19 April 2007

Missouri Solar House -- south

Armstrong's design for a Missouri passive solar house was commissioned and published by the manufacturer of Thermopane glazing, Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass Company. The book, entitled Your Solar House, featured forty-nine solar house designs from architects from the continental United States as well as the District of Columbia.

While the book was clearly motivated by marketing considerations, it presented ideas relating to passive solar house design to the general public.

The company had originally developed double-pane glazing in the late 1930s and brought it to market around 1938. The product caught the interest of architects in various parts of the country who wished to use more extensive glazing, but were concerned with excessive heat gain in the summer and cold drafts during wintertime. Double pane glazing helped to combat these problematic aspects of the extensive use of glass. Additionally, the use of glass was associated with the ideas and philosophy of modern architecture, promoting natural light, open space, and uniting inside and outside.

At some point around 1940, Libbey-Owens-Ford decided to remove double pane glazing from the market due to failure of the seal between the two panes of glass. When the seals failed, the trapped air space between the panes would absorb the humidity of the ambient environment. With the rise and fall of temperatures during the course of a day and over the course of the seasons, moisture would begin to condense on the interior surfaces of the two glass panes. Once the units became fogged, it became impossible to clean and clear them, so the company had to replace those units since they no longer provided a clear view to the exterior.

The apparent problem was the material used for the perimeter seal. Their design relied on an organic material as the sealant. With repeated temperature fluctuations and the resulting expansion and contraction of the separate glass panes. The differential movement was due in part to the success of the technology in the sense that the units would keep the two panes of glass at different temperatures. The higher the temperature, the greater the expansion of the glass pane, even though the actual dimensional difference was visually negligible. The repeating differential pressure on the seal and associated cycling temperatures caused the organic seals to detach prematurely from the glass panes.

Libbey-Owens-Ford needed to overcome a pre-existing skepticism created by the earlier promotion and subsequent withdrawal of the product from the market. They realized they needed to reassure the public of the product's benefits in addition to convincing the architects who would be specifying the material and putting their reputation behind this new technology.

The book was designed to provide a strong argument for the use of thermal pane glazing and in the particular the application of passive solar design concepts to homes located throughout the United States.

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