Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Victor Lebow

This bastard started the whole thing rolling...


Read his quote from 1955.

Now we have 1 billion people hooked on this notion and another 2-3 billion coming on board at a time when the planet is already reaching an exhaustion point of resource depletion, biosphere destruction, habitiat loss, wildlife extinction, global atmospheric and oceanic changes, and food production collapse.

Anyone who questions or doubts whether the perverbial S is going THTF, is not addressing reality.

And it seems that a LOT of people are not addressing reality. Case in point: on my short 15 minute walk today I must have seen a dozen people sitting in their cars (running of course) in parking lots, drive-thrus, or idling their vehicle at a shipping dock. It was a gorgeous, sunny day... 26C. If you had to wait, get out of your car. If you needed a drink, park and walk in and converse with another human being (face-to-face).

People either just don't seem to believe there actually is a problem, or are totally ignorant (it's hard to buy that argument these days) or simply don't care. I think it's the latter.

As a result, I honestly believe that we (collectively and unfortunately) will have to drive off the cliff, in order to realize that we were about to drive off a cliff. This is defintiely not going to be fun looking into either the rearview mirror, or the windshield.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Full Stop

This is what civilization in the US and Canada is going to look like if we don't start to radically change practically everything we are doing.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Recommended Readings:

The following is a rather eclectic and broad-based list of books I have read that I highly recommend for educating yourself about the state of both our natural and built environments, as well as some reading that provides a bit of spiritual inspiration while trying to navigate this complicated and oftentimes frightening world. A couple of them (with asterisks) I have reviewed in SABMagazine, a Canadian sustainable building trade magazine. Enjoy!

The End of Food: Thomas Pawlick

*The Long Emergency: James Howard Kunstler

Urban Meltdown: Clive Doucet

A Pattern Language: Christopher Alexander

Dark Age Ahead: Jane Jacobs

The Death And Life of Great American Cities: Jane Jacobs

Heat; How to Stop the Planet From Burning: George Monbiot

Voluntary Simplicity: Duane Elgin

Natural Capitalism: Paul Hawkin

*Silent Spring: Rachel Carson

The Power of Now: Eckert Tolle

Renewable Energy Handbook: William H. Kemp

*Sea Sick: Alanna Mitchell

The One Straw Revolution: Masanobu Fukuoka

The Dalai Lama's Little Book of Inner Peace:  Dalai Lama

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Drive-thru Madness - It Gets Better!

When it comes to Tim Horton's and similar "food" chains that have spread like a fungus across our landscapes, I have little praise to offer. So when I discover a bunch of "Timmies" fans have managed to put together a 'happy' song about Tim Horton's, my gag-reflex goes into full convulsions.


This, if nothing else, proves hands-down how effective corporate strategies can be to convert those who don't ask important questions, into good little repeat customers (i.e. consumers).

When did a corporation ever deserve an anthem? They're supplying coffee and donuts for God's sake, not rules of law, institutions and governance. Let's get real.

The corporate marketting mavens at the top of this (and similar) companies have used the average North American's woeful addiction to caffeine (and sugar) and combined it with their inherent laziness to turn it into a full-blooded, environment-destroying cocktail. How? By way of the replication of thousands of land-wasting, stand-alone outlets scattered like architectural litter right across the entire country, complete with enormous drive-thrus.  Check out any of their outlets, any time of the day, and you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Tim Horton's management and stock holders must be laughing not only all the way to the bank, but also on their way back to the office with this dewy-eyed tripe.  "Suckers!", I can see them saying with their eyes shifting back and forth. (Mr. Burns definitely comes to mind.)

If thousands of people sitting on their jelly-donut stuffed butts in oftentimes gas-guzzling vehicles belching out fumes 24/7 around the country is your idea of something worth cheering about, then you obviously don't give a damn about the planet or your children's future on it.  Partaking in these sorts of activities (using drive-thru's specifically) is the tip of the iceberg as to the level of ignorance and disconnect people have between their behaviour and it's subsequent impact on the environment.

(I have observed, and htis is only an observatoin, that the majority of people in these drive-thru's are women. Often with children in the car. Hmmmm. What kind of message does this send to them?

So next time you have a craving for sugar or caffeine, and MUST satisfy it while on the road, please think about these corporate fleecing experts who couldn't give a damn about your environment or well-being: choose an independent instead. Then park the car and walk up to the counter and speak with the person behind it as if they are fellow human beings. Otherwise we are about to discover that "convenience" is going to come at a very high price.

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If you check out their webpage, they have the audacity to include a "Making A True Difference"/"Environment" section, as if championing the garbage issue has absolved them of all other environmental crimes.


Further, their environmental objectives http://www.timhortons.com/ca/pdf/2009CSR.pdf , although made to look triumphant, are pitiful if they are serious about making a real dent in staving off a global climate disaster due to excessive fossil fuel use.

What irks me even more, is that they intentionally use children's charities and hockey/sport (oh-so Canadian, eh?) as their "do-good-in-the-community" patronages, knowing very well that most people can't possibly see beyond the devious cloaking effect that these motherhood-and-apple-pie inducing sponsorships have.

The bottom line is that this is all a very, very clever marketing gloss-over of what is otherwise essentially a predatory business, that offers cheap, addictive products to as many people as possible with corporate profits being the primary goal.  Don't be fooled. Tim Horton's (and their ilk) are not you buddies.

Eco/Green Features of our Home

In a previous post, I outlined our experience in creating our 'eco-house'. I thought it would be useful as a follow-up to go into a bit of detail on the actual features of the home.

Essentially, this is an "eco-house", or "green" house. It addresses sustainability, low energy use, indoor air quality issues, low environmental impact and potential for off-grid living.

There is approximately 3000 square feet of interior finished space: 1100 sq.ft. for the basement and ground floor each with about 700 sq.ft. for the second floor.

On the surface, this may appear to be a rather conventional house, but from a performance perspective, it is very unique. It's our first year, so we can't get a true handle on energy costs just yet, but so far, it is proving to be about as low as you can get on a per square foot basis. It's looking like it won't take much more than $1600 in propane (including HST) for heating. this includes running the dryer, stove and hot water heating. These will prove to be long term energy savings.

Our previous house for example, (a century log home that we renovated back in 2000. It had a new roof, and a sizable addition resulting in about 1900 square feet of living space plus a partial basement coming to about 2550 square feet of actual heated space, cost well over $2700 in propane per year plus we needed to burn a minimum of $650 worth of wood with an identical fireplace to keep comforable. The new addition was built to code and the code insulation values haven't changed since then.

To compare heating energy costs alone then, the previous house cost $1.31/sq.ft. (including basement area) with the themostat set for 65F during the day and 63F overnight. This house, wiht the thermostat set at 68 day and night, will be more like $0.53/sq.ft., or 60% less. Or put another way, the previous place cost 1.5 times more than this new place to heat. When you add that up over the lifespan of the house, it is monumental. In 25 years, the previous house will cost $44,000 more to heat than this house and yet it is 17 percent smaller and the thermostat is set at a lower temperatures. And that's not accounting for inflation.

In terms of the major features they are as follows:

Firstly, the house is passive solar designed, i.e. it takes advantage of the sun for indoor heating and uses shading devices for summer cooling. Two weeks before Christmas 2010 it was -25C outside (-13F) and sunny all day. The indoor temperature on the main floor and basement both were in the mid to high 20's (26C/78F)... just because of the sun i.e. no supplemental heat! The heat did not come on until late into the night after we went oto bed.

To assist with holding all this free heat, the walls, roof and other exposed exterior elements are super insulated. This has a gigantic impact on energy costs. They are insulated to almost double building code requirements.

Further, all windows are low-E (on the thrid surface) and are argon filled for superior performance i.e. minimizing heat loss in order to trap all that free heat.

The basement and ground floors are intentionally made of concrete to absorb the suns energy and re-radiate it out later in the day, which moderates the internal temperature. This also allows for in-floor radiant heating which is the most desirable and efficient ways of heating.

The fireplace in the Great Room can heat most of the house. (which is useful in a power outage). however we have found that we use it rarely as it tends to over heat the place. A central air system would have helped alleviate this by running a cetrnal fan and re-distributing the heat, but the cost would have been prohibitive in addition to all the other features.


Many ask about indoor conditions in the summer. Good question. We deliberately chose to not install air conditioning.

Being so exposed, one would think we would just cook in there. Well, this past summer, when it was in the low 30's (high 80's) outside for several days straight and the solar shades were only 75% completed and the crank to operate the skylights wasn't available, the hottest it got inside on the main floor was 27C (80F). We kept the overhead fans going and kept most of the windows open and belive it or not, it was quite bearable. overnight, fortunately the termpature dropped to low 20's (70's) and the cool breezes would flow thru.

The solar shades on the south facade and the east and west porches shade the majority of the house which has a major impact on minimizing interior heating. The super insulated exterior also helps significantly in minimizing the heat build-up.

This summer we will attempt to keep the windows mainly closed (to keep the humidity out) and open the skylights. This will allow the earthtubes to draw in pre-cooled air into the basement and exhaust the hotter air out the skylights at the top. Stay tuned to see how successful that ends up being.
All water fixtures are low-flow and the well pump is a hi-efficiency type therefore cutting down on water and electricity use.

The house can be easily hooked up to a portable generator should there be power outages. And all the critical circuits, (fridge, water pump, boiler equipment and pumps, fireplace fan, etc.) are on special emergency circuits.

The house can be easily converted to an off-grid house as all appliances are Energy Star rated and lighting fixtures are predominantly compact fluorescent. The roof is also at the ideal angle for maximum solar benefit.

It also has "earth-tubes" which allow for the exchange of fresh air (as required by building code) but without using energy. Essentially they go underground to pre-heat (in the winter) or pre-cool (in the summer) the necessary fresh air.

Minimizing Chemicals:
All indoor finish materials are low VOC and made from native tree species.

The other aspect that is a result of the reduced heating costs and lack of cooling equipment is the reduction in CO2 emissions, which is also significantly less.

Solar shades installed on South Facade and Porches located on
East and West Facades
for solar shading in the summer.

Plenty of Light in Main Living Area

Thursday, November 11, 2010

My Contact Info

As an architect who has spent most of his career focused on green and sustainability issues both within my field and beyond it, I believe I have much to offer to both those in, and not in, the business. I am open to the opportunity to discuss the issues that affect our industry or simply to bounce ideas off each other. If we manage to dabble a little into economics, politics, religion or sexuality, I'm open to that too. ;-)

Due to professional liability concerns, if we get to a point in our discussions where I think it goes beyond bouncing ideas around, I will have to let you know and we can decide as to what steps to take next. If anyone is seeking architectural services, I am open to that as well.

I have set up a separate yahoo mail account for people who would like to either personally contact me in regards to this blog or to carry on a non-public discourse. It is envirofrigginmental@yahoo.ca.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Limewire Shut Down


Apparently, the music industry, believes it's not getting what it feels it deserves. From what little I know, the musicians are not the primary beneficiaries of what you pay for when purchasing an album or single. Middle-men, distributors and other leaches of the industry/system take a very healthy cut. This is true in the publishing field as well.

I don't think anyone, when asked, has a problem with compensating both artists and those that are directly involved in the production of music. But maintaining the gravy-train for the leaches (i.e. those that add no value to the actual product) is a non-starter. If the prices of the music purchased more accurately reflected the costs of production and went directly to those who produce it, then file sharing (i.e. the urge to get it free) along with the sites that support it, would be eliminated.

I am at a loss as to why I should pay for a file that represents a recording (as it is not the actual recording, it is merely a copy) that was made, in many cases, numerous decades ago, especially if it is for my own use. When cassettes were the rage, one could easily tape from the radio... or tape-to-tape. How is this any different?

As an architect who produces drawings, someone can take my design and easily replicate it by making only slight modifications, and get around copyright. This can have very negative consequences of course, especially if the replicated design is constructed in a jurisdiction outside that which the building was originally designed, but I digress. My point is that copyright laws are problematic in a world that has perfected the ability of replication. Protecting this intellectual property can only go so far.

This is yet another corporation (or cluster of related corporations) surreptitiously taking control of government and subsequently arm-twisting the public into submission.

This has little to nothing to do with the actual musicians or those involved in the production of the art.