Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Suspension Buster
The winter around here has taken a serious toll on our aging interstate highway system. This was emphasized for me a few weeks back as I swerved to avoid a pothole, only to end up in a larger one that devoured the front end of my car. I zigged when I should have zigged, had I zagged the results would have been catastrophic for another driver and me. (On a side note there is an App for potholes - if they get you down you’ll be pleased to know there are several new iPhone tools to help report and track them)

Hum the melody to the Stealers Wheel classic (often mistaken for The Beatles) “Stuck in the Middle with You” and sing the following modified lyrics and you’ll see what I mean:

Well, I don’t know why I came here, tonight
I’ve got the feeling that something ain’t right
I’m so scared in case I steer the wrong way
And I’m wondering how much I will pay
Cars to the left of me
Snowbanks to the right
Here I am
Stuck in a pothole with you

Add procrastination to decades of physical weathering and here we are. There’s nowhere to hide. Pay now or pay more later. Later is now.


We hear this term sparking political debate and the news seems to feed from it. For many, author included, the mere mention of infrastructure connotes higher taxes and out-of-pocket dollars when we can least afford them. The phrase often references a public civil project that sees heavy use by many, and is in constant need of costly repairs. Our tax dollars are collected and used to build and then maintain. - or repair - public infrastructure. The story is the same whether we speak of roads and highways, civic centers, telecommunications networks, airports, or high speed rail. Some public, some private - all infrastructure. We hotly debate their initial construction, eventually acquiesce and then build commerce around them for generations. We freely enjoy ourselves and blissfully ignore their inevitable decay. Eventually we rebuild and the cycle repeats.

I don’t know about you but I appreciate our system of interstates, barely a day goes by without my use of them. I often wonder how arduous travel was and how slow commerce happened before we committed to building them. Telecommunications infrastructure enables similar economic expansion...what would we all do if the internet were to disappear today?

Much recent prosperity in the United Sates was enabled by infrastructure investments made generations ago. It’s interesting to note that China has entered infrastructure build-out mode and on a scale that’s difficult to comprehend without seeing it first-hand. China is making the infrastructure commitments that will enable economic growth for future generations.

We now need to rebuild.


The potholed infrastructure dilemma got me wondering. I’m far from a highway designer but I know a fair amount about infrastructure. The infrastructure I deal with surrounds our living spaces and, as any homeowner will tell you, changing home infrastructure can be as unattractive and painful as writing big checks for increased taxes. The primary difference being that the value of home infrastructure goes directly to the home or building owner - or benefits the next individual who buys the home.

At Homepath Products, with the eXapath in-wall cable pathway system, we make infrastructure with a unique benefit. It may be more accurate to say that eXapath is the infrastructure for infrastructure...I’l explain below.

Designed for today's most advanced insulation products, eXapath provides a permanently accessible channel for entertainment cables.
Today’s low voltage wiring systems for data, entertainment, security, distributed audio and video give homeowners many options that didn’t exist a decade ago. When building and remodeling we customarily bury these low voltage wires within our walls, like we do with electrical wiring. The trouble is that consumer electronics become unfashionable as better models and new advancements come to market. The latest stuff inevitably renders permanently installed low voltage wiring obsolete and replacement costs mount. It’s not just new cables and connectors, they’re pretty inexpensive. Tearing out sections of wall and disturbing the insulation envelope to fish new wires is never easy and often costly.

What if you had a way to install the low voltage wires you need today and a simple way to remove and replace them as they become obsolete. No fishing, no insulation displacement. Infrastructure for infrastructure.

eXapath in-wall cable pathways turn your framing into information superhighways, ready for low voltage cables when you need them.
That’s what eXapath does. Check it out...and avoid being potholed by your low voltage infrastructure.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Cup O' Joe

Cold snow and piping hot coffee, can't beat that!
Did you see that stocky, forty’ish guy in the Starbucks queue? Stupefied. Thinning hair with worn Carhartt jeans and a threadbare button-down chamois shirt. Perplexed by terms like half-caf, tall, short and venti. He approached the counter apologetically muttering “I’d like a medium black coffee” to muffled sniggering by the barista’s and sharp looks of disdain from surrounding patrons? That may have been me.

I’ve eliminated much clutter and complexity from my life. With few vices left, coffee remains a ritual. I’m not sure whether it’s an indulgence, a staple, or real addiction. I yearn when it’s gone.

Not a complete Java ignoramus, I have sampled many coffees with enticing names from, and in, exotic places. Lately I prefer the Hazlenut Creme blend from New England Coffee. When it’s on sale I buy up as much as I can and brew it daily for my long commute. The label tells me it has “Rich, nutty overtones in a special blend of medium-roasted South and Central American beans” to which I respond “Sure, tastes good, does the trick, just like the comfy old T-shirts I refuse to part with.”

A Mug’s a Mug

This past holiday season my wife surprised me with a small, expertly wrapped gift box on Christmas morning. She rocks, you can learn more about her here. With great care I opened the package, just like you’d see in one of those commercials where the guy unwraps to unveil the key for a shiny late model luxury car. I was delighted to find a new 16 ounce travel coffee mug. Could not have been happier. Simple, functional, utilitarian, durable...years of use ahead. Easy to please? Not so much.

Like many coffee drinkers, I’ve used dozens of travel mugs, some bought, some freebies. Some were dishwasher safe, some melted. Some stainless steel, some ceramic or plastic. All held coffee well, some kept it warm, some leaked immediately, many with time and use. Most imparted no change to the flavor. Most were misplaced or made their way to the landfill.

The new gift mug had simple, pleasant lines; the right amount of “heft”; a very secure cover; and a dual liner to help keep liquids hot or cold. Sure signs of a good product, right? Well, yes, good functional design but that’s just the beginning of the story.

The Big Attraction

What attracted me most was how this cup was designed. Not its shape and function, but how the designers set to the task of creating it. In my hand I have the result of Eco-designed gear. Conceived using Product Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), a practice I believe in and increasingly pursue in products that I buy.

Using LCA, designers are compelled to invent in non-traditional ways. Their challenge goes far beyond fit, form and function, becoming a cradle-to-grave, or better yet, cradle-to-cradle effort where thought and consideration is given to embodied energy, that energy consumed in production, use and disposal of a product. Affects on users and our environment are paramount and managed by considering toxicity. Durability is deliberately improved, and end-of-life recycling planned for rather than presuming “final destination landfill.” We, consumers, end up with a solid coffee mug that works well, lasts a long time, doesn’t cost more than you would expect to pay for a travel coffee mug, and the system minimizes impact on humans and our environment. Little to dislike here.

Kudos to Aladdin PMI for doing the hard work up front on their Sustain® product line. (In the interest of full disclosure, I am not compensated in any way for this write up...just one guy giving credit where it is due) In an age of rampant green-washing, Aladdin produces product with valid green claims. Here is why:

  • They start by using 100% recycled food-grade polypropylene material, no new elemental extraction is used in the production of this mug.
  • They state that the material is free of PBT...good for my longevity and durability.
  • They plan for disposal, making a product that is easily recycled...from previously recycled materials.
  • Packaging is eco-friendly, minimized and recyclable.
  • They educate consumers on why we should reuse a mug rather than tossing out disposable cups all adds up. Is this educational resource self-serving? Yes, they are in business to sell coffee mugs...nothing wrong with that.

Back to My Mug

The product does what it is intended to do, and it does it well.

  • It keeps my coffee piping hot.
  • It fits in my hand well.
  • It’s cup holder friendly.
  • The cover, with just a few threads, closes quickly and securely, it’s not press-fit with a tendency to become loose like many other travel mugs.
  • It’s dishwasher safe...I’ve washed it a dozen or so times...not leaking yet
  • The spill resistant flange on the cover is wider on one end so I don’t have to fumble around trying to figure out which way to turn it as I drive.
  • It’s microwavable
  • It’s durable...I’ve bounced mine off the garage floor already and it hasn’t leaked.

Whether you roast, grind, and brew your own; or drop by your local gourmet coffee joint for a daily cup, think about using one of these new tankards from Aladdin. Plan for your mug to be reincarnated as a useful product for the next generation.

Sustainable design. ‘Nuff said!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

This Was How They Rolled

At Homepath Products we tend to concentrate on the horizon, a habit that’s part of the fabric here and one that helps us envision what the future may hold for homeowners. It’s a component of the value we bring in preparing homes for what technologies soon may come. An internal compass but not a crystal ball. Important lessons come from the past. We’re mindful of this and take note from those who came before us.

A recent Op-ed piece hinted at deeper than obvious economic woes – the first real suggestion that we’re headed for a third depression. Economics, the dismal science – depressing, perhaps – but read on.

I follow many economists, gathering diverse opinion on matters of finance, business, policy, and history. In this case the author is Paul Krugman, one who I often read for logic that proves prescient. Consistently, he shares historic lessons and encourages policy favoring jobs creation and deflation avoidance as opposed to a focus on immediate deficit reduction and the distant threat of inflation. This, of course, comes at the cost of deficit expansion during a time of already ballooning national debt. The Krugman approach (and that of many other smart folks) is counterintuitive. Why spend when the national debt is already so great? Proposed alternatives suggest paying down national debt immediately (while important for discussion, the alternatives are rhetorical, parroting what we've heard for decades) They fail to acknowledge that tax revenues are generated by those who are employed...and at the moment we have eight million who are unable to contribute. The question of reducing national debt comes down to timing. Krugman, borrowing from policy lessons of the 1930’s, points out that avoiding deflation is a short-term survival tactic that eventually shifts to managing inflation – well into economic recovery, as more people are gainfully employed and the lifeblood of a growing economy (personal spending) begins in earnest. Tax coffers grow as a result. Getting there is the challenge. Krugman’s article is one Nobel economists opinion and this blog post is no intended endorsement – rather, we ask: “What if this recession becomes a depression?”

They Endured the Depression But Were Never Depressed

Please indulge me as I share some family history.

My grandparents, typical of their time, lived and operated frugally, preferring a cash over credit-based lifestyle. You may find similar characteristics in your forebears.

Moderation in all, rarely consuming more than necessary nor want for “things” over experience with lasting memories. A contented lifestyle as the world around them accelerated. Products of the Great Depression, they lived many hard-knocks stories, learned well, and shared their wisdom freely. They relied on themselves and their families to get through difficult times and succeed they did. Their wisdom a bequest of sorts.

Perhaps it was youthful ignorance. Maybe just the context of growing up in prosperous times where lessons of the past seemed irrelevant. Having experienced only periodic recessionary hiccups, I heard but didn’t listen. Now, I’m all ears.

Hailing from England and the United States, my grandparents endured difficult economic cycles, fought distant World Wars while family sought refuge in the London Tube system, subsiding on rations – times of true need followed by lasting prosperity. They acknowledged difficulty but chose optimism to pessimism, knowing that progress was created on the foundation of positive perspective. They endured the depression but were never depressed.

This Was How They Rolled

My grandparents witnessed widespread adoption of the telephone, the emergence of private transportation, jets coming of age and the space race. At first wondrous curiosities and eventually meaningful tools. Navigating colossal change, they actively determined needs versus wants and prioritized their decisions. Mundane?, perhaps; Spontaneous?, infrequently; Pragmatic?, surely; Successful?; yes.

Life during their time brought radical change. They adapted to some and chose to ignore others when no “need” was identified. They felt social pressure to do well for their community and endeavored to help improve it. They were civilian in the Middle English sense of the word – abiding by the law and striving, always, for civil discourse over polarizing bias.

They were sports enthusiasts. Ferocious competitors who enjoyed victory but with compassion. They felt no joy in vanquish, knowing that lopsided contests produced no winners. They handled defeat with dignity. They sought betterment in themselves, never reaching their ideals, accepting the imperfection of others in exchange.

They felt entitled . . . to common courtesy, all else was privilege to be earned. They wished to make a difference.

This was how they rolled – with no need for elective courses on ethics, morals or integrity.


Durability and Adaptability = Wiggle Room

Computers, streaming video, email, texting, smartphones and Twitter were not part of their lexicon, nor was rebooting a PC, healing a computer virus, or the frustration we feel when electric power fades. Interruptions were opportunities for them.

On first glance it’s as though times were uncomplicated – it’s never that simple. The world around them changed dramatically, and like today, the pace of adaptation was daunting. Their lives spanned times of plenty, economic decline, then growth and finally prosperity. They worked hard always, endeavoring to keep scarcity a distant memory, cognizant that excess was insidious and wild overcorrection an inevitable result. Living under these terms shaped their decisions.

They built things and bought things with lasting value – shunning the emerging lifestyle of convenience and disposability. The notion of buying a smartphone today only to replace it with a newer, faster, sleeker model in twelve months would leave them aghast.

They always kept room to maneuver. A trait learned through hardship that seemed intuitive. Wiggle room. Living so created options, the flexibility of choice, and awareness that adaptability ensured survival.

This is How We Roll

At Homepath Products we live by common courtesy and earn all else, striving to learn from the past while preparing for the future.

We provide the eXapath™ in-wall cable pathway system, enabling architects, builders, and remodelers to enhance value for their clients. Ours are infrastructure products of durability that serve the needs of adaptability. eXapath integrates seamlessly in energy conserving construction providing a means for the building to adapt as generations of modern electronics come to market. Wiggle room for home and building owners who know that times will forever change and that lasting structures must keep pace.

To learn more please visit, feel free to call at (860) 767-1122 or email us at

We look forward to serving you. A privilege we know must be earned.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mind The Gap

Slogans, mottos, catchphrases, mantras. Every company develops them to position and establish an image or association for their product or service.

Bridging the Gap Between Broadband and Construction™ is ours at Homepath Products and here is why.

We’re adding the ability to change wiring as a structural element in energy conserving homes....helping homeowners achieve energy efficiency without compromising their desire for advanced technology.

If ever you have lived in a mature home, a house built before the arrival of telephone, cable TV or the internet, you’re familiar with the various methods of upgrading wires to add modern appliances. Approaches range from completely tearing out sections of lath and plaster, rewiring, and wall repair to others like these:

  • Holes drilled in floors to pass wires through
  • Wires running along exterior walls before entering the home
  • Wires stapled to interior walls
  • Surface mounted raceways hiding wires
  • Crown moldings and chair railings hiding wires
  • Wires run beneath carpets and area rugs
  • Wires “fished” through insulation within walls
Given a challenging installation environment all these solutions solve the immediate problem of cable routing and, in some cases, hiding wires that deliver the home entertainment experience we so desire.

If you’re fortunate to live in a home that has permanent “structured wiring” for today’s electronics, security, and data systems, you enjoy seamless connectivity and ease when it comes to adding new consumer electronics. That is, of course, until you find yourself adding a new gadget where one was not planned or, perhaps, when making the inevitable upgrade to the structured wiring driven by the latest “gotta have” gear. Technology does not stand still.

An Emerging Challenge for Homeowners

When designing, building new, or remodeling, focus has shifted toward pragmatic long-term value with less emphasis on cosmetics. Spaciousness is taking a back seat to efficient use of smaller spaces providing more value and utility per cubic foot. An example of this is heightened interest in design for energy conservation. Building smaller to minimize energy required plus the use of highly efficient systems to manage the inside environment. By taking a conservational approach, homeowners see benefit in permanently reduced HVAC costs with low annual maintenance and operational expenses. Occupants experience the intangible perks of living a less cluttered life while society benefits through cumulative reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and delayed climate change. The trend is to simplify and focus on qualitative rather than accumulative living.

Compared to traditional HVAC methods, homeowners opt for new approaches like geothermal heating. The initial cost for such technology is higher with investment justified by weighing installed cost against permanent reductions in energy consumption (30 to 40% more efficient) and reduced annual operating expense.

The Gap

Energy conserving homes use modern forms of insulation like expanding Polyurethane sprayfoam. This material is sprayed into the open wall cavities during construction where it rapidly expands, filling all voids and adhering to all surfaces leaving little opportunity for energy-sapping air infiltration. Unlike traditional forms of insulation, sprayfoams do not degrade or sag with time so their benefits are lasting. The new materials perform well at what they were engineered for but inadvertently add hurdles for future wiring upgrades. When first occupying a space this is not obvious, but it becomes so as the first change is required. “Fishing” wires through tight insulation is time consuming, costly and destructive. A real gap exists between how we design and build and how prepared the homes are to change with the times.

How We Bridge the Gap

Homes are built to stand the test of time, consumer electronics come and go. Knowing this, why do we permanently embed wires within walls? Doing so ignores the likelihood that change will occur well within the lifespan of the structure.

Our aim, at Homepath Products, is to bridge this divide with eXapath. This in-wall system complements best insulation practices while leaving accessible pathways for easy changes to wiring. With it, homeowners can wire where necessary today while leaving the frame of their home ready for change.

Broadband, once a luxury, is now indispensable. The data rates of today’s broadband are the Dial-Up of tomorrow. Technology moves forward at a blistering pace and dramatically faster speeds are being driven to us through our internet providers. The faster they get, the richer our experience becomes, the more frequent we upgrade home systems to support them.

Not only is the eXapath system a breeze to install during construction, it’s equally helpful long after the drywall is up. Unlike traditional conduit systems, eXapath can be located through the drywall using a common stud stud finder. The design lends itself to the addition of new outlets from floor to ceiling without destroying walls, disrupting insulation, or fishing through tight spaces. Providing pathways ensures that the insulation envelope of the home remains intact and efficient for the life of the home. Simple but revolutionary.

If you are building, considering a deep energy retrofit, or major remodel where you will be opening the walls, add eXapath while there and build flexibility for change into your home, value for you to enjoy and pay forward to the next owner.

Does your home bridge the gap?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Dealing with Risks (or "What Eeyore Can Teach Us About Sustainability")

For today’s post we touch on the legal environment surrounding sustainable or “green” construction. With any building project, large or small, the law holds a prominent and important place helping define roles for all parties to contracts, clarifying expectations, minimizing risk of disagreement and, finally, serving to help resolve disputes when they do occur.

As society shifts toward environmentally responsible architecture the promise of energy savings, optimized water management, and improved environmental quality become significant in both meaning and implementation. Traditional legal precedents may no longer apply or may fail to recognize the nuances of this important emerging market. Change, in the legal sense, may lead to unforeseen confusion.

I’ve asked a friend and noted construction law attorney, Christopher Hill, to provide a layperson's perspective on the matter. Chris is nationally respected in legal circles and adds value as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional. For those unfamiliar with the LEED AP designation, accreditation requires deep understanding of sustainable design as defined by the US Green Building Council (USGBC). Chris is serious about sustainability and assumes leadership with the emergence of “green” in law. He’s also an entertaining writer. Please enjoy the post:

I am a great believer in sustainable building and the benefits (both economic and environmental) that will come with a more universal adoption of sustainable, more resource friendly, building practices. However, and as I’ve said at Musings before, Eeyore is one of my favorite characters from A.A. Milne.  Eeyore, you may remember, is the donkey on whom it’s always raining.  He is the loveable character that always feels like the sky is falling, but plugs along anyway.

I can relate. I think that the economic impact, combined with the moral imperative, make such a goal both worthy and required.  However, certain risks are inherent in any new use of technologies and any new mode of thinking, no matter how worthy.   Some of the issues that will need to be dealt with by contractors, architects, owners and, yes, lawyers, are the following:

  • Insurance- the insurance industry is still catching up with energy related underwriting
  • What standard of care applies to a green building claim?
  • Potential Trademark claims
  • Longer time horizons and contractual or government requirements on energy goals
  • Even the possibility of a broken window.
  • Zoning
While I sometimes feel like we are rushing past these issues without the careful thought that we need to give such risks in our (understandable) enthusiasm and that it is human nature to be overtaken with excitement at a new venture and the vision of a better, cleaner, world, I am cautiously optimistic that these issues will be hammered out (hopefully through contract rather than litigation).  More and more attorneys and building professionals like Mike (@eXapath) are aware of the potential risks, and this is a great start.

The sooner the risks are at least out in the open, if not resolved, the sooner the private sector will get fully behind sustainable construction and building management. Awareness of the issues is more than half the battle.  From this awareness will come solutions.  I fully believe that these solutions will lead to a better built environment and to contractors and subcontractors that no longer find sustainability to be a novelty, but the normal practice.

My hope is that by pulling back on the reins a bit and hopefully forcing a discussion of these issues, I (and my alter ego that down in the dumps donkey) will help lead to a more robust, and less legally risky, building landscape.

Until then, Eeyore and I will keep plugging through the rain.

Christopher Hill is a LEED AP and construction lawyer in Richmond, VA.  He is a member of Virginia’s Legal Elite in Construction Law and authors the Construction Law Musings blog.  You can also follow him on Twitter at  @constructionlaw.