Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Vancouver is Winning in the War on Cars

Denver has a war on cars.  Conservatives and libertarians don't think city government should be engaged in this war.

In Vancouver, however, it is now apparent that if cars lose the war, there are benefits:

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Fluid-Applied WRBs are Getting Our Attention

A house needs a weather resistant barrier (WRB) underneath the wall cladding to divert wind-driven rain.  Asphalt impregnated felt paper was the most common WRB for 100 years.  Then about 1980, builders started using Tyvek.  It had at least three advantages:  The 12' length of  the rolls saved labor cost, you can tape the seams, and it doesn't tear as easily.  Taping of the seams meant that it could also serve as an air barrier, and reduced the infiltration rate of air moving through the house.

Now it appears that the best WRB is "fluid applied" which means it gets sprayed on like paint.  In some wall designs, it can serve as both a seamless air barrier and fastener-free WRB.

Check out Matt Risinger's work on the topic:

Monday, April 20, 2015

Housing Demand is at a 50 Year Peak in Denver

Housing demand is important, otherwise there are no reasons to build low and zero energy homes.

Here's some advice for house hunting new Denver immigrants:
Your best option is Capitol Hill, where the older, more affordable apartments are.

Older neighborhoods close to light rail have 2-3 bdrm homes for $1700 and up.  Some have basements which will add 1-2 more bdrms.  All these close in neighborhoods have started getting their own brewpubs too.

I have some rental homes, and it looks to me that the market will stay incredibly tight this year.  That means a feeding frenzy for every advertised house or apartment.  So using Craigslist to find a rental can be a frustrating waste of time, with a lot of disappointment and wasted application fees.

My advice is to find some solid management companies that seem to have a lot of inventory of apartments and homes.  You can pay an application fee and if approved, get on their waiting list.  Make sure they explain to you how their waiting list works.

You simply can't wait for a showing to see if the place will be acceptable.  Find companies you trust and jump on what they offer you.

I like and have dealt with Cornerstone, Wheelhouse, Boutique Apartments, Fourstar, Distinctive Dwelling, Realm.  I'm sure there are more out there I don't know about, but the newer ones could be scammers.  Read the Yelp reviews, but take the occasional bad reviews with a grain of salt, otherwise none will make the cut.

I haven't heard of anyone testing this method yet, so please report back if you try it.

BTW, more than half the renters I talk to these days are new to town and moved here because of legalization.  I think most folks have really underestimated the economic impact it is making.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Denver is Getting it Wrong on Short Term Rentals

Mary Beth Susman and Denver City Council are looking at the issue of short term rentals in the city because the zoning department has reported a total of 9 complaints about them.

Since 1956, it has been illegal to rent homes and apartments for less than 30 days.

With the popularity of  websites like Airbnb, there are 1000 landlords in Denver currently flouting this law.  Since it is such an obscure law, most landlords have been unaware of it.  The nine with complaints have been threatened with fines up to $52,000/year

Council is considering changing the law under the condition that the rental is the landlords primary residence.  I don't know where this strange condition came from, maybe some other city thought it was a good idea, and Denver is trying to copy their model.

When questioned about it, Ms. Susman, the chairman of the Sharing Economy Committee, said:

"Homeowners may operate one dwelling unit for rental periods of less than 30 days.  This unit must be part of their primary residence.  The reason for this is if a nonresident investor is allowed to offer multiple dwelling units for short term, then those units are out of the city's inventory of affordable long term rental housing.  The result of that is higher rents across the city."

It sounds logical at first, but there is absolutely no data anywhere to support this assertion.

Councilman Chris Nevitt said, "I don't see embracing a new model of lodging that doesn't play by the same revenue rules as the old model of lodging," .   "We are here to embrace new models of business, but we aren't here to pick winners and losers."  Chris, do you understand what "disruptive business model" even means?  Instead of supporting the aging status quo, consider what Long Beach did when the new Uber-style taxi companies began taking away business from the old-guard, regulated taxi companies.  They loosened the old regulations!  Smart.

So I'm just urging Council to gather and then consider only the facts.

Here's what might really happen - If investor short term rentals are truly as profitable as everyone apparently fears that they are, then many more will be built in all the zones where additional units can be built.  This increased supply could drive down prices for short term rentals to the point where these new units are returned to the long term rental pool! Remember, I'm just speculating.  Council, please don't write laws based on speculation.

That proviso is the newest in a long history of specious arguments for various zoning regulations.   I'll list a few:

  • "We have to provide parking at the light rail station and prevent parking in the nearby neighborhood or else parking will be awful."
  • "We must provide 1.5 parking spaces for every dwelling unit in the city or parking citywide will be awful."  (This was true in all zones until changed in 2010)
  • "We must not allow more than three unrelated adults to reside in a single dwelling unit or the neighborhood will be horrible."  (Also changed in 2010)
  • "We must not allow rentals of less than 30 days or else the neighborhood will go to hell." (This probably will be changed because there are 1000 illegal short term rentals in the city and only 9 related complaints)

We turned up the following document from the City of Colorado Springs website.  It indicates that the Springs is proud of their tourism heritage and trusts its residents to self regulate short term rentals.  Apparently Denver City Council doesn't trust us to act like adults.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Heat pump dryer update II

One of our readers has taken possession of the Whirlpool heat pump dryer:

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Shirley Wall is Gaining Traction

There has been a lot of talk recently about the Shirley Wall, which could be the simplest known way to build a high R value wall.

There is an assortment of videos that chronicle the building of this house at YouTube:

Monday, October 27, 2014

How Much Money Can You Save by Installing all LED light bulbs?

Well,  Xcel Energy has already done the math for me:

"Amount of Electricity Used
We’ll need to begin with the amount of light bulbs in a home. According to a recent survey, the average American household uses 47 light bulbs.
Now, these bulbs might have varying wattages from 100 watts down to 25, but for the sake of easy math and comparisons, let’s assume that we are using all 60 watt bulbs.
Total Light Wattage = 47 bulbs X 60 watts = 2,820 watts
That’s a lot of wattage!  Now let’s take a look at the wattage if all 47 lights are CFL bulbs or LED bulbs at the equivalent brightness of 60 watt incandescent bulbs.
All bulbs deliver equivalent brightnessSingle bulb wattage Wattage used for whole house
Incandescent bulbs
60 watts
2,820 watts
CFL bulbs
14 watts
658 watts
LED bulbs
10 watts
470 watts
As you can see, there is quite a difference in the wattage between energy efficient bulbs and incandescent bulbs.  In other words, switching to CFL or LED bulbs would save A LOT of energy.  And as I’m about to show you, this will, in turn, save a lot of money!

Cost of Electricity
The average cost of electricity in the United States is currently 11.88 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) (for a more accurate cost, you can check your last billing statement for your cost per kWh), meaning if you used 1,000 watts of electricity for an hour, it costs you 11.41 cents.

Time that Lights are Turned On
The amount of time the lights are being used can vary quite a bit from home-to-home, but let’s pretend, for the sake of this example, that each of us use our lights for 5 hours a day. That’s 30 days in a month (on average), for 5 hours a day.
5 hours X 30 days = 150 hours

Now that we have all of the necessary factors, we can calculate the difference in cost of using traditional incandescent light bulbs versus energy-efficient CFL and LED light bulbs. The formula for this is below:
kW used X (Cost per kWh) X Hours Used = Monthly Lighting Costs
Remember, a kilowatt (kW) is 1,000 watts, so we divide our wattage by 1,000 for this formula.

Monthly Cost of Using Incandescent Light Bulbs
2.820 X $0.1188 X 150 hours = $50.25

Monthly Cost of Using CFL Bulbs
0.658 X $0.1188 X 150 hours = $11.73

Monthly Cost of Using LED Bulbs
0.470 X $0.1188 X 150 hours = $8.37
 If, in this scenario, I switched 47 incandescent light bulbs to LEDs, I could save around $41.87 each month. That really adds up over the course of a year, and the savings continue to grow over many years."
Most households probably aren't using quite that much energy just for lighting, so you should consider the above example a "best case" scenario.
IKEA is now selling a dimmable A19 bulb for only $4.49 plus sales tax.  So if this bulb were appropriate for every fixture in the house above, the total cost to refit the entire house would be only $226, with a payback period of less than 6 months.  That's still a great investment even if you only use your lights half that much.  
The fact that these bulbs are supposed to last for over 20 years, makes it even a sweeter deal.