Replaced a Hog with a Coupe

December 15th, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer


If you think this post is about vehicles, you’re going to be disappointed but I’ll do what I can.

Last night Mary and I replaced the old water-hog toilet in our house with a new, water-efficient model.

It installed just like other toilets and sports a small tank and deep bowl. On the tank lid are two buttons that activate the dual-flush mechanism that makes it so efficient. Compared to the SUV-like old toilet, which blasted through 3.0 gallons per flush, the new unit is like a Prius, using only 0.8 gallons for liquid waste and 1.6 gallons for solid waste (or as the Sterling website suggests, “bulk” waste; hm, let’s avoid further discussion there…)

We are pleased with how quiet the unit is and have so far been impressed with its functionality, even when I tried the liquid button for “bulk” waste which it handled without a problem.

This is an example of how we can use our well-developed technologies to minimize the resources we consume. Too often in the past, we have use technology to generate more, but not necessarily better, technologies. I hope you will join us in the search for and application of technologies that are well-conceived and make a difference.

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We’ve reorganized a bit…

December 14th, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer

Apologies to our faithful visitors who follow our News postings and have found our categories to be changed.

We will continue posting on items of interest in each of the old categories, but they may find a different home. In the interest of keeping our site lean, mean, and approachable, we have deleted the following categories:

Alternative Construction Methods (See Sustainability)
Global Warming (See Sustainability)
Resources (A new web page is in works)
Project Delivery Methods
Transportation (See Sustainability)

Thank you for visiting our web site. We hope you continue to find our website worthy of your time.

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Press Release: Land, Art & Ecology

December 7th, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer


In about a week, keep your eye out for a new book being published by The RSA (Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce) of London, entitled “LAND, ART: A Cultural Ecology Handbook”. Amidst the list of contributors you will find the names of my brother, Paul Schmelzer (that’s one of his photos above), and myself.

One cold afternoon last year, Paul invited me to join him to interview Cameron Sinclair, founder of Architecture for Humanity. The result was a very lively discussion of architecture, ethics, economics and the difference architecture can make for Third World inhabitants; the transcript is one part of Paul’s contributions to the volume. Interviews with Winona LaDuke and Rirkrit Tiravanija also bear his name, enveloped in an essay entitled “How the Land Lies”.

The book is an egaging compendium of articles, interviews, photographs and essays addressing issues of art and land, accountability and equity, oil and ecology. Check it out on the RSA Website (Click here.)

And, for an online review, look at (Click here.)

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December 6th, 2006 by Mary Schmelzer


Selbuvotter, a book by author Terri Shea will be coming out in 2007. I was invited to test one of the patterns and knit a model for the book’s photos. Selbuvotter are a type of Norwegian mittens and gloves. The book will have patterns for more than 30 projects, varying in complexity, and all beautiful.

I have been a long-time knitter and also design my own knitting patterns. The selbuvotter were a very interesting and well-designed project. The photo shows that the patterning is continuous on the front and back. The thumb shaping is traditional to the style. If you like knitting or traditional Norwegian arts, you will have to take a look at the book.

Thanks to Terri for the fun opportunity and to my friend, Arnhild Hillesland, who supplied the Norwegian yarn for the project.

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Biodiesel Update

December 5th, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer

- Natural Ventilation-

It’s been an interesting fall for my biodiesel experiment.

The hailstorm that struck Northfield this year gave my Passat TDI a hammered patina, including the front and rear windows, unfortunately. So the car was out of commission while we had a new rear window shipped in from Germany. Then, about when I was ready to drive it again, we had a problem with our fuel.

One batch of biodiesel we received had an unusually high gelling temperature which coincided with a cold snap (low 30’s F). Many of the members of the biodiesel buyer’s club couldn’t start their cars or got stranded on the roadside. Some modifications were made to fuel sending units to correct undersized apertures that would have limited the problem somewhat, and we all started fueling up with healthy (un) quantities of dino-diesel to dilute the fuel. I was lucky (ha) to have been hit by hail, so I didn’t have a chance to fuel up with the bad batch.

We’ve still got about 300 gallons of the stuff left and we’d like the coop to buy it back and mix it for a lower biodiesel blend and sell it to someone else. I’m not sure where those negotiations stand, but it’ll be tough to pump the tank out with single-digit temperatures in the air.

So, we remain committed to biodiesel, but need to address some way of knowing the quality of fuel we’re receiving. More as it unfolds!

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