Important but…

OK, so it’s been about 3 years since we moved OUT of our wonderful “almost passivhaus” house in Stow, MA… a few comments (now that I have a little distance) about things I would do differently.

1. Building a passivhaus in very cold climates is important but not *that* important. Our’s was REALLY close but even getting as close as we did was VERY expensive because it’s such an unusual thing but also because the climate is so extreme that the insulation needed (to do it right and not have condensation problems) is expensive. Condensation… see book: Builder’s Guide: Cold Climates

2. Building a cube is… not that important.

3. A custom design is… not that important.

4. Building the house so the roof points EXACTLY solar south (or whatever your designer tells you is absolute best for PV solar panels or passive-solar) is…. not that important

5. Small windows on the North is… not that important. It’s important, but not at the expense of views and connection to nature.

What to do instead:

1. Instead of passivhaus, do something more along the lines of the “pretty good house” with 10-20-40-60 insulation. Why? You can get 90% of the way there for $100k or more less money which would be more efficiently spent on saving the planet with solar panels. The house will be just as comfortable.
Read more:
http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/guest-blogs/pretty-good-house

Good example: Bick Corsa’s house
http://www.builditsolar.com/Projects/SolarHomes/MAZeroEnergy/MAZeroEnergy.htm

2. There are lots of energy efficient houses in recent years that are tall little cubes with footprints on the scale of 26×26, and sure that is a LITTLE more energy efficient and uses less concrete for the foundation or basement, but it also is less ideal for 1) entertaining since you have a small 1st floor 2) little kids … stairs to get to bedrooms and playrooms means more separation… they want to be closer to the action which is in the living room and kitchen. Sure there will be a time as they get old where being farther away is good too, but there are ways to do both.
So… instead?
They get knocked a lot, but the classic split-level ranch we have found to be the ideal compromise. Everything is a half-flight away and there are long views that are right out of A PATTERN LANGUAGE. It’s a popular design for a reason. And number 3) a wider foot print means more space on the roof for solar panels.

Book info: A Pattern Language
http://www.amazon.com/dp/0195019199/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&linkCode=ll1&tag=thedefinitiunabo&linkId=0f3b0f6c6e491ea07249104308abfffb

3. Since you are interested in this stuff, you will most likely be perfectly happy with a stock plan … just build it with slightly thicker walls for more insulation — either a double wall or with crosshatched studs. Your interior rooms will be at most 6″ smaller and the only details to have worked out is how to frame the doors and windows a little differently and just be careful to pick a plan with a simple roof line so that air-sealing is straightforward. This doesn’t have to be so difficult.

4. Getting close to solar south is good, but even a full 45-degrees off will work quite well. Solar panels are MUCH cheaper than they were just a few years ago so you will still get huge savings, especially if your electric company allows net-metering. But even without this, it’s still worth it — we didn’t have net metering in Stow at the time and it will worked out $$-wise. You’ll see by changing the orientation at PVWatts that it doesn’t matter that much.

5. Do some windows you want on the North. Not worth sweating it. It’s worth the extra $100 a year in energy costs (because this is literally how little we are probably talking) to have the view and house design you want. If you fell guilt get the *even fancier* windows with even more panes of glass and better insulation in the frames. If it’s the environmental damage that concerns you… buy some more carbon offsets or PV panels for your neighbors house, ride your bike more, or cut down on your meat eating. Lots of other things to do.

What does matter instead:

1. Location location location. Our solar panels in Stow generated as much energy as we used doing extra driving vs living closer to our work and schools in a less ideal house. And living in a walkable neighborhood close to friends, shops, nature, etc. Our Stow house was in a dream location in terms of nature… amazing quiet and nature and trails and water. But the driving was a bit much for us.

2. Connection with the site. Views. The yard you want. We had that in Stow, but just be careful to not let the tail wag the dog. Sometimes a certain house design will just not work with certain sloped lots. That’s OK, do something that makes sense for the location and site you love!

3. A garage. OK, build it separate or not (it can be designed to visually loot connected, but all the air-barriers can keep it separate). But build it! 2 reasons: 1) even more room for solar panels. 2) Could allow you to build a smaller house, but leave some unfinished space for bonus room for later, or for storage space (if you are not building a basement or attic) We are an active family and need room for 1) bicycles, scooters, skateboards, ramps, ski equipment, camping equipment, kayak, canoe, etc, etc. It’s very difficult to fit this amount of active gear into a small shed. That was our experience at least! Just build the garage. They also work very well as a mudroom. (Also a must have but a section of garage can do pretty well double duty as a mudroom. I’ve also seen a screen porch work very well as a mudroom….)

See also:
My further comments about A PATTERN LANGUAGE
https://ehaugsjaa.wordpress.com/2013/08/09/book-review-a-pattern-language/

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Filed under erik-green, green, hindsight is 20-20

A Catalogue of Play Equipment 1918

12923207_1708825632709770_3805702270727392143_n

Original Scans at HathiTrust
University of Michigan Library
http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/100075213

Transcribed
http://www.drugfreereading.com/interest_novels/Catalogue%20of%20Play%20EquipmentSELF.htm

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Lyme is an epidemic

It’s very upsetting to me that there seems to be little acknowledgement that there is a Lyme epidemic going on in the US.

Instead, in 2016, we hear about the few cases of Zika virus [update… Zika causes an autoimmune disease! http://scientificamerican.com/article/scientists-find-zika-increases-risk-of-rare-neurological-illness/%5D. And yes, this can and will continue to get worse too, but meanwhile there are millions of cases of Lyme each year. Many will get caught soon enough (typically within a month) to treat successfully with a single 20-or-so day round of antibiotics. But many won’t. Here in Massachusetts, I personally know probably 10 people who have had Lyme and treated OK, and another 3 who are having ongoing long-term effects and still under treatment.

Some other comments:

1. The IDSA (from 2006!) guidelines probably need updating.

2. It’s been my experience that most people who have gotten to the bottom of their Lyme has been a result of SELF DIAGNOSIS. Doctors for the most part are misdiagnosing Lyme, which is shameful.

3. I am assuming it’s a combination of 1) healthcare professionals (doctors, dentists) not knowing 2) concern for antibiotic overuse 3) insurance companies concerned about costly treatments for people with chronic lyme (or “post-lyme disease syndrome”)

4. There is also a huge explosion in autoimmune diseases in the last 20+ years. Many of these are difficult to diagnose vs Lyme. In many cases, a differential diagnosis is VERY difficult to make and you can find Pubmed articles discussing the fact that many cases of Lupus, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, etc. are actually Lyme.

5. At some level, it doesn’t really matter — both Lyme AND autoimmune diseases are 1) not well understood, 2) no easy treatment, 3) underdiagnosed.

SEE:

“1,500,000 fresh infected Borrelia patients each year in Germany.”
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/c-m-rubin/the-global-search-for-edu_b_3839801.html
CDC increased the number of annual diagnoses by ten fold, from 30-thousand to 300-thousand. (and this is probably very low as well)
New front in the Lyme wars

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/08/26/whats-wrong-with-me
“The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA) estimates that as many as fifty million Americans suffer from autoimmunity, which makes it one of the most prevalent categories of disease, ahead of cancer. It is a leading cause of illness in young women. (Three-quarters of autoimmune patients are women.) “

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Filed under experts, health, Lyme disease and ticks

Sea Levels

Did you know?

Not an unusual event, now just a regular occurrence:

“The city of Miami Beach floods on such a predictable basis that if, out of curiosity or sheer perversity, a person wants to she can plan a visit to coincide with an inundation…. Knowing the tides would be high around the time of the “super blood moon,” in late September, I arranged to meet up with Hal Wanless, the chairman of the University of Miami’s geological-sciences department. …Water gushed down the road and into an underground garage. We stopped in front of a four-story apartment building, which was surrounded by a groomed lawn. Water seemed to be bubbling out of the turf.” 

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/12/21/the-siege-of-miami

and generally…
“Seas Are Rising at Fastest Rate in Last 28 Centuries”
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/23/science/sea-level-rise-global-warming-climate-change.html

Good luck to us!

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Filed under climate change, person: Elizabeth Kolbert

Why history and not botany?

“Why school subjects ever came to be standardized I cannot guess.  Why history and not botany?  Geography and not geology?  Maths and not civics?  I think the lesson may lie in the words of the old public-school headmaster: ‘It doesn’t matter what you teach a boy so long as he dislikes it.’  — A.S. Neill from p104 of Summerhill School: A New View of Childhood

“All that any child needs is the three Rs; the rest should be tools and clay and sports and theatre and paint and freedom. … I am not decrying learning.  But learning should only come after play.  And learning should not be deliberately seasoned with play to make it palatable.” p102

“Creators learn what they want to learn in order to have the tools that their originality and genius demand.  We do not know how much creation is killed in the classroom with its emphasis on learning.” p108

Summerhill School: A New View of Childhood by A. S. Neill

SEE ALSO: Guest Post by Jess
“…I’d just like to point out that the subjects that are chosen are, well, chosen…why biology and not botany, why algebra and not agriculture…”

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Filed under curriculum, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School

Woohoo! Yeah!

“Woohoo! Yeah!” (yelled at the top of his lungs)

This is my (newly) 8-year-old son’s reaction to his realization that tomorrow is Monday and there is school (Sudbury Valley School).

What joy this joy brings to his dad’s heart!

Not that he is always this totally pumped for school… he’s a home-body kinda kid, so “transition-time” can be difficult for him even, but he’s never particularly fussed once he gets in the mood and gathers his gear and projects he’s working on. And there’s never really been “Sunday-night-blues” (in anticipation of the coming week) to speak of with either of our kids.

But turning 8 means a few new “big kid” privileges and responsibilities at school, and he is excited and ready for them!

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Filed under journal, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School

Causes of Students’ Emotional Fragility: Five Perspectives

“I am not interested in blaming students, or parents, or teachers, or anyone else. I am interested in understanding what is happening, and why, and what we as individuals and as a society can do to improve the situation.”

Peter Gray
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201511/causes-students-emotional-fragility-five-perspectives

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Filed under person: Peter Gray, structural, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School