interview with austin architect alex finnell by goodlife

An impressive house Alex designed for his parents has been on a couple of the home tours. Some of my shots below. Link to the article is here.


monitoring power with the pecan street project

We are now part of the Pecan Street Research Institute’s project to better understand how people use electricity. The Streeters sent over a friendly electrician to wire up our circuits to a wifi interface that collects and sends data back to their central facility for analysis. They measure nearly every circuit in the house by placing small clamp-on ampmeters around each wire heading out of the electric box and into the house. These devices connect into a collection/transmission device which then shoots the info through the interwebs to Pecan Central. We can then log in to see what's going on with each of our circuits.

The data is collected in real-time, so if someone turns on a light, I see it show up on a graph like one of the ones below. Once we get solar installed, we'll also be able to see how much electricity we're generating and then take a look at the net. Pretty neat! I hope to wander about the house and see what phantom power we have being used about the house.

Hopefully in the near future they will start doing something similar for water!

Whole house energy usage for past month.

Here's what the refrigerator looks like. Spikes are for defrosting.

Guest bedroom; increased activity due to bride sleeping upstairs because of my surgery and new kittens. This will allow the Pecaners to see (1) when we have company, (2) when we have kittens, and (3) when we are having marital difficulties.


you got IKEA in my Kovaks!

Despite terrible reviews (a favorite at allmodern.com summarized the light as "looks great, works poopie"), we chose the George Kovacs Madake Swing Arm Wall Lamp, in large part because it looked great, worked with our gestalt, and the next light up that met our design requirements required a $1,000 a piece (gulp).

One of the issues brought up in reviews of Kovacs' light is that the transformer for the little fluorescent bulb burnt themselves up in short order (with no hope of a replacement). Sure enough, a couple months in, I heard a disturbing crackling sound inside the base of my light and, after a short bright spell, the thing went dead. So I bought another one. A couple months after that, there goes the bride's light. A month after that there goes the replacement. A marvel of modern mis-engineering (and stunning that crap like this is sold years after it becomes evident that something is terribly wrong!).

After replacing the first one, I looked at the inside bits, and thought "Hmmmm: I could switch out the guts with an IKEA LED system." Acting on that hmmmmm'd moment, I did just that.

The results are not as bright as the previous light, but this actually is a good thing for us: There's enough light for reading when the lamp is swung around, but not so much that my partner complains it's too bright. And it is surely more energy efficient.

Not a task for a novice, but with a few bucks spent at the local IKEA store, I was able to save these lights from the landfill.


mies and lilly live here

Mies and Lilly

Well, we now have two new denizens of cubed central: Mies and Lilly! We adopted these two little puffballs last week and decided to name them after Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich (Corbu and Charlotte were in the running, but Lilly really seemed to be a Lilly...).

Mies and Lilly

Mies is a charmer. He has charisma (or is that catrisma?). When he enters a room, he owns it, and wants everyone inside to know and love him. And he typically succeeds. After Mies and Lilly’s first day in our home, he and Lilly were curled up on a blanket in the middle of the bed while I did a little reading before turning out the lights. At some point I looked up, and there was Mies, sitting on the blanket, looking at me. After our eyes met, he then walked over, carefully sauntered onto my chest, “claimed me” by rubbing his nose on my nose twice (something cats do to show affection), and then returned to his blanket, curled up, and went to sleep. That’s just about the sweetest thing a cat has ever done to me, especially given the circumstances. It was his way of saying “You know what? I really like you, and I really like it here. I’m staying!”

Another good thing about using two by six lumber for outside walls: They make for deep cat-friendly window sills.

The better to watch the bird feeder, one of Lilly's favorite pastimes.

Lilly is a thing of beauty, a soft as silk and cute as a ladybug. She’s more reserved than Mies (which isn’t saying much since Mies has no reservations), but opens up quickly and sweetly once she’s comfortable with you. She doesn’t meow, just emits tiny trills and squeaks here and there. Mostly she’s quiet as a shadow. Her foster name was Journey because she was abandoned out in the country and had to walk several miles to a farmhouse to be saved. 

That's right, that's right: I know how to scratch!

We had originally planned on only adopting Lilly but decided it would be good for her to have a companion other than our grumpy old cat, Comer. Mies (Ringo was his foster name), a month older than Lilly, was being fostered with Lilly, and the foster mom said they loved playing with each other. And the foster mom and the queen of the foster moms both said he was something special. Getting the two together was a great idea. They rough house each other, leaving us with just the kitten sweetness (except for the occasional under-the-comforter toe biting). They are amazingly well-behaved and well-adjusted kittens, a credit to their foster mom.

Comer, the older cat, has gotten on amazingly well with them, something that’s mostly the doing of Mies. Mies’s “You’re going to love me, dammit!!!” attitude wore Comer down quickly. They aren’t cuddling yet, but if anyone can make it happen, it will be Mies.

They are quite modest about their Barcelona chair...


to tub or not to tub: part deaux

Way back when, when we were in the early stages of putting together our wish list of what we wanted with the house, the topic of whether or not we should have a tub in the master came up. Ultimately, based on resale expectations of buyers and falling head over heels in love with this tub shown above, we tubbed. However, another item of consideration on whether to tub or not to tub came up recently: health.

When you are young, strapping, healthy, and (ahem) a wee bit on the handsome side of plain, you don't think as much about the future, and the future generally includes health issues. And those health issues may require the use of tub. I bring this up because I've been dealing with a health issue the past couple of weeks where the doc has prescribed, among post-surgery narcotics and muscle relaxants, three to four tub soakings a day. You gotta have a tub to soak.

I suppose you could still live without a tub in the master and have one elsewhere in the house, but if it's up on the second floor and you can't walk upstairs, that tub ain't going to help you. The tub could be in someone's else's bathroom on the first floor (easier if someone doesn't live there), but even that's not ideal (and probably requires a bit of scrubbing before the tubbing).

If you are designing for aging in place, or anything really, I recommend putting a tub in your master. Having spent quite a bit of time in ours recently, I can say that it is quite convenient and awesome (a cocoon, really).

Doctor's orders.


solar powered

We designed our garage to place solar on the roof, orienting the roof toward the south (aesthetics would have had it draining to the east) and roofing it with standing seam galvalume instead of TPO (sturdier way to fix panels to a roof). After having three vendors look at our situation (one of which never got back to us...), it turned out that very little (1 kilowatt) of the garage roof would be eligible for the city rebate with some more of the house being eligible (but us not willing to put solar on the house [for various reasons]). The main eligibility issue was interference of the neighbors trees in the dead of winter. That was a bummer, 'cause we're golden in summer with sunlight.

However, after pondering the situation as well as the 33 percent federal tax credit, which has no roof-must-be-unobstructed-365-days-a-year, we decided to take the money we had set aside for solar and do it anyway for as far as that money would go.

As it turns out, that money goes a long way!

After a recommendation from the Green House Lady, we choose Native to install our system. Based on their analysis, a 4.5 kilowatt system, which will fill the garage roof, will provide about half of our yearly electricity (6,300 kilowatt hours of our yearly power needs, estimated at about 13,764 kilowatt hours [I estimate about 12,500 a year, perhaps as low as 10,000 a year having made the switch to gas-only heating, but we shall see...]).

Those are the hypothetical solar cells on the garage on the right hand side of this aerial photograph.

Native estimates peak summer usage at 1,800 kilowatt hours; last year we peaked at 1,300 kilowatt hours. After switching our thermostat to prefer gas over electric for winter heat, I think our winter usage will be around 700 kilowatts per hour. 

Payback on this system using Native's numbers is estimated to be 12 years. Studies show that solar systems add value to a home equal to the value of the system (and then appreciates thereafter). Given that, we'd be getting a 10 percent return on investment, not including appreciation.

The system we're getting installed is the LG-300 and consists of 15 panels with a Solar Edge inverters with 15 DC optimizers. The optimizers work like micro-invertors (but cheaper) by allowing each panel to generate power independent of the others such that shade that may impact the performance of one doesn't impact the performance of all.

We're excited to get the solar up and running, especially the bride, the power broker (and engineer) in our marriage!

Native expects to install the panel in four to six weeks.