Setting the “Green” Bar Very High

Hat’s off to Mayor Michael Bloomberg for throwing down the gauntlet and launching a Carbon Challenge to the most populated city in America. The Mayor’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent over the next 10 years. In order to accomplish this, he created a task force charged with identifying large footprint tenants and their real estate representatives.  To date,10 commercial office partners, 17 universities and 11 hospital systems have joined the New York City Mayor’s Carbon Challenge.

 For some buildings, upgrading the windows and mechanical systems provided a great starting point in meeting the Challenge.  New York, like most east coast cities, has a great deal of old construction, some of which does not easily lend itself to energy upgrades because of the materials and construction techniques.

 Much of what the Mayor is going after is workplace tenant practices and behaviors and that’s a good place to start.  A great deal of energy can be saved simply by learning to operate the buildings we have more efficiently.  Adding sensors to turn lights on and off, for example, help to change people’s habits. This also helps to amend people’s habits when they go home as well. The combination of workplace and home energy saving habits will go a long way to curbing our thirst for energy.

Carbon Calculator

Carbon Calculator

 Here at our company we face the same hurdles and we have started to engage and challenge our employees in all our locations to identify ways to be more efficient with energy, water, recycling, and waste management– and it is paying off.  Are we net zero? Not yet but we have received the Energy Star Sustained Excellence Award for three years running. The key is getting everyone on the cart together and challenging each other to do better. 

Last year CertainTeed developed a Carbon Calculator that tracked the CO2 saved by our installed products. We equated those calculations to the number of trees that were saved or the number of cars taken off the road – things that the employee could relate to.  This has had a real impact on behaviors.  Now they can “see” the impact their work has on America. We are currently in a challenge pledge for GreenBuild 2013, which will be in Philadelphia, to reduce our employees’ carbon output by 10,000 gallons through carpooling and a work-from-home program. Like the old saying goes… when you see a turtle on a fence post you can be sure he didn’t get there alone… and you can be sure he isn’t getting off of there alone either.

 Are there great things that you are doing to encourage behavior changes at your businesses to improve energy efficiency?

 

 

Cultivating Green Jobs in Solar Energy

GridSTAR_SolarThe Navy Yard in Philadelphia has evolved as an economic development powerhouse, attracting more than 10,000 jobs since the former Navy base began its transformation some 20 years ago. However, did you also know the campus is playing a critical role in supporting the development of green jobs?

For the past two years, I’ve been heavily involved with the GridSTAR Renewable Energy Training Structure, which includes a first-of-its-kind solar training facility. Slated for completion next month, the facility features our Apollo photovoltaic roofing system along with advanced battery solutions from Solar Grid Storage and off-grid power distribution equipment developed by Eaton. Penn State University as well as other project partners will use the facility as a hands-on classroom and research laboratory.

The facility is filling an important void in furthering the adoption of solar technologies. It’s estimated that 40 to 45 percent of power and energy professionals and educators may retire within the next five years. While at the same time, 92 percent of Americans believe the U.S. should develop and use more solar energy. To help fill this gap, projects such as the GridSTAR Renewable Energy Training Structure, will help ensure that roofing contractors, linemen, electricians, power system technicians and engineers are primed and ready to support this demand.

Most importantly, the facility is an excellent example of how public-private collaboration is driving workforce development, innovation and a more energy independent future. Is your community prepared for the next generation of green jobs?

Life Cycle Assessments and Environmental Product Declarations – Green Labels for the Home

Product Life CycleJust about everyone who shops for groceries looks at the nutritional label on the product.  I believe that we have been conditional to do so and it’s probably a good thing.  We should want to know what ingredients are going into the prepared foods that we eat. We can control the amounts of fat, sugar, salt and preservatives that go into the food we eat but only if we can easily get the data.

In a similar way, the building industry is moving toward tools such as Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) and Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) to test and validate the “greenness” of their products. These are some of the best tools available to help consumers make the right choices when selecting products to purchase.  Would you think to ask your contactor for the Life Cycle Assessment for the siding you are putting on your home?  If you care about the space you create and the world you live in then maybe you should.

Manufacturers work with third-party certifiers to test and quantify the environmental impact of all the materials used to make the product.  Companies that are undertaking these assessments are ’walking the green talk’ because it is a long process to secure LCA’s and EPD’s.

Beware of GreenwashingAs the demand in the marketplace for environmentally friendly products increased, manufacturers created a form of spin in which green marketing was used to promote the perception that an organization’s products, aims and/or policies were environmentally friendly.  This “greenwashing” is still happening today.

That is why consumers need to be aware of the “nutrition” labels for products they are using to build or renovate their homes. The life and efficiency of your home is important.

Building Knowledge Experts at AIA2013 – Expertise that Inspires

AIA2013CertainTeed Technical Marketing Manager for Ceilings Bob Marshall conducted a session at AIA2013 on Ceilings in the Health Care Segment.  During the presentation while Bob was discussing the noise levels in hospitals and how it impacts healing, the question was raised:

“Why do we accept higher noise levels in hospitals if we know that it impacts the patients’ ability to heal?”

Two things work in our favor. Acoustical standards and guidelines are well documented and hospital administrators are getting validation regarding just how much acoustics matter and they are starting to make better choices when upgrading their facilities. We have to keep in mind that hospitals are very competitive but we are starting to see changes that have positive effects on patients and recovery. Rooms are painted in pastels now with artwork on the wall so administrators are starting to make the environment more pleasant for the patients.  At some point, they will have to address the noise levels as they relate to healing to continue to remain competitive. There is research that will speak to just about every architectural decision from an interior perspective. We are just validating and giving them the tools to go ahead and sell the acoustical benefits for making these changes.

If you have a question or comment, we would love to hear from you. Although AIA 2013 is over, we know these questions will continue to be raised.

Building Knowledge AIA 2013 — Expertise that Inspires

GreniteSamples_StackedFullFollowing the CEU Course at AIA 2013 on “Sustainable Surface Materials: The Value of Engineered Stone” presenter Diana Ohl from Saint-Gobain Grenite was asked:

“What are the primary reasons for choosing engineered stone?”

A sustainable engineered stone product has up to 80 percent recycled material.  The measure of hardness is a 7.5, which is the highest in the marketplace. The product has almost a zero maintenance factor which can be critical in buildings that sustain heavy wear and tear, such as dormitories, retail establishments and restuarants. Also, when looking at the return on investment – if you are replacing countertops frequently because of damage – the manufacturer guarantee of Grenite is 15 years.

 If you’ve worked with engineered stone on a project, we’d like to hear about your experience. Comments are welcomed below or stop by booth #2108 at the AIA expo to chat with Diana and our team of Building Knowledge experts.

Building Knowledge at AIA 2013 — Expertise that Inspires

LucasAIA13Upon completion of a CEU Course at AIA 2013 on “The Future of Building Materials and Their Impact on How We Build”, Building Scientist Lucas Hamilton was asked the following question:

“What does air tightness have to do with air quality? How does the tightness influence the air inside?  It doesn’t make any sense?”

When the building envelope was leaky, we had three to four times the volume of the building being changed every hour by fresh air from outside — uncontrolled in the building envelope. Now, with tighter buildings we don’t allow that.  So, you have lost all the fresh air you had coming through the walls. That’s why it is so important. That is the influence today.

If you’re at AIA, stop by booth #2108 to continue the discussion with Lucas and our team of Building Knowledge experts. Also, feel free to add your thoughts below — comments and questions are always welcome!

AIA Convention Takes on the Mile-High City

AIA2013Welcome to Denver! The 2013 American Institute of Architects (AIA) Convention is ready to go.  Each year exhibitors look for ways to entice attendees to their booth.  This year, the Saint-Gobain family of businesses – led by CertainTeed — is taking a new approach by bringing technical and building knowledge, and solution-based insights such as indoor environmental quality, acoustics and moisture management to our booth that can have a positive impact on the design of buildings in general.

Over the past year, we have offered accredited building science courses via webinar and our online continuing education platform to builders, designers and architects.  This practice is helping to shape sustainable building.  This year we are bringing some of these courses to the AIA Convention through our Learning Lounge.  To complement this effort, the Saint-Gobain booth (2108) is staffed with technical experts across our companies who can offer building knowledge and systems expertise unequaled in the industry.

You can still talk about products, but our Building Knowledge Bar with our experts can take the conversations to a new level. You can also tweet us questions @certainteed and we can hook you up with the right expert to answer your question.

Although our courses are sold-out, we will be blogging and tweeting questions and observations that are raised in the sessions that could apply to a problem or issue you are facing. Just follow #AIA2013.

We hope to see you over the next few days at booth 2108 to share what new innovations are taking place within the Saint-Gobain family of businesses and to be your premier resource for building knowledge.

Changing the Sustainability Game in Philadelphia

GridSTARHouseBackPhiladelphia is making great strides when it comes to sustainability. The world’s largest green building event — Greenbuild 2013 — will attract more than 30,000 building industry leaders to Philadelphia in November. The city has received national recognition for its recycling programs. New codes and tax credits are fostering more sustainable building practices. And, there’s a hotbed of research and innovation underway at The Navy Yard in Philadelphia.

With our North American headquarters just outside of Philadelphia and as a sustainable manufacturer, we fully embrace the city’s push to become “America’s Greenest City”. We have invested time and resources into a game-changing, smart-grid project that can move the needle on Net Zero Energy in construction.

Led by a collaboration of researchers, manufacturers and economic development officials, the GridSTAR Center will roll out in three phases — the GridSTAR Net Zero Energy Demonstration Structure, a solar training center and an electric vehicle (EV) charging station. These buildings are powered by an energy storage system that captures the power and disperses it as needed.

For more than a year, I have been involved in the planning and construction of the Net Zero Energy Demonstration Structure, which will be a hub for CertainTeed Building Science testing and research on energy efficiency and indoor environmental quality. The structure also offers a valuable platform to further understand and optimize how our products work together — including photovoltaic roofing, solar reflective roofing, fiberglass and spray foam insulation, foundation drainage and waterproofing systems, insulated vinyl siding, water resistive barrier and gypsum board.

From a broader perspective, the GridSTAR project is a testament to the power of public-private partnerships. In this case, the project includes a consortium of representatives from Penn State, the U.S. Department of Energy, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, DTE Energy and five leading building product manufacturers.

This truly is a landmark project that will influence how we build and power our homes in the future. If you plan to attend GreenBuild 2013 in Philadelphia, I recommend that you take the tour of the Navy Yard which includes this project. It is truly changing the sustainability game in Philadelphia.

Watch for future blogs on this project as we begin performance testing of the systems.

 

Can We Make our Homes Energy Efficient without Radical Changes to Lending Practices? Part 2

homeeemortgagecoverIn the first blog on this topic, I gave an overview of the UNC Center for Capital Research Report – Home Energy Efficiency and Mortgage Risks.

This second blog addresses the Report’s findings regarding financing energy efficiency and the challenges that face consumers when seeking additional dollars to make energy upgrades in their homes.

According to the Report, the U.S housing stock is valued at about $14.5 trillion. To even devote 2% to energy efficiency improvements would require an investment of nearly $300 billion.  While there are federal, state and local energy efficiency loan funds and other mechanisms in place to provide assistance, they can’t possible cover what is required.

The most widely used mechanism is direct borrowing in the form of consumer loans, home equity loans and traditional or specialized mortgages.  Most of these financing options require consumers to have either substantial equity in their existing home, the personal reserves to pay any added costs out-of-pocket or larger down payments for a home purchase. Many homeowners have seen the equity in their homes diminish over the last few years due to the struggling economy. 

For many first-time homebuyers or moderate-income borrowers who do not have these financial resources there are energy-efficient mortgages (EEM) which offer lenders flexibility in the debt-to-income and other underwriting considerations so borrowers can qualify for larger loans or lower interest rates. However, few lenders currently offer these.

If we are going to see significant improvement in the retrofitting of existing buildings for energy efficiency, owners need to be incentivized. This usually manifests itself as access to affordable capital.  While it is a good start, it is not enough to offer tax incentives especially for homeowners who do not have cash resources to make some of the more pricey upgrades to older homes.

This debate is going to Capitol Hill and groups like the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) are lobbying to encourage underwriting flexibility on energy efficient homes and to promote energy efficiency to consumers – particularly for moderate- and middle- income borrowers seeking financing for energy efficient upgrades.

It’s apparent that business as usual will not get us where we need to go.  This Report is a reminder of a prevailing situation that continues to be raised but not resolved.  Is there money available that we don’t see?  Are there resources somewhere that could be re-allocated to move the green needle and help moderate- and middle- income borrows obtain the financing needed to make necessary energy upgrades?

We, as consumers, cannot strive to be sustainable nor can cities strive to be the ‘greenest’ cities without resources to make this happen.  Are the gloves off?  Can we really move the needle this time?

Can We Make our Homes Energy Efficient without Radical Changes to Lending Practices? Part 1

homeeemortgagecoverA recent study by the University of North Carolina Center for Community Capital/Institute for Market Transformation puts forth some very interesting data regarding energy efficient home building, mortgage lending and the state of the lending industry. This report, Home Energy Efficiency and Mortgage Risks has some interesting findings that I plan to address in a few blogs.

The study includes:

  • National sample of 71,000 home loans from 38 states and the District of Columbia
  • Variables examined for the homes included age of the house, square footage, FICO (credit) scores, ZIP code average incomes and unemployment rates, typical time to default, sale price, heating/cooling degree days and electricity prices 
  • Average home price in sample was $220,000

The study finds that default risks are on average 32 percent lower in energy-efficient homes.  There is, perhaps, a mixed message in this premise.  We have seen over the last decade that the early adopters of energy efficiency are more educated, probably make more money and most likely live in more urban locations. People in more rural parts of the country may not have local resources for information or education about energy upgrades and may not have access to capital from lenders to make these upgrades.

The study says that the amount of money homeowners spend on energy annually equates to 15 percent of the cost of home ownership. While these costs vary around the country, rural households pay $400 more on average than urban household. There could be many reasons for this. Is it the nature of construction?  Is it utility costs?  

Are the resources to make energy improvements to these homes available?  We have blogged before about the fact that if you have a home built prior to 1980 you should consider energy upgrades and if you are refinancing include them as part of your lending conversation.

The heart of the problem lies in the valuation of homes and the lack of information regarding mortgage lending options.

Think about it. Is your home worth more or less than it was five years ago? Slim chance of any “magical” home equity showing up to be cashed in and spent on upgrades.

The only way we can move the needle to upgrade existing homes and buildings so they are more efficient is to rationalize the underwriting process and include energy upgrades as part of the mortgage.

Stay tuned. There is more to come on this study.  If you have any thoughts on this subject, I would love to hear them.