Re: Ask The Mineshaft: The Greening Of America Edition

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An electric heatpump could be a viable option, particularly if you can get some photovoltaic setup going.

Ordinary electric baseboard heat is an ecological disaster--turning chemical energy into thermal energy, then thermal energy into electricity, then electricity back into thermal energy, with an efficiency loss at each turn (plus transmission loss).

The electric heat pump eliminates the last step.

The downside of heat pumps is that they aren't so great at making really large differences in temperature, but in your case, that seems not to matter: a little AC in the summer, a little heat in the winter, just to make it comfortable.

Rig up some kind of renewable electricity on the property (wind or solar), with backup from the power grid, and you've got a pretty low impact set-up.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 2:05 PM
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This suggestion is on a smaller scale than what you're asking for, but may still be useful: greenergrassproducts.com sells a lantern that fully recharges and powers itself during the day by absorbing solar energy, and emits light at night. It might be good for replacing your outdoor lighting, or indoor lighting if you place it on a sunny windowsill (the light can be switched on or off at night).


Posted by: mmf! | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 2:06 PM
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oops --
greenergrassdesign.com


Posted by: mmf! | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 2:07 PM
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1: Would the heat pump serve to supplement the existing heating? It does get used in the winter, and the wood stove doesn't heat the more distant rooms very well, meaning the baseboard heat in those rooms is pretty important.


Posted by: Glenn Beck | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 2:14 PM
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It goes without saying that you should insulate properly if you haven't already done so.

You'll want wall, floor, and attic insulation, as well as pipe insulation around your pipes. Weather stripping around doors and windows, and caulk in any cracks is also important. This can all be done fairly inexpensively.

If you have old windows, look into tax credits for replacing them with energy efficient inert gas couble or triple pane windows. Alternatively, you can seal them in the winter, though this is less effective.

If you don't use the house at all during the winter, you should consider draining the entire water system and leaving the house completely unheated in the winter.

If you don't install photovoltaics on the roof, you should make sure that your next roof replacement is a high albedo material. If you have a metal roof, you can retrofit it with a reflective coating. If your roof is not shaded, plant some deciduous trees where they will block the afternoon sun in the summer.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 2:17 PM
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I'm looking for a way to "green" my personal jet, as well as my private circus of endangered animals. I'd like this to be next on the list.


Posted by: baa | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 2:19 PM
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Also, if they haven't already, they should get into the walls and insulate the water pipes. The closed-cell insulation for various gauges of pipe are pretty easy to buy and put on (provided you can get to them, that is), and will substantially reduce the amount of heating necessary to keep them from freezing.

Also, if you're in a sufficiently sunny area, a roof-mounted solar water heater would fulfill almost all your needs during the summer, though it's not so helpful if all the occupants are into very-early-morning showers and baths.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 2:20 PM
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Would the heat pump serve to supplement the existing heating? It does get used in the winter, and the wood stove doesn't heat the more distant rooms very well, meaning the baseboard heat in those rooms is pretty important.

There's no reason the two cannot coexist. You will need new vents (probably floor vents since your baseboards are occupied), and the hot air will come up through the floor. You can then set the thermostat for the baseboard heat to a very low temperature for the event where the outdoor temperature is so low that the house is in danger of freezing. (There is also an outdoor-indoor temperature gradient below which a heatpump is less efficient than conventional electric heating, so you can set the thermostat accordingly.)

If you want to continue burning wood for heat, consider installing an outdoor water jacket heater, which extracts heat from the wood much more efficiently. It's costly to install the boiler and heat exchanger, but once you have it, you can also heat your hot water with wood, which will save expense down the road.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 2:23 PM
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If your pipe freezing problem is limited to a particular area (say, a segment of lead-in pipe in the basement that is more exposed to outdoor temperatures than the rest of the house), it can be more efficient to install a wire heater directly on the pipe. They are not expensive, and can be connected to an inexpensive thermostat and a wall outlet. If the ambient temperature reaches the danger zone, bing, the wire heats up and keeps the specific section of pipe warm. It's like heating an electric blanket instead of the whole bedroom.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 2:26 PM
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I had also looked into radiant floor heating as a more-efficient option.

The efficiency gains I think I understand somewhat well. Where I get into an area of (much) greater ignorance is in talking about things like the efficiency of solar in colder, more northern climates, and whether there are new developments in photovoltaic that I should be understanding better. I also keep reading about geothermal heating systems, but don't really understand whether they would be useful.


Posted by: Glenn Beck | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 2:27 PM
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Media matters sent me an e-mail whose subject line begins: Dobbs, O'Reilly, and Beck. For a second I thought some awful new law firm had just opened for business.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 2:27 PM
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If you are in a State that allows net metering, invest in some photovoltaics. During the time you're not there, your meter could be running backwards - making you money - and and the panels will pay for themselves more quickly.

I installed a solar hot water system in my house and would highly recommend it. A Maryland grant paid for 20% of it, and there's plenty of hot water in the mornings, and an electric backup element for longer dark periods like overcast weeks in February. I went from using 40 therms of natural gas with the old hot water burner to just 1 or 2 therms a month.

-j


Posted by: John I | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 2:29 PM
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I do think that a geothermal heat pump would be worth alook, particularly if the primary heating issue in the winter is keeping things from freezing up (may need to be augmented when you want it livable), and should also meet the minimal summer needs. No idea where you are located, but here is a company, Blue Valley Energy, in Colorado that does this kind of work. For products, WaterFurnace has a variety of offerings.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 2:33 PM
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Dobbs, O'Reilly, and Beck

Specializing in immigration and sexual harassment law, with a sideline practice in sharia?


Posted by: Bave Dee | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 2:35 PM
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Commenters on this blog should not be helping fucking Glenn Beck with ANYTHING. Have you *seen* his TV show?


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 2:35 PM
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Where I get into an area of (much) greater ignorance is in talking about things like the efficiency of solar in colder, more northern climates, and whether there are new developments in photovoltaic that I should be understanding better.

"Efficiency" in this sense is sort of beside the point if you're willing to spend money to go green. Photovoltaic (and solar heat) have a near-zero carbon footprint, so if you can afford to pay the price to install them, there is no reason not to, as long as your house gets enough sun that they can meet at least some of your energy needs (you'll want conventionally powered backup for both hot water and heat).

I also keep reading about geothermal heating systems, but don't really understand whether they would be useful.

You might be confusing "geothermal heating" with "geothermal heat pumps". There are relatively few areas with true available geothermal heat (with present technology at reasonable cost, that it), but a heatpump exchanges heat between the earth and the house at a fairly high rate of efficiency. A watt of electricity used to exchange heat between your home and the earth actually gives you more than a watt of heating or cooling, in constrast to electric heat, where there is an additional loss of energy "after the meter".


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 2:37 PM
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My father-in-law had been looking into putting up his own windmill. shivbunny did the research and determined that it wouldn't work given that there just isn't enough wind where he lives, but it looked like a good option if one had wind and a lot of land.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 2:37 PM
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I reject the implication that Glenn Beck is a form of US president, presumably in the future.


Posted by: Fatrman | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 2:40 PM
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You might be confusing "geothermal heating" with "geothermal heat pumps".

I was.

as long as your house gets enough sun that they can meet at least some of your energy needs (you'll want conventionally powered backup for both hot water and heat)

How would you figure this out? Are there test meters to install, or anything like that?


Posted by: Glenn Beck | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 2:42 PM
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15: My current assumption is that this was a different Glenn Beck ... (after first assuming that it was he of CNN infamy).

The basic of geothermal heat pumps are that at some moderate depth the ground is at a pretty constant temperature, so it is warmer than the air in the winter and cooler in the summer and you can then work that in several different ways. The Wikipedia article is pretty good, although maybe overly favorable.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 2:44 PM
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How would you figure this out? Are there test meters to install, or anything like that?

I've made a reasonably successful career on the premise that you can always sound like an expert as long as no one asks three successive follow-up questions, but now you've gone and exposed the shallowness of my knowledge.

My guess is that yes, such a thing exists. You can probably even find a web calculator that will tell you, based on your polar coordinates and the compass orientation of your house, whether it's even in the ballpark. Can't help beyond that.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 2:45 PM
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after first assuming that it was he of CNN infamy

Are you kidding? That Glenn Beck would be asking if it would piss off liberals more for him to install an under driveway ice melter or to convert his motor yacht to run on rendered monk seal suet.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 2:48 PM
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This Glenn Beck was making a little joke with his pseudonym because the concept that a second home can be made "green" is a little ridiculous. For more on this, see baa's 6.


Posted by: Glenn Beck | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 2:51 PM
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Re- "Are there test meters to install, or anything like that?"

I had a guy from Aurora Energy come and do an audit of our roof orientation and sight lines. He had a cool orb-like gizmo that showed a reflection of the tree and sky profile that allows an accurate estimate of how efficient an installation would be.

http://www.aurora-energy.com/


Posted by: John I | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 2:51 PM
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You should seriously consider draining the water for the winter. If it's not too slow, you can re-fill and re-drain it the occasional times that you use it in the cold season, which is what my family did during the brief time they owned such a vacation home.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 2:55 PM
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because the concept that a second home can be made "green" is a little ridiculous

But not that ridiculous. Under a few not-too-implausible assumptions, it could be a net positive for the environment:
- you don't drive too far or too frequently to get there
- you don't run the air conditioner in your larger, hotter, primary home during the hottest times of the year
- you use the second home as an alternative to long-distance travel for vacation
- you use the proximity to nature to instill in your children a respect for the land and the living things its supports.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 2:58 PM
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you use the proximity to nature to instill in your children a respect for the land and the living things its supports.

Can eating be a kind of respect?


Posted by: baa | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 3:00 PM
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26 continued:

--you prevent energy inefficient riff raff from using it


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 3:02 PM
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1

"The downside of heat pumps is that they aren't so great at making really large differences in temperature, but in your case, that seems not to matter: a little AC in the summer, a little heat in the winter, just to make it comfortable."

Based on the experience of a colleague heat pumps can be problematic when the temperature is below freezing. It isn't just that they are less efficient with large temperature deltas, you also have to worry about ice formation.

I have heard some good things about geothermal systems but I don't think they are completely mature and reliable yet.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 3:11 PM
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23 -- If this really was a joke/provocation, awesome job, although we're talking about retrofitting an existing second home to make it efficient, not discussing whether or not the second home can be built at all.

The argument for why we need a carbon tax instead of subsidies for specific "green" technologies can be summed up in the brand new 4000 square foot allegedly "eco" house that's going up near to my friends' place.
I'm not saying that in the absence of a carbon tax we should do nothing, just that this problem won't get close to being addressed until we do.


Posted by: robert halford | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 3:16 PM
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Can eating be a kind of respect?

In my book, absolutely! There's a major conservation organization called "Ducks Unlimited", but none called "'Possums Unlimited".


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 3:18 PM
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I have heard some good things about geothermal systems but I don't think they are completely mature and reliable yet.

The basic technology has been widely deployed for a long time, but some of the more recent improvements may still have some growing pains to work out. You would never want to be completely reliant on a geothermal heat pump, and there are certain conditions under which their efficiency gains disappear even when they are functional. But broadly speaking, they are well suited to upgrading a conventional electric heat system.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 3:23 PM
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HEY! All you amateurs be quiet!

Ogged, just tell Mr. Beck that he can reach me at....

OK, seriously, this is pretty much what I'm in practice for. Give me a bit of time, and I'll be all over it. Probably with a lot of questions.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 3:43 PM
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Can eating be a kind of respect?

Ask Bill Clinton.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 3:44 PM
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Lay it on me, JRoth.


Posted by: Glenn Beck | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 3:46 PM
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Lay it on me, JRoth.

Oh, pity Glenn Beck's children when he sits them down for the parental talk about drugs.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 3:48 PM
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OK:

1. Absolutely yes on geothermal - it's mature enough that they're retrofitting it on downtown skyscrapers. For a big building like that, there's some testing required, but you will (almost certainly) not have a problem for a residential-scale application. As long as there's groundwater at a reasonable depth, you can tap into it. Exactly how it ties in to the rest of your system is a secondary question.

2. Radiant floors are probably a bad bet for something that gets light wintertime usage, unless:

2A. If you go geothermal, then you have an opportunity to heat-exchange with a new hot water loop; then you can, for virtually free, run 55 degree water through the floor all winter, guaranteeing no freezing. You can ditch those awful baseboards. Plus:

2B. It's possible - I don't know anything about yr layout, construction type, etc. - for you to put the radiant tubing in a concrete floor, which could double as a storage medium for passive solar gain. This would have to be in a room with big windows (possible retrofit) facing within 30 degrees of due south. This has the added benefit of acting as a heat sink in summer*.

3. Nighttime insulation. Have custom insulation panels made to cover all windows and glass doors. Even a triple glazed window is R-2.5 or so; 1" of rigid insulation is R-5. In your case, the insulation is there all winter, except when you're there (when you're not there, south-facing windows can be left uncovered; they're net gainers over a 24 hour cycle). This has an added benefit of security for the house, depending how they're built.

4. Water capture. Roof runoff can be captured, gray water can be recycled for landscaping and/or toilet flushing. I assume that you're on a septic system, in which case running essentially clean water down the drain taxes your leach field for no real gain. You can run that gray water through a simple gravel bed and put it out in the landscape. I might add that, if you install composting toilets, you can ditch the septic entirely, but those can be somewhat problematic in occasional-use conditions. Something to think about, though.

5. Speaking of landscape, for god's sake, don't mow! I have no idea how much land you have, or what you do with it, but if you're mowing more than a bit of lawn for outdoor play/relaxation, you're doing yourself a big disservice. Small ring of lawn+garden, concentric ring of native grasses, mowed annually, then reforestation beyond - have someone knowledgeable about local growth come in to advice what to plant, what to pull, and what to cultivate for a more sustainable landscape (with potential timber earnings in the future).

I have some further thoughts, but that's a start.

* It is possible, but risky, to run cool water through the floor in summer; the risk is condensation and mold.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 4:04 PM
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Oh: On solar and wind, the basic data already exists somewhere. If you're decently close to an airport, pretty detailed solar records have already been compiled (let me think for a bit about what's the shortest route for getting to them). At this point, most states have fairly fine-grained wind maps that can tell you whether you're in a likely zone. Residential scale wind turbines are in the $10-20k range; for a part-time residence, they probably only make sense if you can reverse-meter, but reverse-metering is becoming more common.

OK, so further info that would be helpful:

House construction? Frame and siding, frame and veneer masonry, all-masonry?

General orientation? Is it stretched out north-south, east-west, or is it about square?

Number of stories?

How much land?

Long-term commitment? Do you see this property as part of your children's inheritance?

Availability of conservation easements and the like. Is this in some sort of subdivision of vacation homes, or are you out in the wild somewhere?


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 4:10 PM
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Alright, that's enough for now. I have an evening meeting, but I'll check back in about 3 hours.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 4:11 PM
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Hey JRoth, is there anything cheap & easy (I rent) to be done about really inefficient single glazed windows? This is a building that's practically on Lake Michigan--it's in a high rise, so heat isn't that much regardless, but it's still unpleasant & seems ridiculous to have your windows frosted over so often.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 4:26 PM
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Holy cow. I imagined somebody would know something, but this is terrific.

House construction? Frame and siding, frame and veneer masonry, all-masonry?

Frame and siding, I think, although it's that weird vertical wood siding, so I'm not sure I know what to call it.

General orientation? Is it stretched out north-south, east-west, or is it about square?

It stretches approximately east-west, with sort of a kink in the middle. Both of the big common rooms have fairly large, relatively south-facing windows.

Number of stories?

One half is single story with a basement, the other half is two story with no basement.

How much land?

An acre and a half.

Long-term commitment? Do you see this property as part of your children's inheritance?

I think the owner probably does, but it's also possible that they would be interested in trading up in a few years.

Availability of conservation easements and the like. Is this in some sort of subdivision of vacation homes, or are you out in the wild somewhere?

Neither, really. It's in a subdivision of mostly large-ish permanent residences towards the end of a peninsula, bounded on one side by a conservation region (wetlands, and some land that's kept in trust) and on the other by a golf course.

The general area is definitely one where people are interested in conservation, but the local zoning process would probably involve a lot of old people who are afraid of change, and I have no idea what the town's priorities are.


Posted by: Glenn Beck | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 4:30 PM
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Hamsters. A whole shitload of hamsters, inside a big wheel.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 4:31 PM
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40: Your property manager isn't replacing those for you? Odd. My building has double or triple glaze on the windows, but the metal frames are still a big problem for frosting over and generally being a heat sink in the winter time.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 4:31 PM
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40: what about those plastic sheets you can stick over the windows? Seems like they'd anyhow help efficiency.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 4:34 PM
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I'm not that dedicated to efficiency. We still use less heat than you'd think.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 4:37 PM
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JRoth, got a reasonable resource for learning about green building? For an amateur, with a very good handle on physical sciences?

I see things hodge-podge, but would love a recommendation.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 4:40 PM
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Hey, Knecht: if you shade in the summer with decidious trees, doesn't that affect what photovoltaic cells on the roof can do? I'm curious, because I've thought vaguely of a solar installation on our roof, but in the summer, it's pretty much 80% in shade. That almost seems to be more important than a solar installation, but I have no real idea when it gets down to concrete specifics.


Posted by: Timothy Burke | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 4:41 PM
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It's not the same issue, but the issues are similar enough that I feel like this is an appropriate thread for me to renew this request.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 4:46 PM
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My grandfather's building firm either built, or worked on, or was somehow involved with a house built in the 1960s with an early ground-source heat pump system. The owner, who also designed the system, had the bright idea of using the cellar as part of the source - with the payoff that he could use it like a big fridge.

This worked very well until someone took two baths in rapid succession while the heating was on, and everything in the cellar including eggs and wine froze solid. Somewhere around I have calculations from when I was trying to design a wind-powered water source system for a boat I was negotiating to buy; the rough upshot is that yes, you can do near anything with it, but you will need more power for the pump than you expect.

I'm surprised no-one's mentioned solar thermal - it's certainly the simplest way of getting ambient energy on your side.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 4:48 PM
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Goddam good-for-nothing html. This request.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 4:48 PM
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If you're just interested in urban planning, Brock (she lived in an era before people particularly considered environmental sustainability), Jane Jacobs is a hell of a great place to start.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 4:50 PM
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If you're just interested in urban planning, Brock

What gave you that impression?


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 4:57 PM
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Well, it's a great place to start anyhow.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 4:59 PM
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Agreed, but I want to read about solar-powered sidewalks.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 5:05 PM
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solar-powered sidewalks? Like, the sun hits them, and they heat up?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 5:07 PM
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Yeah, then the lasers charge up and blast the SUVs that go by on the road.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 5:25 PM
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Neat! Sign me up!

Lasers: is there anything they can't do?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 5:33 PM
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Lasers: is there anything they can't do?

Anal.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 5:41 PM
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That's where you're wrong, Mr. Patrick Harris.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 5:42 PM
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I'm gonna charge my capacitor! And blast from the sidewalks!


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 5:44 PM
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47: Shade trees and photovoltaic cells don't mix well, which is why I recommended one or the other rather than both.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 5:44 PM
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Is there a way to sort out which is best, Knecht? I'm sure it's situational, but is it usually six-of-one, half-dozen of another?


Posted by: Timothy Burke | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 5:49 PM
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59: Fushun Steel Works has been the place to go for anal for some time. Unfortunately the author writes "fistula" instead o "fisting", but you can get theidea.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 5:50 PM
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59: Shit, who'da thunk Googling "anal laser" would land you anywhere but here?


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 6:35 PM
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Is there a way to sort out which is best, Knecht? I'm sure it's situational, but is it usually six-of-one, half-dozen of another?

Ask JRoth. I'm only pretending to know what I'm talking about here.



Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 7:38 PM
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Is there a way to sort out which is best, Knecht?

Which do you need more? Cooling or electricity?

It's more complicated than this, but, basically, if having the shade from deciduous trees means you never (or very, very rarely) have to run A/C, then that pretty much outweighs whatever benefits you get from photovoltaic - A/C is a huge load, and a huge problem. Rooftop photovoltaics aren't all that impressive relative to the electricity needs of most households.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 8:04 PM
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You'd think I'd have answers for Borck and TJ, but I don't, really. I learned a lot of this stuff from leaders in the field in college (who weren't working from textbooks), and keep up via an array of sources that presume a knowledge base.

That said, for TJ (and Glen, a bit), there's a series of region-specific books that cover a lot of ground in green residential construction. But I'll be damned if I can track it down. Shit. There was a copy in my office at the last firm I worked for, but it's been almost 2 years. Damnit.

The books associated with the LEED program might fit TJ's bill. And this might be what Brock's looking for, but I can't vouch for it personally.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 8:12 PM
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You've already been extremely helpful, JRoth.


Posted by: Glenn Beck | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 8:14 PM
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Oh, and Katherine - that plastic sheet stuff really is the only thing you can do. It actually will achieve 3 different things: stop drafts (most important), keep warm, moist air from cold glass and frame, and provide an additional layer between you and the outdoors - not as good as another pane of glass but not much worse, actually.

You should also consider heavy curtains that really seal off the window - again, for draft-blocking. Cold air will build up behind and come pouring out when you open them in the morning, but it'll be better for overnight, and presumably there's sun most mornings (even in Chicago).


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 8:19 PM
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Thanks JRoth--I'll look into that.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 8:24 PM
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Frame and siding, I think, although it's that weird vertical wood siding, so I'm not sure I know what to call it.

Either board-and-batten, if it's the real deal, or T-111 siding, if it's grooved plywood. Assuming it's already insulated, not much you can do to improve thermal performance, alas. Well, except a comprehensive weatherstripping program - you lose more heat through perimeter cracks than you do through even a metal-framed, single-glazed window.

It stretches approximately east-west, with sort of a kink in the middle. Both of the big common rooms have fairly large, relatively south-facing windows.

Strive for these rooms to be self-heating in the winter. This can be tricky - the term is "solar tempering," which means that you need not to overheat. Not much more general advice I can give you on that, but look into it - it's a great opportunity.

One half is single story with a basement, the other half is two story with no basement.

So if you go radiant, you can go from underneath in the basement half and, maybe, pour a topcoat of concrete with tubing in it for the slab half. The second part is critical if you want to get at all serious about passive solar. Actually, for the basement half, you could still use storage mass - such as big plexi tubes filled with water - to capture and hold solar heat (insolation). For the 2 story part, a bit of added ductwork can create passive circulation of solar-heated air. This may also help with the wood-burner.

An acre and a half.

So you have significant opportunities to create some "wilderness" with landscaping. Given the neighborhood situation, it may have to be disguised as ornamental landscaping, rather than managed wilderness, but you should identify any valuable microclimates where you can support wet areas, or wind-shadowed copses, and the like. Essentially, think about how this property can be an extension of the conservation areas - not as a literal add-on, but as additional wild areas for birds and critters who are already there for the wetlands.

I think the owner probably does, but it's also possible that they would be interested in trading up in a few years.

Well, this is the $100,000 question. Some of the things I identified above will, if not paying back in resale, at least fit in with resale. But a geothermal system/photovoltaics/wind are big investments, and, unless you get down to near-zero utility usage, won't be valued by future purchasers (stupid, but true). If you can get down to nominal usage of the grid and fossil fuels, then it becomes a selling point, especially with low-maintenance systems.

I'd say that your Next Steps are as follows:

1. Energy audit/alternative energy investigation. Determine whether "getting off the grid" is feasible. If it is, then pursue it; otherwise, set it aside for now.
2. Examine green improvements that also improve the appearance/function of the house. These would include things like exterior sunshades for south-facing windows, window upgrades (depending on existing, of course), landscape improvements, ultra-efficient appliances.
3. Consider one or two no-payback projects - things you do to salve your conscience, not because they'll save (big) bucks or be valued by potential buyers. Radiant floors, solar hot water, or graywater might all fit in this category. Their impact on the land/planet may outstrip their direct benefit to your bottom line, but you'll feel that you've really done something.
4. Whatever you do going forward, be conscientious about materials - local, rapidly renewable, recycled, non-toxic.

68: My pleasure, Glen. If you want more off-blog, just ask, here or ogged may still have my email.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 8:40 PM
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Thanks again, JRoth!

1. Energy audit/alternative energy investigation. Determine whether "getting off the grid" is feasible. If it is, then pursue it; otherwise, set it aside for now.

So how do I find a firm to do this?

2. Examine green improvements that also improve the appearance/function of the house. These would include things like exterior sunshades for south-facing windows, window upgrades (depending on existing, of course), landscape improvements, ultra-efficient appliances.

This is a great idea, but will involve some negotiation with the homeowner, who regards a large, green lawn as one of the biggest benefits of owning a house on a large lot.

3. Consider one or two no-payback projects - things you do to salve your conscience, not because they'll save (big) bucks or be valued by potential buyers. Radiant floors, solar hot water, or graywater might all fit in this category. Their impact on the land/planet may outstrip their direct benefit to your bottom line, but you'll feel that you've really done something.

I would say that the entire project can be thought of in this way; it would be fantastic if these changes positively affected the homeowner's bills, but I don't think that's their impetus in pursuing it.

4. Whatever you do going forward, be conscientious about materials - local, rapidly renewable, recycled, non-toxic.

Excellent advice.


Posted by: Glenn Beck | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 8:55 PM
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I think JRoth is way cool.


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 9:11 PM
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So how do I find a firm to do this?

How close are you to Pittsburgh?

If the answer is "not very," then I could probably track down someone closer to you who could do this.

the homeowner, who regards a large, green lawn as one of the biggest benefits of owning a house on a large lot.

Argh. There are few things I hate more than grass lawns. But there are ways to green it, and ways to mitigate its vastness.

I don't think that's their impetus in pursuing it.

That's good to hear but, in practice, they'll hit a ceiling of seemingly-pointless expense pretty quickly if it's not approached with a conscious strategy.

73: Thanks, will.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 9:35 PM
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73: Thanks, will.

Careful, JRoth. will probably just sees all these house improvements as an increase on his cut of the take when the renovated property is sold off as part of the inevitable divorce. He's a bastard and not to be trusted.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 10:22 PM
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JRoth: I'm in Nashville and have been looking around for someone to do an energy audit for me. Neither of my local utilities seem to offer this service, as has been suggested elsewhere, and I've yet to find a home inspector who seems particularly qualified in this regard. Any tips?


Posted by: dob | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 10:26 PM
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76: I'm kind of surprised, because Nashville is served by a "muni" utility, which are generally the most aggressive about promoting conservation (because their own costs for peak power tend to be above average).

I just looked at the NES website, and saw that they do allow reverse metering, if dob can handle the financial commitment of going photovoltaic.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 5:49 AM
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76: Go to the US Green Building Council and look for a local representative for your area. That local org should be able to do an audit or point you to someone who can. (Look's like it's these people)

It is, indeed, weird that the local utilities wouldn't do it. Maybe you could ask Al Gore if he knows anyone.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 7:01 AM
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Careful, JRoth. will probably just sees all these house improvements as an increase on his cut of the take when the renovated property is sold off as part of the inevitable divorce. He's a bastard and not to be trusted.

Stanley is just bitter because his band is not green-certified so I do not allow them to play at divorce parties.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 7:07 AM
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Stanley's band is very old-school . They still use the old leather amps, because they believe they produce a warmer sound than the amps with the modern cruelty-free silicon transistors.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 7:10 AM
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I hope this is a joke because otherwise it is just so totally cluelessly American.

If you are poor, in Kenya, the solution is to have NO second home. In your first home remove the copper pipe and sell it for scrap. Haul your water from a community well and have a big cistern where your bathtub would be. Don't bathe in it idiot! Sponge baths only.

By all means be civilized and have an indoor toilet, but flush it rarely by dumping water in it. Have no oven, just a range cooktop. Use electricity when you can afford it but usually you can't.

Heat by charcoal made by starving poachers who steal the wood from the national parks while Americans tut tut about the lions. Don't worry about transportation because there are no jobs and you've really got no place to go.

When you can get to a city visit an internet cafe and try to steal some time so you can read about Americans going green by downsizing from a Hummer to an H2.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:08 AM
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For some reading, you might like to start with Home Power magazine. Their "Basics" information doesn't look too bad. They also have hundreds of articles about electricity generation, water heating, green building methods, and so on, but they're unfortunately no longer free to download, as they used to be.


Posted by: buttersideup | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:11 AM
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23

This Glenn Beck was making a little joke with his pseudonym because the concept that a second home can be made "green" is a little ridiculous

Ah. Sorry to get harsh in 81 and this is nothing personal with you. It is just that from my recently acquired perspective this concept is not "a little ridiculous," it is classically ignorant in a style we Americans have taken from the French Royalty and have perfected as an art form.

"Captain Smith, I've heard some servants are drowning in steerage but I need some help. My jewel case is not big enough for all my jewels. Would it be better to keep the remainder in my pockets or in a smaller box?"

No one denies that it is good to be the King.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:20 AM
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I hope this is a joke because otherwise it is just so totally cluelessly American.

Tripp, spare us the lecture. The very fact that Americans consume resources so profligately means that there is massive potential for positive gains by persuading and/or enticing Americans to moderate their consumption in even the most low-cost, low-burden ways. Much more potential, BTW, than fruitlessly chasing after a enobled souls who are willing to reduce their consumption to Kenyan levels.

I don't know what you're trying to accomplish with such remarks. Remind us that most of the world lives pretty near the margin of survival? I don't think that's news to anyone here. Convince people that they should live as ascetics? No thanks, go preach somewhere else. Make people feel guilty? None of us needs to feel guilty for being born who we are; just fortunate, and prepared to share some of the blessings of our good fortune.

I think Glenn's quest is commendable, and I wish him luck. He has inspired me to look into a couple of efficiency-enhancing retrofits for my own dwelling.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:25 AM
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I posted 84 before seeing the high-horse dismount in 83. I retract my sneer.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:26 AM
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76: Before looking into photovoltaic energy generation, I figured it would make the most sense to decrease the energy consumption of my house. To that end, I'm already replacing the fifty-year old windows, but I'd like to get an energy audit to help figure out the next thing(s) to do.


Posted by: dob | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:29 AM
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78: Score, thanks ever so much, I'll get on the USGBC tip forthwith.


Posted by: dob | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:32 AM
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I'm already replacing the fifty-year old windows, but I'd like to get an energy audit to help figure out the next thing(s) to do.

50-year-old windows were probably the right place to start.

Attic insulation is another high-payoff area. If snow melts off of your roof before your neighbors' roofs with the same orientation, your attic is underinsulated. It doesn't cost much, and the payoff is very quick.

Weather stripping around entry doors costs next to nothing and can make a big impact.

If the window installation people are coming by, get someone from the window company to come and bring an infrared meter to do some readings on your house (tell them you're thinking of replacing some more windows or something that will give them the prospect of a further sale). This can help you identify cracks and cold spots in the walls and doors.

How old are your air conditioners (if you have AC)? Replacing a non-energy star window unit with an energy star compliant one will pay for itself in about two years, especially if your Muni utility will give you a cash rebate for the purchase, which many do. The same calculation works, over a longer payback period, with an old refrigerator.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:37 AM
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50-year-old windows were probably the right place to start.

Probably, but it depends on the condition. I knew a guy who worked in the research department of a firm that made double glazed windows, and one of their programmes showed that at that date (about 15 years ago) a single softwood frame combined with long, heavy curtains and an intermediate net provided better insulation that any modern window then on the market. Take care buying your new windows. Some of them are high tech rubbish.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:43 AM
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82: Cool, thanks! I just learned about (and bought) one of these thanks to that link.


Posted by: Glenn Beck | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:51 AM
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Take care buying your new windows. Some of them are high tech rubbish.

This is true, unfortunately.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:55 AM
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81: charcoal heating of the type you're describing is actually a really bad idea. Indoor air pollution is IIRC one of the top five causes of morbidity and mortality in some African countries (ie up there with malaria and Aids) - and most of it is caused by open cooking fires inside houses. I had no idea about this until I ran into someone working on it at WHO in Geneva.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:55 AM
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Since, due to warping and painting, only one of the windows in the house actually opens without the intervention of a crowbar and a mallet, they were due to be replaced almost regardless of the increase in energy efficiency. My ceiling fans are great but would be even more useful if I can get a breeze going through the house.

I looked at icynene insulation in the attic but think it's cost-prohibitive. We'll definitely be rolling out some new blanket insulation there come fall.

The house has central AC, unsure how old. I try to only use it for a couple of months a year. I'll check on the energy star rating of it and the fridge.

Do y'all incredibly clueful people have any book recommendations on all this?


Posted by: dob | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:01 AM
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This kind of stuff is one of the few things that makes me sad about being a renter. The landlord-renter relationship, especially in smaller buildings like mine where the utilities are all billed to the tenants, doesn't really have incentives for investing in greening.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:03 AM
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89: "intermediate net"?

Also, appliances, bah. The fridge in my unit is maybe 10 years old and runs nearly all the time, and from some research, it was on the high end of energy use even when it was new. But it's the landlord's fridge, and there's no reasonable way for me to get a net benefit from buying a new fridge, since I probably won't be here 5 years.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:06 AM
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The landlord-renter relationship, especially in smaller buildings like mine where the utilities are all billed to the tenants, doesn't really have incentives for investing in greening.

I had a fascinating conversation with a guy involved in low-income housing on precisely this topic. It seems that moderate income housing (except for some showcase projects) is particularly bad about adopting green materials and techniques, because you need to build as cheaply as possible and there is no income stream to justify the expense (with the energy savings accruing to the tenant).

Worse yet, some jurisdictions (like ours, NW) have well-intentioned legislation that require landlords to have individual metering for utilities in new properties, so that individuals are not insulated from the consequences of their energy usage.

There needs to be a legistlative solution whereby a landlord can install the energy efficient upgrades and recover the cost savings through the rent, but try selling that one to the legislature. Alternatively, you could allow tenant cooperatives to undertake the same kind of investments themselves, with the stipulation that the landlord picks up the payments if the tenant moves out, but that solution runs into its own political problems.

Another possible avenue is for the utilities themselves to own certain appliances (like water heaters) and bill the cost of ownership and maintenance on the utility bill, but utilities have been retreating from that business, and it doesn't do any good for stuff like insulation and new windows.

It's a genuinely trickly policy problem.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 9:59 AM
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Yeah, I also want to know what "an intermediate net" is.

But I'm happy to hear what you're saying, OFE. I always tell people not to replace their historic windows (ie 100 y.o.) because they're more efficient than people think (partly due to much higher quality frame wood) and new ones look like shit and don't last long. There are exceptions, of course, but unless you're spending big bucks on replacement windows, you're not gaining as much as you might assume.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:12 AM
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there's no reasonable way for me to get a net benefit from buying a new fridge, since I probably won't be here 5 years.

Take it with you when you leave.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:13 AM
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It seems that moderate income housing (except for some showcase projects) is particularly bad about adopting green materials and techniques, because you need to build as cheaply as possible and there is no income stream to justify the expense (with the energy savings accruing to the tenant).

More and more finance sources (including Fannie Mae, at least as of 5 years ago) are willing to look at reduced utility costs as part of the financing package for the whole project, and the FHA is definitely on board with it. But it's still a sort of one-off solution - it's not built into their models/paperwork, so each time the designer/developer needs to, if not sell the concept, at least jump through hoops to prove their case.

At my last job, we worked all the time with one builder who said that going from 4" studs to 6" would cost him maybe $1000 on a $120k house, but it didn't gain him anything. We finally wore him down after about 5 years.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:18 AM
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More and more finance sources (including Fannie Mae, at least as of 5 years ago) are willing to look at reduced utility costs as part of the financing package for the whole project, and the FHA is definitely on board with it. But it's still a sort of one-off solution - it's not built into their models/paperwork, so each time the designer/developer needs to, if not sell the concept, at least jump through hoops to prove their case.

Yeah, I know that people are trying to make it less of an afterthought, but it's definitely very variable state-by-state how much you can actually do.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:20 AM
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It also bears mentioning that some efficiencies are actually easier to implement in low-income housing; you don't have to install fancy shower heads and the like to attract tenants.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:26 AM
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we worked all the time with one builder who said that going from 4" studs to 6" would cost him maybe $1000 on a $120k house, but it didn't gain him anything.

This comment is also suggestive of the limitations of taxing carbon as a policy framework (although I support that as well). There is still plenty of scope for command-and-control top-down regulation! And plenty of scope for the Cato-types to say, "Ooh, ooh, unintended consequences! By mandating 6" studs, you price poor people out of the new housing market and leave them in their older, less efficient rental units. Plus, you lower the overall efficiency of sawmills and contribute to further deforestation."

To which I say, "STFU before I rethink my support of drug legalization."


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:36 AM
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Filling the 6" cavity with more insulation? Is that the idea?


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 10:49 AM
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103: Yeah, you get 57% more insulation. Although most heat loss is through the attic/roof, it's a really big bang for the buck improvement to a house.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 11:08 AM
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Take it with you when you leave.
It's an option, but then I have to store the landlord's current fridge somewhere else in the meantime, and when I leave, do the same juggle again at the next place. Or I can try to get the landlord to buy it from me. I did do that successfully in my last unit, with a gas stove, but it was a pain and there was a decent chance I'd get stuck with a range to store or try to sell.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 11:49 AM
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Sifu, I started reading on of Jane Jacobs' books. A lovely sentence:

"...factories in rural West Virginia employed local people who already knew how to sew and possibly even made their own underwear but this should not persuade us that therefore brassiere making developed from subsistence underwear making in West Virginia."


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 12:04 PM
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KR,

I posted 84 before seeing the high-horse dismount in 83. I retract my sneer.

I am experiencing a pretty big culture shock coming back here and I know that it is jarring for everyone. I feel like I'm from another planet or the future or something.

I honestly don't know what I'm trying to accomplish. In some sense I am preaching to the choir which I know is annoying to hear. There is not much left to say.

Mostly I don't fit in anymore.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 2:36 PM
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Mostly I don't fit in anymore.

I don't know about that, Tripp. I mean, I wasn't around for your previous residency here, but I'd say this thread is the first time your contribution has crossed from insightful to nagging (?). You've mostly had interesting things to say.

Maybe you're worried that reacclimation will mean forgetting the lessons of your year away, but I don't think it works that way.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 3:02 PM
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Africa will always be like a second home to you.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 3:04 PM
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Tripp, spare us the lecture

Really, I think people should get to lecture here. This should be a place to vent, among other things. Tripp is right in his way, and the counterpoint he provided in 81 was valuable for me at least to read. Yeah, I knew it in that abstract sense, but the details and how well he expressed it mean something. It's not like I've spent any time in rural Kenya recently.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:15 PM
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Really, I think people should get to lecture here

"Lecture" was the wrong choice of words. Indeed, a general prohibition on lecturing would impose a chilling effect on pontificating, and if I couldn't pontificate on unfogged, then I might as well do my job or something. It's actually scolding or hectoring that is deprecated, not lecturing. The hectoring tone of the comment detracted from its worthwhile substance.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-23-08 5:45 AM
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I actually thought KR's sneer was over the line.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-23-08 9:10 AM
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111:

The hectoring tone of the comment detracted from its worthwhile substance.

You make a good point with the perfect word. Your use of "Hectoring" reminded me of Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Someone called what she did (does?) hectoring and the word has stuck with me.

Laura was wild in her youth, posing nude and using sex to get ahead in the business. Then she reformed and started blaming Women's lib and liberals in general and made a radio career out of it. She hectors, like the guy who quits smoking and then tells all the smokers how bad it is and how they need to quit too!

I'm being Dr. Laura! UGH!!


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 05-23-08 2:36 PM
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I'm not sure what you're being, either, but it's a lot closer to this than you think: Then she reformed and started blaming Women's lib and liberals in general and made a radio career out of it

You know, the slide into conservatism, or something functionally indistinguishable from same. I cannot see any way that shouting at people for putting more rockwool in their cavities helps rural Kenyans or for that matter anyone else.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 05-24-08 7:41 AM
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I, personally, am all for hectoring and lectures, and as fond as I am of Knecht, would generally rather listen to people lecturing about something worthwhile than to other people giving them a hard time about how they should lighten up.

Stick around, Tripp, and talk about Kenya if you would.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-24-08 8:08 AM
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