Deep Green – Movie Review

“All I know is, I’m alive now and I can do something today, and I can’t in good conscience wait for somebody else to do it. I think the time is now; for me the time is absolutely now. It’s the only time anybody has”. Kathy Bash, Architect with DMS Architects in Portland, Oregon. Of all the people and quotes and sound bites from the film, this is the one that stuck with me the most.

Deep Green, a documentary from Matt Briggs, is not so much about the problem, but about solutions. In his description of his film, Briggs says: “Other films have done a great job of showing us the problem. We wanted ‘Deep Green’ to be about solutions.” And the film does just that. In an hour and 40 minutes (which, in my opinion could have been about 20 minutes shorter), Briggs focuses more on the ways people around the world are addressing ways to reduce their footprint and live a little lighter on the planet than on the problems with our lifestyles. Briggs himself has retrofitted his own home with numerous energy-saving, sustainable features. And he’s apparently still at it, adding some solar here, some composting there; yes, he’s living it.

The film starts out with some basic background data on global warming and climate change, but doesn’t stay there. It dives right in to what’s happening around the world in the areas of clean energy, high-speed rail, sustainable buildings, agriculture and out-of-the-box thinking. Briggs shows how everything is connected and “we all live downstream.”

What I appreciate about the film, enjoying its Eugene, Oregon debut (Briggs is a University of Oregon alum), is it does concentrate on what’s good out there, what we can do and how it makes environmental sense and economic sense. Too often, I think, filmmakers of this genre zero in on the gloom and doom aspects of climate change. We are so close to the tipping point, or have passed it, that the message gets lost in the futility. And that is what sets this film apart from the others. It was a bit long (I would have shown less detail on the clean coal segment and been a little less enamored with China), but still worth the watch. You won’t come away from this film discouraged, downcast or brow-beaten.

Which brings me back to Kathy Bash’s remarks. I know Kathy as a colleague and respect her as a fellow Architect. She has a passion, yet practicality in her view of sustainability. Which makes her opening quote so profound. I am responsible for what I can do. We must take responsibility for ourselves; if we all would do that, we would move forward at breakneck speed.

The Lawrence Street House – Bidding and LEED

I know it’s been a little while since I gave you all an update on the Lawrence House. With the holidays, I took a bit longer finishing the drawings and we really didn’t want to have to be doing open houses during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season. Open Houses are actually kind of a pain. Clean the house, keep it spotless, etc. for a two to three hour window on a Sunday afternoon. So we rested that for a while.

I also got the drawings done and ready to go out to bid. Based on my original budget, we had our present house priced at where we needed to be for a little negotiation and be able to go straight across. Part of the triple bottom line (the three “E’s” of sustainability) is economy and we didn’t want to end up with a mortgage when it’s all said and done.

But I’ve been getting preliminary bids back and they are actually coming in under my original budget (which, frankly, was pretty generous). So now we’re starting to get pretty excited. This may actually happen! We’re also currently at 5kw for the solar and are considering 6kw. We have room on the roof and believe it’s the right thing to do.

We had our first official LEED preliminary rating meeting Friday. This is where we sat down with Eli, our LEED rater, our landscape architect and our mechanical contractor. We’ve already done the design charrette and this is to make sure the major players understand the ground rules for LEED and also what we expect. Third party verification requires some stringent guidelines and we want to do it right from from the beginning. We should easily make Platinum on each house.

We discussed the mechanical systems and how they needed to be designed and installed. The way we are insulating our house, we are foaming the tops of the roof rafters so the heat pump indoor units and the ductwork will be within the conditioned space. That way we don’t have to insulate the ducts and it also makes the system run much more efficiently. We’ll still seal the ducts (the major area of mechanical system inefficiencies) and everything will be ceiling-fed.

We’re thinking the cottage will use a mini-split unit, or ductless heat pump. This is much more efficient, especially in a 776 sq ft house. The main house will have a conventional heat pump, but just a very high efficiency one.

Our landscaping is all low irrigation demand. We discussed at length eco lawn versus regular turf versus synthetic turf. We have just about 3% lawn area, but LEED, to maximize the points, doesn’t allow irrigation or mowing, otherwise you lose those two points. I’ve said all along we won’t chase points, but this is an area we want to be sure we do it right and also have something we will enjoy. An eco lawn in the location we have this might not be what we want. Our landscape architect suggested a synthetic lawn (I know, my first thought is “Astro-Turf“). We are going to go look at one here in town, but I’m skeptical about it. The term “Fake Lawn” is what comes off my lips. I’ll keep you posted.

So that’s where we’re at. I’m hopeful we’ll have the bids come in well and we can get this house sold and start building. The prime building season in Eugene (March – September) is fast approaching.

Good Earth Home Show 2011

This was the second year, we were at the Good Earth Home Garden and Living Show. My architectural firm, Arbor South Architecture had a booth last year and we did it again this year.

This was also the second year we did a seminar. In 2010, we talked about our award-winning LEED Platinum home, theSAGE. This year, I was asked to speak again as part of an Architect focus. By the time I was asked, the topics of building a smaller house, energy efficiency (specifically via the Passivhaus concept) and why to hire an Architect were already taken. So I thought I’d share some of my thoughts that I’ve been sharing with you all here on my blog.

So if you attended the seminar today and enjoyed it, thank you; I enjoyed presenting it. I know the topics were a bit circular and not linear, but as I mentioned, everything is connected. And when everything is connected, it’s very hard to go in a straight line. This affects that and so on. But it’s rewarding to realize how one thing we do can affect another, which in turn can affect yet another. It kind of makes the shift in our paradigm and lifestyle choices all worth it.

I appreciated your questions and comments today. I do welcome your comments on the seminar. What you liked and even what you didn’t like. I also encourage your suggestions on what I should talk about next. Topic ideas are always helpful. For those who are interested, Click Here for my Front Porch article.

Thank you for allowing me to present you with a “shameless plug” for this blog. And again, thanks again for attending!

The Carpet and The Dust Mite

For many years, the concept of wall-to-wall carpeting was marketed to us for our homes. The truly cool, hip homes had carpeting everywhere. Soft, warm and conducive to walking around barefoot, carpet was the status symbol of the 1970s and 1980s.

I remember the house I grew up in. It had linoleum in the bathrooms, kitchen and family room and wood flooring in the rest of the house. I guess in the early 1960s in Oregon, wood floors were cheap. Well, inexpensive at least. When I was in Junior High (Middle School for those of you younger than 45), my parents decided to join the “wave” and carpet the whole house. I resisted. I liked my wood floor. It was a beautiful, warm reddish-brown. And it was easy to keep clean. Not that cleaning my floor was anything I ever really did (I was 13, after all). So, after much prodding and stubbornness on my part, I convinced my parents that while they were going to carpet the rest of the house, they should leave my bedroom the wood floor. And I won.

So the entire time I lived at home (which was until I finished college and got married), my bedroom had a wood floor. I’d like to say I was smart and ahead of my time and all that, but really I just liked the wood floor.

Since then, I have learned that carpeting is probably one of the dirtiest, hazardous-to-your-health aspects of our homes. We spend almost 90% of our time indoors, so the indoor environmental quality (IEQ) of our homes is very important. And in a study “Allergy-Resistant Housing – Principles and Practice”, common allergens in the home list dust mites, pollen, pet dander and fungi and molds high on the list of importance related to the effects these things have on our health. Dust mites feed on human skin flakes and live and breed predominately in our carpets. Pollens get tracked in on our shoes and clothes and can easily be transferred to our carpets.

Cleaning carpet is an interesting concept. Most vacuum cleaners just stir the dirt, dust and mites around. Have you ever seen a vacuum when you first turn it on have that “puff” of dust and dirt go flying around? Think about that for a minute then tell me if you think it’s really doing any good, serious cleaning. We have a central vacuum system in our current home so at least the dirt goes outside our home into a canister in the garage.

But the wake up call or realization or whatever you may want to call it came the first time we had the carpet professionally cleaned. The extractor water was black. And I’m thinking “I’m walking on this, laying on this to watch TV, breathing this.” And while we have some wood floors in our home, most is still carpet. The other thing we’ve noticed is when we dust mop or simply sweep the wood floors, there is an incredible amount of dust and dirt. And my wife and I think “this is also throughout our carpets…”

You may notice in my posts that we are designing a new, smaller home. We are also targeting a LEED Platinum rating. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a third-party rating system for sustainability and healthy buildings. One of the LEED emphases is hard-surface flooring. They, too, recognize the health benefits to not using carpet.

So as we are designing our new home (view the Lawrence Street House posts), we’ve committed to using all hardwood floors. Everywhere. We will have no carpet. If we have rugs, they will be throw rugs that can be removed and cleaned periodically. And we will have a healthier home.

The Lawrence Street House – Rainwater, Part 1

In addition to harvesting the solar on our site, we are seriously considering harvesting our rainwater. Eugene gets about 50 inches of rain each year. The rooftop of our main house is about 3,400 sq ft (remember, this includes porches and the garage), and our secondary unit has a roof area of about 1,570 sq ft.

There are several resources you can get online to calculate how many gallons of water this translates into. that’s helpful as we get into our irrigation demand and other things we might want to do with our water.
I’ve talked with the people from RainTech in Jacksonville, Oregon, just over 150 miles from here. Their system (pictured above), is called RainSpace. It’s underground, simple low-tech and just seems elegant to us. Visit their site, watch their installation video and see what we mean.
We’re hoping to use rainwater for all our irrigation and maybe even flush our toilets and wash our clothes with it. I’ll get into a bit more about that tomorrow. Meanwhile, check out RainTech, their green certifications and learn a little more about their company.

The Lawrence Street House – Front Porch continued…

I know it’s been a while since my last post. There are a couple of reasons for that. First, I’ve been in the final stages of completing my Sustainable Building Advisor class and the last part of the class got even more intense. Second, we’ve been also finishing the working drawings so we can get bids and find out just where we’re at on our budget.

In this post, I want to kind of tag on to my Front Porch article previously in April. This has been a huge part of my wife and my personal culture shift and paradigm that it became a major part of our design. It is also a major part of our landscaping layout. Thankfully, our landscape architect, David Dougherty (Dougherty Landscape Architects), who designed our landscaping in our present house 11 years ago was called into service to design our new one. David understands our desires (our current landscaping is incredible), sustainability and front porch philosophy.
Because our house faces probably the major bike and pedestrian east-west connection through town, we wanted to have our house relate well to that. It’s interesting that our City code allows us, because we are on a corner lot, to pick one side as the “front” and the other one as the “side”. This means, if we wanted to, we could build a 6′ high, solid wood fence the entire 150 foot length of our lot along this wonderful ped/bike corridor. Real neighborly, huh?
Of course, that would be totally contrary to what we envision for this house. We want to be part of the neighborhood, not project this idea that “this is my space; stay out.” Yet, because we are on a major circulation path, we do want some level of privacy for our outdoor living space. From the street as well as from the secondary home. Therein lies the challenge.
And David met that challenge. The image above is a segment of our conceptual plan, showing the porch and the yard. You can download a full size plan by clicking here, but I want to focus my discussion today on just the front porch and the yard.
I’ll start with the yard first. As I said, we wanted some level of privacy when we’re out having a barbecue or family gathering. After all, this is a major circulation path. Not a wood fence or hedge of arborvitae. This isn’t a major path for cars. We were mowing our lot the other day and in a fifteen minute period or so, I counted 22 bikes, 6 pedestrians and 2 cars passing by. So sound privacy isn’t much of an issue. We also don’t want to be completely on display. David captured that essence wonderfully and we are now taking this conceptual plan to that next level with only minor changes. We are reducing the lawn size even more (that IS our only lawn area — about 250 sq ft on a 9,000 sq ft lot) and providing some more patio for our outdoor table, chairs and umbrella. I’ll go into more detail as this progresses in a later post.
If you’ve read my April post about front porches, you’ll understand why our front porch is the way it is; if you haven’t read it, do that now, then return to this spot. We are envisioning some stone insets between the porch steps and the sidewalk wrapping around the corner. This allows people to cut the corner walking from 15th to Lawrence (they will anyway, so why not go with it?) and makes a hugely-inviting “front” to our home. My wife and I can see ourselves sitting out on the front porch on a Saturday morning, greeting passersby and maybe even inviting them up for a cup of coffee or ice tea (if summer ever arrives…). Neighborhood is all about this interaction and that is some of what we’ve lost in our recent trends in house and subdivision design.
That’s probably enough information for anyone to process in one sitting. As I mentioned, I’ll talk in more detail about some of our other landscape ideas later.
But this parting thought: most people design a house, get everything done, sometimes even start construction, THEN think about colors, plants, patios, etc. It needs to happen sooner, in this earlier stage of design, so the indoors and outdoors have some cohesive connection (and so it fits into the budget). Good design is comprehensive.

The Lawrence Street House – Refinements Pt 2

We have refined the exterior as well as the floor plan and are now very happy with every aspect of the design. Click here for a larger image of the south elevation.

We’ve added arbors over the south windows at the living room and over Brenda’s potting bench area off the garage. The front porch is reminiscent of the Craftsman Bungalow houses from the early 1900s. We want to blend in with the rest of the neighborhood. We also want to capture the front porch concept that is missing in our culture. More on that later; this is something stirring deeply in us.
I’m also meeting in a couple of days with our LEED Rater to get started on our LEED certification. And, I’m now starting on the design for the Secondary Dwelling Unit that will be located along 15th by the alley. More as that progresses, too.
We’re getting more and more excited about our new home!

The Lawrence Street House – Refinements

The design is progressing. We’ve been in the refinement stage of design development, taking the thoughts and ideas that came out of our design charrette and massaging the design.

We’ve been working 3D and in plan together; that’s always a good thing. Many designers start by getting the plan worked out then “forcing” an elevation on it. That’s dangerous and can lead to amazingly mediocre design.
We work in plan and 3D at the same time, going back and forth, thinking about how a change might affect the exterior as well as how the spaces work.
One thing that came out of all this is a relatively major rearranging of our bath/utility core. Primarily this was due to walking out of the Master Bedroom and looking right into the Main Bath and the double doors into the house from the Garage (one in the Utility and one into the Kitchen). We looked at a way to improve both of those layouts and the attached picture shows where we’re ending up.
Utility: is close to the kitchen door, so coming in from working in the yard will be less obtrusive (I think we’ll have a bench in the Garage to remove shoes at least). Nice linen closet and ironing board. We’ve moved the water heater into the ceiling space above the Utility (with a drain pan) which will be insulated and adjacent to the furnace. Nice folding counter over the washer and dryer.
Main Bath: is now even a little more private from the rest of the house. By moving it where we have it, not only do we not come out of the Master Bedroom and look into the Bath, we have a great wall for artwork there and probably will do a shallow recess niche to accentuate that wall.
Master Bath: much better storage (a huge linen), nice window over the toilet and still have our large shower.
Glass Block and Natural Light: we have tried various ideas to get natural light into the interior rooms (Main Bath and Utility). Some of my initial ideas involved translucent ceilings and skylights, but simpler is always better and did prevail. You may notice on the plan small openings at the master shower and the Main Bath tub. These are glass blocks as thru-wall “windows”. The one into the Main Bath tub is a vertical stack of blocks and the one at the shower is a horizontal row just above the counter in the Utility. This will allow borrowed light from the Master Bath to filter into the interior rooms. And, if you’re concerned about privacy, they make glass blocks with filter inserts which allow the light and maintain privacy.
We’re refining the exterior, too and I’ll post that soon.

The Lawrence Street House – Design Development

>Well, the charrette spurred some creative juices, as I mentioned. I’ve spent the last few days refining some things and developing the plan a little further. Refining it a little more. Tweaking it. Making it better.

The last sketch was an exterior idea, very rough. I’ve refined it a bit more and put a little color to it. Amazing what the 3D modeling, sketch paper, a little PhotoShop and some time will produce.
We’re actually, day by day, getting more stoked about our new house. The way it is coming together, the refinements and the minor changes that lead to continual improvements, is amazing.
I mentioned in an earlier post about how well this sort of design process works. It is proving to be true… again.
Our thoughts on the exterior are grey shingle siding above a golden stucco base. That may change when we get down to the final design, but is what we’re going with for now. I’ve also made a few changes to the interior plan — main bath, utility core and den. I’ll post those soon.
I think we’re getting close to jumping into working drawings and details. Just a little more refinement and we should be there.

The Lawrence Street House – Front Porch

This post is Front Porch because we also have a Side Porch I’ll talk about in a future post.

Part of our desire to be downtown is neighborhood. Connecting with people and the whole aspect of our culture that we’ve lost in the suburbs. We’ve noticed, when walking around this neighborhood that people are out front. 15th Street is a major bike and pedestrian connector with more bikes than cars, I think.
So we wanted a place that relates our home design to the street. We found a picture of an old bungalow house that had kind of a corner wrap-around porch. That concept stuck with us. Since our lot is a corner lot, this orientation seemed to make all sorts of sense.
So here’s the result. We have a nice corner porch, south-facing, with room for a couple of chairs to sit out and drink coffee and watch the neighbors walk by. It has what we envision to be a gently curved roof to provide visual interest from the street and protection from the rain as people come to visit. Right now, we’re showing a short sidewalk to each street: Lawrence and 15th.