Construction School for GREEN Technologies

My Concept of a GREEN Campus

This presentation was first placed on the Internet in December 2008.

Since around 1990, I have realized that the assortment of energy-related systems (which are now presented in this Internet Domain) might be broadly beneficial to the construction industry. So I had thought about creating an environment where Contractors (and others) might come to a "Campus" where they could learn both how to build any specific system and also learn WHY that system works so well and has the benefits that it has.

The concept has expanded over the years, up to the current configuration of 14 DIFFERENT houses, spread out over a fairly remote area of 640 acres (one square mile). Each house would be built on a parcel of 20 acres, so that each house could act as an independent learning environment for that system. The concept has always been to include the capability that a visiting Contractor would arrange to LIVE IN that particular house for the week of their visit! In other words, the Contractor would make arrangements as though for a hotel room, but in this case, the Contract amount would include not only the rental of the entire house but also the Class sessions regarding building that particular house design.

The 20 acres of space associated with each house would be for the possibility that too many Contractors would want to visit and attend the Classes, where additional (temporary) shelter might be provided, such as in RVs that they might even arrive in.

The entire square-mile area would likely have a security fence around it, partly to confirm that the entire space is absolutely independent of all external energy sources. ALL the heating and cooling of each house would be provided BY that house's system, along with the heating of the domestic hot water. All of the potable water supplies would be provided within that square mile, and the water would be PURER than any conventional Municipal water supply, due to the water purification systems included in this Domain. ALL of the electricity used by all buildings in the entire Campus Community would also be generated on-site, where no external electric powerlines would enter the property. Telephone lines and cable TV lines may be the only actual direct connection past the borders of the Campus, although even they now can be provided by cel-phones and satellite dish antennas!

These considerations are all to establish that EACH of the 14 house concepts represent systems which can be entirely independent of all exterior needs, and far more than simply being off-the-power-grid.

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I had felt that three general regions (in the US) might be most suitable for this Campus. They would each be far enough from modern society where property prices might be tolerable for 640 acres, where there would be a moderate-sized water stream crossing the property, where the property would have at least 100 vertical feet of altitude range within the 640 acres, and where it all might be within a reasonable driving distance and time for possible visitors.

From these constraints, I have thought that a location somewhere in the Ozarks region of Missouri; somewhere in the southern half of West Virginia; or somewhere in the eastern-third of Kentucky; might be ideal locations.

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These houses all involve (mostly) relatively standard construction materials and procedures, with the intention that the time and cost involved in Contractors building such homes should not be greater than around 10% more than in building conventional homes. In a couple cases, the differential is around 20% but in several cases, it can be far lower than 10% extra. The whole point of such a Campus would be to enable Contractors to build large numbers of houses which were extremely GREEN, but also where the homeowners would experience such savings on utility bills that any such cost differentials would be amortized within five years at the longest. This is in total contrast to the vast majority of existing demo houses which include solar or other alternative aspects, where the cost of adding such features has always been extremely high, and the homeowner would certainly never even save enough to pay for the initial installation cost in a hundred years, much less ever actually save any money on utility bills! Such systems always seem to be extremely complex, as well as expensive, which also makes them all susceptible to equipment breakdowns, which then require the hiring of specific repair technicians familiar with fixing those specific systems (assuming that repair parts would still be available at the future time when repairs were needed). This note is included here because in the 1980s, large numbers of solar panels and related devices where manufactured by hundreds of companies, due to the government offering enormous tax incentives for people to buy such things then. Virtually all of the equipment sold was very inferior, and nearly all those manufacturers went out of business within two or three years. That resulted in NO available repair parts for any of those solar panels or solar systems! The homeowners, who had all been led to believe that they would SAVE money for the next 40 years, all found that they had worthless and broken-down equipment, which eventually all got scrapped. Many hundreds of people in the 1980s also bought very expensive wind-turbine systems, with the same situation occurring. When some major failure occurred in such a system, the manufacturer had already gone out of business, and there was no one willing to even climb up the towers, much less actually know how to fix whatever had failed, or of having access to the repair parts that would be necessary.

This Campus is very different from that. MOST of the systems involved can be considered low-tech, for specific reasons. First, such systems tend to be far less expensive to install. Second, there is generally a simplicity of construction involved where fewer future failures should ever occur. Third, if such failures ever occur, the solutions regarding repair would generally be fairly obvious AND they would generally only require repair materials which are locally and commonly available.

Because of all of this, the construction of these 14 Campus houses would not be inordinately expensive. I have always found it humorous that the US government spent $750,000 in the late 1970s in having a prototype solar house built in Massachusetts, a relatively conventional small (1200 sf) bungalow. At that time, such bungalows were selling for around $30,000 total for the house and property! Worse, the highly promoted solar-house was generally a disappointment, in having far worse performance than had been advertised!

However, still, the cost of building 14 new houses would involve significant money. Around 2003, I did a construction cost analysis for the 14 houses and concluded that around $4 million would be required (not including the cost of the acreage). I do not happen to have $4 million in my pocket! And I would NEVER agree to allowing any company provide any of those needed funds for having any ownership or control of the Campus operations. In the early 2000s, bank loans would have been available, but I have become fairly old, and comfortable in life, and I have minimal motivation to become committed to having such large Mortgages to have to repay! So this Campus has never proceeded, and realistically, it may never exist. That is a sad thought, regarding the environment, homeowners, the construction industry, and nearly everyone else.

As an added note in late 2008, the construction industry has virtually dried up. There are now millions of empty homes on the market, which are all deteriorating, but which are each potentially available at very low prices, which virtually eliminates the market for extremely expensive brand-new homes. This Campus could enable Contractors to make available to potential home-buyers some features which have never before been available to them! If a home-buyer is aware that they will forever have $2,000 or more winter heating bills and $1,500 or more summer air conditioning bills, as well as significant bills for electricity, potable water, etc, then the potential home-buyer might see extreme value in considering buying a NEW house which will never have those continual expenses! And, in addition, the home-buyer would realize that such a house would SELL for a significant premium over any conventional houses, in addition to being in such demand that such a sale could occur quickly. Where currently, new-construction Contractors cannot sell ANY houses, they might find tremendous demand for any of the house systems based on the 14 houses of the Campus!

Therefore, such a Campus might enable the US home-construction industry to thrive again.

The fourteen houses of the Campus are each presented in separate presentations within this Internet Domain. They are briefly listed below. In most of these cases, the electricity supply would be from several separate installations on the entire property, and would also provide electricity for several additional buildings also to be built on the property, such as a general store, a Greeting building, an Office complex, and some small stores in a tiny village.

  1. Full-scale NorthWarm Version 1, 100% solar heated house
  2. Tract-home-scale NorthWarm Version 1, 100% solar heated house
  3. Tract-home-scale conventional bungalow house with a NorthWarm Version 2 system added
  4. Tract-home-scale conventional ranch-style house with a NorthWarm Version 2 system added
  5. Absolutely conventional looking large house with the Sub-Basement (a) system
  6. Absolutely conventional looking tract-home-scale house with the Sub-Basement (a) system
  7. Conventional House heated with a HeatGreen Version 3a system
  8. Conventional House heated with a HeatGreen Version 2 system
  9. Earth-bermed house (with optional heating system)
  10. Underground but sunny and airy house with a courtyard
  11. Absolutely conventional looking large house with the Sub-Basement (w) system
  12. First of two (conventional construction and appearance) Community houses using a large underground communal heat/cool storage tank.
  13. Second of two (conventional construction and appearance) Community houses using a large underground communal heat/cool storage tank.
  14. NorthWarm Version 4 (economy) solar house (generally NOT 100% solar heated)

It is important to note that 9 out of the 14 houses would have absolutely convention house appearance! Home-buyers would not have to tolerate unusual aspects of the house appearance, which should be seen as a good thing! Of course, they COULD add a solar panel or two to the roof, if they think that might impress the neighbors, but in general, that would be an optional choice (with relatively little extra benefit!)

So most of these houses APPEAR to be the usual houses, which also means that the wide range of styles would be available, ranch, gambrel, bungalow, etc. In most cases, the construction materials are also flexible, so if a home-buyer wanted a brick home, that appearance could be provided.

Certain UNUSUAL styles of houses, such as Geodesic Domes, are only compatible with some of the choices, but for most house appearance choices of a home-buyer, a number of DIFFERENT of these systems could be used.

The NorthWarm Version 1 is among the most flexible regarding climate. We are pretty convinced that a Version 1 could provide 100% solar heating for an entire house, even in a house in most of the lower half of Alaska! The same house design concept is excellently compatible with a location in most of Florida, where it would still provide 100% of both the heating AND the cooling (A/C) for the entire house, even in August! The residents would have little indication that the house did not have a conventional heating furnace and a conventional A/C system, as the standard wall thermostat would control the entire system automatically. (The Version 1 is also the most expensive of the 14 choices, but not by a terrible amount!) The NW V1 is certainly as GREEN as anyone could get!

The HeatGreen Version 3a is also extremely flexible regarding climate. It is much less expensive to install than the NorthWarm Version 1, but its operation is somewhat labor intensive. In fact, the HG 3a system could be added to an existing house for just a few hundred dollars total cost! As it becomes popular, it is expected that local small service businesses will arise to take care of the maintenance issues every few days, for a fixed seasonal contract cost. The HG 3a is also an entirely GREEN system, but all the rest of the 14 houses are as well!

A Contractor would be expected to have interest in ONE of the 14 systems, and then arrange a Contract for a one-week Course centered on that specific house, probably even living inside that house for that week. We do NOT expect that any one Contractor would have interest in more than a few of the fourteen.

This presentation was first placed on the Internet in Dec 2008.

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C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago