How about a Prefab Hobbit House?

A Hobbit House in New Zealand

Image Credit – Shaun Jeffers Photography

I came across this interesting post today. A company called Green Magic Homes can build you prefab Hobbit House. Okay, the Hobbit thing is marketing, I’ll pretty sure they aren’t selling mostly to Hobbits.

Instead, let’s think more in engineering and design terms. Maybe there is something here for folks who want to live off-grid, or mostly off-grid. This basic design could also work for seasonal cabins, vacation homes, survivalists might also find it attractive. (more…)

The House of the Future – Disney Style

Disneyland House of the Future

At almost any point in time, our ideas about the future turn out to be both prescient and ridiculous. One of my all time favorites was the Monsanto House of the Future. It was the 1956 version of what a 1986 home would be. Now that 2016 is upon us, we can look back 60 years to see what prognosticators thought the future would look like 30 years ago. An architectural Back to the Future. (more…)

Thoughts About a Healthy House

Healthy House - Indoor PlantsWhile the economics of living in a tight, well insulated, house are important, I believe that there is another factor that stands above all others, wellness. It’s an idea that’s hard to nail down. A healthy house means different things to different people. Some might think of solid stair rails, others would mention non-slip floors, or child proof electric outlets. Health and comfort are difficult, maybe impossible, to quantify.

Indoor air quality, or IAQ, is a primary concern. Practically everything in a modern house can be a source of pollution. For example, particle board, engineered wood flooring, adhesives and caulking, paint and wood stains, are all products which often contain formaldehyde, xylene, toluene, benzene and alcohol. (more…)

The Economics of Super Insulation

Aerogel_Web TNA friend recently sent me an article about Super Insulation economics. The story was about a Passive House built in Wisconsin. For those of you who aren’t total energy and building nerds, “Passive House” is a German standard for building a super efficient house in terms of thermal performance and total energy usage. As the term suggests, it relies on passive technology to minimize the cost of keeping warm in winter.

There are many people in the US that regard Passive House as the gold standard of Green. While there is a lot to be learned in terms of energy efficient design, it’s not something that is going to work in every location in the US. The northern part of Germany, where the standard originated, is a heating climate. That means more cold days than warm days, so most of the energy budget goes toward heating the house. Most of the lower 48 in the US is a cooling climate, meaning we keep the home comfortable with air conditioning. We’re trying to keep hot air out, they’re trying to keep hot air in. (more…)

Thinking About the Front Porch


A friend sent me this video from Matt Risinger on the exterior details of a house they finished 5 years ago.  It’s a testament to how thinking things, though, and getting the details right can affect both the aesthetics and function years later. And it got me thinking about the value of a front porch.

The use of natural materials in the right applications is right out of the design school curriculum.  Unfortunately, those of us who did automotive design so find that natural materials are not practical when you manufacture products by the million.  But the philosophy stays with you, and when it comes to designing or building a house, there is ample opportunity to put it to work.   (more…)

Is it Possible to Design a Fireproof Home?

Fire-01More importantly, can you renovate a house that’s disaster resistant at a cost normal humans can afford? A good friend of mine sent me a link on designing a fireproof home, or making an existing home much more resistant to disasters like the wildfires in California.  I’ve included a link at the end of this post.

The article was written by Murray Milne, a professor of architecture at UCLA. After carefully reading the piece, it occurred to me that many of his design points have value in protecting against other natural disasters. When you analyze how nature is going to attack your home sweet home, most of the scenarios break down into three categories, fire, water and wind.  With a little extra thought, it’s possible to take some of Mr. Milne’s fireproofing ideas, and extend them to deal with other disasters. (more…)