The Global Straw Building Network is a private discussion list with publicly available archives and the option for anyone to subscribe in non-post mode. It is composed of representatives of regional organizations and other non-affiliated key individuals involved in the general advancement of straw-bale and other straw-use building materials and techniques. The intentionally small number of members range from highly experienced professionals to well informed laypeople.
The ability to post to GSBN is by invitation only. Any posts sent to the GSBN address from email addresses which have not been approved to post are automatically discarded.
The village of Gaviotas in the llanos of Colombia today announced a rare chance for outsiders to visit.
So far, few outsiders have managed to visit this special place. But public order has made a comeback in the region, and in 2010, two groups of 20 people each (including a 1-year old baby girl!) traveled all the way to Colombia’s eastern plains to visit this unique community. The visits were a success, and the village now wishes to invite another 20 people for a fully hosted day visit. In addition, Gaviotas founder Paolo Lugari is personally inviting you to spend a few additional days in conversation with him and other Gaviotans in and around the Gaviotas office in Bogotá.
During the 8-month rainy season the roads turn into mud and the Gaviotas landing strip is flooded – March is your chance to go before is starts pouring!
Trish Holder of GreenspirationHome.com Interviews Joe Gorman, Contractor and Author of From Contractor to Consumer
The book you’ve got to read (or at least skim) before choosing an HVAC contractor!
Not long ago I ran across a book on the internet entitled, “From Contractor to Consumer: The Truth about Heating, Air Conditioning, and Home Comfort Systems”. HVAC nerd that I am, I had to investigate. After all, this was pretty out of the ordinary for a HVAC contractor to write a book – much less one that is actually geared toward educating consumers. Frankly, I think a lot of them would like to keep us stupid. So, I asked Joe to send me a copy of his book and he did. I was so impressed with this easy-to-read little book (and Joe’s initiative to write it) that I decided to interview this rare contractor who happens to agree with me that what a homeowner doesn’t know about their HVAC system really can hurt.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced revisions to Energy Star requirements for residential dishwashers and furnaces.
Effective January 20, 2012, Energy Star dishwashers will be 8% more efficient than previous Energy Star models and 10%–30% more efficient than conventional models. Standard Energy Star dishwashers will consume no more than 4.25 gallons per cycle and 295 kWh per year, down from 5.8 gallons per cycle and 324 kWh per year for 2009–2011 Energy Star models.
For furnaces, the rules become effective February 1, 2012 and will be regional for the first time, mirroring the U.S. Department of Energy’s new minimum HVAC efficiency standards announced in July 2011 (see “New HVAC Standards Will Be Regional,” EBN July 2011).
Energy Star furnaces must now be 12% more efficient than the baseline in the South and 16% more efficient in the North. Energy Star furnaces in the South will have a special label that lists the states in which the certification is valid.
In addition to the introduction of its Most Efficient label (see “Energy Star to Label ‘Most Efficient’ Appliances,” EBN Aug. 2011), EPA has promised revisions to 20 Energy Star product requirements in 2011. September 1, 2011
New research shows that installing a hybrid geothermal heat pump system can significantly reduce the cost of implementing geothermal heating and cooling. The hybrid system reduces the peak capacity of the ground loop, making a smaller, less expensive ground heat exchanger feasible.
The Energy Center of Wisconsin with assistance from the University of Wisconsin Solar Energy Laboratory collected annual operating data on three working hybrid system installations. The economic and environmental impact of the hybrid approach was to compared it to other HVAC system designs. This data was used to investigate what contributes to an effective hybrid design.
Using project results, the Energy Center developed tools for HVAC system designers to use to assess the benefits of hybrid geothermal on specific building projects. The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Alliant Energy and Madison Gas and Electric. Download the final report at www.ecw.org/hybrid.
Recent articles in the Guardian and other publications tells of strawbale “Council housing” in the UK. Council houses are a form of social housing. The local council builds the houses which are then offered at a subsidised rent to people who are unable to afford full rental values.
The Greenbuild Scholarship Program is now open and accepting applications. Designed for low-income individuals entering into the green building industry the Greenbuild Scholarship Program provides all-inclusive trips to the Greenbuild International Conference to those without the means to attend. Greenbuild is the ideal setting for those new to the green building industry to learn from green building experts, discover innovative technologies and companies that are transforming the industry, and to form worthwhile relationships within the green building movement.
Choosing a site on which to locate a new home is not a simple task. Countless factors – natural, man-made, social and economic – must be examined. Where we choose to build and how we build on a site have an impact on the local and global environments, ongoing costs (utility bills, maintenance) and our physical and psychological well-being. With today’s rapid growth, dwindling resources and increasing pollution threats, concern for human and environmental health are causing us to take a closer look at our building practices, starting with the building site. Whether selecting a site or working with an existing site, and whether the site is urban, suburban or rural, there are many aspects that can be examined with respect to how “green”, that is how healthy for people and the planet, the home on that site can potentially be.
Location, Location, Location
Selecting a building site close to work, schools, shopping, etc. will minimize travel distances and time. Short distances, sidewalks, bike paths and bus stops will allow for healthier modes of transportation and the avoidance of excessive costly, polluting automobile trips. A lot in an established neighborhood located close to town is a particularly good choice for many people. This land has already been dedicated to residential development, so more natural land does not have to be destroyed and the costly roads and utilities are already in place.
Avoiding environmentally sensitive areas helps protect some of the features that makes many areas so special – our creeks, lakes, aquifer, tree-covered hills, wildlife, native wildflowers & plants. Flat to moderately sloped sites are preferable to steeply sloped lots, as soil erosion, loss of hillside vegetation and damage to waterways are more difficult to avoid when building on steep slopes.
“Site Repair” is a special approach to selection of a building site that can have economic and aesthetic benefits for the prospective homeowner while restoring the local environment rather than burdening it. This involves choosing a site that has been abused (stripped of vegetation, eroded, invaded by exotic (non-native) vegetation, etc.) for the location of the home. Placement of the new home on the “scarred” area often leaves the more beautiful areas to be looked out upon and enjoyed.
Design For The Climate, Flora, Fauna & Soils
The chosen building site can greatly affect the comfort and energy efficiency of the home built upon it. A south-facing slope or good southern exposure on a lot which allows for the long sides of the building to face north and south will facilitate the utilization of our prevailing summer breezes and desirable winter solar heat gain. A hot, bare site will require a greater investment in wide overhangs, shading devices such as awnings or trellises, and shade trees to keep utility bills down and comfort levels up.
Examination of a particular site’s unique characteristics is important. The top of a hill may be too windy, drying and exposed to the hot sun. A valley may be too damp, windless, foggy or subject to flooding. Location and type of trees should be evaluated for summer shading assistance, summer breeze channeling or blocking, winter wind blocking, and winter solar heat gain penetration.
A lot that allows for placement of the house on a relatively flat area and in a natural clearing will minimize disruption of the natural vegetation. This will avoid erosion, discourage growth of invasive exotic vegetation, and be less expensive than massive reconstruction. Minimizing disruption of natural drainage patterns is generally less expensive up front and avoids costly maintenance of elaborate constructed drainage systems. When native trees and vegetation must be removed, they can often be replanted elsewhere on or off the site. Respecting existing wildlife trails and habitat will enhance wildlife observation enjoyment.
Minimization of Raw Materials
One of the best ways to minimize the use of raw materials is to select a site that already has a home on it, and remodel as necessary. At times it makes sense to move an existing home to a new site. Some sites may offer sources of usable building materials such as wood, stone, clay and sand which, if carefully and thoughtfully considered, can be a sound alternative to importation.
One of the best ways to minimize the amount (and cost) of building materials required is to keep the size of the home reasonable. With thoughtful design a small home can be very comfortable, functional and respectful of privacy. Smaller, more affordable lots should not be overlooked.
How the site “feels” – inviting or forbidding, hot or cool, open or intimate – may affect how much the new homeowners take advantage of outdoor living spaces. Maximum use of patios, decks, natural clearings, or other outdoor rooms can result in the need for less indoor square footage that needs to be constructed then heated and cooled, not to mention the psychological and physical benefits of being outdoors. A prospective building site should be examined for existing tree groupings, landforms or structures that will aid in creating pleasant, usable outdoor spaces. Off site conditions which may affect outdoor livability or indoor living with open windows (such as traffic noise, odors or pollution) should be considered before selecting a site.
Many site selection and home design decisions that are good for the environment also have direct positive benefits on the occupants’ health, well-being and budget. Helping to preserve our environment through more thoughtful site selection and home design is one very important step toward a continued high quality of life.
This article first appeared in the Austin American Statesman.
A couple of weeks ago, the social media networks were buzzing over the announcement of new technology that uses sunlight to split water for energy purposes; the so-called “artificial leaf.” It’s a man-made form of photosynthesis, a water-splitting technology that could potentially overcome the big challenges facing solar energy, like its current costliness and inability to provide energy when the sun goes down. MIT chemist Daniel Nocera unveiled the new artificial leaf at a recent American Chemical Society annual meeting, but many of the people commenting on it in the press didn’t have the opportunity to see the technology in action.
As a trained chemist, I wanted to reserve judgment until I could see this invention for myself. Lucky for me, this weekend I had the chance. And I have to say it was pretty impressive.
On Saturday, Nocera gave a lecture in Princeton, N.J. (where Climate Central has one of its offices) as part of a symposium honoring the university’s new chemistry building. The symposium was focused on the big problems the chemistry community should be tackling in the years ahead, and it’s not surprising that three talks, including Nocera’s, were directed at making solar energy more affordable and widely available.
Nocera’s presentation in particular was a show-stopper. He demonstrated via video he can already make a bit of sunlight turn a glass of water (containing a small card made of silicon and a few other materials) into hydrogen and oxygen gas. It might not sound like anything too fancy, and it doesn’t look like any leaf I’ve ever seen, but it’s being described as the first time that a chemist has found what appears to be an inexpensive way to mimic what plants have naturally been doing for millions of years.
Through photosynthesis, plants convert sunlight into energy (albeit inefficiently) by splitting water up into its constituent parts: oxygen and hydrogen, and then storing these alternative forms of energy until they are needed later on. For humans, the goal is to do the same thing because hydrogen and oxygen can be recombined in a fuel cell to produce electricity whenever you might need it. It may also be possible to take the hydrogen and combine it with carbon dioxide (CO2) to make fuels resembling gasoline, similar to the way plants use the hydrogen to make sugars.
I should point out here that water-splitting itself is nothing new. It’s actually been around for decades, but most versions haven’t used sunlight (instead they have required electricity from the wall to achieve water splitting). Researchers from the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab found a way to do solar-powered water splitting more than 10 years ago, but the materials in that example were, as Nocera calls them, “space-aged.”
In other words, crazy expensive and not appropriate for widespread use.
Nocera’s set-up, on the other hand, uses much cheaper materials. He hasn’t revealed the exact identity of his new catalysts (which are now being patented), but preliminary versions of his “leaf”, which have been published over the past few years, call on some of the cheapest metals around.
He has said for years that massive expansion of solar power is one of the only ways that the world will be able to meet its growing energy demands in a sustainable way. There are several energy analysts that don’t agree with him, instead saying that other sources of energy, like wind, geothermal and nuclear, must also play a big role.
Nocera’s argument, however, is that most of the new energy demand will be coming from the developing world, where building up solar power for individuals will be a more realistic option than other forms of energy.
“In the U.S., we’re stuck with this ball and chain of legacy energy,” he explained on Saturday. Nocera says that countries like the United States are so heavily invested in existing energy infrastructure that there isn’t much chance the country can easily switch to renewable options like solar. On the other hand, many developing countries completely lack a central electrical grid. People living in many parts of African and India, for example, still rely heavily on the direct combusion of coal, wood, or dung for fuel and don’t have access to electricity.
He says that if solar power technology can be mass-produced on the cheap, there won’t be any reason for developing countries to build massive power plants and thousands of miles of power lines. Instead, each household can have their own energy source. All they will need is a copy of the artificial leaf (albeit one larger than Nocera’s test version) and about 16 ounces of water.
How much water would be needed altogether to power the planet, if an inexpensive version of the technology is manufactured so everyone on Earth can have it? About the same amount as what’s in MIT’s Olympic-sized swimming pool, says Nocera. And this volume could be a one-time demand because, in theory, the water would be remade again in the fuel cell.
Of course, this is all still in ivory tower-territory, and it will be years before a commercial model of Nocera’s setup might be available (and there isn’t any guarantee it ever will be). But the fact that so much energy is stored up in the chemical bonds of water explains why so many chemists think that solar-powered water splitting is such an essential research goal.
At Saturday’s presentation, Nocera didn’t even begin to address exactly how long it will be before his technology, or a similar version of it, could be put to use in the real world. But one day earlier, during an interview with NPR’s Ira Flatow, he said it could be ready in less than a decade:
We’re building prototypes, and there’s a lot to still do because you need to make sure this can go for years, not days. It’s got to go for years. We haven’t had the time to test [it] for years yet.
It’s been going for days now with no drop in activity. So those are all the practical concerns of long-term because if you’re a commercial buyer, you’re a customer, you only use things that are reliable, and that can be the death knell of any technology. But we’re well beyond the science, and now we’re into the engineering and into the reliability game.
To get a sense of what Nocera’s talk was like on Saturday, have a look at this PopTech video from 2009. The video was filmed before he made the entire “artificial leaf” but it describes the motivation for water-splitting and also outlines the calculations on how much water is needed to meet the global energy demand (check out the 15-mark in particular).