Thursday, November 29, 2012

New State-Wide Energy Code in Illinois - and Missouri Lags Behind - Again

Illinois has adopted the 2012 IECC to take effect on the first of the new year. They have organized code training for professionals (I have attended) and code officials over the last year. It effects the commercial and residential sectors. The following is an excerpt from a piece in The Midwest Energy News:

Illinois eyes efficiency gains through building code

A blower door test is a way of measuring how airtight, and therefore energy-efficient, a house is. (Photo by Brandon Stafford via Creative Commons)
Illinois is on track to become the first state in the Midwest to require new homes pass a blower door test and meet rigorous new standards for air tightness and insulation.
The requirements are among the expected changes to the state’s building code that are due to be finalized this summer and implemented early next year.
The dry and technical subject of building codes has become a cornerstone issue for some energy efficiency advocates in recent years. The Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA), for example, made building codes a priority in 2008 and played a central role in upgrading Illinois’ rules (MEEA is a member ofRE-AMP, which also funds Midwest Energy News).
Building codes are the sets of state or local rules that spell out the technical requirements for building design and construction. While they lack the flash of solar panels or electric vehicles, building codes can significantly reduce energy consumption by mandating subtle, often invisible improvements to buildings using commonly available tools and techniques.
About 40 percent of U.S. energy consumption goes toward heating, cooling, and providing power to buildings.
Under the rules being implemented in Illinois, homes will be 15 percent more energy efficient than those built under the 2009 version of the same code, which were 15 percent more efficient than those built under the 2006 version.
The Home Builders Association of Illinois, however, objects to the code changes, saying they add to the cost of construction and are updating faster than developers and code officials can keep up.

Following international standards

The codes come from an organization called the International Code Council, which publishes an updated version of its International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) every three years. A parallel energy conservation code for commercial buildings is issued every three years by an organization called ASHRAE. With each update, the rules require more energy conservation.
According to the New Buildings Institute, the 2012 IECC rules include energy efficiency improvements of up to 30 percent compared to conventional building practices.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 requires states to review and consider adopting the most current IECC and ASHRAE codes, but they aren’t required to use them. The Midwest lags the coasts in adoption. Some states have no energy codes and leave it up to local governments to decide. Others have codes that haven’t been updated since 2006 or earlier.
When MEEA started working on energy codes in 2008, four states in its territory had pre-1999 codes in place, and Illinois had no residential code at all.
“This has become a huge priority issue for the Midwest, and I would say with the adoptions we’ve done we’re really leading the nation,” said Stacey Paradis, MEEA’s deputy director.
Its biggest success story, and the focus of its current work, is Illinois. With support from Environment Illinois, the Environmental Law and Policy Center and the American Institute of Architects, it helped pass the Illinois Energy Efficient Building Act in August 2009. The law, which took effect last year, requires state administrators to adopt the latest version of the IECC code — subject to review and comment — within a year of its publication.
The process of implementing the 2012 IECC rules is in the later administrative stages, said Isaac Elnecave, MEEA’s senior policy manager for building codes. The state is in line to become the second or third state to adopt the rules after Maryland and possibly Massachusetts.
“The big focus on adoption is getting Illinois across the finish line,” Elnecave said.
The state’s legislation will keep it perpetually updating its energy code to the latest standards. In most Midwest states, legislation authorizes administrators to adopt an energy code but doesn’t specify how often it must be reviewed or updated. Nebraska requires legislative approval before newer energy codes can be adopted.

What happens now

Even though legislation isn’t typically needed to change the codes, updating them is still a political and often difficult undertaking. State homebuilder associations tend to oppose the changes, which create new rules for their members. Municipal government associations tend to oppose updates, too, because its members are the ones who enforce the codes.
“Homebuilders are not prepared for the code change,” said Bill Ward, director of government affairs for the Home Builders Association of Illinois.
The changes are coming faster than builders and code enforcers can learn them, Ward said, and they’re adding to the cost of construction. Complying with changes in the 2012 code will add $5,000 to the cost of constructing a typical 2,000 sq. ft. home, the association estimates.
Ward accused special interest groups of pushing for code changes so they can profit from educational seminars and sell products and materials required in the code. The homebuilders group is pushing for legislation that would delay implementation of the updated code.
Seth Sommer, a building code official in Rockford, Ill., said the reaction he’s heard from developers is mixed, as expected. Some are all for it. Others just want to know what it means so they can comply and move on.
“I think with education and outreach the difficulties will be a minimum,” Sommer wrote in an e-mail to Midwest Energy News. “[E]veryone generally understands that as a whole; we need to conserve energy.”
In the Midwest, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, and Nebraska have the 2009 IECC rules in place, and Ohio is in the process of implementing the same standard. Minnesota and Wisconsin have the less efficient 2006 version in place. Kansas, Missouri and the Dakotas have no statewide energy code for buildings.
Even in states with advanced energy codes, the impact will be muted if training and enforcement isn’t also sufficient. Some states used stimulus funding to offer training sessions on new energy codes, but a long-term funding source remains elusive in many states.
“There’s still this challenge of where these training materials and education opportunities come from,” Paradis said.
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity is putting on 30 multi-day trainings across the state as it prepares to implement 2012 IECC rules. MEEA is also working with a stakeholder group in Minnesota to conceive a partnership in which utilities would help fund training and enforcement of energy codes.

Residential Building Energy Code Adoption in the Midwest (Source: MEEA)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sustainability & Information

This morning I attended a breakfast meeting, as a Fellow of the SLU Center for Sustainability, at the Bannister House. It was a well-run meeting between Fellows and faculty about the potential for collaboration, research, and more. The updates by faculty of work in progress is encouraging - many will provide valuable information for our region.

At the end of the day I attended a seminar called 'The State of the Neighborhood' organized by UMSL at their Grand Center facility. Todd Swanstrom lead a panel discussion after presenting salient information/metrics about neighborhoods in St. Louis and St. Louis County.

The new facility looks terrific - here is a view of the exterior:

Washington U's Sustainability Newsletter is notable for including information about events and functions of other institutions that might ordinarily be seen as competitors. This is really gratifying to me and at the heart of triple bottom line goals for our region.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Remodeling Forecast

Back to some construction basics: The Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University published this forecast for the remodeling industry.

Here is the text:


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Finishing Dante

On June 8, 2007 I started reading Dante's Comedia with a group of 7 people. There are 100 cantos in the 3 cantiche. We will finish 99 & 100 in the next 2 weeks. Of the 7 who started 6 remain, I dropped out and we picked up another on the way. Anticipatory congratulations to my fellow pilgrims. It has been a privilege. Over this time I accumulated the following in my work space:

• 5 unique translations of the comedia
• 1 stand alone inferno
• 4 volumes of illustrations
• 7 volumes of commentary, criticism
• 12 volumes of related texts/commentaries/classics cited in or relevant to the work
• 2 latin dictionaries
• 3 italian dictionaries
• 2 dictionaries of symbols
• 1 dictionary of philosophy
• 1 etymological dictionary
• 1 oxford classical dictionary
• 1 bible
• several hundred pages of notes
• 1 cd of the comedia in the Italian
• 1 cd of an English translation of the comedia

The depth of understanding human nature expressed in the comedia is mind boggling. I would not have approached anything close to a satisfying and reasoned reading of the work without the help of my reading group partners. This was exciting and hard work. What a construction project!

Dante's 14th Century Florence was as full of the political intrigue, schismatics, corrupt clergy, criminals, autocrats, and bonhommes as our 21st Century. From Inferno through Paradiso are the personality types that populate our culture as well.  In so doing Dante has laid before us the full range of humanity for observation, contemplation and recognition.

The contrapasso is his appropriate means of addressing the causes and effects of a life lived. In many respects I consider Dante among the greatest of urban planners - a place for everyone and everyone in their place.

TS Eliot, born in St. Louis and considered by many to be the greatest poet of the 20th Century, virtually quoted passages from Dante in his The Wasteland of 1922. Eliot was interested in examining life lived below potential, so the stasis found in most of the comedia is relevant to his work.

The questions raised by these seminal works are the ones we need to ask ourselves....

Travel, Part 1

Road Trips:

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Barbara Kruger on Black Friday

Barbara Kruger, creator of this op-art (opinion piece) from the New York Times, is a renowned artist who uses words in her work and often addresses issues related to consumer culture.

                                          For Sale

Another famous piece:

Friday, November 23, 2012

Resources on the History of Global Warming

The American Institute of Physics hosts a large and detailed website/publication called The Discovery of Global Warming. The Scientific American shares a more succinct outline, part of which is copied below. Given some of the the 'superstorms' like Sandy, I wonder, as a construction guy, what will the implications be for building codes? The kinds of baseline and criteria extremes will have to shift codes to accommodate changing conditions for wind and rain the may have a drastic effect on construction costs.


Timeline: How the World Found Out about Global Warming

(Reuters) - A U.N. conference in Qatar next week is the latest attempt to combatglobal warming after mounting evidence that human activity is disrupting the climate.
Here is a timeline of the road to action on global warming:
300 BC - Theophrastus, a student of the Greek philosopher Aristotle, documents that human activity can affect climate. He observes that drainage of marshes cools an area around Thessaly and that clearing of forests near Philippi warms the climate.
1896 - Sweden's Svante Arrhenius becomes the first to quantify carbon dioxide's role in keeping the planet warm. He later concluded that the burning of coal could cause a "noticeable increase" in carbon levels over centuries.
1957-58 - U.S. scientist Charles Keeling sets up stations to measure carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere at the South Pole and at Mauna Loa, Hawaii. The measurements have shown a steady rise.
1988 - The United Nations sets up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to assess the scientific evidence.
1992 - World leaders agree the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which sets a non-binding goal of stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions by 2000 at 1990 levels - a target not met overall.
1997 - The Kyoto Protocol is agreed in Japan; developed nations agree to cut their greenhouse gas emissions on average by at least 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12. The United States stays out of the deal.
2007 - The IPCC says it is at least 90 percent certain that humans are to blame for most of the warming trend of the past 50 years. It also says signs that the planet is warming are "unequivocal".
2009 - A conference of 193 countries agrees to "take note" of a new Copenhagen Accord to fight climate change, after U.N. talks in Denmark. The accord is not legally binding and does not commit countries to agree a binding successor to the Kyoto Protocol when its first stage ends in 2012.
2011 - U.N. climate talks in Durban, South Africa, agree to negotiate a new accord by 2015 that is "applicable to all" and will come into force from 2020.
Sources: Reuters, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, "Why We Disagree about Climate Change" by Mike Hulme, founding director of the Tyndall Center.
(Reporting By Alister Doyle and David Cutler; Editing by Kevin Liffey)


The American Physical Society statement on climate change can be found here.

The American Geophysical Union position statement on climate change can be found here.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

That's Not A Billboard....

from the American Solar Energy Society

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Bike Repair Tools Where You Need Them

The image below is from showing the considerable use of bike parking at Washington University. My son is a junior there and even though he lives off campus, the bicycle is his main mode of transportation.

On Friday I was at its School of Architecture to participate in a Design Studio Review/Critique when I noticed the bike repair station shown in the image at the bottom. There is a pump, screw drivers and hex keys along w/ links to a website to detail/guide repairs. It is an interesting move to make alternative transportation safer and less of a hassle.

My previous post juxtaposes auto dumps from the past and present - maybe some things never change, but there was nothing like the bike-friendly culture that is growing in our town when I was kid. It is meaningful and nice to see.

The More Things Change...

...the more they stay the same? The top photo is by St. Louis-born Walker Evans from 1936. I took the other one a few years ago as I documented local infrastructure issues in our region.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Struggle and Education

Each side of the coin seems to have 2 sides in this piece on education from NPR. Here is part of the transcript:

In 1979, when Jim Stigler was still a graduate student at the University of Michigan, he went to Japan to research teaching methods and found himself sitting in the back row of a crowded fourth-grade math class.

"The teacher was trying to teach the class how to draw three-dimensional cubes on paper," Stigler explains, "and one kid was just totally having trouble with it. His cube looked all cockeyed, so the teacher said to him, 'Why don't you go put yours on the board?' So right there I thought, 'That's interesting! He took the one who can't do it and told him to go and put it on the board.' "

Stigler knew that in American classrooms, it was usually the best kid in the class who was invited to the board. And so he watched with interest as the Japanese student dutifully came to the board and started drawing, but still couldn't complete the cube. Every few minutes, the teacher would ask the rest of the class whether the kid had gotten it right, and the class would look up from their work, and shake their heads no. And as the period progressed, Stigler noticed that he — Stigler — was getting more and more anxious.

"I realized that I was sitting there starting to perspire," he says, "because I was really empathizing with this kid. I thought, 'This kid is going to break into tears!' "

But the kid didn't break into tears. Stigler says the child continued to draw his cube with equanimity. "And at the end of the class, he did make his cube look right! And the teacher said to the class, 'How does that look, class?' And they all looked up and said, 'He did it!' And they broke into applause." The kid smiled a huge smile and sat down, clearly proud of himself.

Stigler is now a professor of psychology at UCLA who studies teaching and learning around the world, and he says it was this small experience that first got him thinking about how differently East and West approach the experience of intellectual struggle.

"I think that from very early ages we [in America] see struggle as an indicator that you're just not very smart," Stigler says. "It's a sign of low ability — people who are smart don't struggle, they just naturally get it, that's our folk theory. Whereas in Asian cultures they tend to see struggle more as an opportunity."

In Eastern cultures, Stigler says, it's just assumed that struggle is a predictable part of the learning process. Everyone is expected to struggle in the process of learning, and so struggling becomes a chance to show that you, the student, have what it takes emotionally to resolve the problem by persisting through that struggle....

Please listen to or read the whole piece to get the full story. I have written elsewhere in this blog about the necessity of hard work, of working through difficult emotional and intellectual circumstances in an age (perhaps like any other) that prizes convenience above all else. This is one more example (whether or not its a perfect example is another matter) of seeing struggle/hard work as an important part of reaching one's potential.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Library

A pretty cool library in the Netherlands... books and buildings make my day


Monday, November 12, 2012

Building Performance Institute is the web home of the Building Performance Institute.  This organization is the premier certification body for Energy Auditors and Home Performance contractors working with our existing building stock. There are over 150 energy efficiency programs nationwide that require BPI Certified personnel for Quality Assurance verification.

Here is an intro from their web site:

America’s existing housing needs help. Many of the 130 million homes in this country were constructed before modern energy and building codes were established. These homes often suffer from performance problems ranging from inflated energy consumption to poor thermal comfort to indoor air quality issues.
The Building Performance Institute, Inc. (BPI) is the nation's premier standards development and credentialing organization for residential energy efficiency retrofit work. We are helping build an industry, create a workforce, and support programs through professional certification, contractor accreditation, and quality assurance services

There are dozens of these professionals in the St. Louis area and more are being trained as I write. The group pictured below is in the process of a a 2 week multi-certification program. The candidates bring experience to the program from wide variety of related fields including heating and cooling, construction and weatherization programs.

They will be trained to use the latest diagnostic equipment, including a blower door (pictured below), among others that will provide real metrics for understanding and correcting issues around the house the decrease comfort and increase bills.

A big issue in the world of business is summed up with this: "You can't manage what you can't measure." You can get the measurements you need to make informed decisions about home improvement and energy efficiency concerns. Do it. For all the right reasons.

Google: home energy audit in st. louis and get a quote or 2, make a decision, and get to work.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Processing Info - The Beginning


  [in-koh-it, -eyt or, especially] 
not yet completed or fully developed; rudimentary.
just begun; incipient.
not organized; lacking order: an inchoate mass of ideas on the subject.

Processing information - I've been to several conferences and exhibits over the last few weeks and pulling all the information and stimuli into a useful and coherent whole will take some time and work. I have 5+ pages of notes to share with colleagues about the common threads shared between the meetings I've attended about art, city and sustainability. The experiences have produced some visual artifacts in my notebooks as well.

Sometimes the best we can do is admit that we've yet to reach a conclusion...

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Drawing Exhibit at Wash. U. is the exhibit web site w/ essays and images of the work. Do not let the images serve as a substitute for seeing the real thing in person. The show is a powerhouse of conceptual art made fully human with the evidence of the hand of the artist and/or the delicate nature of the materials.

There are 2 really strong shows at the Kemper, each worth a stand alone visit or two.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sweet Design, Local Talent

Chris Manzo, a buddy and colleague has turned his design talents from architecture to product design and come up with something pretty cool. Check out this feature in the St. Louis Business Journal and figure out how to be one of the first to have the 'wallet of the future!'

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Location Efficiency

How much money do you spend on cars, gas, and maintenance every year?

Green Building Advisor is a great website for researching and vetting green strategies for your home. I came across a piece on the site today and wanted to share some of the info written by ALLISON A. BAILES III, PHD, GBA ADVISOR :

Putting transportation costs in perspective

At the 2010 RESNET conference, I heard David Goldstein speak on some of the issues he'd written about in his book, Invisible Energy. Goldstein is the Energy Program Co-Director at the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and past-president of RESNET, and in one part of his talk, he threw out some numbers that floored me.
He was discussing the mortgage crisis that has gripped the US since 2008 and wanted to put the cost of buying a house in perspective. At the time he wrote the book, the median price of an existing home in the US was around $175,000. If the buyer put down 20% and financed $140,000 over 30 years, here's about what they'd pay over the life of the mortgage:
  • $350,000 in loan payments (PITI)*
  • $300,000 commuting from suburbia
  • $75,000 for utilities
I don't know about you, but that middle number is shocking to me. I knew that those folks who were spending hours a day driving were paying with more than just time and frustration, but for the cost of commuting to be nearly as much as they're paying for the house stunned me.
Also, I'd never really thought about these numbers before, so if he'd have asked the audience that day, I think I would've guessed that utilities would add up to more than the cost of commuting. Now that I've thought about it, though, it makes perfect sense. Cars are dang expensive, and the more you drive 'em, the more expensive they are.
This is an example of how cheap and plentiful oil over the past century and a half has reduced our location efficiency. Those who do long commutes from the suburbs to the city are impoverishing themselves, but they've done it for what seemed like a good reason: The further outside the big city you go, the less expensive the housing gets. There's even a name for this: the drive-till-you-qualify housing market.

Here is a link to the entire piece. So much of what energy efficiency and sustainability planning is all about has to do with a holistic approach to understanding the impacts of our decision making processes. Some of it can be a little daunting and there are always trade-offs, but engagement in the work will yield many benefits to wallet and climate.
My family has lived in the same neighborhood for almost 30 years. It has always been close to my wife's work place and now it is also close to mine. For many years work required me drive from jobsite to jobsite and I regularly put on 35k plus miles on my truck every year. This year, stationed in an office less than 2 miles from home, I drove less than 8500 miles and I ride my bike to work on occasion as well. I can no longer imagine spending so much time behind the wheel. I know I am fortunate with this change; more of my time is my own and it has made a difference in many ways.

Monday, November 5, 2012

One Planet, Do the Math

One Planet Living & Do the Math are web sites that present the less sunny side of our climate situation, of our relationship to the earth. Check them out - I'm in that process now. I have written elsewhere in this blog about how to calculate your energy usage at home and then to minimize it. These sites provide the bigger picture and they may be important, because, after all, it adds up.

If the entire world were to use the same quantities of energy and resources that we do in America, according to One Planet Living, we would need earth to be 5 times bigger. If we're talking about surface area it would look like this:

Bill McKibben has launched another project called and here is part of that FAQ:

Can you explain the math, please?
Sure. To grasp the seriousness of the climate crisis, you just need to do a little math. Fossil fuel corporations have 5 times more oil and coal and gas in known reserves than climate scientists think is safe to burn. We have to keep 80% of their fossil fuels underground to keep the earth in livable shape.Here are the three numbers you shouldn’t forget:2 degrees — Almost every government in the world has agreed that any warming above a 2°C (3.6°F) rise would be unsafe. We have already raised the temperature .8°C, and that has caused far more damage than most scientists expected. A third of summer sea ice in the Arctic is gone, the oceans are 30 percent more acidic, and since warm air holds more water vapor than cold, the climate dice are loaded for both devastating floods and drought.
565 gigatons — Scientists estimate that humans can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and still have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees. Computer models calculate that even if we stopped increasing CO2 levels now, the temperature would still rise another 0.8 degrees above the 0.8 we’ve already warmed, which means that we’re already 3/4s of the way to the 2 degree target.
2,795 gigatons — The Carbon Tracker Initiative, a team of London financial analysts and environmentalists, estimates that proven coal, oil, and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies, and the countries (think Venezuela or Kuwait) that act like fossil-fuel companies, equals about 2,795 gigatons of CO2, or five times the amount we can release to maintain 2 degrees of warming.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Bill McKibben at Graham Chapel

Bill McKibben delivered a moving lecture and then took questions from the audience as the Sustainable Cities Conference kicks off at Washington University. is a website associated with much of his work. A piece he wrote called Global Warming's Terrifying New Math went viral out of Rolling Stone Magazine this past summer. If you're not familiar with his his work, it is worth the effort.

The place was packed to the rafters by people of all ages. The big issues are carbon emissions and fossil fuel use. Check out the article and his website.