Green Building News

Green Building News February 2006

February 20, 2006

EPA Studies Equate Higher-Density Development With Water Protection

The U.S. Census Bureau projects that U.S. population will grow by 50 million people, or approximately 18 percent, between 2000 and 2020. To deal with the stormwater runoff resulting from this population growth, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week released four new smart growth publications:

1. Protecting Water Resources with Higher-Density Development
2. Using Smart Growth Techniques as Stormwater Best Management Practices
3. Growing Toward More Efficient Water Use: Linking Development, Infrastructure, and Drinking Water Policies
4. Parking Spaces / Community Places: Finding the Balance through Smart Growth Solutions

The study detailed in "Protecting Water Resources with Higher-Density Development" intends to help communities better understand the impacts of higher and lower density on water resources. The EPA modeled stormwater runoff from three different densities at three scales - one-acre level, lot level, and watershed level - and at three different time series build-outs to examine the premise that lower-density development is always better for water quality.

The findings indicated that "low-density development may not always be the preferred strategy for protecting water resources. Higher densities may better protect water quality - especially at the lot level and watershed scale," the EPA said. The study found that higher-density scenarios generate less storm water runoff per house at all scales - one acre, lot, and watershed - and time series build-out examples. For the same amount of development, the EPA says, higher-density development produces less runoff and less impervious cover than low-density development. For a given amount of growth, the agency found, lower-density development impacts more of the watershed.

But this is one of the more controversial areas in water quality. Some stormwater professionals take issue with these findings, saying that increasing density does not protect water resources. Instead, they advise, the most effective way to protect water quality is to reduce the amount of runoff from a site with the use of measures such as bio-swales, cisterns, porous paving, dry wells, green roofs, and native landscaping.

To comply with the Clean Water Act, over 6,000 communities across the nation are developing municipal stormwater permitting programs, also known as Phases I & II. Many of these communities are also implementing programs that encourage development in existing communities, redevelopment of vacant properties, promote transportation options and facilitate efficient use of land and infrastructure.

"Using Smart Growth Techniques as Stormwater Best Management Practices" reviews nine common smart growth techniques and examines how they can be used to prevent or manage stormwater runoff. The EPA says this publication will help communities encourage smart growth and meet the new regulatory requirements.

The publication, "Growing Toward More Efficient Water Use: Linking Development, Infrastructure, and Drinking Water Policies" focuses on the relationship between development patterns, water use, and the cost of water delivery. It reviews literature that shows how large-lot, dispersed development patterns cost more to serve because of the length of pipe required, pumping costs, and other factors. The literature reviewed shows how large-lot, dispersed development uses more water than smaller lot, higher density development.

This publication concludes with policy options for states, localities, and utilities that directly reduce the cost and demand for water, while indirectly promoting smart growth. These policies offer opportunities for more efficient water use at a time when many communities face water shortages due to drought.

"Parking Spaces / Community Places: Finding the Balance through Smart Growth Solutions" highlights approaches that balance parking with broader community goals. Current codes typically apply inflexible minimums that ignore community and developer priorities including environmental quality and human health. An oversupply of unnecessary parking wastes money and creates places that degrade water quality and encourage excess driving and air emissions.

The highlighted solutions cover a range of supply management, demand management, and pricing strategies. Communities have found that combinations of parking pricing, shared parking, demand management, and other techniques have helped them create vibrant places while protecting environmental quality and still providing for necessary vehicle storage.

For free hard copies of any of these publications, send an e-mail to or call 1-800-490-9198.

California PUC Creates Groundbreaking Solar Energy Program

The California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has created the largest solar program of its kind in any state in the country - the California Solar Initiative, a 10-year, $2.9 billion program designed to help California move toward a cleaner energy future and help bring the costs of solar electricity down for California consumers. The goal of the program is to increase the amount of installed solar capacity on rooftops in the state by 3,000 MW by 2017.

The California Solar Initiative includes the following provisions:

  • $2.9 billion over a 10-year period in rebates that will decline steadily over that same timeframe. Funds will come from electric and gas distribution customers of investor-owned utilities, and will go toward the installation of solar photovoltaics initially, with solar hot water heating and solar heating and cooling systems being added after workshops are conducted later this year.
  • The California Energy Commission (CEC) will oversee one component of the program to focus on builders and developers of new housing, to encourage solar installations in the residential new construction market. The PUC will oversee the remainder and majority of the California Solar Initiative, which will cover existing residential housing, as well as existing and new commercial and industrial properties.
  • The program sets aside 10 percent of program funding for low-income customers and affordable housing installations. The PUC will also explore the option of offering low-cost financing options to those types of installations in workshops this year.
  • The program includes an additional amount of up to 5 percent of the annual budget for potential research, development, and demonstration activities, with emphasis on the demonstration of solar and solar-related technologies.
  • The program includes a requirement that solar incentive payments be made not just for installed capacity, but also with emphasis on the performance and output of the solar systems installed, to ensure that these solar investments are delivering clean energy as promised.
  • The program design requires all facilities that receive an incentive to undergo an energy efficiency audit (at a minimum) to identify more cost-effective energy efficiency investment options at the building. The PUC also intends to have further workshops to determine incentives for newly constructed buildings that participate in utility energy efficiency new construction programs and exceed the existing building standards by a certain threshold.

"We are taking an important step today to lay out a framework for an orderly, 10-year approach to creating a sustainable solar industry. Our hope is that solar will become a major part of California's energy portfolio, to provide clean and inexpensive distributed generation to millions of California consumers," said President Peevey. "Our plan is to offer a subsidy now to push the deployment of an important part of our sustainable energy future in the long-run. This solar program simply offers one of the many emerging alternatives to consumers concerned about a clean energy future."

Energy-Efficient, Environmentally Safe Buildings Win Recognition

ENERGY STAR® status was conferred on more than 2500 office buildings, schools, hospitals, and public buildings for superior energy and environmental performance in 2005 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The buildings, representing 482 million square feet, are saving an estimated $349 million annually in lower energy bills while meeting industry standards for comfort and indoor air quality. The buildings are preventing 1.8 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to emissions from 540,000 vehicles.

Commercial buildings account for more than 17 percent of our nation's greenhouse gas emissions. ENERGY STAR-qualified buildings generally use up to 40 percent less energy than typical buildings. Building owners earn the ENERGY STAR by scoring in the top 25 percent on EPA's energy performance rating system. Scores are based on actual energy use.

Among the top performing buildings are 1007 office buildings, 501 public schools and 834 grocery stores. More than 200 hotels, hospitals, medical offices, and other buildings also earned the ENERGY STAR.

Food Lion leads the list as owner of the most ENERGY STAR buildings. Top-performing buildings are found in every state in the nation and the District of Columbia. The most ENERGY STAR buildings are located in California, Texas, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, and Ohio.

ENERGY STAR is a government-backed program helping businesses and consumers protect the environment through superior energy efficiency. More than 7,000 organizations partner with EPA in the ENERGY STAR program. In 2004 alone, Americans, with the help of ENERGY STAR, saved $10 billion dollars and prevented greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from 20 million cars.

Click here for more information and a complete list of buildings and their locations.

2006 National Green Building Conference - March 13-14

Plan to attend the NAHB National Green Building Conference in Albuquerque, NM to find out why a growing number of home builders are "Greening the American Dream" by making cost-effective business decisions that also help the environment.

The goal at this conference is to provide all attendees, exhibitors, presenters and sponsors with an outstanding opportunity to improve their knowledge, increase their contacts, and generate productive networking. The high caliber education programs will give you a chance to meet other green-minded builders from all around the country as well as meet with exhibitors with products to help you build a better home.

Conference Features:
• Educational sessions on construction, environment, conservation, energy, recycling, finance, and marketing
• Presentation of Green Building Awards
• Green Building/Technology tour of green building projects in the Albuquerque area
• New pre-conference designation course: Green Building for Building Professionals
• Extensive networking opportunities

Green Construction 2006 - April 12-13

Bringing all segments of the Northern California building community together to focus on the important issue of sharing green practices and discussing ways to further recognize and encourage sustainable building. The two-day event features a full program of instructional sessions and workshops covering environmentally friendly building, design and construction topics as well as important topics like education, outreach, advocacy, legal issues and more. To round off the business program, we have new project presenters introducing new projects and providing insight and tips from the buyers side of the market.

West Coast Green Building Expo 2006 - September 28 - September 30

West Coast Green is a feast of innovations and ideas, an educational smorgasbord designed to widen your vision and stimulate your mind with the latest in both the tangibles and intangibles of the green building movement. As you step into the expo you’ll find the 30,000 square foot space converted into an enticing buffet of green building products, and educational and networking opportunities.

Educational Tracks

  • Building Science
  • Psychology of Space
  • Homes & Our Health
  • Architecture & Design
  • Beyond Meetings
  • The Green Economy


  • Visioning The Future - the 2020 House
  • Health of our Home - Fact & Fiction
  • Production Builders Success
  • Mainstreaming Green
  • Building Science Best Practices
  • The Power of Place - Spirit in Architecture
  • LEED for Homes - Pilot launch
  • NARI Certified Green Professionals Training
  • California Green Points Inspector Training

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