Thursday, October 29, 2009

Here's an inexpensive, easily maintained 2.5 gpm (gallons per minute) low flow hand held shower head that's also extra versitile

 I've used hand held shower heads for 25 years. I've done quite a bit of thinking about them and experimenting with different models. Why? Because I am a nut and cheap that's why!

My favorite is the one I use now. It is by far the cheapest, most useful, lightest and most easily maintained. The only cheaper model I've used was a piece of rubber tubing which I squeezed over the spout of a claw foot tub back in the low rent days but it wasn't low flow and didn't have a cut off valve unless you count my thumb pressed over the end.

My favorite hand held shower head isn't found with the other hand held units because it is actually a low flow economy shower head (the cheap ones sold at Big Lots and bargain stores) mounted to a shower arm (the pipe that screws into the pipe in the wall) which is attached to a shower hose which is then screwed into the shower arm that goes into the wall.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

An overview prepared by Solar San Antonio of The Rifkin Report “San Antonio: Leading the Way Forward to the Third Industrial Revolution”

The following is an overview of Jeremy Rifken's report “San Antonio: Leading the Way Forward to the Third Industrial Revolution”. This overview was prepared by Solar San Antonio and is available in Word Document form on their website at this link.


The following is an overview of “San Antonio: Leading the Way Forward to the Third Industrial Revolution” prepared by Solar San Antonio. The full report can be read and/or downloaded at
The plan incorporates the principles of what Mr. Rifkin calls the Third Industrial Revolution

Prelude: Energy Efficiency and Carbon Reduction.

Pillar One: Renewable Energy – Wind, solar, biomass, geothermal and other renewable energy sources; some centralized and lots of distributed.

Pillar Two: Buildings as Power Plants – After energy efficiency is achieved, then solar, micro-wind, etc. are added to meet part of building’s energy needs and, if possible, make building a net energy provider.

Pillar Three: Hydrogen Storage – Use the hydrogen solution to energy storage to make renewable/hydrogen hybrid the baseload power supply.

Pillar Four: Smart Grid and Plug-in Vehicles – Establish an electric grid that can manage energy consumption and receipt of power from thousands of disbursed energy generators.

Press Conference: San Antonio City Council vote delayed due to accidental disclosure that CPS knew their estimate of costs was 4 billion dollars low

At 4:21 into the video, CPS interim General Manager, Steve Bartley acknowledges that CPS knew about Toshiba's 4 billion dollar price estimate increase for a week and a half before the city council and mayor were told.

The Rifken Report: "San Antonio Leading the Way Forward to the Third Industrial Revolution" --without supplemental material

The following has been transferred from a pdf which is freely available on the web. The authors clearly hope that there work will be influential so I don't think they will object to it being posted here.  I have not included the supplemental information.  Without it the report is 75 pages long.  Some images and tables are missing from this version of the report. 

You can obtain the full 133 page pdf from the Solar San Antonio site: 

San Antonio Leading the Way Forward to the Third Industrial Revolution

Table of Contents
San Antonio: Leading the way forward
The Current Economic Circumstance in San Antonio
Energy Efficiency: A Critical Foundation Principle
First Pillar: Distributed Renewable Energy
Second Pillar: Buildings as Power Plants
Third Pillar: Energy Storage
Fourth Pillar: Smart Grids and Smart Infrastructure
The Distributed Social Vision
Mapping the Transition
Supplemental Information
Recommendations from Third Industrial Revolution Global CEO Business Roundtable participants

Friday, October 23, 2009

LED lighting explored in BOING BOING piece by Maggie Koerth-Baker

The website, Boing Boing has a great article "LEDs: Throwing Some Light on the Hype" by Maggie Koerth-Baker who says she has spent quite a bit of time covering the LED lighting business for a trade publication.  She takes a sober and brief look at the state of LED lighting today.

She writes:
The LED industry is kind of in this awkward teenage phase right now, where it's doing the business equivalent of tagging public buildings and sneaking cigarettes out behind the barn. There's a lot of misrepresentation and a lot of flat-out lies, and just because a box says something that doesn't mean you can believe it (more so than boxes of other things).
What she says can apply to a lot of emerging green and natural technology.  You really do have to be careful when listening to a salesperson or reading a product claim.  Some claims are really conditional though they don't sound like it.  Some claims are based on the limited experience or knowledge of the person making the claim. 

Many times a salesman or inventor, who is justifiably proud of his product, has been shocked at our San Antonio Sustainable Living meetings to be asked to address the specific weaknesses and drawbacks of his device or building system.  That kind of tough informed questioning just doesn't happen at the home show. 

It pays to be informed, to investigate claims and to draw your own conclusions.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sanctuario Sisterfarm: A gem of practical, responsible, relationship building and spiritual permaculture near Waring, Texas

Adrian Dominican Sisters Carol Coston, OP and Elise D. García, OP founded the sisterfarm in 1992 on a 7 acre triangular patch of Texas off of IH 10 at the Waring/Welfare exit on Big Joshua Creek.  In 2001 they established a non-profit and renamed their permaculture experiment, Sanctuario Sisterfarm.

The farm serves as their home as well as a welcoming space for members of their order and others.  Over the years they have gradually transformed the original house, which has a double wide mobil home at its core into an efficient dwelling with saltillo tile floors, energy efficient windows, rainwater catchment, gray water reuse, a standing seam metal roof and geothermal heating and cooling.

On Sunday, October 18, 2009 Carol and Elise welcomed members of Doddi Evan's Permaculture in Practice meetup group along with a visiting sister from Kansas and two sets of neighbors to an extensive tour.   Carol was particularly pleased to have visitors who were familiar with the principles of permaculture who were wanting to implement them in their own lives.

The farm includes two tiny houses for guests, a yurt, orchards, a keyhole garden, a spiral garden, vegetable box planters and a chicken yard.   Carol reported that they formerly had guinea hens but they did not behave as advertised so as they lost one after another to various predators they were not replaced nor mourned.  Their Gaia garden is only just recovering from its encounter with the guineas.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tiny house by Superior Park Homes temporarily resides in San Antonio.

Richard Malin of Malin's Car Center at 1046 W Hildebrand didn't intend to have a tiny house come to stay in the small car lot behind his auto shop.  He meant it to be a Bed and Breakfast rental cabin on the Blanco or a small home for a relative.   But instead it sits and waits  for its next owner.

When he had it built he thought about how his property on the Blanco River had a tendency to flood so he paid the extra money to have Superior Park Model Homes put the one bedroom cabin on a trailer.  To its builder and current owner it is a "park model" home, a species of small mobile home that is small enough to fit in a RV resort space and meant to stay put.

But this little 11 foot by 20 cabin appears sturdily built and bears a mighty strong resemblance to the tiny houses built by Tumbleweed Homes and advocated by the popular website, Tiny House Living.  Tiny houses can be used as guest housing, for an office or as one's primary residence.  In many places you can park them in your back yard, though you'd have to check your local ordinances.  I think in San Antonio that living in an RV on a driveway is not allowed but if you were to park it in your back yard who would know?

This cabin has a small bedroom with closet, a shower and commode.  It has a small refrigerator, a sink and a cook stove.  I didn't get pictures of the kitchen area so I don't remember if it has an oven. 

Please excuse the mess inside.  The cleaning crew hasn't been around for a while and it is currently furnished with leftovers.  Mr. Malin says he's only had 5 inquiries about the house which is visible from the street.  If you are interested he is asking $18,500 which is quite a bit less than he paid for it.  To put that in perspective a Tumbleweed home of similar size will set you back $46,000.

If you are interested in tiny houses in addition to Tumbleweed homes check out these builders: Texas Tiny Houses in Luling which features salvaged building components from Discovery Architectural Antiques in Gonzales,  Little House on the TrailerMartin House Company LLC,  and Cabin Fever,

December 2010.
Lots of people are looking at this post this month.  I drive by Mr. Malin's shop all the time and this little fellow is still there.   I haven't been inside since I took the pictures.  I imagine it has been straightened up a bit since I first posted this.  I must admit it puzzles me why it hasn't sold yet.

October 2011
It still hasn't sold.

August 2013
It did eventually sell or at least it was moved off the lot.  After that Mr. Malin's shop itself was sold.  I think it sold some time in 2012. 

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Chinese made drywall blamed for numerous problems in conventionally built homes. Too bad they didn't try MgO instead

The October 7, 2009  New York Times has a story on homeowners including the lieutenant governor of Florida suing over problems they say were caused by Chinese made drywall.

The drywall is said to have abnormally high concentrations of sulfur.

Members of San Antonio Sustainable Living were told last year by George Swanson that while the USA had large deposits of gypsum, China did not. He said that instead the Chinese had developed wall board made with Magnesium Oxide (MgO). This MgO board uses relatively little energy to produce and absorbs CO2.

Ironically, rather than risk purchasing MgO board from China, many US builders went for familiar gypsum drywall from unfamiliar manufacturers in a country without a long history in its manufacturer and without the abundant gypsum supplies that made it a mainstay of US conventional building.

Now homeowners, builders and insurance companies are faced with a long and difficult process of resolving the difficulties caused by builders innovating as to the source of their building materials without innovating by purchasing the superior product (MgO) which the Chinese have developed.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Considering a new water heating system? SEISCO VP says their tankless electrics offer surprising advantages

If you want to improve the efficiency or performance of your hot water heating system be sure to talk to a SEISCO tankless electric water heater representative before you make your purchase.   Ron Kraemer, Sr. VP of SEISCO gave a talk at our September San Antonio Sustainable Living meeting and it was an eye opener.

Ron right away addressed the major question of electrical supply and hot water production capacity.  A SEISCO five gallon per minute unit requires 150 amp service, which has been the electrical standard since at least 1968.    A modern house with its increased power supply (150 t0 200 amps) can handle a oversized SEISCO unit.

He presented a National Association of Home Builders study which showed that even in a high water usage household a tankless heater that provided 3 gallons per minute of hot water would meet household needs 98.5% of the time.  A single tankless unit can provide hot water for an entire house.

Although a tank water heater can provide 50 gallons of hot water as fast as the water can flow through the pipes, once it is depleted it can't provide any hot water for a period of time.  In contrast a SEISCO tankless unit can provide continuous hot water as long as you remain within its capacity.

San Antonio Environment Meetup / Green Drinks : Do it yourself Home Energy Audit

First, if you are anywhere near San Antonio, right now join the San Antonio Environment Meetup.  It's free and not only will you find out about fun green events but you will be able to go with or meet new friends when you attend them.

Michelle K, the founder of San Antonio Green Drinks and aforementioned meetup has put together an excellent piece on steps to make your home more efficient:

During Green Drinks the other night, we were talking about the Solar Tour and how one of the installers mentioned that the expensive project of installing solar panels should only be undertaken if you've made your house the most efficient possible.  The good news is that making your house efficient is much cheaper (more bang for your buck).  The most obvious is to swap out all of your light bulbs with CFLs. 

The next most frequent suggestion is to locate and fix air leaks
.  I didn't quite know how to go about this.  I found a web site that spelled it out for me, plus has more suggestions.

Here is the jest of finding and fixing air leaks...

 - Check to see if the caulking and weather stripping are applied properly, leaving no gaps or cracks, and are in good condition.

 - If you can rattle your doors or windows, movement means possible air leaks. If you can see daylight around a door or window frame, then the door or window leaks. You can usually seal these leaks by caulking or weather stripping them. Check the storm windows to see if they fit and are not broken.

 - To locate indoor leaks, conduct a basic building pressurization test:

  1. First, close all exterior doors, windows, and fireplace flues.
  2. Turn off all combustion appliances such as gas burning furnaces and water heaters.
  3. Then turn on all exhaust fans (generally located in the kitchen and bathrooms) or use a large window fan to suck the air out of the rooms.
This test increases infiltration through cracks and leaks, making them easier to detect. You can use incense sticks or your damp hand to locate these leaks. If you use incense sticks, moving air will cause the smoke to waver, and if you use your damp hand, any drafts will feel cool to your hand.

 - On the outside of your house, inspect all areas where two different building materials meet, including:
  • All exterior corners
  • Where siding and chimneys meet
  • Areas where the foundation and the bottom of exterior brick or siding meet.
You should plug and caulk holes or penetrations for faucets, pipes, electric outlets, and wiring. Look for cracks and holes in the mortar, foundation, and siding, and seal them with the appropriate material. Check the exterior caulking around doors and windows, and see whether exterior storm doors and primary doors seal tightly.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Express-News adds Recycling Database to, but it needs a little work

The Express-News has stepped up with a searchable database at LivingGreenSA that promises to take you to a list of places that you can recycle specific items such as cans, batteries, car parts, cell phones and even sneakers.  Unfortunately when I tried to use the search function it took me to the complete list of recyclers not to just the ones recycling the category of goods that I selected.

It is a great start to assemble all this information.  Once the search function is fixed it will be a great resource.

Also on the site be sure to check out the Express-News' forays into video including subjects such as nuclear power and the golden cheeked warbler.

Getting Ready for Electric Vehicles in San Antonio: A Stakeholders’ Workshop

Getting Ready for Electric Vehicles in San Antonio: A Stakeholders’ Workshop, October 16, 2009 from 9 am to 11:30 am in meeting room N at the Alamodome sponsored by the Clean Cities Program of the Alamo Area Council  of Governments and the City of San Antonio will address the types of electric vehicles that are coming to our area,  why they are important for San Antonio,  what kind of vehicle charging infrastructure is needed and why we need to work together to make electric vehicles work in the San Antonio area.

The workshop is meant for major employers, owners and managers of apartment building and parking facilities, homebuilders, real estate professionals, electric utility professionals, electricians,  retailers, service organizations, architects, engineers and planners, government officials and  interested citizens.

After an introduction attendees will break into small groups to identify key issues such as city codes and charging hardware, public outreach and education and businesses and fleet operations.

For questions and additional information, please call or email Bill Barker, AICP Senior Management Analyst, Sustainable Systems.

From the Rocky Mountain Institute here's the Project Get Ready Menu which includes the top 15 actions that a city must take to be ready, organized by the entity who would take the action, 10 second-tier actions that a city could take to be ready and a financial assessment of each action where possible.

Water Charting the Course, November 4, 2009 11 a.m fundraiser and presentation

Thursday, October 8, 2009

San Antonio Clean Tech Nuclear Forum , September 16, 2009 presented leading advocates for and against the South Texas Nuclear Project expansion

San Antonio's Clean Tech Forum presented leading advocates for and against the expansion of the South Texas Nuclear Project on September 16, 2009.  The decision as to whether City Public Service will continue with their investment in the project has yet to be made and the debate is evolving.  SASL does not take a position as a group on the merits of nuclear power or any other issue.

Speakers at the forum included San Antonio mayor, Julian Castro, Steve Bartley Interim General Manager of CPS Energy, Craig Severance, CPA, author of Business Risks and Costs of New Nuclear Power, Patrick Moore Co-Chair of a pro-nuclear group founded by a public relations firm: Clean and Safe Energy Coalition (CASEnergy) and Dr. Arjun Makhijani President of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and author of Carbon Free and Nuclear Free a roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy

Part 1:

San Antonio Clean Tech Nuclear Forum September 16, 2009 Part 1 from Public Citizen on Vimeo.

Part 2:

San Antonio Clean Tech Nuclear Forum September 16, 2009 Part 2 from Public Citizen on Vimeo.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

LiveGreenFest scheduled for October 10, 2009 postponed due to heavy rains

From CPS

LiveGreenFest Postponed

CPS Energy has been forced to postpone the upcoming LiveGreenFest at Olmos Basin Park due to last weekend’s heavy rains and flooding as well as more rain in the forecast this week.  CPS Energy regrets having to postpone the event and will look for a future date to continue the tradition of offering a showcase of energy efficiency and conservation opportunities to help customers save energy and money.                       

The event had been planned for this coming Saturday, Oct. 10, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Details of a rescheduled event will be distributed when they become available.

Metropolitan Planning Organization revisits Loop 1604 and US 281 funding Issues

From Miles Vandewalle via the MPO:
The Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Board (TPB) met Monday, September 28th to discuss a number of business items including revising the description and funding categories of the US 281 N, and Loop 1604 and the Loop 1604/US 281 interchange projects. If approved, the changes would mean the US 281 N and Loop 1604 projects would not be tolled.

Additionally, the City of Leon Valley requested amending the Long Range Transportation Plan to revise the description and funding sources of the Bandera Road project from Loop 410 to Loop 1604. Leon Valley requested any improvements not include a toll component and instead the corridor be pursued as a high-capacity transit corridor with VIA Metropolitan Transit.

After a lengthy discussion, the Policy Board decided to refer the proposal to the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) to obtain more information on the cost estimates and a number of other questions. Additionally, the TPB scheduled another working meeting for October 19th at 1:30 p.m. at the VIA Metro Center to further discuss these projects.

The Policy Board plans to vote on the non-tolling proposals at a special evening meeting to be held in the vicinity of Loop 1604 and US 281 on October 26, 2009. We will send out more information as the meeting date gets closer.

Solar San Antonio presents: "Burning the future: Coal in America" October 15, 2009 at Alamo Draft House

From Solar San Antonio:

October 15, 2009 at 7:30 pm
Burning the Future: Coal in America examines the explosive conflict between the coal industry and residents of West Virginia. Confronted by emerging “clean coal” energy policies, local activists watch a world blind to the devastation caused by coal's extraction. Faced with toxic ground water and the obliteration of 1.4 million acres of mountains, our heroes launch a valiant fight to arouse the nation's help in protecting their mountains, saving their families, and preserving their way of life.

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.
Third Thursday of every month at 7:30 at Alamo Drafthouse Theater, Westlakes, 1255 SW Loop 410

$5 discounted admission for Students, SSA members, EchoTown green card holders, and members of Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, Green Spaces Alliance, Sierra Club, and Bexar Audubon Society.

$9 general admission

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

Be sure to visit the Solar San Antonio information table near the theater entrance. Clothesline Cleaners will be giving away EnviroBags and $5 FREE CLEANING to every ticket holder. Use these bags to cut down on single use plastic. We look forward to seeing you there!

Nicholas Nassim Taleb on "A Crazier Future"

Among the delights of an interest in sustainable living are the surprises. We are surprised to hear of some new technology that may make our communities, our homes or our lives more efficient and enjoyable.

Sometimes the surprises are less delightful such as when we learn that a long used building material has drawbacks or unimagined consequences. Sometimes we learn that what we were doing to save energy or make our home healthier has had the opposite effect. At every meeting of San Antonio Sustainable Living we are surprised in one way or another.

So, by our interest in sustainable living we become aware of how little we can really be certain of and how little we really know about the world today and what the future holds.

The following video is an 88 minute lecture by a man who understands how surprising is life on our planet. The author of "The Black Swan", Nicholas Nassim Taleb's work deals with how to live in a world in which we know very little about the present and even less about the future. Taleb is apolitical. It appears that he doesn't think any politician, economist or expert knows truly understands how little they know.

This talk was recorded at Stewart Brand's Long Now Foundation. The embedded video below runs for 10 minutes to watch the rest click on the "Watch full program" link.