I posted an article for Jetson Green on Creatherm: A Simple, Flexible Radiant Slab. I think this is a pretty interesting product. I really admire the flexibility it offers for unusual tubing layout when you want to do something that isn’t strictly on a 6 x 6 wire mesh grid, which typical in-slab installation requires.

It should also be a lot faster to install, since it locks the tubing into place instead of needing to be tied on at regular intervals. I think I’d be less likely to use it on an upper floor instead of a slab, but I would certainly still consider it. But I see a definite advantage to having a single material that provides both under-slab insulation and tubing layout in a single material.

The only downside I see with this is that the tubing is buried further down in the slab, which makes it less responsive and takes longer for the heat to propagate through the slab.

I’m still trying to find out pricing information about it.

Radiant flooring is a popular method for heating a space. Typically, installing a radiant slab on grade has required the time- and labor-intensive process of laying down wire mesh and then tying the tubing to the grid of the mesh to provide an even layout. But using the Creatherm radiant floor panel makes it faster and easier to install radiant tubing, as well as providing an insulation layer beneath the floor.

[Read the whole article at JetsonGreen.]

The ‘Boneyard House’ is a project I came across in a recent Jetson Green article (though I didn’t the article). I really like the approach behind this, as well as the aesthetic of the house. I’ve seen other projects like this, like the ‘Big Dig House’ (which I did write about), where the materials were the starting point, and the plan develops from the available palette.

The exercise of working with constraints and possibilities from a limited set of materials is compelling. I think many architects would relish the possibility of doing a project like this; having to find solutions with a limited number of options is always more compelling than having an open, blank canvas. It’s also wonderful to find uses for perfectly good materials that would otherwise go to waste.

I also like the aesthetic of combining materials and juxtaposing different materials. I went through a period before I went back to school for architecture where I was doing 2D collages. Architects generally try to limit the number of materials they use on a project, both to simplify the construction process as well as to make a cohesive appearance. Playing with such a range of materials can be difficult, but these projects both seem to have succeeded.

Of the two, I think the interiors for the Big Dig house are more successful, and I expect I would have come up with other solutions to the interiors of the Boneyard House if that had been my project. But I think both are worth noting for both the use of otherwise scrap materials as well as for the manner in which those materials were used.

[Originally posted A couple of good reference links in this, as well as the topic itself. The BuildingGreen discussion of aphorisms and thoughts about building materials is good to look at, in particular.]

Last month, Google announced that it would no longer use any of the construction materials found on the Living Building Challenge’s “red list.” For a company that is opening new office space at a rate of 40,000 square feet (about 3,700 square meters) per week, that’s a lot of construction activity, and a lot of materials that are no longer being used for those projects. It’s also a leadership role from a company that wants to be environmentally positive.

The red list (as opposed to the green list) is a list of construction materials that include components made from products such as mercury, asbestos, PVC, formaldehyde and lead. In most cases, these materials are poor for the indoor air quality of the spaces where they are installed. But, even if the final form is relatively inert, the production of these materials also has a large environmental toll due to the extraction of materials used to produce them and from the processing of raw materials to make the finished products.

The Living Building Challenge goes beyond LEED and other green building programs with a standard for creating buildings that are restorative and balanced, rather than being merely “less bad” than typical construction. The red list is found in the Materials section of the Living Building Challenge 2.0 guidebook (pdf).

Like LEED itself, Google’s size makes this a decision that will have ramifications throughout the construction industry. Manufacturers who use red list materials in their products will see sales declines not only from Google, but from other companies who will follow Google’s lead in this.

The Building Green blog has a wonderful followup that talks not only about these rules, but offers a wider approach to considering appropriate building materials from an environmental perspective.

[Originally posted on JetsonGreen. I've been interested in alternatives to pressure-treated wood for quite a while. I talked about some of these in my Penguicon presentation, and I've been enamored of Kebony for some time.

Accoya is another wood that is processed to make it more stable and decay resistant, without using toxic materials (Accoya uses acetic acid, essentially vinegar, to transform the wood without adding anything to the wood that isn't already naturally found there).

I'm very interested in doing some testing of my own with the two, to see how they both perform, but unfortunately it's pricey stuff. But both should last for decades, so it's an investment, as is the case with many other durable materials.]

If you want to use wood in an exterior application, your options are wider than ever. While durable tropical hardwoods have been decimated by unsustainable logging, there are several methods of preserving wood that produce even more durable and sustainable products. These are not woods infused with toxic chemicals or metal compounds that can leach out. Rather these woods are transformed to be more durable and decay resistant.

Read full article with further images.

kebony wood roofThere was a recent questionon the USGBCs Green Home Guide asking, “Is there pressure-treated wood that isn’t treated with chemicals?” Unfortunately, the answer only listed a number of conventional (ie chemically treated) options, and made no mention of the other alternatives that are available.

But there are other materials, though they may not be as widely known. I posted an additional reply to the question, which I’ve reposted here below. Since I have written about Kebony before, I’m pretty familiar with it already. (It was also one of the things I covered in my presentation this past weekend.) I’ve also heard about Timbersil and Accoya, though I haven’t written about them, yet.

These alternatives are somewhat pricey. They’re going to get value-engineered out of a lot of projects. But this is a starting point for a couple alternatives for use especially for things like decks that might be in frequent contact with bare feet or where otherwise you really would like not to have conventionally treated wood.

There are several treated wood options that use alternatives that are far safer than the preservatives in Anthony’s list. They are “treated with chemicals” in one fashion or another, but fundamentally, even wood (and everything else) is made up of chemicals.

All three of these are natural wood that is treated, but is non-toxic and does not leach any noxious chemicals the way that more conventionally treated lumber will. They can be worked without special protective gear for the workers (other than what would normally be prudent for woodworking tasks). A couple of them can even be composted at the end of their working life if there is not another use for them.

Kebony ( is wood treated with a food grade material that is a byproduct from sugar cane processing to make wood resistant to decay. According to the company, decks will last, without any maintenance needed, for 30 years. There are also examples of it being used as roofing and building siding, with similar life expectancy.

Accoya ( is another wood treatment that changes the wood so that it is far more resistant to decay. There is nothing in the wood that is not already naturally found there (although presumably more than what is normally present)

Timbersil ( has a technology that treats wood with an amorphous glass to produce a more decay resistant material, as well as increasing fire resistance.

Both Kebony and Accoya can be sourced from FSC certified forests, as well, so the origin of the wood is responsibly managed. All of these products are going to be more expensive than conventional treated wood. But, if they will last for many more years, it may be worth the extra cost.

This is the base slide set from the presentation I gave at Penguicon this past weekend. Without the discussion and commentary, it’s pretty basic and of only limited use. If you were one of the attendees, this should give you much, much better visuals than what that old, clunky projector was able to show during the presentation. I apologize again for not being able to have better images, and hope that all of you find this so you can see these images in better quality.

Download the PowerPoint version of the SFMaterials presentation.

If you’d like further information, I will add some references and information about these items. Check back later, and I’ll have an updated version with added links and info. Questions that didn’t get asked at the time are also welcome.

(ETA: For some reason comments are off for this; I can’t find how to change this right now.)

[Originally posted at EcoGeek. Wood flooring is a commodity, but don't look at this material that way. This is a really neat value added process to make some wonderful wood flooring and maximizing the amount of wood that is used.

I've added a couple more images here, but check out the link at the bottom to see the whole gallery at Bolefloor.]


Wood floors aren’t normally what you would think of as high tech. But a Dutch company called Bolefloor is using computers and CNC production to produce attractive and distinctive wood flooring that maximizes the amount of wood used. By scanning the wood and then using computer algorithms to calculate how best to cut the wood, unique floors with curving patterns can be produced that fits together like a jigsaw puzzle and minimizes waste.

According to the company, the technology used in this process maximizes the yield of usable wood flooring by using “wood scanning systems, tailor-made CAD/CAM developments and innovative optimization algorithms for placement software developed by a Finnish engineering automation company and three software companies in cooperation with the Institute of Cybernetics at Tallinn University of Technology.” In addition to determining how to fit together the pieces of wood, the software also takes into account imperfections in the wood near edges or ends, so that the floor will be more durable.

I’m not completely sold on the idea that this is leads to a significant savings of wood. But, for the wood that is used, this approach should allow some further use of material from each log and the ability to use smaller logs, as well.

Each floor needs to be custom produced using this system, which limits its applicability for off the shelf projects. But, if the need for a repair arises, the fabrication of a replacement piece should be easy to accomplish, using the same file that was used to create the original piece to fabricate a copy.

If you are interested in maximizing production volume, this certainly wouldn’t be the way to go. Efficiency is all about straight and regular. But if your definition of sustainability means ‘taking care of what you have,’ then creating something unique and beautiful that will encourage its owners to care for it and maintain it so it lasts, then this is a wonderful sustainable material.

More example images from the company site.

via: BoingBoing

Added images (linked from Bolefloor):

[Originally posted at EcoGeek. I'm not sure if this is a better or more cost-effective option to electrochromic glass or some other interesting new materials. The patterning that looks possible with this suggests some intriguing new options for facades. The best use of this material could come in other directions, though.]


Glass buildings can provide an appealing environment of light and openness, but too much sunlight will over heat the building, as well as creating glare. While conventional shades can be used to control light levels, a new option is to use a low power material attached to the glass that can quickly adjust to increase shading or let more light in as needed.

As shown by their presentation, the shading system developed by designers Decker Yeadon can be installed in an organic configuration to highlight the biomimetic nature of this material. These shades use a dielectric elastomer, which is stressed and changes configuration when a charge is applied. When actuated with a low-power electric charge, tension in the dielectric increases, which causes it to contract. As it does so, it pulls on the flexible polymer core inside it, causing the assembly to spread open and increase the shading.

The video clip demonstrates how it works with a sample section of the material that looks something like a butterfly opening and closing its wings. The dielectric surfaces of the material are coated with silver which acts as a conductor for the low power current needed to activate the material, as well as being an excellent reflector of sunlight to provide rejection of excessive daylight when acting as a shade.

Read the entire article at EcoGeek. And check out the Decker Yeadon video which demonstrates how it works. It’s only 2 minutes long, and this is the sort of thing that benefits from a moving visual explanation.

I had meant to post this last month, when things were cold and snowy and wintry.  And now, the weather seems to have broken, and temperatures getting above freezing during the day, so we’re having lots of snow melting going on.  It’s not as timely as I had originally intended, but this wood-burning stove is still a nice thing to look at.

From a carbon perspective, burning wood is not as environmentally unfriendly as you may think. While burning wood certainly puts carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, growing wood absorbs and retains the CO2, so it’s more carbon neutral overall than even so-called clean burning fuel like natural gas.

On TreeHugger, Lloyd Alter wrote about this stove by Bullerjan which was allegedly (though not very likely) “designed by Canadian lumberjacks.” Regardless of its origins, it’s still an interesting and appealing design.

Theoretically, I think this should work.  The tubes on the sides help conduct air along the furnace to warm the air. Air certainly gets heated up from the sides of a conventional wood burner, and hot air will rise.  But the tubes would, I think, create a more directed circulation, with a stronger draw and better circulation.

I’d like to experience one in person to see how well it works before I recommend it to anyone.  But for now, despite its alleged Canadian origins, it’s only available in Europe.

Andrew Maynard (whose Twitter account concisely describes himself: “I’m an Australian Architect.”) recently posted an interesting comment: “Film crew in the office asking me about containers as bldgs. Tho I try not to be negative, I must say that I think containers make bad bldgs

Despite my own obvious interest in them, I don’t think that shipping containers are the be-all and end-all for construction. However, I think that, as with many other materials, interesting things can be done with shipping containers as one of the key elements of a project.

Maynard expanded on his thoughts with a couple further comments: “To clarify – Yes I agree that there r MANY gorgeous container bldgs. I simply don’t buy the “sustainable/reuse/cheap” arguments.” and “Containers are difficult to work with and require a huge amount of effort to make them thermally effectiveness (sic)”

While it’s hard to express an idea in the course of a couple of 140 character messages, and I don’t disagree with the general points that he is making, I’m less ready to dismiss the idea of using shipping containers.

I don’t disagree with him on the sustainable point, but that’s not just for shipping containers. A lot of what gets built right now is not meaningfully sustainable in the true sense of the word. I think it can be an option for green building, but that’s a very nebulous term, so that’s not really usefully saying that much about it.

I think the reuse question is more to the point. There are thousands of these containers being produced and getting stacked up. Being able to put them to a more productive use, rather than scrapping or recycling them is a beneficial and positive thing to do with them, and so I think it is overlooking a useful material to dismiss them out of hand.

To get a 8′ x 40′ space (320 square feet) for just a few thousand dollars is cheap and quick space. That’s roughly $10/square foot if the container itself costs $3000. There are certainly many things that need to be done to that raw space to make it comfortable and habitable, but I think it can be useful in some cases.

There are certainly many people who think that anything that uses a shipping container must necessarily be green architecture. I don’t think even that is true (even with the admitted slipperiness of the term ‘green’). There is far too much belief in the magical greening of a building by contagion. Slap some solar panels on it and it’s green. Use this green feature and the whole thing becomes virtuous and wonderful. And that’s simply not the case.

I expect Andrew Maynard has seen a number of badly done things that use shipping containers. I don’t doubt that they are out there. But I think there is some potential in the material, and I’m not so quick to dismiss them out of hand.

image: CC-BY-SA-3.0 by RaBoe/Wikipedia

« Previous PageNext Page »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 632 other followers