No Image

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.

Green Architecture and Green Home Plans

Contemporary Ecotecture

Classically Styled Ecotecture

On my website, www.ecotecturestudios.com, I have plans that I have created for clients and speculative construction over the last twelve years.  Some of these plans are larger, but they are all based on the “Not so Big House” concept proposed by Ms. Susanka.  The designs have only rooms you need and use on a regular basis – very few have formal living rooms and a few don’t have formal dining rooms.  The plans on my website for purchase were built Green- recycled waste, recycled lumber materials, advanced framing techniques, low-e glazing on windows, high wall & attic insulation (R-26 & R-50 respectively), high efficiency mechanical equipment & appliances, and the use of materials with low embodied energy numbers.  So, you don’t have to build a contemporary, Ecotecture style home to be Green.  However, it is very hard to produce a neutral carbon footprint and reduce the amount of materials involved in the construction.  The ’transitional’ homes I propose would be somewhat more contemporary in style but introduce some of the Ecotecture elements I have described on earlier posts – earth insulation, some living roofs, PV & wind power generation, and an emphasis on using recycled materials and materials with a low embodied energy.  This transitional home would have sustainable elements and perhaps obtain a neutral carbon footprint, but the elements wouldn’t be integrated into the architecture.  They would be visible and appear to be Greenband-aids or additive to the architecture.  My ‘sustainable’ home proposal is true Ecotecture – blend the ’house’ with the renewable energy elements, the natural surroundings and make the home feel like it is contiguous with nature.  You can neither ’camoflague’ the home nor make it invisible.  The home needs to be a home – the old saying form follows function.  The design or appearance (form) should appear to be a dwelling that is a sustainable dwelling (function).  My vision for these homes is a spectacular blend of all the elements I have discussed in my blog posts:

Use materials that do not require large amounts of energy to produce – materials with low embodied energy numbers (EE) Photovoltaic Panels (Solar Panels, PV’s) being used to shade and control weather (awnings, pergolas, shed roofs, etc.) and produce electricity Wind turbines used as architectural elements and boldly displayed Living roofs that both insulate and provide a raised garden with spectacular views Using the earth to insulate large portions of the home rooms & garages that do not require fenestration can be buried and graded to be part of the landscape bring earth insulation to the bottom of wall fenestration & plant flower gardens so it feels like European flower boxes current construction places your landscaping 3′-4′ below your window and therefore unseen from the interior Installation of geothermal heat pumps that use the earth’s heat deep below the surface to heat and cool the dwelling Apply daylighting and passive solar techniques when feasible and economical Use low energy consuming appliances & mechanical equipment that can be run off the electricity generated on-site  Install LED lamps for electrical lighting and smart control systems to reduce energy consumption Use gray water systems that recycle sink & shower water to be used in toilets Install rain barrels and large cisterns to store water for landscaping irrigation Make the architecture appear to be an element of the earth – the dwelling and nature produce a symbiotic relationship (the dwelling resides upon the earth and interacts in such a way that it enhances the survival of the planet) The architecture is awe inspiring – it is beautiful, new, intriguing, an engineering masterpiece and ultimately inspiring for others to construct the same style home

I believe Ecotecture, like modernism, prarie style, colonial, organic architecture, etc., will eventually become a noted architectural style.  It will be the first style, however, whose form will be driven by the function to be a sustainable steward of the earth.

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!

A Green Roof Equals Outdoor Living Space

Living Roof with Patio

I quickly learned from my trip to Venice, that the roof had the best views of the house.  A small deck sat atop the roof of our hotel which was accessed through a small window and a set of old wooden stairs on the outside of the building.  From that location, you could see the complexity of Venice’s layout and take in the beauty of the centuries old buildings.  I instinctively knew from years of framing houses in college, that the roof offered unprecedented views of Colorado’s Front Range.  However, you are never comfortable on a roof you are building so my fear buried my experiences at the back of mind.  Upon returning home from that trip, I climbed onto the roof of my house and stared west at the Rockies.  It was breathtaking – the added height filtered out the trees and other homes and left only a clear view of the majestic mountains.  I immediately began incorporating second story decks and roof top decks into my architecture.  They accomplished what I was striving to create – a place to relax and absorb the views of the surrounding area.  However, something was missing.  Even though I had accounted for watering systems of potted plants, the decks were seemingly stark and non-organic.  Furthermore, they could only be accessed from one area of the dwelling – usually a public/living space and they were hot. The lack of plants and earth created a very blistering outdoor experience.  The Green roof or living roof, solves all these problems.  You have a beautiful, elevated, private, temperate outdoor living space that covers your entire roof!  Now that’s organic architecture at its finest.  Imagine now that you combine a PV canopy for shade - you’ve created an energy saving and energy creating  roof that you can enjoy year round.

Using Dirt to Create Green Architecture

Earth Sheltered Home

Earth Berm Sketch

There are a lot of Green insulation materials available today.  The best Green materials are recycled materials such as cellulose & denim.  However, these materials require energy to recycle the materials, energy to produce the insulation, energy to transport the insulation and finally, energy to install the materials.  Interestingly, mankind has grown accustom to using these materials as the only form of dwelling insulation.  Why not use a material that already exists on site and costs nothing to manufacture – earth (dirt).  Earth is a natural insulator - it has an R-value of .33 per inch when dry.  When compared to fiberglass insulation, it takes 36″ of earth to equal the R-vaule of a wall composed of 3″ of fiberglass and 1/2″ plywood siding (R-value = 11.25).  This is not mind boggling on its own – however, add the two together and you get an R-value of 22.5!  Ecotecture and Green ideas should involve the use of earth as an insulator.  When coupled with recycled forms of insulation, it can greatly enhance heat loss through walls and the roof.  We should be using dirt below the windows, bury non-living space rooms & the garage, and install living roofs that can be used as exterior living spaces.  When earth is used in this manner, architecture becomes ecotecture.

What is Ecotecture?
May 20th, 2009

What is Ecotecture?

Ecotecture Inspired Building

Ecotecture is the combination of the words ecology (defined as the relationship between living organisms and their environment) and architecture (defined as the art and science of building).  Ecotecture can be used interchangeably with ’ecological design’ and ‘sustainable design’.  The essence of the architectural movement for me, as a designer, is to create beautiful, artistic homes that fully integrates the current Green technology.  It is not an additive style (where the sustainable or Green elements look ‘added’), but rather a style where the Green elements are blended seamlessly into the ‘whole’ of the dwelling.  The dwelling design appears to revolve around the Green elements – they appear to be necessary to the design.  A good analogy is anatomy – the parts that make up the human body are organized and function together.  If you were to ‘add’ to the body – a third arm, a second nose – it appears awkward and abnormal.  My goal in creating Ecotecture Studios is to blend the architecture and the Green elements into one harmonious entity.  Elements of the earth, the ecosystem, the architecture and sustainable elements (wind power, solar power, water conservation, etc.) are blended into one ‘organism’.  When these elements are combined through the design process, rather than added, they produce a breathtaking human habitation system that meshes flawlessly with the natural ecosystem.

Red Light, Green Light
May 17th, 2009

Red Light, Green Light

Compact Fluorescent

LED Lamp

With an M.S. in Illumination Engineering, I can’t help but get excited about advancements in lighting.  Since Edison created the first commerically practical lamp in 1879, the world has been illuminated by the incandescent bulb.  Although they are inexpensive and reliable, their time as our major light source is nearing an end.  The light source has two major problems:  it uses a significant amount of electricity and generates a significant amount of heat.  In fact, the light you are seeing is created by heating up a tungsten filament up to 3000°C!  That heat generated must now be offset by your HVAC system.  The new ‘buzz word’ in lighting is the Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL).  I will never forget seeing my first Compact Fluourescent (CFL) at a CU-Boulder reatreat in 1993.  It was the prototype of the new Greenfluorescent revolution.  Although the CFL is significantly more energy efficient, has a longer lamp life and a lower operating temperature, it is still fatally flawed.  First, the standard model off the shelf cannot be dimmed.  It requires a more costly, electronic ballast in order to be dimmed.  Second, the CFL is a disposable nightmare due to the Mercury contained inside the bulb.  Well, have no fear, the lighting future is upon us with the introduction of LED lamps for residential and commerical use.  LED‘s, or Light Emitting Diodes, have a bulb life of 60,ooo hours (6 times that of a CFL and 40 times that of incandescent) and use 70% less energy than a CFL (see Light Bulb Comparison Spreadsheet)!  Although these light sources are currently expensive, they can save you up to $674 a year by replacing your incandescent bulbs ($.23/kWh assumed in study).  In fact, when compared side-by-side with CFL’s, they pay for themselves in less than a year.  LED’s are the wave of the future and are truly the Green alternative when it comes to lighting!  Check them out today at EcoLEDs and reduce your carbon footprint.

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!

Seeing Green
May 7th, 2009

Seeing Green

Welcome to our blog! The world of sustainable architecture and green building is evolving so rapidly that it’s hard for even a ‘green geek’ like me to keep up on the latest materials and trends that make the vision of sustainable living a reality. I am constantly researching new products, techniques, materials and vendors that can allow us to push the envelope in green design. I intend for this blog to be a forum to share my latest findings and theories in eco-friendly architecture and how I’m incorporating them into Ecotecture Studios’ gallery of sustainable designs. From living roof systems to heat transfer methods to photovoltaic systems and much, much more, our mission is simple: to design beautiful, sustainable homes. Check out our new Web site at www.ecotecturestudios.com and stay posted to this blog (or subscribe via RSS feed) for regular updates and news.