Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Story of Stuff

Annie Leonard has some stuff to say about "stuff."

She presents a history lesson about the life cycle of the things we buy and throw away. Did you know that after 6 months, 99% of what we buy ends up as waste?

Check out this short animated film about the American culture of consumerism and find out exactly why it's not sustainable.

After twenty minutes of watching this film, you'll feel like you've read twenty books. And the graphics are tip-top.

Click on the link after the film to find out what you can do to help usher in a more sustainable paradigm.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

BeauSoleil: PV Panel Update

Solar Decathlon Update: Every two years 20 university teams are chosen, based on proposals, to design an all-solar home and assemble it on the National Mall in Washington DC for public viewing and judging. Check back each Wednesday as the NAV Blog reports on the process of the design and construction of BeauSoleil, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette's entry. For more info about the project, visit their website at And check out short film about the project here:

Report from the field: Last time I wrote we had just finished an 8’ by 13’ mockup of the roof. Last week we built a rack out of unistrut and installed the PV panels on the mockup. It went so smoothly it’s as if unistrut was made to be a PV rack system. We hope to begin testing the PV’s early next week at the latest. It always feels good to step away from the computer and build something. I can’t wait to see the system up and running.

We are testing two types of inverters: macro and micro. We are most excited about the micro inverters because they are new technology. Each PV has its own micro inverter that converts the DC power to AC right there at the panel. This is supposed to be more efficient and safer due to the elimination of long high voltage DC runs. Using the micro inverters would also free up some space in our 800 square foot house.

Our hot water mockup literally had a few kinks to iron out but we got it to work and we are confident the actual system will work as well. A mechanical engineering student will be helping us with the final design, as he is better with thermodynamics and fluid dynamics than the rest of us.

M and E Consulting, a local engineering firm, will be donating our dehumidifier, which we are thrilled about. Because the BeauSoleil Louisiana Solar Home is essentially a large ice chest we will need a dehumidifier to introduce outside air as well as remove humidity from the respiration of the occupants, washing dishes, etc. We are using a 2 ton mini-split ductless HVAC system for conditioning the air though we think it will not need to run very much due to the high R-values of our SIPS walls and roof and the fact that the system is oversized.

Plumbing and electrical are coming along and I am learning a lot. The next step is to identify a local company who can fabricate our underfloor storage tanks.

As the due date for our construction documents approaches we are all focusing on getting them done in time. They are just under 50% complete and we hope to be at 65% by the end of the week. In fact, I better get back to it. On behalf of TEAM BeauSoleil have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Scott Chappuis
TEAM BeauSoleil

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Have a Sustainable Christmas

This week's newspaper column.

For your piano-side Yule tide singing pleasure – a sustainable Christmas Carol sung to the tune of Deck the Halls.

Deck the Walls with stuff from China,
Fa-La-La-La-La, La-La La-La.
Cough up dough and cut the whinin’.
Fa-La-La-La-La, La-La La-La.
Don we now name-brand apparel,
Fa-La-La, La-La-La, La La La.
What to buy for old Aunt Carol?
Fa-La-La-La-La, La-La La-La.

See the blazing mall before us,
Fa-La-La-La-La, La-La La-La.
Stand in line and join the chorus,
Fa-La-La-La-La, La-La La-La.
Fight the traffic and the weather,
Fa-La-La, La-La-La, La La La.
Maxing cards out altogether,
Fa-La-La-La-La, La-La La-La.

Fast away the paycheck passes,
Fa-La-La-La-La, La-La La-La.
iPods for the lads and lasses,
Fa-La-La-La-La, La-La La-La.
All stressed out for Christmas season,
Fa-La-La, La-La-La, La La La.
Can’t remember quite the reason,
Fa-La-La-La-La, La-La La-La.

In the run-up to Christmas, shopping can be stressful, especially in a sprawled-out world where disconnected strip malls are only accessible by traffic-jammed roads, and angry anxious shoppers over-crowd big box stores. Yet the expectations are clear; we all enjoy exchanging gifts and watching children light up when they rip into their Christmas morning treasure.

Maybe having a greener Christmas can take some of the stress out of it all.

First, keep in mind that you do not have to buy presents for everyone, even if you intend to give something to everyone.

Make something. A hand-drawn card, a crocheted scarf, a handsome birdhouse assembled from recycled lumber – the possibilities are endless.

You may say “I’m not artistic. I can’t make anything.” No Worries.

Do something. Enhance the experience of gift-giving by participating in the gift itself. Take a friend to the museum, rake the leaves in your grandparent’s yard, give your wife a gift certificate for foot rubs – be creative and you may see your gift flower into something even more sustainable.

Now I am not suggesting that people should stop buying Christmas presents altogether. Beyond the macro-economics of it all, it is a wonderful and heart-felt experience to give or receive a shiny new fill-in-the-blank.

But there is a greener way to shop.

Be selective. Look for quality over quantity. Buy something well-crafted, not some trinket that you know, deep down, will wind up in a landfill a few months on. Buy something built to last.

Buy Local. Use your purchasing power to support artisans, farmers, and businesses near you. Look around; the perfect present could be right around the corner - a gift certificate to a favorite restaurant or store in your neighborhood, a painting from a local artist, a basket of seasonal veggies from the farmer’s market. Again, be creative, keep an eye out for opportunities, and you can help sustain your local environment.

So be a little greener, and not quite so red this holiday season. And have a very sustainable Christmas.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Shot By A Rival Architect

I'm writing to dispel swirling rumors about my early demise. No, I have not been shot by a rival architect.

But here's someone who was: Mr. Glasses.

Recently I came across some of Mitch Magee's short films about an idealistic modern architect trying to make it in a post-modern world. Mr. Glasses, a character not so loosely based on the iconic Philip Johnson, references the ethic of pre-WWII utopian optimism.

Schools are "machines - machines for learning." And the way to a young woman's heart is by declaring to her that "my love for you is more rigorous than modern architecture."

Even a cameo by Philip Johnson's lipstic building. Rich.

These comedy shorts are a blast.

And if you want to experience an hour of the real Philip Johnson, check out this Charlie Rose interview:

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Great Green Guns at the Energy and Commerce Committee

On a vote of 137-122, Rep. Henry Waxman was elected by his colleagues in the US House of Representative to head the Energy and Commerce committee.

The significance? Waxman is a staunch environmentalist, and an aggressive one at that. With the climate change issue high on Obama's list of priorities, Waxman will be a breath of fresh air - literally.

The rap on the former chairman, John Dingle(D-Michigan), is that he was much too close to the auto industry too often throwing cold water on the idea of raising gas mileage standards.

Full steam ahead. (Or maybe I should say "full solar energy ahead").

From the AP:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

BeauSoleil: Making the Cut

PVS/Inverters installed on test roof

Solar Decathlon Update: Every two years 20 university teams are chosen, based on proposals, to design an all-solar home and assemble it on the National Mall in Washington DC for public viewing and judging. Check back each Wednesday as the NAV Blog reports on the process of the design and construction of BeauSoleil, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette's entry. For more info about the project, visit their website at And check out short film about the project here:


The time is growing near to begin fabrication of the shell of the BeauSoleil Louisiana Solar Home. The team is currently finalizing details in preparation of beginning programming of the CNC machine at LASBH (Louisiana System Built Homes). The cutting of panels is set to begin around the first of December. This is a serious matter because once the panels are cut there is no going back. The pressure is on but Team BeauSoleil is up to the challenge!!!

The process of SIPS construction begins with laying out the walls and the roof of the house in elevation looking from the inside. These elevations are cut into sections in a way that they will be most efficient. Expansion is taken into account the pieces are numbered and laid out in the proper orientation as per the loading of the panels onto 8’ x 24’ pieces. These sections are laid out on the 8’ x 24’ panels like a puzzle to minimize waste. These panels are plotted using CAD software. Once they are plotted they are ready to be converted into a format that can be recognized by the CNC machine. This software allows us to program the depth of the cuts as well as the order of the cuts. When this is complete the program is entered into the machine and the cutting can begin.

The cutting of the panels should only take a few days; meanwhile the floor structure and subfloor will be being assembled. Upon completion of this step the walls will begin being erected onto the base of the house this assembly should only take a couple of weeks and the shell should be at the BeauSoleil World Headquarters around the first of the year. Finally!!

The hard work of the Team is paying off and the fruits of our labor will soon be visible. Stay tuned for more details

Jeremy Credeur

Construction Manager

Team BeauSoleil

Monday, November 17, 2008

Neil Young's American Dream

Rock and roll legend Neil Young has a few things to say about the future of America's auto industry.

In a recent column on the Huffington Post blog entitled How To Save A Major Automobile Company, Young volunteers:

We need visionary people now with business sense to create automobiles that do not contribute to global warming.

It is time to change and our problems can facilitate our solutions. We can no longer afford to continue down Detroit's old road. The people have spoken. They do not want gas guzzlers (although they still like big cars and trucks). It is possible to build large long-range vehicles that are very efficient. People will buy those vehicles because they represent real change and a solution that we can live with.

About a possible bailout, he goes on to say:

The government must take advantage of the powerful position that exists today. The Big 3 are looking for a bailout. They should only get it if they agree to stop building autos that contribute to global warming now.

Follow the link for the full article.

But Neil Young is not just singing a song about the next generation of automobile. He's taking personal initiative to solve the problem of fossil fuel dependency by retrofitting his '59 Lincoln Continental as an electric hybrid. He calls it the LincVolt.

Young, along with his team of mechanics, is vying for the ten million dollar X Prize for developing the first commercially viable car that gets more than 100 miles per gallon of gas.

A link to a recent New York Times story about the project:

And for some deep inside information, check out the official website for LincVolt updates.