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Dear Jim: I want to add a large deck or build a do-it-yourself gazebo kit. I have heard of attractive "solar" deck designs that can help reduce year-round utility bills. Can one really help and are they attractive - Bob T.
A: When you have an attractive deck or an insect-free screened gazebo, it is much more pleasant to be outdoors in the evening. This allows you to set up the air conditioner thermostat earlier and save more money. The design of a passive solar deck is not particularly unusual. To anyone other than a trained energy expert, it looks like just a very attractive two-level contemporary deck.
What makes a deck "solar" is the orientation of the top trim and the side details. In the summer, it should block the hot sun from baking your house. In the winter, it should slow the force of the cold winds striking your house, but allow the sun to shine through for free passive heating.
Although a solar deck can be designed for any side of your house, building it on the west side is most effective for year-round energy savings and comfort. The south side is the next best choice and the east comes in third. Unless you have no other option, avoid the north side.
A two-level west-facing solar deck is easy to design and build. The first design step is to cover the west side of one level (the one opposite the most windows) with 1x6 louvers. Actually covering both upper and lower levels is most effective, but you may feel closed in.
The trick to making it effective is slanting the louvers outward from top to bottom. Space them fairly far apart. This allows cool evening breezes through, yet slows ferocious winter winds. The proper slant varies with your area's latitude. Temporarily attach two louvers to test the shading.
Cover the top of the deck with louvers and slant them at the opposite angle (inward from top to bottom). This also allows the winter sun to shine through to your house, but blocks the steeper intense summer sun.
Building a gazebo kit will allow you to spend more comfortable time outdoors too. Depending on your level of skill and time available, you can select a precut or a preassembled kit. A precut kit includes all the lumber materials and hardware, but you must assemble it completely.
A preassembled kit is delivered in eight finished roof, wall and floor sections. You just need a screwdriver to assemble it. An octagonal design made of western red cedar with a curved two-level cedar shake roof is my favorite. For about $600, you can add an insect screening option.
Instant Download Update Bulletin No. 702 - buyer's guide of 13 high-quality and attractive gazebo kits, sizes, wood types, features, illustrations, detailed instructions with diagrams, dimensions and required materials list for building a solar deck and a solar postioning chart for 58 cities.
Dear Jim: I have a waterbed and I like it very much. My children are considering getting them too. I was wondering if the heaters for these big bags of water cost much to operate? - Steve H.
A: You ought to think again about getting waterbeds for your children. It can cost about $14 to $23 per month in electricity usage just to keep one waterbed comfortably warm.
If your children really want them, put a one-inch thick foam pad over the mattress. It insulates the mattress and separates their bodies from it so you can set the temperature lower. Cover it with a quilt during the day.