Green Focus: Sustainable Residential...

Any architectural style or design can be green. As an architectural photographer, I am constantly inspired by my client’s applications of sustainable design concepts and materials that come together to create spaces of great beauty and comfort. Many of these projects incorporate beautiful natural lighting that does not always translate photographically without supplemental light. My goal is to represent a space that emphasizes the natural state of these projects while employing enough additional light so that no design elements are lost in translation from how it is experienced in person to its representation in the photograph.

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Johnson Residence

Architect: Tri-Tech Design, Russell Johnson

Resilient to most elements and natural disasters that can threaten a building, Russell Johnson designed his home to last for over 150 years, at which point the building can then be disassembled and recycled. This home also utilizes solar power, thermal mass to help reduce its impact on the environment.

Frame Hoskins Residence

Architect: Leger Wanaselja Architects

Contractor: Rick Anstey

Situated in Marin County the remodel of this 1940’s home included a variety of energy efficiency upgrades including a native roof garden, photovoltaic panels, salvaged and FSC wood with low and non-toxic finishes, durable stone finishes, and bamboo cabinets.

Corte Madera Remodel

Architect: Michael Heacock + Associates

Contractor: Creative Spaces

Michael Heacock designed this remodel to minimize site impact, maximize the existing footprint, recycle all possible materials from the existing building and employ a variety of additional green materials and systems.

Emily Hagopian began her career with a thesis exploring the many innovative materials and applications of green design. Over the past 7 years, she has made it a priority to document the work of design firms, organizations and agencies that are focused on sustainability.

Creative Reuse...

When I decided to reuse my Kombucha Tea bottle as vase to bring a little color to my kitchen window sill, I thought it’d be great to ask the rest of the FA staff what objects they’ve reused; below is a showcase of either quirky personal or architectural examples of reused objects that give new life to old materials. They begin to speak about how being green can happen at many different scales and be as simple to achieve as drinking your tea.  – Matt

1. Piece of weathered plywood becomes an art object
2. Salvaged teak as bath trim
3. Crushed windshield glass as roof surface
4. Wine boxes as storage bins
5. An ashtray becomes a dish sponge holder

Creative_Reuse

The Cost of Going Green...

Initial discussions with current and potential clients about sustainability may begin in various ways.  From the first phone call, many clients begin to express that their “wish list” includes making the project as green as possible.  Others are more hesitant.  But both turn to us with all the best intentions but with questions of how much being green will cost, particularly in the current economic climate.  Most tend to believe that green = more expensive, which it can, but there are many, many ways to approach environmental responsibility and many are cost-saving.

There are several moves in the early phases of the design process which can be considered low hanging fruit and best practice.  This includes a thorough understanding of the site and climate and choosing an orientation for the home that takes advantage of both the sun and wind as free and clean resources for energy and thermal comfort.  The placement of the building and its thermal mass in order to capture heat from the sun’s warming rays, or away from the sun’s ray in more tropical climates, doesn’t typically add to the cost of construction for a new building.  A clear understand of how the wind moves across the site and orienting the openings to take advantage of natural ventilation and air flow changes is also cost neutral.

Another discussion that often happens early in the project revolves around the size of the building.  A typical 10,000sf structure uses far more resources to build, and later to heat or cool, than planning and programming for a smaller building.  Moving towards smaller buildings is both cost-saving and generally more environmentally-responsible, as long as other sustainable materials and methods are implemented in the smaller building.  The pre-design phase often allows us to better understand the client’s program and to offer suggestions on multi-purpose rooms that can cut down the size of the program.  A clear understanding of the client’s program also leads to a better understanding of which rooms should allow for natural light and shading.  An office which is only used throughout the day might get all of its needs for light from the sun.

On the other hand, other sustainable products which can be implemented have a higher cost and a lower rate of return.  For instance, water storage tanks are currently an expensive accessory to a building in large part due to the fact that water is so heavily subsidized.  In one of our Northern California homes, three large storage tanks were implemented to capture water for landscape irrigation, largely due to the fact that the client felt strongly that it is the right thing to do.  If water continues to be relatively cheap, the tanks will pay for themselves in about 30 years.  However, it may be forward-thinking to implement such a system, since many experts claim that water will not continue to be so heavily subsidized.

Finally, there are many systems which, of course, add to the cost to construction but have a high and quick rate of return.  These include integrated solar panels in projects that get a lot of sunlight, insulation with higher R values that help reduce heating and cooling costs, LED lights, and the specification of energy efficient appliances.   Wood flooring or framing timbers which are FSC-certified tend to cost more to the client, since there is a certain amount of stewardship that the client is paying for, but we are encouraged by the trend of clients who see that the cost to the planet of specifying non-FSC certified woods is simply not sustainable.

As with any part of a design and construction project, sustainable materials and technologies represent a blend of client’s desires and needs in balance with a budget.  A most encouraging piece of sustainable building in the current economic times is that cost-benefit analysis and consumer demand are bringing sustainable materials more and more into the realm of the affordable.  Also, education of the clients about the hidden costs of certain practices and materials is pushing all of us in the building trades to think creatively about sustainability and to cause a more thorough analysis of the cost of being green.  – Hannah

Colorful New Flatware from Sabre...


Discovered this past weekend, an amazingly, colorful flatware from Sabre available at Maison d’Etre in Berkeley, California.  Using an “Old Fashioned” silverware profile from which the line draws its name, Sabre has reinvented the traditional in plastics that are fun, dishwasher safe and available in 20+ colors.  The “Old Fashioned” theme is also taken to the extreme, offering sugar cube tongs and a tart slicer. – Hannah
sabre

Making the Call: The Initial Conversation with an Architect...

After months of downloading images to a Houzz.com Idea Book or clipping articles from residential design magazines, you’ve just purchased a spectacular piece of land or an older home and are eager to start your design and construction project.  Exciting!  But where to begin?  When do you start talking to an architect? What can you expect when making that first call?

We share the enthusiasm of our clients as they begin their project, and we often spend the first couple of meetings getting to know you, the site, the program, and finally your schedule and budget.  There is a list of questions we’ll ask before moving onto the exciting task of designing.

During an initial conversation with a client, we’ll be curious about the site and what you hope to accomplish with a new building or a renovation.

– One of the first and most important aspects to this initial interview is the fit. We’ll ask you questions getting to know how you live, what inspires you, and what type of project you’re seeking.
– We’ll then follow up with questions about the location of your site. Where is it and what governing agencies will need to review the design of the project?
– What size home are you seeking?  What do you have now and how much more space (or less) would you like in the future?
– Additions/improvements you’d like to make over what you have now or houses where you’ve lived in the past.
– Where are you in the process?  Have you spoken to geo-technical engineers (particularly if it is steep or waterfront property), civil engineers, or others?  If the answer is “no” to all these questions, don’t worry. We’ll be happy to guide you through this process.
– Why our firm?  Are there particular projects we’ve completed that you are familiar with and that resonate with you?
– Thoughts for sustainable design?
– Budget for construction?  Have you spoken with general contractors and do you have an idea of budget?  Again, if the answer is “no,” that’s fine.
– Schedule – do you need to move in by a particular date?
– Any other considerations that you may have.  It is helpful to know if you have completed a design/construction project in the past and what worked or didn’t work with this project.

From The Library of Virginia.Know that it’s never too early to call or email an architect.  We can offer services and insights even prior to the purchase of a home or property.

After that initial phone call allowing us to better understand your project, we will typically meet on-site so we can begin to understand the site, views, light, and the potential of the property and so that you can begin to get a feel for our personality.

Next steps?  We will typically draw up a proposal for services, send for your review and be available to discuss the scope of work and fees.  You can feel free to ask to meet the Project Manager/Project Architect who will likely be assigned to your project and be your day-to-day contact.  Once a contract is signed, we will set up a kick off meeting for the project and delve into the project full speed ahead! – Hannah

Rainwater Harvesting and Irrigation Continued...

When installing underground storage tanks you must always consider the level of the water table, surface pressure and an anchoring system. A great solution, if feasible, is to install tanks under a driveway, building or patio with access through a fitted manhole.

 We have been designing large-scale residential and commercial rainwater harvesting systems in California since 1997, primarily for irrigation use in the landscape. We like to consider our landscapes that incorporate rainwater harvesting as “closed loop systems,” as we begin the design by determining our end-water usage.  

It Starts with Plant Selection  

It starts with the type of plants we choose. We look at the irrigation requirements for the proposed planting areas. In our design we hydrozone, i.e., put plants together with similar water needs and choose a high percentage (75–90 percent) of our plants from a rich, diverse native and drought-tolerant plant palette. This way we get the most aesthetics and the most efficient water usage out of our site. Many of these plants add more water-saving benefits to the site, in that they help bind the soil and prevent erosion and excess runoff.  

Lawns, of course, are the biggest water users, so reducing lawn areas reduces water needs, which in turn requires a smaller rain harvesting system. Our goal is to supply most (or all) of our plant irrigation needs with harvested rainwater.  

Three 7,500-gallon “Short Boy” water catchment tanks are placed beneath a patio.

ET Rates 
 

Other site-specific factors we consider in determining our end-use needs for irrigation water include water percolation rates (dependent on soil type), and evapotranspiration (ET) rates—how fast the water evaporates from or absorbs into the soil. These rates determine how often and how much we need to apply water to the plants. My experience is that most homeowners over water their plants by a factor of two to three times. With the use of “Smart” ET- based automatic irrigation controllers we can now plug in the data for each zone, including the types of plants, soil type and topography. The controller sends this data to a local satellite station to determine the ET rate for the day. Only the amount of water needed on any given day is then administered to the plants. Usually included is a rain sensor that automatically turns the irrigation off if there is any precipitation. When operating on a rainwater system, the irrigation water supply is limited for the year, so we also recommend the irrigation system includes a flow sensor, which when a leak is detected informs the owner or landscape management team of the problem via email or cell phone.  

Drip Irrigation  

We use drip irrigation as our preferred method of irrigation. Subsurface drip is becoming more popular in the U.S. Subsurface drip is said to deliver 90 percent of the water directly to the roots of the grasses and plants, compared to 60 percent when using a spray system. It is also estimated that subsurface drip irrigation can save up to 70 percent more than spray heads, and up to 25 percent more than regular drip systems. We then add a two to three inch thick top layer of woodchip mulch to the planting areas to add to the efficiency of the system.  

This component system of pumps and pipes source the water stored in above ground tanks and is connected to a “Smart” ET- based automatic irrigation controller. The controller sends this data to a local satellite station to determine the ET rate for the day, ensuring only the amount of water needed on any given day flows to the plants. The irrigation system should include a flow sensor to detect leaks.

Filtered Roof Water  

In most cases, the roof surfaces of the home (or other buildings on the lot) can provide the quantity of water needed for a full planting design, so importantly, we determine in advance our irrigation needs and design for the greatest efficiency. Roofs are the cleanest rainwater source, as opposed to surface drained storm water. Because of the particulates that storm water picks up on landscape surfaces, such as asphalt and concrete, it is typically of a lower quality. From the roof downspouts the rainwater may be directed through filters, which are usually quite simple, to appropriately sized storage tanks and then pumped and filtered again before entering directly into the efficiently designed irrigation system. It is important to size the pipes, filters, and storage system appropriately, based on the runoff rates of a heavy storm in a particular area. There also must be a well-planned solution to accommodate overflow during a particularly heavy storm.  

Above or Below Ground Tanks  

There have been many successful rain-harvesting systems installed in California. An above ground rainwater storage solution is the least expensive, but most space-consuming alternative. We typically install above ground tanks when there is enough room to screen them from view, although some landscape architects are now specifying attractive rainwater tanks as site features if the planting area is small and does not require much water storage, such as a small inner-urban back yard.

Underground tank systems usually cost twice as much to install because of the excavation, but of course have far less visual and spatial impact. One must always consider the level of the water table, surface pressure and an anchoring system when installing underground storage tanks. A great solution, if feasible, is to install underground tanks under a driveway, building or patio with access through a fitted manhole, such as is typical on a city street. Either way, the overall water savings is well worth the investment, if the system is well designed, and there is enough water captured to handle most of the irrigation needs of the site.  

Ready for tank delivery! The water gets to the underground tanks from roof downspouts, then is directed through filters, which are usually quite simple, to appropriately sized storage tanks and then pumped and filtered again before entering directly into the efficiently designed irrigation system. It is important to size the pipes, filters, and storage system appropriately, based on the runoff rates of a heavy storm in a particular area.

Bobby Markowitz is Principal of Earthcraft Landscape Design and a frequent contributor to Green Architecture Notes.

Papering the New Year...

Wallpaper is an easy way to change the personality of a space. With so many amazing companies, and all sorts of different styles to choose from, the opportunities are endless. We’d like to share with you some of our favorite wallpapers: a few of our own projects, a couple from other great firms and a few staff picks.
wallpaper-1Feldman Architecture Projects:
Lucie’s Nursery – Wallpaper on the ceiling is a great way to add interest in a room. Hygge & West sells this great wallpaper designed by Julia Rothman. The buttercup yellow is subtle and elegant, while the birds and clouds add graphically intriguing figurative elements that aren’t over-the-top.

The Pierce St. Renovation & Fair Oaks Powder Rooms – Small spaces, like powder rooms, are a wonderful place to use large bold patterns. The Pierce St. Renovation makes a whimsical and modern statement with this black & white floral pattern designed byDesigners Guild; provided by Osborne and Little. In the Fair Oaks Powder Room, we also use a large bold pattern but for a completely different effect. Here, Power Plant designed Dan Funderburgh, is dramatic and playful with light bulbs growing in the vines.
wallpaper2

Other Favorite Projects:
Envelope Architecture & Design ties the masculinity of taxidermy, the femininity of the chandelier, and Danish modern furniture pieces together with this geometric “Honeycomb” pattern by Tom Dixon.

Jessica Helgerson Interiors uses this “blackbird” wallpaper, designed by Kimberly Ayres, to create a nature-inspired, fun, graphic space that contrasts the stark black & white trees and birds, with bright green accents.
wallpaper3

Staff Picks:
We leave you with a few favorites we haven’t had the pleasure of using yet.

5.5 Designers created this awesome collection of interactive wallpaper games. Both fun and ever-changing, the wall organically evolves over time, providing hours of entertainment. This is a great choice for a children’s playroom. Additional patterns include word search and tick-tack-toe.

Designed by Fern Living and inspired by Scandinavian nature, the “tree bomb” wallpaper pattern has unique modern touches and a fun graphic composition.

We are big fans of supporting innovative adaptive-reuse design. Lori Weitzner has designed a very cool wall covering using recycled newspapers. Woven on a hand loom with strips of newsprint, this wallpaper adds a fun striation and texture to the wall.

Additional Wall Candy:
If we’ve only grazed the surface of your wallpaper taste buds, you’ll love this link to Design Sponge’s Top 50 Wallpaper Sources post.

http://www.designspongeonline.com/2010/09/top-50-wallpaper-sources.html

Enjoy! – Kristy, Bridgett and Lindsey

Wading Through Green Standards...

You’ve probably heard of LEED, (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), and maybe if you’re in California you have heard of GreenPoint Rated or the eminent CALGreen Code, but wrapping your head around how these standards compare and what they mean to your building project can be a big task.  In this article, I’ll try to break it down a bit.  For more detailed information, please visit the web sites of each compliance organization: LEED, GreenPoint or CALGreen

LEED, developed by a non-profit organization called the U.S. Green Building Council, was really the forerunner in developing an industry standard for sustainable building practices in the United States.  GreenPoint Rated (GPR) is a system used for houses and developed by Build It Green, another non-profit based in California, with the goal of creating a standard that would be less expensive and therefore more accessible to homeowners.  CALGreen is a building code that will become effective in California for both residential and commercial buildings on January 1st, 2011.  Some municipalities in the Bay Area are even requiring permit applicants to get certification from GPR and/or LEED as a way of ensuring that CALGreen standards have been met.

Both GPR and CALGreen systems of measurement are based loosely on the LEED standards, but there are some differences and modifications made to clarify or make easier the systems of measurement that are in place.  For simplicity, I’ll compare the residential measures as a common base for all three systems.   All systems break green building components down into areas of sustainability that they are addressing with varying names and sub- categories.  However, the general concept is shared: sustainable building practices fall into these categories:

  1. Planning/Site/Community
  2. Water Efficiency
  3. Energy Efficiency
  4. Material Resources
  5. Environmental /Air Quality

GPR arranges their checklist in a way that relates more closely with building systems themselves such as structural frame and finishes, but are then cross-referenced with one of the above categories.   All of the systems have mandatory or prerequisite measures that must be met, and the two voluntary systems (LEED and GPR) have additional strategies that go above and beyond to earn points.  A minimum number of points is required for certification, and the more points earned the higher the level of certification.

Since LEED and other green building certification systems have begun gaining popularity, there have been a number of articles and independent studies published on the value added by achieving certification, such as “An Inconvenient Value” by www.AwarenessIntoAction.com  and “The cost & benefit of achieving Green buildings” by Davis Langdon.  We hope the trend continues to catch on and the up-front cost continues to come down as demand for sustainable building materials and methods continue to rise.

Now let’s dig a little deeper into the subcategories and the particular goals of each.  The charts below are not meant to be comprehensive, but instead give an overview, hitting the highlights of each system.   Note that The CALGreen system has two “Tiers” that can be sought, which require additional prerequisites.  I’ve included these prerequisites under ‘additional points/measures’ in order to maintain clarity of the basic requirements in the charts below.

Bridgett Shank works at Feldman Architecture and is a frequent contributor to Green Architecture Notes.

Sustainable Sidebar: Add a Little ‘Green’ to Your Home, Inside and Out...

Advances in green technology and a fondness for reused or reclaimed materials have led to more innovative and creative sustainable products for the home. As a new addition to Green Architecture Notes, we will be posting a new section on products that we find to be perfect examples of how green IS beautiful, practical, and inspiring.  In this post, the adaptive reuse of reclaimed materials yield stunning furnishings and fixtures which divert materials from landfill and reduce energy used in the production of new materials.

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Products in Top Row:

left – The Scrap Light collection from Graypants demonstrates how simple pieces of salvaged corrugated cardboard become mesmerizing. These lanterns create stunning patterns with light and shadow in any space.

center – The Studio Sectional from Environment Furniture has a relaxed, informal quality. Upholstered with recycled army tent canvas fabric, the distressed and weathered characteristics will continue to develop and patina over time.

rightUrban Hardwood is best known for breathing new life back into trees that would typically be heading straight to the landfill. The Sycamore Slab coffee table positions a pair of slabs side-by-side and fastens them together with steel infill. This simple design lets the wood’s beauty speak for itself.

Products in Bottom Row:

left -The Asturia Armchair from Espasso, designed by Carlos Motta, is strong, durable, and elegant. Built from reclaimed and demolition woods collected in urban centers like Sao Paulo, this chair is suitable for both indoor and outdoor use.

centerGraypants is redefining the “recliner” with their latest design, the slice chair. Constructed from scraps of flat sheets of plywood, the slices allow the ottoman to slide out, creating a lounge chair.

right – Ending with a PUNCH! of color.… We introduce an area rug from the Color Reform Collection by ABC Carpet. This rug is hand-woven from recycled Indian Sari silk, then over-dyed to create a powerful statement packed with mono-chromatic vibrancy.

Cork: What makes this material so special?...

Cork is a fantastic, 100% natural, material that has been used as an insulting material for years, although is not well known by most of the people working on sustainable and zero carbon projects.

So what makes this material special?

Cork is the bark of Cork Oak (Quercus Suber), collected every 9 years and later transformed and adapted to different uses. During its life, cork retains an elevated portion of CO2 and requires very low energy to be transformed.

Cork insulation

The most common use in construction – as a thermal insulation material – is Insulation Cork Board (ICB). This material is produced using raw cork (which can be a sub product of the cork stopper industry) in granulated form that is placed in autoclave where it stays for 20 minutes under vapor at 360º C (680º F). As the cork starts to expand and forms into blocks, it starts to agglutinate by means of its natural resin and also gains its characteristic brown color. The process is free of any artificial chemicals keeping the material 100% natural.

Cork is particularly resistant to insects and maintains its characteristics over time. In 2000, in the north of Portugal, a very large cold store built in 1969 was dismantled. Cork was used as thermal insulation and it was fully recovered to produce new cork based materials. What is remarkable is that the cork was analyzed in laboratory and had exactly the same characteristics as new cork meaning that its use hasn’t diminished any of its qualities.

In a recently completed K-12 school renovation project where we used cork extensively as a thermal insulation material on roofs (metal and concrete slab), we came to the following conclusions:

• The material behaves very well during construction, in good or bad weather;

• No special skill is necessary to apply this material;

• Any cuts or changes needed during work are easily achieved on site.

In an ongoing project we’re using the same material as a roof and facade insulation as part of a render system and expect to achieve a very high performance for the building.

In recent years, Portuguese architects have been exploring this material as a cladding. The Portuguese pavilion in the Hanover Expo 2000 used cork blocks as a facade. Recently, the Portuguese Pavilion in the Expo Shanghai which was entirely covered in cork panels won a design award and also in Architectos Anonimos ‘s Cork House which is shown below.

Coimbra, Portugal - Pavilhão de Portugal Expo 2000, Álvaro Siza & Eduardo Souto de Moura.

As a conclusion, we can say that cork is a natural, recyclable and environmental friendly product, highly adequate for green or zero carbon projects, as insulation and cladding material, with a guaranty of total reuse in the end of the building life-cycle making it a very good cradle-to-cradle material.

Cork House by Arquitectos Anonimos, Portugal.

For more information from a cork supplier, see Amorim Cork Composites.

Fernando Ribeiro studied in Portugal and England where he obtained a Master Degree in Architectural Design after which he worked in Macau on several high profile projects. He is the co-founder of Arqwork Arquitectura, a practice engaged in a broad range of projects from K-12 schools to retail spaces.  His practice is driven by passion in designing buildings and enhancing people’s lives. Fernando’s interest in sustainable design led him to engage in developing a more practical approach to architecture through the use of simple technical solutions and natural materials.

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