I need to replace my asphalt shingle roof. What is the most sustainable option?

In order to answer your question you need to define what you mean by “green” when you say that you want to make a “greener choice.”

Are you thinking about

  • durability,
  • recycled/sustainable content,
  • end-of-life recyclability,
  • thermal performance,
  • embedded energy,
  • carbon footprint,
  • health issues, cost, or
  • a multitude of other measures?

Once you identify what variables matter, you then have to prioritize them so you know what is most important.

Living roofs and standing seam metal roofs

Depending on your answer to this question, the perfect roofing material will vary greatly. Generally, the choices that will satisfy most of these criteria are living roofs (plants appropriate for your environment) and standing-seam metal roofs (cool roofs).

  • Unfortunately, both living roofs and standing seam metal roofs are very expensive options compared to composition shingles, and you clearly said that you want to stay in the same price range as your existing asphalt shingle roof.
  • For this reason, we install either 50-year or lifetime warrantied composition shingle roofs on most of our jobs here in California.
  • They are relatively inexpensive compared to any other roof material, are extremely durable and long lasting, and can be recycled into roads when their life as a roof is finished.

Cost/benefit depends on your climate

We also have a harder time justifying “cool roof” systems like standing-seam metal here in Northern California due to our mild climate.

However, it may be worth it for you in Phoenix to evaluate the cost/benefit of spending more on this type of roof since you could save significantly on your cooling bills in the summer.

If you choose composite shingle, choose one of the longer life versions

I’m afraid, however, that with the significantly higher cost of metal roofs, you will end up with another composite shingle.

Just make sure you spend a little extra to get the longer-life product (50-year or lifetime) since it is worth a little more to not have to ever worry about your roof again!

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Waterless Company comes to the Rescue- A Waterless Urinal that works and doesn’t cost a fortune

After my last post, which described my experiences with waterless urinals, the totally ridiculously priced replaceable cartridges and then with my rather atrocious interaction with Terry Janssen, the CEO of EcoTech, a company that manufactures a “SUPPOSEDLY” lifetime cartridge that never needs to be replaced, but in fact just turns out to be a big fat lie, I was pretty much fed up with my Sloan Waterless urinal. In truth, my wife and kids were begging me to remove the thing because it either never worked or stank to high heaven 95% of the time. I had lost all hope that my green home, would have to put in a water using urinal because I could not find any place that sold cartridges for less than $42 each. Now to understand my predicament, let me give you a bit of background on me, the house and why the waterless urinal is so important to me.
I am a general contractor who specializes in deep green homes. My company has built many of the greenest homes in California and my own home has scored higher on the Green Point Rated system (the predominant green home rating system in California), than any other home in the state, ever. The home serves as my company’s model home and also a testing bed for everything that is green that I can think to do in a home. The waterless urinal was something that was not normally put into a house but I thought it would be a great proof of principle for what people can do to save water and money in their homes, provided of course that they have males living there. It turned out to be the biggest failure in the house, not living up to expectations in monetary savings nor in (lack) of maintenance expectations.
Fortunately for me, Klaus Reichardt, the founder and CEO of Waterless Company and the original inventor of the waterless urinal, was reading blogs one day and came across my blog. Now, most people who read blogs about someone having a bad time with something or other just say, “Oh, that’s too bad, I’ve got to make sure I don’t do that in the future.” Heck, it is what I do. Fortunately for me, Klaus was in a better mode that this. He offered to give me a free urinal and a year’s supply of cartridges and the Blue overlay solution. Just because he doesn’t like to hear about his invention resulting in such grief, even if it was no fault of his own and he had no business to gain from it. Now, this is a great offer and way above the call of duty, but I was not ready to get another waterless urinal just to have the same problems again and pay for the same stupid $40 cartridges every 2-3 months. Luckily, after I ready through the Waterless Company website, I realized that they don’t try to stick it to the users of their urinals by charging a crazy amount for the cartridges. Waterless sells them for only $7. Man, that was good to hear.
So, we have had the urinal installed for two months now and it has worked perfectly, draining quickly and never smelling, but it has required no maintenance at all. More importantly, my wife is happy her house doesn’t smell like urine anymore. Well over 200 people in two different home tours, one for the USGBC and the Sierra Club and the other for a green building class at the local college, have come through and not a single problem with the urinal. So, I guess my hatred of waterless urinals should be adjusted to just urinals made by Sloan and Falcon and anything made by EcoTech. Thank you, Klaus. May your good will come back to you 10 fold.

Posted in Bluebird Residence, General Green Musings, Green Projects, Water Conservation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Eco Urinal Cartidges for Waterless Urinals – Watch out, they don’t give you what they advertise and what they do give you, doesn’t work

About a year and a half ago, after paying $45 for disposable waterless urinal cartridges that filled up, clogged, smelled horribly, one to many times, I decided to order the Eco Cartridge from EcoTechWater.  I had read about the Cartridges on several green building websites and how they functioned by using a plastic collapsible funnel that straightened out and drained when liquid was applied and then curled up and sealed off after the liquid drained away.  The idea was simple and logically made sense.  Unfortunately, this new cartridge, which had a lifetime warranty, had the potential to eat significantly into the never ending gravy train of people and companies that had to continually buy the $45 disposable filters from Falcon.  To understand the amount of money that was at stake, think about this: these waterless urinal cartridges really only last about 2 months in a commercial application, meaning that each installed urinal, and there are +100,000 now, was bringing in somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 a year into Falcon. Ecotech was selling their lifetime warrantied replacement for the Falcon cartridges for $159.  Lots of money was at stake.  Unfortunately, the big guy with the deep pockets won on the basis of clause in the plumbing code that essentially outlaws any moving parts in a plumbing trap(“no mechanical traps”).  So Ecotech had to stop selling their filters for replacement for Falcon and Sloan(who licensed the waterless urinal from Falcon) waterless urinals.  To read more about this lawsuit, go here: http://greensource.construction.com/news/080502Ecotech.asp

Now, I have always been a strong supporter of the little guy.  I don’t shop at Walmart(lousy social equity history, poor environmental record) and love shopping at Mom and Pop stores and Trader Joes.  I loved the idea of a little guy with a great idea and this seemed like the perfect company to support with my dollars and a great product to purchase.  So I filled out the form, payed my $159 plus shipping and waited for the solution to all of my problems.

Unfortunately, what I got was not at all what I ordered.  The company send me out a round piece of plastic with hole in it.  Attached to the hole was a 6″ long, 1/2″ diameter curved plastic J-trap that attached to the bottom of the plastic plate.  There was no explanation as to why I didn’t get what I ordered nor how this piece of plastic was better than what I had ordered. I was also delivered 6 green wax based plugs that looked vaguely similar, yet smaller than a standard urinal cake.  The inadequate directions stated that I needed to add one of these cakes, called EcoBugs, to the urinal every 3-4 weeks and that I could buy more of them for about $6 a piece.  These Ecobugs dissolved the uric salts that precipitate out of settling urine, resulting in the constant clogging of the Falcon cartridges and their subsequent necessary replacement.

Now, what I ordered was a lifetime warranty waterless urinal cartridge replacement that would need no replacement and really no maintenance and what I got was a completely different product that was going to cost me $110 bucks a year.  I called the company to find out why I didn’t get what I had ordered.  No answer, and messages were not returned.  I wrote emails, no response.  So, I tried using this replacement.  The EcoBug plugs lasted about 8 days each, the 1/2″ diameter trap started clogging about 6 weeks after the last Ecobugs were used, about 2 months into usage of the replacement EcoCartidge.  So I have now spent $36 in Ecobugs for just over 3 months usage of a waterless urinal located in a house with two males, 1 – 38 years old and the other 6 years old.  Flushing an old 7 gallon per flush toilet every time either of us urinated would not have cost us $36 in water in those three months.  Again I called EcoTech, no answer. Again I emailed, and again, no response.

So, trying to make good out of a bad situation, meaning my wife was tired of the whole downstairs of my house smelling like urine from a urinal that took 6 hours to drain, I removed the cartridge and literally scraped out the uric solids.  Yes, these deposits are common precipitates from urine and no I don’t eat to much iron in my diet.  I reinstalled the urinals and it worked for another month, then started clogging again.  I have repeated this process 5 times in the last year and a half and finally, the cartridge broke and I had to remove it by prying up on the edge of it with a knife.

I called Ecotech again and, yes, no response, until a week later, after two more calls, the CEO, T.E. “Terry” Janssen, CEO (Direct Line: 727-367-5395 (terry@ecotechwater.com) , called me directly.  He agreed to look at some pictures of the urinal after I told him what my experience with it.   Here are the pictures:

Clogged EcoUrinal Cartridge 

Broken EcoUrinal Cartridge

Broken EcoUrinal Cartridge

Clogged EcoUrinal Cartridge

I also asked him why I didn’t get the cartridge that was advertised on his website when I ordered the cartridge and he stated that it didn’t meet the plumbing code and they didn’t sell it anymore.  I then asked him why, over a year and a half later, their website still had the original cartridge that they cannot legally sell and have not been delivering for over a year and a half AND makes no mention of the plastic J-trap cartridge that they are sending out now(the one that costs $112 bucks a year in Ecobugs).  He said that they have been working on changing their website.  For reference, their website for the Eco Urinal Cartridge( http://www.ecourinalcartridge.com/default.html ), with the intro page, warranty page, contact page and installation page is a total of 4 pages long, oh, plus a one page order form.  I sensed something was amiss when a 4 page website takes over 1.5 years to change.

I sent Mr. Janssen the photos, and this was his response:

I have been in this business for a long time and have never seen a mess like this. There is no warranty issue here. If you want a check valve cartridge I may be able to find one and would be willing to sell it to you for $200.00 plus freight. If you want it send me or call me with credit card info.

Wow, so he is not willing to adhere to his lifetime warranty but he is willing to sell me a filter that is illegal to sell or install, for $200, 25% more than the first time I bought it, or tried to buy it.  I wrote him back asking him if he was kidding and telling him that to promise one thing and then send something completely different is not only false advertising, but it is fraud and that if I was not given the Cartridge that I originally purchased, I would report him to the Federal Trade Commission, which regulates interstate commerce. This was his response:

“Take your best shot you fucking pin head. Your web site is terrible.

T.E. “Terry” Janssen, CEO
Direct Line: 727-367-5395


The moral of this story is this: don’t buy a waterless urinal someone comes up with a better solution to the expensive, plastic disposable cartridges  AND Don’t buy anything from this guy.

My  Solution: come up with a solution to this waterless urinal problem before the female family members of my house make me rip the waterless urinal off the wall and throw it away.

Posted in Bluebird Residence, General Green Musings, Green Building Questions, Green Projects, Uncategorized, Water Conservation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Are there good polyurethane spray foam insulations and bad spray foam insulations?

Yes, absolutely there are differences and the consequences for the earth of picking the wrong one can be significant. Here is the problem, some foams, especially closed cell foams, use a blowing agent that can be an severe ozone depleting hydrocarbons(remember the old HFC’s and CFC’s) or gases with high global warming effects, with some lasting in the atmosphere for over 250 years. Examples of these are HCFC-141b, CFC-11and HFC-23.
BuildingGreen did a great analysis on some of the common foam blowing agents and came to the conclusion that using these foams did so much damage to the atmosphere as a result of their global warming potential that the payback from the reduction in fossil fuel usage was not positive(meaning you were not doing something positive for the planet) for somewhere around 36 years. Interestingly, almost all, if not all of the blowing agents used today, were created to replace refrigerants that had very high ozone depleting potential, so even the bad ones today are better than what we had a decade ago.
The good thing is that some of the manufacturers are paying attention and are using the no Ozone Depleting Potential(ODP), low or no Global warming potential(GWP), blowing agents(essentially a refrigerant gas that stays in the foam and slows heat movement through the foam cells). I recommend the foams with blowing agents like HFC-245fa(called Enovate 300), HFC-365 mfc, and also with hydrocarbons such as pentane, cyclopentane, and isopentane(flamable so really only for exterior usage) and the best yet, the new 4th generation blowing agents like Honeywells HBA1, and DuPonts FEA-1100, which are just now coming to market. Because the blowing agents fill the cavities of the foam bubbles, and are the main component of the foam involved in heat movement through the foams, the thermal energy characteristics, or thermal conductivity, of the blowing agents largely define the energy efficiency of the foam itself, so choosing effective blowing agents is crucial to a good insulation. Fortunately the consumer does not need to mix and match the right foam with the right blowing agent, but really only has look at the performance characteristics and the Ozone Depleating Potential(ODP) and the Global Warming Potential(GWP) of the foams themselves.
Also, but unfortunately, the so-called natural foams derived from things like soybeans or other agricultural crops are between 1% and 5% “organic” and the rest is petroleum based materials. So these are not really appreciably better, more natural or more efficient than normal, non-organic foams. It should be noted that the term “organic”, while commonly used to mean a natural or grown material, actually refers to any molecule that contains carbon, so is used incorrectly in the lexicon of everyday life, because both natural materials like corn, beef and people and “non-natural” materials like oil, gas and plastics, contain carbon.

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Do you recommend solar shingles? Is the technology advanced enough for durability and problem-free installation?We are designing a new house and would like to incorporate solar without the ugly rooftop panels.

Photovoltaic (PV) technology can be integrated into building materials such as roof tiles; the practice is known as Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV). BIPV has traditionally been done as an after-market add-on, so there are a lot of products out there, some of which you must be careful of due to manufacturing inconsistencies.

We have always been a bit leery of most of the roof tile products in that there are simply too many connections and individual small panels to be a reliable trouble-free system over time.

Another reason that we have not traditionally used them is that older solar shingle designs were more expensive to install than traditional PV panels, but new, more efficient designs such as thin-film copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) cells could change that aspect.

We will be watching this and other BIPV systems to see if they become more feasible to install on homes.  For now, we still recommend panels. They make nice low-profile panels now that are much more visually appealing; however, you need to change your paradigm of beauty. There’s nothing more beautiful to me than a large array of solar panels on a home’s roof indicating that another family is doing their part to live a carbon-neutral existence.

Posted in Energy Efficiency, General Green Musings, Green Building Questions, Zero Energy/Zero Carbon Homes | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Renovating an old home with hardwoods and trying to get rid of cat odor from previous owner. Is there a natural solution?

We have purchased an older home which was owned by a family with LOTS of cats. The house has all hardwoods and we are trying to restore the floors and get rid of the cat odor. Is there a natural/green solution? People have suggested all sorts of toxic — but very few nontoxic — options. Any advice appreciated!

Lingering cat urine smell can be a horrible problem in a house. However, many times the lingering effects of the toxic chemicals found in industrial cleaners can be far worse.

I always recommend (as well as use myself) a simple vinegar solution for cleaning hardwood floors, especially when they have the smell of pet urine. Try a solution of between 1/4 and 1/3 vinegar with water for the initial cleaning. Simply mop the floors as you would with a cleanser, rinsing the mop frequently.

For the second cleaning, try to reduce the concentration of vinegar. I like around 10% for everyday cleaning. This vinegar solution should neutralize the urine and eliminate the lingering smell, and it is 100% chemical-free and safe for your home and your family.

If the vinegar solution still does not do the trick, try some peroxide. Again, this is a more natural solution that will not negatively affect your indoor air quality or leave toxic residues on your floors.

Posted in Durability, General Green Musings, Green Building Questions, Uncategorized | Tagged | 2 Comments

Does PEX tubing constitute an offgassing problem when applied under existing hardwood flooring?

Additionally, are there any water contamination issues with using PEX tubing for human-consumption water supply?

PEX is cross-linked polyethylene, so there is no measurable offgassing from the material.

Through one of several processes, links between polyethylene molecules are formed to create bridges (thus the term “cross-linked”). The resulting material is more durable under temperature extremes, chemical attack, and better resists creep deformation, making PEX an excellent material for hot water and other applications.

PEX was developed in the 1960s. PEX tubing has been in use in many European countries for plumbing, radiant heating, and snow-melt applications since that time. PEX was introduced in the United States in the 1980s, and has seen significant growth in market demand and production.

We use PEX for house plumbing in almost every job that the municipality we are building in allows. It is cheaper, easier to work with, and results in a much better-performing finished plumbing system. Due to its small gauge compared to traditional metal plumbing materials, PEX minimizes the annoying and wasteful wait for hot water that most traditional plumbing systems have.

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