A catalog of links on the subject of 'healthy' and non-toxic housing.
Monday, June 12, 2006
Who Killed The Electric Car?
A new movie has appeared recently which may be of particular interest to those concerned about a healthier habitat. Who Killed The Electric Car? is a documentary concerning the curious appearance and disappearance of the GM EV1, one of the most advanced and eminently practical of all electric cars produced by American auto makers. Having long been in need of lower-toxic transportation as well as being keen on the technology for environmental and aesthetic reasons, I have long wondered about what happened to this extremely promising high-tech vehicle which supposedly cost a billion to develop and performed outstandingly but was given only a half-assed marketing effort by its manufacturer, offered only by lease through a few Saturn dealers, and quickly obsolesced without explanation, countless new units being sent for destruction.
GM is not the only US company to have pulled this same peculiar stunt. Around the year 2000 Ford Corp. briefly hyped their own electric car program called Think based on a compact car developed by a Norwegian company with a form-factor similar to today's popular 'Smart' cars. The storied development of the car was even featured in a science and technology documentary. Reports at the time were that the company had imported some large quantity of the vehicles but their marketing consisted almost entirely of a single web site which targeted a youth market with a style of graphics that parroted the ad design style of Apple Computer. Test marketed in a couple of dealerships given no education about it, it was quickly deemed a 'failure' and this massive number of vehicles were sent to the shredders just like the EV1. I actually wrote to Ford Corp. when I learned of this impending atrocity and begged to be donated two of the vehicles for my own use as non-toxic transportation. (one to drive, one to store for replacement parts) Of course, this request was denied with the usual executive excuse of 'corporate policy'. I could just imagine the soul-less middle-management drones giggling over my naivety. I wonder if this film will feature this car's story as well, though I suppose I'll have to wait until it's available on DVD to find out. (movie theaters being intolerable due to their chronically toxic interiors and perfumed patrons)
Today the only immediate hope of low-toxic transportation is the MDI Air Car developed in France. It functions identically to an electric car, only it uses compressed air to store energy resulting in a much lighter vehicle and much lower cost. It's engine, developed by a Formula 1 racing legend- is even lubricated with vegetable oils. But the company's plans to establish a manufacturing plant for it in New York state apparently fizzled-out after political tensions arose between Europe and the US and right-wing politicians started their childish 'Freedom Fries' campaign. Yet another opportunity squandered by hubris...
An interesting new use for straw as a building material has emerged recently in the form of a system called Strawjet, now being developed at Ashland School of Environmental Technology. The use of straw bale for non-toxic housing has tended to be tricky due to the problem of residual pesticides on on all non-organic agricultural products and the need for great care in preventing any possibility of mold or pest intrusion in the rendering encapsulating the straw bales. This new technology offers a new form of straw construction that may reduce these problems, though at present much more field experience is needed to determine its non-toxic housing potential.
Strawjet is based on the use of a special winding and binding mechanism which allows a harvester to produce a continuous thick cable of dense compressed straw fiber which is woven into composite panels and pultruded into beams with a cementous encapsulant. Individual cable cores can be replaced with pipe to serve as in-wall or in-beam utility conduits. Some very interesting architecture has been proposed for this technology, though not yet demonstrated. All in all, a promising technology but still in its very early stages of development.
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Site for Quanitco Lustron Images
Relating to my past article "Lustron Mania" on the unique porcelain coated steel Lustron homes of the Post War period, this site was recently mentioned on the Lustron Homes Yahoo Groups forum and offers a collection of good color photos of the collection of Lustron homes built at the Quantico Marine base in Virginia -now focus of a relocation project by MCS advocates. The homes have been declared obsolete by the military and were slated for demolition but have attracted attention by Lustron enthusiasts, architectural historians, and MCS patients, leading to attempts at a program to have the donated and relocated. Looking at these pictures from 2003, I was surprised at the apparent good condition of these homes considering the US military's reputation with handling their obsolete buildings and structures. Unfortunately, with typical relocation and rennovation costs for these homes currently floating around $160,000, the prospect of availing oneself of one of these 'free' Lustrons is not necessarily a bargain.
Monday, November 14, 2005
The Envirnmental Illness Resource
I've recently learned of an excellent gateway web site offering information on and recources for the spectrum of Environment Illness. Offers news, discussion forums, and sections on illness classification, treatment, and chemical and allegen avoidance. Looks to be a very valuable resource for EIs and others concerned with allergies and unwanted chemical exposure.
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Auroville Earth Unit
The Aurovile Earth Unit is a research and education facility established by the Auroville religious communty in Southern India. This facility performs some of the most sophisticted earth constuction engineering and archiectural design in the world and is responsible for Auroville's oustanding array of earthen archiecture. Thier web site is an excellent source of information on the subject and features numerous photographs of their research projects and the many remarkable buildings of Auroville.
Wonderful Wombs - Healthy Heating
Wonderful Wombs is a blog site on the subject of radiant floor heating and the related but newer technoogy of radiant tube air conditioning. It's parent site is Healthy Heating which showcases information on the radiant HVAC subject.
Radiant floor heating is actually an ancient technology whose roots lay in the 'hypocaust' heating invented by the ancient Romans. It first came into use in its modern fluid tube form (often called 'hydronic heating') early in the 20th century and was frequently featured in homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and the many Modernist designers. It remains one of the preferred heating technologies among architects today. But despite this heritage, radiant heating has seen limited acceptance among builders in the US due to a basic lack of knowledge. It is perpetually percieved as 'new', 'futuristic', or 'high-tech' despite a nearly 100 year history of use in this country. But in recent years it has seen a steadily growing acceptance, especially in the parts of the country better suited to slab foundations.
Radiant floor heating is one of the preferred heating technologies for non-toxic housing because it reduces the need for ductwork which has a tendancy to accumulate dusts and fungus. It dosen't, of course, eliminate the need for proper ventilation in a home but ductwork for that can be greatly reduced or sometimes completely eliminated when it need not be routed through a furnace. Radiant heating also uses electric water heating systems and can easily integrate with solar water heaters, which eliminates the need for oil and gas combustion systems that are a source of indoor pollution. Highly efficient compared to other heating technologies, radiant floor heating may make electric heating much more practical in areas where electric power may exceed the cost of gas or oil power. And in terms of basic comfort, most users consider it superior to everything else. Drafts and uneven heating are virtually eliminated, operation is totally silent, and the human sense of comfortable warmth quite good at much lower average heating temperatures, thus further saving energy.
Radiant air conditioning (also called 'chilled beam' systems) is a much more recent technology which basically reverses the operation of the radiant heating system using cooling tubes in a ceiling to absorb heat discharged by a heat pump similar to that of a central air conditioning unit or 'ductless' AC system. First appearing in systems designed for the suspended ceiling frames of commercial and office buildings, it suffered from complications in collecting and elliminating condensation on the overhead tubing. But more recent systems have gone far in reducing or eliminating that problem. Home use of this technology seems to still be limited, possibly because of the need for thick suspended ceiling spaces to accommodate equipment not yet adapted in scale to residential use.