Saturday, January 30, 2010

good, green, outside the box

Here's a neat new idea I just read about in an Urbanite Baltimore article about outside-the-box ideas taking root here in Baltimore.  They've coined the term "crowdsourcing" for citizens at large committing random feelgood acts via iPhone.  Yep, there's an app for that now too.  

Using the system at you can report a sewage leak or pile of illegally dumped garbage by sending a photo that will be automatically geotagged by the system.  You can record audio clips of feedback for government officials, add to local maps, etc etc, all in the interest of fighting blight and making your city a better place to live.

Check out screenshots here.  

Also in this Urbanite article they reference the Passive House movement of super-insulated, energy-efficient houses like the one designed by the University of Illinois team in the most recent Solar Decathlon.  I blogged about this event back in October 2009. 

More good green ideas:

Produce for the People: a group of artist/activists called Fallen Fruit mapped out public fruit tree locations for the picking in Los Angeles.

City composting may be coming, thanks to organizations like Keith Losoya's Waste Neutral Group.  The company already hauls food scraps from institutions and businesses, composts them in nearby Carroll County, and returns them to the city as compost.  Next stop:  curbside composting?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Baltimore's first green hotel

Here's another installment in my green building travels:  downtown Baltimore's first green hotel.

The Fairfield Inn at President & Lombard Streets is within walking distance of Little Italy and the Inner Harbor (but don't trust the 101 President Street address:  Google Maps directed me to a different location across the street).  This LEED-certified Silver structure is built on the site of the former Baltimore Brewing Company and retains some of the old factory feel, at least in the exposed brick of the lobby and first floor Tavern 101.  You'll see another nod to the brewery in the central courtyard, where the original grain storage silo has been appropriated as a giant rain barrel.  Other green features of the building include vegetated and white roofs, pervious pavement, and wind power supplied by BGE.

Aside from the green features of this hotel, the wall murals and art by local artists, courtyard firepit, and peaceful room decor create a cozy atmosphere that I, for one, would be happy to call my home away from home.  This hotel is definitely on my list of recommendations for out-of-town visitors.

For more details and photos, check out the Fairfield/Marriott website:

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Building green at Miller's Court

Tonight I toured a fine example of historic preservation and green building at Miller's Court:  this former tin box factory run by the American Can Company in south Charles Village has been reborn as a hybrid office/apartment building that houses non-profit organizations and young teachers enrolled in the Teach for America program.  Marks Thomas Architects collaborated with local developer Manekin on this socially conscious real estate project.  The LEED gold-certified building houses 40 apartments and 30,000 square feet of office space, arranged in a U-shape around a grassy courtyard within walking distance of Johns Hopkins University.

One aspect of the building I particularly like is that the design was intended to encourage social interaction between residents:  historically there is a high dropout rate from the Teach for America program (I've heard teaching in Baltimore City schools compared to trench warfare), but the community spirit fostered in this building gives the residents a sort of support network that has improved program retention.  The easy camaraderie between them makes the place feel a bit like a college dorm, if you overlook the trendy exposed-brick walls and bamboo flooring.  The courtyard, fitness room, and open lounges facilitate gatherings, as well as the copy room that the architects designed in lieu of the laundry room idea rejected by potential residents.

The engineer in me likes that the mixed-use building program is mutually beneficial to office and residential occupants:  this combination optimizes the limited city parking by allowing daytime office users to share parking spots with the apartment dwellers who only park there on evenings and weekends.  Another plus is that the air conditioned by the building's commercial-grade high-efficiency mechanical equipment often spills over into the apartments, thus reducing their heating and cooling bills.

Speaking of savings, the apartment webpage mentions $300-600 discounts for Baltimore area teachers.

This tour was sponsored by the USGBC Maryland chapter's Young Members group.  Ask me about joining their email list.

Image credit:

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Go granola

Well, if I’m going to be a hippie, I guess I should start collecting granola recipes.  Tired of eating sugary, expensive, processed cereal every morning.  Here’s a good one I baked up tonight that made the house smell delicious…

Maple granola, from Martha Stewart magazine
3c rolled oats
1c dried unsweetened coconut chips
1c pecans or walnuts
½ c pure maple syrup
½ c extra virgin olive oil
½ c packed light brown sugar
¼ c sesame seeds
1 tsp coarse salt
¾ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
½ c golden raisins

Preheat oven to 300F
Mix together everything except raisins.
Spread granola in an even layer on a jelly roll pan.
Bake for 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.
Add raisins and bake 10 minutes more.
Let cool before storing.  Can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

ALM note:  I forgot to put in the raisins and decided I prefer non-raisin granola anyway.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sell your books at Ukazoo

This week I discovered a new way to recycle books:  trade them in for cash or store credit at Ukazoo Books in Towson.  A stack of my gently-used hardback books brought $8 cash or $9 store credit... so I used the store credit and left with a couple of used audio books.  Score!

You can peruse the shelves while you're waiting for the Book Buyback clerk to process your books, or you can choose the auto-accept option and leave with a receipt for the books they decide to buy.  The unsold books you leave behind will be recycled into paper products.

Let me sum up:  unclutter your bookshelves AND cash in or trade for better books.  What's not to like about that?

Alternate options: and as mentioned in an earlier blog post.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Build your own sun jars

Here's a cool post I found on Lifehacker's Best of 2009 blog roundup:  using components from solar sidewalk lamps, you can convert flip-top mason jars into classy-looking outdoor lighting.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Rent some Runway fashion

Why buy formal dresses when you can just rent them?  Pros:  no drycleaning, no storage, a trendy new dress to wear to every event, it comes and goes via mail.  Cons:  you don't get to try the dress on but they send you two sizes just in case, and you only get to wear it once.

After you request membership at, the site will send you a link to create username/password.  There's no membership fee.  Rental fees range from $50 to $200.  As their invitation email told me:

Through you'll be able to rent dresses from designers like Herve Leger, Proenza Schouler, and Catherine Malandrino for short time periods (4 days or 8 days), at a fraction of the price. All you do is log on to the RTR website, pick something you like (or two!), and we'll ship it to you on the date of your choosing. To return, just drop it in the mailbox in our handy pre-paid packaging.

No commitments, no membership fees, no regrets.

From the Unclutterer blog.

How to build an insulating attic stair box

During my home energy audit last winter, we discovered that my pull-down stairs are poorly sealed and insulated, therefore it'd be a good idea to build an attic stair box to keep the conditioned air from escaping into the attic.  Rather than pay $200 for a contractor to do it, I recruited a few friends to help.

4' x 8' Foam board insulation from Home Depot (3" thick = R-13):  $25
bits of wire hanger to connect pieces:  free from dry-cleaner
duct tape to secure edges $5
Total cost of materials:  $30

Annual heating and cooling cost savings:  to be determined next winter

Satisfaction of building it with friends:  priceless!

Thanks to the attic stair box construction team, clockwise from top left:  Construction Skills, Project Manager, General Mischief, Artistic Direction/Photography.

Friday, January 1, 2010

good book: Farewell, my Subaru

I read a fun, irreverent book over Christmas break:  highly recommended reading before you move to New Mexico, buy a ranch, invest in goats, convert a truck to biodiesel, install solar panels and a solar hot water system, or any similarly rash green life-changing actions.

Read more about the author's adventures at his website: