Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Living in a Tiny Home

Ever read The Boxcar Children series growing up? I did, and always had a fantasy about converting a boxcar into a cozy getaway. Modern designers have caught on to that attraction too, and a simple approach to living green is becoming more popular. Building and living in small houses—including a converted rail car—is the subject of the Tiny House Blog. It's just $150/month to lease the boxcar. Juneau-raised Tristan McAllister films this video tour, Life in a Rail Car, of the train-home. The rail car is listed at $225,000—probably more than the boxcar children—Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny Alden—could afford.

Another small living story focuses on Jay Shafer, who lives in an 89-square foot home he built himself. In an interview, Jay discusses with Tiny House author/builder Deek Diedricksen that in the U.S. we operate on a much larger scale than elsewhere in the world. On average, Americans' homes are four times the size as our international equals’. Jay, a designer specializing in sustainable architecture and urban planning, says it makes sense to live more compactly. We pour tons of time and money improving the energy efficiency of our larger homes, but smaller designs decrease the space to heat from the start. Jay touts the sustainable habits that stem from living in a small home, such as double-using something. A saucepan, for example, can double as your tea kettle to save storage space and materials (then use it as an iron while it’s hot). Jay owns Tumbleweed Tiny Houses Company, where you can buy small house plans to build yourself, or have a ready-made home delivered to you (yep, they’re so small they fit on a trailer).

Check out these websites for innovative ideas starting from scratch, building plans, or for tips on how to maximize current space:

Tiny House Blog by Kent Griswold.
Small House Society Dedicated to the promotion of smaller housing alternatives which can be more affordable and ecological.
Small House Style Web magazine dedicated to everything small house.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Juneau Adopts Green Building Standard

Juneau has a green building standard now. The Juneau Assembly passed an ordinance in January that mandates new construction of CBJ buildings achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. The requirement applies to buildings with a price tag of $5M or more.

Nationally, buildings use 39% of primary energy, 72% of all electricity, and account for 38% of CO2 emissions. In Juneau, buildings emit 41% of total carbon emissions. Green building is expected to support 7.9M jobs and pump $554 into the U.S. economy between 2009 and 2013—Juneau should see a similar boost in our local economy.

LEED is an internationally recognized green building certification system established by the U.S. Green Building Council that provides third party verification. A report card for buildings, the point-based system awards projects for energy and cost savings, indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources.

There are high performance buildings in Juneau already. Harborview and Glacier Valley Schools were recently renovated to meet LEED certification. The Juneau School District earned the EPA’s Energy Star rating (a separate distinction). Just with energy efficiency efforts throughout the district, they expect to save $1 million in three years on their energy bill.

Juneau joins over 442 local governments nationwide to take the initiative on LEED. In Alaska, three local governments have a green building policy: Anchorage, the Mat-Su Borough, and now Juneau. The ordinance will help CBJ achieve its objective of reducing carbon emissions 20% by 2012.

Read more about the green building scene in Sustainability Commissioner member Sarah Lewis’ recent Empire article.