Category Archives: Green Building

Affordablity theme big in this year’s Solar Decathlon

Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Creative Commons license

In this year’s Solar Decathlon  wrapped up earlier this month with 19 homes – more than half of which cost less than $300,000 to build. Affordability was one of the 10 categories on which the homes are judged this year in the biannual competition pitting universities from around the United States and a few foreign countries. The new cost/affordability bar, which replaced the lighting contest, inspired the student designers to drive down the cost considerably. According to the event’s sponsor, U.S. Department of Energy, this year’s houses were about 33 percent cheaper this year than those that competed two years ago.  “Solar for less” was just one of the industry trends reflected in this year’s entries.

Read my story in Architecture Week.


Maryland student’s tribute to the Chesapeake wins Solar Decathlon

U of Md's WaterShed home at the Solar Decathlon

WaterShed is the 2011 Solar Decathlon winner

WaterShed, the lushly landscaped energy self-sufficient home built by a team from University of Maryland won first place in this year’s Solar Decathlon, which wrapped yesterday on the National Mall. The nearly 900-square-foot home, complete with rain garden, beat out 18 other entries from universities around the U.S., Belgium, Canada, China and New Zealand.

As the name suggests, the Solar Decathlon is all about building the best dwelling that can be fully powered by the sun, but this year several teams tackled two other issues of increasing concern to commercial builders of “green” homes: air quality and water conservation. In fact, both Team Maryland and the team from Purdue University, which took second place, showcased their original inventions in the air quality arena.
Read the rest of this entry

Passive Houses Could Make Energy Efficiency Cool

Lately, I’ve been writing (and talking) a lot about the energy-efficient “Passive House” construction system. Here’s a link to my latest E Magazine cover story on the fledgling boom in these low-energy homes that take a mere fraction of the electricity the average household requires to heat, cool and keep the lights on. If you’d rather hear than read all about it, check out my interview today with Kathleen Dunn of Wisconsin Public Radio.

Today’s Greenlines: Clotheslines, Bike Paths, Farmers Markets, London Deforestation + More

This trend doesn’t seem to have hit DC yet, at least I haven’t seen many clothes hanging in my neighborhood, but people around the country are apparently fighting for their rights to clothesline.

The Streetsblog Capitol Hill picks up an AP story about how a majority of Americans recognize that they could play a role in helping the environment but don’t usually back up the talk with actions. Hmmm, the same thing could be said of world leaders.

A London exhibition of giant tropical tree stumps dramatizes rainforest deforestation. Check out the story and photo on the Guardian site.

The Washington Post reports from Indonesia on “A CLIMATE THREAT, RISING FROM THE SOIL”

DC Metrocentric gives an update on Penrose Square in Arlington, a rare example of an older suburban shopping center being revamped as a denser urban village with a pedestrian friendly mix of shops and housing.

The financially troubled Allegro apartments in Columbia Heights sold for $77.5 million, DC Metrocentric also reports.

We Love DC offers its five favorite bike routes.

DC nonprofits say they are seeing more demand and less moolah to carry out those services, Washington Business Journal reports on the survey.

Columbia Heights residents are meeting Saturday to discuss plans to bring a farmer’s market back to the neighborhood.

Forest Advocates Float Greenwashing Claims

At the DC Energy Expo last weekend, it was rather disappointing to talk to a dealer of energy-efficient windows who had no idea where the wood that frames his windows comes from.

All he knows is that the manufacturers promise it is certified “environmentally friendly.”

“Green building” has become a big business.  By 2013, one in every five new homes will be an energy-efficient, eco-friendly abode, according to one estimate.

But what does “green” mean? There’s a huge battle underway over that question.  One of the bitterest fronts is being fought over sustainable forestry.

Last week, the environmentalists at ForestEthics engaged in a new skirmish against the country’s largest forest certification program, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, or SFI, a nonprofit that has grown rapidly in recent years. But, for many environmentalists, SFI is a front organization for Big Timber that threatens to hijack the burgeoning market for sustainable lumber.

ForestEthics did its best to publicize those concerns at the country’s leading green building convention in Phoenix last week; It floated a helium-filled banner over the SFI booth inside the convention center that read: “SFI=Greenwash.”

picked up on the controversy today. SFI has also responded. For more details on greenwashing and green building, here’s a story I wrote for ArchitectureWeek.

Battling “Vampire Energy” at the DC Energy Expo

Did you know a plasma TV can add an extra $160 – and 1,452 kilowatts – to your electric bill each year? That’s just when its turned off.

So-called “vampire energy,” the power household appliances use when turned off but still plugged into an an electrical outlet, costs U.S. consumers an estimated $3 billion a year.  And, think about the climate-changing greenhouse gas bill!

Last Saturday’s 14th Energy Expo – 2009 at the Washington Convention Center showcased plenty of products that promise to, erhh …, drive a stake through vampire energy.  Here’s a rundown on a few that caught my eye:

The Green Switch, which has the endorsement of Actor/Eco-warrior Ed Begley, Jr., is typically installed near the front door, so you can shut off all the lights in your house with one flip. There were also “smart” power strips on display which serve a similar purpose, but do it one outlet at a time. Here’s a nifty video explaining smart strips.

I didn’t spend much time with the dealers in solar panels and energy efficient windows, since there is already so much information out there on those two subjects. But, suffice it to say, solar prices have come down dramatically since last year. And, right now, the federal government is offering $1,500 in tax credits to purchasers of energy efficient windows.

The Office of the People’s Counsel has more info on an array of local, state and federal tax credits that can help you reduce your carbon footprint and your bills.

There was a lot of wind about wind power, as well. Washington Gas Energy Services was promoting its CleanSteps program. Meanwhile, a sales rep from the upstart Clean Currents, a 3-year-old Rockville green power broker, promised to actually save you money if you sign up today and lock in current low rates for its wind-generated electricity.

For businesses, SilverSoft, Inc. is giving away its Green Lights software program for free. The program allows you to calculate the cost of, say, changing all the light bulbs in your building or adding light sensors. It also lets you compare the upfront investment to monthly energy bill savings to figure out how long it would take to pay off such improvements. SilverSoft’s president Carl Bergman gave me a quick demonstration and it seemed pretty easy to use. If you’d like to download a copy, you can find it here.

Walter Reed Overhaul is Moving Forward

walterreedwebAs the US Army gets ready to decommission Walter Reed Army Medical Center on the upper reaches of Georgia Avenue, plans to overhaul the sprawling site are starting to heat up. No word yet on whether plans will preserve the site’s open space. On Friday, the Center is hosting a workshop for those interested in submitting a bid. Here’s a handy webpage with all the details.