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A new round of online BAC Sustainable Design courses is starting up soon. Going out in the polar vortex is not a prerequisite.

Learn about resilience features—like the biomimicry of this HOK-designed orphanage in Haiti—without having to actually face the elements? Sounds good to me. Photo: HOK.I’m about to start teaching another round of my online course, Resilient Design, at Boston Architectural College (BAC), and this provides an opportunity to reflect on teaching at BAC and, more broadly, the online instruction in sustainable design offered through this program.

20 excellent online courses

I first started teaching at BAC in 2005, when the college’s online instruction program in sustainable design was just getting under way. At that time, BuildingGreen partnered with BAC to help design the curriculum, find the best instructors available, and promote the courses being offered.

Early on, when we had just a handful of courses, I taught Sustainable Design as a Way of Thinking, a course now being ably taught by my friend David Foley. Today, the online offerings totaling almost 20 courses are housed in BAC’s Sustainable Design Institute.

Our Energy Solutions Have All Been Found

Posted June 11, 2014 4:16 PM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions

Not really, of course. But after five-plus years I’m ending my weekly Energy Solutions blog to focus more on the Resilient Design Institute and re-making Leonard Farm back into a farm.

Our completed house and barn in the early morning light a few months ago.
Photo Credit: Alex Wilson

Transitions.

Back in June, 2008 I started writing a weekly column on energy for the Brattleboro Reformer, our local newspaper. I thought it would be fun to write a regular column on a topic that I’ve focused so much time on over the past 35-plus years. I was pretty confident that I could come up with enough topics to write a year’s worth of columns, and I thought some of the Reformer’s readers would appreciate such a column—geeky as it might be.

State-of-the-art testing chambers show that liquid-applied barriers outperform more typical weather barriers comprised of flashing, tape, and membranes.

BEA's building assembly test chamber in Clackamas, Oregon.
Photo Credit: Alex Wilson

When I was in Portland, Oregon for the 2014 Living Future Conference I had an opportunity to visit a facility in nearby Clackamas where building assemblies and components can be tested for water intrusion and water vapor penetration.

Prosoco, a leading manufacturer of liquid-applied membranes developed the Clackamas test facility with partner company Building Envelope Innovations (BEI).

A Cat 5 hurricane in a closed chamber

Switching to a Plug-In Hybrid—With Our Own Solar Power

Posted May 21, 2014 10:34 AM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions

We oversized our PV system so that we will be able to use solar energy to power around-town driving with a plug-in hybrid

Our 12 kW PV system going in on the roof of our restored 1812 barn.
Photo Credit: Alex Wilson

Among the energy-related features of our new house in Dummerston, Vermont, is one parked in the garage.

We are hoping to power a plug-in hybrid car using the electricity generated on our barn. We have 12 kilowatts (kW) of photovoltaic (PV) modules installed on the barn (there is another 6 kW in the group-net-metered system that belongs to a neighbor), and we’re hoping that the 12 kW will be enough to not only power our all-electric house on a net-zero-energy basis, but also power our car for around-town use.

Low-Tech Cooling with This High-Tech Fan

Posted May 14, 2014 2:42 PM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions, GreenSpec Insights

The sleek, energy-efficient Haiku fan from Big Ass Fans will help keep us comfortable in our new house this summer

The Haiku fan in our upstairs guest room.
Photo Credit: Alex Wilson

As summer heats up here, I’m looking forward to trying out the high-tech ceiling fans we installed in our two upstairs bedrooms. First, let me explain why I like ceiling fans so much.

By moving air, moisture is evaporated from our skin, cooling us through evaporative cooling. With modest air movement in a room, most people will be comfortable at an air temperature at least five or six degrees Fahrenheit warmer than would otherwise be the case.

Making Your Family Safer Through Resilience Strategies

Posted May 7, 2014 9:23 AM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions

Whether or not you believe that climate change is happening, implementing resilient design strategies will make you and your family safer—and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Our completed house and restored barn — which provides a model of resilience.
Photo Credit: Alex Wilson

 

Using cynical tactics described in the 2008 book Doubt is Their Product, climate change deniers have convinced a large percentage of the public and the majority of legislators from a certain political party believe that the jury is still out on global climate change.

Taking Action on Climate Change: What Will It Take?

Posted April 30, 2014 11:27 AM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions

What will it take for policy makers and the public finally get on board with the need to do something about climate change?

The United Nations’ IPCC is leading an international effort to understand climate change, and efforts like the Kyoto Protocol have grown out of that background work. But are we getting closer to solving the problem?

The vast majority of climate scientists are telling us that we’re careening headlong into the unknown world of a rapidly warming climate, and they offer policy recommendations for addressing that. Except for a few progressive countries that have taken to heart the need to slow carbon emissions—countries like Denmark, the United Kingdom, and Sweden—there is little sign that the rest of the world is even paying attention, let alone embarking on a path that will dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

What will it take for the rest of the world to get on board?

How Much Water to Turn on a Light Bulb?

Posted April 16, 2014 12:40 PM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions, Water Wise Guys
Cooling towers at a nuclear power plant in Byron, Illinois.
Photo Credit: Scott Olson, Getty Images

Nearly all of our methods for generating electricity involve water consumption—some a lot, some not as much. Producing electricity with hydropower is the most water-intensive method, owing to evaporation from reservoirs. Nationwide, electricity from hydropower plants consumes about 9 gallons of water per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity produced.

In some parts of the world, this evaporation is a big problem because of the relative scarcity of water and its use for drinking water. In the arid Southwestern U.S. this evaporation is a huge issue, especially from reservoirs like Lake Mead.

Water use for thermoelectric power plants

6 Ways Our Household is Saving Water—And Energy

Posted April 8, 2014 4:59 PM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions, GreenSpec Insights

Saving energy isn’t only about using less electricity and fuel; it’s about saving water.

Our 1.75 gpm Kohler Bancroft showerhead.
Photo Credit: Alex Wilson

In this weekly blog, I’ve focused a lot of attention on the energy-saving measures at our new home—from the innovative insulation materials we used to the air-source heat pump heating system and our top-efficiency heat-recovery ventilator. What I haven’t said much about are the measures we’ve taken to reduce water use and why these measures save energy as well.

Urine Collection Beats Composting Toilets for Nutrient Recycling

Posted April 2, 2014 2:20 PM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions, GreenSpec Insights

Human urine collection and use provides a better way to recycle nutrients than use of composting toilets.

Abe Noe-Hays of the Rich Earth Institute standing in front of a urine storage tank. Click to enlarge.
Photo Credit: Alex Wilson

Just when you thought it was safe to enjoy this blog over a cup of coffee here’s an article on…urine?

Really?

Let me explain.

Urine is a largely sterile, nutrient-rich resource that can be used in fertilizing plants. In fact, according to the Rich Earth Institute, the urine from one adult in a year can provide the fertilizer for over 300 pounds of wheat—enough for nearly a loaf of bread per day.

The Rich Earth Institute is a Brattleboro, Vermont-based organization that’s at the leading edge of the little-known practice of urine collection and use—something that’s emerging in Sweden and a few other places. This past Friday night roughly 200 people gathered at the Strolling of the Heifers’ River Garden in downtown Brattleboro to hear Abe Noe-Hays and Kim Nace from the Rich Earth Institute, along with a New York City comedian/activist, Shawn Shafner, discuss the idea.

Recent Comments


Using Your Heating System to Heat Water

norm palmer says, "thanks Alex...I guess I will consider the propane fired unit when I finally can afford a propane power generator for power outages, as that is when I..." More...

Alex Wilson says, "Norm, I'll let Adam comment on the parallel vs. series plumbing. As a mechanical engineer, he knows far more about that than I. But regarding an..." More...

norm palmer says, "I am suffering form some confusion over series or parallel plumbing in previous posts..if you hav a moment could you enlighten me please? thnx" More...

norm palmer says, "Thanks for your response! I MAy not have the room or the budget or the elec power for an extra appliance like the electric on demand. I was hoping..." More...

Adam Kohler says, "I wouldn't pipe them in parallel. Pipe them in series. You absolutely want to preheat the water with the HPWH then feed it to the indirect. Or..." More...