This idyllic 15-acre farmhouse is the worlds second Living Building residence

February 21, 2018 by  
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A picturesque 15-acre farmhouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan was just officially crowned the world’s second “Living Building” residence by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI). The owners of Burh Becc at Beacon Springs , Tom and Marti Burbeck, spent five years working with a team of 20 designers, engineers, architects and sustainability experts to transform their 2,200 square foot home into an icon of truly sustainable living that gives more than it takes. The beautiful farmhouse, whose design was inspired by traditional Tuscan farmhouses, has a large living space of 2,200 square feet. Additionally, the property has a 2,400 square foot barn and workshop. The farmland had been previously depleted due to years of commodity farming. Following the Living Building criteria, the land was carefully revamped with permaculture farming methods using an integrated system of agriculture, horticulture and ecology, creating a system that will be regenerative for centuries to come. The Burbeck’s not only use these farming methods to grow their own food, but they also provide healthy food for the local community – and for those with limited access to fresh produce. Related: 9 of the most impressive Living Building Challenge certified projects To create a net-zero energy design , the home is equipped with clean energy generation through a 16.9-kilowatt solar array, which provides electricity to the home and back into the grid. Additionally, a passive solar system works with a very tight thermal envelope and a tall cooling tower to minimize heating and cooling needs. A closed-loop geothermal system provides radiant floor heating during the cold Michigan winters. For water conservation, the home uses a rainwater and snow harvesting system to be water net-positive . A rainwater collection system reroutes to supply 7,500 gallons of in-ground cisterns, used for non-potable water. An on-site well provides potable water at the moment to comply with local building codes, but the home is installed with a future-ready potable rainwater filtration system. After more than three and a half years designing the reformation, 18 months in construction and a year of performance auditing, Burh Becc at Beacon Springs Farm was awarded the Living Building Challenge certification in December 2017. Additionally, the home has been awarded a Platinum LEED Certification. When the Burbecks were asked why they took on such an ambitious project, they explained that it just made sense to their lifestyle. According to Marti Burbeck, “As we looked at the criteria for LBC certification we thought, why not go for it. If our goals include helping to change peoples’ relationship with the environment and to change building philosophies, we should start with our own project, and then become advocates.” Now that they’ve achieved their dream of converting Burh Becc into an icon of sustainability, they’re on their way to becoming advocates. The couple plan to host educational workshops and house tours to educate the community, the building industry, government officials, and anyone who will listen about the benefits of truly sustainable living. + Burh Becc at Beacon Springs + Architectural Resource Via CSR Wire Images via Burh Becc at Beacon Springs

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This idyllic 15-acre farmhouse is the worlds second Living Building residence

Low-impact ‘Outside House’ is built on an old lava flow in the mountains of Maui

November 22, 2017 by  
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Oregon-based firm FLOAT Architectural Research and Design recently built the “Outside House” for a client who wants to spend her days communing with nature at its fullest. To provide a strong connection to the surroundings, the architects created two simple wooden cabins – the Mauka house and the Makai house – on top of a three-hundred-year-old solidified lava flow high up in the Maui mountains. According to FLOAT architect Erin Moore, the design was inspired by a back-to-basics philosophy that puts the focus on enjoying nature, “The Outside House is a place to live outside. Two small pavilions shape the basics of daily life and structure an intentional relationship with the land.” Related: World’s most active volcano harbors a tiny off-grid home—and you can stay overnight The first cabin, the Mauka (Hawaiian for “inland toward the mountains” ) pavilion, is an enclosed cabin with a small bedroom. It’s equipped with just the basic necessities – a bed, built-in bench and small desk with chair – and it has a large sliding window that provides beautiful views of the landscape. The cabin is raised off the ground by four concrete blocks to reduce its impact on the ground. The Makai (Hawaiian for “seaward”) pavilion is an open-air deck with a small kitchen that offers stunning view out over the Pacific and the island of Kahoolawe in the distance. The wooden cladding and deck were are made from Juniper – a tree that is harvested for its protective qualities in the Pacific Northwest. An open shower is located on the backside of the kitchen, covered with a privacy panel made out of woven marine rope. Based on the wishes of the homeowner, the construction process took great lengths to protect the land. The architects built the cabins using prefabricated galvanized steel, which was carried to the building site by hand to anchor one of the cabins to the ground, while the other one was placed on concrete blocks. This reduced the impact of the project while also allowing the structures to be easily dismantled. + FLOAT Architectural Research and Design Via The Contemporist Photography by Olivier Koning

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London buses swap out diesel for a coffee-based biofuel

November 22, 2017 by  
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Brits may prefer tea, but their busses will be getting a buzz from coffee. U.K. startup bio-bean , Shell, and Argent Energy have teamed up to fill London’s double-deckers with an innovative new java-based fuel. According to CNN , bio-bean has already brewed up 6,000 liters (1,585 gallons) of the high-octane joe, an amount able to power one city bus for an entire year. So, how is the coffee oil manufactured? As bio-bean shares on its site, the company gathers grounds everywhere from small cafes to Starbucks-like chains to universities and even instant coffee factories. The grounds are then brought to the bio-bean plant where they are dried and coffee oil is extracted. Related: Could coffee help fight cancer? The extracted oil is then blended with other fats and oils to create a “B20” biofuel, which is further mixed with traditional mineral diesel. The new concoction offers a 10-15 percent reduction in CO2 emissions as compared to pure diesel, and prevents the release of any methane that would have occurred had the grounds been sent to a landfill. Notably, the mix does not require a specialized engine and can be used with any diesel bus, making the switch easy. Bio-bean estimates that Britain produces nearly 500,000 tonnes of coffee grounds a year—enough to power a third of London’s entire transport network. At the moment, bio-bean’s plant has the capacity to recycle 50,000 tonnes of grounds a year. Company founder Arthur Kay, however, hopes to scale the project. Kay, in fact, has his sights set on the U.S. where coffee consumption is the highest of anywhere on the planet with 400 million cups downed daily. + bio-bean Via CNN Images via Pixbay and bio-bean

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Angular cedar-clad home in New Zealand is designed to go completely off-grid

October 17, 2017 by  
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New Zealand firm Herriot Melhuish Oneill has created a beautiful eco-friendly home deep in the rolling farmland just outside of Wellington. The Peka Peka House is comprised of three cedar boxes with glazed walls that provide views of the breathtaking landscape – and it’s set to be 100% off-grid. The home’s volume is comprised of three connected boxes. The living and dining area are located in the larger box and the bedrooms are in the second cube. These two structures are both clad in a beautiful black-stained cedar with large windows that connect the living spaces with the exterior environment. The third box, which houses the garage and workshop, was built out of profiled-polycarbonate, and “glows” from within at night. Related:See how the “Kiss-Kiss House” snaps in half like a branch to embrace the landscape The home’s orientation was strategic to benefit from the area’s harsh climate. Thanks to the home’s many openings, the interior is naturally ventilated by the afternoon sea breezes. Additionally, the interior courtyard faces north in order protect the space from any strong winds. The home is surrounded by a timber deck that connects the home to its natural surroundings and lets the homeowners enjoy the outdoors comfortably. The Peka Peka house was designed to eventually go 100% off grid . Installed with PV and solar hot water panels, the home produces a lot of its own energy. To conserve that energy, the insulation in the home is above-code insulation, and an exposed, insulated concrete slab under the home helps retain heat. LED lighting is also used throughout the space. + Herriot Melhuish Oneill Via Archdaily Photography by Jason Mann

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Angular cedar-clad home in New Zealand is designed to go completely off-grid

This startup is training crows to throw away cigarette butt litter

October 17, 2017 by  
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Did you know that cigarettes take twelve years to decompose on average? That’s a big problem, as they are the most littered item on Earth – every year, approximately 4.5 trillion cigarettes are discarded with little regard for the environment. The new startup Crowded Cities has a plan to rid streets of this type of pollution – and it involves training crows to exchange cigarette butts for food. It’s a well-established fact that crows are one of the smartest animals in the world. Not only are they skilled problem solvers, they can create and use tools . Dutch startup Crowded Cities is developing a device that trains crows to collect discarded cigarettes . In exchange, the crows receive peanuts. The CrowBar is based on a design created by an American inventor . The device has a large funnel where cigarette butts can be deposited, and a dispenser for releasing peanuts . The hope is that crows get busy cleaning up the streets in exchange for some easy food. The task isn’t impossible, considering Crowded Cities has a four-step plan to train the crows. Related: Meet Cig, the sea turtle made of over 1,000 cigarette butts strewn on a Florida beach First, the machine offers a piece of food next to a cigarette butt on a small platform. This trains the bird to expect food from the machine . Second, the machine begins dispensing food only after the crow arrives at the machine. This teaches the crow how to operate the CrowBar. Third, the machine presents only the cigarette butt with no food. Confused, the crow will begin pecking and looking around. When he/she inadvertently drops the butt into the dispenser, food will be released. The fourth step is to remove the cigarette butt entirely, leaving only a couple scattered on the crowd in the nearby area. The crow will begin collecting butts from the surrounding area, bringing them to the CrowBar, then dropping them into the dispenser for food . At this stage, the training is complete. The startup is in the process of building a prototype to test whether or not the design will work. Because cigarettes are filled with toxic chemicals, Crowded Cities will monitor the crows’ health and behavior. If the method proves successful and the birds aren’t adversely affected by the cigarette butts, you may see a CrowBar in your city in the near future. + Crowded Cities Via Popular Mechanics Images via Crowded Cities , Pixabay

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HonoMobo’s container homes can be shipped anywhere in North America

July 19, 2017 by  
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Canadian company HonoMobo is taking the stress out of building a new home with its ultra-green, ultra-swanky shipping container homes that can be sent anywhere in North America. Designed to be move-in ready, the repurposed structures make for great tiny homes – and they can even be combined to create bigger spaces for large families. Organized to be move-in ready, HonoMobo structures are designed by registered professionals and just need a foundation and utility connections to get up and running. However, these tiny spaces are solar-ready and can be used as off-grid structures as well. For optimal energy efficiency, the homes come pre-installed with highly-efficient climatization systems and high-grade insulation. Related: You can order HonoMobo’s prefab shipping container homes online The prefab structures are constructed in 10-12 weeks in a controlled environment in order to reduce waste and construction costs. Created to take the stress out of building a new home, the buildings are compliant with most local building codes. For extra assistance, the HonoMobo team works with clients and local contractors to ensure that the property is ready for installation. The container homes range in size from 200 square feet to 1,520 square feet and can be stacked or combined to create additional, personalized layouts. They have an open, flexible floor plan and come with plenty of storage. Large floor-to-ceiling windows give the home a strong connection to its environment and flood the interior with natural light . For interior and exterior design, the repurposed structures come with a number of high-end finishes such as drywall, quartz, cedar flooring, etc. + HonoMobo Images via HonoMobo

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Envirohaven’s super green geodesic homes can be built in just a few days

May 26, 2017 by  
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Geodesic homes are extremely energy efficient – and they’re a great option for those looking to reduce their footprint while living off the grid. Nevada-based company, Envirohaven , is offering beautiful, custom-made “eco havens” that can be constructed virtually anywhere in just a few days. At 1,600 square feet, the prefab structures are not exactly “ tiny homes “, but their decagon shape only measures 32 feet across. The design is ultra-efficient, affordable, and can be custom made to suit individual tastes. For easy assembly, the structures come with a set of site-specific engineered plans that are guaranteed to qualify for local building permits. Related: Zendome: Gorgeous Geodesic Domes Create Flexible Green Spaces The homes can be built using 30 percent less materials than conventional structures of similar stature. Each home ordered comes standard with sustainable green windows , siding sheeting, and a waterproof coating. They can be equipped with solar panels on the roof as well. Due to the nature of the decagon design, which places the core of the home in the center, energy consumption is minimal. Heating and cooling the home requires minimal energy thanks to the close proximity of the rooms. According to the Environhaven team, an entire house can be heated with a just a simple pellet stove – even in extreme cold climates. The many windows also help provide optimal air circulation during the warmer months while filling the home with a natural light . + Environhaven

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Envirohaven’s super green geodesic homes can be built in just a few days

May 26, 2017 by  
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Geodesic homes are extremely energy efficient – and they’re a great option for those looking to reduce their footprint while living off the grid. Nevada-based company, Envirohaven , is offering beautiful, custom-made “eco havens” that can be constructed virtually anywhere in just a few days. At 1,600 square feet, the prefab structures are not exactly “ tiny homes “, but their decagon shape only measures 32 feet across. The design is ultra-efficient, affordable, and can be custom made to suit individual tastes. For easy assembly, the structures come with a set of site-specific engineered plans that are guaranteed to qualify for local building permits. Related: Zendome: Gorgeous Geodesic Domes Create Flexible Green Spaces The homes can be built using 30 percent less materials than conventional structures of similar stature. Each home ordered comes standard with sustainable green windows , siding sheeting, and a waterproof coating. They can be equipped with solar panels on the roof as well. Due to the nature of the decagon design, which places the core of the home in the center, energy consumption is minimal. Heating and cooling the home requires minimal energy thanks to the close proximity of the rooms. According to the Environhaven team, an entire house can be heated with a just a simple pellet stove – even in extreme cold climates. The many windows also help provide optimal air circulation during the warmer months while filling the home with a natural light . + Environhaven

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Envirohaven’s super green geodesic homes can be built in just a few days

Amazing solar house generates enough energy to share with its neighbors

May 17, 2017 by  
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Although the Netherlands may seem like a tranquil place to live, its climate can be quite volatile. Frigid winters and searing summer heat make energy efficient home design a must – local architects such as Joris Verhoeven Architectuur are creating amazingly efficient designs that don’t sacrifice on aesthetics. The firm’s sophisticated “Positive Energy House” in the small village of Sterksel is a solar powerhouse that generates enough energy to share with its neighbors Although energy efficiency was the objective of the design, the architects did not want to sacrifice aesthetics. Therefore, the building materials were chosen to create a sophisticated design. Muted grey brick cladding gives the home a contemporary feel while providing the home with an ultra-thick layer of insulation. The slanted roof was chosen to enhance the home’s style while maximizing the energy output of 44 south-oriented solar panels . Related: 8 homes that generate more energy than they consume In fact, orientation was key to creating the ultra-efficient design . On the interior, all of the communal living spaces were built on the “sunny side” of the home to maximize light and natural heating. Integrated solar blinds and screens on the windows block the sun from overheating the interior during the hot summer months. On the back end of the house, a lovely canopy-covered terrace offers a tranquil outdoor area for the family. + Joris Verhoeven Architectuur Photography via John van Groenedaal

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How stone can help you create a more sustainable home

November 23, 2016 by  
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From the pyramids at Giza, to Stonehenge, to Machu Picchu, it is no coincidence that all of the longest lasting human structures are made from stone. Stone lasts forever, is natural, and is readily available in the environment. When it comes to outdoor landscaping or interior applications that see a lot of use and moisture (i.e. kitchens and bathrooms), natural stone is often the most durable and lowest-maintenance choice for surfaces. Unlike wood, plastics or composite materials, stone will not rot, mildew or disintegrate over time. From granite, to marble, to slate, read on to find out more about how natural stone can help you create a more beautiful and sustainable home. The stone walls at Saksaywayan outside of Cusco, Peru, are still in great shape after 1000 years! photo courtesy of wikimedia Durability = sustainability As I argued in my article Resilient Design is Green Design , the ability to stand the test of time is the epitome of sustainability. Out of all of the building materials that humans can utilize to create structures, stone is the longest lasting, and for this reason, the most sustainable. Image via Pixabay Architects and builders have always held stone in a high regard due to its durability, aesthetic, and ease of maintenance, but one of the most compelling reasons for homeowners to consider stone is its environmental sustainability . And this doesn’t just mean “sustainability” in the stereotypical treehugger sense of low carbon footprint, but also the material’s ability to endure over time. Unlike bricks or concrete, natural stone requires no baking or heating and is a fully formed, finished product upon extraction. This means no additional CO2 needs to be released in producing it. Natural stone also doesn’t have toxic chemicals like VOCs that can off-gas into your home, polluting the indoor air, unlike synthetic surfaces such as carpeting and vinyl. If positioned optimally within a house, natural stone has the ability to passively heat and cool a home due to its ability to store heat and release it gradually. And of course, the biggest appeal to most homeowners is that natural stone has an incredibly long lifespan with very low maintenance, which means that you are not going to have to refinish it, replace it, or send it to a landfill in 15 years. photo courtesy of Artistic Tile Low maintenance = sustainability Natural stone typically doesn’t show dirt and wear and tear in the way that materials such as wood, gypsum board or vinyl do. It doesn’t easily get scratched, waterlogged or stained, and is easy to clean. An imperviousness to moisture makes materials like limestone, marble, and slate popular choices for bathrooms, while sturdy, scratch-proof, and easy-to-clean granite is an obvious choice for kitchen countertops that endure sharp knives, liquids and food spills (and the microbes that come with them). Outdoors, designers like to use stone for everything from patios to walkways, retaining walls to landscape planters. Stone’s longevity and durability makes it a smart investment that, if cared for properly, means it won’t need to be replaced. This keeps wasteful, synthetic materials out of landfill. photo courtesy of Connecticut Stone Stone is a natural material Stone is a natural material that comes straight from the earth, unlike most other commonly used building materials. How the stone is quarried, processed, and transported affects its environmental footprint, as does the distance the stone must travel to get to you. The kinds of natural stone endemic to where you live are likely to differ from those found in other regions, but with so many different types of stone available, finding something local that fits your taste and budget should be fairly easy. Gneiss, granite, limestone, marble, quartzite, sandstone, and serpentine are all common to North America and exist in a range of colors and textures. Consumers who value environmental sustainability will be happy to know that there are stone quarry sites within 500 miles of nearly any building site in the United States and Canada. photo courtesy of Matthew Giampietro, Waterfalls Fountains and Gardens Inc. Using stone outdoors As Mother Nature’s original green building material, natural stone is the best material available when it comes to withstanding the elements and aging gracefully outdoors. Because of its ability to weather harsh changes in temperature and moisture conditions, landscape designers prefer stone for everything from patios to walkways, retaining walls to planters. photo courtesy of Stone Pavers Concrete Natural stone can add charm to your yard or garden by adding a sense of timelessness. While concrete, wooden decking and other manmade materials often impose rigid lines and hierarchy onto the nature world, stone fits organically into nature’s design. Stone is also just the most long-lasting outdoor material, hands down. Since it won’t warp, rot or disintegrate over time, it’s an ideal choice for withstanding weather, biological and environmental stresses. Termites, beetles and funguses may enjoy munching on wood, but they can’t eat stone. Stone doesn’t erode over time with wind and rain, unlike soil. While ceramics like brick and concrete are porous and can crack and absorb water, most types of outdoor stone are much harder, and generally last longer. photo courtesy of Smokey Mountain Tops Patios, walkways and outdoor ground cover For outdoor patios and walkways, the choice often comes down to stone, brick, wooden decking, or gravel. Gravel is inexpensive and easy to work with, but erodes over time, needs constant raking to look nice, and is often tracked into the house. Wooden decking provides a nice warm feeling to the touch, but need to be sealed and stained on a regular basis, and still eventually will give in to dry rot. (Trust me, I just fell through a rotten board on my wooden deck the other day, and it wasn’t fun.) Concrete has the advantage of a smooth, even surface, but it needs to be poured and can also contribute to flooding and water runoff where it doesn’t allow proper drainage. While stone is one of the most expensive outdoor materials, it has the advantage of long life and durability with little maintenance. Depending on how it is installed, spaced stone pavers can also allow greenery and soil to break up the hardscape, providing a green look, and allowing water to drain naturally. photo courtesy of SBI Materials Landscaping with natural stone For retaining walls and raised planter beds, stone can’t be beat. Landscape plants and trees need a constant supply of water, and that irrigation can lead to erosion of soil and to the disintegration of competing materials, like wood, over time. Strategically placed stones can reinforce the shape of your designed landscape with retaining walls and berms, preventing soil erosion. Although it is heavier and more expensive than wood, natural stone makes a far more durable and long-lasting material for planters. photo courtesy of Lundhs Using natural stone indoors Stone is as resilient indoors as it is outdoors. From the kitchen countertop to the bathroom floor, natural stone is easy to clean with mild dish soap and water, is naturally slip resistant, and is one of the most durable surfaces on the planet. According to the Natural Stone Council , stone can last more than 100 years with proper maintenance. Its lifecycle continues beyond the life of a building, because of the fact that it’s so recyclable and can be reused in so many other applications. photo courtesy of Calvetta Brothers Stone flooring Stone is a great flooring material for high traffic areas, because of its innate durability. Stone is pretty hard to scratch or damage, and any damage that does occur tends to be hard to see due to color variations and texture. Unlike vinyl or wood, natural stone will hardly ever show a scratch or be dulled, and needs only regular sweeping or vacuuming to look as good as new. If you are considering radiant floor heating for your home, stone is the best material to combine with that type of heating system due to the natural ability of stone to absorb and retain heat (and not absorb moisture). Using stone for walls One might not immediately think of stone as a common wall surface aside from a kitchen backsplash, but walls can be a great use for recycled and salvaged stone. Stone walls, like stone floors, are very resilient, can’t be easily damaged, and don’t show fingerprints and dirt. Stone is also readily recyclable. Old stone buildings can be deconstructed and used for retaining walls , and small flat stones can be repurposed in mosaic wall designs. photo courtesy of MSI Using stone in your bathroom If there’s one room in the home that takes the best advantage of stone’s imperviousness to moisture, it’s the bathroom. From limestone showers, to pebbled shower floors, to slate sinks, to marble countertops, stone is easy to clean, resistant to wear, and in many cases, highly resistant to staining. Stones used for bathroom applications must be pretreated to prevent damage from bath products, cleaning products, and water, and must be resealed regularly. If maintained properly, natural stone is a long term investment that adds luxury, durability and character to any bathroom. Stone in the kitchen Many cooks are more passionate about their counter space than they are about their range, since countertops are where the bulk of the food preparation takes place. Countertops endure daily wear from a range of sharp utensils, spills, extreme temperatures, and mechanical force, causing synthetic materials to wear over time and become dingy. Granite and marble are ideal materials for kitchen countertops because of their sturdiness, imperviousness to moisture and heat, and lack of absorption (which makes them easier to keep clean and hygienic). Very difficult to scratch and easy to wipe down, granite helps keep bacteria at bay, making it the counter material of choice for those who are serious about cooking. Its inherently cool temperature makes it ideal for working on with pastry or pizzas, and a resistance to warping under high heat makes working with hot dishes a breeze. The bottom line is that stone is a great choice throughout any part of a house for durability, quality, low-maintenance and environmental sustainability. To learn more about different types of natural stone, check out the Natural Stone Institute . + Natural Stone Institute Article underwritten by the Natural Stone Institute

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