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LaVerne Williams

INTERVIEWEE: LaVerne Williams (LW)
DATE: February 28, 2008
LOCATION: Houston, Texas
TRANSCRIBER: Melanie Weisbecker and Robin Johnson
REELS: 2423 and 2424

Please note that the video recording includes roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the reels. Numbers indicate the time codes for the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise, unrelated to the interview.

DT: My name is David Todd. I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. And it’s February 28, 2008 and we’re in Houston, Texas and have the pleasure of visiting with LaVerne Williams who is a—an architect who’s had a green practice for over thirty years now. And look forward to learning more about his practice and how he’s come to use new technology, new materials to have less an impact on the environment. I thought we might start by trying to find out where you might have first gotten an interest in the environment and in conservation of it.
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LW: Well, it stated at a very young age. My dad was a grocer. His grocery store burned down and there was a service station on the corner of a—of a major—major corner in my hometown up in Kansas that had to be torn down to—where he wanted to build his grocery store—his new grocery store. And I helped recycle the bricks at fi—and I was less than five years old. I helped chip—chip them—at least I thought I was helping chipping the mortar off the bricks. So that was my first experience with—with conservation and recycling efforts. We would—part of my—from five years old until I moved down to Texas and started architectural school, I worked in my dad’s grocery store every day after school. And part of the ethic that I—well one of the things we did was my—my job was to put up the pop bottles. I mean that was
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part of what I did. You know, back then you had to turn in your pop bottles and you’d get deposits back on them so forth and so on and my—when I was really young that’s what I—that was—that was the only job I had. So as I grew older I took on my more responsibilities, of course, but—so it goes back a long way. So I had an uncle who was a do it everything. I mean he did—he was a well driller, he was a farmer, he was a rancher, he was—you name it he could do it and—and I used to spend my summers out on his farm. And he tos—he taught me how to doze for water and—and do lots of the things out there. So, you know, my going—getting the connection with the earth goes way back. And I remember at boy scouts, we used to go on outings and campouts and so forth and there was something about being in the outdoors, just being out there that just—it just invigorated me and just—just really had a huge impact upon—upon me. And as I’ve grown and gotten to know
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Native Americans they—the—my dad was adopted and so we don’t know exactly what his full heritage is, okay. But we do know that his father came from Oklahoma so from what Native Americans have told me that know me, they think I have Indian blood in me because I have the—they say I have the earth spirit in me. And believe it or not, someone told me just a year ago that you didn’t realize that LaVerne means the green and I did—had no idea that that’s what it meant. That’s the name my mother gave me when I was born. So, I don’t know, it goes back a long ways and it’s just part of—part of who I am.
DT: Let’s return to talking about your childhood a little bit. And I think you’d mentioned that you had been a—a scout, a boy scout. And I was wondering if you remember any experiences as a scout particularly field trips and overnights (inaudible)?
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LW: Oh, there was several. I think that—well the one—the one of the most memorable ones was that we were at a jamboree, no a camporee not too far from where I grew up and we had a horrendous rainstorm and ended up, you know, have—flooding the whole campsite and I remember having to camp—we had a teepee—actually the—the—the tent for the—for the—for our troop—the headquarters tent was about a twenty foot diameter teepee. And I remember having to sleep on pop bottle cartons inside of that to get—get above the water one night. So that’s—that’s one of the more memorable experiences but Philmont was—was by far the most fun experience. Just being able to go up there and camp and be in the clean air and—and just breaking all the records that had ever been set as far as
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hiking, cross-country and so forth. We were—we had a very energetic troop. And it was just a lot of fun just being up there. One of my—one of my friends who I—I’ve always admired who was in that same troop, his name is Clare Sholtis, he lives in Texas now, he lives in Dennison and he works for Folgers Company, or did work, he’s retired now. But he had his it—he had ten eagle scouts ok—ten scouts in his troop go eagle scouts at one time. He had the—he was one of those rare individuals you find that have extraordinary leadership skills. And I learned a lot from him. He was a—he was a marvelous person just to be around. So…
DT: What sort of things did you learn from him?
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LW: Just how to—he—he was always a kind and gentle soul. I—I admired him because my personality was not always that way, you know, and it was—it was a good—it was—it was a good sort of role model to have around. He was a good influence upon me. That’s—that—it—it was just—he’s just one of those rare individuals you find that was, you know, he—he—he had his—his—I didn’t know about his wild side but he—apparently he did have a wild side but he never showed it while he was in high school. It—it—he waited until he was in college (laughs). But he was really a good guy, so…
DT: We talked a little bit about your exposure to the outdoors. And as a boy scout and you also told us about some of your experience appreciating how resources are valuable, you know, whether you’re recycling bricks or recycling pop bottles. One other way I guess you—you might have gotten influenced and an interest in the environment is—is your own sensitivities.
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LW: Absolutely.
DT: That you’ve got allergies and your brother, I understand, was asthmatic.
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LW: I have an older brother who’s terribly asthmatic and co—is—still is to this day. And then I have another older brother who’s no longer alive that was partially because he is no longer a live he was a—he was exposed to sick building syndrome. It was—it was a part in—in his health issues. But my own allergies have been very, very strong until the last five years. And—but—but while I was growing up my allergies were so bad that sometimes in the summertime, I’d have—literally have to be led to the bathroom in the morning because my eyes would glue shut at night. And literally I did never get a breath of fresh air through my nose unless I would go
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outside and it was over 100 degrees and I’d run around the hos—house about five times, I could finally get some br—air through my nose. It was constantly closed because of my allergies. And it’s—again it’s only been about the last five years that I’ve been able to breathe through my nose on a—on a daily basis.
DT: You mentioned sick bens—building syndrome. Can you explain a little bit more about what it was that troubled your—your brother?
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LW: Well, he was working in a—in Chicago in an office building that didn’t have good ventilation. And the combination of furniture and whatever was there and it was—and he was—I—I—I talked to him about it and we tried to diagnose it over the phone because this was after—this was after I’d developed a keen interest in the health issues having to do with—with architecture. And I was just querying him about it and he was telling me about some of these things and how he was going home and how he would always feel better when he went home than when he was at work. And so there was—generally when that happens to folks, it means that there’s something in their environment where they’re working that—that’s toxic to
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them. You know, whether it’s—whether it’s this building or it’s whether the—the guy—the—the person who’s wearing cologne or some perfume next to them or something in the same room. But it—these things are it—it—we spend more of our time—we spend about ninety percent of our time indoors nowadays. And the toxicity of—of the—of the air, the indoor air quality of our homes and of our—of the buildings we work in is very important, especially a home, because it’s the children who have the most difficulty with—with it. Their—their bodies have more—they’re more susceptible to permanent damage from—from—from sick building syndrome. Out-gassing, indoor air quality problems and it comes everything from carpeting to—to
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formaldehyde to a lot of chemicals that are put into—to—to manufactured wood products, what you call engineered wood products that we have no idea what the chemicals are. They don’t reveal them but we do know that people are—are—are—are reacting to them. I have client after client after client that I’ve worked with to try to make their home livable for them. A lot of the problems that we have here in Houston have to do with mold growing in ductwork. And it can be very severe especially if people have fiberglass ductwork on—on the supply side. And—the—the—one of the people that have been really ill are the ones that have had what they call fiberglass ductwork on the supply side and the—the ductwork just is, you know,
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one inch thick of mold growing in the fiberglass. So, but it’s—it’s a keen interest of mine. I—I—it’s—it’s—I—you can’t separate when you’re doing a design of the kind of work we do. You have to look at the toxicity of everything that comes into that house as far as what it’s built from—built from and—and what be—people bring into it after it’s built, their furniture, cleansing compounds, all these kinds of things because we have to make our homes a lot tighter, a lot tighter. And you ca—and I can go on and on about that, I don’t know if you’d want me to right now but it’s just—it’s—it’s very critical that we make tight homes if we’re going to have low energy bills and when you make tight homes you have—it—it—it—it makes indoor air quality issues a lot more important.
DT: Okay, well, we should talk about that. Let—let’s first visit if we could about—about your education because as a trained architect, you spent years in school. You attended the University of Houston…
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LW: I did.
DT: And—and I was curious if there was any time there or—or (inaudible)?
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LW: Well let’s talk a little bit—yeah let’s go—go a little bit before that. While I was growing up. I have three bro—older brothers, well I did have three older brothers, I have two now. And one of them is also involved with conservation efforts in Washington, D.C. So—he’s my oldest brother and he’s still working and loves what he’s doing. But while we were growing up, we used to do all sorts of things. We would build, you know, tree houses along side the railroad tracks not too far—about three blocks from where we lived there was a—there was these saplings that grew—were growing in—in the right-of-way of the railroad track. And we knew those—the—the saplings were going to get cut down because eventually. But they were just little saplings or little spindly things that were growing about twenty foot tall. We actually made us a living Quonset hut out of them. Left a row and then took—and
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then what we cut out between it we wo—wove into it and made us a Quonset hut that was about twenty foot long and about ten foot wide. And so that was some of the things we were doing and was growing up. We even made a corn stalk log home at one time fr…
DT: (Inaudible).
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LW: Oh I just used co—after some—after the corn was harvested, they had the stalks were still up there, you know, about six foot in the air and I just cut them off and made me a lo—a log home out of them. A real small one. It was a one person or two person room but that—but I made a log home out of them. So that was the things I was doing at a young age. I also was a journeyman carpenter. I became a journeyman carpenter and I worked in construction in all—in all types—in not only residential but commercial and institutional, industrial and manufactured housing. I did this. Some of it—some of it was before I was in—in school and some of it was while I was in school. And—but the architecture school, I went to University of Houston and we had some great professors out there. One I can’t remember the
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name of, I’m sorry but he—he’s—he’s passed away about twenty years ago, Anderson I think was his name but I’m not certain about that. But he—he was our structures teacher and he used to teach us how to just use ordinary materials to build from. And I remember him having—showing us how to take gunnysacks and filling them full of cement and building—building buildings out of gunnysack and cement. And this was, you know, this was back in the—in the sixties, okay, the late sixties. And doing things like that, just things that are now just sort of you—you see some of the—some of the work that’s being worldwide as far as what sort of low cost, low skilled people can put together as far as housing. And they had these long
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tubes of—of burlap now that you can fill—oh, actually I think it’s probably some other material but it’s long tubes. You just fill them full of sand and cement and you just form your walls and then you sprinkle it with water and you’ve got you—you’ve got you a building. And so, you know, we were learning things like that way back in school. And then there was, of course, there was David Red and anybody who’s ever went to the University of Houston back then remembers David Red. He was sort of the—the engineering professor out there as far—the architectural engineering who taught you the nuts and the bolts of—of construction. And—and then—he was a great influence and so forth. Of course, you know, Houston’s known, the University
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of Houston’s known as being a design school. And—and that—and I got extremely good exposure to that but it was some of the technical things we got exposed to was really, at that time, I’m not sure what they’re doing nowadays but at that time it was really, really nice to have exposure to.
DT: I thought it was interesting that you mentioned Mr. Anderson’s influence on you that here was a teacher at a school of higher learning and he’s teaching you how to build structures without needing a designer or perhaps even a crew. Was that kind of an unusual thing?
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LW: It was a—it was a—well, it was an event (laughs). Every year they did this at the school and he—he—we would use materials—he would—we would scrounge up materials however we would get and we’d build something just using our own skills and our own imagination. No—and it was an educational skill because it taught us—we were learning structures at the same time and how to put things together.
DT: Were there some other alternative materials or new technologies that you were using in school?
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LW: There was but I’m not exactly sure. None—none are coming to memory right now which one would stand out at this point.
DT: It seems that there were some teachers elsewhere and some of them I guess were sort of circuit riders like Buckminster Fuller.
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LW: Oh yeah, of course.
DT: He was active at the time trying to promote new technology and new ways of building. Can you remember sort of the context for—for what was being discussed in school, maybe not with those particular people coming to—to the school but that was part of the atmosphere at the time?
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LW: Well, you know, it was part of the atmosphere but I think one of the—one of the—one of the more influences on me was—was when I—we went to Expo ’67 up in Montreal and saw all that great, imaginative architecture that was being done up there. It was just fabulous. And it was—it was—there was a lot of things—I’m sorry—we sh…
DT: Before we broke you mentioned that you felt like going to the Expo ’67 and seeing some of the structures there was pretty influential. I was hoping that you could talk about perhaps the modular designs that were there, the habitat structure and some of Bucky…
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LW: Bucky Fullers?
DT: Fullers (inaudible).
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LW: Oh yeah those were wonderful to see. The Habitat was—was an experience. In fact we—well, I’m not sure if it was before or after what I remember as doing a—a model design in—in school. It was a class project and it was based on—a lot of it was based upon habitat. But we made a space structure out of—and then we had a robe we made out of brass strips that went through it and everybody got to build their little model of their home that would hang off this space structure. And—and we even recycled—we didn’t—there was—this was during the days when ev—all the TVs were going from tube to digital. We went to a bunch of the TV places, repair shops and they—and said, you know, asked them if they had any old TVs they wanted to get rid of and they’d just give them to us. And we we—and we took
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them back to the architecture school and we had a grand time of breaking up all these old TVs and taking—knocking all the glass to get the little insides out of them and that became our trees for this model. And it was really a—really a supermodel, you know, and—but the habitat—the habitat house was, you know, that—that you saw there was really—was inspirational. Of course Bucky Fuller that—that—that dome. And that’s, you know, nowadays that’s coming about. And then that—where—the people are, you know, like Dwell Magazine and some of the other advocates, I know I’m an advocate, sooner or later we’re going to have to get the manufactured housing, you know. It’s going to have to be more—more mass produced than what we’re doing. This on-site type of work is—is—is nice but it—it’s not all that resource friendly.
DT: Can you explain why?
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LW: Well, there’s—there’s a lot of waste involved and there’s a lot of transportation involved. And you have to look at the embodied energy involved in—in a—in a house. If you—when you green this—part of it—part of doing green architecture, we can’t call it sustainable. And I would like to say something about sustainable here for a second and I’ll come back to green. You know, there’s a lot of people talking about doing sustainable architecture, doing sustainable design or being a sustainable designer and so forth. It’s a bunch of green wash, okay. Unless we—unless fossil fuels are completely out of the picture from cradle to grave of that product, how it is manufactured, how it is mined, how it’s manufactured, how it is transported from the manufacturing to—to the site or how the materials even get to the manufacturer to
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how the people that are using the building—if there’s any fossil fuels involved in that whole process, it’s not sustainable. It’s just simply not sustainable. Fossil fuels is not a sus—there are not—it’s—is not a sustainable resource. It’s a depletable resource. So we can’t call it—what we’re doing is the green—or green architecture or green homes is just a transition. Where we’re trying to get is between is—is from being big—hugely wasteful in the way we build our homes and—and live in them and so forth to—to—or trying to become sustainable. But we’re—we’re—we’re—we’re striving to be that but it’s—we’re in this—but all we can—the best we can call it is green. And there’s varying sh—levels of green from—from light green to dark green and then of course there’s a lot of shady green going on out there. So it’s—I just wanted to make that clarity. And—and the—the point—the—what—what I’m trying to remind—what we were talking about that I was—that brought up that—about going green—sustainable?
DT: Modular design?
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LW: Modular design, yeah, they embody the energy involved with traditional—with—with traditional construction. There’s a lot of energy just involved with the transportation, not only the materials to the work site, but the workmen coming and going, coming and going every day, okay. And there is—there’s a lot of waste involved whereas when you’ve got that in a controlled environment, when you’re in—when you’re doing it in a place where you can—where you can order the materials that you exactly need and so forth and build it from that with very little waste and you can recycle those wastes maybe part of the—part of the fueling process for generating electricity or steam or whatever they need at the plant. I mean it—it—it’s a much more efficient way of going about building. And eventually we’re—we’re
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going to have to do more and more than what we’re doing now as far as manufactured housing is concerned. And I’m not talking about trailer homes. I’m not talking about, you know, FEMA homes. I’m talking about what Dwell Magazine’s talking about.
DT: You’ve been telling us about your—your education, University of Houston, of course in the early seventies. While we’re talking about that theme, maybe you could also talk about the continuing education that you’ve, you know (inaudible).
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LW: Oh, that’s a lifelong process (laughs).
DT: Well, maybe two elements would be good to talk about. One is permaculture. Apparently you took some permaculture training and also more recently the LEED certification. What did you learn from those two courses?
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LW: Well, the permaculture, I guess, one of the things—the great thing about permaculture, it taught you how to observe nature. And what I did was being—what—the reason I took permaculture was to—just to learn about all natural systems and how they—how they work better because I—they—earth scientists and earth science and so forth, it wasn’t taught when I was growing up. We had geology but not earth science, okay. And so this give—gave me a lot of—gave me a lot of insight into—to the earth sciences and in—but ob—observing nature is what permaculture is all about and then putting that to practice to whatever you’re going to do. And so—and to—it’s helps you to think holistically, looking at the whole picture rather than
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in—in isolation. And so—and I couldn’t—if there was one course that anybody who’s—I—it—it should be a course that everybody should take quite frankly. There’s a—there’s a—there—Richard Luv, L-U-V, has coined it very appropriately. What—what our nation is suffering from is a nature deficit disorder and it’s because we’re not—they’re not—people are not being taught—we’re—children are not being taught about nature. When—when I was growing up, I got to experience it, I mean it was close, I mean, you know, we didn’t have all the—we didn’t have all the crime and all the other issues or the fear of climate that we—that we have to tolerate nowadays. Growing up, we could leave our houses un—unlocked and we could—we could walk to school or run to school or ride our bicycle or whatever. Can’t do that nowadays
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and so we have—everybody’s going to and from school in either a bus or a car or something like that to a great extent. And—and they’re not being exposed to the nature, you know. It’s—it’s very much—and so—and—and children—you—you’ve exp—how—it’s amazing how fearful children in cities are of going out onto a farm. You know, just simple things like that which I would think nothing of because, you know, that’s something I did when I was growing up, you know. They’re fear—they’re fearful of all the animals and so forth, so…
DT: So the permaculture gave you sort of an appreciation for what nature can mean to all of us but also to maybe how you—the materials you use or how you site a building.
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LW: How you site it—you have to—you have to design a house, you have to design a building based upon on the microclimate of that site and the terrain and—and the—the—the soil can—what’s happening there. You don’t want to build on the best soil, you know, where—where—where—the most productive soil is not where you want to build. You want to build on the least productive part of that land that you’re—that you’re—that you’re purchasing. And—and permaculture grounds you in the basics of that, you know. As what is happening now with the climate and the biocapacity of the earth and overpopulation and all these kinds of things, it’s going to become more and more important that people have gardens an—in their homes. And so one of the—one of the basic premises that people should always incorporate into when
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they’re wanting to design a home is not just where the house is going to sit and where they’re garage is going to be but where’s that garden going to be. The garden should be the governing factor of where you si—site the house. So you use the most productive land it—your—that’s another—it’s a whole ‘nother conversation but maybe we can get into later on about where we’re headed, okay. So—but permaculture is—is—is something that everybody should—should—should be schooled in if—especially if they’re an architect, absolutely.
DT: Maybe the—the last piece of education, at least formal education that I was hoping you could talk about is your LEED training and what that means and what certification means to the architectural profession and to the building trades.
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LW: Well, I’m sure it means a whole lot to people who haven’t had the—who haven’t done the groundwork or haven’t been involved in the environmental design for as long as I have. When I started doing this in the seventies and so forth, basically I was—I—you know, there was some things that I helped write that had to do with—with—with passive solar design and some of these kinds of things. And so the LEED to me was just it—it basically what I means—it just gives credibility what I’ve been doing all of these years, okay. I—and to—to—to other people though it’s probably a necessity for them to get a—a LEED certification if they’re going to be doing green because it’s the only legitimate certification that works nationwide.
DT: I guess the credibility is important because some people, I guess as you pointed out earlier, could be using this as sort of a green wash.
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LW: That’s right, that’s correct. You can’t—you can’t produce a—you can’t produce a green building under the—the USGBC’s [U.S. Green Building Council] LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] for homes or LEED for—for commercial buildings or whatever one that you’re in unless it’s—if certified by a third party that’s completely independent of the process, okay. In other words, they’re not involved in the design of the building; they’re not involved in the construction of the building. It’s a third party independent verific—verifying that what you actually say you did, you ha—was actually done. That’s the beauty of it. Your other green building program, with the exception of probably the Austin Green Building Program and the one that’s in Atlanta and some of the—and Seattle and Portland, a lot of your other programs out there don’t require third party certification. It’s sort of the builder’s
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word and they’re not near as strong and not—the—they don’t really have the credibility that a—a—that the LEED program has. The LEED program is—if you’re building any place other than Austin in Texas, always get LEED certification for your—for your—for your building, be it a home or an office building or what—whatever, a church.
DT: So far we’ve talked about your childhood and some of the experiences there that might have contributed to an interest in environment. And then we—we visited some about your education, U of H and to permaculture and LEED certification. Maybe it would be time now to talk about your practice and how you first decided to become a architect with a green discipline to what you do.
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LW: Well, it came because I couldn’t practice architecture the way I was—way—the way it was being practiced by the architects that I was working for. It was a very trying moment in my career back in I believe it was ’75, ’74 or ’75—seventy—it was in actually ’74. The architect I was working for, myself and a—and an older architect who was in his eighties worked for a—an—an architect who I won’t name who act—designed a hospital and it was this older architect, Earl Gilbert and myself, we produced all the working drawings for this hospital. Earl was one of my mentors. And he was the arc—he—he was the guy behind the scene to make sure the (inaudible) monument was the drawings were put together. You know, he was
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the—he was the guy who headed up the office for the San Jacinto monument. He was the guy who headed up the office for the Gulf Building in downtown Houston and so forth, tremendous talent and here he was still working in the eighties and he me—he was mentoring me for about three years and just tremendous education. And all of a sudden, the architect we were working for closed his doors. His wife had filed divorce on him. I never knew—I don’t understand it—never have understood the correlation. But he closed the doors of the firm and this hospital’s under construction and, of course, I was in charge of making sure the plans and specifications were being followed and so forth so the owner of the hospital hired me
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to actually follow it all the rest—rest of the way through construction. And I literally opened up my practice inside of a hospital that was under construction. And this allowed me the time to do a lot of soul searching. I said I—I’m really not satisfied with practicing architecture the way I’m practicing it. It seems like the only thing that’s important out there to the—to the clients that I’ve been doing work for through the architects that hired me was how much does it cost and what does it look like? And to me, that wasn’t enough for me. That was really—that was really a—it wasn’t that—to me that was—the—that—that’s of course important issues but that’s not the performance of a how—you know what does it do to quality of life? You know all these kinds of things in the environmental aspect. And so I started
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doing research and trying to find out what makes me tick. Where do—where—where—what would satisfy me? I’ve got all these years of experience and all this schooling invested, you know, in be—being an architect and so forth. Where am I going to go from here? Am I going to get out of architecture or am I going to stay in it? If I stay in it what am I going to do? And I—I decided at that time I was going to stay in architecture but I was going to solely practice environmental architecture. Well, that was, you know, it was impossible to do—solely practice environmental architecture back then. There wasn’t any—there wasn’t any demand. I—I heard about the—a couple by the name of Martin that were remodeling their house and they were doing some things to save energy on it. So I called them up and asked
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them I said can I come over and just interview you and find out what all you were doing and so forth, just to sort of get inside the heads of—of people that were remodeling their homes and so forth, especially someone who was—had inside their head—I’m doing this to conserve energy because see this was right after the oil embargo in seventy—well, ’73 was the oil embargo. We had all the gas lines at the pumps and so forth. So, you know, this had a lot of influence on me. And I said wait if this is happening in Texas, okay, where we’re supposed to have all the lots of oil and so forth well then, you know, what’s—what does this mean worldwide and so forth. So part of my research in trying to figure all this out and what I was going to do with my future—actually about I think the mid of 1975 I got a—I got a letter from
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Lieutenant Governor Bill Hobby. I didn’t know this guy, I’m not politically in—involved or anything like that, you know, here I’m just doing research and so forth. And he said would you like to—would you like to represent the architects in the state on energy matters and buildings, you’re an architect, you know. And I said—and I—I asked a close friend of mine, you know, really do I—am I qualified to do this? And he said you’d be fool to turn it down. So that was sort of—that was one of those lucky breaks that I got a long time ago to sort of—because there wasn’t anybody else. Myself and—and—and the dean of this college architecture at A & M were the only two architects in the State of Texas that were doing any known research into the en—energy aspects of buildings. So that sort of opened the door. And—and I
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thought I was going to be going to—to do audits and to help building owners commercial and in—in—institutional and industrial building owners do things to cut back on their energy to save energy to—to improve things in that area just sort of—that was where my focus was because I figured that’s where I could get my foot in the door. Well, I went to these building owners and—and they say well are you an engineer? And I say no, I’m an architect. Well we’re not interested in talking to you. So, you know, so I—the door was slammed in my face as far as doing anything on a—on a large building basis. And I says well who is—who—who is—who out there is going to want to—who can I interface with? How can I make a living from this? And I decided at that time, you know, after talking with the Martins and what they’d done at their house I was going to have to focus on residential because they were
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the people that were—they were the people that were most—it—that had the most interest in saving their money on a monthly basis and concerned about their security and so forth. So that’s—and that’s sort of led up to today. And then after a while, I started being asked to do seminars and so on on this because I was doing these projects and I was achieving some significant results as far as reducing energy. Like in my own home when I—I think it was in early 1990, I reduced the energy bills down to on an average of 45 dollars a month.
DT: Okay, well when we left off we were talking first about your training and your childhood but—but then just getting into developing in the green practice and I was hoping that you could give us some examples of your practice by tracking some of the buildings that you’re most proud of through the years. And you could talk about some of the successes that you’ve had and some of the challenges in designing a green home.
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LW: Okay. Well, one of my earliest homes that I did was way out in the country in a very remote site—site near Smiley which is in—in the Gonzales, Texas area. You literally had to go through three locked gates to get to the property and it was wonderful. I remember going out there while the house was under construction and camping out in this house that—and watched the (?) meteor shower and I counted over 300 meteorites that night and it was just wonderful. I mean it was—there was no other—there’s no lights around it, it was so remote. So that was, you know, you wanted me to talk about one of my experiences about being outdoors. That was one of the more memorable ones and—and—because just the remoteness of the site and being able to see everything. But this—because of its remoteness, the client wanted
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to have it to be very energy efficient. And so that was one of my—one of my first commissions to do a complete home. Lot—before that, I did some remodeling projects in Houston where we actually—I just now realized that, you know, Houston Home and Garden Magazine—they had several people, the editor and so and—and the—and the publisher of that and several people they—about this time they—I was involved with them to help put together—not put together—they—they talked to me about projects I was doing. And we also did some sort of some brainstorming sessions about—but projects they were doing was taking existing homes and—and really remodeling them to make them perform better and to add things like
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passive solar green houses to them and so forth. And they tracked a couple of them in the magazine and so that helped give some exposure to the public as far as what could really be done on—on homes and so forth.
DT: What kind of strategies would you be using in the mid seventies to improve the energy performance of a home?
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LW: Oh, well shading you—I mean—any—anything, you know, that you can do to shade the house to—to keep the sun from coming inside the house is going to be a benefit especially during, you know, you—you try to shade it during the overheated months. It’s called pa—it’s a passive cooling s—passive solar cooling strag—strategy. And, you know, any time you can keep the sun from actually coming into a house before it actually hits the window can be up to seven times more effective that an—than—than putting things on the inside to keep the—the heat out like blinds or—or—or curtains and so forth. So you try to stop it before you get there. And then you also—I try to incorporate, after I took my permaculture course and so forth, I try to incorporate as much as natural ways to keep—keep the sun out using vegetation
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and trellises and where you’re actually growing prod—plants that produce fruit and that kind of thing. And it just seems like it makes more sense than putting up a permanent structure, putting up something that is maybe a permanent trellis. I try not to build much out of wood anymore. I try—I try to use much more lasting products than wood down in this climate because the humidity, it just—nothing lasts. You may get five to ten years out of it and if you’re using treated wood, you’re—you—you’re introducing toxin into your local environment you really don’t want to have so we try to avoid that. But, go ahead.
DT: Well, no I was just curious if—about two things. One if—if the energy saving strategies you used were sort of old approaches that might have been created before we had HVAC systems.
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LW: Of course, of course, yeah. I mean passive design and—and—and for both co—cooling and heating goes back for centuries. I mean it goes back to the, I mean from—from—from the beginning of mankind, I would imagine after—you know like look at the Anasazi Indians in—in New Mexico, how they sited their homes in the cliff sides so that no—you know in the sha—in the summertime, they were shaded by the overhanging cliff but in the wintertime the sun would come in—into it. They didn’t ever do it in—in cliff—they didn’t have cliff dwellings facing north. Their cliff dwellings were all facing south, you know. It—it’s—those kind of siting issues you have to get into and in—in this climate, you have to pay particular te—attention to—to—to ventilation. There’s—it—it—there are several months where you can just, you know, you can actually not have to have any heating or cooling down here if you’ve
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got adequate ventilation. You can—with all our new homes, when we design them, we literally can extend the amount of time you can live without cooling or heating by two or three months over the course of a year. And that—that’s tremendous amount of energy savings. Le—let alone the amount of energy savings you have just because of reduced energy bills because the same features help you reduce your energy bills at the same time during—when you are in a hoot—heating or cooling mode. So—and this has to do with shading and it has to do with—with orientation, it has to do with putting the windows in the right place, making them the right size so that you get, you know, you get breeze. You—you know if—if you okay if you open the windows—let’s say you have a rectangular home and you’ve got it—you’ve got
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the long direction facing it—the axis being on the east and west axis which is—which is the optimum—optimum axis to have for this climate. So you have most your windows facing south and north and very few on the east and west and the short end of your house is on the east and west and the long ends, sides of your house are on north and south, okay. If you have the north—the south windows you can open them up but if you can open the windows on the north sides where you can open them up even larger, than the south side, then you actually can increase the ventilation through the house. It increases velocity of the house. It’s called the
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Venturi effect. And then if you can put your—put—put a—a roof monitor that’s facing north high on the roof where the breeze can go over the top of it, create a low pressure zone, literally I can create—I’ve been able to cre—create breezes in houses just from—from the—the temperature deferential of—of—of—of air that as it heats, creates a flow and just is exiting out the top you have—it’s bringing in cool air down—down below. And I’ve literally helped write the book a lot on these passive solar ventilative cooling strategies in this regard. So and they—they really work. They really work. Then if you incorporate that with mass on the inside of your home, you know, a lot of people think that—that in this climate, you should build out of lightweight materials. I mean that’s what all the—the books used to teach us, okay.
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Well I think I’m sort of rewriting that book to some degree because I found that if you incorporate mass on the inside of your home and put insulation on the outside of the mass, in other words, instead of—example—an example of mass would be brick, okay. Instead of having the brick on the outside of your house, putting it on the inside of your house, you know, it doesn’t have to be—be stone. Put—instead of the stone being on the outside, put the stone on the inside. Put the insulation on the outside of the stone, alright. And then put some sort of covering on it so it, you know, it doesn’t wear and so forth, deteriorate. And so you have a permanent surface there. But when you have the mass on the inside and you’re designing for the microclimate of your site and you’re designing to reject the heat during the
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summertime, accept the heat during the—during the wintertime, what can happen is that in the wintertime the sun—your windows can be your solar collectors. And any time you can make a object on your house or an element on your house like a window do multipurpose, be a multipurpose apparatus, then you’re saving dollars. In other words, instead of just the roof being a roof, you know, like composition shingles which, by the way, which we no longer will specify, we—we—if—if any of our clients would u—use composition shingles, they won’t find it in our specification. They have to do it on their own because it’s not—they—they contribute to global warming and you cannot collect rainwater off of it if you’re going to use it for—use it for drinking purpose and you better—you better not be mounting a solar system on top of composition shingles because you’re going to be tearing that system down
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in probably ten to fifteen years to replace the shingles because and then your solar system will have to be taken down, it can get broken and all these other kinds of things. The taking down and then putting back up, the cost gets extravagant. So it—you’re better off not even using composition shingles to begin with. But going back to the passive—the window—the window should do several things. It not only should be a place to look out but also should let light in, should be your passive day—day lighting apparatus, it should be a place for you to get out of in case of emergency, whatever the emergency is. And—and it should be able—be able to open up to be able to let ventilation in, okay. But the fourth thing it should be your—be your passive solar heating system and when it’s located on the south side
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of your house. So you can let the sun come in and what will happen, you’ll have this heat coming in and—and if you don’t have this mass to store this excess heat, the house will overheat and you’ll be—find out you’ll be opening your windows even on the coldest day because it will get too hot in the house in this climate. But if you have a mass in there you—it pretty much works on its—on its own, okay. You don’t have to—you don’t have to open the windows, you’ll be storing that heat in there and then that—and heat only goes in one direction from hot to cold. So at
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nighttime—so during the day time that heat is being sto—stored in—in the cooler brick or stone that’s on the inside but at nighttime, that brick or stone is giving—giving the heat back to the space. And it doesn’t have to be brick or stone. Some people have used canisters of water. And there’s all sorts of other things. You can use several layers of sheet rock or you can do whatever you want to do as long as it’s massive. Then during the—during the spring and fall, you can open up your windows at nighttime, cool down the house, and then during—when it overheats during the daytime, the cool walls and so forth will keep you cooler. It’s called the mean radiant temperature effect. The—the—you will feel—even though the—the temperatures may get into the eighties inside your house, if the walls are cooler
00:49:24 – 2423
you’re going to feel cooler. Just like—just like the radiant heaters that you feel outside, you know, you—you—when you go out to eat at a restaurant and you have this radiating heater that’s coming down on you. The air isn’t getting warm, well it may be above the heater but not where you’re sitting below it. You’re just getting the radiant heat from that. Well, it’s—it’s just the reverse for when you’re cooling the walls. It’s going to absorb that heat from your body, your body is going to rad—and you’ll feel cooler. So—and then during the summertime down here, there’s not very many people that are going to want to live without air condition. The humidity is just unbearable, I mean barely tolerable, let’s put it that way. So what you can do with this mass being inside your house is that you can cool down your house at nighttime when your air conditioner is going to run at a higher efficiency because
00:50:14 – 2423
you have less temperature deferential between the hot air that you’re blowing into the—this is the outside unit, you know, you’re—you’re—what you’re doing is is you’re trying to cool off your Freon with this air that’s outside. So you got much cooler air that’s trying to cool down the Freon it—it—at nighttime and then you’re cooling down the house and you got all this—you got this cool envelope around you during the daytime that it—it—it can coast through a great part of the day and the utility company should love it. I don’t know why they shouldn’t—they should actually be rebating people to put mass inside their homes to—so they low—lower their peak demand. They really should be doing this, okay. So—and that’s the principles of using mass. It just is something that most people aren’t aware of. Going back to
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a little history, you were wan—asking about history, I just—back—part of my experience in doing all this is that through actually practicing all these things, I was—pretty soon I was asked to do seminars, okay, for builders, for architects, for engineers and so on and so forth, especially after we did the passive solar demonstration home for Houston. We had about somewhere between thirty and forty thousand people tour that home, this was in 1979 and ‘80, somewhere in that range. And it help—it helped waken people up to passive solar design at the time. But then we had the climate crisis—the—the credit crisis and so forth of the eighties and so forth so that it was largely, you know, forgotten about for some time.
DT: Well tell us about the demonstration how—what were some of the features of it?
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LW: Part of it was those mass inside, you know, the ventilation inside, the windows, all this was part—was all—was part—part of the design. And we had to do it within in the des—do it within a budget that was not that much more costly of what the builder was actually building to begin with. So that’s the reason why we took the concept of taking the brick off the outside and put it on the inside, okay. And we put like—like Hardi siding. We didn’t have hardy siding back then but we had other materials that we used back then on the outside. And, of course, we, you know, like the fireplace. we—this is where—where we introduced out—outside air of the fireplace. This is where we introduced solar water heating systems. We actually didn’t even use the manufacturer’s solar water heating system. We built it into the south wall of the house to sort of protect the back door coming out of the house, it sort of—it sort of stuck out to the eve of the house and we built it above the back
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door to give some shelter to—to the door. And—but it also was—we just took two old water—two old—not two old ones—they were brand new but they were damaged water heaters of that they couldn’t s—that because the case had been damaged, they couldn’t get their full price so we just stripped all that off and put some—so—what they call selective paint—black selective paint that absorbs a lot of the sun’s energy and then doesn’t let it go back out. And we put this into aluminum lined foil—foil encased insulated case back behind two—two insulated sliding glass doors that were frosted and we had these two tanks back behind it. And this—it just worked like (?). They didn’t even have—their water heater rarely came on. And—and this was on—this was just facing south and was vertical, it wasn’t even mounted
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on the roof. And—and—and how that came about was, you know, I studied Houston—I—I studied the Houston’s—the sol—the solar gain of—from—from what was happening both diffuse and direct beam radiation for Houston, what was happening on there and discovered that—that about forty percent of all the—the—the solar energy that was reaching houses was diffuse instead of direct beam radiation. And it—and—and there’s a good possibility that by mounting a solar water heating system on the south face it would do—be more than enough to heat the hot water and sure enough it did because we don’t, you know, it’s—we get enough diffuse in the summertime because of all the moisture that’s in the air here to heat up south services. In the wintertime, of course, the sun’s at a lower angle, it was
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coming in there full force. So it just—it just worked like (?). In fact there was so much heat that came off of this thing it literally because the bathroom heater for the bathroom on the second floor. They just—if they wanted instant heat in the morning, they’d just open it up and it would just flood the room with heat, so that had some—just a regular door going into, so…
DT: Well while you’re talking bout solar techniques, were you also doing some active solar any…
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LW: Very little very little. In fact one of the—one of the—one of the—the occurrences that happened at that time was I got—I found very unique, there was five of us that—that founded the Houston Solar Energy Society in nineteen—I think it was 1975, the first solar society in the State of Texas. I—two of these people I’m still know about, one was Art Dula and the other one was Hugh Davis. Hugh Davis is an engineer, he owned Eagle Engineering that did a lot of work for NASA. Art Dula was a space attorney, okay, space and patent product—practice—the other two I’m—I’d have to go back to the document to find out what their names was, I’ve forgotten about who—who they are. But Hugh Davis was an engineer and he was very much into active systems. And so, you know, and—and at that time I—I was, you know, I said well passive systems are the way to go because it’s just something that, you
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know, your—this is the basics you—if you don’t design with passive, you can have all the active systems you want you’re just going to have to have a lot more active systems to power at a wasteful building and a lot is going to co—cost you a lot more to—if—if—if the ho—if the building isn’t designed with passive de—in mind to begin with, okay. So he designed with passive first, then it reduces the cost of your active system tremendously, whether it’s for electricity or whether it’s for—for solar water heating. So the—after about five years of him attempting to do active solar, he came to me he says LaVerne, you were right all along. Design my retirement home for me. So I designed him a passive solar desi—home on Canyon Lake that he just now—he just sold here last year and he’s—it’s gotten to the point where he’s—he’s a
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lot older than I am and he wanted to move closer—he and his wife wanted to move closer to Austin where the kids were and closer to medical facilities. So—but he says the house is just performing beautifully, has been all this time.
DT: So that might be an interesting thing to talk about when we’re mentioning some of your earlier work and especially when you’ve been able to track it over many years. Did—have you gathered experience from people who’ve actually lived in, worked in, used these houses?
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LW: Oh, of course, of course. They—they—they—they email me regularly. I just had a—I just had a client—well they no longer live in their house either but they’re—they’re—they’re in contact with me. This is—this is—that—well I did the first SIPs, no the second SIPs home in this part of the country with them in Cyprus, not too far down the road down here. SIPs is Structural Insulated Panels. That’s where you have—I hate to use it—I don’t use it that much anymore because I—as I’ve since learned out how—how, you know, there—there’s more toxins in this stuff then I—when I—that I imagined. But we still use it, but it has oriented strand board on the inside and then—then—then—then—then polystyrene and then oriented strand board
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on the outside of it. It’s a lot less toxic—what’s being doing now is a lot less toxic than what we did way back then, okay. And after twenty years or thirty years now on some of them, there’s no problem with them it’s all—than they’re out-gassing but yeah one of the—one of the—the first—the first one I did was for an engineer in—in Sugarland, in the old part of—of Sugarland and he used to show up at all my seminars and so forth that I would give and he would—he would just expound upon—upon how well this house was working and so forth. So he was—he was—and I—and he was—and I would always ask him questions how thing—how are things performing. He said it’s working fine, you know. And—and we—and I learned, of course, I learned some things from him, too, but these after—over a period of years
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they—they—we—we—we get some feedback from them but there seems that—they seem to keep working just as well now twenty and thirty years down the road as it was when—when they originally built.
DT: And how…
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LW: Except for the air conditioning system probably needs to be replaced.
DT: How do their energy use levels compare with a—a normal conventional house?
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LW: Sometimes a third. I have homes—I have a home that we—that’s been on the National Solar Home Tour twice now that—she’s a mechanical engineer. She actually built the house herself. It’s right around—somewhere around forty-five—I don’t remember the exact square—I think it’s around—right around 4500 square foot. She’s cooling that whole house with two ton—with—with four tons air conditioning right now. And one on-demand water heater for heating it, okay, the whole house, okay. You know the average Houston home has—takes about four hundred, five hundred square foot per ton on air conditioning. And she says I will resize those systems, says I can—I think I—I made a mistake when I—when I had this—the compressor put in this thing. I didn’t pay much—enough attention to that. I think I can have that again. I think we can cool—heat and cool this whole house for—for
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two tons of air conditioning. That’s over 2,000 square foot per ton and that’s four to five times more efficient from a cooling side—side than—than your regular home in Houston. You can go into her attic in the hottest day in summer and it’s never reached over eighty-four degrees and it’s not air conditioned.
[End of Reel 2423]
DT: When we let off on the last tape we were talking about—about how green homes can have much more energy efficiency design built into them. And those are the things you’re working on over thirty years ago but they seem to have become more critical now with climate change and some (inaudible) smaller carbon footprint.
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LW: Absolutely.
DT: I was hoping you could explain that context and how you can get to a house that’s extremely energy efficient and maybe entirely off the grid?
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LW: Actually it’s—it’s—you have to start with the basic, you start with climate based design, you know, you design the house with a microclimate—let’s just talk about houses, okay. You design—design the house to—to—or any building in this context for the microclimate of the site. And—and, you know the sun path and the breeze patterns and your views and your access, some of these kinds of things are all important, they need to be considered. It’s very easy to—to limit the amount of cooling and heating you need to have on a residence. It’s just paying attention to these basics and—and not overbuilding. The problem with a lot of people who are doing this, they’re building way too big of homes. We have the building site—I think houses since the 1960’s have almost doubled in size somewhere in that range. It’s just ridiculous, you know, how big a homes people think they need—how big a home
00:02:56 – 2424
people think they ne—ne—need to have nowadays. I could talk about the biocapacity of the earth and why we shouldn’t be doing that but I’ll save that to later. But it’s imperative that we reduce the size of our homes. We—and it’s imperative to reduce the amount of energy use that our homes have. We are in a crisis situation as far as the climate is concerned. We’ve got ten years—we’re actually maybe have eight years if we—if the climate—if we don’t do something now, we can’t wait—we cannot allow the earth temperature to increase another degree and a half in temperature on a centigrade scale, okay. If we do, we are going to—the—the—this world will become a different planet. It will not be the same planet that we grew up in. Wh—there will—we will have coastal flooding like people
00:04:04 – 2424
are ha—will have a hard time believing. I mean, you know, all of the major cities, not all the major cities, but cities like Miami will be under water. New York City will be, Boston, it will come up—Galveston will be under water, alright, a great extent of it. The—because if we don’t stop global—if we start the car—the carbon emissions into the atmosphere in the—the CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, we’re going to reach a point where there’s this positive feedbacks that are taking place. They’re already starting to take place in that—what they call mult—multiple positive feedbacks. Just to give you an example what we’re—what’s the scientists are concerned with is the melting of the—the ice caps on Greenland and Ar—and Ar—and Ar—Antarctica. If we lose the—the ice cap on Greenland, we’re talking about
00:05:05 – 2424
somewhere between twenty to twenty-four foot sea rise, you know. That brings the water almost half way up from Galveston, half way to Houston. We’re only at fifty foot here, okay. All of Nassau, all of Kemah, Seabrook, all these towns are at—will be under water, all the industry that’s down there, okay. In coal fire—there is a silver bullet that we can—besides doing what we need to do with our buildings and with our homes as far as making them as energy efficient as possible, but we have to eliminate the construction of any more new coal fire plants. If—the—we—that—they are the biggest contributor to global warming out there. And just one coal fired plant, you can go to and you can read about, you know,
00:06:04 – 2424
all of the efforts that homeowners might do to—to—to change out light bulbs to cor—to—to compact fluorescent bulbs can be negated in month’s time by one coal power plant or something like that, I don’t remember the exact statistic—you can see them on—on the site and so forth, but it’s—they’re such massive emitters and—of CO2. And so we have to stop—if we can stop that, then it buys us some time. If we don’t stop it, we have—we—we have to limit the amount of—of CO2 that’s going in the atmosphere. There have to be zero carbon emissions. We need to achieve that in—well not zero—we have to not increase it past what we’re doing now in eight years.
DT: Can you give us an idea of—of how big of a wedge—how much percentage building is responsible for the carbon emissions?
00:07:00 – 2424
LW: Over fifty percent, over fifty percent. The—the building industry is—is—is responsible for more than fifty percent of that and I would say homes are probably responsible for fifty percent of that fifty percent. I don’t know have the—the exact statistics there. But, you know, you have all these little bitty—probably—yeah—yeah probably fifty percent because there’s a lot of—with your larger buildings there’s—there’s less surface area exposed to the environment than you do a house. Every house has a much larger surface area exposed to the atmosphere. So you’ve got a lot more energy use prob—on a—on a cubic foot basis, okay. But if we don’t stop this, then what will happen is that we’re going to see coastal flooding, we’re going to see species extinction—well we’re already seeing spec—species extinction. That’s
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never happened before in—as far as the scientists are concerned we’re—we’re in—we’re in the—the—the sixth—the period of the sixth ex—extinction of species and this is by far the quickest it’s ever occurred on the face of the earth, okay. And that’s why the reason why we have declared a moratorium on not building anymore homes. We—people—we will not involve our self with any projects now between zero and ten foot sea eleva—vation—sea elevation because in 1986, the earth—the population of—of the earth, the co—the—the—the use of the earth biocapacity reached equilibrium about what the earth could—could supply and what we’re using up. And since 1986, we’ve been in overshoot. In other words instead of being in
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Equilibrium, we’re in overshoot. And unless we reduce our consumption dramatically, especially the people in the United States who the world is looking to for leadership, there is—I—there’s—there’s—there can be—there’s going to be some catastrophic events going on. So that’s the reason why we’ve declared a moratorium to sort of help people wake up to the fact that we can no longer afford to utilize the resources to build in areas we know are going to flood. I am certain—I am dead certain that within the lifetime of any building that I design that would be from zero to ten foot elevation, there is a really good chance that it’s—the sea is going to come up and to its—to its—to its base and make it unusable. We can no longer afford to waste the resources, not only the materials it takes to build these things but the energy
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involved in building them. And then abandoning them. It maybe a hundred years from now, it may be a hundred and twenty, it may ha—be a hundred in fifty but they will be abandoned because you can’t—you’re not going to live there, okay. We just can’t afford to do that. So that’s the reason why we’ve declared a moratorium. I don’t think people understand the gravity of the situation and how soon we have to address it. So, you know, we can talk all we want to about greening our homes and greening buildings but we really—it’s just an interim step, we have to go far beyond that. We have to go far beyond that. We have to get to the point where we are not generating any waste, where we’re not generating any CO2, where everything that
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we use is based upon renewable energy. Saving those fossil fuels that took billons of years to create. Do you realize those fossil fuels, the coal, the oil and so forth, came from the cretaceous period somewhere between seventy-four and 144 million years ago when the earth drastically overheated, okay, from CO2, okay, and basic—the whole earth was a big green house, okay. I don’t think there was any ice on the earth at the time and over this period of time, the plants and animals, you know, the—the—this is the dinosaur age, okay, they absorbed these and this turned into coal. They absorbed the CO2, that’s what took the CO2 out of the air and deposited it into coal, deposited it into oil and it took and—and this has happened before, okay, this—the last time was—was the crustaceous period but—but it’s happened in the past several times, okay, that’s the reason why some of these deposits are really
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deep in the earth, alright. What we’re taking is that CO2 that we took out of the atmosphere that was heating up the earth at that time, we’ve taken it out of the atmosphere so it cooled down, now we’re putting it back in—into the atmosphere at a much quicker rate than it’s ever been done before. And we have to stop it.
DT: Well as a—as an architect and if you want to stop it, where would you go from the buildings that you were designing in the—in the seventies to those that would be almost to net zero carbon design?
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LW: What you have to do is you have to drastically reduce the size. You need to—to make them out of durable materials that will last for at least a century, instead of something that’s made to last only twenty years or so. There is a video out there, and I wish I could remember the name of it, but—but it goes into the history of how we got onto this—what is the name of the term—disposable—planned obsolescence. It was actually discussed and actually put into plan back in the fifties about planned obsolescence and all of industry and everything, the whole United States, sort of adopted this, okay. And that is—that philosophy is part of what’s leading us to where we are today. So how do you create—how do you create buildings that—that have zero energy use? Well, it’s not as easy as what it sounds, you know. We’ve
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done straw bale homes and I’m—that’s not the answer because we shouldn’t be taking the straw off the land that should be going back into—going into the land to add hula—humus and so forth, okay. We really shouldn’t be using it to—to build homes out of but you can do it. We’ve done straw bale homes. They work very well in this climate. We’ve got one in Montgomery. It’s basically what we did we put up a pole barn instead—but instead of using round poles, we used square poles and we put a concrete slab in there and put—built the straw bales up on top it—well after the roof was in place so it wouldn’t get wet. People are still living there there—they—they—they—they—they’ve raised their family there, raised four kids there and this was done in ’93 is when we completed it. And they built it for less than forty dollars a square foot, cash out-of-pocket, move-in at the time, about half the cost of what
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other homes were being built at at the time of comparable quality. There’s a—you can use a lot of recycled materials in—in homes. The basics though come from the actual design and using materials that can be reused when the—the—the useful life of the building is no longer there. What we don’t want to create is waste. What we don’t want to create is toxic waste is really what—what we don’t want to create. Nature does not create toxic waste. All waste is recycled by some other creature down the line, okay. It’s all recycled; it’s all reused and so forth. Human beings are the only people that are creating toxic waste and we are creating a lot of it with the buildings that we—we—we build and the manufacturing process. So part of the process of getting to sustainable architecture to net zero energy homes to all these things is to eliminating waste so that the—so that there—so there is not any waste.
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And everything that a house is built out of can be use—reused later on or remanufactured or whatever. Our automobiles shouldn’t be lay—ending up in the landfills. Our—our—I mean parts of the automobiles, anything—our cell phones shouldn’t be ending up in—in the—in—in the landfills neither should our computers and all this. I’m getting a little bit off subject here but I just want to—in fact all of industry has to start looking in this direction. We have to quit reducing—we have to reduce—eliminate waste entirely. And I—I guess because my parents grew up in the—the Great Depression and—and the way I was brought up I’m—I understand this because we were taught not to—to, you know, waste not want not, you know. They weren’t—we weren’t poor but we weren’t rich either. We—we made do with
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what we had and we lived very well. And so, you know, it’s building for your, you know, you’re keeping—think of the—the roof of your house as being an umbrella to keep climate off of your house, keep the sun and the wind off of your house and—the sun and—and the rain off of your house because it’s a combination of the sun and the rain—moisture is what creates a deterioration, you know. Rain—water is your universal solvent and once it starts working and so forth, it starts taking things down. So you want to keep it off of there and using like metal roofs or durable roofs, something that you can mount a solar system on and not have to worry about it deteriorating during its lifetime. And you—the high pe—you got all this high performance glass out there nowadays which may or may not be problematic
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late—on—on a long term basis. I am a firm believer in this umbrella, having your roof shade your windows when you don’t want the heat coming in them. Putting up trellises on the outside and to make sure that you know, you—we could have west windows but you got to have long horizontal overhangs or long trellises out keeping that sun from coming in underneath of it in the late afternoon. But—it—it—use some vegetation to do that with, then in the wintertime the sun is never over on that side so you don’t need the vegetation there. It’s not going to grow there anyway so you can re-grow it every year. They’re just renewable things. We’ve done several passive solar greenhouses for homes that require zero energy, zero energy, not net zero but zero energy for heating and cooling. I mean they—they’re self heating and they’re self cooling, depending upon what time of the year you want it to be.
DT: What are some of the latest techniques for getting to this net zero goal?
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LW: Well, I’ve talked about some of them already it’s—it’s, you now, siting of the house using materials that store the mass, using insulation at the roof line rather than at the ceiling line. I haven’t talked about that but we rare—we don’t ventilate attics anymore. All of our projects are insulated at the roof so that it create—part of the things—part of the problem that we have in this part of the country is that no one can build—can have basements. I mean, they can have them but it’s going to get moldy and mildewy down there. And so everybody tries to store things up in their attic that’s ventilated and it never lasts up there, okay. Well, with—with insulating at the roof line you’re creating an envelope, an insulated envelope that gives you that extra space that you may want to have that’s relatively dust free and it—and like this one home we demonstrated it—that doesn’t reach over eighty-
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four degrees in there so the candles don’t melt, your Christmas decorations don’t melt when you store it up there, you can put, you know, you can put all sorts of things up there right now. The cli—that particular client even had his workshop up there for a while until—until they got the co—the house finished, they longer had a need for the workshop up there. So you’ve got air conditioning system, you know the air conditioning systems, the lighting, the—we—one of the things that we have to eliminate is air leakage on houses. Not only in the—not only in the envelope of a house but also the air conditioning system. They should be made airtight so that you’re getting the air where you want it to where it needs to be. And—and you’re not having outside air come in. Half—half your energy bill in the Houston area is just taking humidity out of the air. So during the summertime and the early spring and I
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mean the—the late spring and the early fall, if you can—if you can—you—if you have a non-leaky home, you can greatly reduce the amount of energy bills that you have on it. But it’s not hard to achieve a net zero home. It’s just a matter of the principles—size, using fluorescent lighting, using day lighting, having porches on homes so that you can spend a lot more time outdoors, alright, and locating that porch where it’s in the breeze instead of in the wind shadow of the house. All just basic principles working with the d—with—with the site.
DT: As—as somebody with allergies and with a family history of—of, I guess, asthma, I’m sure you’re very sensitive to how houses and—and workplaces can contribute to peoples’ health. And I was wondering if you could talk about how those can be go—designed in a way that—that you avoid some of these toxic exposure problems.
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LW: We’ve a—I’ve actually had several clients co—that have—actually have huge problems with chemical sensitivities that I’ve—that I’ve helped. Some are so sensitive to chemicals that if ever—anybody here today were to be wearing any fabric softener or they had their clothes fabric softened or if they were wearing any sort of cologne or perfume, she would—if she—as soon as she’d walk in that door, she’d change color in front of us. They’re that acutely sensitive to chemicals in that—that environment. These have been some of my clients and this is a huge challenge and it—it makes you aware of all the—of—of aware of all the toxins that—that we are building into our homes. Most your manufactured materials contain chemicals we have no idea what they are because they’re trade secrets. And we—
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and—and—this and like let’s say carpeting, you have some light that comes in and hits carpeting it—the—the carpeting breaks down and goes into the air stream. We’ve got sunlight that’s maybe hitting Formica, could be hitting some sort of plastic material. It emits these—emits these chemicals in the air. Particle board is—is a huge factor in—I—I’ve—the formaldehyde and other toxins that are in particle board are just very problematic and I—we—we rarely use them in our projects. What happens is that we know that things like formaldehyde are toxic, we know that it’s a carcinogen, okay, it’s just been cla—classified, finally it’d been classified as a carcinogen, okay, after, you know, many years of debate like lead was never—it took decades or almost a century for it to be declared a toxin. But when all these
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chemicals mix together in the air inside of our home; we have no idea how toxic this chemical soup is. You know, we know how toxic certain chemicals are but what is the—what is the—how toxic are these culmination of things, okay. So what we attempt to do and what I attempt to educate my clients and other architects and any—anybody who wants to listen in the profession is to eliminate as many manufactured materials from the building, you know, composite materials from the interior of a home. Limit the amount of plastics that you’re using, limit the amount—don’t use any carpeting unless it’s made out of a natural material and it’s certainly not wall to wall you—something you can take outside and clean, you know, like they used to do a long time ago. Use natural woods for your flooring, not—not
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engineered wood. The engineered woods have a lot of toxins in them from the glues if nothing else, okay. Then some of the engineered floors have—actually have particle board. They’re made out of particle board, okay, with a—with a very thin laminate on top of them. So we don’t want those in our projects either. We don’t like to use, you know—wood frame isn’t that problematic. It’s the sheetrock that can be somewhat problematic so there’s other materials out there now that are just, I don’t want to name them because they’re just now coming in the United States and there’s very limited supply and hopefully there’ll be a manufacturer in the United States before too long that it will be manufactured in—but it doesn’t support mold and it doesn’t—and—you literally can use this material not only on the inside of your house but you can use it on the outside. So—and you can finish it off just like
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sheetrock. So—and I’ll span the studs and so forth. But we have gotten to the point where with—if people really want to have a very healthy home we don’t use wood frame. Not that it’s—wood frame is that bad, okay, it’s just that there are better ways. Unfortunately they’re more expensive. One of them is using AAC block, aerated autoclave cement blocks and there—there’s—there’s an AC block and—and an aerated block now that’s available that we are just now investigating and—and we may be using it on a house that we just—that we just finished the design on, the construction documents on. But this is literally all it is is cement, air and water that’s—to make it and a little bit—a little bit of aluminum I think to create the bubbling aspect of when the—when the autoclave process and it—and it makes it—I
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could—if I walked over here I could pick up one if it had a handle on. Just this block is eight inches by eight inches by two foot tall; you would think it would be real heavy. You know, I mean, it would really—but I could—I could pick it up with my little finger if it had a handle on it. It’s—there’s so much air in it that creates—it creates this insulation. It’s an insula—it’s a massive—it’s a low mass but it’s—it’s—it’s higher than stone, I mean than—than, excuse me, than wood but there’s also lots of insulation. And we’re making—this is just the wall, I mean, we—one house we did in Austin that was a five star built in 2000 in the five star in the Austin Green Building Program, their highest rating is a—made out of this AAC block. And the exterior walls are just eight inches thick. And we plastered the inside and just
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stuccoed the outside and we had large overhangs on it—on the roof. We have a concrete tile roof on this. We used wood framing for the—for the—for the—for the attic, I mean for the roofs and that’s in a solid, full insulation at the roof line. We—there’s not a ventilated attic in this house. All the floors in the house are either—are tile or stone tile. All the cabinets are made out of natural wood. There’s no laminated woods or anything like that, made of just solid wood. Any flooring that was put—any wood flooring was—was made out of solid wood flooring. The paints were no VOC paints that were used on the interior. The air conditioning system is all metal ductwork that’s aligned on the outside not on the inside of the ductwork which is typical for what we do because we want the ducts to be cleanable. I don’t care how well you build a air conditioning system or how well you build a house, you will
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eventually—there will be mold that will grow in your ductwork just—just you can’t avoid it, that’s just going to happen just—and I—I can get into technical reasons but this takes too long. But you’re going to have this mold growing in there. You want to be able to clean your ductwork and you don’t want to use—you don’t want to use flex duct, you don’t want to use fiberglass duct, you want to use metal ducts that can be cleaned and—and put your insulation on the outside on the supply side, okay. So that’s part of what we do and—and this home, you know, this 3400 square foot built in 2000, hottest in that—that year they had the hottest months on record at that time. I’m not sure if it hasn’t been broken since then but 3400 square foot. Their highest utility bill in September was ninety-two dollars to cool that home to
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supply all the energy it needs for the refrigerator and everything else, ninety-two dollars, okay. So you’re talking about homes that become very, you know, you’re getting close to being, you know, all they have to do is add a solar system that a—an active—what they call a solar water system on—on the exterior. That could easily be a net zero home. That’s one thing that I haven’t talked about as far as designing a home. When you’re designing for the microclimate of the site, you’re generally elongating the—the—the home on a east-west axis. This puts your roof, a good amount of roof facing south and if you put that at the right angle, depending upon the latitude that you’re at, that’s where you’re going to mount your solar system. And typically you’re going to have more than enough roof to get you there as far as being a net zero energy or maybe even a net energy producer fairly easily. We just
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completed a home up in Austin which we hope will be the—the first platinum LEED home in the birthplace of green building and that’s in Austin. That’s—I don’t know if people realize that but Austin is the birthplace of all the green building programs in the United States. And we just completed a home up there that we’re—as soon as the paperwork—it will either be a gold or it will be a platinum in the LEED process, that LEED program in Austin. And it will also be a five star Austin Green Building Program—home. And we use—we basically used the same materials and it’s got—and—and it’s got a—a carport and a workshop and a greenhouse that’s a addition to the house and a covered walkway and several—and got two porches on the house and so forth. I mean, you—when you look at the—the net coverage square footage
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of the house, costs less than 140 dollars a square foot to build. I mean it’s—it’s phenomenal what these—what—what we’re able to achieve on the building cost of the house. And it’s—their 3.3 KW solar system is going to supply a good amount of the energy and they can eas—and it’s—we have more than enough room for it to be—become net zero energy when they can afford to add more solar collectors to it and prob—and it can easily become a net energy producer so we can sell off the excess.
DT: Well, let’s switch gears for a moment, if you don’t mind. You—you talked about how to design and build a house that is a low energy user. And you talked about how to use materials that don’t have toxic exposure problems. Maybe you can talk about another aspect of green building that I’m sure will be interesting and that’s water conservation.
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LW: Oh, absolutely, certainly, certainly. Well, that’s another aspect of why you don’t want to use composition shingles on your roof because there isn’t a house that we’re designing nowadays that we’re not putting a water harvesting, a rain water harvesting system on. They’re going to have some sort of—if it’s nothing more than a barrel but most of these people are putting ten thousand gallon tanks and so forth. This particular house I just described in Austin doesn’t—isn’t even connected to the—the water and sewer of the subdivision. It doesn’t even have a well. They’re completely—it’s completely going to be—all their—all their rain—all their water needs will be made—met by rainwater harvesting, not only for the house but also for all their gardening and they’ve got extensive gardening. We even designed some
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special fence to keep the deer out and so forth so they wouldn’t get into their main—their main garden. And—but what you do is that there are several things you can do as far as the house to conserve energy, you know, there’s—there’s—and—and energy star and in the Austin Green Building Program they have all these wonderful resources where you can go online and—and—and discover these things, you know. You can use very low water usage like dishwashers and washing machines and you can use the low flow shower heads and the toilets that use—some are getting down to about a gallon per flush now, you know. You can—you can get waterless urinals. You can get urinals for houses if you want to, you know, if you want to—if people want to do that but—or you can get dual flush, you know, you got—you push one
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button or one of the other—one of the two buttons down for depending on what you’re trying to—to flush either urine or black water you might say. So there—and then there’s—then there’s the—the—the water distribution system in the house. We’re use—we—we’re using these manifold system that uses PEX piping a lot more nowadays and it cuts down on the amount of—of—it doesn’t really cut down on the amount of piping but it just gets your water use—the water to—to the source a lot quicker and you have less waste of water, okay. And then they have re-circulating systems where you can capture the water. When you turn on the—the faucet, it sometimes, you know, you have to wait for it—wait for a while. They have a capture system for that water that will—that—that—that will keep it in the system rather—rather than it going down the drain. And there’s—there’s these other things. I—we really haven’t got into the exotic things. And there’s a, you know, in some houses—and you have—this is a case by case—you can do some grey water systems on it,
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too. The da—the—the laundry is about the only place where they’ll allow you to really—off the—off the washing machine is about the only place you can really use grey water in most of Texas. But then you have—there’s some specifics you have to go through to—to make sure you can do that.
DT: Do you also get involved in the landscaping for houses and trying to use xeriscape and sort of drought tolerant local spaces?
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LW: We don’t actually get into the landscaping. We advise people. We try to preserve as much of the native landscaping that we can and we connect our clients with people that specialize in lands—in native landscaping and permaculture design and get into the—get into the vari—various specifics and all of that. We know the basics of it and—and—and we just try to steer people to the—the people—that’s a—that’s something you—you got to keep up with on a day-by-day day basis and we got enough to keep up with otherwise, so…
DT: Well, you told us a good deal about how you design these houses and use good materials and technology. I was hoping that you could talk about some of your educational efforts now. You’ve—you’ve talked to different groups and I—I was curious how—when you talk to say the National Association of Homebuilders or the American Institute of Architects or the American Society of Heating and Refrigeration Engineers, how do builders react? How do architects react? How do engineers react to what you’re trying to explain to them about green building?
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LW: You know, I used to do that back in—I—I—those—those groups I talked to was something like fifteen, twenty years ago. I learned that—that really who I needed to be educating was the general public so to do—so that they would be demanding this what—they would be knowledgeable and start demanding it because I—I was—there was—there was some interest from the professionals, okay, out there but they really weren’t serious interests, okay, not like there is now, alright. So yeah it—really back then it was not a serious interest. These people, you know, they—we would get—we wouldn’t really get the turnout that we’d like to have and then—then even though we would educate them there would be interest, they couldn’t implement, they couldn’t talk their clients into it. So what happened is that I started shifting my focus to educating the public and about the—then a few la—years later the LEED came
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along and the combination of this has led to a lot of this—this now—this focus upon green building and so forth. And that’s—that’s really a big—you have to—the public has to demand it especially on a residential level. The public has to demand it. Otherwise the—the—the people out there aren’t going to deliver it. You—we’ve got a—for instance, I’m not sure I want to talk about this or not, you may have to cut this, okay, but I’m going to, you now, okay. I—I—I want—I want to have discretion on whether it gets—gets published or not. We have a very, very nice home that we designed that was going to be a platinum LEED home that—designed to withstand hurricanes, they could stay there during a hurricane, made out of ins—made out of
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insulated concrete forms, construction, laminated glass in the windows, okay, solar system, living roof. Now a roof where they can grow their garden and be secure at because they got three foot high parapets lined with concrete all the way around it up there where they can be up there, you know. They watched what happened in Katrina well—well whatever it was—was Katrina—hit—the one that hit New Orleans? Yeah, okay, I get them confused all these K’s and so forth. And they watched what was happening, the chaos that happened in that city when a hurricane hit. They said, you know, we want to be secure and they had the—and—and they felt like they wanted to spend the money for it. And so—and they also—but they also wanted the house to be very toxic-free and so on and so if they still had teenage
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children and so forth, you know, they wanted all these things and so forth. I brought the builder on almost two years ago. And I’ve been out there with Cultivate Green and all these other places teaching classes on how to become green building and green so forth. And—and it’s mainly, you know, it’s oriented to whoever wants to show up, I’m not—we haven’t been—it’s through Cultivate Green. We weren’t—weren’t oriented towards the builders, we weren’t oriented towards the homeowners. We were just out there educating people and we were sending out the notices to everyone. And we were getting good turnouts. Sometimes we’d have 300—300 people there during the week at these seminars. And I don’t think this builder ever showed up for one, okay. We got the prices back on this house, three times the cost of what we just completed that home in—in Austin, platinum. And it’s like—and
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this is the reason why we probably can’t tape this, I mean, it can’t (?) this—it’s—unless maybe part of it. He didn’t take leadership for himself, for his company, for all his subs. He saw all the green specifications and so forth and he just said, oh my, you know, sort of like, you know, he said, oh my gosh, all these subcontractors and so forth were coming back with all these prices that are ridiculously high. It’s because he didn’t put forth the leadership. It’s like a mother or parents of children in a crisis situation, you know. If you react wrongly as a parent, your children go hysterical, okay. That’s sort of what happened in this case. They bumped their prices up way more than what they needed to be and so the client has happened to take all the green stuff out to get the bill. And it’s a real tragedy and it’s, you know,
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and—and, you know, you can’t—you can go out there and—what I found out during the seventies and this just confirmed it, you can go out there and educate people all the time but if they’re so busy they’re not—and they’re not—they don’t have the interest to learn, you can’t—you can’t lead a horse to water, I mean you can’t make—you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink it. And that’s what we did and we couldn’t make him drink it so, you know, I don’t know what it’s going to take to get these builders. But we have a real problem with the building industry, especially in the residential arena about being able to deliver green homes at a reasonable cost. It’s not because they can’t be built for reasonable costs, it’s
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because the building community doesn’t want to deliver them at a—at a reasonable cost. The—the NAHB has to take responsibility for this. They’ve taught seminar after seminar on a national scale, green is gold folks, do green, it’s gold. You can charge more for it, okay. So what we’ve got now is that we’ve got a whole building industry that’s—that’s—that’s out there thinking that they can charge more for green on a residential arena. And—and—and—and—and they’re going about pushing their green—the Homebuilders Association is pushing their green program and saying, well LEED programs are too costly because they require a third party verification and so forth. No it’s not LEED program. It’s what ya’ll, you idiots, what you taught your builders, your whole community to believe, alright. But they thought, you know, they were just—but in other words—and I can’t really blame them for going that
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route. They were—they wanted to build green, they could see the leadership and NAHB could see that they needed to build green. They just chose the wrong ta—tactic to teach the builders. Instead of doing it out of consciousness, out of it being the right thing to do, about doing what you need to do for future generations, you know, it—it was about money, you can make money from doing this, okay. It’s just—just the wrong motivating factor. So how did I get off onto that?
DT: Well, you’re telling the—trying to educate folks and—and we’d spoke about educating builders and engineers and architects. I guess another group that—that you’ve just spoken about educating is—is the customers, the clients themselves.
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LW: Oh, absolutely.
DT: Tell me what—how you try to teach or what resonates with your clients and what some of their hesitation might be from?
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LW: Once p—once the clients go to these seminars and they begin to understand not only what needs to be done but why, they buy into it and they want as much as they possibly can afford. The problem is we don’t have the—we don’t have the people out there to deliver it. We have it on a—on a—well we’re getting it more and more on design site but we don’t have it on the construction site.
DT: Well, how do you teach a client who might actually be a landlord, not somebody who’s going to occupy the building but somebody who owns an apartment house or owns a commercial building where they may not recognize the health savings or the cost savings?
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LW: The only way—on—the—the one thing—or argument they can use is they’re going to have less—less turnover. They’re going—their—their people are going to have to stay there longer. They’re going to realize that they have a much more comfortable place to be living in, it doesn’t cost, from an energy standpoint as much to live there. They feel better living there because the indoor air quality is better assuming they go in to build—making the house more—or, you know, the apartment or the building more healthy. Those are part of things. The produc—you know, when you get into schools and office buildings, they have proven that—that green buildings actually enhance the productivity. You get more output from your folks that are being in these buildings than they do if they’re in a regular building that their people are happier, they’re more comfortable. So, you know, these are just—
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these are part of it. You thought al—always—you can’t always put in dollar figures but you can’t—but there is pr—it’s proven fact that these—the green homes, people just enjoy them better and that they’ll stay in them longer, they will make—they will stay in a job instead of, you know, being transferred out of the country or to another part of the country that will—because they have such a nice place to live they’ll want to stay there.
DT: We were talking about how these buildings might be better to occupy. Do you also find that—that green buildings are—are more engaging if you’re actually involved in building them? I think you had mentioned of…
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LW: Of course.
DT: The Montgomery house in ’93 and ’94.
00:47:13 – 2424
LW: Yeah, of course. When—when people—when people are actually involved in design and planning and even the construction of them in some cases, you know, some people want to engage in that, they te—there—there’s a lot more ownership in the final result. And it’s very—it’s a very important principle, you know, it—but that doesn’t mean the people that are—that are renting can’t have the, you know, can’t—can’t have the same sense of ownership in a sense to where they—where they—if they enjoy the—the structure, the being there and the energy bills and so forth the—and I don’t see why they wouldn’t have of—of—somewhat of that same feeling of, you know, well this is mine, you know, I—and—and they’ll—they’ll take care of it
00:48:03 – 2424
better and so forth. I’m not sure if I’m answering your question very well but I just think that—I just think that people will—if they appreciate it, they will take better care of it. If it’s just a regular old, a regular ole, it’s—they’re going to treat it like regular ole, regular ole, you know, or whatever they’ve treated it in the past and not pay much attention to it.
DT: Most of what we’ve talked about so far is about buildings that—that you’ve helped design and build from ground zero. What about the millions of homes that—that already exist and many of which were built just in very recent years but which are clearly not up to the standard they’re going to need to be. How do we retrofit them?
00:48:50 – 2424
LW: That’s a hard question to answer. There is lots of things that can be done. I mean they’re, you know, you—over a period of time as things wear out, you can just put better created materials in and you can better siding on. I mean you can put a better air conditioning system in, you can get rid of the flex duct and put—get rid of all the things that—that were planned—planned obsolescence bu—built into these homes, okay. Put in things that are more permanent. You know, that composition shingle roof you got stuck with when you bought the house, put a metal roof up there. It’s not that much—it doesn’t take a whole lot of bracing to put up a concrete roof. Clay tile is kind of ex—it’s really too—too expensive for most folks but you can
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put concrete up there. It’s not really that much more expensive. Like, you know, one thing that I’ve done—I really sort of—I went through a divorce and I didn’t want to build so I bought this townhouse and it was—and it’s facing the wrong direction. It faces, you know, it’s got all the windows facing east and west but luckily the—the windows that are facing west are all shaded by those big trees out front, but I really don’t have a place where I can grow a garden. It’s too much—it’s either too much sun or too little sun. But one thing I did do here when I first moved in is I insulated at the roof line and I added some extra insulation to the ceiling. I did some work to seal the air leaks here. And I’m on 100% renewable energy now. I felt it was important to who—who I am and what I do that I had to be able to say that I’m on
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renewable energy, you know. You know, I helped found the Texas Solar Energy Society, Houston Solar Energy Society, Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association, you know. It’s—it’s important that I be on renewable energy. So I just, you know, I use green—green mountain for now, okay. I’m—I’m searching to see if there are better deals out there. But that’s how you can be on 100% renewable energy, support these people that are supplying it over the regular grid. So—and it’s important that we recycle our building stock. That’s the other thing—that I—reason why I decided to move my office into this town home is that I am actually, you know, I am recycling this building, you know. Instead of just living here like most the people here and they go to work someplace else, I’m here twenty—well, not
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always twenty-four hours a day but I’m here a lot, okay. And—but I don’t go someplace else to sleep at night. I—this is—this is my home, too. And so I am making double use. And we need to—and I’m recycling an older building. I’m making it—I’m—I’m extending the use of an older building and—and providing sec—helping provide security for the complex. I mean, someone here is always—when you got someone that’s here during the daytime, it gives more security than what it would be if no one was here. So it—it’s just a win-win situation all the way around.
DT: We—we’ve been talking about a green building and about how designing houses and—and other structures in a better way can address energy and water and materials and—and health but I was curious if you could talk about maybe more intangible reasons for building in a green way. What does this mean to you individually?
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LW: Well, to me, we have to go beyond green. But it—it—to me it’s—it’s—it’s—it’s a personal integrity type of issue. I don’t want to go—I want to sleep soundly every day of my life and I do. I know that I am doing everything I possibly can to make a difference. I don’t want my grandkids in future generations to say, Granddad, when you learned about global warming, when you learned about us exceeding the biocapacity of the earth, what did you do? I want to say—I want to say I did everything I possibly knew—I knew I could do, okay. I want them to know that I am doing possibly everything I can—I know how to do and continue to do it. I could retire but I am doing this because this is my—it’s a passion, it’s a—I guess, you know, you asked me what my hobbies were, this is my hobby. I—I love to do
00:53:59 – 2424
research and I like to be able to—to teach other people the—the results of my research and how to put that into practical application. All I’m doing is—is—through my architecture is putting into practice what needs to be done from my learning—learning from my research. The thing is, though, the prob—the situation is so big that I can’t be content in just doing my green architecture, it’s not enough. We have to go way beyond that. We have to—everybody needs to be reducing their carbon footprint drastically, especially here in the United States, you know. Whether it’s in the way you—the automobile you drive, the clothes you wear, how you live with the home you live in, what kind of profession you—you choose to be in, you have to—we have to all reduce our carbon footprint. We have a very short period of time to really make a difference otherwise, you know, our future generations are
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going to come back to us and say to us, you know, why didn’t you do something? You know, our earth, the earth is our everything. Think about that. The earth is our everything. If it wasn’t for the earth, we wouldn’t be living or breathing, we wouldn’t have any of this. And it’s crying out for our help. It’s going to continue to be here after us. I mean we can ignore the problems that we have facing us and it will lead to our eventual extinction but we don’t have to ignore it, it’s our choice. And if enough people do something about it and we do it quickly enough, then it’s—we are—this is the most—we have the opportunity to become—can’t think of the right word—the—this is the most important generation or the most important time ever on the face of the earth for humanity. The possibilities for what we can do are
00:56:43 – 2424
tremendous if we just get our act together and our heads in the right place. And it’s not just up to the older folks to do it. It’s going to take everyone. And quite frankly, the older folks are probably going to be less reluctant to do something about it than the younger generations. But we have to do something and we have to—we have to get on with it right now. Again, Earth is everything and just realize there is no away,
there is no away. We just can’t, you know, those plastic bags that we get, you know, we just can’t throw those away. We shouldn’t actually be using plastic bags, you know, just little things. If we all just start doing little things like buying a bag—a grocery bag when we—and taking it with us, you know, a cloth bag and taking it with us to put our groceries in, eliminating those plastic bags and—and all the trees that it takes to cut down to make those—those paper sacks. We quit subscribing to
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magazines that are delivered to our doorstep and just get them over the internet, huge amount. We need that—that carbon needs to stay in those trees (laughs). That needs—those trees need to eventually be turned into carbon that goes back down and make—make, you know, to take—take the—the CO2 out of the air. It’s just—and—and for those who want—want to build, build as green as you possibly can, you know. Now I’m—I’m—I’m rambling now.
DT: No, I think it is a good conclusion. And is there anything else that you’d like to add?
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LW: Thank you for inviting me to be here and to do this because it’s—I find this—I’m honored to be asked to—to share my—my thoughts and my viewpoints and my experience or whatever and to help influence change because that’s what we have to do. There has to be change. You know, China is building several times the amount of coal powered—power plant that we are, okay. If we’re ever—we have—they have to stop building those—those coal plants. But are they going to do it unless we stop doing it? Just like everything else in the world, the United States has been thought of to be the lea—leader. We have had—we used to have the moral leadership in the world. We can regain that moral leadership by doing something that’s totally responsible for the environment and all humanity. And it’s something that we need
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to be concentrating on and we’re not even here—and something we need to demand the politicians doing and every leader be—to be doing. And—but we first need to start at home, the way we live, doing small things and then every time—every time you turn around, figure out some other way to reduce your carbon footprint. Use less energy, use—use less, make do with more, you know. Make do with less and it will be—we’re—we’re living way beyond our means. The—the planet can’t support the way we are—we’re—we’re living here. If everybody were to live like they do in—in Europe, it would take three earths to support the whole world. If everybody lived like we do in the United States, it would take five earths to support the world. So if
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everybody is going to be able to live off the biodebas—biocapacity of the earth, United States—people in the United States need to reduce their consumption by—to one-fifth of what they’re doing right now, give you—that’s—that’s a benchmark, okay, so—to give you some idea.
DT: Thank you very much.
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LW: You’re welcome.
[End of Reel 2423]
[End of Interview with LaVerne Williams]