Category Archives: Green living

A glimpse at the ideas re-shaping building design from the science up

Passive house image

I wrote the cover story to the special September edition of “Green Building + Design,” a design-porn glossy that doesn’t shy away from hard questions about its subjects. (I, for one, balk at the consumerist trend to “be green.”)

I wrote about the mantra–and standards–called Passive House, which uses modelling and analysis to incorporate remarkable efficiencies without breaking the bank.

In choosing photos, of course, the magazine has to cater to its audience, which craves pricey aesthetics.

Here’s the PDF of the 10-page spread, but in case you want to get a feel before jumping in, I’ve pasted the leading paragraphs below.

When you’re old and frail, or maybe when your kids are old and frail, textbooks may refer back to the early 2000s as the time when we started applying the same rigorous science to the design of our built environment that for a hundred years already we had put to work in our cars, entertainment, and communication. Those future readers might wonder, “What took us so long?”

Nobody is doing more to advance building science today than the people behind Passive House. They advocate super-tight envelopers, extreme insulation and specialty windows, window placement that accounts for solar gain, and heat-exchanger ventilators and heat-recapturing appliances. They’re thoroughly mindful of thermal bridging–properly insulating I-beams from the outside, for example, since in the winter they suck heat out.

One of the Passive House movement’s most significant achievements is analytical software that ties together all these techniques and materials and provides predictive power based on real analyses of houses built before.

Gallery

The past few months in photos, minus all the computers

This gallery contains 6 photos.

Wisdom from people who live in cabins

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Tiny-house construction in the Beaver Brook community in the forest of upstate New York. Thanks to the photographer, Jace Cooke, for the Creative Commons license.

Head over to cabinporn.com for a real show. (Not that kind, you sex addict. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) The folks behind the site, the residents of Beaver Brook, posted this quote recently.

It’s my experience that artist communities are almost always camps because they appropriate space that nobody else wants (at the time), but by virtue of a creative progressive view of neighborhoods they create a demand from others that ultimately marginalizes them, so they are forever transient. – James Lynch, founder of Fforest camp.

For the privilege of saving 6 cents a month, please pay $50

The City of Springfield says no one has applied to its new program to award a kind of tax break to those who minimize runoff from their properties. (The city’s often forced to process said runoff as sewage, an expensive proposition.)

Like very few others, I read the credit manual from cover to cover. It has people paying a $50 application fee for the chance to save an average of 6 cents a month. Even the guy in charge of the program said he understood why people weren’t applying. My story posted the question: why write a manual at all?

I can understand trying to “protect the revenue stream,” as the city says, but a lot of our readers thought this went above and beyond.

Credit unions vs. banks: the fight started late last year; here we catch up with the data

New credit union data provided an occasion to discuss, with an A1 story, the differences between the two forms of banking — and the PR war that’s been fought since the Occupy movement started pushing credit unions last fall.

I also reported that the ubiquitous local bank, Security National, took a $100 million TARP bailout to compensate for losing money on sub-prime mortgage securities.

Credit unions are growing in members and deposits faster than they have in the past. While it doesn’t seem to be impacting banks much yet, the potential is there.

So the spokesman for the state association of bankers forwarded me a GAO study. It seems to indicate that banks do a better job serving people “of modest means” than banks do. Which undermines the reason for credit unions’ tax exemption. Are credit unions screwing society on the level of GE? I’m gonna look into this further.

Protected: CPS sends kids to look at pollution

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Green campaign at my former school

A prefab modular home with LEED Platinum certification. Chicago should have its first Platinum-certified prefab residence in 2011. (Flickr photo from Heather Lucille. CC.)

Here are some links to my 2009 project to reduce Cedarville University’s environmental impact. I was collaborating with school administration to implement the project when I moved to Chicago to attend a more well-known journalism school.

CU/Green on transportation

CU/Green on clothing and consumer goods

CU/Green on building upkeep and construction

CU/Green on water use and landscaping

CU/Green on good air and energy

CU/Green on our refuse

CU/Green on everyday stuff

Before I left Cedarville University in May ’09, I was one of the founding members—vice president—of the environmental organization on campus. I got that gig in part because of the extensive plan I had proposed, above.

The plan took into consideration what was feasible for the college’s budget at the time, as well as what was socially responsible. One thing I stressed for administrators was that once our campus learns how to weatherize buildings, we should go into our community and do it for lots of residents there, many of whom are poor. Why? Free labor from students, minimal expense from the college, savings that make a big difference for families, and massive PR.

We could even serve as a knowledge hub for the community about “green” choices, and as a pilot program for similar universities across the country, I demonstrated.

P.S. — Here’s a link to an article on colleges who have voluntary student-funded offices of sustainability. Here’s a link to the only organization that evaluates colleges’ efforts toward sustainability and transparency, something the group considers essential to continuing sustainability.