Cathie Anderson

Cathie Anderson: At UC Davis, Honda’s home of tomorrow has ideas for today

Cathie Anderson
Cathie Anderson

The new Honda Smart Home in the West Village at the University of California, Davis, can aptly be described as the house of the future, but it also offers at least one tangible idea for reducing a home’s carbon footprint.

At first blush, it seems odd that an automaker would build a two-bedroom, three-bath home, but think for a moment: How much will electric vehicles reduce automakers’ carbon footprint if their power comes from coal-powered electricity plants?

The transition to a solar-powered future poses challenges, though. The electrical grid could see wild fluctuations in energy usage from solar homes as access to the sun changes over the course of a day. At the smart house, Honda is testing storage batteries and other prototype systems that mitigate such problems, and my colleague Edward Ortiz will explore them in more detail in this weekend’s Sacramento Bee. However, one product developed for the house is no longer a prototype. It’s available to Sacramento homebuilders.

“Concrete is used everywhere, but the cement that goes into the concrete has a huge carbon footprint,” said Michael Koenig, project manager for Honda Smart Home. “There’s about one pound of CO2 that’s released for every pound of cement that’s made, so when you’re building houses, you can literally have tons and tons of CO2 from the concrete itself.”

While fly ash is sometimes used as a substitute for cement, Koenig said, it’s not readily available here and it requires coal-fired power plants to produce. Koenig tested a naturally occurring ash material to offset 50 percent of the cement used in the concrete to build the Honda house. The local Ready Mix factory has the formula to produce it.

Want to see inside the Honda Smart Home at 299 N. Sage St.? Your best chance is the open house from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

A chamber for women

Velma Sykes had the idea for a regional chamber of commerce for women seven years ago, but she didn’t act on her idea until last year, when she saw a list of local millionaires being recruited to invest in the Kings.

“I was called to see if I could get someone I know to become an investor,” Sykes said. “When I looked at the pool of investors that were being asked, they were all men. I couldn’t say a word about it to the person asking. Where were they to look for women? I couldn’t find them without doing a whole lot of research. I said, ‘I can’t talk about it. I’ve got to be about it.’ ”

The list of Kings investors did eventually include several women. By the time of the announcement, Sykes was already working to launch the Sacramento Area Women’s Chamber of Commerce, recruiting a board that includes Tracy Saville, vice president of marketing at CleanWorld.

Saville said she was attracted to the idea because of a family story: “My grandmother started stealing the egg money from my grandfather when she was 19 years old. She started investing that money when she was 19 or 20. She taught herself how to invest, and when she died at 100 years old a couple years ago, she left behind in excess of $5 million.”

She did this furtively, Saville said, because she never felt welcome in investing forums with men. The chamber will give women a place where they can feel comfortable, where they can gain access and influence, where they can position themselves for success, Sykes said. Roughly 300 men and women have signed up to attend its inaugural mixer at the state Capitol at 5:30 p.m. today. Learn more at

State Parks goes into business

California State Parks had about three months to prepare its team to take the reins of the City Hotel and Fallon Hotel at Columbia State Historic Park after losing the concessionaire that had run the businesses.

“There’s a certain value with us, State Parks, operating those hotels temporarily, whether that’s two years or three,” said Greg Martin, the park superintendent. “We will be able to share solid information with prospective concessionaires.”

Potential concessionaires will want to know what the utilities are like, how much money can be made and what costs are like, Martin said, and there’s no solid information on which to base a business plan. State Parks employee Peggy Harwell is running the hotels with help of seasonal workers. For reservations, visit or

“Columbia is a living town,” Martin said. “We have 29 businesses or so within the park, plus surrounding the park, we have residential housing. We have a school across the street, a post office, restaurants, so we had community members coming up to us telling us, ‘Do not let those hotels go dark. It will hurt our businesses.’ We had a choice, either operate them ourselves because we had no one knocking on our doors saying we want to operate those hotels, or we let them close.”