Solar Rope Lights: an Overview

Solar rope lighting is useful and decorative. You may just string some along a pathway, or the edge of your swimming pool. And that would be sufficient, until you think of other uses for it. Maybe you’ll go a little overboard and cover your entire house with it during the holidays. Really, you could do whatever your heart desires, but before you do, there’s some things about solar rope lighting that you should know.

First of all, what are solar rope lights, anyway?

Solar rope lighting is a woven strand of Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs). It is then encased in clear plastic, to protect the LEDs. This also enables you to wrap the lights around a pole, or lay them in straight lines. A small solar collector is attached to the LEDs. During the day, the solar collector charges a small, rechargeable battery that powers the LEDs. It’s important during the day that your solar collector get enough light, or else you’ll get no light or dim light at night. A light sensor determines when light is low enough to turn your lights on. Solar rope lights comes in white, or a single color, or, festively, many colors. You can get a woven strand of LEDs, or a strand with individual lights (like holiday lights).

Solar Powered Rope Lights
CC flickr photo courtesy of Robert Hruzek

Solar Screens and Solar Film for Windows, An Overview

If you’re looking for a simple way to reduce home cooling costs, solar film and solar screens can be great solutions. Screens, a special mesh that blocks sunlight from reaching your window, and film, which is essentially a special tinting application that blocks heat and glare, are two cost-effective simple solutions to beat the summer’s heat. By blocking the sun from hitting windows and entering your home or office, you prevent heat from building up that will then need to be cooled by air conditioning.

Advantages of Solar Screens and Film

  • Reduces energy costs associated with cooling.
  • No additional cost after installation.
  • Many contractors will custom install screens or film; conversely, there are do-it-yourself options available.
  • Solar screens can be easily removed during the winter to allow the sun to warm your home.

Disadvantages of Solar Screen and Film

  • Most screens and films will not obstruct your view. However, they will darken your view, allowing less light to enter a room.
  • Solar screens will need to be cleaned. This usually involves a simple hosing down, although with heavier build-up, some heavier cleaning may be necessary.
  • Some people don’t like the look of screens, as they appear opaque from the outside of your home, entirely concealing your windows from the outside.
  • Solar film cannot be removed, so it will block desirable sun during the winter time.

Phifer makes a solar screen called Super Solar 90, which is a vinyl-coated polyester weave that blocks 90% of the sun’s rays. You can buy it by the linear square foot for under $4 a foot. It’s easy to work with in do-it-yourself installations. They also manufacture a PVC-coated polyester screen called Suntex 80 that provides a good balance between shade and visibility. Retailers have also started selling it by the square foot.

Solar film is much like what people install in their car windows to reduce UV rays fading their interior and to stop heat gain. The same principles apply to the tint for your windows at home.

You can have a contractor install high-quality metalized film to tint your windows. Or you can buy high-quality film and install it yourself. Metalized film reflects UV rays as they come into contact with your film. Many metalized films have the added advantage of maintaining your privacy. Cheaper tinting options, such as vinyl tint, can fade, warp, streak when cleaned and become brittle with age.

Solar films come in different varieties, from dyed films, metalized films, deposit films and hybrid films. All possess a layer of dark polyester (the tint itself) and varying degrees of enhancements to make the films more effective. For a brief run-down of the nitty-gritty on each variety, check out TintCenter.com.

Solar films work at any solar trajectory (the sun’s angle in the sky). Many screens work best when the sun is angled high in the sky. Another benefit of film over screens is that an applied film can make your windows stand up to weather better. Screens can be damaged by debris carried by high winds.

When shopping for tint, look for the total heat which is reflected and rejected. “Reflected” pertains to the solar rays that are bounced off the tint. “Rejected” means the infrared light (that’s what heats your home), absorbed by the tinted window and then rejected. The lower the number advertised in either case, means the less light reflected or rejected. For further information on common jargon, you can check out SolarGard.com. If you want a tint application that will work in both summer and winter, choose one with a moderate rate reflectivity and rejection. It will keep your home cooler (though not as cool as one with higher rejection), and will allow more sunlight in during winter months to provide some heat gain provided by the sun.

One alternative option to consider are roll-down shades. They can be rolled out when you want to block the sun and rolled up whenever you want (for instance, during the winter), if you want to increase the sun coming in.

South-facing windows are a priority, as they get the most exposure to the sun. Considerations such as the climate in your area, how complicated you want to get and the money you’re willing to spend will factor into your particular screening or filming approach. Another thing to consider before going with either option is whether screens or film tinting will affect the warranty on your windows. If they void your warranty, they become less of an attractive option.

Solar screens are generally cheaper to install, whereas a commercial-grade tint can be more pricey. Either one is an effective, low-maintenance way to keep your home or business a comfortable temperature and prevent fading and discoloration of interiors.

Green Paper Products: Eco-Friendly Paper Towels, Napkins, and More

Household paper products are problematic for environmentalists. While convenient and disposable, nothing about them is compatible with conservation. They just create waste. Even more eco-friendly and “green” paper products still use energy and resources in their manufacturing and most eventually end up in a landfill.

Green Paper Products
CC flickr photo courtesy of NatalieMaynor

If this is something that concerns you, you’re not alone. Here’s our quick guide to making sound decisions for our planet, while not having to break out the fine china for a barbecue or your child’s birthday party. In a nutshell:

  • Use reusable products for everyday use
  • Choose eco-friendly disposable products for the occasional large group

Earthship Videos: A Roundup of the Best

Earthships are the ultimate in sustainably built homes that consume zero-energy and zero resources. They can be built in any climate, in any area of the world and all using sustainable building methods that cost as much as a conventionally built home. Besides saving money with utility-free living, they also save the planet from the unsustainably built, energy hogging homes of most average Americans live in. If you’re interested in changing the way you live, then take a look at these six life changing videos about Earthships.

The Green Home Source Visits Earthship Biotecture

If you’re unfamiliar with what Earthship constructions all about, then this video will bring you up to speed. The walk through of an Earthship built by the architect Mike Reynolds, who coined the term “Earthship”, was done by the Green Home Source at Taos, New Mexico in a beautifully built Earthship. The host explains the four pillars of a green building program and how an Earthship is better by being “Deep Green”.

Texas Earthship Tour: Finishing Touches

This Earthship video gets into more detail about the finishing stages of assembly and the engineering solutions that make an Earthship so energy efficient. Several workers explain how the roof assembly functions triple duty as a water barrier, a water collector and as a geothermal ventilation opening. The tour continues on as busy workers install flagstones, build wine bottle walls and assemble greywater equipment, showing you the finer details that go into building an Earthship.

Fishing in the Phoenix Earthship

Another cool video that shows you how an Earthship goes further than any eco-friendly home in the world with its unique water treatment facility. This Earthship actually feeds you as the young man in the video demonstrates. Upon catching a fish from the indoor water reclamation pond, they clean it and cook it along with a handful of edible herbs and fruits from the indoor garden.

Earthship Biotecture: The Hut

A great in depth explanation by architect Mike Reynolds that sets the tone when he utters the phrase “A beaver and wasp can build their own homes, but we can’t and there is something wrong with that”. As Reynolds goes into the true meaning about his Earthship vision, a couple builds the smallest of Earthships, the basic hut. Complete instructions are given during this extra long 20+ minute video.

Our Mini Earthship

Skip across the pond to jolly England when this young crew builds a mini Earthship. Building this smaller version of an Earthship would be a great way to get acquainted with Earthship construction before building the real deal. This crew quickly builds a small Earthship, showing you how easy it is to build your own Earthship, anywhere in the world.

“Earthships New Solutions” Official Trailer

This video is the official trailer for the movie “Earthships New Solutions” and shows a glimpse of what it takes for the crew from Earthship Biotecture to complete one of the most eco-friendly structures on the planet. This documentary is bound to inspire change in the building industry about the construction of Earthships.

These are our favorites. Did we miss any good videos? Leave a comment and let us know.

Eric Brennan is a second generation master carpenter with over 20 years of construction industry experience. Since 2005, Eric has also been a hard at work honing his skills as a home improvement writer. In 2009, he was given the Associated Content award for best home improvement writer. Eric is currently a featured green and home improvement writer for the Yahoo! Contributor Network and editor of Construct101. He has produced thousands of articles on everything construction, remodeling, interior decorating, green building, and many other home improvement related fields for countless websites and blogs including the DIY network, P&G Tide, DeWalt.com, AT&T, Huffington Post, and Yahoo! News.

Earth Ship Homes: Why So Few?

Flickr CC photo, courtesy of dave-friedel

According to the PEW Center on Global Climate Change, our home energy consumption needs contribute to one fifth of the United States’ annual electrical output. That’s a lot of power. But what’s even worse is our electrical bills can easily eat up $1,500 a year or more of our hard earned money — and a good percentage of that energy is lost through our homes energy-inefficiency.

While replacing your light bulbs with CFLs and insulating the old crawlspace are all good environmental practices, they are really a drop in the bucket compared to where our energy consumption rates should be. Even with today’s awareness about global warming and energy conservation, the average American’s energy consumption rates have barely decreased in the last few years.

The time to change our building industry has arrived, and we can do it by creating zero-energy, zero-environmental impact homes. An Earthship Biotecture is the perfect way to achieve a zero-energy home and still afford yourself the comforts you would expect with a conventionally built home. In fact, some Earthship homes may be more comfortable than the home you’re in now!

Best of all, Earthships can be affordable. With so many green home improvement tax credits available from Uncle Sam, your new Earthship home may be right around the corner come this April.

But you may be asking yourself, if the offer is so good, then how come nobody else is building Earthships? That’s one of the most asked questions about Earthship construction. The reason not everyone else is doing it is simple red tape. Because of local, state and national building codes and lack of knowledge about Earthship construction methods, permits are commonly denied. Throw in the fact that local deed restrictions may not permit Earthship-type structures in the neighborhood, and you can begin to see how difficult it may become to acquire permitting and permission from governing officials.

The other big hurdle when building your own Earthship is money. If you don’t have the financing for building your own Earthship, then a bank may not lend you the money. When loan officers factor in the combination of a low resale value and a low appraisal, most won’t think the loans will be viable and will quickly deny you the money.

But if you’re still keen on the idea of an Earthship and those minor hurdles are out of your way and of no concern to you, then building an Earthship can be easily done. If you’re a DIY expert and you’re ready to undertake the ultimate home improvement project, then you can start breaking ground right away. But first you need to learn about Earthship construction, and that’s easy. If you’re all about going to the source, then the original architect who coined the phrase Earthship Biotecture, Mike Reynolds is the man for you. With personal consultations and advice offered for a fee, they can help you and your Earthship get started in the right direction.

You can also find more information about other Earthship builders at U.S. Green Building Councils Green Home Guide if you’re looking for professional advice from across the country or need someone to build your new Earthship in your backyard. Whether you build your own Earthship or have a builder do it for you, the investment you make now will go a long way towards saving our planet in the years to come.

Eric Brennan is a second generation master carpenter with over 20 years of construction industry experience. Since 2005, Eric has also been a hard at work honing his skills as a home improvement writer. In 2009, he was given the Associated Content award for best home improvement writer. Eric is currently a featured green and home improvement writer for the Yahoo! Contributor Network and editor of Construct101. He has produced thousands of articles on everything construction, remodeling, interior decorating, green building, and many other home improvement related fields for countless websites and blogs including the DIY network, P&G Tide, DeWalt.com, AT&T, Huffington Post, and Yahoo! News.