Solar canopy allows even the most crowded city roof to go solar

In addition to large solar farms in rural areas, distributed rooftop solar power is incredibly important for the most populated areas to move to clean energy. In cities, the larger rooftops are easily outfitted with solar power systems, but smaller residential buildings are a bit trickier.


Urban rooftops aren’t just flat, open spaces. They often are covered in vent pipes, hatches, skylights and more, and in New York City, fire codes require a six-feet-wide and nine-feet-high open path on every roof. That means that solar panels have to fit in what little space is left.



The engineers at Brooklyn SolarWorks have found a way around that by raising the solar panels above the rooftops with a solar canopy. The canopies were designed by Brooklyn-based Situ Studio.


“If you want to lay solar panels flat on the roof, you really don’t have a whole lot of usable space,” says T.R. Ludwig, co-founder of Brooklyn SolarWorks to FastCoExist. “You wind up with these really small solar systems, maybe 10 panels or something like that. When you use a canopy, you raise above basically all of these requirements, and you can fit a much larger system.”


The canopies also fix another problem. Outside of cities, homes have sloped roofs causing the solar panels to sit at an angle, which maximizes the amount of sunlight they can capture. The canopies angle the panels over flat city roofs so that they also get the most sunlight.




The company takes measurements of each roof and plugs them into design software that generates a custom design for each building. The canopies rise above the height needed to meet the fire codes and leaves the roof space open, so the company says that the system makes it easier to get the solar power systems approved by the city, a process that is often complicated and lengthy.


The only obstacle that remains for the solar canopies is a little bit of NIMBYism. Brooklyn SolarWorks says that most neighbors think that the designs are cool and futuristic looking, but some people don’t think they fit with historic buildings like brownstones.


With that in mind, they are looking to come up with a separate design that would blend in better with older buildings, but they also hope that more people will change their minds and realize that buildings and design can evolve, especially in order to replace fossil fuels with solar power.


The company hopes to start installing solar canopies in other cities soon. You can watch a short video about the solar canopies below.


Via: treehugger

By balancing stones, artist finds peace

All photos courtesy of Michael Grab/Gravity Glue


Canadian-born photographer and performance artist Michael Grab began exploring the ancient discipline of rock balancing in the summer of 2008 while hiking around Boulder Creek in Boulder, Colorado. It has since become a daily meditative practice for him, and it’s not uncommon for him to draw small crowds of spectators as he creates these meticulous, ephemeral installations.


“I am constantly in awe at the stillness, let alone possibility, of such precarious formations, amidst sometimes very turbulent conditions,” Grab explains on his website, Gravity Glue. “For me, this reflects our own potential to maintain a still-point amidst the variety of challenges we each face throughout our lives.”


So how does he do it? Many of his seemingly gravity-defying sculptures look so out of this world that you might think adhesives, wires or other external supports were used, but Grab says that the only thing that holds these objects in equilibrium is gravity.


Watch the video below for a brief demonstration of Grab’s balancing skills in action:



The technique behind balancing rocks is a fairly simple concept. Like the legs of a tripod, rock balancers rely on the support of naturally corresponding contact points — such as the natural grooves or indentations — to serve as supportive “legs” for their stacked sculptures. Even large, unwieldy rocks can be balanced in precarious positions as long as there are at least three solid contact points to prop them up.


Grab’s best advice for beginner stone balancers is to “get to know” the rocks before attempting to stack them: “Some rock characters will coordinate better with others, vice versa, back, forth, right, left, up, or down. The trick I’ve found is to play and experiment.”


Continue below for more examples of Grab’s work from the past couple years, and be sure to follow the Gravity Glue Facebook page for more updates!
















Via: mnn


10 stylish counter top compost bins

Collecting kitchen scraps for composting is commendable regardless of your receptacle, but if you want to step up your bucket game, consider one of these.

Of course we can all have simple plastic buckets or recycled jars on our countertops in which to house our kitchen scraps before they head to greener pastures, and that’s lovely. But that may not be fair to ask of those with more specific ideas of how they want their kitchens to look. If there is a good way to marry nice design with something as valuable as composting garbage, and if that can lead more people to be more conscious of their waste, then I’m all for it.


I am generally disinclined to suggest kitchen items designed with a single purpose – egg cookers and sandwich machines and all of their extended family from the as-seen-on-TV clan. Because once the novelty wears off, too many of these convenience contraptions get kicked to the curb. But with a composting bin I’m going to take that chance with the caveat that if your composting efforts prove to be a failure (though that would be a bummer) or you change your system, you can still use most of these for another purpose. (There’s nothing wrong with a flour canister labeled “compost,” right?)


So without further ado, cute composting bins:


Typhoon Compost Caddy



Crafted from high-quality, color-coated steel, this bin from the vintage kitchen line has a (not-so-vintage) plastic liner for easy cleaning. This one uses a charcoal filter to keep odors under control. (Typhoon, from $37.99)


Noaway Countertop Compost Bin



Sustainability-centered furniture making studio Cliff Spencer uses offcuts of wood (like bamboo or walnut) from their shop and crafts them into mitered boxes with no shortage of organic-meets-modern warmth. There are a few styles, and each comes with a dishwasher-safe stainless steel pan and lid. This is a perfect example of a nice piece that could serve many uses if it were ever retired from a life of collecting organic waste. (Cliff Spencer, $125-$150)


OXO Good Grips Compost Bin



OK, this is the kind of product that I might not generally recommend: a hunk of plastic with a single purpose. That said, I’ve never had an item from OXO Good Grips that wasn’t designed very well. They make things that work and are durable – so I am including it here. But only if you are dedicated to composting and promise not to toss it in a year. Features include a nice size, quick-to-flip lid, smooth interior to prevent food and liquid buildup, contoured bottom and removable lid for easy emptying and an easy-to-handle rotating handle. (OXO, $19.99)


VermiTek Bamboo Compost Pail



VermiTek is dedicated to composting and all of their products are designed with composting success in mind. Their bamboo compost pail has an air-vented lid with odor-eating charcoal filters and a removable plastic bucket for toting scraps and easy cleaning. (VermiTek, $37.59)


Rustic Compost Pot



This durable, powder-coated steel bin with a cute vintage feel gets great reviews. It’s simple, easy to clean and includes carbon filters in case your scraps develop too much “personality.” At five quarts, it’s a tad larger than some of the other models. (Gardener’s Supply Company, $29.95)


Boxy Bamboo Compost Pail



I like how bins in boxy shapes fit on the counter, and this one in bamboo looks pretty good. It holds 4.5 quarts and is equipped with a charcoal filter in the lid and a plastic liner with a carry handle for easy transport to its final destination. (RSVP, $37.59)


“Antique Enamelware” Bucket



It’s not really antique enamelware, but this bucket looks like it with its durable steel construction and rustproof powder-coat finish. One-gallon capacity and a removable plastic bucket. (Williams-Sonoma, $29.95)


Stoneware Compost Crock



For the homey country kitchen! This nice model is made of glazed ceramic and includes an activated charcoal filter for odor control. It’s dishwasher-safe, has a one-gallon capacity, and looks as if it could be holding your sauerkraut, rather than your eggshells and carrot tops. (Gardener’s Supply Company, $29.95)


VermiTek Stainless Compost Pail



Another one from the compost pros VermiTek, this time in stainless steel. The polished stainless steel body and satin-finished lid are durable and will resist rust; a heavy handle makes it comfortable to carry and the pail can put into the dishwasher. (VermiTek, $32)


Via: treehugger

How to get rid of wasps naturally

In my last post, I shared two reasons you may want to leave a wasp nest up in your yard or garden. However, there are a variety of reasons you may not want to do that, Our small backyard means that any wasp nest is easily disturbed — making for angry wasps, which can lead to stings.


First, you need to figure out if you have honeybees or a type of wasp or yellow jacket in your yard. (You can use this helpful tutorial from the Illinois Department of Public Health to figure out what you are dealing with.) If you do find that you have honeybees, and they are not in a location that’s safe for you (or them), you can try to call local beekeepers, who may even remove them for free or for a small fee. Since our bee populations are in an alarming decline, doing what we can to protect them is a high priority.


But what if you need to get rid of wasps? Are there more natural ways to go about it? The pesticides used in most wasp sprays are strong enough that pets that eat the poisoned wasps (and some will) are at risk of death. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not spray such a poisonous spray in my yard! (Note: If you were to use a typical wasp insecticide, professional insect control technicians tell us that most of us use way too much of the spray. A little goes a long way. And, also make sure that you thoroughly remove all dead wasps from your yard afterwards.)


According to my research, I found the following solutions that are natural but effective. It goes without saying that if the nests are in hard-to-treat areas, if you are allergic to their stings, of if there is any other reason that you feel it would be dangerous to self-treat, calling in an expert is the way to go. Most experts say you should thoroughly covering up to prevent stings (including wearing tight-fitting clothes, so they don’t climb into your clothing), and to treat the next at night or early morning when the wasps are sleepy. Covering a light source (such as a flashlight), with red paper will help prevent them from flying towards your light.


Natural insecticide spray

EcoSmart’s Organic Wasp and Hornet killer uses 100 percent, food-grade ingredients, including peppermint oil. When reading over the instructions for use of this spray, you will see that you use this just like the typical poisonous spray, so if you want to simply treat the same way as usual but with a more natural spray, this may be your best bet. It will smell quite strong, like essential oils, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.


Killing with soap

My friend Katie at Kitchen Stewardship tells how her husband got rid of a wasp nest simply using dishwasher soap and a hose-end sprayer!




Drowning an aerial nest gives the following instructions for drowning wasps in aerial nests:


“Aerial nests: Place a cloth bag over the entire nest and quickly tie it off at the top; as you draw in the tie, pull the nest free. The bag should be well sealed. Set the bag in a pail of water; drop a rock on the bag to keep it fully submerged.”


However they caution against removing nests in walls or underground yourself, but suggest hiring a professional in these cases. You can read all of their ideas for natural wasp control here.


Hanging false nests

Something else you can do to prevent a wasp problem is to hang a false wasp nest by your house (or wherever you want to deter them). There are a variety of products for this, some look very much like a paper lantern, and others look similar to a real nest, but they get good reviews online — even if they don’t work 100 percent of the time. They are supposed to work because wasps are territorial, and they won’t build next to another nest. Some even claim to have success by simply hanging up a brown paper bag!



There are also a variety of glass wasp traps that many claim are helpful in reducing wasp populations in their area. The trick is to make sure you keep replacing the bait. And also, please consider using savory bait, such as tuna, as that will attract the yellow jackets and wasps, but not honeybees, which prefer sweet bait. These glass traps are very pretty, but you can also make your own inexpensive version out of any type of plastic bottle (soda pop bottle or water bottle).


Via: mnn

Filmmaker converts cargo van into modern live-work space on wheels

There are a lot of mainstream stereotypes aimed at those who have the gumption to live an alternative lifestyle. Live off the grid in a solar-powered home? Well, then you must be a tree-hugging hermit living out in the boonies. Believe in zero-waste? Then you must be a hippie zealot. Anyway, as you can imagine, stereotypes can be inaccurate at best, and hurtful at the worst, but the conventional response to someone who’s living out of their vehicle is that they must be too poor to afford an apartment, or some irresponsible, slacker millennial with no direction.


Busting all of these stereotypes is American filmmaker Zach Both, who has been living in this converted ten-year-old Chevy cargo van for the past year. It’s a home and mobile filmmaking studio all rolled into one modernist package on wheels.




He tells us his story:

“I left my job as an art director at a tech startup to pursue filmmaking full-time. The filmmaking process is inherently nomadic, so living and working out of a converted van was a natural fit.


[Filmmaking] is a constant migration to and from different locations based on what the storytelling requires. With this van, I now have complete freedom to write a script surrounded by mountains, direct a shoot in a remote desert town and then collaborate with an editor or composer in Los Angeles — all within the same month. That would be impossible any other way.”





Inside, Both used reclaimed wood on the ceiling and walls, taken from a nineteenth-century church in Cleveland, Ohio. There’s a futon bed that can be put up for a more comfortable seat, as well as a beautiful workspace. (The stool apparently doubles as a trash receptacle!) At the other end, is a custom-made curtain that divides the front part of the van from the back. Windows are shaded with awnings that double as chalkboards, great for creating the storyboards for films.









We love the kitchen, which is hidden under the workspace surface.




Outside, Both has installed solar panels on the roof, which provide power for the low-energy appliances like the refrigerator, home theater system and Both’s mobile wifi network, crucial for any digital nomad. The van is also heavily insulated to keep its interior as warm as possible (see how to do it here). Both showers at the gym whenever he needs to.




Both tells us that living a mobile lifestyle can be at times very trying and “exhausting”, especially when one is “constantly being a stranger to the environment and the people around.” But, despite the possbility of disorientation, there are upsides, says Both:


“During my time on the road, there has been a seemingly endless supply of memorable experiences. Making films and collaborating with artists across the country. Hitchhiking 30 miles in the dead of winter to get help pulling my van out of the snow. Racing a moose on a Wyoming backroad. Sleeping next to massive mountains and oceanside cliffs. Spending Christmas Day making tamales and sharing stories with a family I had met only the day before.”




Both estimates that he spent about USD $4,000 on the used van, and another $8,000 on materials, tires, tools and repairs, coming in for a total of $12,000. Both says that he also did some bartering for $3,000 to cover his appliances. Best of all, Both is sharing tips on how he was able to transform the van from start to finish into a gorgeous live-work space, in what he’s calling The Vanual. It’s well-written, well-organized and visually appealing, and well worth a visit for anyone who is interested in doing their own campervan conversion.


Via: treehugger

What’s that bird? New website identifies species by your photo

Your computer just became an ornithologist.


In a breakthrough for bird watchers and the avian-curious everywhere, the Visipedia research project and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have collaborated on a nifty website that has a keen skill: it can identify hundreds of bird species by photo alone.


Called Merlin Bird Photo ID, the identifier is capable of recognizing 400 of the mostly commonly encountered birds in the United States and Canada.


“It gets the bird right in the top three results about 90 percent of the time, and it’s designed to keep improving the more people use it,” said Jessie Barry at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “That’s truly amazing, considering that the computer vision community started working on the challenge of bird identification only a few years ago.”


The process is simple. A user uploads an image of a bird and enters in when and where the photo was taken; then the user draws a box around the bird and clicks on its bill, eye, and tail.


Within seconds, presto. Merlin looks at the pixels and does some powerful artificial intelligence magic with millions of data points, then presents the most likely species, including photos and song.


“Computers can process images much more efficiently than humans – they can organize, index, and match vast constellations of visual information such as the colors of the feathers and shapes of the bill,” said Serge Belongie, a professor of Computer Science at Cornell Tech. “The state-of-the-art in computer vision is rapidly approaching that of human perception, and with a little help from the user, we can close the remaining gap and deliver a surprisingly accurate solution.”


Merlin’s powers are the result of a lot of human work, as it has learned to recognize each species from tens of thousands of images identified and labeled by birders. It also relies on an excess of 70 million sightings recorded by bird enthusiasts in the database, which it then narrows down using the location and time of year when the photo was taken. (So thank you, eBirders.)


Although for now it can not be used with mobile devices – they are working on it. And once it is smartphone-ready, the team will add it to the Merlin Bird ID app.


And then, you can have an ornithologist in your pocket as well.


Via: treehugger

National Aquarium to open first oceanside dolphin sanctuary

After five years of weighing options on how to best provide for its pod of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, the National Aquarium of Baltimore announced this morning that it will build a first-of-its-kind ocean sanctuary for the marine mammals.


National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli said in a statement that the decision is a natural progression of understanding how best to care for captive marine life.


“Although this decision is about our group of dolphins, it is every bit as much about our humanity; for the way a society treats the animals with whom it shares this planet speaks volumes about us,” he said.


Officials are currently exploring sites in Florida and the Caribbean for the sanctuary, adding that they hope to receive donations to make the project a reality by the end of 2020.


“There’s no model anywhere, that we’re aware of, for this,” Racanelli told the Associated Press. “We’re pioneering here, and we know it’s neither the easiest nor the cheapest option.”


Initial criteria for the sanctuary include a tropical or sub-tropical environment, natural stimuli (such as native plants and fish), and customized care options for each dolphin. The aquarium also wants the site to “serve as a center for applied science that advances knowledge and conservation.”


Animal advocacy groups rushed to praise the news. “The National Aquarium’s welcome move recognizes that the needs of intelligent, sensitive, far-ranging dolphins simply can’t be met in captivity,” wrote PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman. “This spells the beginning of the end for dolphin captivity and the start of an age in which SeaWorld, the Miami Seaquarium, and other marine parks reject excuses not to retire long-suffering captive dolphins including orcas to sanctuaries.”


The National Aquarium’s decision comes on the heels of last month’s announcement of “The Whale Sanctuary Project,” a new nonprofit aimed at creating the world’s first seaside sanctuary for whales and dolphins. The estimated $20 million sanctuary will be located in a cold water site in North America and cater to orcas, belugas and dolphins retired from entertainment facilities, as well as injured or ill animals rescued from the ocean.


Like the National Aquarium, the Whale Sanctuary Project hopes to have its site up and running within three to five years.


Via: mnn

Lectro aims to produce the world’s best priced e-bike

Starting at less than $900, Lectro’s 750W fat tire e-bike promises a 20+ mile pedal-free range and a top speed of 20 mph.

The e-bike industry is really starting to take off these days, as more people begin to see the benefits of getting an electric boost to their pedaling, which extends their potential cycling range and reduces the amount of physical effort needed to get where they’re going. The e-bike market has a wide array of options to choose from, ranging from a single electric wheel that converts any bike to an electric one, to DIY e-bike conversions, to top-of-the-line high dollar electric bikes that can cost as much as a used car.


Considering that most potential e-bike riders probably don’t want to build their own bikes, and if they are going to spend the money to go electric, they most likely don’t want to just add an electric drive unit onto their favorite conventional bike. What seems to be called for in the electric mobility revolution is an affordable multipurpose e-bike that offers a decent range, adequate power, and a comfortable ride, and that appears to be what Lectro Bikes is going after with the launch of its e-bike.



“There’s a perfect storm to make useful electric bikes for the masses. Battery pricing and motor availability is finally to the point where we can make a bike worth riding everyday at a price everyone can afford. At Lectro, we’ve placed heavy focus on our supply chain and manufacturing relationships.” – Lectro founder Jeffrey Morin


Lectro is currently offering its e-bike as a pre-order item to backers of its Kickstarter campaign at the $899 level, and looking at the specs on the bike, it certainly seems as if it may live up to its claim of delivering the most power at the lowest cost. While many entry level e-bikes come with 250W or 500W electric drive systems, the Lectro is being produced with a 750W motor, paired with a 48v 11.6 Ah lithium-ion battery (5-6 hour charge time), and is said to be capable of hitting a top speed of 20 mph, with a range of 20+ miles.


This e-bike is a fat tire bicycle, sporting 4″ tires, which act as a bit of extra cushion between you and the bumps and potholes that are often part of the cycling experience, and which can often roll right over potential obstacles without having to think twice, and the bike has both front and rear disc brakes for maximum stopping power. The Lectro includes a Shimano 6-speed derailleur, giving riders another layer of control over their ride (especially if it’s being pedaled without the electric assist), and the bike’s drive system offers both pedal-assist and throttle mode (no pedaling necessary), with varying levels of pedal-assist available to suit the conditions.


The Lectro, which is built on an aluminum frame, will include the LCD handlebar display (showing battery stats, ride distance and speed, assist level, etc.), along with a headlight, mud flaps, kickstand, and a USB charging port on the battery (for topping off mobile device batteries).


One potential objection to this e-bike is a fairly common one in the electric bicycle world, which is the tendency to balk at the thought of riding a 60 lb bike, regardless of whether or not the weight is balanced out by the power and range of the bike. This is a totally understandable concern, especially for those who have to haul their bike upstairs and down for storage or charging, and in that case, it may be a matter of weighing the benefits of not having to pedal for 20 or more miles per day versus the effort of physically carrying the bike on either end of their ride.


Via: treehugger

Topiary Cat is planted in gorgeous scenes across the English countryside

Tolly the Topiary Cat has given Facebook a botanical infusion — and taken social media by storm, garnering millions of views! Instead of fur, the Russian Blue cat dons a coat of greenery and plants himself in serene landscapes and gardens across the English countryside. The series of photo illustrations is the brainchild of artist Richard Saunders, who honors his late beloved pet with the beautiful digitally-altered topiary scenes.




Set in some of the quaintest gardens in the English countryside, the sleeping Tolly is transformed into a furry topiary, a recognizable element in British gardening which often features leafy bushes trimmed into animals and geometric shapes. Using photos of Tolly taken during his long life, Saunders playfully creates fantastical gardens, enhancing the already gorgeous historic scenes of British country mansions and cottages with the adorable Topiary Cat.


Via: inhabitots

Stunning Moon Dragon is a fairy-tale like tiny house that goes off-grid

Living large in a tiny home is more than just possible—it can be beautiful too. Tiny house builder Abel Zimmerman Zyl of Zyl Vardos designed and built Moon Dragon, a gorgeous house on wheels that looks like it was plucked from Middle-Earth. The tiny timber home boasts charming curves and arches, a surprisingly roomy interior, and even comes with off-grid capabilities.




As expected of Zyl Vardos, Moon Dragon was created with fantastic craftsmanship and design. The home measures 13.1 feet in height, 9 feet in length, and 24 feet in width, and can be pulled with a one-ton pickup truck. Onduvilla shingles partially clad the exterior for a beautifully textured appearance. Much of the home was built by hand and is one of Zyl Vardos’ most complex builds to date.




The tiny home is entered via hand-built Dutch-style doors that open up into a wood-lined interior that looks surprisingly spacious thanks to its tall arched ceiling built from cedar tongue and groove. The 216-square-foot main floor features a small wood-burning stove, mahogany ply cabinetry and walls, and a cork floor. The kitchen boasts a five-burner Range cooker with two ovens, as well as an energy-efficient fridge and washing machine, along with plenty of storage. Behind the kitchen is the bathroom that houses a shower, sink, and composting toilet. The 117-square-foot loft bedroom—big enough for a queen-sized bed—is reached via storage-integrated stairs.


Via: inhabitat