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Who knows stuff? Evaluating green building professionals.

image is from cover of LEED for Homes Reference Guide

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.

Copenhagen, do we dare to hope?

Sometimes I do not know why I get so worked up about things, it would be a lot easier on my blood pressure to just live my life, do my design work, and not get involved. But my mind is a lot more like the bumper sticker that says “If you are not outraged, you havn’t been paying attention.” I cannot change the part of myself that seems compelled to get active.
The reality is that we all are going to have to take action to try and mitigate the effects of climate change, the only difference is when. Will change be forced on us after the first wave of climate induced human migration? Or will we wake up and move in a positive direction to shape the best future possible? Some times I do not know the answer. But, as my french teacher said, as I tried to tell her I did not know how to say in French the thing she wanted me to say: “Mais il faut qu’on essayer.” It is necessary that one tries.
Check out the Hopenhagen web site, they are trying to get folks to register their support for a real climate change agreement at this month’s meeting in Copenhagen.

If everyone is famous for 15 minutes, is this 1/3?

I recently had the opportunity to be interviewed for a blog radio program called 5 minute Eco, as part of How You Eco.  It was an interesting experience to try and focus my usually blathering thoughts down to a concise length.  I was asked to explain what a green interior designer was, and still leave room for my top three green tips!  I managed to get into the correct time frame.  I found the concept intriguing, get smart people to talk about their green field for 5 minutes, kind of a bite sized green interview show.

I like the fact that the experts are selected for this program by a team that knows something about green.  It makes me nervous how much advertising is being directed towards this market, and so much of it is greenwashing, (claiming a product is green, to gain marketing advantage, without actually making it ecologically friendly.  One example would be the claim “all natural ingredients.”)

To be honest, it is kind of the wild west out there as far as green claims go. Many companies have decided that in this down economy a green claim is their ticket to the green cash! More than ever, I would suggest that a consumer who is interested in environmentally friendly products find out if the product has a verifiable claim to that title. FSC certification for wood products is one example of a third party certification. This means that the manufacturer did not certify their own product. Other third party certified claims include: LEED certification for green building, Green Guard which certifies whether a product is contributes to good indoor air quality (IAQ), and Green Seal with certifies a variety of products including construction products. Another example of a claim that must be verifiable would be organic or recycled content. If a label says that your paper is 100% recycled, 30% post consumer- that must be true. Be careful that the claims for any product are not vague, and unverifiable, and you can be sure that your green purchase is really making a difference.

Also, please listen to my interview, and see how I am trying to make a difference!

Why do I like old things so much?

I have a confession to make, I am not a natural modernist.  I love modern design, and the constant striving for something that is purely original, clean and new.  But I also realize that what I am more natrurally drawn to warm, referential modernism.  I love the textile designs of the fifties, the modern furniture of the 30′s and 40′s, and innovation of the swinging 60′s.  But let’s face it, that is now historic design.

Historical items, or vintage items, have a resonance and meaning, beyond the purely visual, when added to an interior arrangement.  They add a layer of complexity to a design.  Perhaps the vintage bar cart reminds you of the chic cocktail hours at your grandmother’s, perhaps the greek urn reminds you of a honeymoon trip.  In any case older items have an association that adds richness to a room.

I am lucky to live in an area with world class arts, and am looking forward to my visit to King Tut, at the De Young Museum.  They have many of the richest pieces from the Tombs of Tutankhamun, items 3000 years old,  and many that were not part of the original tour 30 years ago.  (Yes, I must admit I was old enough to go to that exhibit.)  It should be a visual treat.

Although most of us cannot collect artifacts from early history, most of us have some region of the earth, or some period in history (either recent or ancient) that resonates with us.  Why not let these interests show in our homes.  It is one of the things that can make a home unique to you!

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

Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana

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!

nature as inspiration – and good for the planet

I am extremely excited to be reading the various posts from NEO Con, the commercial interior design convention.  So many well designed, and exciting products!  Green products seem to have a strong presence, I am thrilled to see that sustainable design has penetrated deeply into mainstream product design priorities.  I have always loved the textile and carpet designs from Angela Adams, she does a naturally inspired modernism that I find very livable.  She has collaborated with Architex, who have some serious design chops of their own, to create a line of green textiles.  The fabrics are lovely, the products are sustainable, and will be realized in rugs and wallpaper by Shaw and MDG Wallcoverings, respectively.

Nice topics, exciting locations, a little learning, and free food, what’s not to like?

 

The SC Solar Decathlon house in Wasington DC

The SC Solar Decathlon house in Wasington DC

How exciting, it never rains but it pours.  I was a little discouraged because my Green Interior design class was under enrolled.  I (of course) started thinking that no-one cared about greening their interiors, or selecting heathy materials.  Then a couple of more speaking engagements came up, and they should be exciting!

 

They both primarily focus on green interiors.

First, I am speaking on my part in the 2007 Santa Clara Solar Decathlon House, which took 3rd in this international solar home contest. I will describe this exciting contest, and the space planning and design of the interiors.  This little house was designed to make an energy independent house look comfortable and easy to live in.  The best compliment I overheard when the house was in Washington  was “I just want to pick up this house, put it by the beach, and move in!” :

Thursday, June 11th, 2009, 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm

City of Redwood City Council Chambers 1017 Middlefield Road, Redwood City

http://www.recycleworks.org/sustainability/lectures.html

Second, I am speaking in the Portola Valley Local Heros on Local Issues speaker series, about the challenge of deciding what green materials are right for your interior projects, and the beautiful green materials that are available ( This series has a lot of good speakers!!! And it is held in an award winning green building complex, one of the AIA top 10 green projects of 2009)

June 23 – Green Interior Design • Green Building Comes Inside – Decision Making for Interiors with Kirsten Flynn

Portola Valley Green Speaker Series: 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. Town Center, Community Hall

765 Portola Road, Portola Valley, CA 94028

 http://www.portolavalley.net/index.aspx?page=251

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

Learning is fun, and Dolphins don’t need to be fireproof!

Once again I am teaching through Palo Alto Adult School.  I really love spreading the word about the many healthy furnishings and finish options now exist, but worry I will not get enough folks enrolled to run the class.  

I feel so passionatly that everyone who might even buy a storage cabinet at Ikea, or a sofa, deserves to know what effect that product might have on their health or the environment.  Often, just by asking the right question, you can get a healthier product, but you need to know what question to ask.   I think we all would like to think that nothing unhealthy, or unsafe could be in our furniture, and I hope that will be true some day.  

I was reminded this week that there is a long way to go, when I read this article about Brominated Fire Retardants building up in the bodies of dolphins in Florida.  These fireproofing agents are one of the chemicals that I have worked hard to eliminate in my practice, as they are currently found in the body fat of most animals, and in human breast milk around the world.  YUK!  It is associated with thyroid disease in cats, and is bioaccumulative- meaning it builds up in one’s body over time.  I help clients limit their exposure by upholstering without foam, and searching out fabrics that are not treated with these chemicals.

If you are curious about these kinds of issues, please consider taking my class.  You’ll leave the class with a solid understanding of how to select materials for home interiors and the theory behind green building.  I have made it sound very serious, but we do have fun.  And we look at a lot of gorgeous and green tiles, fabrics, paints, coutertops and more!

SPRING QUARTER ONLY
2 wks: May 27–June 3
Wednesday: 7–9 p.m.
Palo Alto HS Rm 306: $35
http://www.paadultschool.org/html/home_and_garden.html
Sadly, the class will be cancelled if I don’t get 10 people to sign up, so let your friends know!