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?

 

 

Don’t Forget the End Users When Building for Energy Efficiency

While at Greenbuild 2012 I was asked “What do you think is the most critical factor in ensuring a healthy, sustainable built environment?” My answer was posted on our Blog but there is more I want to say about this so here we go!

Users or occupants of high efficiency buildings need to understand and be a partner in the process because  ultimately they influence the  success or failure of a building’s efficiency over time. For example, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Homes will give you credit for and requires Energy Star performance which means certain insulation levels, certain air tightness and certain efficiencies on the mechanical systems (among other issues). The energy efficiency of the building is based upon a combination of highly efficient equipment and permanent passive systems.

When the active system wears out, if the consumers don’t appreciate the importance of the efficiency of that system on the overall performance of the habitat they are unlikely to take that into consideration when they have to replace equipment.  They can go from a high efficiency piece of equipment that made their sustainable building sing beautifully and perform wonderfully and stick in something that is on sale or is perhaps promoted by their contractor but with a whole different efficiency rating.  Now the building goes from being a Prius to being a Hummer simply because the driver wasn’t told the difference between the two.

In sustainability circles we often talk about “the Prius effect”.  This comes from the engagement of the driver with the car.  Once the driver understands the savings due to the offset of the electrical to the fuel and you give them real-time feedback, they began to drive against the machine to improve the efficiency. The build community needs to develop dashboards or other tools for high efficiency buildings so that end users can see the benefits provided by the systems.  That buy-in is critical to sustaining efficiency over the life cycle of the building.

There is no point in doing a sustainable building for someone unless you teach and show them how to maintain it. That is one aspect I especially admire about the Living Building Challenge. The Beauty petal has components which include inspiration and education. Couldn’t we all use a little more of both?

Postponing Changes to LEED will Only Strengthen Our Sustainability Momentum

 

Lucas Hamilton

We are repurposing this blog post for this page. It contains thought leadership you may find interesting.

It was recently announced that the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) decided to postpone the balloting on LEED 2012 until 2013 and they are changing the name to LEEDv4.  It makes perfect sense to create a more generic name since the shelf life of the standards are not related to a specific period of time.

Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO & Founding Chairman of USBGC outlined in his Blog the reasons for postponing and the following seem to be the key reasons:

  • The changes in the rating system where too much, too fast, especially in a weak real estate market.
  •  Some of the changes need more refinement especially with regard to the Materials & Resources category.  There appear to be whole new approaches to material selection which underwent continual revision with each public comment draft.
  • The tools and resources needed to achieve credits would not be widely available by the time the new system was slated to launch.

I applaud them for having the wisdom to postpone based on the feedback they received from their stakeholders in the build community. 

If you recall, when ENERGY STAR tried to make a leap from version 2 to version 3 it was such a significant change that many stakeholders felt they were not prepared a to meet the new standard.. This caused ENERGY STAR to back off on the full upgrade and we were left with a 2.5 version to enable the build community to bridge the gap.

I think that USGBC’s decision to postpone will help them to deliver a new version of standards that are achievable while still being a stretch. Programs such as this are important to help us to continue to raise the bar in the sustainability arena. LEED has been pivotal in moving the marketplace with regard to green building and we are seeing this in the changes to state building codes across the country. 

Stay tuned.  There will continue to be feedback opportunities as LEEDv4 is revised.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Do Your Part to Extend the IRS Section 25c Tax Credit for Home Energy Improvements

 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Both homeowners and manufacturers have benefited from the Energy Tax credits offered from 2009 – 2011 for home improvements that improve energy efficiency. For example, adding insulation to attics and basements, replacing drafty doors and windows and replacing a roof with an ENERGY STAR rated roof.  At a time when homeowners have been tightening their belts, this credit helped to sustain the building industry through upgrading and remodeling in the current home inventory.

A large part of the building inventory in the U.S. is over 30 years old.  The building codes where not as stringent back then and what we are learning is that the building envelopes are not as tight as they should be.  Statistics from ENERGY STAR show that homes that have added insulation to attic spaces, basement ceilings, and walls have seen a reduction in their heating/cooling bills over time.

On December 31, 2011, the Energy Tax Credits will expire. Yet, the work to improve the efficiency of homes and buildings is far from over.

As member of the Insulation Contractors Association of America (ICAA) & Council of NAIMA, CertainTeed supports the extension of Energy Tax Credits – IRS Section 25c until 12/31/2013.

Please write your Senator and Congressional representative to:

  • Extend the expiration date to 12/31/2013.
  • Raise the tax credit cap to $1500 from $500.
  •  Include the cost of labor for building envelope components (like insulation) the tax credit calculation.

Please visit www.capwiz.com/insulate/home/  to see the issue and a model letter.  Click the Take Action button – the support letter is already there – fill in the sender information and hit send message.  It’s that easy!

 

 

Energy Awareness Begins with You

As we approach the close of Energy Awareness Month remember it is never too late to start improving energy efficiency whether in your home or in you life.

With tax rebates about to end, possibly forever, this is the last opportunity to reduce the cost of replacing windows or doors or insulating that attic.

The most beneficial investment a homeowner can make is to conduct an energy audit.  This will give you a firm handle on where your home is losing energy and the improvements you can make to correct the problems.  These problems don’t have to be handled all at one time.  The important thing is now you have an idea of how to make adjustments to reduce energy loss while contemplating replacing aging systems with more efficient new systems.

As a way to boost energy awareness, Energy Star created a video challenge as part of their Take the Pledge program to increase participation from Americans in all walks of life.  Take the Pledge boasts that Americans participating in the Pledge have amassed $793,107, 376 in energy savings, eliminated 10,243,261,274 lbs in greenhouse gases and have saved 6,008,157,595 kilowatt hours of electricity.

The short videos in the video challenge are creative, instructive and entertaining. View a sample of these below:

You can view all the videos on the Energy Star Take the Pledge page.

Making changes, however small, in your daily activities to reduce your carbon footprint make a huge difference over time.  Changing your light bulbs to compact florescent (CFL) or light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs is one place to start.

But like many efforts to make substantive change – it starts with YOU!

Vicky Gallagher is Supervisor, Corporate Marketing Communications for CertainTeed Corporation

During Energy Awareness Month Take the ENERGY STAR® Pledge

Lucas Hamilton

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ENERGY STAR program has launched a pledge project designed to draw awareness on the part of individuals to change their ways and adopt more energy conscious practices. The pledge asks individuals to commit to replacing items in your office or home ranging from light bulbs to appliances and office equipment that carry the Energy Star label to reduce energy consumption. Retrofitting with added insulation is another improvement to consider.

According to the current statistics 2,655,126 individuals have joined the cause and pledged to take small, individual steps that have led to reducing 8,842,303,899 lbs. of greenhouse gas emissions in the fight against climate change.

I want to applaud my fellow employees for taking the Energy Star pledge and committing to reducing their energy consumption.  The EPA estimated that the value of the pledges received by CertainTeed/Saint-Gobain so far equates to more than $1.5 million in energy savings.

You, too, can get involved as an individual or a company and be a part of this national campaign.  Get your company involved by going to Energy Star’s Join our Movement . To register as an individual go to Take the Pledge

This type of awareness is a good starting point to encourage everyone to look at ways to reduce their energy consumption and become more conscious of how they use energy.  We can all do our part.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Are Only the Rich Getting Greener?

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton

As I travel across the country and talk to building professionals, I find there is a lag in the central part of the country compared to the coasts or metropolitan areas when it comes to embracing green/sustainability and building science.  This may not be surprising.  Many of the issues around green/sustainability are consumer awareness driven especially in the absence of subsidies or state-mandated programs.

Last year, the Department of Energy published statistics on the adoption rate of the Energy Star program across the country.  What they discovered was that the adoption rate was in direct proportion to the education level of the consumer.  People with higher education levels generally have more income, are buying new homes with more options and functionality, and choose more energy efficient products.   

In the parts of the country where residents are less likely to pursue post secondary education, adoption of programs like these is slower.  The questions I get in the rural areas of the country tend to be the same questions posed to me by people in more urban areas the previous year.

This is unfortunate.  I have talked about this previously with regard to nanotechnology and leveling the playing field for habitat equality. The people asking the least amount of questions are the people who need green technologies the most.  People on lower or fixed incomes need to control energy costs more than people with disposable incomes.  But, in reality the rich and educated are getting greener faster.

The building community needs to seek ways to provide these technologies to low- or moderate-income housing in lower income parts of the country where sustainability is critical because of the increased need to control energy costs.  

Is reduction of energy consumption important to people who are just getting by? Absolutely!  Is there a lag in the interest?  Yes, we do see it. Clearly, there is more interest in metropolitan areas than in rural America.

The message needs to be driven home in all parts of the country and at all income levels.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications at CertainTeed Corporation. 

Energy Quotient – Look for the ASHRAE Label

ASHRAE labelWe may finally have found a way to qualify and label the energy efficiency of buildings called the Energy Quotient. ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers) proposed this standard for reporting the energy consumption of buildings so that consumers can compare the energy use of one building to another.  This is a concept whose time has come in order to make sound decisions about a building either to rent or own.

The Energy Quotient rates, grades and labels building from A+ to F for their efficiencies based on standards ASHRAE created.  This is similar to how Energy Star rates products and gives them an energy consumption rating.

The benefit to this is that once the building industry reports these ratings publicly it’s going to drive building and home owners  to make our buildings more efficient – not only new buildings going forward but retrofitting existing buildings. Just like remodeling a kitchen prior to selling a home to make it more marketable, owners will be making energy efficiency upgrades to improve marketability of all buildings before putting them on the market. This will propel the need to improve existing buildings, which is fantastic.

Initiatives like this provide another level of comparison that benefits the consumer and encourages us to improve what we do as it relates to energy consumption. It’s measurable, it can be reproduced, and it will accelerate our conservation efforts. 

Economically motivated issues are more successful in our culture than mandated ones. Building owners will no longer need a mandate for energy efficiency if they have an economically motivated reason to do it.  It takes energy efficiency efforts away from the programs and puts control back into the free market. This allows the free market to drive the point which it does with this simple label.

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications at CertainTeed Corporation. 

Energy Auditors in High Demand

Lucas HamiltonOn Sunday, October 11th, I read an article in the New York Times titled City Aims to Reduce Carbon Output by Buildings stating that New York City is going to require energy audits on all existing buildings.  New York is setting its own guidelines for the reduction of carbon dioxide production based upon the usage of electricity in the city, which is a tremendous undertaking. But the first step towards measuring energy efficiency improvements is to get a baseline and then track going forward.  This will require qualified auditors to conduct these audits on the existing inventory of buildings.

This got me thinking about the increasing need for qualified energy auditors. For two years, I have been getting calls from people to conduct energy audits on their buildings. In the construction industry, there are HERS raters (Home Energy Rating Service) who use a program called REM Software that features two evaluation programs REM/Design and REM/Rate.  This program enables you to upload your building design and location and run a simulation based on local utility rates. It can tell you month by month what your energy bills should be for heating and air conditioning. This helps quality homes for Energy Star tax credits.

In doing a quick search, I discovered there is a huge need across the country for trained energy auditors. There is a website, energyauditorjobs.com that lists all the available jobs nationwide.

There are three skill sets needed to be an Energy Auditor:

  • You need to understand how buildings are built and operate
  • You need to understand the science of buildings
  • You need to have knowledge of the softwares.

 Some of the entities that will be looking for energy auditors are:

Weatherization Programs produced from the stimulus. We are currently training quasi-energy auditors in weatherization programs, like the Pennsylvania Housing Resource Center at Penn State University program. They are trained in the Building Science part but not in the audit software or simulations.

Municipalities and state departments of energy, like NYC, will need thousands of energy auditors to test all the buildings in their cities and towns.

Real estate investment portfolios, utility companies, hotel and resort operators, manufacturers, especially large manufacturers, will need to conduct audits on their plants and buildings. CertainTeed is currently conducting audits on all our plants and buildings due to our own corporate mandates. 

Building management companies could find this as a differentiator in the marketplace if they can offer building owners the expertise to evaluate and control the energy costs for the buildings they manage.

This need for energy auditors is only going to mushroom and get bigger over time.  This is one of the green jobs that the green evolution has promised us. This is a new workforce that will be needed to meet the demands of the marketplace.

From my position, having done this type of work for 25 years, I see this as a coming together of social and economic forces overlapping at one place – the energy auditor.  As we continue to teach Building Science in our colleges and universities, we will need to incorporate this training as well.

This is a perfect career path for young people or for construction professionals who might be looking for a new opportunity.  And it is just the beginning as we embrace the concepts of energy efficiency and require the upgrading of our building inventory.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications at CertainTeed Corporation. 

Energy Awareness: A Life Long Pursuit

yhtp_cm_eam09_lgThe U.S Department of Energy has declared October as Energy Awareness Month to call attention to the need for all of us to adopt new habits to help lower our carbon footprint. The theme for 2009 is A Sustainable Energy Future: We’re Putting all the Pieces Together.

Energy awareness was first observed in the U.S. in 1981 as American Energy Week but was expanded to a month-long observance by the Department of Energy in 1986.  On September 13, 1991, President Bush officially proclaimed October Energy Awareness Month. It’s hard to believe that, in more than 25 years since the initiative began, we haven’t made more headway in energy conservation.  That is why I believe, as I mentioned in my previous Blog Stars Align for Energy Efficiency, that now is, indeed, the time to change our energy consumption habits.

Building Science Engineering has come a long way in understanding and communicating the physical, chemical and biological reactions among a building’s components.  These advances also help to drive the development of products to improve the energy efficiency of new and existing buildings.  Of course, the older the building the less energy efficient it probably is, but many structures can benefit from a mild energy efficiency makeover. 

Here are some tips to determine and improve energy efficiency:

  • Conduct an energy audit.  Locate obvious air leaks by examining gaps along the baseboard or edge of the flooring, at junctures of the walls and ceilings, and at electrical box openings and plumbing penetrations. If cracks are present, caulk and weather strip.
  • Understanding the R-value of fiberglass insulation is important. R-value means resistance to heat flow – the greater the R-value, the greater the insulation power. Visit www.energystar.gov for a map of the recommended R-value insulation levels needed in your region.
  •  Properly controlling moisture will improve the effectiveness of air sealing and insulation efforts. Some insulation systems can provide the added benefit of moisture management in addition to traditional insulation performance. Any insulation that is exposed to significant levels of moisture can decrease R-value performance.
  •  Insulated siding helps improve R-value, up to 30 percent.  Insulated siding can help reduce the heating and cooling costs of a home.
  • Solar reflective roofs can provide long-term protection as well as savings. Cool roofing technology is another simple way to lower energy consumption. This means less work for the air conditioning system, and minimizing the absorption of solar heat through the roof. Solar reflective coatings and solar reflective shingles should be considered for a roofing project.

 The Federal Energy Tax Credit creates a great opportunity for all of us to improve the energy efficiency of our homes.  Let’s not let Energy Awareness Month pass by without taking advantage of savings and efficiency all year long.Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation.