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Suburban Retrofit: Consumption vs. Production

 

We all accept that any home built before 1980 probably consumes energy rather than produces. And we know that most buildings today aren’t much better. Some dabble in industry-tested, user-approved microcosms of water conservation and energy production, and even fewer have thrown away the sound bites of “first cost” and “investment return” and have dove head first into responsible yet expensive net zero homes. Interestingly, The Center for Green Buildings and Cities at Harvard is exploring a strategy that may end up making a huge difference in the average home owner’s ability to achieve energy and water independence. They are currently experimenting with retrofitting a pre-1940’s home to attain net zero. The measures for success will be varied and at this point will still act as a testing grounds for possibilities.

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100% Renewable Energy With The Click Of A Button

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What if everyone could make 1 simple change in their personal habits that would, as a whole, benefit a larger population? First, we instinctively ask ourselves the question (no matter how large our green flag may be): what do I have to give up to make this happen? And if ultimately we can manage the risk, we may accept the proposition. This is the challenge for today’s green energy suppliers. In order to make it convenient for a large group of people, they need to make it competitive with larger corporations. What if you were told it would only end up costing you between $3-5 a month extra to have your electricity provided by 100% renewable energy? Cory, a representative of Green Mountain Energy, offered this option to us this weekend.

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Mobile Device Solar Charging Station

It’s seems that at the moment we are coming closer to achieving 100% 24/7. It’s nothing new and it’s not shocking. However it is certainly convenient. One can argue whether convenience has ever truly been as present as it is today (every generation has always been the most advanced in history). But right now certainly seems pretty slick. And yet there will always be a small part in most of us that wouldn’t mind a quiet, unplugged moment. However, even those who enjoy a fairly analogue lifestyle have been gutted of battery life one or twice. And there is something that just feels wrong about plugging up to a wall socket in an Applebee’s to get a few minutes of precious connection.

Steph and I were taking a stroll through Brooklyn Bridge Park last weekend and stumbled upon one of these.

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nstagram: maegenmichael

An AT&T mobile device solar charging station that boasts the equivalent charging rate of a wall outlet. There where 6 types of adapters that fit most devices. Though I did not need a charge, I couldn’t help but get a little giddy about the thought of soaking up my first ever solar phone juice. The iPhone 5 adapter looked like it had taken a beating in all it’s public glory, alas, it did not work. I have no doubt that in the coming months and years, these devices will be everywhere. So whether you like it or not, get ready for waves of friendly, yet probably very expensive energy to be available right when you need it.

Prefab + Sustainability

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If you like buzzwords, it’s hard to beat Prefab + Sustainability, maybe throw a “Green” in there somewhere. Honestly though, trends play a critical role in society’s readiness to adopt large-scale transitions. These widely accessible words, thoughts or actions can become influential in politics and economics, which ultimately can lead to convention. This will occur whether or not we like or agree with the branding involved. However, if there are trends that speak to living responsibly and leading a balanced and efficient life, then these trends, at least for me, become much more palatable. Here is a great article entitled “The Marriage of Prefab and Sustainability” by Sarah Fister Gale that discusses the merits of both and why they belong together.

What do you think? Is this simply a smart marketing move, or a valid direction?

 

OK Small!

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The most sustainable square foot is the one you don’t build. As long as we have had materials and the need for shelter, we have faced each day with the intent to do things and make stuff, especially when it comes to tending to our nest. Mostly without much thought regarding actual need or actual impact. Which is why the thought of small architecture is so entertaining. For very little money, just $300 for this small off-the-gird cabin in Vermont, and a little ingenuity, it’s possible to put together a small, responsible space of your own. By adding a few passive solar and wind strategies, you most likely can accomplish a great level of comfort most of the year without mechanical cooling or plugging into the city’s electrical grid. For example, the North wall is a translucent corrugated plastic that allows the cool, indirect light to provide plenty of illumination. The South wall is a solid corrugated metal which prevents this small sanctuary from becoming an uncomfortable greenhouse. If you have a friend who is an architect or designer, ask for a few tips. Most of us are eager to help our friends who find this as interesting as we do.

How small is too small? What’s the qualification, square foot? energy use? Can you scale this approach for a 3 family home? Is this sustainable living, or simply something to do in your spare time, a glorified fort for your inner child? Either way, these images are beautiful. The simplified interior and small pops of color are a great touch. Let me know your thoughts by commenting below.

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Rethink Zinc: An Eco-Friendly Architectural Metal

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mage courtesy of Gail Whitney Karn at RHEINZINK

You may not immediately think of the word “sustainability” when considering metal as an exterior cladding material. This is in part due to the harmful processes by which metals are extracted, fabricated and then treated. This can lead to destruction of local ecology by extraction, factory emissions and byproducts and ultimately depending on the coatings, poor indoor air quality once installed.  For example, some ferrous metals such as the always beautiful corten steel have adverse runoff effects into the local water and air supply. However, Zinc stands in a category all its own when considering its environmental impacts via extraction, production and implementation and is gaining popularity especially in the United States. Besides zinc’s beautiful and unique matte bluish-gray patina, if you’re thinking about using metal cladding for your next, or first,  project here are a few reasons you may want to specify architectural zinc panels.

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Natural Wood Siding With 30×40 Design Workshop

 

Here is a great article by Eric Reinholdt at 30×40 Design Workshop regarding the beauty and responsibility of letting wood be what it wants to be. He maintains a rational, sustainable perspective stating that:

Rejecting this unending cycle of maintenance and accepting weathering as part of a home’s design aesthetic makes good environmental, economic and design sense.

The idea of letting materials “wear in” requires one to suspend their traditional notions of beauty and nobility in architecture and design. What comes to mind when you think of these concepts? Are we too accustomed to “day 1” photography and flashy magazine imagery? Would you or have you specified this process in your projects? Please feel free to leave a comment below.

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