[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 The links didn’t copy over (and are probably out of date, for the most part), but I’m tracking down a couple of the images and adding them back in.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…)

[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

[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

I disagree with the analogy in Michelle Kaufmann’s statement, “building a house on site is like having your car built in your driveway. It’s not efficient!” Makes a pithy slogan, but I think it’s misguided.

This is in advance of a forthcoming debate between Kaufmann and Chad Ludeman to be held on Treehugger tomorrow (3:30 ET May 26; rescheduled from a week earlier).

Efficiency may or may not be served by prefabrication, but site specificity and orientation doesn’t matter for a car and is all too easily forgotten when you are doing prefabricated buildings. A car doesn’t have a north side or a south side; a car is mobile, and is a fundamentally mass-produced object. Architects, designers and homebuilders have all been trying to figure out the “house as car” model since the early 1900s. There have been lots of attempts at this, from mobile homes to Fuller’s Dymaxion house, but I don’t think anyone has ever solved it.

Of course, on the other hand, it’s not very practical to imagine that all housing is going to be crafted with site specificity. Fundamentally, I think that, as with many debates, neither perspective is completely right or wrong. There’s a lot that prefabrication has to offer. But I disagree with the absolutism of the premise, “Be It resolved that Prefabrication is a greener way to build.” Some degree of mass-production could be useful, but prefabrication could be as badly done as any other process.

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

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.

[Originally posted at Inhabitat. I think Mike definitely improved the title, especially for a non-technical audience; my title for this was “Magic Boxes” Provide Integrated Mechanical Systems for Efficient Homes.  There are a few more pictures, as usual, with the original article, although, if you really want to delve further into this topic, you will need to read the source article and then visit some manufacturer websites to get a complete picture of what these systems are all about.  But hopefully this is an interesting article and helps people understand a bit more about this sort of HVAC.]

sustainable design, green design, magic box, passive design, passivhaus, hvac system, green building, sustainable building, energy efficient appliances

Looking at the incredible examples of green architecture featured on Inhabitat, you may have wondered what kind of mechanical equipment is used for these homes. Solar Decathlon competitors, Passivhaus designs, and other high-efficiency houses rely on highly efficient mechanical systems — in addition to the construction and design of the buildings themselves — in order to reach the level of performance they achieve. Obviously, there is not just one system used everywhere, but a number of features common to many of these systems are now being assembled into single, combined unit systems – read on for a look at these “magic boxes”.

Writing for Green Building Advisor, Martin Holladay calls the combined mechanical systems “magic boxes.” These are combination appliances that incorporate ventilation and heat pumps for heating and cooling. In may cases, they also include hot water heating. Because of their efficiency, “magic boxes” may offer reduced greenhouse gas emissions even in comparison with other efficient systems such as condensing furnaces or ground-source or air-source heat pumps.

While heat recovery and energy recovery ventilators (ERVs and HRVs) are not yet common to most homes, they are an essential part of the mechanical systems for Passivhaus homes and other high-efficiency buildings. Most high-efficiency buildings have very tight construction, therefore mechanical ventilation is needed to bring fresh air in and exhaust stale air from the building. ERVs and HRVs transfer energy from the outgoing air stream to the incoming one to recover some of the energy that would otherwise simply be lost in the exhaust.

Since high-efficiency buildings often need only limited heating and cooling, it can be possible to combine that function with the ventilation of an ERV into a single unit. While most of these “magic box” systems are larger than the furnaces they replace, because they incorporate several functions, the total footprint required for all mechanical systems is smaller than what would be required for all of the functions if provided by separate pieces of equipment.

Several of the units are not carried by distributors in the United States. These “magic boxes” are better suited for European conditions (with milder winters) than they are for those in North America. Holladay outlines the reasons for this, noting that the costs of these units are generally higher than the cost of individual pieces of equipment. Some manufacturers point out that the faster installation time for only a single piece of equipment helps offset the higher cost. However, unless space is at an absolute premium, in most cases it is probably better to use separate pieces of equipment.

Via Green Building Advisor

[Originally posted at Inhabitat. As usual, more pictures are included with the original article.

It also looks like the building is part of another green building rating system, but I couldn’t find enough information about it or a reference source on the system to link to so that I could write about it. But it looks something like an Italian version of Passivhaus or of the German system I found out about a while ago.]

sustainable design, green design, matteo thun, green building,  underground building, eco hotel, energy efficient building, hillside  building

Architect Matteo Thun has designed this striking eco-friendly hotel to be located on a mountainside in the National Park of Stelvio in the Italian Alps. Composed of a series of underground buildings linked by undulating green roofs, the complex takes advantage of passive design principles and ground-source heat pumps to conserve energy. In addition, the construction of the units, the way the units are situated on the site, and the materials used have all been carefully considered to minimize the complex’ impact upon the environment.

The hotel is comprised of eleven individual units, each appearing as no more than a slight rise in the ground with a large, south-facing window protruding from the hillside. The units are set into the earth and covered with vegetated roofing which serves to moderate the temperatures inside the units throughout the year. A deep overhang above each window shades it from excessive summer sun, and the earth sheltering helps keep noise levels low. Triple-pane windows help with energy efficiency while contributing to the sound control, and heat pumps taking advantage of the constant water temperature of a local natural spring to provide efficient heating and cooling.

The hotel is meant to offer an entire range of green benefits. The architect’s website describes the KlimaHotel standard as having “three pillars of sustainability … the concepts “nature” (Ecology), “Life” (socio-cultural aspects) and “Transparency” (Economy).

+ Matteo Thun

Via Greenmuze and Ecofriend

While this blog has mostly been reposting articles I’ve written for other publications, since that has been a lot of what I have been doing, the intent in setting up the blog was to use it to talk about projects that I’m working on. There is still not much in the way of real architecture going on, but there are a couple other things I am doing these days.

First of all, I have written a LEED continuing education article for Red Vector. (I don’t think there’s any bound I am crossing by mentioning this; it’s supposed to be published eventually, and they wanted me to write it under my own name and as a practicing architect and a LEED AP.) I still haven’t heard much from them since I turned in the completed draft; and I was at first concerned that there was a problem with it. The editor there has just been busy and this has not been the most important thing on his plate. I’m not sure how it’s going to be published or when it will be available, but sooner or later it should be out there. I’ll post a link once it’s available.

I’ve also recently put together a proposal to do some LEED consulting for a manufacturing facility in New Jersey. I think I came up with a decent proposal, but they contacted me last week and indicated that their architect was now looking to work with a local consultant. That makes some sense, of course, but I still feel a little bit put out for putting together a proposal for a project that wasn’t going to be awarded to anyone. I suppose that’s the nature of the business, though.

I am doing some consulting for the State of Arkansas with a program they are administering for grants to promote energy efficiency and improvements for municipalities and counties in the state. It’s similar to the EPA consulting I did last year, but this is more practically oriented, with funds being allocated for applications instead of research and development projects. I got a box full of grant applications earlier this week, and I have to go through and read all the proposals and then score them.

Lastly, I have had a couple meetings with a local organization who are looking at moving their offices, and have asked me to help them evaluate a building they are considering. Right now, it’s just some consultation with an eye toward greening and improving the building they would potentially be moving into. But, I think there is a possibility that, if this were to go forward, I would at least have a chance to get to do some further work with them.

[Originally posted on Jetson Green. Notice how I used the opportunity to sneak Randolph Croxton into the article, too. I still don’t think he gets enough credit for some of the groundbreaking work he has done.]

Last week, the formation of the new International Green Construction Code was announced through the partnership of several organizations already deeply connected with green building efforts. The preliminary version of the model code is now available for public review and comment.

The introduction of this additional green building standard will take some time to sort out. But it should not be viewed as competition to LEED or other rating systems so much as it is a complement to them. (USGBC’s active participation [PDF] in the new standard should make that point obvious.) Instead, there is a greater variety of standards available as tools to help all members of a building team produce better buildings.

IGCC is supported by a collaboration of the ICC (International Code Council), ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers), USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council), and IES (Illuminating Engineering Society).

This also combines ICC with the other organizations that were responsible for developing the ASHRAE 189.1 Standard for the Design of High-Performance Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings.

ASHRAE 189.1 has been criticized by some groups for not being as tough a set of requirements as it could be, but this misses the broader intent for its application.  While LEED has always targeted the most progressive and forward-looking projects for certification, the new green building code from IGCC should offer a more basic, though less stringent option, that is still more effective than a building that only meets code minimum.

Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO, and Founding Chairman of the USGBC, noted that this new standard helps “establish a higher floor” for green building, which allows USGBC to “raise the ceiling” for the highest performing buildings, according to a statement.

The IGCC follows a number of development concepts which are explained on the website:

  • Will use the “model” code approach;
  • Will work as an overlay to the ICC Family of Codes;
  • Will provide performance, prescriptive, and pre-engineered solutions;
  • Minimum and advanced levels of performance (green & high performance buildings);
  • Written in mandatory language that provides a new regulatory framework;
  • Will account for local conditions;
  • Reflects the AIA 2030 Challenge;
  • Works in tandem with leading green rating systems; and
  • Designed with local, state, and federal law in mind.

As with the model building codes, the IGCC will follow a regular cycle of review and improvement to increase requirements and push the industry further.

I saw Randolph Croxton — principal of Croxton Collaborative Architects and one of the earliest proponents for what has become green building design — speak in the mid ’90s, and he talked about codes and the need to build better buildings: “If you build a building and you say it meets all code requirements, all that means is that if you had done just one thing less, it would be an illegal building.

We should aspire to do more than the minimum, and the arrival of a new standard helps to push matters in that direction.

It should not be lamented that a milder standard is available.  Most of the buildings that will be built to this standard likely would not have obtained LEED certification.  But this will allow more building teams to create buildings with some clear guidelines that will help them build buildings that are better than just code-minimum.

[PDF] Download a preliminary version of IGCC.