New website design for baosol.com

Its been five years since I have been consulting and writing about sustainable building. A lot has happened and the road has taken some interesting turns, and to over use the metaphor the trip has brought some extraordinary vistas.

From the hundreds of article I have written to the powerful leaders I have had an opportunity to interview to the implementation of passive house in the US, there is a lot to share. I am currently writing a book on the localization of contemporary sustainable architecture called [ours] and will update on the site frequently.  I'll also be adding images and details on MARTaK the first off-grid no foam passive house.

The new website is designed to make it easy to explore the varied landscape of sustainable design. I'm just starting to get all the information I want to share up so check back on it once in a while.


LOCAL Make the Switch Video Series on Kickstarter

LOCAL is a campaign to produce 25 stories in premium digital media that promote locally-based alternatives to the global consumer culture. We need your funding now to help us create stories of leading thinkers, makers and doers, as well as (extra)ordinary people and their grassroots movements in cities around the globe. This media will be hosted on our new video and social media channel dedicated to driving sustainability to consumers.

"We live in community, not alone, and any sense of separateness that we harbor is an illusion." - Paul Hawken, Blessed Unrest

The Media: LOCAL focuses its lens on this “blessed” movement of communities and individuals dedicated and driven with one common goal: to create global change. We believe that through stories we can help synthesize these communities into a global network, with people working together to move forward and create the appropriate change in our world. Stories of smart cities, food activism and food security, environmental justice, living communities, transition towns, people living off-the-grid, regenerative design, the turn towards urban agriculture and crises in food and water infrastructure. Community is the solution.

Our Viewers: Call them fans, consumers, businesses, moms, kids, artists, organizations, policymakers, students, teachers, architects, engineers, non-profits, community development planners. All connected.
LOCAL has big plans for helping to create a better, more sustainable, more environmentally-just world. The future of our planet is not in the hands of governments, institutions or organizations but in communities taking small, local and conscious actions that make a big impact on the global web of life. Each one of us, in our own efforts, can change the future. All of it will happen, thanks to your amazing support and enthusiasm.

With your support we will be able to produce 25 stories in premium digital media which will create a chain reaction to help us:

Create stories that inspire fans and consumers to drive environmental change.
Promote and feature stories on all things sustainable, prosperous, productive, and creative.
Launch LOCAL globally.

LOCAL: Make the Switch on Kickstarter.


Help support my book [ours] Hyper-Localization of Sustainable Architecture on Kickstarter

The most exciting architecture today is not only environmentally astute but re-imagines a sense of place. The book I've I've been working on a book for the past year and now it time to put the research into high gear. Take a look and help support the project on Kickstarter

[ours] by Andrew Michler is a collaboration between eVolo Magazine, host of the annual Skyscaper Competition, and the Institute for the Built Environment at Colorado State University on contemporary architecture trends of sustainable design in selected locations around the world.

[ours] disseminates how the best architecture comes together to create regional identity in the 21st century. Site specific design is a core reality in developing robust, thriving communities and exploring the shared nature of the built and natural world through environmentally attuned development.

Regions are already responding to the challenge through inventive and provocative architecture. [Japan Condenses], [Spain Wraps], and[Australia Unfolds] explores how design practices inform a sense of place and provide solutions to complex issues in the built environment. These three divergent areas exemplify the quality of redefined design vernacular that addresses deep sustainable objectives.

The germ of the idea is to explore sustainable design by putting these buildings into context. We see the re-imagining of the built environment as one of the most important goals in thriving in an altered planet in the 21st century. By pushing the envelope these buildings create new architectural archetypes, integrating function and form to improve performance. We will explore how architects have learned from their failures and from taking risks. 

This is an exciting idea to explore but its going to take a lot of work. We have a great group of interns to support, some research equipment to procure and of course a little bit of travelling to do. To get the best information possible we plan to go to the source- explore buildings and regions firsthand, interview the architects and occupants, and take a lot of photos and video. While we set the goal low every bit of funding we can raise helps uncover great projects that make a difference.

The funds raised from Kickstarter are for research only, not for things like printing and advertising.  
Naturally we will have lots of updates on our travels and learnings exclusive for Kickstarter backers: think of it as a real time whirl-wind tour of the world's contemporary architecture scene.

[ours] on Kickstarter


Lunch with the Dr. of Building Science

The term ‘building science’ is used quite often now in sustainable building circles, but much of what we understand of it can be traced back to the work of Dr. Joe Lstiburek, founder of Building Science Corporation. Many of the building standards today — from building codes to ASHRE to testing methodology — have his finger prints all over them, and his tough love criticism of building design is undercut with his wry humor and, of course, an encyclopedic knowledge of building construction.

I was fortunate to have a chance to sit down with him for an interview.The conversation certainly made some waves in the design community but happily the response has been overwhelmingly positive. I was also surprised by some of his responses to my questions (which shouldn't be a surprise)- especially about universal wall designs compared to regional approaches. Well, you'll have to read it for yourself on Inhabitat.

Here are some highlights (taken out of context of course):

Andrew: So how do you get them (architects) excited about building science again?

 Joe Lstiburek: Well, I don’t. What happens is the legal profession does that for us. The most effective technology transfer in the world is a lawsuit. They never call us when things are going well. They call us, “Oh, my God! We’re getting our ass sued because this problem occurred.”


Joe Lstiburek: What’s amazing is formaldehyde in houses doesn’t respond to ventilation rate changes. So if you’re ventilating at 0.1 versus 0.2 versus 0.3, the formaldehyde concentration remains constant. The reason is the more you ventilate the more it emits. You ventilate less it emits less. Don’t put it in the building, that’s a phenomenally successful way of dealing with the problem.


Andrew: Let’s get back to energy a little bit. Is thermal bridging the next cusp of people’s thinking about how building envelopes work?

Joe Lstiburek: Well, it’s no mystery to anybody who knows about buildings that it’s a big deal. I’m kind of amused that people are just figuring out well, glass is really bad and there’s too much it. Not having insulation continuously is a big deal. What’s even more important is that air tightness is even more important. There’s no requirement for air tightness. How can you with a straight face talk about energy efficiency and not have a requirement for air tightness?


Andrew: So what’s the take away? Is it that air barriers are the biggest thing we need to focus on?

Joe Lstiburek: Well, no. Look, if I was in charge of teaching architects building science becomes very simple. Building enclosure is an environmental separator. You want to keep the outside out and the inside in, except when you want to bring the outside in and when you want to have the inside out. That’s it and there are certain rules on how to do that. I have this little list of rules and it all can be distilled into we need a water controlled barrier, an air controlled barrier, a vapor controlled barrier, and a thermal controlled barrier. Then we need a method of exchanging the inside with the outside based on when we want to. That’s it, there are sub-rules on how you do this, but that’s fundamentally it. And I would have loved to written my own LEED standard. It would have been a paragraph long and it would start off by saying, “Don’t do stupid things,” and, “Do this,” and we’re done. “And measure everything,” because if you can’t measure it, I don’t believe it.


Andrew: You have been successful in taking complex building dynamics and making them relatively simple to understand. Do you think that building science is less complicated than a lot of folks out there are making it sound with a lot of hemming and hawing?

Joe Lstiburek: It’s a lot less complicated than people say and my only observation is there’s a lot of money to be made in keeping the peasants confused. I mean it’s so easy. What drives me crazy is WUFI models and computer simulations. None of that is necessary, and most of it is done wrong anyway.


Andrew: When you go on the DoE web site there’s like 400 links or something like that to the energy software available, energy modeling software, for instance. Now, is any of this stuff really –

Joe Lstiburek: Useful? No. No. No.

Andrew: Everybody is wishing to have that magic bullet software?

Joe Lstiburek: Well, I view it as in love with Star Trek. I blame it all on Star Trek. Spock could go into that shuttle bay with his tricorder, do a tricorder scan and figure out that the tachyon field was interfering with the dilythiam crystals, causing him to off-gas, which is why Uhura has a headache. F**k that. We can’t measure s**t like that, but we believe that we can measure everything. Watch NCIS and Abby Sciuto, that babe in the lab – you know, freaking does magical things and measures s**t and she does it all in 45 minutes, not counting commercials. It’s that we couldn’t do in 20 years even if we had unlimited money and people think that you can simulate and measure stuff. The world is not that clean and neat.

The best way we learn all of this is to build it and you see what happened. You say, “Ah, this worked. This didn’t,” and that’s the best education or information. That information lies in the experience base of the older engineers, architects and contractors. One of the biggest problems we have is what I call our own institutional memory. We do a lousy job in construction, engineering and architecture, passing on the lessons of one generation to the next. So we are this huge, dysfunctional family. We need a Dr. Phil to get us all to talk to one another, or an Oprah, or somebody.


How Passive House Makes Net Zero Energy Homes A Reality

Learn more about Passive House on RM-PH.com

If you have lived off-the-grid for awhile like I have, you may also find the newly found interest in net zero building a bit amusing. Most of those who tout NZE do so from the luxury of a grid safety net, and those who want to go "off-grid" are typically more motivated, I think, for a spiritual or political purpose than the technical or environmental challenge. They never actually move to the cabin in the mountains or the yurt in the plains, or take the experience to fullest and design a stand alone system. But now the next thing is being served up in the form of Net Zero Energy living, a rather Zen-like approach to a built environment where one takes nothing out and ask for nothing in return.

Net Zero Energy
The exciting thing is that technically speaking NZE is actually not too hard. What you need is a really, really big roof. The average home consumes just shy of 40 kWhs of electricity a day which very roughly equates to a 10kW solar system. At 10 watts a square foot you have a 1000 square feet of glass and silicon on the roof should be enough for an average house. Yikes(!) basically a very big shed roof covered in $50,000 or so dollars to make NZE a reality. I think I am probably low balling these numbers but they give the picture. Builders got smart and started lowering their home energy use as well to make NZE a reality, but let's face it, a really good home now is considered 30% better than code, and we really haven't talked about all the crap plugged in. So now the trend of NZE homes is looking at a upgraded house shell still with a big ol' honken solar array. The market message is if you want NZE it's going to cost you. Most folks are like me who could not afford anything near that, so I put up a tiny array and worked really hard at making sure I did not need the energy in the first place. Actually it wasn't hard to use 1/10th the average energy.

In the past year I have been wokring with group developing Rocky Mountain Passive House and while it took me a while to get to Passive House here I wanted to make the point that it's not about making energy that really counts for net zero energy consumption, it's about not needing it in the first place. That is what passive is all about. We cut 90% of all energy out of the equation which means that the building needs a much, much (much) smaller PV array. The size depends on how much energy the occupant uses to be fair, but we aim to give the project a real head start to NZE.

The dollar equation is even better. While a Passive House costs more than an average house to build for now, a NZE Passive House cost less than a comparable NZE project, and you get your upgrades for free (like some cheesy sales pitch). Think of it as opportunity savings: getting incredible windows and doors and a state-of-the-art envelope which equals comfort and craftsmanship for less money than plucking it down for a stack of PV on a roof, which frankly is not really a lifestyle enhancement. Get rid of the HVAC equipment costs and up-keep and the savings are durable and long term. While your spiritual or philosophical needs for low impact housing is met - http://rm-ph.com/about-the-passive-house-standard/comfort/ your actual comfortand budget is taken care as well. With Passive House your roof's solar collection potential is now available to feed things like an electric car you buy in a couple years, which makes your overall energy and environmental impact dramatically improved as well as future proofing your energy needs. Passive House makes the potential of a good energy citizen a reality, reducing the demand to a trickle and providing a genuine potential for eliminating dirty energy from your life both technically feasible and long term affordable.

Net Zero Energy (or if you prefer Zero Energy Building) can be measured in a handful of ways depending on what you include: embodied energy, equipment life span, line loss from energy supply, simple net-meter measuring. For instance if your meter says '0′ net energy consumption for the year this will not account for line loss or inefficiencies at the energy source like the coal plant, so the devil of what is reality is in the details. Producing energy onsite is not a panacea either, it typically is overused when system thinking is not applied and a market driven by products takes over. Don't get me wrong, I love photovoltaic technology because it is solid state, will last longer than your roof and is utterly dependable. I have been off-grid for 16 years and no, it is not NZE as I use wood for heat and propane for hot water and cooking. For that you really need to be a good citizen and feed the grid (just without the extra mortgage).


The Utterly Amazing Colorado Renewable Energy Conference

Hope I'm not over selling this but I have been part of a team putting together what may be the best looking conference I have seen. You can read the bulletin below but when I was asked to put together a LEED professional track I thought of the most interesting folks in the state to consider participating.

They all said yes to my amazement- so we will have an all star cast of sustainable builders providing an inside scoop from Award winning Architect H:T Design, the glamorous David Johnston and his Zero Energy Home musings, the ever cool Brian Dunbar of CSU's IBE. We'll cover the pioneering LEED for schools projects, learn about a radical energy design called Solar Banking and hear about the real world of planting green roofs in Colorado.

The second day I have assembled three ground breaking building tech companies, all featured on Inhabitat.com, a Passive House seminar, and some serious energy efficiency for your existing home with everybody's favorite Paul Kriescher of Lightly Treading. Hot Damn, I should print tee shirts.

And now the blub-- Attend the Colorado Renewable Energy Conference (CREC), themed “Local Action—Global Solutions,” in Fort Collins June 2-4, 2011.

Hosted by the Colorado Renewable Energy Society (CRES), the conference offers an in-depth exploration of the extraordinary work done in Colorado and Northern Front Range. Over 50 sessions and 70 speakers on renewable energy, sustainable building and technologies, environmental science, and more will be presented by foremost experts from throughout Colorado and across the nation.

Discover how Colorado is a world leader in the new green economy with an entire Thursday dedicated to professional development with credentialing tracks, including LEED-accredited professionals, real estate “EcoBrokers,” engineers, educators, and community-based energy development.

On Friday, explore public policy and governmental initiatives in comprehensive sessions with experts from NREL, CSU, and industry-leading companies. Also on tap is a tour of some favorite green sites and tastes of Fort Collins. Celebrate local and state renewable-energy innovators as well as CRES’ 15-year anniversary at the awards banquet.

Bring the family on Saturday for a day full of hands-on fun and how-to help for green building, solar energy, electric transportation, local action, green companies, and much more.

CRES gratefully acknowledges the leadership role of the City of Fort Collins in helping host CREC.

Get the details and find out how to participate right here on the conference Web site


A Solar Eclipse in Colorado

Xcel Energy, the largest provider of electricity in Colorado has been at the center of a solar renaissance largly through no fault of their own. If you get Xcel electricity then you were able to get a deep discount on a solar electric system that would be the envy of your non Xcel customer friends at almost half of the sticker price, until last week at least. Xcel has decided to unceremoniously pull the plug on the Solar*Rewards rebate program to the surprise of hundreds of solar companies that grew from the rebate frenzy.

I have not been the biggest fan of this system as I have always contended that efficiency is above all the soundest investment that has the added bonus of comfort and health. Alas the consumer has spoken and they want solar panels at good prices. Along comes the first voter approved amendment in the country for renewable energy, and part of Amendment 37 is a distributed energy resource as a percentage of the total renewable profile, subsidized by rate paying customers of publicly traded companies under the direction of the Public Utilities Commission. Whew.

The result is cheap solar for those who can afford it which is subsidized by all rate payers. This actually is a good thing, public policy approved by voters to tax themselves to provide renewable energy for themselves (if they happen to live in a for profit service provider area) is a very forward thinking step. The result is huge demand and a flourishing and competitive market of solar providers. The solar trade group CoSIEA has hundreds of members which have seen a real demand for solar energy with growth nearly doubling in the last year. If you don’t like subsidies I would suggest you protest your gasoline supplier as your bear your outrageousness on the small companies that we are speaking of. This is a bold step in developing a viable clean energy future that we all ultimately will benefit from.

That growth has been in large part due to the financial stability of a rebate program mixed with reduced equipment costs, a competitive landscape and strong demand. This four legged chair just had a leg cut off by Xcel Energy and previously by Black Hills Energy. Xcel’s news release claims that the price of solar equipment is now competitive, and with the government subsidizing solar and Xcel fulfilling their obligation of Amendment 37 they are happy to abandon this program because of its success at creating a marketplace.

Now as I mentioned I am not a big fan of subsidizing solar energy without a comprehensive energy efficiency effort. Nor do I like seeing solar electric get moving while solar thermal stands at the side of the track waving goodbye, but the train has long left the station. With the sudden drop in support the train very well may be going off the cliff. When Black Hills dropped their rebate program installs almost disappeared. CoSIEA is estimating about half of the 5300 jobs in solar will be lost in short order. We just lost another leg of our proverbial chair (sorry about the mixed metaphors by the way.)

"We look forward to the industry's continued progress so that it can ultimately become self-supporting," Xcel Colorado president David Eves said in a statement.This was a believable notion as Xcel had a schedule of slowly stepping down their rebates in an orderly and timely manner with the consensus of solar companies. By cutting off the rebate program immediately and stripping all credits to the bone Xcel (and Mr. Eves?) is really saying to me “We are tired of dealing with you pesky small solar companies and distributed energy is such pain so we’ll try to run you out of business even though it really cost us very little.”

This is the only reasonable conclusion I can have at Xcel’s behavior after their touting of themselves as such a green corporation. They are well aware of the instability it will cause for solar companies who have tight margins and high overhead. Most planned projects will have to be put on hold and renegotiated, many of them undoubtedly being cancelled. The market is also very young and has not given the industry much time to ramp up supply with demand. Xcel says they have met their requirements and is proud of the work they did but I am not so sure they are not meeting the expectations of the electorate (and their customers) who clearly wants a thriving renewable energy marketplace. A two legged chair is not what the public wants.

So that is the background. Will the industry fall apart like it did in the eighties? Will Xcel back off like they did when they made other unpopular decisions that quickly drew the wrath of consumers (like a surcharge for solar owners) or will the PUC come in to settle things down? One thing is for sure, Xcel will not be burdened with the reputation of being a “green” utility.


Green Building Interview on Saudi Arabia

Here is part of an interview I gave for the International Quality & Productivity Center. They are hosting a green building conference in Saudi Arabia in March focusing on how to do it affordably. If you want to read the rest you can access it here.

IQPC: Is there a concerted effort in Middle Eastern and other major governments to inculcate knowledge about renewable energy and sustainable construction from the grass‐roots level by starting to educate the younger generation about this necessary sector? Do you see any hindrances on this front?

AM: Most governments at this point are spotty in their assertion for renewable energy and sustainable building as complex sociological and financial issues cloud a concise message to their younger populations. None‐the‐less sustainable technologies and construction are the fastest growing sectors in many colleges and demand is forcing institutional and leadership responses. As young Middle Eastern designers and builders see the immense renewable energy resources of solar for instance they will demand access to the technologies and jobs which entail its implementation. When we speak about sustainability we are really talking about a massive generational shift. The implementation of education on sustainable infrastructure will need to engage the entire cross section of a young population regardless of race, class or gender to be effective.

IQPC: How do you see sustainable construction having a positive effect on the Middle East’s emerging economies?

AM: Sustainable development and construction is being embraced for a multitude of reasons: health, energy & water security and quality. For a company whose greatest costs are payroll, for instance, a building that has great IEQ (indoor environmental quality) will immediately see an increase in employee productivity, with a resulting edge in the marketplace. For a desert region, water and peak energy load are major long term issues that sustainable building addresses in a substantial way. The standard of living for a growing population will be based in large part on how they allocate their resources. They can create buildings that actually provide resources for a community rather than take from it. A concerted effort in sustainable development can result in an entire region creating an economic super‐cluster based on its investment.

IQPC: Sustainable construction cannot have the desired effect on an economy’s stability unless it is accompanied by concerted efforts to also implement renewable energy alternatives. Would you agree with this statement? Is this becoming a reality on the ground?

AM: Renewable energy production technologies can often be centralized or distributed, but by their nature buildings and developments are only distributed, meaning that efficiency gains can be only provided at the source. A flattened peak energy demand presented by sustainable building is utterly necessary to implement broad use of renewables. Energy efficiency is the lowest cost of all infrastructures in simple payback when first built but become increasingly difficult to achieve with existing buildings. As more renewable energy sources come online they will need an adequate infrastructure capable of properly using the energy when produced. While much attention has been paid to renewable energy it is only viable when the overall consumption of fossil‐fuel based energy is reduced and infrastructure can properly use it. Wind energy for instance has already saturated certain markets which then have to sell the energy at a loss or shut the turbines down, so a balance of supply and demand is critical for economic stability.

This interview was conducted for the Cost‐Effective Sustainable Design & Construction Saudi Arabia 2011 conference which takes place from 13 ‐ 16 March, 2011 at the Riyadh Marriott Hotel, Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. For more information on the event or to register, and to download more exclusive content, visit www.sustainableconstructionsaudi.com or email us on enquiry@iqpc.ae

"If you want to make it in this world you gotta' adapt" -Muddy Mudskipper.