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.

Friday, April 30, 2010

A Bit About Broadband

Through recent Twitter wanderings I happened across an interesting group who have identified a strategically important cause and dedicated themselves to advancing it. Broadband is a term commonly discussed but its affect on our society undervalued.

Broadband for America is raising awareness of precisely how broadband, and the need for improvements in it, enable many things, not the least of which is rapid growth in our economy. To follow Broadband for America on Twitter click here @broadband4us.

I feel strongly about the need for ever-improving broadband and I am convinced the Internet access we are accustomed to is just the beginning...the World Wide Web is truly an infant.  There is good reason to believe that advanced technology and policy will coalesce with our creative population to generate outstanding economic and social returns for generations and broadband will be central to success.

The following is an excerpt from a recent Broadband for America post the touches on some very important developments:

A Bit About Broadband

I have a soft spot for unsung heroes and today’s post highlights one that virtually everyone takes for granted. I’ll get to that in a bit.
Broadband for America is on a mission to bring high speed Internet to every individual and business in the country. This is a lofty and virtuous goal. At the risk of sounding alarmist, a goal so important that failure to make significant progress threatens America’s greatest strength, that of innovation-driven commerce.

Innovation and Small Business

Broadband, computer technology, the World Wide Web, and courage combine to expand the arena for all to enter. Efficient and frugal exchange is a leveler; an opportunity to unleash creativity and innovation, to establish an audience, to test a new idea or market, to bring value and prosper; a mechanism to engage the talents of an entire population and restore economic strength at a time when we most need more men, and women, in the arena.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Wires? Isn't Wireless the Wave of the Future?

We're taking a different tack on this post. I'd like to welcome Sean Lintow, Sr. of SLS Construction in Cullman County, Alabama as our first guest to post on Tech Rumblings and the Home.
Sean's at the helm of this family owned business serving northern Alabama but his footprint extends far beyond the sales territory. Sean is an opinion leader who reaches past great quality construction for his clients by thoroughly researching everything that his projects touch to ensure that he and his team are most up-to-date and provide reliable counsel to customers and colleagues.  In short, he's keen to be knowledgeable and places high value on doing things well...a good example for others to aspire to. In fact, as I write this brief introduction, Sean is packing his bags for a multi-day training session on Infrared Thermography, adding more tools and techniques to his kit that will help diagnose construction flaws and lead to dramatic improvements in the built environment for those lucky enough to hire him. To learn more about Sean and SLS Construction be sure to add his blog to your reading list: Homeowner's Resource Center

Sean, in addition to expertise in residential design and construction, has deep experience in information technology and network security, making him uniquely qualified to contribute to today's posting. Sean stretches from bits and bytes to characteristics of today's construction materials and understands how intricately woven all building systems are.

Please welcome Sean and enjoy this piece.

Do We Really Need Wires Anymore?

Let me see if I got this straight, you want me to install eXapath conduit in my walls to help future proof my home for low voltage wiring used for telephone, internet, audio, security and TV connections? In case no one told you, they have wireless devices now, so isn’t going wireless truly the wave of the future? Do we really need wires anymore?

You can admit it; you were wondering about it or had the same thoughts. So, is wiring really dead?

In our recent Remodeling Right: A Hedge Against Changing Technology article we mentioned a great product (eXapath) for running low voltage cabling in your walls. This wiring is used for everything from alarm systems, to your telephone, from your internet connection, to your television. Some people have questioned this by simply asking – "isn’t wireless truly the wave of the future?"

For many that have connected with me on LinkedIn, you may have noticed that I also have a background in the Information Technology field. Based not only on my IT experience, but knowledge of the newer building technologies being used “going wireless” might cost you more than you think. While wireless technology is a good solution for numerous issues, one must realize that with any technology there are limits.

  • Wireless Routers – Many consumers simply hook up their new wireless router using the factory set defaults and just leave it.
    • Most default setups do not use encryption, so all the information is sent in clear text. That includes your passwords, your emails, etc…
    • Did you change the administrator name and password? Most routers password and admin names are well known
    • When was the last time you reviewed the router logs & checked for updates? While many people like to think that these devices are plug & forget – they are far from it
  • Cellular Phones & regular wireless phones
    • You can buy a radio scanner & listen in on your neighbor’s calls.
    • Do they have one of the newer CDMA or GSM cell phones or one of the new wireless ones with channel hopping technology? I hate to tell you this, but that technology has already been cracked and can be gotten off the internet.

Signal Disturbance:

  • Natural Disturbances: For one example, I have DirecTV at my house. One of the biggest issues is that when a tornado warning is going off, I generally cannot see where the storm is headed, because the rain and clouds have blocked the satellite signal. While this affects line of site communications, electrical storms can also disturb your wireless signals.
  • Microwave ovens and other consumer electronics can also emit noise in the same frequencies and can disrupt your signal.
  • Wireless jammers, while outlawed by the FCC, can still easily be purchased online.

Speed and Capacity:

  • Wireless Routers utilize what is known as a common signal. As more equipment connects to the access point, the signals are shared and the data rate provided for each device drops dramatically.
    • Pretty soon all your appliances, TV’s, DVR’s, HVAC systems will be “online” allowing for manufacturers to send a repair tech out before you know you need them, or allowing you to connect to them while you are away from home.
    • Can you imagine the bandwidth being used when your wife is watching a streamed movie, kids are playing online while downloading songs, and you are telecommuting?
  • Wireless is still playing catch up – while the latest 802.11n standard promises data transfer of 300 Mbps (compared to 1000 MBPS for the newer wiring) you need to read the fine print attached.

Actual data throughput will vary. Network conditions and environmental factors, including volume of network traffic, buildings materials and construction, and network overhead, lower actual data throughput rate. Environmental factors will adversely affect wireless signal range.

Building Materials and Construction:

I am sure this has happened to you while talking on the cell phone, the person you are speaking to goes “sorry I am going through a tunnel,” “sorry I am losing you” or something similar. Part of this issue is that the signal cannot penetrate the structure or the signal can only travel so far. This issue also applies to today’s houses and buildings. If the building is spread out, contains multiple stories, if there is a lot of concrete, metal, radiant barriers, etc… it can interfere with your signal.
The cost:

Cost can actually play a big factor in your decision process. While you can pick up a router for next to nothing, they make their money up on the Wireless cards you need to buy for each piece of equipment. If you have a laptop only, you might not have to worry about it, but getting a card for your PC, DVR, X-Box 360, refrigerator, etc… it can add up real quick.

Wireless Signals are Not Green?

If you are building and pursuing Minnesota GreenStar certification, arguably the most progressive and detailed green-build program in the US, you might want to forget the word wireless all together…

11-B-12: Install CAT-5e (enhanced) or CAT-6 shielded data cable throughout house to every room where computers and telephones will be used. Avoid Wi-Fi. Use hardwired, corded telephones rather than cordless telephones.

The reasoning:

The recommendations here are based upon safe exposure guidelines accepted by regulatory agencies, particularly in Europe, dedicated to protecting human health from harmful exposure to man-made electrical and magnetic fields (EMF) as well as radio frequencies (RF). The information here may be viewed as controversial since the primary data pointing to concern is coming from Europe. Yet, health researchers in the United States are actively pursuing research in this area.

Because EMF exposure has potential links to headaches, ear and eye problems, memory problems, sleep disturbance (and the physical ailments that come from sleep deprivation), and cancer, we are using what is called the “precautionary principle”— if there is sufficient evidence that there could be harm from exposure to an influence and that exposure cannot be proven to be safe beyond a shadow of a doubt, then precautions need to be taken by the public to protect human exposure to that influence until safety can be firmly established.

Now like most homeowners, I am really getting tired of hearing the “XY or Z may harm you” arguments. I cannot think of one item that will not supposedly cause harm, but there is ample evidence that these electromagnetic fields exist and that they have caused issues with certain individuals. While the Minnesota program is the only one I know of that has this as part of their standards right now, it may be adopted by other “green” programs in the near future.

The Verdict

So should I take it that wireless is bad, and there is no place for it? No, it is a great technology that solves many problems, is easy to setup, and it will be here for many years to come. However, if you do not understand the issues, or its limitations, you may be disappointed at its performance or in for a shock when your banking information is “stolen”. If used appropriately though, one can use both types of hard wired and wireless systems in a complementary fashion and leave room to adapt with change.

An Update

Subsequent to this posting an interesting article was posted by CNN on inadvertent activity undertaken by the troupe of Google "Street View" cars that roam around collecting image and geo-location information. Using open (not password protected) WiFi networks they routinely collected web visit history from WiFi network users. See the entire article here.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Green is the New Gray and that's Okay!

My journey in sustainability continues with today’s report on a seminar attended during the JLCLive show in Providence, RI. Sponsored by The Journal of Light Construction, a Hanley Wood publication, JLCLive caters to residential and light commercial builders through print, web and trade events.

The mission was participation in a full-day seminar on green building to broaden my knowledge, bring clarity to thoughts on sustainable construction, and depart with fewer questions than when arriving.

The time spent was well worth it. A good show for any remodelers or builders interested in refreshing their library of knowledge, seeing new materials and tools, or simply connecting and exchanging notes with others in the market.

Before describing the seminar it’s important to recognize those who often go unrecognized. While delving into sustainability I’ve found people are eager help and I have many to thank.

How Did I Get Here?

Due in large part to our hyper-connected world I learned of the Journal of Light Construction and JLCLive through word-of-mouth, better yet, by word-of-tweet.

Those who know me are aware that I use Twitter for its unique ability to easily find and connect people with shared interests. One such person is Leah Thayer, a talented editor with Remodeling Magazine (Hanley Wood) who tweets regularly posing great questions, and promoting dialogue. I’m grateful to Leah for introducing me to a blogger at Remodeling Magazine named Michael Anschel. Michael is principal of otogawa-anschel a design + build firm from Minneapolis and a knowledgeable opinion leader of the sustainability movement. An interesting mix of design talent, community responsibility, entrepreneurism and unbridled enthusiasm on all things green. By that, I mean green with a pragmatic twist. Michael also happens to be the speaker for the green build session at JLCLive.

Unrelated to JLCLive are more to acknowledge, more than I can practically highlight in this post. Three individuals stand out. Sean with SLSConstruction offers a background in remodeling and residential construction with a small business vantage point on sustainability. Another friend to mention is Merrill Stewart, LEED AP and founder of the Stewart Perry Company a commercial contractor with nationwide scope and leader in the transition to better building. And James Bedell, a bundle of energy and expert in commercial lighting design by day. The remainder of his time is consumed organizing Build2Sustain with focus on sustainable reuse of the many existing commercial structures across the US. I’m convinced he doesn’t sleep and will leave the world a better place than how he found it.

All engaging, all leading, all going well out of their way to help me wade through and learn about green building. None of whom I would know without Twitter. Follow them.

A Square Peg in a Rectangular Hole with Radiused Corners

I almost fit in...sort of...with a little extra effort and finishing I may just make it through. These were my feelings as I arrived for the seminar. The room was cavernous as you might expect with a convention center. Chairs carefully aligned in rows, three to each narrow folding-table, knee-breaking undercarriage, structured learning. Rigid.

I strolled in behind the presenter (suit was a dead giveaway) as he casually suggested that we ditch the lecture style rows and rearrange the furniture in semicircle format to encourage dialogue. Relieved. No need to sit with my back to contributors or speak to the rear of anyone’s head. Many others wandered in and all set-to, grabbing chairs, sliding tables, shaking hands and just getting the job done-predisposed to action.

Attendees chose seats and got comfortable anticipating the start, with hushed conversations among table partners and noticeable fidgeting. Michael broke the ice asking each student to rise, provide background on themselves, names, where they were from, how long they’d been in business, that sort of thing. Most were from the Northeast with one participant from Washington State and midwest representation from our facilitator. The diversity in origin proved beneficial in highlighting some of the regional differences in design and construction. The crowd was generally upbeat, all either remodelers or new construction general contractors. I was the square peg, the sole product guy in the room, and pleased to be there.

The attendees viewed sustainability as a paradigm shift, wanting to understand more about it, hoping to sort through the relevance and priority of various green debates - eagerly planning to grow their businesses, do well for their clients, and by extension leave positive affect on society. This was different and welcomed.

After introductions Michael set expectations by saying, “I won’t be giving any answers today, the session will be interactive and we will challenge ourselves to think through issues and solutions.” That’s exactly what we received...lesson learned.

My Quest for the Elusive Formula

Before attending the JLCLive event I reviewed materials furnished by the USGBC, NAHB, MNGreenStar, BuildingSciences Corporation, EnergyStar, NC HealthyBuilt Homes and many others. Each source providing its own brand of sustainability or regurgitation of work adapted from others. Given the volume of information available and varying explanations of sustainable construction this session confirmed that a formulaic approach to understanding may not be the best approach-getting it right is more complex than that, and rightly so. My mission to come away with “the formula” was dashed but edification wasn’t.

We held helpful discussions, tangential deep dives on specifics, covered basics and organized thoughts and approaches to participating in green. The primary takeaway for me was high-level ordering. A mental process to use in understanding cause and effect with design and material selection related to home design and construction. In the interest of full disclosure the following principles align best with the MNGreenStar school, of which Michael Anschel has affiliation...for this class the prioritization was slightly different and I found it helpful.

  1. Site/Community Impact - extension of the projects affect on local and global community.
  2. Water Conservation - consideration for use of potable and gray water both in and near the project.
  3. Indoor Environmental Quality - establishment of a healthier indoor environment through mold reduction, minimization of toxic inhalants, efficient and natural lighting.
  4. Resource Efficiency - durable materials, minimal waste, infrequent maintenance.
  5. Energy Efficiency - build for efficiency, reduce green house gas emissions and permanently minimize energy expense.
  6. Adaptability - homes are built to stand the test of time, adaptability is a critical success factor and often overlooked.
While all green-build programs have merit and strive toward sustainability I found this list easy to absorb and, specifically, the priority attached to each item compelling. These are just a few highlights from the discussion and I hope a good starting point for readers of this blog who venture this way.

Have I learned? From the JLCLive session and from other information reviewed I now default to questions before drawing conclusions. I see buildings and wonder about optimal orientation. I pass hardscapes and consider permeability and heat island effect. I see wall assemblies and think insulation and vapor management. I notice irrigation and consider gray water with native and adapted plants. Building materials move me past function and aesthetics to embodied energy, end-of-life, life-cycle. Roof lines now do more than keep weather out, they’re about geometry, color and energy management. Learning.

The Dawn of Progress

As important as the material shared in the session, I found refreshing the enthusiasm of those participating. These were construction pros. Some more accomplished and comfortable with the notion of green build than others but each offering valuable insights for this square peg. One group stood out in both attendance numbers and zeal for doing things better - for continuous improvement. Harmony Builders, led by Wyatt and Dan, formed their model around sustainable building, not for fashion or trend sense, but because it was the right way for them to add value for their customers and to lay a foundation for generations to come. Long-term thinkers - doers - role models - winners, leaving satisfied customers and durable projects in their wake.

The Harmony Builders team knew a great deal about green building through experience, were happy to share and most assertive at learning more and better tips, techniques and ideas. In Dan’s words “Our process for building is constantly being scrutinized and evaluated by us. One of the things we say to each other is that when you stop learning you start going backward. I find it sad when I meet a builder that knows it all and has for a while.  Like Michael Anschel said, ‘there are no answers.’  I believe It is the struggle for the answers that make the difference.”

Dan’s comment sums up my experience with the green build session at JLCLive nicely. Do things better.

I left with more questions than when I arrived, adapted mission accomplished.

Green is the new gray and that’s okay!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

We Want Faster Horses

While drafting this post I happened across an anonymous quote and it struck me as relevant. “If Henry Ford had asked his customers what they needed they would have said faster horses.”

History confirms that Mr. Ford was not ignoring his customers, simply listening better than most with vision firmly fixed on the horizon. A paradigm shift in the making.

Differentiate Begins with Different

The accomplishment of Ford and his enterprise is remarkable on many fronts. Revolutionizing production, vertical integration, value-based design, commonality of components and guerrilla marketing for its day.

Ford successfully shifted the expectations of his prospects to understand the value he proposed. From this grew many opportunities for others along with entirely new markets and industries to support them. No easy feat:

  • Roads were primarily cobblestone or rutted cart paths
  • Street cars, railroads and ferries were the de facto modes of mass transit
  • Horses, carriages and wagons were the norm in personal transport
  • Interstate highways did not exist
  • Fueling stations were rare
  • Repair shops scarce
For sure Ford was marketing his twenty horsepower Model-T as a replacement for draft and quarter horses and associated wagons and carriages. He kept at it with the basic “Tin Lizzie” that remained largely unchanged for decades. After a successful twenty year run it was phased out in favor of the Model A in 1927.

It’s interesting to review advertisements from the early days. In 1908 Ford marketed the Model T. Print advertisements in black and white, likely all that was available, mainly textual with very limited graphics. A simple message - function, durability, and business sense “Eleven to seven. A merchant who knows says that it cost him eleven cents per delivery by horses and seven by Ford cars.”, obliquely targeting the newfound limitations of his prospects faithful steeds.

By the 1920s Ford had shifted mainstream customers toward the automobile and learned that growth and survival depended on addressing needs rather than simply providing a good product. This is reflected in the advertising of the twenties where graphics are emphasized, color introduced, and the message moving from durability and reliability toward lifestyle and choice...freedom and flexibility for Ford customers. A notion that rings true to this day.

(More Ford Motor Company advertisements can be found at museum)

Life-Cycle Mismatch

A life-cycle mismatch exists between home building conventions and the changing needs of contemporary homeowners.

Today’s home construction paradigm is to overbuild with lots of permanently installed low voltage wiring. This includes in-wall cables for computers, television, home theater, whole-house audio, security and automation. On its face the habit makes sense. Many cables and outlets with all sorts of connectivity throughout the home for immediate and future needs. Structured wiring ready for TV, data, telephone, automation and security. What more could a homeowner want?

Less obvious when designing and building is that low voltage wires permanently embedded in your walls have real limitations in form factor and performance. This is not to say they’re poorly designed, rather that they sustain known performance requirements but fail to recognize how quickly the technology behind consumer electronics change.

Compare the life expectancy of any consumer electronic gadget to the lifespan of the home and a major mismatch becomes clear.


In today’s residential design and construction community a welcomed shift toward sustainability is taking hold. As emphasized by the USGBC and NAHB, a key element in “green” construction is to minimize home energy consumption and conserve from there.

Using an integrative approach with collaboration between homeowners, architects, and builders, new homes are being right-sized with efficient climate control systems and building shell improvements including advanced insulation. Energy requirements reduced, conservation increased...a net gain in comfort with reduced carbon footprint.

So why be concerned with low voltage wiring?

It’s not the cables so much as the changes to those cables throughout the life of the home. We often rewire when new consumer electronics come to market. The process involves “snaking” behind sheetrock and within the stud cavity of the wall. While not obvious from the undisturbed surface, the process is destructive to properly installed insulation.  Snaking wires through walls disrupts the insulation envelope creating voids, or thermal bridges, and opportunity for permanent heat energy escape. This works against modern principles of energy conservation in home design.

We Want Faster Wires

Like better transportation in the early twentieth century, faster wires will be necessary in the twenty-first, with continual upgrades throughout the life of the home.

To effectively answer this challenge, the home structure needs a way to rewire without disrupting its energy conserving nature. This is precisely what the eXapath™ in-wall cable pathways system from Homepath Products achieves. An idea that goes far beyond adding a cable chase from the attic to the basement or a few conduits in the walls.

  • eXapath is about homeowners and their needs.
  • It’s about adding the flexibility to rewire every wall.
  • It’s about the ability to adapt to the latest technology.
  • It’s about the flexibility to introduce technology from floor to ceiling.
  • It’s about adding outlets before or after drywall without disruption to the insulation envelope.
  • It’s about flexibility and choice.

Building Freedom and Flexibility for Modern Homeowners

We know the need to conserve energy is here to stay, and rightly so. Likewise, consumer electronics evolve and demand grows unabated.

Don’t just give homeowners what they want, give them what they need. Freedom and flexibility for a modern lifestyle. Choice.

Couple the integrative design/build approach emphasized by the USGBC and NAHB with eXapath. Play a role in shifting the latest paradigm.

Energy savings and replaceable cabling.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Coincidence...or Convergence?

Did you notice the recent announcement from Google about edging into the Internet Service Provider (ISP) space? This is earth-shattering stuff...viewed alongside other recent announcements from the tech world an interesting image of our near future emerges.

With this experiment, Google is giving incumbent ISP’s like AT&T, Qwest, Comcast, Cox and others a significant nudge in the direction of better, faster, richer, open internet service provision. A broadband notion that has been hotly debated but otherwise constipated for decades.

What This Could Mean For Us

The Google experiment targets between 50,000 and 500,000 people in the US with internet speeds of 1,000 Mbps (1Gigabit per second - 1Gbps)...roughly 100 times faster than most internet subscribers receive today...promising a reasonable price. From the announcement, Google divulges three key elements to their initiative. In their words:

  • Next generation apps: Google wants to see what developers and users can do with ultra high-speeds, whether it's creating new bandwidth-intensive "killer apps" and services, or other uses we can't yet imagine.
  • New deployment techniques: They will test new ways to build fiber networks, and to help inform and support deployments elsewhere, they will share key lessons learned with the world.
  • Openness and choice: They will operate an "open access" network, giving users the choice of multiple service providers.

This is really powerful places the traditional incumbent ISP business model of slow cable plant deployment with glacial and expensive ratcheting up of internet speeds  in peril. Google’s stance will certainly turn heads and cause sleepless nights for those milking the US customer base for cash while the rest of the globe surges ahead in the bandwidth race.

Google mentions several “killer apps” in their blog including the ability to transfer full length BluRay movie files in under five minutes...enabled by 1 Gbps transfer speeds. Astonishingly fast relative to current DSL and Cable Modem ISP rates.

If we look at what else is happening in the world of technology the story becomes more interesting.

Enabling Technologies

A recent post, “Light Peak and You”, discussed Intel and their activity with emerging  “Light Peak” optical technology. Intel is making fundamental changes to optical circuitry that promise orders of magnitude cost reduction compared to similar telecommunications grade devices.

Why is this a big deal?

Well, you may not recall when USB crept into every computer and peripheral...we hardly noticed it...but all now use USB and benefit as a result. “Light Peak” has the potential to do the same but with orders of magnitude performance enhancement and far greater physical reach. A game changer.

These advancements enable extremely fast data transfer between devices with greater distances (300 feet) than the latest in USB, version 3.0. The new chips are tiny with projected costs low enough to make sense in consumer electronics.

Remarkable performance. The Intel products will enter the market with speeds of 10Gbps and scale to 100Gbps within ten years. Targeting spaces within the home or office, that’s ten to one-hundred times faster than the transmission rates predicted by Google for long haul applications. Comparing these speeds with that of Google’s ISP plan suggests file transfer of the same BluRay sized files in seconds...not minutes.

What isn’t obvious is that the optical fiber Google relies upon for the long haul (intercity and directly to the home )applications is capable of similar simply adding high speed transmitting/receiving equipment at the ends of the links. Therefore it’s conceivable to have similar speed on the Google network feeding incredibly rich content, on demand, across great distances, anywhere. Consumer choice.

Connecting the dots

Rumor mills are rife with suggestions that both Sony and Apple are courting Intel and the soon-to-be-released “Light Peak” chips...suggesting that their consumer electronics will soon offer staggering performance.

Lots to think about...lots going on in the world of technology. Some questions to mull over:

  • Is it a coincidence that 3D-HD (larger files than traditional BluRay) was all the rage at the recent Consumer Electronics Show? A technically savvy way to solve digital rights management hurdles and an astounding development for consumers to bring into the home.
  • How rapid is global data growth? The Data Deluge:
    • How about Apple’s new iPad...a neat little handheld computer with a killer high resolution screen...what would it take to add a new “Light Peak” chip inside?
    • Would adding new chips to the Apple line of iMac and other desktop computers with cinema quality monitors be too difficult?
    • Sony? Well, they know a thing or two about high definition television...3D-HD production...and distribution of content.

    There are certainly more examples to raise...more dots to connect...but the same conclusion remains. In the end it comes down to an accelerating need for more bandwidth...bigger, faster pipes to carry rapidly expanding volumes of the long-haul...and within the home.

    Google’s project gets at removing a recognized bottleneck in the long-haul networks and encourages traditional players to accelerate their efforts. Once improved, the bottleneck itself will shift from outside to inside the home or building. It seems Intel is preparing for this with “Light Peak” and I suspect their direct customers (consumer electronics suppliers) will quickly follow suit. Ultimately, this means wiring upgrades within the home for applications we can’t even envision today. Evolution.

    Are you familiar with the new eXapath™ system from Homepath Products?

    Coincidence...or convergence?

    The observations and opinions herein are that of the author, cofounder of Homepath Products LLC...with admiration for but otherwise no affiliation with any of the companies mentioned.

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    Part 3: Staggering, Remarkable, Stupendous!

    Well, admittedly, it’s not cold fusion, perpetual motion, or antigravity...but this experiment has been worthwhile for the kids and also for Homepath Products.  We’re pleased with results and they confirm our beliefs.

    The experiment we’re running with the help of the kids delivered some interesting information...and an opportunity to learn more with further study.

    For background on this project see the earlier posts, Part 1 and Part 2. The investigation answers an important customer question about how eXapath affects the energy conserving qualities of insulated walls.

    Specifically - ”If that thing (eXapath) is in my wall displacing some insulation, what affect does it have on energy conservation?”

    As described in the earlier posts, our test chamber sits outdoors and was designed to create a large temperature gradient between the warmth contained and the cooler outside air. Using a fully insulated cube (Demilec SEALECTION™ Agribalance sprayfoam insulation provided by USInsulation) with an incandescent light bulb as a heat source, we installed the eXapath™ in-wall cable pathway system within one wall and minimized air infiltration with commonly available firestopping caulk and putty. Doing so emulates a typical home installation (see photo), allowing us to determine the affect the eXapath system has on a fully insulated exterior wall.

    Once the chamber was built and checked to ensure that everything worked properly, we set it outside, allowed it to stabilize, and began to examine how the system reacted with direct exposure to the cold New England weather. Given that insulation serves only to slow down the process of heat transfer we knew that all surfaces would allow some level of heat energy to escape. We predicted that the various materials making up the walls would generate unique surface temperature profiles and the experiment sets out to demonstrate that. To determine the differences we devised a method for logging the surface temperature for three distinct locations on the walls for comparison to the outside air temperature:

    • Intersection of eXapath, insulation and outer sheathing
    • Intersection of insulation and sheathing
    • Intersection of 2 x 6” stud and sheathing

    For temperature readings we scanned (6:00 AM, 2:00 PM, 10:00 PM) the target areas daily on the outside surface of the chamber using a Ryobi Tek4 Professional Infrared (IR) Thermometer. The data was tabulated in a spreadsheet and compared to the internal and external air temperature as shown in the chart below.

    Through the first four weeks of testing (tests ongoing) the internal temperature fluctuated between 75.3 and 102.5 ℉. The blue line on the chart shows the internal temperature.

    During the same period the outside air temperature ranged from a low of 6.0 ℉ to a high of 53.9 ℉. The 100 Watt incandescent light bulb allowed us to drive a consistent level of energy into the test chamber and served to convert that electricity to heat. Consistent heat generation allowed the chamber itself to react to the external temperature...isolating insulation performance to the outside air temperature only. The large difference between the internal and external temperatures provided the strong temperature gradient necessary to force heat transfer to occur between the warm interior and the cool exterior.

    The Bottom Line

    As anticipated, all surface temperatures remained near to but slightly higher than the outside air temperature. It is hard to discern because the readings were all very close, but the lower line on the chart displays:
    • Outside air temperature
    • Surface temperature where eXapath, insulation, and sheathing intersect
    • Surface temperature where insulation and sheathing intersect
    • Surface temperature where 2 x 6” stud and sheathing intersect
    The bottom lines, literally, show that the section of wall where the insulation displacing eXapath system is installed performs as well as sections of wall completely filled with insulation. This confirms the hypothesis that installing the eXapath system in the exterior walls of a sprayfoam insulated structure is not detrimental to the energy conservation of the structure itself. Slight variation was shown by each material but temperature profiles of each construction material combination were very close...almost indistinguishable graphically.

    A Closer Look at the Data

    To assess the relative performance of the various building material combinations we sorted the data table by outside temperature in descending order. Doing so helped to reveal the performance trends more clearly. After that, we compared the variance between the external temperature and the various building material combinations...this step amplified the reported results revealing a bit more about how each material fared relative to the others under test. In essence, the outside temperature records become a reference line (zero) and the temperature difference for all other materials is plotted against the external temperature to highlight performance differences.

    The main finding with the second chart is that temperature variance, compared to external air temperature, falls largely above the blue reference line...slightly higher temperature than the outside air. This is what we expected to see given the large temperature gradient between inside and outside the chamber. In cases where the surface temperatures fell below the blue reference line there is a strong correlation to rising outside these instances we believe the temperature changes of the construction materials lagged behind the more rapidly rising outside air temperature.

    The interesting point, and the primary purpose for running this test, is that the eXapath system shows no real performance degradation despite displacing some of the insulation within the wall.

    Questions Remain

    It should be noted that IR thermometers offer an accuracy of ± 1.5% compared to the actual reading. In addition, the operating range for the thermometer itself ranges from 30 to 122℉. While making measurements, care was taken to keep the temperature of the IR thermometer within the operating range recommended by the manufacturer to maximize accuracy.

    The Experiment Continues

    To confirm the trends revealed in the experiment and support the findings of the IR thermometer we are extending the experiment to verify our findings.

    While having an energy audit performed at our site we asked Chris Rhodes of Right Angle Home Inspections, a Building Analyst certified by The Building Performance Institute (BPI) and certified Level 1 Thermographer, to use her FLIR B-360 Infrared Thermography Camera to evaluate the test chamber. Our hope was to create visual identification of thermal bridging occurring through the test wall of the chamber in order to show differences between building material combinations,

    The photo to the right is an infrared image of the test chamber that reveals "hot spots" or areas where heat energy is leaking out of the chamber. For clarity we've labeled the positions where the eXapath system is installed, where only insulation exists, and where a 2 x 6" stud intersects with the outer plywood sheathing. This image confirms our findings.

    The three small purple patches indicate the position of digital temperature sensors we've added for phase 2 of the experiment. In phase 2 we hope to generate more detailed information to gain a more precise understanding of the differences between each building material combination.
      So the experiment continues...after our "furnace" burned out the kids and I peeled caulk from around the cover seam and removed the heavy provided the curious sensation of opening a sarcophagus. We added a new 100 Watt light bulb, replaced and resealed the cover, and are ready for phase 2 readings.

      Please check back with us for more updates soon.

      Wednesday, February 3, 2010

      Part 2: Kids Don't Suffer Self Imposed Limits - We Can Learn From Them

      This is part 2 of a series addressing the great questions customers ask.

      As mentioned in an earlier post, we view this investigation as a unique way to bring science out of the classroom and into the real world. A way to engage the creative minds of our kids in a practical exercise that reinforces what they are learning in school while we answer a question that our customers have.

      Whoa! Did You Say Hollow?

      ”If that thing is in my wall displacing some insulation, what affect does it have on energy conservation?”

      The short answer is that the eXapath in-wall cable pathway system does not present a problem with energy conservation...but it’s a complex question that deserves thorough investigation and a complete response. Getting to that answer is, well, a science project in heat transfer, an adventure into the second law of thermodynamics.

      Our Investigation

      We assembled the gang, discussed the main question, and then probed more deeply, encouraging the kids to think of approaches to investigating the affect of the eXapath system on energy conservation.

      The kids learned about home design and construction. We discussed framing, sheathing and all the stuff hidden in walls. Namely - insulation, drywall, vapor barriers, siding, wiring, pipes, vents, etc. We then discussed various heating systems  and how insulation helps slow down the process of heat transfer from warm to cold...inside to outside during the cold winter months. To make it official I uttered “the second law of thermodynamics” one time only, noticed the kids eyes rolling, and reverted to energy conservation and the importance of efficiency in homes.

      Much of the discussion revolved around insulation and how it takes advantage of the thermal properties of air to slow down heat transfer. We showed the kids several types of insulation including fiberglass batting, cellulose, and a relatively new form called sprayfoam. For our project we selected sprayfoam for its unique ability, when applied, to find its way into all cracks and voids that might otherwise allow air infiltration. The foam cures in minutes while trapping air and offers high R value (resistance to heat transfer). For this experiment we needed to emulate insulation in a full scale home so we contacted local insulation experts for advice.

      Air that is moving or circulating is ineffective as insulation but “trapped”, “still”, or “dead” air offers good insulation. A key goal in construction and weatherization is to minimize air exchange or infiltration. With eXapath, the preferred installation includes firestopping caulk where the system penetrates the shoe or plate of a wall. In addition, the exposed eXapath pipe is blocked with a cap or pliable firestopping putty.  An unintended benefit of firestopping is the creation of a closed system containing still air...a good insulator.

      How Good is Good?

      To answer the question of how the eXapath system affects an insulated wall we needed a way to control some variables and isolate the effect of the eXapath system. We turned to the kids for their ideas and were enlightened by their grasp of the complex variables involved...they truly see no limits.

      The kids envisioned building an estate tricked-out with geothermal HVAC, solar photovoltaic electricity, wind power, abnormally thick walls to hold more insulation, a heated pool, horses, lots of horses...and a piranha infested moat.

      I did my best to explain that their ideas were terrific but slightly beyond the scope of our plan and budget. After negotiating a bit we settled for an insulated 5 foot cube with 2 x 6” walls, floor and cover. For a heat source we opted out of geothermal and chose a top-of-the-line 100 Watt incandescent light bulb powered by mundane but readily available AC electricity. The idea is to create a strong thermal gradient between the warm internal temperature and the cooler outside air. We anticipated that the “system” would constantly fight to reach equilibrium as outside temperatures fluctuated and that by checking the temperature along the wall precisely where the eXapath was installed we would learn more about the affect of eXapath on energy conservation. In addition, using traditional framing, we could collect additional data from a wall section backed by only insulation and where a 2 x 6” stud met the sheathing. Doing so should allow us to compare traditional construction methods with those using the modern eXapath system.

      Building the Chamber

      All walls, floor and cover are modular and built by Bogaert Construction using 2x6” framing materials with 1/2” CDX sheathing. Local experts from USInsulation filled the modular wall cavities with 5 1/2 inches of Demilec Sealection Agrilbalance®, a 3/4 pound semi-rigid sprayfoam.
      The six components (walls, floor, cover) were then assembled by the Homepath Products team, kids included.
      We added the light bulb and installed an internal temperature sensor. After giving the system a dry-run to test the heat source and internal temperature sensor we sealed all internal joints with Great Stuff™. To minimize convection we added HILTI CP-618 firestopping putty to plug the exposed pipe of the eXapath system and then sealed all external seams with silicone caulking.

      What We Expect to Find

      For data collection and to allow meaningful comparison we plan to use a number of temperature sensors. One is housed inside the chamber to keep tabs on the internal temp and to verify that the heat source is still functioning. We also plan to monitor the outside air temperature. Ideally, the skin of the chamber should equal that of the outside air temperature, indicating that the insulation is 100% effective in conserving energy. The second law of thermodynamics tells us that heat transfer can never be stopped, only slowed down.

      Therefore we expect readings from the skin of the chamber to be slightly higher than the outside air temperature. This will confirm that some heat is escaping through the materials within the walls. For external readings we plan to use an Infrared (IR) thermometer to monitor target markings for the wall section where eXapath, insulation only, and a 2 x 6” stud are located. The chamber itself is oriented so that the target wall faces north away from direct exposure to sunlight...this minimizes solar radiation as a variable in raising the skin temperature.

      After the initial shakedown we moved the chamber outside into the cold New England elements and allowed it to stabilize for forty-eight hours. Once stablized we began logging temperature readings.

      The testing is underway, please check part 3 of this series for interim results.