Green Building News

Green Building News April 2000

April 28, 2000

Dip Tube Settlements

Virtually every American water heater manufacturer has entered into a national class action settlement over a defective component in more than 14 million water heaters. The component is the plastic dip tube which delivers incoming cold water to the bottom of the tank. Complaints against the water heater manufacturers claim that the dip tubes can break. A broken dip tube would mix cold water into the layer of hot water near the top of the tank, reducing energy performance. The faulty dip tubes were made by Perfection Corp. and used in most brands of water heaters, including A.O. Smith Corporation, American Water Heater Company, Bradford White Corporation, Lochinvar Corporation, Rheem Manufacturing Company, and State Industries, Inc. Consumers who have already paid for repairs have until June 30, 2000 to file a claim. Those who have not yet repaired their water heaters can file claims until December 31, 2000.

Biodegradable Hydraulic Fluid Nears Commercialization

A new vegetable-based, biodegradable hydraulic fluid for use in heavy equipment is moving toward commercialization. Agricultural Research Service scientists in Peoria, Ill., are producing industrial-sized quantities of starting material--the basis for making biodegradable lubricants--from sunflower oil fatty acids. Hydraulic fluids are non-compressible liquids that transfer pressure in machinery to activate motion, such as automobile brakes or bulldozer blades. Standard hydraulic fluids are derived from petroleum, which doesn't degrade well and often leaks onto the soil.

Clean Energy Technology Incubator Looks for a Few Good Companies

The Austin Technology Incubator (ATI) and the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have formed a strategic alliance to support the growth and development of technology-based start-up companies in the energy sector.

NREL and ATI are looking for companies that are technology based, poised for strong growth and less than 24 months from market entry. The alliance is interested in a broad range of company types, from technology-based spin-offs and fledgling start-ups to research-based companies. Technological areas of interest include renewable power generation, distributed generation and storage, power quality, communications and controls, fuel cells, energy conservation, clean energy-related information technology, end-use consumer products and distribution automation.

"We're asking potential businesses to review the selection criteria and submit an executive summary or business plan that demonstrates an innovative, technology-based product idea or business concept," said Dr. Joel Wiggins, director of ATI's operations. "If the information looks like it's a good fit for the clean energy initiative, ATI will help the candidate refine its plan for consideration into the incubator."

ATI will provide qualified companies with strategic, financial and management services while immersing them in an energized business setting. NREL will build upon this expertise and leverage its relationships with international institutions, the venture capital community, multi-lateral lending institutions and national, state and local governments to help ATI jumpstart clean energy businesses in Texas.

"We want to make the same services that are available to the "" and telecommunications companies, available to young clean energy companies. This alliance with ATI will help by immersing entrepreneurs in a business environment where the correct balance of market and technology development can move these companies successfully into the marketplace," Murphy said.

For more information about the ATI/NREL Clean Energy Incubator, contact Dr. Joel Wiggins, ATI at (512) 305-0033 or Dr. L. Marty Murphy, NREL at (303) 275-3050.

Oglala Lakota Intend to Plant Industrial Hemp in South Dakota

In defiance of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, members of the Ogalala Lakota band of the Souix Nation, intend to plant industrial hemp seeds on April 29, 2000 at the Pine Ridge Reservation. In July 1998, the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council passed an ordinance distinguishing industrial hemp from marijuana (which is a controlled substance under tribal law). The ordinance provides for the cultivation and harvesting of industrial hemp on the Reservation.

"It is very important to us that we be able to grow a crop that allows us to live in balance with Mother Earth," says Loretta Afraid-of-Bear Cook, Chair of the Slim Butte Land Use Association. "Hemp does not require any chemicals and it allows us to start taking care of our people ourselves." The landowner association is in the latter stages of building a house with materials primarily of industrial hemp. While lack of adequate housing is a problem on most reservations, it is particularly challenging on Pine Ridge where tornadoes and heavy winds frequently destroy homes. President Bill Clinton acknowledged the severity of the housing shortage during his visit to Pine Ridge last summer, saying "There is no more crucial building block for a strong community and a promising future than a solid home."

"Industrial hemp is the key component to sustainable housing," said Tom Cook, LUA Project Director for the house building project. "We make hemp-based concrete that is lighter, stronger and easier to work with than masonry concrete," he said, "Not only that, but we are putting people to work here on the reservation with good jobs." The house building project has employed eight people, and the Slim Butte LUA intends to market its "Hempcrete" blocks to the building industry. In addition, the LUA seeks to set up a handmade paper making operation that will use parts of the hemp that do not go into the block making.

"The people used to have the buffalo for our food, clothing and shelter," said Joe American Horse, Program Manager for Slim Butte LUA and former President of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council, "now hemp can do that for us." American Horse explains, "What we are talking about is industrial hemp; it is not a drug. In addition to providing Lakota people an economic base, the cultivation of industrial hemp will reduce our reliance on diminishing natural resources and contribute to global ecological health. This is a way we can help our people and our environment."

When asked about the potential legal ramifications of the planting, Slim Butte LUA attorney Thomas J. Ballanco said, "The right to cultivate industrial hemp on the reservation is a secured treaty right. Hemp was grown all around here in the 1800s." Ballanco, a West Point graduate who authored the tribal ordinance expects no interference from the federal government. "This issue does not concern the U.S. government. Here we have a tribe exercising a sovereign treaty right to provide jobs, homes and sustainability on the reservation."

Commenting on fellow West Pointer, and federal Drug Czar, Gen. (Ret.) Barry McCaffrey's expected response, Ballanco said, "If they teach cavalry officers anything at West Point, it is to listen to your scouts, especially in Sioux country," said Ballanco, himself a former Army scout. Making reference to West Pointer George Custer who was wiped out along with his entire command in the battle of Little Bighorn after he failed to listen to the scouts who warned him not to attack.

The Clean Energy Web: High Tech's Next Revolution

By Patrick Mazza
©Climate Solutions

The basic shape of the electrical grid has changed little since the late 1800s when Thomas Edison built the first central generating station. But dramatic changes are coming as the distributed intelligence revolution embodied in the Internet spreads to electrical power, offering a major opportunity to turn around what is now the nation's leading industrial source of climate-disrupting greenhouse gases.

"We are on the verge of a significant transformation in the electric industry that will 50 years from now look as important as Edison's invention," says Bonneville Power Administration Vice President Terry Esvelt.

Bonneville -- a major electricity supplier in the Pacific Northwest -- is planning for an "Energy Web" which replaces the old "mainframe" model of one utility pumping out juice to many customers with an "Internet" model where many energy producers and consumers are linked in a smart network. While BPA is known for huge power dams, Bonneville administrator Judi Johansen says the agency has every incentive to involve itself in the new model.

"A technological revolution is breaking out in the electric utility industry," Johansen says. "It promises to turn the business upside down, making reliable, low-cost generators available to virtually every consumer. Utilities will either help make it happen or risk being swept aside."

Distributed generation by fuel cells, solar panels, microturbines and other micropower devices is the foundation of the Energy Web. Many of the new micropower technologies eliminate or drastically reduce air pollution. Since electrical utilities are now the largest industrial air polluter in the U.S., the Energy Web could profoundly improve both human health and the odds of averting catastrophic global warming.

Just as important to the new energy revolution as micropower plants are the very technologies at the heart of distributed intelligence -- microprocessors and telecommunications. They are "the glue that holds the Energy Web together," Esvelt says.

By themselves, small-scale generators can only provide power on-site, Esvelt explains. "The Energy Web works when they start talking to each other." Through telecommunications, micropower plants can receive price signals in real time, particularly important for larger commercial and institutional users. During hours when electricity is cheap the user can pull from the grid while its micropower unit is shut down or recharging batteries. The unit powers the building during peak periods when grid electricity is costly, and might ship juice back to the grid. "By being connected you have a tremendous opportunity to make money or save money," Esvelt notes.   MORE-->


April 21, 2000

Happy Earth Day... or Is It?

In the thirty years since the first Earth Day, human population is up, resource extraction is up, energy consumption is up and average global temperature is up. Despite significant progress in many areas, the problems keep outpacing the solutions. Recycling is a good example of a huge change in human behavior that is diverting large quantities of materials away from landfills and back into the resource stream. Nevertheless, humans generate and landfill more waste than ever. The solution may be huge, but the problem keeps getting huger. Donella Meadows lays out the details in a piece for Tidepool, called Earth Day at 30.

Scientists Develop Biodegradable Adhesive

Researchers with the U.S. Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have developed a plant-based adhesive that could replace more toxic, petroleum-based glues in many building materials.

"Industrial wood adhesives are now made solely from petroleum and natural gas," says ARS chemist Syed H. Imam, "but we've found a way to make them from a combination of other ingredients, including starch."

The researchers developed a process to make a flowable, strong and moisture-resistant adhesive from a combination of cornstarch, polyvinyl alcohol, latex and citric acid. The process requires no volatile formaldehydes or phenols found in conventional wood adhesives. This could be a major selling point for wood products companies -- better indoor air quality for plant workers and occupants of new and recently furnished homes and offices. The adhesive is a byproduct of other research underway at the Biopolymer Research Unit of the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, Peoria, Illinois.

Johnson Controls Completes LEED Building

The U.S. Green Buildings Council has recognized the Johnson Controls Brengel Technology Center, in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin as one of the nation’s first recipients of their Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)™ rating. Energy-saving features for the $16.9 million, 130,000 square foot Technology Center include: light colored concrete surfaces and roofing materials to reduce air conditioning loads, daylight to provide 10 percent of the building’s potential energy needs, a building automation system to monitor and manage mechanical and electrical systems, location of the facility near bus lines to encourage the use of mass transit, showers for bicyclists, individual controls to adjust temperature, lighting and air flow in each room, and a roof-mounted weather station to forecast the building’s energy needs.

Grass Roots Group Gets Hands Dirty with Eco-office Makeover

Veronica De La Garza never thought of herself as an environmentalist or a furniture maker.  These days, she’s both. De La Garza and the other Center for Environmental Citizenship (CEC) staff decided to redesign their Dupont Circle office with eco-friendly materials. 

Crunched for space due to a growing staff, CEC solicited the help of a volunteer architect to design bigger desks and create screens to divide the large rooms.  De La Garza and the other 11 D.C. staff members teamed up to find sustainable building materials, build new furniture, order non-toxic cleansers and install energy-efficient lighting options.  Over the course of six months, the office was transformed into an eco-friendly model for small businesses and non-profits, all for under $2,000.

“Everyone wants to work in a pleasant office space.  We wanted more -- to show that it is possible to design an eco-friendly office on a tight budget,” said Susan Comfort, 28, Executive Director of CEC.  “We did that, and now we even save money.” 

For example, Comfort said CEC achieved savings on their electricity bills by switching to compact fluorescent and full-spectrum light bulbs and on paper costs by reusing paper that had only been used on one side.

“This project was fun, plus I got to teach environmentalists how to use a power saw,” said Griz Dwight, the recent UPenn architecture graduate who donated his personal time to help CEC.  “The sunflower board we used for the desks is very strong with an interesting surface...I hope to use it in future projects.”

“I always knew that you get your hands dirty doing grassroots organizing,” De La Garza said. “But I didn’t picture this,” she laughed, referring to the after-hours work she and the rest of the staff spent assembling and painting desks.

EZ SIM Software Puts Billing Analysis at Your Fingertips

Using actual utility bills, EZ Sim reveals the patterns of energy use in commercial buildings. You can use it to diagnose energy patterns and consumption, calibrate savings estimates to agree with actual energy usage, estimate energy end-uses within the facility, verify vendor claims for energy products and services, and generate performance targets to compare against actual energy bills. This quick spreadsheet tool is equivalent to a sophisticated engineering simulation model, but you don't have to be an engineer to use it. It's designed for resource conservation managers and facility operators. EZ Sim uses actual energy bills and available information, so the cost to operate EZ Sim is almost nothing. EZ Sim lets you use utility bills to calibrate a simulation of a commercial building in an interactive graphic window. Once it matches the building's utility bills, the simulation model provides reliable and realistic estimates of potential conservation savings. With EZ Sim, the calibration process reveals end uses -- how energy is used within the facility -- to help diagnose the reasons for excessive consumption or poorly functioning components. Best of all, EZ Sim can be used to predict what future utility bills should be and can help you set performance targets to determine if installations are on track. This is the simplest form of building commissioning and at very little cost.

EZ Sim is designed for resource conservation managers, account representatives and facility operators. It is also being used by engineers and ESCOs to help them formulate presentations for clients, such as graphical performance targets that enables the ESCO and the client to understand a performance contract.

EZ Sim is a product of Stellar Processes.


Nebraska Energy Office Seeks Energy Engineer

This is professional engineering work advising state officials on energy efficiency, resource conservation, policy, legislation, technical issues and program direction and management. The position requires expertise in engineering, research, architecture, energy codes, environmental protection and energy conservation as it relates to buildings, equipment and systems.

The engineer will review the work of other professional engineers, energy analysts and para professionals in and outside the agency; will inspect buildings, equipment and systems to identify energy saving opportunities or to evaluate energy efficiency levels; interview building managers and occupants, analyze utility bills, determine appropriate scope and detail of energy audits or evaluations, measure current energy use and equipment performance, calculate potential energy savings, calculate project costs and cost:benefit ratios, write reports recommending improvements, advise building managers on proper operation of equipment; review building plans and inspect facilities for compliance with energy codes, or loan or mortgage program requirements.

Position will remain open until qualified candidate is hired. Resumes may be mailed to Nebraska Energy Office, P.O. Box 95085, Lincoln, NE 68509-5085. Inquiries should be directed to John Osterman, Phone 402-471-2817, Fax 402-471-3064.

Design Firm Seeks Purchasing Manager

GHK is an established (45+ years), growing (our sales have doubled over the past 4 years), privately held, profitable company and a leading architectural interior design firm, with offices in Chicago, New York, Washington, San Jose, Baltimore and Boston. The San Jose office is seeking a Purchasing Manager/ Designer to assist them in providing our clients with impeccable service. This position will appeal to you if you want the opportunity to use your client, management and purchasing skills and grow professionally with an industry leader. The ideal candidate will have a degree, 5+ years work experience in furniture, excellent communication, critical thinking skills and computer skills (Auto CAD, MS Project) along with a proven ability to tale projects from inception to successful completion.

Ben Zeiser
Phone 312-578-5339 or Fax 312-263-1228


April 13, 2000

Heatway Loses Entran II Lawsuit

A judge in Cleveland, Ohio has ruled that Goodyear Rubber Company is not liable for failures of Entran II tubing it made under contract to Heatway. The rubber composition tubing was sold by Heatway beginning in 1989. A growing number of reported failures prompted Heatway to discontinue the product in 1994. Heatway claimed the problems resulted from a manufacturing error and withheld payment for a later purchase of millions of feet of Entran III tubing. Goodyear sued Heatway for $2.1 million in payments. The judge ruled in Goodyear's favor. The cost of the litigation along with the required payment has forced Heatway into Chapter 11 reorganization. In addition, Heatway and Goodyear face other lawsuits by customers and end users seeking damages for system failures. Despite the setbacks, Heatway remains upbeat.

"Heatway's business has not suffered over this situation. In fact, sales continue to climb and few customers have been lost," said a Heatway spokesman. Heatway assets are expected to be purchased by another company that will continue to sell their products.

Roofing Goes Green

A number of forces are moving the roofing industry to improve the environmental performance of their products. A new article in the Oikos Library, Roofing Industry Moves to Recycled and Energy Saving Products, describes these forces and how roofing manufacturers are responding with products that save energy and contain recycled content.

Lighting Partnership Promises

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today released a report detailing the results of a two-year strategic partnership between the lighting industry and the department. Representing the work of hundreds of lighting industry professionals from more than 180 organizations, the report, Vision 2020: The Lighting Technology Roadmap will guide the government and the private sector in planning future investments and initiatives in the field of lighting technology over the next 20 years.

"Lighting accounts for nearly 15 percent of all electricity consumed in buildings in the United States, or more than $27 billion in annual energy costs," Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said. "Technologies developed by the lighting industry during the past 20 years have already helped consumers and businesses cut lighting costs by as much as 30 to 60 percent."

Lighting has become an essential part of a new "whole building" system approach to adapting the workspace for the information age. Vision 2020 details how lighting can efficiently meet the demands of tomorrow's commercial buildings and the needs of those who design, build, own and occupy them. In particular, it will help guide the DOE in appropriately aligning its activities with industry.

Major Hotel Chains Catch Water Saving WAVE

Red Roof Inns, Motel 6 and Studio 6 Lodging have joined the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Water Alliances for Voluntary Efficiency (WAVE). All three hotel chains are owned by Accor Economy Lodging, the nation's largest operator of economy lodging and the ninth biggest hotel company. Accor brings 980 properties and 110,288 rooms to the WAVE program. WAVE estimates that water efficiency measures implemented at Accor's properties in the U.S. could save more than 800 million gallons of water and 200 billion BTUs in associated energy consumption each year, preventing almost 1,200 metric tons of carbon dioxide air pollution each year from power generation.

Builder Offers Solar Water Heater Option

Shea Homes and the San Diego Regional Energy Office have teamed up to offer the first solar water heater program in a San Diego County tract home project. Buyers at Shea Home's 144-unit Canterbury development in Carlsbad, California may include a solar system at an additional cost of $3,145. The homes are priced from the low $300,000s and range from 2,222 to 3,038 square feet.

"Solar water heating reduces utility bills and contributes to better air quality by eliminating air pollution," said Kurt Kammerer, executive director of the energy office. "Use of solar water heaters helps to achieve the energy cost savings and emissions reduction goals of the San Diego regional energy plan."

LBNL Seeks Air Leakage Data

If you have you been measuring the air leakage of buildings, Lawrence Berkeley National Labs wants your data. Researchers there are gathering leakage data for building envelopes and ducts as part of their work for the U.S. Department of Energy. While the focus is on measurements taken within one year of original construction, other data is welcome as well. The data from blower door measurements, duct leakage measurements and house characteristics will be assembled into the Residential Diagnostics Database. The purpose of the database is to evaluate national trends in new construction air-tightness and energy efficiency.

Study Finds More Oversized Heating and Cooling Systems

The Arkansas Department of Economic Development has just completed a report on the compliance with the state’s energy code. The study, "Energy Performance Evaluation of New Homes in Arkansas" found that forty-five percent of the homes evaluated failed the state’s minimum energy code. The study was based on one hundred new homes in central and northwest Arkansas that were evaluated for their energy performance based on operating energy cost, energy code compliance, equipment sizing, and air and duct leakage.

The study showed that almost every home had oversized heating and cooling systems. The average heating system was about twice the size needed to meet the heating load. Ninety percent of all air conditioners were oversized, too. The typical cooling system was sized about 50 percent over what was needed. This results in needless utility bills to the consumer and unnecessary equipment cost to the builder. The study estimates that the oversizing of cooling equipment cost Arkansas builders $600 per home. A PDF version of the report is available at RESNET.

Atlanta Gas Stations Install Photovoltaic Arrays

BP Amoco announced the installation of solar energy systems at five BP and Amoco stations in the Atlanta, Georgia area. Each station is partially powering its facility with BP Solarex photovoltaic modules installed atop their pump island canopy. The 20 kilowatt grid-connected systems provide up to ten percent of the stations' energy needs, demonstrating how the sun can help power conventional businesses. The solar modules from BP Solarex are part of BP Amoco's plan to demonstrate real-world applications of solar electricity and its commercial and residential benefits. The company is using Atlanta as the first large-scale implementation city for its national program to bring solar energy to selected retail stations across the U.S. BP Amoco will install solar modules at another six Atlanta sites this year, bringing the total number to eleven. In addition, the company will install solar in all of its new company service station construction in the Atlanta metro area.

Call for Papers: Performance of Exterior Envelopes

The eighth international conference on building envelopes will be held on December 2-6, 2001 at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort in Clearwater, Florida. This conference will present three tracks: one devoted to research (principles), a second focused on practical applications and case studies (practice), and a third on European issues. Full-day special topic workshops will also be presented before and after the conference. You can submit an abstract for a technical paper or practical application for this conference. A written paper will not be required for practical applications. Abstracts (not to exceed 350 words) are due June 1, 2000 and should be submitted to:

Mia D. Hogan
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
P.O. Box 2008, Building 3147
Oak Ridge, TN 37831-6070
Phone: 865-576-7942
Fax: 865-574-9331

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