Using precast building components speeds things up, among other benefits, and, it’s very possible to create some nice looking structures. Metromont Corporation won the Best Parking Deck award for this Athens Clarke County Parking Deck, a $16 million redevelopment project near the historic Georgia Theatre which included parking, retail and office space along with a courtyard and plaza. Metromont varied its precast in color, texture, height and offset to replicate the street level experience Continue reading Metromont Uses Precast Components to Spruce Up Historic Theater
One of the things that becomes quickly clear when you take a look at the scoring graph for this year’s Solar Decathlon, held at the National Mall’s West Potomac Park in Washington, D.C., is that the competitors were closely matched in the Architecture, Market Appeal and Engineering challenges. In fact, all the scores across the field of 19 university teams fell between 80 and 96 for the Architecture challenge, 67 and 94 for the Market Appeal challenge, and 64 and 91 for the Engineering challenge.
The cool thing about the closeness of these scores is it signals that certain aspects of highly energy efficient buildings are advancing at the current rate of available technology. They are also reaching a certain state-of-the-art in form. The designs show these kinds of buildings are appealing to people aesthetically, and that says a lot since people are often more than willing to sacrifice energy efficiency just to get the look they want.
But what about the low side of the scores? If you contrast the tightly grouped scores above with say the Energy Balance competition, you find a huge disparity in their closeness. In that challenge the scores ranged all the way from 100 to absolute zero. And it wasn’t just one team that scored zero in that challenge, but rather five, with the next lowest scores in the 35 range. To be fair, this is a tough part of the competition since the goal is to build a home that uses no more energy then it produces. Given the vagaries of weather it becomes clear that homes must be designed not just for the local climate, but maybe even for the local micro-climate. Still, by paying close attention to details that helped some homes achieve this goal, everybody can learn a thing or two about energy balance.
The highest score, 100, was not seen much throughout the whole competition. There were only two other challenges outside of Energy Balance where 100s were earned and that was in Hot Water and Affordability. Interestingly, Hot water and Energy Balance though, were the challenges where teams received the most 100 scores — seven in each.
Overall, there’s a lot to learn from this year’s entries and I imagine that by looking closely at construction techniques and materials used any builder will come away with a few ideas for improving building sustainability.
But beyond that, I look forward to the Solar Decathlon every year because when I look at the faces and exuberance of these young people who aren’t afraid to dream and to throw their hearts into new building designs that please people AND the environment, I feel the impetus might be there to propel us just a little bit closer to a more enlightened energy policy, rather than just continually hanging our future on fossils when most of us know, and accept, they’re going the way of the dinosaur.
This year’s overall winner was the University of Maryland. But really, everyone was a winner and there are winners in each of the challenge categories as well. There’s much more to know about this latest Solar Decathlon. So enjoy the slides below. Just click on any one and all of them will load up into a carousel you can then scan through. Then, then find out more here.
How Much Stimulation Will Your School District Lose? Or, maybe by now it should read – Did Lose. Pro Publica has put up a tool on the Web where you can see how much construction money won’t be flowing to your school system if the Senate version of the stimulus package gets passed. Some builders may have to forego those new tape measures since even in small communities the money that won’t be flowing is significant. I checked on a town with a population of 20,000 that is nearby and the amount was more than $1.5 million.
Earthquake Proofing According to Purdue: In light of the disastrous collapses of schools and other public buildings around the world as a result of earthquakes some civil engineers at Purdue have looked at building failures and found a built-in flaw that makes buildings more susceptible to earthquake damage. Buildings in Turkey, China and Latin America use too many partial height walls between structural columns. That leads to weak points that could easily be strengthened by replacing some windows with ordinary masonry bricks.
Brazil To Build Its Way Out Of Economic Doldrums: Government in Brazil plans to build a million homes and increase government-backed home loans by 42 percent in order to reactivate the domestic construction sector. The Brazilian President is bent on getting a package that generates more jobs while building cheaper housing for poor people.
Got an Infection? Eat Your Plaster. Chinese scientists are putting the finishing touches on a self-sanitizing building plaster that is more powerful than penicillin. Dubbed “supramolecular” the material can be used for wall coatings, paints and art work, to name a few applications. It is capable of killing five types of disease-causing bacteria and controls the growth of four other kinds of bacteria better than penicillin.
Last year, on September 24 to be exact, I took a close look in this post at the Architectural Billing Index (ABI) that is put out by the American Institute of Architects (AIA). At the time July 2007 billings had a score of almost 60 but was quickly followed in August by the biggest drop since September of 2006 hitting almost 54.
Remember, those numbers predict the level of construction activity about a year in advance. Then in March of this year the commercial ABI was reported to be at 41.8 for February. That was called its lowest level since 2001. That was followed in March by a drop to 39.7, it’s lowest ever.
So that pretty much wipes out this year as far as potential recovery on the commercial side and pundits are now saying it could be most of 2009 before that sector picks up.
So it’s little wonder the AIA is asking Congress to renew the Energy Efficient Commercial Buildings Tax Deduction beyond this year. That deduction amounts to $1.80 per square foot of constructed energy-efficient commercial building. The organization thinks this will provide some stimulus to the design and construction industries.
“Currently, many developers are reluctant to pursue new commercial projects because of uncertainty over whether federal tax incentives will remain in place beyond this year,” said Paul Mendelsohn, AIA vice president, Government and Community Relations. “Ensuring that the commercial buildings tax deduction remains in place for years to come will remove this worry, help provide a much needed jolt to the economy and address critical environmental concerns.”
The AIA says the construction industry accounts for one-tenth of the US gross domestic product.
It isn’t my nature to rain on people’s parades. I think it is generally positive when people are engaged and interested in what they are creating. I also think it is therapeutic when the things people are creating benefits others as-well-as themselves. There is something communal about that and I tend to like communal as long as it doesn’t mean someone will be knocking at my door every morning to share my coffee and chat for an indeterminable period of time about mostly nothing.
Those of you who read here regularly know my exuberance for “green” is tempered. Many times it seems that companies and people have seized upon it because it is the latest cool thing and there is a possibility they can make a buck. I know, I know that rings a bit cynical but I have watched human behavior for some time now and if you ask anyone else who has done the same thing you will find they will probably agree with me. Humans get very excited about things that appeal to a lot of other people and that also offer financial rewards.
I read with interest the report put out by the United States Green Building Council in cooperation with the New Buildings Institute. Both of these organizations deserve a lot of credit for their efforts in beginning to turn-around the thinking about the buildings we build.
While a red headline in the report championed the positives relating to the benefits of building according to the LEED program the other summary points, printed in plain old black, told a different story. This is not an indictment of following LEED building principles it is an observation of how exuberance takes over and skews reality. Through a series of complex graphs that would send a nuclear physicist’s brain into summersaults the story unfolds about the energy performance of LEED buildings. I was left wondering if the intent was to impress, or obfuscate, because it certainly didn’t seem to help the reader to figure out just exactly what was being presented. So, being an astute report reader I skipped to the conclusions and here is what I found:
- LEED buildings are 25-30 percent more efficient than non-LEED buildings;
- The higher the LEED achievement level the greater the savings (Platinum LEED buildings are 45 percent better than non-LEED buildings);
- While 30 percent of LEED buildings perform better than expected, 25 percent perform worse;
- A handful of buildings have serious energy consumption problems, (everything in the report up to here has been excruciatingly exact so why is handful used here instead of a number?);
- Lab buildings use twice the energy expected; and
- Modeling results are mixed, the baseline performance target is not aggressive, and better feedback is needed.
On the whole it looks like LEED has some beneficial effects and it also has some problems. When these things are written about, and presented, the credibility might be enhanced if the sugar was left for the cake and the facts and data were shown in a simple way. There is already a lot of vital information in the world being presented with agenda and entertainment spin. In this case the upside seems to be clear, although the following realities could be skewing that assessment:
- LEED needs some refinements in the data gathering, modeling and analysis areas in order to most accurately get a fix on its real value relative to its cost;
- The expectations people have regarding the actual benefits of LEED appear to be higher and more divergent than they should be;
- Some building types, based upon use, may not respond as expected to LEED initiatives.
So are LEED buildings really 25 to 30 percent more efficient than non-LEED buildings? I think the jury is still out on this one. What about you?