LivingHomes Combines Style + Sustainability

Livinghomes

LivingHomes Founder Steve Glenn has knocked the socks off the eco-conscious world with his modern homes that emphasize beauty + environment.  As I’ve been thinking about how I want to blog about this company, I’ve noticed a flurry of posts and press releases regarding this Ray Kappe-designed abode that was just awarded LEED-H Platinum.  It’s such an incredible home, with that undeniable confluence of modern and sustainability.  Hard to beat that. 

This is the first residential building to receive the USGBC’s Platinum LEED-H rating and it’s raising the bar for residential construction: zero energy, zero water, zero waste, zero carbon, and zero emissions. LivingHomes received a total of 91 out of a total possible 109 points, to barely skirt past the 90 point threshold required to obtain a Platinum rating.  It will be 80% more efficient than similar sized home and was constructed with 75% less waste than a traditional one.

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Mini-Wind Turbines: Case Study on Payback, Breakeven, & Pricing

Archwind

I recently ran across an article in BuildingGreen.com about a new wind turbine concept. A company based in Monrovia, California, called AeroVironment has created “turbines on a parapet.” These 400-watt turbines are made to be placed in a row, attached to the parapet of a building. The AVX400 turbine, which will be commercially released in the Fall 2006, can come with a canopy—designed to protect birds. To give you an idea of the actual size, the rotors for these fans are 4 feet in diameter and install side-by-side on 6 foot centers.

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Bamboo, Too

Bamboo-forest

Grist Magazine wrote about being bamboozled, Dwell talked about bamboo in this month’s article, and Green Source mentioned it recently as well.  Quoted in Dwell in reference to a person’s choice of flooring, Eric Corey Freed said, “Guilt is no way to approach environmentalism. You shouldn’t feel guilty. What you should do is question where the wood for your floor comes from.”  In any event, since everyone is talking about bamboo, I thought I would add a few thoughts. 

When I visited China in May, I was amazed by the labyrinth-work of bamboo used as scaffolding for workers laboring away on huge buildings. From what I understand, curious observers from around the world have visited China to study their method of scaffolding. The bamboo is strong, yet forgiving, and it’s easy to set up, take down, and re-use.

When it comes to green building, bamboo is often referenced with regards to flooring. Bamboo flooring can contribute towards LEED certification, but should it? EcoTimber sells the stuff that they harvest from plantations. It’s good because it grows in various climates and takes about four to six years to be ready-to-use. EcoTimber makes its bamboo flooring with low-VOC finishes, but not all bamboo floor makers do that, so watch out!  To quote Mr. Freed, people take bamboo and finish it with that “nasty oil-based toxic lacquer.” So what’s the purpose of using bamboo?

Bamboo has a quick harvest life and it makes economic, business sense for bamboo sellers. Being a bamboo grower wouldn’t be that bad of a gig. It’s quick, cheap, and multiplies like rabbits—especially when compared to the slow poke tree. Bamboo is easier to replace than a tree, and in some ways, it’s better than a tree. It’s stronger. Often, the end product comes directly from the cheap manufacturing country of China (cheap being a reference to cost, not necessarily the quality). And therein lies the rub.

The amazing eco-grass, bamboo, travels half-way across the globe before it finalizes in the floor of your nice, elegant, modern, new, sustainable, LEED certified home or LEED-platinum office building. Feels good right? Depends.

Here’s what you should start thinking about: Your purchase of bamboo includes a transportation and carbon premium. Built into the price of bamboo is the cost of shipping and transporting bamboo half-way across the globe. So a slice of the price includes payment for oil, gas, and/or coal, depending on the transportation methods.

How’s that for being green? To me, it conflicts with one of sustainable movement’s basic tenets—acquire materials locally. If you’re importing the materials from half-way across the globe, how are you supposed to be ecologically responsible?  There needs to be local farms growing the stuff; with our American ingenuity, someone has to be able to make bamboo floors locally for less than the Chinese (considering they’re paying for shipping, too).

Good Links to Read:
[+]  Wikipedia on Bamboo
[+]  Bamboo of the Americas
[+]  American Bamboo Society
[+]  Environmental Bamboo Foundation
[+]  A Thousand Uses of Bamboo

Pearl River Tower, Guangzhou, China

Pearl River Tower This is the architectural rendering of a building designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; it is planned to be 71 stories, 2.2 million square feet, and have a "net" zero-energy footprint. The building is designed to use wind turbines, radiant slabs, microturbines, geothermal heat sinks, ventilated facades, waterless urinals, integrated photovoltaics, condensate recovery, and daylight responsive controls. I first noticed mention of this incredible project in an article of Architectural Record Magazine.

According to Roger Frechette, director of MEP Sustainable Engineering at SOM, Chicago, the building’s facade was designed "to accelerate the wind as it moved through the opening in the building." Power potential is the cube of wind velocity, and SOM initially estimated that the design would increase wind velocity to 1.5 times ambient wind speeds. Actually, models tested wind speeds of up to 2.5 times ambient wind speeds in some cases. In translation: the building design could generate power 15 times greater than a "freestanding" turbine.

According to a PR Newswire article, groundbreaking is set for July 2006 (which I’m not sure if this happened or not) and occupancy in fall 2009. In addition to the wind energy concept, the building will be designed with avant-garde solar technology to capture solar rays for conversion into energy.

So what are the benefits of a modern, sustainable commercial office building? First, the building looks amazing! Second, it can be an experiment and model for future buildings. Third, buildings that are built to be sustainable, or energy independent, are better. They are not dependent on the grid. They aren’t levered to the cost of grid energy (such as the price of coal, nuclear energy, or even other alternative sources provided into the grid). They leave a lighter footprint on the earth and its atmosphere–zero energy buildings are the epitome of natural resource frugality. Fourth, it can be healthier to live in. Fifth, it will create attention and draw tenants for publicity and other reasons. Sixth, the operating costs of this type of building are optimized and likely to be minimal when compared to non-sustainable buildings. Etc. Etc.

This building is a step in the right direction for commercial building design. I hope more and more buidings of this caliber can be transplanted all over the United States. Through sustainable design, countries can place themselves in a position to be less reliant on natural resource providing countries. As we’ve seen with the oil situation, that can be a big-time jam. Sustainable building–commercial and residential–is the road we should be taking.

Extra Links:
+World Architecture News

+Business Week/Architectural Record

Tower of (Solar) Power – EnviroMission

Enviromission_2 A few years ago, my brother sent me an email link to a couple hundred acres of land in the middle of Nowhere, Nevada. Seriously, it was the ugliest land in the world with no development—no lines, no fences, no roads? I told him that there was a reason the land there was selling for such a cheap price, and while I couldn’t put my finger it, I’m sure there was a real good one (like aliens or nuclear waste dumping). He said, “don’t be dumb, dude, land’s land, there’s always value in it.” Well, not really, but I’m starting to think this land might have been a good deal. Here’s why…

EnviroMission is on the verge—it’s tested and ready to go—of breaking ground on the world’s first commercial solar tower power station. Todd Woody from Business 2.0, did an awesome article on this technology. It’s so serious that a half-mile tall solar tower is in planning for China and EnviroMission is hunting for land in the Southwestern United States.

Here are some of the pluses: (1) there’s no fuel (no exploration, transport, disposal, smog, or landscaping costs), (2) you can put it in the desert and it will be perfect—no one will live out there anyway, (3) the primary cost is in the initial development as operating costs are minimal, (4) it produces enough energy to power 100,000 homes sans pollution or planet-warming gases, (5) as compared to wind farms, the sun is more consistent (in the right locations), and (6) a large version of the tower could produce energy for the same cost (or better) as conventional power plants. Oh yeah, it looks good, too.

Enviromission The cool thing about this technology is its potential to be disruptive. When you consider the costs of using coal, you can’t just think in terms of the purchase price (if you’re a commercial entity, the government, or public person). Why? Because there are hidden costs associated with things like coal: smog, mining deaths/accidents/health concerns, and transportation costs. With China and Australia on board with the solar tower, the global supply for other varieties of energy increases. They stop using coal as much as before. Ex: if China uses the solar tower instead of coal, then there’s more coal for other people to use. Coal will then get cheaper to use for those people that can’t use/afford the solar tower (or other alternative energy). My economics might be a little jacked, but I still think this will be an interesting business to follow.

Extra Links:
+Solar Mission Technologies, Inc.

+Wentworth Shire Council Solar Tower Web Page

+19th World Energy Congress, Sydney, Australia, September 5-9, 2004

Hollywood Green v. Jetson Green

The-green-store

Funny right?! You know it’s true. I saw this happening with “organic” foods early on. Still happens. Words like “organic” and “green” have several meanings, depending on the person using the word. When organic food providers first came on the scene, it seemed to me that they were the ones truly converted to the concept and necessity of eating organic. Let’s just say they were the hard-core of organic food supporters. The extremists. Soon other people realized that the word “organic,” when affixed to products, had the power to command a price premium. So what happened? Everyone else capitalized big time!  With various "organic" levels, sometimes, it's hard to figure out what's really organic and what's met the organic standard.  Green building will be similar in all likelihood.  Be careful not to get caught up in standards because the product is what's important. 

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