News Room : Archives : May 2013


Posts Tagged ‘houses’


Passive Vs LEED Vs Net-Zero Energy

Sunday, May 5th, 2013

I write about Passive Houses a lot. I think it’s time to provide some background on how this efficient-building standard compares with others.

Passivhaus may look like a funny spelling, but actually it’s just a normal spelling, in German, a language in which “haus” means building, not house. Passivhausen can be schools, offices, anything.

PH simplicity

In contrast to hybrid cars, Passive Houses arguably are a step back to greater simplicity. Via Albert, Righter & Tittmann Architects

“A building so well insulated that it needs no heating or cooling systems” could be called the philosophical definition of a passive house (PH).

In reality, nearly all PHs do have heating systems. The philosophical goal is not too hard to attain in parts of California; for that matter, there are climates so equable that traditional housing never had heating or cooling systems. But in central Europe and most of the US and Canada, PHs have some kind of heat input on tap for some times of year. The Passivhaus Institut (PHI) defines a PH as maintaining thermal comfort with its ventilation system alone—heating and cooling only the amount of air you need to replace anyway for air quality reasons in an airtight house.

It’s often said that a hair dryer would be enough to heat a PH—an exaggeration, usually, though the heat from appliances and human bodies is a very significant input in a PH. Depending on locale, PHs typically use only one-tenth as much energy for heating and cooling as houses built to current codes standards.


The Indicator: Living Sustainability – International Business Times

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

Courtesy of Mark English

Sustainability can be associated with wildly expensive technological advances. Which not coincidentally can immediately turn off clients.

So how do we define it? What does it mean, from a resource-conservation standpoint, as well as from a business one? For one viewpoint, we turn to Mark English, AIA. He has promoted sustainability efforts on several different levels for years. That means that not only does he incorporate sustainable strategies in his designs, he also helps other firms implement them in their work. He has been involved in programs including the California Solar Initiative, Green-point Rating, and he is also a Director on San Francisco’s AIA Board. He also edits two online publications including “Green Compliance Plus” where articles explore such topics as Passive Houses and the debate on Green Certification, and which also assists other professionals in meeting energy-efficient goals. Another publication, “The Architect’s Take,” presents news from an architectural standpoint. In fact one of those articles provided the basis for some of this author’s work.

Courtesy of Mark English

But what is most interesting about Mr. English’s approach to sustainable strategies is they are practical, which appeals to those who think that sustainability is merely a fad. Instead, Mr. English observes that implementing green strategies is not about faddish technological advances. It is about saving money. No, we aren’t discussing those persuasions which start with, “Well, yes it does cost a lot but in ten years, you’ll more than recoup your initial outlay.” Instead, Mr. English offers some pragmatic tips, observations, and goals.

For example, when asked what his goal is in promoting sustainability, here is what he says, “Sustainability is about common sense. It isn’t a movement, a reaction, or a philosophy. It’s simply about doing no harm, making thoughtful choices, and being concerned with the impact of your actions over time. It is essentially a conservative approach to life and building. Obviously, to care about this requires not thinking about yourself all the time. My main goal in promoting sustainability is maintaining common sense. Every intervention is expensive in every sense of the word; time, impact, resources, risk. A successful building is one that lasts because it is relevant and delightful.”

Courtesy of Mark English

That said, it’s true that, “Sustainability, as it’s commonly expressed, IS a fad. It’s the Prius effect, the conspicuous expression of non-consumption. Typically, there is a generational divide amongst architects, with the younger, or the renegades of any age, preaching a utopian vision meant to distinguish themselves.

The education is in the basic conservatism of real sustainability. It’s about not wasting. Dollars and cents are understandable by everyone. ‘Show me the numbers.’
A case in point is the sexiness factor of certain elements of the Green movement. PV panels for instance are a great thing, but using them to offset wasteful energy use is foolish…Make practical green fixes before going solar.”

Interestingly, some of this results from certain entrenched sensibilities within the architecture profession: “The preoccupation with fashion and style is as pervasive a problem in architecture as it has always been. Even ‘Sustainability’ is now a style. No one asks why a Platinum LEED 8000 sf house should ever be considered sustainable, let alone built.

The most sustainable home is the home not built- the second most sustainable is the home that lasts hundreds of years, and because of it’s good design, is adaptable through the ages. Not everyone in the public realm is asleep. Architects are their own worst enemies, and the preoccupation with fashion that infuses our design juries, and the magazines that spread the word, show us to be lightweights. I’d like to see Architects valued as key components in society. I’d like to see the architectural profession focus on:

  1. Being instructed in the actual building of structures, and then actually building something.
  2. Being instructed in, and expected to understand, basic passive heating and cooling concepts. Untrained people all over the world ( Mesa Verde, Mali etc.) know this, so should we.
  3. Being a valued problem-solving part of society at every level. No one has potentially the broad sweep of knowledge that the architect has. Architects have to be willing to get politically involved, and value that involvement.

As for contextualizing sustainability within the larger goals of architecture, Mr. English observes that, “Obviously, architecture has as a basic central goal the solving of problems, utility. In practice, most people and societies tend to think in terms of short-term goals. Promoting economic development now may include creating a soon-to-be obsolete building or collection of buildings. This may create “jobs”, but be ultimately wasteful or counterproductive. We are building with real things- concrete, steel, glass, not ideas. Promoting sustainability gives our profession meaning at the most basic level.”

Here are some additional ways of thinking about sustainability. First, don’t build a new building—an approach Mr. English also promotes. Adaptive re-use, like Altoon + Porter’s Southwestern Law Library offers architects opportunities to be creative while reducing the impact architecture has on the environment—see the 2030 Challenge. Second, implement passive strategies for new structures that are not costly but render a lot of benefit, not the least of which is saving money. Third, implement more technologically advanced strategies—e.g. micro-turbines and photovoltaic thin-films. Which leads to the fourth suggestion: design buildings that return energy back to the environment and the grid. Buildings, existing and new, are the problem, but they also present opportunities for solutions.

Sherin Wing writes on the social, cultural, and political aspects of architecture and design for Metropolis Magazine. Her writing has also been featured in The Huffington Post. She is co-author of the forthcoming book, The Real Architect’s Handbook: Things I Didn’t Learn in Architecture School. She received her PhD in the Humanities from UCLA. Follow Sherin on Twitter.
The opinions expressed in The Indicator are Sherin Wing’s alone and do not represent those of ArchDaily and it’s affiliates.
New book out soon! ‘The Real Architect’s Handbook: Things I Didn’t Learn in Architecture School’, by Sherin Wing and Guy Horton.

Sherin Wing writes on the social, cultural, and political aspects of architecture and design for Metropolis Magazine. Her writing has also been featured in The Huffington Post. She is co-author of the forthcoming book, The Real Architect’s Handbook: Things I Didn’t Learn in Architecture School. She received her PhD in the Humanities from UCLA. Follow Sherin on Twitter.

Here is the original post:
The Indicator: Living Sustainability – International Business Times

Comments Off on The Indicator: Living Sustainability – International Business Times

Category Technical News | Tags: Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Social Networks : Technorati, Stumble it!, Digg,, Yahoo, reddit, Blogmarks, Google, Magnolia.

musgum clay houses

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

musgum04musgum earth architecture

designboom has dedicated a large amount of time to learn more about clay – one of the earliest natural building
materials in history of men. our intent is to promote earth also as a building material of the future.
it represents an excellent alternative to cement whose manufacture releases considerable quantities of CO2.
individual housing units and small apartment buildings can easily be built from earth in every part of the world.
however, concrete remains an essential material for high-rise construction. the research effort should be
therefore two-pronged: tailoring earth to the needs of modern construction and making concrete ‘greener’.

in this first article of a series, which we will publish in the upcoming weeks, we’ll examine a few ancient building

the musgum, an ethnic group in far north province in cameroon, created their homes from compressed
sun-dried mud. the tall conical dwellings, in the shape of a shell (artillery), featured geometric raised patterns.

musgum clay houses in cameroon

what strikes at first sight is their almost organic simplicity, a second reading reveals the functions behind the forms.
the walls of the houses are thicker at the base than at the summit, which increases the stability of the building.


a characteristic settlement form is the compound, a cluster of units linked by walls

the domed huts of the musgum people are built in shaped mud, a variant of cob.
cob building is the most widely used technique in the world, since no tools are needed
– hands, earth and water are enough.

the name of these houses (‘cases obos’) comes from their similarity with the profile of shells.
it is very close to the catenary arch, the ideal mathematical form to bear a maximum weight
with minimal material. this profile also reduces the pressure effect of the impact of water drops
on the walls. furthermore, the extraordinary height (up to 9 meters) of these houses provides
a comfort climate during hot days. the top of the house is pierced with a circular opening,
allowing the air to circulate, resulting in the sensation of freshness.
today, these buildings have become somewhat obsolete, with only a few groups still practicing
this ‘cases obos’ type of construction.

it is customary to lay the mud spirally in lifts of approximately half a metre, allowing each lift to dry before adding the next.

drawing of a musgum dwelling

cross section of a musgum dwelling

… in the shape of a shell

curves and grooves are the language of natural forms.
the musgum house follows the profile of shells – the arc of a chain.
bows and vaults obtained in this way can be very slim and allow the use of a minimum
of material for maximum rigidity. the arc adopting the inverted profile (figure below)
will only work in compression and does not produces parasitic twisting or bending moments.


maintenance of a musgum

the decorative surface allows for further refinement and individualization.
the veins are also contributing to the drainage of rain. the musgum houses require
regular maintenance of the coating and the veins allow people to climb atop the building.

the construction technique of musgum clay houses is currently also mentioned in the
exhibition ‘ma terre premiere pour construire demain’.
it explores how and why we should build with earth.
on show at the cité des science et de l’industrie, paris until june 10th, 2010.

View original post here:
musgum clay houses

Thousands of Homeowners Sick from Toxic Chinese Drywall

Thursday, October 8th, 2009


During the housing boom, thousands of homes were built with cheap drywall imported from China. The drywall turned out to be contaminated with sulfur, and was powerful enough to corrode metal and make anyone living in the houses ill. TreeHugger was on the story when the first case surfaced in Florida at the beginning of the year–but it went largely under the radar for months. Now, thousands of people across the country are getting sick in their own homes.

The most unfortunate part of this story is that it could have been avoided at any number of points along the way–especially after the first known case was revealed in Florida, and the builders instead insisted there was nothing wrong. Nevermind the fact that metal was corroding for no apparent reason, and the house’s occupants were falling ill.

And then after Lloyd Alter wrote about the story here, it took a full two months for the major media outlets like the Washington Post to pick up the story–who knows how many more people moved into or continued to live in what are literally toxic homes in that time.

Lloyd turned out to be right every step of the way during this disconcerting saga–when he noted that 550 million pounds of the drywall had been purchased, enough to build 60,000 homes, and that the toxic drywall could be everywhere.


Because now the New York Times is reporting that there are literally thousands of reported cases of people falling ill from living in homes built with Chinese drywall. There are more than 300 reported cases in Louisiana alone. Experts estimate that as many as 100,000 house will have to be torn down.

The kicker is that the bulk of these homes are in states like Florida, Virginia, and Louisiana–states where there was a high demand for housing materials after they were ravaged by hurricanes. Which means many of these people had their homes torn down by a storm, and are now having them torn down once again.

Originally posted here:
Thousands of Homeowners Sick from Toxic Chinese Drywall

Comments Off on Thousands of Homeowners Sick from Toxic Chinese Drywall

Category Homeowner News | Tags: Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Social Networks : Technorati, Stumble it!, Digg,, Yahoo, reddit, Blogmarks, Google, Magnolia.