A Greener Indiana

Everybody can do something to make a greener Indiana

Greener Construction Techniques


Greener Construction Techniques

It is interesting that the construction of houses has remained largely unchanged over the years. In this group the purpose is to discuss some of the new techniques that are coming down the pipe.

Location: www.AGreenerIndiana.com/Group/GreenerConstructionTechniques
Members: 54
Latest Activity: Jan 20, 2016

Discussion Forum

Straw Bale Houses 3 Replies

Started by Aaron K. Last reply by Sonseerae Elaine Furman Sep 15, 2012.

Greening the Heartland Conference in Indy!

Started by Christin Kappel Feb 22, 2012.

The quality of the electric power in a building

Started by Greg Silcox Jun 8, 2010.

Comment Wall


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Comment by Ernest Rando on April 10, 2012 at 10:52pm

Just a quick question, is there anyone in this group that is either growing their own trees to be used as lumber or do they know of anyone in their community that is growing their own construction lumber for their home or for home projects?

Comment by Ed Paynter on January 9, 2010 at 1:37pm
No disrespect, but how can a 6000 sq ft home be considered "green?" Are there 12 people in the family?
Comment by John Marks on January 7, 2010 at 5:51pm
I wish I was closer, then it would be worth having a booth.
I have more pictures folks of another GREEN home we are doing- it`s a 6000 sq ft home. The guys really like working in them this time of year, they are warm.
Comment by Jack Given on September 2, 2009 at 2:28am
As a member of Greener Indiana and a NWI resident, I thought you might be interested in the PCBA Green Homes on Parade in the first NAHB Certified Green Community in the country.

Go to www.pcbaonline.com for more information.

While at that site, check out the 2nd Living Green Expo we’re holding in conjunction with IVY TECH this fall. We’re looking for a wide range of representatives from the community for participation. As a eco-oriented local business, you might want to have a booth and/or present a seminar.

If you’d like more information or to be involved, e-mail me at jackgiven@comcast.net
Comment by Terry and Patrica Kok on April 6, 2009 at 12:14pm
Cooperative bulk purchase of photovoltaic (PV) panels:

KD180GX-LP, 180w, 16v panel - 20 panels per pallet
pallet cost is $12,564.00 which equals $3.49/watt
Singly these panels would retail for about $4.75/watt.
$628.20 per panel - normally $855 (retail) - save more than $200!

I'm not trying to make money on this. I'm just offering to help facilitate a group PV buy so that we can all get a better price. Shipping would be extra, the cost split amongst purchasers. Sipping cost equals $20/panel. We would have the pallet shipped freight to a site in southern Indiana (Bedford) where folks could come and pick them up. If we needed to ship individual panels to another location besides the pick-up point, that cost
would be at the individual purchaser's expense.

These are high quality multi-crystal cells sealed from the weather, under glass, in an aluminum frame which can be mounted on a roof or yard stand. They are 16 volts which means they are designed to charge 12VDC deep cycle batteries. One panel (in full sun) would easily power a laptop computer and a couple of CFL lights, or a 15" flat screen TV and CFL lights, or a 12VDC water pump, or a couple large fans. 2 panels would be a nice mobile or small cabin/tipi power system capable of running power tools or an efficient refrigerator. If AC (instead of DC) is wanted an inverter needs to be wired to the batteries. A charge controller is needed between the PV panel(s) and the battery. We can get
small ones for about $45.

If you are truly interested in participating in this group PV purchase we need to have your share of funds before the final cut-off (ordering) date of Saturday. May 16th. Please feel free to call me at 812-360-2549 if you are interested in learning more and would like to participate in this cooperative bulk purchase.

Terry Kok - Starlight Ecotechnics
Comment by Ed Paynter on March 30, 2009 at 9:59pm
Just got home from a visit with the staff at Passive House Institute U S in Urbana, Illinois. We saw two of the passive houses they have built in that area. "Passive houses" are designed to run on extremely low power incorporating the heat generated by the occupants and their appliances, use triple-pane windows, are insulated to R-60 in the walls and R-90 in the roof. The main concept is an as-close-to-perfect building envelope using special techniques that virtually eliminate thermal bridging between the inside and outside of the home. They also use a air exchange system that transfers heat from outgoing air to the incoming air. Check out their web site at http://www.passivehouse.us/passiveHouse/PHIUSHome.html
Comment by Lynn a on March 30, 2009 at 1:41pm

I'll be hosting a call-in podcast with a prof. of architecture and consultant about mold prevention and remediation. See link above for info. You're invited to participate.
Comment by John Marks on March 30, 2009 at 8:01am
I have a GREEN building project going on in Bloomington Indiana. I will INVITE everyone here when the project gets in the stage people can see the concept.
Comment by Ed Paynter on March 8, 2009 at 11:42pm
We are planning to build an earth-sheltered home with a living roof.

It seems we should not count on the soil for much insulation, but should insulate much as if it were a regular roof. If the soil doesn't add much, I'll use about 6" of it and not have to engineer the roof for the weight of more soil depth than that.

The biggest question remaining is what to build the roof with, metal or timbers. Of course it will have a watertight membrane and will be slightly slanted.

Has anyone in the group built or worked on a living roof project?

Comment by Terry and Patrica Kok on February 17, 2009 at 12:23pm

What if you, your parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and maybe ancestors further back. were told a really big LIE, one they based their life and counted on to be true? If this LIE unraveled before your eyes and all that you thought was true collapsed and crumbled, leaving you and your friends and family in dire straights, what would you do? Would you suicide? Would you attempt to keep living like you did even though it is an impossibility? Or, would you learn how to adapt?

ADAPTATION is a big word for some folks. My thesaurus defines it as an alteration, adjustment, acclimatization, modification, change. The BIG LIE says that a corporate controlled industrial civilization is sustainable, that it can continue to rape nature to provide us with life support with no consequences to be faced, that it is the best and only proper way to live. It is a LIE designed by the industrialists so that we would buy and consume their products and work in their factories. The LIE is currently being exposed by time and nature.

The corporate controlled industrial civilization is crashing, running up against the wall of population growth, diminishing natural resources, environmental destruction, and internal corruption. Rome is falling and those who relied on it are in dire straights. The truth is that no stimulus package is large enough to replace what we’re losing and restore what we once knew. There are too many forces converging for that. Rather, we should learn how to adapt, how to acclimatize to our emerging situation. We don’t have much time to act. The whole planet is experiencing the same thing. We are not alone in our realization that we have been lied to.

The consequences of past actions are knocking on at the door. Look around you. Read the news. We see wild weather, polluted waters and tainted air, and a collapsing economy built on non-sustainable practices. We see war, murder, rape, pedophilia, and dying oceans, melting glaciers, rising waters. We’re not stupid. We can read the signs. Yet, most of us do not know what we can do, how we can get out of this mess, and what should we build in place of it. We have gathered here to seek (and possibly find) viable solutions. We did not come here to argue the fine points, to divide ourselves with political proclamations, or to revel in the horror of what is coming down. We leave those topics to another time and place. Right now it is the appropriate moment to consider our options.

First, let us consider what we need for basic life support and how we might provide for ourselves and our family and friends, maybe even our neighborhood, community, nation, and the whole world. Yes, its good to think globally but we need to act locally and the most local place to start is with one’s own life. Let’s take a quick survey:

1) Who here walks instead of drives down the road?
2) Who here composts their garbage?
3) Who here composts their toilet waste?
4) Who here recycles their wash water?
5) Who here plants trees, berry bushes, wildflowers?
6) Who here grows an organic food garden?
7) Who here harnesses the wind?
8) Who here harvests the sun?
9) Who here knows how to maintain their health with natural foods, herbal medicines, and massage?

There is so much we can do. Yet, before we delve deeper into the alternatives we should take a bit of time exploring some of the things we can do to conserve energy in our homes:

Efficiency is the key here. If we leave the lights on or keep the TV plugged in (even when off), we are using more than we need. Did you know that almost every electronic plugged-in appliance is draining power even though it is not turned on? It is called a “phantom load”. Lots of phantom loads add up to a large steady power drain. Plug those electronics into a plug strip and turn off the plug strip when the appliance is not being used.

Turn off the lights you are not currently using. Do you really need to light the whole room with a big bulb when reading a book or would a small high intensity reading light conserve more power? Standard incandescent bulbs waste power in the form of heat. Compact fluorescent bulbs make less heat and are thus considerably more efficient than incandescents - unless the incandescent is used for a short time (like in a closet) because fluorescents take a bit more power to “fire up”. The most efficient lighting to date is a sulfur light. These use microwaves to stimulate sulfur to produce light. These bulbs pump out light like miniature suns. The light from one bulb is channeled to other locations via fiber optics. So far, these are very expensive and are not available on the open market. The next efficient light is an LED (light emitting diode). There are some great LED flashlights on the market these days and the screw in version are just starting to penetrate the mass marktplace. LEDS do not get hot, last almost “forever”, are hard to break, and use very little power. In my opinion, LED lighting is the way to go.

In a normal home, lighting takes considerable power but refrigeration takes much more. Super insulate the refrigerator with 6” more insulation. Put the compressor on top so that the heat from it rises away from the refrigerator, not up through the cold box like standard models. With a front opening door, every time the door opens the cold falls out. Use a model which opens like a chest freezer. The most energy efficient location for a refrigerator (in the northern hemisphere) is on the north (shaded) wall of the home close to or in contact with the ground (which is 55 degrees F). Do not put a refrigerator where the sun can shine on it!
Also, during the winter when water turns to ice, fill some jugs, let them freeze, then put them inside your refrigerator.

AC (alternating current) engines/motors/compressors, including those in refrigerators, are not as efficient as DC (direct current) models. DC refrigerators usually operate at 12 volts and can be run directly off a battery bank, which can be charged by solar electric panels (photovoltaics), wind generators, and microhydro units (which usually produce DC power). The refrigerators mentioned above are “compression cycle” machines. They are more efficient than the propane fired “evaporation cycle” refrigerators found in RVs and in many off-grid homes. Solid state refrigeration can be accomplished with Peltier Junction chips (some coolers which plug into cigarette lighter sockets are available) but the are not very efficient. Ultrasonic refrigeration (very efficient) is possible but not yet available on the open market.

Electric stoves, ovens, hair dryers, plug-in heaters, base-board heaters, hot plates, or anything which uses electricity to heat a coil of wire are very inefficient. Gas stoves are more efficient. Wood stoves work if you have a steady wood supply. Yet, wood smoke is also polluting and you need to plant more than you burn just to keep up. Solar energy is free. Consider your options. If you need a clothes dryer, a propane or natural gas dryer is better than an electric one. Try hanging the clothing in the sun on a line. It will save you much power.

Room heating should not be electric. A well-designed solar home that is super insulated can get by quite well with a woodstove or a small propane or natural gas powered heater to augment the sun’s power when it is not shining on the home. Super insulation is the key here. So is using an “air lock” hallway (with two doors) to keep the cold from getting in. Air conditioners are a huge drain on power. It is best to use the coolness of the earth itself (55 degrees F.) to cool your home. It is easy to construct a simple system of parallel pipes which run through the ground and into your home. Outside air is drawn in through the pipes and is cooled by the earth. The moisture in the outside air condenses in these pipes to produce distilled water. This is called an “air well”. During the summer, the home should be shaded by trees. Homes which are bermed or built into the ground (earth sheltered) are easier to cool and heat.

Cooking should be as efficient as possible. Solar box ovens (insulated boxes with black interiors, a piece of thermal glass on the front, and a reflector to focus more sunlight into the box) work great as long as the sun is shining - even in the winter! Electric stoves should be avoided. If you must use electricity for cooking, a microwave oven is more efficient than an electric stove because it cooks faster. Natural gas or propane stoves are much better. Steamed vegies are tastier and have more vitamins than overboiled ones and steaming saves a lot of power. The more raw food we eat the less cooking is needed.

In the electronics world, small is better. A laptop computer uses far less power than a desktop model. A small screened TV is more efficient than an large one. AN MP3 players uses a tiny amount of power compared to a CD player. Choose your appliances, electronics, and tools based on efficiency as well as performance. Do you need your a VCR in your home or would it be more fun to watch a movie with others in the community shelter? At the very least, turn off the lights when they are not being used! Conservation starts with awareness. If we are going to adapt to the changes we have to start by learning to conserve nature’s gifts. Remember: the more power we use the more power we have to produce.

We’re not trying to live like primitives here. We value a high level of peaceful and sustainable civilization. We simply realize that we can no longer be supported by big business must now adapt to the changing situation. Conservation on all levels is important. We need to do more with less. We need to plan ahead. We need to take control of the situation and show our neighbors how we did it. We need to step outside of the box, dare to be different, and take personal responsibility for providing ourselves with life support, including the energy we use.

By now I hope you know that the grid, as it is currently constructed, is not capable of handling the growing demand for energy. Huge storms bring the grid to the ground. Rebuild is expensive. Rates are raised. Fule sources are hard to find and exploit. On top of that, many water delivery and sewage treatment systems are old, antiquated, breaking down. The industrial level infrastructure is in bad shape. Much of the groundwater is either tainted with industrial and agricultural chemicals or has been or is being depleted. Drought is becoming endemic in many regions. Deserts are spreading.

Of course we wonder what we can do besides conserve and recycle our resources. We need answers. Yet, while we may learn from others, the most important thing is to implement what we learn on a personal level, to the best of our ability. We need to take personal responsibility rather than wait for our substitute parents (big government and big business) to do it for us. Remember, Rome is in steep decline and cannot afford to keep us all alive. In the Empire’s eyes, more and more people are becoming expendable. The support net is frayed and torn. The mothership is sinking. There are not enough lifeboats.

We need to build backyard arks, life supporting waste recycling greenhouses, and renewable power systems. We need to build cooperative networks of friends and family, cooperative buying clubs so we can get those things we cannot produce ourselves or get from our neighbors - at a good price, below retail. We can learn, once again, how to barter, trade, and swap, or simply give our excess to those in need. We need to start our own power production companies, organic farms, building materials recycling centers, natural healthcare and disease prevention sanctuaries, and encourage our local and regional governments to use their political clout to bless and promote them.

We need to get the media aware of the situation and working for the people and not the BIG LIE. We need to put ourselves to work, pool resources, teach classes, get personally involved in the school system, upgrading it so that our children learn what is useful, not just what big government and big business wants them to know. Practical skills need to be shared. Grandmothers and grandfathers need to be questioned and asked to explain. Folk knowledge needs to be recovered, recorded, and made into instructional programs we can run on the Internet. We need art which shows us a positive sustainable future, pictures of a re-greened environment, people living sustainable ecovillage lifestyles, energy efficient long distant mass transport bullet trains, electric vehicles for local travel, bike lanes, walking paths, a rewriting of zoning ordinances to allow home scale businesses.

I’m not suggesting that we get rid of big business and it’s industrial prowness and employment opportunities. That would be foolish. I, for one, enjoy and thrive in a high level of civilization. I just want to have more control over my life and help big business clean up it’s act. Every watt I produce is one they don’t have to. Every vegetable I grow and chicken I raise does not have to be produced on a factory farm. Every drop of water I catch in my rain barrel and cistern is another which I don’t need to purchase for the utilities. I can dig mini-ponds in my yard and line them with recycled advertising tarps, maybe raise some fish, build a composter from an recycled plastic barrel, a solar air heater from aluminum cans, and run my gray water into the garden so that I don’t overburden the public sewer system and treatment plant. There is so much we can do, alone and together.

Let’s take a short break and come back to this energy issue and discuss how we might produce our own. We’ll also revisit the topic of helping each other out, working together cooperatively, and building sustainable community. Get up and stretch. Take a breather. Relieve yourself and wonder where it is going to and whether or not there is a better way to use our wastes. While you are at it, consider where the power we are currently using comes from.


Here are some prime candidates for small-scale energy transformation:

1) SOLAR THERMAL - Sunlight contains an incredible amount of energy. When sunlight falls on a dark surface, that surface heats up. Trapping sunlight, heating something up, and storing that heat are what solar thermal is all about. Super insulated buildings can be heated by solar energy (as long as there is sunlight). Solar thermal systems can be divided into “passive” and “active”. Passive systems have no moving parts. A black painted tank filled with water and exposed to sunlight is an example of a passive system. An active system has moving parts (blowers, pumps, valves, etc.). An example of an active system might be a rooftop mounted solar thermal panel filled with antifreeze (so that it does not freeze during the winter) that is connected to an indoor insulated water heater. There is a pump which pushes the antifreeze through a heat exchanger coil in the water heater (where the trapped solar heat is given over to the water) and back again to the rooftop solar thermal panel where it picks up more heat from the sun. Active systems tend to break down and should not be used where a passive system will suffice. Both active and passive systems can heat air, water, and even rock. Passively and actively heated solar building both use some sort of thermal storage system (water or rock) to trap excess solar heat and release it gradually over time, maintaining an even temperature indoors. Some people have even constructed solar thermal “heat engines” which turn sunlight into mechanical power to spin generators, pump water, and run drills, lathes, and fans.

2) SOLAR ELECTRIC - The proper term for this is called “photovoltaics” or PV. PV panels are composted of PV cells. Several panels wired together make up a PV array. PV must be pointed at the sun. Power production is reduced when the sunlight strikes the cells at an angle. PV cells are more efficient in cold weather. Commercial PV cells for home power production transform about 10% of the sunlight into electricity. There are experimental and NASA related PV cells which have a much higher efficiency but they are either very expensive or not yet available. Commercial PV cells are not cheap either but they do not make any noise or pollution while producing power. PV output is DC (direct current) and is usually stored in a battery bank. The battery bank can be tapped direct to provide power for pumps, electric motors, and compression cycle refrigeration (which run more efficiently on DC than AC). An “inverter” may also be connected to the battery bank to produce 120VAC (standard wall current) with about a 5-10% reduction in efficiency. Electric systems which are not connected to the grid are called “off grid” or “stand alone”. PV systems may also be “grid intertied”.

3) WIND POWER - Wind power can be either mechanical (like those old fashioned towers with the large bladed fans which were used on farms to pump water from wells) or electrical. Wind powered electric generators cost far less (watt per dollar) than PV systems and are hooked up to a battery bank just like PV. If there is a steady and strong source of wind, wind power is a good option. Wind machines need to be at least 50’ above the ground. The closer to the ground (or house or trees) the more turbulence there is and the less power produced. Wind power works where there is wind. Wind charts are not precise enough. If you are interested in wind you need to take a wind survey on your site before investing. You also need to be very careful about which wind turbines you purchase. They are not all the same, the manufacturer’s claims are often inflated to make it seem like you will produce more power than you actually will, and, like all mechanical devices, wear down and need regular maintenance. Wind turbines used to make electricity need to move fast because of the physics of electric power generation and the type of turbines in common use. Most small turbines are similar to car or truck alternators except they use permanent magnets instead of a secondary coil. One type of turbine called an “axial flux” is relatively easy to build from scratch and has the added bonus of making power at lower speeds.

4) WATER POWER - Microhydro units are used to tap flowing and falling water and convert that energy to electricity. Microhydro systems are hooked up just like PV and wind generators. If the flow and fall are strong and steady enough, microhydro is a great option for continuous power production. Another water trick is to use the falling water to turn a wheel to provide direct mechanical power to grind grain, spin fans, and power drills and lathes. A community with an abundance of falling water is lucky indeed! In recent years several companies have been working towards producing an in-stream turbine which works at slower speeds. In order to make electricity at slow speeds, with micro hydro or wind, a gearbox is used which adds another level of complexity and somewhat reduces power.

5) EARTH POWER - Below the frost line, the earth is about 55 degrees F. Tubes or pipes can be laid through the earth and air or water pumped through those pipes. This is called “geothermal”. During the summer this system can be used to cool a building. During the winter, this can be used with a “heat extractor” to provide space heating. If you are using a conventional propane or natural gas furnace or even a woodstove, the air used for combustion should come into the building through ground pipes, using the earth to preheat the air to 55 degrees F. When coupled with a solar thermal system, excess summer heat can be pumped/blown through these same pipes, heating the ground below the building and raising the ground temperature by a few degrees.

6) BIO-GAS - When organic animal and human wastes and garbage decompose in anaerobic conditions (without oxygen) they produce a mixture of gasses which contain a high proportion of burnable methane. Home scale methane production does not work since we do not produce enough waste. Community or farm scale systems, especially if there are many animals to provide manure, can be made to work. The gas is not very high quality and, when burned, does produce some pollution, similar to propane or natural gas. Natural gas is mainly methane.

7) BIO-DIESEL - By using emulsifying agents (usually chemicals) dirty fryer fats from restaurants can be recycled into bio-diesel and may be burned in diesel engines to run vehicles or even back-up electricity generators. Bio-diesel pollutes less than petroleum diesel fuel.

8) ALCOHOL - Alcohol (with the proper government permits) can be made from excess grain, wood chips, and sugars. It can be burned in most internal combustion engines with slight modifications to the carb and the replacement of plastic tubing with metal. Burning alcohol pollutes less than gasoline but still creates poisons which are normally exhausted into the atmosphere.

9) HYDROGEN - Hydrogen is burned with oxygen to produce heat and water vapor. There is no pollution in this reaction. When hydrogen is burned in open air there are some nitrogen oxides produced (very little). Most internal combustion engines, gas stoves, gas dryers, and gas refrigerators can be converted to burn hydrogen. There is another way to “slow burn” hydrogen called “catalytic combustion” in which hydrogen is consumed without a flame at the surface of a rare metal catalyst like platinum. Some space heaters are “catalytic heaters”. Another way to burn hydrogen is in a fuel cell. Fuel cells use a catalyst and a series of membranes to combine hydrogen with oxygen to produce heat, electricity, and distilled water. Small scale fuel cells are just coming into the consumer marketplace and may be even used to power vehicles without pollution. Hydrogen can be used to enrich bio-gas to make it a more usable power resource. The trouble with hydrogen is that it does not exist on earth in any appreciable quantity - except when it is bound to another element. Water contains 2 hydrogen atoms with 1 oxygen atom. The trouble is that it takes more energy to split water into H and O than the energy one gets by burning the two to create water! In other words, if you already have the energy to split water, why not use it direct? On the other hand, if you have excess energy (such as summer sunlight), why not use that energy to split water? The subject of splitting water and the methods of doing so are being studied in detail by experts and inventors all over the world in order to prepare the way for a “hydrogen economy” which some people believe will take over at the end of the fossil fuel era. I hope so. We should look deeply at this technology.

One more thing about hydrogen technology. Much of the spent nuclear fuel from commercial reactors sits in water filled pits, disassociating the water into hydrogen and oxygen. Utility companies should be tapping this waste product. If this is run into a fuel cell, the fuel cell makes heat, electricity, and water. The water is then run back over the radioactive substance and the cycle continues. This is a “closed circuit system”. If my sources are correct (the people who worked on this project), the Hubble space telescope has one of these closed systems on board. They call it a “99 year battery” because, every 99 years or so they must add a bit of water because, bit by bit, the water is converted to heat and electricity. Personally, I believe the massive amounts of nuclear waste currently on earth could be used in small “home scale” units, wrapped in lead with an unbreakable titanium hull. A licensed service person would inject water every hundred years and replace the radioactive screens every thousand years or so. But, that’s for the future. Right now this technology is not a viable option for common use - mainly due to the social and legal, not technical, problems of working with nuclear waste.

I hope this short introduction has been useful to you. I left out some more esoteric energy production schemes (OTEC, tidal, wave motion, etc.) because they are not practical on a small scale. I hope you have some questions about what I’ve presented. Please feel free to ask them. Also, consider the possibilities of forming cooperative buying clubs to purchase equipment at lower prices. We can do far more together than we can do alone. It’s time to co-create sustainable systems and communities and put the BIG LIE to rest.

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