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Solar Decathalon 2009

cornellYesterday, Matt and I visited the solar decathlon on the mall in DC that is hosted by the Dept of Energy.  It was by chance that we got the opportunity to attend.  It was a gloomy drizzling rain kinda day, but that did not seem to deter the enthusiasm or crowds.  There are twenty teams competing for many different prizes.

The site is perfect for the set up.  Due to transportation limitations and construction times, the houses tend to be long and narrow.  This year not all were though.   I appreciated the round rods of the Cornel Silo house.  (They were really thinking outside the box, sorry too tempting.)  The teams have a week to construct their house on site, so pre-building as much as possible is a must.  By the looks of the group only one team appeared to have run out of time.

vt to momument

What I took away…… is that no one team seemed to have all the answers.  There are many ways to achieve sustainability in houses.  Bits and pieces from all the houses will benefit the general population in years to come.  Also that the interest in a sustainable future is strong and as popular as ever.

Be sure to check out the link above.  You can view the virtual tours and vote on your favorite.


LEED 2009 Comparision

Have you had the opportunity to use the new rating systems yet?  I have.  Because so many of our jobs start in one year and actually get notice to proceed in another, I suspect this will be a regular occurrence for a few projects to come. The differences can be summed up briefly but the details hold the most changes.

Water, Regionality and Tiered Points changes. Water was the victim of it own success.  Water fixture manufacturers are to be congratulated in this category.  Basically, the products are saving so much that we were all getting the maximum credits through water efficiency.  So the new rating system ups the ante.  All the percentages have been increased by 10%.

Regionality is a cool concept that I just now understand.  I wish they had just called it Regional Bonus credits because that is exactly what it is.  Bonus credits/Extra points for credits that you are already achieving but that are just regionally important.  That is cool.  Know these going into your LEED design charettes and help guide the credits to these few for extra credit.


Greater tiering of the points is the biggest change in my book.  It does several things… align the credits for better point distribution.  This makes it more fair – economically and effort wise.  Also within the some of the credits tiering is now making the credit more user friendly by allowing a lower entry point.  Optimized energy and on site renewable for example.  Check them out.

Here is a chart I created for a tangible look at the points.  LEED 2009 is on a 100 point s scale but just like the cool teachers in high school there is a chance for extra credit bonus points. So for that purpose, this chart is on a 110 point scale.  Feel free to copy it and use it.  Mainly it demonstrates the higher bar that is LEED 2009.

The Farmer’s Market

Growing up in Roanoke in the 70s meant on Saturday mornings we went to the Roanoke Farmer’s Market to shop and lunch at the Roanoke Wiener Stand.  I remember the crowded walkways and holding on to Mom’s hand so not to be swept away.  The fresh produce was endless.  And I even remember the sawdust floor and pungent smell of the meats in the old market building.


Mom buying fresh Virginia grown spinach for tonight's dinner.

Today was a great day on the market.  It was the annual chili cook-off and strawberry festival.  I have always thought this was a strange combination but it seems to workout.  Nice weather, although the clouds were threatening all morning.

Between the strawberries and the chilies, the Roanoke Farmer’s Market is a natural pedestrian link and what a crowd.  It was wonderful to see the market humming.  It reminded me of those Saturday mornings, I was so much smaller than the crowds.  I am hopeful for the vendors on the market, as today was surely a great day for them all.

Farmer’s markets are the sustainably in thing to do these days.  They always have been sustainable.  And like the country song they were sustainable before sustainable was cool.   By shopping for produce at your local farmer’s market, you are supporting locally grown produce by local farmers.  The sustainable benefits include….

  • little transportation costs, straight from the field to the market,
  • no electric consuming big box store just you and the farmer in the elements,
  • you know where your food has been, most of the farmers love to talk about the crops they grow,
  • fresh local food and in some cases organic.
Geraniums ready to be potted.

Geraniums ready to be potted.

We are lucky to have the farmer’s market in our area.  It is one of the oldest continuously operating markets in the state of Virginia, since 1882.  So if you are also lucky enough to have a local Farmer’s Market, go check them out and support their efforts.  If you don’t then check out this great website and find one close to you.  You will be shopping sustainably and your salad bowl will thank you.

Home Energy Audits

100_4983This past week the local USGBC chapter held its monthly meeting at one of our member’s home to preform a live energy audit.  It was an interesting evening.  We got to see a blower door test, duct test and infrared scan.  How these test worked was interesting and eyeopening. Because this was a remodel (somewhat in progress) we expected the results to be not so great.  But what we discovered was that if you took all the holes and leaks in the home and collected them into one big hole it was equal 25% of the exterior surface.  Ouch!  The amount of energy loss was more than even the homeowner expected.

Josh, our guide/tester/teacher recommended that the first line of defense should always be the roof.  Make sure your envelope is closed by insulating the roof.  Then the second most important place was the floor and lastly followed by the walls.  So if you have to break up the job, there is the most economical priority.

To have your own energy audit done is highly recommended.  The going rate is somewhere around $1,000 but expect a significant payback.  The audit will tell you exactly where the leaks are located.

Copenhagen on Two Wheels – Part 1

From Kim……. A big welcome to a guest author for the “between yellow and blue” blog to Cyndi.  She is a friend and former classmate from my Georgia Tech days.  Cyndi endured our endless years at our favorite college in the architecture building.  She is one of the few witnesses that I have that can say,  yes Kim did indeed pull one allnighter! One and one only.  

Currently life finds Cyndi newly married (ahhhh newlyweds) and living in Copenhagen.  When we reconnected a few weeks ago, we got talking about things green and one thing led to another.  Here she is to share her sustainable experiences with us from an European view.  You can also keep up with her European life on her personal live journal blog at  Thanks Cyndi, I am looking forward to your contributions!

Trading in my car for a bicycle was one of the best things about moving from the United States to Denmark.  A large number of residents in Denmark use bicycles as their primary mode of transportation.  The established Danish bike culture makes it easy for cyclists to feel safe and encouraged, but how can a city that is addicted to automobiles embrace the bicycle and encourage citizens to make the switch?  The answer is in the infrastructure.  The most crucial step is to add protected bike lanes to existing roads.  Many cities in the United States are already adding bike lanes in an effort to accommodate cyclists.  The problem with these lanes, in all the cases that I have witnessed, is the fact that they offer NO protection from car traffic.  These attempts are cheap, dangerous, and most likely just a political move to pacify activists.  The flush painted bike lanes are seen by drivers as opportunities for on street parking or turn lanes.  There is a wonderful website based in Atlanta, Georgia that documents these infractions around the city.  I am particularly disgusted by the police vehicles caught in violation.

The Danish solution is extremely simple yet amazingly effective.  Bike lanes on high traffic streets have a small curb just like a sidewalk.  Cyclists can and should be protected by this simple 3-6 inch difference just like pedestrians.

There are two additional features to Denmark’s bicycle infrastructure.  The next is the existence of traffic lights for bicycles separate from automotive ones.  At some complicated intersections, it is important to give bicycles their turn.  Even at simple intersections, the bike lights change from red to yellow a little earlier to give the cyclists a chance to start pedaling.  The final feature to the infrastructure is the design of intersections with regard to bike lanes and crosswalks.  An illustration will better explain this than words, so I will start with that.

The crosswalks are pulled in from the the sidewalk corner 6-10 feet.  As a general rule in Denmark, cyclists are required to make a wide left turn where they cross the perpendicular street and wait to cross the original one.  The space between the crosswalk and bike lane becomes a waiting area for the cyclists turning left.  Those who are continuing straight are supposed to stop before the crosswalk.

Many years ago, I attempted to learn the American hand signals .  I have never been able to remember which is which, and I am sure that a majority of others feel the same way.  That does not make an effective system.  The Danish system is much more simple and clear.  If a cyclist is planning on turning left or right, he extends his arm in the respective direction.  Some people point, but my winter mittens do not allow me the pleasure for a good part of the year.  If a cyclist plans on stopping (most commonly when approaching the waiting area for a wide left turn maneuver), he holds up one of his arms as if to take an oath.

All of these features and rules have been developed over time.  Cities that are trying to become friendly to cyclists should study Copenhagen rather than haphazardly trying to reinvent the wheel.

[Next up, Part 2 will cover the cultural aspects of cycling in Denmark]

Lights on, lights off


Two events for tomorrow of significant sustainable noteworthiness…

First, the anticipated landing of the the shuttle on their return trip  from a successful mission. The final solar array was installed for full power at the international space station. The expected landing will be at 1:30pm on Saturday.

Then later tomorrow night (8:30 – 9:30), earth hour is happening around the globe. Be a part of a global awareness to reduce unnecessary lights and turn off any nonessential lighting for one hour. Follow as the world participates in earthhour.  Be sure to check out the great videos and lists for creative things to do for an hour with no lights.

Solar Shuttle


The countdown is underway for Discovery’s STS-119 mission.  Matt and I missed being at the launch by a few weeks, while we were in Florida.  There were delays with the control valves that have been fixed.  The new launch date is set for Wednesday March 11th at 9:20 pm,  Sunday, March 15th  at 7:43 p.m. EDT.  It will be one of the very cool night sunset launches.

The STS-119 astronauts pose for a formal crew portrait. In the front row (right) are Lee Archambault, commander and Tony Antonelli, pilot. In the back (left) are Joseph Acaba, John Phillips, Steve Swanson, Richard Arnold and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata, all mission specialists.  There will also be one “passenger” exchange, Koichi Wakata will be giving his seat to Sandra Magnus for the ride home.  He stays behind to return on another mission.  She has been on the space station for 4 months and it is her time to come home.

STS119-S-001 [Converted]On the sustainability front this is an exciting mission.  They will be carrying and installing the last of the large trusses and solar arrays that will power the space station.  Here are some of the facts from NASA’s website

Space shuttle Discovery’s STS-119 crew is set to fly the S6 truss segment and install the final set of power-generating solar arrays to the International Space Station.

The S6 truss, with its set of large U.S. solar arrays, will complete the backbone of the station and provide one-fourth of the total power needed to support a crew of six.

The two solar array wings each have 115-foot-long arrays, for a total wing span of 240 feet. They will generate 66 kilowatts of electricity — enough to provide about 30 2,800-square-foot homes with power.

The mission patch references the mission by highlighting the S6 Truss with solar array and the American flag coming from the tail of the spacecraft is signifying U.S.’s support of the International Space Station as well as the support of the American people.


I wonder if the solar panels in space gather more energy from the sun or are made differently than those on the planet?  There proximity to the sun and the lack of ozone hampering its power would lead me to think that they are.  It is exciting to think of our future world supported completely on the power of the sun.