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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.
  • 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.
  • 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?
  • 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.

  • Re:800 SF? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 20, 2004 @04:33AM (#10295663)
    Housing cost depends a lot on the local climate. If you live on Hawaii you don't need tripple glass windows...
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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!

  • 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 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!
  • by pedestrian crossing (802349) on Monday September 20, 2004 @05:16AM (#10295782) Homepage Journal

    I disagree that overpopulation is the problem, at least in the medium term. I think the problem is overconsumption, especially by Americans, and that is the issue addressed by the original article.

  • by hazem (472289) on Monday September 20, 2004 @05:28AM (#10295810) Journal
    Imagine if it was considered patriotic (instead of crazy/granola) to use fewer/alternate resources!

    Yeah... that in a country, where after getting attacked, the President tells people to "go shopping".
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • by ElvenMonkey (789317) on Monday September 20, 2004 @06:46AM (#10295999)

    Come on.. this is the USA being talked about here, you know, the same one that signed the Kyoto agreement and promptly pulled out of it [bbc.co.uk] not wanting to harm the economy, that even doubted that global warming was real [bbc.co.uk] despite of [bbc.co.uk] the evidence [ecobridge.org] to the contrary, eventually catching up [bbc.co.uk] with the rest of us, and is the biggest producer of pollution in the world, bar none [bbc.co.uk] (The US contains 4% of the world's population but produces about 25% of all carbon dioxide emissions.)

    The concept of looking out for the environment like this is news for them.

  • by wes33 (698200) on Monday September 20, 2004 @07:05AM (#10296036)
    sigh ... where's your data from; I call bullshit on the basis of this [gatech.edu]:

    1. Do solar cells produce more energy than is used during their manufacture?
    Yes. The amount of time it takes for a technology to produce more energy than was used in their manufacture is called the energy payback time. Solar cells have an energy payback time ranging from a few months to 6 years, depending on the type of materials, the type of solar cell and where it is used. Solar cells have warranties well in excess of these numbers, typically 20 years. The origin of the popular myth that solar cells do not produce enough energy in their lifetime to recover the energy in making them is unknown, as every published study has shown that solar cells produce more energy in their lifetime than the energy used in production.

    I wonder if /. should have a rule: no fact claims without reasonable references (I guess it might get pretty "thin" here though)
  • by the_twisted_pair (741815) on Monday September 20, 2004 @07:12AM (#10296052)
    Another consideration that governs energy payback is surface temeperature. If you use panels, mount them well clear of the roof finish / substrate below for convective cooling. Photovoltaic activity drops off markedly with high panel temps, increasing payback time.

    Note most panels are rated at 25degC surface temperature, but under standard illumination, and depending on ambient temps, will typically be running at 55-65degC. That's one reason it's difficult to achieve rated output.

    Finally, the panels don;t die after 25years - they wil continue producing electricity until physically destroyed, but the amount tails off on an exponential curve. 25-35years is usu. given as alifetime, becasue at that point rated output is expected to have have dimished 20-25% (depends on rating method)

    Anyway, beyond payback, all that power is FREE.
  • by zoeblade (600058) on Monday September 20, 2004 @07:30AM (#10296087) Homepage

    Try using online resources such as Wikipedia:

    I think I've read somewhere that solar panels cost more in energy to create than they ever produce. Is this correct?

    Although I can't find the exact answer to this rumour (thankfully other people have beaten me to it anyway, see the other replies to your post), there's a lot of interesting information about solar cells [wikipedia.org] there.

    I've also read that the Chinese were not responsible for chopsticks, although they were responsible for fortune cookies. Apparently chopsticks were invented just 200 years ago in San Francisco.

    Chopsticks were developed about 3000 to 5000 years ago in China (the exact date is unknown). [wikipedia.org]

  • by bhima (46039) <Bhima...Pandava@@@gmail...com> on Monday September 20, 2004 @07:40AM (#10296119) Journal
    Yes!They build disposable houses in the US, I've been there & seen it.
  • by dajak (662256) on Monday September 20, 2004 @07:52AM (#10296152)
    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 population density of the United States now is roughly similar to a conservative estimate of peak population density of Celtic Belgium in pre-Roman times. In those days import of resources was negligable, and the yield of agriculture was probably roughly 1:3. Theoretically, the US population should be able to survive on subsistence agriculture with prehistoric techniques. Of course the geographic features of the US are different (subtract much of Alaska and mountain ranges), but the US does not appear to have an overpopulation problem from a subsistence point of view. It must therefore be a lifestyle issue.

    If houses are smaller, you spend less money, time, and/or resources in heating, maintaining, and cleaning your house. If the neighbours houses are also small and there are less than 1.5 parking spaces (monumental waste of space in the US) per inhabitant in the country you can walk to the shops instead of driving there.

    75m^2 is not impossibly small for a new 3 to 4 bedroom house in in the more expensive areas of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. 105m^2 is a typical size for a new 3 bedroom house (built on 80m^2 land, max. 60% covered with the house, and selling in the range $250.000-400.000 depending on location) in the west of the Netherlands.

  • Re:Initial Cost (Score:2, Insightful)

    by LetterJ (3524) <j@wynia.org> on Monday September 20, 2004 @09:16AM (#10296619) Homepage
    But that's kind of the problem he's talking about. While I'd love to have a more green approach to energy, my current energy costs (for both electricity and natural gas) runs just under $1800 a year and I live where it stays below freezing for 4+ months of the year. I run window air conditioners keeping the house at 68F during the summer. My house is over 100 years old and has snow on the roof for those 4+ months, which would mean that I'd still have to have "normal" energy solutions for nearly half of the year. The roof isn't particularly well insulated (I have ice dams every winter) and my costs are still that low.

    The price you quote would take me over 10 years to recoup and, when I bought my house 4 years ago, would have constituted 25% of my home's value. That does make it an expensive solution.

    I'm not saying that we shouldn't be looking at it anyway, but to call it anything other than expensive and logistically difficult is to have one's head in the sand.
  • by Paulrothrock (685079) on Monday September 20, 2004 @09:22AM (#10296685) Homepage Journal
    Who has an interest in decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels and coal-burning power plants? Taxpayers.

    Who has an interest in increasing the size of the market for these products so economies of scale can lower their prices? Taxpayers.

    Who has an interest in lowering electrical demand so the possibility of power shortages decreases? Taxpayers.

  • Re:ah (Score:3, Insightful)

    by GileadGreene (539584) on Monday September 20, 2004 @09:54AM (#10296931) Homepage
    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".

    You've pretty much hit the nail on the head there. Energy costs are (comparatively) low in the US. And people will buy what they can afford. If energy costs skyrocketed, fewer and fewer people could afford to buy giant energy-sucking houses, and they wouldn't get built. It's the same reason that rising petrol costs have made hybrid cars popular (although those that can afford them still buy gas-guzzling SUVs). The question is, why is energy so cheap in the US?

  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Monday September 20, 2004 @01:50PM (#10299280) Homepage Journal
    Typical waster. Demonstrating an extremely efficient house with some compromises doesn't force anyone to use it. The ease with which oil shoots from the ground and burns in furnaces has allowed us to waste so much of it that it now costs over $40:barrel, with $50 inevitable, and soon. Why are you complaining about environmentalists offering a typically sized city apartment, when you could be complaining about the energy companies whose supply of misery is inexhaustable?

    As for "wasteful nature", the Earth sheds only 30% [wisc.edu] of the power it receives in sunlight. The other 70% is consumed in the complexity of natural processes, with human life balanced amidst the cycles. Even that 30% albedo might not be "wasted" - it's too early to tell, until we understand even a little about the conditions where it goes, far from the planet. Nature's conservation is an inspiration, not an invitation to waste.

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