Green Building News

Green Building News November 2003

November 19, 2003

Study Shows Green Buildings are Highly Cost Effective

The most comprehensive study ever done on the cost and financial benefits of green buildings demonstrates that the financial benefits exceed the cost by a factor of 10 to 1.

Investments in green buildings pay for themselves 10 times over, according to a new study for 40 California agencies. The study, by the Capital E group, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and participating California state agencies, is the most definitive cost-benefit analysis of green building ever conducted.

With this study, the California Department of Finance, for the first time, has signed off on the existence of financial benefits associated with improved health productivity and lowered operations and maintenance costs in green buildings. The California Board of Regents also drew on the early findings of this study and is moving forward in pushing for all state higher education new construction to be “green”. This study, drawing on national data for a hundred green buildings and an in depth review of several hundred existing studies, found that sustainable buildings are a very cost-effective investment.

USGBC President & CEO, Christine Ervin who served as a member of an advisory committee that guided the study, says, “The study’s conclusive findings demonstrate that green building is cost-effective and makes good business sense.”

Greg Kats, a Principal at Capital E, and the lead author of the report stated that “The report should permanently lay to rest the myth that green buildings are not cost effective and not ready for prime time.”

The report concluded that financial benefits of green design are between $50 and $70 per square foot in a LEED building, over 10 times the additional cost associated with building green. The financial benefits were found to be in lower energy, waste and water costs, lower environmental and emissions costs, and lower operational and maintenance costs and increased productivity and health.

A copy of the report (PDF), is available at the U.S. Green Building Web site.


EPA Moves Toward Ban of Toxic Fire Retardants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is negotiating with chemical manufacturers to phase out two neurotoxic chemicals used as fire retardants, which a recent Environmental Working Group (EWG) study found at potentially harmful levels in the breast milk of American mothers.

The chemicals -- polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs -- are used in hundreds of everyday items, including computers, TVs, cars and furniture, They come in three forms penta, octa and deca PBDE. Both penta and octa will be banned in the European Union starting next year, and under a recently passed law, in California in 2008.

Like PCBs, their long-banned chemical relatives, PBDEs and other brominated fire retardants are persistent in the environment and bioaccumulative, building up in people's bodies over a lifetime. Brominated fire retardants impair attention, learning, memory and behavior in laboratory animals at surprisingly low levels. The most sensitive time for toxic effects is during periods of rapid brain development.

"Frankly, we didn't expect the EPA to act so quickly, but it shows that they're taking seriously the mounting evidence that flame retardants are a threat to human health and are rapidly accumulating in our bodies," said EWG Analyst Sonya Lunder, principal author of the breast milk study.

Scientists worldwide have found the fire retardants building up rapidly in people, animals and the environment. There are currently no preliminary safety tests for these chemicals before they are allowed out on the market. In September, in the first nationwide tests for chemical fire retardants in the breast milk of American women, EWG found unexpectedly high levels of the chemicals in every participant tested. The Mother's Milk study is available online.

The average level of bromine-based fire retardants in the milk of 20 first-time mothers in the EWG study was 75 times the average found in recent European studies. Milk from two study participants contained the highest levels of fire retardants ever reported in the U.S., and milk from several of the mothers in EWG's study had among the highest levels of these chemicals yet detected worldwide. These results confirm recently published findings from University of Texas researchers, as well as other U.S. studies, that Americans are exposed to far higher amounts of fire retardants than Europeans.

An EPA ban on the two types under consideration (penta and octa) would increase the pressure of the mounting campaign to also ban the third type, deca. Although manufacturers claim that deca isn't harmful to human health, European studies have shown that in the environment deca rapidly breaks down to penta and octa, the two most harmful and readily absorbed forms of the chemicals. Nearly 19 million pounds of penta and octa were used in the Americas in 2001, compared to 54 million tons of deca.


Photovoltaic Systems Boost California's Electric Grid

Almost half of the 50 megawatts of installed solar photovoltaic (PV) energy systems currently connected to California's electricity grid comes from a state program that helps consumers produce their own power, according to the California Energy Commission.

Energy Commissioner John Geesman said of this total, 24 megawatts have resulted from the Energy Commission's Emerging Renewables Program. Started in 1998, the program provides cash rebates to California electricity ratepayers of investor owned utilities who install photovoltaic systems. The rebates have helped cut system costs by 50 percent.

As a result of the Emerging Renewables Program and similar rebate programs from investor-owned and municipal electric utilities, California ranks first in the nation for grid connected PVs.

"The growth of the solar PV market has been astronomical over these past few years," said Commissioner Geesman. "The declining costs for equipment and installation, coupled with generous rebate programs, have made solar PV an affordable and realistic choice for many businesses and families in California."

Solar PV panels convert sunlight directly to electricity. The electricity generated from solar PVs can power individual homes or businesses. If their use exceeds the power generated, these customers draw electricity from the power grid, like any other customer. When generation exceeds demand, the meter literally runs backward, pumping electricity into the grid. In the evening, they can draw power from the grid with credit for what their system supplied during the day. Solar PVs provide power that coincides with the system peak demand, helping meet California's energy needs during crucial daytime hours.

Aside from PVs, the Emerging Renewables Program also provides cash rebates to individuals and businesses that install small wind turbines, solar thermal electric systems or renewable fuel cells on their property. Participants must be ratepayers of the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), the Southern California Edison Company (SCE) or San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E).

The state's rebate system and a desire by consumers to help wean California from pollution-causing energy sources have spurred interest in solar systems. As of October 30, 6,580 PV, wind, and fuel-cell systems, representing 25 megawatts of electric generation capacity, have been installed through the Commission's rebate program since 1998. Rebate payments total nearly $102 million. Approximately $41 million in rebate funds are available for systems less than 30 kilowatts, not including $30 million in funds from the Commission's discontinued customer credit account.

In addition, the California Public Utilities Commission, through PG&E, SCE, SDG&E and the Southern California Gas Company (SCGC), administers the Self-Generation Incentive Program that offers similar rebates for the installation of clean, distributed generation technologies. Many of the local utilities, such as the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) or the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), also offer their own solar rebate programs.


Robert Redford Opens New Santa Monica Home for NRDC

Actor, director and conservationist Robert Redford opened a new office building in Southern California, named for him and constructed to the highest green building standards. The building houses the offices of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The building combines cutting-edge technologies and materials with elegant, energy-efficient architecture to create a showcase for green building design and to promote environmental activism. It may well attain the highest possible LEED rating -- Platinum Version 2. (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEED is a green building rating system created by the U.S. Green Building Council.) If so it would be the first building to achieve this status.

The office demonstrates how buildings can greatly reduce harm to the environment by minimizing the use of land, water, energy and materials in ways that are not only attractive and healthy for occupants, but also practical for owners.

"Using advanced but off-the-shelf technology, this building shows it's possible to protect our natural environment, achieve greater energy independence, and also save money," said Redford, a member of NRDC's Board of Trustees since 1975. "As more buildings in the U.S. follow suit, we'll protect substantially more natural resources and significantly lessen our dependence on foreign sources of oil."

The 15,000-square-foot Southern California office includes The David Family Environmental Action Center and The Leonardo DiCaprio e-Activism Zone, scheduled to open officially in January.

The building uses 60 percent less water than a standard building of its size by capturing and filtering rain, shower and sink water to irrigate landscaping and flush toilets. It reduces electricity consumption 60 to 75 percent by maximizing natural light and using efficient fixtures and appliances, task lighting, dimmable electronic ballasts, occupancy sensors and extra insulation. The building also meets 20 percent of its electricity needs through rooftop photovoltaic cells. The structure uses only recycled or recyclable materials, and 98 percent of the materials left over from dismantling the original building and constructing the new one were reused or recycled.

The design, by Moule & Polyzoides Architects and Urbanists -- featuring a durable composite clapboard exterior with three "lighthouse" atria -- improves indoor environmental quality and reduces reliance on artificial cooling and lighting. The site is near public transportation, neighborhood amenities, and regional attractions including the Third Street Promenade. The project was managed by Tishman Construction Corporation of California, whose chairman and CEO, Daniel R. Tishman, is an NRDC Trustee.

A virtual tour of the project can be seen on the NRDC Web Site.


New Book Describes Renewable Home Heating Strategies

With oil prices on the rise and turmoil in the Middle East, it’s easy to see how dependence on fossil fuels leaves Americans in a precarious position. A shift in politics or the environment could spell disaster for our high-consumption way of life.

Northeastern states will consume 5.5 billion gallons of #2 fuel oil. That’s 80 percent of the total used in the US. Ninety-five percent of American homes are heated with fossil fuels, and heating costs could double or even triple in the event of a severe fuel crisis. It’s time to reevaluate the way buildings are heated, and Greg Pahl, an authority on alternative energy for more than 20 years, has come to the rescue with a comprehensive guide to renewable energy options. Natural Home Heating: The Complete Guide to Renewable Energy Options.

A valuable resource for those seeking to build a new energy-efficient home, or for those retrofitting an existing heating system, Pahl explains the ins and outs of all renewable home-heating options. He describes active and passive systems for harvesting energy from the oldest renewable resource- the sun, as well as guidelines for using wood stoves and masonry heaters, biomass products like corn and pellets, and geothermal heat pumps. While there are a few books on the market that discuss individual strategies (woodstoves, masonry heaters, etc.), there are none that discuss all of the options available -- solar, wood, pellets, corn, biodiesel, geothermal.

Pahl’s extensive knowledge and research will assist homeowners in selecting the home heating system that best fits their needs, highlighting the costs, advantages, disadvantages and technological developments of each option. The mission of Natural Home Heating is to give readers “the information that you need to make intelligent, informed decisions about your renewable home heating options” while minimizing environmental and financial impact.

“The use of fossil fuels and electricity accounts for about 95 percent of home heating in the United States,” Pahl says. “And when you consider that fossil fuels and nuclear energy combined account for 91 percent of electrical generation in this country, you begin to understand just how unsustainable our nation’s heating practices are. Frankly, I was shocked by these statistics.”


California Approves New Building Energy Standards

By a 3 - 0 vote -- and with a round of applause from the audience -- the California Energy Commission today adopted updated building standards for energy efficiency in residential and non-residential construction, known as Title 24. The new rules will cut the State's peak energy use by more than 180 megawatts annually - enough electricity to power 180,000 average-sized California homes. Those energy savings are compounded from year to year, reaching over 500 megawatts after three years.

"California is already the most energy efficient state in the nation, in large part because of the building standards that have been in effect since 1978," said Energy Commissioner Robert Pernell, Presiding Member of the Efficiency Committee. "The cheapest kilowatt is the one you don't have to generate and to transmit through the State's power grid. With the adoption of these new rules, we will continue to reduce California's energy demand, cut our future energy bills and make our buildings more comfortable."

The changes approved today have the support of utilities, window manufacturers and other industry representatives, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, among others. Mike Hodgson, speaking on behalf of the California Building Industry Association, referred to the new standards as "the most thorough, thoughtful revision ever."

The new Title 24 building standards take aim at peak energy use -- electricity demand on hot summer days when air conditioning loads can cause the State's need for power to nearly double. Non-residential buildings, for example, will be required to install cool roofs - highly reflective, insulated roofing. Today nine out of ten rooftops in California reach summer peak temperatures of 150 degrees to 190 degrees. A cool roof can reduce those temperatures by as much as 50 degrees. That large temperature difference translates to a 20 percent reduction in air conditioning costs.

The updated Standards require skylights in "big box" nonresidential buildings with controls to turn-off electric lighting when natural daylight is available. Also, several changes make space heating, cooling and ventilation systems more efficient in both residential and nonresidential buildings.

For the first time outdoor lighting and signage are also covered by the standards. Taking new technology into account, the standards call for state-of-the-art fluorescent lighting in all permanent fixtures.

Improvements and alternations to existing residential buildings call for new replacement windows with improved glazings. Whenever new heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment is installed, the Standards will require ductwork to be inspected and sealed to correct the inevitable large leaks in existing ducts.

Portable classrooms are specifically singled out for new standards to make them more energy efficient and comfortable.

Information on the Title 24 Energy Efficiency Building Standards is available on the Energy Commission's Web site.


Scrap Tires Make Green Barrier to Pollution

As mountains of scrap tires continue to rise above the landscape, University of Wisconsin College of Engineering researchers have found an environmentally friendly use for them: grind them up and place the rubber bits beneath golf course greens.

In a paper accepted for publication in the journal Waste Management, the researchers show that these ground tires can absorb excess chemicals from fertilizers and pesticides, preventing them from leaching into groundwater and contaminating the surrounding environment. They have other benefits, too. They're light weight, allowing for easier transportation and installation. They absorb shock, possibly alleviating foot pains of golfers. And they trap heat, promoting turf and root growth longer into autumn and earlier in spring.

Golf courses are designed to improve playability, not environmental impact, says Jae (Jim) Park , a professor of civil and environmental engineering and an avid golfer with a six handicap. But, as an environmentally conscientious person, Park, is also aware of the unintentional side effects of the fertilizers and pesticides applied to the golf-course greens to keep them looking, well, green. These products contain chemicals that trickle into groundwater sources and contaminate the surrounding environment, he says.

"Because many greens are built near groundwater levels or wetlands," explains Park, "it is vital to consider the mitigation of environmental contamination caused by the pesticides and fertilizers applied to golf courses."

Used tires could provide a barrier, according to the new research led by Park.

The U.S. Environmental Protective Agency estimates that Americans discarded an estimated 273 million scrap tires in 2001, with only about 33 million being retread or recapped for additional use. Due to state regulations, most of these old tires were stockpiled, rather than dumped in landfills. Park says that storing this waste material in such a way creates several hazards: they collect rainwater, create breeding grounds for mosquitoes, and have a tendency to catch on fire.

"Tires are a waste material," says Park, "and we need to have safe ways to dispose of them."

Researchers throughout the world have been searching for ways to reuse tires that are accumulating in stockpiles. Civil engineers have utilized tires, either in scrap or ground-up form, to develop tire derived fuel, artificial ocean reefs, bumpers, playground equipment, asphalt additives that extend the life of roadways and shock-absorbent playing fields. Ground-up rubber products, including the soles from sneakers, can be found beneath the turfgrass at many athletic stadiums, including Camp Randall Stadium.

Park has been studying the characteristics of tires for the last 12 years. In that time, he and his colleagues have shown that tire chips — ground-up pieces of this rubber material — can absorb harmful organic compounds from the environment. The findings, he says, suggest that they could be used as landfill barriers to prevent the leaching of pollutants into the ground.

Used tires and shredded tire chips on an experimental section of shortgrass at the O.J. Noer Turfgrass Research Facility, where researchers investigate the impact of fertilizers and pesticides.Park along with John Stier, associate professor of horticulture, and Bob Lisi, graduate student in civil and environmental engineering, found that shredded tires placed beneath golf course greens can absorb excess nitrates and other chemicals from fertilizers.

Park says just under 1,000 pounds of pesticides are applied yearly to a single golf course. He adds that there are more than 23,000 golf courses in the United States.

In all experiments, the researchers found that the rubber layers did absorb the compounds. Compared to the control samples, the lab experiments with the five- and 10-centimeter layers of tire chips released 17.9 and 21.7 percent less nitrate, respectively, after one year of testing. During this time, the five- and 10-centimeter rubber layers in the field released 23 and 58.6 percent less nitrate, respectively.

Based on the experiments, Park says, "Excess amounts of fertilizer will be absorbed by ground tires. They'll be trapped right there instead of traveling." Over time, he adds, soil microbes will remove the nitrate from the rubber layer, which could remain intact for last years.

While some environmentalists may be concerned that chemicals released from the tires will percolate into the environment, Park says numerous scientific studies show that the amount released is minimal compared to the amount the tires can trap.

"We've proved that is not an issue," he says. "Some contaminants have been reported, but the levels are so low."

As part of the current study, Park and his colleagues visually assessed the quality of the field plots from seed germination to the end of the sampling period. Turfgrass quality, color, density or germination rate did not appear to be affected, he says. He adds that about one year later there was no significant difference in grass quality or density among the three putting green profiles, suggesting the rubber layer did not alter the turfgrass.

But, above all, he says, "The technology reuses a waste material that's hard to dispose while it protects the environment." Park estimates that about 72,000 tires would be needed to include a 10-centimeter layer of tire chips for an 18-hole golf course — a number that could chip away at one of this country's major waste problems.


First Certification Exam Held for Photovoltaic Installers

The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) held its first examination for installers of solar photovoltaic (PV) electric systems in late October. Nearly 100 candidates took the exam, which was administered at 14 sites around the country. The voluntary exam is meant to instill consumer confidence in the men and women who install expensive solar equipment on the roofs of homes and businesses, connect that equipment to the building's power supply (often providing power for sensitive electronic components), and frequently connect it to the power grid as well. NABCEP has already received strong interest in its next PV Installers Certification Exam, which will be held on April 17, 2004. PV installers can make sure they get the right training for the exam by going to a training organization accredited by the Institute for Sustainable Power (ISP).


Call for Entries: 2004 Northeast Green Building Awards

The Northeast Green Building Awards recognize outstanding achievements of high-performance architecture throughout the northeast. The annual competition is open to built works -- either new construction or renovations -- completed after January 1, 1998 and before January 1, 2004 in the northeastern US, as well as to student projects. Award categories include: places to live, places to work, places to learn and student projects.The competition is organized by the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA) and is supported in part by the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust.

Winners will be announced in many professional magazines and all project boards will be on display at the Building Energy 2004 conference held on March 10-13, 2004 at Boston University in Boston, MA.  All projects will be featured on the NESEA Web site. Cash prizes in the amount of $1,000 will be awarded for first place in each building category. In addition, those in the student projects category who place second will receive $500 and those who place third will receive $250. All entries are due by 4:00 PM at the NESEA office on Tuesday, February 3, 2004.

For more details about how to enter, please visit the NESEA Web site


Applications Due for Housing Innovation Awards

If your company has developed a new product, material, or technology solution for home builders, or transferred a technology from another industry to home building, this is your chance to shine. Now in its fourth year, the Innovative Housing Technology Awards (IHTA) program is the most prestigious housing technology awards program in the home building industry. The awards are specifically aimed at recognizing significant advances by product manufacturers in technology development for the housing industry. The program is a joint effort of the NAHB Research Center and EH Publishing, the publishers of TecHome Builders magazine and Electronic House magazine.

The awards are intended to stimulate the development of innovative new products, materials, and systems for residential construction that can improve the livability of our homes and make the process of building and improving homes more efficient and cost effective. Entrants will not only be featured in the pages of TecHome Builder and Electronic House, but also recognized during an awards ceremony during the tecHOMExpo (part of the International Builders' Show) in Las Vegas on January 20, 2004.

Categories include: Back-Office & Field Productivity; B2C IT Solutions; Home Networking; Home Automation & Lighting Control; Energy Efficiency; Multiroom Audio; and Home Theater. Only International Builders' Show/tecHOMExpo exhibitors are eligible to apply. Entries are due November 24, 2003.

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