Articles - October, 2006

Green Office: The Sustainable Liege Desk

Chestnut_desk In the last "Green Office" segment here on Jetson Green, I talked about the merits of investing in a Think chair from Steelcase for your office.  Need a desk?  Some of you may shut down purely at the price tag ($2,200), but there’s a price premium for style + sustainability.  You can find the Liege Desk, designed by Jeffrey Bernett + Nicholas Dodziuk, exclusively at Design Within Reach.  The desk uses sustainable chestnut or oak veneers and the stainless steel is finish-free.  The wood varnish is non-toxic and low in volatile organic compounds.  Measuring H 30" x W 60" x D 30", the Liege Desk accommodates storage that can be placed on the right or left, depending on your orientation.  It’s a pretty good looking desk solution and would definitely go well with the Think chair.  Via Collin Dunn at Treehugger

Storage_image Cross_bars_1 Stainless_steel

Case for State + Local Renewable Energy Rebates: Solar Umbrella House (2006)

Project_house Green Wombat reports that the Governator was pumping up California’s commitment to create 3,000 megawatts of new solar-produced, clean energy by 2017.  Think about that.  We’re talking about governmental support for empowering and supporting residents to generate their own energy.  Relatedly, the Solar Umbrella House is a modern + green example of what can happen when home owners take advantage of the governmental benefits of clean energy subsidization.  It was an AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Project in 2006, by architect Pugh + Scarpa.  What more can I say than that the Solar Umbrella House looks good and sunlight provides 95% of the electricity (less than $300 /year in energy bills). 

In addition to being designed passively to optimize the balance of sun and shade, the home has 89 amorphous photovoltaic panels that are connected to the grid with a net meter provided by the city of Los Angeles.  The house is decked out with energy-efficient everything.  Indoor air quality is perpetually monitored.  The design is LEED-H (v2) consistent.  Certified wood, recycled materials + salvaged materials were used all over the place. 

COSTS:
The photovoltaic system, solar hot-water system, thermally broken glazing, and energy efficient appliances cost about $39,000.  Not cheap, but that’s where rebates come in.  To pay for the solar panels, there was a $18,600 rebate from the City Department of Water and Power and a $4,000 rebate from the federal government.  After applying the rebates, the payback on this investment becomes 12 years, and the solar panel warranty lasts for 25 years.  Not bad. 

Books_and_stairs Bedroom_1 Back_yard

So what’s the big deal?  If your city isn’t on board with clean energy, there isn’t a 12 year payback and you continue to buy electricity created from dirty coal plants (unless it’s a green provider).  Which is better?  Option A) independent, site-generated electricity that pays for itself after 12 years + is warrantied for 25 years + creates lower electricity bills or B) no site-generated electricity + persistently increasing electricity bills + dirty air.  This is common sense, get your state and local governments to support renewable energy so that you can create a better living environment for your family.  If you do it like the Solar Umbrella House, you can do it in green style!

Lifetime Cost Case Analysis: Energy-Efficient, LED-based Commercial Signage

Lightmark_led_1 If you haven’t noticed, commercial enterprises use lots of neon in their signage.  I drove around the neighborhood and found a few gas stations and a Sonic Drive-in with neons wrapped around the structure.  You can tell because the neon lighting breaks at the nodes.  Well, LEDs, while still a nascent lighting technology, have the potential to become the future signage lighting behemoth, if building owners can catch on to their benefits.  To get to that point, however, the stars will need to align so that the key decision maker does a costing analysis incorporating the operational benefits, in addition to the sticker price (initial costs). 

LED Technology Benefits:
LEDs have energy savings of up to 80% over neon lighting.  In addition to the energy savings, LEDs differ in size and electronic control.  Point blank, with LEDs, there’s reduced maintenance, reduced energy consumption, better light quality output, safer + lower voltage requirements, and low temperature performance.  They last longer, too.  There’s no gap in the illumination like there is with the neon.  And with a technology like LightMark, the units are variable so you use just the right amount for the project. 

Lightmark_mcdonalds Lightscript_tsutayabig Arco_lightmark

Costing + Payback:
LEDs pay for themselves in about 2-3 years.  When a decision maker is comparing neons (or some other light source) and LEDs, it’s important to make sure that the comparison is apples-to-apples.  Use a "lifetime cost of ownership" analysis:  (1) initial purchase price + (2) initial installation costs + (3) lifetime energy usage + (4) lifetime maintenance charges.  I’d suggest two more external considerations, which aren’t factored into the lifetime cost of ownership.  First, consider the extent of liability (i.e., if neons tend to flame up at gas stations more than LEDs, there’s a tangible savings benefit [note - this may or may not be true]).  Second, consider the tax implications (i.e., state, local, or federal government offers tax credits/deductions for LED use, etc.). 

A few companies that have been incorporating this new technology include Arco, A&W, BP, McDonald’s, KalTire (Canada), Tsutaya (Japan), and Petro-Canada.  What it takes, however, is a paradigm shift from initial cost, or sticker price, to lifetime cost, and if owners aren’t making the change, the contractor should speak up and create value for the customer. 

Extra Links:
BP Case Study [TIR Systems]
LightMark + LightScript 
Energy-Efficient, LED-Based Signage [Grant Harlow - Buildings.com]

Starwood Capital Group Announces New Green Hotel: 1 Hotel + Residences

Starwood_capital_group Early last spring, I was looking into the faces of 45 bored students, giving my 4 minute business plan pitch for a trendy, green hotel concept geared specifically for young professionals ages 20-40.  I had it all laid out:  kiosk integration for mundane tasks, high customer service, green shuttle service, LEED certified hotel construction interior and exterior, teamwork style cleaning, paperless everything, free internet, slightly smaller rooms with mega-style, modern art + photographs, etc.  People were like, "I don’t know if that will work."  "What’s wrong with the Hilton or La Quinta."  Well, it looks like my instincts were right:  Starwood Capital Group announced plans to launch a new brand, "1" Hotel and Residences, as a luxury, eco-friendly global hotel brand.  The first hotels will be in Seattle (late 2008), Mammoth Lakes, Scottsdale, and Fort Lauderdale (in order of opening).   

Let’s face it, the entire industry will head this direction because hotels are levered to the cost of energy in two ways:  (1)  people travel less as transportation energy costs rise and (2) hotel’s profit margin is squeezed by the energy costs of running a building.  Up until now, most hotels haven’t really attacked this problem by looking at the entirety of the situation:  by building green hotel buildings!  So trend-setting hoteliers like Starwood are going to make money because they are operationally smart.  I’m excited about this green development.  After the initial locations, "1" will expand to New York, Los Angeles, + Washington D.C., soon thereafter.

Sustainability:
The hotels will be LEED certified in and out.  Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) will act as environmental advisor for the brand.  Each "1" location will donate 1% of its revenues to local environmental organizations.  The first four hotels, and most of the hotels, will be new construction, but Paris will be a renovation.  "1" emphasizes air and light, offering a fresh, invigorating, and alternative way to travel.  Inundated with the "richness, beauty and variety of colors, textures and materials," guests and residents (sounds like a multi-use platform) may not realize the myriad of ways that their building is stepping lightly on the earth.

Good Links:
++Starwood Plans Green Hotels [South Florida Business Journal]
++Starwood + Sternlicht Unveil Groundbreaking ’1′ Hotel Concept [Press Release]
++Starwood Capital Group [Official Website]

Jennifer Siegal, Office of Mobile Design, the Modern + Green Take Home

Take_homeQuoting Jennifer Siegal, founder of Venica, California-based Office of Mobile Design (OMD):  "I’m interested in how technology is influencing the way we form communities…because our lifestyles are demanding more lightness, our buildings shouldn’t be sitting so heavy."  Siegal was featured in the October 2006 issue of Fast Company magazine, and praised as a "fresh face from the front lines of design."  In a world where renderings are common and completed projects are not, aka, the prefab world, Siegal is really staking a claim in this ultra-stylish, sustainable chase for comfortable, affordable living. 

Fast_company_siegal

Siegal’s work includes the Mobile Eco Lab (1998), Portable House (2001), Seatrain House (2003), and the Swellhouse.  Her most recent work is a modern, modular home product line called Take Home.  Go to the website and take a gander at her captivating architecture.  You’ll find also that her work goes beyond the realm of aesthetics and mid-century modern vernacular and into sustainability.  That’s going to be where architects will make a huge difference, I believe.  In addition to that, I think OMD is taking pro-active steps to clarify the pricing of their prefabs and make modern + sustainable living more affordable.

Take_home_3 Take_home_2 Take_home_4_1

Sustainability:
Sustainability is a key issue in the design process at OMD.  Prefab presents the natural green benefit of avoiding all the construction waste that plagues stick-built construction.  With the Take Home, OMD also offers precision steel construction, high-end amenities (Italian Boffi kitchens + Duravit bathrooms), fully landscaped courtyards with pools, passive cooling systems, and AVAILABLE 100% solar power and water heating.  Also available is bamboo and radiant heated flooring.  Homes range in size from 800-5,000 square feet and cost $210-270 per square foot.  Not bad at all!

Extra Links:
Incoming! [Fast Company]
Office of Mobile Design [OMD + Prefab]
Siegal’s Desert Hot Springs Development [the take home]

The McGlasson Prefab by Alchemy Architects: Pricing, Financing, Building + Obstacles

Mcglasson_home_160k_1 The ultra-stylish bloggers at PrairieMod turned me on to a story in Kiplinger’s, which details the process that a couple went through to get their dream prefab home.  I liked this article for two reasons:  (1) they talk about the prefab process in terms of tangible, financial figures, and (2) they go through some of obstacles and intricacies particular to prefab purchasing and construction.  With many articles on prefab, authors glorify the design (which makes sense because many of them are extremely stylish) and harp on the price.  With prefab pricing, it seems that the common wisdom is that prefabs are cheap for custom-built, architect-designed homes, but they are expensive when compared to a traditional home. 

Regardless, I still believe that prefab has the power to revolutionize and commoditize site-build tasks that are wasteful, thereby producing cost savings in resource, labor, and design.  I’m brainstorming a business plan for this right now.  Here are a few points that this article makes:

  1. Mcglassons_kitchenPrefabs Require Unique Financing – as opposed to the traditional mortgage loan and its many variations, prefabs require a construction loan or a construction-to-permanent loan.  Why?  Some banks aren’t educated on the value of modular, modern, factory-built structures and they’re worried about the note collateral. 
  2. Factory versus Site Finish-outs – sometimes it may be more difficult to get contractors to do the work on site and they may charge a premium.  Depending, it could be more beneficial to get as much of the home built at the factory as possible. 
  3. Panelized versus Modular – there’s a difference.  Panelized prefabs have sections stuffed with wiring + insulation; they are trucked to the lot, more customizable, and cost a little more.  Modular prefabs are built in units of entire rooms or bigger and can be constrained by highway travel (12 x 12 x up to 64?).  Modular prefabs are likely to be less expensive. 
  4. Pricing – prefabs are 20-30% cheaper than custom homes designed by the same architect, but they’re more expensive than tract-type, suburban homes. 
  5. GIVEN – prefabs are not on the same planet as manufactured homes. 

The McGlasson Home:  Pricing
The McGlassons purchased an Alchemy Architects plan for a 780 square feet prefab.  Alchemy outsourced the construction to a Wisconsin manufacturing factory (6 weeks).  The actual home:  $95,000.  Delivery + crane costs:  $6,000.  Contractors connected the house wiring to the grid, dug a well, and did the finish-outs:  $59,000.  Total cost:  $160,000 (including fixtures + appliances, not including land).  Not bad. 

Extra Links:
Fabulous Prefabs:  Save $ With an Upscale Dwelling [Kiplinger's]
Wrap it Up + Make it Home (10 Popular Prefabs Comparison) [Kiplinger's]

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