If you’ve heard of the Husten-Haskin house (mentioned in NYTimes + SF Chronicle), then you’ve heard of the architect behind the the Vital House prefab: Erin Vali of Ulterior Mode. The Vital House is designed to be both economical (1,500 sq-ft. at $300,000) and eco-friendly. Practically speaking, the firm is Brooklyn-based, so this prefab design will serve the east coast, at least in the near short-term, but this four-bedroom model was designed to adapt to virtually any location. The prefab utilizes solar-power and passive heating during the winter (with double-height walls on the south + east orientation). It also has water-filled tanks placed on the south + east spaces, which absorb radiant energy and distribute it through the house. Interestingly, construction is raised slightly off the ground, which accommodates both flat and sloped land sites. Another benefit of raised construction is that wind + air can cool the home. Some of the other specifics on the Vital House are still in flux, but I think this is a good start.
This is a building I saw first on Archidose. Since the website project description is in Dutch, it’s hard to get specific information on this building, but I’ll share what I’ve been able to get translated. Urban Cactus is a project of the Rotterdam-based architectural office UCX Architects, founded by Ben Huygen + Jasper Jagers. It will have 98 residential units on 19 floors, and because the project abuts the harbor, the architects chose to give the building a more green, natural feel (rather than the urban feel common to neighboring architecture). I’m thinking that this layout provides an interesting mixture of sunlight + shade with the perfect amount of green space that is usually lacking in most vertical high-rise buildings.
Recently, I blogged about Jennifer Siegal and Office of Mobile Design (OMD) and wanted follow up because I found this video of her Venice, California show house. It’s a short, 2-minute video packed with modern + green information and mentions the following products: Japanese recycled grass board called "Kirei" (Japanese for pretty or beautiful), radiant heating ceiling panels called "People Heaters," the in-wall iPod sound system called iPort, energy-efficient appliances by Sub-zero, a tank-less water heater, and industrial-grade flooring in the bathroom to withstand heavy use. Take a look at some of these products if you’re doing a renovation and enjoy the video if you’re interested in modern + green prefab.
On September 20, 2006, Cincinnati City Council took a bold step to pass an ordinance, at the motion of council members Laketa Cole and Chris Bortz, that provides tax and $ incentives to residential and commercial developers that build or rehab structures to LEED standards (Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum). Even more notable was the simultaneous creation of a Community Development Block Grant, which aims to provide financing to residential (low or qualified mixed-income) structures built to LEED standards by paying the difference between the cost of the LEED building versus the cost of the building if it were built to standard codes.
City Council is thinking also about establishing a "green permitting" process, which would allow green developers to bypass the bureaucratic bottlenecks and move to the front of the line for development approvals. This is great news. Developers are always looking for a way to get their projects approved, so green permitting will force them to rethink their options.
The LEED-H standard, which is the USGBC‘s standard for residential green homes, is relatively new, when compared to the LEED standards for commercial building. LEED buildings will start to gain in popularity and provide tangible benefits to the city because green buildings use less water, less energy, and pollute less. And from what I understand, there are tons of cities out there (other than Cincinnati) that have water shortages, energy shortages, and dirty skies–why not empower your citizens and businesses to solve resource problems by building green? It’s one of the smartest things you can do as a politician, regardless of your partisan affiliation.
About one year ago yesterday, Hunt Consolidated Inc. broke ground on a new office tower, which borders on Akard Street and Woodall Rogers Freeway. You’ve probably seen it, it has massive cement beams curving on its northerly face. The building is being developed by Woodbine Development Corporation, which is partially owned somehow in the Hunt Consolidated Empire. I heard from a friend (hearsay, I know) that Chairman Ray Hunt, or some other c-level executive, was asked at a luncheon whether the building was going to be green and he equivocated saying something like, "Well, we’re not going to build green just to build green, but we’ll do it if there are tangible economic reasons to do it."
I did some research and it looks like Hunt Consolidated Office Tower is registered with the USGBC as LEED-CI v2.0, otherwise know as the green ratings standard for commercial interiors. If my understanding is correct, that building is to be 100% owner-occupied, so Hunt is going green inside? Not sure. Here’s what I know. It will be a $120 million, 400,000 square foot, 15 story building. Gensler, which is #2 in the US for having the largest number of LEED Accredited Professionals, will be doing the interiors. So they have the know-how to go green on the inside. The entire structure was designed by Dallas-based Beck Group and the general contractor is Austin Commercial. Looks like it may be going green, but if the decision is still in the air, here’s my two cents: what’s more economic incentive to build green than a $6.3 million tax abatement over 10 years? That abatement should cover the 1% premium (if that) required to go green.
If you haven’t noticed, commercial enterprises use lots of neon in their signage. I drove around the neighborhood and found a few gas stations and a Sonic Drive-in with neons wrapped around the structure. You can tell because the neon lighting breaks at the nodes. Well, LEDs, while still a nascent lighting technology, have the potential to become the future signage lighting behemoth, if building owners can catch on to their benefits. To get to that point, however, the stars will need to align so that the key decision maker does a costing analysis incorporating the operational benefits, in addition to the sticker price (initial costs).
LED Technology Benefits:
LEDs have energy savings of up to 80% over neon lighting. In addition to the energy savings, LEDs differ in size and electronic control. Point blank, with LEDs, there’s reduced maintenance, reduced energy consumption, better light quality output, safer + lower voltage requirements, and low temperature performance. They last longer, too. There’s no gap in the illumination like there is with the neon. And with a technology like LightMark, the units are variable so you use just the right amount for the project.
Costing + Payback:
LEDs pay for themselves in about 2-3 years. When a decision maker is comparing neons (or some other light source) and LEDs, it’s important to make sure that the comparison is apples-to-apples. Use a "lifetime cost of ownership" analysis: (1) initial purchase price + (2) initial installation costs + (3) lifetime energy usage + (4) lifetime maintenance charges. I’d suggest two more external considerations, which aren’t factored into the lifetime cost of ownership. First, consider the extent of liability (i.e., if neons tend to flame up at gas stations more than LEDs, there’s a tangible savings benefit [note - this may or may not be true]). Second, consider the tax implications (i.e., state, local, or federal government offers tax credits/deductions for LED use, etc.).
A few companies that have been incorporating this new technology include Arco, A&W, BP, McDonald’s, KalTire (Canada), Tsutaya (Japan), and Petro-Canada. What it takes, however, is a paradigm shift from initial cost, or sticker price, to lifetime cost, and if owners aren’t making the change, the contractor should speak up and create value for the customer.