Tag Archives: home

Federal government builds a net-zero energy McMansion

I know what you’re thinking, how can a McMansion be green – especially with tiny homes becoming popular – and when you see the photo below you’ll be even more skeptical. Add in the $2.5 million price tag and it sounds like a bridge-to-nowhere disaster. But before you pass judgement let’s learn more about the home.

It’s a 2,700 square-foot house with two stories, four bedrooms, three bathrooms, and an oversized two-car garage. Not your average American home, more like something designed for a wealthy neighbor. And that fits because this home has the best green fixtures money can buy. The multi-million dollar price purchases:

  • Configurable solar panels
  • High thermal efficiency building materials
  • Solar water heater
  • Smart thermostat (rooms can have different temperatures)
  • High velocity, insulated heating/cooling air system
  • Humidifier/dehumidifier
  • Ultra-efficient windows
  • Full details – pdf, page 2

The design allows the National Institute of Standards and Technology to turn the home into a laboratory, where they will test all the features – with no one home. Lights will turn on in the morning and after work. There will be fake microwaving and fake cheering for a football team on the TV. Garage doors will open and close several times. All to simulate the energy use of a typical family of four.

All kidding aside, this is a serious scientific experiment, “buildings account for 40 % of the primary energy consumption and 72 % of the electricity consumption in the United States, while accounting for 40 % of the CO2 emissions…will develop and deploy the measurement science to move the nation towards net-zero energy, high-performance buildings in a cost-effective manner while maintaining a healthy indoor environment.”

It’s a great goal – to have net-zero energy homes – but why did they have to do their research on a McMansion?

 

Learn more about the home – Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility (NZERTF)

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The first high performance – ultra energy-efficient – residence hall

A Passive House certification is one of the highest available for energy-efficient homes. And this residence hall in Belfast, Maine demonstrates that, “space heating costs for TerraHaus are less than $300 per year ($30 per student), a big improvement from the two poorly insulated housing units it replaced, each with an annual space heating cost of about $500 per student.”

That is a 94% reduction in energy bills – helped out by the rooftop solar panels. The dorm sleeps 10 students and features chemical free building materials and durable fixtures to survive many school years. There is a solar water heater, an ultra-efficient (88%) HRV system that circulates in fresh outdoor air, and windows that absorb and keep in sunshine during the winter (50% solar heat gain).

The walls and roof were constructed to minimize any heat loss during the winter. They were measured for thermal efficiency using R-values and the walls achieved a value of 50 and the roof 80-100. The typical home has R-values ranging from 18-25 for walls and 50-60 for ceilings.

It’s an impressive home and worthy of the Design Award it received.

Learn more:

 

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Moving towards 100% thermal insulation for homes

A home profiled in Wired has six very interesting zero-carbon elements, but it’s the last two that fascinate me – thick walls and ultra-efficient windows. Thick walls mean “two 8-inch-thick concrete layers that protect the interior from outside temperature fluctuations. On hot days, the concrete absorbs and retains heat, keeping rooms cool; at night it slowly releases that heat to maintain steady temps around the clock.”

And the windows, “three coats of glazing give these windows more than twice the thermal resistance of standard double-paned glass.”

Both focus on the thermal energy efficiency of a home. With the goal of completely insulating a home – no heat lost or gained, no cool air lost or gained. Several homes are being built with the goal of 100% efficiency and that completely alters how a home functions. Things like the heat created by our 98.6 degree bodies become important. Facing a home in the sun (cold climates) or away from (hot climates) becomes essential.

And a lot of this can be accomplished with simple building materials, like concrete walls – which can easily be incorporated in building new homes. And the more complicated materials, like nanotech windows discussed in the article, can be placed on existing homes:

There’s some revolutionary nanotechnology that’s about to go into the glass—different kinds of coatings that make them five to 10 times more energy-efficient than double-paned windows. These windows are as energy-efficient as walls.

With these improvements the energy costs of heating and cooling should plummet, and traditional heaters and HVACs can be downsized or turned off for weeks at a time.

 

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CNN profile of a couple moving from a 1,500 to 168-square foot home

There are many who dream of owning the smallest home they can find; a strong reaction to those who dream of owning a two-story mini-mansion. Here is a CNN profile of a young couple who did just that – moving their two kids, cat and dog into a 168 square foot home (on 3 acres of land):

“The things we have are beautiful, enriching our tiny space. We got rid of so much and kept the beautiful things,” Hazi Berzins said. “Freeing ourselves from consumer debt and living mortgage-free has cleared the clutter to help us see what is truly important: our relationships, our happiness, each moment.”

And Mayor Michael Bloomberg agrees – or he wants to improve the city’s studios – as he announced a contest to design and build 1.8 million studios in Manhattan. Each unit is to be less than 300-square feet and contain a kitchen and bathroom.

New Yorkers love their studios, young quirky families love their tiny homes, how about you – do you enjoy your small or large space?

 

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European Solar Decathlon – Solar home creates twice the energy it uses

Our homes were never designed for energy efficiency. So what happens when designers, architects, and engineers approach the problem?

From the European Solar Decathlon:

“The house generates twice as much energy in Hungarian conditions and three times as much in Madrid as the house itself spends,” the Odooproject team states. “This amount is able to serve two other house’s needs, or provide a 70-kilometer (43.5-mile) long travel distance – daily – for an electric car.”

Designs like these bring us closer to taking homes off the electrical grid. And that is something I’ve heard engineers say is the solution, and the where the trend is going.

Photos of the home:

The central idea is the home is 100% energy-efficient. In winter that means the slightest amount of heat from the sun gets trapped in the house, and can provide the majority of winter heating.

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How does water get to my house?

Through a series of pumps and electricity, from the USGS Water Science School:

Let’s assume that you get your water from the local water department through pipes buried below the streets. In other words, you don’t have your own well in your back yard. Chances are that you get your water through gravity and pumps. Cities and towns build those big water towers on top of the highest hills and then fill them with water. So even if you live on a hill, there’s a good chance the water tower is higher than your house. Water moves from the tower, due to gravity, and goes down a large pipe from the tower to eventually reach your house.

Although gravity supplies the power to move water from the tower to homes, electricity is needed to run a pump to push water from the source.

 

In my city, those water pumps use a lot of electricity. It is the second largest city expense, using 5.4 million kWh and costing more than $500K a year. (Energy Action Plan, page 21)

 

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The EPA is screwing up the discussion on global warming

The EPA is reporting the wrong information on global warming and I want them to get it right. The information they publish becomes the gold standard and is reported in the media, covered on TV, and published all across the web. It reaches the eyes and ears of a majority of Americans, and so why are they screwing it up?

The first problem is in using economic terms over plain language. The average person has a hard time understanding the meaning of ‘by economic sector’ or ‘end user emissions’. And nowhere in their mission statement does it say they should be communicating like college professors:

The mission of EPA is to protect human health and the environment.

Neither does it say they should communicate clearly, but that’s covered in the Plain Writing Act of 2010.

Another problem they face is choosing what data to report. Again, they seem to be focusing on macroeconomic data sets instead of what will help the average person. Here is the data set spread out across 20 pages on the EPA website and reported many thousand times over in the press:

 

Emissions by Economic Sector

  • Electricity generation – 34%
  • Transportation – 27%
  • Industry – 21%
  • Agriculture – 7%
  • Commercial & Residential – 11%

 

Very helpful for the big picture and if you’re writing policy, but worthy of ignoring by the common person. What are they supposed to do about electricity, buy a wind turbine? For transportation, go out and buy a new car? What does industry even mean?

For those steeped in the economics of global warming this makes total sense. Our energy is slowly moving towards renewables, cars are becoming electric, homes and business can similarly electrify, and that would make 61-90% of our emissions from electricity. Yes, it is vital we pick up renewables.

But that stymies any discussion about what individuals can do. Here is another data set left to gather dust, buried 200 pages deep in the EPA’s most important report:

 

Emissions by End User

  • Manufacturing – 30%
  • Homes – 18%
  • Business – 17%
  • Personal Cars – 17%
  • Farming – 8%
  • Freight Trucks – 6%
  • Airplanes – 2%

 

End user is an economic term for you bought it you own it. Meaning the person who drives the car is responsible for the emissions, not General Motors. From this perspective the story changes entirely. Transportation moves down into a tie for third most important. The three ahead of it – manufacturing, homes, business – all represent places where the average person has a significant impact.

Individuals could buy less or switch to recycled products, in simple ways, like buying recycled toilet paper. At home they could lower the thermostat or send less to the landfill. At work they could accept normal temperatures for the A/C and support any green company policies.

It is strange that this data, which places the responsibility on individuals and can easily encourage a change in behavior, is buried in favor of the economic report. It would seem like the EPA is purposely avoiding the issue of responsibility, or letting the economists control the marketing. Either way it’s unacceptable and screwing up the discussion on global warming.

Come on EPA get your head in the game!

 

 

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What uses the most water in your home?

The average person uses 80-100 gallons of water a day. But where is all that water used?

  1. Toilet – 27%
  2. Laundry – 22%
  3. Shower – 17%
  4. Faucet – 16%
  5. Leaks – 14%

 

image: EPA

 

Water stats:

  • Showers – 2 gallons/minute – bathtub holds 36 gallons.
  • Kitchen faucets – 2 gallons/minute.
  • Bathroom faucet – 1 gallon/minute.
  • Dishwasher – 4-10 gallons.
  • Laundry – newer uses 25 gallons/load – older 40 gallons/load.
  • Toilet flush – 3 gallons
  • Water the lawn – 5-10 gallons/minute

Cell phone recording of police is ok – says Washington D.C. police chief, Cathy Lanier

We’ve written a number of stories about police officers interfering with citizens who are trying to record the actions of police in public places. In some cases, cops have arrested citizens for making recordings in public. In others, they’ve seized cell phones and deleted the recordings.

The courts and the Obama administration have both said that these activities violate the Constitution. And at least one police department has gotten the message loud and clear.

In a new legal directive first noticed by DCist, Washington DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier explains the constitutional rights of DC citizens and gives her officers detailed instructions for respecting them. She addresses a number of scenarios that have led to controversy in recent years.

“A bystander has the same right to take photographs or make recordings as a member of the media,” Chief Lanier writes. The First Amendment protects the right to record the activities of police officers, not only in public places such as parks and sidewalks, but also in “an individual’s home or business, common areas of public and private facilities and buildings, and any other public or private facility at which the individual has a legal right to be present.”

 

Keep reading: ars technica - DC police chief announces shockingly reasonable cell camera policy

 

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An airplane is retired every 17 hours – one man decides to recycle one, turns it into a home

“Humanity is not yet discovering how to use these glorious birds,” Bill Campbell.

 

Bill Campbell opens one of nine exits in the Boeing 727-200 that he converted into a home in rural Hillsboro, Oregon. He acquired the jet (for $100,000) at the end of its flying life from Olympic Airways in Greece, had it flown from Athens to Oregon, and finally towed to his land.

 

 

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