Deconstructing the big green hallucination

Want good, insightful reading on the challenges of the green revolution? Then look no further than Is it all a ‘green hallucination’?, a news report covering noted NY Times & Pulitzer prize winning journalist Thomas Friedman’s presentation at the Aspen Ideas Festival last night.

There have been a lot of global warning naysayers in the news lately but Friedman is not one of them; he believes the threat is real. In fact, there’s another problem at hand.

He isn’t buying the hype that humans are doing anything meaningful to promote global cooling …

There is a saying in the Pentagon that a vision without resources to act on it is a hallucination, Friedman said … “Right now I think we’re in the middle of a big green hallucination.”

Friedman goes on to label the global warming crisis as the greatest threat facing humankind – “We’re talking about changing the weather” and advocates that the word “green” be reinvented; ownership of the word needs to pass from “environmental extremists and granola eaters” into the mainstream.

Fascinating ideas from one of the controversial journalists of our time. Read more …

Are antibacterial household products breeding superbacteria? Or are we?

Concerns about antibacterial household products have been voiced over at Scientific American as the number and variety of antibacterial products continues to expand in the marketplace.

Body soaps, household cleaners, sponges, even mattresses and lip glosses are now packing bacteria-killing ingredients, and scientists question what place, if any, these chemicals have in the daily routines of healthy people.

Unlike these traditional cleaners, antibacterial products leave surface residues, creating conditions that may foster the development of resistant bacteria …

The scientists cite the old adage “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”; the bacteria left behind to reproduce are the ones with the greatest resistance. So you produce “stronger” bacteria that are not only resist the antibacterials but related antibiotics as well.

As bacteria develop a tolerance for these compounds there is potential for also developing a tolerance for certain antibiotics. This phenomenon, called cross-resistance, has already been demonstrated in several laboratory studies using triclosan, one of the most common chemicals found in antibacterial hand cleaners, dishwashing liquids and other wash products.

These products aren’t recommended by medical professionals, other than for people with reduced immune system capacity, nursing homes, etc. And studies indicate that antibacterial soaps don’t prevent disease any better than regular soap.

So why are antibacterial products on the rise? How did we get here? The trend started back in the the 1990’s in the bathroom with antibacterial cleaners. In 2000, respected organizations like the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association warned consumers of the perils of antibacterial products and advised the FDA to “closely monitor and possibly regulate the home use of antimicrobials“.

Of course, there are dissenting views. The Soap and Detergent Association has this to say on the matter:

Q. Do you believe that the expanding use of antibacterial ingredients in consumer hand and body wash products could lead to “superbugs” that are resistant to antibiotic drugs?

A. No. In the more than 30 years that antibacterial wash products have been used by consumers and medical professionals, we have not seen any evidence that their use contributes to antibiotic resistance. If there were a link between antibacterial use and antibiotic resistance, experts believe it would have been seen by now in settings, such as hospitals, where antibacterial products are used extensively to stop the spread of bacteria and antibiotic resistance is closely monitored. In fact, two independent hospital infection control researchers recently presented studies to the FDA showing that triclosan-based wash products controlled and reversed outbreaks of resistant bacteria infections. .

- SDA FAQ: Some FAQs About Bacterial Resistance From Antibacterial Wash Products

So what happened? Did no one listen? Are we all mindless pawns of the Soap and Detergent Association? I think not.

Unfortunately the American consumer is at war with all bacteria. According to the Soap and Detergent Association (too bad its acronym couldn’t spell SUD), more than three-quarters of liquid soap and more than a quarter of bar soaps on supermarket shelves contain triclosan, an antibiotic that kills most bacteria, both good and bad.
- livescience.com’s Bad Medicine

It would be easy to blame the marketing machine of the soap and detergent industry. But 75% of the liquid soap on the market is a lot of soap. If all the manufacturers ditched the antibacterials, we’d still be be buying just as much soap because we’d still need to wash our hands so demand wouldn’t fall. That’s not it.

Controversial as it may be, I believe that consumers like things the way they are. We look at the world and draw our own conclusions. If antimicrobials are good for hospitals, they must be good for us. I don’t need advertising to want an antibacterial product. The proliferation of antibacterial products is an evolution, from consumers selecting antibacterial products over non-antibacterial products when given the choice over time, time and time again. All the industry did was pay attention and give us more of what we wanted.

I believe the proliferation of the antibacterial products is also tied in with the psychology of cleaning – people actually feel better about themselves when they have a clean house. Some people really need that feeling but using good old-fashioned bleach is a pretty harsh way to get it!

Finally, antibacterial products are a “security blanket” of sorts, real or imagined. They protect our possessions (wet mattress anyone?), let us be lazy (you can wash those dishes later, much later) and enable our bad habits (you can chew on that pencil without fear now that it’s antibacterial).

I don’t buy a lot of antibacterial products. I’ve studied microbiology and molecular genetics. I’ve studied food hygiene. I’ve swabbed & tested stuff for a living. I should know better. But when it comes to my antibacterial bathroom and kitchen cleaners? To quote Charlton Heston, “from my cold dead hands“.

Probably because I’ve swabbed stuff for a living.

The last word:

In general, however, good, long-term hygiene means using regular soaps rather than new, antibacterial ones, experts say. “The main way to keep from getting sick,” Gustafson says, “is to wash your hands three times a day and don’t touch mucous membranes.”

Not that we’ll listen. Because it’s not just about “getting sick” anymore.

How I got on this subject: Antibacterial Cleaners Do More Harm Than Good on treehugger.com

160 Home Improvement Contractors nabbed in Connecticut Spring Sting

News earlier this week from Connecticut’s Department of Consumer Protection. The DCP’s 7th sting operation netted 150 unregistered contractors. 10 other contractors were cited for illegal contracts or contract language violations.

The unregistered contractors will be notified by mail of their violations, pay $500 in fines, and have to register with the state according to the Connecticut Post. The Post article also raises some valid concerns:

That so many were caught is a sign consumers need to be wary when hiring contractors, according to consumer protection officials and business leaders. But, they added, the very regulations being violated might also be driving up the costs for legitimate businesses and opening up the opportunity for a sort of black market of home improvement services.

But the last word should go to DCP Commissioner Jerry Farrell Jr.:

“These operations also serve as a reminder to consumers that while the Department administers the Home Improvement Guaranty Fund which provides up to $15,000 to victimized consumers, the money is only available to homeowners who have used a registered contractor. That is why it is so important to verify your contractor’s registration before signing any contract or giving them any money.”

Props: The Connecticut Post.

Read the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection press release.

Pennsylvania – stronger protection from home improvement fraud is on the way

Pennsylvania has new legislation in process to establish better consumer protection for homeowners.

Bill highlights:

  • a state-wide home improvement contractor database
  • written contracts required for all jobs over $500
  • the scope and cost of work be set out in the contract and clearly understood by the customer
  • makes home-improvement fraud a criminal offense
  • with stiffer penalties for scammers who target seniors

Although receiving senate passage is promising, the bill won’t become law until approved by the House of Representatives and Governor Ed Rendell.

Pennsylvanians should also note the gotchas:

For a contract to be enforceable against a customer, it would have to be signed by the customer and dated, and disclose the approximate time frame of the work and materials to be used, as well as the specifications and description of the work. It would also have to include the total sales price.

In addition, a contract would be voided if it has a clause that releases the contractor from building code requirements or liability, or that strips the customer of legal rights.

Source: phillyburbs.com.

Interior Designers vs. General Contractors

In response to a recent post Interior Designers vs. Decorators vs. Political Commentators, Stephanie from Bungalow Insanity commented:

… interior design professionals need to do a better job of helping the public understand what it is that they “do” and how it is that they add value to a building/renovation project.

She makes a great point – I hope someone out there (like the American Society of Interior Designers) is listening.

Meanwhile the public confusion continues, as this news story about prominent Visalia, CA interior designer David E. Gonzales in hot water with the California Licensing Board illustrates. Gonzales was doing project management for the implementation of one of his designs and maintains he was only helping find subcontractors to “make things convenient for the couple”. But

… the Tulare District Attorney’s Office maintains that whatever title Gonzales went by during the Ortegas’ project, he essentially was working as a contractor, taking the couple’s money and paying subcontractors for their work and materials as well accepting a fee for doing it … Unlicensed contractors in California can face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, according to Tulare County Superior Court records.

Gonzales claims he didn’t know he was breaking the law and I believe him, for all the reasons above. Think about it. An interior designer is knowledgeable about “construction, local zoning and codes, experience working with architects and contractors, knowledge of construction materials”. An interior designer usually knows lots of good contractors. It seems a natural jump to coordinating the design implementation and helping clients choose and manage subcontractors. He’s been doing it for years.

Except that he’s been doing the work of a general contractor and that’s against the law without a license. It’s only because this project had quality of work issues that he came to the attention of the California Licensing Board and ended up with a misdemeanor charge for contracting without a license.

Gonzales’ story is a cautionary tale, of how easy it is to end up on the wrong side of the law … when you don’t know enough about what an Interior Designer, as well as related professions, can and cannot do.

Read the full story Designer required to be licensed.

Interior Designers vs. Decorators vs. Political Commentators

A recent opinion column by George Will is stirring up a fuss the design community. Mr. Will, a Pulitzer Prize winning author, usually does political commentary … not Home & Garden news …

But in his recent column In the new West, its interior designers vs. decorators, Will points up some, in his opinion, absurdity implicit in some of the new laws separating Interior Designers from Decorators …

In Nevada, such regulation has arrived. So in Las Vegas, where almost nothing is illegal, it is illegal — unless you are licensed, or employed by someone licensed — to move, in the role of an interior designer, any piece of furniture, such as an armoire, more than 69 inches tall. A Nevada bureaucrat says that placement of furniture is an aspect of space planning and therefore is regulated — restricted to a registered interior designer.

Placing furniture without a license? Heaven forfend. Such regulations come with government rationing of the right to practice a profession. Who benefits? Creating artificial scarcity of services raises the prices of those entitled to perform the services. The pressure for government-created scarcity is intensifying because the general public — rank amateurs — are using the Internet to purchase things and advice, bypassing designers.

The column has generated some debate in the design community, including this response from Michael Alin, the Executive Director of the American Society of Interior Designers …

If furniture is placed in such a manner that it impedes egress during an emergency or exit pathways are not appropriately marked or laid out, people will die. Should a nonqualified, noneducated person select the materials for the interior of a hospital, nursing home, school or high-rise building?

And some conservative commentary backlash.

As with anything, there are two sides to the story. I think they both have a point … the question becomes where to draw the line. When do you need the regulated professional and when do you not? If it’s a question of building materials or decisions for hospitals, nursing homes, or even public buildings, yes it’s easy to agree we want the regulated professionals: lives are on the line. But put in that context, I know what I would prefer: not just an interior designer but a designer in conjunction with a dedicated safety professional.

Let’s take the argument outside of the public domain and into the private home. If it’s a question of a designer who is involved in writing the technical or construction specifications for my home, yes I want a trained, certified, regulated professional. Hands down, no questions asked. If it’s to place furniture in my home … what on earth for?

I think where the Interior Design profession opens itself up to criticism is when it attempts to apply the regulatory brush too liberally, when it tries to regulate tasks that just need “common sense” or where there are other professionals who could provide the needed guidance to the same level or better. Who’s going block the front door with a 69 plus inch armoire for lack of an Interior Designer’s instruction? Anybody? No takers? I can see someone blocking a rarely used back door that could serve as a fire exit. But in that case, who should be called? An Interior Designer or a Fire Marshall?? I’m thinking Fire Marshall. The point is, this type of unneeded regulation does nothing to enhance the perception of the Interior Design profession.

If there is anyone to benefit from the new laws in Nevada, it’s lazy spouses. As one commenter put it on townhall.com,

Nevada, here I come. It’s the Land of Liberty. Why, every time my wife asks me to move this or that piece of furniture. I can demur, pointing out that I am not licensed to do that. Free … Free at last.

Teeny Tiny Energy Efficient Homes

Weebee model tiny home from Tumbleweeds Tiny House Company

Could you live in a 100 sq ft home? 10 X 10? I know what my response would be – much laughter. But there is a guy out there building such exotic items and making a living at it too.

Jay Shafer of Tumbleweeds Tiny Homes located in the Bay Area has built them for customers all over the world. Make no mistake, they are complete homes – with a bedroom, kitchen, bathroom / shower, great room, and tons of creative storage solutions “many large home owners would envy”. And you can put them on wheels! Have tiny house, will travel.

My thoughts? Yes, something only a single man would come up with. Schafer actually makes them up to 700 sq ft to accommodate more people, but still very small by conventional standards.

The people who buy them are often interested in “downsizing their lives”. Others put them in the backyard as a “retreat” or use them as cabins.

But seriously, why so small?

Jay Shafer: “The average American house these days is pretty big and it’s consuming a lot of resources and it’s producing a lot of greenhouse gases.”

The energy savings are real. Jay’s own tiny home only takes 5 minutes to warm up or cool down. He says he’s using about $3 worth of energy per month.

An interesting trend that will hopefully make a bigger impact in the housing market.

See the Tiny Home Photo Gallery – not a dwarf in sight.

Read the story and see the video on ABC7News.com.

See another video on alternative housing featuring Tumbleweeds Tiny Homes on CBS5.com.

Green Homeowners are spreading the word

The green home market is now a 2 billion dollar industry, according to McGraw-Hill Construction in market research presented at the recent National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) National Green Building Conference.

85% of green home owners are happier and more satisfied with their new green homes than they were with their old non-green homes. And the “green buzz” is strong – 28% of surveyed homeowners reported first hearing about the green home concept through friends and acquaintances.

The research also found that:

  • The new green homeowner is affluent and well educated, in his/her mid forties and married, and also more likely to be from the Southern or Western states. Women are also more likely to be green homeowners.
  • Home operating costs matter. 63% report lower operating and maintenance costs as the key motivation behind buying a green home. Additionally, nearly 50% report environmental concerns and family health as motivators.
  • Lack of awareness, higher costs, and scarcity lead obstacles. The top three obstacles, all hovering over 60% of respondents, were oriented around education, additional costs involved in green homes and the availability of the homes. However, when looking at the “biggest” obstacles, green homeowners view education as the biggest hurdle to overcome.

The research also indicated that homeowners have also been very active in green remodeling and renovating. 40% of actively renovating homeowners are doing so using green products or technologies, such as energy efficient windows.

McGraw Hill Construction Press Release.

NAHB Press Release.

More Home Improvement Scams in the News

Spring is scam time. Many state consumer protection agencies are issuing warnings to the public.

The Oklahoma Attorney General’s office is advising seniors to be careful of door-to-door home improvement contractors and loan schemes that require up-front fees.
Mallery Nagle, Edmond Sun

In Tennessee, the sheriff’s office has warned about traveling con artists being back in the area. They tend to drive plain, unmarked white utility vans. “They usually get out when the weather breaks, when they can get out and do the work outside …”, according to the sheriff.

“It’s not good work in that it won’t last,” Burns said. “They’ll mix materials together that the rain will wash away. They’ve always used diesel fuel to mix with silver paint to paint a barn roof. You can drive around and spot a barn roof, you’ve got silver and black streaks where the rain has washed it down.”

Burns says the same hold true for driveway sealer. “That’s what they do to make the material go further,” Burns said. “The diesel fuel will mix with the driveway sealer, and it looks good. It’s shiny and pretty, and you know, when it rains it’s gone.”

The Ohio Consumer Protection department expects to receive 25,000 home improvement scam complaints in 2007. Warning signs to look out for:

  • scare tactics – always get a second opinion
  • the bait and switch – beware the price that suddenly goes up
  • the “model home” discount
  • the “referral sale” discount – this is illegal in Ohio & other states

Read more at The Advocate, Newark Ohio.

Here is a great example of the bait and switch. You receive a coupon in the mail for a low price for duct cleaning but the actual bill is $1000 plus, usually for unnecessary repairs, such as claiming you have asbestos when it’s actually just fiberglass.

Another home improvement scam example? In this story, the scam artist posed as sales representative for a real renovation company; collecting money on behalf of the contractor without his knowledge.

For more info, see my previous post The Current State of Home Improvement Scams.

EcoManor – the first certifiably green mansion

Take a look at “the first home over 5,000 square feet ever to be certified by the U.S. Green Building Council”. Features?

  • wheat-core doors,
  • elegant wallpaper made from recycled newspaper,
  • floors made from “fallen” oak,
  • soy-based cellulose insulation, and
  • an energy-use monitor in the kitchen.

Read more and take the video tour – Fortune online.

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