How to Retrofit a Home for an Earthquake

This Old House – Ask This Old House

Ask This Old House host Kevin O’Connor travels to Portland, Oregon to learn how to protect homes from earthquakes.

Steps:

  1. The work involved with a seismic retrofit often requires a consultation with an engineer, and any work involving gas must be done by a licensed professional. Consulting with a person who is licensed to do seismic retrofits can help identify key areas to work with in order to minimize damage.
  2. The house can be secured to the foundation by securing metal L brackets into the rim joist and the sill plate at locations determined by the engineer with a palm nailer and 10 penny nails.
  3. To connect the sill plate to the foundation, drill screw anchors into the anchor plates and the foundation, and wood screws through the anchor plates to the sill plate. Predrill the sill plate to prevent it from splitting.
  4. To prevent gas from leaking into the house during an earthquake, an automatic gas shut off valve can be installed by a licensed gas fitter.
  5. Shut off the gas to the meter.
  6. Disconnect the gas pipes starting from the meter until you reach a level gas pipe.
  7. Thread the gas shut off valve into the pipes using pipe dope and nipples.
  8. Reconnect the remaining gas pipes to the meter and turn the gas back on. Check for any leaks in the new gas work.
  9. Secure any valuables and nick knacks to the wall, shelves, and floor using museum putty and zip ties.
  10. Secure the water heater to the surrounding walls using straps.

Resources:
While the specialty hardware that was used to secure the house to the foundation can be found at most home centers, determining the proper location for that hardware may require a consultation with an engineer.

The seismic gas shutoff valve installed was a Northridge Valve, which is manufactured by Seismic Safety Products (http://www.seismic-safety.com/). Gas work is extremely dangerous and should always be left to licensed professionals.

The museum putty used to secure valuables to the shelves is manufactured by QuakeHOLD (http://www.quakehold.com/emergency-ma…).

Follow This Old House and Ask This Old House:
Facebook: http://bit.ly/ThisOldHouseFB
Twitter: http://bit.ly/ThisOldHouseTwitter
http://bit.ly/AskTOHTwitter
Pinterest: http://bit.ly/ThisOldHousePinterest
Instagram: http://bit.ly/ThisOldHouseIG
http://bit.ly/AskTOHIG
Tumblr: http://bit.ly/ThisOldHouseTumblr

For more on This Old House and Ask This Old House, visit us at: http://bit.ly/ThisOldHouseWebsite

Millennials Paid Record High Rents in 2018. Buy Instead! Says This Millionaire!

According to Housingwire.com in 2018 Mellinals were paying all time high rental rates. Here’s what David Bach has to say to them.

If you’re not prioritizing home ownership, you’re making a costly mistake, says co-founder of AE Wealth Management, bestselling author and self-made millionaire David Bach.

In fact, not buying a home is the single biggest mistake millennials are making, he tells CNBC Make It: “The most important advice I can tell you right now if you’re young is: Don’t listen to these people that tell you should rent versus buy.”

Even with the tax law changes, he notes, “buying a home is the escalator to wealth in America. Homeowners are worth forty times more than renters.”

You have to live somewhere for the rest of your life, Bach points out, so you might as well invest in a home that you could own permanently.

He crunches the numbers in his bestselling book, “The Automatic Millionaire”: “As a renter, you can easily spend half a million dollars or more on rent over the years ($1,500 a month for 30 years comes to $540,000), and in the end wind up just where you started — owning nothing.

“Or you can buy a house and spend the same amount paying down a mortgage, and in the end wind up owning your own home free and clear!”

“Let’s be honest: Renters make landlords rich,” Bach tells CNBC Make It. “I want you to make yourself rich, so start by saving money for a down payment now.”

He recommends having a down payment of at least 10 percent, though 20 percent is ideal. The easiest way to reach that amount is to have money automatically taken out of your paycheck or checking account on a regular basis and moved directly into a savings account earmarked specifically for your first home.

Buying that first home probably means you’re not buying your dream home, Bach says, but the way you reach that goal eventually is by prioritizing homeownership now.

“The way you build financial security is through real estate, and it starts by buying your first home,” he tells CNBC Make It.

(credit: cnbc.com)

Contact Us Today to learn about Affordable Financing Options. Many Financing Options are Available.

info@CompeteRealEstate.com | @CompeteRealEstate

Moving to Santa Monica, CA

Getting to Know Santa Moinca, California USA

Comfortable, Walk-able, Family Friendly, Great Schools, Surf, Beach, Shopping, New Light Rail line makes commuting to work on the east side easy and relaxing.  Great community parks and entertainment and family friendly activities.  If you are looking for a home in the Santa Monica area, give us a call we know the area well and we can help.

Santa Monica is in fact home to one of most iconic beaches in California. But did you know that Santa Monica is also home to eight different neighborhoods all with their own personality? Below we give you a rundown of every neighborhood, how the neighborhoods differ, and what you can expect from visiting each. (* see end for details)
Santa Monica, California offers more than its beach and year-round warm weather. Its proximity to the greater Los Angeles area makes Santa Monica the perfect base for vacationers and business travelers alike.

Stretching over 3.5 miles of pacific coastline and is a walkable 8.3 square miles (21.5 km²). A laid-back beach town atmosphere with big city sophistication. Eight neighborhoods offering a diverse mix of shopping, dining, entertainment, outdoor recreation easily accessible public transportation and rentals making it easy to go car free.

For travelers aiming to discover the rest of Los Angeles and the greater Southern California region, Santa Monica serves as a convenient hub for broader exploration. Being only eight miles (13 km) north of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and only 13 miles (21 km) from the heart of Downtown Los Angeles.  Easy access to neighboring areas and attractions and close to other popular Southern California cities such as Beverly Hills and Hollywood, Mar Vista, Marina Del Rey, Culver City.

NEIGHBORHOOD DESCRIPTIONS
Downtown Santa Monica (DOWNTOWN / THIRD STREET PROMENADE)
Downtown Santa Monica is one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in Santa Monica, largely because it’s home to the Third Street Promenade and Santa Monica Place, two of the largest shopping areas in Santa Monica. The weekend finds the Third Street Promenade bustling with foot traffic of both locals and travelers. However, while Downtown Santa Monica is home to the highest concentration of shops, restaurants, and hotels in town, it also gives off a local vibe with its twice-weekly farmers market on Wednesday and Saturday mornings and lively street performers.

Main Street Santa Monica (MAIN STREET)
Santa Monica’s Main Street bears the laid back artsy side of Santa Monica, a side of the city that has been characterized by a local, surf vibe for years. Consider the many art galleries and attractions such as the Edgemar Center for the Arts and Mindfulnest, which is one-part art gallery, one-part shop. Main Street is also home to one of the highest concentrations of coffee shops in Santa Monica. A variety of different boutique shops are scattered along Main Street and a weekly farmers market takes place every Sunday.

Mid-City Santa Monica (MID-CITY)
The furthest inland neighborhood in Santa Monica is known as Mid-City. This is the arts and entertainment hub of Santa Monica, and is home to a number of the largest entertainment companies. Mid-City also is where you’ll find one of the largest contemporary art collections in Los Angeles, Bergamot, which was formerly a railroad station but now houses a plethora of different art galleries. Some of Santa Monica’s best restaurants are in Mid-City, including Mélisse, which had won two Michelin stars.

Montana Avenue Santa Monica (MONTANA AVENUE)
While the Third Street Promenade is the most vibrant shopping area of Santa Monica, Montana Avenue emits a more high end and local shopping atmosphere along its tree-lined streets. Though this is a largely residential section of Santa Monica, there are more than 150 boutique shops and restaurants lining the 10-block destination. There aren’t hotels on Montana Avenue, but the neighborhood is convenient to Downtown Santa Monica and is within walking distance of most hotels there or by bike or the Big Blue Bus, which runs between the Green Line Metro’s Aviation Station and downtown Santa Monica, with a number of different stops.

Ocean Park Santa Monica (OCEAN PARK BOULEVARD / SANTA MONICA AIRPORT AREA)
Running southeast from the Santa Monica Pier is Ocean Park. That local, artsy aesthetic of Main Street extends here, comprising independent coffee shops, boutique stores, and art galleries. Located just east of Ocean Park is the Santa Monica Airport. Not only is this a working airport for private jet owners, but it also is the location of the Museum of Flying, which features numerous aircraft and artifacts, including a Wright Flyer replica and World War II planes, and adjacent to the Spitfire Grill.

Pico Boulevard Santa Monica (PICO BOULEVARD)
Running parallel to I-10 is perhaps the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in Santa Monica: Pico. The people here can vary, from college students strolling in and around Santa Monica College to locals popping in and out of the clothing boutique shops, record stores, and art galleries. Saturday mornings on Pico feature a smaller, more local farmers market than the Downtown Santa Monica Farmers Market; the Pico iteration usually comprises no more than 30-40 local farmers.

Santa Monica Pier Area/Ocean Avenue (SANTA MONICA PIER AREA / OCEAN AVENUE)
The palm tree-lined avenue and views overlooking the Pacific Ocean make the Santa Monica Pier area and Ocean Avenue one of the most iconic locations in Santa Monica. Unique hotels, such as The Georgian and The Shore, dot Ocean Avenue while open-air restaurants and bars, such as Blue Plate Oysterette and The Bungalow, line the avenue. Just down from Ocean Avenue is perhaps Santa Monica’s most famous attraction, the Santa Monica Pier. This attraction dates back to 1909, and features a solar-paneled Ferris wheel, amusement park, aquarium, and live concerts and movies during the summer months.

Wilshire Boulevard (WILSHIRE BOULEVARD)
Beginning at Ocean Avenue and running all the way through Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and into downtown Los Angeles, Wilshire Boulevard is one of the most well-known streets in town. It borders the Third Street Promenade on its southwestern edge, borders the hugely popular Douglas Park, known for playing fields, lawn bowling, reflecting pools, and natural landscaping. Eateries catering to every palate line the avenue, with a concentration of Mexican restaurants serving both new and old favorites. Numerous designer consignment shops dot the avenue as well, catering to fashionistas on a budget. The strip ends at the scenic Palisades Park, known for its inspiring sunset vistas.
– – – – – – – – – –
Looking for a home in Santa Monica California, Give us a call, DM or message.  Follow Us on Social Media @CompeteRealEstate
Video Credit: HD Bros

5 Smart Ways to Prepare Your House for Fall in California

 

California homes don’t need quite as much winter prep as homes in the colder parts of the country. However, there is a lot you can do to make your home run more smoothly in the months to come. There are even some safety matters you should address in the fall. Use this checklist to make sure you’re ready.

  1. Landscaping Clean-Up

Every element of your landscaping needs a little bit of work in the fall. If you plan on adding fertilizer to the garden, now is the best time to do it. Toss your leaves (if you have trees that drop them) and any dead plants in the compost to make more for next year.

Plus, cleaning up those leaves, dead branches, and other stray plants bits can reduce your risk during late season wildfires. You’ll also appreciate that a quick plant clean up will keep your property looking tidy through the winter.

  1. Conquer Clogs

Don’t forget to clean up any leaves or other debris in the gutters, so that you won’t suffer any clogs for the rainy days ahead. One other thing can get clogged too—the pool. After a long summer, it probably needs a filter clean or filter change. Also, it may need pH re-balancing and likely some pool shock to keep it clean of algae and bacteria.

  1. Roof and Window Inspection

While you’re up there with the gutters take a peek at your roof. Are any shingles curled or missing? Is the flashing secure? It’s always better to catch a potential issue before water has the chance to find its way inside your home.

On your way down from the roof, take a look at the windows. While the weather is still nice, it’s smart to clean the exterior glass.

Before cooler weather arrives, you’ll also want to ensure the caulking around the windows hasn’t dried out and left some gaps. The better your windows are sealed, the better they can keep the conditioned air in the house. The same goes for your doorways.

  1. Safety Check-Up

Fall is a good time of year to tackle the safety tasks we too often put off. Check the batteries in your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detector. Check the pressure of your fire extinguisher. If you’ve used any bandages or other supplies in your first aid kit over the last year, now is the time to replace them. If you keep some canned goods or bottled water in case of winter emergencies, be sure you’re stocked up.

  1. Furnace & Airway Inspection

A Californian’s furnace has an easier life than a Californian’s air conditioner—that’s for sure! However, we still rely on our furnaces to be in good working order come winter. At Irish Heating and Air, we get plenty of emergency calls for broken furnaces on the coldest day of the year, but we don’t want you to have to make that call!

Check that your furnace is working well before the colder weather begins. If you find it’s weak, you could have a problem, or you may need a furnace clean. You can also get more efficient performance from your furnace if you get your ducts cleaned.

Credit: Irish Heating & Cooling

High-Tech Homes Go Off-Grid With Solar and Hydrogen Power

One of the buildings in the Phi Suea House complex in Chiang Mai, Thailand, which is powered by solar panels and a hydrogen fuel cell system. All images provided by Phi Suea House.

All-day energy from the sun may sound like a green fantasy, but a team of builders and engineers in Thailand believe they may have built a home energy system that does just that. The Phi Suea House, the brainchild of CNX Construction, led by telecommunications entrepreneur Sebastian-Justus Schmidt, wants to showcase a new power system, and prove that hydrogen and solar technology is feasible for residential construction projects. The housing project seeks to be a proving ground for a new off-grid power system that utilizes solar panels and hydrogen power.

Located in Chiang Mai, Thailand, the Phi Suea House project consists of four solar-powered residences, as well as a series of support buildings set on a 28,000 square meter (301,390 square foot) site. The main home and guest homes, topped with solar panels and green roofs for cooling and additional energy savings, generate power during the day, while also powering a hydrogen electrolyzer in a separate energy building on site, which splits hydrogen from water and stores the gas in a fuel cell. During the evening, or periods when the solar panels aren’t generating electricity, the fuel cell then powers the compound. According to Jan-Justus Schmidt, an engineer working on the project, the electrolyzer achieves 80 percent efficiency, and oxygen and water are the only byproducts.

Jan-Justus Schmidt on the roof of one of the buildings.

While hydrogen power has plenty of skeptics due to cost, efficiency and safety issues, Schmidt says that the fuel cell system CNX has built is safe, and actually runs more efficiently than a similar setup utilizing only batteries. The concept was inspired by remote sites used in the communications industry that utilized a similar power system. The CNX team felt this system could be adapted to the residential context, and become a model, especially for homes located in remote areas.

Schmidt says that others have built homes with similar systems, but the Phi Suea home is using a system that’s more affordable and efficient.

“All the technologies used here are existing technologies,” says Schmidt. “There’s a 15-year return on these technologies, but the savings aren’t the point. We’re trying to show that these technologies, which exist right now, work.”

The electrolyzer and hydrogen fuel cell system of the Phi Suea House.

While the buildings were completed last year, the grand opening for the site, scheduled for January 29, will be the official beginning of the testing period for the new energy system. Over the next few months, sensors installed by researchers at Nanyang Technical University in Singapore will record data on energy performance, to verify if the Phi Suea Homes are living up to their promise.

A video that explains the energy storage system of Phi Suea House.

Credit: Patrick Sisson , Curbed.com

California Proposes Mandatory Solar Panels on New Homes

Fortunately, that’s not the only change in their building regulations.

The California Energy Commission has just changed the building standards to require solar photovoltaic systems on all houses built after January 1, 2020. Here I would cue up my usual response and say “reducing demand is more important than increasing supply” but they do that too; Insulation in walls and attics is increased, window performance is improved, LED lighting is mandated and ventilation is improved. Commissioner Andrew McAllister says:

The buildings that Californians buy and live in will operate very efficiently while generating their own clean energy. They will cost less to operate, have healthy indoor air and provide a platform for ‘smart’ technologies that will propel the state even further down the road to a low emissions future.

There are the usual objections that it will increase the cost of housing (estimated to be $9,500 per house) but California houses go up by that much every month due to land prices, President Trump’s tariff on Canadian lumber caused a 7 percent increase, and you probably heard the same thing when indoor plumbing became mandatory. At least energy savings from building efficiency and solar panels pay for themselves eventually. In the FAQ they write: “Based on a 30-year mortgage, the Energy Commission estimates that the standards will add about $40 per month for the average home, but save consumers $80 per month on heating, cooling and lighting bills.

Lloyd Alter, Treehugger.com

Modern Low-Water Garden: 5 Drought-Tolerant Landscaping Ideas

OK, so California isn’t the only state going through a water shortage. At least 30 states in the U.S. currently have some level of drought, ranging from “abnormally dry” conditions in Florida and Massachusetts to the “exceptional drought” currently happening in California and Nevada. (How’s your state faring? You can check using the NOAA’s U.S. Drought Monitor.)

If you live in more one of more than half of the states on the list, water conservation is probably a high priority for you, but honestly, conserving water doesn’t mean you have to live with a dry and neglected garden. And it’s not the only reason to swap your water-loving lawn for a more drought-tolerant landscape. Today’s low-water gardens aren’t just smart and in vogue; they’re downright gorgeous.

These 5 drought-tolerant landscaping ideas look so fresh and modern that they’re an inspiration — even if water conservation isn’t your first goal.

1. Replace your grass with artificial grass.

Grass is the largest water waster in the yard and it’s the most high maintenance item. On top of the watering there’s the mowing, mulching, aerating, fertilizing and re-seeding or re-sodding. Artificial grass doesn’t have to look like a neon green professional football field, either. There are a lot of realistic artificial grass options with varying amounts of multi-colored hatch.

2. Replace your grass with gravel and stone.

Artificial grass looks more like the real deal than ever before, but a gravel, stone and paver garden gives the garden a contemporary, minimalist look. It’s still low maintenance (and requires zero water) and is a great counterpoint to succulents and a fire pit.

3. Use succulents in your garden design ideas.

We can’t get enough of them and the way combining many different types in the same garden adds amazing texture and color.We’re particularly obsessed with aloe, burro’s tails, and hens and chicks.

4. Plant ornamental grasses.

Many types of grasses that aren’t your average green blanket lawn grasses are drought-tolerant and perfect for a low-water garden. Some of the most beautiful and low water ornamental grasses worth adding are:

  • Little Bluestem (grey-green blades that go to shades of purples and red)
  • Fountain Grass
  • Blue Oatgrass
  • Purple Fountaingrass
  • Blue Fescue
  • Pampas Grass

When planting grasses, mix it up: Use both tall and short grasses along with a few of the more colorful grasses thrown in for pop.

5. Add Color with flowers, go with perennials.

It’s possible to create a colorful drought-tolerant landscape simply by selecting the right assortment of succulents and colorful grasses. But if you love seeing flowers in your landscape, go for perennials that are sturdier and require less water:

  • Blanket flower (red, yellow and orange daisy-like flowers)
  • Russian Sage (fragrant, delicate silver leaves with fine lavender-color flowers)
  • Yarrow (normally yellow flowers, but there are other color varieties available)
  • Salvia (bold crimson-red blooms)
  • Lavender (fragrant and colorful)
  • Kangaroo Paw (exotic plant with beautiful, bright red, orange or yellow velvety flowers)

How lucky for us that drought-tolerant landscaping can be modern and inspiring? Which will you be trying in your backyard or landscape design? 

Credit: By Cynthia Bowman, FreshHome.com

Solar-Hydrogen House: No More Power Bills–Ever!

A New Jersey resident generates and stores all the power he needs with solar panels and hydrogen

EAST AMWELL, N.J.—Mike Strizki has not paid an electric, oil or gas bill—nor has he spent a nickel to fill up his Mercury Sable—in nearly two years. Instead, the 51-year-old civil engineer makes all the fuel he needs using a system he built in the capacious garage of his home, which employs photovoltaic (PV) panels to turn sunlight into electricity that is harnessed in turn to extract hydrogen from tap water.

“The ability to make your own fuel is priceless,” says the man known as “Mr. Gadget” to his friends. He boasts a collection of hydrogen-powered and electric vehicles, including a hydrogen-run lawn mower and car (the Sable, which he redesigned and named the “Genesis”) as well as an electric racing boat, and even an electric motorcycle. “All the technology is off-the-shelf. All I’m doing is putting them together.”

“I’m a self-sufficiency guy,” he adds. Strizki, a civil engineer, has been interested in alternative energy sources since 1997 when he began working on vehicles fueled by alternative means during his tenure with the New Jersey Department of Transportation.

Strizki’s two-story colonial on an 11-acre (4.5 hectare) plot 12 miles (19 kilometers) north of Trenton is the nation’s first private hydrogen-powered house, which he now shares with his wife, two dogs and a cat. (His two daughters and son, all in their 20s, have left the nest.) It has been running entirely on electricity generated from the sun and stored hydrogen since October 2006, when Strizki—in a project that his wife Ann fully supports—built an off-grid energy system with $100,000 of his own cash and $400,000 in grants from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, along with technology from companies such as Sharp, Swagelok and Proton Energy Systems.

The Strizki’s personalized home-energy system consists of 56 solar panels on his garage roof, and housed inside is a small electrolyzer (a device, about the size of a washing machine, that uses electricity to break down water into its component hydrogen and oxygen). There are 100 batteries for nighttime power needs along the garage’s inside wall; just outside are ten propane tanks (leftovers from the 1970s that are capable of storing 19,000 cubic feet, or 538 cubic meters, of hydrogen) as well as a Plug Power fuel cell stack (an electrochemical device that mixes hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity and water) and a hydrogen refueling kit for the car.

On a typical summer day, the solar panels drink in and convert sunlight to about 90 kilowatt-hours of electricity, according to Strizki. He consumes about 10 kilowatt-hours daily to run the family’s appliances, including a 50-inch plasma television, along with his three computers and stereo equipment, among other modern conveniences.

The remaining 80 kilowatt-hours recharge the batteries—which provide electricity for the house at night—and power the electrolyzer, which splits the molecules of purified tap water into hydrogen and oxygen. The oxygen is vented and the hydrogen goes into the tanks where it is stored for use in the cold, dark winter months. From November to March or so Strizki runs the stored hydrogen through the fuel cell stacks outside his garage or in his car to power his entire house—and the only waste product is water, which can be pumped right back into the system.

“I can make fuel out of sunlight and water—and I don’t even use the water,” he notes. “If it’s raining, it’s fuel. If it’s sunny, it’s fuel. It’s all fuel.”

The modular home—built in 1991—looks like a typical suburban house; its top-of-the-line insulation and energy-efficient windows look no different, and the facade hides the hydrogen-powered clothes dryer and geothermal system for heating and cooling, which pumps Freon gas underground to harvest heat in winter and cool in summer.

“Geothermal is another piece of free energy,” Strizki says, noting that he dug eight feet (2.4 meters) down into the granite under his home to take advantage of the constant 56-degree Fahrenheit (13-degree Celsius) temperature underground. In summer he can use the lower temperatures underground to cool his entire house, and in winter he can capture those warmer temperatures, supplementing them with a heat pump powered by electricity from hydrogen. “Nothing goes to waste.”

This year, Strizki is hardly running his $78,000 Hogen electrolyzer (manufactured by Proton Energy Systems in Connecticut, a company that makes hydrogen-generation equipment) because last year’s mild winter left him with full tanks. When he does turn it on, the excess hydrogen vents from a small pipe on the roof with the sound of an impolite burp.

That vented hydrogen speeds at 45 miles (72 kilometers) per hour through the atmosphere on its way off the planet—one of only two gases, the other being helium, that escapes into space entirely because it is lighter than air. In fact, Strizki’s quarter-inch thick propane tanks weigh less when filled with hydrogen than when depleted.

Of course, hydrogen is a highly flammable gas, but its quick escape eases Strizki’s fears that it might ignite or explode. It “disperses faster than any other gas,” he notes. “Hydrogen won’t sit around waiting for a flame.”

The final piece of Strizki’s energy solution is dubbed “Genesis,” his $3-million aluminum Mercury Sable, one of 10 that carmaker Ford produced in the 1990s to test how well the lighter metal would fare in crash tests. Ford gave Strizki the special model to drive in the Tour de Sol solar car race in New Jersey in 2000. Strizki installed a 104-horsepower electric engine (compared with a Toyota Prius’s 44-horsepower motor) that can reach speeds of 140 miles (225 kilometers) per hour. Pop the hood and next to the electric engine sit two fuel cell stacks that convert hydrogen and oxygen into water and electricity, propelling the electric engine forward smoothly and quickly.

The car never competed because it was not ready in time, but the unique vehicle does hold the world record for farthest travel on a single charge: 401.5 miles (646.2 kilometers), a distance which Strizki drove in December 2001. Today, Genesis shares the road with a variety of less costly fuel cell cars: Honda’s new hydrogen-powered FCX Clarity, which hit the market this week leasing for $600 a month, as well as the hydrogen-powered Chevrolet Equinox test-vehicle fleet from General Motors—part of a pilot program that aims to determine how hydrogen cars might function in everyday life. Both the Japanese and U.S. automakers are betting that these nonpolluting cars will one day replace the internal combustion engine.

GM is committed to building a “mass volume” of its hydrogen fuel cell powered Equinoxes in coming years, according to Larry Burns, GM’s vice president of research and development, but only if a way to refuel them exists. As it stands, the entire nation has just 122 hydrogen stations—compared with 170,000 gasoline and diesel stations.

This is part of the reason that not everyone is a fan of hydrogen. Former U.S. Department of Energy official Joseph Romm, a physicist, notes that it’s a waste of time and electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen instead of just using the electricity directly in an all-electric, plug-in hybrid car. The debate boils down to whether batteries or hydrogen are a better way to store and deliver electrical energy.

But Strizki argues that hydrogen offers benefits that batteries do not. For example, GE Global Research found that hydrogen might prove a better way to store electricity generated by renewable resources in remote areas—such as wind farms in North Dakota or solar arrays in New Mexico—than building expensive and costly electric transmission lines. Instead, the hydrogen generated in such locations could be pumped nationwide through existing natural gas pipelines, providing fuel for a fleet of hydrogen-powered vehicles.

Regardless of whether those future vehicles are powered by hydrogen or rechargeable batteries, both would move using an electric motor that does not require polluting (and newly expensive) fossil fuels. And they would come with another important extra benefit: the batteries or hydrogen fuel cells that run the car could also serve as a backup energy source for the home. “I can plug this car into my home and run it,” Strizki notes.

Strizki is now working to bring the price down enough to make homes powered by the sun and hydrogen affordable for average consumers. He says that he can build a solar-hydrogen system for as little as $90,000, thanks to dipping costs for solar panels and lessons learned in building his home. Even at that price, however, the off-grid system would be expensive compared with annual electric bills in New Jersey that average $1,500, although that number has been increasing every year, including a jump of as much as 17 percent this year.

But add gasoline costs to that—which average more than $3,000 annually, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration—and the price becomes more reasonable, particularly because the EIA figures were calculated back when gasoline was $2 per gallon rather than the present $4. “It didn’t make sense when gas was $1 but now at $4? A lot of things that didn’t make sense, now make a lot of sense,” Strizki says.

He is already overseeing construction of the second such home-energy system—estimated to cost $150,000—for a wealthy client in the Caribbean.

The backyard tinkerer is also working with several potential clients to construct off-grid homes in New Jersey, New York State and even Colorado, and has quit his most recent job as an installer of solar energy systems to concentrate full-time on the company he co-founded to promote the homes: Renewable Energy International. The key to bringing the price down will be newer, better generations of the component technology, particularly the electrolyzer. Fuel cell manufacturers such as ReliOn in Spokane, Wash., are already taking a page from the computer industry—employing removable individual fuel cells, known as “blades,” similar to the computer blades in data centers, that can be changed individually if problems occur.

Ultimately, this suburban home may become the first of a coming hydrogen-electric economy—one that eliminates or sharply reduces the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change—or merely another technological dead end, like Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome or dymaxion car.

“The only way to get a zero-carbon footprint is to grab the big power plant in the sky,” Strizki says. “Maybe [the solar-hydrogen house] is too expensive, maybe not as efficient as they like, but no one is saying it doesn’t work.”

Credit: David Biello , Scientific America

Prefabricated Homes Go Back to the Future

This Richmond extension takes on the best elements of modular building. Picture: Tom Ross / Archiblox

There’s been a bit of buzz about prefab housing lately, but what’s all the fuss about really?

In last week’s episode of Future Homes we met Richard, who built a gorgeous prefabricated Avalon home overlooking the beach with his wife Jackie three years ago.

We’ve heard that modern pre-fab building is making waves in the building industry, but what are the real differences between a prefab build and a ‘normal’ build? And why should you consider going prefab for your next big project?

Fast build times

A modern living space could be yours in a fraction of the time. Picture: Tom Ross / Archiblox

Although prefabricated homes seem futuristic, they have been built in Australia for hundreds of years.

Indeed some of our oldest standing buildings are prefab! One of Melbourne’s oldest still-standing homes, that of Governor Charles La Trobe, was prefabricated in England and brought to where it still stands in King’s Domain in 1839.

But, as you’d expect, the building materials have improved significantly – enabling average build-times to shrink to a fraction of what they are for other builds.

As the name suggests, prefabricated houses are largely constructed off-site. The pieces are then put together in a matter of weeks instead of many months, as is the case with traditional builds.

Bill McCorkell, founder of Archiblox, who built the home for Richard, says “through smart design and clever construction the prefabrication process minimises wastage and maximises efficiency to deliver a beautifully designed, cost-effective home.”

Archiblox quote a 12 week build-time for a standard three-bedroom home (depending on complexity), saving unnecessary delays that can accompany a traditional architect-designed build.

They’re moveable & re-arrangeable

Richard’s Avalon home was built quickly and smartly. Picture: Archiblox

Prefab homes throughout history have enabled people to move to an area, set up their home, and then move on – if necessary.

It’s one of Richard’s favourite elements of his home: “I’m incredibly transient, so the thought of being able to take my home with me if we find another spot we’d like to be, is a comforting thought and an economical choice.”

So if you spot your dream plot of land, it could be as easy as picking up and moving your prefab home instead of worrying about finding a brand new place.

The benefit to this is not just that you can move locations, but you can re-arrange the home later on, if necessary.

Bill says: “Our prefabricated modular homes are like jigsaw puzzles, you can start small and overtime add more modules to create more space.”

They cost less

Due to the nature of the factory build, costs can be brought down significantly.

There’s no need to worry about budget blow-outs that bad weather can bring or unexpected issues and errors that come with working on a building site.

Christine McCorkell from Archiblox says prices for standard modular homes start from $2,500 – $3,500 per square metre.

Well-considered spaces with tonnes of hidden benefits. Picture: Tom Ross / Archiblox

The cost benefit is also seen at the end of the project with far fewer nasty surprises at the end of a modular build than that of a traditional build.

Less time building also means less time paying for short-term accommodation too.

Christine says: “The big reduction, lies in the soft or holding costs, such as rent and financing. For instance, homeowners only need to find alternative accommodation for a significantly shorter, pre-defined period – several weeks instead of months.

“This means far less outlay – upwards of $30,000 to $50,000 – to say nothing of the decreased disruption. If you need to borrow money, it is also for a much shorter period.”

They’re more sustainable

Thanks again to the factory-build environment there’s less wastage with pre-fab building.

The modern design helps too, according to Bill, who regularly create homes with eight-star energy ratings. “Our smart sustainable designs create prefabricated modular homes for longevity and healthy living,” he explains.

“We have much better resources to pick out building supplies for our design,” Bill says. “From the start, we designed this particular structure to maximise materials and minimise waste.”

“Archiblox designs homes and buildings to sit in harmony with your site.”

Consideration is also applied to optimising thermal mass, solar passive designs, double-glazing all windows and installing light-coloured roofing materials.

Credit: Erinna Giblin