Monday, February 28, 2011

Massive Energy Fail

I was recently reading a study by Advanced Energy on their findings regarding Energy Star's performance claims on their certified Energy Star homes.

The study was ultimately between standard homes built in Houston vs those built to the Energy Star standard. Their findings and details are in the report but this was ultimately their conclusions:

The data indicate that ENERGY STAR does deliver savings in Houston but the amount of savings appears to be fairly small – about 5 percent of summer/cooling loads. The installation of similar building practices and products by all builders contributed to the smaller-than-expected savings between the different groups of homes.

It is important to clarify that these results do not mean ENERGY STAR homes are using more energy than predicted. ENERGY STAR homes perform very close to the predictions of the HERS models, but baseline homes perform much better than the reference homes defined by the HERS standard. The better-than-code construction practices of baseline homes substantially reduced the difference between ENERGY STAR and baseline homes.

Ultimately while the savings and reduction in Energy is nowhere near the 30% claim that Energy Star uses to market their program the study concludes that Energy Star's programs have an impact and are leading to raise the bar on overall homes energy efficiency. The extent of improvements in standard construction practices and energy savings in residential buildings as a result of spillover effects from the ENERGY STAR program in Houston is unknown.

However, market transformation from ENERGY STAR appears to have taken place and resulted in very positive benefits to consumers and electricity savings. Therefore, the narrowing gap between ENERGY STAR and baseline homes may be a sign of bigger program impacts rather than smaller program impacts. Thus, it makes sense for utility planners and policy makers to determine how programs can get credit for the savings achieved by non-program homes.

But Energy Star, NAHB Green Build Certified Homes, LEED among others are all suffering from growing pains. And like others Energy Star's new program 2011 is to address some of those issues. And like its predecessors they will need better measurements of how accurate the claims are. But this also why I no longer participate in third party verifications. I cannot easily sign off on something for which I have no guarantee. A verifier simply checks off a list of requirements our role is sleight but our responsibility is not.

I appreciate all efforts by LEED, by Energy Star among others furthering the mantra of green and energy but they are not the panacea and should simply be an educational and research group - save the awards and certificates for the classroom and the Oscars.

Get On Board the Train..

My friends at EngineeeringDegreeonline sent a lovely note adding my blog among some other great bloggers as their must read list.

Feel free to review their Top 35 Green Architecture list and see some other great reliables that I read and some other great ones that I am adding to mine.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Not Homer's Oddessy, More Simpsons

This winter I received a grant to study "Energy Accounting" or so I thought. In the process I was enrolled in a certificate program through a SEED grant to study Energy Management.

The intent is good as anything that is trying to get hard working Americans back to work but this is one of those things that well is not good.

Intended to,I believe get people into green jobs in the Sustainable fields, it has more the appearance of an Andy Rooney pic of foregone years - "hey Judy we got a grant and let's put on a program!" And as a result it has little to no requirements or foundations on which to build practical skills and understanding of the material. And due to the nature of this field no Instructor seems to have any real work experience in the field nor any real idea how to teach - teach period. And what is more disturbing the program has no internships or real opportunities to train, in this a largely engineering related field, and for people to find jobs they need training and experience (the point of an internship)in order for them to get hired. This makes one wonder if they care what kind of jobs they are expecting or think the students will acquire.

I suspect this program's intentions are good but when you have people looking to transition into new professions, many never having gone to college, many long out of school or with only GED's in classrooms with professionals of many scopes and scales you have a program way off balance. And in Energy related terms this means the system is not working.

In addition the coursework is combination standard classroom settings, all online courses or a hybrid concept where we test and interact only online. This kind of format is challenging as the instructor has no way of knowing who is really doing the work or taking the tests. And much of the testing software is so challenging - not allowing any error or alteration in terminology so any minor difference results in the answer being marked as wrong - to the constant crashing - I have to wonder if there is any way to measure knowledge let alone mastery of what is largely a complex field that is primarily Engineering in content.

As a proponent of Education and constantly challenging one's skills and knowledge even I feel frustrated by the manner and disregard this "Andy and Judy" instruction/program this has and I am not alone. When you have this, coupled with many people so worried about "grades" and the impression of what it means to find work the anger, the fear and the basic confusion, seems to be the state of most of my classmates. Its truly debilitating and even I am beginning to think "do I know what the hell I am doing?"

This is why I understand the frustration of those in the winger nation. We have already lost many students and will continue to do. The school seems intent on pushing us through with the intent of meeting its grant obligations but there seems to be so little collaboration and cooperation with the Instructors among each other and a seeming disregard for the Student's progress there is a lot of confusion and frustration on many parts. And it also seems that there are territorial issues and political infighting between what should be cooperative departments which further ads to the confusion. None which again bodes well for the ultimate goal of getting people up to snuff and back to work.

Irony that Sustainability is the mantra of this program. There is nothing sustainable about it.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Office - Make Mine Green

From my guest blogger at Job Postings. Great tips on making your office green even when you don't have a green building as the one in my Net Zero posting.

10 Ways to a Truly Green Office

Businesses today are seeking to remain Eco-friendly like never before. Getting rid of the old ideas and adapting those that are newer and fresher, ensures that they are able to get a green office that is reasonable and functional. With all the various initiatives and benefits of a greener office, why not join in and create a more Eco-friendly office? After all, the world that is set today will be in motion for the generations to follow, which does include any children or grandchildren you may have along the way. Helping to create a better world for the future includes getting in the trend of green operation, which can be done through these 10 ways to a truly green office.

Recycled supplies. This is very important in getting a greener office, as the supplies you use each day can be great and they are all obtained through plants such as trees and other materials that can destroy the environment as well. When you use recycled office supplies, you are helping to conserve the resources of today, while preventing pollution.

Recycle. When you are getting ready for trash day, make note to observe recycling as it is one of the most effective ways you can really achieve a green office. Sorting trash and recyclables isn’t difficult in the office, especially if you are utilizing appropriate containers to discard various items based on recyclability.

CFL or LED lights. When it comes to your office’s lights, you would be surprised just how much energy is generated to power them non-stop throughout the day. If you switch your lights to CFL or LED lights, however, you can save up to 85% on energy costs from the bulbs alone. These are both great examples of energy efficient replacements for older technologies.

Lighting motion sensors. Why should the lights be on when you aren’t in the room? With lighting motion sensors, they don’t have to be, as they only light up when there is movement detected within the room. Once you leave the room, the lights will turn back off, allowing the office to only utilize the energy that it really needs for adequate function.

Turn everything off when not in use. If you aren’t using something, there is no reason why it should be on. In fact, you should be trying your best to keep anything that isn’t in use turned off to save as much energy as possible.

Use laptops instead of desktops. The great convenience and benefit of a laptop is you are using only a very small percentage of the energy you would use with desktop computers. A desktop generally is plugged in and running all day from electrical current, while the laptop utilizes battery power.

Brita filter or large water supply. A large portion of office costs can be associated with the need to consume water during the weekday. Using bottled water is a preference for higher water quality, but that can be a high pollution risk and will create a bit of a rift in your plan towards a green office. Using a Brita filter or a large water supply of filtered water can ensure that the bottles are left out of the office.

Reusable plates and mugs. Many times within an office, employees are known to utilize throw away supplies such as cups and mugs, as well as other types of eating supplies. Instead of using that which can be thrown away it is a great idea to use reusable plates and supplies that allows you to save on costs and reduce your environmental footprint.

Green power options. With many states, there are various options for green energy, including incentives and rebates that help to afford various green energy sources, including solar and wind power. This is a great way to lessen office costs while greatly reducing your carbon footprint and helping to establish a more Eco-friendly power grid.

Programmable thermostat. This is one of the most common methods of reducing costs and energy consumption, with many electrical utility companies offering energy efficient programmable thermostats to install for greater decrease in energy use.

Establishing a greener office is done very easily and with low cost. There are some options that may cost a great deal upfront, but after the benefits begin to show, the costs are well worth the savings in money and energy used each month and year. The actual savings can greatly profit you in the long run, while helping you create a truly green office.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Green Blogger Awards

I received this notice the other day.. to my surprise. I am grateful for the fact that someone felt compelled to recognize my small efforts to bring awareness to issues that I feel are important to the Sustainable community.. Thank you.

I m writing to remind you that your blog is a nominee for a 2011 JDR Industry Blogger Award. Jackson Design and Remodeling has been a pioneer in the design build remodeling industry for over twenty years. We believe in embracing innovation and excellence. We re hoping that the 2011 JDR Industry Blogger Awards will bring additional recognition to your work, while supporting our efforts to promote the professionalism of the remodeling industry and inspire our clients with the latest trends in home design.


Voting will take place on our website starting on March 4, 2011. The blogs that receive the most votes in each of five categories Architecture, Construction Business, Green, Interior Design and Remodeling will be the winners. Each winner will receive a $500 cash prize and a 2011 JDR Industry Blogger Awards badge for display.

You can learn more about us and the JDR Industry Blogger Awards at:

The Net Zero in Building Equation

For many in Europe there are already Smart buildings including Passive House concepts that have been brought to commercial and educational facilities. As we work towards the Green Energy goals that President Obama has aspired and we debate the existence of climate change and the affects humans and industries have on our Environment some people are not waiting.

I read this article in the New York Times about the Net Zero Energy building. The idea is that this structure uses less energy than it produces. And while I have often said that name is misleading this building challenges me on that as it used a great deal of recycled content in which to build.

Could this be the wave of the future? Can we retrofit buildings to meet this exacting model? Are we as Americans willing to do this in the name of Building and Environmental Science.

Sometimes you have to ask more questions to get answers and sometimes you just do it.

Soaking Up the Sun to Squeeze Bills to Zero

WATT BY WATT West-facing windows automatically tint blue in the midafternoon at the Research Support Facility in Golden, Colo.

Around his plant-strewn work cubicle, low whirring air sounds emanated from speakers in the floor, meant to mimic the whoosh of conventional heating and air-conditioning systems, neither of which his 222,000-square-foot office building has, or needs, even here at 5,300 feet elevation. The generic white noise of pretend ductwork is purely for background and workplace psychology — managers found that workers needed something more than silence.

Meanwhile, the photovoltaic roof array was beating a retreat in the fading, low-angled light. It had until 1:35 p.m. been producing more electricity than the building could use — a three-hour energy budget surplus — interrupted only around noon by a passing cloud formation.

For Mr. Duffield, 62, it was just another day in what was designed, in painstaking detail, to be the largest net-zero energy office building in the nation. He’s still adjusting, six months after he and 800 engineers and managers and support staff from the National Renewable Energy Lab moved in to the $64 million building, which the federal agency has offered up as a template for how to do affordable, super-energy-efficient construction.

“It’s sort of a wonderland,” said Mr. Duffield, an administrative support worker, as the window shading system reached maximum.

Most office buildings are divorced, in a way, from their surroundings. Each day in the mechanical trenches of heating, cooling and data processing is much the same as another but for the cost of paying for the energy used.

The energy lab’s Research Support Facility building is more like a mirror, or perhaps a sponge, to its surroundings. From the light-bending window louvers that cast rays up into the interior office spaces, to the giant concrete maze in the sub-basement for holding and storing radiant heat, every day is completely different.

This is the story of one randomly selected day in the still-new building’s life: Jan. 28, 2011.

It was mostly sunny, above-average temperatures peaking in the mid-60s, light winds from the west-northwest. The sun rose at 7:12 a.m.

By that moment, the central computer was already hard at work, tracking every watt in and out, seeking, always, the balance of zero net use over 24 hours — a goal that managers say probably won’t be attainable until early next year, when the third wing of the project and a parking complex are completedWith daylight, the building’s pulse quickened. The photovoltaic panels kicked in with electricity at 7:20 a.m.

As employees began arriving, electricity use — from cellphone chargers to elevators — began to increase. Total demand, including the 65-watt maximum budget per workspace for all uses, lighting to computing, peaked at 9:40 a.m.

Meanwhile, the basement data center, which handles processing needs for the 300-acre campus, was in full swing, peaking in electricity use at 10:10 a.m., as e-mail and research spreadsheets began firing through the circuitry.

For Mr. Duffield and his co-workers, that was a good-news bad-news moment: The data center is by far the biggest energy user in the complex, but also one of its biggest producers of heat, which is captured and used to warm the rest of the building. If there is a secret clubhouse for the world’s energy and efficiency geeks, it probably looks and feels just about like this.

“Nothing in this building was built the way it usually is,” said Jerry Blocher, a senior project manager at Haselden Construction, the general contractor for the project.

The backdrop to everything here is that office buildings are, to people like Mr. Blocher, the unpicked fruit of energy conservation. Commercial buildings use about 18 percent of the nation’s total energy each year, and many of those buildings, especially in years past, were designed with barely a thought to energy savings, let alone zero net use.

The answer at the research energy laboratory, a unit of the federal Department of Energy, is not gee-whiz science. There is no giant, expensive solar array that could mask a multitude of traditional design sins, but rather a rethinking of everything, down to the smallest elements, all aligned in a watt-by-watt march toward a new kind of building.

Managers even pride themselves on the fact that hardly anything in their building, at least in its individual component pieces, is really new.

Off-the-shelf technology, cost-efficient as well as energy-efficient, was the mantra to finding what designers repeatedly call the sweet spot — zero energy that doesn’t break a sweat, or the bank. More than 400 tour groups, from government agency planners to corporations to architects, have trouped through since the first employees moved in last summer.

“It’s all doable technology,” said Jeffrey M. Baker, the director of laboratory operations at the Department of Energy’s Golden field office. “It’s a living laboratory.”

Some of those techniques and tricks are as old as the great cathedrals of Europe (mass holds heat like a battery, which led to the concrete labyrinth in the subbasement). Light, as builders since the pyramids have known, can be bent to suit need, with louvers that fling sunbeams to white panels over the office workers heads’ to minimize electricity use.

There are certainly some things that workers here are still getting used to. In nudging the building toward zero net electricity over 24 hours, lighting was a main target. That forced designers to lower the partition walls between work cubicles to only 42 or 54 inches (height decided by compass, or perhaps sundial, in maximizing the flow of natural light and ventilation), which raised privacy concerns among workers. Even the managers’ offices have no ceilings — again to allow the flow of natural light, as cast from the ceiling.

“The open office is different,” said Andrew Parker, an engineer. “You want to be next to someone quiet.”

Getting to the highest certification level in green building technology at reasonable cost also required an armada of creative decisions, large and small. The round steel structural columns that hold the building up? They came from 3,000 feet of natural gas pipe — built for the old energy economy and never used. The wood trim in the lobby? Lodgepole pine trees — 310 of them — killed by a bark beetle that has infested millions of acres of forest in the West.

Ultimately, construction costs were brought in at only $259 a square foot, nearly $77 below the average cost of a new super-efficient commercial office building, according to figures from Haselden Construction, the builder. Other components of the design are based on observation of human nature.

People print less paper when they share a central printer that requires a walk to the copy room. People also use less energy, managers say, when they know how much they’re using. A monitor in the lobby offers real-time feedback on eight different measures.

The feedback comes right down to a worker’s computer screen, where a little icon pops up when the building’s central computer says conditions are optimal to crank the hand-opened windows. (Other windows, harder to reach, open by computer command.)

Rethinking work shifts can also contribute. Here, the custodial staff comes in at 5 p.m., two or three hours earlier than in most traditional office buildings, saving on the use of lights.

The management of energy behavior, like the technology, is an experiment in progress.

“Right now people are on their best behavior,” said Ron Judkoff, a lab program manager. “Time will answer the question of whether you can really train people, or whether a coffee maker or something starts showing up.”

If Anthony Castellano is a measure, the training regimen has clearly taken root. Mr. Castellano, who joined the research laboratory last year as a Web designer after years in private industry, said the immersion in energy consciousness goes home with him at night.

“My kids are yelling at me because I’m turning off all the lights,” Mr. Castellano said.

At 5:05 p.m., the solar cells stopped producing. Declining daylight in turn produced a brief spike in lighting use, at 5:55 p.m. Five minutes later, the building management system began shutting off lights in a rolling two-hour cycle (the computer gives a few friendly blinks, as a signal in case a late-working employee wants to leave the lights on.)

Mr. Duffield, whose work space is surrounded by a miniature greenhouse of plants he has brought, said his desk has become a regular stop on the group tours. If the building is a living experiment, he said, then his garden is the experiment within the experiment. Co-workers stop by, joking in geek-speak about his plants, but also seriously checking up on them as a measure of building health.

“They refer to this as the building’s carbon sink,” he said.

And Mr. Duffield’s babies — amaryllis, African violet, a pink trumpet vine — are very happy with all the refracted, reflected light they get, he said.

“The tropical trumpet vine in my house stops growing for the winter,” he said. “Here it has continued to grow, and when the days starting getting longer it might even bloom.”

Seattle Home Show

The Seattle Home Show is underway and I received an exciting notice that I want to share with local readers..

HGTV green designer, Lori Dennis, who has become very influential in green interior designing.

Lori will be at Seattle’s Home Show in the Milgard booth (#204) this Saturday. She will be presenting a Windows to Wow demonstration that will be done every half hour throughout the day.

Lori will show attendees some of this year’s hottest trends and will share some tips on how to bring a new dimension to each room in the home by styling your windows!

The first 250 people who attend will receive a free autographed copy of Dennis’ new book, Green Interior Design. Attendees will have a chance to meet Lori and learn more about her show, “The Real Designing Women,” debuting this summer.

I plan on being there and hope to see you as well!

Carpet Cleaning Made Easy

As a former resident of Austin you are likely needing your carpet or tile floors cleaned on a regular basis. Especially now with the season of rain finishing up the tracks of mud on the floor do their best to annoy.

The best cleaning carpet service austin has is from the Steam Team. A quick tour of the website you will find the carpet cleaner ratings austin are stellar. They provide a multitude of services and are quick to respond.

If you are looking for a carpet cleaner service austin then look no further and go to the steam clean for further information, pricing and other services they offer.

In the Army.. Now, Then, Ever?

I saw an ad recently on television reminding ex-service people about the types of benefits and programs they qualify as a part of being a member of the Armed Services.

Michelle Obama has made it a part of her awareness campaigns regarding the needs of Military families. (Yes she has other interests than quality food and diet which is equally important for any citizen). And she has made it painfully aware than upon return to civilian life many of our service members and their families are not utilizing the opportunities provided them as a result of serving this country.

I was recently made aware of the VA Home Loan and VA Streamliine Refinance Program.

They VA Home Loan program has provided thousands of qualified veterans with excellent quotes on home loans. They consider it their responsibility and their pleasure to assist veterans in finding reasonable rate and quotes - and at better than market average. Military Veterans deserve the best and VA Homes loans make sure you get it.

If you are a Veteran and seeking that kind of assistance visit the site for further information.

Tough Choices

I am watching the Obama Press Conference in response to his budget and while I have always said Obama is a fantastic speaker who has a manner than evokes both intelligence and leadership. I have found myself, however, frustrated by his leadership and frankly I am deeply concerned that while long on platitudes regarding Sustainability I am skeptical that any of the good things will happen from the result of the budget but the bad will somehow manage to be salvaged in an increasingly divisive Congress.

In addition, as mentioned in the earlier blog post, States are increasingly strapped and they too have a political agenda that they are using to further their cause. At times it seems that is less about finances and more about party politics when it comes to looking forward with regards to America's place in the world - both environmentally and economically.

I will let that play out as it will and I in turn refer to the American Prospect who wrote this in response to what they believe the outcome to this commitment to Clean Energy.

Clean Energy's Cat-and-Mouse Game

The president's new budget has a lot of proposals for green energy, but what if states fail to implement them?

Monica Potts | February 15, 2011 | web only

A day after the State of the Union Address -- in which Obama outlined a massive public investment in clean-energy infrastructure -- the president went on a trip to Wisconsin. He visited a renewable-energy tech manufacturer, an aluminum manufacturer and a wind turbine plant: "It's here in Manitowoc that the race for the 21st Century will be won," he said in one Wisconsin town.

But just the month before, the state's newly elected Republican Governor, Scott Walker, turned down federal money for a high-speed rail line that would have connected Milwaukee to Madison. The money was part of Obama's stimulus plan -- the last time Obama put big money behind programs designed to green the future. Walker said the rail project was an example of excessive government spending: "[It] brought a new cost that we could ill afford at the time; we're going to be crushed in our transportation budget."

Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican who also won in November, turned down federal transportation dollars as well, and other governors, from Texas to Florida, have decried federal government spending and promised to send the money back to Washington. Whether they actually do or not, this highlights a big problem with Obama's agenda -- an agenda that was reinforced when his Fiscal Year 2012 budget proposal was released yesterday. Getting his spending proposals through an obstinate Congress is merely Obama's first challenge. Even if he convinces the House and the Senate to spend the money, he has to convince governors to take it -- and use it for what it's intended for.

The task is even harder when one considers the rhetorical ground Obama has conceded to the right on matters of federal spending. Most of the "savings" in this budget come from cutting a number of domestic spending programs deeply -- he would cut funding for the Department of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency, for example, and funding for community services and home heating aid for low-income families. Whether this political move puts Obama at an advantage compared to House Republicans who want to make even deeper cuts is up for debate, it certainly posits government spending as an ill that must be reduced.

No matter now many empty gestures the president makes to appease deficit hawks, Republican governors eager to portray Obama as a typical tax-and-spend liberal are likely to continue to turn down federal money -- and renewable energy initiatives are bound to be the hardest hit. Many states, however reluctantly, were forced to take stimulus money to try to curb deep state-budget deficits, but there is no such pressure when it comes to public investment in green infrastructure. These grants aren't cash assistance to states running in the red, but rather efforts to use the federal government's enormous spending power to fundamentally change the way the country does business.

Some of the proposed spending on green energy would take the form of tax incentives and grants to states. To put advanced-technology vehicles on the road, the budget proposes $200 million in competitive grants meant to help communities make infrastructure changes that support electric vehicles and "remove regulatory barriers." It would also create a $100 million "Race to Green" competition for state and local governments to improve their building codes and standards. Most important, the budget proposes spending $556 billion on rail transportation and other green infrastructure projects. "Too often, transportation dollars are viewed from the perspective of an individual State or locality," the proposal says, and that's true -- states have a lot of say in how their transportation dollars are spent.

Of course, the budget also proposes direct federal spending and federal tax credits for research and innovation, loan guarantees for renewable energy companies, and efforts to cut oil and coal subsidies. (It would also, because of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent deluge of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, increase Department of Interior funds to better oversee the energy industry.) That means the national agenda will hew more closely to the president's agenda with those programs. But even then the administration can't ensure that federal spending won't be counteracted by state-level policies -- even if states use federal money to become home to clean-energy research and innovation hubs, like those that would be funded by Department of Energy grants, they can still maintain state-level policies that make them friendly huge factory farming operations that emit greenhouse gases.

Until now, states have struck out on their own on renewable-energy legislation, largely because the federal government under Bush was so silent on the issue. Thirty-four states have some form of a renewable-energy standard, and most of these require utilities to source a certain percentage of electricity from renewable sources. But most state-level plans have been modest; what's been missing is an aggressive regulatory and financing push from the federal government. The budget reiterated Obama's goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to levels that are 83 percent below those in 2005 by the year 2050, but doesn't lay out how, exactly, the standard will be met.

The day after the State of the Union, while Obama was in Wisconsin, I attended a blogger roundtable with Obama's senior advisor, David Axelroad, and Brian Deese, Deputy Director of the National Economic Council. Both tried to hammer home the point that clean-energy investment isn't just about protecting the environment, but about positioning the country to thrive economically as well. I asked about the state issue, and Axelrod said that programs like the Department of Education's "Race to the Top" initiative -- a program that allows states to compete for federal grants by designing their own plans to meet certain initiatives -- would help, and that the administration wants to work with governors. He pointed out that Obama's visit to Manitowoc, Wisconsin, was to a factory that had been abandoned but now employed people again, largely because of tax incentives. "That's not a vision we should turn our backs on. That's a prescription for success in the future. And we have to keep going out there and making the case to the American people. And hopefully, the American people, in their individual states, will make that case to their governors and we can move them on some of this, those who are resistant."

Obama does this often: He stakes his claim on the side of rational compromise, and hopes that the American people will see the opposition as unreasonable. Obama has set this up as a political bet, but given that Republicans see their goal as thwarting the president regardless of what he proposes, it's one he risks losing.

Blow Baby Blow

I read this in the NY Times yesterday and I definitely believe we are going to have to let go of "we have always done it this way" "this will cost to much" or whatever canard we hold onto for why we don't embrace change as something for the better.

With the Obama Administration on Green Build, despite the cuts to the well needed weatherization program, there is a definite focus on what is needed to make buildings work. And there is nothing more evident as the facts stated in the article with regards to adapting building codes to address climate change. From the function to the form we need to look at the Environment for clues on what is needed. This also includes Earthquakes and yes outside interference when designing, retrofitting or building. With today's "climate" it is not just weather that has the potential for damage.

We used to build for 100 years, then it was 20-30 years. Its time we build for now and in turn the future.

Huff and Puff and Blow Your House Down

Published: February 12, 2011

Under the weight of record snows, roofs across the Northeast have been buckling this winter, raining debris on children skating in ice rinks, crushing cows and tractors in farmers’ barns and even flattening a garage full of antique cars. In December, nearly 18 inches of new heavy snow brought down the roof of the Metrodome in Minneapolis, forcing the Vikings to temporarily relocate to Detroit.

And it was not just American infrastructure that appeared to be under the weather, so to speak. In Brisbane, Australia, January storms ripped apart a riverside boardwalk — turning a concrete section 150 yards long into a waterborne torpedo that threatened downstream bridges. The wall of a Hungarian reservoir holding toxic red sludge crumbled in October after weeks of downpours, sending the waste into nearby villages. The litany of extreme weather events has often left local officials scrambling to respond to each new crisis, looking — by turns pathetic and heroic — like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike, trying to fend off nature’s monumental forces.

Global warming is most likely responsible, at least in part, for the rising frequency and severity of extreme weather events — like floods, storms and droughts — since warmer surface temperatures tend to produce more violent weather patterns, scientists say. And the damage these events have caused is a sign that the safety factors that engineers, architects and planners have previously built into structures are becoming inadequate for the changing climate.

Dikes, buildings and bridges are often built to withstand a “hundred-year storm” — an event so epic that there is a 1 percent chance it will happen in a given year. But what happens when 100-year storms are seen every 10 years, and 10-year storms become regular events? How many structures will reach their limits?

Engineers and insurers are already facing these questions. Munich Re, one of the world’s largest insurance companies, says climate-related events serious enough to cause property damage have risen significantly since 1980: extreme floods tripled and extreme windstorms nearly so. (The number of damaging earthquakes — which are not thought to be influenced by climate change — have remained stable.) Statistics show that the frequency of days with heavy precipitation is up in South America, North America and parts of Europe.

“Your own perception that there are more storms and more flooding causing damage — that is extremely well documented,” said Peter Hoeppe, a meteorologist who is the head of Munich Re’s Corporate Climate Center. “There is definitely a plausible link to climate change.”

For insurers, the challenge has been how to insure structures against the vicissitudes of increasingly extreme and severe weather. For engineers, new weather raises difficult questions about what kinds of safety factors should be built into designs and whether old structures need retrofitting or reinforcing.

“As we get more extreme events, that absolutely changes how we design,” said D. Wayne Klotz, president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, who has raised the topic repeatedly at the society’s meetings. “We could stick our heads in the ground and say nothing is changing. But it is.”

Mr. Klotz, a water engineer in Houston, said his professional colleagues look carefully at the changing statistics about factors like weather, and over time alter building methods and plans accordingly. Engineers design for the biggest flood or highest winds that seem plausible at a given time. The drainage systems Mr. Klotz builds now are different from those he engineered 20 years ago, because he knows that the Gulf Coast now has much heavier storms.

Unfortunately, he said, the municipal building codes that govern minimum standards for many structures often lag behind “what is happening in the real world,” because of the slow pace of lawmaking. At the same time, a bad economy makes countries, companies and individuals disinclined to invest in higher levels of protection.

Individual engineers are “really aware of the predictions” about climate and might, for example, suggest altering a design to accommodate a future sea level rise, he said. But raising foundations or building higher dikes has a cost, and owners often have a short-term view.

“I’d like to tell you there is a vigorous forum where we’ve locked arms and are trying to scientifically figure out how to respond to the predictions,” said Mr. Klotz. “But there is not yet a concerted effort to change design codes to accommodate them.”

Widely varying predictions about climate change make it especially hard for engineers to build for the future — or for insurers to guard against weather-related losses. Indeed, scientists do not entirely understand the complex ways in which warmer temperatures influence weather.

Last month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said 2010 had tied for the warmest year on record in terms of land and sea surface temperatures. At the simplest level, a warmer ocean surface means more evaporation into the atmosphere — and all that extra water has to come down somewhere, probably accounting for more frequent and severe storms. But it is not easy to predict which places will suffer snow or rain and which will experience drought.

Munich Re is already tailoring its offerings to a world of more extreme weather. It is a matter of financial survival: In 2008, heavy snows in China resulted in the collapse of 223,000 homes, according to Chinese government statistics, including $1 billion in insured losses, Dr. Hoeppe said.

Homes built to resist higher winds will qualify for lower premiums. Floodplains need to be wider than in the past, and Munich Re will not cover structures built in overly risk-prone areas.

In most parts of the developed world, people will probably make the necessary adjustments. This winter, travelers were stranded for days at airports in parts of Europe and the United States, as severe snowstorms interrupted flights. But, Dr. Hoeppe noted, air traffic continued almost normally in places like Helsinki, Finland, which is used to heavy snows. “Perhaps we’ll have to learn to deal with more snowfall — extreme snowfall,” he said. “We’ll have to get used to that.”

But as engineers and architects sit down at their drafting tables to design structures for the next 100 years, they want to know how extreme is extreme when it comes to weather. “There’s not enough money to design for every eventuality,” said Mr. Klotz. “You try to design for the worst-case scenario. But the question now is, what you can expect?”

The Future of Clean Energy

While the President has been a proponent of Green Energy and Sustainability there is clearly a push pull dynamic between the Congress and the President as well as the economy which also plays into the equation.

Current budget has a commitment to retrofitting Commercial buildings to become more energy efficient but sadly the same Weatherization program for low income residential homes falls by the wayside.

And while their is a commitment to encourage Electrical vehicles it am unsure how States will respond in meeting the need for charging stations to provide power to the vehicles.

I am happy to see that the need for Green Energy is something that Obama still seems to be committed to but one has to wonder if there will be financial commitment to make this a reality.

Obama’s budget request will call for eliminating a series of oil industry tax breaks. The Department of Energy estimates that such a repeal will save $3.6 billion in fiscal year 2012 and a total of $46.2 billion during the next decade.

While Obama’s budget will be marked by major cuts, the administration will make a series of investments in clean energy. The budget request will include more than $8 billion for clean energy programs, including money for research and development.

Obama’s budget request will outline a plan to achieve two of his major clean energy policy goals: a plan to make commercial buildings 20 percent more energy efficiency by 2020 and a plan to put 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

As part of the plan to put more electric vehicles on the road, Obama’s budget will call for giving consumers a $7,500 rebate when they purchase an electric vehicle.

The electric vehicles rebate proposal is modeled after the successful “cash-for-clunkers” program, which gave consumers rebates for exchanging older vehicles for more fuel-efficient ones. Obama will propose turning a current $7,500 tax credit, which would be redeemed on consumers’ income taxes, into a rebate, which would be received at the point of sale.

In order to reach the energy efficiency goal, Obama’s budget request will outline a proposal to provide new tax credits for energy efficient buildings and to offer local and state government incentives to streamline their building codes.

Despite the administration’s commitment to key clean-energy programs, the budget will make significant cuts at the Department of Energy.

In an overview of the department’s budget Friday, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the budget request will call for cutting $70 million in hydrogen energy research. That is about 40 percent of the research program. The budget for the department’s Office of Fossil Energy will be cut by 45 percent or about $418 million.

“Fiscal responsibility demands shared sacrifice – it means cutting programs we would not cut in better fiscal times," Chu wrote in a blog post on the Energy Department’s website.

Meanwhile, the budget request will call for cutting a program to clean up the Great Lakes by $125 million.

The administration will also propose major cuts to a program that provides financial assistance for low-income Americans who are having trouble paying their heating bills. The budget request will propose cutting the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program by $2.5 billion.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Automatically LEED

I was just perusing the blogs and found this entry from Green Building Law regarding LEED becoming more automatic in the certification process therefore making LEED consultants redundant.

Interesting now LEED the great proponent of education and information about building green is going to technology to make the process of Certification easier and therefore more affordable (its largest criticism) by simply bypassing the need for LEED AP's and potentially building consultants at all.

I am not sure what to make of this. Letting some clerk in the office put in the green schematics which in turn are evaluated at LEED and thereby reducing the need for a Consultant to assist on the design strategy, budget considerations and evaluation regarding those benchmarks on the LEED list seems well odd. I am aware that in many A/E and large Construction firms there are already departments and individuals that do this assessment as a matter of course but for those smaller firms seeking to go that route I cannot imagine not working with an Integrated Team LEED Certification or not, as its truly necessary in order to weave through the complex scoring system in assessing building performance, energy use and sustainability requirements. To rely solely on a software program alone is an interesting way of assuring well all of that.

My frustration with LEED continues to grow as they seem to have very little interest in making buildings greener, fostering education and sustainability concepts among builders and developers (which by encouraging LEED it opens that door and subsequent discussion) and building good relationships with the thousands of advocates who have spent a great deal of money and effort becoming LEED AP's. Instead LEED seems more intent in the quest to make LEED the sole dominant certification process in Construction.

Given the economic problems in our Industry its good to know the sustainability of LEED is what matters.

Reform This!

Much is made about the state of Education and the need for reform. How this is to be done has been one of the most divisive and confusing formulas, concepts, plans that seem to center solely on Teacher tenure as the real "problem" in Education.

As a former Teacher and now Substituting to make ends meet while the Economy recovers (Construction is the one industry still in the doldrums) I have seen the best and the worst in Schools and Teachers on any given day.

If America is to be a fully sustainable society and restore its Economic presence globally Education is the one area that has the largest factor in making that so. But the argument about Education has been one since I was a student some many many years ago! We have always used the "enemy" of Europe or Japan to fuel our unseen assault on the decline of our students and schools. Now its China, India and other Asian countries and their growing dominance that holds our sway in defining what we must do to reform our schools.

Diane Ravitch the imprimatur behind NCLB during the Bush years felt that testing and testing and more testing was the way to monitor what students were learning and more importantly what they weren't. She has now realized the error of her ways. But during that time School Districts responded with a curriculum that was heavily focused on "teach to the test" as a means to build scores. And for awhile that worked but then kids were arriving in College or the work force with minimal skills but excellent test taking ones! And despite all of our efforts our growth of students seeking post Secondary Education has barely budged over the last decade.

Meanwhile it seems everyone and their Uncle from India and China are possessing multiple degrees and taking all the attention for their success as a reflection of their focus on Education. Of course no one examines their schools, what they teach and compare and contrast that to their US Equivalent. Nor is a study made of their students and their financial and social and cultural backgrounds as means of comparison to our public school students. That and the fact that the reputation of Chinese students and cheating goes unmentioned.

As the argument heightens and more and more "experts" fall in line the target is not really about students its about Teachers and tenure and in turn unions. Unions and their members regardless of professions have been the ire of many, especially those on the right, with regards to the real problems over everything from Teacher success to business failures. Unions and union busting is the true issue behind this move towards abolishing tenure.

If there is anything that needs reform in Education is the constant seeking of reform. Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Science, Art and Physical Education are the core basics to Education. We have found all of them under fire over the last 30 years depending on the mood and swing of the Federal Government, Local Municipalities, Consultants, Educators and anyone else vested in the BILLION dollar industry that is our school systems.

I won't bother going into the hundreds and hundreds of fads, concepts and ideas that have been well meaning, some bad, some good and some well just there over the years but each time it comes down to the fact that there is something rotten in Denmark. Well that smell is the Economy and the last grasp of financial stability of most Americans who have been truly seeing their financial security erode with each passing year. Many families have been sending their kids to private schools which began as the knee jerk reaction to busing. Racist in undertone it was also the fact that schools by the 70s were not responding to what was beginning - the overall economic decline of wages and earnings. With that went Education funding and its been dropping ever since.

As schools lost funding, frustration rose, teachers left the profession to find better paying jobs, local boards become or/are mostly just civic minded people often few or any children in school., have no Education background or are using it as a stepping stone for higher office; Superintendents who come and go at the average of a new one every three years and Principals/Administrators the same. And each with their own Philosophy, ideas and broom to sweep clean. That chaos is not good for a district, a school or the staff and students. The very bottom of that scenario is what you see today in the classrooms - frustrated teachers and equally frustrated and disengaged students.

Much has been made of the Harlem Zone for Children a model of reform that encompasses the entire community and at $3500 cost per student not sustainable. That said the cost of that program is one that is compensating for the loss of real Government ones - from Head Start to others that helped struggling families deal with their lives and the needs of their children. Many poor families have no child care and they themselves were not academically oriented. You cannot expect them to assist with what they had issues with. Right now our Educational system is one of great economic disparity and a type of Institutional racism that cannot be ignored. Our public schools are largely minority, special needs, poor and bilingual students. As a result the reform that such "experts" as Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee have little experience or understanding.

Education is not a business. It cannot follow a business model. For one who is an expert in Finance, Technology or Industry they cannot use that background to think they are an expert in Educational reform. I don't see them doing that to Health Care which has an equally devastating effect on our long term growth and productivity. I guess there the attitude is "Physician heal thyself" however when it comes to Educators the only issue is tenure anything else is not on the table.

To reform Education stop looking to unions and silly contract issues that have nothing to do with reform. A teacher who is vested in teaching from a veteran to a newbie is what you want. I don't want a Doctor who has never performed surgery to do so on me but I also want to make sure new surgeons are there when one retires. The silliness of Teach for America where 5 weeks and a 2 year commitment is what districts want then start anew doesn't bode well for a community but a 20 year burnout with no support either is not a good thing and I have seen both. Schools really suffer on both ends.

Parents do care but when you have poverty, language issues, children with special needs all with their own issues and circumstances you have to wonder if we can serve everyone well and that too is another issue.

Look at the basics and return to them. You cannot do math unless you can read. You cannot be creative unless you have the opportunity to express that through the arts, you cannot function without being healthy and strong and PE and quality food are all part of that which makes a school. Right now the focus seems to be on the head and not the whole.

Reform is not necessary but improvement is. Focusing on positive aspects of Education and working together not against one another might be the best place to start. Students are the priority not Teacher tenure.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Next Great Fab

I was a big fan of Prefab design housing when I stumbled on Michelle Kaufmann's office in Oakland a few years ago. Michelle had to be the number one cheerleader for prefab design and her company MKDesigns was ground breaking in that she wanted to bring the affordable and the design elements to modern housing. Sadly that side of her business took a tumble with the economic decline and she shuttered it in 2008.

Since that her business has been sold to BluHomes who are currently busily touting the mantle of going green and pre fab and the addition of Michelle's designs are significant to those seeking a clean green modern aesthetic.

As in many things that we embrace in our faddish culture I loved the concept and hearkened back to Frank Lloyd Wright's prefab kit homes sold in Sears Catalogs for around 4,00 dollars.

Today's Prefabs are not quite that "affordable". And it was after a time and through research I found out that cost and time were not what they appeared to be. And with more building and construction options there is not a big need for a kit house without a kit house price.

I won't repeat all the reasons for why Prefab largely did not take off as it was assumed. And let's face it the housing boom was the dot com boom with everyone with an Architect Design degree throwing in their plans for the next great money maker.

If you are interested in reading a great article by one who too was a great proponent and advocate, I suggest you read Chad Ludeman the developer behind 100K house. I think he covers every reason not to go PreFab. He also proposes workable hybrid style solutions. I also recommend the responses. While they make valid points the bloom on that rose has distinctly faded - sort of.

But that is okay as nothing is dead when there is a shortage of work and a need to build and now Prefab has gone small as in real small - backyard cottages. The concept is that it could be used as additional space vs a full addition or as a rental or supplementary home for elder care, etc. The backyard cottages are not new but the amount and variation of them is expanding - including the Passive House version.

Cities, such as Seattle, have pressured to these cottages and expedited permitting saying that adding residences in urban lots while it adds to density is still green as it reduces commuting, etc.

My issue is great if you want to add an office, art studio, guest house but a full on residential home? Are you kidding me? Do you want to live literally in your landlord's back yard? I am not sure what the plans are but I have a feeling that this is just a desperate need for builder business in an economy that is not on the hot list of recovery anytime soon.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Blue Hawaii

This time of year the weather, the long cold winter has many of us seeking warmer climates. Hawaii is one such destination of choice for those seeking a winter break.

Local Real Estate Guy offers links and information for Kauai Real Estate. Be a Condo or Villa they offer information on finding the right property for the right price. Now with Real Estate prices lowering and still affordable interest rates it might be the time to look at a second investment property.

Local Real Estate guy also has information for California if that is more accessible for your travel and home needs.

If the beaches or cities of Florida spark your interest Real Estate guy has information on the current housing market of varying locations throughout the area.

***this blog was brought to you by your friends the Real Estate Guy****