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I call it the Rule of Twelve, and it states that if you know twelve concepts about a given topic you will look like an expert to people who only know two or three. If you learn more than twelve concepts about a topic, the value of each additional one drops off considerably.

Allow me to be the first to confess that twelve is not a magic and inviolable number. It just sounds better than The Rule of Several, Give or Take Two or Three, With Lots of Exceptions. So don't get hung up on the number twelve.

The power of this rule is that seemingly impenetrable topics are less intimidating if you know there are only a dozen concepts to learn. And often the details of a subject are unimportant if you know the big concepts. Let me give you an example.

As I've mentioned, my wife and I are in the process of building a house. One of our goals was to make it as energy efficient as practical, while still having the features we wanted. And that meant learning the twelve-or-so concepts of green building that would get us where we wanted to go. Those concepts aren't neatly listed anywhere, so you have to flail around until you scare them up. For example, I spent a huge amount of time trying to figure out the best type of insulation for the walls. I looked at everything from SIPS to hippy ideas about hay and compressed dirt, to blown-in cellulose, to standard batting. And it seemed no one could give me a definitive answer on what R-value was best for a home in my area. Big developers used whatever was cheapest and met code, because they didn't have to pay the utility bills after their homes where sold. And every individual home builder and owner seemed to have his own theory on insulation type.

Eventually we talked to some engineers who explained some of the twelve concepts to us, and that made the decision easy. It turns out that in my climate, no matter how you insulate the walls, it's the windows and roof that will determine (mostly) how much heat penetrates your house. There was never a need to learn about exotic wall insulation methods. We just had to make sure we knew the twelve concepts about windows, roofs, thermal mass, orientation to the sun, chimney effect, and a few other concepts more important than wall insulation.

If someone is explaining a subject to you by listing lots of facts and examples, without explaining any of the twelve concepts, you probably aren't learning anything useful.
 
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+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 23, 2009
[We're shooting for 200 points. -- Scott]

Thanks for the update. Sounds like NAHB home building standards that should achieve a Bronze rating. Very good. Certification, from which ever rating system isn't the easist thing to do.
 
 
Mar 22, 2009
My cousin has a company that specializes in environmentally responsible home design. Check it out: http://www.stackwood.net/
 
 
Mar 20, 2009
This concept explains why certain people appear to become experts on subjects quickly. They are often derided as "Instant experts", because many folks can't cope with the fact that yesterday they knew nothing and now they know everything!

It's actually nothing so ridiculous.

These people just have the ability (most likely subconscious) to screen out from speaking with a genuine expert or two the twelve (or so) significant facts about the subject. In some cases, it may just mean that they are able to rapidly sound like an expert rather than really becoming one; it's a matter of whether or not they understand the concepts or can simply parrot them. But this is largely internal, so you can't tell from speaking to the person whether they are a pseudo expert or a real one!

 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 20, 2009
Hi Scott,

I totally agree with your "Rule of Tells".
I know these days its a become a cliche to attach a link and ask someone to have alook at it,

Still have a look at the wbsite dedicated to famous anglo-indian Architect "Lauri Baker"

Who is famous for building really "Cool" (Literally!!) house in India using innovations like "Rat Trap bond" in walls etc

The Link

http://lauriebaker.net/

I am sure you wont be dissapointed!!(Another Cliche!!!)

Cheers,

Alok!!!
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 20, 2009
Brant's Law: The significance of information obeys a power law, with the few most significant facts adding much more information and understanding than the many less significant facts. Learn the few significant ideas and the trivia can safely be ignored except where extreme precision and completeness is required.
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 20, 2009
11. and 12. aren't necessary if you choose your materials in 10.; to be fireproof and non-toxic: ceramic, wood, glass and stone. Anybody think of a new 11 and 12?
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 20, 2009
Improved my list: 1. Heat your house. 2. Cool your house. 3. Humidify your house. 4. Dehumidify your house. 5. Light your house. 6. Shade your house. 7. Heat your water. 8. Cool your water. 9. Build your house in such a way as to do 1-8 passively. 10. Build your house of durable, local green materials. 11. Fireproof your house. 12. Make sure your house is not toxic.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 20, 2009
1. Heat your house. 2. Cool your house. 3. Humidify your house. 4. Dehumidify your house. 5. Light your house. 6. Shade your house. 7. Build your house in such a way as to do 1-6 passively. 8. Build your house of durable, local green materials. 9. Fireproof your house. 10. Make sure your house is not toxic. 11. Heat your water. 12. Cool your water.
 
 
Mar 20, 2009

Interesting comments by everyone. I agree 100% with Scott's punchline - that numbers are usually used as a screen for ignorance, and that the givers of numbers are usually not aware of their own ignorance. True experts in a field never flood you with numbers - they explain their subject in terms of human nature that are so basic they can be applied to almost anything. But everything seems easy and simple when you spend your whole life doing it.
 
 
Mar 20, 2009
Yes, but everything high level like preservation of warmth and coolestness in the building breaks down into many smaller problems to create your final solution. The real issue is how detailed to you want to go.

I get when looking at windows you can find someone who knows more about glass for your windows that would be helpful. IE, I read somewhere about being close to transparent aerogel. I also read something about the type of spacers between glass sheets in windows. That aluminum and other metals conduct to much heat and newer polymers or ceramics are the way to go. Or you can go to a manufacturor's website to learn about how the efficiency ratings work and shop for windows, trusting good decisions were made. Or you could dig enough to find out the manufacturing plant's smoke stacks release mercury and 900 Scarlet Tanager's die by crashing into the smoke stacks, because they're shiney?

It's all a matter of degree. When I built 3 years ago I watched two thermal mass guys have a heated argument about the best stone for direct sunlight heating. It got personal. I think the winner liked some sort of soapstone. (All I did was ask a question.)
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 20, 2009
I know this isn't really the topic of your post, but you still have not answered a key question about your new house, which you claimed was the greenest of its size in your area. Is your house LEED certified?

Instead of doing all this research yourself, why didn't you contact a LEED certified architect, or did you? A long time ago I mentioned contacting AIA as a resource. Any respectable design firm will have LEED certified engineers and so on and will tell you exactly how to produce a green, environmentally friendly, sustainable house in your neighborhood. San Fran is a hub of green design.

Knowing a fair amount about this field, I need to hear how many LEED credits you have before I believe you have a truly efficient house.

[We're shooting for 200 points. -- Scott]
 
 
Mar 20, 2009
Like most other commenters, I agree that what you have "discovered" isn't a "Rule of Twelve" so much as a Tipping Point at which you can make an informed decision.

I suspect that the number of facts for the Tipping Point may vary by field. I wonder what the Tipping Point is for topics such as Global Warming, The Nature of God, Evolution, Voting, and other topics blogged about here. More than 12? If not, just what ARE the 12 "facts" that one needs.

For your green house, the facts that you presented can be reduced to a few fairly common-sensical rules:

#1) A hole will leak more than a wall.. Therefore Insulating the hole in the walls (doors, windows, etc) is more important than insulating the walls.

#2) Heat Rises. Therefore, if your house will spend more time below the ourside temperature (like in the Bay Area, and Maine), then the roof is more inportant to insulate than the walls. If the outside air temperature is usually greater than the inside temperature (like in the desert), then the walls are more important.

#3) Matter conducts heat. Also, gases move; solids don't. Therefore, air (having less matter than steel) insulates better. But becasue it move, it will take its heat with it. Trapping the air in a matrix (fiberglass, foam, etc.) prevents it from moving the heat around. Exactly which material has a better matrix is a triva question (or a cost/benif one, as "more is better" reaches a point of diminishing returns.).

Are there 9 more "facts"? If so, I'd like to hear them.
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 20, 2009
This is a simple case of not asking the right question. Instead of asking what wall insulation you should use, you should have asking what should you do to better insulate your home. This is basic to problem solving. You need to define the problem first before you try to come up with an answer. Try thinking like a engineer.

[If you ask that question you will get a laundry list with no real sense of what is important. -- Scott]
 
 
Mar 20, 2009
That is why our schools do so poor. That and the crap for food we serve the students, and the lack of gym.
 
 
Mar 20, 2009
So, since you now have the twelve things of building a green house in the area you live in, why not list them here for the world to see?

Also, two hints about the login page for this blog:

1. The cursor should always place itself in the username box for you
2. the 'remember me' checkbox does not appear to work in firefox 3, which is saaad.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 20, 2009
@D. A house should should last for 50-100 years. The saving to the environment of using recycled materials is not going to be significant compared to the cost of the temprature regulation of the house.
 
 
Mar 20, 2009
The main concept about insulation is "it's air". Everything else is just the means to hold a specified thickness air in place and stop it moving around.
 
 
Mar 20, 2009
And that is why if you want useful information, ask an engineer.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 20, 2009
"It turns out that in my climate, no matter how you insulate the walls, it's the windows and roof that will determine (mostly) how much heat penetrates your house"

Same goes for New England. When my parents built their house, they engaged in some rather unusual architecture - for example, there are only 2 small windows on the north side of the house, and the roof slants much more severely on that side. Throw in a crawl space on that side, huge windows to the south facing the sun, and insulation all around every room (!) - and it turns out that the house retains heat pretty well in the winter and stays relatively cool in the summer. Granted, once you get a heat wave or cold snap, it takes a bit more power to stay comfy, but I'd hazard that for a temperature range of about 50 to 80 F, with the house closed, it takes little to no effort to keep the indoor temperature where you'd want it.

The house looks goofy, but it works. Unfortunately, though, the neighbors recently each put up huge pre-fab monstrosities on each side of them, so they've lost a lot of the benefit. But I'm pretty sure you're rich enough that you can afford more than a quarter-acre. :)
 
 
Mar 20, 2009
Why not call it the Rule of Significant Knowledge? For a given topic there is a small set of concepts that are significant. Significant concepts are more general, obvious and easy to understand and the less significant a concept becomes the more specific, arcane and hard to understand it is.
 
 
 
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