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Today's top stories

Leaded Atmosphere May Have Delayed Global Warming
The lead in gasoline used until the 1980s may have been responsible for keeping the earth cooler than it would have been otherwise. Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, WA, say that lead "supercharges" ice-nucleating dust particles in the atmosphere. This may have delayed global warming during the middle of the twentieth century and offset it until about 1980, when global temperatures began rising steeply.

AIA Announces Awards for Green Projects
The Portola Valley Town Center and other Peninsula buildings were among the awardees of the recent American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment "Top Ten Green Projects for 2009." Recipients included The Chartwell School, overlooking Monterey Bay, which uses natural ventilation, daylighting, radiant heating, and photovoltaics; and, the affordable housing complex Gish Family Apartments in San Jose, which features high-density development, passive heating and cooling strategies, and a photovoltaic system. The Portola Valley Town Center is a group of civic buildings that boast a small construction footprint, restoration of site environment, and passive design features.

Projects Show Affordable Homes Can Be Green
Builders in Harrisonburg, VA, are using EarthCraft-certified homes to show that a small initial cost can yield a lifetime of green savings, even in pricier markets. The secret "is getting everybody to do the little things right," according to Aaron Yoder, owner of AM Yoder & Company, who built homes there. That includes good insulation and properly-sealed ductwork. Central Valley Habitat for Humanity has also been building in the area. Their EarthCraft homes cut utility bills. "I was shocked," said one of their residents, who saw her utility bill drop by more than half after moving in. Energy efficient homes in western Massachusetts are also affordable. Homes in Wisdom Way Solar Village have double-wall construction, dense-pack cellulose insulation, rooftop photovoltaics and solar-thermal arrays. While these homes cost about $38,000 above code (mostly for solar), they generate about 80% of their needed power and require heating units about half the size they otherwise would.

Feature Stories

Thin Film Solar Tiles Blend In: Solé Power Tile from SRS Energy is practically indistinguishable from plain tile at a distance. The company claims their tiles perform as well as others on the market and are easy to install.

Plastic Cups Boost Biodiesel Performance: Polystyrene, the common material in plastic cups and other foam containers, can be used as an additive to biodiesel fuel. A study by mechanical engineers at Iowa State University shows that the plastic can be dissolved in biodiesel and then used to run a diesel engine. Concentrations up to about 5% by weight increase performance. In biodiesel, the plastic simply disolved, but doesn't break down as readily in petroleum-based diesel.

Gail Koffman contributed to today's stories.

Archived Stories

News stories you have to get back to.


Heart of Green Awards Honor Green Progress
The Heart of Green Awards honor individuals and organizations for their work helping green go mainstream. Winners included Alicia Silverstone, Deidre Imus, and Summer Rayne Oakes. Awards included local winners, such as Greg Perry, who brought environmentalism to Beachwood High School in Ohio by developing the Ultimate Green Classroom.

Affordable Housing Developers Congregate
Members of the Council for Energy Friendly Affordable Housing (part of NHRA) will meet next week in Los Angeles for a Green Housing Symposium. About 6% of homes are federally assisted, and developers are looking for ways to leverage money from the recent stimulus package, which should result in the development of green affordable homes. The synmposium will be followed by the National Housing & Rehabilitation Association's 2009 Spring Developers Forum.

Carbon Nanotube Lamp Begins to Glow
A 1.4 micrometre nanotube has become the smallest incandescent lamp in an experiment to study quantum effects. The filament will be used to test Planck's black-body-radiation law (which predicts how light will be emitted by matter under the assumption it is made up of discrete packets of energy).

Feature Stories

UK Moves to Collecting Food Waste: Homes in South Oxfordshire will get new recycling bins that include a small bin for food waste with a lockable lid and a smaller caddy to keep in the kitchen. Almost any kind of food will be accepted and will then be diverted to be composted.

Lights Out in Harmony: The town of Harmony, FL, is the recipient of the Dark Sky Development of Distinction Award of the International Dark-Sky Association. The award honors communities that actively promote a more natural night sky. The community tries to incorporate and protect nature using elements of the urban design, and is among the first master planned communities to consider the night sky in this equation. Naturally dark night skies are disappearing as urbanization spreads around the world, and the IDA seeks to preserve some of this historical environment.

Original Green Roof Builder Enjoying Big Sur: Architect Mickey Muennig moved to Big Sur, CA, in the early 1970s, while developing eco-minded architecture, including green roof construction. His new home blends into the countryside, and required both environmental and earthquake reviews before it could be built in an area with some of the most stringent building requirements. An exquisite blend of native plants (coastal grasses, chaparral, bush lupine and ceanothus) set off spectacular views.


Consistency Is All I Ask: Noted green building consultant Jerry Yudelson says that we need support for green building that does not falter. When government subsidies and guidance went away in 1985, he said, "the industry collapsed overnight." To avoid a repeat, we need building codes that accurately reflect realities of global warming, governmental incentives that will not go away after a few years, and a lasting infrastructure connecting owners, managers, and agencies over green practices.

Gail Koffman contributed to today's stories.


Scientists Establish a Carbon Budget for Humanity
To avoid serious environmental damage, scientists say that humanity cannot afford to add more than one trillion tons of carbon to the atmosphere. This sets a limit of about one-quarter of the remaining known fossil fuel reserves available to use. More than that risks pushing average temperature up by more than two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.

Robert Redford Resists New Green Development
Despite a history of supporting environmental causes, Redford is against a proposed development of 275 green housing units near his home in the Napa Valley village of Angwin, CA. Some there say they are preserving the "beautiful agricultural and rural heritage" and complain that the development will increase traffic. However, the houses would be built on property now owned by a local college, and likely some of the homes would be sold to people that work their.

California Cities Look at Public Funding of Solar Panels
Cities are looking at how they can use California law (known as AB 811) to help their citizens finance solar panels. The law allows borrowers to pay back investments in solar panels through property tax payments over a 20 year period.

Feature Stories

NY Naval Yard Captures Green Firms: The remade Naval Yard in New York has been repurposed as an incubator, a facility specializing in supporting startup companies. One of them, IceStone, took advantage of the benign environment to overcome early difficulties manufacturing their green product, as shown in this video.

Twitter Quitters: While Twitter is going through an expansion as celebrities join up, its retention rate is less than stellar. Twitter tends to keep only about 40% of new users after they've tried it for a month. This compares with 70% or more for Facebook and MySpace.

Palo Alto Bans Foam Containers: The Palo Alto, CA, city council has banned expanded-polystyrene containers from local food establishments. The new ban will not immediately take effect to allow establishments to work off their existing stocks. Foam containers break down very slowly, and discarded containers can end up in streams and the bay, where they pose a risk to wildlife.

Understanding Complexities of Solar Panels Necessary to Proper Purchase: Solar panels have become complex machines for generating electricity. Minimum warranted power, STC/PTC ratings, efficiency ratings, and other independent information is necessary to understanding what you may be purchasing.


CO2 Soaring in Arctic
A study of CO2 levels at Zeppelin research station on Svalbard, Norway, suggests levels have reached a record high. Pre-industrial-revolution levels were around 280 ppm, but the station measured levels at 397 ppm. The new data suggests levels are changing 2-3 ppm per year, a rapid rate. Scientists believe that levels above 450 ppm would result in temperature increases of two degrees Celsius on preindustrial global average temperature.

NAFTA Challenge for New California Low-Carbon Fuel Rules
California's recently adopted rules requiring energy producers to take 10% out of the carbon intensity of their products by 2020 may be in for challenges from producers that claim NAFTA and WTO rules would prohibit the requirements. Canadian officials think the rules discriminate against dirty sources of fuels like tar pits. The rules force refiners to consider the carbon footprint of the fuels they produce. Since oil refined from oil sands requires large expenditures of natural gas, this puts a strain on synthetic fuel producers. But, nothing in the regulations appears to be different based on where the fuel is produced.

Electric Car Resurging
The all-electric car is about to make a comeback, based on lighter, more sophisticated and efficient batteries. Billed as second cars with a range of about a hundred miles, they will be used for running errands, taking kids to school, and similar tasks. Nissan expects to have a model out by the end of next year. This will be a full car that seats five and can charge to 80% capacity in less than a half-hour. One lesson automakers learned from the last cycle was to field test their cars. So, they have them out in government fleets before putting them on the market for consumers.

Feature Stories

Green Necessity Forces Real Estate Industry to Learn: The sudden change of sustainability from a fringe interest to a mainstream trend has forced many in the real estate industry to go looking for information on green homes and construction. This is creating a demand for green building education for a wide segment of the industry. A number of institutions are developing to fill the gap. But, the best place to learn may be on the job, as property teams put their employees through LEED-EB certification and similar training.

20 MW Solar Thermal Plant Comes Online in Spain: A new solar farm that can generate enough power for 10,000 households is going online near Seville, Spain. The Abengoa Solar facility boasts a 531-foot tower, the world's largest, and captures energy from 1,255 mirrored heliostats.

New Material Maximizes Gas Absorption: A new material of zinc oxide made with nanocluster crystals maximizes the surface area of the substance, allowing it to capture gases (such as hydrogen) in tiny pockets. An once of the material has the same surface area as a football field and may help researchers overcome storage problems that currently make hydrogen power storage impractical for most applications. The substance makes use of tiny variations in the electrical charge of hydrogen molecules that cause them to stick briefly. Large surface areas magnify this effect.

Builder Knowledge

Home Ventilation Required in Tighter Houses: According to the EPA, houses can have air pollution levels two to five times that of outside air (at the same location). Many homes are gaining energy-efficiency through tightening up the envelope to stop air leaks. But this can lead to increased indoor air quality problems unless the home is properly ventilated. Controlling air flow is the key to saving heating and cooling costs, but requires positive measures, such as ventilation fans and heat exchange ventilators. Fortunately, newer equipment is Energy-Star-rated and can be whisper quiet.

Economics of Net-Zero Homes Shifting: After last year's price increases in energy costs, architects and homebuilders have re-evaluated the economics of energy efficiency. While ecologically-friendly housing for many years has been sold on its environmental merit, future energy pricing is being factored into current building equations. "Actually saving money has been considered the last hurdle for the green movement, which got sideswiped by the economic crisis." But, the pace of technological change is making buying decisions tough, not unlike the situation in the home computer market during the 1990s.

Questions Prepare for Solar Panels: Twelve questions from the American Solar Energy Society help home owners get the right solar panels. Click through to take a look.

Solar Compared to Wind Power: If you match up solar vs wind power right now, who wins? Solar power, according to this analysis by Solar Feeds. Just on costs: "You would need six wind turbines to equal the performance of one 600 watt solar panel, on a daily basis, plus tower costs and all the other costs."


Producing Biofuel Can Be Dangerous to Your House
Producing your own biodiesel in your garage can burn your house down. Fire officials are warning of the dangers and considering new restrictions. "Ferocious" fires and explosions blamed on backyard refining operations have been reported in many states, as the ingredients are highly flamable. Even those who advocate the practice warn of the dangers, asking people to take precautions such as storing chemicals in metal cabinets and keeping fire extinguishers on hand.

Obama Calls for More Science Spending
President Obama wants more than three percent of the nation's GDP to go to research and development. In remarks at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC, the President also called for a renewed commitment to math and science education.

Is the Cost of Environmental Repair Being Understated?
Robert Samuelson of Newsweek report that claims being made about the relatively low cost of addressing global warming are understating the actual costs. He cites a claim from the Environmental Defense Fund that it would only cost ten cents a day per person to solve climate change, which would be true only under the most optimistic economic conditions. While this may be true, motivating the public to take action is not an easy task, and possibly overstating the costs risks demotivating the exact people that need to make changes.

Feature Stories

Want Green? Start Small: The Wall Street Journal asked leading architects what makes a green house. Their replies, while not intended to stretch the limits, still include some interesting innovations. The common theme, however, is that small is the basis of green. "The smaller thing you can create, the more sustainable it is," according to architect Steve Mouzon, of Mouzon Design in Miami Beach, FL.

European Parliament Sets 2019 Target for Zero-Net Energy Homes: Late last week the European Parliament set 2019 as the target for all new homes in Europe to be built to zero-net energy standards. The definition of a zero-net energy home according to the decision is a building where "as a result of the very high level of energy efficiency of the building, the overall annual primary energy consumption is equal to or less than the energy production from renewable energy sources on site."

Solar Panels Evaluated: Here are three top-quality PV solar modules that provide top value for those looking for a great buy.


Eestor Demonstrates Their Supercapacitor: Eestor, a company designing a supercapacitor to be used by Zenn Motor Company, has announced that they have achieved a relative permittivity of 22,500, demonstrating that they are on target to produce specialized energy storage units (EESU) that can be used instead of batteries to power cars. The company issued a slight correction today.

Current Events

Berkeley Brower Center to Open: A new environmentally-friendly office center will officially open next week in Berkeley, CA, and will house at least 10 environmental nonprofit groups. The center, named for the first executive director of the Sierra Club, was made of 53% recycled material and carries the highest rating for green construction. It was designed by San Francisco architect Dan Solomon and is attached to an affordable housing complex. The Brower Center will have open house 11:00 AM to 7:30 PM on 10 May 2009.

AIA Show Starts Wednesday: The AIA 2009 National Convention and Design Expo starts Wednesday 29 April 2009 and runs through Saturday at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, CA. The Chronicle (see main link) thinks that convention visitors might want to check out the affordable housing in the city. It's certainly more expensive to live in than most places visitors might come from.


Construction Industry Already Making Progress
Builders already recycle 97.5% of structural steel, 65% of reinforcement steel and 80% of asphalt, according to Stephen Sandherr, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America, more than any other industry. Builders are taking steps to further reduce their emissions, including maintaining their equipment in better condition and using it more efficiently. The effort saves tons of materials and prevents over 75 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.

Chicago to Get Largest Urban Solar Power Plant
Exelon and SunPower are teaming up to build 10 MW of PV into a Chicago brown field on Chicago's south side. The $60 million project would lease 39 acres of the West Pullman Industrial Redevelopment Area to set up 32,800 solar panels.

Wind Power Comes to Great Lakes
The New York Power Authority is looking for companies interested in developing offshore wind projects in the Great Lakes. The agency wants to get at least a 120 MW of energy from Lake Erie or Lake Ontario. The Great Lakes Offshore Wind Project will help New York reach the governor's "45 by 15" goal to get 45% of the state's electricity through improved energy efficiency and renewable sources by 2015.

Feature Stories

Amish Survive on Hard Work: You might think that the recession has affected everyone in the country, but one large sector of people are buffered from the downturn: the Amish. But, even their isolated economy is feeling the effects from their customers, who are not buying as much. Still, a lot of customers come from upscale households, which are still spending. "If they want to spend, they want quality," says Raymond Bontrager of Maple Lane Woodshop in Wisconsin. Since the Old Order Amish eschew most modern conveniences and thrive on self-sufficiency, they are relatively isolated from the typical ups and downs of the wider economy.

Energy Expert Teaches Hands-On Workshops on Going Green: Dan Chiras, a former full-time college professor with years of study and writing in the field of sustainable development, has opened The Evergreen Institute Center for Renewable Energy and Green Building in Gerald, CO, and is providing workshops on home energy efficiency, solar electricity, wind energy, passive solar heating and cooling, natural building, natural plasters, and more.

GeoSmart Energy Continues to Grow: Despite the downturn, GeoSmart Energy in Cambridge, Ontario, has continued to expand. Their geothermal products can save up to 80% of energy compared with ordinary furnaces and air conditioners.

Simon Roofing Ramps Up Green: An internal effort at Simon Roofing has started to result in major changes at the company, including cutting energy usage by more than a quarter. The company is recycling the PVC material in roofing membranes, diverting more than 800,000 pounds from landfill. As an indication of commitment the company installed a roof-top garden, which they called a "vegetative roof". "People worry about a leaky roof; well, the plants take care of that," said Jim Petuch, director of the county Division of Recycling and Reuse in Mahoning County Ohio, where the company is headquartered.


Cities Step in to Foreclose
The City of Riverside, CA, is using money from the federal government to help it buy and renovate foreclosed homes. The homes are then sold back, typically to first-time buyers. Cities are stepping in to stabilize neighborhoods. Areas with multiple foreclosures create maintenance issues, and "It's demoralizing, it threatens neighborhood stability, and it will lower property values," according to Erik Strunk, community partnerships director from Glendale, AZ. By providing support for mortgages and money to do repairs, cities mitigate the damage and can bring families back into neighborhoods.

Insurance Industry Beginning to Adjust Policies to Address Climate Change
It appears that increasing numbers of companies are begining to address climate change with mandatory risk disclosures and more products to help reduce energy use. Reduced driving is one criteria now being used to favor those who create less greenhouse gas by driving less. The industry is also finding that green buildings are more resilient.

SF Contractors Complain About Excessive Fines
Contractors complained to the Police Commission that they are being hit with excessive fines for double parking under the umbrella language of "unsafe worksite." Complaints extended to selective enforcement, vindictive prosecution, lack of due process, and harassment by SFPD officers. The commission ordered officials to appear to discuss the issue and set guidelines for future enforcement.

Feature Stories

Massachusetts Development Attracts With Net-Zero Energy Homes: The Wisdom Way Solar Village in Greenfield, MA, is selling net-zero energy homes. PV and solar thermal provide the energy, which is conserved by good insulation and windows. The maker, Rural Development Incorporated, is building homes for multiple income levels. Heat can come from a sealed combustion Monitor room heater in the central living area.

Students Learn About LEED Platinum Home: Students of the Riverdale High School visited a LEED Platinum home in Portland, OR, for a symposium on sustainability. The home is completely self-sustaining for water, and has one of the highest ratings in the country. But it's still looking for a buyer.


Happy Earth Day to you!

Taking on the Hard Challenges
While Earth Day often emphasizes soft changes we can all make to run the earth in a better way, here are ten difficult things we need to do to save the planet. Don't look unless you're prepared to be challenged.

Titanium Nanotubes Increase Hydrogen Production
Researchers at Northeastern University have created a process to improve performance of solar cells that produce hydrogen gas from water. A potassium residue on titania nanotubes (previously known to produce hydrogen gas from water, electricity, and sunlight) increases the hydrogen production. Hydrogen solar cell designers could use this discovery to optimize performance.

Just Joking About Earth Day
Video. Listen. Watch. Laugh. But remember: "Earth Day people can be very unforgiving!" [Warning: Contains items you might not want to view while eating.]

Feature Stories

You Think That's Weird?: Try out these six new building materials, including sandstone made from sand and bacteria. Magnus Larsson, a student in London, came up with a process that uses bacteria to turn sand into artificial sandstone. [We covered Litracon, one of these six, before. See On the Horizon for 2009-04-14.]

SIPs So Impressive They Sold the Company: On doing his research to build a community, Jimmy Farlow became so impressed by structured insulated panels that he bought his own SIP company in North Carolina and moved it to Blairs, VA. Improving on his experience with SIPs to build energy-efficient houses, he is now seeking funding to use polymers and energy cells in construction, which would produce reduced energy savings of as much as 90%.

Ring City Maximizes Green: South Korea is considering building a new eco-city named Gwanggyo. As envisioned by Dutch architecture group MVRDV, the city center would be designed as rings so that the areas available for plants could be maximized.

Disappearing Waste Water: "What percentage of water that goes down the drain is actually lost forever?" This was a question World Changing took on recently; a question from a reader answered by Sarah Kuck and Julia Levitt. I quibble only with a few minor points. Mass can be destroyed. That's what makes nuclear reactions so powerful. And a certain amount of water is being lost by the earth all the time as it evaporates into space. That said, it's pretty clear that the questioner had a point. Just because water goes down the drain doesn't mean it disappears, never to be heard from again. And, Kuck and Levitt's point about the cost of making it useable and carting off the remains hits that point on the head.


EPA Releases Determination Greenhouse Gases Are Hazardous
The Environmental Protection Agency has determined six greenhouse gases are a danger to public health and welfare, a first step toward regulating them. The report is expected Friday and will also say tailpipe emissions from motor vehicles contribute to climate change.

Virgin America Will Report Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Virgin American Airlines is the first to pledge to report its greenhouse gas emissions to the nonprofit Climate Registry each year. Virgin operates modern Airbus aircraft estimated to be 25% more CO2 efficient than other domestic fleets.

Why Pay More?
Why pay more for your bathroom tissue if it's made from recycled materials? Paper manufacturer Marcel's new Small Steps is priced less than equivalent tissue made from raw material (35 trees for the average consumer each year, a family of four using about two tons). [video]

Feature Stories

McDonough Delivers Talk on Cradle-to-Cradle Design: Environmental engineer William A. McDonough at Cornell University told an audience, "We need to design materials that are 'nutrients' and design systems to recover and recycle these nutrients." He also noted that we can incorporate products and materials into closed cycles for safe reuse, citing research that has eliminated most of the harmful chemicals typically used in textile seating fabric. With this, fabric for the new Airbus380 is "clean enough to eat if you ever crave fiber mid-flight."

Dark Green Not So Extreme: A surprisingly large segment of the population may be green pioneers, exhibiting at least seven identified environmental actions, such as buying products that use less packaging, consuming less energy at home, or recycling. A survey by Porter Novelli of 11,700 Americans found that 7% fit the definition. This article takes a look at a number of dark green people.

Frustration Leads to Green Hive Near LA: Frustration led green builders to plan a new green building center in downtown Los Angeles, expected to open later this year. Green Hive will provide architects, homeowners, contractors and vendors an exchange for eco-friendly information. The centerpiece of the hive is a library where the public can do research at no cost. The space is also expected to hold is a cafe, cyber lounge, exhibition area for new technologies, and a marketplace for vendors to display new products.

Bozeman Panel Discusses Green Building: Architects Dan Stevenson of CTA Architects Engineers and Don MacArthur of MMW Architects discussed green building for a panel sponsored by NewWest.Net at the Designing the New West conference in Bozeman, MT, last Friday. MacArthur said, "I don't view green building as a product. It's a process toward a product." Robert Young of the Red Feather Development Group said, "It's always about getting a roof over somebody's head."


Registration Opens for LEED Credentials
The Green Building Certification Institute has now opened registration for two new LEED credentials: LEED Green Associate and LEED Accredited Professional Operation and Maintenance. LEED Green Associate shows understanding of basic skills and is necessary to obtain further LEED AP credentials. LEED AP O+M is for professionals with advanced knowledge in green building practices and shows specialized expertise in building operations and maintenance.

New Study Counts Costs of Fossil Fuel
A report by the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering says that coal-fired electricity would cost more than double if the costs to human health and greenhouse gas emissions were counted. The author of the report said it was the first time a study of hidden power costs had been undertaken in Australia.

Protestors Want Duke Energy to Stop Coal-fired Plant
About 300 protestors came out Sunday to urge Duke Energy to halt construction on a new coal-fired power plant near Charlotte, NC. About forty protestors were arrested.

Feature Stories

Earth Day Celebrated Around the World: Earth Day events in San Francisco included learning how to make a "zero-waste lunch" for kids and the joys of worm composting bins. Landscaping company Cagwin & Dorward talked about their environmental strategy, and their sustainability manager said the company has reduced energy use by more than a quarter.

Household Energy Smacked Down: Martin LaMonica has spent almost a year competing in the Energy Smackdown, a combination "community-outreach program, contest, and cable TV show." Video recorded teams as they competed in various events to reduce energy usage, auto miles, and trash generated. The results aren't in, but some of the lessons are. After getting an energy audit (required of all participants), LaMonica realized that "a caulk gun will pay off quicker than solar panels." But he got the solar panels, anyway, and reduced his energy use enough to start selling power back to his utility company.

New Levels of PV Efficiency: The Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands has reached new levels of efficiency on full-sized solar modules with 16.4% aperture-area efficiency. The first commercial production will come from solar cell manufacturer Solland Solar.

Green Homes Still Hard to Find: Despite hype and quite a lot of building, finding green homes outside new-built areas can still be a challenge. Techniques for finding them include working with savvy real estate agents and looking for energy-efficiency certification. Additional resources are listed.

Home Remodeler Steps Up to the Task: Home remodeler, Shirey Contracting on Puget Sound, is building a zero-energy home for its owners. After 20 years of using SIPs in construction, Donna and Riley Shirey plan to use them for their own home, along with photovoltaic panels, a solar hot-water system, a wind turbine, and LED lighting.

Green Terminology Losing Its Edge: Mental saturation has set in as need for everything to be sustainable makes it hard to distinguish products simply by labeling them "green". When everything's green, then nothing is. Or, is it? Many products are only relatively green, better than traditional products but hardly sustainable. This article suggests you avoid buzzwords by looking for certifications.


Molecular Layer Key to Heat Transfer Between Bodies
Research at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute shows that how strongly materials are bonded together correlates with the speed at which heat moves between them. A thin atomic layer painted between them can dramatically change heat transfer. The discovery helps better understand how water sticks to or flows past a surface, and could alter the way insulating material is made.

The Edge Picks Malibu
U2's Edge has picked Malibu to build homes in an environmentally sensitive area, causing some of the residents to sing out. The famous guitarist is not as well known as Bono for his philanthropic causes, but when he announced he wanted to install five new homes in an unincorporated area above the town it triggered complaints that it would ruin the area. David Evans (known as The Edge for his haunting, high-strung riffs) says, "These homes will be some of the most environmentally sensitive ever designed in Malibu—or anywhere in the world."

AIA Housing Awards Include Sustainable Homes
The American Institute of Architects's annual housing awards include a number of sustainable homes, including the Laidley Street Residence in San Francisco, CA, and the Madison @ 14th Apartments in Oakland, CA. The Saint John's Abbey and Monastery Guesthouse in Collegeville, MN, another winner, includes environmental philosophies found in the Rule of Benedict to inform its design.

Feature Stories

Vatican Orders Massive Solar Plant: I jest. But, the smallest country in the world may soon have one of the largest PV installations. The new solar farm will go near the village of Santa Maria di Galeria, and is expected to produce 100 MW of solar power. The Pope is known to be an outspoken proponent of fighting global climate change.

Solar Air Heating Association Formed: The inaugural meeting of the Solar Air Heating World Industries Association will take place next month in Munich, Germany. The organization is intended to support the interests of solar air heating, worldwide.

Mixed-Use Complex Complex to Build: The East College Street Project in Oberlin, OH, is finally under construction. But Sustainable Community Associates became somewhat reluctant real estate developers in order to overcome the many obstacles to funding, planning, permitting, and building the project. "We began what was in retrospect a fantastically foolish endeavor, but over the last three years have cobbled together a mix of public, private, and philanthropic funds and are moving through predevelopment architecture and legal work," said Ben Ezinga, one of the project founders. The project is described as a "multi-party, multi-layer financed, mixed-use, mixed-income housing and retail project", but it has the capacity to change the economics of Downtown Oberlin and can act as a model for similar projects in other locales.

Buyers Rein In Luxury Items: Kitchen and bathroom remodelers want efficient and renewable fixtures, while demand for luxury items has taken a sharp downturn, according to a survey by the AIA. Accessible and easy-to-use areas are also gaining popularity, but high ceilings are meeting resistance, as people worry about heating the extra space. Buyers are aware of the value of green products, and perhaps want to impress their neigbors with sustainable homes.


Pulte and Centrex to Merge
A merger of Pulte Homes and Centex Corporation would create the largest home builder in the United States. The combination would create a more balanced corporation from Pulte's side, reducing its dependence on active adult communities and the relative size of its land holdings. It would also give Pulte access to North Carolina and other markets where Centrex has a presence. The merger is expected to complete before the forth quarter of 2009, subject to regulatory approval.

San Francisco May Establish Green Home Improvement District
After rejecting a Home Depot in the Bayview and Bernal Heights neighborhoods area, San Franciscans may approve a new Lowe's as the anchor for a proposed Green Home Improvement District. Planning will include community meetings and interviews with contractors, property owners and businesses. The proposal is designed to revive a part of downtown that has become a "ghost town" and act as a stimulus for green jobs.

Green Real Estate Education Still a Hot Business
Despite the down economy, Green Real Estate Education has certified more than 4,000 real estate professionals in the last two years. With green homes often selling faster and carrying a premium over traditional houses there is ample incentive for real estate agents and others in the industry to learn about green homes.

Feature Stories

$13 Billion Plan for High Speed Rail Outlined: President Obama announced details of the administration's three-part program to revive rail transportation in the U.S. The plan includes projects to remove existing bottlenecks, build new high-speed corridors, and revise further rail plans. The President called for: "A system that reduces travel times and increases mobility. A system that reduces congestion and boosts productivity. A system that reduces destructive emissions and creates jobs."

Proposed Ontario Feed-In Tariffs Would Create PV Incentives: Ontario's Green Energy Act, if passed, would bring German-style incentives to North America. Proposed tariffs would pay about $0.64/kwh to homeowners that fed power into the grid, a rate guaranteed for 20 years.

Toronto May Require Green Roofs: Some in Toronto, Canada, want to mandate green roofs on buildings. But very few parties seem to support the legislation. Even Green roof promoter Steven Peck of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities opposes the move.

Mega Solar Power Plant Vies for Nation's Largest: A new 48-MW power plant by First Solar may become the nation's largest solar farm when it is built near Boulder City, NV. It will compete with FP&L's Babcock Ranch power plant to be built near Fort Myers. (See 2009-04-10 On the Horizon.)

Light Cores Supporting Newer Furniture: Newer cores of paper or fiberboard called X-Board add structure and rigidity to furniture products, doors and other components. Xanita makes X-board from cellulose fiber-based rigid boards and roll-goods taken from post-consumer, recycled paper waste.

Wireless Energy Dashboards Coming to More Homes: The stimulus package may be helping wireless energy monitoring dashboards come to homes. They help owners monitor and control electricity use, which is especially important with homes that have smart meters. About 6% of homes nationwide have smart meters, but the government is promoting them and has set a target of placing them in 40 million homes.

Ductless Heat Pump Systems Improve Efficiency: Eliminating ducts from your HVAC system eliminates air leaks and heat transfer leaks to produce a more efficient system. Ductless heat pumps use lines to move hot/cold fluid through lines from the outside compressor to heads mounted in outside walls.

20 Minute Neighborhoods: Getting to efficient, green houses will take more than building them in new ways. We will need to redesign our neighborhoods to support the kind of houses we want. A 20-minute neighborhood is walkable, allowing residents to live without being tied to cars.

Sears Offers Earth Day Promotion: Sears is offering home energy audits for $99 between 20-26 April 2009.

Summertime's Coming!: The best dryer for your clothes might still be the sun, but if you live in one of the many communities that have outlawed clotheslines you may want to look at these tips for getting the most from your clothes drying appliance.


Fallon Sees Home Show: The ninth annual "Go Green" Home and Garden Show is coming to the Fallon Convention Center on 18-19 April 2009 in Fallon, NV. The show, sponsored by Soroptimist International of Fallon, will be Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Parking and admission are free.


It Came From Outer Space
They may say that in a few years about electricity if startup Solaren is able to launch its power satellites. They got a boost from PG&E, which has agreed to buy up to 200 MW of power from the company at a fixed price, should it be able to put its satellites in orbit. The satellites would microwave the power to Fresno, CA, where it would be converted to electricity.

Refurbishing Existing Buildings Important for Carbon Goals
A report from the UK Economic and Social Research Council and Technology Strategy Board says that buildings will need to be radically refurbished to meet government goals. The study, "How people use and 'misuse' buildings", notes that domestic buildings release far more carbon than commercial, public or industrial buildings, and will need serious changes to approach net zero carbon. Taking on this task in Britain would keep 23,000 teams of people busy for 40 years, according to the study.

Green Volts Shifts Course
San Francisco company Green Volts announced that it has replaced the CEO and is shifting course from building its own power plants to licensing its product. The company produces concentrated solar systems, which use mirrors to concentrate sunlight on a high-performance PV cell. Green Volts won the 2006 Clean Tech Open. It isn't the first to shift to product development in response to economic conditions.

Feature Stories

Ready for Global Climate Change?: You might want to design your next house for extreme weather. Check out how several homes stacked up to environmental challenges. It could give you ideas for your next house. Just make sure it will float if you plan to build it near (today's) sea level.

Massachusetts Groundsource Heatpump Saves Energy: A new system for a Newburyport, MA, family is saving 30% on heating and cooling bills after installing a groundsource geothermal system. The owner recommends putting in this kind of system for new homes. The family's commitment to help control climate change influenced their decision, as well as other aspects of their lifestyle.

Old-Style Green Walls Sprout Vines: notes that vines are surprisingly effective at keeping homes cool. Daily temperature fluctuation can be reduced by as much as 50%. And, in the winter, they can reduce heating demand by 25%.

Home in Greensboro Gets Eco-Friendly Rugs: The Greenspiration home in Greensboro, NC, is getting area rugs from Karastan. The rugs are Axminster woven in Eden, NC, and are made of 100% Wools of New Zealand-branded wool.

Growing Your Own Synthetic Building Materials: Where does Trex come from? At least a part of it may come from your recycled plastic vegetable bag. This "film plastic" goes into manufacturing synthetic building materials.

Oregon May Adopt Mandatory Paint Recycling: A bill in the Oregon legislature would require manufacturers to establish a statewide paint-recycling program. Recycling by a government entity in Portland, OR, currently gathers significant quantities of unused paint. Oil-based paints go into cement production, and latex paint is combined and filtered before being resold. [The toxicity of recycled paint depends on the source paint, which can contain significant levels of VOCs.]

New Jersey Businesses Pack in the Green Products: Actually, I'm bringing you this because of the picture of the irresistable lambs. But while we're on the subject, the sheep from Valley Shepherd Creamery contribute to organic artisan sheep's milk cheese. The area includes Green Elements and Design, a showroom for eco-friendly finishes for the home. Owner Suzie Blodgett learned how toxic traditional building products can be when she was renovating her own home. She says that people don't realize until they come to the store what a difference a healthy space makes, and that even just using green cleaning products can make a difference.


Give Me Back My Water!
Southern Nevada Water Authority wants its water back. It claims that water it sells to homeowners belongs to it after they finish using it, and they want it back to put into Lake Mead. Water returned to the lake can be taken up again, processed and resold to residents around Las Vegas, NV, which the agency claims reduces the need to take water from the Colorado River. So, the agency wants to prevent property owners from catching and recycling water they buy, and has now made it official policy to oppose graywater recycling. Manuevering may have killed an assembly bill that would have permitted graywater recycling, despite the increased efficiencies of recycling the water on site, where it doesn't have to be shipped back to the lake and then cleaned again.

New Transmission Lines Create Potential Environmental Problems
As renewable energy facilities (solar plants, wind farms and geothermal production) start to replace older technologies, they often create the need for new transmission lines, sometimes in environmentally sensitive areas. A recent agreement by Southern California Edison, rerouting transmission lines from a solar plant in the Mojave desert to