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Category: innovation

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Product Deep Dive: Smart Thermostats

Smart thermostats allow you to control the temperature in your home from anywhere you can access internet, and Nest products have become quite versatile since they were acquired by Google in 2014, adding new online apps and services to support it’s features. Their competitor, Ecobee, likewise has added a new suite of products within the Smart home industry, and have grown to include not only Smart thermostats but home security, speakers, and accessories as well. While you can now buy these Smart devices online, the installation is somewhat tricky, which is why our customers prefer an expert to install them. To learn about the different Smart Thermostat products we offer, check out the links below:

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Product Deep Dive: Security Systems

Another home feature that continues to increase in quality, and decrease in overall cost is Home Security. Ring, Nest, and Arlo Pro doorbell alarm systems have designed easy and sleek solutions for the every day customer to install – and we’re happy to help walk you through setting up the Apps. Or if you’re looking for something even more secure, you can also take a look at the Schlage Deadbolt system – which is a more localized approach to security, and does have smart features available. Check out the links below if you’d like to learn more about each product:

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Product Deep Dive: LED Lighting

One key example of a simple and cost effective innovation is Light-Emitting Diodes, or LED lighting. While LED Lighting can really be found almost anywhere – grocery stores, hardware stores, or online for smart lighting, check out the following products by Philips: https://www.philips-hue.com/en-us/products/smart-lightbulbs. If you’re curious to learn more about how this works, feel free to read up on the ‘Hue Bridge’, here: https://www.philips-hue.com/en-us/p/hue-bridge/046677458478#overview.

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Product Deep Dive: SMART PRODUCTS

We’re living in the era of the smart home, however the term “Smart technology” implies an important distinction – that the appliance or electrical device can be controlled by an app, remotely. Each of our smart home solutions highlights two important tenants to SUNTEX infrastructure – innovation and environmental efficiency. These types of installations may add to the sticker price of the system, however they can mitigate your energy consumption significantly, and thus allow you to save money long term. Over the next several days, we’ll explore each of these products in greater detail – so if you’re curious to learn more, stay tuned!

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Earthly Innovations to Celebrate Around the World

Everyone wants to build their own home, or must, to survive the earthly elements – try being in a hail storm, for example, without even a tarp over your head. When we ask ourselves what our ideal homes would look like, how many of us ask what the ideal energy solution would look like too? For example, you might want vaulted ceilings and marble flooring – and all of the latest Energystar rated appliances, of course – but how many architects are ensuring that these tall-walled rooms are bright and warm in the winter, and lit but cool in the summer? By design, and perhaps a couple of windows/sky lights in the right place, and you’re set! When you apply then the carbon footprint cost, how many of us decided to build our homes with locally-sourced materials?

Some people are clearly making this connection, like the woman in Kenya who created her own recycled bricks using locally sourced materials. Nzambi Matee’s buildings are not only structurally sound, but installations of art as well: “Kenyan woman’s startup recycles plastic into bricks that are stronger than concrete”(https://www.designboom.com/technology/gjenge-makers-recycled-plastic-bricks-kenya-02-08-2021/). According to the article on Designboom.com, “before creating gjenge makers ltd, nzambi matee majored in material science and worked as an engineer in kenya’s oil industry. in 2017 she quit her job to start creating and testing pavers, which are a combination of plastic and sand. she gets the waste material for free from packaging factories and also buys it from other recyclers. through experimentation, she understood which plastics bind better together and then created the machinery that would allow her to mass produce them.”

For another example of a local innovation, check out the young entrepreneurs featured (right) whom created a solar-powered cooking station! According to his account on Twitter, Mr. Usman Dalhatu and partners had this to say of the collaboration, “We met with Dalsman Technologies Limited, creators of the iCart Solution. We explored areas of mutual interest, and avenues to empower petty traders in Kaduna. iCart is a solar powered, compact kiosk targeted at small businesses including Shayi, Suya and Kosai vendors,” and also the following: “The journey from ideation to final development of products is a truly fascinating one. It was delightful to discuss with @KadunaMarkets, our dev’t vision for Kaduna through deployment of the iCart. Looking forward to the exciting implementation journey that lies ahead.” https://twitter.com/UsmanDalhatu5

What’s in your area, or in your home, that could be re-purposed into something sustainable? It could be something as complex as designing a brick for a home using locally sourced materials and keeping natural heating and cooling elements in mind, or a solar-powered food-cart instead of using a gas or electric-powered stove – to something as simple as a dish-rack, for example – which is a much more sustainable way to dry your plates and dishes, and costs little to nothing to purchase and use. What else will make a difference in energy consumption in your home, your schools, in your business?

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Natural Remedies

Yesterday we focused on earth’s life-affirming gifts: trees. They’re beautiful to look at, sure, but they also provide oxygen while absorbing CO2 from the air – a truly remarkable feature for humans that enjoy breathing. There were also a few articles at the end of the post with information about other natural remedies for global warming – such as volcanoes and hurricanes, which can sometimes be benefits to our environment (when there are no people or buildings in their path, of course). Today however we’ll focus on a slightly different problem: pollution.

Pollution can be harmful in a number of ways – from sea-life ingesting plastic, or oil spilling into the oceans and killing marine animals, to landfills spreading across areas so vast they knock out plant life, or even from toxic waste that is not properly disposed of and destroys water reservoirs. There are lots of difficult problems to solve when it comes to pollution, not lost on anyone is the cost.

For example, it’s easier, and much cheaper, to dump dye chemicals from the manufacturing plants directly into the river behind the building (see the book Tom’s River, by Dan Fagin), and until the clean water act of 1972, that’s exactly what companies did. Recognizing the harmful effects this had on communities’ drinking water, this type of behavior was banned – but as you well know, we still have clothing in colors other than white, so, where do these chemicals go? The following article provides a really helpful outline of the problem, and their unique solution to deal with toxic dye water once it’s been used to dye yarn: https://brownsheep.com/how-we-recycle-our-dye-water/ – but the short story is, they recycle it! Water recycling is a new technology, but was an innovation born out of necessity. For a helpful guide on what this means and how it’s done, check out the EPA guide to the “Basic Information about Water Reuse,” here: https://www.epa.gov/waterreuse/basic-information-about-water-reuse#:~:text=Water%20reuse%20(also%20commonly%20known,industrial%20processes%2C%20and%20environmental%20restoration

Going back to the original problem at hand: plastic pollution – why is this so harmful? We touched on this subject briefly in the last couple of blogs, however its important to understand the idea of decomposition and what it means. Decomposing is the process of breaking-down or decaying, or thanks to dictionary.com, “to separate into constituent parts or elements or into simpler compounds” (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/decompose). The reason you can throw a banana peel or an apple core into your yard waste bin is that it has a relatively small decomposition time frame – generally about 2-5 weeks. Plastic and glass however, take roughly 500 years or more! Which means that the ‘disposable’ water bottle you use one time and then throw into the garbage can, never to think about again, will last for roughly five times your own lifespan in the landfill. You could save the water bottle, and your great, great-grandchildren could use it too! Pretty gross huh? This is why proponents of recycling are so adamant, though recycling can also be costly. Lucky for us, Japanese enzymes discovered in the last few years, there may be a solution for plastic waste soon: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/sep/28/new-super-enzyme-eats-plastic-bottles-six-times-faster.

If we do absolutely nothing to prevent waste or pollution, the problem will continue and likely grow, unchecked. I remember back to a scene in Mad Men, set in the U.S. in the 1960s, when the main character’s family goes on a picnic, and at the end of the scene, they leave all of their trash behind (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhcKuMjvcCk) – and while this scene is bothersome to me now, just half a century ago it was common. It makes me wonder, what will we know in 50 years about recycling, and how will we get there?

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Climate Change: Activists and Architects, Part 2

Now that we’ve got the same basic understanding of what global warming means, and where the term came from (thanks to yesterday’s blog post), we can explore the roles activists and climate conservationists have played in protecting us from it.

The phrase “global warming” may be fairly new, but the concept of protecting the environment is anything but new, and has been around for centuries! Native Americans have well-established a legacy of conservation, and thanks to the hard-fought preservation of their heritage, modern-day Americans can learn from their good example – check out the following article from The Wildlife Society for a few ideas: https://wildlife.org/a-tribal-model-of-wildlife-stewardship-from-the-wildlife-professional/.

John Muir, while originally from Dunbar, Scotland, emigrated to the United States and “explored the North American continent by foot, walking thousands of miles until he eventually settled in California. There, he fell in love with Yosemite Valley and the Sierra Nevada Mountains” (https://onetreeplanted.org/blogs/stories/earth-day-environmental-heroes), and “In 1890, due in large part to a series of articles he published in Century magazine, U.S. Congress created Yosemite National Park. Muir was also involved in the creation of the Sequoia, Mount Rainier, Petrified Forest, and Grand Canyon National Parks.” Thanks to his efforts in conservation, he founded the Sierra Club which lives on today over a hundred years later, fighting to protect the natural resources and equal access to environmental resources (https://www.sierraclub.org/lands-air-water-wildlife). Ironically, John Muir was also part of the inspiration for Theodore Roosevelt’s conservationist movement. During his presidency, he was able to protect “230 million acres of public lands” and “Much of that land – 150 millions acres – was set aside as national forests” (https://www.nps.gov/thro/learn/historyculture/theodore-roosevelt-and-conservation.htm), among many other national treasures we still enjoy today.

Thanks to these historic leaders, the environmental conservation movement had begun. Even without the science and technology to measure the effects of climate change in the early twentieth century, humans recognized the importance of protecting our natural resources. This movement gave rise to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948 which would later become the Clean Water Act of 1972 (https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/history-clean-water-act), the Clean Air Act of of 1963 (https://www.epa.gov/clean-air-act-overview/clean-air-act-text#:~:text=The%20Clean%20Air%20Act%20is,has%20made%20several%20minor%20changes.), and later, in 1970, Senator Gaylord Nelson founded the very first Earth Day which is now celebrated all over the world! With April 22nd right round the corner, how will you celebrate?

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Historical Figures: Roofing Realities

This week we’ve taken a journey through the history of key inventions in the home improvement industry such as insulation, electricity, and lighting, so it’s only natural that today we focus on another key area: roofing. As you likely guessed from the insulation blog post, thatched roofing styles made from straw or grass, or clay/tile roofs were the norm for many decades, and it wasn’t until recently (in the last 100 years) that roofing has evolved into the asphalt-shingles we know today. For an interesting read on the history of the composition and style of the asphalt shingle market, check out the following link, which credits Henry Reynolds as the inventor of the first asphalt shingle: http://asphaltmagazine.com/roofing-101/#:~:text=In%201903%2C%20Henry%20Reynolds%20%E2%80%93%20a,8%E2%80%9D%20x%2016%E2%80%9D%20pieces.

While we do not provide this style, it’s important to celebrate the marvel that is dome-style roofing. For a brief history, and a few examples of this type of architecture, check out the following link on PBS.org: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/buildingbig/dome/basics.html

I believe we’re still a few years out from an affordable and reliable solar-shingled roofing product, though it is a comfort to know that Tesla is already producing this material, and hopefully that trend will continue: https://www.tesla.com/solarroof.

For more roofing industry insights, or if you have questions about the durability of your own roof, please give us a call today for a free quote.

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Historical Figures: From Lightening to Lighting

It may seem as though we’ve made it – from discovering that lightening is electricity, to harnessing electricity in batteries, surely light is the next plausible step, right? Fortunately for Edison and a few others, we have about 100 years of thresholds to cross before we get to electric light bulbs however; and fortunately for me and other writers on this topic, many of them come from one key figure: Joseph Henry.  

Joseph Henry was born in New York right at the end of the eighteenth century (1797) to poor, Scottish parents – making his feats in science all the more remarkable. Building upon Alessandro Volta’s battery, as well as William Sturgeon’s electromagnet, he was able to “insulate wire around a ferrous core to make an extremely powerful electromagnet” (https://edisontechcenter.org/JosephHenry.html – for a more detailed look at his life and his many inventions, check out this link as well as the corresponding YouTube links within, which demonstrate how these innovations came together!). For example, according to edisontechcenter.com,

Joseph Henry took what he had learned a step further and in 1831, created one of the first machines to use electromagnetism for motion. This was the one of the earliest ancestors of the modern DC motor. It didn’t make use of rotating motion, but was merely an electromagnet perched on a pole, rocking back and forth. The rocking motion was caused by on of the two leads on both ends of the magnet rocker touching one of the two battery cells, causing a polarity change, and rocking the opposite direction until the other two leads hit the other battery. Henry’s work on motors allowed Thomas Davenport to invent the first real electric motor in 1834. Davenport used his motor to operated a small model car and train. This helped lead to street cars developed by Frank Sprague and the Electric Car.”

Check it out here: https://www.si.edu/object/joseph-henry-constructs-electric-motor:siris_sic_12452?edan_q=Joseph%20Henry%20inventions&destination=/search/collection-images&searchResults=1&id=siris_sic_12452

This marvel allowed another recognizable inventor to create the first “telephone”, also known as, the telegraph: Samuel F.B. Morse. By sending power through long wires, while using Henry’s “intensity batteries,” Morse and his colleagues were able to send electrical signals over long distances – in fact, “In addition to helping invent the telegraph, Samuel Morse developed a code (bearing his name) that assigned a set of dots and dashes to each letter of the English alphabet and allowed for the simple transmission of complex messages across telegraph lines. In 1844, Morse sent his first telegraph message, from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore, Maryland” (https://www.history.com/topics/inventions/telegraph).

These inventions gave rise to the very first electric light, and “in 1835, the first constant electric light was demonstrated, and for the next 40 years, scientists around the world worked on the incandescent lamp, tinkering with the filament (the part of the bulb that produces light when heated by an electrical current) and the bulb’s atmosphere” (https://www.energy.gov/articles/history-light-bulb#:~:text=Incandescent%20Bulbs%20Light%20the%20Way,possible%20with%20the%20arc%20lamp.)

Now comes the tricky part as there is some debate as to whom the credit goes for the very first electric light –

  • Thomas Alva Edison tinkered with a few different big-ticket experiments like the first stock ticker, a carbon transmitter, and then a phonograph, until finally discovering the modifications needed to create the incandescent light bulb. (https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-electricity-1989860#:~:text=Ben%20Franklin%2C%20Henry%20Cavendish%2C%20and,first%20practical%20application%20of%20electricity). After some trial and error with different filaments, “In October 1879, after fourteen months of hard work and the expenditure of $40,000, a carbonized cotton thread sealed in one of Edison’s globes was tested and lasted forty hours. “If it will burn forty hours now,” said Edison, “I know I can make it burn a hundred.” And so he did. A better filament was needed. Edison found it in carbonized strips of bamboo.” Edison would also go on to create the world’s first power plant in “London, in 1882, and in September of that year the Pearl Street Station in New York City, the first central station in America, was put into operation.”

  • One can’t talk about the history of the light bulb without mentioning William Sawyer and Albon Man, who received a U.S. patent for the incandescent lamp, and Joseph Swan, who patented his light bulb in England. There was debate on whether Edison’s light bulb patents infringed on these other inventors’ patents. Eventually Edison’s U.S. lighting company merged with the Thomson-Houston Electric Company – the company making incandescent bulbs under the Sawyer-Man patent – to form General Electric, and Edison’s English lighting company merged with Joseph Swan’s company to form Ediswan in England.” https://www.energy.gov/articles/history-light-bulb#:~:text=Incandescent%20Bulbs%20Light%20the%20Way,possible%20with%20the%20arc%20lamp

Inventors struggled for a time in developing lighting that was effective and affordable for the average household. Though many came close, “[Lewis] Latimer worked with the famous inventor Hiram Maxim at the U.S. Electric Lighting Company. While working there in 1881, Latimer patented a carbon filament for the incandescent lightbulb” (http://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/bhistory/inventors/latimer.htm). Latimer would later go on to work for Maxim’s arch enemy – none other than Thomas Edison – and thanks to his specific and special gifts, he would prove to be invaluable to Edison: “his thorough knowledge of electric lighting and power guided Edison through the process of filing patent forms properly at the U.S. Patent Office, protecting the company from infringements of his inventions; Latimer was also in charge of the company library, collecting information from around the world, translating data in French and German to protect the company from European challenges” (https://invention.si.edu/innovative-lives-lewis-latimer-1848-1928-renaissance-man#:~:text=Lewis%20Latimer%20(1848%2D1928),several%20improvements%20for%20light%20bulbs.).

While all of this information is riveting, the rest of the tale is better told by the experts at the Department of Energy – keep reading along to discover the hidden truths about fluorescent lighting, compact fluorescent lighting, or CFLs, and finally Light-Emitting Diodes, or LEDs, here: https://www.energy.gov/articles/history-light-bulb#:~:text=Incandescent%20Bulbs%20Light%20the%20Way,possible%20with%20the%20arc%20lamp.

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Historical Figures: Electric Discoveries, Part 2

If you’ve been following along this week, you might already know where this story is headed, however the observations that led humanity to electric lighting where certainly unexpected at the time of their discoveries. While the source we’ve been using thus far to discuss the history of electricity is helpful (here’s the link: https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-electricity-1989860#:~:text=Ben%20Franklin%2C%20Henry%20Cavendish%2C%20and,first%20practical%20application%20of%20electricity), it leaves out one crucial person responsible for aggregating many of the previous findings and creating a historical record of electricity in his book titled, “The history and Present Stare of Electricity, With Original Experiments” which allowed countless others to further this exploratory work: Joseph Priestly. Some of Priestley’s most important work, in my opinion, included the initial findings of conductivity – please see the quote below from encyclopedia.com (https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/science-and-technology/chemistry-biographies/joseph-priestley):

His experiments relate primarily to conductivities of different substances, although he also examined other modes of the motion of the electrical fluid. He discovered the conductivities of charcoal and of metallic salts, ranged the metals in a table of comparative conductivities, first noted the distinctive marks left by spark discharges on metallic surfaces—now known as “Priestley’s rings”—and examined the phenomena of “electric wind” and sideflash. His most remarkable electrical discovery came as an interpretation of an experiment by Franklin. From the observation that pith balls lowered within an electrified metallic cup were not influenced by electricity, Priestley deduced, on Newtonian grounds, the inverse-square form of the force law between electrical charges. The publication of this deduction in the History passed nearly unnoticed (as had that of Daniel Bernoulli in 1760), but it probably inspired Cavendish’s subsequent experimental determination of the force law.”

By combining and honing the information on electricity and conductivity, as well as requesting direct critiques from the experimenters themselves, Priestly was able to pass on a plethora of generational knowledge to other scientists who would later continue this important work. His book potentially led Henry Cavendish to his discovery of electric attraction and repulsion and his own discoveries on conductivity – priming us for Charles-Augustin de Coulomb’s famous “Coulomb’s law” which states the direct inverse relationship between electrostatic repulsion and attraction (see below).

Coulombs Law

In case you’re curious about the chemistry implications of this equation (which essentially hold our entire world together), click on the image to check out the source.

Priestley, Cavendish, and Coulomb’s works gave rise to another scientist, who’s name you might recognize: Alessandro Volta. While Volta has a plethora of findings, one of his most significant contributions to the world of electricity was the worlds first battery (https://www.thoughtco.com/alessandro-volta-1992584). As you can see from this link, the words “volt” and “photovoltaic” are credited to him.

It would still be roughly 80 years before we saw the first incandescent light bulb that led to harnessing light in street lamps and homes, but the painstaking work would may have taken even longer without these amazing discoveries. More to come on that in tomorrow’s post!

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