The Journal
Building Science
Big Sky Architect's Journal - Passive House at a Glance
Passive House at a Glance

The term 'passive' in the context of passive house refers to the reduction or elimination of 'active' mechanical systems. There are many compelling reasons why this is a more intelligent and responsible way to build. Here is a quick list of benefits - in no particular order:- Increased comfort.- I...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - Breathing Clean Indoor Air
Breathing Clean Indoor Air

Optimum interior air quality has become an increasingly prominent concern in our work. Passive house interior air quality is pristine because highly filtered fresh air is constantly being exchanged with the interior air. The passive house standard requires filtration systems that achieve a MERV (Min...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - Carbon  Neutral Architecture
Carbon Neutral Architecture

The built environment is responsible for three fourths of annual global greenhouse gas emissions: buildings alone account for 39 percent.  Eliminating these emissions is the key to addressing climate change and meeting Paris Climate Agreement targets. The American Institute of A...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - Advanced Design Technologies
Advanced Design Technologies

We design using cutting edge tools and technologies to create - truly - the highest quality environments for human habitation in the history of our species.  It's far beyond the incorporation of high technology in components of the buildings... the buildings themselves are technologic...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - HERS Index:  The Home Energy Rating System
HERS Index: The Home Energy Rating System

 The Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Index is the industry standard by which a home's energy efficiency is measured.   HERS scores are designed for new homes (or homes after a complete renovation). When builders need to meet efficiency standards, they use the HERS Index, which has...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - Low Voltage Electrical Systems
Low Voltage Electrical Systems

This article is somewhat technically oriented, but it is also about the larger picture. Our design focus favors taking forward-looking, intelligent advantage of emerging but proven technologies. What we are doing 'under the hood' enhances our work with improved economies and performance - weaving t...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - Why We Build Buildings Twice
Why We Build Buildings Twice

Before our projects are actually constructed on a site, they are built first in our studios, in a comprehensive computer model. Working closely with specialized experts in each of the disciplines involved, we model every system in the project... not just the architecture, but the lighting, plumbin...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - Architecture and Water Vapor
Architecture and Water Vapor

  Water is one of the most powerful forces of nature, and one of the primary variables determining the durability and performance of buildings. Depending on the climate, regional building design responds directly to rain, snow, and ice, but another powerful form in which water interacts ...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - The Language of Mechanical Comfort Systems
The Language of Mechanical Comfort Systems

“Environmental control systems tend to be treated rather like the Cinderella of architecture; given only the plainest clothes to wear, they are relegated to a back room to do the drudgery that maintains the elegant lifestyle of the other sisters: light, form, structure, and so forth." ~ Lisa Hesch...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - NOT Passive Solar
NOT Passive Solar

One of the most common misunderstandings we see about our high performance architecture is that we are preoccupied with passive solar design - which is actually something we don't have any particular interest in.  It's easy to see why this confusion happens: Passive House (or Passivhau...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - Shading Data - No Guesses
Shading Data - No Guesses

One of the many aspects of site specific architectural design now standard practice in our pre-design research process is to acquire a forensic understanding of the shading conditions that will alter how our architecture will be exposed to the sun over the course of each year.Designing high perfor...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - Passive House Northwest
Passive House Northwest

Sam Rodell Architects is featured prominently in the recently published book Passive House Northwest 2016, including several projects recently completed and currently underway and a brief overview of the firm:   "The work of Sam Rodell Architects is characterized primarily by thoughtful ...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - Triple Glazed Window Benefits
Triple Glazed Window Benefits

Triple glazed windows are the new stars of window energy efficiency... but why should you care?  Comfort. Comfort is the reason you will want to use triple glazed windows. Before we get too far on why you should be excited about energy efficiency and comfort, here is a brief history of US windo...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - Cakes Left Out in the Rain
Cakes Left Out in the Rain

That natural forces will act on, and ultimately destroy, any contribution we make to our built environment persists as one of the few things we can be sure of about the fate of any building. For architects, this presents a challenge somewhat analogous to that of medical professionals who, desti...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - Why We Build Airtight Architecture
Why We Build Airtight Architecture

Passive House architecture: Healthy, comfortable places to live and work that use a fraction of the energy of mainstream construction. Many people presume this must be all about insulating really well, and while that is important, the amazing performance of a Passive House project actually begins wi...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - Your Home or Office Can Power Your Car
Your Home or Office Can Power Your Car

Passive House: Designing and building buildings so well for a specific site and climate we can eliminate eighty to ninety percent of the energy demands of space heating, cooling, and humidity control. This is fully achievable and affordable today, using readily available technologies and materials. ...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - Chemical Hazards in Consumer Products
Chemical Hazards in Consumer Products

Building with toxic materials is such a bad practice, in part because we are embedding them into environments where people then tend to have long term exposure to them. It's good to be aware that carcinogenic and toxic material is not only found in scores of products in the building industry, but ...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - Designing for Natural Light
Designing for Natural Light

One of the first things we do with a new project is build a detailed and accurate three dimensional computer model of the land and its physical features from a survey. The survey work is usually completed using both a laser theodolite and satellite GPS data. The topographic model created from this d...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - Steer Clear of Toxic Tile
Steer Clear of Toxic Tile

Most ceramic wall or floor tile is now manufactured out of the United States, and the use of highly toxic heavy metals in the glazes is common. Most of the tiles you will see, especially in retail outlets, were manufactured in China, or in Cambodia or Vietnam by Chinese companies. The environmenta...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - The Intelligent Choice
The Intelligent Choice

Europeans have lived with high energy costs for a long time, and have a strong pragmatic awareness of the costs associated with heating and cooling buildings. So it may come as no surprise that the leading standard in energy savings comes to us from Germany: The Passive House standard. It's not a...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - The First Step to Net Zero Energy
The First Step to Net Zero Energy

A 'net-zero energy' building generates more energy than it needs. The most important item in Net-Zero design is reducing the demand for energy. This is the main principle behind the Passive House concept, so it should be a natural progression for architects designing to the passive house standard to...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - What Plants Can Teach Us About Storing Energy
What Plants Can Teach Us About Storing Energy

Biomimicry: What plants can teach us about storing energy... Good bye, fossil fuel dependency! The main challenge with sun and wind energy is storage. Because the sun isn't always shining, and the wind isn't always blowing, we need to be able to bank away renewable energy when it's available for ...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - Building with Organic Materials
Building with Organic Materials

All the rivers run into the sea, and yet the sea is not full.  Ecclesiastes 1:7 Waste does not exist in nature. In the natural world, everything is cyclical; everything happens in closed loops and dynamic systems of loops. One familiar example would be the hydrological cycle, in which e...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - Getting Off Oil - With Architecture
Getting Off Oil - With Architecture

It is no secret that our dependence on oil reaches into every aspect of modern life. This must change - actually, will change, whether we like it or not. Not only are we wreaking environmental havoc burning fossil fuels, it is certain the costs will continue to dramatically rise, impacting every cor...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - Optimizing Walls for Energy Performance
Optimizing Walls for Energy Performance

We assign a very high priority to comfort in buildings - specifically, thermal comfort. One of the basic distinctions between being inside' and 'outside' is that when we are inside, we expect to be comfortable. We essentially live in two climates - interior and exterior - and the construction assemb...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - Blackened Cedar Siding
Blackened Cedar Siding

The term "Shou-Sugi-Ban" is Japanese (焼杉板) and translates to "burnt cedar board". The term describes the centuries old Japanese technique of charring "Sugi" (cedar) planks.For centuries, Japanese carpenters used recovered driftwood from the coastlines of Japan for an artistic finish that als...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - Phase Change Materials
Phase Change Materials

Putting Nature's Magic to Work For Us: Phase Change Materials We see it all around us, all the time; temperature changes make stuff freeze, melt, or vaporize. These 'phase change' transformations, in which molecules change from one state of matter to another, are so common we take them for grante...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - Art and Science of Architecture
Art and Science of Architecture

In Western culture, science and art are often thought of as existing in separate worlds. Our higher educational institutions support this notion, for example - coursework is generally offered in the arts, or in the sciences. Yet we need look no further than the rise of Apple to recognize this is a...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - Environmentally Optimized Commercial Laundry
Environmentally Optimized Commercial Laundry

You might not think of architects as being particularly interested in laundry as a design issue, but we get really excited about saving our clients money and easing the impact that the facilities we create have on the environment. And when we're talking about thousands of tons of laundry being pro...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - Reintroducing China to Rammed Earth
Reintroducing China to Rammed Earth

China is undertaking the largest building boom in the history of the world. A young and talented pair of Canadian architects are working to introduce SIREWALL rammed earth as a healthy, sustainable option for building beautiful and durable architecture in China. ...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - You are quietly being poisoned...
You are quietly being poisoned...

Most people assume there is some level of oversight protecting them from unhealthy building. That is not the case. No form of regulatory oversight is concerned with the levels of toxic materials embedded in building materials. Building codes, for example, primarily focus on issues like life safety ...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - Designing with Thermal Analysis Tools
Designing with Thermal Analysis Tools

Our buildings are designed to isolate the interior climate from the exterior climate, which means we need to consider every way energy moves between the interior and exterior, including the roofs, walls, floors, doors, windows... literally every square inch of the places where heated or cooled spa...

Big Sky Architect's Journal - Evolution to Rainscreen
Evolution to Rainscreen

Effective long term management of water, in vapor, liquid, and solid form, is crucial to building durability, comfort, health, and safety. Much has been learned in recent years in the building science field about the behavior of water in building assemblies. This film looks at the history of the w...