Green Building News

Green Building News November 2005

November 14, 2005

New Duct-sealing Law Could Save Homeowners Big Bucks this Fall

When Greta Ossman climbed into her attic to install some wiring last summer, she discovered why the energy bills for her Sacramento home had been so expensive.

"Someone, sometime, had knelt on my main heating and cooling duct," Greta explained. "You could see the knee-print on the crushed duct, and it had pulled away from the connector. All this cold air I needed in the house was spilling into the attic."

After the leaking duct was repaired, Greta's electricity bill fell substantially, and her home was much more comfortable.

A new California law, now in effect, will make it easier for homeowners to discover such energy-wasting problems.

Beginning October 1, 2005, homeowners living in most of California who install or replace a central furnace or air conditioner must have their ductwork — those flexible tubes that carry the conditioned air throughout the house — tested for leaks. Duct systems that leak 15 percent or more must be sealed to reduce the leaks.

"In most of California, the greatest use of energy is for air conditioning and heating," said California Energy Commission Vice Chair Jackalyne Pfannenstiel. "New air conditioners and furnaces are much more energy efficient and will save you money. It makes no sense to invest in a new air conditioner or furnace, however, unless you are sure that your ducts are working properly and the conditioned air is actually going to get to the rooms.

Often that air winds up in the attic or under the house instead of where it's needed. According to independent research, the duct system in the average California home leaks around 30 percent. That means 30 cents of every heating or cooling dollar is wasted, and the figure can be worse — poorly sealed ducts that leak 70 percent or more are not uncommon.

In most parts of the state, homeowners need a permit to replace or install furnaces or air conditioners. Under the new law, once a contractor installs the equipment, he or she must test the ducts and fix any leaks that are found. Then an approved third-party field verifier must check to make sure the duct sealing complies with the requirements. The homeowner can choose whether the field verifier checks the ducts in the homeowner's house, or their house is included in a random sample where one in seven homes have their duct systems checked.

"Simply put, this new law means that homeowners will now know if their ductwork is properly delivering the benefits of that new compressor or furnace, and not just dumping heated or cooled air into the attic," said Vice Chair Pfannenstiel.

The Energy Commission estimates that duct testing and sealing should cost homeowners, on average, about $660, although the price will vary depending on the condition of the ductwork. The resulting energy savings will more than pay for the added cost, and the benefits of the new law will become even more important this winter; Hurricane Katrina severely damaged important natural gas fields in the Gulf Coast. As a result, natural gas is in tight supply around the country. The United States Department of Energy predicts natural gas prices could increase as much as 70 percent this winter; in California, natural gas utilities are predicting increases upwards of 40 percent.

"During the California energy crisis of 2000 and 2001, some homeowners reported bills of $200 to $300 per month, just for natural gas," said Vice Chair Pfannenstiel. "With utility bills, unlike the posted prices at the gas pump, you don't see the cost on your bill until a month or two later. By the time you get the bill, it's too late to conserve."

More information on "the Changeout law" is available on the California Energy Commission's website.

Quad-Lock adds to Product Line with Plus-FS Panel

Quad-Lock Building Systems Ltd. announces a new Plus Panel that includes a Fastening Strip (FS Strip). The new 4.25 inches Quad-Lock Plus Panel is 2 inches thicker than our regular panel and was developed to produce even greater savings on heating and cooling costs. Using a regular pair of Quad-Lock panels provides an R-Value of R-22; this can be extended to R-32 or R-40 with the use of the Quad- Lock Plus Panels.

“A logical extension of these panels is to have an FS Strip available in them so that a variety of exterior finishes can be easily used,” remarked Hubert Max Kustermann, CEO for Quad-Lock. "With this new product, Quad-Lock is offering the widest product range of the industry: three different R-values, four different ICF panels that can be combined for ten different wall configurations, and five different concrete cavities. The Quad-Lock building system can adapt to any architectural design, energy savings requirement and structural engineering.

This new product answered a request from Tony Vizza of Robson Valley Home Hardware. As Quad-Lock’s authorized dealer, Tony needed a solution for the new Recreational Hall and Convention Centre being built in the northern community of McBride, B.C. This multi-use building is being designed by Architect Thaddeus D. Young. The McBride Recreation Hall will be built on the same site as the Robson Valley Recreation Centre.

“The versatility of Quad-Lock ICF was a real draw for us” says Dale Stephens former resident and Project Coordinator with Anderson Greenplan “because we can use a forming configuration that will realize an R-Value of R-32, we know we will have significant heating and cooling cost savings. We have 20-foot high walls that we can make visually stunning by incorporating a number of different finishes – that’s why the Plus FS panel was of particular interest for this project.”

ICF construction is gaining momentum over other building methods because of its unparalleled comfort, energy efficiency and safety ratings.

“Insulation values, product availability, ease of construction and exterior finishes were concerns for our team, we found that Quad- Lock had all the answers for us” commented Mike Monroe, Regional District of Fraser-Fort George, Area H Director.

This facility will be a venue for sporting and non-sporting events. Key to the development is the exploration of environmentally friendly options that will reduce ongoing operating costs and have the potential for federal government funding. In the long term, the community can market the building for retreats, conferences and conventions.

University of Colorado Wins 2005 Solar Decathlon

U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman today announced that the University of Colorado took overall honors in the 2005 Solar Decathlon on the National Mall. Cornell University placed second, and California Polytechnic State University finished third.

“We should all be proud of what these students have accomplished,” Energy Secretary Bodman said. “Through their ingenuity, their knowledge of design and engineering, and an incredible amount of determination and hard work, they have demonstrated that we can have it all—beautiful homes, comfortable homes, and homes that produce all the power they need.”

The University of Colorado ended up with 853 points of a possible 1,100. Cornell University earned 826 points, and California Polytechnic State University finished with 809 points.

The 2005 Solar Decathlon pitted 18 collegiate teams from the U.S. including Puerto Rico, Canada and Spain in a competition to design, build and operate the most attractive and energy-efficient solar-powered home. Students competed in 10 areas, ranging from architecture, livability and comfort to how well the homes provide energy for space heating and cooling, hot water, lighting, and appliances. Each house also had to produce enough “extra” power for an electric car.

The primary sponsor of the Solar Decathlon is DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Private-sector sponsors include the American Institute of Architects, the National Association of Home Builders, BP Solar, the DIY (Do It Yourself) Network and Sprint Nextel.

Pennsylvania Advances Efficiency, Renewable Energy, and Biodiesel

October was a busy month for Pennsylvania: Since mid-month, the state awarded 87 energy grants, offered clean energy financing, and helped dedicate two new energy projects. Pennsylvania awarded 97 grants totaling $488,830 to small businesses, mainly for energy efficiency improvements and for installing auxiliary power units in trucks to reduce idling, which wastes fuel and causes unnecessary pollution. Three grants were awarded to solar and wind energy systems, and about 10 others went to projects not related to energy. The state also requested applications for financing to support wind, solar, biomass, and other energy projects. The Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority is providing $3.5 million for grants, loans, or loan guarantees, and applications are due November 15th. In addition, the state marked two projects that were financed in part by its Energy Harvest Program: a landfill gas project that not only generates power, but also sells treated landfill gas to three local manufacturers for use in their boilers, and a biodiesel facility at a fuel terminal that precisely blends the fuel with diesel fuel.

And that's not all: The Sustainable Development Fund (SDF) is offering about $2 million in grants to support new wind power projects in the state. The wind projects must begin commercial operation by the end of next year, and once the SDF determines the total grant for each project, it will be doled out at a rate of 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour of wind power generated. Applications are due by November 23rd. Created by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission when PECO Energy was restructured, the SDF lends within the PECO Energy's five-county service territory.

Two 500-Kilowatt Solar Power Systems Installed in New Jersey

New Jersey appears to be the newest hot spot for large-scale solar power installations, as two companies recently installed 500-kilowatt solar power systems in the state. Dome-Tech Solar designed and built the first system for New Jersey American Water (NJAW) using RWE Schott solar panels. Located at the utility's Canal Road water treatment plant in Somerset, the system should displace 15 percent of the plant's peak power demand, saving about $125,000 a year in energy costs. The second project, installed at a Johnson & Johnson facility in Skillman, is slightly larger, at 505 kilowatts. The PowerLight system uses sun tracking to capture 20 percent more solar energy than would a fixed array of solar panels.

Solar power is taking off in New Jersey because of generous state incentives. Each of two new solar power projects earned a $1.9 million rebate through the state's Clean Energy program, which is administered by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU). With the help of the incentives, New Jersey recently recorded its 750th solar project since 2001, and the number of companies engaging in solar initiatives has grown from just a handful in 1993 to more than 100 today. With a significant number of applications pending, the state plans to approve rebates for hundreds more solar power systems in the coming months. The NJBPU has also launched a green power program, which started on October 1st for the state's largest utilities—Public Service Electric and Gas Company and Jersey Central Power and Light—and will expand to Atlantic City Electric and Rockland Electric Company in April 2006.

Green Buildings: Good for Business

A new study of greener buildings reveals a clear link between the market value of real estate and its environmental friendliness. Buildings are responsible for 40 percent of greenhouse gases being pumped into the earth’s atmosphere, which are considered a major contributor to climate change.

But while tenants of green buildings can enjoy the benefits of a more comfortable and productive working environment, the owners and developers of commercial real estate have been harder to persuade of the business advantages of green buildings.

The international study, Green Value, published October 24 was led by RICS in partnership with 10 government and private sector organizations, and finds that green buildings can:

  • Earn higher rents and prices
  • Attract tenants and buyers more quickly
  • Cut tenant turnover
  • Cost less to operate and maintain
  • Benefit occupiers

The report highlights how green buildings could make money if there was greater recognition of the extra staff productivity that green features or strategies bring.

But it also recognizes that there needs to be more green buildings if their true value and potential are to be maximized.

The study calls on property industry groups – real estate valuers and appraisers, the financial sector and the green building lobby - to work together to identify and promote the hidden value of green buildings so that their market value can become a serious consideration for the hard-nosed landlord, developer and investor.

RICS spokesman, Chris Corps, said:

“This research shows that the interests of business and the environment can converge. The property and construction industries have to play their part in tackling climate change, and this work on green buildings shows the way ahead can be profitable. It especially shows that green buildings are good for occupiers.”

Energy Department Issues New Appliance Efficiency Standards

A final rule to codify fifteen energy efficiency standards for residential appliances and commercial equipment has been published in the Federal Register today. These standards were established as part of the comprehensive energy bill signed by President Bush on August 8, 2005.

The rule announced addresses the following items for which the Energy Policy Act of 2005 required certain standards: fluorescent lamp ballasts; ceiling fans and ceiling fan light kits; illuminated exit signs; torchieres; low-voltage dry-type distribution transformers; traffic signal modules and pedestrian modules; unit heaters; medium base compact fluorescent lamps; dehumidifiers; commercial prerinse spray valves; mercury vapor lamp ballasts; commercial package air conditioning and heating equipment; commercial refrigerators, freezers, and refrigerator-freezers; automatic commercial ice makers; and commercial clothes washers.

The Department of Energy (DOE) is continuing its work to increase the transparency and speed of the Appliance Standards process. The Appliance Standards Program, a part of DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, manages test procedures and energy conservation standards for consumer products and commercial equipment.

Consumer can visit for easy ways to save energy, including the use of Energy Star® appliances.

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