Solar Isn’t Beautiful?

     Some people object to the look of solar panels on their roof.   Others might not have a problem, but worry their neighbors might dislike the appearance.   A guy I met recently told me that he almost put solar on his garage, but he wanted assurance that he would not see the edge of the array while drinking coffee in his kitchen.     A large stainless-steel gas grill planted in the middle of a stone patio or wooden deck is not a problem, might even “enhance” the look.   In a number of my kitchen remodels, I’ve installed gorgeous quarter-sawn oak cabinetry and rich swirled quartz counters, then dropped a deliberately boxy stainless steel hood vent from the ceiling into the middle of these natural colors and textures.    Stainless steel appliances are regarded as “enhancers”, not “detractors”.      Since I often remodel in older homes, the design process typically launches from “We’d like our kitchen to match the rest of the house.”    Of course, there was no counter-depth 7′ tall refrigerator with a water and ice dispenser available when the house was built.  Mentioning this would be silly on my part.   Installing modern appliances simply makes sense, because our culture regards them as attractive.    Unlike white appliances, stainless steel calls attention to itself, and we want  it to.     But they also don’t get noticed.   People will walk into a newly remodeled kitchen and comment on the tile choice, the countertops,…

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Don’t follow leaders, watch your electric meters

In the 70’s, living in Taos, NM and Lincoln NE, my father deemed himself a “Solar Carpenter”.  This meant he worked only on projects involving solar, which meant he didn’t work much.   It also meant dinnertime could evolve into the two of us sketching passive solar designs at the table, talking about heat sinks, D-shaped houses, and surviving the winter on a single cord of wood.   Despite his poverty, he was a bold man who could knock on the door of a house he liked and ask for a tour.   I distinctly remember touring some wealthy person’s home in Santa Fe, feeling both deep discomfort at the intrusion and profound excitement at the amazing space around me.    When I started college, I was going to write novels, not work in the construction industry.   Life had other plans, and I ended up managing a restaurant.  Working in someone else’s small business, I started wanting one of my own.   I started washing windows, then painting houses, which lead to light home repair.   The independence was thrilling. Not only could I live by my values, my work could follow my values system too.   That hooked me. Growing up in the counter-culture, we had Black Panthers stay at our house, especially when we lived in Toronto.   Equality for women, civil rights, artistic expression, rivers catching fire, and oppression by The Man were all common dinner conversation topics.    The Civil Rights Movement was always important…

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Climate Change from other perspectives

While I feel that arguing over the existence of Global Warming is mostly a waste of energy, there could be some traction in looking at it from other angles.   So let’s set the science aside for a minute. Last year, the US Military released a study called the “DOD Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap”.   It discusses changes the military can make to be better prepared for the coming environmental changes.   It’s based on the 2010 QDR (Quadrennial Defense Review), which for the first time linked climate change and national security. It said climate change may affect DOD by shaping the department’s operating environments, roles and missions, have significant geopolitical impacts worldwide, and accelerate instability or conflict.   The QDR said DOD also would have to adjust to climate change impacts on its facilities, infrastructure, training and testing activities and military capabilities. The conservative political voices can pooh-pooh the scientific community, but they tend to respect the military institution in this country.    And if they find a way to deem the military to be “climate kooks” as well, there is also the insurance industry. This is from theactuary.com, The Magazine for the Actuary Profession: “The report, conducted by Mercer and commissioned by the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC), the Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR) and Investor Group on Climate Change (IGCC), details the investment practices of asset managers, such as primary fund managers, and asset owners, such as pension funds, towards climate change issues. .…

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Global Warming is this century’s issue

If the central question of the past century was “Which form of government works the best, capitalism, communism, or fascism?”, then the central question of this century is “How do we live on this planet without destroying it?” While the 20th Century’s question got answered through two World Wars, a Cold War, and a host of other forms of nation-state wrought human suffering, the suffering that will answer our present century’s question will be delivered– first and formally —by Mother Nature in the forms of floods, hurricanes, wildfires, droughts, heat waves, eco-system shifts, etc.   This nature-induced suffering (though sourced in human activity, make no mistake) will reciprocate into struggles over dwindling resources.   Food shortages, water shortages, energy shortages, etc. will generate wars, takeovers and localized and national scale violent suppression. Bill McKibbon does a great job of explaining the math of Global Warming/Climate Change.  It’s tough to read this and not get worried. http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719 I’ll boil it down to a sentence.   If the global temperature average does not rise to more than 2 degrees Celsius, climate scientist calculate that the worst of Global Warming effects can be avoided (although the effects of the .8 rise so far have been much more extreme than they expected), and while the calculation is that we can burn 565 more Gigatons of fossil fuels and still stay below 2 degrees, the fossil fuel industry tells us (these are the guys who pooh-pooh the problem, mind you) that their known reserves contain 2,795 Gigatons of…

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Enemies, Friends, and balancing our lives against Climate Change

The environmental movement is saying, make the fossil fuel industry the enemy and then go after them.   Demonstrate, defund, deinvest, make them pay for their carbon.   The recent EPA regulations are a step in this direction.   While I feel that this is a good first step, it is by no means the end-game.   And I dislike vilifying anyone; it’s an answer grounded in negativity. Like it or not, fossil fuel is our friend     If your parent gets sick, and you want to be there, fossil fuels allow you to travel and sit by their hospital bed.   If your child needs a kidney, and one becomes available in Cinninatti, fossil fuels will get it to Minneapolis in time.   My good friend, who is an environmental journalist working and living in Paris, who’s experiencing personal struggles, recently flew to Minnesota to see his friends and family.  I was glad to see him, and I didn’t rail: “Shame on you for burning jet fuel, and promoting Global Warming, just for emotional peace!”   For one, he understands the problem maybe better than I do.   And two, why make him feel bad? While we can’t stop driving our cars, or warming our homes, or even traveling to see our friends, it’s important to maintain awareness of these activities’ effect on the environment, and to carry the weight of the effect around with you.     Bill McKibbon, who many regard as the spokesman for the…

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How Did We Lose the Global Warming Argument?

Of course, whether we have lost is arguable too.   97% of the scientific community agrees that global warming is happening.   John Oliver does a nice bit that illustrates this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjuGCJJUGsg Oliver’s point that we should be debating WHAT TO DO about Climate Change is to me the heart of the matter, and that as long as the Climate Deniers keep the conversation on “whether or not”, they succeed in keeping the conversation heartless.    I am reluctant to tag this the purpose of the Fossil Fuel industry as a whole, because I don’t see the advantage in vilifying one section of our culture (though they are profiting mightily from the skepticism, denial, lack of concern, or lack of action that most of us carry around).  Al Gore reportedly gets invitations to debate the science all the time, and he has pointedly said he will refuse them all.   He doesn’t want to be Sisyphus.  Can’t blame him. The public argument– science aside– is where the losing is happening.   And I am much more interested in why Global Warming/ Climate Change can’t gain much teeth. I think that a large part of the reason we have lost the argument on Global Warming is because, given its vastness and complexity, what can any one of us do about it.    What even can governments/society do about it?   The recent EPA regulations are a step in the right direction, but if you are up on the science of the…

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Climate Change and the State of Environmental Movement

If you take an hour or two of your life and get up to speed on the climate change/global warming science and the state of environmental movement, it’s very hard to come away without this question in your head: Why are we talking about anything except this?    Not only why isn’t this the lead story in the newspaper every day, but why isn’t the entire newspaper devoted to covering this subject?   When you turn on the television, why isn’t every channel addressing some facet of this problem and what we can do about it?    Sure, your dog got hit by a car, and there are layoffs at your office, and your dad’s in the hospital, but what about climate change? I don’t mean to say that all the other problems in our world are insignificant; I simply mean to say that the state of our global environment is such that all other problems pale in comparison.    Global warming is not Godzilla.    Global warming/climate change is Godzillas invading every major metropolitan area and every village in Bolivia and every agricultural field and every forest in the world …. at the same time.    These Godzillas are in the sea, and in the air, and on the land.    And it’s not accurate to say that they are poised to attack.    They have already attacked.  They will continue to attack.   And they are making babies in their strongholds in the oceans and in the air.…

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Mod Tile Kitchen

This summer’s big project gets its title from the modular pattern of the backsplash tile. The design process starts from the first time I meet a client.   At this initial meeting, they did a great job of expressing their desires and their dislikes.   Wants: open the kitchen to the dining room but keep the existing layout,  create lightness, and create a look that is fun and colorful yet also classic.   Dislikes: look of kitchen not matching rest of the house, cramped and “dark” ambience in certain areas, plus a lack of function in kitchen features (drafty windows, high maintenance floors, counters look worn, etc.). Many of the choices were fairly straightforward. We would remove the wall between the kitchen and the dining room (shown in two photos above).   We would replace the windows and trim them to match the original birch casings preserved throughout the rest of the house.    We would put in quartz countertops, which are the sturdiest counter material available and sealed for life during fabrication. Some of the other choices required some balancing of priorities.    They wanted a low maintenance floor because they had a dog and didn’t want scratch marks, but they liked the warmth of wood plus wood integrated well with the oak floors in the rest of main floor.    They wanted some vibrancy and strong color, but the new kitchen would have minimal wall space for tile or paint, plus their tastes also ran more toward classic…

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strange excitement

Whatever you do in this world, if you do it long enough, odd things begin to excite you.   Bankers are excited by a single tick of the prime lending rate.   A race car driver can wax on about tire tread wear and its effect on turn grip.   I once watched an electrician struggle to stay seated when the subject turned to lightbulbs.   The odd subject that gets me excited is bathroom exhaust fans. A rattly fan that you notice whenever it’s on does nothing to enhance—and I would even say detracts—from a beautiful and relaxing room.    It’s rare to get the fan to be completely silent, but the one that comes the closest is the “Whisper Quiet” line by Panasonic.    I used to let the clients pick out their own fans, but I now include a Panasonic fan in all my bathroom bids.    It’s not cheap.   But it’s worth the cost. There are a number of factors involved in noise level besides the engineering of the fan itself.   How the fan is ducted out of the house is important.    It’s best for the first three feet of the duct to be flexible, and for the rest of the ducting to be what we call “hard pipe” (which means galvanized metal tubing fitted together, screwed in place, and with all the seams taped).     The longer the run of ducting, the more noise the fan tends to make.     Also, the more turns the duct makes,…

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