A Beacon for the Future

A Beacon for the Future
"We hope the reinvention of our 100-year-old waterfront home as a model of green building will educate and inspire both the building industry and the general public.” - Homeowners Dave and Anna Porter (rendering by Craig Thorpe).

Friday, March 6, 2015

Seven Years in and Counting

Gee whiz! Didn't realize it had been so long since we last wrote a blog here! Most of what we share now goes through our GGATB Facebook page so we tend to forget the blog!

So here's a quick update: We've now been in the house for 7+ years and still loving it! We feel so blessed to still be here and still tell the story. Although we stopped late last year having regular public open houses, we still give private tours. To date, since the house was completed, more than 4,200 people have toured the home and nearly 47,000 unique visitors to the Web site! We have 79 likes on our Facebook page and invite you to join us!

How's it going? Overall things are still humming along. Here are specific updates on certain features:

  1. The geothermal heating system is always the biggest one I think of, since it was one of the costliest items. The system is still going strong although we have found this year that the radiant floor heating hasn't kept up quite as well on some of our coldest days (that is to say that room temps fall to as low as 65 from an ideal 68 degrees; not like its not working at all). We're thinking we might need to increase the flow of warm water through the pipes.
  2. The green roof is still going strong: no leaking and the plants have survived very cold winters and some hot dry days as well. It has morphed somewhat over the years so that some plants have taken over more than others but so far so good. On occasion during the growing season we do have to hire someone to get up on a ladder and pick a few weeds but the plants manage to combat most of those themselves.
  3. The solar system is still doing fine as well. It did seem to perform better the longer it has been in operation but the real disappoint is that it is just too small to make any kind of real difference in our bills. And last year our public utility decided that they could no longer bill us on a monthly averaging since we have a net meter (still not sure why this is; no one can really give us an answer except that is is just the rule). The result is that we seem to be penalized because we produce some of our power. But we still believe in solar! We have good friends down the street who put in a larger system last year and it has been not only providing all they need but getting them some refunds from the public utility! We'd like to get a larger system someday...the reality is that for a very green, very energy efficient house we still use a lot of electricity (I mean, not compared to other houses our size but still more than we'd like). We have necessities like an offsite septic drain field that requires pumping our, ahem, stuff uphill and a wine room cooling unit that protects our wine investment. We also have niceties like a hot tub (not necessarily "green" but definitely good for mental, physical and emotional health!) and and overflow fridge and freezer downstairs. Our bill averaged around $200/month when we were on averaging. 
  4. Countertops and flooring overall have been great! The only real disappointment has been the Marmoleum in the great room. Don't get us wrong; we love the look, feel and ease of care but for various reasons we wish now that we had at least gotten the "roll" product as opposed to the Marmoleum Click (tongue and groove panels) as seams near wetter areas are popping up just ever so slightly. The thing is that ideally with the Click product if a panel got damaged you could simply pull that panel and replace it. The reality is that the new panel would have to be glued down as the damaged panel would have to be cut out, removing the tongue-and-groove features of the adjoining panels. That would mean the whole rest of the floor would be "floating" (not glued down) and that single one would be stationary. We've been told this can be a problem. So we have learned to live with the blemishes. We are very pleased with all of the other hard surfaces and wouldn't change any of them.
  5. Paint, exterior and interior, has for the most part stood the test of time well. The only has been with the garage door. The paint color has faded there--possibly weather-related? But otherwise holding up well for its age.
  6. Appliances overall are fine too. We did have to replace the dish drawers, sadly, and ended up getting a more conventional dishwasher. Also had to have some repair work done to the dryer. And the steam unit motor is in for repairs. But these are all to be expected these days.
  7. Have to give kudos to Kohler. Our kitchen sprayer faucet finally failed and they sent a replacement for free!  Yay for lifetime warrantees!
That's the latest. Thanks for visiting and come see us on Facebook!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Another Great Article about Greening Your Home and Life

A big shout out to the members of the Girl Scouts at Lexington Middle School all the way back in Kentucky who have been working on the "Go Green" badges!  "Go Green" Badges?  Who knew?!  But it seems a very appropriate activity and goal to learn about and work toward.  The reason I know about this group is that through their adviser, Sarah, I learned that they had found our www.goinggreenatthebeach.com Web site and had gleaned much from our resources.  It's so great to know that we are impacting communities even as far away as that!

And these girls are already learning about the importance of sharing what they learn.  They wanted Sarah to share another great resource, a kind of one-stop-shop for ways to green your own home and life and wanted me to share it with those of you who also come to our site.

So, go visit: http://www.homeadvisor.com/article.show.Going-Green-in-Your-Home.17326.html. for more great ideas on going green.  Whether you're going for your Go Green badge or just want to green up your home, it's a great resource.

Thanks bunches, girls and keep up the good work!

Friday, April 19, 2013


We get asked every now and then the question about our energy usage.  Sometimes we're asked if we pay nothing since we're so energy efficient and have solar and geothermal.  I wish the answer was "no."  But it's not.  The truth is that even though we're very energy efficient as defined by ENERGY STAR (An Efficient Home Envelope, with effective levels of wall, floor and attic insulation properly installed, comprehensive air barrier details, and high-performance windows; Efficient Air Distribution, where ducts are installed with minimum air leakage and are effectively insulated; Efficient Equipment for heating, cooling, and water heating;Efficient Lighting, including fixtures that earn the ENERGY STAR®; and Efficient Appliances, including ENERGY STAR® qualified dishwashers, refrigerators, and clothes washers) we still have our energy sins: a hot tub, 2 full-sized refrigerators and 2 beverage-sized ones (only one of which is energy efficient), an offsite septic that requires an electric pump to move waste uphill 2 blocks.  But these are just the obvious ones. There are plenty of other places where we all waste energy without giving it a second thought.  Here's a helpful infographic that spells it out:

home appliances waste electricity
Source: Apartment Guide – Discover ways to stop wasting energy in your college apartment

See what I mean?  Look around your own house for places where you're spending unnecessary energy.  ENERGY STAR has a helpful tool to get you started on your own investigation.  Good luck!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Doing Well by Doing Good

Joel Makower, chairman and executive editor of GreenBiz Group Inc., creator of GreenBiz.com, among many other accomplishments, writes in his book, "Strategies for the Green Economy: Opportunities and Challenges in the New World of Business," that companies are recognizing that by "going green" they can not only reduce costs but enhance their reputations (and hence their bottom lines) in other words, “doing well by doing good.”  Doing the right thing turns out to be a win-win for everyone.  Take OutBack Power for example.

Our solar inverter sponsor for Going Green at the Beach, OutBack Power, is nearly right in our own backyard.  The WA state company is located less than 30 minutes from us in the little town of Arlington.  But though their location is small, OutBack is big on ways to bring sustainable power to the world.  One their recent achievements was to help International Rescue Group  meet part of its mission to reduce its carbon footprint by helping it retrofit one of its rescue boats, the Thunderbird 2.  The OutBack inverter helps to harness solar energy to power both Thunderbird 2 and its onboard water-making system, which desalinates ocean water and makes it potable through reverse osmosis.

You can read more about this project on OutBack's recent press release.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

What the bottom line on mercury?

The Green Market Oracle reported this week on a new treaty signed by more than 140 nations limiting mercury emissions.  The negotiations for this treaty, which limits acceptable mercury emissions from industrial boilers and power plants, was nearly 5o years in the making.  It also sets rules on phasing out certain products that have high mercury content and mining and storage.

We have known for centuries that mercury is poisonous.  It is particularly dangerous to women and babies.  The good news is that we have come a long way in technology that would help lower or eliminate mercury emissions.  

So, you might ask, what about the push to replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs when CFLs contain mercury?  Glad you asked...

Lighting accounts for close to 20 percent of the average home’s electric bill. ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs use up to 75 percent less energy (electricity) than incandescent light bulbs, last up to 10 times longer, cost little up front, and provide a quick return on investment.

CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing – an average of 4 milligrams (mg). By comparison, older thermometers contain about 500 milligrams of mercury – an amount equal to the mercury in 125 CFLs. Mercury is an essential part of CFLs; it allows the bulb to be an efficient light source. No mercury is released when the bulbs are intact (not broken) or in use.

Most makers of light bulbs have reduced mercury in their fluorescent lighting products. Thanks to technology advances and a commitment from members of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, the average mercury content in CFLs has dropped at least 20 percent or more in the past several years. Some manufacturers have even made further reductions, dropping mercury content to 1 mg per light bulb.

EPA estimates the U.S. is responsible for the release of 103 metric tons1 of mercury emissions each year. More than half of these emissions come from coal-fired electrical power. Mercury released into the air is the main way that mercury gets into water and bio-accumulates in fish. (Eating fish contaminated with mercury is the main way for humans to be exposed.)  

Most mercury vapor inside fluorescent light bulbs becomes bound to the inside of the light bulb as it is used. EPA estimates that the rest of the mercury within a CFL – about 11 percent2 – is released into air or water when it is sent to a landfill, assuming the light bulb is broken. Therefore, if all 272 million CFLs3 sold in 2009 were sent to a landfill (versus recycled, as a worst case) – they would add 0.12 metric tons, or 0.12 percent, to U.S. mercury emissions caused by humans.

Electricity use is the main source of mercury emissions in the U.S. CFLs use less electricity than incandescent lights, meaning CFLs reduce the amount of mercury into the environment. As shown in the table below, a 13-watt, 8,000-rated-hour-life CFL (60-watt equivalent; a common light bulb type) will save 376 kWh over its lifetime, thus avoiding 4.3 mg of mercury. If the bulb goes to a landfill, overall emissions savings would drop a little, to 3.9 mg. EPA recommends that CFLs are recycled where possible, to maximize mercury savings.

Because CFLs also help to reduce greenhouse gasses, other pollutants associated with electricity production, and landfill waste (because the bulbs last longer), they are clearly the environmental winner when compared to traditional incandescent light bulbs.

(Source: EPA ENERGY STAR.  http://www.energystar.gov/ia/partners/promotions/change_light/downloads/Fact_Sheet_Mercury.pdf)