Indy House #8 – Toilet with a Lid sink?

25 07 2008

No, that’s not a photoshop wonder – it’s real- a sink in toilet lid from Gaiam. What better way to save space in a small bathroom than to install a 2-in-one fixture?

This toilet, which functions as a toilet AND a sink does just that (you could call it a triple function if you count the built-in soap dish). Yes, a little strange that you have to straddle the toilet to wash your hands but it enables you to use the water from the sink (called greywater) that would have been wasted down the drain but is perfectly acceptable for filling the tank to flush.

So what about using this for the Indy House, a very small (some would call it intimate) green home that we’re designing? This might be a good way to reduce the number of fixtures in the limited space and it’s a bargain at $89 bucks.

We were going to try to avoid all plumbing in this project and us a Composting Toilet but it might be useful to have a bar sink or slop sink in the house. This is a question for the Owner. We’ll let you know.

Let us know if you’ve had experience with this toilet – its a fairly new product, so we’d love to hear your experiences (and what guests coming to your home have thought!)

Check out previous Indy House posts.


Walls – did you say dirt?

7 04 2008

I know we like to quote treehugger – but they always have such great info!

We found this article about rammed earth construction really interesting – particularly with our project for the little passive solar house that we’re calling the Indy house.

When designing a solar passive home, one of the most important features functionally is constructing the exterior walls to perform as a thermal mass to capture, store and distribute heat throughout the space. A thermal mass could be made of any material – sometimes water, sometimes concrete, and perhaps rammed earth, as discussed in this article.

We’ll need to research rammed earth further to determine whether its a good solution in the temperate climate for our little house in Indianapolis, but for the west coast of the U.S. where the climate is dry, these super thick (sometimes 2′ thick) walls seem to be a great construction solution, creating interesting designs with beautiful striated walls and happy homeowners. As a bonus, these projects are often fabricated with materials found on the site.

Here is a blog we found dedicated to rammed earth construction – there are some great photos of really beautiful walls.


Indy House Schematic Design: Schemes

4 03 2008

OK, we know how we want the house to function – now lets start looking at some ways to assemble the pieces. We want to look at the house as a whole assembly in terms of both function and aesthetics.

Our goal is to design a comfortable environment though the use of simple, natural design techniques and materials. The challenge is how to use pre-fabricated construction materials without looking or feeling too industrial.

With this idea in mind, and keeping in mind our intent to create a solar passive home with easily assembled parts, there are really only a handful of ways to best use the natural resources.

The givens:
* Elongated east-west axis
* South facing glazing
* Southern sun shading device

To explore:
* Angled roof for partial or possibly the entire roof. Should we break up the roof line? or use a flat roof?
* Roof deck/green roof ?
* Vegetation on the walls?
* Entry?
* Shading means: vertical vs. horizontal?

Lets look at some schemes to see which responds best to our needs: (see below, scheme A, B, C, D)

SCHEME A:  Features roof deck, full south glazing (will need vegetation for sun control), transom window.


SCHEME B: features a north facing deck, south facing solar system (type tbd), horizontal louvers shading southern facade, explores an exterior east and west facing facade with vegetation.


SCHEME C:  Features an “L” shaped roof, decorative & functional vertical element, asymmetrical assembly of the south facing facade, sun shading/heat control louvers on the south facade.


SCHEME D:  Features a “V” shaped roof for light penetration, water catchment possibilities, folding doors with shading/heat control louvers.


Indy House Schematic Design: Function

26 02 2008

Now that we’ve found the best location for the house on the site, lets look at the design first in terms of function, before getting too far into the aesthetics.

We’re proposing a passive solar design for the Indy house, using the sun as a natural resource to heat and cool the house. Aside from the Owners being able to best utilize the space functionally for their working and living needs, this design of indoor comfort through a natural heating and cooling means is an essential piece to the success of this project. A passive solar design functions by using the building envelope as a thermal mass to gather, store & distribute heat. The goal is to allow for a comfortable indoor temperature year-round, even on the coldest winter night, and the hottest summer day. This will also drastically reduce the need for electricity for heating and cooling purposes.
Programmatically, there are certain requirements we need to incorporate, including a tiny bathroom (we’re proposing a composting toilet), a small eating area and a combination sleeping space/art studio space.

Looking at the house in plan, we’ve placed the toilet at the northwest corner of the house, opening up the rest of the house to direct sunlight. The kitchen area is situated directly south of the bathroom so as to share a plumbing wall and keep the entire eastern 2/3 of the space open for art hanging and working space. It is essential to the Owner to have as much open wall space as possible to display finished art, as well as works in progress.

Houses designed with passive solar intent try to minimize the number of windows on the facades that don’t face south. If we didn’t need so much available wall space and wanted to maximize other views, we would probably suggest windows on the other facades but in this case, we’re going to just maximize our insulation value and leave the walls opaque. Additional natural daylighting can be gained within the space by incorporating transom windows, which we’ll look at later in the next steps of the schematic design phase.

Structurally, the framing of this house should allow for an open plan to allow as much flexibility within the space as possible – whether it be through a prefab modular system, movable partition walls or completely open – we’ll explore those options more during the next stages of the schematic design phase.

Below, is the schematic plan, as well as an exploded axonometric drawing which diagrammatically illustrates our design intent functionally for the building envelope.

Schematic Plan:

plan 11

Exploded Functional Axometric View:

axon 10

Indy house – Site location or “where should we put it”?

24 01 2008

To recap from the previous blog posts, the project we’re calling “Indy House” is a small accessory refuge we are proposing on the site of an existing home in Indianapolis. It’s purpose will be to provide artist studio space for a writer and a painter. Our purpose is to illustrate the discussions behind the decisions made in a sustainably designed home.

The ideas we’re developing are for a small prefab workshop-type building, about 250-350 SF, using the concepts of passive solar design to reduce energy costs and to let the little building live as lightly on the land as possible.

All of these considerations will influence the design envelope, material selection and will help establish the kit of parts for the modular space.

Let’s start by considering what the site offers from the available facts:


Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
Latitude: 39 degrees north
Longitude: 86 degrees west
Climate: Temperate
Elevation: 793′
The average winter temperature in Indianapolis is 33.7˚F (as compared with 38.5˚F here in good old Brooklyn) and the average summer temp is 72.1˚F (73.3˚F for us Brooklynites).

In order to consider designing a solar passive home, site location and orientation are key decisions for a successful project. It is essential that the southern facade has a full sun exposure at a minimum from about 9am -3pm. Given the site and parameters of the site in Indianapolis, there are 2 locations that best suit this orientation, one in the front yard and one in the rear yard. I am assuming that this project is not meant to be a welcome wagon for the neighborhood so let’s place the project in a sunny, south-facing area in the rear yard, see below. We’ll plant deciduous (leafy) trees at the South side which will shade the building from the heat of the sun in the summer and will allow solar heat gain in the winter. (click on the drawing to have it open in a new window – makes for easier viewing).


Indy house – Now how to approach the design?

8 01 2008

After the post about modular possibilities, this is the response we received from our client in Indianapolis.

We love the look and design efficiencies of a modular solution, but since this isn’t a primary residence (it’s for an extra interior space/pod in the backyard) the costs for these pre-fabs ($250/sq ft in one case) takes us over our budget expectations for a 250-350 sq ft unit. Plus we’re seeking to have our unit be a model for other similar ideas (other folks like us might one want as well) and we don’t want these to be a luxury item, we want them to be attainable for other “artist” types as well. So we expect a balance between cost and look/function. We’re trying to find a happy middle.


From a “how to build it” perspective, I think it makes the most sense to approach this project as a “Kit of Parts”. Let’s think about the design and concept first and think about this part a little later on.

Programmatically, It should be comfortable, zero-energy, provide a writing/painting sanctuary and should be able to double as a guest room for the in-laws once in a while.

This weekend in the NY Times Magazine, Virginia Heffernan wrote an interesting article called An Interface of One’s Own, about the comparison between 2 Mac word processing programs, Scrivener and WriteRoom, and their ability to utilize the entire screen in order to block out the distracting minutiae of daily life. She writes

Where Scrivener calls itself a “writer’s shed,” which suggests implements like duct tape and hoes, WriteRoom pitches itself as the way to “distraction-free writing” for “people who enjoy the simplicity of a typewriter, but live in the digital world.” With WriteRoom, you don’t compose on anything so confining as paper or its facsimile. Instead, you rocket out into the unknown, into profound solitude, and every word of yours becomes the kind of outer-space skywriting that opens “Star Wars.”

I love that description of a place to write.  The next post we’ll show some ideas and sketches.

First idea for little green Indianapolis house – modular pre-fab

9 11 2007

One idea I have been taken with lately is the idea of modular houses. These are houses that are are fabricated in factories and shipped to the site rather than built from scratch on site. Why would this type of house be considered more sustainable than your typically constructed house? Well, modular houses tend to be small. Since they are factory made, modular houses use materials more efficiently with less waste. Green technology such as solar PV panels, automatic shutters etc… can be installed efficiently. Many of the models I have been researching use low-VOC materials, responsibly harvested wood and are engineered to be extremely energy efficient.

This is one of my favorites, by a Norwegian company called Lovetann, which I first saw on Inhabitat.


Most of the modular companies will design to suit your needs so if we wanted to adapt the Lovetann, perhaps we would order a smaller one, with just a tiny penthouse which would allow access to the little terrace. The Owners’ primary use for this space will be as an artist’s loft for painting so ideally, we could combine part of the 2-stories into one double height space. I love the options of solar panels and a green roof.

There are so many great modular designs out there. I’ll share some of the more notable ones.

I love this one, called Loftcube, by Aisslinger Studio in Berlin but… until they are manufactured somewhere a bit more locally, we’ll have to continue looking.


This one, called the weehouse, is a little bigger than we are looking for but it’s such a clean design. For this climate though, I think I’d install it on a foundation to prevent heat loss. This a wood frame model with oxidized steel exterior and fir interior.


There is a whole subset of pre-fab houses which are made from re-purposed shipping containers or are designed along the lines of an old fashioned RV. While they are often laudable on sustainability grounds, I object on aesthetic grounds. These are some samples of what I’m talking about.

This is Duo from miniHome and unfortunately resembles a truck in its proportions.


and this one, by Jones, Partners was an entry in the Dwell Homes Design Invitational – a competition for a pre-fab prototype home designed for mass production. The Dwell site has the most cutting edge models but this one looks way too much like the shipping container it was made from.


Some bigger models:

This one, from Jennifer Siegal, a leader in pre-fab housing design, is a beautiful combination of light and space that would work well in a variety of locations. It’s large (3,000 sf) but still a reasonable size for a family of 4.

One more: the ASAP House (House About Saving A Planet) is a zero-energy, beautifully designed modern modular house that is actually available for sale in the North East! Inhabitat did a great piece on it a couple of weeks ago.


OK, I digress. With all these interesting possibilities out there, let’s see how our Indianapolites (what do you call people who live in Indianapolis anyway?) want to proceed.

Other interesting links for more information on pre-fab houses:

Modern Modular