Rich Living via Aesthetic Experience

February 22nd, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer

Fortunate indeed are those people of acute sensitivity who are able to find continuous aesthetic satisfaction in the everyday experiences of life.
Harold H. Titus

One of the books I am reading these days is called “Living Issues in Philosophy”, written by Harold Titus. He wrote the phrase above in the chapter on Art and Aesthetics, followed by this quote from Hunter Mead:

It is through daily, even hourly use of this perceptual awareness and aesthetic sensitivity that life is genuinely and permanently enriched. And since for most of us, frequent contact with great painting, good music, and beautiful scenery is impossible, the solution clearly lies in securing as much aesthetic experience as possible from ordinary daily living. Admittedly, these everyday experiences will seldom have the breath-catching intensity or thrilling scope of great art and magnificent scenery, but since the press of practical affairs does not often spare us the time for sustained enjoyment of powerful aesthetic emotions, the minor character of these incidental perceptual experiences has its advantages. Their frequency and ubiquitous accessibility will compensate for what they may lack in scope and intensity, and many persons of acute sensitivity find the larger part of their abundant aesthetic satisfaction in the common pattern of everyday living.

We strive to help make everyday life more beautiful through architecture. As this quote suggests, it is not primarily through the greatest or magnificent works of art, but through those we encounter each day that we enrichen our lives.

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Is there Hemp in your House?

February 17th, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer

No, this isn’t a drug inquisition.

I mean, is your house built with hemp.

I have heard of using hemp for many things, from a drug to food to clothes, but not as a construction material.

Rolf Priesnitz reports that houses built from hemp have been found to use less energy, create less waste and take less fuel to heat than conventionally constructed homes. He lists building-related uses including: concrete additive, pressed structural panels, paint, foundation walls, plaster, acoustic absorption, insulation, and more! There are apparently thousands of uses for hemp, and it has a long history of usage in the construction industry.

Why, then, is it so uncommon? Well, it’s illegal to grow industrial hemp in the US.

Nonetheless, perhaps the quick and pesticide-free growth of industrial hemp will make it a viable building product soon!

:: Natural Life Magazine:: Social Design Notes

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Wake up to BioDiesel

February 15th, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer


This morning, I woke up to Biodiesel.

After the glow plugs warmed, I turned the key on my first tank of biodiesel. It was exciting. The engine purred to life without the traditional gray cloud belching from the tail-pipe, and my trip to work was smooth.

Did the engine sound different? How was the acceleration? Will my mileage increase or decrease? These questions whirred through my mind, but were drowned out by a great feeling; my fuel choice finally fits my values of sustainability and emissions reduction. I never thought I’d be excited about fuel, but there it is! So, we’re committing our diesel fleet to biodiesel. We’ve been tracking our mileage for the past 6 months or so and will report on how biodiesel works out for us as we continue its use.

Where can you get biodiesel? It can be hard to find. We joined the Northfield Biodiesel Buyers’ Club which offers a 50% mix of diesel and biodiesel in the cold months and 100% biodiesel in the warmer months. Bruce Anderson of Renew Northfield spearheaded the group. Give him a call to find out more at (507) 645-7133.

In the mean time, watch for use cruising on biodiesel!

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Smoking in Public Places Banned in Britain

February 14th, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer

BBC NEWS | UK | UK Politics | Smoking ban in all pubs and clubs

Wow. Britain has banned smoking in the pubs and clubs, effective later this year. They passed the ban by an unquestionable majority, too.

Indoor Air Quality must be taken pretty seriously over there. Maybe we could learn something here….

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Of Basements… and tubers.

February 14th, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer

My trip to the Energy Design Conference in Duluth last week left me with an enriched understanding of basements. We’ve all heard that in Minnesota basements are “the cheapest space you can build.”

That was because we had to go down to frost depth with our excavations. Why not harvest the space?

Well, that was how it was done for lots of years.

But the basement of yore is no more.

  • Then, we kept our basements at 60 degrees. Now we want them to be 72 degrees.
  • Then, we didn’t need windows. Now we want ample sheets of glass.
  • Then, we left the floor unfinished. Now we want to wall to wall carpet.
  • Then, we used basement to store stuff and equipment. Now we want to live down there.
  • Then, basements could be musty, moldy, damp and cold. Now they must be warm, dry, airy, and bright.
  • Then, our houses were drafty. Now, we seal them tight.
  • Why have we had problems? It’s because we think basement construction is cheap and easy.

    If you want high-quality living space, you should pay very careful attention to all sides of the basement, from the small details to the broad strokes. Drainage, waterproofing, capillary breaks, insulation, water vapor, radon, and HVAC systems all need to be properly balanced to transform your subterranean space from cave-like to liveable. Indoor air quality in the modern house cannot be separated from the quality of the basement.

    If you want a tuber storage room, it will be cheap. If you want comfortable living space, you need to spend the money to build it right.

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    Energy Design Convention: Full Report

    February 10th, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer



    Tuesday and Wednesday I was in Duluth for the annual Energy Design Conference in Duluth. The weather was fine, and the convention center offered great views of Duluth’s historic lift bridge and Lake Superior.

    The conference was well-attended; some 1,100 builders, architects, realtors, and homeowners converged for the sessions.

    The real purpose of the conference was continuing education. In total, I attended four or five seminars from a wide variety of topics.

    Tuesday, these grabbed by interest: Insulation Products and R-Values, A Green Approach to Residential Housing, Windows for High Performance Buildings, and Home Sick Home: Designing for Family Health.


    Wednesday I took classes on these topics: Practical guide for installing Cultured Stone and Stucco, Foundation Design and Construction, HVAC for Builders and Designers, “Topography, land-Forms and Impacts”, and Sustainable Europe, What can we Learn?

    I’d offer a complete summary, but you’d probably not like to read it all! Instead, I’ll incorporate what I learned in your project where you’ll get the benefits!


    Between courses, I visited with a broad array of exhibitors, builders, and utility company representatives.



    Here is a shot of the Toyota Prius’ engine compartment and one of the sticker. Check out that mpg!


    I also learned about a composting septic system that can handle 12 adults. It can even produce drinkable water with an upgrade or two. It is unique in that it separates solids from liquids before treatment, which greatly increases its efficiency.

    In general, this was a great learning opportunity and a terrific networking opportunity with people who are taking real steps toward sustainability in the built environment.

    Mark your calendars: next year’s conference will be on February 27 and 28, 2007!

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    Energy Design Convention: Day I

    February 7th, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer

    Michael Blaha and I left Northfield at 5am this morning to make it to the Duluth Event and Conference Center in time for our first seminars today. Traffic was light at that hour, and we made good time. Good conversation made the trip go quickly. The sun, complete with sun dogs, was rising as we pulled in, and setting as we left the Center after a full day.

    Today I bought a book called “A Builder’s Guide to Cold Climates”, which presents research and best practice suggestions for residential construction for our weather patterns, and another on water management (detailing buildings to shed water instead of irrigate mold).

    It was a full day of learning about insulation types and characteristics, green building principles, software tools to help make informed window selections, and Feng Shui for healthy buildings and communities. Tomorrow promises more learning opportunities and exhibit booth cruising.

    Unexpected event of the day: I saw my first new car with a sticker exceeding 60 mpg. Yep, it was a hybrid!

    I’ll offer a full report on the conference, with a few photos, upon my return to the land of Cows and Contentment.

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