Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Some icing on the cake

That’s what the last rains brought us - kinda. Mount Wilson received a nice light sprinkle of white and made us remember that we can have everything here after all- Snow and surf. Mount Baldy (or Mount San Antonio to be correct) has had snow for some time now and is mostly hidden behind the clouds.
We also made some progress with the cleanup after the storm- after the tree crew was done chopping down the huge trunk (firewood for years to come) the full amount of the damage became obvious. The worst for us, though, is the landscaping. The area where the tree hit was our most beautiful spot- and now it looks like a plane went through. Some of the palms may recover, but some got hit really hard and I can only hope, that they will survive and heal in time.
One look at the bright side- we now have an extended view towards the Northwest and see the Verdugo Hills and Mount Lukens now.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Disaster strikes the Haus

In the night from Wednesday to Thursday, unusually strong winds hit the North East. From Pasadena to NELA, trees toppled and power lines went down. The winds reached speeds of up to 120 mph -this compares to a category 2 hurricane! Around 3AM the unthinkable happened: The huge Aleppo Pine tree in the rear that we had pruned only three years ago could not withstand these winds and started to fall uphill towards the house! It narrowly missed the roof, but hit the balcony, deck and devastated the entire garden including the wall of the future jacuzzi area. The rail on top was squished like hot spaghetti! For the next 2.5 days, electricity was down, traffic lights didn't work and we had a hard time to find someone who could remove the tree so that we could assess the whole damage- Pasadena and South Pas look a lot worse- many trees had come down there and crews were working long shifts to free roadways again. We finally found a crew that was able to cut down the tree in an afternoon and haul the foliage away (we kept the trunk for firewood. The palm tree garden is gone entirely including the ground cover- and the trees will most likely not recover.
But we got lucky in bad luck- if the tree had fallen on our neighbors house which is closer to it, it had caused a lot more damage.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Nob Hill Haus- Virtual Tour

If you haven't had a chance yet to come to one of the open houses, there'll be one more chance to get on a virtual tour of the Nob Hill Haus:

On November 14, at 7PM as part of the Mount Washington Homeowners Alliance general meeting. The location will be the Carlin G. Smith Recreational Center at 511 W. Ave 46 in 90065 (Mount Washington).

So if you want to learn more about the house (and how it has been performing so far)or would like to ask Frank any questions, that's for now the last chance to do so as we haven't planned any more events this year.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Stapelia Gigantea

The little not very prominent plant started to develop flowers earlier last week- and finally, one of them started to open this morning. Unfortunately, they will only last a single day, so I won't be able to take another shot of the fully opened specimen. While closed, the buds resemble the domes of orthodox churches. Stapelia is also called carrion plant and uses flies as their primary pollinator (it attracts flies with a rotten smell). But apart from the distinctive fragrance, the flowers are really spectacular.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Photos of the Nob Hill Haus

Finally a little time to take a couple of good day and night shots of the house. We borrowed a good camera and spend a couple of hours on Saturday to get a few deserving impressions of the house. Enjoy!

Friday, October 7, 2011

It never rains in California-NOT?

Our cistern wasn't even dry for a 3 weeks when the first rain of the season hit and filled almost half of it. The 1.5 days of slow rain have brought us about 3-4" of water- 1/4 of the annual total. The water is also very clear as the picture shows.The drop in temperatures also helps to keep the moisture of the rain longer in the ground and we could turn off the irrigation system on Monday. (Did YOU turn off yours, too?)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Cistern finally run dry

Last weekend we used the last remaining rainwater (from the rains in March- half a year ago. Frank went down into the cistern and scooped up the rest of the water (not fun). There were no leaves or conifer needles in the tank, but a thin layer of black slime at the bottom -most likely from the soot of L.A.'s air (same stuff as the one we washed off the solar panels earlier this month
We hope the remaining moisture will evaporate over the week so that we can vacuum the bottom of the cistern and get it ready for the next rainy season. We'll also get a finer mesh filter, maybe that'll help to keep some of the dirt out. As a summary of our first rainwater watering season, I have to say, that it was a full success and that the water lasted longer than anticipated. We are still taking data of our water and energy use and will be able to provide more detailed information of this year's consumption at a later point in time. Currently, we are on average 50% below a "standard" single family home. But that data was only for the summer, the main irrigation season. The usage should drop more when we enter the rainy season- but keep in mind, the summer was not a very hot one this year.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Solar Wash

Yep, even solar panels need a good scrub every now and then. In order to keep the electric output at optimum levels, the dust and soot from L.A.'s notorious air need to be washed off every now and then- and today was a good time for that. So we went up and hosed and scrubbed the dirt off to make'em shine again. Since the system got turned on, we have produced over 2,400 kWh with an excess of 1000 kWh. The mild summer along with the other energy saving features of the house helped a lot to keep actual power usage low for us. But we have not been in the house for a whole year and it is a bit early to make predictions about the overall performance.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Guerilla Tomatoes

Yes, nobody saw them coming as they grew out of the shade on the West side of the house. They didn't get any love, water, or fertilizer- yet, they started to bloom and grow taller and taller- Our guerilla tomatoes.
They came either from some dropped compost, more likely though from a tomato dropped by a construction worker while devouring his hamburger. And they are a welcome addition to the garden!
They've grown bigger in the meantime and I gave them a pole for support and some extra water on the weekend. I'm excited to see them bear fruit!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Nob Hill Haus received recognition by City of Los Angeles

Recently, the Nob Hill Haus has received a certificate from the city of Los Angeles, for "outstanding creativity in architectural and sustainable design" - We are really proud of the recognition and the attention that the project has received and hope that this will further the thrive for water and energy conservation. Our natural ventilation systems work like a charm- and during the heat wave last weekend, we had to turn on the A/C for only 2 hours a day (for the first time this year) i.e. from 2PM to 4PM- then we could turn it off and do the rest with natural ventilation (while our neighbors' A/C systems were still running for a few more hours). Especially the fans prove to be a great help to move air around the building. We then use the night-venting effect to cool down the building components before the heat of the day hits us again. In the garden, our little fig tree is producing fruit like a maniac- The tree was a stick, less than 3 feet tall when we got it (and we seriously thought about returning the sad thing) - but it is carrying more fruit than all the other trees combined- Amazing!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

4th of July at the Nob Hill Haus

Yesterday we had an amazing spot to watch the independence day fireworks- the official ones at the Rose Bowl- and the many more unofficial ones that kept going from 8PM to way after midnight. The deck was an ideal platform to enjoy the spectacle with a glass of wine or two.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Nob Hill Haus in the News

Last Saturday, the Los Angeles Times ran a 3 page article about the Nob Hill Haus under the heading "where the future lives". The article can also be viewed online. We celebrated this by opening the house to the public for the afternoon and although this was on very short notice, about 200 interested visitors came- from Topanga Canyon to Costa Mesa to take part in one of the guided tours.
This tremendous outcome shows that there is a great interest in sustainable architecture and design and we hope that with the Nob Hill Haus, we could demonstrate that sustainability does not mean to make sacrifices to the design- to the contrary- It can enhance the design and function of a building if properly incorporated. we'd like to thank everyone who made their way out here to take a look at the home!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Nob Hill Haus is certified!

Today, we received notice that the house has passed the green building certification-Now we have 3rd party verification of the sustainability level of the project. Build it Green, a California based Green Building Rating System recognized 149 points-the majority being in energy and Water which was our main focus for the project.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Composting Report

As we are using the house with all it's functions now (except the A/C because it hasn't gotten really hot inside the home yet) and testing the facilities we designed for their practical use. One is the composting bin of the recycling center in the kitchen- The location is very practical, since it is located right where the food scraps area being generated- however, the food scraps still need to be taken outside the the actual composting bin in the yard, where worms and bugs can do the real work to generate fertilizer.
So far, we only had the grass from brush clearance in the composter- mostly semi-dry matter that took forever to decompose. With the fresh food scraps, additional moisture should be introduced to help accelerate the composting process.

We are also closely monitoring the power consumption and generation on a daily basis-It is really interesting how this can change user behaviour (turning off lights that you don't need for example) in order to save energy. The solar output largely depends on the weather- While on a clear sunny day up to 21kWh can be generated from the sun, a full "June Gloom" day only results in 9 kWh. A big difference!

Thursday, May 26, 2011


After the USGBC tour, we spent some time to decorate the interior, most notably with artwork by fellow designer and architect Nerin Kadribegovic. We also made a trip to Germany in May to visit Freiburg, the Route du Vin in Alsace and Basel in Switzerland and brought back 2 Gavina Wassily chairs for the living room (quite a logistical endeavor I have to say)- but they look great in the house. Our PV system has been producing a lot of power from the sun- with about four weeks into energy generation, we banked about 300kWh in surplus energy. The concept of using dimmable fluorescent light fixtures in conjunction with the high insulating properties of the walls, windows and roof (no A/C use this year so far) have reduced our energy consumption dramatically. We also had an energy audit performed and the home now scored 24% better than the California title 24 energy requirements due to improvements made during the construction phase of the project. We are now confident to achieve the high goal of “net-zero” over the course of the year.

Monday, May 2, 2011


Last Saturday's USGBC Tour was a full success and over 30 people took the tour of the Haus- It was also the first time we opened the cistern lid and discovered that it was full to the brink with rainwater!
We've been using the water to irrigate the plants, but the low water pressure led us to believe that there was almost nothing in it- well we were wrong. Our solar system continues to produce more than we use at this time (still no AC running) and we hope that we can build up a reserve before the heat of the summer hits us with $$$ in electric bills.
We also had the Solar water heater inspector in house to verify that the installation complies with the CSI requirements and the deck coating installer put on the last coat. We also finally cleaned the garage to a point that we can park the car inside. It's looking more and more like a house now...

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Net Metering

Last week, the PV system has been inspected and put into service by LADWP. The PV’s have their own meter, indicating the amount of energy in kWh generated, while the city meter next to it shows the net-energy- i.e. the amount of energy used minus the amount of energy generated by the system. This net metering concept does not encourage users to maximize their solar potential and to produce more power than they need and in the end effectively still requires some power to be drawn from the grid- in contrast to other regions of the US and some countries in Europe, where the utilities want people to maximize their solar power generation in order reduce the need to build new power plants.
The good thing about the two meters is that we always see how much we are generating and how much we are actually using, so we are able to adjust our demand to maximize the effect of the PV array- Currently we are producing more than we need, thus the weird number on the net-meter. However, once the heat of the summer starts and we will be forced to use A/C. this might change.
The photo shows a 98 kWh generated and a net reading of 99992 kWh- so we have 8 kWh in reserve already- and counting…

Monday, April 18, 2011

Nob Hill Haus- Open to the Public

We're in (and enjoyed that gorgeous sunrise we had last week from our bedroom!). Now, that you've seen and read all about the Nob Hill Haus on this blog there's only one thing that's missing- to see the real thing. And that chance is coming! On April 30, the US Green Building Council's Los Angeles Chapter will feature the Nob Hill Haus as one of the main attractions of the Los Angeles area Green Home Tour: Here's the description:

"Join USGBC-LA San Gabriel Valley branch for a self-guided tour of six sustainable homes throughout the San Gabriel Valley. Locations include Pasadena, South Pasadena, Atwater Village, La Verne and Mount Washington. The Tour will feature single family homes, a condominium project, a single family home development and sustainable gardens that will showcase the latest in residential sustainable technology. The first ever permitted gray water system in Los Angeles, a rainwater harvesting system and a solar water heater will be on view. Additional sustainable features on the tour include: photo voltaic systems, permeable paving, a rain barrel, Energy Star rated appliances, bamboo flooring, natural cooling and ventilation, high performance glazing and a kitchen recycling center. The sustainable gardens include native and drought tolerant plants, drip irrigation, a composting center and a vertical infinity fountain. All registrants will receive their ticket and tour booklet at registration at the first house. Directions and descriptions of each of the locations will be included in the booklet. There is plenty of street parking available at the first house."

and the link to the website:

Hope to see you at the Haus!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

taking the final city hurdle

On Friday we finally passed our last inspection and today, we obtained clearance to get a gas connection. The gas company won't be able to come out until the end of next week, though. And we expect the touch up work to take another 4-6 weeks anyway.
This concludes the construction updates that have been a bit splotchy in the past months. Too many things have been happening at the same time and it was not easy to stay on top of everything. I will make the next post once we move in and will give then irregular updates about the performance of the house and - of course- how it feels to live in it.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Once the irrigation pipes were in the ground, we started with the installation of low shrubs and ground cover plants. With saving water in mind, we selected a variety of native and adapted drought tolerant plants -and checked them against the California invasive plants council ( to make sure we don't get anything we would regret later on. The photo shows the ground covers around the Dypsis Decaryi- We used the red paddle plants Kalanchoe Thyrsiflora with lavender and native Pentestemon. In the back you can see blue Agave Americana creating a dramatic contrast to the neighbor's greenery.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Drip by Drip

With completion only a few short weeks away, we’ve now started to install the drip irrigation which will be used in areas where plants don’t have access to the graywater pipes- We are using a mix of desert plants and drought tolerant Mediterranean species to reduce the water demand by landscaping. However, since the graywater pipes are only on the downhill side of the house (and we have landscaping on all 4 sides) we need to provide for additional irrigation. We decided to go with a low flow drip system- Home Depot has a good variety, but one should read about the subject before starting to install. First of all, drip irrigation works at a lower water pressure, so a pressure reducer needs to be put in place. Secondly, a filter needs to be installed as well to avoid the small emitters from getting clogged (emitters are rated in gallons per hour, rather than gallons per minute, as common for regular sprinklers). Care should be taken in laying out the risers (the visible portion of the pipes to which the drip lines will hook up. You have to make sure that you can reach all the plants that will go in after and also avoid having the unsightly black drip pipes in clear sight.
We expect to get our plants this coming weekend and -weather permitting- hope to put the first ones in the ground as well.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Graywater ready for inspection

As we are slowly approaching the finish line, more and more finishes are being completed. One of them are the cabinets. Michael, our cabinet maker made sure, that the panels of doors and drawer fronts have a continuous grain (on all cabinets). This gives the whole cabinetry a coherent look and puts the emphasis on the beauty of the wood- The grain is only interrupted by the narrow gaps and the door hardware. Last week, Abe poured the new curb and the driveway- the street facade is almost done. On the interior, the graywater tank went in and is ready for inspection- see photo.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

True to the design

The scaffolding and fence have both come down and now we can get a good look at the exterior of the house to compare it to the rendering done 2 years ago (see above). The computer generated model gave us a very good idea of what we are going to get- It is quite fascinating how accurate it really is.

Graywater pipes are going in now

On Friday, Abe started to install the perforated graywater pipes and the supply lines from the building. The pipes have to be made of an approved material and be able to percolate the graywater through a gravel bed into the surrounding soil where it will be available to the plants. The rest goes down to recharge the aquifer. Our landscaping layout was arranged around the graywater system- All plants that need water on a regular basis will have a graywater pipe nearby- the fruit trees get even two. Everywhere else we are using drought tolerant or desert plants.
Parallel to that, the cabinetry is almost completely installed, the holes for the plumbing fixtures are drilled thru the countertops and Abe has started to work on the curb- He wants to pour concrete for that tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Installing the Finishes

In the past couple of weeks, most of the tile and slabwork has been installed and the rough- cabinet boxes are in place - the photo shows the dining room-kitchen areas with the bookshelf and the pantry-fridge cabinet in the back. On the left, a small piece of the high bar counter can be seen- we're using Eurostone's Lido, a quartz-resin man made material with small sea shells cast in. The backsplash is a glass tile in random brick pattern and the kitchen floor consists of 16" square polished Absolute Black granite tiles. The cabinetry in the kitchen and the dining room is clear vertical grain Douglas fir- a beautiful material (matching the doors), but very soft and not cheap. In some other parts of the house we are using grade "A" rift cut oak which matches the flooring ( a glimpse of it can be seen in the bottom right corner- unfinished, though) and has a similar appearance but is much harder and less expensive. Something to consider for future jobs.
On the bottom right shelf you can see a sample piece of the Mangaris Diamond Decking we have to use on the exterior deck- Being in a wildfire zone means, that only ignition resistant materials can be used on the outside- and this includes the decking material. Originally, we had a 5/4" thickness spec'd out, but one of the swing doors got installed too low and was likely not to open when the deck was wet and soaked with water after a rain. Consequently we had to change to a 3/4" thick plank. With that, we could not use the concealed fasteners orginally selected any more but had to go with stainless steel screws- a pity, but that's not the first time we had to change things- It's simply part of the reality of construction.

Monday, January 3, 2011


During the last week of 2010, the first area of the rainscreen facade went up.
The photo shows the different stages of the assembly:
First, the vertical battens that will provide the airspace for the circulation of air behind the rainscreen are installed and shimmed as required. Then, the horizontal aluminum hat channels are installed and straightened to provide a level and true substrate for the Abet Laminati facade panels that are being put up last. We expect the rainscreen facade to significantly reduce the cooling load of the building during summer. The photo shows also the solar hot water panels on the rooftop and the aluminum garage door.