Tag Archives: sustainable buildings
Technology and a new ecological consciousness are transforming the innards of some new houses
John Bentley Mays – Globe and Mail
Driving or walking along the leafy streets in the Governor’s Bridge district of Rosedale, you might never notice the house I’m writing about this week. It’s new, but it fits without a glitch into the quiet urban streetscape of similarly new, stylistically old-fashioned homes.
What counts about this 3,400-square-foot dwelling is not its architecture, which is hardly daring or inventive, but its exceptional efficiency. Using some of the most advanced energy systems now available in the marketplace, Toronto designer Richard C. Brightling has created a house that looks forward into the future of construction, when all new residences will be required to perform much better than they do now. With clients demanding greener solutions to their need for housing, and architects increasingly adept at coming up with such solutions, that future is not far off.
Energy-saving features of the Governor’s Bridge house include a high-performance building envelope that is insulated to a standard considerably beyond what is now required by city construction codes. The atmosphere inside this tight skin is kept fresh and clean by an exchanger that replaces and filters the air every four hours.
Heating and cooling is accomplished with a $70,000 geothermal system. Six fluid-carrying tubes have been sunk 200 feet into the ground, where the temperature is a steady 14.4 C. Pumped up to the surface and into a control room in the basement – this tightly packed, high-tech facility resembles what I imagine a submarine interior to look like – the fluid is then used to modify the temperature of fan-forced air. Geo-thermal energy is not free; electricity is needed to run the pumps and raise the temperature from its base level of 14.4C to something more comfortable. Nevertheless, Mr. Brightling told me, his clients’ annual savings on air conditioning come in at 30 to 40%.
Hot water for showers, dishwashing and so forth is generated by solar thermal panels installed on the roof. Glycol (which does not freeze in winter) circulates through the panels, gathering heat from the sun that, in turn, heats water in the tank. I was surprised to find that the tap water was very hot indeed – on a cool spring day, with little or no help from hydro. This $8,000 system works efficiently in our northern climate for most of the year, Mr. Brightling said, taking notable strain off the electricity grid (and hence lightening the electric bill).
Being a confirmed apartment-dweller, I don’t have a lawn, nor do I understand the North American obsession with having lawns. But if one must keep a green patch out front and back of the house, it should pull its weight, environmentally speaking. It does so here. Mr. Brightling has installed a 4,500-litre tank under the back yard of this project that effectively catches rain water running off the roofs of the main house and the garden shed and makes this water available for irrigating the lawns. This uncomplicated plumbing arrangement is an example of good ecological stewardship, especially in a city that wastes far too much water.
Back inside the house, Mr. Brightling has introduced a few other smaller features that also enhance the pleasure and sense of security in living there. There are the ceiling sprinklers, for instance – nearly invisible fixtures intended to deploy individually when the air around them reaches 100 C. And there is the lighting, equipped with low-wattage LED and halogen bulbs to further enhance the energy efficiency of the house.
These, then, are the major and minor systems at work in Mr. Brightling’s technical outfitting – some complex, others simple, all suitable for comfortable living in a sustainable, environmentally responsible manner. Nor is the cost of these green measures, as a percentage of total expenditure, really prohibitive. Of the $1.8-million it took to build the Governor’s Bridge house, only $150,000 was invested in green technologies – all of which will bring cost savings down the line.
Now, to marry such advanced thinking about the environment to contemporary good design! Like the passion for lawns, the desire for a 2010 house that looks like it was done in the 1920s escapes me. Windows were small back in those days, interiors were chopped up into small rooms, the middle of the building was always dark. To be fair, Mr. Brightling has opened up the rear of the Governor’s Bridge house to the light, but the front façade is as fusty and serious as anything in Rosedale from 80 years ago. The architectural taste of Rosedale residents, it appears, has some catching up to do, if it’s to stay abreast of the technological advances taking root in their dignified old neighbourhood.
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John Kouletsis – Buildings
Buildings will have carbon footprints of zero by the year 2030 – or at least that’s the call to action for architects and building managers from the American Institute of Architects. Although this doesn’t seem possible now, there are a number of ways – new and old – to develop sustainable buildings.
1. Borrow from Industry Leaders
Quicken your sustainability efforts by borrowing ideas and research from the best companies striving to be carbon neutral. Contact those companies and see what they’re doing and how you can replicate it. Gundersen Lutheran and Geisinger Health Plan® both have aggressive plans to slash their carbon footprints well before 2030.
2. Look at the Past
Look back 60 years in the United States and you’ll see that the traditional hospital had a smaller footprint and caused less environmental damage; however, after the 1950s, things changed, and countries like the United States and Australia started building bigger, hermetically sealed buildings devoid of natural light and artificially heated and cooled. Some countries, such as Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands, always provided operable windows and thin footprints.
The rest of us need to consider rewiring to that model. In addition to building smaller, it’s important to build medical facilities close to where people work, live, and have access to public transportation. Designers of one German town, Vauban, built it to be car free. Residents ride bicycles and walk, which promotes physical activity and reduces air pollution and greenhouse gases. Kaiser Permanente is looking at three future hospital sites with a mixed-use approach so that care can be delivered next to housing, shopping, and mass transit.
3. Sustainable Products
Lighting is one area where new products provide energy-efficient options. The next generation of LED lighting now costs less, is more reliable, and can be an option in healthcare settings. Using a combination of task lighting, LEDs, light controls, photosensors, and smaller floorplates designed with daylighting to bring in sunlight is something you can do now.
4. Location Makes a Difference
Several sustainable opportunities may exist, depending on your location. If located next to a river, you might be able to use hydroelectric power. If you’re in a windy area, wind turbines could be an option. Geothermal power is cost effective, reliable, and environmentally friendly; however, it’s available only in limited areas. If your site is on or near a previous landfill with large amounts of organic material, you could capture the methane and use it as a fuel source. Photovoltaics are also an option.
5. Water Conservation
Conserving water takes a combination approach. Converting from wet-process imaging equipment to digital imaging machines can save approximately 925,000 gallons of potable water per year and eliminate the use of harmful chemicals. Other small things you can do include sensor-operated faucets and dual-flush toilets. Planting drought-resistant plants and plants native to your location reduces the need for supplemental irrigation. No matter how much rainfall you get, harvesting rainwater helps as well.
6. Build Universally
Build in such a way that the building is self renewable. The typical life-cycle of a building is about 30 years. A flexible and adaptable building plan permits the incorporation of new technology. Build small, build just what you need, and constantly renew building systems.
7. Technology Advancements
Technology is replacing a high number of in-person visits with virtual doctor visits. Electronic medical records and providing web capabilities are other ways to reduce carbon footprints.
8. Join Others
Join groups, such as the Global Health and Safety Initiative, to work with health care organizations to advance environmental sustainability. Banning together can make a difference and could result in changes like new ENERGY STAR® appliances for hospitals.
John Kouletsis is executive director of strategy, planning, and design, national facilities services, at Kaiser Permanente
Don Procter – Journal of Commerce
A Toronto architectural firm is breaking the traditional design mold by collaborating with university research departments and government agencies in an effort to introduce innovative sustainable buildings to the marketplace.
The architect, RVTR, is high on prefabricated modular building designs. The firm is part of a collaborative design team selected to erect an 800-square-foot modular residence called North House at the prestigious Solar Decathlon, an international competition in sustainable housing design held in Washington, DC, this fall. The goal is to make North House a net energy-producing building.
But also on RVTR’s agenda is the development of a module- and panelized-based system that can be designed for a range of housing types, including multi-storey residences and commercial buildings which are tailored to fit different climates. Called the Latitude Housing System, it is made of lightweight gauge steel and incorporates steel-based structural insulated panels.
“The state of prefabricated housing in North America remains well behind what is technologically possible today,” says Geoffrey Thun, one of RVTR’s principals.
To better understand design issues and how to successfully bring such housing to market, architects from the firm plan to travel to Japan to study “the world’s only really prefabricated high performance building industry,” says Thun.
In Japan, the Canadian architects will visit prefab manufacturers and others connected to the large modular building industry. Since 1996, about 160,000 high-performance residential units have been erected in Japan.
Thun thinks the timing is right for the industry to grow in Canada.
The architect says there is a big difference between how Japan builds prefab and modular buildings and what the rest of the world does. Most countries, including Canada, simply use a group of workers to assemble buildings in a warehouse. The Japanese rely on mass customization (automated assembly lines) so they can produce many types of “extremely high quality” housing and do it quickly.
“The use of a high-speed fabrication capacity that can produce a variety of products is critical, I believe, to the success of modular and panelized custom prefabrication,” he says.
Prefabrication housing has been around since the 1930s, but the perception that prefab structures are low quality and lack design variety has kept the industry on the sidelines in Canada and the U.S.
“We believe that prefabrication can create extremely unique housing of extremely high quality,” Thun says.
He says that what makes the time right for the prefabrication industry to leap forward is the push for sustainable housing and the fact that advanced robotic manufacturing technology is now readily available.
Can it be done economically? Thun says that will require the development of prefab systems on a large scale.
“One of the biggest challenges will be getting industry and government working together and getting the right set of policies in place to be able to create the capacity to build multiples and have the market for it. That is why the Japanese have been successful.”
RVTR hopes to get the project rolling in 2010 in collaboration with a lightweight steel manufacturer and a prefabrication manufacturer with possible research support from the universities and government.
“It would not be difficult to imagine that with the right will and (economic) climate that such an industry could easily roll out in five years in terms of set-up time,” says Thun. “I would imagine it could actually even be faster than that time, frankly.”
Thun encourages builders to consider partnering with academic researchers to develop “what seems like difficult research and development projects.” By “bridging the space” between academic world, designers, government and the building industry more prototypes like North House can be developed.
RVTR is using Toronto-based MCM 2001 Inc. to fabricate modules and panels and erect North house. MCM fabricated interior walls and paneling at ROM.
North House will largely consist of panels comprised of 2 by 8 wood framing covered with plywood sheets.
Inside the walls and floors and ceilings will be up to seven inches of soy-based spray-foam insulation. For MCM, the biggest challenge will be shipping the house from Toronto to Washington and having it set up with all of its “smart technology” in place in a week, says Jack Debski, MCM’s project manager.
Designing and installing a leak-free flat roof that features an array of solar panels will be a challenge, says Debski. “We have to provide mounting for the solar frame so we have many points where the roof can leak.”
A key objective of any new building type is to get as much exposure as possible.
Thun says RVTR hopes to get North House on display at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. After that, its plan is to put the house on prominent display at a major public venue in Ontario.
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