Dec 31, 2010

Energy Related Charts of The Year 2010

A picture says a thousand words. In this post you will find many charts and graphs conveying important points from the world of energy 2010. Click header and get a wealth of factual charts... Monte

Dec 28, 2010

Build an Easy Drill Press Guide

This is a short video about how to made a Drill Press guide for a work shop. It consists of a BASE PLATE, A FENCE that pivots on a quarter inch bolt, and a STOP BLOCK to make uniform holes. It is very easy to make.

Dec 21, 2010

Don't Miss The Boat On Biochar!

The EcoTechnologies Group, having become smitten with the powerful promise of biochar, the pyrolysis technologies that create it and its potentials for sustainable agriculture, traveled to Northern Brazil to see the original biochar, called Terra Preta, in action. The journey would become more than expected, and what I would see would convince me of those professed potentials.

A DV camera first hand experience.

We have all read and heard about Terra Preta; now we have a great video experience seeing it... Monte

Dec 16, 2010

Hines Farm - Moxon's Double-screw Vise

Inspired by Christopher Schwarz, Woodworking Magazine articles on building Moxon's Double-screw Vise (Joseph Moxon's Double-screw Vise May 25, 2010 and Declaring Victory with the Double-screw Vise), I just built my own from Oak on the Hines Farm. I utilized, a Beall threader to make 1-1/2" vise screws. This portable vise should come in handy for our woodworking projects. Vise is pictured holding a 3 inch diameter dowel in it's jaws.

Front View

Back View

Dec 15, 2010

Beautiful Quartersawn White and Red Oak Boards

Quartersawn white and red oak are my favorite woods. The vertical lines on the end grain in the photo above are the growth rings, and the thin, almost horizontal lines are the medullary rays that radiate from the center of the tree out to the edge. When a ray crosses the surface of a board, the flaked figure appears. Quartersawn logs are more stable and are less likely to shrink, expand, and warp.

Quarter-sawing maximizes the beauty of Medullary Rays and Growth Rings of White and Red Oak. Above is an animation of the quarter-sawing process and the beautiful wood grain characteristics of the quartered and rift boards that result.


Dec 14, 2010

Our Reliance on Plants is Increasing

Our Reliance on Plants is Increasing
Color bar for Our Reliance on Plants is Increasingdownload large image (3 MB, JPEG) acquired 2005
download GeoTIFF file (115 MB, TIFF)
Take a look around you: Chances are good that you’re touching at least one thing that came from a plant. We build our homes, furniture, and other structures from wood products; we use plants like cotton and flax (linen) to make cloth for clothing, towels, bedding, and more; we eat a variety of plants and cook with wood; some of our vehicles run on biofuels; and we rely on animals that eat plants for food, transportation (in some places), and other products like wool and leather. Much of what we use every day comes from plants, and new research led by Marc Imhoff at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is showing that our reliance on plants is increasing.

Between 1995 and 2005, the global demand for plant matter went up about five percent. In 1995, we required 20.3 percent of the plant material Earth currently produces (the photosynthetic capacity of the land). By 2005, that number increased to 25.6 percent both because each person is using more plant products and because there are more of us. Imhoff and his team reached these conclusions by comparing the rate at which people require plant products, in terms of carbon, to the rate that the Earth can produce plant carbon.

This map shows the comparison for 2005. The colors represent the ratio between the amount of carbon people require and the amount of carbon Earth produced. At the top of the scale (dark red), the population needs at least ten times more plants than are grown locally. At the lower end of the scale (dark green), the land produces more vegetation that the local population needs. Gray areas are places where people in the area use less than 10 percent of the vegetation growing there. In the center of the scale (pale yellow) people use most of the vegetation.

In general, the greatest use of plant products occurs in highly populated regions, like Asia and large cities, and places that can not produce enough to support the population’s requirements for plants, such as the African Sahel. Because these places use everything they grow and still need vegetation from elsewhere, they are very vulnerable to changes in climate that would reduce production and disruption in transportation that would make it more difficult to bring food and other plant products from other places.

The map shows the pressure on local ecosystems, but not per capita use. For example, in the United States, each person uses 5.94 metric tons of carbon (vegetation) per year, while in South-central Asia, people use 1.23 metric tons per year. However, the United States produces more than it requires, so the ratio between usage and vegetation is low. South-central Asia, on the other hand, uses less per person, but it has a high population that collectively require more carbon than the land produces, and so must import products from other regions.

“What we’re realizing is the biosphere doesn’t care whether you have a lot of people consuming a little or a few people consuming a lot. It’s the total amount or rate relative to what can be produced that is important,” says Imhoff. “Right now, humans are increasing both population and per capita consumption.” For this reason, it is important to monitor vegetation and land use on a global scale.

The vegetation measurements used to produce the map (net primary productivity) are a measure of the amount of carbon plants convert into plant matter (biomass) as recorded by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites. (Earlier research from 1995 used measurements from another sensor, AVHRR.)

The researchers measured the requirement for plant products by using statistics from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, which reports how much food, livestock, and wood products each country produces, imports, and exports. They calculated usage by first determining what each country produces and imports and then subtracting exports. They calculated the amount of plant material (carbon) required to support such usage by using models that translate between final products, like flour, beef, or paper, and the amount of plant material required to produce the products. Finally, they divided by the population of the country to figure out how many plant products each person in the country uses on average. In the map, the requirement for plant products is mapped by population distribution.

When comparing carbon requirements and production for 2005 to earlier figures from 1995, Imhoff found that people were using about five percent more of Earth’s vegetation in 2005. “People worry about that percentage. If, in future scenarios, it’s going to go up to something like 50 percent, we’re looking at a very high demand for land management at all levels on the landscape. We would be heading toward a place where the planet would be very carefully managed, from end to end.”

To see an interview with Dr. Imhoff and to read more about this work, see How hard are we pushing the land? on the NASA web site.

Imhoff, M., Bounoua, L., and Zhang, P. (2010, December 15). Satellite supported estimates of human rate of NPP carbon use on land: Challenges ahead (pdf). Presented at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union.
Lynch, P. (2010, December 14). How hard are we pushing the land? NASA. Accessed December 14, 2010.
NASA image provided courtesy of Trent Schindler, Scientific Visualization Studio, using data provided by Marc Imhoff (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center). Caption by Holli Riebeek.

Terra - MODIS

Woodworking for engineers is a wonderful site for woodworkers. Lots of great ideas and ingenious plans for tools. Matthias Wandel is a 2nd generation woodworker who is also an engineer. He shares his plans and projects. I especially like his pages on his father's beginnings  and his ideas, equipment, ..., and works (My dad's sawmill & My dad's woodworking workshop). If you are interested in woodworking, get ready to spend some time on this great site! ... Monte

Dec 6, 2010

Slow Money: Reconnecting the Economy to Soil, Biodiversity and Food Quality - Nature and Community - MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Slow Money
Peak Soil
By Woody Tasch

The following is an excerpt from Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered by Woody Tasch (Chelsea Green, 2008). Tasch presents an essential new strategy for investing in local food systems, and introduces a group of fiduciary activists who are exploring what should replace the outdated concepts of industrial finance and industrial agriculture. This excerpt is from the prologue.

Civilization is a big idea. So is the idea that as soil goes, so goes civilization. So is the idea that as money goes, so goes the soil. We don’t need any more big ideas.

We need small ideas. Beautiful ideas. Beautiful because they lead to a large number of beautiful, small actions — the kind alluded to by Wendell Berry: “Soil is not usually lost in slabs or heaps of magnificent tonnage. It is lost a little at a time over millions of acres by careless acts of millions of people. It cannot be solved by heroic feats of gigantic technology, but only by millions of small acts and restraints.”

There is another kind of erosion at work, just as surely, here: erosion of social capital, erosion of community, erosion of an understanding of our place in the scheme of things.

Peak Soil

It takes roughly a millennium to build an inch or two of soil. It takes less than 40 years, on average, to strip an inch of soil by farming in ways that are more focused on current yield than on sustaining fertility. A third of America’s topsoil has eroded since 1776. In the 1970s, the United States lost 4 billion tons of soil per year. Roughly a third of all farmland in the world has been degraded since World War II, with annual soil erosion worldwide equivalent to the loss of 12 million hectares of arable land, or 1 percent of total arable land. About a third of China’s 130 million hectares of farmland is seriously eroded, and Chinese crop yields fell by more than 10 percent from 1999 to 2003, despite increasing application of synthetic fertilizers.

Awareness of the centrality of soil health is nothing new. Aristotle laid the foundation for the humus theory of plant nutrition, and his student, Theophrastus, is often called “the father of botany.” The homo of Homo sapiens is derived from the Latin, humus, for living soil. Leonardo da Vinci observed, “We know more about the movement of the celestial bodies than about the soil underfoot.” Darwin spent the last years of his life studying the role of earthworms in soil fertility. After World War I, Sir Albert Howard, perhaps the father of 20th-century organic agriculture, heralded the problems that would follow the manufacture of synthetic fertilizers by munitions factories looking for new postwar markets for nitrates: Fertilizers offered farmers boosts in yield but had deleterious effects on the health of microorganisms and the processes of growth and decay that are vital to the preservation of humus. In the first decade of the 21st century, despite beyond-explosive growth in our knowledge of everything from atomic energy to galactic motion, our ignorance with respect to life teeming in the soil remains humbling: It is estimated that in a gram of soil, there are billions of single-celled organisms and millions more multicelled ones, as well as more than 4,000 species, most of them not yet named or studied by scientists.

Yet we have slipped during the past half century — as if pulled by the gravitational or centripetal forces of population growth, technological innovation, consumerism and free markets— into a food system that treats the soil as if it were nothing more than a medium for holding plant roots so that they can be force-fed a chemical diet.

We have become dependent on technology and synthetic inputs, subsidized by what was, until very recently, cheap oil, which facilitated not only the production of nitrogen fertilizer, but also the management of large-scale, mechanized farms and the energy-intensive system of processing and long-range transportation necessary to bring agricultural products to distant markets. Agriculture accounts for more than 20 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions— all the more shocking when one realizes that recent science indicates that fertile soil is a potent carbon sink, holding the potential to play a significant role in remediating global warming.

The problems of our food and agricultural systems go beyond Peak Oil and Peak Soil, however. Aquifer depletion, biodiversity decline, widespread use of pesticides and other toxics, industrial feedlots that pose health and waste-management problems, nutrition and food safety challenges that attend centralized processing, the decline of rural economies, price volatility in global commodities markets: It is quite a litany, surprising in its breadth and even more surprising in the degree of its invisibility when seen through the lens of the modern economy.

A Flawed System

You wouldn’t use a 747 to go to the corner store for a quart of milk. You wouldn’t use a backhoe to plant a garlic bulb. You wouldn’t use a factory to raise a pig. You wouldn’t spray poison on your food. You wouldn’t trade fresh food from family farms down the road for irradiated or contaminated or chemical-laden or weeks-old food from industrial farms halfway around the world. You wouldn’t create financial incentives for farms to become so large that they need GPS technology to apply chemical inputs with quasi-military precision. You wouldn’t design a system that gets only 9 cents of every food dollar to the farmer. You wouldn’t allow topsoil to wash down the Mississippi River, replete with pesticides and fertilizer residues, creating a dead zone the size of Rhode Island in the Gulf of Mexico. You wouldn’t use 57 calories of petro-energy to produce one calorie of food energy.

No, no one ever sat down and designed such a system. Yet it is precisely such a technology-heavy, extractive, intermediation-laden food system that we now need to remediate and reform.

This is the system that has evolved in the wake of global capital markets and the investors who use them, much as industrial farmers use their land—as a medium into which to pour capital in order to harvest maximum yield.

Slow Money

In August 2007, at the 25th Anniversary Gala for the Rocky Mountain Institute, eminent panelists tried to answer questions posed by moderator Thomas Friedman: “If this is a win-win-win, if these new technologies and design solutions are so elegant and so profitable and so clean, what is holding them back? Where is the resistance to these innovations coming from?” Unexpectedly, because this was not a finance conference, the group discussion zeroed in on CEO compensation, short-term financial incentives, and the structure of capital markets.

Inventor Dean Kamen opined from the dais: “Venture capitalists have great enthusiasm but short attention spans. We are stuck in a 19th-century way of thinking that leads to large-scale, centralized production and power generation. We don’t have the mindset to really invest for the long-term in small-scale solutions that would improve life for billions of people.”

Such questions and observations lead to the premise for a new kind of financial intermediation, going by the improbable name of “slow money.”

That premise is this: The problems we face with respect to soil fertility, biodiversity, food quality and local economies are not primarily problems of technology. They are problems of finance. In a financial system organized to optimize the efficient use of capital, we should not be surprised to end up with cheapened food, millions of acres of GMO corn, billions of food miles, dying Main Streets, kids who think food comes from supermarkets, and obesity epidemics side by side with persistent hunger.

Speed is a big part of the problem. We are extracting generations’ worth of vitality from our land and our communities. We are acting as if the biological and the agrarian can be indefinitely subjugated to the technological and the industrial without significant consequence. We are, as the colloquial saying puts it, beginning to believe our own bullshit.

Which reminds me of a story.

About 15 years ago, I was turning a horse stall into my office. My first project was to shovel out the dried horse manure and shovel in sand, in advance of the construction of a wooden floor.

One day, reflecting on the transition from equine to intellectual, I realized, “How appropriate: from horseshit to bullshit.”

No discussion of the disconnect between capital markets and the land is complete without at least one reference to manure.

Let’s throw in a few bees and pigs, too:

“The story of colony collapse disorder and the story of drug-resistant staph are also the same story: Both are parables about the precariousness of monocultures. Whenever we try to rearrange natural systems along the lines of a machine or a factory, whether by raising too many pigs in one place or too many almond trees, whatever we may gain in industrial efficiency, we sacrifice in biological resilience. The question is not whether systems this brittle will break down, but when and how, and whether when they do, we’ll be prepared to treat the whole idea of sustainability as something more than a nice word.” — Michael Pollan

A Hot Potato

There is such a thing as money that is too fast.

Money that is too fast is money that has become so detached from people, place, and the activities that it is financing that not even the experts understand it fully. Money that is too fast makes it impossible to say whether the world economy is going through a correction in the credit markets, triggered by the subprime mortgage crisis, or whether we are teetering on the edge of something much deeper and more challenging, tied to petrodollars, derivatives, hedge funds, futures, arbitrage and a byzantine hyper-securitized system of intermediation that no quant, no program trader, no speculator, no investment bank CEO, can any longer fully understand or manage. Just as no one can say precisely where the meat in a hamburger comes from (it may contain meat from as many as hundreds of animals), no one can say where the money in this or that security has come from, where it is going, what is behind it, whether — if it were to be “stopped” and, like a hot potato, held by someone for more than a few instants — it represents any intrinsic or real value. Money that is too fast creates an environment in which, when questioned by the press about the outcome of the credit crisis, former treasury secretary Robert Rubin can only respond, “No one knows.”

This kind of befuddlement is what arises when the relationships among capital, community and bioregion are broken:

“There is an appropriate velocity for water set by geology, soils, vegetation and ecological relationships in a given landscape. There is an appropriate velocity for money that corresponds to long-term needs of communities rooted in particular places and to the necessity of preserving ecological capital. There is an appropriate velocity for information, set by the assimilative capacity of the mind and by the collective learning rate of communities and entire societies. Having exceeded the speed limits, we are vulnerable to ecological degradation, economic arrangements that are unjust and unsustainable, and, in the face of great and complex problems, to befuddlement that comes with information overload.” — David Orr

As long as money accelerates around the planet, divorced from where we live, our befuddlement will continue. As long as the way we invest is divorced from how we live and how we consume, our befuddlement will worsen. As long as the way we invest uproots companies, putting them in the hands of a broad, shallow pool of absentee shareholders whose primary goal is the endless growth of their financial capital, our befuddlement at the depletion of our social and natural capital will only deepen.

Read more:

Nov 26, 2010

Global Village Construction Set in 2 Minutes on Vimeo

Open Source Ecology (OSE) and the Global Village Construction Set (GVCS), also known as the Resilient Community Construction Set. We are also going on OSE Tour USA in 2011. ... Innovative bunch of guys ... keep up the great work! Monte

Nov 21, 2010

World Energy Outlook Homepage

The 2010 edition of the World Energy Outlook (WEO) was released on 9 November and it provides updated projections of energy demand, production, trade and investment, fuel by fuel and region by region to 2035. It includes, for the first time, a new scenario that anticipates future actions by governments to meet the commitments they have made to tackle climate change and growing energy insecurity. WEO-2010 also puts the spotlight on several topical issues, including what more must be done and spent post-Copenhagen to limit the global temperature increase to 2°C and how these actions would impact oil markets; how emerging economies – led by China and India – will increasingly shape the global energy landscape; the costs and benefits of increasing renewable energy, the outlook for Caspian energy markets and their implications for global energy supply, the future role for unconventional oil and the crucial importance of energy in achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals. Table of Contents

See related material:

International Energy Agency: Peak Oil Has Already Passed | Fast Company


oil jackpump
The imminent arrival of peak oil, or the point in time when the maximum rate of worldwide petroleum extraction has been reached and enters into a continuous decline, has long been regarded as a fringe theory. As oil prices have crept up in recent years, the concept has gradually entered the mainstream--and now the International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organization that offers energy analysis to 28 countries, has announced that peak oil passed us by in 2006. There is nowhere for our oil supply to go but down. So what do we do?
The IEA, which has been accused in the past of downplaying the risks of peak oil, explained in the 2010 edition of the annual World Energy Outlook (WEO) that production of conventional crude oil peaked in 2006 with a production rate of 70 million barrels each day. That doesn't mean crude oil will disappear entirely. The IEA explains:
Globally, fossil fuels remain dominant over the Outlook period in the New Policies Scenario, though their share of the overall energy mix falls in favour of renewable energy sources and nuclear power. Oil nonetheless remains the leading fuel in the energy mix by 2035, followed by coal. Of the three fossil fuels, gas consumption grows most rapidly, its share of total energy use almost reaching that of coal.
Oil prices will, according to the IEA, creep up to $135 per barrel by 2035, but oil supply will remain steady for the next 25 years thanks to new oil field discoveries. The bad news is, of course, that CO2 emissions will continue to rise as long as long as oil and coal are readily available--a fact that the IEA readily acknowledges in its report.
If our economy is to survive, it will be thanks to a drastically increased use of renewables, a large infrastructure for alternative energy (and pedal-powered) vehicles--and the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies. Is there reason to be hopeful? We suggest taking a lookat how many hybrid and electric vehicles are featured at this week's L.A. Auto Show. It's a heartening display.

Nov 17, 2010

The Biochar Solution

The Biochar Solution by Albert Bates“Reads like a detective story but marked by impressive scholarship. New historical evidence that climate is remarkably responsive to human impacts had me gripping the edge of my seat.” —The Permaculture Activist

A Message from Author Albert Bates:

Our choice as a global civilization is to stay with the path we are on — one that turns forest and farm to salty deserts — or to try a different path — one that was widely practiced in nearly half the world, and then tragically lost. If our fates can realign, we might get back to where we once belonged.

From excavations on the banks of the Amazon river, clearings of the savanna/gallery forests in the Upper Xingu, and ethnographic studies of Mesoamerican milpas, science has now re-traced the path of the second great agriculture, and, to its astonishment, found it more sustainable and productive that what we are currently pursuing.

While conventional agriculture leads to deserts, blowing parched dirt across the globe and melting ice caps, this other, older style, brings fertile soils, plant and animal diversity, and birdsong. While the agriculture we use has been shifting Earth’s carbon balance from soil and living vegetation to atmosphere and ocean, the agriculture that was nearly lost moves carbon from sky to soil and crops.

The needed shift, once embarked upon, can be profound and immediate. We could once more become a garden planet, with deep black earths and forests of fruit and nuts where deserts now stand. We can heal our atmosphere and oceans.

Come along on this journey of rediscovery with The Biochar Solution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change.

What Is the Biochar Solution?

Civilization as we know it is at a crossroads. For the past 10,000 years, we have turned a growing understanding of physics, chemistry and biology to our advantage in producing more energy and more food and as a consequence have produced exponential population surges, resource depletion, ocean acidification, desertification and climate change.

The path we are following began with long-ago discoveries in agriculture, but it divided into two branches, about 8,000 years ago. The branch we have been following for the most part is conventional farming – irrigation, tilling the soil, and removing weeds and pests. That branch has degraded soil carbon levels by as much as 80 percent in most of the world’s breadbaskets, sending all that carbon skyward with each pass of the plow.

The other branch disappeared from our view some 500 years ago, although archaeologists are starting to pick up its trail now. At one time it achieved success as great as the agriculture that we know, producing exponential population surges and great cities, but all that was lost in a fluke historical event borne of a single genetic quirk.

It vanished when European and Asian diseases arrived in the Americas.

From excavations on the banks of the Amazon river, clearings of the savanna/gallery forests in the Upper Xingu, and ethnographic studies of Mesoamerican milpas, science has now re-traced the path of the second great agriculture, and, to its astonishment, found it more sustainable and productive that what we are currently pursuing.

While conventional agriculture leads to deserts, blowing parched dirt across the globe and melting ice caps, this other, older style, brings fertile soils, plant and animal diversity and birdsong. While the agriculture we use has been shifting Earth’s carbon balance from soil and living vegetation to atmosphere and ocean, the agriculture that was nearly lost moves carbon from sky to soil and crops. The needed shift, once embarked upon, can be profound and immediate. We could once more become a garden planet, with deep black earths and forests of fruit and nuts where deserts now stand. We can heal our atmosphere and oceans.

Come along on this journey of rediscovery with The Biochar Solution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change.

The Biochar Solution explores the dual function of biochar as a carbon-negative energy source and a potent soil-builder. Created by burning biomass in the absence of oxygen, this material has the unique ability to hold carbon back from the atmosphere while simultaneously enhancing soil fertility. Author Albert Bates traces the evolution of this extraordinary substance from the ancient black soils of the Amazon to its reappearance as a modern carbon sequestration strategy.

Combining practical techniques for the production and use of biochar with an overview of the development and future of carbon farming, The Biochar Solution describes how a new agricultural revolution can reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to below zero while increasing world food reserves and creating energy from biomass wastes.

Biochar and carbon farming can:

Reduce fossil fuels inputs into our food system
Bring new life to desert landscapes
Save cooking and heating fuel with super-efficient stoves
Help build carbon-negative homes, communities and nations.
Biochar is not without dangers if unregulated, and it is not a panacea, but if it fulfills its promise of taking us back from the brink of irreversible climate change, it may well be the most important discovery in human history. Buy The Biochar Solution.

Albert Bates was a civil sector representative at the Copenhagen climate conference, trying to point the world back towards a stable atmosphere using soils and trees. His books include Climate in Crisis and The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook. Working with the Global Ecovillage Network, he has taught appropriate technology, natural building, and permaculture to students from more than 60 nations.

A MUST READ FOR ME... I bought mine at - Price: $12.21 & eligible for free shipping with Amazon Prime ... Monte

Nov 13, 2010

A Growing Tradition: Building a Hoop House for the Garden

Building hoop house 15
This weekend I finally got around to building my hoop house. I've wanted one for a long time now and had gone over the design in my head during the past three months. After many mental revisions and plenty of second guessing, I realized last week that time was running out and that I just had to wing it.

My goal was to erect a structure that would house six of my 3 x 6 ft raised beds. I wanted something that could be dismantled easily if needed and yet be sturdy enough to withstand our New England winters. Also I didn't want to spend an arm and a leg on the materials either.

Anyway, here is how it all came together:

Building hoop house 1
I started off by driving stakes made from 1/2 in PVC pipe into the ground spaced about 3 feet apart. (Marc is in the background loading firewood.)

Building hoop house 2
I installed the seven arches that will serve as the backbone of the hoop house by bending 15 ft lengths of 1 inch PVC piping and slipping the hollow ends onto the stakes. (PVC piping generally comes in 10 ft lengths but can be joined together easily using plastic couplings to create the desired length.)

Building hoop house 5
To help prevent the arches from buckling under the weight of snow, I drove 5 ft tall metal poles (8 total) into the ground and positioned each pair underneath every other arch.

Building hoop house 4
Metal wire was then used to attach the arches to the poles.

Building hoop house 6
I then used string to mark the center-ridge line as well as two additional side lines that will provide additional stability to the structure.

Building hoop house 7
I attached the three lines (3/4 inch PVC pipe) to the arches using metal screws. The lines help to keep the arches perfectly straight under the weight of snow.

Building hoop house 8
I also attached 3/4 in PVC piping to the base and down length of the structure.

Building hoop house 9
Once the hoop house frame was finished, the next order of business was to attach the plastic sheeting to it. I needed to cover an area that measured approximately 15 ft (the length of the arches) by 19 ft (the length of my beds). After deciding against purchasing professional greenhouse plastic, I went the practical route and bought two rolls of the 10 x 25 ft 3.5 mil polyethylene sheeting available at most hardware stores. (I opted for the 10 ft width because the difference in pricing between it and the 20 ft width was HUGE!)

Building hoop house 11
We attached the plastic sheeting to frame one roll at the time using heavy metal clips (the jumbo-sized ones found at most office supplies stores) and allowed for a 5 ft overlap at the top. The first roll went over the center-ridge line and was attached to the far side line. Then the second roll was draped over the first one at the top and attached to the side line on the opposite side.

Building hoop house 10
Metal clips were also used to attach the poly sheeting to the base of the hoop house.

Building hoop house 13
Next I focused on constructing the end-wells. The wooden frame pictured here was built using 1 x 3 inch lumber and is just wide enough to fit over the metal poles.

Building hoop house 12
The wooden frame was attached to the poles using screws and metal wire. (I was pleasantly surprised by how sturdy it felt.)

Building hoop house 14
I then wrapped the poly sheeting over the frame, stapled it to the inside and trimmed the excess. The end result looked reasonably neat and clean.

Building hoop house 16
I have yet to construct the hoop house doors but they will fit over and be hinged to the wooden frames.

All in all, I was very pleased with my (almost) finished hoop house. It feels really sturdy and best of all, the materials (not including the metal poles, which I had lying around) cost me a modest 120 dollars. I am really excited to see how my winter veggies will fair this year and will consider growing heat-loving summer veggies inside of it as well.

Life on a Southern Farm: The Saw Mill and Video

One day about 15 years ago as I was doing some yard work I could hear a clank, bang, clunk coming down our long dirt driveway through the woods.
As I looked up I saw FarmMan in his truck come through the gate. In the back of the truck looked like a big pile of scrap metal. I didn't even blink an eye. I knew that pile of scrap metal would become something useful around the farm.

And it did.

It was a very old sawmill. A friend of FarmMan's was going to throw it away. It hadn't been used in years and years. So FarmMan brought it home and put it to use.

One of the first projects was lumber for the barn.

The trees for the lumber came from the back of our property.

Some of the oak lumber became flooring for the kitchen.

more lumber was put to use as side bodies for the pick up truck.

for a chicken house

Cut boards were stacked out in the sun to dry for later use.

and stacked later in the barn loft to finish drying

which became more flooring for inside the house.

No, I wasn't concerned the least little bit about that pile of scrap metal that came clunking down the driveway years and years ago.

When a relative from the big city came to visit years ago she saw a collection of FarmMan's finds scattered around the farm. She asked " What is all that stuff? It looks like it was left over from the Civil War!". I just laughed. I could see beyond the rusty looks of the relics.
What looked like junk to someone else really wasn't junk to a hardworking farm man with plans and dreams. It was our future.

FarmMan putting that pile of scrap metal to use.

I am sure there will more unrecognizable piles of metal come through the gate here on the farm.
But... I won't even blink an eye!

Have a great weekend!

Passive Solar Design: Creating Sun-Inspired Homes - Green Homes - MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Equinox HomeInterview by Megan Phelps
Many people who are planning to build a house would like to end up with a green, energy-efficient home, but aren’t sure how to get started. While we may be familiar with the need for insulation, or even with the basics of passive solar design, it’s not always clear how to transform those ideas into an actual house. And just as importantly, how do you build that house without spending a fortune?
Fortunately, architect Debra Rucker Coleman would like to help us answer these questions. Her book, The Sun-Inspired House, outlines her design ideas, while her company, Sun Plans offers a range of house plans, custom design and consulting services for people who want to build beautiful homes that don’t consume a lot of energy.
Here’s what Coleman had to say about her work, the fundamentals of passive solar design, and why it’s always a good idea to design homes (or select house plans) with the sun in mind. As Coleman says, constructing a sun-inspired home begins with a thorough planning process, and choosing or developing a house plan is one of the first steps along that path.

Designing Sun-Inspired Homes

How would you define “sun-inspired” as opposed to “passive solar”?
I like to use the term “sun-inspired” rather than “passive solar,” because with passive solar, you run into confusion with all the different kinds of solar, such as photovoltaics, and now the new Passivhaus standard that’s coming out of Germany.
Also, “sun-inspired” incorporates more than just the heat from the sun — it also incorporates the light from the sun, and the necessity to keep the sun out in the summer.
(Note from MOTHER: We think the terminology gets confusing, too. If you’re trying to pin down what these different terms mean, check out these brief descriptions of the different types of solar and of the Passivehaus standard — which is not the same thing as passive solar design.)
Can you tell us a little about your company?
Sun Plans was established in 2002, and the goal was to be able to offer affordable architectural services throughout the United States, especially related to sun-inspired/passive solar design.
I’d had a lot of questions from people who were asking why there weren’t more passive solar architects or house plans available. So I thought, well, we’ll make them available on the Internet. It started out nationally and now it’s gone international, into Canada.
The other thing was to make it affordable. Typically architects will charge 6 to 15 percent of construction costs, and less than 5 percent of people hire them to design their homes. So we developed an affordable service that’s more along the lines of a house plan company. That keeps the fees — even for a new design — closer to 2 to 3 percent of total construction cost. And that’s only about half of what you’d pay a realtor if you were buying a home.
How much does the actual plan cost?
I’d say the typical cost for buying a plan we’ve developed is about $1,200. If we adapt a plan, those fees really vary, but I’d say on average about $3,000. And to create a completely new custom plan is about $8,000.

Passive Solar in the ’70s and ’80s

Tell me more about your background and how you got interested in passive solar design.
I went to architecture school at the University of Arizona, where the College of Architecture has a five-year accredited architectural degree. That was in the late ’70s, so that was certainly before the current green movement, but also during the first energy crisis.
The instructors were very sensitive to the environment. I think the phrase might have been “environmental design.” You know, they would be asking, “How is your building going to face according to the sun? How are you going to keep the sun out? How are you going to let it in at different times of year? Are you going to work with native materials?”
So that’s where I got the basics of passive solar — even though it wasn’t called that, and it was taught as just one aspect of environmental design. The curriculum also integrated a solid foundation through various engineering classes. Mechanical engineering has to do with the energy a building consumes, so we were constantly aware of heat gain or heat loss through various surfaces.
When did you start actually designing passive solar homes?
It wasn’t until I left Arizona and started working for other firms, that I realized, “Oh my goodness, they’re not even thinking about the way a building should face. They’re not even thinking about where the sun is!” It was what I perceived as the lack of attention to that in other firms that made me decide to go out on my own in 1985, and at that point I established Energetic Design, the company that I had when I lived in North Carolina. I was intent on making all the buildings I designed more energy efficient and to work with the sun as much as possible.
That’s the point in time where I actually took a course called “passive solar design” from a technical college (Guilford Technical Community College), and then found out that North Carolina actually has a fantastic solar center — the North Carolina Solar Center. It didn’t take long to realize that we were a good match and I began assisting with workshops for them.
Also at that time, there was an organization called the Passive Solar Industries Council, which has since evolved into the Sustainable Buildings Industry Council. They developed some guidelines along with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. It was those guidelines that helped me understand which were the important things to change in a home design in order to make a home passive solar and how to adapt it for different climates. Their simple worksheets included detailed energy data that showed passive solar gain, which is typically ignored in other energy software. It’s disappointing that funding wasn’t continued on developing these guidelines.

What Makes a House Passive Solar

What would you say are the basic elements of a passive solar or sun-inspired design?
Orientation of the home is probably the first.
Window placement within that orientation is next. (Most of your windows should be on the south side of the home if you’re in the northern hemisphere).
Third, the overhang of the south windows and the shading protection of the east-west windows (a lot of times these are porches, or they can be trees).
And then thermal mass (which helps store the sun’s heat) is probably fourth.
How do you add thermal mass to a home?
A lot of people are building with insulated concrete forms and there’s a lot of inherent mass within them. A 4-inch thick concrete slab is also a very economical way of adding thermal mass. Some homes will have 4 inches of brick or stone veneer on interior walls or 8-inch thick free-standing concrete block walls that have both sides exposed and finished with thin stone or tile.
Some people will choose to forgo extra thermal mass because there can be additional costs. So those people may say, OK, I know it’s going to get a little extra hot on sunny winter days, but I’m willing to sacrifice a little comfort, and to go with insulated shades or to crack a window to keep it from overheating. Thermal mass helps some with cooling too, because it reduces the temperature swing of interior temperatures.
What kind of changes to the house plans do you have to make for different climates?
There is surprisingly little difference in the basic house design requirements. However, the details may vary substantially, especially in relation to the amount of insulation needed and the type of south-facing glass. But those details are easily changed without major house plan adaptations.
Most data will say you wouldn’t want to put the exact same home in Minnesota as in Atlanta, but it’s not that different, mainly since they both need to have most windows on the south wall and have an overhang to protect the south windows from summer heat gain.
Warmer climates may need to have the south-facing glass reduced somewhat. For instance, in the United States, I think the very south lower level, which would be Southern California all the way to northern Florida, might need only 5 to 7 percent south glass. You certainly wouldn’t want to go above 7 percent.
And that’s because it would overheat?
Yes, and it would overheat in both summer and winter.
The middle range of climates starting at approximately 34 degrees north (the latitude of Los Angeles, or Columbia, S.C.) and upward are very forgiving with 7 to 10 percent glass.
The extreme northern part of the United States — with the exception of the Pacific Northwest, which as you know is not really that cold — those climates can handle 10 to 12 percent south glass.
But there are very few plans with that percentage of glass because there’s not enough available south wall area. Or you could end up with a long, rectangular home, and that’s not as efficient to heat and cool. The most efficient shape to heat and cool is a cube.
Why is that?
It has the least amount of surfaces to lose and gain heat through for the given volume. But the next most efficient design with passive solar is to stretch the building along the east-west axis to give it a little more south wall area.
One other thing with the extreme southern climates is that they can handle more north glass. We have some plans on the website with north glass, because for example, the client had a really fantastic north view and wanted to take advantage of it.
And the reason you’d want to minimize north glass is because of the heat loss?
Exactly. Because you have heat coming in through the south windows in the winter and the more that you can do to keep that heat in the better. Windows are the weakest link in a home’s thermal “envelope” and so the ones that do not also contribute to the winter heat gain should be minimized.
However, I am not a proponent of putting all your windows on the south and none on the east, west and north because that may result in a home that is uncomfortable in other ways. I think our connection to nature through views to the outside is equally as important as using the sun’s energy. You need to have those windows for the psychological benefit, as well as to provide balanced daylighting and some cross breezes, which are important for cooling.

Serious Energy Savings

Do you have any estimates on how much people reduce their heating costs by choosing a passive solar design?
It really ranges a lot, and it depends on climate. But to answer your question simply, purely on the sun I would say, approximately 20 to 40 percent, with conventional construction. The higher latitudes are going to be at the lower number. However, if you were to take the same building and double the insulation, you’ve probably just doubled the percent of heat gain that the sun is providing.
You know, the heat from the sun is really just one more type of energy. People talk about “zero-energy homes,” but really by heating with the sun you’re just replacing one type of energy with another and reducing the amount of purchased energy required such as gas, electricity or even wood with a more environmentally-friendly alternative.
I would say that for most of the houses we’re designing, energy savings of 30 percent over a code-built home is the minimum that we recommend our clients strive for: 10 percent comes from energy efficiency and a minimum of 20 percent from the sun. Most of our clients are achieving about 50 percent energy savings, and that’s more like 30 to 40 percent from the sun, and 10 to 20 percent better attention to insulation and air sealing.
Some people are going for net zero. But from what I’m reading, 80 percent is a goal that many people are starting to aim for — 80 percent energy savings over a code-built home. With that level of savings, extreme attention to air sealing and additional insulation is required.
Unfortunately, just meeting code really isn’t very energy-efficient since building codes point to minimum requirements. When we prepare Custom Energy Specs, we’ll ask the client, “what are your personal goals” and if they do not know, then we will make recommendations.
Some people will say they want the current Energy Star standard, which is 15 percent better than code, or the new Energy Star 3.0 standard which is 30 percent better than code. And some clients will tell us they intend to get the home Passivhaus-certified, and in that case we’ll specify another, much higher, level of insulation and possibly recommend changes to the type of wall and roof framing, although the design may be able to stay the same.
So this is really the advantage of custom design — you can help people find a plan that fits their particular needs?
Yes, although what I’m finding is that it’s not so much to help them find a plan, because typically people are very particular about what they want in a house plan. They don’t necessarily want the most energy-efficient plan, they want the most energy-efficient plan that fits a particular design.
Also, for most of our homes, the actual drawings may not necessarily need to be modified for increased energy efficiency. When we write Custom Energy Specs, we may list five strategies of reaching R-40 in the walls if the client wants to achieve Passivhaus standards, or five strategies for achieving the Energy Star 3.0 standard. The homeowner and builder can then choose which of the strategies work best based on local costs, available materials and the builder’s familiarity with various construction methods. Then, they can work out the modified construction details with the builder in the field if this is acceptable with the building inspector. Through Adapt-A-SunPlan, those changes can also be made on the drawings if desired.
Do you make recommendations to people on heating systems?
We have a consultant now who works with us, or in some cases works with the clients directly. That’s to help the clients right-size their heating and cooling systems, so they don’t buy a super-high cost system that they may not need for this house because heating loads are so low. Our consultant can work with a subcontractor to help them get the right size system.
Unfortunately, code doesn’t typically accept a woodstove as the code-compliant backup heat source since it has to be maintained and could not work when the homeowners may be away, but we’re talking that level of heating. Sometimes, as inefficient as it might be, the recommendation may be going with electric baseboard heat, because it may be seldom needed, especially in homes with super-high levels of insulation.
Because it’s expensive to run, but you don’t have to run it as often?
Yes, and it meets the code requirements. And yes, if you ran it all the time in a leaky, non-passive solar home it would get expensive, but in this case it’s a very cost-effective option. A small propane unit is another option so long as venting and other safety issues are adequately addressed.

What People Don’t Know About Passive Solar

What are some of the biggest misconceptions you run into with passive solar design?
One is that the house is going to overheat in the summer. But really, what’s more of an issue is the possibility of overheating in the winter. And yes, if the home is not properly oriented within 15 degrees of true south and if there’s not a properly sized overhang on those windows, it can overheat. The Custom Energy Specs that we prepare look at both the proposed orientation of the home and the latitude to verify that the overhang as shown on the plans is an adequate compromise between both the heating and cooling needs for the particular climate. If not, we make a recommendation for the contractor to modify the overhang length in the field. There is not a “one size fits all” solution for overhang lengths for any given climate since it varies based on the south wall height, the window size, window placement on the wall and the roof and overhang construction type.
The second misconception is that people think that it’s going to cost a lot more. But in a lot of ways, there are really no extra costs with passive solar design. You’re taking most of the windows that are typically in a home and you’re putting most of them on the south side. There is a little more cost as you get into the higher amounts of glass due to extra window costs and extra thermal mass needed to store the extra heat.
What else do you want to tell people about designing an energy-efficient, passive solar home?
I would emphasize the importance of a smaller footprint, and a smaller home. One of my biggest frustrations is when people go to our website and say, oh I don’t see a 1,400 square foot plan that has everything I want, so therefore I’ll settle for this 1,800 square foot plan. And then that extra square footage costs — probably as a national average, $120 a square foot, but it varies greatly — and you’re also paying more to heat and cool. It’s worth working with someone, either with us, or, if you’re not comfortable with the web-based design process that we use, working with a local architect or experienced home designer who can help you obtain a right-sized plan.
I’d like to emphasize the hierarchy of thinking about what you want your home to be. Think small and good insulation first, then passive solar. Third, let’s think about a really low-tech simple auxiliary heating system. And then fourth, is to add the active solar, with typically solar hot water being first and photovoltaics last, or other forms of renewable energy that create electricity, such as wind generators.
Also, if people are looking at a two-story home, it’s a good idea to think about reversing that. Instead of your additional floor space being on the second floor, make it a daylit basement. If you have land that slopes to the south, you can build it so that you don’t even know you’re in a basement. And that’s a very energy-efficient space.
What do you like most about passive solar?
I love the fact that we’re taking something from nature that is available on every single site no matter where you live, and we’re incorporating it into our homes to save energy and connect to the environment.
During the ’70s and ’80s, did you ever think that eventually passive solar would be everywhere, that by now almost everyone would be doing it?
Well, yes, I’ve been surprised by how slow the construction industry is to change. More than 20 years ago I published a booklet of passive solar house plans with the slogan “for a green home tomorrow, save energy today,” and the industry is just now “going green.” And still many of the green building programs do not adequately allow for passive solar credits.
I find myself continuously wondering “why would you not integrate something into a new design when it saves you money, costs very little extra, is good for the environment, and makes you comfortable and happy to be home?”
One more question: We’d like to add links to a few of your favorite plans, so people can see examples of passive solar design. What would you say are your 10 favorite plans that you’ve done?
The following Sun Plans are my favorites, primarily because each has one or more of the following features: a small footprint, compact design, ease of construction, a popular floor plan, or creative design.