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The Grande Finale – an Energy Audit & HERS Score

October 26th, 2009
Written by Nan Fischer

My friend, Alva Morrison, has been in the weatherization industry for many years, working for the state of NM helping families in need tighten up their homes with insulation, caulking and funding. As energy audits got popular for the general public, his natural next step was to become an Energy Rater. Special training and equipment is needed for this job, which entails sealing up a house, running air through it, analyzing air leakage through computer software and offering recommendations.

When my construction was done, Alva and I decided to do an energy audit. Instead of guesswork, I wanted documentation of my energy savings were and how I could make improvements to further save.

A blower door test determines energy usage. Alva determined the volume of the house, then we talked about construction details. He plugged that information into his software, then we sealed up the windows and exterior doors, leaving the interior doors open for maximum air flow.

He installed the blower in the kitchen door. blower door_3631 The red canvas was sealed all the way around to make the door air-tight. The blower was plugged into his laptop, then turned on to create air movement, which was registered in the software. We looked for areas where air was coming in. Alva caulked a few old window frames, and rechecked the figures.

We were surprised at some of the results and recommendations. Here are his comments:

“Nan’s house is a great example of what can be done to turn a pretty average house, built to code a couple of decades ago, into a modern energy-efficient home. If built as is today, it would exceed qualification for the USEPA Energy Star certification, even though many of the walls still have 2×4 insulation in a 2×6 wall. The main factor driving the house’s lean performance is a thick blanket of attic insulation. But the solar hot water and the balmy sunroom, with a thick adobe wall to catch and hold the heat, provide solid backing. Add to that a refrigerator, which squeezes kilowatts until they scream, and you have a working person’s house to take us all through the next century of global warming both economically and comfortably. All these things were added to the house by Nan at moderate expense.

“Analyzing possible improvements was very interesting. Tearing off sheetrock and re-insulating the walls seemed like it should be a no-brainer. But when we ran it through the computer, it only showed a savings of around $25 a year- not much reward for all that trouble. The moral is, heat goes up, not sideways.

“However, we found another weaker spot in the building’s ‘heating envelope’: the uninsulated foundation. A quick rework of the house through the energy rating software showed that digging a barrier of four inch rigid foam in around the perimeter of the foundation would return $175 a year – and that?s if the cost of wood and gas stays the same (don’t hold your breath for that!). Get out your shovel, Nan!”

As you can see, an energy audit gives you a lot of information on how to improve your home. I had him calculate a HERS (Home Energy Rating System) score, because I wanted to be able to show others the entire process.

The number of a HERS score is based on the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), which is 100. My score was 88, meaning my house is 12% more efficient than the code. The lower your number, the more efficient your home is. When I make improvements, Alva can plug that information into his software, re-analyze the results and give me new recommendations

Many municipalities, including Taos, are beginning to require HERS scores on new construction. I highly recommend an audit, and, speaking as a RealtorR, I use them as effective marketing tools for homes. Buyers can see current efficiency and how it can be improved. There are fewer surprises and disappointments after purchase.

Food has been coming out of the greenhouse year-round. Due to some unanticipated condensation problems and failing flashing around one skylight, the greenhouse is not in full use. There is no soil in the bed yet, but I have been successfully growing in containers. This picture is my tomato garden on Jan 31, 2009. Once the construction issues are resolved, I will have achieved my goal of a true food-and-heat-producing solar greenhouse.

Find a certified local Energy Rater through RESNET – Residential Services Energy Network http://www.resnet.us

The entire remodel with more details and pictures is on my website: Solar Retrofit 2007 http://www.nanfischer.com/remodel1.html

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Winter Biking: Nor Sleet Nor Snow

October 22nd, 2009
Written by James Druman

winterbiking1For many, the last thing they want to do is trade their nice, warm car for a bicycle at this time of year, and even if you’re playing with the idea the increasing rain and impending snow is probably your number one concern. But with a little preparation and perspective winter biking isn’t as bad you might think.

Winter biking takes preparation but it is just as much an improvement for your life as biking any other time of year. For some of us, that fresh air even feels better when its cold?it seems that much more fresh and invigorating. And you will find you aren’t cold at all once you get out there pedaling.

A lot of people find themselves struggling to keep from being too hot, especially if they made the mistake of throwing on a big winter jacket. Just some decent warm clothes will be all you need once your heart is pumping. Remember that multiple layers create more of an insulating effect than big bulk jackets. You don’t need thickness to stay warm – try wearing a t-shirt and a couple long sleeves instead.

Also, you have to be more careful riding a bike in the winter. If the concrete is icy or wet it can get pretty slippery, but cars are more likely to be involved in accidents in these conditions too. You just have to think about the conditions before you hop on your bike and take the same precautionary measures. One thing to really think about is that if the weather is particularly ugly it is more difficult to see you, so take heed on blind corners and intersections.

winterbiking2A solid helmet is a must in this kind of weather even if it is not required by law. You might not be going that fast, but make no mistake, if you slip on a bad patch of ice and your head hits the pavement you can be seriously injured. To minimize the risks of these incidents, get some tires with really good traction. Mountain biking tires are a great choice but if you have the money and will be riding in extreme conditions then try to get some winter tires.

Eye gear is also helpful to keep the rain and slush tossed up from passing vehicles out of your eyes. Some are fine with sunglasses; others prefer some cool-looking snowboarding goggles. Good lights are a must for any serious commuter if you plan to ride at night. Your eyes usually adjust to the dark enough to see, so the headlight is more for being visible to other drivers. Also, in many places it is the law. I like the lights with the pulse option because I think a flash is more eye-catching.

It’s not necessary, and a lot of bicyclists don’t like to have extra weight up so high when riding, but I like to have a quality backpack when I’m riding because I usually have my laptop with me. Victorinox, the company that makes Swiss Army knives, sells some really quality packs with great organization. It is also nice for keeping paperwork, my cell phone, my long-sleeved shirt if I get too hot, and water or food.

Take your bike to the shop before winter starts and get a tune-up. Or learn to do the maintenance yourself – it’s really a good skill for a regular bicyclist to have.

Some people even consider winter cycling a way to enjoy some sport in the cold season, and in particularly snow-blanketed times it can certainly be just as exhilarating. This is a good mentality to cultivate. It’s nice to take a break from being an adult and get in a little “play” on the way to the daily grind. Enjoy your ride!

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Solar Thermal – Hot Water for Domestic Use

October 19th, 2009
Written by Nan Fischer

My mom passed away in 2006, and her estate was finally settled in 2007. I had no idea what my brother and I would inherit, and from what the attorney, stockbroker and CPA said, it sounded meager. I was thrilled to find a check in my mailbox that would get me started on my remodel! Meager to a big-wig, perhaps, but abundant to someone living simply.

The first thing I looked into was solar thermal – hot water from the sun for domestic use. From www.energysavers.gov:

Solar water heaters – also called solar domestic hot water systems – can be a cost-effective way to generate hot water for your home. They can be used in any climate, and the fuel they use, sunshine, is free.

Solar water heating systems include storage tanks and solar collectors. There are two types of solar water heating systems: active, which have circulating pumps and controls, and passive, which don’t.

Most solar water heaters require a well-insulated storage tank. Solar storage tanks have an additional outlet and inlet connected to and from the collector. In two-tank systems, the solar water heater preheats water before it enters the conventional water heater. In one-tank systems, the back-up heater is combined with the solar storage in one tank.

solar dom hot water

After much research, like that above, I called a solar installer, Valverde Energy. The owner, Larry Mapes, came out to the house to do an assessment. We first talked about my current and future water use. My two teenage daughters were going to fly the coop in the next few years, so water usage would dwindle. All those long, hot showers, mounds of laundry and constant dirty dishes would be a thing of the past when I settled back into living alone as I had done before having children.

So instead of creating a system for a family of three, which would be big and inefficient just for me later on, we decided on a smaller system that would be adequate for all three of us, and would rely on very little natural gas back-up as our numbers shrank. This smaller system could be expanded when the house is sold and another family moves in.

Once we’d made that decision, we talked about infrastructure. This isn’t very exciting and is nothing anyone sees, but it was necessary to get it done.

I am on a shared well with three other homes. For years, we have talked about putting in new water lines, but not everyone had the money at the same time, and our bank account wouldn’t cover it all. I went ahead and replaced the aging line to my house. The stub-in had to go in a certain place to accommodate the solar system, since I was moving the hot water heater as well.

Larry suggested tapping into the natural gas line in the new road adjacent to my property. My gas supply was currently propane, which is more expensive, and he said this alone would cut my energy bills. It didn’t take much to persuade me to switch! The water line came in from the south, and the gas line came in from the north. My yard was chewed up all the way around! Ah… remodeling…

stubins_3428 The infrastructure upgrades needed to be done first, because those utility lines had to be in place for Larry’s crew to install the solar system and before we could pour a slab for the greenhouse. We joked that most women don’t care about these kinds of things in a home, because you can’t decorate them, but I was excited about the value of what he was proposing.

I quietly thanked my mom for making this possible. 515

More info on:

Solar hot water http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/water_heating/index.cfm/mytopic=12850

Valverde Energy http://www.valverdeenergy.com/

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10 Eco-Friendly Solutions for the Home Office

October 15th, 2009
Written by James Druman

With more people working at home, a lot of unnecessary commuting can become a thing of the past for many.? But the home office environment is rarely a symbol of environmental efficiency itself.? Mountains of wasted paper across your desk.? The heater blasting.? A computer that never sleeps.? If you want to tighten up these glitches, here are 10 eco-friendly changes to make in your home office.

greenhomeoffice_11.? Unplug Yourself from the Grid
Sitting in a brightly lit room with the curtains closed and blasting an air conditioner while a cool breeze blows across the yard?? All those hours stuck in the office can add up to high energy costs.? Open the windows for a draft or open the blinds to let in natural light and heat.? Make your work time less of a drain on the power grid.

2.? Bring Back the Paperless Office
The paperless office was once a dream and the future of the internet, but as the future has arrived it turns out our virtual lifestyles often end up creating more waste.? There are so many file-sharing, file-storing, and back up programs available now that there is really no need to keep paper records of everything as long as you use multiple storage medias, and our communication methods make most other reasons for printing just plain ridiculous.

3.? Maximize Your Paper
When you do print, keep it limited and use both sides of the paper sheets if at all possible. Buy recycled paper or papers made from.? When possible, be sure to recycle. Use a paper shredder to dispose of paper?you can even use it in your garden.

4.? Be a Computer Nerd
By becoming more tech savvy, you can learn more even more ways limit paper needs and increase productivity.? Organize things well online and there is less chance of losing files, which is often the reason a user prints out something out of frustration.

5.? Manage E-Waste
Dispose of e-waste properly to minimize environmental impact and before you replace something just because it is environmentally friendly, be sure you know the actual environmental trade-off of wasting the old model to buy the new.? Many times a computer can be recycled to make use of its spare parts or passed on to someone who needs it if it is still in working fashion.? Here is an idea.? Give it to a young person and encourage them to start a website about promoting green principles.

greenhomeoffice_26.? Shut Your Computer Off
Just like your other appliances, you should always turn off your computer when you?re not using it so it doesn?t continue draining power.? According to the Alliance to Save Energy, $2.8 billion dollars is spent annually in America alone by people who simply leave their computers running.

7.? Use Green-Powered Online Services
Even our ?virtual? world has a physical impact on the Earth.? A web hosting server, for instance, is responsible for the same emission levels of a 15mpg automobile.? Fortunately, many companies are stepping up to the plate and using renewable energy resources to run their systems.? Hostgator and Green Hosting are two examples.? Find out what other online services you use for your business or personal life and identify the industry leaders who make the effort to be green.

8.? Learn Productivity Skills
Not only do productivity skills teach you how to make your time more efficient, but if you can learn to work better faster, than you spend less time on the computer, correct?? Not to mention the train of thought associated with productivity thinking spills over into other areas of life.? More efficiency is usually a good thing when we?re talking about out interaction with the environment.

9.? Use Recycled Furniture
Cheap office furniture is always easy to come by.? Forget about that stylish brand new office setup you want to buy so the people who never see your office think you are a professional.? Hit up your friends who are downsizing.? Check out craisglist.com for cheap purchases or freecycle.org for free furniture.? Hit yard sales and second-hand stores.? There is plenty of decent furniture out there to snatch up.

10.? Stop Being a Computer Geek
Are all those wasted hours online really necessary?? It isn?t doing much for those productivity skills you?ve been learning, and the chances are you are going to play around on that cool new site about picking up women for a few hours and never apply it to the real world, so save the trouble.? Instead, why not go outside and meet some real people?? Use that extra time you?ve created by doing something worth doing.? It?s better for the environment and better for you.

These are just a few things you can do to make the home office a greener room and a greener part of your life.? Just like any other area of you life, there are countless changes, small and big, to make you mark on the world less significant.? Get creative.? That is the real key.? And look through the habits you have created for yourself that are based on old foundations of thought.? Bring the green lifestyle into your office, make it a comfortable healthy place to work, and get on that computer to start making social changes.

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Greening up the House with Energy Efficient Windows

October 12th, 2009
Written by Nan Fischer

Once the infrastructure decisions were finalized, Alex, the construction contractor, and I could firm up our plans. We knew where water and gas lines could go in the house and greenhouse.

Not only did I plan on the greenhouse addition, but I also made some drastic changes in the rest of the house.

1) I replaced all my single pane windows and sliding glass door with vinyl, double pane, energy efficient, low-e windows.

It’s important to choose the right windows for different areas of a home. Lighting, vies and orientation are taken into consideration.

window There are several criteria to determine a window’s performance, two of which are:

  • Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) – the higher the number, the more heat the window transmits.
  • U-factor rating of the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) – the lower the number, the more efficient the window, based on the glass, frame and spacer material.

I have big pictures windows and a slider on the northeast side facing the mountains. Sun pours in here on summer mornings, so I chose windows with a low SHGC that let in sun and but heat. Obviously, on the southwest side, that’s not what I wanted, so I chose windows with a high SHGC that allowed the sun to heat the space.

Low-e stands for low-emissivity. There is an invisible, thin coating on the glass that controls the amount of heat moving through it and affects the SHGC and the U-factor. All windows should be labeled with this information.

2) I changed the floor plan in western 2/3 of the house to facilitate heating, which was difficult due to a remodel done by a previous owner. The traffic flow was choppy, which also prevented heat from being distributed evenly. I was spot-heating separate areas, which was a continual experiment and not very effective. If I could easily get the rooms heated, I would further reduce my energy bills.

3) I created two separate heating zones:

  • The greenhouse, girls bedrooms, a bathroom
  • The kitchen/living room, my room, a bathroom

Do you remember that huge room where I installed that huge sunny window previously? I split it in two and gave the girls identical rooms. The doors, which I recycled from other parts of the house, opened into the greenhouse, which would help heat them and the second bathroom. This area was separated from the kitchen/living area by a steel exterior door.

remodelimg_3550 4) I added insulation in the ceiling over the kitchen/living part of the house. Since we put gas lines in the attic and access panels in the ceiling, we got a chance to look at the insulation. It was pretty thin, and we had disturbed a lot of it with our work. I decided to beef it up by having R30 shredded fiberglass blown in on top of what we guessed to be about R19 insulation. I was eager to see how my heating bills would react.

My original thought for the greenhouse was to create a 5.5′ wide passive solar hallway to the girls’ new rooms and bathroom. This would span the entire front of the space. After many measurements and number crunching, we decided to fill the entire corner with the greenhouse. It would be easier for Alex to build if we brought the exterior wall out even with the existing wall. This space was 8.5′ wide and allowed the planting bed to be included.

Once we had these dimensions, we could create a detailed design and start ordering materials.

More on energy efficient windows:

http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/windows_doors_skylights/index.cfm/mytopic=13320

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Eco-Friendly Halloween Costumes: 8 Ideas for Minimizing Waste

October 8th, 2009
Written by James Druman

halloweencostumes_1Halloween, while a seemingly innocent holiday, can nonetheless be a wasteful endeavor. Nobody wants to wear the same costume every single year, and so brand new extravagant outfits find their way in the trash or in the bottom of a closet to never be used again. But there are ways to plan for this coming Halloween without being so wasteful. Here are some ideas for costumes that are easy to put together and can be made from everyday things.

1. Wear the Same Costume Every Year – Yeah, I know we just established that’s exactly what you don’t want to do, but is it really such a bad idea? Here’s what I propose. The same costume isn’t really going to wrinkle the noses of even your snobbiest friends if you use it two years in a row, and after that you can change it up by spending Halloween at a different location. Use it as a reason to party with someone else – new crowd; new costume.

2. Trade With Friends – Call a few friends that don’t live near you or hang out with different groups of people and swap costumes every year. This is great for parents who don’t want to buy the kids something new every year. How about hosting a costume swap a week or two before Halloween?

3. Dress Up Like the Opposite Sex – This is a classic costume for those with a sense of humor, and it is always good for lots of laughs, especially for those masculine guys. Everyone has friends and family they can borrow from to put their costume together.

4. Dress Out of Context – The funniest outfits are often the ones that are a complete change from your usual style. Some examples include the city boy dressing up as a cowboy, the business man dressing up like a thug, the clean freak showing up with their hair messed up and food plastered across their shirt. Dress like you’re living in a different era. It can be simple, but in a tight circle of friends it is good for laughs.

halloweencostume_25. Make Your Own Costume – Besides just changing up your wardrobe, if you are crafty, you can make your own costume. Kids will really enjoy doing this; it gives them a chance to use their imagination. Pick up a book at a crafts store or do some research online to get tips and techniques (http://www.robinsfyi.com/holidays/halloween/costumes.htm). Everyday household items can easily be used to put something together.

6. Get Creative With Makeup – The first thing everyone sees is your face, and thus it is quite easy to make a costume using just makeup. Even a fake gash across your forehead is enough. You can just wear your same clothes or wear an old, torn shirt to make it look like you’ve had a rough night. For other makeup uses, just use the makeup you already have in your home instead of buying something just for the purpose.

7. A Different Kind of Costume Party – Get your friends into the minimalist mindset by having a costume party where the theme is homemade costumes. Encourage everyone to recycle old clothing and household materials to get creative, and have some kind of prize for best costume.

8. Recycle Your Costume – If you do have a store purchased costume, don?t ever just toss it away, and resist the temptation to stuff it in a closet for “later” only to never see it again. Instead, help other people to resist materialism by giving it out to someone else looking to save some money or reduce their impact. If no one needs it, bring it to a thrift store.

With a little creativity, Halloween doesn’t have to be just another reason to express our consumerism. This is one of my favorite holidays because of everyone?s willingness to lighten up and make a fool of themselves. But that doesn’t have to mean waste. Put some thought into things and decide if one night a year is really worth the materials and money. Like any day of the year, the answer is all in using your head.

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The Solar Greenhouse Gets Built

October 5th, 2009
Written by Nan Fischer

I will spare you the entire thought and building processes and show you what we finally decided on.

remodelimg_3285 Since this is southwest orientation, my main concern was getting extra light and heat, since the winter sun does not come around to that side until late morning. I put three fixed skylights along the lowest part of the ceiling, which has worked well. The sun comes through them a few hours before it gets to the front.

In the New Hampshire house, the south facing windows were floor-to-ceiling. I wanted as much sun coming in as possible for daytime heating. Here in Taos, I wanted a planting bed close to the windows for maximum light, so the windows are in the 5′ space above the 3′ deep planting bed. In both instances there is a 1′ spacer between them for support.

Ventilation is as important as heating. Plants and people don’t like temperatures that are too hot, as much as they don’t like them cold. To keep everyone and everything comfortable, I installed:

  • A glass door flanked by two double-hung windows. This allows more sun in winter and serves double duty to ventilate in summer.
  • Two double-hung windows in the end wall
  • Two VeluxR operable skylights in the upper part of the ceiling. This is where heat will rise, which made it the most logical place for a moveable vent. Air moves in through the windows carrying the heat out of the top vents. Moving air is cool air, so opening the windows and the vents cools off the greenhouse, even if it is hot outside.

The soil in the bed is to be part of the thermal mass. It will absorb the sun’s heat to keep the temperature levels even and keep the plants warm. The concrete floor and an adobe-lined wall on the northern side are also mass that will absorb sun and ambient heat to radiate back out at night.?remodelimg_3526

The ceiling is super insulated, and exterior doors lead into the four rooms of the house. There is no supplemental heat in the greenhouse. In the event there are many cloudy days in a row or old-timey winter temperatures of 40 below, I will sacrifice the plants as the greenhouse gets cold, but the heat in the other rooms will not be lost. The girls have small gas heaters in their rooms for the coldest days and nights.

remodelimg_3531 The work was done enough by Thanksgiving to start seeing the benefits. My fuel bills that following winter were half of what I’d been used to paying. I cut my wood consumption by half with the new ceiling insulation and double pane windows, and my natural gas bill was about $40 a month at it’s peak with the girls using their heaters.

Come spring, I got an energy audit and a surprisingly good HERS (Home Energy Rating System) score.?remodel.gh.1.09_3880

Outsourcing: Good for the Environment; Good for You

October 1st, 2009
Written by James Druman

outsourcing1Times are changing. Our society is evolving. And with the economy the way it is and jobs leaving America, its easy to get fired up about things and think in terms of doom and gloom. The thing of the matter is, however, that for a savvy self-motivated individual, this might be the best climate ever to make money, and what is more, the new characteristics of the new economy, such as outsourcing, make it easier than ever to live the life we choose.

Jobs are disappearing, sure, but where are they going? Maybe you’re answer is India, China, and other faraway lands. Many people are grumbling about the loss of work for Americans, and as our large corporations that we love to hate struggle to remain competitive in their various marketplaces, they are choosing to source more and more work that is now in-house to outside providers.

But are they really sourcing out of the country? Well, kind of. What they are really doing is just moving the jobs out of house. They don’t necessarily care if they end up in India or Kentucky. They just don’t want to pay for employees who eat up office hours on Facebook to get the job done.

It’s easier and more economical to pass it on to an independent contractor and pay them a set fee, regardless of the hours. And that can be a good thing for both the environment and you.

Telecommuting is good for the planet. America is a country built around the automobile. We love our cars, and since we’re such a young country, most of what we see today did not exist before Henry Ford pushed the first clunker out of the factory. As a result, everything is far away. It’s hard to leave the house anymore without driving for a half an hour.

And now more citizens from around the globe are sitting behind a computer in their bedroom rather than driving across town or in some cases hours away, which means HUGE savings on fuel. This is an ideal economic evolution for the environment.

outsourcing_2 As for you – who doesn’t want to get their work done in half a day without leaving the house and then decide what to do with the rest of the day? Before you say there is no way to compete with foreign citizens who will work for a fraction of what you do, not so fast.

What foreign citizens lack is knowledge of Western culture, Western business ethics, and Western speaking skills. Companies are even willing to spend a premium to pay for people like you to do their work.

So, if you want a quick way to start making money, alleviating the stress of an economic meltdown, and saving the environment by completely cutting out the need to commute to work, get online and find out what services you can provide from your home.

Article writing, web design, marketing, admin work, and much more – just find out where the ceiling is in pay and charge more than others do. Don’t start off too high, but after you’ve built up a good reputation, ramp up your prices, deliver quality, and live your dream of being financially independent.

Welcome to the new millennium.

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Solar Greenhouse – Detached or Attached?

September 29th, 2009
Written by Nan Fischer

When I bought my house, it was an upside-down T, with the stem facing southwest. In last week’s post, I talked about installing sunny windows in the southeast and southwest walls for passive solar daytime heating. Now I was trying to decide how to further remodel for more solar gain.

floorplan before

I could have added a greenhouse on the southeast corner adjacent to the kitchen. This was very appealing as far as harvesting food and herbs. I’d also envisioned it as a sitting area, the breakfast nook, I suppose. But I enjoyed the new windows, and one was in my bedroom. I’d have missed that if it went into a greenhouse instead of to the moon, trees and coyotes.

The warmest winter sun hit the southwest corner, so I decided to add something there. I wasn’t sure what, but many pencils and eraser goobers later, I came up with this plan. Craig Simmons of Eco Builders fleshed out the details for me.

I was content enough with the heat produced through the new windows that I put these drawings away. I was also a working single mom of two young girls, and my time constraints prevented me from doing a lot of research into this project, never mind starting and completing it! I rolled up the drawings and propped them up on my desk.floorplan after

In 1997, I lived in an old block home on an irrigated acre of land in Ojo Caliente – almost the adobe dream home! I was more interested in the land than the house, and we cultivated half of it with beans, corn, tomatoes, squash, herbs and flowers that we sold to friends and co-workers.

Out near the garden, there was a small frame greenhouse with translucent polycarbonate walls. I checked the overnight temperature in early spring to see if I could start my seeds in it. It was too cold, since it was not heated or insulated. It was essentially a cold frame with an 8-foot ceiling and roof.

I started researching greenhouses and was disappointed to find all standard greenhouses need supplemental heat. This is usually generated with electric heaters for something as small as I was looking at. Aside from growing food to eat healthy, cost needs to be taken into consideration. Heating a non-insulated building of plastic walls with electricity was not cost-effective.

UdgarPujaWinterDome (2) I came across the Growing DomeR Greenhouse in a gardening magazine. It is still available, and I see them popping up across the landscape as food and energy costs rise. This is a passive solar, geodesic design with glazing on the south side and insulated solid walls on the north side. Planting beds and the concrete slab floor are the thermal mass, along with a pond. Do you remember the 55-gallon drums in the solar pods? Poisson knew water is one of the best materials for thermal mass. It must be sized properly so it can radiate heat effectively. The pond can hold fish or water plants, or boards can be placed across it to make more room for container plants.

The combination of masses in this greenhouse meant no supplemental heat. It was an environment that took care of itself – an ecosystem of sorts. I was sold on it immediately!

For a variety of reasons, though, I didn’t purchase one at the time, but this is the only greenhouse I recommend to anyone. It needs no extra heat, and the larger ones double as a small living space as well.

Ten years later, it is spring 2007, and I want to start my vegetables from seed. I am toying with the idea of buying a 12′ diameter dome greenhouse and putting it about 100′ from the house down the hill on my property. This is a sweet, quiet, sunny spot with completely different views and feel than the house. A few cottonwoods along the irrigation ditch give the space a cozy feel and summer shade. A passive solar greenhouse here would be an excellent get-away.

As I walked the land, I began to picture it. I imagined bringing in electricity and water, and building a path of crusher fines between the greenhouse, the house and the garden. I considered views, sun, neighbors and the heat the greenhouse would produce. I wanted to somehow move the extra heat back up to the house in winter. I thought of underground ductwork, insulation, fans….. My little greenhouse project was getting complicated, the kind a contractor would balk at.

In a split second, like the cartoon cliche of a light bulb going off over your head, my face went from bewilderment to wonderment and glee! I decided to build an attached passive solar greenhouse for heat and food. Remember the mention of this book??yanda.fisher.4153

I dusted off my original vision and the drawings Craig and I had worked on a few years before.

More info about:

Growing DomeR Greenhouse http://www.geodesic-greenhouse-kits.com/

Craig Simmons, Eco Builders http://www.ecobuilderstaos.com/

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As Winter Approaches: Minimizing Energy Costs

September 24th, 2009
Written by James Druman

As winter fast approaches, so does the cold, and with it rising energy usage, taking a toll on the environment and your wallet. aswinterapproachesAs a child, I used to love winters for those days at home when I could curl up on the couch with a book, a heavy blanket, and a hot cup of hot chocolate or tea. It didn?t bother me that the air was colder.

So steam heat up some tea or chocolate and start using these basic tips to keep energy consumption low when upgrading your home is not possible.

The Air – A lot of your energy consumption comes from heating costs. Install a programmable thermostat to maintain different temperatures when you are home and when you are away. When running heaters with automatic control, close doors leading to empty rooms. Open curtains facing the sun when it is shining to take advantage of passive solar heating, and at nighttime or on cloudy days keep them drawn to hold in the heat, especially if you don?t have energy-saving windows.

Also, keep your furnace nice and tuned. Replace or clean furnace filters once a month. You can save up to 5 percent on heating costs by keeping your furnace lubricated and stocked with a clean filter. Turn your central heating down by 1 degree and you can save up to 10 percent on heating costs. Replace weather stripping on windows and caulk drafty air leaks to make sure you?re keeping warm air in and cold air out.

The Water – I know…I know. The last thing anyone wants is give up hot showers when the air is chilly. Still, most people keep their water too hot. Keep your hot water heater set at 120 degrees. Many manufacturers set their heaters at 140 before sending them from the factory, but this is completely unnecessary in the average home. You can also insulate your hot water heater to keep the heat from dissipating. Click here for some tips.

Another great way to make your heated water usage as efficient as possible is to install a hot water heater timer so you it is only warm at the times of day when it is needed. It is crucial to most of us to have hot water flowing in the winter, but it is it really necessary 24 hours a day? Here are some great tips on insulating.

Your Body – When it comes to warmth in the home, you’re really worried about yourself. Make the most of your body heat and bundle up. Get comfortable when hanging around the house – no one is going to see you. Wear a beanie, nice warm pajamas, and wool socks. Keep some down comforters near the couch for when you’re watching television.

aswinterapproaches2Keep in mind that layering provides more warmth than thick clothing. The first time I went to Europe I found this out and made it through a month of backpacking in snowed-over German cities without a jacket. And where I?m from it doesn?t even snow.

Also, there is a common misconception that people sleep better when they crank up the heat, but research shows reasonably cool temperatures to be more conducive to healthy REM. If you?ve ever tossed and turned in sweaty blankets in the summer heat or the tropics, this makes perfect sense. Don?t go too extreme though?really cold temperatures can be disruptive?and keep your socks on because having cold feet will not make you sleep better.

Most importantly, stay active. When you?re home, work around the house. Get involved with the community when you?re not working. Play sports or join a club. When you?re constantly on the move, you don?t have time to get cold, and it is a lot healthier in many ways than sitting around all day in a heated home watching television.

By employing these simple tips, you can have a comfortable winter without cranking up the energy costs. You will find that you don?t even notice the differences in the water temperature, and even if you drastically reduce the air temperatures you will soon get used to it. Staying warm as the weather fouls doesn?t have to mean Neanderthals hunched around a fire in a small cave – just use your brain.

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