Matt Power

As a veteran reporter, Matt Power has covered virtually every aspect of design and construction. His award-winning articles often tackle tough environmental challenges in a way that makes them relevant to both professionals and end users. An expert on both building science and green building, he has a long history of asking hard questions--and adding depth and context as he unfolds complex issues.

Recent Posts

Just the Right Pressure

Posted by Matt Power

Mar 26, 2014 10:46:00 AM

I'VE LEARNED A LOT FROM MY FAILURES as a gardener. Back before I knew better, I used to unleash the full force of sprinklers and nozzle spray on my tomatoes, cucumbers and butternut squash. But inevitably, the plants would develop leaf mold, mildew or some other crippling disease, and I’d lose much of my crop. Now I understand that I was using too much pressure—adding too much water at the wrong time, aiming at the wrong part of the plant, expecting fast results.

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Topics: Green Landscaping, water conservation, water saving, sustainable living

Roofing with Polymers

Posted by Matt Power

Mar 15, 2014 9:56:00 AM

The problem with plastics is that they don’t go away. Eventually, they break apart, but only into smaller pieces—not into their basic components. At a certain point, they become prone to absorbing nasty chemicals such as DDT. The particles ultimately find their way into the oceans, where fish eat them, mistaking them for plankton. Result: Ecosystems are poisoned from the bottom up.
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Topics: recycled, sustainable roof, Garbage Patch, recycled plastic, plastics, roofing polymers

The 8-Second Attention Span

Posted by Matt Power

Feb 18, 2014 11:27:15 PM

New reports from and show yet another way that politicized claims about American “exceptionalism” are not only overblown, but downright wrong on most global measures of progress. This time, it’s growing skepticism about climate change that’s adding yet another ball and chain to our nation’s economic future.

In the eight years since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, public concern about climate change in the U.S. has decreased, while increasing in places such as China and India. But it’s not just awareness of climate change that’s on the rise in these so-called “developing” countries (a term I dislike and rarely use). Their citizens have embraced the urgent need for green lifestyle changes, in everything from home energy use to water conservation.

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More Star Trek, Please

Posted by Matt Power

Feb 14, 2014 11:34:33 AM

Some people can’t stand science fiction. When you ask them why, they say it’s too unrealistic, and they just “can’t get into it.” I understand that we all come to the table with different biases and beliefs—I never could watch The West Wing, for example. The idea of the country being led by people with integrity and a sense of responsibility to the public just seemed too far-fetched.

For a few minutes, I’d like to defend science fiction. Can I convince you unbelievers that the world of Star Trek may be far more “real” than you imagine? The line between science fiction and reality is becoming more blurred every day. If you’re not familiar with the work of physicist Michio Kaku, for example, you may want to look him up. He’s one of the theorists who came up with string theory—the idea that the universe is constructed not of matter at all, but of infinitely small vibrating strings. In other words, we’re all made of music. Read his book, Hyperspace, and you’ll soon realize that most of us barely scratch the surface of what we think is reality.

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Tyrants and Monks

Posted by Matt Power

Dec 16, 2013 7:26:46 PM

As I was putting the final touches our Green Home of the Year Awards issue, a friend, looking over my shoulder at the pages, made a comment that I think warrants a detailed response. "To be honest, I don't see what's green about those houses," she said. "They look like something only a rich person could afford, and there's nothing especially alternative about them. How are they doing anything good for the environment?"

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Topics: Green Home of the Year Award

Simplicity: Durability's Counterpoint

Posted by Matt Power

Dec 10, 2013 1:51:00 PM

After grad school, back in the late eighties, I remember hearing that a friend of mine had landed a high-paying, stress filled job as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. Then, just a couple of years later, she suddenly quit and went into something of a self-imposed mental retreat. What happened? She read Henry David Thoreau’s famous book, Walden, and changed her life. She later told me that things in the corporate world had become too complicated and joyless, and life had lost meaning for her.

Re-reading Thoreau’s book recently—something I try to do every few years—I too had an “aha” moment. I began to think about how the concept of simplicity and transience applies to designing and building sustainable shelter.

In Green Builder, we typically advocate for tougher, longer lasting materials. Products and houses here in the U.S., I’ve often argued, should be predicated on a 300-year lifespan. Instead, American manufacturers rarely exceed 50 years as the outer limits of a product warranty period.

But if durability is the Yin of sustainability, perhaps transience and changeability are the Yang. Sure, a net-zero home that will be occupied for centuries is a great improvement over conventional ways of living. But temporary, biodegradeable or re-configurable housing also has a strong environmental story.

I would break such housing into three levels, starting with the lightest footprint: At level one are yurts, tipis and tents that are occupied for a few months of the year, and can be folded up and removed when the season is over, leaving no trace behind. There’s no deforestation required, no disruption of soils.

At the next level are what I would term “natural” homes, built from abundant local materials that can return easily to earth at the end of their useful life. That doesn’t mean these aren’t durable structures—sod or adobe or rammed earth homes can last for centuries—but in the end, much of their mass can return to its original state.
The third level would include homes that are modular and flexible in nature. Perhaps they are built and assembled in sections, or designed to allow for future generations to reshape them into new living spaces.

In our October issue, you’ll find examples of all three of these types of shelter, some of them combined in surprising ways. For example, some homebuyers have discovered that adding a yurt or other tent structure to a home can be an inexpensive, eco-friendly way to create a a guest house, studio, yoga or meditation room.

It’s easy to discount temporary shelter as something separate from the business of creating sustainable shelter, but in the end, isn’t every shelter temporary? What matters is the time frame. Scientists predict that the next ice age, which could happen in less that 10,000 years, will grind even our mightiest buildings in the Northeast into unrecognizable particles.

Why not expand the meaning of “sustainable housing” to include all kinds of shelter?

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PEX Plumbing: Flexible Retrofit

Posted by Matt Power

May 28, 2010 2:27:00 PM

A couple of copper pipes developed a leak under my sink this week. To be fair, it wasn’t the copper that gave way, it was the old solder, put in 30 years or so ago. And it wasn’t a fast leak. I had time to react before much damage had occurred.
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Topics: PEX, AquaPEX, plumbing

Nail Depth Matters

Posted by Matt Power

Mar 26, 2010 12:18:00 PM

New research published in the Forest Products Journal suggests that overdriving nails reduces building durability. When nails are slammed into OSB to a depth of 3.2 mm or more, they make panels stiffer, but higher stresses on the joints cause them to lose some of their peak load capacity. “As nail overdriven depth increases, the bearing capacity of the panel is reached sooner along the loading sequence,” the researchers note. “The panel therefore fails before the nail.” The team points to the (mis) use of pneumatic nailguns—which are often poorly adjusted. They found that 80% of nails in the San Francisco area had been overdriven, with one-third of them at least 3.2 mm too deep. The fix, fortunately, is simple—adjust all nailguns to do the job right.

Source: Forest Products Journal, April 2009
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Topics: nails

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