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Don Dieckmann

Apr 29, 2015


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I was actually trying to post this proposal in "Buildings", but somehow it got misdirected. Still, the location is appropriate anyway. To CoLab: Your site is somewhat confusing, and it took me several tries to figure out how it works. Still wish I could have generated it off-site, and used copy/paste to beat the 30-minute time-out. I have a lot more details to publish, but not enough room here. Your support would be appreciated.

Dan Whittet

Feb 2, 2016


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This is an interesting area and one I would like to see well supported. I do think it would be more visible and a good focus area in buildings, let me see if I can help you get it set up there if you would like that.

I agree that the site can be confusing, and sometimes browser sensitive, but things are getting done and that's what matters I suppose. Thanks for your ideas.

Don Dieckmann

Feb 3, 2016


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Thank you, Scrapsparcs. Since I haven't received anything from CoLab about my proposal after Citizens Climate Lobby was awarded the grand prize in September, I had no idea it still existed until last week. Now I see that mine is the only one in this category - is this a new contest or what? I am currently updating my proposal for submission to Indiegogo for crowd funding, and will do the same here. Your comments and suggestions are very welcome.

BTW, not knowing that I was competing with myself for the prize, I also voted for the CCL proposal, since I am a co-creator of our local group, as well as that of Climate Reality, Sierra Club, and Move To Amend.

John O'renick

Feb 9, 2016


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30-minute time-outs suck.

Passiv Haus is the building code standard in Germany, and is rapidly becoming so across Europe. I took some design classes a few years ago, and the building officials who taught a couple of them said they were bringing builders along--and expected to have them all building Passive Houses 20 years from now. That is ridiculous--the planet doesn't have another 20 years for us to get our act together. We need to give builders two years, and provide the training they'll need, and make it law. We don’t need yet another demonstration house, or more research, except into how best to build passive with local, low-tech, low-energy materials. We already know how to do this. We need to deploy it.

That's not a free-market solution, but free-market capitalism is what got us into this mess in the first place. It's time to get over making a god of the free market--it will happily see us all dead, as long as no one and nothing gets in the way of Exxon-Mobil and the Koch brothers and T. Boone Pickens “rights” to turn their billions into trillions sucking the planet dry. What's more important, protecting capitalist ideology that really only works for the (1/100 of) one percent, or leaving your grandchildren a survivable future? Building codes are laws designed to be upgraded at need, and we needed to upgrade ours 30 years ago.

We need to continue, and increase, not phase out, the tax credits for energy conserving upgrades to existing homes, and we need to provide other incentives and help for homeowners who can't afford the upgrades and don't need the tax credits. The built environment uses 60% of this country's energy, and still wastes half of it. We can do a lot better, and it's low-hanging fruit--we already know how. Now we need to get it done. Deploy. Now.

I disagree with your means: wood is a sustainable building material, and incorporating it into a house that's designed to last, like the half-timbered clay-straw houses of Europe, can sequester its carbon for centuries where wood loft to rot in the forest adds carbon to the atmosphere. Use it wisely and replant as soon as you log; maybe harvest trees at the best age for sequestering their carbon; don't turn any more wilderness into tree farms, or continue coming up with ridiculous forest-wasting products like disposable hand towels for home use, and intelligent forestry could be part of the solution.  If you want a less-flammable house, build the floor and walls of non-flammable earthen materials, but use lightweight, strong, carbon-sequestering wood to frame the roof. Sheet metal and sheetrock can make it all but fireproof.

Because of warmer winters, bark beetles are destroying whole forests from California through Canada—the forests you want to preserve will be gone in a few decades, anyway. That is a huge store of carbon that will rot back into the atmosphere if we let it. I really don’t like logging either, but it would be better to harvest those dead trees, and either build with them, or convert them as efficiently as possible into energy, which would at least offset some fossil fuels—and could leave a carbon remnant, char, to bury and sequester. We need to replant ASAP with beetle-resistant strains, but that will do no good if we turn half the world into desert.

One of the first effects of global warming which we are already beginning to suffer is the permadrought. We’re going to get hungry, and very thirsty, over the next few decades. Roofs that can collect potable water could help; that pretty much means sheet metal, which is high carbon but lasts 3x as long as most other roofs. Bright-white Cool-Roof-type coatings on roofs everywhere would increase Earth’s albedo, and every little bit helps. And that also is not a solution that the free market will promote.

Never heard of passive geothermal energy (unless you mean the thermosiphoning refrigerant tubes used to keep roads from icing in Europe?), you can’t heat a house just by leaving it connected to the earth, and if you could, here at 46° North Latitude it would be ~52° inside most of the time, not 60°. Proper insulation helps huge, as does air sealing with forced ventilation. In many climates you can get much of the rest of your heat from the sun. When you can’t, MASONRY HEATERS (google it!) are an elegant, common-sense, 500-year-old technology, well known across northern Europe but almost unheard of here. They are typically 87% efficient, which is as good as you can do with a natural gas furnace unless you condense the water vapor out of the exhaust, and they create almost no air pollution. The carbon came out of the atmosphere in the first place, so firewood done right can be a big part of the solution, and masonry heaters do firewood—construction and forestry wastes—very well.

We lost two homes to house fires when I was a kid; I'm sensitive to that. But ICFs and SIPs burn, too, and besides being non-sustainable petroleum products, they're toxic--most use polystyrene, which has a long energy payback—XPS is > 100 years, and blown with greenhouse-gas ozone-destroying CFCs--and produce extremely toxic smoke when they burn. There are straw SIPs made in Texas; if they work well, as long as they were locally produced and not trucked across the country, that's a far better alternative. So is hempcrete, clay-straw, or masonry (for walls) and none of those burn. Using pumice to insulate under slabs should be dirt cheap—pumice is dirt—but getting the railroads to haul it--in a free-market economy--is a problem, and hauling dirt very far in fossil-fueled-trucks is counterproductive. The inventor of Geo Blue II Cement claims 3-4x the strength of Portland Cement (OPC), 1/10 the carbon to produce, lower cost--and an impossibly high R-value. If that’s for real, an insulating concrete would be huge.

For most residential construction, steel rebar is overkill, and will eventually rust and break apart the concrete it is meant to strengthen-- and steel is a filthy, high-carbon industry. Used properly, bamboo works quite well, might outlast steel in some applications, and it sequesters carbon.

Where you need steel rebar, use steel that won’t rust, or fiberglass—or there is a new rebar made of basalt fiber (!) and something like epoxy? High carbon footprint, but less than steel? and it might last forever. Infrastructure that self-destructs—planned obsolescence—wastes energy, carbon, materials, and money. It’s good for construction companies, bad for everyone else.

SIPs cost more but cut construction time. I’d rather spend less on lower-tech materials, and create jobs. Hand-placed no-forms ferrocement (but with vegetable reinforcing, not “ferro,”) saves lots of lumber and plywood compared to poured-in-place American concrete construction, but costs more in labor. Waste materials? Or create jobs?

There are ICFs made of shredded wood waste and cement. They don’t rot or burn, and should sequester carbon for the life of the house, but making them with OPCt is counter-productive, as is filling their cavities with OPC and steel rebar. Magnesium oxide cements work especially well with vegetable fibers. Is anyone making SIPs with them?

Clay-straw is the original SIP, can insulate well, is permeable, so no water vapor issues. Use bamboo to reinforce. Use big overhangs to keep rain and sun off the traditional lime plaster—or find a more durable material, but Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie-style wide-overhang roof works very well practically everywhere. I’ve seen an adobe house work very well in rainy Western Oregon, because it had eight foot overhangs all the way around.

You want to build a 5000 sf demonstration house? A huge part of the problem is people who think they need a 5000 sf house, often for just two people since you can’t afford one until the kids are gone and you no longer need it. Small—reasonable--houses use far less energy and materials. Think small—McMansions are selfish conspicuous consumption that the planet can’t afford.

And you’re going to, what, fly builders in from around the country to see your demo house? Short of starting a forest fire, flying is the worst thing you can do, and a road trip is almost as bad. There are already people building passive houses in the U.S. and Canada; evaluate and choose the best of their methods, produce educational materials based on their work, and use those to educate builders and homebuyers where they live.

Local, low-tech, low-energy materials could help huge. Better to produce materials locally, even under license, than to ship them across the county. Bought in bulk and not hand-sorted, could local flagstone replace OPC-based permeable pavements? Far lower carbon footprint.

Portland cement is part of the problem; its mfr contributes five percent to world-wide carbon emissions. There are low-carbon alternatives new and old, some of which are stronger and last far longer. We need to adopt and use them, now, and again the free market will not take us there.

And by definition hydronic floor heat is not passive—takes pumps and energy and water tanks for storage and costs lots. Just let the sun heat the slab, and you don’t need all of the fancy equipment, or fossil energy; costs far less to install, no maintenance costs, and you never have to jackhammer up the floor for a leaky connection. Keep it simple, keep it affordable, use low-tech, local materials, and design the structure so it keeps itself warm—and begin designing our cities and subdivisions for maximum solar access. “Only primitives and barbarians lack knowledge of houses turned to face the winter sun.” Which are we?

Chad Knutsen

May 1, 2016


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Here is one more way to be carbon negative.



Vishal Bhavsar

May 5, 2016


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The concept proposed of building demo-project is really cool. That will give opportunity for home owners to learn about the concepts to make their spaces more sustainable and energy efficient. It will also great learning place for budding architects, contractors because in todays world "Seeing" something enables people to pick up much faster.


There are several business led initiatives like WBCSD Energy efficient lab, Buildings for All, Zero carbon homes etc. You can understand their workplan and get it touch because they may want to include similar concept in their overall plan.


All the Best!



Julie Barry

May 20, 2016


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I think you have a good idea, but it might need to be fleshed out a little more. There was a recent study by a couple of MIT grads on how little it may take to retrofit existing buildings to reduce GHG emissions. Here's a link 

Good luck!