6 Green-Roof Myths – Busted!

I’ve had a keen interest in Green-Roofs for over 20 years and with the current changes coming in my life it may be the perfect time to explore this passion in more detail!

Solar Evaluation

One of the projects I had planned for the summer was to investigate installing solar panels on my new garage.  I had this vision that I could come home, plug-in my car in (plug-in car required), and have it powered cleanly from the sun (sun required).

The proposed location:

I thought I had the perfect spot…at least it appeared that way all winter.  What I forgot about, and what became obvious over the summer, is that my neighbor has a perfectly lovely tree in their yard that is shading my solar spot….and the tree is still growing!

The company giving me the quote ran what they call a Solar Access (the ability of one property to continue to receive sunlight across property lines without obstruction from another’s property) estimate for my location (tree shade growth not factored).  For you geeks out there here are the results:

Without the tree the numbers aren’t bad, an average of 86% over the year.  Who says Portland doesn’t get sun????  The estimated energy savings if I could achieve this level of solar access would be 2,482KW per year.  This would offset ~20% of my current usage.

The Cost:  This is where the rubber met the road….a 3kW system would cost me $17k.  The incentives are signifcant, over a 4 year period the total cost to install would end up closer to 5k.

The Final Analysis: Although this was never about the ROI, I had to crunch the numbers anyway.  Using the offset estimate, an esitmate of future electric rates, and the cost of the system after incentives…it would take 10years to pay for itself….which I found to be a bit depressing.

The Reality:  I don’t have 17k to spend right now (you will see why later) on what would essentially be a “statement” that I care about my footprint.  I have not ruled out solar (smaller system…bigger than a light and smaller than 3kW) for perhaps another spot in the yard but for now this project is “Closed”.

I’m still following the Solarize NE activities and am thrilled I live in a city with opportunities and groups like this one.

Want to be inspired? Pam Warhurst: How we can eat our landscapes

I watched this today and was truly inspired.  Watch…it’s worth the time…it’s motivating me to start planning for the garden expansion into the parking strips and the front yard…GRASS BE GONE!

Favorite quote:

“…and we have done it all without a flipping strategy document….”

Why Biophilic Design?

The term “biophilia” literally means love of life or living systems, and biophilic design is about understanding the human-nature connection and designing with that in mind.  This appeals to me on many levels.  I’m an Engineer by training and an Environmentalist at heart.  My life has been a study in contrast, compromises, and now, my journey towards enlightenment.  In order to help understand why I’m drawn to understand biophilic design, I want to share with your some of my personal background.

I’ve spent the last 20 years of my life working in a highly technical field.  A field rooted in science, logic, and mechanics.  My chosen occupation has been devoid of any consideration for, or interaction with, nature.  In fact, the products I’ve spent my time designing, building and selling, have relied on the mass destruction of trees.  I live in, and love, the Pacific Northwest, and yet when I drive to the beach and see the clearcutting scars, I feel deeply responsible for my part. From the very beginning of my career I have recognized the dissonance between the choices I was making and the intrinsic, biological understanding of the beauty, importance and vulnerability of the natural world around me.

Before embarking on my oh so rewarding career, there were the many many many years (some would argue too many) spent at a technical university in one of the most beautiful settings in the country, San Luis Obispo, CA.  I split my time between the large, cold, concrete mechanical engineering building learning how the world functioned according to the laws of physics and mathematics, and blowing off steam exploring the abundant and breathtaking central coast beaches, mountians and trails. And before that blissful yet grueling interlude, being the product of a 70’s style divorce,  I spent my life going between Butte, MT and Palm Springs, CA.

Butte, Montana
Palm Springs, California

Both located in amazingly beautiful natural areas.  Both existing in complete incongruity with their natural surroundings.

Butte, best known for, and most dramatically illustrates, a turn-of the century, hardscrabble  “Company Town”, that was completely spent by the time I came along in 1968.  The 70’s and 80’s  in  Butte were a time of depression, decline, and the realization that they had a very big mess on their hands and nobody responsible willing to clean it up.  The corporation that created that mess, the Anaconda Company, (initially known as the Amalgamated Copper Mining Company,  later bought by ARCO, and now owned by BP) had moved on to more fertile grounds in South America.  In the 80’s Butte was declared the largest Superfund Site in North America, due to the heavy metal groundwater pollution that caused the rivers to run red when it rained.  The Berkeley Pit in Butte contains some of – if not the – the most toxic water on earth.  In the 90’s the city finally admitted the tap water was unsafe to drink…who knew your water wasn’t supposed to be tinted red and smell funny?

Butte and Palm Springs have some things in common, they both have lakes (albeit Butte’s lake full of heavy metals instead of golf balls), mountains, trees and…um…air.

Living the Good Life

It’s easy to see that Palm Springs stands in stark contrast to Butte. Palm Springs was, and is, posh, glamorous, self-confident and relaxed.

I guess you could say, though, they have something more important in common, they both owe their successes to the exploitation advantages realized from their natural surroundings.  For Butte, it was the rich earth that seemed to provide an endless supply of copper, silver and gold that drew hundreds of thousands of eager for work  immigrants, and eager for profits corporations.  For Palm Springs, it’s the warmth, clean air and natural beauty, combined with the proximity to Los Angeles – and the very important  fact that it sits on a massive aquifer that enables the many splendid man-made golf courses, lakes, lawns and pools to continue to seduce the rich and famous and keep it lush and green while sitting in the middle of the desert.  Without all that water, now topped off by the Colorado River (while parts of Colorado are in drought), Palm Springs would be barren.

There is something else that connects Butte and Palm Springs – electricity.  Air Conditioning made the greater Palm Springs area inhabitable year round, and that required electricity, and moving electricity required copper – copper from places like Butte.

Walkerville, Montana

Anyway, back to Butte…I began my formal education (if you consider kindergarten formal) in Walkerville, Mt. I ended up attending 5 grade schools in Butte by the time we moved out of state. I had a pretty good “lay of the land” and by the age of 12 felt I understood what Butte had to offer me…I was not in love.  I was not broken-hearted when my Mom, Sister and I moved to Spokane Washington before eventually ending up in Palm Springs. I would miss the family we were leaving behind, but there was nothing about Butte for me at that time that represented anything but hopelessness.

Given my parents’ divorce, after we moved my Sister and I still had the opportuntiy to spend most holidays and summers in Butte while growing up.  I will share more about life in Butte, then and now, in future posts.  Suffice it to say I have enormous respect for the people of Butte, their character, their fortitude, and their ability to see past the obstacles and stark realities of what is staring them in the face and hang-on to hope that Butte will once again be rich, vibrant and important.  At one point in history Butte was known as the “Richest Hill on Earth”, it played an integral part in supportting the war efforts by supplying critical metals when we needed them most, and due to its immigrant make-up,  it was one of the most culturally diverse and lively cities in “its day” (okay, that “day” was in 1916 – but still).

Butte has a future, I believe that out of the ruins and decay something beautiful can grow, I believe that man’s instinctual Biophilic Nature, “love of life”, combined with science and technology will fuel clean-up and restoration innovations that will once again put Butte “back on the map”.  This time Butte can make a name for itself by leading the way towards saving the environment instead of aiding in its destruction.

Which brings me back to this post’s introductory question: “Why Biophilic Design?”  I have a wealth of knowledge, insight and firsthand experience when it comes to science and technology’s ability to shape our environment.  I have the openness and willingness to explore how I can put my skills to work to “do no (more) harm” and instill that spiritual practice in my everyday life.   I have the honesty to say, and most importantly mean, “I can do better”.