Energy- and Resource-Efficiency: Tearing Down & Building Up

Green Ways to Vanish and Grow

Energy efficiency in home design isn’t new; it has simply become more urgent as natural resources dwindle and global warming increases. But here’s a new twist: the most creative approach to green building might just involve eco-friendly demolition —  if you need to remove the structure that’s already there and can recycle its key elements before building anew. I’m thinking of the fascinating new technique showcased by the demolition of the Grand Akasaka Prince Hotel

now under way in Tokyo. The hotel is shown here in the photo on the left, with all of its 460 feet of height intact — and where I once stayed on the 23rd floor!  Now look at the photo on the right, where the building is missing 98 feet. (Yikes, I was sure my room was here somewhere…) The hotel is due to vanish completely by May. No dust, no debris, lowered noise levels, structural elements recycled, and power even generated by the crane system that lowers the beams and concrete flooring to the ground (similar to how power is generated in a hybrid car when brakes are applied). According to Kakuaki Nagata writing in The Japan Times, “The roof is held up by temporary columns that are lowered by jacks as the higher floors come down. ‘It’s kind of like having a disassembly factory on top of the building and putting a big hat there, and then the building shrinks’ from the top, said Ichihara.” Hideki Ichihara oversees construction technology development for Taisei Corporation, which invented this innovative technique called the Taisei Ecological Reproduction System or Tecorep. Amazing. I guess this gives new meaning to “Concierge Floor.” (Images courtesy Archinect.)

Such a technique is obviously not necessary for homes but it illustrates the creativity that is coming to the field of recycling. And if you can recycle materials even as you build you are being very energy and resource efficient. For example, John Suppes, president of Clarum Homes, built several of Sunset magazine’s Idea Houses and used a Packer 750 machine on the building site to

 

 

 

 

recycle construction debris: the machine grinds wood waste into mulch and drywall (gypsum board) into soil amendments (gypsum provides a source of calcium and sulfur for plants). In 2007 Builder magazine estimated that constructing a 2,000-square-foot home generated about four to seven tons of waste — that may be somewhat less today but as you look for a builder for your new home, ask about his or her recycle practices. And here’s a tip from some of our Facebook readers: When you start gathering ideas for the appliances and fixtures you’ll need, it’s worth checking out Inhabitat ReStores – there are 825 in the US and Canada. They “sell new and gently-used home improvement goods, furniture, home accessories, building materials and appliances to the public at a fraction of the retail price…and the proceeds are used by our local Habitat for Humanity affiliates to help build and renovate more homes and communities.”

From Green Roofs to Greenbacks — I Mean Tax Relief

Speaking of mulch, soil, and energy-efficiency, consider how far the green roof has come, in the US, anyway. There is a long tradition of sod roof building in Scandinavia, and in the mid-19th century on the American Prairie where there were few trees, sod became the primary building and roofing material, as this

photo courtesy Sodhouse.org, shows. Remember Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Little House on the Prairie books. It was not a very comfortable way to live though the sod did provide a form of insulation. Today’s modern versions, like

Plan 491-9 by architects Braxton Werner and Paul Field, shown here, are a vast improvement, needless to say. In this example, the roof is designed to reduce heat loads in a hot dry climate, and avoid energy-guzzling air-conditioning. Architect Jonathan Feldman has designed several houses with so-called

“vegetative roofs,” including these elegant examples in Northern California, which help each house blend into its setting. If properly constructed

and planted — that is with soil and vegetation that is carefully matched to local climatic conditions — such a roof can keep out the sun’s UV radiation, protect the rubber roof membrane (typically used as a base) from degradation, and reduce not only heating but also cooling loads. For more information on green roofs and green building see Green From The Ground Up by David Johnston and Scott Gibson (Taunton Press).

If vegetative roofs are still a field of dreams for you (or just a field) there are other ways to green up your project and save money at the same time. Thanks to passage of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 in January of this year, a wide range of Energy Star-rated products — including insulation, water heaters, windows and doors — now qualify for tax relief, so it’s worth seeing what products are on the list before you or your builder make a purchase.

For more on energy efficient home plans, click here; green products click here.

 

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