Sustainable Construction and Design

Electric cars make sense in Iowa

Electric cars 01Rob Smith is principal architect at CMBA | Smith Metzger.

Little-known fact about electric vehicles: Des Moines is where the first American electric car was built, by William Morrison in 1887. The range was 50 miles, and in the early 1900s there were more electric cars on the road than any other type. Thomas Edison also built one, in 1913.

Now every manufacturer is racing to see how quickly an electric vehicle (EV) can come to the market. 

And the “greenness” of the EV has been hotly debated. I am sure you have heard of many of the issues.

  • The EV has a similar carbon footprint from the manufacturing process to that of any other car. In fact, the EV uses many rare metals to keep the vehicle lightweight.
  • The manufacture of some types of batteries causes great damage to the environment because of strip mining. That may or may not be a big issue.
  • The emissions are greatly reduced compared to the gas engine. No debate here.

But the biggest factor in the “greenness” of the EV is where on the planet it is charged. 

Electric cars 02The source used to produce the electricity trumps all the other green factors of the electric vehicle. Therefore, Iowa, with an estimated 40% of electricity generated by wind power, is the perfect place to operate an EV.

In Colorado, where coal produces electricity, the footprint equals a car getting poor gas mileage. If the EV is charged where the electricity is produced mostly from wind, hydro or nuclear, the effect can be equal to operating a gas-powered car getting 100 miles per gallon.

Let me know if you are ready to go all electric. Email me at

Zeroing in on net zero

- Rob Smith is principal architect at CMBA | Architects Smith Metzger

Many buildings are being touted as “net zero energy buildings.” Energy is still used but produced on site to offset usage; therefore, the net energy used is zero or less.

Justin Doyle, local developer and president of Modus Engineering, has delved into net zero on his Market One building on East Third Street.

Now that it has been up and running for over a year, how is it doing and what are the lessons learned from the process?

Justin says: “Net zero is not a destination but a journey. There are months that are net zero and some months that are not. We created design energy models based on assumptions. The trick is to operate the building in line with the assumptions.”

Over 750 measuring devices are located in the building, but someone has to analyze the info and determine why more energy is being used. 

Operational issues that have occurred to not reach net zero have been:

  • A bank of solar panels was turned off for maintenance and not turned back on. It took several weeks to realize it was not clouds reducing solar panel output. Two weeks of production were lost.
  • Space heaters under desks were left on 24/7 rather than turned off at night. Analysis of plug loads showed excess usage in one area, and the problem was tracked down.
  • The thermostat was adjusted because someone was hot or cold and not reset at 5:00.

Justin added, “Even though we have attracted like-minded tenants, the net zero journey is all about monitoring the usage of energy and being active in the operations on a weekly basis.”

Let me know if you are ready to go “net zero." Email me at

Find your energy vampires

- Rob Smith is principal architect at CMBA | Smith Metzger. He writes about sustainable construction and design.

Vampires suck the life out of a person, but by day look harmless.  Much like energy vampires.

Energy vampires are all those devices in your home that are never truly off.  You can tell by the glow of the green light.  In fact I don’t need night lights in my house because of the glowing green light from the TVs, receiver, radio, and more.

Why do we have devices with standby power?  Anything waiting for a click of a remote or a continuous display like the “ON” button.  Sometimes you cannot even tell.

The worse of the devices are digital cable boxes with DVR which in “OFF” mode could use 350 KWH and cost about $30 per year.  Doesn’t seem like a lot but my home energy bill is relatively small.  If you add up all the devices it could be 5-10 percent of my total bill.

What can you do?

  • Use a plug strip at locations where many devices are located.  All my stereo equipment is now hooked into my flat screen so I get to turn off power to TV, amplifier, CD player, and Blu-ray player with one switch.
  • Unplug the device if it is not used much like the CD player and TV in the guest bedroom.
  • Buy a little device that measures exactly how many watts your electronics consume while “OFF”.
  • Buy ENERGY STAR products that might reduce the standby power consumption to 1 watt instead of 10-20 watts.

Let me know if you have any great ways to stomp out energy vampires.  Email me at

Innovative sustainable products

- Rob Smith is principal architect at CMBA | Smith Metzger

The REALLY BIG movement for sustainable design started in the early 2000s. Innovation, however, was mostly about reinventing existing products into more sustainable products. 

Now, many years later, innovation is more holistic. How can basic paradigms be shifted to solve an issue in a totally new way? Here are four products that create a new solution.


    Mechanical systems typically maintain the temperature between 72 and 75 degrees. A narrow band of temperatures means the system cycles on and off. What if the band could be increased between 68 and 77 degrees?

    The Hyperchair allows individuals to control heating and cooling right at their seat. A lithium battery charges off-hours and is good for two days of operation. Studies show a one-degree increase in the temperature band can save 5 to 15 percent in energy.


    An issue with residential solar energy has been what to do with excess generation during the day.

    Elon Musk is leveraging new battery technology to store excess generation of solar energy. PowerWall efficiently stores electricity for use during hours of non-sunshine.

    Gas or electric dryers heat air to high temperatures and then exhaust all that heat.

    has invented a dryer using heat pump technology that recirculates hot air while removing moisture from clothes. As a result, no venting is required.


    LED lighting is efficient and long-lasting but requires a transformer that reduces 110 volts to 24 volts. The transformer makes the LED fixture not as efficient.

    POE uses computers to provide low-voltage power to LED fixtures without a transformer. The wiring is a simple Ethernet cable anyone can install.

Sorting an omelet

- Rob Smith is principal architect at CMBA | Smith Metzger

Remember when the truck came down the street and put items from your green recycling tote into the correct compartment on the truck? That’s called “curb sort recycling." And if you had something that was not recyclable they would leave it in your tote with a note. 


IMG_3410Then came “residential single stream,” which means you throw whatever into your recycle container and it gets sorted somewhere else. It’s easier for residents, but we still have to be mindful.

My friend Todd Mendenhall is one of the owners at Mid America Recycling. That’s where all the stuff we put in our containers goes.

Todd says, “Residential single stream recycling is like a truck dumping a pile of thousands

of omelets and picking out the egg, bacon, green pepper, onion and chives and sorting

them into their own pile.”

IMG_3429Mendenhall mentioned residents still need to be conscientious when recycling. 

  • Don’t put plastic bags in your recycle container. First, they are not recyclable. Second, they get all tangled in the sorting machinery and require the line to be shut down to remove the bags. PLASTIC BAGS ARE TRASH.
  • Don’t put trash in your container. On my tour I saw suitcases, hoses and car wheels.
  • While a shovel and chain are made of steel, no recycler wants shovels. Pop cans, glass bottles, plastic bottles and paper are mostly what they want.


Let me know if you have any recycle tips. Email me at

Restaurants sustain local farmers

Pritchard- Rob Smith is principal architect at CMBA | Smith Metzger

I remember growing up as a kid from the Chicago suburbs and working at a vegetable farm. The local economy sustained those farms.

More and more you see reference to local food sources on restaurant menus. For local farms to be sustainable it takes the support of restaurants.

Lynn Pritchard, owner of Table 128 Bistro fully embraces that relationship. He started by contacting three to four farms and found the local farmers knew each other. You need potatoes, someone knew someone who grew potatoes.

What has Lynn learned being more sustainable in his restaurant?

  • Local farmers operate very sustainably and are thinking of how to improve soil quality with every planting.
  • The rotational crop such as cowpeas or other legumes needs to be embraced. In Asia when the rice fields are drained, buckwheat is planted to enrich the soil and made into ramen noodles.
  • Farmers are very interested to provide product because small boutique farms such as Central Iowa Organics need to develop an income stream. What they grow is not a commodity they take to the local grain elevator.
  • The menu has to be flexible and adapt to what’s available. Restaurants need to be nimble and print revised menus as needed.
  • Customers need to consider everything in a plant or animal and not just the tenderloin.  Our diet needs to also consider the shank or roast.
  • The cost to obtain high quality food is usually more than mass produced non-organic.  Lynn believes the higher cost for quality food results in lower healthcare costs down the line.

After all, we are what we eat.

Let me know of restaurants you have found to sustain local farmers. Email me at

City folks can protect waterways too!

- Rob Smith is principal architect atCMBA | Smith Metzger

It seems several times a week I see another article in the Des Moines Register on the lawsuit over water quality in the Raccoon River. That’s a rural issue, right? We city folk can’t have an impact on water quality from our little patch of land, can we?

I am reminded of what we spread on our land every spring when I go to Ace Hardware and gag over the smell. Pallets piled high with Scotts Step One Crab Grass Preventer Plus Lawn Food. 

Or watch those guys with masks and rubber boots come through the neighborhood leaving warning flags “LAWN APPLICATION – KEEP OFF GRASS”. 

Gordon Sterk, owner of Johnston Ace Hardware, says people can’t get enough of Scott’s Step One and he can’t give away the natural fertilizer. Funny thing is Ace stores in Iowa City seem to sell more of the natural fertilizer! Hmmmm?

Read the warning label on this stuff and it does not sound good.  Here’s an edited version.

ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARDS: This pesticide is toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates and may adversely affect non-target plants. Drift and runoff may be hazardous to aquatic organisms in water adjacent to treated areas. To protect the environment, do not allow pesticide to enter or run off into storm drains, drainage ditches, gutters or surface waters. The use of this chemical in areas where soils are permeable, particularly where the water table is shallow, may result in groundwater contamination.

What can you do to help the water quality?

  • Don’t use pesticides on your lawn.
  • Buy natural fertilizer you can put on your lawn and gardens such as Milorganite.
  • Use weed killer sparingly and spot apply rather than broadcast.
  • Remove dandelions with a tool and add to your salad.
  • Don’t compare your lawn to your neighbors!

Let me know how you care for your lawn to be a better steward of our water supply at

Support efforts to upcycle wood from ash trees

 - Rob Smith is principal architect atCMBA | Smith Metzger.

A beautiful tree lined street. The one on the left before the little critter called the emerald ash borer showed up.  The one on the right is after.  Note the green grass in both pictures in case you thought the one on the right is winter. An estimated seven billion trees will die which is ten times that of the Dutch elm disease.

What happens to all those trees that get cut down?  According to Des Moines arborist David Jahn, “Most trees are used for firewood or chipped into mulch. Ash is not a desirable hardwood even though furniture and flooring have been around for centuries.”

Now there is a groundswell in upcycling ash. Aronson Woodworks in St. Mary’s has started getting ash logs from Des Moines to make ash furniture next year. Clay Aronson says “I love the distinctive grain of ash. Much like oak but not so reddish”. 

Iowa State University is working with Iowa Prison Industries to make commemorative mantle clocks from ash trees removed from campus. What an awesome idea. You can also buy a Shaker table.

David Jahn would like to see 100 more artisans doing the same. Even that might not make a dent in the supply, but it’s a start!

What can you do to help the ash upcycling movement?

  • Buy furniture made of ash to increase the demand.
  • Install ash flooring to increase the demand.
  • Buy ash kitchen cabinets to increase the demand.
  • Have some furniture made from a tree in your yard.

Let me know if you have an idea to reuse the ash trees in your yard at


Upcycling is new wave of sustainability

- Rob Smith is principal architect at CMBA | Smith Metzger.

Sustainable design has moved from “recycling at the curb” to “using recycled products” to “giving life to an unused waste stream” also known as upcycling.

Companies are exploring the planet for a waste stream and then deciding what to make from it.

An unused waste stream like all the plastic in the oceans has been harnessed by Adidas.  Last year Adidas in partnership with Parley For The Oceans announced a running shoe made from a previously unused waste stream.  The shoe’s upper will be made from plastic removed from the ocean.  Adidas is working on how to use the plastic for the soles of running shoes also.

How about Looptworks.  An apparel company that goes out and finds a waste stream of fabric or leather and then upcycles it to a new product. They got wind of Southwest Airlines refurbishing its jets and replacing 80,000 airplane seats.  They walked away with 40 acres of leather to make bags for carry-on luggage.

Those examples got me thinking of other waste streams that could be upcycled:

  • All those metal containers for holiday candies and cookies.
  • Worn out jeans
  • Old computers and printers

Let me know if you have a waste stream you have been thinking about at

Six pillars of sustainable design

- Rob Smith is principal architect at CMBA | Smith Metzger.

Many organizations are trying to be the leader of the sustainability movement. You’ve got

  • World Green Building Council
  • USGBC 
  • Green Building Initiative
  • Green Building Alliance
  • and on and on

Each with several rating levels, guidelines, fees, and review process. As architects and owners sift through all the choices everyone has to simply keep a few key concepts in the forefront.

Call them the six pillars of sustainable design. Focus on these and you can’t go wrong!

  1. OPTIMIZE SITE POTENTIAL. Can you find an existing building that will work? Should it be closer to bus routes? Can it take advantage of natural ventilation and daylight?
  2. OPTIMIZE ENERGY USE. Do all you can to use as little fossil fuel as possible. Install the most efficient mechanical systems.  Consider geothermal and solar.
  3. PROTECT AND CONSERVE WATER.  Use as little water in the building as you can and conserve what falls on the site. Harvest rain water. Retain water on site with swales.
  4. OPTIMIZE BUILDING SPACE AND MATERIAL USE. Design spaces to fit the need. Build with long lasting materials. Use recycled materials. Build with naturally replenished materials.
  5. ENHANCE INDOOR AIR QUALITY.   Buildings are for human use so the human condition is paramount.  All the green efforts are in vain if the patient dies or is unhealthy.
  6. OPTIMIZE OPERATIONAL AND MAINTENANCE PRACTICES.  For too long buildings have been designed with sophisticated systems and turned over with no communication as to how to operate the building.  Designers and users must work together to reap the benefits of planning.

Let me know if you have any other pillars to add to the list. Contact me at

Project Sunroof

--Rob's guest blogger, Todd Campbell, is a registered architect at CMBA|smith metzger.  He has worked on the downtown YMCA and Josephs West Glen.

Google Docs, Google Maps, Google Earth, Google Drive… it seems every time I turn around Google is releasing a wonderful new toy for me to play with. This time it’s called Project Sunroof, an online app that combines aerial 3D models from Google Maps with historical weather data, regional utility costs and any local solar incentives. All you have to do is plug in your address and information regarding your typical energy usage.

From this, the program computes how much sunlight hits your roof annually, recommending a solar installation size (in square feet & kilowatts) necessary to generate close to 100 percent of your electricity usage. It also provides information on purchasing or leasing panels, projected payback, and contact information for local installers. It gives you all the information necessary to make an informed decision.

As exciting as all of this sounds, we may have to wait a while. Project Sunroof is still in its infancy and has only been launched in Boston, San Francisco and Fresno to date. Having said that, Google plans to eventually expand nationally - even globally; depending upon the project’s success in these initial launch areas.

I for one, look forward to playing around with this program someday and seeing if solar is a viable option for my home.  How about you? Let me know at


Tiny houses

--Rob's guest blogger, Todd Campbell, is a registered architect at CMBA|smith metzger.  He has worked on the downtown YMCA and Josephs West Glen.  He would love to design someone a tiny house.

Recently a friend introduced me to the tiny house movement; people downsizing and living in 400 square feet or less. Little footprints, simple roofs and every area designed to serve multiple purposes.  There are no dedicated rooms here - no walk-in closets. Just hidden little storage shelves - built into the stairs. And low ceilinged lofts just big enough for a bed.  You can’t live here without simplifying your life. 

As I looked into this further, I couldn’t help but reminisce about the good old days.  Fresh out of ISU…degree in hand, I signed my first lease on a garden-level studio apartment.  For those who don’t know, or may have forgotten, “garden-level studio” is code for an apartment without a bedroom half-buried underground.  Barely 500 square feet, it had a living room, bathroom, galley kitchen and a large closet. It was so small. So tiny. Yet surprisingly warm and cozy too!

Fast forward 25 years and I now live in a four-bedroom, 2½-bath house with an office I only visit when my wireless router needs resetting and a finished basement I walk through to change my furnace         filter. Truth be told, I probably still live my life in 500 square feet.  The rest is just space I pass through…slowing accumulating items I feel I MAY need…someday. 

It certainly got me thinking. Could I live my life in 400 square feet? Is it even possible to streamline my life to that level? Probably not, but I’d sure like to try!

How about you? Contact me at

Of course a course can be sustainable

- Rob Smith is a principal architect at CMBA | Smith Metzger.

It’s the classic view for many golf telecasts. The army of mowers headed out to manicure 100 acres of grass. Got me thinking…are golf courses thinking about sustainable design and using less resources?

Courses are certainly a huge user of water and chemicals. I found water usage varies but a course can easily use 250,000 gallons per day.

I called Legacy Golf Club in Norwalk to inquire if there has been a change in course management since the sustainable movement began. Joe Carroll, chief groundskeeper since the course opened said “In the past we mowed greens three times a week and the rough twice a week. Now greens are twice a week and the rough just once.  We also water the course with 100 percent runoff water stored in ponds.”

How can the players help the course be more sustainable?  REPLACE YOUR DIVOTS!!!  Or Joe recommends at least filing the divot with sand.

How can the course be more sustainable? Here are a few ideas.

  • Plant fruit trees in natural areas to provide food for birds and other animals.
  • Plant perennials.  I’ve seen so many beautiful landscaped areas planted with annuals like begonias and geraniums.
  • Plant drought resistant grasses so less water is used.
  • Reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizer. The culprit is too much nitrogen which promotes algae growth and robs ponds of oxygen. Legacy used to fertilize three times a year but now fertilizes once a year.

Let me know if you have any ideas to make courses more sustainable? Contact me at

Let there be (natural) light!

I’ll be the first to admit it – I’m a sucker for movies with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.  No, I’m not talking about “You’ve Got Mail” or “Sleepless in Seattle”…I’m going waaaay back to the 1990 cult classic “Joe Versus the Volcano”. 

Poor Joe Banks, played by Tom, develops a terminal “brain cloud” from years of slaving away in a windowless workplace - the flickering fluorescent lights casting a sickly blue-green hue as the electric ballasts hum and buzz.

Well, hopefully we don’t have those kinds of environments anymore. Large buildings are typically designed with broad spans of exterior windows, high ceilings and open workspaces -- and that’s great! We’ve all heard about the benefits of natural light by now; increased employee productivity, shortened patient recovery times, boosts in retail sales and decreased rate of absenteeism.

Just a few problems here. Natural light also brings with it intense heat and blinding glare, often resulting in blinds being drawn by those near the window, robbing all other occupants of the light’s benefits. Last year 3M introduced a product to solve the dilemma; a light redirecting film that is placed in the upper portion of exterior windows. 

To most it looks like little more than frosted glass. Instead the film has a series of micro-prisms that optically diffuse and redirect 80 percent of the daylight upward, washing across the ceiling and throwing natural light deep into the building for the benefit of all.

Maybe…just maybe…if Joe had worked here, he wouldn’t have jumped into that volcano!

It's not that easy….bein' green


- Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger.

 Or is it?  An associate in my office was flipping through a 645 page reference guide on green building design searching for a way to get a project from LEED SILVER to LEED GOLD, and he commented on the tremendous effort in the certification process to get the LEED badge.

He already took the “low hanging fruit” such as bike racks and low-flow faucets.  Other choices were either a mountain of paperwork to track a single credit or the option to buy energy credits. 

We couldn’t help but wonder how it came to this. All the added documentation and fees to be green.  Mr. Contractor, chase down the recycled content on every material in this project…yes, all of them!  And at the end of the day, there’s hundreds of hours spent analyzing energy usage. But that’s ok – that’s our job. Some clients feel the additional costs for these services are a small price to pay for a sustainable building, but some do not.

That’s when the light bulb went off. IT IS EASY BEING GREEN!!  What the green movement has done is make many things in designing a building “standard practice”.  Think of the things that most take for granted now.

You want low-emitting paints? No problem. The industry has those options now. How about a way to divert all that construction waste from landfills? Sure, there’s a company that will do all that now. Low-flow toilets are now a standard.  

So even if you don’t go for the badge, rest assured your building will still embrace many green principals and utilize all the fantastic new toys of the trade.

What do you think about green certification?  Let me know at

Pedal to the metal

- Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

It is a beautiful June day in downtown Des Moines. You have the idea to grab lunch at one of the food trucks parked at the Western Gateway Park, but want to avoid the energy consumption of driving and the hassle of parking downtown.

Des Moines B-Cycle has your solution.  Purchase a membership to Des Moines B-Cycle, choose a bike from one of the many B-Cycle stations located throughout downtown Des Moines and cycle to your lunch destination.

It works like this:

  1. Purchase a membership online.  Memberships are good for 24 hours, 30 days or one year. You can also purchase a membership at a kiosk for 24 hours.
  2. Check out one of the bikes at any of the Des Moines B-Stations.
  3. Enjoy your ride.
  4. Return your bike to any B-Station. 

To encourage usage and bike availability, the first 60 minutes of every ride is free, but if a ride lasts over 60 minutes, a $2.50 usage fee will be added for each additional 30 minutes of use.

Des Moines B-Cycle memberships are inexpensive. From a 24-hour pass for $6 to an annual membership of $40 (offered through June 30), a person has access to bike checkouts from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. March 1 to Nov. 30. 

B-Cycles provide an easy transportation alternative to driving, and the B-cycles' internal GPS tracks the miles each member rode on each bike, estimates the number of calories burned, and estimates the carbon emissions avoided.

So follow this link to the Des Moines B-Cycle website then get out there and pedal!


How green are food trucks?

This past weekend the Des Moines Social Club hosted the Iowa Beverage Food Truck Throw Down. A successful event with more than 9,000 people attending according to its Facebook page.

That got me thinking. Des Moines has finally caught up with the rest of America on the food truck craze. But, how green is the idea?

Here are a couple of ideas on how food trucks can lower the energy footprint of your next meal.

  1. The energy usage is small compared to a restaurant with lights, air conditioning, and dish washing. Restaurants also take much energy to build. The food truck takes advantage of the open air.
  2. The locations are in the downtown core serving workers and fostering a walkable city. Sure the truck drove to the spot but everyone else didn’t. I can’t imagine driving to a food truck for a meal. If you think of it DON’T DO IT! 
  3. They provide a quick choice to get out of the office for some fresh air, which is great for your well-being. And think of the social benefits!
  4. No food truck wants to deal with waste. Food wrapped in paper means no water to wash all the dishes. If your favorite truck uses Styrofoam, tell them to use paper instead.

But the best part for me as an architect are the designs of the food trucks.  I fell in love with CHEF because of the industrial food truck and great graphics.

Got a favorite food truck picture?  Send it to me at

How Starbucks is helping make the sustainable connection

Rob Smith is principal at Architects Smith Metzger

I love it when over lunch I learn someone has connected the “SUSTAINABLE DOTS.” This is the magical connection between one’s sustainable efforts and the results.

Tom Bernau, a Des Moines business man, bought the $1.00 reusable cup from Starbucks and uses it once a day at his favorite Starbucks. One time he saw a barista loading the cup dispenser with a three-foot tall stack cradled between his outstretched hands. 

That’s when the “SUSTAINABLE CONNECTION’ hit him.

“If I use my reusable cup every day for a year, how many three foot stacks of cups is that?”

Tom plans on getting a peak into the back room to see what a stack of 300 cups looks like. 

That’s the connection we all need to make.  \And in this case Starbucks is helping.

Starbucks worldwide sold an estimated 4 billion cups of coffee last year. Unfortunately Tom’s story is not the norm! Since 1985 Starbucks has discounted their price if you bring in your own tumbler. THAT MADE NO DIFFERENCE!

So in 2013 the company made the goal to serve 5% of all coffee in personal tumblers by 2015 AFTER EXPERIENCING ONLY 1.8% IN 2013.

The $1.00 reusable cup was introduced to move the meter and serve more coffee in personal cups.

So let’s help Starbucks get to their goal.  Next time you are at Starbucks, buy the reusable cup or just bring your own personal tumbler. I would love to know if you do this. 

You can reach me at  Let me know of another SUSTAINABLE CONNECTION you have experienced.  Was it habit changing?

Take credit where credit is due

Another tax day has come and gone! Hopefully you took advantage of the HUGE federal tax credit for renewable energy.

A whopping 30 percent federal with no limit and 18 percent state with a $5,000 limit. The credit is set to expire at the end of 2016.

The average residential geothermal system costs $25,000

That’s a tax credit of $12,000. 

Another federal credit is the Non-business Energy Property Tax Credit. It's not as good as the renewable. You only get up to a maximum of $500 for all years combined. This credit covers things like adding insulation, better windows, or a high efficiency furnace.

Rod Olson, Financial Care Professionals, says three returns over the past several years out of 600 returns annually have filed for the renewable credit. However the credit on one was large enough to wipe out the entire federal tax and some left for the next year. On the other hand, one in twenty file for the nonbusiness tax credit.

Dan Schwarz of McGowen Hurst Clark & Smith in West Des Moines says “We don’t see people filing for the credit. Probably an opportunity more could take advantage.”

The Congressional Research Service reported in March of 2014 that nearly 12 percent of all tax returns filed in 2011 claimed the residential tax credit. Not surprising, those with adjusted gross incomes of more than $100k (less than 3% of all returns) filed for more than half of the credits. The total tax credit claimed was $1.6 billion.

You can reach me at and let me know if you will go for a credit next year. Or do you think it should be pay as you go?

The Sustainability Badge of Honor

- By Rob Smith

When I talk with clients about sustainable design many times the discussion goes like this.

Does it cost me more? I answer, it very well could. Doesn't organic food cost more?  Well, I don’t want to pay much more for sustainable products.

In June of 2014, Nielsen conducted a global survey and asked the same question.  The global results are over half (55 percent) said they would pay extra for products and services from sustainable companies. Meaning they make sustainable products.

Note the United States and Europe have nearly 50 percent less people willing to pay more for sustainable products. Maybe the rest of the world has a more direct connection to the planet than us.

The real question is just because people say they will pay more, do they follow through or is it lip service?

Enter Walmart

Last month Walmart announced customers shopping on-line can use the Sustainability Leader shop.  Walmart evaluated companies and gave them a Sustainable Index.  If they rank number one in their category (household and pets, etc.) their products are available in the Sustainability Leadership shop.

One can argue about the details of the ranking system, but you can bet your favorite Walmart greeter the industry giant will use the data. When a lower priced similar product is available will online shoppers pay more to be green?

The Walmart data will provide interesting info into our habits. Once we understand if, why, and how people make sustainable buying decisions we can deal with the next question.

Don’t you expect to pay more for a product where the manufacturer did not pollute the air and water of the planet?

Radiant floors are on the rise

When I designed the Central Iowa Shelter & Services I knew a radiant floor would be preferred. Why?  Bare concrete floors sitting on the earth never get warm, and the shelter would be full of people who wanted to get out of the cold not into it! Since the earth’s temperature is about 55 degrees it is difficult to ever get a slab as warm as the air in the space.  Sooner or later you are going to get cold.

Commercial buildings have long used radiant floors because of concrete and steel construction. I would love radiant floors in my home but homes are not built like commercial buildings. Leave it up to American ingenuity to create Warmboard! You can now buy a 4x8 plywood panel already routed out to accept the radiant tubes.

The radiant heating panels have many advantages over the typical furnace.

  1. Everyone will feel more comfortable. Radiant heat does not require blowing air at people which makes you feel colder.
  2. Energy is saved because you can push water through pipes much easier than push air through ducts.
  3. An expensive furnace system can have two zones but a radiant system is unlimited. This allows the bedroom wing to be at a different setting than the living room.
  4. Radiant energy means you sense the heat when you are closest to the source.  Therefore the air does not tend to stratify and be hottest at the ceiling.

Let me know if you have experienced radiant floors and what you think. Contact me at

The proof is in the glasses

Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger.

I have decided my next pair of glasses will be made of maple by a bunch of lumberjacks from Boise! Why? They are sustainable and cool.

Raised in a family lumber business in Utah, three brothers founded Proof in 2011. They loved anything made of wood and why not eye glasses?  Wood, of course, can be replenished rather than the plastic frames of the past. I suppose you could burn them when you were done with them.

The company has taken off because of one simple fact.  Depending on who you want to believe, between 60 and 70 percent of Americans wear glasses. That’s pushing 150 million people.  That’s a big need for glasses.

And the amazing news is the frames cost $100 to $150. I have spent much more for plastic frames in my years of wearing glasses!

Joni Schrup, owner of Discerning Eye Optical in Iowa City is the dealer for Iowa.  She was at a show in New York and visited the Proof booth and was attracted to the idea of wooden glasses. She says “The glasses are selling okay in Iowa. People like the way the glasses look and they are sustainable. And that’s good because eyewear for younger people is on the rise due to viewing phones and tablets all the time.”

The idea has blossomed into wood wallets and cigarette lighters.  Maybe purses are next.

I would be happy to know what you think of Proof glasses.  Contact me at

It might sound crazy...what I'm about to say

Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger.

Okay, I admit it!  I am addicted to "The Voice."  I even cast my vote on Tuesday morning for Matt McAndrew. When I started watching I knew nothing about the judges but now am a big fan of Pharrell Williams.

Most think of Pharrell as the singer of "Happy" but the animals of the oceans are happy because of his collaboration with the Vortex Project. The Vortex Project is all about recycling nearly 40 million tons of plastic that ends up in the ocean.  The plastic blows into the ocean or is dumped by ships directly into the ocean. Nothing degrades plastic except sunlight. Small pieces are digested by wildlife or sea life become entangled in a web of plastic. Another problem is that the toxins in the plastic reside inside fish that we end up eating.

The Vortex Project is named from five massive ocean vortexes that swirl and slowly collect massive amounts of plastic. Much of it also shows up on our beaches. What do you do with tons of recycled plastic? Find a rock star to incorporate the waste into high fashion.

Along comes Pharrell. He is creative director of Bionic Yarn which produces denim from recycled materials. The clothing line is called Raw for the Oceans and features jeans and other clothing made exclusively out of recycled plastic from the ocean.  I checked online and you can get jeans from $110 to $210 a pair.  I know what you are thinking but think of the baby turtles you saved.

I would be happy to know what you think of Pharrell’s venture.  Contact me at

The sun will come out tomorrow

Little Orphan Annie was right “Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun”. And that sun is being used more and more to produce electricity on the roofs of our homes.

Technological breakthroughs are making it easier. What has changed?

  • Ever increasing watts per solar panel
  • Longer life panels

So where does one start? Randy Skeie of Ecowise Power in Des Moines says “Take advantage of energy audits offered by your utility company to see if any energy efficiency upgrades can be made before installing a solar system.  There is a saying in the industry …“The cheapest energy is the energy that you do not use in the first place.”

Once you have established your electrical need, you decide how much you want to produce. Typically a home uses about 11,000 kilowatts of energy per year. Rates in Des Moines are at 11¢ per kilowatt or a yearly cost of $1,300. 

Randy says about 525 square feet of panels are required to produce 11,000 kilowatts. The cost is $31,200 but several tax credits lower the cost. Federal and state credits reduce the investment to about $17,000.

The payback is about 11 to 12 years when increases in electrical energy costs are assumed (and I am sure they will go up). Therefore, if the life of the system is 25 years the savings is approximately $75,000!!!

After the 12th year there is no electrical bill for your home.

The incredible news is for commercial projects there is an additional tax credit that in this case would have reduced the cost from $17,000 to $7,500.

If you want more details I would be happy to share.  Contact me at

Harness the sun's energy

The energy from the sun is incredibly powerful and plentiful.  Just one hour of the sun’s energy could provide the planet’s electrical energy for one year. 

Des Moines Onstage at 2124 Grand Avenue installed panels on their roof recently.  The panels should provide nearly 80 percent of the building’s electrical needs according to owner Maria Filippone.  She says “The panels are working as predicted and the payback should be 4.5 years.”

Solar panel systems used to store energy in batteries but now generated electricity goes for immediate use or back to the power company if you are generating more than you need.  Net metering provides a credit when more energy is generated than consumed.

Tax credits are available for the installation of solar panels.  A whopping 30 percent from the Feds with no limit and 18 percent from the state but a $20,000 commercial and $5,000 residential limit.  It’s almost like buying a solar system at ½ off.

So where to begin?  The first thing to do is conserve all you can.  Rather than pay the high price of generation, pay the low price of conservation.  Update light fixtures and reduce plug loads like computers running all night.  Then figure what percentage of your electrical needs you want to generate.  The great thing is more panels can be added as funds are available.

My next blog will figure the cost of solar for your house.

How’s the test from last blog coming?  Anyone turn off the blue light devices two hours before bed? Contact me at

Sunlight good. Blue light bad.

Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger.

Melatonin is the hormone which makes us sleepy. Sunlight reduces the production of melatonin and therefore we are not sleepy during the daytime. Diminishing daylight in the evening increases the production of melatonin and makes us sleepy. 

Blue light on the other hand does not have the same effect as sunlight. Blue light diminishes the production of melatonin.  Unfortunately, the drive to get more light for less watts has been attained on the back of blue light.


Our homes are bathed in blue light. Just go to buy light bulbs and the push is for compact fluorescent and LED, both which emit blue light. Then we have all the blue light emitting gadgets such as cell phones, tablets, computer screens, and TVs.  Just look at the blue glow as you drive through your neighborhood.

What’s a sustainable person to do?

  • Make sure to buy a full spectrum lamp which provides light closer to daylight.
  • Install Drift light in your house which over 37 minutes (the average length of sunsets) dims and helps the body with the shift from light to darkness for a better sleep.
  • Turn off the TV and tablet. Recommendations are a full 2 to 3 hours before you hit the pillow. I bet that does not happen often but many also sleep poorly.

Let’s take a test together.  No TV, phone, or tablet 2 hours before bed.  Let me know if you sleep better. May be better for your marriage too!  Contact me at

Don't Put Your Staff to Sleep

Recent studies show natural daylight in the workplace has more benefits than we thought.   Productivity has been tied to natural light but now extends to other health benefits. 

A Northwestern University School of Medicine study was reported in the June Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine indicating people exposed to natural daylight in the workplace also get more sleep, are more active, and overall have a higher quality of life.

“There is increasing evidence that exposure to light, during the day --particularly in the morning -- is beneficial to your health via its effects on mood, alertness and metabolism,” says senior study author Phyllis Zee, Northwestern Medicine neurologist and sleep specialist.

How much more sunlight did they get?  About 175% more daylight or nearly double the amount. The study also shows people have to be within 20-25 feet of the windows or else you might as well not have windows.

The results on sleeping showed those with natural daylight got 46 minutes more sleep than those without windows. The interesting thing is that when you are not near windows the artificial lighting is many times “blue light” which reduces the production of a sleep inducing hormone but that’s another blog.

My next blog will focus on conflict between low cost artificial blue light and your health. Contact me at

Time to boot bottled water

I go to meetings and am offered bottled water. What do I do if I don’t finish? Take it with me? Leave it and hope it will be recycled? Then I fell into “well if everyone else does it then I will have bottled water at my office.” 

No more! If you come to my office you will be offered something to drink and if you choose water it will be in a clear glass tumbler.  If you don’t drink it all we can use it to water the plants!

You can do the same for three good reasons.

First, bottled water produces 1.5 million tons of trash a year. While a good candidate for recycling, experts say 80% goes to the landfill.  Besides it took oil to produce the plastic, nearly 50 million gallons.

Second, the cost is more than fifty times the cost of tap water.  The cost for a gallon of Des Moines tap water to my office is $0.03.  Costco has a pallet of bottled water at $320 and it still costs $1.32 per gallon.  Which is a better deal?  $320 for the pallet of water or $7.25 for tap water?

Third, most bottled water is just purified tap water so we are drinking the SAME THING! Costco sells Nestle “Pure Life Purified Water”.  What the heck is that? Sure does not sound like city tap water but is!

Join me and stop buying bottle water for your office and home.

Questions or feedback? Contact me at

Tatooine on Earth

Tataouine 1Remember that scene from Star Wars at Tatooine?  Adobe-like buildings with odd pinnacles.  Well, on our planet that place is called Earthship.  Started by Michael Reynolds in the 1970’s, it looked like nothing I have seen.

Michael was on a quest to build a different type of home that would do three things.  First, homes would be built from natural or recycled materials.  Second, would use natural energy sources and be off the “grid” whenever possible.  Third, could be economically constructed by the typical home owner.

Tataouine 2Earthship Biotecture is the company that designs and builds homes around the globe.  One of the trademarks of the buildings is the use of auto tires for walls.  Tires are stacked one on top of another and rammed with earth.  This simple and inexpensive method provides the mass needed to sustain even temperatures.

Another distinctive feature was the use of pop cans and bottles to construct walls.  The tops of two bottles were cut off and the bottoms taped together.  A mortar wall was laid up using the bottles and a light filled room was the result.  Cans were used in a similar manner for interior walls that were lightweight.

Tataouine 3Solar panels generate electricity and waste water is treated on site.  In fact, your sink water either flushes the toilet or waters the plants in the greenhouse.

Let me know if you would like get together and build one across from Jordan Creek.  Contact me at

Ready to give up your car?

Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

I rode a Mundo electric assist bike by Yuba last week and had to laugh out loud with joy! With little effort, I was flying and the bike was only set to 50/50 assist. It uses no gas and costs about $14 a year to charge the battery.

John Rhodes of Raker Rhodes Engineering in Des Moines owns the one I rode and is thinking about giving up a car and just using the bike. He would save about $7,000 per year if the car payment was about $450 per month, plus all the other stuff. 

The bikes are available from Ichi Bike in the East Village. With some additional options the electric assist bike costs about $3,000. Studded snow tires make it safe for year round use.

Oh, but you think you don’t have time because a car is faster? From his near west side office he can make it downtown just as fast as if you drove. Depending on where you had to park your car, he might beat you since he just parks by the front door. 

I could have used it to get to Hy-Vee last night. Since it is a cargo bike rated for 450 pounds it can carry about anything.

While sustainability is important to John, it’s not the top reason he prefers to use the bike. He likes the exercise, saves some cash, but mostly it is fun and gives him peace of mind. He says “You are just more aware of each moment”.

If you are thinking about biking more let me know at

Recycle your roof


Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

Last year before I sold my house I had to replace a section of the roof. The shingles came off and went into the back of a truck I assumed went to the landfill. You can now insist your roofing be recycled.

Commercial roofing is typically EPDM, which is commonly referred to as rubber roofing, and comes in big sheets. Two items can be recycled in this case. Most times the sheet is held down with rock which can be reused over the new roof or removed and used for many purposes: landscaping, driveways, etc.

The EPDM sheets can be sent to a manufacturer like Firestone and recycled to become the backing or walkway pads on the roof. Or turned into rubber crumbs for climbing walls.

Asphalt shingles can be recycled too. Nearly 10 million tons of shingles are removed annually. According to my semi-scientific calculations, that would fill 10 to 15 801 Grand high rises with shingles. Things like nails need to be removed with magnets at the recycler, but in my case half the nails ended up in my yard.

Asphalt shingles can be recycled for many other things such as new shingles, asphalt pavement, and pothole patches.

Next time you see a reroof project, pass the info along. Send your thoughts to

Let's wipe out unrecycled toilet paper

Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

Toilet tissue is used every day, but it is never going to be recycled. However, what you use should be recycled toilet tissue.

The most popular brands sold to homes contain zero recycled paper: Charmin, Cottonelle, and Quilted Northern. Scott Ireland of CapSan says, “very few nonresidential clients will pay the high prices for those products and usually buy recycled toilet tissue.”

Studies show if every family used just one roll of recycled tissue instead of virgin tissue, 420,000 trees would not be cut down. Think of the impact if every family used a case!

Recycling one ton of paper for toilet tissue also saves 7,000 gallons of water and enough electricity to power a home for six months. That’s because the process of recycling paper into toilet tissue is much easier than starting with a tree!

SCA of Sweden, the third largest producer of tissue, has teamed up with two companies in Iowa to wipe out virgin tissue. You are going to love this!

First, trucks loaded with recycled toilet tissue come from Wisconsin to Des Moines and deliver to CapSan. Rather than return empty, the trucks pick up waste paper from City Carton at their main location in Iowa City. Of course you have contracted with City Carton so your office waste paper is there also. The paper is taken to Wisconsin and made into toilet tissue. Then it starts all over again.

Now you may not reuse the magazine you read last month, but there is a direct connection.

Where are you with wiping out virgin toilet tissue? Send your thoughts to

Do it right the first time

Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

I remember a story a friend who travelled through Ireland told me. He came upon a grumbling man repairing a stone fence. The Irish man said “If my great grandfather had done a better job the first time I would not have to fix this fence.” Sustainability often starts with doing it right the first time!

Brick walls with brick caps do not work in our climate. Great for Phoenix, but the freeze-thaw cycle here rips them apart. Water gets into the wall through the joints on the top and slowly breaks the brick. The DO IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME SOLUTION: Make sure the top is stone or concrete and slopes to drain. You should also put flashing under the cap.

Every window in a brick wall usually gets a steel angle lintel to support the brick. Problem is most of the time they rust and fall apart. Almost impossible to keep painted and the fix is costly. The DO IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME SOLUTION: Make sure the lintel is galvanized and you will never have to worry about it. You don’t even have to paint it!

Corners of gypsum board walls are susceptible to damage as they get banged from carts and other things. Some of my clients want to use those big ugly vinyl guards used at hospitals. The DO IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME SOLUTION: Make sure the drywall forms a solid corner before the metal corner goes on. The metal is only as good as the solid backing behind it.

Got any do it right the first time tips? Send your thoughts to

Summertime and the Livin is Easy

Ella Fitzgerald sang George Gershwin’s hit “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess and you could just sense the heavy heat of summer.  This summer take a few steps to beat the heat of summer and be more sustainable.

My office mini blinds stay in one position pretty much year round.  Now that summer is here adjust blinds so more of the summer sun is reflected outward to save on air conditioning.  It’s great to have the winter sun warm up a space but not the summer sun.  I just climbed up on my credenza and closed down the blinds.

Turn off your lights during peak times of the day.  My window faces south so I get plenty of mid-day sun.  I turn off my lights when the sun shines brightly.  Right now I am typing this blog with the lights off (some would say I am in the dark most of the time) which saves electricity and reduces air conditioning because of the heat that lights emit.

Turn up the thermostat a few degrees to save energy.  I am surprised when I tour buildings the amount of people who have sweaters on or heaters running during the summer.  Tell the guy with the thermostat in his office wearing a sport coat all day to take the coat off and turn up the thermostat.

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Don't Forget About Mother Nature On Mother's Day

I would hate to guess how many Mother’s Day gifts end up in the trash.  Cards, pots, flowers and more.  Not trying to be a scrooge here but how can special time spent with mom be more sustainable?

Most moms have a garden and like flowers.  How about being a brute and helping to restore a neglected garden.  Lots of mulch is easy to spread and helps retain moisture rather than watering all the time.  Over time the mulch decays and makes for better soil.

A live plant is a gift that keeps on giving.  Make sure they are native so mom does not have to water in the hot sweltering August sun.  Day lilies, peonies, hydrangeas, and many types of hostas flourish in Iowa.  Read the label about preference for sun and remember most hostas like shade.

An old fashioned bike ride and picnic are a good choice.  You don’t have to bike far to enjoy the outdoors.  Water Works park should be especially beautiful this Mother’s Day.  Pick out a quiet place and talk about life.  Still a good idea if mom is older and has to be driven there for a picnic.

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What Will They Think of Nest?

An amazing 90% of programmable thermostats are not programmed!!!  Can you believe it?  When I got a new furnace I immediately programmed my thermostats.  There were oddities even with a programmable thermostat.  Like what, you ask?

I set the thermostat to vacation mode, but when I return from the Mexican beach it is like an IGLOO in my house for hours.  Or I work out early in the morning except Wednesday but cannot program day by day.

Then voila.  The inventor of the iPod comes up with the NEST thermostat which can save up to 20% on your energy bill.  It learns your habits and sets a schedule over time to meet your lifestyle.  For the first week you adjust the temperature manually and the NEST learns what time you get up each day and when you go to bed.  It sees the routine in your life and sets a schedule.

It’s even got an ‘auto away’ feature that goes into energy saving mode if it senses no activity for 90 minutes.  Better yet, if it sees a regular pattern it goes into energy saving mode in 30 minutes.

Away on vacation?  No problem.  Just use your tablet or phone to connect with your nest.  When you return to the Iowa tundra wearing flip flops your house will be warm and toasty.

Best part?  It sends you an email once a month to review your energy usage and makes suggestions on how to save energy.  Like having a building engineer in your closet!  What will they think of nest?

Want more info?   Who could explain it simpler than Ellen DeGeneres.

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To save Younkers or not? That is the question!


Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

Many people have asked me since the Younkers fire if the building can be saved.  I have answered “Why sure. If 100 story buildings can be built, then Younkers can certainly be rebuilt.” I have no doubt technically it can be done even though looking down from the Hub Tower one can see steel beams twisted from the extreme temperatures. 

It would not be the first major change to the building. The east half started as a five story building and was renovated into a seven story building.

The elaborate cornice was removed when the shorter six story addition occurred and the building took on a more stream lined look. The flat arch windows were a poor gesture to the grand arched windows of the original building. The construction of the west half was obviously steel and concrete since it remains standing.

The sustainable thing to do is to rebuild the exterior and construct the inside with a steel and concrete structure with new exit stairs and mechanical shafts. The east exterior could even be a “reinterpretation” of the original building. That way Des Moines retains part of its history which seems the important thing to many.

The other viewpoint is to remove the building and start anew. Some have suggested green space. Other ideas are an iconic crystal court with grand stairs to the skywalk. Only time will tell which way the economic and political winds will blow.

Ah yes, it’s that sustainable dilemma knocking at the door again!

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Dollars bills down the drain

Water drippingRob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

February 10 was a historic day for me. My office got new toilets! I took the plunge after years of replacing flappers and other fixes to old toilets.

What got me to pay $1,700 for FOUR TOILETS? My soaring water bill, that’s what! Staff would show up Monday morning and find a toilet running. I got to the point where I would do a toilet check before leaving for the weekend.  

You would not think a running toilet would amount to much, but it sure did.

The water bill was usually around $100 for 3,000 gallons of water. Then last summer things started to change. It went to 6,000 gallons, then 16,000, then in January it hit 55,000 gallons. I was embarrassed and decided it was time to do something. 

Drake IIBut what toilet to buy? Went with a Toto Drake II. Not only does it use 1.28 gallons per flush which is less than the high efficient models at 1.6 gpf, but it really flushes. My biggest worry was spending the savings on plungers.

About time someone figured out a better mousetrap. The hole from the tank is bigger so lots of water dumps into the toilet. Two jets create the “double cyclone” and flush with power I have never seen before.

My water bill for the first month with new toilets is the lowest it has been in three years. I figure the savings will easily pay for the toilets in one year.

The guy who knows more about these toilets is David Lekowsky at American Plumbing Supply Co., but beware: He gets really excited talking about these great toilets!

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Is it a square peg in a square hole?

Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

“The old Plex did not know it was really a YMCA in disguise” is what my partner, Daryl Metzger, said about the downtown YMCA moving into the abandoned Polk County Convention Center. Name one building in the downtown core you could put tape on the floor and play a game of basketball! Repurposing the Plex as a YMCA is a great fit and very sustainable.

It got me thinking about other buildings in downtown and what would be a great fit. Sometimes in building renovation I have tried to put a square peg in a round hole which makes the effort less sustainable.

Many premiere buildings like the Equitable, Des Moines, and Younkers are being transformed into housing. Is that the best fit? While the first two have smaller windows and seemingly more adaptable to housing, it will be interesting to see how the Younkers building deals with those monumental windows.

Could the City garage on 5th between Court and Walnut be transformed into the year round farmers market you hear about? You could just walk past vendors as you go up the ramp. Enclosed and partially heated it could be an easy change. Or maybe the Brown Garage on Grand with its big south facing windows?

The Insurance Exchange Building (the one with the Travelers umbrella) has always been one of those class B buildings in the downtown core. How about a fitness center piggy backing on the YMCA across the street? Full of trainers, nutritionists, physical therapists, chiropractors, and natural food restaurants. 

Let me know what you think would be a great fit for buildings waiting to be born again.


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Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

Now you can share or borrow stuff with NeighborGoods to get it done. So I had to try it.

I signed in with a user name and set up a password. At first I saw what I could borrow in Brooklyn (could have been operator error). I immediately edited my account and pinpointed where I live so I could be routed to people near me looking for something to borrow or that had something to share.

The site has you set up an inventory list of the stuff you would share. The great thing is you can establish the group you want to share with. I could set up a group of just close friends, actual neighbors, or all my Facebook friends. It was very easy to do.

I listed a hand truck and 8 foot ladder in my inventory. Now people can ask to borrow my ladder on-line.  Many categories allow easy searches to find what you need. I put the ladder in the tool category.

The video on the website made me smile. Neighbors are shown walking down the sidewalk with a blender and passing it on to someone at a coffee shop; or better yet, getting a cooler from someone at a park bench.

What will people think of next to use technology and make the planet more sustainable?

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