Articles - April, 2007

Talking Small Wind with AWEA; House + Senate Mull Small-Wind Tax Credit Legislation

Awea

I love blogging, I really do.  Blogging enables me to connect with and learn from some really smart people.  For example, last week I posted that I’d be in Washington, D.C., and I received a flood of suggestions and ideas for enjoying the greener side of the city.  My friends at Edelman (Tristan + Kate) lined up a meeting with small-wind expert, Ron Stimmel, at the American Wind Energy Association’s Headquarters.  It was awesome.  I was able to sit down with Ron and talk about a pretty big development in the small-wind industry right now. 

Recently, Senators Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) and Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) introduced legislation ("Rural Wind Energy Development Act" (S. 673)) that would allow purchasers of a small wind system to receive a credit on their taxes for a portion of the turbine’s total cost, or $1,500 per 1/2 kW of capacity.  The five year credit would apply to all wind systems with capacities of under 100 kW used to power homes, farms or small businesses.  The same day I was in town, a similar version of this legislation was also introduced in the House, H.R. 1772, by Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Tom Cole (R-Okla.).  According to current estimates, small wind is suitable for about 15M homes and 1M businesses in America.  If you want to get involved, Stimmel recommends calling your representative and asking them to co-sponsor the legislation.  Get it moving. 

According to Stimmel, "This would be the first federal incentive in 20 years to help individuals – homeowners, farmers, and small business owners – buy a small wind turbine."  I asked him about some of the hurdles the industry is going through and he was positive about the direction small wind is going.  Small wind needs reputable companies manufacturing the turbines and installers need to be well-trained to make sure the turbines get the best wind.  Maybe in the near future, there could be some type of certification system for installing small wind, which could be a significant boost to the technology.  At least for the moment, having these tax credits puts small wind within reach for many homeowners, farmers, and small business owners that could desperately use the technology.

More Than Another Prefab: Muji Prefab

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My values and beliefs were partially created through my experience living in Japan.  I like minimalist.  I like clean, sharp lines.  I like modern.  I like small, but functional.  I appreciate that a grain of rice means something, especially when times are tough.  And this is why I’m excited to hear the news of Muji coming to America.  Technically Mujirushi Ryohin, roughly translated as no-name quality goods, is the full name.  Muji is coming to the US to influence consumers that dig the no-brand, minimalist style sans in-your-face product identifiers.  I wear shirts inside out just so the brand doesn’t show sometimes, so I’m looking forward to seeing what they have to offer.   

Muji has 387 outlets in 15 countries, including 34 stores in Europe.  America is next on their expansion plans with a store starting in Manhattan, and the possibility of stores to follow in Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco.  Muji sells all sorts of stuff, such as socks, a front-loading washer/dryer combo, cardboard speakers, aluminum business card holders, and even a line of prefab homes (starting at $115,000).  Not all their products are green, but they are of the modern aesthetic.  Choose wisely, I say.  Also, we’ll have to wait and see, but I’ve heard rumors that their stuff isn’t cheap.  Some people compare them to IKEA, but with a Japanese flavor.  Let’s see how the Manhattan opening goes.  See BusinessWeek + Muji (Japanese). 

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Would You Buy a Home from IKEA? Payments Accepted at Front Register.

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I’m asking because if you have an Ikea, you may be one of the next cities to have their prefab home product.  Maybe in 5, 10, 15 years, but it looks possible.  Over the past decade, Ikea has teamed up with Swedish construction company Skanska to build a home that was light, well-planned, functional, and furnished with natural materials.  That home, the BoKlok, which is Swedish for "smart living," has become Ikea’s big idea.  After building about 3,500 BoKlok homes across Scandinavia, Ikea has decided to expand and create a British BoKlok development with about 36 flats in St. James Village, Gateshead (UK).  After that, they’ll add another 60 homes. 

BoKlok Homes are timber-framed, almost entirely pre-fabricated, and brought onto the site in pre-assembled units on the back of a truck.  After transport, put on the roof + siding, install the plumbing + wiring, and that’s about it.  BoKloks usually come in a two-floor, L-shaped configuration with three apartments on each floor.  Early on, Ikea sold the BloKlok from the store, but they were so popular that people were camping out to get them.  Now, Ikea chooses residents using a random lottery.  Yes, I just wrote that.  Demand is so big, there’s a lottery to choose residents.  I can’t believe this, but it goes to show that there really is a problem with the lower portion of the economic pyramid being served with quality products.

Maybe I’ll get around to converting these figures, but for now, I’ll give you the original metrics so the data is accurate.  The houses planned for Gateshead cost about £120,000 – £150,000.  Ikea priced the units specifically to target households earning roughly £15,000 – £30,000 a year, and they’re excited to have a modern, environmentally-friendly, affordable living space.  One bedroom flats are about 46 square meters and two bedroom flats are 58 square meters.  Residents are expected to move in towards the end of 2007 or in early 2008.  I wonder when we’ll see these in the U.S.?  See also Guardian

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Throwback: Henry David Thoreau on Small Living

Hdt Recently, I wrote an article for another website (full disclosure: I decided to stop writing for this website) called, "What’s the Deal with Big Green Homes?"  The article lead to some good comments and discussion, but I’ve been nagged by some thoughts that were in the comments.  Two of the homes that were discussed in the article were very green by almost all green measures except that of size: one was 4,700+ sf and the other 6,000+ sf.  I readily admit the superior green amenities and features of each home, but here’s a portion of my argument:

Think about all the materials that went into such a behemoth. In many ways, big a** homes represent the unsustainability of gross commercialization and over-consumption. Good old fashioned American waste. If you’re the Cheaper by the Dozen family, a big house might be necessary. Otherwise, big does not equal green.

One of the entrepreneurs of this green website disagreed stating, "if it’s Green, go as Big as you can and want."  I don’t understand this line of thinking because for this to be logical, a green home would have to have absolutely zero impact.  But there’s always an impact, even if it’s managed or negligible or offset or balanced.  There’s always an impact, even if it’s the impact of taking something that could go to someone else. 

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Skyscraper Sunday: 1180 Peachtree, One Symphony Center

Symphony_main_1 The subject of this week’s Skyscraper Sunday is the striking 1180 Peachtree in Atlanta, Georgia.  Designed by Pickard Chilton Architects, 1180 Peachtree rises 41-stories with a 119-foot lighted veil at the top.  It was also one of the first offices nationally to receive LEED-CS Silver pre-certification for its use of recycled materials, encouragement of alternative transportation, minimization of environmental impact by sourcing materials locally, and attention to using no- or low-VOC adhesives, sealants, and carpets.  Developed by Hines, the building has vegetation on the roof to absorb rainwater, store it in underground storage, and use for landscaping (eliminating the need for city water).  With about 670,000 sf of office + 35,000 sf of retail, this building is a gem in the Atlanta market.  In the middle of 2006, the local real estate community did a double take when 1180 Peachtree sold for $400 per sf.  Some people said this was part of a trend (good office market in Atlanta, lots of capital, etc.), but I think the selling price was a reflection of the excellence of the property.  It’s a flagship, a trophy property, a green property.  Green properties are (1) new, (2) well-designed, (3) easy to lease, and (4) fit well with all companies.  It’s not hard to sell an amazing, great-looking, stabilized asset with low vacancy. 

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