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It is time to think bigger about architecture and sustainability.  I named my company ecotecuturestudios in order to emphasize the need to combine ecology and architecture.  Well, everyone is jumping in with acronmymns like BIM (Building Information Modeling) and BIPV (Building Integrated Photovoltaics).  These are a great first step, but I think it is time we all think bigger.  Instead of integrating just information or photovoltaics or some fancy recycled insulation, let’s begin designing our buildings (BIG).  BIG is where Green is the norm, every detail has been analyzed for its ability to be sustainable and the amount of energy it takes to make the product.  Everyone wants to run out and buy a new Prius, but they never stop and analyze how much energy it took to build that new car.  Why not buy a very fuel efficient car that prevents the construction of a new one?  The same practice should be applied to architecture and construction.  For example, I love the idea of Insulated Concrete Forms.  However, the foam form is made from a petroleum product.  Isn’t that the real enemy here – the harmful release of CO from the cars we drive every day and our dependence on foreign oil?  This is the point I have made over and over.  We must integrate Green but we must do it wisely.  We must choose the products that make economic sense, we must choose the products that make environmental sense and then we must incorporate them seamlessly into he architecture.  It is time to go BIG with knowledge and passion.

Geothermal Heat Pumps – Green to the Core

Geothermal Heat Exchanging Loop

Heat “pumps” are nothing more than heat exchangers – they “pump” refrigerant from an external unit (the condenser) to an internal unit (the evaporative coil).  The geothermal heat pump (GHP) works in the same manner – except the condenser uses the earth’s consistent 55°F temperature vs. the outside air’s extremely variable temperature.  The condenser portion of the heating system is laid out in a shallow grid system (horizontal ground loop) or is drilled deep into the earth (vertical ground loop).  The system works by exchanging heat (or more appropriately, energy) between the air in our homes with the consistently heated earth below our feet.  The maintenance costs of the systems are low because the pumps are mechanically simple and the heat exchanger is below ground.  As a rule of thumb, a geothermal heating exchanger costs approximately $2,500/ton plus drilling costs (10k-30k).  On average, GHP’s save 70% of the energy used in operating conventional systems – the pump cannot be offset by the earth’s constant temperature.  So, if you couple a GHP with a PV canopy (electricity to run the pump) you have created a carbon neutral heating and cooling system, produced excess electricty to sell to your utility or run your lights and created shaded, elegant outdoor living space.  Furthermore, the 30% Homeowner Tax Credit with no cap applies to both the GHP and the PV system.  Sounds like a win-win-win to me!

Integrating Wind Turbines into Green Homes

Artistan Wind Turbine

The war on ‘Green means ugly’ has been brought to the wind generation front!  Plus, the U.S. Federal Tax Credit foots 30% of the cost with no cap!  A multitude of companies offer products that are both elegant and excellent sources of wind power.    These wind turbines can be integrated into either new designs or used for Green renovations on existing buildings.  The Swedish-built Energy Ball is a beautiful example of an artisan wind generator.  It is availabe in .5kW model that measures 43″ in diameter and a 2.5kW model that measures 78″.  Another great example is the Swift rotary turbine that offers 1.5kW’s of power.  Although the rotary design is not as elegant as the Energy Ball, this turbine is more elegant than a standard rotatry turbine.  The ultimate marriage of contemporary, sustainable designs and wind generation is exemplified by the Aerotecture International  products.  This is the type of integration of Green concepts into architecture that I describe on my Ecotecture Studios sustainablity page.  Green can be in harmony with beautiful homes!

PV Structures are Green & Beautiful

Example PV Canopy

You can read about my beliefs on how PV’s (Solar Panels) should be integrated into architecture at www.ecotecturestudios.com/sustainable.html.  I believe that they should be used as elements of art such as awnings, patio covers and pergolas.  There is no need to place them on your roof as an afterthought and eye-sore.  They can be blended seemlessly into new architecture or added onto existing homes in beautiful and useful ways.  Some great examples I found for commerical applications can be viewed at FlickrSolargen1 and Sunengineer.   For residential examples of PV structures you can visit GoGreenSolar, FlorianSolarProdcuts , GreenEdmonton and SolarLiving.  You can see from these examples that PV systems can be beautifully integrated with your Green building or home.  These examples clearly show that being Green can make your building architecturally stunning and unique!