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.
Solar Cynergy has developed a self-contained, in ground, solar-powered LED light that can be used in residential, commercial, and city applications. Eliminating the need for batteries, these solar LED lights use Nichia condenser technology to provide blue, green, white, halogen white, and red lighting. With the simple design of having everything built in, there’s no need for complicated wiring, and they’re strong enough to withstand the pressure of a tank. As you can see, the lights are embedded into the ground to create various design and lighting effects. Initially a Japanese innovation, Solar Cynergy introduced the lights at Lightfair International 2007, and business has taken off! I can imagine that the opportunities are endless with this kind of technology. More images below.
A quick, but interesting, little tidbit of information … in Haringey, a city in the UK, the city council hired a company to use a military-style plane outfitted with a thermal imaging to take pictures of every structure in the area. They took the heat loss information from the pictures and created a color-coded map identifying the various levels of heat loss for each building. As you can see from the image shot above, the dark red homes are really losing some heat. By visiting the Haringey Interactive Heat Loss Map, you can scroll over each gray dot and get the address of that particular energy loser. I’m not sure if the data has led to any improvements (there’s definitely a concern over privacy here in the U.S.), but it’s probably led to some interesting discussions: "Excuse me neighbor, did you know you’re a red house? Well, I’m a blue house and I think I can help…" Via CD + TechDirt.
I sat on this post for a while trying to find up-to-date information on its status but was unable to locate anything. This is a storage facility planned for the east bank of the Willamette River. Typical storage facilities can take up to 30 acres, but this one, designed for house boats, recreational vehicles, and storage pods, is going to be maxed out on 3 acres. The taller tower rises 22 stories into the sky and uses a giant mechanical arm capable of lifting 40,000 lbs. Interestingly, the project is planning construction to LEED Platinum standards and will include more than 175,000 sf of solar panels (making it the largest solar facility in the northwest). With the estimated project costs at about $40 M, Portland City Storage also plans to rehabilitate the riverfront property adjacent to the towers.