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United States Science

Green Housing Takes Root in Oregon 388

Posted by michael
from the treehugger dept.
baldinux writes "I was reading an article in the Portland Tribune which showcased the City of Portland's noteworthy 'Rose House' (1.8mb PDF) project, part of the Office of Sustainable Development and Oregon Department of Energy's plan to encourage sustainable, energy-producing, environmentally-friendly housing for the future, a plan which is gaining national and international attention. The Rose House, at only 800 square feet (approx. 244 sq. meters), is equipped with solar panels and incorporates technologies that recapture lost heat and energy during normal appliance operation, such as ventilation. During peak hours -- when power is at highest demand -- the Rose House could produce surplus energy, feeding kilowatt hours back to the power grid, and `rolling back' the meter -- the power authority's way of purchasing the surplus energy and lessening the burden on comparatively 'dirty' power plants. The article suggests that homes like this could see net power bills as low as $0 per year. The environmental benefits of a lessened burden on centralized, often fossil fuel or nuclear, power generation plants would be considerable."
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Green Housing Takes Root in Oregon

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  • Initial Cost (Score:4, Insightful)

    by riotstarter (650328) on Monday September 20, 2004 @04:11AM (#10295610)
    One of the reasons many people I know aren't getting things like solar panels installed is that the initial cost is too high.
    • Re:Initial Cost (Score:4, Informative)

      by Veridium (752431) on Monday September 20, 2004 @04:22AM (#10295630) Homepage
      You know what the real shocker is? The installation cost. It costs as much as the hardware in my area. We're going to do it, but we have to refinance our house in order to afford it. Fricking ouch.
    • Re:Initial Cost (Score:5, Informative)

      by AaronGTurner (731883) on Monday September 20, 2004 @05:52AM (#10295870)
      An alternative to solar panels is solar heating, in which water is pumped into solar heated areas. It is less efficient but lower tech (essentially plumbing) and can be cheaper, depending on how much plumbers charge in your area. Essentially you use the solar heating to provide hot water for your house (people like hot water even in summer!) and thus reduce utility costs to heat it. In theory the hot water can be used for other tasks as well, but again at the cost of efficiency, but then the cost of the total solution tends to go back up to the cost of solar panels again. One of the nice things about solar heating is that there isn't a requirement for heavy metals and the like, although if the demand for copper pipes increased dramatically that might be a problem in itself!

      At the moment, though, solar heating or panels are expensive for home owners. You can reduce energy use from the grid more cost effectively with other techniques (insulation, shading windows, more efficient boilers, or even just servicing your boiler) at the moment until volume sales reduces solar panel costs.

      Some governments (e.g. Germany) have provided tax incentives to install solar solutions, or required that new government buildings include solar solutions where possible. The latter makes a lot of sense as the cost of solar panels on a new office block is a comparatively small proportion of the total cost, but stimulates the demand for solar panels, hopefully then bringing new production onstream.

      Another area that people sometimes neglect when working out how much energy they use is watering their garden. Using tap water means using water that has been purified to human drinking standards, with quite a lot of energy input. Collecting rainwater run off from your house and storing it to water your garden directly saves energy. Given the downpours in the UK in August stopping run off going into your garden and flooding it (we had to bail our sunken patio out!) is helpful too! Mind you, since we had 6 inches of rain in 24 hours (I'd left a glass out in the garden) you'd need a huge water butt to cope!

      • Re:Initial Cost (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Paulrothrock (685079)
        I'm going to start having to keep this story in a text file...

        My dad built two earth-sheltered passive solar homes, which were about 1200 sq ft and cost next to nothing. They didn't have solar panels, but they did have a large greenhouse and a solar water pre-heater. It was basically a box made of foil-backed insulation that had a black 55-gallon drum in it. This was hooked up between the water supply and the hot water heater. When it was sunny out, it preheated the water and saved energy. Since it was an

  • by Doomsdaisy (90430) on Monday September 20, 2004 @04:17AM (#10295622)
    Portland relies on hydro power rather than dirty power. Isn't it odd that a region that sells its excess kilowatts to other regions is one of the few places in the US where green housing is seriously considered?

    Why don't the regions of the US that rely heavily on coal or nucler power have the same impitus for cleaner alternatives?
    • by Koohoolinn (721622) on Monday September 20, 2004 @04:24AM (#10295639) Homepage
      Maybe it's because in those regions politicians are funded by the fossil energy lobby?
    • > Portland relies on hydro power rather than dirty power

      Hydro power is sometimes more disruptive than nuclear power - you never hear nuclear power causing an earthquake [bbc.co.uk] do you ? .

      > Why don't the regions of the US that rely heavily on coal or nucler power have the same impitus for cleaner alternatives ?.

      Solar panels, Wind power and tidal power plants need a few natural resources which aren't easily transportable. (or think about solar panels in a hailstorm ?).

      The best use of solar panels I'v

      • by Technician (215283) on Monday September 20, 2004 @06:02AM (#10295891)
        The best use of solar panels I've ever seen was for AirConditioning ... if the sun's not out, the air's cool anyway and if it is solar power kicks in . Don't know if it'll work for a bigger scale , unless we have spray on solar panels for those BIG tinted windows.


        For the simple answer to cost of instal is check the power requirement for a simple AC unit. Remember they don't like power sags. Now price a solar system big enough to run the AC. Also price the storage battery or co-gen setup to keep it running when a puffy cloud passes by.

        For most people, the required expense to run a high power draw device is beyond a home solar instalation. Most solar instalations are for hot water, and enough electric to run a few small energy effecient appliances. Don't expect to run a regular all electric home of just solar. Expect to use an alternate power source for things like the hot water, heating, cooling and clothes dryer. They won't be solar electric.

        Another place to check is your monthly electric bill. Our home of 6 in the summer runs about 35 KWH/day. This is about an order of magnetude above a typical home photo-voltaic instalation. Very deep cuts in electric use are in order to even consider moving off grid. I simply don't have enough money or roof space to supply my current electric demand. Things like the dishwasher, electric dryer, AC, electric heat, and un-effecient refrigeration (fridge and freezer) would have to be replaced.

        A high effeciency fridge is a serious chunk of change. I've looked into them.
        • by ajs318 (655362) <sd_resp2NO@SPAMearthshod.co.uk> on Monday September 20, 2004 @07:53AM (#10296156)
          The reason why conventional air conditioning units {and refrigerators -- a fridge is just a cupboard with its own air-con venting into the kitchen} are sensitive to voltage drops, is the kind of motor they use to drive the compressor; a capacitively-started induction motor. The idea is that once the motor has started, a time delay relay disconnects the starter winding. This time delay relay typically uses a simple bimetallic strip and heater coil arrangement; in pre-semiconductor times, this was about the only way to do it, and it just kind of stuck. At first, the strip is touching a contact which sends current through the capacitor and starter winding; as it heats up, it bends away from the contact and cuts the power to the starter winding, so only the main winding is powered. If you don't use the starter winding then the motor will sit still (unless you spin the armature by some external means).

          The problem is that at low voltages, the heater doesn't get hot enough to open the bi-metallic switch. The starter winding stays connected all the time and the motor draws about double the power it should ..... and gets hotter than it should. Now, if the delay relay were mounted in good thermal contact with the motor, then it would be helped to operate by the excess heat building up in there; but that huge hefty chunk of a motor would slow down the resetting action. This means next time the refrigerator's thermostat is calling for cooling, the motor won't start because the delay relay is now in the "run" position. So the motor just gets hotter and hotter. And he fridge certainly isn't getting any cooler, so the thermostat won't open in a hurry. It has actually been known for fridges to fail castastrophically under low-voltage conditions!

          (As an aside, I know that an electronic delay relay could be built that would do the same job, but using a simple R-C delay circuit coupled to a conventional electromagnetic relay, for about 50p in bulk. Maybe modern fridges do actually use this kind of thing instead.)

          If you wanted to build an air conditioner that was really immune to supply fluctuations, the obvious choice would be a DC brushless motor. You could run it from mains via a switch mode supply -- they're cheap as chips nowadays -- or straight from DC. Brushless motors are quite tolerant of voltage variations anyway, as long as you can get enough whack to shift the spindle and not so much as to damage the transistors in the drive circuit. And it would also be an idea to give a refrigerator a chimney of its own, so as to dispose of the hot air it produces directly rather than relying on your home's aircon to shift it. If you added a nice big air relief opening, the draught thus created should help to cool the kitchen. In winter, you could divert the fridge flue into an upstairs room (you don't want to get it back anywhere near the fridge). With an aircon, you probably could do something sensible with the meltwater from the ice that builds up on the evaporator, too.
    • These are breasts; this is source code.
      Why do you have a problem with those two things belonging to one person?


      Because that person can't count.

    • These are breasts; this is source code. Why do you have a problem with those two things belonging to one person?

      Love, this is slashdot, we've all got breasts.
    • Since I lived there for six years, I find it odd for another reason. Portland is cloud covered for most of the year (especially when you need it most, in the winter). Probably not the most econimical location for an expensive solar panels installation.
  • by Muad (11989) on Monday September 20, 2004 @04:20AM (#10295629) Homepage
    This effort is noteworthy. If the construction costs are marginally higher than standard, it should be possible for the governemt to step in with incentives and pick up the tab of the difference. This kind of housing would save indirectly on other costs (power plant construction, pollution, etc) and could therefore qualify as a win-win situation.
    • If the construction costs are marginally higher than standard, it should be possible for the governemt to step in with incentives and pick up the tab of the difference.

      "Should" is the keyword in that sentence. As sad as it is, I really don't see the government, at least not with current policy/spending/etc., creating any sort of incentive here. I mean, if you could theoretically be able to have a power bill of $0, that's not exactly energy(company) friendly.

      Just calling it as I see it...
      • by hazem (472289) on Monday September 20, 2004 @05:09AM (#10295766) Journal
        Right, but even if you're a net-$0 customer, that power they buy from you is power they are selling to someone else (or not having to pay to produce). As long as they're able to sell it to others for more than they pay you (plus costs), then you're still profitable.

        The economics change, of course, if a majority of the people employ systems like this. At that point, though the energy you sell back is worth less because so many more people are producing it as well.

        I realize this article is about Portland, but its state, Oregon, offers tax incentives for certain energy efficiency improvements:
        Oregon Residential Energy Tax Credit Program [state.or.us]

        Tax credits are available for the following categories:
        appliances
        fuel cells
        HVAC
        Solar
        Water Heaters
        Wind
        Vehicles

        "The maximum amount of tax credits a resident may receive per year is $1,000 for appliances including heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment. The maximum amount of tax credits a resident may receive per year is $1,500 for renewable energy equipment such as solar and wind systems. "

        If you're smart, you can probably plan part of yoru purchases in December of one year and the rest in Jan of the next. Or possibly spread your project over a few years to maximize the tax break.

        Plus, these improvements amount to capital investments in your property which should reduce any taxes incurred from selling a house (though, I think the capital gains tax was eliminated for the owner's residence).

        And, such investments done on rental properties will count as costs and will, while reducing your profit, will also reduce the tax on your profit, which could be as high as 40%.
      • by hazem (472289) on Monday September 20, 2004 @05:13AM (#10295775) Journal
        This link from the DOE shows various incentives in different states:

        Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy [dsireusa.org]

        That includes Federal Incentives [dsireusa.org]
      • by RKBA (622932) *
        "I really don't see the government, at least not with current policy/spending/etc., creating any sort of incentive here."

        The State of California will reimburse homeowners who install wind or photovoltaic power approximately 45% of the cost of the system.

        In my case, the City of Glendale, California, paid 50% ($21,000) of the total $42,000 cost of having a 4 KW photovoltaic array installed on my roof. What I heard is that they were required to do so by the California Public Utilities Commission. My photov

    • I don't get this. (Score:2, Informative)

      by BJH (11355)
      I've been looking into building a home here in Japan, and the only thing that turned up in the article that isn't offered by most construction companies/builders here is the staggered studs. The rest of it (roof insulation, foundation insulation, well-insulated windows, single heating/cooling system for the whole house, 3.3KW solar panel) is pretty much standard, or if it's not standard, it's available as a unexceptional option.

      Is the US really that far behind in construction techniques?
  • Everything green... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Infinityis (807294) on Monday September 20, 2004 @04:24AM (#10295641) Homepage
    "I'm hearing a lot more interest from buyers who have called up and said they want the greenest house in Portland," Heslam said. "For a growing group of people, rather than having the fanciest house on their street, they'd rather impress their friends by having the greenest house on their street."

    It seems more and more that people define their "greenness" as part of their social status. I mean, from hybrid cars to these energy efficient homes, it seems like people have transitioned to environment friendly ways not so much to be friendly to the environment, but rather for others to see.

    I suppose part of it shows the philanthropic side of a person, taking care of the poor, defenseless environment that everyone abuses. Part of me wonders, if it were cheap enough for everyone to do, would the wealthy still do it, or would they simply indulge in the excess which they can easily afford?

    • by ElvenMonkey (789317) on Monday September 20, 2004 @04:45AM (#10295711)
      It could be interesting to see the results of such a social move. I can percieve that generally, unless there is a major social move on the viewpoint, it would be just a 'fad' amongst the wealthy / high-society. To make it last beyond that would almost require it to be socially unacceptable on a large scale rather than just 'un-cool', to have a house that is not ecologically friendly. Until the technology comes down in price a little thats unlikely to happen. As soon as you start to see solar panels and the like dropping into the price range of the average wage holder, eco-friendly houses are unlikely to be made. The EU currently offers a very nice subsidy for having solar panels fitted, provided you use authorised builders (so as to avoid the cowboy builders cheating the government), but even with the subsidy its still quite an expense and it'll take quite a few years to make the money back in savings from the initial purchase. As pathetic as it really does seem (though I'm as big a culprit as anyone else), the green drive only goes for us so far as it doesn't affect the wallet. A lot of us will stand and say "oh yes, we're eco-friendly" and "why doesn't the government do more towards the environment", but when it affects our wallets we sort-of back away. Many of us could probably afford to put up a panel or two on our houses, but we balk at the cost, ignoring the green benefits.
    • by wine_slob (793174) on Monday September 20, 2004 @05:16AM (#10295784) Homepage

      My house was built in 1900. There is no insulation in the walls, none under the floors and only about R12 in the attic. I spent the day at the hardware store looking into insulation options and crawling around under my house with a staple gun.

      I plan to spend about $300 to bring our attic up to R42+ (they say 45% of heat loss is through the attic). Does that make me a green snob?

      Being environmentally conscious/friendly isn't about being hip and it doesn't require spending a fortune. It's pretty easy, really.

      If it does come down to social status for some, I'd rather have green homes and hybrids than monster mansions and Hummers, or even big houses and Dodge Rams...
    • by 16K Ram Pack (690082) <tim,almond&gmail,com> on Monday September 20, 2004 @05:57AM (#10295883) Homepage
      There's one big benefit if the wealthy do it, even if they are showing off - it will undoubtedly bring down the price for the rest. There's a name for such people in marketing - "early adopters". They are people who get in there with technology and pay for the R&D for the rest. They are the people who don't look at CPU prices and consider bang for buck. They want the best RIGHT NOW.

      One thing with prices is that goods are sold based on people partly looking at number of units anticipated.

      The more people buying, the more people there will be producing and selling solar panels. Out of this will fall companies producing newer, cheaper and more efficient solar panels. I don't know what the manufacturing process is, but I imagine that production levels are not that massive. If volumes go up, you'll end up with a Toyota or Nissan of solar panels, producing them at high efficiency, employing more automation.

      Think about something like LCD screens and the price 3 years ago vs now.

    • You know what? I like that kind of "philanthrophic behabiour" much better than the normal "my SUV weights more than your truck" kind of expressing their coolness.
  • Size matters! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pedestrian crossing (802349) on Monday September 20, 2004 @04:25AM (#10295642) Homepage Journal

    I think the interesting thing here is that they went for a house that is much smaller than the average American house.

    Compared to Europeans, Americans live in -huge- houses, which have to be heated/cooled/cleaned, etc.

    A smaller house is cheaper to run and takes a heck of a lot fewer resources than a big house.

    • by dasunt (249686)

      Compared to Europeans, Americans live in -huge- houses, which have to be heated/cooled/cleaned, etc.

      But if we had smaller houses, we'd have to get rid of some of the junk we never use!

    • Re:Size matters! (Score:2, Informative)

      by AaronGTurner (731883)
      You can have a large but efficient house, over and above the things that are common to all house construction, large and small (insulation, etc).

      For example, open plan houses require more energy input as to be comfortable you have to heat or cool a large area. Separate rooms means that you can have a cold kitchen in winter if you are only going to be spending 5 minutes in their putting milk on your cornflakes. Also you can subdivide large living areas with temporary partitions and open them up when you h

    • Yes, but the build quality of american housing is generally pretty awful. Most would never even get a look in with european planning requlations.
      • Re:Size matters! (Score:3, Informative)

        by Paulrothrock (685079)
        My dad works with a federal agency building low-cost housing in rural areas. A similar government official came to visit one year and balked at the fact that we make roofs that only last 20 years! He said people in England wouldn't buy a house without at least a 50 year-guaranteed slate roof.
  • by dj42 (765300) on Monday September 20, 2004 @04:27AM (#10295647) Journal
    Where I come from, "greenhousing" is the term used when you get a bunch of people in a car, roll up the windows and smoke ridiculous amounts of pot, filling the inside with smoke.
  • What's new about this stuff?

    I've seen "passive" houses being built for years (in Europe).

    Maybe 6 years ago this would have been kind of innovative. But in the year 2004? C'mon!
  • From the little EE knowledge I have (I'm a CS Major , but the girls were mostly in EE, so ..) , I don't think rolling back the meter's a possible option. Power grids supply voltage at high voltages and use transformers to step it down to reduce transmission losses. Sending current the wrong way doesn't seem to be a valid option to be noticeable (yeah, maybe a bewoulf cluster of these might *snicker*) .

    What is more likely is to have a neighbourhood power distribution inside your local transformer loop and

    • You install solar panels in Long Island and LIPA will buy power off you.

      random link from google [energymatters.org]

      Suggests those technical problems aren't insurmountable

    • This is not at all infeasible and is done quite frequently. It's not very economical though as the power company will only pay back at wholesale rates.

      Yes, the power man would be in for a shock if the loads weren't properly handled. The power company will require that a cut-off switch (to cut output when the power goes out) be installed for any grid-tie setups.
    • There is a lot of sophisticated switching and matching equipment. There's a bit more to it than simply winding up your genny and watching the meter run the other way.
    • Actually, last I checked (which was several years ago), the power companies in the US are required to buy generated power from independent generators. Normally, if the generator is a net consumer, the generating party is given a credit for the power generated against the power consumed. The net effect is that one "rolls back the meter" in terms of billing.

      As I said before, it has been a long time since I've looked into this . . . it is entirely possible laws may have changed considering the deregulation o

    • In order to roll the meter back, all that is necessary is for the current to "run backwards".

      However, in order to do this *safely* you must:

      a) Take the DC from the panels and convert it to AC .
      b) Make sure that AC is in phase with the utility.
      c) Make sure that if the utility power goes away, so does your AC onto the mains.

      This is what makes feeding power back onto the line complicated - you cannot just hook your panels up to the mains.

      It used to be hard to do this, especially for a naturally DC source l
    • It's very real (buyback/rollback) and required by law in most states, although they don't necessarily have to give you cash if you exceed, and most cap credits.

      It's not so simple as plugging into a socket though. You need a unit that takes your power (usually DC from the source) and matches the phase to the supply source.

      A grid-tied system is generally much cheaper than an off-grid solution, as there's no need for batteries. Of course, you lose power when the grid does unless you install batteries and a
  • The future... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by here4fun (813136) on Monday September 20, 2004 @04:41AM (#10295696) Homepage Journal
    I doubt many people would want to live in 800 square foot houses if given a choice. Most people who make money like to build big gigantic houses. Some even like to go into well established neighborhoods, buy an older smaller house, tear it down, and build their McMansion.

    I think the real problem humanity will face is over population. The world is staying the same size, but there are more people. How much longer can people keep cutting down trees, without replacing them, until the price of lumber gets so high that only a small amount of people will be able to afford it. I remember when I was in highschool, the population of the USA was 250 million, and in the papers a few weeks ago it referenced the population at 300 million. If that is correct, we grew by 50 million people in the past 15 years. What will happen in the next 50 years? Is it possible we will pass the half a billion mark? Will we become the next India?

    What people should think about is economics. The world is becomming a divided place. Even in the USA. I remember reading an article in school which showed that the top 1% of people in the USA owned 10% of the wealth around the time of the revolution. Today 1% of the USA owns more than 40% of all the wealth. The papers also had an article that Bush wants to eliminate overtime pay. That means buisness will be able to force people to work more hours, without the detterant of paying time_and_a_half. Does that mean we will see 50 hour work weeks and less to show for it? But before anyone decides to jump on the democratic bandwagon, they are not that much better. Both the republican and democratic party are subject to the same rules of the game, the same need to raise moeny and bow to the lobbists. We need a new breed of politicians, but to get them, we need to pay attention and not vote the way we pick what fast food resturan to eat lunch at.

    While solar panels might sound cool, it is like a band-aid on a wound to the neck. I don't know what the anwser is. We can't stop people from having kids. We can try and conserve natural resources, but eventually the number of people will be more than the planet can support.

    What scares me is the fear that 90% of the population will be pushed into slave like conditions, while the richest 10% live relativly well, even in the worst of conditions. They will hire some of the poor, train them as police or military, and protect the "public peace". Think of India, where even with the poverty, a small percentage of the people live luxeriously, and the rest are controlled by a somewhat corrupt police force and politicians. The rest live on the streat and the have's walk past them, sometimes looking at the have-nots as human garbage, but most of the time trying not to make eye contact.

    • Social Engineering (Score:5, Insightful)

      by pedestrian crossing (802349) on Monday September 20, 2004 @04:49AM (#10295723) Homepage Journal

      I doubt many people would want to live in 800 square foot houses if given a choice. Most people who make money like to build big gigantic houses. Some even like to go into well established neighborhoods, buy an older smaller house, tear it down, and build their McMansion.

      I think the real problem humanity will face is over population.

      The problem isn't so much overpopulation. The problem is that a small segment of the world's population has acquired a taste for a lifestyle that uses a disproportionate amount of resources.

      People need to start choosing to live in a smaller house, driving a smaller car.

      The real change will require social engineering on a massive scale.

      Imagine if it was considered patriotic (instead of crazy/granola) to use fewer/alternate resources!

    • Re:The future... (Score:5, Informative)

      by hazem (472289) on Monday September 20, 2004 @05:20AM (#10295793) Journal
      The best solution is to educate the world. Educated people tend to have more options and fewer babies.

      The last I heard, Italy has negative native population growth and its overall population growth is only positive when immigration is taken into account. And while the US has positive native population growth, a great deal of the overall growh is also from immigration.

      It probably has to do with more guys getting educated and becoming computer geeks. Their chance of reproducing then drops precipitously because they spend all their time on slashdot.
      • Re:The future... (Score:3, Informative)

        by WOV (652967)

        Apparently, though, Italy views that population decline as a real problem - Italy and France are both examining re-upping an old WWII policy of giving medals and other recognition to new mothers. = )

    • Re:The future... (Score:5, Informative)

      by mcrbids (148650) on Monday September 20, 2004 @06:49AM (#10296006) Journal
      We can't stop people from having kids. We can try and conserve natural resources, but eventually the number of people will be more than the planet can support.

      Over-population is not quite the problem you think it is. In the United States, pop growth has slowed to a crawl, and most of our growth is due to immigration.

      Developed countries the world over have slow (and declining) birthrates. Heck, Italy is trying to encourage their population to reproduce - they are suffering from net population decrease!

      World population, based on current trends, is due to stabilize [prb.org] around 2075 at around 9 million people. [geocities.com]

      There are a number of reasons for this. Affluent people tend to have fewer kids, merely because they are a hassle. In the more impoverished nations, existing infrastructure is failing to provide for current needs, let alone future growth. For example, one of the largest mass poisonings ever in human history is taking place in Asia [nationalgeographic.com] because of arsenic-laced drinking water.

      <RANT>

      What truly amazes me is the sheer number of people who don't google whatever they're talking about before they say it. The volume of uninformed, stupid comments on the Internet that can be corrected with 10 minutes of googling and quick research is mind-boggling.

      People with access to this kind of information should not be making the stupid comments they are. That they do, anyway, and don't get flogged on the streets is a mere testament to the fact that humanity does not yet value intelligence and critical thinking over stupidity.

      I daresay we are entering a new era of humanity - the era of the informed but ignorant idiot. The information is there - cheap, easily available. Tools that our ancestors would have killed for - and we use it to pass along mundane drivel because "we feel" or "we think" rather than actually use that tool to anywhere near its true potential.

      Sad. TV is used for network television and advertising, instead of mass education and information. News shows on TV are remarkably shallow and uninformative. The best bet are the "nature" shows, which are nice but curiously designed towards complacency.

      We are in the middle of a mass extinction event [well.com] brought about, no doubt, by people who chcose not to be informed, and make decisions based on ego and inadequate information.

      We need to pay attention, people!

      </RANT
    • In the case of an unbalanced few rich versus many poor in a democratic country, it is in the best interest of the rich to manipulate the poor to continue to vote for politicians that will preserve the status quo. This is perhaps mjost easily visible in rich democratic European countries such as the UK, Spain and the Netherlands that still have royal families that are subsidized by the governments. These are some of the richest families in the world, but they continue to be subsized through state provided se
    • You need to chill out a bit and enjoy your life more.

      We're not overpopulating the world. It appears we'll max out by 2050 and then the population will start pulling back a bit.

      As for "cutting down trees without replacing them", you're just plain wrong there man. In the US, there are more trees now than there were a hundred, or even 200 years ago.

      Everything gets better as technology increases. We need less and less land to produce food for everyone.

      So what we SHOULD do is push everywhere else in the w
    • Re:The future... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bob_jenkins (144606)
      I'm thinking of buying a 1200 sq ft house in an established area, tearing it down, and building a 6000 sq ft house in its place. Most of that square footage would be underground, but still. I'd have flat roofs for decks or gardens or water heating on top, not really to be green, but just because with a 60'x90' lot and a 50'x60' house, where else would I put the back yard? Trial floor plans here [burtleburtle.net]. I'd tear down an old house and build a new because there are no vacant lots left in Silicon Valley.

      My curre
  • hippie heating! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Deanalator (806515) <pierce403@gmail.com> on Monday September 20, 2004 @04:44AM (#10295707) Homepage
    The building that I live in at Portland State University [pdx.edu] is a "green rated" [green-rated.org] building. Besides all the recirculated heat etc, it also uses collected rain water to do things like flush the pottys.

    One of the advantages I guess to living in a state with dirt cheap electricity and *way* too much water :-/
  • by DAldredge (2353) <SlashdotEmail@GMail.Com> on Monday September 20, 2004 @04:47AM (#10295718) Journal
    I am not fully up on solar cell tech so these numbers may be wrong but it appears that a solar cell setup costs between $5000 - $7000 per KWH. This being a 3.3 KW setup would place the cost of the solar cells alone at 15,000 - 21,000.

    I just do not see how they can build the house for what they are saying they can. I also do not understand why they had to get a 15,000 grant to build a home that costs nothing to heat/cool.
    • Actually, try checking-out allowances from your local power company. In many States your service providers offer 30-50% buy-down i.e. generous rebates on completed installations. And they have to buy your surplus power :-)

      Check out www.homepower.com, they're pretty good on thi ssort of thing.
  • by Mortiss (812218) on Monday September 20, 2004 @04:50AM (#10295727)
    To further increase eco-friendliness of this house they should also consider equipping it with materials that convert waste heat directly to electricity.

    http://archive.newscientist.com/secure/article/art icle.jsp?rp=1&id=mg18324635.100 [newscientist.com](Subscription required)

    Although the technology is still in its early stages , it looks promising enaugh to reduce energy waste in households.
  • by firefarter (307327) <chris@@@cecube...de> on Monday September 20, 2004 @04:53AM (#10295735) Homepage
    My gf told me that passive heating in houses is being offered for years and years. The technology is there - it just won't catch on.
    Why? Because, for one, you can't even open a window to let fresh air in - it would disrupt the heat cycle. Oh - and that people don't feel comfortable with styrofoam walls. And that the kitchens are usually in the middle and have no ceiling, etc...

    • by the_twisted_pair (741815) on Monday September 20, 2004 @07:30AM (#10296091)
      Simply not true. Autarkic housing can be achieved simply, and the result need not look like a pudding. Their usual issue is actually overheating in spring and autmn seasons (low-angle sunlight comes in through windows, during seasons of near-minimum heating requirement).

      Even 'regular' houses have no excuse not to be more efficient. Heat reclaimation units deal with pre-heating incoming air with the outgoing (hey, Wickes in the UK sell a packaged unit suitable for retrofit to an average UK house for less than 160quid last I checked; payback is 15-18months ). That also deals with odour, air moisture content etc. It's quite easy to get a 3-bed UK semi (say 100sq.m.) down below 1.2Kw design heatloss for a 19degC interior / -1degC exterior temp difference.

      At which point, you might note, overheating can actually become an issue with typ. family (2 adults at 135W each @average activity, two kids at 100w each, modicum of household gizmos). Your only real losses are top-up heating overnight and domestic hotwater.

      (yes I am an architect)
  • by phobos13013 (813040) on Monday September 20, 2004 @05:08AM (#10295762)
    We could go on all day about how easy (for a few bucks extra initial) it would be to make our living structures more environmentally friendly. We are demanding the corporations who make our products to clean up so it is only fair that we do the same. Actually its imperative. For those who think an 800 sq ft home isnt large enough for a family of five or whatever, perhaps you need to realize that jus because you have the ability to build 10,000 sq ft homes and drive 5 metric ton cars (yes we all saw the Hummer replacement marketed on TV & the internet this week) [i4u.com] doesnt mean we SHOULD!

    There are endless techniques that we can integrate into new homes, many of which should be REQUIRED, including solar panels which are yes very expensive now and not very efficient in energy producing terms, but what about new designs for homes including bigger windows and skylights using low emissivity glass [atofinachemicals.com]. There have been advancements in new heating technologies like using heat tapped from the Earth's Core [wired.com], and using renewed and recylced building materials. We have the tech, lets put it to use!
  • Hello America (Score:4, Informative)

    by Noizemonger (665926) on Monday September 20, 2004 @05:13AM (#10295776)
    Tis is ridiculous. We had that kind of houses for YEARS in europe, at least in germany. And its not a niche-market around here but mainstream. Due to the fact that energy and heating costs are very high in germany a lot of people consider a "low-energy-house" or even a "zero-energy-House". But im happy to see that america finally found out about some enviromentally sound ideas from last century. Whats next cleaner air? Less fuel? Kyoto?
  • Takes Root (Score:2, Funny)

    by Sinus0idal (546109)
    Thought this was about hacking a greenhouse for a minute... back to my coffee...
  • I'd be interested to hear comments on staggered stud construction. I had not heard of the technique until I RTFA. Google finds:

    http://www.mnpower.com/energyhome/technology/sh e ll .html

    "Staggered stud construction eliminates the thermal bridging of wall studs and allows space for a high density blown cellulose insulation giving the walls and R-Value of 30. Wall studs are placed at 24" on-center with a single top plate. The roof trusses are lined up directly over the wall studs."

    Does anyone do this? Do car
  • by Zog The Undeniable (632031) on Monday September 20, 2004 @05:28AM (#10295809)
    One of the big problems with mains electric power is that it can't easily be stored. This means that wind/wave/solar power all need backup fossil or nuclear capacity for when it's not windy or sunny. Batteries are bulky (look in the basement of your data center), contain nasty chemicals, are expensive and have a short life. Maybe the answer is a few more schemes like Dinorwig [snowdonialtd.org]? This was originally conceived as a means of responding instantly to spikes in demand, but fundamentally it's a clever way of storing excess power from the grid and releasing it later. How much would it cost to hollow out a few of the Rocky Mountains?
  • by martinde (137088) on Monday September 20, 2004 @05:30AM (#10295815) Homepage
    I like the idea of distributed solar power generation for a variety of reasons. I think it's one of the only ways that (once installed) has minimal environmental impact, assuming that you're going to build a house in "that spot" either way.
    To build fields of solar arrays or mirrors in the desert wrecks the desert, and then you have to deal with transmission line losses which are significant. Same problems with wind, geothermal, hydro, and tidal power - you wreck the environment you install them in to some degree and then you pay transmission line inefficiencies.

    And often in these articles they don't talk about the cost of photovoltaics, either. They are semiconductors, which take larges amounts of energy to produce, and require some really nasty chemicals to process as well. So for every house you build with a photovoltaic roof, you've got to deal with those issues, which means it's going to take some time before you net any power or positive environmental impact.

    There was an article in Discover Magazine last year about a company who was making a solar power generator based on a Stirling engine and they were claiming some impressive efficiencies. Manufacturing these was an issue of machining which can be made pretty clean - I thought that this was a cool idea. (I'd link to it but I'm in lynx right now and don't feel like googling it - sorry!)

    Also you've got the issue of what to do at night. Of course hooking to the grid takes care of that right now but it means that you're relying on "dirty" power at night, and once enough people switch to this model then that would be all the dirty power was there for. Of course, it's sunny somewhere all of the time but then you've got transmission line issues. Putting batteries in your basement is an option, but most of those technologies are nasty too - lots of heavy metals to deal with. "My" solution for that - flywheel storage... I don't know if anyone is seriously working on that one though.
    • There was an article in Discover Magazine last year about a company who was making a solar power generator based on a Stirling engine and they were claiming some impressive efficiencies

      I keep seeing these claims again and again. The thing I can't help but wonder, is why if these are so effecient, is why there isn't one under the hood? Even the green cars such as the Honda Insite and Toyota Prius use internal combustion engines. I keep thinking there is a reason we don't see sterling engines in transpor
      • > The thing I can't help but wonder, is why if these are so effecient, is why there isn't one under the hood?

        Well, you still need heat to run it. Internal combustion engines have become very clean and the issues with manufacturing them are very well understood, too. And to the best of my knowledge, noone has ever built stirling engines of significant size at production quantities. Even if you made it gasoline powered (using the same infrastructure we currently have) you'd have to prove it was reliabl
      • The thing I can't help but wonder, is why if these are so effecient, is why there isn't one under the hood?

        That's because of low power-to-weight ratio, because they take time to start up, and because they run at a constant, low RPM.

        They are used a lot as power generators, on boats for example.

        But that could change some day. There is this company [airsport-corp.com] that tries to manufacture and market an aviation Stirling engine. And I'm working on a very low weight, variable-RPM Stirling engine based on this concept [promci.qc.ca] of an
    • You have those no matter that kind of plant you use. Nobody wants a coal or nuclear plant in their yard, hydroelectric requires... well, enough water to supply the power needed, and even gas plants tend to be in low rent districts. why are these transmission line losses suddenly so notable when the power comes from solar?

      The solar field in california (bakersfield, I believe) uses high temperature collectors, molten brine, and a stirling engine to generate power, and so far as I know the best that's done is

  • Stupid (Score:4, Insightful)

    by N8F8 (4562) on Monday September 20, 2004 @06:31AM (#10295957)
    If you build any house less than 2000 SQ. FT. these days you wouldn't find a buyer. This is where the greenies allways miss the mark. Build the same house with modern amentities (including elbow room) and you may get someone to listen.

    Hell, just publish easy steps for the new homebuilder and people will listen. I'm 2/3 the way into building a new house. Months ago I tried to have Slashdot run a "Ask Slashdot" on this very issue. It was rejected , of course.

    Here is what I actually did: thermal barrier in the attic, manifold water system, insulated all interior walls, install only one waterheater, cathedral ceilings, return-air ductign in all major rooms and high SEER air conditioning system. Wish I could have found other (affordable) ways to save energy.
    • Just how big a house do people expect in the US? 800 square feet is a two floor house 20' on a side, right?

      My current place (UK, suburbs of Cambridge, so hardly 'inner-city') I consider large for the two of us living here and is two floors, approx 15' x 26' (~780 sq. ft). It would be fine for a small family (one kid/dog etc).
    • If you build any house less than 2000 SQ. FT. these days you wouldn't find a buyer.

      Nice blanket statement you've got there. Like everything else in real estate, it comes down to location--maybe the above is true where you live, but most homes around here (Greene County, Tennessee) including new construction are significantly smaller than 2000sqft. My house is 2650sqft (oddly enough, given that it was built 85 years ago) and dwarfs just about everything else in the neighborhood, including the new homes.
  • by sciuro (97151) on Monday September 20, 2004 @06:47AM (#10296001) Homepage

    in case any non-americans are wondering why the size of the apartments is "only 244 square meters", 800 square feet is in fact about 75 square meters.

    converting areas is different from converting lengths... tsk tsk.

    -duncan

  • 800 sq ft == 74.32 sq m

    In case some metric users think americans are crazy for calling a 2626 sq ft (244 sq m) house "too small".

  • This is an interesting project, but until this becomes economically effective, can we really expect it to become mainstream?

    The average size of a middle class newly constructed house seems to be 2000-2500 square feet in many areas of the US (this statement is anecdotal . . . based on what I've seen, but I think its a reasonable estimate). In the US, energy costs are cheap. And I assume that the $117,000 cost of construction cited in the article does not include the lot . . . the actual cost of a home like

  • by Jaiden (64072) <jaiden0.hotmail@com> on Monday September 20, 2004 @10:10AM (#10297074)
    In MA at least, you can choose who makes your power.

    http://massenergy.com/Green.FAQs.html

    For a few cents extra per kwh, you can have clean power without an initial investment. If you truly care about the environment, you should be buying clean power. You have a choice of wind, solar, hydro or various mixes (at varying cost.)

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