Radiant barriers and Solar Attic Vents


I know, totally boring topic, right?

Well, its summertime…are you hot?  Feeling the pinch from your energy bill?  Here are two ways you can retrofit your home to make the summers more bearable without having to turn on the a/c, assuming you have a/c.

Radiant/insulating barriers can be used in a variety of locations in your house, either to repel heat or to retain it (attic, side, crawlspace, roof deck).

At the Pacific Coast Builders Conference last week, Rick and I saw a barrier that works easily for the average person when retrofitting an attic.  It fits between the rafters and requires no tape or staples or nails or anything!  Its springloaded to pop into place…how cool is that?  pun intended…

fits between the rafters... http://www.EnerflexFoil.com

Basically, radiant barriers come in different forms:  foil, paint, board and bubbles.  Some are easier than others to retrofit, depending on your handman abilities, attic access and thriftiness.  Some require a professional installer.  Many suppliers have informative websites with FAQs, videos and pricelists all readily available so you can do your own research.

When we built a spec home a couple years ago, we used LP Techshield, which looks like a silver foil-covered board.  But that was building a home from scratch, not a retrofit.  http://www.lpcorp.com/techshield/ 

I did a search by typing in ‘radiant barrier’ and got a lot of interesting and worthwhile hits.

roll across the rafters and staple into place... http://www.atticfoil.com

The US Department of Energy has info on radiant barriers, too.  Going to their site is a good way to educate yourself on various energy saving ideas and products.  http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/insulation_airsealing/index.cfm/mytopic=11680

Another product we saw was a solar powered attic vent fan that can ‘easily’ be installed on your roof – it doesn’t take as much work to install as some other fans we’ve seen.  This one has the solar panels right on the top of the fan unit.  It works automatically whenever the sun is out, unless the temperature falls below 50 degrees F, then an optional thermostate disengages the fan. 

We’ve seen other units which are more complex.  The solar panels are in a different location, for instance, or the fan is separate from the venting unit.  Others have solar panels that angle up from the unit or allow for a roof with more of a pitch. 

Again, do your own research to find which unit is best for you.  You’ll save on your cooling bill and, they say that your roof shingles age prematurely when the attic is overheated and/or underventilated. 

Our office is definitely underventilated, because it was built in 1906.  This simple unit was very interesting to Rick for our own use.


This Old House even has a video on how to install a solar attic fan!  http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/video/0,,20047003,00.html

Man, don’t you love the internet?!?  😉

The ‘good’ stuff


Take a look around your house.  Now, take a real look…at the pictures on the walls, at the paint, at the rug, at your knick-knacks.  What did you see?  Does your house look tired?  Ignore messy, ignore dust (for the moment) and try to look beneath all of that to the actual items, themselves.

When we moved a couple years ago, we took down all the pictures on the walls and I took a close look at them for the first time in awhile.  I really looked at them.   I realized that my favorite Yosemite vintage poster replicas had faded substantially.  The colors that drew me in the first time I saw them weren’t there anymore.  

...not the same poster but you get the idea...

I have a quilt that I love and when I got out the pillow shams that I’ve rarely used and put them on the quilt, I discovered that the quilt was a shadow of its former self!  Terribly faded, I’m very sad to say.

Do you have things like this in your house?  Things that have seen better days but you haven’t gotten rid of them.  Perhaps that coffee mug was given to you by a friend, but its all chipped and scratched.  Possibly you have a sweater you wore on your first date with your wife and the moths have enjoyed it just as much as you have.

Is there a dead plant on your porch?  Is that ‘chandelier’ over your dining room table fake brass and frosted glass from 1975?  Do you have holey socks in your dresser?   Did you staple the straps together on your favorite pair of sandals (I did…).

On sale for $22 on Craigslist. Just let it go...

We need to free ourselves from these things.  Toss the holey socks – unless you plan on darning them!  I actually own one of those wooden dowel things that are used to darn socks…I don’t know quite what I thought I’d be doing with it.  Never used it.  But I still have it.

If you have a fake brass and frosted glass light fixture anywhere in your house, then here’s a website for you!  http://www.lampsplus.com  We’ve purchased many lamps from LampsPlus.  They have great sales and lamps in all styles.  You can visit a store near you but if they don’t have what you want you can order it online.  You can even order it online while you’re standing in the store if you’d like help from a salesrep in choosing the right lamp.

If you have pictures that look the worse for wear but you can’t bear to get rid of them, try putting them inside the door to the basement or behind a closet door or in the garage (my dad put some very fun posters up in the garage – he liked them but they didn’t go with the decor in the house – and, no, they weren’t calendar-girls from ABC Tool Supply!)

What about bathtowels?  I went to a relative’s house once and their towels were old, thin and very frayed along the edges.  So I bought them new towels for Christmas!  Next time I went to their house, there were the OLD towels…  Don’t save towels for special occasions.  Don’t save candles, either!

Years ago, Rick and I went to a unique house near where we live.  It looked like a castle – quirky- and overlooked a big creek.  It had been there since 1927.  They were having an open house, led by a tourguide.  The tourguide opened up the closets to show that the woman who used to live there had saved gift boxes (all nicely stacked) and tons of candles – she never burned them, put them all in the closet for a special occasion!  She died before that special occasion ever came around.  Two closets full of boxes and candles.  I’ll never forget that.  Candles are to be used!  Now, the house has been really fixed up and is available for vacation rentals.   http://www.howdencastle.com/

Howden Castle

And use the good china!  Use your wine glasses.  Don’t worry about breakage unless its your great-great-great-great-grandmothers china, then…maybe worry.  I think I have 7 of everything now.  I broke 2 things just this last week!  At least 1 thing breaks out of every set I have.  But, at least I use it.  I bought Corel dishes when my kids were little because, by golly, kids are greasy-fingered mess-makers!  Didn’t break a dish for 20 years, then I broke one.  What a nightmare that was!  Corel doesn’t break often but when it does break, it breaks into hundreds, no, MILLIONS of tiny little pieces sharp as needles!  Everywhere!  For days I was finding another piece or two.

If you are worried about replacing your dishes, then check out http://www.replacements.com/  They have a huge warehouse full of dishes of every style imaginable.  You can register the pattern(s) you have and they’ll send you an email about the inventory they have and special sales for your pattern(s) periodically.   If you don’t know the pattern, they’ll help you identify it.  If you are in their area, you can even visit their warehouse.  They are located in McLeansville, North Carolina.

I love Federal Glass.    I had one that was my grandmother’s and then, over the years, picked up a couple more items that I saw and liked – small dishes or bowls with starburst edging – and voila!  I had a collection without ever intending to…and I’m not asking for more of these, I just like having a few. 


The other two patterns are these:  Palm Tree everyday dishes and some fabulous Starbust 1950’s dishes that were my parents’.  I only had a veggie serving bowl and a pitcher, then I discovered eBay and also found some dinner plates at a couple antique stores…they are darn expensive!  When I found out just how expensive, I put them away until we move to a place where I can display them safely.  Its not like me to collect something pricey!    These are very rare and I won’t be able to find replacements easily, nor cheaply.

I wish I could find a cheap replacement style of these...

Sorry, bit if a digression there…point is this:  Don’t wait for a rainy day.  Use the good stuff.  Enjoy it while you can.  AND when its usefulness is over, don’t mourn, don’t grieve, just be thankful to have good memories of it.   I know, its not easy.  Its hard for me, too.  But hoarding the good stuff is a little bit selfish, don’t you think?  And do you really want strangers looking at your pile of  good stuff and marveling at how you never used it?  Or, conversely, marveling at all the junk you accumulated because you couldn’t bear to get rid of it?

What’s in your house that you should get rid of?  Replace?  Fix?  Think of one thing and attack it with fervor!  Then…think of another thing….and another…and another…

We were at the house of someone who had a house in Carmel.  With all the dust, odd additions and cobwebs, it was a strange house.  In the bathroom was a collection of Avon perfume bottles – the kind people used to collect ages ago (does anyone still do that?  Is it a worthwhile hobby?) on  small knick-knack shelves.  Covered in dust…ugh…  Have you ever been to a restaurant with lots of stuff on the walls and on the ceiling?  Canoes, anchors, pedal cars, fake grapes, steering wheels, whatever.  I hate eating where there’s stuff hanging from the ceiling (other than lamps) because they are always so dusty, I just picture it falling into my food, blech.

If you have a collection of stuff you can’t be bothered to dust, then get rid of it.  Or, at the very least, put it in a cabinet that helps keep dust from accumulating!  A curio cabinet, maybe… 

only $500 on eBay! But you could find something cheaper, I'm sure!

This is garage sale weather!  Or have a trading party with your friends, a white elephant sale at church, donate the items to a worthy cause – maybe your local hospital has a neighborhood thrift shop.  We’re having a garage sale and donating the proceeds to a local family that could use the financial help. 

Sell stuff on eBay, Craigslist or even get rid of it in Freecycle   http://www.freecycle.org/  We donated some desks and cabinets to InnVision – an organization that provides support to people who are trying to get their lives back together after battling drugs and alcohol – that way.  

Take a look around your house 😉

Get out of that rut!


Sometimes you just gotta shake yourself off and get out of your rut.

Rick and I have taken up bicycle riding.  We both have a couple pounds to lose (no snide remarks, please) and we live near a lovely bike path or two or three, so we bought bikes at Walmart (again, no snide remarks).  First we went to an actual bike store, but since we are still in recovery mode from the depressed economy, we didn’t feel we could justify the $600 (or MORE!) they wanted for those cool bikes.  Maybe later…

 We have bicycles that we got free about 15 years ago with a paper supply company rewards program, but those bikes are very, very worn.  Our son, Andrew, rides one of them regularly to school, it’s perfect for that, not much else.

 Before this, when someone mentioned ‘bikes’ it was because we were riding motorcycles.   Now, it’s the motorfree kind.

Riding the Natchez Trace with Rick and 2 cousins

 OK, so we’ve each got a nice, comfortable bike and I even got a fat-butt seat and we’ve both got gloves with gel-padding on the palms and cute bells to warn people we’re ‘on your left’ and now we’re tweaking them to raise the handlebars a bit more and getting baskets and racks to carry stuff.

Rick’s been biking more than I have since I had a bunch of rehearsals for a party band gig and hold at least one Open House every weekend for a property that’s for sale  http://www.15720LomaVista.com .  He goes to Alviso and rides around the Slough Loop Trail   http://baytrail.abag.ca.gov/vtour/map3/access/BTAlviso/Btalviso1.htm or along the Guadalupe River Trail  http://www.sjparks.org/Trails/GRiver/index.asp  

A couple weekends ago we rode around Santa Cruz for about 5m before Rick got a flat tire and had to ride my bike back to the truck and drive back  to get me.  Bummer, it was a gorgeous day at the beach.  His bike is still in the shop, getting fixed.

 ANYway…so I’m now incorporating bike rides into our trips.  Rick’s going to training in Idaho for his Chief Architect 3D design program that he uses, so I am renting us a couple bikes and booked us for a biking adventure along a train track in the mountains that’s been converted to a bike trail – it’s slightly downhill all the way!  Love that!  http://www.skilookout.com/hiawatha   AND Monterey has some long and lovely bike trails that we’ll be doing in the next couple month.  17 Mile Drive in Carmel is bike-friendly, I’m told, so we’ll be doing (part of) that, too! 

Part of 17 Mile Drive http://www.pebblebeach.com

 This is completely out of my comfort zone.  I’ve always been klutzy on a bike, I’ve fallen and skinned elbows and knees all my life.  Side note: It might be because I never had good eyesight, I’ve worn glasses since 4th grade!  My 3D vision was always subpar.  My vision in each eye was so disparate, my eye doctor asked me if I got headaches.  I was pathetic at softball!  I could never gauge how far away the ball was!  However, I’ve had laser surgery and now my vision is much clearer, what a huge difference!  If this doesn’t make sense, email me and I’ll explain more…

 Surprise!  I’ve discovered I enjoy bicycling a lot.  I’ve rented bikes before in Tahoe with a bunch of girlfriends and we had a great time with that, but I never thought I’d actually look forward to getting on a bike regularly.  I like to walk, but Rick doesn’t and so…we are climbing out of our sedentary rut by taking up bicycling. 

This concept can be used in your house, too.   Do you spend too much time at the office?  Maybe that little used formal dining room could be modified to be a home office without too much trouble.  Martha Stewart has great organizing ideas for people trying to make the best use of their time and space.    http://www.MarthaStewart.com  And with all the possibilites of networking between office and home, videoconferencing  and the whole ‘cloud’ thing, its getting easier all the time to work from home, or shall I say ‘telecommute’…  Not only are you at home but you get points for not polluting the air by driving to the office!  Its a win-win!

Voila! Office hidden in a buffet cabinet. Thanks, Martha!

Maybe you need to spice up your marriage.  Try taking Hula lessons from a local Adult Education program…or learn to Tango or Salsa!
Always wanted to learn to swim?  Its never too late, check out your local YMCA for lessons! 
What about fishing?  Photography?  You don’t have to have a fancy camera to take great pictures.  And there are numerous sites where you can upload your pictures for people to use – some sites are free and some will pay you royalties. 
How about volunteering to help serve dinner at the Rescue Mission?  Or training your dog to be a companion dog at a nursing home. 
What are you doing to get out of your rut?  Let me know 😉

Let there be LIGHT! and… How not to feel S.A.D.

1 Comment

We care about energy usage but we also need to see what we’re doing – as I get older, I find that it’s harder for my eyes to adjust to dim light.  Twilight is the absolute worst time of day for me.  I feel like I should take my sunglasses off, but wait, I don’t have them on!

Not enough light http://www.morguefile.com

Overall, I want more natural light in my house – well, except in the morning when I’ve just woken up…then I want everything dark so I can pretend I’m still asleep.  Turning on the light makes it real.

 In the new houses and additions we design (well, that Rick designs) there is the opportunity to have ample light fixtures, larger windows, clerestory windows and skylights.

 If you suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), the lack of sunlight during the winter months is causing you to feel, well, sad.  I notice it every January without fail, I’m desperate for sunshine!  One means of therapy is to sit under a lamp that simulates natural sunlight, but what I really want is to sit under a palm tree with my toes in the sand.

Unique idea for a folding chair http://www.dornob.com

 But what do you do with the house in which you now live?  — My mom would be proud of that sentence, since I didn’t end it with a preposition 😉   

 Well, you can add lamps, using your existing power outlets.  You can add new wiring so you can have more light fixtures on walls and/or ceilings, but then you’ve just increased your energy usage. 

If you want to simply add lamps – here’s an eco-friendly one, an algae-powered lamp:

Powered by green algae! http://www.dornob.com

Here’s another idea…add a skylight!  The ones that come first to your mind are probably those where there is a lens on the roof and an framed opening in the ceiling (called a ‘well’) that leads up to the skylight itself.  Sometimes there is a lens at the ceiling and the well itself is hidden between the two lenses – meaning you don’t have to worry about cleaning those darn cobwebs!

 There’s one type of skylight in particular that I think you might have seen without even knowing what it was.  The simplest kind doesn’t involve much in the way of framing it into place.  It’s a tube that reflects light from the opening at the roof down to the opening in the ceiling.  Some tubes have a fixed form and others are flexible between the roof and the room where you want the light.  There is a covered lens at the ceiling level so you might have considered it to be just another ‘can light’.

 Say you want to install the skylight over a bathroom but the roof framing in the attic space or maybe some wiring or pipes are in the way.  The flexible tube doesn’t have to be perfectly vertical from one end to the other, so you can curve or bend the tube between the placement on the roof and the placement in the ceiling.  The interior of the tube is made of reflective material so it bounces sunlight down to the ceiling lens.  Some of them advertise that 99% of the sunlight is reflected down into the room below.

 There is also a 10% tax credit available (through 12/31/11) for adding some skylights, whoo-hoo!  I even saw one supplier advertising a 30% Federal tax credit!

 If you install the kind of skylight that requires framing, then there is a lot of heat gain from what is basically a large window in the ceiling.  Homeowners have to add blinds or a coating onto the glass in order to keep the room from getting too warm.  Double-pane or triple-pane windows have argon gas in the airspace between the glass panes to help reduce heat gain.  While these do the job to some degree (no pun intended), there is something called a ‘silica aerogel’ or ‘frozen smoke’ that virtually stops thermal transfer.  This gel is between the panes of glass instead of argon gas.  A tube skylight has a smaller transparent surface (rooftop solar collector – ooh, sounds so technical!) so the heat gain (and heat loss in winter) is minimized.

Angled between roof trusses http://www.nahb.com

Some skylights are openable but not the tube type.  And, if you are planning to add a regular skylight, be sure to check into your local rules about whether or not it can be an openable one or whether it must be ‘fixed’, i.e. non-openable.  If you have a skylight too close to a kitchen or bathroom vent or a chimney, you are inviting those fumes and smoke into the room >ewww< 

 To find the right skylight for you, you can do internet searches on ‘skylight’, ‘solar tube’, ‘sun tube’ and the like.  You can find some that have vents (handy for the bathroom and laundry room) or lights in them.  I even found a tubular skylight kit for $152 (on sale) at www.theHardwareCity.com  

 Sidebar related to bathroom fans:  A friend of ours had no fan in the bathroom and even when leaving the window open after a shower, the paint on the window sill would peel and mildew would start to grow all over.  She had to be very vigilant to keep the bathroom clean – which she was, btw.  A bathroom fan helps to minimize this kind of thing. 

Mushrooms growing in under-ventilated shower, ugh! http://www.uglyhousephotos.com

This site has good information on benefits vs cost, manufacturers, installation, etc. from the National Association of Home Builders:  http://www.toolbase.org/Technology-Inventory/Interior-Partitions-Ceilings/tubular-skylights   

 In fact, NAHB has much to offer a homeowner interested in learning about all sorts of products, installation, best practices, and construction methods and so forth and so on.  Here’s the link:  www.nahb.com

 The U.S. Department of Energy has a website devoted to this also:  http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/windows_doors_skylights/index.cfm/mytopic=13640  along with definitions of terms used in the industry, like ‘passive solar heating’, ‘daylight plane’ and ‘glazing’ and what factors to consider in choosing a skylight for your home.

 Here’s a link to an article by the people at This Old House which helps you learn what to consider when contemplating a skylight http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/article/0,,195083,00.html

 As we’re going into summer (it’s been pouring rain here, so I’m wondering if summer will EVER arrive!), we anticipate the long, dreary winter ahead by installing skylights to harness the sun; being green by saving energy, reducing our electric bill and combating SAD in the process 😉

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