Tech Tip: Smart Outlets

Information is king in the world of energy saving. Understanding how much electricity is being used will give you an opportunity to eliminate waste. I picked up a pair of the Etekcity smart plugs for $27.00 on Amazon.

These smart outlets have the ability to turn power on/off from your smartphone. It also gives you a breakdown of Energy usage and allows for scheduled timers. Any plugged in appliance will have some power waste even when turned off. Gaming systems, TVs, cable boxes, and computers are notorious for wasting energy when not in use.

Here is the home screen for one of my outlets. My bedside lamp and cell phone charger have used only 0.82 kWh this month

Owning these outlets allows you to understand how much power things are using over time. Further, the schedule/timer feature provides the ability to turn off energy wasting appliances when they are dormant.

Here is the yearly chart of electricity usage from this same outlet. This tells me that I did more night time reading during the month of May.

Overall, I plan to continue purchasing more of these whenever they are on sale. Understanding and programming my electricity usage is a valuable commodity. I can save money by eliminating energy waste — I can also look cool by turning lights on and off from my cell phone!

Written By:

Luke Langhals

Re-purposing an old workbench into a kitchen island

Rental property number 3 had a major kitchen countertop issue! Its countertop space was extremely limited and I was looking for a way to make it more suitable for cooking. I didn’t want to invest a ton in this project and decided the only option was to create a crafty kitchen island for under $30.

Luckily, my mother had found an old basement workbench for $2. A complete steal for assembled treated wood!

Well worth the $2 investment

The overall dimensions were 6ft by 3ft. It was sturdy, ugly, and ready for refurbishment. I began by lightly sanding and painting on primer.

1 coat of “no sand” primer. My favorite brand is “Kilz Hide-All”

After priming was complete, the table is ready for tile prep. I used inexpensive 3″ x 1″ pine boards to line the long edges. I chose metal tile edging for the short table sides; mainly to give it a little contrast. Total cost of edging was about $15.


Next, I painted the pine edging to match the kitchen walls. My thinking was that this would break up the white a bit. It would also match well with the gray grout I was planning to use on the tile. I chose 3″x6″ self spacing subway tile. This was an easy decision because I had it laying around AND its inexpensive to install/use. At 22 pennies per tile….this is a great choice whenever possible.

I laid my mortar and prepared to set the subway tile. After this it’s as simple as snap, stagger, lay, and repeat. The metal edging is pushed in the mortar and installed underneath the tile to create a clean edge on the short table sides. On the long table sides, I screwed the painted pine edges about 1/2″ above the table top. This allows the subway tiles to set within this edge and create a clean “lip.”

Also, please note the paper plates underneath each leg for painting. Paper plates and plastic cups are THE MOST USEFUL thing to have around any renovation project.

Pressing in subway tile

Finally, I ended my project with some gray grout to offset the white subway tiles and match the kitchen walls. Overall, I see this as a successful re-purposing. The tenant will have added countertop space and a nice eat-in area.

Finished project: Under $30.00…roughly

Revitalizing old pieces can be a great addition to any property. I’ve done many similar projects in my own home. Although it might be high in labor….it is definitely inexpensive in materials!


Written By:
Luke Langhals


Mother Earth News Fair: Biomass Cogeneration

Two weeks ago, I assisted with exhibiting a new technology at The Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, North Carolina.

I was consulting for the Combined Energy Technology (CET) team based in Athens, OH. They are an engineering and R&D firm working on developing biomass fueled cogeneration systems.

CET was publicly presenting the Bio-Gen 1000 technology for the first time at The Mother Earth News Fair. I recommended this venue because the attendees are forward thinking, sustainable minded, and environmentally conscious.

The Bio-Gen 1000 unit is revolutionary for its ability to gasify biomass into fuel for operation. The system itself generates 1kw of electricity, 5.5kw of heat energy, and 1 lb of biochar per hour. The combination of these features is perfect for off-grid, agricultural operations, and sustainable power sites.


Personally, I view some amazing possibilities for CET in the future. This technology has the ability to be powered by a wide range of locally sourced fuels. I envision transporting this system to remote third world locations and having the locals bring agricultural waste to fuel the Bio-Gen. When operating in this format, the system could potentially provide electricity, sterilize water, and produce bio-char to be used for soil regeneration. As you can imagine, localized power plants could be very useful to locations without a ready supply of electricity and sterile water. Further, unlike standard gas powered generators – there will be no need to supply expensive fuel to the location.

We can consider the Bio-Gen 1000 to be the world’s third form of Renewable Energy and I am very excited that it will soon be available to the wider public.

More information available at

Other Fantastic Exhibitors I ran into while at the Mother Earth News Fair:

Air Head Composting Toilets

The Air Head composting toilet is one of the most compact composting toilets in the world. It’s the original mobile diversion system, since 2001: simple, odorless, better!

Buffalo Girl Soaps

Buffalo Girl Soaps sells all-natural bath and body products made with pure essential oils. Since 2000, they’ve specialized in “pure products, wild by nature.”

EIS Solar

EIS is western Pennsylvania’s leading solar integrator.

Written By:

Luke Langhals


Death Valley 2018: Backpacking Cottonwood Marble Canyon Loop

Famous among backpackers — the Cottonwood Marble Canyon loop in Death Valley is a very taxing and difficult trail. The hike itself does not offer large elevation changes but it does present unique scenery. I went in the first week of April and was hoping to avoid the harsh summer temperatures and sun. This was not the case!

I started the trail by driving roughly 8.1 miles down a dirt “high clearance” road from Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley. I was driving a rental sedan and it was a rough ride down the road. If I had an SUV or 4×4 vehicle, I could have driven another 2-3 miles to the trail head. Having a low clearance rental car added these extra miles to my backpacking loop.

CottMarb Parking 2018
Made it 8.3 miles down the dirt road before parking. Sorry rental car!

Upon entering the death valley back country, I was immediately met with jagged stone formations, distant mountains, and pulsing 94F heat + sun. The experience can be daunting even for an experienced backpacker. I had packed 3 days worth of food and 4 liters of water. I knew that my next water source was 12-14 miles away and the spring has been known to be…finicky.

The first 8 miles were on a 4×4 track and surrounded by sprawling canyons. The trail winds its way through the ragged rocks and slowly gains elevation. The experience was one of complete remoteness. Much like being on Mars!

After about 9 beautiful miles, I managed to strain a leg muscle. The 34 pounds on my back added to the pain that was now growing with every step. I attribute this injury to the shifting loose dirt/sand and knew I was roughly 5 miles from the closest oasis containing water. I would limp into Cottonwood springs or I would collapse and become a sun dried tomato. Only two options πŸ™‚

After many house of hiking through the desert, cottonwood springs is a little bit of a shock. Hours of reds, browns, and grays turn into green trees. All of a sudden you are walking among leaves and a very shallow babbling crick.

Death Valley 2018 Oasis
A picture of Cottonwood Spring from above; An ecosystem surrounded by desert mountains

Camping at Cottonwood is a very nice experience. The trees are rustling, the water is nearby, and there are dozens of level campsites for backpackers. Backpackers are required to camp 100 ft from water, as well as leave no trace principles. On this particular early April day….I was the only human camping in the vicinity.

Death Valley 2018 Campsite
Campsite View: Oasis on my left, elevation on my right, canyon in front

After a very sore morning, I set out to leave cottonwood and make the “turn” to the back side of this backpacking loop. The canyon spits hikers out into a large expanse of open area. With mountains on the right and left; I was now staring down 5.5 miles of open prairie. There seemed to be a dip between to the distant ridge line and this was where I would be crossing over into dead horse canyon. The hike going forward would be primarily off trail. A GPS and TOPO map is highly recommended.

Death Valley Prarie to Deadhorse edited
No trail in this section but you can see the ridge line cross in the distance

After going up and over the ridge, I believed myself to be in Deadhorse canyon. However, that is actually in another 2 miles and it involves another small ridge crossing….I missed this an continued down the wrong canyon. I’ve read other blogs about the Cottonwood-Marble Canyon loop and this is a common issue. Luckily, I checked by GPS and saw that I was now headed the wrong way. I could either backtrack and try to find the cross into Deadhorse….or I could cross through uncharted territory over the mountain range and try to find the next Oasis water supply (I was running low again).

Death Valley Lost
Oops! This was an unsafe and off-trail route; Check your GPS more often!

Being the adventurous type, i decided to leave the unnamed canyon and traverse my way over the mountain to my left. I had to literally crawl up the steep side as loose rocks slipped from beneath my hands and feet. Upon getting about 50 ft up the incline, I began rethinking this crossing decision. However, I refused to turn back and continued the tedious accent. I don’t recommend following my path here but I will say the top of this ridge gave some STUNNING 360 views. It also gave me a strong sense of adventurism through uncharted trails.

Death Valley View from Lost
This is the view from atop my lost excursion; Dead Horse water supply is just around the corner

After a very steep and sliding decent into the canyon, I began to see the trees of my next oasis in Dead Horse canyon. There is a dry river bed running off to the west ending in a cluster of trees that is the next water supply. I walked into the forest and again the contrast between desert hills and green trees was breathtaking. There is a small footpath routed along the oasis…this is the first actual trail I’ve seen in 7 miles. Coming off my ridge scrambling off-trail adventure — I was excited for a water break and my pace was faster than normal. All of a sudden; I heard a very loud hissing noise to my right and immediately halted in my tracks. 5 ft in front of me was a huge rattlesnake blending into the sand walking path. I took a few steps back and watched his accent up the steep canyon wall to my left. If I had been less attentive, unaware, or listening to headphones…. I probably would have stepped right into his coiled body. A potential tragedy avoided!

The Dead Horse canyon water supply was a very small trickle of water. I managed to collect and filter enough for 3 fresh liters but it was a slow collection process. The area around Dead Horse gives multiples locations for flat camp sites on semi-soft sandy ground. This is a perfect place for back country camping.

I recommend backpackers be careful when continuing onward from Dead Horse towards Marble Canyon. There is an 10ft vertical drop that cannot be avoided. I threw my pack down and climbed/rolled/fell down after. It was not a graceful decent πŸ™‚

Death Valley 2018 Marble entrace
A few miles after leaving the Oasis, you will see the entrance to the Marble Canyon

After a few more miles of trekking you will reach Marble Canyon. The next couple miles were the only shaded hiking i did in Death Valley. Surrounded by massive 100ft slot canyon walls — this is an absolutely breathtaking experience after days of hot sun and strenuous trail. I recommend you proceed through this section slowly and take in the beautifully unique environment.

Death Valley 2018 Marble canyon
Beautiful walls within Marble Canyon. Towering above and leaning precariously overhead

You will be within this canyon up until the dead end point of a 4×4 dirt road. Upon reaching the end, I ran into a group of day hikers who nicely offered a ride in their Ford 4×4. It was a bumpy ride in the bed of the truck but at least it eliminated 5 miles of road hiking off my plan…3 of which I already hiked when arriving.

To sum up; this is a very unique backpacking loop. It presents challenges and views that are not entirely common in many locations. The secluded nature of the Cottonwood-Marble Canyon loop is perfect for people wishing to escape the confines of busy trails and society.

A few more pictures are below. Feel free to reach out with questions about this hike. Enjoy!

Written By:

Luke Langhals

Death Valley 2018 tent
My REI Passage 2 has been a rigorous ally on over 1000 miles of backpacking trails. It is a 2 person tent — but I love the extra space and easy set up.
A selfie water break in front of the entrance to Marble Canyon

Insulating Hot Water Pipes

Your home’s hot water needs to travel from the tank to various locations throughout your house. In my case; I have copper pipes, but this is also applicable to Pex or C-PVC piping.

During the water traveling process, heat moves from the inside of your hot water pipe to the surrounding area. To give you a rough estimate — my home costs about $18.67 per month for hot water. I have a standard gas hot water tank. Electric tanks are generally more expensive to operate and therefore your pipe insulation savings will be higher depending on how you generate hot water. Any heat that is transferred through the pipe is literally wasted before it ever reaches your sink or shower. For this reason we want to stop the waste, save some energy, and make a more efficient domestic hot water system.


1. Heat is wasted while traveling from the hot water tank to the faucet/shower.

2. Insulating the pipes can stop this waste and allow your home to be more efficient and cost less money!

3. Pipe insulation costs roughly $2 per 6 ft section at the local hardware store.

4. Installation time is roughly 1 hour to complete the project.

5. You should save $3-$6 per month by adding insulation and your payback will be 1-3 years.

So, we begin this project in my basement. We need to find all the water pipes that are supplying hot water to various locations in the home. For me I have a dishwasher, washing machine, basement faucet, kitchen faucet, bathroom faucets x2, and a single shower. Turn on the hot water at the furthest location and allow it to run for 1 minute. This will heat the pipes up throughout your home and allow you to find the correct ones requiring insulation.

Now, travel into your basement and begin touching the hot water pipes (careful they might be hot). Mark the pipes that are warm and note there locations so we can add insulation to the correct pipes.

There will be three types of pipe insulation at the hardware store. Foam, foam self sealing, and rubber. For our purposes, I find the foam self sealing option to be best. The standard foam is roughly $.80 cheaper but you would need to add tape which lengthens installation time AND costs extra for the tape. Just buy the self sealing foam pipe insulation which cost $1.77 for me per 6 ft section at 1/2″ in size. Most of your pipes will be 1/2″ but make sure to check the various pipe sizes before making the hardware store trip.

Before insulation

Here is a picture of my basement hot water supply piping. These are 1/2″ in size and they are now warm to the touch. One of these pipes is for cold water…and doesn’t need to be insulated. Make sure to feel the pipes and find which ones actually require the insulation!

Hotwaterpipethermal resized
Thermal picture after running hot water: You can obviously tell which pipe is supplying hot water….The bright yellow is wasted heat

After finding your hot water pipes, fit a section of insulation around the pipe itself. For self sealing insulation — pull the plastic seal off and push the sections of insulation together. The insulation should now fit firmly around the pipe. I suggest starting with the sections of pipe that will fit full sections of insulation. Your insulation will not go past pipe connections and branches. You will need to cut short sections of your insulation to fit these smaller pipe areas.

Hot water pipes with insulation complete

Overall, This is not a difficult project and it is very inexpensive. This is a project that can be completed in limited time with a limited budget. After you have finished installing your sections of insulation — turn down the temperature of your water tank slightly and save some money on your utility bills.

Let me know if you have questions.

Adding Insulation in Rental Properties

Most of our rental properties have little to no insulation. Many of these houses were bought from typical “slum lords” that cared as much about their tenants as they did about the squirrels living in the attic.

Our investment strategy is simple. Give people a quality place to live at an affordable monthly rate. And guess what?…..Utility bills play a huge part in whether a home is affordable!

First, you may ask WHY we make energy efficiency upgrades when the tenant is responsible for the utility bills. This is a simple argument. The largest expense suffered by landlords is vacant properties, tenant turnover, and damage caused by unhappy tenants. We try to avoid all three of these by keeping our tenants happy! Happy tenants equal long term leases and commitment to keeping the property in good condition. We want people living in our houses to feel like it is their home. Home is where the heart is πŸ™‚

Summary of work:

1. Seal penetrations from the living space into the attic. ie. wires, lights

2. Add blown-in cellulose in the attic for insulation

3. Add rigid EPS foam and fiberglass batts to rim joists

Cost = $450.00

Value = Lower heating bills and happy tenants

Ok, lets begin with step number one. I like to start in the basement and work my way up! Begin at the rim joists. Buy 2″ EPS foam sheets for $39.00 and R-13 fiberglass batts roll for $16.00. Read the RIM JOIST INSULATING BLOG.

Next, we evaluate whether any insulation can be added within the walls. Some of our houses have fiberglass bat insulation or cellulose insulation within the wall cavities. If drywall repair is required; we try to use fiberglass bats between the wall studs.


Finally, comes the attic insulation. We move ourselves into the attic with several cans of spray foam. we seal up exterior gaps and insulate around wire penetrations through the sheet rock. Generally, these penetrations are caused by light fixtures and ductwork. The goal is to remove the locations where the houses heated/cooled air can work its way into the attic. Any exposed ducting in the attic should be wrapped in fiberglass insulation to prevent energy from escaping your ducting.Β 

Now we are ready for attic insulation! Generally, I find blown-in cellulose to be the easiest to work with. I purchase the packs of cellulose from Lowes and choose the GreenFiber brand. These come in roughly 2 ft packaged cubes and the blowing machine is free for the day (with $250 deposit). First, let me warn you that this machine is heavy and you will need someone to assist with lifting this.


I start with 20 containers of GreenFiber for roughly $8.00 each. Depending on the size of your attic, you will need to estimate how many of these you will require. Carry the blowing machine inside and plug it in. Climb up into the attic with the included distribution hose and have your partner load half a package of cellulose inside the machine. Begin in the farthest corner by blowing insulation into the area between the joists. Do not insulate the soffit space to avoid covering the exterior air vents. Blow insulation into one area at a time — wait until the insulation reaches above the joist. Your goal is to get a continuous “blanket” of insulation that is a MINIMUM of 5″ deep and with the goal of achieving 8″ of coverage. Add the depth of insulation required to meet your local building code.

Have fun with this DIY project! Going from un-insulated to insulated will be a noticeable difference in both utility bills and comfort.

Written By:

Luke Langhals

Utilizing Wasted Space: Attic Facelift

Old houses often come with rooms that are difficult to use. Strange layouts, low ceilings, and quirky entrances can equal a lot of wasted space.

This is exactly what I found in my third floor attic area. It quickly became my “box” room. The space where clutter is stored away and eventually forgotten about. I decided to rectify this issue by changing the area into a usable guest room and a kids play space.

My first goal is to obviously use space more effectively. This means adding storage locations, usable floor area, and making it comfortable for occupants. Wasted space = wasted resourced = wasted energy!

First Issue: What would make people walk into a scary attic?

First Answer: A fun entryway!



Next step was brightening up the space to encourage use. It is a fact that people do not like sitting in caverns. This is why most basement rooms often go underutilized. A white ceiling and bright colored walls greatly improved my attics ‘likeability’.

Continuing the idea of brightness; I added some cheery window curtains and made sure all the windows are both operational and have screens for air circulation. Attics have a way of becoming stale and uncomfortable. Windows located on opposite ends allows a cross flow whenever the weather is nice. I would also like to add a high efficiency “breathing” style ERV system….but this will be a project down the road.

Sagging Addition in Rental Property

So….we bought our third rental property and planned to do the standard cosmetic and insulation upgrades. However, we had a slight ‘slant” in the kitchen and began to wonder how to fix the problem. To begin we identified that this section was not accessible from the basement; and therefore was an addition to the main house/foundation. We tried to get underneath from the outside and quickly discovered that the small addition sat on a wooden foundation (much like a deck). The 4×4 posts in each corner had begun to rot and sag downwards. This was causing our slant and needed to be rectified before we rented the home to someone.

Let the FUN BEGIN!

I call this face….”I’m not happy about how big this project became.” We see it often.

Me and my business partner Caleb discussed different “hacks” we could perform to make this job easy. We flirted with the idea of using an automobile jack outside at each corner to add a new 4×4 for support. This way no demolition would be needed on the interior. However, it would not allow us to solidify the floor joists and that seemed silly given that we didn’t want a tenant to fall through our kitchen floor.

We decided to cut a small hole in the sub-floor and take a look at the joists. They were in semi good condition for being 50 years old, but they seemed undersized for the job. We wanted to make sure that this project was done correctly and ripped up the floor to expose our work area.

The strategy here was simple.

First; support each corner with a new 4×4 post. I hand dug the dirt floor until I reached the brick “foundation”. I then cut a slightly oversized treated 4×4 and fit it into position using a lift up and hammer in method. The bottom would rest on the bricks and the top would support the wall section.

Second; We added new 2×6 joists along each existing joist. This method called “sistering” would insure that the wood holding up our tenants was sized correctly for the job (probably oversized).

Third; We placed new cross supports running perpendicular to the floor joists. These ran underneath the entire length and were supported by 4×4 posts sitting on concrete blocks.

Fourth; We changed the crawlspace area to be part of the home’s insulation envelope (previously it was an un-insulated and un-vented crawl space…bad!). I used 2″ rigid foam along the exterior walls. It is sealed with spray foam at all the seams which thoroughly locked the rigid foam into place. These foam panels were purchased from Lowes in 4’x8′ sheets and cost about $40.00. We required two sheets to fully insulate and seal the crawlspace walls. Further, we required 4 cans of spray foam purchased for $4.50 each. I then attached R-13 batt insulation to cover the foam and further prevent heat loss from the crawl space area to the outside. My goal is to keep the crawlspace dirt floor from becoming frozen and therefore prevent “flexing” between the seasons. Insulating the crawl floor would be the correct way to bring this fully inside the envelope. However, two of our supports are not dug below the frost line and therefore they would naturally change height as the ground changes between hot/cold. This is why the floor is now a big heat sink. Bad for energy efficiency but hopefully the home condition will keep this area at a steady temperature throughout the year.

Fifth; I went back outside and changed the gutter run off locations. The original addition had rotted posts because water had made its way underneath this area. I tried to insure that rain water directed itself naturally away from the home. Included in this strategy is concrete pavers added around the exterior that are sloped/graded away from the home.

Finally: An Affordable Indoor Air Quality Monitor!

Each month I will try to introduce a new “tool” for creating a healthier, more efficient, or more sustainable home. Today, I will outline my Foobot IAQ Sensor!

Summary: An Indoor Air Quality sensor will help you visualize how healthy your home is. I personally have several different sensors operating at all times. My Foobot is the first “all in one” device and measures a number of different items. I have been happy with its ease of use and highly recommend people with IAQ concerns start here. Information is king!

This nifty little gadget has been making me more aware of the air I am breathing. Although I do not consider the $200 price tag to be cheap, it definitely offers fantastic “bang for the buck.” Most IAQ monitors come with a much higher cost and generally they only monitor one aspect of air quality. Common household sensors include either Humidity, particulate matter, C02, or volatile compounds. With the Footbot, you get all of these conditions in one neat little box.

Here is a quick rundown of the different aspects of IAQ and why they are important:

1. Humidity: The amount water vapor in your interior air. An optimum house will have a continuous relative humidity level between 35% and 55%. When your home begins to get above 55%….mold can grow. When levels drop below 35%….the air becomes uncomfortable.

2. Particulate Matter: For our purposes this is measured as fine particles in your air that can be inhaled into your body. Any small particles from smoke, cooking, pet dander, allergens, cleaning supplies etc. If you have someone with asthma, COPD, or allergy issues….this is an important level to watch. Your goal is to keep your home below 12 (uG/m3) a minimum of 95% of the day.

3. C02: Levels of interior C02 will rise because of a number of conditions. Mainly, I see mine spike when I entertain guests (more people breathing) or while I’m cooking on my gas stove. Your goal is to keep your home below 1300 ppm for the majority of the day. C02 is not considered particularly dangerous at these levels…but it is a good identifier for how much fresh air you have. Also, a Harvard research study found that C02 levels above your desired threshold can lead to lower cognitive function. You are reading that correctly! Having high C02 in your home might be making you stupider!

4. Volatile Compounds: The level of interior VOCs are generally determined by the level of gases or chemicals that might have been brought into your home. A number of items could be effecting your VOC level. Including off-gassing carpet/furniture, paint, cleaning supplies, building materials, etc. If you have ever noticed cans of paint at the hardware store that say LOW VOC….this is exactly what they are talking about. Aim to keep your interior VOC level below 300 ppb. Whenever you choose to do some household painting or cleaning; these levels will likely surpass your desired threshold.

Blue Foobot = healthy air!

My Footbot manages to stay “blue” roughly 90% of the day. However, it always reacts when I am cleaning or cooking in the house. Different household actions will lead to “bad” air. Luckily, I can see these conditions taking place and try to limit the amount of time/frequency.

Orange Foobot = Unhealthy Air
Here is the smartphone AP from Foobot on a normal day with 4 people in the house. My C02 levels are beginning to creep upwards from the occupancy but overall everything looks good. A Winter interior humidity level of 31% is common in old houses and leads to uncomfortably dry air…but we will talk about this later πŸ™‚

Overall, the main benefit of owning a Foobot is that you will have a better understanding for how your actions might be effecting your home. Information is king in the world of sustainability. I’ve now had this little device active for 11 months. I can honestly say that the information is useful and as I make other upgrades to my 100 year old home…I can see how they correlate with my air quality.

Property Investing

From 9-5 i work in the field of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technology. I specialize in business development and market penetration.

However, I also have a passion for redeveloping neighborhoods and property investments. Me and my business partner began acquiring residential rental properties in 2017. We focused on a local ‘up and coming’ urban neighborhood in Columbus, OH. We wanted to find a location with low property values and high community potential. Further, we wanted an area where we can make a difference in the surrounding neighborhood.

I am a strong believer in a theory called ‘best house on the block’. Most neighboring housing units are owned by slumlords and many others are left vacant. This dereliction of housing has left a neighborhood which has frankly given up on its appearance. This type of accepted degradation is much like a cancer. It grows within the community and causes a general lack of respect for the surroundings. However, this is not the fault of the local residents but rather the property owners who are profiting off their tenants.

Further, i would like to address property owners who purchase low price homes with the plan to hold them for a future increase in neighborhood value. YOU ARE THE PROBLEM! Purchasing a property can be an excellent form of investment. Targeting neighborhoods that might increase exponentially is a way to insure quality returns with little work. However, I must stress that homes are not stocks. They are NOT an investment which should be left to ‘sit’ for your own personal gain. Their are stakeholders when you purchase a home. These include the neighborhood residents, city of location, and surrounding property owners. Investing in a home should not be a passive investment. Urban renewal and redevelopment is lead by local advocates who support the communities growth. Leaving a home vacant for the purpose of future profit is completely immoral unless you actively participate in the factors leading to your profit.

When I choose to fix up a property — I am committing myself to the neighborhood. I am offering the surrounding community an example of beautification. Further, I’ve noticed that neighboring landlords and derelict property investors often choose to sell after we complete a renovation project. Owning an investment property next to ‘the best house on the block’ can instantly boost your property value. However, why should these owners profit off my hard work and revitalization effort? They have done nothing to assist the neighborhood and they have left a dangerous eyesore that has contributed to this community cancer over years of wasted potential.

This is the reason that I am sometimes disliked by surrounding investment property owners. I will report ANY code violation I see and make the city aware of potential issues with the derelict units. Further, I am always happy to advise any local tenants in the rights that they have. If your slumlord refuses to provide a working hot water system; don’t refuse to pay rent! Put the rent in escrow and have the court mediate the owners response!

This is not to say that all property investors act in this manner. I have met some fellow homeowners who are proud of their properties and generally treat their tenants with courteous respect. These are the investors who deserve to profit most from a neighborhood revitalization!

I will now digress back to our company strategy.

We find properties based on several criteria and always in this order.

1. Would new ownership of the house benefit the tenant and/or neighborhood?

2. Can the home’s appearance be upgraded to benefit property value?

3. Can the home be upgraded to become more energy efficient or incorporate renewable energy in the future?

4. Can the investment offer a profitable level of rent with a quality payback

Overall, our investment strategy is not revolutionary. We want to benefit community revitalization, show steady profit over time, and incorporate sustainable features wherever possible.

Insulating Old House Rim Joists

When you begin your journey of home energy conservation — heat loss is one of the largest factors in your monthly utility bill. The best strategy is to tackle “low hanging fruit.” Start the projects that are DIY friendly and offer a great bang for the buck. Remember that whenever you are doing an Energy Efficiency upgrade — you are also supporting a cleaner planet and saving some dollar bills every month.

So, let’s begin with Rim Joists. This is the section of your home, (Usually in the basement or crawl space) where the first first floor meets the foundation. If you have an old home like me, these will be open wooden cavities with some form of brick, stone, or concrete below. Here is a picture of my non-insulated rim joists.


I am lucky to have a basement with 8 feet of headroom. This makes working down here quite practical. Even if you have a dirty, musty, hard to work in basement….this job is pretty straight forward.

Next, I will show you a picture of this same rim joist. However, It is taken with my handy thermal camera (More on that tech item later)!


So you are probably thinking — “Wow Luke! Thanks for that great picture of colorful blobs.” But let me break down what we see here. Notice the two big purple squares? These are the rim joists sucking energy out of my home. Basically, the temperature of this area is far below the temperature of the surrounding home. My thermal camera is allowing me to see the drastic amount of heat loss taking place on this particular day (17F outside temperature).

The next step will be to “break” the flow of energy from inside to outside. To do this we need insulation!

MarkisonFoamCuttingI was lucky enough to have some 1.5 inch rigid foam EPS segments laying about. This would give me roughly r6 of insulation value. I used a standard box cutter to slice the foam to size (9.5″x14″ in my case) and fit them into each section. Similar foam can be purchased from your local hardware store and generally comes in 4’x8′ sheets. I would recommend you purchase a thickness of 1.5-2 inches for this project.

MarkisonRimjoistfoamnosprayNext comes the process of sealing the edges. We do not want air to escape around our new foam inserts! I recommend simple spray foam insulation in a can. This material is very easy to work with and relatively inexpensive to buy. I found that a single can will insulated 10 sections. My entire basement required 3-4 cans at under $3 per can. (I noticed cans cost $4+ at hardware stores….however Walmart had a ready supply for $2.77).


After sealing the foam edges, I now have a solid air seal. The combination of rigid foam and spray foam should significantly reduce the amount of heat leaving my home. Personally, i don’t like to paying to heat my yard during the winter…I would say this was a successful project overall. Estimated time of completion was 3-4 hours. Good Luck!

Here is a thermal image of one insulated rim joist next to an un-insulated rim joist. As you can see — the right joist with foam is significantly warmer than the left rim joist. This picture alone will inspire me to insulate the rim joists on every house I’ll ever own.

Written By:

Luke Langhals

Environmental Mission

As a headline for understanding my position in blog posts; I think it is important for people to understand my overall mission and goals.

I like to call myself a “practical environmentalist.”

This means that I believe in taking a clearly defined and realistic path towards clean energy, reduced waste, and better environmental conditions. I do not believe that society will EVER sacrifice comfort and cultural norms (for better or for worse). For this reason it is important that we focus on the bonuses of environmentalism. Building a more sustainable home has proven to increase health, productivity, and comfort — while simultaneously decreasing operating costs and environmental impact. These are all fantastic attributes! However, most people still think of “green” homes as lacking the benefits of a modern society (I blame low flush toilets!).

Furthermore, I think it is important to note that I am an advocate for increasing wildlife areas, national parks, and urban ‘green.’ As an avid hiker and explorer; it is imperative that we leave a natural environment that will be utilized by future generations.

My world goals:

  1. Transition away from the use of coal for electricity generation by the year 2030 & transition away from the use of all non-renewable sources by the year 2050.
  2. Create a clear a pathway for reducing energy consumption while simultaneously expanding the availability of clean energy.
  3. Protect the worlds natural areas while growing their accessibility for future generations.

How (I believe) we get there:

  1. Create/apply a construction method that can be widely accepted as decreasing energy use by 50-70% for residential and commercial buildings. Currently, the best method available is the Passive House approach. Limit energy use to a bare minimum while increasing human comfort/health.
  2. Increase the adoption of renewable energy. Both onsite (rooftop solar) as well as centralized applications (wind, hydro, and solar power plants). Educate financial institutes and banks on how/why to lend additional funding to these projects.
  3. Establish a culture of environmentally friendly attitudes. Encourage people to enjoy their parks and green spaces. Also, increase private funding of nature preserves and conservatories. Simultaneously introducing children to the beauty of the natural environment through education and experiences.

To Be Continued: