Monthly Archives: August 2012

The new normal

“Kids learn to speak, lose baby teeth and hit puberty at a variety of ages. We might remind ourselves that the ability to settle into being a focused student is simply a developmental milestone; there’s no magical age at which this happens.”

Raising the Ritalin Generation

It’s too bad the author didn’t know about Sudbury schools. Just sayin’.

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Filed under alternative education, normal, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School


method 1:
method 2:
method 3:

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Filed under science, visualization

Do as I say, not as I do…

I have maybe written about this before, but if not… here goes. Some house-building advice:

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 pool. Or so that you can afford ______ (insert thing that you might consider giving up). It’s not worth it. Really it’s not.

22. Consider moving closer to work, riding a bike, a prius, instead. Think holistically and big picture. 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!

23. See above links about design… consider a design someone has already built and pay a little to have an architect adjust it with thicker walls. Better than settling for a poorly designed but VERY energy efficient house.

24. Read the PRETTY GOOD HOUSE posts at


So… detailed specs.

And I feel like there are exceptions to every rule.

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Filed under erik-green, hindsight is 20-20

Be the change

Great comment at The Bullying Culture of Medical School

“Occasionally we have new interns, residents, or attendings that start with abusive behavior toward nursing staff or other physicians. I’ve found that a good response is to say something like this, always with an audience, and in a very calm, low voice, “Apparently the institution you’ve come from allows behavior like this, but here at (insert facility name) we do not condone nor allow such abuse. If I have to, I’ll report this to (chief medical officer). Let’s make sure this never happens again, shall we?” More than once, the perpetrator has apoplogized on the spot, but I’ve also has to report them. Then, they apologize later. I’ve never had the chief not back me up. They know that for the morale and reputation of the facility, behavior like that cannot be tolerated.”

See also:
– Wikipedia: Nonviolent Communication

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Filed under bullying, contrarian, nonviolent communication

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.

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Filed under alternative education, collaboration, community, contrarian, energy, evidence-based, experiments, gamification, green, health, motivation, screen-time, social media, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School, technology influences, video games

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!

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Filed under green, kids -- freedom and responsibility, passive house, superinsulation, zero energy home