Saturday, December 25, 2010

New Year Means New Rules

As we approach the upcoming change in our calendar year (I am glad for one of many reasons) its also time to take note of local and federal regulations regarding current laws as it relates to Construction.

In WA State we have a new Energy code which has new requirements for building. Checking with the local offices of Energy star can assist in assuring compliance and how it affects you.

We have already had the federal regulations regarding lead paint removal and at this point I am not sure what will be rolled out with regards to Environmental issues as this new Congress is loathe to fund any enforcement in that area.

But States are busy altering their current laws especially regarding 1099 Contracts. This is in response to the Federal Tax code and laws governing this has also changed. So check with your local labor or Construction boards on how that may affect you and your business.

There are new regulations and laws with regards to Construction defects and litigation. Again if you do not have an Attorney now would be a good time to find one - they are more affordable and it would be opportune to have a review of all your contract documents for both sub and customers alike.

San Francisco has a new law that is "hire local." This means any construction project must hire the majority of their crew from the city itself. This will undoubtedly be a challenge and certainly has its pros and cons when building a crew with the kind of experience one needs and certainly does nothing to realize that many talented capable people live within a moderate distance who should also be employed.

Take the time to review the laws. I get that we all feel constrained by regulations to the point we all want to become a tea bagger but then when something goes wrong the race to the courthouse to resolve it is a lot more expensive and time consuming.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

LEED Leads to Overrun

I was perusing the local building scene when I found this article about a recent project in San Antonio, The Brooke Army Medical Center.

The problems with any Construction project is as always the change in design. However some of the changes seemed to be the result of having to add features as demanded by LEED to attain certification.

With less than a year left until its scheduled completion, the cost for the renovations and new construction at Brooke Army Medical Center has jumped more than 25 percent.

Randy Holman, program manager for the Army Corps of Engineers and spokesman for the Joint Program Management Office, said the budget for the BAMC renovations originally totaled $630 million but has been increased to $802 million.

Holman added that many design changes were made for a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design silver certification, which is a sustainable "green" building certification that the project hopes to achieve.

In a time of great hysteria over Government spending and cost overruns, mismanagement and the like I find in interesting that this was not an issue when planning the budget? Why was RFP not submitted earlier in the design process and in turn what would have happened if the cost overruns were rejected.

In this volatile time with regards to the very issues that seem to fuel the fires of our political climate I wonder if this type of oversight is something we can continue and at what cost?

If the Army Corps of Engineers had refused to pay for the LEED overruns would they abandon the concept of healthy green building altogether or would they have utilized the elements that did not add to design changes but retained the spirit of green?

As this is a Medical Center and a Public one I think all the projects should be building smart but not if the costs are for a "certificate of sustainability". Even I would agree that is not very smart.

We have to get over the notions that adding elements to a building that do nothing (in this case a glass facade wall) in making the building healthier and sustainable just to get a gold star (in this case silver) we will find ourselves back to ground zero when it comes to building green. And continues to prove that Government can't manage your money or theirs.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Last Call!


The TLC network is looking for outgoing couples with big personalities who own their home and live together in the Los Angeles area for the new home makeover show “Our House.”

The concept: We give you $25,000 and three weeks to do whatever you want to your homeʼs interior. You can re-paint, re-floor, re-furnish, break down walls, install extreme fixtures and make it your dream house. And you have to do it all YOURSELF! (with a little help from your friends and the occasional plumber).

Weʼre looking for fun couples who DESERVE a makeover. Maybe youʼve bought a fixer-upper thatʼs worse-off than you expected. Maybe youʼre strapped for cash; you have to make room for the new baby; the wedding ate up all your funds; Mother Nature paid the house an unwelcome visit; or the house is just ugly! It doesnʼt matter if youʼre married, dating, new homeowners or long-time residents. Whatever your story -- as long as you own your house and want TLC to pay you to re-invent it -- we want to hear from you!

And we know that opposites attract. If you have differing opinions and style ideas, itʼll make the show more fun!

Please send an email to TODAY! (No later than JANUARY 4, 2011) with:
1) Your names and ages
2) Your best phone number(s) and your houseʼs location
3) Photos of you both and, if possible, of the front of your house
4) A brief explanation of why you want to makeover your home.


For more information about this casting call, call 818-478-4570 or visit and click on the TLC casting call.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

PEX Update

I wrote about the argument in the Courts regarding the safety of PEX tubing in California.

There is still an ongoing debate and concern and I did read an article in GBA regarding their current attitude with regards to this type of piping.

This is the link and from there they also have another link to Environmental News on PEX tubing.

I will agree that while there is concern the use and longevity of this piping in Europe which has much more stringent environmental policies than the U.S. to me sends a strong message that ultimately its not a significant dangerous building element.

Please copy and paste into your browser...

Things You Don't Need College For

I received an email from regarding ways to conserve Energy when in College.

Actually this advice particularly useful for Apartment dwellers, home owners and some businesses (well sans the showering with your colleagues).

101 Way to Conserve Water in College

A lot of businesses, households and campuses have recently adopted water conservation plans to save money and protect the environment, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us. Those of us in the developed world use inordinate amounts of water for personal use, and most of it isn’t used efficiently. With each extra utensil used or toilet flushed, water is wasted, and you can imagine how much water that adds up to on a college campus. Here are 101 ways to conserve water in college, whether you’re a student, college president or professor.

In the Dorms

From laundry to showering, here are ways you and your roommates can save water every day.

Take a home water audit: Print out this audit so that you and your roommate can evaluate your current water usage, and then trim it down.

Turn water off when brushing your teeth: And while shaving or even washing your face. Turn it on when it’s time to rinse.

Check for leaks: Report them to maintenance ASAP to avoid mildew and mold, and of course, water waste.

Take shorter showers: Americans use 1.2 trillions of gallons of water taking showers each year. Spend shower time cleaning yourself, not just standing there zoning out.
Only wash clothes when you have a full load: This shouldn’t be too hard for students who wait until the last minute to do laundry. Just make sure you have a full load, or else you’re wasting water and energy on a half load.

Put rocks in your toilet: Placing pebbles in your tank restricts the amount of water that fills the bowl back up, using less water per flush.

Test your toilet for leaks: Put a drop of food coloring into the tank. If the color bleeds into the toilet bowl without flushing, there’s a leak you need to report.

Turn water pressure down when adjusting temperature: Instead of blasting the shower while you wait for it to get hot, turn the water down during the adjustment process.

Flush sparingly if you’re in a single: If you’ve got a lot of suitemates or just a bathroom down the hall, you’ll have to flush every time out of courtesy and personal hygiene. But if you’re in a single, wait until you have to do the Number 2 to flush.

Shower with a buddy: Waste less water from showering by doing it with a buddy. Just make sure you’re not in there too long.

Don’t use the toilet for arbitrary flushes: Throw cigarette butts and bugs in the trash, instead of sacrificing the 5-7 gallons of water it takes to flush.
Wash clothes in cold water: This saves energy and water.

Turn off water while you wash your hair: If you need a longer shower, turn off water while you let shampoo or conditioner soak in.

Wash your face in the shower: Since the water’s already on, wash your face in the shower instead of turning the faucet on at your sink.

Flush toilets with shower water: Keep a bucket in the shower with you, and use the collected water to flush toilets.

Take fewer showers: You’ll need to bathe every day, but if you plan on working out, schedule your shower for after exercise instead of doubling up.

Use a low-flow shower head: Ask residential life about a new system, or put one in yourself if you’re in an apartment.

Combine laundry with a buddy: If you use utility sized laundry machines at a laundry mat and can’t fill it yourself, ask a buddy to put his or her clothes in, too, and you can split the cost.

Reuse towels: Don’t throw towels into the laundry after only using them once: they’re still clean.

Wear your jeans again: Here’s another excuse to be lazy: you can wear your jeans a few times before washing them, too.

Don’t separate your laundry too specifically: When you use cold water, your colors aren’t as likely to bleed. Just remember that the first couple of times you wash a colored item, be more careful about separating from your whites.

Dining Hall and Kitchen

Whether you’re making your food choices in the dining hall or in your own apartment kitchen, be smart about water with these tips.

Run the dishwasher when it’s full: If you run out of spoons, wash those by hand before running the dishwasher if it isn’t full.

Use the garbage disposal sparingly: Running it wastes water each time.

Water plants with dropped ice cubes: Putting them in pet water dishes is a good idea, too.

Use one glass per day to drink from: If you’re just drinking water, use the same glass all day to reduce the need for washing.

Use a pitcher of water to cool it in the refrigerator: Now you won’t have to let the faucet run to cool the water, or even use ice.

Fill up the sink when you wash dishes: A good alternative to just letting the water run.

Fill up one plate only: Use as few plates and utensils as possible to cut down on dish washing later. Do you really need a separate plate for your mashed potatoes?
Turn off the automatic ice maker: Don’t let it run continuously, and always turn it off when you go out of town.

Make soup with water leftover from steaming veggies: You’ve already pre-flavored it!
Bring your own reusable glasses and bottles: Don’t use disposable cups, and minimize dish washing loads for the dining hall staff. Instead, bring your own thermos or cup to fill up on water or fountain drinks.

Stop pre-rinsing: Most newer dishwashers are strong enough to pull off little crumbs, so a shake into the garbage can is all the pre-cleaning you really need to do.

Clean veggies in a pan of water: Much better than letting the water run.

Consider water footprint: You’ve heard of carbon footprint, but did you know that foods have a water footprint scale, too? Lettuce and cabbage have a water footprint of 15-24 gallons, while beef’s is up to 2500-5000 gallons.

Don’t thaw frozen foods with running water: Put it in the refrigerator over night instead.

Campus-Wide Conservation

Here are some ideas your whole school can use to conserve water on campus.
Start campus gardens: Sustainable for many reasons, community gardens also save water and reduce pollution in the form of runoff.

Use recycled water to water grass: It’s already a common practice on many college campuses.

Put out mulch: Packing mulch around trees and landscaping keeps water in.
Connect irrigation systems to weather systems: This prevents watering plants when it’s raining.

Install shower times with red lights: Make it easier for students to take shorter showers.

Get gyms and recreation facilities in on the conservation: Install low-flow shower heads and other water conservation systems there too.

Insulate water pipes: When it’s cold out, insulated pipes mean you won’t have to run the water as long to get a hot shower.

Ask for aerators in faucets: Propose that your school changes the faucets so that they have aerators, which restrict water flow.

Winterize outdoor water faucets: Prevent leaks and breaks from freezing by appropriately protecting outdoor water faucets.

Re-route grey water: Maintenance can re-route water from your dorm to water the lawn and plants.

Cut out water fountains: These waste water and electricity, so encourage students to carry around their own reusable bottles instead.

Install shower timers with red lights: Make it easier for students to take shorter showers.

Use recycled water for fountains, too: It’ll still look pretty with recycled water.
Install half-flush toilets: You’ve seen them catching on, so ask your college to install the half-flush toilets that use less water when, um, you need them to.

Evaluate the watering schedule: Your campus lawn probably doesn’t need the automatic sprinklers to come on twice a day.

Take out some laundry facilities: People will do laundry more often (even when they don’t have a full load) if the laundry room is convenient, so limit the number of laundry facilities you have on campus.

Use drip-irrigation systems: For shrubs and large areas of low-lying plants, use drip-irrigation systems instead of big sprinklers.

Host an awareness day: Besides Earth Day, host a campus-wide "holiday" or public awareness day that’s all about water conservation.

Install more efficient washing machines: Front-load washers use less water.
Streamline cooling systems: Connect cooling systems to a central water plant instead of having separate coolers for each building.

Set up a hotline number: It’ll be easier for students and staff to report leaks anonymously and efficiently.

Cover pools: Keep water clean and prevent evaporation with a pool cover.

Start inspections: Drop into dorms, offices and bathrooms to perform water conservation inspections: check for leaks and evidence of water recycling, and reward those in the building who have taken responsibility for conserving water.

Use recycled water for car washes: If your campus has a large supply of recycled water it’s able to collect, use it for sponsored car washes once a month.

Stop using trays: Take trays away from the dining hall to cut down on washing needless dishes.

Landscape with hard spaces: Create more space by making patios, sidewalks and plazas on campus, which don’t require watering.

Streamline water systems in labs: Campus laboratories use a lot of water, so streamline cooling systems and regulate water flow or even water supply to these areas.

Compost food from the dining hall: Putting large amounts of scraps down the garbage disposal wastes water.

Drill your own wells: Duke considered drilling its own wells during a drought.

Get rid of automatic flush toilets: Switch to manual to eliminate pointless flushing.

Use hand sensor sinks: Water will only turn on when you’re ready to rinse.

Personal Gardening and Patios
If you have a garden on your balcony or a bigger plot outside your apartment, be more conscientious about water usage with these tips.

Use "leftover" water to water plants: Any leftover water you have in a drinking glass or other container should be used to water plants, not thrown out.

Clear off dirt and other messes with a broom, instead of hosing it down. It’ll get things just as clean and save water to boot.

Plant during spring and fall: Considered "less water stress times," spring and fall bring more rain and moisture naturally, so you won’t have to water young plants as often.

Water in the morning or evening: There’s less chance of evaporation due to cooler temperatures and lower wind speed at this time.

Use the right fertilizer: Put slow-release, water-insoluble fertilizer on plants only when necessary. Many fertilizers make plants more thirsty.

Learn how to compost: It’s a life skill you can use to save water.

Look for native plants: Plant flowers, bushes and trees that are native to your area, as they’ll be used to the conditions and won’t need as much water.

Make sure sprinklers are correctly situated: Watering the sidewalk is a depressing waste of water.

Don’t water when it’s about to rain: Pay a little extra attention to the forecast to avoid water waste and killing your plants.

Watch the soil to find out how much water you need to use: If the soil around a plant starts to pool up, you don’t need to keep watering it.

Personal Awareness

Report leaks around campus and challenge yourself to be better about water usage.

Report open hydrants: Call maintenance if you see an opened hydrant that’s gushing water.

Turn water faucets off tightly: After washing your hands or working in a lab, turn the faucets off tightly, and wait a few seconds to see if there are any drips.
Report leaks: Even if it’s not in your dorm, report leaky faucets, toilets, etc. Don’t expect someone else to do it.

Finish your water instead of dumping it out: Or at least make a point to dump the end of your water bottle into a thirsty looking plant, not the pavement or trash.

Get a conservation buddy: Work with your roommate to keep each other accountable.
Write down all the ways you see people wasting water: Then check to see if you’re practicing the same dirty habits yourself.

Turn off the water while washing your hands: You don’t need the water running while you lather up.

Spreading the Word

Get others involved, too.

Send a letter to the newspaper: Write a letter to the editor asking everyone on campus to be more conscientious about water usage.

Host a contest: Pit dorms against each other to see who can save the most water one month. Get residential life involved to amp up prizes and evaluate water bills.

Hang up flyers around campus: Share water conservation tip by hanging flyers in dorms and academic buildings.

Make a YouTube video: Make a funny YouTube video showing places around campus where water is wasted, and hope it goes viral.

Start a club: Participate in events around the city and sponsor water conservation awareness days and events on campus.

Explain the importance of water conservation: Droughts, pollution and water shortages are all important reasons to conserve water.

Write letters to the president or dean: Explain that going green is actually good business for your campus, as it saves money proves that you’re an Earth-friendly school.

Make t-shirts: Sell t-shirts to spread the message across campus.

Get professors involved: Ask professors to pitch in by reporting leaks and reusing coffee mugs.

Join national campaigns: Sign up with the EPA’s WaterSense campaign to find out about events and literature you can share on campus.


From car washes to washing your pets, here are more ways for college students and workers to save water.

Use a commercial car wash: Their design is more efficient, and they use recycled water.

Wash your pets outside: If your lawn needs watering, wash your dog on the lawn to reuse the water.

Keep a bucket on your patio to catch rain water: Use it to water plants when it’s try, or flush your toilet.

Don’t contaminate water supplies: Don’t pour anything into water supplies, like chemicals or drugs into toilets.

Always check your water bill: If you live in an apartment, compare water bills to make sure there’s not a huge discrepancy, which could point to a leak.

Set goals for bringing your water bill down: Try to get your water bill lower each month: you’ll get pretty creative with conservation that way.

Use a nozzle on the hose: When watering plants or washing your car, control water use with a nozzle.

Use hand sanitizer, not water: When your hands aren’t really that dirty, use hand sanitizer.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Bring on the Sun

Innovative Project Targets Increased Solar Energy Use in Seattle!

Seattle, WA, – Northwest Sustainable Energy for Economic Development (Northwest SEED), Sustainable Queen Anne, and Sunergy Systems are launching a new project - Solarize Queen Anne - a community-driven effort designed to bring widespread use of solar energy to Seattle homes.

Solarize Queen Anne provides a way for residents to get solar panels installed on their homes for less cost than that of a typical solar installation. In addition, the project will incorporate a large amount of education about the benefits of solar energy. A similar program initiated in Portland last year witnessed unprecedented success, more than quadrupling the number of residential solar installations in that city.

Solarize Queen Anne is the pilot project of Solarize Seattle, an initiative launched by Northwest SEED to accelerate the pace of solar installations in Seattle. While registration for the pilot is limited to Queen Anne residents, Northwest SEED anticipates rolling out the Solarize program in two additional neighborhoods in 2011. “With this program, we hope to streamline the process of installing solar, deliver significant cost savings, and unleash the demand for solar energy in Seattle,” said Jennifer Grove, Executive Director of Northwest SEED.

The effort will be co-led by Sustainable Queen Anne, who will engage neighborhood support and involvement in the Solarize pilot project. ”People are surprised to learn that Germany, which is the solar capital of the world, is darker than Seattle,” said Heather Trim, chair of Sustainable Queen Anne, “As we explain the project to Queen Anne residents, we are definitely seeing increased interest. We hope to have solar panels popping up on roofs all over the neighborhood next spring!”

Through a competitive bidding process, Northwest SEED and Sustainable Queen Anne selected a Ballard-based company, Sunergy Systems, as the project’s solar installer. Sunergy will offer solar panels at discounted rates to project participants. “One cannot underestimate the impact this innovative program will have in taking solar in Seattle to the next level. This, combined with the best incentives and lowest prices ever, results in “now” being the best time ever to go solar. Sunergy Systems is excited to help spread the message, install quality solar systems, and be a part of the solution in making Seattle one of the nation's leading solar cities,” said Howard Lamb, Founder and Principal Engineer of Sunergy Systems.

Registration for Solarize Queen Anne opened Monday, December 6th and will close April 22, 2011, Earth Day. Solar energy workshops will be held throughout the registration period. For additional information and to register please go to

About Northwest SEED: Northwest SEED is a non-profit organization that empowers community scale clean energy through expert guidance that combines technical support, community education and practical implementation.

About Sustainable Queen Anne: Sustainable Queen Anne is a team of committed volunteers acting to increase awareness of and support for the social natural and economic sustainability in the Queen Anne neighborhood.

About Sunergy Systems: Sunergy Systems is a full-service solar design and installation firm located in Seattle, Washington. Sunergy specializes in the sales, engineering, design and installation of solar electric and solar hot water systems for both homes and businesses.

Heather Trim, Sustainable Queen Anne: (206) 351-2898
Jennifer Grove, Northwest SEED: (206) 267-2212
Jeremy Harvey, Sunergy Systems: (206) 297-0086 ext. 6000


Zap Away.

This blog enty is a paid Advertisement from But in the effort of full disclosure I am also a VIP customer.

I have been using Zappos for years. I LOVE THEM! It is difficult for me to be unbiased when it comes to their business (admittedly when sold to Amazon I panicked but its still fantastic.)

Why do I love Its got free shipping both ways. That is right FREE SHIPPING.

The selection is amazing when it comes to shoes glorious shoes. From high fashion to just plain simple sneakers if you cannot find it on they don't exist.

The last year or so they have also added a luxury site for more high end lines but even those items go frequently on markdown. There is little I don't like about

They have this amazing Core Values philosophy which I also love. And is often most apparent in their original and very quirky ads on television.

If you are looking for gifts that are not just shoes they have that too. They ship fast and again their return policy is amazingly easy. I have NEVER had a problem with I am sure you won't either.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Going Going Gone

I have talked about death before when I discussed Green Funerals. I am not one to shy away from what is ironically a fact of life.

Recently I was sent some information regarding burial insurance. I thought what is that is someone trying to tell me something.

What it is is a basic "life" insurance policy that covers people till they reach the age of 100. It is a simple insurance policy that has less complexities of a basic life insurance policy and designed to cover the costs of funeral expenses. And in today's economy its unfortunate to think you would somehow have to "save" on those.

There are specific burial insurance for seniors which is not something akin to the dreaded death panels but a safety net for those who do not want to burden family members with unexpected expenses.

If you are trying to understand the difference as to what the difference between Burial Insurance vs Life Insurance Definition it is a matter of intent. One is to provide a source of income the other is to provide money for the costs of funerals. They are exceedingly different and should be thought of as such when making end of life financial matters.

Consult an Attorney or Certified Financial Planner when making such important decisions regarding your health and personal finances. They can be essential to secure peace of mind and relief before you need them.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Thinking of the Earth.

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I think I might have found the most one purpose Eco-friendly site that offers a wide range of products and items from DIY to Gifts with purpose.

Earthwhile is committed to finding and offering a wide variety of environmental oriented products that are both good for you and good for the environment.

Products were selected on a three fold concept: That they do what they promise, that they save money or conserve energy and promote alternative energy or technology.

Earthwhile has a wide selection of home insulation products that include pipe and hot water heater blankets/wraps and conventional batt insulation.

If you are looking for the children in your life look for Eco friendly toys and gifts. Earthwhile has a wide selection of safe and healthy toys in varying price points to make them affordable and accessible.

And for your basic needs the Reusable Shopping bags. From fashionably chic to practical Earthwhile has something for everyone.

Earthwhile is a forward thinking company with forward looking products for home and body and peace of mind.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Today marked the 30th "anniversary" of the death of John Lennon. A Libra like me is perhaps why I understood his complex nature and his compassion.

His death began an era I believe that truly marked the age of obsession/celebrity. Shortly after his murder by a deranged "fan" who felt dismissed, Ronald Reagan was shot by a deranged nut who was obsessed with Jodie Foster. The age of celebrity and the need to connect to someone "famous" seems to mark the time when people had no role models of real significance or issue. By then John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Bobby Kennedy were all dead at the hand of assassins and in turn our leaders were a disgraced President with few others available who could capture and lead a time of immense social and economical upheaval.

The Beatles came at a time of great growth in the world and period in the world where there was still optimism, excitement and creativity. Imagine was not yet written but the time when the Beatles emerged they had an effervescence with no seeming end. And that excitement was shared by the new America. As they grew and changed so did the times. It doesn't seem surprising that the worlds upheaval paralleled that of the band. The Beatles dissolved but the power of Lennon and McCartney evolved as did we. For many Lennon was one who represented a time when "Revolution" was not just a song.

I really think John who would be a man in his 70s today would be an interesting cultural counterpoint to today's almost silent youth. John if anything was not a silent man. A man of Cool Britannia but a man who was also very American in espousing the most precious of American values - free speech.

He was on Nixon's enemy list and today we have Beck's Blackboard. Would John be on it? I would only hope. And I suspect he might have laughed about it. Then railed against its purpose.

Peace and Love. Peace and Love. A message from yesterday one for today.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Frack This.

As the Climate Conference in Cancun comes to an end and to no surprise no progress was made to global cooperation with regards to Climate change.

Meanwhile it is highly unlikely that any progress on the US front will be made with regards to our Energy needs and anything regarding Climate matters. To our industry oriented friends the thought of regulation and laws governing resources is just another intrusion of "big Government."

In the meantime industries are pushing forward and covering their tracks on what is the ineveitable and finding new ideas that they are pushing as green.. or are they?

Much has been made of a process called "Fracking". Varying publications from Vanity Fair to the New York Times have had articles on the subject.

Last week BBC Newsnight discussed at length the process and its not something just affecting the US. The transcript is below.

Whatever you say this is one fracked up dangerous plan.

Susan Watts | 18:40 UK time, Thursday, 2 December 2010

Never heard of "fracking"? If not, chances are you will soon. It is short for hydraulic fracturing, and is part of a process by which the United States is tapping into a vast new source of energy - natural gas trapped in shale rock, deep underground.

But this new source of energy is controversial. Video sharing website YouTube is buzzing with clips showing people who live close to gas drill sites setting light to their tap water.

They claim this happened only after drilling released methane gas and contaminated their private water wells.

There is a lot at stake - not just money, but also the reputation of a whole new industry.

Potential rewards

Some estimates suggest there is enough shale gas under US soil that in energy terms it represents at least a couple of Saudi Arabias. What is more, this trillions-of-dollars-worth of energy is home-grown, and cleaner than other fossil fuels.

Until recently it was thought too difficult to tap economically. But a new engineering approach that combines "fracking" with horizontal drilling has challenged that (see how fracking works in the video below).

If all goes well in the US, Europe could be next. Just this September, a Chatham House report weighed up the prospects of a shale gas revolution.

But is it safe to go ahead?

'Learning by doing'

In early October, I went to the town of Dimock in the US state of Pennsylvanian to find out more. Residents there have become well known for their experience with fracking, and with the gas companies at work in their backyards.

The message I took away from the trip was similar to that highlighted by Chatham House, which in its report spoke about the industry as one which is "learning by doing".

When I spoke to one of the gas companies operating in Pennsylvania, Chesapeake Energy, I found that such "learning by doing" had uncovered a problem.

The company, the second largest gas company in the US, conceded this straight away. Brian Grove, from Chesapeake, told us that problems the company had encountered with shallow pockets of gas could explain how methane might reach people's drinking water.

The threat of methane in people's drinking water is one of two chief safety concerns about the industry.

If colourless, odourless methane gas migrates into people's private drinking water wells it is not a health risk in itself, though in high concentrations methane gas is an asphyxiate.

More worrying, the gas could explode if it collects in a confined space.

Contamination claim

The second anxiety is over what is in the so-called fracking fluids. These are mixed in with millions of gallons of water, and pumped underground at high pressure to help ease the gas out of the dense shale rock.

One of the Dimock residents we met, Bill Ely, like many landowners in the area, leased his land to a company called Cabot Oil and Gas, hoping to make money from royalties.

Now he is suing the firm for contaminating his water supply with methane gas and putting his home at risk of explosion.

After a neighbour's private water well apparently did explode, Cabot installed ventilation pipes on Mr Ely's water well, and agreed to divert his well water through a hose, rather than into his home. They truck in all his drinking water too.

(You can see Mr Ely setting light to gas coming off his water in the video below)

George Stark is the spokesman for Texas-based Cabot, which has already invested $900m in exploiting gas in just this one county in Pennsylvania.

He says people have long been able to light up their water round in the area because of naturally-occurring methane:

"Our experts have checked over our casing, cementing, the drilling practice itself, the tubular that we're using to go down and they have determined that at this point that there's no Cabot operations that's occurring allowing for the discharge of methane into the waters," he told me.

But the state's environmental regulator says he has the equivalent of fingerprints linking the methane in local wells and Cabot's operations.

So there's a standoff.

UK tests

Vast tracts of North America sit on top of the ancient shale rock that holds natural gas in tightly compressed layers. Extraction or exploration is now underway in 30 US states, with attention focussed on the so-called Marcellus shale under Pennsylvania and New York states.

And in New York, they are watching Pennsylvania with interest. The state has a moratorium in place while its regulators weigh up the pros and cons.

There is growing interest in shale gas in the UK too. This summer, Cuadrilla Resources, a UK company, began test drilling near Kirkham in Lancashire.

Geoff Maitland, professor of energy engineering at London's Imperial College, told me there is probably significant potential in the UK, as yet unexplored:

"There are good indications both in the Lancashire area, and in Dorset in the onshore Kimmeridge shales. Scotland also has good prospects," he said.

Tony Ingraffea, a geologist from Cornell University in the US, specialises in rock fracture analysis. He has spoken out against the way shale gas drilling is being carried out:

"You have steel casing, surrounded by cement, surrounded by rock. If any of those protection barriers fails we have an open pathway. A faulty cement job can be a failure by which gas or other fluids can find their way to the surface."

And it seems Chesapeake Energy might have hit upon at least one explanation for people's flaming tap water. The company told us that it had been forced to change its drilling mixture earlier this year, adding more latex.

Why? Because, just as Mr Ingraffea feared, problems with cement had allowed gas to migrate outside the well casing.

Brian Grove, from Chesapeake, explained: "In some cases it looks like, as the cement was drying, high pressure shallow methane kept it from drying properly, and would allow channelling to develop on the outside of the casing, which then could allow methane to move upwards through the shallower zone and to get into fresh water."

Mr Ingraffea is not surprised, but does not think this is the right approach: "I don't accept the notion that that industry can come in and say 'we're safe - oops, wait a minute, we found another mistake, we found another situation we hadn't anticipated, we're learning while we're doing'."

Haliburton subpoena

Much of the suspicion about the natural gas industry dates back to 2005, when US President George W Bush signed an energy bill which granted it exemptions from federal regulations, including the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Then-US vice-president Dick Cheney, the former CEO of Halliburton, worked prominently on energy policy at the time.

Halliburton is one of the major makers of fracking fluids, but appears to be the most reluctant to disclose their chemical make-up.

Earlier this month, the company was issued with a subpoena by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to force it to disclose more. Halliburton said it has worked to supply the EPA with the information it wants.

And as the gas companies expand their work across the US, this is a debate that is going global. As we finished filming in October, China's state gas company announced plans to invest in Chesapeake Energy's oil and gas fields.

The growing interest in the industry is not all positive. A documentary called Gasland has fired up the debate.

While New York State weighs up its position, many landowners welcome the industry, and the jobs and wealth it brings. Others say they are determined to secure the best deal for themselves, and for the environment, from this new gas Gold Rush.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The American Worker/The Walking Dead

It is not sustainable to continue on this current Economic course that American businesses seem intent on pursuing.

There is an immense disconnect from what is happening in the United States of working America and the one of the rich. The top 1% of Americans control over 40% of the economy and if this "recession" continues their wealth will rise and their control with it. Real Americans are confused, frustrated and angry. Congress regardless of party affiliation are equally frustrated, confused and angry just not about the same issues "we the people" are.

While parties fight for political dominance there are no real plans to get Americans back to work. If anything they are more preoccupied with paying down the debt by cutting services and programs while simultaneously not raising taxes on those whose ability and financial security will not be affected by any tax raise. Many Americans are thoroughly convinced that if they "give" this to the rich they will open up their hearts and purse strings and "give" Americans jobs.

Well in a time when record profits are being made as unemployment rises there is no imperative to give any American anything but a swift kick to the door. Outsourcing is still alive and well and there is nothing stopping that, financial reforms are now loopholes and bubbles are back and well business in America for those in the business of maintaining the rich they are just fine. For them this is a sustainable model that works.

The New York Times yesterday discussed the fact that regardless of the recessions depth and ultimate end there will be a rise in a great group of "underclass". Educated and trained workers who will not be hired. When a nation and when business can survive on unemployment that has risen and risen again with little affect to the bottom line why change? We may well become a country with unemployment that will always be in the 8% or greater number well into the future.

And I read this on Highdown Lowdown today which confirms that whatever "uncertainty" they claim about America they have no such uncertainty about foreign countries.

America's unemployed and downsized workers are furious that corporate profits, stock prices, and CEO pay are up – while hiring and wages are held down. But wait – U.S. corporations actually are increasing their payrolls. Just not in America. In a two year period, these corporate giants hiked hiring in foreign countries by 729,000 jobs, even as they cut 500,000 jobs here. Hilton hotels, for example, moved a U.S. call center to the Philippines, calling it a move for "maximizing efficiencies" – which is cold corporate jargon for "chasing cheap labor."

Likewise, JPMorgan Chase, which hauled in $25 billion from the Wall Street bailout, is moving its telephone banking business from Troy, Michigan, to the Philippines. Dell, the computer peddler, has closed its last PC factory here, while creating tens of thousands of PC jobs in China. And get this: Hewlett-Packard has dumped its human resources staff in 10 states, moving the work to Panama. Hello, human resources is the corporate division that ostensibly helps resolve worker complaints and boost employee morale. So the message here is. "Hey, bud, got a problem? Take it to Panama." Yet, a clueless Harvard business professor recently pooh-poohed any concerns about this outflow of American jobs: "When companies succeed abroad," he asserted, "people at home succeed." Golly, professor, I can hardly wait for you to enjoy the success of seeing your job offshored to some orangutans in Malaysia.

Bear in mind that replacing American employees with low-wage foreigners does nothing to improve products or even make them cheaper. The savings on wage costs are simply pocketed by corporate executives and Wall Street financiers. It's a massive redistribution of wealth from the many to the few. And the moneyed elites wonder why workaday Americans are furious?

I fear that if we continue with this course of action we will become a nation of Zombies as those in the AMC series Walking Dead. And that is not what makes a country it destroys it.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Dig This

I had read about this site in of all things a woman's magazine. I think this is a much better and safer alternative than Craigslist. In addition this season they are generously using their site to help those in need. And there is a lot of need of late.

Please check on their site. They sent me this notice and I hope you will look through it for your use now and in the future.

Online home improvement classified is giving Americans an easy-to-use avenue for charitable giving this holiday season that allows to donate to charity, no matter how hectic the holidays, or how cash-strapped the family budget.

The website’s “donation center” offers DiggersList visitors a simple way to clear out clutter from their garage or home, and offer it to Habitat for Humanity, one of the nation’s most respected nonprofits, which uses the donations to build homes for victims of natural disasters and people in need.

Visitors to DiggersList simply click on the “donation center” link on the DiggersList homepage, fill out a short form that describes the home improvement items they are offering to Habitat for Humanity as a donation, and click “submit.”

The donations that Habitat for Humanity accepts are sold at the non-profit’s nationwide network of ReStores to raise money to support their philanthropic mission. Habitat for Humanity has built over 350,000 houses around the world, providing more than 1.75 million people in 3,000 communities with safe, decent, affordable shelter.

“Someone’s home is the most personal thing, and this holiday season a lot of people are without,” said Matt Knox, CEO of DiggersList. “DiggersList’s donation center was created to help those people, and the fact that it can be done with just stuff that people have laying around in their garage makes it an easy charitable choice for the holidays.”

Despite a deep recession, a nationwide poll found that most Americans are planning on donating to charity just as much this holiday season as last year. In the nationwide American Red Cross poll conducted this fall, 62 percent of respondents said they would give to charity an equal amount as last year, and 10 percent said they expect to give more than last year.

According to a recent USA Today article on the American Red Cross poll, Americans are caught between two difficult realities during a recession — most realize that charitable giving is more important during an economic downturn because of the number of people in financial need, but the majority of Americans are struggling with their own financial hardships that preclude large charitable commitments.

DiggersList’s “donation center” solves this difficult dilemma by making charitable giving accessible to anyone with unused home improvement items in a garage or storage space. Items like tile, windows, light fixtures and appliances are perfect donation items that Habitat for Humanity can re-sell to fund their extensive work along the rebuilding Gulf Coast and in other parts of the nation.

“If there ever is a great time to clean out the garage and help people out, the holidays are it,” said Knox. “Most people are charitable and want to help, and we are just trying to provide an easy outlet for that.”

To visit DiggersList’s “donation center” log on to and look for the “donation center” link on the lower left-hand side of the page.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

And there LEED Goes....

I sometimes think I am the anti-LEED person with my constant harping about the issues surrounding LEED. But in reality I am a great advocate I am just against the "certifying" and "designating levels" of a buildings "greeness"

As I have said before there are some issues I have with regards to the program:
* No guarantee about performance
* No idemnification for Verifiers
* Cost
* Lack of concern for Indoor Air Quality for Occupants
* Monopoly
* Expense to become a LEED AP and the lack of criteria other than testing

Then today I found an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about a Developer forgoing LEED Certification as it adds to the cost of construction to the point it takes away from the features and options they can add to the building.

And its why I don't do LEED certs. The insurance costs to my business would raise, I can follow and establish the standards they are available and not trademarked or unique in any green build program and the time constraints involved would simply dominate my entire professional life. Its not affordable for me either. But it doesn't mean I don't know or keep apprised of current building science - LEED related or not

LEED certification boosts cost of going green

By Rachel Tobin
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

It ain’t easy being green. At least, not certifiably.

Just ask Connie Engel, a partner at Childress Klein, which manages and leases most of Atlanta Galleria, an 86-acre office park in Cobb County with six high-rise buildings.

The firm is not seeking certification through the U.S. Green Building Council to prove the buildings are LEED -- the acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

“We don’t want to pay the cost,” Engel said, or pass it on to tenants during this economic climate. But, she said, that doesn't mean they don't believe in conservation.

“We’ve been doing it for years: recycling, water conservation, all kinds of things generally considered green,” Engel said.

While proponents of LEED certification say it pays off in the long run in operating efficiencies, Engel voices a concern echoed by others in Atlanta’s real estate community who've balked at the hefty price tag of applying -- up to $27,500 per building.

That is the amount the council's nonmembers pay to apply for certification of buildings larger than half a million square feet. Members pay less, and smaller buildings are cheaper to certify, but that’s just for the paperwork. The fees don’t include the physical improvements needed to make a building green-compliant, nor consultant fees for help with the process.

“Just to submit the paperwork is $14,000,” Engel said of one project she is working on. “That doesn’t seem right to us. We have to put any extra dollars that we have toward keeping or getting tenants.”

Ashley Katz, communications manager at the Washington-based U.S. Green Building Council, said she has heard the concerns. “Cost is always something people bring up.”

LEED certification, which is about 10 years old, is still evolving, she said. She believes professional fees will continue to come down -- but, regardless, the cost pays off.

Building owners typically spend 1 to 2 percent more for a new building to meet LEED standards, but will get a 20 percent higher return on investment over the life of a building, she said.

Jack Rector, a LEED-certified engineer at Colliers International in Atlanta, said the payoff is that green buildings are cheaper to operate over time.

“LEED saves you about 35 percent in water costs and 15 percent in power costs. The break-even point is three to five years, so it does mount up very quickly,” Rector said.

Steve Martin, managing principal with SDM Partners, agreed, saying the certification is like “having a Polo logo on your shirt.” It’s an automatic selling tool when dealing with some government agencies and corporations that require LEED certification for their real estate deals.

In Atlanta, that claim bears out in the list of 101 buildings registered as LEED in the council’s database.

They include corporate, governmental and nonprofit entities such as the Atlanta Ballet, Atlanta Community Food Bank, the city of Atlanta’s new public safety offices, Emory University, Invesco, Alston & Bird, Skanska, Herman Miller, the Weather Channel and the new World of Coca-Cola.

But many real estate professionals told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that instead of paying the certification fees, they make green improvements to buildings, then let their tenants know.

Robert Patterson, who has been heading up the renovations at 200 Peachtree, the former Macy’s building downtown, decided not to seek certification.

“We are confident we would receive LEED certification based on the fact that we are a historical renovation, near transit, properly handled our demolition materials, chose substantial local content and installed new resource efficient systems," he said.

"However, LEED certification is expensive and the payments go to consultants and auditors as opposed to investments that save energy. We are now focused on how we operate the building to recycle materials, recycle oil into bio-diesel, and are even looking for how we can compost food waste.”

SDM’s Martin just bought Suwanee Gateway, a vacant five-story office building in Gwinnett, for $7.7 million. It was built to LEED silver standards -- the second lowest level -- but is not yet certified. While the previous owners already spent about $160,000 on the paperwork, he will have to spend another estimated $50,000 to $75,000 to finish it.

“Why can’t the design architects do this stuff and say, ‘Yes, it’s built to LEED standards?’” Martin asked.

Since 2000, more than 36,000 projects have been registered as LEED-certified, Katz said, and 12,000 projects were registered this year, the highest annual rate so far.

Chris Brown, senior vice president for Georgia operations with Duke Realty, said his firm is “absolutely pursuing LEED certification. Any building we build going forward will have some level of certification.”

The cost to apply for certification on a $10 million project becomes “immaterial,” he added.

Still, not all real estate firms believe certification is necessary to get the benefits of "being green."

Clint Howell, a senior vice president at Jones Lang LaSalle, manages and leases Sanctuary Park, a 150-acre office park with nine buildings in Alpharetta.

Two of the newest buildings are nearly identically, but one is LEED-certified and the other isn’t. The latter recently was leased to Coca-Cola Co., which will move a call center there from Dunwoody. Not having the certification didn't affect that deal, he said, and a Coke spokeswoman, Susan Stribling, agreed: "While this building is not LEED-certified, it offers many environmentally friendly features."

Walter Brown, senior vice president of development and sustainability for Green Street Properties, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Jamestown, said not all projects can be made green easily, including larger, older buildings with multiple heating and cooling systems pieced together, like Chelsea Market in New York.

So his company is developing a seal called “JT Green.” Prospective or existing tenants will be able to click on it to view a project's sustainable elements.

He called it a more “feasible” way to address the green issue.

And Engel has a “Galleria Green” checklist with how those buildings meet green standards.

Many of them are Energy Star compliant -- a designation that also is paperwork intensive but doesn’t require a hefty application fee, she said.

For now, that’s good enough for her.

So far, she said, she’s not aware of any tenants that have walked away from her buildings because they weren’t LEED-certified.

Friday, November 26, 2010

LEED Good for the Building

A recent study by Environment and Human Health, Inc., has brought to task the issue that while LEED is good for building and energy efficiency its not so good for the people.

Who are the EHHA? It is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting human health from environmental harms through research, education and the promotion of sound public policy. Environment and Human Health, Inc. is made up of doctors, public health professionals and policy experts committed to the reduction of environmental health risks to individuals.

LEED is under fire lately and well I have had issues with it for quite some time. One their entire monopoly on certification of buildings making it mandatory for individuals to possess and maintain LEED AP standings at significant costs while not indemnifying us should the process go wrong if litigation results from building failure. Its an expensive time consuming process for me and the kinds of clients I work with and tax credits for residential don't hinge (thankfully) on third part certifications so I am fortunate in that respect. That said the residential market is tough and if I am to sustain my business I will have to move out of it in the future and the LEED AP standing will become a necessity I can no longer avoid.

But as one who has always said look to the big picture and see what it is to accomplish I have to say that well its like the game when you have your hands together in prayer and you go "here is the church here is the steeple open the door and see all the people." Without people you have no buildings or at least anyone in them so what is the purpose. Save the environment and save the people.

LEED Standards Are Being Adopted into Many Laws

Green Building Council standards are being incorporated into federal, state and local laws through legislation, executive orders, resolutions, policies, loan-granting criteria and tax credits. As demonstrated in this report, LEED standards are clearly insufficient to protect human health, yet they are being adopted by many levels of government as law. Thus the Green Building Council, a trade association for the building industry, is effectively structuring the regulations. The number of jurisdictions adopting these standards as law is growing, which will make them difficult if not impossible to change, unless federal law and regulation supersede the “green” standards with health-protective regulations.

No Federal Definition or Regulation of Green Building Standards

There is no federal definition of “green building standards” analogous to federal “organic food standards” or drinking water standards. Given regulatory neglect, many trade organizations have worked to create their own certification programs, hoping to capture growing demand for environmentally friendly and heath-protective buildings.

Energy Efficiency Given Priority Over Health

The LEED credit system is heavily weighted to encourage energy-efficient building performance. Nearly four times as many credits are awarded as energy conservation technologies and designs (35 possible credits) as for protection of indoor environmental quality from hazardous chemicals (8 possible credits).

Green Building Council Board Has Little Expertise in Environmental Health

Directors of the LEED Program are predominantly engineers, architects, developers, real estate executives, chemical industry officials and building product manufacturers. One medical doctor representing Physicians for Social Responsibility was recently appointed to sit on the board, which has 25 directors.

False Impression of Healthy Buildings

The Green Building Council’s award of “platinum,” “gold”, and “silver” status conveys the false impression of a healthy and safe building environment, even when well-recognized hazardous chemicals exist in building products.

Time Spent Indoors

Americans today are spending more than 90 percent of their time indoors. The EPA spends the majority of its resources working to manage outdoor threats to environmental quality and human health.

Tighter Buildings Increase Human Exposure

Energy conservation efforts have made buildings tighter, often reducing air exchange between the indoors and outdoors. Since outdoor air is often cleaner than indoor air, the reduction of outdoor-indoor exchange tends to concentrate particles, gases and other chemicals that can lead to more intense human exposures than would be experienced in better-ventilated environments.

However, the LEED program has been effective in encouraging more efficient heating and ventilation techniques, such as solar panels, geothermal wells, window placement and building orientation.

Toxic Chemicals in Built Environments

Tens of thousands of different building materials and products are now sold in global markets. Many of these products contain chemicals recognized by the U.S. National Toxicology Program, the CDC, or the World Health Organization to be hazardous.

These products include pesticides, chemical components of plastics, flame retardants, metals, solvents, adhesives and stain-resistant applications.

Some are carcinogens, neurotoxins, hormone mimics, reproductive toxins, developmental toxins, or chemicals that either stimulate or suppress the immune system.

Chemicals in Buildings Are Often Found in Human Tissues

The CDC began testing human tissues to determine the presence of some chemical ingredients of building materials. Most individuals whose tissues were tested carried dozens of these chemicals in their hair, blood or urine. Children often carry higher concentrations than adults. Chemicals released by building materials to indoor environments may be inhaled, ingested or absorbed through the skin.

No Level of LEED Certification Assures Health Protection

It is possible for new construction to be certified at the “platinum” level with no credits awarded for air quality assurance in the category “indoor environmental quality.”

LEED Neglects Drinking Water Quality

The only drinking water quality assurance that LEED requires is compliance with federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) standards. Yet these standards are widely recognized to allow human exposure to hazardous chemicals above “maximum contamination limits” set to protect human health.

In addition, the SDWA standards do not apply to wells that provide water to fewer than 15 households, as these require no water testing, leaving nearly 40 million people with no legal protection. Similarly, pesticides may be used within buildings and on grounds, with no regard for groundwater contamination.

LEED Neglects Workers’ Occupational Risks

LEED neglects to address the occupational chemical risks faced by workers who manufacture building products, cleaning products and furnishings.

The Central Problem: Federal Failure to Test and Regulate

Hazardous chemicals have become components of LEED-certified indoor environments primarily due to the failures of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and EPA’s neglect of the problem. Congress has provided EPA with limited authority to require testing of likely hazardous chemicals in building products.

Among nearly 80,000 chemicals in commerce, EPA has required toxicity testing of only 200 in nearly 25 years since TSCA was passed. These test results led EPA to ban or phase out only five chemicals. The overwhelming majority of chemicals in the built environment remain untested individually or as chemical mixtures that are routinely released to indoor environments.

Thus new products may incorporate tens of thousands of untested chemicals with no government oversight. This absence of regulation contrasts sharply with more stringent federal statutes that govern pesticides, industrial emissions to outdoor environments, pharmaceuticals and food. Since TSCA places the burden of proof of hazard on EPA before it may regulate, nearly all chemicals in building materials have escaped federal testing and regulation.

LEED Credit System—Something For All, Guarantees for None

LEED provides credits in many categories unrelated to human health. In establishing such a diverse set of criteria—energy, materials and resources, site reuse, and so forth—each category accounts for a relatively small percentage of the total credit award. The design of the existing credit system provides opportunities for awards in many different categories. The outcome is that low performance, or omissions in one or more categories, can result in even the most prestigious certification level.

Go Green or Go Home

I was recently sent a link to a McGraw Hill Construction study on the future of Green Building. At $250 I will pass but the info is not something worth passing on for those interested in commercial "green" development.

The report, "Green Outlook 2011: Green Trends Driving Growth," found that green building represented 25 percent of all new construction activity in 2010 and that the value of green building construction starts was up 50 percent from 2008 to 2010 — from $42 billion to $55 billion-$71 billion.

And the growth spurt isn't over. According to projections, by 2015, the size of the green building market is expected to grow to $135 billion.

The rate of growth in green building has been particularly impressive in the nonresidential sector. One-third of all new nonresidential construction is green. And in five years, nonresidential green building activity is expected to triple, which will contribute anywhere from 120-145 billion, a 40+% share in the market.

The decision to develop green properties are fueled by the lower operating costs (HVAC, lighting, water), higher building values, and an increase in return on investment.

But also contributing to this is an increase in local and federal government regulations and incentives (which may be at risk with current political attitudes towards well "green" or anything Obama is keen on)

As of September 2010, green building legislation and initiatives were present in 12 federal agencies and 33 states, and at the local level, government initiatives have increased at an aggressive pace — from 156 localities nationwide in 2008 to 384 localities in 2010.

This should also be extended to include multi family housing developments as we know from the current mortgage crisis there will be an increasing need for quality and affordable green rental units.

And if this trend is to continue the encouragement by local developers, builders, companies must be done in a move away from partisan politics to a more sustainable type of politics which is green neither red nor blue in logo.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Green Clock Ticks

There are still a few more weeks before Federal Energy Tax Credits expire.

If you are considering making any energy improvements to the home you must start the process prior to years end as the credits expire on 12/31/10.

I doubt in our current "climate" these will be renewed. As a result if you are debating upgrading your heating system, appliances, windows, doors, etc you need to make a decision where the money would best be spent and ultimately utilized. Energy will NOT remain affordable for long. With cities and their subsequent services, utilities included, expect prices to rise.

A review as follows:

Home Energy Efficiency Improvement Tax Credit:

This credit provides a 30% rebate for existing homes only up to $1,500. As a result, it does not apply to new construction or home purchases. However, for those who may be completing a full gut rehab, you may qualify for this credit, and you can model the energy savings by plugging your home information into the energy savings calculator provided by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Please note that the Home Energy Efficiency Improvement Tax Credit is scheduled to expire on December 31, 2010.

Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit:

This credit is quite extensive. It provides a 30% credit for installation of renewable energy systems (wind, solar and fuel cell) in addition to geothermal HVAC systems. The price for geothermal HVAC has decreased significantly in recent years. This tax incentive of 30% significantly lowers the return on investment (ROI) for installing a geothermal HVAC system when compared to a typical system. Recent comparisons demonstrate an ROI of 6-10 years.

I find the Energy Star website to be the best resource for understanding what is available from these tax credits, and I recommend you read the complete descriptions there.

State and Local Incentives

Opportunities: Tax incentives, utility rebates, grants, loans, net metering availability.

This step can be crucial in identifying significant incentives, but it has to be thoroughly reviewed early in the process for many of the programs. One point of note is that the requirements are stringent and must be adhered to as you are moving through the construction process. At the end of the day, it is expected that you have to work to get free money. I find the most comprehensive site for finding these

incentives is the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Well the Rich Have a LOT to be Thankful for..

Today the front page of the New York Times has an article on how good times are back on Wall Street. The trickle down Economic policy is great if you are an Auction company, a Real Estate Agent in the Hampton's, an exclusive Restaurant or luxury retailer.

While bonuses are down they are not stopping the rich from having a great time. Neiman Marcus in 2 minutes sold hundreds of custom Camaro's and Tiffany is showing record sales on high end items.

Meanwhile Corporate profits are up over 1.6 Trillion dollars a record in over 60 years. Yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus for the rich.

this morning also had an article on how Barry Diller, IFC company, is bypassing wage increases and bonuses while well Barry Diller isn't shorting himself any luxury perk needed to accommodate his lifestyle. The rich are different.

I have no comment but I have to wonder if anyone really sees the blatant disregard of the current economic situation for millions of Americans who are struggling with no work, work that has cut pay and benefits and work that is increasingly off the clock and extra that goes uncompensated. No Lil Kim party for us I guess...

Wallets Out, Wall St. Dares to Indulge

Exuberance made a comeback this year at Josh Koplewicz’s annual Halloween party. More than 1,000 people packed into a 6,000-square-foot space at the Good Units night club in Manhattan, a substantially larger crowd than in the last several years.

The open bar was sponsored by Russian Standard vodka, and Mr. Koplewicz, an investment analyst at Goldman Sachs, was able to snag a big headliner: the hip-hop star Lil’ Kim, who performed dressed in a black cat costume.

The scene was more extravagant in September, at a 50th birthday party in Hong Kong for Brian Brille, the head of Bank of America Asia Pacific. Mr. Brille, who is well known on the New York social scene, wore a gray Hugh Hefner-esque jacket. Women dressed like Playmates, with feather boas and satin ears, danced behind a pink silk screen.

Two years after the onset of the financial crisis, the stock market is recovering and Wall Street’s moneyed elite are breathing easier again. And this means in some cases they are spending again — at times cautiously, but sometimes with a familiar swagger.

It’s true that firms scaled back the corporate excesses, like fancy retreats and private jets, for which they were vilified as a brutal recession gripped the country. Many of those constraints remain in place, like flying commercial on business trips, or more limited private car service for employees.

But when it comes to personal indulgences, there are signs that the wallets are beginning to open up. Traders and executives say that jobs seem much more secure. Businesses whose fortunes ebb and flow with the financial markets are thriving again.

“Wall Street is back spending as much if not more than before,” said the New York dermatologic surgeon Dr. Francesca J. Fusco, whose business is booming again after a difficult few years.

Christie’s auction house says investors from the financial world who fell out of the bidding market during the 2008 credit crisis are “pouring” back in.

Porter House restaurantMarcus Yam for The New York TimesMichael Lomonaco, left, the head chef at the Porter House restaurant in Manhattan.

Expensive restaurants report a pickup in bookings. At the Porter House restaurant in the Time Warner Center across from Central Park, the head chef, Michael Lomonaco, says business is up about 10 percent over a year ago and “people are starting to shake off what happened.” The restaurant is a favorite of A-list Wall Street executives, including Goldman Sachs’s chief executive, Lloyd C. Blankfein.

Real estate agents say Wall Street executives have already begun lining up rentals in the Hamptons for next summer. Dolly Lenz of Prudential Douglas Elliman said the bidding this year was “hotter and heavier” than previous years. “There is a passion now in the market I haven’t seen in a while,” she said.

She said her clients, almost exclusively from Wall Street, were afraid to lose out. Just recently, Ms. Lenz said, she had three people bidding more than $400,000 for a summer rental in Southampton.

Compensation on Wall Street this year will not be much higher than 2009, and may even be lower. So the change in attitude appears more a matter of confidence and security than income.

“The mood is absolutely better, much better than even a year ago,” said David M. Gildea, a health care trader at the Wall Street firm Cowen & Company. Mr. Gildea was a trader at Bear Stearns before it was sold to JPMorgan Chase at a fire-sale price. He then moved to another big firm, which went through a similar near-death experience.

In 2008, even on a good trading day, he said, he and other traders were reluctant to even go out for a drink after work, uncertain if they were going to keep their jobs.

Now, Mr. Gildea said, people are stepping out more, and firms like Cowen are more optimistic about the future. “Are we back to where we were? Absolutely not,” he said. “Many people in our industry have learned to live more responsibly, but there is a definite buzz on the Street that hasn’t been there in some time.”

J.T. Cacciabaudo, head of equity trading and sales trading at the regional brokerage firm Sterne Agee agrees, saying while there is some concern in the market about the fourth quarter and how it will end, optimism about the longer term “has come back” and firms like his are in growth mode.

“Going into the third quarter, there was chatter about layoffs and most of that didn’t come to fruition because firms seem more optimistic about 2011 than the past two years,” he said.

This despite the fact that bonuses on Wall Street are not likely to be up much from last year, though they will still be strong. Over all, Goldman, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase have set aside $89.54 billion this year to pay employees, 2.8 percent less than a year ago, according to data from Nomura.

Total revenue for the five firms, meanwhile, has fallen about 4 percent this year. A study by the influential compensation expert Alan Johnson says broadly that bonuses will be up 5 percent this year across all financial services companies, with employees in some businesses like asset management getting increases of 15 percent.

This is a far cry from 2007, when some firms on Wall Street set records for compensation payouts. That year Goldman Sachs set aside $20.19 billion in compensation and benefits; in 2008, it set aside just half of that amount, $10.93 billion for pay. In 2009, that number climbed to $16.19 billion.

In the years leading up to the credit crisis some executives became famous for their expenditures, like L. Dennis Kozlowski, the former chief executive of Tyco International, whose $6,000 shower curtain became a symbol of unnecessary extravagance.

Some of that excess remains. A Morgan Stanley trader recently tried to hire a dwarf for a bachelor party in Miami, asking the dwarf to meet him at the airport in a “Men in Black” style suit, according to e-mail exchanges. The trader, who wanted to handcuff the dwarf to the bachelor, was recently fired.

Dr. Francesca J. FuscoRuth Fremson/The New York TimesDr. Francesca J. Fusco, a dermatologic surgeon in New York, says her business is rebounding strongly.

Most expenditures, however, are for more mainstream indulgences. Marc B. Porter, a senior executive at Christie’s, says Wall Street workers for whom the auction market was recently seen as “out of range” are pouring back in. This resurgence of activity, he says, has followed the recovery of different economies, be it Hong Kong or the United States.

In recent months, Deborah Killoran, a client of Dr. Fusco’s, has been more willing to open the purse strings for cosmetic surgery. This month she is scheduled for an ulthera, a nonsurgical face-lift that costs $3,000 and upward.

Ms. Killoran, who runs a Brooklyn-based insurance company, says that over the last two years she cut her annual spending on cosmetic surgery in half, to about $3,000. She is now spending at pre-2008 levels. “I have to meet a lot of people, and this is part of investing in myself,” she said.

For a restaurant like Porter House, a pickup in business means a customer may spend an extra $8 for the Prime Cowboy Rib Steak rather than the Prime New York Strip Steak and eat out twice a month, instead of just once every four weeks. Mr. Lomonaco, the chef, says bookings for private rooms have increased. “At some point, firms want to reward their people, and they seem more willing to do so this year,” he said.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Equal Pay Equal Work

The Equal Pay Act went down in flames in last week's Senate vote. As well any legislation that passes through dysfunction junction so this was not a surprise. As I have written before women are not compensated on the same level as men and despite our increasing gains in attaining Education we are still paid approximately 81 cents to every dollar earned by men. (Hey we used to make 75-77 cents 13 years ago - we have come a long way baby!)

The Equal Pay act was a way of assuring that the compensation tables for women are set on par with men. That is pretty much I think a given and there is no reason for any woman to make less than her male counterparts for doing the same work. The issue is that women have "careerus interuptus" more than men which can cause great fluctuations in work history and salary.

When a woman takes leave for child birth or opts out of the workplace to be the primary caregiver, when women are often the sole breadwinners of a home it becomes a challenge to put in the non-interrupted time and devotion males of the same age/experience/education have. Its difficult when as a woman we still are the primary home keepers doing the bulk of the housework and child raising even when working full time. Although studies have shown that partners of similar education and background are better at dividing the home responsibilities and duties it still falls primarily on women. So our working day does not always end at 5. That can put a toll on taking on more responsibility or management, passing on promotions or opportunities that their male colleagues often receive.

I have said that this current economic meltdown has very large and significant issues when it comes to wages and benefits. The overall outcome is that all of us will find ourselves working for less and for longer if we are to make it in this country. The days of pensions, Social Security, Medicare and costs for Education and Health are so significant whatever work we end up doing we will not be seeing financial rewards as our parents did for similar work - regardless of gender.

I read in the American Prospect the article which I have placed below. I will let you decide if this is an issue as one I do think is relevant. Without legislation in place and protection by law women will once again see significant wage related issues be not a thing of the past but one of the present.

What Gender Gap?

Real-world discrimination -- particularly on pay -- isn't as obvious as we'd like it to be.

Monica Potts

The Paycheck Fairness Act died in the Senate last week despite widespread support. Fifty-eight senators voted for it, which, as frustrated progressives surely know, is not enough to overcome a Republican filibuster. It passed the House of Representatives last year with a vote of 256 to 163, and a poll commissioned in July by the ACLU and a coalition supporting the bill found that 84 percent of registered voters supported a bill that would give "women more tools to get fair pay in the workplace."

But that's a phrasing few could disagree with. Republicans in the Senate said they voted against the bill because it would create frivolous lawsuits, without limits on damages, and force companies to report wage and employment data to the government. Neither of those is really true, but few things get conservative-leaning voters riled up more than lawsuits and government meddling. And while most Americans (and most of the world) support women entering the workplace, that support varies when we start to ask about who should get preference in troubled times, how the government should intervene, and what corrective action should be taken.

Real-world discrimination isn't as obvious as we'd like it to be: An employer will never say, "By the way, I'm paying all my female employees less." It's much more subtle and affects women from the start of their career, from the often internalized belief that women are naturally suited to traditionally low-paying careers like teaching rather than high-paying careers like finance, to the persistent belief that women are paid less because they're not solely devoted to climbing to the top of the career ladder.

A 2007 study by the American Association of University Women found that women were paid 5 percent less than men with equivalent jobs just one year out of school. Those differences compound: A woman who is paid less would have to get higher raises or better starting salaries at subsequent jobs to catch up with men. But raises and new salaries are anchored by previous earnings. It might be difficult for individual actors to see how their life paths are affected by society as a whole, and women themselves do not always recognize individual injustices for what they are -- systemic discrimination. That's the hard part about dealing with discrimination in America: We have a skewed idea of what it is, and many women, struggling or not, do not even know when they are a victim.

Conservative arguments against policies that would enforce equal pay build upon the worst of those misperceptions: the idea that the playing field is already equalized for women -- women just haven't taken advantage of it. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's director of communications, Brad Peck, wrote a blog post on the organization's website taking issue with the idea that the gender-equality wars of today are as important as those of the past. "Suffragettes were fighting to give women equality of choice; those fighting for 'full equality' are trying to actually legislate away choice." The pay gap is the result of personal decisions, Peck said, so instead of supporting legislation, he argues for a personal-responsibility approach encouraging women to choose better careers and better life partners. That the work-life balance falls on women, he argued, is a cultural artifact, and correcting for it would require the state to treat people unequally. "Equality is a matter of ensuring equal access to opportunity, not ensuring identical outcomes in some areas depending on which opportunities you choose to take," he wrote.

Christina Hoff Sommers took to the op-ed pages of The New York Times in September to echo this point and to argue that employers aren't responsible for correcting for it: "It's not enough for an employer to guard against intentional discrimination; it also has to police potentially discriminatory assumptions behind market-driven wage disparities that have nothing to do with sexism." Both of these arguments flip the script: Correcting for actual discrimination would be unfair to employers, who are only responding to the market and individual merit. The hidden nature of the discrimination can make the solutions seem heavy-handed.

Of course, the "choices" women make are influenced by the same workplace discrimination they might have trouble recognizing. For example, in families in which men make more than women, it wouldn't make financial sense for men to leave their jobs to care for children. As Heather Boushey of the Center for American Progress wrote in Slate in September, if women were consciously trading pay for benefits like workplace flexibility and more time off, we would expect to see women with children in jobs with better benefits. Instead, they're actually less likely than men to have these jobs.

Still, a full third of Americans don't believe we need to make any more policy changes to ensure that women are treated equally, which just goes to show how much resonance arguments like these have. Despite the facts, the bill's failure hasn't caused an uproar beyond the progressive sphere. Last week, I spoke to Deborah Vagins, legislative counsel for the ACLU. She said she didn't believe the conservative arguments against the Paycheck Fairness Act had won any support, but, when she spoke to people about her work, they were often surprised to hear that the problem of the gender pay gap hadn't been solved. Most people thought solutions were already in place. What's particularly ironic is that the Paycheck Fairness Act was poised to make this hidden discrimination visible, and easier to fight.