building a sustainable and resilient community

Better Buildings and the Federal Government

Posted on | April 5, 2011 | No Comments

In today’s class we discussed the various programs, standards, and incentives supported by the Federal Government to promote energy efficient, high performance and sustainable buildings.  We started off by talking about funding… the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency receive substantial funding, but it’s only a fraction of what “other” agencies receive.  Below is a graphic representation of the two agencies funding.

The amount of federal money spent on the DOE and EPA in 2011

We went on to talk about the biggest programs administered by the EPA and DOE, including ENERGY STAR, WaterSense, BetterBuildings, Building America, and most recently, the DOE’s Home Energy Score.  The Home Energy Score is the latest in a long line of attempts at “labeling” buildings or homes.  Labels have been used for years successfully on things like food for nutritional information, and cars for miles per gallon, so labels for homes are often described using these analogies – a Home Energy Score describes the energy “content” (consumption) of a home in the same way that nutritional labels describe the energy content of food.

Nutritional labels describe energy content in food...

...just like Building or Home Energy labels describe energy consumption of buildings.

This Thursday we’ll be going on a field trip to the Water House, 1616 NE 140th, Portland, just north of Halsey.  The Water House is the first WaterSense certified home in Portland, as well as an ENERGY STAR certified home and an Earth Advantage Platinum home.  On this field trip, students will also be gathering information for Assignment #1: use the EnergySavvy online tool to create a basic energy label of the Water House. It is a good idea to go through the EnergySavvy portal once, say with your own house, to get used to the inputs the tool asks for.  Once students have gone through the EnergySavvy online assessment tool, they are to take a screen shot or create a report of the results and put it in their assignment binder.

Our first field trip and our first real assignment!  The EnergySavvy online tool is a great “icebreaker” to become familiar with the idea of gathering inputs for energy audits and energy modeling.  Next week we’ll talk more about labeling within the context of state and local codes and programs.


Why Assignment #7 is first, and Energy Modeling 101

Posted on | March 31, 2011 | No Comments

Because we won’t see results for Assignment #7 unless we start it now!

Assignment #7 is to sign up on the Web site, to see how you use energy in your own dwelling, and to see if knowing how much energy you use will help you save it.  We’ll all “friend” each other on EarthAid, get points, and try to earn rewards.  At the end of the quarter, we’ll see how we did.  Sign up for Earth Aid now using the link below:

Join Earth Aid

(If that doesn’t work, click here)

On this, the last day of March, we are talking about energy modeling.  Students in the class are assigned a term project in which they are to select one building and conduct a complete evaluation of it, including at least three different forms of energy modeling or assessment.  They can pick any three, but a good strategy would be to pick at least one that they feel comfortable with, one that challenges them, and one that is entirely unlike the other two.  For instance, if I were doing a very small building, I feel very comfortable using HEED for smaller structures, so I might pick that first; I find eQUEST incredibly challenging, plus it is an industry standard, so I would pick that one to become more familiar with it; and finally, I might use the spreadsheet analysis method to balance things out.  If I were doing a larger building, I might try to use Google SketchUp with the Open Studio plug-in, since it uses DOE’s Energy Plus as its back end; I’d try Ecotect just to see if I could do it; and maybe I would use EnergyPro as my third, since it is more focused on systems and less on geometry.

There is no right or wrong method to achieving the results of the term project… but be strategic about which programs you pick, have a reason for picking them, and then do your best.  If you encounter problems or don’t know what certain inputs mean, start a list of questions, and bring them to class with you.  Students will have several opportunities throughout the quarter to ask questions of energy modeling “experts” and each other.

Here is a “scale” of energy modeling that we talked about today in class.  There are definitely other types of modeling tools out there, and one of the objectives of this class is to let students try several of them and become familiar with the process of determining energy consumption of buildings.

Energy analysis programs range from those that are based in text inputs to those that function with visual inputs. There is no right or wrong way, but they each have their quirks!

Any questions?  Let me know!


Assessing the Performance of Sustainable Buildings

Posted on | March 29, 2011 | No Comments

Today marked a new chapter in my quest for greener buildings, in the life of this blog, and in the college careers of 15 or so students at the University of Oregon’s School of Architecture and Allied Arts.  Today I started teaching a class called Assessing the Performance of Sustainable Buildings at OU’s Portland White Stag building.  And I’m very excited!  I’ll be using this space to talk about the class, what we’re covering, and logistics of our various assignments and field trips.

Since it was our first day of class, we did introductions, played the “what school did you attend for undergrad?” game, and I asked what the students favorite building was.  A couple of them were so stunned by this question that they were rendered speechless.  LOL.  But it was fine.  I heard that a lot of the students are interested in Renzo Piano, Carlo Scarpa, Herzog & De Meuron, and Antoni Gaudi.  Gaudi is, in fact, one of my favorite architects of all time, and I volunteered that Sagrada Familia is one of my favorite buildings:

Sagrada Familia by Antoni Gaudi

However, in this class, we are going to be looking at buildings a little closer to home.  Buildings that we can really explore, pick apart, understand, and most importantly, buildings that we can energy model.  Can you imagine trying to conduct an energy assessment of Sagrada Familia?  No, neither can I!  I don’t even know that this structure will be enclosed in our lifetime.  But, some of the greatest buildings in history took many centuries to build, and are still standing today.  Haven’t these buildings withstood the tests of time?  Can’t these also be considered sustainable?

The schedule for the class includes several field trips with associated assignments, and a term project, which will constitute the bulk of the student’s “outside of class” work.  For the term project, the students can select any building in Portland (or elsewhere, if a sufficient case is made) to evaluate and conduct an assessment of.  Students have the option of selecting something off of the list of LEED Certified buildings in Portland (of which there are many) or picking their own building.  The only off-limits buildings are those which are field trip destinations (greyed out on the spreadsheet).

Thursday morning’s class, we’ll be covering energy modeling!  Soon we’ll have a class full of expert energy modelers  🙂


2011 Reboot

Posted on | January 2, 2011 | No Comments

Hi all…

If there are any of you out there actually reading still, I clearly fell off the face of the earth for the last 4 months of 2010.  It was a hectic and crazy time at the office and I really only had energy for the work that I do with, well, energy.

That said, I would like to reimagine the GDC with an eye on how it can contribute more to the green economy.  But how?  I am frustrated by the down economy and wish there was something I could to do to help connect the under-employed with innovative jobs in the green sector.  There is still so much work to be done!  This lack of an ability to connect the dots was another reason why I struggled with blogging… what if I don’t have anything to say?  What if I feel that I have nothing to contribute when I can’t provide the one thing that many people want, which is employment?

It is a question that I will seek to answer in 2011, and hopefully I will be back soon to tell you about it.  Until then, thanks for stopping by.


Planes, Trains, Automobiles, and Bikes

Posted on | August 24, 2010 | No Comments

A friend once described Seattle to me as very “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”… things are constantly moving around in that city, whether on land or by water, and it’s a lot to take in, but thrilling all at the same time.

Portland is much the same way, although to a lesser extent.  One thing that is for certain is that bikes get a lot of attention here, which is quite evident when you consider the $620 million Portland Bike plan.  Another really awesome aspect of Portland is the Providence Bridge Pedal, which celebrates both the city’s bike culture as well as it’s many iconic bridges.  One Sunday morning in August, the city shuts down all the bridges – including the highway bridges – and 20,000 people on bikes ride around on them for hours.  This year the route took us up and over the I-5 (Marquam) bridge, down onto the 405, and up onto the top deck of the Fremont Bridge, which reconnects the 405 with I-5 to the north of the city.  It was awesome!   And it looked something like this:

On the 405

Atop the I-5 Bridge

On the St. John's Bridge

Which is not to say that Portland does not also love other forms of transportation as well.  There’s the MAX, which is our extensive light rail system; the Street Car, which has hosted many groups from my hometown of Cincinnati for explorations of its success; the REAL train, aka Amtrak, which is an excellent option for going to and from Eugene all the way to Seattle; and of course, cars, which people don’t really drive that well here.  However, if people do have a car, and they are lucky enough to have a diesel car, they can go to this local garage that I just heard about called Green Drop Garage for a biodiesel conversion.  Apparently they are also in the habit of exchanging oil changes for vinyl records or craft brewed beer.  Or perhaps that was a one-time offer?  Nevertheless, it’s so Portland.

I’m still waiting for the Subaru I thought I was going to get for moving here!  Oh well, I still have Dorothy…

BTW, I think this picture represents the last time Dorothy was truly clean


On the future of ecocities

Posted on | July 26, 2010 | No Comments

Interesting news today out of the United Arab Emirates, where Abu Dhabi has been trying to build the world’s first real “ecocity” from scratch in the 50,000 person Masdar.   Applied Materials last week announced the end of its SunFab solar business, thus effectively killing the manufacturing lines on which Masdar PV was relying.  This marks another recent troubled episode in what was once a very promising project;  Masdar was supposed to be zero-waste, zero-emissions, car free, and powered by 100% renewable energy… a pioneer in the long and costly search for a solution to net-zero living.  (Greentech Media sums up its initial goals and recent set-backs succinctly here.)

All is not necessarily lost though… Abu Dhabi, as the article states, is in fact, loaded, so where there is not a way, there is a bank account to make a way.   Still, will the richest Emirate find tenants to actually move into Masdar?  I hope so, for the sake of this grand experiment, because I would like to see if it’s actually possible.  And since Abu Dhabi seems to be the only ones with enough money to make it happen, I’m rooting for them.


Things that keep me up at night

Posted on | July 8, 2010 | 1 Comment

The title of this post is really a bit deceptive, because, having been through six years of architecture school, there are very few things that can keep me from sleeping.  But, IF I had insomnia, I think the following things might contribute.  And it’s not that I am a perpetual worrier, but I’m just all about being prepared.  I’m just saying.

  1. The oil leak that is destroying the Gulf of Mexico. Duh.
  2. The likelihood of a major earthquake striking the Pacific Northwest in my lifetime. Let’s be honest:  I love my new adopted city, and I’m not leaving anytime soon.  But I am also probably not going to buy a brick or stucco house in this city, not unless it’s been seismically reinforced, or one story (but what’s the fun in that?).  The last time a major earthquake struck here was in 1700, and obviously the city was mostly settled after that, so many modern buildings were built in the absence of a strong seismic code.  And the chances of a big one hitting are pretty high.  Like, 4 in 10 high.  D’oh!
  3. Jevons paradox and Khazzoom-Brookes postulate. Before you get all excited that I’m using strange, big words that you’ve never seen before, check out the Wikipedia articles that I linked to and then come back.  You’ll see that the two concepts are very similar in nature, and that they both allude to one thing: the idea that the more we increase efficiency of technology or energy, the more we consume as a society.   So you can imagine, then, why this might keep me up at night… I work for an energy efficiency company!  Our whole job is to increase the efficiency of buildings and help you save energy, and therefore money.  But I can’t help you save money if – as these concepts state – you end up increasing your consumption because you are saving money.  So, I will beg of you this:  do not become a statistic!  Don’t succumb to these concepts!  Please let me help you save money!
  4. And finally, Hovershark.  I mean, seriously.  What the heck is this?!?  Are they evolving that quickly?!  I only live an hour and a half from the ocean, can they hover that far?!?  🙂

image courtesy of


Loss / Gain

Posted on | June 11, 2010 | No Comments

Dear readers, I apologize for my absence over the majority of the past month.  My life, since my 100th post, has devolved into what can only be described as a hot mess.  There are several very interesting things that I thought about and wanted to share with you, but I could not muster the time or the energy to do so.  Things are starting to calm down and I think I will find that time soon, but for now I want to share some thoughts about the state of my life, and of the world in general.

  1. I was engulfed by “all-hands” company meetings. Although it was a mad rush to get ready for the meetings, I loved it and it was neat to see all the people that I work with in one place.   It was also great to hear that the things that I think are so important are important to the people that I work with as well.  300+ people working towards a higher cause is a pretty powerful thing.  (Net Gain:  Emily + Western U.S.)
  2. I found an apartment and I’m moving.  It all happened very quickly but it took me about 5 minutes to decide that I wanted the place… it’s lovely and spacious and has so much character.   I feel really lucky to have found such a great apartment just in time for summer – it’s effectively been 3 years since I had a home in a neighborhood of my choosing, in a city that I feel comfortable in.  So obviously, that’s been a process.  (Net Gain: Emily)
  3. I’m house-sitting for some very attention-starved animals, one of which I am allergic to. I love animals and for the past year I have lived in an apartment in a house with a dog and two cats.  I am house-sitting in this same house while the owners are away.  One of the cats got attacked a few weeks ago, so he is recovered at an undisclosed location;  as a result, the dog and the other cat have been following almost my every move in the house.  And as much as I like the cat, I am allergic to him!  So it is hard, especially considering the move.  But I am really going to miss the dog.  (Net Loss:  Emily’s 4-legged roommates)
  4. Which brings me to the oily, ruined Gulf of Mexico. Referring, of course, to my love of animals as stated above, what really gets me about this mess is the animals that are being killed as a result.  Not just turtles anymore, but birds, fish, the entire ecosystem.  And as a result of the loss of part of the food chain, people’s livelihoods are being completely obliterated.  I am so disgusted and saddened by the situation, that I have – frighteningly – been rendered numb.  After all, what can I do?  What can YOU do?  We can only sit back and watch as the oil keeps coming out, and beaches keep closing, and more and more ecosystems are destroyed.   It’s totally overwhelming.   I feel, truly, that the best thing I can do is to keep doing my job, and to do the best job I can, so that I can help improve energy efficiency in buildings and hopefully reduce our dependence on oil.    (Net Loss:  Humanity, The Earth, dolphins, etc.)
  5. “Privatize the Losses, Socialize the Gains”. Speaking of losses and gains, someone recently told me that there was a movement afoot to push this type of economic system in our country.  And I have to express how dispiriting I think this is.  I am overcome lately with the sheer number of people who are not doing what they are supposed to be doing, so many of whom are trying to take advantage of others, game the system, or flat out cause this country to fail.   BP, Goldman Sachs, Halliburton, nearly every politician running for office this year…. It’s exhausting.  I am amazed that anyone can even watch the news anymore.  I can only watch fake news on Comedy Central and even there, I sometimes can’t handle it.  So, that’s a little bit of where I’m at right now.  (Net Loss:  my sanity)

I'd like to think this dog will miss me when I'm gone

Anyway.  That’s where I’m at.  I will try to get back to you sooner, rather than later.   Good luck everyone…



Posted on | May 16, 2010 | 2 Comments

I can’t honestly say that I’ve had enough time to process what I got out of Living Future 10, because I’ve spent the last week playing catch up and doing other important things.  So I’m just going to pause to point out that this is my 100th post on the Green Design Collective since I launched in January of 2009, and that’s kind of exciting.  Since launch, the GDC has had:

  • 3,060 unique visitors
  • 4,209 visits
  • 13,765 page views
  • visitors from 91 countries/territories!

Oh how I love statistics.  But let’s see what our top ten countries sending visitors were:

  1. United States (duh)
  2. United Kingdom
  3. Canada
  4. China
  5. South Korea
  6. Malaysia (that’s a cool surprise!)
  7. India
  8. Australia
  9. Spain
  10. Turkey

Welcome to all my international visitors, wherever you live!  And to those of you who actually pay attention on the occasions when I post something of value, I’m going to give you a little bonus tidbit:

Check out this article on Treehugger about the zero-landfill Subaru plant in Indiana.  I know I’ve been threatening to write a post about used cars, and I probably will here soon, but reading this article about the Subaru plant gives me warm fuzzies and actually makes me open to the possibility of getting a new car at some point.  Of course living in Oregon means that if I bought a new Subaru, I’d fit right in.  Now just make it electric and give me a wind turbine to plug it into, and I’ll be all set.


Living Future 10

Posted on | May 7, 2010 | 1 Comment

Greetings from the Cascadia GBC’s Living Future 10 “unConference”. This annual event in Seattle is a chance for many “deep green thought leaders” from around the country to gather and talk about how much energy and resources our buildings require, what this means for our potential as a society, and how we can try to fix things. It’s a bit daunting but it’s been an incredibly useful and inspiring couple of days and it’s good to know how many others are thinking about our problems.

I’ll try to write more when I’ve had some time to process, as well as when I have a full keyboard to write on. In the meantime enjoy my iPhone’s photo of Seattle scenery.

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