How to Borrow Light

Eric Reinholdt, a Houzz Contributor and Residential Architect, writes:

In 1915 the 38-story Equitable Building in New York City was the largest office building in the world. Containing 1.2 million square feet of office space, it consumed nearly every available square foot of its diminutive lot and cast an equally large shadow on its neighborhood in lower Manhattan. Its construction inspired the enactment of the city’s 1916 Zoning Resolution, which was designed to preserve access to light and air at the street level. The resolution prescribed specific limitations for a building’s envelope — its outer walls — and would go on to shape the stepped forms that you see today on many of the iconic towers in the city.

This underscores the importance that access to daylight had in shaping even the largest of cities, the individual buildings that make up those cities and, more broadly, sensible building design. With an increasing focus on sustainable design practices, the smart use of natural daylight in our homes is no longer a luxury — it has become a necessity. At the heart of any good daylighting strategy is a concept of “borrowed” light: the capture of light falling on the exterior of a home and transporting it to the spaces where it’s needed.

The sun delivers an incredible amount of light energy to us each day. To get an idea of just how much, it helps to understand the standard by which we use to measure light intensity: the foot-candle. The light from a full moon is roughly 1 foot-candle, while the sun’s illuminance on a cloudless day is roughly 10,000 foot-candles. Of course, clouds and the filtering effects of glass can reduce the actual amount of light that reaches the interiors of our homes by 50 to 90 percent. But 1,000 to 5,000 foot-candles is still an amazing amount of light, given that we need only around 35 foot-candles to comfortably read by.

Harnessing this light energy isn’t as simple as placing a window on an exterior wall. Interior rooms without access to an exterior wall or spaces oriented in a way that restricts access to adequate daylight are common problems, each with a unique solution. Here’s a look at some solutions.

Christopher Davis: 200 years of LEED (or 20 historic buildings you probably didn’t know were green)

Christopher Davis was speaking to my tree-hugger heart when he wrote:

These projects are incredible examples of how historic preservation and environmental sustainability can work hand in hand, and how saving the past can enrich the future.

Renovating a historic building to LEED standards isn’t easy, but it is well worth it, in my opinion.

…the buildings that have achieved LEED certification embody a history that stretches far deeper into the past than 1993. In fact, we recently certified the oldest LEED buildings both in the United States (Fay House at Harvard University, built in 1807) and in the world (a Venetian Gothic palazzo from 1453!).

These remarkably historic green buildings are certainly not alone. Dozens of historic buildings have become LEED certified, and some of them are already well known, like the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and Chicago’s Merchandise Mart.

Here are a few of my favorites from his article:

1821: Pavilion IX, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA

LEED Certified, New Construction

Designed by Thomas Jefferson as part of the University of Virginia’s iconic lawn, Pavilion IX is the only LEED certified building located within a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The building was renovated to LEED guidelines in 2011 and is currently home to the Dean of the School of Nursing.

Photo credit: Flickr user timjarrett
Photo credit: Flickr user timjarrett

1839: St. Paul’s United Methodist Church (United Teen Equality Center), Lowell, MA

LEED Platinum, New Construction

The United Teen Equality Center is dedicated to social and economic development for at-risk youth in Lowell. In 2006, needing more space, they purchased the historic St. Paul’s Church downtown, and then renovated and expanded it into the oldest LEED Platinum building in the world.

Photo credit: Lewishine Fellowship Blog
Photo credit: Lewishine Fellowship Blog

1842: U.S. Treasury Building, Washington, DC

LEED Gold, Existing Buildings

At the depths of the Great Recession, the U.S. Treasury made a bold, forward-thinking decision, achieving LEED Gold and helping save American taxpayers $3.5 million per year in energy, water, and leasing costs. The Treasury Building is the only known LEED certified building on a unit of currency.

Photo credit: Wikimedia
Photo credit: Wikimedia

1856: New York State Executive Mansion, Albany, NY

LEED Gold, Existing Buildings

Previously a private home, the mansion has served as the official residence of 31 New York governors since 1875, including Al Smith, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Nelson Rockefeller. A comprehensive greening effort was launched in 2007 by former First Lady Silda Wall Spitzer.

Photo credit: Wikimedia
Photo credit: Wikimedia

1900: Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company Building (Sullivan Center), Chicago, IL

LEED Certified, Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance

The last major work of renowned architect Louis Sullivan, the Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company department store and office building represents the climax of the Chicago School, with its use of an innovative steel frame structure, allowing much larger windows than the typical building of the time. Having suffered great disrepair in the mid-20th century, the building was recently returned to its former glory, including restoration of the cornice and iconic ornamental iron work.

Photo credit: Flickr user atelier_tee
Photo credit: Flickr user atelier_tee

For the rest of Christopher Davis’ article and 14 more historic, iconic, LEED-certified buildings, visit

How To Make Your House Greener

Guest Post by Liam Ohm (via Green Building Elements)

It’s becoming increasingly important to make your house greener. Benefits include helping the environment by cutting down on the amount of CO2 emissions released from your home, as well as committing to recyclable materials. At the same time, it’s possible to make your house greener by cutting back on bad habits when it comes to using power, while keeping an eye on the kind of products that you use. By doing so, you can make a contribution to environmental health. These approaches, and more, are detailed below:

Melanie Dawn Miami LEED Platinum Coconut Grove
Coconut Grove – LEED Platinum Home


Solar Panels

More and more people are installing solar panels on the roofs of their homes. Photovoltaic cells generate energy from the sun, and provide a clean alternative to the electricity taken from the National Grid. Tax and tariff incentives are also available for those that invest in solar panels.

Green Roofs

A green roof involves planting vegetation on a layer on top of your home. The vegetation releases valuable oxygen into the atmosphere, while the roof is waterproofed to prevent damaging the structure of your home.

Switching Off Lights

One of the simplest habits that can be followed for a greener home, switching off lights when not in use, and switching older bulbs for eco-friendly ones, as well as investing in LED lights, can save you money and cut down on electricity usage. Dimmer switches can similarly be used to reduce dependence on high energy light bulbs, while automatic lights can turn themselves off when no motion is detected in a room.


Window blinds can provide environmental benefits for your home through UV protection layers, which repel the harmful effects of the sun. At the same time, blinds available in recyclable materials like honeycomb can reduce the amount of plastic in your home.

Avoiding Dryers

If possible, avoid using a tumble drier for your clothes, and instead invest in indoor racks for your home. Doing so will save you electricity, and can be particularly effective on hot and windy days.

Use Eco Cleaning Products

Switching the brands of your cleaning products can have a positive effect on the eco friendliness of your home. Choosing eco brands that don’t contain damaging chemicals or release gases into the atmosphere is particularly recommended.


A simple task to follow: you can boost your home’s environmental rating by sticking to a recycling schedule. This can mean sorting through plastic, paper, and glass, as well as creating a compost heap for food, tea bags, and coffee grounds.

Don’t Overuse Heat

Don’t leave your heating on for more than you need it for. Turning down your heating, or switching it off altogether in the Spring and the Summer, is usually a good idea.

Don’t Build Up Plastic

Try to cut down on the amount of useless plastic that you have around your home. This might be represented by old plastic bags, which can be recycled, and replaced by bags for life.


You can wash most clothes on a cold, rather than a hot water cycle. There are many detergents that work just as well with this setting.

Author Bio: Liam Ohm is a regular home improvement blogger. He highly recommends stylish and versatile venetian blinds for a great way to compliment your windows.

via courtesy Green Building Elements

Solar Energy: Making the Switch to a Greener Future – Guest Post by Faith Fernandez

There is a growing interest in finding alternative energy sources for today’s homes. Increasing awareness of the environmental damage caused by burning fossil fuels is one reason for seeking alternative sources. Another concern is that fossil fuel sources, such as oil and coal, are getting harder to find and access. Many experts say that we could run out of these resources if we continue to use them at the rate we’re going.

FPL Solar Rebate Program

One alternative energy source is the sun. Solar energy has been used by humans since they were living in caves. When people now refer to solar power as a new energy source, they’re actually referring to the technologies that have been, and are being developed to tap into solar power with more efficiency. Instead of just passive use of the sun’s heat and light, technologies have been developed to harness this energy and convert it into electricity.

When most people think of using solar energy in their homes, they envision massive arrays of solar panels attached to the roof and complete detachment from the traditional power grid. Unfortunately, harnessing the sun’s energy to the point of being able to go off the grid is still cost-prohibitive for the average homeowner, particularly if they own an existing property. There are ways to help offset these costs, but there are also a number of ways to utilize solar power in the home without a complete overhaul.

Solar Heating and Cooling Options

Heating and cooling costs combine to approximately 46 percent of a home’s annual energy usage. Solar heating systems can help cut these costs but may not be a viable option with an existing home, at least not without considerable restructuring and expense. One option that can help slash energy bills and can easily be retrofitted to most existing structures would be the solar attic fan. This fan not only would help keep the house more comfortable and save energy, but also can help to extend the life of your roof.

Solar Water Heating

Solar Outdoor Lamp photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Solar Outdoor Lamp (photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

After heating and cooling, hot water is the next biggest home energy user, accounting for about 14% of the annual energy costs. Installing a solar water heating system would save much of that energy and cut your utility bills. The amount of savings will vary depending on the type of system and where you live. Homes in a warm, sunny climate will realize greater savings than those in a cooler, northern location.

Switch to Solar Lights Outside

Lighting comes in at about 12 percent of a home’s energy use and includes both inside and outside lights. Solar lighting can easily replace any outdoor lighting, thereby cutting both energy consumption and costs. Anything from landscaping lights to the traditional porch light can be replaced with solar light fixtures.

For homeowners who are eager to reduce their carbon footprint and save money, solar power is an ideal solution for a greener future.

Author: Faith Fernandez for Infinite Energy

All stats are from Energy Star