Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Successful Tiny House !!

The Tiny House movement deserves some study as a sustainable housing strategy.

Historically, the biggest problem is finding a place to put your tiny house.  Zoning and building codes have made it nearly impossible to do legally.

The town of Spur, TX, made a conscious commitment to allow them, so a guy named Conor had one built and installed in Spur.

He documented his schedule and costs

Here's the detailed story with all the cost information, but I will summarize:

It cost a total of $47k, which includes the cost of the house built on a trailer of $24.7k.  He thinks that a Tumbleweed home would have been double that.

The best news is now his monthly cost of housing is just $4.21 for the property tax.   Utilities run about $227.  Food is on top of that.

Conor is completely happy with the final result, and gives kudos to the open-minded town of Spur:  "I really do applaud Spur for opening up their town to people like me and houses like this one."

There's one more hero in this story.  Tom Meyers is the building code official that prodded the IRC into eliminating the 120 sq. ft. minimum requirement for habitable space.

Other towns have seen the light, joining Spur recently is Walsenburg, CO, and Osprey, FL

To Conor and myself, paying lot rent of $200+ at a tiny house community just doesn't make any sense if you are trying to be self-reliant and minimize your long term expenses.  Eventually, that tiny house community will be eliminated, just like cities have been getting rid of mobile home parks since the 1970s.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Heat Pump Dryer Update III

The LG heat pump dryer is finally available.

Heat pump dryers are a big deal because they use a lot less electricity than conventional dryers.

The Whirlpool dryer is also ventless.   The LG requires a vent because of its "quick cycle".

"While the Whirlpool only has a single 1,300 watt element and lacks a vent, we found it to be faster than the LG on nearly every cycle. For instance, the LG's Normal cycle took upwards of two hours when we used the heat pump, while the Whirlpool's took just under an hour and a half. The tradeoff? The Whirlpool's fastest cycle was around 45 minutes, while the LG's Quick cycle took only 25." - - Jonathan Chan at

 Conventional vented dryers actually cause your house's heating system to approximately double the amount of energy used by the dryer in winter.  That's because the air blown outside by the dryer has to be replaced by cold outside air.

The Whirlpool heat pump dryer is currently backordered at Home Depot, which could mean either the demand is huge or they are having production problems.

UPDATE:  6/6/2016 -- The Whirlpool  WED99HEDW  is again backordered at HD, and they slashed the price by 44% to $943.   Again, this could mean demand is huge or it's being phased out due to poor sales or field problems.    Since the Home Depot reviews were quite good, I bought one.  It will eventually pay for itself.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Thick Media Swamp Coolers Still Get the Job Done in Denver

Last year I replaced my cheap swamp cooler with a better unit.

The old one did the job during heat waves only if I overcooled the house at night and shut it off during the hot part of the day.

The cost of the better coolers had prevented me from upgrading, but I snagged one for less than half price in October 2013:

With the new 8" media cooler, I can just set a room temperature with the thermostat and forget about it.  For $20/month, I can keep my house at 68F most of the time.  Nice!

De Blasio is Getting it Wrong in the Uber Debate

Bill DeBlasio thinks Uber needs a lot of regulation.  It doesn't.

UPDATE:  DeBlasio caved in and has abandoned this dumb idea.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Unvented Attic Solved Without Foam

Since 2007, I've been arguing against vented attics, which are the most common way to make a roof for a house.

Around that time, the IRC started allowing unvented attics that are insulated at the roof plane with foam.

This spray foam method has proven to be expensive and dangerous, so I've been hoping for a better way.

Once again, David Posluszny, inventor of the Shirley Wall, has provided a solution:

This is still a difficult installation process in a retrofit, accessing the soffit area is tough.

But if you are building a new home with a cathedral ceiling, this will be relatively easy and cheap.  The furring strips make it easier to install drywall.  As usual, don't install any electrical in the ceiling due to the air leaks it can cause.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Vancouver is Winning in the War on Cars

Denver has a war on cars.  Conservatives and libertarians don't think city government should be engaged in this war.

In Vancouver, however, it is now apparent that if cars lose the war, there are benefits:

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Fluid-Applied WRBs are Getting Our Attention

A house needs a weather resistant barrier (WRB) underneath the wall cladding to divert wind-driven rain.  Asphalt impregnated felt paper was the most common WRB for 100 years.  Then about 1980, builders started using Tyvek.  It had at least three advantages:  The 12' length of  the rolls saved labor cost, you can tape the seams, and it doesn't tear as easily.  Taping of the seams meant that it could also serve as an air barrier, and reduced the infiltration rate of air moving through the house.

Now it appears that the best WRB is "fluid applied" which means it gets sprayed on like paint.  In some wall designs, it can serve as both a seamless air barrier and fastener-free WRB.

Check out Matt Risinger's work on the topic:

Monday, April 20, 2015

Housing Demand is at a 50 Year Peak in Denver

Housing demand is important, otherwise there are no reasons to build low and zero energy homes.

Here's some advice for house hunting new Denver immigrants:
Your best option is Capitol Hill, where the older, more affordable apartments are.

Older neighborhoods close to light rail have 2-3 bdrm homes for $1700 and up.  Some have basements which will add 1-2 more bdrms.  All these close in neighborhoods have started getting their own brewpubs too.

I have some rental homes, and it looks to me that the market will stay incredibly tight this year.  That means a feeding frenzy for every advertised house or apartment.  So using Craigslist to find a rental can be a frustrating waste of time, with a lot of disappointment and wasted application fees.

My advice is to find some solid management companies that seem to have a lot of inventory of apartments and homes.  You can pay an application fee and if approved, get on their waiting list.  Make sure they explain to you how their waiting list works.

You simply can't wait for a showing to see if the place will be acceptable.  Find companies you trust and jump on what they offer you.

I like and have dealt with Cornerstone, Wheelhouse, Boutique Apartments, Fourstar, Distinctive Dwelling, Realm.  I'm sure there are more out there I don't know about, but the newer ones could be scammers.  Read the Yelp reviews, but take the occasional bad reviews with a grain of salt, otherwise none will make the cut.

I haven't heard of anyone testing this method yet, so please report back if you try it.

BTW, more than half the renters I talk to these days are new to town and moved here because of legalization.  I think most folks have really underestimated the economic impact it is making.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Denver is Getting it Wrong on Short Term Rentals

Mary Beth Susman and Denver City Council are looking at the issue of short term rentals in the city because the zoning department has reported a total of 9 complaints about them.

Since 1956, it has been illegal to rent homes and apartments for less than 30 days.

With the popularity of  websites like Airbnb, there are 1000 landlords in Denver currently flouting this law.  Since it is such an obscure law, most landlords have been unaware of it.  The nine with complaints have been threatened with fines up to $52,000/year

Council is considering changing the law under the condition that the rental is the landlords primary residence.  I don't know where this strange condition came from, maybe some other city thought it was a good idea, and Denver is trying to copy their model.

When questioned about it, Ms. Susman, the chairman of the Sharing Economy Committee, said:

"Homeowners may operate one dwelling unit for rental periods of less than 30 days.  This unit must be part of their primary residence.  The reason for this is if a nonresident investor is allowed to offer multiple dwelling units for short term, then those units are out of the city's inventory of affordable long term rental housing.  The result of that is higher rents across the city."

It sounds logical at first, but there is absolutely no data anywhere to support this assertion.

Councilman Chris Nevitt said, "I don't see embracing a new model of lodging that doesn't play by the same revenue rules as the old model of lodging," .   "We are here to embrace new models of business, but we aren't here to pick winners and losers."

Chris, do you understand what "disruptive business model" even means?  Instead of supporting the aging status quo, consider what Long Beach did when the new Uber-style taxi companies began taking away business from the old-guard, regulated taxi companies.  They loosened the old regulations!  Smart.

So I'm just urging Council to gather and then consider only facts, not write laws that address fears.

Here's what might really happen - If investor short term rentals are truly as profitable as everyone thinks they are, then many more will be built in all the zones where additional units can be built.  This increased supply could drive down prices for short term rentals to the point where these new units are returned to the long term rental pool! Remember, I'm just speculating.  Council, please don't write laws based on speculation.

The "primary residence" requirement is the newest in a long history of specious arguments for various zoning regulations.   I'll list a few:
  • "We must provide 1.5 parking spaces for every dwelling unit in the city or parking citywide will be awful."  (This was true in all zones until changed in 2010)
  • "We must not allow more than three unrelated adults to reside in a single dwelling unit or the neighborhood will be horrible."  (Also changed in 2010)
  • "We have to provide tons of parking at the light rail station and prevent parking in the nearby neighborhood or else parking will be awful." In fact, increased transit ridership reduces parking requirements citywide.
  • "We must not allow rentals of less than 30 days or else the neighborhood will go to hell." (This probably will be changed because there are 1000 illegal short term rentals in the city and only 9 related complaints)
We turned up the following document from the City of Colorado Springs website.  It indicates that the Springs is proud of their tourism heritage and trusts its residents to self regulate short term rentals.  Apparently Denver City Council doesn't trust us to act like adults.