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Woz Details His Plans for Energy-Efficient House 302

Posted by Zonk
from the bite-out-of-the-bulb dept.
An anonymous reader writes "ECN magazine has posted a long interview with the Woz on his new passion: energy-efficient housing. 'ECN: In PC World, you said, "It's like the way I used to make computers" -- how so? Woz: Simple design. Think about the right way to build something and take a lot of time to get it the best that can be done with the fewest resources used. No waste. Build it right and with few parts it does a lot. Don't cover things with more and more and more technology for features. Design them in from the start. It starts with the architect, of a home or a computer, working from a knowledge of the building materials and a desire to choose wisely.'"
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Woz Details His Plans for Energy-Efficient House

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  • monolithic. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by User 956 (568564) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @06:39PM (#20230959) Homepage
    Woz: Simple design. Think about the right way to build something and take a lot of time to get it the best that can be done with the fewest resources used. No waste.

    The answer to that is easy. concrete dome. [monolithic.com]
    • Re:monolithic. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by kpharmer (452893) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @07:05PM (#20231215)
      > The answer to that is easy. concrete dome.

      Yep, that would be great. But just like geodesic domes that preceded monolithic domes - there are unforeseen issues like:
          - leakage - in the case of monolithic domes due cracking
          - integration challenges - they're difficult to tie into other components
          - windows - good quality windows don't come in arcs
          - expense - they're not cheap to build (nor necessarily expensive)

      A monolithic dome is at the very top of what I'd like to build to live in. Unfortunately, we just haven't yet worked out all the kinks. And worse, many of the kinks are brushed under the carpet by the evangelists behind them. Until years later when they admit that the prior design didn't work - but "the new design fixes that old problem that I always denied they had".
      • Re:monolithic. (Score:4, Interesting)

        by mytrip (940886) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @07:55PM (#20231563) Homepage Journal
        Actually, they dont leak. It is made out of concrete and polyurathane foam. I live near their plant in Italy, Texas and have talked to the inventor, David South. They inflate a large rubber mold of the house and spray 'shotcrete' in it and there is _no_ space for either air or water to come through. If it wasnt for the front door and a few windows, it would be airtight. the monolithic dome is the most energy efficient thing out there due to the fact that the temperature wont change more than 1 or 2 degrees a day. it is a thermal mass that takes hours to heat up or cool down so it builds up heat in the concrete in the day and releases it at night when it is cool. Build one into the side of a hill or underground and you're done
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by timmarhy (659436)
          concrete cracks, and it leaks. fact of life, get over it.

          of course it's inventor would be loath to admit any failings.

          • by mytrip (940886)
            Not this one. You coat it with waterproof coating and it has a sealant over the concrete anyway.
            • by MsGeek (162936)
              Interesting. The only big concrete dome structure I can think of is the Arclight Main Theatre in Hollywood, also known as the Cinerama Dome [wikipedia.org]. I was positive they did a similar process but they cast individual hexagonal and pentagonal segments and slotted them together. R. Buckminster Fuller consulted on the design, which was done by the LA architectural firm of Welton Becket and Associates [wikipedia.org]. The building is older than me and looks better, although it's had a couple of face lifts over the years.

              Domes are cool.
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by Firethorn (177587)
                First, the Arclight has hexagonal panels - that means seams which water can leak into and expand upon freezing, causing the cracks.

                Standard monolithic dome homes are built as a solid structure - no real seams, other than the doorways and windows, and those won't be concrete-concrete seams. They're also much smaller and experience less stress than roadways.

                Another problem is that they're indeed difficult to impossible to expand - your best bet is to cast a new dome and expand into that

                Adding new openings ca
            • by jcr (53032)
              Sorry, I'm not buying it. Buildings settle, and it only takes a hairline crack to let water in.

              -jcr

            • Re:monolithic. (Score:5, Informative)

              by mrchaotica (681592) * on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @12:17AM (#20233099)

              I'm a civil engineering student, so I'm qualified to know: ALL concrete cracks.

              Whether the cracks are a problem, on the other hand, is a different issue.

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                As an architect i can tell you.

                Unless they happen where we allow for them.
                All Cracks are a problem.
        • Re:monolithic. (Score:5, Informative)

          by kpharmer (452893) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @08:51PM (#20231947)
          > Actually, they dont leak. It is made out of concrete and polyurathane foam.

          Right, that's the idea anyway: you inflate a huge bubble, go inside it, and spray a layer of polyurethane foam, then spray concrete over that. This gives you three layers from outside in:
              - plastic bubble layer
              - urethane foam layer
              - concrete layer
          The plastic bubble layer is theoretically reusable, but generally isn't. The urethane foam layer provides insulation but is fragile. The concrete is strong.

          Unfortunately, the two outer layers are far less durable than the concrete. So, the next step in the failed evolution of this design was to add a second layer of concrete on the outside. The result of this was that the two concrete layers reacted differently to temperature changes - and the result was cracks.

          The next step in the evolution was to add rebar to the outside layer (chain link fences sections). That stopped the cracking problem. Or so the vendor said. We'll probably fine out in ten years that that caused other problems (not the least is cost) - but they won't talk about that until they have a fix ready to offer.

          Personally, I think it's a good idea - and eventually we'll have a working solution. In the meantime I would never trust the "Monolithic Dome Institute" to be up front about its problems.
          • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

            by Anonymous Coward
            Heh, didn't you just describe a software company? :P
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Bender0x7D1 (536254)

            I remember reading about an underground home builder that had an interesting solution to the water problem - they used a layer of felt between the concrete and moisture barrier. If a hole formed in the moisture barrier, the felt expanded to a ridiculous extent, effectively sealing the hole. I think the company was formworks [formworksbuilding.com], but their website only mentions a superior water-proofing method [formworksbuilding.com] but no actual description. Still, they claim 20 years without any of their homes having leaks, so it might just work.

          • by Macgrrl (762836)

            The next step in the evolution was to add rebar to the outside layer (chain link fences sections). That stopped the cracking problem. Or so the vendor said. We'll probably fine out in ten years that that caused other problems (not the least is cost) - but they won't talk about that until they have a fix ready to offer.

            The most likey issue will be spalling - the external concrete layers will crack slightly, moisture will get in to the iron rebar and the iron will rust. Rust expands causing the concrete t

      • by westlake (615356) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @08:39PM (#20231865)
        > But just like geodesic domes that preceded monolithic domes - there are unforeseen issues

        Thomas Edison saw the cast concrete home as working-class housing:

        These 25x30 foot two story homes had 500 structural pieces and weighed about 250,000 pounds.

        The ultimate test of the Edison process would be in mass production. After careful planning, the first large-scale development began, with forty houses planned to be built off Route 22 in Union, New Jersey, during July and August of 1917.

        The street was named Ingersoll Terrace. Basements for the first eleven houses were dug with a steam shovel, and all the equipment and materials were put in place. The first few houses went up very slowly, as laborers struggled to learn the system and become familiar with the molds. Eventually the crew began to move with increasing speed and expertise. By the time the mold was broken on the eleventh house, the process was almost as systematized as Edison had predicted.

        In the end the technical side of the monolithic concrete house was another Edison success story. But neither Edison nor Ingersoll had predicted the marketing nightmare they would encounter. Ingersoll decided, as a test, to put the first houses up for sale at the agreed price of $1,200 before building the next block. To everyone's surprise, despite the extremely low price, not a single house was sold in the first month. Ingersoll abandoned the project, and no more Edison concrete houses were ever built.

        Some historians and Edison biographers blame the publicity and Edison's grandiose predictions for the demise of his most altruistic endeavor. No one wanted to live in a house that had been described as "the salvation of the slum dweller." People were too proud to be stigmatized as having been "rescued from squalor and poverty."

        But there may have been a more important reason for the Edison monoliths' failure to catch on. The architect Ernest Flagg noted that "Mr. Edison was not an architect-- it was not cheapness that wanted so much as relief from ugliness, and Mr. Edison's early models entirely did not achieve that relief." From looking at them, it is hard to disagree.

        Ten of the original eleven houses remain standing on Ingersoll Terrace, so the technology of the process has certainly shown itself to be durable. The original owners are long gone, but newer residents have generally positive opinions of the little houses. According to Mrs. Joseph Fila, who occupied an Edison house for half a century, "The twenty-four inch walls keep out the summer heat and provide good winter insulation." Joe Kearny says that the maintenance cost of his concrete house is "zero." Dolores Chumsky is less enthusiastic; her house is plagued by an elusive leak that defies detection. She adds that any prospects for renovation or improvements are doomed. "Just try and get someone to come and make repairs," she says. "They may come in once, but they never come back." Edison's Concrete Homes [americanheritage.com]

        > A monolithic dome is at the very top of what I'd like to build to live in.

        The general impression can be that of a stage set for Star Trek. Catalog of Monolithic Dome Home Plans [monolithic.com], Torus [monolithic.com] Something that even a geek may tire of very quickly.

    • Concrete domes (Score:3, Interesting)

      by amightywind (691887)

      I helped build one of those once in Larkspur CO. Stryrofoam forms, reinforced with rebar, shockcrete... Not sure if the architecture maximizes or minimizes available space. One thing is for sure, the damn thing is bomb proof.

      I find shipping container homes [fabprefab.com] (and other modular designs) to be intriguing. I am glad a genious like Woz has a new creative outlet.

    • Re:monolithic. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ElectricRook (264648) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @07:46PM (#20231523)

      The answer to that is easy. concrete dome.

      There's a common geek mistake, choosing form over function. Having a lower skin area to volume makes a house a little more heat efficient, but functionality falters real quick. There is a lot of wasted space caused by having curved walls when most furniture is square. Try to hang a picture on a concave surface. Granted a rounded blob looks pretty cool from the outside, but there is a reason very few were ever built.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by MysticOne (142751)
        Just because one form's function doesn't translate to another form doesn't mean either is necessarily flawed. Build your own furniture (or have it built), come up with different ways to use the space, and otherwise change your lifestyle so it works better with your chosen dwelling. If your point is to maximize space and efficiency, you're going to have to do this anyway.
        • Re:monolithic. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by timmarhy (659436) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @08:11PM (#20231667)
          yes, because building all your furniture to fit your ill shaped house is practical.

          circular use of space is highly inefficent. ever tried to stack a pile of balls? there's a lot of wasted space there.

          This is all besides the point that you build a house to fit around YOU, not the other way around.

          • by BigDogCH (760290)
            "circular use of space is highly inefficent. ever tried to stack a pile of balls? there's a lot of wasted space there."

            Completely incorrect, circular use of space is the most efficient use possible. Nobody is talking about living in a pile of homes here.......this is about a single ball.

            "This is all besides the point that you build a house to fit around YOU, not the other way around."

            Ahhh, so the problem is that logic is being replaced by ignorance. Why is it the moment someone proposes a way to ad
        • change your lifestyle so it works better with your chosen dwelling

          Change your lifestyle to fit your dwelling? I don't mean to be rude, but... Get a spine...

      • by zakezuke (229119)

        Try to hang a picture on a concave surface.
        You don't, you hang from above and let dangle with chains/wire/rope, with an optional one to the wall. Problem solved. You can go for eye level or have it printed 30x20 and hung from above at a slight angle. Or display on a tripod. Not like you can't hang on a concave surface, just it's difficult without seeing the wire or using a very strong bolt/post.

        Now, the real issue becomes how does one dust/clean such a home.

    • Concrete domes.
      Insulated concrete forms.
      Straw bale (area permitting).
      Green roofs.
      Cordwood.
      Timberframe.
      Stacked timber.
      Earthships.

      See them all at ThinkTank Designs [thinktankdesigns.ca]
  • Whoa (Score:5, Funny)

    by Philotic (957984) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @06:39PM (#20230961)
    I don't think I can handle that much awesome in one headline. Careful there, submitters, some of us have conditions.
  • Passive house (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Aminion (896851) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @06:41PM (#20230981)
    There's already tons of research on the concept of energy efficient houses. One popular approach is called Passive house [wikipedia.org] and it's pretty amazing how much energy you can conserve.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ucblockhead (63650)
      What Woz brings, as he essentially tells the journalist, is a name that attracts journalists and gets them to write articles on the subject.
      • by jedidiah (1196)
        You don't need to look like a freak in order to have a remarkably more energy efficient home. You can take tract plans and just apply a little bit of common sense (2x6 & shove more insulation wherever you can) and get very good results. There are some "native" construction techniques like adobe that do very well for energy efficiency and are not bizzare looking or require a particular species of tree. Using quality components and demanding good workmanship also can be very helpful.
    • Thanks for the great link, but that seems to be heating-centric. Does anyone know what the model is for high head & humidity climates?
    • The house in that article has a lot of windows. This is how it says they were made:

      To meet the requirements of the Passivhaus standard, windows are manufactured with exceptionally high R-values (low U-values, typically 0.85 to 0.70 W/(m.K) for the entire window including the frame). These normally combine triple-pane insulated glazing (with a good solar heat-gain coefficient, low-emissivity coatings, argon or krypton gas fill, and 'warm edge' insulating glass spacers) with air-seals and specially developed

      • Re:Passive house (Score:5, Interesting)

        by KokorHekkus (986906) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @08:11PM (#20231669)
        Depends on where you live.

        In Sweden tri-pane glazing is pretty much standard these days (the place I lived that was built 15 years ago had tri-pane, currently living in a house built in the 60s with ordinary double-pane. I can't imagine any new windows being anything that tri-pane around here. To get it just look at this thermal image: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/f/f2/Pass ivhaus_thermogram_gedaemmt_ungedaemmt.png [wikimedia.org]

        When it comes to heavy duty insulation there's more of a trade-off. It's not the insulation itself that's costly but the building process. If you build a heavily insulated house it needs to be air-tight with forced ventilation if used it in a somewhat cold climates. Otherwise the humid air inside will travel along the existing openings and when it makes contact with colder ares it will create condensation. And that condesation will lead to a mold problem... which is usually pretty bad.
    • by smchris (464899)
      Yeah, the Woz shouldn't have to do too much research. Over 20 years ago, houses were being built in Southern Minnesota that only needed electricity to run the heat exchanger and your appliances. Check out: The Art of the Possible in Home Insulation by David A. Robinson, and the University of Minnesota Ouroboros South Project.

  • by Ancient_Hacker (751168) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @06:41PM (#20230985)
    Using the heat of crystallization of Pine resin is a really cool idea, but it seems unlikely there is that much heat capacity there. Dang, my CRC handbook doesnt list that number.
    • He's also talking about building in Southern coastal areas of California that have mild temperatures all year. Most homes in those areas don't have air conditioning. They have lots of cooler weather, it rarely gets over 85F there. Now try that pine resin trick in the central valley (Sacramento), on days when it's well over 100F, that trick won't work too well.
      • by SteveWoz (152247) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @11:58PM (#20233013) Homepage
        Actually, the Enertia.com site shows homes mostly in very hot or cold places and the testimonials are outstanding. I think that 3 of them have been built in California and I believe that all 3 are in very hot areas, like Auburn. I'm looking forward to a huge reduction in energy usage. My current energy bills are quite large. I may build in an AC system anyway but it won't use as much power as at my current home. I don't want to get into pissng contests about what is better than something else. I do want to make a major improvement for myself, that's all.
    • by jcr (53032)
      Oh, I'm sure there's a lot of heat capacity in the pine resin, which will be all too apparent when a brush fire comes through.

      Building houses in California out of highly flammable materials doesn't seem like a good plan to me.

      -jcr

  • by DMoylan (65079) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @06:50PM (#20231069)
    i'd love to see buckminster fullers house given a chance.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dymaxion_house [wikipedia.org]
    • by geekoid (135745)
      Make plans.
      Buy some land, then have one built.

      Even a piece of land in BFE and use it as a vacation place.

      I look forward to reading your blog and seeing the pictures.

  • by Sponge Bath (413667) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @06:52PM (#20231083)

    get it the best that can be done with the fewest resources...

    Like placing a reset button right next to the door bell?

  • energy and pollution (Score:5, Interesting)

    by roman_mir (125474) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @06:52PM (#20231085) Homepage Journal
    I like things simple with fewer parts and fewer added technologies. Just think out the right ways to build a home and do it. So few people know how easily all our homes could have been energy efficient rather than energy wasters. I suppose it's an outcome of the fact that energy is so cheap and abundant now. I think of it this way. The timeline of history and of man will be many millions of years long. Over that timeline, at some point man was going to find oil and ways to use it. Whenever in time that had happened, the generations it happened for would have used it up. We are those generations using it up, but if we saved it and didn't even touch it at all, some future generation would quickly use it up. The time that mankind has oil may be a short blip on the long timeline of humans. Whenever the discoveries were made, that blip would have appeared. We needn't think of ourselves as bad just because we were the lucky ones to have the oil blip. - this is the same line of thinking that I have about our current energy production methods and the pollution it causes, only there is one more variable here: population size.

    Once the population size reaches some critical mass, there are enough of us on the planet to really impact on the environment in a bad way, but as we do so, we start noticing the problems we cause and eventually in order to survive we have to move to better tech for both energy production and to less polluting manufacturing techniques. From point of view of energy we use what serves us best at the time and at this time burning oil serves us best because it's there, it's easily accessible, it's easy to transport and use. But more importantly it makes it possible for us to grow the total population to a point when we reach yet another critical mass, at this point the oil is going to be pretty much used up and the environment is much worse off then before, but we have so many people working on so many tech advances that it makes it possible to shift to a different energy source (nuclear/thermonuclear/geothermal/black hole gravity pumps or whatever.)

    Increase in usage of certain types of energy and resources allows our population to grow, which pushes the tech forward, which allows population to grow even more eventually forcing us to think of new energy sources and other resources etc. It's all about population growth.
    • Increase in usage of certain types of energy and resources allows our population to grow, which pushes the tech forward, which allows population to grow even more eventually forcing us to think of new energy sources and other resources etc. It's all about population growth.

      Exactly. The new technologies to live efficiently are great, useful advances. But the real key to improving our world and our lives on it.. Stop. Having. So many. Fucking. Kids. Reduce the population. Over one-third of the land on Ea

      • by jedidiah (1196)
        >> Stop. Having. So many. Fucking. Kids.

        Tell it to the rest of the non-industrialized world.

        The "polluting nations" actually have the opposite problem. This has been the case for decades now.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @07:26PM (#20231381)
      "Once the population size reaches some critical mass, there are enough of us on the planet to really impact on the environment in a bad way, but as we do so, we start noticing the problems we cause and eventually in order to survive we have to move to better tech for both energy production and to less polluting manufacturing techniques."

      There are at least two schools of thought on this. One is along the lines you have described, and that technical solutions will be found before problems get too bad. The other is that we will "overshoot" that limit (think about it: a bunch of people are already "on the way" (i.e. born) when we might figure out there is a problem), and things will get really bad before (if) they get better. If people are struggling to live hand-to-mouth because of the poor conditions, they might not have much time to think about technical innovation.

      So, yes, it is all about population growth, and growth in energy/resource use per person, but whether it will play out the hard way or the easy way when we reach practical limits is very debatable. Certainly, many biological systems don't handle that limit gracefully, and historical human civilizations aren't much cause for optimism either (although the constraints were not usually energy, but agriculture). We have the benefit of enough intelligence to perhaps see the problem ahead of time, but that doesn't mean people will react to it collectively and effectively in a reasonable amount of time.

      I'm not trying to be cynical, but it might be much harder to adjust than you suggest, and it might require radical solutions. To pick an extreme example, a mud and grass hut in a warm climate or an igloo in a cold climate are very energy efficient homes and composed entirely of renewable materials. That doesn't mean that they would let us keep our current lifestyle if we decided to adopt them, or were forced to because the resources to sustain more elaborate housing were unavailable or prohibitively expensive.

      I look at it this way -- as the original poster suggested, yes, oil would have been used eventually anyway, but as a currently energy-rich industrial society we have an obligation to either find an alternative way for the next generation to continue with a similarly rich lifestyle, even as non-renewable resources dwindle, or to fundamentally change.

      I don't want the next 10 generations to be scraping out a meager living while cursing my generation for squandering the golden opportunity granted by a cheap energy supply. I don't want people to look back on the 20th and 21st centuries as a "golden age" when things were the best they ever got for humanity, and it was downhill from there. I want it to be sustainable or better. Anything less is irresponsible to the many generations of struggle that got me here, and the many generations that I hope will follow after I'm gone. The last thing I want to do is be complacent about the challenges, and expect it to just happen automatically.
    • by NoMaster (142776)

      <quote="Woz">We needn't think of ourselves as bad just because we were the lucky ones to have the oil blip</quote>

      We're not bad because we're the lucky ones to have oil; at least sensible people don't think that. The belief that it's "bad" is the woolly thinking of the loony fringes, and the consequences of dumbing down the debate/education to fit into the mass-market delivery system of the media.

      What is "bad" is the near-total disregard we've had of the side effects, and the near-absence of p

    • by timmarhy (659436)
      "at this point the oil is going to be pretty much used up "

      asshole greenies have been spouting that bullshit about oil running out for the last 20 years, and there's still millions of barrels produced every day. crude oil is a finite resource, there's no doubt, but please PLEASE stop talking this rubbish that we are going to run out of oil in our life times. Your basing this on absolutely nothing but propaganda from various anti government organisations.

      hell when i was in high school they were telling us

      • by roman_mir (125474)
        You are taking my words out of context. Here is what I said:
        But more importantly it makes it possible for us to grow the total population to a point when we reach yet another critical mass, at this point the oil is going to be pretty much used up and the environment is much worse off then before, but we have so many people working on so many tech advances that it makes it possible to shift to a different energy source (nuclear/thermonuclear/geothermal/black hole gravity pumps or whatever.)

        I was talking abo
  • Here's A Few Already (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @07:02PM (#20231191)
    Some very simple house designs that have a lot going for them: straw bale houses, yurts (see www.yurts.com) and the sort of concrete-over-foam that Habitat For Humanity build. Can Woz really improve on these? I figure he'll find something that already exists and popularize it, with a bit of apple polish.
  • Build Quality (Score:5, Insightful)

    by failedlogic (627314) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @07:06PM (#20231229)
    I think the better idea is to start first by thinking about build quality of houses. My house has had several repairs - things which were minor things to do right the first time end up costing thousands of dollars. The quality could easily extend to Woz's (Woz'z ? ;) ) analogy of the computer.

    If the goal of the energy efficient house is to save money on heating and cooling, my thought is we have to look at the expenditure of a house across its lifetime. The materials needed costs something in energy to manufacture, transport, etc - nails, screws, tiles, 2x4, shingles, etc. When these things are thrown away due to shoddy construction* - it leads to more energy demand and wastage to replace it.

    *Its usually not the materials that fail except in natural disasters. In disasters. better construction practices, building to code or better codes would help. Again quality the issue.
  • Whenever I hear about wealthy people talking about the environment I always have to wonder if they are serious about improving it, or just seeking acclimation from the public
    • by SteveWoz (152247) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @12:16AM (#20233093) Homepage
      Yes, and in my answers to questions I covered that issue, although I feel it's more a matter of feeling just personally that you do things that are good. We all do many good things and tell ourselves that this makes us good about everything.. That may be part of my reason for building an unusual energy efficient home, even though it's not consciously so.

      In my case, I just bumped into a very cool technology. David Pogue was a judge with me and had the same reaction. I'm planning to move out of my comfortable large home and live without an air conditioner. If you knew me, you'd know that this is a major sacrifice. I will also have to be able to build a wood house and keep it that way. In expensive communities like where I currently live, you don't have much choice over even the shade of gray you paint your house. If it's wrong, the neighborhood committees make you repaint it. If you stain they get concerned if the stain you used wasn't approved.

      Oh, I could always ditch to a hotel (or Hawaii!) on a hot day, ha ha. But actually, after my last kid graduated from high school I had a big house with a nice view and I used very little of it and I will be more comfortable when I complete my new home.

      I have VERY little time compared to most people to plan and build a new home. For example, I'll only be home from my crowded schedule 5 days in the entire month of September. So it may take me a year or two to accomplish this whole thing. It's not rush-rush. I don't want to pay someone to build it for me either. I want to do it myself. Hopefully I'll have privacy.

      I don't want to promote myself to the public about this. I'm sorry such appears to have happened. I don't even know how I got asked the questions. I must have run into someone casually and mentioned my home or the topic must have come up in some context. I pu the questions off for weeks but finally got an hour to reply to them this morning from a hotel in Boulder, Colorado, where I drove [with] my son to college.

      I wish this had not been publicized. I want to be a good example but only on a person to person basis, not publicly. I have a good history of this. I didn't publish CD's or books on computer use, like Apple wanted me to. I privately taught classes to young students for 8 years with no press at all. I can go to my former students' graduations and see that I had a part in their lives. I avoided any management role at Apple for the same reasons. When things get like politics, count me out.
  • how many houses? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Sebastopol (189276) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @07:15PM (#20231285) Homepage
    has this guy built? i mean, just staying in the same house forever will save far more energy than building X number of new ones, regardless of how energy efficient they are. seems a bit self-inconsistent to me, dare I say hypocritical.

    • He's advocating using sound energy efficient design principals in the event that you will be building a house. I don't think his scope is 'world wide'. When energy costs keep climbing and climbing (see: gasoline, electricity, natural gas) it's a good idea. If costs continue to climb at their current rate, your energy costs might begin to approach your mortgage payment!
  • The Fountainhead (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Graff (532189) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @07:21PM (#20231339)
    After reading this article it dawned on me - Steve Wozniak is a real-life Howard Roark [wikipedia.org]. Woz matches pretty closely with the fictional character: they both have uncompromising principles, they are both creative geniuses, they both use the materials and techniques of their craft to achieve creations far beyond their peers.

    I wonder how Woz would feel about the comparison.
    • by ucblockhead (63650) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @07:38PM (#20231461) Homepage Journal
      There's one huge difference. Howard Roark was an asshole.
      • by Graff (532189)
        I'll totally agree with that, everyone always says that Steve Wozniak is a great, easygoing guy. Howard Roark certainly doesn't come across as being anywhere near as pleasant as Woz does.

        Aside from that they really do seem similar, at least when you consider their outlook on the projects they undertake.
      • by FleaPlus (6935)

        There's one huge difference. Howard Roark was an asshole.
        Hm... so I guess in that case Howard Roarke is Richard Stallman instead?
  • Although I think Woz was talking about end-to-end efficiency, it's not too much of a challenge to build an energy-efficient house in someplace where the average temp varies between 42 and 82 [weather.com] (nasty flash). How about a more challenging location with a wider range [weather.com]? How about someplace at altitude [weather.com]? Talk to me about energy efficiency when it's butt-cold in the winter, with no sun, and triple-glazed windows are the standard. When summertime is unbearable heat, oppressive humidity, intense solar UV, or giant brain-sucking mosquitos. It's easy to build a show home in paradise.
    • by dgatwood (11270) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @08:12PM (#20231675) Journal

      While I can't solve all your problems, I have a few ideas that might be worth trying.

      For windows, during the summer months, you want high reflectivity. During the winter months, you want low reflectivity to let more radiant energy in. Solution: double windows. The outer panes swing open like shutters. The main window can behave however you want. The outer pane basically consists of a two-way mirror, and closes during the summer heat. It opens in winter to let more radiant energy in. Make it electronically controlled based on the output of a photocell on that particular window. Alternatively, use shades in the same fashion.

      For added thermal conversion factor, use the most dirt cheap black and white passive matrix LCD panels you can find as shingles. During the winter months, set them to black so that they absorb energy and convert it to heat (and disable the vent fan in your attic). During the summer months, set them to transparent (with a foil back) so that your roof reflects the sun's energy back out. Alternatively, use a crawler robot to stretch out a reflective Mylar sheet over your roof during the summer and retract it during the winter.

      To warm yourself further in the winter, you'd ideally like a solar concentrator. Use an array of mirrors that track the sun and focus light on your house. During the summer months, point them instead at a solar collector to produce electricity. Alternatively, during the summer, burn the house down with the solar concentrator (due to a "technical glitch"), collect the insurance money, and buy a beach house in Florida. :-D (Kidding!)

      Mosquitoes like standing water. Drain and fill the lake. Alternatively, pour alcohol on the surface of the lake and ignite it during breeding season. Alternatively, turn it into a salt water lake.

      Other issues? :-D

      • .... Solution: double windows

        Interesting idea, but there's the extra cost of making a standard single or double hung window where the outer glass panel flips off to the side. During the summer the house is a darkroom because all the mirrors are closed, so we turn the lights on, and now we're burning dinosauce. How about some light with minimal UV and IR? Yea, didymium [wikipedia.org] and auralens [auralens.net], but that won't be cheap.

        use the most dirt cheap black and white passive matrix LCD panels you can find as shingles

        Have I stress just how intense the sunlight is? The UV will kill your LCD in a couple months. And I don't know how I'm going

      • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @11:24AM (#20237191) Journal
        Another way of dealing with radiant energy is careful design of eaves. The sun is higher in the summer and lower in the winter, so by extending the eaves, they largely shade the windows in the summer but leave them open in the winter. Lots of people put up sails (essentially) in the summer to shade the side of the house.

        What I've done is use mylar-coated bubblepack, that claims to be 99% reflective for heat, on swinging frames, in the attic. In the summer, the frames are swung up against magnetic catches perpendicular to the sunlight, so the heat radiating in from the roof is reflected right back, while in the winter the frames are parallel to the sunlight and all that radiated heat hits the ceiling of the house itself. You wouldn't think, with 75 cm or so of insulation on top of the ceiling, that it'd matter so much, but it makes a 15 degree C difference in attic temp, which definitely affects the temp inside the house.

        Tracking mirrors are very expensive, take enormous amounts of maintenance, and take up a lot of space. It's much better to just dig the house down into the ground as far as you can and rely on the ground heat. Some clever people have been doing stuff with digging a very deep hole, filling it with sand and embedded tubing, then building their house on top, and spending the whole summer pumping heat from the house down into the sand, and relying on it throughout much of the winter. A physicist named Ted Thompson, who was involved with early atomic bomb design, was doing later work with having crawl spaces open to the outside during winter and spraying fine mist into them, forming immense ice piles, then using that for cooling for the early part of the summer. (ice lasts a long time with just a little insulation, if there's enough of it.)

        Lakes aren't the problem with mosquitoes: puddles are. Lakes have fish, which eat larvae. Plus, in most locales, salting a lake would probably be illegal and certainly would piss off your neighbors. Turning wetlands into lakes is much more effective, but screws all the wildlife that was living there. And, for the record, alcohol is 100% miscible with water, so in order to burn a lake you'd have to pour roughly 45% of the volume of the lake worth of alcohol in there and burn it. If you're convinced you need to burn a lake, what you want to do is pour oil on the lake and light that up: it floats and doesn't mix.
    • by bcrowell (177657)

      Well, I have the usual Californian's reaction to that. Why the heck do people live in places like Alberta, or Texas? They just aren't habitable. My wife is from Buffalo, and now we're living in Southern California. The only way she's going back is in a coffin.

      Even so, having lived up and down the California coast, I can tell you that it is by no means paradise, if by paradise you mean a place where the average person is willing to live without using heat and AC. My mother lives on the Monterey Peninsula.

    • by aaarrrgggh (9205)
      Ground Source Heat Pump. Earth temperature is constant, equal to the average annual local temperature. It is possible to build a passive ground source heat pump, but not easy.

      As for the triple-glazing... well, have less window area, provide heat shades for night time in the winter, focus on radiant heating and cooling.

      Passive energy efficiency is the best way to go, but there is no excuse for using electric radiant heat in a cold climate, or air conditioning systems that aren't optimized for local climat
  • > Build it right and with few parts it does a lot. Don't cover things with more and more and more technology for features.

    And when you need an extra room, don't convert the loft - just knock the house down and build a new one. Think continuous revenue stream^W^W^Wdifferent.
  • by G4from128k (686170) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @07:56PM (#20231567)
    Woz can help remove CO2 from the atmosphere by using lots of wood or plant fiber (from local sustainably-managed plantations, of course). If each person on the planet used about 30 tons of wood or plant fiber for their house, it would return the Earth's atmosphere to it's pre-industrial level of CO2 (1 ton of wood sequesters roughly 1.2 tons of CO2). The only challenge (aside from growing enough wood) is termites which have a nasty habit of converting wood into CO2 and methane.
    • by geekoid (135745)
      It would be better ti just bury the wood, trapping the CO2 under ground.
      • I don't see how burying wood is better than using wood unless Woz finds another building material with a lower total footprint. Given that the footprint for wood is strongly negative (assuming a local plantation using sustainable techniques), I have a hard time thinking that he can find a better material (even rock has a positive footprint). Perhaps underground storage of wood offers a slightly better sequestration (near infinite versus 50-200 years for a home), but I doubt even this is true if you factor
        • by geekoid (135745)
          Then how did all the plants that made fossil fuels get trapped for millions of years?

          Anyways, yes use it for houses; However look into other item.

          I was half joking, but now I wonder how much carbon a 10 year old tree contains, and how much it would take to seal them away.

          yes, I know not all tree as the same.
      • by jcr (53032)
        If you bury the wood it will rot and the decay bacteria will release CO2 and methane.

        -jcr
  • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @08:26PM (#20231773) Homepage Journal
    If he actually cared, it would be more like this:

    1. Use as little space as possible, so as to reduce unnecessary energy use.

    2. Realize that the more space you devote to a garage, the larger the number of inefficient automobiles you will buy to fill it.

    3. Spend all money saved in replacing inefficient corporate jets with green jets that use half the fuel to carry the same passenger load - or ride coach.

    But that would be efficient design of an energy-efficient house.

    Now, maybe he'll get a plug-in hybrid for the garage, that gets more than 100 mpg, that might help a bit.
    • The goal is to maximize comfort for the minimum footprint. You want to use as much space as you can afford (up to the point where additional space does not make you more comfortable) as efficiently as possible.

      You weren't supposed to think the cities of "Caves of Steel" were great places to live.
    • by SteveWoz (152247) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @12:24AM (#20233141) Homepage
      After my last kid graduated from high school I had too large a home. I don't use it all. That's one of my big concerns. I don't like things bigger or more complicated than what I want. It's part of how I think. I'll be as comfortable as ever in this smaller home.

      I don't use corporate jets. I drive my hybrid most places. I won't get a plug-in hybrid because I have come to feel a connection to our earth and the plug-in hybrid uses more resources overall. It saves gasoline directly but burns a lot of it to charge the batteries and uses much more in terms of cost - more than you'll get back in gas savings ever. Cost is reasonable to apply as 'resources'. As I mentioned in my answers to questions, if you spend more energy creating a solar cell than you get out of it in its usefull life, that's a no-brainer. It sounds good but the net is not. Actually, hybrids in general don't fare too well by this analysis but they are justified by very low pollution. I would weigh that my Prius using gasoline and batteries, with U.S. software to put low pollution above gas milage, pollutes less per mile than the plug-in hybrid will. In other words, I don't think that the coal burning to generate electricity is very good as to pollution, but I could certainly be wrong.

      Also, I do care about such things as energy efficiency but I do not act as though you are good to do it and bad not to. I don't put anyone down for living their own way in this regard. It's for me and for me only.
  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Tuesday August 14, 2007 @08:30PM (#20231795) Journal
    Hard to believe the Woz can be taken in by this whole "southern yellow pine" bullshit. Energy efficiency is much more than using the same wood we us by the million board-feet here in the southeast. I happen to be an engineer who workes in the residential market, and I can pretty much guarantee that there is no miracle in S. Pine.

    There is a certain amount of value to thermal mass, but it's not a panacea. You see, if your diurnal cycle lies outside of your comfort zone, it's going to take a massive amount of energy to keep those walls at your comfort temperature, and solid substances used in building are all very conductive. Want R-19 walls? Great - go build your walls 15 inches thick! Getting that temp cycle to work for you requires that your average temp is your indoor desired temp (Lisa, in this house...).

    When thermal mass houses are subjected to extended cold (like we have here, even in Virginia), they suck - heat that is.

    There are lots of great things you can do, but energy efficiency can be helped most by doing the following:

    1) Don't build a new house - buy an existing one.
    2) If you build, don't do the code minimums - they are there so production builders can make 25% while giving you a Wal-Mart quality product (excuse me, "affordable" housing is what they call it) ... and the best way to save energy...
    3) Move somewhere where you don't need to heat or cool your house to be comfortable.

    Now, if you're still dead set to build something energy efficient, give me a call and we can talk about my fees. The last house I built from scratch - about 52,000 conditioned cubic feet with several hundered square feet of windows in a 6500HDD environment cost me just about $40/mo to heat and cool, on averge, throughout the year.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Megaport (42937)

      I have to agree. As much as I love the Woz, its time that he put down the crack pipe on this one. According to TFA, Woz is shopping around a few Californian locations such as Half Moon Bay to build the house...

      Thus sayeth the Wiki about Half Moon Bay, California [wikipedia.org]: Half Moon Bay usually has mild weather throughout the year. Hot weather is rare; the average annual days with highs of 90F (32C) or higher is only 0.2 days. Cold weather is also rare with an annual average of 2.5 days with lows of 32F (0C) or

    • by scottv67 (731709)
      3) Move somewhere where you don't need to heat or cool your house to be comfortable.

      Are you fucking high? Are you suggesting that we abandon the northern third of the US because we need to heat our houses in the winter?

  • I am looking for sites but haven't had enough time to narrow one down yet. I'm mostly interested in areas of the California coast, like Half Moon Bay or San Luis Obispo. ... I have always had an interest in my own self-sacrifice to help the environment.

    Oh yeah, because living around the California coast is such a self sacrifice. I mean Half Moon Bay? Who could think of living there? Only savages. [ritzcarlton.com]
    • by SteveWoz (152247) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @12:30AM (#20233171) Homepage
      Throughout the year, most of my transportation is in my Prius and on my Segway. I probably spend the same amount of time in each when I'm home. I take the Segway to town and to concerts almost every day when the weather permits. I don't want to live where it's too hot and humid, despite my love for Austin, Orlando, New York, etc.

      I may move to a hotter place in California, or even out of California. I could have a normal house or a less normal house with some interesting aspects. I prefer to go the latter route, and it is a sacrifice for me not to take the safe route.

      The self sacrifices I refer to are great amounts of my own money that I tranferred (as in charitable contributions) to environmental groups. Liking California doesn't run counter to this. I have contributed to many important forest and river groups in California in fact. I suspect that you read me wrongly.
  • by Icono (238214)
    The energy of conversion is the energy it takes to change a matter's state from a solid to a liquid, or back again. The temperature of the matter remains the same, be it liquid or solid, only it's state changes. The energy of conversion for water from a liquid to a solid is about 1,050 Btu/pound of water.

    I don't know what the energy of conversion for the resin at 71F is, but that house can store and release thousands of BTUs over the course of a day and night.
  • I say DUH... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mr_nuff (212669)
    I've always been impressed with the Dilbert Ultimate House http://www.dilbert.com/comics/dilbert/duh/index.ht ml [dilbert.com] as an example of a cool looking and functionally efficient dwelling. If anybody could lay down the cash for one, Woz could.
  • Wozniak mentions a material called "ram-dirt", but I can't find anything on that term online. Anyone know more about this?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by wish bot (265150)
      Rammed earth - does what it says on the can. Build a form, ram earth into it. Been a building method for....ever. Linky - http://www.rammedearthhomes.com.au/ [rammedearthhomes.com.au]
    • Re:ram-dirt? (Score:5, Informative)

      by SteveWoz (152247) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @12:34AM (#20233193) Homepage
      It goes by other names. I have heard about 3 names used. Basically, if the dirt where your home is to be built has enough clay content (30%), which is common, then a [$200,000] machine is brought to the construction site. The dirt is dug (top 2 feet can't be used because of organic content) and a sealant (various shades of 'green') mixed. The mixture is compressed by the machine and a block comes out which is laid in the sun for a week or two. The blocks are grooved in the case I'm familiar with so they fit together and nails are not used.

      Maybe other names are ram-earth or compressed-earth.

Take care of the luxuries and the necessities will take care of themselves. -- Lazarus Long

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