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December 21, 2006

How Many Earths Do We Need?

Gypsy Rose


How much Earth is there to go around? What if all citizens of the planet were able to realize the "American Dream" and live like we do in North America?

I discovered a terrific organization yesterday that does a great job of explaining the concept of an ecological footprint. The organization is called the Global Footprint Network. Here's how they describe it. "Ecological Footprint measures how much land and water area a human population requires to produce the resources it consumes and to absorb its wastes under prevailing technology."

In looking at the graph below (from the Global Footprint Network web site), we can see that our worldwide ecological footprint at the time I was four years old (1961) equalled about half of the world's capacity. Since that time, our world footprint has grown dramatically. Today, we are at the point where our footprint now exceeds the Earth's capacity by 25%! Not a good thing.

Demand v Capacity

When you take a look at the ecological footprint by region (below), you'll see that a typical resident of the United States has a shoe size that is twice as big as the second largest per captia consumer of earth resources, the European Union. That takes us back to the original question. Is the American Dream a desireable or reasonable possibility for the rest of the world? Simply put, no, it is not. The biocapacity of the planet is currently 1.75 hectares per person. If the entire world population were to consume natural resources at the level that we do here in the United States, we would need nearly five and a half planet Earth's to sustain ourselves! (I would encourage you to visit the Global Footprint Network web site to learn more.)

Footprint by region

December 19, 2006

Curbing the Appetite for Power

Exterior trim painted

Progress on Gypsy Rose has slowed over the past couple of weeks due to a combination of holiday events, weather, and work requirements. This past weekend I put a coat of paint on the trim boards and am now ready to nail up the cedar clapboard siding. I also was able to finish the soffet detail and get some insulation tucked into the eaves to keep the roof warm at the edges.

While things are slow for a moment, I've been giving thought to how a small house fits into a planet that is increasingly hungry for power. A week or so ago, I was reading an article in the New York Times about the economic costs of global warming. One of the graphics in the article caught my eye (below).

Energy Use By Country

While the graph clearly shows the United States as a leader in energy consumption and the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases, it shows only absolute numbers. The illustration fails to normalize the data so that we get a true picture of how much energy we are consuming in relation to, say population, or perhaps GDP.

If we'd like to see how much energy we consume as a function of population, for instance, we could take the U.S. consumption, at about 92 quadrillion BTU's (92,000,000,000,000,000) per year and divide it by our population of 300 million (300,000,000). Our per capita energy consumption per year is 300 million BTU's. By comparision, the average European is responsible for about 66 million BTU's of energy consumption. As the graph below illustrates, we are responsible for energy consumption at a rate of almost five times as much per person as the Europeans, and more than six and a half times as much as China. And, to what end, I might ask?

Energy Use Per Capita


December 16, 2006

Tucked in for Winter

Raven on the hard

 So far, December has felt more like October. Yesterday, while driving down Bay Road and looking out toward my mooring on Shelburne Bay, I felt like I should be out sailing. Typically at this time of year the Laplatte River that flows into the bay is frozen, along with the shallows just to the south of the mooring field. As I headed to the Shelburne Shipyard to put Raven's winter cover on, the temperature was 51 degrees.

My delay in getting Raven covered was due the tarp size I needed being out of stock. In a typical year, I may have been met with a pile of snow on the decks if I'd waited this long to put on the tarps, but Raven was basking in an unusually warm December sun when I arrived. After putting the forward tarp in place, I looked over the tops of the buildings to the west. The sky was filled with dark, wet clouds moving my way. I quickly got the second tarp rolled out on the frame before the rains hit. I finished tying it all down in the pouring rain. (Imagine standing under the eave of a house during a downpour with water sheeting off the eaves while working to tie knots.)

Raven on the hard

Raven looks rather like a zepplin, don't you think?

Here my floating home will sit throughout the winter months. In three and a half months, she'll be lowered back into the waters of Lake Champlain.

December 10, 2006

Exterior Trim

Gable trim

 The exterior trim for Gypsy Rose presented another material choice dilemma. Many builders are now using plastics. I suppose there's something to be said for trim boards that use recycled PVC, but I just couldn't bring myself to put up plastic. For me, wood is the only option. The choices there include pine or cedar. Pine tends to split/twist/rot, so I settled on cedar, but I had to search hard to find a good quality primed, finger-jointed cedar trim. My search led me to a terrific supplier of high-end exterior trim and siding. Woodbury Supply, in Woodbury, Connecticut. As soon as I drove into their facility, I knew I'd discovered something good. Well-managed, nicely organized, with helpful staff - a breath of fresh air. I had been looking for Boston Cedar Millworks trim products, and there they were. I picked up all my trim boards, as well as the 6" cedar clapboard that will cover Gypsy Rose's walls.

Rake trim

 Today (December 10th) the temperatures rose into the upper 40's and I was able to finish the gable overhangs and soffets.

Mini pork chop

 Soffet returns come in a variety of shapes and styles. A common detail is what is known as a "pork chop". It's the small triangular piece that forms the lower inner corner of the rake wall trim (on the end of a gable roof). On a full-sized home with long overhanging eaves, the pork chop triangle might be a half a foot or more. At the Gypsy rose scale, the pork chop measures less than two inches. Very sweet.

December 04, 2006

Fenders for Your Home

Fender well

It was spitting snow this morning when Marion left for work. I'm hoping to have Gyspy Rose sealed up by the time the first real storm hits. To do that, I had to spend much of the morning sourcing the rigid foam insulation that I'll be using for the peaked ceiling and the cedar clapboard that'll cover her sides. Once that was done, I began closing up the remaining big holes in the Gypsy's shell - the fender wells.

Now, how many homes do you know of with fenders? Fortunately, I was able to work the fender wells into the design of the interior. On one side, the fender well frame will act as part of the platform for a daybed/couch. On the other side, dining nook seats will be built on top of the fender.

Fender well frames

Here's the fender frame that'll help support the daybed/couch in the living room. Just use your imagination. Soon enough, it'll be soft and comfy.

December 02, 2006

A Window on the World

Caulking window

To install a window, you begin with a big hole in the wall. The window "package" is fastened into the hole and the gaps are sealed. The challenge is this. Most of the problems with window installations come from water infiltration if the window is improperly sealed.

Never having installed a window before, I decided to read up on the topic. I found a wide variety of "installation guidelines" and a bewildering array of products to do the job. It was driving me nuts. I ended up creating my own blend of "best practices" from what I'd read.

Marion and I picked up the windows today, along with the flashing materials, sealants, and gap-filling low-expansion foam. Then, we spent a glorious afternoon installing the JELD-WEN double-hung windows - our way.

Wave thru window

When all was said and done, Gypsy Rose was one more step toward looking like (and becoming) a home.

Windows installed

After darkness fell, we retired to the lving room of Marion's home to watch Al Gore's film, "An Inconvenient Truth". The well-presented evidence on global warming gave further confirmation to the value of living small and reducing our individual contributions. Did you know that a typical home causes more greenhouse gas emissions than a typical car?