Making it Easier to be Green
Green design includes energy conservation, but that's not what it's all about. It's about having good air quality both indoors and outdoors, making the environments in which we work, live, study and play healthier and more comfortable and conserving all of our natural resources.
This site will provide a balanced, holistic view that includes advice about saving energy, water and other natural resources, improving indoor air quality, using environmentally responsible design and construction techniques and minimizing waste.

I will be focusing on interiors for three reasons:

  • We spend about 90% of our time indoors.
  • Buildings in the United States annually consume about 30% of our total energy and 75% of our electricity.
  • As a New York State Certified Interior Designer and a LEED Accredited Professional, I want to share my knowledge and expertise with you.
Sustainable design and construction can be done in many different styles and using a wide variety of materials. There are examples of healthy, sustainable, comfortable and inviting interiors for commercial, not-for-profit and residential clients on the web site for Interior Design Solutions.
You can use the labels on the sidebar to locate entries that you want to read. For instance, most people might want to look at the entries for "Green Homes," but "Green Finance" would be of more interest to professionals involved in the design, construction, management, financing and marketing of buildings.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Solar Decathlon 2013 - Small House, Big Picture

Team Middlebury College presented one of the most comprehensive, holistic approaches to sustainability that I’ve seen, incorporating environmental, economic, and social responsibility. Their InSite house is a charming, comfortable, and compact family home designed using principles that the team describes as “Five Points of InSiteful Design. Inspired by Le Corbusier’s ‘Five Points of Modern Architecture,’ these are five universal principles that serve as a guide to local living and can be implemented in every community – from new construction to home improvement.”  The principles include living in a walkable community, prioritizing social space, centralizing energy systems, engaging the street, and using local materials.

One especially innovative aspect of Middlebury’s project that demonstrated that the team was mindful of the “big picture” of sustainability was their decision to design and build a house that they shipped cross-country by rail, greatly reducing the carbon footprint associated with truck transport. 

The house is pursuing Platinum as a LEED for Homes project.

Solar Decathlon houses cannot be larger than 1,000 square feet, so many of the teams designed houses used large expanses of glass to integrate outdoor and indoor spaces and make their compact houses seem larger. Middlebury’s house was thoughtfully designed to maximize comfort and privacy and minimize energy use in its urban in-fill setting in Middlebury Vermont, which is often very cold in the winter. InSite features a tight and well-insulated thermal enclosure and significantly less, more strategically placed, glass than many of its counterparts.
This comfortable, warm and inviting house was designed for a couple with one child.  The high ceiling of the open-plan common area makes it feel more spacious.  It provides ample shared space for the living room, dining area, and kitchen.

The practical, functional layout includes two bedrooms that are separated by a shelf-lined hallway for privacy. The team took advantage of every inch of space, including using the thickness of the exterior wall to create a window seat.

The solar array is separate from the house, which is a very clever way of illustrating the relative ease of adding renewable energy to an existing house.  The solar panels are visible to anyone passing by the house, fostering ideas for a solar carport, porch, or tool shed. The panels are steeply pitched so that they will normally shed snow, and can easily be cleaned from the ground using a squegee.

For Additional Information on the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon 2013 Visit the Web Site: Solar Decathlon 2013

Top Two Photos by: Jason Flakes/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Bottom Two Photos from Middlebury College Decathlon Team
Web Site

Friday, November 8, 2013

U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Teams at Decathlon Village
 Photo: Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

I have looked over a couple of my recent posts about the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, and feel that some clarification is in order.  While my blog entries focus just on a few aspects of the houses that were particularly attractive, even “subjective” contests like Market Appeal were judged according to clearly defined parameters in a very analytical fashion.

For the Solar Decathlon, collegiate teams design and build energy-efficient houses powered by the sun. These teams spend almost two years creating houses to compete in the 10 contests of the Solar Decathlon. Each house should:
  • Be affordable, attractive, and easy to live in
  • Maintain comfortable and healthy indoor environmental conditions
  • Supply energy to household appliances for cooking, cleaning, and entertainment
  • Provide adequate hot water
  • Produce as much or more energy than it consumes
Each team built its house for a target client of its choosing. The Market Appeal Jury of which I was a part evaluated the responsiveness of the house design to the characteristics and requirements of the target client. The criteria that we considered were:
  • Livability - Does the design offer a safe, functional, convenient, comfortable, and enjoyable place to live? Does it feature intuitive house controls? Does it meet the unique needs and desires of the target client?
  • Marketability - Does the house have curb appeal, interior appeal, and quality craftsmanship? How well do its sustainability features and strategies contribute to its marketability? Does the house offer potential homebuyers within the target market a good value?
  • Buildability - Would the construction documents enable a contractor to generate an accurate construction cost estimate and then construct the building as the design team intended it to be built? Could the house's materials and equipment be immediately adopted and built in the private sector?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Solar Decathlon 2013 - A Tribute to Trees

Austria - Toward Media Center
Austria - Toward Deck
Team Austria, which was the overall winner for the 2013 Solar Decathlon, also took second prize in the  Market Appeal competition.  The inspiration for and central design element of this beautiful house was the tree, which has special meaning in Austria. About half of the country’s surface area is heavily forested, and a long history of sustainable forestry assures continued availability of this important natural resource. As the team explains, Austria’s plentiful forests have “for millennia provided environ­mental protection against severe climate conditions and natural disasters, indispensable energy sources and habitats for diverse wildlife, as well as an especially valued, lightweight, renewable resource for building construc­tion. The use of wood as a primary construction material is further­more CO2-neutral and beneficially impacts indoor climate.”

We loved the interplay between the clean, minimalistic design of this house and the warm ambience created by its extensive use of wood.  The craftsmanship in this small gem of a house (a mere 639 sq ft., not counting the mechanical room) was exquisite.  The indoor and outdoor spaces form a single harmonious whole with large sliding glass panels that completely disappear when open (they are concealed inside of the cabinets that line the walls).

This prototype for a pre-fabricated house is designed in modules that fit into standard shipping containers.  The team explained that their design follows the organization of a tree’s main components: the floor-to-ground connections that form the sound “root” foun­dation, the main service core that metaphorically comprises the systemic “trunk” of the house, the structural framework that “bran­ches” out to carry the building envelope, and the changeable textile façade layers that act as protective “foliage” when needed. 

The house and its furnishings are const­ructed almost entirely of domestic wood products.  Both affordability and environmental sustainability are maximized by using the whole tree, including the typically wasted bark, wood chippings and shavings.  For instance, the walls of the bedroom and bathroom are specially-treated bark, and the dining chairs are made of compressed wood chips.  

The team also used outdoor textiles in an innovative and elegant way, creating a passive solar mechanism that mimics the effect of deciduous trees. The whole house, including the outdoor space, is surrounded by a textile façade layer consisting of curtains made of white camo cloth combined with retractable horizontal shading devices. The system minimizes solar gain during the summer months, allowing diffuse daylight to reach the interior and creating a delightful dappled effect similar to sunlight filtering through a tree canopy. The vertical and horizontal textile layers can be fully retracted in winter to maximize solar gain.   

Austria - Deck with Curtains Partially Opened
For Additional Information on the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon 2013 Visit the Web Site: Solar Decathlon 2013

Photos by: Jason Flakes/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Monday, November 4, 2013

Solar Decathlon 2013 - Viva Las Vegas!

I was honored to recently serve on the Market Appeal jury for the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon for a second time. The Decathlon challenges collegiate teams to design, build and operate sustainable solar-powered homes that are beautiful, comfortable, and affordable. All 19 houses were net-zero energy or better in the measured competition, and most of them effectively addressed a number of sustainability issues.

My colleagues and I awarded first place to Team Las Vegas’ entry, DesertSol, an eloquent architectural response to the Mojave Desert climate. The architecture creates a sense of place, celebrates the beauty of a unique ecosystem and emphasizes the importance of an increasingly scarce resource, water. The team defined their central inspiration as a commitment to demonstrate the residents’ relationship with water as well as conserving water in many different ways. The focus on water is particularly appropriate, since Las Vegas was originally founded on the site of natural springs that dried up in merely 50 years due to overdrawing, and there’s danger of repeating history by overdrawing the area’s current water reserve in Lake Mead.

The spatial organization and open plan of this compact, 754 square foot home make it seem much larger than it actually is, and it beautifully combines sustainable design and luxurious amenities.

The layout and finishes of the bathroom make it feel like an elegant, rejuvenating spa. Panels of shimmer glass tiles in the shower and behind the custom sink evoke waterfalls.

A particularly striking feature is the central entry, a space framed between the private and public parts of the house. The entry overlooks what is supposed to be a water feature but was actually more effective than originally planned in emphasizing the vital importance of that element. The team envisioned “a shallow pool of water with a bubbling center, reminiscent of the springs, designed to collect the precious four inches of precipitation each year and store the rainwater in a cistern.” But because there was no rain to fill the cachement system, the house centers around an arroyo (dry creek bed).

The rainwater cachement system was to be used, together with grey-water, to provide any water needed for landscape irrigation. But not much water would be required because the team used native desert plants that require virtually no watering once their roots are established. The plumbing fixtures and the appliances all help save water.

The Mojave is a harsh environment, the exceptional dryness, the intense contrast of sunlight and deep shadows have a profound impact, and the team’s material selection responds to these challenges positively by choosing natural, durable materials that age well in the desert. The silver-gray wood (recycled fencing) and rusted metal of the exterior reference the ghost towns of western lore. The connection between the indoor and outdoor spaces is emphasized by the use of the exterior wood on the walls of the entryway.

Movable perforated steel screens provide privacy for the bedroom and shade in the summer. The pattern evokes light filtering through the leaves of mesquite trees.

For Additional Information on the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon 2013 Visit the Web SiteSolar Decathlon 2013

Photos by: Jason Flakes/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Seeking Water from the Sun

Most of us take plentiful access to drinking water for granted, and don't think twice about how much we waste when we install inefficient plumbing fixtures, leave the water running when we don't need to,  and plant lawns, flowers and ornamental shrubs that require frequent irrigation. 

Okay, I'm cheating here --- there was never much rainfall in the land occupied in the Navajo Nation, and  brackish water is not a new problem in this area.  But  potable water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource, even in the U.S.  And there's increasing pressure to allow hydro-fracking, even where it could affect all of our drinking water.              

40 percent of the population on some parts of the Navajo Nation does not have access to potable water. That doesn’t just mean drinking water.  The water is not even good enough to bathe in, wash dishes, irrigate a vegetable garden or quench the thirst of livestock. Many Navajos have to make long trips every few days to haul water from communal wells.  A large part of the problem is that most of the groundwater of the Navajo Nation is salty,  brackish and impossible to drink because it comes through a salt cavern.

Scientists from the University of Arizona and the Bureau of Reclamation took on a project to design and build an off-the-grid prototype solar solution that would purify existing undrinkable water. The system  co-generation solar system will produce heat and electricity to run the entire desalination system without being tied to the grid.   

The project has been showcased in Seeking Water from the Sun, a 30-minute documentary detailing the designing and building of this solar-powered water distillation prototype.  The documentary can be viewed on the Arizona Public Media Site:

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Absence of Evidence is not Evidence of Absence

During a conversation about the impact of indoor environmental quality on employee productivity, someone I know said "All of the evidence is anecdotal."  But when there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence linking improved indoor environmental quality to reduced absenteeism, the odds are that the correlation does have significance.

Using absenteeism to evaluate the impact of indoor environmental quality on productivity is like using fatalities to evaluate car safety. In both cases, only the most extreme impacts are considered.

Often people continue to work while suffering from respiratory problems, itchy or teary eyes, headaches and other symptoms associated with poor indoor air quality, but that their performance could probablly be improved if they felt better.

The most commonly accepted theories on individual job performance posit that it depends upon on three factors:
  • Declarative Knowledge - Knowing What to Do
  • Procedural Knowledge - Knowing How to Do It
  • Motivation - Choice to Expend Effort
Indoor environmental quality can impact all of these factors.  Healthy and pleasant office environments can have a positive impact on employee recruitment, retention, and morale.

There is a growing body of empirical evidence that indoor environmental quality affects health and performance. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is developing a data base of scientific research with funding support from the EPA. Here's a link to that site:
Indoor Air Quality Resource Bank


Monday, May 7, 2012

Upcoming Presentation at NeoCon

If you or any of your colleagues are going to NeoCon next month, you might be interested in attending my presentation, "Stragegic Planning for Healthier Indoor Environments."

If you are wondering why I'll be starting my talk with this lovely photograph of fresh vegetables, it's because people will pay a considerable premium for healthy, organic food.  Although Whole Foods seems to spend a fortune on prime real estate and beautiful decor, it is three times more profitable than the average supermarket chain.

Of course, we breathe considerably more than we eat.  And indoor air usually contains a lot of toxins, many of which can be easily avoided by proper design and construction.