Green Building News

Green Building News January 2005

January 12, 2005

USGBC Panel Recommends Against Credit for Eliminating Vinyl, Draws Fire

A new draft report from the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) PVC Task Group recommends against LEED credit for eliminating vinyl. In a news release, the Vinyl Institute, who was represented in the group, said that "the environmental and health impacts of vinyl used in building products are comparable to those of competing materials." LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is USGBC's rating systems for green buildings and is the most widely used certification system for commercial buildings in the U.S.

The Healthy Building Network, criticized the report. They charge that the review process illustrates how "anti-environmental trade associations have the capacity to set the course of the US green building movement".

The draft rejects, without comment, every analytic approach recommended by environmental health experts and green building professionals, and defers to the Vinyl Institute's insistence upon a discredited statistical analysis known as Risk Assessment. Risk Assessment, famously used by the Tobacco Institute to defend cigarette smoking for a generation, is currently the Bush Administration's weapon of choice in its assault on environmental health standards. The USGBC heads down the same road in concluding that: 'Using current data for LCA [life cycle analysis] and risk assessment . . . our analysis shows that PVC does not emerge as a clear winner or loser.' - Health Building News

Several years ago, while USGBC was developing its product standards, it was proposed that a LEED credit be given for avoiding materials containing PVC (poly-vinyl chloride). The Vinyl Institute, a trade organization representing PVC manufacturers, challenged the credit. USGBC referred the controversial issue to its Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee (TSAC) who formed a technical task group. Established in November 2002, the PVC Task Group has now released the draft Assessment of Technical Basis for a PVC-Related Materials Credit in LEED. Comments are being accepted through the PVC Task Group web page until February 15, 2005.

USGBC's official position is that it neither supports or opposes the use of PVC. The TSAC will review the report and comments, then release a final report later this year.

The task group's action was a political win for the Vinyl Institute, which last year abandoned an effort to remove a similar provision from the State of New York's green building tax credit program. (See Green Building News September 2003 for that story.)

GSA Study Examines Costs for Greening Federal Building

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) commissioned a study to estimate the cost of achieving LEED certification for federal buildings. The report, released in October 2004, provides a detailed review of the hard and soft costs for achieving three levels of LEED certification: Certified, Silver and Gold. Two types of buildings were examined. One was new construction: 262,000 square foot, five-story federal courthouse with a base construction cost of $220/s.f. The other was renovation: 306,000 square foot, nine-story office building with a base construction cost of $130/s.f. A high-cost and low-cost scenario was developed for each building and each certification level resulting in 12 scenarios to bracket the costs.

Hard cost impact for the new courthouse ranged from a reduction of 0.4 percent to an increase of 8.1 percent, while the green premium for the renovation was an increase of 1.4 to 8.2 percent. Soft costs, primarily design and documentation, increased $0.41/s.f. to $0.80/s.f. for new construction and $0.41/s.f. to $0.70/s.f. for the renovation. The report compared the use of outside consultants and reliance on an experienced in-house design team.

The report recommends the following sequential analysis to manage green building costs:

  • Claim LEED credits for all measures already required by GSA guidelines. (The same concept would apply to buildings outside the federal government. For example, building codes may require measures that also contribute LEED points.)
  • Claim LEED credits that can be obtained for little or no cost resulting from site conditions or programmatic requirements.
  • Employ no-cost or minimal-cost measures that carry LEED credits. For example, water efficiency, as well as low-emission paints, adhesives and sealants don't affect project design, but only require product selection and specification.
  • Evaluate moderate to high-cost measures by weighing first cost against return on investment, including lower operating cost, improved employee productivity, community benefits and environmental benefits. Emphasize synergy between measures.

According to the report, performing this analysis early in the design process can guide the design team and help establish realistic goals. Also, designers can better identify challenges that require integrated effort from the full design team. It is these issues, such as daylighting, energy efficiency and storm water management, that often have the greatest impact on cost and performance.

The GSA LEED Cost Study was written by Steven Winter Associates and is available from the Whole Building Design Guide web site.

ACEEE Identifies Promising Building Technologies

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) published a new report, Emerging Energy-Saving Technologies and Practices in the Buildings Sector as of 2004. This analysis reviewed 200 technologies and practices (T&Ps) in order to select those that promise to save at least 0.25% of national electricity use, avoid "lost opportunities" in new construction, rehab, or equipment replacement; or capture important regional opportunities. Short summaries of 66 T&Ps complement text that describes their collective impact.

Of the 66 measures described in the report, the most attractive candidates include two distribution system improvements (leakproof ducts and duct sealing) and two practices (design of high-performance commercial buildings and retrocommissioning). These show particularly high energy savings potential and are also very cost-effective.

"The most promising of these technologies and practices can save this nation hundreds of billions of kilowatt-hours, and all at a cost per saved kilowatt-hour that is far lower than the cost of generating that power", observed Steven Nadel, ACEEE's Executive Director. "The buildings sector is one of the largest in our energy economy, so for our nation, the potential monetary savings are huge, even before taking into account the productivity, energy security, and environmental benefits that will accrue."

West Coast Governors Tackle Global Warming
While the federal government dodges meaningful action on global climate change, the governors of California, Oregon and Washington have taken action on their own. In September 2003, they formed the West Coast Governors' Global Warming Initiative, and staff recommendations have now been released. Increasing energy provisions of building codes and appliance efficiency standards are among the 36 recommendations for action. The action item for building codes calls for "aggressive energy efficiency measures into updates of state building energy codes, with a goal of achieving at least 15 percent cumulative savings by 2015 in each state." Other actions relate to renewable energy generation, increased transportation efficiency and staying abreast of climate change research findings. More information is available from the governors' offices in California, Oregon and Washington.

Agreement Reached on Air-conditioner Efficiency

Air conditioner manufacturers and energy efficiency advocates announced an agreement on consensus federal equipment efficiency standards for air conditioners and heat pumps used in many commercial buildings. If enacted by federal regulators and Congress, it will avoid the need for 25 new power plants. The current federal standard was established by Congress in 1992 and calls for the most common type of equipment to have an Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) of 8.9. Under the agreement, the standard for the most common units will rise to 11.2 EER as of January 1, 2010, a 26 percent improvement in efficiency. In addition, the agreement calls for extending the federal standards program to large package commercial air conditioners and heat pumps (up to 760,000 Btu/hour cooling capacity).

The agreement was negotiated over the last eight months by air conditioner manufacturers, represented by their trade association, the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI), and by energy efficiency supporters, represented by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), a nonprofit organization. Other signatories to the agreement are 12 air conditioner manufacturers, the California Energy Commission, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Alliance to Save Energy, Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships, and the Appliance Standards Awareness Project.

"This agreement represents a win for the environment, for consumers, and for manufacturers," stated William Sutton, President of ARI. "The agreement gives manufacturers regulatory certainty to develop new models for 2010 that will meet both the new efficiency standards and EPA regulations to phase-out the use of HCFC refrigerants that can deplete the ozone layer."

According to ACEEE, the agreement will reduce peak power needs by about 7,400 megawatts by 2020, equivalent to the output of 25 new power plants of 300-MW each. This same analysis found that the agreement will result in net benefits to building owners of about $2.4 billion for commercial air conditioners purchased over the 2010-2030 period, considering the value of the energy savings and subtracting the moderate additional cost of the improved equipment.

"Appliance efficiency standards have been one of the U.S.'s most effective energy-saving policies with the majority of standards developed through consensus negotiations," stated Steven Nadel, Executive Director of ACEEE. "This agreement shows the benefits of working together and we hope and anticipate that additional product efficiency standards can be negotiated in the future," he noted.

The agreement is now being provided to both the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and members of Congress. Many aspects of the agreement can be adopted by DOE but some aspects will require Congressional action. "Given how contentious appliance standard rulemakings can be, I am very happy to hear that a broad segment of energy efficiency advocates and manufacturers have reached agreement on a preferred approach," stated DOE Acting Under Secretary David Garman. "We will give serious consideration to the approach supported by these parties as we review and evaluate all of the comments that are submitted to DOE on the notice of proposed rulemaking," he said.

California Approves New Energy-saving Rules for Appliances

The California Energy Commission approved new regulations to make appliances sold in the state the most energy efficient in the nation.

The new energy standards regulate appliances such as incandescent lamps; audio and video equipment; residential pool pumps and portable electric spas; evaporative coolers; ceiling fans, exhaust fans and whole house fans; commercial ice makers, refrigerators and freezers; vending machines; commercial hot food holding cabinets and water dispensers, among others. The regulations go into effect on a staggered schedule beginning in January 2006.

The new regulations also cover external power supplies, the small transformers that are used to power answering machines, cell and cordless phones, and a host of other small consumer products and small appliances. These devices draw electricity whenever they are plugged in to an electrical socket, even if the product they are powering is not in use.

"Power supplies can waste surprisingly large amounts of electricity around the house," said Energy Commissioner Arthur Rosenfeld. "Informally known as 'energy vampires,' their efficiency varies greatly. Some models draw only one-fifth of a watt to do the same job other models use three watts to do. These new regulations will prevent that sort of needless waste."

The Energy Commission estimates that the average California household has between 10 and 20 external power supplies that cost the homeowner as much as $75 in wasted electricity each year.

States are allowed to regulate appliances not covered by national standards. The federal government has already adopted energy efficiency standards for residential refrigerators, clothes washers, dishwashers and other appliances once covered by state regulation. None of the appliances in today's ruling are federally regulated.

Groups Join Forces to Build 8,500 Affordable Houses

The Green Communities Initiative is a five-year, $550 million commitment to build more than 8,500 environmentally-friendly, affordable homes across the country . The initiative will offer financing, grants and technical assistance to developers to build affordable housing that promotes health, conserves energy and natural resources and provides easy access to jobs, schools and services.

The Green Communities Initiative is a partnership of the Natural Resources Defense Council and The Enterprise Foundation, along with the American Institute of Architects, the American Planning Association, and top corporate, financial and philanthropic organizations. Over time, the initiative hopes to transform the way Americans think about, locate, design and build affordable homes.

"Too many Americans live in unhealthy, inefficient and poorly sited housing that hinders them from reaching their full potential," said Bart Harvey, chairman and CEO of The Enterprise Foundation and chairman of ESIC. "Enterprise and NRDC have forged an unprecedented alliance of housing, health and environmental organizations -- supported by visionary corporate institutions and foundations -- to ensure smarter, healthier homes are available to Americans with limited incomes."

"Building affordable green housing is not a new concept, but Green Communities will broaden the ongoing efforts of developers, states and cities and make it mainstream," said Patricia Bauman, vice chair of NRDC's board of trustees. "We will assist developers that are already building green housing and encourage hundreds more to come on board. Our project will make thousands of affordable green developments bloom."

The initiative also will provide expert training and technical assistance to help housing developers "go green." For example, it will provide or help arrange technical assistance and training with experienced consultants, as well as fund planning activities for green projects -- such as feasibility analyses and market studies -- and initial architectural, engineering and environmental reviews.

In addition, the Green Communities Initiative will encourage government agencies at the local, state and federal level to "green" their affordable housing programs. For example, Enterprise, NRDC and other partners will work with state agencies to dedicate a significant portion of their federal housing tax credits to healthy, energy-efficient affordable housing sited near public transportation or vital services.

One of green housing's major selling points is that it means healthier homes. "For many families, asthma, injuries and lead poisoning are just symptoms of the underlying problem," said Dr. Megan Sandel, a nationally recognized expert on housing's impact on children's health at the Boston University School of Medicine. "Inadequate housing is the real disease. Safe, decent affordable housing is the best preventive medicine low-income families can get. This initiative will ensure that thousands of homes and the children that reside in them are safer and healthier."

Ohio Store Becomes First LEED Supermarket

Supermarket retailer Giant Eagle, Inc. today became the nation's first grocer to operate a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified supermarket. The 80,000 square foot supermarket in Northeastern Ohio is the first supermarket to earn an environmentally-friendly designation. The LEED designation builds on the company's commitment to responsible resource use, as it was recognized in February as a 2004 ENERGY STAR Retail Partner of the Year by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for adopting smart and efficient energy practices.

"Becoming the first LEED-certified supermarket underscores the importance of being an environmentally responsible member of the communities we serve," said Giant Eagle Vice President of Marketing Kevin Srigley. "It is a continuation of our pledge to understand the environmental issues that we all face and to adopt appropriate practices to meet those challenges. Our conservation department continues to pursue alternative sources of energy and conservation initiatives." When building its supermarket, Giant Eagle implemented the following environmentally-friendly features:

  • The consumption of 30 percent less energy than comparable supermarkets, with more than 50 percent of the location's electrical energy supplied through wind generation.
  • 50 skylights integrated with electrical lighting sensors, which automatically adjust the amount of electric light supplied depending on the light generated by the skylight.
  • Air quality sensors to monitor for carbon dioxide and other gases to ensure fresh, clean air throughout the entire store.
  • The absence of ozone-depleting refrigerants in the refrigeration and cooling systems.
  • Natural filtration of parking lot storm water into the adjacent marshland.
  • Water conserving equipment that will save more than 100,000 gallons per year.
  • Drought-resistant plants and trees that require no irrigation other than natural rainfall, resulting in a savings of approximately 400,000 gallons of water each year.
  • A green housekeeping program that uses environmentally responsible cleaning products.
  • A white, reflective roof and increased insulation to allow the building to cool and heat easier.
  • A child learning and activity center, for children ages 3-9, features furniture made of particle board using pressed sunflower seeds.
  • Cabinetry made of recycled strawboard.
  • Gypsum wallboard made of 100 percent recycled materials.
  • Adhesives, sealants, paints, carpeting and wood products that are low in volatile organic compounds.

"A great deal of time, talent and resources went into making our Brunswick concept a reality," added Giant Eagle director of conservation Jim Lampl. "We already are implementing many of these features into our new supermarkets for the benefit of our employees and customers."

ENERGY STAR Adds Power Adapters to Labeling program

If the approximately 1.5 billion power adapters that connect cell phones, digital cameras, answering machines, camcorders and countless other gadgets to wall outlets used less power, Americans could save billions of dollars on their electric bills. Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that the ENERGY STAR label is now available for external power adapters that meet EPA’s newly established energy efficiency guidelines.

Power adapters, also known as external power supplies, recharge or power many electronic products -- PDAs, MP3 players and other electronics and appliances. As many as 1.5 billion power adapters are in use in the United States -- about five for every American.

In the United States, more efficient adapters have the potential to save more than 5 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy per year and prevent the release of more than 4 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions the equivalent of taking 800,000 cars off the road.

Power adapters are devices that convert AC (alternating current) power from a wall outlet into DC (direct current) power that is used to power electronic products. Adapters are crucial to the operation of virtually all small electronic devices, yet they tend to be very inefficient. In the United States alone, total electricity flowing through external and internal power supplies is about 207 billion kWh/year, equal to about $17 billion a year, or six percent of the national electric bill. On average, ENERGY STAR-qualified power adapters will be 35 percent more efficient.

EPA is promoting the most efficient adapters since they are commonly bundled with so many of today's most popular consumer electronic and information technology products. Sales of these products continue to show explosive growth worldwide. If this trend continues, the energy use from consumer electronics and small appliances could account for almost 30 percent of a typical home’s electricity bill by 2010. By comparison, the average household today spends 45 percent of its energy bill on heating and cooling, and just six percent to continuously run a refrigerator. Encouraging the use of more efficient power adapters will help stem this growing energy consumption.

Consumers will soon be able to purchase a variety of products, such as cell phones, PDAs, digital cameras, camcorders, that are shipped or sold with ENERGY STAR qualified power adapters. Eventually, these new efficient adapters will be incorporated into a wide spectrum of products including laptops, cordless phones, and office equipment, as well as other products and as replacement adapters sold separately. Products with qualified adapters will be identified by the ENERGY STAR label on product packaging, literature, or store displays.

Companies working with EPA include Phihong, Lite On and Bias Power. These power adapter manufacturers alone account for more than 22 percent of the current power supply market. EPA is also working with Hewlett-Packard, Samsung Telecommunications America and Panasonic.

EPA first announced draft efficiency guidelines and testing procedures for power adapters at the electronics conference in Anaheim, Calif., in February 2004. EPA finalized the guidelines in December 2004.

For more information, visit ENERGY STAR's external power adapters page.

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