Water efficiency is the next major issue impacting the built environment after energy efficiency. (Not that we’ve necessarily solved the issue of energy efficiency…) Despite the fact that our planet’s surface is 2/3 water, protecting this natural resource is of utmost importance to human survival.

The best way to reduce water usage is to reuse water through reclamation. One obstacle to further implementation (including mandatory requirements) of water reclamation systems is a lack of peer-reviewed research including life cycle assessments (LCAs) of such systems.

Until now, that is. Phys.org reports on a new study based on the decentralized water system implemented by Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens’ Center for Sustainable Landscapes:

“Evaluating the Life Cycle Environmental Benefits and Trade-Offs of Water Reuse Systems for Net-Zero Buildings,” published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology (DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b03879), is the first-of-its-kind research utilizing life-cycle assessment (LCA). Co-authored by Melissa M. Bilec, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Pitt and deputy director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MCSI), collaborators at Phipps included Richard Piacentini, executive director; and Jason Wirick, director of facilities and sustainability management. Pitt PhD graduate student, Vaclav Hasik, and Pitt undergraduate, Naomi Anderson, were first and second authors, respectively…

Dr. Bilec noted that while the research found that a decentralized water system operates well for a facility like the CSL, the environmental benefits or trade-offs for such systems are dependent upon their lifetime of use, and may not necessarily be practical or environmentally preferable. For example, a similar system might be more environmentally and economically efficient for a development of multiple homes or buildings, rather than one structure.

Conversely, the relative impact of a decentralized system built in a water-scarce region may be more beneficial than its environmental footprint. The decision of what water system to build and its scale, she says, should be evaluated within the context of the entire life of the structure or site it supports.

(Via Construction Dive)

Apparently, the Hartford, CT Mark Twain House & Museum contains an amazing collection of artifacts collected by Samuel Clemens throughout his life. Sadly, however, much of that collection has been threatened by mold growth caused by a faulty HVAC system.

According to Susan Dunne of the Hartford Courant:

In November 2015, mold was found in the storage facilities of the historic home’s museum center, tainting at least 5,000 of the museum’s 16,000 artifacts. The vulnerable pieces are varied: 19th-century furniture, upholstery, metal, glass and leather items, as well as books, including some Twain first editions and translations, whose fabric and leather bindings are conducive to mold growth. The spread of the mold has been halted for the time being — the HVAC system has been repaired and the archive’s relative humidity is being carefully monitored — but the task remains to remove the mold that already is there…

More specifically, the cause was related to a rather sophisticated geothermal heat pump system designed to use substantially less energy than more traditional HVAC systems.

“The motors in the geothermal wells that moderate the temperature in the building would break down regularly,” Lamarre said. “One of the wells malfunctioned, causing enormous pressure to build up in the system. The pipes in the mechanical room burst in multiple places, causing water to flood down the back hall of the museum center. The auditorium was flooded with a foot and a half of water.”

“The explosion of the geothermal well led to an increase in the humidity problem in the building at large because the decision was made to cap the wells instead of repairing them,” he said.

This isn’t the first time the historic home and museum has faced operational issues, however. From 2002 through 2010, a former employee of the organization embezzled more than $1-million. In 2008, the organization laid off 33 of its 50 employees following a financial restructuring.

Without a doubt, the biggest rising trend in the architecture, engineering and construction industry is health and wellness. In the mid-80s, the World Health Organization released a report on the impact of indoor air quality on building occupants. Perhaps the most damning portion of the report was the finding that “energy-efficient but sick buildings often cost society far more than it gains by energy savings.”


Masdar was supposed to be Utopia. Celebrated starchitect Norman Foster would preside over the design of the world’s first “Zero Carbon City” that would rise out of one of the most inhospitable environments in the world: the middle of the Arabian desert, near Abu Dhabi.

That project kicked off in 2006, and a decade later, things have taken a slightly more realistic approach in order to avoid become the world’s greenest ghost town. Foster + Partners is no longer at the helm, having been replaced by Boston-based CBT Architects. According to FastCo Design:

Although it is being billed as the “next step in the evolution of Masdar City,” phase two marks a decided shift away from Foster’s original plan, toward something more attainable. You may notice a subtle change in terminology: Once touted as the first city to zero out on carbon emissions, Masdar is now being described as “low-carbon.” When I speak with [CBT principal] Varanasi, he initially glosses over the change in plans, maintaining that the overall vision of building a sustainable city is still the same. But when asked outright, he admits that the zero-carbon goal has been scrapped. Instead, he says, the goal of CBT’s phase two master plan is to build on Foster’s plan to create a city that is “highly sustainable and commercially viable, providing a high-quality lifestyle” for resident. […]

One of the ways CBT’s plan most strikingly diverges from earlier master plans for Masdar is the way it breaks up property. Where the old plans called for very large plots to be developed by one single entity, the phase two master plan will see lots of private lots sold off to developers who will design and build their own buildings. This is how most city plans work, and the thinking from CBT was that it shouldn’t be different just because a city is meant to be sustainable. “There is still a regular day-to-day market economy aspect to phasing in sustainability,” says Varanasi. “There are 50 blocks in phase two and maybe 50 different developers and architects building it. It’s a real city.”

After my heart attack about two years ago, I have tried to limit my donut intake (instead of once a week, now it is more like once a month). Who would’ve ever thought that donuts could be so sustainable?

The corporate overlords at Dunkin’ Donuts have taken an interesting path to improving the sustainability of their facilities by developing their own internal green building certification program. The environmental division of Underwriters Laboratory has reviewed the Dunkin’ Donuts program and offered endorsement for the certification requirements. (more…)

My wife and I have been lucky to have three kids that (so far) haven’t ever played with fire, or knives, or consumed dangerous cleaning supplies, or anything like that. It didn’t take burning down the house, stitches, or stomach pumping to teach each of them the danger inherent with certain things—a quick touch to a hot oven provides instantaneous feedback.

This is the primary concept of the feedback loop, explained by Wired Magazine: (more…)

The Leadenhall Building at 122 Leadenhall Street in London, also known affectionately as the Cheesegrater due to its unique shape, is 47-stories tall and is the UK’s 4th largest building. Featuring a cutting edge high-performance building envelope incorporating passive heating and cooling elements, 85% of its construction took place off-site, making it one of the largest and most complex prefabricated projects to date. (more…)

Concrete has been one of mankind’s most important building materials for thousands of years. Previously, we discussed efforts to crack the code of ancient Rome’s high-performance concrete, a 60-year lifecycle assessment of concrete homes by MIT, efforts to lower the carbon dioxide output involved with concrete production, and bacterially-infused concrete that repairs itself.

Science Daily reports that that a somewhat new flavor of concrete, steel-fiber reinforced concrete (SFRC), might have applications in conventional construction, in addition to some of the more esoteric and high performance situations where it has currently been used:

Reinforcing concrete with steel bars is a very common practice in construction. The industrial engineer and researcher Aimar Orbe-Mateo (UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country) has studied the possible use of a material that is normally used for other applications for these tasks: concrete reinforced with steel fibers. What the study shows is that this material has certain advantages over conventional reinforced concrete; among others, it is less prone to cracking, and it can be used for purposes like the manufacture of cylindrical holding tanks.

According to Aimar Orbe-Mateo, an engineer at the Faculty of Engineering in Bilbao, right from the start of the study it was clear that “it had to be something that had a practical application, not just any piece of research.” Sothe team produced a material for research purposes and which had the potential for being used in construction: steel fiber reinforced self-compacting concrete (SFRSCC)…

Alongside the laboratory tests, the team also tested the use to which the material could in fact be put.For this purpose, a wall three metres high and six metres long was built and divided into 380 samples on which various tests were carried out, destructive as well as non-destructive ones, “to determine the structural capabilities of the steel fibers and, in general, the toughness of the wall,” highlighted Orbe.

The conclusion that the researchers reached is that this self-compacting, steel-fiber reinforced concrete is more resistant to cracking and is also more sustainable. The researchers were also quick to point out that the biggest obstacle to widespread adoption is the slow pace at which builders adopt new practices.

Source: Science Daily

Maintaining the Quality of Steel-Fiber Reinforced Concrete

Due to certain properties of SFRC, researchers and contractors alike have struggled to produce consistent results using the material. Specifically, evaluating the matrix of the steel fibers (the distribution of the fibers throughout a given section of concrete) in a sample is problematic because the steel fibers are difficult to see using standard test methodologies. If the fibers are not evenly distributed and oriented properly, the resulting concrete’s strength is greatly reduced.

This factor has meant that adoption of SFRC is extremely low. The risk in using a product whose quality can’t be readily established is just too great.

Last Fall, researchers at Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Mathematics ITWM in Kaiserslautern, Germany reported success in faster and more efficient ways of evaluating SFRC:

Help has now arrived in the form of a new analysis method developed by mathematicians at the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Mathematics ITWM in Kaiserslautern. It uses probability calculations to work out the distribution of all the fibers within concrete samples in a matter of seconds. Project leader Dr. Ronald Rösch and his team of experts use X-ray computed tomography in a way he describes as not dissimilar to how CT scans are used in medicine. “The only difference is that we use it to examine samples taken from finished concrete components, not people,” Dr. Rösch explains. Scientists take a core sample about ten centimeters in length from the concrete to be tested. The sample is then X-rayed using an industrial CT scanner at a resolution around a thousand times finer than that achieved by medical scanners. This system reveals even the finest micrometer-sized structures within the material, and generates a high-resolution 3D data set for the concrete sample that contains some eight billion pixels — a huge file. Rösch and his team then use their new software to analyze this image data. By assessing differences in contrast, the software is able to assign each pixel to a particular structure within the material, be it concrete, a small stone, a trapped air bubble or a steel fiber. As the software works its way through the data set, all the fibers gradually become visible in the image.

Sadly, this approach still is not “ready for prime time”:

It goes without saying that Rösch is aware of the system’s current limitations; a CT scanner the size of a small wall closet is simply too big for practical use on a building site. “But this is an obstacle we can overcome,” he says. “Our colleagues at the Fraunhofer Development Center for X-ray Technology EZRT in Erlangen have already developed a machine the size of a beer crate.” A prototype for practical application could be available in five years, Rösch estimates.

Source: Science Daily

Image courtesy Wikipedia