Green Building News

Green Building News June 1, 2010

Report Explains Sustainable Planning and Development

Sustainability is the hottest trend in urban planning and real estate development. A new report explains what it means and what opportunities it presents.

The report prepared by Partnership for Sustainable Communities (PSC) is titled Beyond Green Building: How to Get Deals Done in the New Era of Sustainable Community Planning and Development. PSC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting land use reform, including higher density zoning, infill development and measures to encourage affordable housing.

The report gives practical information on and analysis of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by changing the way communities are planned and buildings are constructed. It includes articles on topics such as:

  • How to make sense of the fast-growing list of green building certifications and standards
  • Where to find financing for energy retrofits
  • Overcoming community opposition to affordable housing
  • Financing for mixed use
  • Federal programs that promote sustainable development
  • Results of an exclusive survey of developers on their land use concerns


Consumer Reports Finds 10 Recommended Water Filters That Can Replace Bottled Water

There's good news for consumers when it comes to clean drinking water: Water filter manufacturers are producing products that remove impurities, not just improve taste and appearance. Plus filters that cost as little as $30 can provide cleaner, better-tasting water, according to Consumer Reports latest water filter tests.

In 2008, eight percent of public water systems received health violations that affected more than 23 million people. A violation doesn't necessarily mean immediate health risk, since regulations are often based on long-term health effects. However, last October, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded that "many of the nation's waters are not meeting water quality standards, and the threat to drinking water sources is growing."

For its tests, Consumer Reports spiked water with lead and chloroform (a surrogate for organic compounds like atrazine, and benzene and for bad taste) to test 38 models. While many filters did the job, some removed less of each contaminant than promised, and even the best can be overwhelmed by surges in contaminants. Here are the details:

  • New filters catch more and clog less. In Consumer Reports' last test, carafes that filtered best also clogged most quickly, but this time around, top-rated models removed contaminants effectively without sacrificing cartridge life or flow rate.
  • Pricier doesn't mean better. Consumer Reports found that the $415 Everpure undersink filter was outperformed by models that cost half as much, because of its clogging and inferior flow rate. Plus, the cost of replacement filters must be factored into a purchasing decision. For example, the Zero Water Z-Pitcher ($35) is the priciest carafe to maintain, despite its low initial cost.
  • Refrigerators with water dispensers with built-in filtration are fine at improving taste, but past tests have shown some systems are so-so at removing impurities. Plus, replacement cartridges are costly. Consumer Reports suggests bypassing the appliance's filter by installing an undersink filter to the refrigerator's water supply line.

How to choose

Consumer Reports recommends matching the filter to the problem. Some improve only taste and clarity; others also reduce impurities.

First, check the water. Consumers who pay a water bill should be mailed an annual Consumer Confidence Report (CCR), stating where the water comes from and what contaminants were found in it during the last year.

To find out exactly what's coming out of the tap, or if dealing with private well water, it's best to have the water tested. State-certified testing labs can be found through the EPA's Safe Drinking Water Hotline (800-426-4791) or online at

A complete screening could cost as much as $4,000, so use the CCR as a guide. However a reputable lab will help narrow the list, depending on where the water source is located. The EPA recommends annual testing for well water by a state-certified lab. Re-test after a filter has been installed to confirm that the water is safe. Lead tests should always be done. Test for coliform for private wells near septic systems.

Based on the CCR or water test, choose a filter that is certified by the National Sanitation Foundation to reduce the contaminants found. Some filters remove just two or three contaminants; some target a dozen or more. But sporadic spikes in contaminants can exceed NSF thresholds, so don't assume a filter will make water safe from every threat.

Filtering the options

All water filters are better for the environment than bottled water because they reduce shipping and packaging. Brita and Zero Water have launched take-back recycling programs for used cartridges.

Consumers should weigh the various features of the filters. Models with a filter-life indicator warn when it's time to change cartridges, a benefit since overloaded filters can dump contaminants into filtered water. Consumer Reports has outlined the five main types of filters:

Carafe: Carafes tend to be inexpensive and don't require installation; however they are not suited for households requiring more than a couple of gallons of water a day. Filter life is relatively short. Carafe models cost $20 to $40 plus $40 to $100 per year for additional filters.

The Clear2 0 CWS100A ($30) carafe filter is a CR Best Buy and is excellent at removing lead and chloroform, while the Brita Smart Pitcher 0B39/42632 ($32) offers superior clog resistance but isn't claimed to remove organics.

Faucet-mounted: These filters can be easily installed and make it easy to switch between filtered and unfiltered water. But they can't be used with most pull-down or spray faucets and they tend to have a slow flow rate. Cost ranges from $15 to $35, plus $30 to $100 per year in replacement filters.

Consumer Reports Recommends the Culligan FM-15A ($15) and the Pur Vertical FM-3700 ($25), which has a filter-life indicator.

Countertop: Countertop models are good at filtering large volumes of water without any plumbing work, however they can add to countertop clutter and can't be used with most spray or pull-down faucets. Prices vary from $50 up to $300, plus $50 to $100 per year in replacement filters.

The Crystal Quest CQE-CT-00109 ($140) has fast flow but doesn't catch impurities as well as other countertop models. The Aquasana AQ-4000 ($100) is excellent at removing lead and chloroform.

Undersink: Undersink models require plumbing, sink, or countertop changes but can filter large volumes of water without cluttering the countertop. Price ranges from $100 to $550, plus $50 to $150 per year in replacement filters.

Consumer Reports Recommends the Omni CBF-3 ($115), an inexpensive model that is fast-flowing, but replacement filters are pricey. The Culligan Preferred Series 350 ($145) has one of the longest-lasting filters, and the Whirlpool Gold WHED20 (Lowe's, $130), a CR Best Buy, offers top value and very good clog resistance.

Reverse-osmosis: These filters remove the widest range of contaminants, including arsenic, but they require plumbing modifications and periodic sanitizing with bleach. These models also waste 3 to 5 gallons of water for every gallon filtered and some are slow. Consumers should expect to pay anywhere from $150 to $900, plus $100 to $200 per year in filters or professional servicing.

The Kenmore Elite 38556 ($300) costs more than other models Consumer Reports tested, but has a 4-gallon storage tank - more than double the size of the Whirlpool Gold WHER25 (Lowe's, $150), a CR Best Buy.


Mohawk's Top Ten Green Design Trends for 2010

Consumer demand for green home products continues to grow, and as a result, Mohawk Industries, a leader in recycled and renewable flooring, has compiled 10 Green Design Trends for 2010. The company tapped design gurus Robin Wilson, a pioneer in the eco-friendly design sector, and Vickie Gilstrap, vice president of color and design for Mohawk's Residential Business, to help consumers go green in their homes without sacrificing style.

  1. Choose carpet made from renewable or recycled materials.
  2. Create a cozy space by painting an accent wall in a warm earth tone like cocoa or cinnamon. Choose paint that is non-toxic and contains no- or low- volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
  3. Use certified organic fabrics to create window treatments or accent pillows. A wide variety of colors and patterns are available.
  4. When choosing hardwood flooring, consider using reclaimed wood to add a touch of antique natural beauty.
  5. Create a cohesive look by matching countertops in your kitchen and bathroom. Look for those made from recycled glass, ceramic or sustainable bamboo.
  6. Breathe new life into vintage pieces by pairing them with fresh accessories. Reupholster an old arm chair or add an accent pillow to give it a fresh, new look.
  7. Install dimmable compact fluorescent lights, which can consume up to 75 percent less electricity and last 10 times longer than standard incandescent bulbs.
  8. Refresh the entire look of your bathroom with a new shower curtain. Opt for nylon, which is one of the more eco-friendly materials available.
  9. Give your kitchen a facelift by installing new faucets. Look for fixtures with the WaterSense label, which can save the average household more than 500 gallons of water each year, and hundreds of dollars in utility bills.
  10. Transform your bedroom with a new eco-friendly bedding set. Duvets, shams and linens are available in organic materials and recycled yarn.


GE Unveils Unique LED Bulb

GE Lighting’s new Energy Smart® LED bulb is expected to consume just 9 watts, provide a 77 percent energy savings and produce nearly the same light output as a 40-watt incandescent bulb, while lasting more than 25 times as long.

GE expects the new Energy Smart® LED bulb to outperform currently available products that may be underwhelming consumers right now. GE scientists and engineers designed the bulb to better direct light downward on the intended surface and all around, not just out the top of a lampshade, as most current LED bulbs are prone to do. The new GE LED bulb offers 450 lumens—the Energy Star® threshold to be considered a 40-watt incandescent replacement. Currently available LED bulbs produce 350 lumens or less.

GE has filed multiple patent applications for the bulb and expects it will be an ENERGY STAR® qualified LED omnidirectional light bulb.

GE Energy Smart® LED bulb product snapshot:

  • Expected to consume just 9 watts—compared with 40-watt incandescent/halogen or 10-watt CFL, while delivering nearly the same light output
  • Expected 25,000-hour rated life—will last 17 years (4 hours per day), which is 25 times longer than a general service 40-watt incandescent or halogen bulb and more than 3 times longer than a standard 8,000-hour rated life CFL
  • LED technology delivers the instant full brightness of an incandescent or halogen bulb
  • Durable solid-state design with no filament to break
  • Contains no mercury and will be RoHS compliant
  • Feels cooler to the touch than CFLs and far cooler than incandescent bulbs

The 9-watt GE Energy Smart® LED bulb, a replacement for 40-watt general service incandescent bulbs, hits store shelves this fall or in early 2011. Retailers set pricing but it is expected to be $40 to $50.

Standard incandescent light bulbs are going away as a result of U.S. federal lighting efficiency standards (Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007):

  • 100-watt bulbs can no longer be made in January 2012
  • 75-watt bulbs can no longer be made in January 2013
  • 60- and 40-watt bulbs can no longer be made in January 2014


Insurance Department Approves 'Green' Discounts for Homeowners

The Pennsylvania Insurance Department recently approved Travelers Insurance's discounts on "green" homeowners' products. The policy discount is based on having the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, building certification.

The Travelers green building discount provides incentives for greater energy efficiency and air quality. Since a LEED certification requires an extensive review of all building systems to ensure efficient operation, the decision to upgrade a building often reflects greater concern with issues that affect loss control.

Specifically, the Travelers Home and Marine Insurance Company and TravCo Insurance Company will now offer:

  • "Green Home" coverage (a new endorsement with an additional rate) that will extend coverage to pay for additional costs and expenses associated with green building alternatives, personal property green alternatives and green methods to dispose of covered debris.
  • A five percent "Green Discount" if the residence has a LEED Certification.

"The Insurance Department intends to survey the major insurance companies headquartered in Pennsylvania to get a fuller understanding of their strategies related to climate change issues," Ario said. "As sustainable buildings become more common, green insurance will become more popular and some of its features might become a standard part of property policies."


Southeast Building Conference and Green Building Show - July 22-24

Held in Orlando, FL, this three-day southeast regional building industry trade show and conference provides an opportunity to make connections with leading industry professionals. Choose from a variety of educational options, including sessions that cover six important construction-related subject tracks and specialized pre-conference intensives on multifamily, residential and commercial construction, green building, sustainability and leadership. Over 400 manufacturers and suppliers showcase an array of innovative products.

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SolWest Renewable Energy Fair - July 24-25

Held in John Day, OR, this three-day event offers engaging activities for all ages and knowledge levels. Learn about energy efficiency, solar and wind energy, alternatively fueled vehicles, and more.

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