Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Green Building in Marin and the Quest for Zero

Kentfield resident Kiki Goshay wanted to build a green home. But not just any green home. She wanted it to sustain itself, or to come as close as possible, by taking advantage of all that the site had to offer: sun, shade, rain, natural beauty. The home turned out beautifully (see the accompanying photos), but its energy use wasn't net-zero and its water use, at least initially, was pretty massive. So Goshay set about tweaking the home to reduce its energy and water use, increase efficiency, and move ever closer to net-zero. After two years she realized it wasn't going to happen, but by then her second home, situated right next door, was already underway. Learning from her mistakes the first time around, she's likely to achieve it on the second project, and will certainly have plenty to teach others hoping to build huge, high-end homes with small-time footprints. Read more about her "quest for zero" at Marin Magazine. (Note: The bit about the second home was struck from the final copy, unfortunately. The story covers just the first one.)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Green Building Takes Root in Indian Country

Five months ago, I wrote a piece for Environmental Health Perspectives on the implications of green-building on tribal lands for indoor air quality and human health. Indoor air quality is a huge issue across many reservations due to the quality and condition of a significant portion of the housing stock (and, for that matter, a major housing shortage that results in many homes being over capacity). Other complicating factors are extreme climates; remote, rural locations; and low per-capita incomes at many reservations. Green, clean, climate-appropriate housing can go a long way toward improving indoor air quality and public health in Indian country, as I explain in the EHP piece.

However, that's just one part of the green-building story on many reservations. Healthy and efficient homes designed for the tribe and its climate can also pay dividends culturally and economically, as I address in this story for Indian Country Today, published today. The story explains how green-building projects can actually meet a wide range of needs, and how many tribes are charging forward with highly innovative and culturally relevant projects.

Here's an excerpt: "Contemporary green-building gets to the heart of Native culture writ large ... as tribes transition toward permanent housing, return their attention to the Earth, reconnect with the past, insist upon defining themselves and their future, and improve their economic situation through affordable homeownership and reduced energy costs. In this sense, green-building is not an end in itself, but rather a means to revitalization."

Read the full story here. I'm hoping to do more on this topic in the future, so stay tuned.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Understanding toxic exposures in childcare centers, and why it's so hard to mitigate them

My second feature for Environmental Health Perspectives (here was the first) addresses the persistent issue of environmental exposures in the child care setting, including important recent efforts to define and mitigate indoor air pollution. You may be surprised at the range and extent of toxins we've discovered in this sensitive setting, potentially contributing to asthma, developmental issues, and other problems in our youngest and most vulnerable citizens -- I know I was, especially with a new baby of my own. While many of these exposures are also common in schools and homes, the difference -- and the most surprising part of the story, in my view -- is the particular challenge of mitigating them in childcare centers. Due to a variety of factors including a complex regulatory picture, environmental health protection in child cares tends to lag behind that of schools, where kids are older, larger, and less sensitive to toxic exposures. The good news is that awareness of this issue is escalating, and a sea change in the industry may be taking place over the next five to ten years in regards to environmental health protection. Read the story here.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

S.F. to Humboldt Travel Piece: Oysters, hot tubs, martinis

Did this short but sweet travel piece on a road trip from SF to Humboldt (and a bit beyond) for San Francisco magazine's May special issue, which also includes great trips to Santa Cruz, Borrego Springs, Truckee, Venice Beach, Mendocino, and Bear Valley. Based it on my own travels up there and some new research, and it certainly made me want to head up north again -- so I guess it worked. Hope it has the same effect on readers. Enjoy.