Greener World: Traveling in Support of Green Initiatives

The following blog is written by guest writer Cliff Barre.  Cliff has lots of great insights to offer on green tourism.   Please check out his blog Peace, Love, and Travel with Cliff

As any ardent traveler will tell you, in America and abroad, green initiatives are all the rage. A number of popular tourist destinations have not only made themselves more attractive to environmentally conscientious travelers, they have reinvented themselves for the 21st Century. Moreover, by tackling the various eco-issues facing the world, a number of new locations have sprung to the forefront of many a must-see list. Between exploring these new sites and rediscovering the familiar ones, our little planet seems to be getting big again.

Known for its brilliant lake views, world-class museums, iconic skyline, and championship sports teams, Chicago is a tourist destination that draws millions of visitors every year. Less well known is that the city is at the forefront of energy conservation efforts. Confronted with growing energy needs, the city made the decision to invest in cogeneration- the simultaneous production of heat and electricity. Burning natural gas to produce electricity, the process of cogeneration gets going when that exhaust is used to boil water, create steam, and then power a second electrical generator.  The net result of this bold action is the estimated production of 1.5 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity over a 15 year period.  More importantly, the energy output nearly doubles that of a traditional coal-fired power plant, while producing only a third of the carbon emissions.

While not as famous as Chicago or perhaps even its sister city across the bay, Oakland has proven that sometimes commitment to an ideal is more important than fame. In 2005, years before much of the nation even knew that hydrogen power was a legitimate alternative to traditional gas burning engines, Oakland debuted the first of its growing fleet of hydrogen-powered buses. Despite the initially prohibitive costs, the project has continued, slowly replacing the 130 tons of CO2 produced by each typical diesel bus to the 0 tons of the new models.

In Syracuse, New York, the super-mall Destiny USA is also breaking down past barriers to environmental conscientiousness through a combination of purpose-built energy saving/producing ideas and consumer incentives. One of the more ingenious uses of recycling undertaken by Destiny is in its storm water design. Retention ponds and a roof collection system have been designed to hold rainwater and use it to flush common areas, toilets, and irrigate the grounds. During storms, these collectors have also been designed to reduce the amount of strain on the city’s waste treatment facility, thereby reducing the possibility of wastewater spillage into nearby Onondaga Lake.  Furthermore, in efforts to make Destiny USA as green a space as possible, the designers realized that the foot traffic generated by a successful mall meant needing to encourage alternative means of transportation to and from the structure. With that in mind, Destiny USA was designed to be easily accessed by public transportation, and also to reward electric car drivers with prime parking positions and EV charging stations. Other means of transportation, like walking and bike riding, are supported by 200 bicycle racks, shower/changing stations for employees who walk/ride.

As the examples above have shown, advances in technology and the courage to change the status quo have begun to reinvent our little world. As explorers, we must ask ourselves if we are up to the challenge of discovering these brave new innovations and supporting them.

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Closing Our Doors

Hello Friends,

Encouraging a green future has been a passion I have pursued happily and with great intrinsic reward thanks to many of you.  Opening and developing Greenovations has been a terrific experience and I have learned a lot as a result over the last 3 years.  Sadly, I will be closing the doors for business at Greenovations in early March.   While I will continue to work out of an office on the consulting side of my business (in addition to limited sales), I can no longer pursue the showroom retail model.  It is my strong belief that the future of green building products lies in change that comes from within, not from the fringes as was the case with my store.  I hope the near future brings us a commitment from large companies and smaller established businesses, alike, to make a commitment to respect for the earth.  Only we can make that happen.

That said, I will be liquidating the furnishings and inventory here at Greenovations beginning immediately.  In advance to advertising a liquidation sale, I want to give those of you (and your friends) who might have an interest, the opportunity to come in and check out our discounted sale items and furnishings, beginning Tuesday, January 29th.    Additionally, we will be hosting a sale with a 10% discount of all flooring over 300sf.

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An Energy Efficient Retirement

When Susan and Dennis Kepner started planning their new home in York, Maine one thing was clear.  They wanted a home that worked for them and not the other way around.  This is their retirement, after all.   Easy maintenance was a priority, and a super efficient design-structure met not only their retirement needs, but also their passion for protecting the environment.  Working with Bensonwood Homes of Walpole, NH, the Kepner’s decided on a timber frame home that used super efficient stress-skin panels ( a sandwich of plywood on one side, gypsum on the interior side, and several inches of high R-value foam

Foundation walls insulated with rigid foam.  And a super efficient wall hung boiler.

Foundation walls insulated with rigid foam. And a super efficient wall hung boiler.

as the core) for the structural walls. Other efficiency measures include two inches of foam on the interior walls of the basement, radiant heat in the slab, a 1 1/2 story structure on a slope creating a downstairs guest room with large above ground windows, and many others.

These two Prius driving transplants from Hampton, NH have sustainable living as a core principle to their lifestyle.  They don’t just buy into green for the economic benefits of efficiency; they embrace the whole concept.  This is evident in their choices to install eco friendly bamboo flooring from Eco Fusion and  100% natural Marmoleum tiling – the real linoleum.  Just as important to every homeowners satisfaction with their space, great

Warm, soft, healthy and 100% natural.

Warm, soft, healthy and 100% natural Marmoleum flooring in pantry.

details and warm colors contribute to an extremely comfortable house.  Beautiful, crafted trim, doors, moldings  and millwork accent the intelligence of this home and demonstrate the commitment to detail from the insulated slab  to the custom tiling over the stove.  The Kepner’s home is one to make us all look forward to retirement.

Eco Fusion bamboo flooring in family room overlooking York River.

Eco Fusion bamboo flooring in family room overlooking York River.

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Kittery Couple Goes Sustainable/Local

Building green has its challenges.  First and foremost, the biggest challenge for many people is simply a shift of thinking in how they approach their home design and attention to detail.  With new construction, however, those challenges are easily overcome.  That’s because, in reality, the challenge to make a home more efficient and healthy than a conventional home is really more of a call to action to take simple but smart measures that create drastic improvements.  Beginning with design phase and following through to the last coat of paint, the process for green building sets a smooth plan to maximize efficiency and health demands.  But what if your home was built-in the late 40’s just the same way as every other home built at that time.  Is it easy to “green” an existing home?  Does it make more sense to start over?

Cedar siding with felt paper vapor barrier and Keene rain screene

Cedar siding with felt paper vapor barrier and Keene rain screen

One Kittery couple (prefer to be anonymous) doesn’t think so, nor does the green building community.  Working with existing homes, improving them and if necessary, adding on (with updated measures) is a net plus for the environment.  The  home overlooking a small creek off the Piscataqua River in Kittery is a perfect example.  The greening of their home began last January when they needed to replace old, worn out floors in their office.  Taking their choice to the limit, the owners installed stylish, contemporary Eco Timber strandwoven poplar flooring made from recycled shavings reclaimed from furniture factories.  In June they followed that with a floating cork flooring that installs without the need for glue or nails.  Additionally, their cork floor uses an organic oil/wax finish, free from petroleum additives (uses plant oils) that provides a natural finish; far healthier than the typical urethane finish applied to cork flooring.

Dense packed paper cellulose inulsation on the south facing wall

Dense packed paper cellulose insulation on the south-facing wall

This fall began the real “meat” of their project with an addition that incorporated a renovation of an existing breeze way and the north end of their small cape home.  When faced with the need for more space, this couple considered a new home “out of town”, but ultimately decided on working with their existing “in-town” home.  It was the appeal to maintain a lifestyle that took advantage of walks to downtown and Portsmouth that dominated their decision.  One walks to her local business and they other just a short commute away.  The new addition includes south facing windows that overlook the creek and dense packed paper cellulose insulation in the walls.  Working with builder Marc Hovde, the homeowners recognized the superior performance and health values of paper cellulose.  Plus, the product, made from recycled newsprint is manufactured only

Soft on the bones Vida  cork flooring

Soft on the bones Vida cork flooring

120 miles away.   Other features going into the renovation include an updated, tailor fit mini-split HVAC system that can be plugged into a solar system array down the road if they choose.  And a Richlite countertop on custom cabinets made by local wood worker Bob McGrath.  When the project is all said and done, this will be one of the most eco-friendly old homes in Kittery.  Perhaps, though, the greatest benefit, regardless of the improved home efficiency, will be the quality of life that includes a short walk to Kittery’s blossoming restaurant scene and Portsmouth beyond that.

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Squak Mountain Stone

Beauty, durability and ease of maintenance are 3 traits that homeowners frequently look for in the materials they install in their home.  In addition to this, building professionals look for traits and versatility in materials that make installation simple and consistently successful.  Squak Mountain Stone has all of this.  Check out the video link here.

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Get Off Oil; Save Heating Costs With Clean Burning Woodstoves

With oil prices pushing back towards those all time highs this winter, it might be time to consider investing in wood heat.  According to Popular Mechanics, heating by wood costs 1/2 as much as heating by oil (the most commonly used fuel source in New England) and even less than natural gas.  And those able to responsibly harvest their own wood can save significantly more in costs.

So, should you jump right into heating with wood stoves?  Well, there are certainly pros and cons, from the feeling and ambiance of a good fire, to the work required in chopping and hauling wood inside.  Check out this article from the website Houzz.    Should you choose to go with a wood stove for heating, whether it be supplemental or your full-time heat source, there are four factors I recommend considering.

  • 1.  Cost – Cost is always an issue.  We all have to pay for our stoves, so we can only buy what we can afford.  But don’t let the price tag of a wood stove mislead.  There are wood stoves ranging from $1000 to $10,000 and the differences between these stoves is equally broad.  For example, an entry-level Rais wood stove, the Mino II lists for $3700.  Rais are generally considered a high cost stove and definitely the very highest quality.  But there are other costs associated with a $1000 that are not necessary for a Rais stove.  For example, the unique design of most Rais stoves allow them to be installed within 6″ inches (from the rear) and 13″ from the side of a combustible surface such as sheet rock.  As well, the only need to be mounted on a non-combustible surface such as tempered glass.  Most stoves require stone or tile pads and a stone or tile surround to protect the area from heat.  What you pay more for with a Rais stove – high performance, clean burning, efficient distribution – you save on other related cost.
  • 2.  Efficiency – how efficient is your stove?  Meaning, how effectively does it burn the maximum potential btu’s of your wood and how thoroughly does it burn the wood.  The more efficient it is, the more heat you get out of each piece of wood.  Rais stoves burn so thoroughly that they leave only a small amount of ash behind.
  • 3. Clean Burning – Look for stoves with low emissions.  Many stoves require a catalytic converter to pass EPA standard.  The converter requires the electricity, so the stove must be plugged in to operate.  If the power goes out, so does your heat source.  Well designed stoves, like Rais stoves, don’t need the catalytic converter to pass the EPA standards, so when the power is out, they can still heat.  As well, that clean burning leads to a lot less cleaning.
  • 4.  Ambiance – nothing beats a stove with a large, unobstructed glass door for ambiance.  Check out the view on this Rais Rondo.
  •                                                                                                                                                                                            Heating your home with wood doesn’t have to be an all or nothing decision.  For many of us, regular use of a wood stove is a great supplement to our oil or gas based heat.  And for others, oil or gas are great supplements to wood heat.  But only one of these options adds to the “hygge” in your home.  Hygge is a danish word regarding a feeling created in a home that roughly translates to “coziness”.  It’s hard to put a price on that feeling a wood stove or fireplace creates, but one thing is certain, oil and propane furnaces don’t offer that fringe benefit.  That’s something I always look for in building projects and products – a dynamic design.






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Anatomy of A “Pretty Good House”

Anatomy of A “Pretty Good House”

A new concept recently floating around the green building world is the idea of “The Pretty Good House”.  In reality, while most knowledgeable and educated green or smart home builders have little fear about living up to the standards of a true green home, (and building it to conventional costs) the typical builder lacks the knowledge or the experience to meet such goals.  Even worse, most conventional builders are grossly misinformed about the measures used and costs associated with green building.  In response, the green building community has been floating this idea about a “Pretty Good House”.  In fact, if every home were built to meet this concept of a “Pretty Good House” we could easily meet most of the building based carbon reductions necessary to create a sustainable world.  So what is a “Pretty Good House”.  According to the Green Building Advisor: “The truth is that there seems to be a fair amount of agreement that it’s a house that is built better than code but that does not necessarily meet the requirements of Passivhaus, net zero, LEED, or other particularly stringent building standard.”  Check out this link at, too, for more description.  And here, too, at Energy Vangaurd.

So, at Greenovations, were going to do a case study on the progress of a new, “Pretty Good House” being constructed by the “smart” building professionals at Hovde Construction.

With thousands of components going into a building there are numerous opportunities to create “The Pretty Good House” without going all the way green.  Such “green” upgrades are typical examples of the level of detail displayed by energy-efficient builders such as the crew at Hovde Construction.  To begin with, look at the photo below.

The above photo is an example of standard framing, with one exception.  Instead of framing the studs 16 inches on center (the measurement from the center of one stud to the next) this home uses 24 inches on center, reducing the overall amount of timber and increasing the amount of insulated space.  This saves trees and carbon emissions.  As well, the lower number of board leads to fewer places of thermal bridging through the studs.

Another example of where greening your project isn’t just about energy efficiency is below:
In this angled photo (better for viewing) I-joists are being used for the structure of the floor.  I-joists consist of an I-shaped sandwich of solid wood with a core panel made from engineered (waste) wood.  I-joists save timber and are dimensionally stronger than standard boards.  The ever more common use of these is a sign of the growing eco-building movement.

Finally, below is a photo of a detail only the best and most knowledgeable builders use; something that can easily be added to “The Pretty Good House”

In the photo to the left do you see the white strip?  That’s foam insulation placed inside the header board above what will be a large window or sliding glass door.  Door and window framing creates a lot of thermal bridging and this is a simple, low-cost way to reduce the bridging.  Most builders don’t do it, but it’s a good step for a “Pretty Good House”.

To reference where a header is placed, the photo below is from sample home in the shop.  

Just above the maroon trim of the Le Page window is a silver strip.  That’s rigid foam insulation!  These are seemingly small details that add up to a lot of energy savings.  Generally, this builder would create the house using off-set studs in order to avoid thermal bridging, but there are so many windows that it just wouldn’t make sense.  Still, with attention to the right details, this will be a noticeably more efficient, “Pretty Good House”, something far better than the standard “code built” house.


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