April 2007 - Green Building Elements

Monthly Archives:April 2007

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Green Building Elements: Open Building

<p><img src="/files/images/structwall_0.jpg" width="280" height="221" alt="Digital Be-In" /> <br />The strategy of &quot;open building&quot; can be traced back to European and Japanese roots. While it has been widely adopted in those parts of the world, it is only relatively recently beginning to see any use in North America. However, an increased interest in pre-fabricated construction is helping to expand awareness of this approach to building.</p><p>The principle is to maintain a separation between the different aspects of the building in order to be able to make repairs and do upgrades with a minimum of interference with other elements of the building. Open building stipulates separate zones or chases for different functions and services. This will, for example, make it easier to change plumbing systems without needing to repair other systems that cross or interfere with access to the necessary parts of the plumbing system.</p>

April 30th

How to Find a Green Builder — Part 2

<p><img src="/files/images/greenbuilder_0.png" border="0" width="235" height="170" /><em>Editor's note: In <a href="/blog/2007/04/25/how_to_find_a_green_builder_part_1">Part 1 of &quot;How to Find a Green Builder,&quot;</a> Philip addressed some of the general concepts underlying green homebuilding; today, he discussses specific guidelines for green homes, and the professionals that can implement those ideas.</em> </p><p>Looking for a builder may not be the best first step, either. Working with an architect, rather than having a builder try to &quot;green up&quot; an existing plan that they have built before, may lead to a much more satisfying project in the end. Builders may believe that they can add some green features to their existing product line, but I think much better results are had when a client works with both their architect and their builder in order to create a green building as a team. </p><p>Architects are perhaps better situated to offer their clients advice about the variety of options they are considering without trying to sell them something. There are also issues such as passive solar design that require a much broader approach, like an architect offers, than what most builders can offer. Much of green building already incorporates &quot;not doing more work but doing more thoughtful work.&quot; Working with an architect engages that thoughtful planning process, and leads to better and more fully considered plans and better homes. </p>

April 27th

Raining on the Green Parade

As part of the activity around Earth Day, we've been getting press releases forwarded to us from all manner of companies who want to get their name out in association with "green." And, while it is good that so many companies are recognizing the growing importance of green in all our lives, some of the announcements are full of excitement about what turns out to be some pretty weak activity.

I got one press release about a globally recognized brand, Fortune 500 company announcing that they are spending $3 million on green upgrades for their headquarters building. And that's not a bad thing; we love it when companies take green steps. But is it truly newsworthy, or is it closer to "greenwashing"?

April 26th

How to Find a Green Builder — Part 1

Editor's note: Thinking about building green? Philip's two-part series (second part on Friday) explains the many variables you need to consider before signing a contract with a "green" home builder.

I recently received a message from a reader asking for help with finding a local green builder. Unfortunately, she is looking in a city two time zones away from me. And while I'm gathering resources and collecting information, the information I have is not that widespread. I don't have a vast database to help point people looking to do green building find the people who can help successfully execute those projects. But perhaps I can offer some guidelines about finding the right people to work with.

Her question is not entirely unique, either. I am in the middle of a two-day conference on green building (Midwest Green Building Conference) right now. One of the sessions I attended this afternoon had this very question come up during some of the discussion: "How do you find a green builder?" And, we found, there are a number of things that make this question difficult to answer. But there are some things you can do to find architects, builders, and specialized tradespeople who can help make a project turn out the way you want.

April 25th

Short Takes and a Cold-Frame Follow-up

I've got a couple small items to share today. These are both regional items; just further manifestations of the old adage of "Think Globally, Act Locally." But, though they both have a regional focus, they will both have wider interest for all who are interested in green building.

New York House magazine is organizing the first regional residential green building contest. The program is open until the end of the year, but they already have 40 homes that are going to enter. The contest is open to homes built since January 2000. Architects, builders and homeowners in New York City and the surrounding counties who have been involved with a green home in the region are asked to submit them for this contest.

According to information we received, some of the homes are zero net energy users, which is a category we'd like to see more examples of, particularly in the single-family residential category. The criteria for the contest are based on the LEED for Homes guidelines:

April 23rd

Weekly DIY: Copper Garden Trellis

<p><img src="/files/images/rosetrellis_0.png" border="0" width="198" height="198" />A few years ago, when we started getting our garden together my wife wanted to have a trellis for some roses to climb on. We looked at various options. There are pre-built or kit trellises, but those are expensive. We could build one with wood, but it would need to be treated with preservatives (nasty chemicals) and would need maintenance. We ended up deciding to build one using simple copper pipe.</p>

April 18th

A Local, Green Forum

Digital Be-In

Cleveland, Ohio doesn't get a lot of respect. It's been the butt of countless jokes, an environmental scapegoat, the "City whose river caught on fire," and a symbol for the declining cities of the "Rust Belt" of the American midwest.

But that doesn't mean that there isn't a green heart in the Cleveland area. Even a city in the middle of the rust belt can be a center for "Think Globally – Act Locally." In fact, I've recently found that the Cleveland area has a vibrant local/regional blog at Green City Blue Lake, covering the local and regional scene from a green perspective. GCBL arose out of an earlier site called EcoCity Cleveland, which remains online as an archive with a wealth of information still available in its pages, but is no longer actively supported.

April 17th

The Greenness of Prefabrication

Living Homes (via Inhabitat)Photo Credit: Living Homes (via Inhabitat) Bob Ellenberg wrote a good, thought-provoking (and discussion-starting) article at Inhabitat titled 'Prefab Construction: Green or Greenwashing?' and drew comments from Preston Koerner (of Jetson Green) and Lloyd Alter (an architecture writer at Treehugger with whom I had some inter-blog discussion over the past couple of weeks regarding foundations, but more importantly also an entrepreneur in prefab construction with direct experience in the process).

Prefab is a popular concept in green design circles and shows up regularly on a number of blogs. A few of the more prominent examples include: Inhabitat (Pre-Fab Friday); Jetson Green; Treehugger; BldgBlog; MoCo Loco; and even a website devoted to prefabs: FabPrefab. But it's a valid question that is being asked. How "green" is prefab building, and should it be embraced by those who want a greener building? Bob sums his article up this way: "I want to honestly question what is and what isn't 'green' about prefabrication and encourage others to do the same."

Prefab construction can be very green. The LivingHomes prefab illustrating this article is a LEED Platinum building. But, there are very few examples of prefabs that have LEED certificaion. And not every prefab qualifies even as a LEED certified building, let alone a Platinum one.

April 16th

Green Building Tour: Ten Shades of Green — Book Review

Architectural LeaguePhoto Credit: Architectural LeagueThe book Ten Shades of Green: Architecture and the Natural World documents the exhibition of the same name assembled by Peter Buchanan at the Architectural League of New York in early 2000. The book was published in 2005, after the exhibition had traveled widely across the country.

With the buildings assembled here, the book could be construed as a small, self-contained Green Building Tour all its own.

The projects contained in the exhibition and the book all were built in the 1990s. All but one (an Australian housing project) are from Europe. There are also four residential projects – single family houses – at the end, and all of these are North American examples (though widely drawn from Nova Scotia, Texas, California, and Arizona). The projects include a museum in Switzerland, a skyscraper bank headquarters in Germany, and academic buildings in the Netherlands and England.

April 11th

Tip o' the Day: Rechargeable Batteries

There are lots of electronic devices people use, and a large number of them are powered by batteries. Various music players, remote controls, and if you have kids, all manner of electric toys. And, if you are using alkaline batteries in these devices, you are probably going through lots of batteries.

April 5th

Insulated Concrete Forms

<img src="/files/images/ICF.png" border="0" alt="Insulock" width="239" height="178" />Photo Credit: InsulockInsulated concrete forms (ICFs) are an alternative method for building concrete walls. They are most typically used for foundation (basement) walls, but can be used in some other applications as well. Of course, they offer green benefits. <br /><br />The most obvious improvement offered by using ICFs is the addition of insulation. Concrete has a very low <a href="http://www.eere.energy.gov/consumer/your_home/insulation_airsealing/index.cfm/mytopic=11340">R-value</a> (an 8&quot; thick concrete basement wall would typically have an R-value of approximately 0.75; even less than a single-glazed window with an average R-value of 1.0). So concrete walls offer very poor thermal performance. Even in the summertime, a concrete basement wall will be cool to the touch, because of this. Adding even a small amount of insulation to the concrete wall makes it better, and ICFs provide a good way of getting an insulated concrete wall.

April 2nd

Oil Drilling Rigs Going for LEED Certification

ExxonMobil announced today that they will be pursuing LEED certification for a number of their offshore drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

"The LEED program already recognizes the importance of having buildings that produce their own energy. Photovoltaic panels are a big hit on those gold and platinum buildings, and at ExxonMobil we're all about the gold and platinum," said company representative Paul Myfinger. "Look at how much energy our rigs produce compared to what they use, it's obvious that they're super efficient!"

April 1st