Category Archives: General

Introducing: The Beta Family

The Beta Family: Steph, Darren and Maggie
Greetings from the Nauhaus

Hello all –

Greetings from the Nauhaus. As a brief introduction, we are the Beta Family – though you can call us Steph, Darren and Maggie (our mutt of unknown lineage). We have dubbed ourselves the Betas since we have taken up residence in the Nauhaus while the Alphas – Jeff, Jeannine and Jackson – have moved further north (for now) to tackle new challenges. As we’ve settled in over our first few weeks, we can’t stop smiling at how lucky we feel to be living in such a beautiful and peaceful place. We’re also humbled by all the blood, sweat and tears that were shed in its construction. We hope to honor every contributor’s hard work by sharing bits of our experiences in living at the Nauhaus while making our own contributions to its evolution as well (we’ve started that endeavor in the garden). We look forward to keeping in touch.

 

Legalize Industrial Hemp Nau

Well, it’s Hemp History Week.  Here’s the short version of the industrial hemp rant:

If you think the US is a capitalist country, think again. We can buy all the industrial hemp products we want, but we can’t grow the raw material to make the products ourselves. Can you say, “trade imbalance”? To learn a bit more, watch these two short videos we were involved in that discuss industrial hemp generally and then specifically as it applies to our Nauhaus prototype:

Notes from the Green Building Trenches: Should You Build Your Own House?

This article by Clarke Snell was originally published in the New Life Journal.


Just let me vent for a minute. I’ve been having a little trouble with my brain, nothing serious or anything… just been forgetting things, blacking out, and feeling a strange compulsion to listen to ‘N Sync. Okay, so I don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know I need brain surgery, right? Anywho, I’m a handy guy, so I’m thinking I’ll do it myself. I figure I can do a better job for less money and get the personal satisfaction to boot. I’m a careful dude, though, and after reading the pamphlets I’m not sure if I want to do it all myself, just assist in the operation, or simply run the hospital during the procedure. I decide to call a neurosurgeon for some pointers, right? I left four messages with different “doctors” explaining my situation clearly: I don’t have much money, I want to do as much of the brain surgery as possible myself, and I need it done immediately.  Would you believe it? Not ONE of them returned my calls. I guess they were too busy playing golf.
[Insert dream sequence music here.]

Insane, right? Out of touch with reality, eh? Interestingly, though, if we change the topic from brain surgery to house remodeling or other construction (and “playing golf” to “drinking beer at Hooters”), then this “rant” becomes a story I’ve heard repeated with a straight face by a number of people. But are the two really that different? How realistic is it for the average person to consider having a considerable role in the construction or remodeling of their own home? Where does this idea come from that we can do our own brain surgery…I mean house building?

The phenomenon is even more pronounced in my specific neck of the construction woods: “green” and “natural” building. I completely understand the impulse. In fact that’s how I first got involved in construction. I didn’t know a kerf from a smurf when I decided to build my own house. All I knew was that I wanted a house and I didn’t have to be a brain surgeon to see that modern houses were expensive energy hogs. They also often seemed like soulless, black-holes of emptiness…and then there was that bathroom wallpaper with seashells. It was all very confusing.

I set out to find a better way. I eventually built a house that is substantially heated by the sun for a fraction of the going square foot cost. Though my wife and I live and work there, our electric bill is usually less than $20 per month. We use less than 100 gallons of propane per year and have free water. By most standards, that’s very efficient. It’s also a beautiful place (though, like most owner-builts it’s not completely finished) and I have the personal satisfaction of having done it myself. This isn’t personal back scratching, just a testament to my credentials for making the following statement: Owner-builder beware. The road is potentially fraught with danger, stress, spousal unrest, and cramps in your check writing hand. I’m not saying you can’t do it, just be careful. The first step is to get real. Here’s a list of a few, from my point of view, popular myths that you should be aware of:

Myth #1: There are simple materials and techniques that can make house building accessible to everyone.

At some point in history regardless of your lineage, your ancestors built their own houses. People grew up involved in house building and repair and thus it wasn’t something to learn or study, it was a part of life. For most of us, those days are long gone. What’s more, a modern house is considerably more complicated than most of its forebears. I’m not talking fiber optics and heated towel racks here. Energy efficient construction, the hallmark of all environmentally conscious building, is a distinctly modern concept that requires careful design and attention to detail in construction. Even operable windows and doors are a complicated technology requiring a fair amount of skill to implement. The “simple” materials and techniques that people talk about (cob, cordwood, straw bale, etc.) are almost exclusively relegated to filling wall volume and as such just scratch the surface of the complex matrix that is a house.

Myth #2: “Natural” or “green” building is easier because it works with nature, using less complicated systems.

The evil genius of modern construction is the combination of mass-produced components with forced air HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning). This allows you to replicate a design anywhere using the exact same quality-controlled components. The floor plan can be of basically any shape and size and the building situated unconsciously because the indoor air is “conditioned” and moved around mechanically. This is the lazy way, and we pay for it collectively with the pollution and resource depletion caused by its resulting profligate energy consumption. The better approach is to create a building that works with natural forces on the site (sun, water, and wind) to create a comfortable base interior environment. This approach is more subtle, takes more thought, and is less forgiving of mistakes. For example, you can replace a too small boiler with a bigger one, but you can’t move your house to take proper advantage of winter solar heat gain.

Myth #3: If you do it yourself, you’ll save money and get a better product.

This statement is part of the great CON-tractor vs. c-LIE-nt culture wars. The owner-builder variation is to make cost comparisons between owner-built and contractor-built houses without factoring in the cost of the owner’s labor. That’s just bad math. Every hour you spend on your house is an hour that you aren’t spending at a job that you know how to do. Unfortunately, beginning construction workers with your skill level earn low wages, don’t get paid vacations or holidays, and often don’t even have insurance. Moving from spending time at your job to grunting and groaning at your construction site is most likely a financial loss. In other words, it would be cheaper to pay someone with more skills to do the work while you earn cash to pay them. As for the quality of the product, when did you ever do a good job on anything the first time you tried it? Fundamentally, you have to ask yourself this question: do you really want to trust some clueless novice, i.e. you, with something as precious and practically fundamental as your own house.

In the end, the real question is about your goals. If you are looking for a vision quest, building your own house is a great one. Just realize that you’ll spend so much time (measured in years, not months) amassing knowledge and practical experience that the most practical outcome is that you’ll find a profession in the process. On the other hand, if you’re looking for the most cost-effective way to build the most environmentally conscious house that fits your needs, I strongly suggest making yourself part of a design and construction team that is dominated by experienced professionals. We’re not all CON-tractors, just like you’re not all c-LIE-nts.

Copenhagen- Pusillanimous Pundits and Politicos play-for-profit with our Planet

Once again, Democracy Now! brings us the news corporate media won’t. Amy Goodman and her team have been covering the COP 15 climate summit in Copenhagen. I am not proud to say that the U.S.A. has been identified  (by essentially the rest of the world )  as “obstructionist” on issues of climate change. The 100,000 (!) people that showed up to have their voices heard as citizens of this earth have been “pre-emptively detained” (habeus corpus is such a quaint idea, don’t you think?) and it appears that the men and women behind the curtain have no wish to hear the concerns of the people. Oh, woe unto them.   more at :

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2009/12/16-0

If not Nau, when?

The following article was published on on the website www.commondreams.org. It looks like something’s happening there, Mr. Jones. “There” being Copenhagen, where the attention of the world is turned right now. This may indeed be a tipping point, in several ways.

Published on Sunday, December 13, 2009 by IPS/TerraViva
December 12th Was a Tipping Point

by Saleemul Huq

COPENHAGEN – I have been working on climate change for many years, first as a researcher in my native Bangladesh and later as head of the climate change group at the International Institute for Environment and Development, and as a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.I have seen first-hand the threats climate change poses in places such as the drylands of Africa, the mountains of the Himalayas and the vast low-lying deltas of Asia. I have observed years of inaction at UN climate change summits that have failed to deliver the response needed because negotiators have chosen to protect narrow national and economic interests instead of rising to the challenge of protecting future generations.

I have jousted verbally with climate-change deniers who have strong links to polluting industries and who have never set foot in the vulnerable villages and urban communities where climate change is already having impacts. If they did they would realise the damage their ideology does to the people who have contributed least to this global threat.

And now, in Copenhagen in December 2009, I believe we have reached a tipping point. I truly believe that Copenhagen will be remembered in years to come, not for what happens on 18 December when world leaders meet here, but for what just happened on 12 December.

This marked the day that people from all walks of life all over the world seized the initiative from our so-called leaders. Regardless of the words these presidents and prime ministers decide in a “protocol” or “agreement” next week, it is the people of the world who have put the writing on the wall!

The leaders who choose to read those words will take us forward. Those who ignore them will be swept away by the tide of history.

Yesterday marked the point when a large part of the world rose up as one to tackle a truly global challenge. Although there may be temporary setbacks (like a less-than-ambitious deal next week) the tide has already turned. It cannot be turned back.

Regardless of how much we achieve next week – and I remain optimistic in spite of the political manoeuvrings last week – we are set on a new and inexorable path. The leaders who understand that may come from the most unexpected of quarters. Keep your eye, for instance, on President Mohamed Nasheed of tiny Maldives.

In a few months I shall be moving back to Bangladesh to fight real climate change, as opposed to fighting against bad (or inadequate) climate change policies. My ambition over the coming years is to help the people of one of the poorest and most vulnerable – and yet resilient and innovative – countries transform itself from being the world’s iconic “vulnerable” country to being recognised as perhaps its most “adaptive” country.

I am going home to set up a new International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) where we aim to ramp up the capacity of governments, civil society organisations, researchers, academics, journalists and many others from developing countries to respond to the challenges that climate change poses.

The new centre will provide training and share knowledge on how to survive (and indeed even thrive) in a globally warmed world. It will focus primarily on adaptation to climate change in the least developed nations but will not stop there.

Indeed we are planning to provide capacity building for industrialised countries on how to face adverse climatic impacts. Ironically, unlike most of the world’s poorest countries, the rich world that has caused this problem has not done detailed planning on how to adapt.

I am returning to the front line of climate change where the real fight is already underway. I go there knowing that millions of people around the world share my hopes and my optimism that humanity can unite to tackle the challenge that now defines our life on Earth.
© 2009 IPS/TerraViva
Saleemul Huq, Senior fellow, International Institute for Environment and Development.