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Design: Solarium at Wheaton Labs: Design Conversation

Posts: 174
Location: Denver, 6a / BSk, rental house dweller, going back to Wheaton Labs soon
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Hello there!

Paul's asked me to create a design for a Solarium at Wheaton Labs. This thread is intended to serve several functions:

- Design conversation between Paul and I
- Pooling Permie knowledge both to improve the design and help me make it more natural
- Probably other useful functions as yet unknown or unintended

The Solarium is intended to go here, on the South end of the Garage:

The idea is to remove the garage door, tracks, and motor from the inside and replace it with the Solarium on the outside.

The current overall design for the Solarium is this:

This project goes hand-in-hand with other improvements intended to turn the garage into livable year round sleeping quarters. Adjacent to this project is a skidded trashcan enclosure to screen the trashcans while permitting them to remain in their current location. That other work is not depicted here.

What you're seeing is:

- Garage exterior, currently unchanged, with an eave and concrete pad both extending 2' past the outside face of the wall.
- Quick and dirty, "it's better than nothing, but damn it's bad" topography.

One Solarium. Made primarily of wood and glass.
- Wood: The large wood members are currently 2" x 6" dimensional lumber (DL). Probably not the right size, but probably close.
- Wood: The small wood members are currently 2" x 2" DL. Again, probably not the right size, but probably close.
- Glass: 1/4" Clear, Tempered Glass. Currently, attached in the method of the Solar Dehydrator, in the center-ish of the pane of glass, with Stainless Steel (SS) screws with a Silicone gasket to DL framing.
- Center Support: Something exquisitely beautiful, currently envisioned as something tree-like. Modeled crudely because making believable curves in SketchUp is too time consuming until it's known to be the desired solution.
- Door: 3' x 7'. Currently shown as one glass and wood swing door. There's nothing saying it can't be a Dutch door, or Barn door, or something else entirely.
- Door Handle: Something else exquisitely beautiful, and eminently handle-able. I chose the current place-holder to have a deliberately branded shape.
- Floor: Currently shown as Cedar decking laid above the finished elevation of the concrete pad. The issue here is the solarium encompasses what is currently both concrete pad and gravel drive. Selected because it's a PEP BB. This will likely change based on what the floor of the dormitory nee garage will eventually be.
- The Role of "Bollard" will be played by several 3-Log Benches. Selected because it's a PEP BB, and 3 log benches are already in long supply.

Design Constraints, Factors, and Assumptions:

- This structure will likely be one of the first things seen when visitors arrive at Wheaton Labs (WL). As such, it should be a signpost and indicator of the work done and values embraced here.
- The interior space could, and I think should, be some of the highest-quality indoor space at Basecamp.
- Many people will traverse the Solarium, not just residents. The door and structure must be robust; not fragile, and not require gentle handling at all.
- On the outer, southern, face of the Solarium, Hops will be grown and trained up the outside face.
- The intended location of the Solarium is currently a Car Turnout. Some of this space needs to be preserved, while vigorously defending the Solarium from ever being bumped, even a little.
- The structure must remain rigid, through sun, snow, wind, thermal expansion, and frost heave.
- The structure must not admit water.
- The Wi-Fi Dish must remain undisturbed. I currently disturb its support piece in order to get the roof higher, and door opening taller, than the original garage door opening.
- There's less than a foot of gravel in the drive before solid rock is reached.
- The construction methods and techniques required must be compatible with the tools and skills readily available at WL.
- The materials used are ideally less toxic and energy intensive than those used in the Solar Dehydrator. Must at least be no moreso.

In a post coming soon™, I will include my sketches for the Crucial Details. The locations I've identified are:

- Solarium/Ground, 2 Ground Conditions
- Solarium/Garage, 2 Corner Details
- Solarium/Solarium, 3 Corner Details
- Glass/Solarium Attachment
- Hops/Solarium Attachment
- Center Support, Top & Bottom
- Door, Sill, Head, Jambs, and Handle

No, I don't have sketch-up Paul in here. I know he exists, but sketchup Paul is incompatible with the older version of sketchup I use. I use that older version because [reasons].

I know there's items and details that I'm forgetting here. But hey, it's a forum, so it's fixable! Yay!
master steward
Posts: 5530
Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
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Sweet project!!!

A few questions/thoughts for you.  What's the ceiling of the garage currently look like?  Is it open to the roof deck?  Are the soffits vented?  Is there a ridge vent?  Those questions get at ventilation when the sun is blasting into that space and the hops aren't covering the glass (Jan-June).

The curvy shape is very pretty, but probably will increase the build time significantly.  Would a simpler three facet design be worth considering?  Main surface is a plane of glass at 20-30 degrees off of vertical, with a short vertical bit at the bottom and a horizontal bit against the building.

Will you get much sun through the bottom-most panels?  Might be cheaper or more durable if that section was solid.  Snow will likely cover it all winter and the sun's pretty high in the summer.

Is the plan to build a door?  Getting a used one may avoid a lot of frustration with creating one.  Ask me how I know...

Could you make it bigger?  Extend to the south another 10'?  The flattish roof would have to hold snow but it would give much more room for interior activities.

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I believe there is a lot of sand there. People have been making windows since antiquity, so if they can do it, so can we today on a DIY basis.

Could you make your own glazing for this? Maybe do a weekend glass retreat by an expert glass maker to:

1. Make glass for this project
2. Teach how to make glass to others
3. Prove that one of the most expensive bought items for a home or WOFATI could be DIY'ed.

Kind of a crazy idea, but I am filled with them.
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Posts: 1727
Location: Ladakh, Indian Himalayas at 10,500 feet, zone 5
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I've been living with and loving attached solar greenhouses for many years. I have a couple of suggestions:
1) Make the vertical south wall a bit taller if you get a lot of snow there, which I think you do. Also it makes it easier to move around inside the greenhouse near the south wall. Especially if any tall people will be using it...
2) Add large openable windows in the west wall. Even with shading of a deciduous vine in summer, you'll want extreme cross ventilation if the glazing remains on through the summer. We remove our greenhouse glazing entirely for the summer, leaving just the frame. We'd bake if we left the glazing on, and the plants would die. Even with cross ventilation. But we are further south and much higher than you. In the shoulder season, for a month or two in the spring and fall, I open the window and the door at both ends through the midday, and close them at night. Otherwise the plants would be harmed. If I'm out all day and unable to open them, I come back to wilted plants, which leads to dead seedlings, premature bolting, aphids, overly spicy arugula, and other problems.
3) I'm not sure how I feel about having a perennial deciduous vine for summer shading. Deciduous plants actually cast quite a bit of shade in winter. In my situation, I depend on the greenhouse as the main source of heat for the attached house, so I really want to maximumize heat gain in winter. In summer I find a shade cloth and/or annual vines work well for controlling the temperature. That said, I'm scheming on a grape vine or an arctic kiwi, but I will plant that inside the greenhouse because they are marginal in our climate.
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