Mayday, 2009 - Residential Renewable Energy

Two days ago I signed a contract with O'Reilly Publishing to produce a book devoted to renewable energy for the home. My contact indicated that I was to produce a blog as well as the book itself. The day when writers simply wrote books is long past, I'm afraid. Now we are enjoined to blog about the process, presumably to arouse the interest of a potential readership long before the book is published.

This, incidentally, is not a new development. Ten years ago I wrote a novel that did not find a publisher but which did interest a number of agents. Each of them told me to develop a Website devoted to the book and its characters and to establish an interactive presence with a fan base, notwithstanding the fact that I had no fan base. If one were really successful with this strategy, I was told, fans would appropriate one's characters and use them in their own narratives, establishing a franchise, as it were, though not one from which the author derived any direct profit.

Presumably nonfiction titles do not entrain quite the same sorts of fan bases. Nevertheless I shall initiate a succession of blog entries.

The Landscape of Sustainable Housing – a First Glimpse

Sustainable housing occupies a far corner of the same galaxy containing the world of alternative fuels. In some cases the two worlds intersect as when off-grid homeowners brew their own biodiesel. But the overall thrust of either endeavor is different. Alternative fuels comprise a commodity manufacturing industry or industries. Residential renewable energy is as much a cause as a business. Various manufacturing entities serve the cause but they are incidental to it.

The emphasis in the press regarding sustainability in single family homes is on renewable energy systems, particularly roof mounted solar panels. The emphasis is misplaced in my opinion. You're apt to save a lot more energy and be a lot more sustainable by passive measures which moderate fluctuations in the interior temperature of the home and which exploit natural sunlight maximally for light and heat. Unfortunately, the best results are only attainable in custom homes, either new construction or very extensive retrofits. There are no simple measures for making a conventional house extremely energy efficient, though there are lots of palliatives like adding insulation and sealing cracks around windows and doors.

So called passive solar houses, which represent the ne plus ultra, interest me greatly—far more than solar panels on the roof—but I'm not sure they represent any kind of groundswell. Solar houses involve some significant departures from the norm in terms of room layout, lighting, and the overall form and configuration of the house, and, as Tom Wolfe notes in his insightful "From Bauhaus to Our House", ordinary Americans don't cotton to nontraditional architecture. Solar houses also demand a certain orientation with respect to the sun and may be rather odd fits within existing housing tracts where other houses are not so oriented.

I shall explore this topic more fully in the weeks and days ahead.