Monday, December 19, 2011

No You Didn't!

I read a lot of Architecture Blogs, Magazines and articles by Architects. I appreciate good design and more importantly the shared collegial exchange by Architects who are excited by building science as a part of their work.

I appreciate anyone in any field who is passionate about their work, open to collaboration, learning and advancing the field for positive change - whatever field that is.

I follow the boys at because in addition to Architecture they are passionate about travel and design and frequently share those passions to their readers. But every now and then I get a blog that is an eye-roller and reminds me why I frequently call Architects the Divas of the building trades. And this recent entry on "What Not to Say to an Architect" was one such entry.

Frankly it comes across as whiny, arrogant, narcissistic and silly. I don't think anyone in any field from Medicine to Building can avoid any of the scenarios of encountering others who in an attempt to connect or to gauge a conversation with someone who inadvertently says something that skirts on silly to outright seeking free advice.

If the idea was to mock the "Architects" that are thinking those responses or the "silly" comments others say - it fails. What it does is insult people be it laypeople or their colleagues and potential clients. Isn't everyone a potential client or colleague at some point? Any opportunity to engage and educate should be viewed as that - an opportunity to learn and to teach.

When I read a blog telling me "silly things" I should not say to anyone in a trade is the ultimate in hubris (and ironic that its also their Christmas blog). Perhaps that blog should be called "things that you shouldn't blog about". It reminds me of the recent open letter to Obama by a wealthy 1%, Leon Cooperman, who is upset with the rhetoric directed to his and his kind. It came across equally vacuous, arrogant and judgmental.

When your blog is your professional voice it is a challenge to write solely on on topic and to stay safely neutral and apolitical. And as I have transitioned my blog to reflect some of the larger issues that interest me, I know that I have strong opinions and political beliefs that often put me at odds with my prospective clients/colleagues. But, why we may disagree on those issues, I would never denigrate or demean anyone whose thoughts on any subject are different than mine. Often out of disagreement comes enlightenment and I am always open to be enlightened.

Boys of Build, your blog was a miss this time. No confusion on what I am thinking, the amounts of comments to your blog showed that to many "didn't get it" and those who expressed as such were rudely and summarily dismissed in the same "snark" that some think pass for both wit and intelligence (neither IMO) and that may be the point.

When your blog is your public face some things for your private one are better left off the mark or off the blog.

Sustainable Holidays

This Christmas I am advocating the "Buy Nothing" this season. In a time of such economic upheaval it seems that while we want to do more to build the economy we are also doing more to simply support an economic platform that is not sustainable.

From the trade in balance with China to high levels of personal debt its a good idea to ask yourself what you really want, really need and can really do without.

With 1 out of 2 Americans at risk of being pushed into poverty and surveys saying 5 out of 6 Americans think they are "doing well" the math simply doesn't add up or the fact that "doing well" is a relative term with little substantive meaning.

Much like the poverty standard in this country set across the board and across the country at $22K for a family of four, a family of four living in Iowa vs California would find themselves quickly homeless on such a low standard of living.

Much like housing we have different needs for different "climates" be they weather or economic.

So what about "buy nothing" does it mean? Well if you want to buy something think about where it was made, the cost, the value, its long term payback period. Apply the same standards for investments in one's home as you would in determining gifts.

Recycle, Upcycle and yes Re-Gift. I am having a Eco gift exchange with an emphasis on household items. Everyone must bring things from their home for the home that they no longer need, use or want. They must be clean, functioning and useful. I need a new mixing bowl and I have a fondue set I no longer use or want. Sounds reasonable? There have been many such clothing exchanges in the past but many of us have more than what we need in our home - from bread makers to dinnerware there are many redundant, duplicate and ignored items filling our pantries and homes. Anything left from the party that goes unclaimed is to be donated to charity. Its a win-win.

If you buy electronics include rechargeable batteries to make less waste. And more importantly buy recycled electronics. They are as good if not better than new. Check out your local 3R Technology firm or similar in your area for great deals.

Use a living tree. Plant a tree in a Terra cotta pot and bring that indoors and later you can always donate it to the local parks or to groups looking to build parks and gardens.
Wrap in what you have. Use newspapers or brown paper sacks you can decorate and design yourself.

Spend time not money. That is the most valuable useful sustainable gift you can give to others.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Upcycle This!

Upcycling is taking something that exists and turning into something else entirely.

We all have done some upcycling in our lives.. from the coffee mug pencil holder to the arts and crafts projects in school turning objects into art or vice versa. The most ambitious and familiar of upcycling is quilting. Taking extra fabric and creating an expression of individuality and practicality and usefulness. The ultimate in sustainability.

Certainly we have seen the log stools or the newspaper stools or pillows (I have one) but here is one I was greatly impressed with was the egg carton stools.

Below is an article from the New York Times Home section documenting one individuals project that became something both useful, practical and yes visually stimulating.

What You Make of It
Turning Egg Cartons Into Stools

Published: December 14, 2011

MY history of trash collecting goes way back. Long before I was the director of Krrb (a kinder, friendlier, hyper-local version of Craigslist) or the editor of ReadyMade (the magazine, now defunct, that billed itself as the bible of reuse for Generations X, Y and Z), I was a skateboarding teenager in California trolling the Central Valley suburbs for building materials for ramps. Even now, living in Manhattan, I keep my eyes open for anything tossed to the curb that might be turned into something beautiful or useful.

Not long ago, I was making my way home from work in Chinatown when I saw something that made me stop short: 100 egg cartons (or egg trays, I later learned) stacked neatly on the curb outside a Chinese restaurant, in preparation for recycling.

The industrial-size cardboard trays had been used to transport 36 eggs apiece from the farm, but lying there nested together, bound with a red plastic bow, they suddenly took on the appearance of an interesting-looking bar or dining stool. Or the makings of one, anyway.

My first prototype was simple: I applied white spray paint to the trays, cutting four small squares (spray-painted black) and affixing them to the bottom as legs, and securing the stack with colorful old luggage straps to add aesthetic interest and structural integrity.

The result wasn’t bad: the cardboard had a nice amount of give when I sat on it, and the nesting trays provided plenty of support. I began to envision a set of six.

But first I needed more trays — at least 500 more. A few weeks of haunting the curbs outside Chinese restaurants, however, yielded only five. Approaching the owners of restaurants and asking them to hold their empty egg trays for me produced only 10 more. I began to wonder if I had just been lucky the first time around. Did it take months for restaurants to use that many eggs? Was another urban scavenger getting there first?

I decided to try one more time, in a more targeted way: specifically, on a Friday night — because that’s paper-recycling time in Lower Manhattan — and on East Broadway between Bowery and Houston, the center of the city’s Chinese bakeries. In less than an hour, my wife, Heather, and I collected nearly 400. The following week yielded at least 100 more, enough to begin my project.

To turn 600 egg trays into great-looking dining stools, I enlisted the help of Jen Turner, an architect and designer in Manhattan who worked with the architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien for years, and knows how to turn raw material into something stunning. We decided to make three sets of two, to demonstrate various possibilities.

For our first set, we went with a colorful, loud 1980s style, christening the stools Madonna and Michael (although I argued for Cyndi and George). This was the simplest set. To make them dining height (17 to 19 inches), rather than bar stool height, we stacked 60 trays for each stool. Then we spray-painted them light green and pink, and wrapped them in Day-Glo pink-and-green rubber tubing we had picked up at Canal Rubber.

For the next set, we wanted a nautical-outdoorsy vibe. Before they were even finished, we decided to call them Scout and Skipper. The construction, again, was simple: 60 trays each, spray-painted army green and various shades of blue, and held together with burlap strips and sisal rope. The most trying part was attaching the natty snaps to Scout’s burlap straps and tying the sailing-inspired square-reef knots on Skipper.

We took a more refined approach with the final set, using felt cord from McMaster-Carr ( for the straps and leaving the trays unpainted. These two we called Marcel and Eileen, after Marcel Breuer and Eileen Gray.

As projects go, this one took a certain amount of thought and experimentation — far more than my first prototype. But it was an adventure all the way around, from collecting the material to designing and building the stools. And it was reassuring to know that if we didn’t like the final product, we could neatly stack the trays, wrap a red ribbon around them and set them out for recycling. After all, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Passive No More

Ijust found this article in EcoHome about Passive House's new alliance with RESNET which should resolve some of the more challenging aspects to the program - primarily the variations in climate within in the United States that requires some variations in what seems to very strident (and often arbitrary) metrics.

This is also I think more in line with NetZero Design which focuses on performance vs extrisincs that have little to do with actual function and purpose - energy savings.

New Certification Will Help Bring Passive House to the Mainstream
Passive House Institute teams with RESNET to offer energy-based rating.
By: Jennifer Goodman

A new certification focused on the energy usage of U.S. Passive House projects will also help raise public awareness of the benefits of the stringent building system.

The new PHIUS+ certification system combines elements of the Passive House standard and the HERS index energy-efficiency rating. The Illinois-based Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS) recently partnered with RESNET to offer the enhanced certification.

By translating Passive House efficiencies into existing U.S. metrics such as the HERS rating, the organization hopes to make the European building system more accessible and understandable to mainstream consumers, says Mike Knezovich, PHIUS communications director.

The industry-recognized HERS rating can help projects qualify for financial incentives more than a Passive House certification alone can, he says. For example, utility companies and local and federal government agencies offer incentives, rebates, and grants for energy-efficient construction that are often tied to a home’s HERS rating. Buildings that meet the Passive House standard can have HERS ratings in the single digits, Knezovich says.

The enhanced certification also is expected to help Passive House buyers more easily qualify for higher appraisals and energy-efficient mortgage loans. “It’s making Passive Houses more marketable and more sellable,” Knezovich says. The new standard also will help to make Passive House buildings more compatible with other green building programs that use the HERS index.

“By harmonizing our standards with RESNET—one of the most respected standards organizations in the country—we expect Passive House to vault into the mainstream, where it belongs,” says Katrin Klingenberg, PHIUS executive director.

The announcement of the new certification follows a recent rift between the Germany-based Passive House Institute and PHIUS, which ended their relationship in August. Knezovich says part of the fallout was because the European group took issue with the idea of partnering with RESNET and other U.S. building industry organizations. Some hard-core Passive House enthusiasts voiced concern that pushing the movement to the mainstream might take away its cachet.

“This was a thing they were completely against, but we saw it as a necessary step in this market and this culture,” he says. “We are going from appealing only to early adopters to bringing this to the mass market, and a whole lot of people want that to happen.”

In addition to holding multiple sessions to train RESNET raters in its new certification, the U.S. organization is also working on initiatives with other groups, including the USGBC and the Earth Advantage Institute, Knezovich says.

“The bottom line on all this is to get Passive House away from a cult-like thing that cannot be touched,” he says. “Let’s really show how it’s something people can do right now to save energy.” for Guests does perfection but this is one project that may make your Guests never leave..

Another project complete, another success story to tell..

In the beautiful location of Oxford, one of our clients required a garden room with a fitted kitchen and bathroom; accompanied with a large decking area. This particular garden studio is perfect for two main purposes:

• All year round Guest House
• A relaxing space during the summer; perfect for hosting barbeques and a spot of ‘Al Fresco Dining’

Tailor made to the clients individual needs, the team worked on the architectural and joinery aspects of the build, completing the project with both the clients requirements coupled with our unique design and expertise.

An important aspect for this build was to ensure the garden room blended effortlessly with its environment and context. The undulating levels of the garden presented a design challenge which was overcome through the implementation of landscaped features to break the hard lines between the studio and garden. With the picturesque garden overlooking the Thames River, it was important for the studio to be placed strategically to make the most of the scenic views it was surrounded by. Both the joinery and architectural team worked hand in hand, ensuring the design and layout would be of a high standard matching its beautiful surroundings.

With plenty of natural light entering through the studio via glazed bi-folding doors, the wood finish on the interior and exterior and a living sedum roof are all touches that provide an environmental building. With additional features such as external spot lighting underneath the canopy, help to create a perfect mellow ambience during the night time; giving the guest house a warm and relaxing sensation. All our garden rooms are fitted with a white glass panel heater and retaining with thick insulated walls, ensuring the outdoor building is nice and toasty during those cold winter months and enabling it to be used all year round.

This particular studio has been designed with multiple functions in mind; as previously outlined it is perfect for hosting dinner parties for family and friends, or as a private retreat to enjoy a nice glass of wine whilst watching the sun set.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Little Green Schoolhouse

I want to introduce a new blog to the roll The Green Schoolhouse Series.

I have recently written for them as many others are in the Sustainable community. Their focus:

The Green Schoolhouse Series is a unique collaboration bringing together corporations, foundations, school districts, communities, media outlets, and volunteers to build high-performance, environmentally-sustainable, LEED-Platinum designed Green Schoolhouses at Title I, low-income, public schools

And as many may or may not know I am currently working a Substitute Teacher in the Public Schools myself. I had left teaching years ago but due to the economy I have come back working as a Substitute and am a great supporter in keeping Education Sustainable by keeping it a PUBLIC enterprise. Education doesn't need "reform" it needs support. Something only needs reforming if its broken. Education isn't broken its been neglected. A very different principle must be applied. Banks need reform, Schools don't.

Feel free to peruse their site or read my post on Green Envy.

The Cost of Living

A recent study came out from the Urban Institute showing the most expensive cities in which to live with the minimum income needed to live there.. and no shock its the same as it has been for decades - Wash DC, San Francisco, New York. To rent a safe, clean, two bedroom home the income to debt ratio shows that the average income must be $60K or greater in most of those cities - an income most associated with technology professionals solely thereby leaving out many in well not so well paid careers.

The long term affects of this is not only are people having to live further away from work, share housing, and live in less secure areas all things that do little to build diverse and financially viable cities.

I am seeing that Seattle which has the double privilege of not only being a tech city pushing housing prices higher it is also a major University city which also contributes to increasing the costs of living.

You would think having a higher income city with expensive housing would be a benefit but in fact its a detriment. Another study by two Brown University Economists found that without diversity of all kinds cities actually decline economically.

The report from the Atlantic.wire is below...

"Cultural Diversity, Geographical Isolation and the Origin of the Wealth of Nations," recently released as a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, charts the role of geographic isolation, proximity and cultural diversity on economic development from pre-industrial times to the modern era.

It finds that "the interplay between cultural assimilation and cultural diffusion have played a significant role in giving rise to differential patterns of economic development across the globe." To put it in plain English: diversity spurs economic development and homogeneity slows it down.

Ashraf and Galor examine the "Great Divergence" in economic development. During the Industrial Revolution, Europe and the New World developed a rate of economic development that far outpaced the rest of the world. "The gap in per capita GDP between the richest regions of the world and the poorest increased from a modest 3 to 1 ratio in 1820," they note, "to an astounding 18 to 1 ratio in 2000."

Many of the most important economists, sociologists, geographers and other social scientists have grappled with the factors that shaped this great leap in economic development. Max Weber famously attributed this divergence to the "Protestant ethic," which emphasized thrift and hard work, propelling entrepreneurship and productivity improvements. Other classic studies attributed the West’s rise to distinctive cultural norms and values which favor individual effort, freedom and the spirit of enterprise.

Still others suggest that its institutions hold the key. In their classic The Rise of the Western World, Douglas North and Robert Thomas argued that the institutions that arose under the aegis of democratic capitalism, turning as they did on respect for individual property rights, enhanced the rate of technological innovation and economic development. Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel put geography front and center, attributing the West’s economic vibrancy to the serendipitous advantages of easy access to raw materials, abundant rainfall, temperate climate and lower disease burden.

Ashraf and Galor acknowledge these factors but argue that what really propelled Europe and the New World's economic ascendance was their relative openness to other cultures, which they measure in terms of greater or lesser geographical isolation. To get at this they develop a "Geographical Isolation Index," based on the travel time to 139 Old World capital cities. They use this measure to gauge two things. The first is the effect of geographic isolation on cultural diversity. The second looks at the effects of geographic isolation on the level of economic development from the 19th century until 1960.

Their findings overwhelmingly suggest that cultural diversity and geographic openness matter significantly to economic development across the board. They draw three major conclusions:

First, geographic isolation served a positive role in pre-industrial times (aka the agricultural stage of development). But it turns substantially negative as industrialization kicks in. "Societies that were geographically less vulnerable to cultural diffusion benefited from enhanced assimilation, lower cultural diversity, and more intense accumulation of society-specific human capital, which permitted them to flourish in the technological paradigm that characterized the agricultural stage of development," they write. "However, the lack of cultural diffusion and its manifestation in cultural homogeneity and rigidity diminished the ability of these societies to adapt to a new technological paradigm, thereby delaying the onset of their industrialization and, thus, their take-off to a state of sustained economic growth."

Second, societies that were geographically isolated all the way back in pre-industrial times continue to be less culturally diverse today.
Third and most significantly, they found that cultural diversity has a positive impact on economic development in the process of industrialization, from its inception through modern times.

All of this is in line with what has been deemed "class warfare" or what the Occupy Wall Street protesters illustrate with their cry for the 99%.

Its not homogeneity that makes a city succeed just like one that is for the 1%, that bubble like existence will its bane of existence. And just like the rural towns of yesteryear and the decline of the major industrial cities, America's major urban cities will suffer the same fate - dissolution and disruption.

"If your housing costs are too high, see how much you could save with a streamline refinance."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Affordable Meds

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The cost of pharmaceutical drugs are rising at the same time record numbers of uninsured is also rising.

Ways to circumvent the costs is by looking how you fulfill your prescription requirements. One way is though using Canadian pharmacies online.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tips to Save Energy

With a larger portion of renters now there is always a concern on how to save/reduce energy costs - affordably and easily.

In many cases asking the landlord is the best advice but often I find in these cases its best to ask forgiveness than permission. Doing it yourself and paying for it yourself is much easier than waiting for a landlord to do it and ultimately raise rents for "improvements". As I pay all utilities anything I do to save money is something I have a vested interest in and would rather pay for directly. In the long run all receipts and expenses should be maintained for warranty purposes and later upon leaving to document improvements made that lend to the overall value of the property - especially when seeking a damage deposit return.

Again, this is in the cases where major structural issues are not being done but simple caulking, repairs and changes to the overall energy performance of a home.

If you are looking for ways to DIY most energy improvements check for excellent tips and ideas.

And to further winterize homes, especially ones with low performance windows, is to build your own storm windows.

Making a storm window

Use standard 1×2-inch lumber to make the rectangular framing for the storm windows. Any type of wood will work fine. Redwood or cedar is rot-resistant and can be stained for a very attractive appearance, but at a higher cost. Pressure-treated lumber holds up well in wet areas, but it does not accept paint well.

Use a miter block to make 45-degree angles. This makes a more professional-looking frame corner joint than just a butt joint. Size the frame slightly smaller than the outdoor window opening to allow room for foam weatherstripping. The compression of the foam will hold the storm window in place.

Use clear acrylic plastic (Plexiglas) for the glazing. Any thickness you find at your home center will work. The efficiency comes from the dead air space, not the plastic or glass itself. If you want something tougher for first-floor windows, use more expensive polycarbonate (bulletproof glass).

If you have a router, make a slot along the inner edge of the frame sides to hold the acrylic sheet. The acrylic sheet will have to be cut slightly larger than the inside of the frame. If you do not have a router, nail some narrow wood stops on each side of the edge to form a slot.

A still easier method is to use a bead of clear silicone caulk to hold the acrylic pane in the frame. In this case, the frame is assembled and painted first. Use a staple gun to staple the frame corners together. Also use a strong glue, such as Gorilla Glue, in all the frame corner joints.

Place the storm window in the opening and note the clearance around it. Buy adhesive-backed foam weatherstripping that is thicker than the gap. Peel off the backing and stick it to the frame. Force the frame into the window opening

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Blackdog Deals

We are delighted to announce Black Dog’s 40% CHRISTMAS OFFER on a selection of our bestselling Gardening & Environmental books!

The books featured this year include the best-selling Kids in the Wild Garden and Kids in the Garden; accessible gardening guides for children packed with fun, quirky projects and vibrant illustrations, and the hugely popular Recycle: The Essential Guide, a basic introduction to the how’s, what’s, when’s and where’s of recycling. Perfect gift ideas for friends and family, there is something for everyone!

To take advantage of the 40% discount, simply email with the book(s) of interest and your delivery address and she will place the order for you.