New and Notable

November 08, 2010
November/December 2010
A version of this article appears in the November/December 2010 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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Appropriate Technology in the UK

Isle of Eigg
Welcome to Eigg, the island that has cut its household CO2 emissions by over 40%. (Ashden Awards)

A bank of inverters that connect the large backup battery bank to the grid on the Isle of Eigg. (Ashden Awards)

The Ashden Awards for sustainable energy celebrate practical local energy solutions that cut carbon, protect the environment, reduce poverty, and improve people’s lives. Based in the UK and focusing on projects that support the developing world, the Ashden Awards are designed to ensure that modern solutions reach beyond the places they are invented in. The prizes help winners all over the world to further their work in developing sustainable energy solutions. They cover a wide range of applications, from treadle pumps to facilitate crop irrigation in India, to PV systems in rural Nicaragua.

In addition to individual prizes of up to £10,000, with an overall UK Gold Award of £20,000, the contest offers winners a package of benefits and support, including a broadcast-quality short film about their work and an opportunity to have their voice heard by policy makers.

This year, the winners include the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, in Scotland, and Northwards Housing, in Manchester, England. The Eigg trust is a partnership of the residents of Eigg, The Highland Council, and The Scottish Wildlife Trust. They have cut their carbon emissions by nearly 50% by carefully managing their energy use, actively encouraging residents to save energy in their daily lives, and generating 90% of their electricity through renewable energy. Instead of being led by government authorities, this project is community led, making the participants more responsible for its success rather than passive to regulations.

Northwards Housing is a not-for-profit company managing 12,500 City Council homes in North Manchester, England. At no expense to the tenants, Northwards Housing has cut CO2 emissions by at least 17,500 tonnes a year by retrofitting the units with external wall insulation, double-glazed windows, and an A-rated boiler.

Technologies recognized in the awards include biogas, microhydro, solar PVs, water pumps, wind, and woodstoves. For 2011, they are particularly interested in applications from Latin America and China and are keen to hear from organizations who are working to reduce deforestation. Next year’s winners will be announced in June 2011.

For more information:

To learn more about the Ashden Awards, go to

Total Energy Consumption & Cost Reduction Total Energy Consumption & Cost Reduction
Jennings Hall reduced consumption by 28% saving over $101,000 annually, while Williamsburg Court reduced consumption by 33% and is saving over $51,000 annually. (Steve Winter Associates)

Heating Slope Reduction Heating Slope Reduction
Even when taking the differences in weather into account the heating slope reduction for each building is still very significant. (Steve Winter Associates)

Brooklyn Multifamily Retrofits:
The Numbers Are In

Brooklyn-based St. Nick’s Alliance, a nonprofit community-based organization dedicated to sustainability for low- to moderate-income residents, has hired Steve Winter Associates as part of the New York Energy Research and Development Authority’s Multifamily Performance program. In May 2009, one of the projects, Williamsburg Court multifamily housing, replaced its existing boilers with two new Laars Pennant boilers and saw immediate results. (See “Brooklyn Multifamily Gets Laars Pennants,” HE May/June ’10, p. 52.) Another of the multifamily residences, Jennings Hall, reduced consumption by 28%, saving over $101,000 annually, and Williamsburg Court reduced consumption by 33%, saving over $51,000 annually.

Steven Winter reports that of the retrofits it recommended—such as installing low-flow plumbing fixtures, implementing whole-building air sealing, and upgrading the roof insulation—the biggest energy savers were upgrading the boilers and sealing and balancing the ventilation system.

Henry Gifford was instrumental in designing and specifying radiator orifices in the west wing of Jennings Hall. His work completely eliminated the need for the condensate pumps that were originally being used to return condensate to the boiler.


For more information:

For more information about Steve Winter Associates, go to

The Partnership for Advanced Residential Retrofit (PARR)

The Partnership for Advanced Residential Retrofit (PARR)

The Partnership for Advanced Residential Retrofit (PARR), led by GTI, has decades of experience in design, development, integration, and testing of advanced building energy equipment, components and systems in laboratory and test house settings. (Gas Technology Institute)

Residential Energy Efficiency Solutions for Midwest Homes

Gas Technology Institute (GTI) is a leading research, development, and training organization that has been addressing the nation’s energy and environmental challenges by developing technology-based solutions for consumers, industry, and government for nearly 70 years.

The DOE Building Technologies recently rewarded GTI with a major new program aimed at cutting energy use and costs, along with carbon emissions, through residential retrofit applications in cold-weather climates. GTI will lead a Building America team, which will support DOE’s Better Buildings Initiative aimed at bringing together multiple stakeholders to deliver energy efficiency upgrades to whole neighborhoods and cities. 

The Partnership for Advanced Residential Retrofit (PARR), led by GTI, will focus on improving performance, quality, and market acceptance of residential retrofits in a seven-state Midwest region. Team members include the Center for Neighborhood Technology, Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, Building Research Council at the University of Illinois, and Future Energy Enterprises. Over 40 industry team partners are participating in the program, including electric and gas utilities, manufacturers, developers, contractors, realtors, research consortiums, universities, EE program implementers, government agencies, cities, neighborhood and homeowner associations, and industry consultants. PARR will research and field-evaluate cost-effective retrofit packages most appropriate to large numbers of Midwest homes, beginning in the Chicago-area.

For more information:

To learn more about GTI, go to

What Is Humanitarian Design?

The exhibition Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement opened October 3 at the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). It showcases 11 projects on five continents, including housing by Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena; a school in Burkina Faso by Diébédo Francis Kéré and Michael Maltzan’s Inner-City Arts; and a campus of buildings on the edge of Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. Other exhibitors include Rural Studio (whose work recently appeared at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London), and Architecture for Humanity. The exhibition explores humanitarian design, which is what it sounds like—design for people, or architecture for everyone.

That it is showing in New York suggests a growing interest in this type of architecture. It reflects what the whole world has been thinking about lately concerning the role of design in homes, and the role of housing in health and safety. Architecture, as art, as presented in a museum setting played a prominent role in this year’s Design Triennial at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York, as well as the California Design Biennial at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, which this year included an architecture category for the first time.

Cameron Sinclair, of Architecture for Humanity, whose very powerful Open Architecture application has changed architectural collaboration all over the world, says, “I believe we are in a … moment where aesthetics and ethics are overlapping in significant ways. The most interesting new art infuses social justice in its core; architecture is just following suit.” The true value of this exposure for his organization is to inspire future generations. “A few years ago we were featured in the New York Times. It solicited zero donations, but right now there are over 1,000 young middle and high school students raising funds for us to build schools in Haiti through”

The projects on exhibit incorporate appropriate technologies. “What makes them important is the fact they got built,” Sinclair says. “There are a million ideas to change the world, but unless you build it, it doesn’t matter. Instead of showing one project, we developed an application that documents over 3,000 of these projects and highlights them in MoMA. The Open Architecture app is our way of showing that there are thousands of architects making a difference around the world, and the dozen highlighted in the show are a representation of the movement that is well under way.”

For more information:

To learn more about the MoMA exhibit, go to
For more information about Architecture for Humanity, go to
For more information about Students Rebuild, go to

Insulation Banned in Canada

Retrofoam insulation was banned in Canada in 2009, and is now the focus of a class action suit in Ontario. Health Canada issued a cease-and-desist order against Retrofoam of Canada in February 2009, enforcing the 1980 Hazardous Products Act that prohibits the sale of urea formaldehyde–based thermal insulation. Retrofoam Canada has complained loudly, stating the current version represents new technology with at most 1/150th the amount of formaldehyde found in old-style insulation—which itself was never found to actually produce harmful levels of formaldehyde in homes.

Despite any merits of the technical arguments, the ban in Canada continues. A class action suit has been initiated in Canada seeking $500 million in damages claiming loss of value in homes with the insulation. The suit does not make any health claims. Another 1990s-era Canadian lawsuit on urea–formaldehyde reportedly ended with no claim being awarded and the plaintiffs having to pay some court costs. Retrofoam is one of the few foam insulations suitable for closed-cavity retrofit, and is widely available in the United States.

—David Kaufman

David Kaufman is an energy consultant with Energy Solutions in Maine. E-mail him at

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