How should Seattle grow?

Earlier this May, the City of Seattle released a draft environmental impact statement as part of its comprehensive planning initiative, Seattle 2035. The statement considers ways in which the city might manage its significant growth over the next twenty years, in areas such as transportation, land use, air quality, and employment.

The city is requesting feedback on the initiative from all Seattle residents through June 18. Comments are welcome in all fields, from managing traffic, to improving pedestrian infrastructure, to maintaining mixed-income neighborhoods. You can view the full text of the statement here, or attend a public hearing scheduled for May 27, 6:00 PM  – 8:00 PM in the Bertha Knight Landes Room at Seattle City Hall.

Save Money on Insulation with PSE

insulationSummer is finally approaching, which in the Pacific Northwest means longer daylight hours and mild weather, and at long last – sunshine. This also tends to mean much lower electricity and gas bills, so taking steps to make your home more energy-efficient may be the last thing on your mind.

But if your house becomes just a bit too balmy during the summer months, consider applying for rebates through Puget Sound Energy (PSE) for upgrading the insulation in your floors, walls, and ceilings. We often think of insulation like a winter coat – useful for keeping you warm in the colder months, but unnecessary in the summer. Actually, the thermal barrier provided by adequate insulation prevents the intrusion of summer heat just as it prevents the loss of heat during winter, working to moderate your home’s comfort level year-round.

Existing PSE customers can get 50% of the cost of upgrading their insulation reimbursed. The rebates are available to those with homes built before 1990, and the work must be performed by a PSE-approved contractor. Check out the PSE website for details on all of the company’s available rebates.

Turn Your Walls into Projection Screens

A diagram from Google’s newly awarded patent.

The next generation of projection screens may be on the way. In a patent awarded to Google in April, the tech giant outlines a scheme for projecting images onto walls painted with photo-reactive paint.

The projection system would project light onto the wall, whose paint would then change from its current color into an image, likened in the patent to a computer’s screensaver. The image would remain until a new one is projected. Quartz staffer Mike Murphy cheekily compares the idea to the window-shade projection screen from 1989’s Back to the Future Part II. The technology could potentially be used to project images reflecting the weather outside, seasonal decorations (think cobwebs for Halloween, tinsel for Christmas), or even up-to-the-minute sports scores and highlights.

With more and more people “cutting the cord” and ditching their cable subscriptions, it may not be a stretch to see the projection screen technology as signaling Google’s vision for a post-TV home video market. The patent, of course, does not guarantee that a product based on this technology will be developed. When asked for a comment on the patent, Google responded by noting: “Prospective product announcements should not necessarily be inferred from our patents.”

The Next Generation of Rigid Insulation

An Oak Ridge researcher analyzes the performance of an MAI panel.

Rigid insulation boards have been a standard component in commercial construction for years. One of the most common variants, polyisocyanurate (“polyiso”) foam board, contains thousands of tiny air bubbles, which limit heat transfer. This results in an R-value – the measure of heat transfer through a material – of about 6 per inch. Over three inches of polyiso board are typically needed to reach the R-value of 21 required for walls by building codes in Washington.

However, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a branch of the Department of Energy, are developing a new type of insulation designed to reach an R-value of 12 per inch. The product, dubbed “modified atmosphere insulation,” or MAI, utilizes air bubbles that are filled with nothing at all – they are vacuum-sealed. A vacuum greatly reduces heat transfer versus a sealed air space.

Vacuum-sealed insulation is not new, but has historically been prohibitively expensive due to its complex manufacturing process. The MAI boards developed at Oak Ridge solve this problem with a much simpler technique: the air pockets in the insulation are filled with a condensable vapor, which is then allowed to cool, reducing its volume greatly and leaving a vacuum to occupy the bulk of the enclosed space.

Buildings account for about 40% of U.S. energy consumption, so reducing heating and cooling loads through better insulation provides a great opportunity to minimize our carbon footprint. For more information on the new insulation, check out this news release by Oak Ridge, or this article in the Journal of Light Construction.

Five Ingredients for an Extraordinary Home

Celebrating the American Home. Taunton, 2005.

Celebrating the American Home. Taunton, 2005.

Want to create the home of your dreams? According to an esteemed panel of residential architects, you’ll need only five ingredients:

1. Right response to site and content
2. Comfortable scale inside and out
3. Livability for everyday life and special occasions
4. Deep respect for materials and craft
5. Distinctiveness, or “wow” factor

The panel was assembled for the publication of Celebrating the American Home: 50 Great Houses from 50 American Architects, a joint imprint of the Taunton Press (best known for their magazine Fine Homebuilding) and the American Institute of Architects. The criteria used to select homes for inclusion in the book seem simple enough, but the result is a startlingly varied ensemble of recent American homes, ranging in appearance, size, cost, and location.