Super-Effficient Water-Saving Shower

Showering is one of the major uses of domestic water. Showering is responsible for roughly 18% of indoor water use. But with a new kind of shower system invented in Australia, showering could, according to the manufacturer, use 4 times less water and save up to 87% of the energy used in typical showering. Australia has been suffering through a drought for the last several years. Since 2003, most of Australia has been experiencing the most severe drought conditions on…

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New Options for Home Wind Power

Utility-scale windpower is an important and growing part of the US energy portfolio. Farms ranging in size from dozens to hundreds of turbines can produce in excess of 60 megawatts of power. Plans for gigawatts of wind power are being proposed all over the globe, and new wind farms are regularly being proposed that outstrip one another to be the largest in their respective locations, or in the world. At the far end of the scale, the largest size wind…

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Building a DIY Wetland

A family in Australia has created their own tiny wetland as a part of a household grey water system.  It is a fairly large DIY project, but, as the article demonstrates, not an overwhelming project.  The writer even enlisted his young children to help in the construction. Black water is toilet waste and other water that requires more substantial treatment.  Grey water is non-sewer waste water from washing clothes and showers and the like.  Although in most homes, both black…

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Are Extruded Houses Green?

For several years, Professor Behrokh Khoshnevis at the University of Southern California has been working on systems for rapidly creating buildings with system that is essentially a very large 3-dimensional printer.  Called Contour Crafting, the equipment is able to rapidly build up walls.  Already, test runs have been able to produce six-foot high concrete walls. One goal of the team developing this technology is to be able to build a house in a day, a goal that they hope to…

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How Green Are the Beijing Olympics Buildings?

The 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing are supposed to be the greenest yet. There has been some coverage on television, and despite all the attempts to clean things up beforehand and to limit especially the air pollution during the games, pictures from the city show it still in many ways to be a smoggy, grimy place. It’s not wholly bad, however. The buildings constructed for some of the competitions are architecturally striking, and they seem to be a functional success,…

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Community Solar Power

A community in Canada has an unusual form of solar power that can provide over 90% of the annual heating and hot water needs for the homes, despite being situated in a cold Alberta location where winter temperatures can reach -33 degrees C (-27 F). The Drake Landing Solar Community collects solar energy in a heat storage fluid through an array of solar panels on the roof of each home and covering all of the garages at the back of…

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Permeable Pavers Protect Water Quality

Stormwater management is an urban logistical requirement. Rainwater and the water from melting snow have to be dealt with. When plants and soil, which absorb water from rain and snow are replaced with buildings, roads, and other impervious materials, the water from a storm no longer goes into the ground where it can recharge the water table, but stays on the surface and has to be managed in some fashion to keep the streets and buildings from flooding. Low water…

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Automatically Preheat Water to Save Energy

Usually when we are talking about plumbing fixtures for green building we are dealing with something that conserves water. But some plumbing devices can contribute to energy savings, as well. When you are in the shower, the hot water from the shower strikes your body and transfers some heat before it falls away. But most of the heat in that water simply goes down the drain. Reportedly, 80 to 90 percent of the energy used to heat water for the…

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Book Review: Off the Grid Homes – Case Studies for Sustainable Living

Off the Grid Homes combines beautiful images with technical information for sustainable homes. The book by architect Lori Ryker is less of a manual for systems to be used in off the grid homes (though it does include good information about the systems and strategies that are used in sustainable off the grid living) and more of a showcase of state of the art homes at the intersection of appealing architecture and high sustainability. For many, the phrase “off the…

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Elements of Building: Materials

At the heart of all building projects are the materials, the stuff, the bricks and sticks, the elements that are assembled to build a building. Different materials have different impacts on the Earth. Some require extensive resources for their manufacture. Steel and other metals need to be refined from ore and processed into their final forms, often several operations, all taking great amounts of energy. The choices that go into selecting building materials have long range ramifications in a number…

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Grand Rapids Has the First LEED Museum

Grand Rapids, Michigan is one of the greenest cities in the country, at least if you go by the number of LEED certified buildings it has. And now it adds to its distinction with the first LEED Gold certified art museum in the country. Grand Rapids is tied with Pittsburgh and Washington at #5 on a list of cities with the most LEED certified buildings, surpassing even cities such as Chicago, San Francisco, New York. Grand Rapids also has embraced…

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Aerogel Insulation Advances

Aerogel is almost a product out of science fiction. Nicknamed “frozen smoke,” aerogel is extremely lightweight material, with a density only 3 times that of air. Only a small fraction of a volume of aerogel is the material itself. Most of the volume is filled with air. This makes aerogel an excellent insulator. (Aerogel provides nearly 40 times the insulation of fiberglass insulation.) Aerogel can withstand great pressures and is also an excellent sound insulator. Aerogels can also be used…

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Super-Insulating Vacuum Glass

In terms of energy efficiency, windows are one of the biggest contributors to heat loss from buildings. However, a new window technology being developed by Guardian Industries could allow for windows that can provide insulation values comparable to a standard insulated 2×4 stud wall, with a new double-pane glass and a vacuum between the panes. A thermos keeps hot beverages hot and cold beverages cold by separating the contents from the outside world with a vacuum. Heat is conducted by…

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Book & DVD Review: Building with Awareness

Building with Awareness is an interesting package loaded with information. It is a DVD with an accompanying book (or a book that comes with a DVD included, depending upon how you look at it). The two nicely complement one another in a fairly unique way. The story contained in the DVD documents the construction of the author’s own small (800 sq. ft.) home built in Albuquerque, NM. The book goes into more detail about the solutions and approaches that are…

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Five Home Winterizing Myths

It is time to start thinking about getting our homes ready for winter. Maintenance and repair work done while the weather is still mild will pay off not just in the coming cold weather, but with year round benefits. Here are five common issues to think about when considering your winterization projects, and how to avoid making some common mistakes while improving your house.

Window film insulates windows. False.

A window film serves as a draft barrier to stop air leaks, rather than effective insulation. The plastic film itself will contribute very little. Having another air layer is more helpful, and keeping moisture sealed out can help reduce frost forming on old windows. But if you have big windows that are losing lots of heat, a quilted curtain can be more helpful. Windows are big thermal holes in your walls, and even very efficient windows lose heat much faster than the walls that support them. A window film adds only a slight increase, but it can be effective for stopping drafts.

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Greener Driving with Roundabouts

Last week, I attended a driving event at the GM Proving Ground in Milford MI. Driving through the campus, there were several places where roads converged at roundabouts (sometimes also known as rotaries) rather than intersections with stop signs. (I’ll have more to say about the content of that event later.) But even before I arrived, I had gone through a couple more roundabouts on the roads in Milford, MI, where GM’s Proving Ground is located. That started me thinking about roundabouts, and how they are greener than standard intersections.

A modern roundabout … is a circle “designed for very low traffic speeds, about 15 mph.” Entrances and exits are curved so that motorists must travel slowly — far different from the rotaries of decades ago, which typically allowed drivers to enter at 35 mph or faster. The Institute says a modern roundabout typically needs to be about 100 feet across so that it can be properly designed to slow the entering traffic. (New Urban News)

Because the traffic only needs to slow down rather than stopping, all the cars traveling through a roundabout avoid the stop-and-go of a stop sign or a red light. Collectively, this adds up to thousands of gallons of fuel saved for each intersection. Avoiding a full stop also allows each driver to get through the intersection faster, which helps make overall travel times shorter.

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Green Building Elements: Warmboard

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Radiant heating is a popular option in green buildings. Many green buildings feature it because it is a more efficient, and more comfortable, method of heating. If a building doesn't require air conditioning, it may be possible to eliminate ductwork altogether, or at least use a much smaller system that is sized for air conditioning. And even in buildings where air handling is still necessary, the systems that push the air around can be run less frequently because they are needed only to provide fresh air, and don't need to take care of the heating as well. Radiant heating systems don't cause the air to be dried out in the same manner that heated forced-air systems tend to do. Most of all, radiant heating is comfortable because it is warmest at floor level and slightly cooler at higher levels, matching the human desire for warmth for the feet, and less for the head.
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A recent <a href="http://jetsongreen.typepad.com/jetson_green/2007/09/solar-decathlon.html">blog post by Jetson Green about the National Solar Decathalon</a> reminded me of an intriguing product that can be used for in-floor radiant heat systems. Warmboard is a specialty subflooring for use in radiant-heated buildings that doesn't require a concrete slab to embed the radiant tubing. This makes it especially useful for multi-story buildings where a concrete slab floor may be less desirable. Warmboard is much lighter than a corresponding concrete slab, meaning that less structural material is needed to support the floor. It also does not need curing time, unlike a concrete slab, which is another factor that makes it appealing for use with modular and pre-fab construction. <br />
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<a href="http://www.warmboard.com/">Warmboard</a> is a plywood material that is slightly thicker than typical subflooring plywood. It has regular channels cut into it that the radiant heating system tubing can be laid into. On top of this, an aluminum plate is formed to the surface, providing a transfer surface to uniformly distribute the heat from the tubing across the floor.</p>

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Global Green's Holy Cross Development in New Orleans

Two years ago Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and brought enormous devestation to the city and the region. Since then, numerous agencies and programs have been working on projects to rebuild and revitalize this region. An architect and online friend of mine wrote an excellent article about the recently publicized pictures for Global Green’s proposed Holy Cross development for the redevelopment of New Orleans.

This guest post is by Sarah Nagy. Sarah is in a position to be a much better critic of proposed New Orleans construction because she, too, lives in a hurricane-prone region (the Florida panhandle), and is directly acquainted with appropriate design for a Gulf Coast environment. I think her analysis offers an excellent review of this project, balancing the applause for what she calls ‘Sleek Contemporary Prefab Housing Solutions’ with some pointed criticisms of some of the apparent problems in the design.

The complete essay can be found on Sarah’s blog, Front Step Design.

[Disclaimer: As critical as this post will be, I want to applaud the folks involved with this project for their initial feelings of goodwill, their obvious effort, and all the good green decisions that lie under the aesthetics.]

To look at the images of these houses, Holy Cross is clearly located on the rural prairies of Southern Louisiana. Each of these houses will survey 20 acres. But enough sarcasm. The situation, to anyone who has been there, looks more like the pictures below (from The Urban Conservancy).

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