• Building With Awareness Blog

Urban Green Living: Downtown Loft Green Makeover, Part 1

The greening of this downtown loft apartment will be a topic in this new series on how to adapt older buildings to higher ecological standards. In my DVD video and book, “Building With Awareness,” I show the design and construction process of building a green home from scratch. With an emphasis on green building materials and the benefit of having complete control over the constructions process, you can see each stage of creating an energy efficient home from the ground up. By using a variety of natural materials such as straw bale, adobe, and earth plasters, it is possible to build an extremely green home with off-the-shelf components. For those who have the opportunity to start with a clean slate and an empty piece of land, this is an efficient way to go. But what if you need to buy or rent a home that is already built? What if you desire to live in a city and the ability to use less-conventional materials is limited? After all, retrofitting existing buildings and homes will be an even larger industry than building new green structures. Millions of homes already exist and the majority of them need to be brought up to better energy efficiency standards.  How do you improve energy efficiency, lower your power bills, and limit your carbon footprint?

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Green Building: A Jumbo Jet Becomes A Hostel and a Local Landmark

This retired 747 aircraft was turned into a green building by refurbishing it has a hostel. It is now permanently parked at the airport to house weary travelers. Even the cockpit was converted into a double-bed suite. I love the novel ways that items destined for the scrap heap become something new and different. This recently completed Jumbo Hostel (located in Stolkholm Arlanda, Sweden) is one of the most novel examples of green building that I have come across. I consider this green building because the major structure of the hostel was once a 747 Jumbo Jet. It is made of durable materials, had reached the end of its intended life, and now as been recycled to house travelers at the airport. A good green building should also be of a visual design that is appropriate for its location. Given that this hostel is located right at the airport, the aerodynamic shape is perfect for the setting.  There are 25 rooms in all with a total of 85 beds. Even the cockpit was turned into a double-bed suite. The renovation of the aircraft had to meet the same building codes of any structure. The left wing can be walked on and is an observation deck for observing other aircraft at the airport. For more information: http://www.jumbostay.com via: http://www.latimes.com

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Determining the Actual Power Output of Photovoltaic (PV) Panels For Green Homes

PV solar panels mounted to a pitched metal roof of a straw bale house. The “real world” output of a PV module can be much lower than what is stated by the manufacturer. Photovoltaic panels generate clean power by converting sunlight into electricity. This article will talk about the actual—verses the rated—power output of photovoltaic panels. Do not assume that a PV panel rated at 170 watts of power will actually give you that amount. It will probably be closer to 150 watts per panel. Because of the difference, care must be used when sizing the system for your electrical needs. Otherwise, you may find that you are generating less power than you need. Designing a photovoltaic system for your green home starts with using energy efficient appliances and lighting inside the house. My rule of thumb is that it is cheaper to buy a new EnergyStar-rated refrigerator for under $1,000 than to spend an extra $2,000 on photovoltaic (PV) panels to power an old, inefficient refrigerator. The same goes for other appliances—particularly those that get a lot of daily use such as televisions. The photovoltaic system for my small straw bale home (featured on the BuildingWithAwareness.com website and DVD video) cost around $12,000 in equipment. Without carefully choosing the most efficient appliances and  lighting, the cost would have been dramatically higher. 

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Looking At Design, Part 2: Aesthetics and Form As A Part Of Green Building

The Zen garden at the Ryoan-ji in Kyoto, Japan. Photo Thomas Guignard This Japanese structure is very simple, yet very elegent in its simplicity. Even without the details of windows and doors, there is a warmth to the building. The earth plaster walls have aged to a watercolor-like patina. The patterns come from mud that was mixed with rapeseed oil (a vegetable oil more commonly known as canola oil).  Materials such as this are in beautiful contrast to the monolithic look of stucco or paint in that they create harmonious variations in color and texture. The design principles used in this structure can be incorporated into home design. They are not hard rules, but something that can be drawn upon to add visual interest. By being able to evaluate what works and what does not work in a particular design, it will be easier to make the changes that are required to fix the problem. The owner/builder should be very involved in the structure’s design, instead of just turning it over to a “professional”. This goes for both green building design principles (for overall energy efficiency) and the aesthetic design. Being aware in all of the various design options is what I call ‘building with awareness” (hence the title of my book and DVD). For simplicity, I will break the visual design of of a building into two parts. First, there is the overall physical form which is the shape of the building. The second part would be the color, texture, and surface…

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How To Mount Photovoltaic (PV) Solar Panels To A Corrugated Metal Roof

mounting pv solar panels to pitched metal roof

This article will show how to attach commercially available solar panel mounting brackets to a corrugated metal roof that lacked flat surfaces. In the photo above, a ladder was used to slide the PV panels to the roof. Photovoltaic (PV) panels produce all of the electricity for this straw bale hybrid home from sunlight. All of the PV panels are permanently attached to the south facing pitched roof.  Standing-seam metal roofs are partially flat, so mounting a rack is not a problem.  The roof on my house is corrugated metal and therefore has no flat surfaces for the aluminum mounting brackets to seat.  A stout connection is essential for the photovoltaic panels to survive high wind loads and to create a waterproof seal where the bolts penetrate the roof surface. What we needed was a mounting platform that both comformed to the convolutions of the metal roof and also had a flat surface for the foot bracket to contact. Here is how we solved the problem.

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Product Review: ShurFlo Diaphragm Pump For A Rainwater Cistern

Product Tested: ShurFlo Deluxe 24 volt DC model 2088-474-144 on-demand diaphragm pump, 3 gallons per minute output, with built-in 45psi pressure demand switch. Suggested retail price: $172.00 Ideally, a water pump for a rainwater cistern will use very little electricity, be durable and rugged, and be as maintenance free as possible. The model being reviewed was in daily use for 8 years in a small straw bale house.  Water from the cistern delivers naturally soft water to the washing machine, the toilet, and a hose bib. A 24 volt model was chosen so that it could run directly off a 24 volt photovoltaic (PV) electrical system for this off-the-grid green home. Although the PV system included a 120 volt AC inverter, it was desired to have the pump run off the DC side as this would  guarantee that the pump would have power even if the inverter was not operational. The DC pump would also be more energy efficient as some efficiency is lost by the inverter. This same pump model is also available in 24 volt and 120 volt configurations. The advantage of a rubber diaphragm pump is that they are very immune to damage from grit and debris in the water. This is important as water is collected off the roof with only a simple sand filter.

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Shaping Nature Into Our Own Vision

The terraced gardens at the Chateau de Gourdon in France The balance between what we make, and what nature makes, is a play of contrasts. Hitting a balance is the goal. The dramatic mountain setting is set apart from the terrace with a segmented stone wall. The formality of the garden is in total contrast to the surroundings. Taking the vegetation to a level of whimsey makes it all work. Having fun is part of the process. photo: Pierre Metivier

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