Saturday, February 16, 2008

How to use a simple, cheap, passive solar design

Stop. If you don't have Southerly facing windows, this blog post is probably not for you!

Okay, that said... everyone has heard the term passive solar... right!? but just what the heck does it mean?

Simply put, passive solar is using design and building features that can gather heat from the sun during the day, and then release that heat slowly throughout the nighttime - helping to maintain a constant temperature, without expensive inputs from fossil fuel.

One of the easiest, most important, and most misunderstood aspects of passive solar is to take advantage of the South facing windows in your home to gather sun in the winter and block sun in the summer.

Unfortunately, most folks make the mistake to think that all you need is to have south facing windows, and, viola! you have passive solar. In fact, what you probably have is sky rocketing heating/cooling costs..!

What can you do about this? Luckily there is an easy solution to this dilemma. In the summer, we want to shade our homes from incoming heat, and in the winter we want to let it in. Right? What works to our advantage here, is that the sun is actually lower in the sky in the winter and as such can come in through a window that would be shaded by an overhang from the summer sun.

Great you say. But how much overhang do i need?

The answer to that lies almost entirely on where you are located, geographically speaking. And luckily for us, that can be calculated simply by punching in your town name and state into the bars for "feature name" and "state" here. (ed. note: write down the latitude and longtitude and elevation)

Take this newfound information here. When entering this information, you will want to know what the sun angle is at its highest... Summer solstice, and at its lowest... Winter solstice. To do this follow these simple steps:

1) Under "date" enter June 22
2) Under "time" enter 1200
3) Under "time basis" enter 24 hr.
4) Under "time zone", enter your time zone.
5) Under "time basis" choose “solar time”
6) Under "daylight savings" enter “no”
7) Under "zero azimuth" enter “South”.
8) Click on “Calculate”.

Great. You now have your summer high angle. Write this down.

9) Under "date" change to December 22 - recalculate.

Fantastic. You now have your winter low angle.

10) With these calculations in mind (and a few even more simpleSolar angles measurements on the outside of your home), you can now draw some simple lines and figure out exactly how much overhang you will need to block out that air conditioner killing summer sun, and soak up that warmth-giving winter light.

Now go forth and add on simple shades or build overhangs and see the cost of your monthly heating/cooling bills drop, and the value of your home increase. fact, a little more work and you may actually be close to eligible for energy efficient financing packages for any future buyers of your home.

Heads-up to Michael Pulakamp for first putting together this simple two-step web-calculation.


Friday, February 15, 2008

Tallahassee Goes Green

On January 9th of this year (2008) Tallahassee, FL became the second city in Florida to obtain the prestigious "green city" designation with the Florida Green Building Coalition.

The city is being recognized for numerous green initiatives, including it's Go Green Tallahassee program, and it's use of and support for green building programs. In addition, Tallahassee has numerous citizen driven green businesses and initiatives, in areas as diverse as solar, real estate, baby supplies, and others.

For a long time, Tallahassee has remained a relatively obscure little capital city. Now it is starting to make it's mark with a rapidly growing green program. Tallahassee's Gov't currently has plans to become the leading green city in the United States. With it's extensive network if canopy roads, it's favorable climate, nationally award winning park system, and access to fantastic wildlife and outdoor activities, it seems the perfect location. Whether it will actually achieve it remains to be seen....


Saturday, February 9, 2008

Open Letter to Senator Barack Obama: environmental policy questions

Dear Senator Obama,

I am first and foremost a wife and mother of two boys under the age of two, but I am also working on a graduate degree in ecology and evolutionary biology. Like Senator Obama, I have spent a large portion of my life serving as an advocate for the less fortunate in our country, although the majority of this focus has been in the realm of environmental protection and human health issues.

I am impressed to see that the senator has focused on the severe problems with air quality that are affecting much of our country as a result of his understanding of his daughter's own issues with asthma. In addition, I feel that our country currently has a serious issue with lead poisoning and children, especially those who are the least fortunate among us, and I appreciate that Senator Obama has also chosen to focus on this issue.

However, I have been unable to find any information on other environmental policies that Senator Obama may hold, which makes me wonder if these issues are just overshadowed by the current darling of the green movement (climate change) or whether they have been ignored by Senator Obama altogether. I would like to know two things before I feel confident in awarding Senator Obama with my vote:

1) As a biologist who has conducted a significant portion of her research in the neotropics, I feel that any future US president needs to aid developing countries in basic forest protection policies that focus on economics, not just land preservation. I feel this aid must be twofold, focusing on the creation of effective international public policy as well as financial incentives for developing nations, perhaps through debt forgiveness.

A major problem in the tropics is with subsistence farming and hunting in and along the edges of preserves. Not only would the US benefit from addressing this issue in terms of climate change (preserving forests as major carbon sinks), but also economically (by creating stronger governments in the developing world we may greatly decrease illegal immigration to the US, reducing dependence on the drug trade, etc.) and biologically (many migrating animals that spend part of their life in the US spend the remainder of their life in tropical Central America).
This is the type of complex issue that would need to be addressed to preserve the world's tropical forests, and I am wondering what types of policies Senator Obama would initiate to end the exploitation of these world treasures.

2) I would like to see incentives for crops (both food- and fuel-based) to be grown without the use of pesticides and for animals to be raised without the use of antibiotics and growth hormones. This is, admittedly, a large and complex issue, but it is one I feel we can no longer ignore. We have so many pesticides in wide use within the US that have not been adequately tested to examine their effect on human health and wildlife. In addition, we have a severe problem with antibiotic resistance and the use of hormones that can have detrimental affects on the growth and development of young children. I feel that it is likely that our rates of childhood food allergies, cancers, and other health issues may be directly related to the way in which we grow food and raise animals. I feel that a future US president MUST address this issue in a way that focuses on the fields in which we grow our food as an ecosystem in which everything we add will go somewhere (such as community water supplies) and everything we remove must be replaced (such as protecting the quality of our soils by using sound agricultural practices to replace nutrients and prevent the removal of topsoil). We, as a nation, have not been good stewards of our most precious national resource: its land. I am wondering what programs Senator Obama would initiate to address these issues.

I greatly hope that this request will not go ignored, but that you will consider these questions and issues. I must admit that I have not had much hope that there would be a presidential candidate in my lifetime that would critically examine these issues, but Senator Obama seems that he might be a different type of candidate. Please feel free to contact me if I can clarify anything I've mentioned in any way. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.


A Concerned Mom


Friday, February 1, 2008

Ireland "Bags" the prize!

This time around, Ireland's practical lack of something that the rest of us have plenty of, may well be cause to celebrate...

Ireland is leading the world in the plastic bag-free shopping experience. With a simple 33 cent cost/per bag (the Plas Tax) imposed throughout the country in 2002, it is now hard to find a single bag littering the street, and most shoppers carry their own or go without.

What are we waiting for...? Our presidential candidates are clamoring for votes, ...anythings possible!? Why not push for a bag free US..?

Heads-up to IHT