Green Building News

Green Building News August 2004

August 26, 2004

Study Finds Little Extra Cost for Building Green

If there is a cost premium to sustainable construction, it's far less than what many people have been assuming. This is one conclusion of a recent study conducted by Lisa Fay Matthiessen and Peter Morris of Davis Langdon Adamson (DLA), an international management construction firm. The study is titled, "Costing Green: A Comprehensive Cost Database and Budgeting Methodology".

Using an extensive database of DLA projects, Matthiessen and Morris compared the cost of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) projects and those not pursuing LEED certification. They normalized for other significant construction factors, building type, location, climate, local standards, market conditions, building size, etc. The result was “no statistically significant difference between the LEED population and the non-LEED population..”

More than half the LEED projects identified no specific budget for many features that ultimately accumulated LEED credits, except for high-cost features, such as photovoltaics.

The authors conclude that many projects can achieve sustainable design within the existing budget, or with a very small supplemental budget. The best way to budget for sustainable features, according to Matthiessen and Morris, is to set project goals and then budget for them accordingly. If green features are perceived as "extras" then the costs will also be considered above the norm. Making green construction as fundamental as plumbing will tend to bring the project cost in line with comparable structures.


ASES Honors Bainbridge as Passive Solar Pioneer

David Bainbridge was an early proponent of straw bale building, a technique that provides the super-insulation needed for high-performance solar buildings at a modest cost. Because of these advantages, straw bale buildings in Mongolia are now providing energy savings in excess of 80 percent and the technique is catching on worldwide.

Bainbridge, associate professor at the US International College of Business at Alliant International University (AIU), was honored for his work by the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) with their Passive Solar Pioneer Award. The award recognizes innovative work on environmentally responsive buildings and direct use of solar energy for ventilation, heating, cooling and lighting.

Bainbridge is a prolific author and researcher who consulted widely for commercial and residential builders.

"In the 1970's we thought it was about energy," he said. "Now we know that it's really about comfort and productivity. Occupants love environmentally responsive buildings. People who live in them stay healthier, work harder and are more secure. The commercial and industrial paybacks can often be measured in months rather than years."

In his sustainable management courses at AIU's US International College of Business (USICB), Bainbridge introduces students to what he calls "the world's only safe nuclear reactor" - the sun. In his popular solar lab, students wrestle with window placement, orientation, thermal mass, and insulation as they construct, monitor, and refine a model solar home. After completing this course they are no longer the 'barbarians' that the Greek writer Aeschylus described, "Though they had eyes to see, they saw to no avail… They lacked the knowledge of houses… turned to face the sun… "

"It is just a matter of time before all new homes and buildings will be designed to suit their local environment and utilize solar energy," Bainbridge predicts. "We have seen the peak of world oil production, and we are starting to count the true cost of our energy choices. As accounting improves, we will move to cost-effective techniques that directly use the sun in solar daylighting, natural ventilation, natural cooling, and natural heating. In most cases, it is possible to do this at no additional cost."

A study by the Davis Energy Group, which built an optimized tract home, showed that solar energy could actually cost less than a traditionally built home. A solar home that cost less to build reduced seasonal heating and cooling bills by 70%, while one costing slightly more to build reduced energy use for heating and cooling more than 90%.

Propelled by economics, concerns about global warming and more attractive buildings, attitudes are changing -- but perhaps not fast enough. While the Green Building Council's membership has leapt from 300 to 4,000 in just over four years, Bainbridge worries that "a complex set of perverse economic incentives still encourage most builders to do the wrong thing. The underlying reasons are short-term profit and widespread ignorance about passive solar applications."

"One of the obstacles is the fact that environmentally responsive buildings are too simple to build. They require no special materials or equipment," Bainbridge explains. "Often design alone can create the desired savings and comfort, but this means that there is no marketing drive to adopt this approach. Instead we see millions spent on solar technology that is much less cost effective - although it's still desirable."

Thus, the construction industry has gotten a slow start. With an investment of less than 0.5 percent in research and development, it lags far behind other industries' pace of innovation: electronics invests 4-7 percent, semiconductors invest 11-14 percent and biotechnology invests 13-15 percent.

"In the 1950's one of the champions of solar design and development was the Libby Owens Ford glass company," notes Bainbridge. "Today it should be Anderson, Marvin, Republic, and the other window manufacturers; but they have not yet picked up the ball. This will change; and I know that my students will be part of that change. I remain committed to changing the way the world builds. I hope to return to a meeting of the American Solar Energy Society in 25 years to see one of them receiving this same award."


Soy Adhesive Developed for Wood

Researchers from Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) in Madison, Wis., a unit of the USDA Forest Service, collaborated with researchers from Heartland Resource Technologies of Oelwein, Iowa to create a low cost, durable product that is more environmentally friendly than today's petroleum-based adhesives.

A look into the past of wood adhesives gave researchers a clue to the future of the product.

Soy-based glues were popular in the early 20th century and worked well in plywood panels, as long as they were kept dry. But the poor water resistance of the soy-based adhesives limited their use to internal applications. This factor led to their almost complete replacement by petroleum-based adhesives, which were superior in durability and offered a lower cost. Since the transition, petroleum-based glues have dominated the markets.

The recent increase in the price of petroleum has made soy-based glues an attractive alternative if previous limitations can be overcome. Charles Frihart, Supervisory Research Chemist at FPL, and James Wescott, Chief Operations and Technical Officer of Heartland Resource Technologies, decided to study soy as an adhesive and see if they could improve upon old formulations.

"The purpose of this project was to see if we could build on the advantageous properties of soy and overcome its main deficiency of failing when wet," said Wescott.

In order to do this, the two decided to look at the project from a new angle.

"Although soy research isn't new, our approach is different," said Frihart. "We took a very scientific, systematic approach to understanding the chemistry of soy adhesives. Others have looked at how much soy can be added to an adhesive. We're looking at making soy an integral part of the network that actually gives strength to the material."

Researchers developed several formulations of soy and phenol hybrid adhesives and used them in the face section of strandboard.

"We were able to create an adhesive that was up to 75 percent soy, with the remainder being phenol and formaldehyde, that proved to be very durable," said Wescott. Not only does this adhesive use much less petroleum-based phenol than a standard adhesive, but it also uses less natural gas-based formaldehyde.

The adhesive performs just as well as those available today, and can be manufactured using a process very similar to what manufacturers currently employ.

It provides several environmental benefits as well. In addition to reducing the amount of petroleum in the product, soy-based adhesives put an underused resource to work. According to Wescott, soy is grown and harvested primarily for its oil. Once the oil is extracted, the remaining flour, or soy meal, is used as animal feed. Soy flour is used to create this adhesive, thereby creating a higher value product from a low value material.

"This is a feel good project," said Wescott. "Environmentally and economically, this is the right way to go."

Frihart and Wescott credit the success of this project to the strong partnership between FPL and Heartland Resource Technologies. This partnership is a shining example of a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, or CRADA, which allows government agencies to work with private industry toward a common goal.


Therma-stor Announces Pool and Spa Humidity Controller

Therma-stor's new Vehere pool and spa dehumidifier removes as much as 192 pound of water per day and moves up to 540 cubic feet per minute of dry air. The corrosion resistant, stainless steel enclosure holds a high-accuracy humidity sensor and low-noise fan. The compact refrigeration system reduces manufacturing and operational cost -- drawing only 12 amps at 115 volts. The Vehere solves moisture-related problems in homes and businesses using Therma-stor's FOCUS technology.


Crystal Tower Rises over Manhattan

The Durst Organization has broken ground on the construction of the Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park, a 945-foot-tall crystalline skyscraper that will rise in Midtown Manhattan. Located on the west side of Sixth Avenue, between 42nd and 43rd Street, the high-rise office tower is scheduled to open in 2008.

"The new Tower -- which will stand as one of the world's most environmentally responsible high-rise buildings -- is a shining example of how you can create jobs while also protecting the environment," Governor Pataki said. "I want to commend the Bank of America and The Durst Organization for their commitment to New York."

According to Durst, the tower will be the world's most environmentally responsible high-rise office building and the first to strive for the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum designation. The project incorporates innovative, high-performance technologies to use dramatically less energy, consume less potable water and provide a healthy and productive indoor environment that prioritizes natural light and fresh air.

With an emphasis on sustainability, water efficiency, indoor environmental quality, and energy and atmosphere, the Bank of America Tower will be constructed largely of recycled and recyclable building materials. It will feature a wide range of sophisticated environmental technologies, from filtered under-floor displacement air ventilation to advanced double-wall technology and translucent insulating glass in floor-to-ceiling windows that permit maximum daylight and optimum views. It also will include a state-of- the-art onsite 4.6-megawatt cogeneration plant, providing a clean, efficient power source for the building's energy requirements.

The Bank of America Tower will save millions of gallons of water annually through such innovative devices such as a gray-water system to capture and reuse all rain and wastewater, while planted roofs will reduce the urban heat island effect. Taking advantage of heat energy from the cogeneration plant, a thermal storage system will produce ice in the evenings, which will reduce the building's peak demand loads on the city's electrical grid. Daylight dimming and LED lights will reduce electric usage while carbon dioxide monitors automatically introduce more fresh air when necessary. By fundamentally changing the way buildings are conceived, Bank of America Tower will lead the change in the way high-rise buildings are built.


Energy Star Targets New Commercial Buildings

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expanding the ENERGY STAR program to include commercial new construction.

Architecture firms will now be able to distinguish projects that have been designed to be among the most efficient buildings in the country as “Designed to Earn the ENERGY STAR.”   


BetterBricks Award Nominations Due Soon

The second annual BetterBricks Awards honor the people responsible for the design and development of sustainable, high performance, commercial buildings. These buildings are better for business, people and the environment. Judging will be based on a body of recent work and a demonstrated commitment to high performance building concepts. The top professionals in each category, from Oregon and Southwest Washington, will be honored for their work at the awards luncheon and in a special Portland Business Journal publication. Nomination applications are due September 10, 2004.

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