Re: Questions about autonomous houses

I got the following from a friend who was checking out the website. Wanted to 
CC: the Domesteading list, since I think the questions are very good, and 
should be thought about by the community. 

I've also asked Derek to join the list. :-) 

> Hi Patrick-
> I just read through your RS pages - very interesting.  Some 
> comments/questions:
> - Your overall design is very well thought out
	Thank you. :-) For those who haven't seen them, yet, I just added some 
of the most recent renderings yesterday afternoon near the bottom of 
	These include pictures showing some various wall/window combinations.

> - Aerogels are very cool, but how close are they to manufacturability? For 
> some time after that point, I expect that aerogel panels as you describe 
> will be quite expensive, especially with a polymer liquid crystal 
> built-in.
	Yes, I suspect they probably will be quite expensive for a while. From 
what I've read, there is a bit of trickiness to manufacturing, but mainly due 
to fragility, and the need to use high-pressure CO2 to force 
the ethanol out of the aerogel. 
	The 'gel' is injected as a liquid into a mold, or simply into a pan 
or petri dish. It's then allowed to solidify into the silica aerogel matrix, 
which is still full of liquid, but now has the sponge-like structure within 
it. This can take several days to solidify fully. Then the aerogel is put into 
a high-pressure chamber. It uses a CO2 atmosphere at pressures ranging from
750-1050 psi. The high pressure means you don't have to use much heat. In 
fact, the whole process can be completed in temperature 
ranges from 5-31C (41-88F). This causes the liquid ethanol to 
be forced out of the matrix, and it can be drawn off. 
	There's a detailed description of this process, including recipes and 
procedures, here:

	If you envision a triangular "pizza box" design made of Lexan or glass,
you'll have the basic idea for a panel as I'm thinking of it. At one corner is 
a valve to inject the liquid gel, and at another corner is a valve to release 
air/liquid during the process. You inject, let it sit, then remove the ethanol 
as noted above. After that, the valves could be permanently sealed, and you've 
got a super-insulating panel. 
	Yes, it will be expensive to start. So were automobiles, and the 
tooling necessary to produce the production lines for a new car often range in 
the $2-4 Billion range. However, if the first car off the line costs $4 
billion, the second is only $2 billion, and by the time you're cranking out 
hundreds of thousands, the price drops into an affordable range.
	I suspect that part of the reason aerogels aren't widely used yet is 
	1) It's extremely difficult to make them clear. Thus they aren't widely
used in windows, yet. This will change as soon as they perfect transparent 
production. Mark my words. :-) 
	In my case, I'm not concerned with perfect transparency, and am happy 
to get just "pretty transparent" results. In fact, if we don't do LCD 
light-shutter panels at the outset (also expensive) then we'll want many 
opaque panels. You can make opaque aerogels by 'doping' them with other 
materials. Carbon and iron for black, copper for green, iron oxide for orange, 
nickel for blue, etc. You can see photos of some of these, and even a magnetic 
aerogel (made with iron oxide), here: 
	2) I don't think there's been a real need/demand for them, yet. I hope 
to correct this by creating the demand for millions of panels, so that many 
companies begin to compete for this market and develop manufacturing processes 
that streamline production. 
	I've emailed Hubert van Hecke, who's page I reference, and even he, as 
an aerogel researcher, doesn't see much demand commercially. So far, they're 
mainly a scientific curiosity, and used in esoteric research, such as space 
projects. Current housing practices use stone and wood and foam as insulators. 
They aren't concerned with weight, nor with transparency. I'm concerned with 
both, so I've focused on aerogels, but I realize there are other ways to do 
it, and some of those are cheaper (but may not give all the properties I want.)

> - The articulating legs will also be very expensive
	Perhaps not. As I posted to Domesteading last year 
( these things 
are already being manufactured for the trucking industry. I don't know the 
unit-cost of them, but I suspect it's not a large fraction of the overall 
price of the truck. As another list member (Don Bowen) pointed out in a 
followup message, hydraulic elevator lifts are another fine example of 
existing technology for this component. 

> - Despite their advantages, dome homes have not taken off in popularity. 
> The vast majority of people are too used to box-shaped houses to even 
> consider something so different.
	Granted. However, as a counterpoint to this argument, I live in a 
dome, and have had hundreds of people visit over the last 3 years. Not a 
single one has voiced dismay, disgust, or outright rejection. In fact, almost 
uniformly the response has been quite the opposite, with approval, admiration, 
and in some cases outright desire to have one for themselves. 

> - The main cost component of a home is the land, so your design will only 
> become cost-effective in outlying areas where land is cheap.  I would 
> guess that the "egg" would not be any cheaper to build than a traditional 
> structure.  Yes, cost will come down with mass production, but IMHO the 
> potential market is much, much smaller than you hope for.
	We'll see. At first, I'd agree with you. But the idea is to radically 
change the housing industry over the long-run. In the beginning, demand for 
automobiles was small, and only the rich could afford them. In the beginning, 
demand for computers was small, and the head of IBM predicted there'd never be 
a need for more than perhaps 12 of their machines, worldwide.
	I'm hoping to bring the same technological advantages shown in car and 
computer manufacturing to bear on the housing industry. 
	According to calculations done by Bucky Fuller, a full-scale 
manufacturing facility producing houses would be roughly comparable with a 
full-scale automobile manufacturing facility. It would cost billions to set 
up, but would produce products roughly comparable in price to automobiles. 
	At first, I'm sure they'll be very expensive. But in time, I suspect 
they'll drop to the $25,000-$50,000/unit range. This would put them in the 
"MUCH cheaper than ordinary housing" category (at least, in California! ;^)  ) 
and in the "cheaper than ordinary housing" category elsewhere. Coupled with 
the 4000+ square foot living area, the self-contained life-support systems, 
and the non-reliance on external utilities, it should prove to be a better buy 
than traditional housing. At least, that's the hope.
	Land prices may well skyrocket once it's as easy to live in the remote 
wilderness as it is in a developed area. But with this house, you should be 
able to rent land from farmers, or rooftops from building owners in Manhattan 
or San Francisco. The house should work anywhere, if built correctly.
	Farther out, these will be massively useful for off-world colonists, 
moving to the Moon, Mars, or points beyond, where infrastructure doesn't exist.

> - I could see corporations using these for worker housing at remote job 
> sites, like northern Alaska,  but you won't sell any to an Inuit
	True again. I've posted elsewhere on Domesteading about the use for 
remote research teams, with laboratory resources, etc. They won't be the 
perfect solution for everyone, but they should be another option in the 
spectrum of housing for those who want them, regardless of race. 

> - For very cold climates, you'll need the panels to provide an R-value of 
> at least 25, or extra insulation will be needed.  The internal open design 
> means you have to heat the entire space, as there's no way to limit it to 
> a subsection where the residents are actually living at the moment (like 
> closing vents to unused rooms in a traditional home)
	Aerogel is R20/inch, and if you evacuate the air from the aerogel 
(which would be possible in the panel design I outline above) then it goes up 
to R32/inch. Doing a 2" panel would put you into the R40-R64 range, plus any 
insulation you get from the glass/Lexan encasing the panel. 
	I want the house to be versatile, including changeable wall 
configurations, and even changing floor configurations. An open design allows 
for greater circulation and all-around temperature balance, but the ability to 
close off sections is also useful. My recent renderings include separate rooms 
on the 2nd floor. I actually envision the house having options to create 
spaces on any floor, and even to get rid of the vaulted space, if people want 
more floor space. (The vaulted space is nice, but it removes about 1000 sq. 
feet from the available floor space, reducing it from about 5200'sq. to about 
	I feel that the floor plan and wall layout should be options left up 
to the owners, and changeable as the family changes, or whatever their desire. 
I like to think of the "house as a theater stage". You should be able to 
change your set, move around walls, change the lighting, etc. The structure of 
the dome means that you don't *require* any internal support walls, but that 
doesn't mean you can't have walls. 

> Just some stuff off the top of my head - I'd love to hear your thoughts.
> Best regards,
> Derek Schatz, CISSP
> Sr. Consultant
> Predictive Systems, 
>    Global Integrity Information Security
	Excellent questions, all! I'm glad you posted them, and again would 
invite you to join the Domesteading list. 

	Anyone else want to contribute thoughts/questions/answers on this? 

	   ___________________Think For Yourself____________________
	 Patrick G. Salsbury -
      Interested in Airships? See
       There is a difference between apathy and withdrawing in disgust.
							-troy sheets

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