Cree LED and Ecosmart LED

So after trying one brand of LED replacement bulbs, I’ve now gathered a pile of replacement replacement LED bulbs.


This round I chose CREE 60w equivalent 2700K (warm white) bulbs for the living room and Ecosmart 40w equivalent 2700K bulbs for the dining room.

First, brightness is great – not as bright as the Philips, but I think some of that is perception from the switch from 5000k back to 2700K.

Second, energy savings- these are 9.3w each, so even less than the others. The price was $5 per bulb, so I saved money on initial cost and was able to get a couple extra and still have store credit.

Finally, dimming – the CREE bulbs went into the ceiling fan and when dimmed, they buzz, just like the Philips ones did, so no dimming in the living room for me. At this point, I don’t even want to put the dimmer back into the dining room for fear that I’ll get buzzing there too and want to go back to on/off.

So there we have it. I’m happy enough with these lights that they will stay (for now), but LED makers have a major deficiency in the dimming department.

Philips SlimStlye LED – keep trying Philips

I like cutting edge tech, I like being as energy efficient as I can be without sacrificing functionality and convenience, and I like a bright home.  I have almost entirely fitted my home out with CFLs, but I have not been too pleased with the performance in some applications.

The primary failures of the CFLs was in my living room and my dining room.  They weren’t bright enough, they didn’t light up fast enough, I didn’t like the color of them, and they weren’t easily dimmable (ie glare off the TV).

As LED replacement bulbs started appearing on the market, of course I was interested.  However, the large heat sink and the size of the bulbs made them impractical for the fixtures I have.  Buying a new fixture to then by new and expensive LED lamps (‘bulbs’) was defeating any ‘green’ aspect including the green in my wallet.  Then I saw these online and got interested:


Now they don’t change colors like one architect-friend has in her NYC place.  They don’t have built in bluetooth speakers, which might be nice for a surround sound experience.  However, these lights all but eliminate the heat sink by using a ring of LEDs with a flat center.  They are shaped like the old-fashioned incandescent bulbs from the front, but appear flattened when you look from the side.   More bonuses: they are available at my local Home Depot, can be bought in 2700K and 5000K, and are about $7 a piece.

So of course I bought a pile for the living room and dining room – the two spaces where the lights are on the most (other than my office) and that would have the largest impact.  I chose the 5000K which is a brighter, whiter light that is closer to daylight as opposed to the 2700K ones which are ‘warmer’ and would have a bit of a yellow hue to them.

First of all, they are VERY bright, which is what I wanted.  My living room felt like I was on the sun it was so bright with a 4-lamp ceiling fan, two end table lamps and one tall Ikea floor lamp.  The dining room has a 5 light chnadelier, and it was blinding!

Second, Since each light uses 10.5 watts of power, they use only 80% of the power of a CFL  or 17.5% of an incandescent bulb!  The 7 lights in the living room, when all on, use a total of 73.5 watts.  Just a few years ago I had halogens in all those sockets and was using 75 watts in EACH!

Last, they are said to be dimmable without a special ballast, so I can adjust the lighting levels with a standard wall dimmer to whatever level suits me (as opposed to CFL which was on or off).  Here’s the warning on that: I preemptively installed an awesome digital dimmer in the dining room with presets and cool fade to off feature. It has a little LED light ‘slider’ along the side to indicate the relative brightness it’s set to, which seems nice.  However, the measly 1 watt or so that the switch’s LED uses is enough to pass a trickle of power through the circuit and that 1 watt trickle to such a low energy bulb is enough to get one of the 5 lamps to stay faintly lit 24/7. Kind of like a built in night light – even when you don’t want one.

****** Update ******
So the SlimStyle LEDS lasted a day and a half. They buzz. Not a lot, but some, which is worse than none. When dimmed, they buzz A LOT! I thought I had a bad dimmer, but after three different dimmers and switching bulbs around from one fixture to another, they buzz. So they all went back. Upcoming post: the replacement-replacement LED bulbs….

Hot Water (Tankless) & “Cold Sandwich”

So due to a combination of events involving an out of town trip, an old crumbly brick chimney, and an old water heater in my house, I had to make a decision rather quickly about having hot water in my home or preventing my children’s death of carbon monoxide poisoning.  I went with the latter and shut down the 15 year old 40 gallon tank water heater and started shopping for a new unit.

 As an architect, a technophile, and as a person interested in being green, I decided to get pricing on a tankless whole house water heater as an option to line up against the price of a standard 40 gallon tank unit.  Because of the location of the old tank heater and accessibility (or lack thereof) to an exterior wall for a “B” vent, the water heater would have to move or I would have to rebuild the chimney.  Easy decision for me – move the water heater – I was already going to have to pay money for the heater, I was not ready to do both at once.

The new location, in the laundry room was tight, which helped my decision to go with a wall mounted tankless unit.  The installation cost was 60% more than a tank unit, but some of that cost is in new exterior venting, a new 1″ gas line, a new outlet, and new hot and cold water piping.  And there is (was) a $300 rebate available through my utility.

So now I have (in theory) an endless supply of hot water for my 2-1/2 bath home and I’m learning how to use the system. First, no trickling of hot water for shaving – too low of a flow (<.5 gal./min.) and the heater won’t kick on.  Second, and this is the big one, watch out for the “cold sandwich”.

So the “cold sandwich” is a term to describe a situation unique to tankless water heaters.  In a tank system, if you turn on the hot water in the morning, you wait a few seconds as the cold water gets pushed out of the pipes and then you have hot water.  If you turn off the hot water, then turn it back on again, the hot water in the pipes keeps on coming, pulling from a large tank of hot water – so until that tank is empty, the water will be hot.

In a tankless setup, when you turn off the hot water, the hot water heater turns off.  When you turn the hot water on, a little cold water goes through it first so it can determine flow and temperature so it can regulate the amount of gas to burn.  This, in turn, puts a section of very cold water into the hot water stream.   If you are not too far from your hot water heater, this is not a big deal, because you know when to expect it and you wait a second for the hot water to get there again.  In my house, the hot water heater is now right next to the laundry and utility sink, right below the kitchen sink/dishwaher, and only a few feet from the powder room, leaving the two 2nd floor baths the only problem areas.  But these are really big problems!

Imagine in the morning, you are at the sink, washing your face.  You finally get the hot water flowing and then you turn off the sink, jump in the shower and it feels so nice.  10 seconds into your shower, you get 5 seconds of ice water!  That’ll wake you up, but it’s not pleasant.  So the short term solution is to turn on the shower before turning off the sink, ensuring a continuous hot water flow so the heater stays on.  The long term solution is to add a small holding tank to the system –  potentially with a recirc pump that runs on a timer for just the mornings.  Although it would cost more money, on top of the investment already made, I don’t want to have any more “cold sandwich” mornings!


AutoCAD and the architect, a love-hate relationship

AutoCAD is one of the top used software packages for architects and engineers in the industry and to prove it, Autodesk, the maker of AutoCAD charges whatever the hell price they want.  One “seat” or license for standard AutoCAD (not the souped up versions) is, and I quote: “without Subscription, Electronic Download $3,975.00”.  If you choose to get a subscription, which allows you to download new versions each time they are released, that’s another $500 or more a year!  Per person!

With such a death grip on the market, you’d think Autodesk would use its vast fortunes to keep their product up to date and available to as many people as possible.  This would certainly stave off competition, right?   Half right.  They are now, but there has been a wide gap in coverage.

PC or Mac

For years (18 years to be exact!), Autodesk has not released a Mac version of the software, and since architects like to do a lot of graphic intensive work, we tend to like Macs. So as architects we were forced to either work on a PC, dual-boot or run a PC emulator on a Mac, or get the Mac we wanted and scrap AutoCAD for a competitor. This opened up a window for a slew of competitors to grow their market share little by little – everyone from TurboCad to MicroStation to MacCad to more.

Autodesk must have felt the pinch, because after a huge delay, AutoCAD for the Mac is back!  But Autodesk took it even further – they released AutoCAD WS for mobile use (read iPad and iPhone)!  So not only can you get back to your Mac, you can go to job sites with your iPad and pull up drawings on the touch screen – how freaking awesome is that?

Now the debate…  since I will be upgrading my computer system again this coming summer, do I make the switch to a Mac w/ and iPad, which means paying an upgrade fee for CAD and buying new software for all the rest of my junk, or do I say screw it and switch to a Mac/iPad right now?  Decisions, decisions….

While I decide, here’s something to make you smile (courtesy of my friend Rocio)

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Eco-friendly minus the “hippy skippy”

I’ll give my brother some credit for finding this, but I did steer him towards it. He was looking to separate his downspouts from the sewers. In many places this has become a requirement and if it isn’t in your town, you should do it anyway. This simple, inexpensive change saves the local water authority from having to process all that extra water during storms, which in a large scale means less energy used and fewer rate hikes!

He was a little concerned with keeping excess water away from the foundation (he’s smart for a non-architect type), so I steered him toward a rain barrel. A rain barrel is a large bucket that you attach your downspouts to. It collects rain water and you hook your hose to it to water the lawn or wash the car. When it fills all the way up, there is an overflow hose that you can divert your extra water away from the house with.

Now there are rain barrels, and there are rain barrels. I couldn’t stand the idea that my brother’s house might have a 55 gallon blue industrial plastic drum at each downspout, so I told him to search for a nice one. I wasn’t expecting for him to find such nice ones and at relatively reasonable prices!

Low ceilings, old wires, hot days

This past month the temperature in NJ has been over 90 most days and over 100 for at least 30% of those days.  So we may have been overusing our ceiling fan or it may have just been at the end of it’s life, but the swaying and clicking got louder and louder!  My wife thought I was trying to kill her by rigging the ceiling fan to fall on her in her sleep.

Our Master Bedroom was the last room in the house with the lighting left over from the previous owner.  In addition to the noises it was making, it was never any good with lighting.   The room always felt dark, even with the nightstand lights on.

This weekend we decided we needed to upgrade and last night we finally got around to it.  We have old wiring and low ceilings, which I had to overcome…
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Disappearing Walls

I had a great professor at RPI named Ken Warriner (R.I.P. Ken) who in design studios was a nut about ambiguous spaces.  He would push us to design spaces that could function in different ways with different occupants at different times of the day, spaces that could be one thing at one time, and something completely different at others.  One of his first year studio tasks was to work on spaces that were both inside and outside simultaneuosly.

Nana Wall in residential application

In most climates, that inside/outside line is pretty easy to find because there is a plane of glass keeping the heat or a/c inside.  But on those days where the temperature is just right, here is a product that definitely helps blur that line of inside and out…  disappearing walls!  A company called Nana Wall has large sliding window/door systems that can really open up your indoor space to become more of a covered outdoor space. Continue reading