DJC Green Building Blog

Oso mudslide: Were the risks ignored?

Posted on April 3, 2014

The following post is by DJC staff:

Disaster-resiliency expert Stephen Flynn has posted a piece about the Oso mudslide on Northeastern University Seattle’s Re: Connect blog.
Flynn is a professor of political science and director of Northeastern’s Center for Resilience Studies in Burlington, Mass.

Oso mudslide

He spoke with the DJC in February about lessons from Hurricane Sandy and the need to better prepare for natural and manmade disasters.
In his post he says we tend to ignore the risk of disasters until they happen and says builders, developers and planners have a role to play in changing that.

He writes:

It is purposeful denial, bordering on negligence, which allows residential property development in dangerous areas. That negligence is fed by a self-destructive cycle that begins when builders and developers with short-term interests are granted local permits to build new homes on low-lying barrier islands, flood plains, or near steep hills in the wilderness. These homes then require investments in new public infrastructure, which in turn require additional tax revenues to build and sustain. In order to expand the tax base, towns end up approving new property development adding new fuel to growth. When the foreseeable disaster inevitably strikes, individual property owners are often wiped out and the American taxpayer ends up picking up most of the tab.

Read the whole thing here and tell us what you think.

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Canadian Building aims to be greenest in North America

Posted on April 27, 2011

Living Future 2011 in Vancouver, B.C . could have begun better. My first event was a tour of the new Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability space at University of British Columbia.  To get there, all 30 of us had to wait 20 minutes, get on a 40 minute bus ride and then trudge through 15 minutes of pouring, pouring rain. Needless to say, I should have remembered my umbrella. A kind soul on the tour (not from the Northwest, obviously, who

The inside of the CIRS building, as it looks today
DID remember her umbrella) gracefully let me half-hover under hers. Despite that, I am currently totally soaked through though my shoes and coat are now drying out.

Thankfully, the tour was totally worth it. The CIRS Center is poised to be an incredible project, once complete. The four-story, 60,000-square-foot dry-lab research building has targeted both the Living Building Challenge and LEED platinum. Its goal is to be the most innovative building in North America. The building should be ready for occupancy by the end of May. It was designed by Busby Perkins + Will.

When designing and building it, the team concentrated on equally balancing the need to be net positive, or to give back more energy and environmental benefit than the building took from the grid; to be humane, or being constructed and thought of with the best impacts on humans possible; and being smart, or cost effective and adaptive.

The inside office space of the new CIRS building. It is shaped like a horseshoe.
To do that, this building functions on a greater scale than just its footprint in two big ways. It captures wasted heat from the building next door and uses some of it to fully heat the CIRS building before giving the rest back. Doing this allows the building next door to reduce the amount of steam it requires for heat, which reduces money the university spends on natural gas, saving money and creating a net positive effect.

It will capture all rainwater, treat it and use it as potable water for those in the building to drink (this is what the Bullitt Foundation's Cascadia Center targeting living building status in Seattle wants to do, though code rules are making it tough). It will also treat all wastewater generated in the building and use it to flush toilets, urinals and for drip irrigation. This was a difficult thing to permit, said Alberto Cayuelo, associate director of the UBC Sustainability Initiative. All water will be treated, drank, reused, treated, reused and treated again. This is the first building in Vancouver, the team said, to do this. Water that hits the building's hardscapes will be redirected into the aquifer.

The building's price is $37 million Canadian, with a $22 million construction budget. Cayuela said the project will cost between 20 and 30 percent more than a LEED gold building.

“I’d be lying through my teeth if I said this building came in at no premium,” he said. “(But) on a total cost of ownership basis, we can recoup that investment in a few years.”

The project should save money through energy and water initiaves.

There’s a lot more that I can and will say about this project. But I’ m about to hear Majora Carter speak, so more info will have to wait for another story!

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Got extra paint? Give it to “the green man” this week for free

Posted on March 7, 2011

Painting is a fun, easy to do project. But once the job is done, excess paint often sits in the basement, dying a slow, slow death as the years pass by.

So today I was delighted to hear about "the green man," via a press release. The green man is an

paint-can-11-300x225

Image courtesy Ecoactionteams.ca

effort by Wallingford's Reed Painting Co. to gather all your old paint and recycle it. Each year, it says, at least 695,000 gallons of paint is wasted in Washington State.

Currently, King County suggests residents dry out latex paint, strain it and put it in the garbage with the lid off. But Cole Palea of Reed Painting said that wastes a good product, while taking up valuable landfill space. Instead, his organization is collecting paint, straining it, categorizing it by color and giving it away as recycled paint.

"The need is there," he said. "But there is no real solution out there. We're hopefully getting this conversation started around the community."

This is the second year Reed has held a paint drive. Last year, it collected almost 200 gallons just from Wallingford, Queen Anne and Capitol Hill. The drive is currently in its second week. Palea said Reed has already doubled the amount of paint it collected last year and plans to pick up an additional 200 gallons of paint this weekend, for a total of at least 600 gallons that would otherwise be in the landfill.

People can either drop off old paint at the Reed shop in Wallingford or call to schedule a $20 pickup this weekend.

Palea said he and business owner Randy Reed grew up in Hawaii where they were acutely aware of natural resource use. Palea is a certified sustainable building advisor and this effort is one way for Reed Painting to become a better steward of the environment. "We're not trying to greenwash and tell everyone we're 100 per cent green by no means, because we're not. But we're definitely taking steps further," he said.

Portland has successfully turned paint recycling into a business. To read more about that city's efforts, check out this excellent story from 2009.

Reed is a painting contractor that works on homes and commercial projects. It paints the interior of the Seattle Art Museum between exhibits.

To drop off your paint, visit the shop this Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is at 3668 Albion Place North, on the backside of the block. The front of the shop is along Woodland Park Avenue North and 38th. There are three garage doors painted red. Reed is behind the first garage door. For more information, visit http://www.reedpaint.com/ or call (206) 965-0504.

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Is the smart grid the new smart phone?

Posted on February 4, 2011

Recently, a story of mine appeared in the DJC called "Smart grid experts say AEC firms should start getting ready." It's about the smart grid, and how it will likely affect many aspects of your life - from the space you live in, to the car you drive to the way you use energy.

If you haven't read it, I suggest you do. One of my sources, Mani Vadari, Battelle's vice president of

The potential smart grid. Image courtesy GreenBeat.
electricity infrastructure, compares the smart grid to the smart phone. Even 5 years ago (2006) who'd have thought they would be so ubiquitous as they are today? At that point, I had just gotten my first iPod a year before and was still spellbound by it. I had a Razr (ugh). I think I knew one or two people that had Blackberries but they didn't seem useful to me in the least.

Vadari said there's a ton of money heading into this industry and the game changing technology, if it's not already here, isn't far off.

He said the idea of a green building will change from a minimal energy user to an energy producer. As more people get electric cars and pull energy from the grid through buildings, he said a structure that produces extra energy would be ahead of the curve.

“You've got to start thinking holistically because if you just lean more into the grid, you're not helping your carbon footprint,” Vadari said.

Vadari said more thought will be given to combining technologies to save and produce energy, or to achieve multiple goals. For example, he said windows and roofs could become energy-producing solar cells, forcing changes in the market as no one will want traditional windows and roofs anymore.

We're just at the beginning of the smart grid now, with regional demonstration projects funded by the stimulus in motion in all corners of the country. Regionally, Battelle is leading the $178 million Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project. Electric cars, like the Nissan Leaf, are just coming to market and charging stations are just beginning to be installed.

But the potential for the smart grid and its related technologies to change our lives is huge. There's no telling now which direction will move quickest but changes could include market-priced energy with monitors that allow you to control when you purchase energy based on price; electric cars; and homes and buildings that produce energy and feed it back into the grid.

Is there anything -- energy wise -- that you're excited about or looking forward to? Would love to hear your thoughts.

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Water infrastructure: the problem no one wants to (openly) talk about

Posted on June 9, 2010

This week, the DJC published my story on the Bullitt Foundation's desire to go off the water grid and the underlying politics of the decision. I've written about this topic before in this March 17 post "Bullitt wants to go off the water grid: realistically will it be able to?" Basically, the problem centers around the idea that Bullitt wants to capture and treat all its own water. That means it wants to do the impossible: drink the water that falls on its site and treat the toilet waste the occupants produce. I say impossible because the barriers seem endless. (Clarification: I do not actually think it is impossible. As a journalist I don't take sides and have no opinion on the topic. But if you were to look at the issue before Bullitt started talking with agencies, it was an impossibility. That's the point of the Living Building Challenge... to break down barriers).

The barrier I discussed in the story is King County's capacity fee. According to an internal county

Here is a current rendering of Bullitt's project
document, a different project (part of Amazon's new headquarters in South Lake Union) wanted to go partially off the water grid and requested a waiver of the capacity fee. The waiver would have resulted in a loss of over $700,000 for the county in 2008, the document says. Because the building would still be hooking into King County's water system for some services, the county declined the waiver. Even though a building may be water independent, it still needs to be connected to the county system in case of emergency. This means it needs to be able to function at any given moment.

Developers and green enthusiasts say the fee should be waived because it encourages innovation, and developers won't pursue these projects otherwise. The county says it's a social equity issue: by waiving the fee, other less fortunate individuals will end up paying for infrastructure and the county has already counted on new development to support that work. Specifically, the county is in the middle of building the $1.8 billion Brightwater Treatment Plant.

I'm really interested in this dilemma, especially the validity of the social justice claim. I had a brief conversation via Twitter this week with @bruteforceblog (whose very interesting blog is here: http://bruteforcecollaborative.wordpress.com/). Bruteforce said if this were a rural site he'd be all for cutting the capacity fee but in a city, the less affluent will be burdened by the cost. He suggested priority permitting as an incentive. However the city already provides priority permitting for super green projects and in this economy, the quickened pace doesn't equal the amount of savings it once did. I asked him what other ideas he might suggest. Bruteforce said perhaps a FAR or height incentive could be the answer, adding that no matter the incentive, developers will always argue it isn't enough. However, a commenter on our DJC story, Kent Andersson had another opinion: "It's not about punishing the poor. It's about everyone paying the true costs of the services they use. We should allow the exemption to spur the future, however if they need to discharge, then they should pay a higher rate."

Regarding the capacity fee, the county is currently considering three pretty black and white options, again, according to the internal county documents: waive the fee for projects that go off the water grid, partially waive it or do nothing and keep the structure as it is.

But there's another option. Why not let innovative projects go off the grid and then charge them crazy insane fees if and when they do use the system? Just a thought.

Where do you stand on this issue? Do you think the county is right on with its social justice reasoning or is that an excuse? What incentives do you think should be offered to developers, if any should be offered at all to get them moving in this direction? Or maybe we all should pay the "true costs" of water and agree to much higher water rates? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Don't feel like commenting? Answer our new poll at right!

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Neighborhood density in Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. What can we learn from each other?

Posted on April 8, 2010

I've been writing a lot about Vancouver's density recently, in comparison to Seattle's so I know I should move onto another topic. And I promise I will next time. But I just can't resist posting these pictures of my sister's neighborhood, Kerrisdale.

Kerrisdale is about a 15-minute drive away from downtown and a 10-minute drive away from the University of British Columbia. It is a sweet neighborhood, filled with restaurants and shops (but only one bar that I could find). However, what's unique about it isn't the composition of retail. It's the composition of housing types within a two-block radius. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves:

Interesting looking row houses

Mid-rise apartment buildings

Retail

More retail

A large single family home

This neighborhood has nearly every type of housing within two blocks, all mish-mashed up together. That McMansion above? It's located across the street from the first picture of row-houses. The mixing of housing types doesn't feel crowded; it feels like a nice, traditional neighborhood. It's a real urban village.

Seattle has neighborhoods that exemplify this mixed-use concept just as well. Capitol Hill, Lower Queen Anne, Ballard to some degree. But for some reason, the way Kerrisdale did it just felt smoother. Maybe it's primarily an architectural issue? But it feels to an outsider like the apartment building is meant to be located next to a large, single-family house.

To all my density nerds out there, what do you think is Seattle's best example of density that meshes well? It is Capitol Hill or Lower Queen Anne? Any particular street or corridor that really stands out? A really good  recent example, I find, is NK Architect's latest project on Lower Queen Anne called Fourth and Roy. The DJC wrote about it last month here. Basically, the team designed it to consciously fit in with the neighborhood.

In our story, Brandon Nicholson, a principal at NK, said he tries to picture a four-plex craftsman knockoff on the parcel and does not think it would fit in with the neighborhood's character. “In a neighborhood filled with old brick buildings, it might be much more modern in aesthetics but in materials and scale, it's appropriate for the context of Lower Queen Anne.”

Fourth and Roy townhouses in Lower Queen Anne
What do you think? What's Seattle's best example?

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Bullitt wants to go off the water grid: realistically, will it be able to?

Posted on March 17, 2010

I have a story in today's paper on The Bullitt Foundation's proposed living building on Capitol Hill. The project is fascinating: it aims to create all its own energy, produce and treat all its own water and re-energize the neighboring park among other points.

The project has a lot of interesting aspects. However the one I'm most interested in is the water angle. The building hopes to break the mold by capturing all its rainwater off the roof, which will be held in an underground cistern, according to Colleen Mitchell, project manager with 2020 Engineering. Then, some of the water will be treated by UV filters, pumped to faucets throughout the building and used as potable (or drinking) water. Some of the water will be sent to toilets, which will use one pint per flush. All waste from the toilets will be sent to a composting container in the basement, where it will slowly compost and be used for the building's greenhouse. The greenhouse will run up the south side of the building with plants on each level. Urine from the toilets will go to four tanks in the basement where it will stabilize and be sterilized over a three-month time period. After three months, one part urine will be mixed with eight parts greywater (or the water that goes down faucets). That mix will be sent to the greenhouse where it will be evapotranspired by plants with nutrients from urine being used for fertilization.

I've got a rendering of what the system will look like here:

This is what the water system will look like. Click on image to enlarge.

Image courtesy 2020 Engineering

The system is incredibly cutting edge and will set an amazing precedent if permitted. And the 'if,' dear readers, is a big 'if.'

Unfortunately, the precedent is one of the things that probably has permitting agencies worried. Last June, I attended a forum on water attended by a number of speakers. One of them was Steve Deem of the state health department. Going off the water grid is great in theory, he said, but architects, developers and engineers don't generally understand that if a project provides water, it is responsible for the building's water forever. That raises a lot of health and safety issues.

Secondly, there's the issue of charges and rates. King County is in the process of building Brightwater, its massive, multi-million-dollar water treatment plant outside Woodinville. Brightwater gets paid for in part by capacity charges, fees and rates from users. From what I've heard from multiple sources, projects are welcome to go off the water grid, as long as they pay those hook up fees and charges. For most developers, this is a turnoff because they are paying twice - once for the water system and once for the hook up. Bullitt has yet to finalize these details with the county. Chris Rogers of development partner Point32 said, "There will be conversations with the county and other players to understand what sort of levies there will be for something that we don't use."

At that same June meeting, Christie True, director of the King County Wastewater Treatment Division, said it's a social justice issue. If developers don't pay for wastewater infrastructure, people with fewer resources will end up paying more.

Last April, Ray Hoffman, acting director of Seattle Public Utilities, said on-site water treatment is not moving forward in the Puget Sound area because of bureaucracy. "There are institutional barriers on both the public and private side that prevent things that are readily available from getting off the shelf and into the ground."

These are some of the issues Bullitt faces in trying to go off the water grid. I don't envy them the process but it will be an amazing achievement if they succeed.

When I asked him about the difficult code issues he was about to face, Denis Hayes of Bullitt said all agencies are on the same page in wanting to see innovative projects happen. "We’ll take that robust optimism until somebody in authority says we shouldn't have it."

What do you think, readers? Just how important is this project and what kind of a precedent will it set? Will it succeed in getting off the water grid and are the health and social justice issues valid concerns? I'd love to hear from you on this topic.

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How can deconstruction help flood victims? Dave Bennink tells you, and wishes for rain

Posted on May 21, 2009

This is a guest post by Dave Bennink, owner of Re-Use Consulting. 

I was born in Bellingham and have always lived in Washington. Yes, that means I'm allergic to sunlight and spend 11.23 months a year with extremely pale skin, and the other .77 months with extremely red skin. For me, there is a positive to all that rainfall and that's river and stream kayaking. Recently, I was able to pay penance for all of that praying for rain. I helped

Items donated to flood victims, photo courtesy Dave Bennink
organize a flood relief effort in Western Washington where materials from buildings that we were deconstructing and salvaging were donated to families around the Pacific Northwest.

The January floods damaged hundreds of buildings around the area and many of the homeowners didn't have sufficient insurance to cover the repairs. A typical home may have had to replace sheetrock, insulation, wiring, wood flooring, doors, sliding glass doors, cabinets, appliances and more. My clients couldn't help with the sheetrock and wiring by they donated almost 100 doors, over 40 cabinets and many other expensive items including a large amount of lumber and plywood. The value of these donations was in excess of $75,000!

What was I most impressed with? It was either because they donated them anonymously or

Wood donated to flood victims, photo courtesy Dave Bennink
because they did it in these tough economic times. This project was a real pleasure to be involved in and I met a number of good people that help people in need in all sorts of ways. I would like to publicly thank all of our donors for their generosity and pray that we don't need to do this again next fall or witner. I do hope it keeps raining though, sorry about that!

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Poisons in Puget Sound: where they come from

Posted on April 23, 2009

When it rains in Seattle (as it often does) water flows along city streets and sidewalks, picking up toxins, before it is sent to a storm drain and eventually ends up in Puget Sound. This is the largest polluter of the Sound, sending 52 million pounds of pollutants into it every year.  That's a conservative estimate but it's nothing new

What is new is a map, produced by a team of GIS students from the University of Washington that shows where the storm drains - that send the water into Puget Sound - are. Turns out there are 4,500 public manmade storm drains, according to the team. The map was produced for People for Puget Sound, a nonprofit that advocates for healthy policies for the sound. The map also includes 2,123 natural drainages that receive inputs from the watershed system of additional drains, and 297 storm drains from the Washington State Department of Transportaion and 70 bridges. Industrial and private drains were not included in the project.

What poisons end up in the sound? Yummy things like copper, zinc, mercury, flame retardants, PAHs, and petroleum hydrocarbons. Some of these pollutants, like phthalates, which are found in plastic bottles and packaging, get dissolved in stormwater, making them hard to remove, if not impossible.  Pleasant.

Why should we care? Because, on a very base level, the Puget Sound is a huge economic driver that helps support our local economy. Not to mention the environmental aspects. 

So what does the image look like? Here it is...

Courtesy People for Puget Sound

Bruce Wishart, policy director for People for Puget Sound, said the map shows the enormity of the stormwater problem which impacts the sound.

Heather Trim, urban bays and toxics program manager for the organization, said the students went well beyond their class project to create a terrific map that advances knowledge of stormwater inputs. "We have been told by agencies that it would be years before we could get this map and yet the students have produced this tremendous resource."

How about it readers, is this image a tad surprising? Or is it what you would have expected?

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LEED vs. Green Globes – watch our state duke it out

Posted on February 19, 2009

In today's marketplace, so many things claim to be "green" that it can be really, really tough to decipher what's green and what's greenwashing. Sometimes, green measures even conflict with each other.

Apparently, that's the case with LEED and Green Globes, at least in Washington State. Green Globes,

Green certifications duke it out!
administered in the U.S. by the Green Building Initiative, is a green building certification that I have only come across a few times in my travels. LEED is by far and without question the more prominent certification of the two.

However, LEED's prominence is due in large part to its inclusion in state and city government incentives and requirements. For example, Washington State requires major buildings meet LEED silver or higher to receive public funding. Seattle requires developers meet at least LEED silver to receive a density bonus. Those requirements have gone a long way towards making Washington a leader in its number of LEED certified buildings, and LEED projects on the board.

Senate Bill 5384 would change the state mandated requirements by adding the Green Globes standard as an alternative to LEED silver.

Now, it might surprise some to learn that Cascadia, the region's go-to organization for green building, is lobbying hard against this. But then again Cascadia is part of the U.S. Green Building Council and the U.S. Green Building Council created LEED, so it stands to reason that it would support LEED certification. The bill is also opposed by the Washington Environmental Council and the Washington Conservation Voters, which represents many different environmental organization statewide.

An advocacy e-mail appeared in my in-box today asking readers to call state legislators to make sure

A truly green globe
Green Globes is not included in state law as an alternative to LEED. The e-mail says "Green Globes was created by the timber and chemical lobbies as a much weaker alternative to LEED," and that it is untested, funded by industry and requires no third party verification. 

I don't know enough about Green Globes to report on whether any of the above allegations are true. I know board members of GBI represent a number of different interests from universities to business. I know a number of industry organizations heavily support their initiatives (though to be fair, industry also supports USGBC).

I also know the actual bill, available here, has a piece in it stating all major projects receiving state funds that are four stories or under must use wood and wood products as building materials in them. Not sure how that fits into the point of the bill and it seems a little odd to me but make of it what you will.

If you're interested in this topic, Architect Online has an excellent rundown of the two systems by Christopher Swope here that I highly suggest reading. Swope points out that LEED could benefit from a bit of competition.

For still more information, visit GreenbuildingsNYC here.

What do you think? Is LEED too restrictive and is Green Globes the way to go? Is Green Globes a less strict certification? Weigh in by commenting below!

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