Archive for April 2013
We started the Green Builders Journal as a way to share the perspective of a builder on what it means to us to be Green. As I’ve said a 1000 times in this Blog, Green is one of those words that gets used a billion times a day, but doesn’t have one standard definition. Everyone that uses it has their own definition. The Blog is our way of giving the public our definition.
I’m also using it to share some of the interesting stories we’ve encountered on our journey towards being a “cutting edge” Green builder. I’ve teased my two favorite stories a bunch of times by referring to it as the insanity of government. You be the judge.
The first has to do with the power company. Now I know that technically the power company isn’t the government, but for those of us that have to work with them I can assure you there’s no difference. We were first told that the all-electric home was impossible. It couldn’t be done. They told us that the amount of electricity that each home would require would make the electric bills so high no one would buy the home. They would also need to boost the amount of power that each neighborhood would need in order to supply that much power to the all-electric homes. Obviously boosting the power costs money. We had to cover the costs of this extra amount of power capacity. Our decision to add solar power actually RAISED the electric infrastructure costs of each project. Not by much but every dollar matters when you’re building homes. We explained to them that we were putting enough solar power on the roof so that the required amount of power from the “grid” would drastically go DOWN. We made the argument that the amount of power to the neighborhood should actually be reduced since as much as 30% of the energy needed for the homes would be supplied by the sun. We believed the infrastructure costs should go DOWN instead of up. Why would they put MORE power to the project when each home has its own power supply on the roof. It makes no sense.
They didn’t buy the argument.
By the way, when the power company plans on how much power each project needs it does so by calculating how much power each home needs if every home were at maximum capacity. In other words if every home had every light, plug, appliance, air conditioner, and anything else that needs power on all at once in EVERY home at the SAME time in the ENTIRE neighborhood, it wouldn’t be a problem. There’s enough capacity to handle that. Of course, the odds of that ever happening are slim to none. It’s not reality. Reality is that every project system probably never reaches 75-80% of maximum. But I understand why they do it. What I don’t understand is why it makes any sense to INCREASE the size of something that is NEVER near its capacity especially when they know that ANOTHER power source is reducing the power need even further. If car makers figured out a way to put a solar panel on the roof of the car to help power it, our power companies would recommend they put a bigger engine in the car. A BIGGER engine? Why should the consumer pay for a bigger engine when we’re installing a system that could actually justify a SMALLER engine? Sorry folks but in my world that’s the definition of insanity.
So they didn’t buy our argument for a “smaller” engine.
But we got our all-electric home and people are living in them and saving hundreds of dollars per year in monthly electric bills plus they can sleep well at night knowing there’s a much bigger “engine” than necessary sitting idly by waiting for a moment that will never happen. Mother Earth, like the rest of us, will never understand the logic behind ignoring the fact we put a power source on every home and sizing the neighborhood like we didn’t, but she sure is happy knowing that each homeowner is saving some of her precious natural resources every day when the sun comes out.
Next time I’ll tell you my second “insanity” story.
I guess I always find it interesting how human nature operates. I remember a joke I heard Jerry Seinfeld tell where he said “isn’t it interesting that humans would choose to engage in activities that require them to invent the helmet”? Think about that. Instead of completely avoiding any type of activity that could possibly crack our skull like an egg, we humans have instead opted for inventing a “skull protector” and persisting in those same activities. My point is that our species has an astonishing ability to ignore the logical conclusion or solution to an issue and instead use our amazingly ingenious creative skills to convince ourselves there isn’t anything we can’t overcome. Including Mother nature.
Why should there even be a need for a Green movement? Follow me here.
Wouldn’t the sound logic of arriving at a conclusion that having seven billion, and in the foreseeable future TEN billion, people use energy supplied by Earths natural resources must result in those resources eventually being exhausted, be enough to change our mindset ? Apparently not. Now I’m not a liberal by any stretch of the imagination but I do live in reality and I find it absurd that anyone living on Earth today still has to be convinced that there is a limit to how much of the planet’s resources we can exploit without consequences. Look at the buffalo. Our idiot ancestors arrived in this country with an insatiable desire to exploit everything they had stumbled upon and in the case of the buffalo it was millions upon millions of them happily living free and happy on our Great Plains. Living free and happy that is until we showed up and in an incredible display of wonton brutality, summarily slaughtered them to near extinction. There were so many of them when they arrived that our tiny minded ancestors couldn’t fathom the concept of killing them all. But they almost did. It took an Endangered Species Act, or something like it, to keep us from killing the buffalo into extinction.
Governmental action was the only thing that kept us from eliminating the buffalo and there’s dozens of stories just like the buffalo that fall along the same behavior mindset. I find it ironic that a Country that was founded on the principles of less government, needed that same government to keep its citizens from eliminating entire species. We needed laws with penalties to alter our behavior. We needed a helmet. Once it became clear that our personal greed and inability to think larger than ourselves would eventually eliminate a natural resource like the buffalo, we had to enact a law preventing that behavior from continuing. Apparently we couldn’t just stop killing the buffalo. We had to make the penalty of killing a buffalo more painful than the short term gain our ancestors derived from the killing because for some reason they had no ability to see that what they were doing would eventually result in the resource being gone. We had to give the people that were shooting themselves out of a cannon a helmet law because they clearly were not going to stop shooting themselves out of a cannon.
You can see where I’m going here. The Green movement is not that different.
I may be a little dramatic in comparing the Green movement to the Endangered Species Act but at its core it’s not really different. The State of California recognized years ago that our behavior towards the use of natural resources was unsustainable. The people on their own couldn’t recognize that each of their individual energy needs added up to an absurd amount of natural resource use and that that use had other planet damaging effects as well. Although the Green movement began long before laws were created, the movement itself was having almost zero impact on the behavior of people. We needed laws. It appeared that the only way anyone was going to take the Green movement serious was by force.
And it worked. Homes being built today use FAR less energy than homes built years before because builders are now FORCED to build them that way. The government should be applauded for its long term thinking. If the people won’t change their mindset AND their behavior based on that mindset, then we’ll force them to.
Which brings me back full circle to where I was before I went off on this sidetrack rant.
The government went from the encouragement of innovation to the impediment to innovation in a flash. I’ve been calling it the insanity of building Green and I promise I’ll get to it next time.