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…)

I Totally Missed National Civil Defense Week

Civil Defense from NukesI let it slip by without even a thought.  National Civil Defense Week was a thing during the 1950s and 60’s.  It was the second week in September, or right after labor day.  Why that particular day?  I’ve not been able to find any particular reason, maybe it was available.  Then again, maybe someone in the government thought a nuclear attack might be more likely during the holiday rich autumn.

In 1972 Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird established the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency as an independent component of the Department of Defense.  In 1983 Ronald Reagan announced a Crisis Relocation Plan to evacuate major urban areas in the event of nuclear war.  They thought it was possible to save as much as 80% of the population.  How reasonable does that sound now? (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…)

Scariest Halloween Ever?

Jack-o-lantern-TNIt’s Halloween and time to be scared. Most years I pull out the classic DVD’s, John Carpenter’s Halloween with Jamie Lee Curtis being terrorized by Michael Myers. Or the scariest movie of all time, The Exorcist, by William Friedkin. Everyone has their own scariest movie, and The Exorcist did it for me, even after having read the book the previous year.

I’ve noticed that the really scary movies are about serial killers or supernatural forces. Whether the threat is supernatural or a deranged psychotic, once in awhile some horrific and alien creature can push that primal fear button.  In those stories, bargaining or appeals to logic or mercy just don’t work. When they are after you, they are relentless. Jaws was a classic example of that theme. It won’t help to plead with the shark, you’re just meat. (more…)

Whitetail Deer in the Backyard

A Whitetail Doe settling down

It’s kinda cool to see whitetail deer in an urban or suburban area. Even though you’re in the city, having some wild creatures stop by once in awhile provides a feeling of being in a more natural world. (more…)

A 1000 Year Flood, Twice in Your Lifetime


Recent tropical storm damage in South Carolina, has been labeled by the media as a 1000 year flood. That is totally bogus.  While the flood damage was devastating, it was not a once in 1000 year event.  Similar catastrophic weather events are becoming common all across the US, and the southeast is no exception.  In 1989, hurricane Hugo made landfall in Charleston, South Carolina, with devastating effect. (more…)

Can Climate Change Instigate an American Diaspora?

drought-02TNDiaspora has become a Megatrend. It’s a word historically used to describe the scattering of people from their homeland. In more recent times it has come to mean an involuntary mass dispersion. The expulsion of Jews from Judea in biblical times, or the more recent slave trade that brought Africans to the US would be classic examples. The ongoing mass migration from Syria and North Africa to Europe is perfectly described as a diaspora.

The United States has a few internal examples in the last century. The Okies fleeing the dust bowl of the 1930s, and the population of New Orleans fleeing the damage of hurricane Katrina can properly be counted as a diaspora. It might well turn out that the next American diaspora will be waves of people from California and the southwest moving to wetter and friendlier places. (more…)

The Genius of Japanese Carpentry

Japanese hand sawI recently found this video about about traditional Japanese Carpentry, and specifically about Miya Shojii, a store in New York that has been making handcrafted furniture since 1947.

True craftsmanship is harder to find every year. I suspect that the majority of Americans don’t own a single item made by hand. That’s a sad state of affairs. I guess it couldn’t be any other way, it takes time and skill to make something beautiful by hand. The best craftsmen spend decades mastering their craft. Naturally, their work is going to be expensive. Whether you can afford pieces like this or not, it’s good to know that these skills haven’t yet become mere historical footnotes. (more…)