DJC Green Building Blog

Read the DJC’s free Building Green Special Section

Posted on February 24, 2011

If you don't have a subscription to the DJC or don't click on our articles as they are locked, you might not know about our free special sections.

Special sections, written by people in a targeted industry for people in the industry, are free to read, meaning even you non-subscribers can access valuable information. Special sections come out about once a month and each section focuses on a different topic. This month's excellent topic is Building Green and I am thoroughly impressed with the breadth of this year's coverage.

The free special section is here.

In it, you'll find this excellent article by Michelle Rosenberger and Nancy Henderson of ArchEcology called "Watch out for 'greenwashing' by service providers." Among its interesting points, the article examines whether consultants can truly bring a LEED approach to a project without rigorous third party LEED certification.  Interesting item to bring up.

There's this article by Constance Wilde of CB Richard Ellis reflecting on her personal experience of  becoming a Certified Green Broker, and its values and benefits.

There's this great article by Joel Sisolak of the Cascadia Green Building Council called "Two Seattle projects set 'net-zero' water goals," which looks at the region's water infrastructure and two living buildings (The Bertschi School's Science Wing and the Cascadia Center for Sustainable Design and Construction, both covered previously in this blog)  that plan to go off the water grid and their challenges in doing so.

Then there's this article by Elizabeth Powers at O'Brien & Co. on whether green parking lots can be (gasp!) green. I'll let you read the article to learn more.

The section also has articles from representatives of Skanska USA Building, Mithun, MulvannyG2, GGLO, Scott Surdyke, Sandra Mallory of the city of Seattle and CollinsWoerman on topics ranging from the city's role in evolving practices to big box stores, student housing and public housing.

So go ahead, check it out and enjoy!

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Visit Seattle’s first (likely) living building

Posted on February 22, 2011

Recently, the Restorative Design Collective completed what will likely be the first living building in Washington State at the Bertschi School. Of course, we won't know whether it meets living building certification until it has operated for a year. But the project is designed to provide all its own energy, treat its own water and lay light on the land. It is called the science wing and will be a scientific learning area for students.

This is the first living building project to target the 2.0 version of the challenge (a tougher standard than the original), and the first project to be built in an urban area. The project was built largely through volunteer work, organized by a group called The Restorative Design Collective. The project cost about $1 million but members of the collective donated about $500,000 in pro bono time in addition to that.

Stacy Smedley, of KMD Architects and co-founder of the collective, said it is important to have a living building in the region where the challenge was born. Jason McLennan, CEO of the Cascadia Green Building Chapter, published the challenge at the end of 2006. Chris Hellstern, the other co-founder of the collective, is also at KMD.

The DJC story on the finished product is here, a story written last June details the founding of the collective and design plans here. If you don't have a DJC subsciption, this story is unlocked (meaning anyone can read it). It's a really interesting personal look at problem solving issues on the project. We also covered the installation of the building's SIPS panels on the Green Building Blog here.

For instance, the team focused heavily on water and has a system in place that would treat collected water to potable standards. But before it can do that, it must wait for state and local rules to change. A runnel, cut in the ground, will allow children to see flowing rainwater.

Bertschi will offer tours of the building, though it will usually be a science wing for students' education so tours must be pre-arranged. For more information, call Bertschi at 206-324-5476.

If you're interested in learning more about living buildings, check out the fifth annual Living Future (Un)Conference. This year it is in Vancouver, B.C. from April 27-29. As someone who has attended each of these conferences so far, I can say it is an incredible time.

Here are some pictures of the finished product. More pictures on my Facebook page here.

The exterior of the science wing, Image courtesy Katie Zemtseff

The living wall and area where children will do plan and animal experiments, image courtesy Katie Zemtseff
Closeup of the living wall. Image courtesy Katie Zemtseff.
A runnel where students will be able to watch rain water flow, like a river. Image courtesy Katie Zemtseff.
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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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Skanska’s Seattle development division bodes well for sustainability

Posted on January 21, 2011

One of the hottest real estate stories of the week is the news that Skanska is bringing its commercial development division to Seattle, signifying it sees growth in the regional market.

My colleague at the DJC, Benjamin Minnick, reported the news here. In the story, he reports that

The Grunwaldzki Center in Wroclaw, Poland, uses 30 percent less energy than Polish code requires. Image courtesy Skanska
Lisa Picard has been hired as executive vice president to lead the local development division. "The fundamentals in Seattle are great," she said.

The move is especially notable because Skanska will self-finance all its projects and says it won't necessarily develop projects owners are currently doing, such as apartments in today's times. Instead, the story says Skanska will look at the long term and what is a good buy now.

That's interesting obviously, because of the freedom Skanska has to build what it wants. But it also speaks to the potential for sustainable buildings.

Most developer's green goals are constrained by the cost of super green technologies. I've been told that green projects up to around LEED gold can be done at cost if you begin early. But if you want to go for the super green stuff - net zero energy, Living Building certification, fancy new technologies - there's still a hefty premium, even if there's a huge benefit.

According to the story, Skanska has already said all its projects built locally will meet LEED gold or higher standards, and will be located in urban core areas with strong employment growth. To read the company's sustainability policy, click here (beware- it's pretty overwhelming).

By self-financing its own projects, Skanska, already a leading green general contractor, has the opportunity to do some really incredible things. Additionally, if they plan to hold onto projects for a long time, rather than flip them, they have more of an incentive to invest in green technologies that only pay off over the long term.

I'm curious to see what kind of projects they pursue, what kind of sustainable goals they target, and what kind of green technologies they might choose to pursue that others wouldn't be able to. Of  course, they could simply go the LEED gold route. Or they could build something really innovative.

If projects were self-financed and held onto for a longer amount of time, do you think we'd end up with a larger quantity of super green buildings? Or do you think teams would stick to the status quo?

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In 2011, Seattle moves towards district energy

Posted on January 13, 2011

This week, we ran this story in the DJC about Yesler Terrace, CollinsWoerman and the effort to start considering resources on the broader scale.

For those of you that don't live in the area, Yesler Terrace is a 28-acre publicly subsidized housing community owned by the Seattle Housing Authority. It is  in the process of being redeveloped.

Imaging one energy and water system for all this space.
CollinsWoerman is a local architecture and planning firm.

District energy systems are common in Europe, especially Denmark. They allow buildings to connect to each other, increasing efficiency and reducing costs by letting several buildings share energy from a main source, such as steam, geothermal, biomass or waste heat.

But they are often cost prohibitive because streets must be torn up for a network of pipes to be built underground.

Steve Moddemeyer, principle of sustainable development at CollinsWoerman, said according to a CollinsWoerman study for SHA, a district water system could cut water use by half for Yesler Terrace and reduce wastewater flows by 70 percent for the same or less cost as a traditional system. Just imagine if you could do that for an entire city!

The fact that Yesler Terrace is considering a water and energy district is really exciting. But what's more interesting is what it says about Seattle. District energy has long been a buzz-term in the city's green community. It seems like we might finally be moving towards getting momentum on new projects.

The city of Seattle hired AEI and Cowi to study district energy opportunities for the city. They are looking at where these systems would be feasible and will identify the top three places. Moddemeyer has seen such interest in district energy and water, he said Yesler Terrace might not be the first project to employ the system. If private developers move forward, he said district systems could be the norm within five years. (Can you even imagine that scenario...?!)

Separately, the city is also working with Trent Berry, a partner with Vancouver, B.C.'s Compass Resource Management. Berry is also providing expertise on district energy systems.

The city of Bothell is also looking at installing a district energy system.

The new projects point in the direction Seattle is heading. But we are also lucky to have Seattle Steam here. Seattle Steam, a district heat provider for 200 downtown buildings, has been around for over 100 years. I'm sure there's a lot of experience they can add to this discussion.

It seems like Seattle has an opportunity here to be a real leader.

Moddemeyer said the biggest obstacle to progress is our faith in the current system. Projects like King County's $1.8 billion Brightwater Treatment Plant put all our water treatment eggs in one basket, betting that water will continue to be treated the way it is in years to come.

What do you think?

P.S. Like me on Facebook for regular updates on blog posts and similar green building information: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Katie-Zemtseff/301025823604

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Don’t be a massive louse – check out the passive house!

Posted on January 5, 2011

A few years ago during an interview, I spoke with a source who told me about something called "passivhaus." I remember listening attentively and I remember being surprised and impressed with the ideas behind the method, specifically the tight, efficient envelope it supports. I can't recall who my source was. But I do remember getting this Feb. 2009 notice that the Passive House Institute U.S. was going to be speaking in Seattle. In fact, I was registered but did not attend.

Now, almost two years later, the first passive houses are completing construction. One of them is currently located in a very public space - at the parking lot of the Phinney Neighborhood Center. The

Mini-B! Image courtesy Joe Giampietro
project, called "Mini-B" (for mini bungalow) was developed by Joe Giampietro, director of housing at Johnson Braund Design Group. Turns out Joe was at that passive house meeting and was so inspired, he became a passive house consultant. Then, he chose to build mini-b as a demonstration project to show others just how cool the system is.

Mini-B is a 300-square-foot dwelling designed to meet the city's requirements for a backyard cottage on a single-family lot. It has a bathroom, kitchenette and sleeping area. The project will have a grand opening at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 15. Then, it will be open for weekend open houses starting the weekend of Jan. 29 and lasting for six months. After that, it will be sold. Partners in the project include  South Seattle Community College and the Phinney Neighborhood Center. After paying  back development costs, any profits will go to those partners and to a nonprofit housing organization, Giampietro said. The goal is provide exposure for the method. Giampietro thinks similar units could be developed for $80,000 each and thinks it has potential for affordable housing units. Weekday tours will be available by appointment.

Giampietro said there another passive house in South Seattle is nearing completion, and that there are 12 others in the works in the area. He said there are about 40 passive house consultants in the area. There's also this organization - Passive House Northwest - which holds really fascinating conferences from time to time on the passive house method.

For more information, visit the project's Web site. PhinneyWood also had a really nice write-up of the project last month, available here.

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Want to watch a modular house get put together?

Posted on December 2, 2010

On Dec. 7, Greenfab's first modular project will be put together in Seattle's Jackson Place neighborhood and they are inviting you to come. Interested? Show up at 1827 South Lane Street near Boren Ave South and Rainier Avenue from 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Transported via truck from an Idaho factory, six boxes measuring 12 feet wide, 20 feet long and 16

Will this module become a home? image courtesy GreenFab
feet high will be installed by crane onto the foundation forming the team's prefab demonstration home. Once complete, the 1,790-square-foot house will have three bedrooms and 2.75 baths. The project is targeting LEED platinum certification.

GreenFab has done a great job documenting their process with the home to date. They've got videos documenting everything from site excavation to the foundation pour. Check them out here.

For more on GreenFab, read this earlier post or see the full-length DJC story here.

*If you plan on attending, note that South Lane Street will be closed. Visitors can park on nearby streets.

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Bertschi living building gets SIPS panels

Posted on November 5, 2010

Last week, the team building the Bertschi School's new living building science wing installed its structurally insulated panels.

The project, on target to be the first living building in Washington State, should be complete in December. It was designed pro-bono by the Restorative Design Collective, a multi-discliplinary team led by KMD Architects and founded by Stacy Smedley and Chris Hellstern. I wrote a story in June about this project and

A rendering of what the completed project should look like, courtesy KMD Architects.
the collective here.

To  achieve 'living' status, a building must meet and prove all requirements of the challenge through a full year of occupancy and operation. A living building must generate all its own energy, and capture and treat all its own water among other requirements.

SIPs provide airtight insulation through a super tight envelope, reduced on-site construction waste and time as they are prefabricated in a factory and enhanced energy efficiency.

To watch a great video showing SIPs installation, go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfS61INhv3w.

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Olson Kundig’s idea of sustainability – from art haven to car heaven

Posted on October 28, 2010

It's been an Olson Kundig Architects week here at the DJC. On Tuesday, we wrote this story on Art Stable, the new artist loft space in South Lake Union. On Wednesday, we wrote this story on the new Stadium Nissan dealership near Safeco Field, developed by Greg Smith of Urban Visions. Both were designed by Olson Kundig. Extensive photos are available here.

In covering these two, very different projects, I've had a little time to think about the sustainable

Art Stable
Image courtesy Katie Zemtseff

Art Stable

hot spots of each. In Art Stable, what really sticks in my mind is the idea that it is designed to be turned into different things over time. It's already zoned for commercial so it could be that. But little things, like high ceilings, placing utilities along the building's perimeter, using durable materials and having a flexible floor plan, could easily allow it to be other uses over time. There was thought put into how the space could change. It is also pre-wired for solar photovoltaic to the roof and for electric car charging in the garage. Granted, I would hope to get a little foresight in a space that costs between $500 and $800 per square foot. But this is pretty unique to me: a team that really looked at the longevity of space. It seems like it's a consideration generally missing from our land use and project debates.

These two quotes encapsulate the idea:

From Kirsten Murray, managing principal for Olson Kundig: “I think sustainability is above all about the longevity, the useful long life of a building. There's an idea that the structure is sort of the foundation for what kind of becomes the life of the building.”

....and from Chris Rogers, CEO of the building's developer, Point 32:“If you think of turn-of-the-century buildings that have been repurposed, we're thinking about this building in the same terms but in a more contemporary format,” he said. “You're creating a structure that could be used for multiple purposes long into the future... You're prolonging its life essentially.”

Interesting.

Nissan dealership, courtesy Katie Zemtseff
Second, this week I ran into Tom Kundig at the Stadium Nissan dealership opening. The dealership will sell the all-electric Leaf car, once it goes on sale in December. It is the first dealership the internationally known firm has designed.

Kundig told me the sustainability of the space, as well as his firm's design aesthetic, had a lot to do with restraint. Instead of covering materials with paint or toxic-fueled finishes, they are left alone and allowed to weather naturally. Materials in the building, from wood to steel to concrete, are left raw, allowing people to see their inherent beauty. "Rather than trying to cover it up or be sort of artificial about it."

Kundig said the space is also sustainable in that the dealership reused and improved the old building while uncovering its beauty.

Tom Kundig
Kundig said the main purpose of the space was to show off the people in the room and the Leaf. Architecture is meant to support that goal.

"Good architecture to me is quiet architecture, oddly. That usually means sort of quiet use of resources because... it's not about showing off the thing, it's about looking at it in a totality," Kundig said, adding that architecture is about the wholesomness of something, rather than the individual pieces. The more a space can resemble a symphony, the better. (He also said this is a really tough idea to get across in print so I hope I've done it justice!)

I spoke to Mayor Mike McGinn briefly about his perception of the space. He said its LEED gold goal was impressive as was its adaptive reuse, unfinished floors and exposed wood.

"It really did have a different look and feel and I think they were demonstrating an environmental consciousness of the building and its operations as well as what they were selling," he said. "I don’t think that’s a usual trait that you see (in car dealerships)."

And for those of you who say any space dedicated to the car can't be sustainable, yes, I asked Greg Smith about that aspect too. Empirically, he said you may be correct, but for now, that's not the reality. He said the opportunity to be a part of something like the Leaf that will revolutionize the auto industry for the better "moves the dial" enormously.

Interesting stuff, don't you think.

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First three living buildings certified in New York, Missouri and Victoria, B.C.

Posted on October 13, 2010

This week, the world's first three living  buildings were certified. The projects are the Omega Center for Sustainable Living in Rhinebeck, N.Y., Tyson Living Learning Center in Eureka, Mo., and Eco-Sense, a private

Tyson Living Learning Center, image courtesy David Kilper
residence in Victoria, B.C.

Omega and Tyson were fully certified as 'Living.' Eco-Sense received 'Petal Recognition' for meeting four of the six goals.

Today's DJC has the story here. I've previously written about Omega here and Eco-Sense here. For much more information, visit ilbi.org.

As someone who's been covering this topic since April of 2007, its really exciting to see this idea become a reality. The cool thing is that these are just the first of many projects around the world. Locally, the Bullitt Foundation's Cascadia Center for Design + Construction, designed by The Miller Hull Partnership, is the highest profile project. Other projects include an addition to the Bertschi School by the Restorative Design Collective that is already under construction and could become the first living building in the area, and The Valley View Middle School in Snohomish, by Dykeman. In Portland, the Oregon Sustainability Center is another high profile project. I, for one, am really interested to see how these projects turn out.

Omega Center For Sustainable Living, Image courtesy Andy Milford
However, I'm also baffled by the national media's failure to cover the story (I should point out that the Seattle Times and The Oregonian have both written about projects involved in the challenge). A month ago, Jonathan Hiskes at Grist interviewed Jason McLennan, the challenge's creator. But that's pretty much it. The New York Times recently profiled Passive Houses. The living building story, especially now that three have been certified, seems just like their kind of feature.

Is this topic too specific to the building industry? Does it not have broad, national appeal? Or am I just not being patient enough. For now, I guess I'll just continue to wait.

For more on living buildings in general, click the living building tab below.

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