Wednesday, December 9, 2015

My Take on the New Economy

When a person is in an industry long enough, they often recognize trends and will adjust their business for these trends. Well, at least that is how it is supposed to be. I have related business to perch fishing in the Great Lakes on more than one occasion. In short, it is easy to see where the perch are biting on a lake because that is where all the boats are parked and the area becomes crowded and the perch either move on or are fished out. Who found the fish first? The word must of gotten out that the perch were in a certain location, otherwise no other boats would have been parked in the location where the perch are. It’s important to keep ones lips sealed when it comes to fishing but inevitably, people will find where the productive areas are simply by watching. Business is no different.

Call it envy, call it drive, call it what you will but the fact is, people want to be as successful as other people. In the building business, the large suppliers take years to adjust to the trends and that is currently happening with Andersen Windows Corporation. I have insisted on using Andersen windows for many years and not just because they offer a great product that compliments the types of homes that we build. For years, I and a few others have tried to get Andersen to focus on sustainability and there seemed to be a refusal to do that. Andersen Windows brought me and others up to their Bayport Minnesota ‘hub of operations’ for meetings on sustainability and also to have me tour their facilities to see how they could get the word out about what makes them sustainable in their business practices.

I would get frustrated because Andersen would get this information and never seem to do anything with it. There was a big management change at Andersen and everyone I knew there moved on and my involvement in their sustainability practices no longer mattered to the new leadership. Andersen was very generous to me and my team and helped us spread the word about sustainability as best as they could at the time. I remember what my rep from Andersen would say, “..You have to understand that getting a large company to change is like steering an aircraft carrier with a trolling motor..” This is very true. Now, I see that Andersen is putting its full focus on Net Zero and is very excited about sustainability, which is a great thing….but several years behind, as the trend and economy has once again started an inevitable change.

I am not trying to pick on Andersen Windows, especially after what they have done for me personally and after the people that were let go from the company did to spread the word about building earth friendly homes. I am using my relationship with Andersen Windows as an example of how the industry works. I used to get an email from time to time asking me what I was doing next and what I thought that the industry was doing. I remember taking a ride on the Andersen Corporate Yacht on the Saint Croix River with Andersen executives and being shown the reports of what the building industry was going to do in the future. I am amazed at how spot on those reports were for looking five years into the future. I remember seeing a report that Grand Rapids Michigan was going to be a top location in the country to live and that report and the other information that I had access to is what lead to us buying our farm just outside of Grand Rapids. Recognizing trends and being fluid enough to make the changes in real time is one of the keys to keeping the schedule book full.

It seems like there are plenty of builders who are building energy efficient homes now, mostly because our building codes require it. The question is, “what is trending now in the building industry and should we forget everything we have learned along the way?” Great question, I am glad you asked!

Sometimes it seems like humans forget about the things that they experienced along the way and other times it seems like you meet a person who uses everything they experienced, good or bad, and have found a way to use those experiences to differentiate themselves from others. The latter speaks to part of the question above, “Should we forget everything we have learned along the way?” The answer is, “NO!” don’t ever forget what you did or what you have learned. That is a very important part of the puzzle in what is trending right now or will be trending in the near future. Before, a different age group with different motivations was what was keeping the building industry alive during the downturn. Now, those same motivators are a ‘given’ with the new group that is starting to be interested in building. There are still plenty of people for everyone to build for, and the leaders of the pack are still attracting the people who are not finding companies that fully understand exactly what certain homeowners are looking for.

Where do I think things are going in the building business? Well, to answer that, I will have to say this. I can think about what directions the industry is going and I can know which way we are going to go in the industry. I am not much for sticking to any one thing, and I find myself being like a glacier, where I keep moving and gathering things along the way. That means that I am still taking the company that I am a part of and building extremely energy efficient houses, but, that is the baseline. There are many things that matter in a house that is friendly to all the stakeholders with the inhabitants and The Earth being the biggest focus. These many things change and evolve or devolve. The ‘Things’ that I am aware of are more than Geo Thermal or insulated concrete forms.

I have seen a large number of people interested in earth shelters and living off of the grid. Likewise, I have seen many people interested in our way of life on our farm and all of these ‘Things’ are becoming important to people that are hoping to build one day. The biggest ‘Thing’ that I have picked up on (ok, this is the tidbit that you have probably been waiting for) is that the new generation of clients that we have, ninety plus percent of them all mention having a parent(s) living with them at some point during the ownership of their new or remodeled house. Another ‘Thing’ that I see is that multiple family members are buying larger pieces of land and building multiple houses on that land so that everyone can live near each other. I have not heard one mention of LEED for Homes or Net Zero, rather, the conversations get filled with, “..I need extra counter space because I can a lot of food each year..” and/or ..”I would like the kitchen windows to line up on both houses, even though the houses are not very close to each other so that we can make sure mom is doing ok.” Bringing the family back together could be the theme, you heard it first here! Remember though, that the energy efficient, earth friendly, inhabitant friendly home is a given in this equation.

Thank you for reading my blogs and thank you to those who email me, I enjoy the feedback.


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Outside of the lifetime design box..

Greetings everyone!

For nearly a decade, one of our five design criteria for the houses that we design and build has been ‘lifetime design’. Lifetime design is the idea that a house is designed for its inhabitants to age in place and includes such features as wider doorways and wheel chair turning radiuses in kitchens and bathrooms.

Recently I was presented with a challenge when one of our homeowners emailed me because they couldn’t tell if their radiant heat system was working or not. I called the homeowner and asked her to explain to me why she thought that her radiant heat system was not working. She told me that the thermostat on the wall said that it was sixty eight degrees but that her feet and legs felt cold even though the floor had radiant heat.

I was baffled after my phone call with this homeowner and I decided that I needed to drive to the house to make sure that everything was working properly with their heating system. One of the first things that I do when I go to check out a radiant heat system is to take off my coat and lay the coat on the floor with the inside of the coat touching the heated floor. After the coat is on the floor for awhile, I will put the coat on and usually the coat is toasty warm if the floor is being heated properly. As soon as I walked in to the house, I took my coat off and laid it on the floor. I could tell right away when I walked into the house that the heating system was working because the house was nice and evenly heated. I wouldn’t need to use the coat test mentioned above to see if the heating system was functioning properly, but I did leave my coat on the floor anyway so that I could enjoy the warm embrace of my radiant heat warmed coat on my way back to the truck when I left.

I inspected all of the pumps and gauges on the radiant heat system to make sure that everything was ok and thermostat and boiler were working perfectly. After I spent time checking everything else, I sat down and asked the homeowner a few questions. During that conversation, the homeowner told me that she had poor circulation in her legs and feet. Sirens started to go off in my head because I had discovered an issue that I had not even considered!

A big selling point in a sustainable home is the fact that the home is designed for the inhabitants to grow old in the house without any need for future modification. Something that is not being considered is the comfort of those homeowners when they encounter circulation problems in areas of their bodies. There is no real answer at this time for how to combat the issue of homeowners feeling cold in their homes even though their heating systems are functioning properly. The best that any of us can do at this point is to be aware that homeowners can and will experience any number of adult onset conditions as they live in the houses that we design and build for them, with access and mobility being most likely the biggest concern.

I brought the issue up to a heating and cooling person that I know and told him that I thought it was interesting that this woman couldn’t feel the all encompassing warmth of her radiant heat system. His reply was, “Why didn’t you just have her reach down and put her hand on the floor to see if it was warm, then you wouldn’t have had to make the trip and the issues would be resolved.” I thought about his point as I was loading our woodstove at home. I have to kneel down to load up the woodstove and just as I was trying to stand up, I was thinking, “I should have had her put her hand on the floor and saved a trip down there”. I mention this, because I had a hard time getting up off of the kneeling position because my mobility is slightly limited thanks to a lifetime of adventure and working hard.

My mind started to wander even more, as I thought about the heating and cooling guy’s comment. We can’t ask someone to reach down and touch the floor to prove to them that their heating system works, especially since I can barely do that!

How can we help people with our houses? Before, the question would be, “How can we help people lessen the load on the planet by having their houses use less energy.” Don’t get me wrong, this is still a very important and valid question! For those looking to the future and as green building continues to grow by leaps and bounds, I think it is time to put a tighter focus on what the house’s inhabitants will go through in their lifetime in the house. That would help to better direct and define ‘lifetime design’.


Thursday, November 26, 2015

A discussion about geo thermal

Geo Thermal has been in the building industry long enough  for there to be solid results on how these heating and cooling systems are working in ultra energy efficient homes. We have multiple houses that use geo thermal systems for heating and cooling just as we have multiple houses that use conventional and hybrid heating and cooling systems. Because of an increased interest in geo thermal systems lately, I thought that I would put my thoughts together and let everyone have access to them.

In the past, I would always be against geo thermal systems in the houses that I designed and built because of how little those systems would run in the types of homes that we were building. Another reason that I would be against the geo thermal systems is because our HVAC subcontractors would always say, "What do you want to use for the supplement heat?". I have a problem with that. Apparently, the geo thermal systems that our 'subs' were installing around the state would not work below about 28 degrees Fahrenheit, well, let me rephrase that, the systems would switch functions at about 28 degrees. Inside of geo thermal units, there are electric elements that will heat the air or liquid depending on what type of heating system the house has (forced air/radiant heat?). That is why the 'subs' would ask what supplemental heat source we wanted, because using the 'onboard' electrical elements in geo units gets very pricey. One of our past homeowners who has geo thermal in his house told me that he had an $1,800 electric bill during a cold month a winter ago because his geo thermal unit heated his house with the onboard electrical element.

So why is there still so much hype over geo thermal? In my opinion, because it is a cozy blanket/warm feeling for people buying a house in a time when energy prices are unstable. A recent conversation that I had with a potential client opened my eyes to the opinion I just gave. The potential client ask another builder about building an energy efficient home and the builder said, "Well, we put geo thermal in all of our houses." The builder became confused when asked further about what made the house energy efficient. Putting geo thermal in a conventional 'production builder' house may make sense, because a propane fired furnace would cost a fortune to run in a house like that. I don't know enough about the house in question to form any other opinions. The point is, a 'hot button' is not always the best fit even though everyone is always mentioning it.

I will go on record as saying that geo thermal has its place in the building industry and may or may not be the best fit for any particular project. As I said to someone recently, .."the answer to the question of if geo thermal is the best fit for your project is like a law question, it depends." Science is what dictates what is used in house. As I mention in my book 'Build Green, Make Green, Save Green', I feel that Newton's Third Law of Motion (..This means that for every force there is a reaction force that is equal in size, but opposite in direction. That is to say that whenever an object pushes another object it gets pushed back in the opposite direction equally hard. )(Rice University) can be applied in its own way to a house. Meaning, that whomever is building the house must remember that for everything they do to a house, whether it is insulation or installing a wood burner, that something else will occur as a result of that installation. Mold and mildew is an example of this point, so is indoor air quality. Another example is something I hadn't considered a while back. A person I knew well told me that his father built an Insulated Concrete Form (ICF) house a while back and that he wanted to pick my brain. I said "OK", and he started to tell me that his father's house had a weird, almost 'septic' smell to his house. I asked if there was an air exchanger in the house and this guy said, "No, he just opens the windows a little bit to get the house to breath." Would anyone ever think that make up air could come through plumbing vents? That is what was causing the 'septic smell' in his father's house. Equal and opposite force. Also, opening windows in the winter to get the house to 'breath' kind of defeats the purpose of having such a tight exterior envelope if you ask me!

When I am designing a house and getting ready to estimate the cost of the house, I always have multiple heating systems figured for that house. By doing this, we can see which system will be the best pay back for the house. We have houses that are Platinum Certified LEED for Homes houses that have natural gas fired boilers, propane fired boilers or natural gas fired forced air furnaces. We also have used propane fired forced air furnaces in several of our houses because we have found that those heating systems don't run very hard in the homes that we build and don't cost very much to run. 

I am certainly not bashing geo thermal companies or people that want or have these heating and cooling systems. I am simply giving my input based on multiple case studies of houses that we have built. Whenever I hear or see an email of someone asking about geo thermal, my first response is in the form of a question, "Tell me why you are thinking about using geo thermal". Sometimes people get defensive, so I will follow up my question saying something like, "there is no right or wrong answer, I am just trying to understand more about what you want and need." Recently, I met with a potential client who mentioned geo thermal and she answered my question about geo thermal in her own way. I asked her a follow up question that sounded something like, "what do you heat with now, what does your current house use as a heating source?" Her reply was, "this house is all electric, but we always heat with wood, using the wood burner downstairs.." Again, another follow up question, "Do you want a wood burner in your new house?" To which, she replied, "definitely". Had she replied, "No, burning wood is too much work for us..", then I would have asked further questions about what fuel sources were available and geo thermal to see if the system may be a good fit for them. Instead, knowing that they want to heat with wood means that the heating system that we would install in their new house would basically be supplemental heat until such time as they no longer wished to heat with wood, which could be 20 or more years into the future.

Are you tracking so far? Good. My point in all of this, is that there is much discussion and 'scientific-ness' that goes into selecting the parts of a house, heating and cooling systems included. That is why I always called our houses 'Hybrid Homes', because of the origin of the word hybrid. Latin for hybrid is mulus which translate to mule. A mule is the first hybrid in recorded history and dates back to the ancient Romans who combine a donkey and a horse. This combination of a donkey and a horse had to be very specific or else the offspring would not be a mule nor be able to function as a mule, which was the reason the ancient Romans would go through all the trouble of tracking down these specific animals. For the record, the correct combination for creating a mule is a male donkey and a female horse.

As you can see, you can still combine components to create something else, but in order to have the outcome turn out as the designer or builder intended, the combination of components has to be correct to not create an unfavorable result. This is normally the case in the building industry and thankfully more builders are catching on and understanding the importance of what goes in to a house.

In closing, I will continue to say that geo thermal has its place in building. In fact, if anyone reading this can explain geo thermal better, than please do in the comment section. I want to learn more about why people are so interested in geo thermal if the system is so limited.

Thank you for reading, stay tuned for more entries coming soon..


Friday, July 31, 2015

Building the Largest Underground and Off-The-Grid Farm on the Planet - Part 10

Welcome back for Part 10!

The homeowner scheduled the shotcrete pump company and we finalized the concrete mix with the concrete company that we chose to supply us. The mix for the shotcrete on the earth shelter domes was unique in that it set up in under an hour and the concrete company did not want to supply us with the concrete if we weren’t comfortable with the timing. The concrete company was located about twenty minutes away and that only left forty minutes to use all of the concrete on the truck before the concrete would begin to harden. Luckily I had worked extensively with this concrete company on other projects so I was able to talk them into trusting us that we could pull this off. Secretly, I had no idea if we could do it or not, but I figured that I would never know unless we tried it. Little did I know, the dispatcher at another plant an hour or so away told the dispatcher of this plant that we were tough enough to pull it off so they approved our concrete loads.

Everything was scheduled to begin early on Monday morning and our lift machine was delivered over the weekend. When we left that previous Friday, everything was dry, the clay around the domes was hard and the ground looked even enough to drive a lift around every inch of the domes. Part of our crew arrived on Sunday because we wanted to get an early start on that Monday. Like others in the construction business, I was glued to the weather on my phone over the weekend because there was talk about rain on that Sunday, we didn’t hear anything about rain until we left that previous Friday.

     (Flooding along the barn dome. We worked for several hours to pump the water off of the site.)

When we arrived to the jobsite on Sunday afternoon, we had hoped to unload a few of the tools we needed then go and catch a movie in town to relax for the grueling week ahead. The rain was pouring down hard as we drove up close to the domes and that is when we saw the standing water everywhere from the torrential downpours. Instead of going to the movies, we went and rented water pumps to try to get the areas around the domes dry before the morning. Thankfully the rain stopped and we were able to pump all of the standing water out from the domes so that the ground would have a better chance of drying out by the morning. I was worried that the lift would get stuck or worst yet, tip over if we had to drive through the mud. It was dark by the time we finished pumping the water and all I could think about was going to bed and trying to get some sleep before the most physically demanding week of my life.

        (Flooding from a heavy storm. We worked several hours to pump all of the water off the site.)

The alarm went off early and everyone met in the kitchen of the funeral home turned bunkhouse for breakfast. No one knew what was about to happen, but the crew I had assembled was used to the unknown and also very good at figuring things out as they happened. The shotcrete pump owner and his son stayed with us in the funeral home, so we could all get to know each other before we got to the project. I really like the two guys, they were funny and appeared to be hard workers like we were. They mentioned that shotcreteing was a lot of work and normally one guy would only last fifteen minutes manning the hose. I thought in my mind that we would run the shotcreteing  hose like a hockey team changes its lines up. We would switch guys every ten minutes to keep everyone fresh. It was a great plan on paper, but it didn’t work as I had hoped as you will read about later.

We were on site before sun up on the first morning of the ‘spray pour’ as it is called in the documentary of this project named Sheltered: Underground and Off-The-Grid. I remember wondering where Crazy Joe was as I heard the first concrete truck coming into the long winding drive way. The shotcrete pump machine was running and we were assembled near the front of the small dome. I was concerned that Crazy Joe may not show up and that would mess up my plans of rotating our time on the shotcrete hose. Just then, Crazy Joe comes around the corner in the driveway and passes the concrete truck in the long grass along the driveway.

                     (The special mix concrete being dumped into the shotcrete pump machine.)

I was relieved that he showed up and I just smiled when he ran up and apologized for over sleeping. He disappeared into the small dome just as we were instructing the concrete truck where to pull up to and start dumping the load of concrete that was forty minutes into its one hour set up time. As I put my hard hat on, I looked up and Crazy Joe came up to me with blood running down his face. He had hit his face on one of the wooden braces inside of the small dome connector tunnel as he was running to get a tarp on the floor. The blood he wiped off of his face was quickly replaced with a fresh stream and I took a closer look to see if he was hurt or injured. One is worse than the other and it was apparent to me by the look in his eye, that a cut on his nose was not going to stop him from spraying shotcrete, so I yelled, “Clean that up, let’s get ready to rock!” He yelled back, “Aight!”

           (The crew during the first minute of shotcreting. It was a tough ride but we figured it out!)

The noise on the jobsite from all of the diesel engines roaring was deafening. I could not hear anything and found that the best way to communicate was to point or have someone knock me on the hard hat when they needed to get my attention. Like a child with a new toy, I grabbed the concrete hose which weighed forty pounds per foot with concrete in it, through up over my shoulder and stepped into the area between the little dome and the greenhouse dome. I looked at Crazy Joe and he looked back at me with the grin that let me know that we were going to be in for the ride of our lives! The first shot of concrete came out of the hose with a lot of pressure and a short burst. The force and power of the spraying concrete caught me off guard and my 240 pound six foot three inch frame was pushed backwards like a palm tree in a tropical storm. I righted myself and dug in for the next short burst, that time I was ready for the power of the hose and the concrete sprayed on and stuck to the burlap. We were thirty seconds into the ‘spray pour’ and I was already wondering how we were going to shotcrete the entire complex with just a hand full of guys..

Stay tuned for Part 11 and ride along as the team digs in to shotcrete all of the domes..the team fought through injuries and didn't stop until the Largest Underground and Off-The-Grid Farm on the Planet was shotcreted!

 (One of our team members getting washed off after the burlap blew out and he was covered in concrete. His head was burned from the lime in the concrete.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Building the Largest Underground and Off the Grid Farm on the Planet Part 9

Building the Largest Underground and Off-The-Grid Farm on the Planet—Part 9

Welcome back for Part 9!

There are many things that have to be figured out ahead of time if you work with concrete. Once concrete sets up, putting holes in the concrete or adjusting concrete is very difficult and time consuming. One of the many things that had to be determined before we could shotcrete the earth shelter domes was ventilation and where those ventilation tubes would come out of each of the five earth shelter domes and various connector tunnels. I decided that we would run the ventilation for bathrooms, cooking vents, dryer vents, and air exchanger vents out the sides of the domes. Luckily the founder of the earth shelter dome company was watching our weekly videos on this project and noticed the episode where we were running the tubes out the sides of the domes. He emailed me and told me that all ventilation has to come out the front wall or the top of the domes near the ridge of the dome structure. He told me that the way we had the ventilation pipes was not right and that as the earth settled around the domes, anything coming straight out of the sides of the domes would be broken off from the pressure of the settling earth. Because of this email, we delayed shotcreting so that we could reposition our ventilation ports to the top of the domes.

I studied a great deal about earth tubes and passive ventilation for this project because the homeowner and I felt that non mechanical ventilation would be a good fit for this project. The more I studied about the earth tube ventilation idea, the more I found that there was a very distinct line right down the center of the people who believed the earth tubes worked and those who didn’t think that the earth tubes would work. Briefly, earth tubes are a passive ventilation system which includes pipes of a specific diameter run underground for certain distances with the idea that the ground would pre-condition the air as it comes into a building. I questioned if this system would remove the high humidity that Michigan gets in the summer time, and I wondered how introducing humid air into a structure which is constantly battling humidity would work. I created what I thought was a good solution and we will cover that in a future installment of this series. We will also discuss the low voltage Panasonic Whisper Green bathroom fans which we used on the project in a future installment of this series.

We spent the time to rerun the ventilation pipes in each of the five domes. We made the pipes coming out of the top of the domes just long enough to shotcrete around without the pipes hindering our need to walk around on top of the domes to shotcrete. The plan was to connect the pipes during the backfilling of the domes which would occur several months from the time the domes were shotcreted.
Around this time, our friend Pam from out west emailed me to let me know that the burlap on her earth shelter domes had been exposed to the sun for less time than what the burlap material on our project had been exposed to the sun and they found that her burlap was deteriorating from the exposure to the sun. The next day after that email, I went to random spots on each of the five earth shelter domes on our project and checked for deterioration of the burlap. In some spots, the burlap was very weak and in the areas that were covered with the tarps all winter, the burlap was in great shape still. I emailed Pam back and asked her how they dealt with the bad areas of the burlap when they shotcreted her domes and her response was that they used cardboard as a backer in the areas that had deteriorated burlap. The burlap is what stopped the shotcrete from passing through the rebar and wire mesh. She offered another piece of advice and that was that the spray from the shotcrete left an incredible mess all over her concrete floors and the clean up was very difficult. Pam recommended moving tarps around as we sprayed the shotcrete, which we did and I still thank her til this day for that piece of advice.

The value of videoing our project and putting it online was paying off. If I didn’t receive the emails I mentioned above, the shotcreting of the domes and the cleanup following the shotcreting would have been a real game changer on the project. Filming the project and putting up a video every week on Vimeo allowed many people to follow along and those people often caught something that I missed or suggested a course change as we neared pivotal points on the project.

With the emails and my gut instinct, I created a list of duties for each person who would be working on our crew during shotcreting. I figured that we could shotcrete the domes in six days and that would allow us to work normal length days that would not only keep our crew fresh but also avoid any overtime charges from the pump company or the concrete company. Skeptics of this system of shotcreting for an underground structure often mention the fact that ‘cold joints’ were the biggest issue in multi-day concrete pours. Cold joints are basically the point where concrete meets when poured at separate times, for instance, pouring concrete on a Monday and then finishing the pouring of more concrete the following day.

The cold joint concern came to me in an email from some random person who was watching the weekly videos. This cold joint concern got me thinking, so I contacted the founder of the earth shelter dome company and told him what I was thinking. My idea was to stop the shotcreting each day in non impacting areas, such as the center of connector tunnels and not stopping on the sides or parts of the domes. He agreed that the best way to avoid cold joint problems was to stop and start the concrete pours in the areas with the less force against them and/or in areas that didn’t create a breach in strength in any one of the domes. Can you imagine what would have happened if I didn’t get those emails? Thank you everyone who was back seat building while watching the videos, you all helped save me a lot of grief!

Now that we had a very clear path of what we needed to do to successfully shotcrete the largest underground and off the grid farm on the planet, the next issue was getting Mother Nature to cooperate. The weather was warming up and we finally were able to schedule the pump truck and the concrete and get our game faces on for a week of shotcreting.

Stay tuned for Part 10 and ride along as the small crew sprays nearly 900,000 pounds of concrete in a week to create the outer shell of the largest underground and off-the-grid farm ever built!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Green Building

Hello all!

I am excited to see so many 'green leafs' on the side of builder's trucks and trailers! I am excited to see each company making a name for themselves in green building. Remember back in 2006 when there was so much resistance to the change? Exciting to watch the change unfold before our eyes!

It is basic economics to see a company change with the times, to adjust their approach to meet the needs of customers, and that was part of the plan for change from the beginning. Regardless of the motivation, I am happy to see more houses being built that are energy efficient.

I am curious thou, if those that are now building 'green' understand that building green does not just mean that you are building an energy efficient home. It is much more than that. I remember being invited to a 'high performance' building group to discuss how we can make houses more efficient. It was neat at the time to share my research and discuss how to save a few buck here and there on energy costs, but even I was missing the boat.

I will give you an example of other areas that green building encompasses. Trees. Did you know that one big shade tree has the cooling effect of 20 window sized air conditioners? Or, did you know that it takes several acres of trees to filter out the air pollutants that a family of four puts out in just one day?

I hear people talk about Global warming, and I hear what they say about it. This blog post is not about global warming, but consider how much warmer a building site becomes once the trees are removed. As designers and builders, we try to compensate for the increased sun exposure by building larger overhangs to shade the house. This is common practice of someone savy in Passive Solar Design.

We have a project that just started that has a large, almost ancient Maple Tree that we are saving. It currently casts a nice shadow over where the house will sit. How will this tree, minus the leaves in the Winter time, hamper/compliment the passive solar design of the house? We will show you! Stay tuned for more information on that.

So, I ask again, do builders and people who now call themselves builders now understand fully what green building is?

Green building is much more than an energy efficient house...what about safe household cleaners? Even with a constant air exchange, if you store (not to mention use) deadly cleaning compounds in your super tight energy efficient home, you will no doubt start experiencing symptoms in your home that will make you ill. Can you imagine building a home that you trust someone to build, and then getting sick in that home because no one was aware that for every thing you do in a home, you have to expect something to happen in return.

Again, I am very happy to see so many companies stepping up to build green in our industry. Be careful though! It may not take a degree to build a house, but it does take a broad knowledge and vast experience to build a safe house that will take care of its owner...

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Puddingstone Cottage

Hello everyone!

I am excited to announce that we will be starting our next project on August 18th! This project will be built in Southwest Michigan and we will once again be filming this project for weekly web-i-sodes and also as part of a pilot for television that showcases underground homes.

The project's name is: The Puddingstone Cottage Project, and the house is a true flat terrain earth shelter, with full berms on three of the four sides of the house. This is a system that I have designed and is part of a series of homes that we are designing and building that feature an earth shelter design in one way or another.

The Puddingstone Cottage Project will use Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs) for all exterior walls and the retaining walls. There will be an entrance door and windows on the south facing wall of the house, which will be the only wall that does not have a full berm.

What is a Puddingstone? Is it possible to build a house from start to finish in just a few months? Can anyone install ICFs? Stay tuned to our videos and I will answer these questions and more each week...

I will post more information soon on this interesting and exciting project, stay tuned!

There are rumors going around that I am enrolled in a Masters Degree Program for Green Building...well, the rumors are true! I was accepted into the San Francisco Institute of Architecture earlier this year and have worked very efficiently to achieve one of my life goals. I will be finished with the program this week. What will I plan to do with my Masters of Science in Green Building Degree? For now, I will hang it on the wall.

The Masters Degree education has been a great compliment to my practical experience. I look forward to teaching soon and also to take my career to the next level..

More on the new project and degree coming soon.

All the best!