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The Green News In Real Estate!

By Kessler-Bergin Group | Agent in Los Angeles, CA
  • Healthy Furniture, Healthy Home

    Posted Under: Quality of Life in Studio City, Going Green in Studio City, Design & Decor in Studio City  |  October 6, 2014 4:25 PM  |  58 views  |  No comments

    You might know what’s lurking under your couch, but do you know what’s in your couch? It’s a question more and more people are asking as concerns about flame retardants, formaldehyde, triclosan, and other components in furniture increase.

    In part, that’s because of consumer awareness: More people are talking about the potential toxins in their furniture. It’s also because the industry itself is starting to rethink the ways it protects consumers, and how it can meet flammability standards without giving people a dose of chemicals that could cause permanent health problems along the way.

    If you’ve been paying attention to environmental news, you may have heard that furniture companies often add various flame retardant chemicals, triclosan (to prevent microbial growth), and formaldehyde to foam furniture products and certain others in order to protect consumers from the risk of fire, mold and bacterial contamination. These well-meaning steps are also designed to align with legal standards requiring furniture to be resistant to flame and contamination — historically, furnishings didn’t have these safeguards in place, and could become dangerous in a fire (in some cases, they could be the fuel that let a smoldering cigarette or other object catch flame).

    While protecting consumers from fires is a definite plus, we’re starting to learn that the chemicals used to do it may be hazardous. That’s why California adjusted its standards (and, by extension, so did the rest of the nation, as many manufacturers produce goods to California’s exacting specifications so they can be sold anywhere, rather than making separate product lines just for the Golden State) to make it easier for furniture manufacturers to meet them while still protecting consumers and, at the same time, avoiding the use of chemicals. However, California’s new law doesn’t mean that furniture manufacturers won’t use hazardous chemicals in their furniture. It just means they have the option of not using them.

    Which brings us back to the original question: How do you tell if your furniture is safe, and should you get rid of your furniture and replace it?

    If your furniture was made before 2005, you might be in trouble. Pre-2005 foam furniture may contain PBDEs, which were very good at preventing fires, but unfortunately also very toxic. Furniture made after that point may contain other flame retardant chemicals if it includes a tag indicating that it meets TB-117, California’s former flame retardant standard, especially if it was made out of foam. The new standard, TB-2013, may indicate that your furniture is safe, but the only way to find out is to get into contact with the manufacturer.

    Some furniture makers are very forthcoming about the sources of their materials and the chemicals they contain. Unfortunately for you, they’re usually most helpful when their products are safe, not when they aren’t. A mystery couch might remain just that — and it’s important to note that manufacturers may mislead you when it comes to the precise components used in their products.

    The best way to make sure your furniture is safe is to buy it from a manufacturer that dedicates itself to the production of furniture that meets state standards while avoiding toxins. These manufacturers use fillers like wool and horsehair instead of foam — and it’s going to cost you, because these components are more expensive. Depending on the firm, external upholstery may also be made out of similar high quality materials without petrochemical treatments.

    If you’re not too pleased at the thought of having to buy new furniture, there’s still hope. You can opt to replace the foam inside your furniture and reupholster it (this includes mattresses, too). If your furniture has good bones and you’re attached to it, there’s no reason to get rid of it. Lots of reputable furniture stores offer this option, and can discuss flame retardant-free upholstering choices with you. They may cost a little extra than replacing with conventional foam, but you may appreciate the peace of mind.

    Also, if you can’t take any of these measures right now, be aware that the biggest danger with flame retardants is that they work their way out of the couch and settle in household dust. For a more immediate solution to your concerns, keep your home wiped down, consider investing in an air filter and make sure you wash your hands well before handling food.
  • Americans Are Even Supersizing Their Homes

    Posted Under: Quality of Life in Studio City, Remodel & Renovate in Studio City, Going Green in Studio City  |  September 19, 2014 12:18 PM  |  67 views  |  No comments

     Richard Florida of CityLab looks at the increasingly bloated American dream, at how once again the average size of the single family suburban home is on the rise. He uses data munched by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a think tank that positively gushes at the good news.

    Their bottom line:
    We hear all the time about stagnating household incomes, the decline of the middle class, rising income inequality, and lots of other stories of gloom and doom for Americans. But when it comes to the new homes that Americans are buying and living in, we see a much brighter picture of life in the US. The new homes that today’s generations are buying are larger by 1,000 square feet compared to the average new homes our parents might have purchased in 1973, and are almost double in living size today adjusted for household size compared to 40 years ago.

    The AEI goes on to say that these houses are better insulated, with bigger baths, garages, more appliances and every one of them has central air. “Overall, the increasing size, improving quality, and relative affordability of new homes today means that living standards continue to gradually, but consistently, improve year after year for most Americans.”

    © American Enterprise Institute

    Look at the actual number of housing stats in America and you find that while they are climbing, they are still half of what they were prior to the Great Recession. The fact of the matter is, because of stagnating household incomes, the decline of the middle class, and rising income inequality, there are far fewer people who can qualify for mortgages or can afford to maintain the lifestyle.

    Or as Richard Florida put it:

    "America’s bloated house size is a two-sided problem. For one, it’s yet another indicator of the nation’s deepening economic divide. The wealthy are pouring more and more money into trophy homes, while the professional and knowledge classes, too, are demanding more space for family and media rooms. The poor, meanwhile, are crammed into urban quarters or pushed out to older, dilapidated housing in the suburbs."

    © Bloomberg
    While the new houses are marginally more efficient and new technologies like LEDs and smart thermostats might be lowering our energy consumption, the energy used per person keeps going up as the houses keep getting bigger and the number of people in them keeps getting smaller. It’s all wonderful for the AEI and the 1 percent who can get into these houses. The other 99 percent, can move into the 1 percent's left-overs.
  • The Filth In Cleaning Products

    Posted Under: Quality of Life in Studio City, Going Green in Studio City, Design & Decor in Studio City  |  August 18, 2014 3:23 PM  |  120 views  |  No comments

    The average household contains about 62 toxic chemicals, say environmental experts. We're exposed to them routinely - from the phthalates in synthetic fragrances to the noxious fumes in oven cleaners. Ingredients in common household products have been linked to asthma, cancer, reproductive disorders, hormone disruption and neurotoxicity.

    Manufacturers argue that in small amounts these toxic ingredients aren't likely to be a problem, but when we're exposed to them routinely, and in combinations that haven't been studied, it's impossible to accurately gauge the risks. While a few products cause immediate reactions from acute exposure (headaches from fumes, skin burns from accidental contact), different problems arise with repeated contact. Chronic exposure adds to the body's "toxic burden" - the number of chemicals stored in its tissues at a given time.

    No one can avoid exposure to toxic chemicals altogether, but it is possible to reduce it significantly. In the following pages, experts weigh in on the worst toxic offenders commonly found in household cleaning products, and offer ways to swap them for healthier, safer options.


    1. Phthalates

    Found in: Many fragranced household products, such as air fresheners, dish soap, even toilet paper. Because of proprietary laws, companies don't have to disclose what's in their scents, so you won't find phthalates on a label. If you see the word "fragrance" on a label, there's a good chance phthalates are present.

    Health Risks: Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors. Men with higher phthalate compounds in their blood had correspondingly reduced sperm counts, according to a 2003 study conducted by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Harvard School of Public Health. Although exposure to phthalates mainly occurs through inhalation, it can also happen through skin contact with scented soaps, which is a significant problem, warns Alicia Stanton, MD, coauthor of Hormone Harmony (Healthy Life Library, 2009). Unlike the digestive system, the skin has no safeguards against toxins. Absorbed chemicals go straight to organs.

    Healthier Choice: When possible choose fragrance-free or all-natural organic products. Beth Greer, author of Super Natural Home, recommends bypassing aerosol or plug-in air fresheners and instead using essential oils or simply opening windows to freshen the air. Besides causing more serious effects like endocrine disruption, "Aerosol sprays and air fresheners can be migraine and asthma triggers,"  she says. Also consider adding more plants to your home: They're natural air detoxifiers.

    2. Perchloroethylene or "PERC"

    Found in: Dry-cleaning solutions, spot removers, and carpet and upholstery cleaners.

    Health Risks: Perc is a neurotoxin, according to the chief scientist of environmental protection for the New York Attorney General's office. And the EPA classifies perc as a "possible carcinogen" as well. People who live in residential buildings where dry cleaners are located have reported dizziness, loss of coordination and other symptoms. While the EPA has ordered a phase-out of perc machines in residential buildings by 2020, California is going even further and plans to eliminate all use of perc by 2023 because of its suspected health risks. The route of exposure is most often inhalation: that telltale smell on clothes when they return from the dry cleaner, or the fumes that linger after cleaning carpets.

    Healthier Choice: Curtains, drapes and clothes that are labeled "dry clean only" can be taken instead to a "wet cleaner," which uses water-based technology rather than chemical solvents. The EPA recently recognized liquid carbon dioxide (CO2) as an environmentally preferable alternative to more toxic dry-cleaning solvents. Ask your dry cleaner which method they use. For a safer spot remover, look for a nontoxic brand like Ecover at a natural market, or rub undiluted castile soap directly on stains before washing.

    3. Triclosan

    Found in: Most liquid dishwashing detergents and hand soaps labeled "antibacterial."

    Health Risks: Triclosan is an aggressive antibacterial agent that can promote the growth of drug-resistant bacteria. Explains Sutton: "The American Medical Association has found no evidence that these antimicrobials make us healthier or safer, and they're particularly concerned because they don't want us overusing antibacterial chemicals - that's how microbes develop resistance, and not just to these [household antibacterials], but also to real antibiotics that we need." Other studies have now found dangerous concentrations of triclosan in rivers and streams, where it is toxic to algae. The EPA is currently investigating whether triclosan may also disrupt endocrine (hormonal) function. It is a probable carcinogen. At press time, the agency was reviewing the safety of triclosan in consumer products.

    Healthier Choice: Use simple detergents and soaps with short ingredient lists, and avoid antibacterial products with triclosan for home use. If you're hooked on hand sanitizer, choose one that is alcohol-based and without triclosan.

    4. Quarternary Ammonium Compounds, or "QUATS"

    Found in: Fabric softener liquids and sheets, most household cleaners labeled "antibacterial."

    Health Risks: Quats are another type of antimicrobial, and thus pose the same problem as triclosan by helping breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria. They're also a skin irritant; one 10-year study of contact dermatitis found quats to be one of the leading causes. According to Rebecca Sutton, PhD, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), they're also suspected as a culprit for respiratory disorders: "There's evidence that even healthy people who are [exposed to quats] on a regular basis develop asthma as a result."

    Healthier Choice: You don't really need fabric softener or dryer sheets to soften clothes or get rid of static: Simple vinegar works just as well. "Vinegar is the natural fabric softener of choice for many reasons," explains Karyn Siegel-Maier in her book The Naturally Clean Home (Storey Publishing, 2008). "Not only is it nontoxic, it also removes soap residue in the rinse cycle and helps to prevent static cling in the dryer." White vinegar is your best choice for general cleaning; other types can stain.

    Alternatives to chemical disinfectants abound, including antibacterial, antifungal tea-tree oil. Mix a few drops of tea-tree oil and a tablespoon of vinegar with water in a spray bottle for a safe, germ killing, all-purpose cleaner. Add a couple of drops of lavender essential oil for scent.

    5. 2-Butoxyethanol

    Found in: Window, kitchen and multipurpose cleaners.

    Health Risks: 2-butoxyethanol is the key ingredient in many window cleaners and gives them their characteristic sweet smell. It belongs in the category of "glycol ethers," a set of powerful solvents that don't mess around. Law does not require 2-butoxyethanol to be listed on a product's label. According to the EPA's Web site, in addition to causing sore throats when inhaled, at high levels glycol ethers can also contribute to narcosis, pulmonary edema, and severe liver and kidney damage. Although the EPA sets a standard on 2-butoxyethanol for workplace safety, Sutton warns, "If you're cleaning at home in a confined area, like an unventilated bathroom, you can actually end up getting 2-butoxyethanol in the air at levels that are higher than workplace safety standards."

    Healthier Choice: Clean mirrors and windows with newspaper and diluted vinegar. For other kitchen tasks, stick to simple cleaning compounds like Bon Ami powder; it's made from natural ingredients like ground feldspar and baking soda without the added bleach or fragrances found in most commercial cleansers. You can also make your own formulas with baking soda, vinegar and essential oils. See "DIY Cleaners" on page 5 for a list of clean concoctions.

    6. Ammonia

    Found in: Polishing agents for bathroom fixtures, sinks and jewelry; also in glass cleaner.

    Health Risks: Because ammonia evaporates and doesn't leave streaks, it's another common ingredient in commercial window cleaners. That sparkle has a price. "Ammonia is a powerful irritant," says Donna Kasuska, chemical engineer and president of ChemConscious, Inc., a risk-management consulting company. "It's going to affect you right away. The people who will be really affected are those who have asthma, and elderly people with lung issues and breathing problems. It's almost always inhaled. People who get a lot of ammonia exposure, like housekeepers, will often develop chronic bronchitis and asthma." Ammonia can also create a poisonous gas if it's mixed with bleach.

    Healthier Choice: Vodka. "It will produce a reflective shine on any metal or mirrored surface," explains Lori Dennis, author of Green Interior Design (Allsworth Press, 2010). And toothpaste makes an outstanding silver polish.

    7. Chlorine

    Found in: Scouring powders, toilet bowl cleaners, mildew removers, laundry whiteners, household tap water.

    Health Risks: "With chlorine we have so many avenues of exposure," says Kasuska. "You're getting exposed through fumes and possibly through skin when you clean with it, but because it's also in city water to get rid of bacteria, you're also getting exposed when you take a shower or bath. The health risks from chlorine can be acute, and they can be chronic; it's a respiratory irritant at an acute level. But the chronic effects are what people don't realize: It may be a serious thyroid disrupter."

    Healthier Choice: For scrubbing, stick to Bon Ami or baking soda. Toilet bowls can be cleaned with vinegar, and vinegar or borax powder both work well for whitening clothes. So does the chlorine-free oxygen bleach powder made by Biokleen. To reduce your exposure to chlorine through tap water, install filters on your kitchen sink and in the shower.

    8. Sodium Hydroxide

    Found in: Oven cleaners and drain openers.

    Health Risks: Otherwise known as lye, sodium hydroxide is extremely corrosive: If it touches your skin or gets in your eyes, it can cause severe burns. Routes of exposure are skin contact and inhalation. Inhaling sodium hydroxide can cause a sore throat that lasts for days.

    Healthier Choice: You can clean the grimiest oven with baking-soda paste - it just takes a little more time and elbow grease (see recipes in "DIY Cleaners" below. Unclog drains with a mechanical "snake" tool, or try this approach from the Green Living Ideas Web site: Pour a cup of baking soda and a cup of vinegar down the drain and plug it for 30 minutes. After the bubbles die down, run hot water down the drain to clear the debris.

    Beware of Greenwashing

    If a cleaning product at your supermarket proclaims itself "green," "natural" or "biodegradable," that doesn't necessarily mean it's nontoxic. In 2010 the environmental consulting firm TerraChoice Group produced a report called "The Sins of Greenwashing." In it the group found more than 95 percent of so-called green consumer products had committed at least one "greenwashing sin," like making an environmental claim that may be truthful but unimportant. "CFC-free," for example, is a common one, since CFCs are banned by law. Donna Kasuska of ChemConscious offers this advice: "When gauging ecological claims, look for specifics. 'Biodegradable in three to five days' holds more meaning than "biodegradable" as most substances will eventually break down with enough time."

    DIY Cleaners

    Clean your home safely - and cheaply - with the following recipes:

    Basic sink cleanser - Combine ½ cup baking soda with six drops essential oil (such as lavender, rosemary, lemon, lime or orange). Rinse sink well with hot water. Sprinkle combination into sink and pour ¼ cup vinegar over top. After the fizz settles, scrub with a damp sponge or cloth. Rinse again with hot water. (From The Naturally Clean Home, by Karyn Siegel-Maier.)

    Oven cleanser - Put a heatproof dish filled with water in the oven. Turn on the heat to let the steam soften any baked-on grease. Once the oven is cool, apply a paste of equal parts salt, baking soda, and vinegar, and scrub. (From Super Natural Home, by Beth Greer.)

    Bathroom mildew remover - Good ventilation helps prevent mildew and mold. When they do occur, make a spray with 2 cups of water and 1/4 teaspoon each of tea-tree and lavender oil. Shake first and spray on trouble spots. The oils break down the mildew so there's no need to wipe it down. (From Green Interior Design, by Lori Dennis.)

    Carpet shampoo - Mix 3 cups water, ¾ cup vegetable-based liquid soap, and 10 drops peppermint essential oil. Rub the foam into soiled areas with a damp sponge. Let dry thoroughly and then vacuum. (From The Naturally Clean Home.)

    Laundry soap - Try "soap nuts" made from the dried fruit of the Chinese soapberry tree. Available in natural groceries and online, the reusable soap nuts come in a cotton sack that goes into the washing machine with clothes.

    Dusting - Skip the furniture polishes. Instead, use a microfiber cloth. Made from synthetic fibers that are then split into hundreds of smaller microfibers, they capture dust more efficiently than regular rags. If necessary, a little olive oil makes a fine polishing agent. 

  • Want To Go Solar, But Don't Have The Green?

    Posted Under: Quality of Life in Studio City, Remodel & Renovate in Studio City, Going Green in Studio City  |  August 4, 2014 12:11 PM  |  155 views  |  No comments

    Why not band together with your neighbors to bring the price down?

    Thousands of people in hundreds of neighborhoods across the country are doing, using a tried and true method that's been around for over a hundred years, if not longer:  They're creating "residential purchasing groups," also called cooperatives or co-ops, and using the collective power of their purses and pocketbooks to negotiate favorable deals from companies that want to do business with them.

    In this case, the purchasing groups are taking shape as "solar co-ops." Solar panel technology uses photovoltaic cells to convert sunlight into electricity. Solar is cleaner than coal, and the supply is unlimited. You never need to worry about oil embargoes, oil spills, or coal mine explosions. Using solar also cuts air pollution and significantly reduces climate change. But here's the catch: solar has never received the generous federal or state tax subsidies that fossil fuels have. Though the price is coming down, solar still costs more than conventional power.

    By going solar via a cooperative group, each participant saves 20-30% off the cost of their system. (Do you buy in bulk at Costco or your grocery store? It's the same principle.)  The group selects a single contractor to install the systems. They purchase the systems together, but each participant owns her own system and signs her own contract with the installer.

    In most cases, joining the co-op isn't a binding commitment. Rather, it creates a way for you to review your  roof's suitability for solar panels using Google Maps, and it provides contact information so the chosen installer can get in touch with you and schedule a site visit to provide a free quote.

    It is pretty easy to find solar installers in most American cities, and most of them are eager to do business in bulk. In fact, being approached by a solar co-op saves them time and money in marketing to individual consumers.

    In addition to making solar less expensive, a co-op can become a positive force for change in the community. Solar co-ops have been able to exert influence over the political process, government agencies, and local utilities to promote other clean energy programs and give utilities guidance on proposed rate changes or the construction of new power plants.

    For more information on how to launch your own solar co-op, check in with Community Power Network, a non-profit based in Washington, D.C., that has organized dozens of co-ops in the Washington metropolitan area, northern Virginia, West Virginia and parts of Maryland.

    See what's happening in Baltimore, where the Baltimore Interfaith Solar Co-op lets members purchase home solar systems from an installer in mass, negotiating a group rate that is better than if each homeowner purchased a system on her own.

    Mt. Pleasant Solar Coop is an association of more than 300 households in Washington, DC's Mt. Pleasant neighborhood. Founded in 2006, so far, the coop has installed solar panels on nearly 100 houses - 10% of their neighborhood.

    D.C. Sun (DC Solar United Neighborhoods) is a non-profit that is promoting solar throughout Washington, D.C.  They estimate that solar energy could provide about 30% of the District's electricity needs. Their website offers some terrific resources that will help businesses, nonprofits, congregations and small businesses go solar along with households.

  • Seeing Clearly - Green Doors and Windows

    Posted Under: Quality of Life in Studio City, Remodel & Renovate in Studio City, Going Green in Studio City  |  July 18, 2014 2:08 PM  |  176 views  |  No comments
    Energy Star Window
    Going green with your windows is a smart choice for any homeowner, though the scope of green remodeling can be overwhelming for some. If you feel like you're in over your head, you're not alone. Finding a contractor who understands the ins and outs of going green with windows is a great place to start, since they will provide you with the best advice possible for you and your home. And you should always keep in mind that going green isn't an all-or-nothing proposition. Any step you take in a green direction is a smart one, whether you opt for double paned windows over single paned ones, or completely redesign your home to make the most of your new windows and the sunlight they let in.

    Green Window Replacement - Cost and Value

    The first question most homeowners have when talk turns green is how much it's going to cost. Between different levels of energy-efficiency and homeowner requirements, it's tough to put a hard and fast estimate on what green windows run. That said, there are a few things you should keep in mind as you decide whether green windows are right for you and your budget.

        •    Energy Savings—Energy savings can be substantial if you go green with windows. By simply replacing old, inefficient models with new ones, you can increase energy efficiency in your home by 30 percent or more. And if you embrace green remodeling and design to make the most of things like passive solar heating, natural lighting, and thermal mass, the benefits will be even greater.
        •    Installation Costs Remain the Same—Johnston notes that installation costs are the same whether you choose energy-efficient windows or not. In other words, if you're going to install new windows anyway, the only extra cost you'll incur by going green will be for the windows themselves.
        •    The True Value of Going Green—The benefits of going green aren't always best measured in dollars and cents. Johnston is quick to warn homeowners against investing in green solely for the prospect of reduced energy bills. While green homes are more energy-efficient, they are also healthier, require less maintenance, and place a premium on comfort and quality.

    Energy Efficiency and Green Replacement Windows

    The single biggest reason that green replacement windows are so popular is their potential to significantly increase the energy efficiency and comfort of your home. Here is some of Johnston's advice about choosing the best possible green replacement windows.

        •    Multiple Panes—Upgrading from a single pane to a double pane window can reduce your heating costs by 15 percent. That alone can add savings of as much as $2,000 over the life of a window. Triple panes and superwindows can improve overall energy efficiency even more.
        •    Low E Windows—Low e coatings can prevent heat loss in winter and reduce heat from entering your home during the summer. Most importantly, low e makes windows much more comfortable all the time. In fact, the right low e coating (it will differ from climate to climate) can make such a significant difference when it comes to improving overall energy efficiency that adding a low e coating to your windows generally pays for itself in a few short years.

        •    Low Conductivity Frames—Aluminum and steel window frames contribute to poor energy efficiency. Purchase wood, vinyl, or fiberglass window frames and opt for insulated frames where applicable.

        •    Window Coverings and Landscaping—Exterior blinds, window awnings, and deciduous trees are all effective ways to reduce solar heat gain during the summer months. Tight fitting, insulated window shades will help trap heat inside during colder times of the year.

        •    Reduce the Need for Artificial Lighting—The more natural light you can let in through windows, skylights, and design features like clerestory windows and light shelves, the less you'll have to rely on expensive artificial light.

    Going Green for Quality, Comfort, and Health

        •    Looks—The most attractive windows and frames on the market (i.e. wood) are also the greenest. In other words, new windows aren't only an investment in higher efficiency, but they're also an investment in a more beautiful home.

        •    UV Rays—Ultraviolet rays are a major cause of fading in upholstery, carpeting, wall hangings, and wall coverings. Many window glazings reduce the level of ultraviolet rays that get through the glass and protect your home from sun damage.
        •    Comfort—Reduced energy bills aren't the only benefit of high energy efficiency. More consistent indoor temperatures make for a more comfortable environment for you and yours.
        •    Quiet—Windows with higher levels of insulation (i.e. double panes, superwindows, gas filled, etc.) also insulate better against noise pollution.
        •    Ventilation & Health—Poor indoor air quality is a major contributor to a wide array of health issues. The best way to combat it is to provide as much ventilation as possible.
  • Back To The Earth Our Ancestors Used

    Posted Under: Remodel & Renovate in Studio City, Going Green in Studio City, Design & Decor in Studio City  |  July 7, 2014 11:44 AM  |  200 views  |  No comments


    In the flat, hot Jordan Valley down the hill from Jerusalem sits the city of Jericho. It's known for it's square, concrete homes... until now!


    Ahmad Daoud hired a firm of young Palestinian architects to build this house. Like Jericho's original homes, it is built of dirt. This one has a contemporary twist, though: It's constructed with earth compacted in bags that are then stacked and plastered over.


    Daoud loves the domed rooms, the nod to the past and the environmental advantages.

    It's an environmentally friendly house, it can be torn down and nothing will remain. In the summer, no need for air conditioning, and the winter, no need for heat. It stays on average a comfortable 70 degrees year round.

    Some neighbors have asked him whether it's a house or some kind of tourist attraction. Others say he'll never sell it, or wonder how he could add a floor for his children - a common Palestinian practice - on top of domes.

    Despite Jericho's history, mud homes has fallen out of vogue. Concrete and steel seems to be the trend in this desert town. Even some of the builders didn't think building from mud would work.

    Saleh is part of ShamsArd, a small, young Palestinian architecture firm that has designed several buildings constructed of dirt. Translated from Arabic, ShamsArd means "sun and earth." Saleh studied architecture at Birzeit University in the West Bank, and then joined a firm in Ramallah. Most of the clients were wealthy, and the materials they chose bothered her because they were expensive and imported from around the world.

    Danna Massad, another ShamsArd partner, says they wanted to find ways to build that empowered Palestinians locally.

    ShamsArd began as an experiment in design. In 2012, before the architects drew the firm's first building, they made furniture built from trash: recovered steel rebar with seats of woven bike inner tubes, lampshades from loofa, and cardboard sofas.

    They held a show locally, but weren't even sure their families would show up. Surprisingly, Saleh says, almost everything sold. She read that as a changing social metric. This boosted the company's confidence.

    Helping the environment and reviving traditional practices are important, Massad and Saleh say. But raised in an economy dependent on international aid - with its political strings - and limited by Israeli restrictions, they say their true challenge is to prove that they can earn a living on their own terms.

    The Palestinian society is over-saturated with international aid... ShamsArd has turned it down. They have been hired by nonprofits that do depend on donor assistance, so it's not entirely removed from the aid economy. The team has finished five buildings and is currently designing a restaurant and another private home.

    Success will be deemed when they see other architecture firms competing with their Earth Structures. Hopefully the United States will soon follow, especially in desert regions where resources are not as easily available.
  • Titanium Oxide Roofs Fight Air Pollution

    Posted Under: Quality of Life in Studio City, Remodel & Renovate in Studio City, Going Green in Studio City  |  July 5, 2014 8:11 PM  |  249 views  |  No comments


    While the idea originated in Japan and India, a laboratory experiment, at UC Riverside, engineering students found that ordinary clay roof tiles sprayed with titanium dioxide removed 88% to 97% of nitrogen oxide pollution from the air.


    Nitrogen oxides, gases generated by fuel combustion and emitted from vehicle exhaust pipes, industrial stacks and power plants, react in sunlight to form ozone, the main ingredient of smog. But titanium dioxide, a chalky white compound, breaks down those pollutants into less harmful compounds.

    UC Riverside researchers placed titanium dioxide-coated roof tiles inside a miniature atmospheric chamber they built from wood, Teflon and PVC pipes. They pumped the chamber full of nitrogen oxides and illuminated it with ultraviolet light to simulate sunlight. They then measured pollution concentrations to find that they plummeted over about a 20-minute period.


    The researchers calculated that if one million roofs were sprayed with the smog-eating compound they could remove 21 tons of nitrogen oxides from the air each day. That's about 4% of the roughly 500 tons of nitrogen oxides emitted a day in California's South Coast air basin, the nation's smoggiest region that includes heavily populated areas of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

    Last year, for instance, a study found that a city street in the Netherlands outfitted with titanium dioxide-coated paving blocks reduced nitrogen oxide air pollution by up to 45%.

    The results are encouraging because they show even a light coating of titanium dioxide can be effective. It would take only about $5 worth of the compound to treat the existing roof tiles of an average-sized home.

    The next test is how the smog-cutting coating performs in the real world and whether it can be produced in a variety of colors suitable for application on homes.  Another possibility could be adding titanium dioxide to paint and splashing it on walls, concrete and dividers along major highways to cut air pollution from traffic.

    While the typical homeowner should anticipate anywhere from $700-$1,000 to be added on to the cost of their roofing project, this cost is expected to come down as consumers continue to be drawn to this eco-friendly option.

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