Category Archives: design

Re-use: lumber into book shelves

When we bought our house last winter, we up-sized from a 500 square foot apartment to about 1000 square feet. Giving us quite a bit more space to furnish. We also are ready to say goodbye to some of our mass produced, not-so-high-quality furniture, and invest in some furniture that will last us decades rather than a few years.

One of the first furnishings we needed to think about was some shelving. I wanted something that was custom designed for our needs, sturdy, attractive, and earth friendly. Currently, I’m most inspired by rustic and industrial furnishings, so I had been eyeing some of the following pictures as inspiration:

rustic pipe shelves

source: Keen

I like that the mounted shelves are easily customized, and can be moved around if we want a different configuration in the future. And I love the chunky look of the pipe shelving. So I combined the two, and made wall mounted shelves with 2″ thick boards rather than 1″.

Reusing lumber to make bookshelves

So what made these shelves a bit more earth friendly? I got half of my lumber from my local Habitat Restore, which means it was either salvaged from some deconstructed project, or the left-overs from a project. Reusing materials that still have plenty of life left in them allowed us to save some boards from the burn or trash pile, and helps keep a tree from being cut down.

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Tell me more about Greenguard Certification

It seems these days that every packaged product has some symbol boasting its quality. But not every seal or certification is created or bestowed equally. The marks of a meaningful certification program are high standards, rigorous third party testing, and ongoing off-the-shelf evaluation. It also helps if the certifying body is not-for-profit.

Greenguard is a third party certification that is used for indoor air quality. It was started by the Greenguard Environmental Institute in 2001, and was acquired by UL Environment in 2011. The certification is for indoor use products that produce low emission amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

There are a couple different types of Greenguard certification that a product can receive. The Greenguard Certification is for indoor use products that meet strict chemical emissions limits and are suitable for use in a healthy indoor air quality environment. Greenguard Gold Certification is a stricter certification specifically for sensitive individuals such as children and seniors. The products that are certified as Greenguard Gold are appropriate for use in schools, childcare facilities and healthcare facilities.

How does a product become Greenguard certified

A product manufacturer applies for product certification. The product is evaluated and tested to make sure it meets the Greenguard standards for certification. The standards are set based on criteria set by key public health agencies. If a product is certified, it is then subject to annual testing for more than 10,000 different VOCs.

What sorts of products are Greenguard certified

Over 10,000 products from 350 different manufacturers currently carry the Greenguard seal. There is a wide variety of products that have received Greenguard certification, including paint, adhesives and sealants, building materials, furniture, electronics and textiles. If you are looking for specific products that have received Greenguard certification, you can look here.

Interested in learning about other environmental certifications? Check out these posts on LEED certification and Energy Star.

Amory B. Lovins on Integrative Design

I’m going to give you a little bit of homework before we get into the meat of this post. Watch this video:

(I’ve probably posted that before. I’m a wee bit obsessed with Mr. Lovins and his work)

Now let’s talk a little bit about integrative design. Integrative Design is a method of design based on working from the top down. Basically you look at the entire system – the entire car, the entire house, the entire factory, with the intention to make it as energy efficient as possible. By looking at design from the top down you ask how to make the best holistic design by intertwining the functions of the different components.

Integrative Design is different from traditional design methods which focus on optimizing each individual piece of the system and then fitting them together and adjusting how they interact. This traditional method creates the most optimized walls and plumbing and HVAC. But the integrative design approach allows you to say, what if we didn’t need the HVAC at all  (or at least not our idea of the most optimized HVAC) because we change the way we build the walls completely.

At the end of the Autodesk video Amory mentions the 10xE principles of integrative design, and I want to share those here:

  1. Define shared and aggressive goals.
  2. Collaborate across disciplines.
  3. Design non-linearly.
  4. Reward desired outcomes
  5. Define the end-use.
  6. Seek systemic causes and ultimate purposes.
  7. Optimize over time and space.
  8. Establish baseline parametric values.
  9. Establish the minimum energy or resource theoretically required, then identify and minimize constraints to achieving that minimum in practice.
  10. Start with a clean sheet.
  11. Use measured data and explicit analysis, not assumptions and rules.
  12. Start downstream.
  13. Seek radical simplicity.
  14. Tunnel through the cost barrier.
  15. Wring multiple benefits from single expenditures.
  16. Meet minimized peak demand; optimize over integrated demand
  17. Include feedback in the design.

In Amory’s lecture he talks about using integrative desing in building design for heating and cooling, in auto design for using less fuel, and in factory design for pumping fluid. Stay tuned for a bit of a deeper dive into these topics in the future, including how the integrative design principles lead to radically different approaches in each of these categories.

CFL Light Bulbs

CFL or compact fluorescent lamp light bulbs are pretty typical these days. A CFL bulb is made up of a ballast and a tube containing gas. The ballast turns the current from the wall outlet into high frequency current, which it sends into the gas tube. The high frequency current knocks excites electrons in the gas, causing them to produce ultraviolet (UV) light. When the UV light hits the fluorescent coating on the glass tube it produces visible light.

CFL light bulb

Light Bulb” by Pedro Lozano CCBY

Let’s compare CFL light bulbs directly to the pro and con list I put together last week about incandescent bulbs:

  • Light Quality: Mixed Reviews. The light quality can be all over the board with different brands of CFL light bulbs. We’ve grown accustomed to the warm, soft light produced by incandescent bulbs, and in comparison, some brands of CFL bulbs can produce cold, harsh light. However, many brands have improved their designs to provide warm light just like incandescent bulbs. You may have to shop around a couple brands to find the light quality that meets your expectations.
  • Price per bulb: Pro. While more expensive than filament bulbs, you can pick up CFL bulbs for around $2 per bulb.
  • Availability: Pro. You can get basic CFL bulbs pretty much everywhere you can get filament bulbs these days.
  • Style: Con. While CFLs fit pretty much any standard light bulb socket, you’ll have trouble finding specialty shaped bulbs of the CFL variety.
  • Energy use: Pro. A CFL bulb that produces a comparable amount of lumens as a 60 watt filament bulb requires only 14 watts.
  • Lifetime: Pro. 8000 hours! Which translates into about 7 years of burning for 3 hours a day.

And one more important point to consider when using CFL bulbs:

  • Toxicity and Disposal: Con. The gas inside the CFL tube contains mercury which is hazardous to come in contact with. This means you have to be careful not to break open the tube, and you really should not just be disposing of a CFL bulb in the trash. Used CFL bulbs should be disposed of by bringing them to an appropriate drop site for safe disposal.

If you’re looking for a disposal site near you, you can check out

So the tally when comparing CFLs to Incandescents is 4 pros, 2 cons, and 1 mixed review. Now let’s look at the long term cost.

10 year cost for burning filament bulbs in one lamp: (3 hours a day, $0.12/kwh cost of electricity, $2.00/bulb, 2 bulbs) = $22.40.

Pretty cheap when compared to the $96.84 it would cost to run the same light with a incandescent bulb.

About LEED certification

Have you ever walked into a building that has a LEED certified sticker on its door and wondered what exactly that means? Well, today I’m going to give an overview on LEED certification.

What is LEED

LEED, or Leader in Energy and Efficiency Design, is a certification program for buildings. The program was designed by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), and provides a rating system that certifies how environmentally friendly a building design is.

What can be LEED certified

The building can be certified in terms of design, construction, or operation. Neighborhoods and homes can be certified as well. In fact there are five different certifications based on the type of project:

  1. Building Design and Construction
  2. Interior Design and Construction
  3. Building Operations and Maintenance
  4. Neighborhood Development
  5. Homes

New construction, remodels and already existing buildings can LEED certified.

What is the LEED certification based on

Certification is based on the number of points that a building project earns in evaluations. Projects are scored out of 100 possible points. The points are earned across 6 categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation in design. A building that earns 40-49 points is Certified, 50-59 points is Silver, 60-79 points is Gold, ad 80+ points is Platinum.

How does a building get LEED certification

First of all, in order to be LEED certified, a building or building project needs to apply for evaluation – The USGBC isn’t just going around to all the buildings and evaluating them willy nilly, it is an opt in certification that demonstrates the owner, and the architect, designer, and construction team’s dedication to green and sustainable building. When a building project has applied for certification the team then pursues various objectives in the 6 categories in order to earn points.  Credential holders who are trained in the LEED certification categories and goals perform an evaluation of the project throughout the building process, and submit the scores for certification.