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.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Solar Decathlon - Market Appeal Contest

The U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon consists of ten contests; architecture, market appeal, engineering communications, and affordability are evaluated by jurors or contest officials who are professionals in relevant fields. Comfort zone, hot water, appliances, and energy balance are measured contests. The final category is home entertainment category and involves completing certain defined tasks as well as hosting dinners and a movie night for neighbors, who vote for their favorites.

I served on the market appeal jury.  The criterea that we considered when evaluating the houses were:

  • 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? 
  • 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 home buyers within the target market a good value? 
  • 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?
  • Can the house's materials and equipment be immediately adopted and built in the private sector?
The top score for market appeal was awarded to "Self Reliance" by Middlebury College (Vermont). The team created a beautiful and comfortable two-bedroom home that seemed to have an ideal balance between public and private spaces.  And although no mention was made of LEED, this house addressed every aspect of sustainable design and construction.

This house would appeal strongly to potential homeowners in New England because the design, both inside and out, stays close to the vernacular architecture and extensive use is made of plentiful local materials.  For instance, the wooden floors were made of trees culled from the woods on campus and finished with a locally manufactured whey-based product.  The floors of the kitchen and entryway were made of Vermont slate, which would be easier to maintain in those areas than wood.

The kitchen is  especially attractive and features a glass wall that doubles as a greenhouse for fresh herbs and vegetable seedlings.

Photographs by Jim Tetro / U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Friday, October 14, 2011

Lessons from the Solar Decathlon

Good things come in small packages.  Recently I was privileged to serve as a juror for the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon.  The Solar Decathlon challenges collegiate teams to design, build and operate solar powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive. Each house could be no larger than 1,000 square feet, yet the students were able to create beautiful and comfortable homes. Small houses and lots are environmentally preferable in a number of ways, since they reduce the amount of materials needed to construct them as well as the amount of energy needed to heat, cool, and power the space. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.

This year despite cloudy and rainy weather nearly half of the houses operated at net zero energy, which means that the energy generated by their solar arrays equaled or exceeded the energy they used.  Techniques used to reduce the energy load included:
  • Superior insulation, including thermally insulated windows
  • Strategic window shading devices such as overhangs, trellises and shutters 
  • Efficient HVAC systems, often incorporating energy recovery units
  • Efficient appliances and lighting
  • Energy reporting and management systems that facilitate occupant control    
A number of the teams reached beyond energy to address other challenges.  The University of Maryland team won the overall competition with their WaterShed. As the name implies, the house focuses on preserving a resource essential to life on earth --- potable water. The house is a model of how the built environment can help preserve watersheds everywhere by managing storm water onsite, filtering pollutants from greywater, and minimizing water use.  Rain water is collected and reused, a green roof reduces storm water runoff, landscaping features drought-resistant plants and constructed wetlands filter greywater that can then be used for irrigation.

The house is made more comfortable by reducing humidity with an innovative solar-thermal liquid-desiccant system developed by the university.  Controlling humidity not only enables people to feel more comfortable at higher temperatures, it also discourages mold growth.

Photographs by Jim Tetro / U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon