Green Building News

Green Building News January 2002

January 29, 2002

Building Codes a Barrier to Green Building, Survey Finds

The Development Center for Appropriate Technology (DCAT) has issued the results of a survey assessing the regulatory barriers to the growth of green building. The survey collected information from people who seek code approval for construction plans (“code users”) and code officials who approve or deny those plans. The goal was to assess both groups’ experience with green building and building codes. The results revealed that building codes frequently present barriers to the approval of green building alternatives. Those barriers are both technical and non-technical in nature. Both groups of respondents overwhelmingly indicated that supporting information for alternatives accompanying plans was the most significant factor in gaining code approval. Non-technical factors were about as likely to affect approval as conflicts with the intent of the code. The survey report concludes with a set of recommended strategies for gaining approval and recommendations for training of both code users and code officials.

“The survey confirmed what we have been hearing from people for several years now as well as revealing new information,” said DCAT director David Eisenberg. “Building codes do present barriers to green building, but many other factors that affect the interpretation of the codes also have a large impact on decisions to approve or deny plans with green features.”

Three conclusions drawn from the survey results demonstrate where further work is needed to facilitate the chances of code approval of green building:

  • Applications are more likely to be denied if they are in clear conflict with the intent of the code or if they lack sufficient supporting information about the green product, material, system, or design to satisfy safety concerns.
  • Both code officials and those who seek code approval for green building considered an existing code provision more likely to contribute to the approval of a green product, material, system, or design application, but only code users considered a code provision to contribute to the denial of such applications.
  • Applications for green building approaches are avoided by practitioners because supporting information will take too long to acquire or does not exist.

Survey results also revealed strategies for green building practitioners that enhance the approval rate of green building approaches. The most important strategy is to provide supporting technical information adequate to satisfy safety concerns. Additional strategies are:

  • Provide other information such as case studies of successful use of the alternative and contact information for building officials familiar with the alternative.
  • Start the process early.
  • Involve building department staff early.
  • Be persistent and patient.

The survey report is available on the DCAT Web site


Royal Dutch/Shell to Acquire Complete Ownership of Siemens Solar

Shell Renewables (Shell), Siemens AG (Siemens) and E.ON Energie AG (E.ON) announced last week that Shell intends to acquire all the shares held by Siemens and E.ON in their solar photovoltaic (PV) joint venture company, known as Siemens Solar.  The combined business, to be 100 percent owned by Shell, will be called Shell Solar with full corporate integration taking place over the next six months. The deal is subject to relevant regulatory approvals.

The integration of the Shell and Siemens solar PV businesses brings together worldwide operations employing about 1100 people.  “Solar PV is one of the fastest-growing of all the technologies in a rapidly developing part of the global energy market,” commented Philippe de Renzy-Martin, who will serve as Executive Vice-President of the new company. “Shell has a strategic commitment to making renewable energy a commercial reality, and this move is a key step in building a strong, global solar business.”

At present, shareholdings in the joint venture are: Siemens AG 34 percent, E.ON Energie AG 33 percent and Shell 33 percent. The new entity will have a fifteen percent share of the global PV market.

The deal reaffirms the Royal Dutch/Shell Group’s commitment to new energies - solar, wind, hydrogen and geothermal. The Group announced last year that, subject to ongoing economic review, it would invest $0.5 billion to $1 billion over the next five years to continue developing these businesses, concentrating primarily on solar and wind energy.


FOAM-TECH Celebrates 20 Years in Business

FOAM-TECH, based in Thetford, Vermont, marks its 20th year in business. In 1982 FOAM-TECH developed an on-site process for injecting urethane foam insulation into buildings and other structures. It originally served a local residential market as it insulated new and retrofit projects. Since that time, FOAM-TECH has completed over 2000 projects through out the northeast. The company has established a reputation in a variety of specialty markets, which required the development of unique techniques for processing urethane foam at remote sites and in various climatic conditions. An extensive knowledge of building science supports FOAM-TECH’s installation capabilities. This expertise has evolved into a professional consulting division, which provides advice on thermal envelope concerns. FOAM-TECH currently serves a number of diverse markets, including: new and existing buildings, cold storage, marine applications, museums, agriculture, vehicles and others.


Homeowners Happier with High-efficiency Heating and AC Systems

A new Decision Analyst study of homeowners who recently replaced their heating and air conditioning systems found that purchasers of high-efficiency equipment were far happier with their comfort systems than purchasers of standard-efficiency equipment.

Purchasers of "super high-efficiency" equipment were nearly five times more likely than "standard-efficiency" purchasers to be "extremely satisfied."

"These findings are extremely significant," says study author Matt Michel. "For years, manufacturers have pushed high-efficiency equipment because it saves homeowners on their utilities, lowers the nation’s energy needs, and helps the environment by reducing furnace and power plant emissions. The American Comfort Survey™ reveals that homeowners are happier when they buy higher efficiency equipment. In other words, manufacturers and contractors are doing people a favor by promoting high efficiency."

The study, which takes a comprehensive look at heating and air conditioning replacements from the homeowner’s perspective, has a margin of error of 3 percent.

Decision Analyst is an international marketing research and marketing consulting firm specializing in advertising testing, strategy research, new product development, and advanced modeling for marketing decision optimization. The report is written principally for air conditioning manufacturers and distributors and can be purchased from Decision Analyst.


Bush Administration Changes Clean Water Act Wetlands Provisions

The Bush administration has weakened a key program under the Clean Water Act that protects wetlands from development. The action overturns stricter environmental standards for the nation's waters that were adopted in 2000 by the US Army Corps of Engineers, and allows the continuation of activities that damage or destroy thousands of acres of wetlands and miles of streams every year.

At issue is the Clean Water Act's program for nationwide general permits. While the Clean Water Act allows the Corps to issue nationwide general permits for activities that discharge fill or dredged material into wetlands and streams, those permits may be issued only if the activities will have no more than minimal adverse environmental effects, both individually and cumulatively. Activities performed under a nationwide permit do not require public notice or comment, and they undergo a much less stringent review, if any, by the Corps than do individual permits. Environmental groups charge that the Corps uses these permits to allow extraordinarily destructive activities, including mountaintop removal coal mining.

"The Corps says that blowing up forested mountains and dumping massive amounts of waste into streams has only a minimal adverse effect on the environment, so I do not want to see what they would consider a major impact," said Howard Fox, managing attorney for Earthjustice. After years of public comment and debate, the Clinton administration issued new nationwide permits in March 2000 that ensured better environmental protections than earlier permits.

The new nationwide permits issued this month allow the Corps to waive many of the environmental conditions adopted in March 2000 that were meant to limit the use of these permits, especially in floodplains and other environmentally sensitive waters.

"With today's decision, the Bush Administration is thumbing its nose at Americans who want clean waters and to protect America's streams to keep America beautiful," said Robin Mann of the Sierra Club. "The Corps also seems to have forgotten about the risks to people and property from allowing wetlands filling in floodplain areas. They have slackened the floodplain restrictions adopted just two years ago."

"The new nationwide permits are illegal and irresponsible. They guarantee the widespread destruction of streams and wetlands and ensure that the destruction will not be mitigated," said Melissa Samet, senior director of water resources for American Rivers. In the week leading up to Earth Day 2001, President Bush said that he supported wetlands protections. Yet, the Corps' new nationwide permits will increase wetlands losses and stream destruction.

"I doubt the president's State of the Union Address this year will highlight the increased water pollution, worsened flooding and loss of wildlife habitat that we can expect from the new, weaker wetlands policy," said Daniel Rosenberg, an attorney with NRDC's Clean Water Project. "Apparently last year's Earth Day pledge to protect wetlands was really just a publicity stunt." The changes included in the Corps' weakened nationwide permits include:

  • Allowing the Corps to waive the 300-foot limit on stream destruction for intermittent streams, meaning a developer could dig or fill a mile (or more) of a stream under a general permit that is only supposed to allow minimal adverse effects
  • Loosening restrictions on filling wetlands in floodplains
  • Bypassing the minimum requirement that there be at least one acre of wetlands protected or created for every acre destroyed (1:1 acreage mitigation)
  • Waiving the subdivision acreage cap acre for commercial developments like office parks and shopping centers, allowing each lot of a commercial project to destroy 1/2 acre of wetlands or stream instead of limiting the damage caused by the entire project to 1/2 acre.

The new nationwide permit package also continues to allow coal mining companies to bury and destroy hundreds of miles of streams with mountaintop removal valley fills with virtually no limits or conditions. The release of new nationwide permits follows closely on the heels of a surprise announcement by the Corps in late October that weakened the standards developers must follow to compensate for wetlands destruction. "The Corps has unilaterally ignored the national goal of achieving 'no net loss' of wetlands, a goal which has been the guiding principle of the national wetlands regulatory program since the first Bush Administration," said Julie Sibbing, wetlands legislative representative with the National Wildlife Federation. Sibbing summed up this latest Corps maneuver by saying "This arrogant move demonstrates the Corps' complete lack of respect for our country's natural resources and is another example of how this administration is turning its back on protecting our nation's wetlands."

John Studt, Chief of the Regulatory Branch for the Army Corps of Engineers disputes enviromentalists' claims and issued the following information in a new release.

    "No net loss"/ acre-for-acre wetlands replacement. Developers (and others who use the permits) are still required to offset damage or impacts, and the standard this year is more restrictive than ever. In the past, Corps districts - which issue the permits -- had to ensure that wetland functions were replaced which often resulted in less than one-for-one acreage mitigation. Now they must not only ensure that functions are replaced, but also that the "no net loss" goal is met on an acreage basis within the geographic boundary of the district. This allows area regulators to consider cumulative impacts holistically rather than piecemeal, making decisions in the best interest of the entire watershed.

    Current permits revoke previous requirements. "Actually, every time we've issued nationwide permits, they have become more environmentally protective, including this time," said Studt. "And each time we've proposed changes to the program, they have been open to public review and comment." The only change in environmental review pertains to intermittent streams, which are often no more than stormwater run-off. Allowing Corps regulators to address impacts to these streams with nationwide permits frees them up to focus on more significant environmental issues, like redesigning major projects for fewer impacts or enforcing required mitigation.

    Floodplain restrictions. Every protection in place for floodplains in 2000 remains in place today.

    Automatic approval. Nationwide permits pertain only to situations with minimal impacts (such as less than 1/2 acre), and each of these permits will still receive individual attention from Corps regulators (most of whom are biologists). Nationwide permits do not take as much time as individual permits, but that is as it should be, because projects requiring individual permits have greater than minimal impacts and therefore deserve more scrutiny.

    Different standards for commercial versus residential developers. The same standard of minimal impact - 1/2 acre -- is applied for those who build shopping centers (commercial) as those who build neighborhoods (residential).

The full text of the nationwide permits rule was posted in the Jan. 15, 2002, Federal Register.


January 7, 2002

Carpet Industry Agrees to Boost Recycling

The carpet industry has agreed with officials of federal, state and local governments on an ambitious ten-year schedule to increase the

2012 Goals for Carpet Recovery
2012 Goals
Total Discards 4,678 6,772
>Reuse 0 203-339
>Recycling 180 1,354-1,693
>Cement Kilns 200
>Landfill 4,498 4,812
Recycling Rate 3.8% 20-25%

(Millions of pounds | Data: Carpet & Rug Institute)

reuse and recycling of post-consumer carpet and reduce the amount of waste carpet going to landfills. These initial goals are for the years 2002–2012.

The Memorandum of Understanding for Carpet Stewardship (MOU) signed on January 8 is the result of a two-year negotiation.

The agreement is a voluntary initiative that encourages manufacturers to assume product stewardship--the responsibility for the life cycle of carpet from point-of-sale to disposal. The carpet industry has established a third-party organization known as the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) to achieve the national goals for reuse and recycling of discarded carpet.

The Carpet and Rug Institute estimates that almost 4.7 billion pounds of carpet will be discarded in 2002 with 96 percent going to landfills. While most of the material in carpet is recyclable, only four percent is actually recycled. More information is available at the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance.


New Performance Requirements for Energy Star Windows, Doors, Skylights

The U. S. Department of Energy (DOE) issued new energy performance criteria for Energy Star windows, doors, and skylights effective January 1, 2002. Retailers may continue to use existing labels and marketing materials during a six-month transition period. DOE considered eliminating the existing climate-based criteria in favor of a single national standard, but that idea was rejected for the moment. The three climate zones were shifted to generally follow the 2000 and 6000 Heating Degree Day lines (see map), but adjustments have been made to accommodate local codes in areas such as Southern California, and to maintain program simplicity in areas such as Arizona and the Pacific Northwest. The new specification for doors matches the specification for windows in each of the three climate regions. In some states, local building codes will exceed the new Energy Star criteria.

Energy Star Window Criteria


Windows & Doors Skylights
U-Factor SHGC U-Factor SHGC
Northern Region 0.35 Any 0.45 Any
Central Region 0.40 0.40 0.45 0.40
Southern Region 0.75 0.40 0.75 0.40

Some of the energy performance requirements were also adjusted. More information on the new standards can be found at the Energy Star Web site. Information and assistance for selecting energy efficient windows, doors and skylights can be found at the Efficient Windows Web site.


Residential Green Building Survey

More home buyers want green homes than ever before and they say they're willing to pay for it, according to the second annual survey of builders and home buyers. Twenty percent of home buyers claimed they would pay $10,000 for environmentally-friendly features in a newly built home. This year, 80 percent of the buyers said that new homes fail to reach their expectations for environmental responsibility, up from 60 percent in the similar survey in 2000.

Builders participating in the survey noted that green building products were more readily available than in the past, but at a higher cost. The report also notes that environmental goals are growing in importance among builders.

The report illustrates a widening "communication gap" between builders and buyers. According to the survey report, builders "significantly underestimate the value customers place on a healthy environment and a healthy home."

Consumers' top priorities were saving energy, reducing resource use and improving indoor air quality. They indicated a willingness to pay significantly more to install energy-saving upgrades, and to wait longer for the upgrades to pay for themselves with energy savings. On average, buyers said they would pay $2,327 more for energy efficiency, a 36 percent jump over what they were willing to pay in 2000. The use of lumber from environmentally-certified sources also scored high, with 61 percent saying that certified lumber should be standard in new homes.

More eye-opening information can be seen in the report, The State of Green Building. This second annual green building survey was conducted by the Cahners Residential Group, publisher of Professional Builder, in conjunction with industry manufacturers and associations. Nearly 300 people completed the 23-question consumer survey, and 344 builders answered the 53-question residential builder survey.


Trace Grid Intertie Inverters Lose UL 1741 Listing

Small-scale power producers that use Trace SW series inverters and utilities that buy power from them need to consider what to do about a recent action taken by Underwriters Laboratories (UL). The testing organization recently pulled its listing for models SW3512, SW4024, SW4048 and SW5548 citing a number of issues, including failure to stop moving power onto the utility grid when it is down under certain conditions and failure to stay below the 5 percent limit for total harmonic distortion.

According to Xantrex (maker of Trace products), the SW series had been listed under UL 1741 and passed all required tests. The delisting occurred after new testing procedures were adopted in November, 2001. This action applies only to the "sell" mode, so the units are still covered by the listing for use as stand-alone power systems. Xantrex also pointed out that their units are still UL 1741-listed by ETL, another testing laboratory. The company will soon release a new device, called the Grid Tie Interface that will bring all units into compliance.


Report Investigates Residential Mechanical Ventilation Systems

A new report, called Field Evaluations of Mechanical Ventilation Systems, by the NAHB Research Center describes the installation cost, the operating cost and the ventilation effectiveness at test sites located in Alabama, Maryland and Minnesota. A wide range of systems were evaluated, including: heat recovery ventilator, central fan integrated/single port exhaust, multi-port exhaust, multi-port supply, dehumidifying ventilator and blending supply ventilator.

Here is a sample of the findings. The test homes were exceptionally tight, average air change rate of 0.12 air changes per hour (ACH). The mechanical ventilation systems generally achieved the desired air exchange rates for the test homes, which was in the range of 0.25 to 0.3 ACH. Installation costs ranged from $399 to $3,230. See the full report for more details.


Oregon Alliance Promotes Resource-Efficient Mortgages

In an effort to increase the creation of sustainable, resource-efficient homes throughout Oregon, a coalition of home builders, mortgage finance providers, environmental and housing leaders today joined Governor John Kitzhaber to announce the formation of the Oregon Sustainability Solutions Alliance. This new statewide partnership among state housing and energy agencies, home builders, lenders, Portland General Electric (PGE), and Fannie Mae, represents a comprehensive effort to encourage construction and ownership of homes with increased energy and resource efficiency.

As part of the Oregon Sustainability Solutions Alliance, participating lenders will offer Fannie Mae's suite of Home Performance Power products that, when used to buy resource-efficient homes, can increase home-buying power by using projected energy and utility savings to qualify eligible borrowers for a larger mortgage. Mortgages available through the Home Performance Power initiative, including the Energy Efficient Mortgage Underwriting Variance, have low or no down payment requirement, and have a low 3 percent borrower contribution for closing costs that can come from a gift, a grant, the borrower's own funds, or manufacturers' rebates on energy-efficient home appliances.

Key components of the Oregon Sustainability Solutions Alliance include PGE's Earth Advantage green-building program for home builders, and the availability of Home Performance Power, a mortgage financing initiative for home buyers developed by Fannie Mae and offered through HomeStreet Bank and Countrywide Home Loans

Participating in the Oregon Sustainability Solutions Alliance will be Oregon's Office of Energy, Department of Housing and Community Services and Department of Consumer and Business Services Building Codes Division. Together, these departments will provide $1 million in low-interest mortgages at 5.95 percent to purchase resource-efficient homes; allow cost-savings to be leveraged with Oregon's energy tax credit and loan programs; help monitor the benefits of energy and water efficiency generated through the initiative; explore streamlined and alternative energy codes and inspections in concert with PGE; and support a public awareness outreach effort for consumers and builders.

As Oregon's largest utility, PGE will make available its Earth Advantage program. PGE certifies that Earth Advantage homes meet standards including environmentally sound building practices and the use of recycled materials. PGE also works with builders to provide education and guidance throughout the building process. Homes built to Earth Advantage standards are also designed to be at least 15 percent more energy efficient than homes built in compliance with the state building code. Earth Advantage certification is available for single-family, multifamily, and manufactured homes.


California Crafts "Blueprint" for Sustainable State Buildings

A California task force announced a comprehensive plan to transform state-owned buildings into state-of-the-art facilities designed to save resources and taxpayer dollars.

Developed by the California Sustainable Building Task Force, the report -- Building Better Buildings: A Blueprint for Sustainable State Facilities -- recommends a 10-point plan to implement the sustainable building goal set by the Governor in Executive Order D-16-00. By definition, "sustainable" buildings use superior design and construction methods to integrate environmentally-sound technologies and practices, which improve energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and employee health, comfort, and productivity.

"This Blueprint provides a plan to ensure that state buildings and policies incorporate practices that are good for the environment, fiscally responsible, and promote workplace health and productivity," said Aileen Adams, Secretary of the State and Consumer Services Agency and chair of the Task Force. "As a result, state facilities will operate more efficiently, but also will save taxpayer dollars during the life of those facilities while providing more productive places to work and learn."

The Blueprint emphasizes sustainable building strategies that include:

  • Modifying the state's capital outlay policies and process to incorporate sustainable building goals;
  • Incorporating integrated design, life cycle costing, building commissioning, and post occupancy evaluation processes into the state's capital outlay program;
  • Developing cost-effective building performance standards to measure the effectiveness of sustainable building practices;
  • Establishing a systematic reporting and review process to ensure that state building performance improves continuously;
  • Developing exemplary projects and model sustainable buildings that demonstrate the effectiveness of sustainable building and operating processes; and
  • Assisting state agencies in the development of sustainable building projects.

The most prominent example of the state's sustainable building implementation efforts is the Department of General Services' Capitol Area East End Complex, a $392 million, five-building project. The largest state government office building construction project in California's history, this 1.5 million square-foot complex incorporates various sustainable building features, including recycled-content materials, raised floor ventilation, and highly efficient plumbing and irrigation systems. These buildings are expected to exceed existing state energy efficiency standards by more than 30 percent, saving taxpayers roughly $400,000 annually in energy costs alone.


Washington State Boosts Energy Code

At the request of Governor Gary Locke, the State of Washington developed a stronger energy code that will save significant amounts of electricity and natural gas. It was the first significant upgrade for the residential energy provisions of the statewide building code since 1991. While there had been different rules for homes heated with gas furnaces, electric resistance and heat pumps, the new standards apply to all fuels, making the code almost "fuel blind." The allowable heat loss rate for windows was reduced from U-0.65 to U-0.40, and insulation requirements were increased. At the same time, the new code is simpler and more flexible.

The Building Industry Association of Washington vigorously opposed the new rules, because of the extra cost, which were estimated at $431 to $1,500 per home. Supporters of the new rules prevailed with their argument that the extra cost would be recovered by lower utility cost in a period of 4.5 to 9.5 years. They also pointed out that the financing cost for the extra construction cost would be completely offset by lower bills, giving residents "positive cash flow" every month they owned the home.

Energy standards for commercial buildings were also increased, especially for mechanical equipment and the use of outside air for cooling.


LRC Offers Free Lighting Product Info

Reliable, objective information about lighting products, including a searchable database and easy navigation, is now available from an award-winning program that tests lighting products.

NLPIP provides the best information available on energy-efficient lighting products and now features a new, easy-to-use web site that provides reliable information about lighting products free of charge. Visitors to the NLPIP Web site can search databases containing the results of independent evaluations of the latest compact fluorescent lamps and electronic ballasts. All NLPIP reports are available in electronic form, which can be viewed and/or printed. NLPIP has distributed more than 300,000 reports to date.

NLPIP team members are LRC researchers who are leading experts in efficient lighting, human factors, and technology transfer. The program's testing laboratory is one of only three non-manufacturer NVLAP (National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program), Energy Efficient Lighting Program accredited labs in the United States.

The NLPIP -- part of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York -- was established in 1990 by the Lighting Research Center (LRC), government, and electric utilities, helps lighting professionals, contractors, designers, building managers, homeowners, and other consumers to find and effectively use efficient, quality products that meet their lighting needs. To maintain objectivity and ensure reliability, NLPIP does NOT accept funding from manufacturers.


Study Finds EPA's Green Lights Program Highly Successful

The EPA's Green Lights program helped transform the market for energy-efficient electronic fluorescent ballasts, concluded a study by Marvin J. Horowitz. Horowitz recently published his findings in The Energy Journal. Horowitz's study of how to gauge the effectiveness of public programs in boosting energy efficiency cites EPA's Green Lights program as a success. The Green Lights program, developed in 1991 by the EPA, was the first program ever designed to transform the national market for an energy-efficient product. The report, called Economic Indicators of Market Transformation: Energy Efficient Lighting and EPA’s Green Lights can be downloaded from the Alliance to Save Energy Web site.

The Road to EPA is Lit with Solar
Lighting the way to EPA's headquarters campus in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina is a mile of photovoltaic-powered street lights. The entire roadway is brightly illuminated with unique 200-watt Solar Electric Lighting Systems made by the Solar Electric Power Company (SEPCO), which include PV panels from Siemens Solar. The lighting system powers the high quality commercial fixtures from dusk to dawn.

Chris Long, the EPA’s Project Manager commented, "We're extremely pleased with the installation.  We're committed to using cost-effective technologies that reduce our air pollution impact, and this project speaks volumes about our commitment to clean, renewable energy."

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