There are a number of exciting design trends that are quickly becoming mainstream in architecture and development around California. Mostly due to the continuing drought and concerns over water availability, these trends are simply implemented and have an enormous impact on a broad scale. One of the latest trends to receive publicity is the re-emergence of rainwater harvesting systems. Though the idea of capturing and storing rainwater is ancient, the concept of harvesting rainwater from downspouts has been designed and implemented in many projects for several decades.
At this point homeowners and commercial property owners are taking the steps to have rainwater harvesting systems designed and installed at their residences and project sites ranging in sizes from 1,000 to 30,000 gallons and more. These systems, which for the most part are used for irrigation, simply divert the roof water through simple filters into storage tanks and then direct it to landscapes when needed. When designed properly, these systems can provide adequate water for landscaping irrigation and other outdoor needs, as well as a myriad of valuable on-site and off-site benefits. Benefits include increased soil health, reduced stormwater runoff, conservation of potable water and associated energy for pumping and treatment. These benefits are more difficult to quantify but nonetheless provide a much needed advantage especially in the realm of strategic planning.
When designing rainwater harvesting systems, it is important to calibrate and size the capacity for the application it supplies. In other words, a determination of how much water is being used needs to be made to give an idea of how much water needs to be captured. This water balancing calculation is often difficult to evaluate and typically requires the skills of an experienced professional involved in the latest irrigation, planting, and water conservation design techniques. During the early planning stages, the design of a landscape can be crafted to minimize water use while providing the desired aesthetics, along with the installation of a rainwater harvesting system to handle the irrigation needs. However, existing landscapes can also be modified to utilize much less water and integrate a rainwater harvesting system to provide a large quantity of irrigation demand.
Rainwater harvesting systems, which are commonplace in Australia and other drought plagued countries, have also spurred an increased awareness of the importance of water conservation. Studies conducted show that just the presence of a rainwater harvesting system can stimulate a water savings of 60 percent. At a time when the whole nation is striving to do more with less, it is wise and satisfying to go back to the basics, regard our natural resources with the utmost importance, and do our part to contribute to the quality of our rivers and bays, landscapes, and security for generations to come.
Bobby Markowitz, founder of Earthcraft Landscape Design, has been designing rainwater harvesting systems and educating professionals for nearly a decade. A licensed Landscape Architect, Accredited Professional by the American Rainwater Catchment System Association, Certified Permaculturist (taught by Founder Bill Mollison), Mr. Markowitz has advanced the viability of water conservation systems into the forefront of landscape architecture. A graduate of Rutgers University, Mr. Markowitz’s work is influenced by his study abroad in Japan and advanced water harvesting workshops in Australia. A frequent guest lecturer and keynote speaker for numerous Landscape Architecture and Rainwater Catchment System Associations, Mr. Markowitz has provided valuable insight into the design of sustainable sites and water conservation systems. In addition to his practice, Bobby Markowitz also teaches “Rainwater Harvesting System: Principles and Design” at Cabrillo College.
My first exposure to waste diversion on a jobsite was a response to LEED requirements. Of all the standards we had to meet, practices we had to modify, and requirements we had to satisfy waste diversion presented the most tangible upside – across the board. It’s obvious, too. Once you have modified your waste handling practices, you realize a few things: first, it is just like recycling at your own house, so it’s something we’re all use to by now; and second, by the time the first loads of cardboard, plastics, and clean lumber cut-offs have been hauled away you can see the enormous quantities of material that you have diverted from the landfill.
The process is really simple. You can create a segregated waste area with separate space for wood, cardboard, plastics, and garbage that fits the space you have on the jobsite whether small or large. If the jobsite is spacious and you can fit a few containers, your local waste handler can often provide separate bins. Otherwise, simple plywood boxes work fine. Most local dumps have recycling centers, which makes dropping the material off very easy. There is generally a significant cost savings when leaving clean material at the dump rather than “construction debris.” On the LEED project referenced above, we saw a 40% reduction in our typical waste handling costs.
Carpenters and tradespeople are generally resourceful, so we’ve found this effort integrated into the jobsite operations smoothly. With our own crews we found that with our new practices of segregating and diverting clean material from the dump, there have been trickle-down benefits. For example, instead of cutting up new lumber for structural blocking, our crew is salvaging from the clean waste lumber pile first.
As a builder, one of the most astonishing things we see is how much material goes into even the most sustainable homes. And often there is a lot of waste produced in an effort to build such homes. By segregating the waste material we calculated that 85% or more of the material could be diverted from the landfill. It’s clear that changing this one practice can make the process of constructing a green home much more sustainable.
Brendan Connolly manages projects and is COO for Groza Construction in Monterey, CA.
With the official launch of LEED for Homes in February of 2008, we were already consulting on several custom LEED-H pilot projects. We provide LEED-H “Representative” services through the LEED-H “Provider” in California, Davis Energy Group. The Representative is similar to having a LEED consultant on a LEED-NC project, except there is a strict limitation on the Representative’s time, since they are contracted through the Provider in an effort to keep certification costs down. The Provider is contracted by USGBC to act as the local agent for USGBC, since there is such a large volume of residential projects compared with other LEED programs. The program works fairly well, as long as the architect and contractor are savvy with green building, energy, water and indoor air quality.
Our most successful projects hired us independently to provide additional LEED-H consulting, which eased the burden on the design team and contractor. Some owners and architects initially expect LEED-H fees paid to USGBC to cover the consulting portion, which Davis Energy describes as the “how you do it” scope of work. Fees charged by USGBC, including the Representatives’ time, actually only cover the “did you do it?” scope of work. Davis Energy encourages owners and design teams to hire the Representatives independently, if the design team needs support in meeting prerequisites and credits. The most successful projects either pay someone in-house or hire a LEED consultant to coordinate, update, and administrate the LEED-H process. LEED-H requires numerous documents in addition to the LEED-H checklist, such as the Thermal Bypass Checklist, Accountability Forms, Durability Evaluation, and Rater Checklist. Keeping track of all these documents and preparing them at the appropriate time is challenging and confusing, particularly given the ongoing evolution of the LEED-H program. It is also important to keep in mind that the design team, owner, and contractor are also required to produce supporting documentation for each credit. Many people have the false impression that a LEED consultant prepares everyone’s documentation for them.
The main areas of discussion around LEED for Homes are hard and soft costs, prerequisites and credits. I’ve heard people say that only the top 15% of homes are targeted for LEED-H. This may be due to design team experience, quality of construction, potential added costs, and sheer will of the owner and architect. We had 5 LEED-H Platinum Homes certified last year where the added hard costs were very low; in the range of 2%-5% with a per square foot cost under $250. Those five homes are also net-zero energy homes. We also have the other spectrum of larger “green” custom homes that do not fit into Sarah Susanka’s “Not So Big House” concept; I’ll call them “Case Study Green Homes.” Added costs for LEED on these case study projects may actually be a smaller fraction of the overall costs, since volume and fancy finishes typically outweigh green elements and systems. Our hope is that working together, we can streamline the LEED-H program with the goal of added hard costs under 2% and added soft costs for the entire team under $10,000. It would be interesting to hear what others have to say about added soft costs and program efficiency improvements.
LEED-H Silver house in Palm Springs by Solterra Development
Michael Heacock + Associates is a LEED consulting firm with offices in San Francisco and Santa Barbara. Their work includes schools, commercial, public, institutional and residential projects.
California Academy of Sciences photo: Tom Fox
As a part of the Landscape Architecture firm for the new California Academy of Sciences Building in San Francisco, SWA Group, I wanted to share one of lesser known successes of the 2.5 acre Vegetated/Living Roof. This success is the creation of a native landscape habitat within the Golden Gate Park, located three stories above the ground plane. The Academy’s roof is planted with native plants which separates the native plantings from the non-native plantings of the park below. Since the installation of native species, the roof has begun to naturalize with native insects, bird habitats, and non-planted plants that have migrated to their preferred location on the roof. Researchers have been finding that there are more native insect species on the roof than in the surrounding park below, and that this may be attributed to the use of native plant material on the roof, according to researchers. The roof has created a native refuge that will allow the seven hill topped roof to continue grow and evolve into a native California hillside.
Along with the creation of the native habitat, the roof structure is also collecting water that falls on the roof, including the water irrigation runoff in addition to precipitation. The roof’s water run off is directed to a recharge chamber located under the building that then recharges the aquifers within Golden Gate Park. These aquifers also supply the park with its own irrigation water, which irrigates the entire park including the Academy Building. So rainfall and supplemental irrigation that the roof’s plants cannot use, and would otherwise go into a storm drain, now go into the recharging of the natural aquifers and can be used again to keep the roof alive. The roof acts as a successful and symbiotic living part of its environment that functions as a part of its own healthy habitat by providing animal and plant habitats while also aiding in the site’s hydrological process of aquifer recharge. The roof of this great building is proving truly to be a Living System.
SWA Group Project Team: John Loomis, Laurence Reed, and Zachary Davis
Photography by Tom Fox
Bird's-eye view photo: Tom Fox
Viewing platform on living roof photo: Tom Fox
Living roof detail photo: Tom Fox
On top of living roof, looking at DeYoung Museum photo: Tom Fox
Travis Theobald is an Associate at SWA Group, a world renown landscape architecture, planning, and urban design firm.
As designers and implementers of designn, we know that integrated design theoretically makes sense. However, when it comes to installing renewable energy systems, it is more and more critical that we actually put theory into action. So I’d like to go through a couple of real world examples of what can happen (or not happen) when we don’t work together as a team from the outset of a project.
As a LEED for Homes representative, GreenPoint rater and HERS rater, I have the opportunity to work with a project from the outset of design through construction. Of course, we know that things change along the way from design to during construction and how well a project gets coordinated has become a bigger “hat” than one person can wear. As someone who is intimately familiar with rebate programs and incentives for Solar Electric systems and energy efficiency, part of my role is to verify the performance of the Photovoltaic system AND the energy efficiency of the home. This is a requirement for the New Solar Homes Partnership rebate progra.. http://www.gosolarcalifornia.org/
What I’d like to run through is a situation where the homeowner decided near the end of construction to put a Solar electric system on his house (rather than at the beginning) and beacuse the Solar company and the General Contractor were not “used to working with each other” this caused a lot of headaches for all the parties involved. To qualify for the New Solar Homes Partnership rebate, the house must exceed energy code requirements by 15% or better. Sometimes this is relatively easy to do by upgrading mechanical equipment or windows but more and more, we will need to add performance based testing credits such as duct testing for duct leakage or quality insulation inspection to meet this higher threshold especially when the 2008 energy code goes into effect August 1st. http://www.energy.ca.gov/title24/index.html
In our example house, when the permits werer applied for, it just barely exceeded the energy compliance margin needed for a permit. This has been a very typical approach when applying for a building permit. But most Green building and rebate programs require a home to exceed the energy code by 15% or better. So for our example house, a number of options were run by the general contractor and solar contractor to get the house to the 15% threshold. This is where a more experienced energy consultant who better understands energy options with their associated costs and acutal efficiency is necessary. They must also be a Certified Energy Plans Examiner to qualify for the New Solar Homes Partnership program.
Because of the size of the home, this house had two forced air units. The mechanical contractor said one of the furnaces could be upgraded to a 92% AFUE but not both because the venting of one of the units would be complicated. The homeowner was also told he could save some money going from an on-demand water heater to a more standard 50 gal. storage type water heater to save on first costs. The insulation was already installed as were the windows so no changes could by made there. Because both furnaces could not be upgraded to a 92% and the water heater was “down graded,” a duct test for duct leakage was needed to make up for the change. This information was run by the mechanical contractor who felt confident that his duct system would pass the test but also admitted that he had never had any of his systems tested before. So when it came time to test the duct system, it didn’t end up passing. By that time, the water heater and furnaces were installed, thus making a change back to the on-demand water heater expensive. Now, we have a mechanical contractor who is a bit embarrassed but says to the general contractor that he was not requested to bid the job to pass a “tight duct” test. So the general contractor asks him to put together a bid for the additional work to seal the system which then the homeowner odjects to because he doesn’t understand why the system isn’t passing and doesn’t see why he should have to pay more to “fix” a new system. As you can begin to see, things start to get ugly with no one wanting to take responsibility and the homeowner getting more confused and frustrated with the whole process.
So now let’s look at a project where you have the architect, homeowner, general contractor, solar contractor, energy consultant and HERS rater involved during the design of the home. First, the homeowner knows he or she is interested in building as close to a zero energy home as possible but doesn’t really know what that will mean in terms of construction costs, equipment and space considerations. So the architect works with the energy consultant to explore different mechanical systems that could work with a solar electric system and exceed the code by 15%. We explore a radiant system using a heatpump to water exchange system, a fan coil system and a more standard ducted system using a heatpump system. All this information is passed by the general contractor who also runs this by his mechanical sub-contractor for cost and ease of installation. The ducted split heatpump system is agreed upon by the owner, since they decide they want both heating and air conditioning. The General Contractor brings in the Solar contractor to get an idea of system size and cost as well as where to locate panels and quipment and passes this information to the architect. Because the house is designed with energy efficiency in mind, it exceeds the energy code by 36% which qualifies it for a $2000 energy efficiency rebate (Tier 2) form PG&E. It also passes the IECC code by 50%, which qualifies it for another $2000 Federal Tax Credit. This is in addition to the NSHP rebate for the solar system plus the 30% Federal tax credit on the remaining balance of the system. So not only does the homeowner get these additional incentives, they are actually designing a home to be more energy efficient in the first place which is a mindset we all need to adopt.
As the architect or designer working with a homeowner, here are some guidelines to better integrate renewable energy into your project:
Assess the homeowner’s level of interest in going “green.” Do they drive a Prius? Or if they know about potential rebates and incentives, would that interest them in Solar? Let them know that there are potential rebates and tax credits available to them and that they should consider these options early in the design process. As the designer, you also need to design in a portion of the roof area to accomodate solar panels as well as the weight of the panels.
If you can get the input of a general contractor who has experience with green building and energy efficiency as well as a solar contractor during the design process, this will insure the successful integration of your design with renewable energy. This may also elp the homeowner decide who they want to work with when they get under construction.
Work with your energy consultant as early in the design process as possible. All Green building and Utility rebate programs require energy efficiency as a top priority. Give your consultant the most realistic options that will ensure your design will be as energy efficient as possible.
Sharon Block is a LEED AP who specializes in LEED for Homes, Green Point rated for New and Existing homes, as well as California Multi-family New Homes Program. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.blockenergygreen.com
- My kitchen uses LED retrofit kits by Progress Lighting that are also fitted with Asian inspired trims by Juno Lighting to add little dazzle at the ceiling line.
The Green, Green Lights of Home
I am a lighting designer, who specializes in residential interior and exterior projects; working with kitchen & bath designers, architects, interior designers, and homeowners to help make their projects come to life at night. Down the street from our office is my home which gets used as a light lab to show off the latest techniques and products to prospective clients. Since I promote energy efficient lighting to others it only seemed right to put into practice what I was preaching in my own home.
People have an inherent fear of fluorescents and little knowledge of LEDs (light emitting diodes) or CCFLs (cold cathode fluorescent lamps). Allowing them to experience these sources in an actual installation helps them see that energy efficient light can also be alluring…even downright sexy.
You may not know that LEDs have been around since the 1960’s but were essentially used as brightly colored indicator lights. Around three years ago, manufacturers came up with an LED source with the warm qualities of incandescent light. These newly developed LEDs use considerably less electricity than standard incandescent sources. Many are available in dimmable versions and some fixtures on the market can meet California’s strict Title 24 energy code, which dictates that 50% of the wattage in kitchens must be hard-wired. Energy efficient lighting LEDs can last to 30-50,000 hours, while emitting no ultra-violet radiation; plus they contain no trace amounts of mercury like fluorescents. Companies like Cree Lighting (www.creells.com) offer both screw-in and hard-wire LED kits as retrofits for existing housings; as well as IC rated, airtight housings for new construction.
Top-of-the-line screw-in type CFLs and CCFLs, by manufacturers like Maxlite (www.maxlite.com) and Litetronics (www.litetronics.com) offer a dimmable light source that can be controlled by a standard incandescent dimmer. The GU-24 lamps do meet Title 24 requirements. Lighting manufacturers are now offering decorative fixtures in modern and traditional styles that have hard-wired fluorescent sources; many of which are using the new GU-24 socket and CFL technology that is no bigger than a standard household bulb and socket assembly.
Some of the lighting companies to take a look at for good-looking fluorescent fixtures would be Hans Duus Lighting (www.hansduusblacksmith.com), Kalco (www.kalco.com), JH Lighting (www.jhlighting.com), Metro Lighting (www.metrolighting.com) Eleek Inc, (www.eleekinc.com), Schmitt Design (www.schmittdesign.com) and The Basic Source (www.thebasicsource.com). Many of your favorite companies may now offer the fixtures you already love in fluorescent versions, so give them a call or talk to their rep about what they have available.
LED versions of low voltage MR16 lamps like those made by Color Kinetics (www.colorkinetics.com) are able to beautifully highlight paintings or sculpture without any harmful UV light hitting the art. Even those energy eating xenon festoon lamps in the under-cabinet task lights and shelf light come in LED versions; those offered by companies such as Phantom Lighting (www.phantomlighting.com) are dimmable. Another option for under-cabinet task lights would be a series of LED puck lights such as those offered by Lucifer Lighting (www.luciferlighting.com) or fluorescent puck lights such as those offered by Tresco International (www.trescointernational.com).
We incorporate light layering into all our lighting designs, blending decorative, task, accent…and most importantly ambient light. Ambient light (indirect lighting) softens the shadows on people’s faces which helps them look more relaxed and youthful…like architectural Botox.
My recommendation when specifying a luminaire with an energy efficient light source is to choose decorative fixtures with shades or recessed fixtures with translucent lenses that hide the CFL. I like to call it stealth green lighting design. If people see a bulb that looks like a softy ice cream they automatically hate it. They just can’t get over their fear of fluorescents. If the lamp is out of sight…then it is out of mind. And yes, Kermit, it can be easy being green.
Here are a few images of my recent projects showing earth friendly lighting at its most alluring-
- This inviting kitchen, designed by Maria Bell and installed by Mueller/Nicholls, uses only fluorescent and LED sources…except for the candles.
- A detail shot of this same kitchen shows off the lighting inside the cabinets and above the countertops which are LEDs. Even the flowers are accented with an LED source.
- This sleek power room designed by architectural designer, Conrad Sanchez, and interior designer, Nicki West, has a cast glass counter top which is back-lit with a linear LED strip. The two luminous squares that are flanking the sink use dimmable fluorescents as their light source. A vintage photograph (seen in the reflection of the mirror) is illuminated with Lucifer Lighting’s new square adjustable low voltage ZF series.
To get more tips on lighting or to learn more about our services go to www.randallwhitehead.com
Randall Whitehead IALD is an internationally known architectural lighting designer, based in San Francisco. He is not only a prolific author, but an enlightening and humorous speaker on the world of design as well. His work has appeared in Architectural Digest, Art & Antiques, House Beautiful, Kiplinger’s, Horticulture Magazine, Designs for Living, Metropolitan Home, Better Homes & Gardens, The Journal of Light Construction and many more.
Randall appears regularly as a guest expert on the Discovery Channel, CNN, HGTV and Martha Stewart Living Radio. He also writes a monthly column called “The Last Word in Lighting” for Residential Lighting Magazine, answering homeowner’s and designer’s questions on lighting.
Randall has written 7 books on the subject, including Residential Lighting, A Guide to Beautiful and Sustainable Design which is an informative…and entertaining reference book for home and garden lighting.
His latest endeavor takes him back to his photography roots. It is a compelling collection of images called Lost Dolls, The Hidden Lives of Toys.
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