Teragren – Great example of 360 Sustainability

A couple months ago we posted a praise of Fireclay Tile for their success in making beautiful tile and setting a high bar for sustainable, local manufacturing. Companies who make it their mission to deliver value across multiple spectrums are our favorite recommendations to clients.

For this post we want to offer the same praise to Teragren Inc. We had the opportunity to partner with them alongside Fireclay for the finishes to our Green Vision display home. (currently on exhibit with the City of Palo Alto as a sustainability showcase)

Teragren produces gorgeous bamboo wood products and have made a significant contribution to increasing the adoption of renewable bamboo over timber in the building industry. In the almost 20 years since Teragren was founded, they have successfully commercialized flooring, cabinetry, retail displays, and countertop products using sustainably grown bamboo and following the principles of the Natural Step framework.

For anyone interested in how bamboo products are made, the manufacturing page on Teragren’s website does a fantastic job. There is a detailed and educational overview of the process from farming to harvesting to assembly. Scrolling through pictures on the products page, it’s impressive to see the quality and variety of building products that one species of plant can deliver.

Of the multiple benefits Teragren’s bamboo wood products offer, our favorite is the attention paid to VOCs. Our clients are interested in picking interior products that will create a healthy indoor environment.  All of Teragren’s product lines qualify as low emitting materials under LEED and they offer several product lines – butcher blocks and counter tops especially – that use 100% formaldehyde-free adhesives.

We encourage you to check out Teragren as a finish choice for your next remodel or backyard cottage project.

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Velux Sun Tunnels – Natural Light is the Best Light

One easy guideline to designing spaces where people want to spend time is including plenty of natural light.  A request for “a lot of natural light” is typically in the top five desired features when discussing initial design with clients. It’s even accurate to say natural light holds the number one slot for the majority.

It makes perfect sense to us. Natural light makes a space feel healthy and open and receptive. It also reduces electricity costs. The goal is to try and keep costs under control when figuring out options for more light because several large windows, glass paneled walls and skylights can become expensive.

For this reason, the Velux Sun Tunnel is our ‘Great Cottage Product’ this week. Velux Sun Tunnels can go a long way to lighting a small unit and are more economical than expensive windows. A Sun Tunnel does exactly as the name suggests – it pipes in natural light from the roof through a reflective tube and straight inside.

The before and after pictures on Velux’s site are a perfect show and tell for the appeal.

Before                                                After

   

The Sun Tunnels are engineered so that light is amplified but does not refract and change color or cause a glare inside the house – simply warm natural light direct from outside. There are several sizes and designs for different placements inside the house depending on the lighting goal for the room in question.

We are big fans of drawing in Sun Tunnels to your design and recommend reading more info at www.suntunnelskylights.veluxusa.com!

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The Nest Thermostat – A new standard recommendation for our cottages.

Building a new home, even a small home in your backyard, means making a ton of decisions about design and products. One of our main responsibilities to clients is helping them navigate towards product selections that will make the home more efficient, less costly and more comfortable. The Nest Learning Thermostat is a perfect example of a simple choice with excellent sustainability returns. Our homes are already very efficient by virtue of compact size and high quality walls and windows. A thermostat like Nest can help take the operational efficiency of the home an extra mile.

As per the name, Nest is an intelligent, ‘learning’ thermostat that helps reduce your energy cost without a lot of thinking. It introduces user friendly design and networked device capabilities into the standard programmable thermostat concept. Each time you adjust the temperature to what you need at the moment, it learns and remembers information so that it can automatically make your heating and cooling as efficient as possible. The Nest team puts it like this: ‘Your thermostat should program itself around your life – not the other way around.‘ Homeowners can control it remotely from smartphones and teach the thermostat exactly how to act. Complementing the ability for intelligent algorithms to control temperature adjustments based on behavior, the Nest thermostat also has activity sensors and humidity sensors and can make adjustments based on predicted weather using a Wi-Fi connection.

This 2 minute video explains the main features. We think it is fantastic.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5thQRIX3Rio[/youtube]

On average our clients will spend $150k – $250k on their new backyard unit. We see a thermostat which can help automatically reduce energy costs without inconvenience or sacrifice to comfort as a great product selection for a new home.

Check out www.nest.com for more information and we’ll post again soon after monitoring the Nest thermostat’s performance in one of our cottages!

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A Net-Zero Discussion with DSA Architects

Dan Smith and Dietmar Lorenz at DSA Architects believe that any house in California should be close to net-zero energy, especially new construction. They also have the know how to back up this goal. Dan and Dietmar are experts in net-zero design and construction with a savvy eye towards cost effectiveness. The golden rule is that an upfront premium needs to be justified by a net cost savings in the long run.

We got the chance to ask Dan and Dietmar a couple questions about their design strategy and the main considerations when aiming for net zero.

“Can you explain exactly what you mean by a net-zero building?”

We are referring to dollars spent in annual energy cost. A net-zero building will cost you $0 in annual energy by virtue of producing as much energy onsite as you use on a yearly basis. The power grid acts as a “battery” to balance seasonal supply & demand discrepancies.

“How do you do it?” 

First, always start with a site responsive, well insulated building – build it right. Second, install an appropriately sized, typically small, PV solar system. That’s it.

“What do you mean when you say “build it right”?”

It means finding the right balance between all building elements. Passive solar design considerations should always precede mechanical system talk. Ultra high performance products are often not needed. Sometimes completely eliminating or downsizing mechanical systems can deliver upfront savings. Both improved standard construction practices and new methods and materials help achieve the goal of reducing the operational energy consumption of the building. We’re always keeping an eye on the embodied energy (what it takes to build the house), indoor environmental quality, often referred to as ‘healthy building’, and finally – durability and longevity.

Above all else of course, it has to be really nice.  A good layout and design can go a long way toward lowering your carbon footprint. Building it right means making as good a building as possible through energy conscious design and quality construction.

“Is a PV solar system required for net zero?”

Even if you saved 80% of the energy compared to a typical house, you’d still have to generate the remaining 20% to be truly net zero. You can do that with a small PV solar system which is a little bit more upfront cost, however the monthly utility bill savings typically more than offset the initial investment over time. There are also PV lease models that don’t need an up-front investment at all. In the end even if you decide against installing a PV system, you still have a house that is 5x more efficient than usual – kudos!

“Do you have to build small to be net zero?”

A small house inherently has a smaller energy footprint in both embodied and operational energy. While economy of scale considerations typically work against small houses, compactness is probably the single most important asset in achieving net zero goals and some of the key ingredients in the mix, such as heat pumps, are perfectly geared towards that scale.

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Check out some of the pictures below for some of Dan & Dietmar’s favored approaches to net-zero design and construction and read more about their work at www.dsaarch.com.

Structured Insulated Panels (SIP’s) Construction

 

Strawbale Walls

Living Roof

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Indoor Gardening with Windowfarms

Who doesn’t love fresh herbs? If you have the patience and a meager minute every few days to spare, one thing you can invest in are indoor mini-gardens. As the name suggests, these are accessible, portable gardens you would set up inside your home. With minimal effort and skill, one can have year-round fresh herbs such as: basil, parsley, mint, oregano, or rosemary. More herbs and some tips in an external link below.

There are many do-it-yourself kits available at home goods stores. A neat kit I discovered is sold by some folks at Windowfarms. Their setup includes canisters that can be hanged or stacked at or by your window. The stacked, vertical design lets you fit more in small spaces and makes for some amusement for your guests.

If you are looking for more gardening advice, here are a few resources:

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5 Ideas to Create More Space in Your Small Kitchen

Two features that make a small kitchen feel bigger are open counter space and plenty of storage. If you have open space to chop, mix and assemble your dishes it will feel like a comfortable place to spend some time cooking for yourself, friends and family. These are some of our favorite products to get a few things off the counters and out of the drawers and cabinets.

1) Knife Magnet Strip

Magnet strips are fantastic. They look nice and can be used for knives, spatulas, scissors, whisks, ladles and any other metal kitchen utensils. This way you don’t have to store a set of knives in a wood block on the counter and can free up drawer space for other items.

This is one of our favorites from The Shiksa

 

 

 

 

 

2. Hanging Baskets

Rather than store your apples, oranges, tomatoes, onions, garlic, avocados or any other fruit or vegetable in the pantry, fridge or countertop basket, put them in a basket hanging from the ceiling. You can turn a small empty corner that is too small for a cabinet into more storage with one ceiling hook.

This is a minimalist style from Sur la Table

 

 

 

 

 

 

and a rustic style from Bed Bath & Beyond

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Hanging Dish Rack

You’ll need to find the right size to fit over your sink but that’s pretty easy. When you find the right one, a hanging dish rack is just like adding a little more counter space. You can position it high enough to not be cumbersome doing dishes and let your plates, mugs, bowls and silverware drip-dry right into the sink. More space and less mess.

Trade Key has nice designs

 

 

 

 

 

 

or you can take a cabinet integrated approach like this example in Fine Home Building…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Wall Mounted Paper Towel Rack

Very simple and very common.  Paper towels need to be handy to be useful and putting them on a wall mounted rack makes great use out of a small area under a cabinet.

Here’s a simple Bed Bath & Beyond Model featured on Houzz

 

 

 

5. Hanging Pot Rack

Nothing consumes more drawer and cabinet space than pots and pans. Getting them out and hanging from the wall or ceiling is perfect work around. Plus, anything else in your kitchen that has a hook or handle can hang right next to them.

Great ceiling hanging design from Crate & Barrel

 

 

 

 

 

 

and a Wall Mounted Design from Cuisinart

 

 

 

 

These are some of our favorite small kitchen solutions. If you have other suggestions and great product ideas send them our way, we’d love to share!

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Fireclay Tile – A model for local, sustainable manufacturing

One of our goals when helping clients choose finish items for their new home or cottage is to find and recommend high quality products with a high value to price relationship.  We want the interior finishes choices to reflect our design and engineering focus on sustainability and longevity.

Among our favorite recommendations is Fireclay Tile.  The first reason is easy – they make absolutely beautiful ceramic tile products and have selection across many styles and price points. The Debris Series Recycled Tile is a house favorite. The Debris Series is a post and pre consumer waste tile product.  It uses recycled glass dust, porcelain dust and spent abrasive minerals to make a unique, beautiful tile for homes while diverting waste from landfill. Fireclay also re-processes all waste materials from one production run back into the input for the next. They prove that responsible, closed-loop manufacturing processes can deliver the highest quality products.

Here’s Paul Burns, Chief Ceramist and Founder of Fireclay Tile talking about developing the Debris Series and coupling sustainable manufacturing processes with recycled material sourcing.

The second reason is that In addition to beautiful tile, we love to recommend Fireclay Tile because they are a local company doing all the right things. They have been in business in San Jose for 26 years.  Founder Paul Burns (in the video above) is still the Chief Ceramist and dedicates his time to coming up with inventive sustainable tile product lines, and Eric Edelson, a younger local, joined in 2009 to apply a Stanford MBA education to helping local manufacturing thrive. Fireclay Tile is a model to emulate. They make amazing product lines, source materials locally, manufacture products responsibly and are preserving the specialized art of ceramic tile making in the region by training new locals in the craft.  If you are considering tiling or re-tiling, Fireclay Tile should be on your shortlist to go check out.

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Have any questions? We are available to discuss your goals & ideas. There’s no fee or commitment. To request a time for a call, just click here and tell us when to call you.