Green Building News

Green Building News August 2001

August 14, 2001

Survey Seeks Information about Green Building and Building Codes

The Development Center for Appropriate Technology is conducting two online surveys about green building and building codes with the goal of collecting information on both challenges and solutions faced by those on the front lines of this new industry. The survey, which DCAT developed with the help of other organizations including ICBO, can be completed through the end of August. One survey is for code officials and the other is for code users - those who are in the design, engineering, building, supply and related communities.

The purpose of the survey is to identify what areas are most problematic for green projects as well as what creative solutions to those problems have been found. If you have not yet done so, please take a bit of time to fill out this survey and aid DCAT's efforts to shift codes in the right direction.


Texas Town Adopts ENERGY STAR® As Building Standard

The Frisco (Texas) City Council adopted the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) ENERGY STAR New-Home Program as the city's minimum standard for energy efficiency in residential construction. The initiative was proposed by the city's Planning Department after working with local builders on a Green Building Committee. ENERGY STAR is a national, voluntary program for builders to improve the energy efficiency of new homes through the use of advanced building materials and techniques. However, with the adoption of this proposal, ENERGY STAR standards are now required by the City of Frisco, making it the first municipality in the country to choose this approach.

For Frisco new homebuyers, the adoption of the ENERGY STAR New-Home Program means a savings of 30 percent on their utility bills. For Frisco home builders, this means that every new home final platted after May 23, 2001, will be required to have a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) score of 86.

Homes will be tested by a certified third party in order to determine a HERS score. TXU Electric will subsidize the inspections of the first 4,000 homes in their Dallas/Fort Worth service area. The HERS score is derived from conducting a plan analysis, insulation and duct inspection and blower door/duct pressurization testing. During the blower door/duct test, the entire house, including the duct system, is pressurized to identify any leaks and to calculate the number of air exchanges per hour.

In order to build a home that passes ENERGY STAR's rigorous inspection process, builders will make improvements during construction including using double-paned windows, improving the sealing of ducts, and installing high efficiency heating and cooling equipment. Early participants in the program include area home builders Emerald Homes, Newmark Homes, Palm Harbor Homes, Pierce Homes and Pulte Homes.


New York Plans Improvements to Energy Code

New York energy consumers are expected to save up to $80 million per year in energy costs as a result of a new building code. The 2002 Energy Conservation Construction Code will include updated technologies and provide enhanced energy conservation requirements for residential and commercial buildings. Enhancements to the code include new technologies, such as more efficient thermostats, power transformers and fireplaces. Flexibility is written in so that consumers are able to choose from different methods of compliance.

The proposal would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 517,000 tons per year, roughly the equivalent of removing 104,000 cars from the state's roads. The plan would reduce acid rain causing sulphur dioxide by 493 tons per year, roughly the equivalent of sulfur emissions generated by 6,700 oil heated homes, state officials estimate.

The new code has the support of the construction industry. New York State Builders Association Executive Vice President Philip LaRocque said, "The New York State Builders Association endorses the adoption of the International Energy Conservation Code with a few modifications that are unique to New York State."

The Department of State's Codes Division training staff are delivering advanced training on the International Energy Conservation Code platform for building and fire officials throughout the state. The Department of State also recently launched an Energy Code Web site to explain the updates.

Public hearings will be held August 20 in eight locations around the state. The new Energy Conservation Construction Code will not take effect until the rulemaking process has been completed in early 2002.


Deconstruction Costs Less than Demolition

A study in Florida showed that disassembling a building and selling the pieces was at least 10 percent less expensive than tearing it down and hauling it to a landfill. Researchers at the Center for Construction and Environment at the University of Florida carefully deconstructed six wood-frame houses ranging in size from 1,000 to 2,000 square feet. These one and two-story houses represent typical Southeastern US wood-framed residential construction from 1900 to 1950. Two scenarios for reselling the material were explored. The first assumed no storage or handling costs. The other assumed the materials were placed on consignment in a reused material facility, which included storage, inventory and personnel costs. Even the more expensive sales arrangement cost 10 percent less than typical demolition and disposal. The study explored regulatory issues, including the costs and implementation of environmental, demolition, local permitting practices, and handling of lead-based paint (LBP) materials and asbestos containing materials (ACM). Worker safety issues and technical issues included protection from environmental and site hazards and a case-by-case materials management process for each building. Over 500 pieces of salvaged lumber were visually graded by the Southern Pine Inspection Bureau to understand how the deconstruction process affects the use of salvaged materials in structural applications. The full report titled, Building Deconstruction: Reuse and Recycling of Building Materials, appears on the Center for Building and Environment Web site.


Collins Pine Particleboard Receives Green Cross Certification

CollinsWood has recently received certification from Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) for their particleboard manufactured from 100 percent post-industrial waste. The highly regarded Green Cross certification is the result of an in-depth audit of their mill and raw material suppliers to verify that every fiber is, in fact, post-industrial waste. "Sometimes you’ve been doing something right for a long time and certification confirms the validity of those practices," commented Donn Jensen, particleboard plant manager. Normally, the waste products used in manufacturing particleboard are burned or buried in a landfill. "But Collins is a Natural Step company and our commitment to the environment is not to use virgin fiber in our board and to reuse or recycle wherever possible," said Jensen. "As a matter of fact, we are the only timber products company in the world to be SCS certified and institute the principles of The Natural Step," he concluded.

The Natural Step is an international environmental organization dedicated to shifting people and business away from linear, resource-wasting, toxic-spreading methods of materials handling and manufacturing toward cyclical resource-preserving methods.

"But being environmentally conscious does not mean that the quality of the product is compromised," said Dale Slate, vice president and general manager. "On the contrary, Collins Pine Particleboard has a very high content of western pine that provides excellent machinability and a light tan color for use with thin papers and melamines," remarked Slate.


Atlanta "Dream" House Showcases Energy-Efficient Features

The "I Have a Dream House," an extremely energy-efficient and environmentally-responsible home just a few blocks from the boyhood home of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., will use 57 percent less energy for heating and cooling than a comparable house in the Atlanta area. The house will cost only about $300 a year to heat and cool, yet its construction costs are comparable to a conventional home.

The 1,565 square foot home is certified under the Energy Star homes program and its design is based on the "whole-house" systems engineering approach, which considers a house as a complete system instead of separate components. The walls, roof and floor are structural insulated panels (SIPs), factory-built energy-efficient walls with foam insulation. This technology allowed the builders to downsize the heating and cooling equipment and save on materials costs. The home also features Energy Star qualified windows, tightly sealed duct work, and a high-efficiency air conditioner that further enhances energy savings.

The house originally served as the APA-The Engineered Wood Association's (formerly the American Plywood Association) "Behind the Walls" show home at the 2001 International Builders Show in Atlanta in February . The Georgia-Pacific Corporation and the Structural Insulated Panel Association were the house's major sponsors, with technical support from Department of Energy's Building America Program and EarthCraft House, a green building program of the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association and Southface Energy Institute. After the show, the sponsors donated the house to the Historic District Development Corporation, to be finished as part of an inner-city development project, in partnership with the Bank of America, demonstrating the affordability of high-performance and environmentally sound building products. No taxpayer money was used to subsidize the construction of the house.


Green College Dorm Evaluation Shows Super Energy Performance

In 1999, Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin, opened an new residence hall intended to be a shining example of environmentally-responsible design and construction. A recent report on the actual performance of the Wendy & Malcolm McLean Environmental Living and Learning Center was recently released showing the goal was (mostly) acheived. The year-long evaluation and monitoring project looked at actual energy performance and evaluated the effectiveness of its sustainable design features. The study found that the building beats the Wisconsin energy code by 54 percent, saving $18,900 in the first year. Energy modeling performed during design showed the energy savings at 40 percent. Construction cost for the project was actually lower than for other residence halls at Northland, coming in at $102 per square foot instead of $112.The full report -- Performance Monitoring of a Sustainable Residence Hall at Northland College -- can be downloaded from the Energy Center of Wisconsin Web site.


GM Applies Fuel Cell Technology To Stationary Power

An automotive technology may provide a solution to the growing demand for electricity. General Motors unveiled a stationary generator based on the company's state-of-the-art fuel processing and stack technology for automotive applications. The unit, which can generate clean, quiet and efficient power, could be a backup generator for subdivisions at risk of losing power because of common blackouts or could even replace standard sources for electricity in individual homes. The stationary unit runs on natural gas, methane or gasoline.

"We think the most likely application will be in businesses, office complexes, hospitals and new subdivisions," said Larry Burns, GM's vice president for research and development, and planning. "But it could easily be sized to power the average single-family home.

The unit converts a hydrocarbon into electricity by way of an electrochemical reaction, unlike a conventional generator that relies on combustion and produces noise, vibration and exhaust in the process. The processor extracts a high-quality stream of hydrogen from the fossil fuel to feed the fuel stack. The hydrogen is combined with oxygen from the air to generate power. While the unit is a 5-kilowatt stack, it could easily be sized to accommodate businesses and homes.

"Because most homes are heated with natural gas, we have devised a way to extract hydrogen from natural gas for home applications," Burns said. "We think this will be the predominant fuel for home and business applications, and would be an easy transition for consumers. It also gets people comfortable with fuel cells before they get introduced to meet the more demanding requirements of automobiles."

Fuel cells likely will be marketable in stationary applications before vehicles. Natural gas could be the ideal conduit to the hydrogen economy in the stationary market in the same way that gasoline could be the bridge fuel for vehicles. Natural gas pipelines are as common in many areas as gasoline stations are along the nation's highways.


Automakers Open Hydrogen Fueling Stations

The bond between automobiles and petroleum may not be as strong as commonly believed. Two international automobile manufacturers -- BMW and Honda -- have opened prototype fueling stations to provide hydrogen to fuel cell powered cars.

The BMW fuel station is located at their Engineering and Emissions Control Test Center in the California town of Oxnard, located outside of Los Angeles. It is intended to lay the foundation for the introduction of hydrogen as the vehicle fuel of the future in California and the USA. Several of BMW's 12-cylinder hydrogen-powered 750hL models will remain permanently stationed at the test center for extensive testing and demonstrations.

Honda also opened a hydrogen fueling station at their research and development center in Torrance, California. It will support the Company's fuel cell vehicle development program and will be used for hydrogen production, storage and fueling. The station uses solar power to extract hydrogen from water, and also has back-up electrical power to increase the hydrogen production capacity. Available solar power can produce enough hydrogen to drive a single fuel cell vehicle for a year.

"Fuel cell vehicles and hydrogen fuel have tremendous potential to contribute to the goals of sustainable transportation systems and the use of renewable energy," said Ben Knight, Honda R&D Americas, Inc. vice president.


Energy Department Helping Make Homes and Offices More Energy Efficient

The Department of Energy will fund 12 research and development projects designed to improve the energy efficiency of commercial and residential buildings across the country. Improvements include using less electricity and reducing pollution from heating and cooling systems, lighting systems and appliances. The awards will be cost-shared, with the industry or university partner providing a share of the total project costs.

The projects will help develop technologies such as electrically tinted windows, light-emitting diode solid-state lamps, innovative heating and cooling concepts, advanced laundry appliances, and improved computer software for building design and analysis. The research and development agreements are worth $5.5 million in federal funds over the initial one-year period (Phase I).


Participant Name and Est. Phase I cost-share Est. Phase I DOE funding Project Title
Whole Buildings
University of Central Florida
Orlando, FL $18,188
$72,482 Expanding the Capabilities of DOE's EnergyPlus Building Energy Simulation Program Proposal to develop new analytical capabilities for DOE's EnergyPlus software program, including a heat transfer calculator, equipment sizing algorithms, and a model for energy recovery ventilation.
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK $72,246
$235,294 Integration of Low Energy Technologies for Optimal Building and Space Conditioning Design Proposal to develop new analytical capabilities -- including models of low energy systems, zone features, and building envelope/equipment integration -- for DOE's EnergyPlus software program. New features will be tested in partnership with the University of Illinois School of Architecture.
University of Nebraska - Lincoln
Lincoln, NE $73,677
$115,312 Predictive Optimal Control of Active and Passive Building Thermal Storage Inventory Proposal to develop and test a software-based supervisory building controller for commercial buildings that simultaneously uses active and passive thermal storage to optimize cooling and ventilation equipment operation under fluctuating electricity rates.
LumiLeds Lighting, U.S., LLC
San Jose, CA $250,000
$1,000,000 Development of Key Technologies for White Lighting Based on LEDs Proposal to investigate solutions to several technical challenges to the cost-effective production of light-emitting diodes (LEDs -- the leading type of solid state lighting) for building lighting applications.
General Electric Corporate Research and Development
Niskayuna, NY $121,319
$485,275 IC (Integrated Circuit)-Based Controls for Energy Efficient Lighting Proposal to develop and demonstrate a power supply for a range of highly efficient compact fluorescent lamps and electrodeless fluorescent lamps. This technology should lower cost, increase efficiency and lifetime, reduce size, provide dimming control, and reduce the need to protect against electromagnetic interference.
Space Conditioning Equipment

University of Central Florida
Orlando, FL $45,752
$182,372 Understanding the Dehumidification Performance of Air-Conditioning Equipment at Part Load Conditions Proposal to conduct field and laboratory measurements to improve basic understanding of how cooling systems remove moisture from the air when operating at less than peak load. The goal is to improve cooling equipment's capacity to maintain adequate humidity levels and provide good indoor air quality.
United Technologies Research Center
East Hartford, CT $134,544
$313,933 Development of a High Latent Effectiveness Energy Recovery Ventilator with Integration into Rooftop Package Equipment Proposal to improve energy recovery technology and systems integration and design to demonstrate significant energy and indoor air quality improvements through the transfer of energy from building exhaust air to incoming ventilation air.
Proctor Engineering Group
San Rafael, CA $59,860
$239,442 Comprehensive Diagnostic and Improvement Tools for HVAC-System Installations in Light Commercial Buildings Proposal to produce and test comprehensive diagnostic tools for heating and air-conditioning systems in small commercial buildings to achieve proper airflow, sizing, refrigerant charge, duct system performance, economizer performance, and combustion safety.
Building Envelope Aspen Research Corporation
White Bear Lake, MN $165,904
$663,614 An Insulated Glass Knowledge Base Proposal to develop a public domain knowledge-base for standards organizations with a goal of creating consensus standards on the durability of insulated glass and to establish a durability-based window products rating system.
Sage Electrochromics, Inc.
Faribault, MN $103,512
$414,049 Focused R&D for Electrochromic Smart Windows: Significant Performance and Yield Enhancements Proposal to accelerate the widespread acceptance of electrochromic windows (windows which lighten or darken in response to the amount of sunlight) by enhancing performance with improved materials, reducing costs through manufacturing process improvements, and assuring window reliability through improved seals and extensive environmental testing.
Arthur D. Little, Inc.
Cambridge, MA $198,182
$787,137 High Efficiency, High Performance Clothes Dryer Proposal to improve the energy efficiency of residential and commercial gas and electric clothes dryers by using advanced controls and heat modulation to reduce drying time.
General Electric Corporate Research and Development
Niskayuna, NY $412,171
$961,731 Systems Approach to an Energy Efficient Laundry Process Proposal to improve the overall efficiency of the laundry process by improving clothes washer water extraction, clothes dryer efficiency, and the chemical action of experimental detergents, which together will reduce drying time to equal the washing time.


Undercharged Air Conditioners a Common, Costly Problem

Researchers at the University of Florida have found that the performance of home and business air conditioners plummets when they are undercharged with coolant -- and that the problem is both common and easily remedied. Most consumers would recover the cost of having their system charged in savings on power bills in three months, the researchers say.

“The moral of this story is that a lot of people could save money and conserve energy through a relatively simple and inexpensive procedure,” said S.A. Sherif, professor of mechanical engineering at UF.

In an experiment at UF’s Solar Energy and Energy Conversion Laboratory, Sherif and Yogi Goswami, a UF professor of mechanical engineering and the lead researcher, measured the performance of a 3-ton residential air conditioner charged with varying levels of refrigerant, according to a June paper in the International Journal of Energy Research.

The air conditioner worked almost normally when charged at the 90 percent level. But when the charge dropped below 85 percent, the performance declined significantly, with the system providing at least 15 percent less cool air than normal. At 50 percent charge, the researchers were unable to measure any cooling at all, they report.

The findings are notable because, the researchers discovered, many home and business air conditioning units are chronically undercharged.

As part of the study, they surveyed 22 randomly chosen commercial and residential air conditioners in Gainesville, Fla. A total of 17, or more than 75 percent, were undercharged at the 85 percent level or less. Surveyed units ranged in size from 3 to 10 tons and included a unit at a private residence, one at a fast-food restaurant and several at small office buildings.

“You don’t have to go very far to find this problem,” Goswami said.

Undercharged A/C systems use more electricity than fully charged systems because they have to run longer to achieve the same cooling effect. Over time, the difference in electricity consumption can be quite large -- especially if the system is cooling a home or business in a warm, humid climate such as in Florida. For example, the researchers estimated that a 3-ton residential system in Jacksonville, charged to 85 percent of its capacity, would use 8,830 kilowatt hours of electricity in a year. A fully charged system in the same climate would use just 3,885 kilowatt hours.

“People think their system is working fine because they’re getting cooling, but that’s not the case if it runs too frequently,” Goswami said. A/C systems can lose their charge because of a major leak, a problem that may require replacement or a costly repair job. But systems more typically have tiny leaks that lose coolant very slowly. For example, it may take five years for some A/C units to lose 15 percent of their charge, Goswami said.

As a result, repairing an undercharged system often consists of little more than topping off the charge. The researchers estimated that such a routine maintenance job would require a maximum of two hours of labor and 1 pound of coolant. At $60 per hour for the labor, the consumer would pay approximately $130.

Depending on the climate, consumers would save that much money on their electricity in a short time, the researchers found. In Jackonsville, the payback period would be four months, while it would take about two and a half months in Tucson and a little over three months in San Antonio, they found.

Properly maintaining air conditioning systems also helps conserve energy, an increasingly important national priority, Goswami noted.

The research was funded by a $34,500 grant from Florida Power & Light.


Efficient Appliances Save Big, Study Confirms

A new scientific study shows that American households can substantially cut energy and water bills by using energy efficient clothes washers, clothes dryers, dishwashers and other products. The study of actual home appliance use, part of the Department of Energy's (DOE) national energy conservation initiative, was conducted in 50 volunteer homes in Wilsonville and Lafayette, Oregon.

"The numbers in this study speak for themselves," said Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham. "Based on our estimates, a typical family with a home more than a decade old could save $200 per year in electricity and water bills, and 18,600 gallons of water, by switching to highly energy and water efficient appliances. A family in a newer home would save slightly less, due to the more efficient equipment already installed in their home. If every American household installed these products, the annual water savings would equal the average flow of the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico for five entire days."

The Save Water and Energy Education Program (SWEEP) study was conducted in 25 homes in each of the water-strapped cities of Wilsonville (pop. 13,991) and Lafayette (pop. 2,586). The test homes were built before 1992, when the use of some water and energy efficient equipment became mandatory. Manufacturers donated new Energy Star labeled clothes washers and dishwashers, highly efficient clothes dryers, toilets, faucet aerators and low-flow showerheads. The SWEEP study included community and student education events. DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory recorded and compared the actual electricity and water used by the original appliances and the high-efficiency products.

Study results demonstrate 68 percent energy savings with efficient clothes washers (using electricity to run the washer and heat the water) and 38 percent water savings compared to older, standard models previously used in the homes; dishwashers used 39 percent less energy to heat the water and 39 percent less water than standard models; clothes dryers used 25 percent less energy; and dual-flush toilets used 67 percent less water than baseline models.

The major appliances alone saved enough energy and water to wash an additional 250 loads of laundry and 110 loads of dishes, plus enough electricity to run an energy efficient refrigerator for an entire year. The study confirms that energy and water use can be reduced through intensive conservation campaigns and by replacing older appliances with more efficient models.

"These results mean good news for consumers who want to lower their energy and water bills, and good news for communities with water and energy shortages," said Jay Penney, Electrolux Home Products vice president of sales and marketing. "We supported this study by donating 50 sets of highly efficient Frigidaire appliances because it shows how individuals and communities can reduce energy and water use through efficient products and education programs. That's why we offer Energy Star qualified appliances."

SWEEP program partners include DOE, Electrolux Home Products, Caroma USA (donated high-performance dual-flush toilets), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., Portland General Electric (overall project manager and showerhead donor), Energy Technology Laboratories (showerhead and faucet aerator donor), the Oregon Office of Energy, CTSI Corporation (a water conservation consulting firm), the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, the League of Oregon Cities, and the Mid-Willamette Valley Council of Governments.


Energy Technologies Prove Wise Investment for Department of Energy

In a comprehensive review of federal R&D efforts to advance energy-efficient and fossil-fuel technologies, a committee of the National Academies' National Research Council found these programs have yielded significant economic, environmental and national security benefits.

Looking back as far as 1978, the report examines 17 R&D programs in energy efficiency and 22 programs in fossil energy funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). These programs yielded economic returns of an estimated $40 billion from an investment of $13 billion.

Three energy-efficiency programs, costing approximately $11 million, produced nearly three-quarters of this benefit. Most significant were advances made in compressors for refrigerators and freezers, energy-efficient fluorescent-lighting components called electronic ballasts, and low-emission, or heat-resistant, window glass. Standards and regulations incorporating efficiencies attainable by these new technologies ensured that the technologies would be adopted nationwide, thus dramatically compounding their impact.

"Government funding can stimulate R&D benefits in areas where there is little incentive to improve existing technologies," said Robert Fri, director, National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C., and chair of the committee who wrote the report. "We discovered that a few key programs have delivered benefits many times over the total amount invested. Also, some technologies are poised to have a significant impact once the economic climate is right, while other R&D efforts have added to our stock of engineering and science knowledge in several fields."

The committee's study emphasized that DOE research has produced large public benefits that cannot easily be reduced to dollar terms. Large environmental gains were identified chiefly in the fossil energy arena, where two technologies - atmospheric fluidized bed combustion, a cleaner, more thorough method for burning coal, and nitrogen oxides control to reduce emissions -- decreased nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere by more than 26 million tons and sulfur dioxide by 2 million tons. The resulting environmental savings translated to more than $60 billion in damage and mitigation costs that were avoided. In addition, three programs -- the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles, integrated gasification combined cycle, and advanced turbine systems -- have created important options that could produce large benefits if economic or policy incentives support their commercialization.

Among program areas that have not lived up to expectations are ones in which DOE attempted to introduce new technology that lacked the incentives necessary for adoption in the private sector. These include fuel cells for home and industry uses and the now defunct magnetohydrodynamic electricity production technology. For certain fuel-cell technologies, DOE has not identified clear technological goals, has funded a variety of disparate programs, and has not partnered with industry to help make products marketable. Magnetohydrodynamic electricity production, a technology that was identified as a potentially efficient method for generating electricity from domestic coal, continued to be funded long after the technology was found to be too costly and complex for widespread use.

The committee found that market incentives, such as new standards and regulations, can sometimes be useful for helping programs achieve success by increasing the likelihood that a technology will be adopted. Finally, DOE should continue cost-sharing efforts with industry, so that the most promising programs -- with the greatest potential for success in the marketplace -- are funded.

The National Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science and technology advice under a congressional charter.

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