Green Building Elements: Tankless Water Heaters

May 7th, 2007 | by Philip Proefrock

Univ of Alberta Creative ServicesPhoto Credit: Univ of Alberta Creative ServicesNext to bulding heating and cooling, water heaters are the largest energy consumers in most homes. But, with a conventional water heater, much of the energy is spent on keeping the heated water from cooling off while it sits, waiting to be used. Tankless water heaters don't have these standby losses, and can be a much more efficient choice in some circumstances.

Tankless water heaters have no hot water storage (hence tankless), but can quickly raise water temperature by as much as 50 degrees F (~30 degrees C). They can do this with a flow rate ranging from 4 gallons per minute (GPM) to as much as 9 GPM. Tankless heaters are also much smaller than conventional water tank heaters, which can be a consideration for smaller homes where space is at a premium.

Depending on usage patterns, a tankless water heater can provide hot water much more efficiently than a regular tank heater. One manufacturer's information lists an annual operating cost (based on 2004 prices) of $166 for their tankless heater versus $210 for a conventional natural gas water heater, and propane and electric conventional heaters are even more expensive to operate


Green Places for Travelers

May 2nd, 2007 | by Philip Proefrock

State of MichiganPhoto Credit: State of Michigan
Eco-tourisim is a growing field, but it's not the only sector where people want to find a green option when they need travel accommodations. Whether they are traveling for business or for recreation, even if they aren't headed to an eco-destination, travellers need a place to stay. And while the Building Design + Construction magazine's 2006 white paper on green building suggested that the hospitality industry was "missing an opportunity" by lagging other construction sectors in green building, there are some places that are beginning to offer greener places to stay.

I started looking into this when a developer in New York City sent out an announcement concerning their plans to build a hotel with a range of green features, including striving for LEED Gold certification. The press material also speaks of organic cotton sheets and other amenities. Unfortunately, this project is still more than a year from completion, and I do not like to write about proposed or incomplete projects, because they can so often fail to meet the expectations, or the final product does not match what was originally promised. And LEED certification is no guarantee that the building or its rooms will be attractive either.

Weekly DIY: Solar Shower

May 2nd, 2007 | by Philip Proefrock

Path to FreedomPhotoCredit: Path to Freedom
If you have been exploring solar energy at all, you already know that the payback period for a solar hot water system is much shorter than that for a solar photovoltaic system. The system for solar hot water is much simpler. Rather than converting solar energy into electricity with expensive photovoltaic panels and then rectifying the current through an inverter to create AC power, a solar hot water system uses a series of loops to directly heat the water moving through the collector.

Solar hot water systems are a little more complex in cold weather locations where they need to be filled with anti-freeze fluid for heat collection and then use a heat exchanger to transfer heat to the water, or valves and mechanical systems in the plumbing in order to prevent damage from freezing. But even with these elements, the payback period for a solar hot water system can be just a handful of years, even in a northern state.

But if you want to do some experimentation with a hot water system without going to a whole house system, this project will provide an inexpensive demonstration project that gives you a useful device.

Green Building Elements: Open Building

April 30th, 2007 | by Philip Proefrock

<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>


How to Find a Green Builder — Part 2

April 27th, 2007 | by Philip Proefrock

<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>


Raining on the Green Parade

April 26th, 2007 | by Philip Proefrock

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"?

How to Find a Green Builder — Part 1

April 25th, 2007 | by Philip Proefrock

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.

Short Takes and a Cold-Frame Follow-up

April 23rd, 2007 | by Philip Proefrock

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:

Weekly DIY: Copper Garden Trellis

April 18th, 2007 | by Philip Proefrock

<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>


A Local, Green Forum

April 17th, 2007 | by Philip Proefrock

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.


The Greenness of Prefabrication

April 16th, 2007 | by Philip Proefrock

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.

Green Building Tour: Ten Shades of Green — Book Review

April 11th, 2007 | by Philip Proefrock

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


Precast Foundation Walls

April 9th, 2007 | by Philip Proefrock

Meeting area with natural lighting and outdoor viewsLast week I wrote about insulated concrete forms (ICFs) as an alternative to traditional poured concrete walls. The ICFs I mentioned would serve to reduce at least 50% of the concrete used, compared to a traditional basement wall. (The Eco-blocks, with a 4" instead of an 8" wall would be a 50% reduction.

Tip o' the Day: Rechargeable Batteries

April 5th, 2007 | by Philip Proefrock

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.

Green Building Tour: Plaza Apartments

April 4th, 2007 | by Philip Proefrock

Meeting area with natural lighting and outdoor viewsOne of the outstanding housing projects recognized last year by the AIA Housing Knowledge Community for its "Show You're Green" awards was the Plaza Apartments in San Francisco CA.The building is a nine-story structure with 106 very small (approximately 300 square feet) apartments for very low income and formerly homeless residents.

Insulated Concrete Forms

April 2nd, 2007 | by Philip Proefrock

<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


Oil Drilling Rigs Going for LEED Certification

April 1st, 2007 | by Philip Proefrock

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!"


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