green building/design

Generators are typically used to provide electricity during power outages (e.g., during storms, emergencies, and related disaster-relief operations) or in off-grid situations or areas where there is no access to a built-in power source (e.g., on construction sites, on camping trips, or at outdoor events—for concert stages, food booths, etc.). So, in a nutshell, they’re mostly used for temporary, portable/mobile, back-up, or remote power needs.

Conventional generators have a number of downsides. They require gasoline (or diesel fuel), which can be expensive—especially during emergencies, when there can also be gas shortages. The stinky emissions from gas-powered generators also contribute to air pollution and climate change, and they can cause carbon monoxide poisoning when placed inside a home or building, or too close to doors, windows, or vents on the outside of a building. (In fact, several people who were using generators due to Hurricane Sandy died from carbon monoxide poisoning.) Furthermore, gas generators are very loud.

Solar generators provide a smart, silent, safe, and clean alternative that uses renewable energy (no fuel = no emissions), and there are a number of products available to choose from these days. (Biodiesel or hybrid generators are other options to consider.)

Below is a list of the U.S.-based solar generator brands that I’ve looked into so far; this is not a comprehensive listing.  If you know of other brands of solar generators and would recommend them, please let us know in the Comments. Thanks!

SolManSmall-Scale, Compact Units

These solar generators are designed to provide a modest amount of electricity for temporary, emergency, or low-use power needs. The smallest units can easily charge gadgets and power lights, but do not have the capacity to run large, power-hungry equipment or appliances (e.g., refrigerators or heaters) for more than a short time. (For example, a 1500-watt unit can generally only run a small space heater for up to 2 hours or so at night, when the unit is not being recharged by the sun.) The average price among these compact options is somewhere around $3,000 – $4,000, though you can find some that are less expensive (note: the cheapest products often use panels or components that are made in China). The prices could change significantly in coming months and years, as the cost of solar panels continues to go down, and battery and photovoltaic technologies are evolving rapidly.

SolMan (from Sol Solutions, based in Northern California)

EasySun (from Suburb Solar, based in Northern Michigan)

Ready2Go (from E.A.R.T.H., based in Hawaii and Southern California)

SUNRNR (A.K.A. Sun Runner, based in Virginia)

Larger Systems

Some of these are intended for use on construction job sites or public works projects. Most are mounted on trailers that can be towed. While many of these generators are meant for commercial/industrial uses, some could also potentially be used to power an entire off-grid homestead.

Mobile Solar PowerEcos PowerCube (based in Florida)  [added 8/14]

Mobile Solar Power (based in Central California)

Pure Power Distribution (based in Southern California)

SolaRover (based in Colorado)

 

 

Some companies offer hybrid systems that allow for back-up generation using biodiesel, if solar power is not providing adequate energy for a user’s needs.

Please chime in with additional info and recommendations based on your own experience or knowledge of solar or biodiesel generators!

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November 12, 2012
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Conserving water is becoming increasingly important, and it has become a necessity in areas that are suffering from drought. According to the UN, by 2025 (in less than 15 years), 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water-stressed conditions, as a result of water shortages from climate change and rising levels of water use due to a growing population.

Reducing your water use will not only lower your water bills and help prevent potential water shortages. It also reduces the strain on municipal water systems and infrastructure (e.g., sewer, water treatment and distribution), which helps reduce the energy, maintenance, and the associated taxes required to run and expand those systems. Using less water can also save you money on your energy bill, because electricity or gas is used to heat your water. Water conservation also leaves more water available for critical uses, such as drinking, growing food, and fighting fires; and it keeps more water in lakes, rivers, and streams for aquatic species.

These are some of the ways that you can reduce your household water use, both indoors and outdoors:

INDOORS:

  1. Replace your toilets, faucets, and showerheads with high-efficiency (WaterSense labeled) plumbing fixtures, or at least add aerators to your faucets. Consider getting a dual-flush toilet. Switching to such fixtures results in significant water savings.
  2. Do not let faucets run longer than is necessary for your task. And when you turn a faucet off, make sure that it is turned all the way off.
  3. Try to take short showers, or don’t take a shower every day (if you aren’t really dirty—from work, exercise, recreation, etc.).
  4. When using a clothes washer or dishwasher, only wash fairly full loads (or select a light-load setting for small loads). If you’re buying a new washer, select a high-efficiency, water-saving model. Front-loading washing machines are typically more efficient than top-loading machines.
  5. Wash dirty dishes immediately or soak them before hand-washing, so that they can be washed off more easily and quickly (requiring less water).
  6. If a faucet is dripping or if your toilet is running (for too long after it has been flushed), have the leak fixed right away. A leaking toilet can waste more than 50 gallons of water each day, and a dripping faucet or showerhead can waste up to 1,000 gallons of water per week (according to ResourceVenture.org). Also check for washing machine or dishwasher leaks (usually found where the hose is connected to the machine or at the shut-off valve). Familiarize yourself with the water shut-offs behind your toilet, sinks, and washing machine, as well as the water shut-off for the entire house, so that you know how to turn off the water when needed.
  7. As the saying goes, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” There’s generally no need to flush a toilet after it’s only been peed in one time. Hold off on flushing until the toilet has been peed in 2-3 times or has been used for “doing #2.”
  8. Compare your water bills (or water meter readings) from month to month and from year to year, to monitor the results of your conservation efforts and to look for any sudden spikes in water use, which could be caused by leaks.

OUTDOORS (yard / lawn / garden):

  1. Water your yard/garden during the coolest and least windy time of the day (usually early morning) to avoid losing a lot of water via evaporation.
  2. When you add new plants, trees, or other vegetation, select drought-tolerant or native/adapted plants that require little, if any, irrigation. To get information on how to choose the best plants for your area, click here.
  3. Putting mulch on your garden or landscaped areas can help the soil retain moisture longer.
  4. Turf grass typically requires much more water than groundcover or shrubs, so the less lawn area you have, the less irrigating you will need to do. If adding or reseeding grass areas, select a drought-tolerant grass variety or consider replacing the grass area with groundcover. As an added bonus, most types of groundcovers and some types of grasses will only grow a few inches tall, so they would rarely if ever need to be mowed.
  5. If you are installing an irrigation system, choose a high-efficiency irrigation system. Drip, micro, and bubbler irrigation systems are more efficient than spray or sprinkler irrigation, because they deliver water directly to plants’ roots, minimizing evaporative water loss.
  6. If you have an irrigation system or sprinklers, make sure that all spray or drip spouts are oriented in such a way that they are watering planted areas only and are not watering the sides of buildings, pathways or other paved areas. In addition to wasting water, allowing water to pool up on pavement can make it slippery to walk on an can degrade the pavement over time.
  7. Also, for irrigation systems, perform (or have an irrigation specialist perform) regular system checks and maintenance, to make sure there are no leaking heads, pipes, or valves. Make sure the irrigation system is not watering the lawn/yard/garden during (or immediately preceding or following) rainy days. Even on dry days, make sure the system is not over-watering the plants or over-saturating the soil. If the irrigation timer runs on a battery, make sure it is working and change the battery as needed; if the battery is dead, the system could allow non-stop watering (which would waste a lot of water). Re-program the system seasonally and as necessary to adjust to weather conditions. Winterize the system before the first frost of each year. If issues arise, consider hiring an irrigation professional to do an irrigation audit.
  8. Consider adding rainwater collection barrels/tanks at downspouts (or a bucket in your shower or yard, or a greywater system) for use in watering your yard/garden.
  9. Sweep your sidewalks and driveway (and other paved areas), rather than hosing them down.

At a broader level, two of the most effective ways to reduce water use (indirectly but significantly) are: to reduce your energy use (because the generation of electricity typically requires enormous amounts of water), and to reduce or eliminate your consumption of meat (because raising meat animals, especially corn-fed factory-farmed beef cows, requires enormous amounts of water).

For more information on water conservation, visit these websites:

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August 30, 2012
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Below is a listing of companies that offer green dwellings in the form of modular, prefab/manufactured, compact and/or mobile structures. These days, there are many such options available that are not only green, but also beautiful, well-made, and often low-cost. Some of these structures are homes or cabins/cottages, while others can be used as an addition, a backyard studio, office, in-law unit/guest house, or some other type of “accessory dwelling unit.”

They come in a wide range of sizes, from teeny-tiny one-room spaces (e.g., 100 sq. ft.) and small units (see the Tiny/Compact Structures section below) to conventionally sized homes. They are also available in a wide variety of styles; some have traditional designs, while others have a very modern look. Some are available as plans and/or DIY kits, and others have designated builders. Many can be modified or customized.

Prefab (factory-built) homes have many benefits. They can be built more efficiently (e.g., less material waste), more quickly, with more precision and durability (i.e., higher quality), and they typically have more predictable costs (and often cost less) than site-built homes.

The levels of greenness vary among the following options, but all of them tout some green features.

This is not a comprehensive listing; there are many other companies that make similar types of green structures. I’ve provided links below to other directories that list additional options. If you know of another green modular, prefab, mobile, or small home designer or manufacturer that you would recommend, please share it in the Comments.

Note: The asterisk (*) shown after certain listings indicates that those companies seem to offer at least one low-cost/affordable option. Some of the other companies might also offer such options, but specific pricing isn’t available on all of the websites; in some cases, one must contact the company for pricing information.

Blu Homes (offices in CA, MA, and MI)

BlueSky MOD (based in Toronto, Canada)

Clayton i-house

Clever Homes (based in CA)

Eco-Infill (based in CO)

EcoMod Structures (based in WV) *

FabCab

IdeaBox (based in OR)

Jot House *

Lindal Cedar Homes (see Mod.Fab and Lindal Architects Collaborative; Lindal has an international network of dealers) *

Living Homes (based in CA)
C6 = their low-cost option*

Marmol Radziner Prefab (based in CA)

Method Homes (based in WA)

New Old Green Modular Home (from New World Home)

OHOME (Healthy Buildings Technology Group; based in CA)

OMD (Office of Mobile Design; based in CA)

Piece Homes (Davis Studio Architecture + Design; based in CA)

Rocio Romero LV series (based in MO) *

Stillwater Dwellings (based in WA) *

Studio 101 Designs (based in CA)

2morrow Studio (based in VT) *

weeHouses (Alchemy Architects, based in MN, with factories around the country) *

Xtreme Green Homes (based in NC, SC, and VA)

ZETA Communities (modular multi-family developments; based in CA)

For a listing of MANY other types of modular/manufactured homes (some of which have green features), see this compendium.

Books on green prefab homes:

Prefabulous + Almost Off the Grid: Your Path to Building an Energy-Independent Home, by Sheri Koones

Prefabulous + Sustainable: Building and Customizing an Affordable, Energy-Efficient Home, by Sheri Koones

Prefab Green, by Michelle Kaufmann

Prefab, by Allison Arieff


Tiny / Compact Structures  *
(some of which are mobile)

Many of the companies listed above offer one or two options for small dwellings, while the following companies specialize in small structures:

Ecopods (based in Ontario, Canada)

GreenPods (based in WA)

kitHAUS (based in CA)

L41 Home (based in BC, Canada)

Leaf House (based in the Yukon, Canada)

Little Green Buildings (made w/ SIPs; based in WA)

Little House on the Trailer (based in CA)

Modern-Shed (based in WA, with dealers in all states)

Tumbleweed Tiny House Co. (house plans and some pre-built homes; some are mobile)

Wee Cabins (based in MN)

weeHouses (Alchemy Architects, based in MN, with factories around the country)

YardPods (based in CA)

m-ch (Micro Compact Home; based in Germany)

For a listing of many other types of small homes (some of which have other green features), see this Tiny House Directory.

Resources on small homes:

Tiny House Blog

Small House Society

The Small House Book, by Jay Shafer

Little House on a Small Planet: Simple Homes, Cozy Retreats, and Energy Efficient Possibilities, by Shay Salomon

And here’s a listing of other books on compact design.

 

* Low-cost/affordable option(s) available

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July 30, 2012
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In addition to writing posts for this blog (The Green Spotlight), I write articles and blog posts for MotherEarthNews.com and other publications, and I do writing and editing work for clients. I almost never mention my other work activities here on my blog, but it occurred to me that some readers might like to know a little about my other writings and my professional background.

I have been a published writer for more than two decades. I was a writer, reporter, and producer for public radio’s Living on Earth program for several years. More recently, I was a contributing author for the book Blueprint for Greening Affordable Housing (2nd edition, edited by Global Green USA, published by Island Press). I wrote the chapter on Green Operations and Maintenance, as well as one of the case studies featured in the book.

I’ve written numerous articles and commentaries on green building and other environmental topics. My articles have been published by more than a dozen media outlets (e.g., magazines, newspapers, public radio, and online media), including:

  • San Francisco Chronicle
  • Natural Home magazine
  • Environmental Design + Construction magazine
  • Urban Land’s GreenTech magazine
  • Living on Earth radio program
  • GreenBuildingAdvisor.com
  • GreenHomeGuide.com
  • KQED.org, and
  • Environmental News Network (ENN.com)

I’ve also written and/or edited guides, manuals, newsletters, reports, website content, marketing materials, case studies, and other types of publications on behalf of companies, non-profit organizations, and government agencies. My clients have included: New Leaf Community Markets, the David Brower Center, Global Green USA, Environmental Defense Fund, Partnership for Sustainable Communities, Enterprise Community Partners, Simon & Associates Green Building Consultants, the National Building Museum, the U.S. Green Building Council’s Northern California Chapter, EduTracks, ICLEI, Industrial Economics, Lehrer Design, Compendia, the City and County of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment, Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority, Ecobanca, and the Resource Renewal Institute.

Here’s a small selection of some of my writing work in recent years:

  • Case studies on a few of the campus projects and programs that received the 2010 and 2012 University of California/CSU/CCC Best Practices Award: UC Santa Cruz Campus’ Water Efficiency and Water Management Improvements; UC Irvine’s Medical Education Building; and CSU Sacramento’s American River Courtyard residence hall. Written on behalf of the UC Berkeley Green Building Research Center / Lehrer Design, 2011-2012
  • Green Operations & Maintenance Manual for the Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority, along with a Healthy Home Guide for SMHA residents, December 2011
  • “Chemical cleaners can introduce poisons, health risks into the home,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 22, 2007

And the following are a few of my stories that were broadcast on public radio’s Living on Earth:

 

I invite you to visit my PUBLICATIONS page for a more comprehensive list of writings and broadcast pieces that I’ve written, edited, or produced.

For information about the editorial services that I offer, please visit my Writing and Editing page, and feel free to contact me with any questions.

-Miriam

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May 30, 2012
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Please take a look at The Green Spotlight’s Facebook Page to see our daily green blurbs and links. You can view the page even if you don’t have a Facebook account. But if you do have an account, we hope you’ll click on the Like button (if you haven’t already “Liked” the page).

Visit the Page to get a sense of the wide variety of topics that it covers, and feel free to comment on the posts or add your own.

Here’s a sampling of topics that we’ve spotlighted on the page over the last month or so:

  • One Planet Living principles
  • The Great Animal Orchestra, a new book by Bernie Krause
  • 2012 Cleantech Forum
  • Buckminster Fuller Challenge 2012 semi-finalists
  • The Future of Hope, a film about Iceland
  • Waking the Green Tiger, a film about China
  • Urban Roots, a film about Detroit
  • Physicians for Social Responsibility
  • Rural Renewable Energy Alliance
  • Good Jobs, Green Jobs regional conferences
  • Wastewater treatment technology that uses renewable energy
  • Evolve electric motorcycles and scooters
  • Better World Books
  • GMO food labeling
  • The growth of clean energy markets
  • The top B Corp businesses
  • TED talks (e.g. urban farming and enterprise in a school in the Bronx)
  • Quotations from Thomas Edison, Wendell Berry, Barbara Kingsolver, etc.
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March 27, 2012
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Green Building & Design is one of this blog’s main content categories. The following are some of the posts on green building-related topics that have been published on The Green Spotlight or on its sister site (M. Landman Communications & Consulting):

On green building projects:

On green products and materials:

On other green building topics:

A lot of new green building content will be added to the blog in coming months. These are some of the topics that we’ll cover in upcoming posts:

  • Green product certifications, eco-labels, standards, and lifecycle data
  • LEED ND certified projects: Update of completed neighborhood developments
  • One Planet Communities
  • Green operations & maintenance practices for households (and for building managers)
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February 28, 2012
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Platinum is the highest rating in the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green building certification program. Building projects that have attained this rating are among the greenest in the world.*

I recently added newly certified Platinum-rated projects (buildings, homes, offices, and stores) to my online listing of LEED Platinum Certified Building Projects Worldwide, which I had last updated a year ago. The listing is organized by country and—within the U.S.—by state. Some of the listed projects are linked to online case studies. The listing includes projects of all types, from every LEED rating system: New Construction (and Major Renovations), Existing Buildings/Operations & Maintenance, Neighborhood Developments, Commercial Interiors, Core & Shell, Homes, Schools, and Retail.

As of my latest review of the data (at the beginning of January 2012), it appears that there are now more than 1,045 LEED Platinum rated projects worldwide.

While the vast majority of these LEED projects—about 950 of them—are located in the United States (where LEED was created), Platinum rated projects now exist in 25 countries; a year ago only 16 countries had LEED Platinum rated projects. The nine countries that gained their first LEED Platinum projects over the past year are: France, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Taiwan, and Turkey. The other countries with LEED Platinum projects are: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, India, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, and of course the United States. After the U.S., India is the country with the most Platinum projects, with about 35 projects so far (up from 20 a year ago). Canada and China also have many Platinum projects.

Within the United States, 49 of the 50 U.S. states (all states except North Dakota)—plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico—now have building projects that have achieved the LEED Platinum rating. A year ago, Alabama and West Virginia did not yet have any LEED Platinum projects, but now they do.

In terms of the absolute number of LEED Platinum certified projects in each state, here are the top 5 states with the greatest number of LEED Platinum projects (at last count):

So California has more than 2.5 times more Platinum projects than any other state—but that’s not too surprising since it’s the most populous state in the country.  On a per capita basis (i.e., as a percentage of population size), Washington D.C. has more LEED Platinum rated projects than any of the states. And when you add in the 50 states, here are the Top 5 with the greatest number of LEED Platinum projects per capita:

  1. Washington, D.C.
  2. Oregon
  3. Montana
  4. Vermont
  5. New Mexico

The range of Platinum project types is very broad. In addition to high-profile projects (such as the iconic TransAmerica Pyramid in San Francisco, which got the Platinum rating for its upgrades under the LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance rating system) and a number of high-end offices, retail spaces, and luxury residences, LEED Platinum projects also include several public buildings and many modest homes and affordable housing developments. For example, there are dozens of Habitat for Humanity-built LEED Platinum homes around the country, and more than 75 affordable Platinum homes built in New Orleans alone through various initiatives, including Make It Right.

* Another green building certification, which is widely considered to be an even higher bar to reach than LEED Platinum, is the Living Building Challenge. To date, four projects have achieved the Living Building Challenge certification: the Tyson Living Learning Center in Eureka, Missouri; the Omega Center for Sustainable Living in Rhinebeck, New York (which also got a LEED Platinum certification); and the Eco-Sense home in Victoria, British Columbia. The latest project to achieve this certification (along with a LEED Platinum certification) is the Hawaii Preparatory Academy Energy Lab in Kamuela, Hawaii.

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January 19, 2012
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Take a peek at The Green Spotlight’s Facebook Page to see our daily blurbs and links. Anyone can view the page, whether or not you have a Facebook account. But if you do have an account, be sure to click on the “Like” button to join our growing online community (if you haven’t already); then you should be able to see The Green Spotlight’s posts in your daily Facebook news feed.

Please visit the Page to get a sense of the wide variety of topics that are featured. Here’s a sampling of a few of the solutions, efforts, and success stories that we’ve spotlighted on the page in recent weeks:

  • the electric DeLorean, coming out in 2013
  • LEED for Homes Awards: this year’s winning projects
  • hybrid wind/solar systems
  • Reinventing Fire, the new book by Amory Lovins
  • Earthjustice
  • Global Community Monitor
  • Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition
  • Green Corps’ Field School for Environmental Organizing
  • Silent Spring Institute
  • Arctic Live
  • Revenge of the Electric Car (new documentary)
  • CleanTech Open: this year’s finalists and Forum
  • Brower Youth Awards: videos and info about this year’s winners
  • Solar Decathlon home design competition’s winning projects
  • DIY solar installations in Ypsilanti, Michigan
  • how to size a solar PV system for charging an electric car
  • B Corporation legislation passed in California
  • quotations from Ray Anderson, Buckminster Fuller, Annie Dillard, and others
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October 26, 2011
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Most conventional paints and coatings contain and emit Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Some types of VOCs contribute to smog, and many VOCs are emitted or “offgassed” indoors and contribute to indoor air pollution. VOCs can cause respiratory problems and some are known carcinogens.

I have written a 4-page overview of VOCs and other toxicity issues related to paints and other types of coatings. For the free download, just click on this link:

How to Select Less-Toxic, Low-VOC Paints, Primers, Stains, and Coatings [PDF]

Fortunately, almost every major paint manufacturer (and retailer) now has a low-VOC or zero-VOC product line. Most of these products are also low-odor, as some VOCs are responsible for to that noxious “new paint smell.”

I maintain an online product listing of Low-VOC and Zero-VOC Wall Paints, which I recently updated. The listing includes natural paints (e.g., plant- or mineral-based), as well as more conventional synthetic (e.g., latex/acrylic) paints.

A few paint manufacturers, such as AFM Safecoat and YOLO Colorhouse formulate their entire line of paints and primers to be low- or zero-VOC and low-toxic. While most low-VOC paints are interior paints, some brands (including those two) also offer low-VOC exterior paints.

My listing indicates which paint lines have been Green Seal certified or SCS Indoor Advantage Gold certified. GreenGuard also certifies paints; it has a basic Indoor Air Quality Certified program, as well as a more stringent Children and Schools Certified program. All of these certification programs are primarily focused on testing products’ VOC emissions.

Unfortunately, synthetic paints often contain other toxic compounds, beyond VOCs, such as phthalates (which are endocrine-disrupting chemicals), propylene glycol and glycol ethers (PGEs), certain heavy metals, and toxic biocides or fungicides. (Green Seal’s certification standard prohibits the use of some of those compounds.) See this Pharos article for additional information on paint toxicity.

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September 26, 2011
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