Green Building News

Green Building News October 1999

October 27, 1999

Monastery Illuminates Straw Bale Construction

The monks at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in New Mexico live a remote and rugged life 13 miles from the nearest power line. Over the years, they have developed their complex with sensitivity to environmental and ecological concerns. The most recent projects are documented on the Strawbilt Web site. The site describes sustainable building and renewable energy projects, including: straw bale construction, solar water heating, photovoltaics, daylighting, passive solar design and certified lumber.

Governors Adopt Smart Growth Policy

In the last twenty years, tens of millions of acres have been developed across the nation. State governors have begun to recognize that planned development is in harmony with the environment, preserves natural plant and animal life for future generations. As America’s population grows, it has tended to spread out. New homes today tend to sit on bigger lots than new houses 30 years ago. Suburban office parks are replacing compact downtowns. The trend has several consequences. Streets and sewer lines must reach farther, which drives up construction and maintenance costs. When fields are paved, rainfall simply runs off, which can increase flooding. Storm runoff from parking lots, roads, and lawns is often polluted with hydrocarbons, fertilizers, and pesticides, which washes into rivers and lakes. And traffic snarls sap precious time away from work, family, and enriching activities.

"Smart Growth" strategies are intended to save valuable natural areas before they are forever lost to development; support the redevelopment of existing towns and cities; and save taxpayers from the high cost of building infrastructure required to support sprawl development. After a conference on the topic earlier in the summer, the National Governors' Association (NGA) has adopted a policy called Principles for Better Land Use.

Maryland Governor Parris Glendening, who served as the 1999 Chair of NGA's Natural Resources Committee, initiated and promoted the policy change. "By adopting these Smart Growth principles, the governors have recognized the need for states to figure out how best to use their remaining land while preserving and protecting the environment," said Glendening. "There are better ways to accommodate growth than to spend government money subsidizing the development of our natural resources and creating urban sprawl. These guiding principles included in our new policy encourage more sustainable growth." The new policy identifies 10 principles that encourage state and local governments to:

  • Mix land uses
  • Take advantage of existing community assets
  • Create a range of housing opportunities and choices
  • Foster "walkable" close-knit neighborhoods
  • Promote distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place, including the rehabilitation and use of historic buildings
  • Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas
  • Strengthen and encourage growth in existing communities
  • Provide a variety of transportation choices
  • Make development decisions predictable, fair and cost-effective
  • Encourage citizen and stakeholder participation in development decisions

Missouri Seeks Energy Program Directors

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Division of Energy is seeking qualified applicants to fill the two positions in Jefferson City:

Energy Specialist V (Program Director, State Government Programs)
The program director will manage, guide and set policy direction for the program. Work includes improvement of energy efficiency and use of renewable energy sources in state-owned and leased buildings; overcoming barriers to energy efficiency and renewables in state government; aiding in procurement of energy efficient products and equipment and use of alternative fuels in state vehicles; examining options to finance improvements in state buildings; and providing technical assistance to state agencies. Knowledge of financing options available to state government is helpful. Ability to work effectively with many state agencies and private-sector parties is essential.

Energy Specialist V (Program Director, Schools and Local Governments Program)
The program director will manage, guide, and set policy direction for the program. Work includes statewide promotion of energy efficiency improvements, use of renewable energy sources, use of new technologies, and introduction of energy educational materials in schools and local government buildings and operations. In addition, work includes management of loans, financial agreements, and grants with schools, local governments, and not-for-profit organizations; exploration of financing options to increase service delivery; and development of rules for a new loan program that allows local governments and school districts to buy alternative-fueled vehicles.

Qualifications: Four years professional experience in the development, use or conservation of energy resources or five years professional experience in the development, use or conservation of other natural resources, of which two years included responsibility for coordination of professional staff. Graduation from an accredited four year college or university. Salary range for each position is $3,378 - $4,186 per month.

Application Procedure: These positions are covered under the State of Missouri Merit System. Please send a resume and cover letter specifying the position(s) of interest to: Energy Specialist V Vacancies, Missouri Division of Energy, Attention: Jack Dayton, P. O. Box 176, Jefferson City, MO 65102. An official merit system application will be forwarded to applicants not currently on the merit system register for completion. Resumes, cover letters and official applications must be received by November 10, 1999.

WisconSUN to award $100,000 for Solar Energy Projects

A new solar energy initiative in Wisconsin will provide $100,000 over the next three years to install solar energy systems at sites across the state. The first installation funded was a 2.3 KW PV system at Waunakee High School. The system will be integrated into the science curriculum and grow to 10 KW over the next few years following technical recommendations from students. The University of Wisconsin - Green Bay will install a 23 KW building integrated system. Windows will be made from a laser-etched material that generates electricity while remaining transparent. Thin-film PV material will cover part of the building's roof. Other projects planned under the grant program are an expo center, church and a law office.

New York State Seeking Proposals for PV Projects

The Photovoltaics on Buildings Program will fund projects to install, demonstrate and operate photovoltaic systems on buildings in New York State. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) will provide partial funding, up to $750,000 each, for two to four projects. Proposed projects may contain one or more sites and must have an aggregate capacity of 40 kW AC or more. Proposing teams may consist of commercial firms, government organizations, universities or other organizations. Proposing teams should include members who have PV design and installation experience, as well as a representative from each site. Optional pre-proposals are due by fax or e-mail by November 12th, 1999. Full proposals are due on January 26, 2000.


October 20, 1999

For Colorado Volume Builder, Green is Nothing New

An article in Professional Builder magazine showcases McStain Enterprises of Boulder, Colorado, a company that has pursued green ideals as a guiding philosophy since the company began more than 30 years ago. McStain builds around 350 units a year with the environment as the top priority. The company places an emphasis on energy and resource efficient features, such as engineered wood products, wet spray cellulose insulation, recycled content carpet, zero-VOC paint, air-sealed building envelope and minimal HVAC system. McStain is currently collaborating on three homes with the Consortium for Advanced Residential Buildings (CARB) to evaluate which environmental systems offer the best performance for the least cost.

Scientists Make Hydrogen Breakthrough

Scientists at the University of Illinois have made a breakthrough that could move the world much closer to an environmentally-friendly energy system based on hydrogen fuel. According to an article on the Web site, three researchers have successfully synthesized much of the active site of a hydrogen processing enzyme or hydrogenase. While other technical hurdles remain, this discovery gives hydrogen boosters a good reason to be optimistic. An enzyme-driven process could be used to generate vast quantities of low-cost hydrogen gas, which can replace petroleum and other combustion fuels. Current methods of making hydrogen, such as electrolysis and catalytic stripping, are expensive. Hydrogen is the most common element in the universe. When burned, it releases only heat and water vapor.

New Heat Pump Design Could Eliminate Defrost Cycle

Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have developed a new heat pump design that greatly reduces frost formation on the outdoor coil and eliminates the need for most defrosting sequences. An article in the November 1999 issue of Energy Design Update describes, the next generation of air-to-air heat pumps as more efficient heaters and more comfortable for occupants. The new design will allow heat pump manufacturers to push the technology further north, competing in heating markets that have long been the domain of furnaces and boilers. The new technology may also increase heat pump reliability and longevity, since it reduces or eliminates the defrost cycle, which has been a frequent source of breakdowns and noise. So promising is the new technology that it may be incorporated in some new heat pump models before the end of next year.

Researchers installed a pair of 1,000-watt resistance heaters in the heat pump's accumulator. All other components are standard. When the outdoor temperature drops, the resistance heaters come on, warming the temperature of the refrigerant, which in turn warms the outdoor (evaporator) coil. The resistance heater uses only one-sixth the energy of a defrost cycle. In a typical heat pump, the defrost cycle essentially runs the unit in air-conditioning mode to heat up the outside coils. Extensive tests at ORNL showed heat pumps equipped with resistance heaters operated well under low outside temperatures and delivered warmer air to the building.

PV Power Plant Built in Less Than 30 Days

Solar 2000 – Mendocino -- a 132-kW photovoltaic power plant -- went into commercial operation on September 30 following an aggressive 30-day construction schedule. The project is selling all of its generated power to under a multi-year power purchase agreement. in turn transmits the solar power onto Pacific Gas and Electric’s transmission and distribution grid on behalf of its California customers. GPU Solar, Inc., the developer, owner and operator of Solar 2000 – Mendocino, refers to it as California’s first independent commercial solar power plant directly resulting from customer choice. The plant is located on a one-third acre site at the Real Goods Solar Living Center in Hopland, Califonia. Modular photovoltaic solar panels manufactured by AstroPower facilitated construction of the 15,000 square-foot solar power plant that began in early September. PowerLight Corporation of Berkeley, California, was the project’s general contractor.

Agreement Supports New Ballast Standards

An agreement worked out between lamp ballast manufacturers and energy efficiency advocates will require electronic ballasts in all commercial and industrial applications by 2005. After that time, all fluorescent lamp ballasts produced by lighting manufacturers for the commercial and industrial "new construction or renovation" market must be energy efficient electronic ballasts that meet the new standards, rather than the older less-efficient magnetic ballasts. In the case of the "replacement" market, the magnetic ballasts will be available until 2010 for building owners to repair current systems.

Residential ballasts will be exempt from these standards. However, parties to the agreement will also support efforts by DOE to evaluate the residential lighting market including consideration of standards for residential ballasts as well as market-driven initiatives.

Ballasts are major components in fluorescent light fixtures that increase the frequency of the electricity to the higher levels needed to light the fluorescent tube. The efficiency of the ballasts has a direct impact on energy consumption. Electronic ballasts are far more efficient than older, magnetic ballasts. Improved efficiency of electronic ballasts will save money and reduce energy use in lighting applications.

Adoption of the efficiency standards is expected to save between 2 and 5 quads of energy over a 30-year period, or enough energy to supply 12 to 26 million homes in the U.S. for one year. The agreement is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 33 - 72 million metric tons and nitrous oxide emissions by 108,000 - 235,000 tons over a 30-year period. That’s the same as eliminating the emissions of 27 - 58 million cars in a single year.

Funds Granted to Improve Industrialized Housing

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded $800,000 to the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC) of the University of Central Florida and seven other partners to help reduce the energy cost of factory-built housing by up to 50 percent and assist in the construction of thousands of energy efficient industrialized houses over the next several years.

The Florida Solar Energy Center, Cocoa, FL, is the principal contractor for the Building America Industrialized Housing Partnership and will provide research, development, technical assistance and testing services to increase the energy efficiency of industrialized housing in the South. Other members of the project team are: The Washington State University Cooperative Extension Program, The Oregon Office of Energy, the Idaho Department of Water Resources, Building Science Corporation, the American Lung Association of Central Florida, the American Lung Association of Washington, and the University of Central Florida, Industrial Engineering Department. The DOE funding will be augmented by $321,000 in additional funds cost-shared by the Florida Department of Community Affairs (Tallahassee, FL), the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (Portland, OR), and members of the project team.


October 13, 1999

Home Energy Rating Guidelines Formally Adopted

After seven months in the making, the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) adopted a set of voluntary Home Energy Rating System (HERS) guidelines at its Annual Meeting in Indianapolis. The HERS ratings allow Fannie Mae, GMAC and other lenders to offer energy efficient mortgages. These mortgages make it easier for homebuyers to qualify for higher loan amounts due to the lower operating costs of energy efficient homes. NASEO has long been a proponent of energy efficient mortgages, and hundreds of millions of dollars in these mortgages have been used over the past several years.

Richard Sedano, Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service and NASEO Chairman, said, "This change improves the usefulness of home energy rating systems. These guidelines assure that regardless of the fuel used in homes, the ratings will give consumers, architects, builders, and financiers a more accurate prediction of the home's total energy efficiency. I believe we will see more homes rated throughout the country as a result of this change."

Home energy rating scores qualify buildings under rating systems characterized by a score of one to five stars. Energy efficient mortgages are available for homes with a sufficiently high rating. These ratings are issued by such state-certified firms as Energy Rated Homes of Arkansas. And, State Energy Offices have certification responsibility for the firms conducting the ratings in most states.

Rainforest Action Network Presses Home Improvement Centers

As they commended Home Depot on its decision to phase out products from old growth forests, the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) challenged other home improvement centers to follow suit. In a full page advertisement in the October 8th New York Times, RAN listed five other home improvement retailers that are still selling wood from old growth forests. RAN has declared Oct. 26 an international day of action to transform the home improvement industry and will use the day to focus efforts on Homebase, Menard's Inc., Payless Cashways Inc., Wickes Inc. and 84 Lumber.

Tucson to Serve as Model for DOE's EnergySmart Schools

DOE announced last week that it will provide funding to the Tucson Unified School District to develop and demonstrate an innovative model for integrating solar photovoltaic energy systems into school buildings and education programs. The project will include a 4-kilowatt photovoltaic system installed at a Tucson middle and high school and the development of a curriculum for "solar learning opportunities." The project is intended to serve as a model for DOE's EnergySmart Schools program, which is a partnership to reduce energy consumption and costs and increase the use of clean energy technologies in schools throughout the United States.

Sign a Pledge, Win a Green Dream House

America Recycles Day invites everyone to pledge to buy recycled, recycle more, or support a recycling event on November 15, 1999 by filling out an online pledge form. All pledges will be entered in a random national drawing for the "American Green Dream House" -- a brand-new three-bedroom, 2-1/2 bath home built primarily with recycled content and energy-efficient products.

Model Building Project Breaks Ground

A partnership of construction-related companies has broken ground on a 15,000 sq. ft. building in Portland, Oregon, that will serve as a model of sustainable design and construction. The project includes a host of energy-saving features, including daylighting, insulation and HVAC enhancements, that will slash the energy use to half of the Oregon Energy Code (one of the strictest in the U.S.). Sustainable materials will also be used throughout the building, including certified framing lumber, biodegradable sheet flooring, low-VOC paints and a wide array of recycled content products.

The building is being developed by a trio of prominent players in Portland's construction scene under a partnership called RTJ Corporation. The partnership includes Tom Kelly (President, Neil Kelly Company), Ray Derby (President, Blazer Development) and John Godsey (President, Consulting Engineering Services). The three principals will be the building’s only tenants when the building is completed in early 2000. The new building will serve as headquarters offices for both Blazer Homes and Consulting Engineering Services and as a sales office and west side showroom for Neil Kelly Company. More detail appears in the Oikos Showcase article.

National Tour of Solar Homes Coming Saturday

Don't forget the National Tour of Solar Homes on Saturday, October 16th, sponsored by the American Solar Energy Society (ASES). People throughout the country will open their homes to the public spotlighting their use of passive solar heating, solar photovoltaic electric systems, solar hot water systems and other renewable energy technologies. These homes also incorporate many energy efficiency measures to reduce their energy use.

October 6, 1999

Sierra Club Report Finds Sprawl Solutions Effective -- If Enforced

"Solving Sprawl" -- a new report published by the Sierra Club -- documents that suburban sprawl is not inevitable. The Sierra Club's second annual sprawl report shows that states and communities across the nation are using innovative programs and tools to manage poorly-planned growth.

"The costs and consequences of poorly-planned development are becoming clear and common. The good news is that we are not doomed to a future of traffic congestion, air pollution, overcrowded schools, abandoned city centers, and lost open space and farm land," said Carl Pope, Sierra Club's Executive Director. "This report proves that we can manage suburban sprawl by adopting and implementing smart growth solutions."

The report rates each of the 50 states by measuring progress in four broad categories: open-space protection, land-use planning, transportation planning and community revitalization. In each area, the report found states with innovative programs that are already working and laggard states that have been slow to adopt sprawl solutions.

"The best states are using innovative tools like regional planning councils, urban growth boundaries, investment in public transit and community development programs to help rein-in poorly planned growth," said Deron Lovaas, Representative for the Sierra Club's Challenge to Sprawl Campaign.

States that want to begin slowing sprawl have plenty of successful examples to follow, including these:

  • In Maryland, the state has earmarked $140 million for open space protection and has plans to save 58,000 acres of crucial land along the state's Eastern Shore.
  • In Vermont, housing advocates have joined with environmentalists to preserve farmland and provide affordable housing.
  • In Rhode Island, the state has made a serious effort to break the stranglehold of the automobile by investing in transportation alternatives.
  • And, in Oregon, urban growth limits and intelligent planning have protected open space while allowing cities like Portland to thrive.

"These states are leading the way. Unfortunately, too many other states are dropping the ball," said Pope.

For instance, only 11 states have passed comprehensive, statewide growth-management acts. Twenty-one states spent over half of their federal transportation dollars on new road construction, instead of investing in existing roads and developing transportation alternatives. Building new roads will not solve our traffic problems -- just as buying bigger pants will not help you lose weight -- yet 26 states spent less than $10 per urban resident per year on alternatives to driving.

Some states have sprawl solutions on the books, but are lagging or completely failing to implement or fund these programs. Georgia and Florida have excellent growth management laws, but sprawl is rampant in places like Tampa/St. Petersburg and Atlanta.

"Stopping sprawl requires deeds, not just words," added Lovaas.

The report also offers profiles of the top states, short articles on different solutions to sprawl, and commentary from in-house and guest experts.

Calculator Demystifies Photovoltaic Output

If you're investigating a grid-connected photovoltaic system, you may be perplexed by the concept of "peak watts." This standard rating for PV modules indicates power output when the intensity of the sunlight is 1,000 watt/square meter. Of course, the climate of your location may not provide that much power. A new Web-based calculator called PVWATTS -- created by the National Renewable Energy Lab -- will estimate how much energy you can generate in your climate. It also calculates how much the energy will be worth. To start the process you choose your location (only US locations are supported at this time) and enter the size of the array in peak watts. The report shows month by month energy and revenue output. You can also model fixed mounts, single-axis tracking and double-axis tracking. PV systems not connected to the grid must pay close attention to energy demand and not just energy production.

New Facility to Process Used Nylon

AlliedSignal and DSM Chemicals North America are now building a facility that will process 200 million pounds (90 million kg) of used carpet annually, creating about 100 million pounds (45 million kg) of caprolactam, the chemical building block for nylon 6. According to an article in the September issue of Environmental Building News, the joint venture between AlliedSignal and DSM is called Evergreen Nylon Recycling. The recycled polymer is identical to virgin caprolactam so it could be used to make 100 percent recycled nylon. Due to the limited quantities available, however, AlliedSignal intends to mix it with virgin resin and make a 25 percent recycled product. Evergreen plans to use primarily post-consumer carpet, but will also process some manufacturing waste. The recycled component will be about 80 percent post-consumer.

50 Years of U.S. Energy Consumption

U.S. energy use has changed dramatically over the past 50 years. While the U.S. population increased 82 percent from 1949 through 1998, energy use grew more than twice as fast, increasing by 194 percent. At the same time, the amount of energy required to produce a dollar's worth of goods and services fell by 42 percent. For these and other energy facts spanning the past 50 years, see the 1998 Annual Energy Review, produced by DOE's Energy Information Administration (EIA).

DOE Publishes Fuel Economy Guide

The new Honda Insight achieves 61 miles per gallon in the city and 70 on the highway according to the Fuel Economy Guide: Model Year 2000. The guide was prepared by DOE's Office of Transportation Technologies from data compiled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Insight is the first gasoline/electric hybrid to be sold in the U.S. The guide will be more useful for looking up more common cars, or seeing just how low those SUV and trucks will go. You can find gas mileage data by class of car or by manufacturer, search for vehicles that have specific mileage performance, and find out which cars get the best and worst mileage in their respective classes.

Passive Solar Industries Council Changes Name, Not Mission

After twenty years of promoting passive solar energy and whole-building design, the Passive Solar Industries Council is changing it's name to the Sustainable Building Industries Council. According to the group's staff, its mission hasn't changed. The new name simply reflects the group's mission, which is "To advance the design, affordability, energy performance, and environmental soundness of residential, institutional, and commercial buildings." The group continues to publish its Energy-10 design software.

| News Archives |