Human Comfort is Best Delivered by Water Not Air

Lucas Hamilton

While attending the Regenerative Network conference in California, I spent time in a LEED platinum certified building which is radiantly heated and cooled.  Recently, I have been giving presentations on human interactions with their environment. This has caused me to consider how differently the radiant heating and cooling system in the David Brower Center influences our perception of comfort.

We understand certain things about human senses such as how temperature, humidity, air speed and radiation are inter-related and together influence our perception of our surroundings.  These are the four things that will dictate how comfortable you are.  Because these things are inter-related, the way that heating and cooling is delivered has a huge influence on how you perceive your comfort level. As background and in simplified terms, these energy delivery methods are conduction, convection and radiation. A pot on the stove is conducting heat, when you pull out the spoon and blow on it to cool it is convection, and radiation is when you can stand a few feet away from the pot and feel the heat.

We traditionally heat and cool our buildings with air.  This is a most inefficient method. The idea of trying to store energy in something that has little mass makes little sense.  Using water to deliver energy as a way to comfort is very, very efficient.  This gives you radiated comfort as opposed to convection or conducted comfort.

To achieve the desired goals in energy savings delivering comfort by air may be on its way out. Using water to heat and cool buildings is a far more efficient method and it will save lots of energy going forward. But, we will have to make some personal sacrifices to accommodate this change. We may have to give up on instant gratification and develop patience through acceptance.

If you are outdoors on a cold day and enter a warm building, it will take awhile for the body to warm again to where you would say you are comfortable. However, after walking outdoors on a hot, humid day and entering an air conditioned building the cool rushing air will evaporate the sweat on your body and you cool off very quickly.  It’s like the building is blowing on the hot spoonful of soup.  When you condition a building space using surface temperatures, the energy exchange between the building and the person becomes largely dominated by radiation. While this will cool you down by allowing excess energy in the form of heat to flow out of your body and into the building through radiation, it will not be nearly as quick a process as having cold air blowing across your sweaty skin. Chances are you will continue to sweat for a few minutes after you have come inside so be ready for it.

Being patient and waiting for the comfort to occur is a small price to pay in order to make our energy go further. It sounds like a contradiction to say “exercise patience” but there you have it.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Getting on the LEED H ‘Cart’ with YouthBuild

YouthBuild design charrette participants

I was privileged to participate in a design charrette which was held at the YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School on Broad Street in Philadelphia.  The charrette was conducted as part of the partnership between Saint-Gobain, CertainTeed and YouthBuild USA. The partnership aims to help low-income, disconnected young adults transform their lives and their communities by working towards their high school diploma or GED while learning green construction and job training skills.

The Philadelphia project is a renovation of an abandoned row house in the Germantown area of Philadelphia as a hands-on learning in sustainable design and construction for the students.  The project will be seeking Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Homes (LEED H) certification.

The concept of a charrette is from the French meaning cart.  In the 1800’s, architecture students created most of their models at home. When their models were due to be reviewed by their professors, the school would send a cart around Paris to pick up their work. Because they were rarely finished with the models or drawings by the time the cart came by, the students would often get on the cart to finish their work while it wound its way back to school. As a result, collaborations between the students started to happen regarding the various design projects.  The collaborations, charrettes, continued, expanded and are currently used when discussing design projects by groups of interested parties.

While I have participated in charrettes working with architecture firms I have never participated in a LEED charrette.  This is a field function of LEED and it is a very comprehensive analysis of the project. The YouthBuild students were able to participate in something that most builders have not experienced unless they are building LEED H homes.

The  key stakeholders in the renovation include a representative from the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, college professors, city officials, sustainability experts, architects, renovation specialists, developers and, of course ,YouthBuild students. The charrette was led by Sustainable Solutions, a Philadelphia area company dedicated to sustainable construction.

This was an incredible opportunity for the students to see a LEED design charrette in action and have hands-on knowledge which will help them immeasurably when seeking employment.  By walking through many of the sustainable aspects of the project –  the site review and preparation, architectural/structural issues, the envelope, materials and systems and finishes/appliances in one continuous process the YouthBuild students saw firsthand how everything on the project is interrelated. Each step in the process is critical to satisfy all the requirements for LEED H.  This will keep all the stakeholders moving in the same direction.  Of course, the charrette ended with “next step’ assignments for all of us.

 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

School Districts Are Embracing LEED Buildings

Lucas Hamilton

Large urban and smaller sub-urban districts alike are increasing their focus on building schools that are certified by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program because this practice results in more state funding.  Schools get funding based upon population – the actual number of students that they teach every day- not the number of school age children living in their district.  That is a number that is taken daily called attendance. 

If  40 percent of  a school district’s population is not showing up, that district will receive 40 percent less state funding than may be deserved. While the goal of the school district may be to educate our children, the first task is to get kids to show up. This is not just for all the right reasons, such as, the importance of learning and that it is in the best interest of society in general but also because that is the way the school district gets paid.

Statistics show that building more sustainable spaces results in increased student attendance over schools constructed with outdated techniques and materials (and decreased staff absenteeism due to illness).  Building sustainably also improves the acoustics and indoor environmental quality of the building. Incorporating acoustical ceilings, noise reducing gypsum wallboard and adequate levels of insulation contributes to the creation of optimum learning environments. Recent studies have shown that optimizing learning space acoustics ultimately improves student retention and test scores (another critical metric by which schools are judged).

For some urban school districts, the school buildings themselves may be the nicest spaces that the child will be in all day. While this is considered collateral benefit, it’s well worth it for the school district to invest in sustainable spaces because the children feel better, they are healthier, more positive about the experience and will be in the classroom on a more consistent basis.

If you look at the upfront costs to build a school, why would a school district strapped for cash build a school above and beyond code?  Because it will pay for itself!

 Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Pay Now or Pay Later – Constructed Space per Person

Lucas Hamilton

I recently read a report in the Department of Energy’s 2009 Building Energy Data Book that referenced the amount of constructed surface area per person around the world.  The United States is second only to Canada in the amount of constructed space per person – the U.S. boasts 3,000 square feet per person. This concept of constructed space per person includes home, work, shopping centers, sports complexes – any constructed buildings where we live, work or play. 

This is far more than most of the world. Comparing the United States to the United Kingdom, for example, the average English citizen uses approximately one-third the space of Americans.  Americans have come to expect this right-of-space. But there is a price to pay if society continues to expect large buildings. If the goal is to move toward net-zero buildings we are going to have to become very creative to overcome our need for space.

One example to consider along these lines is the issue of rain water run-off. For the most part, constructed space represents hard surfaces which prohibit rain water from being absorbed into the ground.  This not only overloads our water treatment and sewer systems, as we discussed in a previous blog about Live Roofs, but it effects the sequestration of carbon dioxide. 

The new Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Homes program sponsored by US Green Building Council is penalizing homeowners for having more space in their home than they need.  However, if a 4,000 square foot home for two people is still desired, the LEED program will allow it but will require more energy efficiency components in order to certify the home. This seems reasonable to me.

If Americans wish to build large spaces, designers and developers are going to have to work harder to offset the impact on the environment.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications at CertainTeed Corporation

Indoor Air Quality Has A New Champion

Improving the indoor air quality of buildings is a large part of the sustainability movement and as we continue to address energy efficiency through air tightness in assemblies, the issue of indoor air quality will continue to be a focal point.

People spend about 90 percent of their time indoors so the quality of the air around them, where they live, work and play is very important.  Educational and health care environments draw even greater scrutiny due to the sensitivities of the young and those with potential respiratory issues.Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde and other aldehydes, are seen as common compromises to air quality.  VOCs are all around us, come from many sources, and often move freely in and out of building components. People, themselves, carry VOCs into buildings through the wearing of permanent-press clothing and exposure to secondhand smoke.

Fortunately, there is a first-of-its-kind wallboard, called AirRenew™.  AirRenew is designed to clean the air and remove a particular family of VOCs by drawing them into the board, trapping them, and utilizing a patented technology to break down these VOCs into inert compounds. Those inert compounds will stay in the gypsum board for the service life of the board.  These inert compounds created inside the core are not harmful and the original VOCs will never be released back into the air. 

This revolutionary gypsum board, which will be available soon, will have a positive impact on public buildings, especially when qualifying for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED ™) or other green rating program certifications.  Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) strategies incorporating AirRenew meet the intent of the sustainability Triple Bottom Line of economic prosperity, social responsibility and environmental stewardship.

AirRenew has undergone a battery of independent testing. Preliminary tests show that AirRenew maintains its performance when painted with a permeable paint. Finishing that results in an impermeable surface, such as vinyl wallcoverings, would reduce the porosity of the board surface and are not recommended. Permeable paints currently serve over 70 percent of the interior wall coatings market. Since most sustainable and LEED models are moving away from solvent based coatings, this is not perceived as a limitation.

LEED for Schools Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) Credit 3.2 sets a maximum concentration of 27 parts per billion for formaldehyde, however many studies have shown that this is often exceeded. The mold resistance performance of AirRenew also contributes to LEED for Schools IEQ Credit 10 for mold prevention. The GREENGUARD® Environmental Institute has many resources documenting the issues of indoor air quality and the need for reducing VOCs especially in schools.

It has been exciting to work on a product that provides a real solution to an issue that has long needed a champion product. 

The “Starbucks” of Sustainability

Lucas Hamilton

In my travels across the county, I am seeing a new phenomenon in the sustainability movement – regional sustainability or green clearinghouses.  These are places where people can come together to share information, experiences, and get recommendations for all things Green.  LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and Green Consultants are setting up shop to provide services and information for anyone interested in learning more about sustainability and providing a broad array of services and information.  The hope is that it will lead to business.

This is an example of the emerging green economy.  These are new businesses that are being created to meet the demand for information.  Often, people want to be able to go to a brick and mortar location to speak directly with people who can answer questions and provide services particularly when it relates to building improvements.

These local clearinghouses can also provide training sessions both for contractors and consumers as well as information about programs or incentives that are available locally.  Looking for information on rebates from utilities?  Find a green clearinghouse – they should be able to help.

From downtown Boston to Portand, Oregon to Upstate New York these clearinghouses are popping up all over the country.

Another interesting, international movement – very organic, self-organizing – is called GreenDrinks.  This is a grassroots initiative where people interested in green and sustainability get together and share ideas and information in a happy hour type of setting. These events are very simple and unstructured, but many people have found employment, made friends, developed new ideas, done deals and had moments of clarity.  These events are happening all over the world.  Just think, you can travel to Europe or South America and hook-up with green professionals through the GreenDrinks organization.

If anyone is associated with a green clearinghouse or has attended a GreenDrinks event, I would love to hear about it.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications at CertainTeed Corporation

Building Green for Vancouver Olympics Should Have Lasting Effects

Vancouver Olympics 2010

Vancouver Olympics 2010

For those of us that have watched the Olympics for more than 20 years, it’s been really fun to watch some of the newer events emerging.  Sure, we love to watch the traditional bobsled, downhill skiing, and hockey (go USA), but the Olympics have really progressed with “new era” events like “half pipe snowboarding” and “snowboard cross.”  Cool stuff and our hats off to the International Olympic Committee for recognizing these emerging sports and modifying tradition to keep interest in the Olympics alive!

 As a host city, Vancouver should be applauded for taking this spirit of progression to sustainable building initiatives and pushing renewable energy measures that set a new standard for future Olympic venues.

 Some highlights are:

  • The site for the Village was a Brownfield development of a former industrial area. Following the Games it will become a socially inclusive community that will be home to 15,000 people and provide 250 units of affordable housing.
  • Heat captured from the sanitary sewer’s main line is sent back to heat the buildings and water.
  •  50% of the Villages’ roofs are vegetative, capturing rainwater for reuse and curtailing runoff. They also provide insulation value year round and prevention of heat gain from solar radiation in the summer, acting as cool roofs.
  • The buildings include traditional and contemporary artwork by Four Host First Nations, First Nations, Inuit and Métis artists from across Canada. This meets  one of the requirements of the Living Building Initiative; public art.  
  • The City of Vancouver is targeting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Gold for the buildings. For the venue’s community centre, LEED “Platinum” is targeted.
  • Streets have been designed for pedestrians and bicycles first. Underground parking areas can accommodate car co-op vehicles and electric hookups.

Along the Olympic route there is also the Whistler Vision Net Zero Demonstration House.  Built by RDC Fine Homes of Whistler, British Columbia this house is self-sufficient for all energy needs and hopes to achieve LEED Platinum certification. We were pleased to have our CertainTeed WeatherBoards™ Fiber Cement Siding, ProRoc® Gypsum Board with M2Tech® technology and ProRoc Setting Compound with M2Tech used on this project. The house is open to the public throughout the Olympics.

Very public displays of support for renewable energy, net-zero development and sustainable initiatives are great educational opportunities.  The test will be how the costs to develop these buildings vs. the life-cycle analysis and long-range savings hold up within the financial community.  In the true Olympic spirit, let’s eliminate the barriers of our thinking and work together!

 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton

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

 

Retrofitting for a Green Future

Gerding Edlen renovated and retrofitted the Portland Armory for mixed use.

Gerding Edlen renovated and retrofitted the Portland Armory for mixed use.

It is clear that in order to reduce our energy consumption in existing buildings, we need to retrofit these structures.  Dennis Wilde, a principal at Gerding Edlen Development (GE) addressed this issue during the 2009 Greenbuild Convention and Expo in Phoenix, Arizona.  According to their corporate philosophy, Gerding Edlen exists to do one simple thing: to create vibrant, sustainable and inspiring places where people can work, learn and live. Creating places that offer fresh air, foster creativity and incorporate art and culture help us achieve this goal. Their Principles of Place document expands on this philosophy.

GE was responsible for the first new construction LEED Gold condominium in the US, the first LEED Gold condominium in California, the first LEED Platinum condominium in the US, and the first building on the Nat’l Historic Register to become LEED Platinum. Because LEED Platinum has become easier to achieve, GE is focused on the Living Building Challenge which is the next benchmark for the green/sustainable movement. A growing part of GE’s development and design work is in retrofitting existing structures for energy efficiency under the name Sustainable Solutions.

When evaluating an existing building, GE focuses on energy, waste and human comfort as well as optimizing the operations and maintenance of the building.  The challenge they face  is that few owners/operators put a sufficient amount of resources into training the people who need to maintain the buildings.   The day-to-day maintenance staffs are not trained in how to properly maintain a green building, and maintenance is critical in order to keep these buildings operating at peak performance. You can’t just create a green building and walk away; you have to hold people’s feet to the fire regarding the operation of the building. These are part of the green jobs of the future.

The absence of financing is another challenge to retrofit projects. Traditional financing requires either a high percentage rate or a quicker return on investment. The current financing system isn’t really suitable for the green/sustainable movement because the return on investment takes longer, with a long-range benefit in energy consumption, waste and use of resources. The financing system needs to be reworked to better understand the benefits of green/sustainable building.

Dennis offered some examples of successful GE projects:

  •  The Portland Community College in Oregon was a retrofit project on systems, assemblies and usage and included interior and exterior changes.  It is the first net-zero community college. The project cost to redo the campus of 122 acres with more than three-quarters of a million square feet of space was $15.4 million, but they are saving $1.1 million in energy costs per year. This project will pay for itself in 15 years. They are saving almost $71, 000 in water costs alone.
  •  The Portland, Oregon public school system installed photovoltaic roofing on nine schools with over 500,000 square feet of roof and they are saving $58,000 per year in energy costs. They will recoup the costs of this project in 34 years.

We need to retrofit existing buildings if we are going to lower our energy consumption. The goal of net-zero energy is achievable and the rewards are too great to ignore. To learn more about net-zero building, check out the U.S. Department of Energy Building Technologies Program.

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton

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

Green at work—At Greenbuild

Copy of Michael low res picWow, thanks for your very insightful thoughts regarding the promotion of green these days.  It seems, as we suspected, that overdone Green promotion does in fact ruin it for those who are trying to be responsible in their portrayal of green and sustainable products.

We’re headed for what I believe may be the one trade show that matters to people this year—Greenbuild, being held in Phoenix in November.  I don’t know whether it’s the promise of a keynote speech from Al Gore, the Sheryl Crow concert or the beautiful weather, but if my fruitless hotel search is any indication, it’s going to be well-attended.

Greenbuild will be a perfect time to gauge “greenspeak” among building products manufacturers. Again, it’s not about talking green; it’s about how responsibly we do so.  As I mentioned in my post the other day, I’m hearing from the architect community that we need to start integrating green into our everyday actions…by example and through the promotion of our products.

You’ll find us at booth #921 with a very different approach than in recent years.  We used to have a big chart outlining all of the LEED Credits you can potentially earn using our products.  Last year, you seemed much more interested in seeing actual product.  So, this year, we’re bringing the walls to you.  We affectionately call it the “tunnel of love,” but what we’ve got is a design that shows complete wall and roofing systems, from inside out, addressing the major sustainable issues of moisture management, sound control, energy efficiency, and recycled content.  A bit of a departure for us, but we’re excited.  Our favorite blogger, Lucas Hamilton will also be there with his tremendous knowledge of building science.

We’re also very excited to be hosting a luncheon featuring our friend Dennis Wilde from Gerding Edlen Development who will be talking about taking existing buildings and doing a comprehensive retrofit to improve energy efficiency, water and waste management and human comfort.  This is amazing since it’s easier to shoot for these things when building a new building vs. accepting someone else’s mistakes as your starting point—cutting edge stuff from a company we’re proud to be partnering with.

There are limited slots available for this luncheon.  If you would like to attend, get back to me at this address to be included in a drawing for one of these coveted tickets.  Keep the feedback coming!

 Mike Loughery is Director, Corporate Marketing Communications at CertainTeed Corporation.

Are Buildings Living Up to LEED Label?

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton

On August 31, the New York Times ran a story entitled Some Buildings Not Living Up to Green Label by Mireya Navarro. The building referenced in the article was the Federal Building in downtown Youngstown, Ohio. When the building didn’t qualify for the Energy Star label granted by the Environmental Protection Agency based on its annual utility bills, it was suggested that buildings like these, which carry the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) designation, should have that certification taken away since, once they earn it, there’s no further incentive to continue to monitor and improve energy efficiency.  The problem is that the qualifications for LEED and the qualifications for Energy Star are two different animals.

 One could assume that articles like this are trying to throw stones at the LEED program but, in fact, there are many reasons why a building could be classified LEED but not perform at a level to qualify for Energy Star. For starters, LEED is rewarding building design for a wide variety of things like rain water management, redevelopment of brownfields, and proximity to public transportation. It hasn’t focused on details like tightness of the air duct system. Energy Star is principally focused on energy. I am not surprised to find out that some LEED accredited buildings are not living up to Energy Star standards because that was not the principal emphasis on the part of designers and builders.

 So much of energy consumption falls outside of the building design and falls under building operations.  There is only so much a designer can do to help manage the building operation. You can make the most efficient envelope possible, you can employ the best mechanical heating and air conditioning systems possible, but in the end, if the building operators leave the lights on at night and leave computers on all the time, there is nothing you can do. 

 This is one of the aspects I really admire in the Living Building Challenge. I am referring to the requirement for an educational component to make building owner/operators and occupants knowledgeable about best practices for energy efficiency.  They also invite the public into the building to provide education on how the building and it occupants are reducing our consumption of energy and dependency non-renewable resources.  A building designer can require infrared sensors be installed to automatically turn off lights but it is down to each of us in the end.  We all need to develop better habits that we can implement both in the home and in our work environment to conserve energy and this is where education is the key.

 It is important to remember that a program like LEED is adjusting itself to address these issues.  The entire Green Movement is an organic process and it has to learn and adapt or it dies.  The fact that LEED is now going to require a review of the energy bills over a five year period is a positive thing.  There are tools in the marketplace that can help you measure and compare the changes to your energy consumption as you make changes to your daily practices.  DOE-2 for example is an hourly, whole-building energy analysis program calculating energy performance and life-cycle cost of operation.  It is a great tool to measure you own energy efficiency.  No matter which method you choose to evaluate energy consumption, the important thing is to get started.