builder or project manager

Jake River came home from school shouting, "There's a large track-hoe excavator on the site! Let's go look at it. Do you know how to run one? There are directions on the side..." Mmmm... which is better, to admit to my own son I would be VERY dangerous on one of those things, even if I could figure it out, or nod quietly with a "that's so cool," and ask him if he's hungry for milk and cookies?

It is pretty cool indeed to see the site equipment arriving. Dirt flies on Monday. One of our West Coast timber framers will be there, directing, answering questions, monitoring quality. I'll stop by, if there's time between two more solar designer interviews, a conversation with the lumber yard manager about the project and FSC wood, and the day to day work at NEW and PMW. Therein lies the difference between the builder and the project manager: He with the most patience, steady-handed organizational skills, and stick to-it-ness gets the role of implementor. Me, I'm a reasonable mentor but lack the imple. A PM needs focus, a set of specs and as little distraction from those two as possible. I'll do the specs: That there are thousands of hours of design, re-design, research, interviews, debates and calculations is where I come in. How a home is built today without this intensive level of thought and participation is the topic of another day's rant.

Today, for instance, I met with two renewable energy guys, the sharp-as-a-tack, hip and designer glasses engineer, and the veteran survivor of the Ronald-Reagan-tear-the-solar-system-off-the-White-House years. We began to map out the solar domestic hot water, and delved into the project photovoltaic opportunities for the time. Just this one topic will take perhaps 60 hours of interviews, specifications, negotiations and integration, and I am starting from a relatively knowledgeable platform of 25 years. This is just for the solar-assist.

I can't tell you the system specifics of where I'm leaning right yet, as it would be impolite. The gist is two 4'x8' solar hot water panels that heat propylene glycol by sending it through black painted copper tubes behind glass on the roof. The energy picked up is exchanged with potable water and then supplemented by, in our case, a tankless gas-fired water heater. In portland, sun should take care of half to two thirds of our needs in showers, baths etc. Questions like closed loop vs. drained back and DC vs AC pumps lead the long list of specifics TBD.

Photovoltaics is easier. (Einstein's only Nobel prize was in photovoltaics; the conversion of sun light to electricity.) All the panel suppliers seem to use the same datum: dollar per watt installed. And all the components look to have long and reasonable equal life spans and consistency. Although a still a long payback, if there is money in the budget at the end, it is extraordinary insurance against rising energy costs. State and federal incentives make it low hanging fruit. Gotta do it, just gotta.