## Archive for the 'green' Category

### To figure out how much electricity/energy we use each month…

Like many/most people who have grid-tied PV solar panels…. to figure out how much electricity/energy we use each month I have to do some math.  That’s because the smart meter doesn’t know how much electricity we use directly from the panels.  Some electrons never even hits the electric co’s meter, which can only show numbers for 2 things: (1) the extra KWh flowing out and (2) the extra KWh we need that is coming in (at nights, clouds and cold cold weather)

That’s not enough.  I also have to read (3) the total produced by our PV solar panels.  And then do some math.  The pain in this is that since one’s electricity bill is usually not calendar month, and our smart meter isn’t being read automatically by any device, I have to remember to “read the meter” near the beginning/end of the month.  I can’t use numbers on my electricity bill.

Algebra:

The basic idea:  IN KWh = OUT KWh

(2) ELECTRIC CO METER IN (FROM GRID) +  (3) PV PRODUCED = (1) ELECTRIC CO METER OUT (TO GRID) + X (USED BY HOUSE)

Solve for X and I’ve got it.

Additionally I think it makes sense to divide by the number of occupants in your house before comparing with your friends.  And maybe adjust by things like HDD and CDD (heating degree days and cooling degree days) if they live in a different part of the Earth.

So that’s KWh used per person per month.   We have averaged under 800 KWh per month year round on average for 28 months.  And we have 4 people here.  With 8 living with us for 10(?) months in 2011.

So under 200 KWh per person per month.  For everything, including heating and AC, cooking, lawn mowing and 2 home offices.

It’s hard to compare to most people in the northeast because most people don’t know their grand total since almost no one heats their house with electricity (geothermal or air-source heat pumps) like we do.  So they’d need to add up their gas/propane/wood/oil BTUs used and convert to KWhs.

### If you are pondering indoor air-quality…

If you are pondering indoor air-quality in your home… I urge you to look into the issue of flame-retardants in furniture — specifically in the foam used in mattresses and couches.

Here is an upsetting recent article on the topic PBDEs and chlorinated Tris (I knew about PBDEs, but hadn’t considered that (DUH!) the replacement would probably be just as bad or worse. And that they don’t even work!)

Some good practical advice here (if you are a millionaire)

### “Even the hard core in the green movement use washing machine”

Hans Rosling: The magic washing machine — one of the best TED talks I’ve seen (or via youtube) He divides the world into 4 groups. Below the poverty line. (fire people) Below wash line (bulb people). Below air line (wash people). And the rest (the air people) And it’s a zero-sum sustainability game so the dots need to be distributed somehow. Are you going to deny a washing machine to the rest of the world?

### Destroying the earth by buying organic locally produced food?

Philip Greenspun has a great point here.
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I think he’s right. I also have probably written on the blog before that CSAs that mean an extra drive each week needs to be considered (since the farm is probably not right on your commute to work or on the way to the grocery store you’d be driving to anyway). If you drive a 20MPG car, are those nice local bio-dynamic vegetables really worth the 1/2 gallon of gas you just burned driving 5 milesx2 to the farm? Visualize 1/2 gallon of gas for a second. It’s not!

### Drive to the library? Yeah right.

Careful towns of the world out there… before you spend lots of money on new or revamped libraries. Unless you are in a city, or near a walkable and vibrant town center, they are a tough sell, even with cheap \$3.50/gasoline. And how long will that last?

Here’s the math for me in suburban MA:
- Distance to library: 5.2 miles. 10.4 miles round trip
- Our minivan — let’s say I get 20.8 MPG to make the math simple.

So that’s:

10.4 miles * 1/20.8 MPG * \$3.50 \$/gallon = \$1.75 per trip assuming there is no overlap with other errands, which is likely given the route.

And that’s just the cost of the gas of course. If you use the ~\$0.50/mi that the US government uses for taxes for business mileage (accounting for the full cost of ownership) then that’s 10.4 miles * \$0.50/mi = \$5.20 per trip.

And then add in the cost of the time. Let’s say 20 minutes of driving.

It’s a tough sell. Not just the library. All of suburbia. It’s ultimately kinda in serious doo-doo, ain’t it? James Howard Kunstler is probably on to something.

Counter-points and followups:

1) I say all the above as someone who has LOVED libraries in the past. But I guess the difference was: 1) that was pre-interweb and 2) that was libraries I walked to or rode my bike to (the Amherst Jones Library, and the UMass/Amherst Dubois library)

2) I am fond of the idea of the library being a “town center” that is more about ideas and people than being about media (paper or digital). Related concepts are Sudbury Schools, the Transition Town movement (tool sharing, etc), Cohousing.

3) The article linked below talks about “Library as Platform” which to me is basically acknowledging that there are increasing numbers of private services we use which “out do” libraries in terms of connecting us with media. Amazon. Google Books. Goodreads. “The Library” *could* do all of that. But how?

4) PS. And what about all those duplicate public school libraries! What a shame! What if all the schools in town were clustered around the town’s libraries and they all shared! I know, I know… one can’t turn back the clock on sprawling suburban development. It’s just sorta a shame.

5) Speaking of poorly designed public resources… I’ll talk about the placement and design of playgrounds sometime soon. Ugh. Almost always another huge missed opportunity. But there are some good ones!

### Do as I say, not as I do…

1. Hire a builder, any builder. Just make sure they are obsessed with wanting to learn this stuff … passivhaus, superinsulation, etc.

2. Hire a very good architect (or do it yourself) but what you will need is:
2.1 A detailed all-in-one diagram showing where the air barrier is on your wall/roof
2.2 See #11 and #12
2.3 require a 3d walkthru view — if not the architect, hire someone to do with with SketchUp
2.4 Consider the site… your unique location — in designing the house, window locations, entrance etc.

3. If doing passivhaus, absolutely do the PHPP before your design is even finalized

4. Don’t give up views. If your N views are gorgeous, I don’t think it’s worth \$50 or \$100 in heat per year to give that up.

5. Build a gorgeous looking house. I don’t mean expensive, I mean the outside design. Make it look nice. Even if/when energy prices go up or people start caring about global warming, people will want a nice looking house. And this definition won’t change TOO much. Because I am telling you… people will build nice looking passivhaus-es in the Northern US even if you haven’t seen one to your liking yet. Human ingenuity.

6. Use cellulose. I’d build a 2×6 load bearing wall and pull wood I-joists on the outside and fill with cellulose. Voila, no foam and no thermal bridging at the studs.

7. Consider “innie” or “midway” windows. At least behind the kitchen sink. Our walls are 17″ thick with outie windows. In most places this is great. A built in cat bed, book shelf, plant location. But behind the sink is VERY difficult to reach, at least if you have the intention of using cellular blinds. For the same reason, even if you really like double hungs (leaky but nice in my opinion) consider casements in SOME spots.

8. Don’t make those windows too small. There are a few spots I wish we skipped a window and instead made another window twice the size.

9. Talk to your local building inspector and show him rough plans LONG before you finalize a design. Especially if you have a deed restriction of some sort.

10. When getting detailed bids from builders, I think it’s worth paying a little to have them do the numbers and have them categorize the numbers in the same ~20 categories that YOU give them. That way you can compare apples to apples. Otherwise it’s difficult to know if a given estimate truly includes the weird specs or products you are asking for. Also consider (mandate!) using the same ~20 categories the bank is going to want you to use (if you are getting a construction loan).

11. Architect should draw framing plan. Every stud. Framers won’t nec care.

12. Architect should draw HVAC plan. Every duct. HVAC contractor won’t nec. care.

13. Give detailed outside specs, even if mostly unfinished site. Depth of topsoil. Depth of gravel drive. Require some sort of edging separating the gravel drive/walk/round the house from the yard. It’s a HUGE pain to deal with afterwards.

14. Storm doors on every door without overhang.

15. I still think a partial basement is smart (especially if you might need water filtration which takes up a lot of room) but also consider a garage with an “attic” for storage, instead of a large basement. It can even be built to look connected, even if it’s really not. If you are an active family, even without car storage, you are going to need a \$3000 shed to hold:
- bikes, scooters, bike trailers, skateboards, sleds, ice skates, skis, and on and on.
- lawnmower, shovels, rakes, and on and on.

16. Remember that you kids are going to grow. Remember also that they are going to leave shortly.

17. Don’t use any unusual product for interior finishes without seeing/trying it *in person*. And require that the installer/finisher be someone who has worked with the product before.

18. Give yourself a lot of roof space for PVs. A shed roof or (2 story house instead of 3) will have more room. I don’t personally think it’s worth having more passive solar window space at the expense of good roof space for PVs. Better to do a solar furnace in your yard or a thermally-isolated sunspace attached directly to the house rather than “living in the heat battery”.

19. Skip the solar hot water and pack in the PVs. Not worth it. Sunpower PVs if possible. Look into at least. Don’t dismiss it out of hand. Run the numbers.

20. have someone — an arborist probably — help you choose what trees to keep and which not and use this to inform house location.

21. Save money on something and spend it on a (solar) pool. Or so that you can afford ______ . It’s not worth it. Really it’s not.

22. Consider moving closer to work, riding a bike, a prius, instead. This holistically. If you are trying to save energy, you might get more bang for your buck with a prius, a bike, or a nearby home rather than a superinsulated house out of town. Do the simple math. For instance, our kid school carpool commute essentially uses as much energy as our solar panels make each year. Just as good to live close to school/work!

Overview:

So… detailed specs.

And I feel like there are exceptions to every rule.

### Jane McGonigal TED talk: Gaming can make a better world

Watch this TED talk on using gaming to “save the world”. I think it’s quite compelling. Maybe the logic falls apart if one thinks about it more than 18 minutes, but I think there is A LOT of truth to this based on what I see with my own kids and their gaming.

### New house? Changing exterior door knobs? — use levers

Are you building a new house or fixing one up — passivhaus, zero energy, or otherwise energy efficient to some degree? Some simple advice: Use levers not knobs. At least for the exterior doors since those are the ones that are going to be sealed up tight with gaskets and such. And also since your house might be quite tight, especially in the winter when all the windows are closed… you are pushing/pulling against this “vaccuum”. So no draft, but the door is also a little harder to open and close.

Maybe not noticable for an abled adult, but it is noticable if you have little kids. Yes, you say, but turning the knob/lever is different than pushing/pulling the door open and I am only changing the opener not the gaskets. But I am telling you. FROM EXPERIENCE… they are related!!! My 4 year old cannot easily twist the knob and simultaneously push/pull our exterior doors open. I think if they were levers (like a storm door we have)… it would be much easier.

To me this is both a safety issue and a respect for children issue. And you’ll be happy too (and guests) if you are maybe older or injured and are having trouble with the knobs. General “accessibility” I guess the word is.

I’ve heard levers are better. It’s now obvious to me that this is quite correct and important and not to be ignored. Do it!

### What we pay for electricity

Our 6/15/2012 electricity bill was \$15.86 even though we made approximately 200 KWh more than we used. That’s because we don’t have net metering here yet. (Yet, as in… I assume some day there will be.)

And it looks like we’ve paid approximately \$630 for electricity in the last year. If you pretend we have net metering, then that would have been roughly \$630 / (11,000 – 8,400) KWh (used vs generated) = 24 cents/KWh. A bit expensive, but not outrageous for Massachusetts.

What this \$630/yr makes me wonder is what it would cost to add a smaller PV array with batteries that is off-grid to power us at night so we’d have even closer to \$0 electricity bills.

Eh, money probably much better spent on something practical for the family. Like a pool. Or our kids’ school tuition.

### And I say… weird is good

“… Okay, you say it’s weird. And I say weird is good. People who show originality openly, without fear, are people I admire. And people I stand up for.”

“… When people say I’m okay because I’m not as bad as [XYZ Person]. That is such an awful way to control someone. How am I supposed to respond. Be glad you’re not going to treat me like we were in high school and I was the weird guy you can get away with abusing? Or go ahead and say what I think and let you be the asshole you just said you would be if I said something that wasn’t from a cookie cutter.”

Life is too short to worry about stuff like that. It’s too bad it comes up. We’re all gonna die people, let’s get some work done! And have fun!

I would just like to add that some things that people think are radical or weird are simply not if you step back from 2012 and/or Massachusetts for a second. For example, the school we send our 4 and 7 year old to — Sudbury Valley School — might seem unusual to people who are used to schools in the context of 2012 USA. But if you step back and think BIG about concepts like HUMAN RIGHTS and THE HUMAN CONDITION, and start asking some questions like “what did people do for school in the 1800s?” and “what is school actually for?” (preparing to become effective adults in the society), then one might start to realize that, if anything, it’s most other schools that are unusual.

Our our house. With 16″ inches of insulation in the walls instead of the standard (none to 6″). It seems very very normal to me.

Or nutritarian eating (ala Dr Joel Fuhrman and others). It’s 49 weeks on the NYTimes bestseller list and is now #1. Do you think most people in the US 2012 eat this way?

That’s just three examples, but it seems to crop up a lot.