A LEED-certified modular McMansion

Ask and you shall receive: a few days ago, I asked whether builders could construct “green McMansions.” I came across a video of the construction of a modular, LEED-certified McMansion. Here is why this 6,300 square foot home is green:

New Classics systems-built construction has a smaller impact on the environment than traditional building methods do…

In addition to the green benefits embedded in our construction process, all New Classics homes require less energy to operate…

In addition to the advantages delivered by our systems-built construction, we’ve joined forces with a number of our trade partners to incorporate further energy management and practical green technology into the Bradley Green Home. All of our environmental management features are easy to live with and make smart economic sense…

I would be interested to see whether this home proves attractive to buyers and critics. While it is still a large home (5 bedrooms, 6.5 baths, guest cottage in the back), it also includes a lot of green features including a “geothermal heating and cooling system,” “a solar hot water system,” “The first living retaining walls in the Washington, D.C., area have been installed in the backyard to control erosion,” and “A rainwater collection system” with a “3,000-gallon underground storage tank.” Which wins out in the end: the size and design of the home or its green features? Are these green features enough to counter the fact that this is still part of suburban sprawl in Bethesda, Maryland?

Another important question: what does this home cost? To buy space, luxury, and green, I imagine it could command a premium.

NIMBY reactions to small solar panels on utility poles

Green projects seem to have a good amount of general support. But when plans are made or carried out in particular locations, residents can become upset at how this changes the neighborhood. A recent example involves a plan to install small solar panels on a large number of utility poles in New Jersey:

Residents and politicians in Ridgewood, Wyckoff, and several other posh suburban towns just outside New York City are attacking local utility company PSE&G for putting up solar panels. Specifically, in an attempt to double the Garden State’s solar capacity, the company has been installing 3-foot-by-5-foot solar modules on utility poles. And the reactions are less than positive: “It’s just horrible,” said Ridgewood’s Deputy Mayor Tom Riche, according to an article in The Record, of Bergen County, N.J. on Sunday.

PSE&G wants to add 40 megawatts of solar capacity to the energy mix by 2013 as part of its Solar4All program, and the company is putting 180,000 solar panels on utility poles, schools, and other structures at a cost of more than half a billion dollars.  Among the objections (followed by the utility’s responses):

  • Crews install the panels without any warning. (PSE&G owns the poles.)
  • Residents gripe that the panels are “crammed” onto some blocks while some blocks have none at all. (Poles must have southern exposure and meet other criteria.)
  • Town officials are worried about liability caused by falling ice and snow. (Liability is actually PSE&G’s problem.)

Jerseyans aren’t the only ones raining on solar’s parade with an “ugliness” charge.

Three things strike me about these complaints:

1. Suburbanites tend not to like any changes in a neighborhood if they were not given prior warning. Or, we might even make a stronger argument: perhaps suburbanites just simply don’t like any changes to their neighborhood unless they have direct control over the changes being made.

2. As the end of this post points out, the utility pole is not exactly a paragon of beauty to start with. I currently live in a neighborhood with underground wires and fairly regularly I’m grateful that I don’t have to look at utility poles. Perhaps there are people out there who like their utility poles just the way they are – but this seems to go back to the first thought above.

3. This actually sounds like a clever idea on the part of the utility company. Since they already have the poles in place, why not put them to use and generate a decent amount of electricity through a distributed system? I wonder if the utility company predicted any outcry from citizens – and if so, perhaps they should have announced giant wind farms or something like that first so people would later be willing to settle for utility pole solar panels.

Considering what the “green Loop” might look like

Amidst talk of eco-cities, a Chicago architectural firm has put together a plan to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent within Chicago’s Loop. How to accomplish this: retrofit older buildings rather than building a lot of new, green buildings.

The architects break what they call the Central Loop into four types of buildings: heritage buildings (1880-1945), which are clad in heat-absorbing masonry and have operable windows; midcentury modern buildings (1945-75), which hog energy due to their vast expanses of glass and heavy reliance on air conditioning; post-energy-crisis buildings (1975-2000), which show greater energy-efficiency but are burdened by an unanticipated rise in computer use; and energy-conscious buildings (2000-present), which continue to improve efficiency but are in relatively short supply.

That brings us to the heart of the matter: The key to cutting pollution isn’t building new green buildings. There simply aren’t enough of them to make a difference. The only way to lower our carbon footprint is to make the buildings we already have more energy-efficient.

That’s possible, as evidenced by the recent transformation of the Merchandise Mart, the massive yet graceful Art Deco commercial and trade show building along the Chicago River. At 4.2 million gross square feet, it’s one of the world’s largest buildings. By taking a variety of steps — from installing energy-saving water pumps to promoting eco-friendly products to the building’s tenants — the Mart cut its overall energy consumption by 21 percent from 2006 to 2010, executives there say.

I wonder how this plan would be received by businesses and building owners. While they suggest energy costs will decrease in the long run and rents may increase, such retrofitting could be costly in the short-term and there could be some anxiety about doing these things in the middle of a tough real estate and business market.

And how much would the City of Chicago really get behind this? Mayor Daley has drawn plaudits in the past for promoting ideas like rooftop gardens but these are limited in number. The City itself faces significant financial troubles in the coming years and I imagine issues like jobs, pensions, crime and the number of police in the streets, will dominate conversations for a while.

I would enjoy seeing their charts or models to see which particular buildings in the Loop use more or less energy. The picture that leads this report on the plan probably shows carbon emissions or energy use by building.

Complaints about wind turbines: noisy and more

A number of wind farms built in more populated areas have drawn complaints from nearby residents, including the noise generated by the spinning turbines:

The wind industry has long been dogged by a vocal minority bearing all manner of complaints about turbines, from routine claims that they ruin the look of pastoral landscapes to more elaborate allegations that they have direct physiological impacts like rapid heart beat, nausea and blurred vision caused by the ultra-low-frequency sound and vibrations from the machines.

For the most extreme claims, there is little independent backing…

Numerous studies also suggest that not everyone will be bothered by turbine noise, and that much depends on the context into which the noise is introduced. A previously quiet setting like Vinalhaven is more likely to produce irritated neighbors than, say, a mixed-use suburban setting where ambient noise is already the norm.

A number of lawsuits against the turbines are now working through the courts.

An acoustic expert in the article suggests a solution: simply build the turbines further away from residences. However, there is a well-documented issue of a lack of high-capacity transmission lines that affects a lot of energy plant building.

How much of this is simply American NIMBYism in action: while people might generally support greener energy, how many want such plants built nearby?

h/t The Infrastructurist

Problems for green technology in America

Wired explores five reasons why the green tech sector has had a difficult time in the United States.

These five reasons are primarily cultural: green technology faces an image issue. Either dire circumstances or a breakthrough technology might be needed to push forward.