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One Story Among Many at Home Energy Magazine

Posted by Jim Gunshinan on December 18, 2013
One Story Among Many at Home Energy Magazine
A revamp of the very first 1984 cover of Home Energy Magazine.

On November 1, 2013, Home Energy began its 30th year in existence. The storytelling will begin officially in our January/February 2014 issue, when, along with a lot of new content and some new features, we reprise an article from our first issue—on the energy efficient use of water beds! Unofficially, the storytelling has already begun. Home Energy began in an office at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a few years ago we moved our shop down the hill to West Berkeley, to a former artists studio in a retrofitted building that began as a furniture factory at the turn of the last century. But that was just a physical movement. The more interesting stuff is told through the stories of everyone who has ever written for, edited, sold, advertised in, distributed, produced, and read the magazine over the past 30 years.

Where Were You Thirty Years Ago?

Thirty years ago, in November, 1984, I was spending a lot of time in the library of Moreau Seminary at Notre Dame, Indiana, with a pile of books and papers in front of me, reading and writing papers for philosophy classes, and putting the finishing touches on my Master’s Thesis, “Velocity Measurements Inside a Left-Ventricular Assist Device Using Pulsed Doppler Ultrasound”. (I still know what that means!) The summer previous, I had gathered the last data for my thesis, at 2:30 am, slept for a few hours, and then got on a bus from Penn State to a camp in Western Maryland to meet my seminary classmates and began a week of orientation to a new life back in Indiana.

At Penn State, I measured flow and turbulence inside the pumping chamber of the left side of an artificial heart—the left ventricular assist device—to see if there were areas of stagnation, where blood could pool, and areas of high turbulence, where blood cells would be destroyed. I had hooked up the artificial heart to a mock circulatory system. The whole thing fit on a small table and consisted of some tubing, some clamps to simulate resistance, and two mechanical capacitors to simulate the elasticity of blood vessels. When I had all the data I needed, the ultrasound device I was using expired—I mean died. The little piezoelectric crystal on the end of a probe—that creates ultrasound waves and then coverts the waves bouncing off the tiny mock blood cells to an electrical signal that is fed into a computer program—fell off. Done and done.

Coming Home

In 1984, when I was stretching my brain between philosophy and physiology, Energy Auditor and Retrofitter, later called Home Energy, was coming to life in the hands of Alan Meier, Carl Blumstein, Art Rosenfeld, and some other folks at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. I continued in the seminary, was ordained, ministered in a parish and at a college for eight years, and eventually asked for permission to leave the priesthood in 1999. Many ex-priests like myself don’t include any mention of it in their biographies, but along with some lingering guilt about leaving, I am grateful for my life in a religious community and working for the Church. Maybe the most important blessing of those 15 years was that I began to confront my life-long proclivity for sometimes debilitating anxiety and depression. Like many young men, until the age of 25, I muscled through the dark days. I found compassion in the Church and among my brothers in community that allowed me to start taking better care of myself, even though eventually I would leave that life.

After starting life on my own again, after leaving the priesthood and my community, the Holy Cross brothers and priests, I realized that I had out-of-date engineering degrees and a Master of Divinity degree that is not very marketable outside of the Church. I worked at a bookstore for a while, took some editing classes, and in late 2000, I was hired as an editorial assistant at Home Energy. It was a homecoming, and proof positive of my belief that no experience, if we learn from it, is ever wasted.

Because of studying the human cardiovascular system and working on the artificial heart, I was already a systems thinker by the time I got to the magazine. I was a pretty good communicator from all those years in ministry, so I had what I needed to edit the magazine. Today, when I think of the HVAC system of a house, my mind goes to the system that distributes blood and oxygen to every cell in my body. A system works when all the parts work together. As circulatory systems go, so go houses. So I get it when people send me article drafts or research reports about the building envelope, pressure boundaries, CO safety, moisture problems, leaky ducts, and indoor air quality. All those things are a part of the system that make a house a home—for better or for worse—though we always aim for better.

The staff has changed over the past 30 years at Home Energy, but the magazine has always been a place where building scientists doing research and people in the field—contractors, consultants, weatherization professionals, builders, and others—share their best practices—stories, in a way—with the home performance community. Our editors help them to communicate clearly, but the folks in the labs and in the field provide the passion and the know-how. It’s all our stories that make the history of the magazine. I’ve told some of my story. I hope you will share some of yours as well, in whatever way you feel comfortable, on this website, at conferences, or just among family and friends. To know, appreciate, and celebrate the magazine, or a business, or a lab, or a family, or any institution, you have to know its stories.

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