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Residents Move Into First Net-Zero Energy Home Built At Affordable Price in Washington, D.C.

In one of the first real-world examples of taking a green sustainable building design and using it to build a house that’s both energy eff icient and affordable, the creators of Empowerhouse have succeeded in doing exactly that.

Empowerhouse. Photo courtesy of the Parsons New School For Design.

Empowerhouse is a two-family duplex, net-zero energy passive house originally built as part of the 2011 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. Earlier this year, it became the new home of Lakiya Culley, a single mother of three, who works as a secretary for the U.S. State Department, and another family that will be transitioning out of public housing.

The Solar Decathlon is a biannual, international competition that challenges collage teams from around the world to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses, which are then exhibited on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in September and October.

This house has two major components that need a little explaining. A net-zero energy house “produces as much energy as it consumes over the course of a year,” according to the U.S. Energy Department

The non-profit organization Passive House Institute US explains that a “passive house is a very well-insulated, virtually air-tight building that is primarily heated by passive solar gain” and a small internal heat source. It also has a constant supply of fresh air provided through “an energy recovery ventilator.”

Both experts at the Passive House Institute and the Parsons New School For Design (one of the primary participants in planning, design, and construction of Empowerhouse) agree that a passive house consumes up to 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling than a typical house.

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Flowing Style of Beijing Galaxy SOHO Complex Earns Nomination For Design of the Year Award

Galaxy SOHO mixed-use building complex in Beijing, China. Photo courtesy of Iwan Baan.

Having a unique flowing design with a curving unified feel, the newly completed Beijing Galaxy SOHO mixed-use complex has just been nominated for the London Design Museum’s 2013 Design of the Year Award.

Galaxy SOHO building complex. Photo by Iwan Baan.

This will be the museum’s sixth annual Design of the Year Award exhibition, which will run from March 20, 2013 to July 7, 2013, with the museum saying the exhibition will “compile the most original and exciting designs, prototypes, and designers in the world today.”

The category winners and overall winner will be announced to the public on April 17, 2013. The design awards span seven categories: architecture, digital, fashion, furniture, graphics, transport, and product.

The SOHO Galaxy complex – designed by Zaha Hadid Architects – has been nominated in the award’s architecture category.

What’s unique about the SOHO Galaxy’s design is its natural flowing structure. The complex is a melding of four building spaces that blend together and then pull apart, connecting with bridges and plateaus, “creating a world of fluidity within,” said Zaha Hadid Architects.

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First Algae-Powered Building in Germany Nearing Completion For Next Year’s Hamburg Exhibition

From exploring algae for cleaning oil spills, creating new biofuels, agriculture, and potential sunscreens, now a collaboration of scientists, architects, engineers, and investors in Germany is nearing the completion (expected in March 2013) of an algae-powered building as part of the International Building Exhibition’s Hamburg green community development project.

Algae-powered building rendering. Image courtesy of KOS Wulff Immobilien GmbH, project investor.

 ARUP – an independent design, planning, and engineering firm working on the building – said that this project “is set to provide the first real-life test for a new façade system that uses live microalgae to provide shade and generate renewable energy at the same time.

“The bioreactors not only produce biomass that can subsequently be harvested, but they also capture solar thermal heat – both energy sources can be used to power the building.”

 Strategic Science Consult (SSC), which is also one of the designers as well as co-sponsor of the project, further explained that the algae is produced using the power of the sun, carbon dioxide (CO2),and liquid nutrients, which culminate in energy sources including methane gas that can be used to both power and directly heat the building.

SSC added that, “This smart energy concept leads natural forces to work together in a loop. The façade of living algae biomass produces heat, which combines with geothermal and solar thermal energy to create an environmentally-friendly powerhouse.

“All the energy needed to generate electricity and heat are produced from renewable sources. Fossil fuels are not involved.”

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Great Looking Eco-Friendly Furnishing Ideas For Dorm and Small Apartment Living On A Budget

Triple Storage Cubes Plus bookcase.

Most people have the same basic goals when planning a living space – they want it to look good, be functional, and be economic, but if you have an eco-penchant too, you want to make sure your choices help sustain the environment and protect you from harmful chemicals found in many conventionally-made furnishings.

Right now, as usual, there aren’t that many department stores or even specialty stores near most of us, so our best options are still going shopping online. And, the great news is that there are lots of great eco-stores on the net that won’t break the bank.

Three great eco-outlets on the net that are more like malls are: The Ultimate Green Store, Pristine Planet, and Shades of Light.

The Ultimate Green Store

The Ultimate Green Store feels just like its name implies, has just about everything green that you can think of for your home, office, and life, including wide arrays of home and office furniture, office supplies, electronics, organic mattresses, bedding, linens, apparel accessories, and skin and bath products. And, these are just some of what they have, with most of their things well under $100.

Quad Cubby Organizer. Image by The Ultimate Green Store.

But getting back to furniture, there are several pieces that I especially like – they are: the Triple Storage Cubes Plus bookcase, the Quad Cubby Organizer, and the Storage Cubes.

Looking at the Triple Storage Plus bookcase, one of the great things about it is that it’s tall and slender so it can fit into narrower spaces and if you have more space, you can buy two and put them side-by-side.

The Triple Storage Plus bookcase is great for tall books and can be used as a storage center for other stuff. It also has a closed white back too, but the frame comes in four colors: natural, espresso, black, and white.

All of the Triple Storage Plus units are also water resistant and “sustainably made from zBoard recycled paper,” which is durable, non-toxic, and more lightweight than particle board, according to its maker Way Basics. The company also says all of its products are formaldehyde-free and volatile organic compound (VOC)-free.

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NYC’s First Fully Self-Powering Public School Is Now In Full Construction Mode In Staten Island

Construction is now fully underway of New York City’s energy self-sufficient school, which when completed, “will harvest as much energy from renewable on-site sources as it uses on an annual basis,” says the project design company, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM).

Exterior rendering of P.S. 62, New York City’s first net zero energy elementary school. Image courtesy of project design company, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

The school will be located in the Richmond area of Staten Island, N.Y. to alleviate overcrowding in the neighboring school, and to act as the NYC School Construction Authority’s first ever “sustainability lab.”

The 66,000 square-foot, two-story school is expected to serve about 445 pre-kindergarten to fifth grade students, featuring a construction design that will both maximize the use of daylight for natural illumination and  solar energy harvesting for photovoltaic panels on the roof and south façade.

Interior rendering of P.S. 62, New York City’s first net zero energy elementary school. Image courtesy of project design company, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

Further detailing some of the design featured of the school, the NYC School Construction Authority elaborated in its environmental impact statement that the building will be about “29 feet high with an approximately 55-foot-high extension containing photovoltaic panels” and the building will also incorporate energy efficient design features such as a storm-water retention system, and geothermal heating and cooling system.

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