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37 posts from October 2011

October 31, 2011

In California, a Big, Modern Home With a Tree House's Footprint

Living roomI stood in Ian MacLeod’s Albany, California, living room and the front door was ajar. We could hear industrial vehicles crushing pavement out in the street. Concrete split open, diesel engines rumbled. Then MacLeod said, “watch this,” and shut the door. With his slate-colored eyes, rolled-up sleeves, and white Calvin Klein Jeans, he'd quickly transported us from a construction site to the inside of an empty auditorium. A combination of heavy wood and blown-in insulation silenced the racket.

This noise-muffling magic is just one perk of MacLeod’s refreshed home, which he upgraded and expanded from a droopy, inefficient 1928 bungalow. “A house is like a car: It’s a pollution machine,” says MacLeod. “Who wants to live in a pollution machine?” Now it’s twice the size of the original, and has about the same eco-footprint as a tree house.

MacLeod, an architect and builder, sought to strike a balance between efficiency and aesthetics. His floors and cabinets are made from textured bamboo, the faucets spray aerated water, and the heatless induction stove is sleek as an iPad. Gems shimmer in unlikely nooks: A bookcase is embedded into the stairwell wall; a pair of ottomans resemble lounging dogs. “Comfort is an architectural concern,” says MaLeod. “I strove to make beauty and sustainability exist in harmony.”

Continue reading "In California, a Big, Modern Home With a Tree House's Footprint" »

Green your Apartment: Lure the Landlord

LandlordIf you rent your little space in the world, many of the commonest green-living tips don’t apply: You can’t keep a garden (much less a compost pile), weatherize your home, or install solar panels. Even remodeling and keeping pets could be off limits. So, when you don’t own the deed, what can you do to go green? This week’s tips tell you what.

Tip #1: Cozy up to management.

You may not be the decider about whether your building has a recycling program, solar panels, or, say, a book swap. But someone is. Befriend that someone, then tell him or her that you’re willing (if you are) to pay a bit more in rent for the building to have a recycling program or solar panels installed, or that you’re willing (again, if you are) to volunteer to turn that asphalt lot into a community garden. There’s power in numbers, so collect a few of your floormates — or circulate a petition in your building — before approaching your landlord (it helps to have built community first). For a better chance at getting to yes, explain the benefits that management will reap: lowered energy bills, a building that’s more attractive to potential tenants, higher renter loyalty, and so on.

Tip #2: Find eco-roommates.

Tip #3: Get good with your neighbors.

Tip #4: Look into the future.

Tell us: How do you green your apartment life?

October 27, 2011

The L.A. Zoo's New Carousel Puts a Spin on Endangered Species

L.A. Zoo carouselThink you've been on a carousel? Wait 'til you see the one at the Los Angeles Zoo. Forget demure ponies and cacophonous accordions. Think Komodo dragons and Janet Jackson.

The zoo's $2.5-million Tom Mankiewicz Conservation Carousel opened Oct. 27 and features 66 figures mostly of endangered animals ranging from Sumatran tigers to dung beetles.

The carousel will help raise money for the zoo through ticket sales and sponsorships. Visitors can pay $3 for a ride, or if they're flush and feeling generous, get a plaque on it for $25,000.

The carousel spins around scenes of L.A., from Malibu to Hollywood, encompassing the region's spirit of diversity, said Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association president Connie Morgan.

The carousel took a year to make (in Ohio), then about a week to install in the zoo, plus several months of testing and safety inspections before its debut.

Because some donors believe "the imagination is endangered" (Morgan's words), there's at least one traditional figurine on the merry-go-round: a unicorn.

But maybe the best part of the carousel is the music: the Police, Janet Jackson, Amy Grant, Styx, and the Go Go's are some of the artists whose melodies will play. This is thanks to the energetic tastes of Jerry Moss, a lead donor who also happens to have co-founded A&M Records.

The zoo, which gets
1.5 million visitors each year, is home to 1,100 animals but focuses especially on saving the California condor, the mountain yellow-legged frog, and the peninsular pronghorn. (It's not too late for the unicorn, either.)

--Avni Nijhawan / image courtesy of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association

The American Indian Museum LEEDs in Green Design

Smithsonian's American Indian MuseumThe U.S. Green Building Council has awarded its prestigious LEED silver rating to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). Though it didn’t nab gold or platinum — the USGBC’s highest ratings — silver's nothing to sneer at.

Jane Sledge, the museum’s associate director, is proud of the achievement and quick to point out that hers is the first Smithsonian museum to get LEED certification. But just because the museum has been recognized for its environmental efforts, its staff won't rest on their laurels or think their work done. Said Sledge, “It’s an acknowledgement of achieving a step and being committed to going to the next step.”

The building, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., opened in 2004 and is one of three that make up the NMAI (the others are in New York and Maryland). To get the certification, the existing structure needed no significant changes, but certain policies did need to change; the recycling program got improved, for one.

LEED certification is a points-based system with four rating levels: Certified (40-49 points), Silver (50-59), Gold (60-79), and Platinum (80 and higher). The points are based on categories that include water efficiency, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality.

Does the museum have aspirations beyond silver? “You can bet your money on that,” said Kathleen Fleming, the museum’s building manager. “We’re going for gold.”

--Josh Marx / image courtesy of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian

Winterize Your Home: Plant a Windbreak

IStock_000011078829XSmallOct. 30 is National Weatherization Day. With winter knocking at your door, keep cold air out and energy bills down by weatherizing your home. This week's tips will help you get started.

Tip #4: Strategically plant trees and shrubs.

The right plants and trees can protect your home from windchill, significantly lowering your heating costs. Landscaping, done right, has the ability to reduce windspeed for a distance of up to 30 times the windbreak’s height. To impede wind, plant dense greenery on the north and northwest sides of your home. (Don’t plant too close to the south side, or you’ll lose a good heater: the sun.) Between trees and home, allow a distance of two to five times their mature height. Plant shrubs, bushes, and vines at least one foot from your home to insulate with air pockets; low shrubs on the windy side can keep snow from getting too close.

Tell us: How do you fight winter wind?

October 26, 2011

Winterize Your Home: Get Insulated

InsulationOct. 30 is National Weatherization Day. With winter knocking at your door, keep cold air out and energy bills down by weatherizing your home. This week's tips will help you get started.

Tip #3: Update your insulation.

Depending on the age of your home, you may be losing heat through your ceiling and walls; older homes were built when construction standards and energy consciousness weren't priorities.

Over time, insulation can settle within your walls. The best method to measure a wall’s heat loss might remind you of a sci-fi flick: Professional thermographic inspections use infrared scanning to determine temperatures. Up in the attic, check the pipes, ductwork, and chimney and ensure your attic is equipped with a vapor barrier (tarpaper, Kraft paper, plastic sheet, or vapor barrier paint). Don’t forget to check under the shuffle of winter slippers too — an unheated basement means floors must have proper insulation.

Tell us: Have you updated your insulation recently?

October 25, 2011

Printing (Yes, Printing) Homes for Hermit Crabs

A hermit crab with his new homeThese days there aren’t enough hermit-crab shells to go around. The competition is so stiff that the critters are finding homes in chewed pen caps, broken glass bottles, film canisters, and mini tea kettles.

Project Shellter hopes to relax the hermit housing market by introducing the crabs to plastic alternatives. A collaboration between 3D-printer manufacturer MakerBot Industries and designer Miles Lightwood (a.k.a. TeamTeamUSA), Project Shellter operates on the concept of open-source hardware: Anyone with the necessary software can design a crab-friendly shell and post its printer code to MakerBot forums. Says MakerBot cofounder Bre Pettis, “This is not about what one person can do. It’s about what a whole mass of people can do. When you have a MakerBot, you have a machine that can make almost anything.”

The printer in question has a retro-fabulous name: It's called the Thing-O-Matic, and looks like an open-sided box of antique machinery (picture Wall-E’s second cousin). According to Pettis, “it’s ideally suited to producing the complex snail shells that hermit crabs prefer.”

Still, there are hurdles. Right now, the project is confined to "crabitats" in Brooklyn and Los Angeles. In time, however, it could expand to the wild, even though enviros are uneasy with the idea of more plastic on beaches, even for a good cause. Pettis and Lightwood have toyed with the idea of using biodegradable materials, but this raises the unsettling image of hermit crabs cowering as their homes crumble around them.

Continue reading "Printing (Yes, Printing) Homes for Hermit Crabs" »

Winterize Your Home: Mind the Gap

IStock_000008831409XSmallOct. 30 is National Weatherization Day. With winter knocking at your door, keep cold air out and energy bills down by weatherizing your home. This week's tips will help get you started.

Tip #2: Seal those cracks.

Sealing cracks reduces heating costs, makes your home last longer, and creates a healthier indoor environment. By controlling air flow in and out, moisture and mold is minimized. Doors and windows are the most obvious culprits, but check those places where different materials meet: brick against wood siding, walls at the foundation, and siding next to the chimney.

To detect leaks, try this on a cold, windy day: Shut off the furnace, close doors and windows, turn on exhaust fans, and hold an incense stick next to typical gaps. If the smoke gets sucked out, you’ve found where you need to seal.

Tell us: How do you detect air leaks at home?

October 24, 2011

Winterize Your Home: Plan a Home Energy Audit

Money-guzzling homeOct. 30 is National Weatherization Day. With winter knocking at your door, keep cold air out and energy bills down (sealing leaks, improving insulation, and maintaining heating and cooling equipment could save up to 35%) by weatherizing your home. This week's tips will help get you started.

Tip #1: Start with a checklist.

Where do you begin? First, you need a plan. A home energy audit reveals how much your home guzzles and where you can increase efficiency. You could opt for a professional assessment — wherein experts inspect your home's every nook and cranny (prepare by listing the problems you already know about) — or do it yourself, in which case you’ll need a good checklist to walk through. Many local utility providers offer home energy audits for free; check to find out if yours does.

Tip #2: Seal those cracks.

Tip #3: Update your insulation.

Tip #4: Plant trees and shrubs.

Tell us: What’s on your energy-audit checklist?

October 20, 2011

39 Weeks Pregnant and Dancing on a Cliff


Dancing in the air, she feels her mind relax, her body stretch. The extra weight of her little passenger distributes across her strong limbs, so different from the compression of gravity on her upright body. And the load feels somehow lighter up here.

Rock climbing while pregnant? Watch Carrie Cooper for two minutes, and your mental barriers will shift forever. An act that seemed seamless to her is inspiring a new perspective on what women can do. Hardly a rock-climbing novice, Cooper compares what she does to hiking or swimming for other expectant mothers. Continuing to climb during her pregnancy helped maintain her balance and agility, stretched the stiffness from her joints, and dispersed her baby load. In life's whirlwind, climbing gives her peace of mind.

“Rock climbing is a normal part of my life,” Cooper said. “Obviously it’s not for everyone. But I had something in my life already that was so helpful to me, and it ended up aiding my pregnancy. If you have something you love, it’s only natural to continue to do it, as long as it’s a healthy pursuit.”

Cooper’s second pregnancy — she didn’t climb during her first — produced a baby boy, now eight months old, who weighed 8 pounds, 8 ounces at birth.

Continue reading "39 Weeks Pregnant and Dancing on a Cliff" »

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