Kathleen and Reuben Basil are engineers with a quirky sense of humor. That’s the only way I can figure how a mechanical engineer who designs solar energy systems (Reuben) and a civil engineer who specializes in storm water mitigation (Kathleen) came to live in the most bizarre house in California’s notorious ‘unincorporated’ city. Los Osos is a dozen miles from San Luis Obispo. People started building houses along a grid of streets in the 1970’s. No formal government, no central water or sewer. The place grew, the houses got tight, a few stores come to the main street, but still no water or sewer. In the 90’s the state said, “Whoa, we need sewers here.” But the residents didn’t want them, even on the state’s dime. Time passed, development got tighter, wells and septic systems were too close to avoid contamination. Finally, the state demanded sewers installed, at the residents expense. So the streets of Los Osos are chopped up and pipes are being laid. Which is not to say the town has sidewalks or curbs for other urban infrastructure. We may be arms length from neighbors in all directions, but Americans still like to pretend we are in rugged country.
Then there is the house, built by a group of Cal Poly architecture students, with its sixteen-foot high garage, too many stairs, and oddly sloped roofs. Kathleen sums it up best, “The place is full of neat ideas, but no one made it all come together.” In a state with wicked expensive real estate, a young couple with two small children has to make choices. Maybe there’s logic to the solar designer and water flow expert buying a house with contorted roofs in a town with unsanitary infrastructure. It’s also funny.
Kathleen and Reuben met at Cal Poly, where 25% of all the engineers in California go to college. Kathleen works for a small firm that designs storm water systems for new development, which has been on the uptick for the past few years. “We never have the right amount of water. It’s either too much or too little.” Although rainfall is in short supply in California, when it does rain it can be torrential, so pavement runoff and retention pond design criteria are no less stringent. Are developers adopting pervious paving systems to get better drainage? “Owners don’t like pervious pavement because it takes more maintenance. However, we’re starting to install pervious concrete in parking lots. It has no fine aggregate; water just passes through.”
Reuben works for a solar panel design firm that works all over the country. “No one says, ‘I want to be green.’ All of our projects are based on financial decisions.” Reuben’s work shifts geographically depending on which states have enacted solar subsidies. “Everyone installs solar in Hawaii, without subsidies; electricity is 35 cents a kwH there. Arizona changed its incentives and projects died. The federal credit will go from 30% to 10% next year; that will affect many projects.” California is a big market regardless of subsidies, because the utility costs are high and the system of buying back excess solar power is good.”
Companies who own and manage their own properties are more inclined to install solar. “Costco is putting it in all of their stores. It pays for itself in two to four years because they have such high refrigeration needs. But they don’t advertise it.” The green consumer is not their demographic.
How will we live tomorrow?
“I think our days, getting up, eating, socializing, won’t change much, but technology will affect work and tasks. I am a big mountain biker. Since I started, in the 1970’s, the increase in how they’re made is incredible. I have a great bike now, but it’s exciting to think about what cool stuff the next generation will have.
“I am intrigued by how the shared economy will evolve.” – Reuben
“I’m hoping we all live more simply and life is less of an impact on the natural environment. I look at solar and wind and options that could reduce our footprint. I hope people will be able to see past the start-up costs. We’ll have to live more locally; our supply chains are not sustainable.
“We were doing well, living with less, until we had two children. Then people started giving us all sorts of stuff. People think we need so much. But we really don’t.” – Kathleen