Green Building News

Green Building News May 1999

May 19, 1999

Mitigation Fails to Adequately Replace Lost Wetlands

Efforts to build artificial wetlands to replace those filled by urban development have failed to keep pace. According to a pair of studies, wetlands in Oregon's Willamette Valley are still disappearing faster than they're being created. And wetlands created by humans don't work as well as the ones created by nature. This is a blow to the concept of wetlands mitigation, a process which has allowed developers to fill urban wetlands and then create replacements.

An article in the Register-Guard (Eugene, Oregon) says the new studies show that the humanmade marshes are a poor replacement for the 6,877 acres of wetlands lost in the Willamette Valley alone between 1982 and 1994. Wetlands are valuable because they absorb flood waters, treat pollution, provide wildlife habitat and offer people a restful place to escape urban pressures.

To halt their destruction, state and federal policies require that anyone draining or filling wetlands - to build a house or a shopping center - must replace them elsewhere, a process called mitigation. Sometimes a developer builds a pond on the site, or might flood farmland to bring back waterfowl, willows and rushes. On paper, Oregon isn't losing wetlands. Developers must apply to the Division of State Lands and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a joint permit to fill wetlands. The agencies issue the permit only after approving a mitigation plan. The two cancel out - in theory.

Using aerial photos of 114 square-mile sample plots in the Willamette Valley, researchers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Corvallis research lab mapped changes in vegetation between 1982 and 1994. The results: The Willamette Valley lost an average of 546 acres of wetlands per year from 1982 to 1994. Conversion to farming accounted for most of the changes, followed by development and forestry.

Instead of relying on humanmade models to replace wetlands, developers should avoid destroying them in the first place, said Julie Sibbing, assistant director for wetlands and wildlife refuge policy for the National Audubon Society in Washington D.C. "Mitigation's supposed to be a last option,'' she said.

Southern California Tightens Paint Regulations

Southern California approved stricter rules for paints and other coatings this week. Board members of the South Coast Air Quality Management District decided to tighten rules for volatile organic compounds. Oil-based paints contain the highest quantities of VOCs. Air quality officials estimate that paint fumes are responsible for putting 58 tons of pollutants into the air during the spring and summer, when outdoor painting is heaviest. By 2010, the amount is expected to climb to 63 tons. That's more than the amount of pollution produced by 1.8 million automobiles or all petroleum refining, storage and transfer activity in the region, according to management district figures. The new law would remove 22 tons of paint pollutants from the air. Opponents in the paint industry said that home and business owners will have to paint more frequently because new paints won't have the same durability under the hot California sun. They also claim that the new rules would drive many smaller manufacturers out of business. The rules would begin to take effect in 2002 and phase-in completely by 2006. In the past, Southern California has lead the way toward stricter rules for VOCs around the U.S. Source: Info Beat

Linoleum Makes a Comeback

After virtually disappearing from the construction scene, linoleum flooring is making a comeback as a sustainable material. Get the story in Alex Wilson's article, "Linoleum Naturally" in Architecture Magazine.

City Considers Green Building Ordinance

The City of San Francisco is considering an ordinance that would require new and remodeled municipal buildings to include green features. According to an editorial in the San Francisco Examiner, it would be the first big city with a binding green building ordinance. The law -- which would require buildings to reduce their use of energy and water, employ fewer toxic chemicals and require recycling of construction debris -- goes to hearing this month. City staff projected that the ordinance would save $22 million over 10 years in lower operating costs for lighting, heating and cooling. At the same time worker productivity would increase.

Daylighting Research Receives Award

Architecture magazine presented a 1999 Award for Architectural Research to a team of scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The award recognized an Environmental Energy Technologies Division (EETD) research program called "Daylighting with Integrated Envelope and Lighting Systems." The six-year program demonstrated how to integrate existing and prototype window and lighting technologies into advanced systems that can attain greater energy efficiency and occupant comfort than conventional design practice.

The winning team was led by Stephen Selkowitz, head of EETD's Building Technologies Department, and Eleanor Lee, EETD Project Manager, and included Dennis DiBartolomeo, Francis Rubinstein, Liliana Beltrán, Joseph Klems, Robert Sullivan, Edward Vine, and Robert Clear.

The award, co-sponsored by Architecture magazine and the Initiative for Architectural Research, is one of the profession's highest honors for innovative research. The Initiative is a cooperative effort of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, the American Institute of Architects, and the Architectural Research Centers Consortium.

"Window and lighting systems in buildings are not operated as an integrated system," says Selkowitz. "As a result, the daylighting features of buildings -- any type of window or skylight that brings outdoor light to the building's interior -- rarely reduces a building's energy use as much as it could. Daylighting, when done well, can reduce building energy use substantially by reducing its need for electric lighting, cooling and heating."

"Our research suggests that in a daytime-occupied commercial building, dimmable daylighting controls could reduce the total electricity and peak demand between 20 and 40 percent," Lee added.

One goal of the research was to develop and test integrated windows and daylighting technology that would reduce peak electricity demand up to 40 percent in climates where air conditioning is typically in use. The solutions had to be technically feasible options for the marketplace. They also had to provide building occupants with pleasant, comfortable surroundings.

The team developed a variety of technological and design solutions to meet its goals. "One of the technologies we tested is a dynamic envelope and lighting system using blinds, light sensors, light dimmers and a computer control system to respond in real time to changes in sun and sky conditions. The system controls daylight intensity to provide a more comfortable, uniform interior work environment as sun and sky conditions altered the amount of light reaching the windows," said Lee.

Light-redirecting systems using light shelves, light pipes, skylights and other hardware were developed by the team to reflect daylight from windows or skylights and distribute it more uniformly and to greater depths within a building's interior.

"We used simulations, field tests, and full-scale demonstrations to solve interdisciplinary technological problems that are often missed with component-oriented research. The team also developed practical computer-based design tools, reports and a guidebook for building designers," Lee said. Demonstration sites for these technologies include the Oakland Federal Center and the Palm Springs (California) Chamber of Commerce building.

Detroit School Goes Solar

United Solar Systems Corp. announced the formation of a partnership to install a multi-kilowatt UNI-SOLAR® photovoltaic array on the roof of Cass Technical High School in Detroit, and to develop a solar curriculum which uses the array.

This project will give science and engineering students hands-on experience with a multi-kilowatt solar array. It will build upon a solar curriculum which Detroit Edison has already developed for grades 4 through 8. The high school students will be encouraged to reach out, through demonstrations, presentations and other means, to other students and the community in general to increase awareness of renewable energy options. The curriculum, once finalized and accredited, will be made available to other schools for replication.

United Solar, Detroit Edison Co. and Cass Tech will jointly implement the project, with funding from the Detroit Edison Foundation and the State of Michigan (through the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center).

ORNL Grant Applications Due May 28th

State and local governments can seek funding and assistance for building, industrial and power technology projects through the State Partnerships Program (SPP). The SPP is intended to be a user-friendly, non-contractual approach to providing national laboratory expertise to state energy agencies and the customers they serve. Applications for the current round of partnerships is due May 28th. Another round is expected to be announced in December 1999. The program is operated by Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Fax Action Targets Home Depot

Environmental groups are keeping up the pressure on Home Depot, claiming the building materials giant has made empty promises about phasing out wood harvested using unsustainable methods -- particularly products from old growth forests. Leading up to Home Depot's May 27th shareholders meeting, the Forest Action Network is promoting a fax action in which concerned people clog Home Depot's corporate fax machines with written protests. Action Resource Center sponsor's the Home Depot Sucks web site with details about their point of view and opportunities for action.

Timberwest Announces an End to Clearcutting

Canadian forest products company Timberwest has become the second Canadian company to announce that it will gradually replace clearcut harvesting with "variable retention harvesting." The company cited public and market considerations for its decision.

"I believe society and the market are telling forest companies in British Columbia to find new and better ways to harvest trees," TimberWest's newly appointed chief executive, Scott Folk, said Monday.

While variable retention harvesting is far from "sustainable" forest management, it is a big step in the right direction. Greenpeace forest activist Tamara Stark said TimberWest must also address its continued cutting of old-growth trees, its overall high harvest volume and the impact on local sawmill communities of its exports of whole unprocessed logs. Source: Envirolink News Service

U.S. Plastic Lumber Reports Profit

After a net loss for the same period last year, U.S. Plastic Lumber Corp. announced increases in revenues and operating income for the first quarter of 1999. Net income for the first quarter was $508,000 or $.02 per share on a diluted basis, compared with a net loss of $122,600 in the same quarter in 1998. Revenues for the first quarter of 1999 were $19.8 million compared with $7.7 million for the same quarter last year, an increase of 157 percent. Operating income for the first quarter was $1.9 million, or 9.8 percent of revenues, compared with $15,600, or .2 percent of revenue, for the same quarter in 1998.

Market For Solar Electricity Now Exceeds One Billion Dollars Per Year

The market for solar electricity is growing rapidly, and the technology is poised to play a major role in bringing telecommunications services to developing countries. That is one conclusion of the new 162-page report, Power Play: Solar Electric Technologies, Markets, and Vendors, published by Photovoltaic Insider's Report. Shipments of photovoltaic power modules have doubled over the past three years. Participation of global titans like British Petroleum, Siemens and Kyocera proves solar electricity is not only a viable solution, but often the best solution. The report states that solar electricity is essential to the rapid deployment of wireless local loop telephone systems. Locations lacking basic telephone services often lack electric power.

Small Scale Power Generation Poised for Huge Growth

The power generation industry appears to be starting a transition from traditional central station generating plants to small-scale distributed power generation. Distributed power generation is the placement of electric generators at or near the end users by the utilities and nonutility generators (NUGs). It also includes on-site customer generation of electric power by industrial, commercial, residential end users and remote applications. Currently, small-scale power systems used in on-site customer generation (power generating capacity of 1 kilowatt to less than 5 megawatt by engine/generator sets; combustion turbines; microturbines; and fuel cells) play a small role in the generation of the nation's electric power. This is expected to change significantly over the next decade and into the next century. In addition, there is a growing worldwide market for small-scale power systems, particularly so in those areas of the world lacking electrical power generation systems of any kind. Estimates place approximately 40 percent of the world's population as being without electric power.

According to a soon-to-be-released Business Communications Co., Inc. study RE-076 Small-Scale Power Generation: How Much, What Kind, the small-scale power market revenues were estimated at $4.2 billion in 1998. This is expected to grow at an average annual growth rate (AAGR) of 32.1 percent to cross $16 billion in 2003.

The fuel cells market is expected to grow the fastest, from $305 million in 1998 to $1,094 million by 2003, averaging an annual growth rate of 29.1 percent for the same period. A nonexistent market in 1998, microturbine technology is expected to gross $8,500 million by 2003, contributing as much as 50 percent to the total small-scale power sector.

BCC finds that base load generation currently relies on coal-fired, nuclear, or natural gas-fired technologies. However, coal-fired and nuclear steam turbines will decline from their present levels of generating capacity over the next two decades. By the year 2003, it is estimated that approximately 55 gigawatts of new generating capacity will be installed in the United States, more than 200 gigawatts will be installed in world markets, and a significant portion of these capacities will be in the form of small-scale power systems in distributed energy applications.

Small-scale power systems, then, will provide a growing share of the nation's electrical power well into the next century. Such systems are set to play a major role in the deregulated power industry. Large-scale plants will compete in the base load power generation market, while small-scale power systems will penetrate the distributed power market. Over the next decade, nuclear power plants will be decommissioned and increasingly stringent environmental regulations will be enforced. Major utilities will see cost trade-offs between power grid upgrades and the need for additional central power plants versus distributed applications and the re-engineering of the business of energy consumers. Lastly the trend to small-scale electric power generating systems will continue to grow, spurred by the approaching commercialization of a number of new technologies in generator sets, turbines, microturbines and fuel cells.

AlliedSignal Develops New Foam Blowing Agent

AlliedSignal Inc. is seeking application approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a proprietary new, non-ozone-depleting chemical blowing agent for use in a variety of foam insulation applications. Called HFC-245fa (hydrofluorocarbon), the blowing agent can be used to make refrigerator and freezer insulation foam; boardstock foam used in construction (for roofing and sheathing); and spray foam, which is also used in construction. HFC-245fa also is suited for use in certain refrigerant and solvent applications.

HFC-245fa would replace HCFC-141b (hydrochlorofluorocarbon), which contains chlorine and is widely used today to produce foam insulation used in refrigerators and freezers. The EPA has scheduled HCFC-141b for phaseout on January 1, 2003, due to its potential to deplete the earth's stratospheric ozone layer.

AlliedSignal's HFC-245fa is non-flammable and offers customers worldwide a safe alternative to the use of other compounds, such as hydrocarbons, which present significant safety and other environmental challenges. In addition to safety and environmental benefits, HFC-245fa offers users insulation performance matching that of HCFC-141b. The insulation performance of HFC-245fa is superior to other non-ozone-depleting products, such as hydrocarbons and HFC-134a, which is important in helping customers meet increasingly stringent energy efficiency standards.

Prior to the commercial manufacture and sale of a new chemical substance, the EPA must approve the product under its Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) Program, which determines acceptability of a particular substitute for a particular end use within a larger sector. AlliedSignal's SNAP petition to the EPA would allow HFC-245fa to be used in various foam, refrigerant and solvent applications.

Alliance to Save Energy Honors Energy "Stars"

Last week, the Alliance to Save Energy recognized three individuals and companies with their "Star of Energy Efficiency" Awards.

Ted Turner received the Charles H. Percy Award for public service for his significant work in the area of energy and environmental education. In addition to building and running a media empire, he also runs the Turner Foundation, which sponsors and promotes environmental preservation and energy efficiency activities and organizations.

Alliance's business award went to the Whirlpool Corporation in recognition of its broad spectrum of efficient products and long-time commitment to energy efficiency promotion.

The Durst Organization, Inc., widely acclaimed for their superbly efficient use of energy in the new, award winning Four Times Square building in New York City, also received an award. The $500 million, 48-story commercial office tower is the largest environmentally responsible office building not only in New York City, but also in the world.

The 1999 Chairman's Award went to the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association for its support of the Alliance and aggressive promotion of energy efficiency. A trade association representing insulation manufacturers, NAIMA has most recently thrown its weight behind a tax credit proposal for energy-efficient homes currently being debated in Congress.


May 12, 1999

Housewrap Performance Often Falls Short

Housewrap fails to perform as promised according to a study by the Pennsylvania Housing Research Center (PHRC). Although the manufacturer's instructions clearly state that the wrap must create a continuous barrier, only a very small number of builders take the time to install it that way. To achieve this continuity, builders must tape all joints between sheets and around windows and doors. Housewrap must also be sealed to the top plate and foundation. Instead, researchers found that 93 percent of builders didn't tape the joints and 73 percent didn't even tape around windows and doors, which is necessary to prevent water penetration. Other common mistakes included: installing the windows before the wrap, applying individual sheets only around the corners, covering individual walls without wrapping corners and making no attempt to seal the wrap to the foundation. These installation errors render the housewrap useless for its primary purpose of blocking air leakage.

The researchers also conducted laboratory tests using test wall sections. These tests showed a substantially better performance by housewraps made from spunbonded olefin, such as Tyvek and Typar. Perforated housewraps made from woven olefin didn't even meet the manufacturers claimed resistance to air flow.

The study -- reported in the May Issue of Energy Design Update -- looked at 30 building sites. That may not be a large sample, but researchers believe that the results are generally representative. In fact, building professionals have raised these concerns for many years. Similar findings were reported in Energy Source Builder in 1993. Authors of the PHRC study recommend the formation of a housewrap trade group that would identify performance issues and set policies for the industry.

Chicago To Try Roof Gardens

"The city's wearing dark clothes, and it's making the city hotter. We want to dress the city in lighter colors," says William Abolt, acting commissioner of the City of Chicago's environment department. Chicago's change of wardrobe is getting help from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through a program to combat the urban heat island phenomenon. While six other cities are also participating, Chicago is the only one planning to install rooftop gardens. Public buildings, such as City Hall and schools, could be the first to be "greened" later this year. The city also intends to plant trees and other vegetation in parking strips and medians. Chicago is a huge heat island with temperatures from four to six degrees higher than the surrounding countryside. A computer model developed by Lawrence Berkeley National Labs predicts that such plantings could reduce the temperature of the city by five degrees. However, no city has ever adopted the widespread changes necessary to test the accuracy of the model. Source: Lincoln Star Journal

Twelve More Schools to Join Solar Schools Program

Eleven schools in Ohio and one in Texas have pledged to participate in the Solar Schools program. Bluffsview Elementary School in Worthington, Ohio, the first Solar School to go on line, dedicated its 2,000-watt photovoltaic (PV) system in early March. With the recent additions the program takes its first big step toward its initial goal of recruiting 100 schools. Anyone can track the energy output of each school's PV system online. The online tracking system is provided by American Electric Power's Datapult(sm) Internet-based energy management technology, which allows viewers to track the energy demands of the school with the energy output of the system. The international Solar Schools program is a collaborative effort of American Electric Power, BP Solar, the Foundation for Environmental Education, the federal and state governments and local communities.

Green Space Shows Measurable Benefits to Inner City Dwellers

After a series of studies at a public housing project in Chicago, researchers have verified that urban green space strengthens community by drawing people out of their homes.

"In this study, we found that the more vegetation in a common space, the stronger the neighborhood social ties near that space," the report says. "Compared to residents living adjacent to relatively barren spaces, individuals living adjacent to greener common spaces had more social activities and more visitors, knew more about their neighbors, reported their neighbors were more concerned with helping and supporting one another and had stronger feelings of belonging."

This finding appears in the latest research conducted by Frances E. Kuo and William Sullivan of the Human-Environment Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois. They have conducted a series of studies at Robert Taylor Homes. The project has 28, 16-story apartment buildings, making it the largest public housing project in the world.

In a previous study, Kuo and Sullivan reported that residents who live near areas with trees have significantly less violence in their homes. "For individuals who live in poor inner-city neighborhoods and who face an array of difficult circumstances," says Kuo, "greener common outdoor spaces may make the world a more supportive and safer place."

The work of HERL was featured in a PBS show on urban forests called The Forest Where We Live.

Government Announces Sustainability Funds at National Town Meeting

The National Town meeting offered a good venue for the federal government to announce funding for projects that promote sustainability. First, Vice President Gore announced 50 commitments the federal government would make. Next, Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater announced that 35 proposals totaling $13.1 million will receive funding under an innovative initiative called the Transportation and Community and System Preservation Pilot program (TCSP), which serves as a key component of the Clinton Administration's livability agenda. This financial tool will help make communities more livable by preserving green space, easing traffic congestion and employing 'smart growth' strategies," Secretary Slater said. "Through funding like this, we can protect our environment while growing our economy, demonstrating once again President Clinton's commitment to putting people first."


May 5, 1999

Miscellaneous Energy Uses Skyrocket

Miscellaneous uses of electricity, including televisions, stereos, aquariums, computers and electric toothbrushes, now account for one-fifth of the use in the residential sector, according to Lawrence Berkeley National Labs. They project that it will grow dramatically by 2010, unless policies are implemented to address the problem. Consumer electronics are expected to make up 40 percent of the increase with another 30 percent coming from halogen torchiere lamps. Even more astonishing, 20 percent of the miscellaneous energy is consumed by appliances that are turned "off" or not performing their principal function. These standby losses -- sometimes called "leaking electricity" -- mainly occur in consumer electronics. The analysis is contained in a report "Miscellaneous Electricity Use in the U.S. Residential Secto."

Grants Offered for Energy Research

The California Energy Commission is accepting proposals for their Energy Innovations Small Grant Program, which provides up to $75,000 to small businesses, small non-profits, individuals and academic institutions to conduct research that establishes the feasibility of new, innovative energy concepts. Research projects must target one of the six program areas, address a California market need and provide a potential benefit to California ratepayers. Program areas are: Industrial/Agriculture/Water End-use Efficiency, Building End-use Efficiency, Environmentally Preferred Advanced Generation, Renewable Generation, Energy-Related Environmental Research, and Strategic Energy Research. Four solicitations per year are planned and will run back to back, allowing grant applications to be submitted at any time during the year. Applications in the current cycle will be accepted until May 31, 1999.

Group Claims Northwest Salmon Not in Jeopardy

Hoping to stop restrictions on their activities, a coalition of builders, cattlemen and farmers has challenged recent salmon listing under the Endangered Species Act. Among other things the group -- called Common Sense Salmon Recovery -- says that salmon are not on the brink of extinction. In response Will Stelle, NMFS's Seattle-based Northwest regional administrator says "I've seen a lot of nutty lawsuits in my time, but this one may take the cake." Source: Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce

Design Opportunity on Whidbey Island

The Whidbey Institute is looking for design services for two projects. One project is guest lodging for up to 30 people. The other project is a Sanctuary space for gatherings of up to 40 people. Combining elements of a spiritual retreat, a conference center and an educational facility, the Whidbey Institute is dedicated to providing programs related to earth, spirit and the human future to help address society's most critical concerns. The Institute is located on Whidbey Island, one hour north of Seattle on 100 acres of evergreen forest. Central to the site is a turn of the century Finnish family homestead. This old farmhouse has been renovated with guest rooms and meeting space. Near the farmhouse, a new building housing a meeting hall, kitchen and dining hall was completed last year. This next year the Institute is planning to construct additional housing to bring the on-site housing up to 50 guests along with a Sanctuary space concurrent with the construction of the housing. The Institute is seeking interested firms to submit proposals for either or both of these projects. Proposals for both projects will be due on June 7, 1999. There will be a mandatory site visit on May 19. If you are interested in being considered for either the Housing project or the Sanctuary building please contact the Project Manager, Dan Neumeyer, at Dan@JadeDesignBuild.Com. Please specify which project(s) you are interested in, and we will mail you the appropriate Request(s) for Proposal.

Sustainability in the News

Green construction is making news all over the place. Here are a few examples:

Building for the Future - Puget Sound Business Journal
Barker Spurs Sellen Toward Sustainability - Puget Sound Business Journal
How Green Is My Mini-Bar? - Outside Magazine

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