Green Building News

Green Building News January 2001

January 18, 2001

Deconstruction Could Provide Lumber Supply of the Future

Wood removed from older buildings could provide as much as a quarter of the lumber needed for housing construction for the next 50 years, while putting a hefty dent in the amount of demolition waste that goes into landfills each year, according to a University of Florida study.

Lucy Acquaye, a graduate student in building construction who did the research for her master’s thesis, said that in Florida, the construction industry contributes 23 percent of all municipal solid waste, and of that, 92 percent comes from the renovation and demolition of old structures. Of the 280 Florida landfills identified by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1994, about 40 percent were lost to regulations and population growth by 1998.

"As Florida’s population continues to rise and land continues to be in demand, the regulations will continue to increase," Acquaye said. "Deconstruction reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills and prolongs landfill lives."

Acquaye studied wood from three houses in Gainesville. Built between 1900 and 1950 of Southern pine, the houses were taken apart using different techniques, from total demolition to careful deconstruction, where the focus was on salvaging as much usable material as possible. She said the contractor actually made a profit on the deconstructed house because he was able to sell much of the building’s materials.

"Instead of demolishing houses, there is the potential for creating many new businesses," said Charles Kibert, director of the Rinker School of Building Construction at UF. You have to take the building apart, extract the materials, resell them, move them from point A to point B and maybe even do some remanufacturing and clean up. We think it could generate a lot of new economic activity, and you’d have 10 times as many jobs compared to simply landfilling construction waste."

Acquaye measured the quality of the salvaged wood and found its strength was comparable to that of new lumber. She also found that the old wood was 50 percent more dense because it was from an old-growth forest, while new lumber usually comes from younger trees.

"The old lumber is of a quality you can’t find in the virgin lumber being produced today," Acquaye said.

She said salvaged lumber has potential use as studs and other structural parts of new buildings, but some obstacles must be overcome before that can happen. For one thing, no standard grading system is in place for used wood like the one used for virgin lumber.

"When you get lumber from a particular building, you have some different characteristics. We have to get a lot of lumber tested before we’re going to come up with grading rules," Acquaye said. "But what I found is this lumber has potential use."

Kibert agreed that lack of a grading system is an obstacle. But he added that wood is one of the most reusable building materials, and a high demand for it already exists in the do-it-yourself market. If nothing else, he said, used wood should be recycled into chipboard, mulch or fertilizer.

Energy Investments Make Sense for Building Owners

Businesses can no longer afford to treat energy as an "unmanageable" expense according to an article by Jerry Burin that appeared in the December issue of Building Operating Management. No matter what the business goal, whether it is to pursue cost-effective operations, overcome capital constraints, improve profit margins, benchmark with peers or enhance asset value, building operators should unlock the strategic business opportunity offered by energy efficient technologies. This is especially true in light of utility deregulation and recent energy price increases.

In the new paradigm, business managers must understand the changes in energy regulation, the role of local utilities, the options offered by energy service companies and the advances in energy efficient technologies. Benchmark measurements of energy consumption for each facility are essential for developing a management strategy. The next step is an energy audit to identify energy uses and improvement options. Operation and maintenance costs need to be included in the analysis.

Building owners have been reluctant to make energy efficiency investments when tenants pay the bill. But Burin points out that improvements create value for owners:

"An energy strategy helps create value in investment property. Reviewing an investment acquisition for value-enhancing opportunities can mean more than just enhancing the property’s rent roll with market rate rents. Identifying and then trimming the fat off an energy hog reduces tenants’ operating expenses, thereby making the property’s cost of occupancy more competitive or allowing for the replacement of reduced operating expenses with additional net rent. Recently, when the energy cost of an investor’s newly acquired gross-leased building was lowered from $3 to $2 per square foot, $1 million was added to the value of the 108,000-square-foot property."

For the full article see With Energy, Costs Equal Opportunity, Building Operating Mangement Online, Decemeber 2000

Leading US Home Builder Adds Solar Electric Technology As a Standard Feature

Oakes HallShea Homes, Inc. and AstroPower, Inc. jointly announced that they have signed an agreement to make solar power a standard feature in new Shea communities. The partnership kicks off with the construction of 100 solar powered homes in San Diego this year. The companies have a goal to build a total of 200 solar powered homes in the next 18 months, as new development phases roll out.

"It's been a long-term goal of our industry in the U.S. to have solar electric home power systems become a standard feature in new home construction," said Howard Wenger, North American Business Director for AstroPower. "That's what makes our partnership with Shea Homes so significant. Shea Homes has recognized the value of solar technology as a standard feature."

As the 10th largest builder in the U.S., Shea Homes constructed 5000 homes in 1999, generating $1.6 billion in gross revenues. The San Diego division of Shea Homes will feature solar technology in their newest community, located in Scripps Highlands. Fifteen miles north of downtown San Diego, these new homes will incorporate the latest in solar power and energy efficiency technology, enabling homeowners to reduce their utility bills by 50 percent or more over a conventionally-built home.

"We're doing this to enable our customers to take control of their energy bills. We want to build a more efficient home, allow our customers to generate their own electricity, and deliver it for an affordable price," said Ryan Green, Community Development Manager for Shea. "The homes in Scripps Highlands are 40 percent more efficient than the strict California energy efficiency standards. This delivers added comfort and value for new Shea homebuyers."

AstroPower's Howard Wenger noted that "San Diego is the epicenter of California's power crisis, where electric rates and bills have doubled and threats of power outages have become common. Our SunChoice solar home power systems produce pollution-free electricity, spin the utility meter backward to lower bills, and can also provide power to the home during power outages. It's a perfect match."

"Our systems are designed to integrate seamlessly with a builder's construction schedule. That's what is so exciting about working with Shea Homes. Together, we're able to realize terrific cost economies by integrating partners," said Bob Ruggio, Residential Sales Manager for AstroPower. "That translates to excellent pricing for the consumer, made especially affordable by wrapping the system cost right into the home mortgage. The end result is the highest quality installation at the lowest possible delivered price." AstroPower's SunChoice(TM) program is a national effort to make solar power affordable and easy to obtain. The company maintains a network of authorized resellers and installers, offering solar technology to the residential new home market, as well as to existing homeowners and businesses.

Designs Based in Spiritual History of India

Designer Michael Borden is bringing the spiritual principles of Vastu Vedic Architecture to his practice in the American Midwest. He introduces the concept in a new addition to the Oikos Library called Vastu Vedic Architecture. At the core of the practice is a design pattern called the "Vaastu Purusha Mandala." Borden says that those occupying a building based on this pattern "experience growth of life, love, energy, and spiritual bliss."

NREL Establishes Distributed Power Research Center

The nation's straining electrical generation system can be enhanced by moving away from an historic reliance on "mega" power plants and toward a network of dispersed, smaller-scale generation facilities. That concept, known as "distributed power," will be advanced by a newly established research center at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

The Distributed Energy Resources Center at NREL will conduct research and provide information needed to efficiently develop additional power supplies from relatively small, decentralized generating units, ideally operated at or near the commercial and residential sites they serve. This involves both interconnectivity systems that enable electricity produced by a variety of sources to flow onto the grid and specialized technologies for producing the new power itself.

Electrical generation technologies that are well suited for the emerging distributed power market include small natural gas turbines, as well as those that tap into renewable energy sources such as the sun, wind and biomass.

The center, with a budget of approximately $10 million for fiscal year 2001, is organized around three units: Resource and Environmental Evaluation, Distributed Power Systems Integration, and Hydrogen and Natural Gas Systems.

Resource and Environmental Evaluation will develop methods for analyzing environmental impacts and site requirements for locating distributed power systems. This will include mapping pertinent regions for their sun, wind or biomass production potential, as well as for wildlife and other environmental considerations. NREL's Tom Stoffel was named the center's acting manager for Resource and Environmental Evaluation.

A primary role of the testing facility will be to help develop universal standards to assure the performance and safety of distributed power equipment. That effort is critical because different electrical generation technologies produce power with widely varying characteristics. The data produced by the center will be used by standards-writing bodies to develop consensus test standards and by independent organizations to formally certify distributed power equipment.

January 3, 2001

John F. Kennedy University Plans Green Campus

John F. Kennedy University announced that it will strive to become the first university in the United States to be designed in its entirety using "Green Principles."

Charles E. Glasser, JD, university president, announced that, "The university's goal is to achieve, wherever possible, the integration of sustainable principles in the building of its new Concord campus, as well as its academic curriculum."

Glasser said the specific goals of the Green Project include:

  • Striving for the highest possible rating from the US Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy Efficient Design (LEED) rating system;
  • Maximizing the use of green building materials throughout all aspects of design and construction, including campus furnishings;
  • Designing the energy and water consumption needs using environmentally sensitive yet highly efficient methods;
  • Integrating the principles of sustainability into the curriculum.

While several US colleges and universities have completed sustainability construction practices in individual buildings, JFKU believes it would be the first university in the country to construct an entire campus implementing "Green Principles."

The university has obtained an option to buy a five-acre site on Galindo Avenue in downtown Concord, adjacent to the Concord BART station. Plans are to break ground in early 2002 and to begin classes there in the fall of 2003.

Glasser said the JFKU Board of Regents has approved a resolution to integrate the principles of sustainability into the new campus in Concord. Glasser has been working with a number of leaders in the sustainability movement, including Jim Quinn, president and CEO of Collins Pine Company, who earned his MBA from JFKU in 1970 and was Alumnus of the Year in 1998. Quinn, also named Man of the Year in the timber processing industry in 1998, is a national leader in his business and in the field of sustainability. Others who Glasser is working with include David Orr, head of the Environmental Studies Department at Oberlin College and an author and visionary in the field of sustainability; David Ford, president of the Certified Forest Products Council; and Bill Browning of the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Ozone-generating Air Cleaners are Ineffective and Possibly Harmful

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently updated its report on ozone-generating air cleaners: Ozone Generators That Are Sold as Air Cleaners: An Assessment of Effectiveness and Health Consequences. Based on the most credible scientific evidence currently available, the report says that ozone can be harmful to health, whether in its pure form or mixed with other chemicals. Some studies show that ozone concentrations produced by ozone generators can exceed health standards even when one follows manufacturer’s instructions. Even at concentrations that do not exceed public health standards, ozone is generally ineffective in controlling indoor air pollution. EPA advises the public to use proven methods of controlling indoor air pollution. (Thanks to Hal Levin.)

Andersen Corp. Commits to Protect Endangered Forests

Andersen Corporation, maker of Andersen windows and patio doors, announced that it will not source wood from endangered forests and it will give preference to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or equivalent certified wood supplies in the manufacture of its products. These commitments become a part of the company's established practices of promoting responsible forestry management in the procurement of wood supplies.

"These commitments support the approach we have taken over the years to preserve forest resources by responsibly sourcing wood, conserving wood whenever possible and reclaiming wood within our operations. All three must be practiced to assure the long-term health of the world's forests and the viability of wood as a valued natural resource," said Kurt Heikkila, vice president of technology and business development for Andersen Corporation.

Andersen said it will give preference to certified wood supplies while pursuing the best wood for its products in terms of quality, price, volume and consistency of material. Andersen will continue to work with suppliers to ensure that specified lumber or cut stock is not sourced from endangered forests. The company said it supports constructive efforts, such as the new Coast Forest Conservation Initiative in British Columbia, to achieve responsible balance among economic, environmental and community interests in timber-producing areas.

Last March, Andersen joined the Certified Forest Products Council (CFPC), an independent, non-profit, voluntary business initiative that promotes responsible forest products buying practices throughout North America in an effort to improve forest management practices worldwide.

Andersen primarily uses ponderosa pine in its window and patio door products and it is sourced from well-managed forests mainly in the western United States. The company is using increasing quantities of its patented biofiber composite, Fibrex -- material, made from waste wood fiber. Fibrex material was developed to reduce the company's need for raw timber and reclaim its wood waste stream. Andersen also conducts ongoing research on wood species and alternatives for use in its products.

Wood conservation has been practiced throughout Andersen manufacturing facilities for years. Scrap wood is finger-joined and edge-glued to create usable pieces; parts are reengineered to save wood; and wood veneers are used where appropriate. Andersen is also committed to recycled wood supplies and to products made with wood waste reclaimed from operations, such as Fibrex material.

ASE Advertising Called "Shocking"

As heating oil and natural gas prices rise, the Alliance to Save Energy has taken "$ticker $hock" over high energy prices to a "Shocking" new level with its humorous new TV and radio campaign which focuses on consumer angst over energy bills and solutions to easily reduce both energy bills and pollution.

Titled "Static Electricity House," the television public service advertisements (PSAs) highlight a family's wild experiment to deal with high energy prices by powering their home with static electricity. It requires all family members, including the dog, to keep rubbing their wool socks on the carpeting to keep lights on and power functioning.

But that approach has many humorous drawbacks -- from a burning carpet to having all their hair stand on end. There are many other "shocks" in the process.

But the family discovers they didn't have to go to such extremes when simple energy efficiency approaches and ENERGY STAR-labeled products are better solutions to reduce their energy prices, energy use, and pollution.

In "Big Shock," the radio public service spots, first the husband keels over and then the wife when they open their home energy bill. In addition, the Alliance is re-releasing its popular radio spots by the Beach Boys to the tune of "Summer in Paradise."

Alliance funding partners for the PSAs and a broader multimedia campaign bring together federal and state government and industry--the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), New York State Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), Pacific Gas and Electric Company, and the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA).

Lake Source Cooling Project a Success Says Cornell

Cornell University is consuming a lot less energy and helping regional electric power plants release fewer pollutants into the air thanks to the university's innovative lake source cooling (LSC) installation. LSC uses cold water from the depths of Cayuga Lake to replace conventional refrigeration to cool campus buildings. The $60 million system is one of the largest environmental engineering projects undertaken by a university.

Based on experience since the system was installed in July 2000, the university expects to buy about 20 million fewer kilowatt-hours of electric energy per year for cooling, reducing the burning of coal in power plants by about 25 million pounds a year.

As additional project benefits, Ithaca High School -- which is tied into the system -- will see similar energy and cost percentage savings, and the City of Ithaca has received road and utility upgrades valued at $1.3 to $1.5 million.

Although the concept of using naturally cold, deep water for a cooling system is not new, this is the first such installation by a university anywhere in the world and the first to be deployed in a small freshwater lake. A comparable system is in operation to cool downtown businesses in Stockholm, Sweden, dissipating heat into the Baltic Sea, and an experimental system cools the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii. Systems are under consideration for downtown Toronto and a research facility near Rochester, both drawing from Lake Ontario.

When it became necessary to update Cornell's central cooling system to keep up with growth of the campus, combat rising energy costs, replace aging equipment and eliminate ozone-depleting chloroflurocabon refrigerants, the university opted for LSC. While the cost of building the LSC system was more than 50 percent higher than the cost of a new refrigeration plant, the long-term savings were attractive, and the environmental benefits offered a bonus.

"People think the cost of cooling is lower because of lake source cooling, but the cost upfront is higher. We paid a premium, but it will be paid for over time," explained William "Lanny" Joyce, Cornell utilities engineer and director of the LSC project. "We have built something that will last 75 to 100 years, whereas conventional chillers last about 30 years. It's a much more passive system with fewer moving parts."

The old cooling system consisted of eight "chillers"-- essentially massive water coolers in which a refrigerant is alternately compressed and expanded to transfer heat out of water that is circulated to cooling systems in campus buildings. The old chillers, Joyce said, used a total of 16,000 horsepower to supply 16,000 tons of cooling, each ton being the equivalent of 12,000 BTUs per hour. In industry terms, a "ton" of cooling is the equivalent of melting one ton of ice over 24 hours.

The LSC system, installed in a plant on the east shore of Cayuga Lake, consists of seven heat exchangers and uses only 4,000 horsepower for 20,000 tons of cooling capacity, Joyce said. The system pumps 39.5-degree Fahrenheit water from a lake depth of 250 feet through the heat exchangers, where the lake water absorbs heat from a separate, and sealed, water supply that is circulated to campus buildings. Chilled water travels in a closed loop between the plant and the campus, two and a half miles uphill. "Refrigeration is expensive because of the large compressors needed," Joyce said. "We are saving in that all we have are water pumps."

Computer modeling shows that the amount of heat returned to the lake is equivalent to about two to four hours of sunlight per year, Joyce said. That heat is lost to the air, he added, rather than being stored in the lake. Extreme care was taken during construction to avoid stirring up sediment in the lake, Joyce reported.

In addition, he said, there will be ongoing testing for biological effects in the lake. Nutrient and algae levels, for example, are being monitored and reported to the state of New York; in preliminary data and observations in the field, LSC shows no conspicuous indicators of an effect on the lake, according to Robert Bland, university environmental engineer. In fact, Bland said, the water returned to the lake contains less phosphorous than was projected in the original computer model, and that amount was less than the natural variations of the southern end of the lake. "It's good water," he said.

"Many protective measures are built into the system, and there will be continued monitoring to ensure that it runs as planned now and in the future," Joyce added.

Cornell offers a considerable amount of information about the Lake Source Cooling system on the Web, including news, environmental information, biological monitoring data, an FAQ and resource list.

Two Large Solar Electric Systems Go Online in California

California's energy problems have made on-site generation a major advantage for real estate management companies. Properties in Orange County and Carlsbad must be looking especially good with huge photovoltaic arrays on the roofs. The larger Orange County project claims to be the largest commercial solar electric system in the Western Hemisphere with almost an acre of solar panels. It generates enough electricity to power more than 240 single-family houses. The system in Carlsbad will generate roughly half as much power. Both systems are mounted on the rooftops of large commercial and industrial buildings.

DEA Seeks to Stifle Many Hemp Products

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has filed its intention to tighten regulations for industrial hemp products that "will likely hinder efforts to legalize industrial hemp and will impact the availability of many products derived from industrial hemp in the United States," according to the Carbohydrate Economy Bulletin. The DEA's plans were printed in the Federal Register on November 30, 2000.

Trex Receives Recycling Award

Trex Company was honored by the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) Recycling Division with the "Excellence in Plastics Recycling" Award at the SPE's Annual Recycling Conference. The award was based on recycled plastic volume, type of plastic used and the resulting product and its success in the marketplace. Trex Company manufactures plastic lumber decking primarily from recycled plastic grocery bags, reclaimed pallet wrap and waste hardwood from furniture manufacturers. In 2000, Trex Co. purchased more than 200 million pounds of recycled/reclaimed polyethylene and equal amounts of waste wood, materials that would normally end up in a landfill.

UK Introduces Energy Labels for All New Homes

Energy Labels are now required on all new homes built in England and Wales to provide prospective buyers with information on the energy efficiency of new dwellings. Under new provisions in the revised Building Regulations and Approved Inspectors Regulations 2000, house builders will be required to visually display energy ratings of new homes as well as notifying the building control agency.

Construction Minister, Nick Raynsford, said the government was committed to reducing CO2 emissions, and any means by which this could be promoted would be encouraged. "The new requirement means that house builders will have to display an energy rating notice in all new homes. This will give prospective buyers and first occupiers an idea of how energy efficient the home is and help to promote energy efficiency as a factor in people's decisions on which home to choose."

The new energy labelling requirement took effect on January 1, 2001. The energy ratings will be calculated using the Standard Assessment Procedure for Energy Rating of Dwellings (SAP). The SAP rating is based on space and water heating costs and is expressed on a scale of 1 to 100 - the higher the number the more energy efficient the home.

DOE Seeks Proposals for Building and Equipment Efficiency Research

The U.S. Department of Energy is accepting proposals for innovative technologies that have the potential for significant energy savings in residential and commercial buildings. DOE seeks projects that advance energy efficient equipment, envelope and whole building technologies. The specific objective is to accelerate high-payoff technologies that, because of their risk, are unlikely to be developed in a timely manner without a partnership between industry and the Federal government. Proposals must be submitted by February 1, 2001. The RFP is available from the DOE's Website.

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