Monday, September 26, 2011

unintended irony, golf cart edition

photo by Adam Feinstein
Kudos to FIU for investing in golf carts with solar panels on the roof. Self-powering vehicles are an ingenious idea, especially in a sunny place like Miami. It will work more efficiently, though, when the drivers stop parking in the shade.

Our pursuit of more sustainable practices sometimes requires rethinking pretty good habits. Generally speaking, it's a good idea to park in the shade in Miami. Our black bicycle saddles reach osso-bucco-braising temperatures after just a minute in the sun, and the Prius gets hotter than an EasyBake oven if you leave it in the sunlight. It's probably hard to break these habits when you sit behind the wheel of an electric golf cart. And there are probably much bigger paradigms we need to change as we retool our civilization to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

landmarks and leftovers

At some point last night, tin box recorded its 10,000th page view. A lot of our traffic comes through postings on Facebook, where we entertain a fair number of good questions from our friends and family. We wanted to share some of that correspondence.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

the week ahead

Looking forward at the week ahead, we're anticipating a lot of work at tin box. Our erector should be able to finish installing the roof decking this week (we're still waiting on two pieces of steel that weren't shipped with the z-purlins). The exterior roof panels arrive Tuesday, and should start going up right away. Our panel manufacturer plans to begin fabricating the exterior wall panels Monday and deliver them to the site Friday.

Meanwhile, the neighbors clearly approve of the project...

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Our erector started installing the roof decking yesterday. These gorgeous corrugated sheets are High Shear B Deck (HSB-36), a structural roof decking that comes in 36" wide and 1.5" deep sheets. The decking is fastened to the z-purlins with TEK screws (which don't need a pre-drilled hole), and will act as a structural diaphragm under the insulated roof panels, which are also structural. Together, the decking and roof panels will deal with the combination of tensile, compressive and shear forces generated by hurricane force winds. They will also support the weight of the vegetated roof that we plan to add someday.

The B Deck will also make for a great ceiling, in combination with the z-purlins...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


From the Kingspan factory in Deland, FL, comes this progress photo of our roof panels. Our roof uses KingZip insulated metal panels with a standing-seam joint. We chose 4" thick panels, which will give us an insulating value of R-32 (exceptional by Florida standards). We could have gone up to 6" thick, which yields R-48, but this would be a bit excessive in South Florida.

Each 42" wide panel will hold two solar panels, which adhere directly to the steel surface of the roof panels. The panels have a galvalume finish whose high albedo value (a measure of reflectivity) means they will reflect most of the sunlight that hits them, minimizing the direct heat gain.

The roof panels are cut to length in the factory, which helps eliminate on-site waste and reduce energy wasted in transit (one benefit to prefabrication). The pieces can come in lengths up to 52', the length of a flatbed truck. Our longest pieces are about 32'. We'll write more about the roof when it starts arriving, early next week.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


The cheapest technology in the house is borrowing shade from existing trees. We deviated from the US Green Building Council's LEED standards when we included lots of glazing on walls that face east and west. LEED's concern is that the low sun in the morning and afternoon brings excessive heat into a building during the hot months. We recognized, however, that the existing trees in the park to the west would provide a lot of shade in the afternoon, while our east neighbor's trees would shade the house in the morning. The photo at left shows the living/dining room shaded by existing trees, even before we add the roof panels.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


With the purlins in place and the roofs and eaves taking shape, we've got a better sense of the scale of the courtyard and its relationship to the major interior spaces. At left, a photo through the dining and living room into the courtyard and the dense vegetation of the back yard. The large (8 feet by 11 feet) openings between the courtyard and the living/dining room will have gliding glass doors to maintain as much visual transparency as possible, even when closed. When open, the glass doors will help join the courtyard and living/dining room into a single expansive space, defined by the lush border of trees and plants at the edge of the yard (while in the other direction, the park across the street will feel like a verdant extension of the courtyard and living/dining room). So, how does the kitchen fit into this?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

look both ways

One reason Florida leads the nation in pedestrian fatalities may be our poorly designed roads. But the streets don't (fail to) work in isolation. This photo shows a planted median between a Dadeland office building and the parking lot that serves it. The problem stems from the building's relationship to its site. The building is symmetrical, with a central entry leading out to the sidewalk, even though everyone exiting that door needs to walk to the corner to cross the street. The building's entry sequence simply doesn't take the connection to the parking lot into account, and as a result, people were crossing the street in mid-block, right in front of the entry.

Medians with plantings like this are popping up all over South Florida. They frequently use dense hedges as a kind of green fencing, which is a decent way to discourage people from jaywalking on roads like US 1. The palm trees are a real missed opportunity, though. As friend of tin box Gray Read points out, palms provide almost no shade, which is the amenity most needed by pedestrians on South Florida's hot streets.

n.b. On a related note, the Miami  Herald just published an article on the "best and worst intersections" in the region, based on the number of tickets issued by red-light cameras. Short version: be careful trying to cross US 1 in Coral Gables.

Friday, September 16, 2011

more purlins

All of the steel purlins - the secondary structural elements that support the roof - are in place, and much of the blocking (light gauge steel members that keep the purlins from twisting in place) has been installed. The next step is to complete the blocking and add the roof decking, which is corrugated metal sheeting that helps provide lateral stability for the roofs when subjected to high winds. After that, the roofs will be ready for the exterior panels that provide insulation and water proofing, including the roofs' galvalume finished outdoor surfaces.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

bicycle pump brilliance

photos by Mauricio Gonzalez
Quietly over the summer, FIU's Office of Sustainability started installing tire pumps at some of the bike racks on the main campus. Kudos to them and the other people responsible for this brilliant idea. The pumps are professional model floor pumps by Park Tool, modified to sit in a steel tube (manufactured by Dero, the company that makes the bike racks) bolted to the existing bike rack. The pumps have a pressure gauge, and work with Presta, Schrader and Dunlop valves.

We have to see about installing these in South Miami.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

purlins, continued

Our erector started installing the purlins this week. The purlins are z-shaped steel sections that span between the beams and support the weight of the roof panels. Our purlins are a little unusual in that they pass over the beams, rather than sitting in the same plane as the beams. This, along with the use of corrugated steel decking between the purlins and roof panels, is necessary for the roof to resist hurricane-strength winds. (The corrugated decking is hiding under the blue tarp at right).

Friday, September 9, 2011


We'll write more about the purlins over the weekend, but for now, we're excited to have the next pieces of steel going up. By the end of next week, we hope to have all the secondary structure of the roofs in place and ready for the roof panels to go up.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

wildlife, crustaceaous edition

Blue Land Crabs live in the moist soil of the mangroves and along the Snapper Creek Canal near our house. They also sometimes show up in the breezeways between the classrooms at our kids’ school. So far, we haven’t spotted any in the immediate vicinity of our house. So far…

More images of crustaceous carnage after the jump.


Consumer Reports has a great article on light bulbs, which includes some of the most extensive testing yet of light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs, a few weeks after a good comparative essay on bulbs in the New York Times. The good news is that commercially available LED bulbs are both reliably durable and pleasant to the eye. We suspect that, like compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs), LEDs are going to quickly become popular with consumers (except for a small segment of tin-foil hat types who associate LEDs with a government plot to take away their guns, bibles and/or medications), and that their price will drop markedly. We are planning to use LED replacement bulbs in conventional track lighting fixtures in the kitchen, and living and dining rooms. We still haven't settled on a strategy for lighting the dining table, but friend of tin box Cathy Bell reminds us of these compelling beauties from Plumen.

water, too much

Paul Manogue, Somerset, NJ, August 28, 2011
While writing about how to protect the house from mold, we started thinking about the eaves of our house, which, at two feet deep, are meant to keep water away from the walls in order to prevent mold growth on the outdoors surfaces of the building. Eave is one of those architectural terms that has broad metaphorical and legal implications. We still use “eavesdropping” to describe furtive acts of listening in, for example. And in legal terms, stillicidium – the word Vitruvius used to denote the edge of the roof which casts rain water away from the building below – is also a legal principle dating to ancient Rome that states a landowner can only build in such a way that his house (or other buildings) do not shed rain water on his neighbor’s property, thereby maintaining the utility and value of the neighbor’s land.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

water, too little

What if tap water was as expensive as gasoline? This was the premise of a report on WLRN radio this morning, and in the Miami Herald last week. Towns in South Florida face increasing difficulty drawing fresh water from the Biscayne Aquifer – the only source of drinking water for four and a half million of us in Dade, Broward and parts of Palm Beach Counties – which is suffering from increasing intrusion of salt water from the bay and ocean. (And it's far worse in Texas, where the drought is killing crops and helping the spread of wildfires.) The problem grows from a confluence of issues:

Monday, September 5, 2011

design and kitsch

great machine, silly design
Don’t get me wrong, South Miami’s new parking meters are great. They take credit cards and cash, and the system allows you to pay by phone. They even have photovoltaic panels which, presumably, generate electricity. So why do these cool new machines have such silly designs?

It wasn’t that long ago that television manufacturers mercifully stopped making sets that looked like pieces of wood furniture. The design disciplines have often suffered from a tendency to shy away from the formal potential offered by new technologies, materials and functions, and instead draped objects in the kitschy garb of the familiar and cliché. Nostalgia, provoked by an anxious fear of the present, is a powerful inertial force weighing on the design arts.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

swimming upstream, continued

Spent 30 minutes this morning playing football in Riviera Park in Coral Gables, a great community resource within walking distance of our temporary digs [not pictured; photo at left is from Parc La Villette, 2008... note the Tschumi Red Nerf ball, architecture nerds!]

Anyway, the whole time we were there, a woman in a parked BMW carried on a conversation on her cell phone, while the car's engine was still running. Why would she keep the engine running in a parked car? Presumably to keep the air conditioning flowing. But here's the kicker: the car was a convertible, and the top was down. So, to recap: parked car, engine running, a/c on, no roof.

Fostering sustainability in Miami is going to be a long, difficult process.

Friday, September 2, 2011

redefine performance

mpg or mph?
Monitoring performance seems to be an important aspect of sustainability. Measuring resource consumption helps promote conservation, both because we use less when we can monitor it, and because good performance data in existing buildings is essential to improving the design of future buildings.

But how do we measure performance?