DJC Green Building Blog Covering green building issues in Seattle and around the Pacific Northwest

GreenBuild Day 2: bifacial solar panels and natural swimming pools that use plants, not chlorine!

Posted on November 18, 2010

I've been through about an eighth of the GreenBuild Exhibition floor so far and wanted to share two of the things I've seen with you.

These are the Sanyo bifacial panels that will be on the Bullitt Foundation's Living Building on Capitol Hill. The collect energy from both sides while letting some light in at the same time. Bullitt was attracted by the transparency of the panel.

Sanyo panel, photo by Katie Zemtseff

And this is the BioNova Natural Swimming Pool. The swimming pools use natural systems (meaning plants in gravel) instead of chlorine and other chemicals to treat water. That means the water color is darker, looking more like a lake than a traditional pool. It also means that people that use them need to get used to the idea of sharing their pool occasionally with frogs or other critters. James Robyn, CEO of the company, said the pools aren't for everybody. "Whoever doesn't like that sort of thing shouldn't do this."


Robyn said the pool technology came from Europe, where it has been used for 20 years. He said it has a low carbon footprint, is all natural and is "perfectly healthy." Robyn, who is based in New Jersey, said he's being asked about the pool system all across the country. In fact, he was in Seattle giving a lecture last month though he said there are not yet any of his pools in process in the Seattle area.

There are basically five ways to build the pools but each involves about 1 square foot of treatment space for 1 square foot of pool. That means if you want an 850-square-foot-pool, you need 850 square feet of treatment space. It's more expensive but it certainly looks cool!

For more on BioNova, check out its Web site.

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Redecorating windows in an energy efficient way

Posted on March 10, 2010

I recently received this blog post from Richard Moyle with Horizon Window Treatments in New York. For those of you considering new window treatments, I thought it provided a nice overview on redecorating windows. Here it is:

So you want to re-decorate your windows, but you want to do it the most energy-efficient way possible,

One window treatment
to not only lower your utility bills, but reduce your carbon footprint as well. Fortunately, it is very possible to do this. All you need to do is look for a couple of things when selecting window treatments.

First, you want to make sure that the treatments you are choosing are made from renewable materials. If you are going the wood treatment route, only buy wood that is Forest Stewardship Council certified. FSC accredited certifiers evaluate both forest management activities and tracking of forest products. If not using wood treatments, go with natural fabrics like cotton, silk or hemp for draperies. Buying local is also helpful when it comes to energy efficiency. The shorter distance the material has to travel, the less energy it takes to get to you.

All window treatments offer some insulation, but some will provide more than others. In order to determine how much insulation is provided by a specific window treatment, you want to look at what is called the R-Value. This rates the treatment’s effectiveness in averting heat loss. You also want to evaluate the treatment by its Shading Coefficient, which is the measurement of heat coming through the window. A window treatment with a high R-value and a low Shading Coefficient would make for the ideal selection.

Air quality is third and final characteristic to look for in a window treatment. Plastic and faux wood blinds might contain polyvinyl chloride which releases carcinogenic dioxin into the air during production and contains plasticizer called phthalates, which can set off respiratory problems and inhibit the body's hormonal systems. Again, choosing treatments that are made of renewable materials can help you avoid these problems.

While it may be impossible to find a treatment that adheres to all of the specifications above, knowing what to look for can help you find the treatment that is best for you and the environment.

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Help some students out with 5 minutes of your time…

Posted on March 3, 2010

Recently, I received an e-mail from a senior studying business at Seattle Pacific University named Jamie. The student said they are part of a team writing a comprehensive business plan regarding a power strip that automatically shuts off power in stand-by mode. Turns out two of her teammates have created a working prototype, which will participate in a number of competitions.

The student, Jamie Durbin, sounds pretty excited: "We are super passionate about our product: it would save

Is this your home?
energy and save consumer(s) $100+ on their annual energy bills. We are seeking venture capital at the competitions to launch our product line and hopefully serve the environmentally-minded (smart) consumer."

Basically, the device senses when something switches to idle mode and can turn it off, saving energy.

Sounds kinda cool, eh? Here's where you can help: Jamie's team needs 1,000 respondents to an online survey. If you click here and spend 5 minutes, you could really help them out.

Overall, the product seems pretty handy. Even though I have power strips, there are often times when I simply forget to switch them off. Having a device do that automatically would take care of those moments.

Here's a description of the product:

The controlled outlets have four main functions.

1) Able to sense when an appliance switches to idle mode

2) Able to turn the appliance off after a period of time in idle mode.  To achieve this functionality, the device will monitor how long an appliance has been in an idle power state and remove power when it has been in the idle mode for a user specified period of time.

3) Able to restore power to each appliance once the user wants to use the appliances again.  When the power is cut, the device will use a motion sensor to determine if anyone is around the device. If the motion sensor is tripped then it will reconnect power to the appliance; when the user turns the appliance off the cycle will begin again.

4) MOST IMPORTANT, the device will reduce power consumption.  The maximum expected consumption of the power strip itself will be under 1 watt. It will completely eliminate the standby power for the controlled appliances.

What do you think? Are they on the right track? If you think they are, answer the survey and help 'em out.

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Seattle going crazy over plastic, paper bags

Posted on July 28, 2008

In case you missed it, the news coming out of Seattle the last four months has not so covertly been undercut by one single, shining topic.... (no, not the Sonics!)... disposable bags!

small-turtle.jpgThat's right. Way back in April, Mayor Nickels decided to wage war against the mighty plastic and paper grocery bag. Since then, it has grown into legend and become the most important story on everybody's lips.

Today, that war has ended. As of January 1, if you use a plastic or paper grocery bag from a drug,   convenience, or grocery store... you will be charged 20 cents per bag.

You might think I'm being flippant (and ok, maybe a part of me is) but really, I'm only half joking. The news that this topic has generated since April... is a tad unbelievable. Doubt me? In the Seattle Times, everyone from Danny Westneat to Nancy Leson have chimed in, never mind the actual news stories. Want blogs? Try The Stranger, WorldChanging Seattle, Greenhuman.... you get the point (then again I'm also culpable as this is now the second time I've posted about this on the blog. hmmmm). Want to read the press release, check out the Rainier Valley Post.

I'm not undermining that disposable bag use is disgusting. According to SPU, there are 360 million disposable bags used every year in-city. But seriously, I have an insane amount of press releases in my in box about this topic on either side. I've been a little shocked, actually, given that the mainstream media in this state has given virtually no coverage to issues like greenhouse gas inclusion in SEPA or even the Living Building Challenge. I guess disposable bags are just easier to write about.

Then again my co-worker, Shawna Gamache, used to live in St. Petersburg  (I know, cool right?) and she says it's the same thing: you bring your own bag or you pay. (She also says public places require you bring toilet paper. Not so sure I like that one.) Come to think about it, when I lived in France they looked at  you with a queasy eye when you didn't bring your own bag.....

I know I try to bring a reusable bag, but sometimes I forget. Maybe with the city kicking me, I'll finally remember it when I walk in the grocery door. Or maybe it'll be yet another daily annoyance.

What do you think about the decision? Am I way off base here or are there more important things we should be worrying (and picketing) about?

In a separate ordinance, the council also banned polystyrene food containers from restaurants and packing from grocery stores beginning Jan. 1, 2009. For more about that, see any of the blogs cited above.

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Study says green = a better value, quicker sale. Do you agree?

Posted on July 2, 2008

Yesterday I wrote a story about how GreenWorks Realty  of Seattle crunched some numbers, did a little addition... and discovered that even in the not the best (to say the least) housing market over the last year, green homes in King County have sold quicker and for a higher value than their non-green counterparts.

GreenWorks looked at homes sold on the Northwest Multiple Listing Service small-gb.jpgbetween September 2007 and May 2008 that were "environmentally certified" - here that means LEED homes, Energy Star, or the Master Builders of King and Snohomish Counties' Built Green Program.

On average, single family homes sold for four percent more, 18 percent quicker, and were 37 percent more valuable per square foot.

To see more or learn how condos measured up, visit GreenWorks to look at the numbers yourself here. (By the way, this is some of the first analysis of its kind).

Now, recently a pretty high level developer in the Seattle area told me there was no point in developing office space that wasn't LEED certified anymore, because it is going to lose its value quicker.

Combine that with this research saying green homes sell quicker and for more, and logically, building green seems to make sense.

But there are a lot of challenges to building green, not to mention building green well. I could go off about the issues forever: some green systems are so new they are untested or people don't know how to install them, it's difficult to know if something is really green, green is "more expensive...." But I would rather hear from you.

If you can take a moment out of your holiday weekend, answer me this: What stops you from building green? If you work on residential projects, could these numbers convince you to try something new? Do these numbers matter at all and why? Do they matter in your neck of the woods, or is the information too Seattle-area specific?

And is it better for someone to do bad green design or do nothing green at all?

Or heck, you can just answer the poll at right!

I'm all ears. To read the story, press here.

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The best green products of 2008… but are they really the best?

Posted on June 24, 2008

I have a story in today's DJC on the year's 10 best new green products, according to (our kind of competitor) the Sustainable Industries Journal... but were they really the best?

The products range from odd to ordinary, at least in what their function is. Here are three of them:

I'd never heard of the Solar Tracking Skylight by Solar Tracking Skylights rooftop-z.jpgof Chicago but it sure sounds interesting. It's a self-contained, self-managed skylight with mirrors that move to adapt to the sun's position. It's designed to provide light all day, not just when the sun is shining directly above. They're half the size of typical skylights and customers include Whole Foods, Wal-Mart and the U.S. Military. ... and they also look like they came out of a space movie! Yea for space movie products! (If you want to see a video of how it works, visit the Web site at the above link).

Lamberts Channel Glass by Glasfrabriks Lamberts of Bavaria, Germany is a self-supporting column that can be used as interior or exterior walls. They're nelsonmuseumsmalssmal.jpgmade from 40 percent recycled glass and are decidedly pretty, judges said. At left is the product in use at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo. One judge, Clark Brockman of Sera Architects in Portland, said, "Let's just face it, it's sexy."

Sexy. Usually a word NOT associated with green building products (or projects for that matter). But judge for yourself from the picture at left....

Then there's local winner Salvaged Hardwood Tables by Urban Hardwoods of Seattle. Urban Hardwoods has salvaged 3,000 trees, that would urbansmall.jpghave otherwise ended up being wasted,  and turned the wood into tables. This one was salvaged from Kirkland and costs $4,200 for the tabletop.

But like it or not, these are all the opinions of a handful of (granted knowledgeable) judges. Perhaps you too are a judge in disguise. If so, tell me about the best green product not on the list. Post your comments below.

SI assures us all the products are real green products rather than examples of great greenwashing. But how well green products work is also controversial. For more on that topic, click the tag green materials below and read the entry 'Green products not so great, says Gehry specifier,' and comments.

Other blog posts on this at Jetson Green and Portland Architecture.

These are three of the 10. To learn about the other seven, read my story here

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Does only half the story get told too much? Readers respond to post on green products

Posted on April 28, 2008

Readers, you liked the post that directly preceded this one, about how Anne Whitacre, a specifier for Gehry Partners in Los Angeles questioned the claims of green products. In fact, you liked it so much that the long version of it (after  you click 'more') directly shot up to the most popular post I've ever written.

thankyou1.jpgPeople read it from Lansing, Mich., from Salt Lake City, from Washington, D.C., from Atlanta, and all throughout Washington and Oregon.

We got interesting comments in our mailbox after running the full editorial too. One reader named Jason wrote, "BINGO! I think Anne nailed it. The second Green design became more about paper work and check lists, is the second green design failed."  

Another said, "Finally, bang on, thanks for posting that."

A third said, "People need to use intellect and reason to evaluate the results or benefits of these ideas in relation to short term and long term costs. Further 'sustainable' does not always mean better and certainly does not mean more efficient. These concepts are meant to make us 'feel good' and provide comfort for some imagined guilt for having a successful culture."

Here's what I have to say: thank you for responding! My job (and the job of any credible journalist) is to report both sides to the best of my ability, though often (in non-DJC publications of course) I see that only one side of the story gets told. Your thoughts help me see the whole story, so thank you for your input in either direction.

READERS: I am more than happy to investigate these topics and sound them out, but I need to know what you care about. If you like (or don't like) what we're doing, comment or e-mail me at If you like (or don't like) parts of green design, green buildings, green products etc., comment or e-mail me at I promise that I read all my comments and all my e-mails, and want to hear what you have to say, both good and bad.

We have been up and running for just over a month now. Thanks for reading and thanks for your comments. Keep 'em coming!

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Green products not so great, says Gehry specifier

Posted on April 25, 2008

Often, I long for your comments though they never come. In response to my post below on the Stranger's not so pleasant coverage of Seattle City Hall, I got more than I bargained for from Anne Whitacre.

bookWhitacre is a senior associate at Gehry Partners in Los Angeles, though she spent 30 years working in Seattle at firms like ZGF and NBBJ. She's a full-time specifier there and deals with products, both green and not green, on a daily basis.

Whitacre isn't against green buildings or green products as a whole... rather her qualm is how a product's "greenness" often trumps whether it actually is a good product.

Among her comments in her very informative letter to me, she said, “I simply do not understand the bally-hooing of LEED buildings. From a design professional’s perspective, there are “good” buildings and there are “bad” buildings, and the procuring of a LEED rating does not automatically turn a “bad” building into a “good” one.”

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Is green building mainstream yet? Ask Vanity Fair

Posted on April 15, 2008

Being a reporter, I'm always struck by how magazines or newspapers choose to put words like "green" in quotations. The designation implies a term is not yet known to the general public and says a lot about a publication's readership.

Here at the DJC we put quotations around phrases like "netzero" (a goal of producing all the energy a building uses) or "regeneration" (making a site better than what was originally there), but not LEED or green. Then again, we have a focused readership.

So, while reading Vanity Fair's third annual green issue last weekend, I was struck by the magazine's presentation of green buildings, and by its use of quotations around words like LEED "gold," "living roof," and "cradle to cradle."

The coverage raised a question in my mind: when one of the foremost investigative magazines in the country covers green buildings but still assumes its readership doesn't know much about them,  just how mainstream can green building be?

What do you think, is green building mainstream? 

Three pieces between the magazine's covers, all written by VF Special Correspondent Matt Tyrnauer, take on the subject. To read an interview with Tyrnauer about the projects, click here. 

The first is a photo and long caption of New York-based Neil M. Denari Architects' Manhattan condo project called HL23, pictured above left. Denari is designing a 14-floor cantilevered building on a 40-foot-wide lot that gets wider as it gets taller. Vanity Fair uses quotation marks to say it is reaching LEED "gold."

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Seattle man develops in Panama, uses recovered wood from Panama Canal Creation

Posted on April 3, 2008

In case you missed today's DJC Construction Industry Spotlight, let me call attention to a feature that might interest you: a Seattle man is using reclaimed logs that have spent the last 100 years underwater, due to the creation of the Panama Canal, in his Panamanian projects.

His name is Joel Jelderks, he used to do marketing work for Red Bull in Seattle, and now he lives in Panama City, Panama, where he's developing five projects. Three are historic preservation/recreation projects in the city's historic Casco Viejo quarter, and two are in the countryside on the Azuero Peninsula.

In the historic buildings, Jelderks is using recovered wood from a Panamanian company called Ardan International Group. When the Panama Canal was constructed, tropical hardwood forests were flooded, creating the 263-mile Lake Gatun. Ardan, working with a company called Gunderboom out of Alaska, trains local people from the Kuna tribe to harvest the underwater trees. For more about Ardan and their products, see their comprehensive Web site here.

"The interior of the trees is an amazing quality of wood. You can't get the quality of wood anymore without cutting down in a protected rainforest," Jelderks said. "A lot of these trees are 400 years old."

Intriguing idea, eh? But before the wheels in your head start spinning for Seattle projects using Panamanian recovered wood, know that Ardan is very selective about the projects it chooses to supply, though Jelderks says it has a 20-year supply of wood.

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