Gail of Green Living


GREEN Medical Center Home for Sale: Principles for the U.S. Gulf Coast Home

3703 Drummond

The United States Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Homes (LEED-H) program looks at home building from a broad view.  This program looks at where the home is built, (Braes Heights near the Texas Medical Center in Houston, TX), and how, and with what materials it is built.  The LEED certification process requires site management, recycling and waste management during construction.  Credits are given for energy efficiency, water conservation, air quality, product choice, etc.  The top rating is Platinum.  The guiding principles for a U.S. Gulf Coast home involve “what makes sense” in regard to the following features:

Strength and Durability:  This basically means “hurricane resistant”.  The storms bring wind water and utility failure.  Walls, windows and the roof are the core of the strength of the system.  Utility failure, which lasted up to three weeks after Hurricane Ike in 2008, dictated they include backup electric power and water.  Durability also applies to a longer term without maintenance issues.  The builder pursued the “Fortified” rating from the Institute for Building and Home Safety.  This is awarded to homes of exceptional strength and threat resistance.  This home was engineered to withstand winds 20 miles/hour over the FEMA wind speed zone designation for this location.

Efficiency:  This is in regard to energy in vs. energy out.  “Energy in” means solar electric and solar thermal.  “Energy out” is the sealed building envelope, immense insulation, and radiant barriers.

Security:  Keep out the boogie man and keep your stuff in!

Livability/Health/Comfort:  This category addresses air quality, humidity level, choice of appliances, lighting and finishes, and even the bathroom exhaust fan.

Affordability:  Understand there is a cost to buy and a cost to operate.  This is where “what makes sense” makes sense!  The owner shared with me that this home’s costs were about 20% higher than a traditional home, and I think much of that extra cost is recovered in energy savings, longer lived appliances, especially those with water that is pure as this system provides.

Green:  LEED-H Platinum was the target goal.

Next week’s blog will reveal the details of the building envelope, the backbone of the Building System.

If you would like to know more about this home, more pictures and details can be found here.


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Grow Grass on the Roof!

Yesterday I was in a doctor’s waiting room, and as I started to sit down, I noticed the building below had grass growing on the roof of the parking garage!  I’ve seen this in other cities, and I’m sure there are more places in Houston, but this was my first time to see it in the Medical Center.  This building is for the Bi0Science Research Collaboration, an innovative space where scientists and educators from Rice University and other Texas Medical Center institutions work together to perform leading research that benefits human medicine and health. More than just a building, it is an interdisciplinary, inter-institutional catalyst for new and better ways to collaborate, explore, learn and lead.  The building has Silver Level LEED certification.

I’m sorry the picture quality is so poor, but I had to take the picture through a window.  It appears to me that there are two kinds of prairie-type or natural grasses growing on the roof.  This is insulation for the building.  It is a wonderful way to eliminate or reduce street flooding as the rain is absorbed in the sod.  And street flooding is a huge issue in the Medical Center streets!  Just last week, we received over 5″ of rain in a morning, and floodgates were dropped in front of several of the parking garages, forcing many people to not be able to get their cars out.  But why would they want to get out anyway?  Those who were out, were getting their cars destroyed by water!  Those people were in the best place ever at the time.

Many challenges due to flooding have been addressed since Tropical Storm Allison dropped about three times this much rain in a night of June, 2001.  Braes Bayou has been widened in several areas to increase capacity.  Residential neighborhoods have had their storm drain capacity increased, water lines replaced and new streets built since Allison.  Insurance companies along with FEMA have revised their flood zone maps, which has required more people to carry flood insurance for their homes.

And the Medical Center has developed flood gates to be dropped in entrances to prevent water from reaching basements where valuable research is being performed, patients are being treated, and some basements are part of the parking garages.

Last week was a great test to see how things are working, and I believe as long as life and property are saved from floodwaters, we can tolerate street flooding.  Parking spaces are so valuable in the Medical Center that the top of most parking garages is more parking space.  But the grass growing there would surely absorb many, many gallons of water and save it from flooding the streets.

Tell me where you know of buildings or homes with grass or other plant material growing on the roof.  What are the benefits in that location?