Thursday, May 30, 2013

Common Isn't a Commodity

Ubiquity doesn't equal commodity.

The New York Times today reported that solar power generation nearly doubled in 2012 (to a total of 7,266 megawatts).  In the same story, though, they reported increasing concern regarding quality issues with solar panels.

Just because you can buy a panel from a bunch of companies doesn't mean you should.  That's why I want to install panels from a "big name" company that is committed to eco innovation.  Working for Panasonic, I have unique insight into our commitment to quality.  You may pay for quality up front, but it saves paying for it again and again as you encounter quality problems.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

City Mouse, Country Mouse (Part III)

We moved to Serenbe for the life here.  A big part of the life is the way it was developed.  It was conceived and built as a sustainable community.

Let the grass grow tall instead of cutting it back and treating with pesticides.  Treat waste water and reuse it for irrigation.  There is a 5 acre organic farm in the community.  The homes are Earthcraft certified.  The community is home to the smallest LEED commercial building in the US.

I love that there are nature paths.  I hated driving 30 minutes or more to go walk in the woods.  It didn't make sense.  Here I'll be able to walk out my back door and be on a nature trail around our lake.

Sustainability is important to me.  Our home in Atlanta was renovated to Earthcraft standards.  My uncle told me, growing up, "take care of your stuff and your stuff will take care of you."  Well, my stuff is all of these things: resources, people, nature, community.  I want to take care of them.

We're designing the house to incorporate a lot of these features:
  • Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) Heat Pumps: VRF heat pumps run a little bit all the time, keeping temperatures constant throughout the house, versus the traditional air conditioner/furnace combination which uses a lot more energy because its an all-or-nothing affair.  They're even more efficient than geothermal.
  • Solar: I don't know if we'll install solar right now, but we'll prepare for installing it during construction.  Panasonic is coming out with some very interesting solar/battery systems in Japan that I hope to see in the US soon.  Panasonic has some solar panels that perform very well (site #17).
  • Battery Storage: Panasonic have some products in Japan.  And there's some newer stuff.  I'm hoping we get something like this in the US that I can install in the house.  I suspect I'll have to provision for it and retrofit it in to the house.
I'm meeting in the morning with our builder and Earthcraft Technical Advisor which should produce some interesting updates.  I also have several posts about building our footings and foundation, and waterproofing our basement.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

City Mouse, Country Mouse (Part II)

At the end of Part I, our hapless hero made an off-hand comment that changed his life.

Five minutes after my comment about visiting Serenbe, I found myself in the car heading there.

After some initial objections to heading down, I couldn't provide Robin with any valid reason why we shouldn't visit.  (The casual observer should note that the list is short for "valid" reason not to do something.  Facts in evidence show she is always right, but that doesn't mean I have to embrace the concept at the time.  She continues to be smarter than me.)

So, we get to Serenbe and its the "small town America" you imagine.  A general store, restaurants, shops, homes.  A Montessori school, with a charter school planned for fall of 2014.  14 miles of walking trails through the woods.  Horse pastures.  Feral children with chocolate ice cream smiles.  It's the place you looked for and didn't know existed.


Everyone knows their neighbors.  They We stop to talk on the street.  Friends invite you onto their porch during your walk when cocktail hour arrives.

From my first visit, I came back every day for the next 3 days.  We rented a place.  We started working on plans to build a "forever home."  We looked at a lot of the homes for sale, but none of them quite fit what we needed, with place for family, for baby-that-is-here and for baby-that-may.

I found craic in the country.  It's good people and good conversation.  Taco Tuesday in nature.  A place where children run wild and learn independence.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Reason (Another) Why I'm Building a Panasonic House

I'm building a Panasonic house because I believe we make the best stuff.  It's nice to see other people agree with me.  Some recent information on the ST60 Display:

HDGuru - "the best overall image of any HDTV we’ve ever reviewed."

gdgt - 92/100 and a "Must Have"

Panasonic TC-P55ST60

Sunday, May 5, 2013

May Day

Come on down!  The rain cleared out and the artists, farmers, and stores are busy setting up.



Saturday, May 4, 2013

City Mouse, Country Mouse (Part I)

I love the city.  The connectedness.  The people.  The noise of conversation.  To the Irish, craic.

And so, with some shock, I moved to the middle of nowhere.  Which is to say, 25 minutes from the airport, and 40 minutes from downtown Atlanta.  But, for miles around in every direction: trees and farms.

We moved to a community called Serenbe.  It's a new urbanist development nestled into 1,000 acres of preserved woodland.  Today, though, isn't the tale of Serenbe.  This story is our story.

I work from home and, when our daughter was born, our house had one too few rooms.  After 6 months, I grudgingly agreed to look at several homes in Grant Park (Atlanta).  We made an offer on one.

It was a great house: good size, great systems, good design.  But.  There's always a but.  It was the big house in its part of the neighborhood.  During one of our walk-throughs (unbeknownst to us at the time), there was a break-in a block away and four would-be burglars got in to a shoot-out with the home owner.  This house was the big one in its section of the neighborhood.  And it just looked like a big house (2500 sq. ft.).  I knew we would be broken in to.  If its just me?  Fine.  City life; it happens.  Wife and newborn daughter?  Nope, not an option.

So, due diligence period: we're somewhere in Atlanta and I make what I think is a sardonic comment, "Let's visit Serenbe."

Friday, May 3, 2013

Laying the Foundation

I'm starting with the foundation because that's where you should start.  I'll work backwards to eventually cover where we live (Serenbe), why we moved here, and some of the story leading up to the images you see below.  And I'll continue to document the process as we build our house.

Despite some ominous weather, the crew was out yesterday pouring the concrete.  We knew the forms were down and assumed they were waiting for an inspection.  But we didn't expect they would do any work yesterday.  We were pleasantly surprised, though, to get a photo our future neighbor sent of them pumping concrete into the forms last night at 5PM.  The concrete set up overnight, and this morning the crew was out today setting up their forms for the foundation walls.

When I walked over at lunch today, they were measuring for their forms and were starting to put the rebar in place.  I snapped a few photos of them working to build the basement walls.

From the back corner of our lot.
Another one from the back of our lot.
And this one from the street.
I'll go back over at the end of the day and take a few more pictures of their progress.  The only negative?  Rain forecast for the weekend and early next week.

The permit boxes they use in Serenbe.  Also a new addition since yesterday.  The other side faces the street, where they put the lot number and the builder/architect information.