumbled onto.

Cool house, not exactly my style but quality always impresses. Good on you for taking the leap.

fgs72810 karma

I'm actually an architecture student going into my sophomore year (undergrad) and I was wondering what you might recommend doing to get maybe an advantage over my classmates? Or just planning for the future? (I.e. getting an internship)

Logan_Chicago27 karma

Talk to your professors and find the ones who you share an interest with. Offer to help them and work with them. You'll learn stuff and meet people. Same goes for your classmates. One day you'll be working with them and relying on one another. Meet people, talk to them, don't be shy. My whole class helps each other get jobs. I've gotten jobs for three people I went to school with and another one got me my current job. Document your work. Document your fucking work. Make your portfolio now. Carry a resume with you everywhere you go. Update your resume constantly. You're in the design world, your resume should look like it.

Laendri10 karma

How hard is the maintenance if this houses? I once killed a cactus for not caring it enough.

Also, is it a good idea to live underground?

Logan_Chicago11 karma

If designed well they should require less maintenance than a typical home.

Living underground poses a lot of challenges. For starters banks often hate the idea because of resale. There's also the fact that moving earth is very expensive. Foundations are typically the largest cost associated with a home her in the Midwestern US. There's also moisture issue. All of this can be dealt with if you find someone who knows their stuff. Instead of going that route I would opt for ICF walls (concrete walls with rigid insulation on both sides) with additional insulation on the outside.

cuzitstrue110 karma

How might one go about buying an energy efficient modern prefab home?

Logan_Chicago3 karma

I know Project Frog and a few other companies do this sort of thing. Otherwise you'd just have to find an architect/contractor that was willing to take on the job. One of my professors built something like this for his own home. It was basically two prefabed boxes that stacked on top of one another. The bottom is his studio (Urban Lab, Martin Felsen) and the top is his home.

Wanabearchitect10 karma

You are an architect (ok, intern). Architects work 5 typical work days a week. You are responding to these items in the middle of the day. Shouldn't you be working? Maybe if architects worked more and billed more hours they would make more money? Or is that not how fee is generated?

Yes, This is your boss.

Jim <3

Logan_Chicago6 karma

This is either my coworking trolling me or really bad. I showed him /r/dataisbeautiful yesterday...

pixelzgaming7 karma

You should start making videos about homes you design or something. More and more people are interested into these and I think it would be a shame if you didn't do it. There is a youtuber that goes by name "kirstendirksen" who has many videos showing small or affordable homes. I think more and more people will look into energy-efficient affordable homes however. One of those people is me. With electricity being quite expensive where I live, I want to build myself a small affordable house with very low expenses. What is the most important aspect of energy-efficient or 'green' home?

Logan_Chicago3 karma

Thanks for the youtuber tip, I'll look them up.

The type of architecture I work in right now is more public/commercial, so many of the things I've personally worked on are large buildings. If I were to go down that road this is definitely something I would do. I build furniture and I always try to take care to document the process.

What is the most important aspect of energy-efficient or 'green' home?

This is a bit of a loaded question since all the systems have to work together and be designed for your climate, but I would say the enclosure system. Your walls, roof, and foundation all need to work together to keep heat in/out while also staying dry and still being relatively inexpensive to construct. The enclosure needs to be as airtight as possible and as thermally non-conductive as possible (high R value) while reducing thermal bridges. Most walls and roofs in the US are actually insulated fairly okay, but they tend to be leaky and have thermal bridges everywhere. Taping or caulking all the seams plus a layer of exterior insulation would help to mitigate this. For some reason lots of foundations aren't insulated or it's done poorly. Which is strange because concrete is about the worst insulator on earth (aerated concrete is a different story).

yarpirate7 karma


Logan_Chicago23 karma

First off, buildings aren't designed to be fireproof. They're designed so that you have enough time to get out.

Fire safety is an issue that is addressed literally everyday where I work. All the codes are built around it, especially in commercial construction (which I work in). It's so pervasive that you really don't think about it because it's just built into everything.

2x material (2x4's, 2x6's) is combustible but the sheet rock (gypsum board, drywall) it's covered in has a fire rating of 1 hour. Gyp is really really cheap. Two layers gets you two hours, etc. This is the cheapest way to fireproof just about anything and a major reason why every house is drywalled in the US.

The manufactured timbers you're talking (TJI's, glulams, paralams, etc.) about are actually considered heavy timber*. Heavy timber is actually very fire resistant and all those products are tested extensively.

When they're at least 8x8 or bigger! Thanks /u/nac126 for the reminder.

Edit: I misspoke

OD_Emperor7 karma

What is the typical budget for a home? Sometimes high efficiency doesn't mean cheap.

Logan_Chicago14 karma

It depends mostly on the area of the country you live in (I'm assuming US). A typical residential construction budget is around $140-160/square foot (SF). $200/SF is a nice home with better finishes (FFE) and $250/SF is premium. Here's a cheat sheet from one of my favorite blogs.

High efficiency certainly doesn't mean cheap. However, I have seen it done. Advanced framing to minimize thermal bridging, 2x6 studs on 24" centers to deepen the insulation cavity, cellulose insulation because it's cheap and stops air infiltration and installation issues, frost protected shallow foundations, compact home designs without bump-outs, and solar orientation are all ways to maximize thermal efficiency that actually save money.

Many of the methods contractors employ are utilized because they're methods that have worked for decades. The more thermally efficient you make a building the more potential problems you run into. Basically, if you don't know your shit you're going to have some seriously expensive failures, and this happens a lot. I think that's where a lot of the fear surrounding a change in construction methods comes from.

Zeratas6 karma

What is a common thing that home owners can do/buy to make their homes more efficient?

Logan_Chicago10 karma

Air sealing is #1 followed by thick well designed walls. Efficient appliances and HVAC equipment is up there too. Minimizing thermal bridging is often overlooked by just about everyone. Also, most insulation (batt in particular) is installed improperly.

wolfmann6 karma

Each tests costs $210 to take.

pff, you should see what it costs to be in IT

Logan_Chicago22 karma

Most of the kids from my class left with over $150,000 in student debt and now make between $30,000-$40,000, so spending money on tests is kind of out of the question. Architects generally make shit money for the first 5 years or so. After that you just get laid off a lot.

absinthe7186 karma

Do you think grey water reclamation and other water waste features should be part of future energy and sustainability standards?

I think its silly and wasteful that so many people are flushing toilets with potable water.

Logan_Chicago7 karma

It totally depends where you live. I live next to Lake Michigan so the way to approach it here is totally different than say Phoenix.

The short answer would be that water is so cheap that installing any additional system to deal with it is going to basically just cost you money that you'll never get back. The ROI is never. Water is just incredibly cheap.

However, dealing with waste water is very expensive and moving water around is somewhat energy intensive. A lot of the cost of water is subsidized through sewage fees and other municipal taxes. It's the same issue that stands out with so many issues with our built environment - unaligned incentives. Those who pay the money have little incentive because they do not personally stand to realize the positive benefits of their expenditures. Builders don't put extra insulation on a house for the same reason that people don't install gray water systems in their house. Who benefits? Someone else.

To me, this is something that needs to be addressed legally with building codes. If everyone did it it could save your water reclamation district a lot of money which may have a positive ROI. I think with time and more evidence this sort of thing will become quite common. In Chicago we already have retention codes that make buildings store a certain amount of water after a rain event so as not to flood our (combined, ugh) sewage system.

All that being said I'm always a little saddened that gutters aren't connected to cisterns that hold the water for irrigation purposes (or gray water plumbing as you mentioned). A cistern and some hose/rain barrel isn't too expensive.

redditerate6 karma

Are you Howard Roark?

Logan_Chicago6 karma

Obligatory what society thinks I do, what I think I do, my mom thinks I do poster. So yes.

Puddle094 karma

So energy tip of the day: Air sealing.

How much should this cost, but also how much is this saving me over time??

Logan_Chicago4 karma

Well someone was paying attention anyways.

Depends if you hire someone or do it yourself, how old your house is, how big your house is, what area of the country you're in, how in depth you go, etc. so I feel like any numbers I throw out would be at best a guess. At the very low end you can walk around your house on a cold/hot day and check for drafts and seal them. At the other end you can hire a professional to do a thorough inspection and do all necessary work. The first one might cost $30 while the second could be a few thousand dollars.

It's still the best ROI of just about any other method.

yournew-GOD4 karma

Hello!! I own an acre with a mobile home. Im eventually wanting to replace the mobile home with a shipping container home. any advice or things to be on the look out for? I know this is pretty open ended so take your time answering others questions and just hit me up when you can. much appreciated and keep up the awesome work!

Logan_Chicago2 karma

A few other people have mentioned shipping containers, so I won't go into great detail.

The first question to ask is why a shipping container over anything else? The look, it's cheaper, you like the size? And I don't mean this in a negative way. If the answers come out positive then go for it.

Working on a shipping container is going to require welding and probably additional steel as when you cut into a container so unless you're a welder this may get expensive. Also, once you build it out and insulate it it probably won't be cheaper than a stick built home.

jury084 karma

Do you find that people who are looking for small affordable houses turn to an architect when a general contractor can design homes himself? Also, are you hiring more interns?

Logan_Chicago13 karma

Do you find that people who are looking for small affordable houses turn to an architect when a general contractor can design homes himself?

To be honest I'm not really sure. I feel like it's an unmet need. I work for a medium formerly large firm so the only houses we deal with are large and high end.

Most homes are built without an architect and I can't say I blame anyone for the situation. The vast majority of homes are very formulaic and often times an architect's ideas are shot down by the contractor because of cost. To add to this a contractor typically knows where to cut costs and what to include to hit a certain price point in that market. It really comes down to a financial equation. The average price for a home in the US is about $200,000. A typical architects fee is about 10%, so $20,000 on a project of this size. A licensed architect with 20-30 years experience is going to be charging something like $100-$200/hour (for billable work). Let's use $150/hour. That's 133 hours, so about 4 weeks of billable time. For anyone who's ever designed and built a house that's not much. Basically, it's too small of a job for most architects to tackle. The way to get around this is to make the design over and over, refine it, build a relationship with a contractor, etc. I'm still trying to figure this out myself as it's what I, one day, would like to do. You need to be able to offer something they can't otherwise get like accurate energy modeling, finding the rights products, convincing the bank it will work, etc.

My firm is actually kind of dying right now so I doubt we'll be hiring any more interns. Sorry.

GoochyBandana4 karma

I build ICF homes, and these are extremely efficient buildings. What do you think of ICF (insulating concrete form)?

Logan_Chicago3 karma

They're great. It reduces labor and makes a building that's damn near indestructible. My only complaint is the foam on the inside. I want more foam on the outside where it belongs. Not something that I have to cover with gyp because it has flame spread issues. It's a minor complaint to be fair but foam ain't cheap.

uncommonman3 karma

In sweden there is a law that buildings will be subject to inspections, and certain information about a building's energy use and indoor environment will be declared in an energy declaration when buildings are constructed, sold or rented out. what are your thought on this?

ps. I have got an idea stuck in my mind; could you use the excess heat produced by cooking in restaurants in an mall to circulate air through the building. Is this a stupid idea?

Logan_Chicago6 karma

Well first off you live in a mostly rational and humane country so that's not fair.

I think it's great. The Germans have something similar (energieausweis I think). The issue is that the vast majority of people know nothing about buildings and why should they? In economics they'd call it an asymmetry of information. This is why we label food and cars, so why not do it for buildings too?

ps. I have got an idea stuck in my mind; could you use the excess heat produced by cooking in restaurants in an mall to circulate air through the building. Is this a stupid idea?

The issue is smell and grease. You could run a closed loop system though with a heat exchanger...

mlasn3 karma

Are there any recent developments or still in development technologies in your field that you are excited for? Primarily things that will help with energy efficiency.

Logan_Chicago5 karma

VIPs. Vacuum insulated panels. If the price on those can come down that'd be amazing.

A non leaky door would be nice too.

And magic boxes. They have them in Germany. They combine heating, cooling, ventialltion, etc. into one box and do it efficiently, but they're not sold in the US yet.

Also, longer term - I plan to write a blog post about this - glass. I'm not an architect that loves glass like most, but man it's taking over. One day most buildings will glass (or similar) that you can control the pattern on, opacity of, etc. There are companies that are making vacuum insulated spaces in between panes that make them as thermally efficient as a well built wall. One day.

stylishg33k3 karma

Hopefully you're will answering questions, but if not I understand.

I'm currently an Architecture major and I'm trying to decide how to proceed with my studies. I've been in school for three years, two of which I was a business major. It looks like I'm order to get my undergraduate degree, I have 3 more years of school in order to get it, which is a daunting thought. So I've been considering finishing my degree I'm business and getting my Masters in Architecture.

Is this a viable option? Will be chances at being successful be hindered a lot without an undergrad Arch degree? I really want to become an Architect, it's the only profession I truly see myself in, but I don't want to throw myself under a bus. But at the same time 3 more years is just crazy. Compared to the 1 and 1/2 I'd have if I got my Business degree.

And thanks for the AMA! I hope to do something similar to you one day, I want to design and build green or energy independent malls and commercial spaces.

Logan_Chicago4 karma

I actually went the 4+3 route to get my masters and worked for 3 years in between. I'm not entirely sure I would recommend it, but I wouldn't have done it any different. I found my varied background made me stand out at times from other architecture students.

Also, a business degree is a good idea. If architects lack anything it's business sense and you can often work your way up in firms to positions where you can use that knowledge.

My one gripe with architecture is the cost of schooling, followed by how grueling it is, which ends with a low paying job that's really hard to get. If you can figure out those things more power to you. I had a strong support network, but some of the other kids in my class did not and I saw them truly suffer. Not eating enough, not sleeping enough, depression, etc.

bobbyg6033 karma

Do you use Newforma?

Logan_Chicago3 karma

Yes my firm does. On huge projects it's kind of necessary. Not sure I'd use it on small projects.

ThatsMrAsshole2You1 karma

A piece of advice- My landlord recently installed a $23k Sanyo split unit air conditioner on my house. What a piece of shit. When designing, do not spec Sanyo for your projects. Junk. Junk. Junk.

Logan_Chicago1 karma

Haha, yeah I've asked HVAC friends about Mitsubishi and Samsung split unit heat pumps. They say they're a bitch to install. That said, those units are the future. Maybe the technology just isn't there quite yet. On small passive houses they use them as a total solution for both cooling and heating.

Indisputable_Fact-3 karma

How close are we coming to implementing this technology?

Logan_Chicago4 karma

Ha! The materials have been available to make that for at least the last 15 years. The trick now is to do all that while giving off the appearance of having a healthy and balanced life.

ImGoing2Hell4This-19 karma

Wild guess here.

Are you a Democrat who supports gay marriage, killing babies in the womb, and believes climate change?

OP did not deliver = Nailed it.

Logan_Chicago1 karma

I believe in logic.