February 2017 Round-up

The house and the frozen lake beyond

The house and the frozen lake beyond

We’ve not been posting recently because not much is happening. We’ve had and passed the electrical inspection, which means we can actually start to put in the light fittings we intend to live with (which are mainly European and Japanese and while perfectly safe, have not been submitted to Canadian inspection). Chris and Anne from New Leaf Custom Homes came round to discuss the few small things we need to do to get through the final inspection and get our official occupancy permit, which should get done over the next couple of weeks. Beyond that, we don’t have the money at this point to do anything else for a few months. So, the Japanese room, built-in shelving will have to wait, as will the solar array and home battery system.

We’ve had a few interesting and critical comments on aspects of the design from the edited reposts of earlier blog entries that are being published on the excellent Green Building Advisor site, and I’ve responded to those in the site, but the simple observable truth is that the house works. We’ve been in it since December now and even though this has been a grayer and cloudier winter than usual, which means the solar gain is less than normal, the house has still been maintaining an even interior temperature of between about 15ºC (nighttime low) and 21ºC (daytime high) without the wood or pellet stove that so many people insisted that we would need. Rainwater / snow-melt harvesting has also provided for all our water needs without any sign of getting low, although this winter we may have benefitted from the unusually uneven temperatures. Short version: whatever, we could have done differently, and indeed would do differently were we starting again, it’s all good. We already published some reflections on why we did things the way we did, last year, but I will do a more detailed post on exactly what we would change were we starting again, because that’s really what everyone else who might be considering this kind of house wants to know…

Now here are some more pictures…

Why our house is intelligent but not a ‘smart home’

We are not against technology in any way. Our house uses some of the latest advances in wood building technology. We will be using solar panels and the most recent developments in energy storage. We have wireless Internet – that’s how you’re reading this post. But there’s one kind of technology we will not be using: connected ‘smart home’ technology and anything to do with the ‘Internet of Things’.

There are very good reasons for this. Professionally, I work on issues of surveillance and security and it’s clear to me that connecting consumer items and homes has little to do with any benefit to users, and far more to do with infiltrating surveillance devices into more and more aspects of lives to generate data not for our benefit but data that can be packaged and sold in order to market more stuff to us. If you examine the claims made about smart devices, there are usually no coherent justifications, and at the same time each device creates a privacy and security vulnerability. At most there is a tiny element of ‘convenience.’ But that’s it. No one actually needs their refrigerator or your coffee maker to communicate via the Internet. It makes little sense to have your garage or front door lock connected and accessible via a smart phone.

So, our house is certainly intelligent in the sense that a lot of thought has gone into it, and it works, it does what it was intended to do. However, it is not and never will be a ‘smart home.’

Warm Inside

The coldest night we’ve had in the passive house so far saw the outside temperature drop to -20ºC (and that’s before we take account of wind chill). However, inside it was 15ºC when we got up, and with a couple of hours of the little room heater and the sunshine today, we’re now up to 19ºC. Plus, the place feels much warmer than this. It’s hard to describe what this means over and above physical temperature, but it’s something to do with the evenness of the temperature and the aesthetic warmth of the wood.

One other issue, apart from the Motura door seal which we discussed yesterday, is the lock on the front door. This might be passive house certified and highly insulated but the lock is essentially a metal tube which goes from one side of the door to the other, in other words a cold bridge surrounding an air leak. It might be a very small example of both, but the ice that forms on the inside of the lock when it’s as cold as it was last night, shows the truth!