Home Designing Service, Ltd

Residential Design Specialists serving Connecticut and beyond

Going Green: More Solar!

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solar panelOne day, I’ll write one of these posts and not mention Tesla or Elon Musk. Today is not that day. Next one isn’t looking great either. Who knows, maybe 2018. Probably not.

Sistine Solar co-founder Senthil Balasubramanian says Tesla’s work on solar energy and storage will be a “game changer.” Which is kinda like saying people walking around in Seattle will probably carry umbrellas. But there it is, one expert hailing Tesla and the mastermind behind it, Elon Musk, game changers.

Solar! Cheap, awesome, all encompassing solar. I feel like Elliot Gould’s character from Ocean’s Eleven, explaining the unbreakable defenses of a casino vault. “They got cameras, they got locks, they got watchers, they got timers, they got vaults, they got enough armed personnel to occupy Paris!” Except I just replace all the words with solar and call it a day.
Elon Musk wants to power the US with solar and it seems easier than you might think. He needs a small corner of a western state, like Utah or Nevada, just 100 square miles of solar panels. That would be enough to power the entire continental United States 24/7. And the battery, or batteries to hold all that delicious, buttery sun juice? Just 1 mile square.
This was just a few days ago, which, of course, means that it can probably be done with less now. Scientists have just put out a solar panel that almost doubles the efficiency of absorption over current leading panels. The parts are transfer printed, which makes them super precise and then is made from stuff normally reserved for infrared lasers, which helps it absorb every part of the direct light.
Elsewhere, this startup called Physee is whipping out these things called PowerWindows. They’re your typical business-style windows, except they’re designed to channel the light that hits them toward the solar collectors around their edges. A Dutch bank has already gone energy neutral by switching to them, and the next edition is on track to produce triple the energy. They’re going to coat the windows with space magic that will transform incoming light into near-infrared that’ll then get sucked up by those collectors.
This stuff just keeps getting better and better. Those Solar Roofs I talked about last time, Tesla gave them an “Infinity Warranty.” With the info release, Telsa said “Glass solar tiles are so durable, they are warrantied for the lifetime of your house, or infinity, whichever comes first.” Infinity, guys! That is LITERALLY forever. Tesla’s also picked up a bid to create the largest lithium-ion battery in the world to combat South Australia’s power outages. The 100MW/129MWh battery will be completed in December 2017 and, according to Tesla, will power 30,000 homes.
Tesla has quickly become the Google of solar energy. While, sure, Google isn’t the entirety of the Internet, a vast majority of people use a Google-powered phone with a Google made Internet browser to listen to music from Google Play or Google-owned Youtube, sharing them across their Google created Gmail or Inbox. Tesla seems to quickly be going down the same route.
To that end, though, they aren’t all that’s happening, we have this cool guy named John Goodenough making waves in the battery world. He’s kind of a big deal. He co-invented lithium-ion batteries. And now he thinks he may have topped himself. You see, he’s got this solid-state battery that doesn’t suffer the same disadvantages of lithium-ion, namely, it doesn’t threaten to explode or catch fire if you charge it too fast. Switching out the liquid electrolytes of lithium-ion for glass, they can quickly charge it, have it hold a bunch of energy and last a really long time, which is cool. Exploding batteries are no fun.
The Interwebs are also telling me solar, well, renewable energy as a whole, has topped nuclear power in the US, and that it’s on track to become 25% cheaper by 2022. But given how explosive the field is, I wouldn’t be surprised if that number ends up arriving earlier.
To sum up: Solar! Get it!

Going Green: Tesla’s Solar Roof

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For those looking at building green, become acquainted with Elon Musk and his company Tesla. They are doing for green technology what Google is doing for the internet, which isn’t to say they’re the only or best source, but that they’re the big kid on the block. They have the money and ability to make large steps forward, or test multiple new technologies that benefit several different fields.

One of these steps forward is their upcoming Solar Roof, a slick piece of tech that is slated to revolutionize the residential solar energy landscape.
Solar energy is one of the largest growing job fields in the United States. It is, likewise, one of the swiftest developing systems in green energy. Initially, solar energy was a bit unwieldy, large, heavy, difficult to install and actually not super efficient. But today, with powerful lithium storage, new photovoltaic cells and ever more efficient manufacturing, solar panels are easier to install and can “break even,” which is to say they are able to produce as much energy as is required to make them, in two years or less.
Now back to Tesla. Using these new manufacturing techniques, combined with their own lithium breakthroughs that have gone into powering their Tesla line of automobiles, they’re on the cusp of releasing their Solar Roof. The thing with the Solar Roof is that it doesn’t look like a bunch of solar panels tacked onto a regular roof. It looks like a roof.
From the street, to the naked eye, Tesla states that the panels of their Solar Roof do not look like panels at all, but from above, the panels are fully exposed and gobbling up that sweet sun energy your lithium storage devices crave. So far, Tesla’s offering smooth, glossy black tiles, ripply-looking textured tiles, slate and even those brown, wavy Tuscan tiles. All these tiles top out at 325 watts.
Now, this Solar Roof isn’t the only solar option out there, but it might be the prettiest or at least the least obvious. Panasonic also offers panels that also output 325 watts, with an efficiency just over 20%. There’s also a crazy looking contraption that incorporates solar, wind, water and basically any other means to gather energy into a single roof, but that’s the subject of another entry.

Until then, you can go to tesla.com/energy to check out these Solar Roofs (roof has stopped looking like a real word now) and other energy goodies. I’d go over to the column here and subscribe to this blog so you can see the other fun toys I’ll be talking about later.

Introducing: Going Green

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There’s a lot of go-to phrases attached to the word green. And as a writer, more specifically a writer who’s work is meant to grab a reader and link him or her to a topic they are interested in but may know little about, go-to phrases are the bread and butter, the workhorse, if you will, dragging the reader through the transition from enthusiast to know-it-all.

But back to my original point: the word green’s got a lot going for it. Color of money. The shade of envy and, by extension, the variance with which you judge the grass “on the other side.” The color you get “around the gills” when you’re not feeling well. Green thumbs. Greener pastures. Green light. Now, if I wanted to be cute, I could keep going, or I could promise how I could link all these into some article that essentially had nothing to do with any of the phrases themselves. But I’m just making a point. For such a small word, there’s quite a depth of content.

The concept of building green is just like that. People have been talking about green living or building green in some form or combination of the two since as long as I was old enough to care about the scientific mechanics of the world, the stuff that makes the wind blow, the complexity of purifying water and how all the junk we leave behind somehow makes its way into those same mechanics and gum up the works. The subject has only grown since then. Layers and layers of details, techniques, understanding and then research that clarifies or outright reverses that previous understanding. And it’s only getting crazier.

This may sound like a long sell, but honestly, I’m just trying to foster an appreciation for how deep this winding rabbit hole goes. Even though green building has been around for as long as it has, the movement in its advancement, the sheer volatility in discoveries – it’s like there’s a whole new theory or some new gadget that’s going to change how we look at capturing and storing energy, or the efficiency of the whole procedure coming out every month.
Stuff is getting sleek. Gone are the days of bulky solar panels thick as slabs of sidewalk cement. Living green now isn’t equal to being in a shack in the woods. Current homes are all but indistinguishable from their non-green counterparts, and when you can tell a difference, the look is classy, modern, at home in a swiftly changing, technology based society. And it’s only going to get better.Modular solar panels that basically install themselves and can be taken with you if you leave the house. Batteries to store all that solar power, not filled with lithium or lead, but salt water. Thin, light-weight insulation that offers better protection from the elements than stacks of the traditional variety. A power hub that helps regulate the transition from AC to DC current with the intent of being cheap, efficient and easy to use. Weird, bendy pipes that are super easy to install and don’t make your water taste like plastic. A self-cleaning roof that combines all sorts of different energy systems into one, providing enough power for six people, increasing ventilation and lighting, along with a number of other neat tricks. Hubs that control lighting, heat and cooling that can be controlled from your phone and monitor your habits to save you every penny possible. Even a solar powered riding lawnmower.

This is not the typical blog-in-three-parts. Going Green will offer snapshots into the constantly shifting world of energy efficient technology. When we find cool new ways to make your house do what it does, but better and safer, you’ll find them under this heading. When we hear of something that takes your house a step closer to being the starship Enterprise, you’ll get to read about me geeking out over it here.

Take a chance to hit the subscribe button over there in the column so you don’t miss when something new drops. As fast as this market is, if you don’t catch it right away, you’re likely to miss it.

Tiny Homes: Part 3

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No, no, come back! It’s ok, I promise. And, yeah, I know I promised the second part would be good times and it wasn’t, not entirely, but this one is totally a barefoot walk through soft grass and sweet-smelling wildflowers. Or whatever personal equivalent makes your day. When you get through all the flaming circus hoops (these aren’t in a field of flowers, that would be a fire hazard), the rest is a blast. It’s picking out just that right shade of [insert specific thing you want here] and being really, really picky about the kind of message your home says about you.

You see, maybe you don’t have the money for an authentic Tudor-revival filled with handcrafted everything and tile specially imported from Italy. Maybe you have the artistic sensibilities of Warhol or Frank Lloyd Wright, but the budget of your friends the Schmermans with only one income and three kids. You want unique, but you’d like to keep your family and not gain a bankruptcy. In this story, it also helps if you absolutely refuse to settle for anything less than the best materials available.
Best, in this case, is absolutely dependent on what you want, but green tends to be the way to go with tiny homes. Green can mean anything from reclaimed to new-age materials. People automatically think solar panels, experimental structural components and super great insulation, and, yeah, solar energy is pretty ubiquitous, but there’s a lot of play in the other two.
If you can imagine a benign waste product, they probably make bricks out of it. Hemp, sawdust, the ash from smoke stacks, straw, steel dust. All bricks now. All green. But my personal favorite is a thing called Mycelium. It’s a fungus, or, more specifically, the material that makes up the tough stalk of mushrooms. It can be persuaded to grow around cores of straw and then air dried. The resulting bricks are fire, water and, oddly enough, mold resistant. It’s a better insulation than fiberglass and it’s stronger than concrete. Mushroom houses. What a time to be alive, right? A new but trending material is rammed earth. It is exactly what it sounds like. They take wet earth and then they use these machines that look like a forced union between a jackhammer and an immersion blender to tamp or “ram” it down as hard as it will go. The frame holding it up is then taken away and it leaves behind this hard, incredibly insulating wall with a cool, ripply, sedimentary rock appearance. There’s even a company called Dwell that makes, you guessed it, bricks of the stuff.
And then there’s always reclaimed material. It’s often not possible or affordable to make an entire house from eclectic stuff you find in scrap yards or antique shops. But a tiny home? Definitely. Walls in those old windows that used to be above doors in schools, the siding of barns that have gone silver with time and decades of rain and wind, pre-rusted corrugated metal, an entire train car, floorboards of sanded and polished train ties. Anything. And because it’s reclaimed, it’s green. There are all sorts of grants, government and otherwise, you can look into before you start building your tiny, green home. I’m not going to go into the specifics, because there are A LOT of them, but a simple Google search will put you on the right track. Just this year in Quebec, a cabin was made by Canadian firm Architecture Casa that was rated LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold. They used reclaimed materials, flawless insulation, a design that minimized its impact on the surrounding environment (it was built to allow a natural stream to run under it), passive solar panels, radiant heating concrete floors and windows placed to capture the most sunlight possible. It’s a touch bigger than a normal tiny home (small or below average, maybe), but the point is it was built intelligently and now has an energy consumption approaching 0. It only uses what it produces itself.
Now, a lot of this hinges on the fact that you want to have a tiny home and not a mobile tiny home. A lot of these materials aren’t meant to move. Or are too heavy to be cheap on travel costs. But there are things you can do for the kind of tiny home with get-up-and-go. Recycled cotton insulation, there’s always the solar panels, you basically want to go as light as possible to reduce the gas cost. And you should still find a way to use those Mycelium blocks, because those are really cool. And honestly, if you can’t say you live in a house made of mushroom, why even do it? I appreciate you sticking with me in the ups and downs of this tiny house series. Home Designing Service is more than qualified to put together the plans of your next dream, tiny or otherwise. Next up, we’re going to be looking at the opposite end of the housing spectrum. Mansions, castles big enough to be sovereign nations unto themselves, and the like. Can’t wait to see you there.

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