Wednesday, December 31, 2008

USGBC: 15 Year Anniversary

The USGBC (US Green Building Council) is celebrating 15 productive years! On their website you can view a great presentation highlighting the 15 individuals who have been involved in the making of the USGBC organization and shaping it to what it is today. Read about and watch video clips featuring Rick Fedrizzi, David Gottfried, John Picard, Bob Berkebile, Pliny Fisk, Susan Maxman, Mark Ginsberg, Alex Wilson, Auden Schendler, Bill Walsh, Peter Templeton, Scot Horst, Linda Cato, Martha Jane Murray, and Danniel Wallach.

One interviewer quoted Churchill whose words mark this point in time so well "You can always count on Americans to do the right thing after they have tried everything else and failed." The incredible thing about this 'green' movement is that it is not just about architecture or culture, it is a social movement. Likewise, the USGBC is not just about buildings, it is about people and lifestyle. Going forward, the organization hopes to continue their mission and avoid misrepresenting the current need for sustainable building, to avoid calling it mainstream when only 2-10% of homes can actually be called 'green'. This also involves exposing corporations that claim to be green without ever complying with LEED, they do not deserve a free ride just by masking themselves as environmentally friendly recyclers. The challenge ahead involves a lot of work on both new and existing buildings in America.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Downsizing America: Small and Tiny Homes

Europe has always been known for tight boarding quarters, small cozy homes, and tiny flats. The United States on the other hand is the epitome of 'bigger is better' (I am generalizing here, bear with me). But there were always a handful of people who realized that bigger is often cumbersome, wasteful, and hideous; that handful has grown significantly over the past two decades. Today you will find many publications on small homes and designing for small spaces. I want to emphasize that I am referring to those who choose to build/buy smaller even though they can afford bigger, not those forced by circumstances and budget to live in a small home. This group of people makes a conscious decision to make their carbon footprint smaller - literally. There are also those who decided to ditch the 9-5 merry-go-round by selling their home and buying one small enough to pay for it cash and live a mortgage free life. Can you imagine how liberating that is? I admire people like that.

Truly though, considering the amount of time we spend outside of our homes, do we really need 4,000 square feet for a family of three? I don't think there should be any question. I always remind myself of a family I met in a foreign country who lived in a run-down shack of about 250 square feet, with 11 children. That puts things in perspective. Of course that is not something they chose, those are their unfortunate circumstances, but it is convicting when a thought like 'I wish I just had one more closet for all my things' comes to my mind. This American obsession with possessions is just one of the reasons for the economy bubble that recently burst and is quickly deflating.

If you want to find out more about tiny and small home living or if you are seriously considering this might be the right move for you and perhaps your family, take a look at my choice of websites below.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Post Holiday Furniture Sale

If you are looking for quality designer furniture, check out the latest post holiday sales. Crate and Barrel showcases a lot of furniture currently at 10-50% off. My personal pick from Design Within Reach is the Bauhaus design Paulistano Armchair.

The links below will take you to the corresponding websites for some of the upscale furniture:





For those on a tighter budget, look at IKEA winter sale or the furniture clearance. You could also try the Home Decorators Collection where the current special is $30 off a purchase of $150 or more (until 12/31/08).

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Boston Real Estate: the time to buy

Photo courtesy SXC

While most of us in the current economy will stay put in our dwellings, all around us we can see the great opportunities to invest in real estate with the prices still tumbling. If you were lucky on the timing, you are renting right now and on the look out for the best place to call home (or maybe you are that 2% of the population who can just keep on buying as many homes as you like).

Here are some of my top picks for luxury living in the Boston area, click on the links for more info:

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

PLUSH: Boston Design Center

The Boston Design Center is a great resource for all your home/office furnishing and decorating needs. This is the place for luxury furniture, fabrics, kitchens and baths. But how can you take advantage of 'to the trade' specials and discounts? If you become a Plush network member, you get all that + some. With an annual membership of $275 you can expect:
  • The freedom to access everything for your home and office in one location
  • Four hours of design consultation included, followed by an hourly design fee of $125/hour
  • Ability to work with your designer at home and at the Boston Design Center
  • Freedom to browse and VIP reception in participating Plush showrooms
  • Special Plush pricing
  • Invitations to Member-Only events
  • Notification of new collection arrivals and sample sales
What is great is that you can work with a designer to help you create the space you envision, or you can give your own style flair a try. Of course this is not for someone with a tight budget, but rather enticing if the current economy has not affected you and you have a comfortable income.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Snowy New England: winterizing your home

It is the end of December in New England and suddenly those energy bills don't look so harmless. Before you get upset at the record snowfall though, consider the benefits of the white flakes. If your roof is in good condition and well insulated, snow will only act as another layer of effective insulation. The air spaces between the snow crystals in a blanket of loosely packed snow serve as insulation - a deep-freeze duvet - for your home.

We all know about the obvious weatherproofing techniques and products: double pane windows, insulation, a caulk gun, weatherstripping. What about some things that can help but are less obvious? Whether your house has a basement or you are situated on a slab, consider an area rug for the tiled bathrooms and/or kitchen, even if it is there only for the winter. Check power outlets and recessed lights as those can often leak air. Keep your blinds open on sunny days to take advantage of solar gain. For your heating system to run efficiently be sure to replace the filter regularly. Consider investing in a high quality storm door that does not leak air when you are bringing in groceries and have the entry door open.

Depending on the electricity costs in your area you may also look into an electric fireplace for certain rooms in the house. It enables you to lower the overall heat in the home while maintaining a comfortable temperature in rooms you occupy most. Of course this would likely not be efficient in a small apartment, but can have a significant impact in a large home, especially if you have kids away at college and many unused rooms.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Whimzy Interior Design: North Conway Lodging

Are you are tired of the same old hotel room, typical decor, boring accommodations? Check out Adventure Suites in North Conway, NH. Very conveniently located near all the winter activities in the area. You will be excited and intrigued by their 16 suites that are all completely unique!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Solaleya: A Dwelling Connecting to Nature

In my earlier Greenbuild reflection I promised to elaborate on what it is that intrigued me so much about Solaleya. I think the image above is enough to intrigue anyone and wonder what is that, what is it made of, and who is the architect? Solaleya homes were first designed by Patrick Marsilli and the first one was built in 1988 in France. Today there are over 130 such homes worldwide. What makes these homes so special?

"The rotation system allows your home to turn towards or away from the sun to balance inside temperature and reduce energy consumption while allowing you to have a change of scenery from your windows any time you wish.

Proven to resist against extreme high winds and earthquakes in many occurrences, our dome shaped homes provide you with the comfort and safety of an outstanding and luxurious habitat all at once." (Solaleya)

Contrary to what you may think, the total cost of a Solaleya home is not more than a typical cookie cutter McMansion in Massachusetts. If you are really looking for minimal space (retiring with no kids, singles) you can expect a range of $180,00-$230,000 for under 1,000 square feet, including construction costs. At the lower part of the range is a non-rotating home. Affordable luxury shall we name it? Of course if you want top of the line finishes, cabinets, and solar panels, expect to pay extra. From an eco-dwelling point of view there are pros and cons for Solaleya. While FCS certified wood is used, there is a lot of material involved, but at the same time it isn't a lot more than a regular house. There is very little contact with the ground, so there will never be any moisture and humidity issues. All the windows are oriented toward the sky, so natural light is utilized to the maximum. There are no awkward corners that create space that isn't usable like in a regular home. It is also very thermally efficient due to the better flow of air throughout its dome shape.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Certainly Carbon Zero: Ice Hotel

While we can't all be Eco-friendly by building ourselves an ice house to dwell in, we can make our vacation a carbon neutral endeavor by staying at the Ice Hotel in Quebec. Yes, you would need to get there somehow (ski?), it would most likely involve the use of gasoline. But staying at a hotel made entirely of water is rather Earth friendly! Break free from reliance on foreign oil (wink)

Visit our friends at Bye Boston for the full article!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Green Education: College of the Atlantic

Higher education in the United States today is not only unsustainable because of the price tag, but also because dorm life often involves lights on all day, peers too lazy to walk an extra ten feet to the recycle bin, and half full laundry loads in electricity guzzling washing machines. Many colleges taunt a 'green' wrapper but are really nowhere near that on the inside.

I would like to showcase a college that truly breaks the mold. One that dared to go carbon-neutral. College of the Atlantic in Maine is like a small community with common goals. With an enrollment of 321 students, embracing sustainability is easier achieved than at large universities. It is powered by low-flow renewable hydropower, uses FSC certified woods, and feeds its students local organic foods and free range meats (which they often help raise and grow themselves).

You can watch a video here about the focus and vision of College of the Atlantic. You can also check out this video for an overview of the carbon neutrality of the college.

Friday, December 5, 2008

New England: Green Hotel Getaway

Are you looking to get away from the hectic city life and relax this winter season? I have just the green spot for you, the Eco-conscious traveler. Whether you would travel by plane or take a short two hour drive from Boston, this Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, is an emerging jewel. Recently renovated and ranked as one of the Top Ten Green Hotels in the U.S. by Forbes Traveler, this unique spot is affordable this season thanks to their great special going on now if you book by December 15th (check it out here at Travelzoo).

Their website boasts about the green design and service features of this cozy hot spot:
  • The first and only Hotel in Maine to heat with Biofuel
  • The first hotel in Maine to be Carbon Neutral
  • The first in Maine to offer carbon offsets to guests for travel with Carbonfreemeetings™ and Carbonfreevacations™
  • 5 acres of indigenous gardens certified as a Wildlife Habitat
  • Air to air heat exchangers added with our 2008 renovation
  • First hotel in New England to have dual flush toilets
  • Solar heating and salt/chlorine system for the pool
  • Recycled rubber floors in the cardio room
  • Working with LEED consultant on spa addition
  • Low VOC paints, wall covering and sealants in spa
  • Recycled sheetrock and metal studs in spa
  • 22 nesting boxes and 6 bird feeders
  • Recycling bins in rooms & function spaces
  • Sheet and towel programs
  • CFL’s and LED light, lights on timers
  • Green Seal cleaning products for a healthy environment