Plug-and-play home battery system promises backup power and reduced energy costs

by Derek Markham (@derekmarkham)

Orison Tower

© Orison

Reduced electricity costs, seamless backup power, and smarter home energy management are just a few of the claimed benefits of the Orison home energy storage system.

Whether you’re looking for a way to keep the lights (and refrigerator) on during power outages, or you’re looking to optimize your home’s electricity use, or you’d like to store some of your excess solar energy at home for use during the night, you’re most likely a good candidate for a home battery system.

And based on the crazy amount of interest expressed in the Tesla Powerwall units, home energy storage is rapidly moving away from being just a fringe-y off-grid thing to have and more toward a sensible and cost-effective solution (with the operative word here being “toward”). Granted, at the current costs for battery storage, coupled with the relatively high amount of electricity demand in most modern homes, it’s not possible to just run down to the big box store and pick up an adequately-sized energy storage unit (yet), and it’s certainly not within the budget of many of us.

But there’s a new contender about ready to enter the home battery storage ring, and this version will come with its own networked software solution that is claimed to be able to work “collectively to make the energy grid as a whole exponentially more efficient.”

Orison’s home energy storage solution comes in two flavors, both very similar but with different physical footprints, and is designed to be modular and expandable. The Orison Tower is a 40 lb (18 kg), 34″ high (86 cm), freestanding unit with a storage capacity of 2.2 kWh (and a built-in Bluetooth speaker, LED light, and USB charging ports), and the Orison Panel is a 38 lb (17 kg) wall-mounted unit that measures 22″ x 28″ x 2.5″ (56 cm x 20 cm x 6.35 cm) and is made to accept different ‘skins’ for modifying its physical appearance.

Orison Panel© Orison

The batteries are lithium-ion modules, and the units come with a 10-year/5,000 lifecycle warranty. According to Orison, one or more of the Panel units can be combined with the Tower in order to create the optimally-sized energy storage system for each home, with installation said to be simple – essentially a “plug-and-play” operation.

On top of the physical side of the energy storage system, Orison adds a layer of software and controls, with automation and scheduling of charge/discharge times available through an app (of course), and the units are linked to the company’s cloud network:

“This integrated network uses data including utility rates, peak demand charges, weather, blackout alerts, your usage profile, and more to determine the optimal operating schedule for your device. The Orison Cloud also works collectively to make the energy grid as a whole exponentially more efficient—capable of handling the growing influx of intermittent renewable energy, without the high cost of infrastructure entailed by other solutions.” – Orison

Another added benefit to the Orison system is that it is said to be able to provide local circuits with electricity while also preventing “energy backflow” to the grid, such as in a blackout, and is something that addresses a problem that plagues most home grid-tied solar systems (with no battery storage added). During a power outage, even if it’s during the day and your home has solar panels on it, you won’t be able to access the electricity generated by it, thanks to a safety feature (for utility workers) that disconnects the system during grid outages.

According to Orison, their system can keep the lights on, seamlessly, through a blackout, without having to install a separate circuit. The company states that “During grid disruptions, Orison isolates the circuit it is plugged into to ensure all of your stored energy is available for your use and none is sent back to the grid. No wiring modification is required.”

In a nutshell, Orison is offering its Panel units for pledges of $1400, and its Tower units for $1550, as well as bundles of multiple units for higher storage capacities, and has already doubled its initial crowdfunding goal with more than a month still to run.

Although the costs may seem high when compared to the savings over the long term from more optimal charging and discharging, there’s a big but in there. BUT when the grid goes down, even temporarily, and you’ve got seamless backup power in your house, it’s hard to put a price on that kind of insurance, especially if it’s coupled with a rooftop solar array and some sort of ‘low-power mode’ for operating your own home.

When using the payback calculator on the Orison site, it’s quite evident that this is not for me – at least not yet. While I love the idea, I can’t see spending this much money on a cost/savings angle alone. However, if my electrical consumption was higher, and I had a solar array on the roof, I might be tempted to consider something like the Orison system.

Home energy storage is still in the early days, similar to what was happening with electric cars just a few years ago, so it’s still an expensive option and not for most of us, but if looking at the EV market is any indication, we’re probably not too far away from a true revolution in how we (and when) we use, store, and generate electricity at home. And until integrated home energy storage is designed into new homes, these sorts of plug-and-play home battery systems may be the way forward, both for uninterrupted electricity access for emergencies and outages and for adding a layer of smartness and resiliency to the local grid.

Find out more about Orison at the company’s website and the Kickstarter campaign page.

And as always, don’t pull out your wallet to support a crowdfunding campaign, even if the perks for backers sound awesome, until you’ve done your due diligence on the product, the company, and the current state of technology in that sector. If you’re convinced that the risk to benefit ratio of your “investment” in the project is worth it to you, then by all means pony up your cash for an Orison system (and then let us know how it turns out).

How Architects Should Compare Commercial Skylight Manufacturers

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By Jeff Brain

As world governments push for greater reduction of carbon emissions and create tax breaks and incentives to implement sustainable technologies, architects will need to partner with leading commercial skylight manufacturers to provide their clients with the best sustainable lighting technology.

Here are four key qualities architects should look at when comparing different skylight manufacturers.

Quality Control and Consistency

Architect must ensure that the manufacturers they work with can deliver high quality products in a timely manner. Architects should research information about manufacturing policies, procedures, and supply chain. Manufacturers are required to have a thorough knowledge of these in order to be in accord with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). This can help prevent wasting time on a manufacturer who cannot keep up with your clients’ needs.

Product Testing

Ensuring that the manufacturers you partner with thoroughly test their product for a range of different harsh weather conditions is important. Architects should obtain paperwork certifying that the skylight product they purchase has been tested for resistance to heavy rain, snow, and falling debris. Also, if you will be working with clients in areas which experience extreme weather patterns, make sure to look for products certified for resistance to hurricane force winds.

Tax Breaks and Subsidies

Leading commercial skylight manufacturers should be well-informed about the potential tax breaks and incentives that their products can earn. There are hundreds of state and federal tax credits that clients can apply for. Particularly in the case of more complex certifications, like the LEED building certification, manufacturers should also be able to explain what specific categories within the certification their system contributes to—from energy and atmosphere to materials and resources.

NFRC Ratings

Above all else, it is important to make sure that the commercial skylight manufacturers you partner with provide the best possible product for your clients. The National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) provides third-party statistics on a wide range of daylighting products, which helps consumers to compare different products side-by-side. Before partnering with any manufacturer, make sure to ask them for the figures on their system’s visual light transmittance, solar heat gain coefficient, and u-value reports to see how they stacks up against the competition.

Even after you have selected the best skylight manufacturer, it can sometimes be difficult to sell clients on the idea of installing daylighting. If you are looking for a resource to clearly outline the benefits of daylighting for your clients, try showing them our eBook The Power of Daylighting in Building Design.

(Photo: Alan, CC.)

Download The Power of Daylighting In Building Design

Gilroy expansion off the table — for now — in new twist for land-use fight

by Nathan Donato-Weinstein
gilroy
The developer behind a 721-acre expansion to the city of Gilroy has asked the city to halt the process, following vocal public opposition and a government agency’s lawsuit over the plan.
“Basically, it’s simply a matter of giving everyone more time for input, more community involvement,” said Skip Spiering, who represents a consortium of landowners just north of the current city limits. The plan now? To hold more community outreach meetings and wait for the completion of the city’s general plan update, which is expected sometime this summer.
The slashed and checked outline shows the expansion of Gilroy if a boundary change gets the go-ahead.
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The slashed and checked outline shows the expansion of Gilroy if a boundary change gets… more

CITY OF GILROY

The announcement, made in a press release issued this morning, presses pause on a process that could eventually add 4,000 mostly single-family homes to the city. The expansion of the city’s boundaries is the first step, and in December a deeply divided city council voted to apply to a government entity — the Local Area Formation Commission, or LAFCO — to do just that.
Last week, in an unprecedented move, LAFCO sued the city over its environmental impact report, saying it was inadequate. A competing group of property owners also sued the city on environmental grounds.

The fight has become one of the most closely watched issues in regional land use because it touches on a huge issue of how southern Santa Clara County could and should develop. Opponents have said it will pave over priceless farmland for suburban sprawl, while proponents say Gilroy is growing and needs the additional land to remain a healthy community.
Spiering said the decision to withdraw the application came after a request from Gilroy Mayor Perry Woodward, who has been a vocal proponent of the proposal. Woodward didn’t immediately return a phone call on Wednesday. The news release included a quote attributed to Woodward stating that he wanted more time for people to better understand “the benefits to our community” from the project.

“It’s better to make sure that everybody is happy with the decisions,” Spiering said. “I’ve been in this a long time. Anything that’s perceived to be rushed, people get upset.”
Spiering said the decision to delay the process could also blunt criticism that the project was being rushed. “One of biggest complaints is we were going on the (old) 2020 general plan plan and they’re updating it and we were rushing the issue,” Spiering said. “Now you can’t say we’re rushing the issue.”

Technically, the city is the applicant to LAFCO for the boundary extension, and Spiering is simply withdrawing his request for the city to move the process forward.
Interim City Manager Ed Tewes said the council would meet next month to discuss the applicant’s request in open session. There are no plans to re-open the city’s environmental impact report on the project, he said. But he noted he would expect that the move would short circuit the lawsuit, which could have cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend.
“If they don’t have a project they want to proceed with, then there’s no sense to continue litigation that’s unnecessary,” Tewes said. “We believe it moots the lawsuit.”
It’s unclear whether the latest twist in the process would end up changing the proposed project in some way in response to community input, or simply buy the applicant more time to gain support.
Attention could also shift to the ballot box, where it’s possible that both proponents and opponents could seek the binding opinion of voters.
I’ll have more on the south county development scene in the weeks ahead.
Nathan Donato-Weinstein covers commercial real estate and transportation for the Silicon Valley Business Journal.

Modular dream fading in New York City

By Lloyd Alter (@lloydalter)

setting module closeup

CC BY 2.0 Melissa Breyer

New York is a tough and expensive place to build anything, which is why modular construction looked so promising. It seemed a perfect match: build offsite where the workers can park their F150s and materials can be delivered, then bring the almost completed modules to the site. TreeHugger has been following two projects closely: Carmel Place, formerly known as adAPT NYC, and Pacific Place’s B2 tower in Brooklyn.

work in progress signMelissa Breyer/CC BY 2.0

Carmel Place was a prototype for new technology and new designs, made of 55 micro-units. They were built by CAPSYS, an experienced prefab builder with a factory in the Brooklyn Navy Yards. But Brooklyn is trendy now, and they can no longer afford the rent. The company was paying $4 per square foot, but would have to pay $20 now. Quoted in the Real Deal, founder Nicholas Lembo complains:

“New York City is too expensive, the only spaces that I found were out far out in New Jersey and Pennsylvania,” Lembo said. “The rent there is very inexpensive, but the problem with that is if we move the plant there, we would not be able to retain any employees and would be starting a new business.”

inside capsys factoryLloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Rob Kullman, manager of Capsys, defends modular construction even as he closes his plant and sells their intellectual property to a Pennsylvania company. According to Emily Nonko in Curbed New York,

“The demand is really high,” he says. In the past four weeks, notes Kullman, 12 different companies approached him to inquire about modular construction. And it makes sense, considering that if done correctly, factory-built housing promises more environmental efficiency in construction, affordability, and shorter building times.

B2 from flatbush© Norman Oder

One of the virtues of prefab is that it can be built in cheaper real estate by less expensive workers, but that is a double-edged sword; transportation of large modules is expensive, especially when they need police escort, and New York trade unions are trying to keep their jobs in the city. That’s why Forest City Ratner, when planning it’s prefab tower in the Atlantic Yards (now Pacific Place) built their prefab factory in the Brooklyn Navy Yards as well- part of a commitment to maintain construction jobs in the City. It has been troubled from the start, (see endless related links below, or readNorman Oder’s summary here) and is finally reaching a sort of completion, being shorter than planned, taking far longer and costing much more.

However the new Chinese owners of the massive Pacific Park project have no interest in doing any more of it with modular construction, and not surprisingly, the factory has no more orders. This was an unusual modular system, where modules were plugged into a structural frame. This makes it very hard to seal everything up properly; steel compresses and flexes under load but the plugged in modules don’t, making it very hard to hit tight tolerances. It’s not surprising that builders are not lining up to repeat this experience. The company has just issued the required 90 day notice of layoffs, but Norman Oder suspects that this isn’t the last we have heard:

Note that the warning notice is just that, a 90-day notice. By the end of February, things could change. I wouldn’t be surprised if Forest City, using its ties to Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, pushed for a government-assisted “demonstration” project to build modular units elsewhere in Brooklyn, or even to keep the plant open for a while.

pod hotel© Garrison Architects

It’s not the end of prefab in New York, but could be the end of locally built prefab, which was always a bit of a contradiction anyway, constructing modules in the most expensive real estate in the country. It’s not like upstate New York or a New Jersey couldn’t use the work, places with lots of land and cheaper labor. Or you can go further than that; prefab pioneer architect Jim Garrison is working on a Pod Hotel that’s manufactured in Poland by Polcom Modular and being shipped to New York. Jim tells Curbed that “it’s not been easy.”

It’s a big benefit if architects can check in as modules are assembled; regular check-ins can’t happen if the process takes place far away. In one instance, Garrison Architects found Polcom’s structural frames on the modules to be inflexible and inefficient, and Garrison’s design team needed to develop frames that were much stronger and lighter.

The big problem with modular is that it is expensive to ship air, which is essentially what those boxes are full of. Pod Hotel boxes are pretty small and dense (the rooms are tiny, two 100 square foot rooms on a 10′ x 30″ module) so the shipping and road transport is more affordable, two complete rooms on one truck that doesn’t need an escort. But there is also a lot of duplication; double walls, separate structure for floor and ceiling, twice as much of everything. All that duplication also makes the building taller and eats up interior square footage, making the skin more expensive and pushing up against lot and height limits.

broad flatpack in factoryLloyd Alter/ Broad Sustainable Building flatpack module/CC BY 2.0

There is a place for modular construction, but perhaps it’s not in tall buildings in New York City (It works in shorter buildings like the Stack) . I have always thought Broad Sustainable Building’s flatpack system made a lot of sense; the smaller floor plates travel on standard size trucks and they are not shipping empty boxes. They have now built to 57 stories without any of these problems. There are also new proposals for container-module sized prefabs, that take advantage of the vast and inexpensive shipping container transport infrastructure. Modular may be fading in New York, but it’s not the only innovative technology out there.

Tags: Green Building | New York City

Yosemite to Rename Several Iconic Places

Can a private company trademark public property? That’s the question the feds are scrambling to answer after a longtime concessionaire in Yosemite claimed rights to the names of some of the park’s most iconic locations.

  • A dining hall inside the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite.  Photo: Christopher Michel /

  • A view of Half Dome from Glacier Point in Yosemite.  Photo: Dimitry B. / Flickr

  • A collection of some of the images trademarked by DNC Parks & Resorts.  Photo: U.S. Patent & Trademark Office

  • The exterior of the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite.  Photo: Bryce Edwards / Flickr

  • A dining hall inside the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite.  Photo: Christopher Michel / Flickr

  • A view of Half Dome from Glacier Point in Yosemite.  Photo: Dimitry B. / Flickr

Bid goodbye to Yosemite’s familiar Ahwahnee hotel, Yosemite Lodge, the Wawona Hotel, Curry Village, and Badger Pass ski area—or their names, anyway. The National Park Service said today it will rename many well-known spots in Yosemite, as part of an ongoing legal dispute with an outgoing concessionaire that has trademarked many names in the world-famous park.

“While it is unfortunate that we must take this action, changing the names of these facilities will help us provide seamless service to the American public during the transition to the new concessioner,” Yosemite National Park Superintendent Don Neubacher said today.

Among the changes: Yosemite Lodge at the Falls will become Yosemite Valley Lodge; The Ahwahnee Hotel will become the Majestic Yosemite Hotel; Curry Village will become Half Dome Village; Wawona Hotel will become Big Trees Lodge; and Badger Pass Ski Area will become Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area.

What else might this mean? Officials aren’t sure. The park remains open. And the park service insists that the experience for park visitors won’t change. By March 1, though—the date the new concessionaire takes over—signs all over the park have to be taken down and changed. “It’s not only signs on the hotel, it’s directional signs around the park,” including the famous brown park signs— not to mention marketing materials and brochures and anything else that uses the trademarked words, said Scott Gediman, a spokesman for Yosemite National Park.

The outgoing company also trademarked “Yosemite National Park” for merchandising purposes, said Gediman. Will you be able to buy a Yosemite T-shirt at the gift shop come March 1?  “That’s something that remains to be determined,” he said.

The announcement is the latest drama in a long legal dispute between the park service and the concessionaire, DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, Inc. And it comes as the agency kicks off the centennial celebration year of America’s national parks system—when the park service would rather be feting America’s parks, not painting over signs at one of its marquee locations.

The news angered some park watchers.

“It’s a really unfortunate situation where the National Park Service is being held hostage by a corporate concessionaire who clearly does not have the public interest at heart,” said Amy Trainer, executive director of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin. “I think this is pretty outrageous that the park service, because of a 50-plus-million-dollar lawsuit, is forced to change these historic namesakes,” Trainer said. “It’s a tragedy.”


Since 1993 the park’s concessionaire, DNC, has run the hotels, washed the sheets, sold the horseback rides, and driven the buses in the park. It is a particularly huge job at Yosemite, with its 1,542 guest rooms, 27 food and beverage operations, and 23 retail shops. Uncle Sam owns the land in national parks, oversees the nature, and runs the campgrounds, while concessionaires run the commercial visitor experience, often using their own equipment.

In 2014, the park service decided to open the next contract to new bidders. DNC didn’t get the job. DNC alerted NPS that since 2002 it had been trademarking the names of places throughout the park where the concessionaire worked—the many lodges, the ski hill—and also trademarking images and designs related to the park. In responding to why the government hadn’t already trademarked those assets, Gediman wrote in an email that the “general thought was that names of buildings go along with the buildings, and no trademarks were necessary. [DNC] filed for trademarks without telling NPS, and we thought buildings and names went together.”

In all, DNC has registered about a dozen Yosemite-related trademarks, including logos and stylized drawings of Half Dome that many park visitors would immediately recognize. When it took over in 1993, DNC had to buy a few other trademarks, including for the phrase “Go Climb a Rock,” seen on many classic Yosemite Mountaineering School T-shirts and bumper stickers. After initial refusal by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, DNC also apparently succeeded in trademarking the name “Yosemite National Park” for merchandising purposes. (This wouldn’t require the park to change its name.)

DNC now expects to be bought out by the next concessionaire—a sale that, under the contract, must include “intangible property” such as the many trademarks the company has registered throughout the park, it claims. The company has said this intangible property—trademarks, a database of 750,000 customers, more than a dozen websites—is worth more than $51 million, including some $44 million in trademarks, according to appraisals. The government’s appraisal pegged the total value at $3.5 million.

With more than 4 million visitors in 2014, the 126-year-old Yosemite is the third most-visited national park, behind only Great Smoky Mountains and Grand Canyon national parks. The contract to feed, house, and sell knick-knacks to all those visitors is the single largest concession contract in the parks system. To win it is coveted; to keep it is lucrative. The next 15-year contract is worth about $2 billion.

Asked if the name-changing announcement was a gambit, Gediman said no. “We have not denied the fact that they do own intellectual property” and deserve to be compensated, said Gediman. “But with these trademarks, it’s kind of two issues: One, are these trademarks valid, and, two, what is the value of them?”

Gediman added, “We feel very strongly that these historic names are associated with the buildings and belong to the American people.” As for the value DNC has attached to them, “We strongly disagree with the numbers,” he said.


In September, after losing the bid for the new contract to a subsidiary of hospitality giant Aramark, the only other bidder, DNC sued the government in federal claims court. In a statement, an attorney for DNC said that it is simply trying to recoup legitimate investments. If NPS were to simply ignore the trademarks and keep using the names, there is the possibility that a court could grant an injunction on use of the names, which could temporarily close the buildings in question.

In its response earlier this month, the government implied another motive for DNC’s actions: greed. “DNCY’s parent company apparently has embarked upon a business model whereby it collects trademarks to the names of iconic property owned by the United States,” wrote a Department of Justice attorney. The company also has received trademarks for the phrases “Space Shuttle Atlantis,” he noted.

DNC is a subsidiary of Delaware North, one of the largest privately held companies in America. The worldwide hospitality company and its subsidiaries operate food service at many airports and sports stadiums. It also operates the concessions at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and London’s Wembley Stadium. Its chairman, Jeremy Jacobs, is owner of the Boston Bruins. (The company also owns and operates TD Garden, where the Bruins play.)

A search on the trademark office’s website shows more than 50 trademark applications in all—most apparently successful—for phrases, logos and names, including “Wuksachi Lodge” (in Sequoia National Park), a frequently-seen, stylized logo of Yosemite’s Half Dome, and the phrase “United States Astronaut Hall of Fame.”


At heart, the case is a contract dispute, legal experts say. But it is also raises questions about how much a company can benefit from trademarking buildings and places it operates in a national park—a place that many citizens would consider belonging to the American people, not to any one business.

It’s not unprecedented for a business to trademark a name within a national park; the concessionaire that ran park services for a century prior to DNC taking over had trademarked a few names, including the Ahwahnee, the now-beloved hotel that the concessionaire built, at a time when private companies could own property in parks.

This isn’t the first time even recently that a concessionaire has taken an interest in trademarking names of places in a park. Two years ago, at Grand Canyon National Park, Xanterra Parks & Resorts, which at the time was bidding on a long-term contract as a concessionaire at the park’s South Rim, applied for trademarks for most of the names of existing businesses there—including the El Tovar Hotel, the Bright Angel Lodge, Phantom Ranch, and the Grand Canyon Railway, according to a parks spokeswoman. The park service resisted the move, claiming it controls the names, and asked the concessionaire to desist. The company later filed to stop its pursuit of most of the trademarks, but not all of them, reported National Parks Traveler, which has written about trademark issues in the parks.

It is possible for a company to develop trademark rights for names such as “Yosemite,” “Curry Pass,” and “Ahwahnee,” depending upon the goods or services that the company is selling in connection with the trademark, says Tim Sitzmann, an intellectual property attorney with Minneapolis firm of Winthrop & Weinstine. If people naturally associate these terms merely with the location rather than a particular source of hotel or restaurant services, however, it may make it difficult to enforce any claimed trademark rights, however, says Sitzmann, who wrote a post online last fall about the dispute.

The federal government might find some relief, however, in a law Congress passed in late 2014 that allows the government to keep a name that’s historically associated with a building or structure that is either on, or eligible, to be included on the National Register of Historic Places, says Sitzmann. (Many of Yosemite’s buildings are on the register.) But the new law’s wording is a bit vague, he says. “Can DNC also use the marks?” he wondered. “Could DNC maintain an infringement action if the Parks Service or its licensees do more than simply ‘retain the name?’”

Even with the name changes, NPS could still be on the hook to compensate DNC for the value of the trademarks. The case is in court and seems to turn mostly on whether the contract requires some payment, according to Kevin W. Grierson, a trademark attorney at the national law firm Culhane Meadows in Washington, D.C. Based on his reading, “It sounds like (DNC) may have a case,” Grierson says. “I don’t know that changing the name is going to defeat the contract claim,” he added.

Perhaps changing names is an attempt to gain further leverage in negotiations, says Nick Gunn, a trademark and intellectual property attorney in Seattle. “Maybe their thought is that if they change all the names, it drives the value of all those [trademarks] down to zero.”

Homes Store Solar Power as Hydrogen for Later Use

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While solar panels are a great source of renewable energy for a home, a lot of it is wasted, since the need for power is not always constant. A battery array is one way to solve this, but a series of homes recently built in Chiang Mai, Thailand, presents a different and cleaner solution. The designers have come up with a way to turn the excess power produced into hydrogen and storing it for later use in this way. This so-called Phi Suea House development consists of four single family homes. They were developed by CNX Construction and will be the world’s first homes to be powered by solar-powered hydrogen storage.

energysystem

Once completed, the entire development will feature 114 kW of photovoltaic panels, which will generate about 441 kWh of electricity each day. Some of the excess power, will be stored in a couple of 2,000-Ah lead-acid battery banks. Then, by applying an electrical current to water, electrolyzes will be used to turn much of the rest of the excess power into hydrogen gas. The latter will then be stored and released as needed by being changed back into electricity through the use of fuel cells.

batterybank

hydrogenstorage

According to the developer, this is the most effective and eco-friendly way of storing excess solar energy. Furthermore, the process is very clean since the only byproducts are water and oxygen. They also claim that once fully operational the system will be able to produce a maximum of 440 gal (2,000 l) of hydrogen per hour. The storage capacity will be 19,800 gal (90,000 l). They estimate that the housing development will require about 200 kWh of power per day, and that the fuel cells will produce 120 kWh of power at full storage, which means that the 80 kWh of power that will be required overnight will easily be supplied by the hydrogen storage system.

nightdaysystem

The houses will also be fitted with solar hot water panels, which will take care of all hot water needs. The homes will also feature double glazing, thick walls, natural ventilation, efficient fans to minimize air conditioning use, as well as large windows to let in plenty of daylight, and efficient LED lamps.

The housing development will be fully operational by the end of January 2016.

‘Every gun in house is loaded’ — scare tactics rattle residents near Oregon occupation

BURNS – The evening was supposed to be a prelude to Christmas for a local pastor and his family, but now more than three weeks later, they keep their curtains closed, doors locked and a sharp lookout for the strangers who haunted their holidays that night.

Fear of the militants occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and roaming the communities of Burns and Hines sits like a heavy winter fog over the area.

More than a dozen local residents have reported to authorities that they were harassed in the weeks leading up to the occupation and in the days since. Different trucks, SUVs and other vehicles — most with out-of-state licenses — have followed the residents.

Four of the people who filed reports agreed to share their accounts with The Oregonian/OregonLive only if their names and identifying information were withheld because they feared further harassment. Law enforcement sources confirmed each had reported the episodes.

Jason Patrick of the Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, the self-styled militia at the refuge, said Tuesday the group had no role in any intimidation.

“It’s never been us,” he said. “It would serve no purpose.”

Police and community members say the menacing is real and has been going on for weeks.

The pastor, who has lived in the Burns area nine years, told of returning home after attending a Christmas party about a week before the holiday. He parked and went inside, then went outside again because he forgot to roll up the window in his truck, he said in an interview.

That’s when he noticed a pickup turning slowly onto the street. The truck caught his attention, he said, because it matched the description he had heard of a pickup that had followed the sheriff’s parents a few days earlier.

The pickup with two men drove slowly past him.

“They yelled something out the window at me,” the pastor said. “I couldn’t make it out.”

As he walked along the pathway in front of his house, the pickup kept pace with him before driving off.

Inside, he locked the doors and drew the blinds. He told his wife what happened, trying not to alarm their two children.

“That was a sleepless night,” he said.

“There’s no doubt in my mind,” he said. “I felt they were seeking me out.”

The pastor said he has been publicly vocal in opposing the occupation and the tactics of the militants before the occupation. He instantly stopped any social media activity because of the nighttime encounter.

“I don’t want to have to see these guys again,” he said. “I thought if these guys know where I live, that’s not going to be healthy for the safety of my family.”

Several days later, a pickup he was told was associated with the militants drove slowly by his office in Burns, he said.

Fear overtook him, he said. “I had to make some decisions for myself and for my family,” opting to take his family out of town for several days.

The family is now back home, holding evening discussions and reading Bible passages, he said. One recent night, he turned to his school-age son and told him, “It’s your turn.” The passage the young boy selected: “God has a unique way in dealing with an unhealthy king.”

“That’s how we have been trying to get through this,” he said.

On Monday, his son returned with other students to school.

“He was scared to go to school,” the pastor said. “His fear was that someone dressed like a police officer would come into his classroom and hurt people. He didn’t want to see people hurt.”

***

The wife of a local police officer described setting up trail cameras, typically used to remotely

photograph wildlife, to record motorists stopping in their driveway in the Burns area.

They did so four days after Christmas after seeing numerous “out of the ordinary” turnaround tire tracks in their driveway.

The camera recorded at least four vehicles parking at the entry to their driveway, which is at the end of a street.

“They would sit there for anywhere from 10 minutes to 40 minutes,” she said. “They didn’t get out. There were no footprints.”

She said she and her husband were leaving home last Saturday when they passed a pickup they believed was associated with the militants. It was on the road leading to their home.

She hasn’t been able to identify the drivers, she said, but she has shared photos of cars and pickups with license plate numbers from Idaho, Arizona and Montana. Militants from those states have been active in the refuge occupation.

Police wouldn’t disclose to The Oregonian/OregonLive who owns the vehicles.

Even though she’s a police officer’s wife, the mother of two and native of the area said she’s afraid.

“Every gun in the house is loaded,” she said. “I’ve never felt like I need to carry a gun in my life.”

***

A Burns High School student, the son of another local police officer, said that in mid-December he noticed a pickup following him home from school. He noticed the truck in his rearview mirror after he left the school parking lot. He made two turns to get to his home and the pickup stayed behind him. It passed as he pulled off the road to park.

“They looked at me,” he said. “I didn’t think anything of it” at the time.

Not long after, the same pickup followed him out of a service station about 10 p.m., he said. The teenager said he grew alarmed almost immediately.

“I tried to speed up. They seemed to speed up with me,” he said. “I felt they might shoot out my back windows and get at me.”

He tried to shake the followers by jumping the street curb and driving through a city park. The pickup kept pace with him, following on an adjacent street. The truck followed him on back streets to Hines Middle School. “I made a lot of turns and I lost him,” he said.

***

In mid-December, another student from the high school was heading home about 7:30 p.m. from an exercise class downtown when she noticed an SUV behind her. It turned when she did onto a street leading to her house, keeping its distance and moving slower than traffic.

“They were creeping behind me,” she said. When she hit the intersection where her house sits, the SUV was still there and she “freaked,” she said.

She reversed course and headed to the high school, where she knew people were attending a music program.

“I was thinking, ‘Don’t stop.'”

The SUV followed her until she turned onto a back driveway to the school. She saw the SUV drive to the front of the school and then head back toward downtown Burns, but at a slow pace as if it were looking for her, she said.

She called a friend, who escorted her home.

“When I got home, I was shaking and crying.”

She slept with a baseball bat beside her that night.

***

The wife of a local U.S. Bureau of Land Management employee recounted an episode last Friday when her husband was driving to work.

As they traveled down Burns’ main artery, her husband told her, “I think we’re being followed.”

They turned onto a side street. “They just turned with us,” her husband reported.

“I was scared,” she said.

The pickup then moved to a parallel street after more turns. When the couple stopped at an intersection, the pickup drove past them going in the opposite direction.

“The driver just turned (in his seat), smiled and waved at us,” she said. “When they drove by and waved, then I was mad.”

Refuge employees, who work for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, haven’t on the job since before New Year’s Day but have been intimidated nonetheless, officials said.

“Unknown individuals from outside our community have driven past slowly or idled in front of their homes, observing the residents and their activities,” Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward said in a news release. Refuge employees are being confronted with questions about their status as federal employees, he said.

“Many of these confrontations are taking place as their employees are grocery shopping, running errands with their families and trying to lead their day-to-day lives,” the sheriff’s statement said.

A key refuge employee last week was escorted out of the area by law enforcement, apparently over concerns militants had accessed employee work files. His departure was so abrupt that he asked a neighboring rancher to look out for his cattle for him. The friend hauled the cattle back to his own ranch for tending.

Les Zaitz

Rental Reality: What You Can Expect to Pay in 10 Major U.S. Cities

atlanta georgia skylineAtlanta is the cheapest city to rent, but you’ll get the most square footage for your money in Miami.

You hear this piece of advice all the time: When you’re trying to come up with a rent budget, divide your monthly income by three. That’s the number – one-third of what you bring home in a month – that you should stick to. But with rental rates skyrocketing across the country, renters are spending half of their income (and sometimes more) to stay in their apartments.

This makes it very difficult to come up with a budget that’s both manageable and realistic. You may want a 1,200-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment with a pool in Los Angeles for $1,500 per month, but is that reasonable?

Rent.com analyzed data on average rental rates for one- and two-bedroom apartments, average square footage and the top five most common amenities in 10 major U.S. cities to give you an idea what you can actually expect to spend.

Atlanta

Georgia’s beautiful capital city is known for its gorgeous weather and Southern hospitality, but now it can add another great trait to the list: It’s affordable. Atlanta’s one- and two-bedroom apartments have the lowest average rental rates on the list, at $1,312 and $1,713 a month respectively.

Even better? Atlanta’s apartments are a reasonable size as well, which means the city’s residents pay the least per square foot compared to residents of the other cities. On top of the affordability, the most common amenity in Atlanta apartments listings is a pool. As a result, you’ll get the most bang for your buck in Atlanta.

Boston

While Atlanta takes the prize for most bang for your buck, Boston earns the opposite award: least bang for your buck. Despite its small size compared to cities such as New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Chicago, Boston’s apartments are the second most expensive overall (right behind New York City) at $2,957 for one-bedrooms and $3,680 for two-bedrooms.

Boston’s average square footage is almost exactly the same as Atlanta’s, but at nearly $4 per square foot, Bostonians pay more than twice that of Atlantans.

Chicago

Chicago’s winters are infamous, so maybe they’re the reason the city’s residents are paying relatively reasonable rates ($2,310 for one-bedrooms and $3,273 for two-bedrooms, on average) compared to some of the other cities on the list. Chicago apartments are also pretty roomy. The one-bedrooms in particular have the second highest square footage on the list at 787 square feet, on average.

In Chicago apartment communities, you’re likely to find on-site laundry, hardwood flooring, decks or patios, dishwashers and gyms. If you’ve ever been to Chicago during the summer, you know just how seriously Chicago dwellers take their patios.

Houston

Houston is known for its killer shopping opportunities – perhaps that’s why it’s the only city on the list with walk-in closets as one of its top five most common amenities. Walk-in closets aren’t the only reason to move to the Texas city, though.

An average two-bedroom apartment in Houston is about 1,185 square feet, which is the second highest square footage on the list (behind Miami). With a fairly low average rental rate of $2,427 for a two-bedroom, residents are only paying about $2 per square foot.

Los Angeles

As the second biggest city on the list, you’d expect Los Angeles to be a little costly – and you’d be right. One-bedroom apartments in Los Angeles are the third most pricey, behind New York and Boston, with an average rate of $2,756. That’s a whopping $3.53 per square foot. Los Angelenos may also pay a bit more for apartments equipped with pools, patios, gyms and parking – is anyone surprised that these are the most common amenities, though? Classic LA.

Miami

Miami: the sun, the beaches, the nightlife. What more could you ask for? Space. Miami apartments offer the highest square footage of any other city, with one-bedrooms at about 828 square feet and two-bedrooms at an average 1,213 square feet. The large apartments, combined with reasonable rental rates ($1,845 and $2,412, on average), make this Florida city a renter’s dream. Unsurprisingly, pools and gyms ranked as the most common amenities in Miami apartments.

Minneapolis

Minneapolis is known for its parks, breweries, restaurants and much more. Another great thing about living in Minneapolis? Behind Atlanta, it has the second lowest average rental rates at $1,473 for a one-bedroom and $1,965 for a two-bedroom. As far as amenities go, you can expect to find on-site laundry, parking, patios, central air and dishwashers.

New York City

It’s no surprise that New York City is the most expensive city on our list, with average rental rates of $3,044 and $3,856 for one- and two-bedrooms, respectively. However, because the city offers just a bit more square footage for one-bedrooms than Boston (784 to Boston’s 752), New Yorkers get slightly more for their money than Bostonians. Unlike the other cities on our list, one of the top five most commonly listed amenities in New York City is a building doorman.

Philadelphia

Philadelphia comes in dead middle as far as average rental rates – it’s No. 5 on the list for both one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartment rates. Philadelphians pay on average just under $2,000 for a one-bedroom and just over $2,500 for a two-bedroom.

Square footage in Philadelphia seems to be a little hard to come by: At 1,088 feet, Philadelphia’s two-bedroom units have the second least amount of square footage on the list. And what amenities are you most likely to find? Onsite laundry, hardwood flooring and central air take the top three spots.

Seattle

The final city on the list is Seattle – the gem of the Pacific Northwest that’s known just as much for its amazing seafood and cool locals as it is for its rainy weather. It’s not just the rainy weather that locals have to deal with, though. They also rent apartments with the least square footage of any other city on the list.

The average square footage in Seattle apartments is very low, at 708 square feet for a one-bedroom and just 1,013 square feet for a two-bedroom. Despite somewhat average rental rates ($2,046 and $2,546), the low square footage means Seattle residents are paying more per foot than residents of some of the other cities. A possible bonus? Apartments in this Washington city are likely to come with two amenities that are less prevalent in other cities: storage space and an elevator.

A Common Trend

No matter which of these cities you’re looking at, there’s one thing they all have in common: Two-bedroom apartments offer a lower cost per square foot than one-bedroom apartments. If you’re struggling to come up with a realistic rental budget, you may want to consider finding a place with a roommate.

Source: money.usnews.com

– See more at: http://www.american-apartment-owners-association.org/property-management/latest-news/rental-reality-can-expect-pay-10-major-u-s-cities/#sthash.YDRB5IAK.dpuf

GBA Prime Sneak Peek: Green Building in the Cheap Energy Era

In 2016, green builders will need to face the implications of low energy prices

BY MARTIN HOLLADAY

GBA Prime subscribers have access to many articles that aren’t accessible to non-subscribers, including Martin Holladay’s weekly blog series, “Musings of an Energy Nerd.” To whet the appetite of non-subscribers, we occasionally offer non-subscribers access to a “GBA Prime Sneak Peek” article like this one.

Homeowners’ interest in energy efficiency measures waxes and wanes. During the 1970s, when oil prices repeatedly spiked upwards, everyone wanted to save energy. However, in the 1980s, when oil prices collapsed, Americans forgot about saving energy, and most of us reverted to our usual wasteful habits.

By 2008, oil prices were high again, and green builders were receiving lots of phone calls from homeowners who wanted lower energy bills. But between June 2014 and now, oil prices have collapsed again, tumbling from $115 to between $37 and $40 a barrel. This raises several questions:

  • What’s going on with energy prices?
  • What does the future hold?
  • What do low energy prices mean for green builders?

New Year’s Day is a good time to make predictions for the year ahead. I’ll attempt to answer the questions I’ve posed with a list of ten points.

Before going through these ten points, though, it’s worth emphasizing the fact that the world oil market is fairly responsive to changes in supply and demand. When the demand for oil exceeds the supply, prices rise. When the supply of oil exceeds the demand, prices fall.

Right now, oil producers are pumping lots of oil out of the ground — at a time when efficiency improvements (for example, improvements in vehicle fuel efficiency) have slowed the rate at which demand is increasing. The predictable result: prices have fallen.

1. Interest in green building is down because energy is cheap

Let’s face it: most Americans don’t care too much about saving energy when energy is affordable. Compared to your cell phone bill, Internet bill, and cable TV bill, your electricity bill may seem reasonable. So why worry about it?

When energy prices drop, the payback period for energy-efficiency measures increases. Some homeowners are happy to spend $6,000 on attic insulation if the payback period for the investment is 10 years. Once the payback period stretches to 20 years, though, the investment seems less wise.

2. Fracking and new drilling technologies have dramatically increased U.S. oil and natural gas production

This is old news, but it bears repeating. The “peak oil” concerns of the late 1990s have faded due to the surprising increase in U.S. oil and gas production in the first decade of this century.

In an article published in January 2015, Fortune magazine noted, “The rise of hydraulic fracking from Montana to Texas to Pennsylvania has lifted U.S. oil production mightily, from 5.6 million barrels a day in 2010, to a current rate of 9.3 million.”

U.S. oil and gas production. [Image credit: Wall Street Journal.]

Of course, the U.S. wells that caused this dramatic increase in oil and gas production were drilled when energy prices were high. The resulting glut of oil and natural gas has contributed to the collapse of oil prices, and the collapse in oil prices calls into question whether oil and gas companies can justify further drilling. Finally, there’s another wrinkle to consider: wells drilled using the new technology have a shorter productive life than wells drilled with older methods.

The final result of the interaction between all of these factors is far from clear: the U.S. may end up with a surplus of oil and gas for decades, or the current glut may be an anomaly.

3. The oil sands business in Alberta is in trouble

Oil producers in Alberta, Canada, have made huge investments in facilities that extract oil from bitumen-laced sand. But extracting oil from tar sands is expensive. The process requires lots of money, lots of energy, and lots of water. The environmental damage from the process — including problems related to deforestation, water pollution, CO2 emissions, and the creation of tailing ponds — is alarming.

It’s so expensive to produce a barrel of oil from the tar sands of Alberta that this type of production isn’t profitable unless oil prices stay high. Since world oil prices have collapsed, the oil sands business is in deep trouble — and that’s good news for the environment.

On August 24, 2105, the Toronto Star reported, “Analyst Menno Hulshof said more than three-quarters of Canada’s daily output of 2.2 million barrels of crude from the oil sands is being produced at a loss at current prices. He said thermal oil in which steam is pumped underground to heat reservoirs so bitumen can flow to the surface is losing money on every barrel produced.”

A September 2015 report from the Business News Network explained that the tar sands industry is in decline, but that the full collapse of the industry is going to take several years. The story noted, “Mining for bitumen in the oil sands of northern Alberta is among the most expensive ways on earth to produce crude, but in the Fall 2015 Oil & Gas Overview report published by Peters & Company this week, miners believe there is ‘no oil price low enough’ for them to significantly scale back on production. That is largely because of the significant costs involved in shutting down such massive industrial processes and then attempting to restart them when prices rebound. As a result, Peters expects oil sands production to continue rising steadily until 2020 regardless of what happens with the price of oil. After 2020 is when oil sands production will stall without a significant price rebound.”

[Image credit: New York Times.]

4. The U.S. coal industry is in steep decline

U.S. coal companies are beginning to go bankrupt. While this news is distressing to workers in the coal industry, it amounts to more good news for the environment.

In a story published on December 3, 2015, the New York Times reported that “a wave of a half-dozen bankruptcies has hit major coal companies. … Hal Harvey, chief executive of Energy Innovation, a policy research group, said that even though countries will continue to burn a lot of coal, the broader trend of coal’s decline is clear. ‘It’s not whether, but when,’ he said.”

5. Dropping oil prices aren’t killing the PV and wind industries

The price of photovoltaic (PV) modules is dropping so fast that even low oil and gas prices aren’t enough to put much of a dent in the PV revolution. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom — it used to be said that “low oil prices are bad for renewable energy” — but it’s true.

In windy regions of the world, electricity produced by wind turbines is now less expensive than electricity produced by fossil fuel-burning plants — and the per-kW capital cost to build the wind turbines is much less that the per-kW cost to build a coal plant or a nuclear power plant. In many parts of the world, wind and PV electricity are now cost-competitive with electricity generated by conventional power plants, and these renewable energy sources are setting (more or less) a ceiling for electricity prices — a ceiling that is surprisingly low. These facts can be used to argue that we’re more likely to face a cheap energy future than an expensive energy future.

As GBA has reported, homeowners who invest in PV often discover that their investment yields a better return than corporate bonds or the stock market. All across the planet, the installed cost of PV is still dropping. In Australia, large residential PV systems are being installed for $1 per watt. Moreover, the U.S. Congress recently reauthorized the 30% tax credit for residential solar equipment — a move that will give a further push in the U.S. to the apparently unstoppable PV juggernaut.

The PV revolution has barely begun. When this snowball starts rolling downhill, get ready for an avalanche.

6. As battery prices drop, grid defection opportunities increase

The Achilles’ heel of off-grid PV systems is the high price of batteries. Most GBA readers know, however, that Tesla is now building a mega-factory in Nevada to produce lithium-ion batteries; once this factory begins production, battery prices are scheduled to drop. The longer the factory operates, the lower the expected price for the batteries produced there.

Meanwhile, competing battery manufacturers are predicting that they’ll be able to match Tesla’s prices.

There aren’t any technical hurdles preventing homeowners from generating their own electricity and storing the energy in batteries for use at night and on cloudy days. The only hurdle is economic. In areas where electricity costs are high and PV costs are low, it already makes sense for some utility customers to cut the cord and go off-grid — a move known as “grid defection.”

PV prices and battery prices are both trending downward. These trends show every sign of continuing for a few more years, so grid defection is likely to increase.

7. Electric utilities are facing major disruption

Electric utilities in the U.S. can be divided roughly into two groups. In the first group are solar-hostile utilities like We Energies in Wisconsin; these utilities are facing the future by kicking and screaming.

In the second group are solar-friendly utilities like Green Mountain Power in Vermont. These utilities realize that “distributed generation” is an inevitable part of the future grid. (Distributed generation is a term that describes small systems that generate electricity near where the electricity is used.) The most disruptive element of the distributed generation revolution is PV; electric utilities that embrace PV are likely to be more nimble than the “kicking and screaming” group.

Electric utilities that have invested in large, expensive fossil-fuel-fired generating plants or nuclear plants will probably have to write down some of their assets over the coming years, because the PV and battery revolution will make many of these plants unnecessary and therefore obsolete. This process will be painful for most utilities, many of which are likely to declare bankruptcy.

8. The Paris agreement shows that the international political mood has shifted

I’m a cynic. Here’s a cynic’s report of what happened at the Paris climate change talks: not much. All of the announced carbon-reduction targets were non-binding. And even if every country manages to meet the non-binding targets, the efforts will be too little, too late.

I’m also imbued with hope. (As philosophers of hope note, hopeful people look for results they cannot see, in the teeth of evidence undermining that hope. Hope is not logical.) Here’s a hopeful person’s report of what happened in Paris: The international political mood has irrevocably shifted. Unlike Republican politicians in the U.S., the leaders of most of the world’s nations now (a) understand that the planet’s climate is changing, (b) recognize that CO2 emissions due to human activities are responsible for most of this climate change, and (c) accept the necessity of implementing policies that will reduce or reverse the rate of climate change.

Once this political shift has happened, there’s no going back to the status quo ante — the bad old days when denial ruled.

9. Saudi Arabia may be beginning to see the writing on the wall

Right now, Saudi Arabia is pumping lots of oil and selling the oil on the international market. Fellow OPEC members wish that Saudi Arabia would reduce oil production — a move that might help raise the price of oil. Saudi Arabia has refused. So what’s going on?

We don’t know; all we can do is speculate. In Saudi Arabia, the cost of oil production is quite low — about $9.90 per barrel. In contrast, the cost of production is about $17.20 per barrel in Russia and $36.20 per barrel in the U.S. Because of these disparities in production costs, low oil prices hurt Russia and the U.S. much more than they hurt Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia’s decision to keep pumping large quantities of oil has led analysts to propose at least two conspiracy theories. Theory #1 is that Saudi Arabia is conspiring with the U.S. to cripple the economies of two rival oil producers: Russia and Iran. (Saudi Arabia has accumulated huge foreign currency reserves, and is thus better able to ride out several years of low oil prices than either Russia or Iran, both of which are relatively cash-poor.) Russia provides economic and military support to the governments of Iran and Syria — governments which are at political odds with the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

Theory #2 is a variation on Theory #1. It holds that Saudi Arabia is hoping to cripple the oil industries of three rival countries: Russia, Iran, and the U.S. According to this theory, the U.S. is a victim rather than a co-conspirator.

I’m not going to comment on the two theories that I just summarized, in part because I’m not a fan of conspiracy theories. I’m more interested in a different explanation of what’s going on. It’s possible that Saudi Arabia’s leaders realize that we are in the last decades of the fossil fuel era. They probably see a variety of factors at play, including increasing international concern about climate change, the rapid development of electric vehicles, and dropping prices for electricity generated by PV modules and wind turbines. Saudi leaders may have concluded that they might as well sell as much oil as they can right now — because in a few decades, they may not be able to sell much oil at all.

An article published in the International Business Times on May 22, 2015 reported: “Saudi Arabia, the desert kingdom which was built on exporting crude oil, is predicting that fossil fuels will become a thing of the past by 2050. And the world’s largest crude exporter believes that in the not-too-distant future it will be exporting solar energy instead. … Speaking at a climate change conference in Paris on 21 May [2015], oil minister Ali Al-Naimi said: ‘In Saudi Arabia we recognize that eventually, one of these days, we’re not going to need fossil fuels. I don’t know when — 2040, 2050 or thereafter. So we have embarked on a program to develop solar energy.’ Al-Naimi added that ‘hopefully, one of these days, instead of exporting fossil fuels, we will be exporting gigawatts of electric power.’ He noted that oil prices as low as $30 or $40 a barrel wouldn’t make solar power uneconomic.”

10. Green builders need to focus on issues other than low energy bills

Most homeowners aren’t willing to spend much money to lower their energy bills. Green builders can respond to homeowner indifference about energy costs two ways: either indignantly or pragmatically. The indignant path might include exasperated outbursts — “think about our dying planet,” perhaps — along with attempts to educate homeowners about their ethical responsibility to use as little energy as possible.

The pragmatic path, on the other hand, requires green builders to accept homeowner indifference about energy costs as a fact.

I would advise green builders that it’s probably time to stop selling your work on the basis of low energy bills. According to most marketing experts, the new recommended mantra is “a green home is more comfortable than a conventional home.”

Some green builders use another marketing ploy: bragging that green homes are healthy homes. If you’re tempted to follow this path, be careful. There is very little evidence that occupants of green homes are healthier than occupants of conventional homes. Without any data to support your claims, it’s better to steer clear of any discussions about occupant health.

If you’re really, really lucky, you’ll get a few phone calls from clients who say, “I’m interested in lowering my carbon footprint.” Those clients are rare — but they are a lot of fun to work with.

Read more: http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/musings/gba-prime-sneak-peek-green-building-cheap-energy-era#ixzz3wUGHSpyj
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Loft-less 160 sq. ft. tiny house for people who hate climbing

Tiny Home Builders

© Tiny Home Builders

The idea of downsizing for financial and emotional freedom appeals to many, but some may find some tiny house designs a bit too sappy, or the stuffy, low-clearance reality of a sleeping loft a bit too uncomfortable or even unsafe. So it’s always interesting to see builders offer alternatives, like this small studio-style dwelling by Florida-based Tiny Home Builders that does away completely with the loft.

Tiny Home Builders© Tiny Home Builders

The bed is tucked away under a raised platform instead. When not in use, it acts as a rather comfy-looking living room sofa. And when pulled out, it’s generously sized, and plenty of head room. (Of course, the downside is that one has to put the bed away every morning — unless you like sitting and working from bed all day.)

Tiny Home Builders© Tiny Home Builders

Looking to the side, we discover that the stairs follows the same pull-out principle, hiding storage space — a lot of it.

Tiny Home Builders© Tiny Home Builders
Tiny Home Builders© Tiny Home Builders
Tiny Home Builders© Tiny Home Builders

A small kitchen has placed on this elevated platform, consisting of a small sink, prep space and a eat-in counter.

Tiny Home Builders© Tiny Home Builders
Tiny Home Builders© Tiny Home Builders

There’s a closet space here for hanging clothes, and a bathroom outfitted with a 36-inch shower, and a storage loft above.
Tiny Home Builders© Tiny Home Builders
Tiny Home Builders© Tiny Home Builders
Tiny Home Builders© Tiny Home Builders

Overall, the unique layout does look like it gives a sense of spaciousness in a small space of 160 square feet (8′ x 20′), creating a nice balance between an open, modern feel and the domestic comforts of home. According to the website, founder Dan Louche started Tiny Home Builders back in 2009 after constructing a tiny home for his elderly mother. Seems like the Tiny Studio’s design is a great option for those with limited mobility or who absolutely hate climbing up ladders just to go to bed. Check out more over at Tiny Home Builders.

Tags: Florida | Less Is More | Living With Less | Small Spaces