Saving the Environment – One Digital Business Practice at a Time!

Although digital meeting and digital publication options for business have been around for some time, many businesses don’t take full advantage of them.  At MTI we realized several years ago that the old ways of doing business weren’t sustainable.  We also realized that if we were touting products that made buildings more sustainable and more environmentally friendly, we should probably be doing business the same way.

Technology is not going away.  While it certainly has negatives, the communication possibilities are so great, it needs to be embraced by businesses of all sizes.  The digital communication practices that follow are sustainable business practices we firmly recommend.

Minimize print matter.  There is no reason to maintain a binder full of product catalogs in the 21st Century.  PDF versions of product catalogs and product flyers are easy to search and easy to store, and they are much more environmentally friendly.  We have all been to major tradeshows and conferences where we’ve witnessed volumes of discarded catalogs, brochures, etc. packed into overflowing trash receptacles.  If we feel compelled to hand out some print matter, why not a business card with our URL?  Or better yet, let’s just put our QR code on a sign and let interested parties take a digital image.  The QR code reader on their smart phone can take them to our electronic media when they have time to look at it.

Digital media can do so much more than print media.  PDFs aren’t just about sending print and images.  They can also contain video and audio.  My document written in English can contain links to translations in other languages or explanatory movies with narrations in other languages.  The possibilities are endless, and they can be delivered in seconds around the world at little cost and on demand.  Utilizing email for product updates and company newsletters is also much quicker, much more economical and much more environmentally responsible than the postcards and brochures we used to rely on for getting the message out.

Rethink business travel and training.  Web meetings can and should supplant sales calls and business meetings.  Most of us complain about the cost of gas, the hassle of airport security checks, the threat of bedbugs, etc., but are we still heading off to a meeting in some other state or some other country?  Sure there are times when we have to be there in person, but many times we don’t; and the savings to the bottom-line and to the environment are huge!   There are many ways we can do meetings online, and the costs have come down tremendously because of the number of services competing for your business.   Not only can you hear and see each other, you can even work on the same documents online, and the down time involved with travel can now be used more productively.

Web conferencing can also be used effectively for training.  Most web conferencing software has a record function built in so that people who are unable to attend can get a rebroadcast of the session.  This saves on the instructor’s time and expense, and it makes the content available in the same format so you’re confident everyone received the same message.

Old habits die hard, but businesses large and small can benefit greatly from adopting 21st Century digital communication practices.  They are sustainable, economical and effective.


The Green “Blowback” Effect

A recent study initiated by the EPA and conducted by the Institute of Medicine indicated that unintended and potentially serious health risks could be the result of too much “weatherization.”  The report stated, “Even with the best intentions, indoor environmental quality issues may emerge with interventions that have not been sufficiently well screened for their effects on occupant safety and health.”

MTI has made this point many times in presentations that we have done, and our AIA/CES courses, “Breaking the Mold…” (MTI409) and “Don’t Waster Your Energy…” (MTI509), detail the sustainability and health risks that careless weatherization can cause.  Don’t get me wrong, we are not against saving energy through tightening buildings, but like the report from the IOM, we feel that planning and coordination of efforts need to take place first.

For too long, building has been done in a compartmentalized fashion.  All the parties involved tended to “do their own thing” rather than working as a team.  With a plethora of new materials and methods in the construction world, holistic building is a must!  Architects, specifiers, engineers, contractors, and manufacturers of building materials need to be on the same page.

For example, entrapped moisture in the building envelope has skyrocketed over the last 25-30 years (a time period following the first energy crisis of the 1970s).  Why, because better windows, more and better insulation materials, more sealants, more unintended vapor barriers, etc. were being used without much thought to unplanned consequences.  When you seal the building envelope too tight, you get moisture issues.  You also get a building that has less fresh air injected into the living environment.  The IOM report states, “By making buildings more airtight, building owners could increase indoor-air contaminant concentrations and indoor-air humidity.”  This could lead to mold and rot issues and poor indoor air quality.

When you tighten the building envelope, you must know how all the materials and techniques are going to work or not work together, and then include materials and methods to counteract any negative outcomes such as entrapped moisture.  In most cases you need to include effective building envelope moisture management systems.  You also need to work with the manufacturer of these systems to make sure you have the right products and design for your specific details.  That’s why the architects, specifiers, contractors, and building owners need to be on the same page.

Those our my thoughts, I welcome yours!

*I have added some pictures from a house built in the 1960s that show how buildings used to be able to breathe.  Notice how clean and dry the wood looks after the old siding was torn off.  There is no rot or water-staining, not even next to the window, and the window is a bathroom window.  Air was able to get behind the siding and into the building envelope to keep it dried out.

Need LEED? Bay Area Builder Wrote the Book!

Anyone contemplating a LEED project could learn a lot from Mike McDonald.  McDonald Construction of Oakland, California, has become a recognized leader in the sustainable design and build industry of Northern California.  Over the last three years, Mike McDonald and company have created some of the most recognized LEED projects in the U.S.  Masonry Technology Inc. is proud to have been part of them.

The national recognition started in 2009 with the completion of Margarido House.  Margarido House, located on Margarido Drive in Oakland, was the first LEED Platinum Home in Northern California.  Margarido is a study in wise choices.  Great thought went into the location for the home, the selection of craftsmen and artisans chosen for the work, the materials used to create the house, and the fixtures and appliances installed in it.  You can find out more about the people and products McDonald selected for Margarido House here.

With a successful LEED Platinum project under his belt, Mike worked with architect Scott Lee of SB Architects in San Francisco to create the beautiful Hillside 131 house.  Tucked into a hill in Marin County, Hillside 131 became the first LEED-H project in Marin County.  As one writer put it, there is a “real feel of zen” about Hillside 131.  That feeling comes from the perfect combination of sustainable materials, beautiful craftsmanship, and gorgeous design set into the perfect space.  Learn more about the people and products involved in Hillside 131 here.

The final component in the LEED trilogy was just completed.  Tiburon Bay House, also located in the Bay Area, offers a slightly different take on how to create a LEED Platinum home.  Unlike the first two projects, Tiburon sprung up on a lot that was previously occupied by another home.  That home was deconstructed and 95% of the materials were reused or recycled.  With a south facing exposure, Tiburon is the perfect place to employ passive solar into the design, and that is just one of the environmentally-friendly features of this home.  You can learn more about Tiburon Bay House here.

Whether you are planning a LEED project for the immediate future or thinking about one down the road, these three LEED success stories by McDonald Construction are well worth your study!

Tiburon Bay House

Tiburon Bay LEED Platinum House SF Bay Area

Audubon Nature Center in Joplin Resonates Green

My wife and I just returned from an extended weekend getaway in Southeastern Missouri.  A highlight of our trip was our discovery of the Wildcat Glades Conservation & Audubon Nature Center just outside Joplin, Missouri.  If building in the 21st Century is about saving resources and leaving a small footprint on the face of planet Earth, this place “walks the walk!”

The Wildcat Glades area is located on the southeast edge of Joplin just a mile off Interstate 44.  It is very easy to find, and well worth a stop for anyone driving Interstate 44 or visiting the Joplin area.  Located along Shoal Creek, the area provides a great escape from the hustle and bustle of traffic while still giving you easy access to the many services available in a city the size of Joplin.  There are several miles of hiking trails on each side of Shoal Creek (really a misnomer for this body of water that is much more a river).  The trails on the east side are fairly flat, but the trails on the west side climb to heady overlooks towering over the valley and the nature center area.  There are short loops for those not wanting to go far and extended trails for the hardy hiker.  Visitors will see a great variety of bird life and plant life as well as interesting rock formations and an area called Cliff Village that early humans called home.  The trail system can be accessed from the back of the nature center and there is ample free parking available there and in nearby parking areas along each side of Shoal Creek.

The Audubon Center itself is a testament to conserving resources.  The Wildcat Glades & Audubon Center opened in 2007 and features many ways to lessen human impact on the planet.  The Center features a “green, living” roof.  It consists of plastic sheathing, fabrics and soil that limit runoff (according to the brochure, up to 1 million gallons a year).  The parking lot utilizes “a plastic grid/sand/gravel system and filters residue from tires, oil, antifreeze and other liquids that leak from vehicles” that are parked at the Center.  There is a” biodetention area in front of the building that captures roof and site runoff” as do the many plants that surround the building.  The trails are made from recycled asphalt pavement, and the cistern in front of the garden collects roof runoff and is used to water the plants nearby.

The shotcrete exterior of the Center covers a steel frame made from 90% recycled steel.  The insulation is recycled paper/cardboard, and the carpet and plastic deck are made from recycled milk jugs.  The heat is geothermal and the toilets are low water models.  Hot water is produced by an on-demand, flash heating system.  For more information on all the environmentally friendly materials and policies of the Center, visit their Green Technology page.

The Wildcat Glades area is a truly unique place on planet Earth.  There are only 60 acres of true Chert Glade left in the entire world, and Wildcat Glades contains much of that acreage, with the rest nearby.  The Center itself has wonderful exhibits of local fauna and flora; there are also displays of Native American stone artifacts from the area on loan from local collectors.  The Wildcat Glades & Audubon Center, a USGBC Silver L.E.E.D. building, and the surrounding trails, are well worth a visit!

Wildcat Glades & Audubon Center

Front Entrance of Wildcat Glades & Audubon Center

Back View of Center

Back Side Wildcat Glades & Audubon Center

Cliff Dwelling at Wildcat Glades

Cliff Dwelling at Wildcat Glades

Overlook of Shoal Creek

Overlook of Shoal Creek

Victorian Windows – Beautiful and Functional

There are so many things in life that we take for granted, and windows in older buildings are probably high on that list.  Most towns and cities in the U.S. have areas where homes from the Victorian era still exist, and we probably all have driven by them and been struck by the ornate features employed in their construction.  But how many of us have actually stopped and wondered why?  Most of us probably just assume it was a decorative touch and left it at that.

I believe there was a designed purpose that went beyond simple ornamentation.  The decoration above and around these windows was very functional.  It was there to move the water away from the top and sides.  Door and window penetrations in buildings are some of the most difficult details in buildings to moisture-proof.  By creating architectural details that moved water away from the top and sides of windows and doors, architects and builders of 19th Century buildings created structures that were more sustainable.  Why haven’t we continued with this practice on a much greater scale?

Many modern buildings have made it too easy for moisture to enter the building envelope.  There are too many windows and doors that have little above them to keep water from running into the opening where it can more easily penetrate the seams at the top and sides of the opening.  Also, overhangs have disappeared or been diminished allowing water to run directly down the building facade until it finds a crack or seam to penetrate and enter the building envelope.  If we aren’t going to protect the exterior of a building from moisture penetration, we had better equip the building envelope with tools to get the penetrating moisture out quickly!  Drainage planes and weeps, if correctly selected and correctly installed, will do this.

Take a look at the accompanying photos and notice the details used in an earlier time that have allowed these structures to have a long life.  In the near future I will be presenting more information on a product that goes inside the building envelope but functions like the details above the windows in these photos.  Those are my thoughts, I welcome yours!


Daily Dose: Tree Museum

Add to TwitterThis June marked the opening of the Tree Museum in Switzerland. Landscape architect Enzo Enea, along with Oppenheim Architecture + Design, designed and built this haven for 2,000 different species of trees. His own collection of trees, which has taken Enea 17 years to amass, is also on display on the museum grounds.

Tree Museum; Image courtesy of arch daily

Tree Museum; Image courtesy of arch daily

Tree Museum; Image courtesy of arch daily

Most of the architectural elements you see in the images were designed as backdrops to showcase the various trees. The headquarters building itself is a sustainable construction that uses natural daylight, a green roof and geothermal energy. This re-imagining of what a museum – or a building – really consists of breaks new ground in the world of architecture and will hopefully lead us to a more integrated human-and-nature approach to construction in the future.

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New MTI YouTube Video

Add to TwitterWe recently created a new video/animation for our MTI Home page.  This video features a fairytale theme and with a “tongue in cheek” approach addresses why architects, contractors and building owners need to face the reality of adding drainage planes to the rainscreen building envelope.  We decided to upload it to YouTube so that a broader audience (ex. homeowners) might become aware of the necessity of entrapped moisture protection.  The movie is entitled “Sure Cavity Drainage Plane Will Save Your Castle.”  It only takes 48 seconds to view it, so we hope you check it out!

Castle picture