Blog Post

Our Energy Solutions Have All Been Found

Not really, of course. But after five-plus years I’m ending my weekly Energy Solutions blog to focus more on the Resilient Design Institute and re-making Leonard Farm back into a farm.

Our completed house and barn in the early morning light a few months ago.Photo Credit: Alex Wilson


Back in June, 2008 I started writing a weekly column on energy for the Brattleboro Reformer, our local newspaper. I thought it would be fun to write a regular column on a topic that I’ve focused so much time on over the past 35-plus years. I was pretty confident that I could come up with enough topics to write a year’s worth of columns, and I thought some of the Reformer’s readers would appreciate such a column—geeky as it might be.

Somewhat to my surprise, the editor said sure, and I’ve been writing the weekly Energy Solutions column ever since—except during an eight-month period in 2011 when I was on sabbatical from BuildingGreen and needing the freedom to travel and focus on launching the nonprofit Resilient Design Institute. My colleague Tristan Roberts took over for me then.

For much of that time I’ve been posting these musings as blogs on That’s been a bit of a challenge, because I’ve tried to write the column/blog to serve both a lay audience and practitioners. This has led to occasional complaints by the newspaper readers that it’s too technical and complaints by blog readers that it’s too simplistic.

But mostly I’ve been able to find that balance to have some content appropriate for everyone.


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This is my 273rd column/blog. At about 900 words per, that’s nearly 250,000 words—20% more words than Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Enough already!

Another view of the house, with the barn roof (and its solar panels) just visible in the back.Photo Credit: Alex Wilson

Back to the land

While there is lots more that could be said about energy, I’m feeling a need to shift my focus. With summer here I’m wanting to devote my weekends to creating the farm in Dummerston, Vermont that I’ve alluded to now and then in my blogs. We are looking for the right farmer to work with in creating a farming enterprise, but meanwhile I'm putting seeds in the ground.

I also want more time for other creative endeavors. Writing the Energy Solutions blog has been a regular part of my weekend these past five-plus years—just ask my wife, Jerelyn! Usually it isn’t a huge amount of time—typically one to three hours (sometimes considerably more)—but it takes a surprising amount of effort to come up with topics that can be presented in a way that’s both understandable to a lay audience and informative to green building professionals.

I’m also wanting to devote more of my creative energy to writing about resilient design and build more of a reader base on I just haven't been finding the time, and I need to change that.

Mulching newly planted fruit trees with the tractor I found on Craigslist a couple of years ago.

Photo Credit: Alex Wilson

I’ll miss the feedback and questions

In saying goodbye to my Energy Solutions blog I’ll miss the reader comments and the input. I’ll even (sort of) miss the calls and email queries I’ve gotten pretty regularly since starting the column. Many of those start with something like, “Alex, I’ve been thinking of adding insulation to my attic…” or “our boiler is on the fritz and we’re thinking of…”

I consider myself an educator, so I like being able to help people out. I also like the fact that those people I’m reaching—either through the articles or follow-up calls—are reducing their energy consumption, contributing less to climate change, and in many other ways helping create a better environment.

But I’ll be glad to dial it back a bit.

We put in about a quarter-acre of heirloom pumpkins that a local brewer wants for his seasonal beers this fall along with some other crops.

Photo Credit: Alex Wilson

Parting thoughts on energy

If I can leave you with a few take-away thoughts on energy it is these:

  • Start with energy conservation. While not as glamorous as solar panels on the roof or a plug-in hybrid in the driveway, energy conservation is usually the smartest choice. Add insulation to your house (or that of your clients) so that the furnace or boiler doesn’t have to work as hard; build smaller so you’re heating and cooling less space; combine driving trips or ride a bicycle to reduce the need for your car; wash your clothes in cold water. A kilowatt-hour or gallon of heating oil saved is usually cheaper than one that is consumed even with the highest efficiency equipment.
  • Implement passive solutions. When it comes to house design, rely on passive solar design, passive cooling strategies (such as overhangs to shade windows), and natural daylighting strategies to reduce the daytime needs for electric lighting.
  • Install high-efficiency equipment. Once loads have been reduced and passive systems have been incorporated to the extent possible, install high-efficiency mechanical systems (furnaces, boilers, water heaters, lighting equipment, appliances), water-conserving plumbing fixtures (low-flow showerheads can dramatically reduce water heating costs), and consider fuel economy with your next car purchase.
  • Rely on renewable energy. Most renewable energy systems are still fairly expensive, so it makes sense to practice conservation first. But then, by all means, look to solar-electric (photovoltaic) modules for your electricity. Wind energy only makes economic sense on a larger scale—usually with off-shore or ridge-top installations of multiple, large turbines—but in the right location wind power is the most cost-effective renewable electricity generation option we have today. On-farm methane generation, biomass co-generation systems, and technologies like tidal power and wave power should all be considered in our efforts to move away from carbon-intensive fossil fuels.

It has been a lot of fun to write this blog, and I will continue writing articles for—though not as regularly as in the past. Those interested in following my other writing can either sign up to get email notices when I post articles on, or sign up for my Twitter feed (where I let followers know about articles I’ve published or posted). Archives of most of my columns can be found as the Energy Solutions blog on

Thanks for reading my blogs, challenging me when I’ve veered too far into the world of conjecture, and being part of the conversation. Keep in touch.

Alex is founder of BuildingGreen, Inc. and executive editor of Environmental Building News. In 2012 he founded the Resilient Design Institute. To keep up with Alex’s latest articles and musings, you can sign up for his Twitter feed.

Published June 11, 2014

(2014, June 11). Our Energy Solutions Have All Been Found. Retrieved from

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February 23, 2015 - 4:01 pm


What about the all natural insulation for homes and buildings made of natural fibers? Very renewable with little processing and no chemical to off-gas, with a reasonable price for the R-Value.

We are a Textile mill here in Ohio and started making natural fiber insulation to great response. Is there a wider application or audience to talk to in your opinion?