Innovative solutions for creating healthy, efficient, eco-friendly homes

November 2001

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Houses That Really Work

Thirty years ago I was teaching physics at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, and living in an old farmhouse. In winter, the best that could be said of my 1809 farmhouse's uninsulated walls was that they slowed the wind to a moderate breeze. Many were the nights my wife and I couldn't keep a candle lit and took to our bed for survival. Some sympathetic soul lent me a copy of Rex Roberts' Your Engineered House. In it, Roberts, an MIT-trained engineer, dissected the structures we call home into their major components and subjected each to two questions: 1.

The Truth About Wood

Should deck boards be installed bark side up or down? The answer: Install it best-side up, whichever it is.Think you know the facts? Read on... The overwhelming majority of our homes are made from wood. Even masonry and steel homes contain wood.

No-Fault Fire Protection

You may not have heard of arc fault circuit interrupter breakers, but you will. AFCI breakers are a new safety device designed to help prevent fires caused by damaged or worn electrical wiring. According to the National Fire Protection Association, problems in either a building's permanent wiring or cords feeding power to electrical equipment cause nearly 43,000 fires each year and kill some 370 people. The most common locations for these fires in a home are bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens and storage areas.

A Question of Value

Walk through any hardware store today and you'll see evidence of a profound change that has taken place over the past 20 years. Chinese tools and hardware are flooding the American market, offering consumers a bewildering array of options where once only homegrown and a select few European manufacturers offered their wares. Right up front, I should note that some of my tools and hardware made in mainland China have worked well and have been a pleasure to use for many years. Some, however, have turned out to be junk and would have been a raw deal even if the retailer had given them away.

A Painting Glossary

Acrylic: A type of synthetic polymer used as the binder for high-performance, water-based paints and caulks. Alkyd: A synthetic resin used in oil-based paints. Alligatoring: A scaly pattern that appears on paint due to the inability of the paint to bond to a glossy coating beneath it. It can also be due to the application of a hard coating over a soft primer, or (with oil-based paint) because the wood was re-coated before the undercoat was dry. Binder: A component of paint that binds the pigment particles into a uniform, continuous paint film and makes the paint adhere to the surface.

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