Green Building Throwback: Landscaping Common Sense

Colonial_home I was reading an article somewhere that said one could increase a home’s value by planting trees and properly landscaping the grounds.  Ostensibly, there are two reasons for this:  first, trees and landscaping can make a house look good, and second, they take time and care to grow, so mature landscaping illustrates the care a homeowner gives to their residence.  (Aside: this reason is akin to buying a 3 year-old vehicle from a retired person that only put 15,000 miles on it and stored it in the garage.)  But if we pay attention to history, there is a third reason–one that affects a home’s livability and monthly costs.  Proper landscaping can provide cooling for the interior. 

I came across this old Philadelphia, Pennsylvania statute from about 1672 that I think applies: 

Springfield_colonial_homeEvery owner or inhabitant of any and every house in Philadelphia, Newcastle and Chester shall plant one or more tree or trees, viz., pines, unbearing mulberries, water poplars, lime or other shady and wholesome trees before the door of his, her or their house and houses, not exceeding eight feet from the front of the house, and preserving the same, to the end that the said town may be well shaded from the violence of the sun in the heat of summer and thereby rendered more healthy

We’re talking about a time when people didn’t have air conditioning or electricity.  Sure, they lived differently and had different lifestyles, but I like to think they wanted to stay cool when they could.  So landscaping can have a dramatic effect on the interior temperature of your home.  Well-shaded homes requires less air conditioning and that cuts back on your electricity/energy bills.  Proper landscape planning will allow you to maximize natural light and minimize violent sun rays.  And this is important to healthy home living. 

Skyscraper Sunday: SOM, Green Skycraper Firm of the Year

Jinao_tower_nanjing_1There’s just no stopping Skidmore, Owings + Merrill.  They are the (as nominated by Jetson Green) Green Skyscraper Firm of the Year.  I blogged about them in regards to the zero energy Pearl River Tower, which absolutely blows me away.  Have you seen the thing?  I also blogged about them on 9/11 because they designed the green Freedom Tower, which is going to be an architectural beacon of freedom and innovation for decades in the future.  When it comes to sustainability and architectural excellence in skyscapers, SOM is the number one firm.  That’s hands down. 

SOM has an enormous portfolio of work in China and they are working on over 15 skyscraper projects there right now.  Interestingly, it’s easier to be innovative in China because the climate lends itself to such behavior.  Firms in the US are reluctant to take on commercial/security risk.  They don’t want to tick off neighbors or trade unions either.  China on the other hand wants to push the envelope.  They have cheap materials and a desire to build green structures.  They are a command economy, so there’s not much public outcry, even if the building is outlandish.  Plus, global recognition helps their situation.  I get heaps of search queries on my blog everyday for a post I did on the Pearl River Tower–that’s global recognition.   

Nanjing_jinling_hotel_1 Nanjing_greenland Shenzhen_avic_plaza

I’ve included some pictures of buildings that SOM has designed for construction in China.  There’s too much to say about each, but one thing should be noted, however:  these buildings are all going to be done in 2007-2008.  There’s a quick turnaround time in China–they have the attitude to get things done.  Notice the delay for buildings like this in the United States and query whether that has anything to do with (in comparison) innovation, politics, determination, or drive.

Nanjing Greenland will have irregularly-spaced slots for green space that "march vertically up the facade."  Jinao Tower will be built with less steel than a traditional skyscraper.  It will be built around a diagonal grid bracing system (similar to the one used for Hearst Tower of New York).  Jinao Tower also features a double-skinned surface for solar shading and insulation.  Each SOM buildling is chock full of innovation. 

Extra Links:
SOM Company Site
Not Innovative?  SOM’s Skyscraper Projects in China Tell a Different Story [Architectural Record]

Green Renovation 101: Herd Theory Approach

Aia_study_popular_feature_graph_2 You’re thinking about selling your house within the next year and want to make some changes to add legitimate value to the place.  You really want to differentiate your home from other similar homes within a mile (or so), but you don’t know how to do it.  Plus, analysts are talking about how the market is overvalued and house prices may drop–the temperature is rising with the increasing tension in house prices, interest rates, and hold-out buyers.  Well, there’s a report out called "High Energy Costs Inspire New Features in Homes," prepared by American Institute of Architects (AIA) Chief Economist Kermit Baker, PhD, Hon. AIA.  I think this is an excellent source of information. 

Efficiency gains can be found in low-tech or high-tech renovations.  With concerns over high energy prices, one of the most popular renovations, according to the study, was to place extra insulation in the attic.  A cooler roof + attic lessens the burden on your air conditioner in the home.  Also, some other features that declined in popularity were larger hallways/increased circulation and upscale entryways.  These features add space (and energy requirements) to the home but they don’t add any usable space.  If I were building a new house, these statistics would be really important to the design of my house, especially if I were considering selling the place at anytime in the distant future. 

Aia_study_popular_products_1 The study also pointed out home products that are gaining in popularity.  As you can see, the most popular products were those that manage energy consumption and have low maintenance.  The "energy efficient" category includes items such as triple glazed windows.  Notice the popularity of the tankless water heater and water saving devices.  Lots of cities are feeling the crunch of water shortages…it’s nice not to be tied to "hog"-style use of water and electricity.

Look at this study as a trend barometer that lays out what people most demand and will soon come to be expected in future houses.  If you want to replace the water heater and happen to have some extra cash, get the tankless–they have tax incentives for those things and it’s not that bad of an investment.  Homebuilders will catch on to these trends and moving forward, all houses will come standard with energy-efficient features. 

Application:
If you want to sell, get on board and bring your home up to par with features that people want.  It’ll make the broker’s job that much easier.

Extra Links:
Remodeling: Going "Green" May Not Save Green [Residential Architect]
More Home Markets "extremely" Overvalued [CNNMoney.com]

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