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Posts Tagged ‘Sustainable’

When a group of high school juniors signed up for a shop class, they didn’t realize they’d be building real buildings that their community desperately needs.

How Bertie County Teens Built A Farmers Market Pavilion

The Windsor Super Market ©Studio H

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A Low Impact Woodland Home

A hobbit's houseSimon Dale and his father in-law decided to build their home as inexpensively as possible. So they used natural material and what they could find to build home for Simon’s family of 4. According to Simon:

This building is one part of a low-impact or permaculture approach to life. This sort of life is about living in harmony with both the natural world and ourselves, doing things simply and using appropriate levels of technology. These sort of low cost, natural buildings have a place not only in their own sustainability, but also in their potential to provide affordable housing which allows people access to land and the opportunity to lead more simple, sustainable lives.

I’ve always been a fan of underground homes, and this is the perfect example of how locally sourced materials and ingenuity can make an affordable and livable home. Sadly, in the States, it would almost be impossible to get the necessary building permits and variances to build such a home. It would not meet code standards set in stone here in the Puget Sound. Still, it’s a great idea.

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Ever wonder how really affordable your house or apartment is? So have I and the Housing and Transit Affordability Index will show you the numbers. Based solely on rent cost, my apartment is fairly affordable, at 17% of my income. However, if you add in transportation costs, it more than doubles, to 40% of my income.

H+T Affordability Index: Seattle–Bellevue–Everett, WA: Comparing Housing Costs, % Income for Renters to Housing + Transportation Costs, % Income for Renters

The Housing + Transportation Affordability Index is an innovative tool that measures the true affordability of housing based on its location.
© Copyright 2003-10 Center for Neighborhood Technology
2125 W North Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 · Tel: (773) 278-4800 · Fax: (773) 278-3840

If I compare the annual cost of driving to work versus the annual cost of transit, I find that I’m saving a ton by working from home and taking the bus whenever I can. The difference is amazing: $51 for transit a year, versus $2,048 for a car per year. The cost of transit is spread out across all riders, while the cost of operating your car is solely in your hands and your pocketbook. It costs more to own a car than to take the bus.

H+T Affordability Index: Seattle–Bellevue–Everett, WA: Comparing Annual VMT Cost ($) to Annual Transit Cost ($)

The Housing + Transportation Affordability Index is an innovative tool that measures the true affordability of housing based on its location.
© Copyright 2003-10 Center for Neighborhood Technology
2125 W North Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 · Tel: (773) 278-4800 · Fax: (773) 278-3840

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I was listening to my local Public Radio station, KUOW, and they had a story about the Waterpod. The Waterpod is a floating demonstration platform for self-sufficiency and resourcefulness and provide an alternative to current and future living spaces.

This sounds like a great idea. Of course I’d have to divest myself of most of my stuff and getting the permits is next to impossible. But I wondered… Instead of a floating home, how about a floating P-Patch?

Right now in Kenmore, Washington, we have a land shortage. Most of land is forested and there is a push to keep the remaining trees. Second, there is a need for land for youth sports: Baseball and Soccer. Basically, any piece of land that could be turned into a P-patch, can also be turned into a ball field or soccer field.

Second, that land, even in these economic times, is valuable. To get enough land to make a decent P-patch would cost a million dollars.

So what can we do?

The barge that's floating in Lake Washington in front of Kenmore WA.

The barge that is floating in Lake Washington

In Lake Washington, floating in front of Kenmore and Saint Edward Park is a large, 316′ x 60′ barge. It’s a fixture in Kenmore, you can see it from any view of Lake Washington. We use to light off fireworks during the 4th of July and on Kenmore’s anniversary.

There is enough room on the barge for about 170-180 10′ x 10′ P-patches. It gets plenty of sunlight, water is not an issue, and it puts to use something that’s an eyesore to many people.

There are problems with it.

It's a fair bit of distance to the barge from the marina.

It's a bit of a boat ride to get to it.

  • The barge can only be accessed by water. So a ferry would have to be set up for those P-patchers without a boat.
  • Which means you have to have classes for boat safety for all P-patchers.
  • Runoff from the barge would have to be monitored for pollution.
  • Getting the necessary permits from the State of Washington and King County for this project.
  • And the biggest one: Finding out who owns the barge.

But if we can overcome those obstacles, we have the potential for a P-patch that doesn’t use any land.

In the next installment: How to overcome those obstacles.

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The Cul-de-Sac Syndrome:
Turning Around the Unsustainable American Dream

John F. Wasik
Bloomberg, 2009

207 pages
US$24.95
ISBN 978-1576603208

John Wasik, a columnist for Bloomberg News and the Huffington Post, has written a book that examines the recent period in our history when homeownership actually made many people poorer. They have been forced to tap their home equity, go into debt to finance their unsustainable lifestyle, and contributed little to retirement investing because of the misguided assumption that home appreciation would fund their future years. Basically the period of time when homes stopped being a place to live and raise family, and became a temporary abode for a migrant family that changed residences every 5 to 7 years.

As John Wasik himself has said on his Cul-De-Sac Syndrome website:

After a lifetime of research and observation, an agonizing decline of the housing market, publication delays and collapse of the stock market, my Cul-de-Sac Syndrome has braved all odds to be published.

Why should you care about this book? It’s about our homes and communities and how we need to re-invent, re-envision and re-build the American Dream if we want to survive in this contentious century. Economics meets ecology in this radical new look at what we’ve taken for granted as a birthright.

The plight of the housing market writ large. The unsustainable “spurbs”, Wasik’s name for car-dependent sprawling urban areas, dot the land. I lived for a time in Colorado Springs and had friends who lived in one these spurbs. They had a twenty minute drive to get to the nearest grocery store, and the neighborhood was more a fenced-in plots of anonymous neighbors, than a community.

The City of Kenmore has a chance to make itself a more livable city, a more walkable city. It also needs to make itself more attractive to more manufacturing and office jobs, since retail and other service oriented businesses just isn’t enough.

Decide for yourself, you can pick up a copy of his book from my Sustainable Living Store.

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Did you know that pancakes don’t come from a mix that you buy in the store? Amazing isn’t it?

Pancakes made from scratch.

Pancakes made from scratch.

Sarcasm aside, making pancakes from scratch is easy and simple to do. This morning I made myself a batch of pancakes using a simple recipe. Not only is it better for you, you control what goes into to your pancakes and into your family. So here’s the recipe:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup low fat milk
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. sugar (optional)
  1. Grease your griddle with a non-stick spray or vegetable oil.
  2. Preheat your griddle over medium-high heat.
  3. Beat the egg, milk, and vanilla together.
  4. Sift the flour and baking powder into a separate bowl, then add the salt and sugar.
  5. Whisk the egg and milk mixture into the flour until somewhat smooth, just slightly lumpy. Don’t over mix.
  6. Pour 1/4 cup dollops of batter on to the griddle keeping them about 2″ apart. Cook until the tops of the pancakes are bubbled.
  7. Turn each pancake over and cook until the bottom is browned.

Makes about 10 4″ pancakes. Unused batter may be stored in the refrigerator. If the batter gets too thick, thin with a little cold water.

If you want to add farm fresh blue berries or strawberries or other fruit, sprinkle them on top the pancakes after you pour them on the griddle. Don’t mix them in the batter.

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In my previous article on this topic, Solar Power Northwest: Remodeling your home, I looked at the numbers behind solar power in the Northwest prompted by two articles in James Lupori’s Kenmore Undressed blog. Now we’re going to take a look at an actual home in the Brier neighborhood, via James’ latest article: Solar Energy – The Perfect Remodeling Project of the Future, Part 3.

Eric’s setup uses 18 panels that provide most of his daytime power needs. The article doesn’t mention if Eric uses Energy Star appliances, which would benefit him by letting him sell power back to the utilities reducing his total utility bill. That’s the smart way to go.

[Edit: In response to the question about how much this installation cost Eric, I don’t have hard numbers, but I estimate it was between $28,000 and $30,000.]

The next step in energy conservation would be Smart Grid aware appliances, heating systems and water heaters.

The Smart Grid, in a nutshell, turns power transmission and production from a centralized system to a distributed system that is self-aware and responds to the demands for power from homes and businesses. This is supported by Smart Grid-aware appliances and heating and cooling systems in your home. As demand spikes, your fridge goes to a longer cooling cycle to reduce it’s load on the grid, your water heater doesn’t reheat the water immediately , etcetera. Ideally, your home will be wired to manage its energy usage. Instead of a water heater, you’d have an on-demand tankless water heater so there’s no need to heat or even store 30+ gallons of water.

However, creating the Smart Grid will take time. Puget Sound Energy is looking into implementing Smart Grid Technology, but like most nascent technologies, there are multiple standards coalescing into a single one. Just another step towards our energy independence!

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