Monday, April 27, 2009

--"The Green House of the Future"

The Wall Street Journal profiles four visions of future homes. Three of them are, frankly, useless. But one thinker was grounded firmly in reality:

"Looking to the future isn't the only way to be innovative. The house from architect Steve Mouzon, of Mouzon Design in Miami Beach, Fla., uses tomorrow's technologies while mining ancient techniques to reduce energy use.

"For instance, solar paneling built directly into the roof and fa├žade provides electricity and hot water. But the house also employs a 'breeze chimney,' an architectural tool used by the ancients, as a kind of old-school air conditioning.

"The difference between the air pressure in the chimney and outside causes hot air to flow out of the chimney stack and cooler air to enter through windows and doors.

"'It must make sense first,' says Mr. Mouzon, a so-called New Urbanist architect who believes in traditional designs that emphasize pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. His house 'isn't trying to do wild and wacky things with roof shapes or wall shapes but a good sensible building that is highly lovable. It is inventive where it needs to be.'"

Read the whole article here, where a larger plan of the above drawing is also available.

--"Major Emitters Meet"

If your business is not preparing to green itself, then this story from NPR should make you reconsider. Leaders from the 16 countries that produce the majority (75%+) of the world's greenhouse gases will be meeting to discuss how emissions might be curbed.

Two points are notable: First, China surpassed the US as the leading emitter of greenhouse gases earlier this year. This fact, coupled with a US Presidency more willing to respond to the threat of global warming, suggests that the United States might be moving into a "moral high ground" on climate change that it was unable to assume before. You can't wag your finger at the bad guy when you're the bad guy. But when someone else steals that spot from you? Wag away.

More importantly, however, is the fact that this meeting might mean international agreements among the most industrialized nations in the world regarding emissions from manufacturing. Business leaders have until this point been unwilling to accept higher emissions standards in the United States, and perhaps rightly so. If a manufacturer of steel in the US is hit with a massive carbon-emissions tax, for instance, then suddenly imported steel from China or some other country with no such tax becomes more financially feasible, even with the cost of shipping added in. Not only are greenhouse gases not curbed by such a measure, but they are in fact increased, as China presently has lower emissions standards than the US, and the emissions from shipping the material across the Pacific have to be factored in. Cap-and-trade restrictions in one nation alone would be merely a reverse tariff on domestic trade, which would have to be countered with international trade tariffs to balance the cost. The result would be pricier goods, more greenhouse gases, and strained international relations. The reason this meeting matters, then, is that suddenly every industrialized nation might be willing to impose new regulations at the same time, eliminating the penalty of being the only nation to spearhead regulation.

What does this mean? It means that a business model designed with green industry in mind will profit. It means stock in a green company will sky-rocket. It means consumer demand for goods that are unaffected by escalating "climate tax" costs will be astronomical. All industries are facing the fact that they must brace for this change.

Prediction: Home-builders who build homes with the correct balance of aesthetic appeal, energy efficiency, and upfront cost will be indescribably in demand over the next twenty years. Are you one of those home-builders?

--"Literally Green Facades"

This article discusses how creeping vines are used to clad building facades and decrease solar heat gain. This is yet another inexpensive way to work in harmony with the environment of a home in order to reduce dependency on expensive, inefficient heating and cooling devices.

Imagine a Southern home that is covered in Morning Glory, Moonflowers, Wysteria, or Ivy. During the summer, the plants shade the walls and act like an exterior layer of insulation. A trellis keeps the plant from deteriorating the wall material, while also allowing a pocket of air to circulate, benefitting both the plant and the home. When winter arrives, the plant dies, is cut back (and composted in order to benefit the next season's growth!) and now the sun's rays can directly heat the home and warm the interior spaces.

I'll take this chance to note that, despite colder-than-average temperatures, I never once had my heat pump turned on until after sunset this winter. I just opened the curtains on the southern exposure to my house, and the sun did all the heating for me!

Monday, April 20, 2009

--WSJ: "U.S. in Historic Shift on CO2"

U.S. in Historic Shift on CO2:Businesses Brace for Costly New Rules as EPA Declares Warming Gases a Threat

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration declared Friday that carbon dioxide and five other industrial emissions threaten the planet. The landmark decision lays the groundwork for federal efforts to cap carbon emissions -- at a potential cost of billions of dollars to businesses and government.

Keep Reading

Is your home-building business prepared?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

--For Sale in Florida

This beach house is for sale in Florida right now, and the listing specifically notes that the house draws on the region's traditional architecture. Note that the primary living space is elevated (to avoid storm surges). The roof is broad (to divert rain) and metal (to reflect heat). The eaves are extended (to shade the windows). The windows are numerous (to maximize light and to allow for sea breezes). A large porch allows for plenty of outdoor living space on cool nights. This house has many smart, New Regionalist features.

--The Wisma Negeri

Seremban is a city in Malaysia and the capital of its state. This particular state is the homeland of the Minangkabau culture and is also subject to the torrential rains of the Monsoon season. The high roofs of their structures, though now largely ornamental, originally evolved to keep interior spaces dry. The bottom image shows the first Minangkabau village, the middle image a modern home, and the top image the modern state capital in Seremban. The inspiration for the sweeping gables is the horn of bulls, but you'll easily see that the gutter-like dimensions of the valleys diverts the heavy downpours off and away from the structure. Environmental adaptation drawn from vernacular wisdom is the heart of New Regionalism.

--Polish Hotel "Redyk"

This hotel matters. Though thoroughly modern in construction method and materials, its distinctive design is based entirely on the traditional structures in the surrounding Polish mountains. The roof diverts snow so effectively as to need no improvement over the vernacular style. This rubric is the key to New Regionalism.

Friday, April 17, 2009

--"An Exploration of Indigenous Building Forms"

I can't praise this project highly enough. A services center for a First Nations community in Nova Scotia, the building it based on a traditional Native American Longhouse. Not only is it visually stunning, but its dimensions simultaneously provide passive solar warmth while diverting significant snowfalls--gains first understood by First Nations who built long houses centuries ago. Congratulations to Piskwepaq Design Inc. on a commendable job!


This project proves that energy efficiency can be created through the same attention to location that integrates a building to site. In fact, the two goals are more realistically one in the same! Of course, the building is more modern than a New Regionalist structure would ideally be, but the conscientious attention to environment is important, nevertheless.


The Fundamentals of Green Construction are important to keep in mind. Anyone wishing to profit from sustainable home development should note, however, that homes with grass roofs will likely never appeal to the mass market. But homes that cut energy costs by using local materials arranged for a local climate? Well, that's one kind of green that will lead to lots of another kind of green.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

--A Green House That You Would Probably Never Buy

Read more, here

Until builders realize that only people who define themselves totally by their eco-awareness want an home that screams "WE RECYCLE!", green homebuilding will never be a serious market force. Thanks for this useless house, Brad Pitt.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

--The Three Ways to Build "Green"

The term "Green" is thrown around a lot these days. An examination of the ways one can "build green" would be helpful. This brief thumbnail sketch will examine green methods in decreasing order of environmental impact.

1) The method of green building that has the greatest environmental impact (and therefore the least benefit to the environment) is the "Energy Efficiency" method. This is also the method that will receive the greatest attention in coming years, because it does not represent any major divergence from our present construction trajectory. The history of human construction has been an effort to find the sweet spot among the variables of better, stronger, faster, and cheaper construction. In modern times, this has meant tighter envelopes and more energy-efficient appliances. Homes use nominally less energy to engage precisely the same heating, cooling, cooking, cleaning, and entertaining goals. Because this method is simple--contractors build almost exactly as they always have, but use insulation with higher R-values and install appliances with Energy Star labels--the building industry will have no reason to stray from it.

2) The second method of building green has less to do with the house-as-product and more to do with the materials employed to produce it. Bricks and lumber reclaimed from previous demolition projects, straw bales and biomass in lieu of synthetic insulation, and specially-engineered low-environmental-impact materials are the focus of this method. The principle goal of this type of construction is to ensure that front-end environmental impact is as little as possible. Because this method alone might conceivably involve little savings for the home-buyer (and indeed greater costs up front), the method will remain appealing largely to a niche subset of environmentally-conscious consumers.

3) The third method of building green involves the greatest paradigm shift in construction, but ultimately requires only nominal effort by developers, architects, and builders to produce enormous payoff for home-buyers. New Regionalist architecture involves designing a home to interact with its environment so perfectly as to reduce demand for electricity, gas, and water and thereby create energy savings. Because this method depends not on the latest appliances (which will always become obsolete) nor on expensive building materials (which are obviously cost-prohibitive for the mass market), it is intensely viable as energy prices continue to rise.

4?) The forth method is, of course, a combination of the above. Perfect green construction would somehow involve each of the three methods described above.

The New Regionalist hopes that all methods for building green are seriously considered for the marketplace, as failing to do so will not remain economically viable.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

--Multifamily can be green, too

A resource guide.

--"Creating Character" from Southern Living

"Worthy of an epic best-seller, this new Lowcountry home takes its cues from old regional architecture and well-crafted features. You’ll be inspired to bring this oh-so Southern look to your house."

While not necessarily New Regionalist in nature (we don't know anything about the energy savings--the home was designed to look Southern, not to function in the South), this house is still an important signpost along the way! Check it out!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

--The Artic Dome (not misspelled)

A great example of architecture tailored to environment: the Artic Dome Amazing how wisdom can be drawn from the insights of first peoples.

--The Benefits of "Daylighting"

“Daylighting represents the single largest ‘new’ opportunity for energy savings in commercial lighting today and for the foreseeable future.”

Monday, April 6, 2009

--"This Old Wasteful House"

According to this op-ed in the New York Times, retrofitting older homes could save millions of metric tons of carbon. Homes built before 1939 use, on average, 50% more energy than homes built in 2000. The article notes, however, that these losses are due to absence of insulation. Combined with capitalizing on older homes' natural design elements, retrofitting could be cost-effective.

--"Regionalism: New Mexico's Contribution to Architecture"

An interesting overview of architecture in Albuquerque, including how global movements like Art Deco were adapted by Pueblo and Spanish influences to suit the American Southwest.

--Energy Secretary to speak at Harvard Commencement

In what constitutes yet another indication that energy policy will be at the forefront of politics in the coming years, Harvard has announced that Secretary of Energy Chu will deliver its next Commencement Address. Secretary Chu shares this distinction with Secretary of State George C. Marshall, who announced his plan to finance European recovery while delivering the speech. I suspect we should all be listening closely!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

--You Simply Must Check Out...

...The Architectural Evangelist. Now. Seriously.

--Energy Efficiency in Georgia

Check out this article for updates on how the federal stimulus will promote energy efficiency in Georgia, thereby having far-reaching effects on the market for green construction in the entire Southeastern Region.