Posts Tagged ‘Green Building’

New Microsite Makes It Easier To Find Green Home Products

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

LEED logoSeveral years ago before the real estate market imploded, the trend in the real estate and building industry looked Green. True, not ever building or homeowner slapped on solar panel or installed a tankless water heater but many did move in direction of sustainably built homes.

Then with the real estate industry tanking, Green building went out the dual paned window. Maybe things in the real estate will again turn that Green corner

Homeowners and contractors can now find Green building products through the LEED Home Depot. This microsite within the main Home Depot site lists over 2500 products, many of which qualify for LEED points.

We’ve said before that we’re not all about LEED points. People often get caught up in the points and forget about the aspect of Green building itself.

Green building offers homeowners opportunities to reduce energy and resource consumption. However Green building offers more than just lower utility bills, as the often overlooked aspect of heath and superior air quality remain paramount in the overall Green picture.

Last year, Green building comprised 17% of new residential construction, tripling since 2008, and expected to increase to 29%-38% of the market by 2016, according to a McGraw-Hill Construction report.

Here’s to a Green real estate recovery.

True Sustainable Eco Lodge At Hix Island House In Vieques

Friday, January 13th, 2012
Casa Solaris

Casa Solaris

The tourism department for Puerto Rico claims that the ex-military base for the US turned tourist destination Vieques offers visitors a eco-island experience. They may claim eco-island status as a whole however we had to search pretty diligently to find anything authentically eco friendly. Our diligence paid off with a visit to the muy verde Hix Island House

Our timing couldn’t have been better as the hillside eco resort recently opened a new additional called Casa Solaris. We see many lodges called “eco lodges” but Hix Island House offers a true and tranquil eco-villa experience.  Firstly, the architect John Hix created his new Casa Solaris building completely off the grid. The completely self contained wing offers six minimalist designed rooms powered by both a photovoltaic system and solar hot water. The pool also gets its heat from the nearby solar panels and contains a locally used a low chemical cleaning system significantly less toxic than the typical chlorine based products.

Speaking of water, in addition to dual flush toilets, the building contains a greywater system that transports used sink and shower water to the nearby field to irrigate the soon to be planted bananas trees and other indigenous fruits.

Lest we forget abut the materials used to create the building. Originally John Hix wanted to use wood however he discovered that wood doesn’t hold up well through hurricanes so he opted for concrete. The use of concrete in the overall design includes the floor, walls, countertops and showers. The al fresco shower may be the best experience with the cement floor and walls, the views of the rain forest and ocean, as well as the fact that the heated water comes via the sun.

We also enjoyed the fresh baked bread and the local fruit (Mango). One of our few disappointments comes from the fact that locals don’t grow more local tropical fruit (Corazon, passion fruit) which they grow on the main island. The Hix Island House staff already planted various fruit trees to rectify that issue.

Besides letting guests know about the sustainable design of this villa, they continue to educate the locals so that Viequenses will use the sustainable knowledge to create sustainable homes and lodges of their own.

The education, design and sustainability make the Hix Island House one of the true eco-resorts not only in Puerto Rico but in todo el mundo.

Northstar’s New Zephyr Lodge Shoots For LEED

Monday, December 26th, 2011

zephyr ski lodgeIt’s been a dry winter in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and that must mean that Mother Nature must be telling us something. She’s telling us to go sustainable or no more snow. Maybe that’s an exaggeration but some resorts have begun to get the message. Some resorts (like Northstar) have built new projects with LEED certification standards.

We got a chance to check out Northstar’s newly opened Zephyr Lodge. The warmly designed building is shooting for LEED certification which takes a snowshoe step in the right direction.

We couldn’t help but notice the wood paneled interior and exterior which not only gives the lodge a cozy feeling but it does so in a sustainable way using reclaimed barn wood and tin from Montana.

The interior receives a notable amount of natural light from the large window wall that faces the mountains. To us, that design is a no brainer with a great view and tons of natural light.

Speaking of light, the lodge also offers high tech programming in the building so that lights only turn on when a lack of ambient light exists.

The bathrooms offer the ubiquitous low flow toilets and we love the high powered hand dryers. We just have to question why they have paper towel dispensers next to the hand dryers.

We sampled some of the tasty cuisine which supposedly offers a significant amount of either organic or locally sourced ingredients. We haven’t verified the menu ingredients yet. Stick around as we post more about the sustainable slopes in the Lake Tahoe region.

PCBC and West Coast Green Combination – Organic Architect Speaks

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

P1010666San Francisco might be known for food, liberalism and Green laws but also for density. Not the stupid kind but rather living in tight quarters. With those ideas, it made sense to combine PCBC and West Coast Green especially considering that real estate, especially new construction and Green building, continue to suffer greatly due to the economic downturn. After all dirty building and green building belong in the same event.

The crowds seemed a little thin on the first day at San Francisco’s Moscone Center but things will probably pick up during day two. One place where the crowd packed into the space was to see noted organic architect Eric Corey freed. The noted sustainable Howard Roark never disappoints in his presentations no matter the setting.

Freed offered his usual collection of bold, entertaining, outrageous slides to accompany his presentation. (Where does he get those photos?) A good portion of his 20 minute presentation focused on the car and how we have designed our society around the auto. Besides sprinkling in car facts such as the average American spends 84 hours stuck in traffic, and 94 percent of cars remain parked. So why do we have a love affair with our cars? Cars only destroy community which rings true in places like LA and Houston.

Even though Freed makes his living as a noted architect, his presentation weighed so heavily against the car that you might think that he changed his profession to bicycle inventor. His anti-car discussion eventually lead to several ideas to fix cities so that they change into people friendly instead of car friendly areas:

1-     Ban the lawns and replace with victory gardens.

2-     No straight streets.

3-     Require porous roads and lots to reduce water waste

4-     Make solar available as an over the counter purchase

5-     Bring back corner stores. This one we might not totally agree with unless the corner stores actually sell something besides processed crap.

6-     Encourage local real estate developers so that houses don’t look cookie cutter all over the US.

It’s good to have to someone thinking out of the box even if his requirements run on a slightly fascist model.

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.

A Green Look at the Grand Canyon

Monday, November 15th, 2010
Miwak lodge

Maswik lodge

From Costa Rica to Alaska and many places in between, travelers like us often see eco-lodges proudly displaying advertising claiming how “eco friendlily” or “green” the lodge is. Oftentimes, the “eco-lodge” claim has more to do with the location in a rain forest, in or near a state park. Some places might be better tagged Greenwashing lodge. That doesn’t mean that lodges located in national park areas can’t be considered eco-friendly or even (gasp) sustainable minded.

Take some of the lodges that sit right on the ledge (or close to it) of the Grand Canyon. Anyone would be hard pressed to find any excess PR expressing how Green the Maswik or Bright Angel lodges are. The Xanterra lodges have been on the Green bandwagon for about 10 years (and that includes the Grand Canyon Railway that during certain dates runs on cooking grease from their own used cooking oil.)

Good thing they act proactively with their resources because Arizona seems be in drought denial. Eventually, the state will run out of fresh water and if the hotels (especially the ones in Phoenix) don’t do something about it then the state will be something like dust in the wind.

Water, more than any other resource, remains a top concern for the Grand Canyon hotels.
At the Maswik and Bright Angel lodges, the guest and public bathrooms offer numerous water savings features like low flow showerheads, low flow and hooray waterless toilets. Get over the waterless urinals guys.

In the Canyon, people don’t realize that 40% of the park’s energy use comes as a result of moving water. Not drinking it, just moving it.

Beyond the H2O, one of the big challenges comes about because the historical buildings have certain limitations and restrictions so it isn’t like they can just place a water catchment system (or even solar panels) on the lodges.

They focus on small creative things with significant environmental impact but low visibility impact. The Bright Angle lodge recently installed recycled carpet in their dining room, which counts as only a small aspect to their attempt for LEED Gold certification. Even those small shampoo bottles, normally taboo in an eco lodge, come in Plastarch bottles, made from a corn based, biodegradable material.

For those who don’t get enough environmental reading, feel free to check out a copy of the company sustainability report that resides in each room. It contains successes and failures but at least they continue to be transparent.

Next week – we go down the trails and into Phantom Ranch.

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.

Radius Sticks To Its Locally Inspired Theme

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

radiusWhen people talked about locally grown or produced they usually mean within 200 miles or so. That’s normally about how far we expand our blog radius. The radius of where things come from marks not only the name of this French California inspired café and restaurant but also the philosophy behind Radius.

This SoMa based café and restaurant doesn’t just plaster the name up as a marketing gimmick but the owners stand behind their idea. Their food, wine and even the building elements that make up the interior generally comes from within 200 miles.

Most people will point to their Tamales Bay oysters, Ritual coffee, Pt. Reyes Blue – Cow Girl cheese and Anchor Steam beer but we find the repurposed church pews (from a San Jose church) used for table seating and the reused display cabinets deliciously appealing. The owners sourced practically all of the furniture, fixtures and equipment from other places. All of the reclaimed wood from the floors to the tables gives the café and restaurant an invitingly warm feel.

Radius maintains an advantage of its location. The restaurant can and does source wine from Napa and Sonoma, seafood from just up the coast and organic veggies from the plethora of farmers markets. But the trick would be to open a Radius in say Des Moines. Sure, keeping within the radius to manage the Green building element would be doable but sourcing a food and drinks menu such as the one here in SoMa would present a sizable challenge. Hopefully, others will be inspired by the Radius philosophy and rise to the challenge of making things work from a local scale rather than from a globalized, generic world view.

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.