Monday, October 09, 2017

Introducing our Ford C-Max Energi!

Our plug-in hybrid Ford C Max Energi!  We're loving it so far.  I had it almost a week before it needed a charge!

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Solar Home Tour Success!

Tour photos from earlier today.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Solar Home Tour!

Greetings Readers,
We just wanted to announce that our home will once again be featured on the American Solar Energy Society's National Solar Tour - also sponsored by Green Energy Ohio.  Our home will be open for tours from 10 am to 4 pm on Saturday, September 30, 2017.

Come join us to learn about our nearly net zero passive solar design, solar electricity, solar hot water heating, and many other green building features in our Energy Star 5+ rated home.

You can learn more about the tour here: 

Feel free to contact me with any questions at

Friday, June 16, 2017

Eco RV-ing: Can Recreational Vehicles Be Green?

According to the 2017 North American Camping Report conducted by Kampgrounds of America (KOA), 75 million American households are active campers, and there is an increased percentage of American campers who are younger and more diverse.  An older 2011 University of Michigan study identified 8.9 million American households as Recreational Vehicle owners, with the largest growing age group of RV owners being the 35 to 54 age group who now own more RVs than any other age group.  The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) estimates that 8% to 9% of American households own an RV – with around 9 million RVs on the road in 2016 (and steadily growing). 
With the increase in the percentage of younger campers, an additional surging trend that can currently be seen in the RV industry is the amount of owners and consumers who are searching for, and requesting information on “green RVs.”  Most people assume that given the large, boxy nature of these homes on wheels, that they certainly can’t be green or environmentally sensitive.  However, for the past several years, RV shoppers have seen the emergence of a program called Certified Green by TRA Certification, Inc.  If you’ve been on an RV lot lately, you’ve likely seen the Certified Green stickers or signage on some models.  Certified Green is a third party inspection program that evaluates RVs in terms of Resource Efficiency, Water Efficiency, Energy Efficiency, and Indoor Air Quality. 

I recently contacted Mandy Leazenby, a representative from TRA Certifications to discuss exactly what they do and what their Certified Green label means.

KN: How old is TRA Certification, Inc (TRA)?  When was it founded or when did they start doing certifications?
ML: TRA Certification was founded in 1992.  We are 15 years old.
KN:  What about the parent company, T.R. Arnold & Associates?  How old are they and what do they do?
ML: Our parent company was founded in 1968.  They are 49 years old.   They have been in the third party certification and inspection business focused on building code compliance, building materials, energy efficiency, electrical, plumbing, mechanical, and fire safety.  They have a Building Code Regulatory focus.
KN: What served as the catalyst for the creation of Certified Green?  Was there a certain group or market segment that pushed for eco-conscious RVs or was it conceived by one particular person? (Essentially, what’s the history of the TRA?)
ML: This focus is natural for all of the folks here at TRA.  We have been evaluating the code compliance of insulation and energy requirements for many years.  It is a natural evolution for us.  As the Building Codes became more demanding for efficiency, our interests have grown and we’ve become focused in that direction.
KN: Does TRA receive feedback mostly from consumers or manufacturers or another stakeholder?  In what ways?  How is that feedback incorporated into what TRA does?
ML: Today, the major feedback comes from the RV manufacturers and consumers.  We get a lot of calls from RV “Users” about their interest in the Green Ratings their units have.  Also, consumers use our rating to make their decisions regarding which RVs to purchase.  We also receive a lot of consumer calls regarding indoor air quality.  That seems to be the most important “green” quality of an RV.
KN:  Are there certain areas of the country where the demand for TRA Certified RVs is higher?  If so, where?
ML: No, the demand is universal.  We are getting a lot of feedback from younger buyers who are interested in the environment.  Older buyers are more interested in the indoor air quality of their units.  In fact, most consumer calls we receive are in regards to indoor air quality.  This is an opportunity for us and for the industry to pay even more attention to what goes into an RV.
KN:  TRA certification guidelines look familiar – similar to LEED Guidelines.  Is TRA affiliated in any way with the US GBC / LEED or did the founders of TRA use LEED as inspiration for the TRA guidelines?
ML:  Certainly the USGBC work and the LEED efforts have been a good guide.  We are involved with various venues such as the RESNET Programs for energy ratings of new homes.  Some of this effort also involves modular homes and manufactured (mobile) homes.
KN:  What’s in the future for TRA?  What can we expect in the RV industry in terms of eco-friendly coaches?
ML:  Our program naturally evolves as does the industry.  We plan on introducing an indoor air quality program that is separate from the “green” program but can be complimentary.  We have the equipment to test sample units at either the manufacturer or the dealer location
KN:  Are more manufacturers looking to get TRA Certification?
ML:  Absolutely!!  They are knocking our door down !!  Really, we think there is a growing demand once the marketing people take notice.  We are certifying new companies on a regular basis.  We are also adding new models for some manufacturers who are already under our program.  More and more new RV manufacturers, especially ones that produce “tiny houses” and lightweight towables are interested in how they perform in our green program.
KN:  Is there any plan for TRA Certification to address fuel economy of motorhome RVs? What about wind-tunnel testing for aerodynamic information/ratings – have they considered that type of testing?
ML:  These issues have been considered but they are very complex and variable from one model or configuration to another.  Analysis is very detailed and costly.

While my conversation with Mandy was interesting, I really wanted to find some insight about how eco-friendly RVs can be, from people who had first hand information.  So once again, I sought out the Wynns.  Nikki and Jason Wynn, the RVing and sailing couple of internet and video-blogging fame (found here at Gone With the Wynns) did a piece titled “Can an RV Be Green or Eco-Friendly” In that article, they made several key points:
·        Especially for people who are living in an RV full time – it’s very eco-friendly.  Consider the much smaller square footage for heating and cooling compared to a full size apartment or home!  Resource consumption will be much less.
·        If you tow an eco-friendly car and drive it when your RV is parked, you can offset the lower fuel economy you get in the RV when traveling between destinations.
·        Boondocking or dry-camping allows you to conserve even more resources.  Parking in shady sites that don’t require you to run the AC can go a long way in reducing resource consumption.
The article also gives several tips on how to make an existing RV more eco-friendly, so be sure to check it out!  They also have a complete Green RV series of articles and videos on various eco-RV-ing topics – including installing a composting toilet in an RV.  Imagine no more black tank dumping!
The website also offers a few ideas about why RV vacations are greener than other types of vacations.  Consider the fuel and resource consumption of air travel and staying in hotels in comparison to an RV trip.  In addition, advancements in manufacturing mean that RVs are smaller, lighter, tighter, more aerodynamic, and use green materials such as textiles and other interior components that contribute to improved indoor air quality.  New diesel chassis also increase fuel economy so much so, that some smaller motorhomes attain fuel economy that almost reaches that of typical SUVs.  Additional tips for “going green” on your next RV trip can also be found on the website.
The bottom line is that many RV owners and consumers are seeking out ways to be more eco-conscious in their RVing lifestyle – whether it’s full-time living or just for occasional recreation.  Manufacturers are starting to come around, and are even offering RVs with solar panels or that are prepped for solar.  Others have tankless or on-demand water heaters, and are increasing the energy efficiency of the outer walls through increased insulation and dual pane windows.  Manufacturers are now beginning to see the value in offering eco-friendly RVs and partaking in third party green certification programs to help achieve that goal.  We need more RV designers and builders to continue to offer these options and even develop new green RV features for buyers who demand them.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Green Towers to Address Air Pollution in China

I’m sure most people can recall the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China, but beyond Michael Phelps’ historic performance in the aquatic center, there is another significant thing I remember about those games.  I remember in the months and weeks leading up to the games, there was international concern over the air quality in and around Beijing.  The evening news featured videos showing smog and haze engulfing the major Chinese cities – especially Beijing – and showed people wearing masks over their mouths and noses as they walked their daily commute.  With China’s huge population, it is a country that has long been concerned with issues of sustainability, conservation, energy efficiency, and pollution.  As early as the mid-1990’s the Chinese government was working with architects and urban planners to develop a strategy for sustainable growth.  Despite previous failed projects (like this one), leaders in China continue to seek out the world’s brightest design-minds and sustainability experts to address the country’s growth, conservation, and sustainability issues.
Malmö, Sweden and Turning Torso building.  Photo – Krista Nutter 2010
A decade after the first prominent eco-village plans for China’s rural countryside, international architects are looking back into cities to implement the next “eco-revolution.”  Sustainable urban revitalization projects from the United States (Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati), Brazil, Sweden, and China have been featured in recent news. (Zajechowski, 2016)  In fact, I’ve experienced the urban revitalization in coastal Sweden’s city of Malmö firsthand – walking through parks of native plants and visiting buildings with green roofs and living walls.  I also visited an eco-village neighborhood there in the shadow of Santiago Calatrava’s Turning Torso high-rise residential building.  Many sustainability experts feel that to fully address global sustainability issues, we cannot ignore urban cities.

Figure 1

It appears that China’s next attempt at sustainable greatness has them pairing up with Italian architect and urban planner, Stefano Boeri.  Boeri is the creator of the “vertical forest” concept of urban eco-design, first unveiled in Milan, Italy (Frearson 2014) and now underway in Nanjing, China (Mairs 2017).  Boeri’s vertical forest designs mix high-density, multi-unit residential or mixed-use designs with bio-habitat installations featuring trees, shrubs, and plants on the terraces and façades of the buildings.  The plantings will then remove dust, particulates, and carbon dioxide from the air while providing oxygen to “de-pollute” the cities.  Visually, the towers provide interesting vertical green-space to the cityscape.  The affect is not unlike the many urban living walls that can be found in many cities across the United States, like this one in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Boeri’s vertical forests increase biodiversity in urban areas – drawing a variety of birds, bees, butterflies, and other pollinators to the area.  This is good news for urban gardeners.  The strategy also creates shaded, cooler and acoustically quieter interior spaces.  The designs were created with the help of a botanist and horticultural experts to assure that the correct selection of trees and plants were made for each different façade of the building.  Boeri’s Milan vertical forest project has received numerous awards, despite skeptics of the overall sustainability of the project due to increased structural requirements.  (A true assessment of the project’s success from the standpoint of a resident post-occupancy evaluation would be valuable; however one could not be located.) 

In terms of indoor air quality, I can’t help but think back to a product I ran into a few years ago.  Back in 2014, I wrote an article on a new product in development – a hardwood flooring product that purified the air.  Lauzon Pure Genius flooring is still available overseas, but I’ve yet to be able to find it here in the U.S.  It seems to be the perfect companion to the vertical forest and living wall projects happening across the world!