Monday, June 29, 2009

Governor signs Villarreal bill to allow municipal finanancing of investments in energy efficiency

Way back in February, Representative Mike Villarreal introduced the bill requested by San Antonio officials to authorize the city to finance property owner investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy. On June 19, the governor the legislation which had passed the Texas House and Senate June 1st. It will go into effect September 1.

This law is part of the plan developed in part by Laurence Doxsey, who with Pliny Fisk is credited with imagining the nation's first municipal green building program in Austin. Doxsey's new plan was advocated by a broad coalition including Environmental Defense Fund, Texas Society of Architects, CPS Energy, Public Citizen, and the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association.

The full text of the law may be found in this June 1, 2009 post:
Mike Villarreal sponsored bill to allow contractural assessments for energy efficiency improvements only awaiting Governor Perry's signature

Sunday, June 28, 2009

"Solar 102" training July 17 at the Bright Shawl

From Solar San Antonio:
Come join solar stakeholders from across the City of San Antonio for a “Solar 102” workshop at the Bright Shawl on July 17th, 2009 8:00 am to 2:00 pm.

Hear from solar experts as we discuss solar installation, solar sizing, solar certification, solar hot water, and solar financing through CPS’s new STEP Program. Attendees will receive information about local solar installers, have the opportunity to network with solar industry leaders, learn about career options in solar, and discover where solar is headed in San Antonio.

Breakfast and lunch will be included in the ticket price ($76.88), as well as six info sessions taught by regional solar certification institutes and local solar providers.
Agenda items include: “The State of Solar”- high performance building, political and economic issues, Testimonials: Why go solar?-Solar economics, payback time, doing solar in SA, Learning Sessions (each followed by a brief Q&A),KW data & photovoltaics, Solar Installation, Solar Hot Water, Local Solar financing, CPS Certification Standards and NABCEP (North American Board Certified Energy Practitioners) certification.

Register and make your payment at the Eventbrite site for this event.
Let others know you intend to attend through San Antonio Enviroment Meetup.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

San Antonio's First Public Electric Car Recharging Station

As we unwind from gas-powered cars, what's going to be the future fuel source and what are the next generation cars gointg to be powered by? Ever wonder whether gasoline stations had been difficult to find for the first buyers of automobiles 100+ years ago? What came first, the chicken or the egg?

While pondering this, you might want to drop by Travis Park Methodist Church this coming Tuesday, June 30, 9:30am, 230 E. Travis Street. They are opening the first electric recharging station for electric cars. The city wasn't first, the county wasn't first, the feds or the state weren't first. The Travis Park United Methodist Church was first. Not only that, you can get in your electric car, come down to the church parking lot and they'll charge you up for FREE! Why? So the church can do its part in reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Don't have an electric car yet? There will be some for you to look at while they get re-charged. And if you are looking for other places to get a charge once you get an electric car of your own, go to

Former DOE official, Texas Energy Conservation director and CPS general manager to address San Antonio Clean Technology Forum at Witte July 23, 2009

The San Antonio Clean Technology Forum hosts Paul Dickinson, a former top official of the US Department of Energy, Dub Taylor, Director of the Texas State Energy Conservation Office and Steve Bartley is the interim General Manager of CPS Energy on Thursday July 23 at the Witte Museum Pressler Auditorium.

The forum will begin at 11:30 and last until 1:30. Tickets are $16 if purchased in advance or $25 after July 16 and may be obtained through eventbrite.

The purpose of the San Antonio Clean Technology Forum is to builds strong connections and improve collective knowledge to advance sustainability and business growth throughout the San Antonio region.

First Annual Regional Forest Conference

The Alamo Forest Partnership is asking for all people who like trees in San Antonio and surrounding areas to join them in the First Annual Regional Forest Conference. We all know how important trees are to our oxygen supply, temperature relief, and just being great hangouts for our favorite birds and other animal friends. Please come out to 1901 South Alamo, here in SA for a FREE conference (thanks to CPS Energy). It's an early one, from 8:00am- 12:30pm, Friday, July 10th. Even though it's free, you must register first by July 7th. Topics include: Tree inventories, Working with growers to increase tree species diversity, Trees and the San Antonio River Improvement Project, Trees and Energy, and round table discussions on Tree issues important to your community, business, and/or organization. This notice brought to you by the Citizens Tree Coalition. Register by going to or call 210-207-8053.

See "The 11th Hour" documentary exploring the state of the planet. July 16 at 7:30

From Solar San Antonio:
The 11th Hour, Thursday, July 16 at 7:30

Narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, this captivating documentary explores the perilous state of our planet, and the means by which we can change our course. Described as "Essential viewing... an unnerving, surprisingly affecting documentary." Contributors to this crucial film are noted politicians, scientists and other ambassadors for the importance of a universal ecological consciousness.

Solar San Antonio, together with a host of local civic and environmental groups, introduces a new monthly film series at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. The series is designed to make educational opportunities around environmental issues more widely available through high quality, award--winning films and documentaries.

Building understanding about the compounding effect of humankind's choices on the planet's ecosystem, this film series will provide greater learning opportunities for families, school groups, universities, and community organizations to discuss better choices and simple steps to a more sustainable way of living.

Third Thursday of every month at 7:30

Alamo Drafthouse Theater, Westlakes

1255 SW Loop 410

Students and SSA members $5, $9 general admission

And you can always grab a bite to eat at the Alamo Drafthouse, too!

Let others know you intend to attend through San Antonio Environment Meetup.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Possible game changer for home wind energy production? $4,500 Honeywell Earthtronics gearless generator with inverter sold through hardware stores

The new 6 foot diameter gearless wind turbine from Earthtronics and branded by Honeywell operates in winds as low as 2 mph. At 95 pounds it is light enough to be mounted on pole, roof, tripod or even the side of building.

The turbines will be sold with a smart controller inverter which can manage power from 2 turbines. Each turbine can produce in excess of 1500 kw per year. Once utilities standardize net metering, the company says they will accommodate it, but initially it will be a closed loop system.

The company says that its design eliminates the major source of noise, cavitation, from other turbines. That combined with its size will make it more welcome in residential settings than large tower mounted turbines.

Without gears it is intended to be easier to maintain. A five year limited warranty is standard though it is designed for a twenty year life span.

Initially the units will be sold through Ace Hardware stores in the autumn of 2009 but in 2010 it will be offered through other retailers, catalogs and contractors. The unit is to be sold including a package of 30 compact fluorescent bulbs. Without the reduction from the bulbs the system alone is said to produce 18% of an average homes electrical usage.

The company is in the process of training certified installers. Completion of a one day $325 course will gain you full certification benefits. Purchasers will find certified installers through a Honeywell website.

For more information here are links to pdf's : Energy Generation Information Energy Data, Frequently Asked Questions, Honeywell Wind Turbine Brochure, Honeywell Wind Turbine Certified Training, US Incentive List, Mounting System and Connection Snap Shot .

Thanks to Gary Krysztopik from Zwheelz for passing this along through the San Antonio Environment Meetup board.

Locally manufactured SIPs from EH Systems in New Braunfels make choosing this green building option easier

EH Systems manufactures SIPS (Structural Insulated Panels) conveniently nearby in New Braunfels.

SIPS have been used for decades, both as infill between framing and as load-bearing panels in structures built without other framing. In a SIP, two solid panels are separated by lighter weight insulating material, to which the panels are attached.

SIPS vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. The outer skin can be made of plywood, osb, metal or concrete among other materials. Today the insulating material is usually polystyrene but a number of other materials have been used over the years. Different adhesives are used and advocated by various manufacturers. Although in general the panels are assembled on site in similar ways, each manufacturer adds their own design touches intended to make the panels easier to install, more resistant to insects, sturdier, lower in objectionable substances or more convenient to run wiring through.

When you build with SIPs the house plan is almost without exception required to be in the computer. The manufacturer uses the CAD data to machine cut the needed panels. Typically SIPs are only used for the exterior of a structure with conventional frame walls being used on the inside. The exterior of a SIPs structure is covered with conventional siding, stone, brick or stucco.

EH Systems manufactures SIPs from 4 foot wide to 9 feet wide. The panels can be up to 32 feet high. The larger panels are used for institutional customers such as schools and industrial facilities. The smaller panels are used for single family homes.

They also manufacture roof panels. Many SIPs designs feature cathedral ceilings. When combined with SIPS floor panels in the attic, a homeowner can gain relatively comfortable unconditioned storage space.

There are many home plans designed specifically for use with SIPs. But EH Systems like many manufacturers has staff and a CAD (computer aided design) system to convert plans to a SIPs layout. They offer hands on training to whole companies, superintendents and framers. An on-site builder services representative is also available to participants in their Preferred Builder program.

EH Systems is a member of Build San Antonio Green and since they manufacture locally, their products can provide valuable LEED credits.

New Braunfels' Organic Living Club brings speakers and presentations to Comal, Hays and Guadalupe counties

If you live in Hays, Comal or Guadalupe county you have a regular source for information on organic gardening and natural health topics. Since July 2008, the Organic Living Club has met (mostly) on the fourth Monday of the month at various locations appropriate to the topic.

Their Monday, June 29, 2009 meeting at 7:00 PM will be at the Markley Family Farm, 394 Union Wine Road, east of New Braunfels on the right of FM 725 past Zipp Road.

The Markley Family Farm grows vegetables and fruits hydroponically. Topics of discussion will include: Tree planting with a tree being planted at the farm, natural oak wilt prevention, tree pruning, drought avoidance.

Attendees are advised to bring a chair and to dress appropriately since there is no air conditioning. The presentation is free, there are no dues and everyone is welcome, but seating is limited. Please RSVP if coming to

Past speakers have included Malcolm Beck, Mason Arnold of Greenling, Bob Fitzsimmons of Bob's Organic Garden and numerous presenters on alternative medicine. A number of their meetings have been recorded and posted to Jason George's YouTube channel, OrganicTexas.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Documentary: "Food Inc" opens at Santikos Bijou, Friday June 26

"Food Inc" the documentary from filmmaker/producer Robert Kenner and co-producer Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, opens in San Antonio Friday June 26 at the Santikos Bijou.

According to Kenner, he and Schlosser had wanted to do a film version of Fast Food Nation but "we began talking and realized that all food has become like fast food, and all food is being created in the same manner as fast food."

San Antonio builder Sierleja constructs solid, well insulated green residences and commercial spaces with BuildBlock insulating concrete forms

Steve Sierleja, builder, distributor and member of San Antonio Sustainable Living has built for thirty years, starting in Pennsylvania with log and post/beam structures and continuing in our area with Faswall, durawall and Quad-Lock.

Now he distributes and builds with BuildBlock, an ICF (insulated concrete form) block manufactured in Bastrop, Texas. (Being locally made in Bastrop earns big LEED credits.)

An insulated concrete form consists of two connected walls of closed cell polystyrene. The blocks are dry stacked and concrete is pumped into the void. Block manufacturers compete based on their innovative variations on the connectors, in the profile of the block and in the size and configuration of the block. ICFs are not a generic product.

After the concrete is poured, standard exterior and interior siding as would be used in stick construction is applied. To run wiring, a hot knife is run in the polystyrene. The wiring is placed in the cut and then spray foam is used to cover it. Plumbing lines can be placed the same way, though they are generally routed through interior walls.

A typical ICF wall has a true R rating of 20 but the effective R rating is 50. There is no infiltration of air. By their nature the buildings hold up well in windstorms. The risk of fire is substantially reduced and property insurance costs are often 30 to 40% lower. Typically they only require one ton of air-conditioning per 1000 to 1200 sq feet.

BuildBlock uses recycled plastic webs to connect the polystyrene which is more durable than metal and which provides easier useful attachment points. They are completely reversable, which makes for more flexible stacking.

BuildBlock corner blocks have one side longer than the other. As any mason knows you want to avoid lining up vertical joints. By stacking a long side on top of short side this is prevented, making for much stronger corners.

Steve has managed to place BuildBlocks in the Lowes at the Rim in San Antonio, in Shertz, Pearland and Pasadena. Just go to the commerical sales desk and they will help you get started.

Steve's contracting company, Custom Homes Ltd, has several projects going including a home near Medina Lake. In December 2008, his commercial operation stacked and poured the new additon to the Wheatsville Co-op in Austin.

OrganicTexas brings outstanding South Texas speakers and discussions to YouTube

Jason has been shooting and editing videos of south Texas organic gardening notables such as Bob Webster and Malcolm Beck and adding them to the YouTube channel OrganicTexas since October 2007. So far he has over 380 videos posted.

Since YouTube limits postings to a maximum of 10 minutes, he breaks up presentations into several parts, but the videos are grouped into playlists so you can play all of them in a series automatically.

His channel has over 240 subscribers. His most viewed video, a presentation by KTSA host Bruce Deuley speaking on compost tea, has been viewed over 5000 times. His Bob Webster videos and tapes of the Organic Roundtable at the Festival of Flowers have been very popular as well.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

17 things I learned at the David Weekly Homes construction class featuring Dr. Joe Lstiburek

Thanks to Joe Barfield, I was able to attend a real estate agent oriented presentation by David Weekly Homes on Wednesday June 24 which included a short talk by Dr. Joe Lstiburek of Building Science Corporation. Here's a list of seventeen things I learned and remember.

1. Dr. Lstiburek was first hired by David Weekly Homes after he addressed a meeting of 150 major builders and told them, "You guys are stupid."

2. Lstiburek definition: "Turd Polishing"- putting photovoltaic panels on a poorly built home.

3. According to Lstiburek vinyl clad windows always conduct less heat than aluminum clad ones. He says, "I know this because we make frying pans out of aluminum."

4. Wood frame windows are not durable but wood is much less temperature conductive than aluminum. The doctor says, "I know this because I have never seen wood wiring." Aluminum is 450 times more conductive of temperature than wood.

5. Jump Ducts increase energy efficiency by moving air between rooms to toward the A/C return.

6. Acceptance of some part of the federal stimulus funds ( I didn't catch the details) require states to adopt the 2009 ICC (International Code Council) construction code.

7. The goal of the US Department of Energy "Building America" project is mass marketed zero energy homes by the year 2030. Half of the gains will have to come from conservation (efficiency).

8. Be sure to enclose all six sides of a hot wall (one with a side in the attic). Because the one in the attic is not usually seen it is often not sheathed on the attic side.

9. All homes that are sold will soon require a HERS test from RESNET, even older homes. (Translation: Home Energy Rating System test from the Residential Energy Systems Networks.)

10. New David Weekly homes are testing out at about 72 HERS and will soon meet the challenge issued by President Bush to reach 70.

11. Current duct leakage in DWH homes is 3%. According to Dr. Lstiburek this is a really big achievement, as in going to the moon and back big but you seldom hear about it.

12. All new David Weekly homes are blower door tested but at Dr. Lstiburek's suggestion they suck air out of the house rather than blowing it in.

13. David Weekly homes are built at a diamond level of the "Environments for Living" program.

14. Zurn brand pex plumbing pipes are guaranteed to last 25 years. The Dow construction tape Weekly uses is very important. It is guaranteed to last 10 years.

15. Weekly uses recycled plastic in their door jambs, to prevent the difficult repair of replacing rotted wooden ones.

16. The last item on Dr. Lstiburek's list of "Top Ten Dumb Things to do in the South" was meant ironically.

17. Finally according to Dr. Lstiburek, "It's a bad idea to get rid of your stuff every ten years, so stay married."

Monday, June 22, 2009

The John J. Morony Studies: "Adobe and Latent Heat: A Critical Connection" (Why Adobe is cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter)

John J. Morony's original, controlled research has shown that the perception that adobe buildings are more comfortable than others has a factual basis. At the Tierra y Cal workshop, June 13 he generously gave our group permission to reprint on this site the studies he distributed to participants in the workshop, including this one.

Some of the graphics may not be clear in this blogged version. Mr. Morony is not responsible for any errors in this presentation of his work. Please contact Mr. Morony for a copy of his study in its original format.

Adobe and Latent Heat: A Critical Connection
John J. Morony
Department of Biology
Southwest Texas Junior College
Del Rio, TX 78840

Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 421627
Del Rio, TX 78842

A series of ongoing experiments provide evidence supporting the oft-told adage that adobe houses are "warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer" than houses made of other materials. Two modular structures of equal dimension, one of adobe and the other of cinder block, were constructed with 8-inch thick walls, and roofs and floors of identical material. Each structure has an identically constructed and fitted small door for entry of data-gathering instruments. Simple experiments illustrate the thermal properties of adobe (i.e., soil). Adobe still remains soil after its incorporation into a building and thus adobe has the thermal dynamics of soil. Phase change from liquid water to vapor or the reverse will result in a high rate of latent heat to lower or raise the temperature of adobe.

On a dry day, with an out door ambient temperature of 98ºF, interior temperatures were 90ºF in the adobe structure and 103ºF in the cinder block structure. It is proposed that the 13º variation in temperature in the two structures is a direct result of the adobe having lost 8º by way of latent heat of vaporization (in accord with known properties of soil), whereas the cinder block structure gained 5º due to simple heat conduction. The reverse occurs when relative humidity is high and temperatures are low. Adobe then takes in moisture from the air, thus releasing latent heat. During cold weather, data loggers for temperature and moisture were placed in each of the modules for ten days. During each diurnal cycle the lowest and highest temperate were restricted to the cinder block.

Clay, the binder in adobe, is hygroscopic and its water content varies with available moisture. Such variation precludes adobe being assigned a specific heat capacity comparable to conventional building material. More importantly, any evaluation of adobe needs to take into consideration dynamic properties of soils (especially the role of latent heat) and not be restricted to the parameters of sensible heat (a static property) by the building industry. Experimental data gathered by the author provides strong evidence that as a construction material adobe blocks keeps a building warmer in the winder and cooler in the summer than cinder block. The explanation for this phenomenon appears to lie in the role of latent heat, not sensible heat -– a critical distinction.

Use of cinder blocks for construction of small buildings, especially housing, has almost completely replaced adobe along the Texas-Mexican border. In the Mexican city of Ciudad Acuña, across the river from Del Rio, Texas, perhaps as much as 95% of new home construction, and essentially all government built houses, are of cinder block.

This trend from earthen structure to a cinder block one appears throughout the non-industrial world. Even still, in land where adobe construction had once dominated, the belief of the older populace persists: "Adobe is cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter."

The means for temperature moderation in adobe houses may come from the ease at which moisture enters and leaves permeable and hygroscopic soil in response to changing atmospheric conditions. The movement of moisture in and out of the adobe is more than a simple transfer of water. It is the transfer of latent heat that must take place when there is a phase change in water that raises or lowers the temperature of the building fabric. While adobe and compressed earth blocks have been assigned an R-value of .25/inch, it is the latent heat exchanges that appear to be the dynamic factor to consider most when comparing it to other building materials.

Adobe differs profoundly from all other type building material in that adobe comes from soil and remains soil after its incorporation into a building. Latent heat flux is of elementary concern to soil science. Attempts to evaluate adobe exclusively in terms of sensible heat, as with the use of the R-value, or thermal mass, have resulted in confusion in evaluating abode in terms of thermal properties.

Adobe and its suitability for exceptionally hot climates (as exists along the Texas-Mexico border) are of special interest to this study. Traditional concerns in the United States have been for development of building materials for use in cold climates. Adobe vs. cinder block construction is being studied with a series of simple experiments including the use of two modular structures, one of cinder block and one of adobe. Studies were conducted in Del Rio, Texas in 2003 and early 2004.

Two Modules
Experiment 1: Two modular structures with 8" walls were constructed: one of adobe blocks (8" x 16" x 4") and one of cinder blocks (8" x 16" x 8"). The cinder block was stuccoed with cement and the adobe with lime. Both were left with their natural color. Outside dimensions of both modules are approximately 62" x 48" x 26" with interior volumes about 22 cubic feet each. The roofs and floors of both are constructed of the same material. Both face west and were free of shadows throughout the day (Figure 1). Recording of data was made 27 August 2003 at 4:30 p.m. Modules are located at the Casa de la Cultura in Del Rio, Texas.

Figure 1. Experimental modules. Cinder block left and the adobe on the right. With ambient temperature of 98ºF, temperatures inside the modules were 103ºF in the cinder block and 90ºF in the adobe (13º different.) The cinder block was 5º above ambient and the adobe 8º below ambient.

Reference to R-values, or thermal mass, cannot fully explain the 13 degree difference in interior temperature. An 8-inch adobe wall has an R-value of 2 (0.25/inch for adobe) and the cinder block used has an R-value of 1.08. With the lower R-value, the cinder block would be expected to exhibit a higher interior temperature; however the significant difference is that the cinder block was above ambient temperature whereas the adobe was below ambient. This indicates that there is another important contributing factor beyond the insulating properties of these materials.

Experiment 2: Data loggers were placed in the two previously described modules during acute cold weather from the 25th to the 30th of January, 2004. Data was recorded for temperature, relative humidity and dew point. Only temperature data is illustrated in Figure 2a and 2b.

Figure 2a. Temperature data loggings during a cold period (25th to 30th of January 2004). The solid bold line represents adobe; the dashed line represents cinder block and the solid light line represents ambient temperature. Note that for every temperature extremes the cinder block had temperatures higher and lower than the adobe. Also fluctuation of temperature was greater for the cinder block than for the adobe.

Figure 2b. Enlargement of the data on a cold day (January 27, 2004). For that day, the range of temperature was 12ºF in the adobe and 24 ºF in the cinder block.

Experiments on Latent Heat of Vaporization/Condensation
Effect of latent heat, especially of vaporization, is first demonstrated with simple experiments prior to more discussion. The initial experiment relates the nature of clay and the permeability of clay-rich material to observed results of evaporative cooling or latent heat of vaporization under full sun.

Experiment 3. Four small plastic flower pots are used to demonstrate that heat of vaporization moderates temperature. Three red clay-colored plastic pots and one slightly larger red clay pot were used. One plastic pot was painted black, another painted white and the third was left its original color. The clay pot is left with its natural clay color. The pots had their bottom holes sealed. Each was filled with 500 ml of water and covered with a corresponding colored plastic lid and placed in full sun. Ambient temperature at the time was 94ºF in the shade. After being left in full sun for three hours (2:00-5:00 p.m. CST), data were recorded (Figure 3.)

Figure 3. Test flower pots and vaporization of water. Ambient temperature was 94ºF.

Pot 1 Black, 113° F + 19° difference. (No measurable loss of water)
Pot 2 White, 102° F +8° difference (No measurable loss of water)
Pot 3 Natural Clay Color, 105° F +11° (No measurable loss of water)
Pot 4 Clay Pot, 86° minus 8° (56% loss of water)

The most dramatic difference is in the temperature of the clay pot; a full 8º below ambient, whereas all the plastic pots were well above ambient. The clay pot was 19º cooler than the plastic pot of similar color. Also of note is the large amount of water lost from the clay pot. An explanation is that the clay pot, while being waterproof to liquid water, it is permeable to water vapor that readily diffuses through the sides of the pot. Such movement of water molecules involves a phase change from liquid to water vapor, resulting in the latent heat of vaporization. For each gram of water going from liquid to a vapor state about 580 calories per gram of heat (540 calories per gram for vaporization with the boiling of water) are removed from the clay pot. As the clay pot lost 280 ml of water (one ml of water is equal to one gram) by diffusion there was a total of some 160,000 calories of heat removed from the water! As the heat lost is incorporated into the vaporized water molecules, it is not subject to measurement by a thermometer nor can it be felt -- it is thus 'hidden' heat or latent heat of vaporization as opposed to 'sensible heat' (heat that can be felt and measured).

The plastic pots, being impermeable to water vapor, evaporative cooling was not possible. The difference in temperature of the plastic pots is associated with differing capacity of colors to absorb solar radiation. Black mostly absorbs radiant energy while white mostly reflects it. The rather dark natural clay color is in-between. The contrasting colors of black and white pots translate into difference in temperature in the two pots of 11 degrees.

Experiment 4. The important role of clay and aggregates (sand and silt) in adobe are demonstrated with a simple experiment. Besides serving as the binder in adobe, clay also contributes important thermal dynamics properties. There are two factors to consider in relationship to this: clay particles carry a negative charge and thus water, a polar compound, is readily attracted and attached to clay particles; and simple diffusion of water vapor from high to low concentration varies throughout the day in response to changes in atmosphere moisture. The presence of aggregates in the adobe provides pathways for capillary action, allowing water molecules to move in and out.

Figure 4. Moisture absorbed by clay in response to changes in relative humidity. The result in exposing a cube of a compressed earth block to conditions of a hot dry climate (Del Rio, Texas from August to 20 to 24, 2003.) Weights were recorded in early morning and late afternoon.

Percent of weigh gain may be small, but the latent heat of vaporization that it represents is extremely great. The specific heat of water is much higher than any conventional building material.

Experiment 5. Three clay pots were used to determine the effects of color on evaporative cooling. One pot was painted with white enamel, one with white lime wash and the third was left its natural clay color. The bottoms of the pots were sealed, the pots filled with water, covered with a cap of similar color and placed in full sun. Any differences in evaporation between the while colored posts, related to the nature of the coating material, will be revealed.

Figure 5. Small clay flower pots filled with water: #1 lime wash; #2 enamel paint; #3 unpainted clay color. Pots exposed to full sun with for three hours in late afternoon. Ambient temperature of 94ºF.

The limewashed clay pot is now 16º degrees below ambient temperature! The high reflectance of the white limewash significantly limits the amount of radiant energy absorbed to convert into thermal energy as sensible heat. At the same time, lime remains vapor permeable and thus permits evaporative cooling.

The white enamel on the pot succeeds in greatly reducing the conversion of radiant to thermal energy, but because it is impermeable to water vapor it prevents evaporative cooling.

Experiment 6. Three clay flower pots were used to determine the effects of color on temperature when no evaporative cooling was allowed to occur (Figure 6.) One pot was painted with white enamel, one with white limewash and the third was left its natural red clay color. The pots were placed upside down in full sun. Inside temperature was measured with a thermometer inserted in the hole in the bottom of the pot.

Figure 6. Large clay pots turned upside down exposed to ambient condition in full sun; #1 enamel white; #2 white limewash; #3, natural clay color. Inside temperatures recorded after three hours exposure and subsequent gain in temperature is recorded. Ambient temperature of 94ºF.

Note that the limewash is highly effective in reflecting solar radiation. Limewash is a mixture of slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) and water. When applied as a near water-thin paint it sets slowly by absorbing CO2 from the air, producing crystals of calcite (CaCO3, calcium carbonate). Unlike paints that are organic polymers, limewash is a mineral of dual reflective index and thus more effective in reflecting solar radiation. The limewash is 6º lower than the enamel.

Latent Heat and Building Materials
Phase change material (PCM) is any substance capable of latent heat flux and it has been of interest to the building industry since at least the 1940s. Stored energy in latent form within a building fabric would lead to greater heat storage capacity per unit volume than would be otherwise possible with conventional building materials. The concern has focused almost entirely on providing warmer indoor temperature in the winter. Interest in the matter appears
to have been restricted to heat of fusion and an inventory of PCM did not include soil. It was initially restricted to a list of inorganic chemicals (largely hydrated salts) that would have to be incorporated into a building fabric and none constituting the building fabric itself. Nothing really workable emerged from these efforts. Interest then turned to organic PCM but with like consequences.

Soil, suitable for earthen block making, is inherently phase change material par excellence. Most significantly, it constitutes not only the entire building fabric as to heat of fusion but to vaporization and condensation as well -- and it does so to a degree far in excess of almost all other materials man-made or otherwise.

The Nature of Adobe vs. Cinder Block
Clay is the binding material of adobe with silt and sand serving as the aggregate, often with the addition of fibrous organic matter by way of straw or horse manure. In construction of an adobe block, clay remains chemically unaltered. Adding water serves to facilitate rearrangements and compaction of the particles in making adobe blocks. The clay in the adobe block retains its capacity to attract water after the block is made. This water can move in and out via capillary action in response to available moisture along the pathways created by the contained aggregate.

In contrast, Portland cement (a highly complex and altered very fine powder predominantly limestone) undergoes a chemical transformation into concrete when mixed with water and an aggregate. While some capacity for capillary action may remain, it is much reduced compared with adobe or other earthen building materials. Importantly, the clay content of Portland cement has been chemically altered and is no longer hygroscopic. This distinction between earthen material and products incorporating Portland cement (or stone and brick for that matter) as building material is critical to appreciating their thermal character.

A Scaled-up Model to Consider
To scale up from the small modules, previously discussed, an appreciation of the thermal properties of an existing adobe dwelling is provided by a study published in Earthbuilder (10th Anniversary Issue 42, 1984, p. 56, Adobe News, Inc.) The house, described as an "old style adobe", was located in Los Lunas, Rio Grande Valley, New Mexico at an elevation of 4,750 feet. The building had 17-inch thick walls and an 8- to 12-inch thick earthen roof. Temperature was recorded in two intervals: before and after expansion to the house. The initial floor plan, of less than 1,000 square feet is illustrated below (Figure 7)

Figure 7. Original floor plan as of June 14, 1976. No insulation was used and no cooling mechanisms or overhangs existed. There was one window on the north side. Late in the day a large tree partially shaded the northwest corner of the house. The building was kept closed during the period the data was gathered.

Temperature data for the adobe house on June 14, 1976:

Inside temperature of the adobe did not exceeded 80º F when outside temperatures average in the mid- to upper 90s. Note that when outside temperature was 102ºF, inside temperature was 80ºF (a 22º difference!) The authors state that there was an inside temperature variation of only 5º in the house from May 27 to July 11 of that year, and further note that this was with no roof insulation or cooling unit of any kind. Significantly, the authors comment that it was noted that the inside high temperature occurred during the morning hours, at roughly 12 hours after the outside high of the preceding day. Likewise, the inside low temperature appeared in mid- to late afternoon, roughly 12 hour after the morning outside low temperature. That inside temperatures of an adobe house would be cooler when outdoor ambient temperature is highest and warmer inside when outdoor temperatures are coolest is clearly counter-intuitive! However, the adobe is responding not to sensible heat of the environment, but rather to a differential of moisture content on either side of an adobe enclosure.

Latent heat of condensation would be expected to occur in the morning hours when relative humidity is highest and outside temperature is coolest. The absorption of moisture by the clay in the adobe would result in raising the temperature of the adobe. In the late afternoon, when relative humidity is the lowest, latent heat of vaporization (evaporative cooling) would exhibit
a reverse effect, i.e., adobe would actually cool. However, the explanation provided by the author centered on what is said to be the 'flywheel effect'. This is an untested assumption that a delay in the conduction of heat in and out of the adobe house would be due to sheer mass of the wall. A question arises: what is the annual energy cost required to maintain a comparable inside temperatures of a building not susceptible to latent heat flux?

The preliminary results of a series of ongoing experiments may be summarized as follows:

1. Adobe is indeed cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, and significantly so, in comparison to cinder block and other non-earthen building materials. The reason for this is not directly related to sensible heat of conduction, but rather to latent heat and especially latent heat of vaporization and condensation. Latent heat flux appears to stabilize internal temperatures within an adobe enclosure.

2. Thermal qualities of adobe and other earthen materials cannot be accurately expressed or understood using only the R-values of conventional building material. The "guarded hot box", used to determine the R-values, measures steady-state heat flow of differential heat on either side of the material being tested. For adobe, it is the latent heat flux promoted by a moisture differential on either side of a wall of an enclosed adobe building that lowers and raises the temperature of the adobe. The concept of insulation, as it is applied to conventional building materials, is of doubtful use or significance.

3. Caution is suggested in the use of any material, modifications or structural design that might impede the thermal dynamics of latent heat flux of earthen structures.

4. Latent heat phenomena would appear to strongly favor what has come to be known as a "green roof" for adobe structures.

5. Adobe and similar materials must be recognized for what they are -- a very superior building material both from the standpoint of their functional value and cost. Economically, the price of soil is not tied to the price of oil, and the costs for heating or cooling would be significantly reduced in a rightly constructed earthen structure.

How many San Antonian's separate their brush and keep it out of the landfill? (Too few)

A quick look around in any neighborhood that is awaiting their twice yearly bulk and brush pick-up will show that only a small percentage separate their tree brush from their bulky trash.

When the brush is stacked with the trash, the brush has to go to the landfill with the rest of the garbage. If brush is piled separately then it can be taken to the city's shredding site at 1800 Bitter's Rd, north of the airport and made into mulch. It costs no more to separate one from the other and it saves taxpayers money by reducing the use of the landfill.

The city's Solid Waste Management department had always made it clear that brush was not to be stacked with the trash, but now they distribute a doorknob hanger pleading for homeowners to separate them and noting that free mulch is available at the Bitters Brush Collection site.

More educational efforts are needed because despite the new notices during the recent brush pick-up cycles the majority of homeowners continued to mix trash with brush and frustrate efforts to reduce the flow into the landfill.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The John J. Morony Studies: "Adobe Moisture Absorption and Temperature Control" 2005

John J. Morony's original, controlled research has shown that the perception that adobe buildings are more comfortable than others has a factual basis. At the Tierra y Cal workshop, June 13 he generously gave our group permission to reprint on this site the studies he distributed to participants in the workshop.

Please contact Mr. Morony for a copy of his study in its original format.

Adobe Moisture Absorption and Temperature Control

Logged Data for a Humid Heat Wave 6-11 August 2004
Del Rio, Texas
John J. Morony
Biology Department
South West Junior College
Del Rio TX 78840

Logged data of temperature and humidity were collected inside two modules, one of compressed earth blocks (CEB) and one of cinder blocks; each is some 20 ft with identical roofs and floors. With an ambient temperature of 106 F the cinderblock module was 110 degrees F and the CEB was 101 degrees F or 9 degrees cooler. When the ambient relative humidity (RH) was high the inside humidity of the cinder block approached 100% but in the CEB the RH did not exceed the mid 60% mark. The lower RH is explained by the moisture being absorbed by the earthen walls. This suggests the possible use of evapor4ative coolers in buildings constructed of an earthen fabric in regions where evaporative coolers tend to build up too much humidity for human comfort.

A previous study (Morony, 2005) revealed that adobe and other unmodified earthen material, undergoes latent heat flux in response to differing states of relative humidity within and without an adobe building. In such instances, adobe walls may be absorbing and passing moisture vapor on the either side of an adobe fabric provided the walls remain free of vapor barrier covering. This study presents specific evidence that such phenomenon does indeed occur.

A series of on-going studies is being conducted in Del Rio, Texas of indoor vs. ambient temperature of earthen building fabrics and concrete (cider) blocks. Modules of similar dimensions are used in conjunction with data loggers to record temperature and humidity. The principle focus of such studies concerns the response of varied building fabrics to prolonged summer heat characteristic of south Texas. It is summer heat and not the winter cold that intrudes into the human comfort zone and it does so to the point that air conditioning is required. Refrigerated air is used every month of the year every hour of the day for some months running. Air conditioning is currently the only effective, but very expensive means, to significantly lower the indoor temperature to the comfort zone (temperatures below 80 degrees F) . Air conditioning is often the most costly item on the monthly energy bill for a significant part of the year.


Three modules, numbered on the north facing wall as #1 to #3, are illustrated in the frontispiece. They were built in 200-4 on property adjacent to the Southwest Texas Junior College campus in Del Rio, Texas. All have six inch thick walls (not including stucco) and inside dimensions of approximately 35" x 42" x 25.5 " resulting in an internal volume of ca. 20 cubic feet. All face north and have a single opening on the north side with a door and a latch. The modules are not intended to be air tight, thus allowing equalization of changes of atmospheric pressure. All are fully exposed to the sun throughout the day. The modules have a flat roof covered by 3/8 inch panel board insulated on the under-side with an sheet of Energy Shield, a product of Atlas Roofing, that is a foil faced foam board with an R-rating of 5.4. A sheet of this foam board is also used on the floor of the modules.

Module #1. Six-inch Mexican concrete (cinder) blocks were used in the construction of the module. The module was stuccoed with cement and painted with an off-white cement paint to match the color of the two lime stuccoed earthen modules.

Module #2. Traditional adobe was used with an appropriate soil mixed with horse manure.

Module #3. A compressed adobe (or compressed earth block) structure. 6 x 12 inch, using the same soil as was used to make adobes of Module #2 but without additives save moisture. Blocks were made using a CINVA Ram, a hand operated machine using mechanical leverage to exert pressure.

Data Logging
VERITEQ data loggers, Spectrum 2000, were utilized inside the modules and set to record temperature, relative humidity every three hours continuously during the time of the experiment. Doors were kept closed at all time. Temperatures were read to the nearest whole number.

Data loggers were used in Modules #1 and #3 only during a period of prolonged hot and humid conditions from the 6th to the 11th of August, 2004 in Del Rio, Texas. A separate data logger was used to record ambient condition in the immediate vicinity of the experiment for the same time intervals as used in the modules. Results of the data logging a recorded in Figures 1 and 2.

Temperature Data (Figure 1). The cinder block module recorded temperatures higher than ambient during the highest temperature values for the 6th, 8th and 10th of August (Fig 1). During the same time intervals the compressed adobe was always significantly lower than ambient. Highest temperature for each of the three recording are: Ambient 106 degrees, compressed adobe - 101 degrees and cinderblock- 110 degrees. Thus the compressed adobe registered some 9 degrees cooler than the cinderblock module. These data are in accord with similar type studies by the author using these and other like modules. Cinderblock modules were consistently higher in temperature than highest ambient temperatures during hot weather. Residents living in cinderblock homes on either side of the Rio Grande River report higher indoor temperatures than outdoor during high heat conditions. However, the significance of the temperature data is heightened when taking into account concurrent humidity data.

Humidity Data (Figure 2): There was a pronounced rise in humidity in the cinderblock module during a prolonged hot an humid period from the 9th to the 11th when the experiment was terminated. On the 10th, when the cinderblock was 100 degrees F the RH was some 90% then peaking at near saturation. Residents of cinderblock houses along the Border report high humidity and module growth during certain times of the year, especially lat spring and summer. In marked contrast, the RH in the compressed adobe remained below mid-60%. An explanation is that the clay content of the earthen walls succeeded in absorbing a major portion of the accumulated moisture. Thus, a plausible explanation for the lowered interior humidity of the adobe module was that the water vapor was absorbed by the walls. There are important implications to be considered. Perhaps foremost is the need to avoid a wall covering, especially a render or plaster that would interfere with vapor transfer into or out of the walls.
Why the profound difference between the adobe and the cinderblock with respect to humidity and temperature? In essence, adobe and other type of earthen material, left unbaked or stabilized, constitutes phase change material (PCM) ; a terminology of the building industry. The term applies to any chemical substance deemed useful for temperature control for some industrial purpose (Ruth Kelly, 199). The nature of phase change phenomena was explained at length in a previous publication (Morony 2005). All mater is subject to existing in one of three phases: solid, liquid or vapor. A phase change from one to the other either releases or absorbs thermal energy in response to critical temperature changes.

An explanation centers on the hygroscopic (water attracting) qualities of clay in the adobe. The clay carries a negative charge and bonds with the positive pole of a water molecule. Clay is thus capable of absorbing water in a vapor phase as well as liquid. Phase-change of water form solid/liquid and from liquid/vapor results in an exchange of thermal energy. In the case of liquid/vapor changes the energy involved is very great relative to the phase-change in other chemical compounds. In a liquid to vapor change of on kg of water at 100 degrees C converts to 2260 kj/kg of heat (540 cal/gm) that is released to the surroundings (P. Hewitt, 1981). while cinderblocks and other conventional building material my readily absorb liquid water, as with rain, by way of capillary action but it is other wise with respect to atmospheric water vapor.

The aforementioned qualities attributed to adobe apply as well to clay plasters as detailed in a study by Neil May (2004, p2). He noted that clay plasters absorbs ambient moisture an that the hygroscopic qualities of clay "...means that moulds caused by condensation are minimized, and that a relative humidity of 50% -60% is maintained. This is the ideal level for mucus membranes of the human body and also for the control of dust mites and other organisms which affect human health." Additionally, he notes clay plasters have very good capillary qualities but less capillary draw than materials like lightweight brick, and even certain cement products. However, they have more capillary draw than most types of timber. They thus draw condensed water away from a timber frame building but will not dry out the timber itself.

Temperature and Humidity
To what extent can the temperature and humidity be lowered inside an earthen residential structure with minimal expenditure of energy? In South Texas the problem with evaporative coolers is t that excess humidity tends to build up creating conditions for mold growth and is uncomfortable to a building’s occupants. However, resorting to the use of refrigerated air in summer months is generally the most expensive item on a monthly utility bill. One may thus ask, what would be the consequences of using one of the newer, highly efficient, evaporative coolers within and adobe building? A sustained build up of humidity on the inside would be prevented. the earthen walls would absorbed excess humidity at the same time the interior temperature would be significantly lowered. However, it is important to note that for latent heat flux to occur an earthen building fabric would have to remain free of vapor barrier on either side. Additionally, efficient evaporative coolers , that use direct current, are available that can run off a 12 volt solar panel to be used in the afternoon when RH is lowest. Currently, the Adobe Association of Del Rio (Texas) is in the process of constructing a small experimental building to test the possibilities of a more extensive use of evaporative coolers using and adobe fabric.

This and related studies have been made possible with the support of the South West Texas Junior College, especially of Don Tomas, Associate Dean of the Del Rio campus. Sid Cauthorn, President of Bank and trust, Del Rio, Texas is especially acknowledged for generous financial assistance and general support of studies of earthen building materials. Lynn Masterson, a faculty member, has rendered indispensable assistance with the software use involved with the research. Marcella Fuentes, also a faculty member, kindly reviewed and edited the manuscript. Terry Tilton, a geologist, has reviewed the study and offered sound suggestions and provide a final review of the manuscript. Lawrence Jetter, President of Advanced Earthen Construction Technologies, Inc , San Antonio, Texas has provide invaluable support in all research activities associated with earthen building materials. Thanks must also be extended to numerous former students for varied assistance in construction of the modules..

Kelly, R 1999. Latent Heat Storage in Building Materials, Building Services Engineering Diploma Dissertation, Dublin Institute of Technology, Bolton Street, Dublin, UK
Hewitt, Paul, 1981. Conceptual Physics, 4th edition. Little Brown and Company Inc, Boston.
Morony, John, 2005. Adobe and Latent Heat: A Critical Connection. Second Annual Conference, Adobe Association of the Southwest, Northern New Mexico Community College, El Rito, New Mexico

Friday, June 19, 2009

Austin's Rhizome Collective wins permit for composting toilet

Asher Price with the Austin American Statesman reported June 18, 2009 that the Rhizome Collective has obtained city approval for a composting toilet on their 9.8 acre former landfill, which the collective cleaned up over the past several years.

The composting toilet is quite a bit more complicated than the standard collecting toilet and compost pile system.(The Austin American Statesman may require free registration to view the article.)

Thanks to San Antonio Sustainable Living group member, Joe Barfield, for passing this along.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Take five minutes to watch this powerpoint and save $$$ because you'll never want bottled water again!

If you've seen Chris Jordan's "Plastic Bottles" which depicts two million plastic beverage bottles, the number used in the US every five minutes and haven't yet stopped or reduced your consumption of bottled water, you might be persuaded by the fact filled powerpoint, Water-Disaster.pps.

You can download it from the NewsCorp Global Energy Initiative site.

Thanks to San Antonio Sustainable Living group member Melanie Wehmeyer of Mw Drywall LLC for passing this along.

Green Spaces Alliance helps conserve more than 5000 more acres in South Texas from development

Green Spaces Alliance announced the conservation of over 5000 acres on the Blanco Creek watershed in Uvalde county and plans to work with the landowners of a meticulously acquired 300 acre spread in Comal County to protect their land from development. From Green Space Alliance's email announcement:

Blanco Creek Properties It took a year and half. It took the commitment of eight landowners, the City of San Antonio, Green Spaces, the Nature Conservancy, a fleet of surveyors, appraisers, environmental and hydrogeological experts, title companies, lawyers, and many others to preserve the Blanco Creek watershed in Uvalde County. The conservation of these 5,067 acres will protect water quality and quantity for the citizens of San Antonio for years to come. Grant Ellis, land conservation manager, negotiated this diverse assortment of interests for Green Spaces as partner with the City of San Antonio. This land, along with the approximately 80,000 acres already protected under the City's Aquifer Protection Program, will be a legacy not only to the children and grandchildren of the landowners themselves but also to all of the children of San Antonio's citizens.

Comal County Ranch
This weekend, executive director Julie Koppenheffer and land conservation manager Grant Ellis visited a 300-acre ranch just north of Canyon Lake. The landowners have been acquiring their land in 40-acre increments since 1972, and their efforts have resulted in a green oasis surrounded by sururban development. The land evinces the presence of abundant wildlife, including Golden-Cheeked Warbler, deer, fox, and cougars. The landowners contacted Green Spaces because they want to ensure that their property remains in its present state forever. Seeing how they have accumulated this land and protected it is inspiring. Helping them realize their goal of conserving it for future generations is Green Spaces's mission.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Travis Park Methodist plans installation of San Antonio's first free electric vehicle charging station

Travis Park United Methodist Church at Travis and Navarro downtown has installed a free electric vehicle charging station. It is said to be the first one available to the general public in the downtown area of San Antonio. This project is part of the church's expanded interest in long term environmental stewardship.

Thanks to the San Antonio Clean Tech Forum for passing this information along.

Something to think about on a hot Texas afternoon: John J. Morony shows how a breathable earth walls naturally cool themselves.

John J. Morony has shown how a breathable adobe or compressed earth brick building stays cooler than the outside temperature. It isn't just mass. Moisture in the adobe vaporizes, cooling it.

At the Tierra y Cal workshop on June 13, Mr. Morony, set up a simple demonstration of the effect using 4 small clay flower pots, sealed on the bottom and partially filled with water. He set up the pots in the sun and placed the saucer for each pot was placed on top of each.

After the pots had been in full sunlight for about an hour he measured the temperature of each pot and of the ambient temperature.

Ambient Temperature: 95 degrees

Pot #1 (painted on the inside with white enamel): 102 degrees
Pot #2 (painted on the outside with white enamel): 96 degrees
Pot #3 (unpainted): 83 degrees
Pot #4 (coated on the outside with naturally white lime wash) 79 degrees

John explained that any material left in the sun will be hotter than the ambient temperature, unless it breathes. Pot #2 was cooler than pot #1 because the white paint on the outside did reflect some heat energy. But because the clay walls of both pots were rendered unbreathable by the paint, they both got hotter than the ambient temperature.

The clay that made up pot #3 & 4 could still breathe. Water inside the pot and within the clay vaporized and took heat energy with it, just as we feel a chill when getting out of a pool on a hot windy day. The water vapor phase change cooled the pots and not by just a little. Pot #3 was hotter than pot #4 because the dark color of the clay of Pot #3 absorbed more heat while the breathable lime wash finish of pot #4 reflected some of the sun's heat energy.

Compressed earth block and adobe walls breathe naturally unless a vapor barrier is imposed. If the walls are allowed to breathe, the temperature of the walls will be lowest in the hottest part of the day, about 4:30 in the afternoon. Cob walls would do the same as would rammed earth, unless portland cement were used in the mix.

Photo courtesy of Tierra y Cal under Creative Commons license.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Cibilo Nature Center: Rainwater catchment Workshop with John Kight, July 11, 2009

Thanks to the Cibilo Nature Center for passing this along:
John Kight, engineer and rainwater catchment owner, gives the latest technological information and the most practical advice. Learn about design and materials from someone who has done it himself! The Kight home with no well or outside water source is in a traditional development. Their system comfortably supplies delicious water for all household and landscape needs.

CNC Members $20/person & $30/couple; non-members $30/person & $40/couple.

Pre-registration required. Call 830-249-4616. Limit: 30.

July 11, 2009
Time: 9:00 am - 12:00 pm
Location: CNC Auditorium and visit to Kight installation . Strengthen the Clean Energy Act rally. Wednesday June 17

Disclaimer: Our group does not take a stand as a group on the Clean Energy and Security Act or 2009 or on whether it should be strengthened. This notice was passed along by Amy Barton through the San Antonio Environment Meetup:
The House of Representatives is about to vote on a huge energy bill--and it's up to us to make sure it lives up to President Obama's vision for a new energy economy. Unfortunately Big Oil and Coal lobbyists, working with conservatives of both parties, have weakened the bill. We need legislation that creates millions of clean energy jobs to revive the economy, so we're urging Congress to strengthen this bill in two key ways:

Ensure more clean energy jobs for America:
Ensure more clean energy jobs for America: Wind and solar power create more than double the jobs that oil and coal do--high-paying jobs that can't be outsourced. But the current bill would not actually require any more clean energy than is already in the works. We need to restore strong standards for cheap, clean, renewable energy, creating hundreds of thousands of new clean energy jobs.

Don’t undermine Obama’s authority to crack down on dirty energy:
President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency are taking steps toward new rules to clean up coal plants and oil refineries. But Big Oil and Coal lobbyists slipped in a loophole that would block Obama's efforts. This would open the door to more than 100 new dirty coal plants, crowding out the clean energy growth we need to create jobs and boost our economy.

To express your views locally and to get the attention of our local media, please attend our Strengthen the Clean Energy Act Rally in front of the Federal Building on Wednesday, June 17 starting at 4pm. Here is the link to sign up:

We need maximum sign ups so that when we contact the press, we can let them know how many people we are expecting. If you plan on coming, PLEASE RSVP! It makes a difference!

Contact me for more info. We are also having a phone bank to recruit attendees on Tuesday from 6pm to 8pm. This will be at the SAPAAC office located at 7122 San Pedro Ste 114.

Feel free to email or contact me 407-497-7366.

Thanks Amy Barton

Report 2 from Tierra y Cal Compressed Earth Block workshop: Four reasons to make CEB a favored building system in San Antonio

There are lots of building systems available in San Antonio, all have their advantages and disadvantages, here are some reasons for the city to embrace the compressed earth block.

1. The Cadillac of compressed earth block machines is made right here by Advanced Earthen Construction Technology, within the city limits on Hwy 181. The technical expertise is right here. The potential manufacturing jobs are right here as well.

2. Compressed earth blocks require sand and clay. Our position at the intersection of several geologic zones puts both clay and sand nearby. Furthermore the types of sand and clay needed for the blocks are not particularly valuable and are more of a nuisance and by-product to the production of more valuable sand and gravel.

3. To stabilize a block so that it can withstand the direct effects of water and to allow it to breathe, lime is needed. Lime produced as a waste product from coal fired electric plants and acetylene production works just fine. We have both near San Antonio.

4. A breathable stabilized compressed earth block home plastered with exterior lime plaster reflects the sun's energy and cools itself by the phase change effect as documented by John J. Morony. This reduces the need for air-conditioning substantially. It is particularly appropriate for our climate and can be designed with a nod to our Spanish design heritage.

NPR archives hold two interviews with Brad Lancaster, author of Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands

Here's a link to a cache of NPR interviews with Brad Lancaster ,Tuscon's rainwater harvesting, plant growing superstar. Tuscon Man Harvests Rainwater (Morning Edition Sept 17, 2008) and Harvesting Rainwater by Not Letting it Go (Morning edition January 10 2008).

Brad is famous for capturing and using 180,000 gallons of rainwater on a small urban lot in Tuscon, Arizona where an average of 12 inches of rain falls each year.

By the way, Brad said in a recent talk in Austin that we are very lucky to have so much rain in our area. If we just use it we can make a beautiful environment without using our aquifer for landscaping. He considers us to be water rich!

Thanks to Joe Barfield for passing these interviews along.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Composting Collecting Toilets: the affordable no waste-water, no black-water solution to your back end waste problem

To handle your humanure you can use low flow toilets, you can use an artificial wetlands, a Watson Wick, an aerobic or an anaerobic system but these all use water. If you have lots of money you can buy a clivus multrum. Or you could take the leap into the world of Joseph Jenkins and compost it all and practically eliminate your water use to handle your elimination.

Yes, according to Joseph Jenkins there are two kinds of people: those that deposit their body waste into drinking water and those that do not and we in the USA are mostly in the first group. But it doesn't have to be that way. A composting collecting toilet system as described in The Humanure Handbook is a sanitary, water free and inexpensive way to handle this basic human need.

You can read Joseph's book online for free, though if it takes hold of your imagination you will likely want to buy a copy for yourself. You can also watch humanure videos and see pictures of various composting collecting toilets. You can even buy kits if you don't want to design and build your own.

If you are like me, at first the idea seems a little extreme but then little by little the implications for your life might start occurring to you. That cabin in the woods might suddenly become affordable. That shed in the back yard might make a decent guest room with a gray water system for the solar heated shower and a composting toilet. Maybe that you can afford to make that inexpensive travel trailer a bit less costly to operate and a bit more inviting to travel in.

You might even find yourself trying to spread the word to skeptical friends and strangers. But you won't know unless you take a look at the book.

San Antonio Clean Tech Forum brings energy conservation, efficiency and investment information to San Antonio business community

The San Antonio Clean Tech Forum, was founded in 2008 by Michael Burke, former CEO of Tesoro Petroleum, and five of his friends. The group has over 275 members who share an interest in smart energy investments and a cleaner, more energy efficient San Antonio. The group includes principals of major San Antonio companies. They are evidence of growing interest in green issues that across party lines among the business leadership of San Antonio.

In April they hosted a mayoral candidate forum on sustainable energy efficiency, water and nuclear power issues which brought them to the attention of a wider public.

They next meet July 23, 2009. Here is the information from Mr. Burke's email message:

I am pleased to report that we have another outstanding San Antonio Clean Technology Forum planned for July 23, 2009 from 11:30am to 1:30pm. We are most fortunate to be able to offer two excellent speakers who have a wealth of information that is relevant to our interests and our future:

Paul Dickerson, a recognized leader and sought-after speaker on issues of clean tech and energy efficiency, launched Haynes and Boone’s Clean Tech practice group in 2008. Paul, a partner, offices in the firm’s Houston and D.C. locations.

Paul served as Chief Operating Officer of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) from January 2006 until his return to Haynes and Boone in October 2008 He oversaw the EERE’s $1.8 billion budget and helped move alternative and renewable energy technologies from the “vision” stage to real-world development.

(Thanks so much to Diana Liebmann for her help in bringing Paul to San Antonio.)

Dub Taylor, Director, Texas State Energy Conservation Office, has been a good friend of the San Antonio Clean Technology Forum ever since he and Texas Speaker of the House, Joe Straus provided excellent presentations to our group of then 32 Participants in April 2008.

And now that SECO has received a ton of stimulus money from the federal government, Dub has become our very best friend.

Please mark your calendar to join us on July 23, 2009 from 11:30am to 1:30pm at the Witte Museum in the Pressell Auditorium. The capacity of the Pressell is 200 so this will be another sold-out event. (And as a side benefit, you will have the opportunity to park in the “greenest parking garage in the nation”!)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

"Living like Ed" by Ed Begley Jr. is a good introduction to green living

"Living Like Ed- a guide to the Eco-Friendly Life" is an intelligent, understandable, introduction to the basics of sustainable living written by Ed Begley, Jr. and growing out of the HGTV series "Living with Ed".

The book is a tour through Ed's life with explanations and suggestions on how to become more efficient in housing, transportation, recycling, energy, garden, kitchen, clothing and skin care.

With just enough statistics to back up claims and sidebars by knowledgeable people, the book does a good job. Ed is no dilettante. He has experimented and implemented his ideas.

"Living with Ed" is among many books on green and sustainable subjects available free of charge from the San Antonio Public Library. Be sure to check them out and reserve a copy on line at the library website.

Friday, June 12, 2009

18 things I learned at Day One of the Tierra y Cal Compressed Earth Block Workshop

What a great workshop! Jim Hallock is experienced and entertaining. His interchange with Laurence Jetter the maker of the Cadillac of compressed earth block machines was quite informative and amusing.

Here is a quick look at information that was put out to us the first day. It may be unsupported opinion or not.

1) Jim says white plaster will reflect exponentially more heat than white paint because it is faceted.

2) According to Jim, the best hand press machine is the Auram Press made in Auroville India. (Disclaimer: he holds the rights to distribution in the USA.)

3) Compressed earth block can handle much more clay than poured adobe can, therefore it is much more efficient at absorbing and releasing water vapor.

4) Jim says every building gets wet eventually, and with a life span of 2000 years every CEB building will definitely get wet, so use lime stabilized blocks.

5) The production of quicklime and hydrated lime puts CO2 into the atmosphere but when it is used to stabilize the blocks it takes CO2 back out of the atmosphere as it turns into limestone.

5) Crushed limestone won't do a darned thing in your block to stabilize it.

6) Soil for compressed earth blocks should come from below the agricultural top soil.

7) Dr. Charles Graham at Texas A&M has taken an interest in compressed earth block and has been a boost to its use.

8) The slurry that connects blocks actually is absorbed into the block. A proper slurry on a block will harden without cracks and when removed from the block you will see an indentation in the block,

9) There is a 40 to 45% reduction in volume between prepared dirt and the finished block.

10) By transportation regulations you can truck much more prepared earth for blocks than you can finished blocks. A dump truck can carry the soil, but the number of finished blocks you can carry on a flatbed 18 wheeler is severely limited.

11) There is a lot of preparation of soil needed to turn it into blocks. One of the biggest problems is drying it out. The more clay you have the drier your mix needs to be.

12) Over 100 companies make compressed earth block machines. Ital Mexicana makes an excellent one, especially if you are making blocks in a factory setting.

13) Chicken wire can make really great earthquake stabilization, though there are many other methods and local regulations apply.

14) Ital Mexicanan sells villages on building and sells the machine which they hold in common.

15) Adding Sisal to plaster also helps provide earthquake protection.

16) The AECT machines have a device called the Hallock Stop, which Jetter devised after repeated pestering by Jim Hallock of Tierra y Cal.

17) Hallock's pejorative name for stick-built construction "kindling built", since it is all just kindling for the big fire.

18) Curing benefits both stabilized and unstabilized blocks. According to Laurence Jetter they seem to cure better when wrapped in stretch wrap on a pallet than when left out unwrapped.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

CHECK IT OUT - - "Water in Texas" by Andrew Sansom

This small 319 page volume, "Water in Texas" by Andrew Sansom, former executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife department and current director of the Rivers Systems Institute at Texas State University is a survey of Texas watersheds, water law and water issues.

Richly illustrated in color and printed on thick stock, this book is slightly too large for a pocket, and not a field guide. Rather it is a book for any Texan interested in water whether for recreation, protection of habitat or for consumption.

It is currently available as a new book at the San Antonio Central Library, and may be reserved on line. The library pays attention to which books are borrowed, so when you check it out you are increasing the chance that more books like it will be added to the colllection.