Green Building News

Green Building News March 2001

March 21, 2001

Ian McHarg Passes On

The man who taught thousands to "Design with Nature" has died at age 80. Ian McHarg, who founded the landscape architecture and regional planning department at the University of Pennsylvania in 1954, promoted the novel idea that people should strive to conform with nature rather than dominate it. He became an icon of the environmental movement in 1969 after publishing his book, "Design with Nature," which was widely used as a text in university courses. A central idea in McHarg's method was to create a detailed inventory of a site, including the geology, vegetation, hydrology, and all other natural and cultural resources. By drawing these resources on overlays, designers could quickly see natural influences on the site and take them into account. This method formed the basis of geographical information systems (GIS), one of the most valuable tools of modern urban planning.


Carpet Makers Agree to Major Recycling Initiative

The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) took a big step toward establishing a national program to recycle carpet when it agreed with several state governments to phase in recycling and reuse of carpet over time. Under the agreement, the carpet industry will fund and manage a new organization that will work to eliminate landfilling and incineration of used carpet. The organization will have a board of directors, an advisory council and a professional staff.

CRI, who represents 92% of the industry's U.S. manufactured products, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Midwestern Workgroup on Carpet Recycling. The group originally covered the states of Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota, but was joined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, expanding the significance of the agreement to a national scope.

While the new organization aspires to large-scale carpet recycling, it is no small task and the MOU is not binding. The group plans to address many technical and logistical challenges. One effort will be a $200,000 university research program aimed at specific barriers. Also, model procurement guidelines will be developed. The MOU makes it clear that the most desirable solution would be a private-sector recycling effort that is self-supporting and self-sustaining.


Tests Show Elevated CCA Levels in Florida Playgrounds

While many people are familiar with the dangers of decay-resistant wood treated with chromated copper arsenate (CCA), the St. Petersburg Times recently declared that pressure treated wood "might be Florida's newest environmental hazard." Since the material has been widely used for about 70 years, it's not likely a "new" hazard at all. Nevertheless, it's encouraging that more people are becoming aware of the issue.

The Times hired Thornton Laboratories of Tampa to test the soil near CCA-treated posts in five public parks. In all five cases, the level of arsenic in the soil exceeded state safety standards, from dozens to hundreds of times higher. According the article, most Floridians are blissfully unaware of the dangers of CCA, that is has been banned in several countries around the world, that the wood treating industry has paid financial settlements to those harmed by their product, and that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency backed away from regulating it. The EPA has banned arsenic pesticides for most uses, except wood treatment. Home improvement centers in Florida and elsewhere routinely sell picnic tables made of CCA-treated wood, even though wood manufacturers specifically recommend against its use for cutting boards or other food preparation surfaces. The article titled, The Poison in Your Back Yard appeared in the March 11 edition.


Bio-Plastic Wins DOE Honor

NatureWorks™ PLA, recently received the Department of Energy’s Office of Industrial Technologies (OIT) Technology-of-the-Year award. This honor is awarded annually to a technology that demonstrates the potential for improved energy efficiency along with economic and environmental benefits. Developed by Cargill Dow, NatureWorks PLA or polylactic acid is a natural-based polymer that can be used for common consumer items such as clothing, cups, food containers, candy wrappers, as well as home and office furnishings.  The technology used to create NatureWorks uses annually renewable resources like corn rather than petroleum for its feedstock.  By substituting corn for petroleum, NatureWorks uses 20 – 50 percent less fossil resources than conventional plastics.  In addition, since the production of PLA recycles the earth’s carbon, the PLA system emits less CO2 compared to other petroleum based thermoplastics.

“Being recognized by the Department of Energy speaks to the significance of Cargill Dow and our technology.  NatureWorks PLA will not only impact industry but society as a whole,” said Dr. Pat Gruber, vice president and chief technology officer of Cargill Dow.  “We are creating a new industrial revolution where renewable resources will replace petroleum in plastics, fibers and all areas of industry.”

Cargill Dow and The Department of Energy (DOE) have an ongoing partnership to further the development of energy savings and biobased product technology.  In September 2000, Cargill Dow was granted $2.4 million by the DOE for continued research and development of the company’s revolutionary fermentation process for further use of annually renewable resources.  This funding was part of two competitive financial assistance programs administered by the DOE supporting a presidential executive order to triple the use of biobased products and bioenergy in the U.S. by 2010. 


Aquastar Tankless Water Heaters Recalled

Controlled Energy Corporation (CEC) is recalling about 320 AquaStar natural gas water heaters. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the units can produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide in the exhaust gas, which can cause serious injuries and death. The water heaters were sold nationwide through plumbing supply stores and plumbing contractors from March 1997 to January 2001, for about $440, plus installation.

CPSC and Controlled Energy have received reports of two deaths and two injuries in Manitoba, Canada, reportedly caused by the release of carbon monoxide from the water heater. Consumers who have the recalled AquaStar unit (model number AQ38B NG), should turn off the water heater immediately and call Controlled Energy Corporation toll-free at 800-642-3111 between 8:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. ET Monday through Friday. CEC is offering consumers a free on-site repair conducted by a licensed professional plumber. More information can be read in the CSPC news release.


New Design Removes Barriers for CFLs in Table Lamps

The most common complaint about compact fluorescent lamps is that they are too dim. The number two complaint is that it's difficult to fit a typical CFL into a table lamp. A new design concept from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) addresses both these complaints. It's a new high-performance, energy-efficient table lamp that is designed to save energy in homes and offices while greatly increasing lighting quality and visibility.

"To our knowledge, nothing currently available in the office, hospitality or residential marketplace has both the high-performance lighting quality characteristics and energy efficiency of this new lamp, says Michael Siminovitch, a scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division."

At full power, this two-lamp fluorescent system matches the combined light output of a 300-watt halogen lamp and a 150-watt, incandescent table lamp while using only a quarter of the energy. The new lamp uses two independently controllable and fully dimmable compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). One lamp’s light is directed downward, illuminating the table or desk. The other directs light up toward the ceiling, providing high-quality indirect lighting. An optical "septum" separates the two lamps, allowing three modes of lighting: downward lighting only, upward only, or up and down together. The relationships between the lamps, the septum and the lamp shade have been designed to maximize the efficient distribution of light as well as to provide soft and even shade brightness.

The new table lamp without its shade.

Staff Research Associate Erik Page says, "This lamp is clearly an energy saver in homes, but it is also a great energy-efficient alternative in office spaces. Substantial savings can be had by turning off overhead room lighting altogether and using this lamp. The "down" light gives the user more than enough flux (light output) for most tasks, while the "up" light provides a low-glare ambient light that is ideal for computer environments."

Berkeley Lab is working with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), Southern California Edison (SCE), and Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), to acquire and field-test the first production lamps based on the patent-pending design. The utilities will place the first 600 prototype lamps in offices, residences and hotels, monitoring energy use and customer satisfaction in an upcoming demonstration program.


Neighborhood Designs Help Reduce Pollution, Urban Sprawl

Researchers at the University of Oregon Center for Housing Innovation (CHI) have developed a set of guidelines to help control urban sprawl in ways that reduce environmental impact and increase property values. Ron Kellett, UO associate professor of architecture, and Cynthia Girling, UO associate professor of landscape architecture, wrote "Green Neighborhoods: Planning and Design Guidelines for Air, Water and Urban Forest Quality" to help property owners and planners develop environmentally sensitive neighborhoods without urban sprawl.

Kellett and Girling are co-directors of the UO Neighborhoods Lab that focuses on developing tools to design new neighborhoods which are less dependent on automobiles, cause less environmental impact, increase property values, and are well designed and affordable.

"Conventional suburban development patterns affect air and water quality in ways that could be avoided or mitigated," says Kellett.

Segregating land uses, for example, increases demand for automobile trips, streets and parking lots. More streets and parking lots force natural waterways underground and increase the amount of impervious surfaces where runoff gathers volume and pollutants concentrate before being piped into streams. The effects can be flooding, erosion and poorer water quality in streams and rivers. Kellett says there are more desirable patterns of development.

"Land uses and street networks can be organized to reduce automobile trips and increase pedestrian and bicycle trips," he explains.

"Some cities have reduced water pollution by retaining natural waterways and incorporating them into neighborhoods. That provides an open space for the community as well as allowing soil and plants to filter out pollutants before runoff reaches storm drains or natural waterways," says Girling.

Girling and Kellett, working with a group of graduate students in the UO School of Architecture and Allied Arts, wrote the "Green Neighborhoods" guidelines to illustrate alternative ways to develop neighborhoods on identical sites. The guidelines compare two alternative plans with a traditional approach to neighborhood design. Both alternatives provide more residences, more open land and create less pollution than the traditional approach. The publication also examines the costs and benefits of each approach.


Alameda County Approves 500 KW Photovoltaic Installation

The size of the nation's "largest" photovoltaic array keeps climbing. The current leader is the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, California. The Alameda County Board of Supervisors has given the green light for PowerLight to install the 500 kiloWatt solar electric installation along with several energy efficiency projects by CMS Viron Energy Services as part of the County’s aggressive efforts to reduce and stabilize future energy costs.

"Over the past several years, Alameda County has reduced electricity use by more than 30 percent -- and we save more than $3 million every year by doing so," said Alameda County supervisor Scott Haggerty, President of the Board of Supervisors. "But because we want to take a leadership role in energy conservation, we are committed to exploring every option to reduce our energy consumption and save taxpayer dollars. We are confident that solar energy is a very smart addition to our overall energy strategy."

Once complete, the Santa Rita project will reduce the facility’s consumption of grid-generated electricity by approximately 20 percent, through both solar power generation and energy conservation. As a result, Alameda County taxpayers will save millions of dollars over the life of the project. It is the first of many anticipated solar installations on Alameda County’s buildings.

"We estimate that Alameda County will save an average of $190,000 in electricity costs per year as a result of deploying solar power -- leading to $5.5 million in overall savings," said Alameda County Energy Program Manager Matt Muniz. "We’ll reduce costs, reduce pollution and conserve natural resources. The PowerGuard® solar installation will not only supply us with clean power, but will also deliver HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) benefits as well.

The Alameda County project takes a two-fold approach to reducing Santa Rita jail’s electric utility bill. First, clean energy is generated through a giant 500 Kilowatt PowerGuard® solar installation consisting of approximately 6,000 roof tiles. Second, the jail’s energy efficiency is dramatically improved through a combination of added insulation from the solar roof tiles and a comprehensive upgrade to the jail’s central plant, including state-of-the-art cooling equipment and controls. The project, which will be completed by early summer, will result in the annual generation of 650,000 kilowatt-hours of clean energy, and save an additional 890,000 kilowatt-hours.

CMS Viron Energy Services will implement the central plant efficiency improvements. CMS Viron is a premier energy services company with over 25 years of experience providing comprehensive energy solutions. CMS Viron’s President John Mahoney lauds Alameda County for its vision in undertaking the Santa Rita project. "As energy becomes increasingly expensive, other public agencies will follow Alameda County’s lead and perform energy efficiency upgrades to help manage costs and revitalize aging facilities," Mahoney said.

Accountability is another key feature of this project. Both PowerLight and CMS Viron will install energy management systems to verify and monitor the project’s expected performance. And twenty-year warranties on power generation will ensure that the County of Alameda will be getting clean power from its PowerGuard® installation for decades to come.


New Siemens Facility in Chatsworth Launches LADWP PV Program

Harnessing the sun and an innovative incentive program to spur wider use of solar power in Los Angeles, Siemens Solar Industries announced the opening of a new solar panel manufacturing facility in Chatsworth.

Siemens Solar is the first manufacturer to qualify for a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power program that provides financial incentives for local production and use of solar photovoltaic systems to reduce electricity demand and encourage cleaner, alternative power sources.

At its new facility in Los Angeles, which will employ about 50 people, Siemens Solar will produce solar panels for its residential and commercial supplemental solar power systems. The facility will also include a showroom and a training center to help teach electricians how to install the equipment.

Siemens will benefit from an incentive program in which LADWP customers can lower the cost of an installed system by $3 per watt for installed solar power systems manufactured outside the city, and a maximum of $5 per watt for those manufactured inside the city. The maximum incentive payment for a residential site is $50,000, and for a commercial site is $1 million.

Angelina Galiteva, director for strategic planning for the LADWP, said the incentive program holds the potential of creating 2 megawatts of photovoltaic energy, or enough to power 600 homes annually.

"The net result is win-win for manufacturers and users of clean solar power in Los Angeles," Galiteva said.

With year-round sunshine, air quality issues and growing demand for electricity, Los Angeles is seen as a solid proving ground for photovoltaic technology that can be tied in to the Department's transmission grid at customer locations without taxing the existing infrastructure. The Department goal is to encourage the installation of 100,000 solar systems in L.A. by 2010. LADWP serves 3.8 million people in Los Angeles with water and electricity, and offers a number of solar programs under its Green LA initiatives.


Neutrogena Plans 200 KW Array

A large beauty products firm will become the first major company to install a solar electric system in Los Angeles. Neutrogena Corporation will install two 100 kW photovoltaic installations at two buildings at its corporate headquarters facility near the L.A. International Airport. The cost to install 24,000 square feet of PV panels is $1.4 million and the installation will be the largest in the California city. The PV system -- which is scheduled to begin construction in May and be completed in only two months -- will reduce the buildings' energy consumption by 20 percent monthly.

"This is precisely the type of innovation and leadership we need from California-based businesses and municipal utilities to help solve the energy crisis on a long term basis," said California Assembly Speaker Fred Keeley (D-Santa Cruz). "Solar power system contributions to our energy needs are immediate, and the environmental benefits enduring."

"We are excited that Neutrogena is stepping up and assuming the role of the first major LA-based company to sign up for solar," says Angelina Galiteva of the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (LADWP). "

Neutrogena will benefit from LADWP's Solar Buy Down Program that provides a cash incentive of either $3 or $5 per watt. Because the PV modules for this project will be provided by Siemens Solar, who has sited a manufacturing facility in Los Angeles, the Neutrogena project qualifies for the higher incentive. The Neutrogena project will receive the maximum incentive payment of $1 million. A 2,000 watt system can supply an average home with 20 to 60 percent of its electricity. With the LADWP incentive, a 2 kW system costs $8,000 and generates 3,600 kWh per year.

"Visibility and volume are key to actually demonstrating the viability of PV technology," adds Galiteva. "By driving the costs down and recognizing the benefit of the investment in monthly energy savings for the long term, solar should be an attractive option for all LADWP customers."

High-Performance Buildings Eligible for Design Assistance

The U.S. Department of Energy is looking for commercial developments just starting design that might qualify as High Performance Buildings (HPB) demonstration projects. Under a HPB research initiative, Steven Winter Associates is providing technical support and expertise to DOE to help identify and consult to commercial building project teams. The project clients should be willing to incorporate high-performance strategies such as energy and water conservation, resource-efficient materials, indoor air quality, recycled waste programs, state-of-the- art HVAC systems, fuel cells, photovoltaics or low-impact landscaping. SWA is currently consulting on three projects in different parts of the country. A public library in Chicago plans to incorporate green (grass) roof, recycled building materials, and extensive daylighting. A prototype office building for a major developer in Boston will have reusable/recyclable interior materials and finishes and advanced mechanical/electrical/plumbing systems with raised floor distribution. Finally, a mixed use commercial/residential building on a site in Arizona may incorporate PV panels, solar water heating, water harvesting and a water-source heat pump system. For more information contact Mike Crosbie at SWA.


Portland Oregon Plans Parade of Green Homes

The City of Portland recently announced the G/Rated, Buildings Suitable for All. This new program offers cash to Portland homeowners planning to remodel or build a house that incorporates green features. Participating homeowners can receive a $3,000 grant for a qualified house.

In exchange for the grant, the City seeks to create case studies -- photos, interviews and data -- to be shared with the community at large. And homeowners will be invited to participate in a Parade of Green Homes. Generally, G/Rated Homes improve on conventional houses by being:

  • Healthier and safer for families and construction/deconstruction workers
  • More comfortable year-round
  • More energy efficient and using renewable energy like solar
  • Longer-lived and more durable
  • Re-using materials, recycling and using recycled-content products
  • Space-efficient with plans that reduce energy and materials consumed
  • Better managing stormwater to protect streams and waterways
  • Using less domestic water, sometimes capturing rain water
  • Safer and more water efficient landscaping
  • Less reliance on cars for transportation.

For more information, contact Jill Kolek or Mike O'Brien at the City of Portland, Office of Sustainable Development.


Green Residential Tower Rises in Lower Manhattan

The Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) recently selected Albanese Development Corporation to develop a green high-rise residential building in lower Manhattan. The project will rise 27 stories and contain 262 luxury apartments covering 337,000 square feet of floor area.

The building will include many innovative features including building integrated photovoltaics that will generate five percent of the building's electricity, a CFC-free HVAC system that provides enhanced indoor air quality to each unit, water reclamation system, building materials free of formaldehyde and VOCs and building materials containing a high recycled-content or made from rapidly renewable resources.

BPCA plans five more projects, two of which have gone to bid. All the projects will conform with BPCA's green guidelines.


HVAC Specifications Promote High Quality, Energy Saving Installations

When air conditioners and heat pumps are installed the difference between a high-quality installation and typical one can be as much as 35 percent. That's not cost, it's the greater efficiency obtained by proper sizing, installation and maintenance. Exactly what constitutes a high-quality installation used to be a matter of some debate, so the Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE) developed the Specification of Energy-Efficient Installation and Maintenance for Residential HVAC Systems, which is available free on their web site as a PDF file.

CEE's new specification complies practices that maximize the efficiency of residential HVAC systems in a "user friendly" document, including performance specifications, step-by-step procedures, easy-to-understand verification protocols and dozens of illustrations.

"We have developed a single, clear definition of an energy-efficient quality installation," said CEE Program Manager Denise Rouleau, who coordinated the project. "This is something gas and electric utilities, and energy-efficiency organizations can rally around and promote in their programs."

CEE developed the specification over a two-year period, compiling the best practices of the HVAC industry. Trade associations, HVAC manufacturers and energy-efficiency organizations all provided input during the development process. Pacific Gas & Electric, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) co-funded development of the specification.


Joint Venture Targets Municipal Water as Heat Source

WaterFurnace International, Inc. has agreed to form a joint venture with Hardin Geotechnologies to market a technology that could revolutionize the HVAC industry. The joint venture, known as water+®, is based upon a patented process developed by Jim Hardin, founder of Hardin Geotechnologies, that delivers potable water from the local water company to any home or commercial building as a source of heating and cooling via a water source heat pump.

Water+ is an independent operation available to all heating, air conditioning and refrigeration manufacturers who make geothermal or water source units. Geoexchange or geothermal systems, which are up to 60 percent more efficient than conventional heating and cooling systems, operate by tapping into heat stored in the earth via a loop system. Traditionally, these loops require additional front-end installation costs. By replacing the loop with water+, it's possible to reduce installation costs and receive the high efficiency of an environmentally-friendly geothermal system while dramatically lowering utility bills.

According to Bruce Ritchey, President/CEO of WaterFurnace, "This technology changes the economics of heating, cooling and refrigeration. It eliminates the need for rooftop units and cooling towers on commercial buildings and outdoor air conditioners for homes. The cost of the system will be equal to or less than conventional systems but will be dramatically more energy efficient with lower maintenance costs."

Conn Abnee, Executive Director of the Geothermal Heat Pump Consortium feels the water+ system will significantly increase the number of geothermal installations throughout the U.S. and Canada. "This new technology has the potential to move geothermal energy out of the niche market category into the conventional construction market. It is a renewable energy source that will out-perform any conventional system over time, and now is more affordable in initial cost." The GHPC is a non-profit organization funded by grants from the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy and through membership fees from HVAC manufacturers and electric utilities around the country.

The water+ technology will also benefit builders and developers, utilities, and local and state economies. "This is a win-win technology for everyone," continued Ritchey. "Building owners save money on lower fuel costs it's like a tax cut for consumers. Water utilities benefit from the additional revenue. Electric utilities win because the system lowers energy usage during the summer when they need to avoid brown-out situations and increases the load in winter when there is typically capacity to spare. Local and state economies benefit because the money paid to the local water utility stays in the local economy. And economic development commissions will be able to lure potential businesses interested in moving into communities with low energy costs," he concluded.


Lab Tests Expose High Levels of Hazardous Chemicals in Floor Coverings

Two popular floor-coverings -- carpets and vinyl (PVC) -- are exposing humans to hazardous chemicals, says a new report from the Healthy Flooring Network (HFN) and Greenpeace UK. Laboratory analysis of eight carpet and five vinyl samples reveals that carpets and vinyl contain surprisingly high levels of chemicals that could escape into the indoor environment - and which, says the report are "potentially hazardous to human health and the environment".

The report, Poison Underfoot: Carpets and Vinyl Linked to Indoor Pollution, exposes a range of chemicals including pesticides, organotins, brominated flame-retardants and phthalates, added to floorings as stabilisers, softeners, or "bug-killers" designed to keep carpets "fresh" or kill dust mites.

"People are not aware of the chemical hazards in their floors," says Helen Lynn, spokesperson for HFN and Health Co-ordinator for the Women's Environmental Network (WEN). "Wherever there is carpet or vinyl -- in homes, offices, schools -- people are unwittingly exposed to chemicals
they would rather avoid."

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