Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Calling for a National Renewable Energy Standard and Emissions Caps

As a regular 4CORE reader and efficiency and renewable energy advocate in Empire Electric Association's territory, I want to add a perspective from the dry side. The Renewable Energy Standard for Tri-State was increased to 20% by 2020. Rumblings from the Colorado Rural Electric Association and Tri-State continue to harp on how this will hurt their customers due to price increases of bringing renewables online.

While carbon trading with other four corners states could bring more renewables online in neighboring states, it increases the cost, and without all participating states having renewable energy standards, the other states are just reaping the financial and environmental benefits of Colorado's well intended renewable energy standards. A National Renewable Energy Standard (RES) would cause renewable to come online more quickly without enabling energy produced in states without a RES to sell their renewable energy at higher prices to companies in states that have to meet those standards with no net benefit to the environment.

Another CRITICAL component of carbon trading and renewable energy standards as strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, is that we need to cap our emissions. Without the cap, renewables are being brought on to meet growing energy consumption, not to replace inefficient and dirty power plants, and there is no benefit to people or the planet. Carbon caps would force efficiencies, such as the switch away from incandescent lighting. I, for one, will refuse to charge a cell phone everyday so that anyone can get ahold of me anytime anywhere, to buy a new electric car so that I can charge it with coal fired energy, or to ever read novels on a handheld device.

Based on my Masters Thesis research, which I'll admit is a little outdated, we need:

  • A carbon cap to get the U.S. closer to upholding our end of getting global carbon emissions back below 350 ppm, preferably with our nation pulling our head out of the bank and acting with the rest of the world on this; 
  • A National Renewable Energy Standard as a strategy to bring our energy industry into the 21st century; 
  • A national cap and trade system to make renewables more than just the right thing to do; 
  • Electric Companies and Cooperatives that don't fight renewable energy with tooth and nail, but go to bat and help develop creative solutions to challenges with renewables; and 
  • More organizations like 4CORE who are furthering energy and all resource efficiency and supporting distributed generation.

Becca R. Samulski
147 S. Washington St.
Cortez, CO 81321
(970) 564-3040

Monday, June 30, 2014

Please Pass the Carrots (hold the Policy)

In a world filled with political vitriol and lines drawn in the sand, isn’t it nice to know that some organizations are avoiding the sand box all together?

4CORE is a-political and non-advocacy by policy and works to motivate and educate, instead of regulate.

Staying out of the political sand box is like walking a tight rope. A misstep and you fall. The 4CORE mission is to serve Southwest Colorado as the leading resource for the effective and efficient use of energy to promote and sustain vibrant local communities. As the director of 4CORE I believe that our a-political policy has kept 4CORE in a safe neutral position as a trusted non-profit. Affecting policy, lobbying, or campaigning for specific candidates is a direct path to change, but it is also tends to create opposition. 4CORE works hard to wield the carrot (instead of the stick) to inspire our community to be more energy efficient.

The Mandatory Austin Audit
I just had the pleasure of attending a family wedding in Austin Texas. Austin is a fun city with great swimming holes, and drinking holes that have live music seeping out everywhere. Austin also has a robust transit system with some busses running on compressed natural gas (CNG), B-cycle city bikes for rent at prominent street corners. Austin is also in the land of air conditioning, hot and humid high energy use. 

In 2009, Austin passed an ordinance called the Energy Conservation Audit and Disclosure that mandates home sellers to obtain energy audits on their properties and disclose these reports to potential buyers. Many organizations work to change political regulation like energy efficiency building codes and mandating energy audits, such as those that are now law in Austin.

4CORE uses a different strategy by working within any policy that is passed to disseminate information and provide resources for those who will need to comply. This approach takes patience and dedication to using inspirational stories and incentives to create positive, energy-reducing change in our community. 

Some Inspiration: How much money can you save on home energy costs?

Are you inspired? Pick up the phone and call us at 4CORE to schedule a voluntary energy audit of your home or business. We specialize in helping you save energy and money on your energy expenses and inspiring you with Atmos, AmeriGas, Empire Electric (EEA) and San Miguel Power (SMPA) and City of Durango financial incentives.

The average home uses $2,000 in energy per year, and efficiency improvements on average save around 20% or $400 per year at today’s energy prices.

The Take Home
Don't wait for a policy to be passed- get on the energy efficiency path while incentives are here!

About the Author

Born and raised in the Washington D.C. area Gregg Dubit has been in Southwest Colorado for over 20 years. Gregg has a Bachelors degree from The University of New Hampshire, Durham in Forest Resource Management, and from Fort Lewis College, Durango in secondary education. Greggs’ previous experience includes Commercial energy auditing, Residential Services Network training and certification, residential general contracting, residential real estate inspection services, high school math and science teacher, former ski patrol, and aged outward bound instructor. In addition, Gregg is an avid dog musher, proud father of Lydia and Hayden, and happily married to Gretchen.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Solarize La Plata is Beaming

Solarize Installation April 2014
Solarize La Plata, coordinated by (4CORE), has confirmed 99 clients committed to installing solar photovoltaic systems through the program. Participants have confirmed their commitment to install solar by signing contracts with local contractors. 
A total of 387 people signed up for Solarize La Plata, and five solar contractors have distributed 219 solar system proposals. Fifty-one systems have been installed, with the goal of having all systems installed by the end of summer.

“We thought we were shooting for the moon when we set our goal of 100 systems,” said Robert Lea, Solarize La Plata Chairman. “SLP proved effective in removing substantial barriers to going solar for much of our community. Our committee is ecstatic about these program results.”

The group also set a goal of 325 kilowatts (kW) of newly installed system capacity, which has already been met and exceeded. The 99 systems represent a total of 538 kW that will now be provided by solar, a clean, renewable source of energy. This translates to 584 metric tons of carbon pollution prevented each year, or the equivalent of 123 cars removed from the road for one year. In addition, 8 jobs have already been created by the demand for these 99 new solar PV systems, which is generating over $2,000,000 for our local economy in only six months.

“The Solarize La Plata Campaign represents a paradigm shift that is underway in Southwest Colorado,” said Gregg Dubit, 4CORE Executive Director. “We speculate that our community is positively responding to the rising cost of power, 290 days of free sunshine per year, and increased effects of climate change, resulting in the accelerated adoption of distributed solar in La Plata County.” 

Solarize La Plata is supported by grants from the Optony’s American Solar Transformation Initiative (ASTI) through the Department of Energy’s Rooftop Solar Challenge, Ballantine Family Fund, and the City of Durango. The Solarize La Plata Steering Committee will be hosting a party at the end of July to celebrate the hard work and commitment of volunteers, partners, supporters, and clients. Everyone is welcome.

Find more information on the 4CORE web site at www.fourcore.org, or by calling 970-259-1916.   

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

How Much Fresh Air is Enough and Who Decides?

My assessment of adequate indoor air quality is when you can move from indoors to outdoors, or outdoors to indoors, and air inside feels as fresh as it does outside. My recommendation for assessing your home’s indoor air quality is to NOT do the math and rate to standards, but to take a deep breath inside your home. Before you forget how it feels, walk outdoors and take another deep breath of fresh outdoor air. Does it feel different? Does the outdoor air make you feel better? The air you prefer to breathe is the air you should be breathing.
Why Does Indoor Air Quality Matter?
Familiarize yourself with problems caused by poor indoor air quality. There is a good article by James Hamblin that appeared in “The Atlantic” in March of 2014 titled “The Toxins That Threaten Our Brains.” We also have a lot of great resources at our website.

If there is one idea I would like to be able convey to readers it is that like temperature, fresh air introduction and indoor air quality exists as a range. That range can be from bad to good, and it can be changed to suit the occupants’ preference, comfort, and health needs.

Below are two standards for indoor air quality.One standard strives toward “A High Level of Comfort,” the other to not dissatisfy the majority of occupants. One strives to not cause or aggravate illness, the other recommends reducing the likelihood of health risk.

Standard 1
“Acceptable indoor air quality: air toward which a substantial majority of occupants express no dissatisfaction with respect to odor and sensory irritation and in which there are not likely to be contaminants at concentrations that are known to pose a health risk.”

Standard 1 is part of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) standard “62.2-2013 Ventilation and Acceptable Indoor Air Quality in Low-Rise Residential Buildings”. This is the guiding standard for home indoor air quality in the US and is likely the standard that was used for your home if it was built in the last few years. It states, “While acceptable IAQ is the goal of this standard, it will not necessarily be achieved even if all requirements are met.” This doesn't exude confidence in a standard that is not very demanding to begin with.

ASHRAE has calculations and tables for calculating the ventilation rate for a given residential configuration, but they are not available to the general public (at least not for free). Remember that installed equipment and systems often do not deliver at their intended capacity. For example, it is not unusual for a fan rated to move 100 cubic feet per minute of air to only deliver a small percentage of this volume.

If it were easier to assess health risks from long term exposure to indoor pollution I believe that ASHRAE would have a whole different set of recommendations. Energy savings are pretty easy to assess, while the correlation of health problems to long term exposure to indoor pollutants has so far been impossible to prove.

Standard 2
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) can be defined as: the physical, chemical and biological properties that indoor air must have, in order:

  • not to cause or aggravate illnesses in the building occupants, and
  • to secure a high level of comfort to the building occupants in the performance of the designated activities for which the building has been intended and designed.

Standard 2 is from the International Society of Indoor Air Quality and Climate (ISIAQ). It is from the ISIAQ’s, “Performance Criteria of Buildings for Health and Comfort.” I like this standard better because it strives for a healthier environment.

While my recommendation will not likely end up being the new standard for building code, I do have my own ideas on the topic. I like the 0.5 air exchanges per hour that is the standard in a number of European countries. I like this number because I believe it is a good starting place for fresh air introduction. From the 0.5 air exchanges per hour, the homeowner can regulate fresh air introduction to a level that makes sense both in comfort and in utility cost (there is a cost to heating and cooling fresh air).

When I first started working in my present office, the indoor air quality was lousy. My office is now ventilated at the 0.5 air exchanges per hour rate. When I walk out of the building at the end of the day the difference in breathing outdoors is negligible. In case you missed it, my assessment of adequate indoor air quality is when you can move from indoors to outdoors, or outdoors to indoors, and the difference in air quality is negligible.

In my home the difference is negligible during temperate and warmer months, but more noticeable in the middle of the winter. We sacrifice some indoor air quality for lower heating bills during the winter, and boost our fresh air intake as much as possible when it is more affordable.

My recommendation for assessing your home’s indoor air quality is to NOT do the math, and to remember that even if you knew how much fresh air was being introduced into your home, the design amount was to meet building code, which is the minimum. Instead, take a deep breath inside your home. Before you forget how it feels, walk outdoors and take another deep breath of fresh outdoor air. Does it feel different? Does the outdoor air make you feel better? The air you prefer to breathe is the air you should be breathing.

About the author
David Davis is a Certified Energy Manager, and product designer for the Fresh Air Manufacturing Company. Among experience leading to this role was five years as a utility efficiency expert, five years as an HVAC instructor for Boise State University, and a number of earlier years as an Engineering Specialist for Siemens and Honeywell. Learn more about fresh air here.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Solar Experience in Montezuma County

This posting describes my success with simple passive solar principles. Some of these had been learned at an earth shelter house seminar at the University of Minnesota. I made a cardboard model of the house I wanted to build and handed it to a Montezuma County contractor. He built it. That was in 1980.

Standard materials and construction techniques were used. The house was economical to build. PV panels added in 2013 raise its efficiency. Empire Electric buys the surplus power. Here are the details:

  • The rectangular 44’ x 24’ house faces directly south
  • 4’ X 6’ windows and 6’ double pane patio doors admit the sunshine.
  • The doors and windows have clear glass. If building code demands Low-E glass, try to get a variance.
  • The objective is to admit all the sunshine that we can.
  • Drapes close off and insulate the glass on winter nights and summer days.
  • Concrete walls and floor for the lower portion are insulated with 2” rigid foam on the exterior and under the floor to serve as thermal mass. This mass absorbs the heat which has penetrated through the windows.
  • It is critical to balance the mass with the amount of glazing. Imbalance will cause either overheating or a cold house.
  • The upper floor is insulated with 1” rigid foam outside the studs and 3 1/2” fiberglass between them.
  • The 2’ overhang is a permanent awning which restricts sun entry in summer when the solar angle increases.
  • A small stove on the lower floor supplements heating. No butane or propane is used.
  • A 20 gallon, 120 volt water heater is good for a family size of 3, even 7 when visitors come.
  • Countertop oven, microwave, electric stove are used to prepare food in that order.
  • A photo voltaic array was put on the south side of the barn in 2013. The installed cost was $15,500 for 14 panels. Rated capacity is 3220 watts.

The best performance centers on the several weeks of mid-winter. The sun angle is then low in our Colorado, and the cold, clear nights change to bright sunny days. The house then takes in enough warmth that temperature in the living space is above 70 degrees until bed-time at 10:00 pm. Although it can’t exactly be felt, heat goes into the concrete walls. But in the floor its warmth can be felt when in stocking feet even near the patio doors.

As I got older (I am now 88) I found myself wanting a wood fire at night even when the house temperature was 70⁰. But now, I can rationalize that it is OK to use a portable electric heater because of the photo-voltaic panels. On a cloudy winter day there will be enough warming radiance coming through the glass to keep me warm when I am engaged in regular household activity. The house is freeze proof. It can be left with the drapes half-closed and the temperature will not fall below 55 degrees. With the drapes are operated every day and night, the air temperature will not fall below 64 degrees.

For summer, there is a 500 BTU wall air conditioner. It gets limited use. The construction keeps the house cool. All appliances and water heating are electric. Monthly usage centers around 250 Kilowatt hours with one person living in the home. Electricity usage may reach 500 kWh if five persons occupy it. A clothes line is used for drying clothes.

Critical to lower hot water use is that the water heater, showers and all sinks are grouped on one wall so that pipe runs were kept to a minimum. A low flow atomizing shower head (Delta 52650-PK) works quite well with a full curtain that confines the water spray and maximize its heating effect.

There is an advantage of wood for the stove being available from the piƱon juniper forest.   A hundred years of mismanagement caused the stand to be far too dense and most of the pines were killed in the beetle epidemic of 2003. Before the photo-voltaic panels made electric heat a responsible choice; about one cord was burned in the stove each year.

Ceramic tile was used for the lower floor. It goes without saying that there should be no insulation, no carpeting of this thermal mass.

About the Author
The electric meter spinning backwards
from William's solar
William Hendrickson lived through the depression and served as an engineering officer on merchant ad navy ships during WWII and Korea. He had a career with the National Park Service as manager and ecologist. He married into Montezuma County after meeting a waitress when they both had summer jobs at Mesa Verde. He is working to reduce the immense quantities of energy we all use.

Monday, May 12, 2014

It's Springtime - Get Gardening!

As I ride my bike to work, I can't help but notice the trees lining downtown neighborhoods bursting with pink and white flowers - petals scattering with the wind. Spring is most definitely here! To me Spring means tulips popping up in the front yard, hauling the grill out of the shed for dinners on the deck and prepping the garden beds for another bountiful growing season. Sometimes it's difficult to imagine gardening in the dead of winter, but now that the soils have warmed it's time to start adding compost, turning the soil, watering and getting some seeds in the ground.

Darrin Parmenter with CSU Extension has a weekly article in the Herald on backyard gardening and local food. This week's article titled "Eager to get gardening? Here's what to plant now" has some great suggestions on cool weather crops like peas and lettuces to get your garden started.

If you don't have the space to garden at home, or would like to garden with a community of gardeners of all skill levels and backgrounds, consider applying for one of the few remaining plots at the Ohana Kuleana Community Garden at 564 E. 30th St. below Riverview Elementary, Durango's first "public" use community garden started in 2013. For only $60 per year, you receive 150 sq ft of growing space, irrigation water, free gardening workshops throughout the season and the opportunity to grow your own food alongside other members of the community (discounted rates are available in exchange for extra volunteer hours). The Ohana Kuleana garden, which means "community responsibility" in native Hawaiian, is managed by the local nonprofit, The Garden Project of Southwest Colorado. The Garden Project's mission is to help grow a healthier community through the support and development of school and community garden programs that promote health and wellness, environmental stewardship and a sustainable local food system.

In addition to coordinating the Healthy Homes program at 4CORE, I am honored to have served as the Executive Director of The Garden Project for the past year. (I must say it sure is convenient to have two nonprofit jobs in Durango that are located right across a downtown alley from each other!) Helping create a healthier community through healthy homes education and gardening skills empowerment is an additional benefit, of course!

There are lots of ways to get involved with growing healthy food for our community. Every Wednesday  The Garden Project hosts a volunteer garden day at the Manna Soup Kitchen garden from 10 to noon  led by expert gardeners. Manna is one of the first soup kitchens in the nation to have their own garden that produced vegetables directly for the kitchen and clients. During the summer months our volunteers harvest around 50 lbs of fresh produce from the garden every week!

If you get fired up about kids growing and eating their own healthy food, consider getting involved with the Needham Elementary School garden. In 2013 the Needham garden was expanded from 8 raised beds to 24 - one for each classroom. This Spring students will be planting their beds with local farmers - rather than a field trip to the farm, the farmers are coming to the school to work alongside the students in the garden! Volunteers are needed to help care for beds over the summer months. You can sign up to volunteer for any of our gardens here.

One last thing, before you run outdoors and start turning your garden soil...

Mother's Day is right around the corner, and if you don't have a gift lined up yet, perhaps this is the year to give a gift that's a bit more meaningful. The Garden Project is hosting a Mother's Day Grow A Garden Fundraiser. Here's how it works: Choose gardening items and plants to donate on our website and we'll send your mom a handwritten note letting her know that a donation has been made on her behalf to support school and community gardens in Southwest Colorado. There are lots of options, from kids gardening gloves to bee and butterfly plants to fruit trees. Make this Mother's Day something special, and help Grow a Garden.

About the Author
Sandhya Tillotson is Executive Director of The Garden Project of Southwest Colorado, as well as the Healthy Homes Program Specialist at 4CORE. Originally from California, Sandhya earned her Bachelor's degree in Environmental Science from The Colorado College in Colorado Springs. After moving to Durango in 2010, Sandhya is thrilled to be working for a local environmental non-profit and spending her free time volunteering, running, biking, climbing and exploring the vast wilderness that makes up Durango's backyard.

Friday, April 18, 2014

What and Why ICF?

ICF is the abbreviation for Insulated Concrete Form. You have probably seen walls of expanded polystyrene (similar stuff to the insulated white coffee cups you have used) being erected here and there; these are ICF structures. Reinforcing steel is placed as specified during the stacking process, openings are formed in a variety of ways, concrete is then placed in the wall forms and vibrated for proper consolidation. The EPS foam that creates the form stays in place, providing superior insulation. Result, a great wall!

There are over sixteen manufacturers of ICFs, so you have plenty of options. Generally all ICFs provide similar results to the owner: the structures built with this technology are very strong, very quiet, very energy efficient. Looking from the street there is no difference between an ICF house and a conventionally constructed house. Only when one steps inside and feels the quiet, sees the deep windowsills (the walls are typically 12” thick), senses good shelter, is the difference evident. These buildings typically reduce heating and cooling costs by 35 to 45%.

Concrete structures are extremely long lasting and provide secure shelter to the occupants. The primary ingredients of concrete - stone, sand and water- account for 90% of the mixture and are plentiful in most locations. The concrete and foam forms are 100% recycle-able. There are trained and experienced installers and contractors working with ICFs in Pagosa Springs, Durango, Cortez, and all of Colorado. Framers, carpenters, masons, concrete subs, homeowners and builders have all installed ICFs with great success; this is an additional skill-set, not a replacement skill.

Why ICF? 

Study the following chart.

ICF Wood-frame
R-value 22 + R-11 to R-19
Effective R-value up to R-50 R-9 to R-16
Heating & cooling/YR $480-600 $1600-2200
Air leakage .07 ACH .4 ACH
Drafts No Yes
Even temperatures Yes No
Noise reduction STC 50 almost none
Pollen infiltration No Yes
Wind resistance 200 MPH+ 80-100 MPH
Fire rating 4 hours+ None
Bulletproof Yes No
Rodent proof Yes No
Nail pops No Yes
Wood rot No Yes
Wood splits & warps No Yes
Promotes mold growth No Yes
Qualifies for higher loan Yes No
Appraisal advantage Yes No

So, why WOOD you?

More about ICFs

The first ICF patent in the USA was issued in 1968. Our construction industry is not known for its rapid adoption of new technologies, so though the original Foam Forms® were used into the 1980s, when more recent designs began to shoulder Foam Form® aside, their use was rare and largely unnoticed. In 1985 Lance Berrenberg began manufacturing Southwest Foam Forms in Albuquerque; that company became American Polysteel and is still in business, though under a new name since the company has been acquired. Other early forms such as Greenblock and Lite-Form are also still being manufactured.

The bulk of ICFs are manufactured 4’ long by 16” tall in varying core thicknesses. A latecomer to the industry is NUDURA, a form that is 8’ long and 18” tall. Most ICFs are installed horizontally but a few systems, such as TF System believe their vertical forms are preferable. There are other stay-in-place forms, not wholly made of polystyrene, such as Rastra and Durisol and each makes its claim as a better product.

In 2006 ICFs were being installed at a rate of about 120 million square feet per year; this number has been expanding at about 20% per year.

Concrete may be recycled (look at ex-Stapleton airport landing strips & runways, all recycled), and is extremely long lasting.

About the Author:
Felix Marti began his construction career in 1964 and has specialized in energy efficient, low maintenance structures; he is now retired from construction. Mr. Marti states that he believes ICF construction will become the technology of choice within the next ten to fifteen years, whether the structure to be built is a hospital, a home, a school, or a theater; virtually any space to be heated or cooled.may be reached at 970-626-4169 or fmproventech@me.com.