energy efficiency

The 13 buildings that are highlighted in this post are among the greenest building and renovation projects of recent years. They include Living Building Challenge certified projects (and a couple of projects that are currently pursuing that certification), as well as some of the highest-scoring LEED Platinum certified projects around the world. (Bear in mind that many traditional and indigenous structures were built using more sustainable materials and methods than those that are typically used in these modern times, so many of the world’s greenest buildings were constructed long before the advent of green building certification systems.) The following projects were all built or renovated within the past decade.

Living Building Challenge Projects

The Living Building Challenge, administered by the International Living Future Institute, is widely recognized as the most rigorous certification system for green buildings; it can also be applied to infrastructure and other types of development projects. It goes beyond most of the LEED requirements. In their own words, “It calls for the creation of building projects at all scales that operate as cleanly, beautifully and efficiently as nature’s architecture. To be certified under the Challenge, projects must meet a series of ambitious performance requirements, including net zero energy, waste and water, over a minimum of 12 months of continuous occupancy.”

So far (as of late 2013), these are the only four buildings to have achieved the full Living Building certification:

Bertschi School’s Living Building Science Wing
Seattle, WA

More Info

Hawai’i Preparatory Academy’s Energy Lab
Kamuela, HI
This building also achieved LEED Platinum certification under LEED for Schools v2007.
More Info

Omega Center for Sustainable Living
Rhinebeck, NY
This building also achieved LEED Platinum certification under LEED NC v2.2.
More Info

Tyson Living Learning Center
(at Washington University’s Tyson Research Center)
Eureka, MO

More Info

[February 2014 Update: A fifth building has now achieved the full Living Building certification:
Smith College Environmental Classroom
, Northampton, MA]

These two ultra-green buildings have also been completed and their project teams are currently pursuing the Living Building Challenge certification:

Bullitt Center (Bullitt Foundation office building)
Seattle, WA

(Living Building certification pending)
More Info

Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscapes
Pittsburgh, PA

This building achieved LEED Platinum certification under LEED NC v2.2.  (Living Building certification pending)
More Info

 

Top-Scoring LEED Platinum Certified Buildings

So far (as of late 2013), the following projects have achieved the highest scores among all LEED certified projects with the Platinum rating (LEED’s highest rating level). Some are new buildings; some are renovations. And a couple of the projects involve interior spaces (office or store interiors) only.

In the United States

LaraSwimmerPhotoSt. Martin’s University, Cebula Hall Engineering Building
Lacey, WA

LEED Platinum NC (New Construction) v2009
(97 out of 110 points)
Info
More Info

Integral Group’s Deep Green Office (remodel)
Oakland, CA

LEED Platinum CI (Commercial Interiors) v2009
(102 out of 110 points)
Info
Video Tour

The Bridge Building (historic renovation)
Nashville, TN

LEED Platinum CS (Core & Shell) v2009
(99 out of 110 points)
Info
More Info

502 Second St. NW office building (historic renovation)
Grand Rapids, MI

LEED Platinum NC (New Construction & Major Renovation) v2.2
(66 out of 69 points)
Info
More Info


In other countries

Pixel office building
Carlton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

LEED Platinum NC (New Construction) v2009
(105 out of 110 points)
Info
More Info

The Change Initiative store
Dubai, United Arab Emirates

LEED Platinum Retail CI (Commercial Interiors) v2009
(107 out of 110 points)
Info
More Info

ITC Green Centre office building
Gurgaon, Haryana, India

LEED Platinum O&M: EB (Existing Buildings) v2009
(99 out of 110 points)
Info

To see other Platinum projects, check out our listing of LEED Platinum Certified Buildings, Offices, and Homes worldwide.

This post has provided a selected, not a comprehensive, list of super-green buildings.  If you know of another completed, ultra-green building that you’d like others to know about, please mention it in the Comments, with a link to information about the project.

Related posts:

LEED Platinum Leaders: January 2012 Update of Top-Ranking States and Countries

Model Sustainable Neighborhoods: LEED ND Developments in the U.S., Canada, and China

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December 11, 2013
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Saving energy saves money. Reducing your energy use will reduce your gas and electricity bills (which frees up funds for other, more meaningful things). It also benefits the environment and your health in a variety of ways. For example, using less electricity reduces power plant emissions from burning fossil fuels, which reduces air and water pollution, and that helps protect everyone’s health and our shared natural resources. It also reduces the emission of greenhouse gases that are contributing to climate change.

This checklist outlines a number of ways that you can conserve energy at home (or at work), by changing your household (or workplace) products and practices related to Heating and Cooling, Appliances and Equipment, Lighting, etc. Most of these strategies are easy and low- or no-cost, and saving energy helps save you money down the road.

HEATING AND COOLING

  • Program your thermostat to provide less heating or cooling at night and during the daytime hours when your home/building is not occupied. If you don’t know how to change the settings on your programmable thermostat, read the manual or ask someone for assistance. (If you’d like to have an easy-to-program, energy-saving thermostat with an elegant design, take a look at the iPod-like Nest thermostat.)
  • On hot and sunny days, cover your windows by closing the shades, blinds, opaque curtains, or shutters; and turn off any lights that aren’t needed (especially any lamps that are using conventional incandescent bulbs, as they emit a surprising amount of heat). And if you live in an area that regularly has hot summers, consider adding shade trees, awnings, or overhangs (particularly outside of west-facing windows) and putting a light-colored roof on your home when it’s time to replace the roof.
  • Avoid or minimize your use of air conditioning, when possible. Air conditioners use a lot of energy, making them expensive to use. In warm weather, try using ceiling fans, floor fans, or a “whole house” attic fan (or in dry regions, an evaporative cooler) instead of AC. These options can often provide adequate cooling.
  • Follow the recommended maintenance procedures for your heating and cooling systems. Replace or clean air filters as specified in the owner’s manuals. Have your furnace or air conditioner serviced if it isn’t operating properly or efficiently.
  • Keep your heating/cooling vents dusted.
  • Keep furniture, curtains, and other objects away from heater/air conditioning outlets, to allow conditioned air to flow freely into the room.
  • Make sure your windows close properly. Fix any broken window panes, seals, or latches.
  • Don’t leave the heat or air conditioning on if you open a window.
  • Weatherize your doors and windows by using weather stripping or seals to minimize air leaks and drafts.
  • Make sure your home is well insulated. Insulate your hot water pipes and water heater, and add insulation (if needed) to your attic, walls, or basement.
  • Hire a home performance contractor to do a home energy audit; they will inspect your home and identify any inefficiencies and seal up air leaks. In many homes, fixing air leaks can save more energy and money than installing a high-efficiency furnace. (One very experienced company that offers these services in California is Advanced Home Energy, formerly called Recurve.) You can search here for a contractor near you who has been accredited by the Building Performance Institute. If you live in California, check out the information provided by Energy Upgrade California.
  • When purchasing a new furnace, air conditioner, ceiling fan, water heater, windows, or doors, choose products that have a high Energy Star efficiency rating. (For windows, at a minimum, make sure you choose double-paned glass.)

Please continue reading. The rest of this post includes tips on lighting, appliances, electronics, and more:

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May 29, 2013
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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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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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Whether you’re a teacher, parent, school administrator, or homeschooler, you might be interested in taking a look at some of these online resources related to green/environmental education. These websites provide ideas for curriculum, lesson plans, and hands-on activities for teachers and students. Many of these resources are related to K-12 education, but some also apply to higher education.

Best Practices in Green Education (U.S. Green Building Council)

Center for Ecoliteracy

Center for Environmental Education

Children & Nature Network

The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education

Earth Day Network: Educators’ Network

Eco-Schools USA (National Wildlife Federation)

EE-Link (from the North American Association of Environmental Education)

Energy Education: Teach and Learn (K-12 energy-related lesson plans and activities, from the U.S. Department of Energy)

Energy Kids (U.S. Environmental Information Administration)

Green Education Foundation (GEF)

Greening Schools project (Illinois EPA):  “Green Your Lesson Plan” directory

National Energy Education Development Project

National Environmental Education Foundation

U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools

U.S. EPA Teaching Center and Environmental Education resources

U.S. Green Schools Foundation: Education/Curriculum

Outdoor education is an important branch of environmental education. The concept of “nature-deficit disorder” is described in the bestselling book Last Child in the Woods.

It’s especially important for urban youth, who may never have spent any time outside of their neighborhoods or cities, to be given opportunities to explore and learn in nature/wilderness settings. At-risk youth can benefit greatly from outdoor learning experiences provided by wilderness programs such as Outward Bound, as well as farm-based programs like those offered by the Center for Land-Based Learning.

For additional resources on green curricula, click here. And if you know of other useful resources related to environmental education, please share your suggestions in the Comments section below.

Related Post: Green Schools Resources and Links (mostly related to greening school buildings/facilities)

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October 4, 2010
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Reducing your water use has multiple benefits. In addition to helping to conserve and protect your community’s vital water supplies, saving water also helps you save money and energy.

According to the U.S. EPA, if all U.S. households installed water-efficient fixtures and appliances, the country would save more than 3 trillion gallons of water and more than $18 billion dollars per year.

Conserving water also conserves energy, because energy is used to treat, deliver, and heat water. If one out of every 100 American homes were retrofitted with water-efficient fixtures, that would save about 100 million kWh of electricity per year—avoiding 80,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions: equivalent to removing nearly 15,000 automobiles from the road for one year. For additional information on the benefits of saving water, see this EPA webpage.

Low-flow fixtures have been on the market for a while. These days, there are also many ultra-low-flow fixtures that conserve even more water without compromising performance. The EPA’s WaterSense program labels ultra-low-flow, highly water-efficient plumbing fixtures that have been independently tested and certified to meet efficiency and performance standards. In addition to being approximately 20% more water-efficient than average products, WaterSense labeled products have been verified to perform “as well or better than their less efficient counterparts.”

To select the most water-efficient plumbing fixtures, you should look for products with certain flow thresholds. The following sections outline the thresholds to be aware of when selecting ultra-low water-use toilets, showerheads, and faucets:

HIGH-EFFICIENCY, WATER-SAVING TOILETS

Toilets are often the source of the most water use (and water wasting) within a home, accounting for nearly 30 percent of an average home’s indoor water consumption. If you have a toilet(s) that uses more than 1.6 gallons of water per flush (gpf)—as do almost all toilets installed before 1994—replace it with one of the following:

  • High-efficiency (or ultra-low-flush) toilet model that uses no more than 1.3 gpf (the current EPA WaterSense standard, as of 2010); or better yet, a…
  • Dual-flush toilet, which has a lower-flush button for liquid waste and a higher-flush button for solid waste; this type of toilet is common in Australia and Europe and is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S. (Dual-flush conversion/retrofit kits are also available to convert a regular toilet into a dual-flush.) Or even better, consider installing a…
  • Composting toilet, which uses little to no water for flushing.

In California, new legislation has mandated that all new toilets sold or installed in the state after 2014 must be high-efficiency toilets. At some point, federal standards might also be raised to this standard.

For commercial/office-building bathrooms, install ultra-low-flush (ULF) urinals in lieu of regular urinals.

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August 25, 2010
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In the past couple of years, several documentary films have come out that are focused on the folly of fossil fuels (such as oil, gasoline, and natural gas), and new films have also been made to bring attention to the broader climate crisis. Most of these movies have been critically acclaimed.

Recent fuel films include:


Gasland (2009): about drilling for natural gas by “fracking” (hydraulic fracturing) (Gasland is currently airing on HBO and via HBO On Demand.)


Crude (2009): about the lawsuit on Chevron/Texaco’s contamination of an Amazon community in Ecuador


Fuel (2008): about biodiesel made from waste vegetable oil


A Crude Awakening
: The Oil Crash (2007)

Also, in the years since the release of An Inconvenient Truth, several new films have been made about climate change; these include:


Climate of Change (2010: Coming Soon): This film was created to present inspiring, uplifting stories of regular people around the world who have spearheaded a variety of local initiatives to combat climate change.


The Age of Stupid (2008)


Climate Refugees (2009)


The 11th Hour (2007)

Click on the links to see trailers or to learn more about each film. Check sites such as IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, and Netflix for reviews.


If you’ve seen any of these films, let us know what you thought of them by posting a comment below.

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July 26, 2010
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In these times of unnatural disasters—such as BP’s oil-hemorrhaging drill “spill,” as well as extreme weather events caused by increasing climate volatility—more people are seeking ways to reduce their carbon footprint: i.e., their consumption of fossil fuels (petroleum, coal, and natural gas). We are all essentially junkies—or oiloholics—who don’t know how to live without these substances.

Power plants (especially those that burn coal), transportation (particularly emissions from cars, trucks, and jets), and energy use for homes and buildings (e.g., for heating and cooling) are the primary sources of carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases, such as nitrous oxide and methane. [For detailed information on the percentage of emissions from different sectors, see the U.S. Energy Information Administration: Emissions of Greenhouse Gases Report and Architecture 2030’s data analysis.]

Until government and industry help shift our infrastructure and economy away from dinosaur fuels and into clean, renewable energy sources, we’ll never be able to get really “clean”—so we should all be pushing for government to end the huge subsidies and tax breaks for dirty energy industries and to support cleaner energy sources (e.g., local solar, wind, tidal power, biomass, and some types of biofuels—a topic for a future post). But we can also do a lot right now, in our everyday lives, to start weaning ourselves off the junk.

In addition to the most obvious steps that can be taken to reduce our direct use of fossil fuels and electricity generated by fossil fuels — such as driving as little as possible and conserving energy and water at home/work/school— there are lots of other ways that each of us can lessen our dependence on filthy fuels. You can do so in every area of your life, from choices you make for your home and household and yard and garden, to your vehicle/transportation, travelfood, and other consumer choices. For example, plastics and many household products (such as common cleaning products and personal care products) contain petrochemicals, most of which are toxic to humans and other animals, so it’s best to choose alternatives to such products (e.g., glass instead of plastic bottles/containers, and natural rather than synthetic chemical ingredients for household/personal products).

I’ve compiled this compendium of several other online resources that list other specific ways that we can start tackling our individual and collective carbon addiction, to gain a decent measure of independence from dirty energy sources:

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July 6, 2010
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