Low-Carbon Concrete Products to be Developed by Atlas Block and CarbonCure

Atlas Concrete Carbon Neutral Block

Atlas Block, a manufacturer of concrete products based in Ontario, has signed a licensing agreement with CarbonCure, an emerging leader in science-based concrete technology for green building, to manufacture low-carbon concrete that will significantly reduce the carbon footprint of the concrete industry.

Several months have been spent testing the bolt-on technology from CarbonCure at the Atlas Block Hillsdale plant. The method sequesters carbon dioxide into the concrete during the manufacturing process. CO2 waste is consumed during concrete production to transform it into solid limestone, thus creating a better concrete product.

“This could transform the entire concrete industry,” said Don Gordon, CEO of Atlas Block. “I’ve been in this industry many years. This is easily the most exciting technological improvement I’ve seen.” Concrete is responsible for approximately 5 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions as the most widely used construction material.

Several major firms are beginning to spec the Atlas Block products, including B+H Architects. “B+H Architects is so impressed with the environmental sustainability of this technology that Atlas Block with CarbonCure products will be exclusively specified on all new products,” said Matthew Roberts of B+H Architects.

Atlas Block joins CarbonCure distributors, The Shaw Group of Nova Scotia, and Basalite Concrete Products of Dixon, California to meet the global demand for innovative green building materials.

Atlas Concrete Production


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The rest is here: Low-Carbon Concrete Products to be Developed by Atlas Block and CarbonCure

How to Read a Home Window Label

This is the beginning of our series called Energy-Efficient Windows 101 made possible by Marvin Windows and Doors.  For this first article, I want to talk about the various acronyms you might see on a home window label, or in window specification materials, so you’ll know more about what you’re reading.  When evaluating energy-efficient window options, Marvin suggests that you understand the basics of the following words and acronyms:

AL – the Air Leakage rating expresses the cubic feet of air which passes through a square foot of window area by way of leaks or cracks in the window assembly.  The lower the AL number, the less air will pass through the window assembly.

CR – Condensation Resistance is expressed in a number from 0 to 100 to indicate the ability of the window to potentially resist the formation of condensation on the interior surface.  The higher the CR number, the better the product will be at resisting interior condensation.

Energy Staris a joint program administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Energy (DOE) which proscribes energy performance standards for products, including appliances, light bulbs, windows, and even homes.

Energy Star zones – in order to qualify as an Energy Star product, windows and skylights must meet certain U-factor and, if applicable, SHGC requirements based on a climate zone.  There are four zones in the United States: northern, north-central, south-central, and southern.  You can find out the Energy Star requirements for your climate zone on the Energy Star website.

Fenestration – this is an opening in the envelope of a building.  It’s a fancy word that may be used to reference the design or placement of windows and other openings in a structure.

NFRC – the National Fenestration Rating Council is a non-profit organization that administers a rating and labeling system for the energy performance of windows, doors, skylights, and attachment products.  NFRC certifies data and testing of windows, so it’s easy to compare two window products with NFRC values.

SHGC – the Solar Heat Gain Coefficient ranges from 0 to 1 and indicates how well a window blocks heat caused by sunlight.  The lower the SHGC, the less solar heat transmits through the window; the higher the SHGC, the more solar heat will transmit through the window.

U-factor – this is a measure of heat transfer through the whole window (including the frame and glass).  Think about U-factor as the opposite of insulation R-values where the higher the R-value, the better the insulation.  The lower the U-factor, the better the window is at preventing heat transfer through the window.

VT – Visible Transmittance also ranges from 0 to 1 and indicates the amount of total visible light that the window will transmit.  The higher the VT, the more visible light will pass through the window.

Tripane glazing, available with argon or kryton gas, provides excellent energy performance. It’s available with LoĒ2-272 on both panes, with LoĒ-179® on both panes for high SHGC, or with LoĒ3-366® on the exterior pane and LoĒ-179 on the interior pane for low SHGC.

Some window manufacturers use their own ratings based on their own testing standards, and their information is hard to judge or compare.  Marvin uses third-party rating information from NFRC, so homeowners can perform an apples-to-apples comparison of what’s available on the market.

Also, meeting the Energy Star threshold with energy-efficient windows may reduce energy consumption by about 7-15%, according to the Energy Star website.  Marvin has more than 150,000 options for meeting Energy Star requirements, and, if a project is pursuing higher performance territory, Marvin can exceed Energy Star requirements, too.

By the way, right now Marvin is kicking off a fall energy efficiency program with the Smart Performance Promotion giving one lucky homeowner $5,000 toward the purchase of new Marvin windows and doors.  In connection with the promotion, Marvin has a collection of energy efficiency and other home improvement tips from Lou Manfredini, a homebuilder, contributor to the Today Show, and host of HouseSmarts TV.

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Read more here: How to Read a Home Window Label

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LEED Platinum Shoebox House in Santa Fe

This is The Shoebox House in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  It’s an award-winning design — Citation Award from the Santa Fe chapter of the AIA — that also captured LEED Platinum certification with 88 points, a phenomenal feat given some of the challenges.  Architect and builder Gabe Brown, Praxis Design/Build, was able to put a 1,700 square foot home on a 2,300 square-foot L-shaped lot, while still giving the owner a separate art studio, a gallery-like living room, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a study.

One interesting fact about the design of the home is how Brown was able to get it done while the owners were living in Bangkok.  Using Google Sketchup — which, by the way, was recently sold to Trimble — Brown and the owners exchanged ideas from opposite time zones to iterate the design to completion.

The result is a green home that cost $188 per square foot to build.

The living room is an art gallery that cantilevers off the detached art studio on the ground level.  The kitchen is opposite the cantilevered view, while the study is also on the ground level with a bathroom and the other rooms.

Praxis completed the home in about seven months.  The exterior is stucco and the long cylindrical elements, pictured, are for rainwater catchment.  Elsewise, The Shoebox House received a HERS Index of 58 and EPA Indoor airPLUS certification, too.

[+] More photos of the LEED Platinum Shoebox House in New Mexico.

Credits: © Laurie Allegretti. 

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Excerpt from: LEED Platinum Shoebox House in Santa Fe

Passivhaus Apartments Built in Sweden

A couple years ago, Kjellgren Kaminsky Architecture and builders Höllviksnäs Förvaltnings AB won an open competition for four Passivhaus homes on a vacant lot in the city of Malmö, Sweden.  The team won the competition and the low-energy houses are now finished.  The project may be referred to as Salongen 35 and includes a greenhouse, green roof, gray water treatment, and solar panels.

Specifically, solar panels provide about 40% of annual hot water needs, while 82% of energy in the indoor air is recovered through a heat exchanger.

The exteriors were finished with plaster, fiber cement, wood, and aluzink (for the roof), and the interiors have whitewashed pine, brushed pine, and recycled terracotta, depending on the area.

All wood is FSC-certified, and the appliances are top of class for energy efficiency to keep in line with the Passivhaus regime.  Salongen 35 also has dashes of greenery here and there with flower boxes, lawns, green walls, a green roof, and the greenhouse that is used for local food production.

This isn’t KKA’s first work with Passivhaus — another great project is their Villa Nyberg.

[+] More detail about the design and build of Salongen 35.

Credits: Kasper Dudzik, KKA.

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Continued here: Passivhaus Apartments Built in Sweden

The Reel Deal for These Three Mowers

If you have a lawn, you have several options to keep it neat this Spring, but the human-powered reel mower is probably one of more environmentally friendly ways to go about it.  These things have anywhere from 4-7 blades, 14-20-inch widths, and varying weights, depending on the build of the chosen model.  But what’s the best reel mower for your yard?  It depends on your situation, though Mowers Direct picked these models based on retail pricing, recent sales history, customer reviews, and company insight.

Good: GreenWorks, Model 25062
⇊ 18″ width, 5-blade reel mower – MSRP $119.99

Better: Husqvarna 64 Novocut, Model 964 95 40-03 64
⇊ 16″ width, 6-blade reel mower – MSRP $159.99

Best: NaturCut Ideal 40, Model 16040
⇊ 16″ width, 5-blade reel mower – MSRP $179.99

Are you using a reel lawn mower?  What do you like/dislike about your model?

[+] View other reel lawn mowers at Mower’s Direct.

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Continued here: The Reel Deal for These Three Mowers

50/10 Houses Aim for a Green Sweet Spot

When a large or expensive home is presented on this site, it’s common to get an adverse response from readers requesting that we feature smaller and more affordable homes.  Today, I’m going to take that opportunity to share something called the 50/10 House developed by Cellar Ridge Custom Homes and m.o.daby design in Oregon.

A 50/10 House aims for the sweet spot of performance and cost — it’s 50% more efficient than local code, and the construction requires a reasonable 10% upfront investment.

This graphic explains what goes into a 50/10 House to make it more efficient than code. There’s above-code insulation, heat recovery ventilation, energy-efficient lighting, air sealing in the gaps and cracks, a thermally broken wall system, Energy Star appliances, thoughtful overhangs, carefully placed windows, a high-efficiency water heater, and a mini-split heat pump system.

The homes range in size from about 1,200 – 1,600 square feet and will be oriented to optimize the sun. Roof lines are designed for solar panels, should an owner decide to spend a little more to reach net-zero energy or greater efficiencies.

Cellar Ridge and m.o.daby are currently offering 50/10 Houses from a starting price of $190,000, without land anywhere in the Portland metro area, or from $225,000 with the lot in McMinnville, Oregon.

Though more affordable than custom or architect-designed residential, a 50/10 House is not cookie cutter. Cellar Ridge and m.o.daby, who combined their efforts on the Morning Sun project, offer several architectural styles with alternative floor plans. Furthermore, owners have the ability to customize cladding materials and colors.

[+] More about the elements of a high-performance 50/10 House.

Credits: m.o.daby design. 

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Twin SIP Panel Sett Studios in Austin

Several months ago, I shared photos of a tiny studio shed by Texas-based Sett Studio and want to share details of cool new project by the same firm in same area.  Sett Studio recently worked with The Goodlife Team, a local real estate company, and created these two studios that are now being used as extra space for the company’s expanding East Austin offices.

You may catch a glimpse of several naked Plumen CFLs hanging in these offices.  Mike Speciale of Sett Studio told me his company is using these on a regular basis now because the bulbs “add an artistic look without the bulk of a full light fixture.

The Goodlife Team studios — one is 12′ x 12′ (144 square feet) and the other is 12′ x 14′ (168 square feet) — were built with floor-to-ceiling Ply Gem windows and structural insulated panels for the walls, floor, and roof.  Sett Studios installed the tiny structures in about four days, as documented here.

The twins are joined by a white cedar deck and clad in a mixture of U-channel galvalume and yellow pine style siding with a shou-sugi-ban treatment.  It’s a great look, the combination of charred wood and textured metal, worth pinning if you have an exteriors board like mine on Pinterest.

Sett Studio fabricates their studios off-site within 45 days of contract signing and installs them in two days.  They have models of various sizes and prices, but to give you an idea, a couple studios like the ones purchased by The Goodlife Team will run about $55,000, including the deck.

[+] More information about Sett Studio structures from Austin.

Credits: Lisa Hause Photography.

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Craftsman Style Home Gets a Gold Award

This is the Far Reach House and Gold Award winner in the 2012 EnergyValue Housing Awards by the NAHB Research Center.  The program honors builders and remodelers who incorporate energy efficiency in the design, construction, and marketing of their homes, and this home was built in Olympia, Washington by Scott Homes with some high-performance features to go with a traditional design.

Far Reach House was built with an 8″ stem-wall with 10″ SIPs flooring (R39), 10″ SIPs walls (R39), 12″ SIPs roofing (R47), and triple-glazed Energy Star windows (U-value of 0.11-0.15, SHGC of 0.46).  The blower-door test came in at 0.65 ACH at 50 Pascals, while the HERS Index came in at 39.

Scott Homes also incorporated a ductless mini-split, HRV (with ducts only in conditioned space), a tankless on-demand water heater, and Energy Star refrigerator, dishwasher, clothes washer, and lights (32 CFLs, and 2 LEDs).  The builder expects that this home can be heated for about $70 total per year.

The owners open their mornings on the large porch, according to Scott Homes, and enjoy other eco-friendly materials in the 2,100 square-foot abode, such as PaperStone countertops, sustainably harvested ipe flors, locally harvested and milled western hemlock trim, wool carpeting, and Marmoleum floors.

[+] More about the Far Reach House from Scott Homes, Inc.

Credits: Aaron Barna Photography.

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The Light Bulb as a Home Appliance

I’m sure by now you’ve read some of the political talk circulating the web as a result of a recent article by The Washington Post about the Philips LED bulb that won the L Prize and $10 million.  The contest was meant to spur lighting innovation and make LEDs more affordable, but readers noted the bulb’s unrebated MSRP of $50 and basically flipped out.

Even Energy Secretary Chu commented on the price: “Nobody expects to pay $50 for a light bulb and quite candidly, if you’re filling your house with light bulbs like that, they should be part of your will,” according to Andrew Restuccia of The Hill.

With the media this LED bulb has generated — especially considering the fact that Philips won the contest in August 2011 — I can’t figure out why there’s not been a more grounded approach to the discussion in the last week or so.  So let’s just cut through the clutter and address some of the main talking points.

What are the specs for the L Prize bulb? 

It’s a screw-type replacement for the 60-watt incandescent and uses 10 watts of energy.  The omnidirectional bulb outputs 900 lumens, has a life of 30,000 hours, has a color of 2700 K (similar to an incandescent), and a CRI of 92.  It’s dimmable, contains no mercury, and turns on instantly.

What is the price of the L Prize bulb? 

It’s reportedly going to sell for the MSRP of $50, not counting rebates, if available.  As of August 2011, 31 utility providers and energy efficiency program partners had signed up to promote and develop markets for the new L Prize bulb.  Philips expects to achieve the $22 target L Prize price through utility partner rebates of up to $30 off in-store purchases.

Doesn’t Philips already have a bulb like this on the market?

You can buy a different Philips 60-watt replacement at places like Home Depot.  I purchased four AmbientLED bulbs less than a year ago for $40 per bulb and they’re awesome.  This same bulb is selling retail for about $25, or $20 right now on Amazon (Wow! You mean it dropped 20 in price in about a year?  Yes.)  It uses 12.5 watts, outputs 800 lumens, has a life of 25,000 hours, has a color of 2700, and has a CRI of 80.  So it’s close in performance to the L Prize bulb but not has high performing in key areas.

What’s the cost of purchasing and using the L Prize bulb?

Based on the cost of the bulb, plus the cost of energy to run the bulb on an assumption of $0.11 kWH: the L Prize bulb costs $82 (prior to any rebates), a halogen bulb costs $186, and an incandescent costs $213, according to a recent Philips press release.  These numbers closely align with the same math performed by Think Progress in response to the WaPo feature.  By the way, WaPo now concludes that the incandescent will cost $145 more over the life of the L Prize bulb.

But that’s still a high initial price?  What to do?

The reality is, many Americans live check to check.  Replacing a bulb every 6-8 months is a lot easier than investing in something that won’t need replacing for like 20 something years.  Which is why it’s probably time we as a nation find a way to treat home lighting as an appliance worth saving for and purchasing, as opposed to an expendable that’s tossed in the shopping cart and trashed when dead.  If it’s cheaper to buy the L Prize bulb when factoring in lifetime energy costs, which it is, then it’s pragmatic to make that happen.

What about Made in America?

To win the L Prize, a majority of the final product assembly and integration must be carried out within the United States.  Philips made the white LEDs and electronic driver in the United States.  During mass production, all final assembly and testing of the L Prize bulb will be completed in the United States.

The real question:  Would you buy one for $50?  How about $20?

[+] More about the L Prize LED light bulb from Philips.

Credit: Philips Lighting North America.

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More here: The Light Bulb as a Home Appliance


Fine Earthy Wood Tile by Everitt & Schilling

You’ve probably seen bamboo tile, but have you seen some of the handcrafted wood tile from Colorado-based Everitt & Schilling Company.  They offer a Trail Mix series (pictured above) that is made from the scraps — alder, poplar, oak, walnut, hickory – of cabinet and door makers.  E&S also has a few country-luxe lines made with reclaimed barnwood and finished with water based, low VOC finishes.  Re-Claimed Barnwood tiles come in 2