This Dutch house is self-sufficient | TG Daily

Posted February 13, 2013 – 07:00 by Randy Woods, EarthTechling

The goal of many green designs for houses is to make them appear part of the landscape.

In the Netherlands, the firm 123DV has created a home that is far too linear to be called organic, but still manages to feel as it is part of the hill upon which it sits, especially since the hill itself is also man-made.

The “Bridge House,” as it is known, is located on a wide, grassy knoll in a park near the town of Achterhoek. Like most of the landscape in the Netherlands, it has been shaped by both new and ancient human forces. Though the house is utterly modern in shape and design, it uses the traditional Dutch “terp” method of building a low mound and partially embedding the cellar in the earth to harness the geothermal properties of the surrounding soil.

The simple box shape appears to sit lightly atop the hill, but it is truly part of the earthworks, with most of the lower floor buried in the terp mound. Only a small trapezoidal section of the foundation is revealed in a shallow trough that is cut into the gently sloping hillside, framing the house’s main entrance.

The original intent of the terp style of building was to protect houses and entire villages from incoming tides before the massive dike systems of Holland were constructed. Today, the terps are used more for temperature control. By harnessing the earth’s thermal storage properties, the half-buried house is kept cool in the summer and warm in winter without needing extra electricity.

In fact, the Bridge House has enough green design elements to be completely self-sufficient, should the need arise. In addition to the geothermal system in the roof and marble floors, drinking water is supplied by an on-site well, solar panels supply all the needed electricity, wastewater is treated in a septic field, and rainwater is collected for reuse on the landscaping, which includes wildflowers, 1,000 rhododendrons and 17,000 trees that were all planted on the property by hand.

Even the extensive use of floor-to-ceiling glass—always a thermal bane of modern design—is mitigated somewhat by the inclusion of “heat-mirror glass.” This double-paned glass includes a reflective coating that reflects part of the sun’s rays and blocks excess heat from entering.

* Randy Woods, EarthTechling


Glass roof tiles let a little sunshine in to cut heating bills

Soltech Energy glass tiles help cut energy bills.  Click image for more pictures.

By Darren Quick

Swedish company, Soltech Energy, recently received the gold medal for this year’s hottest new material at the Nordbygg 2010 trade fair in Stockholm, Sweden. The award was fitting because it was for the company’s home heating system that features roof tiles made out of glass. The tiles, which are made from ordinary glass, weigh about the same as the clay roof tiles they replace but allow the sun to heat air that is then used to heat the house and cut energy bills.

Thankfully, although the tiles themselves are transparent, they are backed by a special black absorption fabric so sticky beaks won’t be able to sit on the roof and watch what’s going on inside. This fabric absorbs the sun’s rays, which heats the air underneath, with the air formed into columns by beams within the roof to ensure it is heated sufficiently.

The most common way to connect the system to a house’s existing heating system would be to a water based heating system via an accumulation tank but the system is also designed to be integrated with both air and water based systems, such as a ground source heat pump, air heat pump, pellet boiler or electric boiler – the only requirement is some form of central heating system.

This setup allows the system to heat the house during winter and transfer the heat absorbed in summer to a ground heating system through a heat convector and a fluid based system to help achieve a cooling effect.

Depending on factors such as climate, roof angle and house direction, the system should generate around 350 kWh heat per square meter (3 square ft).

If your roof isn’t suited to tiles, Soltech Energy also offers glass wall panels that can be tailored to individual houses and benefit from the lower angle of the incoming rays of sunlight during the winter.

Via inhabitat

The High-Tech, Luxury, Surveillance Hotel

By John Scott Lewinski

The Aria Resort and Casino, within MGM’s new City Center complex on the Las Vegas Strip, may be the most technologically advanced hotel ever built. Its mix of gadgets and cutting-edge networks blends centralized convenience with personalized luxury (and even a squeeze of energy-saving sophistication) to offer a glimpse of what all hotels could look like in the future.

The Aria opened on Dec. 16 last year, marketing itself as a high-tech alternative to Vegas’s more traditional resorts, with a data and communication system driven by 283 individual telecom rooms and a broadband antennae network covering 140 million square feet. And while the technology brings many high-tech luxuries to visitors—omnipresent wireless connectivity, 3D monitors and smart touchscreen interfaces—it also crosses into potential Big Brother territory (even by Vegas standards). Here is a close look at some of Aria’s biggest technological advances and the issues they raise.

The Autonomous Smart Room

Aria technicians ran primary and redundant fiberoptic networks to each of the hotel’s 4004 guest rooms, allowing for extensive in-room automation. When a guest enters a room, curtains automatically open, music plays, the TV activates and climate controls bring the room to a preset temperature.

If a guest leaves, the lights go out, curtains close, the TV and music shut off, and the temperature reverts to a preset, personalized setting. All room features (including the “Do Not Disturb” sign) can be manipulated with a Control 4 touchscreen room-automation remote control, or directly through the room’s HDTV. A forthcoming iPad app will also allow the tablet to double as a room remote.

Since guests register with the Aria’s data system, the hotel can store all room setting information indefinitely. If a guest returns a year later, their room can be prepped with the same lighting, entertainment and climate settings as during their previous stay.

Other elite hotels offer such advanced automation, but the Aria is the first to run the service to every room. On one level, it’s a gimmick. You can always get up to close the curtains or turn off a light. But, the real advance is still to come—hotel technicians are working on systems that would allows guests to control their room settings from across town through their cellphones. This could result in energy savings by allowing guests to turn off their a/c-saving energy usage as they could turn off their a/c when they leave—and turn it back on before they return to their rooms.

Augmented Realty

Once a guest’s smartphone is registered with the Aria, hotel attractions could push personalized notifications to the user. All the guest has to do is hit a button, and the agreement will be akin to a signature. And since the Aria is able to track cellphones while on resort grounds, the hotel will easily be able to send guests special features and offers depending on who they are and where they are standing at any given moment. Are you a known blackjack player? The resort can let you know about empty player chairs at the $25 tables. Like buffets and standing near the dining area? They can send you a digital coupon for $2 off your brunch.

The House Always Wins

Players will find slots, video poker and the other gambling standards throughout the Aria (after all, this is Vegas). But these aren’t just any gambling stations—they have updatable, changeable games controlled and monitored by the Aria’s 3000-square-foot data center. The stations, which have hi-def screens that are each run by a Mac Mini, give the house stats on which games are the most popular, allowing the control room to change them accordingly. One-dollar slots not doing well? Change them to a quarter. Video Poker beating out slots? Turn slot machines into poker machines with a keystroke.

Flexible gambling tech will be essential to other massive Vegas casinos in the future. Gambling is no longer the primary revenue producer in Sin City, with big-budget shows, spas and restaurants now eclipsing the gaming floor.

Visitors with a limited vacation budget want something for their money—like the memory of a special event or a lavish meal, and not a pile of vanishing quarters at the video-poker machine. When these risk-averse tourists gamble, they tend to weigh their chances and select their games more carefully. So, giving a casino the opportunity to create a more popular gambling machine should allow them to increase revenue.

Smartphone Key Cards

Over the next two years, biometric smartphones will drive further features at the Aria and other tech-forward hotels. “We want to get to the point where we can encode your cellphone so you can use it as your credit card, you room key and your Player’s Club card,” says John Bollen, CityCenter’s vice president of technology. “Guests would open their door or pay for a product or service with a specially developed app.” According to Bollen, an Aria app should also work at other MGM properties in Vegas.

And since every inch of the Aria is covered by what the hotel calls a “heat-sensitive” Wi-Fi network, phones are less likely to find themselves in dead spots. That heat-sensitive technology reads the density of activity on the network, and adds Wi-Fi muscle to parts of the grid that require more bandwidth.

While using a smartphone as a keycard or credit card certainly sounds appealing, it has obvious security risks, and it could prove difficult for customers to get comfortable with the idea. Hotels like the Aria will have to install multiple levels of encryption and data protection to prevent fraud and privacy violations.

Watching What You Eat

All dining facilities feature digital menus on the casino floor, at every gaming station and in the restaurants themselves. The Aria’s data-hub tracks how many people access the menus, what they access, when they access and what they order. The hotel’s food mavens can calculate how many people read the menu compared to how many eat in the restaurant, track what items are selling, and easily adjust menu selections and prices on the fly.

So far, hotel statistics indicate patrons who scroll through an entire menu tend to move on to something else. Those who stop halfway, though, often get a table.

In the recent past, it would have taken weeks of record keeping and analysis for chefs and restaurant managers to deduce what their top earners were. Now, the real-time, data-linked menus can immediately read trends from the dinner table and analyze it with a quick and easy cost–benefit table. This could be a problem for guests who enjoy less popular fringe items, which could be pushed off the menu.

Who’s Watching You?

The Aria’s Honeywell camera surveillance system—and those like it at other hotels—could eventually be used for more than security monitoring. The cameras can use facial recognition software to tell who’s coming and going, and to home in on VIPs to whisk them to the front of a line or shower them with special treatment.

But there are perks to Big Brother watching you—if you’re a VIP, that is. For example, if a guest has a Player’s Club Card, and his or her face is ID’d (or a smartphone detected), there’ll be no need to stand in line at the club. A concierge will scan for the right faces and phones before escorting those chosen people in ahead of the crowd.

When you combine such cameras with the smartphone network, no one—especially frequent guests—will be able to move around the property with anonymity. And for frequent guests, the hotel might know an uncomfortable amount of personal information—from what they eat, to what TV stations they watch.

In the Next Industrial Revolution, Atoms Are the New Bits

In an age of open source, custom-fabricated, DIY product design, all you need to conquer the world is a brilliant idea. Photo: Dan Winters

By Chris Anderson

The door of a dry-cleaner-size storefront in an industrial park in Wareham, Massachusetts, an hour south of Boston, might not look like a portal to the future of American manufacturing, but it is. This is the headquarters of Local Motors, the first open source car company to reach production. Step inside and the office reveals itself as a mind-blowing example of the power of micro-factories.

In June, Local Motors will officially release the Rally Fighter, a $50,000 off-road (but street-legal) racer. The design was crowdsourced, as was the selection of mostly off-the-shelf components, and the final assembly will be done by the customers themselves in local assembly centers as part of a “build experience.” Several more designs are in the pipeline, and the company says it can take a new vehicle from sketch to market in 18 months, about the time it takes Detroit to change the specs on some door trim. Each design is released under a share-friendly Creative Commons license, and customers are encouraged to enhance the designs and produce their own components that they can sell to their peers.

The Rally Fighter was prototyped in the workshop at the back of the Wareham office, but manufacturing muscle also came from Factory Five Racing, a kit-car company and Local Motors investor located just down the road. Of course, the kit-car business has been around for decades, standing as a proof of concept for how small manufacturing can work in the car industry. Kit cars combine hand-welded steel tube chassis and fiberglass bodies with stock engines and accessories. Amateurs assemble the cars at their homes, which exempts the vehicles from many regulatory restrictions (similar to home-built experimental aircraft). Factory Five has sold about 8,000 kits to date.

One problem with the kit-car business, though, is that the vehicles are typically modeled after famous racing and sports cars, making lawsuits and license fees a constant burden. This makes it hard to profit and limits the industry’s growth, even in the face of the DIY boom.

Jay Rogers, CEO of Local Motors, saw a way around this. His company opted for totally original designs: They don’t evoke classic cars but rather reimagine what a car can be. The Rally Fighter’s body was designed by Local Motors’ community of volunteers and puts the lie to the notion that you can’t create anything good by committee (so long as the community is well managed, well led, and well equipped with tools like 3-D design software and photorealistic rendering technology). The result is a car that puts Detroit to shame.

It is, first of all, incredibly cool-looking — a cross between a Baja racer and a P-51 Mustang fighter plane. Given its community provenance, one might have expected something more like a platypus. But this process was no politburo. Instead, it was a competition. The winner was Sangho Kim, a 30-year-old graphic artist and student at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. When Local Motors asked its community to submit ideas for next-gen vehicles, Kim’s sketches and renderings captivated the crowd. There wasn’t supposed to be a prize, but the company gave Kim $10,000 anyway. As the community coalesced around his Rally Fighter, members competed to develop secondary parts, from the side vents to the light bar. Some were designers, some engineers, and others just car hobbyists. But what they had in common was a refusal to design just another car, compromised by mass-market needs and convention. They wanted to make something original — a fantasy car come to life.

While the community crafted the exterior, Local Motors designed or selected the chassis, engine, and transmission thanks to relationships with companies like Penske Automotive Group, which helped the firm source everything from dashboard dials to the new BMW clean diesel engine the Rally Fighter will use. This combination — have the pros handle the elements that are critical to performance, safety, and manufacturability while the community designs the parts that give the car its shape and style — allows crowdsourcing to work even for a product whose use has life-and-death implications.

Local Motors plans to release between 500 and 2,000 units of each model. It’s a niche vehicle; it won’t compete with the major automakers but rather fill in the gaps in the marketplace for unique designs. Rogers uses the analogy of a jar of marbles, each of which represents a vehicle from a major automaker. In between the marbles is empty space, space that can be filled with grains of sand — and those grains are Local Motors cars.

Local Motors has just 10 full-time employees (that number will grow to more than 50 as it opens build centers, the first of which will be in Phoenix), holds almost no inventory, and purchases components and prepares kits only after buyers have made a down payment and reserved a build date.

In Depth article Continues ->

Local Motors CEO Jay Rogers combined the power of crowd sourced design and professional experience to develop the Rally Fighter.  Photo: Adrian Gaut

Smart Energy Glass controls light on demand

Smart Energy Glass has three modes – dark, privacy, and light

By Tannith Cattermole

While the idea of using photovoltaic technology in windows to harvest sunlight for conversion to energy is not new, Smart Energy Glass (SEG) is taking a slightly different approach with a solar window that can be darkened or lightened for comfort and convenience.

The window’s opacity can be adjusted for three modes; dark, privacy, and light. Dark will harvest some light, while privacy will harvest the most. The energy is used to power the window itself and eventually lights and ventilation could be run from the energy harvested. Additionally clients can choose the color of glass and add logos if required.

SEG has obvious advantages for office cladding as in summer heat and light streaming through the window can make working conditions uncomfortable, while in winter much warmth is lost via the glass. But it could also have advantages on a smaller or domestic scale, for presentations, or in homes with sun-facing windows.

No details are yet available on the exact mechanics of the Smart Energy Glass. Peer+ says the patent pending technology is still under development and we can expect updates as pilot programs get underway this year in the Netherlands.

Peer+ via Red Ferret.

Prefabulous and Sustainable: New Book Shows Prefabs Getting Better, Greener and More Mainstream

by Lloyd Alter, Toronto

As a long-time prefab proselytizer I approached Sheri Koone’s new book with some trepidation. I used to believe, as she still does, that “Prefab is intrinsically green” but don’t any more; where you build is fundamentally as important as what you build. I feared that the entire book would be filled with pretty houses in the country with columns and brackets and cupolas like the one on the cover. Or that it would make the argument that just being prefab was enough to make a house green. Fortunately, the book is better than that.

In fact there are quite a few houses that occupy relatively small footprints, are on urban sites and that are built with seriously green materials, such as this house in Durham, North Carolina by the design/build firm Studio B Architecture/ BuildSense. It was panelized and finished on site, and the architect writes:

The house is built on an urban infill site, it has correctly oriented and shaded openings, it is insulated with open-cell foam for superior r-value and extremely low air infiltration, and it has 2×6 exterior wall framing for a larger insulation cavity. We installed a high SEER, high velocity heat pump, a rinnai tankless water heater, ultra efficient appliances, and high performance windows & doors.

And that is not even in the section of the book labelled “greenest.”

In the greenest home section, we find TreeHugger stalwarts like Steve Glenn’s first Living Home, (TreeHugger here) Michelle Kaufman’s mkLotus, and others that are a lot more than just prefab, but really are green.

Perhaps the use of the word “sustainable” in the title is a bit of a stretch. It still has quite a few of the very expensive and very nicely put together little numbers like the Rebecca Leland Farmhouse . Even a roof full of photovoltaics is not going to make this sustainable, unless they garage the SUV and actually start farming.

But like so many coffee table design books, these are aspirational. We learned from Matt recently that Americans are not particularly interested in going green and making changes in their lives, and most evidently do still aspire to owning the house in the country. At least some discussion of green building will be on the coffee table.

I could complain about the size or location of many of the houses or the real definition of sustainability, or I could just acknowledge that Sheri Koones has curated an interesting and eclectic selection of more energy efficient, healthier and often very beautiful prefab homes.

More at Sheri Koones site

Tough Coatings for Airplanes

Paper for airplanes: This paper (top), made from layers of tiny clay discs and a polymer (seen under the microscope at bottom), might be used as a strong, lightweight coating for buildings and airplanes.   Credit: Andreas Walther

A strong material inspired by abalone shells could be applied over large areas.

By Katherine Bourzac

For decades, materials scientists have looked to naturally existing composites as inspiration for tough, lightweight materials that could lighten vehicles. Such materials could save on fuel costs, protect airplanes, and be used in engine turbines that run more efficiently. The material that lines abalone shells, called nacre, has been of particular interest: it’s lightweight and strong, yet shatter-resistant. But mimicking the microscale structures responsible for its properties has been difficult, and hasn’t resulted in materials that can be manufactured on a large scale.

Now researchers in Helsinki, Finland, have developed a simple method for making large-area, nacre-like papers and coatings that could be painted on building walls and airplane skins for lightweight reinforcement. The researchers will work with the Finnish paper company UPM to commercialize the material.

“The excitement with nacre is that its properties are impressive when you consider what it’s made out of: calcium carbonate and a protein,” says Robert Ritchie, chair of the materials science and engineering department at the University of California, Berkeley, who is not involved with the coatings research. Nacre’s combination of interconnected plates of a very hard but shatter-prone material with an infill of a very soft but ductile material results in a composite whose properties are better than the sum of its parts. By starting with better materials, such as industrial ceramics and polymers or metal, it should be possible to make a synthetic composite whose properties are even better than those of nacre.

Most efforts to mimic the nacre structure’s combination of hard and soft materials have centered on structural materials that could provide a lightweight alternative to steel in building and vehicle frames and engine turbines. Steel is tough–that is, it doesn’t fracture when it’s stressed. Materials such as ceramics can’t be used for structural applications because they’re not tough. They can hold up under the stress of a great weight, but they’re prone to shattering. Last year, for example, Ritchie’s group made a nacre-like material that is the toughest ceramic ever made. In the form of a coating, such a strong, tough material could reinforce walls and airplane skins without adding significant weight. Previous work on making tough biomimetic coatings has stayed in the lab because these materials involved very laborious processes, such as dipping a glass slide in two solutions 1,800 times, to make thin coatings over small areas.

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