Home Design + Construction, Consumer Environmentalism + Corporate Sustainability (WIR)

Week in Review
  1. Why is new housing so big and lousy?  Why do builders build these homes? 
  2. Despite unwavering focus by the media, government and business, "going green" is only of moderate concern to most consumers, according to a recent research study.
  3. There is a reason why homes rot (hint: it has to do with much more than age). 
  4. Shades of Green – with more large companies going green, the entire industry is under scrutiny. 

Boulder's Green Hickory Home by VaST

Hickory Home

This green home was built in 2003, so it’s not anything new in particular, but I wanted to share some of the green concepts the homeowners worked through during process of building it.  First, the owners, Brandy LeMae + Joseph Vigil, purchased an odd-shaped lot near a well-traveled road for $157k.  It was rather cheap, with some lots in Boulder costing nearly $400k, so the design would have to solve the noise and space problem.  Second, they wanted a green home on a budget.  In the end, they were able to build the Hickory House for about $91 psf.  There’s an excellent article from Dwell about their process, but I’m going to explain a little below.

The owners raved about structural insulated panels, or SIPs, which went up quickly, were cut to size, allowed for minimal waste, and helped to defray the costs of the project.  They also used Forbo natural linoleum countertops, radiant heating in the concrete floors, and denim by-product cotton insulation.  LeMae + Vigil tried to keep the design simple — the more complicated the design is, the less money there is to go towards green things (check out VaST’s 3 Design Strategies to Build Green + Save Money).  Vigil also designed a foot-wide concrete-block wall stuffed with foam insulation for the west side of the house.  By doing this, he was able to block out noise from the road and provide shading for the home.  They finished up with some interior design straight from IKEA and were happy with the final product.  Looks great from this angle.  More images below. 

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Former AOL CEO to Build Costa Rican Eco-Resort

Cacique Costa Rica

Steve Case, the former CEO, Chairman, and co-founder of AOL, recently announced the launch of his new company, Revolution, which will build a sustainable resort, Cacique – Costa Rica, in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.  I saw the press release and asked the PR department for some images of the resort … needless to say, the above is all I received.  So I think we’re in the very beginning stages of planning.  One thing is for sure: that’s a beautiful island with lots of trees.  Wouldn’t it just be incredible to sit there and chill out … take in the vibe … enjoy it the crystal clear water?  Cacique – Costa Rica will feature high-end, luxury services and amenities with a focus on intelligent, environmentally friendly designs that reduce energy and water demand and take advantage of spatial, wind, and solar patterns to maximize natural ventilation, shade, and daylight.  Fairly general information, I know, but we’ll keep it on our green resort watch.  See the press release

Denver's 2020 Lawrence – Green + Affordable?

2020 Lawrence

2020 Lawrence breaks ground early next year, but it’s already making headlines.  With prices ranging from $290k-$800k, 20 of the 60 units have been pre-sold.  But there’s a compelling financial scenario lurking in the numbers of this $20 million development:  buyers that go with the 2-kw photovoltaic system will get a quarter point break on the 30 year mortgage (assuming buyer’s go with Countrywide Financial).  The result is that it becomes cheaper to buy a unit with the pv system, than without the system.  Nice. 

Additionally, 2020 Lawrence will be built to LEED silver certification and will be the first condo community in the region to receive a Near-Zero Energy Home designation.  As far as green amenities, 2020 Lawrence will have dual-flush toilets, sustainable hardwood floors, reserved hybrid vehicle parking, and rooftop solar power, to name a few.  Via BGTV

Best Buy to Build Only LEED Certified Stores

Best Buy

It looks like Best Buy is upping its green cred with the recent announcement that starting in early- to mid-2008, all future Best Buy stores will be built to LEED standards.  In all honesty, the retail sector has been kind of slow to adopt programs such as LEED.  But this is starting to change.  Best Buy has the in-house architect and senior facilities manager working on getting LEED accredited right now.  Additionally, the company plans to get its eco-prototype store certified by the end of the year.  The eco-prototype will have energy-efficient lighting, rainwater recycling, recycled content building materials, a high-efficiency HVAC system, and some sort of day lighting system.

Best Buy’s greening will go beyond the new stores also.  Before the end of the fiscal year, it plans to increase its use of reusable containers by 30 percent; retrofit 20 percent of its 650+ stores with dimmable, zonable ceramic metal halide lights; and recycle 75,000 tons of cardboard, 1,800 tons of plastic, 15,000 tons of consumer electronics, and 27,500 tons of appliances.  Via MBJ

Scientists Suspect Sprawl Destroyed Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat Temple Model

The implications of this research are unbelievable.  Seriously.  I’ve written about the ten common problems associated with sprawl previously, but this story opens up the discussion again.  Angkor Wat is the home of a magnificent temple in Cambodia and was the center to one of the largest cities in the pre-industrialized world.  Recently, NASA used ground-sensing radar to study the extent of the city and found that it took up approximately 400 square miles.  In comparison, Phoenix sprawls across about 500 square miles, not including the suburbs.  The research revealed a complex network of canals, 1,000 man-made ponds, and roughly 70 long-lost temples.  The canals carried and distributed water towards the temple and through the south of Angkor.  Interestingly, the study also revealed evidence of breaches in dykes and areas where they attempted to fix the canals. 

What’s most interesting is the idea that Angkor’s increasingly intricate and complex system of canals might have been too expensive and difficult to maintain.  So, there was an elaborate infrastructure that might have run into disrepair … which possibly contributed to the downfall of Angkor?  This is very interesting research.  Apply that to our situation and query whether the issues we have with the levees in New Orleans or the bridge in Minnesota parallel the situation in Angkor.  Do we have an infrastructure, fueled by sprawl and fractional planning, that is too expensive to maintain? 

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