Archive for the ‘Energy Efficiency’ Category

New Environmental Documentary Patagonia Rising Plays at DocFest 2011

Monday, October 10th, 2011

IMG_0687We all make decisions in life. For Chile they have a whopper of a decision that centers on Patagonia. The new documentary film Patagonia Rising that plays at Doc Fest 2011 revolves around issues that will likely alter the region and have far reaching effects in the future.
Patagonia Rising investigates a plan to build five large hydroelectric dams on two of the world’s purest free flowing rivers in Patagonia, Chile.

The film highlights the various cultural communities caught in the middle of a conglomerate with their renewable energy plan, scientists with alternative energy ideas, local pro-dam business people and various local citizens who claim that their culture and livelihood will cease to exist if these dams become a reality.

Besides power and energy, the film also delves into the issue of water rights. As fresh water becomes scarcer, it will someday move ahead of oil as the resource that countries fight over.

The title refers to the climate change that has affected the glacial melt and overflow of many rivers that flow through the region. The film displays how flooding continues to dramatically disrupt communities, agriculture and lifestyle.

Like other enviro doc films, Patagonia Rising creates a well-balanced story that brings awareness to an important situation. Oakland based director Brian Lilla offers some stunning cinematography and subtly brings a human aspect to the situation. Althugh the film offers a mostly anti-dam slant, Lilla attempts to give all sides a voice and let the viewers decide for themselves. Although interesting and insightful, the film lacks emotion and raw energy that other docu films offer. Many of the locals who highlight Lilla’s focus lack dynamism which causes a certain passiveness to the film. A film like this needs more energy and outrage.

The film, produced in 2010, has a fairly short shelf life, with the hydroelectric decision to be made sometime in 2011. Depending on that outcome, the film could represent a historical archive of how things once appeared in Patagonia.

Nisson Leaf Electric Car Sits In Driveway

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011
New Nisson Leaf

New Nisson Leaf

Stay calm. It’s not every day that we get the photo op of a new 100% electric Leaf in someone’s actual driveway. Yes, one of our neighbors who happen to be a knowledgeable electric car guy for Plug In America always seems to use his driveway for a showcase of the newest electric cars.

A few weeks ago he had a Volt sitting there. From time to time he’ll have electric bikes and motorcycles offering tourists and locals in the Lower Haight something sustainable to gawk at.

It’s great to see electric cars on the streets and driveways and out of the showrooms. Hopefully, we’ll see more charging stations out in the cities because without more charging stations people won’t cross over from their gas guzzler. We’re just hoping that some time soon we’ll see charging stations replace gas stations (e.g. A Better Place) and also that he’ll give us ride in his new wheels.

First LEED Platinum Hotel in California

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

olive oil press sculptureWhile most people venture to Napa valley looking for the ultimate Zin or even the latest trendy eatery, others (like those who arrive in Teslas) like to plug in at the region’s Greenest spots. Although dubbed by many as the in new in, chic, trendy inn, the sustainably designed Bardessono (named for environmentally conscious Italian family who still own the land) might be better described as a way for travelers to get their eco-solace on.

The first and currently only LEED-Platinum hotel in California, the Bardessono will give overnight guests the opportunity to truly appreciate the reuse and repurposing of almost every substance rather than just the Green classification acronym. That reuse extends not only to creative use of building and structural materials but also the creative aesthetic touches like the reused Corona bottle glass that outlines the bathroom mirrors.

Although Green and minimalist, the Bardessono offers nods to its Italian roots and well as Zen like touches. Thoughtfully placed within view of several rooms, the olive oil press sculpture offers meditation inducing water (reused) flow to represent olive oil. Not only does the piece offer a pleasing sight and sounds but the fact that the entire piece comes via salvaged items like the stone that used to be part of an 100 year old olive oil press makes it even more attractive.

The fact that Bardessono considers water such an important aspect not only with the various Zen like pieces but the fact that they value the H2O as a precious resource. In addition to the ubiquitous low flow water fixtures and toilets for the indoors, the outdoors contains landscaping designed with native and drought tolerant plants as well as a drip irrigation system. Even the grey and black water gets a second life as irrigation by the town of Yountville.

For us super Greenies who felt somewhat guilty about relaxing in the indoor whirlpool bath or the rooftop based outdoor hot tub and pool, we felt somewhat better knowing that the both solar and geothermal wells go toward heating both the hot tubs and pool. Even the room tubs contain a self-sanitizing feature so chemicals don’t have to be used to clean to fight mildew.

Although many hipsters consider this boutique hotel a new, hip, minimalist trendy overnight option, many guests don’t realize how much sustainable creativity went towards the design. Although some eco-travelers do make a special trip to the Bardessono (like the many electric car owners who know that they can recharge their car or we who arrived in a Prius) many don’t fully appreciate the full environmental thought and how hotels like this one will raise not only the Green building bar but also everyone’s consciousness.

Those Green values and education will help anyone get good night sleep.

5 Energy Efficient Improvements To Make with FHA 203K Loans

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

green fiberHaving recently attended West Coast Green, we couldn’t help but thinking how this whole mortgage crises set the Green building movement back a few years. Unfortunately people will think about getting their loan mod or forbearance before they think about buying formaldehyde free cabinets or installing a water catchment system. The thing that many people don’t realize is that with the right property (and loan officer) buyers can use the FHA 203K loan to improve a home with Green elements.

In terms of Green building and Green interiors, people always get fixated on the energy savings aspects. True, much of Green building centers on energy (and savings) but don’t overlook the health benefits (like using zero VOC paint)

With the 203K loan in mind, here we listed 5 Green improvements that can improve a home, save money and increase the value:

1-    Go Energy Star – Energy Star appliances remain the way to go to not only cut down on an energy bill but it works as a plus for the planet as well. Some Energy Star appliances can chop 20% of a monthly energy bill and they often cost about the same as their inefficient cousins.

2-    Insulate baby Insulate – With winter looming, it only makes sense to either add or upgrade the walls and the attic. Many Green insulation options such as Bonded Logic to soy-based polyurethane can be found.

3-    Water Water Everywhere – Things like low flow showerheads (which should be a given these days) represents an inexpensive fix but think about low flow toilets, tankless hot water heaters, and for the more adventurous a water catchment system.

4-    Replace those Windows – Anyone that has ancient leaky windows might consider replacing them. The low–E, dual pane windows continue to hit the market at a fast clip. To us they represent a no-brainer as they not only preserve energy costs but they cut down on outside noise as well. Typical Eco-Star windows only cost about $15 more then their leaky brothers.

5-    Not to many people in the Bay Area have those old (pre 1992) inefficient furnaces that have a standing pilot light but consider sending it out to pasture (not the junkyard but some place like Building Resources) as they waste abut 35 percent of the fuel the use. Better to use the 203K money for a “condensing furnace” with annual efficiency of at least 90 percent. That number along with the possible 27 percent savings on a heating bill definitely sounds better to us.

Spirited Solar Talk and Tour at West Coast Green 10

Friday, October 1st, 2010
Lot's of good natural light in the solar house

Lot's of good natural light in the solar house

On the first day of West Coast Green 10, only a handful of bloggers (like Zem Joaquin of Ecofabulous) showed up for an informal solar talk presented by SunPower and Luminalt but as they say, we respect the quality more than the quantity. We quality people brought about a spirited talk mentioning the progress of solar and how solar fits just a small green option in the big picture. We raised the question of considering that if someone who has only $50,000 in their pocket would they be better off installing a PV system or maybe a water catchment system, hydronics, some new eco-star appliances.

To be fair, Luminalt made a good case for just making a sales pitch. They work with GoSolarSF, which combines environmental justice and social justice for lower income neighborhoods like the Bayview here in SF. They made a point, which we have seen before, that be having a solar system that reduces their PG & E bill to sometimes nothing can transform the life of someone.

Now part of the discussion ended up being a show and tell of one of the local installation. Of course we would have preferred to see one of the homes in the Bayview but we settled for a posh house in Presidio Terrace. Honestly, the people who opened their house to us do live a mansion and the PG & E bill to them will hardly make a difference but they continue to make a conscious green effort. Besides the 3 7.5 KW solar system they repurposed much of their old furnishings to Building Resources (instead of the dump), they installed eco star appliances, used low VOC paint and drive hybrids. The couple mentioned that they will be purchasing fully electric cars soon.

Although not militantly green they do make an effort. We hope soon that we can say the same for everyone else.

Inman Winery – Pinot, Green and an Old Barn

Friday, September 10th, 2010
Inman Pinot on Terrazzo Countertop

Inman Pinot on Terrazzo Countertop

When someone puts more emphasis on their practices and product rather than their marketing then that might cause one to ponder. Such was the case when we almost passed by Inman Family Wines on our sustainable wine journey. They basically have no signage and they certainly don’t have a big banner (like some other businesses) stating “We’re Green.” Instead owner Kathleen Inman speaks softly and carries a big green stick. In other words – Green deeds not words.

Although Kathleen’s Inman has been selling wine and receiving accolades for over 10 years, she only recently opened her tasting room in July. But like the rest of her operation she thinks about the big picture, as she took the effort to repurpose an old redwood barn into the tasting room and production facility. Although it would certainly qualify for LEED (maybe Gold) status she wisely decided to use the $60,000 or so that it would cost to get LEED certified on things that actually make a difference.

The tasting room utilizes wood from the barn as doors and panels, Nearly all of the steel used to make the primary frame of the building came from post consumer and post industrial recycled materials (old cars), the countertops are either made from Terrazzo (repurposed wine bottles), and the remaining countertops (not quite completed) will be from a composite concrete with high percentage of fly ash. The roof boasts a full array of solar panels (enough to power 98% of the winery), and we wondered around back to check out the water reclamation biomass system, which costs a few hundred grand and will save over 54,600 gallons of water per year with the ability to save even more.

We even liked the story of a local contractor who offered to pave a black tarmac over her decomposed granite parking lot but she told him that they prefer to minimize the heat-island effect. She didn’t really say that to him but we just embellished the story a bit.

Lot’s of people talk big when it comes to Green this and sustainable that but she puts her philosophy (and her bank account) in action. Her farming practices come as close to organic and biodynamic (although she has not received certification yet) and probably exceed most of the standards. We nibbled on the grapes right off the vine (don’t try that at a conventional farm) before even sampling her well respected 2008 Pinot Gris , 2008 Endless Crush Rose, and three Pinot Noirs all 2007 – the Thorn Ridge Ranch, the OGV Estate (Olivet Grange Vineyard, which is the organically farmed vineyard surrounding the winery) and the Russian River.

Most winemakers have wine running through their veins but Katherine Inman has big carafe of Green mixed in as well. She believes in making great wine but doing it the right way. We clink glasses to that philosophy. Cheers.

Better Place CEO Shai Agassi Creates Buzz at Churchill Club

Monday, July 19th, 2010
Shai Agassi and Mark Johnson

Shai Agassi and Mark Johnson

Sometimes when walking into a room you can just feel the buzz and in this case the buzz came from the talk of electric cars and batteries by Better Place CEO Shai Agassi. We actually heard about this guy sometime ago with his vision to make zero emission vehicles a worldwide standard. Seeing Agassi in person at the Churchill Club event on July 15, moderated by Mark Johnson of Innosight, offered insight into Agassi’s thinking and business model of his company and infrastructure that will allow the electric car to move from back of the bus status into a major transportation option.

Americans simply don’t want to give up their $20,000 pollution emitting cars due to convenience. Americans don’t consider the $40 of black gold that they fork out each week to fill their tanks. Add that amount up versus the price of a rechargeable electric battery and the car expense seems less prohibitive. In terms of car expense, Agassi mentions that when the electric car is priced like a 3-year old gas car, then we will hit a tipping point. The cost to recharge batteries is based on “cheap electricity” like charging a battery in the middle of the night, so the costs are less. Even before the BP disaster, the cost to extract oil keeps rising and costs 20 times more to get than any other energy source.

Agassi made an interesting technology analogy where in the past we used snail mail, then moved to faxes, then to email and similarly we went from gas cars to hybrids and now we won’t move back to gas cars but forward to more technology driven electric cars. Agassi claims that each year batteries have improved eight percent so eventually we wont need (battery) switch stations.

Of course, the US and the moribund US automakers will take a wait and see attitude. Renault has put forth 15 percent of its R&D budget to work on the electric cars. The last company chief who put 15% of the R &D to a non-existing product was Steve Jobs (Ipod, Ipad). Agassi whose switch stations now dot Israel and Denmark said that the electric car versus the end of using oil would be a huge factor that determines the survival of the US dollar and US economy. If we can get crawl out form the oil wells and at least offer the same oil type incentives (subsidies) to people like Agassi and the electric car industry, then America and other counties will definitely find themselves in a Better Place.

Laguna Honda Hospital Will Mark the First Green-Certified Hospital in California

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

laguna_honda_hospitalWith the downturn in overall new building, more sustainable efforts have seemingly fallen by the wayside. We’re glad to see that some projects have not totally disappeared. On June 26, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom will cut the ribbon on San Francisco’s new Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center, which will mark the first green-certified hospital in California.

Especially with energy still on everyone’s radar, the new technology in the hospital’s three new buildings will focus on energy and water savings. The buildings will use 30% less energy than statutory requirements, have Energy Star rated roofs which keep the buildings cooler on hot days and reduce energy use, and they have “closed-loop” air conditioning systems, meaning the system uses water for cooling is reused rather than wasted. Although do they really need AC in San Francisco?

Because this is a hospital, designers and builders people actually gave a nod to indoor air quality with use of low or zero VOC paints, wood, glues, and flooring materials in the new buildings. Reducing the highly toxic VOC’s, and other indoor air contaminants will only improve indoor health for Laguna Honda residents and staff.

With this green thinking, finally hospitals will start to realize that hospital recovery not only comes with injecting various medicines into patients but giving them a place that offers a healthier environment as well.

Image courtesy JKL

World’s First Convention Center Achieves LEED Platinum Rating

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

vancourvercovcenterNo doubt the current Olympics has and continue to dazzle people with the drama (some outside of the venues) but somehow lost amongst the sports accomplishments remains the fact that Vancouver touted this Olympics as the Greenest ever. It seems that China also made that claim a couple years ago. Instead of getting into a comparison of this green aspect versus that sustainable item, we took a look at the Vancouver Convention Center West, which marks the World’s First Convention Center to Achieve LEED Platinum Rating.

Yes, we’ve discussed our feeling about the LEED label and how we would like seeing more money going toward sustainable aspects versus a LEED plaque but nonetheless they built an impressive structure, which currently hosts the international media for the Olympic games. When the Olympics pack-up Vancouver will still have the dazzling sustainable structure.

What we like most is the six-acre living roof (Canada’s largest) which contains 400,000 native plants and grasses, and the green roof acts as an insulator to mediate the exterior air temperature, as well as reduces the building’s storm water runoff and integrates with the waterfront landscape ecosystem. With Vancouver being such a water friendly city, we also applaud the on-site black water treatment and desalinization systems that are projected to reduce potable water use 60 to 70 percent over typical convention centers. On the energy side, the center includes a heat pump system that takes advantage of the constant temperature of the adjacent seawater to produce heating and cooling. Very cool.

The people of Sochi have their work cut out for them if they hope to continue the Green trend of Olympics venues and buildings.

Free Federal Tax Incentive Green Decoder

Friday, July 10th, 2009

de-coder-logoDid you know that if you install a Biomass Stove – wood, pellets, etc. that you can nab a  30% tax credit ($1,500  max) up until 2010? Who knows that homeowners can get a 30% tax break for installing Solar Hot Water Heating until  2016? Maybe the new American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) which was signed into law by President Obama in February 2009 isn’t as complicated as the IRS tax code but does anyone really want to delve into the 400 pages of legislation to figure all the ins and outs about how to qualify for the green tax credits available to homeowners?

In a Cliff’s Notes version of the myriad incentives, rebates, and tax incentives GREENandSAVE has created a Federal Tax Incentive Decoder and condensed the material to 11 bite sized pages. Best of all, this resource does not cost a dime and can be downloaded at: http://www.greenandsave.com/homecheckup/free_federal_tax_incentive_decoder

(more…)