Monday, April 30, 2012

Sun Shot

I was reading about this interesting plan that the Energy Department is developing call the Plug-and-Play Initiative, the idea is to simplify residential photovoltaic installations.

The idea is as follows as found on the sits:

Going Solar in Record Time with Plug-and-Play PV

Kevin Lynn
Systems Integration Lead, SunShot Initiative


The Energy Department is investing up to $5 million this year to simplify residential photovoltaic installations.
Under the Plug-and-Play Photovoltaics initiative, up to two awardees will receive support to design market-ready PV systems.
If you have a home computer, you have probably used plug-and-play technology to install new hardware like printers or web cams. Many of today’s smart phones also incorporate this technology. You simply connect the new device to launch an automatic configuration process and, within minutes, your system is set up and ready to go.

The SunShot Initiative is now aiming to bring that same ease of installation to residential photovoltaic (PV) solar systems. In the future, installing a solar array for your home could be as easy as plugging in common household appliances, which are purchased, installed and operational in one day. The goal is to simply plug the new system into a PV-ready circuit to initiate an automatic detection system that would connect your system with your local utility. In just one day, you are able to start powering your home with renewable solar electricity.

The Energy Department is investing up to $5 million this year to develop plug-and-play PV technology that will make this vision a reality, making the process of buying, installing and connecting energy systems faster, easier and less expensive for American homeowners and families. Under the Plug-and-Play Photovoltaics initiative announced today, up to two awardees will receive support to design a market-ready PV system that could fundamentally change the design and installation of residential PV systems.

This effort is part of the Department’s broader strategy to reduce the non-hardware or “soft” costs of solar, from installation, permitting and interconnection to electronics and mounting hardware. As the costs of solar PV modules continue to come down, soft costs and other non-module hardware costs now account for more than half of the total cost of home solar systems.

Check out more on the Department’s SunShot Initiative HERE and learn about how we’re working to reduce the cost of solar energy by 75% by the end of the decade, making it cost competitive with other forms of American energy.

The DOE SunShot Initiative is a collaborative national initiative to make solar energy cost competitive with other forms of energy by the end of the decade. Reducing the installed cost of solar energy systems by about 75% will drive widespread, large-scale adoption of this renewable energy technology and restore U.S. leadership in the global clean energy race.

Lofty goals, big ideas, green jobs, big plans in a year of elections and political gridlock, roadblock etc. I worry at times that you can fall into two camps when it comes to these ideas - the cheerleader or the naysayer. And there are more than enough sites that fall into both - I read them. So I try to be optimistic while being honest about what really is possible and what the reality of each situation, scenario, and option offers. I frequently find that when in naysayer camp there is a lot to criticize while not offering real suggestions or alternatives as to what is possible. A good example was the super insulation project of the housing project I blogged about. Much was made about the overall costs and longevity and pay back without a full analysis on why is what expensive and what could have simply been done to maintain the integrity while lowering the costs. Its easy to be an armchair critic or "curmudgeon". The same goes with the cheerleader. When you vest into a concept or idea the project becomes secondary to one's personal involvement so instead of criticism being perceived as constructive its taken personally and as result there is little room for diverse ideas or options.

My issue is that (and I have blogged on this before) many grants and loans are often less based on the merit of the project but on the political connection of the grantee. As noted many of the earlier DOE grants to businesses like Solyndra were based on the political relationships to those in the "know" vs those with the know. And frankly I suspect more of the same crony capitalism again.

I do believe that while encouraging the development and use of electric cars the need for PV panels on those who elect to have such cars will be essential on several counts.. one being overall energy use and costs that could easily add to the sticker shot of the overall costs and maintenance of said vehicle. And given that if you are living in a multi family project who pays for the charging and how that is done will also be one for debate, I suspect sooner vs later.

I am interested to see if this project will be discussed at the DOE conference in Denver this summer. We shall see.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Reading Roundup

Reading Roundup. There is a war on well everyone right now but the issue of climate change is perhaps the one that will have global repercussions as the economy struggles to rebound. Europe now facing a double dip recession and America's small growth in GDP means that everything gets put on the table as Governments try to figure out how to raise the roof on what has been in all Continents one hell of a barn to build.

This was taken from Think Progress regarding the current state of affairs when it comes to where we are with regards to renewable energy...

The shadow of inexpensive natural gas hovered over the annual meeting of the Iowa Wind Energy Association in Des Moines on Tuesday. U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Ia., warned the association that “a war is being waged against renewable energy,” saying that “the oil and gas industry has enormous influence, and there is an increasingly competitive environment on energy legislation in Washington, D.C.” [DesMoines Register]

According to several leading climate scientists and public health researchers, global warming will lead to higher incidence and more intense versions of disease. The direct or indirect effects of global warming might intensify the prevalence of tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, dengue and Lyme disease, they said, but the threat of increased health risks is likely to further motivate the public to combat global warming. [Yale Daily News]

Plummeting natural-gas prices are pushing U.S. industries into virgin terrain, even beginning to dislodge cheap Western coal from its once-untouchable perch as the nation’s favorite fuel for power production. [Wall Street Journal]

A conservative political action committee is going up with a new television commercial — backed by a $1.7 million ad buy — slamming President Obama’s energy policies. [The Hill]

As horizontal drilling and the controversial extraction technique known as fracking have made domestically produced natural gas more available and sharply cheaper, that gas has been widely embraced by industry, electric utilities and trucking fleets. [New York Times]

A new lab, where technology for the next generation of ground vehicles for the U.S. military will be developed and tested, officially opens today in Warren, as the Obama administration and its Defense Department unveil new programs to promote fuel savings and alternative energy. [Detroit Free Press]

Conservative activists on Tuesday urged Gov. Rick Scott to veto an energy bill pushed by a fellow top Republican, saying the measure violates free market principles by providing tax incentives to solar, wind and biofuel companies. [Palm Beach Post News]

One of the scariest possibilities is that major ocean currents could abruptly stop entirely, plunging areas like Western Europe into an abrupt deep-freeze. It’s happened before, tens of thousands of years ago, and while climate experts doubt that it will happen again anytime soon, they haven’t had especially powerful evidence to back their optimism. But now they do, thanks to a new paper just published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [Climate Central]

A European Union law that charges airlines for carbon emissions is “a deal-breaker” for global climate change talks, India’s environment minister said, hardening her stance on a scheme that has drawn fierce opposition from non-EU governments. [Reuters]

A team of researchers will begin flights over Bering Sea ice to answer a basic question about four of the region’s most important species: How many ice-dependent seals are out there? [Associated Press]

This is not surprising given the recently released report on extreme weather by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Which reaffirms the understanding that carbon pollution is likely responsible for heat waves and record-high temperatures. The report also finds that losses from weather and climate-related disasters are on the rise. This has wide reaching affects on food and water supplies across the globe.

We can't deny that our globe is facing immense issues that go way beyond the economy.

Vive Le France

In an attempt to expand my reach and expose more of my interests I wanted to post about fashion and design, a real love of mine in many ways.

I do think its perfectly green to look great and feel great as that extends that attitude towards all things that surround you. Having a great environment is both a big and small picture. Upon my trolling today I found a French company that espouses the great advocacy of the sustainable movement while also expressing that great sense of French style and elegance.

Meet ALTERMUNDI: network of shops of fair trade and responsible. A wide range of products and ethnic design in our rays deco, furniture, fashion and accessories, well-being and children. From furniture to clothing they have the most amazing products that evoke a Sens de la beauté et de l'objectif.

Here is one example
This piece of furniture is manufactured according to the rules of fair trade. Convenient frake wood and wrought iron. Lukare is the recent meeting of a dozen of craftsmen from Lukare the foundation. These craftsmen work primarily the wrought iron, wood frake and the nylon braid. The originality of their work lies in the complete freedom that their is left to the level of creation.

Or this great dress Created in 1988 by the inveterate traveler Joe Komodo, the brand advocates the style in the respect of the environment with the use of materials such as organic cotton, hemp, bamboo and soy. The collections are manufactured in Nepal, India or to Bali in compliance with the rules of the fair trade.

Or these beautiful almost whimsical bags by Life Before Silk. Made with wild silk, cotton, velvet and muslin they are are combined to marvel for a surprising result of color and originality.

There are local sites that carry these gorgeous products but its worth the effort and the use of a translator to see all what they have to offer. Design is essential in making eco friendly products interesting and successful and without that element I believe all that green is often lost in translation.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Rain Rain Go Away

I found this today in the NY Times and thought it was worth passing on. The biggest problem with most homes is water intrusion. The biggest source is the roof. Simple maintenance and options that can be done by a home owner or handyman can save massive repairs and costs associated with water intrustion.

I pass this along realizing that one's mans roof is another man's climate issues. Where you live and the surrounding environs can have signficant impact on the type and kind of improvements you need.

But now with spring upon us and summer around the corner you will find this a good time to affordably make winter improvements.

A Roof Over Your Head Isn’t EnoughBy BOB TEDESCHI
Published: April 25, 2012

EVERY week for the last three summers, I’ve kicked a footlong tube of curved white aluminum into a bush while hustling by with my lawn mower.

It’s a ritual. I punt the thing into the bush. The bush spits it back when I turn my head.

It might have occurred to a responsible homeowner that this cheap piece of metal (which I vaguely recalled seeing once on a downspout somewhere on my house) could be used for something other than bonding with a shrub. But that ain’t me, babe.

I discovered how important it was last week, when I finally got around to fixing the gutters that stood up to the winter of 2010 the way the Washington Generals stand up to the Harlem Globetrotters.

In the snowy onslaught, one ice-filled gutter section nearly brained my wife, and instead maimed my grill. Another was bent away from the roof at a bizarre angle. A third section, roughly 15 feet long, fell harmlessly behind the garage — or maybe it has been there since my older son felled it with a soccer ball six years ago.


Three people with expertise in gutters agreed to cure me of my ignorance. They included Apryl Uncapher, a water conservation consultant; Tom Sullivan, a do-it-yourself repair specialist with Home Depot; and Stephen Gladstone, president of Stonehollow Inc., a home inspection service in Stamford, Conn.

Mr. Gladstone offered the most passionate defense of drainage.

“Water is the most important thing to watch out for with houses,” he said. “Whether it’s leaks or problems with drainage, everything leads to something expensive with your foundation or with wood that molds or rots.”

Gutters, he said, work well to protect the house from water, “but then we foolishly don’t clean them or extend them far away from the house so water keeps away from the foundation.”

We. Right.

The first step toward showing your gutters a little love is buying an umbrella. “When it’s raining, walk around and see if the water’s draining properly, or if it’s pooling around the house,” Mr. Gladstone said.

Until recently, the April drought in the Northeast made this difficult, but I did fine with a dry-land inspection and a hose.

Whatever the source of water, Mr. Gladstone added, look for drips or streams from the gutter or behind it.

Gutters often pull away from the house when they are filled with snow or ice, so if you notice a gap, you will likely find nails protruding an inch or more from the gutter’s edge.

Next, inspect the bottom of each downspout. You will typically find a curved piece of aluminum on the ground nearby, beside a shrub that looks as if it could use some recreation.

“Those downspouts come off for any reason,” Mr. Sullivan said. “You might hit it with the lawn mower, or the kids might knock into it. But then water collects around the foundation and you can do tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of damage.”

I retrieved my kick toy and returned it to its proper place.

Beneath the downspout there is usually a splashblock, a wedge of concrete or plastic that diverts water farther from the foundation.

Three of the four downspouts next to my foundation had splashblocks, but in the 11 years I’ve owned my house I had never once inspected them. One, it turns out, was cracked in half.

The other two were skewed and overgrown with vegetation, and the erosion near my foundation made it clear where much of the runoff was going. (My fourth downspout pointed toward a sloped section of driveway, so it didn’t need a splashblock.)

I replaced the broken splashblock and repositioned the good ones. My basement sump pump, which runs incessantly after a rainstorm, may live a little longer as a result.

The gutters are more complicated, especially for people with multilevel homes and little comfort with extension ladders.

You can usually reach lower gutters with a stepladder, but no matter what type of ladder you use or how high your roof, it helps to have a few key items arrayed at the bottom.

Start with a stick, preferably four to five feet long.

When you get close enough to the gutter, rap it with the stick and watch for wasps. If they appear, descend, call a local teenager and hand him or her $5 and a can of hornet and wasp spray (Real-Kill Wasp & Hornet Killer, $2.50).

Once the pests are gone, clean out the gutter with a scoop or a gloved hand. (Watch for sharp edges.)

Next, if your gutters are loose, Mr. Sullivan advises replacing the nails with long screws (7-inch gutter screws from Amerimax, $11 for a package of 10) that won’t pull away from the fascia. Use a cordless screwdriver or drill to save your sanity.

If you are near the downspout, insert a strainer (the one from Amerimax is $2.30) at the top, to keep leaves from forming a dam.

As you move across, look for small creases or tears, which you’ll fill with sealer (Seamer Mate, $3 for a one-ounce tube).

At this point, you may choose to install one of the many types of gutter covers on the market. The old-school version is a length of wire mesh, but those now come with a lip that slides easily beneath shingles, and smoother mesh that doesn’t snag leaves (Amerimax Snap-In cover, $2.10 for a four-foot length).

A newer innovation is a solid cover (Solid Gutter Cover from Amerimax, $4 for a four-foot length) with a narrow overhang and slots underneath. Water clings to the surface and flows through those slots into the gutter, while the cover keeps leaves out. Mr. Sullivan lauded this approach.

A third option, which Mr. Gladstone favors, is a length of spongelike material that lets water pass, but blocks leaves and sticks (Rain Filter brand, $7 for a four-foot length). Aesthetically, my wife and I favored the solid covers, since the black sponges were more noticeable.

Aesthetics also partly stopped me from installing heated cables in the gutters and along the edge of the roof (Nuheat Plug-In Heat Trace Cable, $70 for a five-foot length), to help prevent ice dams. I also knew that I couldn’t safely install them on a 25-foot-high roof, nor did I want to pay a professional to do it.

I’ll stick with my roof rake after a heavy snowstorm.

Ms. Uncapher, who is an author of “Creating Rain Gardens: Capturing the Rain for Your Own Water-Efficient Garden,” strongly recommended a rain barrel. At the least, she said, “it’s a great reminder to you of your relationship with water.”

At most, it can help sustain a garden during dry spells without straining one’s well or dipping into the public water supply.

For a homespun rain barrel, you can simply cut the downspout and position a vessel beneath it, but unless you use the water quickly, the rain barrel can become a mosquito hatchery.

I chose a manufactured kit (Fiskars Holden 48-gallon barrel, $70) that comes with hoses, spigots, directions and a lid tight enough to keep out most bugs. Installation took about an hour.

Ms. Uncapher also recommends rain chains to replace the downspouts. Some are made with a series of perforated cups (the Copper Bells chain from, $179 for an 8.5-foot length) for areas with heavier rainfall, while others are more straightforward chain designs. They are easy to assemble and install, and in the glint of a sun shower they can be something to behold.

I assembled and installed mine in a half-hour.

That rain chain represented a copper-clad exclamation point to the anchor project of my two-day gutter-thon: the replacement of the 12-foot section that nearly killed my wife and my grill.

You don’t just buy something like that from Home Depot, it turns out. You have to build it.

I bought two 10-foot pieces ($7.70 each), a seam connector ($2.70), end caps ($1.50 each), braces ($6.50 for a package of four) and rivets ($5.50 for a package of 100 one-eighth-inch rivets), all made by Amerimax, along with a rivet tool (Arrow Light-Duty rivet tool, $10).

After three hours and two how-to videos on YouTube, I stepped back to behold my creation. Building it hadn’t been too difficult (it rated only 2 out of 5 on the expletive scale); the result was far from perfect, but it was pretty to my eyes. And it saved me hundreds of dollars on a professional installation.

During this last weekend’s deluge in the Northeast, I ducked out of the house with umbrella open and fingers crossed. My gutter worked fine, the rain barrel filled quickly and my formerly wayward spout looked right at home, if slightly off-center.

I gave it a tap with my foot and headed back inside.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sleep Baby Sleep

As one who finds design a matter of taste but who likes to change up the decor quite frequently, the easiest and most affordable way is through paint.

When one has small children that can be a significant issue as indoor air quality can have quite an affect on them. And today a new line called Lullaby Paints (appropriately named) contacted me about their new line of paint.

Designed for babies' nurseries, Lullaby Paints contain no toxins, no solvents, no glycol and have no odor - just like ECOS paints. As a result, pregnant moms can have fun designing and painting their nurseries, and their babies will enjoy pure, fresh air.

Manufactured in the US, Lullaby is a privately held business, focused on serving the needs of consumers who both value and appreciate the benefits of high quality and environmental responsibilit
They also offer unique packaging, which is better for the environment too. Lullaby Paints come in spouted pouches, that are only one-fifth of the weight of paint pots; they can be easily re-sealed and, after use, occupy less storage space than rigid paint pots.

For more information, please visit our website at, to see the wheel of colors they have available; or my favorite the line of chalkboard paints that can make an adult find the child in them. Trust me I have chalkboard paint in both my office and kitchen - I couldn't leave or live in home without it!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Cyprus Flights

Fly to Cyprus. For those in the UK looking for affordable holidays. Try Paphos on the idyllic summer holiday island of Cyprus. Cyprus holidays are all about enjoying the stunning historical sights and scenery of the beautiful beaches and cliffs that have made the island world famous.

In order to get up to speed on exactly how affordable cheap flights to Paphos can be, simply choose your preferred holiday dates try Flightline.UK their database will do all the hard work of searching for the best rates on Paphos flights, saving you the time of searching though dozens of sites individually before finding the deal that suits you.

The ever increasing affordablity and popularity of Cyprus holidays has allowed for a wider variety of modes of travel - both premium and luxury carriers who want to compete further for their share of the routes offering flights to Paphos.

Check today for your paphos flights.

Friday, April 20, 2012

My Marielle

In line with Price Pfister's Watersense promotion I decided to put my water where my faucet is and try out one of bath faucets from their many lines. I chose the Marielle for its Marielle
vintage appearance but its modern function. And I must say it both looks great and works great. Form and function are two elements I love in any home improvement. And this was one improvement.

Aside from their looks Price Pfister is committed to reducing water use and therefore it makes it much easier than simply only changing behavior. It makes this a win win for everyone. Function with functionality is the name of sustainability but its also nice to have great design too.

At Pfister, they are committed to designing and manufacturing top quality products that have been saving water for decades and they ware one companies who became Environmental Protection Agency WaterSense partners in 2007. Each of their WaterSense certified products are engineered to the highest standards and meet the EPA’s stringent standards for both performance and efficiency.

In fact, using Pfister water saving faucets in your home can reduce your water use by approximately 30,000 gallons a year. You can even retrofit your existing Pfister (and Price Pfister) faucets with our Pfister Eco-Pfriendly™ Aerator, so you can start saving even before you remodel with newer WaterSense faucets.

Take an easy first step toward responsible water conservation and saving money, with beautifully designed water saving faucets from Pfister. If you are unsure of where to find a local dealer check out their website for further information and while there peruse their catalog for both kitchen and bath products that are both green and gorgeous.

Earth day is Sunday and its a good time to honor the Earth by making sure you protect our resources. Water is just one of them. With Price Pfister you can do so easily, in more ways than one.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Coop de Grace

In the Sustainable movement there is a big focus on the pea patch but many now are including having their own chickens for egg laying. As we approach the farmer market season you will see many stands selling both freshly laid eggs next to the veggies and fruits also on sale. If you are looking to begin your own coop and trying to find Chickens for sale then I have the site for you. offers pet ducklings and chickens for sale including the Black Copper Maran and many more. They have a wide variety of backyard chickens, poultry, rare chicken breeds, day old ducklings, poultry supplies, poultry feed, chicken feed, duckling food, and turkey feed for sale. In addition they also have a wide variety of chicken coops for sale.

For those that want the full poultry experience they also offer a variety of hatching eggs for sale, making it easy to hatch the poultry breeds you desire! Calfornial hatchery has a small minimum order and they offer safe USPS delivery to ensure your future chickens arrive safely.

Who are Calfornia Hatchery trying to reach? They are trying to reach poultry farmers and backyard chicken enthusiasts, as well as people who are looking for ducklings and chickens to have as pets. Their company is unique in that they offer a small minimum order quantity of just 3 chickens or 2 ducklings, making it easy for anyone to purchase poultry. They safely deliver your poultry via USPS to anywhere in the United States.

***this blog entry was brought to you by your friends at California***

The Fab Truth

This was in this mornings New York Times about a couple who built their dream home from a kit only to find out the hard truth: Its not easy nor as "affordable" as presented.

The article is below and what one must take into consideration is that the land was inherited so the costs of said property were not included in the overall costs. That and the land is not urban but rural making the drop costs and some assembly easier than in city settings. But regardless the project was not a dream by any stretch of the imagination and the couple admit had they been told the honest truth they would have not done the same.

I worry at times that I may be turning into the naysayers and heavy critique-rs that exist at GBA who seem to find something wrong with almost everything that pushes the envelope in green build but I think of myself as reasonable when it comes to the discussion of costs. I feel that by fully exploring all alternatives - regardless if they are pre-fab, passive, net zero, etc you can find ways to accommodate the factors of energy efficiency, green sustainability and costs. By simply denigrating or demeaning all things due to the overall issues that come up in any and all build projects you are not contributing to its evolution and improvements. Put up or shut up. I have simply come to expect whenever I read that site now a grumpy "curmudgeon's" told ya so as they report on the costs and/or failures of some project or another. How about offering solutions or ideas on how to improve it. It seems to be the role of the internet now to simply be negative and offer nothing more than exposing than resolving. Its exhausting.

I write frequently about my frustrations with LEED not because I dislike the USGBC, I frankly have no opinion on them, but I do have a problem generating money from an industry while also taking a position as a non-profit teaching facility. It seems to be an oxymoron - where they make money from adding stars to buildings while also being a large lobbyist and monopoly for government contracts. If one is to be a LEED certifier/verifier then one should also be an employee of the USGBC and they should assume costs associated with that process - meaning liability insurance. That is my primary issue and the main reason I don't do third party certs - I want to be fair to everyone - from my client to the trades that are working to make green building a better industry.

Its the same thing I discussed in the Bitter Green post of the other day - when connected individuals are given grants, loans and stimulus dollars at the taxpayer expense - the benefits should be FIRST to to the taxpayer in the form of better energy, etc and in jobs; investors should be the last people benefiting. Its not the case.

I have reprinted the article below with the story of the couple's problems. Again not to be a naysayer but a lot of the problems seem to fall to contractors, their lack of experience and of course the ultimate results in increase costs and frustration which in turn affects the entire industry - from the prefab one to the trade. And if improvements are ever to be made we need to focus on how to do this rather than simply going "I told ya so."

<b>A Prefab, Short on the Fab>

Published: April 18, 2012

WHEN Zoe Bissell was a 9-year-old living in the East Village, her newly divorced father, a sculptor, bought land in this woodsy swath of Ulster County. He built a rough-cut lumber cabin with an outhouse and a wood-burning stove. There was no running water and, at first, no electricity.

“It was very eccentric,” said Ms. Bissell, 41, a welding artist with a self-deprecating sense of humor. “It was borderline squalor.”

So when her father died in 1994 and Ms. Bissell and her brother inherited their father’s six acres (with the cabin on his side), she knew exactly what kind of house she wanted to build on her half: “Clean, crisp, no wood — I wanted the complete opposite,” she said.

Last year, she got her wish: a modern box of galvanized steel with a 1,450-square-foot interior awash in light and air, thanks to a rear wall that is almost entirely glass. Ms. Bissell lives there with her partner of a decade, Bryan Buryk, 39, a cabinetry designer; their 4-year-old daughter, Shelby; and two small dogs named Pearl and Angus.

The house is prefabricated, built from a kit Ms. Bissell found online called the LVL Home, designed by Rocio Romero, an architect.

Affordability, along with a minimalist aesthetic, were the reasons she decided on a prefab house — points on which Mr. Buryk, who had years before remodeled a 100-year-old house in Portland, Ore., wholeheartedly agreed. “I, similar to Zoe, was coming from a place of not wanting to do that again,” he said.

But it wasn’t quite as affordable as they had hoped. The house cost $260,000 to build, from start to finish (the kit itself was $47,000) — nearly $100,000 more than they’d expected.

The contractor they hired had assured them he could assemble the kit (which includes posts and beams, a plywood roof structure and siding) and complete the entire project for $120,000. But his quote wound up being at least $100,000 too low.

“We finally had to fire him when we were completely broke,” said Ms. Bissell, who was pregnant by then. The house was still about $45,000 away from being ready for a certificate of occupancy. To get it there, the couple cashed in retirement plans, broke out their credit cards and borrowed from family and friends.

They completed a large chunk of the work themselves, including insulation and low-voltage wiring; Mr. Buryk did the interior painting and tile work and built the outdoor landings, while Ms. Bissell used her welding skills to construct the railings along a front stairwell. Mr. Buryk went on an exhaustive quest for the best prices on the rest of the work: he got an estimate of $100,000 for commercial-glass windows down to $39,000 after trying six companies and coming up with a slight redesign; for the roof, a crew of workers came up from the city, completing it in a single day for $13,000.

The house is furnished with couches, chairs and tables found at thrift shops or on the street. Appliances and lamps are gifts or loaners; the art is mostly self-made.

And though they had to forgo things like flooring (apart from the $500 bamboo floor Mr. Buryk installed in the kitchen), landscaping and even a shower, they are still grateful for what they have.

“We would never have built this house if a competent general contractor told us from the start that it would cost so much,
” Ms. Bissell said. But “because we were determined to make it work, we managed to finish a house we normally could never afford to live in.”

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Bitter Green

I went to NYC to catch up with some acquaintances who were there for the Sustainable Summit happening this week at the Hilton. It boasts an impressive pedigree of attendees and has an impressive goal of making America a sustainable place to live, work and well play.

I decided at the last minute to forgo attending the summit despite the fact that one of my companions graciously offered to pay for a day attendance. I instead simply tagged along to the WTC Center tour - which I had already done in October - but I was curious as to the green elements that were being included in the design/construction.

Why I elected to leave earlier was well my car accident has left me with some injuries that exhaust me as well as tax my cognitive capacities in both attention and recall. So I felt that I could not properly absorb the information as well as well retain it. And at a significant cost to both attend (even with my benefactors generous donation) I felt better about heading home earlier than I planned.

As a result the trip took on a spontaneous nature and allowed me to fully explore the greatest green space a city has to offer - Central Park. A century old and it stands a true testimony to what sustainability means.

The irony was that Paul Allen the wealthy former Microsoft co-founder wanted to bring to Seattle in the South Lake Union area. In true Seattle fashion - passive aggressive - nothing happened with that plan and now "Allentown" and the home of Amazon a billion dolllar public private reserve sits in its place. The small Cascadia Neighborhood park still sits with its small pea patch for the few affordable homes left in an area of now expensive apartments/condos that may be green on the outside.... well if they wanted to capture New York they managed that in the neighborhood better than most - urban, little green and high income inequality.

Maybe that is why I am leaving my old home city as well you can't go home again and every time I come home I feel its less like home every time. But it also makes me realize that to many green is matter of money and its no shock or irony that money is green.

I read on the plane a great book by Peter Schweizer, Throw Them All Out, regarding the problem of crony capitalism in our nations government (regardless of party affiliation) and how it affects any and all decisions being made on the behalf of not the population at large but those serving a small selection of government.

A particular chapter stood out about the Energy Loans, Grants and the Green Jobs that President Obama so eloquently spoke in his inaugural address. Well what has become of those green jobs and our great plan for renewables in this current America? Not much. What we have seen is that several companies, most notably Solyndra, have gone bankrupt despite millions of dollars if not billions of dollar taxpayer money funneled to it. Where is that money? Well it went to the investors first and foremost. Many companies not just Solyndra have been the beneficiaries of millions of dollars and mostly succeeded in bringing the company public via an IPO and in turn generating wealth to the initial investors with few jobs and profit as a secondary result.

In this book Mr. Schweizer documents the significant loans, grants and stimulus money made to Energy companies to those high paying donors, well connnected individuals or others who applied and were approved by the Department of Energy. A process that seems both lacking in transparency and well overall analysis. Which may explain Solyndra among others. In the case of Soyndra 35% of the company was owned by a billionaire from Oklahoma named George Kaiser a bundler for the Obama campaign in 2008. As told to the WSJ by an investor in Solyndra, "If we get the loan, then we can definitely go public and cash out." And Solyndra is not the exception but the rule it appears in many other DOE grants from the stimulus. There is Leucadia Energy, Solar Trust, Solar Reserve, Peco Energy, Sapphire Energy, US Geothermal, Amyris, Powerspan and my personal favorite the electric car companies - Tesla and Fisker Automotive. These two are noteworthy as out of 130 applicants for Advanced Technology Vehicle loans they were the two out of the 5 who were given grants (Ford and Nissan were also included) but it was their political connections that are more noteworthy. Tesla's major investors include the Google founders and one of the Prizkers - a large donor to the Obama campaign; Fiskers top investors include Al Gore and John Doerr a Silcon Valley Venture Capitalist and partner of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Mr. Doerr is a very green investor. At one point the New York Times did numerous articles about how venture capitalists were very green in nature. Well that was until the resurgence of the tech field of late I guess.

And remember Green Jobs? Well even Van Jones the one time green jobs czar in the White House has walked away from that and is simply advocating jobs now. The net result of much of the green stimulus dollars adds up to few jobs and the question remains what the jobs were and were they to whom? The total DOE dollars that went to well connected donors and supporters was over $16 million and it would take a large scale investigation and audit to see what the end result was. Cathy Zoi, the overseer of the DOE grant process is doing well however. She landed a green-tech job with George Soros the billionaire who was also a recipient of stimulus money. I'm sure he needed it.

So you can see why I am a bitter greenie right now. To see the millions given to businesses that are vested in their own security and financial well being over that of the greater good it becomes hard to sit idly by while those tout what is right to do sustainably.

Got Online

Contributed by Alec Bates

Have y’all seen that new show the Shahs of Sunset? I think it’s the best thing on my Direct TV lineup partly because I don’t know a thing about Persian culture and it’s really interesting to me to see the way they live! I think they’re a really family oriented people and that’s really respectable, you know? I wish my culture was more like that but since I’m kind of a mixture of a bunch of different stuff it’s hard for me to know whether or not my culture is like that deep down. Those Persians sure do love gold which I can totally relate to – I’ve got so much gold jewelry and gold accents in my house sometimes I wonder if people are going to think I own a pawn shop or something! Pretty much every show on BRAVO is the best thing since sliced bread so I’m not surprised I like this newest show so much. I can’t wait to see more of it because the characters are so darn entertaining!

Green Wine

No its not a beverage for the Jolly Green Giant its wine that takes the concept of sustainable drinking to the bottle. is a business I have used personally many times. They have an amazing selection in both prices and vintages. Plus they often have amazing shipping deals for members that offset the costs of delivery so it actually can reduce the average price of a bottle when ordering a case. had now added to their blog information about wines going green and as you can see by this graphic how easily they explain sustainability regarding green washing or wining in the least

what are green wines infographic
Presented By, Purveyors of fine green Wine

As a long term customer of I can honestly state that I have rarely been (if ever) disappointed by them - from selection to shipping - its one site that takes both its drinking nad customers seriously.

Going For Broke

eLocal Blog Off Most Insightful

Exclusive to eLocal Blog-Off Experts

I write upon occasion for where "experts" in their field comment on the question of the week. The responses can be both insightful, educational and often personal. The question last week was How Did the Recession Change the Way You Do Business? The responses of myself and others can be found here where I was graciously awarded "most insightful" comment that week.

I try to be forthcoming and honest as I, like many others, had to rethink and reform their business after the 2008 marked the beginning of the economic meltdown. In a way it was better thing for me as I simply did not enjoy the physical demands of remodeling homes any longer. Or perhaps I really preferred remodeling my own properties then reselling them with no pressure to worry about customers budgets or overall satisfaction. Its one thing to not mind a plank to a toilet its another to ask others to do it graciously. I found that what I had no problem with I did have a problem asking others to do it. I simply knew what it took personally and when you can't take yourself out of the equation its time to find a new equation. So consulting, advising and education works better for me. But its always a risk to change horses midstream and not to say the challenge of being a solo-prenuer vs having a partner to bounce ideas off of, commiserate or simply just laugh with. I cannot say its been a fun ride but its been one.

I invite others to peruse e.Local and see what other experts in the field have to say about many issued relating to remodeling, business, and other subjects on the home improvement trail

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Water Sense with Pfister

I just was informed of an exciting new contest with Pfister.

For those of you unfamiliar, Pfister, a Stanley Black & Decker company based in Lake Forest, Calif., has been a leading manufacturer of residential kitchen and bath fixtures for more than 100 years. Pfister products are differentiated by excellent quality and backed by a Lifetime Warranty, which covers finish and function for the life of the product.

Pfister has been committed to designing and manufacturing top quality products that conserve water for decades. They were one of the first companies to create kitchen and bath faucets that don’t drip or leak and proudly joined the ranks of companies who became Environmental Protection Agency WaterSense partners in 2007.

According to the EPA, bathroom faucets account for more than 15 percent of indoor household water use—more than 1 trillion gallons of water across the United States each year. WaterSense faucets can help you reduce your water consumption by as much as 30% shrinking your home water use by approximately 30,000 gallons a year.

In 2012, to celebrate water conservation and Earth Day, Pfister is giving away an EPA WaterSense certified faucet every day for 10 days starting on Friday April 13 and ending on Earth Day, April 22nd. All you have to do is answer a WaterSense trivia question for your chance to win. Each day is a new drawing, so return to answer a new WaterSense trivia question every day.

Go here to check your sensibility Link:

Changing your bath and kitchen hardware is the most affordable and accessible way to saving and reducing water use. It all begins with small steps but this doesn't just come easy its comes beautiful. Pfister is not just saving water its providing design sensibility to match sustainability.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Spanish Dancer

I love Spain. I would love to say I spent a summer there in my sordid youth but no I was very much an adult and I can think of no better place to spend time there regardless if its sordid or not.

From bullfights to tapas there is an amazing amount of culture and history there that can make any trip to Spain a memorable one. If you are looking to experience Spain then look no further than the site that can provide you will all you will need for a getaway to Spain - be it a quick jaunt or lengthy trip.

Cheap holidays to Spain offer something for everyone, with exciting activities and attractions for tourists of all ages. . can help you to personalize your holiday experience, by offering a tailor made rental in Spain. From hotels to accommodations let them help you plan your holiday.

This site can help you select a number of holiday packages including the all-inclusive package. These type of packages offer very reasonable rates and allow you to visit your favorite Spanish towns or resorts. You also can create your own dream holiday to Spain by setting up your own flight and accommodations via their online reservation services.

Spain is an amazing country from major cities to small towns there is a never ending opportunity to find affordable enjoyable vacation ideas.

Camel Back

With much discussion centered around the Arab Spring there has been concern about traveling to Cairo. Egypt is still a fantastic country in which to visit. If you are looking for an Egypt vacation I have a site for you that could help you plan your next holiday to an amazing country.

Aside from the Pyramids and Sphinx Egypt has become a huge tourist destination over time with many hidden gems and secrets you may not have known about.

Were you aware that in Egypt you can become a "Kite Junkie"? At Sharm-el-Shiekh you can go and take beginner lessons in becoming a kite surfing champion. Take a lesson for me.

Or maybe you would prefer to go quad biking through the Egyptian desert? Imagine riding over the red sand as the sun sinks behind the dunes.

Or how about some sun, sand and Surf. Terrazzina Beach has becomes people's favorite spot in Sharm El Sheikh. It is described as a "haven for the chilled-out tourist" Maybe after a hard day's quad biking or kite boarding you can come here, relax unwind and plan for your evening ahead.

You see your holidays in Egypt don't need to just be about camel riding, history, archeology and politics, it can be so much more.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Opportunity Awaits

I just got an article from On Center Software on the following subject: Green building: An opportunity for the construction sector?

We have a serious glut of foreclosed homes being purchased by investors, many of them foreign, which means both the homes and the new owners will need some tending of the green. This is a great opportunity for those looking to move into green renovations and the opportunity to make green while going green. Not to mention the ability to market this to both owners and tenants and "saving costs" in the form of energy use.

One door closes.. another opens..

According to recent government statistics, there are currently more than 3.1 million "green jobs" in the U.S. - more than half the number of individuals employed by the construction industry, according to CNN Money.

Since the recession, the green building sector has been a major source of employment and revenue for the construction sector. Each year the government invests billions of dollars supporting a variety of green energy programs. Last year the total was $16 billion, CNN reports. Construction provided 372,077 green jobs, which is close to 7 percent of the jobs in construction overall.

"When narrowing the scope to only the green jobs the administration is most actively subsidizing, the number becomes substantially smaller," writes Steve Hargreaves for CNN. "Only about 600,000 people worked in renewable energy and energy efficiency … but job growth in sectors like wind and solar energy is expanding quickly."

This should be seen as an opportunity for contractors. Demand for green construction management is not limited to the private sector, as public agencies are also investing heavily in more sustainable and environmentally efficient projects.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Plastic Surgery Anyone?

While I am not the biggest proponent of Modern Architecture I think it is mostly aesthetic that I am responding to but I do see the value of all Architecture if its done well. And I read yesterday about a significant project in New York slated for destruction - The Orange County Government Center in Goshen, NY.

I have reprinted the article below for your perusal. But it brought up some interesting questions from the purpose, the costs and the debate that surrounds most building preservation throughout the United States regardless of its "type"

I have to admit that despite my loathing of some rather famous Architecture - a certain absurd structure or two come to mind right here in Seattle - I am a great advocate that if you build it you must come to terms with what that means.

This building seems to not suffer from a blight on a city scape but from construction defects that may or may not be the result of design issues. We have come a long way in building science since 1967 but visionary architecture was never stopped due to that. Ask any Engineer about their take on Architecture and Design it won't be filled with a lot of "ooh" and "aah".

But this building really doesn't strike me as all that "ugly" and there is something about using this building and its ultimate survival as a learning and teaching tool on many counts. As for the residents of the town and their vision of how it fits or doesn't seems well small sighted. I mean Thomas Kinkaid was "designing" home villages and well those are just as debatable as well.

I am a great advocate about Preservation for the sake of realism. If a projects cost and subsequent efforts paid off in both use and performance of the building then we should move forward. But this goes in line with my favorite Simple Payback Period that is often quoted when a project is being decided. In the case of a public building funded by Taxpayers it becomes a matter of also comparing the replacement costs and will it last. Again when it comes to public monies we have to consider the long range far more. Its why I object to funding "certifications" for public buildings. They are not up for lease or resale so those costs and expenses used to validate a private buildings certification have no relevance in a public project. Yet almost all public buildings now must be "certified". Can't they just build smart as a matter of both principal and economics. Ahh the power of lobbying.

Architecture’s Ugly Ducklings May Not Get Time to Be Swans

Published: April 7, 2012

GOSHEN, N.Y. — As Modernist buildings reach middle age, many of the stark structures that once represented the architectural vanguard are showing signs of wear, setting off debates around the country between preservationists, who see them as historic landmarks, and the many people who just see them as eyesores.

The Orange County Government Center in Goshen, N.Y., has been closed since it was damaged by storms in September.

The conflict has come in recent months to this quaint village 60 miles north of New York City — with its historic harness-racing track, picturesque Main Street and Greek Revival, Federal and Victorian houses — where the blocky concrete county government center designed by the celebrated Modernist architect Paul Rudolph has always been something of a misfit.

“I just don’t think it fits with the character of the county seat and the village of Goshen,” said Leigh Benton, an Orange County legislator who grew up in the area. “I just thought it was a big ugly building.”

Completed in 1967, the building has long been plagued by a leaky roof and faulty ventilation system and, more recently, by mold; it was closed last year after it was damaged by storms, including Tropical Storm Irene.

Edward A. Diana, the Orange County executive, wants to demolish it, an idea that has delighted many residents but alarmed preservationists, local and national, who say the building should be saved. The county legislature is expected to decide whether to demolish or renovate it next month.

Those who want to save it call it a prime example of an architectural style called Brutalism that rejected efforts to prettify buildings in favor of displaying the raw power of simple forms and undisguised building materials, like the center’s textured facade.

“Preservation is not simply about saving the most beautiful things,” said Mark Wigley, the dean of Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. “It’s about saving those objects that are an important part of our history and whose value is always going to be a subject of debate.”

A similar debate is going on in Chicago, where preservationists have been fighting to save Prentice Women’s Hospital, a concrete, cloverleaf-shaped 1974 structure designed by Bertrand Goldberg that the National Trust for Historic Preservation has placed on its endangered list. In New Haven, the 1972 Veterans Memorial Coliseum was demolished in 2007 despite a campaign to rescue it.

In Manhattan, 2 Columbus Circle, the 1964 “lollipop” building by Edward Durell Stone, escaped demolition but was renovated in 2008 in a way that stripped away its original facade.

Preserving charming confections from the 18th- and 19th-century can be a struggle; convincing people to keep more recent, decidedly uncute structures built from 1950 into the 1970s can be a battle of an entirely higher magnitude, especially if they’ve sprung leaks.

“The phenomenon of a building that’s about 30 to 40 years old being severely out of style and leading to people wanting to alter it or demolish it is very real,” said Frank Sanchis, the director of United States programs at the World Monuments Fund page, about the Orange County Government Center here. The fund put the Goshen building on its 2012 watch list.

Opinions are even stronger when it comes to Brutalism, a style closely associated with the Swiss architect Le Corbusier, and one that tends to produce weighty monoliths like the F.B.I. headquarters in Washington and Boston City Hall.

In an interview Theodore Dalrymple, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute who has written about the architecture of Le Corbusier, described Brutalist buildings as “absolutely hideous, like scouring pads on the retina.”

“One of those buildings can destroy an entire cityscape that has been built up over hundreds of years,” he said.

Barry Bergdoll, the chief curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art, said: “Brutalism was supposed to bring back all sorts of things like craft — the concrete wasn’t smooth, you could feel the hand of the worker there. But it was perceived in almost the exact opposite way. It’s one of the great public relations failures of all time. Most people think of Brutalist architecture literally — as aggressive, heavy, boding and forbidding.”

Rudolph, who died in 1997, was a prominent Modernist architect who also designed Yale’s Art and Architecture Building, among others. Architectural historians say the Goshen government center, which features protruding cubes and a corrugated concrete facade resembling corduroy, represents Rudolph at his best.

“I would easily identify this as one of his top 10,” said Sean Khorsandi, a director of the Paul Rudolph Foundation.

But Mr. Benton, the county legislator, called it “a world monument to inefficiency.” Each camp has its own estimate for how much it will cost to renovate the center — the preservation side says about $35 million, the county says $65 million. For an additional $20 million, county officials say, they would be able to build a new center (probably traditional) and to improve several other county buildings. The government offices that were in the center have dispersed around the county.

“I’m a pretty modern type of person when it comes to architecture and paintings,” said Mr. Diana, the county executive. “If the building functioned in the right manner and was effective and efficient, I’d leave the building right where it is.”

Economics aside, many say the Rudolph building simply has never belonged in Goshen and never will.

“It’s just so out of place,” said Barbara Hatfield, a longtime county resident. “Goshen is the county seat. There’s a lot of history there.”

But others argue that the building is part of the area’s history, too.

“It reflects a snapshot in time in the late ’60s and ’70s, when our history was turbulent,” said Patricia Turner, a resident trained as an architect who wants to save the building. “Isn’t that just as relevant as something that happened in 1868?”

John Hildreth, a vice president at the National Trust, said architectural taste changes over time and then can change again.

“There was a time when people weren’t concerned about saving Victorian houses, bungalows, Art Deco buildings — all were not favored styles,” he said. “You have to focus on the significance of the building and not its style, because styles will come and go. We’re at a point where we’re evaluating the recent past and coming up against that.”

Historians also say appreciating architecture can require an education.

“It’s like saying, ‘I don’t like Pollock because he splattered paint,’ ” said Nina Rappaport, chairwoman of Docomomo-New York/Tri-State, an organization that promotes the preservation of Modernist architecture. “Does that mean we shouldn’t put it in a museum? No, it means we teach people about these things.”

But Mr. Dalrymple said the notion that the public needs to be educated to appreciate Brutalism is like saying that people “need to be intimidated out of their taste.”

No expertise is needed to decide that a building is ugly, he said, adding, “It’s an aesthetic judgment.”

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Electric Bus

Much is made of the new electric cars that are now hitting the marketplace along with increased production of hybrids. And just as in Green build and the rush to add renewable energy features the Simple Payback Period or SPP rears its ugly head.

As I have said that while SPP is a valuable formula in which to calculate presumed life to cost savings it ultimately falls down to the buyer and affordability. A quicker SPP can be an excellent feature to sales professionals looking for a pitch but it is just a variable; a variable hinging on numerous fluctuation factors - some reliant upon rates and costs other on the user themselves. That last one is really the most challenging if not impossible to predict. Much of conservation really falls to the user and its behavior that matters most when it comes to much of the savings one anticipates. The other is repair and maintenance - depending on where one lives having the latest and greatest if it cannot be served or done so affordably can signficantly affect long term value.

Today in the NY Times is a discussion regarding the payback on many of the new efficient automobilies. Many of them are decades in return which in automotive years is the equivalent of dog years when speaking about the "life" of an automobile. As its been said its the one thing that devalues the minute you drive it off the lot. To believe that an alternative vehicle is somehow exempt seems both naieve and well foolish. (The article is below but if you click the link it will take you to the NY Times Chart that breaks down each automoblie and its years to break even)

In addition to the long term payback its the costs and the logistics about "fueling" said car. Depending on where you live the kwh costs could be low enough to make it affordable but one also needs stations and locations in which to accomplish this. If you live in shared or muti family housing a special charger will need to be installed, if you are in a private home the charging of the car could easily boost your rates to signficant levels for which you may not be budgeted. Thereby adding the cost of an entire PV system in which to reduce costs. You have got to spend more to save more.

Plug In America estimates that it will cost $2 to $4 to fully charge an all-electric car. For that price, the EVs that will be hitting the market soonest, like the Nissan LEAF, will travel about 100 miles (160.9 kilometers). Of course, your mileage may vary -- in a couple of ways. The cost of electricity in your city will affect that price, and the way you drive your EV will affect how many miles you get per charge.

There is also the issue of when and where your locality will get charging stands and given the current state of the states there are many issues about adding to the infrastructure and at what costs.

Again we have no idea about the cost of any "energy" be it fossil or otherwise so we can only guesstimate as to the long term costs and overall value of any renewable. That said, we do have to start to make real headway into moving away from reliance on them for our long term goals of sustainability. And that is what matters in the long run.DETROIT — Ed Moran’s new Toyota Prius was programmed by the dealer to make him feel good about his gas savings. A dashboard display compares the fuel consumption of the Prius and his 2001 Ford pickup truck.

Payoff for Efficient Cars Takes Years

Published: April 4, 2012

“Every time I go to the store it will tell me how much money I saved,” said Mr. Moran, a horticulturist in Ames, Iowa.

Like more and more Americans, Mr. Moran is looking to a fuel-efficient car to help soften the financial blow of ever higher gas prices.

Shoppers have more options than ever to fight back, including hybrids, plug-ins, electric vehicles and “eco” or “super fuel economy” packages.

But opting for models that promise better mileage through new technologies does not necessarily save money, according to data compiled for The New York Times by, an automotive research Web site.

Except for two hybrids, the Prius and Lincoln MKZ, and the diesel-powered Volkswagen Jetta TDI, the added cost of the fuel-efficient technologies is so high that it would take the average driver many years — in some cases more than a decade — to save money over comparable new models with conventional internal-combustion engines.

That is true at today’s pump prices, around $4, and also if gas were to climb to $5 a gallon, the data shows.

Gas would have to approach $8 a gallon before many of the cars could be expected to pay off in the six years an average person owns a car.

Analysts say the added cost of the new technologies is limiting the ability of fuel-efficient cars to gain broader appeal. Hybrid sales have surged more than 60 percent this year, but they still account for less than 3 percent of the total market. Plug-in cars represent a minuscule fraction of sales, with General Motors even halting production of the Chevrolet Volt in response to less demand than it expected.

“The point where a car can actually go after a mass-market audience is when the pricing starts making sense on paper,” said Jesse Toprak, vice president for market intelligence at TrueCar. “If they want these technologies to be mainstream, pricing still needs to come down.”

The Prius and Lincoln MKZ are likely to produce overall savings within two years versus similar-size gas-powered cars from the same brand, but other hybrids, despite ratings 8 to 12 miles per gallon better than conventional models, will cost more to buy and drive for at least five years.

The data assumes an average of 15,000 miles driven a year and a gas price of just under $4 a gallon.

If gas cost $5 a gallon, the TrueCar data estimates that the payback period for a hybrid Ford Fusion over the conventional Fusion would be six and a half years, compared with eight and a half years at $4. At $6 a gallon, the hybrid Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima are likely to generate savings within four years.

So why do some buyers pay more for advanced technology that might not save them money? Many never do the math, analysts say, or they tend to overestimate how much the added miles per gallon translate into actual monetary savings. Some view the higher mileage as better for resale value, hoping to come out better on the back end.

“The price of the vehicle, you only pay it once and then soon forget about it,” Mr. Toprak said.

Others clearly view saving fuel and doing something better for the environment as their ultimate goals, regardless of cost. The Prius, for example, became a success in part because drivers wanted to drive — and be seen driving — a hybrid.

“Fuel economy has become a social attribute,” said Tom Turrentine, an anthropologist at the University of California, Davis, who has studied car buying habits and is the director of the university’s Plug-In Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Research Center. “People want to have good fuel economy because if they have poor fuel economy they might look stupid.”

The low price tag and high mileage rating of the new Prius C hatchback persuaded Mr. Moran, the horticulturist, to buy one in March.

He paid a little over $22,000 for the car, which is smaller and less expensive than the regular Prius, with an identical 50 miles-per-gallon rating. That is about the same price as a Toyota Camry sedan, which gets about 30 miles per gallon.

Mr. Moran, 34, knew his fuel savings would be overshadowed by his new monthly loan payment, but driving a hybrid just felt right. “I thought, ‘I try to save plants every day, so why am I not doing my part?’ ” he said.

Early in March, Toyota said that it had sold more Prius C cars in its first three days on the market than Chevrolet sold plug-in Volts and Nissan sold battery-powered Leafs in all of February. The statistic highlights that even within the fuel-efficient car market, hybrids have a big leg up on electric cars, which are far more expensive.

According to TrueCar, a buyer who chose the Leaf instead of a Nissan Versa would need to drive it for almost nine years at today’s gas prices or six years at $5 a gallon before the fuel savings outweighed the nearly $10,000 difference in price.

The Volt, which cost nearly $40,000 before a $7,500 federal tax credit, could take up to 27 years to pay off versus a Chevrolet Cruze, assuming it was regularly driven farther than its battery-only range allows. The payback time could drop to about eight years if gas cost $5 a gallon and the driver remained exclusively on battery power.

The Lundberg Survey, which tracks fuel prices, said in March that gas prices would need to reach $12.50 a gallon for the Volt to make sense purely on financial terms. It said the Leaf would be competitive with gas at $8.53 a gallon.

Still, in a recent survey by Consumer Reports, the most satisfied drivers owned Volts. The survey said 93 percent of Volt owners would definitely buy the car again — though there are only 12,000 of the cars on the road.

“If you provide consumers what they want, they won’t mind paying a premium to get it,” Mr. Toprak said.

Marcus Schuh, the general manager of Terry Lee Honda, a dealership near Indianapolis, said shoppers were not necessarily looking to save money when they shopped for a fuel-efficient car.

Many just want a vehicle that consumes less gas, and some are willing to pay a modest premium for a hybrid if they want to reduce their fuel use even more, he said.

“There’s probably a percentage that is aware of the cost and benefit,” Mr. Schuh said. “It’s about helping the environment and it’s a good feeling to do it.”

Right now, the biggest reason people are not buying many hybrids, he said, is that they are in short supply, because of production cuts caused by last year’s tsunami in Japan, where Honda makes all of its hybrids. So if someone comes in asking for a hybrid, Mr. Schuh can make the argument that their overall costs might be less by going with a conventional car.

The TrueCar data shows that upgrade packages like the “eco” trim level on Chevrolet’s car lineup generally take even longer to pay off than hybrids. Such upgrades cost less than a hybrid powertrain, but the increase in gas mileage is much smaller.

Even so, Matt Melliere, 25, decided in January that the Chevrolet Cruze Eco was the right car for him. At 42 miles per gallon in highway driving, it is twice as efficient as the Subaru WRX he had previously.

“The miles per gallon was definitely the driving factor,” said Mr. Melliere, who lives in St. Charles, Mo., and commutes 20 miles each way to his marketing job with an online retailer.

“Every day when gas goes up,” he said, “I feel better and better about my purchase.”

Green is Good

In the attempt to channel Gordon Gekko in the 21st Century I envision him changing his motto from "greed is good" to "green is good." True it could apply to the Benjamins of which he was fond but perhaps after Wall Street Gordon retired upstate to a farm to raise chickens and grow his own food. It has happened!

And on that note I have been mentioned in Skinny Scoop as one of the Top 25 Green Bloggers of 2012.

They are having a contest so if you are either a reader or Green Blogger they are looking for bloggers and readers passionate about saving the world one step at a time with their green initiatives and eco-friendly lifestyle.

The winning blog will be based on the highest number of votes per entry. The Top 25 winners will be featured on the homepage and receive a badge for their blog. Get all your votes in by April 22 (Earth Day).

So please check out their contest and my fellow bloggers and vote for whichever blog strikes your fancy or peaks your interest. I appreciate all the positive feedback but as I am also the least competitive person you will ever meet (that doesn't mean lack of professionalism or ambition I just don't feel life or work are competitive fields so I don't partake)I encourage engagement in the process over acknowledgement.

Its just nice to see so many people engaged and involved in what it means to advocate sustainability. Its not a niche its a life choice that matters.

Green TV Goes Black

Discovery Channel is closing the Green TV channel to be more "midland America". Ironically what gave birth to the Green TV channel a profile of Greensburg, Kansas, a pretty "midland America city" is now not midland enough apparently. And Discovery is evaluating what people want to watch and Green subject matter, along with Oprah and her OWN network, they can safely assume that is not what people want to watch.

Green is a "niche." Good to know. It is when presented in a manner of elitism, selectivity and exclusivity. Greensburg Kansas showed that the heartland has heart when it comes to realizing what being Green means. It also showed what a challenge it is when it doesn't generate profitability.

I see little green or eco friendly subject material on the DIY or HGTV channels which further illustrates the message problem going green has. I would appreciate a show dedicated to the subject of energy efficient improvements, understanding how homes "perform" and even shows demonstrating retrofits to include further niche builds such as Passive House, Net Zero Energy and Alternative Energy homes. Imagine de-mystifying the concepts and showing how they can be attained in conventional homes.

As long as Green remains "alternative" it will remain elusive to the average consumer. I can assure you that among the trade LEED is name dropped, however, its an acronym unheard of in mainstream America.

Along with programming regarding green building it ends programming focused on environmental and other long term issues regarding planet solvency when it comes to sustainability. From the current Keystone pipeline to fracking, Green TV could have been a programming source for information on what is what regarding those issues and others relating to our energy needs. Well we still have PBS right?

Discovery to Remake Planet Green Channel

Discovery Communications is remaking Planet Green, an underperforming cable channel that has been home to environmental programming for the past four years, into Destination America, a channel that will try to appeal to the heartland.

The change, to be effective on Memorial Day weekend, is an admission that the company could not make eco-friendly programming stand out among the many choices on cable television. Destination America, instead, will have what its executives characterize as uplifting, patriotic programs about tried and true topics like travel and food.

The announcement of the change was made one day before Discovery’s annual presentation for advertisers in New York. Discovery has struck it rich with some channel remakes in recent years — as with Investigation Discovery, or I.D. for short — but has struggled with others, like OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, which was previously the Discovery Health Channel.

Planet Green is available in almost 60 million homes now. While it has turned a profit for Discovery each year since it was formed in 2008, at a time when green living was gaining prominence in the media, the company’s executives have felt for a while now that the channel was a bust. Subjects like sustainable living and energy conservation were hard to make entertaining and perhaps better suited for the Web, where people can seek out such information on their own.

In 2011, as the channel was starved of resources, it attracted about 76,000 viewers at any given time of the day, which made it rank No. 76 among all rated cable channels.

In January of that year, its future was assigned to Henry Schleiff, a longtime cable television executive who ran Court TV for years and most recently turned I.D. into a ratings success for Discovery. While retaining control of I.D., he started brainstorming about how to put the channel space to more profitable use.

Referring to the Planet Green format, Mr. Schleiff said, “There was a misjudgment here on the universality of its appeal.” Although, he said, it “could have continued to survive as a small, targeted network, with a very small, passionate audience, we’re in the broad, mass appeal business.”

Consumer research conducted by Discovery showed an opportunity for programs about American travel and food, despite the existence of the Travel Channel and the Food Network.

“You start with those seemingly disparate elements, and you put them under the unifying umbrella that looks at everything through the prism of America,” Mr. Schleiff said, calling it a form of curation.

The programming that will make up Destination America’s schedule has already started to creep onto Planet Green’s schedule, like “BBQ Pitmasters,” which is an import from one of Discovery’s other channels, TLC. In June, the channel will introduce “Fast Food Mania,” an on-the-road show about comfort food, and “Super-Duper Thrill Rides,” an hourlong series about roller coasters across the country.

The channel will aim for viewers ages 25 to 54, with a particular focus on men. It is likely to be a hard sell overseas — where Discovery is rapidly expanding — but Mr. Schleiff said the format could be repeated in other countries, imagining a Destination Italy or a Destination United Kingdom.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Batcave Ain't Cheap

I was reading an article in Green Building Advisor regarding a Deep Energy Retrofit. I would have fallen off my chair when I got to this but I am recovering from a head injury so its best I stay incorporate. But this is what they found:

The average cost for the work was $112,000 per building, or $89,783 per housing unit. The average annual energy savings was 393 therms of natural gas (11,486 kWh) per housing unit. Since the cost of natural gas in Utica is $1.65 per therm, the average annual energy savings are $647 per housing unit.
In other words, the simple payback period for these retrofits was 139 years.

If the same amount of money ($89,783 per housing unit) were invested in a photovoltaic (PV) array instead of a deep-energy retrofit, you could buy a 20-kW PV system with an annual electrical production of 22,401 kWh (worth $3,248 at the local electricity rate of 14.5¢ per kWh). The value of the PV electricity would be 5 times the savings achieved by the deep-energy retrofit.

Again in line with my posts on insulation and windows you can see why we would be alarmed. I recall last year in my Energy Management course doing a comparative analysis and audit if I was to change my current Electric 60 gal water heater with that of a Solar unit vs a Tankless one. With rebates for both and yes by doing the massive Simple Payback Calculation that I loathe I found that a Solar Heater would take over 13 years or longer to pay for itself and Tankless within 5 years. And I rent so tell my landlord I am not moving - right. And today its simply cheaper to switch the entire house to PVC than just the water heater - particularly here in the Northwest. So as the market changes the costs change.

In all honesty Deep Energy Retrofits go along with the whole Net Zero Energy and Passive House concepts I find frustrating. We all use energy and we still have to realize how we use it and more importantly WASTE it to understand how to change it. I'll never forget my first tour to a green home built by one of our local 'green' builders and designed by a "green" designer - both who have changed dramatically how they do business btw - with their bathroom the size of a small living space and enough shower heads and steam hardware to make it a small spa. There explanation is that it was all 'low flow'. Okay!

And in this project it appears that while use was done electricity use increased that due to the ventilation system added. Again that is another fact to increasing insulation the increase in mechanics and using them properly that must be done to ensure building performance. And the irony is that this project incorporated Serious Windows one of the recent companies cited by the FTC. But needless to say the costs could be easily debated but ultimately the overall costs are fairly unsurprising. And as I have said if a client can afford it the payback period is negligible

If you are curious about the costs and details of the projects the link is here:

But I also encourage a review of the comments. There is no question that this subject is debatable, viable and essential. But I found this comment and thought I would share this as I think it brings up many issues that this project inspires.

High Cost of DERs
by mike keesee
At the risk of getting lost at the end of 50+ comments, I'll add my two cents. I think Martin's latest posting was an excellent follow up to the "Pretty Good House" discussion of the past couple of weeks. I worked on 6 DERs with a goal of 50% annual source energy savings as part of SMUD's R&D efforts(you can read the case studies @ NREL assisted us in this effort providing energy analysis,. monitoring and evaluation support. I'll also be presenting a paper of the projects at the upcoming ACEEE summer study session. which provides more details about costs and savings, including monitored results to date.

I mention all this because it's critical that we get real data and monitored results from these efforts, especailly given the high costs associated with these projects - costs that are often subsidized by utility rate payers.

In brief, the lessons learned include many of the points made by Martin and the commentators:
- DERS are expensive but provide unquantifiable benefits including increased comfort, rehabilitating abandoned, foreclosed homes, providing low income families a decent place to live, etc. therefore, DERS should be undertaken as part of bigger efforts to rehabilitate housing and not necessarily be undertaken for their energy savings alone.
Other lessons learned from the SMUD DER demonstration experience include:

- intelligently packaged efficiency packages geared to specific climate zones and housing vintages can lead to large energy savings. The rule of thumb being is to bring the home up to new construction levels.
- peak demand savings are under appreciated by utillities and represent far greater value than simple therm or kWh savings. In particular, DER programs should be geared to reducing AC (and heating) equipment sizing and utilities should seriously consider paying for right sized equipment rather than kWh or heating therms. This will require a major re-think on the part of state utility regulators and utilities.
- PV can make a big difference, expecially for peak demand savings
- the home performance and accompanying utility and state energy office efficiency programs are missing (ignorning) the biggest, most lucrative DER market - the existing home re-sale market - where the energy efficiency mortgage and 203 k loans could easily underwrite the cost of most energy upgrades at net postive rates of return and case flow (are we ever going to stop talking about payback!?)
- we need to be very careful about claims about overall electric savings as the explosion of plug loads can easily overwhelm thermal electric (AC) savings (all electric homes are the exception where huge savings are possible).

To conclude, then, I'll echo what I said about pretty good homes, which is that the pretty good home approach is what we should be aiming at with a special focus on right sized equipment in DERs, say 30-50% savings. Quite simply, the scope of the challenge - dramatic energy savings in a very short period time and re-starting our construction industyr -demands that we come up with simple, easy to replicate models on a mass scale - read millions - if we hope to make any kind of impact.

Window Me This

The FTC settled recently cases against 5 window sellers who made "claims" on energy savings regarding their products. Anyone visiting a home show of late or victim of some of the most aggressive sales pitches by unscrupulous window manufacturers would be most familiar with the tactics. I often say to building the window salesperson is the equivalent of the pharmaceutical rep to a Doctor's office. They are attractive, relentless and often come bearing gifts.

Under settlements with the Federal Trade Commission the companies that sell replacement windows in numerous states will have to stop making exaggerated and unsupported claims about the energy efficiency of their windows, and how much money consumers could save on their heating and cooling bills by having them installed.

The FTC has also provided a consumer site dedicated to the subject matter Shopping for New Windows. A site devoted to education and information about what consumers should be looking for when i comes to window replacement. The site is easy to use and understand for the consumer and should be a must for any builder or remodeler as well.

The push for windows seems to accompany the push for insulation which is not shocking. As I wrote about it in Drive Me Batty I find that its installation that seems to be the real problem when it comes to performance and windows are no exceptions. Just having new windows is not sufficient for energy savings, its how they are installed that can also make a difference.

The FTC's complaints allege the five companies engaged in deceptive practices by making unsupported energy efficiency and money-savings claims – in some cases, that consumers could cut their energy bills in half by using replacement windows alone. The companies named in the settlements are: Gorell Enterprises, Inc.; Long Fence & Home, LLLP; Serious Energy, Inc.; THV Holdings LLC; and Winchester Industries.

The FTC concluded:

Part I of the proposed settlements prohibits each company from claiming:

* that consumers who replace their current windows with those of the company will achieve up to, or a specified amount or percentage of energy savings, or a reduction in their heating or cooling costs; or
* that the company guarantees or pledges that consumers who replace their windows with the company's windows will achieve such energy savings;

unless the claim is non-misleading and when the company makes the claim, it has competent and reliable scientific evidence to substantiate that all or almost all consumers are likely to achieve the maximum savings claimed.

In addition, if the company claims or guarantees that consumers will achieve specific energy savings or reduced heating or cooling costs under certain circumstances (for example, by replacing a window made of a certain material in a specific region of the country), it must clearly and prominently disclose those circumstances near where the claim or guarantee is made. The company also must be able to substantiate that all or almost all consumers are likely to see the maximum savings claimed under those circumstances.

Part II of the proposed settlements prohibits each company from making claims:

* that a specific number or percentage of consumers who replace their windows with the company's will achieve energy savings or reduced heating or cooling costs; or
* about energy consumption, energy costs, heating and cooling costs, or other insulating properties or energy-related efficacy;

unless the representation is non-misleading and is substantiated by reliable scientific evidence.

And again I think its time that the FTC look into some insulation companies who are also using deceptive methods to confuse and coerce consumers into expensive projects that often end up requiring even further expensive alterations as a result - such as increased humidity, mold or simple rot due to covering other more critical problems as leaks. Covering something doesn't mean its fixed or goes away it means its just covered.

As I try to do here is simply advise those who are concerned that doing one's homework is essential or again hire a consultant - a third part advocate who will do the work for you and find the reasonable options to reduce energy use. Having a third party advocate is essential as their job is not to SELL you anything its to look our for your interests. The money they cost you may be money well spent and saved over time.