Friday, February 29, 2008

Understanding the Carbon Footprint

Photo by Horacio Salinas

Here is a fascinating, wonderfully written and helpful article from The New Yorker magazine. Its subject is nothing less than our environmental destiny. Just one interesting quote:

"Bishops of the Church of England have just launched a “carbon fast,” suggesting that during Lent parishioners, rather than giving up chocolate, forgo carbon. (Britons generate an average of a little less than ten tons of carbon per person each year; in the United States, the number is about twice that.)"

MoMA's P.S. 1 Young Architect's Competition

The ground breaking nature of MoMA's P.S. 1 Museum of Contemporary Art in Long island City, NY, continues through its Young Architect's Competition, now in its eight year. The competition asks for proposals for a temporary structure for the museum's summer music program, Warm-Up. Here is the description of the winning proposal and its young architects posted in World Architectural News. We like the proposal because of, among other things, the novel "green roof." Besides being a living structure, it is also made of inexpensive and sustainable materials that are recyclable after its use at P.S.1.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

7 Ways to Save Water

We thought this article in the "Smart Home Owner Magazine" newsletter was concise and useful.

In some drought-stricken areas of the country, homeowners are dealing with acute water shortages. But no matter where you live, you can take simple steps to conserve water and save money. In fact, with just a few small changes in your home, you can cut your water bill by half. Here’s how:
1. Low-flow faucets and showerheads
Low-flow faucets have a flow rate of 1.5 to 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm), compared to 2.5 to 5 gpm for standard faucets. For showerheads, select models that use 2.5 gpm or less. Some showerheads manufactured before 1992 had flow rates of up to 5.5 gpm, so if you have one of these older models in your home, consider switching to a newer version. You could save 20 to 25 gallons of water per shower.

2. Low-flush toilets
More and more manufacturers are offering low flow toilets - some equipped with dual flushing mechanisms and others with pressure assisted systems. Kohler’s Power Lite toilets, for instance, allow users to select either a normal 1.4-gallon flush or a super-low 1.0-gallon flush, so you never use more water than you need. Kohler notes that the toilet can save 2,000 gallons of water a year. Sloan’s FLUSHMATE pressure assisted technology can be found inside toilets from all leading manufacturers. The newest FLUSHMATE IV uses less than 1.0 gallon per flush without sacrificing performance and saves up to 45% more water than conventional technologies, according to the manufacturer.

3. Hot water recirculator
For a hot shower, you first have to displace the water that’s gone cold in the pipe — between 1 and 5 gallons — which heads right down the drain. To prevent cold-water dumping, you can install a recirculating pump, which will rapidly pull hot water from the water heater while simultaneously sending cooled-off water from the hot-water lines back to the water heater. In addition to having the convenience of hot water on-demand, the system conserves water and saves energy. A typical system costs less than $400 to install.

4. High-efficiency appliances
The EnergyStar label is the gold standard for efficient energy use among appliances, but the designation also indicates water-efficiency for dishwashers and washing machines. The Energy Star-rated Whirlpool Gold Super Capacity Tall Tub Dishwasher, for instance, uses just 6 gallons per cycle, not 12 to 14 like older models, and its soil sensors ensure that wash cycles use less water if dishes aren’t as dirty.

6. Rainwater collection system
Using a non-asphalt roof as a catchment area, a rainwater collection system funnels water into a cistern, then sends it through a series of micron filters and an ultraviolet bath to kill bacteria. Instead of spending money on a water bill, homeowners simply pay for the electricity needed to pump water from their cistern into their home’s regular plumbing system. Even a brief rain event on a 2,000-square-foot roof surface can add 650 gallons to the cistern.

5. Zoned irrigation controllers
While indoor water use has been dropping since the early 1990s, outdoor residential water use has climbed to 50 to 70 percent of total water demand. The biggest sponge is your lawn. To control the amount of water you use outside, consider investing in a multi-function timer that can be programmed to water different zones, like trees, shrubs, flower beds and turf. Changing your irrigation schedule with each season also will reduce overwatering and runoff.

7. Lawn humidity sensors
Another way to prevent overwatering is to install a relative humidity sensor, like the WeatherMiser, from Weathermiser Energy Efficiency Corp. It monitors humidity and evaporation and electronically interrupts your sprinkler cycle if moist conditions render watering unnecessary. A more high-tech version is the WeatherTRAK system, which has a controller that receives up-to-the-minute satellite data on weather conditions for your area. It then adjusts its irrigation of your landscape accordingly.

Bonus Feature:
Conduct Your Own Water Audit

Some high desert cities, like Tucson, Ariz., offer free water audits to residents interested in scaling back their water use. Check with your town’s water department to see if it offers a similar program — or simply audit your own home with these ideas from Tracey Berry, a commercial conservation specialist with City of Tucson Water:
• Check for toilet leaks. Add a water-soluble dye tab or several drops of food coloring to the tank of your toilet. If the flapper is leaking, the dye will filter into the bowl after a few minutes. Even a subtle leak can waste 100 gallons of water a day and leave you with a hefty water bill. A replacement flapper, on the other hand, costs only a few dollars and is easily installed by even the least handy of homeowners.
• Find local rebates. Switching to a high-efficiency dishwasher or washing machine is costly, but in certain parts of the country you can get a discount for doing so. In Albuquerque, N.M., for instance, homeowners can earn a $125 rebate for installing a low-flow toilet, $100 for a high-efficiency washer and up to $800 for converting to xeriscaping.
• Adjust landscape watering. Observe your irrigation system to see if adjusting a sprinkler head could avoid sidewalk runoff. In a hot climate, set automatic sprinklers so that you’re watering early in the day or late in the evening to avoid evaporation. Also, remind yourself to check your irrigation schedule frequently; in the fall and winter you should water less often.
Questions for the editor?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

To Dream Again.

"Rules of Six" by Benjamin Aranda and Chris Lasch
Photo: Richard Perry/The New York Times

Sometimes something happens in your lifetime that reflects a genuine shift in all the paradigms. "Design and the Elastic Mind" now at MoMA portends such a shift. The Architecture and Design Critic for the New York Times, Nicholai Ouroussoff, had this to say in his review in today's NYT:

"'Design and the Elastic Mind' is the most uplifting show MoMA's architecture and design department has presented since the museum reopened in 2004. Thanks to its imaginative breadth, we can begin to dream again."

He goes on to say:

"...the ability to switch fluidly from the scale of the atom to the scale of entire cities, may sound a death knell for the tired ideological divides of the last century, between modernity and history, technology and man, individual and collective. It should be required viewing for anyone who believes that our civilization is heading back toward the Dark Ages."

And then, again, this:

"But the show is about more than gorgeous, environmentally sensitive design. The human body is repositioned as part of a fluid, elastic chain that extends from minuscule atomic particles to global communication networks."

Ouroussoff believes that this show is as revolutionary as MoMA's "Machine Art" exhibition in 1934, curated by Phillip Johnson, which introduced the revolution of Modern design to the world. For a quick visual reference, here is the multi-media presentation from today's article.

If you are going to be in NYC anytime soon, this could be the show to see (February 24- May 4). Until then, feel free to begin to dream again. Perhaps the time has finally come.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Back view of the garage

Green roof of the garage

Driveway view of the front of the garage

How's this for a green roof? This Seattle, Washington garage was built for storage of a motorcycle collection for the couple that lives in the house in the upper part of the frame in the first photo.

The roof is planted with baby blue eyes, red clover, yarrow and fescues, along with a mixture of drought tolerant sedums. Like all green roofs, it provides insulation and reduces rainwater run-off.

We think this is a great application of a green roof. It helps to inspire the movement toward more green solutions. This one is beautiful.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Google Hearts Architecture

Berlin Central Train Station
Goggle has begun offering, in concert with cities around the world, Google 3-D virtual architectural tours. It's a terrific advancement. We find it looks a little too rudimentary, but the first effort is remarkable. Here is a demonstration of a architectural tour of Berlin. Hold on to your seat!

Monday, February 18, 2008


You have to love the fervor of Annie Leonard! She and the Tides Foundation assembled this fast-paced presentation. With Leonard's enthusiasm, a viewer can grasp the whole, big, gnarly picture of the life of stuff.

In the race to save the earth, Annie seems prepared to say what must be said in twenty minutes or less. It is not so complicated. It is not so idealistic. It is doable. First, we have to clarify and embed the story of stuff in our minds.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Inspired Ideas for a Sustainable Future

The urgency of sustainability issues is capsulized in this 13-minute video of Alex Steffin at the TED conference in April 2005. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. Since then its scope has become ever broader.

This presentation offers the bad news and also encouraging ideas about environmental solutions. Steffin is co-founder of the website WORLD CHANGING: Change Your Thinking.