Deconstructing luxury in small home + tiny cabin + treehouse

“After several decades as an airline executive (including Delta president, Virgin America CEO and Lufthansa president/CEO), Fred Reid could have built a McMansion, but instead he chose to grow his home without taking on debt and embracing nature by adding small outbuildings.

When Reid bought his aunt’s Sonoma County property, he wanted to “recapture the indistinguishable border between indoors and outdoors that I had as a child in Ethiopia”. Instead of tearing down her tiny cottage, he made enlarged it a bit and opened it up to the outdoors with floor-to-ceiling windows or doors in nearly all the rooms, including the shower and toilet room.

Years later, he nestled a tiny cabin (a prefab from Modern Cabaña) in a redwood grove to serve as an office and guest space. In another Redwood grove, he built an observation tower treehouse as a second guesthouse or a personal retreat.”


Deconstructing luxury in small home + tiny cabin + treehouse is a post from: Natural Building Blog

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Federal Judge Rules for Property Rights, Smacks Down Abusive Feds

“Government's actions … shock the conscience of the Court" Hage family ranch protected from abusive federal agencies

“Government’s actions … shock the conscience of the Court” Hage family ranch protected from abusive federal agencies

The recent story about Cliven Bundy, the rancher in southeast Nevada who’s been harassed by the BLM, is not alone in his fight for land rights. Here’s a story from last year about one of Bundy’s neighbors. The point is to look into the facts instead of making a knee-jerk decision based on mainstream talking points. All the while keep in mind that what happens to these ranchers could very well be coming your way someday if these government agencies are not reined in.

“In an historic 104-page ruling, Chief Judge Robert C. Jones of the Federal District Court of Nevada has struck a major blow for property rights and, at the same time, has smacked down federal agencies that have been riding roughshod over Western ranchers and property owners. The long-awaited ruling, which had been expected before the end of last year, was finally issued at the end of May. The court case, U.S. v. Hage, has been keenly watched by legal analysts and constitutional scholars — but has been completely ignored by the major media.

Judge Jones accused the federal bureaucrats of racketeering under the federal RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corruption Organizations) statute, and accused them as well of extortion, mail fraud, and fraud, in an effort “to kill the business of Mr. Hage.”

More at the source: New American (Excellent article, best on the subject so far.)
War on the West: Why More Bundy Standoffs Are Coming
Jay is blocked on this topic until he apologizes for his abusive language about Cliven Bundy and learns to write with respect. Readers don’t have to agree with me, but please refrain from hate speech and name calling.

Federal Judge Rules for Property Rights, Smacks Down Abusive Feds is a post from: Natural Building Blog

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Jus’ keep on drillin’ that ol’ LNG hole…

A sad bluegrass song yet to be written, with a lesson yet to be learned
Don't promote

 At the Energy Council of Canada's Vancouver April 14 breakfast Roundtable titled Powering British Columbia’s Natural Gas Facilities: Opportunities, Implications, Issues I once again felt caught in the draft of Deputy Premier Rich Coleman’s head-down bull charge to catch an LNG train he keeps insisting is about to leave the station - if it hasn’t already.

Echoing what we’ve heard so many times before, the LNG industry reps on the panel had several clear, well-scripted, oft-repeated messages to dump onto the 60-odd BC energy industry experts and leaders in the room, which is to say:

1. If we don’t act right away, this amazing LNG export opportunity will be utterly lost to BC (forever apparently, since according to this logic China and the rest of the world will stop needing energy after 2020) ... but BC will certainly need energy after 2020 so why not save some gas, if it can be responsibly procured, for our own use down the generations?

2. That gorgeous kid called BC is all growed up now and dating the most studly energy players on the planet. Her dates keep whispering how serious they are about her, that she’s special to them because she’s smart and “understands the economy”, not just because she has such attractive…resource assets.

3. Really sorry about this, but there won't be any clean renewable energy powering what is by far the most energy intensive part of the LNG supply chain: the refrigeration and compression cycles will all be powered by fossil gas, because why should the LNG proponents take that risk even if it costs the same?

4. Perhaps, and this is only a maybe, some renewable energy, perhaps up to 5% of total new energy requirements of the BC LNG scheme may find its way into LNG production supply chain at some point (but we can’t say how or when, since it all just depends).

5. … did we remind you again that BC’s LNG is going to be the cleanest in the world? (Because the BC Government has finally corrected under BC law the centuries-wrong Oxford English Dictionary definition of the word ”clean”.)

6. uh … there is no number 6 because the words "climate change”, “fugitive emissions”, “ecosystem fragmentation”, “fracking impacts”, “downside risk” and "most recent IPCC report declaring the world must act now” were not mentioned during the entire set of presentations by industry members of the panel, nor by the moderator.

7. … and another minor detail not mentioned: that for all the electrical and gas energy currently consumed in BC today (55,000 GWh/y electricity plus 205 PJ/y gas) much, much more than that amount of gas-equivalent energy consumption will be gulped to supply just the first few of the 15  BC LNG plants proposed.

That’s a heck of a lot of new energy consumption for BC, potentially three times what we consume today, 95% of which will be fossil gas-fired. (How do you say goodbye to BC’s enviable green, clean status?)

For my part, and I don’t think I’m off the true mark, the BC Government's LNG story has way too many holes in it, particularly the big rush to market we keep hearing about. Rushing might possibly serve the gas industry and the election cycle, though it's more likely to put them too far ahead of themselves and into trouble; while conversely there is no way that rushing such a monster-sized scheme could helpfully address the godzillaesque environmental and social challenges that would surely emerge.

So what’s this rush really about? Can it be reduced to just a cynical push to generate gas scarcity in North America against new export demand so as to raise domestic gas prices away from today's North America-wide tight-gas losses? In other words, is this whole LNG export scheme just a way for the gas industry to reinvent itself via the miracles of directional drilling and fracking, to lock North America into a future dominated by fossil gas rather than renewables?

There are too many intolerable unknowns about the BC LNG export scheme. The undefined economic and environmental risks are too high to make this monumental energy policy swing so precipitously, and to wed our province in a dependent role to the world’s most powerful global industry for the next 50 years whatever the cost.

I’m not canonically against the use of fossil gas. I could support it as a large-scale transition fuel away from coal, and for transportation, but only if we find scientific consensus about how to economically solve the fugitive methane gas emissions challenge and the other significant ecosystem impacts.

I’d also like to know if anyone has written a detailed business case that clearly demonstrates why the rushed BC LNG export scheme is likely to lead to net economic and social benefits for BC’s residents, rate-payers and tax payers. So far, I haven’t seen one. 

Making Better Buildings — a Review

betterbuildingsWe recently posted an announcement about the availability of this book, but since then I have had a chance to finish reading it, and have reviewed it below.

Chris Magwood’s Making Better Buildings is a comparative guide to sustainable construction for homeowners and contractors. It is also a masterpiece of research and experience folded into an encyclopedic reference book for anyone interested in sustainable approaches to our built environment. Clearly a labor of love and a commitment to improving our situation on Earth, this book will have enduring value.

To my knowledge, building science has never been approached with such an attitude of precise evaluation of all of the factors that affect the environmental impact of materials and building systems. Chris Magwood looks at both common, and not-so-common, ways of building to see how they stack up against each other, giving the reader the opportunity to compare every environmental and economic aspect. His criteria for this evaluation embrace environmental impacts, embodied energy, waste, energy efficiency, material costs, labor inputs, ease of construction for homeowners, sourcing/availability, durability, code compliance, indoor air quality, and future development. The environmental impacts include harvesting the material, manufacturing, transportation, and installation. Simple bar graphs indicate at a glance just how “green” each material or system might be.

In addition to this meticulous look at materials and systems, Chris provides an overview of how each system works, in terms of methodology and skill. Here we can benefit from his many years of experience as a builder and teacher to offer tips for successful installations.

Foundation systems evaluated include earthbag, stone, rammed earth tires, screw and wooden piers, poured concrete, concrete masonry units, autoclaved aerated concrete blocks, certain insulated concrete forms, and rubble trenches. At the end of the chapter Chris explains why he decided not to evaluate several very common foundation systems, such as pressure treated wood and concrete slab foundations. Basically he feels that these are so inherently unsustainable that he doesn’t want to encourage their use. I would have preferred that he included these popular concepts to allow the reader to form his own opinion about how sustainable they might be, based on the data itself.

Wall systems evaluated include wood frame, straw bale, cob, cordwood, rammed earth, compressed earth block, and adobe. Chris indicates that many of the foundation systems can also be extended upward to incorporate whole walls, such as using earthbags for this. In this regard he failed to recognize that since earthbags can be filled with a wide range of materials (besides compacted earth), they can be tailored to meet a wide range of needs ranging from highly insulated to entirely thermal mass walls.

Choices for insulating walls include cotton batt, straw/clay, hempcrete, hemp batt, perlite loose-fill, mineral wool, cementitious foam, wool batt, and cellulose. Again, some very popular insulated wall systems (including structural insulated panels and insulated concrete forms) are not thoroughly evaluated, other than to specify why they are too unsustainable.

Floor and roof structures are combined into one chapter, and include wood framing, wood trusses, wooden I-beams, glulam framing, open web steel joists, timber framing (and post and beam), conical grain bin roofs, slab based floors. Then, as a separate chapter, various sheathing and cladding materials are evaluated. Earthen plaster, wood planks, plywood and oriented stand board, gypsum board, magnesium oxide board, fired clay brick, lime plaster, and stone are all indicated as useful for cladding walls. Roof sheathing includes metal roofing, cedar shakes and shingles, thatch, slate, composite shingles, green/living roofs, and clay tile. For flooring materials we have earthen floors, hardwood, softwood, tile, linoleum, bamboo, cork, and concrete.

The environmental viability of various surface finishing materials is evaluated. Here we have earthen plaster, lime plaster and paint, milk paint, silicate paint, acrylic paint, oil paint, natural oils and waxes, wallpaper and coverings.

The final chapters deal with utilities and mechanical systems. As sources for water, there are surface water, well water, rainwater catchment, and desalinated water. To pump that water, most common pumping systems are described.  Possible water filtration is outlined. Common pipe materials are evaluated for their environmental impact. For waste treatment, we have municipal wastewater systems, septic systems, and compost toilets.

For heating and cooling, passive solar, solar hydronic, solar hot air, various heat pumps, boilers, on-demand heaters, tank heaters, forced air furnaces, wood and pellet stoves, and masonry heaters are all considered. For electricity, there is grid power, photovoltaic power, wind turbines, and micro hydro turbines.

From all of these lists you can gain a sense of how comprehensive this book really is. Over 400 pages of in depth data and evaluation give both professionals and homeowners the ability to make informed choices about all of the materials and systems that go into putting together a house.

One thing became abundantly clear to me as I read through all the various chapters: building codes are pathetically out-dated, and don’t really take into account the truly important environmental considerations in their prescriptive codes. This must change if we want to move toward a sustainable future!

Making Better Buildings — a Review is a post from: Natural Building Blog

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Thompson Indian Tribal Pithouse

Thompson Indian Tribe Earth Lodge, Agassiz, British Columbia

Thompson Indian Tribe Earth Lodge, Agassiz, British Columbia

“Computer model data from NATIVE AMERICAN ARCHITECTURE, by Peter Nabokov and Robert Easton, Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York, 1989.”

Dennis Holloway Architect
Excellent website.

Thompson Indian Tribal Pithouse is a post from: Natural Building Blog

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