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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]

Contemporary Furniture: Going Green with Exceptionally Designed Bicycle Parts

S2_modulus_diningoffice_chair This isn’t just some ordinary, run-of-the-mill furniture, slapped together with no thought for the environment, comfort, or design.  Andy Gregg founded Bike Furniture Design in the 90s with the seminal, original bike chair.  Since then, his collection has grown to include bar stools, high-quality tables, loveseats, and more chairs.  While his furniture is made primarily from recycled steel and aluminum bicycle rims, handlebars, and frames, his collection has grown to include parts from other transportation industries such as trains and planes. 

Again, this stuff isn’t slapped together, it’s pretty darn close to artwork.  Upholstery options include leather, rubber, cork, clear + colored acrylic, and vinyl.  And his business is starting to reach a tipping point.  In 2004, revenue picked up enough to allow Gregg to focus on the business.  Growing demand has pushed him to explore the use of new materials, and he keeps coming up with great pieces.  This can be attributed to his art and mechanics background.  So if you have an idea in mind, I’m sure he’d be able to crank it out (no pun intended). 

S2_swivel_barstool_1Milano_lounge_chair_1S2_bar_table

Extra Links:
Fortune Small Business Article
Silicon Valley’s The Wave Magazine Article
HGTV "I Want That!" Episode #313

ScrapHouse Illustrates Re-use, Recycle, Repurpose Principles (aka Innovation)

Scraphouse The ScrapHouse is a "temporary demonstration home, blitz-built using scrap and salvaged material."  I looks really cool…so cool, you’d probably bid for it on ebay if you saw it.  What?  It’s not on ebay; it doesn’t exist anymore.  But it was built so cheap, you’d think it could be listed.  Buy it Now Price: under $2,000.  When you think about a 1,000 square foot house, you don’t think about building one for $2,000.  That’s exactly what a "rockstar team of local artists, engineers, architects, city officials, and builders" did in association with Public Architecture and ScrapHouse in SFC. 

Reuse is the operative word with this architectural feat.  It was built with materials collected from salvage yards, dumps, and waste piles at active construction sites.  Now, materials DO tend to walk away at construction sites, but from what I understand, there was no five-finger discounting involved with this process.  In all honesty, new building construction (non-LEED structures) generate tons of waste and scrap, and a lot of it can be used for a different project or purpose, depending on the necessity.  Again, another ebay concept applies:  "one person’s junk is another person’s treasure." 

Scraphouse_rending Of course, they used Energy Star appliances inside and low- to no-VOC/formaldehyde free materials in the furniture and paint, etc.  The key take away point is that we need to think outside the box and get creative about using already existing materials (junk that’s in abundance) in nascent, healthy ways.  That doesn’t necessarily mean you live swap-meet-style (not that that’s a bad thing), but it does mean that re-purposed, recycled stuff can be modern and swank.  We just need to get creative about finding that stuff.

Extra Links:
ScrapHouse Official Press Release 5/31/2006
Inhabitat Blog Post About Documentary Premiere

1920s San Antonio Industrial Compound Converted into Eco + Modern Residence

Lakeflato_architects_home Every project is different and depending on the circumstances, one will have a bevy of options to choose from to move forward with a green plan.  Some projects need to be torn down.  Some projects can be renovated and greened.  It depends on the economics, politics, and persuasions of all parties involved.  In this case, San Antonio architects, Lake/Flato, decided to reuse this industrial compound’s existing footprint to renovate the place into a green + modern residence, otherwise known as the Dog Team Too Loft + Studio. 

The house is well-positioned to receive natural light, so the energy requirements for lighting are minimal.  The architects used fritted panes for windows, which is glass covered with tons of tiny ceramic dots that let in light and maintain a semblance of privacy.  The glass is similar to using something like light-transmitting blinds because it allows lower-intensity light into the interior, but it also reduces the heat gain, which translates into savings for not having to use the A/C as much. 

Lakeflato_stairs Lakeflato_living_room_2 Lakeflato_saw_tooth_2

The original roof was lost due to a fire, so the saw-tooth roof visible in the above picture covers the entire residence.  Some of the interior walls are plaster, and their high sand content keeps the indoor air cool.  The architects also used various cheap, but creative, items to finish out the interior.  They used galvanized stair treads ($3 each) and treated the floor with crankcase oil from a nearby lube shop.  The interior dining room window was scrap from another project that the firm was doing, so it was put to perfect re-use.  The Lake/Flato architects definitely prove that re-use can be the perfect option when deciding what to do with that run down place.  Source via Metropolitan Home

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