The Shipping News (apologies to Annie Proulx)
The annual West Coast Green eco-expo at the San Jose, California Convention Center brought enthusiastic crowds despite economic worries.The SG Blocks Harbinger house — designed by The Lawrence Group architectural firm and assembled by SG Blocks inside the hall in a miraculous three days — occupied center stage and was the largest draw.
The 1,700 square foot home’s building system is the big story: it’s made of recycled and modified shipping containers – called SG Blocks (the SG stands for safe and green).The only real hint of the construction appears in the way the containers are stacked to overlap slightly. The contemporary two-story, two bedroom, two bath home opens to a large deck off the ground floor living-dining area and kitchen, and to two smaller decks off the upstairs bedrooms. It’s engineered to be hurricane and earthquake resistant. It gives the old phrase “ship-to-shore” new meaning…or is that Dwelling Ahoy!
According to The Lawrence Group, “More than 300,000 used shipping containers are sitting in port cities throughout the U.S. because they are too expensive to ship back to their point of origin.” They cost from $500 to $2,000 apiece, “making them a useful building material for affordable housing.” This completed house cost roughly $150 per square foot. It’s full of green materials and products, like counters made of recycled glass by Vetrazzo (below), with an elegant undermount sink by Caroma.
Alongside the house is an intriguing water catchment system called the Rainwater Hog, below.
The modular 47-gallon water tank (three are shown here) holds rainwater runoff from the roof for use in your garden or to flush toilets.The compact design allows it to fit under decks or against walls.Elsewhere at the Show I saw a variety of useful and attractive green products to interest builders and owners of new homes — some also appeared at the Pacific Coast Builders Conference and Dwell on Design. Here’s what stood out for me here, by category.
Counters are an expanding green product category. In addition to Vetrazzo, three other counter materials were on display. EcoTop was used in the show house, though this photo is of the display in the booth.
It uses a water-based resin as the binder for a blend of bamboo fiber and recycled wood fiber from demolition sites. PaperStone has an expanding range of colors and is made from post-consumer waste, recycled paper, and petroleum free phenolic resins. The imaginatively named Squak Mountain Stone (shown below) combines recycled paper, recycled glass, coal fly ash, and cement.
It has the rustic-elegant look of integrally colored concrete.
Bamboo and Beyond
Plyboo is a leader in bamboo and palm products for flooring, paneling, and counters. The news is their “woven” Durapalm paneling, which creates a very striking effect.
I like the way it’s used as backsplash/accent wall (this images is from Plyboo’s website.)
Teragren is another important bamboo flooring, panels, and veneer manufacturer. Their butcher block countertops are especially appealing.
This example resembles a miniature parquet pattern (the photo is from the Teragren website).
Sustainably harvested wood is the basic standard for a green floor. EcoTimber provides a wide spectrum of wood flooring choices from forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
The example above (“Hand-scraped Hickory Spice”) is from the EcoTimber website.
Another approach is to recycle wood from vintage demolished buildings, which is what Restoration Timber does. The image below, from their website, shows the sculptural way some of their salvaged wood beams have been used — and what unusual old growth wood it is.
Restoration Timber is the hunter-gatherer of the wood world. They tend to work primarily with architects and interior designers.
West Coast Green also showcased Warmboard, which bills itself the only radiant heat panel that’s also a structural subfloor. Here’s an explanation of how their system works.
Warmboard saves a construction step since the tubing is built into the subfloor.
Another “hot” product is the geometric modern EcoSmartFire “burner” from Australia that uses denatured ethanol, burns cleanly and vividly, and requires no flue.The example below is clad in bamboo.
I’ve seen Ecosmart Fire units at other shows but am always drawn to the simple clarity of their designs.
As you would expect, photovoltaic solar panel companies were well represented at West Coast Green, including Akeena Solar and Premier Power. I’d like to see even more solar residential products. And come to think of it, I wonder if it’s possible to create a prefabricated solar canopy that might double as a porch or veranda roof. Premier Power’s solar roof tiles and Akeena’s flat solar “Andalay” panels come close. A solar porch roof application is not an easy design problem, I know, because of the need to be compatible with the traditional styles of many houses. Such a solar array should be integrated visually into the structure of the roof, not just attached to the top. Just a thought. Look for more WCG products in future posts.