Solar powered air conditioning is finally here, and it’s totally boring

by Lloyd Alter 


Video screen capture EcoWorld

Instead of fancy new technology, it’s all about combining improved efficiency with low cost solar panels.

For over a decade we have been writing about how solar powered air conditioning was the holy grail. AC is a huge energy suck and is needed most when and where the sun shines brightest. We have looked at absorption technologies and all kinds of fancy solutions and alternatives to traditional AC units.

But it turns out that solar powered AC is not some new technology, but simply a result of grinding out improvements in existing heat pump split units, combined with the continuing drop in the price of conventional solar panels, with a dollop of building energy efficiency improvements that reduce solar gain and resultant cooling loads.

That’s how we get to the EcoWorld Solar Hybrid Air Conditioner. Australia’s Renew Magazine calls it much more sensible than all the complicated solar powered absorption designs:

It simply uses a dedicated 1kW solar PV array to drive the air conditioner, greatly reducing the energy required from the grid. In full sun, the unit can draw as little as 30 watts from the grid while producing its rated 3.5 kW cooling/ 3.8 kW heating capacity.

EcoWorld claims that you can “stay cool or warm without the huge energy bills. Use it more often without regrets.”

passive vs grandmaPassive house or Grandma’s house?/Public Domain

What is so cool about this (sorry) is how it is not a revolution but an evolution. For years we went on about designing our homes so that we could live without air conditioning like Grandma did, which is hard when Grandma didn’t have a choice, and when we live in a warmer, more crowded world.

Now we know that a combination of solar panels, better mini splits and radical building efficiency can keep us comfy all year round.

Tags: Air Conditioning | Australia | Solar Power


The Risks of Delegating Infrastructure Maintenance to Community Associations

Common-interest community associations, including home owner associations (HOAs), condominium associations, and housing cooperatives, play a critical role in the maintenance of local infrastructure. Over the past few decades, a growing number of cities and counties have delegated the responsibility for long-term maintenance of common infrastructure associated with new residential development to community associations. This often includes maintenance of common open space and may include maintenance of private streets and sidewalks, storm water facilities, or other infrastructure that plays a critical role in hazard mitigation.     Read the PDF……………

HOA Homefront: Exclusive use common areas – what you might not know

by Kelly G. Richardson –

Many condominium buyers do not understand what they bought until long after becoming an owner.

Condominiums consist of two elements: A separate interest, called the unit, and an undivided equal share in everything else, called common area. However, there are usually also hybrid areas, called “exclusive use common areas,” devoted to the exclusive use or benefit of a single condominium, Yet they are still a common area.

Here are seven oft-unknown aspects about this aspect of California condominiums.

Exclusive use common areas are not defined by written or oral statements or even contracts. Regardless of what a neighbor, a Realtor or even a purchase contract may say, exclusive use common areas are defined by written and recorded documents. Exclusive use common area is defined normally in condominium plans, CC&Rs and Civil Code 4145.

Exclusive use is not only balconies and patios. Private patios and balconies are normally characterized as exclusive use common area, but exclusive use areas usually include far more than that. Per Civil Code 4145, unless the governing documents say otherwise, exclusive use common areas include “shutters, awnings, window boxes, doorsteps, stoops, porches, balconies, patios, exterior doors, door frames, and hardware incident thereto, screens and windows or other fixtures designed to serve a single separate interest, but located outside the boundaries of the separate interest”. Common examples of exclusive use equipment would be air conditioning or water heater equipment serving single units.

It’s not your property. Exclusive use area is for the use by occupants of a single residence, but it is still common area, meaning it is owned by the entire association. The user does not own it any more than any other of the association members.

The HOA can tell me what to do with my area. Unfortunately, many condominium owners mistakenly believe that, since only they use the balcony, that the association cannot control how they use it. Exclusive use common area is still common area, and falls under the control of the association. Carefully check the association rules and use restrictions before closing escrow. One may want to know what one can and cannot do with the balcony or patio area.

Exclusive use is still the HOA responsibility for repairs, and this has not changed. Civil Code 4775 was amended this year to confirm that unless the CC&Rs say otherwise, the association repairs exclusive use areas and the homeowner maintains them. The technical change in the law did nothing but confirm the long-time mainstream legal interpretation, so associations continue to be responsible for repairing exclusive use areas unless the CC&Rs state otherwise.

The board cannot allocate maintenance and repair responsibility for exclusive use. Pursuant to Civil 4775, only the CC&Rs can reallocate repair and maintenance responsibilities. So, a board might pass a new rule saying that, for example, homeowners must repair their own balconies – but in the current law that change would be ineffective. Repair and maintenance responsibilities other than stated in Civil 4775 may only be allocated under the CC&Rs, which are amended by vote of the membership and not the board.

With some narrow exceptions, boards cannot give away exclusive use area. Civil Code 4600 does not allow common area to be redesignated as exclusive use area unless over 67 percent of all members vote to approve that change.

Formalize These Four Policies in Your High-Rise Association Right Now

High-rise living appeals to many people for the wealth of amenities, concierge-level services, convenient location and unique culture. But with this lifestyle comes unique challenges. Close quarters and the need for residents to exercise mutual respect can sometimes lead to friction and conflict. This is when formal policies need to come into play.

“Part of the draw for high-rise living is the diverse cultural experience of an urban neighborhood,” said Andrew Schlegel, CMCA, EVP at FirstService Residential Urban Management Division. “But bringing together a diverse group of people introduces an array of varying opinions, lifestyles and ways of conducting oneself. This can be a great thing, but to prevent the potential negative effects of natural differences, specific policies are a necessity for the association.”

Well-crafted community rules are a tool for creating harmony among residents. The challenge is creating policies and enforcing them in a fair and polite way. Many of the major issues residents face in a diverse high-rise community are complex. Your association may benefit from the help of a good high-rise management company in dealing with many of them. A solid company not only has experience, but also a vast knowledge of the law and a sense for what works best for residents.

Keeping that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the areas where concrete policies can help create order within a high-rise building.

1. Smoking – Yes? No? Restricted?
The hazards of smoking are undeniable. It’s the leading cause of preventable death throughout the U.S. and Canada. But increased fire risks create even more immediate danger for residents living in a high-rise building. That, among other reasons, is why so many buildings are going smoke free…a step you may want to consider if you haven’t already done so.

But how do you get there without potentially upsetting residents? Just take it step-by-step:

A) Form a committee to explore the issue (include owners and board members), and review public health data and research from medical professionals.

B) Seek feedback from your residents via a simple online survey. Ask them how they feel about a smoke-free environment and if they’ve experienced second-hand smoke. Ask them if they’ve seen cigarette butts or burn marks in common areas.

C) Review your governing documents to see what it takes to officially implement this policy, and communicate it clearly to your residents. You can read more tips on how to implement this type of policy here.

2. Pets – Yes or No? Some? What kinds? How big?
There’s a pet for every kind of person, but not every pet is viable for high-rise living. If there are no pet guidelines in your governing documents, draft clear policies that define what types of pets are acceptable, including animal types, size and weight.

The key here is communication – you’ll want to ensure all residents know the rules so they can comply. Remember that there will be common-sense exceptions, such as grandfathering in non-compliant pets. Also, keep in mind that federal law requires that all service animals be accommodated, at no cost to the owner. For a full discussion, read our pet policy article.

3. Flooring – No one wants to hear their neighbors.
Most problems with a neighbor probably boil down to a single word: noise. While you can address this issue with ordinances regarding quiet hours and music/television volumes, real conflicts arise when the problem is the flooring itself.

Some flooring materials make every step sound like a thunderclap, which can make life unbearable for people living downstairs. So what to do? If your governing documents or architectural guidelines don’t already address this, draft a policy that clearly outlines which types of flooring are acceptable and which ones aren’t.

Board members who would like to establish an effective flooring policy should lean on the expertise of architects and acousticians who can go beyond defining acceptable flooring types. These experts lend real knowledge in terms of how the floor should be constructed to minimize sound. Additionally, your new policy should include details about the construction approval process and who can complete the work. Most associations require that unit modifications be performed by a licensed and insured contractor. (Refer to your association’s governing documents for specifics.)

Clearly communicate the new rules to your residents, and you’re on your way to having a flooring policy that keeps the building quiet and fellow neighbors happy. For a deeper dive into how to implement a comprehensive flooring policy, check out this article.

4. Short-Term Rentals – Yes? No? On a limited basis?
The “sharing” economy is growing, but allowing owners to rent their units on a daily or weekly basis through online sites like Airbnb might not always be a good fit for your high-rise community.

Short-term renters are not subject to the vetting that long-term residents of the community undergo. They may be unaware of fire safety codes and other rules in the community that keep everyone safe, and that can be dangerous in an emergency. On the other hand, unit owners living in popular vacation areas might want to have the option to rent their space while they’re not at home. Not only can this generate extra income for the unit owner, but it can also increase property values by making the property more marketable to those looking to make income from their unit. Consider surveying your residents and then implementing the right short-term rental policy for your community.

If your community chooses to ban short-term rentals, don’t be afraid to enforce compliance with penalties. Likewise, create procedures that prevent unauthorized people from entering the premises, and document those instances when they occur. As with all policies, open communication with residents is the key to successful implementation. You can find out more about the sharing economy and how to address this growing trend by downloading our white paper.

Proven to Protect You – The Ultimate Elderly Home Safety Checklist

A home safety checklist for seniors is a great way to assess an entire living space and determine where potential hazards could arise. Falls and injuries can occur in any room in the home. They are most prevalent in places like bathrooms and staircases, but hazards can be present in each and every room. It is important to make a list of all potential safety concerns and take preventative measures to address each and every one.


According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), approximately 1.4 million seniors, age 65 or older, are treated in emergency rooms for injuries related to consumer products each year. Although injuries in and around the home can happen in many different ways, falls usually tend to be the biggest culprit.

These numbers shed some light on just how prone to falls and injury seniors can be in their home:

  • Over 8 million hospital ER trips are the result of falls, which is the leading cause of visits
  • According to the CPSC, more than two million fall injuries each year are the product of floors and flooring materials
  • 1 and three people over the age of 65 in the United States experiences a fall each year
  • Incidence of falls rises as each decade of living passes
  • 60% of fall-associated deaths occur in those who are 75 or older




If you wait until an emergency situation rears its head, it will already be too late. It is important to prepare in advance and not only take preventative measures but also have a plan in place if you need to exit your house quickly or get help.


Fire safety should be a part of any home safety checklist for seniors. Seniors are at higher risk than others when it comes to residential fires. The elderly are three times more likely to pass away in a residential fire than those who are younger.

Having your home assessed is necessary to determine what your smoke alarm needs are. Once you’ve had an assessment, you will know where you need smoke alarms and which rooms they need to be installed. Being educated when it comes to fire safety could wind up saving your life.


A common misconception is that injuries occurring to seniors within their homes are usually related to falls on stairs or in bathrooms. Injuries and dangers within the home are not limited to falling, however, and can happen in many different ways. Home safety could potentially be at risk in almost any room in a given house. Any home safety checklist for seniors should include each part of the home.


The bathroom is one of the most common locations for injuries to occur within the homes of the elderly. Not only can injury happen in the shower, but the shower can also cause the floor to get wet which can create an unsafe/dangerous environment outside of it. These are a few of the things that should be tended to in the bathroom:

  • Tub or shower should be equipped with a non-slip surface
  • If the shower has doors, they should be made of safety glass or plastic
  • Grab bars should be installed both by the toilet and the bathtub
  • Towel bars should be sturdy and installed correctly
  • Flooring should consist of textured tile, a matte finish or should be covered with low pile commercial carpet
  • The lighting should be even, sufficient, and glare-free. The light switch should be near the door
  • Door should open outward
  • A ventilation system and safe, supplemental heat source
  • Outlets should protect from electric shock
  • A bath or shower seat should be accessible


Climbing or descending a staircase can prove to be extremely dangerous even for healthy, middle-aged adults. It’s not hard to understand why so many seniors suffer injuries as a result of an unsafe, shoddy staircase. The stairs should be a part of any home safety checklist for the elderly. Here are some precautions that can be taken to make sure your staircase is as safe as possible:

  • Stair construction: Stairs should always be evenly built. If they are not dimensionally uniform, it exponentially increases the odds of tripping and falling
  • Stairs should be clear: This sounds obvious, but people leave things on staircases all of the time including books, papers, or shoes
  • Staircase lighting: Every staircase in your house should have sufficient lighting throughout so that you can clearly see each step
  • Maintenance: If carpet or tread is worn, it can be very dangerous and cause a fall. Replace any worn tread or carpet on your staircase immediately
  • Placement: Sometimes people are unaware of the presence of a stair in poorly lit areas or in parts of the home where the patterns and colors run into each other
  • Handrails: Every staircase should have a functional, sturdy handrail. Circular rails are best as they are easier to grip completely compared to rectangular rails


When it comes to a household safety checklist, the kitchen may be one of the last rooms in your house that you think to address. However, many accidents can occur in the kitchen, so it is imperative to check this list to make sure you are taking the proper precautions:

  • Your kitchen should be equipped with a fire extinguisher that is less than ten years old and is verified to work
  • The area around the stove should be clean and free of clutter. Grease, towels, potholders, and curtains are all examples of things that could easily catch fire
  • Ventilation and exhaust in the kitchen are paramount. Without proper ventilation, carbon monoxide or indoor air pollutants may accumulate and make the air unsafe
  • Never leave cooking food unattended. Anything on a stove top should be supervised at all times
  • All electrical appliances and cords should be kept away from the sink or anywhere there is water. Cords should also be kept away from hot surfaces
  • All countertop appliances such as toasters, coffeemakers, etc., should be protected by ground-fault circuit interrupters
  • A sturdy step-stool with a handrail should be on hand for reaching up onto shelves or high cabinets to retrieve items


Yes, even bedroom safety precautions are important to take and need to be a part of any home safety checklist for seniors. Injuries and accidents can happen in any room of the house, and the bedroom is no different than any other. There are steps you can take to ensure that your bedroom is as safe as possible:

  • Make sure there is an easy to reach light that you can get to from your bed
  • The path from your bedroom to the nearest bathroom should have enough lighting so that you can see if you need to get up in the middle of the night
  • Cords are a tripping hazard; if there’s a phone in your bedroom that is not within reach from your bed, you should consider moving it closer
  • If you wear eyeglasses, make sure they are also well within reach in case you need to get up in the middle of the night for any reason
  • A lamp or flashlight should be kept within range of your bed so that if you lose power for any reason, you have access to light
  • Have a sturdy chair with arms in your bedroom so that you can sit to dress if need be
  • Candles, ash trays, hot plates, or any other potential fire sources should be kept far away from curtains, furniture, beds, and bedding


Living rooms typically have televisions with cords, telephones, tables, chairs, and many other things in them that could potentially cause a resident to get hurt. You may also have a fireplace in your living room area which has safety concerns of its own. Here are a few of the things that should be a part of any elderly home safety checklist when it comes to the living room:

  • If you have a chimney and a fireplace, make sure it is evident before use. A clogged chimney can result in poisonous fumes and smoke entering the home
  • Check all rugs/carpet to make sure it is level with the ground. If either of these surfaces bunches up, they could cause you to trip and fall
  • Remove low coffee tables, foot rests or any other object that is low to the ground and blocking a clear path through the room
  • Do not run cords under a rug and keep all pathways clear of wires that could cause you to trip
  • Discard any furniture that feels loose or wobbly as it could create a safety hazard


Home safety is something all seniors should take very seriously. As we age, we become a little less physically capable as we once were and can become more vulnerable to injuries within our home. Accidents can occur anywhere within the confines of our residency, so a home safety checklist for seniors is highly recommended.

Have you come across any unique safety hazards at home that you’d like to share or discuss? Let us know below in the comments section!

Now In Happy Retirement, John Boehner Admits Republicans Will Never Agree on Obamacare Repeal

In today’s episode of Confess Your Unpopular Opinions, I confess that I kind of like Mitch McConnell. I’m grading on a curve, of course, the curve being “people who oppose everything that is right and good about America.” Still, I kind of like the fact that McConnell doesn’t generally get on his high horse. For example, when Republicans blocked Merrick Garland last year, most conservatives started peddling a load of nonsense about how Supreme Court justices were never confirmed in a president’s final year and they were just upholding the grand traditions of the Senate blah blah blah. But not McConnell. He basically said that Republicans were doing it because they could. That’s OK. I mean, if you’re going to screw me, don’t try to pretend that you’re doing me a favor at the same time.

Likewise, I kind of liked John Boehner too. He was just a man born too late. If he had been Speaker of the House 30 years earlier, he would have been fine. He would have logrolled and compromised and made deals and the government would have chugged along. By 2011, however, the GOP was fully tea party-ized and Boehner had more trouble with his own caucus than he did with the Democrats.

Boehner seemed genuinely happy when he finally left the House, and ever since he’s been unusually open about the reality of trying to deal with the loons in his own party. Today, he cheerfully explained that Republican plans to quickly repeal Obamacare were just “happy talk”:

He said changes to former President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement would likely be relatively modest. “[Congressional Republicans are] going to fix Obamacare — I shouldn’t call it repeal-and-replace, because it’s not going to happen,” he said.

….Boehner said the talk in November about lightning-fast passage of a new health care framework was wildly optimistic. “I started laughing,” he said. “Republicans never ever agree on health care.”

“Most of the framework of the Affordable Care Act … that’s going to be there,” Boehner concluded.

Yep. I wrote a piece for the magazine a couple of months ago making the same point, and it got way less attention than I thought it deserved. That’s rankled my fragile male ego ever since, so I’m taking this opportunity to highlight it again. Here’s the ending:

Obamacare’s preexisting-conditions provision provides Democrats with some leverage. Republicans need Democratic votes to repeal the provision and pass a workable law, which means that if Democrats hold out they can certainly get a far better deal than Ryan’s plan. They might even be able to stop the Obamacare repeal in its tracks. It all depends on how well they play their hand.

Boehner’s argument is expressed differently than mine, but it comes to the same thing: the best way for Republicans to repeal and replace Obamacare is to compromise with Democrats. Their next best option is to somehow ram through a plan of their own and accept all the flak this entails. However, both options require Republicans to stay ruthlessly united, and as Boehner says, what are the odds of that?

Reduce Maintenance and Injury with Entryway Flooring

Entrance strategies that prevent water and soil from causing problems in your building

By Justin Feit

Entryway mats that become saturated with moisture are unsafe, as they can slip out from beneath an occupant’s feet.

The ideal entryway in a building will have a flooring system that adequately protects occupants from injury and the rest of the building from outdoor elements that find their way inside. These measures can ensure that you are doing both.

Slips and Falls with Floor Mats

Providing the right flooring solutions in your entryway is vital because it facilitates the transition from outside the building to the inside, which becomes even more critical when weather is a factor. Providing the right materials for the entrance will keep your building safer and cleaner.

“The key is to focus on the walkway surface that people encounter when they first come into a building. That’s really important when preventing slips and falls,” says Russell Kendzior, President and Chairman of the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI). “A lot of businesses will simply use entryway floor mats, which are great if you use the right type and the right size. The problem is that those mats, although designed to prevent slips and falls, then create trips and falls.”

The greatest threat to floor mats working effectively is moisture. Once they become saturated, they not only allow water to be more easily tracked into the rest of the building, but they also pose a new, often unexpected threat to people entering.

“Once the water gets on the floor or under the mat, it becomes a surfboard. Somebody walks in from outside, steps on the mat and it flies under their feet. The mat induced the slip and fall,” explains Kendzior. “We don’t recommend vinyl-backed mats because they have a very low water retention ability. They also have a very poor level of slip resistance for their backings. We recommend that floor mats being selected have the appropriate backing – one that’s NFSI-certified as high-traction.”

Mats with high-traction backing and the ability to absorb high levels of moisture without becoming saturated will be able to withstand more water than lower quality options, but even the best mats – when saturated – are ineffective and will bring water and materials from outside into the building while also presenting safety hazards.

“When that floor mat gets saturated, remove it from service promptly,” says Kendzior. “One of the biggest headaches is that floor mats get saturated, and when people walk from the mat onto the floor, they take that water with them on their shoes. Now you have a wet floor, and people slip and fall.”

Other Options and Measures

Types of Entryway Mats

  • Wiper mats: Mats designed to remove moisture, contaminants, dust and finer soil from footwear.
  • Wiper-scraper mats: Mats designed to remove and retain finer soil, dust and absorb some moisture and contaminants from footwear.
  • Scraper mats: Mats that remove and retain heavier and larger soil through contact with footwear.
  • Recessed well mats: Also referred to as a foot grille, recessed well mats are installed in a well below the surrounding floor level. They can also be installed on the surface with permanent frames and ramps. The mat construction can be either as a scraper mat or a wiper-scraper mat.
  • Mat tiles: Tiles constructed of heavy denier fibers that are either tufted or needle punched or made from recycledtires. Sometimes these products have a hi-low construction.
  • Heavy-duty needle punch matting: Thick matting manufactured in a needle punch process from large fibers, usually with a latex backing. This matting is finished with applied edging.

ANSI/NFSI B101.6-2012

Floor mats aren’t the only option for an entrance. They require more oversight and care, and for those in buildings that have larger entrances or higher traffic than floor mats can withstand, there are better solutions available.

According to Kendzior, walk-off carpet tiles can provide a heavy duty option that will more effectively mitigate the transfer of moisture and outdoor materials inside. However, unlike a traditional mat, walk-off carpet typically requires a change in flooring at the entrance. Nevertheless, they can reduce maintenance and injury risk.

“Walk-off mats remove most contaminants that would otherwise be tracked into buildings,” explains the Minnesota Department of Health. “Proper maintenance will ensure they are effective at preventing these contaminants from being deposited in rooms. Sand and grit can also damage flooring, making these surfaces harder to clean.”

Another measure to better safeguard your flooring inside is to address outdoor conditions. Winter is a particularly troublesome time because of the quantity of snow and water that will migrate into the building, so providing your building with a first line of defense outside can save the interior flooring.

“Some facilities employ the use of scraper mats, and they can be very effective based on the specific type and size of the scraper or rubber mat that you’re using,” says Kendzior. “If you’re going to use a mat outside of your building to have people knock some of the soil or snow off of their shoes, using a large, rubber scraper mat is a great way to do it. By the time they come into the building, snow that was on their boots or shoes is not being tracked in.”

Of course, addressing walkways and other surfaces where building occupants might pick up snow, ice and soil will also help. Having a proactive response to winter weather will reduce the amount of water and material that occupants’ shoes will pick up on their way to the building. Moreover, Kendzior suggests using deicer before it snows so it can effectively reduce snow and ice buildup before it becomes a problem.

For more information about entryway flooring options, visit

Justin Feit is an assistant editor of BUILDINGS.