This Week in Energy News – February 22, 2013

This week in Jetson Green Energy News, New York City is preparing for the next big storm and a California land rush could result in alternative energy providing the state with 100% of its power needs.

New York City East River Blueway Plan

Proposed: Four Miles of Manhattan’s East River to be Redeveloped with Storm Barrier

WXY Architecture + Urban Design, working with local officials and community groups, has developed the East River Blueway Plan to redevelop a stretch of Manhattan’s waterways to combat storm water surge, calling “for the creation of wetlands, parks, bicycle and pedestrian pathways and bridges, and the redevelopment of a disused beach under the Brooklyn Bridge.”

Toyota Sponsors 4,500 Trees for New York Restoration Project MillionTreesNYC

Founded in 1995 by Bette Midler, the New York Restoration Project (NYRP) has launched the MillionTreesNYC effort, a collaboration with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation and other local organizations that has plans to plant one million trees in New York City by 2017. Toyota has already agreed to sponsor the planting of 4,500 trees towards this year’s annual goal of 15,000.

Renewable Energy Projects in California Could Meet 100% of the State’s Power Needs

A land rush on California’s farming region to plant solar farms adds up to 227 proposed solar projects that, combined with wind and other renewable energy sources, “generate enough electricity to meet 100% of California’s power needs on an average summer day,” the California Independent System Operator says.

Net-Zero Certification Program Launched by EarthCraft Virginia

Currently in a pilot stage, a two-art certification program being designed by EarthCraft Virginia will provide projects and homeowners with “Net-Zero Ready” and “Net-Zero Certified” status for energy-neutral and energy-positive residential buildings. The program is targeted to new construction in the southeastern United States.

National Research Council Report Advises Department of Defense to Continue LEED Efforts

A new report that has been compiled by the United States National Research Council, as requested by Congress, on “the use of energy-efficiency and sustainability standards for military construction,” has reviewed previous efforts by the U.S. Department of Defense to achieve LEED Silver or equivalent ratings in new construction and major renovations and gave them the “thumbs up.”

Renewable Energy Breakthrough Uses Geometry to Trap Solar Power

Researchers at Illinois’ Northwestern University have found a way to triple the period of time that light can be trapped within thin-film photovoltaic cells by “manipulating the arrangement of a polymer layer on an organic solar cell.”

Emerging Technologies Could Affect Building Industry Sustainability Efforts

A list of the most promising technology breakthroughs, released by the World Economic Forum’s Global Council on Emerging Technologies, which are expected to enable humans to deal with problems related to tackle population growth, resource demands, and other sustainability issues, included organic electronics, three-dimensional printing, self-heating materials, and remote sensing.

Public Demonstration of Tiny Houses in Washington D.C. Aims to Change Minds and Regulations

Boneyard Studios, founded by Brian Levy and Lee Pera, has created a community of tiny, movable houses as public demonstration of the trend in residential downsizing, hoping to “encourage changes in local laws to permit smaller, more affordable living options here and on vacant land across the city.”

Changing Business Models to Embrace Sustainability Equates to Increased Profitability

A study conducted by MIT Sloan Management Review and The Boston Consulting Group has revealed that “companies reporting profits from sustainability rose 23 percent in 2012, to 37 percent of the total” and that “that companies in developing countries change their business models as a result of sustainability at a far higher rate than those based in North America, which has the lowest rate of business-model innovation and the fewest business-model innovators.”

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Empowerhome – The Sustainable Net-Zero Home of the Future

Empowerhome - The Sustainable Net-Zero Home of the Future

The Empowerhouse, a home that produces all of its own energy, has just been built in a Washington D.C. neighborhood. It was designed by students at the New School and Stevens Institute of Technology as part of a Solar Decathlon design competition, which partnered with the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development. This made one of the competition’s homes a reality for the first time ever.

This “net-zero” home consists of a bright, bold exterior, with an interior built out of recycled materials and receives plenty of natural light. The exterior contains stormwater management systems that help control heavy runoff impacting polluted rivers. Each unit has a terrace with a green roof and small agriculture plot, with a rain garden in the rear that captures rainwater escaping from the roof gardens. There is also an underground cistern that collects rainwater and uses it to water the property.

Empowerhome - The Sustainable Net-Zero Home of the Future

The parking space is made of permeable pavers, allowing stormwater to sink into the soil. It is also placed on D.C.’s first residential green street, which contains a trough full of dirt and plants that soak up street runoff and absorb oily pollutants.

Empowerhome - The Sustainable Net-Zero Home of the Future

The house is a shining example of how sustainable, affordable housing is possible, even in inner-city neighborhoods. Now that Habitat for Humanity is involved as well, it is likely that more of these homes will be popping up around the country.

Passivhaus Door Handmade in the USA

Hammer and Hand, a high-performance builder with offices in Seattle and Portland, recently announced the production of ultra-efficient custom doors for use with Passive House projects.  The doors are designed and built in southeast Portland to the rigorous requirements of Passive House and help project teams avoid a potential economic premium and the carbon emissions associated with importing a similar product across the Atlantic from a European supplier.  The company’s first door was installed at their Karuna House project, which is pursuing PHIUS+ Passive House, Minergie-P-ECO, LEED for Homes Platinum, and net-zero energy designations (which I’ll explore in a subsequent article).  More about custom Passive House doors.

[+] More details of Hammer and Hand’s inaugural door at Karuna House.

Credits: Hammer and Hand. 

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Design to Embed Value in a Home [Interview]

I caught up with Brian Phillips, principal of Interface Studio Architects, in Miami recently while he was down as a visiting critic at the University of Miami School of Architecture.  Based in Philadelphia, ISA is a prominent architecture and research firm on the leading edge of green building and pre-fab construction with notable projects such as the 100k House and The Modules, featured on Jetson Green a few years ago.  Here is our discussion on the work of ISA and direction of the green building industry.

Q. What is ISA’s design philosophy?

Innovating the everyday.  We look hard at all the parameters of a project, even the mundane details and most challenging constraints, as engines for creative and innovative solutions.  By beginning without stylistic tendencies, asking different questions at the outset, details such as budget or programmatic relationship can become important design elements which are in turn amplified to something interesting.

Q. Why is sustainability important for the firm’s work?

We believe that energy efficiency is implicit to making good architecture.  Sustainability on the other hand, is more complex than strictly saving energy. We consider the social, economic, and urban contexts of projects to create resilient, intelligent systems within which buildings participate.

Q. The 100k house is one of your most notable projects, how did the idea come about?

A young developer (postgreen) was looking at the typical townhome development pattern and asked why develop projects my friends can’t afford?  So we began looking at what the starter home for a 30-something, Gen Y target would be.  For these sophisticated and green-minded consumers on a budget, the 100k house fills that market perfectly.

Q. What was the key to affordability?

1,000 SF at $100/SF, while achieving LEED Platinum standards, was the formula we used to inspire design possibilities.  Conceiving of a project that meets those metrics was our design challenge and it asked us to work more like industrial designers rather than architects.  If we didn’t have to do it, we didn’t.  We stuck to a simple, elemental, urban approach that resulted in exposed concrete floors and surface mounted CFL light bulbs, for instance.  The green building approach emphasized the quality of the envelope including insulation, windows, and air sealing.

Q. Have you tracked the performance of the home?

We’ve received feedback from the owner that their utility bills are roughly $1,000 a year, which is significantly lower than the comparable home in the area.  The HERS score was near 50 on the original homes, but we have since lowered that to near 20 on more recent iterations.  On future projects our goal is to incorporate more feedback channels for the occupant to allow them to take charge or their water and energy consumption in a real time scenario.

Q. What were some of the lessons learned?

Keep it simple and focus on the envelope.  The envelope is the best way to embed long-term value in a house and isn’t subject to mechanical failure or user choices. This allows the mechanical systems to be simplified and be more affordable.

Q. How have your designs evolved since the 100k house and been able to inform your current work?

The 100k house sits in the middle of the timeline for our firm, but serves as the clearest thesis statement.  We received a 2011 Pew Fellowship in the Arts allowing us to focus more on experimentation, research, and design competitions.  We are beginning to expand geographically while also scaling up the ‘100k thesis’ on bigger projects in Philly.  Recent assignments include Net Zero housing in Boston (through the Mayor’s E+ Housing initiative) and a theoretical project for what a 100k house might be for Detroit.

Q. What are the top three priorities a team should focus on with a green building project?

1) Saving energy and money for the user is always number one.  This means providing a high performance envelope.

2) Every project is different in its requirements and therefore requires a unique approach to sustainability.  Maybe a project is net zero water instead of energy, because of site location or other factors. Fully exploiting available opportunities and thinking about the bigger context of a project is important. It can be unsustainable to insist that every project, regardless of location, program, or budget, achieve net zero energy, for example.

3) Affordability.

Q. Do you prefer to work with LEED or Passivhaus standards?

It all depends on the building.  For residential, Passivhaus is a great philosophy; save energy, save money, focus on the envelope.  It allows the project to stay very true to its core mission.  In a commercial setting, where projects are more complicated, something like LEED is more applicable because it allows for a more balanced and diverse approach.  I think that zoning codes could begin to play more of a role in the process.  How can we find more synergies which promote sustainability within urbanism?  For instance, could mixed use development be an energy strategy?

Q. Where do you see green building going in next 5-10 years?

I believe green building and high performance construction will continue to be ramped up through local regulations and building codes. The question that will remain is what does sustainability mean? Is it jobs, walkable neighborhoods, quality of life, healthy lifestyle?  The conversation will get less technical and lean more toward aesthetic, economic, and social issues.

Photos courtesy: Interface Studio Architects.

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Original post: Design to Embed Value in a Home [Interview]

Interview with a Passive House Builder

One thing I’ve noticed is the fact that home building is changing in a big way.  In order to capture what’s going on across the country, I thought it would be interesting to talk with influencers and innovators about things like tiny houses, prefabrication, sustainable design, high performance construction, and home technology.  For this first interview, I was able to exchange emails with Sam Hagerman, co-owner of Hammer & Hand and president of the Passive House Alliance US, on the topic of ADUs and Passive Houses.

Q: Could you summarize in just one sentence what Hammer & Hand is all about?

Hammer & Hand is a green builder and remodeler dedicated to service to our clients, to our employees, and to the built environment.

Q: I’m seeing mention of Hammer & Hand in the media more often … what are you doing to be so successful?

Early in 2010 we created a dedicated marketing position for a “chief evangelist” to tell our story online and with the media. Our approach has been to focus on doing good work and then share a vibrant, useful narrative about green building, building science, design, and craftsmanship. What we’ve found is that people start to notice you and talk. And our website and blog have really taken off.

Q: How many accessory dwelling unit (ADU) projects are you involved with?

We’ve completed about 20 ADUs over the past few years, including the super-efficient ADU that Jetson Green featured last spring. We currently have 3 in progress and 5 or 6 more in serious development. We get calls about ADUs 3-10 times a week.

Q: Earth Advantage Institute expects construction of ADUs, laneway homes, and infill homes to increase this year (see here) … do you agree?

Absolutely. Infill projects, ADUs and laneway homes are all on the rise for us. Another exciting development at Earth Advantage Institute is the new certification for stand-alone ADUs that they rolled out recently with full QA/QC. It comes with an Energy Performance Score that will become an important part of the valuation scheme for sustainable buildings in the near future.

Q: Tell me about your efforts in the world of Passive House?

My efforts in the world of Passive House fall into two arenas: advocating for Passive House and building Passive House.

We’ve been quite active with Passive House Alliance-US and Passive House Northwest in working to promote the standard in the marketplace and at all levels of government. My role as a president of PHAUS has given me the chance to be part of a chorus of public voices advocating for Passive House, many of them quite eloquent. That’s been a real honor.

As a builder we’ve been blessed with really exciting Passive House projects, like the Karuna House, designed by Holst Architecture. (Ed. note – see rendering above.)  We’re shooting not only for Passive House certification on that one, but also Minergie-P-ECO, LEED for Homes Platinum, and net zero energy.

We’re also working on a Passive House retrofit of a commercial office space, and have a number of other projects in development. Almost of these will pursue PHIUS+ certification to take advantage of the third-party verification that comes with it. And another small handful may not reach Passive House, given design constraints or architectural direction. It’s much easier to reach Passive House performance when Passive House design concepts and parametric analysis are included at the outset of a project, so we’re always happy to have the chance to collaborate with architects from the beginning.

Q: Most recently the Passive House industry has been in a bit of turmoil with contract disputes, trademark battles, quality control, etc. What’s your take on all this?

I think what we’re seeing right now is the natural kerfuffle that comes with any emerging market. There are thousand-fold examples of this in economic history as a movement moves from the early adopter stage to a more mature stage where organizations and institutions grow, bump against one another, and interact.

And the whole market context for Passive House is in rapid flux. Materials supply chains, for example, are just beginning to take notice of Passive House. The same is true for regulatory bodies that oversee code, consumer protection (like UL), and industry-based standards (like ASHRAE). So while the science of Passive House is sound, it’s taking time for the marketplace to respond.

In my view, the most exciting American Passive House development in the last year is the rollout of the new PHIUS+ certification that offers in-process third-party verification QA/QC of a project’s assemblies and installations by a cross-trained PHIUS/RESNET rater.

By harmonizing Passive House with US-based RESNET and providing third-party verification, PHIUS+ aligns Passive House with existing and emergent government incentive programs and other green building certifications that are tied to high performance building tax rebates at the local, state, and national level. Within in the next year or two, PHIUS+ will emerge as the market leader in promulgating Passive House in the US. It’s a native Passive House certification that responds to existing methodologies and practices on this side of the Atlantic.

The US not only contains widely varied climates, it’s also made up of myriad municipalities, each with its own politics and way of doing things. PHA-US is working to create a clearinghouse of information where Passive House practitioners and advocates can upload experiences and lessons learned and draw from those of their colleagues. We’re creating a forum for professionals to talk about technical problems, code strategies, marketing issues, business questions, you name it.

We’re forging ahead based on the conviction that, as American Passive House designers and builders, we all have a common bond based on advocacy of Passive House and low load buildings and that we can work together and minimize any acrimony or disagreements. There’s important work to be done out in the world. Enough navel gazing!

Q: Why not bypass Passive House for something like net-zero energy and water homes or homes that meet the Living Building Challenge?

I think Passive House provides the best road map to net-zero energy homes, so its not question of bypassing Passive House.

For example, the first dozen or so attempts to build net-zero in Oregon fell short because they missed the mark on efficiency and performance. Had these first buildings adhered to the Passive House energy standard most of them would have met their net zero goals.

I wouldn’t disagree that net zero or Living Building Challenge are worthy, it’s just that I see Passive House as the most sensible and effective gas pedal to reach their energy performance goals. Alternative energy is expensive. Insulation is cheap.

I also think there are reasonable questions about how broad market adoption can be for the most lofty certification programs. I mean, if anybody thinks we’re in danger of early and deep market penetration of compostable toilets then they’ve got another thing coming. (Joke)

Q: What should we expect to see from Hammer & Hand in the next few years?

I don’t know exactly, but I do know what motivates our work. At the core of it all is a passion for fine craft and a commitment to energy performance and building science. Passive House and home performance retrofits fuel our passion for building in 2012 and into the future. After all, the biggest power reserve available to the US is our potential to eliminate inefficient use of energy. And when we have people dying for oil oversees and cheap domestic energy on oil rigs and in coalmines here in the US, it’s a reminder that all of us need to step up our game.

Many of our clients approach us because they’re interested in energy performance and green building, but some aren’t. Sometimes the most meaningful energy savings you can achieve is with a client that doesn’t care about or is unaware of energy performance. Many times, we can lead those types of clients to an energy efficient place talking about the superior comfort and indoor air quality offered by low-load buildings. When you hire us you’re in for a level of energy awareness and sustainable practice that’s above and beyond what 99% of the market can deliver. I guess that makes us the 1%? Uh oh. Don’t print that.

Sam Hagerman is co-founder and co-owner of the leading Portland green building company Hammer & Hand and serves as President of the Passive House Alliance US.

Credit: (c) Holst Architecture, the Karuna House mentioned above.  

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