Monthly Archives: April 2012

A Home for Latisha’s Family

Latisha has 4 kiddos, a job, a car and works hard at being a single mother.  She has dreamed of a home of her own for them. A place to live, making a mortgage payment instead of paying rent. The problem is the commercial lending system doesn’t have a place for her. Perhaps this or perhaps that.  It doesn’t really matter. The commercial home lenders will not extend credit to her. To hear from some business people, they will not lend to them either. That however is a rant for someone else and someplace else.  This is about Latisha’s new home.

She partnered with Wichita Habitat for Humanity. That meant she had to attend some Home Ownership Classes. She had to have a job and show ability to make her mortgage payments. She is paying rent, which makes a good start.  She had to have her income reviewed. That is only the start.

On Wednesday, the 25th of April, she received the keys to her home.   The picture essay below shows the home construction and the events of the Dedication. The pictures were taken from late February through April 25. I am privileged to have been the Energy Star Rater for this home.  The comments are therefore slightly biased toward the Energy Efficient Features of the home. If you have questions about these, comment below, or contact me.

A home starts with a foundation. In an Energy Star Home, the foundation is insulated. Latisha’s home will not be like this home. This picture was taken with snow on the ground (a pile from shoveling is the cold spot), an outside temperature in the 20’s. This is below the front door, facing east. The attached garage extends east blocking the sun, so this is not any type of solar loading.


The walls are going up!  Exciting time. Latisha was here before leaving for work.  This home is sponsored by ICM.

Items on the Energy Star Thermal Enclosure Checklist include, L: not doubling up the 2×4 for the interior wall to a stud on the exterior wall; R: No uninsulated corners.


Wood is R-1 per inch.  A 2×4 is R-3.5.  The insulation in the wall will be R-13.  Insulation is good, more insulation is better. Higher R-Value is better. This home is built with advanced framing. Instead of 16 inch centers, the studs are placed on 24 inch centers. Less waste!

Windows, properly installed, are important.  The window here has a U-Factor of 0.30 and a SHGC of 0.28. They are Energy Star qualified. The U-Factor is like the R-Value of insulation. It measures heat transfer. The Solar Heat Gain Coefficient measures the amount of sunlight driven warming for the summer.  Both of these numbers, lower is better.








Above left shows the duct work being sealed with duct mastic. The crew from Cook’s HVAC did a great job on this. Homes without sealed ducts typically have duct leakage, which heats and cools the great outdoors, of 10 – 50 cfm per 100 square feet.  This home has less than 4 cfm per 100 square feet.  On the right, the duct work is properly hung and does not have a sharp turn into the duct boot. I’ve audited homes with these air flow problems that have been built in the past few years.  Not here!  Thanks again Cook’s.

This shows a cut out for a bedroom air return. It also shows the drywall clips.  These are another important detail that allow the insulation and drywall to be correctly installed. The bedroom air return assists in comfort.  The heating system can not push air into a room without a way to push it out. About half of the complaints I deal with on cold rooms in the winter have a solution based in adding a return air vent. This duct system was designed using the Air Conditioning Contractors of America standards as published in Manual D.


The insulation inspections shows properly installed Fiberglass Batts. Thanks Northstar Comfort Systems.








These have to be inspected and rated as Grade I.  That means they cannot be compressed, side stapled, or missing around outlet boxes etc.  To be installed correctly your insulation is:

  • Like a bucket of water! If you leave a pinhole, it will leak out!
  • Like a Blanket covering a Baby, it must be smooth and level.

Since the insulation is installed correctly, you will not find the R-Value degraded due to air movement.  The Infrared Image below shows brand new insulation in the wall that was side stapled and compressed.  The temperature outside was 15 degrees when this picture was taken and the insulation is not performing because it was installed wrong.


The finished home!

Now the home is finished.  It is time to close, the mortgage to be signed, and keys given to Latisha.

Left: Greg Gann, Vice Chair of the Wichita Habitat for Humanity Board addresses those gathered at the dedication of the newest Wichita Habitat Home. Watching to his left is Latisha and her children.




Right: Denise Bullock, Wichita Habitat Director of Finance gives Latisha the coupons covering her first year mortgage payments. Watching from front center are Chris Mitchell and Jennier Blundon with ICM, Inc. This home’s sponsor!



I am proud to have been a part of this home and the decreased Electric Bills Latisha will pay.  The bills will save about 23%, at current rates, from a house built to the 2004 codes. Since Wichita (or any area in South Central KS) does not have an Energy Code, it may well save her more.

You can find out more about Energy Star New Homes at the Energy Star Website. You can read about how a Certified Energy Rater can help a homeowner build a good home with Independent Third Party Verification.

The comments and opinions implied or expressed in this post are mine. They do not reflect those of any person or organization mentioned or involved with this project.

The Conversation Continues!

My last posting as part of the ongoing Deep Energy Retrofit #DER conversation regarded a definition of DER.  I made the argument for using a threshold of 30% savings. The specific conversation is in regard to historic homes. There have been several Bloggers involved in this conversation and others reading. You may read my first post HERE.

Sean at SLS Construction has a post that he is maintaining as a startingpoint and links to updates in the conversation. John at Birmingham Pointe is the Preservationist among us? He actually owns and restores these treasures of times past! Peter Troast of Energy Circle has been involved!

Most recently Sean posted some definitions about Historic, home ownership and compliance width various agency requirements!  After reflecting on the discussion It is time for me to pick up the pen for the next post!

During an energy audit of a existing home, I see any number of things related to the efficient use of energy. As I make my list of observations for further examination, I have learned to keep several parameters up front. These would be, in no specific order, Budget, desired outcome, safety, durability, and comfort. I also find it Imperative to remember that I am not in charge, the homeowner is in charge.

There are a number things that I routinely run into during an audit, that are not the most energy efficient. Some are predictable because of the construction techniques used during construction, or the type of construction, or the era in which it was built. Is the house timber framed? Wood stud? Brick clad? Is the house a craftsmen style from the early years of the 20th Century? Masonry Block? Post WWII tract type? Each of these have unique features as well as common improvements that relatively small changes will save some insignificant amounts of Energy. The improvement I can see and model may seem like a no brainier to me, but to the homeowner it becomes almost an insurmountable problem.

One of my first audits was a 1960 ranch with full basement. The homeowner is a young couple and he works construction. Their goal was to get plan of work for him to complete during his down time on the winter. One of the fastest returns for their money was to put some insulation on the basement walls. No problem with blowing into the finished walls. When the recommendation also included 3 inches in the storage areas on the bare walls, my easy to install efficient improvement ran right into the homeowners impression that giving up 3 inches of storage would be a major problem!

Anyone working in the energy improvement field must keep in mind: You must meet the needs and perceptions of the homeowner or nothing happens!  You can have the best ‘fancy dan’ plan with all sorts of neat figures , printouts and scientific backup, if you don’t meet the homeowners need, your plan is worthless.

Another audit was a very large home, 2 story, full basement, 3 bedrooms, 6500 sf!  I spent a full day on this audit. Presented the plan over 2 hours, and another 4 hours in follow up field work. The comfort concern was the 2nd floor rooms on each end of the home were hot in the summer and cold in the winter.  I fixed up a ‘fancy dan’ plan for him. Dropped his $6,400 annual energy bills to $3,200.  Solved his comfort problem with a recommendation to increase the return air in the effected rooms.  Estimated cost for the additional returns was $200.00

He cherry picked the added attic insulation, because he could see the problems.  He did it fast, and soon.  It met his real need which I finally discovered on the 4th visit.  He really didn’t think his energy bills were that high.

Therefore, anyone wishing to complete a DER for a home, must have the Home Owners Approval, and that approval meets the perceived needs of the homeowner – it will not necessarily meet the perceived needs of the ‘Energy Guy’ writing the plan.  You should think of this as “Rule #1”, when all else fails remember Rule #1.








The Second Point of this post is about the Deep in a DER.  Deep Energy Retrofits should meet some type of savings across the board.  The Twitterverse lit up last night when @EnergyVanguard was Tweeted for people to give him a percentage.

Let’s look at Retrofit.

The implication is certainly not a rebuild, or a gut rehab. That would involve taking most of not all the exterior walls back to the studs or other type of internal framework and then rebuilding. If a DER was a Rebuild or a Gut Rehab, why would it be called a Retrofit.

Could you substitute reduction for retrofit? – Yes.  What about rework? Remodel?  Restore? All of those work for me.  They also all imply that the work is more of an improvement to the structure instead of a rebuilding of the structure.

Now that the “R” in DER has been established as improving as opposed to rebuilding, we can move on.  “E” of course is Energy.  Which leaves “Deep”.

Asking how deep is deep reminds me of the wood turning question about gouges:  “How sharp is sharp?”  We have established some limits on Deep.

We know the structure is not going to be rebuilt, we know the structure is not going to have major removal of visible material, only for the purpose of installing energy efficient components, such as insulation.

We also can use ‘Deep’ as meaning not shallow.  Therefore Deep must involve a plan of systematic improvements that total to deep.  This plan will only be implemented as the home owner has the money/time/desires.  This may be over a period of years.  If a deep plan cannot take place over a longer period of time, then I must send you back to read  ‘Rule #1’!

So, deep means more than doing one or two things. It means having a plan.  A plan of improvements that can be phased over a period of years, if need be. A DER would not just involve equipment change out or windows, as most sales types would lead you to believe.  And deep doesn’t mean rebuild.  It therefore falls in the middle.

In the middle means a 50% maximum reduction.  Not being a one or two item improvement plan also means that it should be at least 30% reduction.  Which leaves reduction in what.

We are talking about historic homes.  These homes have history and therefore we know what the energy costs are.  The reduction must be calculated from historical that applies to that home.  Trying to bring in code becomes an exercise in futility.  We have already ruled out rebuilding. We also need to remember ‘Rule #1”.  How does this work out.

If we start with a home built in 1800, with a historical usage of $5,000 annual energy usage, what are we talking about in reductions of usage?  30% would end with a $3,500 annual usage, and 50% would be $2,500.  If you look at a reduction from code, then you introduce an additional step.  You first have to arrive at a code usage; then make the reduction.  So, if the code usage on this home comes in at $3,200, we have range of $1,700 – $2,250; if the code usage comes in at $4,000 the range would be $2,000 – $2,800.

That means we define our DER as:

  • A 30% or more reduction in usage compared to historical.
  • It means the DER is a plan that uses the concept of the ‘House is a System’. It must address the construction of the actual structure. It cannot just consist of generalities. Timberframe is different from Balloon Framing which is different from a 50 year old American Suburban ranch.
  • It allows various parts of the plan to be implemented in phases.
  • And last, but really first – we acknowledge ‘Rule #1’. The home owner is in charge.


Conference Report: Frost, Ice, and Snow: Cold Climate in Russian History

Too many times people put on blinders related to their field of study, or just get too busy, and fail to consider a much wider point of view. In the process of auditing homes and helping people use less energy to heat and cool their homes, it is easy to lose track of how the cold can be looked at from many other points of view. From my interest in History – a piece crossed my email with a report on this Conference.  I present this for those who might be interested in how cold effects many things we do.

I would like to thank Henry Sirotin of Hunter College, NY, NY for bringing this to my attention.


Conference Report: Frost, Ice, and Snow: Cold Climate in Russian History
16–18 February 2012, Moscow, Russia

Sponsors: German Historical Institute (DHI Moscow), Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, LMU Munich (RCC)

Conveners: Julia Herzberg (RCC Munich), Ingrid Schierle (DHI Moscow),
Andreas Renner (University of Tübingen), Klaus Gestwa (University of Tübingen)

In January 2012 inhabitants of the Northern Hemisphere experienced firsthand how much cold can influence our daily life. The fact that tabloid newspapers in Western Europe referred to it as “Russian cold” demonstrates the strength of the popular association of Russia with cold. It is therefore all the more fitting that the conference “Frost, Ice, and Snow: Cold Climate in Russian History” followed in the footsteps of this cold spell, bringing these topics into connection with each other. At the conference, which was organized by the German Historical Institute in Moscow and the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society and took place between 16 and 18 February 2012, scholars of environmental history, philosophy, and geography, as well as religious, film, and literary studies discussed the influence of cold climate on the Russian culture and history.

After the greeting by Nikolaus Katzer, the director of the German Historical Institute in Moscow, Julia Herzberg (Munich) introduced the goals of the conference, with the primary aim being to shed light on the relationship between environment and the study of history. She mentioned the discrepancy between the significance of climate for particular historical events in Russian history and the ignorance of historians up to now concerning these factors. Herzberg emphasized that the conference not only aimed to look at the gaps in research but also offered an opportunity to discuss the reasons why environmental history and climatic factors have played a minor role in previous historical scholarship. Furthermore the conference hoped to bring about a shift in focus within the environmental history of Russia and Eastern Europe. A large proportion of environmental history studies of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union consider nature and the environment one-sidedly as a target of human activity.

The conference offered a chance to understand the relationship between nature and society as truly interdependent. It also presented new directions in research by looking at the history of science, as well as placing everyday practices and issues of risk and vulnerability at the center of the discussion and offered an opportunity to discuss how individual and collective identities are created through discussions about cold and
what significance these representations have for the understanding of oneself and others.

The first session was dedicated to ways of dealing with cold in everyday life and during the war. SVETLANA A. RAFIKOVA (Krasnojarsk) focused on adaptive practices, showing how city dwellers in the Krasnojarsk region in the 1960s managed the cold weather, developing a specifically Siberian culture.

KATARZYNA CHIMIAK (Warsaw) presented her dissertation project, in which she compares Dnepropetrosvsk, Essen and Manchester during the hard winter of 1946/47. A central question was whether and to what degree different social and economic structures led to different strategies for adaptation. The second half of the session was concerned with cold climate during the war.

ANTHONY J. HEYWOOD (Aberdeen) lectured on its effects on railroads from the First World War through the February Revolution of 1917. Heywood argued against the thesis that the difficulties with transportation and distribution of supplies resulting from the snow and extreme cold were a primary cause for the February Revolution.

ALEKSANDER L. KUZ’MINYKH (Vologda) examined the influence of the Russian winter on German soldiers first on the front and later in prisoner of war camps in and after the Second World War. He discussed why Russian and Soviet historians of World War II have ignored the importance of climate for so long.

The second session, “Coping with Cold” looked at the function of cold  and snow both as a threat and as a focal point for building a common identity, as well as serving a recreational function. Using a catastrophic avalanche in the Khibiny Region on the Kola Peninsula in 1935, ANDY BRUNO (Urbana-Champaign) showed how socially produced vulnerabilities are
expressed environmentally. Peasants forced to migrate during the settlement and industrialization of the north were most exposed to the dangers of avalanches. The tragic event was a catalyst for renewed efforts to scientifically predict the likelihood of avalanches.

The presentation of MARC ELIE (Paris) also focused on a catastrophic avalanche, looking at the disaster in 1966 in Alma-Ata. Avalanches, he argued, present the greatest threat to city growth and sport tourism. Elie showed how a local disaster in central Asia led to avalanches becoming a focus of scientific, technological, and government efforts.

The phenomenon of cold also influenced the formation of masculine identity and cultural heroes, as ALEKSANDR ANAN’EV (Moscow) showed using examples of polar explorers and hockey players.

ALEKSEI D. POPOV (Simferopol’) offered a new perspective on the history of tourism with his presentation on Soviet winter tourism as a seasonal phenomenon. He described how the significance of winter tourism changed over the decades from the 1920s to the 1990s. It ceased to function as ideological and physical training in preparation for wartime duties.

“Changing Climates” was the topic of the third session, which began the second day of the conference. JULIA LAJUS (St. Petersburg) presented her work with SVERKER SÖRLIN (Stockholm). Lajus discussed the significance of sea ice studies for Soviet arctic science and looked at its connections to ice and snow research in Sweden. She used the biographies and research results of Soviet and Swedish scientists to show how much contact and cooperation there was across the Iron Curtain.

PAUL JOSEPHSON (Waterville) looked at the industrialization of the Russian north as ordered by Moscow and inquired into the environmental damage and social costs which the transformation of the region brought with it. He demonstrated that the Bolsheviks ignored both the climatic and geological conditions as well as the knowledge of the local population, which resulted in a sharp increase in the environmental costs.

JONATHAN OLDFIELD (Glasgow) presented a counterpoint to this in his paper, arguing that the understanding of the
reciprocal relationship between society and nature improved after the Second World War. He showed that Soviet geographers of the 1950s not only recognized the importance of climate as a historical and dynamic process, but also pointed out the dangers of climate change.

Like Oldfield, DENIS J. B. SHAW (Birmingham) concerned himself with one of the most important Soviet geographers, A. A. Grigor’ev and his text “Subarktika,” focusing on Grigor’ev’s studies of the tundra. The discussion following both contributions showed once again how much research and politics were intertwined during the Cold War.

The papers in the following session, “Civilizing Coldness,” focused on the period around the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. Thus EKATERINA A. DEGAL’TSEVA (Biisk) talked about the mythically colored image of the “Sibiryak” that developed in Russia in the
nineteenth century, showing how climatic conditions influenced the (self)perception of Siberian residents.

NATALIA RODOGINA (Novosibirsk) focused on the significance of climate on the representations of Siberia in the Russian media in the second half of the nineteenth century. Of central importance was the question of whether the narrative of Siberia as a land of cold helped to integrate the region into the empire or whether it hindered this process.

Imperial attitudes towards the periphery were also the subject of the presentation by IAN W. CAMPBELL (California-Davis/Harvard) on shut in Kazakhstan. Zhut is a weather phenomenon occurring every ten to twelve years, characterized by the freezing of fodder grasses and resulting starvation of livestock, and was used by the scientists and bureaucrats in the waning empire to devalue the nomadic lifestyle and promote their ideas about the “modernization” of the steppes. DAVID SAUNDERS (Newcastle) looked at the economic and technological development of the Russian
arctic. Saunders made clear that the personal aptitudes of the people involved played a decisive role.

From the perspective of a geographer ERKI TAMMIKSAAR (Tartu) reconstructed the discovery of the Antarctic in the
1820s, another controversial topic during the Cold War due to the difficulty of clearly delineating a mass of ice. Therefore he argued that one should acknowledge multiple discoverers in different time periods, and base our evaluation on the knowledge available in their time. The competition to develop the Antarctic, as well as the initial discovery of it, demonstrates how scientific accomplishments were used for propaganda during the Cold War.

The last session of the second day examined cold as an aesthetic phenomenon and an imagined feeling. OKSANA BULGAKOWA (Mainz) began with a media and film studies approach to the topic. Using key examples from Russian/ Soviet film history, she looked at the ways cold was narrated and portrayed. Bulgakowa showed that the films contributed to making snow an important component of national identity.

While Bulgakowa was concerned with the Russians’ image of themselves, ROMAN MAUER (Mainz) was interested in the portrayal of Russian cold in German films of the post-war period. Here cold functioned as a symbol of trauma, allowing Germans to portray themselves as victims of the Soviet regime and to suppress questions of guilt and responsibility.

The third day continued the examination of artistic portrayals of cold, now turning to the medium of literature. SUSANNE FRANK (Berlin) discussed permafrost as a metaphor for memory in gulag literature. Starting with “ice” as a figure for the “other” in eighteenth-century literature, she suggested that in gulag literature ice gained a new function in addition to the classical one: it allowed projections of the future and of the possibility of living on (after death). The subsequent discussion emphasized that, particularly in hagiographic writing, the usual negative connotations of cold may be supplemented with positive ones.

Similar comments were made regarding the presentation of religious scholar JOSEF SCHOVANEC (Alfortville) on freezing as a spiritual experience. Schovanec showed that authors of autobiographical gulag literature often portray snow, ice, and cold as active forces. This presentation thus offered an opportunity to discuss the analytival value of the approach to think of nature as an actor.

The next session, “Representations Between Science and Politics” was introduced by PEY-YI CHU (Princeton). She described how a scientific discipline developed in the Soviet Union in the 1930s which made permafrost soil the object of scientific investigation and argued that this was also a strategy to present the permafrost zones as regions of economic significance. She discussed how different conceptions of the
permafrost led to it being manifested in various visualizations.

CAROLIN F. ROEDER (Harvard) dedicated her presentation to the Yeti as a “transnational monster.” She showed how even during the Cold War discourses about the Yeti overcame national boundaries and how it became a locus for discussion about “science” and “pseudoscience.”

In his concluding remarks KLAUS GESTWA (Tübingen) reflected upon the results of the conference, identified a number of central themes and suggested possibilities for further research. In many presentations, he noted, the human, societal and economic costs of the harsh climate were
particularly evident. At the same time, events such as Napoleon’s invasion of Russian in 1812 or the Second World War also had a protective function.

The conference showed, Gestwa concluded, how closely the history of cold is linked with science and technology. Above all the history of science during the Cold War, which was the subject of multiple presentations, showed that during the Cold War the investigation of cold, of all things, offered opportunities for scientific collaboration which transcended ideological differences. Gestwa expressed regret that the majority of presentations approached the cold regions from the point of view of outsiders, while the perspective of the indigenous population was only rarely considered. He proposed using the dichotomy “challenge” and “threat” as analytical categories and giving further consideration to the problem of whether nature can be described as an agent or actor.

In the final discussion conference participants suggested other topics for further investigation, for example, to look more closely at ways of dealing with cold in everyday life, at the connection between climate and perceptions of space, as well as linguistic aspects of the subject. Many contributions to the conference made clear that cold can develop its own dynamic, demonstrating that nature is more than just an object of human activity.

Frost, Ice, and Snow: Cold Climate in Russian History 16–18 February 2012, Moscow, Russia Welcome and Introduction
Nikolaus Katzer (DHI Moscow), Julia Herzberg (RCC Munich)

Session1: Mundane and Exceptional Times Chair: Andreas Renner (Tübingen)

Svetlana A. Rafikova (Krasnoiarsk): Siberian Frosts and the Everyday Adaptation Practices of City Dwellers

Katarzyna Chimiak (Warsaw): Challenging Crisis: Human Strategies of Adaptation and Survival during the Winter of 1946/1947 in Dnepropetrovsk, Essen, and Manchester

Anthony J. Heywood (Aberdeen): Transport for War in a Cold Climate: Russia’s Railways, July 1914 – March 1917

Aleksandr L. Kuz’minykh (Vologda): The Wehrmacht and the Russian Winter: the Influence of Climate on German Servicemen on the Front and in Soviet Captivity (1941-1956)

Session 2: Coping with Cold Chair: Erki Tammiksaar (Tartu)

Andy Bruno (Urbana-Champaign): Tumbling Snow: Avalanches in the Soviet North Marc Elie (Paris): Winter Sports, Ice Sciences, and Avalanches in Soviet Central Asia, 1950s-1980s

Aleksandr V. Anan’ev (Moscow): Heroes of the Ice: Two Masculine Identity Scripts of the Soviet Era—Hockey Player and Polar Explorer—and their Actualization at the Start of the Twenty-First Century

Aleksei D. Popov (Simferopol’): Winter Tourism in the Soviet Union: School of Courage, Competitive Brand, National Pastime

Session 3: Changing Climates Chair: Carolin F. Roeder (Harvard)
Julia Lajus (St. Petersburg): Cryo-Connections, Political Friendship and the Prospects of an Ice–Free Arctic, 1928–1955

Paul Josephson (Waterville): Soviet Efforts to Transform Nature in the Russian Northwest (Arkhangelsk and Murmansk provinces, Karelian Republic)

Jonathan Oldfield (Glasgow): Conceptualisations of Climate Change amongst Soviet Geographers from ca. 1945 to the early 1970s

Denis J. B. Shaw (Birmingham): The Subarctic: A Classic Study of the Tundra

Session 4: Civilizing Coldness Chair: Marc Elie (Paris)

Ekaterina A. Degal’tseva (Biisk): Sibirsk as a Concentrated Concept of Russian Cold (a Case Study of the Nineteenth Century)

Nataliia N. Rodigina (Novosibirsk): From the Country of Cold and Darkness to the Promised Land: the Role of the Climate in the Construction of Siberia’s Image in the Russian Magazine Press of the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries

Ian W. Campbell (Davis, CA): The Nomad Who Came in from the Cold: Zhut and Civilizational Difference in the Late Nineteenth Century

David Saunders (Newcastle): Commerce and Technology in the Development of the Russian Arctic (1862-1921)

Erki Tammiksaar (Tartu): Russian South Pole Expedition in the Context of Political Interests of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union

Session 5: Imagining Coldness Chair: Julia Herzberg (Munich)

Oksana Bulgakova (Mainz): Global Warming
Roman Mauer (Mainz): The Aesthetics of Cold and National Trauma in Film: Escape from a Siberian POW Camp

Session 6: Metaphors and Narratives Chair: Roman Mauer (Mainz)

Susanne Frank (Berlin): Permafrost as a Metaphor of Memory in Russian GULAG Literature (Pavel Florenskii, Varlam Shalamov) J. P. Schovanec (Alfortville): Frost as a Spiritual Experience: Written Accounts of Foreign Detainees in Stalinist Camps

Session 7: Representations Between Science and Politics
Chair: Paul Josephson (Waterville)

Pey-Yi Chu (Princeton): Mapping Permafrost Country: Visualizations of Frozen Earth in Russian History
Carolin F. Roeder (Harvard): A Creature of the Cold War: Soviet Science and the Snowman

Concluding Session Klaus Gestwa (Tübingen): Concluding Remarks

Saskia Geisler, Ruhr-Universität Bochum

Flags: A ‘Let’s Blog Off Post” about Flowers!

Flowers are nice. They indicate that spring is here, winter is over and we can spend more time outside.  The birds chirp, the bees buzz around and the colors are wonderful.  I have memories as a child of flower gardens and ponds in them.  I don’t remember much detail, except they were always fun.

We moved to the Southern Nevada Desert early on.  I lived there until I left for college.  I went back east from Nevada to Kansas.  My flower journey has me getting married and joining into my wife’s Kansas family traditions.  The flower tradition is rooted in Decoration Day.

Known to most as Memorial Day, I learned Decoration Day.  My wife’s folks were quiet farm types.  They had many opinions, and occasionally would even state them.  Most of the time they listened.  They remembered that God gave us two ears and one mouth.  I  have to continually remind myself of that. They taught me all about Decoration Day, by doing, not by talking.

It was a day to visit the various cemeteries and the graves of family members. You made sure the grave stone and appearance was acceptable.  You didn’t wait until the actual Memorial Day. I started this when Memorial Day was May 30; not always on a Monday. That came later. You started the weekend before Memorial Day.  The goal was to make sure when the ceremony started on the Memorial Day, or those from out of town came to visit the cemetery, you graves looked good.

In the yard around the house, my Mother-in-Law, Eda (Roberts) Greenfield, had lots of flowers.  She had a green thumb, and could keep her African Violets blooming year round. In the first years as I learned about Decoration Day, she would have a number of jars ready. Jelly, mayo, etc. Ready meant cleaned out and covered with aluminum foil.  Final preparation was to cut flowers from the farm yard and put them in the containers in water.

Then off we went.  They would go to two different cemeteries. There was the Princeton, KS Cemetery. This is where the Roberts side of the family was buried.  Her folks, and grandparents, and others.  Then we went the other way, to the Williamsburg, KS cemetery. There were the Greenfield family members. Parents and others, including their baby son.

In time, we added more cemeteries. Last year, my wife and I visited 7 cemeteries. Three of those have been added to our list from my start, because life goes on and ends. So people I knew were buried, it was not just about people that I had heard stories about.

One of the cemeteries we added, was my father-in-law’s mother. Glenn was born in 1907, his mother, Myrtle Irene Lightle, died in childbirth in 1917.  She is buried in Hall’s Summit, KS Cemetery.  If you find the intersection of I-35 and US 75, (BETO Junction) south of Topeka, you are close. It is actually 5 ½ south on US 75, then 3 East and ½ south. You will see the ATT Long Lines tower before you get off 75.  My brother-in-law, Paul would not find it that way.  He is a Geologist by training and works for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  He would tell you how far is is from the Wolf Creek Power Plant. (About the same as from BETO junction.)

This grave had a large plot of flowers growing behind the grave stone. Perhaps a circle 20 feet in diameter. The few that were blooming were a pale yellow. They were Iris.

Eda always liked these ‘Flags’ as she called the Iris.  This cemetery had a number of graves with Flags planted nearby.  Both entrances to the  cemetery were marked with plantings of Flags.  Through the next few years as we drove in and out different ways, we found the country roads were spotted with Flags growing in fence lines, hedgerows and farm yards.

We could see them on this weekend before Memorial Day because they were in bloom.  All the bright Yellow, Purple, and mixed colors were there.  Watching them over the years gave me an appreciation for them.

Each year at Halls Summit, we would remove a few from that large circle. As we did so, more would bloom the next year.  Some years just one or two Rhizomes, some years we might get 30. Last year the circle was closer to 10 feet in diameter.  Those Flags have populated a lot of places. We just didn’t throw them away. They went to churchs, yards, a school that I can think of.  One Boy Scout used them in his Eagle Project.  I’m sure some of those have been thinned and have moved on.

So when I think of flowers, I think of Flags. I think of Road Trips, cemeteries and family.


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A Twitter Conversation – Moving Along, Part 2

Previous Info on the Conversation

OK!  Since I posted Thursday night, things are moving.  People are talking to each other and it is becoming evident that a few more are involved that were not listed originally.  Also, not being from Derby, CT – where they have 200 – 300 year old houses, with much historical value to preserve – I am finding that I don’t know as much as I thought – or that I don’t know how to apply what I do know.

Additional Players that have been brought forth are:

  • Martin Holladay:  In the Twitterverse he is known as the Energy Nerd.  His blog is full of interesting stories and tidbits of knowledge.
  • Carl Seville:  His blog and in Twitterverse he is the Green Curmudgeon. He has his own outlook on all things Green and brings a wealth of info to the table from his experience as a builder.
  • Then there is JB.  Hailing all of us from Baltimore, JB is in construction and remodeling.  Since Baltimore has been around since before the night when ‘Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,’ was observed and recorded; they, like Derby, CT have some of those 200 – 300 year old homes to work with!  JB has a blog,  Building Moxie.

Welcome to the > 140 Convo.

Since Thursday

John P.  left a comment on Sean’s Blog Post regarding some of his concerns.

  • The stereotype carried by some that DER requires extreme measures.
  • Not destroying historic fabric
  • Reversible
  • The concept of ‘the house is a system’ means that houses built 300 years ago, may work well as their own system, but when a new construction method for current housing is introduced, then the law of unintended consequences intervenes.
  • Work on Energy Efficiency should be staged and completed over a number of phases and years.

He also discussed the definition of ‘Deep’, countering my proposed use of the Wiki definition at 30% reduction. John offered some additional criteria. Primarily he is proposing to include climate in the definition of Deep.

Updating the Conversation

I want to pose some questions and try to clarify where we are going and where we need to go. I also want to respond to John’s ideas on refining the definition of Deep.

John’s first point was stereotypes.  That is my word, and I chose it specifically because when people deal with what they assume about another they are creating a stereotype. I believe the best way to deal with those is to get to know the other person or position and thus my participation in this conversation.

The second point he makes is not destroying the Historic Fabric of the home.   I can agree to this one.  I don’t like changing the looks of a home, just to improve energy efficiency.

  1. It is usually not cost effective.
  2. It can become a distraction from the original intent.
  3. If you don’t like the looks of an old historic property, what are you doing working on one?

I believe his third and fourth points are inter-related.  If you cause a problem with a change in how the home works, you need to be able to undo the change.  Therefore, changing the exterior, by removing siding to install rigid foam insulation and then re-installing the original siding might be reversible. That would depend on how you treated the windows and doors due to the increased thickness of the walls.  In the end, I think most of these types of improvements will not be cost effective in energy savings.

In my first post is had a couple of points that I believe must be kept in mind.

Significant Savings from the improvements

  • Savings from improvements are probably best considered significant over a 15 – 25 year period. At the end of that time, a different property owner may be present, new methods of improvements may be available, increased prices of energy make a revision of the cost effectiveness calculations essential.

Work that is Safety Related may not have a dollar savings.

  • How do you calculate the savings in replacing Knob and tube wiring with modern wiring?
  • What about reductions in water presence anywhere in the building that it is not designed to be? What about comfort of the building occupants? When people are uncomfortable, they do many things. Electric resistance space heaters are expensive to operate and are unsafe.
  • Other items related to Building Code issues.

Defining a Deep Energy Retrofit. #DER

The closest I have worked to one of Derby, CT’s older houses is a 92 year old home in Wichita.  I wrote about that audit and the following upgrades in ‘What Good is an Energy Audit?’  The cost effectiveness I think should considered is illustrated here by the proposed improvement to the uninsulated walls. It took 99 years. Doing it for less would have involved drilling the brick exterior and leaving an obvious patch.

With the exception of the exposed insulation on the basement walls and weatherstripping on one door, none of the energy efficient improvements were visible. The total cost of  improvements will be returned to the homeowner in 14 years, assuming no increase in electric or natural gas rates.

In percentage terms, this plan mets the definition of 30% or more. If you look at energy cost reduction, it figures at 36%; if you look at peak power reduction (summer) it is 41%; if you look at CarbonDioxide reduction it is 34%.

The insulation contractor on this project was Northstar Comfort Systems. @Nstarcomfort They did a good job, the home owner is very pleased and the project verification was achieved on the first visit.

John has suggested adding climate into the definition of deep. I think it is already there.  If you moved this house from Wichita to Maine, the pre-improvment costs would be higher, due to weather and cost of energy. Weather is obvious, cost of electricity in KS is about 10 cents per KWH and in Maine about 17 cents.  The reduction in use of BTU would be at least what it was here in Wichita.

I don’t think climate needs to be added because it is already there. The idea of savings has to be based on what the house is already spending.  Weather is part of that calculation.

I think a simple percentage is adequate to define Deep. It works, it accounts for all variables and it follows the KISS principle. It works for several different metrics, dollars, BTU or your favorite energy measure, or environmental like carbon.

Comfort and Safety

I think the ideas of safety should be self evident and I would also include durability in them.  If a home is aged in centuries, it must have been durable.  If a home is aged in decades, it must have been durable. It is up to every homeowner to continue to maintain and improve on durability.  That is why we look at a new roof or repainting our homes periodically.

Comfort is a different issue, that really doesn’t have a price tag. I have found that people living in a home they think is uncomfortable do many things to obtain comfort. They continually adjust the thermostat, they add electric space heaters, or window air conditioners.  These are expensive. They sell the home and then the next owner can be uncomfortable.

The first example of comfort came when I was doing my due diligence in starting my career in Energy Efficiency. I attended a seminar at a local home show on Energy Efficiency. The presenter related one of his experiences with comfort instead of purely cost reductions.

He had done some duct leakage testing in his own home and found the duct leakage was a major contributor to the cold bedroom of his daughter.  This led to an easy fix of sealing the accessible duct work. For this example, I would thank Jeff Boone @JFBoone of Northstar Comfort Systems.

Information I Need

John points out a, new to me take, on the house is a system. Building Science has always considered the house to be one system. If you change an item, something else will probably change.  The corollary to this is ‘First, do no harm!’. If you make or recommend a change, you should look at what else may change and take steps to ensure the reactions to your first change are positive for the house and the occupants, not negative. Examples would include:

  • Adding insulation to one side or the other of an exterior wall could change how the wall dries. That change could cause mold and decrease the quality of indoor air quality.
  • Doing air sealing work can make significant energy savings. Decreasing the ventilation through infiltration could create a dangerous situation, if the decreased amount of fresh air will not support the needs of the hot water heater and furnace.

John expands on this by adding the concept that a house as a system can be specific to a type of construction. A house built with techniques in common use in 1800 would have the system effected if the improvement used some technique that is in common use today. This is something I need to know more about.

  • How different do the original construction techniques need to be for this to become significant?
  • Is it something that that only happens in a 200 year swing of construction techniques?
  • Is it something that occurs in applying today’s techniques to a ballon framed Victorian?


The goal of this post was to advance the conversation #DER with some basis and examples of the proposed definition of Deep and to set out that energy efficiency improvements are never a goal in and of themselves.

It is not a good idea to do an improvement that will not last. It is not a good idea to ignore comfort issues. We must protect the occupants of the home from hidden dangers, such as carbon monoxide, or water damage. When improving the energy efficiency of a home, it is very easy to improve the durability of the improvement with choosing the right material, and including the protective installation, for example flashing or a drainage plane around insulation.

I look forward to following the #DER conversation in more than 140 char bites.


Deep Energy Retrofits – A Twitter Conversation

My first Twitter Follower was SLS Construction.  He posted on his blog tonight about a Twitter Convo that I was participating in.

You can read Sean’s Blog Post here.  He does a great job for homeowners in general and for Energy Efficiency.

I jumped into a conversation between my friend John Poole of Derby, Connecticut and Peter Troast of Energy Circle.

John lives in a Derby that is very old.  In Connecticut they have houses that are 200 – 300 years old.  I live in Derby that is not so old. In Kansas and we do not have houses that old. John has a blog about preserving those old houses.  You can read John’s Blog here.  He has a neat Point of View and some very good experience.

Peter is CEO of Energy Circle. They work at explaining problems in building science, and providing real, actionable insights for homeowners to increase the energy efficiency of their homes. Energy Circle also provides energy efficient devices and products for consumers and marketing services to Energy Raters and Auditors.

Others that were mentioned in this convo were Chris Laumer-Giddens and Energy Vanguard.  Chris is an Architect and Energy Guy, Energy Vanguard, a twitter handle for Allison Bailes, is a physicist, energy guru and a juggler of some fame.  They hang out in Atlanta and other places, where Ya’ll is common.  You can find them at Energy Vanguard.

Here is a shot of part of the convo, just before I jumped in.








Somewhat later, John (from Derby, CT) posted a link to the Wiki definition of a Deep Energy Retrofit.

Wiki uses a 30% reduction in energy use as a line to define deep as in Deep Energy Retrofit.  I can accept a 30 % reduction for deep.

That level of reduction eliminates, in my climate zone (4), moving from an old 60 AFUE furnace to a 95 AFUE furnace, or a new AC unit, or spending a couple thousand dollars on windows, none of which will reduce an annual energy bill by 30%.  At this level, it would require air sealing work to reduce infiltration, insulation and then take a look at the equipment.

Any discussion of Energy Efficient Improvements, for me, also must involve some type of significant savings to cover the cost, and probably some work that will significantly improve the comfort, quality and durability of the home and the lives of the people living there.

Without going into too much detail in this post, that means most of the cost should be returned in energy savings in a reasonable time frame or work is done for the sake of doing stuff right.  Stuff is safety related, like fire safety, electrical safety or indoor air quality.

When the Twitter Convo seemed to hit the limits of the 140 char blog, Sean suggested that we draft our friend Leah Thayer to help out some how with the issues.  Leah runs the Daily 5 Remodel site and is a connector of people and ideas.  Sean threw out some ideas for a Blog Off type of pushing the 140 limit or perhaps some type of round table to do the same.

This post was to throw out two points on Sean’s wonderful idea and to keep the ball rolling

First the definition of DER – use the Wiki at 30%.  Second, the pushing of the 140 limit should be documented for ourselves and others.  I am open to the options, and look forward to continuing the extended convo.

Speaking of others, at some point AFF got involved with a comment about leakiness.  We all know and appreciate Alexandra’s and Kymberly’s efforts to keep us fit as a fiddle. AFF with her twin KFF are fitness and exercise (please excuse my use of the ‘E’ word?) gurus.