Compare this “Cheap” Coal Option with the Idea of Passive Houses

This article in the NY Times covers growing interest in home use of coal stoves, but conveniently fails to review the complete cost of coal mining, the subsidies that the coal and other petro fuel industries get from our tax dollars, the long term cleanup costs of accidents like the coal slurry spill this past week, the environmental devastation of mountain top removal mining.

I think it is important that the complete context be considered when thinking about energy and comfort and how we live here. Simply looking at the cost of $165 per ton and the question about dealing with the coal ash is not the whole picture.

“Cheap” coal is not an elegant solution.

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Burning Coal at Home Is Making a Comeback

SUGARLOAF, Pa. — Kyle Buck heaved open the door of a makeshift bin abutting his suburban ranch house. Staring at a two-ton pile of coal that was delivered by truck a few weeks ago, Mr. Buck worried aloud that it would not be enough to last the winter.
Problematic in some ways and difficult to handle, coal is nonetheless a cheap, plentiful, mined-in-America source of heat. And with the cost of heating oil and natural gas increasingly prone to spikes, some homeowners in the Northeast, pockets of the Midwest and even Alaska are deciding coal is worth the trouble.

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Low Energy Demand Housing

This article from the NY Times describes super-airtight houses that use almost no energy to remain warm and comfortable. The article says the cost of construction is 5 to 7% higher than conventional construction. I have a sense that the payback on the slightly higher construction costs are going to be recaptured rather quickly through the greatly reduced utility bill.

None of that personal accounting for cost addresses the larger social savings of a reduced energy grid, lowered pollution etc.

There are solutions to our problems on the small blue planet. We have to choose them individually and encourage our governments to enact public policy that encourages sensible, sustainable choices.

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The Energy Challenge

No Furnaces but Heat Aplenty in ‘Passive Houses’

Published: December 26, 2008

DARMSTADT, Germany — From the outside, there is nothing unusual about the stylish new gray and orange row houses in the Kranichstein District, with wreaths on the doors and Christmas lights twinkling through a freezing drizzle. But these houses are part of a revolution in building design: There are no drafts, no cold tile floors, no snuggling under blankets until the furnace kicks in. There is, in fact, no furnace.

In Berthold Kaufmann’s home, there is, to be fair, one radiator for emergency backup in the living room — but it is not in use. Even on the coldest nights in central Germany, Mr. Kaufmann’s new “passive house” and others of this design get all the heat and hot water they need from the amount of energy that would be needed to run a hair dryer.

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