Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Go Tankless

If I had one thing I could get my landlord to do I would ask him to switch the hot water tank for tankless.

The house is small and the needs for hot water equally small. The need for space and reduction of energy costs are also strong and tankless would meet all of those demands.

For those curious on demand water heaters heat water directly without the use of a storage tank; therefore, avoiding the standby heat losses associated with those conventional methods.

Traditional tank models simply use more energy. When the hot water tap is turned on, cold water travels through a pipe into the unit to either a gas burner or electric element to heat the water.

An "On Demand" or tankless heaters delivers a constant supply of hot water therefore you don't need to wait for a storage tank to fill up. However, a demand water heater's output limits the flow rate. So, it is important to size the unit appropriately to suit your needs.

Gas-fired demand water heaters produce higher flow rates than electric ones. Unfortunately, many of the gas-fired model cannot supply enough hot water for simultaneous, multiple uses in large households. For example, taking a shower and running the dishwasher at the same time can stretch a demand water heater to its limit.

To overcome this problem, you can install two or more demand water heaters, connected in parallel for simultaneous demands of hot water.

You can also install separate demand water heaters for appliances—such or use those that have heaters built in as Meile doe in their dishwashers and clothes washers.

Also having self heating appliances act as an excellent backup for a solar water heating system.

And the best benefit is that many of the tankless units can qualify for the Federal tax credit. The unit must have an energy factor of at least .82 OR a thermal efficiency of at least 90%.

If you are curious about tankless "on demand" water heaters ask your energy service provider for details on the tax credits/rebates available, the types available and qualified service providers and installers.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Calgary Stampede

Planning to go to Canada? Heading to Calgary? Look for rentals in Calgary to meet your vacation needs. is a site for those looking to rent a home in Calgary, Alberta. There you can search for homes easily using price, number of bedrooms or bathrooms, or even the square footage.

Renting a home for a long term stay its the best option when you have a family. It provides privacy and security and more importantly affordability. has numerous neighborhoods, homes and options available. If you are a property owner in Calgary they have information for you should you be interested in listing your home for rent as well.

The site is easy to manage with pictures, prices and maps available to provide you with as much information necessary to seek out a rental property in Calgary.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

6 Favorite Eco-Friendly Finds

Great Ideas and Finds that I have done in my home.

6 Favorite Eco-Friendly Finds

Other ideas include making scarves into pillows or throws for the bed or sofa.

Finding art in unlikely places.. some advertisements in especially foreign press are fantastic.

Embrace color...

Friday, February 17, 2012

Be a Saver!

Are you looking for a deal?

Never mind that is a redundant question?

There is a site for you: Frugal Dad who is there for you without lecture on finding the right deals including ways to save your next PC.

Most every store offers some coupons for in-store purchases or coupon codes that can be to be used online. A prodigious shopper knows how to seek such things out - me included.

Regardless if is for the family or it’s time for another date night; there are free coupons available online for a myriad of things.

And yes for bloggers and tweeters there are numerous options out there seeking your time and ambition.

Conventional stores such as Best Buy and Target can offer exclusive deals for online shopping that you sometimes can’t find in store and occasionally like free shipping/home delivery. Inevitably a perk for those looking to save on gas costs and getting bulky purchases home.

FrugalDad is more than an online coupons site. They offer information on what is available and to many discounts that aren’t well advertised. For some of the biggest retailers. At FrugalDad you will find free printable coupons, coupon codes, and tips for getting extra discounts.

FrugalDad has assembled some of the biggest retailers, links to coupons and deals to help you save on your next shopping trip. From there you will find free printable coupons, coupon codes, and those super tips for getting extra discounts. Their purpose is in their mission statement as to why he created the site: A site created for the average family to find financial resources that enable a family to survive conservatively. Not politically but financially. .

Being Coupon Smart is to be smart overall. As in any case smart use is just that - to use when appropriate and when needed.. Frugal Dad is the site for such smart use.

And bonus!! FrugalDad offers scholarships. Scholarships through Frugal Dad offer a provide a meaningful amount of support for students to enable them to be a fully supported and enabled student.

The first scholarship is their FrugalDad Undergrad Scholarship awarded to two students annually; each be awarded $5,000 towards tuition at their current accredited undergraduate school of which they are presently enrolled. This scholarship is based on academic achievement and overall application quality.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The New Feminism

I have found myself of late in defense of women - to women. There are distinctly two camps of women it appears: Those in support of the sisterhood and those who see themselves distinctly at odds with it. A sort of distinction between Oprah and Martha Stewart.

Both views are valid. Women are no different than men in the respect that some women are open books, emotional, in touch with being a woman but still being strong and others who seem more like men - reserved, uber driven, aggressive. Today’s post feminist seem to have added a third camp - the “Reality Whore” think the Kardashian’s, women whose sole industry and skill set relies on sexuality, passive aggressiveness, more prone to be a “frenemy” than a mentor.

Young women have often rejected feminism as they see it as the outdated and embracing a philosophy that one must be more like a man in order to make it as a woman, hence rejecting the political activism of the 60-70s as out of date and irrelevant at this time. And as a result we see in popular culture women adrift with few role models either relying on males as mentors or embracing a Devil Wears Prada type mindset.

As more and more women’s issues have been brought under fire in this new political landscape -women are finding everything from social services, to health care and their right to privacy and security at risk or under a glaring microscope of what has long been a major issues in economic security and social justice which the women’s movement was all about.

Women are graduating in record rates from higher education, yet they still continue to make less wages on the dollar, there are still fewer in executive positions and meanwhile the majority of care of children, older family members or the home are still largely women’s responsibilities. As recent Pew Study found women who undergo a divorce or become widows fall out of the “middle class” (a still debatable and fluid definition) faster than any other group other than black males.

So when you read/hear current statements from women in industry you expect a more supportive understanding of why women, despite all the accomplishments, are still failing to move forward and in turn upwards. Well it appears that is not part of the discussion from the return of Iron Lady to the current CFO Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook - it appears that women have no one to blame but themselves. We’ve come a long way baby when women are still trashing women to justify their success at the vilification of others.

I was particularly appalled by Sheryl Sandberg’s recent panel at Davos exhorting women to rise above their whining and accept the idea that they alone are responsible for their failures or success..what she calls the “ambition gap”. In addition Ms Sandberg said that women must be more accepting of labels such as “bossy”. As she was defined as “bossy” as a child and rather than reject it she embraced it to drive her in business. The analogy being that women must not be driven to be “likeable”. Given that Ms. Sandberg has not one but two Harvard degrees, powerful mentors in politics (Lawrence Summers and under the adage if you have nothing good to say say nothing shall be applied here) and her current (and second) husband is a CEO of a major Tech firm, I wonder if Sheryl would have any idea of what any “99% woman” deals with on a daily basis.

While holding this panel at Davos Ms.Sandberg was held up as a model of a successful woman. Irony that other women at Davos were concerned as how few women were there either in attendance or leading panels.

The one skill I do know Ms. Sandberg possesses is "know your audience". While at Davos Ms. Sandberg continued her mien how men are not the problem regarding women’s success but when speaking to the graduates of Barnard (a private woman’s college), altered her message to include such sage advice as this: “the most important career decision you’re going to make is whether or not you have a life partner and who that partner is.” In other words marry up. Ms. Sandberg clearly found that in Husband number 2. Husband number 1 perhaps not so much.

The reality is for women - bossiness and ambition aside - few women are leaders in Business. In the U.S., the number of Fortune 500 companies run by women fell to a dozen last year from 15 in 2010. At Davos 80% of the attendees were men, of the 6 co-chairs Ms. Sandberg was the sole woman. Facebook, Twitter, Zynga, Groupon, Foursquare—none, has a female director on its board. PayPal has no women on its five-member board; Apple has one of seven; Amazon one of eight; Google two of nine

And while Ms. Sandberg was profiled in the New York Times as strongly encouraging women to be a part of the male dominated culture of the Tech industry, I was not impressed that most of her female hires were poached from other companies (mostly Google as well she worked there) and I find no mention of “mentorship” for women outside the industry to transition in. Nor is there a program to deal with the rampant age discrimination found in tech, which Facebook’s under 40 hiring is notorious. Perhaps they too have an “ambition gap.”

But its the term “bossy” that draws my ire the most. I get that a 1% elite and soon billionaire has no idea of what non Ivy League graduates face and that single mothers, older women, working moms without rich husbands, nanny’s and 6 figure salaries face - its just not part of her reality. But to say the term “bossy” is a positive is clearly sexist and damaging in every sense of the word. Its a pejorative term that demeans women, along with other euphemisms such as “sassy” “spitfire” and “bitchy”. The word bossy brings to mind Lucy of Peanuts or Nancy with Sluggo - the little girl women who boss their peers and are best suited to running a home not a business. If there are any equivalent terms for men I am unaware. Calling a man “bossy” would be to say the least a put down; Men even in their most assholishness are still exhorted for being “tough” “strong” “focused” “driven”. All qualities that I could easily apply to any successful woman and do so without sarcasm or irony.

To have a modern woman and soon to be billionaire say women are solely responsible for their destiny, embrace their bossy nature and marry well sounds like many of the women featured on the Bravo Housewives franchise - bitchy, competitive, blame seeking and unpleasant. Yes the ideal stereotype of what defines women in the modern post feminist age.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Mall Of America

The Mall of America - the epitome of largess of the consumer culture that is the American way. Landscape dotted by massive parking lots and large extensive buidligns that evoke almost Vegas Casino levels of full entertainment to keep you there as long as possible was the mark of success. Today many malls and their smaller cousin the strip mall sit vacant looming large over their adjacent communities.

Today in the NY Times an article discusses how many cities are realizing that they offer an opportunity to create modern green spaces - from restoring the local landscape to building indoor ones that do all from growing gardens to providing local schools, community centers and even housing.

There is no question that our housing needs are dire. As homes are foreclosed at rapid clips and the subsequent problems created with a largely under/unemployed nation the need for affordable housing, close to shopping and less commuting will be essential. Tearing them down is not the answer but making them greener is. A mall was once a tribute to consumerism but today it can be more.

How About Gardening or Golfing at the Mall?

Published: February 5, 2012

“I look at it as space, I don’t look at it as retail,” said Vicky Poole, a Galleria executive. “You can’t anymore.”

Malls, over the last 50 years, have gone from the community center in some cities to a relic of the way people once wanted to shop. While malls have faced problems in the past, the Internet is now pulling even more sales away from them. And as retailers crawl out of the worst recession since the advent of malls, many are realizing they are overbuilt and are closing locations at a fast clip.

The result is near-record vacancy rates at malls of all kinds, both the big enclosed ones and the sprawling strips. Sears Holdings is closing up to 120 stores, Gap Inc. 200 stores and Talbots 110. Abercrombie & Fitch closed 50 stores last year, Hot Topic, almost the same number. Chains that have filed for bankruptcy in recent years, like Blockbuster, Anchor Blue, Circuit City and Borders, have left hundreds of stores lying vacant in malls across the country.

Most cities, looking at shrinking budgets, cannot afford to subsidize or knock down ailing malls, and healthy retailers that are expanding — like H&M and Nordstrom Rack — generally will not open at depressed locations. So, as though they were upholstering polyester chairs from the 1960s with Martha Stewart fabric, urban planners and community activists are trying to spruce up and rethink the uses of many of the artifacts.

Schools, medical clinics, call centers, government offices and even churches are now standard tenants in malls. By hanging a curtain to hide the food court, the Galleria in Cleveland, which opened in 1987 with about 70 retailers and restaurants, rents space for weddings and other events. Other malls have added aquariums, casinos and car showrooms.

Designers in Buffalo have proposed stripping down a mall to its foundation and reinventing it as housing, while an aspiring architect in Detroit has proposed turning a mall’s parking lot there into a community farm. Columbus, Ohio, arguing that it was too expensive to maintain an empty mall on prime real estate, dismantled its City Center mall and replaced it with a park.

Even at many malls that continue to thrive, developers are redesigning them as town squares — adding elements like dog parks and putting greens, creating street grids that go through the malls, and restoring natural elements like creeks that were originally paved over.

“Basically they’re building the downtowns that the suburbs never had,” along with reworking abandoned urban malls for nonshopping uses, said Ellen Dunham-Jones, a professor at the College of Architecture at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The efforts reflect a shift in how Americans want to shop today: rather than going to big, overwhelming malls, many prefer places where stores can be entered from the street, featuring restaurants, entertainment and other Main Street mainstays. Also, as commuters in urban areas shift to public transportation, the giant parking lots are no longer needed.

The Simon Property Group, a large mall operator, is remodeling 15 to 20 malls a year, said its chief operating officer, Richard Sokolov. It is adding amenities like electric-car charging stations and stadium-seating theaters, and scheduling 20,000 events a year, like cooking demonstrations. Malls today have to “provide a unique set of shopping, dining and entertainment experiences,” Mr. Sokolov said.

Westfield, another large operator, has added dog runs and ice rinks, and, in Toledo, Ohio, the Wait Room, a lounge where customers can drink a beer and check their e-mail “while their significant other shops,” said Katy Dickey, a Westfield spokeswoman, in an e-mail.

While some malls can afford to change with the times, many cannot, and over all, there are too many malls today, urban planners say. The vacancy rate at shopping centers and strip malls was 11 percent in the last quarter of 2011, the highest level since 1991, according to the research firm Reis. Larger regional malls fared better, with a vacancy rate of 9.2 percent.

There are about 108,000 shopping centers in America, according to a 2009 survey by the International Council of Shopping Centers. Just a few years ago, developers competed to build malls, betting that continued growth would support them, but the recession threw those plans off course.

A new enclosed mall has not opened in the United States since 2006, according to Professor Dunham-Jones, and many ambitious projects, like New Jersey’s Xanadu just west of Manhattan, have lain half-finished for years.

“In the aggregate, we have more than we need at this point, and it can have a blighting influence on communities,” said Patrick Phillips, chief executive of the Urban Land Institute. “You see that all over the country, these endless commercial strips that are completely underutilized.”

That is leading to a variety of creative solutions that “would help make ’60s and ’70s suburbia a bit more sustainable,” said Rob Shields, director of the City-Region Studies Center at the University of Alberta, which held a design competition over the last several months that attracted the Detroit and Buffalo proposals.

But putting the theory into practice is requiring unusual city-developer liaisons. Mall owners often need regulatory clearance or financing help from a city to make major changes, and cities can sometimes seize malls that they believe are a hindrance to economic development. And malls were usually built at busy intersections with good access to public transportation — a combination that still works, even if the mall itself doesn’t.

In Seattle, city planners are looking at reworking a still-thriving mall as a focus point for more development.

“We’re at this interesting moment, because in cities, land is very scarce,” said Marshall Foster, city planning director for Seattle, which is trying to make Northgate Mall, a popular mall built in 1950, a center for urban life. “We can’t afford to overlook these opportunities any longer.”

The city is adding transit and trying to increase jobs and living space there. It has restored a creek originally covered by a parking lot, and is pushing the mall owner and retailers to add a street-grid layout and remodel stores so they are accessible from the street.

Cleveland, too, has given over some plots of land to the greenhouse effort at the Galleria mall.

The shift to gardening began with the carts that used to sell jewelry or candles, where Ms. Poole, the director of marketing events, had herbs planted in the disused retail carts inside the mall. She learned how quickly aphids proliferate indoors (solution: release 1,500 ladybugs into the mall).

The garden now produces lettuce, strawberries, basil and other crops, which are sold to visitors and used for the mall’s catering business. An unexpected benefit has been an influx of visitors, which has prompted related retailers to open in the mall, like a company that sells rainwater collection barrels.

“This has been sustaining us throughout these hard years, but now we’re looking at the potential of turning things around,” said Ms. Poole while preparing kale and spinach seeds for spring planting.

The New Economy

The new economy is now one less on ideas and products and more about "information" Welcome to the dot com bomb V2.0 Instead of websites its social media.

While unaccountably the growth of Social Media also parallels a decline in the employment market and therefore leaves people with a great deal of time on one's hands on which to waste. Facebook, Twitter, Blogging and other forms have taken up time and been a way for some to generate income, promote their products or simply just meet new and old friends.

Yes on some level Social Media is been part of larger movements but the idea that Facebook and Twitter started a revolution is to say the least hyperbole but it has taken a large role in which to communicate to those in and outside of the movement.

Yet Facebook is about to launch the largest IPO in history, making its founder Mark Zuckerberg and his staff (and a few bankers of course) very very rich. But what is Facebook? Well you could say its the new MySpace which was the new Friendster. Largely unprofitable until Sheryl Samberg came on board, Facebook was a private company only for college students.

How much of its history and its legacy is to be debated but the Social Network film has given many a strong impression of who the players are and what they were originally trying to accomplish. Now in IPO filings, its "creator" has crossed himself as a modern day Julian Assange meets Martin Luther King in saying Facebook has a "social mission" while also posing himself as a hacker trying to out Anon the Anonymous.. yes when you are a billionaire you pretty much can say anything you want and it sure buys a lot of hoodies.

But in reality how does Facebook generate profit. Well one its link to Zygna games whose laudatory IPO is already coming back to earth. 14% of Facebook profits (approx 44 million) comes from the games people play - literally. The rest comes from Aggregate advertising. What is that? Its when the search/host engine monitors your use and notes where you go, what you search for, etc and from that data culls a profile on which to create a target profile to sell to advertisers and marketers. So when you sign on note the seemingly innocuous ad to the left - well think again its very much not an accident.

Basically YOU made Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg a billionaire. Giving him your private data, access to your friends private data, every update, every comment are all meticulously kept to resell for Facebook's profit. Facebook made $3.2 billion in advertising revenue last year, 85 percent of its total revenue and they are small potatoes in that pot.

Google took in more than 10 times as much, with an estimated $36.5 billion in advertising revenue in 2011, by analyzing what people sent over Gmail and what they searched on the Web, and then using that data to sell ads. That is right Google saves your email, your searches and well keeps that for all eternity to sell and to market and to well use for their profit.

All of this in exchange for free use of their search engines, email and other products. I'm a Google user and this blog is a part of their product line. So well it seems fair right? I mean what harm could come from it?

in a recent article, Facebook is Using You, in the NY Times regarding this practice, this is what it really means when an aggregator keeps your information.

Material mined online has been used against people battling for child custody or defending themselves in criminal cases. LexisNexis has a product called Accurint for Law Enforcement, which gives government agents information about what people do on social networks. The Internal Revenue Service searches Facebook and MySpace for evidence of tax evaders’ income and whereabouts, and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has been known to scrutinize photos and posts to confirm family relationships or weed out sham marriages. Employers sometimes decide whether to hire people based on their online profiles, with one study indicating that 70 percent of recruiters and human resource professionals in the United States have rejected candidates based on data found online. A company called Spokeo gathers online data for employers, the public and anyone else who wants it. The company even posts ads urging “HR Recruiters — Click Here Now!” and asking women to submit their boyfriends’ e-mail addresses for an analysis of their online photos and activities to learn “Is He Cheating on You?”

Stereotyping is alive and well in data aggregation. Your application for credit could be declined not on the basis of your own finances or credit history, but on the basis of aggregate data — what other people whose likes and dislikes are similar to yours have done. If guitar players or divorcing couples are more likely to renege on their credit-card bills, then the fact that you’ve looked at guitar ads or sent an e-mail to a divorce lawyer might cause a data aggregator to classify you as less credit-worthy. When an Atlanta man returned from his honeymoon, he found that his credit limit had been lowered to $3,800 from $10,800. The switch was not based on anything he had done but on aggregate data. A letter from the company told him, “Other customers who have used their card at establishments where you recently shopped have a poor repayment history with American Express.”

Even though laws allow people to challenge false information in credit reports, there are no laws that require data aggregators to reveal what they know about you. If I’ve Googled “diabetes” for a friend or “date rape drugs” for a mystery I’m writing, data aggregators assume those searches reflect my own health and proclivities. Because no laws regulate what types of data these aggregators can collect, they make their own rules.

In 2007 and 2008, the online advertising company NebuAd contracted with six Internet service providers to install hardware on their networks that monitored users’ Internet activities and transmitted that data to NebuAd’s servers for analysis and use in marketing. For an average of six months, NebuAd copied every e-mail, Web search or purchase that some 400,000 people sent over the Internet. Other companies, like Healthline Networks Inc., have in-house limits on which private information they will collect. Healthline does not use information about people’s searches related to H.I.V., impotence or eating disorders to target ads to people, but it will use information about bipolar disorder, overactive bladder and anxiety, which can be as stigmatizing as the topics on its privacy-protected list.

In the 1970s, a professor of communication studies at Northwestern University named John McKnight popularized the term “redlining” to describe the failure of banks, insurers and other institutions to offer their services to inner city neighborhoods. The term came from the practice of bank officials who drew a red line on a map to indicate where they wouldn’t invest. But use of the term expanded to cover a wide array of racially discriminatory practices, such as not offering home loans to African-Americans, even those who were wealthy or middle class.

Now the map used in redlining is not a geographic map, but the map of your travels across the Web. The term Weblining describes the practice of denying people opportunities based on their digital selves. You might be refused health insurance based on a Google search you did about a medical condition. You might be shown a credit card with a lower credit limit, not because of your credit history, but because of your race, sex or ZIP code or the types of Web sites you visit.

Data aggregation has social implications as well. When young people in poor neighborhoods are bombarded with advertisements for trade schools, will they be more likely than others their age to forgo college? And when women are shown articles about celebrities rather than stock market trends, will they be less likely to develop financial savvy? Advertisers are drawing new redlines, limiting people to the roles society expects them to play.

Data aggregators’ practices conflict with what people say they want. A 2008 Consumer Reports poll of 2,000 people found that 93 percent thought Internet companies should always ask for permission before using personal information, and 72 percent wanted the right to opt out of online tracking. A study by Princeton Survey Research Associates in 2009 using a random sample of 1,000 people found that 69 percent thought that the United States should adopt a law giving people the right to learn everything a Web site knows about them. We need a do-not-track law, similar to the do-not-call one. Now it’s not just about whether my dinner will be interrupted by a telemarketer. It’s about whether my dreams will be dashed by the collection of bits and bytes over which I have no control and for which companies are currently unaccountable.

Europeans are already beginnging to realize the long term affects of this privacy issue and are moving forward to protect online users from what is basically exploitation and use of personal data for business profit.

Max Schrems, a 24-year-old a law student at the University of Vienna has been a vocal advocate against Facebook's policies. And in less than a year, Mr. Schrems’s one-person operation has morphed into a Web site, Europe Versus Facebook. He was first to sound the alarm when he requested his personal data from Facebook and was returned with a 1,200 page file of all his postings, photos and other information gleaned from his profile page.

Given what was stated that seems an excessive amount of information on one 24. And frankly it goes to show that without Facebook's meticulous retaining of said information would Facebook be worth well "anything". If one was to apply an idiom here would "if a tree falls in the woods would it make a sound" be valid? Without its users there is no Facebook and without Facebook it would have simply been what it was all along a college yearbook for the me me generation.

I do not have a personal Facebook page. I do have one for my business and like my profile on LinkedIn or any other public site I have NEVER once been contacted for work or for information via those sources. Ironically this blog which began as a source of generating some buiness has been the only source of business. Low tech, low key I only accept advertising if its pertiinent. I have no banners only blog referrals and disclose openly that they are sponsored posts. And while I believe that transparency is essential in sustainability I also respect privacy and I question the ethics and long term sustainability on a business that is largely dependent on the "kindness of strangers".

We used to create ideas that built products that change the world. Today the IPhone business alone transcends the entire company of Microsoft's business. And yet Bill Gates had wrongly believed that hardware would become obsolete. Well Steve Jobs had the last laugh or not but his legacy speaks on. (Now if they would simply produce them humanely that would be a gift). Does Facebook have that potential even as Mark Zuckerberg declares it a social mission? I don't know but I do know that Google me brings on a whole new meaning.

Tax Time!

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IRS requires individuals to be Registered Tax Return Preparer to complete other individuals tax forms. With tax law complex and confusion about what are legitimate expenses, incomes and other deductions, having a qualified and certified tax preparer is essential.

The Fast Forward Academy offers such training and preparation for the exams required. Affordable, fast and they offer a 30 Day Money Back Guarantee.

If you are interested in generating income or even trying to learn more about tax preparation these courses may be for you.

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Energy Audit New Jersey

I frequently write about the current/remaining grants to improve the energy performance and management of one's homes.

For those in the tri-state area you have had a mild winter which makes this a perfect time to take advantage of the last of the federal grants for such a project.

One such provider of an overall home audit is The Energy Team. They are the region’s leading group of independent energy efficiency experts.

Their qualifications are as Energy Star contractors,working with the State of NJ to provide home energy audit nj, as a means to make homes and businesses more comfortable and efficient.

In addition to energy audits, Your Energy Team offers weatherization and insulation services, LED lighting, solar water heating and solar electric solutions and water conservation plans.

They are partners with local utility providers and other organizations in green building and sustainability to assist you in finding credits, rebates and other options to reduce both the installation costs and in turn overall energy costs.

Take advantage of this service and the mild weather now and in turn be ready for the future.

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Saturday, February 4, 2012

Middle Me This

My last post is about who are the "Middle Class" and since this is the year of the Middle Class as the election pinata, I am still trying to define who or what makes the Middle Class.

Like the ubiquitous Soccer Moms, Independents, the Silent Majority and other mythical Unicorns that Politicians evoke to generate support, the concept of the Middle Class was and is a real measure of economic worth.

The United States had always prided itself on having the ability to be class fluid - the idea that you could move into or out of the class you were born and rise up. Not everyone wanted to be rich but everyone would agree security is a perfectly good measure of success. The American Dream - owning your home, the ability to educate your children to a even a higher level than you, the ability to have disposable/discretionary income and safely retire. The safety net was one of your own making assuming you lived in your means and health care costs were not part of the ever growing equation that seem to put most families on a precipice.

Well its a dream apparently. As more and more studies come to light there is little mobility in America and I have blogged endlessly that much of it comes from an access to Education. Without it you stifle not only mobility but innovation - the crux or key to making a society more economically equal.

Class Warfare is also being used in disputably in this discussion but in reality the warfare seems to be intra class - that inside this large part of the bell curve - the middle class.

Today Charles Blow's column in the NY Times tries to put a reasonable assumption or at least identification on who in America falls into that center of the bell curve and well once again the numbers show that its not as simple as we once believed.

Romney, the Rich and the Rest
Published: February 3, 2012

After all, Mitt Romney is the same multimillionaire who joked that he was “unemployed” while he was “earning” more in one day than most Americans earn in a year and paying a lower rate on those earnings than most Americans do.

This is the same man who bragged last month that he liked to fire people at a time when nearly 13 million people are out of work and who accepted the endorsement this week of Donald Trump, who has made “You’re Fired!” his television catchphrase.

This is the same man who in November claimed that federal employees are making “a lot more money than we are.” What?! We? What we? Please direct me to the federal employees with the $20 million paychecks. In fact, The Washington Post pointed out in November that federal employees on average “are underpaid by 26.3 percent when compared with similar nonfederal jobs, a ‘pay gap’ that increased by about 2 percentage points over the last year while federal salary rates were frozen.”

And who could forget his remark that “corporations are people.” Classic.

But this week when Romney said that he wasn’t concerned about the very poor in this country, he jumped in the pickle barrel and went over the waterfall.

First, his statement:

“I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich. They’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of America — the 90-95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”

Romney went on to say that his campaign was focused on “middle-income Americans” and that “we have a very ample safety net” for the poor.

He later tried to clarify, saying that his comments needed context. Then he said that the comments were a “misstatement” and that he had “misspoke.” Yeah, right.

Where to begin?

First, a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities last month pointed out that Romney’s budget proposals would take a chainsaw to that safety net. The report points out that cuts proposed by Romney would be even more draconian than a plan from Representative Paul Ryan: “Governor Romney’s budget proposals would require far deeper cuts in nondefense programs than the House-passed budget resolution authored by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan: $94 billion to $219 billion deeper in 2016 and $303 billion to $819 billion deeper in 2021.”

What does this mean for specific programs? Let’s take the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, since “food stamps” have been such a talking point in the Republican debates. The report says the Romney plan “would throw 10 million low-income people off the benefit rolls, cut benefits by thousands of dollars a year, or some combination of the two. These cuts would primarily affect very-low-income families with children, seniors and people with disabilities.”

Does that sound like a man trying to “fix” our social safety nets? Absolutely not. Romney is so far up the beanstalk that he can no longer see the ground.

Then let’s take the fact that a report last month by the Tax Policy Center found that his tax plan would increase after-tax income for millionaires by 14.5 percent while increasing the after-tax income of those making less than $20,000 by less than 1 percent and of those making between $30,000 and $40,000 by less than 3 percent.

For a man who’s not worried about the rich, he sure seems to want them to rake in more cash.

This has nothing to do with context. This has everything to do with a caviar candidate’s inability to relate to a chicken-soup citizenry.

Then there is the “ample safety net” nonsense. No one who has ever been on the low end of the income spectrum believes this, not even Republicans. According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in October, even most Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who make less than $30,000 a year, which accounts for about a quarter of all Republicans, say that the government doesn’t do enough to help the poor. Only a man who has never felt the sting of poverty or seen its ravages would say such a thing.

But perhaps the most pernicious part of his statement was the underestimating of the rich and poor and the elasticized expansion of the term “middle income” or middle class. Romney suggests that 95 percent of Americans are in this group. Not true.

According to the Census Bureau, the official poverty rate in 2010 was 15.1 percent.

And that’s the income poor. It doesn’t even count the “asset poor.” A report issued this week by the Corporation for Enterprise Development found that 27 percent of U.S. households live in “asset poverty.” According to the report, “These families do not have the savings or other assets to cover basic expenses (equivalent to what could be purchased with a poverty level income) for three months if a layoff or other emergency leads to loss of income.”

On the other hand, the definition of “rich” is more nebulous. However, according to a December Gallup report, Americans set the rich threshold at $150,000 in annual income. And according to the U.S. Census Bureau 8.4 percent of households had an income of $150,000 or more in 2010.

So at the very least, nearly a fourth of all Americans are either poor or rich.

That would leave about three-fourths somewhere in the middle, but not all middle class. Tricking the poor to believe they’re in it, and allowing the wealthy to hide in it, is one of the great modern political deceptions and how we’ve arrived at our current predicament.

According to a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted last month, nearly a fifth of families making less than $15,000 said that they were middle class and nearly two-fifths of those making more than $100,000 said that they were middle class.

Romney is not only cold and clumsy, he’s disastrously out of touch, and when talking about real people, out of sorts. If only he had a heart, and if only that heart was connected to his brain.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Who Are You?

I have been asking those of late who are you when it comes to defining yourself with regards to class? Are you poor, middle or rich?

I find the answers as complex as they come from varying sources either or both psychological and economical. With the recent campaign cycle in full swing there has been an immense focus on the middle class and the rich - the "1%" over that of the poor. In fact the poor are often find themselves either ignored or vilified as those with poor moral failings and the inability to "work hard"

But when you ask those who are inevitably middle class - even the poor will say they are.

In an article from Reuters the writer asked that same question and here is his results..

What do we mean by “middle class”?

By David RohdeDecember 29, 2011

Are you middle class?

For decades, praising the middle class has been a staple of American politics. Candidates vow to defend the middle class and accuse their opponents of betraying it. But what, exactly, is the “middle class”?

Since I began writing this column three months ago, readers have asked for an exact definition of the middle class. The question is a legitimate and vital one. With studies showing the American middle class in decline, understanding which policies create, expand and protect the demographic is more important than ever. But definitions vary.

Despite the incessant political lip service paid to the middle class, there is no official American government definition of the group. The middle class has been intensively studied but no political consensus exists over how it was created or how to strengthen it. Liberals credit government programs with helping create a thriving American middle class after World War II. They cite the G.I. bill, home mortgage interest deduction and state university system as examples. Conservatives credit unbridled, American free market capitalism with the feat. I believe it was both.

Within weeks of taking office, the Obama administration’s launched its own effort to help the group. Chaired by Vice President Joe Biden, the “Middle Class Task Force” was launched in January 2009 and includes the secretaries of labor, health and human services, education and commerce.

The closest the task force came to defining the middle class was a January 2010 report “Middle Class in America.” The study never gives an exact income level that is “middle class.” Instead, echoing academic studies on the subject, the document concludes that “middle class families are defined more by their aspirations than their income.”

The report lists typical American middle-class aspirations as “home ownership, a car, college education for their children, health and retirement security, and occasional family vacations.” Obtaining these goals is harder for middle class American families than it has been in decades, the report argues, because the cost of health care, higher education and housing have risen far faster than wages.

In academia, various definitions of the middle class are used. Economists generally use income as the determinant. Using census data, they break the American middle class into quintiles — groups of twenty percent — and declare the middle sixty percent of Americans the middle class. As I said in an earlier column, this is the definition I use. Based on 2010 census data, the middle class would be the sixty percent of Americans with household incomes from $20,001 $28,636 to $100,065 $79,040 a year.

Other researchers, such as sociologists, have tried to define Americans as middle class by how they self-identify. One of the odd – and I think positive – things about Americans is that they over-identify as middle class. The practice embodies an American ideal that the majority of society’s members, not the few, should benefit.

Americans themselves give varying definitions of the middle class. In a 2008 Pew survey, one-third of Americans who earned more than $150,000 a year — 11 percent of Americans overall — identified themselves as middle class. In the same survey, 40 percent of Americans who earned less than $20,000 — 25 percent — considered themselves middle class as well. The median family income in the United States was $49,445 in 2010, a lower number than many Americans think.After Occupy Wall Street protests began this fall, The Wall Street Journal posted an online calculator that allows Americans to input their annual income and see where they stand on America’s 1 – 99 percent scale. You can try out the calculator here. Your position in America’s class hierarchy may surprise you.

In a series of interviews last week, American academics said the state of the middle class needs vastly more study. They said finding ways to aid the middle class is not possible without clearly understanding what is happening to it.

John Logan, a Brown University sociology professor, called for a large foundation to fund in-depth research on the middle class. He believes such an effort would force academics to develop a more uniform definition of middle class.

Frank Levy, an MIT economist, called for something more modest. He said surveys of Americans that gauge how many households can find affordable health care, education and housing would be more practical. Both efforts would be a step forward.

As I said in my first column, for me and many others the creation and preservation of middle classes is vital. Before becoming a columnist, I worked as a foreign correspondent and investigative reporter for The New York Times and The Christian Science Monitor for seventeen years.

Covering political, religious and ethnic conflict around the world convinced me that the single largest instrument of stability in any society is a middle class. Whatever their nationality, ethnicity or faith, members of the middle class tend to reject extremist leaders, try to make governments more effective, and often cherish the same values, particularly merit, justice and stability.

I plan to visit communities inside the United States and around the world to examine which economic policies help create middle classes to see what lessons from abroad, if any, can be applied to the United States. (So far, I’ve reported in Kentucky, Turkey, China and Wisconsin.) Along the way I hope to determine whether growing middle classes overseas inevitably mean a shrinking middle class in the United States.

In the meantime, I agree with calls for more intensive study of the middle class. A clearer understanding of what is happening to the demographic is desperately needed. The middle class can be defined. And it can be helped.

I am not sure we can even fairly or accurately determine an "average wage" when the top end of the spectrum are making multi millions even billions now which skews the range of income to the right unjustly. Taking out those triple digit salaries, even perhaps double digit ones as most CEO Executives earn now would lend itself to a better reflection of where the "middle" really lies in relation to incomes in this country.

No other time in history since the Depression is a dollar earned by a worker earning less. In 2011 for every dollar earned of income only 44 cents went to workers wages and salaries. Until then the average share was 57.6 cents on the dollar. If you include benefits in the wage calculations the share rise to 54.5 but that is also the lowest since 1955.

We are a nation of crony capitalism. For every dollar of income earned more than 10 cents goes to corporations. Up from 7.3 cents per dollar of income in 2007. This pie continues to grow as the economy grows. Each slice gets bigger as the pie gets bigger but it doesn't mean an equal piece for everyone sharing the pie. Crony Capitalism has ensured that those in that 1% secure themselves while leaving little for those at the bottom.

When Mitt Romney speaks of not caring for the poor and concerned with the Middle Class, perhaps he means those in the middle of the 1% income bracket. For they too have a wide disparate cross of incomes.. starting at approximately 250K to well millions. And where you live affects greatly how you live. More factors in which to draw.

We have no sense of what defines "middle class" but expect to hear a lot about them as they seem to be well "everyone."

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Granted it Works

The last of the Grant money from the surplus has nearly expired. From these SEED grants we have seen an immense focus on Weatherizing homes and a significant amount of training and education focused on Energy Management.

As a SEED grant recipient myself I was rather disappointed at the disjointed and odd focus of the training for Energy Management. Its real goal was to train and develop Energy Auditors. Yet they neglected to attain any BPI Certification or HERS ratings to offer graduates that would have completed the program.

And while I had no desire to be an Energy Auditor - I am already Energy Star verifier trained and had been through their extensive training so it seemed redundant if not useless for me. I cannot be a verifier and auditor its a conflict of interest. So ultimately the program had some value it was not what it could or should have been.

That aside there was this great cheer for the concept of Energy Auditors being the wave of the future.. I wasn't sure then and I am still not sure now. True to sell homes in Washington State we are requiring an audit but I am not sure that many homes are going to be sold to meet the demand and keep that many auditors employed.

It has been a crystal ball trying to forecast what industry will grow and employ others and the industry of Construction is certainly one that is in tremendous flux still three years in.

So I stumble on this discussion at GBA about the future of Energy Auditors.. and to sum it up this is an industry that relies on the grants. Currently we have an outstanding non profit managing to thrive during this period - Sustainable Works - matching home owners with appropriate contractors, auditors, etc. How long this will last is well again linked to the grants available and how long those continue are in the air I believe until well after 2012 Election.

I will say that I have to concur that to be a LEED AP, HERS rater, Energy Star Verifier etc it really helps to have some building or contracting experience. And to all Contractors it helps to have business experience. Being able to do a trade is not the same as running a business. And without some experience or at least knowledge and exposure to running/retaining and growing a business you may find yourself (whatever the business) like many other out of it. Over 40% of new businesses fail in the first year and that is not because the individual is incompetent its because simply getting a business off the ground and financially supporting oneself in the process is very challenging.

It was my major complaint that for all the training to be these Energy Auditors there was NO training on how to do Accounting, Sales, Personnel Management or Marketing. Without a mini MBA in business many career changers find themselves overwhelmed with the simple day to day of running a business. Its why many Contractors have bad "reputations" its not their work its the way they run their work that leads to this.

Like anyone I don't see a need for an Energy Audit unless you are planning a major renovation and need to really see what needs to be done. Most improvements are fairly easily accomplished by moderate changes. When you start to do major work its when you realize you need a bigger team of people with their own level of expertise to lend to the project. I would not simply insulate without consulting an HVAC company to make sure that I am well ventilated and again I would not do that without ensuring that overall construction can accommodate that improvement as well. This is the Whole House concept that is essential when making large scale energy improvements.

Energy Audits have a place and they should be done by one well versed in that skill but also in overall Construction or HVAC so they can truly be a well educated and informed third party giving appropriate legitimate advice .

Suburbia Goes Green

This morning I read about a project that for the first time in a long time had me excited.

The SOL Homes Austin development in East Austin that embraces a Net Zero philosophy. While not completely attaining that goal - largely due to the economic issues that have affected the housing market - they have retained the core philosophy of what I define as the ultimate in Sustainability - Affordability.

The homes have a distinct look but again in Net Zero unlike most of the other Green Certifications that exist consider design in response to the region tantamount to the goal of attaining net zero.

So what Austin may require in a design strategy would not be the same as one here in Seattle yet the ultimate performance of both homes would be similar.

I also have to say when I read the following comment I realized that we had a shared mission:

He (Charles Krager) wanted to “examine sustainability on a more holistic level, that would not just look at green buildings, but in our interest in affordability, in the economic and social components of sustainability as well.”

Notice that the homes have built green components and are not fully net zero they have constructed the homes to enable the homeowner to pursue the level of net zero they wish.

And again that is the best option as net zero in one community is attained one way or another. Having lived in Austin I could see Solar as a major source of renewable energy use due to air conditioning needs and the amount of sun allowing for a sooner vs later payback model; whereas here in the Northwest the design elements and energy sources may be different the goal is ultimately the same. A very green basic indeed.

I have reprinted the article from the NY Times and am pleased that they are on the right green road for many reasons.

Off the Grid in the City

Published: February 1, 2012

MINNIE J. CHAPA, a 75-year-old great-grandmother and proud renter of a nearly new, minimalist-style, three-bedroom home here, said old neighbors from Haskell Street, a stretch of cottages just east of downtown where she spent nearly 50 years, regularly ask her, “Do you live over there in the matchbox houses?”

To describe SOL Austin, the five-and-a-half-acre development in which Ms. Chapa resides, as “the matchbox houses” is both accurate and unfair.

Yes, the houses are small by American standards (they range from 1,030 to 1,816 square feet), and the architectural style is decidedly rectilinear. But the boxiness is mediated by the skyward tilt of butterfly roofs, angled to hold photovoltaic arrays and channel rainwater into barrels.

SOL, an acronym for Solutions Oriented Living, is an ambitious attempt to upend the conventions of the American subdivision. It was developed by a partnership between Chris Krager, a 43-year-old architect who heads a firm called KRDB, and Russell M. Becker, 47, a civil engineer and general manager and owner of Beck-Reit & Sons Ltd., a construction company.

The community is intended not just to be sustainable in its design and materials, but “net zero” — in other words, a housing development that would produce all the energy it consumed, with super-efficient homes outfitted with solar panels and geothermal wells. Moreover, this small development is also doing its part to take on the problems of economic and social injustice.

That it has been, so far, only partly successful in achieving these goals makes it no less interesting as a design experiment.

SOL is in East Austin, about three miles from downtown, an area designated African-American by a 1928 city plan. In 1962, the construction of I-35, a major north-south artery, further isolated the area’s population.

Over the last decade, however, those priced out of more-desirable neighborhoods to the south began to migrate east. The 2010 census showed a 40 percent increase in the area’s white population, while the number of minority residents dropped. During the same period, skyrocketing property taxes forced many longtime homeowners out.

Mr. Krager, who has a degree in business from Michigan State University and ran a Chicago mortgage brokerage before he became an architect, has made a practice of buying small pieces of property for which he designs and builds thoughtfully laid out modern homes, priced to appeal to young creative types who normally couldn’t afford an architect. Mainly, he’s done this in East Austin — which essentially makes him part of the problem.

“Ten years ago, we paid $15,000 for the first lots we built on in East Austin,” Mr. Krager said. “On that same street now, lots are $150,000.”

He began looking at land not just east of I-35, but farther out, east of a secondary highway, 183. When he found a live oak tree farm under the flight path of the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, he and Mr. Becker bought it in 2007, for $700,000, and began work on a 40-house development.

“I figured that while we were at it, we might as well take all of our interests as a design firm and put them into one prototype project,” Mr. Krager said. He wanted to “examine sustainability on a more holistic level, that would not just look at green buildings, but in our interest in affordability, in the economic and social components of sustainability as well.”

As it happens, holistic sustainability proved harder to achieve than Mr. Krager and Mr. Becker anticipated. The pair spent six months doing their homework, pricing thermally efficient windows, foam insulation, Energy Star appliances and frugal heat pumps for heating and cooling.

Indeed, every house in SOL achieves the same high level of energy conservation: they were all designed to meet the federal Department of Energy’s guidelines for net-zero capable construction, which is to say, they use 55 percent less energy than a typical house (circa 2006). And all of them are constructed from a menu of materials (including low-V.O.C. paints that don’t contribute to air pollution and cabinets that don’t emit formaldehyde) widely regarded as green.

But the recession, the partners said, made the net-zero agenda impossible to carry out. Just as they were breaking ground — at the exact moment the economy derailed in autumn of 2008 — financing dried up. Drilling 40 geothermal wells, one for each house, was out of the question.

“I would have liked to have mandated the photovoltaic arrays,” Mr. Krager said. But he found that buyers were often unable or unwilling to roll the cost (an extra $24,000 for an array substantial enough to fully power a house) into their mortgages. And Mr. Krager, who was embarking on an $8 million to $9 million project for a market that no longer existed, wasn’t in a position to argue.

For the development’s market-rate houses — 11 of which have been sold, and 13 of which have yet to be built — solar power became an option. Homeowners installed arrays over time, as rebates from Austin Energy and tax credits from the federal government became available. So far, only four market-rate houses sport arrays and only one is also heated and cooled by a geothermal well.

SOL may never get to net zero (Mr. Krager no longer markets it that way), but much of his idealistic vision is intact. For one thing, close to half the homes are reserved for low-income renters and buyers.

Before the housing bubble burst, Mr. Krager hammered out a plan with Mark Rogers, executive director of the nonprofit Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation, to sell 16 of the 40 homes to the organization. The group, in turn, sold eight of the houses at a subsidized rate to low-income buyers (who typically were able to buy a house valued at more than $200,000 for half price) and rented the other eight to tenants like Ms. Chapa, who pays $600 a month.

Mr. Krager made this arrangement, he insisted, because economic sustainability was part of his vision, but it is also true that the fact that he had already sold more than a third of the units is what convinced his bank that, despite the housing crash, the project was viable. And with those 16 subsidized homes, Mr. Krager could dictate solar power: each of those houses has a photovoltaic collector on the roof, although Guadalupe’s budget didn’t cover arrays large enough to produce as much power as the houses consume.

IN appearance, at least, SOL resembles a typical suburban development. There is even a cul de sac, as required by fire code.

But the rhythm of the place is different in many ways. The lots are smaller, and each house is positioned to maximize its use of what Mr. Krager calls “quality outdoor space”: U-shaped and H-shaped homes embrace grassy courtyards where residents put their Webers, picnic tables and hammocks.

“I feel like it’s part of the house,” said Sandra Barry, 29, a television news producer who shares her 1,090-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bath house with her husband, James McNown, a 26-year-old silk-screen printer.

And unlike the more traditional development across Perry Road, which presents an unbroken line of two-car garages and putty-colored facades, SOL is variegated and colorful, and has a lightness that makes it look pleasantly toylike. (It also includes a 1930s cottage, original to the property, that was moved across the site, renovated by University of Texas students and seamlessly wed to a modern addition.)

The houses do look a little like matchboxes, but inside they are spacious and light-filled. Typically, there’s an open kitchen, a hallway with a handy built-in desk, generous closets and cleverly disguised storage areas.

But the most obvious thing that distinguishes them is the shape and placement of their windows. Elongated clerestory windows maximize daylight while keeping heat gain (this is Texas, remember) to a minimum.

The owners of the market-rate houses, which all sold at prices in the low $200,000’s, also set this place apart. They tend to be in their mid-20s to early 30s, and part of the creative culture for which the city is known.

Ms. Barry and Mr. McNown, who moved to SOL in April of 2010, just happened upon the development. “We fell in love with it as soon as we saw the design,” Mr. McNown said.

But while the green aspects of the development were a draw, the couple didn’t install solar panels until last year. “The city had an excellent rebate this summer,” Ms. Barry said. Through this year’s record-setting run of 100-degree days they were racking up minuscule $13 monthly electric bills.

To date, there is only one household in which achieving net zero is a top priority. The first market-rate house sold, it belongs to Pete Brubaker, 34, a systems engineer, and his wife, Erin Swaney, 32, a microbiologist. So far, they are the only homeowners who have paid to install the geothermal well and the sophisticated system that monitors and analyzes their energy use (it costs about $10,000). And as Mr. Brubaker pointed out, as long as features like those and the solar panels are optional, the development will never be truly net zero.

Still, its green aspirations are only one aspect of the appeal. While Mr. Krager hasn’t quite succeeded in building a subdivision that doubles as a power plant, he has created a new type of suburb.

Most of the young homesteaders say they love the way the neighborhood is filling up with others like them, but they also praise the presence of the subsidized renters and homeowners, a generally older and more racially diverse group. In short, they are buying into the 1950s suburban ideal without leaving the city behind.

Mr. Krager has cited the innovative postwar California developer Joseph Eichler as an inspiration, as well as the pedestrian-scaled neighborhoods built by the New Urbanists since the 1980s. But his polished modern architecture combined with an attention to social issues is uniquely of the moment and seems to have hit the sweet spot with the youngest generation of homebuyers.

He and Mr. Becker have explored development opportunities in Albuquerque and Fort Worth, but Austin seems like the natural place for his approach to take off. For one thing, the city has lofty environmental goals, including a requirement that all new homes be “zero energy capable” by 2015, or about 65 percent more energy efficient than homes built since 2006. Also, the city council recently approved plans for increased downtown density that involve levying fees on developers of downtown residential towers that exceed the height permitted by zoning. The fees are intended to fund affordable housing on the outskirts of downtown.

And as Lucia Athens, the city’s chief sustainability officer, noted, because Texas is a “car-dominated society” and not everybody wants to live downtown, a green version of “the suburban prototype,” one that “isn’t intimidating and feels kind of familiar,” might prove invaluable.

In any case, Mr. Krager and Mr. Becker are one home sale away from paying off the $1.2 million bank loan that paid for the development’s infrastructure, like sewage and water systems, meaning they have weathered the housing bust and are beginning to see a profit. Their lenders are increasingly willing to let them build spec houses, homes that don’t have a buyer before construction. And Mr. Krager believes that built houses will sell faster than those shown to buyers in computer renderings, so SOL will likely be complete by late next year.

Austin’s first true net-zero subdivision may have to wait until domestic energy generation is required by law, but for now, the developers of SOL have done well (or, at least, survived) by doing pretty good.