All posts in Sustainability

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Against the Grain

Is mass timber really sustainable?
This is an article from our special November timber issue. We like to blame a lot of things for climate change—namely coal and cow farts—but if we were to search for a worthy scapegoat, architects might end up looking in the mirror. The building sector is responsible for 44.6 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. And, with an estimated 1.9 trillion billion square feet to be built in the next 33 years, those emissions will not subside without significant intervention. On the flip side, for architects anyway, this means the power to reduce carbon emissions is quite literally in your hands. “No designer—I think—wakes up and says, ‘I want to make the world worse today,’” William McDonough, architect, designer, and sustainable development leader said. “To make the world better, that’s our job.” Identifying successful ways to build sustainably can be difficult in a haze of greenwashing and checklist-style certifications, but many environmental experts, architects, and scientists are looking to mass-built timber as a reliable way to reduce carbon and fossil fuel output. A recent study, “Carbon, Fossil Fuel, and Biodiversity Mitigation with Wood and Forests,” stated that using wood as a building-material substitute could save “14 to 31 percent of global CO2 emissions and 12 to 19 percent of global FF [fossil fuel] consumption by using 34 to 100 percent of the world’s sustainable wood growth.” Building with timber reduces the overall carbon footprint in several ways. First, wood is a renewable resource, and growing a tree is a low-impact method of production (i.e. it uses photosynthesis rather than a plethora of machines). Second, trees are grown in abundance all over the United States and don’t need to be imported from abroad, reducing the amount of energy expended on shipping. “Right now we harvest less than half of what we could and still be well within the threshold of sustainability,” Kathryn Fernholz, the executive director at Dovetail Partners, an environmental nonprofit, explained. “That’s not the same in every single scenario, but in general in the U.S., we have an abundance of wood.” Third, and perhaps counter-intuitively, many environmentalists believe that harvesting trees allows forests to become more efficient at carbon sequestration. The logic is simple: When a tree is harvested, it stores carbon, then when another tree is planted in its place, it also will store carbon, making that plot of land’s carbon sequestration infinitely multipliable as trees are planted, grown, and harvested. “There is a widely held belief that cutting down trees is bad and causes loss of forest, but a strong market for wood products would cause us to grow more forests,” Fernholz said. “The vast majority of deforestation is land conversion, using the land for something else like development or agriculture. We know what resources we have and we monitor them and adjust. Forestry is not in the same place it was a hundred or even fifty years ago when deforestation was an issue.” While that stance of de-and reforestation is under debate among environmental experts, across the board, timber is generally a more sustainable building material because it is a renewable resource (provided that responsible forest practices are used). This includes the energy consumed to produce cross-laminated timber (CLT) in factories, which have a carbon emissions advantage over steel because the wood does not need to be heated over 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit like steel or concrete—in fact, unless the wood is kiln dried, heat isn’t need at all. Although embodied carbon is typically measured per building, because different amounts of each material are used in different scenarios, Wood for Good, a campaign by the timber industry to promote the material, claims that a ton of bricks requires four times the amount of energy to produce as a ton of sawn softwood (wood used for CLT); concrete requires five times, steel 24 times, and aluminum 126 times. “Reporting carbon emissions for wood includes a range of different assumptions and methods,” explained Kathrina Simonen, an associate professor of architecture at the University of Washington and director of the Carbon Leadership Forum. “So sometimes it ends up negative and sometimes it ends up positive. It can be confusing.” She is optimistic, however, that research is close to resolving the differences. Responsible forestry practices are already underway, with harvest occurring on long rotations so that the forest has time to regenerate itself and care can be taken to avoid removing other plants, roots, and branches in the process. Lastly, “Wood can be a durable good, as we've seen in ancient wooden buildings like the Temple at Nara, Japan [originally built in 745 AD and rebuilt in 1709],” McDonough said. “In [wood’s] history, it is often put into a cycle of use and reuse that can take it from large numbers to smaller and smaller [components].” Its ability to withstand centuries and to be disassembled and then reassembled into other buildings and furnishings keeps it out of the landfill and in a perpetual cycle of use until it can ultimately be returned to the environment in some form. Although well over 90 percent of one-to-three-story residential buildings are already wood-built, there are only a handful of mid-rise and tall timber buildings across the United States, a result of building codes that often prohibit timber-built structures larger than four to six stories. However, thanks in part to innovative wood products, including CLT, nail laminated timber (NLT), and glue laminated timber (glulam), wood construction can be used in buildings as tall as 40 stories. A study by consulting and engineering company Poyry and the New England Forestry Foundation shows that the greatest potential for timber-built is in mid-rise (six to 14 story) buildings, as it also tends to be more economical to build with timber at that scale. According to the Soft-wood Lumber Board, over two-thirds of the square footage in the mid-rise sector could be made with mass timber. These statistics combined, in addition to the taller structures that mass timber can create, have the potential to make a sizable dent in our CO2 and fossil fuel emissions. Like virtually everything in architecture, though, it is all in the details; for timber to be sustainable it has to be done correctly, from responsible forestry practices to environmentally safe glues and binders to craftsmanship and the design itself. “It is tremendously exciting. Building with wood creates diverse opportunities—there are different species and materials that all can work,” Fernholz said. “However, it is important to recognize that some things can come from wood, but nothing replaces good design and planning.”
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Zeroing In

Studio Ma designs net-zero timber building for Arizona State
This is an article from our special November timber issue. Phoenix–based Studio Ma has unveiled a radically sustainable master plan and conceptual design for Arizona State University’s Interdisciplinary Science & Technology Building—a science and research complex that will be centered around a vast atrium filled with plants and water. The scheme will literally embody what its professors will be teaching—achieving triple net-zero performance by consuming zero net energy, and producing zero waste and zero net greenhouse gas emissions. “Beyond the field of architecture, we need to be working with scientists,” said Studio Ma principal Christiana Moss. Much of the technology for the building was, in fact, developed by ASU scientists. The green elements inside and out are many. A light-rail station will run right up to the edge of the structure, offsetting carbon usage, while wetlands and bioswales along the periphery will absorb and clean runoff. Not only will the complex’s cross-laminated timber (CLT) frame sequester carbon much more effectively than steel, ASU developed carbon-collection panels that will trap carbon dioxide, which can then be employed to enrich the soil. Sunshades will keep the interiors cool; and rooftop solar photovoltaics will help power the building. “This represents a closing of the energy loop,” said Moss. “We’re collecting as much as we use. The building, in a way, becomes living.” Inside the massive day-lit atrium, the biome’s thick diversity of plants will purify waste air, while its wetlands landscape will recycle rainwater, which will be stored in tanks under the biome. An adjacent water-treatment portion of the complex will also treat and recycle sewage (perhaps for the entire campus) for use as gray water using low-energy, bio-based systems. The final phase of that treatment will be moving the water through a hydroponic reactor inside the atrium. The interior will also be a centerpiece for farming, with grassy areas and even a canal entering the heart of the building. “These things have been done,” said Moss. “But they haven’t been done at this scale, in the same place.” The project’s delivery date is fall 2020. ASU recently issued an RFP, and another architect (still to be selected) will be brought in to oversee the design. But whatever happens, “the function needs to drive the form; and it will require a much broader team of researchers to pull off,” said Moss. “There’s a whole field of research that needs to be opened up to what this is proposing,” Moss added. “This is the beginning of a whole future I see for architecture. This is where we all need to go.”
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Sandy Biodomes

Grimshaw and Arup bring the world's largest botanical park to Oman
London-based Grimshaw Architects, Arup, and Leicester-based Haley Sharpe Design (HSD) have jointly released renderings for what will become the largest botanical garden in the world. Located near Muscat in Oman, the park will cover over 1,000 acres and house only native species from across the country. Planned for the foothills of the Al Hajar Mountains, the site of the future Oman Botanic Garden is 328 feet above sea level and was selected for the dramatically twisting ridges and crags of the existing landscape. Elevated pathways will cross over simulated river valleys, mountains, and desert landscapes below. Visitors will be able to walk through all eight of the country’s natural habitats recreated in one complex. Two separate but linked glass enclosures will hold the more sensitive Northern Biomes and Southern Biomes separately from the others. Representing Oman’s sensitive Northern Mountains region, the Northern Biome will present visitors with a humidity and temperature-controlled facsimile of a terraced mountain scrubland. To the south, the Southern Biome will house a misty, self-contained green forest from Oman’s Dhofar region. Both biome buildings are long, sinuous glass greenhouses that mimic the hills found nearby. Despite being made nearly entirely of glass, the neighboring conservatories have been oriented to passively shade occupants during the day, with additional active shading in place to keep guests comfortable. Other than the carefully managed ecosystems at the heart of the Oman Botanic Garden, the park will also hold a visitor center in addition to research and education facilities. The LEED Platinum project has paid special attention to the water needs of the site as well. In a region of the world where water concerns are a very real issue, Arup was able to design systems optimized for plant irrigation with the least amount of waste possible. Together Arup, Grimshaw, and HSD have provided full services for the Oman Botanic Garden, from master planning to construction design. The project is set to break ground sometime in the near future.
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Texas Strong

Texas pushes ambitious $61 billion resiliency plan after Hurricane Harvey
A wide-ranging $61 billion proposal by Governor Greg Abbot and other Texas leaders for rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey was released last Wednesday, and is already being met with uncertainty by Washington, D.C. officials. Two-and-a-half months after Harvey made landfall in Texas as a Category 4 storm, the official damages estimate has risen to $180 billion while residents and institutions are still struggling to adjust. Calling for enhanced infrastructure measures to prevent future coastal flooding, coupled with buyouts for homes in vulnerable areas, the governor’s request goes far beyond just rebuilding what had been destroyed. Future-proofing the Gulf Coast will mean building detention lakes, dredging canals, and maybe most ambitiously, the construction of the “Ike Dike,” a $12 billion series of “coastal spines.” Meant to mainly protect the Houston-Galveston area, the three large coastal barriers have been proposed to both prevent incoming storm surges as well as allow water to be pumped out more easily. As Houston is the fourth largest city in the U.S., home to one of the largest ports in the country and situated near a high concentration of petroleum refining plants, the area is uniquely exposed to flood risks. With a major hurricane hitting the Gulf Coast every fifteen years on average, the governor’s office has placed precedence on hardening critical coastal infrastructure. But over $1 billion is also set aside for buying out properties in the most vulnerable areas, similar to New York State’s post-Sandy acquisition program meant to turn destroyed residential areas into waterfront buffers. Despite only being one-third of the predicted total reconstruction cost, government officials have demurred when asked about the price tag, the Houston Chronicle reported. “We're working on a number. We don't have a number,” said Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas). He remarked that coming up with such a large funding request is difficult at a time when so many other states are also asking for disaster relief coming off of a particularly active hurricane and wildfire season. Texas is currently facing years of recovery as designers have called attention to the historic residences, businesses and cultural institutions damaged during Harvey. With state and local governments outlining their plans for disaster mitigation, it will be worth watching to see how Texas moves forward. Read the full Rebuild Texas plan below:

Texas Harvey Presentation by Houston Chronicle on Scribd

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Dutch Delta

The 2018 International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam asks designers to confront climate change
Instead of the traditional call for projects, the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (IABR) has released a call for practices for its 2018 and 2020 editions, which will share a common mission and focus on the environment. The biennials, collectively called The Missing Link, tackle the role of design in confronting climate change. The curators want participants generate actionable responses to some of the UN’s sustainable development goals, which were released after the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. IABR curators are asking designers and others to engage renewable energy systems, water management, sustainable agriculture, biodiversity, and resource management within cities to provide research and design rubrics that encourage positive change in these fields. The Missing Link will proceed in three stages. The 2018 edition is framed as a "work biennale,” while the years between the 2018 and 2020 biennials will be devoted to research on shifting these ideas into practical use, and the results will be shared with the world in the 2020 program. IABR hopes that the three year process will establish a "community of practice" that results in a shared biennial to be presented in both the Netherlands and Belgium. The curatorial team includes Floris Alkemade, Leo van Broeck, and Joachim Declerck. The trio of Belgian and Dutch curators will work on both biennials. The base of operations for the entire project will be the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta in the Netherlands, a site the curators chose for its connection to cities and the natural environment. At the confluence of three major rivers, the delta links together a series of major ports including Rotterdam, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Vlissingen, and Ghent. IABR 2018 will debut on May 31 and run through July 8, 2018, and IABR is scheduled for spring 2020. Applications for IABR 2018 and 2020 are open until November 22, 2017.
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Praise the Roof

Can Elon Musk's solar roof tiles replace fossil fuels in housing?
At the National Governors Association Summer Meeting in July, Elon Musk claimed that the U.S. can run solely on solar energy. “If you wanted to power the entire U.S. with solar panels,” he said, “it would take a fairly small corner of Nevada or Texas or Utah; you only need about 100 miles by 100 miles of solar panels to power the entire United States.” In October 2016, Musk unveiled Tesla’s latest products: a solar roof and an updated Powerwall 2 and Powerpack 2. Tesla, Musk’s electric car company, acquired photovoltaics company SolarCity in 2016 for $2.6 billion. The deal merged the two companies, allowing the tech millionaire to sell and advertise Tesla products and solar roofs for a fully integrated solar home. Energy gathered from the solar roof will be stored into a Tesla Powerwall, a 14 kWh battery for residential homes (it is scalable up to nine Powerwalls in one unit). During the day, the solar shingles will generate electricity and recharge the batteries, which will then provide power at night in place of a traditional utility grid. Each unit has enough capacity for a day’s worth of power. The Powerpack 2 is meant for commercial use and is limitlessly scalable. The solar roof system integrates the photovoltaic (PV) cells, which are covered with color louver film and glass tiles, inside the structure of the roof. There are four tile options hydrographically printed to resemble classic roofing materials. Tesla also offers a solar panel designed to be aesthetically innocuous to attract those who would otherwise be put off by typical solar shingles. In July, Tesla began accepting orders and released price points for a roof with a mix of active solar tiles and inactive glass tiles. As the ratio of active to inactive tiles varies, so does the cost. A 34 percent mix is only $21.85 per square foot, well under the $24.50 threshold that Consumer Reports sets in order for the roof to be price competitive with standard residential roofs. Tesla’s Solar Roofs were rolled out this August and the company claims that each roof will pay for itself in electricity savings over the course of the 30-year warranty. If the solar roof is truly this affordable, then it could become very attractive to the mass consumer. The acquisition of SolarCity is Musk’s answer to the fossil fuel industry, which he has said needs to be replaced by solar energy. In 15 years, Musk proclaimed at a TED 2017 conference in April, it will be unusual for a house to not have solar roofs. His visionary zeal—he also claims that it’s possible to colonize Mars in the next decade—is spreading. YarraBend, an upcoming mini-suburb in Australia, will have Tesla Powerwalls and solar panels in all of its houses. Nicknamed “Tesla Town,” it could be a model for planning around the combination of solar energy, home battery packs, and electric vehicles.
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CLIMATE CHANGE

Specsheet >Customizable HVAC systems and innovative weather barriers
CÔR WI-FI THERMOSTAT Carrier
The latest version of the Carrier Côr wi-fi thermostat is enabled to work with Apple HomeKit. Users can utilize iOS-enabled devices to control their Côr thermostat from anywhere with the iOS 10 Home app or Siri on iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch. The HomeKit technology is end-to-end encrypted with authentication between the heating and cooling system and the iOS device.
SKYLINE SLIM TILE FACADE Neolith These thin tile facades feature large Neolith slabs with near-zero porosity, making them resistant to changes in temperatures and extreme weather conditions, sun exposure, scratches, graffiti, and warping. The tiles are also surface-treated with a Pureti coating to reduce the effects of pollutants and decrease long-term maintenance costs.
 
VRP Friedrich Friedrich recently launched a variable refrigerant packaged (VRP) heat pump system, a total HVAC solution that also incorporates air and humidity controls. It includes a precision inverter compressor that reduces sound, and combines variable refrigerant flow designed for hospitality, multifamily, and commercial applications.
SMART VENT Keen Home Keen Home is introducing a wireless, app-enabled zoning system that redirects airflow to regulate individual room temperature. Powered by AA batteries, the Smart Vents conveniently create a Zig-Bee mesh network controlled via a smartphone app. The app provides open-close controls that can be programmed with daily schedules to close vents based on room occupancy. Aerodynamic airfoil louvers ensure quiet operation and airflow.
LONGOTON TERRA-COTTA RAINSCREEN FACADE SYSTEM Shildan/Moeding Longoton is a high-performance terra-cotta facade panel system that can be incorporated in horizontal and vertical configurations and also function as a rain-screen. The panels are available in 16 standard colors, custom colors, custom glazing, and standard and varying finishes and profiles.
TDP05K Ruskin Eight moisture-resistant flex sensors and multiple velocity and temperature points make these thermal dispersion airflow and temperature measuring probes super-accurate. The TDP05K probe can measure a velocity range of from 0 to 5,000 FPM and will display the flow and temperature at each sensing point.
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Green City

New York City targets greenhouse gas emissions of buildings in new plan
Inefficient architecture and infrastructure is among the leading contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, buildings account for 39% of CO2 emissions in the United States and consume 70% of the nation's electricity. In New York City, fossil fuels burned to provide heat and water to buildings are the number one source of emissions – 42% of the city's total. This week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new plan to drastically reduce the emissions of aging buildings across the city. Despite Trump's hasty withdrawal from the 2016 Paris Agreement, de Blasio pledged to adhere to the treaty and accelerate New York City's action to cut its fossil fuel emissions. If approved by the City Council, owners of buildings larger than 25,000 square feet must invest in more efficient infrastructure (including boilers, water heaters, insulated roofs and windows, etc.) by 2030. This applies to around 14,500 private and municipal structures across the city. Owners of buildings that have not complied will face penalties beginning in 2030, ranging from fines of $60,000 a year for a 30,000-square-foot residential buildings to $2 million for a 1 million-square-foot buildings). Penalties may also include restrictions on future permitting for noncompliant owners. The plan also aims to produce 17,000 middle-class "green jobs" by 2030, including plumbers, carpenters, electricians, engineers, architects, and energy specialists. The announcement has given climate advocates a much-appreciated boost of public support, but also raises concerns for homeowners and renter advocates. The New York State Tenants and Neighbors Coalition tweeted at Mayor de Blasio that the city's promise to "stop landlords ... from displacing tenants or raising rents based on the cost of improvements" was only really possible if rental laws were changed to begin with: What does this all mean for architects working today? This latest development might be applied to provide a new standard for new structures built between now and 2030 (and long after) to incorporate more common-sense energy efficiency features. The Mayor's office has not responded to AN's query on whether this program or its penalties will apply to buildings constructed from 2017 onward. This new legislation marks the first major step by New York City to work toward the goals outlined in the de Blasio administration's 80 X 50 Roadmap – which commits to reducing the city's greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050. Donna De Costanzo, Director of Northeast Energy and Sustainable Communities at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) remarked on the plan: “Reducing the amount of energy used in the buildings in our city will put money back in New Yorkers’ pockets while improving air quality and creating jobs."
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Back to School

Cornell Tech campus opens with three high-tech buildings
Yesterday Cornell Tech's campus opened on Roosevelt Island, a strip of land between Manhattan and Queens perhaps best known for housing medical institutions and mental hospitals. This development definitively stakes a new identity for the island. Created through an academic partnership between Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, the project is the winner of a New York City competition for an applied-sciences campus initiated by the Bloomberg administration. The campus spans 12 acres and houses three new buildings by Morphosis, Weiss/Manfredi and Handel Architects. So far, what makes the buildings stand out is their aim to be among the most sustainable and energy efficient structures in the world. The four-story, 160,000-square-foot Bloomberg Center, designed by Morphosis Architects, serves as the heart of Cornell Tech. With its primary power source on-site, it is one of the largest net-zero energy academic buildings in the world. Smart building technology developed in collaboration with engineering firm Arup includes a roof canopy supporting 1,465 photovoltaic panels designed to generate energy and shade the building to reduce heat gain, a closed-loop geothermal well system for interior cooling and heating, a rainwater harvesting system to feed the non-potable water demand and irrigate the campus, and a power system conserving energy when the building is not in use. Another striking element is The Bloomberg Center’s facade, which is comprised of a series of metal panels designed to decrease the building's overall energy demand. The Bridge, designed by Weiss/Manfredi, is a seven-story “co-location” building intended to link academia to entrepreneurship. It houses a range of companies from diverse industries that have the opportunity to work alongside Cornell academic teams. The loft-like design of the building encourages dialogue between the University's academic hubs and tech companies. The building orientation frames full river views and brings maximum daylight into its interior. At the ground level, the entrance atrium opens onto the center of campus extending into the surrounding environment through a series of landscaped terraces. The House, designed by Handel Architects, is a 26-story, 350-unit dormitory for students, staff, and faculty. It is the tallest and largest residential passive house in the world, meaning it follows a strict international building standard to reduce energy consumption and costs. The House is clad with a super-sealed exterior facade created from 9-by-36-foot metal panels with 8 to 13 inches of insulation which are projected to save 882 tons of carbon dioxide per year. Yesterday’s opening comprises just the first phase of the campus development project at Cornell Tech. 
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Only In The U.K.

IKEA now sells solar panels and home battery packs

IKEA, the Swedish furniture giant known for selling cheap, do-it-yourself furniture, is now offering solar energy systems (only these products aren't quite cheap and definitely aren't D.I.Y.).

IKEA has partnered with energy technology company Solarcentury to launch its Solar Battery Storage Solution, which features solar panels and home batteries, in the U.K. Solarcentury, one of the U.K.’s biggest solar panel providers, will produce the panels.

IKEA’s home storage battery works in the same way as Tesla’s Powerwall, storing energy generated from the solar panels instead of selling excess energy back to the grid. The home batteries are compatible with existing solar panels or as a part of a combined storage system.

There is a bit of a sticker shock for those used to IKEA’s affordable prices—the upfront cost for both panels and battery is £6,925 (about $9,034 in U.S. dollars)—but the company estimates customers will make their money back within 12 years and their electricity bills will be cut by up to 70 percent. 

Solar panels and home battery systems have been making big waves thanks to Tesla's recently-announced offering. While still expensive, IKEA's solar system has an advantage in that its starting price is much lower. Just the batteries will cost £3,000 (around $3,900) as opposed to Tesla's price of £5,900 (about $7,684). However, location, type of building, and size of roof, also affect the final cost.

“We believe IKEA and Solarcentury are bringing the most competitive package to the market yet so more people than ever before can profit financially and environmentally by producing their own energy,” Susannah Wood, head of residential solar at Solarcentury, said in a press release.

This news comes on the heels of two big announcements for the U.K.’s energy industry. Just last week, the U.K. government unveiled a plan that will allot £246m of funding (that's around $320.48 million) for battery technology research. British gas owner Centrica also revealed that it would be increasing its energy prices 12.5 percent, despite promises to lower costs.

If you live in the U.K., IKEA’s website offers a free estimate on how much installing its Solar Battery Solution will save you.

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Game Changer

Tesla's solar roof will cost less than normal roofs
While the oil companies struggle to maintain their environmentally disastrous stranglehold on the market and the planet, there are some very realistic technologies that threaten to disrupt the status quo. One of the most dangerous for the oil companies is the Tesla solar roof, an off-the-shelf consumer system of tempered glass tiles. Last week, Tesla began accepting orders for the product and released pricing, which is comparable to normal asphalt roofing. The system is a mix of active solar tiles and inactive simple glass tiles, and as the percentage varies, so does the eventual cost. A 35 percent mix would cost $21.85 per square foot, and according to Consumer Reports, the tiles need to be under $24.50 per square foot to compete with normal tiles. That math doesn't even take into account the energy savings over time, which should allow the tiles to pay for themselves. Tesla released a savings calculator when they announced sales, and they are also offering a lifetime warranty. “We offer the best warranty in the industry—the lifetime of your house, or infinity, whichever comes first,” a Tesla rep told Inverse. https://www.instagram.com/p/BT7HVS3AZ4q/
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Carbon Loading

How green are Apple's carbon-sequestering trees really?
Apple is planting a forest in Cupertino, California. When the company’s new headquarters is completed later this year, 8,000 trees, transplanted from nurseries around the state of California, will surround the donut-shaped building by Foster + Partners. The trees are meant to beautify Apple’s 176 acres (dubbed Apple Park). But they will also absorb atmospheric carbon. That’s a good thing. Carbon, in greenhouse gases, is a major cause of global warming. Almost everything humans do, including breathing, releases carbon into the atmosphere. Plants, on the other hand, absorb carbon, turning it into foliage, branches, and roots—a process known as sequestration. That’s why, when architects, landscape designers, and urban planners concerned about climate change talk about their work, they often mention sequestration. These days, seemingly every project that includes greenery is touted as reducing atmospheric carbon. But how much carbon can one tree, or even 8,000 trees, sequester? I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find the answer. Among my sources is a 2016 article from the journal Landscape and Urban Planning titled “Does urban vegetation enhance carbon sequestration?” Its authors, several from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, examine efforts to quantify the sequestration capacity of urban flora. For example, a study of a Vancouver neighborhood found that its trees sequestered about 1.7 percent as much carbon as human activities produced, while in Mexico City the figure was 1.4 percent. The results were worse in Singapore. Overall, the authors write, “The impact of urban vegetation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions directly through carbon sequestration is very limited or null.” Very limited or null. Another study seemed especially applicable to Apple. In 2009, researchers at California State University Northridge studied carbon sequestration on the university’s 350-acre campus. Students inventoried all 3,900 trees by type and size. Using data from the Center for Urban Forest Research, a branch of the U.S. Forest Service, they estimated the amount each tree was likely to sequester. The average was 88 pounds per tree per year. (By contrast, the average American is responsible for emitting about 44,000 pounds of carbon annually.) Then they compared total sequestration to the amount of carbon emitted by campus sources. (Those sources included the production of electricity to power campus buildings—but not transportation to and from campus.) The result: The trees sequestered less than one percent of the amount of carbon released during the same period. Put another way, the amount of carbon sequestered, at a school with 41,000 students, equaled the carbon output of eight average Americans. Are things better at Apple Park? On the emissions side, there is good news: The new building will rely largely on natural ventilation, reducing the need for air conditioning. (Note, though, that promises a building will perform a certain way often prove overly optimistic.) On the other hand, the campus is being designed with more than 10,000 parking spaces for some 12,000 employees, suggesting that the vast majority of employees will be driving to and from work. And those spaces are in garages that require lights and elevators. And the news gets worse. At Northridge, researchers looked at the trees as if they had always been there. But a reasonable approach to measuring the benefits of Apple’s trees would consider the carbon emitted in growing them off-site, bringing them to Cupertino, and planting them. Driving a flatbed truck 100 miles can release 100 pounds of carbon into the atmosphere—and Apple trees’ require thousands of such trips. And, since it wants the campus to be picture-perfect, Apple is using mature specimens. These are no seedlings; some are so large they have to be lowered into place by crane. And mature trees, because they aren’t growing much, hardly sequester any carbon. (Worse, when trees die, their carbon is returned to the atmosphere.) And keep in mind that many of Apple’s trees were already growing in other locations, meaning the carbon sequestered on the Apple campus would have been sequestered anyway. That suggests that any estimate of carbon sequestration at Apple Park should be reduced by at least half. In the plus column, grass and shrubs also sequester carbon, though not merely as much as trees, with their thick trunks and extensive root systems. So how much carbon will Apple’s trees sequester? The figures used in the Northridge study suggest that Apple’s 8,000 trees will remove some 700,000 pounds of carbon from the atmosphere each year. According to Apple’s submissions to the city of Cupertino, the new campus can be expected to produce 82 million pounds of carbon annually. That means that the carbon sequestered will be less than one percent of the carbon emitted. In short, Apple’s decision to plant 8,000 trees, whatever its other benefits, won’t have a significant effect on the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. The campus, even with a very green building at its heart, will emit more than one hundred times as much carbon as its trees absorb. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep planting trees. But it does mean that, as with so many issues related to global warming, there is no quick fix. Thinking there is could keep us from making the tough decisions climate change demands.