Tiny Homes and Pests – Part II

Robert J. Kobet, LEED Faculty (ret)

 

As I stated in my blog Tiny Homes and Pests – Part I, much has been written about the diverse demographic of tiny home dwellers, within which a respect for the environment and the desire to live gently on the earth is common.  Tiny houses are subject to the same challenges as more conventional housing types when it comes to common pest infestations.  Consider this:

  1. Animal, insect and plant species pests can be prolific anywhere a tiny home is located. They may vary from the city to countryside, but they are basically everywhere.
  2. Locating a tiny house on site with the wheels and undercarriages intact, raised off the ground, can provide a very desirable place for critters to congregate, and they do, especially in rural areas.
  3. Most tiny homes are some type of wood frame construction. They provide a variety of potential nesting sites and food sources for a number of common household pests.

Again, in all cases, prevention is the best policy.  Be careful with fruit, sweets, and anything organic that is out in the open.  Use sealed food containers judiciously, and practice “pest proof” composting in covered containers indoors.  If your tiny house has a composting toilet, refer to The Humanure Handbook, by my colleague Joe Jenkins (http://bit.ly/2o1bjJY).  It has great tips on how to maintain a pest free composting toilet and compost pile.

Bob Vila, the host of This Old House and all around handy man has some great tips on how to pest proof your home naturally (http://bit.ly/2p9GXs9).  Happily, they apply to tiny houses.

  1. Combat mosquitoes with catnip. According to Science Daily, catnip repels mosquitoes more effectively than DEET.  You can grow it in your garden to repel them outside.  For personal protection apply undiluted catnip oil to the skin for up to two hours of protection.  You may find your cat is particularly happy with this idea.
  2. Repel fleas with salt. Alternately salting and vacuuming your floors will kill flea eggs.  This is a safe, pet friendly way to deal with flea infestations.  But since fleas have a three-day reproduction cycle you have to be diligent and persistent.  Salt every day for nine days and vacuum every third day.  Empty the vacuum outside after each use to keep them from re-establishing themselves.
  3. Diminish dust mites with cinnamon oil. Dust mites usually inhabit carpets and bedding, but they can be anywhere.  The protein in the fecal matter of dust mites can be a powerful allergen, especially with children.  Cinnamon bark oil has shown to control dust mites.  Mix several drops into a 50/50 solution of water and denatured alcohol and spray anywhere dust tends to collect.  The added benefit is that your house will have a wonderful cinnamon aroma.
  4. Eliminate fruit flies with a meal they can’t refuse. Trap fruit flies by filling a glass three-quarter of the way full with vinegar or cider vinegar.  Then add six to eight drops of dishwashing liquid and fill to the top with warm water.  Always toss any accumulated fruit flies outside to be sure any who survive the meal do not recuperate inside the house.
  5. Deter deer with Irish Spring. Deer may be picky about some things, but they enjoy enough of a culinary variety to devastate most gardens, flowers and shrubs.  Deter them by hanging a few chucks of Irish Spring on stakes near what you are trying to protect.  You may also try sprinkling shavings on the ground.  The soap will dissolve when wetted a few times, so you may have to replace it.

In addition to these suggestions by Bob Vila, there are a number of non-toxic home pest control strategies available on the web.  Use key words such as “non-toxic pest control”, “green housekeeping” or “chemical free pesticides” to begin your search.  I’m sure you will find what you need.

84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply share your interest in tiny homes.  We offer a selection of basic designs and have in house expertise to provide all aspects of planning, construction and maintenance.  Visit us online at www.84tinyliving.com or www.greenedgesupply.com or stop into one of our retail stores and ask our staff about how tiny houses can work for you.

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Living With Pets in Tiny Houses

Robert J. Kobet

As with many things in life, there are a lot of decisions that have to be made when considering where and how to live. They run the gamut between economic and home amenity considerations, to what and whom we want to be around; location, location, location. The decision to live in a tiny house makes some choices easier, but exacerbates others. Whether or not to keep a pet in a tiny house does both.

People love their pets. Many pet owners prioritize how they spend their time and resources based on pet ownership needs and requirements. The literature is full of articles about how important pets are to the lifestyle of individuals and families. In some cases, whether or not a pet is allowed can determine if an apartment will be leased, or if community covenants will be adhered to. Conversely, having a guide dog or a special assistant or rehabilitation pet can determine whether a home can be occupied at all. When these considerations are fundamental to one’s basic existence it doesn’t matter what type of housing is involved; a pet is a necessity.

The ability for a tiny house to accommodate a pet affects a large portion of potential tiny house buyers and builders in the US and other countries. According to the Gallup News Service http://bit.ly/2oCX9BH:

  1. Six in 10 Americans own some type of pet. Forty-four percent of Americans own a dog and 29% own a cat. Among pet owners, 73% own a dog and 49% own a cat. The implication of this in tiny house living is discussed below. Pet ownership among the American public breaks down to 27% owning a dog, but not a cat, 12% own a cat but not a dog, and 17% own both. 3% own pets other than cats or dogs, and 40% do not own any pets.
  2. Aside from dogs and cats, 10% of Americans own a fish and much smaller percentages own birds (5%), reptiles, snakes, or lizards (2%), hamsters and guinea pigs (2%), horses (2%), and rabbits (1%). Dogs and cats are considered active, dynamic pets. Most others are static. That is, they exist in a cage or some other container that is in a fixed location and the pets contained therein do not roam.
  3. Dogs tend to live with their owners without other canine companions; cats are a bit more likely to share their owner’s home with fellow felines. 59% of dog owners have just one dog, while 51% of cat owners are as likely to have multiple cats are they to have just one (49%). In a tiny house the number and size of pets co-habiting with human(s) will have a pronounced effect on the day-to-day living arrangements and conditions.
  4. By a 70% to 20% margin, Americans describe themselves as “dog persons” rather than “cat persons.” This includes a 68% to 19% margin among people who own both a cat and a dog, and a 68% to 18% preference among those who own neither. Only pet owners with a cat and no dogs routinely call themselves “cat people” (69% to 26%). In the case of tiny house living, pet ownership “identity” is not as important as what is present and why.
  5. Americans believe pets are good for their owners. Sixty percent of Americans think pet owners lead more satisfying lives than non-pet owners, while only 3% say pet owners lead less satisfying lives. One-third of Americans say it makes no difference or have no opinion. Pet ownership can contribute to the quality of life, something tiny house occupants are often very conscious of. Conversely, an incompatible situation involving pets in a tiny house can potentially be extra stressful to pets and pet owners alike; it has got to work for both.
  6. Pets are not as common a companion for single people; people who are married are much more likely to own cats and dogs than those who are not. There are many examples of singles and couples living with pets in tiny houses. Clearly, the more people, including children, and pets involved, the more challenging the situation becomes.
  7. People with young children are more likely than people without young children to own both dogs and cats. This may represent the most unlikely tiny house scenario – multiple people with multiple pets. Here every aspect of tiny house living needs to be evaluated in order to maintain compatibility.


Typical Pet Ownership Profiles

  1. Despite research showing that pets can be beneficial to seniors’ health and wellbeing, dog ownership and cat ownership both decline with age. Pet ownership is lowest in the Eastern portion of the United States, and non-whites are much less likely to own pets than are whites. There are many reasons for this, but none are due directly to living in a tiny house.
  2. Walking the dog is more fun than it is work for many dog owners. Most dog owners (70%) take their dog for at least one walk per day, with the average duration of that walk being about 17 minutes. Dog owners seem to enjoy this time with their pets – 85% of those who take their dog on daily walks say it is a pleasant experience for them, while 13% described it as “a chore”. This is part of a larger, general aspect of pet ownership. That is, all pets should have their basics needs provided including food, water, shelter, exercise and medical care. If an animal requires regular exercise, it most likely will not be satisfied living mostly indoors of any type of housing. It is reasonable to assume cats, smaller dogs and pets that do not need “wide open spaces,” rigorous exercise and continuous care may be happier in a tiny house than others.

In addition to who is most likely to own a pet in a tiny house, it is useful to explore why people own pets. According to Nischal Samji, author of a recent Quora post, http://bit.ly/2oCzWiQ there are lots of reasons people have pets, including those who live in tiny houses. Chief among them are:

  • Empathy and Compassion: Many people keep pets out of compassion. A lost puppy, a homeless kitten, and injured parrot and so on. Any mistreated animal would be happy to live in a tiny house with a loving owner.
  • Loneliness: Pets are definitely a way to cope with loneliness. People who cannot share their feelings and emotions with other people may keep pets as their companions and get attached to them. People who live in tiny houses are not immune to the effects of being alone.
  • Medical Reasons: It has become a growing trend to have a pet to reduce stress and handle depression. Scientific studies prove that having a dog decreases your blood pressure, reduces stress and can serve as a bridge to healthy social interactions. These things can occur as well in a tiny house as any other.
  • Security and Pest Protection: Dogs are kept as pets to ward off thieves and cats to ward off mice and rats. These are popular reason many people keep pets; they apply to all types of housing.

From all of this the following observations and suggestions can be made:

  • In all cases, tiny house occupants who choose to keep pets should be able to provide for their basic needs. Dogs, cats, fish, hamsters, parrots and reptiles all require different care.
  • The personality of each breed of pet should be taken into consideration. Large, hyperactive animals that need space to roam and regular exercise are probably not well suited for tiny house living. The same goes for those that are overtly territorial as the need to multitask spaces and share the couch are important concessions. The more mellow the animal, the better chance of getting along in a confined space.
  • There is seldom an effective “away” in a tiny house. Cat boxes and kitty litter, feeding stations and special sleeping pads are challenging things to accommodate in small, open floor plans both visually and with respect to sanitation and adequate ventilation. The absence of a basement space or areas where pets can be sequestered means messes made by pets will be readily noticeable. Any visitor to a tiny house who is allergic to a given type of animal will almost surely react.
  • Living in places where pets can be outside much of the time relieves the pressure on pets being indoors. The area under a tiny house that is kept on its trailer can provide shelter and an ideal place for a watchdog. Skirting the trailer can further improve this habitat.
  • Other things to consider include storing pet food, grooming supplies, toys, winter protective garments, etc. Shampooing the dog will probably need to be done outside or at the local doggie salon. Once it is properly set up an aquarium need not be nearly as challenging.

Here Jenny Xie (@canonind) shows us how pet cages can be added under a counter and integrated into a tiny house storage wall. http://bit.ly/2nb5sV9

In conclusion, it’s clear from multiple sources that pet ownership is a multi-billion dollar industry that continues to grow. More importantly, perhaps, pets are often part of who we, what we love and how we identify with each other, much like home ownership itself. The two can happily go hand in hand if expectations are realistic and the arrangement is well considered.

84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply share your interest in tiny living. We want you and your pets to get the most out of your investment in the tiny house and each other. Find us at www.greenedgesupply.com or www.84tinyliving.com, visit one of our tiny houses, or stop into any of our retail outlets and let our trained sales staff answer all of your tiny living questions.

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Tiny Houses and Building Rating Systems

Robert J. Kobet, LEED Faculty (ret)

In the fifteen years I spent as one of the original USGBC LEED Faculty and LEED consultant working internationally, I spent a lot of time discussing what LEED and other building rating systems are, how they work, and why they should be used. I always enjoyed the work, especially when it involved working in other countries with colleagues whose culture and life experiences were much different from my own. I gained a great deal by seeing how other people live, what they feel is important, and what they were willing to do to make a better life for themselves and their fellow citizens.

Along the way I have experienced the birth and evolution of several building rating systems. My time working in Europe familiarized me with BREAM, a rating system that was considered while what is not LEED was being developed by the USGBC. The Living Building Challenge, Passive House and Green Globe rating systems have all emerged in the years since LEED was launched circa 2000. Like many aspects of the green building movement, building rating systems continue to evolve. So, when asked, “How do tiny houses fit in this scenario?” my conversations typically go from 30,000 foot view down into the grounding effects of LEED for Homes.

Generally, I define green buildings as energy, material and resource efficient structures that are designed, constructed, operated and maintained – to the greatest extent possible – within the carrying capacity of the planet. All building rating systems support these tenets in one way or another, though each may categorize and organize them differently. In each, the influence of location, avoiding sensitive eco-systems, using mass transportation, etc., take their place along with using environmentally sensitive materials, maintaining superior interior air quality, responsible waste management, energy and water conservation and a host of other construct related issues. The current version LEED V4 includes rewarding using an integrative design and construction process and recognizing social equity.

In all of these categories, tiny houses can meet or exceed LEED expectations as long as a couple of important minimum program requirements and all of the prerequisites of the target LEED rating system are met. www.usgbc.org. Minimum program requirements define the types of buildings that LEED was designed to evaluate. Taken together, they serve three goals:

  • Give clear guidance to customers
  • Reduce complications that occur during the LEED certification process
  • Protect the integrity of the LEED program

Tiny homes are most impacted by two important minimum program requirements. The first is,

Minimum Program Requirement #1: Must be in a permanent location on existing land

In essence, this means the tiny house must be sited on a permanent foundation, and serviced by civil infrastructure that is in keeping with all local ordinances, codes and regulations. So, while it may be permissible to transport a tiny house to any location on the trailer it was constructed on, once in place it must meet the local definition of “permanent location.” Local codes may challenge the use of composting or chemical toilets.

Minimum Program Requirement #2: Must comply with project size requirements

Any tiny house seeking LEED for Homes certification must be defined as a “dwelling unit” by all applicable codes. This requirement includes, but is not limited to, the International Residential Code stipulation that a dwelling unit must include “permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking, and sanitation.”

The good news is that tiny houses have achieved LEED certification. The qualities and attributes meet or far exceed LEED for Homes prerequisite and credit requirements. Those that achieve LEED certification carry the added benefits of additional resale value and the reassurance of a job well done.

84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply share your interest in tiny living. Visit us online at www.84tinyliving.com and www.greenedgesupply.com and let our staff help you with any of your tiny house, green living questions.

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Tiny Houses Roll On

Robert J. Kobet, LEED Faculty (ret)

The world of green building is a dynamic one.  Construction markets react to trends and changing consumer demands.  Materials and equipment are constantly being improved or newly developed.  Architecture, engineering, design and vocational training programs respond.  And a whole host of building rating systems continues to evolve.

Amidst all of this the tiny house movement continues to grow.  TV shows like “Tiny House, Big Living,” “Tiny House Nation” and “Tiny House Hunters” have featured the small-home lifestyle and helped consumers gain a better understanding of the pros and cons of tiny living.  84 Lumber’s tiny hoses were recently featured on a KDKA television segment, something that has become quite common due to the uniqueness of the tiny homes, and the number of benefits they have to communities across the US and other countries.  Despite what some consider a niche appeal, tiny homes are selling.  Architects, real estate agents and developers say while you may not need a tiny house to live minimally and simply; it’s all a matter of good design.  “In 400 square feet we can do everything 1,000 square feet can do if designed right,” says Phoenix-based architect Jason Boyer.  “What we’re seeing at every scale is people that were in 6-to-10,000 square feet are now moving to 3-to-4,000 square feet, and people that were in 3-to-4,000 square feet are now willing to go to 2,000.”  According to Boyer, his clients rarely miss the extra space.  But anyone looking into tiny living has a lot to consider.

In high density, urban areas tiny homes may not be economical because high land costs limit initial purchase and resale potential.  Consequently, if the goal is to save money, tiny home investors may need to go to where land prices are low.  This seldom includes locations along major commuter routes, or access to established mass transit.  http://cnb.cx/2jBWI8M

Tiny houses may also require a cash purchase, as lenders may be hesitant to lend for a home that is small, and not on permanent foundation.  While much of any home construction cost can be attributed to location, tiny homes can also be more expensive to build.  Economy of scale often works against the tiny house builder.  A lot of things about conventional housing are less expensive and less challenging.  Tiny homes often also use more expensive, though more energy efficient, materials and building systems.  However, many of these choices, such as tankless water heaters and high performance windows and doors, contribute to reducing operating costs.

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In response, 84 Lumber has partnered with LightStream, a division of SunTrust Bank, the nation’s premier online consumer lender.  LightStream accepts joint applications for loan amounts from $5,000 to $100,000, and the proceeds can be used to pay for any aspect of the Tiny House project.  84 Lumber also offers tiny homes in various stages of completion, from the trailer + building plans & materials list to a fully completed model, a great benefit to do-it-yourselfers.

Other considerations include zoning regulations and building permits that may prohibit homes of certain sizes or those on wheels.  Utility installation and internet fees will likely be the same as for a conventional house.  Property taxes may be slightly less for a tiny house, but taxes are highly variable and vary with location.

Lastly, many tiny house advocates are attracted to their utility and multiple uses beyond being a primary residence.  Tiny homes can be permanent structures in RV resorts or serve a variety of functions as accessory buildings anywhere they can be properly permitted and sited.  They make excellent artist studios, guest houses, student housing and community housing options.

84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply share your interest in tiny living.  Visit us online at www.84tinyliving.com or www.greenedgesupply.com and let our staff help you with any of your tiny house, green living questions.

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Smaller and Better?

Robert J. Kobet, LEED Faculty (ret)

 

The best tiny houses are those that maximize the use of space.  This includes incorporating conveniences and technology that help to achieve that goal.  Strategies range from optimizing all three dimensions of a space for utility, storage, activities, etc., to efficiently compacting those things we simply cannot do without.  The challenge is greatest when it comes to keeping things that contribute to comfort and efficiency while capitalizing on the advantage of small scale and energy efficiency.  Kitchen and bathroom functions are particularly important because they often determine how desirable and livable the overall unit is.

Tiny house manufacturers like 84 Lumber www.84tinyliving.com and do it yourselfers (DIY) are well along the way to producing well thought out, functional tiny houses.  The basic approaches to appliances and fixture selection seem to be:

  • Using the smallest, most efficient conventional components
  • Adopting components from the recreational vehicle and marine architecture industries
  • Incorporating components that combine or package several functions

In all cases, the following issues must be considered:

  • First cost is always an issue when evaluating the suitability of a tiny house component.  It is always prudent to investigate a number of options.  The internet makes price comparisons fast and easy when prices are listed, but buying anything sight unseen still is a risk.
  • Reliability, ease of repair and replacement. Major brands typically enjoy the reputation of being reliable, but third party sources like Consumer Reports is a better indicator.
  • Warranties vary from limited time programs associated with date of purchase to item covered under home warranty policies. Tiny house owners determine which is most appropriate and realize many warranties are void if a component is modified by anyone not authorized to install it.
 Packaged greywater recycling toilet

Packaged greywater recycling toilet

 

Space saving combines lavatory & toilet

Space saving combines lavatory & toilet


Many manufacturers offer resource efficient, creative, space saving

equipment suitable for use in tiny houses.

  • Energy and water efficiency are usually a function of Department of Energy (DoE) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) / EPA Water Sense ratings indicated on stickers attached to the components. Most manufacturers list these ratings as part of their consumer sales information.
  • Anything that is transported, towed or otherwise designed to be moved needs to consider weight and a low center of gravity.  Weight may not be of paramount concern, but it could be a determining factor if all else is equal.
  • Both the recreational vehicle and marine architecture industries have mastered the art and science of making compact appliances and equipment.  The marine architecture industry in particular has an equal focus on reliability under demanding conditions.  Tiny house advocates are well served by investigating the possibilities.

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Compact units like those manufactured by ACME work well in tiny houses

http://www.acme3in1.com/barrierfree.html

  • The interior design industry in the US is based largely on a 3” increment.  That is, cabinets and other fixed interior furnishings come in 9”, 12”, 24” etc., increments.  Components ordered from other countries may be based on the metric system.   The DIY must confirm the size and fit of the selected component in the design planning process.
  • Availability has two components; is it available today, and will a suitable replacement be available in the future? The manufacturer or retail supplier needs to be questioned about this.
  • Shipping costs, if any, are easily determined, usually as part of the sales agreement.
  • Ease of installation is usually a function of a properly sized rough opening, the number and type of service connections, the ease of access to the same, the type of tools required, and whether the installation can be done with unskilled labor. Some installations are better left to professionals.
  • Aesthetics is a very subjective thing, but if it works well, why not also have it look good?

84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply share your interest in tiny homes and the answers they can provide to a number of living needs.  We offer a selection of basic designs and have in house expertise to provide 3 different package options: Build Your Own, Semi-DIY, or Move In Ready, as well as, materials needed to outfit your tiny home.  Visit us online at www.84tinyliving.com or www.greenedgesupply.com or stop into one of our retail stores and ask out staff about how tiny houses can work for you.

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Ready to Roll? Tip One

Robert J. Kobet, LEED Faculty (ret)

 

One of the most desirable aspects of tiny houses is their mobility.  But whether a tiny house is moved once or several times, some basic safety concerns must be adhered to.  Our friends at NAPA www.NAPAAutoCare.com have a number of great suggestions that apply to towing a tiny house.  For instance,

Use proper loading techniques.

                If you are loading a tiny house with materials, furniture, or other household goods, proper balance is critical for a safe trip.  You don’t want the heaviest items all the way at the front or all the way at the back of the tiny house trailer.  Most trailers are designed to support the weight of the item(s) over the center of the trailer.  Loading a trailer too heavy at the front results in too much tongue weight, unloading the front tires, and making the tow vehicle hard to control.  Overloading the rear of the tiny house has the opposite effect, unloading the rear tires, which again makes the tow vehicle hard to control.

In addition, it is always better for stability to keep the heaviest items low and well secured.  The idea is to eliminate any shifting of the load that could cause unexpected hazards or damage to any contents during transport.  In all cases it is better to have additional vehicles towed separately or driven to the new location.

Before hauling anything it is always prudent to research the route and be sure there are no adverse road conditions, weight limitations or other obstacles to a safe trip.

84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply share your interest in tiny houses.  We want you to enjoy the experience of tiny living, including relocating if that comes to pass.  Feel free to visit us online at www.84tinyliving.com or www.greenedgesupply.com and let us help you move safely.

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What will it take to make Tiny Houses legal?

Robert J. Kobet

January 16, 2017

 

What constitutes a house and how one defines a home can be a matter of personal opinion.  The terms are often co-mingled in ways that confuse both.  For instance, early humans lived in caves.  Was the cave a house or a home, neither or both?  If a house is something deliberately constructed for human habitation, but the culture of the dwelling is not happy or conducive to family living, is it a home?  If we group tents, tepees, trailers, RVs, tiny houses, repurposed shipping containers and the like into a category of places where one can live, which, if any, houses and when do they become homes?  Lastly, who decided which is what when it comes to codes, ordinances, community covenants, real estate determinations, etc., when life safety issues cross over with more subjective topics of adequate size, permanence and aesthetics?

Today, the tiny house movement is at the intersection of what constitutes both a house and a home in a dialog being played out between tiny house advocated, housing industry special interest groups, federal, state and local agencies, community leaders and decision makers and, in some cases, the courts.  Clearly, progress has been made in many places that appreciate the qualities and attributes of tiny houses.  This is due to the expanding mainstream demographic who have benefitted from tiny house ownership who simply want to promote them, and the scores of stakeholders whose mission it is to provide quality housing for the homeless, veterans in need, disaster victims and many others.  Eliminating barriers to tiny house living will take a continued effort to educate the public and those with influence in the housing sector.  Happily, there are now several groups dedicated to that mission.  They include the Tiny House Alliance, http://bit.ly/2jnhNjS, The Tiny House Collaborative, http://bit.ly/2jnhKVd, and the Tiny House Association, http://bit.ly/2jyBibn, among others.

The guiding principles of the Tiny House Alliance are good ones to emulate.  They are based on tiny houses being an alternative to over-consumption, rapid resource depletion, financial volatility, and social isolation.  But more importantly, tiny houses are a proactive step towards simplicity, flexibility, financial responsibility, community, sustainability, and freedom.  They are:

  • Conduct Businesses Ethically & Responsibly

Recognize that our financial security, our reputation, and the well-being and happiness of our clients and customers is dependent upon our integrity, and conduct our business respectfully and responsibly, taking care to maintain a healthy triple-bottom-line, balancing people, planet, and profit.

  • Design Simple, Elegant Structures, Using Space, Energy, & Resources Efficiently

Design beautiful, adaptable, efficient, high-quality buildings using design strategies to maximize the usefulness of small spaces.  Whenever possible, integrate beauty into our buildings so that they will be well loved and cared for.

  • Build Safe, Comfortable Structures to Meet Basic Needs & Desires

Utilize building materials, including natural and salvaged materials, in climate appropriate ways that suit the needs of tiny house dwellers.  Follow best practices for safe construction, and refer to applicable code for Recreational Vehicles, Manufactured Housing, or Accessory Dwelling Units when appropriate.

  • Sell High-Quality, Honest Products & Services

Recommend and promote products and services that we stand by because we’ve tried them and we trust them.  Be transparent and straightforward about our products, services, and fiscal practices.

  • Support Opportunities for Education, Information & Advocacy

Provide opportunities for people curious about tiny houses to collect information and make educated decisions.  Whether presenting information to city council or leading a tiny house build workshop, utilize best practices to inform and educate.  Advocate for amendments to regulations that are anticipated or irresponsible.

The Tiny House Alliance offers this set of guidelines for Tiny House Businesses so the uncertain future of America’s housing policy does not paralyze the Tiny House Movement today.  I believe it is a model set of guidelines that can be embraced by any individual or organization whose mission it is to advance the tiny house movement.

84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply share your interest in tiny houses.  84 Tiny Living offers several tiny houses on wheels www.84tinyliving.com and have the in house expertise and experience to help you with your healthy, tiny living questions and concerns.

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It’s Winter! Weatherizing Your Tiny House

Robert J. Kobet

January 2, 2017

 

Remaining comfortable in a tiny house in the face of weather extremes presents the same challenges as in conventional housing, and many weatherization products and procedures can be applied to each.  Investing in staying cool in summer and warm in winter also pays dividends in

  • Reduced energy costs,
  • Extending the life of the unit,
  • Less strategic maintenance,
  • Minimizing in the intrusion of exterior sources of pollution, and
  • A quieter interior.

Tiny houses delivered to the site on wheels that are not installed on a conventional foundation may also have the added concern of freeze-proofing connection to water and waste disposal services, especially if the tiny house is located in a microclimate characterized by extended periods of below freezing temperatures.  This blog will focus on winter weatherization strategies used in quality new construction, DIY new tiny home construction, and existing homeowner weatherization projects.

Generally, a tiny house loses energy and experiences drops in interior temperatures due to two primary factors – conduction losses and losses due to infiltration.  Conduction losses are those that occur through the walls, floor and roof when the exterior weather temperature is lower than the interior temperature the heating equipment is set to maintain.  Conduction losses are limited primarily by properly installed insulation and high performance windows and doors.  Most home weatherization efforts do not include adding insulation unless it is absent to begin with, or where additional insulation can be added to the very important attic space, which tiny houses typically do not have.

Using a hand held infrared thermography tool can reveal the effectiveness of the insulation package and show where insulation upgrades or repairs may be necessary.  iPhone apps exist for this function.  Utilities or non-profit organizations dedicated to energy conservation may lend these tools or perform the scan at low or no cost.  They can also be rented.  If the tiny house is deficient in any way, there are many information sources, websites and manufacturers who can help a homeowner add the proper type of insulation correctly.  84 Lumber has expert staff and insulation products that can assist you in that task.

Infiltration can account for 50% or more of the heat lost in a home.  Cold drafts, condensation on the inside of the windows, and the presence of spider webs all indicate potential infiltration sources.  Weatherization tasks can be done any time, but they should always be considered after a tiny house is moved as transporting the unit may cause things to loosen.  The same infrared thermography tool that “sees” the thermal performance of a building surface can also identify where infiltration is occurring.  A professional weatherization service often uses a fandoor, sometimes called a blower door, to deliberately induce infiltration and identify the path of unwanted outside air.  Professionals then use nontoxic smoke pencils to pinpoint the target area to be sealed, and apply the proper products to accomplish the task.  Typically infiltration targets include:

  • Cracks around windows and doors and construction joints in walls and floors and ceilings – A good grade of caulking can be used to seal these.
  • Loose fitting windows and doors – First make any adjustments that can be made to correct alignments and proper fit, then apply the weather stripping product designed for the task.
  • Surface preparations – Electrical outlets, light switches, recessed light, exhaust fans, et. If the opening around these items is large they may need to be foamed shut with one part urethane foam or similar product made for the application.  If they are relatively snug in the wall, a gasket designed specifically for each may be used.
  • Utility and building service penetrations – Electric service, water and sewer lines, cable television, etc. These are most effectively sealed with foam.

Any home improvement project should always be done carefully.  Turn off electricity to anything being weatherized, and always use proper protective gear.

84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply share your interest in tiny houses, visit us at www.84tinyliving.com.  We have the in house expertise and a wide variety of weatherization products to help you with all of your weatherization projects.  Visit us online at www.greenedgesupply.com and let us help you live greener, healthier, more energy efficient and comfortably.

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Locating Tiny Houses for Energy Conservation Part Two: Understanding Solar Geometry

Locating Tiny Houses for Energy Conservation

Part Two: Understanding Solar Geometry

Robert J. Kobet

November 28, 2016

 

Few things are more important for energy efficiency, effective day lighting and comfort in tiny houses than proper solar orientation.  As early as the first century BC, Marcus Vitruvius Pollio’s Ten Books of Architecture chronicled the benefits of correct orientation to the sun.  His advocacy of indigenous design and vernacular architecture has enlightened and inspired generations to remain comfortable using passive design strategies long before the advent of mechanical systems.

If properly designed and oriented on the sire, tiny homes can use solar energy effectively.  This is because:

  • There is usually very little area to passively heat or cool. If the building envelope is energy efficient, passive solar gain can be well utilized as a heat source.
  • Tiny homes are typically rectangular in shape, resulting in a narrow “foot print” or floor plate. This benefits day lighting strategies as floor plans are shallow and do not require large window or glass doors to effectively daylight a space.

Conversely, tiny houses must carefully consider the number, type, size and placement of windows and glass doors if a tiny house is going to be a good “solar collector.”  This includes:

  • Purchasing or building a tiny house with high performance windows and doors that are installed to minimize infiltration around and through them.
  • Providing simple shading devices that can moderate the amount of solar gain entering a space. In addition to interior shades, one should consider exterior shading devices, especially in hot climates where day lighting may be desirable, but direct solar gain is not.
  • If the design can accommodate them, sliding glass doors offer the advantage of maximum ventilation area and day lighting aperture, as well as clear passage dimensions for exit and entry.
  • Tiny homes should be oriented so the long axis is generally east / west. The goal is to position the tiny house so the long walls are facing to the south and north, and the short end walls are facing east and west.  Keeping the long, south wall within about 20˚ east or west of true south is ideal.  If possible, most glass should face south in climates with heating seasons, and north where cooling is the dominant space conditioning need.
  • Solar systems should also be oriented to the south, whether roof or site mounted.

soloarSolar orientation is important for tiny houses

These simple considerations and the design solutions required for effective solar design vary with whether the tiny house is purchased completes, partially completed or built on site.

  • Most pre-constructed tiny houses I have seen are designed from the inside out. That is, the challenges of interior layout are paramount, and window and door placement are in response to making the floor plan work.  This is not always the best passive solar configuration.
  • Tiny houses that are designed to be transported (not site built) are subject to width and height restrictions that limit the use of roof overhangs or shading devices that protrude horizontally. These amenities can be added once the tiny house is located on the site.
  • Tiny houses typically are “light mass, quick response” structures that do not have the capability to store incoming solar energy effectively. Tile floors exposed to the winter sun are the most common materials for this purpose.
  • Solar photovoltaic and solar thermal systems can be roof or ground mounted. Ground mounting allows larger solar arrays, freedom to orient the arrays independent of the tiny house, the ability to adjust the arrays seasonally, easier maintenance and less chance of roof leaks from system penetrations.

tinyhouseA site built passive solar tiny house.  Robert J. Kobet, architect.

There are many resources to guide the tiny house advocate in scrutinizing the potential of a tiny house for passive solar heating and good day lighting.  84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply have in house expertise to help you with all of your tiny house questions.  Visit us at www.84tinyliving.com or www.greenedgesupply.com or stop by to view our Tiny Houses on display in Eighty Four, PA.

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How to get involved with the Tiny House Movement – Part II

Robert J. Kobet

The tiny house movement is growing, as evidenced by the ever increasing number of blogs, web sites, publications and books dedicated to the subject.  Given the diverse demographic of tiny home advocates and stakeholders, I am interested in how people get involved initially, and what they do to pursue their tiny house dreams and aspirations.  I recently read a July 2016 article by Erin Doman titled, 9 Useful Resources for Tiny House Living for Compact Appliance that addresses that very question. http://bit.ly/2dbackw  Much of what Erin writes reflects how my colleagues at 84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply feel about their role in the tiny house movement, so I believe it is worth reflecting on.  My comments are in italics.

According to Erin, if you are thinking about designing your own tiny home or you recently moved into a tiny house, you need to know what resources there are that can help you succeed.  Here are three great resources for future tiny house dwellers to take advantage of:

  1. Work with a builder

                Once the design is complete, you are ready to build.  84 Lumber specializes in creating small homes.  www.84tinyliving.com  84 Lumber and others are great resources because you will be sure to end up with a home created with small living efficiency in mind.  Finding the right builder can be one of the most important things you do in the early stages of your small home living.  It is often very beneficial to involve a builder in the design process, especially if they have experience building tiny houses.

                84 Lumber offers different construction packages for tiny house “Do it yourselfers,” as well as attractive financing for their tiny house kits and finished units.

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84 Lumber has the kind of tiny house experience and expertise that can be invaluable to buyers and do it yourselfers.

 

  1. Research Downsizing Resources

To live in a tiny house you may need to reconsider your possessions.  Keeping all of your belongings that once filled your old house probably will not work.  It is easy to find tips for downsizing possessions.  Here Erin offers a few for dealing with clothing:

  • Sort your clothes into three piles: keep, store and donate
  • Only keep clothing that fit you right now
  • Only keep clothing that is in good condition
  • Only keep clothing that you really love
  • Only keep clothing that you will really wear

You can sell what you don’t need and use that money to pay down your debt or finance the building of your tiny home.  There are several organizations that can make downsizing easier than simply throwing everything into a dumpster.  Seek out organizations willing to take old furniture and clothes as a donation, such as Goodwill or the Salvation Army.  Look to see if there are any hospitals, nursing homes, camps or orphanages that would benefit from the items you are looking to discard.

  1. Obtain Tiny House Organization Advice

Challenging as it is, it is entirely possible to stay organized in your tiny house.  However, it requires a little diligence.  Everything has to have a home, and things should be stowed when not in use.  Try to keep things near where there are used (i.e. shoes and outerwear near the door, etc.) so it will be easier to remember to put them away.  If you aren’t organized in a tiny home, it will be really hard to live there.  The literature is full of resources to help keep you organized.

                    Part of your organization strategy may be to keep things on site, but not in your space conditioned tiny house.  Many tiny house owners utilize small out buildings for everything from extra storage to guest quarters and places for pets.  84 Lumber offers a number of structures that can enhance your site and expand the storage capacity and utility of living in a tiny house.  http://www.84lumber.com/Homeowners/BackyardLiving.aspx

84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply share your interest in tiny houses.  84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply offer several tiny houses on wheels www.84tinyliving.com and have the in house expertise and experience to help you with all of your healthy, tiny living questions.  Visit us online at www.greenedgesupply.com or tour our tiny house models on display in Eighty-Four, PA and let us help you live a greener, healthier life.

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How to Get Involved with the Tiny House Movement – Part I

Robert J. Kobet

The tiny house movement is growing, as evidenced by the ever increasing number of blogs, websites, publications and books dedicated to the subject.  Given the diverse demographic of tiny home advocates and stakeholders, I am interested in how people get involved initially, and what they do to pursue their tiny house dreams and aspirations.  I recently read a July 2016 article by Erin Doman titled, 9 Useful Resources for Tiny House Living for Compact Appliance that addresses that very question.  http://bit.ly/2dbackw (@CA_appliance. “9 Useful Resources for Tiny House Living – Compact Appliance.” Compact Appliance. N.p., 07 Sept. 2016. Web. 04 Oct. 2016.)  Much of what Erin writes reflects how my colleagues at 84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply feel about their role in the tiny house movement, so I believe it is worth reflecting on.  My comments are in italics.

According to Erin, if you are thinking about designing your own tiny home or you recently moved into a tiny house, you need to know what resources there are that can help you succeed.  Here are three great resources for future tiny house dwellers to take advantage of:

  1. Go to Workshops

It is always useful to get valuable information directly from people with expertise on the subject of living in a tiny home.  This includes both workshop leaders and other workshop attendees.  Workshops can teach anything, so be careful to choose workshops that best meet your needs and interests.

                If you already live in a tiny house, you should still consider attending workshops dedicated to this lifestyle.  These workshops can provide useful tips for organizing in small spaces and keeping your energy expenses low, as well as other useful skills.  And, I believe your lessons learned may be very helpful to your fellow workshop attendees.  Check around the web and with others in your local tiny house community for opportunities to join one of these workshop groups.

    

Go to workshopssponsored by and / or having field trips to tiny house communities

  1. Join a Tiny House Community

Few experiences can give you the kind of information you can gain by being actively involved with a tiny house community.  There are two types of communities you could join:

  • Online: You could find an online forum where people who live in tiny homes give each other advice. There are numerous small living forums on the Internet.  I suggest trying to find a group that shares one or more of your interests.  For instance, if you search online using keywords like “Tiny houses for veterans” you may be able to combine one or more of your interests.
  • Local: You could live in a community made up of tiny homes. Getting involved with a local tiny house community ensures you don’t have to worry about local laws not allowing tiny homes.  Some tiny house communities hold local meet-ups, where tiny house enthusiasts can learn about the movement.  To find a local meet-up in your area, check here.
  1. Utilize House Design Resources

Once you’re at the stage where you are preparing to build, you have to think about your design.  There are a lot of resources you can use to actually make your own design.  In order to do this, you’ll have to:

  • Get educated about tiny house design. This can be as simple as speaking with a design professional or reviewing a number of tiny house design resources that explain the design process.  One of Erin’s favorites is Tiny House Floor Plans: Over 200 Interior Designs for Tiny Houses by Michael Janzen.  84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply have 4 tiny house models for you to choose from.  84tinyliving.com
  • Research building plans that use space efficiently and learn about creative storage solutions for small living. As in any house design, the tiny house industry now is replete with tiny house designs that can be viewed online or purchased.  So, if you don’t feel up to making your own design, there are other numerous resources available.  However, your best and safest bet will still be to work with an expert.  84 Lumber’s tiny house building plans have been architecturally drawn and stamped off by an engineer.  You can purchase them at 84tinyliving.com

84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply share your interest in tiny houses.  84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply offer several tiny houses on wheels at www.84tinyliving.com and have the in house expertise and experience to help you with all of your healthy, tiny living questions.  Visit us online at www.greenedgesupply.com or tour our tiny house models on display in Eighty Four, PA and let us help you live a healthier, greener life.

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Tiny Houses – A Look at Materials

Robert J. Kobet

As an avid sailor I have always been interested in how marine architecture meets the challenges of the marine environment.  Anyone who has spent time on the open water, especially in adverse conditions, can appreciate the rigors of coping with structural dynamics and high wind loading, corrosive salt air, high humidity, dampness and the need to carry at least the essentials to remain safe and, ideally, comfortable.

puffin

My tiny floating home and office in the Atlantic.

Between 2005 and 2011, I was privileged to own a 30-foot C&C in South Florida which I appreciated as a sturdy, stable and reliable vessel that provided most of the comforts of home, and what I needed to do business while off shore.  I grew to admire how a well-designed boat maximizes the space available, provides for multiple uses of almost every amenity and feature, and how the materials used provide strength.  Light-weight and surface textures also enable moving safely under wet or damp conditions.  I got to know several people who lived on board their boats, and often thought I could do the same; and I still may.

The harbinger of that predilection is manifest in a tiny house project I designed for Two Mile Run County Park, north of Franklin, PA, in 2002.  It is an early entry into what is now growing interest in tiny houses, and proved to be very successful as a prototype for the type of guest quarters the owners of the park wanted to provide—small, short-term and energy-, material- and resource- efficient accommodations for two adults and perhaps a child or two.

The 24-by-12-foot passive solar building contains a full bath, including a full tub shower, kitchenette, great space and limited storage.  It was constructed on site of prefabricated structural insulated panels (SIP), high performance windows, energy-efficient appliances and simple finishes.  The point-loaded foundation enabled minimal disturbance of the natural environment, and a place for secure storing of canoes, kayaks, bikes and skis.

The project received great reviews and hosted everyone from a couple on their honeymoon to scores of campers and cross-country skiers before the park was privatized in 2005.  It was then moved, like many tiny houses, to a private lot owned by the original park stewards.

tinycabin

Tiny house cabin designed for Two Mile Run County Park, Franklin, PA.

Since the mid-2000s tiny houses, while still a niche market, have grown more sophisticated.  Those who live in tiny houses are as diverse as the designs themselves.  Entire websites, newsletters and television series now address how to design, build and live comfortably in a tiny house.

The best are very challenging projects that stretch the imagination and technical prowess of everyone involved.  As in marine architecture, material science plays an important role in meeting the challenges of what can be frequent moves, structural integrity, superior indoor air quality and overall energy and resource efficiency.  As the literature shows, there are a number of ways to accomplish these goals.

The same gestalt that attracts a potential tiny house dweller to live in a very environmentally sensitive dwelling also can drive an interest in recycled, after market and used materials, products and equipment.  Gathering, storing and often reconditioning recycled materials can be challenging, and should be carefully considered in any full cost accounting.  An emphasis on benign materials can lead to using dense pack paper, wool or recycled cotton insulation.  Flooring with tile samples, used wood parquet or random carpet squares may be laborious, but the unique individuality that comes with hand crafting a tiny house of used materials can be very rewarding.

Most tiny houses, including those that are mass-produced, rely on traditional materials and systems from the ground up. Many are constructed on standard steel or powder coated trailers. The enclosures mimic conventional residential or mobile home construction, usually with emphasis on nontoxic, hypoallergenic and non-combustible finishes. SIP panels, standing seam metal roofs, stainless steel counters with integrated sinks, natural linoleum, and interior wood surfaces all have a familiar look and feel.

Today, the cutting edge of tiny house construction combines elements of the old and new. A recent episode of “Tiny House, Big Living” on HGTV featured Zane Fischer and his company Extraordinary Structures of Santa Fe, NM.  Their tiny house combined prefabricated building panels, steel roofing and siding, sheep wool insulation, a hand crafted Japanese soaking tub of Atlantic white cedar, one piece stainless steel kitchen counter, and plastic fastener covers generated on the shop’s computerized 3D printer, a very high tech process. Handcrafted movable furniture, some of which is positioned at night to support a foldaway bed, and numerous other ingenious design features favorably impressed Santa Fe’s mayor and public housing director. They are now considering tiny houses as part of their municipal housing solution.  Now, if they could only get them to float!

84 Lumber is now offering a number of Tiny Houses models.  Visit us online at www.84tinyliving.com or see our models on display in Eighty Four, PA., and let our staff help you with any of your tiny house questions.

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Tiny Houses – What Are The Issues? Part II

http://tinyhousetalk.com/tiny-house-movement/

In our last blog we began a dialog on tiny and small houses intended to familiarize the reader with issues that surround the growing interest in the tiny house movement.  84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply are “all in” with the introduction of our initial four tiny house designs.  They can be viewed in detail at http://84tinyliving.com.  In this blog we address a number of common questions regarding tiny house living.  We invite your questions and observations, and welcome any feedback regarding 84 Lumber’s initial designs.

Can families live in them?  Tiny houses (up to 400 square feet) and small homes (400 to 1700 square feet) are generally not intended to provide housing for more than a few people at a time.  This is in keeping with their popularity with young couples using them as starter homes, those downsizing from conventional housing in the “empty nester” years of their lives, individuals interested in low cost, eco-efficient living, and a variety of other occupants living alone or as couples.  An infant or small child may be accommodated, but the needs of a growing family are best satisfied with a larger small house or more conventional housing.

Tiny house living offers little opportunity to accommodate large gatherings inside, though there are many ways to develop a tiny house site to enjoy being together outside.  Depending on where the home is located it is possible to add outside space under roof by combining the utility of additional storage buildings, pergolas, arbors, decks and porches.  These amenities provide valuable respite from a small interior.  84 Lumber offers a number of products and ideas for enhancing outdoor living at http://www.84lumber.com/Homeowners/BackyardLiving.aspx

outdoorliving

Backyard Living structures by 84 Lumber can enhance tiny house living.

    Keeping pets presents other challenges.  Living with a small dog, a cat or two or a fish tank is possible.  Sharing a tiny house with an adult golden retriever or St. Bernard may not be.

How much do they cost?  Like other housing options, the cost of tiny homes vary with size, finishes, the number and quality of appliances, space conditioning systems and other common cost drivers.  Cost also depends on how the project is purchased and delivered.  Tiny Living by 84 Lumber offers 3 different pricing options including a Build Your Own Tiny Home option starting at $6,884, a Semi-Do It Yourself (DIY) starting at $19,884, and a Move-In Ready option such as our “Roving” model that starts at $49,884.   DIY tiny house builders can use recycled materials, volunteer labor, more affordable financing, and other creative ways to reduce costs.

The total project cost will include acquiring and developing the site and, in some cases, having the tiny house delivered.  Tiny houses are also subject to all applicable permit requirements, utility connection costs and fees, taxes, etc.  These can vary significantly, so the tiny house advocate should research each thoroughly.

Where can I live in a tiny house?  Tiny houses are subject to interpretation by local codes, community covenants and municipal jurisdiction.  These range from the minimum size a housing unit can be, to whether and / or how long a tiny house on wheels is allowed to inhabit a site.  Tiny houses constructed on a permanent foundation can be interpreted and permitted differently from one on wheels.  Urban dwelling in a tiny house on a small lot can have very different challenges than one located on a much larger rural site.   Beyond the tiny house per se, amenities such as composting or chemical toilets, alternative energy systems, rainwater harvesting, attendant storage facilities, or any deviation from using conventional civil infrastructure may be subject to the local permitting process.  None of this is unconventional, and each applies to any kind of housing, but the tiny house advocate should research which applies to them.

84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply have in-house expertise and experience in building and delivering tiny houses.  Visit us online at http://www.84lumber.com/HomeOwners.aspx or www.greenedgesupply.com, or stop by and tour one of our tiny houses.

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Tiny Houses – What Are The Issues? Part I

The tiny house movement continues to grow.  Statistically, tiny houses are still a niche approach to housing, but their significant benefits and unique qualities and attributes appeal to a broad demographic of homeowners, investors, renters and real estate service providers.  Government housing agencies, municipal housing authorities and a number of organizations that provide housing for the homeless, community development agencies, veterans and others are evaluating them as a potential solution to their diverse housing needs.

But tiny houses should not be seen only as an answer to down market or low-income sectors.  Tiny housing appeals broadly to the financially secure – retirees, the independently wealthy, urban dwellers, second home seekers, homesteader who simply want to live simply, and a number of others.

84 Lumber has entered the tiny house market with four prototypes shown below.  The company offers each in a variety of project purchase.  www.84tinyliving.com

tinyhouses

 

GreenEdge Supply is supporting 84 Lumber in this endeavor.  In order to better serve our customers we are offering this blog as Part I of II that will answer common questions and concerns about tiny houses.  They are based, in part, on blogs authored by our friends at Tiny House Talk, http://bit.ly/1Oo2hBe

What is the tiny house movement?  The tiny house and small house movement is a growing real estate trend where people are choosing to live simply in smaller homes.  It is championed by a diverse socio-economic demographic with a wide variety of interests.  People have always lived in tiny homes of one kind or another.  They enjoy a rich history manifest in everything from yurts and Conestoga wagons, to the indigenous housing of Native Americans.  More recently, living in many efficiency apartments or urban dwellings in countries around the world can be compared to tiny and small home living.

What is a Tiny House?  Most people in the tiny house movement define tiny as between 400 and 1000 square feet.  Others limit the definition of tiny to between 65 to 400 square feet, while small homes range anywhere between 400 to 1700 square feet.  The literature interchanges these terms and definitions, and a singular definition of either is often a matter of opinion.  Size needs usually depend on the number of inhabitants and their lifestyles.  According to the 2010 Census the average size home in the US was 2,392 square feet.  In 1973 the average American home was 1660 square feet; in 2007 it was 2,521 square.  So, while national housing trends – dependent on a number of demographic influences – indicate a turn toward downsizing, tiny homes still represent a significant departure from the norm.

Why are people living tiny?  People are choosing to downsize and live in tiny or small homes for a variety of reasons.  Square footage isn’t as important as many make it out to be, as long as our housing needs are met.  Many tiny house dwellers and investors choose to live in them to significantly reduce mortgages, and other living expenses.  The benfits and value of living in a tiny house are different for individuals entering the housing market than those typically considered by previous homeowners, renters or anyone near or in their retirement years.  According to this CNN article from 2013, 76% of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck.  In all cases, living in a well-designed tiny house is far better than not having adequate housing.  So, for many the idea of a small home, or even a tiny house, merits serious consideration.

For others, the real driver behind the tiny house movement is simply being more conscious about how we live.  This includes the purchasing and consumption decisions we make, and enabling even deeper things, such as making and reaching goals in our lives.  Tiny house living can free the financial resources, and rid ourselves of the unnecessary ‘baggage’ that keeps us from succeeding – all while living in a greener, healthier, more energy and resource efficient home.

GreenEdge Supply supports 84 Lumber in their quest to provide quality tiny houses.  We will post additional blogs in the subject in the coming weeks.  Until then, feel free to contact us at www.greenedgesupply.com and www.84tinyliving.com.

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All together now….

Robert J. Kobet, LEED Faculty

Like many people in the green building movement, I believe renewable energy sources are the best option we have to fulfill our needs with minimal ecological disruption.  Many different natural forces can be harnessed to collectively produce renewable energy while reducing impacts on the environment.  This has the attendant benefit of creating a number of different jobs using a variety of skill sets.  Energy technologies have advanced greatly over the past couple of years.  The following are some of the advances in renewable energy today, as described in a recent article by Tech.co.

PVSolarPanelsPV Solar Applications

Solar Photovoltaic systems that convert the sun’s energy to electricity are the most popular type of renewable energy available today.  In some places, individuals who generate energy from this renewable resource are paid for the electricity they produce.  In the past couple of years, the cost of PV panels has reduced due to increased popularity.  The application of solar panels has also changed over the years.  Instead of mounting the panels on rooftops or mounting for industrial scale use, there are new unconventional ground and water based panel applications that are expected to transform the industry.

Today, there are several electricity providers that use wind farms to supply power to customers.  Wind energy can be used for stand-alone applications as well as utility power grids or combined with solar applications.  The American Midwest has been called the “Saudi Arabia of wind”.  Some farmers in windy areas lease their land for large-scale wind farms or use small wind systems to generate their own electricity.

There are various research programs today to improve efficiency in wind energy systems.  Researchers conduct aerodynamic field experiments using sonic anemometers, conventional anemometers and wind vanes to measure system characteristics like inflow, wind wake and the turbine response.  Researchers have used the data obtained from these experiments to tweak wind turbine features such as structural loading, fatigue life, turbine aerodynamic response and power production in order to increase the performance of wind energy systems.  The wind energy sector is looking towards reduced cost of wind energy in the future to make the resource more suitable for a greater variety of applications.

WindInstallationCommercial wind installation

Wind energy is now being developed in cold climates, the greatest challenge being the icing of wind turbine rotor blades.  Icing reduces the energy yield and shortens the service life of the turbines.  Manufacturers have met the demand for cold climate installations by developing de-icing technology for the wind turbine blades.

Most power plants need steam to generate electricity.  Geothermal power systems utilize the steam under the earth’s surface instead of fossil fuels to heat water for the steam that rotates the turbine to generate steam.  Geothermal systems are much cleaner than their fossil fuel based counterparts.  Geothermal power systems have been built in various parts of the world to access the constant heat from the earth’s interior where the geology is favorable.  Here underground thermal aquifers fed by rainwater and snowmelt combine with the hot rock strata to produce steam.  Where a natural water source does not exist, a working fluid is injected into the hot rock under controlled conditions.  This advancement has made it possible to install geothermal power systems in areas that would otherwise be considered unsuitable for geothermal power production.

GeoThermalPlantGeothermal energy power plant

Lastly, tidal power is a form of hydropower that harnesses energy from tides, a technology that is clean and sustainable with minimal impact on the environment.  Tidal power is a great area of interest for a number of reasons.  First, the majority of the earth’s surface is water and second, water is denser than air.  Therefore, tidal turbines can be smaller and cover much less space while generating the same amount of energy as wind turbines.  Also, 75% of the world’s population lives within 100 miles of the oceans, an important concern when considering the distribution of electricity generated.  The current challenges faced in tidal power are design, installation and maintenance.  Engineers are working on designing turbines that capture the maximum amount of tidal energy with low maintenance and connectivity costs.

TidalPowerStation
Tidal power station

84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply share your interest in renewable energy systems.  Visit us online at www.greenedgesupply.com and ask us about the various solar-based products we sell.

Wicks, David. “Impressive Advances in Eco-Based Technologies.” Tech.Co. 29 October 2015.  Web. 29 December   2015.  http://bit.ly/1Skz2ik

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Here comes the sun… again!

Robert J. Kobet, LEED Faculty

These seem to be good days for the solar industry.  As sure as the sun rises and sets, 2015 has been an up and down year for solar, but according to an article by Energy Manager Today, the profile of renewables is rising in general and, in particular, solar and wind sources are clearly gaining traction.  Work being done by five companies – Amtech Systems (which was granted $930,664), CelLink Corp. ($2.5 million), Concurrent Design ($1 million), Nevados Engineering ($773, 124) and Sunrun ($900,000) – is used by PV Magazine to illustrate the types of research that is ongoing and that the government is encouraging.

In September, GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association released second quarter growth numbers for the solar industry.  The organizations found that the U.S. solar industry installed 1,393 MW of solar photovoltaic capacity during the quarter and overall passed the 20 GW mile stone during the three-month period.  The profile, however, is a bit lopsided toward the residential sector, which installed 473 MW and grew 70% compared to the year-ago quarter.  However, the non-residential market contracted 33%.

solarPanels

Jobs in the solar industry are growing along with improvements in the technology.

Overall, the report was good news for solar businesses.  While the grants from the government are aimed at reducing the cost of photovoltaics, research is ongoing on improving the technology.  The Department of Energy (DOE) recently released the “2015 Revolution…Now” report.  It shows dramatic cost reductions are continuing to drive the adoption of clean energy technologies.  The report covers the rapid growth of photovoltaic (PV) solar modules for both large, utility-scale PV plants, and smaller, rooftop, distributed PV systems that have achieved significant deployment nationwide.  DOE continues to invest in research and development for these technologies in addition to reducing market barriers in order to make these clean energy technologies even more cost-effective and widely available across the United States.

Solar technology itself continues to evolve.  A race is underway to create the most efficient photovoltaic technology.  SolarCity, Panasonic and other companies are looking at ways to increase PV efficiency, which are now in the mid 20% range.  There are other research efforts that go beyond making small and incremental improvements on current technology.  Tech.co recently posted a feature article that looked at five ways in which solar technology is evolving.  A simple method that directly addresses improving the yield of PV cells is mirrored solar dishes.  Use of mirrors, the author writes, increased the efficiency of the cell by concentrating the sunlight on a small area.  http://bit.ly/1S5InYY

mirrorsPVCells

Mirrors used to concentrate solar energy on PV cells.

SPIE – an organization dedicated to taking an “interdisciplinary approach to the science and application of light” says even greater changes in solar technology are likely in the not-too-distant future.  In a synopsis of a comprehensive paper the organization has posted it says that the power conversion efficiency of silicon, the material upon which most commercialized photovoltaics is based, “appears to be 25.6%.”  This means the current silicon based technology is just about maxed out.  The good news for proponents of photovoltaics is there are a number of other materials that will easily pass that level.  For instance, multi-junction solar cells, which the story says produces electric current in response to different wavelengths of light, have achieved efficiency of 37.9%.  The driving factors are the research and the cost of the new technology.  The good news is there is a lot of money on the table, which means that lots of very smart people – such as researchers at the University of Connecticut who are developing a gel that improves the ability of photovoltaic cells to absorb energy – will be working through the technology.  Since there are multiple approached, it is almost certain that approaches will be found that over time will reduce the costs and become widely commercialized.

84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply share your interest in renewable energy systems.  Visit us online at www.greenedgesupply.com to request more information on our solar program.

Weinschenk, Carl. “The Forecast Is Good for the Solar Industry.” Energy Manager Today. N.p., 20 Nov. 2015. Web. 14 Dec. 2015. http://bit.ly/1Z8xAkU

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I love green building science!

Robert J. Kobet, LEED Faculty

http://bit.ly/1ZDKxV3

One of the great things about being involved in the green building movement is the energy and enthusiasm – the passion, really – that most of my colleagues and clients have for the ongoing dynamism of the state of the art.  Having practiced for thirty-six years it is as interesting to look back and see where we have been as it is exciting to speculate about the future.

A good example of this is Lloyd Alter’s October, 2015 article in Treehugger titled Everything I ever knew or said about green sustainable design was probably wrong.  In it he addresses classic passive design versus super-insulated homes and the Passivhaus approach to building resource efficient structures.  He contends the drawing below, or some version of it, has been part of every sustainable design class since about 1970: lots of south facing windows carefully shaded by properly designed overhangs, with the winter sun heating up that thermal mass of the floor.  But what if we were all wrong, he asks?  Or, as I prefer, what now, given how much we have learned?

 

classicPassiveSolarThe classic passive solar approach

Green Building Advisor Martin Holladay looks at what was almost a religious doctrine and questions its tenets, writing:

 …certain aspects of the passive solar approach – an emphasis on careful solar orientation, a concern for proper roof overhangs on the south side of a house, and a preference for south-facing windows over north-facing windows – seem embedded in my DNA.  Lately, however, I’ve begun to wonder whether there is a technical justification for these recommendations.  Do these design principles result in energy savings?  Or am I just dragging around the stubborn legacy of my hippie past?

Martin contends high thermal mass floors are not particularly comfortable, and south facing windows as an energy source are counterproductive and “should be limited to that necessary to meet the functional and aesthetic needs of the building.”  Essentially, careful orientation doesn’t matter because the extra solar gain isn’t needed.  Large expanses of south-facing glass help heat a home on a sunny day, but the heat gain doesn’t come when it’s needed.  Most of the time, a passive home has either too much or too little solar heat gain.  So, much of the solar heat gain can be wasted.  At night, and on cloudy days, large expanses of south-facing glass lose significantly more heat than an insulated wall.

So, what has changed?  Insulation and sealing.  Holladay quotes building expert Joe Lstiburek:

We were here in the late 1970s when ‘mass and glass’ took on ‘superinsulated.’ Superinsulated won.  And superinsulated won with lousy windows compared to what we have today.  What are you folks thinking?  Today’s ‘ultra-efficient’ crushes the old ‘superinsulated’, and you want to collect solar energy?  Leave that to the PV.”

SaskatchewanHouse

Saskatchewan conservation house – a departure from “mass and glass”

Alex Wilson of BuildingGreen came to the same conclusion a few years ago, going from imagining in the 70s “in our youthful idealism, that within ten years all new houses would be oriented on East-West axes and rely on south-facing windows and thermal mass for heating.”

I can’t argue the science of what these experts are contending regarding only energy efficiency.  However, there are variations on the theme I believe are worth mentioning.  Earth integrated architecture, often constructed of reinforced concrete or masonry, clearly has much more mass than the available (south facing?) window area can justify.  However, earth integrated architecture features very high equivalent R-values and very low infiltration if constructed properly.  The combination of “mass and glass” and earth integration makes them very energy efficient, quiet, and non-combustible.  They feature living roofs and minimal maintenance.  Their slab on grade construction is wonderfully compatible with radiant floors; something I find very comfortable.  And, the estimated life of reinforced concrete is 1500 years, which offsets the argument concrete is energy intensive, while providing resource efficient housing for many generations to come.

84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply share your interest in high performance green buildings.  Visit us online www.greenedgesupply.com to learn more!

 

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In Support of LEED

Robert J. Kobet, LEED Faculty

www.usgbc.org

I have been with the USGBC from its beginning, and take great satisfaction in being one of the first twelve LEED Faculty members selected in 2000.  Since then I have seen the emergence of a number of green building rating systems that are doing their part to support the international green building movement; Green Globes, the Living Building Challenge, the WELL Building Standard and others.

The USGBC contends a LEED plaque on a building is a mark of quality and achievement in green building.  While critics of the USGBC continue to challenge the “cost versus value” assertion, LEED has proven that it is worth the investment.  Leaders across the globe have made LEED the most widely used green building rating system in the world, with 1.85 million square feet of construction space certifying every day.  In a recent information release the USGBC states the following:

  • LEED certification provides independent verification of a building or neighborhood’s green features, allowing for the design, construction, operations and maintenance of resource-efficient, high-performing, healthy, cost-effective buildings. LEED is the triple bottom line in action, benefitting people, planet and profit.
  • LEED Certification means healthier, more productive places, reduced stress on the environment by encouraging energy and resource-efficient buildings, and savings from increased building value, higher lease rates and decreased utility costs. 88 of the Fortune 100 companies are using LEED.
  • LEED projects are responsible for diverting over 80 million tons of waste from landfills. Compared to the average commercial building, LEED Gold buildings in the General Services Administration’s portfolio consume a quarter less energy and generate 34% lower greenhouse gas emissions.

LEEDBuildings

             Byron G. Rogers Courthouse, Denver CO        The Lewis Center, Oberlin College, Oberlin OH

In addition, the USGBC believes LEED Buildings:

  • Provide a competitive differentiator – 61% of corporate leaders believe that sustainability leads to market differentiation and improved financial performance.
  • Make for happier employees and occupants – certified buildings are demonstrating increased recruitment and retention rates and increased productivity benefits for employers. 5 million employees are currently experiencing better indoor environmental quality in LEED buildings.
  • Attract tenants – Today’s tenants understand and are looking for the benefits that LEED certified spaces have to offer. The new Class A office space is green; lease-up rates for green buildings typically range from average to 20% above average.
  • Save energy and resources and lower operating costs – Between 2008 and 2012, there was dramatic growth in the percentage of firms that built green to achieve lower operating costs (increased to 30% from 17%) and to gain a branding / public relations advantage (increased to 30% from 22%).

USBuildings

  • Are cost effective – A study of 562 PNC bank branches showed that compared to non-LEED-certified facilities, LEED-certified facilities annually opened up 458 more consumer deposit accounts and had $3,032,000 more in consumer deposit balance per facility per year and increased revenue.
  • Provide public relations and community benefits – Adobe Systems, Inc., announced in 2006 that it had received three LEED Platinum awards for its headquarters towers; not only did it reap great publicity, but the firm showed that it had garnered a net present value return of almost 20 to one on its initial investment.
  • Increase rental rates – A recent study of the San Diego market showed that the overall vacancy rate for green buildings was 4% lower than for non-green properties – 11.7%, compared to 15.7% – and that LEED-certified buildings continued to command the highest rents.
  • Optimize health – By bringing the good in – like clean air and access to daylight – and keeping the bad out – including harmful chemicals found in paints, finishings and more – LEED creates healthy spaces. Buildings that optimize well-being are more important than ever.
  • Are global – More than 72,000 projects are participating in LEED across 150+ countries and territories, comprising over 13.8 billion square feet. USGBC estimates nearly 5 million people experience a LEED building every day.  Many of the world’s most well-known buildings are LEED certified.

 

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Looking Back to Look Forward

 Robert J. Kobet, AIA, LEED Faculty

I entered the University of Cincinnati College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning in 1968.  The research I did to apply led me to believe it was an excellent school – which it was – but I didn’t know it was one of the country’s first environmental design programs.  What was obvious was the fact I was about to benefit from a group of world-class professors who were equally dedicated to and passionate about, architecture and architectural education.  Their gift for education was manifest in their ability to break down complex topics in ways that were simple to understand, and in how they used metaphors and analogies to familiarize us with what architecture is and isn’t.  For instance:

  • We are simply inefficient heat engines. We consume fuel to keep warm and keep our bodily systems functioning.  The more “turned up” and unaffected by faltering systems we are, the better we are physically, mentally and emotionally.
  • We run on electricity. Our neurological system, synapse, and overall functioning depend on our distribution of nerves and the messages they carry.  Our brains control both our voluntary and involuntary responses.  This closely mimics a buildings electrical distribution system and the role building energy management plays in how buildings function.
  • Muscular-skeletal systems provide our framework for form and movement. Structural systems do the same for buildings.
  • Gastrointestinal systems distribute food and water and eliminate waste. Building plumbing systems do similar work.
  • Cardiovascular systems also distribute food and oxygen, help control temperature, and eliminate waste. HVAC systems do the same.

As a species we have learned to augment these systems:

  • We modify the microclimate immediately around our bodies with clothing and shelter to remain comfortable. This is the first order of interaction with the built environment.
  • We use furniture to extend the ability of our muscular-skeletal structure to maintain positions that otherwise would be difficult. Try maintaining an upright-seated position for even a few minutes without the use of a chair.
  • Computers are an extension of our brain. As miraculous as our brains are, until we can understand and utilize them more completely, a computer can perform certain functions at a speed our brains cannot.  The field of artificial intelligence is based in part on bringing those two realities together.

Yet, as important as optimizing building design has become, we have not come close to the human body as the quintessential example of integrative design.  The spinal column that enables us to stand upright also routes and protects some of the most critical nerves we have.  The integration of dexterity, strength, touch, and utility inherent in the human hand is unmatched anywhere in the built environment.  I still smile at the mention of “intelligent buildings” knowing in the true sense of the word, there is no such thing.  Like all good art, buildings may, indeed, evoke emotion, but a building will never make love, write a song or raise a child.

WELL Building Standard

Areas of concentrations in the WELL Building Standard

All this said, I am pleased to see the new WELL Building Standard http://www.wellcertified.com is based on recognition of human physiology, over all wellness and human factors in design.  It is a welcome throwback to how I was taught to think about architecture.  Like the Living Building Challenge, which uses flower petals to organize topics, the WELL Building Standard requires building designers and builders to construct buildings that benefit the following human systems:

  • Cardiovascular
  • Digestive
  • Endocrine
  • Immune
  • Integumentary
  • Muscular
  • Nervous
  • Reproductive
  • Respiratory
  • Skeletal
  • Urinary

Their scorecard categories are:

  • Air
  • Water
  • Nourishment
  • Light
  • Fitness
  • Comfort
  • Mind

As someone who has devoted much of his career to designing allergy-free, non-toxic environments for clients with multiple chemical sensitivities, I find the core principles and tenets of design put forth by the WELL Building Standard to be timely, refreshing and instructive in the best sense of what environmental stewardship should be.  I look forward to seeing how their philosophy and process enriched the green building movement.

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WELL, WELL, WELL!

Robert J. Kobet, AIA, LEED Faculty

WellCertified.com

One indication of the health and stability of the modern green building movement is the way in which an increasing number and diversity of related disciplines and interests have found common ground and ways of inspiring and supporting each other.  Today’s green building industry is buoyed by a number of green building standards, green building code initiatives, allied private sector businesses and not for profit organizations, and Federal and State agencies, all of which are working toward the common goal of better communities and buildings.  One example is how the International Construction Code Committee (ICC), ASHRAE, AIA, ASTM, and the USGBC among others.  Several of these organizations are woven, in whole or in part, into today’s best-known green building rating systems.  Chief among these are:

  • Energy Star for Building Program
  • Home Energy Rating System
  • Green Globes
  • LEED
  • Living Building Challenge
  • National Green Building Standard
  • Net Zero Energy Building
  • Passive House

But as someone who has been trained by physicians in the art and science of allergy-free, non-toxic design, I am keenly interested in the potential of the new WELL Building Standard to recognize and embrace human ecology as a design determinant.  The WELL Building Standard, currently in its pilot phase, focuses on the health and wellness impacts that the built environment has on occupants.  Like the Living Building Challenge, which uses plant leafs as building categories; the WELL Building Standard uses human anatomy and body systems as its point of departure for informing building design.  It resonates well with concepts put forth by Jane Benyus’ in Biomimicry, wherein she chronicles how nature can inspire the design of products and processes that can enrich the green building movement and other industries.

WELL Building Standard
Areas of Concentration in the WELL Building Standard

Areas of concentration or “concepts” are air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind.  The standard lays out optimal conditions for each in an effort to encourage a holistic, integrated approach to sustainability.  In addition to the concepts, target health areas that the standard intends to address have been identified: focus, energy, form, sleep, stress, longevity, development, beauty, vitality, resilience, and alignment.  By doing so, the WELL Building Standard promotes awareness of, and puts emphasis on, the importance of our physical and emotional well-being and how we interact with the built environment.  I believe this will resonate well with anyone prone to multiple chemical sensitivities or other maladies that make them susceptible to physical insults or causal agents in the built environment.  This awareness is the essence of the healthy house movement, and the basis for much of our response over the last three decades to eliminating sick building illnesses.

WELL Certification is awarded at one of three levels: blue, silver, or gold.  Certification requires a building meet all preconditions for the seven concepts.  Buildings must also undergo on-site air and water testing and other post-occupancy assessments.  Like LEED for Existing Buildings that has a five-year or less recertification period, the WELL Building Standard requires reassessment every three years in order to maintain certification.

The standard can be applied to a variety of building types, including commercial tenant spaces, existing commercial buildings, hospitality, sports facilities, restaurants, and residential buildings.  It is administered by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI)  and certified through the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI).  It works in conjunction with LEED, the Living Building Challenge, and other green building certifications.

84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply share your interest in green, healthy approaches to building and living.  If you have questions about how your well-being is impacted by where you spend your time – at home, at work or school – or if you have questions regarding what building rating systems are best for you, contact us at www.greenedgesupply.com and let our in house staff answer your building questions.  And, most of all, be WELL!

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ICC, ASHRAE to Consolidate IgCC and 189.1 in Response to Call from Industry

Robert J. Kobet, AIA, LEED Faculty

http://bit.ly/1GUNtQe

In a deal nearly two years in the making, the International Code Council (ICC) and ASHRAE have signed the final agreement that outlines each organization’s role in the development and maintenance of the new version of the International Green Construction Code (IgCC) sponsored by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), ASHRAE, ICC, the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).  The code, scheduled to be released in 2018, will be powered by ANSI/ASHRAE/ICC/IES/USGBC Standard 189.1, Standard for the Design of High-Performance, Green Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings developed using the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) approved ASHRAE consensus process.  The joint Standing Standards Project Committee 189.1 (SSPC) will serve as the consensus body that will work to ensure the standard is consistent and coordinated with the ICC Family of Codes.

ICC Board President Guy Tomberlin says, “Our goal in this partnership all along has been to share resources to increase use of the IgCC and make it simpler for code officials, designers and contractors to build environmentally efficient structures that will lessen energy and water consumption and reduce the carbon footprint.”

The Executive Steering Committee for the effort to align 189.1, the IgCC and LEED consists of representatives of ICC, ASHRAE, USGBC, AIA and IES, and the SSPC chair.  The full integration of Standard 189.1 to serve as the technical content of the IgCC will leverage ASHRAE’s technical expertise and increase the standard’s influence on sustainable buildings.  ASHRAE President David Underwood says, “We look forward to continuing to engage a broad spectrum of stakeholders in development of Standard 189.1 following the ANSI consensus standards development process.  The result will be a comprehensive compliance tool that can be used by jurisdictions worldwide that are committed to a more sustainable built environment.”

The new publication also will align the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) rating system program to ensure a streamlined, effective set of regulatory and above-code options.  The green building certification program recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices.  To receive LEED certification, building projects satisfy prerequisites and earn points to achieve different levels of certification.

“This joint initiative will forge the fundamental regulatory building blocks of green construction on which future green building leadership initiatives can grow,” says Brendan Owens, chief of engineering at USGBC.  “It takes courage to think differently and to commit to a new model, and for that we thank the leadership of the partner organizations behind IgCC powered by 189.1”

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Blending LEED into the IgCC in a way that enables municipalities to recognize the value of LEED certification while customizing local building codes with non-LEED issues is significant.  The USGBC has long stated its goal is to no longer be needed, once green building is mainstream.  The unprecedented collaboration of IgCC powered by 189.1 participants leverages the unique organizational expertise of the partners in evolving green building codes.  It brings AIA, ASHRAE, ICC, IES and USGBC into strategic and tactical alignment on the relationship between 189.1 and the IgCC.  The emergence of the IgCC as an alternative to LEED per se helps municipalities set the stage for more LEED certified buildings by advocating for green infrastructure such as rain water harvesting, grey water reuse, permeable paving, more effective storm water management, and other deep green building approaches that traditionally have not been codified.  IgCC gives code officials and building inspectors the critical support they need to implement green building development, while indirectly encouraging LEED certified buildings and neighborhoods.

Other individuals and organizations that support this vision and would like to join the effort are invited to contact Dominic Sims at DSims@IccSafe.org or Jeff Littleton at JLittleton@ashrae.org.  Green building professionals, product and material suppliers and municipal government officials will all benefit from understanding what is driving the cooperation to advance the IgCC.

 

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USGBC governance is changing. What will it mean?

Robert J. Kobet, AIA, LEED Faculty
usgbc@communication.usgbc.org

USGBC was founded 22 years ago with a governance structure appropriate for a U.S.-based start-up NGO with a transformational mission.  Given the myriad of changes in the global green building movement, the USGBC now recognizes the need for a governance structure that will service its global growth, increase influence, and bring diverse, multi-disciplined, high-level business skills to bear on what it considers its “sophisticated business model.”

Beginning in 2016, the USGBC will seat two leadership bodies: an Advisory Council and a Board of Directors.  They say this will allow two things:

  1. Leverage the deep technical expertise and broad community engagement that exists in the diverse USGBC membership through the Advisory Council.
  2. Recruit key players to the Board of Directors who have deep leadership experience and expertise in fiscal management, technology, public policy and marketing, standard development and assessment, law and human resources, and post-secondary education leadership.

The Advisory Council will allegedly provide visionary leadership and perspectives that will build authenticity, credibility and relevance.  Advisory Council members will connect with key stakeholder groups across the sustainability movement and identify emerging opportunities and needs.  It will recommend policy and initiatives to the Board.  The Board will retain the legal authority to make policy and direct staff.  And, the Board of Directors will retain fiduciary responsibility and liability for the advancement of USGBC’s business and mission.

shadowProfiles

At the end of 2015 the currently serving members of the USGBC Board of Directors will transition to seats on the Advisory Council.  Six seats will be up for election in this process because the term of the Board Member holding that seat will expire at the end of 2015.  Those seats will be filled as they have been in the past, elected by the membership in a process overseen by the 2015 Board.  The Advisory Council can have up to 23 seats that represent specific perspectives of the global green building movement.  As ambassadors for the global sustainability movement, individuals on the Advisory Council may be tapped to carry out specific initiatives and lend their “acknowledged prestige and community clout” to fundraising and advocacy campaigns.

Beginning in 2016, the USGBC Board of Directors will consist of nine directors, one of whom will be the USGBC CEO serving in an ex-officio capacity.  The 2015 Board will recruit candidates for these positions who have the specific, high-level business skills and the influential networks needed to address emerging opportunities for USGBC.

What I sense is lacking in all of this is any representation of small business interests.  The Board of Directors and, via its evolution, members of the Advisory Board, will be elected based on their stature in major firms, industry connections and the ability to raise money.  This may be the inevitable result of the asymptotic growth of the USGBC and its myopic focus on growth at the highest levels globally.  The situation resonates with the reality of national politics, where only the most well connected and financially capable are elected and who, in turn, reap the benefits of the elected position.

Moving forward I would like to see the USGBC Board of Director’s fiduciary responsibility include full disclosure and complete transparency of all fiscal issues.  Publishing a very detailed, line item listing of all salaries, administrative costs, overhead and travel expenses, legal fees, chapter costs, etc., is in order.  The USGBC has said many times it depends on the efforts of thousands of unpaid volunteers, membership dues and donated services.  I am one of these people.  With the governance changing I think it’s a perfect time for a deep dive into how the USGBC really works, who benefits and how.  An open forum session at Greenbuild to solicit USGBC member response to USGBC finances would be ideal.  Perhaps a few members of the new Advisory Board can take up the “USGBC Fiscal Transparency” initiative.  For that, I will happily pay my dues.

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Green for Real?

Robert J. Kobet, AIA, LEED Faculty
Underwriters Laboratory

The green building movement is awash in the politics and market forces that define what is green and why.  The evolution of LEED, Global Green, and the International Living Futures Institute has included increased scrutiny of what constitutes a green product, material or process.  To a large extent, these are based on industry standards such as ASTM, UL, ASHRAE, GreenGuard, EnergyStar™, and a host of others.  These are most helpful to industry specialists and practitioners who are familiar with the qualities and attributes of the products they specify, but are less helpful to consumers not well versed in material science.  Consequently, it is still a matter of buyer beware and the need to exercise caution when making green material and product purchases.

In a recent Underwriters Laboratory study titled Claiming Green – The Influence of Green Product Claims on Purchase Intent and Brand Perception it was noted 70% of Americans say they are searching for greener products, and 67% of business decision makers say sustainability is an important factor when they make operating, construction and purchasing decisions.  Unfortunately, the buying public is not as familiar with how a lot of green product and material claims are made, nor do they have regular access to the professionals who determine what they are.  According to UL, if you’re trying to interpret green claims made on packaging, you’re probably already confused.  To clarify things, UL distilled this concern to a few significant issues that summarize the buying experience and interpreting green claims in the market place.  They are:

  • Consumers were confused by technical language. This negatively affected their perceptions of both legitimate and problematic green claims that used scientific lingo.
  • Consumers were also confused by simple phrases that were overly generic. The problematic claims “air purifying”, “eco-friendly”, “cruelty free” did not test well for consumer trust or understanding.  When respondents were asked follow-up questions about their choices, they knocked generic claims for vagueness.
  • The most confusing certifications consisted of only a logo bearing the certifying body’s There was no adjacent qualifying language to provide context or tell the consumer what the certification meant.

These findings show that consumers need context, specifics, and clear language to understand the environmental benefits being promised on a product label.  They suggest consumers recognize three over-arching categories of green product and material claims, and become familiar with what is provided by each.  They are, Legitimate Claim, Certified Claim and Problematic Claim.  They offer the following table to organize that effort for four different consumer categories.

productCat

Generally, the more legitimate specific information offered regarding any aspect of a product, the more reliable the green claim, assuming there is full disclosure about all aspects of the product.  A certified claim based on recognized industry standards and testing organizations is low risk, but does not afford the consumer any specific purchase information unless the basis for the organization’s certification is understood.  Problematic claims are those most often associated with greenwashing, yet they are very common.  Some problematic claims are purely subjective.  For instance, what does “all natural” mean?  Asbestos is natural.  So is the irritant in poison ivy.  Problematic claims offer few specifics, and need to be avoided or coupled with other more reliable information.

As the green movement evolves and market competition responds to the increasing demand for genuinely green products, manufacturers will continue to refine their products and offer new ones.  This is evidence by the tremendous strides made in reducing harmful building product ingredients in the last ten years.  The significant reductions in volatile organic compounds (VOC) that can be verified and the increased attention given to other carcinogens and endocrine blockers in building materials in the last ten years are testament to an effective green building market.  But, we have a long way to go, and we need to be aware of what it will take to get there, and who will reliably tell us when we have arrived.

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Who says it can’t happen?

Robert J. Kobet, AIA, LEED Faculty

I was raised to respect differences of opinion.  Those lessons came with insights that were to inform the way I conduct myself.  “If you’re not part of the answer, you’re part of the problem,” and, “It’s okay to criticize constructively, but only if you have a suggestion or a solution,” have been good words to live by, both personally and professionally.  Thus it is with great interest that I regard current day optimists and doomsayers regarding our energy future.

In his book, The Shift Age, David Houle writes how we have evolved from relatively small numbers and crude tools of the Stone Age, through the agricultural and industrial eras to the information age of the late twentieth and early twenty first century.  In each case, more availability of energy and technology enabled accelerated development of increasingly sophisticated technologies for more and more people in significantly shorter time spans.  Along the way, there were always detractors and those who could not see change as inevitable, as well as those with vision who profited well by being part of it.  The phenomenon is asymptotic.  We now find ourselves in the Shift Age, where in one half of one lifetime we have technology which enables global connectivity and access to almost unlimited information in real time.  This is unprecedented in our history.

Consider this.  My parents were born in 1917 and 18.  They remembered the mixture of horse drawn carriages, Model T era automobiles and trollies that crowded Pittsburgh’s streets.  In the eight decades that my mother lived, aviation evolved from the earliest airplanes, to commercial flight exceeding the speed of sound, to man landing on the moon, to the space shuttle.  She watched the newsreels showing the atomic bomb in 1945, and was only 39 when the first atomic power plant devoted solely to civilian power generation opened in Shippensport, PA, in 1957.  I was seven.  Today there are over 435 commercial nuclear power reactors operable in 31 countries, with over 375,000 MWe of total capacity.  They provide over 11% of the world’s electricity.  70 more are planned, but the use of atomic energy has always been highly controversial.

The time aspect of sustainability is in play here.  Time keeps everything from happening at once; including spreading out monumental events and the effects they have on society.  Today, many say we can never fully transition to renewable energy sources.  Others are encouraged with the progress being made and the potential the future holds for renewables if we have the collective will to make the transition.  The signs are all around us, from large indicators like Saudi Arabia placing a $62 billion dollar order for renewable energy systems – the largest ever – to a much smaller, but ever increasing number of diverse indicators.  The first all-electric Ferry is operating commercially in Scandinavia, and over 50 police departments have all-electric motorcycle fleets.  Yet despite hundreds of other examples, the possibility of transitioning away from fossil fueled transportation continues to be ridiculed as farfetched.  Enter Elon Musk and Tesla Motors, whose open patent policy is sure to spur more and faster advancements in electric vehicle.  Musk’s whole house storage battery, while in the Model T phase, already enables a home to be run 100% on renewable energy.

motorcycle_ferryPolice forces are transitioning                                Norway’s first all-electric ferry
to zero emissions motorcycles

In my lifetime I have gone from drafting by hand to computer aided design (CAD), digital technology and 3D visioning of projects I could never have imagined as a college freshman in 1968.  The same military that created the atomic bomb is now saying transitioning away from foreign oil is a matter of national security.  If we could apply the same political will that enabled us to literally stop what we were doing in 1941 and tool up to win WWII, we could speed up our energy independence and rebuild our civil infrastructure to accommodate renewable energy systems in relatively short order compared to other major technologies of the past.  Will it happen in my lifetime?  I don’t know, but it could.

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Embodied Energy – What Is It, and Why Does It Matter?

Robert J. Kobet, AIA, LEED Faculty

Diana Webb, AIA

LEED v4 emphasizes the life cycle of buildings materials.  The Materials and Resources credits are broadened to encourage the use of abandoned or blighted buildings and whole building life cycle assessment.  This has precipitated a need to better understand embodied energy and the role it plays in high performance, green buildings.  A recent post by Diana Webb, AIA, covers the vocabulary and concepts associated with embodied energy.

According to Diana, green designers and builders refer to Cradle-to-Gate, Cradle-to-Site, or Cradle-to-Grave when deciphering embodied energy issues.  All are related to building embodied energy and life cycle assessment.  The premise is simple.  Buildings require energy long before they are actually built because it takes energy to extract, manufacture, transport, use, and dispose of the building materials.  Cradle-to-Site goes a step further and considers energy consumed from materials extraction to delivery of the materials to the end site.

Cradle-to-Grave is the most comprehensive concept and the one most closely associated with the LEED v4 life cycle approach.  As the name implies, embodied energy would include all energy consumed from materials extraction to materials disposal, whether excess materials are recycled, reused or disposed.  Energy consumption tracking begins with raw materials extraction and flows to manufacturing, equipment and supplies needed in the materials processing facility, HVAC, lighting, maintenance, transportation, and disposal.  The goal is to close as many loops as possible to ensure the energy used to bring the building or material into service originally is kept in use as long as possible.

Embodied energy considers all carbon produced by building materials.  The building industry accounts for approximately 37% of carbon production.  Manufacturing the most common building materials – clay, glass, and stone – is responsible for almost 7% of the 37% carbon production total.  It is estimated that producing cement accounts for approximately 8% of carbon released into the atmosphere on a global basis.  Anything with minerals must be mined so there is an attendant energy cost and carbon footprint.  Minerals are in insulation, plumbing, wallpaper, paint, sealers, coatings, wiring, and many other building components.

There are two types of embodied energy recognized.  The initial embodied energy in buildings is the non-renewable energy consumed to maintain or replace building materials and components.  Embodied energy is expressed as gigaJoules or megaJoules per area unit of weight.  This is a complex measurement that implicitly includes all building environmental impacts related to greenhouse gases, resource depletion, biodiversity harm, and environmental damage.  It is measured, calculated and then weighed against building performance.  An environmentally efficient building may offset some of the environmental degradation associated with extracting, procuring, using, and disposing of materials.  In the case of net positive energy buildings, the building itself is producing new energy.

Embodied energy is a natural evolution in the LEED v4 life cycle approach.  There is now a Building Life-Cycle Impact Reduction credit that gives points for reusing existing building materials or for using salvaged materials.  The purpose of the credit is to reduce embodied energy.  The LEED v4 Materials & Resources section increases reporting requirements for raw materials extraction locations and supplier environmental commitments.  Products containing Environmental Product Declarations, disclosing product ingredients and life cycle environmental impacts, or offering proof of reduced environmental impacts in comparison to industry averages leads to earning new credits.  Disclosure and Optimization credits promote selecting materials with lower environmental footprints.  Life cycle product assessments give a more comprehensive view of the product’s environmental impact than simply choosing recycled or reused materials.

Embodied energy is a complex concept requiring equally complex data and documentation.  However, it is a critical concept worth pursuing.  The Green Building Research Institute course, Demystifying Embodied Energy, will help “de-complex” the concept and principles of embodied energy.

84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply share your interest in reducing your carbon footprint and extending the service life of buildings and building materials.  We can also help you work through any of the LEED v4 credits related to embodied energy.  Visit us online at www.greenedgesupply.com for help with all of your green building concerns.

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We can’t have it both ways

Robert J. Kobet, AIA, LEED Faculty

On May 19, a pipeline rupture caused over 100,000 gallons to spill into Santa Barbara waters.  The channel where the spill occurred is where warm water from the south mixes with cold water from the north, creating one of the most bio-diverse habitats in the world, with over 800 species of sea creatures, from crabs and snails to sea lions and otters, and a forest of kelp and other undersea plants; it’s also a place through which 19,000 gray whales migrate each late spring and early summer.

The event was covered by the usual mix of news and social media and, depending on the political bent of the network or individual making the post, the spill was either a major ecological disaster or business as usual; an inevitable necessity if we are to enjoy our American way of life.  I was struck by how many of the news reels and still photos underscored this dichotomy.  When the cameras panned back from the beach, one could see heavy traffic on the adjacent highway.  It’s possible many who were appalled at the spill were fueling their cars from the same source as the oil washing up on the beach.  Similarly, protestors in Seattle who paddled out in droves to protest the huge oil rig destined for oil exploration in the Arctic were floating in kayaks made from petroleum.  It’s time we realize we can’t have both ways.

It is estimated that 80 to 85 percent of the energy consumed in the U.S. is from fossil fuels.  One of the main reasons given for continuing to use this energy source that is much less expensive than alternatives.  According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, many costs are not figured in the bills we pay for energy.  Some of them include:

  • Human health problems caused by environmental pollution.
  • Damage to the food chain from toxins absorbed and passed along.
  • Damage to the miners and energy workers.
  • Damage to the earth from coal mining and fracking.
  • Global warming caused by greenhouse gases.
  • Acid rain and groundwater pollution.
  • National security costs from protecting oil sources and from terrorism (some of which is financed by oil revenues).

Government oil company subsidies are estimated between $4 billion and $52 billion annually.  The worldwide figure is between $775 billion and $1 trillion, which begs the question – why don’t oil and gas companies and governments around the world divert at least some of these subsidies to alternative clean energy sources?  Rather than invest in the depleting and damaging energy sources of the past, isn’t it time to look to the future and stop “kicking the can down the road”?

Transportation is only one issue.  The first study on this subject determined traffic congestion robbed the U.S. economy of $124 billion in 2013.  That’s an annual cost $1,700 per household.  Transportation related waste will exceed $2.8 trillion by 2030 if we do not take immediate measures to reverse the situation.  A commute that formerly took five to 10 minutes can now take upwards of an hour.

The problems related to gridlock, damage to the environment and human health will need political will and investment in the following:

  • Clean, renewable energy and storage. The Department of Defense has identified this as a national security concern.
  • More effective and efficient transportation. Several other countries, most notably China, are making significant investments in mass transit.
  • Better marketing and accounting for the true cost of the alternative energy sources.
  • Political vision and will to transparently tell the truth and make the investment. The biggest obstacle to this may be big oil’s massive investment in lobbying our politicians.

The reality is the world’s fossil fuels are finite.  Much sooner than later we need to make the transition to renewable energy sources ad systems.  The longer we wait the less stable and more traumatic the transition will be.  America literally retooled and transitioned entire industries and sectors of our economy to win WWII.  Left unaddressed, the consequences of losing our energy independence could rival those of losing any other global conflict.  Rather than be afraid of changes that are necessary, we should embrace the opportunity that comes with making the transition.

84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply share your interest in energy efficient living.  If you have any questions about how to reduce the use of fossil fuels, visit us online at www.greenedgesupply.com

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Safer Building Materials and Products – What will it take?

Robert J. Kobet, AIA, LEED Faculty

Environmental Leader

The nature of building materials and products has been part of the LEED building rating system from its beginning.  Manifest largely in the Materials and Resources (M&R) and Interior Environmental Quality (IEQ) sections, they have been scrutinized for their impact on the environment as well as the health and well-being of building occupants.  For almost fifteen years, the evolution of LEED has included an ongoing commitment to recognizing the state of the art in material science, as well as an effort to influence a global, industry wide effort to eliminate toxic materials while supporting the development of more sustainable materials, products and practices.

The emergence of the International Living Building Institute (ILBI) raised the bar across the board for architecture in general and benign building materials in particular.  Its “Red List,” is a compilation of material ingredients that cannot be used if a project is to achieve Living Building status. At the same time, industry pressure and politics associated with chemical suppliers have influenced stakeholders working to position Green Globes as a respected green building alternative along with LEED and the Living Building Challenge.  I anticipate the conversations between these organizations, building professional and manufacturers will continue for some time.

All of this precipitated a bewildering barrage of new terms, conditions, testing agency standard, paperwork and need for clarification.  The fact LEED V4 does not have a Red List, but is beginning to accept some ILDI Petal Requirements as comparable to some LEED V4 credit requirements has been the subject of many conversations I have had.   Continued questions about the “why” behind promoting more benign, non-toxic products persist, and are summed up well in a recent article from Environmental Leader.

In their view, consumers want safer chemicals and ingredients, and they want companies to be transparent about what’s in their products.  Basically, I believe this is what the USGBC and the ILBI are trying to accomplish.  To meet this demand and achieve a competitive advantage, retailers and manufacturers including Target, Walmart and SC Johnson have taken steps to phase out hazardous chemicals in their products and encourage product transparency.  Ongoing efforts to eliminate volatile organic compounds, endocrine blockers and other causal agents of building related illness from building materials can be viewed as like response, as manifest in Cradle to Cradle

Flooring

He can’t formulate or specify non-toxic flooring… so, we have to do it for him.

In an Environmental Defense Fund blog post, the non-profit identifies a blueprint for safer chemicals in the marketplace that it has discovered in working with Walmart and other businesses.  It is not intended as a substitute for the Environmental Product Declarations or the other detailed requirements in LEED V4.  It is offered here as a point of departure for more in depth research and understanding.  The EDF blueprint lists five “key pillar” things companies can do to ensure safer products, and begin their journey to LEED and Living Building Challenge compliance.

They are:

  1. Institutional Commitment: Firms need a written corporate chemicals policy and solid commitment from company executives.
  2. Supply Chain Transparency: Before a manufacturer or retailer can flesh out its plan to introduce safer products, they must know the chemicals used to make products.
  3. Informed Consumers: Transparency meets customer demands for increased product safety and sustainability.
  4. Safer Chemicals Plan: This plan is the roadmap for using safer chemicals and phasing out hazardous chemicals. EDF says “it provides the structure for evaluating chemical safety with respect to workers, neighboring communities and consumers; prioritizing, managing and eliminating chemicals of concern; and evaluating, determining and introducing safer alternatives.  The plan also provides a basis for communication with suppliers, customers and consumers.”
  5. Public Commitment: Communicate the company’s policy, timelines and progress – successes and pitfalls – towards safer chemicals. This can also lead to useful partnerships with other organizations that can provide expertise and best practices.

84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply share your interest in healthy building products and practices.  If you have any questions about the nature of building materials or their impact on your health and well-being, feel free to visit us online at www.greenedgesupply.com.

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Time to plant! But where, and is it legal?

It has been a long, hard winter.  The spring thaw has been way too long, but it finally looks like the forsythia, daffodils, crocuses and budding trees are announcing warmth and sunshine that are here to stay.  For many of us this means a welcome return to outdoor activities like gardening and spending more time in our yards.  So it is with great interest that I have been researching the collision between home gardening as the most popular hobby in America, and the ongoing legal restrictions and covenants associated with how we can use our residential landscapes – or not.

I have written about how I grew up in a family that put stock in what we could grow, can, preserve or otherwise reap the bounty of home gardens, fruit trees, surrounding woods, and a generous local grocer who, like our Mother, was loathe to waste food.  I have fond memories of all of that.  Very early in my career as a “green architect” I was influenced by Bill Mollison and his book, Permaculture, which touted the virtues of restoring all types of landscapes and ecosystems by fusing the needs of the build environment with regenerative approaches to site development, including food production.  Today I’m pleased the relationship of human ecology, build ecology and natural ecology is a central tenet of the global green building movement.  Community gardens are flourishing.  School gardens are being woven into K12 curriculum to the delight of students and teachers alike.  Living roofs and interior living walls continue to grow in popularity, and urban gardening is helping to re-establish inner city neighborhoods as they combat food deserts in cities around the world.  Few things are more sustainable than converting lawn monocultures or vacant lots to food production.

Yet, there is still the occasional article where a homeowner is sued for planting vegetables and flowers not on the “approved list of landscape flora” in certain development covenants and restrictions.  It seems our deep-seated affinity for the lawn aesthetic, however subjective, still rules in places where they are a very limited acceptable practice.  So, in a world where entire conferences are devoted to the fusion of horticulture and architecture, there are still several legal issues you need to keep in mind when considering home gardening and farming.  Our friends at Lawyers.com have some useful insight and information for us.

 Gardens   Home and community gardens – healthy and sustainable, but are they legal?

Local zoning laws and ordinances.

While gardens may be allowed in your locale, many cities and towns have restrictions on which farm animals you may keep on your residential property.  If this is something you want to do, check the local laws in your area.  If animals are prohibited, consider asking for a variance, so you can proceed with your plan.

Building laws and ordinances

Almost every locale has some sort of building code.  These rules address everything from installing a swimming pool, to whether you can have a chicken coop, an amenity growing in popularity, even in cities.  If your garden plans do not comply, you may face a fine or be ordered to remove whatever it is that’s breaking the law.  These same rules may be require you to establish your garden a certain distance from your neighbor’s boundary line.  Not doing so may lead to a lawsuit by the neighbor.  Again, in cases like this, you may need a variance.

Do you live in a condominium or cooperative?

Homeowners’ association (HOA) rules may bar you from keeping any farm animal, and limit your ability to plant fruit or vegetables on the premises.  Using pots and containers to grow vegetables may be an acceptable alternative to “altering the landscape,” and you can still accomplish a lot.

Permits and licenses?

Check to see if a permit or license is needed to grow and / or sell your homegrown products from your home, if that is what you intend to do.

Saving money and a healthy diet are great goals.  Home gardening and small-scale farming can help you do both.  84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply share your interest in home gardening and small-sale farming.  Visit us online at www.greenedgesupply.com and click on Request A Quote to receive more information for your home and garden needs.

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Reduce Your Taxes by Saving Energy

The 2014 tax season may have just wrapped up, but we are always looking for ways to reduce our tax debt, preferably in ways that benefit us beyond just a monetary return.  The Turbo Tax company published an article, updated for the 2014 tax year, that explains how to reduce your taxes while benefiting the environment.  In the 2014 tax year, the federal government offers two such credits: the Residential Energy Efficiency Property Credit and the Non-business Energy Property Credit.  The first credit is good through 2016; the second was due to expire after 2014, although it has been extended in the past.  You can claim either credit by filing Form 5695 with your tax return.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you can claim the Residential Energy Efficiency Property Credit for solar, wind and geothermal equipment in both your principal residence and a second home, but fuel-cell equipment qualifies only if installed in your principle residence.  The credit is equal to 30% of the cost, including installation.  There is no upper limit on the amount of the credit for solar, wind and geothermal equipment, but the maximum tax credit for fuel cells is $500 for each half-kilowatt of power capacity, or $1000 for each kilowatt.

Equipment and materials can qualify for the Non-business Energy Property Credit only if they meet technical efficiency standards set by the Department of Energy.  For this credit, the IRS distinguishes between two kinds of upgrades.

The first is “qualified energy efficiency improvements.”  It includes:

  • Home insulation
  • Exterior doors
  • Exterior windows and skylights
  • Certain roofing materials

The second category is “residential energy property costs.”  It includes:

  • Electric heat pumps
  • Electric heat pump water heaters
  • Central air conditioning systems
  • Natural gas, propane or oil water heaters
  • Stoves that use biomass fuel
  • Natural gas, propane or oil furnaces
  • Natural gas, propane or oil hot water boilers
  • Advanced circulating fans for natural gas, propane or oil furnaces

A tax credit can be taken for 10% of the cost of qualified energy efficiency improvements and 100% of residential energy property costs.  However, significant limits apply:

  • This credit is worth a maximum of $500 for all years combined, from 2006 to the present.
  • Of that combined $500 limit, a maximum of $200 can be for windows
  • The maximum tax credit for a furnace –circulating fan is $50
  • The maximum credit for a furnace or boiler is $150
  • The maximum credit for any other single residential energy property cost is $300

solarPanels

Renewable energy equipment that qualifies for the Residential Energy Efficiency
P
roperty Credit includes solar, wind, geothermal and fuel-cell technology.

In addition to home energy upgrades, the following renewable energy equipment is eligible for tax credits:

  1. Solar panels, or Photovoltaics, for generating electricity used in the home.
  2. Solar-powered water heaters. The hot water must be used inside the home, and at least half of the home’s water-heating capacity must be solar.  Solar heaters for swimming pools and hot tubs do not qualify.
  3. Wind turbines that generate up to 100 kilowatts of electricity for residential use.
  4. Geothermal heat pumps that meet federal Energy Star guidelines.
  5. Fuel cells that rely on a renewable resource (usually hydrogen) to generate power for a home. The equipment must generate at least 0.5 kilowatts of power.

Residential geothermal heat pumps, wind turbines and solar-power systems installed before the end of 2016 also qualify for a separate 30% credit.  A tax credit is better than a tax deduction because you take the money directly off your taxes rather than off your taxable income.

GreenEdge Supply and 84 Lumber carry many different home improvement products and a solar photovoltaic system that qualify for tax credits.  We sell and install these systems.  Visit us online at www.greenedgesupply.com and click Request a Quote to ask for more information.

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LEED and Food?

Robert J. Kobet, AIA, LEED Faculty

Theresa Hogerheide GBCI/USGBC

I have a keen interest in promoting the spirit and culture of green buildings in as many ways as possible.  This includes healthy living and landscapes that include organic food production.  Most people get the connection between environmental stewardship and personal health and well-being, but fewer can make in depth connections with things like food production, or carbon footprint.  So it is with great satisfaction that I recognize the USGBC’s Sustainable Sites Pilot Credit 82 – Local Food Production.

In a recent article Theresa Hogerheide discusses the connections between our diet, food supply chains and LEED.  According to Theresa, what we purchase at the market directly impacts the climate change.  She states one of the next steps to holistic green buildings per so is reducing the environmental impact of our food by producing it locally.  For instance, animal product cultivation generates greenhouse gases in the following ways:

  1. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) comes from land clearing and fertilizer application to grow grains to feed animals and humans. There are emissions from farm operations (processing, milling, and farm equipment operations) and food transportation especially in refrigerated transports going long distances.
  2. Methane (CH4) comes from the digestion ruminant animals like cows. It’s 44% of livestock emissions, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UNFAO).
  3. Nitrous Oxide (N2O) is emitted when nitrogen is added to the soil through the use of synthetic fertilizers to grow animal feed and other food products. It is also emitted during the breakdown of nitrogen in livestock manure and urine.  N2O has a (100-year) global warming potential of 310.

How we produce, transport and consume food is getting a lot of attention.  Concerns range from the potential dangers of genetically modified foods, to the environmental stresses induced by climate change and how droughts are affecting irrigation demands.  In 2013, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization revealed 14.5% of human-induced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are attributed to livestock, with beef and dairy cattle representing about 65% of livestock sector emissions.

Additionally, ecosystem fragmentation, species habitat degradation, loss of biodiversity, water use for animal hydration and processing, and manure waste disposal are all related to current food consumption patterns.  According to USDA figures, the aggregate food supply in 2000 provided 3,800 calories per person per day.  Of that, USDA’s Economic Research Service estimated that the dietary intake of calories then was less than 2,700 calories daily per person.  That means almost 30% of the food energy produced is wasted, including the water and raw materials used to produce it.

Factory food farming practices – particularly for meats, fish, cheeses, and eggs, combined with long-distance transportation within the United States or across the globe – are a detriment to the planet.  Currently, these are issues are addressed in:

  • LEED for Existing Buildings, which includes a credit that rewards projects for using local food/beverages or those with certain certifications, and
  • LEED for Neighborhood Development, which has a credit that rewards projects supporting gardens and agriculture. But I am most excited about the new
  • LEED Pilot Credit 82: Local Food Production which is earned when the project team demonstrates onsite food production or partnering with a Community Supported Agriculture program or local farm. The intent of this pilot credit is to improve human health and well-being, community involvement, and education on food production by designing and maintaining the site for food production.  Requirements focus on providing onsite food production: vegetable gardens and/or edible nut- and fruit-bearing plants appropriate to the site.  Projects can meet the requirements by dedicating a certain percentage of their site’s vegetated area or rooftop space to food production and there is a provision for vertical farming.

All of this makes LEED more relevant for all the right reasons, and adds to why I support the mission of the USGBC.  If you have any questions about this article, feel free to contact us at www.greenedgesupply.com.

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Lead Paint Did Not Go Away

Robert J. Kobet, AIA, LEED Faculty www.bobkobet.com

The green building movement has brought increased attention to, and scrutiny of, environmentally sound building materials and products.  An attendant interest in allergy free, nontoxic design and human ecology as a design determinant has been influential in coaxing manufacturers to produce an ever increasing inventory of products that are much safer than they were in the past.  A stellar example of this is the evolution of paints and coatings.  Today one can purchase low VOC or no VOC paints and coatings that are versatile, durable and which stand up to repeated cleanings.  But that was not always the case.

I have been aware of the hazards of lead in homes for some time.  When I recently sold my home it was pointed out to me that it contained old applications of lead paint.  It was built in 1905 and, like many old homes of its era, the box gutters were fabricated of tarred wood and heavy gauge tin liners painted with lead based paint.  The original interior paint used on the baseboards, wainscotings and interior trim was also contained lead.

The exterior box gutters do not constitute much of a risk, as they are outside and not accessible.  Numerous coats of lead free paint encapsulated everything inside.  The interior surfaces were always in good shape, with no visible signs of cracking, peeling or chalking.  So, my risk of exposure to lead was minimal.  While lead paint is a widespread problem, the mere presence of lead-based paint in a home is not a hazard.  About 40 percent of all U.S. housing contains some leaded paint, and the vast majority of us live safely in these homes and apartments.

leadPaint

Children are very susceptible to lead poisoning.

But that is not always the case.  Before the 1970s, household paint contained lead.  It has since been banned.  If you live in or own an older home, you need to know how to protect yourself and others.  The major cause of lead poisoning is lead-based paint in housing, especially housing built before 1950, when lead paint was commonly used.  As lead paint ages it can chip or crumble into dust.  Exposure to lead-paint dust can cause serious health problems.  Children and pregnant women are at higher risk.  Most children with elevate lead levels are poisoned in their own homes by peeling lead-based paint and the lead dust it generates.  Lead dust settles quickly, is difficult to clean up, and is invisible to the naked eye.  Young children usually are poisoned through normal hand-to-mouth activity, as lead dust settles on their toys and the floor.  Children may also be seriously poisoned by eating lead-based paint chips, but this is relatively rare.

There are many ways to reduce the hazards of lead-based paint – but some methods of removing the paint can actually increase the risk of lead exposure.  It is important to choose the safest method for your project.  The goal is to reduce the hazards while creating as little dust as possible.  If lead paint is on ceilings and walls and is in good repair, then painting them or covering with wallpaper may be all that is necessary to keep the lead paint in place.

However, if the lead paint is chipping or peeling, or if it is on a surface such as a windowsill or stair rail where children can chew on it, then the lead paint should be removed or encapsulated.  Painted surfaces that rub on each other, such as doors and windows, require special attention to stop the friction.  And if the paint has been damaged by other problems, such as water damage due to leaks, then the underlying problems must also be fixed.

If you are unsure if the paint in your home contains lead, you should hire an environmental consultant to do an inspection prior to undertaking a major renovation.  Many local health departments offer lead inspections or testing at no cost.  If lead is discovered that cannot be encapsulated safely you should consider hiring a professional lead remediation contractor.

84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply share your interest in healthy housing.  We can supply VOC free paints and coatings, and the tools and materials necessary to upgrade or renovate your home.  Visit us online at www.greenedgesupply.com

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Radon & Winter

Robert J. Kobet, AIA, LEED Faculty www.bobkobet.com

Radon has long been recognized as a potentially dangerous, cancer-causing, indoor air pollutant.  It comes from the natural breakdown of radioactive uranium in soil, rock and water.  Radon is invisible, odorless, and tasteless.  It is also very site specific, and can only be detected with testing.  Radon from soil gas is the main cause of radon problems.  Sometimes radon enters the home through well water.  In a small number of homes, the building materials can give off radon, too.  However, building materials rarely cause radon problems by themselves.

It is not uncommon for a building to test high for radon, while adjacent structures show only trace amounts.  Radon migrates upward through fissures in rock strata and can enter the home on its way to finding its natural repose in the upper atmosphere.  If a home is located where these paths do not exist, there is a lesser chance of radon intrusion.   Conversely, if a home is located over a radon bearing geology it can act as a cap on radon’s otherwise unobstructed path to the upper atmosphere.  Radon can accumulate in any type of home – old or new, slab on grade, multi-story, etc.  The amount of radon in a home is a result of the rate of entry, and how tight the home us.  If the home is of sufficiently airtight construction, radon levels can raise to dangerous levels.  This is why radon should be carefully monitored in air tight homes and after existing homes are weatherized.

RadonRisks

The risk of radon relative to other events

But radon can vary with other conditions, including natural forces acting on the home and the influence of the space conditioning system.  In winter we typically keep our homes closed tight to keep out the cold winter conditions.  We don’t open our windows, and may not go in and out as often as we do in warmer weather.  In effect, we improve the efficiency of the “cap” we put on the upwardly migrating radon, trapping it inside.

Forced air heating systems can also influence the rate of radon intrusion, especially if the furnace fan is located in a basement.  Return air ductwork in basement and crawl spaces can induce a slight negative pressure in those spaces.  The slight suction effect can pull radon-laden air through cracks in the slab and below grade penetrations in foundation walls.  Clothes dryer vents, bathroom, kitchen and laundry vents can have the same effect, and contribute to radon intrusion in proportion to how strong they are and how often they are used.

All of this makes the winter months good times to test for radon.  The quickest way to test is with short-term tests.  Short-term tests remain in your home for two days to 90 days, depending on the device.  Charcoal canisters, alpha track, electret ion chamber, continuous monitors, and charcoal liquid scintillation detectors are most commonly used for short-term testing.  Because radon levels tend to vary from day-to-day and season-to-season, a short-term test is less likely than a long-term test to tell your year-round average radon level.  If you need results quickly, however, a short-term test followed by a second short-term test may be used to decide whether to fix your home.

Long-term tests remain in your home for more than 90 days.  Alpha track and electret detectors are commonly used for this type of testing.  A long-term test will give you a reading that is more likely to tell your home’s year-round average radon level than a short-term test.  The EPA recommends the following Testing Steps:

First, take a short-term test.  If your result is 4 pico-curies per liter (pCi/L) or higher, conduct a follow-up test to check your results.

Second, if necessary, follow up with either a long-term test or a second short-term test.  If you need results quickly, take a second short-term test.

The higher your initial short-term test result, the more certain you can be that you should take a long-term rather than a short-term follow up test.  If your first short-term test result is more than twice EPA’s 4 pCi/L action level, you should take a second short-term test immediately.  Consider fixing your home if the average of your first and second test is 4 pCi/L or higher.

84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply share your interest in a safe and healthy home.  Future blogs will address how to remediate radon in your home if you have elevated radon levels.  Until then, feel free to visit us online at www.greenedgesupply.com.

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Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t

Robert J. Kobet, AIA, LEED Faculty www.bobkobet.com

Tristan Roberts, Building Green www.buildinggreen.com

Spray polyurethane foam insulation (SPF) is widely considered an effective way to insulates and air seal new and existing construction.  Contractors appreciate SPF’s ability to limit conduction losses and air infiltration, making it a favorite choice of weatherization contractors.  Its ability to expand into volumes that are not uniform in shape and size is one of its most valued attributes.

So, it was with great interest I read an article by Tristan Roberts and our friends at Building Green who said SPF applications are not always as good as they seem.  The article is based in part on input and photos from Ken Levinson of 475, a company specializing in the supply and application of insulation and air sealing products.   Mr. Levinson used infrared imaging technology to scrutinize SPF applications to see if the material performed as anticipated.  The results are both counter-intuitive and very useful for anyone concerned about the proper application of SPF.

spfImages         Conventional view of SPF application    Infrared image showing thermal bypass in blue

The images provided by Mr. Levinson indicate the SPF applied did not set up in a way that fully sealed the wall cavity.  The dark blue (colder) are between the stud and the foam indicates the wall cavity shown is leaking air.  Other images from the same installation confirm the pattern.  This house, in upstate New York, was insulated by professionals using closed-cell spray foam.  It measured at 2 ACH50 (2 air changes per hour at 50 pascals of pressure difference – a common measure of air-tightness) after the foam was installed.

According to Levinson, the project was hoping for a much tighter envelope and ended up improving the performance by taping framing joints at window openings and wall plates.  “The framing connections were riddled with leaky spots, and visually there was no rhyme or reason as to what spots would be leaky and what weren’t.  They all looked, most of the time, just the same.”

Levinson noted the installation had no obvious problems – it was a professional crew, no moisture problems, and as shown, no obvious visual issues.  However, quality control has to be part of every job, and he’s learned from seeing enough foam jobs gone bad that SPF is not a “miracle material”.  Successful projects use thermal imaging to guide foam installation during the process, which this project apparently did not do.

Peter Yost recently referenced Henri Fennell, an Insulation expert, in an article for Building Green.  Fennell noted seven possible reasons why spray foam insulation projects using SPF and Icynene do no perform as anticipated.

Understand the two systems

Part of getting site-formulated foam right is understanding how injection and spray foam differ.  Many of us have gained some exposure to the point-and-shoot method of applying spray foam, but foam injection also has significant share of the industry.

Get the ratio right

Two-part spray and injection-foam formulations require the correct ratio of the “A” and “B” components for a proper chemical reaction to occur, and thus for the insulation to be of good quality.

Watch your lift thickness

A lift is a single layer of foam, sprayed in one pass.  Each spray-foam product should be installed at the lift thickness recommended by the manufacturer.  One manufacturer allows for as much as 6 inches per pass, but most recommend or require lifts no greater than 1.5 to 2 inches.

Get the substrate right

The temperature of the substrate is critical in winter installations.  Cold substrates can pull enough heat out of the reaction that the spray foam does not expand sufficiently or bond to the substrate properly.  Substrates that are too hot can also cause quality issues.  Manufacturers provide high and low temperature limits for each product formulation.

Observe the necessary wait times

Each lift becomes a new substrate because of heat and pressure.  Says Fennell, with spray foam, you’re waiting for the previous lift to cool enough, while with injection foam, you’re waiting for the previous layer to finish expanding.  In each case, quality requires patience.

Match the foam product to the application

Matching the foam product to the application is critical to quality installations.  This is best done with input from manufacturers and installation specialists familiar with the project substrates, materials and field conditions.

Assure quality in the field

Fennell uses a system of project-specific submittals and onsite quality-assurance methods to deliver good results.  These include product warranties, installation requirements, and safety data sheets.  His quality-assurance protocols are used during field applications to assure the manufacturer’s recommendations are met throughout the application.

Albert Einstein said, “Nothing is simple if you understand it.”  It seems the best way to insure a quality SPF installation is to get the best material experts and contractors available, and use technology to verify what is otherwise speculation.

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There’s an app for that!

Robert J. Kobet, AIA, LEED Faculty www.bobkobet.com

Like many people I have come to rely on my smart phone for a lot of things, from conventional phone and email communications, to navigation and Internet searches.  Popular Mechanics named the smart phone the number one most influential of the 101 gadgets that have changed the world.  http://bit.ly/1Nc1qQt Smart phone users know the applications (apps) available are constantly increasing, and I am no longer surprised at the depth and breadth of how they are used.

I recently blogged about how thermal imaging technology was becoming a more accessible part of weatherization and building diagnostics, used to reveal the thermal performance of building envelopes.  But until now, that was only possible with commercial grade thermal imaging cameras, many of which cost between $1000 and $10,000.

Today, apps exist for smart phones that enable similar capabilities for less demanding applications.  If you want to try to find a water leak behind a wall, check your home for insulation effectiveness or air infiltration, or see an animal or intruder outside at night, thermal imaging technology designed for use with a smart phone is now available.

Seek Thermal of Santa Barbara, California, has a $199 thermal camera that plugs into smart phones.  According to Seek Thermal CEO Robert Acker, the company spent several years trying to reduce the cost of the device to mass consumer price points.  The breakthrough was a chip designed in partnership with defense contractor Raytheon and Freescale Semiconductor, as well as an inexpensive sensor – the camera’s lens.  It is able to read temperature differences at distances up to 1,000 feet, and detect a person at 200 feet.  Users can tell at a glance what they’re looking at, whether it’s someone hiding in the bushes, a leaky window or an animal in the yard waiting for the chance to raid the vegetable garden.

 seekThermal
Seek Thermal’s Smart Phone attachment               Typical Seek Thermal Image

The company is also working on tools that will allow third parties to build custom products around its core technology.  In addition to sensing the built environment, Seek Thermal believes less expensive thermal-imaging cameras will also be attractive to airlines, which could identify weak spots on planes before they fail, and to law enforcement and the military, since the device can spot people or other heat sources in the dark.  Several others, including the medical, camping, hunting and marine industries, may also find new applications for the hand held, smart phone compatible technology.

Seek Thermal’s camera weighs half an ounce, and generates thermal imagery with a resolution of 206 by 156 pixels, or 32,000 “thermal pixels”.  It is available on its website or through Amazon for about $200.

 smartphonethermalAttachementFlir One’s thermal imaging smart phone attachment

Another option is the Flir One thermal imaging smart phone accessory designed for use with the iPhone 5/5s.  It can identify heat loss and water leaks, and measure the temperature of invisible heat sources.  It can also see at night to observe wildlife or other warm objects, and capture and share thermal images and videos.  Flir’s smart phone thermal imaging attachment resembles an external battery pack cradle, which the phone snaps into.  It blends thermal and visible spectrum for more detail and enhanced resolution.  It is available online for about $250.

It will be very interesting to see how additional competition and further improvements in technology will drive the accuracy and image quality of these apps.  These devices hold enormous potential for enriching STEM education and green building services.  Stay tuned for what’s to come!

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The Building Performance Institute – Every little bit helps

Robert J. Kobet, AIA, LEED Faculty www.bobkobet.com

The Building Performance Institute

Green Building is everywhere these days. Typing the keywords, “green building” for an Internet search produced 358,000,000 hits in .58 seconds. The green building movement is global, and the media is ripe with countless case studies and stories of buildings and communities that have successfully completed any number of certifications. While the US Green Building Council, Green Globes and the International Living Building Institute may dominate the headlines, I am drawn to other organizations that labor in the shadows of these premier green building goliaths. One of these is the Building Performance Institute (BPI).

BPI is a national standards development organization for residential energy efficiency and weatherization retrofit work. As an independent, not-for-profit organization, they bring together leading building science experts from across North America to develop standards using a consensus-based methodology. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI), through its role as an approved developer of American National Standards, accredits BPI. BPI’s Standards Technical Committee, its working groups and dozens of committed industry participants, maintain BPI’s posture and reputation as the home performance industry’s leading standards body.

BPI functions as a vital connection between contractors, technicians, training organizations and programs to ensure the entire home performance and weatherization workforce is following the same strict protocols. Individuals that have been trained, tested and certified to BPI’s nationally recognized standards use the house-as-a-system approach to improving the performance of existing homes. This approach has proven to reduce annual utility bills by as much as 20% or more. Because of its proven track record in home retrofit improvements, BPI standards are cited by the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® program from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as several state Weatherization Assistance Programs.

In the last decades much attention has been given to high profile programs that optimize energy and resource conservation in new home construction. That is a very good thing, but even in the realm of low-income housing, or prefabricated construction, the benefits accrue to those who can afford new homes. BPI, on the other hand, serves both the new home and renovation markets as well as the extensive stock of existing homes and homeowners in the US who are in serious need of home improvements. For many homeowners and tenants, energy bills account for far too much of the monthly budget. These homes often suffer from performance problems ranging from excessive energy consumption to poor thermal comfort and indoor air quality issues. These are problems rebate programs, untrained contractors or even the best do-it-yourself homeowner cannot solve.

insulating
BPI certifies highly skilled residential energy conservation professionals

BPI addresses these issues by training and certifying individuals to meet the need for a highly skilled home performance workforce. BPI contractors are tested by rigorous written and field exams based on nationally recognized standards. The exams are delivered in all 50 states and several foreign countries through independent test centers. Certification is based on testing protocols set by the American National Standards Institute. BPI GoldStar Contractors are committed to the highest possible standards and are recognized as builders, inspectors and technicians capable of building or renovating energy, material and resource efficient homes. BPI backs up its quality brand through independent quality assurance review. Their national quality assurance protocols help reduce program risk and increase accountability for the industry and for homeowners.

I have deep respect for the work the BPI does in training individuals and companies to do the important work of home energy audits and resource conservation improvements, especially in service to low income families. BPI certified professionals are in demand more than ever before. Many state-run energy efficiency and weatherization assistance programs demand BPI credentials and BPI certified professionals play key role in helping these programs expand. By building confidence in the capabilities of the home performance workforce, BPI helps to create sustainable, green-collar jobs in local communities – jobs cannot be exported – while helping to improve the comfort, health, safety, durability and energy efficiency of America’s existing houses.

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Simple Simon Says, “Four steps forward, and three States back”

Robert J. Kobet, AIA, LEED Faculty

Katie Fink

It’s no secret over the years the US Green Building Council has been besieged by various factions of the construction industry.  The controversy surrounding the current LEED Version 4 is no exception.  Many of the challenges are in the Materials and Resources section where powerful lobbies representing the vinyl and plastics industries have pushed back on the USGBC’s effort to increase transparency and accountability in building materials.  Similarly, organizations that favor alternatives to the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards for classifying wood based products that meet LEED requirements have lobbied successfully to limit the application of LEED in some states.

I know LEED cannot be all things to every green building interest, but like many others I wonder, as the number of LEED certifications continues to grow and the standards for certification become more rigorous, how is it possible some states are banning LEED certification?  LEED buildings save energy, reduce waste, improve productivity and safeguard the health of building occupants – including children.  What’s not to like?

LEED-banLEED – Not everyone is happy…

Apparently, the reason behind bans on LEED Certification in some states is over wood sourcing.  Currently, the USGBC only recognizes FSC certified wood products.  However, LEED also gives credit for locally sourced material, so even non-FSC certified wood can help achieve LEED credits.

In August 2013 Georgia banned LEED certification for state building projects to recognize three forestry standards: The Sustainable Forestry Initiative, The American Tree Farm System, and The Forest Stewardship Council.  Governor Deal claimed, “Recognizing all forest certifications equally… will help create thousands of jobs”.  This executive order effectively eliminates LEED as an option for government building projects, state-funded colleges and universities.  Governor Deal did not consider the number of other jobs lost when the construction of energy, material and resource efficient buildings is curtailed.

In April 2013 Alabama, passed legislation prohibiting LEED as the green building standard for public buildings.  The legislators wanted to include the less rigorous wood standards of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and the American Tree Farm System in its state buildings.  Of the 52 publicly funded LEED projects in Alabama at the time of the ban, none included FSC timber, but all used locally sourced wood and were awarded point.  Alabama was in no way forced to use FSC-certified timber in order to achieve LEED certification.

Even in Maine where the green building industry was thriving was thriving due to requiring LEED, the rating system was undermined.  In late 2011 Governor Pail Lepage issued an executive order banning LEED.  Critics of the decision cited Governor Lepage’s support of Maine’s huge timber industry, the majority of which does not meet FSC standards.  The Bangor Daily News claimed, “the move would allow the state’s forest products industry to be more competitive by getting green certification from other programs”.  Unfortunately, USGBC believes there aren’t any other credible green building certifications out there, and the LEED ban remains in effect.

LEED will always be controversial, but I will continue to advocate for its use in promoting the greater good.

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Our Growing Solar Industry – What Does It Mean?

Robert J. Kobet, AIA, LEED Faculty www.bobkobet.com

Grist –

http://bit.ly/1JUgYWq

 

For several years I worked on projects in Dubai. While there I made friends with an Egyptian project manager educated in the US who was well versed in American history and the forays the US has made into the economies of other countries. During one memorable lunch he posed this comment and question, “At the beginning of World War II, the US re-tooled over night to produce what the allies needed to win the war. Pittsburgh became the arsenal of democracy and Detroit converted its assembly lines from cars to tanks and planes quickly and efficiently. If the US is the Saudi Arabia of wind, why doesn’t it redirect its under-used manufacturing capability and put people to work winning the renewable energy war? If the US does not want to be beholding to foreign oil, why not have a national campaign to do that?”

That was 2006, two years before the US found itself scrambling to recover from our economic collapse, part of which was using the stimulus package to bail out the auto industry. Considering all of the components of a large scale wind turbine – towers, blades, motors, generators, controls, transmissions, etc., can be built on an assembly line, I thought it was a very good question; at least technically. The current discussion surrounding our crumbling infrastructure begs the related question of how much we could accomplish with a national renewable energy policy that was unfettered by politics. But alas, our energy policies are all about politics, much of which is determined by special interests, suffocating misinformation and dark money. This in spite of the fact the Department of Defense has stated our continued reliance on foreign oil and inability to adopt renewable energy via a hardened infrastructure that would enable us to decentralize energy distribution are major threats to national security.

Yet there is some good news, depending on your own “special interests”. Today the solar industry employs twice as many people as the coal industry. This fact immediately precipitates charges of President Obama’s “war on coal,” socialist subsidies that are not deserved, and a number of other accusations aimed at discrediting anything that does not fully support the fossil fuel industry. To me it is American capitalism at its best. Competition from natural gas and fracking industries has had significant impact on energy prices and options the industry has for primary fuels. And, while the tax subsidies granted the solar industry pale in comparison to the federal largess enjoyed by big oil companies, renewable continue their march forward.

Renewable Energy Systems Green Collar Jobs for US Workers

Renewable Energy Systems
Green Collar Jobs for US Workers

 

 

As of November 2014, the U.S. solar industry employed 173,807 people, up 2.18 percent from a year before, according to a new survey by the Solar Foundation, a nonprofit research organization. The U.S. solar boom is taking off at breathtaking speed – even though solar is still a small piece of America’s energy pie. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states solar is by far the fastest growing of any energy source, adding jobs ten times faster than the 2% job growth in the overall U.S. economy for the same period. Solar is also outpacing job growth in the fossil fuel industry, outnumbering coal mining jobs 2-to-1. And, it is quickly catching up to jobs in oil and gas extraction, as well.

A 2012 University of Tennessee study found solar employees more people per megawatt-hour of electricity than any other energy source. Because of the labor needed to install new rooftop systems every day, installers make up more than half of the jobs counted in the Bureau of Labor survey. But jobs in the solar industry are likely to change as installation becomes more efficient. And, the industry is expecting a slowdown in growth in 2017 when a major federal tax credit is set to expire. The survey reported that of the 2,000 solar-related businesses surveyed, 73% said that tax credits “significantly improved” business. U.S. manufacturing is also at risk from cheap imported solar panels from China, although part of President Obama’s recent climate deal with China is aimed at resolving clean energy trade disputes.

As a taxpayer who believes in a strong national defense, I favor developing as many US renewable energy sources as possible. In so doing, let’s generate the maximum number of US jobs and employ as many veterans as possible.

 

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The Greening of Professional Sports

Robert J. Kobet, AIA, LEED Faculty www.bobkobet.com

The National Resources Defense Council
http://on.nrdc.org/1ze9477

It’s been said sport is the opiate of the masses. Whether or not one is a fan, it cannot be denied the professional sports industry includes some of the most iconic and influential organizations in the world. Yet not everything involving professional sports franchises is completely positive. The media is ripe with stories of how team owners allegedly hold cities hostage to their demands for expensive stadiums and arenas. Team politics are played out in local papers that publish debates over whether teams should be given choice municipal real estate, tax advantages, public financing or other perks not offered other local enterprises. Many question the economics of a venue that is used only a limited number of times each year, even though the alleged benefits to the region can be substantial.   Last year, Americans spent $25.4 billion dollars on professional sports, not including taxpayer money spent on stadiums or the estimated $250 billion bet on sports. Ask any fan if they want to see their favorite team leave town, and the answer is almost surely a resounding, “NO!”

Amidst all this controversy the National Resources Defense Council recently published a report titled Game Changer that investigates professional sport’s commitment to environmental stewardship. Much to my delight it found a cultural shift of historic proportions; the sports industry is now using its influence to advance environmental stewardship.

According to the study, sport can be a great unifier, transcending political, cultural, religious and socio-economic barriers. It also wields a uniquely powerful influence, both cultural and economic, that provides much-needed leadership in sustainable practices. In so doing, sport promotes a nonpolitical public commitment to protecting the environment. North America’s professional leagues, teams and venues have saved millions of dollars by shifting to more efficient, healthy and ecologically intelligent operations. Some key findings are:

  • All Commissioners of professional sports leagues in the United States have made commitments to environmental stewardship and are actively encouraging the teams in their leagues to incorporate sustainable measures into their operations.
  • 15 professional North American stadiums or arenas have achieved LEED green building design certifications, 18 have installed on-site solar arrays, and virtually all have developed, or are developing, recycling and/or composting programs.
  • Major League Baseball has the best-developed environmental data measurement program, followed by the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association.
  • Of the 126 professional sports teams in the five major professional North American leagues, 38 teams have shifted to renewable energy for at least some of their operations, and 68 have energy efficiency programs.
  • All of the large sports concessionaires that collectively feed tens of millions of people each year have developed environmentally preferable menus for at least some of their offerings.
  • All major events, including the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, NBA playoffs and finals, the MLS Cup, US Open Tennis Championships and all All-Star Games now incorporate greening initiatives into their planning and operations.
  • All leagues educate their fans about environmental issues, particularly the need to recycle and reduce energy and water use.
Consol Energy Center – LEED Gold Certified Home Of the Pittsburgh Penguins
Consol Energy Center – LEED Gold Certified Home
Of the Pittsburgh Penguins

Perhaps most important, millions of pounds of carbon emissions have been avoided, millions of gallons of water have been saved, and millions of pounds of paper products are being shifted toward recycled content or simply eliminated. And, lessons learned can be applied to the communities in which major sport venues are located as the infrastructure servicing them often rivals those of many small towns.

Kudos to the NRDC for their great work. Much remains to be done, but it is heartening to see changes that can educate tens of millions of fans about environmental issues. Collegiate athletics, minor leagues, high school programs and other organized youth sporting events are the next frontier for green sports movement. Current and future generations depend on these efforts, and on the prospect that others the world over will notice and emulate this industry’s inspirational green work.

In the meantime, “GO (green) STEELERS! Please!”

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Social Equity and LEED

Robert J. Kobet, AIA, LEED Faculty www.bobkobet.com

Joel Todd, Chair USGBC LEED Steering Committee
Susan Kaplan, President and Founder of BuildingWrx
http://www.usgbc.org/articles/usgbc-accelerates-social-equity-new-leed-credits?mkt_tok=3RkMMJWWfF9wsRonuarNZKXonjHpfsX67%2BsqUa%2BylMI%2F0ER3fOvrPUfGjI4ASMFmI%2BSLDwEYGJlv6SgFT7bHMaNzyrgIUxg%3D

Working internationally has given me a keen sense of how different things can be in other parts of the world. The state of the environment and the human condition in Rwanda, China, Argentina, Eastern Europe and many other emerging countries I have consulted in vary considerably from what most Americans are familiar with, though the impact of extractive industries, pollution, and oppressive socio-economic realities in these places is often the news. To varying degrees, the same conditions exist in the US. Those of us in the green building movement who care about these issues have been anxious for LEED to recognize them for some time. The earliest gesture is the inclusion of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards in the Material and Resources credits, as FSC certification is based in part on social and economic equity.

But the USGBC’s recent move to release new social equity LEED credits per se marks an important step toward fulfilling its organizational goal of using green buildings to enhance the lives of all people in all buildings. The three new social equity credits are part of the LEED Pilot Credit Library, that lets USGBC test and refine credits before they’re brought into the rating system. The credits were designed and created by the LEED Steering Committee’s Social Equity Working Group, co-chaired by Joel Todd and Susan Kaplan. The creation of these new social equity credits also signals the green building movement’s maturing in important ways, including the critical social and economic influence and characteristics of buildings.

The effort grew out of the USGBC’s resolution to add a new guiding principle into its 2013-2015 strategic plan.  Known as Fostering Social Equity, the principle expands USGBC’s mission from a focus on building systems to broader aspects of sustainability, including a focused approach to addressing inequities to those affected by a project, including enhancing community, social equity/environmental justice and quality of life, and building a greener economy. The credits expand the range of strategies available for achieving LEED certification. They also help define LEED buildings as truly sustainable and advantageous to all people, especially more vulnerable populations who often have little say in a project’s development.

Living and working conditions are different in other countries. The USGBC would like to improve them.
Living and working conditions are different in other countries.
The USGBC would like to improve them.

usgbc2

The new LEED social equity credits are:

  • Social Equity within the Project Team: This credit encourages a project’s owner’s financiers, architects, engineers and contractors to incorporate social equity into their daily activities. They can do this by paying prevailing wages to construction workers; providing workforce development; or by demonstrating corporate social responsibility through B-Corporation certification or through the creation of Corporate Sustainability Reports that address the social components of the businesses.
  • Social Equity within the Community: This credit encourages a project team to address identified needs and disparities in the community surrounding the project. It outlines a process of engagement with community stakeholders that focuses on vulnerable populations to understand these needs, and also allows certification through established frameworks such as the SEED Evaluator or Enterprise Green Communities.
  • Social Equity within the Supply Chain: This credit encourages social equity for those involved in the production of materials and products for our buildings, from raw materials extraction through final assembly. It rewards the establishment of supplier assessments, or scorecards, as well as the creation of Supplier Codes of Conduct that address basic human rights.

In their pilot stage, the new LEED social-equity credits will only be available for new construction projects that are seeking certification through the LEED for Building Design and Construction (BD+C) rating systems. They will be added to others once they are tested and refined.

USGBC continues to solicit the input of international green building councils and LEED professionals to modify the credits in ways that reflect the diverse needs and social equity concerns in other parts of the world. The USGBC wants to ensure LEED remains a truly collaborative and representative global green building rating system; one that meets the needs of diverse populations, cultures and environments. The USGBC would like to see these issues become defining elements for all green buildings in every country.

And so would I. Kudos to everyone working on this very important initiative!

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You are What You Breathe; and Now We can See it!

Robert J. Kobet, AIA, LEED Faculty www.bobkobet.com

http://www.cmu.edu/news/stories/archives/2014/december/december3_breathecam.html

I spent much of 2014 involved with a group working on the Reducing Outdoor Contaminants Inside Spaces (ROCIS) initiative. The work was keenly interesting to me because of my specialty in creating allergy free, non-toxic environments for people with chemical sensitivities. In the past, much of what we were trying to prove regarding the influence of ambient conditions and how exterior pollutants can invade interior spaces was a mix of science and speculation. But thanks to a team at Carnegie Mellon University and generous support from the Heinz Endowments we are much closer to clarifying how exterior pollution ends up in our buildings.

                A system of four cameras, called Breathe Cam, now keeps a constant watch on air quality over Pittsburgh, providing citizens with a new interactive tool for monitoring and documenting visual pollution in the air they breathe and even tracing it back to its sources. Funded by The Heinz Endowments as part of its Breathe Project, the camera system was developed and deployed by the CREATE Lab in Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute. Anyone can access the cameras online at http://breatheproject.org/learn/breathe-cam, where images of the Downtown, East End and Mon Valley skylines are updated around the clock.

                Using the interactive controls, people can zoom in on items of interest, whether it’s a hovering brown cloud or individual smokestacks or coke plants. Users can scan back in time to observe changes in visibility or to try to find the sources of dirty air. They also can skip back to particular dates and times that have been catalogued since the cameras were installed.

                The researchers also have developed a computer vision tool to help people identify and quantify events of interest, such as releases from a smokestack. Users can correlate the visual conditions with hourly reports of fine particulate matter, ozone and other pollutant levels recorded by Allegheny County Health Department air monitoring stations.

                Breathe Cam includes four cameras that produce panoramic images: one atop Mount Washington’s Trimont Towers; another at 625 Liberty Avenue, Downtown; one directed toward the East End from the University of Pittsburgh’s Benedum Hall that was installed in October, 2014; and a camera overlooking the Mon Valley from Walnut Towers in Squirrel Hill.

 

Haze over the region

Haze over the region

Pollution discharge event

Pollution discharge event

Breathe Cam Images are accessible online.

 

“The launch of the Breathe Cam creates for Pittsburgh one of the world’s most sophisticated imaging technologies for visualizing air pollution,” says Grant Oliphant, president of The Heinz Endowments, which launched the Breathe Project in the fall of 2011. “This powerful tool will help build public awareness about the effects of dirty air on our health and environment, while empowering people to better understand and reduce these impacts in their own communities.”

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How Green is Steel?

Robert J. Kobet, AIA, LEED Faculty www.bobkobet.com

http://www.steelframing.org/sustainability.html

https://www.aisc.org/uploadedFiles/Steel_Solutions_Center/Conceptual/My_Project/Files/Talking%20Points%20-%2010.2009.pdf

According to the Steel Framing Alliance and the American Institute of Steel Construction, steel is one of the most sustainable building materials in the world. The industry has worked to reduce its impact on the environment in ways that make economic sense. It touts an impressive list of qualities and attributes to back their claim:

Sustainable Structural Steel Material Attributes

  • Recycled content of 93.3%, and recycling rate of 98% are the highest of any building framing material
  • High strength-to-weight ratio coupled with a low carbon footprint (0.73 tons of CO2 per ton of steel) results in an overall reduction of the embodied carbon of a typical structure as compared to buildings constructed with other framing materials
  • Many other products can only be recycled into a lower quality product (down-cycled). Steel can be recycled repeatedly and remade into new members without any loss of quality (multi-cycled). This makes it the first and only true cradle-to-cradle building framing material.
  • Superior water resource management: 95% water recycling rate with no external discharges, resulting in a net consumption of only 70 gallons per ton.

Sustainable Manufacturing Progress

  • Increased productivity by a factor of 24 since 1980 (reduced labor hours per ton from 12 to 0.5)
  • Increased material strength by 40% since 1990 (36 ksi to 50 ksi)
  • Decreased energy use by 67% since 1980
  • Decreased carbon footprint (per ton) by 47% since 1990
  • Decreased energy intensity (per ton) by 29% since 1990
  • Decreased greenhouse gas emissions (per ton) by 45% since 1975
  • Exceeded Kyoto Protocol improvement goals by 240%
  • Earned an EPA best industry performance designation

Sustainable Fabrication and Construction

  • Structural steel is fabricated regionally in off-site facilities and erected on-site
  • Minimal waste is generated at fabrication facilities and construction sites
  • Any waste generated is fully recyclable and resalable
  • Centralized, off-site fabrication minimizes employee travel
  • Modern fabrication technology provides greater precision, productivity, and safety

Sustainable Projects

  • Steel buildings are easily deconstructed, enabling reuse of the steel members
  • Minimal, if any, ongoing maintenance required
  • Steel-framed buildings are highly durable and have a long life span
  • Steel framing allows easy integration of mechanical systems, resulting in low floor-to-floor heights, less building volume, and lower energy consumption
  • Steel framing systems allow for large window areas, resulting in plentiful natural lighting, higher occupant comfort, and reduced electrical consumption
  • Established, high demand for steel scrap ensures future reuse/recycling of a steel building frame

Sustainable Future

  • As the electric utility grid becomes more renewable, the embodied carbon in structural steel will continue to decrease
  • Research is under way on new production processes with the goal of carbon-neutral steel
  • The global steel industry is working together as a global manufacturing community to address sustainability issues, including environmental emissions
  • The structural steel industry is committed to a sustainable future, and structural steel will remain the sustainable building material for generations to come
Steel framing in residential and commercial construction

Steel framing in residential and commercial construction

Cold-formed steel (CFS) is well suited to meet the highest sustainability standards. It is recognized in all major green building standards and rating programs, including the National Green Building Standard (ICC-700) for residential buildings, ASHRAE Standard 189.1 for commercial construction, the International Green Construction Code (IgCC), and the US Green Building Council’s LEED program, which covers all types of buildings.

But steel framing is not without drawbacks that need to be addresses in design and construction. One major concern is proper detailing in exterior walls, façades, and roofs to eliminate thermal bridging that can occur due to steel’s high thermal conductivity. This phenomenon can seriously degrade thermal performance and increase the potential for condensation forming in, or on, walls and ceilings.

Consequently, some residential builders will combine wood based exterior walls or structural insulated panels (SIPS) with interior light gauge framing, combining the best of both.

Overall, the confidence practitioners have in steel’s proven performance will only be enhanced by the reputation it has garnered as a green building material.

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Is less really more?

Robert J. Kobet, AIA, LEED Faculty www.bobkobet.com

Tiffany Kassab – Sierra Magazine http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2014-6-november-december/green-life/living-minimally?src=1link&utm_source=greenlife&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter

One question that never seems to abate is, “How much of what do we need to be happy?” It seems to come up every year, if not more frequently, around the holidays we just passed though. In June 2001, Time magazine writer Janice Castro termed the minimalist movement “the humble makings of a revolution,” in which Americans were slowly trading in consumerism for contentment and finding joy in everyday moments rather than attaching themselves to status symbols. Then the movement was mostly tied to the economy. Today it is also tied to environmental stewardship.

As Tiffany Kassab recently posted in Sierra magazine, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday are all days designated to encourage shopping. Starting around Thanksgiving the news media constantly remind us of how retailers are doing, focusing on big box outlets and other well known brands as major indicators of “the season” and the economy in general. Advertising is cleverly aimed at reinforcing our insecurities, keeping up with the Joneses, and portending others are relying on us to provide their requisite material needs.

It’s easy to criticize the motives for accumulating things, but I believe the issue is more complex than many advocates of minimalistic living put forth. Our actions are usually the result of several interrelated motives and determining based on our culture, personality, upbringing and life’s experiences, none of which automatically imply any sense of selfishness or irresponsibility. Our values are formed from a number of influences and experiences and often change or evolve as we go through life. What is important to us at twenty might not seem critical at fifty. And, many of the socio-economic constructs that support our security also evolve over time. Those who lived though the Great Wars and the Depression had a very different experience than baby boomers born in the 50s who are now in their retirement years. For boomers, owning a home was central to the American dream and financial security. In the last twenty years, multiple homes, cars, and other material possessions trended as what was needed to be happy. Today there is growing interest in divesting of large homes in favor of more manageable properties and assets. This includes micro-houses and other investment opportunities not available to previous generations. For many, the priorities have shifted.

For others, the emotional attachment we have to things we have accumulated in our lives is based more on sentiment. Family heirlooms, gifts, clothing, and other material things associated with fond memories are difficult to part with. In the extreme it is referred to as hoarding. I have recently gone through a few rounds of “editing down” my possessions and know how difficult parting with things can be.

Many of us have spent the better part of a day de-cluttering our homes and unloading bags full of unwanted goods at our local thrift store. Did we really need all of those things in the first place? Living minimally makes way for more time, money, and opportunity in our lives. It is not about going without things we need, or sacrificing our happiness. It is about detaching ourselves from material things that are marginally useful or have limited utility and instead connecting ourselves to people and the enriching experiences life can provide – putting our money toward our future and/or to those in need.

How much stuff do we need to be happy?
How much stuff do we need to be happy?

Joshua Becker, author of Simplify: 7 Guiding Principles to Help Anyone De-clutter Their Home and Life, and Becoming Minimalist gives us three ways to begin living a fulfilling minimalist lifestyle:

  1. Realize most possessions do not add value or bring happiness to our lives.
  2. Decide when enough is enough. Once our basic needs are met, spending money on more and bigger TVs probably will not make us happy in the long term.
  3. Spend time in our community and more lasting pursuits, such as using our money to help those in need.

I have no issue with those who try to keep up with the Joneses, but I don’t believe we will reach the end of our lives wishing we owned more stuff. If we choose to lead a lifestyle based on quality over quantity, those truly in need of our generosity will thank us. So will the planet.

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