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

YouthBuild Akron, Ohio Goes for LEED with CertainTeed

 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

CertainTeed and our parent company Saint-Gobain have a three-year partnership with YouthBuild USA providing expertise and products for projects they are undertaking in various cities around the U.S.  Last week, I conducted some training programs for the YouthBuild organization in Akron, Ohio on the building envelope and how to select products to help them meet their LEED goals. YouthBuild helps train young adults in green building techniques and construction practices on hands-on projects in their community.

This project is a renovation of an existing home and based on the information from their design charrette, they may reach LEED Platinum which would be awesome not only for a low income housing project but as far as I can tell it is the first LEED H Platinum project in Akron.  The best part is that the house next to this home was previously rehabbed by YouthBuild and is nearly identical in layout so they should be able to do some comparisons of the energy savings.  Of course, results won’t be as “cut and dry” as we might like because you can’t control the behaviors of the occupants.  However, we should be able to get some relative comparisons as the homes are of identical size with identical orientations.

Based on the products and systems Akron YouthBuild are planning to use, they are hoping to renovate to a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) score of 65. This means that the home consumes 35 percent less energy than what is building code standard of 100.  This is a very aggressive score. HERS is a program of the Residential Energy Services Network and a registered HERS rater is working with them on this project.

While not all the products/systems have been selected, during our visit we made some suggestions especially for insulation, gypsum and roofing based on their goals and the building assembly to help with the EPP (Environmentally Preferable Products).  We were also able to add points because of the proximity of CertainTeed plants to the project location.

It is great to see these projects educating builders of the future in green and sustainable techniques. I also believe it sends the right message to the community in that a sustainable habitat is possible for everyone.

The True Challenge to Recycled Glass – Economics

 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Recycled content is a key component of sustainable products.  However, manufacturers often struggle to find recycled content because of economics. This is particularly true with regard to glass or cullet which is an ingredient in products such as fiber glass insulation.

The sad fact is that much of the glass in the U.S ends up in landfills because the economics of glass are such that on any given day the value of the glass may be much lower to the waste hauler than the cost of the fuel to take it over to the manufacturer who will buy it off their hands.

So on most days, in most parts of the U.S., we suffer from the fact that glass is not actually being recycled. Even though we put it in containers at our curbs, it doesn’t wind up getting back into the economy because its value is too low.

I’ve talked to many people about this and one option I came up with is to make glass more expensive.  Artificially, this can be done through deposits or we can go to the real form which is to make glass more expensive.  If it is valued more as a commodity it will have more value as a recycled product as well. While giving a presentation recently, I made a statement about the fact that having programs such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), which places a value on high recycled content in products, ends up creating a value for recyclable materials that did not exist before.  This solution I think is more eloquent than my own of adding a deposit.  Another side benefit is that this action is creating jobs at the local level because of the LEED emphasis on indigenous materials.

So I tip my hat to programs like LEED for helping to create local jobs, reuse local resources, and reduce the landfilling of valuable resources.

“Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we’ve been ignorant of their value.” –R. Buckminster Fuller

The U.S. Green Building Council Beefs Up LEED 2012 Standards

Lucas Hamilton

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

Do you remember the Wendy’s ads that featured an old woman walking up to the counter of a burger joint and asking “Where’s the Beef?” Well there are times when I feel the same way about our efforts in the U.S. to really advance energy efficiency.

I am glad to see that the U.S. Green Building Council is upgrading the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification standards.  The bar needs to be continually raised especially with regard to measuring the long-term results of energy upgrades.  But will they have gone far enough and are there tools available now to accurately measure performance?

The retrofit market clearly needs to be encouraged to improve energy efficiency.  One way that this is happening in major cities is through mandates.  New York and San Francisco have such mandates but there are a great many cities and towns between those that are not even ready to mandate LEED on new construction.

Even with a stalled economy with regard to new construction, manufacturers continue to develop products that propel us into sustainability: wallboard that removes formaldehyde from the air; insulation that minimizes its environmental impact; and solar roofing to harness power from the sun instead of the grid.  But without real incentives or mandates we continue to be a nation of obvious consumption because the cost of energy is still reasonable, for now.

The new LEED rating systems do include more stringent requirements regarding the sharing of data on a building’s energy use and owners of LEED certified buildings will have to re-apply for certification every five years.  This is crucial because maintaining the systems is just as important as installing them in the first place.

In a previous blog, I discussed the ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers) Energy Quotient which rates buildings on energy consumption.  Making these tools standard practice will drive us as consumers to improve the efficiency in our homes and buildings.  It supports the “buyer beware” far beyond the current home inspection process.

More and more professionals are getting credentialed in building energy rating which will increase the ability to test buildings and make recommendations.  These are the green jobs that are coming on line. Now we need to add more ‘beef’ and some incentives (not necessarily hand-outs) to help building and home owners choose a sustainable future.

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