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Life cycle Assessments

One of the key tools in Green building is the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA.) LCA is a technique to assess the environmental impacts associated with each product, process, or service, by:

  • Compiling an inventory of relevant energy and material inputs to a project;
  • Assessing the aging process associated with the input;
  • Evaluating the potential environmental impacts associated with identified inputs through their lifespan;
  • Interpreting the results to help make an informed decision.

Key advantages

  • Quantitative accounting of environmental impacts;
  • Exposes trade‐offs not found through single attributes;
  • Supports holistic design.

This process is often referred to as cradle to grave or cradle to cradle. The idea is to look at a products full impact though its life. Cradle to grave is an assessment until a material is disposed of.  Cradle to cradle is and assessment of a material until it is reborn thorough reuse or recycling.

This way of looking at something does not only apply to things like kitchen sinks, counter tops and floor covering.  It can apply to all aspects of how a building is used.  For example one important evaluation is how people will age in place in a home.  This can be a more literal look at a cradle to grave assessment.  It is well worth considering the lifecycle of people in a home. This can impact sustainability, finances and quality of life.   Creating a situation in which people can live independently, or with assistance, in their residence helps reduce cost, increase independence. There are many factors such as size of the home, number of steps and stories and of course more obvious things like grab bars.

Whether we are building a custom home or remodeling an existing home, putting ourselves in the frame of mind to think through the various life cycles involved in a house can help us create a home the works well for the environment and the people living in the home.

What Is Green Building?

So, we hear a lot about green building these days. Just exactly what is it? Green Building is an approach to building that seeks to:

  • Improve efficiencies
  • Reduce waste
  • Improve health and happiness within a building.

Over the last 10 years as the demand and requirement for greener practices have occurred, we have had tremendous advances in building science.  These changes have encouraged us to take more of a systems approach to building and to the way that we think about buildings from financing to decorating.

Buildings account for nearly 40% of energy consumption in the US and 13% of water consumption.  The good news is that although we have made great advances, there is still a long way that we can go in making our buildings more efficient.  In fact in a recent study ranking the countries with the best green building markets the US did not even make the list.

A 2009 report by the U.S. General Services Administration found 12 sustainably designed buildings cost less to operate and have excellent energy performance. In addition, occupants were more satisfied with the overall building than those in typical buildings.

These are variables that have not traditionally been in an equation for value in design and construction of buildings.  While the overall paradigm for how we assess value in buildings is changing there is some natural reluctance.  Overcoming this resistance is part of the work of green design and building. Whether you are considering a new custom home or a remodeling project, we will help you understand the new opportunities that are available to you.

Part of the natural resistance to sustainable design comes from the early days when environmental building was associated with the need to change your lifestyle.  The term “green building” did not appear until 1985.  The seminal work on the topic published in 1975: Other Homes and Garbage, was subtitled Designs for Self-Sufficient Living.  No longer do we expect green buildings to require a different approach to living.

While for many, one of the goals of green building is to reduce environmental destruction, that is no longer a necessary goal.  Green building provides a smart application of building science to achieve improved economies, comfort and reduce operating coast with out respect to environmental concerns. For most of our clients, environmental concerns are down on the list of reasons they seek green building.

In a series of blog posts we will examine various aspects of green building.

Developing Green Products: Flame Retardants

Today’s blog is a shout out about a flame retardant product that is being developed and tested at Texas A&M. It’s made from natural and renewable resources: layers of clay and a polymer from crab shells. These layers are designed to help prevent a fire from igniting a surface instead of trying to extinguish it after ignition like most fire retardants. In one test, the product was applied to a foam block and then exposed to flame. The clay-crab shell layers not only successfully kept the foam from igniting, but also prevented the foam from melting or hardening. The team at A&M is even exploring and testing other layers of polymers for potential fabric flame retardants. It’ll be great to hear news of their progress in the future! Who knows– this may be a product that we eventually use for fire proofing homes.

Here is link to a short article with a little more information about the product as well as a photo.

Creating a Healthy, Happy Home Environment (Part 7)

 Remodeled home in Bryan / College Station, by Stearns Design Build

Remodeled home in Bryan / College Station, by Stearns Design Build

RISK 11: HOUSEHOLD TRASH

One person can produce up to 5 lbs of trash per day – meaning a potential 1,900 lbs per year! Just imagine if all of this accumulated inside your home at one time! As much as you don’t like taking the garbage out, it seems preferable to the alternative. Keeping your trash bags in a closeable garbage can is an easy way to prevent vermin and stray animals from tearing into the bags. Scattered trash will not only invite more vermin to snoop around, but will also most likely end up in storm drains and sewers which will eventually litter local bodies of water.

Living a cleanly lifestyle, including cleaning up meat and other food residues, peelings, and leftovers, will help decrease potential illnesses and other health problems. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a night or two when the dishes pile up, but trying your best to keep your kitchen and other vital areas of the house.Like bathrooms clean will help prevent the growth of mold and other bacteria.

A lot of your trash including papers, cardboard boxes, plastic bottles, plastic bags, aluminum cans, and glass containers are recyclable. If your neighborhood already has a weekly recycling pick-up, find out what items are accepted and join in! If your neighborhood doesn’t, talk to your homeowners association about the possibility and process of getting one started. In the mean time, separate out items you can recycle and take them to places like the Drive-In Recycling center in Bryan on a bi-weekly or monthly basis. Other companies like Target have recycling bins for more unusual items including plastic bags, small electronics, and ink cartridges. Instead of throwing away useful household items that your family no longer has need of, consider donating them to Good Will or Salvation Army so that others can use them. It’s recycling that also lends a kind hand to others in your community!

We at Stearns hope that this and other blogs in this series have inspired you with ways you can create a happy and healthy home and community. We look forward to learning with you and sharing more tips in the future. If you ever come across helpful information or links that you’d like to share on our blog or our facebook page, feel free to comment!

Creating a Healthy, Happy Home Environment (Part 6)

 Remodeled home in Bryan / College Station, by Stearns Design Build

Remodeled home in Bryan / College Station, by Stearns Design Build

RISK 10: AIR CONDITIONING SYSTEMS During the blistering summers, we thank our lucky stars that air conditioning has become a staple in our homes. However, as air circulates through a home it can bring along unwanted passengers – namely infectious respiratory diseases, dust, and fungi. It can even spur and spread microorganism growth. The regular changing of filters for your air conditioning system can reduce and even prevent the spread of bacteria and small particles. After each replacement, make sure to mark in memorable spot, such as your family calendar, the future date you need to change your filter.

To prevent the growth of microorganisms which can lead to illness, have the cooling tower of your system treated with chlorine before the beginning of cooling season. This treatment should involve the cleaning of any growth or corrosion from water condensing on the system’s pipes, as well as the cleaning of circulating water.

Read our blog post about increasing indoor air quality for more tips about how to improve air in your home. And remember, as tempting as it is to crank up your air conditioning when it gets hot outside, your lungs and your wallet will thank you if you keep the temperature moderate instead of frigid. Drastic temperature and humidity change negatively affects our respiratory systems.