check out our “green lifestlyle modules” page

davidi just created a new tab on the website called “green“. yes groundbreaking news, right? and original too. i created and put together 5 green lifestyle modules several months ago but had them hidden under the services tab until i could figure out what to do with them. so i had my web designer create a new tab called “green” and when you scroll over it, it turns green. again groundbreaking. you can click on each module or icon and find out more information about each module.

the 5 green lifestyle modules are designed to provide information for homeowners interested in building green. they were also put together because it’s important that we look at the building as a whole, as a living breathing thing. i’ll also be rolling out some videos in the near future explaining the green lifestlye modules in further detail.

i hope you enjoy the information!

cool product of the month: ecobags

with less than 15 hours to go before august ends, i’m finally getting to this month’s COOL product post. so here it goes; drumroll please……COOL product of the month for August is ECObags!ecobags

now i know this may not seem that exciting, especially since following that dramatic drumroll, but this is a very important COOL product. ECObags sells several sizes of reusable canvas bags. one of the first places i go to when visiting a website is the “about us” page, especially if i’m considering purchasing that particular service or product. incidentally, my own “about us” page at reside architecture is one of the most visited pages on my website so i’m not alone in my thinking. from the ECObags website, their mission is clear;

Ecobags Products, Inc. opened for business in 1989 with a simple goal; to produce quality bags at great prices so that “Reusable becomes a way of life.”

“reusable becomes a way of life.” Pretty smart and simple concept and one that more of us are embracing everyday. my wife and i purchased several ecobags about two years ago and have been using them religiously (assuming we can remember to grab them as we leave the house… along with two boys, sunscreen, stroller, ergocarrier, drink cups, diapers, snacks, shopping list… you get the idea). we always take them with us when grocery shopping to trader joes and many grocery stores will give you 5 cents (couldn’t find the cent sign on my keyboard so i had to spell it out) for each bag you bring in, not something we’ll get rich on but it’s nice to have the acknowledgment.

my favorite, the half size produce bag
my favorite, the half size produce bag

for me, where the ECObags really shine are the smaller sizes for taking to the farmers’ market. generally speaking, i do believe that people that take the time to go to their local farmers’ markets and support local farmers are concerned about their health and the health of the environment, agreed? then why oh why do i see so many people walking around with lots and lots of plastic bags to carry their fruits and vegetables in, only to get home and throw them away (or recycle). the answer to all of that is the half size produce bags. i love ours. we have about 10 of them and they are perfect for putting in 3 or 4 sweet potatoes or a handful of plums or peaches. we usually get approached once each time out to the farmers market by someone asking about the smaller size ECObags because “they are so cute.” we’ve probably saved using over 1000 plastic bags over the last couple of years. you can buy 5 of them for $13.00 so there really is no reason to not have these in your shopping arsenal. hopefully you’ll be as excited about your ECObags as i am, then you’ll tell a neighbor, and that neighbor will tell their neighbor, and that neighbor will tell their neighbor….

cool product of the month: caroma waterless urinal and dual flush toilet

watersense_logo_colorthis month’s COOL product is actually one company, two products. the company is caroma and the products are their waterless urinal and dual flush toilet. caroma is an australian company that has been dealing with drought issues for years and they are genuinely committed to the environment and helping the world conserve resources, namely water. you can click to read their eco-statement. you can also review several tutorial videos on their website as well.

i recently installed both the waterless urinal and the dual flush toilets in the westbourne project. H2Zero_2the waterless urinal is coroma’s h2 zero model and it really is a waterless urinal. it has a “bio-seal”, a one way air-tight valve to seal the cartridge from the drainage system. it also includes a special tool that allows for hands free periodic replacement of the bio-seal. the manufacturer suggests replacement every 9-12 months. this is a great product and it will save the homeowners 4800 gallons of water a year.

the dual flush toilet is coroma’s caravelle and gives you the option of 2 types of flushes. flush #1 uses .8 gallons and flush #2 will use 1.6, a normal amount for a low flush toilet. Caravelle-One-Piece-mdfrom my understanding, a homeowner would be using flush #1 a majority of the time, so there would be substantial water savings there as well. when i combine the waterless urinal and dual dlush toilets installed in the westbourne project, the homeowners would be saving more than 7000 gallons of water per year. now, that may not seem like a lot, but water is a precious resource and every little bit helps. i’d say saving 7000 gallons a water a year without really doing anything different, is a good thing.

i’m going to be on the level with you here. you wouldn’t necessarily install these products to save money. because water is so cheap (that’s another topic) the return on investment is many years. the caravelle sells for about $750 per toilet versus $100 for a home depot toilet and $500-$600 for a nicer one piece low flow toilet. the waterless urinal will cost about $750 and the bio seal kit will cost about $115 once every twelve months. BUT, these are not  products you purchase and install to save money. you buy them to save a very precious, finite resource…fresh water.  a little bit can go along way. if a family of 4 can save 15,000 gallons of water per year,  imagine what that would mean if a these were installed in every home in your neighborhood. assuming 100 houses, that would be 1.5 million gallons of water saved per year. 1000 homes could save 15 million gallons of water. now that, is pretty COOL.

maybe my dad was right after all

david22last night i went to the wise water expo, a small gathering of mar vista  residents (neighborhood in los angeles) in an auditorium at mar vista park. they had a few speakers lined up including a gentleman from los angeles department of water and power and ed begley jr. i had planned on writing a blog about how great it was and ways to conserve water but those will come at a later date. this one is about my dad.

last night, as ed begley jr was speaking (he was involved with the first earth day in 1970, so ed has been in the green scene for a long time), he said his wife made the comment about his efforts to cut costs around the house,  that he doesn’t care for the environment, that he is just a cheapskate. of course everybody laughed. then i found myself thinking about my dad.

now, my dad was by no means a cheapskate. i know us four children were raised on a limited income, but i also remember having every star wars figure and toy that were on the shelf. he was from a different time when things were, well, just different. he was born in 1929 in a small town saranac, new york and spent most of his time in vermont and new hampshire. he was a french canadian whose dad was born in quebec. my dad was one of eight children and he never went farther than the eighth grade because he needed to work to support the family. he served in the korean conflict (yes, war was never declared). he was a simple man and was a member of the teamsters for 30+ years, working mostly in the local areas of new hampshire and vermont. he was also active with the boyscouts.

i’m mentioning all of this because i think my dad was green without ever applying a label to it and here’s why;

1. keep the thermostat set at 68 degrees. that was the golden rule at our house in new hampshire. i remember those cold winter mornings waking up and trying to turn the dial even an 1/8 of an inch to maybe 70 degrees and my dad would turn it back to 68 and give a scolding at the same time. if we were walking around the house and we said “it’s cold in here”, my dad’s response would be to “put on a sweater”. we weren’t really allowed to go bare feet in the house in the winter time either, “get some socks on your feet” i’d hear as i would awake in the morning and come into the kitchen. we had an oil fired furnace, and it was about not using any more oil than we needed, about keeping the costs down. sounds like he was teaching us about energy efficiency, we just didn’t know it yet.

2. take shorter showers. i was always pretty good about taking shorter showers, but my brother derek was the one who liked to take his time. i remember vividly numerous times, my dad knocking on the bathroom door, shouting “that’s enough water” and soon after the sound of the water stopping. i remember at one point in my early teen years, something was broken on the hot water heater that prevented the whole tank from being heated and my dad refused to fix it because it naturally made for shorter showers. once your shower started to get cool, your time was up, as determined by the hot water heater. maybe we should all install smaller hot water heaters. that would conserve energy and water. pretty smart dad.

3. turn off the lights. i remember my dad always after us to turn off the lights when we’d leave the room or getting up in the middle of the night to tell us to go to bed (because we had to play one more game of golf on intellivision). he wasn’t telling  us to turn off the lights because it was good for the environment, it was so we would have a lower utility bill, i.e. conserve energy.

4. eat everything on your plate. it’s no secret that most of the waste in landfills is composed of food scraps and cnn wrote an article last year that stated that 1/4 of the U.S.’s food will get tossed into the garbage. it costs the U.S. 1 billion dollars annualy just to dispose of it. now, that was probably not in my dad’s mind when he was always telling us to eat everything on our plate. he just believed in eating what you take and don’t waste it. i remember one night, when i was probably 6 or 7,  at the dinner table i had a hot dog i couldn’t finish. he had no sympathy and wouldn’t let me leave the table until it was gone. he went in the living room and sat in his chair where he could still see me. i felt like i was there forever. my sister eventually rescued me and slipped a napkin to me that i was able to put the hot dog in.

5. conserve gas. i remember when i turned sixteen, my dad wanted to give me his 1977 baby blue chevrolet monte carlo. i had been working since i was 14 at the local dog track so i saved some money and decided i wanted to buy my own car because i wanted to make my own rules (which didn’t really work). i just remember my dad always going on about the car is just to get to work and back. it’s not for joyriding or wasting gas. where i grew up in hinsdale, nh, there was nothing to do but drive around. there were 40 kids in my graduating class and no stop light in town. but he insisted that i just drive it to work and back (of course i was 16 at the time and thought he had it all wrong and i didn’t listen then).

my dad passed away in 2002.  i always knew i inherited the creative gene from him. he was always helping me make cool things for school. in the 3rd grade, he cut  two dinosaurs out of plywood and helped me paint them green, they were a t-rex and stegasaurus. one year, for halloween, he made me a mickey mouse whole head mask out of chicken wire and paper mache, all from scratch. in the seventh grade, he helped me build a castle out of sugar cubes. it’s kind of funny for me to be sitting here now calling myself a green architect. truth is, green has been around a long time, it just never had a label. i guess my dad’s words sunk in there someway or somehow. thanks dad.

energy audit: a look at your electric bill

my electric bill
my electric bill

let’s talk about your electric bill. an average size home in america consumes between 600 to 900 kWh per month. this will obviously vary depending on what part of the country you live in (and what is considered average), but it’s a good starting point. let’s break that down even further because i believe when we have an understanding we can relate to, we’re more apt to make small changes that can have big impacts, both on the environment and in your wallet.

i’m going to work with the 600 kWh usage per month and use that as a basis for our understanding. if we divide 600 kWh by # days in a month, 30, that would mean we are consuming 20 kWh of electricity per day. let’s assume we’re paying .14 cents per kilowatt hour (the rate will vary by area but generally will be between .10 and .14) so we’re spending $2.80 per day on electricity for our home. that will give us a bill of about $84 per month. if you’re consuming 900 kWh per month, your bill will more likely be $126 per month.

one note: make sure you read your electric bill correctly. it will be either based on one month or two months, just make sure you know which one and adjust your figures accordingly.

SO, you’re now looking at your electric bill and you say, “oh yeah, i see, my bill is about $100 per month and that fits within the average so that must mean i’m doing good and can keep doing what i’ve been doing all along.”  does this sound like you? let me clear up one thing here, AVERAGE DOES NOT EQUAL GOOD. just because everyone else in the country is averaging $100 a month electric bill, doesn’t mean you should too. there are simple ways to get that down. and we’ve all heard them, turn off lights when not in the room, replace bulbs with compact flourescents (which i’m not a fan of, that’s another article), run the air conditioner set at 78, to name a few.  even if you knock it down $10 a month, you’ll save $120 per year.

let’s put all of this in perspective. i live with my wife and two young boys in a modest, 1 story 1500 s.f. older home. we moved in this past january and i’ve been looking at our bills since we moved in. our power is supplied by los angeles department of water and power. we get a bill from them every two months and it covers solid resources fee, water servce, and energy service (electric). our electric bill averages about 650 kWh per billing cycle, that’s for two months. SO we are consuming 325 kWh per month, well below the national average. we aren’t doing anything special either. we have a mixture of incadescent bulbs and compact flourescents. the most important thing we do is to not leave lights on around the house and turn off lights when we leave the room. we also haven’t run the air conditioner yet and rely on opening doors and windows instead. i’m sure at some point we will turn it on this summer, which may push us into the 400+ Kwh range, but we’ll see. one important note here is that our stove, dryer (electric dryers do cost more to operate than gas dryers), and furnace are heated via natural gas.

assuming you pulled out your electric bill for this exercise, you should have been able to locate how much you are using per month, then how much you use per day, and finally how much you are spending on electricity per day. just having an understanding of this will prove beneficial to you. i have found that once we have an understanding of something, we tend to pay better attention to it. the less we understand something, the more likely we will pay less attention or ignore it altogether. did i mention my wife is a psychotherapist?

think twice before reaching for that air conditioner button

modern company's ball fan

any way you slice it, air conditioners are electricity hogs. they are the suped up SUV version of the appliances in your home and they consume large amounts of electricity. whole house air conditioners can use anywhere from 15 to 25 kWh (kilowatt-hours)  of electricity per day (assuming about 4 hours of usage). at 14 cents per kWh, that’s about $3.50 per day. considering the average home consumes about 20 – 30 kWh per day, 4 hours of  air conditioner use almost doubles the daily consumption to a whopping 55 kWh per day. now you’re at about $7.00 a day for electricity.

now, that may not sound like much, but if you’re running your air conditioner everyday, that will be an additional $105 on top of your normal electrical bill (the average monthly electrical bill in the US is about $95 for around 900 kWh of electricity). multiply that by 4 months and that is an additional $420. it adds up, especially when you don’t pay attention to the time your a/c is on or your electricity bill. so here are a few tips that may help you limit the time your a/c runs;

1. turn up that thermostat to 78 degrees. “wait a minute, what??? you mean you want me to turn my thermostat UP to 78 degrees? i thought i am supposed to turn it down for my a/c. that means my air conditioner won’t even kick on until it gets warmer than 78? i like my home to be an ice box. i prefer a nice chilly 64. i like to run my air conditioner 24/7, i can’t sleep otherwise. but i admit, i don’t like the $500 a month electrical bill.” i hear you but i challenge you to give it a try. even if you do it for a few days, you’ll save electricity and money. check out this cool website that shows you the cost of your thermostat setting when deviating from 78

2. use those ceiling fans. “but i don’t have ceiling fans installed in the house and i don’t really like those combo things at home depot.” ugly ceiling fans are no longer an excuse, check out the modern fan company’s selection of cool, modern fans. the ball is my favorite. you’ll pay for the cost of the fans and installation in a few seasons by limiting the use of the a/c and turning these guys on instead.

3. use a programmable thermostat. along with a setting of 78 degrees, a programmable thermostat will help you limit the amount of time your a/c stays on, thus reducing your electricity bill. your savings in one year can pay for this nifty unit (it works great for the heating in the winter too).

4. open those doors and windows. “but it’s hot outside, why do i want to open the doors and windows.”  a simple concept that has been around since the beginning of time,  called passive ventilation. if you open your doors and windows, you’ll create cross ventilation and bring an airflow into your home. along with your ceiling fans, you can really start move that air around your house. this doesn’t mean you’ll never have to use your air conditioner again (unless you live near the beach), but it will help you limit the use of your a/c unit. as i mentioned earlier, every little bit helps.

5. seal those ducts. if your ductwork is in the attic or in the crawlspace under your house, have them professionally sealed and tested for leaks. the ductwork is moving that cool air through the house and you don’t want it leaking into the attic or in the crawlspace (or anywhere else for that matter).

6. eat lots of otter pops. a nice frozen treat that will help you feel cool on hot summer days,

get outdoors! go gardening

jake the gardener

“let’s go water the garden!”  those are the words uttered by my almost 3 year old son, jake, pretty much daily. he loves to water the garden and loves to squat down and see the fruits of our labor. a couple of months ago, my wife and i had been wanting to start a garden in our backyard but we didn’t really have space. the only space we had was an area about 9′ x 12′ behind the garage. it seemed like the most logical place but it was already home to a pile of stuff i don’t use that often so who would want to disturb that. if it’s not in your way, don’t move it always say (not really, but i’m thinking on the fly).

so about 6 weeks ago, i picked an especially warm saturday and cleared the area, turned over the soil, got a blister, and then went to the local nursery and bought 7 bags of organic soil to mix into the existing soil. i was hoping jake would like the idea and why wouldn’t he; it’s outside and it’s dirt. needless to say, he was right there when i was planting the seeds and he was putting his own seeds down. he didn’t really seem to get the concept of 2″ apart even after i repeated 6 or 7 times. at what age can they start to read a tape measure or even eyeball????

so there we were one saturday, on our hands and knees planting seeds and plants. jake was proud to show me how his pants got dirty and he also informed me that they are his “gardening pants”. we planted an herb garden consisting of basil, chives, parsley (flat leaf, not the denny’s kind), arugula, dill, thyme and a few variety of beans including edamame (which we are really excited for). we also planted some zucchini, cucmbers, and tomatoes. afterwards we faithfully watered morning and evening for a couple of weeks and slowly tapered back the watering.

within the last two weeks, we’ve really begun seeing things grow. the zuchinni has already started blossoming flowers and small zucchini, and the tomato plants are almost two feet high. it’s pretty fullfilling to see jake run to show people the garden. last night, when his uncle seth came over, we started to walk outside and jake made it very clear to me that “i will show him, don’t you show him” meaning he didn’t want me showing the garden to uncle seth. jake wanted to be the first one there and happily ran into the backyard. at dinner, jake explained to uncle seth that we planted seeds and “rugla”, or as we adults prefer to call it, arugula.

zucchini flower
zucchini flower

at the beginning of this article i had intended to write about how to start a garden, what kinds of vegetable to grow, etc. but i somehow got off on the tangent of starting the garden with jake. there’s already a million resources on the internet for that sort of stuff anyway. maybe the point of gardening isn’t really about growing the vegetables after all. maybe it’s more about being outside, tilling the land, and sharing the experience with close family. maybe it’s about playing in the dirt for the afternoon with your son named jake. whatever motivates you or the reasons you may have, it’s time to get outdoors and start that garden…or weed it as is my case.

westbourne tour part I

our westbourne project is almost complete. the owners will be moving back in in about a week and a half. we have a couple things to finish inside but i’m excited to show you where we are at with the project. over the course of the next week or so, i’ll be posting short videos showing off each room or rooms so please check back often.

westbourne tour part I from david doucette on Vimeo.