Green Building News

Green Building News June 2000

June 30, 2000

Free Software Helps Select Green Building Products

A new version of a software package for selecting cost-effective, green building products is now available. Aimed at designers, builders, and product manufacturers, the software program, "Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability" or BEES 2.0, is based on standards agreed to by the USEPA, industry and public interest groups. The new version includes actual environmental and economic performance data for over 65 building products, twice as many as BEES l.0. The system assesses the following environmental impacts for building products: ozone depletion, smog, ecological and human toxicity, global warming, acid rain, eutophication, natural resource depletion, indoor air quality and solid waste. The package was developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Building and Fire Research Laboratory, with support from the EPA Preferable Purchasing Program and the HUD Partnership for Advancing Technology In Housing. The software can be downloaded free or A CD-ROM and print manual can be ordered after June 30 through the EPA Pollution Prevention Information Clearinghouse, (202) 260-1023 or

First Foam Core Manufactured Home Rolls Off the Line

The first-ever manufactured home built entirely from energy efficient foam core panels has been built by Champion Enterprises at their Silverton, Oregon factory. Heating and cooling costs are expected to be up to 50 percent lower than a manufactured home built to the minimum housing code.

"Manufactured housing is about 20 to 30 percent of new U.S. home sales, so there is a great potential for energy savings," said Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson. "Homes built with this technology will also allow their owners to save $550 to $690 each year on their electric bills. Homeowners who heat with natural gas are expected to save $146 to $181 annually."

This technology is part of the department's effort to reengineer the American home for energy efficiency and affordability. Together with its industry partners across the country, the department is constructing site-built and factory-built homes that will use 30 to 50 percent less energy for heating and cooling, yet cost no more to build than conventional homes.

Project partners include foam core panel manufacturers Precision Building Products of Boise, Idaho, and Premier Building Systems of Fife, Wash., as well as several other building product suppliers. A Web site provides more information on this manufactured home demonstration project, including many photos of the process.

Photovoltaics in the Far North

If you think solar electricity works only in the sun-baked deserts of the lower latitudes, a 16 KW installation at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim will open your eyes. A "solar skin" mounted external to the walls of an existing creates buffered space that reduces heat loss in winter, improves ventilation in summer and generates electricity. Operable vents at the top and bottom of the four-story structure allow for ventilation. PV modules make up about 40 percent of the facade, while clear glazing makes up the remainder. PV modules correspond to the opaque areas of the original wall. Trondheim is located at a latitude higher than Anchorage, Alaska.

Communities Get Help "Going Solar"

A new Web site, sponsored by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, provides information and help for those interested in using solar energy in their communities. It features a model education kit that includes videos, radio public service announcements, fact sheets, brochures, videos, photos, and posters. GoingSolar also hosts a mailing list discussion group and archive for information exchange for community leaders interested in sharing information.

Low-income Homes Use 50 Percent Less Energy Than Conventional Homes

    An energy efficient, low-income housing development in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood is expected to use 50 percent less energy and cost 25 percent less to build than comparable homes. The Erie-Ellington homes were designed using a systems engineering approach which takes advantage of downsized heating and cooling equipment because of better insulation and reduced construction costs, compared to typical costs for building low-income housing in Boston. In addition, the 50 duplexes and tri-plexes in the Erie-Ellington Homes will also provide healthier indoor environments. Volatile organic compounds in carpets, paint, and floors have been reduced by 25 percent to 60 percent, and above average ventilation is provided.

    The homes also feature durable, low maintenance materials, high-quality windows, and ENERGY STAR appliances. Through the cooperation of local utilities and the ENERGY STAR program, a partnership between more than 18 high-efficiency lights were incorporated into each unit at no additional cost, and rebates and lower purchase prices were obtained on energy efficient appliances. The environmentally friendly homes are being designed and built through a partnership among USDOE's Building America program and its Hickory/Green Village Consortium, Boston's Department of Neighborhood Development, and the Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation. Erie-Ellington Homes are being built by CWC/Thomas Construction. Several units have already been completed and residents are already moving in. No taxpayer money was used to subsidize the construction.


June 21, 2000

The Radon Project Reveals Your Risk

The Radon Project Web site helps homeowners determine whether they have a radon problem and, if so, what to do about it. Based on the information you provide, the Web site will estimate: the radon level in your house and the expected risk from lung cancer from the radon in your house. It will then make a recommendation concerning your next step, either remediate your house immediately, take a year-long radon measurement (and then use that information to decide whether to remediate), take a short-term radon measurement (and then use that information to decide whether to remediate), or do nothing. Finally, the site will estimate the expected cost and expected risk from lung cancer from following each of the above strategies. A key feature of the site is a detailed map of the United States showing radon risk county-by-county. Areas in blue mostly have low radon levels; green, yellow, and red areas have higher levels. But there is a lot of local variation, and high-radon houses and low-radon houses exist in all areas of the U.S. The Radon Project Web site was created by Andrew Gelman at Columbia University and Phillip Price at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Radon Project Map

USDOE Identifies Barriers Blocking Home-Grown Power

According to the Energy Department report, distributed power systems that produce electricity onsite can reduce the amount of power utility companies need during peak demand and help prevent power outages. A new report released by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) documents the marketplace barriers that prevent electric utility customers, developers and vendors from creating projects that would enable consumers to generate their own electricity.

"Hundreds of millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of work hours are lost each year due to power supply disruptions that could otherwise be avoided if the barriers to distributed electricity generation were removed," said Secretary Richardson. "When facilities such as hospitals and businesses with computers or other critical electronic technology can get power from either the grid or their own generating equipment, energy reliability and security will be greatly improved."

The newly released DOE report contains a 10-point action plan for reducing the technical, business practice and regulatory barriers that discourage interconnection of distributed generation technologies to the electricity grid in the United States. The report, Making Connections: Case Studies of Barriers to Interconnection of Distributed Power, is the first to document the problems the developers of distributed electricity generation projects encounter while attempting to interconnect to the electric grid.

Onsite generation, also known as distributed electricity generation, allows residential, commercial and industrial customers to produce their own electricity by using smaller, decentralized, electrical generation systems located at or close to their facilities. Power sources for distributed electricity generation systems include fuel cells, microturbines, photovoltaics, wind turbines and combined heat and power systems. The technology reduces the need to build new large central generating plants or transmission and distribution lines. The report concludes, distributed power systems at industrial plants or commercial buildings can be more energy efficient and provide greater reliability onsite than conventional central generating stations.

The Energy Department examined 65 distributed electricity generation projects. Of the 65 case studies, only seven reported no major utility-related barriers. However, in most cases, substantial regulatory, technical and business-practice barriers exist, which inhibit distributed generation interconnection to the grid in the United States. For example, 17 projects, more than 25 percent of the case studies, experienced delays greater than four months. Other findings include:

  • Lack of a national consensus on technical standards for connecting equipment.
  • Lengthy and costly approval process that hampers competition from smaller distributed generation projects.
  • Unfamiliarity by utility companies in dealing with customer-generator interconnection requests. Costly regulatory appeals that prevent relatively small-scale distributed generation projects.

Although a handful of public utility commissions across the country have adopted rules on interconnection, the report concludes that removal of the barriers will require the participation of industry, utilities, developers, environmental groups and state and federal regulatory agencies. The report outlines an action plan for reducing barriers to distributed generation. Some of the recommendations include:

  • Adoption of uniform technical standards for interconnecting distributed power to the electric grid.
  • Acceleration of the development of distributed power control technology and systems.
  • Development of tools for utilities to assess the value and impact of distributed power at any point on the grid.
  • Establishment of new regulatory tariffs and utility incentives that help reduce regulatory barriers.

According to the report, many of the artificial market barriers to distributed generation grow out of long-standing regulatory policies and incentives designed to support monopoly supply. Distributed generation promises greater customer choices, efficiency advantages, improved reliability and a host of environmental benefits.

Los Angeles Utility Offers Photovoltaic Incentives

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) Board of Commissioners approved the first year of a multi-year solar program that provides financial incentives designed to encourage DWP’s residential, commercial and industrial customers to install solar photovoltaic systems.

This new five-year program provides payments of up to $5 per watt to qualified homeowners and businesses that purchase and install their own solar photovoltaic systems. Six million dollars are earmarked for the first year of the program. Each of the following four years have funds reserved at a minimum of $8 million. The program also seeks to serve as a catalyst to economic development and job creation since large numbers of installations will be an incentive to manufacturers of solar photovoltaic systems to locate their businesses in Los Angeles.

"Los Angeles is the ‘sunshine city’ and we should aggressively pursue opportunities to use this clean renewable energy source to create a solar powered city," said S. David Freeman, DWP general manager. "The potential economic development benefits of the program are significant and we fully expect to bring several new manufacturers of solar photovoltaic systems to Los Angeles in the very near future," Freeman continued.

Financial incentives for the program will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis. Reimbursements are determined by several factors including the total cost of the solar system, its total energy capacity and the availability of funds at the time incentive funds are reserved. On average, this incentive program offsets the consumer’s cost by approximately 50 percent. For the average size household, installing a 1,000 watt system, total out-of-pocket costs would be approximately $2,500.

"Not only are we adding new clean power to L.A.’s grid, we are enhancing DWP’s system reliability because this power will be generated at the same location where it is being consumed, said Angelina Galiteva, DWP’s director of strategic planning, the division of the utility overseeing this program.

Two Celotex Operations Acquired, Others Still For Sale

Celotex Corporation, a manufacturer of residential and commercial building materials, announced that it has accepted an offer for two of the company's five business operations, which combined account for approximately 50 percent of the company's revenue. In addition, the company also announced that it has entered into a Letter of Intent and is negotiating a definitive agreement to sell a third business operation which accounts for about 25 percent of the company's revenue. The remainder of the company's operations continue to be marketed to potential buyers. The transactions include:

Ceiling Products and Gypsum Wallboard: BPB plc (BPB) of the United Kingdom, the second largest producer of wallboard in the world and the largest outside the United States, is purchasing Celotex' ceiling products and gypsum wallboard business operations. These operations include 12 manufacturing facilities and account for approximately 50 percent of Celotex' overall revenues. The purchase will allow BPB to expand its U.S. market by establishing a U.S. operation in gypsum and ceiling products.

Roofing Products: The company has signed a Letter of Intent and is negotiating with CertainTeed Corporation of Valley Forge, Pa., for the purchase of Celotex' roofing products business operations, which include five manufacturing facilities, accounting for about 25 percent of the company's revenue.

Insulation: The rigid foam-based insulation and sheathing business, which includes 5 manufacturing plants and accounts for about 20 percent of Celotex' operations, is currently being marketed to a number of potential buyers.

Fiberboard: At present, a buyer is still being sought for Celotex' fiberboard operations (5 percent of current revenues with two manufacturing facilities).

Beginning in the late 1970s, while a subsidiary of the Jim Walter Corporation, Celotex was named in a series of lawsuits regarding its predecessor Panacon's use of asbestos in some products. Celotex was forced to file for protection under Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In 1997, upon the effective date of the Bankruptcy Court-approved reorganization plan for the company, ownership of Celotex was transferred to the Asbestos Settlement Trust, which today owns 100 percent of Celotex' stock. "The Trust is no different than any other owner seeking to maximize the value of its investment," said President and Chief Executive Officer John P. Borreca at the time the search for a buyer was announced.

Draft Certification for Energy Raters Seeks Comment

A coalition of players in the home energy rating industry has developed a training and certification package for energy rating professionals.

Professional home energy raters will soon have a training and certification standard. A task force including the mortgage industry, state energy officials, rating organizations, technical experts and the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) has developed a consensus standard and accreditation process. The draft standard can be viewed and comments made through the RESNET web site.

Nine School Districts Receive ENERGY STAR Label

The first nine school districts in the U.S. to receive the new ENERGY STAR label for schools were recognized for their outstanding efforts to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings. The 150 schools in these districts will be recognized at the Eleventh Annual Energy Efficiency Forum.

Nationwide, the least energy-efficient schools use nearly four times as much energy per square foot as the schools with the best energy performance. Schools that make energy-efficiency improvements cut their energy costs by 25 to 30 percent on average. Schools can redirect dollars saved from using less energy to address other important issues.

“I congratulate these schools for earning the ENERGY STAR label,” said EPA Deputy Administrator Mike McCabe. “The annual energy bill for the nation’s 115,000 primary and secondary schools is approximately $6 billion -- more than is spent on computers and textbooks combined. Energy efficient schools not only save millions of dollars, but help protect the health and environment of all Americans by reducing pollution contributing to air pollution and global warming.”

The first nine school districts to earn the ENERGY STAR designation are: San Diego Unified School District (Calif.); Academy School District 20 and Boulder Valley Public Schools (Colo.); New Haven Public Schools (Conn.); Kansas City Public Schools (Kan.); Columbia Public Schools (Mo.); McAllen Independent School District (Texas), Milwaukee Public Schools (Wis.), and Marion Public Schools (W.Va.).

To earn the Energy Star label, schools must also meet important indoor air quality targets. Improvements in indoor air quality help ensure a healthy and comfortable learning environment. DOE helps schools save energy through its Energy Smart Schools program.


June 8, 2000

EPA Restricts Common Pesticide

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a huge reduction in the manufacture of the pesticide chlorpyrifos -- sold under the brand names Dursban and Lorsban. Citing the danger to children, EPA Administrator Carol Browner said the agency and the manufacturer have agreed to eliminate its use for nearly all household purposes and to move to significantly reduce residues on several foods regularly eaten by children.

"Chlorpyrifos is part of a class of older, riskier pesticides, some going back 50 years. Exposure to these kinds of pesticides can cause neurological effects. Now that we have completed the most extensive evaluation ever conducted on the potential health hazards from a pesticide, it is clear that the time has come to take action to protect our children from exposure to this chemical," said Browner.

Chlorpyrifos is the most widely used household pesticide produced in the U.S. It is an ingredient used for a broad range of lawn and home insecticide products, for agricultural purposes, and for termite treatment. Under the agreement, production will cease and there will be a phase-out of all home, lawn and garden uses, and the vast termite control uses. Existing stocks of chlorpyrifos-containing products may be sold until the end of 2001.

Most construction uses targeted at termites will be curtailed including pre-construction treatment and post-construction spot applications and full barrier treatments. However, the agreement summary (PDF) states that new products would be classified for restricted use or packaged in larger containers. Other non-structural uses would continue to be permitted, including fenceposts, utility poles, railroad ties, landscape timbers, logs, pallets, wooden containers, poles, posts, and processed wood products.

Exposure to the chemical can cause nausea, headaches, vomiting, diarrhea and general weakness. Children are especially susceptible.

Maryland Legislature Passes Incentives for Energy Efficiency

The Maryland legislature passed the Maryland Clean Energy Incentive Act. The act allows for tax exemptions and income tax credits for qualifying energy-efficient products and equipment, electric and hybrid cars, solar equipment, and renewable power generation. The credits will take effect beginning in July 2000 (later for some products) and run generally through 2004.

Five EIFS Manufacturers Settle Class-Action Suit

Five manufacturers of exterior insulation and finish systems (EIFS) have agreed to a multimillion dollar settlement that will help hundreds of North Carolina homeowners repair or replace damaged EIFS systems. According to an article published in the May issue of Energy Design Update, the final settlement applies to five of the original nine defendants in the case: Parex, Sto Corp., WR Bonsal, Continental Stucco Products, and Dryvit Systems. Three other EIFS companies -- Thomas Waterproof Coatings, United States Gypsum, and Shields Industries -- haven't settled. Senergy broke from the pack and reached an agreement with the plaintiffs about two years ago.

The agreement stipulates that North Carolina homeowners who have not reclad their homes will be entitled to a payment of $6 per square foot of EIFS installed (or $4 per square foot for Bonsal's SUREWALL SBC Insulation System). To receive the payment, the homeowner must show proof that the company installed the EIFS system and must have an inspection done. An independent inspector is required to inspect each house and submit a report with field notes and photographs. The inspection must reveal two or more moisture readings greater than 25 percent from separate water sources or 2 square feet of wall with evidence of loss of structural integrity of the sheathing. Those homeowners who have already replaced the EIFS on their homes are also entitled to payment, provided they submit an affidavit stating that they haven't yet been compensated for the recladding work, in whole or in part, by one of the settling defendants. Former owners who paid for recladding are also entitled to payments.

The settlement applies to everyone who, as of September 18, 1996, owned or formerly owned any one- or two-family residential dwelling or townhouse in North Carolina that was clad, in whole or in part, with one of the settling defendants' EIFS. Commercial structures are not included in the settlement. The claim form and other detailed information are posted on the Web at

Americans Don't Think Traffic is a Problem Poll Shows

A Gallup Poll conducted in May found that fewer than one in five Americans consider the traffic they encounter in their local area to be "a major problem." The survey found another third of the public describing traffic as a "minor inconvenience," while nearly half -- 48 percent -- report that it is not a significant problem for them at all. Roughly one-third of Americans -- 31% -- say they have made changes to their lives or schedules because of traffic. About half of those who have made adjustments (representing 11% of all Americans) report using various driving strategies to avoid high traffic hours, such as heading to work earlier, getting home later, or changing their working hours.

DOE Releases GFX Fact Sheet

The U.S. Department of Energy's Inventions and Innovations program has produced a two-page fact sheet, called New Technology Keeps Companies and Consumers in Hot Water, outlining the benefits of the GFX drainwater heat recovery device. Features cited in the fact sheet include: 50 percent heat recovery efficiency, double-wall vented design, highly resistant to clogging and small footprint. GFX is ideal for applications in which hot water supply and drains operate concurrently, from residential showers to industrial processes.

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