Monday, February 5, 2007

I miss my Mini, but I've found a new love

I miss a lot of things about Germany, but one thing I miss almost more then the people, beer, food, atmosphere, beer, architecture, fests, beer and the beer is my Mini. And let's not forget the beer.

I'm not talking about the Frankenstein version that BMW put out, I'm talking about the original Mini that Mr. Bean drove. Except mine was a nice dark blue with the 2 white stripes on the hood.

Before I left Germany my job had me running between the communities of Heidelberg, Mannheim, Kaiserslautern and Darmstadt which meant I did a lot of driving. I was given the option of the company car and having my gas paid for, but instead I chose to drive my own car, and who could blame me.

That little car could scream up and down the autobahns at between 95-100 miles per hour (yes, miles, not kilometers) and this was with the standard engine, not the souped up one. Zipping in and out of the traffic and pretty much always finding parking was great, but taking the car on family day or overnight trips was even better.

My kids at the time were 4 and 6 so going for trips in the car was pretty comfortable space wise and they loved being able to see out the windows. What they loved even more was hitting a patch of bumpy road because then that car turned into a little roller coaster that was all their own. Slow down to a respectable speed, weave the car side to side a little and you get 2 screaming giggling kids asking if we could go back and do it again.

Coming back to the states was a bit rough because of the drastically reduced speed limits and using cruise control whenever available was pretty much mandatory for me. Now after a bit more then a year I have tamed down a bit. Not because of excessive speeding tickets (knock on wood) or anything, but mostly because of fear. We Americans as a rule do not drive together very well.

Here's a tip. If you are driving in the fast lane and you are not fast, get out of it. Pull over to the right. I couldn't (and still can't) believe how inconsiderate people are driving over here. Driving on the autobahns, people generally work together. And they better because those lights coming up in your rear view mirror likely aren't going to slow down just because you are in front of them.

I've seen studies that show per capita, there are more fatalities in the US then in Germany that are driving related, and this is with average speeds over there being much higher then here. That is because we have so many people swerving between 3 or 4 lanes trying to get around all you slow people.

So keep up or keep right.

Since coming back to the states and working from home, I don't drive near as much. We have our family car which my wife uses to get back and forth to work and we use for our distance driving, but I have now found our next car. It has even been approved by my wife who claimed to hate my Mini (even though she chose it over her larger car for our trips).

The car is a funny looking little triangular thing called a Zap car. With this little electric car you can go around 40 miles per hour and up to 25 miles per charge (they say 40 with opportunity charging) which is great for in town daily driving.

With my wife working, we spend about $30 every week or so for gas, and she could use this car for the daily commute dropping our fuel expense to next to nothing. We would still have our family car for extended drives or major shopping, however I know from personal experience driving my Mini, you can certainly do a bit of shopping with this size of car. It is actually even roomier then my Mini was.

We would save on fuel, wear and tear of our family car and help lower our impact on the environment. Combine this with using solar energy to charge it, and you have a very clean driving experience. Not only that, but these cars are pretty inexpensive so you could just about pay your car payments with the savings in gas. You can also save on insurance because it is 3 wheeled and classified as a motorcycle, but since it is 3 wheeled, you do not need a motorcycle license to drive it (at least here in Oregon).

Do you work from home or have a small business you are trying to advertise for? What could be better then slapping some signs on this little car to draw attention to what you have to offer? Heck, you could probably partner with a local business and have half your car paid for that way too.

So that wraps up yet another way average people like us can help the environment around us. We definitely can't wait for our government to do it through programs, laws and resolutions.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

When I win the Lottery I'm gonna....

Whenever that sort of conversation comes up, the one where someone asks "what would you do if you won?" of course I usually give the old standby. You know the one. Get a nice house, a new car, college for the kids and invest a chunk to live comfortably while traveling and giving to charities.

But whenever I envisioned the house late at night before falling asleep, it was always in a remote area, surrounded by trees, preferably in a cave or something where no one can bother me and I'd be relatively safe in event of some natural disaster. Of course it would need all the comforts too.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a hermit type or a survival nut (I mean that in the nicest of ways, so stop sharpening your bungee stick's and get back to setting your snares), I just like my privacy and would rather not have any neighbors in the area if at all possible.

Little did I know, these types of houses already exist and are being lived in by thousands of families in the US. What I found, along with some very interesting energy saving homes and ideas were some homes referred to as Berm Homes, or Earth Sheltered Homes.
They are basically homes that are either partially or almost completely covered in earth. Anywhere from one side, to all sides except the entrance and usually the roof(which is covered with 8" to 3 ft earth).

They range from looking like your average home with grass on the roof, to homes you can't even see unless you are right in front of them, which is the kind I lean towards.

The benefits of these types of homes are many, but include things such as 50-80% energy savings over an average home, low maintenance (little exterior issues due to earth coverage), long lasting (100+ years ) and very durable. Not to mention, they have great sound proofing from exterior noise and a bit more privacy due to their typical low profile.

One of the things I like best is that some of these houses, aside from being completely normal inside, have the added advantage to giving you your own mini park or wilderness, completely around your home.

For my own home, I see it being anywhere from 2,500-3,500 square ft, 3 bedroom, large open living room and kitchen, 2 1/2 bath, office and family room with connected garage and plenty of storage. Much like your normal house, except it is completely underground (with at least 6 ft earth on top) and the outside is only seen from one side.

It would also need to be built in such a way that trees and brush are still all around it with shrubbery and small trees growing on top. I also see it having its own water well and running on solar power primarily (obviously ). It will be almost completely unnoticeable from the outside, but have enough space and light inside as possible to make it comfortable, possibly using this type of Hybrid Solar Lighting.

What I find amazing, is that after all this time just sort of imagining it is that people are already doing it. So now I ask, if anyone ever takes the time to read this far into the things I write, is for you to let me know of your personal experiences with this type of home. What do you like about it? Anything you regret or wish you had done differently? And for those of you who may be considering it, what is the main draw for you?

I'd also be interested in finding an online community of sorts. A discussion forum, or more detailed locations on this type of lifestyle, so feel free to comment, or if you prefer, just tell me I'm nuts and go on your merry way.

EDIT: After I wrote this, I went back and found the site of Phil and Lisa Malone where I spent an hour or so late the other night looking through their gallery of construction pictures. Looking at it now, more or less awake, I see they also have a forum where I will be spending some time in the very near future.

I encourage you to take a look at what they have done. Although the house isn't as covered as I would like, it is a beautiful home that deserves to be seen.

Photography by Uffe Nielsen

Monday, January 29, 2007

Just an average guy slowly going green

My journey to becoming more environmentally aware and what I am doing, through baby steps, to lower my impact on our planet.

You won't find anything ground breaking or particularly thought provoking (at least not intentionally), but you will see what I am learning over time and how I plan to make a positive impact through my actions from here on out.

Whether the things I find or do are the best options or not will, I am sure, always be up for debate. What will be thoroughly clear though, is that the actions I take from here on out will be much better for our planet then anything I have done before.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask, just remember I am an average guy writing nonsense on the web so don't expect too much. Hopefully my ramblings will be of benefit to someone.
Photography by Wilf Ratzburg

Going Solar Now

Although I have never been what you'd call an environmentalist, I usually try to make sure I separate my trash, turn off the lights and not drive more then needed.

I have even gone so far as to read the occasional article on various renewable energy sources and if I'm flipping channels, have been known to stop on any show dealing with these technologies.

The thing that usually prevents me from doing more is generally cost. That and I do not own my own home and am too lazy in general to go out and make a difference through making others aware.

Recently though, that has changed for me. I was introduced to a company that is offering solar panels for home use, to the average home owner. They aren't doing anything like offering rock bottom prices, or giving you a buy one panel, get one free type of deal, but they are making it affordable to pretty much anyone who owns a home and is already paying an electric bill.

Not only that, but they offer you the chance to zero out your energy bill to them through their customer referral discount for telling your family and friends. That is what interested me.

My plan was to tell everyone I knew so that by the time I purchase my first home, not only will I be able to go solar, but other then the refundable deposit, it wouldn't cost me a dime. After all, the people I referred would be paying my bill. Pretty sweet deal I thought.

The problem is, I was unable to tell anyone about it other then in an offhand way. How could I refer people to a company I had never heard of before not knowing if they were a legit company, or some pie in the sky "rip off" just waiting to take my family and friends money and run.

What I did instead was spent the last few weeks reading whatever I could find. I also signed on as an associate or "EcoPreneur" with the company to try and get a bit of a behind the scenes view of what was going on. I have spent several hours on the daily training calls, asked questions there and in the company forums, and have had nothing but clear concise answers to everything I have asked.

The only thing they have not been forthcoming with is investor info, plant location and any specific press release information. They have assured me however that all of these things will be revealed very shortly, around the end of January, '07 (personally I expect it to be more like early to mid February, but hey, I can be a bit of a pessimist at times).

What this has done though, much to my surprise, is make me an advocate of them and their solar solution. I had no intentions of doing anything other then become a future customer, but from everything I have seen, and from talking with local people, I can't help but see the great potential this company has. I mean who wouldn't willingly switch to solar power if it not only didn't cost them more then their current power, but would actually save them $1,000's over the course of their contract.

All of that and the company will install, maintain and upgrade at no additional cost to you.

Here is an idea of what they do-

- On site visit to determine needs and compatibility
- Permits and local compliance issues taken care of
- Installation of solar panel unit
- Continuous monitoring of system
- Maintenance
- Upgrades
- Lock in current energy prices for up to 25 years
- Potential to zero out your bill through referrals

What do you need to do for this?

- Sign a contract for 1, 5, or 25 years to lock in your current energy prices
- Meet with installation contractor and come to agreement on plans
- Once in agreement pay refundable, interest earning $500 deposit*(no money until panels have been made)
- Wait for installation and sit back happy with the knowledge that not only will you be saving money, but more importantly, you will be a part of the solution to our coming energy crisis and potential global warming.

* The security deposit is $500 unless the REnU system is over 5 kWp.
Then it's $0.10 per Watt after that. In other words:

6 kWp = $600 deposit
7 kWp = $700 deposit
and so on.

You will also be looked upon with wonder and awe at how you could afford to have the luxury of solar while everyone else is stuck with their ever increasing utilities bill. Ok, so maybe not quite wonder and awe, especially as you will be telling them about it so you can reduce your own bill. But they will be thinking about how smart you are and thankful they can take advantage of it too.

The biggest concern I have seen so far is people want to know what happens if they choose to move. Well, they has thought of that too. Should you sign the 25 year contract (which the vast majority do because of the larger savings over time), you will have one move built in over time. This means you can take it with you.

Alternatively, you can leave it with your house as a way to increase the value to your buyer. If they agree to the idea (and who wouldn't want the automatic lower energy rates they would have by then?), the contract is transferred to them.

Worst case scenario, we come remove it and you lose your deposit. As long as everything is in good condition and you are current on your payments, it is as simple as that.

The next major concern is what about insurance?

Currently they have no coverage and it is up to the home owner to take care of it. However, they are working on this and hope to have an acceptable solution before the dates of install which are slated to begin in September '07 when the plant comes on line.

The last big concern is a combination of pricing and technology.

By pricing, it is wondered what will happen if the prices of your utility company drop, rather then rise? Or what if technology improves so as to make creating the energy far cheaper and more efficient?

Both of those things are also addressed by another benefit of renting versus buying your system. What I mean is, if you had chosen to buy your own system, you would still be buying it (or already have paid for it) if and when these changes happen. The difference with their solution is that if you want out of the contract, you will at most have lost out on your deposit and any added removal fees (should there be damage or payments due etc. )

You are then free to walk away and go to the new technology if that is what you prefer. However, they plan to remain a part of the solution, and as such will constantly be working towards improving their products and services. This means you should always be ahead of the game through their continuous maintenance and upgrades.

How can you take advantage of this? Just go to this website and read through it to see what we can do for you. Check out the solar calculator to see just how much you can save over the years, as well as how much of an impact going solar will have on the environment around you.

Are you interested in helping spread the word? Join the team
Photography by Attila Ivan

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Privacy Policy (or covering my butt)

Privacy Policy for

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