Green Building News

Green Building News September 2005

September 27, 2005

National Solar Tour

On October 1, 2005, thousands of solar-powered homes, schools and businesses across the United States will open their doors and invite the public in for a look. It’s all part of the upcoming National Solar Tour. Interest in affordable, easy to add solar power and energy efficiency is on the rise as fossil fuel prices continue to skyrocket. Solar tours in hundreds of communities attracted tens of thousands of tour takers last year. This year marks the 10th annual National Solar Tour. There will be open houses in 43 states plus the District of Columbia.

Net-Zero House is Affordable, Too

Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver dedicated the ultimate energy-efficient demonstration home: it's designed to produce as much energy as it consumes over the course of a year. The Net-Zero Energy Habitat for Humanity House in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, combines energy-efficient building design that reduces energy consumption with solar heat and power generation technologies that supply the home's remaining energy needs.

As part of DOE's Building America Program, NREL researchers designed the house using the latest research tools. The house features superinsulated walls, floors, and ceilings; efficient appliances; a solar water heating system; heat-recovery ventilation system to assure indoor air quality; compact fluorescent lighting; and windows coated with thin layers of metallic oxide to help keep heat in during the winter and out during the summer. The home's 4-kilowatt photovoltaic system is sized to produce excess energy in the summer to balance out winter consumption.

Midwest Research Institute (MRI) and Battelle sponsored Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver's first net-zero energy home on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). MRI and Battelle manage NREL for DOE. NREL researchers will monitor the performance of the home for one year. This monitoring will be used to determine if the energy features of the home perform as expected and investigate potential improvements on the approach used to achieve zero energy. Additional sponsors of the net zero energy house include the Colorado Governor's Office of Energy Management and Conservation, Xcel Energy, Siemens Building Technologies and Altair Energy.

Report Shows Green Building Costs Lower

A new report on the cost of environmentally-friendly construction shows the initial investment to be significantly lower than some other estimates. According to the report by Air Quality Services, first cost comes in between zero and three percent.

"Clearly, green building is affordable," said Anthony G. Worthan, MPH, AQS president and chief operating officer. "The outlook is even if improvements in people's comfort and productivity are taken into account and green buildings goals are incorporated as early as possible into the design process."

The report is based on a review of major economic studies of buildings designed and constructed to meet LEED Green Building Rating System™ requirements. It addresses the issues most on the minds of those who may have an interest in developing, designing and constructing green buildings, but up to this point have been hesitant.

In addition to concerns about higher first costs and lower returns on investment, the report also takes a look at building commissioning and building flush out, two important strategies for creating healthy indoor environments.

"Many view building commissioning as an optional step that has no economic benefit. If planned and implemented properly, commissioning is an effective way to verify that the planning, design, construction and operation of the building are achieving set goals," Mr. Worthan said.

The studies reviewed found that depending on the size of the project, commissioning costs may range from 0.3% to 4.0% of construction costs. Energy savings (up to 10%) can more than make up for these costs. Commissioning also can realize savings by significantly reducing or even eliminating costly change orders, reducing requests for cost information, ensuring proper system/component selection, improving building systems performance and reducing call backs, the report said.

Flushing out a building with 100% outdoor air for a period of time prior to a building being occupied is an effective way to remove indoor air contaminants, such as volatile organic compounds, formaldehyde, particulates and fungi to name a few examples. While the ideal is to continually flush out a building during construction, it may not be practical for some projects. In these cases, a sound green building practice is to reduce the flush out time to two weeks at the end of the project, the report said.

"The energy costs associated with a two-week flush-out period using 100 percent outside air vary based on building size and ventilation method, but usually run about $0.13 per square foot," said Mr. Worthan.

States Sue Feds over Appliance Standards

State officials are unhappy that the U.S. Department of Energy is dragging its feet on appliance efficiency. Lead by New York Attorney General, Elliot Spitzer, a coalition of fifteen states and the City of New York are suing DOE for failing to set efficiency standards for household appliances as required by law.

A coalition of 15 states led by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer sued the U.S. Energy Department on Wednesday, accusing the agency of failing to set efficiency standards for household appliances that would save enormous amounts of energy.

The states and the city of New York said the DOE violated Congressional mandates to adopt stronger energy-saving standards within deadlines stated by law for a wide range of household and commercial products, including furnaces, water heaters, clothes washers, dryers, air conditioners, dishwashers, heat pumps, motors, ranges, ovens, motors and lamps.

Congress established initial efficiency standards for most of the products, and directed the Department of Energy periodically to review and strengthen them. For the remaining products the Department of Energy is to establish the initial efficiency standards and also periodically strengthen them.

The Department of Energy is six to thirteen years behind schedule and has not adopted any appliance efficiency standards since January 2001.

Spitzer and Peter Lehner, head of the attorney general's environmental bureau, said that updating efficiency standards for appliances such as refrigerators, air conditioners and ovens could reduce U.S. electricity use by the equivalent of 3 percent to 12 percent over 25 years, based on 2002 usage, and the equivalent of the power generated by 13 to 42 power plants.

Members of the coalition are: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin and the City of New York joined the suit.

Oregon Ups Solar Ante

Despite a contentious legislative session, Oregon raised its income tax credit for photovoltaic systems to an unprecedented $6,000 per installation. A tight budget didn't stop the politically divided legislature from passing the new tax law by an overwhelming margin. For the next 10 years, Oregonians who install photovoltaic systems can receive $3 per watt. The total credit is $6,000, but it can be taken only $1,500 per year over four years.

The new tax credits take affect January 1, 2006 and combined with existing utility solar incentives, Oregon promises to remain the leader of solar hot water and the gridtied PV industry in the Northwest, according to the Oregon Solar Energy Industries Association, (OSEIA). Solar in Oregon and the northwest has not been an easy sell, because of it's reputation for incessant rain. However, it's a little known fact that two thirds of Oregon gets as much sunlight as Florida. Even Oregon's least sunny location rivals the best locations in Germany, where photovoltaics installations are booming.

"We like to think the rain keeps our panels cleaner and improves our production of clean PV produced electricity," said Jon Miller Executive Director OSEIA. With another legislative success, Oregon is quietly becoming a leader in the solar industry. OSEIA said that Oregon places fifth in the nation in solar hot water systems and ninth in the nation in a recently released economic activity study from REPP highlighting states that will prosper from the growing solar PV industry.

"Bipartisan support from Oregon Governor Kulongoski and state legislators like Senator Westlund from Bend illustrates how Oregon is taking solar energy seriously," said Jon Miller, executive director of Oregon SEIA chapter. "They recognize that investing in our largest natural resource, solar energy, makes good economic policy."

State solar incentives now include a residential tax credit up to $1,500 for solar thermal, $1,500 for passive solar space heating, and $6,000 for photovoltaics. The Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC) provides up to 35% of installation costs, and the State Energy Loan Program (SELP) can offer low cost financing for projects.

"Federal, State and Energy Trust incentives makes Oregon one of the best supported markets in the United States", said Christopher Dymond, senior energy analyst at the Oregon Department of Energy. "Our state can also use the business energy tax credit to buy down up to 25 percent of the cost of new solar manufacturing facilities - Oregon is without a doubt, open for solar business."


September 1 , 2005

California Approves New Residential Lighting Standards

Changes to California's Title 24 energy standards take effect October 1st. The main thrust of the regulation is to move residential lighting to more efficient light sources, such as fluorescents. Lower efficiency sources are allowed to some degree, but must be automatically controlled by occupancy sensors. Recessed lights must be rated IC (insulation covered) and AT (air tight). The "high-efficacy", which is defined in lumens per watt, requirement can be met with fluorescent lamps (linear or compact) combined with electronic ballasts. Most Energy Star rated products will meet the efficacy requirements, although a few may not. Placing screw-base CFLs in standard light sockets is not allowed, so dedicated pin-based fixtures will be in high demand. Dimmers will be another popular method of meeting the new requirements, because of their lower cost. Occupancy sensors offer another option for use with low-efficacy lights, such as incandescents. Details on the new requirements are available at The Building Industry Institute.

LEED Goes Home

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) recently launched a one year pilot demonstration of its newest green building rating system, LEED for Homes. The Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) for Homes Rating System is a voluntary program that will recognize and reward the top 25 percent of green home builders. New homes built to the LEED standards will be designed and constructed to use less energy, less water and fewer materials. The LEED homes will provide improved indoor air quality through better ventilation and filtration systems design, and improved controls of pollutant sources.

"The residential market is a new area for LEED and USGBC," said Rick Fedrizzi, USGBC President, CEO & Founding Chair. "The homes market is in line with our mission of transforming the built environment on all levels. These LEED homes will help lower operating costs, increase home value, reduce maintenance issues and improve indoor environmental quality."

In a new approach for LEED, the USGBC has created the LEED for Homes Providers who will provide support services to builders of LEED homes during the pilot phase. Providers are local and regional organizations that have been selected to provide technical, marketing and verification support services to builders. Through a highly competitive national process, USGBC selected 12 local Providers for the pilot. These providers were chosen based on their outstanding qualifications and proven experience in supporting builders in the construction of high performance, sustainable homes. Only these select providers will be eligible to work with the builders in the delivery of LEED for Homes during the year-long pilot.

During the pilot phase, the LEED for Homes Providers will also be responsible for selecting the appropriate pilot projects. They will verify that the homes built under the LEED rating system meet the system's requirements. Home builders interested in taking part in the LEED for Homes pilot can submit an application online.

Western Cities More Dense Than Eastern

Out of the 15 most densely populated urban areas, ten of them occur in the West, with Los Angeles leading the density race. San Francisco comes in second, the New York metro area is third, and Washington, D.C. doesn't appear until number 43. Many dense eastern population centers are sprawling around the edges — adding fewer people per acre than western cities hemmed in by topography, water limitations and federal land. Salt Lake City is more tightly packed than Philadelphia. Density isn't necessarily a bad thing when it comes with efficient transportation, protected open space and well-designed shopping areas. Some high-density areas embrace these urban design concepts, sometimes called "new urbanism." Other areas simply cram more people into the same amount of space. Over crowding is a problem in less affluent parts of Los Angeles where garages become illegal apartments and auto traffic strangles neighborhood streets. Read the full story in the Washington Post.

Top Ten Green Architects Named

The editors of Natural Home & Garden magazine made a top-ten list of green architecture firms in North America. According to the editors, these 10 leaders (13 individuals) are shaping the future of home building by designing homes that blend with their sites, provide healthy environments for their owners, and preserve natural resources.

Three of the top-ten architects are headquartered in California, with one representative each from the Northwest, West, Southwest, Midwest, East, South, and Canada. Seven of the 13 architects honored are women; six are men. The list recognizes:

  1. David Arkin and Anni Tilt, Arkin-Tilt Architects, Berkeley, Calif.
  2. Paula Baker-Laporte, Baker-Laporte & Associates, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
  3. Dale Bates, Living Architecture, Ketchum, Idaho.
  4. Darrel DeBoer, DeBoer Architects, Alameda, Calif.
  5. Ken Haggard and Polly Cooper, San Luis Sustainability Group, Santa Margarita, Calif.
  6. Mary Kraus and Laura Fitch, Kraus-Fitch Architects, Amherst, Mass.
  7. Kelly Lerner, One World Design, Spokane, Wash.
  8. Henry Yorke Mann, Oliver, British Columbia.
    (250) 498-4766;
  9. Marley Porter, Living Architecture and Construction Management, Horseshoe Bay, Texas.
    (830) 598-900;
  10. Dan Rockhill, Rockhill and Associates, Lawrence, Kan.

“We think our list shows that there are great leaders of the green building movement across the country,” says Editor in Chief Robyn Griggs Lawrence. “It was a hard process to narrow it down to 10. We’ll revisit the list next year as we make it an annual feature and welcome nominations.”

To select the NH&G list, editors looked at the following criteria:

  • Breadth and depth of experience with a deep history in green building
  • Attention to climate, context, culture, and vernacular
  • Holistic perspective: linking of humans and environment
  • Understanding economics of building; keeping costs down
  • Emphasis on healthy building
  • Understanding of how houses are built and working with builders
  • Attention to occupants' comfort, health, spiritual well-being, and enjoyment

NH&G editors also recognized five green design trailblazers — architects and educators who have led the green design movement.

  1. Pliny Fisk III and Gail Vittori, Austin, Texas. Co-directors of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems. Focus on sustainable community and local economic development.
  2. Bob Berkebile, Kansas City, Miss. Founding chair of the AIA's Committee on the Environment.
  3. William McDonough, Charlottesville, Virg. Communities with economic, ecological, and social responsibility; “cradle to cradle” design.
  4. Sarah Susanka, Raleigh, N. Carolina. Pioneer of “not so big” approach to architecture.
  5. Carol Venolia, Santa Rosa, Calif. EcoDwelling faculty member of New College of California; author of Healing Environments.


National Green Building Award Applications Accepted

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) is now taking submissions from home builders, remodelers, developers, nonprofits, government officials, academics, industry experts and others involved in green building efforts for the 2006 National Green Building Awards.

Entrants in the 2006 National Green Building Awards are eligible to compete in the following award categories:

  • Green Advocate of the Year, recognizes leaders (builders, groups and individuals) whose efforts have resulted in significant change in the field of resource-efficient new home construction over the past year;
  • Green Building Program of the Year, acknowledges home builder associations, municipal governments and other institutions for new (less than three years old) and established (more than three years old) green building programs;
  • Outstanding Green Marketing Program, recognizes companies for the sales and marketing campaign of a product and housing development that best advances the ideals of environmentally friendly, resource-efficient residential construction;
  • Green Project of the Year - Single Family, recognizes companies that incorporate green design and construction methods into attached, detached (affordable and productive) and custom-built/luxury homes;
  • Green Project of the Year - Multifamily, honors companies that develop affordable housing and luxury condos/apartments that use green design and construction practices; and
  • Green Project of the Year - Remodeling, acknowledges companies that modify and improve existing homes (projects valued at more and less than $100,000) using water conservation methods, ventilation systems, energy efficient products and other green techniques.

Awards will be presented at the 2006 National Green Building Conference, March 12-14, in Albuquerque, N.M., and will recognize those who have made a significant contribution to the principles of residential green building.

Information about the awards and applications can be found on NAHB's Web site. Entries must be received by December 23, 2005. A $300 fee is required for entries in all categories except Green Advocate of the Year and Green Program of the Year (New Program).

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