30 October 2008

Congress and energy credits

I just got an e-mail message from my rep in congress, John Hall, boasting about how the recently passed Wall Street bail-out legislation included "a significant expansion of solar tax credits available for both investors in and consumers of solar energy technology." Previously, a cap on deductions for solar energy installations had been set at $2,000; now that's been lifted. If the Democrats take control of government, it seems likely that tax credits like this will become more common.

If the man who would be president has his way, there are five million "green collar" jobs coming down the pike. Some of those jobs will be in making, selling, installing, and servicing solar energy systems for homes.

The photo above is from Rep. Hall's e-mail message.

Survey: consumer knowledge on energy questions is muddled

In survey results released Oct. 28, Shelton Group reveals that consumers are more muddled about basic energy questions than ever, with deep pockets of ignorance interspersed with growing awareness of how to conserve energy.

The bad news:
Fewer consumers in 2008 than in 2007 accurately responded when asked, “How is most electricity generated nationally?” with 30 percent citing “burning coal,” as opposed to 33 percent in 2007. ... One third erroneously think cars and trucks are the No. 1 cause of global warming, while only 4 percent cite the actual primary culprit of greenhouse emissions: coal-fired electric plants.

And the good:
In 2005, only 20 percent of consumers could name one source of renewable energy unaided. In 2007, 48 percent could, and in 2008, accurate responses rose to 59 percent. ... When it comes to saving energy dollars in the home, consumers were relatively accurate about the top ways that most homes can curb energy use.

Shelton Group is an ad agency entirely focused on energy efficiency and sustainability. Its Energy Pulse study has been conducted since 2005.

28 October 2008

Home Depot to help New Englanders spread it thick

Home Depot will be carrying organic fertilizer in 64 stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut and New York this coming spring. The product is made by Converted Organics. According to the press release,
Converted Organics produces organic liquid and solid fertilizers and soil amendment products through the Company's proprietary High Temperature Liquid Composting (HTLC) process. The HTLC system is a proven, state-of-the-art microbial digestion technology that processes various biodegradable food waste products into liquid and solid organic-based fertilizer.

But I find myself a little too squeamish to ponder "biodegradable food waste products" for very long.

27 October 2008


Eureka, the vacuum maker, has a new Web site, and while I'm happy to link to any Web site that features WALL-E on its home page -- given my three-year-old's love of the "tidy robot kitty" -- there's something there for readers of this blog who are older than three.

What I'd really like to draw to your attention, though, is the multi-page subsection of the site that boasts of Eureka's concern for the environment. From the new "envirovac" to decreasing packaging waste to recycling and saving energy in the workplace, the company seems to be making the environment a high priority.

24 October 2008

Retailer in the LEED

From sister publication Retailing Today, here's a news item on JCPenney breaking ground on a future LEED store.

23 October 2008

Heating water can be a tankless job

The common answer for those seeking more efficient hot water heating is to install a tankless system. These use electricity or natural gas to heat water as it is needed, rather than to keep a big tank of water hot through the day.

I just got a press release from Bosch; its appliance division and its hot water products division are going to work more closely to sell builders tankless systems. Good for Bosch, I suppose, and certainly good for the environment, since it seems clear that tankless systems are more energy efficient than traditional hot water tanks.

Or are they? According to the L.A. Times, tankless systems hit wallets harder than regular systems do if the heater is far from the faucet, or if it is improperly installed, or if your house is so darned big that you need secondary pumps to move the water correctly. But all this is just to say that your installer has to do the job right.

Still, some experts are not fans of tankless systems on fundamental grounds. Thomas W. Reddoch, a director at the Electric Power Research Institute, thinks that heat pump water heaters are the coming thing. These geothermal or air-based systems use a tank that keeps water hot by moving heat from one place to another, not by creating heat. However, these heat-pump systems are rare at the present. (Scroll down to "heat pump water heaters" on that last link for more info and vendors.)

22 October 2008

Size matters

Building material dealers and home builders looking for hope in a down housing market often talk about the market for luxury homes, because the rich are still building, and the market for green homes, because homeowners want to save on fuel costs while helping the environment. The sweet spot there is the Green McMansion, an exceptional creature known for its geothermal heating, solar panels, certified wood, and large footprint. But can a large home be a green home?

Opinion columnist Monique Cole says, well, not really:
Big homes ... often are built far from urban centers. The rulers of these prairie castles must therefore burn fuel to get to work or an airport. Bigger homes also require more upkeep -- think of the landscapers, housekeepers, window cleaners and dog walkers who have to commute to service the home and its occupants. Adding solar panels and cork floors to one of these mansions is a nice touch, but is this going green, or is it green-washing?

The Socratic Gadfly adds, Heck No!
Throwing some recycled materials into a house that size sounds like it’s being done for the reason many jetsetter elites buy carbon offset credits — It’s the modern equivalent of indulgences.

But Low Impact Living says a LEED Platinum McMansion is better than any other kind.
Eco-mansion haters sometimes ignore an inconvenient truth: Huge homes are constantly getting built, and most of these are anything but green.

On the other hand, the 100K House has a different take:
Perhaps, instead of thinking of how large a house should or should not be, we should consider how much space each individual needs, a sort of square feet per capita idea.

I think that's an idea worth pondering.

21 October 2008

Results of adopting green tech are uncertain, but we should still do it

in my recent editorial, I made a big deal about how new technologies in energy production and conservation represent an economic opportunity for someone -- maybe for the LBM trades and those who supply them. Lately, both presidential campaigns have been making similar points, especially that green tech means new jobs.

McCain says: "A rough estimate is that 45 new nuclear power plants will create roughly 700,000 jobs - jobs in construction, engineering, operation and maintenance."

Obama says: "Help create five million new jobs by strategically investing $150 billion over the next ten years to catalyze private efforts to build a clean energy future."

But I read an interesting post by Brian Beutler that threw some cold water on that whole idea:
Are liberals and environmentalists being honest when they say green jobs will offset the jobs lost when the fossil fuel industry is forced to downsize, and, if so, why are labor leaders so reluctant to support climate change policies? My own view on this is that it's an extremely narrow, hazy, and unanswerable question. Nobody really knows what sorts of advancements investment in alternative energy projects will yield in the coming years, or how labor intensive the production of a kilowatt-hour will prove to be a decade or five from now.

I think that's a good point -- we really don't know what the effect of switching away from dirty energy will be. But that is still no reason to shirk from embracing it, since we can be sure that the costs of inaction will be too high. Beutler goes on to say much the same thing -- that there may also be secondary benefits to the economy at large in a switchover, as evidenced by the smaller scale transitions already underway:
But by the same token it's also hard to imagine, in a national sense, that the beneficial primary and secondary economic effects of, say, a comprehensive climate change policy, won't be on the same order as (and largely opposite to) the negative consequences.

Free coffee, free tips for saving energy

Citizen group Climate Change Action Brookline will hold a Green Tools Coffee Hour involving three local hardware stores in Brookline, Mass. -- Connelly Hardware, Aborn True Value, and Economy Hardware (none of the stores have Web sites that I could find, so no links, sorry). The event, according to co-chair David Lowe, will take place Oct. 25 at Connelly Hardware, and it is intended to help consumers reduce their energy use; energy experts will be on hand to help consumers find energy efficient solutions for their homes.

20 October 2008

Fixing a hole

Cement maker Sakrete has an eco-friendly pothole filler out, called Cold Patch. According to the company, it's
a ready-to-use, recycled asphalt product used to permanently repair potholes, depressions or cracks in any asphalt or concrete surface. It meets the strictest California emissions standards and can be applied year-round in all regions of the country which are subject to cutback asphalt restrictions as part of an effort to reduce VOCs and ground-level ozone pollution.

Sakrete says that the product is almost 60 percent recycled and reduces VOCs by 60 percent to 70 percent (depending on what you're comparing it to).

17 October 2008

Think locally, laugh globally

A few links to eco-humor on the Web:

16 October 2008

NARI offers green remodeling tips

The National Association of the Remodeling Industry offers a range of green remodeling tips, seeing that it is Energy Awareness Month and all.

First tip, according to the remodeling association: Consult with a remodeler. Why am I not surprised? But there are some good tips in there too, like "using modifications such as energy-efficient appliances, programmable thermostats and airtight, low-emissivity windows." Check it out, and don't forget to ask your remodeler for an opinion.

15 October 2008

Editorial: The way we do business now

Here's an editorial I wrote for a supplement to Home Channel News last month.

There can really be no doubt any longer. "Energy efficiency" is not a buzzword or a fad. It's the way we do business.

Take appliances. According to NPD Group energy efficient dishwasher sales are up 3 percent, while non-efficient washers are down 12 percent. For refrigerators, efficient ones are up 15 percent; non-efficient, down 11 percent.

A study from the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers recently said that major appliances are getting more and more water and energy efficient. Refrigerators, dishwashers and clothes washers account for a 43 percent combined decrease in energy consumption since 2000.

And according to a survey by the Research Institute for Cooking & Kitchen Intelligence, 10 percent of homeowners refused to remodel their kitchens with products that harm the environment, and another 36 percent felt strongly about the eco-impact of their purchases.

Consumer attitudes are changing, and homeowners are adding new factors to their buying decisions, factors like carbon footprint, harm to the environment and, most of all, the money they can save by conserving energy. As consumers change the way they look at purchasing decisions, it may pay retailers and suppliers to be open to new options.

One of those options is solar. According to Energy Business Reports, from 1999 to 2007, solar power capacity grew by 962 percent; just from 2006 to 2007, 45 percent. Granted, the total contribution from solar is still very low, but the growth potential is huge. Don't take my word for it ...

• IKEA is researching solar panels for homeowner purchase, and expects to have products in store in three to four years. The Swedish home decor giant is putting $77 million into research and development for solar products.

• Utah-based Woodside Homes, a Utah-based home builder, will be building 1,487 new solar-powered homes in Sacramento, Calif. And that's just one of ten similar deals the municipality has put together.

• Another home builder, Cambridge, Mass.-based S+H Construction, has opened a Renewable Energy Division to sell and install solar and geothermal systems. They also handle all the paperwork needed to get the customer rebates Massachusetts is offering those who install the systems.

It's not a sure thing, but if energy prices stay high, if Congress keeps giving tax breaks to green home improvements, and if the technology keeps improving, then solar will be for tomorrow what low VOC paint and certified lumber is for today. That new business offers an opportunity: Someone is going to be selling solar energy systems to builder customers.

Now, I'm not saying that energy efficiency only applies to big-ticket items, like major appliances and solar panels. There are other profitable ways to piggy-back on the trend, one small-ticket item at a time.

For examples, check out any number of energy saving tips online. These lists aimed at consumers, but many of the tips lead shoppers right into their local hardware store or home center. Here are a few tips that I found on both the DOE's Energy Savers site and on the Sierra Club's Smart Energy Solutions Web page: Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lights. Replace old appliances with more efficient models. Buy solar-powered and motion-detection outdoor lights. Each of these tips — and many others — is a selling opportunity.

But energy efficiency can help home channel dealers closer to home, or closer to store, anyway. Bottom-line boosts can come from the operations side as well as from the sales side. Paint company Dunn-Edwards is building a LEED-certified coatings technology center in Los Angeles. Ace Hardware is limiting the top speed on its trucks to 67 miles per hour -- and has saved about $1 million just so far this year. Installing LEDs and new HVAC systems, Home Depot has cut energy consumption in its stores by 12 percent. Lowe's has cut its energy costs by 40 percent with upgraded lighting and skylights.

The debates over the energy crisis and the environment are playing out in the voting booth and the courts of law, science, and public opinion. But some facts are beyond debate: Big and small players in the home channel are not going green because they want to save the whales or the polar bears or the planet. They see greenbacks in the green market, and cost efficiencies in energy efficiency.

14 October 2008

How to avoid greenwashers

An old post -- but new to me -- on FacilitiesNet talks about deceptive "green" marketing and how to avoid it:
So how do you sort out the greenwash from the pure and clean? One way is third-party certifications like Greenguard, Green Seal or Energy Star. These ensure that a product has met some criteria for greenness. But it’s still important to find out what those criteria are and how they were established.

13 October 2008

Lists of links

Here are two recent posts -- and an older one from June -- from other blogs with lists of green links for you to enjoy. This one has tons of green links relating to Minnesota. And the second has a handful of green home improvement links. Finally, here are a series of links to green e-newsletters, if you prefer to get your green news through your in-box.

10 October 2008

Eco-friendly tax credits become law when tied to bailout

In an article published earlier today, the Orlando Business Journal explains how Congress passed solar energy tax credits by linking them to the $700B bailout bill.
The tax credit for producing electricity from wind would be extended for one year, while the credit for other renewable sources would be extended for two years. The tax breaks for solar energy would be extended for eight years.

09 October 2008

"You kids get off my green lawn!"

Charles, Prince of Wales, rolled his eyes, shook his cane, and yelled at the young whippersnappers of the high-tech green movement yesterday, condemning architects who add geegaws and gadgets like wind turbines and solar panels to modern buildings instead of making better use of traditional building materials. According to the Prince ...
Why, I must ask, does being 'green' mean building with glass and steel and concrete and then adding wind turbines, solar panels, water heaters, glass atria -- all the paraphernalia of a new "green building industry" -- to offset buildings that are inefficient in the first place?

That many of these add-ons are mere gestures, at best, is now clear, as their impacts on home energy consumption can now be measured and usually offer scant justification for the radical nature of the design.

We must act now by using traditional methods and materials to work with Nature rather than against Her.

In related news, Shamu, Prince of Killer Whales, yesterday called for the Navy to stop using its newfangled sonar technology.
Turn that noisy racket down! I don't even see how they can call it music these days!

San Jose adopts green building standards

According to this San Jose Mercury News article, the city will require that all new construction over 25,000 square feet meet LEED Silver certification standards. As for new homes, "Residential projects of 10 or more units would have to be LEED certified or meet the minimum 50 points on another standard, Build It Green's GreenPoint Rated system."

08 October 2008

What makes it green?

A very interesting post on the Eco-Logikal blog talks about how to tell if a building product is green. From the post:
Integrated design – thinking about how a building works as a system and designing that system to be environmentally-friendly – is a key part of green building. Certain products, particularly those that deal with energy, are not inherently green but can used in ways that enhance the environmental performance of a building. For example, a dual-pane, low-E window may not be green in terms of its material components or manufacturing process, but if used strategically it can reduce energy use by maximizing the collection of winter sunlight and blocking out the summer sun.

Another eco-pod for you!

I've already blogged about pod-treehouses, but here's another option for those who love Elves and Ewoks, or just want to live like them.

Here's the latest in treehouse living from a German firm, Baumraum. Thanks to Dwell for the tip.

07 October 2008

Biodegradable bags are booming

I got a press release and then talked with Mike Passaglia at Perf Go Green, a maker of biodegradable plastic bags and drop cloths. Now, this is just his side of the story, and a sales rep is bound to put a positive spin on things, but he says that his product is taking off. Perf is currently selling into distributors including Orgill, Do it Best, True Value, United Hardware, Pro Hardware, Reliable, and supermarkets. Retailers may be interested in Perf's "tee-shirt" bags for bagging sold merchandise at check-out. And Mike says Perf is planning to release new products in the fourth quarter. Give Mike a call at 888-478-7144 if you are interested, or e-mail him at mike@grandsales.net.

Since the company is publicly held, though, there are journalists besides me writing about it. Take a look here and here and here.

06 October 2008

The gift of green

Tile and flooring maker Laticrete has donated a pallet of Greenguard certified materials last July to the Atlanta Habitat for Humanity to install porcelain tiled floors in the kitchens and bathrooms of six two-story townhouses in the Sylvan Hills section of Atlanta.

Yeah, this qualifies as old news, but their agency only just sent me the press release, and it is in a good cause -- I'm glad to see an example of a donation that keeps the ecosystem in mind.

03 October 2008

West Coast Green show highlights

You might enjoy Inhabitat's post mortem. That's Al Gore giving his keynote in front of a "living wall."