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robbers

Apr 24, 2007, 3:44 PM

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Steel & Glass House Practical?

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I am thinking about moving to a location in Central Mexico about 7,000 feet above sea level. The weather is pretty much perfect all year (F80s in the days, F50s at night), and the house will be on a hillside. One house plan I'm considering is a steel-frame house with mostly glass walls. This would appeal to me for many reasons, however, must question the practicality of it on several levels, including interior temperature, safety, cleaning of the glass, resale value, etc.

Many people on this forum have such terrific experience and insight, so am hoping to hear opinions/remarks from many different perspectives.

Thanks in advance.



sfmacaws


Apr 25, 2007, 7:43 PM

Post #2 of 18 (6890 views)

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Re: [robbers] Steel & Glass House Practical?

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If it is in the central Mexican highlands, also question the practicality due to earthquakes.

Who are you going to get to build this house? It's a tough nut to get workers to build something they are unfamiliar with, you'd better be very fluent in spanish and/or have a great architect who is hands on and on site a lot.


Jonna - Mérida, Yucatán




Karin

Apr 25, 2007, 8:31 PM

Post #3 of 18 (6883 views)

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Re: [sfmacaws] Steel & Glass House Practical?

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In Morelia they are building a new fracctionamiento of one family houses having steel structures.


Papirex


Apr 25, 2007, 10:30 PM

Post #4 of 18 (6880 views)

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Re: [robbers] Steel & Glass House Practical?

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Jonna is right; you will probably have a near impossible task finding a contractor in México to build the house you have described. For a steel framed building you will need to have an erector. An erector is a building contracting firm that specializes in erecting steel framed buildings; usually high rise buildings. It is doubtful that you will find a qualified erector in México that will erect such a small building at a reasonable price.

The beams, etc. in most steel framed buildings are bolted together. If they are welded, the potential problems are magnified. I once saw a 60 foot high parachute drying tower on an airbase where I was working that had been welded together by a regular welder on the base, not a fully trained construction welder. The tower was 2 or 3 feet out of plumb at the top. It looked like a modern leaning Tower of Pisa.

It took a welding engineer about 10 days of examining that tower to decide where heat had to be applied to relieve the internal stresses and bring the tower to plumb before it could be completed. Personally, I would not take the many risks involved in building something that is so far beyond the experience of the average building contractor here.

You should also be aware that the title of “architect” is very loosely used in México. Just about every building contractor will assume the title of architect. A similar situation exists in The United States with the title of “engineer.” Anyone up there may assume the title of engineer. There is no legal requirement to have a degree in engineering to use that title in most states.

Glass walls will have a very low insulating R-value, even if they are double paned, which is doubtful to me. Glass walls would make it a daunting task to install electrical fixtures and plumbing too. Of course electrical outlets can be installed in the floor, but it would take some very skilled craftsmen in México to accomplish that.

I am curious as to where you found an area in the central highlands at an elevation of 7000 feet with the average temperatures you have described. I hope you are not taking the word of the person that wants to sell the property. I find it hard to believe that average daytime temperatures would be in the 80°s F. at that altitude. We live at 5000 feet altitude and daytime temperatures here are usually in the low 70°s F.

Our coolest winter nighttime temperatures here are usually 50° F. or above. We have family living in México City at over 7250 feet altitude. On the nights when it is 50° F. here, if we call them it is always at least 7 or 8° F. colder there. We also have relatives in Puebla. Puebla is slightly lower in altitude than México City is, but it is still over 7000 feet there, and it is usually cooler there than it is in México City. When we call them on those cool nights, it is even cooler there than it is in México City.

50° F. is not really cold, but if you are sitting in an unheated house in México all evening you will get cold. You will get used to seeing everyone wearing a sweater, or light jacket in the living room in the evenings in winter here.

If you are determined to have a house built here, I would strongly advise that it not be anything exotic. It will always be hard to find a builder that will know how to build anything out of the ordinary here. Don’t try to be a trailblazer, if you do you will probably sink in the quicksand.

Come to México and watch a few houses being built. The average good speed for a house to be built here is about 18 months. The methods used in construction here are crude by US standards. You will not be able to change them. In The US, we can build the average custom home in 60 days from breaking ground to occupancy. What can be done in The USA has nothing to do with what is possible in México.

If you have a house built be fluent in Spanish so you can deal with the “architect.”

Rex








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"The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved" - Victor Hugo


robbers

Apr 25, 2007, 11:13 PM

Post #5 of 18 (6876 views)

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Re: [RexC] Steel & Glass House Practical?

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Lots of good input and some excellent questions that deserve excellent answers. Unfortunately, I may not have them for you. The area is close to Cuernavaca, Rex will know it. Actually two areas I'm looking at. One is the Huizilac area north of Cuernavaca, the other is Del Bosque which, I believe, rises above the Southwest part of Cuernavaca. I think the altitude is similar. And, perhaps my figures are inaccurate, but, due to the 2,000 foot difference in altitude, the temperature difference should be 8 - 10 Degrees F cooler than Cuernavaca. I stayed up there in late December for two weeks and I think daytime temps were in the low F80s, nighttime in the low F60s, but I could be wrong.

As for the architect, he is fully trained and also acts as project manager, has contacts with crews, different ones for different projects. He's built two houses on the hill I'm thinking of, neither glass & steel. But he has built a large glass & steel home on one of the lakes. I saw construction pictures and it looks very nicely done. He's Mexican and speaks English almost fluently.

So maybe this answers some of the questions. And, at the same time, maybe it raises more. If so, fire away, I'm just here to learn what I can from you bright, experienced people. That way, maybe I won't get caught in quicksand. Which, by-the-way, is my primary goal.

Thanks,
Rob


(This post was edited by robbers on Apr 25, 2007, 11:15 PM)


sfmacaws


Apr 26, 2007, 12:25 AM

Post #6 of 18 (6871 views)

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Re: [robbers] Steel & Glass House Practical?

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Most of the really rich in Mexico prefer very modern houses and I've seen pictures of some spectacular homes that look to be mostly glass. Also, there are incredible commercial buildings in Mexico that compete with the best I've seen in any country.

So, there are architects and contractors who can build such houses, it will be finding them and paying them that could be the problem. Plus, they will probably have their trained crews that they will have to bring from wherever they are, house and feed for the duration of the job. It's not something you can pick up a local albanil to work on.

I'd carefully check any references you can get, visit the houses he's built and talk to the owners. Ask around to see if they are related. It could either turn out as a fantastic home or a major disaster, but I guess any house building anywhere in the world has those 2 potentials.

I could never live at 7000' or anywhere that was that cold. Rex is right that you will need to seriously consider heating...lots of heating. Brrrrr!


Jonna - Mérida, Yucatán




tonyburton


Apr 26, 2007, 8:10 AM

Post #7 of 18 (6853 views)

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Re: [robbers] Steel & Glass House Practical?

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It is perfectly possible, and you would not be the first. The earliest I know of is a home in Jocotepec, belonging to a former professor of Design at Purdue, built about 30 years ago. It is a simple, but elegant home on Calle Hidalgo Nte. If you decide to pursue your dream, please e-mail or PM me with your details, and I'll contact the owner to see if he's willing to share his expertise/experiences.


Papirex


Apr 26, 2007, 10:47 AM

Post #8 of 18 (6836 views)

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Re: [robbers] Steel & Glass House Practical?

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Rob, just a couple of comments about the areas you mentioned as a possible home site. Huitzilac is a small town 30 or 40 KM north of Cuernavaca. It is higher in the mountains than Cuernavaca and it may very well be at 7,000 feet elevation. It will definitely be colder there than in Cuernavaca.

The only way to drive to Cuernavaca or México City from Huitzilac is on highway 95D. That is the libre. On holidays, or holiday weeks it is a nightmare of slow moving bumper to bumper traffic on that road because of all the people from México City that are leaving town. You will need to time your shopping trips to avoid heavy traffic days on that road. You will need to go to a larger city for good shopping. Huitzilac is northwest of Cuernavaca.

Del Bosque is a fraccionamiento of Cuernavaca. It is slightly removed from the main part of town; it is located to the west of the northern part of Cuernavaca. I don’t remember it as being particularly higher than most of Cuernavaca is, although the elevation of this city varies a bit in different areas from higher in the north, to lower in the south.

Cuernavaca is at an elevation of approximately 5000 feet. The variation from north to south is no more than 50 or 60 feet.

Without seeing either site, I would choose Del Bosque. The libre to Huitzilac is a steep, twisting, often busy, mountain road. Cuernavaca is “The city of eternal spring”. Del Bosque is part of Cuernavaca. You will enjoy a better climate, summer and winter, in Cuernavaca than you will find in any other area in The Republic.

I recommend this site for quick and accurate temperature conversions:
http://www.onlineconversion.com/temperature.htm There is a rather clumsy mathematical formula for converting temperatures from Centigrade to Fahrenheit accurately, but since I started using this site, I have forgotten it and I would need to look it up again to use it.

Rex




"The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved" - Victor Hugo

(This post was edited by RexC on Apr 26, 2007, 10:49 AM)


sparks


Apr 26, 2007, 12:22 PM

Post #9 of 18 (6825 views)

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Re: [robbers] Steel & Glass House Practical?

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Huitzilac is only about 20 minutes out of Cuernavaca if the traffic is not bad. I also doubt it's more than 500ft above Cuernavaca which I think is 52-5500. The 3 times I've been there the weather was not much different than down below with the exception of a few more clouds.

I would not want to drive that highway every day for sure

Sparks Mexico - Sparks Costalegre


robbers

Apr 26, 2007, 12:54 PM

Post #10 of 18 (6817 views)

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Re: [sparks] Steel & Glass House Practical?

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As for the relative elevations of Huizilac, Del Bosque, and Cuernavaca, Google Earth is very helpful. But you have to know exactly where to put the cursor. Rex, Del Bosque is my first choice, the top part of it is quite nice with pine trees and large lots. Thus the interest in a glass house.

Speaking of that, I'm concerned about a point someone brought up, insulation. The assumption that the glass will not be double panes is correct, too expensive. So I wonder if it might be a bit too warm during the day, a bit too cool at night.

As mentioned, there are other potential issues with a glass house. So, if anyone wants to throw stones at the idea, am sure I'll learn more. And thanks to those who've offered their thoughts.

Regards,
Rob


Papirex


Apr 26, 2007, 4:21 PM

Post #11 of 18 (6803 views)

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Re: [robbers] Steel & Glass House Practical?

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It is extremely hard to find accurate data about the elevation of Cuernavaca. Since Cuernavaca slopes from higher in the north, to lower in the south, it probably depends on where in the city the measurements were made.

I did three searches, and came up with three different answers today. One site said the elevation of Cuernavaca is 1452 meters that is 5,049 feet. The second site said it is 1548 meters that is 5,078 feet. The third site did not give the elevation in meters, but said it is 5,200 feet here.

I don’t know how accurate Google earth might be, but over the years I have found many different figures for the elevation here. I think a person would need access to a university or other institution to find accurate research reports. These differences are why I always just say that we are at about 5,000 feet altitude here. At this altitude, a couple of hundred feet isn’t worth being concerned about.

If you use single paned glass walls, the house will definitely be warmer in the summer, and cold in the winter in Cuernavaca. (Yep, quicksand.) You will need to install a heating system for the winter months, and air-conditioning with all the higher energy costs for the summer months, or, be sure that many of the panels in those glass walls will open to give more than average ventilation. If you do that, you may get by with lots of fans. You will need screens for any of the panels that will open, that kind of defeats the purpose of the glass walls to provide a nice view.

One thing that I have noticed that is ignored by Mexican builders is adequate ventilation. Every building code that I have ever worked with in several states in The US mandates a minimum amount of ventilation for every occupant of a home.

A three-bedroom home is rated for six occupants, a four-bedroom home for eight occupants, etc. There must be windows that will open in each bedroom with a minimum amount of square inches of ventilation available for each occupant, even if those windows are never opened, the ventilation must be available. Minimum amounts of ventilation must also be provided in every room in the house, including most importantly, the bathrooms.

One if the houses we lived in here in Cuernavaca had a very tiny window in the master bath. We had a constant, unsolvable mold problem in the shower in that bathroom.

Cleaning those glass walls will also be a daunting task requiring the use of a ladder, and I think most maids will ask for extra pay on the days they need to be cleaned, or just tell you that they will not do that job. It is probably something she will discuss with you when you hire her when she sees the house.

Rex
"The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved" - Victor Hugo

(This post was edited by RexC on Apr 26, 2007, 8:17 PM)


sparks


Apr 26, 2007, 7:23 PM

Post #12 of 18 (6787 views)

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Re: [robbers] Steel & Glass House Practical?

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Acording to Google earth Huitzilac is 8,330 and Cuernavaca is a little over 5,000. I guess that winding road is deceptive.

So anyway, what about a nice tile roof hacienda - Mexican style

Sparks Mexico - Sparks Costalegre


Papirex


Apr 26, 2007, 8:40 PM

Post #13 of 18 (6774 views)

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Re: [sparks] Steel & Glass House Practical?

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Wow, I didn’t know that Huitzilac was that high, I believe it though. That makes it 1,000 feet higher than México City. It will definitely be colder there in the winter than either Cuernavaca or México City. It would not be surprising if they get occasional snow there in winter too. It does snow sometimes in some areas of México City.

I had to edit my last post. I had typed 4200 feet when it should have been 5200 feet.

Rex


"The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved" - Victor Hugo


cristalhombre


Apr 26, 2007, 9:07 PM

Post #14 of 18 (6771 views)

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Re: [robbers] Steel & Glass House Practical?

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Robbers. I can address your some of your glass questions, as that has and is my business, as a broker of architectural flat glass for commercial high-rise projects on the West Coast (30 long years now).......

Certainly a large glass area will allow you great views and tons of daylight for your interior spaces. Yes these tend to have a contemporary look, depending on the design.

However, "sun control" will be essential at the latitudes of Central MX. In the US/Europe/Asia float glass can be purchased with a value added VDC coating of microscopic metallic particles, known as Low Emissivity Coatings (Which you can not see with your eyes) but to the radiant sun spectrum these particles will re-radiate that solar heat gain back outside in the summer and the reverse in the winter when you want to retain ambient air temps in the inside space. These new coatings are creating some amazing performance levels in thermal characteristics in glass. That is the good news, and I could tell you more neat things that would help your situation......

Now the bad news. You will not find a low-e coated glass product made in Mexico. We import some very good quality 9 and 12mm float glass from Monterrey, but beyond the basic float product Mexico is, as you might expect 25 years behind the tech curve in value added glass options.

Recently I visited a tempering facility in Mexico and the equipment was 30 years old and labor intensive. Nothing wrong with it.......... just trying to explain the level of sophistication of my industry SOB.

NOW......don't give up yet - your dream is possible!

What I suggest you do is to find a "young" architect that has focused on LEED certification training......YES they are teaching these techniques in Architectural Colleges in Mexico too. This is a professional training that is based on the VERY ESSENTIAL area of construction and design, both residential and commercial, known as "sustainable architecture". As an example of how MAIN stream this is now.........ALL state buildings built with state funding in California, Oregon and Washington MUST have LEED certification. As an example they now say that a building designed today with LEED requirements will operate at 70% of the energy costs of a similar building designed and built just 10 years ago. There is more to this but not important for this discussion.

I have met several very experienced Architects all over Mexico.....Oaxaca to PV. However I just really enjoy the thirst that some of these young people have for environment affects and architecture. Quite impressed!! you will find some real talent there.

What you need with lots of glass (NOTE That you will not find insulated glass either) so with this monolithic 6mm (1/4" clear glass) you will need to control the heat gain with exterior shading. Examples....canopies, projected sun screens. exterior drop blinds (this is what I use at my casa in Ajijic).......bottom line is that you do not want the radiant gain in the summer, unless you want to bake bread without the use of an oven. All of these techniques are fairly straight forward, and not too costly in Mexico.

Good luck.

Brad





"NOT ALL WHO WANDER ARE LOST...."


robbers

Apr 27, 2007, 9:25 AM

Post #15 of 18 (6745 views)

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Re: [cristalhombre] Steel & Glass House Practical?

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Brad, et. al.,

Wow, some very helpful information has been generated here and I really appreciate the enthusiastic response.

Brad, the architect who is talking to me about this house (it is actually already designed in a rough sense) recommends exterior shutters, so it was interesting to see you mentioned that. However, my budget won't cover that and he is suggesting interior curtains or blinds as an alternative. It's possible, I suppose, to design-in exterior "overhangs" on the areas that the sun will affect most significantly. Also, the lot I'm looking at has a fair amount of pine trees on it, so they will help, too. Finally, the architect, coincidentally, lives two lots away, so he's quite familiar with both the exact exposure to the sun and the temperatures. I doubt, however, that he's LEED certified.

On the other hand, I'm also concerned about it being too cold at night. I think it generally gets down to about F 45 - 55 at night, so that could be an issue as well.

Again, thanks for the input, this has been quite enlightening.

Regards,
Rob


Papirex


Apr 27, 2007, 11:48 AM

Post #16 of 18 (6736 views)

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Re: [robbers] Steel & Glass House Practical?

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Rob, we live a few KM north of Del Bosque. The coolest nighttime winter temperatures we had here, until this last exceptionally cool winter were never below 50° F. This last unusually cool winter it did drop to around’ 48° F. at night on the coldest nights. That made a difference. It was colder in an unheated house.

We have used 1500-Watt electric oil filled radiators for heat when we needed to; they are minimally adequate. We use them sparingly, because of the electric rate structure in México. A possible solution to reduce the heat loss in a house with many glass walls would be to use insulated drapes.

Every fall when we lived in Anchorage, there was a company that advertised custom made insulated window drapes. The consumers they targeted were people that owned older homes without double paned windows.

I have never seen any insulated drapes, and I have no idea of what is used to insulate them. It will probably take some research to find out more about them, but they sound like a viable way to reduce the heat loss. It seems logical that it would take some very well anchored curtain rods to bear the extra weight of them. That might be tricky in the standard masonry homes built here.

While I don’t think much of the materials and building methods used here, I personally would never have anything out of the ordinary built here. Each new thing leaves new problems to be solved. They are solvable, but it would be handy to have a couple of baskets of money in the house to pay for them as they arise.

Rex






"The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved" - Victor Hugo


cristalhombre


Apr 27, 2007, 2:14 PM

Post #17 of 18 (6723 views)

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Re: [robbers] Steel & Glass House Practical?

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Another consideration for you as you spend $$ wisely for this home. Is this a year round, permanent home, or a retreat from the USA for a couple of seasons each year?? IF this is a winter get-away, then your dollars should be directed at preventing heat transfer from inside to outside, so the thermal drapes make sense here. However if this is a year round residence..... and you have limited dollars, I would adapt the structure to "prevent" direct solar gain (sunlight). A way to do this on the cheap is to buy some greenhouse cloth (fiberglass reinforced screening) you see draped over greenhouses to control sun. I had some roll up blinds custom made, seamed with grommets for hanging them. With 3 large window areas (clear glass) 22 feet by 8 feet, 14 by 8 feet and 5 by 8 feet this cost 250 USD and I wrapped them up and shipped them down on Alaska Airlines in a box the size of a suitcase.

These work great.

My experience at 5000 feet in the winter is that our casa is cool (not cold) in the early morning. By 9 to 10 AM the solar gain has kicked in. Your elevation might have significantly different results.





"NOT ALL WHO WANDER ARE LOST...."


Judy in Ags


Apr 28, 2007, 7:47 AM

Post #18 of 18 (6689 views)

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Re: [robbers] Steel & Glass House Practical?

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I'm guessing that at certain times of the year (now, for instance), the temperature drops to 45-55. We're at 6200 feet and that's what it drops to now. In December and January, however, it gets much colder at night.

My other concern was something you mentioned--CLEANING that glass. We have a lot of windows and it's really a lot of work to keep them even relatively clean. In the winter the condensation collects on them from the difference between outside and inside temperatures and leaves marks from that process. In the dry season, dust collects on them. Then there are bugs that make marks on them when attracted to the inside light at night, etc., etc., etc.

Glass buildings do seem to becoming more popular here commercially. They are beautiful, granted.

I'd also second the comments others have made about studying the types of architecture here (It's NOTHING like the U.S.) and knowing how to speak Spanish--very important!!!

Well, whatever you decide, I wish you well.



 
 
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