Yesterday I had the pleasure of helping out at EWEB for their Solar and Green Building Tour (part of the Solar Oregon program. I asked to help out early, so that I could take one of the tours and see some of the green homes Eugene was highlighting.
The first stop (for my group) was the Inkwell Building in Cresent Village, which won LEED Gold certification for the Core and Shell and LEED Platinum for the interior of their office. They followed LEED pretty much to the letter, and the result was a comfortable, beautiful office space. The rest of the tour consisted of three homes, each with completely different approaches to being green.
It was a really fun day, and I especially enjoyed talking with the builders and architects about what strategies they implemented to go green, and why they chose those over other possibilities. It was interesting to learn that many of my favorite methods for energy efficiency in Southern California were not always easy or effective to implement here.
For example, solar thermal water heaters are a snap in SoCal, but you have to purchase really high tech expensive ones in climates that drop below freezing for long periods in the winter. While one house chose to go with this option, the In-Law unit designed by Rainbow Valley did a cost analysis which showed that for their project it would take forever to pay off the initial expense (largely because it was a home for one person who only lived there part of the year). They chose a tankless water heater which was very efficient at providing the small amount of hot water needed.
In speaking with Alec from Rainbow Valley Design, he was lamenting how difficult it is to find valuable information about many of the "green" products available for builders. For example, he told me about a door they sourced which touted that it used locally harvested, sustainable wood. After he bought it, he found out that they did use local wood, but shipped that wood to China to be cut and assembled with cheap labor and then shipped it back. Well the point of local is that you aren't burning oil to ship it across the globe!
I told Alec about another builder on the tour who informed me that the hardwood floors in his house were green something or other certified, I had never heard of the certification he mentioned. I asked what that meant, he said "it's supposed to be better." I asked if it was FSC certified, he replied that he had no idea. So what's green about new maple if it isn't FSC certified?
My favorite home aesthetically speaking was the Sage House, by Arbor South Architecture. It was LEED Platinum, the highest rating offered by the US Green Building Council. The floors and some of the exterior features were done in beautiful re-purposed wood, and the structural beams were a glue lam product that I had not heard of before, which uses the chips and scraps from milling. They also used it as an interior design element to wonderful affect. The exterior features were redwood that was salvaged from the seats of an old theater through BRING Recycling, a fantastic local non-profit.
The In-Law I mentioned above, however, was great because of its extremely efficient use of a tiny square footage. Smaller homes are inherently green because they use less materials, cost less to heat and cool, and generate less waste. This place was 585 square feet, and it felt like at least 800. That is just good design.
The presence of a disabled man on the tour highlighted the issue of accessibility, which is usually not thought of as being a green issue. People get old. Sorry, everyone, that was a downer I know, but it is unavoidably true. People get old, they get injured, they slow down, sometimes they have children who are born with different abilities. Any honest assessment of the life cycle of a building should take this into account, plan for accessibility and easy mobility with a cane, a wheelchair, and even potential space for a care taker. It's not just about the current client, either, it is about resale and future owners.
The best house in terms of accessibility was definitely the "Earth Advantage House" built by David E. Smith. With wide hallways to accommodate wheel chairs and a roll in shower (no curb, just extra tiled floor for a wheelchair or walker to roll right in) in one bathroom, this house was certainly suited to the needs of any potential residents.
The tour finished up at La Perla, a new Pizzeria in town (of the fancy pizza variety) with really excellent, traditional wood oven cooked pizza. Their food was pretty fantastic, and I tortured Courtney by eating several slices in her presence (they had some wheat free food too, so she wasn't starving).
Thinking about the differences in local climate here and in SoCal and how they affect construction choices reminded me of some studies I had done for a sustainability class at UCLA that focused on Los Angeles City's practices, and looking back over them, I think maybe they deserve to see the light of day. So I think I may brush them off, fix them up, and publish them with google docs. If I follow through, I will link to it later.
That's it for now, bravo EWEB, and thanks to everyone who opened their homes and offices for us to see.