Category Archives: Mechanical Systems

State of Alaska $100 million energy proposal


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The State of Alaska has published its proposal for grant allocation from the Alaska Renewable Energy Fund. This money will fund the construction of a wide range of alternative energy projects throughout the state. The total proposed expenditure from the State of Alaska is $100 million, with a Federal match of approximately $300 million.


Click here for a link to the Alaska Energy Authority page that outlines the proposal and links to relevant documents.

Trends in homebuilding — the 2009 edition

From the Chicago Tribune on Friday, January 23, 2009:

Even before home designers and builders headed to Las Vegas for this week’s International Builders Show, they had a pretty clear idea of where residential construction was headed.

Yes, the home-building industry is in the dumps, but there are still visionary designers coming up with a better mousetrap, so to speak, and product manufacturers creating a wide variety of accoutrements to make it a more livable space. Also, regardless of how tight consumers are feeling with their wallets, there’s still a fair share of them paging through the shelter magazines at their kitchen tables, tearing out pages as they dream about the perfect next home for them.

What they’re finding is that technological advancements are changing what it takes to build a better house and what to install in each of its rooms. “Innovation is changing the face of everything we do now,” said Michael Menn, of Design Construction Concepts Ltd.,Northbrook.

Here’s a rundown of some of the “ins,” the trends taking hold, and the “outs,” those ideas whose days are numbered.

Click here to read the rundown.

Home buyers building smaller homes

From the Washington Post on Saturday, January 24, 2009:

Frugality is finally showing up in new home developments.

Although the number of new single-family houses sold this year will probably be down about 68 percent from the peak of almost 1.3 million sold in 2005, there will still be about 420,000 households buying new homes this year, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

Click here to read the whole article.

EPA's WaterSense program — information for homeowners

From, retrieved on Thursday, January 22, 2009:

WaterSense, a partnership program sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, makes it easy for Americans to save water and protect the environment. Look for the WaterSense label to choose quality, water-efficient products. Many products are available, and don’t require a change in your lifestyle. Explore the links below to learn about WaterSense labeled products, saving water, and how businesses and organizations can partner with WaterSense.

Click here to see the website and get tips for buying water efficient products, using less water and other information.

Solar panel manufacturers get hit by recession

From the New York Times on Wednesday, January 14, 2009:

“From the manufacturers’ standpoint, it’s pretty serious,” said Bill Stewart, president of SolarCraft, a California installer, in a conversation with Green Inc. Until last summer there were still shortages of solar modules (which in turn were due to shortages of the polysilicon material they are made from), so installers like SolarCraft sometimes had to badger manufacturers to make sure they would get enough panels.

Now, said Mr. Stewart, the situation is reversed, and manufacturers are calling installers to say, “‘Hey, do you need any product this month? Can I sell you a bit more?’”

Click here to read the whole article.

Residential hot water heaters now can be Energy Star

From the US Department of Energy, published on December 31, 2008 and retrieved on Wednesday, January 7, 2009:

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today announced the availability of ENERGY STAR® residential water heaters. With today’s announcement, the ENERGY STAR® program now addresses every major residential appliance found in most American homes. Introduction of this product provides significant potential savings to consumers. Water heating represents up to 15.5 percent of national residential energy consumption, the second largest end use of energy in homes, following heating and cooling. Using one of five specified water heating technologies, ENERGY STAR® qualified water heaters can reduce water heating bills from 7.5 percent to as much as 55 percent.

Click here to read the whole release.

Click here for a link to the Energy Star website.

More homeowners weatherizing homes to save on energy

From the New York Times on Monday, December 29, 2008:

Call it CSI: Thermal Police — energy experts armed with mostly low-tech tools but strong sleuthing skills, finding flaws that let the air inside a house go through a full exchange with the outdoors twice an hour, instead of once every two or three hours.

Correct those flaws, and heating and cooling costs are typically cut by 20 percent to 30 percent, a saving of more than $1,000 annually in some households. In addition, carbon dioxide emissions and the strain on the national electric and gas systems are reduced.

About 140,000 houses will be weatherized with public help this year, a total that President-elect Barack Obama has promised to raise to one million, to reduce energy consumption and cut energy costs for households and taxpayers, who often absorb those costs for the poor. This would represent a historic shift in emphasis for the federal and state governments, reducing poor people’s energy bills instead of helping to pay them.

Click here to read the whole story.

"Passive homes" heat without a furnace

From the New York Times on Friday, December 26, 2008:

In Berthold Kaufmann’s home, there is, to be fair, one radiator for emergency backup in the living room — but it is not in use. Even on the coldest nights in central Germany, Mr. Kaufmann’s new “passive house” and others of this design get all the heat and hot water they need from the amount of energy that would be needed to run a hair dryer.

“You don’t think about temperature — the house just adjusts,” said Mr. Kaufmann, watching his 2-year-old daughter, dressed in a T-shirt, tuck into her sausage in the spacious living room, whose glass doors open to a patio. His new home uses about one-twentieth the heating energy of his parents’ home of roughly the same size, he said.

Architects in many countries, in attempts to meet new energy efficiency standards like the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standard in the United States, are designing homes with better insulation and high-efficiency appliances, as well as tapping into alternative sources of power, like solar panels and wind turbines.

Click here to read the whole article.

GreenBuild announces 2008 top 10 building products

From, retrieved on Tuesday, December 23, 2008:

Three of the products this year save energy, including a low-cost, solar water-heating system; a combination heating, water heating, and heat-recovery ventilation system; and a system for monitoring real-time energy (and water) use in buildings. Water saving products are represented by a line of rainwater storage tanks—the first rainwater storage equipment ever recognized in our Top-10 lists.

Fully half of the products this year are green in part because they are made from natural, rapidly renewable, or agricultural waste materials; natural materials often require significantly less energy to manufacture. A new compressed-earth masonry block is particularly noteworthy in this regard. “Most of the Top-10 products this year have multiple environmental attributes,” said Wilson.

Click here to read the whole article.

Siting your new home

Another posting from Fairbanks homeowners Rocky Reifenstuhl and Gail Koepf.

There are many things to consider once you have decided to build, starting with location. 

Assess the neighborhood, covenants and surrounding properties.  What utilities are available?  Is it on a bus route or within an easy commute to your job?  Does view potential play a role?  What about sun exposure?  Good sun exposure can have a significant beneficial impact on your heating costs using passive solar building practices.   It can also open up a variety of solar thermal and power options that would not be possible in shaded locations.

Permafrost is another issue and can be a double edged sword to the unaware.  The land may be much more reasonably priced, but often those costs are offset by the costs of building a system that is capable of withstanding the unstable soil conditions year after year.  Roadwork, septic systems, and water supplies will also need special attention in regards to permafrost soils.  Minimal site disturbance is the standard approach to keeping frozen soils stable, consequently clearing areas for roads, gardens, and sun exposure, can have disasterous effects.    Be absolutely clear on every detail of how you are going to build on frozen ground and the associated costs before you commit to buying the land.   “Figuring it out later” can be a recipe for disaster.  A soils boring and assessment may seem expensive but a professional analysis can save a lot of future heartache.

 Gail Koepf and Rocky Reifenstuhl, Fairbanks, Alaska homeowners, are building a new home using sustainable, energy efficient techniques. CCHRC staff are filming aspects of the construction for use in a future “Best Practices” video about homebuilding in the North. We will continue to post entries as their work progresses.