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Friday, October 31, 2014

Green Insulation

Source: Flickrr
Image: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture

Insulation, by it's very energy-conserving nature, was already considered by some to be green. However today we can choose to go much greener thanks to a wide array of choices and advances in insulation technology. An insulation's R-value measures its resistance to heat flow ranging from R-1 to R-60. The higher the R-value, the more it restricts heat flow, but also the more expensive it can be. Your goal is an R-value in your home between R-30 and R-60. So if an insulation has an R-value of 3 or 4 per inch, you'll need ten inches of it to achieve your goal.

Yes, those are soybeans pictured above. Move over fiberglass insulation, now there's something healthier. Of course the insulation doesn't look anything like this handful of beans. Instead, it's a convenient, white spray foam available through companies like www.thegreencocoon.com. With an R-value of R-5.5 it's quite efficient and also provides a good sound barrier.

Denim or cotton insulation
Source: Flickrr
Image: Nicole Hennig

Insulation keeps heat in during cold weather and the cold air in during hot months. How much energy costs can be reduced has long been the deciding factor in selecting insulation, but now consumers are also rightfully concerned with chemicals and their carbon footprint.  HVAC systems are also responsible for approximately 44% of the energy used in a home. Denim or cotton is a natural and renewable resource, making it one of the greenest insulation products on earth. While cotton insulation costs twice as much as fiberglass, it doesn't contain formaldehyde which some studies have linked to certain types of cancer. It's also very effective when it comes to absorbing moisture. When treated with boric acid, it's flame retardant. It's also insect repellant. It rates R-3.2 to R-3.7.


Sheep's wool insulation
Source: Flickrr
Image: Laura Stephens

Pictured above, these tiny house builders have opted for sheep's wool insulation, joking, "It's going to be like wearing a huge, shed-shaped jumper." They're probably not far off considering sheep thrive in some of the harshest climates, including the Arctic. Sheep's wool insulation has the added benefit of producing heat whenever it absorbs moisture, which prevents condensation. You don't need to adjust your heating and cooling system as often with Sheep's wool either. It has an R-3 to R-4 rating.


Polystyrene
Source: Flickrr
Image: pshab

Most would never guess polystyrene is a green material, but it is an excellent insulator. Normally it's in the form of rigid, foam boards. These are actually sound waves reflected in polystyrene from an exhibit at the Explore Science Centre in Bristol, UK. Polystyrene will not only efficiently insulate your building, but it will add structural integrity to its walls. It also comes in spray foam. Even though it's plastic and takes some time to break down, it can be recycled. This has an R-value of R-3.8 to R-4.4.

Aerogel is an incredible insulator formed by removing the liquid from silica utilizing high pressure and temperatures. The molecular structure isn't conducive to heat passing through aerogel. It comes in easy to use sheets and adhesive strips, but it's very expensive at up to $2 per foot. R-value? R10.3!

Icynene is a spray foam insulation that seals and insulates your home like no other. It expands to nearly 100 times its volume once it hits the surface of the area you're spraying. It's great for sound-proofing too. Water vapor is allowed to escape, preventing mold from taking root. However, it's about three times as expensive as fiberglass insulation and requires a ventilation system due to its super-tight, blanket-like seal. In colder climates an air exchanger is also necessary to warm incoming air. The R-value is R-3.6.

Last but not least, let's not forget earth, as in the soil surrounding the earth homes we discussed in our last post at an R-value of R-.25 to R-1.0 it doesn't sound so impressive compared to the others we've covered, but you need to take into account moisture factors. Wet soil has a much lower R-value than dry soil. Both are great sound barriers, though. The type of soil will naturally make a difference in the R-value as well.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Earth Homes

Source: Flickr
Image: Maegan Tintari

Earth homes, earthen homes, earth berms or earth sheltered homes, no two seem to look alike. However, all are well insulated and economical in the long run. In fact, many earth home dwellers in the colder U.S. states report not turning their electric heat on until mid-December. Before you begin digging or purchase one, you need to consider most lenders are not willing to mortgage an earth home, but there have been exceptions. Some institutions are willing to finance in-house.

L├Ąttenstrasse estate in Dietikon by Peter Vetsch
Source: Wikipedia

The earth forms three sides of most earth homes, and contrary to popular belief, they are often well-lit. But they do obviously require electric lights at all times for the rooms near the back of the dwellings with the exception of those which utilize skylights and solar tubes. A dehumidifier is often used year round to combat moisture, which often accumulates quickly when the windows are opened. Wood burning stoves work well in earth homes, often requiring less than a cord of wood per fall/winter season due to their superior insulation.

Source: Wikipedia


Contrary to popular belief, earth homes are not necessarily dark and dreary inside. The front of the house is exposed and usually faces south, which allows sunlight to heat the interior. Floor plans are usually arranged so bedrooms and common areas share the light and heat from the southern exposure. Northern portions of the house benefit from strategically placed skylights, which also help with ventilation. 

Thomas E. Keyes 1950 residence in Rochester MN. designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
Source: Flickr
Image: Uff-da

Advantages include, but are not limited to: optimal insulation resulting in prime energy and CO2 savings, being virtually storm proof, fire protection, efficient lighting, provide excellent protection against blasts and nuclear fallout and they're environmentally friendly, especially in regards to rooftop landscaping and drainage.

Source: Google Images
Image: Mother Earth News

Some of the disadvantages are the difficulty in financing mentioned earlier. High humidity can lead to mold, mildew and radon accumulation. Local building codes or zoning may provide a challenge. Lastly, when building, decor plans must be kept in mind to work with rounded walls and unique dimensions. Obviously, there are far more advantages, and the vast majority of earth home owners are very happy with their decision to think outside the box.







Friday, September 19, 2014

Organic vs. Non-organic

Organic strawberries from Vollmer Farm, Bunn, NC
Source: Flickr
Image: Wendy
Is organic produce really important? According to Victoria Boutenko it is, but not for the reasons one might think. Boutenko, a pioneer in the raw food movement, says, "The problem is not that non-organic has pesticides, but rather that it doesn't have any nutrition." She goes on to say that through the plants we eat, we receive essential nutrients that were created by microorganisms in the soil. When pesticides are used, the microorganisms die and the once rich soil turns to dust. 

Source: Flickr

Boutenko also cites a table from Dr. Gary Far's Comparing Organic Versus Commercially Grown Food, in which an example of organic lettuce which contains 12mg of sodium while commercial lettuce has none. The organic lettuce also contains 176.5 mg of potassium, but commercial only has 53mg. 169mcg of manganese is found in the organic lettuce, but only 1mcg in the commercial lettuce. Organic spinach is is loaded with iron, 1584 mg. Commercial spinach, only 89mg. Even more shocking, organic tomatoes contain 1938mg of iron while commercial has just 1 mg. That's nearly 2000 times less iron. Boutenko reminds us that our goal is nutrition and organic doesn't cost 2000 times more, and that we should do whatever can to find organic. She also admits it took her years to understand the importance of organic foods, and now she only eats organic.

Source: Flickr
Image: Bethel Organic Foods, India

Boutenko also reminds us it's up to us to create the demand for more organic food. Ashland, Oregon where she lives, is home to the first McDonald's in the country to close its doors due to lack of business, followed by Dairy Queen and Pizza Hut. In other words, 'If you build it, they will come,' is a two-way street. We must build the demand for nutrient-dense organic foods.

Organic blueberries from Moon Hill Farm
Source: Flickr
Image: Renee Johnson

Organic and "natural" are not the same thing. Only foods that are grown and processed according to USDA organic standards are allowed to be labeled organic. No chemical fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, food additives, genetically modified organisms, irradiation or sewage sludge are allowed. Crops must be rotated and there is a three-year transitional period before crops can be certified organic from a formerly conventional farm. Mulch is often used to manage weeds. Requirements vary from country to country.

Source: Google Images
Image: Rutger's University

This chart gives you a better picture of the nutritional gap mentioned earlier, but for a more detailed chart and analysis I recommend Victoria Boutenko's Green for Life.

Source: Google Images

This final chart, however, is what it usually comes down to for most of us - cost. Perhaps we should all follow New York Time's Best Selling author, wellness expert and cancer survivor, Kris Carr's decision to view this extra cost as true health insurance: www.kriscarr.com.








Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Exploring Ecovillages

EcoVillage Ithaca
Source: Flickr
Image: em_diesus

It's a common myth that all the intentional communities died out in the 60's and 70's. Today, several thousand intentional communities known as ecovillages, exist throughout the world. Ecovillages range in size from fewer than a hundred multi-generational members up to several thousand like-minded people striving to become more socially, ecologically and economically sustainable. Ithaca, NY is home to one of the most famous ecovillages simply known as EcoVillage Ithaca. 60 different families enjoy two organic farms, neighborhoods named after their surroundings such as: Frog, Song and Tree, green building, natural health, local music, arts and education. Members of such communities tend to oppose factory farming, urban sprawl and blatant consumerism. They also tend to share socio-economic, ecological, and spiritual values. Part of the purpose of an ecovillage is to create a strong sense of community. Ecovillagers want to know their neighbors. In fact, most of them enjoy a community meal together at least once a week, breaking bread with their neighbors and their children. Many claim it's a richer, more fulfilling life.

Source: Flickr
Image: Bosque Village

What is life like for children in an ecovillage? Well, the old proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child," comes to mind, because these kids enjoy the many benefits of an extended family to befriend and mentor them. They spend many hours playing in nature as kids should and most seem to do less and less these days. Their parents dedicate much of their time and energy to helping build and sustain the community, so a large extended family is more than a perk or luxury. It's a necessity. The kids also seem to thrive living surrounded by friends, fields, streams and woodland creatures. As one member of Earthaven Ecovillage put it, "The children are an integral part of our community meals, plays and entertainments, celebrations, workdays and other community events."

Source: Flickr
Image: Eli Duke

But aren't they all really cults? Not so. The Fellowship for Intentional Communities states, "Most communities are not abusive toward members. The ones which are, especially those prone to violence, can attract media attention which falsely implies that intentional communities are abusive in general. It's our experience that the overwhelming majority of communities go quietly about their business, and are considered good places to live by their members and good neighbors by people who live around them." Furthermore, most are democratic communities in which the majority of decisions are made by all members voting. For an excellent compilation of dispelled myths regarding intentional communities visit: http://www.ic.org/wiki/myths-community/.

Source: Flickr
Image: Eli Duke

How are they really doing when it comes to cutting ye olde carbon footprint? Dancing Rabit Ecovillage's site features a beautiful and breakdown comparison with the average American. When all is said and done, the average Rabbit creates a carbon footprint of 8.3 to 9.4 metric tons of CO2eq each year, which is an impressive 53% less than the average American. They feel they have a long way to go, especially in the areas of food, travel, and goods and services, which is admirable. They are still well on their way to reaching their goal of a long term sustainable footprint:

Source: Flickr
Image: Butterbits

The Ecovillage lifestyle may not be for everyone, but there's no denying it encourages cooperation, consideration of others and working toward the common good. It's not uncommon to hear people lament how they used to know all the families living on their street when they were kids. As a nation, we are losing our sense of community via technology, which was meant to bring us all closer together. Gathering together for some good, old-fashioned, face to face communication and laughter revives our spirit like nothing else. Just imagine reviving your spirit in this fashion throughout your day, day in and day out. Ecovillagers are onto something.


Friday, August 15, 2014

Taking the Mystery out of Composting

Source: Flickr
Image: Bruce McAdam

Organic farms have been composting for years, but these days so do many families in an effort to reduce their carbon footprints. No doubt many more would adopt the practice if they knew just how simple it really is. Soil building sounds like an awful lot of work, but in truth, a compost pile takes care of itself.

Compost is merely a combination of brown and green organic matter. Brown matter is a nice mixture of things like sawdust, straw, shredded newspaper, dry leaves and wood chips. The green portion is made up of kitchen waste, like fruits, vegetables, tea bags, pulp left over from juicing, coffee grounds and egg shells combined with grass or lawn clippings. 

Source: Flickr
Image: Steven Depolo

You can begin with a little composting pot in your kitchen. To avoid odors and fruit flies, keep your scraps covered with dry materials, such as shredded newspaper or ideally, sawdust. 

Source: Flickr
Image: The Greenery Nursery and Garden Shop

These are some prettier composting pots that will do the trick without calling too much attention to what's inside.



Source: Google Images

This one is nice with its simplicity and clarity regarding what should go inside until it becomes second nature for everyone in the household.

Source: Flickr
Image: Mike Lieberman

If you wish to take the indoor process a bit further, you can create an indoor composting bin easily enough on a small rubber mat by drilling holes in the bottom of a 10-gallon garbage can (for aeration), placing it on some blocks or old furniture legs, and layering kitchen waste, shredded newspapers, potting mix and composted manure. For more on this great idea, visit Mike Lieberman's Urban Organic Farmer site at: http://www.urbanorganicgardener.com/2009/04/how-to-make-an-indoor-compost-bin/.

Source: Flickr
Image: Tobin

There are basically two types of composting bins, stationary and rotating. Pictured above is the clever and resourceful use of pallets in constructing stationary bins. Both stationary and rotating bins must have their contents routinely turned to allow proper oxygenation and combining of elements. You want both to retain heat and moisture. This will happen more quickly in sunshine, but you can also achieve the same results in the shade. It just takes a little longer. For those of you who are in more of a hurry to use your compost, a rotating bin is your best bet.

Source: Flickr
Image: Doug Beckers

If building a compost bin is outside your real of talents, or maybe you only need a small bin, this is a great little commercially sold rotating bin by Tumbleweed. But if you're feeling ambitious...

Source: Flickr
Image: Beth Wagar

No need to over think it, is there? This simple design is quite effective and cost efficient enough there's no reason not to have several working in various stages of decomposition.


Source: Flickr
Image: Jay@MorphoLA

There are more clever designs out there than you can imagine. This one features wire mesh and removable slats for combining compost at various stages of decomposition.

Source: Flickr
Image: Jamie Mcaffrey

Some neighbors may find your composting more attractive than others, but it's nothing a cinder block and bungee cords can't solve. Loop the bungee cords through the block once you've place it on the lid and either hook them to the handles or the bottom of the bin. Avoid composting meat, bones, dairy, fats and animal waste. Not all pests are unwelcome, of course. Centipedes, spiders, earthworms, beetles and slugs are a vital part of the composting process.

Source: Flickr
Image: Sunny by John Markos O'Neill

See? It isn't such a grueling endeavor. In fact, it looks a bit fun, but there are some things you'll want to remember:

1.  Always place a layer of brown, such as leaves or paper, in the bottom of your bin for ideal drainage

2.  Cover fresh scraps with browns. They absorb odors and assist micro-organisms.

3.  Don't let your pile get too dry. Aerate it regularly with a pitchfork.

4.  Don't let finished compost sit too long. Harvest it before pests decide it would make a good nest.

5.  A well-drained area is best for placement with at least partial sunshine.









Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Inside Masdar

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode
Source: Flickrr
Image: Nrman Foster/Masdar City rendering

The 1.4 billion phase one plan begun in 2006 is now complete. Masdar Institute is said to be the heart of the city, as everything else was secondary. There are also six main buildings, an electronic library, 101 small apartments and one street. Green Big Brother monitors energy consumption throughout the city, keeping track of every human and mechanical action requiring electricity.

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode
Source: Flickrr
Image: Chrissy Samuels

167 students and 43 academics, most of whome are from other countries, now call Masdar City home. Creature comforts on campus include: an organic food shop, a bank, a sushi bar, and a canteen. Subterranean travel is provided via driverless vehicles along the 800 meters spanning from the entrance of the city to the offshoot campus of the Massachusetts Insitute of Technology (MIT). The sustainable palmwood panels pictured above can be found at each of the four entrances, channeling cooling air through internal passages.

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode
Source: Flickrr
Image: Nrman Foster/Masdar City rendering

222 additional apartments as well as more shopping and streets, were added during phase two. Masdar City is also home to the new International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Projectionsindicate 7,000 residents inhabiting the city by 2015 along with 12,000 Abu Dhabi commuters.

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode
Source: Flickrr
Image: Nrman Foster

Students say it's easier adapting to the technology than the setting, as the flat, dusty landscape surrounding the beautiful city stretches out to the horizon. That dust and more specifically, dust storms, can cut solar insolation by as much as 30%, necessitating the hand-cleaning of the photovoltaic panels outside the city.

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode
Source: Flickrr
Image: Nrman Foster

Masdar was intended to be the world's first zero-carbon city, but plans changed with the recession. The original goal to accomodate 50,000 residents shifted to 40,000 and a projected completion date in 2025 has replaced the optimistic 2016 deadline. Plans for a second Masdar City and a solar manufacturing plant have been shelved as well. Yet when all is said and done, Masdar City is still a technological masterpiece sure to dazzle time and again as the city grows and Masdar Institute produces some of the brightest and greenest minds in the world.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Masdar City

Masdar City 23 Phase B in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Source: Flickr
Image: Inhabitat Blog

On October 31, 2013, Chicago architecture firm Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture won the global competition to design Masdar City's headquarters in the first ever zero-carbon, zero-waste city. Masdar is a multi-faceted, multi-billion dollar move by Abu Dhabi to develop and commercialize the advanced and innovative technologies in renewable, alternative and sustainable energies and green design.

Source: Flickr
Image: Inhabitat Blog

Masdar was established with a ground breaking ceremony in 2006. A commercially driven enterprise thriving on renewable energy and the sustainable technologies industry, Masdar operates on five integrated units, the most innovative being the independent, research-driven graduate university, which MIT played a large role in developing. The university is currently running eleven masters programs in different areas relating to renewable energy. The Masdar Institute of Technology has been deemed the nucleus in the development of the entire city. In most cases, when cities grow, they build a university. In this case the university will be building the city, according to Mr. Khaled Awad, Director, Property Development Unit, Abu Dhabi Future 
Energy Company (UAE). Masdar belongs to the Abu Dhabi Government-owned Mubadala Development Company, an organization for the economic diversification of the Emirate (Explore Masdar City).

Source: Flickr
Image: GDS Infographics

If you look closely, you'll see Masdar City's Personal Rapid Transit pilot system in the ad above. A pedestrian-focused community must possess a rich network of public and personal transportation options to ensure walking and self-propelled transport be the most convenient forms of transportation, as well as the most pleasant. An extensive network of shaded sidewalks and and pathways throughout the city provide the latter.  A cutting-edge public transport system of electric buses, electric cars, and other clean-energy vehicles provide transport within the city, while Abu Dhabi's light rail system and Metro lines will pass through the center of Masdar City, providing transport within the city limits as well as linking it to the surrounding areas. Most private vehicles will be kept at the city's perimeter in lots linked to public transportation. Masdar City is piloting the Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) pictured above, as well as Freight Rapid Transit (FRT) system of electric-powered, automated, single-cabin vehicles offering privacy, comfort and non-stop travel of a taxi service, and the reliability and sustainability of a public transport system.

Masdar City is a fascinating endeavor I wish to explore much further here - next week, friends!