Tag Archives: products

GreenBuild Day 2: bifacial solar panels and natural swimming pools that use plants, not chlorine!

I’ve been through about an eighth of the GreenBuild Exhibition floor so far and wanted to share two of the things I’ve seen with you.

These are the Sanyo bifacial panels that will be on the Bullitt Foundation’s Living Building on Capitol Hill. The collect energy from both sides while letting some light in at the same time. Bullitt was attracted by the transparency of the panel.

And this is the BioNova Natural Swimming Pool. The swimming pools use natural systems (meaning plants in gravel) instead of chlorine and other chemicals to treat water. That means the water color is darker, looking more like a lake than a traditional pool. It also means that people that use them need to get used to the idea of sharing their pool occasionally with frogs or other critters. James Robyn, CEO of the company, said the pools aren’t for everybody. “Whoever doesn’t like that sort of thing shouldn’t do this.”

Robyn said the pool technology came from Europe, where it has been used for 20 years. He said it has a low carbon footprint, is all natural and is “perfectly healthy.” Robyn, who is based in New Jersey, said he’s being asked about the pool system all across the country. In fact, he was in Seattle giving a lecture last month though he said there are not yet any of his pools in process in the Seattle area.

There are basically five ways to build the pools but each involves about 1 square foot of treatment space for 1 square foot of pool. That means if you want an 850-square-foot-pool, you need 850 square feet of treatment space. It’s more expensive but it certainly looks cool!

For more on BioNova, check out its Web site.

Redecorating windows in an energy efficient way

I recently received this blog post from Richard Moyle with Horizon Window Treatments in New York. For those of you considering new window treatments, I thought it provided a nice overview on redecorating windows. Here it is:

So you want to re-decorate your windows, but you want to do it the most energy-efficient way possible, to not only lower your utility bills, but reduce your carbon footprint as well. Fortunately, it is very possible to do this. All you need to do is look for a couple of things when selecting window treatments.

First, you want to make sure that the treatments you are choosing are made from renewable materials. If you are going the wood treatment route, only buy wood that is Forest Stewardship Council certified. FSC accredited certifiers evaluate both forest management activities and tracking of forest products. If not using wood treatments, go with natural fabrics like cotton, silk or hemp for draperies. Buying local is also helpful when it comes to energy efficiency. The shorter distance the material has to travel, the less energy it takes to get to you.

All window treatments offer some insulation, but some will provide more than others. In order to determine how much insulation is provided by a specific window treatment, you want to look at what is called the R-Value. This rates the treatment’s effectiveness in averting heat loss. You also want to evaluate the treatment by its Shading Coefficient, which is the measurement of heat coming through the window. A window treatment with a high R-value and a low Shading Coefficient would make for the ideal selection.

Air quality is third and final characteristic to look for in a window treatment. Plastic and faux wood blinds might contain polyvinyl chloride which releases carcinogenic dioxin into the air during production and contains plasticizer called phthalates, which can set off respiratory problems and inhibit the body’s hormonal systems. Again, choosing treatments that are made of renewable materials can help you avoid these problems.

While it may be impossible to find a treatment that adheres to all of the specifications above, knowing what to look for can help you find the treatment that is best for you and the environment.

Help some students out with 5 minutes of your time…

Recently, I received an e-mail from a senior studying business at Seattle Pacific University named Jamie. The student said they are part of a team writing a comprehensive business plan regarding a power strip that automatically shuts off power in stand-by mode. Turns out two of her teammates have created a working prototype, which will participate in a number of competitions.

The student, Jamie Durbin, sounds pretty excited: “We are super passionate about our product: it would save energy and save consumer(s) $100+ on their annual energy bills. We are seeking venture capital at the competitions to launch our product line and hopefully serve the environmentally-minded (smart) consumer.”

Basically, the device senses when something switches to idle mode and can turn it off, saving energy.

Sounds kinda cool, eh? Here’s where you can help: Jamie’s team needs 1,000 respondents to an online survey. If you click here and spend 5 minutes, you could really help them out.

Overall, the product seems pretty handy. Even though I have power strips, there are often times when I simply forget to switch them off. Having a device do that automatically would take care of those moments.

Here’s a description of the product:

The controlled outlets have four main functions.

1) Able to sense when an appliance switches to idle mode

2) Able to turn the appliance off after a period of time in idle mode.  To achieve this functionality, the device will monitor how long an appliance has been in an idle power state and remove power when it has been in the idle mode for a user specified period of time.

3) Able to restore power to each appliance once the user wants to use the appliances again.  When the power is cut, the device will use a motion sensor to determine if anyone is around the device. If the motion sensor is tripped then it will reconnect power to the appliance; when the user turns the appliance off the cycle will begin again.

4) MOST IMPORTANT, the device will reduce power consumption.  The maximum expected consumption of the power strip itself will be under 1 watt. It will completely eliminate the standby power for the controlled appliances.

What do you think? Are they on the right track? If you think they are, answer the survey and help ’em out.

Seattle going crazy over plastic, paper bags

In case you missed it, the news coming out of Seattle the last four months has not so covertly been undercut by one single, shining topic…. (no, not the Sonics!)… disposable bags!

small-turtle.jpgThat’s right. Way back in April, Mayor Nickels decided to wage war against the mighty plastic and paper grocery bag. Since then, it has grown into legend and become the most important story on everybody’s lips.

Today, that war has ended. As of January 1, if you use a plastic or paper grocery bag from a drug,   convenience, or grocery store… you will be charged 20 cents per bag.

You might think I’m being flippant (and ok, maybe a part of me is) but really, I’m only half joking. The news that this topic has generated since April… is a tad unbelievable. Doubt me? In the Seattle Times, everyone from Danny Westneat to Nancy Leson have chimed in, never mind the actual news stories. Want blogs? Try The Stranger, WorldChanging Seattle, Greenhuman…. you get the point (then again I’m also culpable as this is now the second time I’ve posted about this on the blog. hmmmm). Want to read the press release, check out the Rainier Valley Post.

I’m not undermining that disposable bag use is disgusting. According to SPU, there are 360 million disposable bags used every year in-city. But seriously, I have an insane amount of press releases in my in box about this topic on either side. I’ve been a little shocked, actually, given that the mainstream media in this state has given virtually no coverage to issues like greenhouse gas inclusion in SEPA or even the Living Building Challenge. I guess disposable bags are just easier to write about.

Then again my co-worker, Shawna Gamache, used to live in St. Petersburg  (I know, cool right?) and she says it’s the same thing: you bring your own bag or you pay. (She also says public places require you bring toilet paper. Not so sure I like that one.) Come to think about it, when I lived in France they looked at  you with a queasy eye when you didn’t bring your own bag…..

I know I try to bring a reusable bag, but sometimes I forget. Maybe with the city kicking me, I’ll finally remember it when I walk in the grocery door. Or maybe it’ll be yet another daily annoyance.

What do you think about the decision? Am I way off base here or are there more important things we should be worrying (and picketing) about?

In a separate ordinance, the council also banned polystyrene food containers from restaurants and packing from grocery stores beginning Jan. 1, 2009. For more about that, see any of the blogs cited above.

Study says green = a better value, quicker sale. Do you agree?

Yesterday I wrote a story about how GreenWorks Realty  of Seattle crunched some numbers, did a little addition… and discovered that even in the not the best (to say the least) housing market over the last year, green homes in King County have sold quicker and for a higher value than their non-green counterparts.

GreenWorks looked at homes sold on the Northwest Multiple Listing Service small-gb.jpgbetween September 2007 and May 2008 that were “environmentally certified” – here that means LEED homes, Energy Star, or the Master Builders of King and Snohomish Counties’ Built Green Program.

On average, single family homes sold for four percent more, 18 percent quicker, and were 37 percent more valuable per square foot.

To see more or learn how condos measured up, visit GreenWorks to look at the numbers yourself here. (By the way, this is some of the first analysis of its kind).

Now, recently a pretty high level developer in the Seattle area told me there was no point in developing office space that wasn’t LEED certified anymore, because it is going to lose its value quicker.

Combine that with this research saying green homes sell quicker and for more, and logically, building green seems to make sense.

But there are a lot of challenges to building green, not to mention building green well. I could go off about the issues forever: some green systems are so new they are untested or people don’t know how to install them, it’s difficult to know if something is really green, green is “more expensive….” But I would rather hear from you.

If you can take a moment out of your holiday weekend, answer me this: What stops you from building green? If you work on residential projects, could these numbers convince you to try something new? Do these numbers matter at all and why? Do they matter in your neck of the woods, or is the information too Seattle-area specific?

And is it better for someone to do bad green design or do nothing green at all?

Or heck, you can just answer the poll at right!

I’m all ears. To read the story, press here.