Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Geothermal Heat Pumps

I attended a class/discussion on geothermal energy today. The room was full of architects, engineers, installers, drillers, manufacturers, politicians and people just interested in the ideas. The morning outlined the many benefits. The EPA says it is the best way to heat and cool a space. They said that back in 1993. I am concerned that our government has not started to provide incentives or education about this topic. My paper is on green design and the cost or lack of education behind it. For this specific topic of green design, the cost and the lack of education are major factors. The morning consisted of installers, drillers, and manufacturers showing us the cost comparison. The payback time can be five years. (Solar can take a lot longer in many applications.) It was very encouraging. After lunch, the politicians started. People from Pulte homes gave their two cents on why they never incorporate it into their 500,000 plus homes they have built. They said if people can't see it, they don't want to pay for it. The code experts for the New England states explained the regulations. The federal tax credit for this type of energy is $300. What does that cover? The cost to fill out the paperwork? The regulations are almost non-existent yet vary immensely from state to state. For a technology that has been around as long as I have been alive, I would have thought there would be some consistency in regulations. Solar and wind power provide tax incentives to people that install them. Why has geothermal energy been left out? So, essentially, I just wanted to see what anyone else was experiencing in their states. I had never seen the data to back up the use of geothermal energy before today. I would love to advocate it to clients but the current regulations and lack of tax incentives make the higher cost a hard sell. Anyone with experience?

Friday, September 7, 2007


Here is a copy of my first draft/notes/ideas.

Purchasing a new home is one of the most expensive purchases a person will ever make. Whenever a new client comes into our office, they start listing off the requirements. They want four bedrooms, two and a half baths, two car garage, large kitchen and 4000 square feet. No where in that list is a requirement for sustainable products, an energy efficient home, solar power, etc. Why is it that consumers don’t ask for green homes?
After looking into the many resources the world wide web offers, it’s quick to see they have been caught in a web of myths, truths and everything in between. Green design is talked about everywhere. The problem is that not all of it is true. Some of the information out there is very outdated, which is a large concern when it comes to cost. Over the last 10 years costs have gone down over 20% on average for green products. It is becoming more affordable everyday. As an architect, I feel it is my duty to separate the truths from the myths and educate my clients on what it means to be green (and how they are keeping green in their pocket).
What is sustainable, green design: The United Nations Environmental Programme defines sustainable as “…meeting the needs of the people today without destroying the resources that will be needed…by persons in the future; based on long range planning and the recognition of the finite nature of natural resources…” I have some other definitions to discuss here. This paragraph really defines what I am talking about.
I want to discuss the example of the first LEED certified building in the Northeast. It is still on the market. It is a 4500 square foot dream house located in a sustainable development. Why has it not sold? (I am still looking into this more. I have tried talking to the real estate agent but they aren’t really interested in me) The rest of the development offers more affordable homes (not LEED certified but green) and those have almost all sold out. So does this tell us that the ones looking for green homes are the most cost conscientious? Are they after the long term savings? Why are some people choosing green and others are not?
My many discussions with friends, clients and colleagues has led me to believe that everyone is still afraid of higher costs, both in the beginning and in the long term maintenance. I have been able to research both of these and simply put, the costs are not necessarily higher.
Many different studies have been done in the past five years regarding the cost of green design. Davis Langdon did a cost analysis of 138 buildings, 93 non-LEED and 45 LEED. The found there is “no one size fits all answer to the question of the cost of green.” Most of the buildings were able to achieve their LEED goals with out any additional funding. The ones that did require additional funding used it for features such as a photovoltaic system. (This study is great, it actually goes in depth into each point of the LEED certification costs to see where the costs go)
There is another cost analysis study that I am trying to find a free version of (it’s $49 to download) that specifically address residential green design. It covers 33 green projects and shows that the average increase at start up is 2% with a return on investment of 5-20% per year.
Green can be mainstream. Commercial examples of Toyota Plant, Disney, Washington State Government buildings, etc…. How we can transition this acceptance into residential. Prove there isn’t extra cost and people will follow?
So, not that we have proven that the cost is not the reason for a lack of desire for a green building, I have come to the conclusion that education is what is necessary. Integration is also vital. Everyone must work together early on in the project on everything. Everyone, early, everything.
Educate the architect: The construction industry is so set in it’s material choices that most architects don’t even question what kind of wall system to put in. Residential, oh, that a 2x6 exterior, blah, blah, blah. Instead, we need to start looking at what else can be done. Preparing ahead of time- designing the building smarter will allow more money to be spent on other things. Changing the orientation to passive heating/cooling will allow for a smaller HVAC system which will free up some of the budget to be spent elsewhere. Spend more money on upfront design.
Educate the consumer: Showing the return on investment is a great first step. Creating a zero-energy home. Showing them what the products look like. There are a lot of model homes for green design located all across the country. Tax incentives, mortgage incentives.
Educate the builder: Simply using different materials is a huge step for many builders. The trades have become very accustomed to using certain products a certain way. Putting together a source for green building materials and methods would be very beneficial. The USGBC does a lot of this already but not many people in the field take the time to look online at new products and techniques. How can we educate the builder?
The key steps to creating an affordable, residential green building can be put into six categories (Residential Green Building Guidelines).
1. Emphasize the four R’s.
a. Reduce
b. Reuse
c. Recycle
d. Renewable (sounds pretty familiar, right?)
2. Use Energy, Water and Resources Efficiently
3. Healthy Indoor Air Quality
4. Affordable Community
5. Development creates a sense of well-being
6. Building remains reasonably affordable (this is where the extra maintenance costs come in)

A great quote I want to use is from Neal Pierce of the Washington Post: “It seems obvious: the reason only a tiny percentage of new American buildings and retrofits aren’t green isn’t cost. It’s lack of ingenuity or knowledge of new construction techniques- architects and builders wed to the ‘same-old,’ lenders leery of anything unconventional…The fault also lies with national leaders unwilling to tell us in clear terms that a nation secure economically and environmentally and against foreign threat, means energy savings across the board—efficient and sustainable buildings included. It’s a message our current president apparently doesn’t comprehend, at least won’t articulate.”
I don’t want to get into the politics of it all but at the same time, if the President of the United States encourage more sustainable buildings, I am sure more would be done. The tax credits and incentives are hard to find if you don’t know exactly what you are looking for. Did you know you can get a special reduced mortgage?

I think this is the scope of what I am looking at for this paper. I could go on and on about all of the ways we can incorporate green design into residential construction, but that is another paper with a longer time frame.

Why we don’t choose green
What is green
Cost Analysis
It’s not why we aren’t choosing green
The truth behind us not choosing green
Architect, builder and client working together
Key steps we need to focus on
4 r’s, etc.
Plans for the future
How we can educate, integrate and get green design more mainstream

The resources I have found so far include:

(Most of these are from the web since I really wanted to see what is out there to educate consumers.)
Davis Langdon analysis
Building Green in a Black and White World
Residential Green Building Guidelines
Costs and Benefits of Green Affordable Housing More on the Cost of Green
Neal Pierce articles from the Washington Post (money section devotes many articles to green)
Newsweek (energy efficient mortgages, no it doesn’t mean less paperwork)

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The Cost of Green Design

The web has more information than a person even knows what to do with it. I have been researching my topic this way in hopes of realizing why consumers don't choose green. The amount of material out there claims everything from it's cheaper to build green to it's 20% more expensive to build green. I have finally found some reliable resources, mostly issued from the green building council and state agencies, that have taken a real look at what these actual costs are. What I am finding is that there is no easy way for a consumer to make an educated decision when building a new home. There are more myths than truths. In order to make a green home, everyone needs to be on the same page. The client, the architect, the builder all need to work together to set priorities for the budget. Looking at siting, plantings and window placement will allow for a smaller HVAC system allowing more money to be spent on, say, solar energy. This type of planning ahead will allow for a "cheaper" design in the end. I want to look at these options and how working together will actually create a cost efficient design for the client. The myth that green buildings are more expensive will be proven inaccurate. Green building, when planned correctly, can cost the same upfront and save thousands in the future.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Cost of Green Design

So, I just checked my email and realized I am the only one not to have posted my ideas yet. I am still putting things together and should have something more substantial to post on Saturday am. I have been gathering resources. There is a lot of cost analysis out there. I am trying to gear it toward residential design and am finding more limited resources but more than enough to write a paper on. My topic seems to be narrowed down to the extra cost of green design (and how it's not always extra). More on this topic shortly...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Physical Mobility

To not be considered mobile, one must firmly be rooted in nature. This idea of Harries is intriguing. The first thing that I started to think about was how the physical and psychological aspects of being rooted are very different. Harries seems to think that the physical roots are the thing that allow an object to be inmobile. Although physically able to be moved, the psychological roots attached to an object are what really determine its mobility. The experiences and memories of a place allow the feeling of mobility and that is what really matters to the users. Even a building that is clearly mobile, in the physical sense, can have an extremely strong set of roots from the community it is placed in. Later in this reading, Harries does bring up "that place and with it proximity and distance are less and less a determining factor of our lives." That seems to relate to my initial thoughts after reading the first idea. Place is so much more than where and how it located. I started to wonder if I would love my childhood home as much if it was moved to a new location. My answer surprised me. I would be more attached to the land and the location than the actual building. If that home was situated in an urban setting, it wouldn't be that same home. Although I started thinking of public spaces that would create a sense of place for the whole community, the idea of my home being moved was much harder to take. The community may still gather at the town square even if the objects around it had changed. If the location of my home changed, it wouldn't feel like home. It was the physical space in that exact location that created my place.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Alpha vs Beta

Having recently moved to New England, I have become familiar with the idea of a New England village. I live in a town that 30 years ago would probably have been described the exact same way as Bedford Village. There are the people that live in town, those that live on the water and those that live in mini (and sometimes not so mini) estates. There are three main churches, one of which is definitely more prestigious to belong to. The population is 97% caucasian. The country club in town has a ten year wait list. I personally don't feel that this community is segregated by landscape but I decided to ask some of the residents who have lived here for a longer period of time for their input. It proved to be similar to the responses of those that Duncan received thirty years ago a few hours away.

Alpha versus Beta. What I have noticed from these articles is that it isn't actually versus anyone. There are simply two different ideas that have shown up across Anytown, USA. They do not segregate based on ideas. Instead people choose to live in one environment of the other. The alpha neighborhood has evolved over decades or centuries. The beta environment has quickly adopted some of the rules of alpha landscape and created their own set of rules. The general ideas portrayed by Duncan seemed to be just as relevant today in my town as they were thirty years ago a few hours away. The segregation that exists is there by choice. Neither group blames the other. They just have different social networks. For some those networks include the country club and for others they include the church they belong to. The amount of diversity in my small town has not changed much in the last thirty years. Some of the people I spoke with eluded to the fact that this town is exclusive and they are proud just to live there. Ideas of both Alpha and Beta landscapes came up.

The alpha and the beta landscapes appear in many forms. In the Bickford article, they take the form of CIDs and PUDs. In the Duncan article, they take the form of newer homes in established neighborhoods. There are some similar characteristics that these landscapes share in both articles and there are some that are unique. There are those that love to live in a PUD and there are those who generally dislike the idea. From our conversations this past week, I know that there are people belonging to both categories in this discussion. I don't feel that one is bad and the other is good. I just have my preference and so do others. I feel it is this sentiment that segregates the alpha and beta landscapes in this article. There is no real friction between the groups, just a general preference for their choice.

The alpha landscape begins with the general dislike of imitation and disdain for what is easily available. This is easy to relate to CIDs and PUDs in the Bickford article. I do not want to live in a home that is replicated through out my neighborhood in a slightly different color and the garage on the left instead of the right. This is just one of the preferences of the alphas. The alpha landscape appears to dislike change. They like to preserve the past and not allow great changes for the future. Changes happen a little at a time, as a gentle evolution. Everything seems to be more random. It has happened over years. The age of the landscape is something to be proud of, the alphas are happily linked to the past. The alphas fill the old neighborhoods, the ones were eventually the houses are torn down and rebuilt or added onto to fill the families needs. Everything here takes time.

The beta landscape is more easily related to the ideas presented in the Bickford article. The Betas want a prosperous suburban idea. They build it quickly and dominantly. A major benefit of building so quickly is that everyone is new to the neighborhood and bonds are more quickly formed than someone that moves into a well established neighborhood. The beta landscape if full of symmetry and order. The guidelines for building in these neighborhoods is strictly enforced and carefully coordinated. Less importance is placed on what their landscape looks like and more on where their landscape is. Location is a major part of the beta landscape. Choosing to live in the beta landscape provides an individual the very best parts of the alpha landscape condensed down to a new community. Adopting the pros and leaving out the cons allows for the beta landscape to learn from the mistakes made over time and create a better landscape.

Some of the other ideas presented were not as relevant between the two articles. Duncan claims the Beta landscape wants to accentuate their affluence. I don't believe that only exists in one landscape any more. Everywhere I go I see the ornate mailboxes. A sense of community exists among both landscapes. In my experience, I also no longer see privacy as being something that one group does not value. Six foot tall privacy fences line all the backyards. A home is now a sanctuary where one requires privacy.

Some communities have evolved over centuries while others were built in a year. Housing is a symbol of status and achievement. The location of your house does affect your social status. It is as true today as it was thirty years ago. The ideas of segregation are not so much forced as they are chosen. People choose to surround themselves with people of similar interests. Bickford claims it is not democratic for such segregation but do we really have a choice in changing the way people choose to live? They have been choosing to live like this for centuries and they continue to do so today.

Monday, August 6, 2007

My Pastel Island of Insight

As I started reading Bickford, I tried to keep the highlighter out of sight! I found myself longing for the color splashed across my page. After reading through twice, I have now highlighted, commented and successfully created havoc in the margins.

One of the topics that related to me right away was the discussion of CIDs and PUDs in the housing market. I had never really thought of the source for these homes. I was surprised that the government created this housing demand. The need did not create the product. "CIDs originated in response to land scarcity after the first swell of postwar suburban construction; common ownership plans were not utopian social experiments but simply a way to put more people on less space." (Bickford) The government is responsible for creating this product and finding a way to sell it.

My personal experience with this idea happened a few years ago when looking for my first house. I found myself immersed in a sea of CIDs and PUDs. Among the benefits of these "products", these homes offered something brand new! No home repairs, no hideous carpet, no running to Home Depot on Saturday afternoon to fight the crowd. After looking at several different communities, all within five minutes of each other, I started to forget which was which. Beige, tan, sand. Two car garages and 2.5 kids. I could already picture a swing set in the backyard and I don't have kids! I become frustrated by the lack of diversity. I ended up continuing my housing search until I found a great neighborhood. It was full of diversity, still had block parties once a month. Although my house was a traditional multi-level trac-style home popping up on empty lots through out the city, I was at least surrounded by the diversity that only time can develop.

My brother-in-law did buy a home in one of those communities. He has a two car garage, three children and his house is some sort of tan color. Although he wasn't running to Home Depot every Saturday with me, he has had other things to deal with. His third car, which doesn't fit in the two car garage, is not allowed to be parked outside overnight. His neighbors have complained and now he must either park his car in his back yard or find some other place for it at night. For the sake of property values...