House

Billions of Dollars of Real Estate at Risk to Wildfire, Experts Say

Publication: NBC News   Date: April 24, 2015   View Article

Seeking the beauty of nature, Americans just can’t stop building houses among trees that will, sooner or later, go up in flames.

“It is truly a when, not if,” Sean McVay, a homeowner in Evergreen, Colorado, said of the threat that a wildfire will tear through his wooded community in the Rocky Mountain foothills west of Denver. But that doesn’t mean he plans to move. McVay bought the house last year. Like most homeowners there, he’s an outdoor enthusiast.

“Being part of the wooded environment is a big draw,” he said.

McVay is not alone. More than 1.1 million properties in the western United States were identified as highly vulnerable to wildfire in a 2015 risk report from analytics firm CoreLogic. The cost to rebuild those homes would total $269 billion, according to the report, which was written to inform the insurance industry and, perhaps, sway policymakers to encourage fire-safe construction in areas susceptible to wildfires.

Home Solar Panels Make Gains in America, Even in Rainy Seattle

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 4, 2014   View Article

Going solar is expensive, but a confluence of plummeting equipment prices, rising utility bills, new financing schemes and a raft of federal, state, and local incentives are encouraging homeowners across America to take the plunge and put photovoltaic panels on their roofs, even in rainy Seattle.

In 2013, 792 megawatts of solar capacity was installed on homes. That figure is expected to increase 61 percent in 2014 and another 53 percent in 2015, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a Washington-based trade group. A megawatt of solar capacity is typically enough to power 200 average U.S. homes, though the number varies depending on factors such as available sunlight and panel orientation.

On a recent drizzly July morning here, homeowner Brian Palmer gestured out the window to the falling rain. There, workers in slickers from a local solar energy company prepared to put photovoltaic panels on his roof, one of the hundreds of such installations that occur daily across the country.

‘That Was Home’: Residents Rebuild in Wildfire-Prone Areas

Publication: NBC News   Date: April 12, 2014   View Article

The most destructive wildfire in Colorado history swept through the Black Forest community outside of Colorado Springs and destroyed nearly 500 homes last June, and scores of those residents are starting to come back. But so could the fire.

Less than a year after the wildfire, 171 permits for new homes have been issued and the rebuilding process is well underway. There’s always a possibility that another massive fire may sweep through the area, but that’s just part of life in the woods, according to residents.

Among the first homes to burn belonged to Ray and Cindy Miller, who have lived on five acres in the quiet, forested community for 32 years. “When we came back to the property, it was devastating because all of the trees were pretty much gone,” said Cindy Miller, who had fled her home with just two blouses, makeup, and a camera as wind-whipped flames and black smoke engulfed the home. “But I just closed my eyes and listened to the sounds. That was home. I knew that I had to rebuild there.”

Tornado-proof homes? Up to 85 percent can be spared, expert says

Publication: NBC News   Date: May 21, 2013   View Article

Homes in the direct path of the monster tornado that roared through Oklahoma City suburbs Monday were all but certain to be destroyed. Yet inexpensive construction techniques could have kept up to 85 percent of the area’s damaged houses standing, according to a civil engineer.

The trick is already common along the hurricane-prone Gulf Coast — the use of clips and straps to keep the walls bolted to the roof and the foundation, explained Andrew Graettinger, a civil engineer at the University of Alabama. These parts cost about $1 each.

‘Bingo!’ Wasted energy from cities explains a global warming mystery

Publication: NBC News   Date: January 27, 2013   View Article

Heat that escapes into the atmosphere from the energy used to warm homes, drive cars and run factories is altering the jet stream and causing wintertime temperatures to rise in remote, sparsely populated stretches of the Northern Hemisphere, according to a new study.

The finding helps explain a mismatch of up to 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) between the observed temperature in some regions and what is produced by models that simulate the global climate. Scientists had attributed the mismatch to natural variability or errors in the models.

Window-cleaning robot swipes a chore from to-do list

Publication: NBC News   Date: December 19, 2012   View Article

Move over vacuuming Roomba, here comes something sleeker: a robot with just the right mix of suction and drive to smoothly clean windows.

“We’ve got the robot that does the chore that you need to do but no one enjoys doing,” Nick Savadian, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. arm of Ecovacs Robotics, an Asia-based company, told NBC News.

Big Brother? Homes, cities to watch, interact with you

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: March 31, 2012   View Article

Our homes and cities may soon be filled with sensors and tiny, energy-sipping computers that watch our every move in order, we hope, to enrich our lives and lower our impact on the environment, according to researchers working in the field of “ambient intelligence.”

While there’s a creepy Big Brother element to our houses and cities watching, learning, and interacting with our every move, the smart homes and cities of the future are really just the next frontier in our already sensor-rich and hyper-connected world.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach