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More on Passivhaus

Posted November 17, 2009 1:34 PM by Mark Piepkorn
Related Categories: Science & Tech
As a follow-on to The Great Passivhaus Face-off, take a look at this commentary from a couple years ago in the wake of a visit to Passivhaus examples in Germany by a couple well-informed British authors and researchers — The Passive House: thoughts and reflections. It begins, "There were a couple of moments when the PassivHaus study tour seemed to lose all contact with normality and enter into a surrealist daydream..."

TURI Loses Funding... maybe.

Posted July 16, 2009 1:35 PM by Jennifer Atlee
Related Categories: Op-Ed, Politics, Science & Tech, The Industry
We recently learned that the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) is losing its Massachusetts state funding. This strikes particularly close to home for me as I worked briefly with TURI after grad school and was quite impressed with the caliber of their work (and yes, full disclosure, I still have friends there). TURI is one of a select few organizations nationally that successfully champions the needs of both industry and the environment — for 20 years now they've been finding that practical common ground where we can really move forward in widespread adoption of safer alternatives. With our GreenSpec directory, editors at BuildingGreen constantly struggle to assess the use of a plethora of toxics in building products and manufacturing processes to determine what constitutes safe and healthy products and still gets the practical job done of building quality green buildings today. This requires the kind of pragmatic alternatives assessment that TURI excels at.

Repower America: 100% clean electricity within 10 years

Posted June 16, 2009 12:35 PM by Mark Piepkorn
Related Categories: Op-Ed, Politics, Science & Tech
Its website says:
Repower America is the bold clean energy plan to "repower" our country with 100% clean electricity within 10 years. By making buildings and homes more efficient, ramping up renewable energy generation, constructing a unified national smart grid, and transitioning to clean and affordable plug-in cars, we can address our country's economic and national security challenges — all while making huge strides to solve the climate crisis.
Is it possible? Yes, it is. Will we actually do it? I'm less certain about that. John F. Kennedy famously said in 1962, "We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade." And in seven years, we did. We implemented new technologies and knowledge at a tremendous pace to support a vision, and we pulled it off. What motivated us? What was at the root of that amazing achievement?

Building-Integrated Prayer Wheels

Posted June 4, 2009 12:24 PM by Michael Wilmeth
Related Categories: Science & Tech
A recent Environmental Building News story, "The Folly of Building Integrated Wind," (May 2009) revealed that attaching spinning things that are supposed to generate electricity to buildings is not a very good idea. In critiquing building-integrated spinning things, however, it is important not to paint with too broad a brush. The Tibetan tradition of Vajrayana Buddhism gave rise to a building-integrated spinning thing that is energy efficient, relatively low in cost, and non-polluting: the prayer wheel. The hand-held prayer wheel is more familiar in the west than the building-integrated kind, and has the obvious advantage of portability. But prayer wheels mounted on or in walls or railings (not to mention freestanding models) have the advantage of vastly exceeding the prayer-holding capacity of handheld wheels. A 2"x4" cylinder has a volume of 50 cu. in. Increasing the dimension threefold, to 6"x12" yields a volume of almost 340 cu. in, almost seven times as large. Say a hand-held wheel holds ten copies of a mantra. Each spin of the wheel releases into the universe ten repetitions.

Building Science for Strawbale Buildings

Posted February 26, 2009 10:15 AM by Mark Piepkorn
Related Categories: Books & Media, Nature & Nurture, Science & Tech
Over at, the online home of Building Science Corporation (where you can benefit from the big-brained research and synthesis of Joe Lstiburek, John Straube, and others), there are tons of great articles like Can Highly Glazed Building Façades Be Green?, Capillarity — Small Sacrifices, and Ground Source Heat Pumps ("Geothermal") for Residential Heating and Cooling: Carbon Emissions and Efficiency. A new article went up there in the last few days titled Building Science for Strawbale Buildings.

Google your 'Fridge

Posted February 23, 2009 11:48 AM by Mark Piepkorn
Related Categories: Product Talk, Science & Tech
The tireless folks from Google's for-profit charity,, are developing a web-based application called PowerMeter that takes advantage of the increasing availability of "smart meters" from utility companies and independent manufacturers. Millions upon millions of homes and businesses are expected to be upgraded to these meters in the coming years, which (among other things) track electrical use in real time rather than just offering a simple sum of total use. This creates an opportunity for people to discover usage trends — and even help to identify specific loads — encouraging informed conservation. Google puts it like this:
How much does it cost to leave your TV on all day? What about turning your air conditioning 1 degree cooler? Which uses more power every month — your fridge or your dishwasher?

Zero Energy Buildings Database

Posted September 8, 2008 1:43 PM by Michael Wentz
Related Categories: Behind the Scenes, Case Studies, Science & Tech, The Industry

Today the Department of Energy's Building Technologies Program launched the Zero Energy Buildings Database with an offering of three Zero Energy Buildings (ZEBs) and one near-ZEB. A lot of work has been put into defining ZEBs and you can learn about the different types at the Net ZEB page. Also make sure to look at the overview page for each building to learn the associated types of ZEB. The Zero Energy Buildings Database is part of the High Performance Buildings Database and is hosted and maintained by BuildingGreen in conjunction with the Department of Energy.

Hurricane Disney: Stormstruck in Orlando

Posted September 2, 2008 8:28 AM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Books & Media, Nature & Nurture, Op-Ed, Science & Tech
I was down in Orlando last week — land of asphalt, ChemLawns, and Mickey Mouse. As is typical in that part of the world, it was too hot outside and too cold inside. In one of the mammoth Disney hotels, I was participating for two days in the Tenth Anniversary Annual Meeting of an organization called FLASH. FLASH is the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes — it used to be the Florida Alliance for Safe Homes, which explains the "L." FLASH is all about disaster resistance, so the sessions were about communicating fire-resistant construction practices, hurricane codes, 2x4 projectile penetration of wall systems, safe rooms in houses — cool stuff like that. In one session, two different speakers addressed pandemic flu — not because that's in the purview of FLASH, but because the challenges of educating the general public to those concerns are very similar to the challenges FLASH faces in communicating disaster resistance.

Modeling for Underfloor Air in EnergyPlus

Posted July 28, 2008 12:10 PM by Allyson Wendt
Related Categories: Science & Tech
If you don't already know about technical briefs from California's Public Interest Energy Research Program (PIER), you should (PIER's web presence has been absorbed into a larger site on research and development). The folks at PIER research various topics related to energy efficiency, and come out with some great briefs that are published through ESource. The most recent of these launches a useful plug-in for the U.S. Department of Energy's EnergyPlus modeling software. The plug-in allows a designer to model the performance of an underfloor air distribution system. Until now, these systems have not been accurately represented in energy models because of lack of data and the way the modeling software accounts for air flow. PIER is touting three features of the new plug-in, which is based on several years of research and data collection.
    ?Improved representation of room air stratification--This allows the modeling software to divide a room into two temperature zones, a lower, occupied zone and an upper, unoccupied zone.

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