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Across the Green Home Spectrum

Posted by Jim Gunshinan on October 01, 2010
Across the Green Home Spectrum
Last week I was in Charleston, South Carolina for a meeting of the National Association of State Community Services Programs (NASCSP). This week I stopped by West Coast Green taking place at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. NASCSP is a group of state managers for the Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) for low-income families. West Coast Green is an interactive conference focusing on innovation for the built environment. From crawlspaces to sheep’s wool insulation, from composting toilets and rainwater harvesting to quick and easy multifamily building air leakage measurements, between these two conferences, it’s all about covered.

The NASCSP meeting was the largest ever; it included 350 people from 58 states and territories, including Saipan, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam. The conference is a contrast to the 2009 NASCSP mid-winter meeting, when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was being debated in Congress. The Weatherization program went from $0 funding set aside in the Bush budget to $5-billion in ARRA funding. The state managers and the weatherization community is more mature, a little tired, more realistic, but still enthusiastic. Most of the people there last week were not there in 2009. Worries about succession among the old-timers are gone.

The focus in Charleston was on reporting on positive results—the numbers of homes weatherized and the amount of energy saved. There had been some bad press in the summer of 2009 about the lack of results—much of it true. There have been growing pains over the last 18 months. The Davis-Bacon prevailing wage laws were applied to WAP technicians for the first time, and the Department of Labor had to step into to set wages by region. The Historical Preservation Act requirements also applied to WAP for the first time, meaning that weatherization measures cannot substantially affect the exterior or visible interior of an historic building being weatherized. This is a problem if window replacements are required, among other things. The accelerated ramp-up in hiring and job scope was a huge challenge, and new strenuous reporting requirements.

But the results so far are encouraging. Nearly 200,000 homes have been weatherized in 18 months through ARRA funding. And the pace of weatherizing homes reached more than 30,000 homes per month in July.

It was a different crowd at West Coast Green, but just as committed to greening the planet one building at a time. More architects and visionaries; less overworked government types and worries about funding when the ARRA money runs out.

I stopped by some of the many displays to talk with exhibiters about artificial turf, green paint (of many colors), photovoltaic window blinds, and water permeable asphalt pavement. I discussed the R-values of insulating window shades with Bryan Clabeaux of Hunter Douglas. And I had an interesting discussion with Thom Workman, a former carpenter, who with his father runs Oregon Shepherd Natural Wools Insulation. “The sheep have to be sheared every year,” says Thom, “and the wool industry in this country is really depressed.”

Oregon Shepherd uses scraps from the few wool-clothing manufacturers that still exist in this country, and the wool of Oregon sheep, to make their wool insulation product. Wool insulation does not off-gas anything bad for you, handles moisture better than any other insulation product I know of—it absorbs water when it is humid and sheds it when it is dry—has a higher R-value per inch than cellulose, costs about as much as recycled cotton insulation, and can be blown in to attics and walls with standard blowing equipment. And the sheep don’t mind—producing wool is a better gig than being Easter dinner.

And I met Aaron Baum of AlgaeLab. He wants to make outside walls into edible and carbon absorbing, algae growing chambers. He wasn’t quite ready to offer free samples, but West Coast Green continues tomorrow and Saturday. Get some home-grown algae!

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