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Are mountain houses with the prow windows energy efficient?

Post in 'The Green Room' started by fergie, Mar 11, 2007.

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  1. fergie

    fergie New Member

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    Hi, just found your site and I'm impressed. Thank you!

    My fiance and I are building a home in the northern Catskill Mountains of New York.

    We are trying to choose the most energy efficient design.

    I've seen many designs that feature the big prow front window in the "great room," which is open to the second floor.

    I like the idea of maximizing our light and mountain view, and if we chose such a design, we would have this prow facing south, so we would get plenty of sunshine as we are sitting in an open field.

    But I wondered, is all that glass better or worse for energy efficiency?

    Also, does having the great room open to the second floor help you to heat the home or does it disperse the heat too much?

    We are planning to have a big wood stove in the great room on the main floor, so I'm wondering does having the room open to the second floor mean all that heat travels up and heats the upstairs, or again, is it just getting dispersed?

    I know a lot depends on how well insulated the windows and walls are, but if anyone has any insight on this, I'd be much obliged.

    Thanks in advance,

    Sarah

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  2. MountainStoveGuy

    MountainStoveGuy Minister of Fire

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    common windows definatly have a lower r factor then 2x6 walls, so there less energy efficient. In the daytime on sunny days there fantastic. At night that room will be chillly. Like most mountain homes, you live ther for the view. In my case, i chose to have alot of north facing windows because of the view. I dont even have curtains on them. I figure i pay for it with energy usage, but i might as well build a house in town if i dont want a view.
  3. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Your concern is justified. These large walls of glass can have less than 1/8th the insulating value of a 2 x 6 wall. And if they face south and they can become heat furnaces in summer. There are better designs to soak up the view, yet shield the windows with overhangs in the peak of summer.
  4. Homefire

    Homefire New Member

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  5. Corie

    Corie Minister of Fire

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    Sorry to go OT, but where are ya in the Catskills?

    My grandparents call Downsville home and I have been going there since I was born. Nothing feels closer to heaven to me than being at their house in Downsville.
  6. fergie

    fergie New Member

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    I know Downsville. We're in Bovina. Yes, the whole area here is beautiful!
  7. kevinmoelk

    kevinmoelk New Member

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    Ah house design. At the end of the day most people are going to compromise between aesthetics and efficiency. For efficiency you'll look at a south facing home, high insulation factor, tight construction, thermal massing, small size, etc. etc.

    For aesthetics... well the sky is the limit. In general, the more glass you have in your home the less efficient it will be. There is that "frit" (?) stuff that large commercial structures are using now that is suppose to make glass very efficient. However, the cost factor of this "super glass" will be out of the question for most homeowners.

    Here's my idea of compromise: Build a small home, just enough space for the number of people who will live there. Generally speaking a single person can be content with 700-1000 sq ft. Each additional person will yield another 200-400 sq ft.

    I would integrate living spaces. By that I mean develop an open floor plan with the majority of space devoted to the activities you and your family enjoy. I would build an open living room/dining room/kitchen area.

    The bedrooms would be on the small side. What is a bedroom used for? Sleep. So why have a bedroom that is 500 sq feet? Better to devote that space to common family space.

    I would eliminate hallways. Hallways are for the most part a useless waste of space. In some instances they are necessary, but in many cases bedrooms and bathrooms will empty out into hallways, which in turn empty out into a living room. Why not eliminate the hallway and just empty out the bedroom into the living room?

    Focus utilities in a logical manner. Wet walls from the kitchen sit back to back with the bathroom, etc. Speaking of bathrooms, why do so many architects have so many full baths? I would have one awesome, luxury bathroom that the family all shares, then compliment with much smaller bathrooms... like a toilet and a sink in a closet sized room. In that way your resources can be devoted to have greater luxury in the one bathroom. Granted, with children or multiple people trying to get ready in the morning this may not be feasible. As far as bathrooms were concerned, my grandparents home was set up in the manner I described. I asked my father how 4 people all were able to get ready in the morning, and his answer was that the main time killer in the bathroom was bathing. By taking showers at night the family avoided the morning rush.

    These are just some ideas to throw around. A highly efficient house can be built, and I won't get into that as many a book has been written on the subject. The fact remains that most people will end up somewhere in the middle of efficiency and aesthetics. Welcome to the forum Fergie. If you would like a list of books to read on energy efficiency or passive solar design concepts I could recommend several, as I'm sure many of the members here can. To answer your original question, it is my opinion that a prow front is a total waste in efficiency. Careful placement of windows and furnishings can provide spectacular views of the outside... and if you really want to get a better view, I think one should venture outdoors.

    -Kevin
  8. velvetfoot

    velvetfoot Minister of Fire

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    Aren't there some requirements for energy efficiency of new houses? I recall reading of computer programs that calculate heat loss based on house construction so that the house has to be under some numbers. So, if you have big window area you need more insulation in walls and roof. Elk would probably be a good source of info.
    If the window wall is facing south you'd need moveable insulation of some sort for the windows for the hot days and the cold nights, I imagine.
  9. fergie

    fergie New Member

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    Thanks for all your responses. I suspected that about the prow design, that it wasn't as efficient, tho I was hoping the heat lost thru the glass could be compensated by the heat pulled in by the sun during the day.

    If anyone wants to recommend some books on passive solar design, green buildling, etc, I'm all ears. I know there's lots out there.

    I also wondered how well wood stoves do in heating these "great rooms" that are open to the second floor. I guess I have to ck what the stove manufacturer says

    We have an old wood stove in our little 16 x 16 cabin with sleep loft, and it cranks! But not sure how well it would do in a great room with prow windows open to two floors....

    all the best,

    Fergie
  10. nshif

    nshif New Member

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    I have somewhat what you are speaking of, the whole front of my house is glass. I live in the Sierras at about 5000' elevation and it gets cold....into the teens. the windows are double paned and low e and face southwest. I have a 22' ceiling in a 16X24 room, open to a loft. I have 2 ceiling fans at 18' that help to keep the heat evened out. Its not the most efficient setup but I do get alot of solar heat in the afternoon if the sun is out. Probably not a 50/50 trade off but Id rather have the view and burn a bit more wood. Triple paned windows with argon would even be better but costly. Heres a pic during const.

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  11. fergie

    fergie New Member

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    Thanks for the pic, nshif! your house looks beautiful!
    How do you heat it, if you don't mind my asking.
    Or if you dont' want to get that personal, what do you recommend?
  12. brian_in_idaho

    brian_in_idaho New Member

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    Fergie, we just moved into our place, and have a prow design, unfortunately it happens to face North to optomize our view. I think you're idea of a South facing wall will be fine, you will get a lot of solar heating in the winter. Our old house was a "chalet" design with a open 2-story great room facing south, worked well. Only question is how much the heat will bother you in the summer, and if glare is an issue. It isn't for us, and the house is no problem to heat with our wood stove. You will probably want to look for some very good "low-e" rated windows (pretty much standard anyway) to cut down some heat loss at night or heat gain in the summer due to radiant heating.

    One thing to think about is that the prow design adds a lot of labor to the construction process, I'm not sure how cost sensitive you are. We did scissors trusses on the great room, and standard trusses on the balance of the house, these were up in 2 days, should have been one if the truss truck had better access to place them. Anyway, the framing for the high part of the prow wall, and that section of roof, took a week. You could get a similar effect with almost the same window layout if you kept the front of the house "flat", that's what I meant by a "chalet" design. I have to say though that the prow does add to the asthetics.

    Brian
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