Sustainable homes have become more and more popular over time, but their appeal cannot be understood without answering two simple but not so straightforward questions. What is sustainability and why has it become so important?

Trilogy Defines- Sustainability

Source: Trilogy Builds

Sustainability is sometimes said to be about maintaining a balance between human interests and the well-being of the planet. However, this is too simplistic, not least because human interests are reliant on the continuing well-being of our planet. Instead, it is more accurate to describe sustainability as using natural resources to meet human needs in a manner ensuring that said resources can continue to be used for said purpose in the future.

In short, sustainable practices consider the interests of a much-expanded number of stakeholders. For example, being sustainable when it comes to building a home means considering the interests of both the homeowner and the home-builders in addition to the people whose lives will be impacted as an indirect consequence of their economic choices. That said, it is important to note that sustainable practices do not provide less value to their practitioners. In fact, such practices provide more.

If you are interested in learning more about sustainable homes, please contact us at Trilogy Builds.

According to a recent article on Inhabitat, the Attorney General of New York, Eric Schneiderman, is suing the federal government for failure to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The lawsuit, filed in Brooklyn, states that the Delaware River Basin Commission, with full approval by federal agencies, proposed regulations on fracking without conducting a full review on the possible effects on the environment.

Fracking, the common term for high-volume hydraulic fracturing, uses enormous quantities of water mixed with chemicals and sand to break through the layer of shale and access natural gas deposits, and as other incidents in the past have shown, can endanger the local drinking water supply. (There are a couple of great documentaries on this subject, like 2009’s Split Estate and 2010’s Gasland.) The drinking water supply at stake in this lawsuit could affect up to 15 million people in the New York and Philadelphia areas.

Head over to Inhabitat (linked above) to read more about this important case, and visit the Denver Post to read about the impact of fracking here in Colorado.

photo via Split Estate

Heat your home by throwing a dinner party?

This concept may sound bizarre, but it’s feasible in cutting-edge green homes that are so well-insulated, they don’t need a furnace or boiler. They’ll stay warm simply with body heat. A hairdryer might also suffice.

By H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY

“It’s like living in a glass thermos,” says John Eckfeldt, a physician who built one of these “passive” homes in frigid Isabella, Minn. He says the inside temperature is so even that if he sees snow falling, he’s surprised to realize it must be cold outside.

By Elliott Kaufman

The passive house movement, popularized in Europe, where thousands of such homes have been built, is starting to catch on in the United States as consumers look to lower their utility bills. These homes don’t require pricey solar panels or wind turbines but focus on old-fashioned building science to reduce energy use by up to 90% less energy.

Courtesy of Nancy Schultz

They’re different from the “passive solar” homes of the 1970s, which used a lot of south-facing windows for heating, because they emphasize other features: thick walls and roofs (often at least a foot) and triple-paned windows, as well as efficient appliances and lighting. The secret is tightness, achieved via superior insulation and air sealing. A mechanical system brings in fresh air, heating or cooling it as needed.

Few U.S. homes, only a dozen so far, have obtained certification from the Passive House Institute US, a private Illinois-based group that bases its rules on the German Passivhaus standard.

Yet, dozens of homes nationwide are now being designed to meet its strict energy efficiency requirements.

“It’s growing exponentially,” says Tom DiGiovanni, who heads the Passive House Alliance, a group established last year to promote the standard. He says more than 400 people are now trained as passive house consultants, up from 20 two years ago.

“It feels like we’re almost at a tipping point,” he says, citing factors such as high energy prices and the Obama administration’s push for energy efficiency. “It’s like the perfect storm.”

Proponents say the passive standard’s prime tenets — insulation and air sealing — can also be used by owners of existing homes to boost energy efficiency.

“It holds great promise for this country,” says Alex Wilson, executive editor of Environmental Building News. He says the needed materials, especially windows, are becoming more affordable, and building codes are demanding greater efficiency.

“It could be mainstream five years from now,” says Nate Kredich of the private U.S. Green Building Council, which has its own green rating system. He says its popularity may depend on whether production builders jump on board and prices fall.

How much more?
Passive homes cost 6% to 12% more than other new homes, but they recoup that premium in lower utility bills in seven to 12 years, DiGiovanni says.

“The biggest extra cost is the windows,” he says, noting that U.S. companies have only recently begun making triple-pane windows, so some builders had to import them. California-based Serious Materials makes ultra-efficient dual-pane windows that several U.S. passive homes have used.

Still, he says passive homes can be built on a budget, especially in multi-unit buildings. He says several affordable housing projects, including a 48-unit site in Urbana, Ill., are underway.

“It’s innately reasonable,” says architect David Peabody, who designed the first passive house in the Washington, D.C., area. He says the extra cost was about 8%, but the annual utility bills for the 4,200-square-foot home are projected at less than $750. U.S. households spent an average of $2,639 on energy costs for homes that size in 2005, the most recent year for which U.S. government data are available.

In Lafayette, La., architecture professor Corey Saft estimates his solar-equipped passive home cost about 10% more than a regular new home. He built it for $110 per square foot, which he says is inexpensive for a custom home. Census Bureau data indicate new homes in the South — many by production builders — sold for an average of $76.77 per square foot in 2009.

“It’s the most cost-effective way of accomplishing the least energy use,” says architect Dennis Wedlick, who designed New York state’s first passive house. He says there was no premium for his Hudson Valley project, because he used Serious’ U.S.-made windows and offset the cost of extra insulation by using a tiny, inexpensive ductless heating and air conditioning system.

Yet, Wedlick sees potential obstacles. “It could take a long time to get certified,” he says, adding the program is being thoroughly developed but still lacks the staff to handle the booming demand.

Certification can cost several thousand dollars. The Institute charges about $1,000 to review an application for a 2,000-square-foot home, but that doesn’t include the cost of hiring a consultant to advise on design and an independent auditor to verify the home’s efficiency.

Looks count, too

Another challenge could be aesthetics. Most U.S. passive homes have limited windows and a boxy shape, which is the easiest geometry to keep insulated and highly energy efficient.

Homes with curves and larger footprints require extra insulation and sealing that add to the cost. Eckfeldt says his stylish passive home, with huge curved windows and upscale finishes, cost $450 per square foot.

Just how tough is the standard? John Semmelhack, a passive house consultant in Charlottesville, Va., reviewed one home designed to earn the top rating from the U.S. Green Building Council and determined it wouldn’t qualify as a passive house for several reasons: It has too many windows; the windows don’t absorb enough solar heat; and the L-shaped, courtyard house isn’t a simple cube.

“The hardest type of house to meet the passive standard is a small detached single-family home,” says Semmelhack, adding it’s easier to meet it with larger commercial spaces, schools or — as is commonly the case in Germany — apartment buildings. He advised on how to get a school in Charlottesville certified; two other U.S. schools have already passed the test.

Climate could also be a challenge for the passive standard.

“It favors a (temperate) climate like Germany’s,” says Kevin Morrow of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). He says U.S. weather is much more diverse — some tropical, some Arctic and some a mixture of both.

Exacting requirements

Regardless of location, passive homes cannot have a heating or cooling load above 4,755 British thermal units per square foot, which is about one-tenth that of homes built to current U.S. codes. They must also be virtually airtight, which requires meticulous sealing of ducts, joints and hairline cracks.

“You can’t greenwash this. You have to be a terrific builder to do this,” Wedlick says.

To avoid overheating in warm areas, passive homes need exterior shading, ventilation and a cooling system, says German-born architect Katrin Klingenberg. She built her own home in Urbana to the Passivhaus standard in 2002 and opened the U.S. institute in 2008.

“It’s basic building science, but it’s taken to a high level,” says Morrow, adding that NAHB may incorporate passive home rules into its own green building standard.

Kredich says the U.S. Green Building Council may do the same.

Unlike those programs, which also rate homes for water conservation, renewable building materials and other aspects of green building, the passive standard looks only at energy efficiency.

The U.S. Department of Energy did some of the original research on it decades ago, but with energy prices lower in the U.S. than Europe, the standard didn’t take off until German physicist Wolfgang Feist founded the Passivhaus Institute in Darmstadt, Germany, in 1996.

One of the standard’s benefits is that it makes it relatively easy for homes to become net zero energy, which means they produce as much power as they use, says David Johnston, author of Toward a Zero Energy Home. Because passive homes don’t use much energy, he says, a small solar energy system will often be enough to meet their needs.

Saft made his passive home net-zero by adding a three-kilowatt solar array.

So did Eckfeldt and his wife, architect Nancy Schultz, who designed their Isabella home, using photovoltaics to offset their energy needs.

Yet, they can survive even the worst of winter without any help from the sun or backup heating. In December 2009, their house’s boiler didn’t work for 10 cloudy days when they were out of town and outside temperatures dipped well below zero.

How cold did it get inside? The thermostat held at 51 degrees.

Published in USA Today: By Wendy Koch

  • Once Deborah Maher took out her whirlpool tub, she was able to add extra cabinets and expand the shower. Elisabeth Arriero –

Lake Norman resident Starr Miller considered getting rid of the whirlpool tub in her master bathroom when she realized her housekeeper was in it more than she was.

“She has to climb in it and clean it every week. It’s a total dust magnet,” said Miller, who works as an interior designer in Davidson. “Every time I walk by it all I think is, ‘That’s 42 square feet of wasted space.'”

Miller is not alone.

Patricia Dunlop, a spokeswoman for the American Society of Interior Designers, said many people are opting to replace their oversize tubs and Jacuzzis for extra vanity, shower and storage space.

“We all have more products and appliances in the bathroom than we used to,” said Dunlop. “We want the space to be calm and relaxing, so having the ability to put those items away and keep the space clear and serene is important.”

And while most interior designers and real estate agents agree it’s still important to have at least one tub in the house for bathing children, animals and other needs, oversize tubs are now seen as a frivolous use of space.

Dunlop cited one study that found the average whirlpool tub is used only seven times during its lifetime as reasoning for the shift in home design priorities.

Residents would rather invest in shower amenities that will create a spa experience, such as multiple shower heads, benches, steam showers and jets, said Miller.

Huntersville resident Deborah Maher said remodeling the master bathroom was her first priority when she moved into her home in Birkdale.

While the bathroom had an elegant whirlpool tub with stone work all around, it also had a vanity with only one drawer and a tiny shower.

Maher decided she was through with large tubs after living at her previous residence in Cornelius, she said.

“All I ever did was dust it and put decorations around the edges,” she said. “I never used the thing.”

So Maher worked with Miller to redesign her bathroom. With the help of sub-contractors, they removed the tub, expanded the shower by 2 square feet and added plenty of cabinet space for the couple’s bathroom supplies.

Maher said she’s most pleased with the shower, which now features a bench, a rain shower head, a handheld shower head and a built-in shelf.

Miller said she has many clients like Maher who are opting for larger showers over whirlpool tubs. Still, Miller said homeowners should be cognizant of how the remodeling will affect resale value.

“It’s more about how you do it than whether you do it,” she said. “If you take it out and do something fabulous with the rest of the bathroom, you can come out even or above. If you take it out and don’t do anything, I would suspect you’re taking value out of your home.”

Kathy Byrnes, a Realtor with Re/Max Executive at the Lake, said most real estate agents still consider a bathroom to be a full bath even if there is no tub. What really decides the classification is whether there’s a shower in the room, she said.

Source: Charlotte Observer

All that glitters at Toronto show

BY DANIEL DROLET, POSTMEDIA NEWS | What’s hot in interior design this year? The recent Interior Design Show in Toronto highlighted four scorching trends:

Bling, the show was awash in glitter and gleam.

Crystals, often Swarovski, were embedded in bathroom fixtures, sprinkled on window blinds and wallpaper, sparkling as ember beds in gas fireplaces and twinkling as buttons in upholstered furniture. What wasn’t decorated with crystals was shiny, as in gleaming glass kitchen counters, polished surfaces and flashy accessories.

“We treat faucets like jewelry,” says Robert Calabrese of Aquabrass (, a Concord, Ont.-based distributor whose new line of bathroom faucets called AquaCristal brings bling to the bathroom.

Sun Glow Window Coverings of Canada ( is adding Swarovski trim and pulls to some of its window blinds for what the company calls “delicate shimmer.”

“It’s a fun decorative element,” says Sun Glow’s Diane Nevins of the crystal, adding the bling is particularly popular with young people -“a generation of bling and everything that sparkles.”


Black is still a big neutral. IKEA, for example, cast aside its Swedish reserve and presented an all-black kitchen that positively radiated edge: black counters, cupboards, sinks, faucets, pots, pans and backsplashes, even a black stove (well, anthracite, actually).

“Black is sexy and cosy,” says IKEA’s Andrea Mills, explaining that with its black kitchen, IKEA was trying to “kick it up a notch and show the maturity of IKEA’s design.”

Anna Portanova of Frini Furniture in Woodbridge, Ont., says black speaks to glamour, which is coming to the fore as we shake off our recent economic funk. It is also -along with white and grey -part of a palette of neutrals that can be used to show off textures, geometric patterns and shapes, and be a base for bursts of colour.

Things may be black, but they are often shiny, or accompanied by gleaming mirrors, metals, Plexiglas and acrylics. (See Bling).


The word means custom made, and it speaks to the sense of luxury that is finding its way back into design.

Paul Smith of Kravet Canada (kravetcanada. com), a firm that sells fabrics and furnishings, talked of “quiet sophistication and understated elegance” in the new fabric designs, which include linens, silks and ethnic motifs.

He also talked of a return to colours, including lilac, mauve, and strong greens and blues.

Strong colours were in evidence at Elte ( Furniture), a Toronto furnishings company whose Second Life rugs combine the green mantra of “reduce, reuse” with cuttingedge appeal and unique products.

Second Life rugs are Persian carpets that are 40 to 80 years old, explains Elte’s Ken Metrick. The carpets are stripped of their initial colour and redyed in vibrant contemporary hues.

Metrick explains that people are buying neutral furniture and using the carpets to give their rooms a colour pop.

As for carpets that are too worn to be reused in whole, they get cut up and the pieces are sewn into patchwork carpets and redyed.

Also very distinctive -and high-end -were gorgeous textured wallpapers by Roya Manufacturing and Supply Canada ( Roya’s Prime Walls wallcoverings ( includes its Shardana collection featuring embossed metallic surfaces and handplaced beads. (Did I mention shine was a trend?)


One of the most visited collections at the show was of British-inspired furniture from UpCountry, (

A traditional-looking sofa upholstered to render a Union Jack attracted a lot of attention -and so did travel trunks with the same design.

UpCountry’s Andrew Ward says the wedding this April of Prince William and Kate Middleton is stirring up interest in all things British.

There was a vintage feel to the British collection, and it made use of several reclaimed or repurposed pieces. (Repurposed or reused pieces were every-where at the show).

Like so much else, the UpCountry collection -however traditional in feel -was set off by shimmering crystal lamps.

That British appeal wasn’t limited to the living room: Victoria + Albert ( is a British company that was in Toronto to present a new line of luxury bathtubs and sinks. Made of South African limestone, the tubs and sinks are actually a mix of powdered rock and resin crafted in slim, fluid forms.

The company’s Jonathan Carter says the rock and resin mixture is naturally warm to the touch and as a result these sleek bathtubs keep their heat longer.

After a weekend at the show, a nice hot bath sounded like a fine idea.

How not to lose sight of the big picture.

building blocksPhoto: Artful Magpie/Flickr
By John Brown, Slow Home Studio founder | Designing a house is a complicated task. Anyone who has ever built a home knows that there are literally thousands of design decisions to be made, ranging from the smallest detail (what color of grout do I want in my shower?) to the largest of issues (how big should my house be?). In between there are a wide array of technical decisions, stylistic questions, and functional issues to resolve. The addition of a sustainable design agenda to “green” the house complicates the whole process even more.

Every choice you make about a house is a design decision and every house is the sum of all of these many choices. A truly sustainable home is one in which all design decisions, from large to small, are made with an eye to reducing the house’s environmental footprint without jeopardizing its livability. To better understand what this means in practical terms, the Slow Home philosophy organizes the various aspects of residential design into a four level design pyramid. The goal is to help you make more balanced and effective sustainable design choices when either building a new home, remodeling an existing residence, or perhaps just buying a resale house.

The Top of the Pyramid: Aesthetic Choices

At the top of the pyramid are choices about finishes, materials, colors, fabrics, and furniture. These interior design decisions are significant because they define the quality of the surfaces that we see and touch on a daily basis. Green design in this context is about making choices that focus on such things as rapidly renewable finishes, recycled content materials, low volatility paints, and natural, low toxicity fabrics. On their own, however, decisions at this level are not sufficient to make a house sustainable.
The Second Level: Exterior Design

The second level of the pyramid deals with exterior design issues such as building style, roof shape, and window placement. These decisions are important because they define not only how the building looks from the street but also how effectively the construction performs.  From a green design point of view, this level of design primarily involves ensuring that the massing of the building is compact, construction materials are efficiently used, and the building envelope is designed for optimal thermal efficiency. This means paying attention to the design of the roof and wall insulation systems as well as properly detailing the windows and doors to minimize air and heat transfer.  Like interior design, however, this kind of decision making does not, by itself, constitute green design.
The Third Level: Systemic Choices

The third level of the pyramid is about technical design decisions regarding the electrical, mechanical, and plumbing systems. Green design in this context is about making
choices that reduce water and energy usage and employ renewable technologies and clean energy sources. These design decisions use technological fixes to optimize energy usage and reduce the amount of greenhouses gases that will be generated by the operation of the house over its lifetime. Technical design plays a very critical role in making a house sustainable, but as with the other levels, it is not sufficient on its own.
The Foundation of the Pyramid: Location, Size, Orientation and Stewardship

At the bottom of the pyramid is the most fundamental level of design decisions. These involve a consideration of the basic elements of inhabitation that are not normally considered in discussions about green design. In actuality, however, they are the foundation on which all other sustainable design choices should rest. This level of design focuses on issues of location, size, orientation, and stewardship. From a green design point of view it’s about ensuring that the broad decisions you make about where and how you live are properly aligned so as to reduce your overall environmental footprint.
Why the Design Pyramid Matters

Good sustainable residential design involves a coordinated approach that simultaneously engages all levels of the design pyramid. If green design thinking is limited to only one or two of the levels the result will not be a truly sustainable home.
For example, at present, too many people limit their green choices to interior design issues. It’s all about bamboo floors, low VOC paint, and recycled countertops. While these are certainly significant choices, in the absence of a more comprehensive approach to sustainability, their impact will be severely limited. It’s like worrying about the toxicity of the dyes in the cushions on the deck chairs of the Titanic. Important, but it won’t prevent the boat from sinking.
In much the same way, an engineering approach that concentrates too heavily on the technical level of design is also an overly limited way of thinking about sustainability. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the technological paraphernalia of sustainability and end up missing the forest for the trees. Heat recovery ventilators, low flow toilets, geothermal heat pumps, and solar arrays are important but their effectiveness is greatly diminished when they are not part of a more comprehensive sustainability strategy that extends to all four aspects of the design pyramid.
Practical sustainability is about making every design decision a green issue. Substantially lowering our environmental impact will not be achieved by just purchasing a few green products or attending to a narrow set of issues. In the end, these kinds of choices only serve to make us, and the homebuilding industry, feel better.
This article was reprinted with permission. It originally appeared here on

BY CANDICE OLSON Scripps Howard News Service – As any designer will tell you, lighting is crucial to good design. This is particularly true when lighting a bathroom. It’s the one room in a home that’s often overlooked, but improper bathroom lighting can make the bravest among us refuse to look in the mirror.

My clients, Tertia and Jason, know all about that. The couple and their two sons live in a house built in 1987, and while most of the home was updated, their master bathroom remained oblivious to the passage of time. With floor-to-ceiling black wall tiles, a cramped shower and no storage, the ’80s bathroom was really showing its age.

And don’t get me started on the lighting. The room had one bleak overhead fixture that made showering a nightmare, while the vanity lighting was so unflattering it’s a wonder Tertia managed to put on lipstick in the morning.

They wanted a bathroom that was functional — and had a warm, contemporary vibe. So, putting the principle of bathroom-lighting design into play, I got set to create a modern, spalike retreat for Tertia and Jason.

I started by gutting the entire space — walls came down, counters came out, tiles were scrapped. Then I painted the ceiling white, bathed the walls in soft beige and installed charcoal porcelain floor tiles with a nonslip surface.

From there, I laid out the fixtures and finishes. I created a gorgeous vanity by the room’s window, which was a good source of natural light. I put a soft chiffon blind on the window and flanked it with two mirrors. I then installed a counter constructed out of butterscotch polished quartz, a perfect foundation for “his and hers”cast glass sinks. These deep sinks sit on top of, and beside, new dark wood cabinetry that provides a ton of storage.

Adjacent to the vanity, I created a spectacular feature wall comprised of small wooden square tiles of different depths. Against this wall, I selected a beautiful free-standing tub and a modern toilet.

On the wall facing the tub I designed a large shower out of tempered glass, more quartz, a stunning mosaic-tiled backsplash and small porcelain tiles that match the floor.

Modern bathrooms can often feel cold and sterile, but the wood wall, dark cabinetry and warm quartz in Tertia and Jason’s bathroom work to offset the cooler fixtures and finishes.

The best part of this project was shopping for, and installing, some amazing lights. I installed recessed lights in the ceiling and worked in spotlights above the feature wall to accentuate the wood tiles.

I chose waterproof, in-floor lighting to highlight the sculpted tub and lights for underneath the sinks. I also selected incandescent silver sconces for the vanity — soft lighting that is good for when she applies makeup.

But the real showstopper is the fixture above the tub — a laser-cut steel globe that allows light to be cast all around the room.

This bathroom is a perfect example of how good design that includes layers of light can transform a space. By using techniques such as spotlighting a feature wall and up-lighting a tub, I gave Tertia and Jason a bathroom that is ideal for their morning routine — or their evening reprieve.

As I always say: “If you light everything, you light nothing.”




As with everyone else in America, we’ve been glued to our TVs this past week watching the outcome of the horrifying earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The devastation is incomprehensible and almost half a million people have lost their homes.

This is especially relevant for the sustainable building industry as Japan has long been recognized as a leader in sustainable building and energy efficient design. Sustainable design in Japan is accredited through the Comprehensive Assessment System for Built Environment Efficiency (CASBEE) which can be loosely compared to the USA’s LEED program, and has been in place for more than 10 years, leading to dramatic improvements in sustainable design.

Some of the most amazing “green” buildings in the world are in Japan, including the ACROS Fukuoka in Fukuoka City – a building which on three sides is a conventional office tower, with the fourth side being a tiered green roof that reduces energy consumption and keeps the temperature normalized for tenants. It also harvests rainwater for building use, and (almost incidentally) provides a lush greenspace for city residents reminiscent of NYC’s Central Park.

It’s too early yet to plan rebuilding, while Japan is in crisis and coordinating rescue efforts, but the cost to rebuild has already been estimated in the billions. For a country that’s so dependent on importing resources, it will be a long and difficult process to rebuild all the homes that have been lost, but with the strong leadership of the CASBEE organization and a focus on reducing energy consumption across the country, I think we’ll see a lot more sustainable homes and businesses being built in the next 10 years… all for a cleaner, more healthy Japan in the future.

P.S. Our hearts go out to the citizens of Japan. If you haven’t already, please consider donating to the American Red Cross to help with emergency efforts by clicking here.

Source: Green Horizon

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