Green Building News

Green Building News October 2000

October 18, 2000

Chicago Architects Win "Sun Wall" National Design Competition

Four Chicago-area architects won a national design competition for a proposed Sun Wall solar installation at the Energy Department's headquarters building in Washington, D.C. This is the first step for the department's headquarters to become the largest federal government building's solar energy system in the country. Once installed, the system could generate as much as 200 kilowatts of electric power -- enough energy for more than 60 homes.

The winners of the design competition are Martin Wolf, FAIA; Mark Frisch, AIA; Devon Patterson, AIA; and Duane Carter of Solomon Cordwell Buenz & Associates, Chicago, and Mahadev Raman & David M. Scott of Ove Arup & Partners, New York City. "The goal was to produce a powerful, functional architecture that invites the viewer to explore the building's interior spaces and better understand this technology of the future," said Wolf on behalf of his group's winning design.

"The overwhelming response by top architects and solar design specialists to the Sun Wall design competition, shows the tremendous interest within the U.S. for solar energy utilization," said Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson. "Once completed, the Sun Wall will not only be the largest solar system on a federal building, it will serve as an international landmark for the advancement of solar energy."

The winning design was selected from 115 entries and was judged by a group of experts which included a cross section of preeminent architects in the federal government and the private sector. The Energy Department and the American Institute of Architects (AIA) jointly established the rules for the competition and determined the award categories.

Designs for the 32,100 square foot area were judged on aesthetics, energy production and cost-effectiveness. The winning entry combines electricity generating photovoltaic panels with a solar thermal installation that will provide for the efficient heating of water for use in the building. This design provides a shaded interior space, which allows a view of the high-tech solar wall from the backside.

Green Building Exhibit Starts Tour in Austin

Austin, Texas will be the first stop on the national tour of "Ten Shades of Green," an exhibition of recent architecture that combines environmental sensitivity and quality design.

Produced by the Architectural League of New York, "Ten Shades of Green", features examples of environmentally responsible architecture from Europe, Australia, and North America. Although all the structures are different, they all incorporate significant green features. The buildings express several themes important to understanding green building:

  • There is no such thing as green architecture. Instead, there are countless ways design can address and incorporate green issues.
  • Green design is not merely a matter of add-ons or product specification. Rather, it influences the form of the whole building and is one of its major generators from the first moments of the design process.
  • Greenness is not incompatible with the highest levels of architectural excellence. Europe's leading architects are also among its best proponents of green design.
  • Many green buildings represent the leading edge of engineering design.

The exhibition reflects these themes using models, photographs and drawings. To demonstrate how engineers use sophisticated modeling techniques to study the environmental effects of proposed buildings, the exhibition opens with an animation of studies by BDSP Partnership of London.

The University of Texas School of Architecture has partnered with the Austin Energy Green Building Program to bring the exhibit to Austin. The exhibition, which consists of models, photographs and drawings, will run from Sept. 25 through Oct. 25, 2000, in the Mike and Maxine K. Mebane Exhibition Gallery, in Goldsmith Hall on the University of Texas campus (Guadalupe and 22nd St.). The exhibit is free and open to the public Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

New York Green Buildings Receive Tax Credit

Earlier this year, the State of New York established a tax credit program to promote the construction of environmentally-friendly buildings. The program can distribute a maximum of $25 million between 2000 and 2004. The tax credit can be taken by building owners or tenants, including corporations, utilities, banks, insurance companies and personal income taxpayers. Eligible buildings include: certain hotels and office buildings having more than 20,000 square feet of interior space; residential multi-family buildings having more than 12 units totaling more than 20,000 square feet of interior space; residential multi-family buildings with more than 2 units that are part of single or phased construction and with more than 20,000 square feet of interior space, provided that more than 10,000 square feet is under construction or rehabilitation in any single phase. More details can be found at the NY Department of Conservation Web site.

DOE Proposes New Energy Efficiency Standards for Residential Clothes Washers

The Department of Energy (DOE) this week proposed new energy efficiency standards for residential clothes washers that will benefit consumers and the environment. Over a 25-year period, the proposed standards will cut water use by some 10.5 trillion gallons and save enough energy to light 16 million homes.

"The new clothes washers standards are a win-win for consumers and the environment" said Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. "Consumers can expect to save over $200 in water and energy costs over the life of the product. The reduction in energy use will also help improve the reliability of the nation's electricity supply and maintain a cleaner environment."

The proposed standards are based on an agreement among manufacturers and energy efficiency advocates, and highlight the Energy Department's commitment to improving the process for setting energy efficiency standards. While the standards are subject to a final rule-making by the department, it is expected that the agreement's recommendations will be adopted for the final standards.

Parties to the agreement include: the Natural Resources Defense Council; American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy; the Alliance to Save Energy; Northwest Power Planning Council; the City of Austin, Texas; Pacific Gas and Electric Company; the Appliance Standards Awareness Project; California Energy Commission; and the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers includes: Alliance Laundry Systems; Amana; Asko; Frigidaire; General Electric Appliances; Maytag; Miele; Fisher & Paykel; and Whirlpool.

The proposed clothes washer standards were published in Thursday's Federal Register and the department expects to issue the final rule by January 2001. The standards go into effect in two stages, January 1, 2004, and January 1, 2007. The first stage would reduce clothes washer energy use by 22 percent and the final stage would reduce energy use by 35 percent. Most manufacturers currently offer some products which meet the 2007 standards.

This is the fourth in a series of proposed standards set forth by Secretary Richardson to improve the energy efficiency of lighting and household appliances.

Alliance Says Proposed Heat Pump Standards Fall Short

DOE's proposal to increase cooling equipment efficiency standards falls short of what's justified and what's needed to reduce electricity demand, according to the Alliance to Save Energy (ASE). During the 60-day comment period for the proposed rules, the Appliance Standards Awareness Project is running a humorous campaign to generate comments to DOE asking that they boost the standards. The ad features Energy Secretary Bill Richardson with digitally-inserted shades under the headline "In the city known for hot air, Bill Richardson has a cool idea." The campaign asserts that air-conditioners and heat pumps have been key contributors to the high electricity demand that have threatened blackouts and brownouts in some locations. More information can be found at the Appliance Standards Awareness Project Web site.

Another Heat Pump Water Heater in Development

Residential heat pump water heaters have had a troubled history. No product has yet achieved mass-market status. Now, Enviromaster International (EMI) and Arthur D. Little, with support from the DOE Energy Star Program (through Oak Ridge National Laboratory), are developing a unique "market-optimized" ambient-air HPWH aimed at the large electric water heater replacement market.

ORNL is providing technical support to EMI, a small company located in upstate New York, for the development and field testing of a heat pump water heater designed for the large electric water heater replacement market.

An electric heat pump water heater (HPWH) uses about half as much electricity as conventional water-heating units. Despite the greater efficiency, HPWHs have not sold well because the technology is unfamiliar, the cost of each unit is high, and early models were unreliable and difficult to install. The new electric HPWH is designed to be more attractive to consumers. Unlike earlier HPWH models, the new "drop-in" model can easily be installed by a plumber to replace the existing water heater. The installed cost of the new HPWH will be about $400 more than that of a conventional 50-gallon water heater, but for many families, the energy savings in two years will cover this additional cost.

Owens-Corning Files Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

Citing the growing burden of decades-old asbestos claims, Owens-Corning has filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code. The goal of the reorganization is to "refocus on operating its business and serving its customers, while it develops a plan of reorganization that will resolve its asbestos and other liabilities and provide a suitable capital structure for long-term growth," according to a company press release. Owens-Corning is a leading manufacturer of insulation, roofing and other building products.


October 3, 2000

Survey Says Builders Underestimate Demand for Green Homes

Green building is becoming popular but builders underestimate the demand from home buyers, according to an online survey.

Asked about their buyers' willingness to pay for green homes, builders said that less than half would pay extra. The writer of the survey story, David Johnston, said this is in sharp contrast to the fact that 89 percent of the buyers said they would be willing to pay more. When asked how much extra buyers would be willing to pay, builders underestimated almost every price range. Johnston said this is very significant since 95 percent of builders claimed that the greatest constraint in using green products was cost.

Johnston also noted that procurement of green building products continues to be an issue for many builders. In general, green building products were not very available in local markets according to the survey. When they were, 60 percent said they were five to 15 percent more expensive. Another interesting statistic in the survey was that builders buy green products from their traditional suppliers more than 80 percent of the time. Only 10.7 percent buy direct from manufacturers.

The survey determined that the consumer definition of green building includes more than energy efficiency. While energy efficiency is at the top of the consumer list, Johnston said it is only the tip of their interests. Improved indoor air quality is also among the top three priorities for home buyers. Eighty-nine percent of those surveyed are aware that certain building materials emit gas chemicals into the living environment. Forty-five percent said that it was very important to live in a home free of toxic chemicals inside.

The online survey was conducted by Cahners Residential Group Professional Builder, Luxury Home Builder, Professional Remodeler, and

Collins Celebrates Landmark in Sustainable Forestry

On September 25, Collins Pine Company harvested a 170 year-old, 130 foot tall ponderosa pine, their 2 billionth board-foot of timber in the Collins Almanor Forest. And it was logged in the same mixed conifer stand near Humbug Valley where logging began in 1941. "This is the finest industrial forest in North America. Where else could you have 60 years of sustainable logging and still have as much timber as you started with and in all age classes," commented Wade Mosby, senior vice president for The Collins Companies. "Certified Forestry works and harvesting our 2 billionth board-foot of lumber in the Collins Almanor Forest, an FSC-certified forest, proves it."

84 Lumber Joins Old Growth Bandwagon

Joining other prominent building materials suppliers, 84 Lumber Company announced its pledge to protect the forest environment.

"84 Lumber will continue its commitment of practicing sound environmental wood procurement policies by phasing out sales of wood from endangered forests during the next three years while continuing to promote the sale of alternative products," said Maggie Hardy Magerko, 84 Lumber Company President.

More details are available in news releases from 84 Lumber Company and the Rainforest Action Network.

Report Details Energy Efficient, Affordable Homes

The National Affordable Housing Network (NAHN) has released a report on 40 energy-efficient homes built in six Texas cities in partnership with Habitat for Humanity International. The best-performing homes, located in San Antonio, used 42 percent less energy than the average new home there. The total annual utility cost was under $490, with the best group having an average consumption of $16 for annual space heat and $191 for annual cooling. The report examines factors that influenced the energy performance of the homes. NAHN charges a fee for the full report, but a highly informative executive summary is available on the NAHN Web site.

New Atlanta Development is Efficient and Affordable

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced the opening of a highly energy efficient housing development community, where affordably priced, single-family homes are expected to use up to 50 percent less energy than similar conventional homes. The 33 units will cost less than one dollar per day to heat and cool.

"The Fairburn Commons complex in the Atlanta suburb of Fairburn is just one example of how the Energy Department through the Building America Program is partnering with the housing industry to build highly energy efficient, affordable homes across the country," said Dan Reicher, Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. "By owning one of these homes, residents can expect to reduce their energy use anywhere from 30 to 50 percent, while helping to maintain a cleaner environment."

The energy efficiency of Fairburn Commons is greatly improved by using cellulose insulation, a nontoxic fire retardant which reduces air leakage by 38 percent over standard batt insulation. It also makes an effective sound barrier. Ventilation is improved by continuously bringing fresh air into the houses and mixing it with recirculating interior air. The indoor environment is substantially improved by virtually eliminating fumes from carpeting paints, stains, and adhesives. The homes also feature durable, low maintenance materials and high quality energy efficient windows.

Building America is a DOE program that works with the residential building industry to help design and build the most cost-effective, energy-efficient houses possible. Program partners designed Fairburn Commons using a "whole-house" systems engineering approach, which considers the house as a complete system instead of separate components. This allows the builder to install downsized heating and cooling equipment which lowers the homeowner's utility bills.

Fairburn Commons is being built by Health-E-Community Enterprises of Newport News, VA and its program partners which include, American Lung Association of Georgia, Wachovia Bank, Fulton-Atlanta Community Action Authority, Fannie Mae, Southface Energy Institute and EarthCraft House. The Energy Department's Building America program partnered with Health-E-Community Enterprises to provide building and energy efficient expertise for the construction project.

According to DOE, no taxpayer money is being used to subsidize the construction of these 1,450 square foot to 2,200 square foot homes, which cost $115,000 to about $135,000. Three homes are completed and families are expected to move in later this year.

GFX To Be Manufactured in New Zealand

ECOsystems Limited has become the New Zealand agent for GFX water to water heat exchangers with the right to manufacture in New Zealand. GFX units capture the waste heat from the shower drainwater and transfer it into the cold water going to the shower valve. This cuts the cost of a shower in half and triples the first hour rating of an electric water heater.

"We saw the potential of this product in 1998 and installed the first unit in a Wellington hotel," said Scott Martin, ECOsystems Director. "The results were better than expected and as a result the remaining showers were converted. Since then GFX has been specified at all new developments. The annual savings of the original installation was $639.46 per unit, giving a payback including installation costs of only 1.67 years.

Since the initial installation, the government has made funds available to install units through the Energy Saver Fund administered by EECA a government enterprise set up to promote energy efficiency in New Zealand. GFX units are now installed in a number of sites throughout New Zealand, including many hostels, boarding schools, hotels, rest homes, universities and hospitals.

"The units are ideal for hotels, hostels, laundries, rest homes, hair salons and homes," said Frans Plugge of ECOsystems. "They can be installed as a retrofit item or installed in new buildings. There are also many industrial applications that are just waiting to be tapped."

DOE Proposes New Efficiency Standards for Air Conditioners and Heat Pumps

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) proposed new energy efficiency standards for residential central air conditioners and heat pumps that will save energy, reduce utility bills and improve air quality. Over a 25-year period, the proposed standards are expected to save enough electricity to light all U.S. homes for nearly three years. The average consumer will save money as a result of lower electricity bills over the life of the product.

The proposed standards, to be published in Thursday's Federal Register, will require air conditioners to have a minimum seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) of 12 and heat pumps to have a minimum SEER of 13 and a minimum heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF) of 7.7. Current standards require central air conditioners to meet a minimum SEER of 10, and heat pumps to meet an HSPF of 6.8.

Last month, the department's Energy Information Administration reported that 47 percent of U.S. households used central air conditioning in 1997, up from only 23 percent in 1978. You'll find more information in the DOE news release.

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