sustainability


[I was reminded of this old article of mine after seeing John Robb's recent post about cold frames. I'm sure there are better DIY instructions out there, but some people found this helpful and maybe a repost will be useful to some more.  (EDIT: Added comments at the bottom about angles and sourcing materials that I also posted on Robb's G+ article about this.)

This was an article I wrote several years ago for Green Options, and was probably one of my most popular pieces. (GO eventually turned into a number of different blogs, including Green Building Elements, where I wrote for a couple years, and you can find the original there.)  It's a longish piece, as well, since it's DIY instructions, so I'm tucking it behind a cut. The links didn't copy over (and are probably out of date, for the most part), but I'm tracking down a couple of the images and adding them back in. I had a nice hand-drawn diagram illustrating the construction, and I need to see if I still have a copy of that somewhere that I can add in here to help make this more useful.]

Weekly DIY: Cold Frame

This weekend we got the first tantalizing taste of spring as the weather was clear and bright and temperatures rose well above freezing for the first time in months. Snow melted (though not entirely yet), and started the thoughts of summer gardens in mind. But nighttime temperatures are still falling below freezing, and it’s far too early to put plants in the ground, unless you provide a little assistance.

If your garden has a spot with good access to the sun throughout the day, you can use a cold frame to start your plants earlier in the year than you would otherwise. A cold frame is a very simple item. It is really just a small greenhouse. Daytime sun will warm the air and the ground inside, making it easier for plants to start growing. Nighttime temperatures inside the cold frame may fall back close to outdoor ambient temperature, but the extra heat gained during the day and the wind protection the enclosure provides will help keep the plants alive even if there is an overnight frost.

Building a cold frame should be a simple project. An elaborate structure is not required. It should cost little or nothing to build and nothing to operate. Plants can be started close together while they are small, and then, as they get bigger and the weather gets nicer, they can be moved out of the frame and put into the garden. (more…)

[I had hoped to get this review posted at one website or another that gets a bit more traffic than my little blog, because I think this is a pretty good book. I'm posting it here, but if you're interested in using this review elsewhere, drop me a line.]

Book Review: Sustainable Design: A Critical Guide – David Bergman

David Bergman’s “Sustainable Design” is a slim but information-packed book on sustainable design that is accessible enough for a general audience and, at the same time, remains engaging for more experienced building professionals. Far too many books on sustainability lean toward the bean counting, number-crunching side of things, and sustainability is simply a scorecard. Bergman, however, sees things in a wider perspective. More than many other books on the subject, this a sustainability book for designers rather than for accountants.

The book is extensively illustrated, with graphics to explain general concepts, diagrams to show how certain systems operate, and renderings and photographs of project concepts and completed buildings that incorporate the principles of what Bergman likes to call ‘ecodesign’ and show what these buildings can look like.

Topics are covered in brief, but with good explanations of the key features that they offer, and noting how they can offer benefits when used in a building. This book strikes a better balance between introducing the concepts and giving the reader an understanding of how they might be implemented than many other books tackling the same subjects. It won’t replace further reading and deeper research into a particular topic for a full understanding of how it might be implemented in a particular project, but it gives a clear explanation of how various systems work and what makes them sustainable.

The chapters are laid out to address the major themes of sustainability and the built environment using categories that will be immediately recognizable to anyone familiar with LEED. (Site Issues, Water Efficiency, Energy Efficiency, Indoor Environmental Quality, and Materials closely match the major point categories in LEED.) However, the book doesn’t handcuff itself too tightly to LEED. Energy Efficiency is divided into two chapters, separating Passive Techniques and Active Techniques. There is also a chapter on Labels and Ratings, which delves into evaluating measurements of sustainable claims for products and for buildings, and a coda on the Future of Sustainable Design.

Throughout the book, Bergman often points out the trade-offs behind different choices. Sustainability is never a black-or-white choice, and the reader is often reminded that there can be drawbacks as well as benefits, and that no solution is right in all circumstances.

“The objective is not necessarily to create completely self-sufficient buildings. Off-the-grid buildings are useful in remote areas, where the environmental and economic costs of bringing in power or fuel may be prohibitively high, but in developed areas, maximum efficiency may be more advantageous than self-sufficiency. Is on-site renewable power environmentally preferable to, say, a remote wind farm or tidal power? This is another example of an ecodesign question that does not lend itself to a single answer.” (p 67)

Good basic design fundamentals and concepts, such as surface-to-volume ratio for a building, are also discussed in this book. While this is not a factor that any green building rating system explicitly considers, it is certainly a concept that plays a vital role in a building’s relative energy efficiency.

The approach Bergman brings to the book is that of a working architect instead of that of a generalist author (or of a committee), making it more direct. Whether the reader’s perspective is that of a designer or a client, it’s less abstract. For example, when talking about something like lighting options, he notes some of the drawbacks to fluorescent lighting such as not being able to be dimmed the way incandescent bulbs can be. Color temperature and acceptability of lighting quality are important as well as the simple lumens-per-watt. Ultimately, sustainability isn’t about buildings, it’s about people who use those buildings.

All too often, books about sustainable design and sustainable architecture are so rooted in the immediate moment that they fail to offer much vision. They can be defensive works, aimed only against the current plight and laying out strategies to overcome the problems they see before them. Bergman’s ‘Sustainable Design’ differs by not only thinking about how to solve what are viewed as the current problems, but looking ahead to how sustainability can become a more fundamental part of all design. He hopes (as do I) that what is currently thought of as the “green building movement” progresses to being a part of “design as usual,” and that sustainability is incorporated into the design of every building as a matter of routine.

144 pages; softcover; color illustrations

Sustainable Design: A Critical Guide (Architecture Briefs) on Amazon

[Originally posted at Revmodo (a new site I am doing some writing for). This is a longer article than a lot of my other articles, so I'm not going to recopy the whole thing here, and I'm even putting this portion of it behind a cut. If you want to read it all, read it at Revmodo.]

Flowing water carries more than 800 times as much energy as a comparable volume of air, which makes water power an appealing method for producing electricity. Even before the advent of electricity, water mills were some of the earliest systems that went beyond human- or animal-power to do work. In the electrical age, hydropower has typically been associated with big dams and correspondingly large infrastructures. Capturing the power of enormous volumes of water behind a dam allows hydropower stations to produce billions of killowatt-hours of electricity annually, comparable to other base load power plants. But like other base load plants, there is also a strong downside to big dams that makes them less than environmentally preferable. However, new hydrodynamic systems are coming along that draw power from moving water and are able to produce energy with far less environmental impact.
(more…)

[Originally posted at EcoGeek. It's not entirely new news, since the Army began adopting ASHRAE 189.1 in 2010, but it's further movement in a direction they were already headed in. It's probably a greater blow to LEED, since the DoD was one of its biggest adopters.

AIA Michigan COTE has been working to get more information about the new International Green Construction Code (IGCC) out to our members, and I have to admit that I'm still not completely clear about how the IGCC interacts with current state building code. I do think that there will be an increasing move toward having green building practice embedded in code.

At the same time, I think that LEED can maintain its leadership by further pushing the envelope. LEED has become very mainstream, and that is both good (in terms of overall uptake of the message) and bad (in that it has become less distinctive). LEED has to finesse the balance between being cutting edge and being accessible. I think, as it has become more and more popular, it has become too ordinary, and it needs to regain some of its distinctiveness and its status as marking truly exceptional buildings.]

[Edit to add: Some further clarification came out after I wrote this original article. See the followup posted at EcoGeek, as well, for a fuller picture of what is going on.]

While the headline may sound dire, it’s not an indication that the US Army is giving up on green building. Instead, the Army has announced it will use a new construction code of its own which is based on the ASHRAE 189.1 standard for new buildings and renovations, rather than continue to use LEED or the High Perfromance Sustainable Buildings standards. This new standard will “govern all new construction, major renovations and leased space acquisition.” The Army had already adopted ASHRAE 189.1 late in 2010.

Some of the impetus for this change is political. In 2011, Congress acted to prevent any Department of Defense project from achieving LEED gold or platinum certification as part of that year’s Defense Reauthorization bill.

Moreover, LEED is fundamentally a marketing program that recognizes buildings built to a particular high standard of performance. At its core, the Army is more concerned about having better buildings that it can operate more efficiently. Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Dr. Dorothy Robyn stated that, “With more than 300,000 buildings and 2.2 billion square feet of building space, DoD has a footprint three times that of Wal-Mart and six times that of GSA. Our corresponding energy bill is $4 billion annually.” The Defense Department recognizes the importance of green buildings for its overall operational effectiveness.

The armed forces have been one of the biggest early adopters of LEED, and if all of the services are going to move away from using LEED as their standard for improved performance, that is likely to have a strong effect on USGBC, GBCI, and the LEED program as a whole. “The repercussions of this announcement will be widespread,” notes Green Building Law Update. “For federal contractors, this is a game changer. The LEED AP credential will be less valuable. Past performance highlighting LEED certification will be less valuable, if not totally irrelevant.”

ASHRAE 189.1 is not some lesser standard. It was develeoped by ASHRAE (the professional organization of mechanical engineers), US Green Building Council, and IESNA (the professional organization of lighting engineers), as well as the International Code Council. Moreover, the Army’s action is not unprecedented. The International Code Council has also developed the International Green Construction Code (IGCC) which incorporates the ANSI/ASHRAE/USGBC/IES Standard 189.1 as a “jurisdictional compliance option.” Increasingly, building codes are going to directly incorporate green measures instead of relying on third-party standards that are merely optional.

Ultimately, this may push LEED in new directions. LEED was meant to push the envelope and to transform the marketplace. In that respect, it has accomplished much of that initial goal. As the industry has moved to embrace LEED, perhaps in the coming years, LEED will again push for even greater improvements in building technology and again make LEED an indication of a truly elite building.

via: Green Building Law Update

Several years ago, when I was writing for Green Building Elements, I posted a piece on the concept of “open building” which was a concept being espoused, at the time, by Bensonwood Homes. And the idea derives from earlier writing by Stewart Brand. In short, it is a principle that is based on recognition that different parts of a building have different lifespans, and attempts to accommodate that in the design. To quote myself from that earlier article:

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.

Last week, I found my name being cited on the Greenbuilding-list, from David Bergman, who has written a book (Sustainable Design: A Critical Guide for Architects and Interior, Lighting, and Environmental Designers). I had some correspondence with him when he was working on the book, but I didn’t think I had really contributed all that much; mostly I thought I had pointed him at Benson and Brand, but he was talking about it “based on a combination of Benson, Stewart Brand and Philip Proefrock’s writing on the idea.”  So apparently, I’m a source to be cited on this.

Even more, when I tried to look up the original article, so that I could link to it, the top two hits in my search were a couple of articles posted on Treehugger by Lloyd Alter that cite me on the concept, as well. I had no idea!

Bergman’s graphic is a nice combination of the nesting of elements along with the respective timelines for each of the six levels:

I still think the reasoning behind the approach is sound, but it needs to be balanced in application. Building lots of additional chases and access points for the different building components is more likely to result in adding on extraneous stuff, rather than reducing the amount of material in a building. Exposed ducts and services certainly allow for easy access and flexibility, but that aesthetic isn’t always appropriate.

With Bergman’s book due out in a couple months, I should maybe think about this concept some more, and have some additional writings about this as an approach to building. I’ll also get that original article reposted here in the near future.

A list of common mistakes occurring in LEED-H projects. Good for reference.

Top 10 LEED snafus – an article to share with LEED classes.

Green or Greenwash The Quiz This one, from Building Green, isn’t easy, even if you’re deeply involved in sustainability and green building. I got what I’d consider a borderline pass on this myself (9 out of 12), though I would argue the subjective nature of one of the questions that I answered differently than their correct answer.

[Originally posted on EcoGeek. This seems to be based on a carbon footprint analysis, and there are other metrics that rate 'green'-ness in other ways, so the argument isn't as clear-cut (no pun intended) as the headline would suggest.]

Green building advocates and construction product marketers have different views of what the greenest building material is. Different ways of determining what green means will lead to different results. But according to a recent report from the U.S. Forest Service, wood is the greenest building material.

This analysis seems to rest largely on the carbon footprint of various construction materials.

“The argument that somehow non-wood construction materials are ultimately better for carbon emissions than wood products is not supported by our research,” said David Cleaves, the U.S. Forest Service Climate Change Advisor. “Trees removed in an environmentally responsible way allow forests to continue to sequester carbon through new forest growth. Wood products continue to benefit the environment by storing carbon long after the building has been constructed.”

Wood is also unique as a renewable resource that actively sequesters carbon from the atmosphere. As they grow, trees absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and lock it into the structure of the wood. In doing so, wood is a carbon storage material, and that carbon is locked away until the wood decomposes or burns.

The report additionally recommends that USDA further its outreach efforts to educate the construction industry and the general public to be more aware of the suitability of wood for non-residential construction and to further study of the carbon benefits of the use of wood in construction.

image: CC-SA 2.5 by Andreas Trepte, www.photo-natur.de

via: Architect magazine

[Originally posted onEcoGeek.org 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.

[I thought this was going to be a minor little article in between the interesting things I write about for Jetson Green. I only wrote it because it was somewhat timely for spring, although I missed Arbor Day (which would have been the ideal time to post something like this, if I was an obsessive problogger).

So I was more than a little surprised when I got a message that this article got picked up and reblogged by 'Remodeling' magazine's blog. I've seen a number of shares and reTweets about it, too.

It's still interesting to me to see what resonates with other people and what doesn't. I'm glad that this was something that people are finding useful and interesting. It was as much a reminder to myself as it was to the people who read it that simple measures can sometimes be the best answer (or at least a part of the solution) instead of always looking for a product to solve a particular issue.]

While green homes often sport all manner of technical solutions to keep them optimized and efficient, the landscaping can have a significant effect on the building and its energy use. Site orientation and landscape can also be powerful tools to control the energy needs of a building. While it’s not practical to reorient most homes, in many cases you can still make improvements by planting trees.

[Read full article...]

The Environment Report had a piece today about adaptive reuse of old schools and how this is something actively going on in some shrinking cities in the region including Detroit and Lansing. The key point – that reusing buildings is a more sustainable option than demolishing them and building new – was highlighted instead of being skipped over. Gene Hopkins was included in the piece, and had a couple of good quotes: “There’s nothing more sustainable than an existing building. Flat out. Period.”

One example was cited, in which a developer bought an old school for just a thousand dollars. He then spent seven million on the rehabilitation and renovation of the building, but, he also points out that, for a new building, he would have spent 10 to 20 million. So that’s a cost savings of a minimum of 30% compared to new construction.

Another recent public radio program, Marketplace, also had a segment about renovation and adaptive reuse being the way for greener homes, as well.

It’s good to see more traction being given to the idea of working with the existing structures, and the importance of greening what has already been built, and not focusing exclusively on new construction. Building new can be exciting and dynamic, but alone it’s not sufficient for what is needed.

Next Page »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 632 other followers