Green Building News

Green Building News January 1999

January 26, 1999

New Study Shows Radon Less Risky Than Previously Thought

For the past two decades, researchers have been warning of the dangers from alpha radiation given off by radon. Scientists performing controlled studies on mouse cells at Columbia University have released a study that shows homeowners exposed to radon gas may be less at risk for developing lung cancer than previously thought. See the full story on the Environmental News Network.

Kafus Ships Fiber-Cement Siding

Kafus Environmental Industries announced that the Fortra Fiber Cement Co., a joint venture of Kafus Environmental Industries and Temple Inland Forest Products Corp., has shipped the first truckload of FORTRA™ Fiber-Cement siding from its Waxahachie, Texas plant.

Kafus entered into a joint venture with Temple Inland in April 1998 resulting in the new plant in Texas., which will produce a full line of fiber-cement products that have multiple uses in the building industry, including replacing wood, vinyl and aluminum siding. According to Kafus, FORTRA™ Fiber-Cement will not burn, is immune to water and salt spray damage, will not rot. It has a 50-year warranty.

Like Kafus' other ventures in panel board, paper, bio-composites and organic fertilizer, Fortra Fiber Cement Co. uses renewable resources to produce commodity products at competitive prices. FORTRA™ Fiber-Cement is made of sand, cement and pulp from paper mills.

According to Wood Technology Magazine, the market for cement fiberboard is expected to grow from 2 percent of the existing multi-billion dollar siding market to more than 30 percent by 2005 (2.7 billion square feet of demand), surpassing solid wood, hardboard, vinyl and aluminum alternatives.


Speak Up! Complete the Sustainable Building Questionnaire

Miriam Landman, a graduate student at Tufts University, is collecting information about the attitudes of building professionals concerning sustainable building. The information will be used in a Master's thesis for the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy. She has posted her online questionnaire until January 31, 1999, so there isn't much time. Completing the survey should take only about 10 minutes. If you'd like to contribute your perspective, do it now.


Northwest Lighting On-Line Unveils Distributor Database

If you're looking to buy lighting products in the Pacific Northwest, look no further than Northwest Lighting Online's (NWLOL) manufacturer's representatives database. The intrepid staff of NWLOL has contacted and cataloged nearly every distributor in the region, so that you can find a local contact quickly.


The National Green Building Conference, April 8-10

Green Building luminaries, such as Steve Loken, Nadav Malin, Barbara Harwood, John Bower, Perry Bigelow, Kathleen O'Brien and John Abrams, are among the speakers scheduled to present at The National Green Building Conference. This conference is sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders, NAHB Research Center and Professional Builder Magazine.


H.O.P.E.S. Eco Design Arts Conference, April 15-18

The 1999 Eco Design Arts Conference will be held April 15-18 at the School of Architecture and Allied Arts on the University of Oregon campus in Eugene. Building upon the success and energy generated at the 1998 Conference, this year's theme,"Equity and Ecology" will explore the important and inherent connections between social and ecological issues and the critical role artists, designers, planners and community members have in crafting cultures of social and ecological equity.

The conference format includes keynote lectures (David Orr, Francesca Lyman, Michael Singer, etc.), panel discussions, art exhibits, workshops, demonstrations and a design competition. For this year's design competition the challenge is to emphasize specific relationships between equity and ecology while considering problems at all scales and exploring diverse approaches to a more equitable society. Three entries will receive an Outstanding Merit award and equal portions of a $1000 cash prize.


January 19, 1999

Loewen Windows Seeks Suppliers of Certified Douglas Fir

Loewen Windows is looking for a way to increase the purchase of Douglas Fir that has been harvested from forests certified for sustainable management. While they have not formally launched the program, they have sent a position paper to a few key suppliers, dealers and architects. The company presently buys a small amount of certified wood but hopes to rapidly expand the program. Loewen plans to offer consumers the choice of window and door systems constructed entirely of certified sustainable forest products. Loewen's entire line of products is constructed with west coast Douglas Fir, a species that is well suited to fenestration purposes due to its outstanding durability, decay resistance and precision milling characteristics. The abundance of Douglas Fir, its suitability to selective harvesting and the reforestation infrastructure that exists for this species support its position as a sustainable material. Loewen Windows is based in Manitoba, Canada and has been making windows since 1905.

Tracking the Elusive No Furnace House

An enduring undercurrent of the energy efficient construction movement has been to build a house that is so tight and well insulated that it requires no external source of energy, except the sun. That means no furnace, electric heaters or wood stove. It's technically possible, but what does it take? And is it worth it? Environmental Building News just published a candid three-way discussion that illustrates the possibilities and the obstacles. The discussion takes place via email between Donella Meadows (client), Marc Rosenbaum, PE (ecological design/energy consultant), and Amory Lovins (world famous energy expert). It began when Amory told Donella that it was possible to build a passive solar home in the Vermont climate which required no heating system or back-up heat. Marc was very skeptical, and went on to do computer modeling to verify this claim. The project is a 22 unit cohousing/organic farm/institute being created in Hartland, Vermont. Marc, Amory and Dana have been very generous to share this unedited private conversation with a larger audience.

New Organization Watches Forest Certification

A new group, called Sustainable Forestry & Certification Watch (SFCW) intends to help companies, governments and non-profit groups across the world get better information about forest certification. Through their newsletter, research reports, email alerts and a toll-free telephone line, SFCW plans to enhance the understanding of forest certification and its implications, particularly for sustainable forest management, international forest policy, trade in forest products and consumer choice. The new group also plans to serve a watchdog function by keeping an eye on forest certification agencies, such as the Forest Stewardship Council. SFCW's information services are available through an annual subscription of $600.

Bonneville Environmental Foundation Receives $1 million

In its first year, the Bonneville Environmental Foundation has received more than $1 million in commitments. In late 1998, the Foundation booked approximately $350,000 from contributions and an initial green power sale to the Emerald People's Utility District in Eugene, Oregon.

In the last few weeks, two significant contributions were announced.

First, Snohomish County Public Utility District #1 in Washington announced it would purchase 10 megawatts of certified green power from the Bonneville Power Administration. As a result of the purchase, the foundation will receive 60 percent of the above-market green power premium paid to BPA, or about $550,000 annually.

Second, The Hewlett Foundation of Menlo Park, Calif., donated $350,000 to cover all of the foundation's administrative and marketing costs over the next two years. The grant allows 100 percent of the green power revenues and other contributions to go to new renewable energy and watershed restoration projects.

"We are finding more and more organizations that are making substantial commitments that will help us enhance fish runs in the Northwest and invest in clean, renewable energy for all," said Executive Director Angus Duncan. "The Snohomish green power purchase is particularly gratifying because it demonstrates the growing market for certifiable green power regionally and nationally."

The Bonneville Environmental Foundation was organized in June 1998 as an independent, nonprofit foundation supporting renewable energy and watershed health in the Pacific Northwest. Former Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield is the chairman of the foundation.

Building Design Advisor 1.0 Released

A free computer program is now available to help building designers. Building Design Advisor (BDA) is a way that designers can take advantage of sophisticated building analysis tools and databases without the complex inputs those tools often require. BDA stores and manages building data and controls the analysis processes. Through its simple Graphical User Interface, BDA allows designers to quickly and easily specify basic building geometry and automatically assigns "smart" default values to all non-geometric parameters required by the analysis tools. These default values can be easily reviewed and changed. In this way, BDA supports the use of sophisticated tools from the initial, schematic phases of building design.

The BDA is a Windows™-based application for personal computers. The initial version of the BDA (1.0) is linked to DElight (simplified daylighting analysis module) and RESEGY (simplified energy analysis module).   Please note that these simulation tools have not been extensively validated and may not be suitable for decision-making. Future versions of BDA will be linked to additional analysis and visualization tools, such as DOE-2 (thermal, energy and energy cost), Radiance (day/lighting and rendering) and COMIS (airflow and indoor air quality). Moreover, the BDA will be linked to cost estimating and environmental impact modules, building rating systems, CAD software and electronic product catalogs.

A product of Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, Version 1.0 is free and available to download from the Building Design Advisor Web Page.


January 13, 1999

Kafus Announces Agreement to Make Natural Fiber Auto Parts

Kafus Environmental Industries and Visteon Automotive systems announced an agreement to collaborate on the development and production of natural fiber composite materials for use in automobile interiors. The agreement with Visteon marks a significant step toward the use of natural fiber composites for industrial applications. The companies plan to develop various non-woven mats and panels from a combination of kenaf and other natural fibers. The materials will be used to make door panels, seat backs and package trays for Ford Motor Company and other auto makers.

"We also see significant applications for this technology in furniture manufacturing, building and construction, packaging and, eventually, the aerospace industry," says David Agneta, Kafus Bio-Composites president. Kafus is currently completing work on a factory in Riverside, California that will make medium density fiberboard completely from recovered urban waste wood. Product is expected to begin shipping in June 1999.

Kafus also has other exciting plans. According to David Saltman, Vice President of Marketing, the company is working with the recreational vehicle industry on a strong, lightweight structural panel made of expanded polystyrene insulation and bio-composite skins.

Kafus grows and processes kenaf through its subsidiary Kenaf Industries of South Texas. Kenaf is a fast-growing, drought-resistant relative to hibiscus, is capable of growing 14 feet in seven months without extensive use of pesticides or herbicides. The outer bast of the kenaf plant are an ideal substitute for fiberglass in the production of reinforced plastics.

Gore Announces Livability Initiative

President Clinton's upcoming budget proposal will include a package of initiatives to promote "livable communities, comfortable suburbs, vibrant cities and green spaces all around and in between." Vice President Al Gore told the American Institute of Architects that federal support would be available for communities to purchase park land, old industrial sites and to preserve water supplies. The proposal also increases funding for public transit and provides $50 million in grants to local groups to design strategies to control growth.

 U.S. Postal Service Opens Green Post Office

Today in Ft. Worth, Texas, officials dedicated the first "environmental post office" in the U. S. A prototype for all new post offices, it incorporates efficient and sustainable use of natural resources while providing a healthy environment for customers and employees. Features include: natural landscaping, rainwater harvesting, compressed wheat straw wall panels, energy efficient heating, cooling and lighting systems and the use of recycled content building materials. This project will allow designers to test and compare the cost, availability, performance and aesthetics of green materials and systems to those used in standard construction. While the USPS has already incorporated some green features into other Post Offices, this new project pushes the envelope.

Appliances Can "Leak" Electricity

Many appliances use electricity even when they are turned off or not performing their primary purpose. Just look around and at all those LED clocks and glowing status lights. Even though each one by itself is small, the vast number of electricity leaks in the U.S. alone adds up to about 5 percent of residential energy use or about $3 billion. Want to know more about leaking electricity and how to put a plug in it? Visit the leaking electricity report published by Lawrence Berkeley National Labs.


January 5, 1999

American Cemwood Establishes Restitution Fund

American Cemwood Corp has reached an agreement with the Oregon Attorney General to establish a $6.2 million fund to fulfill warranties on fiber-cement roofing products that failed long before the 50-year warranty had expired. American Cemwood stopped production and sales in April 1998 citing a drop in demand related to "market perceptions" of the product and competition from lower cost alternatives. "We've kept the company open to deal with warranty claims," says Bruce Kannenberg, General Manager of Marketing and Sales. He acknowledges problems with early generation products, but points out that there's a lot of roofing installed that still performs.

The attorney general's office got involved after receiving 110 complaints from customers dissatisfied with American Cemwood's response to their claims. Kannenberg says that 92 of those complaints are now resolved. The $6.2 million fund was set aside to provide restitution to Oregonians who file claims before January 1, 2004. The fund also covers consumers from other states who filed complaints before December 2, 1998. Kannenberg indicated that the company has another fund for other warranty claims. By entering this agreement, the company admitted no violation of the law. Additional warranty claims can be made directly to American Cemwood at 541-928-6397 or through the Oregon Attorney General's office.

Louisiana Pacific Drops Fiber Cement Roofing

In its drive to become a national building materials supplier, Louisiana Pacific is no longer making fiber cement roofing tiles. The company closed its Red Bluff, California plant after unsuccessfully trying to sell the business. The company says it decided to jettison fiber cement roofing after a 1997 restructuring in which L-P set the goal of becoming a national distributor. Because fiber cement roofing is a regional enterprise, the L-P said it did not fit with the new national focus. A number of companies continue to supply fiber cement roofing.

Easy Floor Wins Popular Science Award

Popular Science Magazine included PFG Industries' Easy Floor as one of the "Best of What's New." Easy floor is a modular system of molded polystyrene blocks for installing hydronic radiant floors without pouring concrete or gypsum. The magazine cited Easy Floor's ability to easily access hydronic heating tubes after installation as one reason for the award.

Patent Available for Combustion Spillage Detector Strips

Aptech Detectors Inc. -- manufacturer and distributor of the Air Check™ Backdraft / Spillage Indicator -- is seeking a buyer for the patent upon which the product is based, according to President Michael Monette. The indicator strip is designed for placement on conventional or naturally aspirated gas furnaces and naturally aspirated residential gas water heaters. The device uses a patented heat detection process. The strips are used by homeowners, energy auditors and furnace technicians and sells for $1.00 each. " I am currently exiting from this business and would be willing to sell access to the patent to any interested parties," says Monette. More information about the product can be seen at the Aptech Detectors Web site.

Gasoline May Really Cost $15/gallon

A report by the International Center for Technology Assessment called The Real Price of Gas sets the real cost of a gallon between $5.60 and $15.14. Of course, the price at the pump is just a tiny fraction of the cost. External factors, such as subsidies to the oil industry, increased taxes, higher insurance rates, environmental health and the cost of military action in the Persian Gulf, drive up the real cost that consumers eventually pay. The skewed price sends the wrong message to consumers concerning vehicle choices, real estate development, mass transit and other economic issues. The report suggests that these external costs be added to the retail price, so consumers can make fully informed decisions.

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