Green Building October 10th Luncheon: Advanced Energy Design Guide: Net Zero Energy

The march of technology has brought buildings that generate just as much power as they annually consume (Net Zero Energy) really close to the mainstream. A team of professionals are developing a roadmap for builders, owners, and designers to make it easier to take the leap to Zero.

Steve Davis is a nationally recognized leader in sustainable design and construction with over twenty years’ experience designing award-winning projects for residential, commercial, government, and institutional clients.

Steve has long been deeply involved in advancing the building community’s understanding of stewardship, conservation, health, and wellness. For his efforts, he was awarded the distinction of LEED Fellow, by the Unites States Green Building Council in 2015. Recently, he has been active working with doctors and public health researchers to integrate evidence-based health strategies into the built environment.


Tue, October 10th, 2017, 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM EDT


City Space, 100 5th Street NE

Fee: Free for members, $10 nonmembers: Register Here

Categories: Announcements, Education, Technology | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Decentralized Drinking Water Purification Systems

What if all the water you used in your house was purified on site and you used it again? It is actually not all that different than a well and septic system, but it is a closed loop system relying on technology instead of an open one relying on the surrounding environment. In the wake of these rapid fire extreme weather events, perhaps it is time to start thinking about more resilient, decentralized systems for providing something as vital to survival as water.

Categories: Design, Resilience, Technology | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Cloud Shower: Disruptive Shower Technology?

There are two types of technology change: Incremental and Disruptive. As a designer, disruptive is way more fun.

Incremental: How do we get more with less? For showers, building codes limit their consumption to 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm) while green building rating systems are pushing manufacturers to get more with less; down to 1.5 gpm. The problem is that at a certain point there is a physical limit to the incremental change and efficiency gains will level off. My gut says that for shower heads this point is somewhere around 1.2 gpm. Any 50% reduction is something to be proud of, but it has taken a long time.

Disruptive: What if we ask a different question altogether: “Is there a better way to take a shower?” A couple startups are trying to answer this question with what they call a cloud shower. Previously only available as a luxury shower add-on, the technology is similar to a type of commercial humidifier. They claim that their technology not only uses 75% less water, but also provides a much more luxurious showering experience: providing more even coverage and rinsing more effectively. We now have a sudden 75% drop in water consumption, which also results in a major drop in the amount of water that needs to be heated, which in turn saves a lot of money. All this by simply swapping out a shower head! Brilliant!

Categories: Design, Education, Energy Efficiency, Technology | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Futuristic Food Recycling

A really ladqvmwe8qzpicyuwgjlaerge portion of human’s waste stream is totally compostable, but a lot of us still don’t compost it for a variety of reasons and it ends up in a landfill. Zera Food Recycler is a futuristic solution (sadly, not quite a Mr. Fusion) that automatically processes food scraps into plant food in 24 hours. Unfortunately it is expensive right now and involves replaceable filters, but it is just the first step in a bringing another tool to reduce landfill waste online. It is great to see inventors asking the right questions. Can technology ultimately save us?


Categories: Gardening, Technology | Tags: , | Leave a comment

North Country Natural Swimming Pool Project

Natural swimming pools are somewhat of a magical unicorn in the United States. Luckily that is beginning to change as people begin to re-evaluate the chemical processes that we have become accustomed to.

Here is upworthy’s article on this great swimming pool project that is challenging the industrial swimming pool.

nat pool

I wonder how this is the first of its kind, and it seems like there are very few professionals who understand this type of plant based system. If you’re wondering what to study in college, it is plant based alternatives to industrial processes and mechanical systems (yes, conventional swimming pools are an industrial process).

Categories: Design, Technology | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Bamboo Deck String Lights

Humans are predictable creatures. For some reason we feel more comfortable in places that are the right proportions and scale for the activity that occurs there. If you have found this post, then you are probably looking to make your deck more intimate, romantic, or inviting for reading, dining or talking. Lighting has long been used to “enclose” outdoor rooms to make the great outdoors feel more comfortable, and string lights have become a very inexpensive and effective way to do this.


Bamboo Uprights

In order to get the deck lighting high enough to create a “roof” over a deck, the lighting needs to be 8 to 10 feet above the floor. Most decks have railing between 3 and 4 feet tall, so extra height will be needed to make the desired effect work. Bamboo is a very strong, extremely fast-growing grass that can grow in a large variety of climates, so it is a low-impact and in a lot of cases free choice for making the uprights (ie posts) that will hold the lights up. Above and beyond being very strong, renewable, and cheap, bamboo’s characteristic shape offers a few extra features that can reduce the amount of mechanical fasteners that you need to use.

Sourcing and Preparing the Bamboo

Do not plant your own Bamboo: the plant is not native in most locations and will quickly take over your yard and spread to your neighbors’. Look around where you live for a bamboo patch, chances are that the people whose property it is on will be more than happy to let you have a few twigs. If you are a bit shy, some garden centers may have it in stock.

Look for pieces that are between 10 and 14 feet tall, so that when the small top branches are cut, you will be left with a roughly 8 to 10 feet pole between ½” to 1” in diameter. On a deck, the number of uprights will either be the number of deck railing posts or every 6 to 8 feet. Cut the bamboo down close to the ground, then trim off all of the branches. When trimming the branches, leave ½” to 1” of the base of the branch attached to the pole, these branches sticking out just a little bit are how the string lights will be attached.

20150523_152310  20150523_152248

Attaching the Bamboo Uprights to the deck

The way that the bamboo uprights are attached to the deck will vary based on the deck construction but the concept is the same for all decks. The pole needs two points of attachment to the deck to make it stable and sturdy. Special brackets (think tiki torches) are available for just this task, but they will probably cost more than the string lights themselves. If you do go this route make sure that they are made to withstand the outdoors or they will break or rust all over the place.

In my case the deck railing overhangs the railing posts by an inch, so a simple bracket would not work anyway. two 3” long pieces of notched 2” x 2” treated lumber per bamboo upright did the trick nicely. Drill a hole to allow for a zip tie to grab the bamboo and use two exterior deck screws to attach the pieces of lumber to the outside of the railing post. Attaching the bamboo is as easy as tightening the zip ties because the natural bulge every 8 to 12 inches along the bamboo upright will act as a positive stop and keep the upright from slipping downward with gravity.


20150521_190839  20150521_190646

Choosing String Lights

There is now a huge variety of string lights available. When using bamboo uprights, the huge commercial bulbs with thick cords will look too large, so pick ones that have thinner cords and smaller bulbs. Incandescent bulbs are a waste of energy so luckily LED technology has come a long way in the past few years.

The first thing to consider is how bright do you want the lights to be. There are really only two choices: mood lighting and illumination. If you are just looking to make the deck a more inviting place, then mood lighting is all that you need, and if you only need mood lighting, then solar powered string lights are a great way to go. They always turn on at dusk, don’t require any outdoor electrical plugs, don’t cost anything to operate, plus they still allow for stargazing and watching fireflies. Outdoor lamps can be used to supplement the lighting in the areas and times that it is needed.


If you must have more light, then you need to look into plug-in LED string lights. When looking for LED string lights, look for reviews online to make sure that they do not strobe; cheaper sets often flicker at 60 hz, which can drive your eyes insane and will completely ruin the effect of calm. Make sure they are rated for continuous outdoor use.


The second thing to consider is the color of the light from the bulbs. LEDs are available in any color imaginable, so if you really want purple lights, go for it. I personally like the warm white type of lights (2700K) which produce a glow similar to incandescent bulbs.

Attaching the String Lights to the Bamboo Uprights

This is by far the easiest part of the process. Be gentle when hanging the string lights, especially with the solar powered ones. Pick a height on the bamboo uprights that looks right (start with 8 feet if you can’t decide), and wrap the string lights one turn around each bamboo upright above the closest branch to the desired height, then push the loop down to the branch and notice that the bamboo branch provides a stop so that the lights can’t slide down the upright.


If you want your string lights to hover above the deck and attach the your house you have to get a little creative. Is it best not to drill any more holes in your house than there already are, and coincidentally most houses have attachments on the side like gutters or radon pipes that can be used to attach the lights to. Pay attention to any sharp objects that could cut the light string so use things like spring links (carabiners) to make the attachment to the house less straining.


I hope that this has given you some more ideas about how to create an outdoor room that invites you to enjoy the outdoors.


Categories: Design, Landscape Architecture, Technology | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Rayton Solar Panels

If you have been thinking about adding solar panels to power your home but have been priced out, that may all change soon. This startup called Rayton is claiming to have built a solar panel with 25% greater efficiency and 60% less expense. If they succeed, it is a game changer for alternative energy!


Categories: Energy Efficiency, Technology | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Natural Swimming Pools

If the idea of a chlorinated pool makes your skin itch, then maybe a pool filtered by plants is the way to go. The plants are chosen very carefully to do certain functions in the cleaning process and integrated into the pool system. The affect can be quite a bit more stunning and organic than any pool that you’ve ever seen.

Check out the full article here:


Categories: Design, Landscape Architecture, Technology | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Site Solar Shading Survey App How-to Guide

The first thing you need to do before building any sort of solar-powered project is to figure out how much sun the site receives. Trees, mountains and houses can all block solar energy from reaching whatever you have collecting it. In the olden days you would go out to the site armed with a compass, protractor, cardboard, string and a washer and plot out the obstructions on paper. Now we have some slick apps for android phones and tablets to help us. Here’s a guide for making a Solar Site Survey Chart using apps for android with a little post processing on a computer.

1. Use the Solar Shading app to make a new project and trace the solid horizon. Follow the directions for the app; there is no need to repeat them here.  Make sure that the program knows your position or things will be thrown off. It is important to trace just the mountains and other solid things that aren’t going anywhere because you certainly can’t change those. Use the share icon in the app to export the pdf of the report; it is useful as it is, but we’ll do more with it later.


2. Use the Solar Shading app to make another new project and trace the “green” horizon. This time, trace the outer edge of all the trees and any other objects that aren’t completely solid. Use the share icon in the app to export the pdf of the report; again, it is useful as it is, but we’ll do more with it later.


3. Download all of the reports from your phone to a computer.

4. Download a clean solar chart online for the survey location from

Sun Chart - Charlottesville

5. Use Photoshop, GIMP, or another image editor that allows the use of layers to superimpose and line up the solar chart made in step 4 over the chart that the app made in step 1. On a new layer use the paintbrush and masks to make a clean horizon on the chart. Hide the chart from step 1.

SS - Powerline Trail-horizon

6. Now bring the solar chart that the app made in step 2 under the chart built-in step 6 just like you did in step 5. On a new layer use the paintbrush and masks to make a clean “green” horizon on the chart. Hide the chart from step 2. Put some text to let everyone know where in the world the survey was taken and you’re done.

SS - Powerline Trailsummer

7. Doing the survey with the less expensive augmented reality apps SunPlan and Sun Surveyor is a similar process, but is more labor intensive. Use the app to take augmented reality screenshots to create a panorama on a computer later. I like to turn on the winter and summer solstice sun paths in the app because it gives a nice reference point when using them later. It’s a good idea to take a panorama even if you used the Solar Shading app to make the solar chart because it shows what the obstructions are. They are the most valuable together.

SunSurveyor_2014_02_07_111537 copySunSurveyor_2014_02_07_111550 copy SunSurveyor_2014_02_07_111607 copy SunSurveyor_2014_02_07_111618 copy SunSurveyor_2014_02_07_111630 copy SunSurveyor_2014_02_07_111640 copy

8. Turn the images into a panorama using a panorama maker program like Microsoft ICE. The augmented reality pieces confuse these programs pretty badly, so it’s not going to be flawless. Let me know if you find a way to get a cleaner panorama!


9. Download a clean solar chart online for the survey location from

10. Open Photoshop, GIMP, or another image editor that allows the use of layers to open the chart made in step 9 side by side to the panorama made in step 8. On a new layer use the paintbrush and masks to make a clean horizon on the chart from step 9 using the panorama as a reference. On a new layer use the paintbrush and masks to make a clean “green” horizon on the same chart using the panorama as a reference. Put some text to let everyone know where in the world the survey was taken and you’re done.

Categories: Design, Energy Efficiency, Technology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Site Solar Shading Survey Apps

The first thing you need to do before building any sort of solar-powered project is to figure out how much sun the site receives. Trees, mountains and houses can all block solar energy from reaching whatever you have collecting it. In the olden days you would go out to the site armed with a compass, protractor, cardboard, string and a washer and plot out the obstructions on paper. I’ll let describe how to do that in detail:

Here’s what an old-fashioned solar survey looks like:


Thanks to google sky map, everyone now knows that smartphones and tablets have all the sensors that one would need to make one of these charts digitally, plus a camera. The burning question is which app works the best and how do you make a chart with this technology? We pitted a few against each other using the same android smart phone hardware and here are the results. There is also a guide for creating this chart using some of the apps mentioned below.

1. Solar Shading: For the purpose of making a site solar survey chart, Solar Shading is by far the most capable app for android, which makes sense because it is the only one specifically designed to make this chart. The interface is a bit harder to get used to than the other apps, but it is by far the most powerful. You trace the obstructions to the sun either using the crosshairs with the camera or looking down the edge of the phone/tablet. Once you’ve completed tracing the horizon for a complete circle, the app generates the solar chart as well as two graphs showing the solar power generated and the penalty that the obstructions are causing during each month of the year. This app is easily the fastest way to accomplish the task and provides great looking reports, so it can be done at several locations on a site to find the optimal location on a site for a solar collector or a passive solar house. The only downside is the $16 price tag.


2014-01-24-13-47-51 2014-01-24-13-48-33

 2. Sun Surveyor: This is an “augmented reality” application that displays sun paths and/or moon paths on the camera preview. This is the smoothest, most polished, and most feature rich of this type of app that was tested. The 3D compass, compass calibrator, and map view are nice additions to your smartphone toolkit. The augmented reality view shows any sun or moon path that you would like to display, as well as degree grid lines, which are very helpful in building a solar chart back at a computer using the images captured with this application. These images can then be taken back to a computer and obstructions plotted onto a chart if needed. This is a nice companion to the Solar Shading app to have pictures for later reference that are geographically referenced. This app carries a $6.49 price tag.

2014-01-24-13-24-49  2014-01-24-13-23-53  2014-01-24-13-27-40

3. SunPlan: A little Less polished than Sun Surveyor, the augmented reality view works almost identical to it. Sunplan doesn’t have the 3D compass, Map view or moon information, but it has a shadow compass. At $3.99, it’s a little easier on the wallet if you don’t need the vast array of sun and moon data.

IMG_20140124_131137  2014-01-24-13-08-00

4. Helioserver: Works similar to the solar shading app, but the interface is confusing and not very polished. It probably does a lot of heavy lifting in the background, but only gives you an output of what direction to point solar panels; I wasn’t able to accurately come up with reference points from the output to plot the data onto a chart. I couldn’t figure it out, not to say it can’t be done.If it works for you, the $1.33 price tag is certainly the cheapest.

2014-01-24-13-18-28 landscape

Conclusion: After actually doing a few surveys with all of the software, I personally choose to use the Solar Shading app to do the heavy lifting. Its professional looking output can be imported directly into Photoshop and excel. It collects real data in a couple of minutes so that several locations can be investigated to find the optimal solar site location in a short amount of time. I also use Sun Surveyor and SunPlan to get a good panorama of the site for reference further down in design. They are both very similar, so use Google Play’s 15 minute refund policy to try them both out before you decide which one you prefer.

Categories: Design, Energy Efficiency, Technology | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at