Hurricane Resistant Earthbag Houses

Steve and Carol Escott’s hurricane resistant earthbag house in the Bahamas.

Steve and Carol Escott’s hurricane resistant earthbag house in the Bahamas.

Earthbag building is perfect for constructing storm resistant affordable housing in hurricane and tornado regions. Steve and Carol Escott’s house for instance has been through numerous hurricanes with no serious damage so far.

“When the Mississippi floods, people use earthbags to hold back the water. And when you buy a sack of oats for your horses, it might come in a polypropylene bag—the same kind that they fill with sand or soil and use to direct the flood waters.

Did you know you can build permanent structures with the same bags? In fact, you can get the material they make the bags from in a big roll—it is one long continuous tube at that point! This is before they cut it into smaller pieces and sew it to make bags—and that’s often even easier to use than the bags!

This building technique, which can use a wide variety of soil types, is called Earthbag Building. You can build foundations out of it, retaining walls, square houses, round houses, amoeboid houses, arches, vaults, domes, sculpture, benches, privacy “fences.” The list goes on!”

Mud Straw Love

An Experimental Trickle Down Solar Water Heating System

Lu has designed and built a solar water heating system with several innovations.
The system includes a collector based on the the Thomason trickle down design with some new wrinkles.
Innovative features include:
  • The unique trickle down collector.
  • A storage tank with a new liner design.
  • An innovative version of a copper heat exchanger.
  • A PV powered diaphragm pump.

Innovative, Energy Efficient, Solar Heated, Cost Effective Home in Montana

I recently got the chance to see a very innovative solar home being built near Bridger Montana by Andrew Ray of Rational Design/Build.
Andrew (and his frequent conspirator Clint Wicks of CW2 Construction) have been building homes for fifteen years, with Andrew getting his start with Steve Loken in Missoula.  But, this time its a really special home in that its for his own family. He is a very innovative builder and careful planner, and on this home he has taken out all the stops and included all of the best energy efficiency, solar, and material saving features he has used and studied over the years. Its a fascinating home.

Low Thermal Mass Sunspace (LTMS) — provides high solar fraction solar space heating with better control and more efficiency that conventional passive solar heating.

The Low Thermal Mass Sunspace provides 213 sqft of glazing optimized for solar space heating.

Inside-out Mooney Wall — provides an R34 with near zero thermal bridging. A low cost, high performance wall.  The walls are also very efficiently framed with continuous top of wall header and with metal bracing in lieu of sheathing.

The inside-out Mooney Wall with metal bracing instead of sheathing, and continuous top header.

Crawl Space Plenum — serves as a well sealed plenum to distribute the heat from the Low Thermal Mass Sunspace and the wood burner to the house.  It is constructed from Insulated Concrete Forms with a unique integrated footer design that requires no forms.  

Sealed crawl space that serves as plenum to distribute solar heat from LTMS

The house uses many innovative techniques to minimize material use and labor.  There are only eight sheets of OSB used in the entire home!

Note the minimal framing that reduces material use and thermal bridging.

While the home has about half the heat loss of an conventional construction home, the cost is no greater than conventional construction.  

All the details on this solar efficient home…

A lot to be learned from this house.


Ian Woofenden’s Renewable Energy Workshops

I just want to give people a heads up on some excellent DIY renewable energy workshops provided by Ian Woofenden.  

These workshops cover practical, standalone systems on solar electric, solar thermal, wind power, small hydro power and energy efficiency.

Ian’s workshops are known for a practical and realistic approach to DIY renewable energy — they are based on Ian’s decades of real experience in designing, building and consulting on actual systems. Expect to leave one of Ian’s workshops with actual hands on knowledge and experience that will get you ready to build a practical system of your own.  Just as important, the workshops will provide you with the knowledge and tools to determine if a renewable energy system is a good choice for your situation.

Ian is also a senior editor and author for Home Power Magazine — search their archives for his many hands on, practical and honest renewable energy project articles.

Ian’s next workshop will be in Costa Rica and will be on Solar Electricity for the Developing World. This is the overview for the up coming workshop:

Learn about solar electricity for the developing world in the developing world! This workshop provides an introduction to stand-alone solar-electric (PV) system design and installation, with a focus on small, rural systems. The workshop combines classroom sessions with a strong emphasis on real-world projects in the community, along with hands-on labs. You will have the opportunity to understand, design, and install lighting and cell-phone-charging systems that can dramatically improve the living conditions of the local people. This is an experiential program, with a real-world focus. Come and learn the basics of simple, stand-alone solar-electic systems for rural people by doing, sharing, and experiencing on projects in the developing world.”

You can find out more about this and his past and planned workshops at his website Renewable Reality.

Thanks to Ian for providing these excellent workshops.


A 35 mpg RV Setup

Mike and Nancy have come up with this unique and very efficient camping arrangement.  They pull a tear drop trailer behind their Honda Insight hybrid.  They achieve an amazing 35 mpg and have full sleeping and cooking facilities — they even have a shower!

Honda Insight and Little Guy teardrop trailer.

The Honda Insight is a standard 2001 with the addition of a custom trailer hitch made by Mike.  A transmission cooler has also been added.

The teardrop trailer is a “Little Guy” that provides a full sized bed for two and a small kitchen accessed via the back hatch on the trailer as is usual for teardrop trailers.  The Little Guy weighs only about 500 lbs.

They have even added a solar heated shower enclosure they can set up to take hot showers.

Shower enclosure with pressure tank water system.

Without the trailer attached, the Insight gets 50+ mpg and with the teardrop trailer attached and going the full speed limit plus it gets 35 mpg — pretty amazing for a full function RV.

The Little Guy teardrop and added Air Cond and Heating unit.

While Honda does not advise towing with the Insight, Mike says it works well and has not seen any adverse effects.

More here…

Its great to see teardrop trailers becoming popular again.

June 27, 2016

FlipFlic – An Innovative Energy Saving KickStarter Project

The developers of a new KickStarter project called FlipFlic gave me a heads up about their idea.  I was impressed with their design’s simplicity, cleanness, low price and its potential to save energy and increase convenience and decided to pass the idea on here.

FlipFlic is a Smartphone controlled device that automatically opens or closes blinds based on the time of day, or temperature, or light level.

Some of the nice features:

  • Easy to install.
  • Smartphone controlled.
  • Blind open/close can be based on time of day, temperature, or light levels.
  • Solar powered.
  • Low price.
The FlipFlic compact motor unit replaces the existing wand on the blinds.
It is solar powered, so no batteries to replace or wires to run.
Use your Smartphone to set up the times, temperatures, or light levels
that control the opening and closing of the blinds.
The initial offering works with either horizontal or vertical slat style blinds.  Kseniia tells me that the team has it in their plans to develop version that will also work with cellular shades, which,  I think, offers an even greater potential for energy saving due to the greater insulating value of these blinds.
Our house uses lots cellular shades with side tracks to reduce winter heat loss and reduce summer heat gain.  They work great and have a large energy saving and short payback period.  But, the twice a day ritual of raising and lowering the shades can get to be a hassle.  I’m really looking forward to this device to have more control with less hassle.

BCSEA Announces its new Executive Director

BCSEA welcomes Ali Grovue as Executive Director
Monday, August 10, 2015
Ali Grovue, BCSEA Executive Director

The BCSEA Board is pleased to announce that we have confirmed Ali Grovue as our permanent Executive Director.

Ali joined the BCSEA Board in 2013, which she stepped down from this spring when she was asked to become our Interim Executive Director. Ali has done an outstanding job in leading and assisting the organization to transition to a new strategic and operations plan which we formally approved earlier this week (stay tuned!).  We are very happy that she has decided to stay to implement our new direction.

We are very grateful to all those who applied and we are encouraging many of them to participate in the work of BCSEA in other ways. 

The Board wishes to thank those members of staff and chapters who participated in both the strategic planning and the selection process. We are confident under Ms. Grovue’s leadership BCSEA is well equipped to move forward. 

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ACTION ALERT! Share your thoughts on the Climate Leadership Plan

BCSEA Appeal to Members and the Public
Thomas Hackney, BCSEA Policy Director
Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The BC government is asking for British Columbians’ comments on climate action by August 17thCalled the Climate Leadership Plan, this is Premier Christy Clark’s first major testing of the waters of public opinion on climate change.

There are several ways to comment:

  • take the online survey;
  • phone (250) 812-7712;
  • email; or,
  • write a letter to one or more of: Premier Clark, Environment Minister Mary Polak and your MLA (and copy NDP leader John Horgan and Green Party leader Andrew Weaver).

This is a critically important opportunity. BCSEA encourages everyone to tell the BC government how it should reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even more importantly, say you strongly support meaningful action by the government. A tepid response from the public will encourage weak actions by government.

Many changes are needed to move us to a sustainable, climate friendly path. BCSEA will make these key points in our submission:

1. The BC government should re-establish a high political priority on climate action. BC must live up to its international reputation for leadership and innovation on climate change.

2. The BC government must urgently publish a detailed, practical plan for BC to meet its legislated greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets. All sectors of society are ready and willing to contribute, but government leadership is essential. The plan must include ALL sources of GHG emissions, with annual reporting to confirm our progress toward meeting the targets. BC must meet the GHG targets; that is our fair share of the global burden.

3. The GHG reductions should be real GHG reductions, not just paper reductions. GHG offset mechanisms are not effective in actually reducing emissions, and they can be manipulated too easily.

4. The BC government should switch its economic development priorities and spending to the promotion of renewable energy, rather than fossil fuels. Subsidies to fossil fuels should be stopped. The fossil fuel industry must not be given any protection against future laws or taxes that restrict fossil fuel production or use.

5. BC’s carbon tax is a major success and should be strengthened. The amount of the tax should be increased by $5 per tonne of carbon per year for at least the next five years, so that it provides an increasing price signal to cut carbon pollution. The carbon tax should be broadened to include all sources of GHG emissions, including methane and GHG emissions from industrial processes. The government must eliminate special exemptions.

BCSEA will also be making specific suggestions on transportation, buildings and other sectors. For example, the BC government should ramp up its electric vehicle incentives and make a definite plan to electrify the vehicle fleet.

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