The New Home Economics


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A few things

Well, the Master Gardener core course is keeping me insanely busy. I haven’t had nearly as much time as I’d like to work on the blog, so I’m going to condense a few things into one post:

Solar Shingles
Here’s a product from Dow Chemical.  Interesting… shingles embedded with photovoltaic cells that can be installed the same way asphalt shingles are currently installed.  Of course they are insanely expensive, and one other problem that I’ve always had with solar panels is they are made with some pretty toxic materials and therefore hard to dispose of at the end of their lifecycle.  Still, I can’t help but fantasize about being able to afford these next time we have to roof our house.

Yards to Gardens
A friend sent me a link to this brand new project, currently only in Minneapolis (and it looks from the map like it’s centered in the Powderhorn Neighborhood).  Have a yard that you don’t really use and would like a garden?  Like to garden but don’t have a yard?  This service matches gardeners and potential garden spots.

Barrel Depot
I’m adding a third rain barrel to my collection this spring.  We’re getting one of these beautiful oak recycled wine barrels from Barrel Depot, a Minnesota company.  I think we’ll put this one in the front since it is so much prettier than our plastic ones.

Cyclopath
I can’t remember where I heard about this new website, but it is really cool!  You type in your starting point and your destination point and it helps you find the best bike route.  It’s currently only available in the 7-county Twin Cities metro area.  I typed in my work address, and it gave me an option I hadn’t really considered before: taking 18th Ave. all the way up to the Greenway, then the Greenway across the new bike bridge over Hiawatha, then the Hiawatha trail into downtown.  It’s only 1/4 mile further than the route I take now, and it would be paved bike path for half the distance.  I’m going to try it.


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Book review: Building Green

Building Green: A complete how-to guide to alternative building methods
Authors: Clarke Snell and Tim Callahan

building_green_cover_largeI checked this beautiful book out of the library because Adam and I are talking about building a shed/playhouse next spring and I wanted to do a little green building research.

The whole book is basically a complete and well-photographed documentation of a little cottage that the authors built using several different alternative building methods: cob, cordwood, straw bale, and earth plaster with a living plant roof.  The entire process is covered in exhaustive detail, from initial dreams to site plans, laying a foundation, building each wall, the roof, etc.

As interesting as it was, and as beautiful as the photography was, this book really does not apply to my situation at all.  I’m not bloody likely to be building a house anytime soon, as much as I like to fantasize about it.  I need to get a “how to green up your 50-year-old, completely improperly situated (from a passive solar perspective), and possibly poorly-sited house (our house sits on a former wetland, which we didn’t know until after we bought it) without breaking the bank” book.  Does this book exist?

One of the cooler things about Building Green is that there is a ton of related content on the authors’ website.  Since the book came out, Snell and Callahan have started a business, The Nau Haus: they’ve created their own natural building system.  There are some very cool home plan ideas on their website.

If you are building a house or cabin anytime soon, I would definitely give this a read and see whether you want to incorporate some of the ideas found here.  Even if the idea of using cob or straw bales sounds horrifying to you, there are other things you can consider, such as siting your house to maximize its passive solar potential and thereby reducing your long-term heating and cooling costs.

As for our little playhouse/shed, well, we’ll see what we can come up with.


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How green? How sustainable?

This article is several months old, but I just came across it.  I was apprehensive when I saw the headline, but I actually found myself saying “RIGHT ON” more than one time.  Here’s one quote (emphasis mine):

“But the risks of pragmatism must be weighed against the risk of perfectionism. We can’t wait for the perfect solution to emerge; we need to start transforming the food system today—most probably with hybrid models, like Fleming’s or Liebman’s, that take the best of both alternative and mainstream technologies and acknowledge not only the complexity of true sustainability but the practical reality that the perfect is often the enemy of the good.

I think the title of the article, “Organic and Local is so 2008” is mis-leading, because organic and local are not going away.  They are part of the solution.  They are a step in the right direction, just like hybrid cars.

And the author is also right that educating consumers is only one step; government will need to step up or a system-wide overhaul is just never going to happen.  Read this excellent article here and let me know what you think.  Here’s one more quote (emphasis mine):

“Given that we’re not seeing spontaneous consumer demand (even after decades of consumer education by advocacy groups), we must create it via government procurement programs. Federal agencies and food programs are among the biggest purchasers of food in the world. If they didn’t buy solely from the lowest-cost bidder, as they’re now required to, but could instead source from local or organic producers, or farmers practicing polyculture, this massive new customer would remake American agriculture in a heartbeat.


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Pervious Concrete

Shoreview, a northern suburb of St. Paul, is adding a stretch of pervious concrete!  Exciting, no?  I am very curious to see how it works out.

Things that are cool about it:
1. Rainwater filters through soil underneath the concrete instead of rushing through a storm sewer and into our rivers and lakes (carrying salt, sand, and oil with it).  Theoretically, the soil filters out these impurities before the water reaches the groundwater level.
2. It saves the money of installing and maintaining a storm sewer.

Things that are decidedly not so cool:
1. Keeping the concrete’s pores open for optimum draining requires monthly vacuuming with a special air-brush streetsweeper, which apparently Shoreview is going to purchase.  That seems kinda high-maintenance, huh?

Anyway, as with so many “green” technologies, you gain some things and lose others.  It’s still a step in the right direction though and perhaps this research and development that Shoreview is participating in will lead to further innovation in this kind of technology.  So I say, excellent!

Read the story here.  (I’m not linking to StarTribune.com merely to drive traffic, I honestly read it every single day even though I work there.)