Archive for October, 2010

5 Energy Efficient Improvements To Make with FHA 203K Loans

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

green fiberHaving recently attended West Coast Green, we couldn’t help but thinking how this whole mortgage crises set the Green building movement back a few years. Unfortunately people will think about getting their loan mod or forbearance before they think about buying formaldehyde free cabinets or installing a water catchment system. The thing that many people don’t realize is that with the right property (and loan officer) buyers can use the FHA 203K loan to improve a home with Green elements.

In terms of Green building and Green interiors, people always get fixated on the energy savings aspects. True, much of Green building centers on energy (and savings) but don’t overlook the health benefits (like using zero VOC paint)

With the 203K loan in mind, here we listed 5 Green improvements that can improve a home, save money and increase the value:

1-    Go Energy Star – Energy Star appliances remain the way to go to not only cut down on an energy bill but it works as a plus for the planet as well. Some Energy Star appliances can chop 20% of a monthly energy bill and they often cost about the same as their inefficient cousins.

2-    Insulate baby Insulate – With winter looming, it only makes sense to either add or upgrade the walls and the attic. Many Green insulation options such as Bonded Logic to soy-based polyurethane can be found.

3-    Water Water Everywhere – Things like low flow showerheads (which should be a given these days) represents an inexpensive fix but think about low flow toilets, tankless hot water heaters, and for the more adventurous a water catchment system.

4-    Replace those Windows – Anyone that has ancient leaky windows might consider replacing them. The low–E, dual pane windows continue to hit the market at a fast clip. To us they represent a no-brainer as they not only preserve energy costs but they cut down on outside noise as well. Typical Eco-Star windows only cost about $15 more then their leaky brothers.

5-    Not to many people in the Bay Area have those old (pre 1992) inefficient furnaces that have a standing pilot light but consider sending it out to pasture (not the junkyard but some place like Building Resources) as they waste abut 35 percent of the fuel the use. Better to use the 203K money for a “condensing furnace” with annual efficiency of at least 90 percent. That number along with the possible 27 percent savings on a heating bill definitely sounds better to us.

GreenCycler – Simple Composter at West Coast Green 2010

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

compost item

It may be a few weeks after West Coast Green 10 but we’re still digging out from various events, items and gadgets. Many companies offered products with fancy displays and high tech visuals. One of the gadgets that caught our eye also caught this piece of celery. The simple GreenCycler comes by way of Denver and offers a new take on compost.
We like to think of it as a trash compactor for compost. It basically condenses the compost then stores it in a fruit fly proof container before a human takes the ultra condensed compost, hopefully into the their own compost bin then eventually their yard. We realize that this item wouldn’t be such a great benefit for people who toss their compost into the large green city compost containers but for those who have their own compost bin then GreenCycler which mulches the food to a smaller mass which works to speed up the compost process.

We could see this item being a good seller for restaurants that compost their scraps, schools that show kids how do compost as well as people with their own victory gardens. Is the GreenCycler the great Green invention of 2010? Not really but it shows some innovation and some thinking outside the box.

On Coal River Screens At SF Docfest 2010

Monday, October 11th, 2010

coal riverOne of the great aspects of the upcoming 9th San Francisco Documentary  Festival is not only the number of environmental based docu films but the fact that the eclectic selection comes from other regions that might not be on the general green radar. On Coal River would be one of those deeply environmental films that register emotionally strong notes by way of West Virginia.

A few of us viewed On Coal River which that takes place in the bucolic mountain area of Coal River Valley which immediately brings us into a David and Goliath struggle with the town residents confronting the notorious Massey Energy (the same Massey Energy that had the coal mining disaster on April 5, 2010).

Directors Francine Cavanaugh and Adams Wood take a back roads approach for the footage and back-story. The films smartly keys on some of the more active residents and colorful residents who have either been coal miners or know coal miners. The film makers go out of there way to show how coal mining (or rather mountaintop removal) continues to be a vital aspect to the economy (although they point out that the percentage of miners sits significantly lower that in past years) but many people believe that this business has also become a toxic and environmental liability for local residents.

The film focuses on several local community members who like to call themselves hillbillies but also educated hillbillies. In the forefront stands former miner Ed Wiley an activist/environmentalist who fights the good fight to get people to recognize that their local elementary school where their children attend should be recognized as an environmental hazard. The filmmakers capture the passionate and emotional Wiley spearheading protest efforts, leading educational meetings as well as him walking from West Virginia to Washington DC to raise awareness and get his point across.

On Coal River does a great service by not creating an overly polished film, and by sticking to capturing real emotion. The rough footage works well to demonstrate that people will fight for an environmental cause in states other than west coast states. It offers some insight into what the other people who support Massey (mostly people concerned with the local economic concerns if they fight Massey) but the film doesn’t get any official response from the energy giant. Did Massey officials decline to be interviewed for this film? Although the focus on the school offers a solid storyline and a hot topic, the film might have added some additional conclusion and information about the polluted water supply and toxic health conditions. What good is it to have a new school when the water supply and air remain poisoned for the whole town?

Despite some loose threads, it is great to see an emotionally charged environmental film where David wears a hillbilly hat.

ON COAL RIVER
Francine Cavanaugh, 81 min, USA
Fri 10/22 9:30p; Mon 10/25 7:15p

William McDonough at West Coast Green 10 – Deep Dive Part 2

Monday, October 4th, 2010

mcdonough wcg10Being so busy at West Coast Green 10 and in honor of ecoMonday we post part two of the William McDonough “deep dive”, and he does get deep. While most people throw around the term “carbon footprint” or simply use it in passing, McDonough talked about a skyscraper that he worked on 21 years ago, and calculated the amount of trees that would be need to be planted not only to offset the building of the skyscraper but to operate it as well. He convinced the person financing the building that the cost of the trees could be used in place of the marketing budget. Who needs a marketing budget when the story of the tree planting ends up as a front-page story on the Wall Street Journal? Green does pay.

Speaking of trees, we fully agree that people need to start thinking about the “rights of nature” and not just human right. We need think more in terms of abundance, not scarcity.

He mentioned things like the Endangered Species Act, which seems to be thinking in the wrong direction, with the reactive thinking. We need to start thinking proactively.

Our government and other governments and entities continually throw about numbers and plans to deal with our environmental impact. Think about the lofty goals for the UN, US government whatever about reducing carbon emissions by 20% (or whatever number) by 2020 that don’t illustrate “less bad” thinking. As McDonough states, “being less bad is not good”. And that is what our country continues to do or promote. We warn people in CA entering buildings (thanks to Prop 65) that the building contains various materials that cause cancer yet they remain legal and we continue to use them to construct buildings. Isn’t there something illogical about that thinking?

Seeing McDonough makes us (and the rest of the crowd) more motivated. We’re not here to be less bad, we’re here to be more good.”

Here’s a call to action to start being more good.

William McDonough (Mr. Sustainable) at West Coast Green 10

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

willaim mcdonoughThey normally refer to William McDonough as Mr. Sustainable but after watching his unplugged marathon presentation at the first day of West Coast Green 10, we might refer to him as Green John Wooden or the Eco Vince Lombardi. Why? Because like the two notable sports coach legends they built their winning teams based on sound foundations and fundamentals. Oh, and they were great motivators.

In a wold of sound bites and 60 second You Tube videos, how could anyone would not be impressed and awed but his powerfully fact filled, logical yet often funny almost 3 hour presentation? He began by showing his upbringings in Ireland where his first house designs incorporated solar collectors. Impressive how his progressive thought goes way back in the day. He jumped forward to tell a story about his first US based project in New York when he fought to get compost toilets approved for Hindu temple. (In some places, unless you live in national park,  it sometimes remains challenging to get approved to install compost toilets).

Then in 1984, McDonough started questioning manufacturers about what was in their wood, paint, carpets and Building Materials Supplier told him, “It’s proprietary. It’s legal. Go away.” So much for transparency.

And so much for the first part of this post. We’ll post additional highlights from McDonough who, lucky for the planet and us, has not gone away.

Photo by Darilyn  Kotzenberg

Spirited Solar Talk and Tour at West Coast Green 10

Friday, October 1st, 2010
Lot's of good natural light in the solar house

Lot's of good natural light in the solar house

On the first day of West Coast Green 10, only a handful of bloggers (like Zem Joaquin of Ecofabulous) showed up for an informal solar talk presented by SunPower and Luminalt but as they say, we respect the quality more than the quantity. We quality people brought about a spirited talk mentioning the progress of solar and how solar fits just a small green option in the big picture. We raised the question of considering that if someone who has only $50,000 in their pocket would they be better off installing a PV system or maybe a water catchment system, hydronics, some new eco-star appliances.

To be fair, Luminalt made a good case for just making a sales pitch. They work with GoSolarSF, which combines environmental justice and social justice for lower income neighborhoods like the Bayview here in SF. They made a point, which we have seen before, that be having a solar system that reduces their PG & E bill to sometimes nothing can transform the life of someone.

Now part of the discussion ended up being a show and tell of one of the local installation. Of course we would have preferred to see one of the homes in the Bayview but we settled for a posh house in Presidio Terrace. Honestly, the people who opened their house to us do live a mansion and the PG & E bill to them will hardly make a difference but they continue to make a conscious green effort. Besides the 3 7.5 KW solar system they repurposed much of their old furnishings to Building Resources (instead of the dump), they installed eco star appliances, used low VOC paint and drive hybrids. The couple mentioned that they will be purchasing fully electric cars soon.

Although not militantly green they do make an effort. We hope soon that we can say the same for everyone else.