Green Building News

Green Building News June 2009

June 1, 2009

NREL Helps Greensburg, KS Launch GreenHome Partnership

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), in collaboration with the City Council of Greensburg, Kansas, and the Kansas Building Industry Association (KBIA), announce the launch of Greensburg GreenHome Residential Green Building Program.

Greensburg GreenHome is a voluntary program with KBIA and supported by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) to train workers to build Greensburg homes according to the recently released National Green Building Standard.

Assistance from NREL to adopt the National Green Building Standard has helped Greensburg City officials with their pledge to rebuild green following a devastating tornado that struck the city in 2007. “By providing technical assistance and brokering this partnership with KBIA, the U.S. Department of Energy and NREL have helped to ensure that Greensburg will continue on a green and sustainable path,” said Steve Hewitt, City Administrator.

Highlights of the memorandum of understanding between Greensburg and KBIA include:

  • Greensburg and KBIA will work together to ensure the use of the 2008 National Green Building Standard, and the NAHB building verification and certification process (the NAHB National Green Building Program, or NAHBGreen) for residential construction projects in Greensburg.
  • KBIA will offer training for the Certified Green Professional Designation from NAHB. This is based on successful completion of a two-day green building course for professionals and a one-day business management course.
  • KBIA will waive the state and local association fees for any home built in Greensburg that achieves a NAHBGreen certification.

With DOE support, NREL has been working with Greensburg to rebuild since the May 2007 tornado. NREL quickly brought in a team of experts to provide the City with advocacy and technical expertise in buildings, wind energy, solar energy, biomass utilization and alternative transportation. NREL’s efforts in Greensburg will be used as a model for other communities seeking to rebuild. Examples of building successes in Greensburg to date include: 

  • Prairie Point, a 32-unit townhome complex for low-income renters, which has been awarded the first residential LEED Platinum rating in Kansas. Prairie Point uses approximately 50 percent less energy than code and the complex was designed and built by a local builder, with technical assistance from DOE/NREL.
  • Low-cost housing from Mennonite Housing, and at least seven other public and commercial buildings, received technical assistance from DOE/NREL. Several of these are striving for LEED Platinum or Gold ratings: BTI Equipment John Deere Dealership, SunChip Business Incubator, City Hall, Greensburg K-12 School, Kiowa County Memorial Hospital and Kiowa County Courthouse.
  • The new Greensburg Community Master Plan contains strong energy goals for the community based largely on NREL’s studies and recommendations.


Two Years Later, Greensburg is Officially Green — with NREL's Help

The same natural force that annihilated Greensburg, Kan., two years ago soon will be illuminating the town that has been rebuilt into America's most energy-conscious community.

With technical assistance from NREL, the city of Greensburg, John Deere Renewable Energy and other partners will open a wind farm generating 12.5 MW of electricity, enough to power 4,000 homes. Replacing fossil-fired electricity with a renewable source is a significant step in the town's well-documented recovery — not only for the environmental benefits, but as an economic development strategy, too.

Community-Sized Wind Power

The Greensburg wind farm will include 10 turbines, each rated at 1.25 MW. John Deere Renewable Energy will build and maintain the wind farm, and it will sell power to the Kansas Power Pool, a cooperative of several Kansas cities. Greensburg expects to consume about a quarter of the electricity the wind farm generates.

When the wind isn't blowing and the turbines cannot generate electricity, the Kansas Power Pool will provide the town with clean power from other sources, including hydropower, to meet the community's goal of being powered entirely by renewable sources.

Groundbreaking for the Greensburg wind farm is planned for this summer at a site three miles outside of town. Commercial operation is expected to begin in 2010.

Laboratory advisers recommended wind power to Greensburg early in the rebuilding effort; Kansas has the third highest potential among the U.S. states to generate electricity from wind, according to a NREL analysis.

And, they realized that Greensburg could be a showcase for distributed community-scale wind power.

NREL developed extensive wind farm technical studies and business models as part of its broader green recovery plan but, the city decided to contract the wind farm's development with John Deere Renewable Energy.

Billman said the Laboratory wants Greensburg to have a wind system generating clean electricity economically and at a location visible from town, and the John Deere Renewable Energy plan achieves those goals.

"We fully support the city's decision," Billman said. "It will help Greensburg achieve its vision without raising the cost of electricity for its residents.

Part of a Broader Clean Energy Plan

Other areas that NREL advisers have been working on to keep Greensburg operating sustainably on its own for future decades include:

  • Municipal building design and construction to LEED - platinum standards, making it the first city in the nation to do so.
  • LED streetlights
  • Energy-efficient framing, insulation, ductwork and other improvements to new residential and commercial construction.
  • Helping establish a local wind turbine distributorship at the John Deere farm equipment dealership
  • Assessing biomass-fueled heating opportunities.


Confidence of Builders Continues to Grow in May

Builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes climbed for a second consecutive month in May to the highest level since last September, according to the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI), which was released on May 18. This month's HMI rose two points to 16.

"The fact that the May HMI continued to tick up from April's five-point increase confirms that last month's improved confidence level was no fluke," added NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "This continued increase indicates that home builders feel we're at or near the bottom of the market and that positive signs lie ahead for builders and potential home buyers, provided that builder access to production credit significantly improves."

Crowe also noted that the recently announced plan by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to enable home buyers to use the new $8,000 tax credit at the closing table is especially encouraging. "We appreciate Secretary Donovan's efforts to make the tax credit more useful to buyers by addressing the biggest hurdle to first-time purchasers - having enough cash for a suitable down payment," he said.

Derived from a monthly survey that NAHB has been conducting for more than 20 years, the HMI gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales, sales expectations for the next six months and the traffic of prospective buyers. Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

Two of the three HMI component indexes rose in May. The index gauging current sales conditions rose two points to 14, and sales expectations for the next six months rose three points to 27. Traffic of prospective buyers remained unchanged from the prior month, registering 13.

Regionally, builder confidence climbed three points to 18 in the Northeast, one point to 18 in the South and four points to 12 in the West. The Midwest held even at 14.


Energy-Saving Tips for Summer

With summer and the high costs of cooling right around the corner, EPA is offering advice to help reduce both energy bills and greenhouse gas emissions. The energy used in an average home costs more than $2,200 a year and contributes more greenhouse gas emissions than a typical car.

Here are some tips to save energy and help protect the environment at home and at work:

  • Set your programmable thermostat to save while you are away or asleep. Using it properly can save up to $180 per year in energy costs.
  • Run ceiling fans in a clockwise direction to create a wind-chill effect that will make you “feel” cooler. Remember that ceiling fans cool people, not rooms—so turn them off when you leave the room.
  • Inspect your duct system for obvious signs of leaks and disconnections (most houses leak 20 percent or more). Seal any leaks with foil tape or duct mastic. Also consider insulating ducts in unconditioned areas (like the attic, basement or crawlspace).
  • Seal air leaks around your home to keep the heat out and the cool air in. The biggest air leaks are usually found in the attic or basement, but also come in around doors, windows, vents, pipes and electrical outlets. Use caulk, spray foam or weather stripping to seal the leaks. And add more insulation to keep your home cooler this summer.
  • Maintain your cooling system. Check your system’s air filter every month at a minimum and change the filter every 3 months. Remove leaves, dirt and other debris from around the outdoor components to improve air flow and efficiency. Have a qualified professional tune-up your system with a pre-season maintenance checkup and, if it’s time to replace your old system, look for models that have earned EPA's ENERGY STAR®.
  • Turn off office lights and equipment when not in use so they don’t generate unnecessary heat.
  • Replace incandescent light bulbs with Energy Star-qualified compact fluorescent light bulbs which use two-thirds less energy and generate less heat than conventional bulbs.

10 Practical Strategies Suggested for Green Marketing

Leading a seminar at the NAHB National Green Building Conference earlier this month in Dallas on "10 Practical Strategies for Green Marketing," Jim Groff, president of the York, Pa. firm Baublitz Advertising, offered some ideas on how green builders and remodelers can become a dominant force in their marketplace.

  1. Know thyself, said Groff. A brand, he said, is more than a logo or a tagline - everything communicates something. You're selling trust, and you're selling a solution to a need."

    To establish that trust, builders should talk about "years in business, your values and why the consumer should care" - whether it's convenience, peace of mind or proof of your abilities, he said. "Your brand should be the one thing that separates you from the competition."

  2. Know your stuff, he said. "Confused people don't buy," Groff said, and successful green builders and remodelers cut through that confusion by positioning themselves as a source of knowledge.

    That doesn't mean that every builder must be an expert in all aspects of green design and construction, any more than a successful Little League coach must be an expert on the rules of baseball. "You don't need to know everything. You just need to know more than the kids," he said.

    That said, builders should know where to get the information they need - and start with NAHB. "Be a good student to be a good teacher," Groff said.

  3. Make sure that you have a written communications plan for your company that includes an assessment of the overall market, target audience, the effect of trends, what media to use, a message and a timeline. "You can't be all things to all people," Groff said.

    A written plan also ensures that expectations are clear and that the builder can gauge whether the plan is achieving its goal. "What is your objective? Do you want people to visit your Web site, or attend a seminar?" he asked.

    When hiring an outside firm, expect to pay between 2 percent and 5 percent of total sales on marketing and media, he said. "Every expenditure is like tuition. You learn from your mistakes," Groff said.

  4. Make sure the message you choose differentiates your business from the competition. The message, Groff said, "has to be more than about quality or green. It has to be unique, meaningful and credible. If it doesn't mean anything to your target market, it doesn't mean anything."

    One good selling point is value, he said. Builders cannot promise energy savings but they can talk about features that can help achieve it. "Even smart people often need you to connect the dots," he said.

  5. Make sure your customers understand the importance of your credentials and certifications, including the Certified Green Professional designation, an NAHBGreen-certified home or a Green Approved building product.

    "If you've got it, flaunt it, Groff said. Even if it's true that in 10 years everyone will be green, it's still an advantage for now. "Use it for the next 10 years," he advised.

  6. "Fish where the fish are," said Groff. So-called "dark green" home buyers still trend toward being affluent, well-educated, married and 40-ish. "Medium green" buyers are looking for hope, convenience and prevention of possible health issues or high energy prices. "Light green" buyers are driven mostly by self-expression and status, he said.

    "Qualify your prospects. Listen more than you tell," he added. "You don't know what their hot buttons are if you are doing all the talking."

  7. Choose tactics that are right for your target audience - and also your budget. First, all corporate identity materials - truck logos, uniforms, the Web site - should be "professional and consistent," he said.

    Beyond that, take advantage of public speaking engagements, social networks such as Facebook, home parade and expo participation, e-newsletters and other means "as frequently as you can give folks meaningful information," and establish yourself as the expert they seek.

  8. If you decide to hire an advertising or public relations agency, shop around, Groff said. Make sure that work samples are the product of people who are currently on staff; also, share your budget and discuss expected results.

    "Look for compatibility, clear dialogue; find someone you trust, and take their advice," he said.

  9. Don't over promise. "Speak the truth" about energy-efficiency claims or possible health benefits, Groff said. "Never green wash, because all of us will lose."

  10. All builders and remodelers who are going green are "growing" the category - but early adaptors will get the earliest benefit. Once the market returns, "growth will benefit the category leaders," and that's likely to be green builders, Groff said.


UT a Partner in Volunteer State Solar Initiative

The University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory will be home to The Tennessee Solar Institute, one of two projects in the proposed $62.5-million initiative subject to U.S. Department of Energy approval.

The Tennessee Solar Institute would receive $31 million of that funding to focus on basic research to improve solar product affordability and efficiency.

Also proposed in the initiative is the West Tennessee Solar Farm near Brownsville. This five-megawatt 15-acre power generation facility at the Haywood County industrial mega site will serve as a demonstration tool for educational, research and economic-development purposes.

"Together, UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory have an unmatched collection of resources and assets," said UT Acting President Jan Simek. "It's exciting to consider what we may be able to achieve -– for this state, for Tennesseans, and for the energy economy -– by putting all of these extraordinary resources to work."

ORNL Director Thom Mason added, "Tennessee is taking advantage of a unique opportunity to become a national leader in the solar industry. By leveraging all of the state's assets on the single goal of making solar energy more affordable, there is a good chance that the Solar Institute will help bring even more jobs to Tennessee."

Funding for the proposed comprehensive solar energy and economic development program would come from federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to advance job creation, education, research and renewable-power production in Tennessee.

The UT-ORNL Joint Institute for Advanced Materials will be home to the Tennessee Solar Institute. The Joint Institute for Advanced Materials will anchor and will be the first building on the University's new Cherokee Farm innovation campus. Construction on the previously funded, 132,000-square-foot building is expected to begin in late summer or early fall of 2009.

The Tennessee Solar Institute will take advantage of world-class DOE research assets housed at ORNL, including the Spallation Neutron Source, Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences and the world's most powerful supercomputers. It also will take advantage of existing UT faculty with expertise in materials science, of which solar energy research is a discipline. The institute will employ graduate research scholars, postdoctoral fellows and support staff.

Scientists and researchers from UT and ORNL will be engaged in research at the institute to improve the conversion of solar energy into electricity and to increase the capacity of key technologies for storing electrical energy.

In addition to supporting the Solar Institute's research mission, the Solar Farm will serve as an educational site for students and the public. The farm, which will be located on a site to be determined along Interstate 40, will be Tennessee's largest solar installation to date and one of the largest in the Southeast. Demonstrating the zero-carbon production of electricity on a highly visible and significant scale could encourage future renewable-energy interest and investments.

Simek added, "We are excited to be part of this proposed initiative, which I believe represents our looking ahead to see the opportunity to make Tennessee a leader."


Green Building Growth

As builders and remodelers retool their businesses in a tight credit market and recapture the interest of jittery consumers, this spring is the greenest yet for the nation’s home building industry, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

More than 3,100 builders, remodelers, designers and others in the home building business have earned the Certified Green Professional educational designation, based on the successful completion of 24 hours of instruction, industry experience and commitment to continuing education. A Master Green Builder-Remodeler designation that incorporates additional building science and project management coursework is slated to be unveiled next year.

More than 200 single-family homes, remodeling projects and developments in 43 states have received National Green Building Certification, with another 300-plus scheduled for inspections.

The number of state and local home builders associations affiliated with the NAHB National Green Building Program hit 99 last week, so there are now 40 states with affiliated programs. These programs team national certification with professional education and consumer awareness initiatives.

Homes certified in the NAHB National Green Building Program meet benchmarks set for energy, water and resource efficiency; indoor environmental quality, lot and site development and home owner education and home maintenance. Green building practices are incorporated into every step of the home building and land development process to minimize environmental impact.

Various tax credits for energy-efficient products, like Energy Star-rated windows, and a growing number of state and local incentives for buying green are also encouraging consumers to choose energy- and resource-efficient products and homes.

Southeast Building Conference (SEBC) 2009 - July 30-Aug. 1

To be held at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, this show presents an opportunity for builders and green building professionals to hear from green building experts. The will also be a show of green building and energy-efficient products.

More Information.

Lifecycle Building Challenge - entry deadline Aug. 30

Enter the Lifecycle Building Challenge competition, now in its third year, to shape the future of green building and facilitate local building materials reuse. Submit your innovative project, design, or idea for reducing to conserve construction and demolition materials and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by designing buildings for adaptability and disassembly.

More Information.

| News Archives |