Tag Archives: environment

Climate Change, Environment, Resource Conservation

If you are a regular reader of this blog you may be confused as to where I stand on climate change, the environment and conservation of resources. Perhaps I can clarify my thinking just a bit. This might be a little difficult because my normal state is confusion.

Climate change may effect the way we live.
A Guy Taking Pictures / Foter.com / CC BY

On conservation of resources, I am a hawk. One thing is certain. Many of the  natural resources we depend on for daily living are from finite, non renewable sources. Many are already becoming harder to find and as a result expensive. Prime examples are petroleum products, many metals,  water, and arable land. Another bloggers outlook.

Our stewardship of the environment requires our utmost diligence. Keeping our surroundings clean, healthy and pleasant is essential for our quality of life.This does not mean I am unwilling to accept change, whether natural or caused by human presence.

Sea levels may rise as a result of climate change
Theophilos / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

A more complicated issue is climate change, or more specifically, global warming. Do I believe global average temperatures are increasing? I definitely do, at least in the short-term (using thousands or millions of years as the terms of reference.) I do think the degree of warming is very small and still within the range of natural variation.

Do I believe human activity is the cause?

Well probably in part. Natural causes must be part of it, but our numbers are so great that the impact on our planet is profound. I think we have changed the climate profoundly on local and regional scales and probably a little globally.

A much bigger question is what the results of warming will be. Will it be harmful or beneficial. Can we effectively do something about it and do we want too.

Scientists are predicting anything from mild results to catastrophe. Alarmists such as Al Gore or David Suzuki, are virtually predicting the end of the world. I think their crystal balls are cracked.

Climate change puts coastal cities at risk.
Climate change puts coastal cities at risk.Werner Kunz / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

A scientist can safely predict outcomes when they have past observations or positive experimental results for reference. For example it is pretty safe to say the world will end as a charred ball when our sun expands in a few billion years. An astronomer can look back over billions of years and see billions of examples of a star’s life cycle. Of course, the assumption still has to be made that no other catastrophe will happen in the meantime, and It really doesn’t matter if the prediction is wrong. What about the science.

Our climate is so complicated, and the earth so large that no laboratory experiment can have much relevance. Even computer models have little chance of true accuracy. There are too many assumptions in the data used and even tiny errors can make huge differences over long periods or large scenarios. I suspect that many predictions reflect the modelers bias.

The other problem, is that there is little past experience to draw from. We have no examples from the past of similar planets with over 7 billion people. In fact changes are happening so fast that we have little chance to analyze or even digest them. In my lifetime, earths population has increased from approximately 3 billion. There were many dire predictions for the future when I was a youth. Almost none have come to pass, although, a few still might..

Climate change, will it cause more flooding.
Gregg Jaden / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

The focus has been on carbon dioxide as as control knob for global temperatures. It has been largely blamed or any global temperature increases we may have seen since the beginning of the modern industrial age.

Recent research, however, seems to indicate that carbon dioxide may be far less effective at increasing temperatures than some would claim. This would throw the results of model runs into doubt and could explain the discrepancies between model results and observations to date.

I do not believe quick, effective, action can be taken by governments outside of encouraging less use of products with a large carbon footprint and helping industry to lessen emissions. Drastic action could have unforeseen effects and most certainly would be harmful to economies. I do think that markets can effect an answer if more people demand clean power and cleaner transportation. Alternatives are rapidly becoming less expensive.

  A tax on carbon  would supposedly encourage industry and people to use less carbon producing energy. I don’t think it would have any  significant effect on climate. But it will increase the cost of of practically everything we consume and put more pressure on people living in poverty. The income of wealthier people simply seems to increase as the cost of living increases and their consumption is unlikely to decrease significantly. 

Energy is already a huge cost to industry. Reducing cost increases profit. Profit is the reason for industry, so it follows that industry already has a big incentive to reduce energy usage. It seems that incentives to further reduce consumption would be more effective than taxes and be less damaging to economies.

Cap and trade policies could be a little more effective, but how do you apply them to the whole world? They only effect consumption by increasing the cost of energy. “Grandfathering the privilege to pollute would take money from low-income consumers and give it to the predominantly wealthy shareholders of energy companies.”  This is a quote from a document advocating cap-and-trade. There are dangerous assumptions here. I don’t think low-income individuals are the biggest consumers, it is pretty obvious the wealthy are. Shareholders of energy companies are often pension plans and funds, the beneficiaries of which are usually lower or middle-income people. Of course this is by our standards. Low income to us is quite rich to much of the world. Once again, the key is to reduce the need and the desire for polluting products.

You may not be aware that large amounts of cash are given out as subsidies for the use of fossil fuel. Don’t blame the developed nations entirely here. It is emerging nations that give direct subsidies (about 480 billion,according to the IMF,) mainly so the poor can afford fuel.

Upper Kananaskis Lake, Kananaskis Country, Alberta
Beautiful Albertamadlyinlovewithlife / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Some seem to think that curtailing oil sands operations would be beneficial. It probably would only hasten the depletion of conventional oil and perhaps encourage the development of more harmful sources. Opposition to pipelines is another tack that some seem to take. Again this leads to far more dangerous and more carbon intensive forms of transport. The Bakken oil produced from North Dakota is seen as an alternative to Alberta oil sands. This actually may be more harmful. Much of the produced gas from this field is flared due to a lack of infrastructure to collect it. Burning it produces carbon emissions and any that escapes burning is primarily methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas. Alternatives are not always as benign as they seem.

This is an article in Forbes magazine about Bakken flaring which uses some identical arguments to many I have heard defending oil sands emissions.

The developed nations, with the USA and Canada leading the pack, use by far the most fossil fuels and produce the most carbon emissions per capita. That means we could have the most effect on an individual basis. I firmly believe that we should make every effort to reduce our personal use of energy. That goes further than just driving less or building more efficient homes. It means an overall reduction in our acquisition of consumer goods. This would also be damaging to economies. Perhaps that could be countered by more investment by governments, and industry, in alternative energy sources, and in carbon capture and storage..

Arctic scenery may alter with climate change.
Alessio Mesiano / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Crude oil has largely been singled out as a villain in carbon emissions. The fact is that several other industries have huge impacts. Coal fired power plants seem to be often overlooked. Sad, since their emissions are more localized and more conducive to carbon sequestration or storage. Since this was written, governments have begun to target coal plants by mandated closures.  Cement production is similarly a huge emitter. The real villain, though, is our own individual excessive use of energy. 

In the words of the late Jacques-Yves Cousteau ” Overconsumption and overpopulation underlie every environmental problem we face today.” Well we are certainly the villains in over consumption and need to address it. Third world countries are where most of the population increases are coming from. Some, such as China are trying to address this problem..

Do I think there is effective action that can be taken by governments? In a word, no. That doesn’t mean that I think we should not continue trying to reduce our impact. It means that I think we would be well advised to prepare for changes that may happen. Build stronger houses that are more energy efficent. Gradually move human occupancy away from flood prone areas and away from coastlines at risk from rising sea levels. Use more renewable resources to replace non-renewable. Clean up our world through personal commitment. Plant trees. Plant a garden. And, most importantly, use and waste less of everything.

A climate change strategy.
Many rewards in planting a garden and it aids the environmentvanherdehaage / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

The beauty of this approach is that it does no harm. It is a personal choice that should not create enemies or even create discomfort for your neighbors. If the dire predictions turn out to be wrong, then no harm has been done and less valuable resources will be consumed. If enough people followed this route, carbon in our atmosphere may be reduced or at least increase at a slower pace.

Living with fewer toys or less possessions does not mean a lower standard of living.

Do I walk the walk? I am trying, but I know there is room for improvement. I only wish I had done more, sooner. I don’t buy tickets to see jet setting celebrities who use more than their share of resources to tell us what we are doing wrong. Many have increased their wealth by crying wolf.

If you agree with most of this article, please share it. If you disagree with any part, or have suggestions, please comment. I can still learn, even at my age.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

An Efficient House

If your goal is to build an efficient house the devil is in the details.

L'il Devil
Darwin Bell / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Not paying close attention to the little things can result in a lot of little inefficiencies. if you expect the lifespan of a house to be in the 200 year range, these little inefficiencies add up to a lot.

The main concern here is energy efficiency, but I also want to touch on construction efficiency and on living efficiency. By living efficiency I mean time, money and effort spent on maintenance as well as everyday cost in time and effort.

One of the factors I have probably mentioned too many times already, is size. It is only common sense that a larger home is going to be less all around efficient than a smaller one built to the same standards. If prestige is the goal, my feeling is that there are far better ways to gain it.

Very careful planning is where efficiency starts. Use care and common sense in evaluating your needs. Think into the future. Are you building space for children that will be gone in a couple of years? Are you considering special needs you may face as you age.

Swain House, Fort Street, Detroit
Not so simplesouthofbloor / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Keep it simple. Complicated designs tend to have higher costs and contribute to both energy and construction inefficiencies.

A simple rectangle is the most efficient design for energy efficiency. It provides the most space with the least exterior surface.

The insulating value of the walls and especially the ceiling is very important if you live in a cold or hot climate. If you are lucky enough to live in area where daily average temperatures stay in the comfortable range then thermal mass is probably more important. The ceiling is easier to insulate to higher R values and has a reasonable payback even to R50 and higher. Most homes have a certain amount of heat layering which increases the temperature differential between inside and out at the ceiling and the tops of walls. More insulation is required at these locations for the same results. Blow in insulation works well. Normal rafter configurations make the area above exterior walls difficult to insulate well. Special rafters with a raised “heel”  solve this. The extra cost may be worth it. How to measure heel height.

Rafters today are usually manufactured trusses which are enable fast and efficient construction. Click here for a truss diagram and a glossary of terms. A n excellent and more detailed explanation of trusses is available here.

When calculating paybacks it is important to remember that fuel and electricity will likely become more expensive in the future. This will be partly because of scarcity and of environmental concerns.

Heat in the attic is not your friend no matter what your climate. Be certain of good insulation and ventilation. Choosing a light-colored or reflective roof covering could be beneficial.

192/365 - Help, I'm Alive, My Heart Keeps Beating Like A Hammer
Helga Weber / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

Even the best windows have poor insulating properties. Design with this in mind. Don’t neglect the use of natural light for energy savings.

A two-story house or a basement can add living space  at a lower energy cost. Providing staircases can reduce this benefit considerably. Stairs can be problematic for small children and seniors. There is an element of danger to everyone. My own opinion is that it is best to avoid the risk of falls if possible.

One of the most common housing problems I have encountered over the years, has been wet basements. Providing a full depth basement that is completely waterproof may be more costly than the space is worth. This link is to a commercial site, but they do list a lot of the common basement problems.

An efficient house must be as impervious to air movement through the exterior envelope  as possible. Pay extra attention to sealing around windows and doors. Don’t forget to seal where plumbing and wiring penetrate the building envelope.

Energy efficient lighting is a consideration. Flourescent and LED lighting uses less electricity than incandescent. In a climate like much of Canada it becomes a little more complicated. incandescent bulbs lose efficiency by generating heat. In winter, in Canada, that heat is definitely not wasted. In summer the days are long and little light is needed. Other considerations are how that electricity is generated and what fuel you use for heating. My own guess is that  the extra cost of flourescent or LED bulbs may not be justified in all cases. Our government here is taking the decision out of our hands by prohibiting the sale of incandescent bulbs. Probably an effort to make Canada look better to the rest of the world through climate change action. Follow your own consience.

an efficient house has efficient appliances
Corie Howell / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Choose energy-efficient appliances.  Front loading washers are presumably more efficient than top load. The capital cost, however, appears to be almost double. They do use less water and the cost to heat that water is, of course, lower. There is little reason to heat the water to wash clothes, though, so much of the advantage is lost. I think the jury is still out on this one.

A clothesline is an inexpensive way to use less electricity

A garage may seem like a bit of a luxury. Actually a lot of fuel can be saved by not having to warm or cool your vehicles by idling. An attached garage has at least one less wall for heat loss. There is no reason to heat a garage above 40 degrees fahrenheit. The latent heat of a vehicle just off the road is enough to provide most of the heat needed for a well-built garage. In hot climates, just keeping the sun off your car makes a huge difference.

Design your house for safety and ease of use. Make certain that bathrooms are easily accessible from all areas, Kitchens must be designed to reduce workload. Large closets are good in the master bedroom, but do you really need them in guest rooms? I never could see the logic of two sinks in a bathroom. Do you really want to carry togetherness to that extent.

Minimize hallways. They are largely wasted space. Do not use doors where they are not necessary.

Place windows higher for privacy and to maximize space for furniture.

Do not use more interior walls than you need. An open concept is efficient and pleasant.

Vaulted ceilings add interest and an illusion of space, but are not very energy-efficient and may make your home more difficult to insulate well.

To reduce the environmental cost of building your efficient house, there are a few considerations. Cement and steel are huge greenhouse gas producers so it follows that they should be used carefully. Calculate carefully so as to not waste concrete. Building on a crawl space reduces the need for concrete and reinforcing steel considerably. Both products have a long life and this reduces impact somewhat. Review each material and design choice for its energy use and environmental impact. Environmental cost of building materials.

Source as much of your material as possible locally, to reduce the impact of transportation.

Last House on Holland Island, May 2010
An unsafe locationbaldeaglebluff / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Build strong and build in safe locations. Replacing or repairing homes damaged by flood or storm is not very efficient or environmentally friendly.

Use labor and trades that are nearby if possible. If doing much of the work yourself, see if it is possible for you to live on site during construction. This is a huge time and energy saver.

Choose your water and space heating equipment carefully. Eliminating a chimney saves considerable space and material. consider the space used by the equipment. Using a tankless water heater for both space and water heating eliminates the need for a chimney and much of the space requirements. Follow the following links for more information. Hydronic radiant heatingHeating with a hydronic radiant system.

Finally, the home that has a long practical use is more environmentally friendly, So build well and with forethought. Avoid fads.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

An Oilsands Perspective

I feel I must make some response to Neil Young’s recent hyperbole which is even further from the truth than feel good propaganda from industry sources

These links are satellite images from space. Most are to the same scale. This is an attempt to put some perspective into the oil sands controversy.

They will open in their own tabs for easy comparison. Please take the time to look.

Neil Young 2008 Firenze
Neil YoungAndrea Barsanti / Foter.com / CC BY

Fort McMurray oil sands mining projects.  Not as extensive as some people would have you believe

City of Edmonton  Probably about the same area

Long lake in situ project  Yes it is in there, including a upgrader. Zoom in to find it.

City of Ottawa  Not sure of the carbon emissions but lot’s of hot air comes out of here.

In situ projects near cold lake  Although not as extensive, in situ projects do have an impact on the surface.

Los Angeles area, USA  The scale is different on this one. It should actually appear larger

Vancouver area, BC  The scale is different on this one as well. It should also appear larger.

Which would have a larger carbon foot print, Edmonton or the oil sands mines?

Some believe that forcing governments and industry to reduce or eliminate oil sands production will have a significant effect on worldwide carbon emissions. I believe it may have the opposite effect by forcing more production in less environmentally conscientious jurisdictions. My belief is that encouraging and perhaps legislating less consumption at the consumer level is the only way to have a significant effect.

The pressures from population growth, and emerging nations, will make actual reductions extremely difficult. A good example from the developed nations, however, can only help.

A comparison of Canadian and Venezuelan oil sands.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Environmental cost of building materials

Choices in building material and construction methods for your house can vary widely as to their environmental cost. Energy use, pollution and habitat destruction are key considerations but the indoor environment created is also a consideration. The following is a comparison of common building materials.

Factors that are relevant to the envirocost (did I just coin a new word here) of materials are, transportation, raw material used, energy required in manufacture, longevity, carbon storage, recycle-ability, renew-ability, and sometimes the insulating value of the material. Recycled and reused material rates highly if it is locally available.

A rammed earth home has a low environmental cost
A rammed earth homeLsbentz / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

The use of locally available material can dramatically reduce environmental damage and usually reduces costs as well. Transportation is a major contributor to pollution, carbon emissions and costs. It follows that the less distance a product travels and the lower its weight, the less its cost, both financially and environmentally. The one caveat is that it must be commonly and easily available. Ideal are products that may normally be burned or land filled.

One of the best examples is earth that is available right at the building site. The soil in many areas is suitable for the construction of rammed earth walls. This method is well suited to warmer drier climates, but is also a possibility for much of Canada. For more detailed information,follow any one of the three following links.  About rammed earth homes.  Pictures of rammed earth construction.  A more technical discussion of rammed earth construction in Canada.

In agricultural areas, straw is usually readily available and easily transportable. Straw bale construction is the most commonly known but straw is also sometimes used to manufacture panels that are commonly used as flooring underlay. Panels made from waste straw are also now being manufactured as an alternative to MDF, plasterboard and chipboard. Wheat straw is often used but many other types of straw could be utilized. Emphasis should be placed on waste straw. Straw in many areas needs to be incorporated into the soil to maintain or improve fertility. Proximity to manufacturers and cost would be considerations. Another alternative to straw bale construction is emerging. Straw formed into rope or cable is used to form columns or walls.

Using papercrete blocks has a low environmental cost
Papercrete blocks used in the construction of a shoprabble / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Paper can be recycled into building products such as panel board or papercrete. The practicality of the board would depend a lot on freight costs. Once again the environmental cost is probably closely related to the cost of the board delivered to you.  In the case of papercrete it is possible to make your own. This link provides one papercrete recipe. Most papercrete recipes utilize a proportion of cement in the mix. Cement has a relatively high environmental cost but the proportion is usually small  One persons method of making papercrete blocks.  An intriguing building material but it may be better suited to farm outbuildings, sheds and garages than to homes. There is no shortage of information about it on the internet.

Much of North America and the Northern parts of Europe and Asia are in close proximity to sources of wood as a building material. Wood is a renewable resource and a versatile building material. The carbon storage in wood products is considerable. Virtually every part of a log is used and many species once considered weed are now used to manufacture building material. OSB (oriented strand board) can be manufactured using fire or insect killed wood. Distribution networks for lumber and wood products are well established and efficient, reducing the impact of transportation somewhat. A well designed wood frame house has an excellent life expectancy.

PVC pipe
Plastic pipe is used extensively in home constructionThirdangel / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Petroleum and natural gas provide the raw material for plastic. Cheap and light it is used in for the manufacture of many building products including flooring, siding, insulation, counter tops, plumbing and wiring, and in doors and windows. It is used extensively in appliances and to some degree in furniture.. Most of the environmental damage from plastic comes from single use packaging and recycling to date is not extensive. It’s lifespan in building materials is good. It’s use for piping in housing is such an improvement over metal that it has replaced metal almost entirely The environmental cost is probably less than the metals it largely replaces. It’s low-cost, low maintenance and light weight make it practical to replace wood in some cases such as siding. The use of plastic has made housing affordable for many more people. A disadvantage is that the smoke from some plastics is very toxic in case of fire.  The construction industry is the second largest user of plastics after packaging.  Follow this link for more information on the use of plastic in building and construction.

Reflexions in glass
Glassx1klima / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

Glass is a component of nearly every home. The energy requirements in manufacture are quite high but carbon emission would depend on the energy source. The raw material used is abundant. It is heavy and fragile which adds to transportation cost. It does have a low thermal resistance and requires special methods to improve the insulating value. Even the best windows are several times poorer than the surrounding walls at preventing energy transfer. Strategically placed, glass can be used for passive solar heat gain. This can offset much of its poor performance. Glass should be used carefully to prevent undue inefficiencies in the building envelope. An inert material, it is easily disposed of in land fills. Considerable amounts of glass can be recycled into new glass, but collection and transport can be a problem because of weight. For more information on glass production click here. 

The short lifespan of asphalt shingles create an environmental cost. They are very heavy and recycling facilities are few. Most end up in landfills at the end of their lifespan. Newer types have life spans that are much longer without a significant increase in cost. Considering the cost of replacement alone should  make you insist on the longer life choices. Lifetimes can vary considerably depending on location and roof styles.

The longevity of concrete is evident in Roman archetecture. Longevity can reduce environmental cost.
A very old concrete structureFoter.com / CC BY-SA

Concrete is probably the most commonly used building material. The raw material for its production is usually available reasonably close. It is very heavy and transportation can add considerably to its cost. In my area concrete is usually delivered for about $150.00 per cubic meter. Some areas have prices of $250.00 and more. The production of cement is highly energy intensive and is responsible for considerable carbon emissions. Not a very environmentally friendly material choice, but a big winner in longevity. Some structures built with concrete by the Romans are still standing and even sometimes usable after more than 2000 years. Carbon cost of concrete manufacture has one estimate of carbon emissions. For a technical comparison of concrete and steel environmental cost follow this link.

Heat energy used adds a high environmental cost to steel
Heat energy being used is evident in this photo of the interior of a steel millPayton Chung / Foter.com / CC BY

Steel is another building material that is energy intensive in production. The thermal resistance of steel is very poor. It’s longevity, however, is very good. It is almost 100% recyclable and a high percentage of steel used today has been recycled. It is also quite heavy which adds to carbon footprint through transportation.

Other metals are similar to steel, but some are becoming very costly due to scarcity and increased mining costs..

Aluminum is highly energy intensive in production. The carbon foot print may not be very high, though, since much of the manufacturing is done where low-cost hydroelectric is available. It is also considerably lighter than other metals, lessening its carbon cost through transportation. To recycle aluminum requires less than 6% of the energy as producing new aluminum from bauxite. Recycled aluminum accounts for at least half of the product produced in North America.  This article discusses the energy cost of aluminum production, and ways to reduce it.

Any building material has an environmental cost associated with it. The environment is best served by using the least material possible, It is worth considering the use of lower cost alternatives wherever possible.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

A Sustainable Lifestyle

The environment is our individual responsibility and the adoption of a sustainable lifestyle by each of us is the only plausible way to reduce our impact through industry and population.

“How can we have an organic agriculture or horticulture and manage our landscapes to sustain themselves over generations on one hand, then consume goods from industries managed in ecologically damaging ways on the other? It’s pointless designing an organic garden and then buying a gas guzzling car or building a house from concrete and steel, when we can use local materials with less embodied energy”. A quote of (Maddy Harland | Wednesday, 23rd January 2013) in Permaculture.

I would add. How can we boycott or protest the actions of industry while not living a sustainable lifestyle ourselves. How can we, in good conscience, engage in civil disobedience and action against government policies that we encourage by our own lifestyle choices. How can we expect industry and government to do differently from our own example.

View of the Utah Copper Company open-pit mine workings at Carr Fork, as seen from the railroad, Bingham Canyon, Utah  (LOC) Mining for resources has a negative impact on local ecology.
Environmental impact of resource extraction. A copper mine in UtahThe Library of Congress / Foter.com

I would wager that, no matter how environmentally conscious you are, you still have a lot of room to improve. There are likely many ways that you can reduce your foot print. Some are easy and minor, but others would require major lifestyle changes.

The richer nations use the most resources and generate the most pollution and waste. Poor countries, on the other hand have alarming birth rates and poor practices of land use.The simple weight of numbers leading to desertification and other environmental damage.

The current environmental catch phrase is climate change. Global warming is really the issue, but the wording is not nearly as frightening. Everyone seems to be afraid of change but nobody wants to take responsibility. It is easier to blame industry and government.

So is global warming real? It certainly appears to be. It is less clear what the effects may be, how fast they will happen, and how damaging they will be. It is also arguable as to what can be done, if anything, to stop or slow the warming.

A coal power plant produces considerable carbon emissions and other pollutants. Much of the coal is produced from open pit mines, creating more damage.
A coal-burning power planteutrophication&hypoxia / Foter.com / CC BY

What is the cause? There seems to be a correlation between the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and average global temperatures. It follows that human beings, by their use of fossil fuels, may be part or all of the cause. It may also be that most of the warming trend is from natural causes, but I don’t think there is any doubt that humans are having an effect.

What would have happened if there were no humans on the planet? Well, it is probable that the earth would have followed past trends and gradually warmed to a peak and then cooled. The end result would have been another ice age. Each successive ice age would likely be more severe as the geological activity of the earth lessens. The question is, are people causing a catastrophe or simply delaying the next ice age.

The real question is far more personal. What is the effect going to be, on ourselves, on nations or on the human race as a whole? More severe storms may cause a greater loss of life and more property damage. Rising sea levels may inundate large portions of some nations such as Bangladesh or the Maldives. Large scale migrations and border conflict could be the result. Habitat may be destroyed and extinctions of wildlife may occur.

Polar Bears Play fighting. Polar bears are one species at risk from global warming.
A species at riskFoter.com / CC BY-SA

My own feeling is that, although we may be terrified of change, we can adapt to any changes that may occur. Whole cities can be relocated over a period of a century or so. We can build our shelters to withstand much fiercer weather. Agricultural zones may change but there is little evidence that production would be reduced. Already the corn belt seems to be moving north. A much greater variety of fruit can now be grown in the north as a result of milder winters and the development of hardier varieties. The time span may not be long enough for some other species to adapt but it is almost certain that the niches will be refilled by different species.

Most scientists seem to agree that human use of fossil fuels, leading to an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, is the root cause of global climate change. I am not so sure. Scientists have a poor record when it comes to predictions. You only have to read past issues of science magazines to see this. Science fiction writers often do better. What is pretty obvious is that drastic action to curb CO2 emissions could lead to greater social upheaval than the effects of climate change.

Does that mean we should not bother to reduce our burning of fossil fuels. A most emphatic NO. Fossil fuels are a diminishing and finite resource. Already they are getting difficult to find and more expensive to produce. Petroleum products and coal are such valuable resources for other uses that future generations may question why we would burn it so carelessly.

Diesel and gasoline engines in large trucks use a lot of fuel. ATV engines produce a lot of pollution and careless use can create damage to ecosystems.
Fuel burnersDiamondBack Truck Covers / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

The real culprits here are not industry or governments. It is you, me, our friends and neighbors. Our insatiable demand for bigger, better and more is unsustainable and may leave our grandchildren a world of want. It is up to you and me to change the way we live. We have to learn to use less.

You may wonder where I am going with this in a blog that is primarily about building yourself a house. Well it is also about building smaller, more efficient and less costly. It is about building stronger houses with a longer useful life. It is about choosing designs and materials to lessen environmental impact. It is about reusing material and appliances to lessen the strain on our resources.

There are many significant factors to address. I intend to further discuss the choices in design, materials and construction methods in future articles. In particular, their environmental impact.



Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Save the Environment, Save Your Money

It seems to me, that there is a direct relationship between the cost of products and their environmental impact.

Monster Turtle in Bangor!
How many miles per gallon, or would it be gallons per mileLawrence Whittemore / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

If the primary use of a vehicle is for personal transportation, it is pretty obvious that a 4 wheel drive, one ton, dually is much more costly than a compact car. It is also pretty obvious that the manufacture, and daily use, of the larger vehicle has a much more profound impact on the environment.

The same holds true for housing. The larger a house, the more the cost to yourself and the environment. The cost does not stop at the end of construction. Energy use and on-going maintenance is necessarily more for a larger home.

Of course, if cost is not a factor and you are not concerned with your personal impact on the environment, then there is no point in reading this. You are unlikely to be reading it anyway. Most people ,however, will use some type of justification for the money they spend, and for their effect on the environment. I wonder at the validity of many of these arguments.

There is no way that you can live or that industry can operate without an impact on the environment. A basic definition of humanity is that we modify our environment to suit us rather than adapting to conditions. The mold was set from the first use of fire, the first use of clothing and the first construction of shelter. We are not totally unique. Birds build nests and many animals construct burrows.

Campfire Pinecone
Foter.com / CC BY-SA

We are unique in our use of fire. Our use of fire seems to have had the single most detrimental effect on our environment. It has also been the single biggest boon to mankind, without which civilization would not exist. Nor could we support the six billion or so people who now populate this planet.

So are there practical alternatives today? Probably not.The cost factor suggests to me that converting totally to solar may not be a solution. Wind is really just another form of solar. It is difficult to calculate the fuel energy cost of solar because of the many variables The manufacture of components, transportation, and maintenance of solar all require fuel energy at this time. The cost suggests to me that the gain may be negative for many projects. In other words, solar conversion may use more fuel than it saves. This is not to say that we shouldn’t begin to convert. There should be a break even point where solar starts to provide an edge. This may come quickly as more solar is used for manufacture and transportation.

Well what do we do? I think the first, and most practical, step is to reduce our dependence on energy. Simply put, don’t use  as much energy. This can save money and may make alternative energy sources more practical.

The number one choice should be to reduce your direct use of energy. Drive less and drive smaller. Use less heating and heat smaller spaces. This can entail some major lifestyle changes. It also means some major changes in personal priorities.

If you drive a large vehicle, what is your justification? I am going to try to list some I have heard along with some I have assumed.

(1) Prestige – A large vehicle is a way to display wealth and power. Well, you can’t have it both ways. You are either concerned with the environment or how you look to your neighbor. More and more, that prestige item is making you look like a greedy consumer, using more than your share of diminishing resources.

Deadliest countries to drive in!
Probably the result of a bad decisionbrizzle born and bred / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

(2) Safety – There is a perception that a large vehicle is somehow safer for the occupants. There is some evidence that survivability is better in a larger vehicle involved in a collision. Probably true, if that collision involves a smaller vehicle. If you are going to head on with a semi, I don’t think it matters. It has occurred to me that the smaller vehicle is also a much smaller target. You could probably improve your safety more by investing in driver training for your family

(3) Comfort – Some validity here. A small car can be a little less comfortable, especially for a large person. It comes down to priorities. Is it really necessary or wise to drive for long hours at a stretch. At shorter distances, I don’t really notice a difference, and I am a rather large man. Manufacturers are improving considerably in this area.

(4) Space –  You might need the space for transporting your kids hockey team and all their equipment. This seems pretty valid. Most families, however, have 2 or 3 vehicles. Choose an appropriate one for the job. Consider if a mini-van would work as well as a Hummer. There is a reason for the popularity of 5 door or hatch-back compacts. They can provide even more cargo space than even a large luxury car.

These justifications actually assume that they confer an advantage. Actually, there are many advantages to a smaller car. Not all are related to less cost, environmentally or financially.

Welcome to Polk county, FL.
Is there a purpose for jacking so high?Ant1_G / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

(1) Parking – There is a tremendous difference between a large vehicle and a small car.

(2) Maintenance – Tires, batteries, wash jobs and storage can all be substantially easier and less costly.

(3) Turning radius – Can be very convenient and time-saving with a small vehicle.

(4) Space requirements – The garage or driveway space required can be substantially less.

Once, while in a barroom conversation, I was bragging about my commitment to the environment by driving a small car. A friend pointed out that surely there was a financial consideration. He meant, I think, to infer that I drove a small car because I could not afford a larger one. There is some truth to that. I prefer to spend my resources on other things.  I could, however, buy a three-year old luxury car, instead of a new compact. I would have to drive it less. I just can’t see any advantage to this route.

john hejduk, berlin tower, social housing 1988
Efficient, but something like an anthillseier+seier / Foter.com / CC BY

This blog is primarily about housing, but with the exception of turning radius, the above advantages apply and much of the justifications are similar. A smaller house uses less space, less non-renewable resources, and can be much less costly. Of course one could live in an efficient apartment and use nothing but public transportation, but we are talking about reducing the impact of the suburban or rural lifestyle. This lifestyle may become unaffordable for many, if we do not.

Going small seems to be a win win situation, reducing environmental impact and saving money. Now how do we spend that money without having too much of a negative impact. You could hire a maid, buy land and return it to nature, or help a third world family. I am sure you can think of many options.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Size Matters When Building Your House

Size matters to the planet and to your wallet.

when size matters
RowdyKittens / Foter.com / CC BY

Is it practical to reduce the size when building your house? Does a smaller car make sense?

As you may know from previous posts, we have been living in a in a motor home for the last six weeks, as we get a start on our new house. This isn’t a new experience. We recently lived for an entire year in motor homes while traveling. It has given us a perspective on what our real need for space might be.

For an excellent photo essay about a tiny house, follow this link

Of course a motor home is not exactly a house. If you don’t like your neighbors, the climate is unsuitable , or you want a change of scenery, it only takes an hour or so to pack up and move. This will be the first time we are permanently (for the summer) in one location.

There are quite a number of people experimenting with permanent RV living. Often they are snow birds, who move to more pleasant climates as the seasons change. Of course this option is rarely open to people with children or jobs. It does serve to illustrate that there is a large proportion of the population who do not really need houses at all.

Over time, many of our wants seem to become needs. Only by doing without, do we really find out if we miss things or not.

size matters to the environment
ecstaticist / Travel Photos / CC BY-NC-SA

Our living space while building was less than 8 feet wide and about 35 feet long or about 275 sq. ft. (26 sq. m.). Is this livable? Yes it is. It is even quite comfortable as long as we have some extra storage and outdoor living space.

Disadvantages? Well, our hallway is 22 inches wide, which is just over my shoulder width, so passing each other is a squeeze. Space around our double bed is quite limited, which makes getting in and out awkward. Getting dressed is also a little awkward. The dinette is cramped which is uncomfortable for a fella as large as me. We do have a bar and ice maker which we barely use. Without these, the dining area could be much larger. The driving area takes about 15 square feet away from our living area. The kitchen area leaves room for only one cook and there is no dishwasher. It is, however, remarkably efficient when you get accustomed to it. There is no comfortable office workspace, and it was a little awkward typing this. It is difficult to find a place to put your shoes and jackets. We do not have laundry facilities.

This is an older unit which is not designed for long term living. It is, however. not intolerable given outdoor living space, and serves to show how little our needs can be. There was a time when many mobile home were not much larger.

The advantages? There is not much area to clean. There is not much space to heat or cool. We use less than 30 gallons of water per day which is only about a cubic meter per week. Laundry may increase that to 40 or 45 gallons. Our electric and fuel use is very small. Although we have 2 furnaces and 2 air conditioners, neither have been turned on since we moved in. .

Size matters in a bedroom

Our bedroom

This motor home has a comfortable double bed. Although we have, for years, been accustomed to a queen size bed, we adapted with no problem at all. So why do we want larger?

The kitchen counter has a built in food processor drive which accommodates several kitchen appliances and saves lot of storage space. This seems like a better option than more cupboard space.

The last couple moves we made showed that we had kitchen stuff we had not used in at least a year. There were still empty spaces in the cupboards. This was just a typical 10 x 10 kitchen but I am sure we could have done with half the cupboards. Counter space always seemed to be at a premium but part of that was because we had a lot of unnecessary stuff parked there.

We are definitely limited, when it comes to indoor entertainment, or overnight guests, but we have found ways to cope. Winter, of course, would make things much more difficult, even if the RV was built for cold weather.

All this has convinced me, that a comfortable home for 2 people, could be designed in about 500 sq. ft.. The 1000 sq. ft. home we are building may seem palatial by the time we move in.

What is the purpose of this little exercise? I think it shows that most of us could do with much less space than we suppose.

Less space means less environmental impact. It also means less initial cost, less maintenance, and less money spent for heating and cooling.

So why are we building a house more than twice that size? A difficult question. Particularly as I am a huge advocate of small.

size matters when you sell
i am real estate photographer / Foter.com / CC BY

We do require reasonable ease and value in resale. We are quite old, and things could change rapidly for us. I don’t believe the market, in our area, is quite ready for a 500 sq. ft. house. We require a second bedroom for a handicapped daughter who spends about 4 nights with us every couple weeks. We occasionally have more overnight guests, so have included extra multiple use space. I do need a comfortable office and computer station. Because of frequent guests and our age we believe two full baths are necessary.

These may be fairly valid arguments, but they do not prevent me from feeling just a bit guilty, for using more resources than we might need.

We did plan for an open concept plan for our kitchen, dining, living and office areas. This allows for some adjustment of the spaces as the need arises. We also planned for the house to be easily expandable, if the need should arise for future owners. The house has no basement. Expansion that way is not an easy option.

I do ease my guilt, and my wallet, by purchasing used material where possible, and by building an efficient house.

I have no guilt at all about our vehicles, another area where size matters. We live in a rural area, and at least one vehicle is an absolute necessity. We drive a compact car in a five door, or hatchback, configuration. It gives us as much room for cargo as many large cars. Ease of parking, small turning radius, low initial cost, and of course excellent fuel mileage, make me a real fan of small cars. Comfort may suffer some, but not significantly. I feel I gain some prestige in showing my concern for the environment.

car size matters with a family
Mikey G Ottawa / Family Photos / CC BY-NC-ND

Compact cars are probably not an option for families with children, Mini vans are a good choice in this case.

Some will argue a safety difference. In my opinion a large car may not be maintained as well, because of cost. You are also carrying a much larger load of a very flammable fuel. Agility and stopping distances may be reduced with a large heavy car. Survival in a small car may not be as good when in a collision with a larger vehicle. However, doesn’t that make the large car the killer?

size matters
mrpattersonsir / Foter.com / CC BY

Of course, you can own a big car and still have no more impact on the environment than me. You just have to drive less at sensible speeds. Considering the cost, you likely will.

We also own a small truck (a Ford Ranger,) needed for construction, and as backup. Fuel efficiency is reasonable but not exceptional. We avoid using it if we can.

I have been told that size matters in other fields of endeavor. I think they were talking about my waist size. It certainly reduces my agility and costs a lot to maintain.

Update — we recently disposed of our truck and purchased a minivan with stowaway seats. It can haul as much cargo as the truck and can also tow a trailer for dirty loads. It is a multi use vehicle that still has a quite reasonable fuel use.

Nine ways to make your home more energy efficient. 

Energy efficient building material

Impact of cars on the environment

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Environment as your responsibility

The responsibility for the protection of the environment is largely yours and mine.

our environmentI have little progress to report, as we are still waiting on a development permit. It should arrive this week, so actual construction should start soon. We have been spending our time cleaning up our lot and working on part of the landscaping.

It has also given me time to think. I have to be careful to not hurt myself by overdoing that.

The environment and saving money are two mountain environmentsubjects I spent a lot of time ruminating on. The result was a rather long essay. Too long, I felt, for a post. I have published it as a page under the title “The Environment, Global Warming and you.”

I know that everyone is, or should be, concerned with our environment. My take on what should be done is, perhaps, a little different. I hope you will find a little time to read this page and comment on it. Perhaps share it with your friends.

Beauty in the environmentAfter living all my life in rural areas, I have seen the environment degraded alarmingly. There have been many changes, including weather norms. Admittedly, some of the changes have been good and even beneficial to people and some wildlife. Other developments have been much less benign. Change, however has been constant.

It is my belief, that the environment is not directly the responsibility of government or industry. Rather, I believe that the responsibility for environment protection, lies directly on the shoulders of the individual. Government can influence the actions of individuals if it is politically popular to do so. Industry is governed by the buying habits of individuals. It all comes back to you and me. When enough people are willing to commit to a course of action, government and industry must follow.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

The environment and building your home

Most people today, will be at least some what concerned with the environment, when planning and building their home. Both construction and the ongoing operation of the house will have their effect.

The environment is everyones responsibility

The environment is everyones responsibility

The size of your home will have the biggest overall impact. If the environment is a primary concern of yours, carefully consider your needs, and build as small as you are comfortable with. This has added advantages in cost, and in future maintenance. There is much less effort, and cost, involved in keeping a small house clean and well maintained.

The material used, in building your home, will have varying costs to the environment. Although I lack the resources to be specific, I can list some concerns to be considered.

Reuse and recycling of material should be considered at every opportunity. The longevity of materials is important, as it reduces waste streams. Fuel use for transportation is also an important factor.

 Try for least environment impact

Modern home

Wood is used extensively in housing and furnishings. It is a natural and renewable resource. Carbon is stored in the wood for the life of the house. Replanted forests remove carbon dioxide from the air and stores it in the wood. Some carbon is transferred to the soil in the form of humus. The cost would be in the energy used for harvesting, transportation and replanting, and in land use. Recycling and reuse is limited.

Concrete is another common construction material. It’s longevity is excellent. Because of weight, transportation is a significant factor. The ingredients, though abundant, must be mined. The limestone used for cement must be heated in kilns to drive out the water. The carbon release to the atmosphere is significant. Concrete is not easily reused or recycled.

Cement manufacture

Steel, and other metals used, must be mined and refined. Many metals are becoming harder to find and increasingly costly to mine. This usually has significant effect on the environment. On the other hand, metals are relatively easy and economical to recycle, and a high percentage of metal products are from recycled material. Metal products used in house construction have excellent longevity.

Plastics are being used more and more in home construction. It is replacing metal almost totally in plumbing. It is also widely used for window manufacture, vapor barriers, insulation and fixtures. Plastic has a bad reputation in the waste stream. It is almost indestructible and recycling is not yet widespread. This relates largely to it’s use for packaging and for disposable containers. It’s use in housing does not contribute greatly to this problem. Plastics are commonly made from petroleum resources such as oil or natural gas or their by-products. It’s light weight and longevity reduces it’s impact on the environment when used in construction.

Plastic production.

Shattered Glass - Britney Spears
Mr. Carls / Music Photos / CC BY-NC-ND

Glass is a component of every home. It can be reused but is seldom recycled. An inert material, it is virtually indistinguishable from normal soil components, if crushed. Energy is used in it’s manufacture, and it’s weight adds to transportation cost. Glass fiber has widespread use as insulation, in shingles, and as a structural component of doors and fixtures.

Glass manufacturing.

Brick, tile and other ceramic material use considerable energy in their manufacture and they are heavy. Sun dried adobe is usable in some climates, and has less impact.

Asphalt, used in shingles or for driveways, requires some heat to remain liquid until used. The name is applied to the material used for roadways, even though gravel and sand are the main components. The same is true for shingles, where other materials make up the bulk of the mix. Recycling is possible where facilities or equipment exists. Transportation is a large factor in the economies of recycling. A petroleum by-product, asphalt may be a more finite resource than concrete, but likely creates less greenhouse gas in it’s production.

Oil refining and asphalt production.

Some materials, such as stone, earth, straw bales, or in some cases wood, have very little negative impact on the environment. If they are available locally or even on site.

Traveling to Albany
Barb Henry / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Transportation of material is often the largest single source of pollution and greenhouse gases. The use of locally produced material can significantly reduce the impact of your project.

The longer the useful life of a construction material, the less it will effect the environment. Single use items, such as packaging and disposable containers, create huge problems in disposal. The near indestructible properties of plastics make them an excellent choice in construction, but the same characteristic is a problem when they are disposed of. Recycling helps to alleviate the problem, but faces problems of economics and logistics. Transportation of waste to recycling plants may cause more pollution than it alleviates.

Asphalt shingles are a good example. They are available in grades with life expectancies of from 20 to 50 years. Because the initial cost of a house is important for many reasons, builders often use the lowest grade, even though the long term economics strongly favor longer lasting products. Twice the lifespan means half the material use and half the contribution to the waste stream. Used shingles are usually sent to a land fill because of a lack of recycling facilities.

The ongoing operation of your home also has significant impact. Comfort and economics strongly favor an energy efficient home up to a point of diminishing returns. Current low interest rates, and rapidly rising energy costs, means more capital investment can be made in efficiency. Reducing the size of your home, to closely match your actual needs, can also make more money available. Your concern for the environment may trump pure economics, but don’t forget the impact of material use. The energy used to manufacture and transport material could negate any future energy savings.

|The simplest way to help the environment is to use less of everything. Use less heating fuel, water, electricity, consumables of any kind, and fuel for transportation. The earth will thank you.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Energy efficiency and the environment

 The efs and the ens, they are closely related, you better effen believe it.

Along with the destruction of natural habitat, the wasteful and inefficient use of energy is the biggest threat to our environment today. Most of our cities suffer from periods of dangerous smog from the burning of fuels to power our transportation, to heat our homes, and to produce electrical energy for any number of uses. Carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere are rising and may create dangerous climate change. Huge swathes of land are altered drastically to produce hydro, coal or oil and gas. Huge wind farms are supposed to be part of the answer but they to are scars on the face of the planet and are creating ugly (in my opinion) vistas, possible noise pollution and a danger to migrating birds. In the face of escalating energy costs energy efficiency is a primary consideration when building your house.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not a rabid environmentalist bent on shutting down or stopping development of energy resources or the transportation facilities they require. What I am concerned about is that we are using limited resources at far too fast a rate and that at some point in time we simply will not have enough or it will become too expensive to support our civilization. I also believe that the corporations that extract and deliver these energy sources are too easy a target and that activist efforts to curtail their operations will be counter productive and ineffective in the long run.

What I do believe is that each and every one of us is responsible for the careful stewardship of our environment and our resources. An attitude of getting the most the fastest is fast becoming a morally unacceptable way of life. I am not talking about money as such but rather how it is spent. Conspicuous consumption may be destroying our planet and our civilization.

Now that I have finished my little rant I can get back to what this blog is really about. Building houses. However it is also about building smaller, cheaper and more environmentally friendly. This means energy efficiency is a primary goal.

I read someplace recently that the average size for a new home being built today in North America is over 2000 sq. ft.. This is while the average family size has been trending steadily downward. I was raised in a house of about 700 sq. ft. and that was considered quite comfortable for the time. Most of you over thirty were raised in houses of 900 to 1300 sq. ft.

What is it that makes people believe that their needs are suddenly so much greater than their forebears. I think ego, because why else would someone tie themselves to crippling mortgages, high utility bills, double housework and double maintenance. I suppose it is for the same reason that people tie themselves to large vehicle payments, high fill up costs, higher maintenance costs and difficult parking.

Big homes like big cars use considerably more energy. While homes today can be built to use a lot less energy than in the past it is still true that the larger the roof and wall area the more energy that will be used.

My point is that for the sake of your bank account and the environment you should consider your real needs carefully before building. For some reason when I built my last house I felt that a large jet tub would be soothing for old bones. I think I have used it three times in six years and I am not sure my wife has ever used it. (No, we are not getting real smelly, we use our walk in shower daily.) It is a pretty expensive unit for bathing the dog.

A smaller house is more energy efficient and certain design factors can increase that efficiency. It will also require less material and place less demand on resources, yours and the planets.

Keep your wall and ceiling area down by sticking to simple shapes.

Windows and doors cannot be well insulated so reducing the size and number of them can make sense.

Don’t skimp on insulation, it is cheap, effective and pays back quickly. I suggest R20 for walls and R50 for ceilings as a minimum if you are in any area which has significant cold or hot seasons. Payback reduces quickly as these amounts are exceeded but it depends on your concern for comfort and the environment. Consider structural changes such as raised heels on the trusses to allow for extra insulation in spots normally difficult to insulate . Wide eaves can help by shading windows and walls in the summer.

Comfort very important

I can’t overstress the importance of sealing your house well against uncontrolled air infiltration or exfiltration. This is difficult to do in existing houses but should be done with great care on new construction. The material used is inexpensive and energy savings substantial

There are many technical innovations appearing on the market that can decrease the use of heating fuel or electricity dramatically. Payback may be difficult to figure out but the higher your concern for the environment the less important this becomes.

One of the newest ideas is a learning thermostat which supposedly learns your habits and adjusts accordingly for the most efficient use of cooling and heating. I have no experience with this item but the idea is intriguing

Tankless gas water heaters offer efficiency as high as 98% and in my experience work excellent. A concern is the water quality in your area. High BTU models are needed where incoming water is cold. They can be used in hydronic space heating applications as well but check with the manufacturer for suitability and warranty. They do not require a chimney, do not use much space and are usually direct vent which I feel is safer. High efficiency condensing models do require a drain. Quite expensive but the price has dropped sharply in the last few years.

Forced air gas furnaces and boilers are available with efficiencies of 92% and up. These can also be direct vent without a chimney and require a drain. The payback on these is quit good in cold climates. Direct venting pulls outside air for combustion and vents combustion gases directly outside.

Hydronic radiant heat, usually under or in the floor, can be quite energy efficient since you are comfortable at considerably lower air temperatures which results in less heat loss through walls and ceiling.

Air conditioners (heat pumps) can utilize ground water or the earth itself as an energy source or even without can be good in areas where natural gas is not available. My experience in this area is very limited. In my region well designed and built homes require little or no air conditioning.

There is a limit to how much money you can put into windows and still have a reasonable payback but a low E coating (don,t ask me what that means) is apparently effective at blocking the passage of some radiant heat. It is quite inexpensive.

Electric heat is perfectly efficient but unless your area has low rates or your usage will be low it is likely not cost effective. Though if you can eliminate a gas service it might make a difference.Ventilation is needed in well sealed houses and can be supplied by heat recovery ventilators (HRV) in cold climates which prevent too much warmed air from being exhausted. Since the air is fan forced in both directions they aid in maintaining a neutral air pressure in the home. Ventilators are also used in some hot climates but lack of experience means I cannot elaborate much. A better source of information for warmer climates is a blog called Energy Vanguard. I believe they are in Arizona.

Low flow shower heads and modern front load washing machines conserve both water and the fuel to heat it. Needless to say, large bathtubs use a lot of water and energy. Toilets today use much less water per flush but you can still save water by installing double flush models. These allow the use of a lesser amount of water when flushing only liquids. Conserving water also saves the energy required to purify and get it to you.

Consider the energy use when buying your appliances. Purchase refrigerators or freezers of a size that suit your actual requirements. Allow space for larger units if future requirements should change.

Insulating your hot water pipes seems sensible. A circulating system so you do not have to run water till it is hot may make sense in more ways than one. A waste water heat recovery system can save energy and the reuse of gray water for irrigation might be considered.

The use of fluorescent lighting is becoming more commonplace and can save a little on electricity and reduce the air conditioning load. There is the argument that the waste heat from incandescent lighting can reduce the heating requirements during heating season. I don’t find this valid as electricity is most often more costly than heating fuel.

There are probably other innovations that I have not heard of yet and many that may make little economic sense and having payback times that could exceed their useful life. Some of these will be a matter for your conscience. The energy cost of manufacture should be considered before purchasing some items.

The least costly way to conserve energy is to change some of your habits and in some cases expend a little of your own personal energy. Turn off lights when they are not needed. Wear warmer clothes for comfort and turn down the heat. Don’t drive when you can walk, cycle, or use public transportation. There can be the added benefit of better health. Use a clothes line instead of the dryer when the weather is nice. Take shorter showers and fewer baths. Drive slower, speed greatly increases your use of fuel as well as increasing the likelihood of a deadly crash. The time you gain is usually so minimal as to be almost unnoticeable. To have the least detrimental effect on the environment it is best to use the least possible amount of material or goods of any kind.

Lowering your energy use considerably can make the utilization of your own alternative energy sources, passive or otherwise, much more practical and cost effective.

The use of trees for shade and for wind protection are undervalued in my opinion. They have the added values of reducing ambient temperatures in their proximity and of the long term sequestration (wow, tough word) of carbon in their wood. Oxygen is a by-product of their growth and they may help remove pollutants from the air.

One addition to a house that I am a fan of and that I believe has a positive environmental impact is the attached garage, particularly in cold climates. Consider the idle time required to warm or cool a vehicle, the cost of operating engine heaters and the purchase and installation costs of remote starts, not to mention the extra wear on your vehicle and sun damage to its finishes. It is not necessary to keep a garage as warm as the house and one or two shared walls reduce the heating load of both. Each time you return from a trip the residual heat in the drive train and cabin of your car adds itself to the garage and reduces heating cost. Of course this is off set in really cold weather by the mass of cold metal in the body. I have heated garages at very low cost with the use of in floor radiant heat and building standards similar to that of the house overall. I could have reduced that more by using a high efficiency heat source and will do that next time. It is hard to beat the comfort of getting directly into your car from the house in inclement weather.

I have noticed one disadvantage. A number of times I have found myself downtown still in my bedroom slippers even in very bad weather.

This has been an extra long post that I hope emphasizes the importance I place on the subject of energy efficiency.

Saving money and saving our environment are both very important to me personally. Money because I don’t have much and the earth because I have to live on it. (For a little while yet at least)

You have to live with what you and others make of this world and your own corner of it.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter