Musings of an Energy Nerd

Can Solar Power Solve the Coal Problem?

Posted on November 8, 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

I recently read a New York Times article on the coal problem. In the future, the article notes, we won’t be able to burn coal at our current rate, so there is an obvious need to make a transition to alternative sources of energy. According to the Times article, the most likely replacement for coal is solar energy.

Monitoring Moisture Levels in Double-Stud Walls

Posted on November 1, 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Most wood-framed buildings have no insulation on the exterior side of the wall sheathingMaterial, usually plywood or oriented strand board (OSB), but sometimes wooden boards, installed on the exterior of wall studs, rafters, or roof trusses; siding or roofing installed on the sheathing—sometimes over strapping to create a rainscreen. . That means that the wall sheathing gets cold and wet during the winter.

Low-Road Buildings Are Homeowner-Friendly

Posted on October 25, 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

There are at least two recognizable camps in the green building community. The older camp includes hippies, owner/builders, and those in the natural building movement. These builders prefer to scrounge materials from the woods or demolition sites rather than purchase new materials from a lumberyard. Their homes might be made of adobe, logs, or straw bales.

Martin’s Energy Quiz — Third Edition

Posted on October 18, 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

GBAGreenBuildingAdvisor.com published an energy quiz in 2009, and another one in 2011. It looks like we're overdue for another installment.

Answers are provided at the bottom of this column; don't peek until you've finished the quiz.

1. True or false: In freezing climates, a drainback solar hot water system circulates ordinary water (without any antifreeze) through its solar collectors.
(a) True.
(b) False.

All About Radon

Posted on October 11, 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Several colorless, odorless gases can injure your health. For example, carbon monoxide can kill you in minutes. RadonColorless, odorless, short-lived radioactive gas that can seep into homes and result in lung cancer risk. Radon and its decay products emit cancer-causing alpha, beta, and gamma particles. takes longer — usually decades — to kill you, and (fortunately) death is less certain.

A Backyard Test of Peel-and-Stick Flashings

Posted on October 4, 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

More than 12 years ago, I wrote an article on peel-and-stick window flashing. The article, “Choosing Flexible Flashings,” appeared in the June 2001 issue of The Journal of Light Construction (JLC).

Fixing a Wet Basement

Posted on September 27, 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

A hundred years ago, homes had cellars, not basements. The typical cellar has stone-and-mortar walls and a dirt floor. Such a cellar is cool and humid, so it's the perfect place to store carrots and potatoes. If a cellar floor got wet during the spring thaw, no one cared. After all, it’s not as if anyone was playing ping pong down there.

Air Sealing an Attic

Posted on September 20, 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

If you want to improve the energy performance of an older house, one of the first steps is to plug your attic air leaks. Although many GBAGreenBuildingAdvisor.com articles address aspects of attic air sealing, no single article provides an overview of the topic. This article is an attempt to provide that missing overview.

I’ll try to explain how you can seal air leaks in a conventional vented, unconditioned attic. If your house has cathedral ceilings — that is, insulated sloped roof assemblies — the air sealing tips in this article don’t apply to your house.

All About Wood Stoves

Posted on September 13, 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

If you’ve been heating your house with wood for years, you probably don’t need to read this article. By now, you know all about the disadvantages and inconveniences that accompany wood heat, and yet you still heat with wood — either because you genuinely love wood heat, or because you love the low cost of the fuel. If you haven’t burned down your house by now, you may even have figured out how to install and operate your stove safely.

This article is addressed to a different audience: those who are thinking about buying their first wood stove.

Weatherization Funding Has Been Slashed

Posted on September 6, 2013 by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

On February 17, 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), sometimes referred to as the “Obama stimulus funding.” Among the bill’s many provisions was a $5 billion allocation over three years to the Weatherization Assistance Program. Since the U.S. Department of Energy (DOEUnited States Department of Energy.) has historically funded the weatherization program at between $210 million and $230 million per year, the $1.6-billion-per-year stimulus funding was a sevenfold increase over the usual funding level.

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