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Archive for March, 2012

Off grid refrigeration

There’s a number of methods of refrigeration for the off gridder. Some are more efficient than others, so I’ll attempt to provide the options, and the pro’s and con’s of each.

Standard house fridge:

This is your typical electric fridge, found at any home improvement store. The Energy Star versions are very efficient, and typically consume about 1 kWh / day, depending on size. A 2000+ watt inverter is often necessary to handle start up loads. These fridges have are fairly noisy, compared to other types. These can cost several hundred dollars or more depending on size.

Absorption propane / electric RV fridge:

Propane fridges are very common in both the RV, and the off grid environment. Although they often can run on electric as well, they are quite inefficient in this mode, and if run on propane, require combustion of an expensive fossil fuel, but one that stores almost indefinitely. Many off gridders start with this method until enough solar can be installed to run a normal fridge. Quieter than a compressor fridge, some make virtually no noise (pilot light), others have a tic tic ignition and a whoosh of the flame. Air quality and humidity are a concern in unvented applications, in propane mode. These units are commonly in the $1000 range.

Solid State Peltier Fridge:

These small units really are more of a cooler, and are big energy hogs. They are typically electrically reversible, so can also be used to heat food. Very quiet, the fan is the only moving part. They run on dc, so no inverter necessary, just direct connection to battery. They typically cost about the same as a similarly sized dorm fridge, around $100 or so.


Earth Shelter Project Michigan, Week 2

Here is the video for the second week of construction on the Earth Shelter Project Michigan and here is what the builder Adam Bearup had to say about week two…by the time week two was filmed and we completed that week’s work, I knew that I had gotten myself into another one of those kinds of projects where you have to commit yourself 110%. At this point in the project, we were trying to beat the winter weather that was bearing down on us. We really thought that we were going to be able to shotcrete these domes by January. This weeks video shows you that the possibility of doing that was slipping through our grasp and that the crew was realizing just how large this project really was…

Earth Shelter-Week 2 from Adam Bearup on Vimeo.


A New View of Energy Efficiency:

How the “Hybrid Home Guy” Uses Andersen Windows to Change the Conversation about Green Building

Adam Bearup was finished. After years of pushing architectural envelopes to encourage more people to change the way they were living to more earth-friendly practices, the “Hybrid Home Guy” recognized his own energy inefficiency: rather than pursuing a truly revolutionary style of building that would not only earn attention but also have less impact on the planet, Bearup was chasing projects to help keep people employed.

Yet as he began planning a sabbatical to re-focus his energies, fate intervened – and wouldn’t take no for an answer. The project would become known as Earth Shelter Michigan; a grouping of five underground domes designed to function completely off the grid. Bearup said “no” four times. There were serious budget and location concerns. But when the owner came back a fifth time, he recognized this was the envelope he had to push and said yes to a career-changing project.

Earth Shelter is comprised of a campus of domes to help the family live as self-sustaining as possible. The five domes each have a purpose: a main house dome where the owners will live; a greenhouse to grow produce; a small “parents’ quarters” dome; another dome with walk-in freezer and pantry space; and a 72-foot-long barn dome that will include stalls for animals living there. The square footage adds up to 12,000 including the barn. Yet with a 48-volt battery bank that is charged by solar panels and a back up generator — and owners willing to carefully budget their energy consumption — the entire campus will run off the grid.

The domes are all underground — some spots measuring 35 feet below the surface – while one end is strategically positioned for passive solar exposure. But Bearup designed each dome to feel as though it’s sitting above ground. With a creative layout and use of paint colors, Bearup and his team helped natural light streaming through the windows on each façade reach back into the farthest points of the domes.

From the perspective of building science, windows are the most important part of a building’s shell for Bearup. Solving that issue in an environmentally friendly way was key.

“Windows have an incredibly important job to do at Earth Shelter, but it’s the same for any house: create, capture and contain energy,” said Bearup. “If we use the right windows and exterior envelope, we can keep each dome at Earth Shelter a few degrees within the 70 degree range without running the heating or cooling system.”

For Bearup and his team, Andersen Windows was his solution to the weather found in Northern Michigan: wind-driven rain, hot summers, bone chilling winter temperatures, all elements that can take their toll on a structure.

“We’ve used Andersen 400 Series in other houses, so based on our knowledge of its performance standards, along with blower door tests and various industry certifications, we knew these windows really performed,” Bearup explained. “The flashing components of the 400 Series really impressed us, and their construction is so tight, the homeowners won’t have to worry about maintenance and there’s virtually no chance of rot on the frame.”

A total of 26 windows and four outswing French doors were installed throughout the domes.

In addition to its building attributes, Bearup also ordered the windows to have a good degree of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) wood content. Andersen has FSC Chain of Custody certification, which Bearup said was also important in choosing the windows. He liked that Andersen heats and cools its manufacturing facility by burning its own wood byproducts in a steam generating facility and even is converting some of its trucking fleet to run on compressed natural gas, which lowers emissions.

“Not only did we want to put in a great product from a company that’s been around a long time, but we wanted to make sure the products aren’t destroying the environment through their creation,” said Bearup. “We were very impressed with how similar our thoughts on this were, and what Andersen does to really respect and nurture the wood they use and the environment they work within to only make it better.”

As work wraps up on Earth Shelter, Bearup can see how his views of environmental homebuilding have changed for the better. And that’s started conversations with others who want to create their own Earth Shelters and, Bearup hopes, shift their views of a home’s 21st century utility.

“Houses can function as part of a larger system that works together,” Bearup explained. “It complements a healthy lifestyle in the way the home breathes and lives. Earth Shelter is a living, breathing entity. And what I hope to show everyone out there is how – rather than being a repository of things – a home can encourage you to live. To let in the things we need to help us grow and thrive, like the light shining through the windows, to be aware of what’s around you. If it helps introduce a mindfulness that I believe is missing among so many homes today, then we have changed the world for the better.”


Battery Desulphator Technology

We have posted before about how we prevent our expensive battery banks from failing prematurely, and many times getting much better than advertised life and performance. Tricks include frequent water checks, proper charging and discharging, keeping the batteries cool, and preventing sulfation. This saves money, and helps protect the environment.

Desulphators have the following benefits:

Ensures peak battery performance by eliminating the main cause of lead-acid battery problems and failure — sulfation buildup on the battery plates.

Works on all lead-acid batteries including gel cell, antimony, hybrid, calcium plate designs and absorbed glass mat.

Increases battery life span up to three times longer.

Provides greater charge acceptance so batteries recharge faster and with better quality

Helps protect the environment.

Pulsetech Powerpulse 12 Volt


Modular Construction and Green Building Design Principles by Triumph Modular

Forget any preconceived notions you may have had about modular buildings…

President Obama, in his recent address to college students in Richmond, VA, was quoted as saying the following about Modular Classrooms: “We shouldn’t have people teaching in trailers. We shouldn’t have kids learning in trailers.” Mr. Obama, sadly for the commercial modular building industry, and those in the business of providing re-locatable school spaces, has a perception of the word “modular” that many people share, is that of inferior spaces, lacking in efficient, or sustainable design principles.

What we are learning however, is that there has been a dramatic shift in the quality and type of building structures being used for temporary spaces, and that old perception is not warranted in many cases. There are projects that are literally re defining the very word “Modular”, and there is enough data to support the fact that President Obama’s first impression is as wrong as the stigma itself.

Many architects, engineers, manufacturers of modular buildings, and modular building contractors, (also referred to as dealers or manufacturers’ reps) are designing and building some very efficient, and truly “green” buildings. It’s not that good ol’ trailers are no longer being used, but it is the fact that there are just as many beautiful and energy efficient movable buildings replacing the old ones.

Modular building companies are incorporating green building design principles into their portable and temporary classroom offerings, child care buildings, healthcare facilities, and green office spaces for companies that are serious about sustainable design and overall building efficiency.

For instance, Triumph Modular has installed a child care building for temporary use, for a leading university in Cambridge Massachusett. This particular project has won an award by the USGB Massachusetts chapter.

More recently, one of their school buildings installed at Newman Elementary School in Needham Massachusetts, last summer, and scheduled to be removed right before September of this year, had high efficiency Lennox roof top HVAC units, with the highest possible EER (Energy Efficiency Rating) of 17.

A look at the actual construction drawings reveal that these particular modular classrooms are state-of-the-art learning facilities. The buildings met the Mass Stretch Energy code when built. In summary, Triumph’s green modular school buildings operate 20% more efficiently, in terms of heating and cooling energy expenditures, than a typical code compliant building.

Green Building Design Elements Implemented with Needham Classrooms

  • The insulation values and air barriers in the assemblies are far superior to typical portables and exceed base code requirements again by 20%.
  • The windows are double insulated glass which mitigates unwanted heat less. The windows are large and spacious, operable at the center pane, and made of low emissivity glass maximizing the use of natural daylight while being sensitive to comfort and efficiency.
  • Window surfaces are a break in the thermal envelope of a building structure and thus attention to quality windows is a basic but yet very important ingredient in “green building design”.

Triumph Modular has provided us with actual statements from parents, teachers and administrators at the Newman Elementary School about these modular classrooms:

“A huge thank-you from the Newman Elementary school staff to everyone involved. We have been so impressed with how well this team has worked together to create this beautiful space for our students!! Amazing work!” – Jessica Peterson, Principal

“My son is a fifth grader at Newman Elementary School. We went to meet our new teacher, and were surprised at how the modular buildings turned out – in a good way! The modular classrooms are spacious, bright, and exceeded my expectations. The parents and teachers expressed how happy they were with the new space. It is definitely a job well done.” – Parent

Suffice to say, after getting facts straight, my perception of the word Modular may have changed. Maybe someone should call President Obama! 🙂 Maybe, we should leave that up to the people in the Modular Classroom industry.

Triumph Modular, a Littleton, Mass-based company, was selected to help the Newman School with its temporary classrooms. In less than three months, Triumph provided a 35,000 square foot complex with 30 classrooms, administration offices and three multi-stall restrooms, on time and on a budget.

Triumph Modular has worked with learning institutions throughout New England including: Harvard, MIT, Tufts, Colby College, The Carroll School, and in each case they have instituted green design principles into their projects.

The building at Colby College won an award in 2006 as Winner International for Green Classroom Design under 2000 square feet at Modular Building Institute –

Modular Construction for permanent buildings, a process in short defined by using wholly finished off site constructed modules delivered and set up on site, has been receiving more attention as it lines up naturally with green design and building principles. A report published by the Modular Building Institute,, entitled LEED Rating System and Modular Buildings, published 2010, by Architect Robert Kobel, analyzes modular
construction process under the LEED Rating system

Also, recently published by McGraw Hill Publishing a report on the benefits of modular construction. Prefabrication and modularization is gaining momentum and growth in the A.E.C community around the country given the contribution it makes to schedule savings, cost and waste reduction.


The Hybrid Home Guy, and His Earth Sheltered Home

Today we will be talking with Adam Bearup, the “Hybrid Home Guy”, about his off grid earth sheltered home, and his other energy efficient homes he has built. He’s an interesting guy, and has been pushing the envelope in energy efficiency, and code acceptance for new ideas. Here are some pictures of his latest project, and his blog, but stay tuned for the interview we will post later after we talk with him and find out more about where he comes from, and where he is going!

Recording of Call to Adam

Earth Shelter Michigan – Week 1 from Adam Bearup on Vimeo.


Interesting Facts About Farm Water Conservation

A tremendous amount of water is used globally for agriculture. It’s estimated the world’s population by 2050 will be around 9 billion, and if we do not reduce our water usage, there won’t be enough fresh water to go around. Alternative methods of agriculture (aquaponics for instance), composting toilets, and low flow fixtures can all help! (see for ideas)

Infographic by Seametrics, a manufacturer of water flow meter technology that measures and conserves water.


Benefits of Green Metal Roofing

How would you like to have an environmentally friendly roof that provides unbeatable protection for your home, a long service life with virtually no maintenance, and offers the biggest long term return on your investment? A metal roofing system will give you all that and more. As a homeowner, you may not be thinking of metal roofing as a viable option, since conventional roofing systems such as asphalt shingle are still the easy, cheap and most common choice. However, if you are interested in replacing your old roof, or need a roof for a newly constructed house, installing a metal roof will give you the most benefits. Moreover, if you are a forward thinking proponent of green building, energy efficiency, and green living, then Eco-friendly metal roofing should be your material of choice.

Eco-Friendly and Energy Efficient Metal Roof

Consider the following benefits of metal roofing:

1. Superior protection for your home

No matter what climate you live in, there are adverse natural elements such as snow, hail, rain, wind and fire that put your house at risk. A metal roof will keep your house safe in all weather conditions.

-A metal roof sheds snow and ice, preventing the formation of ice dams which are the biggest cause of leaks in conventional roofs. If you live on the east coast are tired of your roof constantly needing repair after winter snow storms, a metal roof will save you the trouble and the money of constant repairs.

-A metal roof is highly resistant to hail damage. In the hail belt regions of the US, insurance commissions grant metal roofing materials the highest rating on impact resistance to hail.

-A metal roof is able to withstand winds of up 110 miles per hour and higher, which means that during hurricane season it will stay in tact, when other roofing systems will be blown off. If you live in hurricane prone states such as Taxes, Florida and Louisiana, investing in a metal roof is the best thing you can do for your house.

– A metal roof will not rot or crack, providing you with excellent corrosion protection.

– A metal roof will not catch of fire. This has the dual benefit of not having to spend money to buy a new roof in case of fire, and also reduced your home insurance premiums. A steel roof is the most fire safe roof. It gets the highest rating and is classified as a noncombustible roofing material.

2. Long service life and low maintenance

-If you have a metal roof that was properly installed, its service life is typically 2-3 times longer than of other conventional roofing systems, such as asphalt shingles.

-A metal roof is very durable and withstands most weather elements, climate change and does not leak. This means that you will have a really easy time maintaining it. A metal roof will save you the hassle and stress associated with roof repair such as disruptions to family life, noise, debris, preparation and clean up.

3. Financial Savings

-The superior durability and longevity of a metal roof directly translates into major financial savings. Once you have a metal roof, you will not need to spend money on routine roof repairs whether you do them yourself or pay even more and hire a professional roofing contractor. Moreover, you will be saving money by not having to replace any of your personal items and doing interior repairs that would result from a leaking roof.

-A metal roof is a wise financial investment that ultimately pays for itself. Unlike a conventional roof, a metal roof upraises the value of your house and increases curb appeal. For example, an asphalt shingles roof that is more than 10 years old actually decreases the value of your house because of the major repair issues associated with it. On the contrary, if you ever sell your house outfitted with a metal roof, you will get most of the cost of the roof back through the resale value, as well as attract many more prospective buyers.

– You can also save money by getting green building tax credits that metal roofs qualify for as a green roofing material.

– A metal roof will literally be the last roof you will ever buy, saving yourself thousands of dollars in roof replacement costs. To compare, a well-maintained asphalt shingles roof still needs to be replaced every 17 years.

4. Energy Savings

-By installing a metal roof you will enjoy considerable energy savings since a metal roof reflects 90% of solar radiant heat, keeping your house cool. This means that a metal roof will reduce your cooling costs will be reduced by about 40%. If you live in areas that are hot year round, having a metal roof can save you a lot of money.

– If you live in a cold climate, a metal roof will make your house warmer in the winter by reflecting inside heat from the underside of the roof back into the house. This will significantly reduce your heating costs in the winter.

5. An environmentally friendly, green choice.

– A metal roof can be outfitted with solar panels, which will allow you to further decrease your reliance on conventional energy sources.

– A metal roof is 100% recyclable. This means that after its long service life it will not be disposed into our landfills, which are already overflowing with millions of tons of none-recyclable roofing materials.

– A metal roof contains at least 25 % recycled content, which means that buying a metal roof is a green choice that supports our environment.

– Since a metal roof is light weight, it can be easily installed over your old roof, eliminating the need to take it the landfill.

– A metal roof helps to reduce the “urban heat island” effect, thereby reducing the demand on utilities for electricity, most of which is generated by the burning of fossil fuels. This in turn contributes to reduced green house gas emissions and cleaner air.


Solar Thermal Use “Heats Up” in Colder Climes

Photo courtesy of DOE/NREL & Craig Christensen

New York, NY (March 3, 2012) – Many people associate solar energy with hot regions like Arizona and Southern California. However, solar thermal water heating (SWH) can be used by families and firms in colder areas, such as Wisconsin and Oregon. In fact, Germany is a solar thermal market leader in Europe.

“Many people assume that SWH is not an option for them because they do not live near a scorching desert or by a sun-drenched beach,” said Nigel Cotton, OEM Team Leader of the International Copper Association (ICA) and founder of, a web community for solar thermal professionals.

“However, in a solar thermal system, the energy of the sun is used to heat water in a ‘holding tank’. This warmed water is circulated to provide hot water throughout the system,” Cotton explained. “While SWH may not be able to provide for all hot water needs in colder climes, it can provide significant savings.”

In Colorado, home owners are already taking advantage of SWH. According to the Colorado based Center for Resource Conservation, a solar thermal heating system for domestic hot water use can be a long-term cost saving addition for a home. They estimate that when replacing an electric system, SWH can save a household $625 annually. This kind of long-term investment in solar thermal also can pay off for business operations.

A laundromat in Toronto, Canada installed a SWH system that is saving money on energy costs. According to the Canadian Solar Industries Association, the solar thermal system “is expected to pay back its investment in less than ten years if energy prices remain stable, but will achieve faster payback as energy prices rise”.

“Solar thermal technology is able to capture the energy of the sun and transfer it into heat in many regions around the globe,” says Baerbel Epp, editor of the newsletter. “It is helpful for families and businesses to explore the different ways of using the free-of-charge energy from the sun no matter where they live.”


Organic Or Natural? Can you trust the labels?

The Organic Movement started out well. Get away from chemical foods (and body care products), and only deliver all natural chemical free foods that are healthier and safer. Thanks to government regulations that spell out how much chemical and biological contamination is allowed and still qualify for the organic symbol, Big Agriculture & Bio Tech has figured out how to game the system. And that still does not protect you from salmonella outbreaks, E. coli, etc.

A lot of small producers who want to provide healthy food, can’t or won’t tie themselves to the government organic program, so they call their products “all natural” or “chemical free”, but Big Agriculture has figured out that game as well, and use those labels to pump even more crap into our systems, including GMO, chemicals, and pseudo-food (parts is parts).

The take-away from this is don’t hide behind labels. Know where your food comes from, know what you are eating, and best of all, grow as much of your own as you can. Your body will thank you.

For more info, read Exposing the Myth of So-Called Natural Foods