Saturday, February 28, 2009

Brad Lancaster's Rainwater Harvesting Basics Parts 1 & 2

Brad Lancaster talks about his evolution into rainwater harvesting, and the current state of our freshwater resources. Filmed at Santa Barbara City College Lifescape Garden. Produced by Sustainable World Media. Directed by Jill Cloutier. Camera Logan Nevitt, Edited by Carol Hirashima.

Part 2: Developing a 'resilience basket' of local food with rainwater harvesting earthworks on neighborhood commons - greywater as an important household strategy and the successful Arizona code model.

Friday, February 27, 2009

AEC Daily offers free continuing education for the architecture, engineering and construction industries

AEC Daily offers over 250 free continuing education courses on line. The courses generally consist of powerpoint like pages and end with a test which earns a completion certificate and which requires a membership number to take.

The courses include many with green and sustainable themes though plenty have no green element at all. Each course is sponsored and the sponsor's products are featured in the courses though the use does not seem to be excessive. For instance BioBased Insulation sponsors Thermal Performance: Energy Efficiency Through Insulation.

Other courses with sustainable themes include: Cool Roofing: A Solution to National Energy and Environmental Challenges sponsored by the Chemical Film and Fabrics Association, and Green Roofs a Sustainable Strategy sponsored by Hydrotech.

Garbage Warrior tells the story of Michael Reynolds, creator of Earthships

Over the years many people have come to our group after first becoming interested in Earthships, the houses built with tires, cans and dirt, which were invented by New Mexico architect, Michael Reynolds.

Though designed for the mountains of New Mexico and less common in Texas there is at least one earthship in our region, near Leakey, Texas.

Now we can all learn more about the tumultuous and dramatic life of this pioneer of green design in a documentary, Garbage Warrior. It is available on Netflix though there is quite a wait to get it. However it is also available for sale on the movie website. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an 80% on the Tomatometer.

Below is a trailer for the film. UPDATE: This isn't the trailer but it is an interesting video about Michael Reynolds.

UPDATE 03/05/09 Here is the actual trailer.

SustainLane Ranks San Antonio 33rd in 2008 Sustainability

Among 50 American Cities, SustainLane ranked San Antonio 33rd overall in sustainability in 2008 . According to their report San Antonio led the nation in "Housing Affordability" but were ranked 40 in "Commuting" and "Knowledge/Communications".

They noted "Local food isn’t quite San Antonio ’s strong suit. Using water wisely, on the other hand, most definitely is."

For complete results check our their review, San Antonio-Building on a Broad Range of Strengths. is the web's largest people-powered guide to sustainable living with personal accounts of how-tos, news, and local business and product reviews for sustainable living.

Innovative free Green house plans

FreeGreen offers free house plans for download. There are charges for prints and for customization but the basic house plans are free.

As of November 2008, some 10,000 plans had been downloaded which would make them the largest home plan provider in the country, unless you considered revenues. Part of their business plan involves product placement in their plans. Manufacturers pay to have their products included. But the placements are not obtrusive.

The plans available vary from the ultra modern View Box to the more traditional Rustic Retreat to a series especially designed to meet the needs of production builders, the Builder Line.

"The Builder Product Line was created at the request of the FreeGreen Builder Community (although all users are encouraged to use these). Each of these plans has been developed to address builder needs, and allow multiple fa├žade implementations of the same basic design. The floor plans are simple and efficient, and the exteriors are appealing and identifiable. All users will notice that images associated with these plans are more technical. This has been done on purpose to “cut to the chase” for our builders and explain what they need."

As of today, they offer eight families of house plans with several variations for each. Each house is rendered in 3 D which makes it an interesting site to visit even if you are not in the market for a plan.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

MgO Board. The Next Generation of Siding and Drywall?

Some months ago at our monthly meeting, George Swanson, introduced us to the wonders of MgO board. MgO (pronounced em-gee-oh) is magnesium oxide. In China mineral MgO is more common than gypsum. It is used in combination with fibers and other materials to make products that substitute for drywall inside and sheathing or siding outside.

MgO board does not support mold and it does not burn. It is said to hold up to repeated soaking many times better than fiber-cement products. Its takes less energy to produce than portland cement and it is claimed by some to absorb carbon from the air.

At the time of his talk, MgO board was available only by the container load. George had made arrangements with Dragon Board, one of many Chinese manufacturers to import their product. However, it may be available in smaller quantities as its advantages become better known.

For a very complete review of MgO board please see this article: A Primer on the Next Generation of Sheathing by Robert Thomas from Walls & Ceiling Magazine.

Earth Plaster Finish Coat Workshop, March 7 in Austin hosted by Design Build Live

From: Design Build Live

Saturday, March 7, 9:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Earth Plaster Finish Coat Workshop
Instructor: Tempe Sikora of Rarest Bloom
Location: North Central Austin Residence
Fee: $75, including lunch
Experience Level: Beginner to Intermediate
Limit: 10 people

Registration and payment required

Learn how to mix and apply beautiful clay plaster finish coats to interior walls and ceilings. These earthen plasters bring an amazing look, feel and sound to a room.

Natural clay plasters create a look and feel unmatched by conventional painted drywall. Earthen plasters have gained in popularity in recent years, especially since the introduction of premixed powdered forms available bagged and in a variety of colors. For those who prefer to create their own plasters from local clays, endless color and texture possibilities exist, and costs can be minimal. This workshop is designed to begin or add to your ability to create a beautiful interior finish coat of earthen plaster. You will learn how to mix and apply two specific plasters designed for the walls and ceilings of a new room that was converted from a garage. We will be plastering on the earthen base coats over cob and light clay straw walls, primed drywall walls, and a reed-matted ceiling. Additional color and texture options will be discussed as well.

Tempe Sikora, our workshop instructor, specializes in specialty natural plaster and paint application as well as custom European faux finishing. She is also an accomplished photographer. Tempe works primarily in the Austin area as well as in northern California, and her beautiful work can be viewed on her website,

Fee for the workshop is $75 and includes a healthy vegetarian lunch and all necessary workshop materials and tools. Water, coffee and tea will also be provided. Enrollment is limited to ten people.

Solar San Antonio brought leader in solar design to town for seminar

A number of organizations in San Antonio are working simultaneously on green and sustainable issues. In the forefront promoting solar energy is Solar San Antonio. With help from the San Antonio Area Foundation, they hosted a seminar for professionals on incorporating photovoltaics into building design by Steven Strong founder of Solar Design Associates and author of The Solar Electric House .

Small is Sustainable. The charming small homes of Tumbleweed

For the past 4 decades the average size of the American home has increased. In major home and builder magazines, "small" homes are often anything less than 2000 sq. feet.

But, Tumbleweed Tiny House Company of Sebastopol, California offers really small houses that are really big on style.

Some of the houses are built on trailers, such as the Weebee, but a number of the designs are meant for permanent foundations. A few are minimalist modern, such as the Z-Glass, but most have the charm of a early 20th century cottage. The Harbinger and Loring and the larger but less lyrically name, B-53, would all fit in any historic neighborhood.

Though the homes are stick framed and built with conventional material, their size alone makes them green and sustainable. Jay Shafer's designs often incorporate lofts, wet bathrooms and ceilings of less than 8 feet. The lower ceilings keep proportions of the house right and add to a more cozy feel.

The very tiny houses built on trailers can be purchased ready made. The other homes are available as plans, with consultations and attendance at building workshops included.

Below is a video introduction to Jay's own home an Epu which is built on a trailer.

UPDATE: On Feb 23, 2009 Amanda at "Constructing a Simpler Life" published an excellent piece with pictures based on an interview with Jay Shafer it is really interesting.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mayor Hardberger's Green Plan for San Antonio: Mission Verde

You may have read various things about the Mayor Hardberger's Mission Verde plan for a green and sustainable San Antonio. You can follow the link above to a pdf file of the Mayor's Powerpoint presentation and see what is it about for yourself.

Brad Lancaster will Revolutionize your thinking about Rain Water Harvesting.

May 17 Update: Find full details on the Design Build Live page: Rainwater Harvesting Rock Star Comes to Austin.

If you think that rain water harvesting is just for people without access to municipal water, then you haven't heard Brad Lancaster. Luckily Brad is coming to Austin for three days: May 29 to 31. His visit is hosted by Design Build Live, the descendant of the Austin group which inspired the creation of our own group.

Brad will show you how society treats the rain water that falls on our roofs and soil as a dangerous substance that must be channeled away quickly, all the while spending millions importing other people's rainwater from lakes, rivers and aquifers. He is also hilarious.

In Tuscon, Arizona on an urban 1/8 acre lot, Brad and his brother harvest over 100,000 gallons of water which they turn into living air conditioners of food-bearing shade trees, abundant gardens, and a thriving landscape incorporating wildlife habitat, beauty, edible and medicinal plants.

Check out the Design Build Live website for details as they become available.

Upcoming Events

February 27 to March 1: Austin Green Living Expo at the Austin Convention Center. $7.50 admission.

Friday, Feb 27 3 pm @ Austin Green Living Expo. Design Build Live's Introduction to Natural Building $7.50 admission to entire Expo includes this talk

Saturday Feb 28 1:30 pm @ Austin Green Living Expo Design Build Live's Straw Bale Construction Overview $7.50 admission to entire Expo includes this talk

Saturday March 7, Earth Plaster Finish Coat Workshop, Austin. Cost $75 Hosted by Design Build Live.

Saturday, March 14, Earthen Floor Workshop, Austin. Cost $75. Taught by Frank Meyer (the Thangmaker) and hosted by Design Build Live.

Wednesday, March 18, 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm -Design Build Live Monthly Presentation
Introduction to Straw Bale Construction. Guest presenter: Ben Obregon of The Sustainable Design Center

Tuesday, March 31, San Antonio Sustainable Living, monthly meeting. 7 pm. Whole Foods Market at the Quarry. Training room.

Wednesday, April 15, 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm - Design Build Live Monthly Presentation: Conserving Resources: Reduce, Reduce, Reduce Guest presenter: Jenny Nazak of Austin Permaculture Guild

Friday, April 17, to Sunday, April 19, 2009 - DBL Special Event
Rainwater Harvesting Rockstar Comes to Austin: Brad Lancaster
A series of talks and events with the dynamic author of the Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands series. Prepare to be amazed. Brad shows how urban residents not just people in the countryside can harvest water in ways you've never imagined. His site:

May 2, 2009: SolarFest San Antonio, at Maverick Park sponsored by Solar San Antonio .

Welcome to San Antonio Sustainable Living

At our February 2009 meeting, we agreed to establish this blog and a Facebook group. We also voted to change our group's name from the San Antonio Sustainable Building Coalition to San Antonio Sustainable Living.

The new name better reflects the range of presentations and topics that our meetings include. Since our founding our meetings have included topics not strictly about building, including broader issues of pollution, development, native plants, and renewable energy.

Our group does not advocate for any policy as a group, nor do we intend to do so with this blog. The postings are intended to be informational, not political. Nor do we as a group recommend any particular product, method of construction, manufacturer, architect, builder, or retailer though we give information on many.