November 29, 2011

A Rumbling Deal

Current technology cannot help predict earthquakes they are phenomenons that occur without warning. Depending on the magnitude, an earthquake may cause significant damage as was the case in Japan which experienced a magnitude 9 earthquake. Many of us aren’t prepared and might even think a disaster of such magnitude will never happen here in the U.S. We cannot assume an earthquake will never happen, especially residents living in California where earthquakes are known to occur. One thing we can do is prepare for such an event. One smart decision home owners might consider is buying earthquake kits which vary in price and supplies.
When buying an earthquake kit take a look at the supplies it includes since some supplies tend to be more useful than others. While researching several earthquake/emergency kits, we found kits that range from $14.99 to $499.99 depending on the number of persons in a household and the supplies it includes. Keep in mind your location and the condition you might be exposed to during a disaster. For example you wouldn’t need a water proof poncho if an earthquake struck California in the middle of summer. Look for kits that supply items necessary for survival, items such as first aid kits, water, food bars, waterproof matches, candles, water purification tablets and some even offer tents to shelter 1 or 2 persons. Some of the more expensive kits also include portable fire extinguishers and a 3 way powered radio with cell phone charger. 3 way power indicates 3 different source of electricity: solar, hand crank, and direct current (battery powered) all of which can be useful depending on the environmental conditions one is exposed too during a disaster. One usually thinks Swiss army knives should be included with every earthquake/survival kits but it was surprising how many kits don’t even offer such a tool. Swiss army knives are equipped with useful tools for survival ranging from small knifes, can openers, screw drivers, to small scissors. Websites such as and offer some of the better supplies and their prices vary depending on your preference. Preparing for an earthquake is always important in order to help minimize casualties and disaster. We cannot take nature for granted especially after the damage experienced in Japan.

November 17, 2011

Radiant Floors

A radiant floor is a type of floor system that supplies heat directly from the floor to object in contact with it or in its line of site. They depend on radiant heat transfer, which is the delivery of heat directly from the hot surface to object in the room via the radiation of heat, also referred to as infra red radiation. Infra red radiations are energy waves which are given off by all warm objects and produce heat in all objects they strike. A good radiant floor design includes proper insulation of the space to be heated (to minimize energy loss) and an efficient heating system. The 3 most common types of radiant floors are radiant air floors, electric radiant floors, and hot water (hydronic) radiant floors.

Radiant air or forced air floors are those in which heated air is pumped through a network of pipes and then heat is transferred via infra red radiation. Two disadvantages of radiant air floors is that air cannot hold large amounts of heat compared to other sources like water and they are usually not cost-effective. As many of us have noticed, the price of energy has been slowly increasing and may continue to do so. Most radiant air floors require a system such as a heater that requires electricity or fuel in order to keep the air warm. If the price of electricity keeps increasing so will your bill.

Electric radiant floors are floors in which electric cable or mats are built into the flooring system. Energy in the form of heat is passed through conductivity to the cable and then it’s dissipated through infra red radiation to other objects. Again, one of the big disadvantages of electric radiant floors is the high cost of electricity. Such system would only be cost-effective if it were to be installed in an area with significant thermal mass. Material with significant thermal masses, such as a thick concrete slab, can store large amount of heat and stay warm for some time. The heat stored in the slab helps warm up the space.

The most cost effective, most common, and one of the more efficient systems are hot water or hydronic radiant floors. Hydronic radiant floors are floors in which a network of pipes is placed within a flooring system and hot water is pumped through the pipes to keep the space warm. They usually require little electricity and water can also be heated with a wide variety of energy sources including standard gas or oil boilers and solar water heaters, all which have high energy efficiency. The temperature in each room can be controlled by adjusting the flow of hot and cold water as you would do with your shower. Although hydronic systems cost more up front than standard forced air systems, they are usually more efficient and last up to several years longer.

September 30, 2011

Origins of Green Design

Green design or otherwise known as sustainable design originated from ancient Greek, Roman, and Chinese in 500 BCE. The evolution of sustainable design focuses on the position of the sun. Houses where designed in ways that the sunlight during summer was diffused light and during the winter direct light. This caused the practice of solar architecture to be popular among the citizens of each region. Current sustainable design is a form of building or design using your resources of the location as well as the materials to the environments advantage. The practice of solar architecture continued with the Romans, who similarly had deforested much of their native Italian Peninsula by the first century BCE. The Roman heliocaminus, literally solar furnace, functioned with the same aspects of the earlier Greek houses. The numerous public baths were oriented to the south. Roman architects added glass to windows to allow for the passage of light and to conserve interior heat as it could not escape. The Romans also used greenhouses to grow crops all year long and to cultivate the exotic plants coming from the far corners of the Empire. The green houses supplied the kitchen of the emperor and everyone in the town during the year.

The ancient architects have left more than just buildings. After the epic industrial revolution era buildings were design to ornate the streets of the world. Ever since than much of the green house affects has cause the 21th century population to rethink the idea of building and retrieve to the roots and ideology of architecture from ancient Roman, Greek, and Chinese. For example the state of California has implemented to their most current building codes to in force sustainable design. The influence that ancient architects left are use to benefit the environment and the population. Today, energy efficiency, appropriate technology, land restoration, and ecologically sustainable energy and waste systems are recognized considerations or options to construction, architecture and design. Currently in the United States the LEED building rating system rates the structures on their environmental sustainability.

A Bright Idea!

Light bulbs can come in a variety of types, shapes, and sizes depending on the usage or preference. Four of the most common types are: incandescent, fluorescent or compact fluorescent, metal halides, and light emitting diodes (LED’s). Incandescent light bulbs tend to have low initial cost, can come in small sizes and in a variety of shapes, can be connected to simple circuits, but they tend to have low service life and low energy efficiency, which results in excessive heat outputs. Fluorescent bulbs have high energy efficiency, low heat output, low operating cost, long service life, but they do require ballast in order to provide a constant current and they tend to be temperature sensitive. Metal halides are also highly efficient, have long service life, low operating cost, but they also require ballast. LED’s have a long lamp life, when operating they are basically maintenance free, but they do have a high initial cost. So what does this have to do with sustainability?

According to the U.S green building council, 39% of all carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S come from buildings. The goal here is to educate people about sustainable lighting systems. Sustainable lighting systems are lighting systems which meet the need of the visual environment, minimize light pollution (sky glow or wasted light), maximize daylight, reduce energy consumption and at the same time reduce the environmental impact in the environment in which it will be used. This can be achieved by considering several factors such as collaborating with other disciplines to further green building practices, purchasing environmentally sound products and products manufactured with environmentally sound manufacturing processes, and by ensuring the systems durability and maintainability. In order to reduce energy consumption in a building, designers can maximize the use of daylight by incorporating passive light systems in which the main source of lighting inside a house is daylight. New technologies, such as switch systems, motion detectors, and energy efficient light bulbs and fixtures, and new energy code requirements are also helping to reduce energy consumption. LED’s are probably the most economical lighting systems in the long run because they often use 20% to 25% percent less energy to create the same amount of light than older lighting systems. Some LED models are even warrant for 50,000 hours and owners tend to save expenses associated with energy cost, replacement of old bulbs, maintenance fees and they help reduce the amount of waste in our landfills. So next time you are thinking about renovating your lighting system or are simply replacing an old light bulb, keep in mind that making the right decision can save you money and help reduce environmental pollution.

September 14, 2011

Pests In or Outside Your Home? Read on!

If you’re a homeowner dealing with pest control problems and you just can’t seem to find an inexpensive but at the same time effective way to get rid of your problem, you might consider using Borate/Borax/ or Boric Acid Powders as they are often referred. A Borate is simply a material made from or that contains a form of Boron, a natural element mined from the earth. Borate insecticide formulas can come in bait formulas containing feed attractants, dry powders, liquid forms, or as injection gels for treating wood. As an insecticide, Borates act as stomach poisons for ants, cockroaches, silverfish and termites, and as abrasive to the insect’s exoskeleton. Depending on the application and the formula used, something that depends on the manufacturer of choice, Borates can terminate pest in several ways. For example, powders stick to insect’s bodies and when they groom themselves they then ingest the poison, which causes death 3 to 10 days later due to starvation and dehydration. Keep in mind that it is important to select the correct borate pesticide for the intended pests or area to be treated.

What makes Borates a better choice for pest control than other conventional methods such as aerosols? The EPA considers Borates as a moderate toxic due to acute effects including oral and dermal toxicity, and eye and skin irritation. It has classified Borates as a “group E” carcinogen, indicating that it shows “evidence of noncarcinogenicity” for humans. On the other hand some aerosols are highly toxic and can contain several carcinogens, substance that tends to produce cancer. The EPA also conducted an assessment of a boric acid pilot pest control program conducted at the U.S Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland and found that boric acid was both more economical and more effective than monthly spray treatments. Another option for homeowners might be to call a professional that specializes in pest control. A drawback of hiring a pest control expert is that service fees tend to be expensive, something not many owners can afford. One of the disadvantages of Borates is its non crop herbicidal use which may harm endangered or threatened plants, reason why it needs to be applied strategically. Unlike aerosols which have to be sprayed constantly, some Borates can be effective even 8 to 10 months after if they are used properly. Over all experts agree that careful application offers a safe and effective alternative without the indoor air problems associated with sprays.

August 24, 2011

Learning about Sustainable Concrete

What is concrete? For those who are not very familiar with the construction industry, concrete is a composite material made from aggregate, water, cement and other additives. Various kinds of additives can be added into concrete in order to change its properties depending on the required specifications of the project. Concrete is usually reinforced with some kind of material such as fibers, metal caging, or re-bar in order to improve its compressive and tensile strength. Concrete is considered a great construction material due to its properties such as strength, durability, and it’s resistance to deterioration and damage. It can also be a great insulator, buffer sound, and its color can be altered to control heat absorption in order to heat or cool indoor spaces. One of the great advantages of concrete in the construction industry is its low viscosity which allows it to take various ranges of shapes and finishes, depending on the client’s preference.

Concrete serves several applications in the construction industry. It can be used for architectural purposes in order to create an aesthetically pleasing finish, it is used as a concrete overlay or white topping (pavement repair), or it can be used in streets, intersections, and driveways where large carrying loads are required. Concrete can also be used to construct walls where the sound of the outdoor environment is a consideration, such as an office building or public libraries. Although many of us might not notice the many applications of concrete, it is one of the most important materials on earth and the most widely used substance next to water.

Most of us may wonder how can concrete be sustainable. For starters, even though it’s usually considered an expensive construction material, concrete is usually a better construction material than asphalt or wood. Concrete usually has a longer service life than asphalt or wood and it usually requires less maintenance. Old concrete can also be recycled into new aggregate to create new concrete mixtures without losing much strength. On the other hand, wood can also be recycled but it loses a considerable amount of strength during the process. Many of the materials that would end up in our landfills, such as blast furnace slag, recycled polystyrene, and fly ash, can be used instead to make concrete, thus reducing waste in our landfills. Other waste products such as scrap tires and kiln dust are used to fuel the manufacture of cement. Some experts believe concrete can also help reduce global warming by regulating ambient temperatures since dark colored concrete tends to absorb heat while lighter colors absorb less heat.