Author Archives: Joyanna Laughlin

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essential storage tips

12 Clutter-Free Ways to Organize and Store Your Stuff

An interior design expert offers creative tips to organize and store everything so you can find it.

by Joyanna Laughlin

When you move into your dream home, you’ll finally have enough closet and storage space, and you’ll organize and store everything, and it will stay where it belongs, right? Wrong. Without designing enough storage space into your new home, letting go of what you no longer need, and finding smart ways to organize what you keep, you could end up with a mess of unused, unorganized stuff taking over parts of your new house like the alien amoeba in the classic horror film, The Blob.


To avoid this sad fate, Kirsten Ederer Lytle, NCIDQ, interior designer and LEED green associate at The Onyx Group in Alexandria, Virginia, has lots of creative tips to help busy families turn organization dilemmas into storage solutions.


  1. Finish unfinished spaces. Don’t let unfinished parts of your new house become a dimly lit, poorly organized catchall for unused stuff. “Finish these areas to a basic level, install utility shelving, and organize from there,” Lytle says.


  1. Keep out what you need, and pack away the rest. Once that’s done, storage spaces like pantries, linen closets, and mudrooms can serve their true purpose—organizing things you use on a day-to-day basis.


  1. Be closet savvy. Make sure that your master closet is big enough to be useful. According to Lytle, the ideal dimensions for a master bedroom walk-in closet include 2 ft. for typical hanging space, 12 to 15 in. for shelving, 30 to 36 in. of depth for drawers (including space to pull out the drawers) and a 24- to 30-in.-square minimum in which to stand (although more space for movement is desirable). FYI, reach-in closets, which are typically 2-ft.-6-in. deep and at least 3 ft. wide, are actually more efficient in terms of square footage because you don’t need space to stand.


  1. Think out of the box. Try accessing unused spaces to create extra storage. “I love building shallow shelves between studs in inter-wall spaces and building drawers into otherwise unusable crawl spaces,” Lytle says. “It feels so sneaky and efficient!”


  1. Organize by size and color. Put soft, large items up high; heavy, large items down low; and small items at eye level. Lytle also suggests grouping similar colors together and arranging items from lightest to darkest or lightest to heaviest (for clothing). “Organizing by color or shade helps your eye sweep in a particular direction and adds memory triggering for your brain,” she says.


  1. Make storage attractive. Repurpose vintage or industrial items (like old ladders, egg baskets, etc.) for storage. Create a wood built-in and paint it with an accent color or add wallpaper to the back for extra pop. Buy storage containers with colors and patterns that compliment your décor, and add a few natural wicker baskets and wood chests for a sophisticated, timeless look. Avoid plastic anything if it’s visible in the room. And in utility areas (think your garage or basement), use clearly labeled bins, and store them in a well-lit place.


  1. Purge. Separate your unused items into recycle, trash, and donation piles, and then follow through by actually getting rid of them.


  1. Go digital. There is no excuse to not go paperless these days—just make sure to have secure backup.


  1. Hide it if it’s ugly. “Pet peeves of mine include large collections of DVDs, CDs, records, video games, or magazines,” Lytle says. Unless they are very artfully arranged or have particular aesthetic value (think vintage LP artwork), Lytle suggests storing these items alphabetically (or by genre) in decorative boxes (or behind closed doors) or digitizing them and getting rid of the originals.


  1. Go clutter-free. The first sign of a dated home is knickknacks, picture frames, piles of papers, toys, and miscellaneous junk cluttering surfaces. Find a home for it, or get rid of it.


  1. Label it. Create attractive labels for your storage containers, label things specifically (never miscellaneous!), and don’t put items in a bin that don’t fall under the label.


  1. Store things near where you use them. It makes putting things back in their proper place much easier and helps you maintain the organizing and storage system that you worked so hard to set up.


And finally, include your family in the process. Ask them to help organize and store things using the new system. Show them where their things are, where to put them away, and try to help them have fun with it. Your family may not always follow the system perfectly, but any effort they put in helps.

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Reclaimed Wood

Reclaimed, Recycled, & Salvaged Wood

Reclaimed Wood

Reclaimed teak (from Terramai) was used for the decking on this Los Angeles house.

Reclaimed wood is an important, relatively new option for your new home. Demand is soaring as homeowners build greener homes and the availability of old growth wood necessary to make the larger-plank-size wood flooring that homeowners want dwindles. This has led manufacturers to reclaim wood, says Washington, D.C.-based interior designer Kirsten Lytle, NCIDQ. Reclaimed old growth wood is very desirable because of its history; tighter grain; and character (think color variations, hand saw marks, nail holes, knots and insect trails) says Robbie Williams, who co-owns Carbondale, Colorado-based reclaimed wood supplier Distinguished Boards and Beams with his wife Pam Zentmyer. “These antique timbers were used to build America; it’s the history of the United States,” he says.Reclaimed vs. Recycled Wood

The main difference between reclaimed and recycled wood is in how it’s processed into new wood, according to a blog on Portland, Oregon-based Reclaimed wood has been removed from its original location and used in a new location without being broken down by machine processing and made into a completely new product. Lytle adds that reclaimed wood can include antique wood previously milled and installed; wood from dead trees (standing and fallen); wood salvaged from scraps, shipping pallets or other sources; and manufactured wood reused for a similar purpose (e.g. old gym floors turned into residential floors). Recycled wood can be either wood that is salvaged and reused (essentially reclaimed wood), or when it comes to FSC®-certified recycled wood, wood that has been broken down by machine-processing to make an entirely new product. Reclaimed wood can be FSC-certified, but it’s a fairly recent (April 2011) and complex process. Ask your wood dealer or supplier for more information.
Reclaimed Wood Uses
Flooring, siding/paneling, beams and countertops are the most popular uses for reclaimed wood. Most reclaimed wood has been previously milled into plank form and lends itself most easily to wall panels, stair treads, shelves, countertops, and home accessories (cutting boards, shutters, and window boxes) Lytle says. Reclaimed beams can be cut down to flooring or used as exposed beams, mantle pieces, and architectural accents.Before You Buy
Williams, Lytle and Molly McCabe, AKBD, CGP, CAPS, designer and owner of A Kitchen That Works in Bainbridge Island, Washington offer smart tips on what you need to know before buying reclaimed wood.

1. Location, location, location.
 Access to good, local reclaimed wood depends on where you live, the species of trees that grow there, and whether those types of wood are (and were) interesting to people for building purposes, (think cypress, oak, and maple).
2. Buy local if possible. Use local manufacturers who source local wood if possible. When you have to use a national supplier to get the type of wood you need, try to buy FSC-certified reclaimed wood from a reputable dealer.
3. Know the history. While it’s hard to track old wood that’s been salvaged, it’s important to know whether the reclaimed wood you buy was treated with arsenic or other chemicals that could cause problems in your home. A lot of people don’t have the expertise to correctly identify different types of reclaimed wood and what they can be used for. If you don’t know, work with someone who does.
4. Don’t get bugged. Some reclaimed wood, especially blowdown wood, may have lots of bugs inside that can invade your home and cause unpleasant problems.
5. Trust the experts.
 Unless you know a lot about wood and have the equipment to safely dismantle old buildings, have your designer or general contractor buy the wood from a reputable supplier. Your supplier should be able to tell you whether the wood is local or not, what it can best be used for and whether it’s been chemically treated. Also, it’s a good idea for your contractor to talk with the wood supplier before installing reclaimed wood if he or she has not worked with it before.Reclaimed Wood Resources
An increasing number of companies specialize in dismantling old barns and other usually derelict buildings and re-milling the wood for floors, cabinetry, siding, beams, furniture and more. Reclaimed wood dealers, deconstructionists and salvage companies are a good place to start. You can find local companies easily by checking online.For homeowners in the Northwest, McCabe recommends Coyote Woodshop, owned by Dave Kotz and located on Bainbridge Island, Washington, which sells local reclaimed wood and furniture.For the mountain states and beyond, William’s company Distinguished Boards and Beams deals in red and white oak, pine, elm, beech, Douglas fir and mixed hardwood species. Clients range from Whole Foods, The Gap and architectural firms to small businesses and local, founded in 2004 and headquartered in Portland, Oregon, offers reclaimed and antique timbers, beams, and flooring as well as hard-to-source FSC-certified Western red cedar timbers

and Douglas fir flooring (reclaimed Douglas fir beams shown above, courtesy AltruWood).Barnwood Industries, founded in 2004 and based in Bend, Oregon, sources primarily fir and pine from Idaho, Montana, Washington, Oregon, and Northern California and offers everything from cabinetry and millwork to

dimensional wood beams and vintage timbers (house photo with board and batten siding courtesy Barnwood Industries).

Green Depot offers environmentally friendly building materials, including salvaged wood. Green Depot has 10 stores, with locations in Seattle, Portland, New York and 20 distribution warehouses across the country.

They currently offer flooring called “BridleTrails Plank” (shown above, courtesy Green Depot), which is salvaged red and white oak from from fences of thoroughbred horse pastures in Kentucky.

Habitat for Humanity ReStores sell new and used building materials, including reclaimed wood, at below retail prices. Drew Meyer, senior director of ReStore Operations Group, Habitat for Humanity International, says: “ReStore follows a strict set of criteria for accepting reclaimed wood.”

Pioneer Millwork offers six reclaimed wood flooring species that run about $7 per square foot. Pioneer Millwork’s office-showrooms are in Portland and McMinnville, Oregon and Farmington, New York.
Pioneer Millworks -- Jennifers-Tub1
The company’s reclaimed “Mixed Brown-Gray Barn Siding” adds elegance
to this modern bathroom: it’s on the walls and wraps the base of the platform tub (see how the highly textural rug cleverly resembles wood chips!). The company has an entertaining blog called Designing Against The Grain that gives a running commentary on current projects.

TerraMai offers reclaimed wood sourced from the United States, Asia, Africa and South America. TerraMai’s Lost Coast Redwood – Weathered paneling, a mix of woods reclaimed from structures in the San Francisco

Bay Area, shown here courtesy TerraMai) won two awards at NeoCon 2015 in June. Based in White City, Oregon, TerraMai has offices in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Asia and more.
Terramai Residential_Los Angeles Residence_Cabinet_Slide teak
Reclaimed teak (from Terramai) was used for the cabinet fronts on this pool counter. Available woods include redwood, walnut, white oak, Asian exotics and other species. TerraMai provided decking and benches for The High Line in New York, and some years ago Sunset magazine used TerraMai reclaimed wood in an Idea House.

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energy efficient hot water system


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Comparing energy-efficient hot water heaters probably isn’t on your green homebuilding to-do list. But, wait a minute! Water heating is the second biggest expense in your home, and the average family uses 64 gallons of water a day and spends $400 to $600 a year on hot showers and clean dishes and laundry. It’s time to check out the most energy-savvy options available.

Size up the situation
The first thing to do is to figure out your family’s peak-hour hot water demand, and then discuss options with your general contractor. If your water utility offers a free online service to manage your monthly water usage, sign up and use the data to calculate the size of tank you need.

Research your options
Contractors and plumbers understand conventional storage hot water systems, but some of them are not familiar with more sustainable options like tankless (on-demand) or solar hot water heaters. Don’t let them talk you out of using technologies they don’t understand. Be proactive—do your own research and meet with reputable installationcontractors who can help you calculate the right size system for your home and know how to integrate it with the plumbing.

Shop for heating systems
There are five types of water heaters available: conventional storage, tankless (on-demand), heat pump, tankless coil and indirect, and solar.

Conventional storage water heaters
, which run on electricity, natural gas, propane or fuel oil, are relatively inexpensive to install and run. But, they waste energy keeping gallons of water heated 24/7 and lose heat due to lack of tank insulation. New, high-efficiency gas-powered models and gas condensing water heaters (that use heat generated from combustion gases to help heat the water) are more energy-efficient options.

Tankless (on-demand) water heaters, which are powered by natural gas, electricity or propane, heat your water without using a storage tank and are eight to 34 percent more energy efficient than storage heaters. However, they have limited flow rates, which can mean cooler water during simultaneous multiple uses or when there are long distances between the heater and your showerhead. Installing two tankless systems can solve the problem, though the energy savings might not offset purchase and installation costs.

Heat pump water heaters use electricity, natural gas or geothermal energy (heat from the Earth) to heat water. These units are two to three times more energy efficient than a conventional storage water heater. However, they work best in areas where the temperature is between 40 and 90°F all year, and they exhaust cold air. Consult a knowledgeable professional for more details.

Tankless coil and indirect water heaters use your home’s space heating system to heat water and run on electricity, natural gas, fuel oil or propane. Advantages include lower installation and maintenance costs, but they are not a good choice for warmer climates. Talk to an installation contractor for more information.

Solar water heaters, which heat water using the sun’s energy, are fifty percent more efficient than electric or gas water heaters. But, the initial investment is higher, and some people install a backup system (or budget water use) during cloudy days and peak-demand times. Have a solar hot water professional visit your site to see how much sun it receives, discuss system options, and tell you about available rebates and incentives.

Fuel Source, Energy Star
Today’s water heating systems are powered by electricity, natural gas, propane, fuel oil, geothermal or solar depending on the type of heater. Your property location determines which fuel sources are available to you.
After comparing energy-efficient hot water heaters, costs, life expectancy, pros and cons and fuel sources (check out’s helpful infographic), you can decide which is the best choice for your family. As you consider appliances, look for the Energy-Star label — denoting high-efficiency — on gas storage water heaters, gas condensing water heaters, whole-home gas tankless water heaters, heat pump water heaters and solar water heaters. Choosing the right hot water heater for your needs can not only save energy, water, and money, but it can help you enjoy a hot shower with a clean conscience knowing that you are putting less stress on the environment.

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monticello green

Monticello – Thomas Jefferson, Green Builder

Written by Joyanna Laughlin for

We, the members of the seventh generation since Thomas Jefferson built Monticello, can learn a thing or two from the early green architect.

Monticello Green Building

“Those who construct their own shelter replicate themselves at their deepest and most significant level, in their houses. They are what they build.” —Jack McLaughlin in Jefferson and Monticello: The Biography of a Builder (Henry Holt, 1990).

When you think of green builders, Thomas Jefferson probably isn’t the first name that comes to mind. But the Declaration of Independence author, governor of Virginia, and third president of the United States was also an architect who created an innovative home that maximized sun and wind power: Monticello near Charlottesville, Virginia.

“Monticello is one of the most sophisticated passive solar houses in the world,” says William McDonough, an architect known for creating buildings that are people- and environmentally-friendly. A principal of the Charlottesville-based firm William McDonough + Partners, McDonough is passionate about this subject. “Jefferson was very precise in his understanding of the way the sun moves around a building and how it would integrate with a house,” he says.

According to McDonough, Monticello, built in the Roman neoclassical style and featuring 43 rooms and 11,000 square feet of living space, is small when compared with the great mansions of the time. He considers the home’s mountaintop location—which allowed Jefferson to look to the west, in the direction of the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition—to be his one act of hubris.

Living with the elements

Monticello Gardens

Much of the subtlety and elegance of Monticello’s design comes from Jefferson’s study of Renaissance humanist Andrea Palladio. Palladio rediscovered the classical architecture of first century b.c. Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, who described where to locate rooms relative to the sun’s movement. However, McDonough believes a basic understanding of how to live in relation to the sun and the wind was common to almost everyone in Jefferson’s time. “Jefferson was a farmer, and farmers are intensely connected to the land,” he says. “Jefferson happened to have a grand, eloquent perspective on the world, yet anybody who lived on a plantation or farm at that time would have done similar things.”

McDonough points out that Monticello’s main rooms—the east entrance portico, Jefferson’s bedroom suite, and the dining room and tea room—are positioned to take advantage of passive solar gain based on what times of day and in which seasons the rooms were in use. “The east entrance portico could use a little warm-up as you greet the day and doesn’t necessarily need to be heated in the winter for evening,” he explains. The western-facing living room, shaded in summer by its portico, allows late-afternoon winter sun to warm it for evening use.

William Beiswanger, the Robert H. Smith director of restoration at Monticello, says the home is built so that cold air is brought in through the cellars and hot air is vented through the skylights. During Jefferson’s time, the skylights in the third-floor bedrooms could be opened via a pulley system, and it’s assumed the skylights over the stairwells worked the same way.

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Weekend Getaway

Weekend Getaway Tucson Style

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Come to Tucson in the fall for perfect weather, fantastic food, the great outdoors and local culture.

Weekend Getaway















Rest and Relax.

Book your reservation now at the Big Blue House, an award-winning bed-and-breakfast inn located in a historic Queen Anne Victorian home built in 1899 by renowned architect Henry Trost. Each room is decorated in a different theme, including the Zen suite and the Hemingway Traveler suite. The innkeeper, Lea Ramsey, knows how to make you feel at home. She cooks fabulous breakfasts, and special dietary requests are welcome.

Stroll and Shop.

After breakfast, stroll around downtown Tucson. Shop 4th Avenue for clothes from casual to vintage, as well as arts and crafts, candles, books, and more. Looking for a full-on upscale shopping experience? Head to La Encantata, home to your favorite retailers, including Kate Spade, Anthropologie, Lulumon, Tommy Bahama, the Apple Store and Crate & Barrel.

Pamper Yourself.

Relax tight muscles with a massage at Elements in Balance Salon and Day Spa, or restore energy with a healing session at the Tucson Acupuncture Co-op. Want more? Book luxury spa wellness services to balance body, senses and spirit at the world-famous Miraval Arizona or Canyon Ranch.


Fall is the perfect time to get outdoors in Tucson (daytime temps average in the 70s and 80s) and play a round of golf at Dove Mountain’s Saguaro nine designed by Jack Nicklaus, enjoy a game of tennis, hike beautiful Sabino Canyon, or go for a horseback ride. If you like cycling, make your Tucson weekend getaway in November, and ride in the El Tour de Tucson bike race. Into running? Come compete in the Tucson Marathon in December.

Museum Hop.

Check out the Tucson Museum of Art exhibit, The WPA Connection: Selections from the Modern Art Collection; view the Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson’s latest installation, or visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and learn about the unique Sonoran desert and the plants and animals that live here.

Wine and Dine.

You’ve got this. Start with your favorite drink and a view of the cosmos through one of the telescopes at the Sky Bar. From there, it’s a quick walk to the B Line for fab bistro-nouvelle fish tacos, fresh salads, and pasta alla vodka. Save room for pie because the B Line’s desserts have been featured on the Food Network.

Or hop on Tucson’s streetcar and head down to Congress Street to enjoy a martini at the Hotel Congress (where the infamous John Dillinger was captured), or sample a variety of unique beers and wines at Tap & Bottle. When it’s time to eat, head to Diablo Burger for the juiciest burgers (served on branded buns) made with local ingredients. Or sit down to a romantic dinner at Maynard’s Kitchen, featuring apps like fresh oysters and corn leek soup, fresh heirloom tomato or bistro salads, and entrees including confit duck leg salad and wild salmon with black quinoa.

All Souls Procession.

If you’re in Tucson on Sunday, November 9, make your way downtown at sunset for the All Souls Procession, a kind of Halloween meets Mardi Gras-style parade based on Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos holiday. Don a costume, get your face painted in the carnival-like atmosphere, and join the party. Walk in the two-mile long procession celebrating the lives of friends and loved ones who have passed with creativity in music, art, dance and more.

Enjoy all of these adventures and more from your home away from home in Tucson—the Big Blue House. It’s the perfect home base for your weekend getaway.

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solar panels

Solar Panels Made Simple

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Written by Joyanna Laughlin for Time to Build a Houseplans Blog

Properly oriented solar panels can make a house or cabin energy-independent.

Are you thinking about installing solar panels as part of living a greener lifestyle? Here’s what you need to know from homeowners and experts who have done the homework for you.

Solar panels or photovoltaic? It’s the same thing. What most people call solar panels are the modular, silicon-based, flat-plate photovoltaic (PV) panels that turn sunlight into electricity, says Ben Uyeda, designer, co-founder of ZeroEnergy Design and, and director of HomeMade Modern. A solar electric (a.k.a. photovoltaic) system includes a group of PV panels, inverters [pieces of equipment that convert direct-current (DC) electricity generated by a group of PV panels into alternating-current (AC) electricity that can run your appliances], a mounting system and other equipment.

Additional types of solar energy systems include flexible solar photovoltaic films (used on metal roofing systems, boats, recreational vehicles, etc.) and solar thermal systems, which produce hot water to supplement your home’s water heating system, says Alan Spector, architect and owner of Lafayette, New Jersey-based Spector Associates Architects.

Understand your energy usage
In order to figure out how much energy you need to power your home using the sun, you need to know how much energy you use. This means understanding how much energy it takes to do things like heating your home or making a cup of coffee. According to Estimating Home Appliance and Energy Use on the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy.Gov website, it takes between 1,800 and 5,000 watts to dry a load of clothes, between 1,200 and 1,875 watts to dry your hair, and 900 to 1,200 watts to brew a pot of coffee. Energy consumption has to do with personal habits, says Kirpal Johnson, an energy consultant for San Mateo, California-based solar installation company SolarCity. Leaving doors open and lights on or running the furnace or air conditioning a lot increases energy consumption. Performing a home energy audit can help you to find out what your actual numbers are. There are tools online to help you do it yourself, and there are also private companies, as well as some public utilities, that will do it for you.

Shop around
Once you’ve decided to include a PV system in the design of your new home, Uyeda recommends having your general contractor get bids from subcontractors, and Spector adds that it’s a good idea to compare three bids from qualified installers. Research the installers to make sure that they are legitimate companies, and to understand the contract you are signing. “Educate yourself on the company, and inform yourself about the contract,” advises SolarCity’s Johnson. “Homeowners need to be involved at an active level and engaged with the process and the numbers,” Johnson says.

Check the numbers
The installer you select to design your PV system should provide you with an exact calculation of the amount of energy your system will produce, Spector says. You can verify the numbers the installer gives you by using websites such as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s PV Watts Calculator.

Buy brand name equipment
Most PV panels have similar conversion efficiencies (the rate at which the panels convert sunlight into electricity). Make sure that your PV panels and inverters are established brand products with good warranties, says Spector. Uyeda recommends telling your general contractor and installer what you are looking for (including good warranties on the equipment) and letting your general contractor and installer pick the brand. Some major solar panel brands include SunPower, Kyocera, Sharp, Yingli, LG and Canadian Solar. And SolarCity recently purchased Silevo, a manufacturer of high-efficiency solar modules, which means they are getting into manufacturing solar panels, a business that is currently dominated by Chinese companies. And SMA, Outback and Fronius are established brands of inverters.

Solar works in cold climates
Solar systems are not just for people in very sunny places. Solar also makes sense in cooler, northern climates. “The important thing is proper orientation to the sun and the amount of sunlight the location receives,” Spector says. “Germany is the world leader in solar, PV and it has only moderate sunlight.” Spector owns a 3,163-sq.-ft., home in New Jersey with a 5-kw PV system that provides 65 percent of the home’s electricity needs and powers Spector’s electric car, a Nissan Leaf.Uyeda designed his own 1,200 sq.-ft energy-efficient home, which is currently under construction in Boston, and he is having a 4-KW PV grid-tied system installed to provide a portion of the home’s electricity needs and to power his Nissan Leaf — the exact amount depends on how much he drives the car. “If you are building a new home in a cold climate,” he says, “solar shouldn’t be the first thing you think about. Consider the building envelope first (orientation, insulation, and energy efficiency). Don’t spend a lot of money on solar to heat an inefficient home.”

Financing options
There are several options, including buying your PV system up front (which might cost $20,000 or $30,000, says Johnson), rolling the cost of the system into your mortgage like Uyeda is doing with his home, or leasing your system from a large installer like SolarCity. Uyeda prefers packaging the cost of his PV system into his mortgage because the money he would have spent on gas is now going to increase the value of his home, which is a tangible asset. The main benefit of leasing is that you can get a PV system on your home without paying any money up front, Johnson says. Solar City installs the system, insures it, monitors its performance, and handles repairs and maintenance. You sign a 20-year contract with SolarCity, and they take a percentage of your energy savings over the life of your contract. Whichever financing option you choose, going solar can be a simple process and you can soon be on your way to lower energy bills and contributing toward a cleaner environment.

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essentials for building green

12 Essentials for Building Green

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Written by Joyanna Laughlin for Time to Build a Houseplans Blog

The goal for this vacation house in Rhode Island — by Zero Energy Design — was to minimize energy use.

At first, building a new energy-efficient home is all about imagining the best of what’s possible—the hottest design, the latest green technology, and the coolest energy-efficient products. Then, reality bumps into your dreams. Maybe it’s your budget or even the limitations of your building site. To help take the bumps out of the building process, Time To Build asked five architects and designers who specialize in sustainable development and green design to share their hard earned experience on what you need to know before breaking ground.Know your budget
According to Ben Uyeda, designer, co-founder of ZeroEnergy Design  and FreeGreen, and director of HomeMade Modern, the biggest mistake people make is that they design their house twice. “First, they get it costed out with what they want; then, they get it redesigned with what they can afford,” he says. The key is to coordinate the most cost-optimal approach to reducing your home’s footprint while adding environmental benefits.Look at the whole picture
Use a holistic approach in your design process, says Jennifer R Young, AIA, LEED AP BD+C at the firm of Lake Flato Architects in San Antonio, Texas. Consider overall comfort, connection to the outdoors, sustainable material sourcing, healthy products and the highest indoor air quality.

Review project goals
To Nancy Malone, AIA, LEED Fellow, and a principal Siegel & Strain Architects in Emeryville, California, it’s critical to set key project goals, at the beginning of the process, and revisit them frequently. “Review your goals at key milestones, and use them to make design decisions, especially value-engineering decisions,” Malone says.

Understand your climate
Perform a climate analysis early in the design process to help understand the particular weather patterns and sun angles of your site, Young advises. “The more you understand about your site, the more passive strategies you can employ, which gives you a head start on creating a comfortable, energy efficient home,” she explains.

Orient and Insulate
The tried and true methods for building an energy-efficient home are still the best, says Paul Warner, licensed architect, general contractor, and principal of San Francisco-based Sagemodern Inc. These include orienting your house and placing windows to maximize solar gain when you want it and minimize it when you don’t, designing the correct overhangs and other window shading, using the right amount of insulation, and air sealing. Young adds, “If possible, orient your home on an east-west axis, which allows you to minimize the amount of lower/harder-to-shade sun from the east and west, to maximize southern exposure in your heating season (if you have one), and to gain the soft northern light year round.”

There is no green bullet
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to energy efficiency. For example, while the idea that you get more value for every dollar spent on insulation is generally true, it depends on the difference between the temperature inside and outside of your home, Uyeda says. What has a huge impact in Austin, Texas, may not work as well in Santa Barbara, California.

Size matters
Smaller houses are inherently more resource efficient than larger ones, Warner says. As Jonathan Feldman, AIA, principal of San Francisco-based Feldman Architecture, points out, larger homes not only consume much more energy, but they require more materials to build, which also have large amounts of embodied energy. Young agrees. “It’s always tempting to want more space,” she says. “But, think about what you need day to day, and allow one space to have multiple programs.”Warner sums it up: “A compact floor plan with good orientation and good insulation not only saves energy in the long run, but it should allow you to install smaller mechanical equipment.” Make sure your mechanical contractor properly sizes your HVAC system so that it runs at peak efficiency, and you’re not paying for excess capacity.

Don’t believe the hype
You don’t have to buy into a lot of complicated systems or fancy gadgets to achieve energy efficiency. “Keep things simple, and purchase systems and appliances that make your life simpler and are easy to program without costly maintenance,” Young says. Malone agrees. “Our culture has solved many of our design challenges with technological solutions,” she says. “Although many of these solutions offer benefits, we can design energy efficient homes with a set of fairly low-tech engineering principles.”

Ask how they know
Ask your design team what stands behind their recommendations. Uyeda suggests asking if they use modeling software and cost-benefit analyses to determine what’s right for your home. Malone agrees. Energy models can analyze predicted energy performance in a given design, and also model variations such as different wall assemblies, windows and mechanical systems, to identify which elements will be the most—or least—worth investing in.

Know your priorities
Understanding what green means to you, and communicating with your design team is crucial. “If you are looking for a return on your investment, then you should aim to balance your electric load and onsite energy generation (solar, wind, geothermal, fuel cell) with a goal of supplying at least enough energy so that you don’t exceed your utility company’s lowest tier pricing structure,” Feldman explains. “If you want to be net-zero, then that leads to different design strategies.”

Pay attention to your lifestyle
Be honest about your energy usage and habits. If you forget to turn off the lights, a lighting control system, occupancy sensors, or an app on your phone that can turn off your lights can help save energy. Or if you have other specific needs, like cooling a large wine collection or running electronic sound and video equipment, tell your design team.

Solar Strategies
If you’re considering adding expensive features like a solar system to your home, one way to save money is to package the cost with your mortgage. Uyeda put solar panels on the roof of his house, uses them to charge his electric car among other things, and financed the cost in his mortgage.

The bottom line: Understand your priorities and lifestyle, know that there’s no one-size-fits-all way to achieve energy efficiency, and be prepared to communicate your priorities to your design/build team are keys to help you make your dreams of a new green home become a reality.

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Common Sense Energy Efficiency

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Article written by Joyanna Laughlin for Time to Build Blog

Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff by Joyanna Laughlin

From air sealing to solar panels, green building experts David Johnston and Marc Richmond offer tips on saving time, energy and money when building your energy-efficient home.

Seal It Up Right

Air sealing is as important to your home’s energy efficiency as selecting the right R-value insulation, says David Johnston, president of the Boulder, Colorado-based green building firm What’s Working. “Air seal everywhere that building components come together and/or where something penetrates the walls, such as doors, windows and hose bibs,” Johnston says.

Right-Size Your HVAC
Most heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are not professionally designed or engineered specifically for your home, according to Marc Richmond, manager of the Austin, Texas-based green building firm Practica Consulting. HVAC systems tend to be oversized by 50 to 70 percent, and the forced air ducts tend to leak at a rate of between 20 and 30 percent. To avoid this, ask your HVAC contractor to use Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) Manuals J, D, S and T to size and install the system. In addition, make sure that your contractor tests the ductwork and ensures that its leak rate is less than six percent.

Use Water Sense
“Water shortages are going to be a much bigger problem for many areas in the United States than climate change,” Johnston says. “At any given time, one third of the country is suffering drought.” Richmond recommends: Purchasing only WaterSense-certified showerheads, faucets, toilets, washing machines, dishwashers, and irrigation controllers. (WaterSense is a partnership program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.) Buying toilets that score higher than 500 on the MaP (maximum performance) scale. (MaP is a voluntary North American testing program that rates toilet efficiency and flush performance).
Installing a drip irrigation system that includes a smart controller (featuring a rain or soil moisture sensor to stop irrigation when the soil is wet), and using micro-spray heads for landscape beds and multi-stream rotors for turf areas. Planting low-water-use plants and turf, reducing turf areas, and hydrozoning landscaping (saving water by grouping plants together that have similar water requirements). Installing a rainwater collection system.

Get Certified
When shopping for energy- and water-saving products, don’t assume that all product claims are true or that product savings are additive, Richmond says. Do your own independent research, talk to experts, and buy Energy Star- and WaterSense-certified products. These certifications don’t add to the products’ cost, and they save energy, water and money immediately.

Going Solar?
“Do everything you can to save energy in the home itself before you purchase expensive solar panels to create new electricity,” Richmond says. Johnston agrees. “Solar is sexy and insulation is invisible,” he says. “Typically you get a better return on investment on the invisible items.” And if you do decide to put solar panels on your roof, the size (and cost) of the system is determined by your home’s energy use. Reducing your energy use at home first means that you can purchase a smaller solar system, and that saves you money.

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Energy Efficient House

Building an Energy-Efficient Home

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Article written for Time to Build Blog
By Joyanna Laughlin
Energy Efficient House
Tips for Building an Energy-Efficient Home. Don’t wait until you’re shopping for appliances to think about energy efficiency—make it a priority from the start.To build your energy-efficient, dream green home, you need to know where to begin.Orientation
David Johnston, president of the Boulder, Colorado-based green building/sustainable development consulting firm What’s Working, recommends beginning with the orientation of your home on the land. “Orientation and south facing windows can determine as much as half the cost of heating a home,” Johnston says. “Once the house is sited, framed and insulated, it is hard—or expensive—to go back.” Orientation (an aspect of passive solar design) is determined by sun angles and includes sizing south facing windows in accordance with the size of the home. Optimal sun angles are southeast on winter mornings and southwest on winter afternoons. “Breakfast nooks and kitchens are best facing the warm southeast summer sun,” Johnston says. Living areas on the south side are cheerful in the daytime, and bedrooms on the north side can buffer the house from winter cold.

Take Advantage of Thermal Mass

Another principle of passive solar design that makes houses more energy efficient is thermal mass storage in which masonry walls and thick tile or cement floors illuminated by sunlight during the day store that heat and release it into the house at night. Tucson, Arizona-based green builder and solar pioneer John Wesley Miller employs this concept to build highly energy-efficient solar homes in the Armory Park del Sol community of southeast Tucson, which includes one of the first zero-energy homes in the country.While Miller’s territorial, Mission Revival, and bungalow-style homes blend into this turn-of-the century, revitalized inner-city neighborhood, the houses also feature state-of-the-art solar systems and 8-inch-thick, concrete-filled exterior block walls wrapped in rigid foil-facedpolyisocyanurate (a thermoset plastic) board covered with stucco. “What makes solar work better is minimizing your need for it in the first place,” Miller says. The more energy efficient your house is (by utilizing principles like thermal mass storage), the less energy you have to use (from PV or the grid) to heat and cool it.

Insulate, Insulate, Insulate
According to Johnston, insulation is the second most important decision you have to make. It determines the type of framing used, the wall thickness, and many of the trim options around your windows and doors. He suggests including 50 percent more insulation than local code requires. “Builders will try to talk you out of going above code,” he says. “Don’t listen to them. Insulation is the best investment you can make, and it will yield a higher return every year you live in your home than most other investments.”


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In-Law Apartments and Dwelling Units

Article written for Time to Build Blog
by Joyanna Laughlin
Why ADUs Make Sense
An aging baby boomer population, a challenging economy, and a lack of affordable housing are just a few of the reasons that accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are becoming more popular. According to the fall 2012 issue of The Appraisal Journal, an ADU is “a small, self-contained dwelling, typically with its own entrance, cooking and bathing facilities, that shares the site of a single-unit dwelling.” ADUs can be attached (a converted garage or basement) or unattached (a backyard cottage or carriage house).  There are a number of benefits to adding an in-law unit to your property, according to Michael Litchfield, author of the book In-laws, Outlaws, and Granny Flats: Your Guide to Turning One House Into Two Homes. Benefits include increased economic security through rental unit income, the ability to offer a nearby place to live to an aging parent, the opportunity to buy a house you might not otherwise be able to afford, flexibility to travel while your tenant watches the property, shortening your commute by using the ADU as a home office, and building a green, energy efficient space.Challenges include neighbors, costs
In February 2013 the Raleigh, North Carolina, city council voted down a proposal to allow in-law units after the city’s planning department had endorsed a change to allow the cottages in 2012. Across the country, objections to allowing in-law units include neighbors’ concerns about parking, increased traffic, overcrowding and the impact on the look and character of neighborhoods.  In addition, getting a permit for a granny flat can be challenging given requirements governing parking spaces, minimum lot sizes and setbacks among other things. Some homeowners get frustrated with the requirements and costs and build an in-law unit without a permit (called an outlaw). Lichfield thinks that the majority of in-law units around the country may be illegal due to the costs and time involved in getting permits. In April 2014, San Francisco tried to address this problem when the city’s board of supervisors voted to let property owners voluntarily apply to legalize outlaw units built before January 1, 2013.7 Tips for Adding an In-Law Unit
Forward-thinking cities across the country are changing zoning requirements to make it easier to legally build an ADU. Some of these cities include Santa Cruz, California; Portland, Oregon; Seattle; Denver; Austin, Texas; Madison, Wisconsin; and Charlotte, North Carolina. Minneapolis is considering approving ADUs throughout the city.If you are considering getting a permit for in-law unit, here are seven suggestions to help you navigate the process.
1. Search your city’s website to see if accessory dwelling units are allowed and read the information posted about getting an ADU approved.
2. Study your neighborhood and lot closely to see if a granny flat is workable.
3. Research sources of financing.
4. If you live in an area where a public hearing is required for approval of your project, consider hiring a general contractor to guide your project through the process and work to get your neighbors onboard with the idea.
5. Have a lawyer to review contracts before you sign them.
6. Meet with a city planner to get an idea of what the planning department looks for when approving projects. Don’t offer planners extraneous information that they don’t ask for.
7. Follow the planning department’s submittal list item by item and make sure that your documents are complete before submitting them.If you follow these tips and do your homework, getting a permit and building an in-law unit can go smoothly. And the investment can pay off handsomely when you’re able to offer a safe, comfortable and legal home to your mom or dad or enjoy the increased financial security from rental income.To see a collection of Backyard Cottages — also called Granny Units — click here.


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outdoor fireplaces

Outdoor Fireplaces, Fire Pits and Fire Bowls

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Outdoor fireplaces, fire pits and fire bowls are hot this summer!
Article written for Time to Build Blog
by Joyanna Laughlin
outdoor fireplaces
According to Portland, Oregon-based Architect Risa Boyer Leritz, an outdoor fireplace or fire bowl is one of the top five ways to add style to your outdoor room. And whatever your style, from traditional to modern, there are beautiful and affordable options available.Outdoor Fireplaces and Fire Pits
There are numerous outdoor fireplace options available. Prefabricated fireplaces, made of reinforced concrete that burn propane or natural gas cost between $1,500 and $9,000. Modular fireplace kits that can be assembled cost between $2,000 and $7,000. Fire pit kits can range from around $300 to around $5,000. And a custom-built outdoor wood-burning fireplace can cost you between $8,000 and $20,000.Fire Bowls, Fire Tables and Chimineas
When it comes to fire bowls and chimineas, there are also many choices. Fire bowls are made of copper, cast iron, steel, concrete or bronze and usually have legs and a mesh cover. Some are good for grilling and others aren’t. Fire tables, which are literally tables with a fire bowl in the center, are also an option. Costs range anywhere from around $100 to $200 for a very simple bowl to more than $11,000 for a multiple-bowl set, and fire tables can range from around $500 to $5,000. Chimineas, based on a Mexican design, are usually made of terra cotta or metal and cost between $100 and $500.
Fuel It Up
Outdoor fireplaces, fire pits and fire bowls are fueled by wood, natural gas, propane, or gel fuels. It’s important to consider which fuel you want to use because not all fireplaces or fire bowls are set up to burn all fuels. Plus, there is an environmental impact to creating a fire outdoors. Every type of flame emits particulates and gases, and these affect both the quality of the air and people’s health. Keep this in mind when making your decisions.Outdoor Fire Dos and Don’ts
These 11 tips can help you and your family to enjoy outdoor fires safely this season.
1. Cities and states are developing regulations regarding the use of backyard fireplaces, fire pits and fire bowls and completely banning them in some areas. Make sure to comply with local regulations.
2. Disclosing an outdoor fireplace or fire bowl could be a requirement of your homeowner’s insurance policy. Find out the possible impact to your policy before you buy one.
3. Clear away any flammable brush or foliage from around your outdoor fire area. While clearing brush for 6 ft. in all directions is a general guideline, find out what the rules are in your area.
4. Check the wind direction before you light a fire, especially if you’re burning wood because flying sparks can easily start a fire you don’t want.5. Make sure that your fire bowl or fire pit is designed for this use. Some materials can shatter or explode when heated.
6. Once your fire is lit, place a fire screen over it to help keep sparks in. And don’t burn pressure-treated wood—it emits toxic chemicals.
7. Never leave your outdoor fire unattended, and keep appropriate firefighting tools, such as a bucket of sand, a garden hose or a fire extinguisher nearby.
8. Keep children and pets safe at all times when they are around the fire.
9. Don’t wear flammable clothing, loose-fitting clothing or loose, long hair around an outdoor fire.
10. Don’t use gasoline or lighter fluid to light or relight the fire. And don’t add gel fuel to an already burning fire bowl.
11. Dispose of ashes safely. Do not put fire ashes in a plastic trashcan in the garage. This can cause a house fire.
Now that you know the dos and don’ts, get ready to enjoy sitting next to a crackling fire with friends or toasting s’mores with the kids under the stars.


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improve outdoor space

Tips for improving your outdoor living spaces

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Article written for Time to Build Blog
By Joyanna Laughlin
Creating the coolest, outdoor living spaces you can imagine is easier and less expensive than you might think.
improve outdoor space
Here, architects and interior designers from around the country offer 13 tips to help you design the outdoor rooms of your dreams.1. Consider your climate. Before you run out and buy furniture, consider that those dark pillows that work so well in a cooler Northern summer might be too hot in the Desert Southwest or that an uncovered patio that’s perfect for Southern California or Florida might not get much use in the temperate but drizzly Northwest.2. Choose the view. Create purposeful views of nature with focal points. Or consider making an outdoor fireplace, fire bowl the center of attention. Garden art and outdoor sculptures also create visual interest and add detail.3. Design your spaces. Visualize the different ways you plan to use your outdoor area, and design spaces to fit your uses (parties, quiet space, etc.) If you have children, include fun places for your kids and their friends to play and also fun spaces for you and your kids’ friends’ parents to enjoy.4. Define boundaries. Find creative ways to define the boundaries of outdoor rooms. For example, curtains can add mystery and exoticism while defining a space (think mosquito netting).5. Lounge away. Comfortable furniture, including deep sectional sofas and cozy chairs, are very popular outdoors. Consider adding a luxurious canopied daybed (complete with gauzy curtains), or a bed swing or hanging chair.7. Bring textiles outdoors. Thanks recent improvements in the production of synthetic yarns, outdoor textiles used in sofa cushions, pillows, and draperies now feel more like indoor fabrics, and yet maintain their hardcore outdoor performance.8. Add a weather-resistant rug. Pull your outdoor room together with a stunning outdoor area rug (made of recycled plastic bottles) that looks good enough to be indoors.

9. Splash on color. Solid colors and geometric patterns are “in”, as well as multicolor Suzani-, Ikat- and Moroccan-inspired fabrics. For a color palette, check out Sherwin William popular 2014 palette called “Intrinsic” ( Reminiscent of Mid-Century Modernism, this palette is influenced by batik and other ethnic dyeing techniques that “lend an earthy, folkloric aesthetic to this new Bohemianism,” according to the company’s website.

10. Accent with style. Add style with unique outdoor accessories and “big statement” containers filled with tropical plants in a few key places. Go vertical by including trellises, wrought-iron corner brackets or living walls to add height and interest to your landscape.

11.Layer lighting. Provide ambient light so that safety hazards are illuminated and you’ve eliminated any dark ‘holes’ in the landscape (try LED rope lighting, uplighting of trees or bushes, spotlighting of plants with interesting shapes and perimeter lighting). Add some sparkle with a chandelier, lanterns, candles or a few Christmas lights. Most important of all, keep lighting simple and don’t overdo.

12. Patios and decks. The current trend for patios is to use concrete and faux-concrete or various types of stone. And today’s decks are made from pressure-treated lumber, cedar or redwood, imported hardwoods, composite materials or plastics. 13. Gardening is easy. Container gardening is “in”  for outdoor living spaces. You can vary the heights of the plants, swap out plants and move containers around for a fresh look, garden in a small (urban) space, and use less water than larger landscapes.

Whether you want to sip morning coffee on your deck, lounge on a luxurious daybed for an afternoon, or cook for friends in your own backyard bistro, adding the right features to your outdoor living spaces can turn your dream of creating a staycation destination in your backyard into a reality.

Design tips provided by architects Robert Nebolon of Berkeley, California; Risa Boyer Leritz,AIA of Portland, Oregon; Patricia Warren, AIA, of Tucson, Arizona; and interior designer and LEED green associate at The Onyx Group in Alexandria, Virginia, Kirsten Ederer Lytle.


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decking choices

Decking Building Choices by Joyanna Laughlin

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Article written for Time to Build Houseplans Blog
by Joyanna Laughlin
decking choicesWhat’s On Deck
A good deck can be the perfect transition between the interior and exterior of your home. Whether you want a great view, a quiet retreat, a backyard bistro or barbecue central, the first step is to choose the right decking materials. The options are wood, including pressure-treated (PT) lumber, redwood, cedar, and tropical hardwoods; composite decking; plastic decking; and aluminum decking.
Pressure-Treated Wood
The most popular, least expensive decking material on the market today is pressure-treated lumber made from southern yellow pine that has been chemically treated to withstand wood-boring bugs, rot and fungus. On the upside, PT lumber is strong, easy to work with and readily available. On the down side, it splinters, warps and rots easily if not maintained; needs to be cleaned annually; and must be refinished every one to three years.
From a sustainability standpoint, there are also a few things to consider. For years, PT wood was treated with chromated copper arsenate, (CCA) which contains arsenic, a toxic chemical. While it’s now treated with less toxic chemicals, using salvaged lumber or woods that naturally withstand bugs and rot, such as redwood and cedar or sustainably harvested tropical hardwoods might be a better choice if the environment is one of your considerations.
Redwood and Cedar
Redwood and cedar are western softwoods that are popular for use in decks because of their beauty and the natural oils and tannins they contain that enable them to withstand rot, decay and insects. Cost and maintenance are the main drawbacks here. Redwood and cedar decks can be expensive, and resistance to decay and bugs depends on the amount of heartwood in the planks. Care includes power washing the deck once a year and applying a coat of finish every three to four years.
Tropical Hardwoods
Tropical hardwoods such as ipé, cumaru and cambara are durable, beautiful, long lasting and naturally resistant to insects and decay. They’re also dense, difficult to install, and expensive in terms of money and the environmental cost of importing them. Avoid using dark hardwoods on decks that get a lot of direct sunlight because they get very hot. And make sure to buy Forest Stewardship Council-certified tropical hardwood that has been harvested sustainably and legally.
Composite Decking
Made of a combination of ground-up wood and plastic, today’s composite decking market features dozens of brands including Trex, TimberTech, and EverGrain to name a few. Benefits include low maintenance (no sealing, staining or painting, but regular scrubbing is necessary to prevent mildew), easy installation and durability. Disadvantages include density, a tendency to expand and contract more than wood in response to temperature changes, and expense.
Environmentally speaking, some composites contain recycled wood and recycled plastic, some do not, and others are a mix. Composite decking itself is not recyclable, and some composites contain PVC, which is not considered an environmentally friendly choice by green building experts. The best way to find out what’s in the products is to read the manufacturers’ MSDS sheets.
Plastic Decking
Made from plastics such as polyethelyene, polystyrene and PVC, plastic decks are becoming more popular. Plastic is low-maintenance (needs no sealers/finishes), long lasting, easy to clean, splinter-free and resistant to UV rays if treated at the factory. It’s also heavy (dense), expensive and can sag and fade in extreme temperatures (think Arizona in the summer).
Sustainably speaking, while plastic decking is recyclable and some of it is also made of recycled materials, it may or may not contain contain PVC, which is not considered an environmentally friendly choice.


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Outdoor Living

Seven Steps to Outdoor Lounging Space

Imagine relaxing on a warm afternoon in a luxurious daybed or hammock with an iced tea and a book.

Article written by Joyanna Laughlin for Time to Build a Houseplans Blog

Outdoor Living

   Or falling asleep on a summer night to the scents and sounds of nature, yet with all the comforts of home around you. This is actually part of a growing trend in America: We’re now spending more time relaxing outdoors, and we’re doing it at home by creating outdoor lounging spaces, sleeping porches and other unique outdoor rooms right in the backyard. (Photo above, of the DIY porch daybed, courtesy The Apprentice Extrovert).Then and Now
Back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, before the development of air conditioning, people stayed cool on hot summer nights by opening windows for cross-ventilation and creating sleeping areas (especially for the children) on open porches. Today, with our fast-paced, plugged-in lives, we’ve lost much of our connection to nature and to the outdoors, says Kirsten Ederer Lytle, interior designer and LEED green associate at The Onyx Group in Alexandria, Virginia. “People are being starved of natural light in their homes and offices,” she explains. “Sleeping porches and outdoor lounging areas have all the refreshing and restorative aspects of camping without any of the discomfort or hassle.
How To Achieve Outdoor Comfort.
1. Embrace the view. Design your sleeping porch or outdoor lounging space so that it has a clear view of whatever makes you happy and peaceful. Watch the sun rise or set, enjoy your favorite trees and flowers, look at your pool or fire bowl, or watch the stars come out at night.
2. Screen out distractions. Build your sleeping porch on a side of the house that provides privacy (especially from neighbors) and place a railing around the perimeter for safety. And lay out your outdoor napping nook so that your back is protected and you’re hidden from view. Curtains add a hint of the exotic while taking the place of walls to define the space.
3. Circulate. Build a sleeping porch where you can take advantage of evening breezes, such as placing it off of a bedroom on the second story or near a corner of your house. If you have a screened-in porch, consider installing a ceiling fan to help air circulate.
4. Get covered. A sleeping porch roof can shelter you from the elements (like summer rainstorms) and offers the added benefit of allowing you to hear raindrops on the roof as you fall asleep.
5. To screen or not to screen. If you live in a part of the country that has an abundance of bugs and other unpleasant critters, screening in your sleeping porch might be a necessity. For outdoor lounging areas, citronella candles can work well to keep bugs away.
6. Inviting options. When choosing a bed or sofa, make sure it’s comfortable and inviting. How about a daybed (that doubles as a sofa) or a luxury lounge with white, gauzy curtains that’s right out of a tropical vacation. Options include daybeds, bed swings, hammocks, and sofas, and covers and pillows come in a range of colorful, high-performance fabrics. You can even make your own bed frame out of shipping pallets or plywood.
7. Add accents. A piece or two of casual furniture, a few tropical plants in big containers, a lantern or candles and a wind chime or water feature can add ambiance. A bright outdoor rug completes the room. Whether you’ve just begun thinking about your new home or you’re already reviewing plans, why not consider adding a sleeping porch to the house or designing an outdoor lounging space.


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overcoming pain

5 Steps to Overcoming Painful Memories & Past by Joyanna Laughlin

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Cynthia James knows from experience how dejected, listless and dispirited a person can feel after a painful event, or a series of painful events, come at you without warning.

“I came out of a violent childhood with sexual abuse,” says James, associate minister at Mile Hi Church in Lakewood, Colo. “I lived my teens, 20s and 30s from that paradigm.”

When she was at rock bottom, “Rev. Cynthia,” as she is known to many, began studying the principles of Science of Mind and Spirit, a movement based on the writings of Ernest Holmes. She used Holmes’ ideas to take a hard look at her life — trying to weed out deep negative patterns and train herself to think differently.

“We attract what we think and believe,” says Rev. Cynthia. This concept of “Law of Attraction,” widely publicized in the documentary film The Secret, is also a Science of Mind and Spirit precept for successful living. “You’re responsible and you get to choose,” Rev. Cynthia explains.

“But,” she cautions, “it will take time to create the successful life you want.”

Rev. Cynthia suggests these five action steps toward freeing your spirit from painful past events and filling your life with joy and passion instead:

1. Take an inventory of your life and what you no longer need. Are you holding onto self-destructive behaviors such as a compulsive need for alcohol, food or sex to avoid facing emotions about past events? If you are aware of behaviors you don’t want, you can more easily identify the ones you do want.

2. Stop letting your “story” and your past define you and your future.Listen to yourself when you tell your story each day. Watch how others react. If you can focus your attention on the now rather than on the past, you can change your life today.

3. Pay attention to how past pain manifests in your physical body. Your past, and even the past of your ancestors, are embedded in your mind, your spirit and your physical body — and that history will show up in your circumstances. Begin to explore your body language and practice ways to release pain on a physical level through music, meditation, and mind-body exercise such as yoga, dance, t’ai chi and qigong.

4. Learn radical self-care. Put yourself first mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually by taking time to exercise, eat healthy, meditate, pray. Treat yourself in ways that enable you to be more fully present when you are giving to others.

5. Set your intention, focus your attention on it, and act in keeping with it. Try inspiring yourself with a “life map”: Gather pictures and words that describe the life you want and arrange them on a large sheet of paper in whatever way feels best to you. Display your map in a place where you can see it every day. It’s a kind of affirmation that can help make your desired direction your reality by keeping it top-of-mind as you choose your actions each day.

Does changing your thoughts still sound like too much work? If so, Rev. Cynthia begs to differ. “You’re working hard anyhow! So many people tell me they are struggling; what is struggle but working hard?” she says.  “Every person is unique and amazing. Healing and freedom are a choice. There is nothing that has ever happened to you that can stop your greatness.”

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Arizona Birdwatching

Arizona Bird Watching Paradise

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Bring your binoculars and your Arizona birding list to these top spots for birders.

Imagine hiking through a cool desert canyon before sunrise and feeling a thrill as you spot a bird you’ve wanted to see all your life. It’s not a dream; it’s Arizona – one of the top 10 places in North America for birdwatching. Whether you’ve been birding since childhood or are a newcomer to the activity, you can find great birdwatching statewide.

Southern Arizona is world-famous for birding

00081.pngSouthern Arizona is a hotbed for avian species, from those that reside here year-round to others that pass through seasonally. A great place to start your Southern Arizona birding adventure is at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum west of Tucson. This combination museum, zoo and botanical garden is fun for birders and non-birders alike. It’s a great place to get acclimated and find such common desert birds as cactus wrens, gilded flickers and gila woodpeckers.

If you’re in town during Martin Luther King weekend, take a daytrip east to Willcox for the Wings Over Willcox Birding & Nature Festival. Enjoy guided birding tours, a nature expo and free seminars.

Heading south, Cave Creek Canyon in the Chiricahua Mountains, near the town of Portal, has been called one of the most exciting birding spots in North America. Some town residents have even been known to allow birders to visit their backyard feeders. Birds common to this area include elegant trogons, magnificent and blue-throated hummingbirds, rose-breasted becards and olive warblers.

Madera Canyon and Florida Wash in the Santa Rita Mountains – accessible from Interstate 19 near Green Valley – are two spots avid birders won’t want to miss. Here you may spy rufous-winged sparrows, yellow-eyed juncos, 12 species of hummingbirds and an occasional flame-colored tanager or crescent-chested warbler. After a fruitful day of sightings, take respite at the birding-friendly Santa Rita Lodge. Abundant feeders around the property allow you to continue your search, or sign on for one of the lodge’s guide-led birding walks.

00080.pngIn the grasslands near Sonoita and Patagonia, you’ll find the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, Patagonia Lake State Park and Sonoita Creek State Natural Area and, southwest of Patagonia, a roadside rest area that’s famous among birdwatchers for sightings of rare birds. In these areas, you may be able to train your binoculars on such finds as gray hawks, vermilion flycatchers, green kingfishers and broad-billed and violet-crowned hummingbirds.

The San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, near Sierra Vista, features more than 250 species of birds. Look for Mississippi kites and gray hawks, yellow-billed cuckoos, northern beardless-tyrannulets and crissal thrashers. For a multiple-day birding adventure, stay at Birders Vista Bed and Breakfast in Sierra Vista or Casa de San Pedro Bed & Breakfast in Hereford.

And don’t miss Ramsey Canyon Preserve in the Huachuca Mountains. Stay at the nearby Beatty’s Guest Ranch and Orchard for great hummingbird viewing. Ash Canyon Bed & Breakfast also boasts avian-friendly grounds. Scan the skies here for blue-throated hummingbirds, sulphur-bellied flycatchers, spotted towhees and bridled titmice.

Great birding in all corners of the state

00079.pngMetropolitan Phoenix offers the chance to see a few feathered friends in the heart of the city. The Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area – just south of downtown Phoenix – stretches along five miles of the Salt River. This beautiful habitat features wetland ponds, a mesquite-willow forest and more than 200 species of birds. Try to spot great blue herons, Tennessee warblers, white-breasted nuthatches and ospreys. The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix and the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert are other great in-town destination for birders spending time in Greater Phoenix.

About 100 miles north of Phoenix, the Prescott National Forest – near the town of Prescott in North Central Arizona – spreads over 1.25 million acres. The Verde River flows through this area, creating a lush riparian habitat for more than 200 species of birds, including snowy egrets, white-faced ibis, doves and quail.

Continuing north to the Grand Canyon? Bring your binoculars. Grand Canyon National Park encompasses 1.2 million acres of the Colorado Plateau and is home to 373 species of birds, such as California condors, bald eagles, peregrine falcons and northern goshawks. Petrified Forest National Park, near the town of Holbrook, and spectacular Oak Creek Canyon, near the red rocks of Sedona, also offer wonderful birdwatching opportunities in the northern part of the state.

00078.pngArizona’s West Coast holds a number of its own thriving bird habitats. Near Parker, the Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge features one of the few remaining natural cottonwood-willow forests along the lower Colorado River. Here, the combination of the Sonoran Desert, a cool river and a cattail-filled marsh create an environment 344 resident and migratory birds find irresistible. Keep an eye – and ear – out for yellow warblers, vermillion flycatchers, Yuma clapper rails and southwestern willow flycatchers.

Heading further south, the Imperial National Wildlife Refuge, north of Yuma, protects wildlife along 30 miles of the lower Colorado River and offers a refuge and breeding ground for 275 avian species. While there, you may see great egrets, Gambel’s quail, southwestern willow flycatchers and cinnamon teals.

And there’s still so much more to see, from annual festivals to regular guided birding walks and more. For additional information on birding in Arizona, contact Arizona State Parks – they even offer Arizona birding lists on their website – Audubon Arizona or the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory. Then grab those binocular and look to the skies!

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energy building

Energy Efficiency Mistakes to Avoid

Article written by Joyanna Laughlin for Houseplans Blog

The secret to getting the most for your money is using good, old-fashioned common sense — as with the design by David Wright, above.

If you want to save energy, don’t build the largest home you can afford. Build a smaller, higher quality home, and build it right the first time, says Marc Richmond, founder and manager of the Austin, Texas-based green building consulting firm Practica Consulting. Richmond advises following the pyramid (see diagram below) and spending the majority of your money and effort on the lower tiers. “Invest in things that cannot be changed later and will payoff forever,” he says


. CUsersMarcDownloadsEnergy-Efficiency-Pyramid_0jpg
Back to Basics
In Richmond’s experience people spend money on too many expensive, energy-saving products instead of taking advantage of the much cheaper benefits of good passive solar architecture and good installation of the basics, including air sealing, insulation, HVAC design and layout, water heating, radiant barriers, and thoughtful home operations. “You can save an incredible amount by turning off lights, appliances, electronics, and your HVAC system when they’re not needed,” Richmond says. “For example, for every thermostat degree adjusted, you can save about 3 percent on heating or cooling.”

Choose the Right Plan
Select a house plan that is designed for your climate rather than one that is not. If you are building in a hot climate, Richmond recommends a plan with extended roof overhangs to shade windows, breezeways to facilitate exterior air flow, a layout that aids the natural flow of air between open windows in connected rooms, and operable skylights or cupolas to vent out rising interior hot air.

In addition, consider building short walls and fewer windows on the east and west sides of the home to reduce solar heating, and look for a plan with shaded and usable patios, as well as screened and covered porches, to create outdoor living spaces. You may also want to select a single story concrete slab home to allow the thermal mass of the slab to keep the interior cooler.

Building in a cold climate? Richmond suggests looking for a plan in which the south side of the house has the most windows to take advantage of winter sun. Also, think about choosing a two-story, compact home design to reduce the amount of external wall, which reduces heat loss. And consider eliminating a fireplace to further reduce heat loss.

Ask the Experts
One of the biggest mistakes people make when building a home is not having an expert help them make decisions. Don’t assume that your builder is oriented towards energy efficiency because builders tend not to be, according to Richmond. While building to code is the minimum legally required standard, Richmond advises shooting for much higher than code. There are a few green building experts in each region, he says, and they tend to sell advice and be product neutral.

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energy efficient windows

Building with energy efficient Windows & Lighting

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Written by Joyanna Laughlin for Time to Build

energy efficient windowsShine a Light on Energy Savings
Make windows and lighting a priority in your energy-efficient home

When it comes to building your energy efficient home, it’s not just the big decisions (like orientation and insulation) that are important. Selecting the right lighting and windows has a bigger impact on your energy bill than you might think.

Choose High R-Value Windows
While windows let light and amazing views into your home, they are also a source of heat (energy) loss. A single pane of glass has an R-value of R-1 and a double-glazed window is R-2. According to David Johnston, Colorado-based green building consultant and author of Toward a Zero Energy Home, if your home’s walls are insulated to R-30, you could be losing 15 times more heat through the windows than the walls. And the low-emissivity (low-E) windows that are considered energy efficient are often only R-3. Johnston recommends shopping around to find windows with even higher R-values. For example, the windows in Johnston’s home and office range from R-7 to R-11. In addition, he suggests shading windows with awnings or overhangs during the summer to keep the sun out of the house.

Focus On Lighting
There’s more to energy-efficient lighting than buying a bulb and screwing it in. The most important things to consider when buying lighting include how light sources works, lumens, and color temperature, says Hyman Kaplan, IALD, PE, owner of the Tucson, Arizona-based lighting consulting firm Hy-Lite Design. Interior home lighting includes ambient (general), task, and accent lighting, and a standard bulb for ambient lighting illuminates differently than a spot light bulb. Kaplan recommends deciding how you intend to use each room in your home before selecting lighting with your design team. If you’re planning on watching TV in the living room, it will require different lighting than if you’re going use it for reading, Kaplan says.

Secondly, people are used to buying incandescent light bulbs by the watt, but it makes more sense to compare compact fluorescent (CFL), LED and halogen incandescent bulbs in terms of lumens, which measure brightness, Kaplan says. For example, a 60W incandescent bulb gives off 800 lumens of light. “Incandescent bulbs are obsolete,” adds Johnston. “CFLs are a transitional bulb, and LEDs are emerging as the bulb of the future.” In addition, color temperature impacts quality of light. An incandescent bulb has a color temperature of 2,800K, providing what most people consider warm, comfortable light, whereas many people don’t like the cool, white light of a 4,100K CFL. Neutral light is 3,500K. Whichever lighting you prefer, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions, Kaplan says. It’s your home, after all.

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fair trade

5 Fair Trade FAQs and Buying Guide

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Buying “fair trade” products sounds like a good thing to do. But what does fair trade really mean? Does it make a difference? And how do you know your money is being used as you intend it to? 

1. What does fair trade mean?

The answer might seem like a no-brainer. But it’s actually challenging to define without generalizing.

According to the Fair Trade Federation, fair trade is “a more equitable and sustainable system of production and trade.” Wikipedia defines fair trade as “an organized social movement which promotes standards for international labor, environmentalism, and social policy in areas related to production of Fairtrade labeled and unlabeled goods.” The fair trade movement focuses in particular on exports from developing countries into developed countries.

In plain language, the fair trade movement promotes and supports wages that are fair in the local context, meaning they help artisans and crafts people earn a wage they can live on and that is relative to other skills and trades in their local economic system. Fair trade organizations benefit artisans they trade with by paying between 15 percent and 30 percent of the retail price of products to the artisans.

Fair trade also sometimes includes ensuring safe working conditions for artisans, creating sustainable livelihoods for communities in developing countries, and improving social and humanitarian conditions for those communities — which helps ensure that workers can keep earning uninterrupted wages. Fair trade organizations (FTOs) work primarily with small businesses and democratically run cooperatives that agree to reinvest a portion of profits in community projects like health care clinics and childcare programs. For example, Pachamama: A World of Artisans, a California-based FTO and a Gaiam supplier, trades only with groups that already have these programs in place and selects partners using the Fair Trade Federation (FTF) member screening process.

2. Why should you buy fair trade?

2007 brought an explosion of press about social, economic and environmental responsibility around the world. More of us are opening our eyes to socioeconomic inequality, environmental destruction and the exploitation of workers in underdeveloped countries. It can seem overwhelming; one person can only do so much. But it’s easier than you might think to vote with your dollars and act on the fact that you’re conscious of the impact your purchases have on the lives of other people.

Fair trade products also make great gifts. You can find a wide variety of products in fair trade versions anytime of year — and manyFair Trade: What a Gift retailers expand their fair trade product selection during the holiday gift giving season.

Certain types of fair trade products  tend to be more readily available than others, including jewelry and accessories such as handbags, purses and tote bags; toys; crafts or handcrafts such as decor items, desk accessories, containers of all kinds, and trinket boxes; hats, scarves, shawls, wraps, skirts and clothing and apparel; bedding, home linens and other fabric items; and of course coffee, chocolate, rice and other food items.

3. Where can you buy fair trade products?

There are many places on the web to buy fair trade products, including here at Gaiam. Also check out Eco Mall for an impressive list of eco-conscious and socially conscious stores from around the world.

You’ll find fair trade items in brick-and-mortar stores, too. Find shops in your area via the Fair Trade Federation’s Directory of Members by State and Territory. Or stop by your nearest natural foods store such as Wild Oats or Whole Foods, and ask the people who work there.

4. How do you know it’s really fair tade?

Ask before you buy. While many fair trade organizations are members of fair trade groups such as FTF or of the International Federation of Alternative Trade, FTF requires members to provide detailed financial and business-practice information that’s reviewed by a screening committee before being approved; the process can take up to six months. The products FTF members sell often indicate this affiliation (look for trade group logos on product tags).

Keep in mind that some companies that aren’t members of trade groups still may pay their artisans a fair wage. Ask these companies what criteria they use to select their suppliers, whether they meet with suppliers in person, and how they verify the working conditions and wages of the artisans. Then make your own decision.

Do your research. Fair trade standards are improving every year, but they’re not perfect. While it’s often difficult to determine what is a fair wage in a local context, marketers and producers are learning how to work together in ways that benefit everyone. You can do your part by learning about fair trade. You’ll find details on these websites:
Fair Trade: What a Gift

5. Is this just a passing trend?

That answer depends partly on consumer demand. If you believe in the fair trade concept, spread the word. Each time you give a fair trade gift, make sure your gift recipient notices, and brag about how that item’s sale is helping a community.

Tell your friends, family and coworkers that you’re giving fair trade gifts this year, and tell them how to find out more. Try pointing out the fact that between 60 percent and 70 percent of fair trade product artisans are women — often mothers and the sole wage earners in their homes, and many widows of AIDS victims. Buying fair trade can make a powerful difference in these women’s lives.

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Energy Saving Tips

Energy-Saving tips on Light Bulbs by Joyanna Laughlin

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Written for Gaiam Life:

Burning questions about switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) or other energy-efficient light bulbs? Allow us to shed some light.

Q. How can a little light bulb make a difference?

A. “CFLs prevent the emission of substantial quantities of greenhouse gases and other pollutants,” says Vicki Fulbright-Calwell, lighting and mercury consultant at Ecos Consulting in Durango, Colo., and a prominent expert on the subject of CFLs. “They reduce consumer energy bills and last far longer than incandescent bulbs.”

If you replace the five standard light bulbs you use the most with CFLs, you can save roughly $60 a year on electricity.

If every American home replaced just one incandescent light bulb with a compact fluorescent bulb, we would eliminate 1 million cars’ worth of greenhouse gas emissions. That’s one bulb. Most homes have 15-30 bulbs.

How many CFLs does it take to make a dent in my energy usage?

Begin by changing the bulbs that burn for more than an hour a day. Kitchens and dining rooms, family and living rooms, bedrooms, hallways, and outdoor lights — such as the porch light — are good places to use CFLs.

Another tip — it’s okay to keep those cheap incandescents around, too, if they’re in fixtures that don’t get used a lot. No need to ever change that closet light or hall light that is only on for a few minutes a week.

CFLs have strange wattage ratings. How do I know which one to buy?

You’ll need to know the wattage of the bulb you’re replacing and its equivalent in a CFL.


Use this CFL bulb: To replace this incandescent bulb:
9 to 12 watts 40 watts
13 to 18 watts 60 watts
19 to 24 watts 75 watts
25 to 30 watts 100 watts


Are some CFLs more efficient or longer lasting than others?

There’s not much difference in efficiency between brands of CFLs, says Bill Giebler, who’s sized up a whole lot of CFLs in his 10 years heading up green product sourcing at Gaiam Real Goods. But there can be a big difference in how long a CFL will last, regardless of who makes it. Some CFLs have a 10,000 hour life while others are rated at only 6,000 hours.

What about that anemic blue light CFLs give off?

“When it comes to light quality, look at the Kelvin ‘temperature,’ which is a color rating,” says Giebler. If you find the light disconcerting, you’re likely the proud owner of a ‘natural spectrum’ lamp with a Kelvin rating of 5000+ that produces a white-toward-blue light, Giebler adds.

Technically speaking, natural spectrum light is better light: It mimics light at noon on a cloudy day, reduces glare and renders better color. These are the best bulbs for reading lamps, desk lamps, and work and art stations. But they’re blue and cold and have the tendency to dig up flashbacks of your worst elementary school memories.

If you experience these symptoms, immediately find yourself a 2700K CFL bulb (often sold as “soft white” or “warm glow”) that gives off a yellow light similar to incandescent light. Screw in your kinder, gentler new bulb and breathe deeply.

Can I use a CFL with a dimmer switch or 3-way switch?

Yes. CFLs made specifically for dimmer and 3-way switches are readily available now; look for them alongside regular CFLs.

Note that it’s a fire hazard to use a standard CFL in a dimming circuit. (Who knew?) If a CFL is not clearly marked for dimming, do NOT use it in a dimming circuit, even at full brightness. The same applies for a 3-way bulb — if it doesn’t say it’s for 3-way, don’t use it in a 3-way fixture.

Don’t CFLs contain mercury?

While CFLs do contain minuscule amounts of mercury, they are an environmentally friendlier choice right now despite their mercury content, because of the energy savings and reduction in coal-fired power plant emissions that result from using them. .

Can I get a break on my power bill for using CFLs?

There are a number of utilities that offer rebates, says Calwell. She adds that since utilities will not be promoting CFLs forever, don’t count on rebates as your reason to switch. For the latest information, check with your local utility.

Are LEDs better than CFLs?

LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, use a third of the wattage of even the smallest CFL. LEDs also last even longer than CFLs (up to 10 times longer) and contain no mercury. Like CFLs, they also run much cooler than incandescents. LEDs are common in electronics and in gadgets such as headlamps made for camping.

But there’s a reason CFLs are now ubiquitous while LEDs for lighting your home remain a lesser-known option: “Nothing beats a CFL for lumens per watt,” says Giebler. “It’s the best for getting energy efficiency while also fully lighting a space.”

Using LEDs in household lighting fixtures is still a novel concept — but Giebler says LEDs are the best type of bulb out there for reading lamps, task lighting and small areas. He says a 3-watt LED makes a perfect porch light. The light is bright enough to mark your house, yet the low output reduces light pollution. And LEDs run fine in very cold temperatures, unlike CFLs.

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organic cotton

Opportunity Grows for the Organic Cotton Market

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by Joyanna Laughlin and Richard Fleming
LOHAS Journal Oct. 2003
Push comes to pull as suppliers work to keep pace with rising demand from
consumers who cotton to organic
In the early 1990s, Texas farmer La Rhea Pepper “started exploring what we
could do to bring economic sustainability back to the farm-gate level as well
as to have sustainability at the soil level,” she recalls. Organic cotton was
the answer.
In 1993 La Rhea and husband Terry helped found the Texas Organic Cotton
Marketing Cooperative (TOCMC), which now includes 54 family-owned and -operated
farms with more than 10,000 acres of land in organic production of cotton and
other crops. By 2000, TOCMC was producing one-third of the organic cotton grown
in the U.S., according to Pepper, who is the group’s market-development
When co-op members learned of rising consumer demand for organic feminine
products, they founded Organic Essentials Inc. in 1996. After developing a line
of tampons, cotton balls, swabs and cosmetic rounds for its product mix, the
company reaped FY01 sales of $1 million, up 50 percent from FY00 sales, which
had grown 41 percent from FY99.
Pepper, who also serves as president of Organic Essentials, attributes the
growth of the company and the organic cotton market in general to “consumers
becoming aware that organic is more than food.” She estimates that the U.S.
organic cotton industry generates $125 million in revenues annually.
According to the Greenfield, Mass.-based Organic Trade Association (OTA),
13,460 acres of certified organic and transitional cotton were planted in the
U.S. in 2000, a 15-fold increase since 1990. While the amount of organic cotton
produced is growing—67,765 bales worldwide in 1999—the conventional cotton
harvest easily dwarfs its up-and-coming sibling, turning out 87.3 million bales
globally during the 1999/2000 year, according to the U.S. Department of
Concerns over the health effects of conventional cotton led Natracare LLC,
developer of the first modern-day cotton tampon, to switch to certified-organic
cotton in 1997. “When you’re a company that has developed a 100-percent cotton
tampon for health and environmental reasons, the switch to organic cotton is
the next step, for all the reasons that make organic a better choice in other
things, such as food,” says Susan Carskadon, who heads the Denver-based
company’s North American operations. Since switching to organic cotton,
Natracare has had annual revenue growth rates ranging between 50 and 65
percent, growth that Carskadon attributes to a rising awareness among women
that certified-organic cotton tampons are a healthy choice.
Sandra Marquardt, coordinator of OTA’s Fiber Council, says women are the
primary buyers of organic cotton products in general, and notes, “Food could be
acting as an organic gateway to these buyers.”
That was the case with at least one manufacturer as well. Maggie’s Organics was
in the chip and salsa business in 1992 when one of its growers announced that
he had a crop of organic cotton that he needed help selling. “We began to
research cotton and found out that it is the second-most pesticide-laden crop
in the entire world, and that it uses 25 percent of all pesticides on the
planet,” says Bená Burda, company president and owner. Ruminating that people
spend a third of their lives sleeping on cotton sheets, and much of the rest of
the time in cotton clothes, Burda and her associates developed a product line
that includes socks, T-shirts, camisoles, underwear, bedding and Oxford shirts.
And annual sales have been increasing at a 50 percent rate. “It’s a consumer
pull-through that’s happening,” she explains. “We used to have to browbeat
distributors and retailers into carrying our products. Now customers come find
us. The tide turned about a year ago”—a turning point Burda attributes to the
health and sustainability movement.
Stepping up to help meet that demand are well-established players in the
healthy lifestyles sector, like Broomfield, Colo.-based Gaiam Inc. and Green
Babies, of Tarrytown, N.Y. Both companies seem of the same mind as OTA’s
Marquardt, who sees the organic cotton market being driven by demand for
children’s clothing and adult activewear.
Gaiam expanded its organic cotton offerings with last year’s launch of Gaiam
Organix, a division focused on performance wear, casual clothing and infant
togs, as well as towels and bedding. Gaiam Organix targets consumers who are
looking for quality fabric goods, positioning its products in the midrange of
the price spectrum and selling their organic origins as a bonus value. “We want
our items to have the same style, quality and price as conventional products,
with the added value of organic,” says Lynn Powers, president of Gaiam. “Given
that choice, we believe consumers will choose organic.”
Gaiam is augmenting its catalog and online channels by expanding the number of
retail outlets offering its Organix line, taking its “functional wear”—clothes
that have a reason to be worn beyond fashion, such as yoga togs or bathrobes— into mainstream sporting goods stores and department stores. “We’re seeing
growth in our direct consumer base, and we believe we’ll see the same on the
retail side,” Powers says.
Green Babies, a maker of organic clothing for children as well as organic
sheets and diapers, has experienced 50 percent growth over the past two years,
with current annual sales of around $2 million. Lynda Fassa, who in 1994
founded the company with her husband, Hossein, says Green Babies products
appeal to both organic and crossover shoppers who are fashion-conscious but
also want to do something good environmentally. “I’m selling the idea that
[organic baby clothes] are a nice thing to do and a nicer way to do it,” she
When it comes to activewear, there’s no bigger player than Beaverton, Ore.- based Nike, the largest domestic buyer of organic cotton. In 2000, $182
million, or 20.9 percent, of Nike’s FY00 U.S. net revenues of $868 million were
generated by sales of organic cotton-blended products. This year Nike plans to
spin 1.2 million pounds of organic cotton into T-shirts, sweatshirts and fleece
products made and sold in the U.S. Those products will be 5.7 percent organic
cotton, according to Heidi Holt, global environmental director for Nike’s
apparel division. The company has a goal of a minimum of 3 percent organic
cotton in all of its cotton apparel by 2010 and next year plans to launch a 100
percent organic cotton women’s line in the U.S.
However, Nike’s ambitions to grow the amount of organic cotton in its products
are subject to a tangle of factors that plague the industry as a whole. Along
with higher cost and limited supplies of organic cotton, the industry is
challenged by a continuing trend of U.S. textile mills moving overseas, high
production minimums from contract manufacturers that work against the lower
milling and weaving volumes typical of organic cotton runs, and increased
production overhead due to required equipment cleaning between runs of
conventional and organic cotton in order to maintain product purity.
Such problems caused Adidas-Salomon, headquartered in Herzogenaurach, Germany,
to abandon the use of organic cotton in its apparel and footwear products after
a couple of years.
Those challenges didn’t deter outdoor gear and apparel maker Patagonia, which
devoted a year to the process of educating employees about organic cotton and
modifying operational procedures in order to switch completely to organic in
1996. (See “Patagonia’s Journey to Sustainability,” LOHAS Journal July/August
2001.) “It made many jobs a lot harder,” recalls Jil Zilligen, the company’s VP
for environmental initiatives. “We had to go back through all the manufacturing
and design processes to get them to conform to using organic cotton.”
But the ordeal has paid dividends both financially and in terms of public
relations, according to Lu Setnicka, Patagonia’s public affairs director. “It’s
made us a more successful company and it’s been a great story for us to tell,”
she says, adding that the company is encouraging the use of organic cotton
among its suppliers. “We’re using leverage we have as a business to grow the
market for organic cotton,” she says.
Nike, which typically buys T-shirts already made, is developing long-term
relationships with organic farmers, including the Peppers, to stabilize its
supply of organic cotton. “Not only is this a more sustainable relationship
with the farmer, but it brings the price down significantly,” Holt says.
And industry insiders expect the organic cotton market to produce a growing
crop of healthy profits. As more and more consumers “see the connection between
organic and health, we see growth continuing in an exponential manner,” says
Ellen Feeney, Gaiam’s director of marketing communications

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Cast Earth Construction

Cast & Character: Building a Home With Cast Earth Construction

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When Jan Johnson saw a newspaper article on earth houses and decided she wanted one, little did she know that she would end up owning a home in the forefront of sustainable building technology. Jan, a pediatric occupational therapist, cut out the article and tacked it up in her office. Twelve years later, she moved into her dream home, a 2,000-square-foot cast earth house with a 400-square-foot attached guesthouse in Prescott, Arizona.

Having spent time in Africa, Jan is familiar and comfortable with earth structures. She bought property in Prescott in 1997 and told her real estate agent that she wanted to build an alternative home there. The agent referred her to Michael Frerking, owner of Prescott-based Living Systems Architecture and Construction, who has been designing and building earth homes and buildings since 1975.

Cast Earth Construction

When Frerking suggested cast earth, a relatively new building material made with earth and calcined gypsum that requires less hand labor than adobe or rammed earth, only a couple of houses had been built with it. But Jan was drawn to cast earth for several reasons. She liked the rich colors and beautiful patterns that can be created by adding pigments to naturally light-colored cast earth walls. Second, earth for the house could be “harvested” from a local lake that collects runoff sediment. And third, the energy efficiency of cast earth homes can make them less costly to live in than conventional homes.

The design process began in fall 1997. Construction started in April 1998, and the home was completed in November 1998. Some of the design challenges included minimizing destruction of the site’s natural environment, situating the house to take maximum advantage of passive solar gain, and orienting the windows toward peaceful views of nature, not neighbors. The result intrigues and invites visitors without giving away its size or its secrets.

“My house reflects who I am,” Jan says. “I wanted it not to attract a lot of attention on the outside, but to be interesting looking, and then, as you come inside, it gets more interesting the farther you get into it.”

Three striking, curvilinear walls give a sense of peace, stability, and positive energy flow to the one-story floor plan that includes a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and an office.

Cost Efficient

Jan’s house was built to vary an average of seven degrees between day and night and to vary throughout the year between sixty-two degrees Fahrenheit and seventy-eight degrees Fahrenheit without backup heating or cooling. According to Jan, the temperature in the house stays around sixty-six degrees Fahrenheit most of the time and never dips below sixty. Jan’s utility bills average between $80 and $90 per month for electricity and gas.


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