Archive for July, 2012

Windows of opportunity

The modular units for Hickory Hall have begun arriving at Emory & Henry.  They look pretty nondescript right now.  They’re just modular building blocks sitting on trailers.  The above picture is the foundation for Hickory, and if you look far off into the distance you can see the trailers lined up in front of the baseball field.

 One thing you might notice in the picture below is the little sticker that says “Made in Ireland” in the bottom right corner of one of the panes.Why did we order windows from Ireland?  Well, it turns out that to get a Passive House Certified window, you have to go across the pond.  As you can imagine, these aren’t your average windows.  They are triple glazed, filled with argon gas, and have a low-e coating.  What does all that mean? Excellent insulation characteristics, of course, to meet  rigorous Passive House standards.

Take a look at the window cross section below.  This is from a double glazed, high-performance window:

Now, look at the cross section of this triple glazed Passive House style window:

Notice a difference? The first window isn’t a bad window at all.  In fact, it’s not even a standard builder’s grade window.  It’s still got a low-e coating and inert gas.  But the second window, well, it’s just plain impressive.  It’s got an extra pane of glass in there, with an extra layer of inert gas for insulation.  In addition, it’s fully thermally broken, meaning that the window and the frame won’t transfer much thermal energy from the outside or inside (called thermal bridging).

The result is astonishing.  Preliminary modeling suggest that just changing the windows lowered our heating load by 20-25%.  How is this possible? Well, a good double glazed window will have a u-value of about .3 (equal to an R-value of about 3.3).  A triple pane window will be about half that, or .15 (equal to an R-value of about 6.6).  So, it’s only twice as a efficient, right?  Not quite.  Take a look at this chart of u-value to performance:

Notice that it’s a nonlinear relationship going from a u-value of 1 to .5 gains a little, going from .3 to .15 gains a lot.  It’s the same for walls.  If you look at the chart again, you’ll see that you gain a lot more by going from u-value of .2 to .1 than from .3 to .2.  These windows are also tilt-and-turn instead of double-hung, which means a much better seal and far less air leakage.

So that’s the story of our fancy Irish windows.  Hopefully next time you look at a building, you’ll have a new appreciation for the windows and the role they play in a building’s energy performance.

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This is what an oil boom looks like from space

Want to take a wild guess which state recently surpassed Alaska to become the second leading oil producer in the US?  Why, North Dakota, of course.  The recently developed Bakken shale deposit has been producing a lot of oil.  It’s resulted in boom towns and jobs (North Dakota’s unemployment rate is about 3%, the US as a whole is just above 8%).  It’s made a lot of folks rich.  But it’s also resulted in a lot of natural gas flaring.

And that’s what those little red dots are (this is what it looks like at ground level).  Natural gas is a byproduct of the drilling, but because of low prices, low demand, and a lack of infrastructure, it’s being flared at such a high rate that the US has jumped from 14th to 5th in amount of flared gas per year.  It’s terribly wasteful, and represents more than $100 million in lost revenues.  There are proposals to build additional pipelines or a fertilizer plant, but those are still a long way from construction.

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It’s getting hot in here

Well, NOAA just confirmed that last 6  months were the hottest on record.  How hot was it? This hot:

Over 170 all-time warm temperature records were broken or tied in June.  The past 12 months just edged out the previous 12 as the hottest on record as well.  And there were plenty of extreme weather events too:

Oh yeah, it’s pretty dry too:

Additionally, the National Climatic Data Center puts the odds of this warm weather not being related to climate change at 1 to 1.6 million, or approximately the same chances as a snowball in…well anywhere except the Pacific Northwest the US last month.  Again, this isn’t directly linked to climate change, but all of these extreme weather events are highly correlated with a warming planet.

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It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility

The recent extreme weather events have gotten me thinking about climate change, which I don’t frequently discuss here. Climate scientists are saying that what we’ve been experiencing is a preview of what the future might hold for our weather patterns. Note that the wildfires and heat waves aren’t being directly linked to climate change, because climate and weather are two separate concepts.  This is merely a preview of possible future weather events that will become more common as the planet warms.

If you’re not up to speed on the topic of climate change, I’d recommend going here  first.  If you’re not in a reading mood, then start with this video, which is a pretty good overview of most of the pertinent issues.  The facts are pretty consistent, though.  Anthropogenic climate change is real, and we will see the consequences in the coming decades.

This great article has reminded me that skirting the issue only serves to prolong a debate that has been scientifically settled for some time.  A recent study backs this up, reporting that in the past few years the concern about climate change has waned.  And of course, the venerable James Hansen has a similar opinion.

Now that you’re thoroughly informed (and maybe a little sad),  and because I haven’t posted a single polar bear-related video since starting this blog, here is a terribly sad one about melting polar ice (with a little Radiohead and Jude Law on the side).

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What a power outage looks like

These aren’t terribly exciting graphs, but here is what an extended outage looks like.  Surprisingly, we had more of a brownout than a full blackout here, meaning we lost one or two of the three phases of our electricity for about 12 hours until it finally went out.

Eventually things shut all the way off until later on Saturday when power was fully restored to campus.  Most of campus survived the derecho unscathed, although we did lose a few trees and had some roof damage at the library.  Today was business as usual for the most part, as campus returned to normal operations.

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