Green Building News

Green Building News April 2004

April 26, 2004

PVC Now A Homeland Security Issue

The Healthy Building Network -- a staunch opponent of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) use -- pointed out the security problems with PVC in a recent newsletter. Bill Walsh, HBN's National Coordinator, made the case that the PVC industry constitutes a serious threat to homeland security.

Chlorine gas is extremely toxic and was banned as a chemical weapon after its horrifying use in World War I. Although no longer deployed as a weapon, chlorine gas is widely used by American industry. The manufacture of PVC accounts for about 40 percent of the total U.S. consumption of chlorine gas, while treating drinking water consumes only five percent. Even though it is a minor use, many water treatment plants have moved away from using chlorine gas as a disinfectant since the September 11 attacks.

Even more vulnerable to attack are tank cars that crisscross the country on roads and railways. Toxic gas escaping from a ruptured tank car can travel two miles in 10 minutes. It could remain deadly as far as 20 miles away.

If chlorine at water treatment plants was a problem, Walsh thinks building materials are a bigger problem. PVC plastic can contain up to 50 percent chlorine by weight. For comparison, household bleach is less than three percent chlorine. The building industry needs to take the lead in reducing chlorine use. Building materials -- siding, flooring, windows, etc -- account for 70 percent of products made with PVC.

"You can reduce the chlorine threat by eliminating PVC from the palette of green building materials, insisting that the US Green Building Council reward chlorine or PVC elimination with a LEED credit, and supporting legislation that would encourage chlorine use reduction as part of the national chemical security strategy," said Walsh.

The complete article including citations can be seen at "Code Green: PVC Elimination May Be The Most Significant Contribution You Can Make to Homeland Security."


DOE Decides to Enforce Air Conditioner Standard

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it will enforce a 13 seasonal energy efficiency rating or “SEER” standard for residential central air conditioners.  This standard, which will apply to central air conditioners starting in January 2006, increases by 30 percent the SEER standard that applies to models sold today.

“At this point, all parties have had their day in court,” Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy David Garman said.   “DOE will enforce the 13 SEER standard.  In the interest of giving consumers and industry the regulatory certainty they need, it is time for the government and for private parties to stop litigating, and start working towards complying with the 13 SEER standard.”

The Energy Department had promulgated a 12 SEER standard in 2002, but earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that the department had done so improperly.   The air conditioner manufacturing industry had challenged the 13 SEER, which DOE had issued in January 2001, but recently withdrew its challenge.


Santa Monica Offers Green Building Incentives

The City of Santa Monica Green Building Program is launching a two-part grant program to promote green building in the private sector. The City's goal is to have every building in the city incorporate these superior qualities. With the City's Public Safety Facility built to the US Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standard and the Natural Resource Defense Council's new building on 2nd Street in Santa Monica recently being named the greenest building in the country, green building is already gathering momentum here. To encourage the trend, the Santa Monica Green Building Program is introducing the grants program to promote green building throughout the city.

The first grant under the program promotes the LEED certification by offering financial incentives for new private sector buildings that are built using the LEED standard. Grant amounts are based on the level of certification attained under the standard.

Award levels:

LEED Certified $20,000
LEED Silver $25,000
LEED Gold $30,000
LEED Platinum $35,000

All new construction and major renovation in commercial, affordable housing, mixed use, and multi-family residential that register for LEED (LEED-NC) certification are eligible to apply.

In the interest of promoting the adoption of new technologies designed to reduce the environmental impact of buildings, the City will also be offering Innovative Technology Grants for both energy efficient systems and urban runoff mitigation measures. These grants will cover 50 percent of the cost of eligible systems up to a maximum of $5000. Innovative Technology grants are available for all building types including commercial, affordable housing, mixed use, and single- and multi-family residential in both new and retrofit applications.


University Opens Renewable Energy Incubator

Business incubators are nothing new. They help struggling businesses get off the ground by offering low-cost facilities and support. Grand Valley State University in Muskegon, Michigan has applied the concept to the renewable energy field with the recent opening of the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center. Not only will the facility nuture fledling businesses in the renewable field, it will also power those companies with fuel cells, solar panels and battery systems. According the university, it's the first facility of its kind in the world, and it is expected to be an economic boon for West Michigan.

The center is equipped with a fuel cell that turns natural gas into electricity, provided by FuelCell Energy, Inc. of Danbury, Conn. It also has photovoltaic cells manufactured by United Solar Ovonic Corp. to capture the sun's energy, and a nickel metal hydride battery made by COBASYS Inc. to store excess energy from peak times for use later. It is thought to be the first building of its kind to use all of those technologies to become completely self-sufficient.

The facility is intended to attract new energy technology businesses to the region and provide incubator space and support to start-up companies. It will also offer energy technology and economics seminars and training to area businesses.

MAREC is one of 11 SmartZones created by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. in 2001 as part of an effort to promote and attract high technology business development in the state.


New RecoupAerator Announced

Stirling Technology, Inc. has announced the latest in its UltimateAir™ line of products, the RecoupAerator 200DX energy recovery ventilator (ERV).

The new 200DX includes a number of notable features. The energy exchange material is machine-washable, so it can be used again and again, The RecoupAerator features automatic econo-cooling that uses cooler outside air when available. Frost prevention is also automatic and a reminder light on the remote controller tells you when the filter needs cleaning. In addition, the RecoupAerator accepts a wide variety of external equipment such as fans, timers and HEPA filtration devices. Homeowners can add options with ease.

Stirling Technology, Inc. offers full customer service before, during and after purchase. Shoppers can order at factory-direct prices, find an installer and download spec sheets, manuals, and related publications online.


NAHB Announces Green Building Awards

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) recently announced the winners of the 2004 National Green Building Awards, which were presented during the sixth annual National Green Building Conference in Austin, Texas.

The Awards were presented in six categories. The Green Advocate of the Year is given to a leader who has created change in the field of resource-efficient new home construction over the past year. The Green Advocate was awarded to Tom Hoyt, co-owner of Boulder-based McStain Enterprises. Hoyt has built more than 8,000 homes in Colorado in the last 35 years and was also the recipient of Professional Builder Magazine's 2001 Professional Achievement Award for his efforts in advancing green building in the residential land development and home building industry.

The Green Program of the Year is given to a Home Builders Association, nonprofit group, utility or any other agency with an exemplary green building program that is more than three years old. With 74 active builders and a total of 1,274 homes built and certified under its program in the Atlanta metro area throughout 2003, the Southface Energy Institute's EarthCraft House Program earned this honor. The program has commitments for an additional 1,000 homes in 2004.

The Outstanding Green Product Award is chosen by ballot during the National Green Building Conference and is given to the exhibiting company with a product that has the best potential to advance the cause of resource-efficient home construction. This year's award winner is Santa Fe-based American Clay, LLC, which was recognized at the conference for its product, American Clay Earth Plaster. American Clay Earth Plaster has no VOCs, fillers or additives, and is naturally resistant to mold. Earth Plaster can be reclaimed from buckets and floors, saved, and re-used at a later time.

For more information on the National Green Building Awards and a complete list of this year's winners, visit NAHB's Web site.


Potlatch's Idaho Forests Receive FSC Certification

Forests owned by Potlatch Corporation publicly-traded forest products company headquartered in the U.S. to certify forest management practices under the standards of the internationally-recognized Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer L. Pendleton Siegel said that operations on Potlatch's 668,000 acres in Idaho have been certified under FSC and that the company's Idaho lumber and plywood manufacturing operations will be certified to market FSC-certified products by the third quarter of 2004. The company is also evaluating FSC certification of its forest management practices in Minnesota (320,000 acres) and Arkansas (485,000 acres).

"Potlatch will be in a position to benefit from what appears to be a growing trend toward preferences for certified products, including FSC-certified products, among large building products retailers, secondary manufacturers, architects, contractors and governments at all levels," Siegel stated.

The Potlatch Chief Executive also expressed his praise for the dedicated company foresters who have brought the company to this place in environmental leadership and who will implement this standard on the ground.

Siegel also extended thanks to a number of conservation organizations that have endorsed the company's decision to certify under FSC, including several organizations that participated in a public presentation of the certificate in Spokane. "We are especially indebted to the Gifford Pinchot Institute for Forest Conservation, which hosted the event and was instrumental in our FSC certification." Participants included the National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited, The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, The Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Lands.

To qualify for FSC certification, Potlatch's management practices in Idaho underwent a rigorous audit by Scientific Certification Systems (SCS). The findings in the audit process and Potlatch's willingness to adapt certain practices resulted in Potlatch being awarded the FSC certification.


Comments Wanted on Home Energy Rating Standards

RESNET has spent the last two years in soliciting proposals for changes to the national home energy rating standards, drafting a set of proposed amendments, and vetting the key proposals to the key stake holders. RESNET's Rating Standards Amendment Drafting Committee has completed its work and the amendments to the standard that are being proposed are posted on RESNET's web site. The proposed amendments are divided into the following categories:

  • Amending the Rating Reference Home
  • Rating Quality Assurance Procedures
  • Incorporating Lighting, Appliances, and On-Site Energy Production in the Rating Score
  • Technical Amendments
  • Rating Program Administration Amendments
  • Rater Training Amendments
  • BOP Accreditation Amendment
  • Standard Amendment Process
  • Effective Date of Amendments

RESNET is conducting an on-line public comment process on the proposed amendments through May 15, 2004. Your comments will be posted real-time to RESNET and on the RESNET web site for others to review.


Tour Chernobyl's Dead Zone

Today is the 18th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.  No one actually knows how many died but estimates are from 30,000 to well over 40,000 people lost their lives.
To get a truly unique view of the persistent devastation, visit the online photo journal of Elena's motorcycle ride through the "dead zone" near the nuclear reactor. It's an area 50 miles in every direction from the reactor.  Elena's father is a nuclear physicist, and has been studying the area for the last 18 years. 

She takes you through the deserted streets and buildings of a town near the Chernobyl reactor.  It was once inhabited by by 48,000 people -- now it's a ghost town.  It is truly chilling to look at these pictures -- abandoned fire engines, mailboxes with mail from April 26, 1986.  This area is so radioactive that it will not be inhabitable for around 600 more years. That's 2586 for those of you that are counting.

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