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Community and Q&A

Is there a green quest for the masses?

2tePuaao2B | Posted in Green Building Techniques on

Being aware of reasons that housing for the masses has failed in many aspects prompted me to research the current alternatives for the future. I came to this site (GBA) to learn from, what I believe to be some of the best resources available. For the first five months I read a lot. I was seeking a solution for the large scale housing injustices that were (and still are) being sold to the public in massive numbers.
How can we produce housing that will best serve the majority of human beings in the future?
For such a clear and simple sounding question I’ve learned that there are complexities beyond my comprehension to be dealt with first. Obstacles if you will.
There seem to be two basic schools of thought regarding green building.

The ” Conventional Green” approach that applies state of the art scientific research and developement technologies, using highly rated building materials for the creation of very efficient ,
well built homes.
And “Natural Home” building, that utilizes available natural building materials and techniques to create very efficient, well built homes.
“Conventional Green” is the most popular by publication these days, and is used by custom home builders to offer their clients very nice homes that are at the top of the efficiency game. “Government Green” plays a role in this process by offering various tax incentives that apply to the use of certain green approved building materials and standards. The cost of building this way as a rule is more than other, previous conventional home building techniques. Minimum building code requirements are often exceeded by building CG. Questions related to test of time things like future air quality remain for me.
“Natural Homes” are more often built by a different mind set that I believe to be based on simplistic, natural science. The building materials come out of the earth and are natural. These homes offer very similar efficiencies, as a rule cost less to build, have proven the test of time and are proven to be healthy. This style of green building is not as closely tied to Government program qualification and therefore does not get equal publication consideration in my opinion.

Based on facts, Natural Home green building would be todays solution for offering the best dollar value attainable. By producing very nice homes that are built to exceed code requirements and mimimize the negative impact to the earth, our health and our pocket books the masses could benifit greatly for a change.
This is my take based on the Six month+ journey that I’ve taken thus far with the GBA.

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  1. Riversong | | #1


  2. user-869687 | | #2


    Technology is now so ubiquitous for members of affluent western society, with high tech stuff all around us, that it becomes normal to see technology as the best solution to any problem. But we also know that high tech food is not healthy food--for example those convenient packaged things with dozens of mysterious chemical ingredients. It's easy to see the strength in low tech food--little or no packaging, few ingredients, no chemical mysteries, maybe a little dirt on those carrots to remind you what exactly that thing is. Food makes an easy example to explain the virtue of low tech, but the concepts are the same for anything, including buildings. More industrial process, more chemicals, longer transport distance, more energy embodied, more packaging and garbage--this is what technology adds.

    However, in the process of designing a modern structure that will perform and last, technological solutions are practical. Choosing not to use materials because they're "not green" might seem to handicap the design process. That's a subject that needs thought and exploration and it's the reason even the old-timers are having these conversations about what is the best way to build something. There have been generations of questionable status-quo building practice and a century plus of crescendo in making increasingly less sustainable choices--more sprawl, more plastic, more toxics, more energy demand, more resource depletion. It's possible the peak of that crescendo is behind us now, and at least a trickle of folks are beginning to ask what a post-___ world might look like. Post-oil? Post-globalization? Post-money?

    Personally I feel both worried about momentum in the wrong direction (off a cliff?) but also excited by the opportunity to join/create a movement working to reverse the trends of the last century. Wastefulness no longer works after you run out of essential resources, and that's no longer a hypothetical problem. Even as the peak(s) wind down (and there even may be a few decades in transition) some of us can be early adopters. You can still choose to waste resources and generate a mountain of garbage (present or future) or you can choose to consume less and see how little debris you can leave behind.

  3. Riversong | | #3

    folks are beginning to ask what a post-___ world might look like. Post-oil? Post-globalization? Post-money?

    I just now finished reading Jame's Howard Kunstler's novel, World Made by Hand. I highly recommend it to all.

    BOOK REVIEW OF ...World Made By Hand by James Howard Kunstler, review by Grinning Planet

    James Howard Kunstler became nationally known, at least to the Peak Oil community, via his rants on the sterility of the Ameriburbs and his musings about the coming collapse of our petro-powered society, most famously in the book The Long Emergency, as well as through appearances in movies like The End of Suburbia.

    World Made By Hand places us a couple of decades into the future, when today's globalized high-energy techno-industrialism is gone, replaced by a hyper-local, low-energy, low-tech existence—an uninvited, unwanted change borne of natural limits, pandemic losses of life, and the general ineptitude of today's leaders.

    We learn that...
    - there was an influenza pandemic, wiping out a large portion of the populace;
    - there is no longer any central governing authority, or at least not one that plays any role in local affairs;
    - petroleum products have vanished;
    - biofuels' problems—low "net energy" and competition with food supply—have apparently caused them to vanish too;
    - grid-supplied electricity is a thing of the past, and apparently none of the characters ever bothered with solar panels (though to be fair, 20 years down the road, most installed solar energy systems might have ceased to function anyway);
    - electric-powered devices are kaput (which includes tools, hence the book's title);
    - almost all food is grown locally, with minor supplementation through purchases from not-too-distant towns and trading posts;
    - pharmaceuticals are a things of the past, with only rudimentary medicines available.

    In such a world, anyone who had hands-on professional skills (such as doctoring or farming or cheese making) or selected hobby skills (such as woodworking or sewing or raising horses) is immediately useful. Others learn fast or fade away.

    Book Review by Orion Magazine:

    Islamic fundamentalists have blown up Los Angeles and DC. That puts the global economy into a smoking tailspin. A flu pandemic has wiped out a good third of the population, maybe more. Oil, or access to what’s left of it anyway, is as good as gone. The Chinese have reportedly landed a man on the moon, but that’s probably more legend than fact in these paranoid times. The federal government has retreated to Minnesota, of all places (because who would attack them up there?), and with resources limited, race wars have erupted across the South. The globe is no longer flat (sorry, Tom Friedman!). It’s as round and as large as it’s ever been.

    Such is the fictionalized world envisioned by James Howard Kunstler in his new book, World Made by Hand. This isn’t a sci-fi view into a future one hundred or fifty years away. It’s anti–sci-fi, set maybe ten to twenty years out.

    There’s an old center of town, but the ruins of suburban sprawl still litter the periphery. Union Grove has gone semi-feudal with many from the former middle class signing on as quasi–slave labor for an essentially benevolent landholder named Bullock. The rest of the townies scrape by doing odd jobs and farming, and are kinda-sorta led by Robert Earle, a former marketing executive with a Boston software firm who now makes his living by trading carpentry work in barter. A mysterious and well-armed group of religious zealots called the New Faith Congregation has shown up in town, having fled—and even taken part in—the race wars in Virginia and Pennsylvania. On the outskirts lives a tribe of outlaws called the Wayne Karp crew—identified by the wing-shaped tattoos over their eyebrows. The Karp clan does its best to control the drug trade, but its real profit center is a booming business in strip-mining tract homes and abandoned property for recyclable materials.

    The battle lines between the rival groups are set, and the story of how this bloody summer unfolds makes the book worth reading. But it’s Kunstler’s ability to catalogue with an anthropologist’s precision what the world will look like that is just as compelling. Farmers have begun growing poppies, not for the drug trade, but to keep the local doctors stocked with powerful painkillers. The local dentist stays in business using a salvaged pulley drill, and patients bring in their old gold jewelry to use as cavity fillers in place of the high-tech composites used by dentists in ol’ 2007. The electricity doesn’t work anymore, but people in town still get water thanks to the gravity-fed reservoir. There’s no more Amstel Light but plenty of hard cider, home-brew, whiskey, and wine. No more Stouffer’s Lean Cuisine, but at the wake for a victim of one of Wayne Karp’s outlaws, there was “spinach cooked with bacon and green onions, radishes, rocket . . . and new beets.” There were coffee cakes made from ground butternut meal and honey. Sounds pretty great, actually!

    Anybody who has ever read Kunstler or seen him live has experienced his excoriating jeremiad. But the soft underbelly of Kunstler’s rage against what he perceives as America’s obliviousness is that he’s actually a true believer in humanity. Yes, he really does think the future is going to look like it does in World Made by Hand, and that’s a scary, scary, place. But if you believe Kunstler, it doesn’t have to be half bad either.

  4. user-757117 | | #4

    However, in the process of designing a modern structure that will perform and last, technological solutions are practical. Choosing not to use materials because they're "not green" might seem to handicap the design process.

    Thomas, as a designer, how difficult do you think it really would be for other designers to just stop using materials that are just not sustainable?

    Here's a reprint of an earlier comment I posted on the Bau Biologie thread:

    Seriously though, if it were to be a priority it would not be that difficult to abandon the practice of mass-application of foam products in the building industry.
    I will concede that certain foam products have value in niche applications.
    The europeans appear to already be doing this.
    There are plenty of people who visit this site who have the opportunity to specify alternatives in their designs - if they would consider it a priority.
    "Green" building is a frontier.
    Opportunities to establish new paradigms don't happen every day.

    Any comments?

    Personally I feel both worried about momentum in the wrong direction (off a cliff?) but also excited by the opportunity to join/create a movement working to reverse the trends of the last century.

    I wish more people would feel this way.
    (edited for clarity)

  5. HomeBuilder1975 | | #5

    Roy: I doubt you will ever see wholesale, radical changes in building, at least not in our lifetime. Change will come slowly and evolve over several decades. The masses will not embrace PassivHouse or Straw homes. I am a pragmatist and in my opinion the most progress that could be made in energy efficiency is weatherization of existing houses, educating home builders and buyers, and continued improvements in energy codes. Solutions need to be realistic, easily implemented, as inexpensive as possible, and most importantly accepted by the masses. Telling a young family with 2 kids that they need to live in an ugly, dark, poorly designed 1000 sq ft home will never fly when they really want 2,500-3,000 sq ft with some attractive amenities and sex appeal.

    As to improving the efficiency of new homes, I would also focus where most homes are being built. It seems these is a lot of emphasis is on colder climates when recent stats show that on a national basis only 3% of the new homes being built are in New England states. There are actually more homes built in my hometown (Houston) this year than all of the New England states combined. More focus should be given to warmer climates, something like 90% of new homes are being built in the Sunbelt.

    That’s my opinion from building for and observing buyers for almost 40 years.

  6. Riversong | | #6

    Solutions need to be realistic, easily implemented, as inexpensive as possible, and most importantly accepted by the masses.

    This would be funny if it weren't so hypocritical and mean-spirited. Allan Edwards builds 10,000 - 20,000 SF mansions for the obscenely rich, calls them "green", and proudly boasts of his "right" to maximize profit by building what the market demands.

    Telling a young family with 2 kids that they need to live in an ugly, dark, poorly designed 1000 sq ft home will never fly when they really want 2,500-3,000 sq ft with some attractive amenities and sex appeal.

    If people like Edwards weren't constantly raising the expectations of "the good life" in order to make his own as good as possible while those young families suffer with what they can afford - or get tossed on the street because the same bankers who make Edwards rich have stolen the life savings of the rest - then perhaps those working poor would have a more realistic vision of what's really essential for themselves and their families.

  7. Riversong | | #7

    as a designer, how difficult do you think it really would be for other designers to just stop using materials that are just not sustainable?

    I think we've heard the answer to this question all too many times here at GBA.

    "But, if we don't cater to what the market demands, then we can't stay in business and will have no chance to influence customers' decisions for the better."

    This kind of surrender to the demands of an unsustainable market is predicated on a need to maintain the same level of unsustainable middle-class consumer life that the clients are living or seeking.

    Until those who understand the need for a real paradigm shift in housing are first willing to make a paradigm shift in their own lives by reducing their material needs (and hence monetary income) to a truly sustainable (which means subsistence) level, then they will have no choice but to continue to serve "the market" in order to maintain their life style, and will have to be content with making almost insignificant and superficial improvements rather than contributing to real cultural change.

    Again, I encourage everyone to read Kunstler's latest novel, World Made by Hand, to get a glimpse of what the very near future may hold in store for us if we don't make the necessary changes voluntarily and soon.

  8. HomeBuilder1975 | | #8

    Robert, why the personal attacks? Your response is exactly the point I’m making. More progress would be made by working within the system and with builders like me who are actually building houses, than by proposing extreme solutions that 99.999% of the population will just ignore.

    By the way, my homes are more in the 7,000-10,000 sq ft, occasionally a bit smaller or larger. And I do make profits, if I’m lucky. And obviously I build for people most would consider rich. Get over it.

  9. homedesign | | #9

    I would certainly not surrender.

    I think it will soon be possible to construct affordable homes with good air barrier systems, reduced thermal bridging and far better than code minimum R-value.

  10. HomeBuilder1975 | | #10

    John: What does it mean to "not surrender". Are you being held captive somewhere, need help :) ?

  11. 2tePuaao2B | | #11

    Thank you for your responce. I wholeheartedly agree with your statements regarding the weatherization of existing houses,educating home owners, builders and buyers. I believe that by providing that important education to the masses energy codes will tend to themselves. The people buying and living in the homes will demand it because of what they know.
    I fully intend to see a radical change in the kinds of homes that are being created for the masses. Considering the massive amount of poorly designed, greed driven plastic shack housing that has been pumped out during your life time, even a few well done, carefully planned cost effective communities would be considered radical change for better lifestyle. Since these communities can be efficiently reproduced, offering more home in terms of quality and function at equal to or less cost, the trend of a "smart buy", or sound investment would have educating effect alone. The example becomes the curriculum. I feel that the masses have been stung once and are still hurting from it. Example: The need to invest in weatherizing existing homes. Many average people today just can't afford to make the kind of investment necessary that will create the kind of efficiency standards that custom home builders realize. The property value when completed won't balance.

    Regarding the ugly, dark, poorly designed 1000 sf house that you refer to. You don't know what you're talking about here, so I'll just chalk that one up as such.
    I've seen many poorly designed (in my opinon) huge homes that tend to be, " all show no go" profit makers for the builders, bankers and material suppliers. The buyer, historically for the most part has gotten screwed by this custom arrangement.
    In my opinion a heavily populated area, with lots of government regulation, will be a great starting point to introduce Natural Home building to the masses.

  12. homedesign | | #12

    Allan E : I doubt you will ever see wholesale, radical changes in building, at least not in our lifetime. Change will come slowly and evolve over several decades.

    It sounds like you are saying "why bother?"

  13. HomeBuilder1975 | | #13

    “I fully intend to see a radical change in the kinds of homes that are being created for the masses.”

    Roy, can you expound on this statement? When you say “radical change”, what do you mean specifically and who are building the homes you describe and where. Keeping in mind there are 500,000-1,000,000 new homes built annually.

  14. homedesign | | #14

    I think that for the most part "we" are currently "doing the wrong thing wrong"
    or at best "doing the wrong thing right"

  15. HomeBuilder1975 | | #15


    I am not saying “why bother”, I am saying that progress will be made by working with and educating builders and homeowners and making incremental but substantial changes. And by understanding how builders build, why they build what they do, and incentivize them and homeowners to make these changes.

    A good starting point would be working with local HBA’s, these are the guys (and gals) building most of the houses. As an example Joe Lstiburek regularly visits our local association and speaks to builders, he has a big following in Houston.

    Regarding post 15, can you give me 4-5 real world recommendations on how you think builders can be persuaded to build "the right way"?

  16. homedesign | | #16

    As far as improvements......
    The first thing that comes to mind is The Air Barrier System.
    I think that many people (myself included) believe(d) that Airtight Drywall Approach is/was too much trouble and not-so-effective.

    I now think that many are just NOT doing it correctly.
    We need better instructions(goo as you go) and better education.

    For thermal bridging we can start with cross-hatched exterior walls or double wall framing.

    For affordable and less problematic Ceiling Insulation ... I would Avoid Vaulted ceilings
    And I would pile the attic Insulation high.

    And if we avoid sprayfoam in the walls and ceilings .. we could increase the R-value without busting the budget.

  17. 2tePuaao2B | | #17

    I am not a new home builder, but have been restoring buildings that have either failed or were neglected for the last 32 years. During this time I have had to study points of failure with many construction techniques that have either been passed down through the years, or not for some reason. Reading a building is kind of like reading a book to me. Doing repair design lends itself to the 20/20 hindsight process of making improvement to failed existing condition.
    Both my natural instincts and the test of time techniques that I have been blessed to have my hands on lead me to the conclusion that better homes, in almost every aspect can easily be built today. The radical change that I refer to are your words, found appropriate. A radical change would be to, by design and process, eliminate ( or at least minimize) greed. Offer instead an opportunity for a fair deal in many terms to be achieved by those people that live great lives with less money.
    We old dogs need to learn a few new tricks.
    I am currently working in the design phase (plans review) of a project to develope a modest natural community that is within35 miles of DC. A few really sharp investors with vision have teamed up to accomplish this much needed task. A lot of care is being taken throughout this process so that replicating the development model might easily be achieved. Hands on stuff.
    You are probably already aware of this one , but in case you haven't checked it out, Andrew Morrison
    pioneered his vision of a Natural Community called StrawBale Village in Jacksonville, OR.
    My take on a Natural way to develope for the masses is detailed a little differently, but the concept of healthy lifestyle and community are similar.

  18. homedesign | | #18

    I agree that the South is not well represented.
    Many don't realize that southerners use/waste more energy than the Northeasterners

    For Houston(hot humid) & Dallas(mixed humid) I would add airtight wall sheathing in addition to airtight drywall.

  19. 5C8rvfuWev | | #19

    Butting my head in here as a consumer, I'd welcome some material on natural building practices for Southeast, South, Southwest -- humid/mixed humid -- that wasn't blahblahblah adobe and "big porches" and recognized that, as far as I can tell via BSC and GBA, humidity is as big a problem for the increasing populations of the climate as is cold is for the decreasing northern population. Same with termites and heat that moves (local) soil temps from 86 to 46 (Jun-Aug, Jan-Mar), and ... so on.

    I mean really I might as well be reading about a yurt or the South Pole as trying to factor in all the variables that will translate the cold climate stuff for me down here -- I'm not a builder, but see I need to be able to talk to people who still think a crawlspace doesn't need to be insulated.

    Southface and Earthcraft are useful; and so is Advanced Energy but both seem to be underfunded, understaffed, and largely ignored. Besides they write for builders and engineers. I'm an end user and, in my next life, I'd love to return as a construction engineer and architect.

    Where, other than Fine Homebuilding (eight times a year) do I get a translation?

    Y'all talk about educating the consumer, but really .... I'm trying, I'm trying.

    Just saying. And the happiest of holidays ... just for perspective, if it wasn't for this site, there'd be very very little. I appreciate it. Forgive the frustration, I hope.

    Joe W.

  20. wjrobinson | | #20

    This topic started in reference to a question I asked.

    None of us here build for the masses. The masses do not live in single family detached homes.

    They live more and more in highrises.

    I posted my answer on the other thread and will repost it here.

    I would like to here most of you regulars post your thoughts as to how you think we should deal with the masses that are living already in highrises and are moving in that direction by the billions worldwide.

  21. HomeBuilder1975 | | #21

    AJ, isn't most new housing in this country (not sure worldwide) single family detached?

  22. 2tePuaao2B | | #22

    Glad your back, I'm heading out the door for dinner but will gladly respond to your question in a little while. Merry Christmas

  23. wjrobinson | | #23

    Worldwide people are living in cities and moving to cities. Many in the US prefer detached homes and it's easy to build natural or any way for that matter one home at a time. I and this question ask...

    What about the masses (I added... living in highrise housing?)

  24. HomeBuilder1975 | | #24

    John, I agree with all of your recommendations and will add a few. I think AC usage accounts for the majority of our energy use, to that end if we can create more air tightness (as you suggest), more shading for east-west windows, quit putting AC ductwork and equipment in unconditioned attics, do a better job with duct leakage, a bit of OVE framing (not hard to do). By doing all of these easy things it allows smaller but more efficient and higher SEER rated AC systems, resulting in much lower utility cost. This is just a simple start.

  25. Riversong | | #25

    Robert, why the personal attacks? Your response is exactly the point I’m making. More progress would be made by working within the system and with builders like me who are actually building houses


    1) Why do you personalize my critique and dismiss it as an "attack"? My criticism is of the mindset, perspective and approach that you happen to perfectly epitomize. If it were Joe Contractor making the same statements as you, my critique would be the same.

    2) When the system is wholly corrupt and self-defeating, working within it is a surrender to failure (with as much personal success along the way as can be squeezed out of a collapsing paradigm).

    3) As I've pointed out before and on other forums, you don't build houses - you write contracts, push paper, make phone calls and reap the profits off the backs of those who are actually building houses. When the shift hits the land (pun intended), paper pushers and money launderers will find themselves pushing brooms and laundering dirty underwear if they are to have any contribution to the life of community.

  26. Riversong | | #26

    To those who wonder how to make our overflowing metropoli more "green", we need to start with this fundamental reality:

    A city, by definition, is a large-scale highly-concentrated human habitation that drastically exceeds the carrying capacity of the local environment, thus requiring the exploitation and importation (by either purchase or theft or military force) the resources of other environments, and requiring concentrated energy sources (such as fossil fools) in order to temporarily stave off entropy.

    Hence cities, by definition, are not and can never be made sustainable or "green". Every former civilization (human social organization based on cities) has collapsed after depleting its local environment and being economically unable to continue plundering other environments and other more rural people.

    When the power goes down and there is no more easily available fuel for transport, cities will die. Their populations will either die off, self-destruct in an orgy of violence, be destroyed by weaponry (all nuclear targets are major cities) or terrorism, with some migrating to rural areas where they may face resistance from those already there.

  27. HomeBuilder1975 | | #27


    Your statements lead me to believe you really don’t understand the home building business. I wish all I did was push paper. I work 70 hours a week, risk a lifetime of accumulated assets on projects, spend hours and hours a week making sure my homes are built properly. I don’t do the actual work of building my homes, that is a poor use of my time and would result in poorly built homes:)

    If I did the actual work then I would be a carpenter, or tile setter, or roofer, or electrician, etc. I’m not a tradesman, never wanted to be. I’ve developed a fairly successful small custom home building business and I’m quite happy with what I’ve done.

    Here are some photos of some my work if anyone is interested:

  28. Riversong | | #28


    I understand all too well that people like you have turned a necessary trade (exchange of skills for something of equal value) into a business, which - as you suggest - is a form of financial gambling: risking assets in the expectation of profit (profit being unearned income).

    Taking the business model to its logical conclusion results in derivative trading, which is the risking of (generally other people's) assets with the expectation of an obscenely excessive profit without contributing anything of value to the economy. Real estate speculation is another form of non-constructive business model.

    Building a house, of course, requires a lot of planning and organizing. But if done on a modest scale, can be performed by the REAL builder as part of the trade of home-building. It does not require additional layers of bureaucracy and management, with each layer skimming value off the backs of those who actually create the home.

    A Master Builder, like myself, can design, plan, organize and supervise the building of a home, while also doing the hands-on work on every part of the project, from foundation to roof, rough framing to finish carpentry, exterior finish to interior finish, insulation, mechanicals, and cabinetry - and do it all for a reasonable and fair wage with no profit taken off the top.

    What you do is administration and speculation, adding unnecessary hierarchy and cost, without adding anything of real value. That's a form of theft.

  29. HomeBuilder1975 | | #29


    Very smart and successful people willingly pay me to build their homes, I do something very few people can do and I do it well. My clients wouldn’t think about hiring someone set up like you are, likewise I wouldn’t be the guy to build the type of small, inexpensive homes you do. So you have your method and I have mine. I have very modest overhead so your claim that I add unnecessary hierarchy is untrue. By the way, I really enjoy what I do and I am quite passionate about building homes.

    I recently had a new home I built in Veranda and actually on the cover, here is a link to the house via the architect. You can scroll through the photos using the arrows at the bottom.

  30. Riversong | | #30


    That's an excellent analogy. I also like the analogy used by Daniel Quinn in his Ishmael books:

    Modern civilization is a craft that was designed to fail, but that inherent design flaw has gone unnoticed until now, when only a small number are beginning to realize that the plane we're flying is rapidly losing altitude and heading for a hard crash.

    For most of society, it still feels like an accelerating and exhilarating ride, and it's easy to ignore the strange site of the landscape rushing past the windows. It's flown so far so good, we say, so why worry about what's coming? Even if what's coming up fast is the ground, and those prophets who cry "the end is coming" are dismissed as fools or lunatics. Heck, we can always make in-flight corrections, can't we?

    Or can we? Or is it time to put on the parachutes and bail? A soft landing for those of us who are awake will at least allow the possibility for building something a bit less pretentious and a bit more likely to be able to roll, if not fly.

  31. T7sX5ebany | | #31

    You have to understand that not everyone is the complete Masterbuilder that you are.
    Building large numbers of buildings at affordable prices will, for the foreseeable future, require the marshaling of the less-skilled to build them. This, if I understand his posts aright, is what Allan Edwards does. Tiny numbers of beautifully-crafted really-affordable buildings is not the solution to the problem of reducing the energy consumption of the housing stock of the USA.

  32. Riversong | | #32


    "Marshaling of the less-skilled to build...large numbers of buildings at affordable prices" is hardly what Allan Edwards does. He hires highly skilled tradesmen to build a small number of obscenely large and exorbitant homes for the filthy rich.

    But there is an exemplar of the model you speak of, even if only recently building highly energy-efficient homes.

    Millard Fuller was a man a lot like Allan Edwards, a very clever and successful man who used his business acumen to pay his way through college and met his goal of making his first million before finishing grad school. He then quickly went on to create a highly "comfortable" lifestyle, with all the material amenities that any blue-blooded American hoped for. He was even a regular churchgoer and always threw a few dollars into the collection pot for their overseas missionary work for the poor.

    Then, like Saul on the road to Damascus, Millard was struck by holy lightning, and turned his zealousness for personal gain into a zeal to serve God by serving the needy. He literally gave away all his material possessions, and walked with those he was called to serve. When his church next asked for both volunteers and donations to build simple houses in Africa, Millard signed on. And that experience led him to come home and start Habitat for Humanity in 1976.

    Habitat for humanity "seeks to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness from the world and to make decent shelter a matter of conscience and inviting people of all backgrounds, races and religions to build houses together in partnership with families in need."

    In other words, Millard Fuller stopped using a tiny bit of his excess to help those "beneath him" and instead joined in partnership with the needy to create, not only decent housing, but a decent society.

    A South American liberation theologian, I believe it was Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara, archbishop of Recife Brazil, who is famous for saying "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist", who also once said, "Liberals will do anything they can for the poor, except take their boots of their necks."

    Since Millard Fuller took his boots off the necks of the poor and began to walk with them in service to a higher purpose, HFH has built more than 350,000 houses around the world, providing more than 1.75 million people in 3,000 communities with safe, decent, affordable shelter. And some northern HFH affiliates, such as in W. MA and northern VT, are building superinsulated and even Passive Houses (I led the building of a superinsulated duplex in MA for HFH in the mid 90s, my first Riversong Truss house).

    While I don't claim to have been blessed with serving more than a few in creating affordable, efficient homes (though half of my building has been in the non-profit sector), I have touched hundreds of owner-builders, builders, architects and engineers through my classes, and perhaps many hundreds or thousands more through the websites that feature my approach to building.

    If we do good works in the world, and do so selflessly in service to a higher purpose, it's impossible to know how many ripples extend outward from the little splash we make.

    Those who are intent upon making a big splash in the world, generally end up creating a Tsunami which devastates many innocents. A good life is defined by doing small things well.

  33. 2tePuaao2B | | #33

    When I speak of the masses regarding the home market I'm referring to the overwhelming majority of people that live in individual homes across America. The masses, or majority of individual home dwellers do not live in excess. These are the folks that live in tract types of housing that have been built by the millions, and are located in repetitive designed communities sometimes called developments. These are not custom designed homes but rather "choice homes" that were all built using minimum standards ( in every aspect). The homes in a given developement offered several different floor plans along with usually 3 or 4 different models.Take your "choice". Suburbia if you will. These types of developments were marketed as affordable homes in most cases, and they sold them using well decorated "model homes".
    These homes were designed and marketed for profit first and foremost. Efficiencies for the future of it's inhabitants were not a genuine consideration. More E less P.
    This process has been in play for a long time.
    Currently the booming market for this type of insane building has fallen out.
    When things begin to correct, I believe that the masses will be looking at the world a little differently.
    We have a rare opportunity to better serve one another, and future generations by learning from past failure. People are already paying more attention to the solutions being offered.
    The repair design that we come up with for this massive mess has to be spot on.
    Regardless of what your role is in this world today~ tomorrow can be better for others if you care.

  34. user-757117 | | #34

    or at best "doing the wrong thing right"

    In the aviation business there is a type of accident called CFIT - Controlled Flight Into Terrain.
    It is a type of accident caused by pilot error.
    A pilot will sometimes ignore instrument indications that "something is not quite right" and will proceed under the guidance of the "seat of their pants" or "their best judgement".
    The tragic part is when the full weight of the error presents itself (there are trees in the window) there is no opportunity to change the final outcome.

  35. Riversong | | #35

    "deep-energy retrofit"

  36. MICHAEL CHANDLER | | #36

    There's little to be gained in defending yourself to Riversong. He beleives that people like you and me, who support the current disfunctional system by paying our taxes and covering our employees with health insurance and building homes that are more durable and energy efficient than other builders in our local area and are paid a living wage for this service are thieves and have no right to call ourselves builders let alone green builders.

    We will never convince him of the value of what we do. We can only hope to serve as a model for others who don't see us as criminals but rather as well meaning people working to leave this world better as a result of our efforts.

    Merry Christmas, and may the New Year be kind to all, Robert included.

  37. user-757117 | | #37

    Tiny numbers of beautifully-crafted really-affordable buildings is not the solution to the problem of reducing the energy consumption of the housing stock of the USA.

    I agree with you Timmy.
    All the new "green" houses in the world do bupkus towards reducing the energy footprint of existing stock - nor can existing stock be entirely replaced with new "green" houses.
    If any real dent in that footprint is to be made, it will have to be via "deep-energy retrofit" and building new will have to become passe.

  38. Riversong | | #38

    We all know what paves the road to hell. What's required of us at this moment of human evolution is not good intentions but walking a different road.

  39. Allan Edwards | | #39


    Robert has now called me a terrorist, a thieve, and a criminal on GBA.   This is why this forum will never attract mainstream builders. It's laughable, it really is when you consider what he writes on this forum. He is the most confrontational person I've ever encountered on a forum, dude has some real issues. 

  40. 2tePuaao2B | | #40

    Lucas~ AJ,
    Deep energy retrofit seems to have an infinate number of variables to be considered, but I'm all for the effort.
    This leads to the "high rise" topic that AJ brings forth.
    Over the course of the last 26 years I have been heavily involved in the creation of repair designs for specific conditions that occur on the facades of high rise buildings. Most of these projects have been located in DC, Northern VA and Baltimore area's. My role has been to gather existing condition data from locations on the building facade that show signs of failure. This is really tricky business because sometimes things like water infiltration showing up at a 7th floor ceiling could be coming in at say the 18th floor slab line.
    The technique that I use to gather information from the outside of these buildings is repelling.
    I work with several engineering, architect firms that provide me with elevation locations that they deem suspect.
    I then "jump" the building at these loctions on a genie chair with two 5 gal.buckets clipped on to carry tools, camera's, crack monitors etc. The object is to gather as much data about the current condition of as many aspects of the building facade as possible in a single "drop". Most times this requires the removal of brick at slab lines to expose the steel shelf angle that carries the brick curtain or veneer load. Thru wall flashing membrane detailing can be inspected, photographed and samples taken if needed. Things like weep holes are inspected and documented, sealant and control joint "pull test" are performed to determine adhesion or cohesion failure. Samples are taken of every aspect for lab testing. Crack monitors are placed in or on visible sheer brick cracks as well as any concrete spandrel types of movement indicators. You get the idea.
    All of this information is then given to the engineers and or architects to develope appropriate repair design.
    These buildings ( most that I have been on from the 60's) really read like a book. When construction began everything was detailed with quality and attention to detail. I presume that building inspections were very thorough early on and the weather and budgets were also favorable.
    Most high rise buildings are post tension concrete (post and beam) structures with concrete floor slabs. CMU are laid around the perimeter between the floor slabs leaving the outside edge of each slab line exposed to the outside. Steel shelf angles are installed in various ways to the slab edge and brick are then laid on the shelf angles. Critical thru wall flashing details are placed before the brick are place on the shelf angles. Bored yet?
    When all of this stuff comes together and is executed well throughout the structure the world is good.
    However, as the buildings got higher, seasons changed along with schedule, budget, inspection integrity and working condition difficulties. This resulted in freeze thaw cycles, schedule pushing, constraints to budgets, relaxed inspections and poor quality and detailing at the highest elevations.
    I seem to have taken the long road getting to my point here, but hey, it's Christmas, I'm chillin.
    The point... In terms of standing, most older high rise buildings are structurally sound but the veneered facades are failing with regularity. Huge efficiencies are lost as a result of this failure.
    While I don't agree with the numbers that were projected by you AJ, I do believe that there are cost effective retro fit efficiency solutions that can be added to even these massive structures, that would improve the cost of conditioning for the folks living or working in them.
    The building owners have to make sizable repairs to these building facades for liability reasons.
    Insurers tend to have a problem with brick and concrete spalling or bulges on high rise buildings.
    Green opportunity exist here as well. It's happening now.
    I am confident that beautiful, simply designed natural homes are the way to best serve the masses though.
    Please share any thoughts or idea's that you feel would be better.

  41. MICHAEL CHANDLER | | #41


    Yes, Robert is a challenging person to have as friend and ally in this green movement. None of us measure up to his exhalted stature and therefore we are all crooks, hacks and thieves. It is unfortunate that folks like him and AJ are on here alienating the very prople we need to inspire to join the movement and improve the way homes get built in America.

    He even criticized me for saying Merry Christmas on a different thread because I was insensitive to non-Christians. Is it somehow offensive to him that I am Christian? I am apparantly only allowed to say happy holidays. Yeesh would it be offensive if I wished him a happy Gaia-ca? For such a ideologically intolerant bully he is amazingly thin-skinned as well.

    There are plenty of folks here who are rolling the various conundrums and gray areas of our craft around and pulling a great deal of value out of the discussion here. It's probably best to steer clear of commenting on the threads that are clearly debating society type deals and stick to the ones that have actual construction best-practice value.

    In the words of the elders: “You are not required to complete the work, Yet you are not allowed to desist from it.” Pirkei Avot, 2:21

    We each have a role to play, the barbs of our detractors may dissuade us temporarily, but in the long run they strengthen our resolve.

  42. Riversong | | #42


    I also said, on another forum, that you were killing your grandchildren - and each of those characterizations are demonstrably true.

    You bet I have real issues: I have issues with greenwashing, I have issues with McMansions, I have issues with excess of all sorts, I have issues with the profit motive in every field of human endeavor (home building, health care, education, the prison-industrial complex, the banking system, and military mercenaries, to name a few), I have issues with pretense and bombast and hypocrisy and lies. I have issues with a culture that is on a fast train toward oblivion, fueled by greed and self-aggrandizement, and which cares not whether it careens over half the species on earth on its way.

    These dysfunctions demand confrontation. If they are not named for what they are, they will not be recognized. If they are not condemned for what they do, they will maintain their momentum. If alternative paths are not described, no one will even realize there is another way.

    If you cannot tolerate being challenged, then stop supporting and participating in the most destructive cultural paradigm ever invented. If you choose to continue to profit from an economic system which impoverishes much of the world's human population while devastating the earth's life-support system and makes life miserable if not impossible for the next seven generations, then be prepared for much harsher criticism than what I offer.

    What will you say to your grandchildren when they realize what kind of a world you left for them?

  43. Allan Edwards | | #43

    "For such a ideologically intolerant bully he is amazingly thin-skinned as well."

    Very true Michael, very true.

  44. Riversong | | #44


    That you could even speak my name and AJ's in the same breath suggests that you have little discernment. Few here have contributed as much solid building science, engineering and technological savvy as myself, while AJ has contributed nothing but ignorance, prejudice and foolishness.

    That you cannot distinguish between criticism and sarcastic humor also suggests a lack of discernment. My comment about the "political incorrectness" of saying Merry Christmas was clearly a jab at political correctness, not at Christianity or faith of any kind.

    And be careful about suggesting that criticism will only strengthen your resolve, for that is a sure sign of fanaticism (see Eric Hoffer's classic book, The True Believer).

  45. Riversong | | #45


    You and Michael both have very poor discernment. There is nothing whatsoever you can say to me that would get through my skin, and I've exhibited no sign that I've been the least perturbed by your words.

    On the contrary, however, each of you complain loudly and often about how difficult it is for you to hear my critique. And it can be painful to hear only if it rings true.

  46. 2tePuaao2B | | #46

    The thing that I have not yet heard is a comparible design, solution or idea that would put Roberts concerns, and I might add mine as well to rest.
    Maybe we should create some guidlines, or a criteria to adhere to that we can agree on first.
    Then lets take on the great~ best home design challenge~ right here on this forum.
    Let's turn the differances that are so often expressed into something useful.
    Michael and Allan, Up for the challenge?

  47. Riversong | | #47


    Apologies for cluttering up your thread, but some statements simply cannot be allowed to stand without challenge.

  48. 2tePuaao2B | | #48

    Everyone on this site shares openly for the most part. You tend to pose moral challenges that need to be resolved. People that are content with their ways will not accept a moral challenge for some reason. From my understanding of your intent I'd have to say that God would smile. If someone would provide a clear alternative solution for some of the very real problems that you address, I would be all ears. Please~ by all means challenge with holy boldness, I get it.

  49. user-757117 | | #49

    Roy, I'm chillin too.
    Give me a sec to explain where I'm coming from and then I'll give my opinion.

    First, the way I see the world is different from most people - so sometimes what I see as obvious doesn't neccesarily make sense to other people.

    Second, I'm not a professional builder/designer, but an concerned owner/builder/nerd and I guess an observer as well.

    Third, I get frustrated with the "green" building "movement" because of what seems to me to be a lack of organization and purpose - direction if you like. Don't get me wrong, there's lots of new and good things happening in "green" building and BS all the time I'm sure - but there is no "vision" or concensus on where "green" building should be headed. No long-range plans. The market rules...

    I am confident that beautiful, simply designed natural homes are the way to best serve the masses though.
    Please share any thoughts or idea's that you feel would be better.

    Honestly, I disagree. I think that the not-so-distant future will almost certainly mean very little "new" construction. Peak oil and the economy in general are headed for a combined 200mph head on train-wreck.
    In the present world where distance costs money, energy scarcity will force the global economy to shrink back to local economies and there may be an opportunity to turn the suburbs into... something else.
    Rehabilitation of the suburbs will be the best future scenario for the "masses".

    I laid out an argument for this here.
    Basically I presumed what I already described to you about the economy:
    Reasons to rescue suburbia:
    - 150 million Americans presently live there and many of those will eventualy be stuck there for lack of options.
    - It represents far too large a "stranded cost". Suburbia is too big a piece of the economy to just abandon (ie: mortgages and infrastructure).
    Possible means of rescue (related to building):
    - Deregulation (zoning in particular)
    - Deep energy retrofits.
    - Cheap renewables (both community/shared and per housing unit).
    - Creation of community spaces out of private spaces (tearing down fences).
    - Building or adaptation of infrastructure to accomodate new local functions (ie: food production, mass transit, etc)
    - Recycling of unused material from the built environment.

    One way or the other (abandoned slums or rehabilitated community) I think the suburbs will be the poster-boy of post-industrial society.
    So there you have it Roy. If my opinion is possibly useful to you, then I'm glad I could help.

  50. T7sX5ebany | | #50

    "Marshaling of the less-skilled to build...large numbers of buildings at affordable prices"

    Dear Robert,
    I notice you did not use the block quote feature in this instance - perhaps because you realized that what you quoted is not what I said?
    I said that I understood that Allan Edwards marshaled the less-skilled.
    I said that the marshaling of the less-skilled was necessary to build large numbers of buildings at affordable prices.
    If you must quote, please do not re-arrange the quoted sentence.
    Thank you.

  51. T7sX5ebany | | #51

    What's required of us at this moment of human evolution is not good intentions but walking a different road.

    You appear to believe that everyone's personal circumstances are entirely under their control and that it is only their stupidity and greed that prevents them from walking the 'different road'.
    From this I can only assume that you're not working two jobs to care for a chronically-ill relative and have just lost one of them.

  52. homedesign | | #52

    I don't think this distraction is fair to Roy.

    It almost seems like a setup

    why don't you all start a new thread so you can insult each other?

  53. 2tePuaao2B | | #53

    Thanks for your insight, I agree with your analysis of the situation with the suburbs. The train wreck has occurred though.Many people living in these homes are having a really tough time making ends meet because of the cost associated with maintaining a lifestyle of excess( too much stuff).
    The" keep up with the Jones" scenario has played the lead for a lot of years here in the US suburbs.
    Through the genius of marketing people were told what to buy and when( if you want to fit in). The crap housing market was created in the midst of this "keep up" mode of thinking and the consumers marched right in like lambs headed to slaughter. Seems really silly ,I know but it is still happening today. Plastic shacks and Walmart are an amazing fit today.
    With regard to being able to retro fit, restore an improve plastic shacks~ it's all a matter of money Lucas. Where will the money come from to pay the high costs associated with these types of improvements.Remember, we're talking the Burbs here, not custom communities. Banks have a tendancy not to make out of balance loans. Based on the current of the Green Movement and associated cost, the retrofit to Green aspect seems distant at best.

    The recurring debate that exists with the GBA is a good thing in my opinion. Hopefully at some point, the "Green" in Green building or GBA will take on a foundation of understanding and meaning that makes sence to all.
    Who knows...

  54. homedesign | | #54

    BTW Roy
    Nice thread

  55. wjrobinson | | #55

    Great thread, some of the ideas will happen via some form of push.
    Laws, carbon tax, high fuel costs.

    Retrofiting is definitely expensive. I figure $50,000 my cost to do my small home.

  56. 5C8rvfuWev | | #56

    Yes, Roy, thanks for this thread ... a lot of good information and perspective, even with all the emotion, lol.

    But I'd not be too quick to excuse the consumer, as you seemed to do in your post (#54). You can attack the building design industry, and the finance industry, and marketing, and consumerism, and even more -- but it's part of a package as is often pointed out.

    I could WANT a very kewl F-350 to carry my laptop to meetings in, and marketers and peer pressure and the finance department and the manufacturer and a whole chorus of people would agree with the entire state of Georgia (where trucks are the ultimate in kewl), that I SHOULD have one. But ... I have common sense and a solar operated calculator which tells me that would be really stupid for me .... so I dirve a Fit. So I'm not kewl.

    But as the price of gas goes up, more and more truck owners come up to me while I am at the gas pump to ask: "Hey, what's that thing get on the road?"

    Sure the chorus of consumerism and opulence is geared to consumption. Good on them, but I also have a personal responsibility. And in the case of all the "poor" folk stranded in McMansions ... their destitution is a direct consequence of listening to the chorus rather than using a simple solar-powered calculator ($8, WalMart) to 'run the numbers' on what WILL happen, for example, if one -- or both -- of the people lose their job.

    On the road, we learn to drive defensively. In the kitchen we learn to eat "defensively." And if, in the 'store' we don't shop defensively, then we're gonna get run over ... short term as well as long term.

    Meanwhile, next year after I build my energy efficient, well-crafted, thought-out, and (at least for this time in history) state of the affordable art bungalow next year, I'm sure I'll have people asking me "Hey, whattya get for utility bills on that thing?"

    And that's where GBA comes in. So, like you, I love hearing some of the ideas and options for how to build better housing. I'm not interested in saving the world, just the part of it I can effect and, like Robert and Allan and you, building the best house I can. Here: where I live.

    This is an important thread topic. I suspect there are other people who choose not to post who are also paying attention. Yeah, there are a lot of F-350s, but there are an increasing number of Fits on the road. Just saying.

    Joe W

  57. Riversong | | #57


    I was merely paraphrasing what you said, using your own words. I would never intentionally misquote someone.

    What you said in full was:

    Building large numbers of buildings at affordable prices will, for the foreseeable future, require the marshaling of the less-skilled to build them. This, if I understand his posts aright, is what Allan Edwards does.

    "This", in the context, refers to the preceding sentence, not just the preceding clause. If there was confusion, it was in your presentation.

  58. Daniel Ernst | | #58


    Thanks for raising a very good topic for discussion.

    I find myself both agreeing and disagreeing with your initial post.

    There are certainly two camps. I think that the "Conventional" (maybe mainstream or commercial is a better descriptor?) and "Natural" building movements are both aiming in the same general direction, but their methods and outcomes are very different.

    Both strive for increased energy efficiency, resource efficiency, and more liveable houses . . . but their epistemologies are very different. They have very different paradigms. One thinks technology will answer all of our problems; the other thinks technology sits at the root of our problems.

    Like you, I've explored the various building options. There is a lot of information to digest, a lot of misinformation to weed out of the libraries.

    You say that the natural building movement is the right path, but that is where I stumble. What sense does it make to build a strawbale / clay plaster / timber frame house, then run it full of PVC drain pipe, copper wiring, a refrigerator, an instantaneous propane water heater, and an HVAC system? Is that really a natural system? Is it really a good use of resources? Is it really durable? Is it a better system? Whenever I see a home like that I feel like I'm dealing with a split-personality.

    How does a triple-pane window jive with a cob wall?

    I say, if you're following the natural building movement, then build it so that it can fall back into the earth---where flowers and trees can spring again. Don't use concrete as a foundation, use field stone. Keep it low-tech. Don't plumb or wire the structure. Keep it unadulterated---then I'm on board.

    I think Lucas makes a good point. We need to focus locally. Building green is probably best defined by the vernacular. By that, I mean this definition: "Of or being an indigenous building style using local materials and traditional methods of construction and ornament."

    There is no such thing as a single solution for the masses. Adobe works in Arizona, but not Michigan. Straw bale construction might work well in Texas, but not necessarily the Oregon coast. Saltboxes are for Vermont, not Louisiana.

    To me, "green building for the masses" sounds like a marketing campaign from Wal-Mart's headquarters. I don't think we'll ever get there. It's not a product, it's a process. It's education and philosophy.

    We have plenty of examples of "green" houses. We just need to look to our past. Pre-plumbing, pre-electricity, pre-internet. Perhaps that's what Thomas's post-hydrocarbon world will look like again, a place where we are constrained by site and climate and limited energy?

    It's very difficult to look ahead 100 - 200 years, a 1000 years. There are just too many variables. If---like 99.95% of Americans---your paradigm is plumbing and electricity and appliances, if it's a 20 - 40 year horizon, then I'll somewhat echo other posts on a workable solution for the masses:

    • Smaller structure. Reduces embodied and operational energy.

    • Airtightness. It's the best bet for both heating and cooling climates.

    • High R-Value walls - well beyond code. Again, works well in heating and cooling climates.

    • Passive solar design, when feasible (not always in renovations, cities, etc). Again, climate doesn't matter so much here. It keeps the sun off your windows in an Alabama summer. It lets the light and heat penetrate your house in a New York winter.

    • Climate appropriate windows. U-Value and SHGC being the most important.

    • Mass walls if part of the vernacular. Adobe, stone, or brick situated appropriately.

    • Cellulose. By that I'm not just talking about recycled newsprint insulation or wood framed construction. Think straw if you'd like. Think wood siding. Think wooden floors. Biodegradable, yet durable. Local, natural, beautiful, and renewable. Bring the carbon cycle into your home ;)

    • High efficiency lighting - tube florescent and LED. Top tier Energy Star appliances. High efficiency water fixtures. Solar water heater.

    • Community. Villages. Reduced transportation. If you are out in the country, then farm or raise a good portion of your own food. Otherwise, stay close to town.

    This house, constructed by an owner / builder, or by a designer / builder, will likely give you the kind of long-term dollar value you seek. But all of this doesn't quite make for the kind of symbiotic and earth-centered relationship described by the natural building movement. So where do you go?

  59. Riversong | | #59

    You appear to believe that everyone's personal circumstances are entirely under their control

    I can sympathize with difficult circumstances, since I've lived on the margins all my life and have seen every one of my previous generation pass on - and every one of them through cancer. But, if our personal circumstances are not under our control, then we are but slaves. To choose to struggle to take care of others is a wonderful thing and then we are controlled (if that's even the right word) only by our own sense of commitment to others. That's service, rather than slavery. We are enslaved when we do what we feel external circumstances demand. We are free when we choose to serve something outside of ourselves.

    But the awful truth is that most modern middle-class people are enslaved to their desires and societal expectations, and thereby to an economic and political system which leaves little latitude for personal freedom or the kind of freely-given service that elevates the soul.

    The great wisdom of the Buddhist tradition is that suffering arises only through desire, or attachment - to material things, wealth and comfort, reputation, career, title, and even other people. We can "lose" people only if we feel they "belong" to us. People die. That's the only given in life. Our responsibility at that transition is to let them go, to liberate their spirits and in so doing liberate our own from the pain of loss.

    A mentor of mine once said, after being robbed by someone he was trying to help, that he would never own anything that would require him to hate someone for stealing. I took that to heart and many years later experienced an unexpected equanimity when someone stole my life savings of $67,000. Though it was more challenging, I found I was also able to release my father and mother and all my uncles and aunts when they passed on, with an abiding sense of appreciation for the gifts they had been to me in life.

    The frightening truth that few are willing to accept is that we are all existentially free to choose at every moment of our lives. Even when we cannot choose our immediate circumstances, such as when imprisoned either by steel bars or by the apparent bars of our own previous choices, we are always free to choose our attitude.

    That was the lesson that Victor Frankl learned in Auschwitz: "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: The last of his freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

    Choosing to make a dramatic change in lifestyle is not an easy thing. But those who have found a way into "downward mobility" have almost always found degrees of freedom and leisure and even joy that they never had before.

    But few will go there until forced by circumstances. At that point, those who are outer-directed will simple give up. Those who have already mastered some degree of inner equanimity will take up the challenge and move forward along a different path. The time is coming, and that path awaits us all.

  60. Riversong | | #60


    You hit the nail (or the wooden peg) on the head. This has been my criticism of natural building for some time. It makes little sense to build an envelope of natural materials and then try to turn it into a conventional middle-class home with all the modern high-tech amenities. Schizophrenia it is!

    In fact, about 15 years ago I was asked to build one of Vermont's first strawbale homes in a private development of "green" homes, some of which were also strawbale, that shared a constructed wetland septic pretreatment system. By the time all the permitting had finally been completed, I had already committed to a superinsulated farmstead home in western MA for a family I knew from the Catholic Worker farm where we used to live. The two homes were built simultaneously.

    The MA house was my first Riversong Truss single-family home and we managed to complete it, with the homeowners assisting with labor and occasional community work parties, for about $100/SF with some very nice custom finishes. The project went quite smoothly.

    The VT SB house, as I understand, experienced challenges in meeting codes, in integrating plumbing and wiring by subcontractors who were unfamiliar with the system, and a few years later developed moisture problems. It cost about $150/SF, 50% more than the MA house which was probably 50% better insulated.

    While the new generation of SB builders in New England have developed good, reliable and efficient systems for making the homes moisture-durable and for integrating mechanical systems, they are not inexpensive homes, particularly when coupled with custom timber frames.

    It always seemed to me that SB with earth plasters is an ideal system for the owner-builder, but only if they're willing to do without modern amenities and are not subject to code restrictions. Similarly with cob and adobe and earthship recycled tires.

    We're trying to cob together (pun intended) a natural building paradigm with a modern level of technological comfort and ease. I don't think it's a good mix. But at least we're reviving the old skills and techniques for the time when we won't have as many technological options.

    Second only to fabricating a new mindset, what is most needed is a rediscovery and dissemination of the old skills and simple technologies. Then, when we have no choice, we'll be able to "roll our own" homes.

  61. Riversong | | #61

    No one said it would be easy, to paraphrase Morpheus.

    Here's a lament from an old mentor who chose the simple life.

    Outhouse Blues by Juanita Nelson

    Well, I went out to the country to live the simple life,
    Get away form all that concrete and avoid some of that strife,
    Get off the backs of poor folks, stop supporting Uncle Sam
    In all that stuff he’s puttin’ down, like bombing Vietnam
    Oh, but it ain’t easy, ‘specially on a chilly night
    When I beat it to the outhouse with my trusty dim flashlight —
    The seat is absolutely frigid, not a BTU of heat…
    That’s when I think the simple life is not for us elite.

    Well, I try to grow my own food, competing with the bugs,
    I even make my own soap and my own ceramic mugs.
    I figure that the less I buy, the less I compromise
    With Standard Oil and ITT and those other gouging guys.
    Oh, but it ain’t easy to leave my cozy bed
    To make it with my flashlight to that air-conditioned shed
    When the seat’s so cold it takes away that freedom ecstasy,
    That’s when I fear the simple life maybe wasn’t meant for me.

    Well, I cook my food on a wood stove and heat with wood also,
    Though when my parents left the South I said, “This has got to go,”
    But I figure that the best way to say all folks are my kin
    Is try to live so I don’t take nobody’s pound of skin.
    Oh, but it ain’t easy, when it’s rainy and there’s mud
    To put on my old bathrobe and walk out in that crud;
    I look out through the open door and see a distant star
    And sometimes think this simple life is taking things too far.

    But then I get to thinkin’, if we’re ever gonna see
    The end of that old con game the change has got to start with me.
    Quit wheelin’ and quit dealin’ to be a leader in any band,
    And it appears the best way is to get back to the land.
    If I produce my own needs I know what’s going’ down,
    I’m not quite so footsy with those Wall Street pimps in town.
    ‘Cause let me tell you something, though it may not be good news,
    If some folks win you better know somebody’s got to lose.

    So I guess I’ll have to cast my lot with those who’re optin’ out.
    And even though on freezing nights I will have my naggin’ doubts,
    Long as I talk the line I do and spout my way out views
    I’ll keep on usin’ the outhouse and singin’ the outhouse blues.

  62. user-757117 | | #62

    Hi Roy.

    The train wreck has occurred though.

    Yes things are pretty bad already. You ain't seen nothin' yet though.

    With regards to the cost...
    I expect that the money will never be available - at least not until everything starts to go sideways. Even then it'll be a maybe. However, energy retrofits and other rehabilitation projects are the icing on the cake - we still haven't mixed the ingredients for the batter.
    "The masses" need to start to understand that a transition needs to start to take place.
    This is an educational process that needs teachers who understand how to execute the process as opportunity allows.

    If the "masses" can understand for themselves what needs to happen, then much groundwork can happen without money.
    Tearing down fences can happen for free.
    Mapping out community resources can happen for free.
    Deregulation can happen for... very little.

    Remember old war-time posters that show people with their sleeves rolled up? That's the type of can-do, make-it-happen approach we need to establish. It ain't easy though. Most people don't want to listen - they're waiting for an "economic recovery".

    Reason for edit: to beat the GD spam filter.

  63. user-757117 | | #63

    But all of this doesn't quite make for the kind of symbiotic and earth-centered relationship described by the natural building movement. So where do you go?

    Good question.
    Maybe the answer lies at the personal level - choosing to go your own way whenever possible and inviting your neighbours whenever possible.
    Living by example is hard to do.
    I can tell you that since I've started to "go my own way" most people I know think I've "gone off the deep end". There are a few that "get it" though - and that is a good thing.

  64. Riversong | | #64


    Just tell those people that, when it comes time for them to take a dive, they sure as heck don't want to be at the shallow end ;-)

  65. MICHAEL CHANDLER | | #65

    Roy, I'm up for the challenge. Let's all submit projects to DOE Energy Value Housing Awards for independent judging this year and see how we do. I like it that this contest considers the value part of the equation so you can't just get a wealthy client and throw as much as it takes to hit net-zero. you need to make it work on a value basis. I think some really innovative practices have been showing up here.

    This years award winners are here you can click through to the builders web sites.

    and they are up for Peoples Choice voting here

  66. wjrobinson | | #66

    Danial Ernst, I couldn't have said it better. Amen. And right after your post, Robert's post as well.

    My bet still is that technology will not let up soon. Capitalism and tech innovations live off of delivering whatever next may just be in demand. When solutions are really needed to energy, it will be there and when all the rest of the coming pitfalls really show their ugly face, innovative solutions will come to market just in time, or just a bit behind. The past has proved that markets will not support things that come "before we will want or need or buy them."

    Moore's Law reigns supreme right now IMO. I just don't think most people know this yet though it is right in your face. I.E. Take TV viewing tech. Years ago, VHS recording took years for it to become mainstream. Now look how fast things go viral. This Internet I am posting over is gobbling up our viewing. Cell phones now become obsolete in months. Only a year ago cell phones were updated more like every 1-2 years. Google has changed that.

    Not sayin, I love this modern world. but pretty cool that we landed some of our neighbors on the moon. Pretty unnatural, but pretty cool.

  67. 2tePuaao2B | | #67

    Thanks again to all for the sharing,
    OK... It seems that mixing new or newer building techniques and associated materials with the somewhat purist approach of Natural building could place a quirk in the works. There is a large difference between the 2 approaches of doing the same things better. I like that. The explanations shared in detail are great.
    How about this??... Lets seek the strengths and weaknesses of each approach, (and even other approaches brought forward) to hone in on ways that one might "compliment" the other to the benefit of both. Maybe that end result could be a little more digestable.
    The best of both worlds must be best for both worlds to be best..

  68. Riversong | | #68

    pretty cool that we landed some of our neighbors on the moon

    Landing people on the moon was little more than a technological parlor trick. The important part of the moon mission happened as Edgar Mitchell (Apollo 14, 6th man on the moon) was returning home:

    Traveling back to Earth, having just walked on the moon, Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell had an experience for which nothing in his life had prepared him. As he approached the planet we know as home, he was filled with an inner conviction as certain as any mathematical equation he'd ever solved. He knew that the beautiful blue world to which he was returning is part of a living system, harmonious and whole—and that we all participate, as he expressed it later, "in a universe of consciousness."

    Trained as an engineer and scientist, Captain Mitchell was most comfortable in the world of rationality and physical precision. Yet the understanding that came to him as he journeyed back from space felt just as trustworthy—it represented another way of knowing.

    This experience radically altered his worldview: Despite science's superb technological achievements, he realized that we had barely begun to probe the deepest mystery of the universe—the fact of consciousness itself. He became convinced that the uncharted territory of the human mind was the next frontier to explore, and that it contained possibilities we had hardly begun to imagine. Within two years of his expedition, Edgar Mitchell founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences in 1973.

    Dean Radin, senior scientist at the Institute of Noetic Studies (IONS) that Mitchel founded, is world famous for his cutting edge research into quantum consciousness, wrote the book Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality (2006) and was a principle consultant and contributor to the documentary What the Bleep Do We Know?

    "When I went to the Moon…the presence of divinity became almost palpable and I knew that life in the universe was not just an accident based on random processes.

    The knowledge came to me directly – noetically. It was knowledge gained through subjective awareness."

    ~ Edgar Mitchell

    "What lies behind us and what lies before of us are small matters compared to what lies within us."

    - Ralph Waldo Emerson

  69. 2tePuaao2B | | #69

    As AJ said Robert.... pretty cool..

  70. user-757117 | | #70

    Roy, I think Daniel's question sums up the crux of this problem:

    But all of this doesn't quite make for the kind of symbiotic and earth-centered relationship described by the natural building movement. So where do you go?

    I'm not sure the differences between "conventional" building and natural building can be reconciled without asking deep questions about the values we hold as a society - what a lot of people think of as "pie-in-the-sky" talk. Ironically, "pie-in-the-sky" is the notion that somehow things can just keep on going the way they have since WW2.

    So how do you get Sally Soccer Mom and Garry Grill-Master to "see the light" of natural building and a closer relationship to the earth?
    I'm not sure...except that nothing substantial will change unless some motivated people take it on themselves to go out and try to explain to them why they should care. Expect resistance.

  71. Riversong | | #71

    Not that I think this is the answer to "green for the masses", but John Connell, the founder of Yestermorrow Design/Build School, has been working for several years with New England's manufactured housing companies to move them toward "green". He teaches a course called "Putting the Fab back in Pre-Fab", and organized a competition a couple years ago with teams of architects and housing manufacturers to design an affordable "green" modular housing unit, with the winner getting built in a cluster development of 22 to 55 units on 4 acres.

    All five entries took Gold LEED and one got Platinum.

  72. MICHAEL CHANDLER | | #72

    Prefab is a fairly interesting thought here, though I agree with Robert that it's not "the answer"

    Randy Lanou at BuildSense has been doing some interesting things with building core modules with an insulated ceiling similar to what John Brooks has been proposing for Texas. He's actually gotten a modular production shop going in an old warehouse in Durham NC

    Here is one of their projects, they do a hybrid of modules and site framing which gives a bit more flexibility to their system.

  73. Riversong | | #73

    By the way, the author of the Outhouse Blues that I posted yesterday here has a lot to teach all of us about right living. She's one of the truly great souls. Here's a little of her story and a picture:

    Juanita Morrow Nelson (born 1923) is an American activist and war tax resister.

    She co-founded the group Peacemakers in 1948. She is the author of A Matter of Freedom and Other Writings (1988).

    She worked on desegregation campaigns in Cincinnati, Washington D.C. and elsewhere and was an organizer for the Congress of Racial Equality. In 1943 she participated in some of the earliest sit-ins of the American Civil Rights Movement, while a journalist and student at Howard University.

    By her own account, at the age of sixteen (1939) she and her mother boarded a train in Cleveland, Ohio and were sent to the "colored" cars to the rear. Incensed by the deplorable conditions of the coach, young Juanita fumed for a while then decided to move to the "white" coaches toward the front. These coaches had comfortable seats, no trash and foul smells, and were well kept. "I sat there a while and when nothing happened, I decided to move forward to the next car. I sat a while in each of the white cars moving to the front of the train to show them that I was as good as any passenger. No one said anything until a black conductor said that he was concerned about what might happen to me, that I might get hurt or something. I went on until I had sat in all of the white cars and then went back to my mother in the colored coach. I didn't do anything, nothing had changed, but I felt a lot better about myself."

    In 1948 Juanita began her lifelong relationship with Wally Nelson, whom she met when she interviewed him in jail while she was working as a journalist and he was imprisoned for walking out of a conscientious objector work camp, feeling it was slave labor. Wally was the first Field Secretary for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). With Wally, Juanita planned and participated in the first 'Freedom Rides' in the late 1940s, leading to the Southern Freedom Movement, also known as the Civil Rights Movement. Together they began engaging in war tax resistance. “When we became tax resisters in 1948,” they wrote, “it included not filing, not answering notices to supply information and making sure we had something to refuse.”

    One account says: “In 1959 Juanita became the first woman in modern times to be arrested for war tax refusal. She made her court appearance in the bathrobe she was wearing when apprehended at her home.” Juanita was released the same day, and the government never did collect the money they claimed she owed them.

    Wally and Juanita Nelson spent a few months at the Koinonia Farm in Americus Georgia, the nation's first interracial intentional community (founded by Clarence Jordan, the man who influenced Millard Fuller to start Habitat for Humanity), in 1957 and continued to work with that project for the next decade.

    Over time, the Nelsons came to adopt the income-reduction method of war tax resistance. “Living on a reduced income is related to our refusal only as a progression of awareness, that our entire economic life is tied into violence. It seemed logical that the less we participated, the less we’d be giving to that system.”

    Their critique of the economic system went to eccentric extremes – at one point, Juanita convinced the Pioneer Valley War Tax Resisters that interest payments were ethically insupportable. She then went into the bank that held the organization’s small account “to ask that we not be credited with interest [and to] return the interest we had previously collected.” The bank, after considerable puzzlement, eventually gave in to the request.

    The Nelsons cut their expenses dramatically – building a house with salvaged materials and without electricity or plumbing, and growing the majority of their own food on a half-acre of land. Eventually they came to live on less than $5,000 per year. As they aged, they wrote, “we may soon face some difficult decisions… We have no insurance. In latter years we’ve had our share of medical problems. Hospitalizations are covered by aid to the indigent. We talk with doctors before they take us on. Mostly they don’t charge; sometimes we agree on something up to twenty percent of the fee. Our greatest insurance has been the outpouring of support from many, many younger friends (and some older ones).”

    For their role as farmers, civil rights activists, pacifists, war tax resisters, their love & generosity and their spirited life of service to the movements of social justice, activist nonviolence and peace, Juanita Nelson and her husband, Wally Nelson received the Courage of Conscience Award from The Peace Abbey in Sherborn, Massachusetts.

  74. T7sX5ebany | | #74

    I'm not sure...except that nothing substantial will change unless some motivated people take it on themselves to go out and try to explain to them why they should care. Expect resistance.

    They should care so that the seven generations of children they're being told by the same people they shouldn't have will be able to live a subsistence existence.
    How hard a sell is that?

  75. 2tePuaao2B | | #75

    Now you guys really have me thinking~ (starting to hurt a little)
    I did a short stent with Ryland Modular Homes back in the mid 80's. I had just completed an 18 month long historic farm restoration project in Hunt Valley MD for a group that invests heavily into real estate. They were considering the use of modular units for the first time in one of their high end developments but wanted to have the inside scoop before making a rather large commitment.
    My working relationship with these guys was well established at the time with, restoration historic investment tax credits. They knew my thoughts about some of the new stick built homes that they were involved with, ( I was a pretty critical little bastard early on) and because of that I was asked to
    "check out" these modular homes that seemed to be making a splash at the time.
    While my mind was pretty narrow about the thought of modular homes, I took the request as a kind of twisted compliment and accepted the task.
    I took a trip to the Ryland Modular Homes Plant in New Windsor, MD as a first step, and quickly learned that in order to get the real inside scoop you had to be on the inside. I filled out , (for the first time in my life) an employment application and was interviewed that very day for a finish end supervisor position. (I did find it a little strange that a guy with no modular experience would be considered for a finish end supervisor position) but thats what was and within a couple of days I had the job. Here's a little of what I learned from the experience~
    *The plant that I worked in ran the "boxes" on a steel rail and roller system that was perfectly level from one end of the plant to the other.
    * Most of the home styles consisted of 4 or 5 boxes that would be assembled on site to make the home. A crane set the boxes.
    *All walls and framing members were assembled on large dead flat tables at waist height.
    * Each framed unit would be inspected (quickly) for nailing patterns etc. before it was installed on the deck.
    * Every plate was glued and nailed to the deck. The framed box would be pushed (rolled by hand) about the length of the unit to the next station. There were 4 sets of rails through the plant. The 2 outside boxes were the top of the house and would have roof assemblies with "flip down" soffits installed at this point. The middle boxes were first floor and remained open to the air.
    *Rough in electric, plumbing and hvac was installed at this point. Still no sheathing.
    *After rough in inspections( by in house but independant QC dept) the next line move.
    * Sheathing, (OSB) now installed. Glued and nailed.
    Insulation (R13) fiberglass walls, R30 fiberglass ceilings installed and inspected by QC. Line move.
    * Hang drywall ( 1/2" glued and screwed) leaving out strip where boxes will meet. Tape and finish begins.
    Tyvek installed, windows and doors. Roofing is also installed from second floor~ walk on platforms. ( Roof nailing patterns are carefully inspected for placement as well as the heads being shot flush and not at any angle. Flip soffits are lowered into place for roofing~ leaving 2 courses out and then flipped back up and secured for shipping. Line move.
    * Drywall finish continues while vinyl siding is installed, again , the nailing pattern is carefully inspected. Soffit trim was done for most on site. Next move ~" The crossover"
    We're at the middle of the plant at this point, crossing over to "The finish end"
    * Drywall is sanded, wiped down and primed. Line move. This was a pretty quick process so we allowed a double spacing in the line.
    * Drywall point up takes place while interior trim is being installed. Line move
    * Caulk and finish paint, stock kitchen and bath cabinets, some finish electric as well. Line move.
    * Installation of kitchen cabinets, bath vanities, appliances, hvac equipment, finish electric and plumbing. A lot happens here. Boxes are made temporary "hot" for electric and plumbing inspections.Line move
    * Exterior being wrapped for shipment while interior is being punched out. Final inspection by QC and the Green Check is sprayed on the outside indicating that the box is ready for shipment.

    The actual construction of these units in a controlled environment was pretty impressive .Everything was glued and fastened mechanically with regular inspection. While the emphasis was never placed on efficiencies at that point, the boxes wereput together fairly well.
    The weak link~~ Transporting and setting modular units is a make or break operation as far as I,m concerned. Many times, production sub contracted foundations would be out a little. (sometimes a good bit). This caused serious problems with the setting and finishing processes. Walls would end up racked at the center,throwing all of the doors down a hallway out and in general there were an assortment of failures with the production, piece work sub contractor arrangements in the field.
    We did do the development project, and I stayed with the job at Ryland until the last box for the project was completed ( 9 months). It was a great experience for me and the thought of possibly developing affordable green modulars is really interesting.
    Thanks fo bringing it into play here.
    We could greencheck 4 complete homes in 1 day (2 shifts).

  76. 2tePuaao2B | | #76

    Maybe a large pole building could be erected first on a site being developed that would serve as "the plant" for green modular components. The units wouldn't have to be shipped and after the site development was complete, the plant could become a community center, or solar power plant for the community in some way.

  77. Riversong | | #77

    Modular homes have improved some since I helped trim out and do punch list on some Mt. Snow condominiums in the mid 80's, but the assembly process is not much different.

    The condos I worked on were the first multi-family units manufactured by Huntington Homes, which is still one of the largest manufacturers in New England. They hadn't thought through the challenges of assembling six boxes side by side on the same foundation. A space the thickness of the crane cable had to be left between them and the last box was typically hanging 1½" or so off the foundation.

    I had to install exterior and interior trim to cover the gaps, but there was no air sealing or insulation between the boxes and the cold winter wind whistled through, freezing the pipes once the water was turned on and frosting up the bottom bifold door hinges. Even the attic hatches were unsealed and uninsulated so that with propane construction heaters running in each basement, it was snowing in the attic.

    A couple years ago I watched the on-site assembly of a six-box (3 on each floor) modular that was supposed to be made by one of the best manufacturers (Preferred Building Systems of NH) and installed by New England's best modular erection contractor. But, though now they used slots to keep the cables from spreading the units and large rubber gaskets between boxes for air sealing, many of the same erection problems persisted, including gaps and foundation overhang.

    This unit was finished in wood siding and custom trim with a standing seam metal roof, but I was not impressed with the quality of the finished product. And I was told that the finished price is roughly equivalent to a custom-built home, except that it goes up a bit quicker once backlog wait time for manufacture and delivery is done.

  78. 2tePuaao2B | | #78

    I think the lack of any required skill training plays a big role with most of these problems.
    Work ethic can't be nurtured or demonstrated in a "haul ass" environment set first to profit.

  79. Riversong | | #79

    I learn something new every day:

    Operation Green Quest was a United States Customs Service-sponsored interagency investigative unit formed in October 2001 after the September 11 attacks, and concerned with the surveillance and interdiction of terrorist financing sources.

    Led by the U.S. Customs Service, and included agents and analysts from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Secret Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Federal prosecutors from the U.S. Justice Department's Criminal Division also formed an integral part of Operation Green Quest. The director of Operation Green Quest was a senior special agent from U.S. Customs and the deputy director is a senior special agent from the IRS.

    According to Customs, by its fourth month of operation Operation Green Quest had initiated more than 300 probes into terrorist finances, seizing about $10.3m in smuggled US currency and $4.3m in other assets. Its work resulted in 21 searches, 12 arrests and four indictments.

  80. user-757117 | | #80

    They should care so that the seven generations of children they're being told by the same people they shouldn't have will be able to live a subsistence existence.
    How hard a sell is that?

    Mostly, very hard. Rarely, quite easy. I tend to skip the "don't"s and focus on the "do"s and never tell people how they should plan their families.

  81. user-757117 | | #81

    Roy, I admire your dedication.

  82. user-659915 | | #82

    The quest for cheaper houses in the name of overall environmental benefit is a fool's errand. Reducing the cost of a product in the mass market inevitably increases consumption of that product, housing is no exception, and in this country, the richest that the world has ever seen, there is already a surplus of housing. Adding hundreds of thousands of 'green' mass-market dwellings does nothing to reduce the ongoing environmental cost of the rest of the housing stock and renders their sunk costs a tragic waste. What we have a shortage of is social and environmental equity, not buildings: of good environmental planning, not construction technology.

    There is a case for a new housing paradigm but it turns more on land use policy than on the cost of the box or how it's put together. At the risk of stating the obvious, we actually need to be spending more money on our houses, not less, and on quality of construction, not raw volume. Meanwhile the best paradigm for most environmentally-responsible owner-builders continues to be not in the piling of straw bales on a pristine piece of woodland but the incremental upgrading of an urban property that's ready for a new lease of life.

  83. user-757117 | | #83

    Reducing the cost of a product in the mass market inevitably increases consumption of that product, housing is no exception

    It's the Jevon's paradox all over again! ;-)

    there is already a surplus of housing. Adding hundreds of thousands of 'green' mass-market dwellings does nothing to reduce the ongoing environmental cost of the rest of the housing stock and renders their sunk costs a tragic waste.

    I couldn't agree more.

    but the incremental upgrading of an urban property that's ready for a new lease of life.

    I don't agree with "urban". To focus strictly on urban environments is to ignore roughly half the population (or more) of the USA. As you said, there is no "green" way to provide all those people with "new" dwellings in an urban environment. We've just about spent the inheritance so we're going to have to learn to make the most of what we already made - as crappy as that may be.

    This doesn't mean we can't learn to retrofit using natural materials.

  84. T7sX5ebany | | #84

    If we can't carry out incremental upgrading of an urban property because cities are bad, suburbs are an offense against nature, sorry Nature, and we shouldn't pile straw bales on a piece of pristine woodland then what?
    I guess we'll just have to do what we can, where we are and try to explain as well as we can to anyone who'll listen.
    Hands up anyone who's not doing that already...

  85. user-757117 | | #85

    I don't consider the suburbs an "urban" area since it is an animal unto itself.

  86. user-757117 | | #86

    If we can't carry out incremental upgrading of an urban property because cities are bad...

    I didn't say that Timmy. I'm all for retrofits everywhere.

    I guess we'll just have to do what we can, where we are and try to explain as well as we can to anyone who'll listen.


    Hands up anyone who's not doing that already...

    I am well aware that I am in the minority.

  87. user-659915 | | #87

    Urban/suburban: Many of the older suburbs are at a sufficient density, close enough to major urban resources and have sufficient undervalued property available that they are well able to be systemically and economically re-invented for a low-carbon future and I would include them in the urban category. Exurbs are going to be the intractable problem.

  88. 2tePuaao2B | | #88

    Thanks Lucas,
    I appreciate the input and dedication that you bring to the forums as well.

    @ James Morgan,
    The future mass market will exist. There will probably be fewer new homes built than in past mass markets, but the largest amount of the homes built will still be the mass new home market. If the majority of the new homes that are built for this market can, by any design or any material used offer a better dollar value to human beings, I would have to say that there would be much needed improvement to the mass new housing market. This can and will happen just as sure as the shacks came to be. The previous generations of increased consumption of dumb homes is, well, just dumb. The cost to turn something like dumb housing into smart housing is close to just taking the dumb home down and putting a smart one in it's place. This is happening with regularity in Bethesda, and Chevy Chase MD today. The value is in the lot. This is but a different way to improvement that will continue to develope out of necessity. The new smart homes are for the most part looking to green solutions. I just read an article on the Fine Homebuilding site that suggested converting some of the "tragic waste" McMansions that are sitting empty across the Country into multi-family dwellings. Lots of questions with a re-use approach as well. The end result could still mean a high cost to live because of taxes, heating and cooling etc. unless more money is invested up front to improve efficiencies. Both of these examples re use the land, but at high cost one way or the other. To dump more money into bad is not necessarily better, and is far less predictible in my opinion. I don't believe volume has anything to do with it. The demand for future new housing will depend largely on what's being offered.
    Your vision of "piling of strawbales on a pristine piece of woodland" sounds negatively narrow "but the incremental upgrading of an urban property that's ready for a new lease on life" is a part of the solution. You are right though, one size will never fit all in the masses.

  89. T7sX5ebany | | #89

    Dear Lucas,
    I'm sorry if you think that I was suggesting that you thought cities were or are bad. There have, however, been suggestions in some quarters that they might not be the ideal solution for living sustainably.

    Retro-fitting and incremental improvement in all locations will be the only course that many will be able to afford. Even then, since they are likely not to increase the re-sale value of the property, they will probably need to be paid for from income or savings. This will necessarily make for a slow uptake and thus a lengthy period of transition. Certainly far too slowly to avoid the end of the world.

  90. user-659915 | | #90

    Yes, the value is in the land, and in the age of the automobile we have learned to grossly undervalue the land. This is clearly an attitude we will have to get past.

    My reference to straw bale was in connection with the notion that low-skill high-labor construction technology might be a realistic approach to low-cost mass market housing. As such an approach usually depends on ultra-cheap exurban land, I believe it is not particularly appropriate for the 90-something percent of the population not engaged in agricultural pursuits. If you have limited financial resources and want to put some sweat equity into your home, there are other options that will probably make much better environmental sense.

  91. Riversong | | #91

    then what?

    For the first time in US history, the majority of housing equity is owned by the banks. There are millions of foreclosed, seized and empty homes. The "American Dream" home is now a nightmare.

    We could not only turn those oversized and over-valued homes into multi-family units, but also into co-housing, housing coops, community land trusts, rental units (for mortgage-phobic folk). Of course, we'll need jobs and infrastructure for the residents (but that's another forum). And many could be dismantled or de-constructed to supply recycled materials for lower-cost and more sensible construction.

    Where to build? We need to revitalize small town centers and rural villages, build affordable farmstead homes for young people wanting to enter small-scale agriculture. We need community centers for the marginalized and displaced - for the elderly, the handicapped, the mentally unstable and the homeless.

    If we stopped this nonsense about private ownership of land and make all land a public trust that can be leased for legitimate needs, then the cost of housing will be cut in half in many areas.

    We can increase the cost of building while at the same time decreasing the price, by helping each other build their own homes. Sweat equity is both more costly and more valuable. People don't generally abandon or neglect homes that they built themselves.

    There is no limit to creative possibilities, and these only scratch the surface. We need to get outside the box of the single family home on a private lot or the urban highrise so we can think outside the box (literally).

  92. 2tePuaao2B | | #92

    I agree with all accounts of #90 statement. Low skill high-labor must cease to exist, as this combination by its very nature is very in- efficient. This is the difference between a low cost poorly built home and a well built home at a good dollar value. Limited financial resources have no room for waste.

  93. Lucas Durand | | #93

    It really is too bad that "the system" doesn't have a CTRL+ALT+DEL function.

  94. Lucas Durand | | #94

    Many of the older suburbs are at a sufficient density, close enough to major urban resources and have sufficient undervalued property available that they are well able to be systemically and economically re-invented for a low-carbon future and I would include them in the urban category.

    Fair enough.
    James, as a professional in the industry, are you or anyone you know actively engaged in finding ways to encourage the incorporation of "the suburbs" into the larger urban area?

  95. Riversong | | #95

    God's keyboard.

  96. Lucas Durand | | #96

    Timmy, no worries. Sorry about the confusion.

    There have, however, been suggestions in some quarters that they might not be the ideal solution for living sustainably.

    This is an interesting topic. I'll start a new thread.

    Even then, since they are likely not to increase the re-sale value of the property, they will probably need to be paid for from income or savings.

    I recently read an article (kind find it now) that described a funding scheme that I'd never heard of before. Basically (and if I remember correctly), it involved getting utility companies to provide the loans to cover the cost of the upgrades. The cost of borrowing is then passed on to the residence and whoever happens to be occupying it at the time, via an increase to the utility bill...

  97. 2tePuaao2B | | #97

    Lucas ,
    Try attending a local Town Council (or other local governing entity) in your area.
    Sit in the front row, in the center.
    Arm yourself with a short list of what you believe to be important local issues, and questions pertaining to same.(CTRL)
    At the appropriate time, raise your hand high , and when called on ask the first question (this is for the record).
    If the answer that you are given is not satisfactory, or is incomplete, state as such and request that it be re-visited at next months meeting.(Alt)
    Ask the next question with similar followup, and the next...
    Attend next months meeting and do it all again~ even with new questions, and bring a few friends this time.
    Keep this process up and things will begin to change, Your good intent will become the creation of the(DEL) if not. Systems need constant care and guidance.

  98. user-659915 | | #98

    "are you or anyone you know actively engaged in finding ways to encourage the incorporation of "the suburbs" into the larger urban area?"
    I spent a total of 22 years actively involved in two organizations devoted to community development work and now I'm taking a break. There's plenty of opportunity for someone with energy and passion to be active and get involved, Roy's suggestion is an excellent one, don't just be a thorn under the saddle though, get on volunteer commissions of your local government, and/or take a personal initiative with an individual project of your own - an urban farm, a community school, a shared garden, workshop or office, a take back the street project .... opportunities to develop community are endless. Build community and the buildings and other resources will follow.

  99. user-757117 | | #99

    Roy, I plan on it. I know my council though and I'm not sure if your suggestion will result in a CTRL+ALT+DEL scenario or a "blue screen of death". Time will tell...

    What have things come to when honest people have to become politicians...

  100. 2tePuaao2B | | #100

    Thank you James, Well said!

  101. Riversong | | #101

    getting utility companies to provide the loans to cover the cost of the upgrades. The cost of borrowing is then passed on to the residence

    That's sort of how Efficiency Vermont operates (and other similar statewide efficiency utilities). Using a very small efficiency surcharge on everyone's electric bills, it runs all kinds of building efficiency programs including Energy Star Vermont, which offers free audits, design assistance, inspections and rebates.

    This spreads out the cost on every household and business, while providing targeted subsidies and assistance to those who choose to use it. They assist small businesses and rental property owners, industries and farms as well as private residential owners.

    One of Vermont's electrical utilities, Green Mountain Power (that operates New England's first wind farm and invests in Cow Power methane conversion) is planning to invest $8 million in efficiency subsidies in 2012 with an expected return to property owners of $25 million.

  102. user-757117 | | #102

    Thanks guys. I am already the "motivated individual" where I am.
    If anything I'm hoping to motivate more people through discussions like this.
    And I certainly have enjoyed this thread so far. Thanks Roy.

  103. Riversong | | #103

    Well, being motivated ain't enough. You gotta get crazy about sustainability and get loco-motivated.

  104. Riversong | | #104

    It just struck me what's needed.

    Someone's gotta create a really hot video game called Green Quest and get every kid playin' it.

  105. 2tePuaao2B | | #105

    I like it Robert! How do you come up with the great graphic stuff??
    Are you really one of those green geeky guys pretending to be an old tradesman?...?

  106. Riversong | | #106

    I don't know what a "geek" is, but I was programming mainframe computers when I was in 11th grade, taught my son to program when he was 12 (he's now a computer and electronic engineer), used some of the early computer work consoles for statistical analysis, and used the first PCs and the early internet for on-line research (when it was all monochrome text).

    But I also left home at 17 to become an auto mechanic philosopher (like the character Socrates in Dan Millman's Way of the Peaceful Warrior, but 8 years before he wrote that). I imagined myself owning a small gas station in the middle of the desert where only a few cars came by each day. I also thought that, if I had a son, I would raise him in the Alaska wilderness, not only without the "stuff" of modern civilization but also without words so he could learn a deeper kind of communication.

    But I ended up going back to school, after dropping out several times, to study philsophy and religion (including eastern mysticism with the first American zen master, Robert Thurman), then left to join the Appropriate Technology movement (and ended up instead as a leader of the anti-nuclear power movement). I finally "graduated" with an Associate's degree in Liberal Arts from a community college after getting a certificate in Outdoor Leadership and guiding canoe and dogsled expeditions in the Minnesota and Canadian wilderness.

    Then I became a carpenter and a Vision Quest guide. So it goes. What's a geek?

    As for graphics, all you need is Google Images

  107. homedesign | | #107

    here is another search format with More Images per page

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