Architecture Book Review Building Sustainably

Biomimicry and Slow Building

I am involved in an Environmental Book Club at Oglebay’s Schrader Center.

I have read many new books thanks to this club, and every Third Thursday presents a discussion with wiser environmentalists than me. Many of these books are written in a cohesive long arrangement of definitions. No plots or climax, but critically arranged facts from beginning to end. Like portions titled Eco-Inventions from Janine Benyus’s book Biomimicry.

Here are a few of my favorite thoughts.

The biomimicry revolution introduces an era based not on what we can extract from nature but on what we can learn from her. Pg 2

The cost of money, the price of my time and why the bottom thread of my new winter coat falls off.

From being taught a ‘human centered approach’ in forestry management Benyus began to look to organisms and ecosystems for their ‘cooperative relationships, self-regulating feedback cycles and dense interconnectedness.’ Pg 3

‘Adapting to earth (as a new reality), the changes we make now no mater how incremental they seem, may be the nucleus for this new reality.’ Pg 5

The cannon of nature’s laws

Nature runs on sunlight

Nature uses only the energy it needs

Nature fits form to function

Nature recycles everything

Nature rewards cooperation

Nature banks on diversity

Nature demands local expertise

Nature curbs excesses from within

Nature taps the power of limits (which means maintain a balance) Pg 7

‘Because nature spins her spell in such a small space, her creations read like a poem that says only what it means.’

30,000 land tailored variations of rice – farming that mimicked industry, not nature. Pg 17

Her ideas on polyculture in the prairies. What about the idea of a polyculture at home in our own garden. Plants that feed, nourish and sustain the winter without our work. Pg 30

If you had a place to pull down the sun, the ASU campus in Tempe would be the place. Pg 63

Nature wants a balance – entropy – like ink dispersing in H20, it wants everything to have equal parts. Pg 67

What is Hydrogen gas?

Molecules into membranes Pg 82

Chemical graffiti

Garden-type sunshine

Purple bacterium reaction center photo

200 billion output increase every two years… why we are faster in the untactile world? Pg 241

Take back laws or ‘asset recovery’ as Xerox puts it. Pg 256

We are using the ancient sun. Pg 261

When she talks about using the condensed matter that didn’t have oxygen to decompose properly? Is the earth getting larger in diameter, or how  is this upcycle working from the exterior to center of our earth core?

Closed Loop

A community designed system to use a better as a whole, water, better land, air water, build, shelter feed.

Things I’ve started thinking about since our book club began:

World population

I am my own responsibility, I must live with what I do and try not to push it on somewhere else.

Low Impact Man / Family

Hollow under-layer shifts

We fall into perfectly round holes

Circular sink holes

Whole cities swallowed down the serpents throat. Hollowed from within, termites practicing their limits.

Pouring the unused black remains of dinosaurs

Aloe plants and grub worms into our copper lines.

Instead of quickly building Architecture, perhaps time in concept-to-foundation-to-finish should take us longer, so we are taking more controlled and thoughtful steps in the process. Perhaps I should invest my time in Slow Building.

Architecture Building Sustainably

Seven Sustainable Choices for a Doctor’s Office





Sheet goods and Tile

Linoleum is a more sustainable product and manufacturing companies include Torlys, Armstrong and Forbo. Colors between manufacturers are similar. The 12 inch x 12 inch VCT tile can be made with recycled content. The Armstrong product is an option.



Door, Base, Crown, Mouldings & Panels

On all wood products it is important to use formaldehyde free and safe smelling glue if any composite material is used. Safe paints and sealers shall be used. Examples include Sansin Corp. waterbased stain, Vermont natural coating, mapei floor sealer, AFM safecoat stains, sealers and caulking. Recycled content Johnsonite Traditional Wall base is also an option.



Wood, Paint & Wall coverings

To protect indoor air quality a no VOC paint formula shall be used.




Armstrong’s bio acoustical panel made from jute is a great T grid system option.


Hardware Finishes: recycled content materials, or a locally manufactured option are best.


Formica and Wilsonart have environmental goals if laminate is preferred in any office.


Inspirational Images are then used to begin an educated discussion about the look of the finish materials.

The end

Architecture Book Review Building Sustainably Environmental

The Interior – Making $ense

The Interiors

Because I am always in search of great and healthy ways of Interior Designing I was glad to come across a few products I hadn’t researched yet. I have a full list on my blog in the tab ‘Sustainable Interiors.’ This is the last post of the Book Review  I did of Eric Corey Freed and Kevin Daum’s book

Green $ense for the Home

The counter top chart was extensive and fantastic!

Healthy Wall Coverings:

Mioculture wallpaper of 100% recycled paper. This company created by two Columbian boys has a neat sit full of lighting furniture and accessories.

Home $ense gives a Homemade Wallpaper Paste Recipe too! There are lots on the Internet, like this one from Tree Hugger.

There are companies such as Design Tex and Len-Tex who have achieved Cradle to Cradle certification, and others such as:        Maharam       MDC Wall coverings       Milliken      Mod Green Pod    Pallas Dialtones (made of discarded Japanese telephone books)         Sinan Natural Wallpaper Adhesive

Below those wall coverings can be fully recycled content drywall too. Gypsum is a coal combustion byproduct. I looked that up and found useful in formation through the University of Kentucky. Resources for Recycled DryWall include  : EcoRock from Serious Materials   Synthetic GYP from CertainTeed or G-P Gypsum or the recycled content from CleanBoard   National Gypsum Company   Temple-Inland Forest products or USG Corporation

Other interior products highlighted in the book are ~

Cork and Bamboo: Expanko     Habitus   Nova Distinctive Floors   US Floors     Teragren    Eco Timber     Cali Bamboo      Smith & Fong

To protect our Indoor Air Quality  Formaldehyde-free fiberboard: Columbia Forest Products    Flakeboard   Kirei   SierraPine

Cabinets built out of formaldehyde free wood: Breathe Easy Cabinetry    Neff Kitchens    Neil Kelly Cabinets     Custom Cabinets from  Greenline  &  Humabuilt

For Carpet, look at Sheeps wool carpet.


Tomorrow I will share how all this knowledge actually applies to a project, when I showcase

7 Sustainable Choices

I made when designing the interior of a recent doctor’s office.

Book Review Building Sustainably Environmental

The Building Envelope

House Warming in the Winter:

I would love to be able to keep my $15 gas bills year round, but in a 1930’s house with an antiquated furnace what are my options? My monthly bill from November – April on average, raises $100.

I can make sure that the air I am heating in my furnace is being delivered to my rooms the best it can by checking all of my ducts to see if there are any leaks. Duct Sealing with ‘Duct Mastic’ can be applied with a brush or caulk gun. Find one that is a water based formula like Uni-Mastic 181 Duct Sealer, that is safe for you and your indoor air. Use mesh tape if the gaps are larger than 1/4″

EHow tells you step by step what to look for in leaks and what to use. Green Sense adopted an image from the Department of Energy and offered six places where leaks are most likely to occur: Duct Connections, return leaks, furnace and filter slot leaks; ineffective duct tape seal, fallen duct insulation, supply leaks, or restricted airflow because of duct work kinks.

Speaking of leaky ducts.. how about leaky houses?

Making sure you have a good building envelope is the first step. The easiest way to keep the conditioned air in your home is by caulking and weather-stripping. Check any place where two different materials are next to one another, for example, wood door to metal threshold or aluminum window to wooden frame.

You can get an energy audit, hire a contractor or perform the maintenance yourself.

In Ohio, AEP offers In-Home Energy programs for Energy Efficiency. Columbia Gas in Ohio offers Home Performance Solutions, and a link to a cute adobe flash presentation on home performance solutions. Ohio even offers a Home Weatherization Assistance Programs. Wonderful!

Replacing old windows? – Think about replacing the sashes. Great Efficient Windows Collaborative here!

We need more insulation over here! I’ve done a lot of research on insulation and I show what I’ve found to be good here, at my Green Building Supply Matrix. But, through this book I found a little more. Here in Ohio we are in zone 5, almost 6. If you go looking on the DOE website they have a nice insulation calculator. The book directs me to peek into my walls through my outlet boxes to see if my walls have insulation. They probably don’t, so I’ve been looking into a few types of blow in insulation that can be for homes built before modern construction methods.  Recycled newspaper is used in cellulose blow-in applications such as NuWool, but I still want to make sure that these materials aren’t compromising my indoor air quality. At the Pittsburgh Home Show I came across USA Premium Insulation, so I am currently comparing these products for my own home.

If I were building new I’d look into Green Polyiso from Atlas Roofing. This building product provides an R value of 7 per inch! And, I’d consider making my roof as light as possible. Light in color, that is.  A roof coating can be applied to make an existing roof lighter or reflective. An SRI of 29 or higher is good and what that means in the roof’s Solar Reflectivity Index number, being higher is more reflective, and less hot… and that’s good summer news.

~The Building Envelope and the Things we Build With~

Now, let’s talk about the things we build with.  It is important to me to choose local materials that contain no toxic chemicals. In some cases I may even find repurposed materials that would do the job! Look for buildings coming down (so sad!) in your area and create discussion for disassembling versus demolishing them. Then, use the materials in a new way. Habitat for Humanity has ReStores across the country. Check out Habitat for Humanity or the Re Use People. Other places to find reclaimed materials are: Building Materials Reuse Association Salvage Web

If you are considering using concrete in construction look into companies that use fly ask cement from Coal plants. This is the left over soot that can go into the concrete mix and replace portland cement. This gives concrete a smoother and stronger finish and by using the by-product, we turn waste into something useful!

These are just a few notions the book led me too… research in this area of the things we build with is ongoing. It consumes my thoughts and research daily and I really enjoy learning about how to be more energy-efficient so that I can share my knowledge with clients and the general public… and hold intelligent conversations with people who have been practicing a light lifestyle a lot longer than me.

Book Review Building Sustainably Environmental

Utilities Use – Water

What about Water?

Using less water means that first we need to identify where we use the most.  In the bathroom, kitchen and laundry room we can reduce the amount of water we use without compromising anything else. We can look at the toilet, the shower, sinks and the washing machine as large water users. The steps below can reduce the water your toilet uses by 25% and what water pumps through your shower head by a 30% reduction. (see book for full disclosure of % calculations) A little knowledge and investment in conservation methods saves more money in the long run that it costs to replace parts in the beginning.

To use less water in the toilet, all you need is a soda bottle and pebbles. See this Wiki Step by Step for how to use less water when you flush if you have an older non efficient toilet. One step up, for about $50, is to install dual flush converter.

The book offered a dual flush converter by Brondell. The image below shows how this works.

Next, I learned about the new wave in water conservation from Water Saver Technologies. Their AQUS, a grey water system, recycles water used from the sink and pipes it to your toilet.

Oh, and get this, some states will actually give you money if you replace your existing toilet. Check out Toilet Rebates in your state here.

If you want to consider a Whole House Gray Water System, look at case studies on homes and commercial spaces that have integrated this type of plumbing.

Shower Water Savers:  Evolve Showerheads Oxygenics AquaHelix Or, start a ripple with the Ripple Shower Timer From Ripple.

Not that I am a big proponent in consumption, but if there are ways I can acknowledge what I am using to use less, then I may weigh the purchase against that.

How about Electricity to Heat Water?

If you are building new and want to recover water to use again, or the heat in that waste water, here are a few resources the book offered:  Clivus Multrum   ReWater Systems    EcoInnovation Technologies   RenewABILiTY Energy Inc   ReTherm Energy Systems   WaterFilm Energy

A simple solution to keeping water hotter after it leaves your water tank is to insulate the hot water pipes or the tank itself! Or, have you ever thought about only heating water when you need it. If you work away from home all day, or sleep a normal nights rest, do you really need hot water at 3am or at 1 in the afternoon during the week? There is a green solution for this! A programmable thermostat. I found one at Cardellos, a local Wheeling WV store for $60. You may also want to check the temperature. 123 degrees is ideal and for every 10 degree reduction you can save  3-5% in the energy that it takes to heat that unused hot water.Wrapping your hot water tank in a blanket of insulation allows you to turn the tank down 2-4 degrees… which means that you can do a math problem with your electricity bill to figure out the rate of return in the savings it allows you once the 3-5% energy cost reduction equals the cost of the insulation blanket. Warm up with this idea from recycled cotton to hot water tank blanket from Bonded Logic.

Call your local utilities to find out about rebates on your conservation efforts and check out DSIRE for state incentives, or call your local architect! 🙂

Solar Hot Water Heaters:    EnerWorks Inc. Heliodyne, Inc. North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners Solar Energy, Inc Taylor Munro Energy Systems Inc.

Hot Water Heaters:

The Gas Tankless saves more!  It is more difficult to install though because running a larger gas line is probably necessary.  And, if you plan to have a radiant heating system underfoot you needs a conventional tank, or use a conventional tank to be a fire burner.  Some rebates and tax credits are available.  Eternal Water Heater – These tankless models by lasts twice as long, at 20 years!

Solar Hot Water Heater- you’ll need 10sf of roof space per person in the house. There are three types of collectors and they are the batch, flat plate and the evacuated tube collector. The most efficient being the evacuated tube collectors. The simplest is a passive system, where no pumps are needed. Use pylene glycol as solution in cold weather climate as a closed loop system. This method of water heating will run 3,600 – 9,000 big ones.

What’s this about?

Water Bottle fact: It takes 2-3x the water to make a plastic bottle compared to what the little plastic guy holds. Invest in a filter. I researched a few different kinds and came to an easy solution with PUR’s Mineral Clear faucet attachment.

What about water conservation in the yard? The book discussed drip irrigation and using native plants in your yard instead of tending to a lawn.

In drip irrigation, water is run through pipes (with holes in them) either buried or lying slightly above the ground next to the crops. Water slowly drips onto the crop roots and stems. Unlike spray irrigation, very little is lost to evaporation and the water can be directed only to the plants that need it, cutting back on water waste. –USGS’s Water Science for Schools

Our Ohio offers some advice for getting your lawn off of grass, and gives advice on planting native plants. Or, we could all be a bit more like Damali Ayo and plant your entire yard as your edible garden! You’ll have something to do with all of that compost if your community ever initiates a Pay-As-You-Throw program.

Think about rain water harvesting for showers, laundry, and  plants. You could consider investing in a rain barrel to water your yard or garden. Make sure that your roof is made of non toxic asphalt tile, metal or plastic.

Hope you are enjoying all of these Green tips from Green $ense!

Architecture Book Review Building Sustainably Environmental

Utilities Use – Electricity

How to help the fact that we need light!? Solution: arrange what functions you do in houses and buildings to take advantage of natural light. A window facing south will give you light 2.5 (x) the height of the window  into the length into the room. Clerestory windows are best at the ceiling height because they bounce the light right off of your ceiling, illuminating your room. Or, install a solatube, which can tunnel light to where you need it if the only thing between you and the sun is your roof.

and at night…

Plug load of light bulbs reduce by 75% when switching to LED and CFL bulbs. CFL rebates are available as are recovery centers for all bulbs.

Installing occupancy light sensors may be the best option in commercial settings, when no one person in in charge of turning off, say, the conference room lights when not in use. Wattstopper has a power strip that senses people and turns plugs on just like light sensors do. See the strip here and others from Smart Home USA. Light Occupancy Sensor Resources are listed in the book: Evecto GreenGate Levitron Lutron Sensor Switch , or take a look at WattStopper’s Energy Saving Calculator.

Sometimes the easiest way to understanding consumption of energy is to determine what you use. Like eating less when you count calories, a Kill a Watt may be plugged in an outlet like a power strip, and will display the power usage that anything you plug into it may be pulling.

“You can calculate your electrical expenses by the day, week, month, even an entire year. Also check the quality of your power by monitoring Voltage, Line Frequency, and Power Factor. Now you´ll know if it is time for a new refrigerator or if that old air conditioner is still saving you money.” From P3 International.

Begin by analyzing your home room by room. Look at your dryer and think of how often you use it. Most of us spend 10% of our energy bills on the dryer. It could be a good time to visit the Urban Clothesline site.

Look at the setting in your refrigerator, or just keep all of your cold items in a tupperware bin outside through the winter. (I’ve really wanted to do this!) You should set your temperature between 35-38 degrees, and keep the freezer at 0. Green $ense referred to: Absocold   ConServ Equator MicroFridge    Summit Compact Refrgerators, Sun Frost as models to reference.

Dishwashers:  Ariston   Asko   Bosch   Danby   Miele

Oh, and lets not forget hot to get rid of old appliances… Energy Star Refrigerator Recycling program Recycle.. it’s the perfect ending.

I’ve recently gotten cash for my electronics through BoneYard.

Do you know that in Rhode Island several communities have adopted a Pay-As-You-Throw program to manage the excessive waste of trash? You have to pay for the bright orange trash bags for trash disposal. The program aims to reduce waste and increase recycling. It allows residents to gauge what comes in because of the price attached to what goes out.

Energy consumption in heating and cooling the places where we live and work is astronomical! Later, when a good building envelope is discussed, we can learn how to keep our inside air in places where it should be. But, as far as how to make a comfortable environment in the first place is another story.

During the summer, when most places are hot, our home attics are extremely warm.  If your house isn’t a passive house which would direct that hot air through natural ventilation, you may consider a few natural ways to let the hot air out by letting it rise. The book discusses solar powered attic fans by Sunrise Solar and I’ve seen them by SolaStar as well. A whole house fan is another option, and Green $ense offered one by Jet Fan USA.

A programmable thermostat is a great idea to consider. In Ohio right now Columbia gas is offering in home Audits for $50. With that a programmable thermostat is offered in the package. This allows you to have heat when you need it most. Not when you aren’t at home, and not when you are under the covers. If you are thinking about building a new home, imagine your house broken into temperature zones. Places where you have a lot of southern light will be warmer, and tend to need different air conditions than do the shady Northern facing rooms. A good architect 😉 can make sure your temperature zones are ducted to properly. See more at the future House Warming post.

The book discussed a fireplace heat exchanger upgrade or and EPA certified insert which I looked up on E How to try to understand a bit better. The idea is that you can insert a new energy-efficient unit into your existing hearth and allow the heat generated by the fire to help generate heat into your home through a blower door.

Inserts for wood-burning fireplaces improve the safety and efficiency of the unit. An insert is a metal firebox, often with a glass door for visible flames, which fits within the fireplace opening, allowing the smoke to be vented through the existing fireplace chimney.-E How

The next idea after lowering consumption is to consider creating your own power using the sun, a local stream, or passing wind.

The hubbub about Solar Panels: Think of them as an appliance you can move with you. the DSIRE is a great website source that offers the most up to date incentives for renewable energies.

Micro-hydropower uses a water to be a generator of energy.

Micro-hydro power systems use an intake box to divert water from the stream and prevent debris from flowing into the system. The water moves through a pipe that is connected to a turbine. The pressure of the water rushing through the turbine causes it to move, which generates electricity. Excess energy is then stored in batteries or diverted to a dump load. –Acreage Anywhere

You must contact several authorities before doing this, such as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (here), the Army Corps of Engineers, the local county engineers office,   and the system may cost between $5,000-20,000. But, before dismissing this all together, think about cost holistically. The cost of what you are paying your electric or gas company, the cost of what they are possibly doing to the air where they make your power, what is lost in translation, etc. Gauging all factors makes things a different story.

I’ve recently been introduced to the Fujitsu Mini-Split heat pump by a friend who uses the system to create a warm room in his super-insulated home. It is a ductless system that runs coils through your walls to a wall or ceiling mounted unit that heats or cools your air for comfort.

How cool! or… warm?!

Come back Monday for the next series post!

Architecture Book Review Building Sustainably Environmental

Green Sense Book Review

Book Review

of Eric Corey Freed and Kevin Daum’s book

Green $ense for the Home

I’ve been greenwashed! Not by this book that I chose to read, but in my magazines with new products, with emails and commercials. Everyone is All Natural now (what were we?), I am buying Artisan Bread, I can breathe easier, my soaps are Locally Made… yeah yeah yeah, but is all of this good?

That is the most difficult question because being Green and living Sustainably has so many facets. In my own practice I try to weigh a Green Thing by questioning:

  • What’s in it?
  • Where did it come from?
  • Is it something I could make or do myself?
  • Is this a product being marketed as good only to make a buck?
  • How does it add up on the grand scheme of my lifestyle?
  • Is it something I could use in my work or home?
  • Will it or the idea of it make life easier? Less complicated?

Green $ense made me look at their green solutions in two important categories:

The Building Envelope    &   Utilities Use

The book breaks down contents of going green into three categories: 16 green home projects you can do today, 21 you can do tomorrow, and 13 green home projects you can do when building new.  Conclusions are given after each topic after Eric the Architect and Kevin with the financial perspective go back and forth. They call it the bottom line.


I have decided to split up this post over the course of a few days to help in understanding the sheer amount of information it contains. So, tomorrow we can begin with the first part of Utilities Use!

Building Sustainably Community Environmental

Americans are Close to the Soil


‘Americans are close to the soil.’ Faith said to a group of twenty people who gathered last night to discuss The Power of Community.

That was, the film’s director Faith Morgan. The film, released in 2006 captures how the island people of Cuba have formed alternate ways of transportation, organized the decentralization of universities, and have begun to depend on one another in collective efforts of their community to survive the past 20 years.

The full title of the movie, The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, more accurately describes the discussion with Faith Morgan after the viewing. What is Peak Oil? Is there an effort to deal with Peak Coal? How can the secluded and resourceful nature of island people help the U.S. to define and enact false boundary definition in order to train ourselves to use the local resources in our own lives?

Faith Morgan spoke to the power of discussion. By simply living, working and depending on your neighbors, we make one another aware by our interaction of life choices. We slowly spread a sustainable life message and make ourselves available to learning from their life experiences as well.  She and her husband, Pat Murphy, have a mission to ‘ Wake People Up! ‘ To engage communities in community solutions. Ms. Morgan, an avid gardener, painter, and film maker is also the executive director of  Community Solutions, founded by her grandfather in 1940. It is ‘a non-profit organization that advocates for small communities and the benefits of face-to-face relationships in a particular place.’

Our group discussed Faith Morgan’s next film about the German Passive House and joining us in the crowd was Linda Wigington from Waynesburg, Pa of Affordable Comfort, Inc. (ACI). She leads the 1000 Home Challenge – enticing us to be smarter than our energy bills. But, how do we get our communities on board? A few people in the group were skeptical, but there were plenty of examples there in the room. Some people have Net Positive homes, others have built underground houses. Faith discussed an involvement by example, or a demonstration house to exhibit the no-brain-benefits of thickened walls and the importance of order in completing efficient home retrofits. These are for any homeowner who wants to lessen their dependence on electricity or gas in their home. Ultimately affordable comfort aims to provide comfort for you, your wallet and our earth.

Scattered notes that I scribbled in a fit of inspiration over the evening are as follows:


The bicycle transformation of Cuba after the Soviet Union collapsed.

During the special period.

Permaculture and working within boundaries to clean

every square foot of property has turned into an orchard

working with your neighbors promote a local economy.

Social fabric.

What is our existing collective sense of purpose?

You don’t need that much to be happy.



Photo by Javier Galeano, Found at


‘Thank you’ to Faith Morgan and everyone who attended last night’s Book Club Event!

Architecture Building Sustainably Community

Rural Studio, One of my Favorites


Sam Mockbee, the architect who worked with Auburn University to create Rural Studio is highlighted this month with a new film airing on PBS. The Butterfly House is shown above.

As architecture in the computerized world comes farther from hands on experience, Mockbee taught his students not only how to construct, but that the profession of architecture could be a humane endeavor to aid the human spirit. 

In the rural setting of Hale County, Alabama, students have worked over the last seventeen years to try and create a better life for residents who would otherwise not have the ability to live in architecture. 

PBS runs, Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee, on August 23rd, a film I cannot wait to see. Zack Mortice writes a full article here covering this and the life work of Samuel Mockbee.  


Building Sustainably Environmental

A Solar Dish and Green Home Show

That sounds like something I could serve at a Green Home Show.

But, it’s not.  I’ve recently heard about this concept, a solar dish, while I was sitting at a wedding reception table. A guy from Boston works for a company making these, and I thought the concept was such a neat one that I had to look one up.

I’ve also recently been reading Biomimicry which talks about the surface of a leaf’s structure, how conducive the shape is to trapping energy, and it seemed to reflect the same idea’s this concave dish is trying to catch.

Also check out the Pittsburgh’s Green Home and Living Show that will be held this October.