Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Clean This

I keep remembering the television movie "The Day After" about a nuclear bomb dropped on the United States and the after effects of its devastation. The movie so affected Ronald Reagan President at the time that it influenced his move away from nuclear weapons.

Well here we are its 2011 and this current President shares the same disinclination to nuclear weapons as in the START treaty but not so much when it comes to our Energy needs.

Upon the "day after" the State of the Union address with a renewed commitment to renewable energy the news that the most progressive Green member of his team, Carol Browner is leaving putting at risk those great promises made during his inauguration of channeling the wind, the sun and the earth.

The need for clean renewable energy is upon us. Now. Not later not down the line. Now. Be your own belief of not regarding Climate change our current Energy demands and needs will soon lead to a massive crisis and increased prices the likes we have never seen in a country where "energy" be it gas or electrical is still significantly lower than most places in the world. It cannot be sustained. Its that simple. NOTHING lasts forever.

Our current political climate is one of great chill. Be that there is a lack of belief in the concept their is a general disinclination by the Republican body of Congress to work towards a positive Energy policy other than Drill Baby Drill.

This was in American Prospect regarding their response to last's nights address.. what is yours and what are you thinking of when it comes to clean energy?

The State of Clean Energ

In his State of the Union address, the president made large-scale commitments to clean energy, but is it all just talk?

Monica Potts | January 26, 2011 | web only

The State of Clean Energy

Roughly 24 hours after Politico reported that Carol Browner, Barack Obama's energy and environmental adviser, was leaving, the president came out strong for clean energy in his State of the Union address: He set a goal of getting 80 percent of our energy from clean sources by 2035.

It's premature to start the party, though. Obama has made us happy before. As a candidate, he promised: "My presidency will mark a new chapter in America's leadership on climate change that will strengthen our security and create millions of new jobs in the process." That didn't turn into climate legislation. And while including wind and solar power as part of his national vision in his speech, the president conceded that he was open to having some energy sources be nuclear, "clean coal," and natural gas -- types of energy that make environmentalists cringe, even if they emit less carbon into the atmosphere than oil and regular coal do.

There's a good chance that Obama, who prides himself on compromise and who struck a bipartisan tone tonight, could be all talk. He didn't explain whether national regulations would ensure the 80 percent goal or whether tax credits or incentives would try to encourage the outcome. But he did -- and this has become a signature Obama move -- draw a strong line against the opposition. He promised to end tax breaks and government subsidies for oil companies. That gave Denise Bode from the American Wind Energy Association, who sent out a positive -- if qualified -- statement during the speech, something to agree with; the association has long argued that fossil fuels have such an advantage when it comes to government investments that wind and solar energy, which haven't gotten comparable government support, aren't competing on a level playing field.
More on TAP

Jamelle Bouie and Adam Serwer dissect the president's speech.

Listen here

Obama compared the race to innovate in renewable energies to the space race, calling it a new "Apollo mission." Of course, he was talking not about sending people to the moon again but about the ingenuity, education, and public investment that the effort inspired. Science and technological innovation got marquee treatment in the speech and propelled Obama toward the passage of the night: "Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America's success. But if we want to win the future -- if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas -- then we also have to win the race to educate our kids."

What's been problematic about the president's approach up to now is that, despite his efforts to pump funding into the clean-energy sector, as he did with about $90 billion of the stimulus, renewable energy hasn't taken off. Obama had a line in his speech that summed up why this is so: "Now, clean-energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean-energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they're selling." That problem is one I described two months ago in a piece for TAP, and one that we'll have to face if we want to employ the slew of workers we've trained for green jobs . We've already invested in the next generation of wind-turbine technicians and solar-panel installers by sending government money to community colleges for training programs. Now, we have to make sure they have a future.

Hope for a renewed effort on climate-change legislation in this term is slim. As Ryan Lizza reported last week in The New Yorker, Republicans in the House are too busy investigating the faux-scandal "Climategate" and determining whether global warming is actually real to try to work together on legislation that taxes or places caps on carbon emissions. It's unclear how this new goal will play out amid this political reality.

Speeches are nice, but the policy that follows will matter more. Even Bode from the American Wind Energy Association says her organization needs to review the proposals. Achieving the 80 percent goal is more than plausible. "Wind energy is ready to go now; we don't need to wait nearly three decades," Bode says. That's backed up by a new study that says we could be getting 100 percent of our clean energy from renewable sources by 2030, as reported by the Huffington Post. Discovery News, in reporting on the same study, noted that the biggest block is political and human will. Obama's speech was meant to demonstrate the desire, but we'll see if that translates into action.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Enough Already!

I was just reading a few articles in EcoHome magazine and I realized that well enough is not enough when it comes to green building certification programs. Which you can review here.

There seems to be more competitors who are also dding to the already excessive, competing, overlapping and redundant programs of - to name a few.

Energy Star
Green Advantage
Earth Advantage
Living Building Challenge
Healthy Home by Lung Association

There comes SEED.

New SEED Standard IntroducedA new building standard to certify the socioeconomic, as well as the environmental relevance, of design projects.
By: Meghan Drueding Related Articles

At the Structures for Inclusion conference on March 27 in Washington, D.C., a group of architects, designers, activists, and community leaders unveiled a new standard called SEED (Social Economic Environmental Design). Somewhat analogous to the LEED standards for green buildings, SEED will provide guidance, evaluation, and certification for the social, economic, and environmental relevance of design projects.

One of the main forces behind SEED is Bryan Bell, AIA, founder and executive director of the nonprofit organization Design Corps, which organizes the annual Structures for Inclusion event. “SEED is a guide, a combined wisdom that hopefully is transferrable,” he says. “I don’t think people have taken this rigorous of an approach before.”

He and a group of collaborators have put five years of work into developing SEED and the SEED Evaluator, an online tool that helps users through the process of creating a socially, economically, and environmentally sensible building or community. The Evaluator addresses issues such as public safety, job creation, and sanitation, to name just a few. And it requires strong evidence of community participation and input for a project to be eligible for SEED certification.

A group of third-party certifiers will review submitted projects to determine whether they satisfy the SEED criteria. “The triple bottom line of social, economic and environmental has to be in balance,” says design educator Lisa Abendroth, another principal SEED collaborator.

The hope is that designers and their clients will start to use SEED on projects large and small. “It could be applied to a project of almost any scale,” says SEED team member Kimberly Dowdell, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, of HOK. Along with helping to produce more responsible work, SEED also could bolster design’s perceived relevance to the world at large. “This is a moment whose time has come,” Abendroth says. “There’s a desire for a re-evaluation of what design means to people and how we are improving the world through our contributions.”

Among the other leaders involved in the creation of SEED were Eric Field of the University of Virginia School of Architecture, R. Steven Lewis, AIA, president of the National Organization of Minority Architects, and former National Endowment for the Arts design director Maurice Cox, also of the U.Va. School of Architecture

Honestly its overkill. When does the rush for proving you have re-invented the wheel end?

We have massive unemployment problems. A crisis in the existing housing market. Serious economic issues that will take the next decade at least to resolve and we need more green building programs.

We have no national energy program, no plan to repair, upgrade or modernize how we use and transfer energy. We have no Environmental plan that will clean our waters and soils and our air and move us away from non-renewable to renewable. China is cleaning our clock with regards to the building industry. 1.2 million jobs from the Caterpillar plant are relocating there and they plan on moving their data and design facilities there as well. DuPont another large player in the trades also moving 200K plus jobs there as well.

But to somehow validate and demonstrate who is wearing the biggest green britches the Architects and Engineers have decided we need one more green build strategy to the already full plate. Good on ya. Clearly you couldn't work with the production builders like KB Homes who are passing off this Martha Stewart home as "green" by actually making it so? No lets spend time off in the clouds finding the best way to make a house really really expensive but really really green.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Martha, Martha, Martha

KB Homes unvieled its new green home in the Martha Stewart Collection. Built in Florida for its newest subsdivsion these homes are the newest greatest and bestest green home ever with more certifications and citations EVER!

Well maybe...

The home is of course green on the inside and that is what matters. From Treehugger to the Wall Street Journal there are few kudos to this project.

'Green' Houses Get Push From Martha Stewart
Partnership With KB Home Seeks to Encourage Such Sales


Domestic doyenne Martha Stewart and home builder KB Home are teaming up again, this time to offer environmentally friendly homes, a move both companies hope will spark home sales.

The concept home unveiled Tuesday in Windermere, Fla.— on the eve of the start of the International Builders' Show in nearby Orlando—includes solar panels on the roof, kitchen composting bins and a rainwater-collection system. Buyers also can get electric-car charging stations.

The venture continues a six-year partnership between Los Angeles-based KB Home and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. that has built more than 1,000 Martha-branded homes, whose designs were inspired by Ms. Stewart's residences in New York, Connecticut and Maine.

Both sides maintain that the Martha Stewart-KB Home partnership has been a success since its debut in 2005. The builder touts features, such as open kitchens and wainscoting, that are associated with Ms. Stewart, who is said to be heavily involved in the design process.

As the market softened several years ago, the Martha-branded homes initially outperformed KB Home's non-name-brand construction. But as the softening turning into a collapse, sales of Martha Stewart homes fell off, too.

That KB Home would debut a new Martha Stewart community near Orlando, which has been hard-hit by the housing bust but is showing early signs of recovery, shows the company remains confident that Ms. Stewart's name will sell homes—in this case, with prices starting in the $200,000-range.

But whether Ms. Stewart's stamp of approval will encourage more consumers to buy "green" is unclear, and industry watchers are skeptical. Other home builders that have spent the past few years promoting and rolling out one environmental feature after another have been disappointed that buyers haven't shown great interest. Buyers are far more concerned about location and price and are largely unwilling to pay extra for features that may be hard to understand.

"I'll build the greenest house in the world if the market demands it," said Eric Lipar, chief executive of LGI Homes, a Texas-based builder. "We're not losing customers because other builders offer green options."

Part of the problem is that green features remain difficult to value and to sell to consumers. "The general public doesn't seem to understand the value prospect of, for instance, a super-insulated home with a super-efficient HVAC system as much as they understand the value of, for instance, a granite countertop or an in-suite master bath," said Kevin Morrow, senior program manager for the National Association of Home Builders' Green Building Programs.

KB, however, thinks this house and community show that it remains bullish on building. "This is a great statement about the company and housing and KB Home's partnership with Martha," said Jeff Mezger, KB Home's chief executive, in an interview.

Still, the company is hedging its bets. The environmentally friendly features are largely options that buyers can choose if they wish. If not, they can just get a Martha house that isn't so green.

At this point adding anything seems redundant. I think Swtichboard does a fantastic analysis of why this project is Greenwashing at its best but I will add once again LEED is a prominent presence and is the key selling point. And yet its also drawing the highest criticism. I will let you make your own call but frankly its like anything with a "celebrity" moniker its heavy on a whole lot of nothing. And adding stuff to make it green that provides no purpose is not green its all about the gold.

The Green Mom

It is advice for new and not so new moms on ways to green up your life.

100 Great Hacks for the Green-Minded Mom

Becoming a mom means investing in the future. Your children, and your children's children will live on this Earth long after you're gone-and knowing that sort of thing makes a lot of moms more eco-conscious than ever before. A woman who may have thought little about recycling before can turn into a green-minded mom with a desire to make the world a healthier place to live. Whether you're a newly green mom, or a lifelong eco-crusader, these hacks offer great ways to help preserve the Earth for future generations.


Reduce, reuse, and recycle with these hacks.
Have fewer children: Consider limiting your number of kids to two.
Use reusable bags for everything: From groceries to library books, get lots of use out of your reusable bags.
Use Gmail as a baby book: Record daily achievements in a dedicated Gmail account.
Live simply: One of the easiest ways to go green at home is to simplify and acquire less.
Let kids sort recycling: Get your kids involved when you're recycling.
Be a good example: Be green to raise a green child.
Recycle everything: Find a way to recycle everything, unless you can reuse it or find a way to not acquire it in the first place.
Be happy with what you have: Learn to live with less.
If you don't absolutely need to use it, don't: Cut down on waste and chemicals by simplifying.

Be healthy and green with the help of these hacks.
Give up smoking: It's healthier for you, your baby, your family, and the environment.
Try natural oils: Use olive oil to moisturize baby.
Avoid overusing antibacterial products: Continued use of antibacterial products can lead to superbugs.
Give oatmeal baths: Treat inflamed skin with oatmeal baths.
Don't pump gas when you're pregnant: Stay way from gas fumes.
Use calendula oil: Instead of diaper cream, try calendula oil.
Use probiotics: Probiotics can treat poop problems, prevent allergies, and more.
Ventilate your home: Open windows regularly to get fresh air in your home.
Use an aspirator: Before turning to drugs, try using a bulb syringe.


Diapers are a fact of life for most families, but with the help of these hacks, they don't have to be an environmental burden.
Use cloth diapers: Make use of cloth diapers that can be cleaned and worn over and over again instead of thrown away.
Go biodegradable: Buy biodegradable or compostable disposable diapers.
Reduce the number of diapers you use: Pick more absorbent diapers, and strategically time diaper changes to cut down on your diaper quantity.
Wash diapers on cold: Save money on energy by washing your diapers on cold instead of hot.
Potty train as early as possible: Cut down on the number of diapers you use by potty training early.
Create old school wipes: Keep damp washcloths in plastic bags.
Try elimination communication: Pay attention to potty patterns, holding your baby over the toilet when it's time.

Holidays & Gifts

Make the holidays and gift giving more eco-friendly.
Give reusable Easter basket grass: Veggie Booty makes great edible basket grass.
Shop online: Instead of hitting the mall, get your gifts sent to you.
Give reusable gift wrap: Use gift wrap that can be used over and over again.
Create a wish list: Avoid unwanted and unused gifts by using a wish list.
Give gifts in reusable shopping bags: Instead of disposable gift bags, give reusable shopping bags.
Donate to charity: If you have no use for a gift, just give it to a charity.
Make fabric gift bags: Make these easy fabric bags to give gifts in.
Wrap without wrapping paper: Wrap in newspaper with festive ribbon, or solid colors you can use all year.
Start a book swap: Organize a book swap among friends.


These hacks will help lower your food's impact on the world.
Breastfeed: Breastfeeding leaves virtually no carbon footprint.
Eat safe and sustainable fish: Be aware of which fish are low in mercury and caught or farmed sustainably.
Buy local: Support your local farmers market.
Feed organic foods: Look for organic foods for your kids.
Make your own ice pops: Blend and freeze your own ice pops to save resources and avoid toxins.
Stop using paper towels and napkins: Make use of reusable materials instead of paper.
Use washable breast pads: Instead of disposable pads, use washable ones.
Skip bottled water: Cut out plastic bottles, opting for glass and other reusable containers.
Don't use BPA bottles: BPA in baby bottles can cause health problems.
Use washcloths as napkins: Use old baby washcloths all day as kid napkins.
Go selectively organic: Go organic just for the worst fruits and vegetables, so you don't go broke.
Eat alterna-meats: Vegetarians can eat healthy alternatives to processed meat.
Buy frozen in bulk: It's not always easy to find fresh, local vegetables, to get them frozen if you need to.
Let kids pick out vegetables: Kids are more likely to try something they chose themselves.
Cut paper towel use: Clean your high chair, walls, floor, and more with a washcloth you hang in the kitchen.
Buy only what you need: Don't waste food-buy only what you need.
Avoid white sugar: Substitute honey, agave nectar, or raw sugar when kids are old enough.
Make your own baby food: Create your own baby food at home.

Pack food in washable plastic containers: Instead of plastic baggies, use dishwasher safe containers.


Kids go through clothes at an alarming rate, but these hacks can minimize their impact.
Buy secondhand baby clothes: Pick up cheap used clothes that can be reused-and that have already been offgassed.
Swap clothes: Use sites and networks like ThredUp to share clothes and other items.
Save yourself from bedbugs in used clothing: Use pre-loved clothing without worry by following these steps.
Hack a baby dress: Repurpose fabric into this super easy dress.
Buy organic: Pick up organic fabric clothes, like cotton or bamboo.
With these hacks, your kids can stay clean and green.
Go natural: Choose natural shampoos and other toiletries for your baby.
Limit baby care products: Just use water to wash a baby instead of creams, soaps, and lotions.
Wash hair with ketchup bottles: Rinse your child's hair with an empty ketchup bottle.
Bathe with your baby: Share a bath with your baby, and save water while enjoying bonding time.
Turn the water off: When showering and brushing teeth, turn off the water until you need it.

Playtime & Creativity

Play green using these fun hacks.
Styrofoam castle: Turn Styrofoam package inserts into a make-believe castle.
Make nontoxic play-dough: Save money and avoid toxins with homemade nontoxic play-dough.
Play with nontoxic toys: Give your baby safe, nontoxic toys to play with.
Reuse Tyvek enveloped as homemade boats: Make sailboats with old Tyvek envelopes.
Strawberry basket bubbles: Dip strawberry baskets into bubble solution for cheap and fun bubble machines.
Play with cardboard boxes: Make houses and castles with large cardboard boxes.
Use rechargable batteries: Buy rechargable batteries for toys and games.
Scribble on telephone books: Let your kids use telephone books as scribble material.
Create a reuse fun bin: Keep bottle caps, toilet paper rolls, and more in a bin to get crafty with.
Use outdoor craft supplies: Make use of sticks, pinecones, and more.
Go to a Home Depot kids workshop: Visit these workshops to teach your kids how to build birdhouses, flowerpot holders, and more.
Reuse page a day calendars: Use old page a day calendars as doodling paper.

Household & Cleaning
Clean your house without hazardous chemicals by making use of these hacks.
Clean with baking soda: Put baking soda to work in your bathroom.
Make your own laundry detergent: Here's how to formulate your own laundry detergent.
Use natural cleansers whenever possible: Make or buy natural products when you can.
Declutter: Clean out your clutter and sell it to cut down on the items in your home.
Be extra careful when washing play areas and toys: Be mindful of the products you use to clean the things your children use the most.
Live in a smaller space: Enjoy environmental friendliness, constant togetherness and limit too much stuff with a smaller home or apartment.
Dust with an old fashioned feather duster: An ostrich feather duster picks up dust and leaves a dry surface that doesn't attract more dust.
These hacks can make your child's school a greener place to be.
Bring a lunch box to school: Instead of a paper bag, use a lunch box, or repurpose old shopping bags.
Send notes in junk mail envelopes: Repurpose old junk mail envelopes for teacher notes.
Pack food in washable plastic containers: Instead of plastic baggies, use containers.
Start an organic garden at school: Compost and start an organic garden at your school.
Walk, carpool, or take the bus: Get to school by walking, carpooling, or taking the bus.

Furniture & Design

Keep these hacks in mind when designing your child's nursery or bedroom.
Use low-VOC paint: Look for low-VOC paint for your nursery or kids rooms.
Kitchen utility cart changing table: Instead of buying a changing table, get a kitchen utility cart that you can put to use later.
Buy a crib made from organic materials: Get an earth friendly, organic crib.
Use sunlight: Turn off overhead lights and open your blinds instead.
Decorate with DIY decals: Create eco friendly and reusable decor with DIY decals.
Repurpose broken cribs: Old cribs can be used as baby gates and garden trellis.


Go green in your own backyard using these hacks.
Go on litter patrol: Take your kids out to pick up litter in your neighborhood.
Plant something: Teach kids how to take care of a living organism.
Get kids to help with weeding: Pay kids a penny per weed.
Start seeds in egg cartons: Start a kids vegetable garden with plastic egg cartons.
Use natural alternatives to bug spray: Make your own natural bug spray.
Play in the water sprinkler: While watering the lawn, get your kids to play in it and cool off.
Plant a tree: Grow a memory and foster a love of nature by planting a tree.
Catch fireflies: Collect fireflies for light and interest-and remember to let them go so they don't die.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

You Get What You Pay For

I struggle as many do in this industry with the appropriate amount of information one should provide when an inquiry comes in from a prospective client. In this economy you don't want to dissuade any potential source of income but I also feel that often many calls are simply cherry picking for information that will not lead to business. In other words what I call the "Human Google"

So on that note I respond with a recommendation of sources of information that would best answer their concerns and if they wish to continue the dialog further I would be happy to send them a copy of my customer agreement. I learned early on that free information is just that free. And there are many resources that provide that and my business is not one. Otherwise I would not be in business. That said I blog, I respond to other blogs and provide numerous information that is complimentary as a way of building business. But I could not make a living if I did that continuously.

I read many blog and informative sites that are for those interested in Green Building and they take questions from trade and non trade with regards to building issues. They are great because in ideal situations you see a healthy perspective and the occasional debate as to what works and what doesn't.

It is very informal and should be thought of us a great place to start or at least garner an initial source of information. They should not be however a way to find the best solution for a project as there is no guarantee that the information they provide is useful for you, your budget, the local communities building codes and requirements, etc. So on that note questions should probably remain general and with the idea where one would go to find further information.

I found this inquiry on another site regarding a woman's inherited foundation:

She has $150,000 to spend on the two-bedroom, two-bathroom house, which she plans to build on a foundation originally intended for a traditional house. Although the concrete-block foundation is well made, it's not necessarily well matched to the double 2x4 walls she's hoping to use.
"Is double wall with blown fiberglass insulation worth the extra cost?" she asks in her Q&A post. "And can it be done on an already laid concrete block foundation? Or is there another equally warm option that I just don't know about?"

The subsequent responses and debates I found frustrating. As of course there were many opinions and no feedback or response from the woman herself if she even understood what they were saying. The simple solution was to say here are three individual firms and businesses in your area that work on these kinds of projects. They could give her source information from blogs to books that deal with building options. Most importantly they did not ask her if the foundation had been inspected by a Structural Engineer and what his assessment was on load factor? And was there a design plan from an Architect? Instead it became less about this woman's concerns, her budget and needs. What it did become was a pissing contest with who knew more about what. If I was the woman I would have come away more confused and misled as to what I should do and what was the best option.

When you are seeking information about a project of this nature to expect complex and thorough advice that will enable you to do your project via an Internet blog site well caveat emptor... let the buyer beware. You cannot build a home without proper expert advice that is familiar with the location, the needs of the site and the local codes. Yes you can DIY but to not at least initially seek out a local contractor to assist you with your endeavor you could end up with a project that will cost more and possibly have many problems down the line.

Do I fault this woman? Well she had a simple question really about insulation options and cost options and as I know too well from experience the need to tell her more than she needed to know is not that uncommon. Pay for advice, seek advice and find out information from as many sources as you need. Ask where you can find those resources and do the homework on your own don't expect someone to tell you everything you need to know for free - you get what you pay for.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Let the Air Out

Today the NY Times has a great article about one writer's journey to seal up the air leaks in their own home, DIY style (with some expert advice and help.)

I will reprint the article below but I also want to point out that with sealing the issue of ventilation is critical. Make sure you understand that if you have particular special needs your humidity increase within the walls can increase other problems, such as mold growth, if there is not adequate ventilation.

Also understand that the exterior of the home needs a once over.. from those electrical panels, cable boxes, phone cords and the like look how you can make improvements in those areas as well....this may require gaskets or caulk between drywall and wall plates on exterior walls; any electrical box in an exterior wall needed a special flange to allow it to be caulked to the drywall and other minor improvements that can reduce air transfer.

The other issue is if you are renting and the landlord or company is less than cooperative in supporting your energy endeavors. Look to drapes and curtains that are heavily lined over windows and doors, especially front doors. By blocking just that gust of cold air when you enter can reduce heat loss, temp changes and dirty air from affecting your indoor air quality. Look to creating a smaller space to live in with room barriers and dividers. If you feel heat is expensive look to space heaters but study those that have high ratings and impact. I live in a smaller room, shut off rooms during winter and find that can be quite significant in keeping heating costs down. I do not do this nor advocate the putting of plastic over windows. If there is that much drafting speak to the landlord about replacing or storm windows.

And while most of this was done DIY don't be afraid to ask any qualified handyman or contractor. Times are particularly hard and many companies don't mind doing these kinds of home improvements at affordable rates. Avoid Craigslist and try to seek out recommendations from local coffee shops, churches or others in the community directly. They are your best references.


Preventing Heat From Sneaking Out of the House

A typical home is supposed to exhale about 33 percent of its air every hour, sparing your lungs from mold, dust and other tiny invaders.

My house doesn’t breathe. It hyperventilates. Every hour it purges about 75 percent of its air — which is fine for my family’s health, but it kills me to think that we pay to heat that air and then quickly set it free.

I’ll explain the source of that 75 percent figure a little later. Right now let’s focus on the basic mission: finding where the air is escaping, plugging those holes and watching the heating bill shrink.

Job No. 1 — locating the leaks — was a challenge. My home has foam insulation, fiberglass insulation, insulated windows, weatherstripping and enough caulk to seal a ship. How exactly does 75 percent of my air escape every hour?

I posed the question to three residential energy specialists, and in the process learned some tricks — a few of which will also help apartment dwellers, who usually have no worries about foundation cracks or attic insulation.

My panel included Kelly Parker, a board member of the Residential Energy Services Network, an association of firms that rate home energy efficiency; Michael David, lead technician for New England Conservation Services, which performs energy audits and upgrades; and Bob Gfeller, a senior vice president at Lowe’s.

Finding a leak is easy, they said. Get a blower door, which depressurizes a house so that even the tiniest drafts blow like a stiff wind. They cost a mere $2,900. Second choice: a Black & Decker laser thermal leak detector ($42, at Lowe’s), which will identify the cold spots that coincide with leaks.

The most cost-effective sleuthing device, though, is even cheaper and may already be in your home — a stick of incense. Pick a breezy day and pass the burning stick near any seam in your house, and the smoke will reveal where the leak is.

I took a lighted incense stick around my doors and windows, and the technique worked fairly well, even if I grew completely sick of the smell after a while.

But Mr. David and his colleagues later found that I’d missed some spots I hadn’t even thought to check, like the seam between my fireplace and the wall, and my baseboard heaters. My two biggest omissions were the attic and the basement.

“If your attic access is inside the house, that’s a big one to watch for,” Mr. Parker said. “If it’s not well sealed, it’s like leaving a big door open.”

At some point in the last few years, I lost a bolt that secured one of the two big springs in my drop-down attic ladder, leaving one corner sagging about a half-inch from the ceiling. I never considered the effect that sag might have on my budget until I envisioned air streaming through the gap.

As for the basement, “Check the places where all your piping is coming and going,” Mr. Gfeller said. “Sometimes things happen, like your house might settle, and it’ll open a pretty good-sized crack.”

To spot those leaks, try this: Go to the basement in the daytime, but keep the lights turned off. Depending on the angle of the sun, you may detect cracks from the daylight shining through the foundation.

For me, this exercise actually solved two mysteries. The pipes to my outside water spigots apparently travel through holes big enough to accommodate much airflow — and many mice. (Stay tuned for a column on rodent removal.)

Basement doors are another area of vulnerability, since people often pay little attention to how well they’re constructed or maintained. In my case, the frame was surrounded with gaps that had probably been there the entire decade we’ve lived in the house.

If you have a fireplace, don’t even bother checking it.

“They all leak,” Mr. David said. “Even if you have the flue closed.”

Doesn’t my fancy hearth cover help?

“Nope,” he said. “Those all leak, too.”

Last, a word to those with central air or central heat: try the incense trick around the seams of the ductwork. Even a small gap can allow costly leaks.

Now on to Job No. 2 — plugging the leaks. You’ll need to spend some cash — except in one area, that is.

Every place I’ve ever lived has had a front door draft, and just about every front door nowadays has a threshold with three big screws. But those screws don’t simply keep the threshold in place. Turn them counterclockwise and the threshold rises, closing out the source of a nagging draft. When the weather turns warm and humid, you can reverse the process if the door is too tight to close.

Thus ends the cost-free portion of this process.

If your doorway lacks adjustable thresholds, install a rubber door sweep (about $7 at Home Depot).

Weatherstripping, is also a must, for doors and windows. Mr. Gfeller prefers stripping of various thicknesses (the labels say whether they’re designed for doorways or windows); Frost King’s cost about $4 to $7 a package. Mr. David prefers V-shaped stripping (about $4 from Frost King); this type, he said, breaks down less easily than foam.

If you have an unheated section of basement, be sure the door to that section is firmly sealed — unlike mine, which has a hole for a cat door cut into it. (We plan to install the door pronto.)

To seal molding and window frames, Mr. David said, steer clear of $2, all-purpose caulk and buy long-lasting 100 percent silicone caulk (General Electric’s is about $8 a tube).

For bigger holes, he said, like those around baseboard heater pipes, use Great Stuff (about $4 to $6 for 12 ounces), an expanding, foam spray insulation.

This step isn’t necessary for people with central heating systems, but they may face bigger challenges. If the system’s air ducts are leaky, Mr. Parker said, the best solution is to budget about 20 hours to apply a liquid seal to the seams. (He recommended Mastic, about $25 a gallon.) Otherwise, he said, contractors will charge $300 to $500 for the job.

Speaking of bigger projects, my attic had about 6 inches of old fiberglass insulation, which is roughly half what it should be for a home in Connecticut. (The federal government’s energy Web site,, has insulation recommendations.) R-30 insulation (about $13.50 for a 31.25-square-foot roll at Lowe’s) brought my attic to the top of the site’s recommended levels.

What about those leaky fireplaces? It might help to fill the chimney with an inflatable plug (about $50 at Home Depot). Mr. Gfeller recommended electric outlet sealers, which are essentially gaskets, for other often-drafty spots: switch plates and outlet covers. The sealers cost around $2 for a package of four.

Finally, my panelists agreed on the value of a programmable thermostat — so you can lower the heat at night, during vacations or at other opportune times. “As long as you really use it,” Mr. Parker cautioned, noting that many people who buy the devices never program them. A Honeywell model offers one-week programming and costs $80.

Now back to the question of how I learned how much air my home exhales.

It was simple. I called my electric company, Connecticut Light & Power. Like many public utilities, mine will send an independent contractor to your home for an energy audit. My cost was $75.

For my audit, Mr. David and two colleagues arrived at 9 a.m. and spent two hours finding all the leaks I’d missed. They used a blower door, not incense, and it was with the blower that they calculated my home’s hourly exhalation rate of 75 percent. Then the team spent about two hours caulking and sealing the remaining leaks, all included in the $75 price.

Most utility-sponsored energy audits won’t include this second step. Some charge more, some less. But even at a higher price, and without the additional work, it would have been worth the expert diagnosis.

By the time Mr. David and his colleagues departed, my home’s air expulsion rate had dropped from 75 percent per hour to around 40 percent per hour, likely saving me around $160 in heating oil annually, Mr. David said, and the house feels less drafty. His team — again, at no extra charge — also installed a shower head, $100 worth of low-energy light bulbs and other items that will likely drop my electric bill by around $150 per year.

Of course, if you are not inclined to call in experts, you can always try the incense. Just do your sinuses a favor, and use the variety pack.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Solar Pilot Program

Be you a resident of the area or not this is a fantastic program for which you can learn and bring to your own community.

Solarize Queen Anne is off and running! Solarize Queen Anne, the pilot project of Northwest SEED’s Solarize Seattle initiative, is a volunteer-driven community effort designed to bring solar energy to Queen Anne homes. By working as a team, Queen Anne neighbors achieve significant discounts through the bulk purchase of solar panels. Our first workshop will be held on January 29th, read below for details!

Live in Queen Anne and want to learn more?:

1) Register online at Registration is the best way to stay informed about Solarize Queen Anne (workshops, updates, etc.), and does not bind you to participating in the program or installing solar on your home. Registration simply means that you are interested in learning more about going solar through the Solarize Queen Anne program.

2) Sign up to attend our first workshop at Workshop pre-registration is encouraged but not required. So bring your friends and neighbors to get them interested in Solarize Queen Anne! The first workshop will be held Saturday, January 29th at the Queen Anne Public Library. Representatives from Northwest SEED, Sustainable Queen Anne, and our selected installer Sunergy Systems, will be on hand to give a presentation and answer questions about the Solarize program, how a solar system works, and more!

3) Become a fan/follower of Solarize Queen Anne on Facebook or Twitter, and invite your friends and neighbors!

Not a Queen Anne resident, but still interested? Sign up for Solarize Seattle news updates at, near the bottom of the page. After we wrap up Solarize Queen Anne, we plan to roll out two more Solarize programs in Seattle neighborhoods in 2011. Rally your neighbors and get your neighborhood on the list!

We hope to see you at our first workshop! Please feel free to contact Alex Sawyer, Solarize Seattle Project Coordinator, with any questions at


Northwest SEED

Green Job's Mister Can You Spare One?

Ironically I am back in school studying Energy Management. I have been fortunate to receive a grant from our local SEED organization that was part of the last stimulus package for retraining for "Green Jobs."

Well today I stumbled on this essay in American Prospect that I found relevant to my course of study.

I am grateful for the grant as I sit here struggling with Physics that my instructor has decided would be best self taught for reasons I have yet to understand and think "thank God I am not paying for this or I would be out." But on that note I still have the belief in the potential and right now its better than nothing.

Why Call Them Green?

Having a definition of "green jobs" doesn't bring us any closer to understanding how they fit into an economic recovery.

Monica Potts | January 12, 2011 | web onl

Monday was the deadline for public comments on the Bureau of Labor Statistics' proposal on gathering data on green jobs. It was a minor step in an obscure, slow-moving process most Americans aren't watching.

The public commentary period that just ended is part of a larger federal effort to formalize our understanding of what a green job is and count, for the first time, how many green jobs already exist and how fast the sector is growing. It's both critical and frustratingly, agonizingly slow-moving. In the meantime, we've pumped millions of dollars into green-jobs training programs, and politicians have touted the idea that a full economic recovery hinges on using green jobs to revitalize the manufacturing sector.

So, what is a green job? The two-part BLS definition, which the bureau began working on in early 2010, was released last September. It focuses on the degree of environmental impact: Green jobs must either be in industries that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources, or must be jobs in which workers' duties involve making their establishment's production processes more environmentally friendly.

That definition was rightly criticized as overly broad. While nearly everyone would include installing solar panels as a green job, what about an architect who designs a green house? (Under the proposed definition, both would count.) Moreover, the definition also largely ignores how we define environmental benefit: Houses, for example, are held to standards supplied by the U.S. Green Building Council in its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System, which awards points based on green materials and processes used. A luxury house in the suburbs with Energy Star appliances and sustainable wood flooring would qualify as green, never mind if the future resident drives her SUV 30 miles daily to work.

Another problems comes in weighing green purposes against green execution: We could count, for example, public-transit train operators as green workers. But how do we break down transportation as an industry more broadly? Most would probably agree that truckers who drive tractor-trailers running on diesel fuel wouldn't count as green workers even if they're transporting wind-turbine parts. And many of the jobs we would count as green already exist.

Ultimately, the definition, even as it has been debated for the past year, means little until we match it up with the actual workforce. Sarah White, who works on sustainable workforce and clean-energy issues for the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, says we've made mistakes applying definitions before: In the beginning of the ethanol craze, nearly everyone who grew corn was counted as part of the sector. "[It's] almost impossible to count green jobs," she says. "Part of somebody's job might be green. ... There aren't usually any single jobs that are completely green."

Defining green jobs has already been an issue in the handful of states which have tried to measure them. In 2009, Michigan issued a report that put its green-job sector at about 3 percent of its overall workforce, but, as the Columbus Dispatch pointed out, the Pew Charitable Trusts also issued a report on green jobs in the state, albeit with a more narrow definition, and found that Michigan had about one-fifth of the green jobs it had reported.

States have an obvious incentive to make the definition of green jobs broad -- they're competing with other states for federal dollars and employers. But employers are biased as well. For example, the coal industry wants to say it's creating green jobs each time it installs a pollution-control system in an aging coal power plant. Those efforts might employ green workers, but it's up for debate if they truly promote an environmental agenda.

The problem of definition will not disappear with a federal decision. The Obama administration has touted green-job creation as an important component of its stimulus package. But a better definition will not tell us much about how green-job efforts fit into the overall jobs picture, what they mean for the health of the economy, or what we need to do to secure the middle class.

We won't see how the new definition of green jobs is applied for a year: Data collection is starting now and the first numbers are set to appear in the spring of 2012. But don't expect politicians or policy-makers to wait until this is hashed out to brag about how many green jobs they've created or how much the sector has grown.

Monday, January 3, 2011

If You Got the Money


So now you know what trends as well as what possible legal changes to the market will bring in 2011 what are the hot trends in design and remodeling.

1. Smaller homes that 'live' the same Bye Bye McMansions.

The median size of new U.S. homes fell from 2,277 square feet in 2007 to 2,135 square feet in 2009, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

The size of the rooms — and the overall home size — is shrinking 10% to 15%. That, of course, also brings down the price, which is key in a market in which new houses are competing against foreclosures.

2. The Porch is Back

Front and side porches are making a comeback; be they side, front or back, porches help create a sense of community, something that more traditional suburbs lack.


3. A ‘greener’ home

Not surprisingly, energy efficiency is one of the year's hottest trends.

Efficiency takes many forms, from builders adding insulation in the walls, to better windows with glazing and higher "R-value" — or insulation ability — to sealed ductwork that doesn't leak air, to Energy Star-rated appliances throughout the home. Some builders are even installing low-energy LED lights for accent lighting, Barista says.

The trend is less about consumer demand and more about builders needing to stay competitive, not only with other homebuilders but also with existing homes and foreclosures.

The most important thing to note is that builders are now doing these upgrades with no cost overruns or pass through to the buyers. Being competitive as well as new legal requirements have made the "green" upgrades both necessary and affordable.

4. No 'upstairs, downstairs' drama

Single-story homes remain popular, according to the AIA. Why? It's simple: As the baby boomers age, such homes are easier for older folks to navigate. They're also easier for aged friends or parents to visit, too.

5. The downscaled kitchen and bath

"Functionality is now preferred. In conjunction with the idea that less is more the design elements are critical in taking advantage of space and utility. Since kitchens remain the nerve center of the home, doing more with less space is a key consideration.

Practicality and multiple use rule. Making a kitchen a family space is a priority. Kitchens will have areas devoted to charging laptops, mobile phones and PDAs, Baker says.

As for bathrooms again water saving features such as toilets and shower heads and easily adaptable shower areas with the belief that aging in place or utility is necessary, lounging not so much.

6. A home that serves you well

"Buyers are looking for value and how features contribute to the efficiency of their lifestyle," says Stephen Melman, director of economic services for the National Association of Home Builders.

That's why "walk-in closets in master bedrooms and well-designed laundry rooms are likely candidates to repeat as most likely features for 2011," says Melman, whose association is performing a survey of the year's most requested items in homes. Those requests may not be dramatic, but they underscore how homeowners want their home to work easily for them.

Storage, efficiency, practicality and most important AFFORDABILITY are the trends for homes in the future.

Tax Cut Bill's "Positives"

While I won't go on with the amount of things wrong with the Tax Cut Bill signed into law last month there are some pertinent issues as it relates to both Home Owners and Builders alike.

Renew the New Energy Efficient Home Tax Credit (45L credit) for 2010 and extend it through the end of 2011. The section 45L tax credit is the only federal incentive available for efficiency in new home construction; about 10% of all new homes sold in 2009 qualified. The program provides $2,000 tax credits to builders and developers for the construction and sale of homes that achieve a 50% improvement in energy efficiency over the 2004 International Energy Conservation Code.

Allow businesses to write off the full cost of capital investments (excluding residential and commercial buildings) after Sept. 8, 2010 and through the end of 2011. Normally, businesses would be required to depreciate those expenses over many years.

Provide a 50% bonus depreciation in 2012. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Congress temporarily allowed businesses to recover the costs of certain capital expenditures made in 2008 and 2009 more quickly than under ordinary depreciation schedules by permitting those businesses to immediately write off 50% of the cost of certain depreciable property (rental residential real estate, in general, is excluded) placed in service in those years. The new law extends the provision for 50% bonus depreciation through 2012.

Extend the increased small business expensing limits through the end of 2012. Under the legislation, qualified businesses may expense up to $125,000 of property placed in service, and this amount is reduced dollar for dollar by the amount of property placed in service that exceeds $500,000.

Extend the expensing of brownfields remediation costs through 2011.

Eliminate the Pease itemized deduction phase-out through 2012. The Pease rule reduces the value of itemized deductions such as the mortgage interest deduction and the real estate tax deduction for upper adjusted gross income taxpayers

But on an important note the amount of credits were reduced.

Although H.R. 4853 does include an extension of the 25C credit through 2011, modifications were made reducing the credit value to its 2006-2007 levels of 10% of the installed costs with maximum credit for all qualified retrofits of $500. The legislation also reinstates lifetime credit caps that disqualify any home owner who has claimed more than $500 in 25C tax credits since Jan. 1, 2005, from any further credits.

So check with your Tax Accountant or Attorney prior to doing any retrofits to your home.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Detroit R.I.P

I found this article in of all things the UK Guardian documenting the decline and well disintegration of one Americas greatest cities in the Manufacturing Age, Detroit.

The photos are haunting reminders of what is happening across America in cities large and small.

The sustainable movement is one to retain and restore buildings to be efficient and yet recognize the Architecture and Design of a time and era gone by. We have the technology and the skill and if you are on Wall Street you have the money. But this is not Wall Street this is the Motor City. And that makes all the difference.

Look at these haunting photos and remember these are from a Gilded Age and as that declined another took its place. Are we going to allow our history end up crumbled and gone as these buildings? The rest of the slide show is available here and have an almost nihilistic futuristic quality seen in horror films.