More and more choices in Countertops

One of the most positive things I have see in my years of researching green materials for interiors, is that increasingly mainstream manufacturers feel that they must have a green story to compete.  It used to be that green counter top materials were made by small producers such as Vetrazzo or Paperstone, who just wanted to do the right thing.  Now the big manufacturers are putting out green countertops products. One of the great things about this is that it offers the consumers some options that are easy to order, and have a reasonable price. I like quartz based countertops anyway.  Many consumers know them by their trade names: Zodiaq, or CeasarStone.  They are green because they are low maintenance,  low emitting, durable, replace a product that would have to be mined, and are made of one of the most plentiful minerals on earth.  Now many of the manufacturers of Quartz countertops are creating products with recycled content.

Constantino has made a separate line of green countertops, called ECO.  The eco line is made of 75% recycled content including glass, mirrors, porcelain and stone scrap.  My favorite is White Diamond, and I must admit I am not a huge fan of the ones with the mirror fragments.  They are just too sparkly.

In Ceasar Stone I love the Smokey Ash, it is a warm black that I would love to use in a kitchen.  That particular product is 15% recycled, but the their recycled colors range up to 40%.

Zodiaq also makes a line of recycled content solid surface countertops.  Their color range is just lovely, and functional.  I love Flax,but it is well worth checking out their whole color range.

Slabs for countertops are heavy things, so one of the things you should think about is where a product is manufactured, and how it is shipped.  Ocean Freight has one of the lower carbon emissions per ton, and so slabs that are shipped directly to a port, then stocked there, have a pretty low carbon footprint.  Ceasar Stone is made in Israel, Constantino is made in Spain, and both are shipped to the port close to where it will be used.  Zodiac is made in Canada, more local, but shipped via truck which is higher carbon per ton per mile.  So if you live near Canada, Zodiac would have the lower carbon footprint, and if you live near a sea port, or in the EU, you might choose one of the other two.

I do feel that it is worth mentioning one other choice.  Cabria quartz surfaces do not have a recycled content.  However they are made in North America, of N. American quartz, and thus neither the materials or the finished product have to travel far if you are in USA or Canada.

OMG I am such an eco geek!!!!!! AKA I like toilet talk

If you have ever asked yourself, as I have frequently, “how the heck can I pick the best performing and most water efficient toilet?”  help is at hand. What??!?!?

You have never asked yourself that?  You have never given it a bit of thought?

Well, then I am a bigger eco geek than you, because I got all excited and HAD to blog today when I found this guide. It is a independent test of all of the low flush WC’s, or at least a place where you can download all of the tests and reports.  It is test data divided into single flush gravity fed, single flush pressure assist, and dual flush, so you can download the testing for the kind of toilet you want to get.  The research is sponsored by Canadian government agencies, and water conservation agencies and water utilties from the states.  This means the testing and results are free of industry influence.  Apparently the results are accurate due to the fact that “A soybean paste having similar physical properties (density, moisture content) to human waste was used in combination with toilet paper as the test media.” (Some one did that research, and then wrote that wonderful line as part of their report, I love scientists!!)  It is so good to have real data to help you in making such an important decision!!

And when you replace your old water waster, don’t forget to recycle it, it could be made intoa solid surface countertop, and they are actually pretty nice!

Who knows stuff? Evaluating green building professionals.

image is from cover of LEED for Homes Reference Guide I am very excited that I have just passed my LEED Green Associate exam.  But, I realize that this is only exciting news if you know what the heck it means.  As in any profession, there are any number of alphabet letters one can put after one's name.  Some mean more than others.   If a homeowner is planning to hire someone to work on their home, it is good to know what the letters mean.

I will explain some of the qualifications that a green building professional might have:

The exam I passed is the first qualifying level for green professionals administrated by the USGBC.  The USGBC is an agency that has the goal of promoting energy and resource efficient and healthy buildings.  To achieve that goal they have created a building program called LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.) A building, of almost any type, can be LEED certified, and a building professional can be LEED accredited.  Different LEED building evaluation tools are available for different types of buildings: LEED Commercial Interiors, LEED for Homes, LEED Green Building Design and Construction, and a product for the Green Operations and Maintenance of existing buildings.   Similarly architects, designers and builders can be credentialed in different areas.  My goal is to be a LEED Accredited Professional in the LEED for Homes product.  I first had to pass the LEED green associate exam.  So if you are hiring, the LEED AP is someone who has shown high level of knowledge of a specific LEED area, and a LEED GA is someone who has the basic knowledge. One cannot take the LEED AP exam in a specific area until you have worked on a LEED project, so I cannot take the Homes exam, yet!

LEED is a very tough rating plan, the training is very specific and challenging, and it does not apply to some building types.  There is a cost to track all of the green characteristics of the project, although there is also a marketing premium to having a LEED building.   There is another organization in California, that has as a goal developing a more accessible rating and training system: Build it Green. Both of these organizations have qualities in common: they both train architects, designers and builders on green building, they both educate the public on the benefits of green building, and they both have building rating systems. They work closely together to create training and rating systems for all parts of the building industry. The buildings rated by Build it Green are called Green Point Rated, and the buiding professionals that have been through the trainings are either Certified Green Building Professionals (CGBP) or Green Point Raters.  I am also a CGBP, and look forward to being an Advanced CGBP at some point.  Green point raters have the job of going out and evaluating a building to see if it qualifies under Build it Green's green building standards.

There also is a training track that has to do with home energy optimization.  As more and more companies got into the business of insulating, installing windows, etc.,  it became clear that a homeowner could waste a lot of money on the wrong enhancements, without realizing any energy or cost savings.  The Building Perfomance Institute offers training in testing home energy performance, and evaluating the appropriate building retrofits. If you are hiring a contractor to do an energy audit in your home, insulate, or weatherize your window, you should check that they have BPI qualifications. Here in California there is a local organization that does training and education within the state, the California Building Performance Contractors Association (CBPCA.)

I realize that this seems like an Alphabet soup of possible letters that a person could have on their business card. The bottom line is that if you are hiring someone, especially in the new field of green building, it is helpful to know that their level of commitment to green building matches your goals for your project. At minimum it is nice to know that they have the appropriate qualification listed above. It also is helpful to ask a professional how long they have been working in this field. Some have only started marketing themselves as 'green' recently once it became more popular. If you are strongly committed to lightening the environmental footprint of your project, it is good to pick a design professional that shares that level of interest, and had been exploring this field for a long time.

Keep it Real, even when saving energy or "Windows XC" (extra cute)

Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana I love the integrity of architecture from different periods. Each style of home reflects the concerns, the dreams, the optimism and the fears of the period when it was built.  An important consideration, when remodeling, is to be true to the architecture, the feeling, the gesture of the existing building.  I don't think remodels should be a slavish imitation of the preexisting historic style, but all should be a cohesive and appropriate addition.  Sadly, this does not always happen.  I think this is a valid consideration even when undertaking upgrades to increase the energy efficiency of the structure.  A good remodel will ensure the building will have value for another 100 years.  How green is that?  A bad remodel can make a building seem worthless, a tear-down.

Therefore,  I was pleased to find a great guide to selecting appropriate the appropriate steps to weatherize older buildings.  The information is very interesting and complete: how to evaluate when to restore a window and when to replace, how to identify the style and detail in your existing windows, and what energy credits might be available.  Most people want to do the right thing to take care of their older home, but just are not aware of the details.

The reality is that most of the energy of heating a home is lost through the walls, roof, floors and drafts.  Insulating and stopping leaks is both cheaper and more effective at saving energy than replacing windows.  Replacement windows can take many years to pay back their cost, and might make your house look as funky as a glamourous starlet on Oscar day that decided to wear their down jacket with their ball gown.  Details matter!

Highly efficient - and beautiful, just like me! (JK)

LED lighting has been growing by leaps and bounds, just as I had hoped it would.  I feel so proud, like a mama who is able to report "I know they had a lot of potential, just look!!!" Well take a look at this gorgeous new fixture series from Boyd!  It is designed for LED lamps, and individual pendants can be combined on one ceiling plate into a larger clustered fixture.  As an added benefit, Boyd is a San Francisco company, so if I specify these fixtures I am supporting the local economy.

Additionally Cree lighting has come up with a nice lamp that has a color rendering index of 92 with a light color of 2700 Kelvin!

I know it is a little geeky for me to get excited about a CRI number, but for years the reason given by many for not using efficient lighting was that they didn't like the color quality.  (But I guess they were ok with wasting energy and contributing to global warming.)  Actually, to be absolutely honest, I had the same complaints and have spent far too many nights reading novels by the faintly greenish, or bright blue white light of various high efficacy lamps I had purchased to test in my own home.

The new Cree recessed cans deliver in the range of 50-60 lumens per watt, which qualify them to be considered Hi efficacy under CA energy code.  They also avoid the primary problem of fluorescent lamps (bulbs) because they do not contain mercury.  And they do this with great light color and superior color rendering, better actually than a typical incandescent bulb.  Now that is living up to your potential!

Love the hot shower, hate the waste.

Sometimes saving the environment seems like an exercise in denial: don't buy things, don't take planes, don't use your car.  Now personally, I think saving the world might be worth a teensy sacrifice, but it is lovely when saving resources also adds a little more comfort to your life.   How long before you want to step into a steaming hot shower do you turn the water on?  One minute, three minutes, perhaps even five minutes?  Well, if I can assume you have a low flow shower head, which would be max of 2.5 gallons per minute, you might be wasting as much as 15 gallons of water per shower.  What is that you say, you did not like the low flow shower head you tried, and so you replaced it?  Oh no.... you are wasting even more while you wait for the hot water.

Well first of all, please get a low flow shower head back into your shower.  The new ones are very nice, are under 1.6 gpm, and have great pressure.  

I also used to waste a lot of water, (although I never removed the low flow head) because my hot water tank was in the basement.  I have molto, molto, good vibe hot water from my fabulous solar hot water panels on my roof, but it took a LONG time to get to me!  I had thought about using a tankless hot water as the back up to my solar system (we currently use the old gas heater as the back up for cloudy days), and placing it next to my bathroom, but have you priced a tankless water heater lately?   

My problems were solved when I went to a plumbing presentation at last year's West Coast Green.  It introduced a product that is a demand circulation pump for hot water.  Basically, when you want hot water, you want it right NOW.  This little item is a small pump that fits under your sink, and is actuated by a pushbutton.  A few minutes before you want your shower, you push the button.  The pump starts sucking hot up towards your bathroom through the hot water line, and returning it to the tank through the cold water line.  When hot water is up at your bathroom, a thermostat turns the pump off.  This not only saves water, it also makes your life more pleasant.  No more stepping into a luke warm shower, because you did not wait long enough.  

My clever husband installed it, and it was finished in an afternoon.  I got a D-mand system, but there are others out there.

Demand recirculating system --------- $300

Hot water when and where I want it----  Priceless