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May 2010

Dagbog maj 2010Diary for Home for Life – 10.05.2010

No news from the test front... in a long time.

Many busy days have passed in the Home for Life in recent months. Since our last post, Christmas, New Years and Easter have suddenly rushed past.

For us as a family the time has first and foremost has been characterized by having a baby in the house again with changing diapers, interrupted sleep, fixed routines and all the other pleasures we had almost forgotten since the last time.

The challenges for us as a test family have thankfully become a little less in the same period. There has probably been about the same flow of journalists, photographers, anthropologists, study groups, customer delegations and other good people. In contrast there have been fewer technical problems with the house and therefore no urgent need for visits from trades’ people. And that is nice. The house now functions on virtually all points. The necessary seals and adjustments have been made and we have been told it has had the desired effect: the house energy level is at the expected level.

..Well, we completely forgot Easter when there was open house the whole week. We chose to evacuate the house and move to a rented summer house!

Warm winter
We probably should have written a diary two or three months ago, amidst the most severe winter in living memory. Who can remember how cold it really was and for how long the cold persisted, now that spring has long since come and the grills have been working in many gardens.

For most people the bill for heating the dwelling from freezer-cold to normal room temperature, fortunately first shows up after next heat-meter reading.

But there were really many cold days in this harsh winter. The displays in the hall were checked daily on our way out the door. As low as minus 16 degrees, as we remember. And do we not remember the exact temperature; we need only look at the graphics on the screen. Column charts showing month by month, how much power the house has used and how much power and solar energy it has produced.

The house was inaugurated just over a year ago, so now you can see the finest normal distribution of power - completely evenly distributed around a markedly high consumption in January.
Less evenly distributed are the solar cells electricity, and solar panels heat production. They are almost at zero in a period of four months from November to February. But it fits very well, not only was it dark most of the day, as it is used to be at that time of year, but at times there was also snow on the roof and which blocked the energy production.

And no – it has not been cold in the house this winter! The question has been asked quite often. It was almost the contrary, for even if there was snow on the roof, the low could sun reach far into the house and periodically delivered a lot of heat - repeat a lot of heat. So much so we had to vent excess heat out during the day and before bedtime, so the children could sleep. A bit unfortunate for the energy balance of course, but absolutely necessary for comfort.

We have also extensively used both the outer and the inner solar curtains to shield us from the sun and thus, this interfered with the automatic and inevitable increase in energy consumption.

Curiously, we come to remember the winter time as the period when we had the most heat in the house, or at least when there were greatest temperature fluctuations. But it is also remembered as a great winter with the most beautiful winter landscapes and sunsets just outside the large panoramic windows.

Healthier house?
One goal of the Home for Life is to create a good indoor environment for occupants' health and wellbeing.

Do we thrive? Yes, by and large, we cannot complain. Are we heal thy? Yes, mostly.
But the real question is: Do we thrive better and are we healthier than if we lived in an ordinary house, for example our own traditional ‘70s detached house?

See, this is what we call a difficult question. For we have not gone around with electrodes to measure our values or vital statistics, counted the number of nights where children had been coughing. And even if our health was measured minutely, it would require that all other aspects of our lives were the same as before in order to attribute any improvement to the indoor climate in the Home for Life.

We can only express ourselves based on our gut feeling. And it says neither the one nor the other, so that indoor air has not made us healthier or the opposite!

Nevertheless, we remember the significant difference in air quality when we moved into the house. Since the house was obviously brand new and clean - it helps of course too. So the experience of better air quality and indoor climate was certainly present upon the occupation and is still there.

It is of course equally interesting to see whether we will feel the same difference, but with opposite signs when we move back to our old house in a few months.

User Driven Innovation
A widely used expression in the Project Home for Life, but what does it really mean? The user invents new technology or the innovation directions are controlled by the user's needs. Probably, mostly the second.

Granted, it took some time to get on to the coherence of the many concepts and features: Pulse-ventilation, column- ventilation, PIR sensor, Forced summer, and more. Probably we have not learned everything yet and occasionally indeed inexplicable things happen.

But gradually we use touch screen and remote controls without thinking about it: Rollers blinds down, putting the zone in the manual setting does not go up again after half an hour, airing out with an automatic closing after 10, 15 or 20 minutes and more. It has been a part of everyday life, like all other technology.

However, it is interesting that it is only us adults that operate the functions. The children don’t touch it. Usually it is kids, who are fastest to adopt new technology….!? 

We think that if children should use a house control system like our WindowMaster system it must have a more intuitive user interface using more graphics than text.

Buuuuuut, there can of course be another explanation why children do not experiment with the innovations here in Home for Life. Entertainment value by opening the window in their room on the first floor with a touch on the screen in the hall is quite a deal less than that wage war against enemy troops in the Age of Empires III on the PC.

Home for Life
May 10, 2010
Sophie & Sverre Simonsen
+ Axel (9), Anna (7) and Marie (5 months)
Test Family in Home for Life

 

 

 

December 2009 

Diary from Home for Life -21-12-2009

Dagbog_decemberThe Climate Conference COP15 is finished, Obama and the other world leaders have gone home. The mood of the media has swung between optimism and disappointment along the way; the political momentum up to the Conference was greater than at any other time, but yet it ended that they left with an unfulfilled mission.

Before his departure, USA’s president Obama held a press conference for the American press, where he referred to the climate challenge  not only as a threat to our planet but also as a great growth opportunity for American industry. At the same time he acknowledged that USA had not had leadership in this area in recent years.

Here in Europe we turn to the forefront with development, of which the Active House concept and Home for Life are good examples. A number of known technologies and new products are tested in conjunction with CO2-minimized building materials and automation of the home indoor environment.

The goal is clear: A dwelling in which architecture, comfort and sustainability go hand-in-hand. Energy accounts are expected to end with a sizable surplus, so that house can not only be called an Active House but over a few years ‘pay back’ the energy that is stored by the materials in the house.

Rescued by the sun
But as in most newly constructed homes the Home for Life is a long way from vision to reality.

We have been told that the energy consumption during the last couple of months is higher than expected. The house has been examined for leaks (and sealed a number of places!), heater inlet temperature has been adjusted and currently we are in a trial period where natural ventilation is switched off (the windows do not open automatically) and it is instead replaced by the air through the ventilation system (with heat recovery). Surely it should save some energy when the cold outside air is not warmed up by floor heating but is pre-heated by the out-going air.

But it can be felt in the indoor environment.CO2 levels are generally higher and the temperature in the rooms vary much more depending on whether the sun shines. We have had temperatures of up to 25 C in the living room on sunny days.

On the other hand it is unfortunately also the other way. The temperature on the ground floor of the house is usually a degree or two under the set point and especially in recent weeks we have not really been able to keep warm.

It was good enough that craftsmen and an engineer came on Friday to do something about the settings and repair the ventilation system which proved to be in disarray. But until now it has not helped. It is believed now that there must be a fault in some valves of the floor heating or perhaps some of the underground hoses have stopped. An error that can occur in any other building. And it fits very well with our feeling that the floor on one side of the kitchen-family room is warm, while the south side is very cold. An observation which has now been clarified as winter has arrived.

Children for life
Since the last report a new reinforcement has been added to the test family. On November 30 a sound and well-shaped little girl with long black hair came into the world.

So now there are sleepless nights, breastfeeding and a lot of laundry for the test family. We can confirm that it feels like we are being thrown back home in ‘Ludo’ and the two bigger children suddenly feel much bigger and live independently! But it is also nice and optimistic again to stand with a brand new person in your arms and to meet its few and simple needs: food, sleep and love.

Speaking of laundry, it is also now clear that the concept of drying clothes in the semi-closed atrium does not really function. It is climate friendly enough, but the weathe r here is simply a war before the clothes are barely dry. So the routine is that the clothes are pre-dried in the atrium for about 2 days before they come inside to hang after air-drying.

We note that the good, old-fashioned method of hanging clothes out to dry outside does not work well enough, but they shall also be completely outside where the wind can reach them. And then you shall have a really, really good time in winter! But we surrendered and we soon acquired a dryer (A-rated of course).

But in the midst of all the moving around of laundry, we now come to consider some things: How lucky we have been allowed to be :-)! Three healthy and well-proportioned children born in one of the richest communities where they can get the best conditions in life.

It is for them and succeeding generations that the climate challenges are indeed present. Maybe this is scary if it goes as badly as the most pessimistic scientists predict.

It is naive to think that developments can be stopped and that we can spare ourselves from global warming. Developing countries have full steam boilers and their legitimate aspirations for increased wealth and prosperity cannot and must not be blocked.

I choose to believe instead that research and development will find solutions to tomorrow’s climate problems. A part of these solutions is perhaps already found in the Home for Life. Good enough for only a small part, but you must start somewhere..

And I wonder if Obama is right: If we know our visiting hours in industrialised countries, there is a huge potential knowledge-based community growth and export of know-how.

Happy New Year and continued good climate debate in 2010!

December 21 2009
Sophie & Sverre Simonsen
+ Axel, Anna and”little sister”
Test family in Home for Life
 

 

 

September

 

Diary_sep

Diary from the Home for Life - 30/09/2009
 
It is autumn and after three months in the Home for Life everyday-life is becoming more routine.

Yes, at least one form of every-day life, because there is always something happening. Technicians, journalists, film crews, architects, municipality people and a few VIPs have passed through our home in a steady stream since the moving in.

Rikke, Johanne, Ellen, Morten, Ulrik, Per and all the others...
What a lot of interesting and motivated people we've met! We are clearly aware that the actors behind the project are represented by a bunch of dedicated and enthusiastic staff with very different skills and approaches to the project.


Our primary contact is the Project Manager Rikke Lildholdt or "Rikke Velfac" we have called her in our family. Rikke, who once a while has a tough job with conflicting interests: to get the project exposure across to the media and other interested parties, while protecting the test family against too many disturbances and give us time to have a normal daily life.
So far she (and us) manages it very well and with a smile, but nevertheless we have had a project-related activity (interview, technician / craftsman, instruction, etc.) in average 1-2 times each week since moving in.

Others are technicians, deeply involved in getting the automation to function, the energy consumption to remain as planned or get the last minor errors corrected, so the house is in tip-top condition.


And then there is Morten and Johanne, respectively our "house photographer" and "house-anthropologist". They both have a capability to enter into our everyday lives without disruption.


It is amazing how they are able to get our children to behave in front of the camera with smiles and joy, image after image. These are the same children who usually hide or stick their tongues out when we parents try to take a good picture of them.


But where does an anthropologist come into the picture? Yes, Johanne works for the Alexandra Institute in a parallel project called Minimum Configuration Home Automation, where Home for life and we as testers are only one part of a larger study. It's about how user-driven innovation works, how users acquire new technology and how applied technology can help save energy for tomorrow's homes ... we believe;-)


Johanne had followed us in our old house for a few months before we moved into the Home for life, where we recorded the energy and water use daily for a couple of months. All this to compare with our new 'green-tech lives. "
Granted, it's a little funny to be watched and studied this way - even by a professional anthropologist. Nice to know what thoughts she has and what personal details are now being noted down, for example, about our family, our ordinary lives and the way we bring up our children ...


On the other hand, there are also many good questions and "exercises", which gives reason to wonder a little about why we actually do things as we do and what good industrial design and graphic expressions mean, whether we accept and use new technology; such as when we had to draw a map of our movements in the house on a weekday and one weekend day. The exercise showed we were really content to stay in about 40 m², where most of our time was apparently spent.
... or our first fumbling attempts to remotely control windows, curtains and awnings, which have now become a fairly routine operation.

We live in a kind of an aquarium and have gradually become accustomed to being studied by anthropologists and other good people. But a tank is indeed made of glass, so we also have really had a lot of fun studying all the people who pass through our lives and pass our windows. So now you are warned! :-)


A race is particularly interesting to study:

Journalists
At the beginning we really didn’t believe that we as testers were particularly interesting for the media. It’s the house, technology and perspective for future construction and environment, which is the focus of this project and our motivation to help. But this is an impression we have had to revise. For one thing, we have gradually learned after several interviews for radio, TV and print media: the human angle is a must! And it's probably true, also OK, because what is all this technology worth if it doesn’t satisfy the human and environmental purpose.

The journalists’ angle can still be very different. Some come from trade journals, where the CO2-optimized building materials will be highlighted, others are looking at architecture and daylight incidence and others interested in the novelty of the world's first active house.

Often the angle is established in advance and sometimes such an article written is already 99% done before the interview, so the journalist is only missing the right opinion of the residents within. How did we become test people, why do we do it, what is different from our old house, and finally the semi-compulsory questions, to dig up something critical: Is there anything - even the tiniest little thing – which does not work??

And so we can talk about all our impressions again and again, but when it comes out in print, or in the electronic media, it is always reduced to a few phrases to match angle of the story. So is the game!


Ha-ha, the most amusing of this kind of interviews was the Brazilian TV Globo, which we otherwise did with great pains to respond objectively to the questions. In the spot, as our Brazilian in-law’s Mother accidentally saw in Brazil, one hears only the journalist speak about it all. But OK, of course we could not respond in Brazilian-Portuguese!

Well, most of them are very nice people to have to visit, so we should be able to handle a couple of journalists more! :-)


Electric-automation, energy use, etc.
In the last post in the journal we promised to return with news of the light which turns itself off, energy consumption and drying laundry.

Okay, now we have eventually found out how most of the buttons function, but it still happens that a light turns off at undesirable times. The other evening I sat and did concentrated work on the computer in the family room. And so I sat and rocked back and forth on the chair one time in between to ensure that the light did not go off. A whole new meaning of "active" house, but from outside it probably has been seen as pretty crazy...

In the meantime, we have also automation on the interior curtains and exterior solar protection. The system is partially controlled by a timer (curtains down at night) and partly driven by energy optimization. E.g. the solar protection goes down if the family room warms up too quickly by the sun, while the inner curtains automatically go down at night to keep heat indoors, but only if it is cold outside. It's smart! ... And more surprisingly the first times when they are all running at the same time.

Laundry is still dried in the annex. Now that it is autumn, we can see drying is not going as fast any longer. But it still works and we can just keep up.

Autumn also means start of the heating season and the heat pump has now come into use. That we have not noticed much in the last months, where the collector has covered the entire heating demand. When the hot water for room heating and hot household water is becoming too cold, we hear the heat pump start and replenish with heat.

And this will happen more and more, because we clearly notice that the sun has lost power. Electricity production from solar cells varies greatly from day to day and from week to week. We still have a comfortable surplus in September, thanks to a sunny late summer, but consumption has also risen markedly. Some of the increased power consumption is of course the heat pump but we were a little surprised that the increase was so characteristic. So the other day we had visits from some plumbing people. Their visits will perhaps cause lower power consumption, but in return it has become full power on the heat in the bedrooms.
Late-September-weather forecast from Lystrup: Tropical nights with up to 27 degrees. Phew!
Probably not decreasing the energy consumption. Well, the heating system will soon be checked again.


Let's see what happens in October, when the heating demand increases and the sun is even lower in the sky. We are monitoring our new ‘house altar’: Touch screen in the house's entrance, where we can read off the electricity consumption, electricity production from solar cells and heat production from solar collector. Exciting, exciting environment’s holy name!


30. September 2009
Sophie & Sverre Simonsen
+ Axel & Anna

The first month

Diary_first_month

 

The first days
It was a long and sweaty moving day on the first day of July. Boxes were everywhere, but it was possible to get the children’s rooms to look reasonably cosy so they could feel comfortable and sleep soundly. For security we let the light in the hallway stay on, so that the children could find their way if they woke up during the night. But a few minutes after we went to bed, it said ‘click’ and the light in the hallway shut off automatically…Ha-ha, we had a good laugh over that!
On the second day it was time to prepare hot food for the first time,,, After cursing over the cook-top for about 20 minutes without the water having warmed up a single degree, Sophie must throw in the towel and called for help. After being reminded that it was an induction cook-top that required all pots and pans have a bottom of steel, we tested the whole arsenal of cookware. 4 out of 5 pots and pans must be put back in the moving boxes ;-)
A quick change in the menu to oven-food saved us from starvation ;-)

 

Beginning to get a grip on the remote control for the windows,curtains and awnings. But not which switches belong to which lamps or wall outlets. It was the same with the Faber blinds that cannot be controlled remotely but operated by switches on the wall. But which curtain belongs to which switch? It is pure-trial-and-error.


Indoor climate
Already the first days we noticed that the air was fresh and good. We sleep well at night, better than in our old house.

 

In the first days of July, there were heat waves (27 -28 degrees C) but the house did not feel too hot. The covering over the terrace and balcony facing south together with the vent through the high-level roof windows on the 1st floor apparently work according to their intention.

 

Then the weather changed on the 4-5th of July: cloudy and windy with showers. The living room is perceived as a cool room, but we blame it on the fact that the floor heating has not kept pace with the change in the weather. In subsequent days it remains cool in the house, especially in the living room. We note that there are open windows even though we feel the cold. Yes, there is a draft so we put blankets around us and closed the windows with the remote control….. but alas, half an hour later they open automatically again! Ha-ha, yes we really notice the deceitful Danish summer ;-)

 

It surprised us a little that we perceive the house as cold; the temperature set-point is several degrees higher than the approx. 21 degrees we had in our previous home. It may be due to the movement in the air, partly from the frequently open windows, partly from the Nilan ventilation system. Also noted a little draft from the ventilation ducts in the living room and kitchen where the ceiling height is not so high and the airflow from the ventilation ducts felt more direct.
We agreed to give it some time to experience the indoor climate with the difference in weather, but at the end of July we contacted WindowMaster anyway to change the parameters of the control.  They were chosen by the limits within which the windows should be open, how much and for how long. Immediately it made an improvement but it is too early to say whether this is the final solution, because in the meantime it was nice weather again.
We will certainly return with news about the indoor climate!

 

Design and Technology versus practicability
Sometimes we cannot help but be amused or startled by some of the design and technological solutions used in the BFL (Home for Life). Let us give a few examples:
- We have understood that the sensors for measuring temperature and humidity should preferably be located 160 cm above the floor, but it need hardly be right at the wall where it would be appropriate to hang a painting, a towel bar or a third thing.
-There is a beautifully appointed kitchen in clean, white lines with doors without handles. Very neat but not very practical in that you therefore have to use two hands to open the dishwasher or behind cabinet doors where only in a few cases are drawers that can be pulled out. This makes it difficult to reach things that are at the back of the cabinet.
-The utility room is very small, which we knew in advance. A hot water tank of 800 litres in addition to DC/AC inverters, a lot of pipes etc. take space, but the fact that there is no place for a broom closet in a house of 190 m² is a travesty. ;-)
- The cabinet space on the main floor can be said as very limited. In the entrance there is a large closet but its depth is so limited that there is no space for a hangar. We have chosen to fill the closet with shoes, bike helmets and other small things, but what do you do with winter coats , roller skates, children’s snowsuits and all the other junk for which there is no place in the utility room? The same applies to the parents’ bedroom with modest two cabinets, which are also not deep enough for hangars. Our hanging clothes are therefore out in the hallway. 

 

Lights
There is a wonderful light and view in the Home for Life! One can see clearly that the window area is much larger than in an ordinary single house. From the family room we have a view to the east, south and west through large panorama windows. The floor in the family room is associated with the tiles on the terrace outside interrupted only by a wall of glass, so outdoor and indoor is perceived almost as a single coherent space. At the same time the window has narrow frames that do not interrupt the panorama.

 

In this room where we live most of the time, we have been able to follow the clouds wandering across the sky. It is especially beautiful when the weather changes. The sun over Århus Bay while dark gray skies come in from the west followed by rain, thunder and lightning…….. and then again clearing up from the west. Really beautiful!

 

There are also a couple of disadvantages to these panoramic windows. The sunlight can be so strong that one must squint. Actually it was Anna, age 6, who first noticed and said that she had a headache from all the light. It taught us to lower the awnings and partially roll the large wooden vertical blinds when the light is strongest. Problem solved!

 

In addition – just as we have a fantastic view- the large windows give passers-by a great ’insight’.  Especially in the evenings when there is light inside and it is dark outside, the family room and living room work as magnets for a look inside. And in the evening the exterior awnings in the family room are useless. With such a large lighted ’display window’ it is understandable that those who walk or drive by automatically want to see in. It is obvious that we need some curtains.

 
Automatic control devices
It took a little time to get used to the fact that suddenly there were sounds in the house when the windows were opened and closed automatically. The first couple of nights when we heard sounds we went straight in and looked at the children to be sure they weren’t laying there and freezing with the windows wide open. No problems: Velux windows open just a little most nights and are situated high enough that no one felt the cold. On the other hand the children were annoyed that it is noisy if the windows move when they are about to fall asleep. And though they may have become accustomed to it now, we must give them credit that the sound of a window suddenly opening or closing can be quite significant in the still of the night: buzz – clank – crack - clunk. The motor itself does not really make a noise, but the handle and window sash that is pushed or pulled at one end makes sounds that are transmitted via the hinge to the frame and probably to the rest of the construction with an obvious creak. As in all new homes we notice something in the first month .. it actually woke us up a few nights – but already after one month, we rarely notice it. During the first days, we often used the remote control to close the windows caused by the cold problems, but now we let the windows automatically control themselves. Only when the wind blows directly into the windows do we shut them manually. But otherwise it’s very nice to know that there is always fresh air in the house.

 

The part of the automatic control devices that we really do not understand is the electrical control:
The light turns off automatically where there is no movement in the room. That’s fine but neither we nor the children have been so bad as to forget to turn off the light. Therefore we experience it most often from the funny side: In the middle of bedtime reading in the children’s room or when you sit and do concentrated work on the computer or…if you have been sitting on the toilet a little too long!  Suddenly it is a very long distance to the light switch in complete darkness.
It would probably be smart with a sensor that detects body heat or the light automatically comes on if you wave your arms for 10-20 seconds after the automatic shut-off.

And then there are the outlets. Electrical outlets are mounted in groups of two: One is controlled by time (or is it perhaps movement?) and the other is permanently switched on, but which one is the one and what is the other? It is not systematic with one to the left and the other to the right. Meanwhile, some family members have more difficulty using the outlets than others. Some switches are good enough with a little push, but in principle there should be a short push to turn it on and a longer one to turn it off. This is a little confusing especially when turning on a lamp with an energy saving bulb which itself uses a couple of seconds to turn on. It usually takes a few attempts before there is light in the lamp.

 

It is practical enough to have some outlets with permanent electricity for example for clocks, TV and videos and others things where you would not normally want interruption. In our case there is no reason for us to have the time or motion-controlled outlets in the bedrooms where you typically turn on a ceiling light and/or a bed lamp, but also turn them off again when you lie down to sleep. We must admit that we have not yet grasped the smartness of these features at this point. Maybe the next months will ‘cast light’ upon the mysteries and blessings!

 

These were the impressions from the first the month or so in the Home for Life. In the coming period we expect to have everything inside in place and then have time to enjoy the later summer from the balcony overlooking Århus Bay. It will also be exciting if we continue to produce as much energy as the first month with the solar cells and sun heating which have delivered much, much more energy that we have consumed. And we are excited about whether we can dry our clothes enough and fast enough on the clothesline in the atrium when the autumn sets in with moisture and cold.

August 10, 2009