A New Crop for American Farmers

Northwest cities do such an impressive job of leading urban America toward more planet-friendly living that it can be easy to overlook the region’s many rural landholders who are also paving the way to a greener future. Beginning January 27, Portland, Oregon will be hosting farmers, ranchers and other agricultural professionals at Harvesting Clean Energy’s 8th annual conference. With an attendance of over 600 people at its 2007 gathering in Boise, Idaho, Harvesting Clean Energy’s event is growing every year.

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Downsize without relocating

Most of the country is paying for heat right now. Being on the Gulf Coast, I wasn’t until this week – but with temps dropping into the twenties Fahrenheit, I’m starting to rethink the location of my home office. You see, my house is like the one shown (from a real estate ad). Mine was also originally built with a porch, which was later enclosed with walls and permanent windows. When I open the real front door, now ‘interior’, and…

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Moving Beyond LEED

The Cascadia Region Green Building Council (covering Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia) is already attempting to push beyond the LEED envelope by issuing its Living Building Challenge. This challenge sets a new standard for what it means to be green. Its icon is a vibrant orange flower, meant to suggest elegance and efficiency; the flower, like a pie graph, is broken into parts, or petals. The 6 petals correspond to performance measures in the built environment: Site Materials Energy Indoor…

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Decomposing Boxing Day

I’m celebrating Boxing Day in a new way this year – I’m putting all the cardboard boxes saved up from Shipping Month, aka December, to use in my Permaculture garden, by making sheet mulch. Google sheet mulch and Permaculture. (For those not in the know, Permaculture is a fairly recent term for cultivating an edible landscape that establishes positively reinforcing relationships between water, soil, insects, microbes, sun, etc…for the purpose of sustainably and organically feeding its designing human.) Sheet mulches…

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Married with Children… in the City

Communities full of “McMansions” seem to be everywhere these days, and they have plenty of buyers standing at the ready. Many of these oversized suburban homes are considered starter homes, making it easy to forget that the majority of middle income Americans will never be able to afford such a house in their lifetime. This fall, the City of Portland sponsored the Portland Courtyard Housing Design Competition, which solicited ideas for urban infill housing that would appeal to families with…

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555 Mission and the Green memo

From time to time we hear talk about builders and developers saying that they can’t or won’t build Green because of “initial first cost” and Green buildings being “more expensive” to build (incorrect) but we’re glad to see what going on with 555 Mission Street. Apparently there were many Green naysayers in the Tishman-Speyer company saying that they couldn’t build 555 Green because of the costs and time constraints. A little green sparrow also chirped that the head of Tishman-Speyer…

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Answers to the Coastal Construction Quiz

In last week’s post, I challenged readers’ knowledge about coastal construction, and what basic, easy design decisions can be made to radically improve the latest designs promoted by Brad Pitt for the 9th Ward in New Orleans. (Incidentally, you could take advantage of them, too.) Here are the answers.

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LEED-EB Silver for World's Largest Commercial Building

The Merchandise Mart in Chicago is the largest commercial building and second only to the Pentagon as the largest building. So getting such a large building into the LEED program was a great step for promoting green buildings. In November, the Merchandise Mart received its certification as a LEED-EB Silver building. That’s a whole lot of square footage (4.2 million square feet) to be part of the LEED-EB program.

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Green Building for Dummies Book Signing Party

In a city known for its famous writers, San Francisco got another taste of literary excellence. Sure we have the likes of beat writers such as Jack Kerouac and notable romance writers like Danielle Steel but last night the City got a taste of Green writing. To some, local Green hero Eric Corey Freed represents only the Organic Architect but now he’s become a literary giant with the book release party for another in the “Dummies” series – yes, now…

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Pitt's 9th Ward Designers Graduate to Mumbling

So Brad Pitt is on the morning news and all the green blogs again last week with a second round of architectural renderings he’s gathered for the heavily damaged flood zone in New Orleans also called the 9th Ward. (Full disclosure: I wrote about Pitt’s New Orleans’ efforts earlier this year; find that criticism here and here.) This time Pitt is flogging 13 designs from architects around the world to raise money to replace homes. I wish more of the…

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Lloyd Crossing Sets a New Standard

Portland has been recognized for decades as a leader in urban planning. Today its progressive philosophies are being applied to environmental policy-making. Tackling sustainability on an urban scale, the Portland Development Commission has conceived a model neighborhood known as the Lloyd Crossing Sustainable Urban Design Plan. A massive undertaking, the Plan sets goals and objectives that are intended to guide development over the next 45 years.

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Sustainable Architecture Benefits Chicago's Underprivileged

This is the first of our Guest Posts through the Green Options network. Jason Phillip is a freelance writer and editor based in Chicago. He writes about the “green scene” in the Windy City for Sustainablog. The urban fabric of Chicago is getting greener every year. Since 1989, more than 500,000 trees have been planted, more than 80 miles of landscaped medians constructed, and 2 million square feet of green roofs built or negotiated—more than all other American cities combined.…

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Buy Locally, Build Locally

Use of local materials can be a good way to help make a construction project greener. If the materials being used don’t need to be transported from great distances, there is less embodied energy in the transportation of the materials, and thereby the production of those materials has less environmental impact. Of course, there are trade-offs, as this is only one factor in the overall evaluation. Does it make more sense to use a locally produced material if the manufacture…

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Dealing with Wildfires and Drought


Wildfires aren’t usually on my radar, because I don’t live in a region that is much susceptible to them. But, in the past couple of weeks, everyone has become more aware of them. They have been widely across the news because of the number of serious wildfires in southern California recently. At the same time, recent news coverage has also looked at drought conditions which are being felt in Georgia and North Carolina. While these two are be peripherally linked in other ways, it makes some sense to look at these issues from the perspective of sustainable building.

Addressing the issue of preparation for these extreme conditions as part of a sustainable building strategy only makes sense. Water use and xeriscaping (drought tolerant landscaping) are issues that are included in the LEED rating system, and are well regarded as part of the overall sustainability of buildings. But addressing a building and it’s site in terms of wildfires should be equally considered for regions where fire susceptibility is high. Keeping the building from burning down is also an issue of conservation of resources and should be part of a green building approach.

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The Efficient Materials Trap


Efficient materials can sometimes seem to be the ideal path for green building. If we can find a way to more efficiently produce the materials we need to build our buildings, it would seem that we would be well on our way to reducing our impact on the planet.

For example, rather than using lumber sawn from old growth forests, engineered lumber and I-joists make more efficient use of lumber resources and can take advantage of smaller trees. Instead of needing to find trees old enough and large enough to produce a piece of 2 x 12 lumber, an engineered I-joist can be made that uses chipped wood and glue manufactured wood board (like oriented strand board) and narrow, laminated strips of wood (again, made of smaller pieces of wood and glue). These engineered joists are lighter, straighter, and less prone to warping, cupping and twisting than even kiln dried sawn lumber is.

Engineered joists would seem to be an ideal solution. They are made from small, rapidly renewable trees, which can be farmed, rather than requiring the logging of large trees. Builders and carpenters like them because they are more regular, and they make for flatter floors, straighter walls, and truer roofs, with less variability when they are installed and less likelihood to move and twist over time.

But there are downsides to these more efficient materials.

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Green Building Elements: Building Controls

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<img src="/files/111/613px-Honeywell_thermostat.jpg" alt="wikimedia" width="249" height="244" align="right" />For all our technological advances, our buildings remain incredibly dumb constructions. Automobiles have multiple onboard computers that help maximize their performance and improve efficiency and coordinate the various systems. But the average house has very little, if any, control to aid in its operation despite the wide range of conditions (from below freezing winter nights to scorching summer days) they are forced to deal with. Even large, complex buildings operate with fairly minimal control systems. Yet we expect them to provide a standard comfortable environment for us year round.
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We need some smarter building controls.
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Some building controls are already available. The oldest and best known is the simple thermostat. A thermometer control that turns on heating or cooling, depending on the temperature. It doesn't do much, but it does help to regulate furnaces and air conditioners to keep the temperature within a range of few degrees. But, temperature is not the only factor in comfort. Reducing the humidity can sometimes be all that is needed in warm weather. If the temperature is not too hot, the cooling effect of a breeze may be better than running an air conditioner. But a thermostat can't do that for you.</p>

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Prohibited Green Technologies


Green technologies make good sense to most of us, but incomplete or uncoordinated implementation can lead to circumstances where green technologies are not able to provide the full benefits that they can. In some instances, regulatory requirements can even lead to making green technologies counterproductive.

Waterless urinals present one striking example of how regulations and green technology are not yet working together. In some municipalities, waterless urinals have not been allowed by building inspectors because they do not meet code requirements. Or, in some cases, building inspectors have allowed waterless urinals to be installed, but have required the builder to provide plumbing supply lines to bring water to the waterless urinal locations (though capped off and hidden behind the finished wall). The rationale for this is that if the waterless urinals are later removed and replaced with conventional urinals, extensive renovation will not be necessary to bring water to the location.

This upsets many of the green benefits of using waterless urinals in the first place. While waterless urinals provide water savings, that is not the only green benefit to incorporating them into a green building. Waterless urinals, when installed without a water supply line, provide savings in materials by avoiding the installation of likely dozens of feet of water supply pipe. Given the material cost, the high embodied energy content, and the extensive mineral use in mining, refining, and creating even ten feet of copper pipe, much of the savings from installing a waterless urinal is wiped out. Because of this, it will take much longer to realize the savings that using a waterless urinal should provide.

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Weekend Review: Vegetarian Wednesdays Blog

This local blog first came to my attention via an article in the local paper about a University of Michigan medical student and his daughter who are operating a blog together that is encouraging people to eat vegetarian meals one day a week (on Wednesdays). The Vegetarian Wednesday blog began just this past summer. Originally founded by Josh Mugele and his daughter Eleanor, there are now a few other writers (relatives and med school classmates) who contribute to the blog as well.

"Vegetarian Wednesday started when my daughter wanted to become a vegetarian but couldn’t do it all at once (she loves her chicken nuggets). I told her I’d help her by doing it with her, and we’d start by becoming vegetarians one day a week. Thus was born Vegetarian Wednesday. She wants to become a vegetarian because she loves animals. I want to do it because it’s good for me and good for the planet. Did you know that the meat industry is one of the leading contributors to global warming in the world? Did you know that eating less meat lowers your weight and total cholesterol? Think of what we could do if we all stopped eating meat for just one day a week.

"The purpose of this blog is to encourage meat-eaters like me to make a difference in their health and in the health of the planet by trying to eat no meat one day each week. On this blog we can share recipes, stories about Vegetarian Wednesdays, and most of all spread the word."

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