Super Insulation and Super Innovation in Old Arlington, Mass. Home

Super Insulation and Super Innovation in Old Arlington, Mass. Home
By: James Ryan Moreau

Driving through the hills of Arlington, Massachusetts, one could get lost among the beautiful, expensive and old colonial and Victorian styled houses typical of the area. Densely packed on narrow streets, many of these giant houses date back over 100 years or more. While many have been renovated and updated to the point of being more than livable, there is always the open question of how energy efficient these classic homes can be made with modern technology. Condo-owner and engineer Alex Cheimets has set out to prove that you can teach an old dog new tricks by using super-insulation principals and some architectural creativity.

An engineer by trade, Cheimets has a long-standing knowledge of building principles and how heat and energy flow. Super-insulation seemed like a no-brainier to him when he first heard of it being applied to homes and he knew that he’d like to see how much insulation and energy savings could be applied to his primary residence in Arlington. The technology in application proved to be a bit more complex and involved than anyone had expected, but Mr. Cheimets was quite motivated, probably due in-part to a harsher than usual New England Winter.

The super-insulation project is unique in several ways, one of the most profound being the manner with which Mr. Cheimets and his condo association funded the project. Through many phone calls and creative problem solving, Mr. Cheimets was able to have sponsors fund a large percentage of his super-insulation costs through both labor and materials discounts as well as overall state and federal level energy efficiency standards assistance.

The main points of super-insulating the house were to improve the barriers between the inside and outside which let heat out and allowed cold air to be drafted in. Several inches of foam insulation were layered outside of the home on top of which a newer, wood-like synthetic siding was installed. Lighter colored shingles were put on the roof to reflect sunlight better and prevent snow-melts. There was also a modified ventilation layout in the attic near the roof which improved air circulation for air quality and health safety reasons. The attic and basement were sprayed with another type of foam insulation to keep heat in the units rather than in the bottom or top of the structure. To top off the project with an aesthetic touch and crucial aspect to any heat savings plan, brand new windows supplied by Pella were installed throughout the house, with

Much of the work was done throughout the colder months of 2008 and 2009, but the over-arching goal of figuring how well the households heat was the defining moment. Unofficial tests conclude that the house is 60%-65% tighter than before the original work was started, which is relatively impressive, but not quite as efficient as Cheimets and some of the participants had hoped for. However, considering the age of this house and many houses in the area like it, the Massachusetts Super Insulation Project has proven that it is not beyond reason or practicality to improve the energy efficiency of pre-existing structures, both residential and commercial.

For more information on Alex Cheimets, his sponsors and the day-to-day details of the Super Insulation project please visit the blog at http://superinsulating.blogspot.com.

Co-Working for the Masses

Co-Working for the Masses
What is a business idea that could spread so rapidly in this fading and transitioning economy? Co-Working! Co-working is an idea that is attractive in virtually any part of the world. The ingredients and ideas are simple. You take self-employed entrepreneurs and you take under-utilized commercial space. Bam. That’s it.

Sitting at you home office as a freelancer can be productive, but can also be lonely and stifling. The lack of human interaction really gets some people down. These people thrive off of other people’s ideas and motivation. They’re not looking to chat it up all day and be unproductive, they want to work among their peers and have the ability to collaborate if the opportunity arises.

There’s always the coffee shop that you could sit at too. Sometimes the atmosphere can be cool and the coffee is usually good (and expensive), but the crowd and vibes can change quickly. Meeting friends at a coffee shop for conversation is one thing, but bringing a client there unless they specifically ask for that type of setting? Hell no! Especially if there are little kids there.

Co-working is an outlet that is truly ideal for the independent professional who wants all of the benefits of a social setting without the drawback’s of a public space. It also provides a more-than-adequate work space with full internet connectivity and basic office supplies and amenities.

Another benefit: COST! The shared cost of renting an existing, under-utilized space is the ability to share the cost with a group of people. This leads to far lower overhead than anyone could ever manage to find in renting their own space. Plus you’re given a set, professional atmosphere to bring clients, rather than having to scramble to make sure your home is clean or grabbing a corner at the local coffee house.

The catch? Well, I suppose co-working lacks a corporate culture, a strict dress code and doesn’t encourage being punctual, but most self-employed people, in some ways, chose to become entrepreneurs to get away from all of that anyways. The next generation of entrepreneurs will not be suited unless absolutely necessary and will not be bound by a-typical office jobs due to projected responsibility or guilt.
Whether you live in a large city like Chicago or New York, an outlying suburban area or even a rural town, there is a good chance that freelancers and entrepreneurs exist and are looking for a solution to their workspace issues just like you are. You’re building community and building your business at the same time.

A Good Wind Blows Through Worcester

“A Good Wind Blows Through Worcester” ~ By James R. Moreau

“In addition to the economic benefits that wind power affords, the installation of this wind turbine is an opportunity to implement our responsibility to be a good steward of the earth.”

– Holy Name High School President, Mary E. Riordan

Driving North on Route 146 into Worcester an unusual site has residents talking about the one of the city’s newest renewable energy developments located on the property of Holy Name High School. The 242 foot tall, 600-kilowatt wind turbine is visible for miles from many parts of the city.

Currently operational, the wind turbine is expected to provide most of Holy Name’s electric power year-round, making Holy Name one of the most energy neutral schools in the world. During the winter, some electricity may be purchased off of the grid, but during the summer the school is expected to sell electricity back to the grid. Tax credits will also be sold to individuals and organizations whose contributions have helped fund the project. The massive wind turbine on a hill serves as a beacon for the Central Massachusetts region attempting to make a turn towards the new, sustainable economy that other parts of the country have already begun embracing.

The President of Holy Name High School, Mary Riordan, was faced with a problem many Americans are familiar with; the rising cost of fuel and energy. Crude oil and gasoline prices have forced many to drive less and will probably force those who use oil to heat their homes to keep a cooler house during the winter. Even electricity costs are bound to continue to rise due to the inefficient coal fired power plants producing much of the country’s energy. The financial squeeze is officially on and there is a wave of innovators in the United States as well as around the world who are thinking up ways to confront the conundrum of fueling our lives with non-renewable, dirty, carbon-based chemicals.
Natural resources and enthusiasm are good starting points for a solid renewable energy economy to take foot, but with the high initial cost of establishing and growing a business, strong public awareness and policy are necessary to fund good ideas.

Each state, including Massachusetts has a particular geographic or social asset that can be exploited with renewable energy. People associate places like California and Arizona with a lot of sun and heat, but Massachusetts is currently having a wave of solar manufacturers and installers set up shop and open themselves up to the Northeast energy market. There are also certain parts of Massachusetts, as well as most other East Coast states that have a great proximity to wind patterns that are perfect for wind turbine electricity generation, such as hilly Worcester.

The proliferation of windmills in Denmark and solar cells in California are examples of proven policy and business models that have inspired communities around the world to explore their own suitability for renewable power. Worcester’s main apparent strength lies in its location within a relatively windy and hilly geographic area. Additionally, Worcester has 11 colleges and universities within its county limits – a concentration of academic resources in the Northeast region is second only to Boston.

Mary Riordan’s vision of erecting a wind turbine would not have been as easy without the students of WPI helping to assess the project’s feasibility. Additionally, the $575,000 in grants that were secured from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative was only a fraction of the total cost. The rest of the money was donated or loaned at low interest by the local municipality, individuals or non-profits supporting Holy Name.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has made way for tax incentives to be offered to more renewable energy companies than ever before. Residential tax incentives have also been extended to homeowners who wish to use solar or wind power in whichever ways they can. These sorts of tax programs that encourage economic development in the green sectors help everybody in the long run. Businesses such as Borrego Solar, originally operating out of California have come to the east coast to set up shop and opened their first regional office in Chelmsford.

These business opportunities are also leading to exciting job training and educational opportunities. The massive shift in infrastructures and skill base will need to be met with a whole new force of “green collar” workers. The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative is currently working with vocational high schools and community colleges across the state to develop and support green technology and renewable energy curriculum.

A decade ago, few Worcester residents would have imagined a wind turbine being erected on one of its high schools campuses to lower energy costs in a clean and efficient way. Now with business and individual interest peaking, legislators must get to work to make way for a renewable energy economy. Marybeth Campbell, the Public Education Coordinator at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative believes there are a lot of exciting instances of renewable technology happening in Massachusetts but also stressed, “policy plays a major role in attracting renewable companies to Massachusetts.”

The Rise of Carbon Neutral Cities

The Rise of Carbon Neutral Cities
By James Moreau & Seth Itzkan

A sustainable future is not something that can only be enjoyed by certain segments of society or by certain parts of the planet. Many “green” innovations have been displayed in beautifully crafted, yet very expensive homes and buildings. The real, holistic purpose of living sustainably is so that everyone can live cleaner, healthier lives and leave the Earth less of a mess for future generations to clean up.

How does a world like this come to fruition? It certainly doesn’t happen over night. Most of the world’s big cities were developed large in scale and breadth as we know them after the industrial revolution. Over the course of time, cities and towns have grown in order to accommodate huge populations and the demands that come with them. Urban sprawl and suburbia seems to be a poor idea in hind-sight, but certain socioeconomic forces have shaped the urban, sub-urban and rural landscapes we live in today. Facing those forces with a new, sustainable mentality is what will help us to build greener, healthier living spaces.

What makes a sustainable region? Reducing the collective carbon footprint of a city or town is done in multiple ways. Changing the way a city is laid out or planned can dramatically alter the dynamic of foot traffic as well as the number of internal combustion vehicles used throughout. Changing standards and regulations towards requiring a high level of energy efficiency in all new construction projects is also a way to greatly reduce an areascarbon footprint.

With so many buildings, homes and structures already existing which were built long before efficiency standards were considered, there is the question of whether it is better to retro-fit or to build anew. While both ideas have their benefits, some governments are looking to model future cities after state of the art eco-colonies.

Masdar City, in Abu Dhabi is slated to be the world’s first zero-carbon, zero-waste city. Within this walled city, no cars will be allowed and all of the energy used will be in the form of electricity generated by renewable resources such as photovoltaic panels and wind turbines. The goal for Masdar City is to create as much energy as it uses. Current goal is to produce a 130 megawatts through a photovoltaic network and 20 megawatts with wind farms. In all, Masdar City will be host to about 45,000 residents with 60,500 people commuting there daily.

There are also examples of existing cities and towns that are called “transition towns.” The use of the word “transition” signifies a conscious, active and collective move towards building a more sustainable community. This approach has varying aspects to it, including raising awareness of carbonand environmental issues, connecting with local governments and having community defined goals, projects and timelines which would ultimately seek to achieve a carbon neutral city, town or region.

Transition towns are varied in size and culture, with some examples in the United States being Montpelier, Vermont, Boulder, Colorado and Portland, Maine. The Obama-Biden platform was notably pro- environment and many Americans are looking forward to an Obama Administration push towards sustainable economic development. A large part of the platform is a commitment to highly efficient Federal buildings and more stringent standards for all new construction projects. New building efficiency will be 50% more efficient and retro-fitted existing structures will aim to be 25% more efficient. These ambitious, large scale projects are going to require a well trained and motivated workforce, which will hopefully signal a new reassurance of new, green-collar jobs in the near future.

Speaking of his proposed Environmental Agenda, President Obama said, “We cannot afford more of the same timid politics when the future of our planet is at stake. Global warming is not a someday problem, it is now”.  Speaking to policy specifics, he said, “It will lay down three thousandmiles of transmission lines to every corner of our country. It will save taxpayers $2 billion dollars a year by making 75% of Federal buildings more efficient and it will save American families hundred of dollars by weatherizing 2 million homes.”

A city of any size uses massive amounts of power; that this may someday soon be achieved without any carbon output is remarkable. Policies put fourth by the Obama administration promoting the greening of the built environment are a step in that direction and may provide useful incentives for The Merrimack Valley.

About the author: James Moreau writes on energy and the environment.  Please contact him at james.r.moreau@gmail.com.

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Pullout quote: “Masdar City will be carbon-neutral.  It will produce 130 megawatts through a photovoltaic network and 20 megawatts with wind farms”.

Call A Bubble “A Bubble”

Before this god forsaken recession started hammering out the hopes and dreams of Americans a couple years ago, I was heavily into the idea of working in sustainable technology industries. Solar energy, wind, super-insulation, etc. I was working with some cutting edge minds in Boston to talk about innovation and applicable technology to different regions of the country.

When the recession hit full bore, it took a little bit of steam out myself and my friends who were excited to transitioning into this field full-time. We were sure that the ideas and people behind these technologies were so good that there was going to be no shortage of money behind them for R&D, marketing and education to make the next great economic wave be a result of clean tech.

When money got short all over, pundits with little education and fundamental interests in maintaining the status quo starting pounding the ceiling with their dogma that climate change isn’t legit, that renewable energy is just another worthless tech bubble and that essentially we need to rape the remote lands of our country just a wee bit more to get enough petrol from our own land.

Arguing about whether climate change is real is not worth my time. Essentially those people are on the same level as racial bigots, who will contort and twist an argument anyway they can on the principal that they hate what you stand for and don’t want to talk about the facts outside of what they fabricate.

What I’m concerned about is that pundits are scaring potential investors and workers away from renewable energies because of this “next great bubble” theory. They reference the internet bubble of the 90’s where the economy was devastated due to all sorts of GDP being attributed to electronic websites that didn’t actually produce anything. Then they reference the housing bubble of recent memory where shitty loans were given to people who weren’t qualified to own homes. Then the situation was worsened by horrible financial institutions making crazy, diluted decisions about how they could profit hugely off of these bad loans.

These past bubbles were crazy and bad and we should have learned a lot about them. But renewable energy and clean tech? How can that be a bubble? Essentially it’s an infrastructure re-development across the face of the world that’s built on the principal that if the technology is good enough, we will have some level of energy continuously supplied from natural, ongoing resources like wind and sunlight. How could that possibly be a bubble?

For the first time in a LONG TIME we’d be building and maintaining a physical goods industry on American soil that could be kept here, bringing jobs. We’ve lost most other industries like that.

Sustainable technology will not be the next bubble; it will be the next step forward in quality, healthy living for people throughout the world if we can figure out how to make it happen without clinging to an antiquated petro-chemical producing and consuming society.

The Sustainability Revolution Will Have A Silent “R”

I am continually amazed at the number of technological and business innovations happening in Massachusetts. We’re just a creative bunch of people who seem to value the environment for the most part. Lots of great colleges around here too, which leaves no shortage for highly trained engineers, scientists, and other types of professionals.

California is getting it poppin’ too with renewables as well and share a similar, liberal social and environmental consciousness as Massachusetts (similar high cost of living too!).

Throughout the United States and into Canada, it seems that renewable energy and sustainable industries are popping up even in the most unlikely of places. My best-friend transitions from a side-job in construction into manufacturing and installing thermal solar systems in Nova Scotia. I have to say that I am envious of him as well as I’ve applied to dozens of entry level solar installation jobs as a way to get out of the office culture I’ve put myself in. I’ve been told I’m over-qualified in my educational background and under-experience in my labor skills, yet my friend is in a Ph.D. program for anthropology.

Anyways, I’m thinking that there needs to be more programs highlighting a sharp direction into the sustainability fields of work for people who are interested in the concept and in becoming specialized. You won’t get any richer installing solar panels than you would doing plumbing if you’re simply looking for a trade, but staying on top of innovative trends and being willing to take risk with your own business or start-ups could be very lucrative it seems.

Now, the question is, do you start-over in a market where sustainable industries haven’t taken a hold yet, or do you jump into a busy market such as Massachusetts and California?

I think there is room for improvement and expansion all over.

The Tale of Two Cities

Sometimes I get intense urges to move to Boston again. Part of me feel like relocation to a bigger city is just another big ball of stress that I don’t need. Other times I get to spend a bit of time in Worcester and enjoy a lot of the city’s culture and amenities. Now that it’s getting warm Worcester as a city is coming alive from it’s long, hilly, and cold winter hibernation. There’s not even that much dirty snow anywhere anymore.

Financially I don’t see moving back to Boston as an option for the short-term plan. Even the cheapest apartments that I’ve had in Boston were still at least $100 more a month than where I’m at now and were absolute shit holes.

Part of my impulse to get away is not due to Worcester’s charm or lack thereof. It’s more a concoction of personal issues that are not subsiding as I’d hoped. I’ve got lots to do and never feel bored and usually I’m too busy to really need to search around for entertainment, but the fact of the matter is that the place where I rest my head is in close proximity to people I don’t much care for.

I picked my poison. There’s a chance I may move somewhere else in the city that may cost slightly more, or maybe even back to the city if some awesome opportunity presents itself.

Either way, I really love Worcester and Boston. I’d recommend either of them very highly as places to chill and be cultured.

So, I heard there’s a big announcement coming up. Anybody know what it is?

Developing new consumer markets is an interesting concept…

Developing new consumer markets is an interesting concept. I never really trusted finding a demographic, studying their needs and wants and then building something, anything, to sell them.

I much prefer the concept of figuring out good technologies or services that have a sustainable future and good cash-flow projection and molding them to the consumer’s needs. It’s possibly that I’m a populist, or naive, but I really feel like everyone is a consumer to some degree, especially living in an openly capitalistic society, so why stoke the fires of “need” and create an artificial or psychological demand?

The products I have in mind are supplements that make you happy and give you positive chi, or whatever and those stupid video phones that I’ve been approached over so many times. I’m a really hard person to sell to. I’d challenge anyone to hustle me. This is because I’ve gotten hustled before and learned my lesson through good advice and careful examination of the world surrounding me.

Not many people have a keen sense of the world like I do, not to say I’m smarter or better than anyone else. All I mean is that I know a lot of people who really enjoy their television and Hollywood movies and genuinely buy into the hype of what is constantly advertised to them. I may come off as stuck up, no fun or entirely dead to the world because I don’t get excited about the third installment of the mind-numbing “2 fast 2 furious” series, but I’ll take those labels with a grain of salt.

It makes me sad to see so many people tapped fully into the general media machine, letting themselves become progressively addicted to fabricated products that are basically worthless.

You might accuse me of being a hypocrite, as I am in the copy writing and marketing business. This label could possibly stick except for the fact that I do my job with as much integrity and honesty as possible. Is that even possible? Business, integrity, honesty matched with profitability? Well, yes it is possible. I stand behind what I try to market. Solar panels, wind turbines, educational programs, public safety issues; these are just some of the products and concepts that I rally behind in my business. Is there a need for them? I think so. Can I sleep at night saying that? You bet.

Sustainable Economic Development – Not The Next “Love” Movement

When talking to people who drag their feet on sustainability issues for various reasons, I find myself defending the tenets of liberalism and feeling trapped argumentatively trapped. How do you explain to someone who associates “renewable energy” with socialist dogma? How do you surmount someone’s intellectual walls after you start talking about scientific breakthroughs and they blurt out “well I like my big SUV!”

I’m a liberal, I’m a “tree hugger” and I like vegetables and organic food, but in no way do any of those traits lessen my commitment to making a living for myself and pushing the limits on my perspectives of how the world works. I think the perspective of the sustainability movement is that the world’s society, population and infrastructure have grown exponentially fast since the inception of industrial technology, but we have been fueled off of a limited resource. We a handful of finite sources of energy to fuel our progression and in the process of moving forward, we leave behind poison in the air, in the land and in the bodies of our children for generations to come. We’re sophisticate enough to be aware of, and harness natural forces on our planet that are virtually (for all our intents and purposes) limitless in the amount of energy that they produce.

It’s time to wake up. We’ve been burning dead dinosaur remains and fossilized plant matter for almost 200 years and we’re getting sicker and less efficient as time goes on. There are some dangers to the human race that are beyond the limits of our intellect to control, but beyond natural disasters, there’s no more sense in burning oil and coal than there is in provoking massive wars (somehow they’re intertwined).

This is a shift of mind-frame for how people think about living and growing what’s around them. Most physical laws indicate that there is a finite limit to absolutely everything, so the concept of sustainably having or doing anything is somewhat deceiving, but the real goal is to be more sustainable and think in terms of building upon and sustaining a level of growth rather than basing our lives and future legacy on something that we all know is going to run out much sooner than later.

The Proliferation of Green Jobs

The sustainability revolution is coming! Where do I stand? Where do you stand? Where do we stand?

A gajillion, million, bazillion dollars are now being circulated throughout the United States of America to help stimulate the economy and create jobs. I’m pulling for the “green” job increases and to be honest, I’m already starting to see a bit of a pick up in the talk and excitement in Massachusetts surrounding sustainable industries. Check out this article in the Boston Globe to see what I’m talking about.

Stimulus expectations run high

So, what kind of green jobs are we talking here? Green construction? Solar panel installers? Wind turbine technicians (or as I call them, trapeze artists)? Green non-profits? Green government contracts? Green street sweepers?

A year ago I was just another environmental enthusiast who wanted nothing more than to see a social and economic transformation to a cleaner, healthier economy and way of living. I wanted quite badly to work in the field of “green” business. I never got an engineering degree, never got an environmental science degree and I never got a business degree. I simply am a good writer who’s good with technology and has a very small learning curve. I put myself out there repeatedly and almost, I mean almost got a few really cool jobs for solar and wind power companies. I’m not working in a sustainable industry at the moment, but I find myself in the midst of a revolutionary period, one that I’ve been waiting for.

Do I still want my professional future to lie in “green” or sustainable business? You bet your pants I do. But I ask, where do I belong? Where can I put my skills to use? Who needs me?

You should ask yourself these questions as well. This will be the biggest economic boom that my generation (Gen Y) will likely ever see in our lifetime. I don’t want to call it a bubble. How could infrastructure and renewable energy development cause an economic bubble? It won’t. This is our new direction. This will be an economic freight train. Get on or get out of the way!