2013 Eugene Sustainable Living Home Show

Exhibit at the 2013 Eugene Sustainable Living Show

Exhibit at the 2013 Eugene Sustainable Living Show

The eighth annual Eugene Sustainable Living Show concluded today.  Crowds were good and there were lots of new vendors with interesting things.  The mood was upbeat and most vendors I talked to were doing good business.  I haven’t been for a couple of years, and the overall mood seems more upbeat.

Sustainability was of course a theme, as you might imagine, from the shows name.  There were also exhibits for more mainstream products and services as well.  There are three home shows per year in Eugene:  1 sustainable, and 2 general shows.

Home improvements definitely add value to your house, but few return dollar for dollar, meaning if you invest a dollar on a project you might only get 75 cents back at resale time.  However, owning a house isn’t just about money and if you will enjoy the improvements they still may be a good idea.  If you would like to know which projects or improvements increase your house’s value the most, please contact me.

Shirmer Satre Landscape Architects exhibit at the 2013 Sustainable Living Show

Shirmer+Satre Landscape Architects exhibit at the 2013 Sustainable Living Show

Oregon Solar Power

Solar powered generation of electricity seems to make a lot of sense.  After all, sunshine is free and isn’t going away anytime soon.  Converting that extra sunlight to electricity seems much better than burning coal, gas, oil or uranium, at least to me.

Oregon is one of the leading states for the manufacture of solar panels and components.  The Solarworld Portland site has the largest capacity of any facility in the U.S., although recently they’ve laid off workers due to competition from China.  Sanyo’s manufacturing facility in Salem is another large producer of solar components.  Bend’s PV Powered (Advanced Energy Co.) also produces  solar components.  And, there’s even been talk, from time to time, of turning Eugene’s old Hynix chip foundry into a solar producer, although this hasn’t come to fruition.

With our oft cloudy weather, the Willamette Valley isn’t the first place that jumps to mind for solar power generation.  However, it’s more feasible than you think.  We’re apparently capable of generating solar electricity on the order of 4 kWh/m2 per day, which isn’t too bad.  Photovoltaics (PV) are the most common method of producing electricity, at least on a small, end-user application.  These use solar cells which give off DC that is then changed (inverted) to AC that powers the home.  When the sun is out PV does it’s thing and produces electricity, which is slick.


Solar panels in Mohawk Valley Oregon

So, why aren’t there solar cells on every house?  Cost is probably the biggest factor.  Often a rather large initial investment is required, although this is frequently offset by tax credits, and other programs.  There can be long payback periods for the investment, and this is a deterrent to some.  However, solar power does increases the value of a home.

How does it work in the real world?  Pretty well.  This is a PV array located in the Mohawk Valley, Oregon.  It provides about 85% of the annual electricity for the household.  I, for one, would like to have my electricity bills produced by 85%.


Residential solar power wiring in Oregon

Green Buildings Are Worth More

Cap rates for LEED certified commercial buildings are ½ percentage point better than for standard, non-green buildings.  Green building is a nice concept, but the marketplace’s acceptance will really help it take hold.

In Eugene and Springfield, there are very few LEED certified buildings so it’s hard to know how they’ll fare in the marketplace.  One problem with both commercial and residential green buildings is that appraisers don’t yet value them appropriately.  Of course, that will change—but for now it can cause problems if lenders are involved.

More buildings are going green these days.

Eugene Produces Local Electricity

Locally produced electricity for 13,000 homes will soon start to flow through Eugene’s power lines.  Seneca Jones has completed construction of its $45 million cogeneration plant.  Some two years in the making, before long, the plant will be feeding our power grid.  The cogeneration plant will use woody biomass—a renewable resource—produced from the mill and forests.

The concept isn’t entirely new however.  The old Weyerhauser mill in Springfield has a power generation plant producing over 2 ½ times Seneca’s 18.8 megawatts.  And, old timers will remember that EWEB used to burn hog-fuel (a very coarse saw dust) at its facility on the banks of the Willamette River.

Eugene is known for being green and environmentally friendly.  We also benefit from inexpensive electricity—keeping our cost of living down.  It’s an interesting world in which brush from the woods can be powering our cars.

Cogeneration feeding local power.

Remodeling and Home Improvement

Remodeling and renovating is another area of the market in Eugene and Springfield that fell on hard times during the Great Recession.  We have bottomed-out though—and business is improving.

While home improvements don’t return dollar for dollar on resale, they still make sense if you plan to stay in the house for a period of time.

Rebuilding the housing market brick by brick.

Recycle Those Fluorescent Light Bulbs

Fluorescent light bulbs are becoming more and more popular in homes—so much so that incandescent light bulbs are being phased out in the U.S.  Why?  Because flourescent light bulbs are proven to help residents save money on their utility bills.  But, the downside of the fluorescent bulb is that they contain mercury.  Therefore it is very important that these bulbs be recycled.  In Eugene and Springfield, Jerry’s, among other places will accept fluorescent bulbs for recycling.

Tip: If you are selling your home, making sure you have operable light bulbs (non burnt-out) in the highest wattage rated for the fixture is one way of helping your home seem bright.

Smart Meters

If you haven’t heard about “smart” electric meters, you might want to familiarize yourself now, as they could be appearing in your home soon. Smart meters allow utility companies to watch in real time how much electricity you use and when.

Smart meters will allow power companies to charge more for electricity at peak hours, influencing your use patterns. By spreading out power consumption throughout the day, power production is more efficient, and can lead to decreased costs.

Neither the Springfield Utility Board nor EWEB use smart meters yet, but they are on their way. While less then 10% of homes in the U.S. currently have smart meters, that number is projected to increase to one third in the next 5 years. Proponents of smart meters point out the following benefits: reduction in the cost of power during non peak times, reduced greenhouse-gas emissions, no more meter readers, and more accurate meter readings.

Your old meter could be on its way out.

Fed Money to go Green

New Programs from the Federal Economic Stimulus Package provide money for home energy savings, including high efficiency gas equipment. One of the standouts is tankless water heaters. Oregon homeowners converting to natural gas can now receive a combined incentive package worth up to $2,200. Existing gas customers are eligible for up to $2,040.

The stimulus plan allows for a 30 percent federal tax credit off installation costs, up to $1,500. This credit can be combined with a $200 rebate from The Energy Trust of Oregon and an Oregon State tax credit up to $340. Also, Rinnai dealers are offering new NW Natural gas customers a $160 gas credit. Northwest Natural can be reached in Eugene at: 342-3661.

Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.flame

Tankless water heaters: Hot water or Hot air?

Tankless hotwater heaters are all the rage right now. Claims of decreased energy usage by ½ are common. These are also called instant hot water heaters, which leads to confusion. While a good product for certain uses, shelling out the dough for tankless hotwater heater will not necessarily green up the planet.

In Western Oregon, there may be no or very little energy savings when tankless are compared to conventional hotwaters, if both are located inside the living space. For either style of hot water heater, the energy used to heat water is shed into the environment. So, the energy used to heat the water in turn heats your house. If you use air conditioning, there will be an added cooling load for the couple of months it’s needed.

While the hot water is made instantly by a tankless model, that does not mean you’ll have hotwater immediately at the tap. In fact, if you locate the tankless model in the same place as your old hotwater tank, it will take exactly the same time for the water to turn hot at the tap, or other point of use.

I went to Jerry’s, the world’s greatest home improvement center, and talked with them. They stock all kinds of hotwater heaters, and they’ll help you size your water heater, which will depend on the number of major draws. Tankless hotwater heaters cost around $1,000 for an average house, compared to about $350 for a tank model. For both hotwater heaters, both electric and gas models are available. The electric models of tankless hotwater heaters require some serious dedicated circuitry: 60 amps for a very small, one draw unit, and 120 amps for a full house model. Older houses may have only 100 amps available at the panel, and newer standards are for panels of 200 amps. For comparison, an electric clothes dryer needs 30 amps, a traditional hotwater heater needs 30 amps, and a stove needs 50 amps.

Instant hotwater at the tap requires a different set up, namely a recirculating system. The price for these are about $300-$400 in materials. This set up actually increases energy consumption, because it keeps water at the tap hot at all times. One other option for instant hotwater is to have a small point-of-use tank located near the tap.

The chief advantages of tankless hotwater heaters, as I see it, are: that they can be located outdoors, thereby conserving living space, and they don’t run out of hotwater, which is useful if you need to fill a large bathtub.

The Inside of a typical Tankless Hotwater Heater

The Inside of a typical Tankless Hotwater Heater

Gardens to Gazebos: Schimer + Associates

I recently had the chance to talk with Michael Sanchez of Schirmer + Associates, a landscape architecture firm in Eugene. Many of us don t have a clear idea of what landscape architects do in Lane County, and Michael cleared up some of the confusion.

Site design and the creation of places are major skills landscape architects bring to residential, commercial and public projects, and probably what most of us think of as their primary roll. Proficiency in areas such as: grading, drainage and storm water management, planting and irrigation design, design of site features like pergolas or gazebos, and paving designs fit into this category of site design.

Land Use Planning is another significant area in which some landscape architects are involved. Land partitions, sub divisions, planned unit developments, conditional use permits and annexations come under this area. But, Mr. Sanchez was quick to point out that landscape architects are concerned with anything that has to do with any area outside of a building. Are we clear now?

So, from the simplest to the most complex of garden design to the planning of your next subdivision, keep Schirmer + Associates in mind. You can reach Michael at 686-4540.

Landscape Architect

Michael Sanchez: Landscape Architect