Flipping the Switch to Electric: A Green Building Pioneer’s Take on Heat Pumps

Dennis Allen talks about electric-powered homes on the CEC blog.

This story was originally published on cecsb.org on February 10, 2021.

“The nice thing about electric equipment is that it just keeps getting more refined, more efficient, quieter and better,” said current CEC Partnership Council member and past CEC Board President Dennis Allen. He’s certainly an authority on the subject. In addition to building two different state-of-the-art eco-conscious homes for his own family, the founder of green building specialist Allen Construction has been bringing his passion for energy conservation and sustainability to his work building quality, healthy homes for neighbors in Santa Barbara for almost 40 years.

As the costs of heat pumps have gone down, their efficiency has continued to improve. When he was building the LEED platinum certified Victoria Garden Mews project in downtown Santa Barbara in 2011 (where he and his wife Jenny currently reside), “we didn’t even consider a heat pump,” said Dennis. “At that point they were pretty expensive. Now they are much more reasonably priced and they’re much more efficient with what they call the coefficient of performance — it can be up to four times what a forced air gas/heating system would be. All of these things are just coming on big time.”

With all of the new residential projects in California now required to have solar power, Dennis predicts that the demand for heat pumps will continue to rise. “Heat pumps are safer and healthier because you’re not burning natural gas and having the combustion fumes from the gas system, which are usually in the house. (This is why you have to have carbon monoxide detectors in homes to sense whether there is too much carbon monoxide being put out by the natural gas burning appliances.) Those are both safety and health issues. And more recent research is finding that the health issues are more serious than we were all led to believe even five years ago.”

Higher upfront costs are the primary stumbling blocks when it comes to installing electric heating and cooling systems, but, Dennis explained, “if you take into account the operational side, then it has a payback period – and from then on you’re saving money. The upfront costs are still a little bit more expensive, but that’s coming down all the time and pretty soon it’s going to be a no brainer to go all-electric. The ordinances and the state regulations are nudging people in that direction, and there are some incentive programs and so forth that help people go there. Once they go there it keeps helping to drive the cost down and it helps people save money and be healthier. So even with the slightly higher costs today it’s still worth doing.”

This story was originally published on cecsb.org on February 10, 2021.

Flipping the Switch to Electric: CEC’s Board President is Pumped About Her Heat Pump

Barbara Lindemann on going electric with a new heat pump for cec.org.

This story was originally published on cecsb.org on February 10, 2021.

The desire to cool down her house, rather than heat it, was what inspired CEC Board President Barbara Lindemann to investigate switching to a heat pump.

The air conditioner in her home in the Santa Barbara foothills was on its last legs and the furnace was more than 30 years old. After getting a bid on replacing the gas-powered furnace, Barbara pondered the purchase. “I began to think, well why am I putting in another gas furnace?” she laughed. “Given my commitment to getting off of fossil fuels this doesn’t make any sense at all.”

She asked for advice from a few knowledgeable friends, including green builder and past CEC Board President Dennis Allen and architect Dennis Thompson, who had done a remodel for the Lindemann’s a few years ago. Both of the experts agreed that heat pumps were a good alternative to another gas furnace. “Dennis Thompson pointed out that it’s not going to be long before you’re not allowed to put more gas into homes and new homes won’t be allowed to be built with gas,” said Barbara. “He said it’s really become the new thing.”

In the meantime, Barbara had also been researching getting backup batteries for her 18-year-old solar panel system. Living in a high fire zone with frequent power outages, and knowing that her solar power system would soon need to be replaced, Barbara realized that installing a heat pump would make even more economic sense when she replaced the solar with a system that included storage batteries.

Getting the heat pump “is a matter of looking to the future and taking care of our current needs at the same time,” Barbara said. While the initial upfront cost of the heat pump was slightly more than a new furnace might have been, Barbara said her gas bill has gone down and her electricity use is only up a little, “so we’re already saving money on the heat pump, even though it was more expensive to put in — and I haven’t had a chance to give it a full test with air conditioning yet.”

When summer comes around, Barbara is looking forward to her new heat pump being able to cool her home just as effectively as a standard air conditioner would, but without relying on fossil fuels to keep her family comfortable.

This story was originally published on cecsb.org on February 10, 2021.

Fresh Flowers Meet Fresh Thinking

Fresh Flowers Meet Fresh Thinking, originally published in the December 2020 issue of 805 Living Magazine.

Fresh Flowers Meet Fresh Thinking, originally published in the December 2020 issue of 805 Living Magazine.

A beautiful floral arrangement is always a welcome gift, but learning to make one can be a treasured experience. That’s the idea behind The Floral Pantry (thefloralpantry.com), a new CIY (create it yourself ) floristry-kit delivery service.

Founder and creative director Kim Wiseley worked with internationally renowned floral designers for years before landing on a way to share their expertise and creative inspiration with home floral enthusiasts, she says. The result of collaborations with renowned professionals, such as English floral designer Willow Crossley and Belgium-based farmer florist Emily Avenson of Fleuropean floral designs, the kits feature seasonal, fresh flowers, a handmade vessel, design tools, and a video design tutorial, all handpacked by Wiseley and her team in a Santa Barbara floral warehouse.

“Nature’s wonder is at the heart of everything we do,” Wiseley says.

Cover of 805 Living December 2020 Click here to see this story as it originally appeared in the December 2020 issue of 805 Living Magazine.

Midland Boarding School’s COVID Advantage

Midland Boarding School’s COVID Advantage, originally published in Santa Barbara Independent on November 19, 2020.

Midland Boarding School’s COVID Advantage, originally published in Santa Barbara Independent on November 19, 2020.

Historic S.Y.V. Outdoor School Is Great Fit for Today’s Teens

While every school struggles with COVID restrictions, Midland School’s 2,860-acre campus and nine decades of outdoor-minded, college preparatory education lends itself to an easier pivot than most. Students returned to the boarding school for grades 9-12 in late October.

“I’ve never seen a senior class that’s more vested in our collective good,” said Head of School Christopher Barnes, who’s been working round the clock for months to make their return to the Los Olivos campus possible. “The seniors are like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to make sure everybody wears their mask.’ Inside of these challenging moments are also these incredible opportunities for students to learn how to tolerate adversity, to find the grit and really evaluate what the needs are versus the wants, and really discover the very best version of themselves. That is profoundly exciting as an educator.”

Clearly Midland’s experiential, place-based curriculum is more desirable than ever right now. With health guidelines in place, students will still be able to work on the farm and in the garden, ride horses, go hiking and camping, and all of the other special things they normally do.

Enrollment is up at least 10 percent from last year. “The phone was ringing through the summer, and we definitely had to tell some people no,” said Barnes. “As much as I would love to welcome even more kids, we’re sort of at capacity relative to the situation we find ourselves in now. It leaves us with a few spare cabins for isolation or quarantine if needed; we need to reserve some of that bandwidth for that.”

They’ve gone “very deep into the four Ws,” said Barnes. “Wear your mask, watch your distance, wash your hands, and, finally, we are in this together.”

He’s excited to be an educator at such a pivotal time. “We are living through some major inflection points in history, and at the same time we’re not just dealing with a global health pandemic,” said Barnes. “We’re dealing with Black Lives Matter and a profound shift in perspectives with regard to social justice issues — and we are and want to continue to be a participant in that. We are in the midst of a straight-up economic depression, and we’ve had to dole out lots more financial aid and double down in terms of supporting our families
and make sure that we can honor our promise for them.”

SB Independent Cover, Schools of Thought, November 19, 2020.

SB Independent Cover, Schools of Thought, November 19, 2020.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent on November 19, 2020. To read the section as it appeared in print, please click here.

 

Big Learning on the Littlest Little Farm

Big Learning on the Littlest Little Farm, originally published in Santa Barbara Independent on November 19, 2020.

Big Learning on the Littlest Little Farm, originally published in Santa Barbara Independent on November 19, 2020.

O’Connor Family and AHA! Engage Students on a Hope Ranch Annex Property

Organic farming utilizes the interconnectedness of nature, but an even more bountiful example of community connectedness has sprung to life on the Littlest Little Farm.

Tucked away in the Hope Ranch Annex neighborhood, this dynamic collaboration brings together teens from AHA! to work alongside two facilitators/farming educators to create, maintain, and grow a biodynamic farm. And it all takes place at the home of Laurel and Matt O’Connor, who host the farm in what is literally their backyard, working alongside the team to turn a little less than half an acre of “hard pan dirt” into an impressive urban farm.

Along with revitalizing the land, the Littlest Little Farm has also sparked something special in the teens. “At the beginning of the program, I’ll admit I was reluctant to join because I’m normally not someone who enjoys the outdoors,” said Owen Hubbell, a senior at San Marcos High. “But the amazing facilitators and environment allowed me to enjoy the outdoors more than I ever have before. I was able to learn about the value of nature and the value of taking care of it. Not only that, but I also learned the science of farming, which was very eye-opening to me, because I was never aware of the amount of work that goes
into farming. The feeling of watching something grow and develop, and to do it with a community of people I trust, is a gift I will never forget.”

The Littlest Little Farm, which celebrates its one-year anniversary this month, was indeed inspired by the documentary The Biggest Little Farm. Both Laurel (a clinical therapist) and her friend Jennifer Freed (the cofounder of AHA!’s nonprofit social-emotional education
program) were fans of the film.

“I was having my dream of wanting a farm, and she was trying to figure out how to bring a farming program to the teens,” said Laurel. “It happened really fast. Jennifer is a visionary; she’s amazing. That was in the summer a year ago, and (with support from the Manitou Foundation and other generous donors) we had kids with boots on the ground in early
November.”

Under the guidance of two AHA! alums — Julian Castillo, a clinical therapist, and Stevie
O’Connor, a facilitator (and Laurel and Matt’s daughter) — teens learn about soil nutrition, composting, row planting, amending soil, irrigation installation, worm composting, and noninvasive and chemical-free pest and weed management at the same they’re building social and emotional skills and self-awareness.

“I work with a lot of adolescent boys, and it’s definitely way better to meet outdoors and explore something than just sit there,” said Castillo. “The bigger picture that I like to tell them is that this is a little part of changing the world. The soil can actually sequester carbon. A lot of them have taken home not only plants and produce, but they’re starting
their own little home gardens. So we really think it’s a lot bigger deal, and I think they’re getting that it’s a much bigger thing than just putting stuff in the ground.”

“It’s exciting to see teens get excited about their impact on the planet,” said Stevie. “Also, we’ve harvested a ton in the last couple of months, so the teens are able to take some home and then we donate the extra produce to the Unity Shoppe. It’s great to be able to give that fresh produce back, because we want this to be appreciated.”

“Once we get more volume going, then we can expand to give to other nonprofits,” said Laurel. “So many people are always like, ‘Thank you so much for this,’ and I always feel like I’m the one who should be saying, ‘Thank you.’ I feel so lucky. It’s just a win-win situation. And especially given this time. Things are hard, and this is just such a positive
experience out here every time. It’s just a feel-good place for all of us. And we all come together in a safe way and get in touch with ourselves, with each other, with the soil, just all of it. It’s really amazing.”

SB Independent Cover, Schools of Thought, November 19, 2020.

SB Independent Cover, Schools of Thought, November 19, 2020.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent on November 19, 2020. To read the section as it appeared in print, please click here.

 

Flight Paths

Flight Paths, originally published in the November 2020 issue of 805 Living Magazine.

Flight Paths, originally published in the November 2020 issue of 805 Living Magazine.

November is a great month to venture outside and get to know some of the local feathered flock. “You don’t need to be an expert birdwatcher to join our walks,” says Conejo Valley Audubon Society (wp.conejovalleyaudubon.org) vice president Richard Armerding, who leads monthly Beginner Bird Walks at Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa. Join him on November 11 to see many of the oak-woodland birds that are common in the Conejo Valley area. You may see a white-crowned sparrow—they migrate from Canada and Alaska this time of year—as well as Western meadowlarks,” Armerding says.

Also on the Audubon calendar is an Arroyo Simi Field Trip on November 14. This area of Simi Valley is home to an assortment of shorebirds, ducks, herons, and gulls. At all events, “We are happy to help people get started and give them tips and pointers,” says Armerding. Because of physical distancing, he notes, his groups are currently limited to 15 people, so reservations are required. “We’re a very welcoming group. We are always excited to see people who are getting newly into the hobby of birding,” he says.

Visit wp.conejovalleyaudubon.org/activities/field-trips for information on how to contact field trip leaders to sign up for these and other activities.

Cover of 805 Living Magazine, November 2020. This story originally appeared in 805 Living Magazine, November 2020. Click here to see the section as it originally appeared in print.

2020 Best of Santa Barbara

From Santa Barbara Independent, Best Of Issue cover, October 15, 2020.

From Santa Barbara Independent, Best Of Issue cover, October 15, 2020.

I had the honor of writing the Santa Barbara Independent‘s Best of Santa Barbara winners once again this year. It was a huge, fun project, and a little easier the second time around.  Even (or maybe especially) in this weird year, people were so happy to hear from me and so excited to have won! You can read the whole thing by clicking here, or on the PDFs below.

Introduction + Eating 770 10-15-20_Part1

Eating 770 10-15-20_Part2

Eating, Drink, Out & About + Romance 770 10-15-20_Part3

Romance 770 10-15-20_Part4

Romance, Looking Good, Living Well, Sporting Life, Little Creatures, Housing + Driving 770 10-15-20_Part5

Driving + Media 770 10-15-20_Part6

This Land is Our Land

Discover local spots to explore, like Lost Palms Oasis in Joshua Tree National Park, at 50greatpubliclanddestinations.org. Photo by Deborah Williams.

Discover local spots to explore, like Lost Palms Oasis in Joshua Tree National Park,
at 50greatpubliclanddestinations.org. Photo by Deborah Williams.

Hoping to encourage her environmental studies students to get out and explore public lands within a 300-mile radius, UC Santa Barbara lecturer Deborah Williams has created a new website for all to enjoy. Great Public Land Destinations (50greatpubliclanddestinations.org) spotlights 50 parks, monuments, preserves, and open spaces, where visitors can appreciate natural beauty and historical significance.

“One of my goals in creating the site was to remind us of the rich diversity of our public lands,” Williams says.

In addition to well-known national parks, like Yosemite and Joshua Tree, her impressive compilation tallies lesser-known spots, such as Manzanar National Historic Site—a World War II Japanese internment camp in the Eastern Sierras, and the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, preserved through fundraising efforts led by conservationist Jane Pinheiro, including a 1970s “Pennies for Poppies” drive to which schoolchildren contributed. All of the sites are within a day’s drive of the 805.

805 Living Cover, October 2020. This story originally appeared in 805 Living Magazine, October 2020. Click here to see the section as it originally appeared in print.

Apeel’s Santa Barbara Appeal

Apeel's Megan Opp, photo by Daniel Dreifuss for Santa Barbara Independent.

Apeel’s Megan Opp, photo by Daniel Dreifuss for Santa Barbara Independent.

In a creation story fit for a feel-good film, the food-preservation company Apeel Sciences was founded by UCSB grad student James Rogers when he heard a radio story about global hunger while driving through California’s lush farmlands. He wondered how so many could be so hungry when there was much food around.

Upon learning that the culprit is spoilage, the materials science PhD candidate developed a product—made entirely from natural things in the food we already eat—that slowed down the rotting of various fruits and vegetables. Rogers won UCSB’s New Venture Competition, and the seeds of Apeel quickly began to sprout, funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation due to the promise of fighting malnourishment around the world.

That was around 2012. Fast forward to today, and Apeel, which is headquartered in Goleta and employs nearly 200 “Apeelers,” is growing like crazy, developing products for dozens of produce categories and working with a range of partners, from small organic growers to the world’s largest food brands.

In late August, Apeel, which is currency valued at more than $1 billion, announced a partnership with the largest German retailer that will put Apeel-treated avocados and oranges in more than 11,000 EDEKA and Netto stores.

And they’re just getting started. I spoke with “Chief People Officer” Megan Opp about Apeel’s appeal.

WHY IS EVERYONE SO EXCITED ABOUT YOUR COMPANY? The technology and product are so innovative and world-changing. We are thankful for UCSB for providing a strong pipeline of incredible talent, which of course includes our founders. People have the opportunity to positively change how the world accesses and enjoys fresh produce. What’s exciting is that it all started in this beautiful community of S.B. and has grown very quickly into a global company.

Most of our R&D happens right here at headquarters, but innovations can come from any part of the world. You can be based in Santa Barbara but also have opportunities to travel and work in new places. This is one of the most globally mobile companies I’ve seen, where we’ll give these opportunities as a way of sharing our company values and culture in different locations and also as a way to grow in one’s career and skills and global mindset.

WHAT ARE SOME HIGH AND LOW POINTS OF BEING A BIG EMPLOYER HERE? We’re extremely fortunate to have great access to top tech talent who have chosen to study and live in the Santa Barbara area. We’ve also been able to attract talent from surrounding metro areas, including L.A. and the Bay Area. We always notice an uptick in applications from the East Coast and Midwest during winter months! Like any region for tech talent, Santa Barbara isn’t without its challenges. Santa Barbara’s cost of living and housing availability is one.

WHAT ARE SOME CULTURAL DIFFERENCES IN SANTA BARBARA COMPARED TO OTHER TECH HUBS? Our employees are very philanthropic, connected with nature, and embrace all of the outdoor adventures and amenities this area has to offer.

DOES BEING A HUMANITARIAN-FOCUSED COMPANY LEAD TO A CERTAIN TYPE OF EMPLOYEE? We are a global company that hires talent based not only abilities but the aligned belief in our mission—enabling a world that works with nature; we use food to protect food—and wanting to be part of something that will change the world. We hire and reward people with strong alignment with our values, which include humility and teamwork. We support each other and want to see us all succeed so that Apeel produce will be available throughout the world.

HOW ARE YOU HANDLING HIRING DURING COVID? Food waste is a global crisis, and we are continuing to aggressively staff up to be able to tackle this issue head-on. Even through this challenging time of COVID, we’ve come up with creative ways to create a welcoming virtual environment for candidates and new hires. We always put people first and have created additional programs to support our working parents and caregivers and all of our employees during these challenging times.

We feel so fortunate to be based in the Santa Barbara area with so many benefits within our reach!    apeelsciences.com

Tech Talk Special Issue for Santa Barbara Independent, published October 1, 2020.

Tech Talk Special Issue for Santa Barbara Independent, published October 1, 2020.

 

Tech Talk Special Issue for the Santa Barbara Independent, originally published on October 1, 2020.

To read the issue as it appeared in print, please click here, Tech Talk 768_10_01_20

 

Saving the World, One Byte at a Time

Erin McGeoy of Last Call for Food, photo by Daniel Dreifuss for Santa Barbara Independent.

Erin McGeoy of Last Call for Food, photo by Daniel Dreifuss for Santa Barbara Independent.

An increasing number of tech companies are working to create products and applications to improve our lives and make a difference in ways both small and large. While Apeel Sciences works to end hunger on a global scale, Last Call for Food matches hungry college students with discounted end-of-night restaurant meals. Founder and CEO Erin McGeoy, a Santa Barbara High water-polo standout, developed the platform while at George Washington University.

Despite scholarships and working throughout college, she still struggled financially and developed clever ways to access more affordable food. After working on the food waste team at the World Wildlife Fund, she focused her energy on the intersection of college food insecurity and wasted restaurant food to launch Last Call in 2017.

“The technology we use allows restaurants and other food vendors to share deals they have on surplus food to the Last Call website, and it enables Last Call to communicate these deals to our subscribers,” said McGeoy, who launched on the East Coast but is now actively working in her hometown to bring the service to UCSB and SBCC students. See lastcallforfood. com.

ChowMatch is also counteracting food waste locally. The initiative was launched by the Community Environmental Council (CEC) in partnership with the Santa Barbara County Food Rescue Program and is supported by COVID-19 relief funding. Explained the CEC’s Julia Blanton, “We help build relationships between donors with surplus food and charitable organizations to prevent produce and restaurant-quality prepared food from going to the landfill and instead direct it to those facing hunger throughout the county.” See chowmatch.com.

Wildnote’s mission is to protect natural resources by empowering professionals to accurately collect, efficiently manage, and effectively report on environmental compliance. Making the world a better place is emphasized at every meeting, said founder and CEO Kristen Hazard, who is based in San Luis Obispo. “It’s often the reason employees want to come work for Wildnote, because they feel a calling for their work to have meaning around the environment,” she explained. See wildnoteapp.com.

Heather Hochrein used a grad-school group thesis idea to win third place at UCSB’s New Venture Competition, and then she founded EVmatch, a peer-to-peer network for finding electric-vehicle charging stations. The app directs drivers to privately owned charging stations, allowing apartment dwellers and travelers a flexible way to charge their vehicles. See evmatch.com.

Technology is also an excellent resource for crowdfunding and marketing innovative, eco-minded products. Frustrated with trying to eliminate waste in their everyday lives, Remaker Labs cofounders David Silverander and Sky Gilbar developed Hitch, a full-size reusable water bottle with a removable, barista-approved cup hidden inside. Through funny videos featuring familiar landmarks, Hitch raised $1.2 million on Kickstarter and is still reselling through Indiegogo. They plan to deliver in November, just in time for the holidays. See carryhitch.com.

The Final company sports a similar ethos of eliminating single-use products and also used humorous videos of mermaids to market FinalStraw, a reusable straw that folds down to keychain-size. “The idea around the mermaid is this human connection to the ocean, which has a fun fantasy aspect,” said founder Emma Rose Cohen, who was part of the Save the Mermaids activist group as a student at UCSB, dressing in mermaid costumes to encourage the City of Santa Barbara to ban plastic bags. Her Kickstarter campaign raised $1.8 million, and FinalStraw is now available at REI, as well as online, with additional products—FinalFork, FinalSpork, and FinalWipe— available for preorder. See final.co. 

Tech Talk Special Issue for Santa Barbara Independent, published October 1, 2020.

Tech Talk Special Issue for Santa Barbara Independent, published October 1, 2020.

 

Tech Talk Special Issue for the Santa Barbara Independent, originally published on October 1, 2020.

To read the issue as it appeared in print, please click here, Tech Talk 768_10_01_20