The dog Kaia finds a spot for a nap on the stranded bamboo floors in this remodeled green home. Bamboo is not a wood, it is a grass, and it is fast-growing, but at least as strong as some slow-growth woods. (Leonard Ortiz/Orange County Register/MCT) ( LEONARD ORTIZ )

Whether framing a new addition, building a deck or making a piece of furniture, wood is often the go-to material. Lumber, plywood and other products made with sustainably harvested wood are widely available and relatively inexpensive. However, there are environmental costs and structural drawbacks to many traditional wood products. Plenty of creative alternatives are available. Here is a sampling of wood alternatives, most with some environmental advantages, for home construction and remodeling projects.

1. Hemp

Hemp is a fast-growing and sustainable crop that generates more construction-grade fiber per acre than most trees and other crops. It can be used in place of lumber and a wide range of other materials. For example, Washington State University researchers found hemp-based medium-density fiberboard to be twice as strong as wood.

2. Bamboo

Bamboo is often considered a wood, but this grass is really a wood alternative. It has been called the world’s most useful plant (though hemp advocates might argue otherwise). Bamboo is fast-growing but at least as strong as some slow-growth woods. It is a very trendy flooring option. It is also used in furniture and a wide variety of other construction materials.

3. Wood composites

As the name suggests, composite materials combine wood with recycled plastics or other components. As compared to lumber, composites are a more sustainable way to use trees. For example, composite deck boards can be made with scrap wood fiber leftover from cutting solid hardwood deck boards. Composite decks and other products also have other advantages over hardwood. They require virtually no finishing, staining or maintenance, and are very durable.

4. Plastic wood

Another growing segment of the deck market is basically the plastic — recycled or not — of composites without any wood fibers. Like composite decking, plastic wood requires no maintenance. Of course, it’s hard to make plastic look exactly like wood, so it’s not a perfect aesthetic substitute. However, in many other ways, composites and plastic wood are good hardwood alternatives.

5. Soy

No, you can’t build walls out of tofu, but soy is another immensely useful plant that is used for insulation, carpet backing, paint strippers and more. While soy fibers may not be a substitute for wood, soy can make traditional wood products safer. Soy-based chemicals can replace the potentially dangerous formaldehyde, glues and other solvents.

6. Cork

Cork is made with bark rather than the core of a tree. That means it re-grows faster and is more sustainable in some ways than many traditional wood products. It is a popular flooring material, and is growing into other areas of construction and remodeling.

7. Cardboard

Cardboard construction isn’t just for kids. A couple of plywood substitutes on the market are made primarily with recycled cardboard.

8. Newspaper

Similarly, recycled newspaper is being used to create fiberboard products for roof decking and much more. For example, Homasote is a New Jersey company that claims to recycle up to 250 tons of newspaper each day into construction materials.

9. Nutshells

Maderon is a recyclable Spanish furniture-building material made primarily of crushed almond, hazelnut and walnut shells. The shells are ground into a paste, then mixed with resin and molded into chairs and other furniture.

10. Straw

Look closely at plywood. The fibers look a lot like straw, so it’s no stretch to imagine particleboard from varieties of straw, including wheat, oat and flax straw. All these are available and useful alternatives to traditional pressed-wood products.



The sustainable design and green building movement have made tremendous advances over the past decade to the point that virtually every building project today employs some level of green design.  And yet despite the bar being raised significantly there remains resistance in the public and private sectors to embracing “no brainer” investments in sustainable building and infrastructure that would further benefit all stakeholders.

It is my belief that in order to convince business and government leaders to take the next step, and invest more heavily in sustainable design solutions, design professionals need to become more conversant in the economics and profit potential inherent in smart, sustainable design…we need to talk the talk.

Proponents of green building and sustainable design have included a “triple bottom line” (TBL) argument in their pitch as the movement has grown.  The three P’s of TBL are most commonly listed in the following order:

1.      People (social)

2.      Planet (environmental)

3.      Profit (economics)

For background, Wikipedia states that sustainability was first defined by the Brundtland Commission of the United Nations in 1987. Over a decade later the TBL phrase was coined by John Elkington in his 1998 book “Cannibals with Forks: the Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business.”

The most prominent US organization in the green design space, the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), has stated that they “pursue robust triple bottom line solutions that clarify and strengthen a healthy and dynamic balance between environmental, social and economic prosperity. “ Although the USGBC speaks about a commitment to TBL solutions, the origins and current focus of their successful Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) system are primarily rooted in environmental concerns. When factoring in the life cycle returns achieved from investments made in pursuit of LEED® credits there is a clear economic benefit, yet architects, engineers and designers often are less passionate and only marginally successful at making a strong business case for sustainable designs.

Of course most design professionals are not trained as business people, and our motivation for embracing sustainability seems naturally biased towards the first two P’s of the TBL triumviri, namely “people” and “planet.” By contrast, the original protagonists for sustainability and TBL thinking started with economic “profit” driven decision-making and sought to add social and environmental performance considerations to the formula.

To achieve the more ambitious goals of the green building movement, architects, engineers and designers need to further embrace and communicate the profit and economic potential of sustainable design measures. We need to focus on honing our skills in communicating the economic and profit potential of smart design, with the same rigor that we have applied to advancing technical building solutions.

As an example, many business clients will balk at spending money on energy saving enhancements that they are told have a payback period of 7 to 10 years. However, if these same business executives were told that they could obtain a 10% to 14% return on investment (ROI) by investing capital in the current financial climate they would be more likely to sign on. By understanding and reframing the conversation in an economic and finance perspective project leaders can be more persuasive in obtaining managements support for green capital spending.

In the public sector as well more passionate communication about the economic ROI to taxpayers from sustainable building and infrastructure investment is needed to sway politicians to take action. Too often rational decision making is derailed, and policy stalls, when liberals focus only on saving the planet and their conservative foes challenge the science behind global climate change, rejecting any consideration of spending on sustainability. Despite the divisive social or environmental beliefs across the population, it is safe to say that there is more political unity around the economics of capital spending that saves taxpayers money.

Do you agree that the third “P” in the TBL formula – profit and economics – needs to be more prominently embraced by the design and building industry as we seek to promote a more sustainable built environment? Do you have successful ideas or examples to share on the topic?



Ronald Weston, AIA, LEED AP is an architect and consultant who assists small business and social entrepreneurs with the sustainable design and planning of their built environments.

A "green" White House?

Agencies face many mandates to become more environmentally friendly: Reduce gasoline consumption in cars and trucks, lower water use and greenhouse gas emissions, and adopt more renewable energy sources, among others.

But the mandate that agencies struggle with most is one to convert their existing buildings to meet green standards. That means decreasing energy use at hospitals and health clinics and reducing waste at laboratories. Agencies will also have to work to bring historic buildings, and even prisons, into compliance.

Those steps take money, and that’s what agencies are increasingly short on.

Of 20 agencies graded by the Office of Management and Budget on their compliance with green mandates, only seven met the 2010 mandate to have at least 5 percent of their buildings meet energy-efficient and sustainable standards.

Dan Tangherlini, chief financial and performance officer at the Treasury Department, said tighter budgets are certain to make this an even tougher challenge going forward.

But, he said, tighter budgets “shouldn’t be an excuse for us not to continue to find efficiencies and try to create new sustainable practices.”

Treasury used a strategy of “1 percent solutions,” such as installing low-flow fixtures, instituting recycling programs and making small improvements to help make their mandates more achievable, Tangherlini said. In that way, it exceeded the 2010 mandate by making 8 percent of its buildings sustainable.

To be considered green, a newly constructed building must use 30 percent less energy than a typical building of the same size. Renovated buildings must use 20 percent less energy. Also, they must meet specific standards for water efficiency, recycling, indoor air quality and low-emission paints and sealants, among other things.

Agencies need to have 15 percent of their buildings meet these green guidelines by 2015.

OMB’s scorecards grade agencies on how they comply with mandates for reducing energy use in federal facilities, reducing gas use in fleets, and other sustainability goals. Agencies were given green lights for meeting or exceeding the goals, yellow for partial completion and red for failing to meet the mandates.

Agencies scored worst on the green buildings mandate.

“Conquering the green buildings beast will be difficult,” said John Selman, energy and environment program director for LMI, a nonprofit organization that helped develop greenhouse gas reporting protocols.

He said agencies need to think of new strategies and innovative ways to bring their building portfolios into compliance while keeping costs down.

Still, agencies will need extra funding and time to achieve these sustainability goals, he said. And making a business case for these projects will be hard in the current budget environment.

“These projects, they are not donated. Someone has to pay for these things, and that’s the greatest challenge,” Selman said.

Olga Dominguez, senior sustainability officer at NASA, said the space agency is looking at more innovative ways to achieve sustainability goals. NASA missed the 5 percent mark, with 4 percent of its buildings meeting the guidelines.

NASA has used energy savings performance contracts, in which a private company makes efficiency upgrades to an agency facility in exchange for long-term payments from the energy savings generated by the upgrades.

Willie Taylor, director of the Interior Department’s Office of Environmental Policy and Compliance, said the green building mandate was Interior’s most challenging. Less than 1 percent of its buildings meet the green goal.

Interior does not construct many new buildings, and its building portfolio contains many historic structures that cannot be renovated to comply with the goals. But Interior will be tackling the goals in increments over the next few years.

According to a June sustainability report, the department plans to have 6 percent of its buildings meet the guidelines in 2014 and 15 percent in 2015.

At the Health and Human Services Department, less than 1 percent of buildings meet the green goal. Ned Holland, the department’s chief sustainability officer, said HHS is working to upgrade its buildings as it secures funding for the projects.

The department’s many laboratories, hospitals and American Indian health clinics require more resources and funding, and making those buildings more sustainable is fully consistent with its core mission.

But HHS has made progress by upgrading laboratory space, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Laboratory Sciences Building 110, which follows the guidelines and blends the use of natural daylight, sustainable design and energy-efficient lighting.

Stephen Leeds, senior counsel to the administrator at the General Services Administration, said tighter budgets will present additional challenges in finding ways to further reduce the use of energy and other resources.

Leeds pointed to an effort at GSA to develop sustainable technologies that aim to yield savings.

“It means that we have to tighten our belts, and we are going to find new ways to accomplish the goals laid out for us,” he said.




The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has named its top ten sustainable, green buildings for 2010.

The shortlisted developments include the new Research Support Facility at the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), a school in Greensburg, Kansas rebuilt after a tornado and an addition to Frank Lloyd Wright’s landmark Meeting House in Madison, Wisconsin.

The AIA judging panel said the NREL facility, which aims to be net zero-energy, is both a ‘challenge to the building industry’ and a ‘blueprint’ for future low-energy developments.

Also making it onto the rankings is the world’s first LEED Platinum convention centre in Vancouver, Canada, which boasts the country’s largest green roof spanning 6 acres and comprising around 400,000 indigenous plants.

The building also features a heating and cooling system supplied by sea water heat pumps, which are powered by hydroelectricity.

Other ranked projects include two housing projects and a school in California, a dilapidated warehouse in Austin, Texas transformed into office space, a waste water treatment plant in Olympia, Washington and an LEED Platinum house in Racine on the edge of Lake Michigan.

For further information:

Related stories:
US architects name top ten green buildings (21-Apr 2009)
Top 10 US green buildings named (7-May 2008)



Green architecture, also called sustainable building, isn’t complicated and doesn’t require expensive or unusual materials. Houses, offices and schools can be built using locally produced materials in a way that isn’t high-tech. Buildings consume 30 percent of our fresh water and 25 percent of all of our wood products, so it makes sense to practice green architecture and save our resources.

  1. Heliostats

    • Heliostats are an arrangement of mirrors that use preprogrammed sequencing software to track the sun. The mirrors reflect sunlight from a large roof-mounted circular tracking mirror to a secondary mirror or mirrors, and is then directed inside a building. The sunlight looks as if it’s provided by electrical means. Architects have only lately begun using the mirrors as light and energy sources since the cost of machining specialty optics has come down in price.

    Green Roofing

    • A roof can and should do more than just keep the rain out. Architects today can design roofs to collect water for gardens, supply energy for electricity and even be a habitat for plants and animals. Solar roofing, also called a photovoltaic system, can provide an infinitely renewable source of energy. A solar roof can be used to charge batteries for use on cloudy days or as a back-up electricity source.

    Passive Solar

    • Your entire home can be designed to make use of the sun’s energy. A passive solar home doesn’t use any type of mechanical devices like pumps or fans to move the solar heat; instead it’s built to take advantage of your local climate. The size, location and glazing of windows are a major component in collecting and storing solar energy. Roof overhangs and placement of trees or other shading devices like awnings help prevent excessive heat buildup inside the home.

    Earth-Sheltered Homes

    • Earth-sheltered homes are not considered as radical as they once were; they’re increasingly seen as energy-efficient, comfortable and weather-resistant homes. In an earth-shelter designed home, temperatures are more stable and therefore more comfortable. Because an earth-sheltered home is largely surrounded by earth, it needs less maintenance than a traditional home; painting and caulking aren’t necessary. With earth-sheltered homes, moisture penetration can be a problem, and the initial construction costs can be higher.

      Source: eHow Catherine Lugo, eHow Contributor updated: April 01, 2011

Robert Gluck | Advocates are challenging the global building sector to cut the carbon footprint of concrete and other products by 30% by 2014, and 50% by 2030. Edward Mazria, the American architect behind the influential 2030 Challenge to zero out fossil fuel use from all buildings, is turning to a new target: carbon-heavy construction materials. The “2030 Challenge for Products,” unveiled in February, challenges the global building community to cut the carbon footprint of concrete and other building materials by 50 percent by 2030, with an interim target of 30 percent beyond the average by 2014.

Executives eager to get their newly “green” products to market faster are embracing the effort.

“Moving these products into the marketplace has been difficult,” said Jeff Davis, an executive at  Houston, Texas-based U.S. Concrete, a maker of ready-mix concrete that has developed a product with a 30 percent lower carbon dioxide footprint. “Hopefully, the 2030 Challenge for Products will accelerate this process, challenging designers and specifiers to accept the advancements in concrete technology.”

Mazria, executive director of the nonprofit Architecture 2030, says the initiative builds on his 2030 Challenge, launched five years ago. That push was adopted by some of the sector’s biggest forces, including the American Institute of Architects and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, and was endorsed by President Obama, the nation’s mayors and many governors.

So far, supporters of the new challenge include some obvious allies: The Green Standard, Southface Green Building Services, BuildingGreen and the Carbon Leadership Forum (CLF), a collaboration of construction and design firms.

Kathrina Simonen, an architect and structural engineer involved with CLF, told SolveClimate News that the effort will “leverage a significant established network to motivate action.”

The premise behind both 2030 challenges is that the world has just 20 years to cut energy consumption from the building sector to levels needed to avoid dangerous climate change.

Each year in the United States, buildings consume nearly 50 percent of total energy and contribute 47 percent of national greenhouse gas emissions. Most power use is in operations — lighting, heating and cooling. About 5 to 8 percent of yearly energy consumption comes from building materials and construction.

However, when the full lifecycle of the sector is considered — from manufacturing and transporting the products to constructing and operating the building for two decades — the percentages shift, says Mazria.

“About 60 percent of the total energy a new building would use over 20 years is for building operations,” he told SolveClimate News, “and about 40 percent is the materials in the building.”

Initiative to Impact All Product Manufacturing?

Experts say that cutting carbon emissions from building materials requires green improvements in three sectors: Factories must adopt more-efficient manufacturing processes and cleaner energy generation; transport must be cleaner-burning; and buildings must be built for low-carbon building products.The hope is that these changes could trickle across the entire manufacturing industry, said Francesca Desmarais, director of the 2030 Challenge for Products.

“That’s why we decided to look at taking on and addressing the building products, because it will also influence the entire product manufacturing sector,” she told SolveClimate News.

“Going forward [with the products challenge] will have a positive rippling effect,” Mazria said. “Once you start looking at this entire process, you begin to see things that you never even imagined.”

They also sought to speed and streamline efforts underway.

“Many people were doing good work in the product sector, but they were moving at a snail’s pace because of the complexity and variety,” Desmarais said. “We’re doing this to coalesce the movement and to get moving quicker.”

‘We’ll Know in 12 to 24 Months’ How Well It’s Working

Architecture 2030 set down benchmarks and developed protocols and standards to meet its carbon-reduction targets of 30 percent below each product’s average through 2014, increasing to 35 percent in 2015, 40 percent in 2020, 45 percent in 2025, and 50 percent by 2030.

But how exactly will the complex carbon footprints of building products be calculated? Mazria said it took a year to decide.

Initially, there were two options — “cradle-to-gate” impacts, from mining of the raw materials through transportation and manufacturing, and “cradle-to-grave,” which counts post-manufacturing greenhouse gas emissions, through installation of the product, covering all the energy used before it heads to the trash bin.

According to Mazria: “We had all sorts of discussions with industry experts on what this should be and decided on cradle-to-grave as the benchmark.”

“The industry is supportive now that they know what they’re counting,” Desmarais said. “Ours is a holistic approach, and as the entire sector coalesces around the benchmarks, we’ll know in 12 to 24 months how well everyone is moving in the same direction.”

Industry Not Keeping Up with Advancements

Some experts say that just making environmental impacts of building materials known is a fundamental first step in stoking demand for climate-friendly products.

Without that demand, “manufacturers will not even invest in the research required, nor publish the results” on the CO2 associated with their products, said Simonen of the Carbon Leadership Forum.

Simonen says her research is focused on the carbon accounting of concrete. She develops models that help ready-mix plants to compute and report the footprints of their different mixes. “Concrete is a unique material,” she said. “Its composition is to a great degree specified by structural engineers, and thus the design team can directly impact the manufacturing processes.”

Producing cement, the main ingredient of concrete, accounts for as much as 5 percent of global emissions of carbon dioxide.

Davis of U.S. Concrete said some of his firm’s recent projects have been manufactured using new technology that can cut the product’s carbon footprint in half by adding fly ash, slag and natural pozzolans into the mix, among other changes.

So far, though, industry hasn’t been able “to modify or change specifications at the same rate of technology advancements,” Davis said, though he’s hopeful Mazria’s challenge will change this.

Project to Generate ‘Transparent Carbon Info’

Also on board is the Healthy Building Network (HBN), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that tracks health impacts of the country’s buildings.

The network’s Pharos Project provides environmental information on a range of materials such as paint, carpet, flooring, acoustic ceilings and insulation.

Tom Lent, policy director for the organization, told SolveClimate News that the 2030 Challenge will expand HBN’s work as evaluator of building products.

“HBN has long been concerned about the significance of climate change emissions in the building product manufacturing sector,” Lent said. “But a lack of useful data and consistent guidelines for carbon calculations has hampered efforts to assess [products’] carbon footprints.

“This initiative has the potential to generate the type of credible and transparent carbon information needed to fill an important gap in our understanding.”

However, he warned: “[It] will be critical to make sure that carbon improvements do not come through the use of toxic materials at the cost of human health.”

content by SolveClimateBy Guest Writer at SolveClimate Thu Mar 31, 2011 2:30pm EDT

With the advent of increasingly innovative green technologies, architects are now more than ever able to fully maximize their sophisticated artistic visions, while simultaneously minimizing the negative environmental effects of their structures. As climates and resources shift, environmentally-conscious architecture is beginning to produce more and more complex, sustainable, and awe-inspiring buildings, signifying that green architecture is the wave of the future from both a creativity standpoint, as well as out of ecological necessity. In fact, in the most extreme and inventive cases, architects are now not only working to preserve the natural environment, but actually to positively affect, alter and improve it.

In its most basic form, green architecture signifies building designs and practices which predominantly utilize recyclable and renewable materials to create structures that operate on a minimal amount of energy. Efficient building models are able to run off of solar, wind, and sometimes water-powered energy generation and take up as little land as possible in order to preserve or encourage green space.

If you’re interested in more architecture inspiration, these posts will amaze you:

30 Incredibly Realistic Interior and Exterior CG Environments
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A massive and trendsetting example of green architecture is the Hearst Tower in New York City, which in 2006 was the first building to become certified with an LEED Gold rating.

The towering skyscraper, which is built on top of the 1928 Hearst International Magazine Building, can boast that it was constructed out of 90% recycled materials and currently uses 26% less energy than is required by today’s standard building codes.

An even more space-age like recent example – one which dominates another skyline – is the Bahrain World Trade Center.

The complex’s two towers are connected by giant wind turbines, which are capable of providing up to 15% of the buildings’ total energy consumption.

And it’s not just about the skyscrapers. While plenty of private clients now choose to construct homes, offices, and schools out of recyclable materials, outfitting them with solar panels and energy-saving appliances, some properties go one step further, opting to adopt “green roofs.” This design choice is exactly what it sounds like: soil and grass-covered roofs that provide insulation for the home, give back the green space claimed by the building itself and, in the most sophisticated of cases, help to maintain the ecology for surrounding wildlife.

A stunningly simple residential example of this can be seen in the OS house built in Spain by NOLASTER Architects.

The art department at Nanyang Technological University offers an even more whimsical model.

This, however, is only the beginning. As green technology advances, so too do architects’ visions for its usage. Some, like Vincent Callebaut Architects’ “Lilypad Project”, which proposes ocean-based eco-city islands that run on collected rainwater, will most likely remain pure fantasy.

Others, like Sheila Kennedy’s “Soft House”, that makes use of solar-harvesting textiles, may simply be too costly to ever be put into mass production.

The ideas come in all shapes and sizes, from skyscrapers filled with agricultural farmland to single-family homes that run off of energy produced by the household’s own inhabitants and objects.

CK Designworks in Nanjing, China, has recently unveiled their design plans for a remarkably large eco-city development slated to begin construction shortly. And while some projects are focused on preserving natural resources and finding alternative energy sources, others like the Living Mountain, dream up the creation of entirely new micro-environments.

In this particular proposal, inhabitants will survive the growing desert landscape by building cities inside of massive, mountainous skyscrapers. While creating protection from the uninhabitable outside, the structure will also work to pull water from the region, cycling it inside to produce an entirely new climate and ecology.

One thing clear in all these plans, visions, proposals and dreams is that green architecture provides not only new challenges, but new opportunities for designers. It is an inspiring and growing field full of imagination and innovation, one which puts firmly in the architect’s hands the exciting responsibility of envisioning and constructing a new look for the future.

Source: by Maria Nemenman

Steve Feldman, president of Green Demolitions, has a Riverdale showroom filled with kitchens and baths salvaged from high-end homes and ready for resale.

Steve Feldman, president of Green Demolitions, has a Riverdale showroom filled with kitchens and baths salvaged from high-end homes and ready for resale.

BY KATHLEEN LYNN | Renovating? You could just rip up the old room and sweep everything into the trash bin. But a growing number of homeowners, architects and builders are trying to reuse or recycle construction materials whenever possible — for reasons both environmental and aesthetic.

Architect Anthony Garrett of the Bilow Garrett Group in Ridgefield Park went this route with the gut renovation of a Hoboken building. Its wooden floor joists, more than a century old, were reclaimed and trucked to Montville Township, to be reused as flooring and exposed beams in a planned mixed-use development.

“It’s dismantling, as opposed to demolition,” Garrett said. “I can’t think of anything more sustainable than that; there’s an embedded energy in that material that we salvage, and we don’t have to cut any more trees down.”

With construction waste making up as much as 25 percent to 50 percent of the junk in landfills, the push to salvage building materials is “gaining a huge amount of momentum,” said Anne Nicklin, executive director of the Building Materials Reuse Association, an Oregon-based trade group.

Reusing and recycling

Building materials can be either re-used or recycled. Reused materials are used again in their original form — for example, kitchen cabinets or wood flooring that are installed in a new home. Other materials, such as wallboard, roof shingles or concrete, can be recycled by being crushed and reconstituted in new products.

The Green Demolitions showroom has kitchen appliances, bathroom fixtures and bedroom items taken from high-end homes being recycled.

The Green Demolitions showroom has kitchen appliances, bathroom fixtures and bedroom items taken from high-end homes being recycled.

Reused materials are not just better for the environment; they also can be higher quality, she said.

“You can’t buy old-growth timber at Home Depot, but you can find it in a building that’s coming down,” Nicklin said.

Municipalities, worried about scarce landfill space, are offering cheaper or faster permits for deconstruction, rather than demolition, Nicklin said. And federal agencies offer training to workers on how to salvage building materials. She estimates that 75 percent or more of most buildings can be reused or recycled.

A number of non-profit retail outlets offer a marketplace for old building materials. They include Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore in Mine Hill, Build It Green NYC’s store in Queens, and Connecticut-based Green Demolitions, which has a store in Riverdale occupying space donated by Bograd’s Fine Furniture.

Green Demolitions targets affluent homeowners who decide that their kitchens aren’t quite right, but who feel guilty about dumping cabinets and appliances that are sometimes only a few years old.

It might be hard to believe that homeowners would replace kitchens that are in good shape, but “they want the kitchen they want,” said Green Demolitions founder Steve Feldman. His pitch: By donating the old kitchen to his company, homeowners can save the disposal costs, plus get a tax deduction because Green Demolitions’ profits go to support addiction treatment programs.

“Why throw out something that’s perfectly good and totally usable?” said Alan Asarnow, sales manager at Ulrich Inc. in Ridgewood, a home renovation company that encourages clients to recycle their old kitchens. Many of the kitchens his clients donate are only about 10 years old, he said.

Green Demolitions sold 600 kitchens last year in its three stores; most were donated by homeowners, but about 100 were store displays donated by kitchen remodeling contractors.

“When you think about something being thrown out, sometimes that’s where the opportunity is,” Feldman said. He estimates his company keeps 2 million pounds of debris out of landfills each year.

Those who buy the old kitchens and other materials at Green Demolitions or the ReStores find discounts of 50 to 80 percent.

Stephanie and Vincent Gurnari of Oakland visited the Green Demolitions store recently, looking to add a few cabinets to their existing kitchen, but spotted a full kitchen — including appliances — for just under $6,000.

“We just kind of jumped on the opportunity,” Stephanie Gurnari said. “It was too good of a deal to pass up. … We’ve got champagne tastes, and we wouldn’t have been able to get some of the features we got with the budget we had.”

Of course, this kitchen was built for someone else’s home, so the Gurnaris are going to have to be a bit creative about fitting it into their space. But Vincent Gurnari, a teacher, used to work in a cabinet shop, and they have some handy relatives, so they’re pretty confident about making it work.

“Kitchens are modular. They’re boxes,” Feldman said. Green Demolitions usually recommends buying a kitchen that’s a little bigger than your space to provide flexibility.

Reusing or recycling materials can help builders get the environmental stamp of approval known as LEED, for Leadership in Energy and Environmental design. The LEED certification is awarded by the non-profit U.S. Green Building Council, which gives builders credit for keeping materials out of landfills.

A decade ago, “the marketplace was unsophisticated in its ability to effectively divert a large amount of materials from the landfill,” said Daniel Topping, an architect with NK Architects in Morristown. But it’s a lot easier these days to find a new home for old materials.

“It’s just a little more legwork,” Topping said.

Because reusing materials requires careful deconstruction of a room or building, it is usually more time-consuming and can be more expensive than simple demolition. But it also doesn’t create the clouds of dust — potentially laden with asbestos or lead paint — created by demolition, Nicklin pointed out.

“There’s a steep learning curve for a lot of contractors,” said Petia Morozov of the architecture firm MADLAB in Montclair, who takes a “surgical” approach to deconstructing a house.

Morozov and her partner, Juan Alcala, worked recently on Alcala’s brother’s home, a ranch house in Township of Boonton that was taken down to the foundation and rebuilt. They reused a lot of the wood and brick, for esthetic as well as environmental reasons. Cypress wood paneling and some flooring from the home’s interior weren’t needed in the new design, but were salvaged and resold, helping to offset the costs of the project.

Homeowner Carlos Alcala said he and his wife, Vicki, were motivated partly by a desire to be green, but also by their feeling that the re-used brick is more attractive, and preserves some of the house’s history. Saving money was also part of the equation.

“When it makes sense, especially from an economic perspective, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t reuse materials,” he said.

From E-mail:

Wendy Koch, USA TODAY


Just how tough is the passive house standard that’s starting to catch on in the United States? I put my own new green house to the test.

My house, nearing completion in Falls Church, Va., wasn’t designed to meet the rigorous passive standard, which focuses solely on energy efficiency, but rather the top rating of a more general program by the U.S. Green Building Council. Yet it has many of the same features of certified passive homes, so I figured: why not try?

After all, my project has high-performance windows by Serious Mate rials, a well-insulated and sealed exterior (we used structural in sulated panels or SIPS) and ultra-efficient appliances and lighting (only LEDs and compact fluorescent lamps.) Really, how hard could it be?

John Semmelhack, a passive house expert in Charlottesville, Va., who runs the Think Little consul ting firm and advised on how to make a Waldorf school meet the passive standard, agreed to do a preliminary analysis of my project for this story. I anxiously awaited his results.

He let me down gently. “While the house is going to be a very energy efficient house, it’s not going to meet the Passive House standard,” he wrote in an e-mail that reported his findings. He explained them in a phone interview.

“The biggest problem by far is your windows,” he said. My house simply has too many of them, and the large south-facing windows don’t capture enough solar energy because of their glazing and less-than-optimal siting. (To get the perfect southern angle, the house would have needed to sit diagnally on the lot, which would look odd.)

Windows absorb more solar power if the glass has a high “solar heat gain coefficient” or SHGC. But since we have a shady lot and the U.S. government’s Energy Star program doesn’t recommend high SHGC windows for the Mid-Atlantic region, we didn’t request such glazing.

The second biggest issue, Semmelhack said, is the home’s geometry. It’s not a simple cube. My L-shaped home opens to a south-facing courtyard, so it’s more spread out than a colonial or a foursquare, which is an easier shape to make energy efficient. Its top floor also overhangs the main level in both the front and back, which looks cool but creates potential thermal breaks.

Semmelhack said the home’s foundation, walls and windows could also have benefited from a bit more insulation, but he said we didn’t miss the mark by much.

He said the Mid-Atlantic is a tricky place to do a passive home, because “we get a little bit of Maine and a little bit of Florida.” Homes certified by the Passive House Institute US, a private Illinois-based group, need to have annual heating or cooling loads be low 4,750 British thermal units per square foot of interior finished space, which is about 10 times less than many regular new homes.

Semmelhack figured my heating load was about twice the passive standard while my cooling load was about 30% higher. My home’s overall energy use was about 20% higher than the standard’s maximum of 38,000 Btu per square foot of interior finished space per year. He said we could opt for a slightly more efficient Rinnai tank less water heater, but the conventional Carrier Infinity heating and cooling system we selected is just fine. “It’s about as good as you can get,” he said, noting its 95% efficiency rating.

The passive standard also requires homes be virtually air tight, limiting the air changes per hour (at 50 pascals) to 0.60, which is a fraction of what the Energy Star program al lows.

I don’t know yet how well my house will fare on this measure, because we haven’t done our final blower door test. But my builder, Arjay West of West Properties, did preliminary checks before enclosing the walls in drywall and tried to address any thermal breaks. Since my house isn’t a simple cube, though, sealing it is more of a challenge. We’ll keep you posted on our progress.

Source: USA Today

Materials from Rematerialise, Kingston University London (Credit: Image courtesy of Kingston University)

ScienceDaily (Feb. 24, 2011) — After 17 years of research sustainable design expert Jakki Dehn is launching Rematerialise, a catalogue of eco-friendly materials for use in the construction industry.

From insulation made from mushrooms to kitchen tops created from recycled glass, Kingston University has catalogued more than 1,000 different sustainable materials for use in the construction industry. The result is a materials library, Rematerialise, which is being launched at EcoBuild, the world’s largest event for showcasing sustainable design and construction practices.

Reader in sustainable design, Jakki Dehn has been developing Rematerialise at Kingston University’s Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture for 17 years and believes designers will find it invaluable when planning new products. “They can come and touch and feel a whole range of materials all in one place — materials which, otherwise, they might have to spend weeks investigating themselves,” she said.

Several firms have already drawn on Dehn’s expertise to help with ongoing projects. Product design company Jedco, based in Weybridge in Surrey, has developed a scaffolding board made from recycled polymers and a solar-powered bus-stop. “The scaffolding boards have proved useful on oil rigs, because unlike wood, they don’t absorb water. So, in this case, the sustainable product is actually better than the material it’s replacing,” Dehn said.

Dehn began her research into sustainable materials in 1994 and received Arts and Humanities Research Council funding in 2003. Rematerialise now houses more than 1,200 materials from 15 different countries. It contains recycled materials, products made from resources that are very plentiful and easy to re-grow and products made from resources that are not generally used very much. The University hopes eventually to put the entire library online so planners can do initial research before making an appointment to view the materials themselves at Kingston University’s Knights Park campus.

As word about the resource has spread, new products have started arriving on an almost daily basis. “We recently received a new type of insulation material made from mushrooms. The piece we were sent was only an inch thick but, apparently, you could put your hand on one side of it and take a blow-torch to the other side and you wouldn’t be able to feel the heat,” said Dehn, who admitted she was yet to put it to the test. Another eye-catching material is resilica, which is used to make kitchen worktops as an alternative to granite or formica. It’s made mainly of glass recycled from cars and building sites.

Source: Science Daily

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