Going Green With Energy Efficient Homes

The sound of people laughing and talking greeted me Saturday as I walked through the garage door and into the home of Shad Salmons. Inside, family members of Salmons’ were walking around painting and having a good time helping to build his new home.

On the outside Salmons’ home looks like any other, but on the inside are a few distinct appliances that make it special. This includes an electric furnace that will reduce his heating bills significantly, florescent light bulbs that use 75 percent less energy and last up to ten times longer than a normal incandescent light, effective insulation, and many other appliances that make his house green.

For seven years Salmons lived in a small house in Fulton. This home had no crawl space, attic, or upstairs. As of five years ago though, Salmons and his wife decided to buy a lot of land and build his own home. After talking with the owner of the development, he was inspired to make it an energy efficient home. The official groundbreaking ceremony, as Salmons calls it, took place on Sept. 8, 2009. Friends and family were there to support him, and now they’re still chipping in to help build his home.

This past week I started out with a story idea about the program “Show Me Heroes.” But after many phone calls and very little luck with what I wanted, I decided to move on to another idea. As I see it, a journalist should always have another story idea tucked away in their back pocket.

Not too long ago I saw an article on energy efficient homes. I decided it would be neat to find out how the recession is impacting homebuyers and if more energy efficient homes are being built. And like always, to make a story fun, I was also looking for a topic I knew nothing about.

I started with the Energy Star website. There I looked at the construction companies in Columbia that build energy efficient housing. With a few phone calls I was able to get a hold of Bill Williams, owner of the Master Key Place development area. He directed me to a construction owner, Gene Vaughn, and Salmons who are both building energy efficient homes in his subdivision.

Last Wednesday I headed out to Vaughn’s place. He took me to an energy efficient home and showed me around. Vaughn is looking to build his home within the next few months. He explained to me that for a home to be energy star certified, it must fulfill the requirements in one of three categories. The homeowner also must pay $700 to get it officially certified.

After conducing the interviews, I found that even though not many people are building homes now, the ones who are tend to look towards building energy efficient homes. As the recession continues, people are changing the way they build their homes. People are looking to reduce their utility bills and energy efficient homes are the way to do so.

According to Energy Star, not only can energy efficient appliances help lower utility bills, but they can help keep dust out of the home, keep the moisture levels on windows down, prevent a drafty room, and can help from mold, mildew, and musty odors. Any home three stories or less can obtain a certification if they meet the right requirements.

Homeowners who feel Energy Star homes are just to expensive should look into tax credit rebates and other ways the government is willing to help out before giving up. Rebates can also be found in different towns, depending on the area a homeowner is looking to build. Salmons says in the long run, all the money that you pay up front is eventually paid off within seven to eight years.

A ground source heat pump is one appliance that can help save a homeowner money by getting rid of their fuel bills. This pump helps to heat the house and can save someone 50 to 70 percent on their utility bills during the winter. During the summer they can save up to 20 to 40 percent on their utility bills. Insulation, high-performance windows, tight construction and ducts, different efficient products and efficient heating and cooling equipment can all play a large part in building an energy efficient home.


Upon leaving the interviews, I always like to critique myself:

I noted a few things in these interviews that I would like to work on. This included asking more pointed questions that would help advance the focus of my story. Framing could be tighter on the interviewees as well. I also need to pay attention to what’s in the background of my interviewees. The first interview had a jacket in the background that was quite distracting. I felt that there were some pretty interesting angles that I could have taken with the camera while doing b-roll, but didn’t spot them very well. There are always things I’m looking to improve on and things I just hope will get better with practice.


The Power Of Journalism

When some guy made a mistake, pushed the wrong button at the wrong time, and within twenty seconds they couldn’t stop it.”

It was a story that hit the world with great disbelief. Caused by one simple push of a button, thousands and thousands of people in western Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and Northern Europe were killed or touched by radiation poisoning on April 26, 1986.

In just four minutes and five seconds, Mediastorm’s Paul Fusco tells the tragic story of how lives were affected in the aftermath of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant nuclear accident.

He starts by describing how it happened, but only in a short sentence. This alludes to the fact that he would rather focus on the people involved in the aftermath, rather than the accident itself. He then moves into one firefighter’s account of what he saw happen to a fellow firefighter who went to fight the fire at the plant. He leads his story into the children living at the Novinki Children's Mental Asylum and how different their lives are from normal children. Viewers see children sprawled across the floor, babies with tumors the size of a large balloon, and kids with deformed limbs. But mostly the viewers see the blank faceless expressions of innocent children who will never lead a normal life. According to “The South Asian”, this asylum houses about 216 children between the ages of 4 and 17. Most are transferred to the adult asylum once the reach the age 18-years-old. Parents abandoned these children once they were born, many horrified at the sight of what radiation had done to their newborn. According to an ABC article, birth defects have increased by 250% since the Chernobyl accident.

Finally he introduces viewers to Alesya. She is a young girl that developed cancer after running out into what they called “black rain.” Now she is in a coma and on her deathbed. “It was a horrific day of watching this mother lose her child,” Fusco says.

Labeled as the worst nuclear disaster in the world, analysts still have trouble estimating how many lives were taken because of the Cherenobyl accident. But, in his photoessay titled “Chernobyl Legacy,” Paul Fusco goes beyond the facts of what happened that day; instead he humanizes the story to a degree in which any human being can truly feel the impact. In a story like this, facts cannot do justice for how much human life was impacted. But a humanized story can at least bring the outside world closer to understanding what happened to thousands of people in Ukraine.

From a journalistic standpoint, I noticed the careful consideration Fusco took in asking to take pictures of Alesya. Before taking the pictures, he says he asked the mother if it would be all right. “We want everyone to know what they’ve done!” she replied. It’s something to be reminded of: people can surprise you in how reluctant they are to tell their story. It is also a reminder that every journalist must remember the person they are interviewing is not just a subject for their story, but a person with feelings too.

In the first few seconds of the essay there is a black spot. Normally in a broadcast story this would be unacceptable, but for this story I felt it brought a certain feeling to the story to set the mood. The black and white of the photos also set the mood. Even the lighting in the interview was slightly dark. Each bit of darkness sets the stage for how terrible this accident really was.

I thought it was interesting how Fusco reflected his own feelings into the story. Throughout the slideshow he would give insight into what he saw and how that made him feel. At one point, while speaking about the Novinki Children’s Mental Asylum, he says, “it’s almost like [the children are] a different race.”

Fusco uses the pictures and narration to communicate with the viewer. Each picture matched up with what he was saying. The pictures were clear in their messages and even without his narration still would have spoke a thousand words.

I have seen numerous articles about the Chernobyl diaster, but nothing quite as gripping as photographer Paul Fusco’s story. It is stories like this that remind me the power of journalism.

See for yourself: The Chernobyl Legacy


Capturing The Moment

When I was younger it always seemed like my video camera was attached to my hand, but as I got older and things got busier I found less and less time to edit my videos. Now, after finally saving up and buying myself an SLR camera, I find it's no longer the video camera attached to my hand, but my still camera. Below are a some albums from a few trips I have taken lately.

I'm a huge fan of photography. Even though I may say I'm not exactly passionate about it... I can say I am obsessed with taking pictures and capturing the moment. Enjoy!

Unfortunately, due to the limited space allowed on Flickr each month, I was not able to upload all the pictures I wanted from my trip to Indianapolis. These photos include the Indy 500 racetrack and former president Benjamin Harrison's home. Once it allows me that space, I will be sure to add those!

Putting A Break On Toyota Cars

Most people know a Toyota lover. Someone who has an undying and insatiable love for his or her Toyota. If they could have any car, it would no doubt be a Toyota. And well for me, I am the dedicated one to Toyota.

As far as I have seen, Toyota’s have always been reliable. My little 1999 Toyota Corolla, whom I named Mea A`a (Hawaiian name meaning Adventurer), has taken me more than 27,000 miles in the past year and a half. I bought the car at 120,000 miles and I plan to run up the mileage as much as possible. Back and forth from Columbia, to Chicago, to Indiana is where my black beauty takes me.

I suppose you could say the dedicated loyalty runs in the family. My mom has a Toyota Camry and my dad had a Toyota. In fact he ran that car for so long the exhaust pipe produced a loud roar, the seats were worn and torn up, and the red paint rusted away giving way to the name “Old Rusty”. (Although being picked up at school by “Old Rusty” isn’t exactly ever child’s dream.)

As the current story about Toyota’s recalls breaks, I’m interested in seeing how it plays out. Recalling more than 2.3 million cars for a car manufacturer that dominates the market will be detrimental. Especially because there are eight types of cars, made from 2007 and on, being recalled. Or will it be? Fear is a compelling emotion to avoid something and the fact that 19 people have died from sticking accelerators will surely tarnish the name of Toyota. But one most factor in a Toyota lover. Some people won’t just drop a brand at the drop of a hat.

From a journalist’s aspect, this story could be covered in a number of ways. What about local dealers, how do they feel? What about Toyota stockholders? I noticed the stocks went down by more than 8% this afternoon and they may continue to fall. What about the assembly line workers? What is going to happen to them? How do they plan on repairing all 2.3 million cars? How about other car manufacturers in competition with Toyota? I’m sure Ford is gloating around in their factories. How long did Toyota know about this and not do anything? According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, it wasn’t even Toyota’s decision to stop manufacturing; it was the Department of Transportation. ABC News posted part of a letter sent from Toyota to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Jan. 21: "Starting in March 2007, Toyota received field technical information regarding reports of accelerator pedals demonstrating symptoms such as rough operation or being slow to return to the idea position.”

I’m sure there will be facts like these coming out in the next few weeks that will shock many of us and uncover some of these detailed questions. But stakeholders in Toyota will be sure to keep these facts behind close doors as long as they can.

Most importantly though, it is extremely important to look at the people who own these cars. How do they feel? What do they plan to do? What about the families of those who died because of the sticking accelerators? This story affects the public greatly.

A journalist could take it from a legal standpoint find a lawyer of someone who has filed a class action lawsuit against Toyota. Take a look at a blog posted by Jeremy Korzeniewski on Nov. 9, 2009: Class Action Suit Filed Against Toyota Over Sudden Acceleration

How about from an international standpoint, what about the Japanese? How are they going to react? This morning The Sydney Morning Herald posted an AAP story that stated Japanese stocks fell to their weakest level since Dec. 21 because Toyota Motor’s recall woes undermined investor confidence.

As any big story, the amount of people involved or being affected is enormous. The safety of our lives is of course a huge concern. I feel this story will continue to grow and surprise us. In the end, I hope journalists take steps to be the watchdog for the public, making sure they find out how and why this happened.

My biggest question, will Toyota recover from this and if so, how?

Toyota recalled:

  • 2009-2010 RAV4
  • 2009-2010 Carolla
  • 2009-2010 Matrix
  • 2005-2010 Avalon
  • Certain 2007-2010 Camrys
  • 2010 Highlander
  • 2007-2010 Tundra
  • 2008-2010 Sequoia


*photos courtesy of WSJ, Nextautos.com, and cardata.com


Five Print Journalists You Can’t Miss Out On

Lists. For some reason I am a huge fan of lists. Listed below are the top five print writers who will never fail to serve as a source of inspiration for me. Their writings have made me laugh, cry and squirm in my seat. Each of their stories gives tremendous insight into the lives of people all over the world. Their talent and eye for a great story reach beyond any other journalists I have read. It’s not just one of their pieces that keep me on the edge, but collections of many. And because of this I hope, if you are into true life stories, you consider picking up their work so they can inspire you too.

Susan Orlean: It had been an extremely windy and cold day in Chicago when Susan Orlean came to speak to a lecture of about fifty people, including me. When she first walked into the room and up to the podium she looked a bit winded. Of course, the first words out of her mouth asserted concern of how she hadn’t been sure she was going to make it to the lecture. Maybe, she had thought, the wind would decide to take her away. Laughter filled the room and spilled out into the hallways of the building. For us Chicagoans, we all could relate.

Susan has been entertaining me with her work for years, and so when she showed up in Chicago with a great sense of humor, it didn’t surprise me. It’s one of the things I have always admired in her. I love her malleable writing style and how she can range from funny to serious in only a few sentences. Her quirky writing style is crafted like no other writer I have ever read. And the proof to this is her writings have been turned into movies. More specifically an article titled “Life’s Swell” is the basis to the movie “Blue Crush” starring Kate Bosworth.

In addition, Meryl Streep portrays Susan in the movie “Adaptation”, based on Susan’s book "Orchid Thief." (If you would like to know how this works, I suggest looking it up.)

According to Susan, she is able to type 120 wpm, which is why she probably has seven books out already and is working on an eighth. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Vogue, Rolling Stone, Esquire and Outside.

And finally, according to Susan her superpower is her mind control over chickens. Personally I’d say her superpower is the ability to give me a good laugh when I need it.

Mike Royko: I didn’t pick up one of Mike Royko’s book until he had already passed on, but when I finally did I remember the smile it brought to my face. Royko had been a famous columnist for the Chicago Daily News, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune.

To this day I still remember the first words of Royko’s I read and the message that resonated with me:

“When I was a kid, the worst of all days was the last day of summer vacation, and we were in the schoolyard playing softball, and the sun was down and it was getting dark. But I didn’t want it to get dark. I didn’t want the game to end. It was too good, too much fun. I wanted it to stay light forever, so we could go on playing forever, so the game would go on and on.
 That’s how I feel now. C’mon, c’mon. Let’s play one more inning. One more time at bat. One more pitch. Just one? Stick around guys. We can’t break up this team. It’s too much fun.
 But the sun always went down. And now it’s almost dark again.

-Royko on the death of the Chicago Daily News, March 3, 1978

During his career Royko was not afraid to stir up trouble, especially with former Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley in his book Boss. Personally, I'm not to keen on reading his political columns, but more enjoy his pieces on the Chicago Cubs.

Want to read a bit of Royko’s work? I suggest the book "One More Time: The Best of Mike Royko." It's a collection of 100 of his best columns that his wife and friends put together after his death. Although Royko may be gone, his work lives on and continues to amuse people all over the nation.

Rick Kogan: It just so happens the next journalist was good friends with Royko.

This past summer I met up with Rick Kogan for dinner at the famous “Billy Goat Tavern.” While there Rick shared with me the draft of his new book “Sidewalks II: Reflections on Chicago.” Inside contains stories and photos that will personally put you into the streets of Chicago. It is a continuation of stories after the first book “Sidewalks: Portraits of Chicago."

(pictured below is a snapshot outside a Borders in Chicago, where the second book sits on the shelves)

Each page is a new story, a new look into the little known lives of people in Chicago. It covers businesses, places, and people one would not normally come across in the city. Rick traveled the streets of Chicago with his good buddy photographer Charles Osgood to capture these stories in words and in photos.

Rick’s stories are definitely right up my alley and if you like a good short story on the lives of others, I bet it would be right up yours too.

Alex Kotlowitz: I had been in Chicago at a national journalism convention when I heard Alex Kotlowitz would be attending. Excited, I decided to save the only $20 I had left with me to buy his book and get it signed by him. But while walking around Chicago that day I was pick pocketed. Being gracious, my journalism teacher gave me some money just so I could get the book. The money he gave me granted me a chance to read my first book ever of Alex’s: "The Other Side of the River: A Story of Two Towns, a Death, and America's Dilemma."

Currently I am reading “There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other Side of America”, a fascinating tale of two young boys growing up in the inner-city of Chicago. Written in 1991, Alex only spent on and off time with the family he portrayed, but judging from the descriptive, detailed writing I would have guessed he lived with them for years on end.

The story focuses on how gangs, drugs and violence affect children living in the Henry Horner Housing Projects on the near west side. Because of the gang fights and horrible sights these boys have witnessed though, their mother says, “you know, there are no children here. They’ve seen too much to be children.” It may not have the normal beginning, climax and end, but it will pull at your heart strings and open your eyes to another life you may have never experienced.

Steve Friedman:

Steve Friedman’s resume is impressive: The New York Times, The Washington Post, Esquire, GQ, The Best of Outside, The Bastard on the Couch, Modern Love, The Best American Travel Writing and many more. But even more, under his skills he can be sure to add “humble.” I met Steve a few years ago; his humbleness kind of caught me by surprise. For a man who has done so much I’m not exactly sure what I expected. Although I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first started reading his work either and it made me pleasantly surprised. Steve’s book “The Agony of Victory: When Winning Isn’t Enough” portrays the lives of fourteen “ravaged champions and their painful journeys to grace.” The stories are unlike any other sports stories you will find elsewhere. Even if you aren’t a fan of sports, Steve’s tales in this book will still be sure to inspire you.

Copyright © Tara Grimes
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