Monday, November 30, 2009


I ran across this great new sustainable neighborhood happening in Boulder, Colorado. There are several net-zero homes under construction in the States, but this is the first neighborhood that I've come across. Hopefully, it will turn out as well as planned. It could become a great leader in the next generation of neighborhood design.


First Net-Zero Neighborhood in the US Being Built in Boulder

by Bridgette Meinhold, 11/30/09

Boulder Zero Energy Neighborhood

A new development in the north of Boulder, CO stands to be the first completely net-zero neighborhood in the US. Dubbed SpringLeaf Boulder, the project aims to bring net-zero homes “to the masses” by streamlining green technologies and driving down costs. The twelve homes are designed for LEED Platinum certification, will be fully powered by photovoltaic systems, and are very close to shops and restaurants, creating a little eco-community within Boulder.

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With the SpringLeaf model home already completed and construction the other homes started, this exciting project looks like it will serve as a great example for future communities and neighborhoods. Built according to LEED standards in hopes of achieving Platinum certification, the interior is outfitted with non-toxic paints and furnishings, like recycled countertops and bamboo cabinets. A strong focus was placed on insulation to make the home more efficient, and smart design allowed builders to conserve resources by using less lumber. A geothermal heat pump system works to provide efficient heating and cooling and the entire home is electric, which is powered by the pv system, so there is no natural gas used whatsoever.

Located on Broadway and Poplar Ave in Northern Boulder, the 1.5 acre neighborhood is conveniently located across from a market, shops and restaurants and with easy access via bus to the rest of the city. Six townhomes border Broadway, while six single-family homes sit back behind around a communal park. All the homes will be orientated to the south and photovoltaic systems can installed on the roof, which will completely provide the homes with all the energy they need.

The townhomes will be about 2,800 sq ft, while the largest single family home will be about 4,000 sq ft. The model home was built at a cost of about $300 per square foot, but the developers estimate the rest of the homes will cost $200 per square foot. SpringLeaf Homes was designed by architect, George Watt and is being built by Silver Lining Builders

Read more on this project at:


DiggersList is a Craigslist for the construction trades. There is not site for Seattle yet, but hopefully as word spreads this will be as popular and widespread as Craigslist. DiggersList has been around for just over a year, and they are expecting over 200 more cities to join by the end of next year.

Each location's site lists separate categories for building materials, home and office, services, and projects. The search engine is basic. While Craigslist does not have the detailed categories that makes DiggersList easy to navigate, the Craigslist search feature makes it easy to search by price, image included, neighborhood, etc.

It's not the most glamourous part of the design and construction process to talk about, but purchasing items from Craiglist, as we did for the San Juan Channel House, saves money, reduces the use of raw materials, and benefits each party in the transaction.

Not always sexy, but very practical Craigslist purchases:

Read about DiggersList at Custom Home Online. From the article:

Founder Matt Knox:

"We learned that there's 160 million tons of construction waste generated every year, largely because people don't have a good resource to help them do something with it," says Knox. "We thought we could help economically and environmentally."

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Photos: Temporary Permanence in the Natural World

Graffiti as permanent and as temporary as the landscape

Ironic graffiti

These concrete stairs were built to last. They have lasted past serving their original purpose.

Lincoln City, Oregon, on the Pacific Coast.

Monday, November 23, 2009

More Solar News

Only a small portion of the optical fibers need to be exposed to the sun. The article reports that this science holds great potential for vehicles and for buildings, as no bulky or obtrusive equipment will be needed. According to ABC Science, the average cable length for a home would need to be about one meter.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Vision vs. Reality

It's fun to look back at our concepts for a project and see how it compares to the final product.

The Hare House, Phase I, Friday Harbor, WA. Contractor: Ravenhill Construction.

Hare House Phase II is currently under construction. Kent Ducote of KDL Builders has recently completed the framing. Our Design Build team, Studio How, is the GC for the project.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Good News about Green Building

Article by Jennifer Goodwin in EcoHome Magazine, "Green Building to Support Nearly 8 Million U.S. Jobs through 2013."

The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) President Rick Fedrizzi expresses our hope:

"“Our goal is for the phrase ‘green building’ to become obsolete, by making all building and retrofits green--and transforming every job in our industry into a green job,” said Fedrizzi."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Green Footstep

The Green Footstep is a new carbon calculator from the Rocky Mountain Institute.

I used the simple version and plugged in a project that is currently in design development. In this version, you enter the region, lot size, natural state of lot, building type (for example, single family residence) and building size. The advanced version allows for more detail.
After this is entered, you come to "Design Decisions," which allows you to set targets for your project. A chart allows you to see how adding, changing or taking away certain elements increases the project's "Positive Footprint" or "Carbon Debt."

You can adjust the size and lifespan of the building. This site is already developed with out buildings and an existing cabin, but with adding the new residence native vegetation still covers about 41% of the site. This "on site carbon storage" decreases the carbon debt of the project. No new trees will likely be planted as the proposed footprint is in a clearing, but this would also help our on site storage. In their model, planting trees does not decrease the carbon debt, only increases the positive footprint.

It is very helpful to watch the animation on the carbon chart change as the elements are adjusted. However, this is largely intuitive. Currently, we don't concentrate on exact carbon footprint with our clients. To do this would involve a timely and costly analysis of life cycle costs, embodied energy, miles traveled, etc of all materials used. We mostly rely on accuracy of manufacturer's claims on green products, sourcing materials as locally as possible, current knowledge about green products, and in general creating smart designs while still giving our clients what they want.

We strive to create a long "expected building lifespan," which is a way on the Green Footstep calculator of reducing your footprint, accomplished by creating a space which is appropriate, adaptable, durable, and most of all, enjoyable.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Chemical Blacklist for Designers"

Yesterday reported that the architecture firm Perkins + Will introduced their Chemical Blacklist for designers, listing 25 hazardous chemicals that are commonly used in the building industry. Read the article and view the Perkins + Will Precautionary List.

You can search the list alphabetically, by category, CSI division or health affect. Each entry lists the origin of the chemical, building p
roducts it may be found in and the CSI division of those products, health effects, and alternative materials that can be used. It is very helpful to have this information all in one place, and a great reference for clients and designers alike. When I want to research a chemical or affect, I usually go to the EPA website. Their A-Z index is a great way to find out the current findings about certain materials and their affects.

We strive to use safe products in the homes we design. Although the contractor basically has final say in what is actually ordered, we specify certain products and chemicals that should be avoided. For example, that insulation should have no added formaldeyhyde, which is one of the dangerous chemicals listed on the Precautionary List (under Urea-formaldeyhyde).

No vinyl or formaldehyde in this kid's bedroom: solid wood windows and cabinets finished with non-toxic OSMO

Another consideration is not just the health of the end users, but the health of the producers. Some products, such as vinyl windows, do not pose an air quality risk to the owners (except in the case of a fire, when the fumes can be dangerous), but can very hazardous to those manufacturing vinyl windows or who live around factories. So though vinyl can be touted as a green product because of the energy efficiency, I don't believe it can be because of this hazard. The subject is fascinating and the movie Blue Vinyl is a great overview. It is not the best documentary I've ever seen, but it's a great introduction to the hazards of the manufacturing and lack of ways to recycle vinyl.

A great in-depth book that covers the use of chemicals in the building industry is Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution by Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Solar Panels for Rent

Looking at the rain pouring down outside my window, it is an odd time to be thinking about solar panels in the Pacific Northwest. Solar power is an exciting developing technology, but the huge upfront cost of solar currently prevents it from becoming more widely used.

The solution from Citizenre REnU:
"Citizen REnU program packages solar power for you in a simple and smart way. Plainly put, the Citizen Corporation pays for, installs, owns and operates the solar installation."

Citizenre Corporation has a calculator to figure your savings and the savings to the environment for renting their panels. Here is an example of savings for someone living on San Juan Island currently paying $60 a month in electricity bills.

Savings Forecast Today's Rate End of Year-5 End of Year-10
Citizenre REnU 7.2 cents 7.2 cents 7.2 cents
Current Electricity Provider 7.2 cents 8.7 cents 10.5 cents
Total Savings
$443.75 $1739.99
If you were to invest all of the money that you saved over the term of a 10-year contract, and you received the investment grade bond yield average of 9.44%, then your decision to participate in the REnU Program would yield $1,977.59 by the end of your contract.
Additionally, over that same time period, your REnU will eliminate 16 tons of CO2, 61 lbs of NOx, 175 lbs of SO2, 7 lbs of PM, 1 lbs of VOC, and 12 lbs of CO. That is equivalent to taking approximately, 3 automobiles off of the road, or planting 47 trees.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

San Juan Channel House is certified Built Green 3-Star

The San Juan Channel House has been certified Built Green 3-Star. View the current Built Green Newsletter here.

Points were earned for incorporating many green building techniques, including retaining a minimum of 30% of the trees on the site, setting aside a percentage of the buildable area to be undisturbed, using local materials, installing dual flush toilets, installing rigid insulation beneath the slab on grade, installing insulated headers and corners, using advanced framing with Greenguard certified insulation and a rainscreen system for siding, employing passive solar techniques, usin
g a hydronic heating system on separate zones with a high efficiency heat pump and geothermal heat pump, using concrete slab as the first floor flooring material, using Energy Star rated equipment and appliances, hard wiring for compact fluorescent lighting and installing dimmers, using no vinyl windows or carpet, detaching the garage, cabinets with no added urea-formaldehyde, using all low-VOC, non-toxic interior paints and finishes, reducing interior walls, and many waste-reducing efforts on site such as providing a detailed take-off list to framers and selling, giving away or recycling any construction waste.

Features earning Built Green points include the passive solar design, finished slab, local wood doors and windows and Energy Star appliances. Photo by John Sinclair, Concepia.

Built Green of King and Snohomish Counties is a non-profit environmental building program. For more information visit www.