• Building With Awareness Blog

Photographs of The EV1 Electric Car

Side view of the General Motors EV1 electric car.

The EV1 electric car by General Motors was was produced from 1996 through 1999. It was the first modern production electric vehicle to hit the road and was availible through a lease program through the manufacturer. Despite its short life (the vehicles were ultimately all recalled by General Motors and destroyed), I believe the aesthetics of the EV1 surpass any electric car on the road today. The design hit a sweet spot of being visually distinctive without being too outlandish. The form made a visual statement that this car was different. It was nice to look at and a blast to drive. Driving the EV1 convinced me that electric cars were the future of transportation. It would be another decade before commercially available all-electric automobiles would be on the road again.  Following are photos that I shot of the EV1 in Los Angeles, California. — Ted Owens All photographs Copyright © 2016 by Ted Owens. All rights reserved. You may use these photographs on your website for non-commercial use as long as they are unaltered and you link back to www.BuildingWithAwareness.com    

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Solar Power For Your Home

Solar PV home

What do you need to know before converting your house to solar electrical power? Below are some of the questions that we will answer: • How much will the solar power system cost you up front? • Should you lease or own the equipment? • How big does the PV system need to be to supply all or most of your power? • How do you choose a solar company to install the system? • Should you use a large national company like SolarCity, or go with a small local installer? • How is designing a grid-intertie system different from designing an off-the-grid solar system? • What is the one big missing element that solar installers never tell you about—yet it can have a profound effect on the cost of your system? • If an electric car is in your future, how do you size the system for the additional electricity that will be needed to charge the car with free solar energy? Should you oversize the system now, or add more solar panels after you purchase the electric vehicle? • How easy is it to deal with your local electric utility company when going solar, and why are some utility companies trying to discourage you from using solar electricity? Adding solar panels that generate electricity to your existing home has never been as easy and as economical as it is today. In my straw bale house, which is featured on the Building With Awareness web site, the entire structure…

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Video Aerial View of a Small Straw Bale Home

straw bale solar-powered home as seen from a camera drone.

In November we photographed my small straw bale home from the air using a aerial drone with a video camera. This gives a unique view of the house from a perspective that is rarely seen. Note the relatively few number of solar panels on the roof. This 1.2 kilowatt pv system provides all of the electrical power for the structure. The metal roof is an ideal surface for collecting rain water for the buried cistern that supplies all of the non-potable water. The long side of the home is angled to face south for maximum solar gain. Building a small home costs less to build and less to maintain over the years. Running time: about one minute Aerial Drone Video of a Small Straw Bale Home from Ted Owens on Vimeo.

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Earth Plaster For Straw Bale and Adobe Homes

One of the most enjoyable natural materials to work with is earth plaster (which is also referred to as mud plaster and clay plaster). It is also known as mud plaster and clay plaster. The material is as simple as the name implies. Earth plaster is nothing more than sand and clay (with chopped straw, if desired) mixed together in the proper proportions to prevent cracking. When mixed and applied properly, this wall covering will be hard, durable, and beautiful. In many regions of the country, earth plaster can even be used on the exterior walls and may easily last for seven to ten years or more without any maintenance. One advantage of earth plaster in a natural hybrid home is that the color of the plaster itself can eliminate the need for any paint. This is good for the environment and can reduce construction costs. Earth plaster walls can be made in almost any color you desire. Even white walls are possible. For color tints, natural pigments can be added to the white plaster, and a range of colors can be created from yellow to red to green. In a natural hybrid home such as this, the wall finish is a major visual attribute to the overall look of the house. The earth plaster walls have a rich patina that is not possible with paint alone. The material is breathable, unlike many paints and stucco. This is ideal for straw bale construction in that moisture from within the walls…

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Installing Electrical Wiring In A Straw Bale House

The straw bales are now in place, and it is time to complete the rough-in of the electrical wiring for the home featured in Building With Awareness. In order to meet code requirements, an electrician is hired for this procedure. As I mentioned in a previous article, some of the wiring for the house had been placed within the adobe walls while the bricks were being laid. For the straw bale walls, a chainsaw is used to cut one-and-a-half-inch deep channels into the bales. The electrical wire is pushed into these notches and run to the electrical outlets and switches in each room. The wire can also be pushed into the seams between the bales. The end of a blunt wooden stake can be used to push the wire into the notches or the bale seams. The wire used here is called UF cable, which stands for Underground Feeder. This is a very durable and moisture-resistant wire that is designed to be buried underground. When a wire must pass from the inside to the outside of a bale wall, it is fastened with tape to a long needle or rod made from one- quarter-inch-diameter metal. It is pushed through the bale, the tape removed, and the needle pulled out, leaving only the wire in place. When wire is being run through ceilings and frame walls—not adobe or straw bale—Romex cable can be used. Romex cable is somewhat more flexible than UF cable, and is therefore easier to work with. The…

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How To Choose Window Locations For A Solar Home

window installation straw bale home

Now we are ready to install the windows. This in one step in the building process that is very satisfying from a visual standpoint. Once the windows are in place, the various rooms—and the house in general—begin to have the feeling of a finished space. The purpose of windows is to allow light and fresh air to enter the home, to allow proper ventilation, and to keep either very hot or very cold air—not to mention rain or snow—from getting inside the house in summer or winter. Windows give one a feeling of protection from the outside world while still permitting a connection to it. Small window panes—set into the larger window space by horizontal and vertical strips of wood called “muntins”—create a soft divide to the view outdoors. It is this solid/transparent window unit that helps to define the space of the room. This is why walls made entirely of glass can actually give one an uneasy feeling. There isn’t enough boundary or separation between the indoor space and the outdoor space, so the indoor/outdoor divide becomes ambiguous and vague. When choosing windows, one should think of how they will function in all weather conditions. Most of this equation can be worked out in the early design stages of the home, however it is worth reconsidering at this stage of construction. Can the windows be left open in the rain, both for ventilation and for allowing the sounds of the storm to be heard inside the room? Would an…

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Building Straw Bale Walls

Once the framing is complete, it is now time to stack the straw bales. For this home, an all-volunteer workshop was held for the placing of the bales. This served two purposes. Number one, it saved us time and money in that around 80% of the bales were placed over one weekend. In addition, those that volunteered their time received free instruction on how to work with straw bales. Everyone wins. I placed a few notices around town to announce the straw bale workshop. Around 25 enthusiastic individuals showed up. There is such an energy and feeling of community when people from your local community show up to help. The magnet is the straw bale walls as this materials captures the imagination. Unlike wood frame construction, people are drawn to the do-it-yourself concept of working with these giant blocks made from wheat stems. It is a waste material that is being given a second life as insulation and the solid matter of the wall. The thickness of the walls is appealing and the construction process is easy to understand within a couple of hours of hands-on work. The vertical seems of the bales are staggered just like bricks. Notches are cut wherever the bales must fit around one of the 4×4″ posts. This is accomplished with an electric chain saw. The chain saws are powered by the photovoltaic panels on the roof of the small workshop that was discussed in previous articles. When necessary, the bales can be split in…

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