Sustainable Design

LOCZIdesign's Top 10 ICFF Favorites To Look For

The anticipation of attending this year's International Contemporary Furniture Fair is a bit like going to a candy store—a remarkable candy store filled with some of the most talented, vibrant, and sweetest designers the world has to offer.

5 Ways to Winter Ready Your California Casa

Winter is coming! And though we live in the balmy-weathered Bay Area, it behooves us to prepare for the rainy, windy, cold (and sometimes super nice) months ahead. Keeping cool air out and warm air in not only maximizes the level of coziness, but also is sustainable for the environment and your budget alike. Most changes can be made quite easily. Preparing now will result in more time to lay back, relax and enjoy your cozy winter abode.

1. Service your system.

Anyone who actually lives in the sunshine state can contest to the fact that it gets cold. Whether you’re using a furnace, wood stove, boiler, or heat pump to keep warm, it’s crucial to have your system cleaned and serviced. Dirt is more than likely the number one cause of system failure. Cleaning the filters yourself will save you some money but know that it’s a dirty job. Most California HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) service experts advise that you wait until the filter is completely dry, after cleaning, before putting it back. And remember, you can’t run your HVAC system without a filter. (But before we go any further, can we mention how fabulous the radiator is in the picture above? Paige discovered these several months back from the company Caleido. We haven’t been able to get these out of our minds since.)

2. Get your ducts in order.

If you happen to be using a forced-air heating system, you’re probably depending on ductwork to deliver heated air to your living space. Examine your house’s heating ducts for leaks. Mostly out of sight, ducts can leak for years without anyone ever knowing. They can become torn or crushed and flattened. Old duct tape—which was probably the worst kind of tape there was—tends to dry up and crumble over time. This unfortunately allows junctions and splices to open, spilling heated air into your attic or under the house. This can be wasteful but an easy fix if done right. According to the California Energy Commission, you can save roughly 10 percent on your heating bill by preventing leaky ducts. But when not taken care of it can diminish the heating efficiency by as much as 40 percent. A home energy auditor, (we recommend Rising Design & Construction) can tell you whether or not your ducts need to be sealed. Also, any ductwork in unconditioned (cold) space like an attic, basement or crawl space should be insulated so that your heated air has protection from cold temperatures.

3. Invest in insulating the attic.

If you’re lucky enough to have an attic, be sure that it’s properly insulated. In older homes, that can be the most cost-efficient way to cut home heating costs. Before energy efficiency standards, homes were often built with little to no insulation. As a result, large amounts may be getting lost through walls, floors and—since heat rises—ceilings.

Are you familiar with the Residential Efficiency Rebate program? It is a whole-house approach to improving the energy efficiency of residential homes. The program is open to customers and is available for attic and exterior wall insulation, whole house fans, attic fans (solar and electric), duct insulation, house envelope and duct sealing, window film, and other efficiency products—depending where you live. If you reside in San Francisco, it’s easy to find out all you need to know, here. If not, see what programs apply in your area by visiting the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (

4. Give you doors and windows an upgrade.

First, check the weatherstripping on your main entry door and windows. If you can see even a sliver of daylight at any point around the door, or if you can feel a draft coming in around the edge, you need new weatherstripping. Bring a piece of your old weatherstripping to the local hardware store to ensure you get identical new material (especially for those of us who don’t own our homes or flats). Another 10 percent of most air leaks are through our windows and doors. So cleaning them (inside out, of course) is a start in finding cracks both on the glass and old caulk.

5. Furniture and furnishing remix.

Think of your home and furnishings like your wardrobe. When the weather changes, it’s time to pull out those chenille rugs, throws, wool shags, and heavy velvety drapery—we’re in love with all the 2012/2013 cozy home trends. What’s better than a comfy and warm retreat after a long day’s work.

Pulling your furniture in a little closer to the center of the room, by the fireplace—or rearranging your rooms is another easy winter ready trick. Our Design Remix also allows you the make the most of what you already have, with an in-home design and color consultation. We can make recommendations for rearranging your space including an in-home interview with one of our designers. The remix includes: Color palette, Basic furniture arrangement plan, Basic furnishing suggestions and a Basic shopping list—sounds fun, right? Click here to learn how you can get started.

Whether you live in a large house or chic one-room pad, the Outer Sunset or the sunny Mission District, these easy and inexpensive ways to prepare for the winter months will keep you warm and ready all season long.

Sustainability So Good, It Brings Tears To Your Eyes

Oh, the onion.  It has been used as an ingredient in various dishes for thousands of years by countless cultures around the world.  Onion production is steadily increasing and is now the second most important horticultural crop after tomatoes.  Gills Onions is one of the country's top onion growers and distributors.  Starting off as a modest onion farm for a salsa company, Gills legacy has taken off, landing them as the poster child for sustainable agriculture.

In short, Gills Onions created a way to take juice from their onion peel waste and filter it into the biogas that powers their entire processing plant.  It now saves the farm an estimated $700,000 annually in electrical costs.  I know, it may be difficult to wrap one's head around this kind of technology.  And with our previous blog post about generating energy for your home off the grid,  we knew that this story needed to be told.  So on Tuesday, I spoke with the lovely Nikki Rodoni, the Sustainable Director at Gills Onions, to tell the story of how this company became the energy award-winning farm they are today.

How long have you been working for Gills Onions? It is your father’s farm, right?

"Okay, so just a little bit of history — I'll summarize.  I come from a farming family — my father and grandfather. They started a farm called 'Real Farms', in Monterey County, California in 1983.  They were growing produce for a salsa company and one day the salsa company asked if they could grow just onions and keep them fresh, instead of dehydrated. That’s how it started.  From there it grew to what we now know today as Gills Onions. We control the process at every level: seeds, growing, processing, packaging, and sorting.

I started with the company back in 2007. My background is in marketing with an agricultural emphasis. I began to hear the word 'sustainability' a lot from our customers and buyers.  And to be honest, I didn’t really know what that meant for our farm.  So I spoke with our processing facility managers, and owner's [David and Stephen] in regards to our sustainability efforts. It turned out that we were actually doing a good job in that department. We were and still are very active in community service, and were using a drip watering system.  So I thought, 'Great, we’re already making some sustainable efforts'.  But I knew we could build from there."

And that's when you began using the Adverse Recovery System — what exactly is that? 

"In Lamens terms, the whole idea stems from our production...we have a lot of onion waste!  We process about 1 million pounds of onion waste per day. So we were spending a lot of money on labor and diesel fuel hauling it.  We really needed a solution because we couldn’t just feed it to the cattle, and we couldn’t just compost it because frankly, there was way too much.  Steve Gill decided that we start looking for alternatives and so we began doing some testing at UC Davis.  We hired a project manager who got engineers, contractors, and spent a lot of time looking into digesters [a processor in which microorganisms are broken down into biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen, used for industrial or domestic purposes to manage waste and/or to release energy] over in Eurpore who eventually came up with the recovery system.

So, the onion waste comes out of a conveyer belt.  We then squeeze the juice, which turns out to be about 30,000 gallons of onion juice.  It then feeds the antarobic digester that creates biogas and CO2. But when you contain that kind of biogas you have to clean it up. So we filter it in two hydrogen fuel cells that are virtually emissions free. We do the clean-up through iron scrubbers and that creates a methane rich product.

We were able, through this process, to generate 600 kW of energy, which is about the same amount of power needed for our base-load. It was integral that we designed this to directly combat our energy costs and with that, we were able to run our entire operations on the onion waste alone.  For us, this is the best solution because it’s good for the environment and good for our bottom line.  Steve always says, 'I didn’t do it to win an award, but I did it to solve a problem'."

What elements of your efforts and success in your sustainable journey do you enjoy?

"I love having the opportunity to be the leader in the industry.  When it comes to agriculture, sustainability is very important.  And we as an agriculture industry haven’t been able to tell our story.  I think it’s important and inspiring for others to know how that works and what that process actually looks like.  It's nice to help people know the story — that really feels good.  Helping other farmers is also really crucial because they may not be able to; they're either working on the farm, or taking care of their business and don't always have the time to tell their story. I just really enjoy helping people become aware of what it means to be farmer."

Do you have any recommendations for other farmers, gardeners or sustainable-minded designers and individuals who have an idea or project?

"Every situation and every company is different. Gills Onions has been very generous, and it is what has made us successful — we love sharing ideas.  Farmers who harvest seasonally call us all the time, so you have to understand their energy usage and all the technologies that are available for every level of operations.  And it's always a great idea to look for help from a local University.  But it's also really important to do your homework before you invest. There’s so much information and resources out there.  And if you’re willing to share it’s a win win situation. Educating yourselves, your employees, and the community is huge!  Look for grants and other incentives that are available. The energy commission is always a good place to look.  Most importantly, you have to have the passion and the ability to think outside of the box."

Gills Onions has partnered with the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, to benchmark their sustainability efforts and to further establish future direction for improvements and wide-spread education.  If you want to learn more about how you can take on sustainable practices for your agriculture company, or are just interested in their process, click here for their fact sheet and reference page.



Power to the People — for Real

Let me introduce you to our friends at ALL Power Labs. They are considered the new global leader in small-scale gasification. What is Gasification? Allow me to explain. Gasification is a renewable and sustainable energy source. It is a process that converts organic or fossil based materials (aka, wood chips, coconut shells, or any organic matter with carbon compounds) into carbon monoxide, hydrogen and carbon dioxide. When these materials react at high temperatures (greater than 700 °C/1292 °F) in a controlled environment with oxygen and/or steam; the mixture creates what is called Syngas (synthetic gas) which itself is a fuel.

The GEK Power

Wow, so by building off of the technologies of others and working in an open-source environment, the possibilities are endless.

It really does takes a village!

How Sustainable Developers are Changing the Game of Affordable Housing

Over the last few years, there's been plenty of talk about San Francisco's housing crisis and the city's ever changing facade — from local housing policies to gentrification, we've heard it all. Back in February, even Stephen Colbert joked that the 1906 San Francisco earthquake marked "the last time anyone could afford to live there without six roommates".

One thing we don't often hear about in this city are the affordable urban living spaces being built everyday. I’m not trying to magnify a false sense of positivity — SF housing faces a lot of challenges to be sure. But in a real, tangible, way developers both for profit and non-profit are working to build sustainable, AFFORDABLE and functional homes for San Franciscans of all backgrounds. They're also working with various organizations like Project Access to redefine section 8 housing, allowing people to thrive in an environment that's not only beautiful but conducive to services that help through the healing process — single-handedly changing communities and blowing the disgraceful old model of low-income housing (like the infamous Cabrini-Green Projects in Chicago) out of the water.

Meet David Baker, a Mission-dweller and founding partner of David Baker + Partners, an architecture firm and strong community force behind the green design movement. "Our work acts as an advocate for improved urban planning," Baker's firm states, "where looking good only counts if it does good, too. I personally like living in a dense, urban environment. There’s challenges and there are also rewards to living in this type of setting.” The challenge for the vast majority San Franciscans is the actual price of living, something that the company confronts. “We try to design the best high density urban development in terms of generating a sense of community and interaction for the people. I think we are very responsive to the urban context. We try to respond to all the conditions through our designs.

David Baker's relationship with green architecture began at a young age. His inspiration first sprang from a bunch of monographs of famous architects given to him by his dad, who dropped out of school in the ninth-grade, becoming a self-taught architect who designed some Frank Lloyd Wright-style solar housing in the late 40’s and early 50’s. The dedication to the community doesn't end with grand-openings either. The firm has a long time history and legacy serving urban activism, working closely with organizations like the Greenbelt Alliance, India Basin Neighborhood Association , the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Housing Action Coalition and Rebuilding Together Oakland inactive.

Our creative director, Paige Loczi, recently attended the AIA Architecture and Social Services Supporting Communities At-Risk conference, featuring the Tassafaronga Village in East Oakland, built by Baker + Partners. The village received the U.S. Green Building Council LEED Platinum award in 2011 and incorporates solar power to generate electricity and heat water, along with reconstructed streets with traffic noise buffers, green storm-water infrastructure, and green roofs — just to name a few perks. But more than just an award-winning complex, the Tassafaronga community, finished in early 2010, still thrives in its mixed-income dwelling spread out on over 7 acres of green pathways, pocket parks, open spaces, urban gardens and playgrounds (that children actually play in, I should add). There's a surprising lack of statistics as to what specific changes have occurred within the populace, as it's too early to conjure up hard facts. But if one would ask a person living in the community, it's easy to tell: little things like comfort levels between mixed income, race, lifestyle, and improvement in the surrounding school children.

And then there's the 8th and Howard Studios that has literally brought the life back into SOMA, making it one of the up-and-coming neighborhoods in San Francisco. There's the uber cool Sightglass Coffee a block away, a green advertisement company called PlanetUp Ads across the street, and the enormous natural food store, Urban Harvest, directly underneath. Some of the authenticity of the neighborhood's diversity should be accredited to this five-story, 162 unit complex divided into affordable family houses and modern single-occupancy studios, each section with its own private courtyard. The complex boasts an eclectic mix of artists, immigrants, veterans, and young people, taking large strides in recognizing the diverse economic and social landscape in the city.

"The thing that always amazes me about San Francisco is how diverse it is here," David told me earlier this week. "You go up to Portland or somewhere in the Midwest and there’s more diversity that there used to be, but I think in San Francisco there’s so much of it that no one really thinks about it anymore. I think it’s good, and it invigorates the mix. We’re all here doing it together."

On Sunday, at the Yerba Buena screening room, you can catch the premier of the film Pruitt-Igoe Myth: the Urban History. Described as, "footage and images that have helped to perpetuate a myth of failure, a failure that has been used to critique Modernist architecture, attack public assistance programs, and stigmatize public housing residents. The film seeks to set the historical record straight." (2011, 83 min, digital)



The designedCOLLECTIVE Comes to Woodshanti

On January 20th, LOCZIdesign teamed up with Woodshanti to host the annual designedCOLLECTIVE event, and the response was terrific, 57 people in total!

In keeping with our role as a collective, the venue changes, but the authentic, collaborative vibe remains the same. This time, the location was Woodshanti’s Bayview workshop. Woodshanti was an obvious partner, as we have collaborated with their incredible team on a number of custom projects, and their work is always sustainable and always impeccable.

We were lucky to have Bill Ridings of California Urban Lumber and Greg Clayton of Restoration Finishing as guest speakers. California Urban Lumber specializes in custom milling of hardwoods that were removed by necessity because of natural mortality, disease or insect damage, new construction, root damage to sidewalks or foundations, wild fire control, and storm damage, while Restoration Finishing specializes in color work for custom cabinetry and production mill work for architectural elements, interiors, new cabinetry, furniture, wood paneling, decorative moldings, and restoration.

The turnout for the night was a unique mix of individuals with a shared interest in sustainability. Chris Ahlman provided great music through out the evening. Attendees included Aleck Wilson of Aleck Wilson Architects, Catrina Cooper of eco6design, Dave Deppen of Ecological Design Collaborative, Eric Edelson of Fireclay Tile, Jacqueline Fink of Koroseal, Torsten Glidden of TJ Glidden Co., Thom Harrison of AlterECO, Rye Hudak of Level 5 Design, Chris Johnson of WoodFirst, Esin Karliova of Studio Karliova, Clark Kayler of New Helvetia Hardwoods, Kathleen Liston of Eco Offsite, Scott McGlashan of McGlashan Architecture, Paul Rozendal of Ceramic Tile Design, to name just a few.

The evening offered an environment where talented people from disparate walks of life made easy new connections, both professional and personal. I know I was inspired to learn about the particular challenges others have faced and overcome, and the new projects they are excited about. For a full set of photos from the event look here!

Stay tuned for the date and location of the next designedCOLLECTIVE event!

If you’d like to be added to our event mailing list or you want to host or speak at an upcoming designedCOLLECTIVE, please send an e-mail to or We look forward to hearing from you and about your particular interests!