Twenty teams have been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy to compete in the 2007 Solar Decathlon, which takes place in Washington D.C. from October 12-20, 2007. As part of the competition, teams are challenged to design, build, and operate the most attractive, energy-efficient solar-powered home. Using only energy from the sun and with an eye towards modern design, teams meticulously choose the products and materials that go into their home. Interestingly, at least five teams, including MIT, UT-Austin, U. of Maryland, U. of Cincinnati, and Lawrence Technological University, are using the Warmboard Radiant Subfloor system. I’ve noticed the increasing use of Warmboard in several green projects, so I thought I would do a small post on the subject.
When I was growing up, if there was an errant light or something on, my dad would take my brothers and sisters into the room and say something like, "kids, this light isn’t going to turn itself off and it isn’t free to keep on either." Needless to say, I learned to turn things off at a young age. To make this process easier, two pieces of technology aim to eliminate the need to micro-manage electronics in your home.
There’s the GreenSwitch and the House-Off Switch. The premise of each is that there’s a singular switch that turns off all non-essential electronic items that have been set up to the switch. The designer of the House-Off Switch (pictured top left) is Jack Godfrey Wood, who is based in London (and I’m not sure whether his concept is being marketed at this point). The GreenSwitch (pictured top right) is the real deal and is supported by our favorite green expert, Ed Begley Jr.
Here’s how the GreenSwitch works. The central switch controls all the slave components that have been set up and home installation takes about an hour. There are 4 simple pieces you may use: (1) master switch, (2) thermostat control, (3) slave wall switches, and (4) outlets. You decide what you have a tendency to leave on or which areas are vampires and install the proper piece at that position. The relay between the master and slave is wireless, microchip-controlled radio frequency (RF) based communication, so there’s no getting in the attic with wires, etc. And as a side note, according to the Department of Energy, 10-15% of the what you pay for on your energy bill is from stand-by or phantom power, so to the extent that you can trim that down, you’re saving money. Basic Kit MSRPs for $1125.00.
Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of discussing the phenomenon of container housing with David Cross, Chief Business Development Officer for SG Blocks LLC. SG Blocks, short for Safe and Green, is a sustainable building system made from containers. Going beyond the trendy fascination with exposed container architecture design–modern, industrial, and extremely good looking, in my opinion, SG Blocks intends to use containers as a fundamental component to building construction. A container home doesn’t necessarily have to look like a container home (that’s up to you), but it can have all the same advantages: comfortable, strong, green, and affordable.
The home you see above is an example of container modules being used on a traditional home as a framing system. From the outside or inside, you’re not going to know that it was built with container modules. The cost of framing a home built with SG Blocks is about $22-30 psf, which is roughly comparable to other forms of construction. BUT did you know that recycling containers into steel beams takes nearly 8,000 kW of energy at a cost of roughly $800? Rather, it takes about 400 kW of energy to turn containers into a home. At about 5% of the energy when compared to straight recycling, that’s not bad. And right now, SG Blocks is in the process of rolling out their building system nationally.
PieceHomes is a new modern prefab offering by Davis Studio Architecture + Design, set to debut in about a week at Dwell on Design. Notice the interesting tagline — "pH: for a balanced home." Nice. PieceHomes plans to distinguish itself among the pack by providing custom and standardized, modern, modular architecture that is green and affordable. With a variety of home designs taking shape, pieceHomes will be available this fall and manufactured by XtremeHomes. Take a gander at the website and some of the home designs. I’m particularly intrigued by the Container House, 3×4, and Solar Passage (all pictured in this post). Like many prefabs, pieceHomes also will be designed to incorporate solar panels, green roofs, and other environmental features that fit home site conditions. It’ll be nice to see some of these renderings in real life.
It looks like construction on the WIRED Livinghome began this morning and there’s a webcam documenting the process. There’s an archive of stills at frequent intervals, so you can click over and view the entire process from the beginning (or every thing that’s been completed so far). All the main parts are supposed to be complete by September 7, and we’ll be able to get a pretty good picture of what the final home will look like. Also, if you’re interested in green prefab, the official WIRED LivingHome website, which fully launches on September 25, has some videos on deconstruction and factory-built homes.