Can We Pick Our Future Rather Than Repeating Our Past?

The U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Version 4 (V4) has been approved and will be become official at the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in November 2013.  But even after the new version comes out in November, you can register and begin LEED 2009 projects up until the summer of 2015.  This means that for the next two years we will have LEED 2009 projects coexisting beside LEED V4 projects.

These programs are very different especially with regard to transparency issues.  For example, Health Product Declarations (HPD’s), Environmental Product Declarations (EPD’s) and Life Cycle Assessments (LCA’s) are moved in V4 from where they were in LEED 2009. In LEED 2009 they are classified as pilot libraries but now have been moved to materials and resources, credits two, three, and four. This represents a significant change to the materials and resources credits.

The co-existence of two different programs could, potentially, cloud the issues for the end users.  But making incremental steps can help to keep people focused on a sustainable future without feeling that they have to start all over. But does the potential exist for the momentum of LEED to stall because we are not looking far enough into the future?

Consider the Living Building Challenge which is the gold standard for what some advocates envision for the sustainable future. Have they thrown the target so far down the field that it doesn’t need to be continually updated because the goals are not highly achievable today? It sets the bar very high but it does give us a long range goal for future development.

If you want to change the future you can’t do it based upon the past.  Psychologists tell us that our default reaction to a challenge is based on our experience and history. When presented with a situation we tend to lean on the past.  This causes us to repeat the past and impedes our ability to get to a desired better future.

If you want to get to a future that is different than the past, you have to imagine a future not based on the past.  You have to set your target not based on incremental changes because that just builds on the past.  Let’s start by saying “in 10 years, I want to be over there”- now work back from there until now and NOT forward from now until then. I think you’ll find that you end up much closer to where you want to be this new way than you did with the old way.

I, for one, would not want to see our efforts to move toward energy efficient, sustainable buildings stalled or worse, abandoned, because we failed to see a clear path to that future. If we get too caught up in the process, we could lose sight of the purpose.

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?

GREEN BUILDING GURU: Lucas Hamilton, CertainTeed Building Science

Lucas Hamilton

What do you think is the most critical factor in ensuring a healthy, sustainable built environment?

In order to achieve and maintain a healthy, sustainable built environment we need to educate the end users of these buildings.  The people who use the buildings need to be a partner in the process and be educated because they figure strongly in the success of the sustainability of the building. Only if the end users understand that their behaviors contribute to the success or failure of highly efficient systems can we ensure a healthy, sustainable built environment. There isn’t a life cycle without that three-quarter part of it – the people using and maintaining it. The Living Building Challenge is doing it right because they include an education component to the process.

What is your business doing to support this goal?

What we are doing is to educate, educate, educate – through training, webinars, and providing information to all audiences. We need to help end users understand that they are a critical part of the process. 

Living Building Challenge Alive and Rising in Seattle

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

In the early days of my blogging, I talked about the Living Building Challenge and the early adoption taking place in Portland, Oregon. The Challenge aims to certify green buildings around seven performance areas: site, water, energy, health, materials, equity and beauty. It is so comprehensive that it is “whole-istic”. Sorry.

An exciting “Living Building” project is currently underway in Seattle that was highlighted in U.S News on MSNBC  on March 20, 2012. This could be a true showcase for the ultimate in sustainable office buildings. There is also a slide presentation in the link that is worth reviewing.

Denis Hayes, who co-founded Earth Day with Gaylord Nelson, now heads the Seattle-based Bullitt Foundation.  He is partnering with architect Jason McLennan, who is CEO of the International Living Future Institute on this project.

With everything from harvested rainwater to geothermal wells, solar energy and lots of natural light, this building has no parking lot on the premises but is accessible by bus, bike or on foot. One day this could truly become the standard for new urban construction but in the meantime it can also provide valuable data to fuel the movement on retrofitting existing buildings.

Great project with great potential!

Home Energy Labeling – Leveling the Playing Field in the Housing Market

Home energy labeling could be a great motivator for encouraging homeowners to jump into energy improvements. The emerging trend toward creating energy labels on homes, similar to the energy labels on appliances, is one way to encourage homeowners in older homes to buy into the benefits of upgrading and the necessity to keep pace with other homes in their neighborhoods.

Already utilized in Europe and Australia, this practice could incentivize homeowners so that they keep their home competitive in the marketplace. It is no surprise that Oregon is the testing ground for this new program given the State’s focus on sustainable and living building initiatives. The label would convey the home’s annual energy usage, energy costs, and carbon emissions.

According to research from the National Association of Realtors, Americans live in a house for an average of seven years.  Homeowners generally say they will buy a more energy efficient house the next time they buy rather than invest in their current house. Home energy labeling may make homeowners reconsider deferring energy upgrades to someone else.

If a prospective home buyer had the ability to look at two houses on the market and compare the energy consumption of the houses it would enable the buyer to make a more informed purchasing choice. As a homeowner, wouldn’t you want to have a better home energy label than your neighbor?

If a house sits on the market for one year, I guarantee that the homeowner will spend more money in a wasted mortgage than if he had made the energy efficiency improvements that would have sold the house quicker. For example, the average U.S. mortgage may be around $1,600  per  month. If your house sits on the market for one year while you are already in a second home, you will spend $19,200 in mortgage payments on the empty property. If home energy labeling were in place, spending a fraction of that mortgage expense on energy upgrades would have made the house much more marketable and created jobs for the trades who do such improvements.

Home energy labeling has definite merit in a free market economy and this could incentivize homeowners to improve their properties in order to keep competitive with newer homes.

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for 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. 

 

Promises Are Being Made But Can They Be Delivered?

Comcast Center in Philadelphia  - United States’ Tallest Green Office Building

Comcast Center in Philadelphia - United States’ Tallest Green Office Building

In the world of building design, green and sustainable promises are being made.  We are building and certifying green construction but when we come back in 10 years will they still hold up to a “green standard?”  Have we completed the education process of the maintenance and mechanical staff to properly maintain and operate these buildings?  If you remember from the Living Building initiative, it is imperative that education of the building operators and occupants be part of the process in order to ensure sustainability over the life of a building.

Do you remember when you could work on your own car?  I do. I also remember when, with a little common sense and a few simple hand tools, you could work on your home. Now we are installing very sophisticated mechanical controls in buildings that adjust the micro climate zones in a building based upon the sun’s orientation as it comes around a building. Some of the newer systems have the ability to increase the heat supply on the shady side in the winter, and increase the cooling supply on the sunny side in the summer.  Maintaining the building’s efficiency with these complex systems will be challenging both in new construction and in retrofitted existing structures. It will require knowledge and skill which frankly may be beyond the scope of the historic “maintenance man.”

The maintenance staffs and building operators of the near future will need to be as technically sophisticated as the architects and engineers who design these complex systems. It is not just plug-and- play energy efficiency; the newer systems require constant tweaking and tuning to keep running as intended.  Green professionals will be in demand to fill these green jobs.

Don’t get me wrong, the core mechanical competencies of building maintenance such as assisting with plumbing repairs will always be in demand.  But maintenance personnel need to up their game now and increase their capabilities in the future. They need to be technically and mechanically savvy engineers to help in running green buildings to their intended performance.

Why is this important?  Because building owners are going to come back in 10 years and say “you promised me a green building.  I paid for a green building.  I don’t have a green building.” 

Then what are you going do?

 

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. 

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.

Stars Align for Energy Efficiency

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton

During the last presidential election, the candidates talked a lot about “energy independence.”  Behind the rhetoric and campaign promises, there is truth.  Like never before, the United States is in the position to fully embrace sustainability and energy efficiency.  Energy is a national security issue. We are sending money to parts of the world for oil when those countries have no long term interest in us. Less dependence on them will be a driver in identifying domestic sustainable energy resources. Truth is, we have “skimmed the cream off the milk” so now is the time to stand on our own whether we like it or not. There are four key influences that point to this alignment:

Social influences:  Consumers are more educated about energy efficiency; in part due to added focus by the media.  Television has Planet Green, news broadcasts focus on “Going Green” looking at what individuals and businesses are doing in this area. Baby boomers, who were children in the 1970’s, remember the gas lines and early public campaigns for energy efficiency and recycling. When energy became cheap and plentiful again, most of those efforts were cast aside and forgotten. Well here we are again.  Since those Boomers are now making the economic decisions, they have greater influence. After all, who’s buying hybrid cars? Baby boomers!

Economic influences: There is a great amount of venture capital and government grant money available for the development of alternative energy and energy efficient products.  Solar and wind have never totally caught on before because they were cost prohibitive.  Now, as demand grows, they will be more affordable and, therefore, embraced. Programs like Cash for Clunkers was successful partially because it motivated the consumer to move into a more energy-efficient car, keeping car manufacturers and dealers in business by creating demand and reducing the carbon footprint of poor performing vehicles.

Technology influences: This is fueled by the economic influences.  Research and development around wind, solar and ethanol as alternative energies are being funded.  Ethanol is not viable as a resource alone because of a variety of issues including water. It could, however, be a part of the solution. For manufacturers, like us, continuing to improve the energy efficiency of insulation or solar roofing products as well as finding new ways to improve other building materials, is critical.  When the housing industry is producing 2.2 million homes per year changes can’t be implemented easily.  But now, in a slower market, changes can be made to the building envelope to improve energy efficiency while keeping the home affordable.  Organizations like Oregon BEST and Cascadia’s Living Building Challenge, both of which we spoke about before, encourage the building community to take energy efficiency and net-zero building to the next level.

Educational influences: In the past, we didn’t have degreed programs around building science and sustainability. Now, this information is being incorporated into the curriculums for architects, engineers and other professionals who deal with construction. The professionals coming behind us will be prepared to take energy efficiency and sustainability to greater heights.

So, yes, the stars are aligned for lasting change with regard to lowering our carbon footprint both as individuals and corporations, embracing alternative sources of energy and leaving a legacy of innovation and sustainability for future generations. 

Your thoughts are welcome!

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

Stan Gatland photo_1Stan Gatland, Manager, Building Science Technology at CertainTeed Corporation contributed to this blog.