~ Snowy Roofs~!

(This is a re-post from 2 years ago but I felt it was timely and so here it is again!)

Ah the snow ~ There is nothing I geek out on more the day after a snow storm than driving around looking at other people's roofs. Last night we got 22" of snow in my home town. The way snow melts off of a house roof tells the story of the roof's insulation inside.Different amounts of snow tell the story in a different way. Heavy snow will tell the story more in icicles and  what I call snow slumps-large swathes of snow falling down a roof.  

Ice Dam

Why do icicles happen?  Well really what is going on are called Ice Damns. Ice damns happen when heat from inside the house flows out of the house- mostly through the roof (because heat rises). When the heat flows out through the roof (because there is not enough insulation) it melts the snow that is touching the roof. That melted snow turns to water and runs down the roof until it gets to the gutter/ eave and then it starts to drip down. However since the air is very cold (less than freezing) the water turns to ice and as more water comes dripping down the icicles grow longer.

Bad roof diagram

What's bad about this is that at the gutter line a LOT of ice is forming! And behind that ice the dripping down water that has not frozen yet is creeping into and behind your roof shingles, sometimes popping them up and often penetrating through to the interior of your house and then causing water damage in the ceiling near the roof eaves. Bad!

The way this problem shows after a light snow fall is with stripes on a roof. Look at these 3 pictures. All 3 of these houses are neighbors, they face the same direction. ( and yes, sun and wind can often throw off the results!) They quickly reveal the levels of insulation in each house. 


House #1 has very poor insulation. You can see the white stripes at each roof rafter. There is likely no insulation between the rafters which is why you can see the black asphalt shingles showing. The heat from the house has poured through and melted all of the snow off the roof. Where the rafters are, the heat gets though more slowly and thus there is still a bit of snow clinging there- un-melted. You can also see at the over hangs and the porch roof below there is still all snow in tact. That is because there is no heat flowing through there- just cold outside air.


House # 2 is less 'bad' but you can see the same patterns emerging. This house may be moderately insulated in the floor of the attic/ above the living space.

By the way if you ever see the opposite- broad white stripes and thin black ones where the rafters are- that means there is some decent insulation in the rafters- probably batt insulation- but it pulls away from the rafters, or is not well installed, so it is letting heat sneak out right along the rafter lines.

The third house (below) was recently built and I watched it go up and I happen to know that it was very well insulated with blow in insulation and sheathed with the Zip System which provides a great air infiltration barrier which inturn makes insulation perform to its highest potential. Good job! All of the snow is in tact! No heat is leaking through! 


Here is an example of the detail for a decently insulated house:

Better roof diagram

Have a look at your roof today and the next few days as your roof melts! Do you need more insulation?

BTW: simply insulating your roof can cut hundreds and hundreds of dollars off of your heating and cooling bill per year. Payback times for this kind of work are usually less than 2 years! Why not !!??

Happy sledding ~ Elizabeth

May 29, 2010 ~ House Parts: Insulation

OK, let's talk insulation.

The number one basic rule in creating an energy efficient building is 'first address the envelope'.

What does that mean? Well, when we say envelope we mean the outer shell of the house. The roof, all of the exterior walls. the bottom floor/ slab/ basement/ crawlspace (whichever the case may be.) So the first goal is to make that envelope a) very well insulated b) very well sealed by filling any holes, penetrations, nooks and crannies and cracks  c) protected from moisture infiltration and d) protected from air infiltration.

A lot of people's reaction to this is 'I don't want to live in a sealed box!' or 'Isn't it bad or dangerous to completely seal your house??' while it is true that a house needs to be sealed with care and that concerns about air exchange need to be addressed, you actually do want a well sealed home. AND just to ease your mind- addressing the air exchange in a well sealed house goes hand in hand with sealing the house. It is a given- like breathing- no architect or builder who builds well built, well insulated, well sealed houses will ever 'forget' to provide fresh air (unless they are a completely crazy or utterly incompetent and you will have noticed that long before you get to the building sealing stage! ) 

Basically I always use my swimming pool analogy. If you own a  swimming pool, you want to be in control of when the water leaves or enters your pool. If your pool was full of little cracks you would have no control over the water. You would have to continually fill the pool and constantly adjust and observe water levels, and all sorts of problems would occur in the area of the cracks (the cracks get bigger, deterioration of the liner occurs faster, dirt and critters collect there,etc, etc.) You want the same for your house. YOU want to control when and where air and moisture come and go. Simple. Logical.

Ok - back to the rules of the envelope list:  a) very well insulated b) very well sealed by filling any holes, penetrations, nooks and crannies and cracks  c) protected from moisture infiltration and d) protected from air infiltration.

The last 3 have to do with preventing the flow of air and moisture through the walls and are addressed through caulking and flashing and various tapes and sheet barriers (think Tyvek- tho we don't use Tyvek exactly). The reason you want to keep moisture and air from flowing back and forth through your walls is that air and moisture are the very things that cause building material deterioration, mold and mildew and dust (major allaergens), dust mites (which lead to spiders), insects and critters, etc. All are bad! bad! bad! for a house! never mind you the occupant. Remember the laws of physics: hot moves toward cold, wet moves toward dry. Air constantly wants to move through your walls and moisture travels on the air. We want to keep air and moisture from traveling through the walls. We want to control where and when it goes in and out ot the house and we will do it though ducts and vents and other specifically planned appetures. (AND we will talk more about how to do that in another post.)

One other thing that the flow of air and moisture do is that they reduce the functional R-value of your insulation.

SO now lets focus on the first item on the list - the insulation.

There are many types of insulation and they are all rated by one rating system and labeled with something called an R-Value. R-Value is a measure of thermal Resistance. The higher the R-value the better the insulation is at keeping heat or cool  inside your house at a steady temperature - this is because it is better at not allowing the heat to pass through it (either going out or coming in)...thus the term thermal resistance.

Most houses that were built in the post war era used fiberglass batt insulation (the pink stuff, the stuff you don't want to touch or breathe, the pink pather stuff, the stuff as one insulator I know says 'works GREAT as a filter! Cause the air passes right through it! which makes it not so awesome at thermal resistance' ) Usually we find houses of this era built with 2x4 studs so that means there is fiberglass batt insulation- about 3.5" thick slumping in the walls. Unless fiberglass batt is meticulously installed and unless it never aged and pulled itself off its staples overtime - its not really filling the wall cavity. Bottom line- its not the best insulator, it needs to be really well installed and almost never is, it falls and gets dirty over time, its bad for you to work with, critters don't mind it. We never specify it. We can't even believe people still use it as their primary insulation.

So what are the options. Well in the old days people used all sorts of things from straw to newspaper, to mud, tires, almost anything has been packed into walls. But we want something easily available, verifiably tested, regulated, readily installed, fire resistant, critter resistant, clean, mold and mildew free, etc. If we are going to make a good, well sealed, clean and healthy house we want insulations that work and work with our newer building methods.

The options we look at fall into these categories:

Blow in foams (Open cell or Closed Cell)

blow in 'other' (cellulose, fiberglass, cotton)

Batts (cotton or other)

Rigid Foam Boards (XPS, EPS, Polyiso)


24 May 2010 ~ What Kind of House Do You Drive?

17 May 2010 ~ House Parts - Siding

04 May 2010 ~ A 'rant' from Justin the conscientious realator...



(But remember ~ Justin is in Colorado- things are a bit different here in the North East…but not much…)


Hybridize Your Home!

‘Hybridize Your Home’ is a term that I like to use to describe the path to alternative energy because it seems like so many think that energy efficiency is still the realm of granola-eating hippies at the one end, and the changing of a few light bulbs at the other.  Hybridized makes us think of smart neighbors that drive a Prius and have Scandinavian designed computer bags.  Also, hybridization implies multiple systems functioning simultaneously, or trading off when it is better for one to work than the other.  Which is perfect for describing how we can improve the value, livability, and carbon footprint of our homes.

I raise hybridization and alternative energy with you as your Realtor because it is fundamentally tied to the cost of your home, and the long-term enjoyment and comfort of that home.  (As always, email me at or give me a call at 303-955-4618 for specific information about your home, or to schedule a free consultation).  

Because it is beyond the scope of an email, let me give you ten quick ideas to think about alternative energy and the direction that you need to take to maximize the use of your dollars, and to minimize the cost of living and the energy that you use.

As a general rule, lower your consumption through efficiency and smart choices, then look to the sun.  Here are some important steps.

1.  Look at your energy bill!  Most people just see the shocking number at the bottom, but you need to look at the breakdown between gas (or oil) and electricity.  Chances are that, if you are in Colorado, you spend vastly more on gas (North East = Oil) than you do on electricity.  Also, it is important to remember that the energy company is a privately owned, for-profit business.  By law they seek to maximize their profits, which means they want for you to spend as much as you can.  See them as a direct competitor for your money, so they are not a reliable source when you have questions about how to minimize your energy needs.

2.  After you determine which is greater, consider that you will get more bang for your buck by first focusing on more efficient gas systems than on replacing your electrical system.  It looks really good to get that big rack of panels on your rooftop—and I encourage that--but it is always cheaper and easier to go for the other things first.  Let the savings from a tank-less system pay for those panels in a few years.

3.  ‘Go Tank-less’.  Tank-less hot water systems have come a long way.  They are expensive if compared to the up front cost of a conventional hot water unit, but that difference is paid off quickly.  It costs more to keep a conventional hot water heater hot than it does for one person to actually use a tank-less system.  Think about how really stupid it is for us, as a nation, to be keeping 4.8 billion gallons of water hot all of the time.

That’s right, about 4.8 billion gallons of water are being kept hot right now.  We could save that energy every second of every day just by going tank-less.

4.  Replace when things break.  Most of us have old hot water heaters and forced air heating systems.  If you have a furnace that needs new guts, or a hot water heater that has rotted from inside out, then now is the time to go tank-less.  Tank-less systems can REPLACE your furnace AND provide you with hot water.  The savings are massive (can be about 50%).  These systems seem expensive up front, but remember the cost to our society—4.8 billion gallons being kept hot every second of every day.  The cost of the replacement is actually trivial by comparison.

Remember, the energy companies are your enemy in this.  4.8 billion gallons of sitting hot water is nice payday for them, so the nation by being sensibly alternative costs the private energy companies Trillions.  Oh, that is not a loss unless you watch Fox.  Those trillions saved by you can be used to spend on other things that you might want more.  Things like sending your kids to college.  A new car.  A nicer home.  You get the idea.

5.  Solar Thermal Supplement.  (SOLAR DOES WORK IN THE NORTHEAST! Not as well as it does in Colorado, but it does work). Solar thermal panels can quickly heat water to near boiling temperatures, so much of the time this can provide you with your domestic hot water needs (if you can adjust when you shower and do the dishes, solar thermal systems can easily replace the need for any other hot water system.)  The panels are also relatively inexpensive.  The water from the sun was so hot, that …

I have lived in homes where all of the domestic hot water was provided by the sun.  Other than showering in the afternoon instead of the morning, it is really no big deal.  In traditional homes, this super hot water, provided free of charge by the sun, can go a long way to heating the home, also.

6.  Boiler Replacement.  If you have a boiler, not a furnace, then consider a new boiler.  New boilers operate at 96% efficiency.  Old boilers commonly do about 55%-60%.  You can cut the heating cost in half.  I have paid off boilers in 3 years, so as a simple investment it is kind of a no-brainer.  I know that it isn’t sexy to, say, forgo buying that new car, but pay for the new energy systems first—the savings will pay for the car in a few years.

Again, the energy companies are not your friends.  They want for you to pay them to pump natural gas into your home and to generate electricity by burning coal to boil water to turn a generator so that they can run electrons through your wires.

7.  Boilers will do your domestic hot water.  If you have a boiler you can easily add a zone that will heat all of your domestic hot water.  The boiler has vastly more power than a hot water heater, so it does so much more efficiently and cheaply.  You can also add a couple of cheap rooftop solar thermal panels, which will supplement this system, also.

 See the pattern here.  Make your system more efficient, then look toward the sun.  Don’t get all solar, first.  You will need giant, costly systems if you try to go all solar without getting efficient first.

 8.  Now that the gas (oil) hogs are eating less, get to the electric.   Here is a punch list of electric savings:

A.  Turn off your lights, silly.

B.  Hang dry most of your clothes.  You don’t need lines outside, just get a pile of plastic hangers and hang the clothes on a rod, on a door, on the shower curtain, even in the closet.  It will humidify your home and your clothes will smell great.  The dryer is one of the two big hogs in your home.  It takes seconds and saves you a bundle.

C.  Electric piggy number 2 is your refrigerator.  If you have an old one, get rid of it.  Get rid of the old on in the garage or basement, too.  We buy massive amounts of food in bulk to save money, then we spend hundreds keeping it cold or frozen for six months.

As a note to anti-regulation bozos, the refrigerator is the great example of how regulation can work in our favor.  Basically modern refrigerators use about 40% of the energy than those built in the 70’s.  Our scientists and engineers are smart, just give them the right problem and they can probably get it done.

D.  Hitch all electronic devices to power strips—in one or two easy locations--and turn the strip on and off as needed.  You can also buy a $5.00 timer so that you only have the power strip turned on during specific times.  Do it manually if you don’t want to do the timer thing.  I have built switches into my house so that I can turn off specific outlets that are likely to have charging devices or items like stereos that always seem to have something turned on.  This is impractical for many, but it makes a difference.  Think, how many clocks do we need?

There are billions of devices that are turned on, but not being used.  A power strip and an ounce of conscience would save us, as a nation, billions of watts.  

9.  Get that bill out again—After you have made some easy changes--how many watts do you use now?  Once you know how many watts you use each month, then you can predict the size of solar system that you would need.  It is much, much cheaper to simply turn things off than to buy another 1000 watts in generating power, I can show you this if you don’t believe me.

10.  Net metering!  In most places you now have net metering.  When you are generating power that you are not using, your meter runs backwards.  You are giving to the grid and other users can take advantage of your personal power generation.  Easy.  No political battles.  No giant federal programs for those of you that are celebrating ‘Confederate Month’, and no more infrastructure.  It is really quite brilliant.  The sun is shining and it is hot.  You aren’t at home, but your solar panels are generating power like crazy.  You are sitting in your office, and since your office is using electricity, and your home is making electricity and giving it back to the grid, you are indirectly contributing clean energy to the cooling of your office.

Think of the city as a giant tree and each rooftop as a leaf of that tree.  The existing electric grid is like the branches of that tree, so the system is already in place to distribute the power generated by individuals.

I know that I harp on this point, but the energy companies are hostile to this system because they no longer monopolize power generation in a world that is focused on utilizing solar energy.  Each end user has the ability to also be a provider.  It is naturally co-operative and about nearly as red, commie, socialistic as nature itself.

If you want a preachy, personal rant on the stupidity of the rhetoric of our times, then that is also free of charge.  I’ll even buy the coffee!

11.  You’re still on the grid, so you don’t have to pay for perfect.  These few easy steps, done over time by everyone, would cut total household fossil fuel usage by about 75%.  Maybe more.  It is important that everyone know that this is a smart investment in your own home, and not a moralistic expense.  This isn’t Buck Rogers technology, either.  It is off the shelf technology, particularly cost effective when installed in the place of outdated systems, backed up by the system that we all currently use and understand.  It is simple and insanely inexpensive when compared to the trillions of dollars that we will spend in order for the energy companies to provide us with energy that they produce.

If you have read this far, you are truly my people and I thank you!





26 April 2010 ~ Alternative Building Materials

06 April 2010 ~ House Parts - Windows

01 April 2010 ~ Rowayton- Solar Day

31 March 2010 ~ Facelifts

We love to give existing houses facelifts! Saving what you can of an existing home is perhaps the most 'green' thing we can do as architects and builders.

31 March 2010 ~ Communication, Please!

31 March 2010 ~ Ceiling Fans


We encourage the use of ceiling fans! Especially in energy efficient houses because they make such an impact.

A tighter, more well insulated house already requires less heating and cooling -as you know -and it shortens the heating season and shortens the cooling season. (The amount of time you have the heat turned on during the year, and the amount of time you have the AC turned on during the year)

Fans make the cooling season even shorter. Instead of using air conditioning - say 30 -60 days during the summer -you may use AC only 5-10 days during the summer.

Our houses are designed for cross ventilation and fans. Cross ventilation alone is good, but if you add fans it makes it much more useful/ efficient- especially at night.

How about with a geothermal system?
"We have a geothermal system. Does this still apply? The cooling comes so efficiently from that system."

Well, it costs electric to run the cooling for the geothermal (pump and fans). I guess its the difference between the electric for geothermal and fans...which is more? I just asked my contractor bud and he said fans would be cheaper than running the geothermal for sure.

What we do at Trillium Architects

At Trillium Architects we believe in quality. We believe in building homes that work, last and are loved. Looking forward into the past we believe that you should live in a home that you would be proud to leave your grandchildren - and one that will last long enough for that to be a possibility.

We have just begun observation of the construction of what will be our second LEED Home. We have recently completed 3 new homes in Fairfield County, CT (one of them LEED Certified Home) and have one new home in mid-construction outside of San Diego, CA. The common thread that runs through these homes is that they are all super energy efficient, sustainable, relatively small homes (for Fairfield and San Diego Counties). We also have a number of additions, renovations, curb appeal upgrades and deep energy retrofits underway.

At Trillium Architects we design green homes.

What does GREEN mean? Green is an umbrella term that means:

  • energy efficient
  • sustainable
  • healthy
  • low maintenance
  • low carbon footprint
  • natural
  • environmentally friendly
  • smaller in size
  • appropriately sited
  • practical
  • beautiful
  • enjoyable
  • user-friendly

At Trillium we pride ourselves in doing 3 kinds of ‘Green Homes’:

  • New Green Homes
  • Green Home Additions and Renovations
  • Deep Energy Retrofits 

16 March 2010 ~ Rowayton - Design Drawings and Concept

16 March 2010 ~ Rowayton Foundation and Basement

This image shows the foundation of the Rowayton house. The foundation is constructed with a product called Superior Wall. Superior Wall is a a pre-manufactured insulated concrete wall system. It comes to the site in large panels shipped on trucks and lifted into place by crane. The panels are set on a gravel foundation and bolted together on site. The manner in which they lock together creates a weather and water tight bond which is then also water sealed along all of the outside underground surfaces. The benefit of something like superior walls is that they are pre-insulated (Similar to ICF’s*) and due to their T-shape they break a great deal of thermal bridging*.