Category Archives: futuresafe

on social media and the future…

http://inessential.com/2014/08/27/waffle_on_social_media

“The things that will last on the internet are not owned. Plain old websites, blogs, RSS, irc, email.”

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3 years and going, and still our fruits and veggies in MA are often from CA! “If You Think the Water Crisis Can’t Get Worse, Wait Until the Aquifers Are Drained” http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/08/140819-groundwater-california-drought-aquifers-hidden-crisis/

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Filed under erik-green, food, food and farming, future, futuresafe, globalization, green, water

The Case for Working With Your Hands

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/24/magazine/24labor-t.html?pagewanted=all

“A good job requires a field of action where you can put your best capacities to work and see an effect in the world. Academic credentials do not guarantee this.”

General comments about this issue…

1. can’t outsource trades and people-oriented professions (dentists, lawyers, doctors, etc)

2. grounded in real world and communities

3. some people working in the trades I talk with wish they had taken the “college” route.  but it is a bit of the grass is always greener I think.  And it’s never too late if there was something in particular they wanted to study.

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Filed under college, futuresafe, work

Small houses for families or multiple families WITH KIDS

Get real people.

1. It’s a mess out there. I believe I read recently that there has been a substantial percentage increase in the number of families doubling up — Kids (and families) moving in with parents or grandparents. Duh!

2. All the small home books show houses typically designed for a couple. Or maybe one neatnik toddler. And that’s it? The (sole?) exception being Little House on a Small Planet, 2nd: Simple Homes, Cozy Retreats, and Energy Efficient Possibilities
I liked that book.

OK, so what makes a small house design workable when there are 8+ people (especially with kids) living under that one roof? This post will collect my ongoing thoughts on the topic.

Topics to be expanded upon someday, perhaps. Biased toward northern homes:
– design patterns. loops are important with kids. this is counter the idea of getting rid of wasted hallways spaces but I have thoughts on that. (Namely, do it anyway, a little)
– winter months are brutal indoor times
– huge mudrooms. kitchen and bathroom right off main entrance and key.
– laundry area with ample drying space. as in basement. (upstairs closets are no good unless you have giant bedroom spaces wasting away)
– more small rooms is better than 1 bigger room, I think
– noise between bedrooms. cellulose in the walls? separate bedrooms by bathroom?
– get real. There is probably a TV and laptops, game machines, tablets, etc. in your future. Where will it/they go? I am not personally a fan of having this stuff in bedrooms away from action. So where does the action go?
– basically the issue is balancing public and private space. And open space vs some small rooms.

Gotta run. Watch this space.

See also:
Here are endless articles on the “move in with parents” theme from recent months/years from the NYTimes

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Filed under contrarian, futuresafe, homesteading, simple, small houses, superinsulation, thinking, zero energy home

Net zero in New England seems easy now…

Net zero in new england seems easy to me now… and here’s a little about why…

First some qualifications:
– I am talking about new construction since that is what I am familiar with.
– By easy I mean “not that expensive” by which I mean, it is doable for the same (net cash flow) as a typical new house.

The reason it seems easy is because we seem pretty close to on target to be net zero for the year, and we don’t even have:
– solar hot water heating
– and more importantly… solar air heating
– the house isn’t all that small. I mean, it’s smaller than a typical new house with 4 people living in it, but in retrospect, I think a different design might have been more efficient. I will talk more about that in the future.*

Solar Air Heating
What I realize now, more than ever, is that it is not difficult or expensive to design an inexpensive solar air heater for a house that gives 100% of your heating on a sunny day, even if it is 0F outside. That’s because you don’t need all that much (even in New England) if you have insulated enough. The method that I am most interested in at the moment is Aluminum Downspout Hot Air Solar Collector–which is quite unobtrusive… (youtube) Read more here at builditsolar.com

You want in?
1. calculate how large a collector one would need, you need to first estimate your house’s “heat load” using PHPP (if you are building a new Passive House) or get a pretty good estimate using this form or the excel file here as an example.
2. build it! With your kids!

Here’s what I would do if I were to do it again:
– double stud walls 12″ with dense packed cellulose by an installer who knows what they are doing and has the right equipment
– air barrier at the exterior — taped Zip system walls perhaps. Meaning… applied eaves. Search on Marc Rosenbaum applied eaves, etc.
– ventilated/cold roof with insulation on attic floor, no ceiling cans on 2nd floor, etc. and a hatch on exterior of the house to access this space if need be.
– Don’t worry about the roof angle being 45 degrees (near your latitude) or being exactly solar south. Maybe even a shed roof so there is even MORE roof for solar panels.
– heat with a wood stove or pellet stove, looking to Rachel Wagner for any advice on best practices for heating with wood in a tight house
– Use an HRV
– I like having a basement to put mechanicals in, but if I were to do it again, I would probably build only 2 bigger above ground floors and keep the attic level outside the envelope. For a number of reasons. I will write more on this in the future.

Basically, I would follow the rules of building a superinsulated house, even Passive House, but not go too crazy with expensive closed-cell** spray foam insulation or very expensive windows. Pretty much what we did, but I would try to spend even less, and if anything, spend the difference on solar heating!

What’s my point?
The point is… even in a superinsulated house, heating is a big part of the overall energy use (if looking at heating, cooling, hot-water heating, cooking, lighting and appliance use in a household that is reasonably considerate of their usage.) So if you can cut this, even by 25% due to solar, you are going to be in much better shape. Some will argue that is better to spend solar dollars on PVs that can be used year-round, but in cold climates with very efficient solar-thermal heating done on the cheap with the help of builditsolar.com and “simplysolar” and “solarheat” yahoo group participants, the cost per KWh of energy saved is going to be much lower.

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*A neat book on small houses is Little House on a Small Planet: Simple Homes, Cozy Retreats, and Energy Efficient Possibilities

**Some closed-cell foam is still going to be useful in certain spots — like the rim joists. Just be sure to use a brand with water as the blowing agent so you aren’t adding to the greenhouse effect due to HFC-134a. (article discussing foam insulation and GWP)

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Filed under building design, building science, energy, erik-green, futuresafe, heating with wood, passive house, solar, superinsulation, zero energy home

VS: home heating — heat pumps vs wood (or solar)

There are many in green circles — superinsulated/zero energy home/passivhaus circles — who think that heating with electricity (ideally with an air-source heat pump) is the ideal way to heat a house with solar electric (PV) panels on the roof (well, or yard). Example link

As someone with a house that is exactly that, let me chime in.

Heat pumps: PROS
1. No hole needed in house for exhaust or air intake
2. No air-quality or safety concerns since no burning of wood or fossil fuels in the house
3. Math is easy if you are trying to be net-zero. If everything is electricity, then there is no complicated math to do converting gallons of propane or cords of wood burned into KWh. (not much of a reason)
4. Now you have AC too. OK, so you saved a few bucks. Window ACs are only $80 though. And you house probably doesn’t need much more than one of those. Really.
5. No baseboards taking up space. But there are other approaches (forced hot air and such) to deal with that.
6. Quiet inside. Wow, very very very quiet. No furnace, furnace fan, or boiler making a racket. (Aside: And no humidifiers in winter… thanks to the tight superinsulated house part…)
7. Electricity tends to be price-stable vs the price of propane and heating oil which seems to whip-around a lot.
8. Usually a bit cheaper to install vs a “central” system esp in a very small house. But add in the price of the HRV or ERV stuff if you have that too.
9. Point source: I list “point source” below as a con too. Some like point source heat since it allows zoning, getting cozy by the “fire” and such. Flip side to everything.
10. Future safe. Electricity can come from many primary sources.

Heat pumps: CONS:
1. Can be a bit loud outside (well not LOUD, but there is a fan running, like for central air-conditioning, all winter) So if you are noise sensitive maybe there is a quieter heating approach? Not sure what qualifies as the quietest. Radiant floor heat?
2. PVs should not be thought of as anything more than an offset in my opinion. Don’t think of that electricity your panels made as yours. Who cares WHO uses it. The point is to reduce CO2/greenhouse gases overall. In other words, if you make electricity, dump it into the grid for your neighbor to use, and burn some wood to keep warm instead, then you are ahead (in my eyes) of someone using that electricity directly to heat their house with a heat pump.
3. In very cold areas, you will need either a HYPERHEAT model that keeps up with sub-0F temps, or some back up (maybe electric space heaters). Most other air-source heat pumps drop their output by a lot when it is VERY cold.
4. Power outages. You will have no heat. Now, that might not matter as much, because your superinsulated house has a certain amount of “passive survivability” built into it with all that insulation, but if we are talking comfort here, then grab a wood stove or a propane heater needing no electricity to run. There are a few!
5. “Non-traditional” Looks: Some might think they are ugly. I don’t mind them. Just different. And controls. Our Mr Slim one has a “remote” vs a traditional thermostat. And the model we got doesn’t control all 4 internal heads. So like a house with zoning, you have to walk around and set each individually.
6. Point source: We have 4 of these inside “heads”. One on a wall on each floor (basement, 1st, 2nd, 3rd (attic)) But there is not heat/coolth pumping into every last room. Doesn’t matter much, but bedrooms are a little cooler — 5F? Coldham/Rocky Hill study seems to say. Ask google.

Wood: PROS
1. Local
2. Carbon neutral
3. Ambience
4. Simple technology (especially if not pellets and not catalytic)
5. No electricity needed (heat when power outages)

Wood Stoves: CONS
1. Lugging stuff
2. Might be difficult to vent properly in a very tight house. Indoor Air Quality risk. Especially with a pellet stove which loses electricity.
3. Even the smallest pellet stoves will overheat some houses that are superinsulated. But big whoop. Run it on thermostat-mode. And open the window if you must!
4. Particulate pollution. You might live pretty near other people or in a town or city that prohibits wood burning.
5. Related… Gotta know what you are doing. (slow-burning, smoldering wood stove fires pollute like crazy and smell up the neighborhood.)

Solar Thermal Heating: MIGHT BEAT WOOD IF…
1. You have sun
2. You have a spot to put the solar thermal panels and a HUGE 1000 gallon tank in your basement
3. You have already done energy efficiency fixes — insulation, CFLs, etc. (see builditsolar.com)
4. CON: Up front cost is going to be higher than the wood (at least a pellet stove vented out the side of a house) unless you are a DIY person (see builditsolar.com)

Prius: PROS (W/holistically speaking, maybe this is a better place to start…)
1. Do the calculations in KWh. If you cut the number of gallons of gas you use in half by driving a hybrid or electric car, how much is that in KWh?
2. Energy Independence: coal and nukes (for making electricity) are “local” to the US, vs gasoline comes mostly from other countries. Propane is 90% from US. Natural Gas is ???
3. Use as a backup generator for house

So what would I do?
Well right now we use an air-source heat pump to heat our almost passivhaus ZEH. But I hope to do more solar-thermal heating in the future. 5 days of storage would get you to 97% solar “if cloudy days are like coin flips”. And the no-electricity propane heater is intriguing, especially for a little backup. Check back in a year!

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Filed under contrarian, erik-green, erik-VS, futuresafe, heating with wood, homesteading, house, HVAC, passive house, simple, solar, superinsulation, zero energy home

Picasa Users — use tags and only tags!

I know the people/faces feature in Picasa is seductive, but JUST SAY NO! The data is stored in a specialized Picasa database on your hard drive which doesn’t work perfectly in my experience. (Whereas “tags” are stored *in the images themselves* in a standardized way — IPTC — and cannot be lost/mangled!)

It has been my experience (as well as many others — ask Google) that this Picasa-only method (for labelling faces) is flawed in the following ways:

1. Using one shared photo collection amongst many home computers (say on a NAS) is difficult if you rely on special features of Picasa (or iPhoto I assume). Not impossible, but only for extreme power-users. If you ignore most of the fancy features of Picasa and stick with tags, you should be ok.

2. Many people have experienced problems with picasa losing track of their database (and hence all of their face data). I believe there might be ways to “get it back” — again, ask Google — but you really don’t want to go thru this nightmare!

So.. just stick with hitting “Ctrl-T” and adding tags for the people or other labels you’d like to add. Captions are safe too. Those are stored in the image file too! Or if tags scare you too, add the data to the file name!

Yes, I know you will lose the cool feature where you outline the face allowing you to visually see 100s of your kid’s face in a collage, etc. But I bet you will be able to add that back in in some future year pretty easily — the faces tool in Picasa and other photo apps will only get better and better. And you’ll have already tagged many of your photos so you’ll be half way there.

Wanna test it? Add some tags to a photo, then go look at the image file in Windows Explorer or Mac Finder and view properties. Your tags (and/or caption) will be there! Search works great in Windows too (as well as Picasa). Just click “search file contents” and your tagged images come right up! You can even make the tags visible in the results. It’s an optional column in Windows. And you can of course add tags right in Windows. Picasa just makes it easier.

Cool! Simple! And future safe!

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