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.

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 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.

Foundations: A Gypsum-Board Empire

United States Gypsum, the nation's largest maker of gypsum-based wall panels, turned out some 10 billion square feet of its flagship Sheetrock brand wallboard last year. Overall, industry output was three times that amount. In all, it was more than enough to completely cover the state of Maryland. Cheap and available, gypsum wallboard is used on everything from tract housing to office buildings and is installed by homeowners as well as professionals. And it's a safe bet that virtually no one who handles a sheet of the material these days has ever heard of Augustine Sackett.

The Best Selections in Siding

When you give someone directions to your home, you usually throw in a description, but you probably don't describe the windows or the security system. You describe the exterior walls — usually the most notable part of any home.Siding is in fact the biggest exterior component of almost any home, usually covering more square feet of surface area than the roof, windows and doors combined. It performs a variety of important functions, some physical and some aesthetic.

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