Tumescent Architecture

When you point to a glass cylinder and say proudly, hey my office designed that, I giggle and say it looks like a bong. You turn your head in disgust and shame. You think, obviously she does not understand. What does she know? She is just a writer. She is no architect. She respects vowels, not glass cocks. And then you say now I am designing a lifestyle center, and I ask what is that, and you say it is a place that offers goods and services and retail opportunities and I say you mean like a mall and you say no. It is a lifestyle center. I say it sounds like a mall. I am from the Valley, bitch. I know malls.

Architects, I will not lie, you confuse me. You work sixty, eighty hours a week and yet you are always poor. Why aren’t you buying me a drink? Where is your bounty of riches? Maybe you spent it on merlot. Maybe you spent it on hookers and blow. I cannot be sure. It is a mystery. I will leave that to the scientists to figure out.

Annie Choi – Dear Architects, I am sick of your shit Sept. 3, 2010

I have a few thoughts on this article. One of them is that architects are special people. They are devoted to the constructed environment to unhealthy levels. They obsess over the most minute details that you can imagine (If they don’t, they really aren’t architects) As for the why we never sleep thing, it is a product of automation and the notion that building things can be done without thinking about those things. This is a story I know well as I outline on my page, An Architecture Story.

I once proposed a satirical look at architecture that I thought I might write. I was thinking I would title it Tumescent Architecture. The only feedback that I got on the proposal was from one of the architects that I’m pretty sure liked glass cocks cluttering the landscape. He thought it was a stupid idea. Way, way too obvious. In hindsight, I am quite happy to read that glass cocks are more widely recognized than I thought. This fact saves me the time it would take to write about this problem for myself. Thank you.

Expanded blog comment.

An Architecture Story

One of the things I always wanted to do from the time I was a small child was write an autobiography. I’m not sure why this was, maybe it was my fascination with reading and my exposure to the autobiographies of Winston Churchill & Bertrand Russell at a young age, but it was something I always wanted to do myself and never managed to do.

Writing an autobiography in longhand was never even a consideration. Dysgraphia saw to that long before I even knew I had it. Writing in a computer interface is magnatudes easier for me, something I utilized to increase my production on the job in earlier years. But being able to work more at architectural design was the other reason that writing an autobiography never materialized until recently.

I was many things before I was afflicted with Meniere’s.  A father.  A husband.  One of a number of siblings; the oldest after our brother was killed in a motorcycle crash at the age of 21. Four of us grew up together, with a fifth who was raised almost as an only child because of the complexities of modern marriage.

I was also an architect for a brief time.

It’s what I knew I wanted to do from when I was a child. I would explore construction sites every time I stumbled across them (still do if I have someone with me to watch my back) built structures with wooden blocks to test them, then carefully disassemble the failed structures to see what caused the failure. Dreamed of being an archaeologist long before the name Indiana Jones was a thing.  All things constructed by humans fascinated me. I would disassemble broken electronics just so I could see what secrets were inside them.  I wanted to know how everything worked.

It was a drafting class I took in high school as a senior that gave me an avenue into my chosen profession. It had never occurred to me that everything man built had to be documented first. This is true even today, especially today, with the ease of design using computer assisted drafting. Even simple projects benefit from time spent designing in advance of construction or fabrication. Every piece of furniture purchased at IKEA has a set of documents to illustrate it’s assemblage; and every page of those documents has to be created by somebody.  The illustrations have to be crafted by somebody with an eye for what perspective will best show how the assembly occurs.

Motorola MOS13

I was one of those people.  I took great pride in my documents. While my name isn’t on any assembly documents for furniture, I did do a stint in a cabinet shop. I worked for a civil engineer for a brief period.  I learned how to pace out yards with reasonable accuracy while carrying a large load of sensitive equipment. But my love was for buildings first and foremost, so the majority of the work I took on was for home designers, builders and architects.  I had a hand in the renovation of the main building for Zilker Gardens here in Austin (my favorite project) I worked on several school buildings. I designed several parking garages. I researched and documented every door in the Motorola MOS 13 building project.  Fifty-four(ish) details in all, just for the doors, including a faraday cage isolation room and an explosion-proof door for hazardous storage.

It takes a college degree to become an architect these days.  If you want to be a structural engineer it takes a degree and 10 years of apprenticeship.  I couldn’t afford college without work, so I took classes for drafting from a local trade school, and eventually ended up moving my family to Austin to be near a university with an architecture program.

When the Wife got pregnant, I gave up the idea of college and taught myself enough architecture to pass the exam, then worked for architecture firms long enough to qualify to take the exam. This was the apprenticeship approach to earning a professional license, a common practice in years gone by.  For centuries apprenticeship was the only way to earn the right to call yourself an engineer or an architect, and  Texas was one of the last states to allow this form of professional training.

I just made it in under the wire, having to retake the only portion of the exam I failed after the new rules went into effect.  Funny thing was, I figured out that I had failed that portion of the exam while reviewing my work walking to the car after the exam ended.  It took 6 months for the state to inform me of this fact, and by the time I went back in to retake the exam the next year it was given on computers instead of requiring applicants to draw everything by hand.

That was how fast computer assisted drawing (CAD) took over the architecture field. I was being told “we’ll never have computers drawing for us” by architects in the field one year, and knowing not one but three different CAD programs within the next 3 to 5 years, and the test to become an architect only offered on the computer shortly after that.

Architecture is a high-pressure field. Lots of time stress. Computers being introduced to the design process increased the time pressure by an order of magnitude, at least.  I always worked long days (10 hours at the shortest) but with CAD the effort to produce drawings became something that could not be easily substantiated until the end of the process and all of the drawings were printed for approval.

Before CAD every drawing was physical and took up space in a drawer somewhere. Every floor plan comprised of multiple sheets of Mylar or vellum, vacuum compressed and reproduced before being sent on for printing.  Drawing production was an expensive process that you didn’t embark on before getting the design of the building pretty thoroughly mapped out.  You wanted as few changes as possible to show up after you started the production documents phase of process.

After CAD, the design phase began to merge with the production phase.  With CAD, construction-like documents could be produced (given setup time to produce templates) in a matter of minutes, not months. You want to increase the size of the building?  No problem. Redesign the entire exterior while the building is under construction? Can do (did do) design began to be something that was almost an afterthought, not a deliberative phase that could take longer than construction itself.

There was an insiders joke about scope-creep that was almost meaningless by the time I left the business; scope-creep being the tendency to keep piling new things into a project, without ever admitting that you are increasing the work performed by the design professional and the construction firm.  With CAD, scope-creep becomes almost impossible to document, since no record of a change exists beyond the date-stamp on the drawing files or taking the time to compare documents line by line to catch changes. With thousands of pages to look over in larger document sets, this is a process that almost never catches all the changes.

WYSIWYG in the flesh

A consequence of this increased workload is that the days for production staff, people like me, got longer.  I went from working 50 hours a week to routinely working in the neighborhood of 80 hours a week.  Sometimes much more in one week (114 I think is my record) if that week contained a deadline near the end of it. Pulling an all-nighter became a thing outside of college, as some of my college educated co-workers noted.  The stress becomes more intense, as the pressure to produce mounts.

That’s when the symptoms started. The loss of hearing came first, long before the other symptoms. Every Spring and every Fall since 1987, I’d suffer migraines and feel pressure in my ears that I couldn’t get rid of. In the late 90’s I started getting feelings of dizziness and disorientation to go with the ear pressure. The tinnitus started to be an everyday thing, not just a Spring/Fall thing.  In 2001 the vertigo and the resultant days of brain fogginess started to be a regular occurance.  I was so blindsided by this betrayal by my own body that I probably even started hallucinating external causes for my problems. The menieres was so bad at my last job that there was not a single week where I wasn’t out for at least a day with vertigo. Sometimes two or three days.  I was able to be commended for producing an entire project’s documents in a single day and get fired for being sick too much all within the same eight month period.  That was the functional end of my architectural working life.

Because my internal balance mechanisms were misfiring so often my body re-circuited my brain, bypassing those faulty balance indicators. There is no other way to describe what has happened to me. I trained myself consciously and subconsciously to ignore certain sensory inputs. I no longer suffer from motion sickness while traveling in a car; when, before, I could not read or even close my eyes in a vehicle without getting queasy. Now I don’t even notice I’m moving if I’m not looking out the window to see it.

I lost a key portion of my architectural talent in that process. I lost my ability to map space internally. This was a skill I developed from coping with dysgraphia, an ability to retain and synthesize data without having to write it down first. Most people cannot do this but I could and I demonstrated it repeatedly. This skill was how I managed to design things entirely in my head and on the computer. I could picture all of a construction project in my head just by studying design sketches and assembling the pieces that would go into creating each and every detail of the project. I could even tell you exactly what tool in which CAD package that you would need to use to achieve the drawing you wanted to create.

Gone now. All gone now. I can’t find my way across town without a map these days, much less be able to effortlessly visualize a construction project. I doubt that the talent I need to create construction drawings will ever come back. I’m starting to accept this, although I don’t know what I will do now that I’m not a CAD guru any longer.

Being out of work, my daily routine since 2005, has been a mixed bag of experiences. I’ve been able to watch my son grow up, something I missed when my daughter was a child.  I was almost never at home when she was awake and spent most of my time with her rocking her back to sleep in the middle of the night.  The major reduction in stress levels means I can go an entire month without a vertigo attack, which is a huge blessing from where I’m sitting.  Treating the remaining symptoms is more about establishing healthy behavioral patterns than it is about anything else.  Eating, sleeping and exercising all in their appropriate quantities.

Having time to fill and not much ability to do more than type on a keyboard has afforded me a chance to at least approximate one of the other lifelong goals of mine.  You are reading a portion of it. I hope it was enjoyable.

Twin Towers Alliance Video

Busy day for causes today. Here’s one I haven’t heard from in awhile, but I’m still 100% behind the effort. A video tribute to the World Trade Center as it was.

Tribute to the Twin Towers

Including plans to rebuild them as they should be. The Restoration Alternative Shows the latest conceptual models of what a rebuilding project on the site might look like.

The surest way to show that we will not be terrorized by terrorists, is to put back what they took from us, to the fullest extent possible.

What about the Losers?

Originally titled Austin, the Portland wannabe, this entry has morphed into an In Related News type column (with a tip of the hat to Dan Carlin) because Common Sense 113, What about the Losers asks the same questions that were being asked by Jeff Ward when he interviewed Austin Mayor Will Winn on Our Little Show a few months ago.

At the time, I was screaming at the radio “It’s because Austin desperately wants to be Portland!” but I think the answer will take more explaining than that. Probably quite a bit more.

First, let’s deal with Dan’s assertion that we live in a capitalist system. This is important because Dan’s point is quite valid; in a capitalist system the growth of the markets should be robust enough that even the least ambitious, least able to compete amongst us can be provided for charitably from the fat left on the table. The problem is, we don’t live in that system.

Ask any economist and they’ll hem and haw and finally explain that we live in a managed market system, a hybrid market managed from the top down with central controls placed there by government to ostensibly protect the investors/users/general population from the dangers of an uncontrolled market.

What those dangers are is anyones guess, because hindsight has shown that the failures of the stock market can generally be traced back to interference in the market by the Federal government, or by it’s monetary arm, the Federal Reserve (before the Federal Reserve the fluctuations in markets were probably an offshoot of the legalized theft that is Fractional Reserve Banking. I’m leaving that discussion for another time because this thing is almost a book already) Most of the other markets haven’t so much failed, as they were never allowed to fully bloom before being stifled by state and local controls placed on whatever resource or talent the market formed around.

But the controls do serve the purpose of keeping the markets in check (whether the controls are professional licensing, health inspection, zoning and planning, or just the good old Securities and Exchange Commission) Keeping the markets in check being indistinguishable from slowing growth.

So we don’t really live in a capitalist system, and it’s been getting less and less so for more than a hundred years now. We do still live in what is largely a meritocracy (which is better than the alternatives) but it’s a far cry from the kind of capitalism that most laissez-faire capitalists dream about, and the profit margins are getting leaner all the time.

If there’s limited profit (what it means to be lean) then there’s limited fat to provide for those marginal types on the fringe of society. And no amount of exhortation to buckle down and provide for them from outside is ever going to result in their getting more of what they need. Like a parent telling a child to be good and share, if there’s only one toy, the toy’s owner gets to play with it.

Globalization (Dan’s second point) was occurring whether we drafted and joined GATT, NAFTA, CAFTA, et al, or not. I would actually offer up the observation that the agreements appear to have been drafted to favor the staid multi-national corporations after the wilderness had been tracked by more nimble entrepreneurs.

[much like the stock tech bubble was burst just in time for established corporations to wade in and take over newly created tech industries. But it would be very black helicopter of me to say that, wouldn’t it?]

So blaming the state of affairs on these agreements suits me just fine. I just wouldn’t waste time kicking the scapegoat of Globalization (whatever that means) for the fact that you can’t make $30 bucks an hour doing tech support for (insert giant corporation’s name here) anymore. As Dan rightly points out “they have smart people in India too” and they’ll work for much less. Any corporation bent on reducing costs is going to outsource work in those sorts of circumstances, globalization incentives in place or not.

It’s not globalization’s fault, because that’s only part of the big picture. There’s also the consistent devaluation of the dollar (generally referred to as inflation) by spend-happy congressmen bent on buying their way into re-election at the top end of the government chain (not to mention crusading Presidents with Foreign Dragons to Slay) These actions reduce the purchasing power of the dollars you have left after your job was outsourced to India.

On the other end of the government chain, you have cities (like Austin) that have activist governments bent on achieving various goals, either for the enrichment of the powerful within the city, or to satisfy the security/comfort demands of the citizens, or both. In Austin, the government has used zoning, licensing, and control of the water/wastewater and road system, as well as what’s known as an Extra Territorial Jurisdiction (ETJ) to limit growth and prevent what city planners refer to with distaste as sprawl. The predictable results have been growth outside of city controlled areas (leading to congestion and a mad dash to toll all roads that lead into Austin) and a steep climb in real estate values within city boundaries.

I say predictable, because this is the same formula that Portland and other cities modeled after Portland have used to limit growth and encourage compact city centers. The problems with this model have been documented in CATO studies, which I have perused often enough that I end up in a screaming match with my radio when the Mayor is interviewed.

Traffic congestion, homelessness and poverty. All of these are attributable side effects of limiting road construction, driving up the cost of housing, and diverting public funds to programs (such as light rail and subsidized housing) that do not produce the benefits promised. When you couple that with multi-national corporations outsourcing employment to countries where three generations of a family live under the same (small) roof; and the devaluation of the wages that remain, you have the recipe for the near unavoidable disaster which looms on the horizon.

Hello, interesting times. The ancient Chinese guy I was just talking to mentioned you.

So, what about the losers? What’s the solution? A lot less government, and a lot less government interference. It’s what will occur whether we head that way voluntarily or not. We might as well plan for it.

On the local end it’s going to mean relaxing building restrictions at the city level and perhaps relying upon the licensed professionals to do their job without the city looking over their shoulder (an architect can dream, can’t he?) it means privatizing road ownership (road construction, contrary to popular belief, is already mostly private) so that real maintenance costs can be established and funded. Privatized mass transit systems (London’s seems to work just fine)

On the Federal end, who knows? Can Washington be reasoned with? Considering the battle in California over medical Marijuana (a clear states rights issue if I’ve ever seen one) I’d have to say it looks like no. Can the out of control bureaucracy be brought to heal? That remains to be seen, but also doubtful.

[I’d be interested to see what would happen if the states insisted on payment of federal debts in Constitutional money; precious metal coinage. I think the Fed would have a hard time winning that battle in court]

So the real question is “will the Federal government survive the collapse of the dollar?” (which appears to be underway right now. It’s been slow so far, let’s see how long that lasts. And yes, I’m being serious. When have you ever seen the USD trade at parity with CAD? I’ve never seen it, till now) I don’t think it can be avoided. If, by some machination of events beyond the average persons comprehension collapse is avoided, and the federal government continues, there’s no telling what it will look like. Better to not worry about events beyond our control.

As for the plight of the losers, I’ve been rolling this idea around in my head for years now. Since we don’t use real money anyway these days, and since the banks can create money out of thin air when they need it, why can’t we do the same thing for that portion of society that would do without necessities if they aren’t extended the equivalent of credit.

There would need to be a standardization or nationalization of accounts, so that each person would have one account (and only one account) into which his electronic funds are transferred when he works, and from which funds are drawn when purchases are made. But rather than having a lower point at which no more funds are available, as in today’s bank accounts, the loser hits the point where the cash card becomes a charity card. Businesses would be given direct tax write offs for extending charity, and charity would be limited to strictly defined necessities (such as utilities, food, etc.) If you want a large screen TV, sorry you’ll have to do without. If you became productive again, then after a set period of time your charity card would once again convert to a cash card, and you could purchase whatever you wanted with it.

Not a libertarian solution, but a solution all the same.

I can see several of my AnCap acquaintances bristling from all the way over here. So, why should I care if the losers do without necessities? If I don’t want to give them charity, I don’t have to. And that’s true, as far as it goes. This post is already too long, but I thought I’d touch on the issue of haves and have-nots (or winners and losers) because it’s the have-not / have quotient (and the correlative societal highs and lows of money and status) that defines whether a society can continue to function peacefully or not.

Too high a number and the have-nots are emboldened to take what they want from the haves; and not all of us are or want to be Joe Horn. Too low a number, and human nature takes over correcting the trend turning haves into have-nots through natural laziness.

So obviously, it’s in the haves best interest to act in advance of the outset of violence, by not allowing the number to get too high; and the easiest way to do this is to keep the low end of the have-nots from falling too low. Put whatever conditions you want on the charity that makes you happy (after all, this is an exercise in “what if?”) Sterilization of the lowest portions of society so as to prevent a blossoming of their ranks through reproduction, in the event that they go on charity status. Repayment of charity before cash status is returned. Whatever.

Just remember that the more draconian the penalties, the less effective the charity will be at mediating violence. Which is the point of offering it in the first place, if human decency isn’t enough of an appeal to move you.

The Best Laid Plans: Transportation

Another CATO daily podcast episode featuring Randal O’Toole; I think I may have to buy his book. Sort of a follow-up to Zoning’s Best Laid Plans this one discusses the shell game of mass transit vs highway funding. Very informative.

The Best Laid Plans: Transportation

There’s also Debunking Portland: The City That Doesn’t Work for those Austinites curious to know what your city planning department wants to subject you to.

Free Talk Live: IP and Disney

Listening to the Wednesday edition of Free Talk Live on my Treo 650 today; listening to Ian pound Mark over the head for his support for Intellectual Property rights. (third day in a row, I might add…)

Generally, I agree with Mark on this issue. As an architect, I know that the thought that goes into design is a valuable commodity that needs to be protected. Otherwise the less scrupulous out there will simply wait for someone else to do the hard work of invention so that they can then profit from it at the inventor’s expense. Contrary to Ian’s assertions, I’ve not seen any evidence that people will do the months and years of work required to bring something to market unless they have reasonable confidence that they will make a profit from it. If anybody can copy a design and be free to sell it the day after it hits the market (or as in the case of the Chinese clothing ‘pirates’, even before it hits the market) then the chances for profit are greatly reduced. I don’t know of any business that stays in business without making a profit.

On the other hand, I don’t really believe that corporations (like Disney) should be allowed to hold rights to intellectual property. Those rights should be limited to real people, not legal entities that will continue to expect a profit long past the lifespan of the original author. Disney is a prime example of this, since their lobbying was instrumental in getting the latest extension to copyright terms passed.

There is a phrase that applies to the subject of Disney characters and the school mural that was the subject of rather heated discussion on Wednesday’s show. That phrase is “work of art”. A work of art is generally exempt from claims of copyright infringement. That doesn’t stop the corporations with lawyers and money at their disposal threatening people with legal action if their demands aren’t met. The truth is that the school blinked when Disney decided to play hard ball. If push had come to shove, Disney would probably have dropped the case.

Copyright terms expiring was the real reason for Disney going after public displays of their copyrighted works. Like Coke being synonymous with cola and Kleenex with facial tissue, Disney was fighting the battle of keeping their property from passing into the public domain; and they won that battle by passing new legislation. If corporations were excluded from owning these types of property, the entire battle could have been avoided.

[On the question from a listener concerning the objectivist opinion on the subject; as an objectivist myself, I think I can vouch for the fact that objectivists in general understand the need to protect the “mind’s contribution” to the creative effort]

Oh, and Ian, your disbelief in intellectual property doesn’t equate to the non-existence of intellectual property. But your willingness to steal other peoples ideas speaks volumes to the subject of why the MPAA and the RIAA are willing to go to such lengths to protect their investments.

For what it’s worth, this is one of those arguments that illustrates the very narrow difference between a communist (in the government-less nature of the word ‘commune’) and the little ‘a’ anarchists and the extreme edge of the Libertarian party. They would also tell you that ideas ‘should be free’, but I’m not willing to live in their version of utopia either.

Mcmansions follow-up

I posted on the furor over Mcmansions several months back, and neglected to mention that I was on the wrong side of the issue (surprise!) once again. Yep, the all-knowing city council has handed down the decision that no houses greater than 2000 square feet in size will be approved for construction in central city neighborhoods.

So, all you developers and new property owners can just forget about your property rights. You don’t have any.

AISD: Spending Real Money

This is True #624 Mentioned a newspaper article in the local rag, the Austin American Statesman, concerning Kealing Middle School getting a $9 million facelift. The facelift includes new student lockers, even though the current student lockers have been sitting empty for 10 years. The principal of the school banned their use due to ‘contraband’ and other excuses. The new lockers will cost $60,000, and they will also sit unused.

Citizen appeals to re-allocate the money had fallen on deaf ears. Which doesn’t surprise me, having dealt with AISD and their construction staff several times in the past. Logic isn’t something that they seem to have an abundance of over there.

As an example, my last job…

…The architect I was working for came up in rotation for a couple of schools that were going to be renovated. As I had experience with AISD renovation projects before, I was asked to lead these projects as well. My employer stressed to me that I needed to take the initiative here, that I needed to make sure and handle everything that needed to be done, because “that’s how you keep the AISD project manager happy, making sure that he doesn’t have anything to do”.

Which I found quite interesting, at the time. I happen to know that architects who work for AISD make well above market average for the experience that they require, having applied for some openings at AISD in the past (openings for which, I’m quite certain, my politics excluded me from consideration for) so the concept of doing all the work for a better compensated (twice as much as I was making) government employee, just so he would be happy, didn’t sit well with me.

After all, the whole basis of public schools comes from the concept of Kantian-Fichtian selfless service; i.e. school district employees should be doing their jobs for the good of the community, and not be expecting any compensation in return, much less compensation at a higher rate than their privately employed peers. However, reality works in line with the Objectivist-Capitalist rewards system, and nobody is easier to fleece than a willing, tax-paying public; therefore public servants generally do get paid better than any other group.

So I go out with my employer to visit the sites and discuss project scope with the AISD representatives. As I’m walking through the schools with this Gucci & silk shirt wearing reprobate, I notice the extremely dilapidated condition of several of the portable buildings that the children will be housed in. A good portion of the schools in Texas have entire little shanty towns of these buildings parked behind the brick and glass permanent facilities that front the streets; putting their best face forward, literally. They hide these buildings from view like the eyesores that they are, and I doubt that most parents realise that their children are even in them. As a professional who is tasked with public safety as a part of licensing, I can’t get away from the fact that children are housed in them day in and day out.

So I mention the state of the portables to this Gucci & silk shirt wearing reprobate, this public servant that is nothing of the kind, and suggest that perhaps the renovation money should be used to build additional buildings, rather than be used to do cosmetic upgrades to the existing brick and mortar structures (which housed less than half the children at the schools in question) and the landscaping that is also visible from the fronting street.

His reply? Can’t do that, it would take real money to build new buildings. His exact words; real money. Now, I have to admit that it would have taken more than the million or so dollars that they had set aside for these little cosmetic upgrades that they were doing. However, you spend a million here and a million there, and pretty soon all the real money is spent on things that aren’t important to the big picture. That big picture being the education of Texas’ children.

Needless to say, I didn’t get the pleasure of working on those projects. Actually, I was fired not too long after that walk through. Coincidence? Most likely. All I know is, I’d rather be an unemployed architect than a knee-crawling toady for a public servant that doesn’t know the meaning of the term.

Generating Power

Every time I hear someone lamenting “But what will we replace the oil with if we don’t buy it from the Middle East?” I run across some other way that we can generate power without relying on imported oil.

Methods like this one http://www.oceanpowertechnologies.com A proprietary system that converts wave energy into electricity. Or maybe you just want fuel for the car? Check out Biodiesel. Want to heat your house? Vegetable oil can be used for that as well (Stumbled across this process just recently. Garbage into Oil. Another obvious process) Then there is always the sexy solar panels and wind turbines.

As an architect, I’ve always been fond of the earthshelter home, myself. Position your home correctly, with just the right amount of soil built up around it, and you have a home that stays cool in the summer and warm in winter, with little or no need for air conditioning. Combine that with rainwater harvesting and a decent photovoltaic system, and you’ve got a potentially self sufficient home.

As I stare at the electric bill that my standard builder home gifts me with each month during the typical Texas summer, I can’t think of a more beautiful dream than to not have to write that check anymore…