Monthly Archives: June 2011

Guilty as charged

From the comments section of this blog post/article from Marc about energy efficiency / solar and payback comes this classic observation:

“… the same people who fight for local zoning ordinances to protect ridgelines will mindlessly adopt a lifestyle dependent on mountain-top removal for coal mining. I keep thinking, perhaps naively so, that many people would behave differently if they could just see the connection, so carefully hidden by corporations and government, between their lifestyle and the destruction it causes.”


On another note, I would also add an item 4 to Marc’s list. It’s an item only for the people spending money on energy efficiency and such already (guilty!), but especially for people chasing after Passivhaus or Net-Zero-Energy medals is this: what about spending the money another way to reduce your carbon footprint another way altogether?

4. BANG FOR THE BUCK. Since you are already shelling out to save the planet/reduce your footprint/whatever… Just make sure… would a Prius would be a better way to spend the money? A low-thermal-mass isolated gain sunspace? A helper to get you on the road to growing your own Victory Garden? A “Dr Fuhrman”-inspired coach to help you kick the meat habit? Etc.

Insulation and HRVs and PVs are nice and all, and they may even be the very best way to spend some bucks, but building an energy efficient custom house, or doing a deep energy retrofit, is still pretty expensive and it’s hard work even with the right people doing the work for you. Maybe your time and money would be better spent moving to a city. Or a warmer climate. Or cohousing. Or closer to where you work. Or closer to the school you send your kids too. Or closer to family. Or closer to the grocery store. Or for that matter, free things that make a huge difference like flying less for vacations.

Spend a minute with Excel on THOSE topics on comparison and you might want to cry with the result!

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SCHOOL-ATTENDANCE — “the child is taken from him, and sent to school, the father to prison.”


One of the most signal features of the school-system of
Prussia and of many of the neighboring States is the universality
of the children’s attendance. After a child has arrived
at the legal age for attending school, — whether he be the child
of noble or of peasant, — the only two absolute grounds of
exemption from attendance are sickness and death. The
German language has a word for which we have no equivalent
either in language or in idea. The word is used in reference
to children, and signifies due to the school ; that is, when the
legal age for going to school arrives, the right of the school to
the child’s attendance attaches, just as, with us, the right of a
creditor to the payment of a note or bond attaches on the day
of its maturity. If a child, after having been once enrolled as
a member of the school, absents himself from it, or if, after
arriving at the legal age, he is not sent there by his parents,
a notice in due form is sent to apprise them of the delinquency.
If the child is not then forthcoming, a summons follows.
The parent is cited before the court ; and if he has no excuse,
and refuses compliance, the child is taken from him, and sent to
school, the father to prison.

From a pamphlet published by a director of the school in Halle,
I translate the following forms of notices and summonses, in
order to give a more viid idea of the manner in which this
business is conducted: —

— Horace Mann, 1843

FROM: The “Seventh Annual Report of the Secretary of the Board of Education of the State of Massachusetts, 1843”
As found in original scanned format online on Page 365-6, The Life and Works of Horace Mann

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Children are people, fully and without qualification

Every person is a “creative genius”. Every person has “judgment”. Every person strives for “excellence”. Every person, from birth to death.

The extent to which these characterizations are externalized depends fully and solely on the extent to which people have the freedom to display them without the danger of being destroyed by outside forces.

There is no justification in human nature for treating children, from birth, with any less respect or equality than that accorded to older people.

Children are people, fully and without qualification. This is the simplest way I can say what I have been trying to convey in all that I have written.

Daniel Greenberg, Worlds in Creation (1994), p195

Sudbury Valley School
And Let Them Amaze You

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Filed under kids -- freedom and responsibility, kids are complete people, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School

Nice windows cost too much?

Nice windows cost too much? Maybe.

One clarification. By “nice” I mean like, REALLY REALLY nice. From a energy standpoint. (and comfort, which is similar, though not totally the same… since a window that let’s in more heat from the sun but might have lower R value can be less comfortable to sit next to than a higher-R value window at night).

Our windows are already really good. R-5. Triple pane. Insulated frames. Warm edge spacer. But there are even better ones. Would it have made sense to pay a lot more (like $5000 or more) to use fancier windows?

I should dig up the invoice/estimate for windows from the contractor and window manufacturers, but let’s just say the differential was $5k between our very nice “Preminum Paradigm double hungs” made in Maine, and some Canadian fiberglass or German passivhaus-certified windows.

Also note… already with our VERY GOOD windows, our heating bill is already only in the range of $500/year (pre-PV offset). VERY LOW. Thanks to good insulation and sealing throughout the house.

So what could one do with $5k instead?

1. Buy 1/2 a Prius third-party plug-in system from A123. That would take your carbon use WAY down. In $$ let’s say you go from 50MPG to 100MPG (effective) and drive 20 miles roundtrip 50 weeks a year. That’s

Normal Prius (assume 50mpg)
20mi/50MPG * 5days * 50weeks * $4/gallon = $400 per year

“100 mile” EV-mode Plug-in modified Prius:
$200 per year saved!

Whoops! I’ve wrong! $200 is not much. Of course, if you drive more, it could be a good way to spend the $. But remember, $5k gets you only about 1/2 way there since I think those extra batteries cost at least $10k. More I think.
It’s like turning a $20k Prius into a $30k LEAF I guess. Plus, remember, the car is not going to last 30 years like the PVs!

2. Add “solar siding” or a small low-mass sunspace to your house. That would get rid of maybe $250 per year. So 20 year payoff.

3. Pay for 1/2 a solar hot water system? Eh. Also a VERY LOW payoff. We only spend $300 (maybe?) on hot water. And solar would only add 50% solar fraction, so $150 savings per year for $9000 spent?

4. Buy some more PVs. Let’s assume $6/peak watt. With roughly 30% tax credit and $1/watt discount from your utility. So that’s actually $3/watt. So $5000 could buy you 1600 watts, which in Massachusetts/New England you can safely multiple by 1.2 to see what you’d produce in KWh for a year (an empirical rule-of-thumb). So that’s 2000 KWh per year.

So… assuming you have net-metering (which most people in MA do) and assuming $0.20/KWh, then that’s… $400 saved per year.

And since windows and PV systems probably have similar 30-year lifetimes, seems like PVs are a better deal too.

Plus I think my $5000 difference is low. Anyway, you get the idea.

My point is… even if money is made on trees for you. You might do better to put PV arrays on all your neighbors houses or something rather than worry about your already very good windows too much.

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fixing healthcare with some personal responsibility

Ok, we know healthcare costs are getting out of control. Not just in the US, but everywhere. LINK 2011

So here’s my plan for setting rates based on some personal responsibility:

1. Pay a normal price if you want, but if you want a better deal, agree to have your blood pressure (and what else???) tested. If it is too high, you have the chance to redeem yourself by going on an EAT TO LIVE diet for a week (a month?) — maybe literally have someone feed you meals from Phase I of EAT TO LIVE.

2. And then get tested again. If there is no change, then OK, that is your baseline even and even if it still too high, oh well, you are not going to be charged more. But if it is now low, that’s the new benchmark. And if you slack, then tough, you can pay the higher rate.

3. Everyone needs to get retested every 6 months let’s say. Like a dentist cleaning.

4. Repeat.

So it’s totally up to you if you want to eat / exercise as you wish. But it no longer punishes people with healthy bodies. Or look at it how you want… most people will continue as normal, others will choose to “sacrifice” to save some money.

Just an idea. Wouldn’t that work just fine? Combine with KEAS at the workplace if you want. Paying less is “positive reinforcement”. Plus not dying is nice. But the immediate $$ savings is more REAL I think.

Book: Dr. Joel Fuhrman: EAT TO LIVE
KEAS — the gameification of health
GYM PACT: fitness plan members pay more if they don’t work out

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Filed under cancer, diabetes, health, heart disease, obesity

What if everything ran on gas?

This to me, this LEAF electric car ad (vs plugin hybrid VOLT) is funny in a kinda ironic/steampunk kinda way, I think because it is truth-telling the degree to which we take our extreme energy use — and I am certainly include myself in the “extreme” category — for granted. If our appliances were blowing smoke in our faces, we’d maybe think twice. (One would like to think!)

The other thing is that, for major uses (like home heating, cars) it is not actually a total no-brainer that electricity is going to be better than the gas/fossil fuels. That’s because it depends on 2 things 1) the efficiency of how electricity is made and 2) the efficiency of how the fossil fuels can deliver power right at the source)

So with home heating, one can get 90%+ efficient boilers/furnaces. It’s not quite as simple as that, for a variety of reasons which Marc touches on a bit here, but still 90% is a high bar when one considers that the power plant is only 33% efficient at making electricity. So if you have a air-source heat pump operating at roughly 3 COP than that undoes the 33%.

Anyway, back to cars. With electric cars the equation apparently works out quite well because the internal-combustion engine is NOT efficient, so even with 100% coal powering your electric car, one comes out ahead in both carbon and dollars. The 2011 Solar Today article on hybrids and electric cars … and spreadsheet tries to explain this, but there is a bit too much there to follow quickly.

See also:
Erik’s Blog: Visualize Energy
Marc Rosenbaum: Out with the old, in with the new (Buderus oil boiler vs Fujitsu Air-Source Heat Pump)

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Neuroplasticity and Motivation

There is agreement (I believe) that there is a critical period for vision and language development. I think this is better understood/agreed upon after the Genie tragedy as well as vision researchers.

But what about second-language learning? From what I am reading, if one grows up with multiple languages, bi-lingual language learners store the language map in a shared sort of way whereas those of us who learn later process things differently. They (brain researchers) must know this because of MRIs. But what is the age cut-off? Is there one? I have friends who have not learned English until they were 11 or 12 and they are fluent in every sense of the word and have no accent. I also have relatives who have not learned English until their 20s and they have accents but again, are totally fluent. And students from Europe in the US for the first time for grad school. Speaking perfect, and I mean perfect English, having never set foot in an English speaking country. (Classes, and movies and such, but never actually lived in an English speaking place). Certainly there is no lack of evidence of such stories — the US has plenty of immigrants after all — So what gives! Oh, and my spouse and I are a good example. My spouse far surpassed my Spanish (6 years in school) in a matter of months during our 1/2 year in Chile — she loves languages! I remembered some words she didn’t know yet, but she could speak with other people much more successfully I think.


For example, here is a paper about L2 (second language) learning in a French Immersion program in Canada LINK

“Many have not chosen to be in the program, but have been arbitrarily placed in French Immersion by their parents to improve their son or daughter’s understanding of French. What transpires in many intermediate French Immersion classrooms is a lack of commitment on the part of the students to actively speak French both with the teacher and with their peers during structured and non-structured time.”

It’s a no-brainer. forced-students. Versus in all of the examples I gave above… the L2 learners are HIGHLY PERSONALLY MOTIVATED by wanting to get a job, understand parents or kids on the playground, or a person they are dating who speaks a different first language, or wanting to understand years of popular Hollywood movies, etc.

Enough said I think! Age probably doesn’t matter TOO much in comparison.

See also:
Tim Ferriss “How to Learn Any Language in 3 Months” (Erik: If you are motivated! 🙂
John Holt: Never Too Late — “At the age of forty, with no particular musical background, he took up the cello”
Weight lifting at any age (pubmed study)
Eat to Live (reverse various diseases at any age)
But You’re to Old to do a Startup

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Filed under erik-languages, erik-motivation, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School

Summer is pretty boring in a superinsulated house

Summers in Massachusetts are easy in comparison to winters. Some people (myself included a bit) saw AC as the devil or something. I’m not sure why. When it’s 98F outside, and 78F inside (a typical setting), especially with 3x the insulation of a typical new house, it takes hardly any energy to cool the place. 20F temperature differential. And the house is well sealed, so there is not much chance for the basement to get damp, etc. No dehumidifier running 24/7 as in a typical new england house!

And compare this 20F temp difference in/out to a very cold winter day or night. Let’s say it’s 0F outside, 68 or 70F inside. That’s 70F difference, so obviously there is going to be a lot more energy needed to maintain that inside temp.

We had the AC on a bit yesterday (around 90F) and it was 24cents. 1.6KWh. That’s less than having the heat on for an hour when it’s 0F!
We should feel a lot more guilty about all the energy we all use to heat our house. AC is nothing in comparison!

We open windows at night as long as it cools off and is not 100% humidity. And then in the morning, close up and dry things off.

2 other things I wanted to say:

1. This house is more comfortable IAQ-wise (I find) than other air-conditioned houses I have lived in because the HRV means we are getting fresh air into the house 24/7 no matter the weather. Even if there is no temp difference, or wind, etc. driving air-exchange. Whereas with other houses, sometimes when they are closed up for a day with AC on they feel stuffy.

2. The PV (solar electric panels) are MUCH less efficient in the hot weather! In the cool but sunny spring days we would peak at 6KW (power, instanteous) 200W x 30 panels -vs- in the hot summer we peak at more like 5KW. But there are more days of sun and more daylight (around June 22) so we still generate a bit more in the summer months because of that.

It would occasionally go just BARELY over 6KW except that we have M190 Enphase microinverters which top out at 199W, so the very most we can make is 5970W and then the curve goes flat for a few minutes around solar noon before it goes down again.

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Filed under erik-green, passive house, zero energy home

One year results

Our final PHPP analysis from 11/22/2010 predicted (I think) that we/our almost passivhaus house would use (for one year) 1,741 * 27 * .293 (kBTU into KWh) = 13,773 KWh. But we used ~10,000 KWh. And this was with extra people for several months. And our solar panels made ~8400 KWh. So not net zero source energy but close (as I expected.) For the year 6/1/2010 thru 5/30/2011.

EDIT: Whoa, I was reading the PHPP excel file wrong. The right number to look at is the “Specific Primary Energy Demand” on the Verification sheet. Which for us was 39.1 kBTU/sqft in PHPP. So 1741 * 39.1 * .293 = 19,945 KWh. WHAT??!! This is twice as much as the 10,000 KWh we actually used. What is wrong with PHPP I can’t say. Anyway, interesting. The passivhaus “certificate” requires 38 kBTU and we used 10000 / 1741 / .293 = 19.6 kBTU/sqft so that’s roughly half the requirement. Huh.

EDIT2: hold on hold on. This is surely a site vs source (primary) eneregy issue. The 10,000 KWh is energy used at our home in electricity. So to make that electricity at the source/power plant it requires a much greater amount of fossil fuel (typically 3x, but perhaps averaged to less across all sources, if that is what is being used (and elec power plants do use a lot of fossil fuels and nukes in New England). So I will have to read about how PHPP does this, but that is surely why the PHPP estimate for “Specific Primary Energy Demand” is much higher. I suspect.

For the most part, extra people in the house doesn’t matter much. I think it’s only extra hot water use. Which is substantial enough. About $10/month (/$.15/Kwh * 12 ~= 804 KWh/year). We don’t use much hot water compared to most people I guess??? Oh, and maybe running the HRV on a slightly higher speed. Which during the winter would matter more.

I should add that, while I don’t have accurate numbers since our eMonitor was malfunctioning for 1/2 the year, my best guess is the following breakdown:

10,000 Kwh ~= $1,500 in electricity at 15 cents/KWh
of which…
$550 heat
$150 hot water
$800 everything else (lighting/appliances/cooking/well pump/filters/lawn mowing w/ electric mower)

If I am approximately right, then I think it’s probably fair to say that we used approximately 1/5th the amount of energy to heat our house compared to a typical new house of this size. $500 instead of $2500. Just a rough guesstimation.

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