I’m off to see “the Wizard… of Odds…”

11 Jan

It’s a brave new year…

One filled with hope, commitment, and desires…

A wise man once told me that “The New Year brings the success you earn…”

Readers who have frequented these pages already know that here in Mississippi, the Klein family continues it’s trek towards “that Everest of peaks…” home ownership… once again…

We’ve battled the locals, the state, and many politicians who see us as either advocates or adversaries, depending on whether or not we agree with their antiquated way of thinking…

We’ve been embraced by some of the locals, and some politicians who see that we’re actually advocating a change in the way things are done, so that families live in houses, and not in temporary shelters.

That said, the fight continues. I’m living in a state that only Illinois rivals, in “certain areas of political aptitude.” And frankly, that infuriates me. I was taught that politicians were placed in those lofty positions, to better serve the people who put them there. The reality is that politicians are a special breed, and sometimes that breed mutates, to those who are only in it for their own self-aggrandizement and success, instead of actually working in public service, to fortify the populace.

It’s funny… although I live in one of Mississippi’s most industrious Casino/Gambling cities, I spend more time “gambling” in Jackson… Go figure.

So… I’m headed to Jackson again (the Mississippi “capital of corruption,” only equaled by Illinois…) to force through the new plans on the “shipping container” house we’re trying so desperately to build. This meeting was originally scheduled for the first week of January, 2009, but it’s been moved to the second week of January, due to a boondoggle trip that “seated politicians” are participating in, to “secure manufacturing contracts abroad…”

What this translates to is “Some fat-cats have asked us to represent our state, so they too can write off a free trip to Europe, paid for by the taxpayers, and other ignorant rubes…” The funny part about this is that the Governor of the State just recently returned from a very (suspiciously) similar trip…

Our faithful readers already know that our housing plans have changed, due to new “refinements” of the wording in the legalese that has been carefully crafted to ensnare us, and make building of any sort impossible. LOL!

The most frustrating part of this entire process has been the apparent “participation” of politicians whose only intent is to create new obstacles, so that they are insured of press coverage.

This first “new and improved” meeting is with a committee that is targeted at the promotion of “green” projects in South Mississippi. I suspect that it was created solely to collect data that will be used to go back to Washington DC, looking for some federal (read “state” handout) money, but alas, (sigh!) it’s a hurdle I must cross.

You know… this blog was originally a place that I created to vent, because I knew I was going to get frustrated. I hoped that people could read through my experiences, and hopefully sidestep the pits I foolishly blundered into. It has, however, become something more, a place where I have somehow been transformed into an “esteemed affordable housing advocate” according to the State of Mississippi. Oh, those poor rubes… If they only knew…

However, RenaissanceRonin has also garnered me a few “media followers,” and they have assured me that they will “assist me” in pushing this project through to completion, by “increasing the visibility of the participants.”

I’m a big believer in “public record.” The best way to effect change, is to do it strategically, accurately, openly, and with fanfare. I think you can read between the lines here, and see what kind of “hammer” I’m creating…

I am very fortunate, I have some really creative and qualified people standing behind me. Admittedly, they are standing there, so I catch all the bullets, and suffer the slings and arrows of any created controversy. But, that’s okay. I have lot’s of scars and a few more aren’t gonna make much difference.

I’ll also take this moment in time, to point out that I have been heavily influenced by the works of Paul Stankey and his group of visionaries, who are presently freezing their appendages off in the “great white north” of Minnesota. You’ve heard me talk about the guys at hiveMODULAR.com before, and although it’s hard for me to imagine such creative feats coming from guys who aren’t even smart enough to move someplace warm, they’re a bunch of guys that anyone longing for a home should watch…and then employ.

hive_modular_blineIn the end, all I’m actually doing is detailing (in brief) what my “green” intentions for the grant subsidies and endowments actually are. The boil-out is this;

“I’m taking your grant money, and rather than just build another stick or masonry house, I’m going one step further, and building a sustainable, efficient, and affordable home, that will actually participate in the lifestyle of the family that lives within it by both reducing operational overhead, and creating a secure and comfortable environment for the family in residence…”

As I wrote this, I pictured that commercial where Elizabeth Taylor looks at some guy playing poker, removes her earrings, while saying “These have always brought me luck…” and she tosses them into the pot…

Please note that this is just a rough draft…

The Klein “Net-Zero” Residence

To the casual onlooker, it appears that America is relatively new to the sustainability bandwagon. However, projects ongoing in the United States prove otherwise. One of these projects is a “Hurricane Katrina Rebuild” of a storm ravaged home owned by the Klein family, of Biloxi Mississippi. This project is an “affordable and alternative design,” roughly modeled after many “design-build” processes now being used commonly in America.

“Design Build” simply means that the contractor, sub-contractors, and the architect are on the team with the homeowner, from day one of the project. The idea is to provide sole-source responsibility. One of the advantages of “design build” is that you have several sets of eyes on the project, from it’s beginnings. This allows high speed solution of any problems that may occur, and that improves the building process through value engineering, and cost savings. It’s basically the best of all worlds, in the building industry.

In our case, Klein will be both property owner and serve as the General Contractor. Klein has decades of building experience, and has successfully completed projects ranging from residences and duplexes in Southern California, to mansions in South Florida, totaling a value of approximately $70+ million dollars over his lifetime of participation. He has also successfully overseen and participated in projects internationally, in Central America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

As you can surmise, Klein comes by it naturally through a mix of his international roots and decades of experience and training.

Here are some of the “green” highlights of the project currently on the table;

A photovoltaic system produces energy on-site and circulates rain water collected in a cistern; perseverance and commitment to sustainability are evident in every planned detail – right down to the thermal mass “paper-crete” exterior walls, and the scientifically engineered awnings that both cool in the summer and allow solar heat to penetrate during in the winter.

Building “green” isn’t a mystery. You don’t have to be Nostradamus, or Albert Einstein, or even Robert Stern to figure it out. “Building “green” just requires careful planning and competent use of available resources. It is a simple solution that enables families to lessen their impact on the planet, while they reap the benefits of beautiful and comfortable surroundings.”

Elevating sustainable design to a whole new level, the Klein Residence is all about solar efficiency, not just a few simply-placed solar panels. The goal here isn’t to create another McMansion. It is about maximizing space, not having the most space. It is about cultivating a garden not just for its beauty, but also to actually feed the family, and conserve water. Klein and his “minions and inspirateurs” will succeed in the creation of a comfortable, modern and attractive home, while cleverly allowing environmentally sustainable function to dictate it’s form.

(Remember, gentle readers, that I stole the core of my design from Paul Stankey, and his merry band of miscreants…)

[Lawyers made me put that in… rest assured that there is a lawsuit in here somewhere! LOL!]

Integrating livability with sustainability, the Klein forward-thinking model breaks established design rules to create a new generation of sustainable residences.

The home is situated so the home’s longest expanse is on the south side to maximize passive solar collection. Windows are minimized on the colder, north-facing walls. Deciduous trees planted on the south side of the home is designed to make the indoors feel more comfortable for the family by providing shade.

Generous tree plantings along the east, south and west sides of buildings will further provide shade from Mississippi’s harsh summer sun, and obstruction of the inquisitive view of neighbors.

The residence incorporates on-site solar and geothermal systems that are designed to supply 100 percent of the family’s energy needs, and work in conjunction with energy consumption patterns that are markedly lower than those found in the nation’s average homes.

Energy from the sun will provide a majority of the homes’ daytime heating and electric energy through both active and passive solar energy collection.

In addition to state-of-the-art rooftop photovoltaic panels, passive solar heating will be accomplished through a number of innovative architectural design measures.

Building east-to-west maximizes south-facing exposures to the sun.

Strategic placement and sizing of doors and windows on east, south, and west-facing walls furthers this. There is minimal use of windows and doors on colder, north-facing walls.

Scientifically engineered awnings shield the windows from the sun in summer, yet accommodate the lower angle of the sun in winter, allowing solar rays through the windows when they’re most needed.

While the sun will provide the base load of the homes’ heating needs, geothermal energy will be the heat source for overcast days and during the nights.

Underground geothermal exchange systems will capitalize on the earth’s constantly moderate temperature, and utilize an underground loopfield to extract energy that will be used for domestic hot water, space heating in the winter and space cooling in the summer.

A leaky home compromises even the most energy-efficient heating and cooling systems. The homes’ airtight construction will achieve a low 0.1 natural air changes per hour. By contrast, the majority of U.S. homes currently being built average between 0.5 and 0.7, according to the Energy Star* program, letting more hot air out and cold air in.

Heat recovery ventilators (HRV) will make the homes’ heating systems even more energy efficient. This innovative system will transfer 75 percent or more of the heat from air exiting the home to the fresh, filtered air entering the home.

The home features will include energy-conserving light fixtures and water-conserving plumbing fixtures; interior finishes will be low-toxic and contain no or low VOCs (volatile organic compounds), and materials will be from sustainable resources.

Now, I know you all have questions about how we’ll actually achieve this, so I’ll try to answer some of the more obvious questions here;

Q. What does “net-zero energy” mean?

“Net-zero energy” means that a home uses renewable resources to generate as much energy as it consumes over the course of a year.

Q. What methods are used to ensure energy efficiency at the Klein Residence?

  1. Smart, passive solar orientation

  2. Super-insulated airtight building shell

  3. Heat recovery ventilators (HRV) for fresh air with minimal energy loss

  4. Geothermal (or Ground Source Heat Pump) heating and cooling, and water heating

  5. High-efficiency lighting and appliances

  6. Photovoltaic solar panels

Q. What is the source of electricity at the residence when the sun is not shining or during the night?

During the course of a year, the energy the residence generates from renewable resources during the day will more than offset the amount of energy it consumes from the grid at night.

Q. Nothing comes for free. Is the homeowner paying more for the energy-efficiency systems?

Of course, but the energy-efficiency systems’ costs are included in the price of constructing the home. The initial savings are realized immediately through the reduced payments of the homeowner’s energy bill.

Q. All that is cool, but do homeowners pay energy bills?

Yes. The homeowners will pay nominal fees to the utility company to ensure the electric lines that connect the home to the grid are maintained and always available. However, the “net-metering program” revenues will offset this cost.

Q. How is the builder able to provide these advanced and typically expensive energy-efficient systems in this “affordable” alternative home?

A large component of the energy performance is the orientation and design of the home itself. The home also showcases technologies that are already commercially available, so research and development expenses primarily are limited to system integration and to the required computer modeling.

[End of Lecture…]

So, folks…

If you don’t hear from me anytime soon, it’s probably because I’ve been accused of “Contempt of Committee,” and I’m sitting in the slammer, somewhere…

Film at 11pm…

Stay tuned!

The Renaissance RoninAddendum (01/15/09): Evidently, somebody forgot that the Inauguration was this weekend. Thus, they can’t meet the “majority” for the Committee  “Seats,” so… we’re rescheduled again, this time for Mid_February. Thank heavens I called, before driving all the way there (it’s a three hour drive from Biloxi). Final date for committee? “pending approval.”  Harrumph!

6 Responses to “I’m off to see “the Wizard… of Odds…””

  1. wildkitty January 11, 2009 at 12:23 pm #

    wishing you luck! 🙂

  2. build_green January 11, 2009 at 1:02 pm #

    First let me say that I am 100% behind “can” living, which is how I came across your blog. I have a question that you may be able to answer for me. Have you heard of anyone standing a container on end for a stair tower, two story closet space or stacked bathrooms? I came across an artists rendering of a 5 container home with 4 of them standing on end at the corners and supporting 1 down the middle as the second floor. I know the description is vague, you can see it at fabprefab.com . I would like to find out if it is structurally sound. Any thoughts?

  3. renaissanceronin January 11, 2009 at 3:51 pm #

    Hi Kitty: I’d offer to “pet” ya, but I hear you bite! We’ll be lucky, because we’ll earn it… he said. I might call ya for bail money… LOL!

    And to Build_Green:
    Hey there! Welcome to the Madness! Actually, my house is using a container “stood on end,” to house the “stair tower” in exactly the way you’re probably imagining. You end up with an 8’x9.5′ (approx.) space to use, 40′ tall, plenty high enough to connect all the levels. I’ve seen baths stacked in containers, and then lowered into place, with a crane. It’s a great way to prefab your entire bath “complex” before installing it on-site. And, I’ve seen containers stood on end, to form multi-level walk-ins, and home offices… The possibilities are endless.

    I’ll have to take a look at fabprefab.com to see your “example.”

    Years ago, we built a home out of containers, stood on end, with a concrete floor poured between them, to form the different levels. It’s located in Northern California, just a bit off the beaten track, near Crescent City.

    Stay tuned…


  4. matt January 11, 2009 at 4:05 pm #

    Fascinating blog post. In the UK there is some attempt to do this as well, even the government is in on the act. You’re absolutely right that orientation is the main factor, which is why the costs of introducing various renewable technologies are often prohibitive to current home owners if they have the wrong orientation, especially when they see the long payback periods.

    • renaissanceronin January 11, 2009 at 4:54 pm #

      Hi Matt: Like my Mom used to say: “Orientation is everything…” But I suspect she was talking about joining the US Marines… LOL!

      The beauty of using these containers to build abodes, is that you literally start with a blank slate. That makes the ability to use “newer” technologies possible, with proper planning. I’m amazed at the potential… and astounded at the opposition to using shipping containers as the “shell” in a housing application. Go figure.

      But, I was never one to do things the easy way… Hence all the scars, and knots on my head… LOL!

      Wait till you see this thing finished! People will be envious, and then… we’ll chase them off the property with dogs! Ha ha!

  5. wildkitty January 17, 2009 at 1:46 pm #

    I was just going to ask how it went and chide you for keeping your faithful public in suspense when I read your addendum. Ain’t politics grand? No wonder I’ve had little to no interest in it all my life.

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