Green Building News

Green Building News May 2000

May 31, 2000

Advanced Air Sealing Book Now Online

Even with modern construction methods, a typical new homes loses 25 to 35 percent of its heat through air leakage. Stopping air leakage is one of the most cost-effective ways to save energy. Low volume ventilation systems depend on a tight building shell to properly move fresh air through from room to room. And since air leakage also carries large amounts of water vapor into structural cavities, air sealing protects homes from moisture damage, too.

The process of air sealing can be complicated by the fact that there are dozens of sites that must be caulked or sealed. Access to these sites is available during different stages of construction. That's why it helps to have comprehensive view of the entire air sealing process and a clear method for organizing the work. This is where the book Advanced Air Sealing fits in. It identifies dozens of air sealing details with clear, simple illustrations. Equally important is a chapter dedicated to analysis and planning of the air sealing operation. There's even a sample Air Sealing Checklist to show you one good method for identifying tasks, assigning them to your crews and tracking them to completion.

Glass House is Super Efficient

An experimental house in Denmark is made entirely of glazing panels that are either transparent or translucent. The house was designed to use only 63 percent as much energy as allowed by new Danish building regulations, but measurements showed that it actually used just slightly less. Among the reasons for this higher than expected energy consumption were less efficient glazing used in construction than specified in the plans and unexpectedly high heat loss through thermal bridges between glazing panels. The occupants generally liked living in the house, especially the ample daylight. Initially, they were uncomfortable with the lack of privacy. Overheating was controlled with automatic ventilation and shading devices.

Study Finds Residential Radon Exposure Poses Significant Lung Cancer Risk

Long-term exposure to radon in the home is associated with lung cancer risk and presents a significant environmental health hazard, according to the Residential Radon and Lung Cancer Case-Control Study led by researchers at the University of Iowa College of Public Health.

From 1993 to 1997, the researchers studied 1,027 Iowa women -- 413 who were newly diagnosed with lung cancer and 614 "controls" -- ages 40 to 84 who had lived in their homes for the past 20 years or more. The women studied in both groups included smokers as well as nonsmokers. Women were studied because they typically have less occupational exposures to substances that may cause lung cancer, and historically have spent more time in the home.

The researchers found that close to 60 percent of the basement radon concentrations for both the lung cancer cases (study participants with lung cancer) and the control group (participants without lung cancer) exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency action level for radon of 4 picoCuries per liter (pCi/L). The researchers found that 33 percent of living areas for the lung cancer cases, and 28 percent of the living areas for the control group, exceeded the EPA's action level of 4 pCi/L.

Even at the EPA action level of 4 pCi/L, an approximate 50 percent excess lung cancer risk was found among the women in the study after correcting for the impact of smoking, according to Charles Lynch, UI professor of epidemiology and the study's principal investigator.

"What this indicates is that residential radon exposure is a significant cause of lung cancer," Lynch said.

"This study incorporated the most sophisticated radon exposures analysis ever performed in a residential epidemiologic study," said R. William Field, Ph.D., UI research scientist in epidemiology and lead author of the journal article. "Most previous studies have focused on only one or two radon measurements in a home to determine a person's radon exposure. We linked where the study participants spent their time over the past 20 years with the radon concentrations gathered from inside and outside the home and came up with a more accurate measurement of exposure. Our research provides direct evidence that residential radon exposure is tied to an increased risk for lung cancer."

The best way to reduce overall exposure to radon is to test homes and take steps to reduce elevated indoor radon concentrations. Information on radon testing and mitigation is available toll-free from the National Safety Council by calling (800) SOS-RADON or by visiting the radon page at EPA Web site.

The Iowa Radon Lung Cancer Study, funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, included investigators from the UI, St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn. and the University of Kansas. The results are published in the June 1 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Agreement Paves Way for More Efficient Clothes Washers

Appliance manufacturers, energy efficiency advocates, and public officials agreed to improve household appliance energy efficiency. The agreement, covering appliance efficiency standards, incentives and information programs, culminates months of negotiations between appliance manufacturers and a broad coalition of public interest advocates. The agreement includes joint recommendations for:

  • new minimum efficiency standards for clothes washers,
  • tax credits for manufacturers who produce washers or refrigerators that exceed the efficiency standards, and
  • new qualification levels in order for these products to obtain the voluntary Energy Star label designation.

"America's laundry ‘load' will get a lot lighter thanks to this agreement. Specifically, the agreement will reduce the load on consumers' wallets, the load on utility power plants and water systems, and the load on the environment," said Howard Geller, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) and a participant in the negotiations.

"The clothes washer standards that manufacturers have agreed to will reduce hot water use and the total energy consumption associated with clothes washers by about one-third. As a result, consumers will cut their energy, water, and detergent purchases by over $25 billion during the next 30 years," noted Geller. A typical family now spends about $200 per year on energy, water, and detergent for doing laundry. The new efficiency standards, which will be phased-in starting in 2004 and affect all new washers sold in the U.S., are expected to be issued by the Department of Energy by the end of this year.

To encourage even higher levels of efficiency than required by the standards, public interest groups join manufacturers in supporting tax credits for highly efficient washers and refrigerators. "The tax credits will speed up the production of state-of-the-art products, providing additional energy and water savings while helping manufacturers to offset their investment costs. We urge the Congress to enact these tax credits this year," added Geller.

"This is a significant victory for the environment," said Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project and another participant in the negotiations.

The new clothes washer standard is one of several standards the Department of Energy has committed to upgrade this year. The Department proposed new standards for water heaters last month and is expected to propose new central air conditioner standards this summer. Improving air conditioner efficiency is especially important because of the strain cooling equipment places on the electric system as evidenced by power outages in Chicago, New York, New Orleans and other regions of the country last summer. "The Energy Department can more than double the energy savings achieved with today's agreement and reduce the likelihood of future power blackouts by setting a strong new air conditioner standard," deLaski noted.

DOE Announces $9.4 Million to Improve Nation's Schools

The Department of Energy (DOE) and state governments around the nation will pool their resources to provide $9.4 million to lower energy costs and upgrade the energy efficiency of classrooms. The Energy Department is earmarking $4.7 million in federal funds for the EnergySmart School program, which will be matched by an equal sum from the states.

Energy Department officials made the announcement during a visit to the San Diego Unified School District’s Euclid Elementary School. Joined by Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Alan Bersin, the Assistant Secretary awarded students, teachers and administrators with the EnergyStar Buildings Label for the school’s exceptional energy performance.

“We can save $1.5 billion in America’s schools by using energy efficiency as a tool for improving learning conditions for our kids,” said Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Robert Gee.

The San Diego Unified School District has been at the forefront of the national movement to improve student achievement by providing students and teachers with supportive classroom learning environments. A recent $216,000 investment to improve Euclid Elementary School has already caused the school’s electric bills to drop by 40 percent and energy consumption to fall 28 percent. Although the size of the elementary school has increased and utility rates have risen, the school has trimmed its utility bill by $20,000 each year.

The investment is part of a recent capital project that will save the United School District $5.5 million in annual utility and maintenance costs. San Diego voters also recently overwhelmingly approved a $1.51 billion program to repair and renovate 167 schools and build 14 schools in the school district - the largest bond measure in the city’s history.

Through the EnergySmart Schools program, this year’s grants will go to improve the energy efficiency of K-12 schools, which waste up to 25 percent of the $6 billion worth of energy they consume each year because of inefficient heating, cooling, ventilating and insulating systems. Schools that rank in the top 25 percent for energy performance and meet indoor environmental quality standards are awarded the EnergyStar Buildings Label.


May 19, 2000

CollinsWood Now Accepting Entries for Design Awards

The international CollinsWood® Millennium Awards are now open for entries according to Lee Jimerson, CollinsWood Product Manager / The Collins Companies. This year’s special Millennium Awards focus on the use of FSC certified CollinsWood® and are open to craftsmen and manufacturers who build and design for the following markets: store fixtures, small/home office (SoHo), entertainment/gaming, and kitchen & bath cabinets. Each entry must primarily feature wood and contain a minimum of 70% CollinsWood (softwood, hardwood, particleboard, plywood, or veneer.) A panel of judges representing the wood products media and industry, designers, and the environment will critique the entries based on a number of factors including: aesthetics, design, functionality & durability, percent of CollinsWood in the product, use of environmentally-friendly finishes and adhesives, and ability to manufacture in quantity. Award winners will receive $2,000, a commitment from Collins to assist in marketing, and facilitation of FSC certification. Deadline for entries is August 31, 2000. For a complete entry form contact The Collins Companies at 1-800-329-1219 or visit their web site.

Simulation Shows Insulation More Effective On Ceiling

Is it more effective to insulate a house with an attic at the ceiling level, or to insulate directly under the sloped roof? This issue has been the subject of debate among many energy conservation professionals, including those involved in Consortium for Advanced Residential Buildings (CARB) and the other Building America teams. Preliminary results from recent analysis conducted by CARB on a Del Webb house in Phoenix, Arizona, indicate that insulating at the ceiling level is, by far, more effective. The results were reported in the May 2000 CARB-FAX newsletter.

Steven Winter Associates, Inc. (SWA) ran DOE-2.1E energy analyses on two houses of the same design, the only difference being the location of the insulation. In the “conventional” building, R-38 fiberglass batt insulation was placed in the ceiling below the unconditioned attic space. In the “unconventional” house, R-19 cellulose insulation was placed at the attic gable walls, while R-22 cellulose insulation was placed at the truss top chord of the unvented roof structure. All of the other exterior walls and all of the windows were identical. The buildings were simulated for an entire year, using hourly weather data. DOE-2 calculates the hour-by-hour energy use of a building based on location, construction, HVAC systems, occupancy, and operation. In comparing energy consumption, the unconventional house used 23 percent more electricity to cool and 42 percent more natural gas to heat. Subsequent DOE-2 modeling, in which relatively leaky HVAC equipment and ducts were placed in the unconditioned attic of the conventional house, revealed that the standard insulation/HVAC package still out-performed the unconventional method of insulating at the roof plane by nearly 10 percent.

New BIPV Designer Shareware Available From Energy Ideas

Energy Ideas, a Maryland company, has introduced a new shareware computer program that will allow the user to estimate the electrical energy production and economic value of building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV). BIPV Designer is a simple, yet powerful program which will run on either Windows or Macintosh computers. The program is available on the Energy Ideas website at and is free with optional registration. Energy Ideas will be demonstrating the software on Monday, June 19th at the American Solar Energy Society's Solar 2000 Conference in Madison Wisconsin.


May 11, 2000

Oikos Unveils New Classified Advertising Service

A new service of the Oikos Web site allows users to communicate directly to the site's rapidly growing audience through classified advertising. The free service currently has five categories: Employment, For Sale, Real Estate, Events and Request for Bids. You can use the system to promote a conference, meeting or other event. Find a buyer for used or left over material. Sell used equipment, buildings or land. Advertise a job opportunity. Request proposals for projects and jobs, including construction and consulting work. Submitting an item takes only a minute or two. The service is brand new, so suggestions and trouble reports would be a big help.

AIA Selects Top Ten Green Buildings

In recognition of Earth Day 2000, The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has selected 10 examples of viable architectural design solutions that protect and enhance the environment. It's called as The Earth Day Top Ten. The facilities, selected by the executive committee of the AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE), address one or more significant environmental challenges that have a lasting and positive impact on the built and unbuilt environment, such as energy and water conservation, use of recycled construction materials, and design that improves indoor air quality. The COTE represents more than 1,600 AIA architects committed to making environmental considerations and sustainable design integral to the practice of architecture. Committee members selected the facilities for a variety of reasons, including environmentally responsible use of building materials, use of daylight over artificial lighting, designs that create efficiency in heating or cooling and overall sensitivity to local environmental issues. The top ten are:

  • Bainbridge Island City Hall
    Bainbridge Island, Washington
  • C.K. Choi Building, University of British Columbia
    Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  • The Emeryville Resourceful Building Project
    Emeryville, California
  • The Green Institute's Phillips Eco-Enterprise Center (PEEC)
    Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Hanover House
    Hanover, New Hampshire
  • Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
    Austin, Texas
  • New South Jamaica Branch Library
    Queens, New York
  • Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Ebensburg
    Ebensburg, Pennsylania
  • McLean Environmental Living and Learning Center (ELLC)
    Northland College, Ashland, Wisconsin
  • World Resources Institute Headquarters Office
    Washington, D.C.

Federal Buildings Reduce Annual Energy Use by 20 Percent and Save $19 Billion

The federal government has reduced energy use in its buildings by 20 percent since 1985. This achievement, which saved taxpayers over $2 billion in energy bills in fiscal year 1999 alone, is one year ahead of the schedule required by the Energy Policy Act of 1992. Department of Energy-led efforts to reduce energy use have saved over $19 billion in federal government building energy costs since 1985.

"This achievement, one year ahead of schedule, has saved 127.3 trillion Btu's of energy, enough to supply the needs of over one and a quarter million households for an entire year," said Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson. "This translates to substantial savings to the taxpayer and a cleaner environment. Since 1985, greenhouse gas emissions from federal buildings have been reduced by almost 2.4 million metric tons since 1985 -- equivalent to removing 1.7 million automobiles from the road for an entire year."

According to fiscal year 1999 data from the 30 largest federal agencies, the government has reduced its energy use per square foot by just over 20 percent compared to 1985. The data shows that 110,716 British Thermal Units (Btu) were consumed for each square foot of floor space compared with 139,271 Btu/square foot in 1985. The federal government is the country's single largest energy user, accounting for almost 2 percent of total U.S. consumption with an annual energy bill of roughly $8 billion. Energy consumed in the federal government's 500,000 buildings accounts for roughly one half of the government's total energy cost.

Agencies, in addition to Energy, achieving reductions of 20 per cent or more include the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Justice and Transportation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Tennessee Valley Authority, and the U.S. Postal Service. Federal energy managers used a variety of approaches to achieve the goal, including:

Improving operations and maintenance procedures and implementation of no-cost, low-cost efficiency measures. Areas for improvement were heating, ventilating and air-conditioning system maintenance, light bulb and fixture replacement and general cleaning of facilities.

Retrofitting buildings to improve energy efficiency using private sector funding. Agencies used private funding and partnerships to increase the energy efficiency of their buildings. For example, the U.S. Coast Guard Integrated Support Command on Kodiak Island, Alaska has undertaken two projects through delivery orders under the Energy Department's Super Energy Savings Performance Contracts program. The projects will include energy-efficient lighting and occupancy sensors, new boiler controls, an energy management system, building envelope modifications, and work on the hot water/steam system. Under this arrangement, the private-sector contractor is investing more than $4 million in equipment and services and will be paid back through the accrued energy savings.

Procuring energy-efficient Energy Star® products and equipment. For example the United States Postal Service purchased 30,000 ENERGY STAR®-labeled exit signs, resulting in savings of over $600,000 due to more efficient lighting.

Armstrong to Sell Insulation Division

Armstrong World Industries intends to sell its Armstrong Insulation Products (AIP) division to the leading Dutch-investment firm Gilde Investment Management N.V. for $280 million. AIP manufactures and markets technical pipe and sheet insulation primarily under the Armaflex brand name. In addition to the elastomeric Armaflex products, it also manufactures thermoplastic technical pipe insulation, as well as metal and PVC insulation claddings. The transaction is part of Armstrong's previously announced strategy of divesting non-core businesses and finding new partners for these businesses that will facilitate future growth. AIP's current management team will continue to run the business along with its 1,410 worldwide employees. AIP operates 12 manufacturing facilities in nine countries, including: United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Australia and China. The transaction is expected to close by late May.

DOE Launches Commercial Buildings Project

The U.S. Department of Energy is turning its attention to large-scale commercial buildings. The new thrust, called the High Performance Buildings Project aims to increase the energy efficiency of commercial buildings. This joint effort between DOE and the private sector will also focus on improving the utility, comfort, quality and cost-effectiveness of buildings. The project will identify and publicize innovative "whole building" approaches that can have significant effects on design and construction. For example, one possible benefit might be smaller, more efficient and less costly heating and cooling systems.

The project's first phase will demonstrate and publicize innovative whole building approaches that increase quality and efficiency while decreasing cost and environmental impacts. The project is seeking noteworthy buildings that exemplify the project's goals and have been completed with the past few years. To submit a project for consideration, contact Jose Higgins at Steven Winter Associates, Inc, 50 Washington St, Norwalk CT 06854, 203-857-0200. Submissions should include a brief description of the building type, location, square footage, material specifications, as well as the features that promote energy efficiency and sustainability.

Toshiba Proves New Solar Cell Material

Toshiba Corporation announced a major breakthrough in solar cells that is expected to realize simpler, low-cost cell production and significantly extended scope of application for solar batteries. The company has successfully solidified electrolytes, the key material of next-generation, organic-dye-based solar cells, ending the potential hazard of leaks of liquid electrolyte. Cells based on this achievement offer a solar-energy conversion efficiency of 7.3 percent and can be formed on a plastic substrate, opening up the way to a wide range of new applications for solar batteries.

Organic-dye-sensitized solar cells are a promising and much-needed replacement for conventional solar cells. Manufactured using a semiconductor manufacturing process, today's silicon-based solar batteries are expensive to produce and susceptible to damage from impurities. As they also have the disadvantage of not being inherently transparent, they are poorly suited to installation on windows, and their use in products any smaller than calculators -- including watches -- is limited.

Organic-dye-sensitized solar cells are transparent, much easier to manufacture, and enjoy a much cheaper production process -- 60 percent less expensive than that for silicon-based cells. Until now, these advantages have been undermined by the danger of leakage of liquid electrolyte. Solidification is the solution, but efforts to realize this have met limited success. The main problem has been melting when exposed to temperatures of 60 and more, too low level for practical applications. Toshiba has tested its solidified electrolyte to a temperature of 120, saying this is more than enough for practical application, and posits that it will not melt before thermal decomposition at around 250.

Toshiba's solidified electrolyte also achieves the breakthrough of allowing cells to be formed on a plastic substrate. Such cells are between 20 and 50 percent lighter than those formed on glass, now the most widely used substrate. In the company's experimental cells, electrolyte is inserted between a titanium dioxide (TiO2) layer and a transparent counter electrode, and can be solidified at room temperature or at a faster rate by exposure to a higher temperature.

The advantages of the solidified electrolyte solar cell position it to replace silicon-based solar cells in traditional applications and to extend use of solar cells to a wide range of new applications. Toshiba sees uses of the battery in homes, mounted indoors on windows and walls, and its application in hand-carried personal digital products, such as cellular phones.

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