Home inspection findings by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck, Professional Real Estate Inspector TREC# 9073

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Bio-Mass Heater for the Home

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Letting my thoughts wander on what could be done to make a home sustainable.

I have been thinking of the future of  the home, and how that might be sustainable. Generally for me, pieces fall into place when I am observing the world around me to understand how I can change it. Here a serious of events which were strung together in my mind. 1) A home inspection of a home with an access panel which has been sealed turns out to be a coal shute. 2) A documentary on people in Eastern Africa telling the story how the government convinced villagers to stop destroying trees for charcoal, and how to use leaves and other organic matter to make fuel pellets. 3) Bio-mass generators and heaters are being used in commercial buildings for heat and power. In fact, a winery decide to use its cuttings for this heat production. What could this all add up to?
    I do not place gardening waste into the trash. I use all of it for compost. However, I recently had an abundance of fresh material for my compost. That is when my thoughts turned towards considering how I could use this material for the home. Using the heat from compost piles for the water heater is feasible, and there are homes which use this idea. Then the series of observations from the introduction came to mind. What if this bio-mass was thrown down a shute where it will be turned into fuel pellets. These pellets are then fed into an efficient burner  (we know how to build burn chambers where there is little exhaust, because of the efficiency of the burn). Ideally the heat produced could be used for cooking, water heating, and air conditioning. Sounds unreasonable? There are sustainable homes built by dedicated individuals which already do this; however, the techniques used by these eco-warriors are not practical for the average homeowner. Considering that these bio-mass heaters and generators already exist, and some could probably be used in a home, why not find a way to automate the process of making fuel pellets from organic matter around our own homes?
    The simplest fuel pellet would be easy to make. You take leaves; soak them in water; and press them into a pellet. I did write that the process should be automated, but the entire process would need human intervention. You would have to prune, cut, and feed enough biomass into the furnace system each week, and this may be the glitch in my idea. Could your home produce enough biomass? My home does. I could increase the size of my bamboo patch to use that plant’s cuttings alone for the purpose.  This is probably not the case for most homes.  The other factor is that homeowners might not want to be involved in this process. At an event about “green concerns”, a woman bent over to me and said that I do not want to be a conspiracy theorist, but people do not care about this topic. She was speaking of air quality. Houston has one of the worse air quality indexes in the nation. I think it is a matter of apathy. We become use to a situation, then we do not think about it anymore. If we do not see a physical problem with our house, we do not fix it. We have too many other things that we want to do. Working to keep our home functioning appears to be a set back.
    Looking at pictures of wind turbines on a skyscraper in the heart of London, an architect reminded me that adding green features to urban landscapes can have a negative aspect. Green may be the brave new trend in residential real estate, but the features may not go over well. These biomass furnaces can be cumbersome, which would add a feature to the home which might not be appreciated by the neighbors. With these thoughts lodged  in my head, I came to the conclusion that a biomass furnace may not be the best thing for an individual home. Recycling has come a long way in Houston, but as a whole, we are not there yet. The new law requiring that garden waste be placed in a special bag is being observed though, so why not use that waste for energy production? This could be quite practical. This idea fits with something else that I believe: sustainable energy has to be provided to homes over the current power delivery systems for most homeowners to adopt it. Solar panels are expensive, and lower income homeowners will not adopt this technology, even if they have the desire. Probably this same fact will effect middle income homeowners.
    I still have this fantasy stoked by reading science fiction novels that we can create a home that is entirely sustainable, like the ships of these works. That technology does exist; look at the space station. Again cost rears its head. Instead of a closed system creating a sustainable home, maybe I should focus on how to create an environment where my home is sustainable, because the environment in which it is located is sustainable.

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© Frank Schulte-Ladbeck Professional Home Inspector Houston, Texas
Frank Theodor Schulte-Ladbeck
home inspector, TREC# 9073
Houston , Texas , 77063 United States

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