Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Yesterday's Gone

Looking at some construction projects over the past few years, I wonder about the persistence of obsolete technologies.  A hotel built alongside Interstate 81 was made of wood 2x4s, insulated with fiberglas batts, and sheathed with that oriented strand board stuff, topped with the usual shingle or rubber roof.  It's like all the far superior materials that have been developed were not known or available, I guess because we have no ships, trucks, internet or technical schools. 

Single roofs are particularly out of date, as well as being prone to ugliness due to limestone having been substituted for asbestos, which grows that black algae like crazy.  Metal roofs today aren't your grandparents rusty, uninsulated galvanized stuff anymore.  Not only will they last an incredibly long time, they will save you on homeowner's insurance and damaging leaks due to storms.  The best deal is the photovoltaic sheets you see being applied in the above picture, which will generate electricty with no bulky panels installed.  A few years ago the township built a big new government center, and I was disappointed, but not surprised, to see they bypassed this option (and the roofs are huge) for shingles.  Imagine what their electric bill would have been compared with what they will pay every month for the life of the building as it is.

The aforementioned 2x4s themselves are easy to use but poor and trouble-prone as framing members.  In places like Georgia and California where termites destroy millions of dollars worth of housing every year, you'd think steel construction would have gotten a good foothold a while ago.  A steel and concrete house will laugh off termites and storms, and as global warming encourages both to go wild, it would be wise to leave the rotting, weak 2x4 to history and move on.

And what's on the outside -- on the sides and back of big new houses, and most all of townhouses and the other more affordable ones, that would be vinyl.  People sick of faded, dented aluminum, dangerous old asbestos or continual-maintenance wood siding embraced vinyl like mad.  We have it all over.  I hate it.  The shady or north-facing areas grow green algae, and it has been permanently stained with spider pesticide (when we had an insane infestation around the garage lights) and my mistaken attempt to clean off splashed deck stain with lacquer thinner.  Plus, the more I think of being clad in plastic, the more I want to see it gone.  Today's far superior replacement is fiber-cement board, sold under the brand name of Hardie.  It will only creep into use, however, since it's more expensive and more difficult -- and very dusty -- to cut.  It's painted on site or predone, and not only lasts so much longer, looks better, but it won't curl up and die if your grill gets too close.  Admit it, you've done that at least once.  So, add vinyl siding to the list of technologies which have had their day but are so yesterday.

Fossil fuels have inarguably reached their peak of production (we've been in a plateau since about 2005) while the population, and thus demand, skyrocket upward.  Time for a new approach, don't ya think?  Electric automobiles are the metal roofs of the transportation sphere.  Tesla's 85KW model and its free supercharging stations not only look like the future, it really looks too easy.  We don't always need to make it hard though by refusing to adapt and change.  (Electric bikes, scooters, motorcycles and small commuter cars are already available and work just fine, for those who don't have $73,000 for the high-power Tesla).


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